Hate Eternal – Infernus (2015)

Hate Eternal - Infernus (2015)

Hate Eternal hits all the notes they intend to. From a technical stance, there’s really nothing missing – an extremely precise instrumental section provides all the velocity and intricacy you’d expect from this sort of death metal. The production and sound is crystalline in its precision, too; all of the important sound frequencies are accounted for, the instrumentation is clear (although like many metal bands, the bassist drowns), and the vocals of Erik Rutan remain suitably midpitched and intelligible for the album’s 45 minute duration. If you wanted to demonstrate textbook “brutal” death metal to your friends and colleagues, a sample from Infernus would leave them more knowledgable about what to expect from the genre, especially if you drew comparisons to Morbid Angel and other well-appreciated bands in Hate Eternal’s long and storied lineage. It’s a shame, then, that such an archetypal album doesn’t make for good listening.

It all comes down to the arrangements. The major problem with songs on Infernus is that they drone where they should instead develop, to the point that Rutan’s guitar parts even contain droning tremolo notes and chords buzzing under riffs, hiding ashamed at the edge of hearing. Consider the album’s dynamic range; when your recording is this loud and insistent, your ability to emphasize any one section of your song over others suffers. As a result, even when Hate Eternal does pull out a relatively interesting riff pattern (like the outro of “Zealot, Crusader Of War”), it’s likely to pass over without commentary or attention due to listener fatigue. Some might argue that the very death metal stylings of this band justify such a constant aural assault, or that the occasional tempo/rhythm shift or sound gimmick that often performs the role of dynamics in this style creates enough variety, but while such points are worthy of acknowledgement, they don’t exactly help the content.

The other half of the drone problem is that songs on Infernus are remarkably conservative about varying their overall structures. I don’t think I’ve heard a death metal band rely on a basic formula so consistently since… well… Death, which had much the same issue with being unable to change up their own songwriting techniques throughout their career, even as their aesthetics constantly evolved. Hate Eternal I am not so familiar with, but the first half of any given track here is interchangeable with the first half of any other. The latter halves offer more room for anything besides business as usual, but if you play a random track, odds it’s going to start by repeating the verse and chorus twice and going straight into a solo. It’s as if the music is not written, but manufactured to government pop standards on industrial machinery… which, in death metal, usually leads to a dismal and forgettable product and makes you more receptive to the next CD on the assembly line.

So if there were a conspiracy in record labels to increase sales by reducing people’s attachment to music (which I doubt, because it would require enormous folly beyond what we as a species can muster), Infernus would be the perfect product. In reality, it’s just a technically competent but flawed and unambitious offering; it’s not as obnoxious as, for instance, the thinly disguised technical exercise death metal wave of the mid-2000s, or the metalcore bogeyman in your younger sister’s closet. Nothing that would scare me off from the concert of a band I was interested in, but not something I can earnestly recommend seeking out on your own.

An Impression on Stormkult

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Like a tapestry woven of coloured threads Kaeck Stormkult is music in which simple individual elements are brought together with a larger vision in mind. The overall expression is an affirmation of violence and chaos tempered by a sense of order and beauty. Individual ideas are violent sawing chromatic fragments which generate new material by subtle variation. This tendency to unify songs through variations on a single idea is contrasted by the occasional introduction of a more expansive melody, these melodic phrases will be familiar to Sammath listeners for their strangely chromatic and yet tonal quality. These elements combine to make Kaeck one of the more interesting recent acts in black metal. There is an understanding here that individual riffs cannot stand alone but require a conceptual framework which transcends them. Each song is unique in its composition and yet there is a sense that this work is a unified statement. Whilst there is still room for improvement in overall consistency Kaeck offers black metal with real vision and some hope for the future of the genre.

