The One – I, Master (2008)

Hailing from Rhodes, The One is a black metal project by the mastermind behind Macabre Omen, who, alongside Varathron, have been the most consistent artists in the Hellenic scene during the past few years. The One performs a style of black metal that draws from various influences such as Mayhem, Hellhammer and Bathory, yet it is filtered through the Hellenic prism of longer melodies and warm, ritual atmosphere.

This sound is shaped by multiple layers of guitars and distortion. The ensuing disorienting atmosphere resembles a maelstrom in the river Acheron, sucking the listener inside. Indeed, it feels like this was recorded in a cave; in the same way that subterranean noises can be distorted due to echo, the guitar parts are blended into each other, rendering the act of discerning riffs difficult at certain points. This is a great case-study in modern black metal production, because it helps the riffs hide on the first listen, in order to reappear on the next.

Following the title of the album, the senses are guided from freshly dug graveyard soil to the nebulous regions of the sky, so that through death and a confrontation with the violent forces that sleep in man, a feeling of mastery may be conveyed. The tools with which The One is trying to impose this effect upon the listener are chromatic riffs inspired by Hellhammer that provoke cyclopean headbanging and excellent vocal invocations to Mayhem. Truly, the vocals are resourceful and employ a wide pallete of techniques. The locomotive guitar parts taken from Mayhem lead to cryptic orientalist melancholic riffs in the style of Macabre Omen.

A natural mood pervades the compositions, in the sense that changes happen when they have to; nothing is rushed and there is room for the riffs to breath. They rarely outstay their welcome as they flow into the next riff. However, chromatics are used not to liberate the composer, but to evoke claustrophobia, thus there is not much harmonic movement going on, similarly to church and folk music. This fact interestingly tends to increase the value of such movements when they happen.

The listener has to meditate on the sonic violence, for things that hide and appear on the third listening session. Even the guitar solo which imitates Euronymous can be mistaken as a traditional pipe instrument for a few seconds because of the sound and bending technique employed. Proceeding from the Heracletian philosophical foundations that “All is One”, Byzantine chants, melodies and vocals are chocked in the midst of chaos and appear as a homogenous mixture that propels the song onwards. This atmosphere is very ritualistic and the compositions move with uniformity to reach the epilogue of the record.

For all the talent of its creators, I, Master might pose a few drawbacks on the more experienced listener. To begin with, due to the hiding of the riffs and all the finer details it appears that the album doesn’t want to be noticed. Verily, the hooks of the record are the noisier parts which rely on the listener’s curiosity, like a puzzle. Unlike Aosoth’s early work and other Greek bands, this release is more tempered and doesn’t aim for direct impact. This is not a drawback per se, as it is a really interesting approach to keep the uninitiated listeners away and is in alignment with the spirit of black metal.

The second danger, is that this record belongs to the tradition of occult black metal, which is often dominated by monotonous attempts to resemble a liturgy and subsequently the release flirts with wallpaper aesthetics. However, The One manages to navigate through those reefs by channeling quality melodies and intriguing vocal performances into the mixture, thus keeping the attention of the listener throughout the record.

Therefore, the degree to which The One falls on the above trappings is subjective and depends on the attention span of the listener. An equal case can be drawn for experimental doom rock band Universe 217, which creates a parallel cosmic vibe which escapes post-rock monotony through possessed Janis Joplin vocals and intricate 12-chord riffs that channel emotion so that the composition can move somewhere else. In general, when monotony may infiltrate a composition, a great riff and some fine details can save the day. As Ildjarn demonstrates, passionate performance stands above all and passionate performance stems from passionate composition, which in term depends on the artist’s intention. The One’s intention cannot be disputed.

In fact, the whole record has a personal dimension for many reasons; first of all, the “I” in the title; second, enigmatic whispers on the final track suggest the importance of “creating” for the artist; third, Macabre Omen has already taken a personal tragedy and projected it into historical events, in Gods of War. Therefore, there is a tendency of projecting the personal into the universal, which might account for some addictive elements in the record that assure its replay value. In addition, there is an emphasis on individualism, that can be also witnessed on the early days of the band.

