Category Archives: Review

Martyrdöd – Elddop

martyrdöd-elddop

Coming from the fusion of d-beat crust, hard rock and melodic heavy metal, Martyrdöd demonstrate a greater ability to write songs than your average underground band, both through musical knowledge and the instinct to know how to complete a song convincingly. The problem that appears out of the chaos is that these are basically all the same song since the band has such a broad approach that making it successful requires narrowing the eventual product.

Songs start over the high-speed Disfear-style modified d-beat that is played more rigidly than its original UK inspiration and so fosters a healthy environment for driving music, which Elddop offers in mixed metal and bluesy hard rock riffs for verses and At the Gates style melodic twists and turns for choruses. Over this the vocalist approximates a decent black metal vocal with varied emphasis except at the end of each phrase where he reverts to hardcore phrasing to emphasize the rhythmic hook. It is not unpleasant to listen to, and thanks to the superior musical abilities of these players is in fact a bit of fun, but it lacks anything to make a listener pick this album up again. Martyrdöd does not nail a certain feeling, a moment, an experience or an idea but rather makes sonic wallpaper of the intersection of ideas in a single experience of vague resistance but basically a desire for some hard rock riffs in a new form.

Naturally this opinion will be controversial because it is hard to argue with the better musical knowledge on this album. But in art, as in music, technical knowledge is a means to an end, and when it becomes an end in itself, it eclipses the purpose of art which is to communicate a profound realization in an aesthetically pleasing way. Elddop nails aesthetically pleasing, but by doing so in the empty aggregate intersection of many styles, creates merely a high-tech form of elevator music with crust and metal flavoring.

Dråpsnatt – Hymner till undergången

dråpsnatt-hymner_till_undergången

Hymner till undergången just misses being the black metal revivalist album that most fans hope for. Combining the low-fi approach of Ulver with the aesthetics of Windir, Dråpsnatt crafts black metal in the style we might have expected 1996-1998 from a band taking influences from the third wave of bands who broke from the past musically but not aesthetically. As a result, much of this album focuses on open harmonies over which keyboards and guitars interplay to create a sense of a busy but peaceful forest scene.

Where this album falls short — without considering whether this style is great or not — is that many of these phrases are too symmetrical or otherwise evident to provide for enduring listening. In addition, much like Ulver or later Enslaved, this band wants to become Pink Floyd, not Darkthrone or Mayhem. What emerges instead are very spacy jams where extremely obvious simple melodic death metal riffs introduce longer space-rock songs based around three notes, which means that the band repeats itself to achieve atmosphere and then goes crazy with a solo or extended bridge. As the album goes on, it becomes more atmospheric, which is a cool deepening effect sort of like the divergence from society in Journey to the End of the Night. The heavy use of keyboards allows some distraction from the pure drone but this often forces the keyboards into the role of lead instrument for extended passages, which quickly begins to approximate the kind of music they play near fountains in malls.

Much of Hymner till undergången gratifies the old-school metalhead, if that person can filter out the exuberant and sentimental clean vocals, the extended open-strum mood pieces, and the symmetrical paint-by-numbers riffing. Clearly this album gets closer on an aesthetic level than almost anything else recently, in part by understanding how to pace vocals and guitars at offset to avoid the modern metal sound and develop depth. It possesses a familiar texture and rhythm, develops about at the pace a black metal fan would expect, and delivers roughly the right moods. It is unlikely to sustain repeated listens in the way the classics of this genre did, and the transition to atmospheric rock halfway through makes it an unpleasant reminder of the fate of all good, hard and valid music in a world that seeks flattery for the consumer instead.

Daed – RaEP

daed-raep

In metal, the “-core” suffix tends to mean a derivation from the endless stream of hardcore-infused and relative similar styles of music. But in electronic music, “-core” implies something different entirely, and in glitchcore band Daed this term takes on its original meaning as music that adopts the strictest standards for its own integrity and rejects the touchy-feely impositions of what the audience thinks it wants. Would you believe an audience survey? Neither do glitchcore artists.