Abyssum – Poizon of god (2008)

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After a little over a decade had elapsed since Abyssum’s debut, the only remaining and the leading voice of the project, Rex Ebvleb, released a full-length album titled Poizon of god. This 2008 offering was both a step forward with a nod to the old material in a conscious effort to be both consistent in the style of the project (this artist  has several projects with very distinct voices and writing procedures and inspirations). This album also sees the enlisting of drummer Akherra to the project as a permanent member of the band. Following in the steps of the methodology of Thy Call, this new comeback album follows the general songwriting approach that does not focus on what we would consider the “metal sections”, and rather uses the distorted guitars and drums as one more color in a palette for black ambient music. Overall, the underlying methodology does not diverge greatly from the debut album but there is a greater variety of pigmentation and expression, a more careful attention to detail, stronger sense of movement and a comparatively darker intent in its character.

Synths are used by themselves in a similar manner to Ildjarn’s, and when together with the metal instrumentation in a way reminiscent of Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse, though one can clearly see the difference in orientation that implies that the influence is specific and limited to a technique and does not detract from any claims of originality by Abyssum. Vocals are sparse and drowned in an already thin production whose space is filled out mostly by the keyboards. The exquisiteness of this album’s production lies in the clear-cut distribution in layers of the electric guitars and synths, which makes their subtle interplay all the more interesting. In addition to different synth effects that are used carefully and only where they are precisely required in a very conservative manner, an acoustic guitar graces some of the interludes and is almost invisible in the main songs but does make an appearance that fills out the texture to a delightful effect.

The extra-musical (or should I say ultra-musical, because it is beyond rather than with-out) goal is unmistakable in a humble but effective use of music as a vehicle to experience. These are explorations in sounds as pathways to portals, a trait shared with only the most profound black metal albums of a metaphysical nature. Admittedly a technically unrefined affair, this album will not do for a deep technical study but it does hold up. In addition, the balance between evocation and formal music construction preserves decorum while taken to its sensible limits in a very atmospheric-minded creation in which each single moment is virtually meaningless but the sequence of moments adds up to an idea, the sequence of such sections becomes a transformational process and the album as a whole constitutes footsteps to an epiphany. This hanging in the balance of the line between evocation and musical nonsense contributes strongly to its power, but this power is only manifested once the listener stops inspecting and looking for “interesting” musical arrangements or expressions and lets the stream of notes carry him.

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The classic black metal methodology that uses repetition in clever ways to channel energies is present in its purest  form. The experienced black metal listener knows how to feel the flow of the music and latch on to it as an organism and not worry about how this or that works. The only exception to this is if the music actually fails to do this by presenting disparaged or distracted elements in a disorganized way that tries to pass for “creative”. Abyssum’s use of repetition through changing sections as stanzas in a mantra. The secret of the mantra and the black metal way is that the power lies not in the repeated passage, but in the little variations and truncations that give life to it. The black metal method, its pulse and rhythm in word and phrase alternations, can be seen clearly in the ceremonial telling of a section of The Epic of Gilgamesh:

“(…)he followed the SUN’s road to his rising, through the mountain.

When he had gone one league the darkness was thick around him, for there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.

After two leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.

After three leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.

After four leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.

At the end of five leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.

At the end of six leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.

When he had gone seven leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.

When he had gone eight leagues Gilgamesh gave a great cry, for the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.

After nine leagues he felt the northwind on his face, but the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.

After ten leagues the end was near: After eleven leagues the dawn light appeared.

At the end of twelve leagues the SUN streamed out.”

The mantra’s text is nothing when it is not being vocalized through the inhaling and exhaling of a human medium, occasionally shuddering in the cold breeze of the mountain. In Poizon of god, the cyclic melody is the verse the stanza’s text that is not counted but is pronounced as long as it takes for a certain consciousness level to be reached. The guitars provide some of the meat and variation of this thought, sometimes concentrated, sometimes faltering, sometimes more emphatic. The drums are the lungs and heart and are the representation of organic life channeling the mantra. Spaces and silences, different percussion patterns, different emphases on the same melody, different intensities all describe the flow of living energy. In contrast to most modern black metal, though, Akherra’s drumwork adheres strictly to the purpose inherent to the music and limit themselves to complementing or counterpointing  in strict manner. In so-called modern black metal, the introduction of grooves and polyrhythms in contrasting, novel and “catchy”arrangements only work as distractions. The latter are not the sacred meditations or black ceremonies of dark adepts but rather the hedonistic, drug-and-booze-induced forest orgies of New Age youngsters.

