Category Archives: Review

Gorement – The Ending Quest

gorement-the_ending_quest

Gorement could send a thank-you letter to Amorphis and the funeral doom movement for popularizing its riffs over the years, since despite a large amount of raw promise this release was never going anywhere. The Ending Quest is like a book of ideas, raw riffs of great potential floating in a background of poor ideas and randomness.

Often reasons exist for why underground treasures never made it to the surface back in the day. In the case of The Ending Quest, the reason is that it is a boring and frustrating listen, for two reasons. The band does not know how to develop songs, and thus its greatest ideas either go nowhere or run somewhere pointless, and its songwriting duties seem divided between a genius at melodic riffs and a guy who likes to write chromatic skim fills to keep those riffs from getting ahead of themselves.

Only two years after this album came out, a band named Skepticism took this aesthetic and brought it to a better place: crashing glacial riffs, slow bass-intense vocals, and a melodic basis. They dropped the death metal influences that required those melodic riffs to move quickly, and the guitar solos, which meant that they made their music in more of an ambient capacity. Gorement instead try to make death metal and so they piece it together, two boring riffs for every melodic sweet spot, and a sense of rhythm that often disconnects the needs of the riff from the needs of the song.

Material of stunning insight, foresight and promise fills this disc. Many of these riffs are cognizable from the albums of bands that went on to more success, and some of these ideas far exceed the substitutes that came in their place. The unique low and slow bass-intense vocals were an innovation, as was the tendency — later exploited by bands like Amorphis, Dissection, Sentenced, Bolt Thrower and Sacramentum — to stitch a fast melodic lead over a vermicular riff and slow partial groove. Gorement also know how to create a dramatic transition through simultaneous tempo and riff shift. The problem is that so many of these riffs fall into predictable patterns, and so many of these songs fail to organize their elements into any expression, so we end up with the curse of all early death metal: the album of good riffs that goes nowhere.

Our ex-editor Kontinual, who died suddenly of AIDS in 2010, wrote fondly of this band. But this is ultimately where we differ: death metal is propelled by structure, with each song forming a kind of “riff-poem” in which emotion is derived from how the riffs fit together, not the particular key and mode in which they are written. Riff-poems fail when they stop making sense, or when there is blathering nonsense that should have been edited out inserted just after a phrase of great profundity. The Ending Quest inspired legions of bands and imitators, is partially responsible for the first “melodic doom” explosion that tried to make death metal for rock music fans with Tiamat and later Opeth, and clearly gave many bands a riff book to use in their own projects. But as a listening experience, it resembles a speech by a distracted professor: moments of brilliance, surrounded by confusion.

Manilla Road – Out of the Abyss re-issued

manilla_road-out_of_the_abyss

Shadow Kingdom Records will reissue the seventh album from Wichita, Kansas, band Manilla Road, entitled Out of the Abyss on January 13, 2015. Originally release in 1988, this album shows the band in both fully-developed and archetypal form.

Death metal fans coming late to this album may note how it is a prime example of how to do everything right and end up wrong. Manilla Road write speed metal in the style of Judas Priest crossed with the post-Slayer high-speed riffing of bands like Atrophy. They do so with precision picking, a good knowledge of harmony and rhythm, and yet make completely boring music.

Part of reason for this boredom emerges from the style itself. This type of late speed metal emphasizes breaking songs into discrete modules composed of riffs, following the NWOBHM style, but they break rhythm between those which allows little buildup. Instead, it is a series of right angles. Further, in another NWOBHM influence, these riffs are fundamentally static in that they center around a chord and use fills composed of that chord or a matching scale, but do not develop melodically within the riff; as in rock, that is reserved for the vocals. The result feels a lot like a series of riffs in a verse-chorus pattern with a tangent 2/3 of the way through, guided along by vocals. It does not achieve the structural intensity of death metal.

With that being said, it is clear why many bands hail Manilla Road as an influence. Crisp and exact playing gives these riffs a militant technological sound, and whether from this influence or another bands like Deceased, Voivod, DBC and Obliveon have put this technique to good use. Subtle rhythms abound in addition to the obvious toe-tapping speed metal choruses and lead guitar, while very much entrenched in the domain of rock-style soloing, provides an example of technical excellence within that domain. Vocals sound like a more devious Rob Halford. All of these contribute to the power of this release, but it remains enmired in the binary riffing and somewhat static riffs of the speed metal days which were thankfully left behind during the transition to death metal.

This re-issue will give a new generation of metalheads a chance to appreciate the technical ability of this band and the compositional issues raised by this style. For example, should metal go the rock route of static riffs and build on that in the style of mid-period Judas Priest, or should it follow more of the death metal style of phrasal riffs and flexible song structures? Guitarists will enjoy the challenge of playing these riffs at speed and still making the change, and classic metal fans will delight in the whole package. Out of the Abyss does everything right to hit its target, but for those of us who are post-80s, it may be the wrong target.