To sum up, this album highlights:

  • How to create a dense cryptic atmosphere without becoming a sonic wallpaper.
  • How to use the asphyxiating production to hide messages, like a grimoire or an ancient artifact.
  • The importance of blood and/or culture, since The One is definitely inspired by the folklore, religion and traditional music of his country on the catchier passages, making those possibly unfitting influences sound honest, true and convincing, because they have been experienced.

However, the strongest part of the record is the translation of its philosophical underpinnings into music. A cosmic ambience resides on some tracks, a vibe of some greater universal force that drowns the individual and helps him reach his potential at the same time. An example where The One flirts with this ambience is on song V, which unleashes a Burzum interpretation of doomy ambience and contains a long melodic riff that covers “Temples in the Shape of the Sky” by Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis. This riff is the high point of the record and hints at a possible ascension, a sort of spiritual illumination.

What is tragic is that when this theosis is attained, there is no escape into the great beyond. The song falls back to the Earth, back into the previous slow stratospheric riff.

This is exactly where The One and good black metal in general differs from the so called ritualistic, occult or “Orthodox” varieties: spirituality is acknowledged yet it complements the Earth and cannot be conceived without the Earth. After all, metal is not about escaping, it is about consecrating reality. The return to this previous riff may feel sad and definitely makes one hunger for more. However, it also creates a feeling of strength over reality, strength gained through experience and understanding. The listener was dominated by the music throughout, but now a sense of mastery is communicated. Albeit tragic, this can feel beautiful and the aim of The One is achieved.

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Nameless Therein – Hex Haruspex (2018)

One of the greatest challenges of art linked to mystical practices its concern with being able to codify pathways to the inner experience that is intended to be facilated or transmitted. Nameless Therein have taken a reserved yet thematically rich path towards the accomplishment of such a feat by creating sinister musical vignettes. The compositions in question consist in arrangements for three clean-sound electric guitars, and which arrangements focus on enriching textures surrounding a clear thematic line. The character of the music is one that flirts with different sentiments, with its only constant being a vague sensation of weirdness that is accentuated by the quick evaporation of single pieces. The full effect can only be felt as they are played in succession, allowing their similarities, contrasts and particularities to accumulate in the short term memory, the unconscious and the body’s chemistry.

Codification refers to the placing into intelligible patterns a message that will be decoded and transformed by its receiving agent. The efficacy of art as a portal, as a catalyst, is rooted in its artistry, in its effective deepening or altering of the world. Relation to technique and craft is direct, but the evaluation of its efficacy is its totality, since it will be probably found that the most efficacious experiences are based on craft effectively codifying —thus channeling— the intended experience. Nameless Therein is heard here using each and every ounce of technique and craft of instrumentality and composition to this end, and there are no loose strings in this respect.

What at first seems like a limitation is indeed the source of efficacy as a retainer for evocative suggestions in aural form. Very short pieces form pictures in a stream that allows them their own personality while restraining from elaborating excessively, and so avoiding confinement of the listener’s individual experience. Like beautiful entrances to secluded roads in an enchantingly dark, pastoral setting, enticing first and bewitching after as the path grows beyond the composition, yet within the designs of the composer’s manipulative schemes. Sympathetic strings are pulled, and one hovers above, or is shifted out of position, but incompletely. Perception is rent asunder, but in wild streaks, singaling marks seen by a now disturbed awareness. These are doors opened for journeys that can only be taken in solitary, and which no art can complete: art is always a portal, never the experience.

The dense guitar arrangements here make very natural use of the properties of the instrument. Rather than strumming incessantly, or attempting to emulate usages that are more suited to bowed instruments, we hear craftful arpeggiations supporting the passage of melodies that glide over string activity. The last is the proper use of a clear or acoustic guitar-like instruments, whose sonority lends itself to constant vibrations that form a pool over which appears a face: that of the spirit of the melody. That is the germ that infects the mind, and it is a daemon of possession as well, one that invades and lives in the listener.

