Blood Incantation – Interdimensional Extinction (2015)

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Article by Corey M

Blood Incantation released their debut EP Interdimensional Extinction last year  to little fanfare. Having heard one of the US death metal band’s songs on a Dark Descent compilation, I was highly anticipating this release and was not disappointed. However, other respectable authors have dismissed it without giving it the attention it deserves. Because I’ve only grown to appreciate this EP more over the last several months, I intend to elaborate on Blood Incantation’s strengths, because I believe they deserve more coverage.

Guitars are the focus of and main engine of Blood Incantation’s music. Typically one guitar plays chords in rhythmic bursts to support the other guitars which harmonize faster-moving and more complex melodies. An excellent balance between the low-register rhythm chords and the weird-and warbly-leads is always maintained. During high-tension segments, the guitars mainly play in unison for maximum impact, and during some of the more paranormal passages, the drums and rhythm intensity are dialed back just enough to open up space for the imaginative and unpretentious leads. The best of the guitar solos remind me of those on In the Nightside Eclipse, sharing that ability be technically modest yet very evocative. Blood Incantation’s flailing-tentacle leads mysteriously manage to reflect or echo the dynamics of the chord pattern underneath, achieving symbiosis with the rhythm guitars and drums, even while ratcheting up the tension to the point of anticipating a total musical disintegration. Other times, leads are used to gracefully close out a song, resolving the musical stress by harmonically tying together the wildly whipping threads of various melody.

Vocals are perfectly competent and never interfere with the shape of the riffs, partially due to having a more forward-sounding presence in the mix, compared to the guitars which cast a broader curtain of sound and envelop the rest of the instruments. Drums are in thrall to the guitars, and when the guitar rhythm turns odd or just a little unorthodox, they provide an unobtrusive, robust foundation on which the highly melodic riffs build. Special mention must go to the session player with the fretless bass, who plays in the technically adventurous death metal band Stargazer. Giving each a riff an uncanny, slithery feel, the fretless adds another layer of harmonic depth and texture in a way that is underutilized or outright ignored by many death metal bands.

On the extra-musical side, Interdimensional Extinction‘s cover art is not only very cool, but an effective visual representation of the themes present in the music, featuring a distant planetary body surrounded by an orbital ring of human skeletal bits. Human skulls are always related to human death and sometimes death in general, as a concept that extends further than the merely personal, into the planetary, the celestial, and yes, even the “interdimensional”! This far-out unearthly realm is what Blood Incantation attempts to explore, as their perspective encompasses not only human death, but death as a common fate for all for all systems of organized energy, from a single bacterium to the largest galactic cluster. Does the band intentionally attempt to establish a sympathetic link between humans and non-human things by relating us all under the empirical inevitability of death? Maybe; maybe not, but these are the sorts of imaginal realms that great death metal can take a listener’s mind.

All four songs on this EP are proficiently crafted and offer the very thing that most lovers of death metal are either actively searching for at least glad to hear; death metal in its unadulterated language, but through a distinctive dialect. Perhaps the band’s native Colorado landscape has informed their intuitive songwriting, as each song moves through jagged peaks and rolling valleys, organically and without pretense. Due to the clarity of the arrangements and mixing, the songs are actually relatively easy to follow, and riffs do not hide behind distracting, murky guitar tones or gratuitous reverb. There may appear to be similarities with Demilich or Immolation, but they are only skin-deep, and Blood Incantation use intriguingly idiosyncratic methods of riff development and song structuring. All things considered, including that I have been listening to this solidly for six months now, I can only think of good reasons to recommend this EP.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews mini-feature: Deathraid – Submit to the Will of Chaos (2016)

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Article by David Rosales

It is always amusing to watch one of these clueless bands take a stab at making an album that falls into the mythical yet non-existent genre of black speed metal. It does not exist for a good reason: it is only a creature in the imagination of those who cannot tell the two genres apart. It is probably also what Venom fans consider to be “first wave black metal”. You gotta have some compassion for these nitwits. Or not.