  1. Whitechapel
  2. Rites of Blood
  3. Out of the Abyss
  4. Return of the Old Ones
  5. Black Cauldron
  6. Midnight Meat Train
  7. War in Heaven
  8. Slaughterhouse
  9. Helicon

For more information:

Rigor Mortis – Slaves to the Grave

rigor_mortis-slaves_to_the_grave

The job of a record reviewer embraces nihilism in a way most people will never experience. Much must be removed — nostalgia for the musicians who shaped much of your teen years, sympathy for a musician who died far too young, desire for metal to awaken from its slumber — in order to clearly analyze the music and answer the basic question all reviewers should ask themselves: if I were a casual to moderately involved fan, on a limited budget, would I buy this record?

With Slaves to the Grave, Rigor Mortis returns after a challenging history. The only speed metal band with death metal influences to get signed to a major label, the band unleashed Rigor Mortis after which band politics forced out the vocalist almost all sources agree was their best, Bruce Corbitt. The band surged forward and released its instrumentally most exciting material on the Freaks EP, but completely lost direction with Rigor Mortis vs. The Earth, which reflected the band members pursuing their individual directions and losing a cohesive sound.

Now after band members have spent time in Ministry, Warbeast, and Gwar, Rigor Mortis re-form to re-take the stage and carry on where they might have picked up after that first album. Stunned by the lugubrious death of guitarist Mike Scaccia, the band soldiered on with this crowd-funded album release, still facing its greatest struggle which is that “its strength is its weakness,” and having many strong individual performers means finding direction and balance is a challenge. Slaves to the Grave takes the fast tremolo speed metal approach of Rigor Mortis and slows it down to give it the rhythmic approach of bands like Kreator, Sodom and Destruction which makes it very catchy. Into this, the band members drop varied influences from other music of the period and contemporary metal. This is not really a followup to the first album; more likely, it is an attempt to do what Rigor Mortis vs. The Earth tried to — modernize its sound and find balance between technicality and rhythmic hook choruses — but with the original lineup.

The problem with Rigor Mortis vs. The Earth is that, while it contained some of the greatest songwriting to emerge from this band, it was completely disordered, both as an album and as individual songs. Band members seemed to wander on stage to contribute their specialties, then vanish into the background as the band zeroed to a mean in order to preserve the integration of each song. With Slaves to the Grave, Rigor Mortis assert much more control over their work, but try hard to include all of their strengths. Vocalist Bruce Corbitt writes hook-heavy choruses that are highly motivational, where Mike Scaccia specializes in melodic guitar. Those two are in tension because guitar jams like to expand, where rhythmic hooks require keeping flying speed and then hitting it with dramatic tempo changes. On this new work, the band separate the instrumental bits from the song itself, creating a kind of “oasis” within the song arrangement where the guitar can unleash itself.

Slaves to the Grave takes on a number of influences. From modern metal, it inherits the trope vocals that chant in cadence with the guitars and drums in the style that Pantera (nice guys, but the death of speed metal through norming) picked up on and metalcore really took to the wall, but luckily this does not happen at full intensity very frequently. The band uses its classic technique of overloading verses so that they have two parts, a simple placeholder and a texturally more intense second half that prepares for the chorus. This gives the music more of a theater and lets the hook of the chorus integrate more with the song as a whole. Unfortunately, someone decided that mid-1980s German speed metal drums would be essential here, so most of the percussion emulates this style which not only becomes overbearing but is too simple for this music. A little Dave Lombardo influence here would improve things quite a bit. These songs fit together tightly like ancient walls and there are no random, rambling or irrelevant discursive bits, which shows the professionalism of this band.

If we went searching for a spirit animal for this album, it would probably be mid-1980s Iron Maiden. Many of these chord progressions and the general rhythms used resemble those from the speed metal years of Iron Maiden, but also, the arrangements of these songs mirror the tendencies that the NWOBHM band developed. Songs blast through verse-chorus pairs, work themselves up to a break, reprise their main theme and then launch into instrumental cool-downs. This balance allowed Iron Maiden to stay hookish but also work in the depth they knew would keep their albums from being essentially aggro-pop, and it worked for them for many years, so it is intelligent of Rigor Mortis to pick up this vein. Other influences are Testament and earlier Rigor Mortis itself, which is cited through similar but distinctively altered chord progressions and melodies. “The Infected” for example shadows “Die in Pain,” “Poltergeist” shadows the break return in “Revelations” by Iron Maiden, and other fragments show up repurposed as new riffs. Unlike earlier works, the melody in Slaves to the Grave is built into the chord progressions, giving the songs more harmonic space. Scaccia takes advantage of this with numerous instrumental passages. These show a greater study of tone than earlier works, but lack the frenetic architectures of his lead guitar on Freaks and drifts closer to the rock, metal and jazz influences of Rigor Mortis vs. The Earth. This allows songs to slow down, expand a bit, and become more distinctive because they release less on pure rhythm and more on melody.