The underhanded disalignment induced by the music makes portals of such narrow openings into secretive, wide spaces. The effects can be dizzying, even sickening, submerging us in a vaporous twilight that is neither here or there. As the short pieces pass almost unnoticed, a slow but clear altering of one’s biology seems to take place by virtue of the effective completeness of the “circular motion” that they do possess despite their limited length. Each one moves the eye’s mind, the humors in the chest, and the emotions in differing directions, miniscule in individual magnitude, yet hardly negligible as fifty-six spirits create a vortex at the center of which is the bewildered listener.

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Osi and the Jupiter – Uthuling Hyl (2017)

Osi and the Jupiter play a mostly acoustic ambient with synthetic overtones that borrows heavily from ancestral Nordic cultural remnants for its conceptual, and musical, orientation. In Uthuling Hyl, this takes the form of what we could call a European Pagan Drone music, with all that each of these words could imply by themselves and together. As European, it seeks that connection in instrumentation and tone to pre-traditionalist roots. As a Pagan affair, it is based on a numinous connection to surroundings, contemplative and wordless reflection, and an unfolding wyrd presencing a quality that has come to be known as ‘honor’. As all ambient, the music depends entirely upon its ability to very explicitly maintain a continuous flow of sounds that are not allowed the minimal digression. Thereby is a more esoteric teaching concealed in the construction and balance of the music itself, which is as all art should be. For in trying to bring to bear a connection human beings can have to nature when they place themselves within it with respect and devotion, the music also reflects how delicate this affair is, and how quickly it can all be burnt down by our hubris. In truth, it would take a mundane simpletone —or an utter imbecile— to relegate the experience presented in Uthuling Hyl to a debased utilitarian function such as serving as soundtrack to some ill-advised television show.

The hidden drone component here dictates that the variation of the elements must be done ever so slightly, taking care that texture and tone are gauged with due attention to craft. Texture is sustained while introducing and remaining particulars, relying on relatively abrupt changes in pacing or timbre only in very specifc cases and with a very specifc aim in mind. In general, and above all, the delicate fullness in unity that marks this work serves as a mantle for a whole cosmos in which organisms live a precarious existence but whose essence eternally flows. The patterns of said fabric are sewn by the threads of individual musical voices, surviving as they do mindlessly, but doing so only because their actions fit the pacing and balance of the whole. The endings of those existences are timely and waste not energy nor leave space unmarked. Sounds of worship and numinous contemplation permeate this summoned spiritual world. The cello parts by Kakophonix do not overimpose nor indulge, but enhance ekstasis, bringing an energetic waves that travel the landscape across darkened wood, mountain and sky. In the midst of this interpretation, the mournful, pleading vocalizations stand out as the human presence submerged, wailing, unnoticed in a sinisterly-numinous ocean of flowing forces in colossal dimensions perhaps quantified by some physicist, but ultimately undreamable by our daytime minds.

While all manifestation is One, we can highlight aspects or levels of it as they come to the fore of our impressions. In the case of Uthuling Hyl, this would be more unconscious vaporous tension, the watery flow of emotions that lie below reason and will. The humid web that holds things together here is ever so vulnerable, our transgressions the probable cause of dissolutions that are no crimes but mere effects to causes. The listener, the conscious human, intrudes upon this space, and a decision must be taken to coalesce or see it all dry up, and waste into cold —or perhaps burn up into merciless hatred and ambition. Such is the picture that Osi and the Jupiter reveal in pattern and spirit. As numinous worship, the present work calls for our knowing our place, and seeking our destiny; for our seeking a voice and power, for our evolutive ascendance, in a picture of our cosmos that finds beauty in bleakness.

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Mørketida – Panphage Mysticism (2018)

Written by Merlin Lemasters

Hailing from Finland, Mørketida present us their debut album which, unlike most of the festering horde laying claimant to the precipitous banner of black metal this year, has some actual merit. Perhaps what is most impressive about this release is that, despite its utter reliance on the most elementary of black metal chord and note progressions, there is such a wealth of depth in the interplay between elements that the essential lethargy and entropy prototypical of the modern form of this threadbare genre is fully exceeded. Verily —and in traditional, true black metal fashion— they have made the utmost out of rudiments. Every section here is wrung out, thoroughly, meticulously and by means of layering, coalesced into a microcosm of sound. This is aided by the production’s overlaid murk, an intensely atmospheric affair; manifold veils reveal obscured information upon close inspection, in this way taking its cues from early Burzum. Indeed, most parts of this album can be traced back quite easily enough to the cornerstones of the genre. As mentioned before, the language that makes up the barest essence of this genre is present here in full force and yet that language has been twisted to fit its needs, to create an experience. There is no concession to vanity here, all is arranged in service to a pervading darkness and this puts the craft of this album above most. In this way, it is true, it has not simply regurgitated the requirements of the genre but used them in expression. Traces of Darkthrone, Gorgoroth, Graveland, Ancient and Burzum, all make appearances here, though not in imitation by any means. These classic bands have indeed scribed the language but the arrangement and order of its morphemes is fully Mørketida’s own.