Like metal, this genre — which sounds roughly like someone tuning an analog radio, switching between stations rapidly — takes an idiosyncratic look at life through music that aims to unsettle, provoke and disturb. Deriving its roots from the rapid pace of drum ‘n bass with the hip-hop penchant for sampling widely and forging it into song, glitchcore makes a collage of existing genres and thrusts them through a filter of someone holding down the fast-forward button. Daed takes on this genre by giving it a unique structuralist mindset where the samples and glitchy patterns seem to represent a voice bleeding through a cognitive barrier and manifesting in different forms, rather than many different voices only incidentally in tune. Sampling wildly from chiptunes, classic techno, hip-hop, found sounds and many electronically mangled raw sonic forms, Daed creates the equivalent of walking through a busy cosmopolitan city and seeing all of the different options and chaotic divergences, but through the same eyes.

What makes RaEP interesting is its tendency to pick up all these bits of scattered music and reinvent them, weaving skeins of other influences through the bunch. The Autechre-inspired tendency to find a place of peace after the chaos through which beauty flows, itself derived from one of the seven ritual stages of a techno set, manifests itself in many of these tracks. Some would compare this to Squarepusher without the reliance on fingers to keep up with the urgent percussion, allowing faster motion and more dramatic tempo changes. No vocals mar this style except those which are sampled, processed, re-sampled and distorted again. Like a high speed inner dialogue, this music deconstructs its world and itself to find commonality between these many bits and its own unique, personality-rich perspective.

Stargazer – A Merging to the Boundless

stargazer-a_merging_to_the_boundless

One of the great divides in metal music separates those who approach album making as holistic artworks in the tradition of European classical music, and those who view an album as a collection of songs in the tradition of old and new popular musics. If one takes the former route a certain artistic liberty is acquired that allows the artist to leave songs that occur in the middle of the album open to the possibility of continuation through incomplete conclusions.

Great Death Metal albums with work-oriented organizations like At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours and Morbid Angel Blessed are the Sick strategically position songs early in the album to serve as introductions to the album as a whole. An excellent and illustrative example outside metal is Ludwig van Beethoven‘s String Quartet Opus 132. Conceptual works also require a strong topical orientation, often including different styles or even wholly different genres which can be united under a topic that is not only general (music has no direct mappings to our mundane world) but also specific (music can evoke precise moods and auras that some might say lie in the world of ideal forms) and clear (so that it is apparent to the listener). Undefeated masterworks in this area are Johann Sebastian Bach‘s Mass in B Minor and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. This can be seen in the barely satisfactory conceptual realization of the otherwise great and inspiring The Voice of Steel by Nokturnal Mortum, more effectively (and miraculously, given the wildly different genres associated) solidified in Peste Noire’s L’Ordure à l’Etat Pur and more recently in the young Colombian effort of a more poetic nature and epic proportions Nadia by Cóndor.

If a band chooses the more simple song-collection method, it must again abide certain rules in order to maintain any semblance of reason because proper music, inspired, must go through the filters of reason to attain their greatest expression. These are born out of the whole of the mind, not just uncontrolled emotion, but rather harnessed emotion. Songs must be self-sufficient. Each song must be brought to satisfactory conclusion by both harmonic and rhythmic means appropriate for the nature of the song and of proportionate dimensions in relation to the rest of the song so that it wraps up the musical content as the ending of an essay brings the topic to a rational resolve. The song must have a parallel relation to that of the holistic conceptual artwork. The simplest way of attaining this independence is by simple Rondo form, or popular verse-chorus song as Iron Maiden does in unforgettable albums such as Powerslave or Slayer in South of Heaven. Epic Power Metal sometimes chooses to borrow a little of the concept-album emphasis of the former approach and effectively come to one type of middle-road arrangement; a good example of this is Rhapsody’s Power of the Dragonflame.

Despite all their technical competence, like many other modern metal bands StarGazer takes neither of these paths and instead attempts to aggregate random elements without linear order. Stylistically within the metal universe, A Merging to the Boundless draws from the old school technical death metal such as Atheist (especially in the way the bass is handled within the jazz-metal framework, although they let it get out of hand into more explicitly jazz-like outbursts) and pre-Covenant Morbid Angel (a stark reference to Morbid Angel’s Brainstorm can be found in the fourth track of this album, Merging to the Boundless). Under the guise of Avant Garde, which is essentially a claimed right to disavow any of the conventions of the genres from which they derive their music, StarGazer use these genres as a container for unrelated, distracting riffing.