This album offers well-composed songs that straddle the line between the raw fury of early Rigor Mortis and the instrumentally-advanced but compositionally disintegrated material of its later works. The most death metal track, “Curse of the Draugr,” and the first half the album deliver the greatest punch. The concluding ten-minute instrumental on the topic of Roman gladiators could perhaps be left off without damaging the album at all, since it is sparse in context and driven by vocals instead of guitar composition. The instrumental track sounds like the instrumentals from the later years of Death, but with less focus on pure theory and more on an emotional side to the music; metal fans will be lucky if future metal-jazz hybrids heed this direction. On the whole, Slaves to the Grave shows Rigor Mortis at its healthiest point in two and a half decades. For those who want the first album done again, it will not satisfy, but this will be more of a hit with melodic speed metal and technical metal fans.

Disentomb – Misery

disentomb-misery

Contemporary brutal death metal fills its world with feces and dismembered women in lieu of content. While that repugnant stench has kept the critical listeners away, the less-discerning still inhale the fumes, but now a band from Australia threatens to unite the audiences on a newer and more advanced form of the genre.

Attempting to deviate from the soulless average that has infested the genre, Disentomb with Misery unleash a work of complex but stripped-down death metal. Like the energetic offspring of Immolation and Disgorge, this album creates dark and dissonant brutal death metal yet still stays true to the frenetic riff-salad recipe that is inherent to the brutal death metal artistic voice. On Misery, the internal dialogue of these riffs projects the type of landscape we might find in a dystopic wasteland, tearing songwriting down to its bare, primal foundations in a method evocative of early Suffocation.

Misery exudes chaos, depravity, and most importantly, direction. While their contemporaries languish in a pool of defecation and flat-bills, Disentomb dream bigger and help steer brutal death metal toward a new direction. In particular, songwriting returns in a sense other than boxy variations on standard pop/rock song form. Songs vary from the brooding mid-paced drone of darker material to the bright and abrasive aggression of fast and chaotic tracks and use each other for contrast so the album as a whole highlights a range of emotions. The result is a complete package of death metal brutality and intensity that aims for an artistically alert audience.

Cuff – Transient Suffering Through the Ergosphere

cuff-transient_suffering_through_the_ergosphere

Joining the crowded field of late model death metal that tries to tie together the influences of the last decade of chaotic metal hybrids, Cuff introduces a style that aims for a hybrid of Cryptopsy-styled brutal death metal and recent West Coast brutal death/tech-death/gore-grind hybrids like Deeds of Flesh. This album delivers basic linear riffs with compelling rhythm while sneaking back in some of the technicality and lead-guitar melody of older death metal, in addition to imaginative Voivod-style sci-fi lyrics.

Transient Suffering Through the Ergosphere — the ergosphere is the liminal region just outside the event horizon of a black hole where energy can be sampled from the rotation of the field — brings out the intensity through raw technique of these genres but stops short of a new style. It uses the brutal percussive death metal late genre addition of vocals in trope with drums and guitars, creating an almost GWAR-style comical insanity, alongside more of the styles of explosive grinding popularized by Cannibal Corpse. While much of this follows the late grindcore model of technicality, touches of musical creativity hide in many details and niches.

As with many things in life, this genre of recent brutal gore-grind mashup will not be for everyone. To those outside the genre, it seems to be ludicrously simple and repetitive. Within the genre, fans enjoy the duality of material that is both catchier than a Taylor Swift album and more extreme than early Napalm Death in terms of sheer rage-venting riffs mated to pounding, transgressive drums. Cuff intensify these aspects and, while not inventing anything new, push the sub-genre closer to the musicality of later Cryptopsy.

    Tracklist:

  1. Spastic Craniotomy
  2. Malignant
  3. Transfusion of Bodily Fluids
  4. Gorging the Sacred Carrion
  5. The Transcendence of Mankind
  6. Sub-sonic Impacts
  7. Through the Ergosphere
  8. Breeding Diverse Entities (Re-recorded)
  9. Supreme Genital Goddess (CBT COVER)
    Personnel:

  • Zach Smith (Guitar, Bass, Drums)
  • Bob Shaw (Vocals)

Transient Suffering Through the Ergosphere will be released November 18, 2014 on Gore House Productions. For more information, see the band website.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 10-18-14

kvlt_juggalette

What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? As you lie on your deathbed and look over life, you will divide everything you know into things you will miss and things you have forgotten already. Some metal is worth remembering, but the vast majority is just background noise. We hail the former and smite the latter, salting their wounds with our sardonic laughter…

internal_bleeding-imperium

Internal Bleeding – Imperium

After Suffocation got big in the mid-90s as the next big direction for death metal, lots of bands took the Cannibal Corpse hint and started imitating the easier parts of the Suffocation percussive death metal approach. Unfortunately, doing so creates music that is dumber than malformed concrete, and Internal Bleeding quickly distinguished itself as the death metal version of Pantera: brocore for bros who like to you know drink beer and punch their heads into walls. Checking in with them 19 years later, it seems little has changed. These songs are hook-laden and not fully random, but the hook relies on the most basic of rhythms and their expectation, sort of like watching a chihuahua chase its tail. The band tries to compensate for their basic and unexciting music with really active vocals and occasional melodic touches on guitar, but nothing changes the fact that these songs are based around extremely basic patterns designed to numb and erode the mind. The famous breakdowns are back and serve to break up some of the constant muted-strum chugging and ranting vocals that shadow the rhythm of the guitar riff, but even if they dropped occasional symphonic parts into this Internal Bleeding could not hide the fact that most of this music is designed to destroy brain cells or appeal to those who have already voluntarily obliterated their own minds.