A deliberate brooding pace sets the tone for much of this album, at times finding brief resolution in well-worn, thrumming tremolo bursts, hallmark of the Norwegians. Drums too, are played in the classic way, wisely devoid of any clutter they rumble, blast and accentuate without syncopation, pure in that they do not attempt to suffer arbitraries upon the listener. Vocals chant in intonations obscure, oft buried in the umbrage and at times barely discernible, only made known by their echo, like chanting heard from a cave some distance away. Some brief sections of keys, emphasize moments of power or ambience, they are present in much of this album however, usually as another layer in the foggy production. In its most fervent moments, there is force of passion here, etched out as sharp contrasts between the meandering stride. The brunt of this work appears uniform with its slow chords and droning arpeggios but sections are arranged in repetition only with the greatest patience, never failing to end that which has dwelt too long. In fact, this album is utterly untouched by the inertia of lingering thought-forms past their day; all sections have been measured diligently and like the ancients they shift when it is time, never after or before.

This organic sense of composition is much missed in these days of note clamor, where the essential power of the black metal language is roiled by the entropy of an unnecessary, incessant changing of riffs, vomited out with little application of artistry. Songs are well wrought, there are no loose ends to composition and another impressive facet of this release, there is no excess of vanity, no flirtations with extraneous influence. The uniformity of this approach, with just enough discernible waymarks to keep the listener guided throughout its realm, lends a rare strength to this release. Very few parts make any attempt to be seen as indelible, and of these, the title track in particular sets itself apart by letting the bass wander, exploring different trails and in one glorious moment lets it solo, a longing sonority against the melancholic scratching of the guitars. Moments like this one are rare and with good reason, this is the type of black metal that longs to dwell in worlds away from modernity, it crushes the ego, it spurns the trappings of the mundane. The goal of a permeating, consuming, crepuscule is always in mind and with it; the apprehension of an atmosphere pure, reveling in its fealty to an ultimate darkness. A mature and conservative work in all aspects, what may at cursory glance appear to be contrived or unremarkable will soon prove itself well worthy of study.

Experience it as a whole and experience it with headphones!

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Helwetti – Unholy Extreme Black (1999)

Released in 1999, Unholy Extreme Black is the second of two demos released by the transitory Finnish black metal project Helwetti. Here, Helwetti provides richness through depth in the reach of its rather brief material by making constrained technique malleable to the natural requirements of a flow aimed at bringing in new ideas in a coherent yet always evolving stream. The secret of the elite, almost non-existent underground to producing rare minimalist music of such sublety is a rather bestial and ritualistique effort fueled by dark spiritual ideas founded on enacted reclusiveness. Within this darkness embraced, the true artist manages to bring a powerful invocation of infernal —lower-world, unconscious to the uninitiated— forces in a way that most of the later, allegedly more mature, projects have never reached by a long. The racing melodies of Helwetti’s music in traditional black metal dissonances arranged through percussive changes, opportune breaks and vocal overlays raise its minimalist expression to the best that could possibly be achieved while remaining so simple. The vocals on this recording are an incredible delight to listen to as they express a nuanced wealth of emotions, within this limited framework as the rest of the instruments, greatly adding to the overall atmosphere. The necro sound resulting from the tampering with the original sound gives it a veiled that is certainly not a detriment to the sound of the instruments. Thereby, the clarity of the instruments is not only maintained throughout, but it actually attenuates distractions typical to the metal genre, allowing the merit of the musical arrangements to come to the foreground.

