Sadistic Metal Reviews mini-feature – Infernal Curse – Apocalipsis (2016)

infernal curse

Article by David Rosales

When listening to most of these modern funderground bands, one gets the impression that a group of random guys eating hot dogs suddenly came up with the idea of recording a death metal album to give some variation to their Saturday afternoons in which they normally just discuss fantasy football. Is this derogatory? You bet. Is this accusation completely out of hand and unjustifiable? Not really, there are very clear reasons to say this.

For starters, a release like Apocalipsis by Infernal Curse amounts to nothing more than foggy noise, lacking any memorability but the memory of a passing metallic cloud of percussion and occasional chords. You might perceive this as being only the personal impression of the author, that it amounts to nothing more than another opinion on an otherwise objectively tolerable and enjoyable work of music. But nobody here is objecting to the idea that someone might enjoy this music. The point is that it is indistinguishable from anything even vaguely similar and devoid of its own character.

Apocalipsis is only the reflection of the disaster that war metal has been for death metal, a poor and superficial of what being an underground art movement is. This is usually the result of becoming self-referential, very much like university “revolutionaries” and other posers who confuse image with content. The trap is believing that through imitation of appearances you might somehow bring about the essence of what is being imitated. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and this piece of unrecognizable shit is just more ammunition for our poser-bashing posts.

Borknagar – Winter Thrice (2016)

borknagar winter thrice

Winter Thrice would’ve ensnared me for some time, had it come out in 2009. In my youth, I was more receptive to pomp and circumstance in my music, and if there’s one thing Borknagar’s latest recording does especially wrong, it’s that it never relents from its apparent desire to be epic, even to the point of having its share of contrived quiet sections for obvious dynamic contrast. Restraint is not part of these musician’s repertoire, and it makes for yet another flat (albeit psychically draining) album that I can’t imagine even its most rabid fans having much patience for once the initial blitz of sales wears off.

At its core, Borknagar is descended from the same sort of ‘atmospheric’ black metal that their fellow scenesters and countrymen in Arcturus once made a living doling out to the masses. It’s probably a coincidence (at best, historical understandable in the context of Norway in the early ’90s) that both of those bands have some roots in especially unusual death metal oriented recordings. What degraded these bands (and similar ones) over time was their ever increasing addiction to sonic novelty. While Borknagar was quicker to unify a few elements they liked and streamline everything else into their signature sound (I described the teaser as “melodramatic, pseudo-progressive heavy rock music”), they’ve ended up so dependent on their own aesthetic that it interferes with their ability to develop their songs.

Now, Borknagar is technically proficient, as you might expect from any metal band that sells and isn’t deliberately ultra-primitive. However, only the vocalists’ contributions manage to rise to any sort of prominence. If I strain my ears, I can catch a glimpse of what the instrumentalists are attempting, and I’m sure it’s pleasant enough as a result of all the time that went into writing and recording it, but there’s very little of substance there beyond the ‘epic’ orientation of Borknagar’s songwriting. On top of that are a series of sung parts from three vocalists all scrambling for your attention. These are again skilled singers (and shriekers) to the point that their performance takes center stage, but when the arrangements they perform are so forgettable, does it really matter?

Ultimately, I found Winter Thrice to be so aggressively unmemorable, to the point that remembering just what it sounds like beyond a vague impression of 3/4 time and minor key progressions is difficult. At its best, it sounds good, but this stylish album is ultimately free of substance.

Folteraar – Vertellingen van een Donkere Eeuw (2016)

folteraar_cover-e1453943147973

Article by David Rosales

Folteraar’s 2016 release comes to us with a proposal that is very much in vogue in the current metal underground. To any wary of the pitfalls of following trends, this might ring alarm bells almost automatically. But we must not be hasty in this judgement, since even though the establishment and spread of a method may really be, in fact, taken up by a large number of hands who are not up to the task and will undoubtedly produce subpar results, this does not mean that we won’t also find those out there who have focus and vision to make use of pre-defined rules with a sober mind. A clear example of this is Condemner’s Omens of Perdition.

As much as we all yearn for another quality release, however, Folteraar exemplify the rule and not the exception to the avalanche of high-spirited but poorly thought out metal albums that make up the bulk of releases nowadays. Since there is nothing in particular to point out about Folteraar, as it has no particular value or fault but just repeats every cliche of the underground war-metal-noise-garbage intersection, we won’t spend too much time pointing out flaws that have been pointed out once and again in the past in this site. The duty still falls on us to point out the very particular approach Vertellingen van een Donkere Eeuw brings to the table as a representative of the most blurry instantiations of this line of thinking.

