Category Archives: Review

Sadistic Metal Reviews 09-18-14

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? When Hessians decide they are sick of every random person tagging along for the glory of metal while making the same dreck that big media pushes on us through the pop industry. Make art, make it violent and aggressive, be truthful… or go home as we enjoy your delicious tears.

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Siftercide – Siftercide

Some time ago there was much ruckus in the press because people were using the word “retarded” as a synonym for “extremely stupid.” This died down when people realized that retarded people are actually extremely stupid, generally in the 60-70 IQ range which is typical for Congress but very low for normal people. Siftercide is retarded. The basic idea was to make deathgrind at fast grindcore pace and throw in a few dissonant chords to try to hide the fact that these riffs are boring, these songs are predictable, and this music will generate a headache not because it’s extreme but because it is like listening to a jet engine. Really, screw this. It’s not worth your time or mine.

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Ormgard – Ormblot

Underground metal typically occurs at three speeds: the tempo set by the percussion, the pace of changing chords, and the iteration of tremolo strum. Ormgard makes black metal which frequently slows down the first two with the latter at full pace, creating the kind of atmospheric black metal that distinguished early Behemoth or Ungod. Much of this picks up the straight fast pace of classic black metal with relatively straightforward chord progressions that emphasize melody. Keyboards and howling possum in pain vocals accompany it; the album is sandwiched between two imaginative instrumentals that evoke the feeling of the ancient era. In mood, this album most resembles a less-Gothic version of the first Gehenna work, but picks up the energy like early Ancient to create a sense of conflict and desperation. While this breaks no new ground stylistically, that never struck most metal fans as important. Comparisons to Abigor will be hard to dodge, especially the Orkblut era, and while they are apt aesthetically, Ormgard spreads out further than Abigor for an approach more like that of the original black metal bands exploding from Norway in the early 1990s. Ormblot channels its power into a faithful exploration of this genre and while not strikingly interesting, holds the attention by being non-random and carefully manipulating mood to dark effect.

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Nocturnal Graves – From the Bloodline of Cain

The term metalheads generally use for bands such as this is “straightahead.” Straight out of the 1980s but with black metal vocals, it is high-speed basic riffs and catchy but binary songs. If you did not get enough of Aura Noir, or have an urge to re-live Slaughter Lord in simpler form, this may appeal, but the fundamental lack of musical motion or depth makes this a hard sell for the experienced metalhead. While the aesthetics have changed somewhat, this style of really basic riffing and exuberant simple songwriting has not evolved in 30 years. Its attempts to become more high-intensity end up being repetitive and it flows by and is forgotten when silence returns.

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Goatwhore – Constricting Rage of the Merciless

If you are not fully paying attention, this album might sound like a good thing. Its style is pure Angelcorpse mated with 1970s heavy metal and some Southern Rock; its approach is to pack in extra riffs to interrupt a verse-chorus loop that focuses on the vocal rhythm of the chorus. No flaws in musicianship, vocals are vicious, but the songs do not really go anywhere. Or maybe a better way to say this is that these songs sound like academic exercises, laboratory experiments or designs on paper: they relate well to their parts but the whole is nothing larger than the linear sum of the parts. The result is much frenetic pounding and guitar raging, hooks grasping at your ears, and then a sense of disappointment as songs drill toward an end that means nothing more than the start. As the album goes on, more of the 1970s hard rock and metal riffs come out to fill space but the result remains uncompelling. This band is more competent than any others in this style but the style itself lacks any grasp on matters of importance and seems to be the metal equivalent of late-night TV. The Hod album we reviewed recently is a better take on this style.

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Colombian Necktie – Twilight Upon Us

Before Kurt Cobain shot himself in a heroin-induced haze, he was fond of saying that metal was out of ideas during the most fertile time in metal history since its inception. If he were around today, however, he would find metalheads buying him beers for saying that metal has run up the flag saying that it is out of ideas. Sludge, not really a hybrid of metal, happens when you mix stoner doom with slow hardcore and probably dates its innovation to the first three Eyehategod albums and slow Integrity songs. Colombian Necktie mix up the dirge-like rage-infused passages of those bands with ordinary Southern-fried rock played uptempo to keep your attention. Nothing stands out as horrible but the whole lacks any compulsion for a listener interested in content. You might as well listen to Huey Lewis and the News if you slow it down and run it through a distortion pedal, because in its core that is what Colombian Necktie and all bands in the sludge style seem to be heading for. If you read it cynically, it is another take on grunge music, which is basically hardcore bands making rocking music and trying to cloak it in metal aesthetics. If you look at any piece of these albums, it is hard to find fault, but if you listen to the whole, you will fall asleep standing up. Most reviewers get their albums free and hear them once and then give it a thumbs up so that the reviewers get promoted along the line by labels who love their spunky and wacky reviews. But if you look at music as a fan, anything you can only listen to one time and do not immediately want to hear again is off the menu, as it should be for Twilight Upon Us and its ilk.