In the matter of technique, guitars do not go beyond softly strummed power chords, not quite fast downstrokes and “tremolo picking” on one string. The bass serves as a proper low frequency holder that does not get in the way but noticeably reinforces the texture of the music. Drums vary between laid back, standard rock patterns in duple time, sometimes with triplet feels, that go on smooth crescendos of double-bass runs; these patterns are then alternated with “d-beats” at different speeds, depending on the location within the pieces. These are all very standard and quite basic techniques, but what raises this demo in musical, rather than technical quality, is arrangement of the parts. Logic is not enough, but a sense of naturality must be expressed that can only be correctly represented by the use of intuition. Black metal in general prides itself in placing intuition before mere logic or the debasing —often clownish and overbearing— technique flaunting of death metal. However, intuition depends entirely on an inwardly developed or innately inherited talent of the individual that is not produced by the application of logic. Also, under close inspection, music resulting from the application of logic (structure-oriented death metal, for instance) is quite different from music prominently steeped in the application of intuition (like the best of black metal). Which means that a lot is outside the normally conscious, calculable control of the individual composing. It is just in this trap that the elitism of black metal lies.

Within the seemingly narrow constraints of raw black metal, we can appreciate how Helwetti creates a rich variety of fluxions which overflow one into the next. Without leaving any question regarding the soundness of their transformations, adjacent patterns are related by transitions that flow smoothly as water downstream. More interestingly, the four different pieces in this demo act as movements within one work. Arguably, many underground demos were compounded in this way. And without there necessarily being a conscious intent in relating it to the classical tradition, the effect is somewhat similar when a release of the stature of Unholy Extreme Black manages to present variety of texture and theme within a coherent and consistent style, bringing interrelated pieces together further under an hidden phantasm grasped by the artist’s senses. It is in communion with “Satan,” “satans,” or “dead things,” and in their consistent, focused sensations thereof, that the black metal musician brings a stream of riffs directed at channeling patterns which vibrate with what is perceived in altered states. The extent to which such a communion is attained, and perhaps the authenticity or the quality of the experience, is what makes the results vary —not to mention actual musical talent. This is precisely the “ritual” to which many a wordless black metal acolytes (For who is truly an adept in this inherently left-handed path?) refer when attempting to describe what this music is as opposed to other kinds of “music” that are aimed at entertainment or technical exercise or narcissistic indulgence.

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Old Wainds / Навь (Nav’) – We Are the North… Mean Cold War… (2003)

The early phenomenon of Old Wainds played an extremely condensed and straightforward style of black metal that represented the ultimate distillation of what the genre had to offer as a sequence of meaningful flows based on guitar riffs that form aggressively articulated phrases the pressure of which is carefully regulated. The project was a great exception to the reliable rule that says, from experience, that black metal (or metal music in general) from Slavic countries has nothing to offer musically. More often than not, what is called “slavic black metal” is anything but, and in the best of cases falls into what has been misleadingly and ironically called “flowing black metal” to describe a pointless, melodic meandering rock music that lacks significant changes in pacing and texture, and so never is never able to produce the necessary dynamics of tension and release. Alas, Old Wainds plays the exalted and unassuming post-1995 black metal form first seen in the condensed masterpiece of Uranium 235, crushing the heads of the genre as a whole, dividing the line between mundane scenester fanboys and solitary black mystics.

Навь (Nav’) was Old Wainds’ twin project, in which at least one of the band members differed. Musically, what distinguished the two was a the attempted emphasis of Nav’ on more fluid tendencies and softer contours, even if ever so slightly in comparison to Old Wainds. Nav’s distinct aim is arrived at in their first full-length, Чертоги смерти (2004), which basically was a pleasant but weak exposition of the melodic component already present in the best of Old Wainds’ music. While Old Wainds from the beginning has a very narrow style, in the sense of being impressively mature and well-formed, rather than incapacitatingly rigid, Nav’ expresses the riffing and melodic avenues that are left over from the former, but which still fall within this aggressive, dark music.