The music on Deathraid Submit to the Will of Chaos (originally released in extremely limited quantities in 2001) is typically messy, grindy and when it comes around to its most clear-minded, it sounds like a try-hard Hellhammer, without the ability to maintain atmosphere and therefore devolving into boring streamlined noise. From the modern perspective, it is just another variation of war metal stupidity or modern “atmospheric” black metal. Irrelevant as it is lame, this may just be what some of us were looking for – it’s the perfect music for goat love-making.

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Chthe’ilist – Le Dernier Crépuscule (2016)

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Article by David Rosales

Chthe’ilist’s debut has been expected by underground death metal fans for some time.  To them, it seems like a promising project faithful to the ideals of atmospheric technical bands such as Demilich and Timeghoul, from whom it takes unmistakable cues. Less fortunate are the influences of popular (in the underground) but ultimately less effective acts Rippikoulu and Crematory. The first two lend a constructive helping hand while Crematory’s contribution distracts with purely technical and empty nonsense detached from clear evocation, and the unimpressive Rippikoulu lends its spacious approach that suffers from the blunders of Wagnerian operas: sparsely located treasures in a sea of boredom. Worth mentioning are a couple of very Voivodesque moments that are surprisingly integrated in a way that they do not seem out of place.

There are several reasons why this release is worth taking a close look at independently of how close we consider it to come to a masterpiece. Existing reviews come awfully short of a real musical insight, opting instead to spend a huge chunk of the time in talking about how cool the guys in the band are, or how ‘awesome’ the vibe is. They are utterly useless when they reach their faux attempts at providing any meaningful observations on the technical side of things. At most, they manage a colorful picture of the mental impressions that the music gives them; this at least is inspiring. Chthe’ilist’s album gives us so much more to discuss not only from its plentiful contents but what they relate to as descendants and composers.

In the interest of a well-rounded critique, Le Dernier Crépuscule should be observed from two different vantage points. The first is to place it within its historical context, and keep present whatever musical influences it appears to have. The second is to ignore everything but our intuition (which is dependent on past experience and understanding, in any case), so that we allow it to articulate and speak out for itself as it draws energy from predecessors we take notice only as an afterthought.

I. Technical Overview

Le Dernier Crépuscule can be roughly divided into two sections, the first consisting of the first five tracks and the second of the remaining two. The first track itself should probably be excluded as it is little more than an intro. The structuring of the next four follows a certain pattern while the last two each follow a freer approach than the one preceding them. The first is Crematory-dominated, while the last increasingly shows a predominant Timeghoul presence. Throughout the record one finds Demilich’s riff style in about half of the individual riffs. This emulation ranges from almost outright shoplifting from Nespithe to more respectable yet still recognizable inspiration. The rest of the riffs also contain the less distinct (read as ‘more random’) but technically recognizable influence of Crematory and some war metal filler while the more creative and original single sections probably come from general Timeghoul influence, which allows for more open interpretation.

Tracks two to five follow a rough plan of riff variations1 lined up one after the other until the solo comes to mark a climax, after which there is a reiteration of previous material and the song ends. It is the “easy way out” of death metal structures, albeit expanded by a greater quantity of riffs. Le Dernier Crépuscule takes the most relaxed route when it comes to conceptualization as well, choosing to go for Crematory’s2 brand of strands of riff variations connected in riff salad manner. Now, Crematory’s style is marked by another particular aspect, and that is that it places technical flare and variety at the top of its priority list. Its choice of allowing runs of related riffs is more the following of what was in vogue at the time, since one can observe that songwise, there is very little keeping it all together but the general tag of the genre. Something similar happens to these first songs by Chthe’ilist.

The sixth and seventh tracks are clearly steeped in a more progressive mindset, allowing for creativity to bubble up as the band tries to craft a narrative. This is conducted with far more success on the last track, ‘Tales of the Majora Mythos Part 1″, than on the hybrid ‘Vecoiitn’aphnaat’smaala’. This emphasis on following a far-reaching narrative reaches formidable proportions in this last track where I would venture to call it a storyline. Variety in riff type is actually richer here than anywhere else in the album, yet through this story-telling technique (that is very much reminiscent of the dramatic flair of Timeghoul on Panaramic Twilight) Chthe’ilist achieves something beyond mere coherence — a smooth flow of ideas connected through careful considerations in texture and rhythmic contrast between sections. These considerations must reach further than adjacent riffs or mere riff-strands so that the song itself does not fall apart.