Classical music for metalheads

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Metal like any addiction sends us toward the next more intense experience by necessity. When we cannot find the rush in metal, we turn to other genres, but few of those satisfy. Metalheads often find themselves tempted by classical music, but shy away for a number of reasons.

Classical music requires greater attention to recording, conductor and year than do rock-style albums where artist name and album name will suffice. The choice of which of those to get appears at first baffling and ambiguous. The classical community can be a big help, but on the internet, fans of every stripe tend to have a holier-than-thou outlook which drives away others. Finally, classical cannot compete sonically with metal which is a constant delighted terror of high-intensity guitar.

For those who want to branch outward however, classical offers an option which resembles metal under the surface even if from a distance it appears the opposite. Classical music like metal is riff-based and knits those riffs together into compositions which transition between multiple emotions and forms to tell a story, unlike pop which is more cyclic if not outright static. It also embraces the same Faustian spirit of rage for order that defines metal.

The brave few might want to forge ahead with these albums which serve as good entry works to classical:

  1. Brahms, Johannes – The Four Symphonies

    Pure Romanticism, which is the most beautiful classical genre but also its most easily misled into human emotional confusion. Flowing, diving, surging passages which storm through tyrannical opposition to reach some of the most Zen states ever put to music.

    Four Symphonies by Herbert von Karajan/Berliner Philharmonik Orchestra

  2. Respighi, Ottorino – Pines, Birds, Fountains of Rome

    Italian music is normally inconsequential. This has an ancient feeling, a sense of weight that can only be borne out in an urge to reconquest the present with the past.

    Pines, Birds, Fountains of Rome by Louis Lane/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

  3. Schubert, Franz – Symphonies 8 & 9

    A sense of power emerging from darkness, and a clarity coming from looking into the halls of eternity, as translated by the facile hand of a composer who wrote many great pieces before dying young.

    Symphonies 8 & 9 by Herbert von Karajan/Berliner Philharmonik Orchestra

  4. Saint-Saens, Camille – Symphony 3

    Like DeBussy, but with a much wider range, this modernist Romantic rediscovers all that is worth living in the most warlike and bleak of circumstances.

    Symphony No. 3 by Eugene Ormandy/Philadelphia Orchestra

  5. Bruckner, Anton – Symphony 4

    Writing symphonic music in the spirit of Wagner, Bruckner makes colossal caverns of sound which evolve to a sense of great spiritual contemplation, the first “heaviness” on record.

    Romantic Symphony by Herbert von Karajan/Berliner Philharmonik Orchestra

  6. Berwald, Franz – Symphony 2

    The passion of Romantic poetry breathes through this light and airy work which turns stormy when it, through a ring composition of motives, seizes a clear statement of theme from its underlying tempest of beauty.

    Symphony No. 2 by David Montgomery/Jena Philharmonic

  7. Paganini, Niccolo – 24 Caprices

    Perhaps the original Hessian, this long-haired virtuoso wore white face paint, had a rumored deal with the devil, and made short often violent pieces that made people question their lives and their churches.

    24 Caprices by James Ehnes

  8. Anner Bylsma and Lambert Orkis – Sonatas by Brahms and Schumann

    We list these by performer because this informal and sprightly interpretation is all their own. Played on period instruments, it captures the beauty and humor of these shorter pieces with the casual knowledge of old friends.

    Brahms: Sonatas for Piano and Cello; Schumann: 5 Stücke im Volkston

Not everyone will take this path. Where metal, pop, rock, blues, techno, hip-hop and jazz aim for a consistent intensity, classical varies intensity as it does dynamics and mood. The point of listening to classical is to let it take you on an adventure, which much like metal will at some point encounter a crashing conclusion in which all things vast, powerful and beyond our reach come to bear on us for the ultimate feeling of heaviness.

Cloned: The Recreator Chronicles

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Horror films, like heavy metal, have drifted for the past two decades looking for a new path. A few trends have passed: violence porn, hipster zombie movies, and the incomparable Human Centipede series of dementia. But audiences have converged, and people seek horror films that are brainy and metaphorical like the roots of the genre, yet perhaps with a bit of the sci-fi and social paranoia of the newer genre.