In time, both projects fell out of grace by their own hand, in a rather telling way that perhaps reveals who the artistic luminary was in both groups. While Kull only participates in the Nav’ demo that is reproduced in this split, along with the second Old Wainds demo, he participates in Old Wainds in every release until Oбжигающий холодныйScalding Coldness— (2005), a comparatively weakened but still recognizable expression of the project founded on proper black metal riff-flurry. After Kull leaves Old Wainds, the music changes drastically in to a completely uninspired imitation of itself, a sign that the departing element in the team was the author of the significant phrases at the center of the music. This is also true of Nav’, whose best work is found in their 1998 demo Гимн холодному безмолвию, reproduced in this split, and which sees the only apparition of Kull in the project.

Furthermore, after their first full length, Where the Snows are Never Gone (1997) —and with the exception of this split which uses material from the second demo from 1999— Old Wainds’ songwriting was suffering from debilitating notions ever since their second full-length album. We sense a lost grasp or connection to the powerful pulse that created a maelstrom around an inward-looking conversation between the riffs, which can only be described as a vortex of encircling energy. The energy in a void whence arises this power is said inner dialogue of the music, that can only be achieved by two necessary elements: the first is that each section must have a clear and significant fluxion [1] expressed; and the second, consequent of the first, is that these fluxions must achieve a certain dynamic flow in between each other. The interaction between the individual fluxions is most excellently demonstrated in Old Wainds’ debut, and consists in the sense achieved by the parts arranged in sequence, first of all, but also in how they match simultaneously. They who grasp the meaning of this lexic contradiction, but that is not a contradiction in the phenomenon described, may have a first key to unlocking the more effective value of this black metal to the more superfluous acts considered de rigueur.

Notes

[1] http://www.deathmetal.org/article/black-fluxions/

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Sabbat – Envenom (1991)

Sabbat are a cult Japanese band known for primarily for being Japanese and playing a heavily Venom influenced style of Heavy metal that sometimes crosses over to real black metal though rarely and for the briefest of periods. This record is actually more known for the exotic origins of its creators rather than the actual quality presented here. Replacing the seriousness of other similar bands with a certain rock and roll cheese and tongue in cheek lyrics that ultimately pull this band behind the rest.

Sabbat have a terrible habit of wearing their influences on their sleeves with far too much pride. “Satan Bless you” has a main motif particular similar to Venom’s “Black Metal” and all of the speed metal parts can be attributed to the English Sabbat. “Evil Nation” is so reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s “2 minutes to midnight” that you can easily sing the verse parts on top of it and there would be almost no difference as the chord progression, rhythm and techniques are practically identical. Carcassvoice steals the first two passages of Mayhem’s “Deathcrush” and only slightly changes the rhythm and added to this package is a hilarious imitation of Maniac’s high pitch rasp. Though these are the most obvious acts of plagiarism, the entirety of the album is drenched in déja-vu and this refrains the album from reaching the same level as their Norwegian and Brazilian peers.

Arrangements tend to be in the classic pop style except for some brilliant moments of over the top soloing and the inclusion of speed metal breakdowns. Though some tracks experiment with the stop and start mechanics from Motorhead’s Overkill (1979) but ultimately fail as the individual parts function in solitude but do not combine as a whole and we are treated to separate songs encapsulated within a single track. There is nothing to be found of the narrative Death and Black metal structures here as this album is firmly rooted in Heavy metal.

The note selection stays within the usual combination of the natural minor scale and the minor pentatonic except when the band allows themselves forays into fully developed black metal territory as seen on track “King of Hell” which has a long droning sequence with a lot of chromaticism that contrasts most of this record but then on closer inspection this feels more like a reject on Bathory’s The Return (1985). The drums hint towards more developed black metal at times as they play a martial techno beat here and there without fills but this record is exceedingly behind what was going during that time period. The best part of the entire record are the solos and how are they given the kind of space and freedom suited for the more commercial strands of metal. The solos first and foremost obey the whims of the accompanying riffs and seek to amplify what they convey with the use of a large repertoire taking from the most famous relevant shredders. The compositions do have their charm in how they use the energetic approach of their heroes to create uplifting and fun music but ultimately play on shock rock tropes like main influence Venom.