Unfortunately, although this last track shows us the brightest future for Chthe’ilist, Monsieur Tougas has yet to learn how to finish a song, and what could be an incredible opus is watered down by an unsure appendage after the coda following the solo, a four-minute long welling up of unnecessary nothingness. Content-wise, this adds nothing to the song except confusion, since it is mostly noise and blast beats, which we may presume is an ill-achieved attempt at creating ambience3. The rest of the song itself might be as clear-minded as Timeghoul’s best work, but it is still a work in progress.

I. Aural Impressions

Le Dernier Crépuscule is constantly touted as “Lovecraftian death metal”, and while I get the reference, it seems to me that the character of the music is much more cartoonish than even the original stories, which is saying a lot considering that Lovecraft’s work is already minimalist pulp horror. Taking only a chunk from this author’s work and making a concept album out of it becomes a bit redundant after 2 or 3 songs, and in this album I mostly hear At the Mountains of Madness with some more general references to the Cthulhu mythos towards the end. This limitation results in a bloated album with more words than actual things to say.

In fact, I’d say that for a Lovecraftian experience this is too limited. Timeghoul’s sound, for instance, is very appropriate for expanding on the whole range of cloudy feelings and visages that Lovecraft exposes, not only the mouth-tentacles of his famous monster-deity. Proof of this is that while a Demilich sound on a Crematory template can at most show entrails and guts and an in-your-face horror, the last track had me catching glimpses of R’lyeh through the oceanmist. In Lovecraft you find not only the gnarly gore of slimy and ghoulish creatures, but visitations to otherworldly views in a variety of dream states, alienation from reality expressed through either an increasingly horrifying vision of the world or just not knowing at which side of the sleep curtain it lies.

Lovecraft condenses the very essence of the death metal spirit in its several manifestations and a project with the gigantic potential of Chthe’ilist is surprisingly limited in its choice of evocation, while playing around withtoo many riffs than needed in what appears to be that Crematory-like bloating of content for its own sake with little reference to anything beyond it. Chthe’ilist has a potential of ‘epic proportions’, as the common saying goes. It could have us contemplating at Algol, wondering… it could take us on a bizarre journey through perilous Kadath, and it could make us doubt the very truthfulness of our material existence. In short, it could be the long-awaited metal Messiah that crystallizes the whole of Lovecraftian experience from the essence of the most meaningful obscure acts of the past. But it isn’t.

III. Integral Critique

Bringing together the last two discussions allows us to properly discuss the results Chthe’ilist has achieved. Most bands seem to create a division between music making and lyrical topics, which is not necessarily a bad decision if everything is flowing from a same wellspring of inspiration. The pitfall of this approach is that the sources could end up being distinct, even if compatible, so that the impact of either is dulled by even the slightest hint of cognitive dissonance. This dissonance may even occur in music that is supposedly unified with its lyrical content, and in the case of technically-oriented bands like Chthe’ilist it usually comes about in the form of what could be called ‘riff distraction’.

Riff distraction is a phenomenon that consists of the metal artist losing sight of perspective as he lies on the floor, dull-sensed on proverbial soma. This sends riff-writers off in a mythical quest for the perfect riff combination until they end up with a mass of exciting but ultimately meaningless mumbo jumbo. This is the plague that afflicts this release; its most obvious priority seems to be riff-making, and the clearest sign of a climax is the guitar solo. This album’s is very intentional and varied, but with no precise evocative purpose in mind, so that this huge ball of varied rhythms ends up being a uniform mass when seen from afar. The guitar solo, then, becomes the only way of bringing the song to a breaking point so that at least something in the landscape stands out as a signaling agent for the ending to come with at least a semblance of an excuse.

Alas, the limitation that is holding back Chthe’ilist lies in the mindset of Master Tougas: his towering talent and creative juices ooze with latent power, but his imagination appears to be held back by rationalist prejudices of modern thought that reduce a powerful mythos to mere cartoon. This results in tongue-in-cheek funny horror, which may be an overplaying of the purposely awkward feeling of Demilich that is often perceived simply as funny yet interesting. Timeghoul’s immense aural depth could be the answer here, as the flexibility of its approach lies in the dramatic expansion of predefined techniques within a limited (yet more varied, at the same time) vocabulary that makes even its most complex statements convincing and manifestly intelligible4.