Cloned: The Recreator Chronicles launches into this with a story spun from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: if science can make a better human, what happens if it’s a “better” (as envisioned by humans) version of you? For Generation X, this brings great trauma as we all know our parents would have “upgraded” in a moment. It also calls into question our relations with other people, namely would we hit a magic button to make our friends, lovers and coworkers smarter, faster and better?

Per the usual for horror films with aspirations to “atmosphere,” the movie begins slowly with an idyllic scene. Three average people go on vacation. The only glitch is that their chosen destination happens to be on top of an experimental genetics facility. The glitch has a subthread, which is that the facility is still active and samples from its environment for fresh humans to improve. The three fall into its trap and must confront their new doubles who are stronger, smarter and most of all, more confident.

The metaphorical nature of horror movies emerges in full flavor here. While the plot progresses, the questions hang in that dense atmosphere the movie creates. Perhaps if we encounter a better version of ourselves, we should just lay down and die. After all, they fix all that we find tragic and pointless about ourselves. But there are other issues here, much as there were in Frankenstein. Does greater ability alone convey the wisdom and moral character to use that ability well? Perhaps improvements make us more competent, but no more directed toward what we should be doing. Then again, it is hard to argue with a better version of yourself. And from the perspective of your clone, you appear as obsolete as a VHS tape, and if the clone can step into your life and make a better version of it, should it be allowed to happen?

Cloned: The Recreator Chronicles launches viewers down a path of extreme skepticism about humanity through a metaphor which can apply to technology, eugenics or even the cult of self-esteem. While much of the action fits the standard form of personal drama to further a plot, the writers skillfully layer cues to the darker issues beneath which unfold as the movie goes on. Nothing is as it seems. And as this plot races to its nihilistic conclusion, that is as should be.

Cannibal Corpse – A Skeletal Domain

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The best-selling death metal band of all time, Cannibal Corpse maintains its audience by writing rhythmic hooks and cramming a half-dozen riffs into each song in a way that is memorable enough for the average listener. On their 13th album, A Skeletal Domain, Cannibal Corpse sensibly alter just about nothing to their winning formula.

If you can imagine the 1988-1990 period for Slayer and Exodus combined and turned up to 11, the basic idea of Cannibal Corpse will shine through the genre labels such as “death metal.” This music has little in common with early Morbid Angel, Deicide, Asphyx or other founders of the genre. If anything, it resembles 1980s speed metal given the death metal treatment with extremely distorted vocals, absurdist gore lyrics, and a higher dose of intensity in technique and speed.

Songs build themselves around either a chorus or a memorable riff, usually with hints of melody, and the rest of the time create a primitive groove based on an expectation of rhythmic satisfaction interrupted in sub-divided patterns that recombine the same few basic riff ideas. The guitars support vocals which take center stage in a monotone that foreshadows and echoes the dominant rhythms of each piece. Lead guitars sound straight out of the 1970s but played faster and more erratically, and bass while active and precise acts in a support role to guitars. The result delivers a compact sound that displays little internal variation.

When you listen to this album while distracted, after smoking a bowl, or while typing on the internet, it seems rather impressive. Each individual riff makes sense and the riff after also makes sense. The problem is that songs as a whole do not make sense. They fit together, but no internal tension or communication occurs, which leads to a very “postmodern” style where chaos surrounds an articulated foot-tapping chorus rhythm. The lack of relation and relevance between riffs and the whole of each song makes Cannibal Corpse seem like a stream of spare parts, even if linearly riffs follow in sensible order. You will hear a lot of Slayer in these riffs, which is always welcome.

Metal fans love this band and it is hard to see why they would not. It is catchy, extreme and chaotically hilarious. Its subversively discordant attitude toward all aspects of what most people accept as good and natural life makes it the surly kid who sneaks cigarettes into chapel. The best riffs are often the support riffs, which work in melody and challenging rhythms, and often sound like more intense versions of what second-string speed metal bands like Heathen, Atrophy and Assassin used to do. While I can praise what this album does well, and appreciate the ear candy attributes of it, there is no reason I would purchase this with my limited funds and listen to it on a repeated basis.

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Unleashed – Odalheim

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The most recent album from Unleashed, Odalheim, is simultaneously the best and worst of days for this band. On the plus side, Unleashed have improved at editing down their material so it all flows smoothly and doesn’t ramble. On the downside, the band have adopted a style that is equal parts Dissection and The Haunted, which makes for an almost satisfying heavy metal experience ruined by kiddie rock band style antics on the level of nu-metal.