oppression-sociopathie_and_gloire

Oppression – Sociopathie & Gloire

This band will be overlooked by many because the production on this album makes it hard to hear anything but bass, vocals and metals (cymbals and high-hat). However, what lies beneath the obscurity is a quality melodic punk album that verges on Oi and shows us what emo could have been in the hands of quality songwriters; you could compare this to the Descendents and the Misfits because this band write quality vocal melodies over melodically hookish riffs and rhythms, producing a sense of familiarity and yet a sense of weight like that of history or topics that pop up in every life no matter what age. Vocals alternate between a black metal-ish rasp and sung punk vocals, with the latter being more convincing. As with Misfits, the composition of these vocal melodies defines the song, combining old world melodic intensity with a casual punk sense that favors the simple and almost childlike. Touches of metal technique accentuate the harmonic space created by these rather open melodies, but generally, what you hear is punk that sounds as much like Blitz or Reagan Youth as something more recent. The result brings together the best of punk in its attempts to combine its energy with depth, and provides for a good listen, if the listener is able to hear past the abysmal production.

steve_hackett-genesis_revisited_live_at_royal_albert_hall

Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live at Royal Albert Hall

Among the 1970s progressive rock bands, Genesis is frequently mentioned but often forgotten. It seems to me that the reason is that its vocalist, not its guitar-keyboard duo, dominated the composition and thus it drifted closer to the regular-rock tinged Pink Floyd style of “light” progressive rock, without getting as populist and compact as Pink Floyd or Rush did. However, it would be a mistake to overlook the first few Genesis albums which were ambitious although steeped in a self-righteousness which seems more pretentious than the usual self-indulgent musically masturbatory egoism of progressive rock. On this live recording, Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett revisits the older Genesis material with the benefit of an extensive solo career and an entirely different band. The result makes Genesis sound more pastoral, with greater emphasis on vocals and mood in the style of later-1970s big radio rock bands, but also brings out some of the more aggressive guitar that got buried under keyboards and vocals on the originals. Vocalist Nad Sylvan manages a more soulful and less starchily self-referential voice than the original, and all accompanying musicians are excellent including a cast of highly talented players who, while not fully noticed by name in the mainstream, have demonstrated their abilities in complement to larger acts in the past. While all of this shines, the fundamental problem with Genesis remains the “oil on water” feel when it switches between something that sounds like Queen and a sort of extended figurative structured jam. While highly musical, Genesis often seems atopical and thus lost between its rock drama and its progressive underpinnings, and in many ways, having Hackett reinforce the role of guitar both reduces this gap and highlights what is left. For Genesis fans who wondered what this band might have been like with a different internal balance of power, these re-envisioned tracks will provide hours of exploration.

wolf-devil_seed

Wolf – Devil Seed

This album takes the speed and intensity of a speed metal album, adds in Accept-style power metal vocals, but underneath the skin is something more like a hybrid between the first albums from Motley Crue and Queensryche. The result is… well, there’s no nice way to say this, but: annoying. Highly skilled and highly repetitive, vocally demonstrative and vocally over-dramatic, catchy and infectious and yet cloying, it hammers out the earworm qualities of glam metal at the pace of speed metal with the production and sound of power metal. If this is your first album from this style, it might be interesting to own, but probably difficult to listen to on a regular basis because of the similarity of the tracks and the consistently high levels of sentiment and bounding energy. The 1980s varied moods of glam metal have been replaced with the aesthetics of techno or punk, and it just keeps going and eventually even drowns itself out. Musically, nothing here ventures outside of the camp of what has worked before and become established, although a few adept variations give greater power to the framework. As with most metal/rock hybrids, what brings it down is the need for vocals to lead which crowds out other instruments, in turn squeezing the space available for song development. While the vocals are impressive, when they become too predominant like this they lose some of their power; Halford or Dickinson (or Di’Anno) would have been more selective in the use of their full-bore intensity and emotional depth.

vardan-enjoy_of_deep_sadness

Vardan – Enjoy of Deep Sadness

This band combines “suicidal black metal” with the shoegaze/emo/indie variant that specialized in certain minor key chord progressions turning upward at the end of each phrase to convey a sense of misplaced “hope,” much in the way early 1990s emo-punk bands did. The result is merely a new aesthetic slapped on top of very ancient and pointless music, since the “mixed emotions” sensation has been popular in rock music since the 1960s and produces the type of emotions one might want in the background of a movie about losing your favorite race car, but apply not at all to any life with depth, where the emotions are more than mixed but intertwined in some way more than a balance of sadness/joy that seems like it came off a greeting card. This isn’t bad in execution; it’s soulless in intent. While the former is forgivable, the latter renders this music irrelevant to anyone who is here to live for the purpose of living, because to such a person confused self-pity and weepy “hope” is completely non-applicable. In the same way it is entirely possible to listen to this entire EP, nod once, and then read a book on database administration and be more thoroughly moved by its depth and emotion than anything Vardan will ever record.