It shares with Cóndor Nadia the quality of being very private, presenting an outwardly naive presentation that hides worlds of relations and nuances that escape all those who would barely notice these works’ discreet — even secretive — entrances. In this aspect, these two stand in contrast with works conducive to explicit black magic libations such as Morbid Angel’s Blessed are the Sick or the previously mentioned In the Nightside Eclipse. For Nadia, this is merely a by-product of its concern with a romantic and melancholic topic which to a casual listener may appear as indistinguishable from the most cliched and unoriginal — it hides an invaluable treasure in plain sight, perhaps one too precious for vulgar minds to even recognize. In the case of Poizon of god, this retreating is intentional and is an attempt at creating distance between itself and the vain, empty and pretentiously misguided so-called black metal found in abundance nowadays.

A better picture of how the outside and the innards relate to each other can be had by picturing a decrepit wooden hut built into the side of the mountain. Now imagine entering this humble abode that probably served as cellar and storehouse but is now abandoned. Dust covers everything in a quaint and nostalgic picture of ages past. The visitor who is captured by this and would contemplate this place with different eyes finds that in the backroom under a worktable there is a stunted stone doorway leading into the mountain whose presence is only captured by afternoon sun coming in through the window in a very specific angle. Whether underground worlds with their own forest and fauna or catacombs from time immemorial are to be found depends on the nature of the music as a portal and guiding spirit which allows the cosmic traveler to behold them.

 

Revisiting: Cemetary An Evil Shade Of Grey

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Some albums have an inherently nocturnal mood to them, a form of parent moods to all others; Cemetary combines the sensation of doom metal with a heavy metal twist with the lighter and more ethereal vein of death metal to create an album of suspension of the world to venture into an exploration of nocturnal, ambiguous and excitingly lawless worlds.

Like the primeval forest, the world of thought outside of what Society demands must be true is an unnerving place full of possibility and danger, and Cemetary tempers this with a more traditional heavy metal compositional style but uses some of the death metal method of song structure as a means of emotional conveyance, much like opera does in theater. Songs break to reconstruct themselves, and then burrow deeper into a circular wending of riffs that culminates in a collision of internal forces which forces the dormant mood to the surface, by reflexive contrast relegating the previous sensations of personable melancholy to the background and uncovering a more unsettling feel of indirect, invisible forces at work.

Featuring use of a left-hand technique that seems to achieve a two-note vibrato for a further ghostly sound, these songs betray an Iron Maiden-styled heavy metal background in both progression and harmonic structure, but augment this with extensive internal evolution in the death metal style. Many will recognize this band (and fellow travelers Tiamat) as the inspiration behind Opeth, who realized if they kept the death metal to choruses and added some bouncy self-pitying pretentious folk rock for the verses they could convince the basement NEETs of the world to pompously parade around telling others how Opeth was perhaps too deep for them, by reflex incarnating themselves as agents of profundity. Cemetary avoids that fate with a simple pragmatism in that its destabilizing obscurity and isolated emotion pairs itself with good times heavy metal, converting both so that the familiar becomes self-critical and the darkness warms so that it gains a friendly touch. This gives the album a perfect mental feel for an evening with friends and a pipe of dark tobacco, perhaps Dunhill Nightcap or one of the dark flakes that conceal their high strength behind matured harvest flavors.

As in a good tobacco, the power of An Evil Shade Of Grey blooms from within the darkness, appearing first as a light alternative but then taking on a demonic sense of perverting the familiar into the uncertain. This bloom then matures in its own darkness, and reintegrates with the more friendly sounds, creating a continuum which releases expectations and allows the blended moods of solitary introspection and vigilance against imminent camouflaged threats to become themselves a type of familiarity. Through that device, this simultaneously conventional and oddball album achieves a deep subconscious effect on the listener, like all good death metal unfolding so that past riffs shift context dramatically and create the sense of discovery for the listener.

Most remember this album for its selective use of acoustic guitar in with the death metal riffs, and its parallels of listenability and challenging emptiness, but its surface traits only serve to propel it deeper into its own brooding ambiguity. An Evil Shade Of Grey recently celebrated 23 years since its introduction, and remains as perfect for nighttime perambulation and contemplation as it did then, joining albums like the first Darkthrone and early doom metal in stimulating both the mind and the heart in a study of the dark spaces of existence.