Let us be honest: djent is nu-metal for people who like jazz fusion. It’s slightly more subtle. The djent influence filtered into metal through The Haunted after At the Gates (just down the street from Meshuggah, who are the progenitors of djent). When metalcore came about with The Haunted, it wrapped djent, math rock, and melodic speed metal into one package. The result is a binary rotation between some really excellent heavy metal riffing with melody and the kind of bouncy daycare-sensibility music that made speed metal get dumb and wrecked death metal wherever it appeared.

People who need lots of internal rhythm of a similar sort to keep their interest are dumb. This is why we laugh at bands who overplay their drums in an attempt to conceal basically boring songs. If it sucks, just add lots of internal syncopation and delay your final beats just a sixteenth past audience expectation. It’s like Pavlovian terriers watching the mailman arrive. This part of this album is dumb. There is no other word for it, thus this is the best term: dumb. Repetition disguised as surprise. Only for idiots.

Odalheim is thus the album we wish Unleashed had made years ago. Tight, efficient and beautiful. If Shadows in the Deep had been more balanced, it might rise to this level of clean impact; if Where No Life Dwells had this amount of melody, we might find it mesmerizing. However, the glitch is that this album is barely death metal, but more like a mix between melodic heavy metal and bounce-metal, itself a proxy for nu-metal.

Albums like Odalheim are why black metal railed against trends: no mosh, no core, no fun, no trends. Odalheim obediently chases the late black metal trend, the melodicy heavy metal trend, the metalcore trend and the djent trend. These musicians do a great job of linking them all together, but the end result is like soup made by tossing every ingredient in your fridge into a pot of boiling water: muddled, disgusting.

That means that, while I can admire aspects of this album, I never want to hear it again. The dumb parts drown out the melodic material and the lack of definitive style obliterates its efficiency. There is almost nothing communicated here, only a background mood composed of beauty and bounce. It repeats itself. Nothing changes. Like heat death in a crowded room, Odalheim slowly dominates by repetition. And then? And then there is no will to resist. Nor to enjoy.

Crucifix – Visions of Nihilism

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Texan death metal band Crucifix released multiple demos during the early 1990s which showcased the band’s development of percussive death metal into an artistic voice instead of participation in a trend. Like many other neglected bands who were ahead their time, the band never released a full album. Those who desire a collection of the band’s original material can now obtain it through the efforts of Dark Blasphemies Records.

Visions of Nihilism displays the blueprint for the sub-genre that came into fruition along with bands such as Suffocation and Baphomet. By relying on bursts of energy that emanated from palm-muted guitars, which alternated with structured rhythmic variations of tempo, Crucifix simultaneously achieved a morbid atmosphere and created forward motion by extending and contracting the components of a song, like a slinky falling down into a dungeon.

Dark Blasphemies released this compilation of demo material as Visions of Nihilism in homage to the name of the the band’s planned but unrecorded album. An enjoyable return to death metal’s spirited and threatening years, the CD can be picked up from Dark Blasphemies Records’ bandcamp page for €6 (around $8).

Triptykon – Melana Chasmata

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Back in 1990, Celtic Frost released Vanity/Nemesis. This album was tasked with redeeming the fans’ respect after the affair that was Cold Lake . Straddling the gap that existed between that album and the style of inventive proto-death metal that had made Celtic Frost worth hearing, Vanity/Nemesis was a rather mediocre album. It was reasonably competent and it attempted to blend in with its contemporary milieu, but the album was artificial and uncomfortable to listen to.

In many ways, Melana Chasmata is the linear descendant of that album. First, this is an album with an astute grasp on the market it is attempting to exploit: like Triptykon’s debut, production is crystal-clear, uniform, and decidedly modern. Tom Warrior’s vocals have continued their changing form begun on Monotheist and now share the monotonous, ranting tone more in common with nu-speed metal bands such as Pantera. Riffs, as well, have “progressed” in a similar fashion. Although Eparistera Daimones‘ riffs were minimal, single string sequences, some intriguing melodies arose. For the most part, these are missing on Melana Chasmata, at least on the traditional metal tracks.

Where this album genuinely attempts an artistic statement is during attempts to merge noir-electronic music with the aesthetics of metal instrumentation as was introduced on Warrior’s last two albums. These tracks are worthwhile in that melodies are allowed to develop in a subtle, restrained manner before the climax of the tracks strike, in contrast to the uniform faux-aggression of the rest of the album. Greater tonal variation as evidenced by clean vocals, mildly pentatonic clean guitar sequences, and melodies confirm Warrior’s avowed interest in artists such as Gary Numan. (For a similar, contemporary album in spirit, one might point to the comeback album from Amebix , which also attempted to merge post-90s metal with popular, but slightly “outside” music). These tracks, while superior to the other fare, ultimately lack in the same core way as the others: there is no great resolution, or purpose inherent in them.