savn-savn

Savn – Savn

Anyone else remember The Gathering? They had a female vocalist, a quite good one name Anneke something-impossible-in-Dutch, and she was not only adorable but also could sing. But that’s the distraction. The question of whether a metal band can have a female vocalist is never asked when the female vocalist goes the route of Doro or another high performer. It’s when the presence of a female vocalist changes the sound of the band that people start wanting to talk about that instead of the music. And Savn cleverly starts out with very black metal sounds, then the keyboards kick in, and then very pretty female vocals intrude. Excellent production. There’s even a harmonica, for the sake of Zuul. The whole nine yards. But if you stop hearing the distortion for a moment, you realize you’re hearing standard folk rock that has been 100% consistent from the 1960s through the present day. It fits the female vocal and range but even more, it fits the needs of people in boutique shops that sell crystals to feel vaguely empowered, slightly sad and yet charged with some kind of great Meaning that has lifted up their insignificant lives of watching television and answering phones at work to the focal point of some vast collision between human emotions that form the basis of the cosmos itself. You can imagine Jewel belting out this album, or Linda Rondstadt, or even Taylor Swift. Savn would do better to just run Doris Day vocals over old Burzum albums. I do not contest the assertion that they are talented, good players, imaginative, and that the production here is amazing. I just question what it has to convey. The answer is feeling good while you shop and pretend that the universe is not a cold empty place, and that somehow your emotions derived from pop music are totally relevant and might even determine the future. On an emotional and artistic level, this release is poisonous; on any other level, it is simply a product that doubtless will sell many crystals, possibly cube cars and haircuts too.

provocator-antikristus

Provocator – Antikristus

Joining on the primitive black metal thread which bands like Von thrust to the forefront, Provocator crafts simple sawing black metal based on extremely rudimentary chord progressions that are nonetheless not pure chromatic, giving it a more accessible base of tones to expand upon. Like Acheron or Ungod, these riffs rely on building momentum and then redirecting it with quick rotational motion, but the repetition of this technique wears thin. Extensive demonic vocals crowd over the top but instead of giving this depth, simply distract from both the underlying guitar and the effect of the vocals to the point where it sounds like trying to listen to a portable radio in a busy train station. Nothing on this is terrible or misplaced, but it also provides no particularly compelling content and no reason to revive this style as a result. While it plays, the comfortingly familiar Sarcofago-style drone and chaos at the right BPM will make most black metal fans accept it without a further thought, but the real question with any release is whether you will seek it out again. In this case, nothing is offered that cannot be found elsewhere in a less repetitive form. Although this is no reason to choose an album, the blasphemous song titles and Blasphemy-style prison escape vocals add to some enjoyment but cannot compensate for the fact that this is like listening to a throttle test on a ’78 Camaro.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 10-13-14

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? The first metal album that you really connect with should be a magic experience, one that transforms your life. But a large group of people want you to apply that same feeling to their album so they can take your money, but their music is mediocre. SMR is the dividing line between the greatness and the forgettable, and we exult in the tears of the latter, for they are the sweetest of wines…

solace_of_requiem-casting_ruin

Solace of Requiem – Casting Ruin

A new epidemic trend grips metal, following war metal, which is the tendency to Angelcorpse — yes, that’s being used as a verb — a mixture of metal influences and tie the mess together with loud vocals. Fast guitars and overactive drums work for Angelcorpse, who clearly came along in the Fallen Christ vein of blasting streamlined death metal, but metal bands now are using that style like a tortilla to dump everything else into, wrap up the ends and make a metal burrito. While some bands that make burrito metal are able to keep interest, the problem with this style and the carnival music high contrast (read: randomness) aesthetic of bands like Behemoth that rose in parallel is that by turning the volume up to 11 for everything, it creates a constant flow of essentially invariant sound that possesses no dynamic and no real progression. It is thus easier to write; songs require no real internal contrast, and songwriters can stack bits of whatever they have on hand and stitch it up with some technicality. I find Solace of Requiem to be unlistenable for this reason. It is a barrage of noise that, if someone were to take any part of it and break it out into parts divided by its internal tension and then make a song of it, might work. But the whole burrito does not. The Solace of Requiem burrito includes more lead guitar and melody and some NYDM style technicality and sweeps borrowed from metalcore, but that does not differentiate its essential approach from all the other Behemoth/Angelcorpse hybrids. Like Taco Bell, it goes down quickly, is easily forgotten and leaves an unpleasant odor lingering in its wake.