IV. Final Remarks

As pretentious as the thousands of words I’ve already written might make me sound, I would still like to encourage Monsieur Tougas to continue this general line of thinking, while paying closer attention to composition and evocation aspects that lead to a stronger narrative in longer songs. These seem to possess, at least in their present state, the greatest potential of his technical and atmospheric style. His work can bring to reality not only what Timeghoul could have become, but something beyond it, with a long-awaited deftly and graciously applied riffcraft inspired by Demilich. Ditch the Crematory when it comes to structuring decisions, and refactor out any content that isn’t completely indispensable5.

Personally, when it comes to heavily-charged albums such as Le Dernier Crépuscule, I hold a 10-time listening policy: testing how well and in what manner a music album holds up after listening to it completely the first ten times in less than a few days. This has several interesting effects, the first of which is that initial shock effects fade away, technical flare appears more fixed to context, everything gains perspective. Sadly, this album only made it to six listens before losing its luster, and this is mainly because the overall structure of songs and the character they evoke fall into place as an integral whole, revealing the utter simplicity lying behind the tons of riffs and tasty guitar licks.

The reason why the most convincing underground metal has almost always come from the minds that are most “out there” is because their music flows from deeply-ingrained convictions, veritable nightmares that are as real as the sun’s burning sensation, or the excruciating pain of sincere longing for a different reality. While your metal remains “meta”, while it remains only a “fun” way of exploring “spooky” images that are “not real”, your metal will also remain a laughable cartoon.

In earlier ages, as instinctive concepts welled up in the mind of man, his conscious mind could no doubt integrate them into a coherent psychic pattern. But the “civilized” man is no longer able to do this. His “advanced” consciousness has deprived itself of the means by which the auxiliary contributions of the instincts and the unconscious can be assimilated. These organs of assimilation and integration were numinous symbols, held holy by common consent.

In earlier times, these principles were worshiped in all sorts of rituals, which at least showed the psychic significance they held for man. But now they have become mere abstract concepts.

— Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols

1 By riff variation, I mean a grouping of related riffs that arise as variations from a seminal idea.

2 When taking Crematory’s Denial as a point of reference, we can observe how Crematory cannot hold a mood and a line of thought for too long. The music is based on providing variation; for instance, it introduces contrasting ideas in rhythm in extreme fashion so that even very Latin African rhythms pop up right besides more grindy ones with no particular purpose. It may be more difficult to notice, but Demilich already contains such range of variation, but it is much better organized, so that it does not feel haphazard. Furthermore, Demilich is able to stamp their own seal on each section by delimiting certain combinations of rhythm and mode, while Crematory pretty much just throws whatever it can find in your face as it desperately clutches for more content to display a different drum technique.

It’s not that Crematory plays no positive role in the music of Chthe’ilist, but it should be used within its effective scope: the riff variation; and taking note from those who excel at long-range composition when organizing structure.

3 This is a distractor that infects the mentality of modern death metal musicians; it’s almost as if they feel that the music is not enough, that they need to add more “stuff”, whatever it is. This fools the less-focused sort of listeners (apparently, the majority), but not those who would listen to music from multiple angles so as to extract all it contains and more.

4 That is to say, although the difference between the opposite styles within Timeghoul’s vocabulary (from pounding, crowded gnarly riffs to clean-vocal lamentations) may be wider than Crematory’s, the consistency with which they are used imbues them with a more meaningful sense of purpose.

5 A lesson might be learned from Ludwig van Beethoven’s own methods. He is probably the most respectable of classical composers with an inclination for “wild progressive” ideas, since he did not slip into avant-garde stupidity. Beethoven’s music was shocking in its own time for its juxtaposition of apparently contrasting ideas, but he would not leave them there. They were justified, as it were, through their careful development and envelopment throughout the rest of the piece or even in later movements, creating an unprecedented technique in bringing together content in long-range fashion through a process of entanglement.