What this and other modern bands fail to realize is that certain conventions are in place as essential part of the genre and are inextricably related to the aesthetics that superficially define it, and when you forcefully rip the latter from the former, you end up with a non-functional husk that can only serve as wallpaper. StarGazer still shows much more local-level coherence and sense than most in its neighborhood and certain structuralist conventions of old school death metal are followed, such as the use of a motif to unite a song, although this occurs only in the first two tracks with looser instantiations in other tracks. The band can be credited with generally being able to fuse influences into the the particular Avant-Garde sound they want to reflect, even if to a connoisseur of the genre the influences are a little too obvious, with the jazz and post rock limbs sticking clearly out amidst the clear and separate death metal ones like a Frankenstein monster whose stitches are clearly visible.

The other major genre that surfaces in this album is a form of lite jazz that results from bringing jazz into post-rock/metal. This is unified under the pretense of making progressive music. This progressive element is sometimes pulled out with a hint of the old (late sixties and early seventies, peaking in bands from England) real prog-rock art of smooth, logical transitions and clear progression (as in track five, “The Great Equalizer”) at least in some stretches of the songs. Unlike the old prog-rock art and the classical music it emulates, StarGazer does not make a clear enough division of main and subsidiary material and thus it sometimes feel like it is lost and wandering in its own compositions. “The Great Equalizer” stacks random ideas and unnecessary out-of-hand variations within the post-rock-sludge territory in lieu of composition, joining a long line of poorly realized music that purports to be progressive. A Merging to the Boundless crosses the line into pure jazz with metal overtones in sections of tracks (“Old Tea” features soloing jazz bass), and in this same thought goes beyond that and into post-rock ambiance which consists of strumming or picking chords once and again. In this same spirit the opening of “An Earth Rides its Endless Carous” is very reminiscent of Animals as Leaders in its plain and unrefined yet very affected obvious use of scales and arpeggios in a way that barely describes theme and melody but rather just runs up and down like a kid playing on a flight of stairs. In the last three songs, the more prog-attempted side of the album are rather inconclusive and feel overextended arising from what I can only judge is sloppy high-level design. After the fifth track, a return to simple, late Morbid Angel-style Death Metal with a pseudo prog twist brought on by interpolating Sinister-style riffs feels like going back to something that was already said in the album. If “Ride the Everglade of Reogniroro” were arranged before “The Great Equilizer,” it would probably only sound slightly redundant with what came before. I have this same impression of the last (poor-prog) track, “Incense and Aeolian Chaos,” that makes use Animals as Leaders plainspoken use of scale that morphs into old-styled prog/tech death metal that is wordy (faster notes) yet not more dense in content.

In the end analysis, A Merging to the Boundless wanders everywhere and thus goes nowhere. Songs suffer from clever low-level (local) arrangement and poor high-level (long distance relations and overall progression) design, which results in their structure being entirely cyclic or not having a clear direction in the long run and being inconclusive. Cyclic songs have rather forced endings while the more prog-oriented ones just dissipate into nothingness. This last thing feels as if someone takes you to a walk in the forest, strays from the past and just disappears, leaving you in the middle of the forest with no purpose or direction.

Angist – Circle of Suffering

angist-circle_of_suffering

In theory, Angist play death metal, but in practice it sounds like what would happen if you took a basic 80s glam metal song and dressed it up in brutally distorted power chords and repetitive high-speed rhythms. The essence of this band is droning, insistent rhythms mated to riffs with melodic undertones that spend most of their motion in accidental notes around the basics of the chord progression.

The repetition alone could crush the skull of a listener, but that in itself is not “heavy,” only boring combined with catchy. The result is a feeling of obligation in churning through the repetitive structure and riff styles. The vocals insist on a circular pattern as well which creates a monolithic grinding aura which presents itself well, but then in invariant intransigence proceeds to normalize itself as a backdrone. Fortunately little frippery interrupts the otherwise solid stream of riff but in the end, this acts more like Chinese water torture than death metal: catchy, repetitive, cyclic grinding wears down resistance and then introduces a kind of tedium in which the mind perks up for any variation, only to lose sight of it as it gives way to more of the same.