This brings to mind several influences that served to furnish the raw materials for the formation of early ’90s underground metal. These are primarily heavy metal of the so-called ‘doom’ stripe and hardcore punk. It is easy to appreciate a deconstruction of these in this music which seems to be violent for violence’s sake. Worse than that, it seems to ape so much at the tropes it has learned from the past that the music does not seem to build anything else. Folteraar’s music is just a sequence of cliches that build up to no content. Themes do not build up, in either melody, harmony or rhythm. This is just a sequence of loud screams; a hysteric madman in a padded room would make more sense.

Do yourself and the “community” a service and do not put this aside but actively campaign for a distinction between its utter nonsense and the codified communication that is achieved by its betters. The author encourages (and will keep doing so while releases such as this keep coming) the reader to return time and again to Condemner and allow it to rise in his consciousness, as its structures become more familiar and its development thereby becomes evident. Throw most, if not all, war metal such as Vertellingen van een Donkere Eeuw in the trash bin.

Master – An Epiphany of Hate (2016)

master_epiphany

Master, Autopsy, Motörhead –  what do they all have in common? They’re all long running bands that settled on a workable style relatively early and generally stuck with it for decades, gradually refining their craft while managing not to lose control of the forces that initially motivated them. Master is arguably the grandfather of this tradition within the realms of death metal, as they’re the approximate beginning of the constellation of Paul Speckmann projects (since War Cry is allegedly a far cry from most of his work). Given that Master sticks with tradition on An Epiphany of Hate, anyone who’s familiar with Master should know exactly what they’re going to get.

This album belongs to the more elaborate school of Mastercraft that’s come into being in the last few years; while Master has never written especially long or complicated songs, the level of musicianship and organization on display here is a definite improvement from the early days of the band. The production and mixing is also higher fidelity, but improving such is not nearly as difficult as becoming a better songwriter. I’d argue that Paul Masidval’s (protip: Cynic) contributions to Master during his brief mercenary period in the early 1990s must’ve resonated with Speckmann on some level and encouraged this elaboration. An Epiphany of Hate is still relatively sparse in its overall construction; the songs here are built out of comparatively few riffs; if not necessarily the three per song figure that comes up in older discussions. Monophony is still the band’s weapon of choice, but like many of the bands that have… mastered this sort of metal, Master’s musicians know when to keep it up and enjoy their freedom of melody and tonality and when they should instead use some sort of harmonic reinforcement. This expansion without overextension is something a lot of bands aren’t able to successfully pull off, so it does reflect pretty well on them.

I don’t know how much of an advance An Epiphany of Hate represents over 2013’s The Witchhunt, if any, but it’s still a good addition to Master’s legacy and a worthy addition to your 2016 collections.

Abbath – Abbath (2016)

possible abbath cover

Abbath’s pitfalls on Abbath are garden variety pitfalls (haphazard songwriting, too much time on the mixing consoles). What really distinguishes this album from all the other comebacks (like our recent coverage of Dystopia) is its main author’s legacy. Abbath’s previous accomplishments with Immortal factor very heavily into any promotion of his solo efforts, and this album has already received a great deal of praise because it doesn’t rock the boat by not sounding like Immortal and its more openly rock-like spinoffs (Between Two Worlds, March of the Norse). Divorced from the fame, Abbath might draw a little positive attention for having slightly above average individual riffs and instrument interaction, but that doesn’t stop it from paling in comparison to what Immortal themselves achieved.

A lot of what I could say about this album has already been used to describe previous efforts from when Immortal itself lost the impetus that made it so interesting in its early years. Running a simple search and replace on Brett’s descriptions of Damned in Black to replace band names makes for a very accurate, albeit not particularly original summation of how Abbath falls short. Surprisingly, it also describes some of the strong points; this album is arguably a lot more appealing on a superficial level than Immortal’s earlier studio albums. While skillful organization of musical content makes careful listening to a track like “The Call of the Wintermoon” off the debut pay off in the long run, I will admit that earlier material sometimes falls short in individual riffs and solos, mainly because the band members were less technically skilled in the past. That attention to detail, though, rendered the old works more ambitious. In contrast, a couple of tracks here come off as especially contrived; for instance, “Ocean of Wounds”, which sounds like Abbath and company decided that they absolutely needed to have a mid-paced arena headbanger. Many of the tracks aren’t as obviously pop oriented, but they’re still pretty haphazard and unmemorable once you start memorizing the individual elements.

It should come as no surprise that I don’t exactly recommend Abbath. The main difference between this and most of the chaff is that I think the musicians involved could do better if they set their minds to it based on the fact that they have, although the subtleties of the past sometimes just don’t pay the bills. At the very least, a financially successful but vapid comeback is a different problem than continued effort from bands that never put out anything of value.

