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

alastor

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.

7 Comments

Tags: , , , , ,

Crematory – Denial (1992)

crematory denial

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.

26 Comments

Tags: , , , , ,

Dream Theater – The Astonishing (2016)

dreamtheaterastonishingcovercd

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.

24 Comments

Tags: , , , , , ,

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.

3 Comments

Tags: , , , , ,

Catacomb – In the Maze of Kadath (1993)

CATACOMB-The-Lurker-at-the-Threshold-In-the-Maze-of-Kadath-CD

Article by David Rosales

Straight from the peak of the death metal movement comes the French band Catacomb and their 1993 demo / EP In the Maze of Kadath. The production is suitable and enhances the vibe that any death metal band would want, saved from overproduction by the limitations of its time and probably band finances. It is the sort of release that from the time period that has all the right examples of its betters so that it can produce an appropriate atmosphere, but its capacity to create something original and valuable of its own is shaky at best.

Songs are introduced by a monochromatic piano, not unlike that of Goatcraft on All for Naught. After a short passage, the band proceeds to pick motifs from it and move on to a very consciously “progressive” treatment of the music. As I have said before, all good death metal is progressive music, in the sense of the word’s original usage when describing classic and jazz inspired rock bands of the early seventies. Bands that sound more explicitly and intentionally progressive are usually trying something closer to through-composition. The dangers of through-composition, however, can be seen in how acts such as The Chasm meander into nothingness, or in the corners of Timeghoul’s longer explorations, which they barely keep together. Catacomb is an example of a band biting off more than it can chew. While not outright offensive, one gets the feeling that the songs’ storylines get lost, and part of this is because it’s difficult to tell if Catacomb has a clearly defined style or not. It is more like a collection of atmospheric death metal tropes combined with more conventional technique closer to a traditional/speed metal approach, although Catacomb tends to perform at middling tempos.

One strength of this band on In The Maze of Kadath is their haunting use of keyboard, its sound complementing the tone of the guitar as they play in unison. This is a subtlety lost on modern bands who fail to notice how a huge and devouring guitar sound eats up the space where a keyboard would spread to get that truly haunting feeling. Less admirable are the random guitar solos with very little staying power (a lack of correspondence with the music, with which it only shares tonal coherence) and often awkward-sounding arpeggiations. All in all, this is an enjoyable but unimpressive and forgettable work music. If you wanted the progressive ‘chops’ with the dark atmosphere, Timeghoul provides a much better delivery. If that proves too gnarly and the reader only wants that spacey, desolate sound, Thergothon’s Stream from the Heavens would be a far more compelling and potent choice. In the Maze of Kadath may please momentarily and entertain for its cult status, but musically, anything it has to offer has been realized more convincingly in the works of others.

6 Comments

Tags: , , , ,

Sadistic Metal Reviews mini-feature – Barbaric Horde – Gasmask Perpetrators (2016)

barbaric horde
Article by David Rosales

One of the greatest curses of the Internet age is that every kind of garbage can be marketed as “art”. Labels pop out of nowhere only to pump out bad excuses for music; albums not even the people who wrote them can remember a week after they listen to them. Barbaric Horde’s Gasmask Perpetrators is one such worthless package.

While we insist that cliches of music are themselves not the problem, as they only constitute solidified code words of an artistic circle or movement, these really do need to be used to express something unique. What good is a book that has no spirit of its own, no story of its own? What good is an album that plays the same old tropes in exactly the same way with nothing but a mere reproduction of what has come before it? If not for its overall air of mediocrity, Barbaric Horde should be reprimanded for wasting anyone’s time with absolutely nothing but empty statements and pseudo-underground statements. If you believe you are underground so much, then you do not try to be so by emulating the exterior of the sound of what today is known as classic “underground”. If you believe you are truly underground, you stay so by staying hidden, not by imposing your third-rate crap on all of our ears. Anyone who doesn’t understand this is at best a poser deserving of all your elitist contempt.