wombbath-internal_caustic_torments

Wombbath – Internal Caustic Torments

This is one of those bands that makes plodding rhythms catchy to the point that a listener will fall into the groove and not mind, but also will not seek it out repeatedly because of the sheer repetition without much of a direction. These riffs came straight out of hard rock, got detuned and had some quick fills added, but remain as predictable as listening to AC/DC covers at the local karaoke bar. The result is that Wombbath batters your brain until it gives up, then pours a layer of relatively obvious material over it, including songs that complete an arc but without any real doubt or tension in the middle, such that like the riffs, the structure of the songs themselves is duplicative and numbing. Nothing is done poorly and this band clearly shows mastery of the old school style, but what it lacks is a reason for a listener who is aware of the best of old school death metal to embrace this. Internal Caustic Torments expresses in many ways the worst of old school death metal and the tendency that caused the genre to collapse on itself, which was nailing the style and then using it to hammer out repetition like propaganda. This album could be improved overnight by introducing actual tension between the first and second riffs, then seeing where that leads and using it to reorganize these songs, because many of the raw elements are there.

pilgrim-ii_void_worship

Pilgrim – II: Void Worship

Stoner doom metal happened when 1970s jam music swallowed up doom metal and remains basically stuck in the 1970s, Slacker, That 70s Show, etc. mentality. In other words, it aims to dig out wonder in the smallest of things, much as stoners can find a universe in their toenails. In this case, it is not the “doom” aspect that is problematic, but the fact that this music seems designed to find the fascinating and earth-shattering in simple chord progressions that remind us of Foreigner and Journey releases but without the strong sense of harmony. Instead, it’s every stoner’s dream: just start plodding along, then jam over that until some sort of magic emerges. When you think about it, that is what the Grateful Dead did for decades, blarting out never-ending tuneless solos that incorporated every technique in the book but to no end, because there was no point, only a desire to keep the jam going for as long as possible so the audience and band could take more drugs, be more groovy, pose more in front of the flower-painted school bus and other activities for people who have voids in their souls and no purpose to their lives. Pilgrim are more musically adept than most bands which cross this desk, but they take it nowhere. Songs jam, build up, trail off. Solos and fills drop in competently but express nothing. The album has a big concept somewhere if you read the theory about it that they include with all releases nowadays — I never do — but it is not expressed in the music. Much like a recent failed indie-metal album about whales, the putative topic is not the subject matter, but a cover story for playing the same crap. Really, just go get the first Def Leppard album because it does everything that happens here but with a purpose. A vapid purpose, but no purpose is more vapid than no purpose itself. Flee.

midnight-no_mercy_for_mayhem

Midnight – No Mercy for Mayhem

Warmed over NWOBHM with American glam metal glitz under a glaze of alt-death bands like Nifelheim or Gehennah. Remember when that stuff came out? It was 1998 and black metal had officially shot its wad, following death metal the dubious status of having a fully developed form but having expressed all of its relevant content three years or more prior. Thus bands thought, “Well, we have this new technology in the death metal and black metal styles, why not mix them and use them to encode the same old crap that bands were talking about in the 1970s?” You know, the safe stuff: alcohol, sex, partying and pissing off your parents. No one in a modern liberal democracy will argue with you for such an assertion of individualism and defiance of The Establishment. Thus it’s about as challenging and volatile as tap water, as controversial as feeding pigeons in a park, and the perfect product because it takes almost zero effort to make a few catchy hard rock songs with heavier vocals and more intense drums. Anyone can do it! Those were the words they used in the dying years of punk, also, which meant that anyone and everyone did do it, which ensured that the music became boring because it wasn’t about anything. Midnight isn’t about anything either. Its members are fixated only on being in a band and making some tunes that people like. That’s sort of like a chef deciding that he wants to make Big Macs instead of Filet Mignon because “people like it.” Like a Big Mac, No Mercy For Mayhem is soft and uniform in consistency and slightly sweet with a tangy sauce of rebellious high school rock. But it resembles an average of every burger ever made with the never-fail treatment of adding fat, salt and sugar, thus there is no growth, learning or evolution in it. It is simply an object, a product. And like all soulless things, it can only occupy your time, not enhance it, which means you stagnate, and you know what they say about stagnation.

cemetery_lust-orgies_of_abomination

Cemetery Lust – Orgies of Abomination

I suppose this is intended to sound like Autopsy, but it more sounds like the bad SOD and DRI clones of the late 1980s: really simple sing-song two-point riffs driven by the vocals to keep the rhythmic hook alive because that is basically all the song does. Rhythms are very similar to old DRI, COC and SOD as well. Lots of downpicking. Nothing is poorly done and yet this style, like all rap music, is just too simple to express much of anything especially with these entirely standard song structures. Each song consists of two related riffs, a vocal hook, and support from other instruments. The result is not exciting unless people playing stuff faster than normal excites you. Lots of tropes from middle-1980s speed metal and early death metal, but the songs never really get any momentum going and sound about thirty years old, out of date and without personality. Some things belong in the past and should be buried next to all the bands who didn’t make it because they sounded like watered-down versions of their influences. This band can join them.