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Illusions Dead – Celestial Decadence (2016)

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Article by Corey M

Illusions Dead put this descriptor on their Bandcamp page; “black/death metal with influences from bands like Gorgoroth, Anata, Insomnium, Intestine Baalism and more”, but what these Finns actually offer with Celestial Decadence is a shareware version of Slaughter of the Soul 2.0, now with even sappier melodies that won’t alienate the ex-emo kids who are looking for the next edgiest music culture from which they can leech a persona.

Generally, any given song on this album starts with two guitars playing some volleyball-style counterpoint with a relatively cool-sounding riff. The drums punctuate when necessary, and then the vocals come in and the whole experience deteriorates. Aside from the opening track (which features a more effective low-end growl), all of the vocals sound like a half-assed take on later Gorgoroth’s shrieking style, but more forced and less congruent compared to the brittle guitar tone. The vocals (and drum mixing) only deserve a minor critique though; the real problem with Celestial Decadence is the total lack of energy and motivation that bogs the entire album down.

The best riffs in the album are short-lived and are essentially half-assed plagiarisms of At the Gates melodies. Spontaneously switching between up-and-down single-string melodic patterns and chugging percussive cadences can’t save the utter lack of passion and purpose in every musical segment. When I imagine the recording process of this album I actually picture a couple of rock band guitarists being held at gunpoint and forced to jam out pointlessly “metallic” riffs that will later be organized by a randomizing program and pieced together by a computer that doesn’t know a thing about composition except for the absolute minimum level of human tolerance for illogical irregularity.

Lacking a single distinct riff (except for the particularly emo-sounding middle-and-end section of “Shadow and Flame”), this album flew right past me even after several listens. The musicians definitely have a refined sense of when a melodic pattern becomes too boring to repeat, but they seem clueless as to the efficacy of the melody itself in the first place. I can’t recommend this album to any sane person, except for maybe masochists.

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Necropsy – Buried in the Woods (2015)

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Article by Corey M

Finns Necropsy have been plugging away since 1989 but only recently (2011) released their first full-length album. In 2015 they released their second album, Buried in the Woods, showcasing a disciplined, modest, and even joyous approach to death metal. Every time I hear this album I get the sense that Necropsy’s members do not have any type of heady agenda or driving vision; rather they simply enjoy making plain-old death metal, emphasizing straightforward riffs that rely equally on rhythmic adherence and playful-but-conventional melodic deviations.

The actual sonic texture of the album is smooth and clear, taking full advantage of 2015’s recording technology. Both bass and distorted lead guitars are appropriately crunchy but never so deep and fuzzy as to approach the obscure levels of Infester or Incantation; they chug, ring, soar, and sing without losing a trace of clarity. This lucidity of individual tracks allows each instrument to be heard clearly and effortlessly, which is a major benefit since many of these songs shift back and forth between relatively uniform (all instruments playing the same thing) segments to more harmonically complex bits. Drums sit comfortably behind the melody, encompassing the other instruments and filling in the far left and right stereo space with just the right amount of reverb, never intruding on the melody. Meanwhile, the vocals only appear as low pitched roars that are somewhat hard to decipher, and mainly serve to augment the otherwise simple rhythmic interplay that generally features concomitant guitars and drums. During the last song, synthesized organ and string sounds come in to support the closing chord progression, but aside from this final track, the songs are functionally supported exclusively by the guitars, drums, and vocal patterns.

Judging by the description in the preceding paragraph, we should have all the ingredients necessary for a good death metal album. But, just as we find in actual food recipes, the order of ingredient addition, and time spent baking, are just as crucial to the final product as the ingredients themselves. Buried in the Woods is a smooth listen from front to back, as the creators probably intended. The casual listener may stop their analysis there; the more attentive listener may find that the conservative nature of the songs lend themselves to a relatively shallow range of dynamics. But this criticism is mainly aimed toward the album as a whole; the songs themselves move effortlessly between sections that slowly change in feel until making a satisfying shift back toward the introductory riffs. Nevertheless, by the fifth song you’ll have heard the band’s whole lexicon of riffs, which range from the derivative (mainly Grave-ish Swedeath and Sinister-ish NYDM) to the interesting-but-uninspired.