Jordi Savall – Tous Les Matins Du Monde OST (1991)

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Tous les Matins du Monde was the result of novel writer Pascal Quignard’s desire to bring to life a story about one of the greatest composers and perhaps performers of the the viola da gamba (“leg viol” in Italian, from the traditional position in which it is held), Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe, and his most famous student, Marin Marais. He partnered with writer-director Alain Corneau, who had been formally trained as a musician before switching interests to film-making in his youth. The writer built a fictitious novel around what little is known about “Jean” de Sainte-Colombe and later adapted it for the movie. The movie has a melancholic tone, suitable for what is known about the composer as a recluse, a trait that Quignard exploited to the point of romanticizing the legend to a believable but ultimately symbolic level as inspiration for the spirit of art.

There was a man who was perfect for the job, his name was Jordi Savall. This decision came as no surprise given that Quignard first found out about Sainte-Colombe from a recording Savall and Wieland Kuijken did of the French composer’s music in 1976 under the title Sieur De Sainte Colombe – Concerts A Deux Violes Esgales. Whether the consequent recordings by the duo of Sainte-Colombe’s music were at least in part due to the movie is unclear, but a second tome was released in 1992 followed by reissues of the older work several years later. Savall was already a well-known name in his world, but the movie boosted it to popular stardom as he became famous all over the world as a viol player and ensemble conductor.

The music in the soundtrack has a very private feel to it and stands in contrast with the contemporary religious music we know was for service. At the same time, it shares with it a quality of “introspection”. What this implies musically, exactly, is something that cannot be pinpointed easily and is probably a confluence of several different traits, similar to how the romantic “authentic” has been systematically analyzed by some in very interesting but abstract descriptions (for instance, simple, understandable melodies in the manner of folk music). The movie depicts a time of transition when a lot of the music that was being made by amateur nobility was increasingly being taken up by professional musicians playing in courts (this is, essentially, what separates Sainte-Colombe and Marais). Herein, the transcendental and the temporal and commonplace are juxtaposed.

This soundtrack consists most of pieces by Sainte-Colombe and Marais with a minimal addition of a few superb piece by other composers. Personally, I recommend “Le Bandinage” by Marin Marais  and the excellent addition of a piece by an anonymous composer simply titled “Fantasie en mi mineur”.

Monastery – Ripping Terror 91 (2015)

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This is the reissue of a grindcore album released by a Dutch band in 1991 and was previously only available in cassette format. Most of these are just hipster and collector fun coming to light. In the case of this Monastery, the music is solid but just does not have any spark in it. Everything in Ripping Terror had already been done better by the trinity of grindcore, Repulsion, Napalm Death and Blood (bands that have rendered all other grindcore output virtually redundant). Thus, the re-release of this passing triviality is just one more move to cash in on nostalgia and collector’s obsession to possess every tape out there.

This impulse bring back to life just about any band from the golden era of underground metal is both detrimental and helpful. On the one hand, the albums that are really deserving in being reissued, the ones whose legacy should endure are being suffocated in their own niche by a great many Bs, Cs and Ds that had no reason to come to light back in the day and have no reason to do so today. On the other hand, a historian of music wishing to compile human activity in a genre will be delighted to have such a large-scale reproduction of the output of the era.

I am torn between the two and my proposed solution is that the albums are produced on demand instead of Cs like Monastery getting thrown in with the rest of the promos. Which also implies that re-releases or re-issues should have a stack or channel of their own that does not mix in or get clotted by the rivers of filth being vomited on the audience by modern bands. Now, having separate stacks, and the reissues only being produced on demand would save us all time and trouble. Whoever is interested in a completely forgettable like this from back in the day can indulge himself, while Massacra, Incantation, Immolation or Gorguts can dominate the market as they ought to as superior works of art. Save the planet, recycle, stop manufacturing more plastic to release mediocre albums, EPs and demos.