rippikoulu-ulvaja

Rippikoulu – Ulvaja

Funeral doom metal with death metal touches in the vein of Skepticism, Rippikoulu on this release create a convincing atmosphere that relies too much on texture of vocals and instrumentation but nonetheless is convincing. These songs begin with simple riffs and expand both depth and tonality, moving from minor-key intervals to more open intervals much like Ancient used to on its longer tracks, creating a sense of a moving target on a lengthy journey. Use of piano, strings and female vocals both soften the abrasive distortion and force more spacious dynamics, allowing other themes more room to move. While these songs clearly focus on atmosphere, the more important idea here is the change of moods like seasons, which gives them a grace and makes the distorted guitar seem actually jarring by way of contrast. Although this release is an EP and thus short, the mood created by this musical approach could be, like Summoning Nightshade Forests, the basis for a short escape from reality that reveals more about existence than direct confrontation ever could.

Nunslaughter – Angelic Dread

nunslaughter-angelic_dread

This band have been around for over 400 years and have made the same album over 75 times, but each time it is good for a simple reason: this band know what they are aiming for and carefully edit their songs to make sure all parts fit together into a smooth musical experience. While it is tempting to categorize Nunslaughter as death metal, they are in fact speed metal, as most of these riffs come straight from the late-1980s fully-developed speed metal that incorporated advances by Slayer, Exodus, Anthrax and others into the Metallica standard.

Although Nunslaughter first came to the US on the Mayflower many years before Metallica existed, it is believed that Nunslaughter developed this style on its own and may have in fact invented it before the band was formed during the final days of the Roman Empire. While some may be tempted to categorize Nunslaughter as dinosaurs, the fact remains that this band takes the raw ingredients of power metal, speed metal and most death metal and makes a stripped-down, hardcore-punk style ripping version of this that remains highly listenable even if not particularly distinguishable on a song-to-song basis. Like other collections of many short songs, such as Dead Infection or Carcass, Angelic Dread operates like many small insights into roughly the same idea.

When paleontologists recently unearthed a complete Archaeopteryx fossil, they found early Nunslaughter recordings beneath it. Somehow, what this band creates never gets old, in part because they understand their riffs as a language from the same basic source, and in part because like a thrash band their song format carefully fits the particular clash of the two riffs (with a few budget transitions, and sometimes rhythmic variations, Nunslaughter uses two riffs per song on average) and the need of presenting them in the best light. The result is compelling and enjoyable and upholds the best tradition of riffcraft and expressive violence in underground music.

Ripper – Raising the Corpse

ripper-raising_the_corpse

From the fertile grounds of the 1980s came many styles in the hybrid of death metal and speed metal. Many of these used death metal as a means of streamlining the more varied techniques of speed metal, producing songs with more internal rhythmic consistency and streamlined effect.

Others pursued a more melodic direction and made music with the intensity of death metal, the musicality of speed metal, and the toe-tapping addictiveness of power metal and the early German speed metal bands. Ripper falls into this category, joining bands like Grotesque, Slaughter Lord and Merciless in a style of short simple songs with the anthemic choruses and fixed chord progressions of speed metal, but the singular technique and drive of early death metal.

Raising the Corpse features a death metal rasp which will immediately call to mind early Destruction and Merciless. Its songs tend to use a single progression for chorus and vary it with texture, then use a counterpart for verses that creates some tension but mostly establishes rhythm. This approach fits within the early speed metal model that formed the basis of great hook-laden German bands like Destruction and Sodom, and this tradition continues with Ripper. Where Ripper succeeds is in removing extraneous material and cutting to the core of its music, eliminating some of the distraction and randomness that blighted later work from the German bands.

Much like Merciless, Ripper know to invoke a melodic hook with a rhythmic hook and gradually bring a song into unity, at which point they hammer home the infectious chorus until the audience is ready to carve it into their own flesh. While some may point out that little new occurs here stylistically, and many of these riff forms can be traced back to Slayer or Destruction, what Ripper does well is keep this music high-intensity without falling into sameness and to streamline into an effective delivery mechanism that outgrows the confused collision of styles that was the mid to late 1980s.

While Raising the Corpse will be too intense for power metal fans, and may strike death metal fans as too simple, those who take the time to listen will find a good, compelling and energetic release. In the history of metal, bands as varied as Aura Noir, Nifelheim and At the Gates have tried to make albums in this style but none are as consistently listenable and as well-organized as Raising the Corpse. This fits with a recognition that nostalgia is suicidal and odious, and that metal must move on with a clarification of its voice to give these older styles new relevance.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 10-08-14

popularization_of_metal

What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? When fans, writers, radio presenters and musicians get fed up with the exhausting flood of imitators and demand that music have a purpose, because only music that has content can express something of beauty or horror about reality and thus be relevant to our lives, because unlike the herd that seeks escape, we seek a means of understanding and glorifying life. Death to the imitators, drowning in a sea of angsty tears.