Finnish bands like Demilich and Demigod generated some bizarre death metal that, while unconventional by even death metal standards, was nevertheless intuitively relatable because the music presented a vision of horror that was spiritual-arising-from-the-biological. The songs expressed such extreme and severe experiences through a human lens that we as listeners were lead to question and explore our own peripheries of personal experience, and push our imaginations toward the impossible; that is the special territory of death metal. With this in mind, the generic horror concepts of Necropsy relate only to the biological and immediate sensations, falling short of that ability to breach into the “imaginal”; that territory in which we can experience events through the potency of imagination alone, affecting our feelings/biological chemistry on a profound scale.

Listen to Buried in the Woods because it illustrates several examples of a decently transparent and reliable template that can be used in constructing songs in a style as unorthodox as death metal. While you listen, you will probably find that such formulaic methods of song structure only work if there is a balance between surprise and rationality in the shifts between riffs. If the focus is too close toward surprise, the result is like metalcore, which lacks melodic structure and relies on rapid and unexpected dynamic shifts in rhythm and overall feel. If the focus is too close toward rationality, then you get something like Buried in the Woods, which is written skillfully enough to not be boring, but too conventionally to be exciting. Personally, I listened through it several times and developed fond feelings toward a few songs, but I won’t be listening to it again any time soon.

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Magrudergrind – II (2016)

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So famous that you might’ve just heard of them right now for the first time. Magrudergrind is back after a hiatus with an album that makes a potent case for keeping simplicity tightly under wraps so that we don’t risk every band with half a half-hearted interest in songwriting nabbing it from the medicine cabinet and hoarding it all for themselves.

I don’t exactly listen to much straight up ‘grindcore’, which adds to the holes in my listening experience, but II sounds pretty much like what I’d expect any half-proficient band in the genre to put out. It’s understandably a little slicker than most of the formative efforts in the genre (Napalm Death, Carcass, Repulsion, etc.), although from what I’ve heard this album trades in some of the bits of schlock comedy that “distinguished” previous Magrudergrind content from its contemporaries for more standard, basic, banal grindcore. On some scales, this is really a perfect 5/10 album; it’s exactly what I expected aesthetically, it does nothing particularly interesting, and it doesn’t even have the temerity to offend me even slightly lest I end up shaming Magrudergrind on the internet; does this sound like anybody we know? II is basically the equivalent of a blank cassette waiting to be recorded to for the first time, but like most albums of little musical merit, we can at least learn a few lessons from the circumstances surrounding it.

As I hinted at in the intro, Magrudergrind’s latest is a very simplistic album that isn’t far removed from the starkest, most deconstructive efforts in its genre. The problem working in such a limited palette is that most of the time, it’s only a sign of low effort; it takes surprising amounts of skill, ambition, or at least luck, to cut down your music and still retain some shred of coherence and communicative value. Grindcore, as a genre, is especially vulnerable to the dark side of these tendencies; once you reach maximum violence and intensity there isn’t much left to do in the confines of the genre. The various famous bands of the genre all found their coping mechanisms; I’m personally most familiar with Carcass’s rapid pivot towards pop music. Magrudergrind’s, on the other hand, was apparently to go on hiatus for a few years and then return when everyone had forgotten not only them, but also the very knowledge that they had forgotten about Magrudergrind.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews mini-feature – Alastor – Waldmark (2016)

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Article by David Rosales

Playing a laid back kind of black metal, Alastor’s music supports simple variations of a central melody on drums that range from blast-beating sections to short-lived standard rock beats on thin-sounding drums. At first, Alastor seems to be building on tracks in standard ways, until one realizes that halfway through the song, the music player tells you that the next track has already started. This sounds interesting in concept, but in the case of Waldmark, nothing is coming out of this except the constant stalling of closing sections. Being able to finish songs effectively seems to be the bane of of most musicians.

On the other hand, this might just be a dick move, because songs do seem to “end” in the middle of tracks, only so that a different idea starts and plays through the boundaries of tracks. It might just be a cheap way of trying to make the listener sit through a whole album of samey music with little to none emotional or content variation. It is extremely difficult to distinguish different songs, endings and beginnings, middle sections in a climax-less, conclusion-less flat music, even for a dedicated listener of underground metal music. Variation does happen, mind you, but the close range at which the whole of them remain, and the fact that they do not seem to be structured to take you anywhere, makes breaks and endings appear entirely random. You probably shouldn’t waste your time on something this amorphous.