Amok – Necrospiritual Deathcore (2015)

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Tagged as a death/thrash sort of cross-over band, Amok, at least in the present album, sounds much closer to hardcore stemming from the tradition of Discharge Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing and filtered along the line of Amebix Arise!. Some gestures of 80s heavy metal show up but only briefly and not prominently enough to turn this into one of the many kinds of  so-called “melodic death” bands out there. In Necrospiritual Deathcore a healthy, coherent mixture of different punk and metal expressions collide to form an enjoyable album.

Like any hardcore album worth its salt, we find fragments of speech taken from television or radio, snippets of urban audio, coughing, among the rough scream-barks of the vocalist. All this, combined with the great pains to which Amok goes to give this album musical variety despite the fact that the music is primarily percussive (and simple in its percussion). Commendable are the smooth tempo changes in the album that are never abrupt even though they change the music drastically. Voice and instruments conspire so that the “line” is never broken when going from a faster speed to a slower one. When it comes to accelerating, though, the punks show themselves.

On the other hand, given the simplicity (and I mean real simplicity) of each song and the fact that the album is a song-collection (rather than a concept album, or a greater work, or a set of variations), the staying power of this kind of record is very limited. Sounding like a more single-minded, less flexible Amebix, Amok Necrospiritual Deathcore will please and entertain, but there is little reason to continue listening to it when there are albums like Arise! lying around. All in all, it is a refreshing hardcore album with heavy and death metal colors done by expert musicians.

Deverills Nexion – The Sinister Tarot (2015)

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Here’s the problem with critiquing programmatic music: any criticism levied at a piece or album can be explained away, by its adepts or its authors, as a failure to understand the external reference points, or their connection to the music.

As its title suggests, The Sinister Tarot is based on a Tarot cycle, a subject on which this author is entirely ignorant; an ignorance that undoubtedly hampers his comprehension of the album. However, it is clear that Deverills Nexion have created a work that is meant to be experienced as a series of separate but ultimately related images, therefore, “development” as traditionally conceived is not to be expected.

This would not in and of itself be a problem if the individual songs, or “images,” were compelling enough on their own, regardless of whether or not one is acquainted with the program. This, however, is most often not the case. Songs tend to begin by establishing a sonic template, as opposed to a theme, and then wander around it for a while before fading away. These sonorities, though varied, are usually not very interesting on their own, or at best mildly so, consisting mostly of cheap synth pads and aimless guitar playing. These are occasionally enriched by other typical elements of the dark ambient palette, such as chanted vocals and nature samples. The unsurprising nature of the sonic range would again not necessarily be a problem were it not approached in so uninspired, almost idly derivative and predictable way.

Burzum’s Hliðskjálf used a similar set-up, and an even smaller sonic palette, but it worked because it was driven by truly remarkable themes, a feat The Sinister Tarot cannot boast of. The few melodies that do appear are unexceptional, lead to very little, and are easily forgotten. The album’s lack of strong melodic direction ends up looking like a technique with which to hide a lack of content: place the texture at the forefront of the music and let things glide quietly by. This is often a problem with ambient music, in which it stylistically accepted, and almost expected, for melody to be given the backseat. But the best practitioners of this style have always managed to overcome this challenge by using the texture itself as a compositional device; as an element to be treated and developed with as much care as melody or harmony. This is how artists such as Tangerine Dream create works of profound stillness and yet, simultaneously, of gripping intensity. However, this is not the case here. In fact, after a few songs dissipate slowly, one after the other, the listener is left with the worst possible feeling for an art form, such as music, that exists in time: that nothing has actually happened.

On the rare occasion in which a song does not end exactly where it began the transition is often unsatisfactory. These few instances of minimal development, such as in “The geryne of Satan” and “A Deverills man at the Bladuds Head,” are a case of too little and too late; tension rises momentarily only to disappointingly stutter back into the album’s habitual plod. The Deverills Nexion are definitely capable of writing some beautiful raw material, as evidenced by Ere the dancers depart and Bestride a corpse with my face, but even these tracks seem to simply sit there without accomplishing much, fidgeting impatiently. These moments of beauty sadden this particular author, as they are testament to the project’s potential, which, alas, remains but a ripple in a puddle.