Were this album to vary its approach to tempo and more selectively use its melody, it might achieve the kind of internal contrast that creates anticipation and release. Instead, it marches onward like the doomed traversing dystopia on their way to some utterly pointless activity. For that feeling, you could just listen to an air conditioner or rough idling engine and get the same effect.

Orcultus – Orcultus

orcultus-orcultus

Orcultus returns to the days before black metal when NWOBHM band Venom created short, catchy songs but Orcultus runs this approach through a Norsecore filter and adds post-metal riffing for atmosphere. The result is both eminently listenable and unendurable because its simplistic approach misses everything that made the Norse strong, adds too much adornment to achieve the simple pleasures of Venom, and will never be accepted by post-metal because it is not trendy enough.

Songs tend to launch relatively simply in the Norsecore droning riff style, redouble that with catchy choruses, then fade out with either more Norsecore or the patented drunken people waving in the breeze as a sad note sounds and then falls style of post-metal. They then repeat this formula with different Norse riffs matched to opposite corresponding Venom-style rhythms and a slight variant on the post-metal drone. This creates an effect of transitioning through the life cycle of black metal in a single song, which brings up miserable reminders and ends in the nowhere man gentrified urban neighborhood entropy that post-metal uses to make hipsters of us all.

Worse than obliterating the past by ignoring it is to destroy it by adulterating it, and then to let the adulterated hybrid take the place of the original. Yet this is what happens in most cases. Orcultus represents this attempt in the black metal genre, mixing several generations of heavy metal and hybrids into an indecisive and contentless paradigm that produces a sensation of fatigue, ambiguity and confusion, but not the dark and rich melancholic emotions of black metal. As a result, despite having much of the old school in it, this one goes on the black ‘n roll heap and gets consigned to the bit bucket.

Pact – The Infernal Hierarchies, Penetrating the Threshold of Night

pact-the_infernal_hierarchies_penetrating_the_threshold_of_night

When black metal first hit the big time, my first thought was that the music industry was going to do to death metal and black metal what it did to hardcore music. When I spoke this out loud, people laughed it off, thinking that nothing that close to their hearts could change. Pact proves me right to such a degree that I doubt these people will even talk to me today.

Simply put, this album reduces black/death metal to formula in the late hardcore punk style, after the music industry came in and sanitized its opinions and enforced institutional-style songwriting. It got “professional.” And here we have a band which writes like a cross between later Gorgoroth, later Mayhem and early Impaled Nazarene. Pact carefully edits its material so that no extra riffs clog this album and each riff is roughly the same quality, which is fairly high but not exceptional. The problem is that all songs are template-cut just like the pop stuff you hear on the radio. Once you have heard five minutes of The Infernal Hierarchies, Penetrating the Threshold of Night, you have effectively heard the whole thing.

Pact like modern metal style vocals but write songs like a more literate hardcore band, using verse-chorus pairs to lead into a bridge that returns to the dominant theme. They vary up the riffing somewhat by using longer riffs and contrapositing them with variations on themes, but essentially this album pounds out the same circular formula per song. Tempi do not vary greatly nor do the changes between them differ, which results in the feeling of being trapped in a procedure like a doctor’s office or traffic court. While there are a few moments of insight on this album, as a whole it serves as a standardization of black metal to the point where it is interchangeable and thus is easily forgotten even while you are listening to it.

The King is Blind – The Deficiencies of Man

the_king_is_blind-the_deficiencies_of_man

Of all the modern metal tendencies that can be completely annoying, the insistence of vocals leading the piece takes the cake. Like rap, the music takes a backseat to whatever is being shouted at you like political slogans or advertising offers. Here the band writes a grind-death hybrid distilled to high-energy riffs under a slowly-enunciated cadence of vocals that makes for utter tedium. The problem is that the band is equipped to write two-riff songs and when they go beyond this they sense they are out of their depth and offer instead melodic metal fills.