6 Comments

Tags: , , , , , ,

More thoughts on Abbath

upside down abbath
Article by David Rosales, read the first review here

It is hard not to laugh when so much of this album plays as if Abbath were trying to sound like modern Ozzy Osbourne: Funny, rhythmic rock grooves, repeated to death while little breaks and winky variations take place (see ‘Winter Bane’ for a good laugh). Most of the remains of a black metal attitude are try-hard and unconvincing. This solo album remains largely black on the outside but poser rock inside.

One of the most painful moments comes when you hear Abbath using the flanger special effect, a remnant of eighties fruitiness. This is in line with the fact that he did not seem to really try to make this a black metal album, but a clearly rock-oriented stunt with only superficial colorings that might lend the project a corpse-painted face to be recognized for. This in itself disgusts me, and should disgust anyone else who rejects the whole idea of metal for the masses, as it only spells out least common denominator dumbing down.

At its best, Abbath might try to sound like the epic heavy metal of Quorthon, especially on the mid-paced tracks where there is an obvious viking air. This is the only rescuable aspect of this album, and it might be the best course for Abbath to take, embracing this epic viking metal altogether and leaving behind the black speed pretensions. That way, he might concentrate on converting these rock bits into proper metal.

No Comments

Tags: , , , , ,

Sarcasm – Burial Dimensions (2015)

Sarcasm-Burial-Dimensions-44488-1

Article by Corey M

Burial Dimensions is a compilation of releases by Swedish death metal band Sarcasm, featuring six demos (released between 1992 and 1994) and a full-length album (also recorded in 1994, but first officially released in 2011). For most of this review, I’ll be talking mainly about the titular full-length album when I use “Burial Dimensions”, and not the compilation as a whole.

As for the compilation as a complete package – It has cool cover art and all the demos you could want, but they sounded redundant to me, though in full disclosure, I was unfamiliar with Sarcasm before getting this release, and didn’t know any of their demos before listening to this compilation. Fans will no doubt find more value in having this large collection of demos on two CDs, even though casual listeners may not spend much time listening to them. The full-length features the best songs with the best production quality, so I focused in listening to it the most.

Some listeners might be able to guess that Sarcasm are Swedish by the first riff, and most of the musical techniques they use had been well-developed by 1994, so this album is more about refining a craft than innovating. Except for a few incongruent flourishes, Burial Interludes is mostly sinewy, sometimes fluttery death metal, but melodically bears resemblance to some contemporary heavy metal-influenced black metal like Rotting Christ’s Thy Mighty Contract, with a lot of tense, enigmatic harmonies and an emphasis on keeping songs flowing smoothly throughout dynamic transitions between high- and low-intensity passages. However, due to the band’s admirable unwillingness to shift dynamics too quickly, some of the more low-tension parts in songs drag on for too long, dispelling the sinister insinuations of the more intense passages as we are lulled by comfortable but impotent consonance. These soft sections subvert the dark spirit that these songs aim to conjure, and are almost always too off-putting to ignore. Examples include a brief break for a female operatic vocal to take over a song which is otherwise made of imposing, sharp riffs, and some dull segments that showcase an unmotivated (and unmotivating) lead meandering over a melodramatic chord progression. These parts always sound insincere and drag the album down because other parts of the songs really rip into you.

The production of Burial Dimensions is raw (and the demos sound considerably worse), with some gnarly analog compression and heavy reverb on everything, giving the sensation of the sound being squished and distant. This isn’t necessarily bad and allows the guitars space to grind through high and low frequencies, giving the rhythm guitars a dangerous-sounding, shredded, spiky texture. In many riffs, a second guitar will pick out a higher-register harmony that stands separate from the rhythm guitars by having a distinct echoing tone. Usually following the rhythm fairly closely, the second guitar is also sometimes used for counterpoint melodies, and at times these are very effective at bringing out the full impact of the riffs, especially when the bass guitar splits from playing in unison with the rhythm guitars and all three guitar melodies hit you from different directions in three-part harmony. Sarcasm can create an impressively broad and rich sound with the three guitars being utilized this way, but during the worst parts of the songs, the counterpoint will be played in some such off-kilter way that doesn’t synchronize intuitively with the rhythm guitars and some strange harmonies emerge, negatively altering the flow of tension that is channeled so well during the more simply-structured passages.