VI releases De Praestigiis Angelorum preview track

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VI, the French black metal supergroup comprised of members from Antaeus and Aosoth, has released the improbably-named “Il est trop tard pour rendre gloire. Ainsi la lumière sera changée en ombre de la mort.” sample track from De Praestigiis Angelorum, permitting a short review.

Like later Antaeus, this band is hollow. It is not outright fake, but it aims to control your mind by pleasing you with surface characteristics and missing what lies beneath. Much as the first Antaeus had possibility in that it attempted to upkeep some of the ideas of the past that worked, but never quite got there, and then the band backed off of that direction with later releases, VI has a strong surface of old school black metal — fast rhythms, the right minor-key riffs, the right texturing of melody and grinding — but at its core there is nothing. You might look at this as simply a better take on Deathspell Omega, but there is no transcendent passion in these songs, only a somewhat cynical knowledge of how to make music sound brainy and violent at the same time.

What propelled original black metal was a strong emotionality based in a worldview inspired by logical analysis, not social feelings, about human problems. VI reverses this with a song about the social feeling of belong in black metal and thinking how austere, relentless and different you are just for listening to this, and yet it has no substance. The band ably combines two riffs and variations for the initial part, then drifts off into a patchwork of ideas that fit together rhythmically but crush any chance for expressing a consistent or developing theme. What you get is like American beer: it has all the right ingredients, in the wrong order, with no idea uniting it all except to please the average fool for long enough that he will buy it again. Avoid this FMP/NWN release.

Blood Urn – …of Gory Sorcery and Death (2014)

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Blood Urn is a death metal project whose approach to the genre is one that can reinvigorate it while being very traditional. Superficially, a listener who only glances over the surface of …Of Sorcery and Death may incorrectly say this is an old school album, a modern euphemism for retro-acts or merely those who do not play the metalcore-based so-called technical death metal. It is true that this is an old school release, but only in the sense that it upholds the same ideals of the best of that era, including certain preferences in aesthetics as a reflection of an inner attitude — an idea that stands in contrast with the superficial selection of genres and expressions of modern bands that wear style as a change of clothes to pose as something they are not.

If we made the mistake of approaching this distinction like most clueless people do, that is, with a shopping list of the aesthetic characteristics that usually accompany a genre in order to identify it, we would definitely arrive at the same conclusions. That is why premises are as important as having good logic. Wrong premises and good logic only lead you safely to wrong conclusions. But if we start with the premise that those aesthetic characteristics are only the reflection of a spirit which is much more than intention or purpose but also crystallized significance, we will recognize that the shopping-list approach is at best a collection of hints and not a concrete definition.

Blood Urn …Of Sorcery and Death is a death metal (‘old school’ death metal is the only one, with various regional styles) album in the truest sense. A death metal at heart and in representation. The expressions that seem typical of death metal are used here in what can be accurately described as progressive without incurring in the fallacy that all disparate appending of music qualifies as such.  In accordance with death metal tradition, music builds up through structural devices: mainly through variation and manipulation of theme with a climax and a clear musical goal in mind for an end.  By musical goal we mean one as defined by traditional classical theory, not by the “good intentions” of the music writer. Intention and realization are two different and distinguishable things, something relativists and individualists would do well to keep in mind.

While varied in expression, Blood Urn manages to remain fairly coherent, choosing to tie different textures in a mix that also incorporates the riff-salad approach. In this, it is somewhat similar to the way Horgkomostropus Lúgubre Resurrección builds in a very typical death metal push and pull between structural theme-play and variation and contrasting ideas that are brought gradually into the fold, first as a splash of cold water to the listener and then in gradual integration through interleaving and recombination of sections and themes. It is important to say that in good death metal fashion, the limit of the contrasting ideas does not break away from the chosen style, which is the sin of many a pseudo-prog outfit. This conjoined approach of dealing structural development from a theme with one and then riff-salad with the other only to increasingly interleave them and sometimes ultimately fuse them into altogether different endings can be referenced in masterful albums such as At the Gates’ The Red in the Sky is Ours and is also the approach of Blood Urn to music composition, albeit with a much more humble and less-layered result.