The best composition here is the instrumental “Dead March” which takes a simple Judas Priest like motif and advances it forward with perfect control of mood as the motif twists and turns and the interactions between it and the second guitar that either harmonizes in conventional thirds or plays some contrapuntal melodies. The song conveys perfectly a march of the dead and escapes the pop structure through the reuse of certain passages and a complete lack of chorus. A fantastic bridge between the Heavy metal of the past and the Black metal of the future as it takes those elements and applies it in ways that the Norwegian bands would then apply on darker melodies.

Envenom shows a band going through multiple periods as this album was released seven years after the band initially formed and shows this progression from NWOBHM worship to Mayhem’s Deathcrush unfortunately this record shows the timeline of the genre but fails to do anything with it nor add a unique twist to it. Envenom remains a fun record but lacks any transcendent quality that separates it from some of the more forward-thinking acts in the genre and probably because there seems to be not a single ounce of influence from what was going in the Death metal or a willful ignorance to the innovations brought over. An easy listening album to bring over neophytes but for the experienced listener this is enjoyable for a few listens with a beer or two but has nothing else to offer.

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Decieverion – Decieverion (2002)

D E C I E V E R I O N

Decieverion

2002 Era Horrificus

Decieverion start out making what can precisely be described as dark metal, an amalgam of death, black and heavy metal techniques underpinned by extreme metal vocals which can be of a variety of kinds. The purpose of this music is first and foremost to take the listener through sights both bleak and destructive, but also moving and pensive. To this end, dark metal, and so Decieverion, adopt a variety of techniques which, while not disparate or incongruous, make it hard for the critic to place them within one style or genre. Unlimited by such restrictions, the music wanders around seemlessly without great contrasts being perceived as outright offensive. On the downside, the lack of stylistic focus gives this music an altogether weak voice, even if execution is enjoyable and profficient. Incumbered by the liberties and confusion of dark metal, Decieverion tread a middle path that allows for the transmission of varied emotionality at the expense of clarity and elaboration towards depth. A final valuation of the present work reveals that the greatest treasure to be found here is one of countless things to say subsumed under a same aura and personality.

Dark metal moves, as its name directly implies, towards themes “of darkness.” In short towards the less pleasant, the less visited, but no less crucial aspects of our lives and minds that are often neglected but which are more decisive to human experience than the parts that are “positive” or “nice,” —human delusions not withstanding. Furthermore, dark metal as a whole tends towards personal sensations of frustration or desperation, rather than the painting of mythological outlooks. In this there is the advantage of being able to raise a sign that says “I have seen and I have lived.” The disadvantage is that in taking up the space and time to represent this subjective, changing and capricious individuality, the comprehensible link that would make the music self-evident through structures and style to others becomes blurred and debilitated. Instead, it is the bleeding emotionality that seeps through the cracks that impressionistically transmits a holistic image that can only be captured by intuition. Furthermore, the commonplace nature of the expressions used ensures that it is the intuition of a human unencumbered by layers of abstractions and “artistic” demands that finds the emotional clarity found herein as the Decieverion’s most important asset.

Decieverion then moves between passages that hint at black metal, at death metal and at so-called doom metal, in a way that many would interpret as a that of an undefined underground metal. But being these stylistic differentiations within an ultimately united genre, a prudent mind can fuse them together without the slightest hint of incongruity. Sufficiently intelligible complexity is achieved by smoothing out the textures of adjacent sections, and using contrasts in this texture as narrative markers, rather than as tools of shock, which would have destroyed the music’s credibility. The rightful complaint to be made is not so much that the styles are mismatching, because they are taken back to the power chord, as well as the multi-purpose percussion style that is founded upon the rock-based extremisms of underground metal. As such, and in order to attain stylistic variety, Decieverion errs on the side of more mainstream genres. To summarize, Decieverion let themselves be understood by choosing the more comprehensible popular aspects of metal, as far as they go, while developing a narrative by extending songs that connect sections through a proper minding of texture and by protecting the integrity of tonality.

If music is to be ultimately interpreted as an art of communicating what words cannot describe, then the art of Decieverion is accomplished at that of the transmission of experience-based insight from individual to individual. While other works leave great impressions of great art, they are ultimately impersonal and lacking immediate relevance to the majority that behold them in awe.