Megadeth – Dystopia (2016)

megadeth_dystopia

Megadeth has cycled between obvious mainstream rock pandering and careful imitation of their best appreciated works at an ever accelerating rate since their reformation in 2004. If this trend keeps up, they’ll be changing styles with every strum of their guitars in a few years. Dystopia isn’t quite as quick to alter its own sounds as that rather implausible hypothetical peak, but it’s still obviously colored by two colliding trends; Dave Mustaine’s desire to outsell Metallica, and the fact that even relatively extreme metal can sell enormous volumes in 2016. This makes what would be yet another comeback album into a surprisingly disjointed experience at times.

In general, Dystopia provides its potential listeners with several varieties of vintage Megadeth to peruse at their leisure, ranging from the technical wizardry of the ’80s and Rust in Peace (arguably the musical peak of this band) to the streamlined pop metal that immediately followed such, and even hints of recent albums through conceptual and musical continuity. Beyond the vocals of Dave Mustaine and the frequent guitar leads, though, there’s little that distinguishes this from other poppy speed metal of the mid 2010s, especially since this is one of those dime-a-dozen studio perfect recordings with perfectly appropriate production and instrumentation. One definite problem, however is that Dave Mustaine’s vocal and lyrical contributions have decayed in quality in recent years. Megadeth’s always been political at the best of times, but more often than not the lyrics devolve into political sloganeering that might be appropriate if he actually ran for president of the USA. In song format, though, all they do is annoy, irritate, and pander. Mustaine also relies increasingly on digital processing to mask the age-related decay of his voice, most notably on “Fatal Illusion“. This isn’t an innately bad thing, and you could theoretically make a case for the chorusing and harmonies opening new ideas for Megadeth to explore, but it pushes unneeded emphasis on the vocals, so even the average listener that decides that the technique sounds kind of cool might find it grating regardless. Perhaps I shouldn’t be focusing on the vox too much, but when the rest of the album is competent and yet unremarkable, it’s sometimes the only option.

In short, Dystopia is kind of disposable; most metal albums that try to approximate known classics are. It’s still better than Repentless, but the “Big Four” have all since run out of momentum, which makes Dystopia‘s slick technical competence marred by excessive streamlining even more unremarkable than it would otherwise be. The last time Megadeth tried their hands at this, they cranked out Endgame, which was well received at the time of its release and generally similar in approach, but has since faded from the public eye. Do you still have space in your listening rotation for Endgame? If you don’t, you won’t have time for Dystopia either.

Sodom – Sacred Warpath (2014)

sacred warpath

Article by Daniel Maarat

Sodom’s latest EP was ignored by the Death Metal Underground when it was originally released in late 2014 due to the more commercial nature of the band’s work over the past decade. After recruiting guitarist Bernd “Bernneman” Kost, Sodom abandoned their traditional black thrash style and adopted a more American speed metal, eighties Metallica and Megadeth oriented sound. Most of their new songs are rock structured, speed metal riff salads, peppered with occasional slowed-down extreme metal riffs.

Sacred Warpath is no different. The title track is the only new material and is strictly verse-chorus-verse. There is no melodic riff glue except for the verse riff variations. The chorus where Tom Angelripper snarls the name of the song in the song as a vocal hook like a line of dialogue from a cheesy action movie just serves as a way to repeat the verse verbatim to kill time. An acoustic interlude allusion to Agent Orange (“It’s like poetry; it rhymes.” – George Lucas) leads to a random speed metal solo for the Wacken whelps.

Following that speed metal drag, there are a few live songs nobody will ever listen to again: a cover of “Surfin’ Bird” (originally from M-16 in 2001) that leads into the fan favorite singalong “The Saw is the Law”, a generic Slayer-style song, and Sodom attempting Gothenburg melodeaf. These are here just to take this release from a 7” single and digital download to a 10” 33 ⅓ RPM EP and CD so Steamhammer can charge Sodomites more money. An underwhelming and mediocre cash-in, but the new song is less offensive than the Kill ‘em All “loving” on 2013’s Epitome of Torture.

Brutality – Sea Of Ignorance (2016)

brutality_-_sea_of_ignorance

My experiences with Brutality prior to Sea of Ignorance‘s release lead me to believe that all of their works take a disproportionate acclimatization in order to properly comprehend, only surpassed in my experience by the wall of voodoo that is Incantation’s debut. This album has little to do with Incantation’s style, like most of their others, but it has only reinforced my hypothesis. Brutality’s take on “melodic” death metal consistently contains enough harmonic hooks in the riffs to draw a listener in, but odds are you’ll only find their music truly rewarding if you give it some time to sink in. That’s not exactly suited to the fast paced world of online music criticism (advertising thinly veiled as criticism), but odds are you’ll get more out of Brutality’s latest than your average death metal album even if you don’t give it a proper chance.