For those who hoped that Eparistera Daimones would be but a stepping-stone back to a more traditional Celtic Frost type of composition, they will be disappointed. If death/black metal is one’s primary interest, Melana Chasmata will almost undoubtedly not be worth listening to. However, for those who will admit to being Warrior fanboys (such as the author) or those who are interested in the other aspects of music on this album, it may be worth investigating, if only for curiosity.

Thou Shell of Death – Sepulchral Silence

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Underground metal musicians have always intensely observed ambient, no-classical, and avant-garde genres. Recognizing the same desire to merge the ideals of classical composition with modern technology and popular song structure, some merge these strands in their own metal-based music.

Debut album from Estonian band Thou Shell of Death, Sepulchral Silence drives itself with the keyboard through a duality of background arpeggios, alongside simple single-tone sequences which generate the main melody of each track. Tempi fit between the plodding pace offered by orchestral doom bands and more upbeat neo-medieval black metal, staying within the realm of death/doom metal that preserves the structure of that genre without incorporating melodic variation. Harmonically logical, the band is more learned in its composition than the typical death/doom band, though more in the sense of ambient or pop music than classical music; as guitar chords and vocals follow the same line as established by the keyboard, rendering them mostly as accompaniment devices.

This produces a result that is easy to comprehend and appreciate, but misses the full weight that a more varied and diverse album would have produced. Tracks are difficult to individually distinguish and due to its melodic uniformity, Sepulchral Silence is well suited for background music perhaps while writing a work of fiction, but for listening for its own sake it does not evoke any lasting sensation beyond a mild but indistinct appreciation.

Pilgrim – II: Void Worship

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After metal spent decades expanding its boundaries farther than may be wise, some individuals decided to adopt the inverse of this mentality. Instead of diluting the genre, go back to its roots – and construct songs within an existing framework, rather than trying to do both simultaneously. It is here that heavy-metal/doom “retrovival” band Pilgrim enters the spotlight.

Their latest release, II: Void Worship, features a version of heavy metal which retains the melodic qualities of that genre, along with the rawer rhythmic structures of proto-doom and doom metal. Likely deriving inspiration from bands such as Mercyful Fate, Pentagram, Candlemass, and Cathedral, songs consist of the prototypical verse-chorus structure characteristic of music partly derived from rock. The songs never reach the nihilistic emptiness of death-metal derived doom, but still are heavier than the standard retroactive 80s fare. Indeed, the band occasionally incorporates minor chord strumming which brings to the foreground the confluence of influences present upon more melodic black metal bands. It’s in moments such as these in which the return to the past falters a bit, and the reasoning for doing so isn’t made clear. With the vocals providing a prominent grounding for the melodies, when it is utilized songs drive forward with appropriate vigor.

Nothing on here is novel, or has yet been unheard, and one should expect this before diving inwards towards this release, or the modern branch of the movement it arises from. However, those who are in search of quality metal that upholds a sense of internal quality control will find some songs to appreciate on this release. As this band is still in its early stages, it will be worth waiting to see if they can preserve their link to their influences while making their individuality more distinct.

Oppression – Sociopathie & Glorie

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Punk music, in all of its myriad strains, was an integral foundation of black metal. The sense of strong alienation coupled with a conflicted youthful exuberance towards the future was shared between both genres, in addition to technical specificities. As black metal burned through its trajectory and splintered into its various initiatory parts, it became clear that a punk foundation to the genre would be a logical ground for renewal.

It’s here that we find French-Canadian band Oppression. Merging Oi!-style punk with some enhancements from black metal, tracks are short (2-3 minute) affairs. Melodies are catchy, yet wistful lines grounded in simple guitar and bass riffs, with vocal alternating between manic shrieks and an idiosyncratic, youthful attempt at melodic singing. Using the more linear style composition of punk, as opposed to the riff-stacking song construction used by much of black metal, each song contributes a sense of motion that builds the album up over successive tracks. Production values are what one would expect for this style of music; clear enough to make out each instrument, but raw enough to preserve low-budget ethos.

This is a release that is not attempting to invent a new genre, but rather one which seeks to renew genres that had collapsed under their own entropy. This is a solid debut, which bodes well for the band as they refine their craft into the future. The strange aesthetics may be off-putting to some, but if those can be sublimated into the spirit of this album, a refreshingly honest work will open itself for enjoyment.