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Serpent ov Old – Withering Hope (2012)

S E R P E N T  O V  O L D

Withering Hope

2012 Era Horrificus

It is the way of things that genres arise from culture and philosophy, as well as from personal interpretions of that culture and philosophy. In the case of metal, we see its subgenres and styles mingling in different ways to different degrees of acceptance and satisfaction by audience, artists and critics. In the case of Serpent ov Old, this has taken the form of an amalgamation of black metal and power metal, which has surprisingly and graciously bypassed the technicisms of death metal. And while there is word of power metal taking up death metal techniques into its repertoire, the mainstay of power metal has never executed this transition. The truth of the matter is that the melodicity and emphasis on comprehensible chord progressions of power metal has more to gain from the elegant emphasis on melodies-made-flows that the best of black metal has mastered inwardly. At the same time, Serpent ov Old makes music that stands primarily as evocative music elevated above discussions on techniques or style, even if the techniques and ways of expression have been clearly adopted from the sources mentioned above.

Serpent ov Old builds music by stating themes in the fashion of power metal, while balancing —purging— the saccharine effects by the application of black metal underpinnings in percussion, vocalization and guitar strumming. What we can hear is a music dominated by harmonic movement across which significantly active melodic lines move. Tension is built and released and then recaptured by both the melodic-harmonic interplay of lessons learned from black metal here, and those adopted from power metal there. Furthermore, the textural effects of the percussion and how these affect impulse, constriction and relaxation are taken primarily from black metal. The band makes this work by connecting power metal and black metal techniques to their common speed metal foundations, meaning that in many of the cases, the approach of the central riffing and percussion could fall into a nebulous area which both genres share in mature forms of speed metal, although this ambivalence is usually resolved towards black metal. As a whole, power metal is used as a bombastic paintbrush that allows Serpent ov Old to magnify the usually understated dramatism of black metal.

All this has to be accomplished tastefully, and we never find a reliance on trope or techniques: compositions are driven by the central, “invisible” essence of motion and contrast, and fluctuations of power and direction, by and for which the instrumentation exists. The “shredding” abilities of the guitarists in this work are used much in the same way that Trey Azagthoth’s atonal noise solos ripped through old Morbid Angel songs: as hyeroglyphs rather than as pretentious elaborations. These are to be taken as impressionist impressions, and should not be confused as baroque virtuosic displays, for such scale-based quasi noise shreds lack the self-sufficiency of the proper baroque solo instrument that we would hear in a work for viola da gamba by Marin Marais, for instance. And as one listens to the music more and more closely, subsequent spins allow the listener to perceive these relations properly, allowing them to see where the backbone is located, and how the peaks and valleys are formed by the creators of this landscape of poetic rashness.

The music of Serpent ov Old is fierce romantic dramatism akin to powerful forces of nature that destroy yet also create. By adopting and moderating the extroverted expression of power metal and delicately subsuming it under black metal, Serpent ov Old makes the music genres escape the narcissistic trap and makes them serve a transcendent expression of inner experience. Furthermore, this profound experience, if authentic, is one of darkness and anguish; but which darkness and anguish, if contronted and assimilated unto individuation, can presumably lead to the creation of a new type of being. However, the music is still limited by this personal flavor, which still tends to be merely inward looking, but not yet deep enough that a new space is opened up through the self as a gate. We may say that this is ultimately a question of personal experience, reflection and individual meaning. But ultimately, as music, it must be able to develop the ability to somehow come up with an aural language that can communicate a general intimation of what is presenced from beyond.

Note: We might yet see Withering Hope released under the banner of Deathwave Nexion.

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Capharnaum – Reality Only Fantasized (1997)

Capharnaum were a short-lived “tech-death” band hailing from Connecticut but then after the release moved to Florida in the dying of the Floridian movement in an attempt to gain recognition for what is a technical Death metal album that genuinely has musical quality beyond mere feats of virtuosity. Influences range from bands like Monstrosity, Death and Iron Maiden with various Jazz techniques inserted. Though this formula has led to an infinitely long list of terrible tech Death bands, Capharnaum avoid these shortcomings by implementing these techniques within a genuine Death metal context and a true passion for genre not halted by technical acumen.
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