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Crematory – Denial (1992)

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Article by David Rosales

Crematory’s 1992 EP is the very definition of good, old riff salad death metal, at least from a basic technical stance. Strings of ideas fly by with less-than-optimal riff glue to hold them together, but an intuitive flow is always present. Adjacent riffs may be linked motif-wise, but sharp corner-turns are never too far away. There is a clear emphasis in contrasting rhythms to create interest in the music in the absence of clearer goals. Denial is a good example of why many black metal musicians who were originally playing death metal chose to forgo this style in order to look for more artistically meaningful avenues of expression. Crematory is fun, and there is an obvious emphasis on technical proficiency that although not forgetting entirely about coherence leaves it as a second thought, and any other landscaping is all but forgotten. Concept building is left to the lyrics, while the music is only an engine to carry those words.

Fans of this old school band’s work tag this lazy and faceless approach as ‘Crematory style’, but in truth, it is just run-of-the-mill riff salad without any particular purpose; only remarkable for presenting some technical variation. This can be particularly observed when the band attempts to take rhythm to the edge of what their speed-based approach allows them and creates this ass-shaking syncopation worthy of Brazilian carnivals. This comes out as comical, but perhaps technically ‘interesting’ for drummers. The guitar’s work is completely driven by these frenetic drums that seem more interested in showing off how many different patterns they can cram into half a minute than in contributing to the larger picture. In fact, the whole of the music appears to be an excuse for rhythmic exercises in “fun and gore”. This is an early demonstration of tongue-in-cheek emptiness that lead these musicians to explore technique but reveal nothing to the soul.

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Dream Theater – The Astonishing (2016)

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Article by David Rosales

Dream Theater never ceases to surprise you; not in a good way, but in how they can always reach the next level of selling out. Not that they were ever produced honest music, though one might excuse their progressive speed hard rock debut (When Dream and Day Unite), at least a little, I guess. Their brand of messy and random stitching of unrelated ideas in a mixture of hard rock and outright Disney pop has gone through a long series of transformations; a move to fool audiences with the typical “constantly reinventing ourselves” excuse that allows them to keep being random.

The band has suffered several crises, even televised ones that would make any telenovella envy them (Portnoy leaves, Dream Theater holds mock audiences to “choose” a pre-selected drummer). They’ve moved with the waves, going dense and long with Systematic Chaos to entice those fans who like to believe themselves metal, then softening up a little with the influence of overrated poser-band Pink Floyd in Black Clouds and Silver Linings to produce long pop songs with some funny stabs at being metal. After that, 2011’s A Dramatic Turn of Events saw them go for their most retro attempt at imitating real progressive rock, with some interesting ideas and passages but ultimately resulting in the bloated and boring pieces their fans expect from them.

Whenever they aren’t busy putting together one of these Broadway soundtracks structured as carnival music, they will be repackaging previous material into more compilations or stuffing their lobotomized fans with yet another live album. Dream Theater lives the KISS dream, with similar tactics, minus the extreme sexual decadence, making them apt for audiences of all ages. A few weeks ago, they released an album that has taken particularly long in arriving, named The Astonishing for major catchiness and acceptance. This album is a two-disc package divided into thirty-four different tracks,  but this is no The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and Dream Theater does not even attempt to keep single four-minute songs coherent. They switch from inspirational soundtrack bullshit to gay-pop ballad mode with little to no preparation, only to follow it up by a head-bobbing hard rock groove that is never too aggressive so as to appear actually threatening.

Daddy-rock, Disney-pop and conscious attempts at being as lame as Hans Zimmer have brought Dream Theater to where they are. Sometimes they try to be Pink Floyd, but not too much, lest they be recognized, since Pink Floyd does not have too much they can actually call their own but a lazy syncopated sort of pop rock with bluesy guitar (I really can’t stop laughing when people praise Gilmour as some kind of revolutionary; he was a good guitarist, period). Sometimes they try to go Genesis, but they do not have the consistency, the concentration or the actual creativity, so they resort to disguising their lack of composition talents by attaching whatever they can come up to the latest they wrote down, no matter how nonsensical it is. At this point, Dream Theater sounds like senile Avenged Sevenfold trying to be old Genesis but forgetting about it every other minute as, if they already have Alzheimer’s.