edge_of_paradise-immortal_waltz

Edge of Paradise – Immortal Waltz

This jaunty take on a cross between burlesque music and hard rock with symphonic overtones seems designed to showcase the talents of vocalist Margarita, who layers her vocals in waves that create, along with the carnival horror show keyboards, a sense of being in some oddity of a dream. But this band really invites comparison to bands like Genitorturers and Marilyn Manson more than heavy metal; these songs are vehicles for the vocals and are designed to create a sensation of spectatorship more than have the music itself inundate the mind. Aesthetically, this will strike underground fans as cheesy; while not terrible musically, it also derives much of its compositional direction from riffing off known archetypes of the type of music it cites. That and the way songs are entirely driven by vocals places this outside the range of most expecting riff-based music, and the simplicity of its delivery ensures that it will sound like children’s music to most death metal fans. If this is symphonic metal, it is clearly not for me, but if you like the Marilyn Manson style spectacle and ironic deconstruction of cultural tokens, it might appeal.

krieg, bitches

Krieg – Transient

Krieg started as purely chaotic improvisational black metal, then organized itself into a ripping war metal variety, and finally detoured into indie/shoegaze. With Transient, the band returns to roots with a primitive type of death metal fused with a heavy amount of punk and garnished with varieties of its previous influences. The shoegaze influence is still here as are some classic black metal riffs but they are suspended in a gelatinous mass of punkish simple death metal riffs which keep an energetic uptempo charge. While it sculpts atmosphere with agreeable verve, most of modern Krieg consists of transitions into moods and then riding of those moods, which interrupts the frenetic energy this band once conveyed while simultaneously not building up to its transitions with enough groundwork to give them power beyond their own attributes. Black metal works its atmospheric magic by manipulating context and showing a progression between events like a battle scene, but this new style is more like visiting different rooms in a spooky hotel. That being said, Krieg is stronger in riff-writing and understanding of the dimensions of harmony and how to navigate them with a riff than other American black metal bands, and also beats the hell out of Sonic Youth.

english_dogs-the_thing_with_two_heads

English Dogs – The Thing With Two Heads

This punk band uses a lot of metal riffs and rhythms in that it likes to interrupt continuity with abrupt internal collisions in its music, and uses the muted strum in a style spanning the spectrum from speed metal to Meshuggah. Unfortunately, it also mates this with a rock style of offbeat leading phrases that make this music bounce just like rock or hip-hop, which kills any gravitas or building of intensity. There are some great speed metal riffs on here and some moments of pure punk energy but the whole is torn apart by musical discontinuities which result in what sounds like a train crash between the 1980s and early 2000s that never resolves itself into a voice that can express anything. If this band dropped half the riffs and focused on making songs that generate momentum and then channel it somewhere, it would hit like a ton of bricks but as it is now, it sounds like something that should be on in the background during an LMN late-night movie about kids hanging with the wrong crowd and ending up in an organ harvesting gang.

horrified-descent_into_putridity

Horrified – Descent Into Putridity

This album shows a great deal of initial promise in its attempt to resurrect the old underground. It gets beyond the two-point riffs that hammer a rhythm and then answer it and go nowhere, preferring longer riffs that lead on to different points and at times in the Deathspell Omega way extend themselves into wandering melodies. Its combination of Swedish death metal and Autopsy power death metal worship works on the surface. But the nu-underground has never understood the purpose of death metal riffing which is to create subterranean structures that mirror what goes on in our subconsious minds; death metal is about looking beneath the surface to reveal structure and a subtext of motivation. Horrified in contrast has one layer, which is some riffy music on the surface that fits together nicely, but lacks a core of something which cuts between the mental state and the music. Thus over time this wears thin and repetitive at about the same time the listener starts noticing how many riffs are anchored with doubled downpicking and how few of these riffs, despite growing in their own right, amplify the subject matter of the song. Horrified come closer to the original than any others attempting this style recently but still miss the root of what makes the underground what it is, and so verge closer to the much more “face value” work of speed metal bands, at which point the repetition creates bad flashbacks of late 1980s metal and the repetition PTSD kicks in.

xerath-iii

Xerath – III

The horror, the horror. Symphonic metal must be done gracefully but with aggression and force; Xerath approach it like hard rock and use it as a vehicle for over-dramatic vocals. This hurts to listen to because the keyboards drift, the riffs sound like a heavier version of Def Leppard, and the metal gets forgotten. Synthesizing two disparate things only works when a common ground and thus basis for a common voice is found, and otherwise what emerges is the oil-on-water effect that produces carnival music where random patterns contrast one another as if they were designed to accompany a cartoon and its wacky action. Xerath goes down all of these rabbit trails and comes out at a comical level. Distraction, deflection, recursion, confusion. Like Behemoth and other bands in this newer style, Xerath does great work at the level of detail, but when you add it up the only picture that emerges is confusion and haste resulting in an entirely random platter of stuff that is recognizable as metal but by depriving itself of continuity and context, entirely lacks the punch. It compensates for that lack by hammering extra hard on pounding rhythms and blasting passages which do nothing but highlight the sense of On Through the Night colliding with a roadside minstrel show on its way to play the outer reaches of Alaska and hope its luck changes there.