In general, Sea of Ignorance varies only subtly from its predecessors, and most of these changes play out on the surface. Brutality settled on their current approach early in their career, occupying the liminal space between their often sparser Florida contemporaries and the emphasis on structural and harmonic complexity of a band like At the Gates. The comparison to the latter has come up on occasion when DMU covers this band’s exploits, but Brutality synthesizes enough disparate influences that pulling any one out is difficult, although in my more comparative moments I might bring up Autopsy, since the band plays around with speed and atmosphere enough to significant enhance their formula. Sea of Ignorance follows from previous works in a fairly predictable way – more emphasis upon melody and simpler, more streamlined song structures than the past, but when they aren’t flat out covering Bathory (“Shores in Flames”), the lineage is obvious.

My opinion on this album is ultimately very similar to how I felt about Skull Grinder, although like most of the comparisons I’ve made in this review it’s a comparison of convenience as opposed to significant musical similarity. Sea of Ignorance is a stylistically appropriate if not particularly ambitious continuation of Brutality’s previous work; while it’s not particularly essential if you own any of those albums, it’s still a valuable purchase for those who want to study the strong points of this sort of death metal, and a good enough release to be worth financially supporting.

Naðra – Allir Vegir Til Glötunar (2016)

nadra

Article by David Rosales

It is hard to ascertain if it’s pretentiousness or merely a poor appreciation of classic minimalist metal that brings about all these very underdeveloped (or simply shitty) releases. It seems that most of these would-be musicians think that all it takes to put out a folk-melodic black metal album is to write a simple consonant melody in standard time signature, play it in with tremolo picking, use variations of blast beats and mid-paced double-bass drums and a combination of bark-scream-screeches and the now-fashionable “war calls”.

The result of this sort of thinking is, again, surface oriented and only manages to turn what was originally a unique expression that bubbled up from a deep feeling into a list of characteristics to be filled in order to sound appealing to a particular demographic of undiscerning music fans. Rather than beat up another mediocre artist of absolutely no relevance, we must also turn our muskets in the direction of the masses of uncaring metal fans who take no heed of who they “vote up” or what they buy as long as it is mildly pleasing.

It is you, the average fan, that decides what sort of projects receive support and that subpar music is put aside. The old excuse of supporting up-coming acts that may in time improve and write outstanding music is a poor one. Let them struggle, let them first earn their merit. Metal is no aristocratic art that needs spoiled kids to have their ego stroked so that they somehow become musical geniuses. No legendary metal album is the result of undeserved favors, they are all, almost invariably, the result of struggle, of blood and tears.

For the sake of metal itself, if not for the sake of your own mental health and nutrition, throw away and put aside all projects that stand on the same quality level as Naðra Allir Vegir Til Glötunar. This has absolutely nothing to do with production. This has absolutely nothing to do with monetary support for touring. This is about not only creativity but the perseverance, ability and knowledge or intuition to arrange convincing structures that amount to Dionysian calls from the inner man. Allir Vegir Til Glötunar is only dead weight for the metal genre.

Sadistic Metal Reviews mini-feature – Vargstuhr – Howlings (2015)

vargstuhr

Article by David Rosales

Musical genres work very much like languages, transmitting information at an abstract level, albeit simultaneously at a much more intuitive and unconscious level, hence its surfacing in the form of emotions. Unfortunately, many musicians fall into the trap of taking forms and cliches merely as that: a formula that is interpreted either as a constraint or a shortcut. Neither approach correctly assesses the real value of so-called cliched forms and expressions.

Vargstuhr’s Howlings presents a pop opera variation of this thinking by making a wolf-pack themed album whose center are the lyrics. All music revolving around it is incidental and it tends to twist around in its particular emphasis while roughly remaining in the area of a third-grade black metal act with very poorly thought-out interactions between the vocals and the music. Like any opera-like production, it tries to keep its eye on themes of some kind, but the music is still too secondary and plays more like an excuse for a soundtrack.

Besides its poor structuring, Howlings also fails at a local performance level, managing to sound awkward in almost each of the instruments at least at some point. We normally do not complain at all about production, but here the music is so bad that the excessively out of balance mix emphasizes the flaws of the album. The only prize Vargstuhr will be winning here is an award for one of the most uncomfortable albums to listen to in recent memory.