Like all metalcore, which is as good a container as you will find for “modern metal” which follows hardcore songwriting with metal riffs, The King is Blind comes across as disorganized because it is in metal terms. In rock terms it is highly organized, with verses matching choruses in key and rhythm. The problem is that the riffs are unrelated so they serve the same role as a slow double-strummed open C in a Bruce Springsteen tune: they keep background harmony to the vocals, which are the real focus here. Except these vocals are mostly monotone. Throwing in simplified Slayer riffs just creates a circus atmosphere, as does the use of other metal technique to try to give momentum to this otherwise pointless music.

Black Anvil – Triumvirate

black_anvil-triumvirate

Every now and then as you sort through the massive stacks — about 3-5 per day on average — of albums submitted to this site, you find an honest-to-goodness tragedy. There you sigh and think, this could have been quite good, with a few relatively minor adjustments as seen from a decade away. Those adjustments would look major to someone in the year of the album release because they would involve violating what was en vogue in the moment, but aspire instead to songwriting that withstands the years.

Black Anvil, despite the somewhat ridiculous name, write quality death/doom metal in a melodic style that might be described as Dissection attempting to be Goatwhore. It keeps energy high with catchy riffs that vary within verses but keep choruses in pure infectious pop energy. At its heart, Black Anvil thinks like a doom metal band but writes uptempo melodic riffs instead because it aims for an audience with a shorter temporal span. Most of these riffs fit within well-recognized archetypes but are distinct enough not to evoke a specific band. Songs build around simple melodic progressions, under unfortunate vocals which blurt in the modern style but and while riffs do not create a sense of ongoing transfer of knowledge through changing atmosphere through experience, they fit into sensible songs which create a mood and deepen it before leaving it in a different state. Throughout it we get the sense of a rock band writing an album with the late-grindcore surge energy of Napalm Death Fear, Emptiness, Despair and translated into quasi-death metal riffing.

Had someone reached back from 2019 to this band, they would have encouraged them to drop the contemporary vocals and name, and would have encouraged greater variation in tempo and perhaps more aggressive riffs before leading into the Iron Maiden styled sweetness. As the album goes on, the band runs out of ideas and begins to rely more on crowd-pleasing technique than songwriting. Like Goatwhore, this is mostly catchy pop and less content, but here the frequency shifts more toward 80-20. A great album could have emerged from Triumvirate but what stands now is merely a good album which will be forgotten because it fades into the background of now-dead trends and never allowed itself to fully come to a point.

Algaion – Exthros

algaion-exthros

Black metal has been taken over by cocktail parties. I used to be able to say, “You know, everything but black metal is a copy of a copy at this point,” and the point would drop. Now people start digging out their Prada notepads and Christian Dior iPhone cases and rattle off a list of their favorite new (or is that “nu”?) black metal bands. I dutifully make note and brace myself for disappointment.

I was not disappointed with Algaion Exthros. That is, my disappointment was not disappointed: this albums is bad beyond terrible. Its worthy contribution can be found on the first track where the band covers one of those Greek melodies that tourists and tour guides alike recognize that a crowd will recognize as Greeky Greek, and they make it into a ripping black metal tune. It was not excellent, but it far surpasses the absolute desert of songs that one could possibly enjoy in “nowadays black metal.” What follows is an abomination of taste and content.

Taking a page from the At the Gates book, this band write melodic hooks for the verses and then have vocal hooks lead the otherwise straightforward and grinding choruses, but they keep the whole thing in rock harmony — including extensive (yawn) pentatonic leads — so that the power of all of this is muted. The vocal hooks are of the Pantera variety, which is the kind of simple song you sing to yourself when doing the laundry or trying to give your pet an enema, infectious but brain-numbing and here taken to new extremes of repetition and sing-song cadence paced with war metal tempi and modern metal style regular open-throat vocals, as distinct from the closed-throat guttural of death metal or open-throated but sonically-shaped vocals of black metal. Excruciating, this is. I weep for the landfills which have already filled or shortly will fill with this terrible, predictable, mind-destroying disc.