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Sacrificium Carmen – Ikuisen Tulen Kammiossa (2015)

sacrificium-carmen

Article by Corey M

Sacrificium Carmen have released some very generic black metal on this album, made up of moderate-to-fast-paced songs with lots of chunky speed metal riffs and admittedly impressive strained-sounding vocals. Overall, my impression of Ikuisen Tulen Kammiossa is negative for two main reasons: Lack of innovation (meaning that the band makes no effort to develop and express their own unique perspective using the black metal template) and a disregard for the necessities that make traditional black metal an engaging listen (hint: it’s more than just grindy distortion and screamed lyrics).

Regarding the album’s merits: Sacrificium Carmen do well by avoiding any “post-black metal” trappings (some examples being forced “prog” tendencies, ominous chanting, and corny sound effects), and they steer clear of any “ambient” influences, which means the music is fairly lean and efficient. Each song begins and ends purposefully, rather than diverging into some ambiguous territory surrounded by extramusical showboating, as many contemporary black metal bands are wont. For this, Sacrificium Carmen deserve credit; the musicians rely on themselves and their instruments only, eschewing digitally-generated sound textures, operatic vocals, “found sounds” and so forth, to achieve their vision. Each song is generally through-composed, and all melodies are readily found in the Official Dogmatic Compendium of Black Metal Minor Chord Sequences™. All of the instruments are played proficiently (and the vocals are exceptionally aggressive), but the level of musical complexity is low throughout the album, so this details neither adds to nor detracts from the album’s quality.

This “less-is-more” approach is usually a good one for bands to take when playing black metal, because the best black metal is minimalist in that it does not have any bits of ornamentation to distract from the purpose of the music, which is to evoke in the imagination visions of spiritual horror in a world dominated by chaotic violence. This is where Sacrificium Carmen’s music falls short – invoking imagination. There is just no darkness or danger to the melodies, only all-too-human frustration, which sounds emotively impotent and discouraging to listen to. Most of the riffs in Ikuisen Tulen Kammiossa would not be out of place on a contemporary punk album; just replace Sacrificium Carmen’s vocalist with some faux-gruff cigarette-smoke-choked burn out and have him sing with self-conscious irony about how stupid religious fundamentalists are, or how much he hates his landlord, and you’d have a product that would sell to clueless teenagers in the suburban Midwestern United States.

Melodies in Ikuisen Tulen Kammiossa never reach a high enough level of tension to evoke any visions; they are too direct and sound self-centered. By this, I mean that any song’s series of riffs are actually static, whirlpool-like revolutions around the song’s own rhythmic and melodic center. The riffs anticipate a return to whatever was the last-heard rhythmic hook, rather than communicate through melodic contrast with the riffs that precede and follow. Early (and successful) black metal bands achieved tension by chaining together riffs in such a way that each segment of melody would act to destruct the preceding segment and, simultaneously, enhance the following segment, not granting the listener a chance to dwell on any one particular pleasantly hooky riff, but impelling them to take the current melody at face value and embrace the ephemerality of that melody. Because of this constant dialogue taking place throughout a song, coherence could be maintained, even while the song’s tempo or scale shifts and dynamics may even fluctuate wildly. Meanwhile, every song on Ikuisen Tulen Kammiossa appears focused on a conclusion at all times, diminishing the immediate experience. Possibly as a result of this weakness, the dynamic range of any given song is quite narrow. This does not automatically make any songs bad, but given everything else that is going on (or not) in this album, it makes for a boring listen, unless you’ve always wanted to hear a punk band with a black metal vocalist.

In short, Ikuisen Tulen Kammiossa is not a record that classic black metal fans will want to spend much time with. When judged as rock music in general, the album does not commit any irredeemable sins, and may be a fun listen while pounding beers or taking a drive with your girlfriend who hates Darkthrone. But when judged as black metal and measured against those albums in the black metal canon, you may find that the album has more shortcomings than can be excused.

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