Sarcasm sound amateur at worst, mainly due to the artificial melancholy that butts in and trips up a series of otherwise engaging riffs. Some of the better examples of riffs that really take you along for a ride begin the songs “Through Tears of Gold” and “Never After”, but frustratingly their momentum falters when one of the more flaccid, weepy progressions intrudes with clean guitars and soft synthesizer washes. “Pile of Bodies” and “Scattered Ashes” both begin with slow, chunky riffs that menace and lumber, but eventually either song gets bogged down in slowly-strummed reverb-drenched chords and leads too timid to venture far enough from the chords to inspire much sense of wonder or foreboding.

All considered, this album probably never achieved wide recognition because of the incongruent dynamics which can leave you with a sense of ambiguity about the whole experience. If you listen closely, you’ll hear lots of cool-sounding riffs scattered throughout, but they are offset by the sappiness that inevitably kicks in during any song’s development. In this way the amateur nature of the band works for and against them; when they get into energetic and fearsome riffing, the sensation is both threatening and mystical, but their inability to maintain tension while focusing more on the mystical than the threatening aspect means that each burst of strong riffs is undermined by a stretch of weak soloing or ostentatious gimmicks.

If you are a fan of Sarcasm, this release is right up your alley; you get some upgraded album art and a collection of demos in their original condition (not retouched or remastered, as far as I can tell). If you are not a fan but curious to see what Sarcasm are all about, I strongly recommend finding some of the music online or streaming it and giving it a close listen before making the decision to purchase. Personally, I don’t see any lasting replay value in Burial Dimensions; Sarcasm are just one of the many death metal bands that fell by the wayside during the ’90s heyday, and for good reason. If you are really itching to hear some death metal from the ’90s with lots of black metal-esque melody and heavy metal leads, compare this album to Necrophobic’s The Nocturnal Silence, which is a perfect example of how these influences (black, death, and heavy metal) can merge fluidly and efficiently. And Intestine Baalism beat these Swedes at their own game with 1997’s An Anatomy of the Beast, which does a better job than Burial Dimensions of combining raw and evil-sounding riffs with dramatically melancholic lead melodies.

2 Comments

Tags: , , , , , ,

Obscura – Akroasis (2016)

Akroasis

Akroasis stands proud as a representative of cracked out incoherent sugar high penguin of doom random technical “death” metal, and even has a cover that looks like various forms of congealed sugar melting together into a nutrition-free whole. It is truly the perfect product – a deceptively simplistic and potentially addictive recording with little in the way of more rewarding development. Obscura’s efforts on this album alternate between either random gibberish or surprisingly basic song constructions that don’t quite fit the apparent intent and would be shockingly obvious were they not surrounded by thousands of rapid fire notes like a swarm of flies around rotting meat.

One thing that makes reviewing Akroasis particularly easier is how the first track (“Sermon of the Seven Suns”) encapsulates so much of what Obscura is attempting to do. Much has been made of what this band takes from Death, particularly from their later traditional/death fusion works, but the most patronizing is the circular song structures. “Sermon of the Seven Suns” doesn’t have a lot of content, and after an intro arguably inspired by Cynic, it awkwardly rotates between its two major sections of rapidfire blasting and slow jazz fusion jams. The band uses some basic modulation techniques to disguise the repetition, particularly in the first section, but the overall structure does little more than hide the excessively basic structure. While the band’s apparent devotion to this on this track is vaguely admirable for how holistic it is (extending even to the lyrics), it doesn’t make for particularly compelling listening once the shock factor of Obscura’s instrumental proficiency wears off. At best, they’re slightly more creative than Chuck Schuldiner was with song structures – as an FYI, pretty much everything Death put out went main section -> bridge -> repetition of main section -> who needs a coda anyways?

The rest of Akroasis is more densely packed with content, but instead of employing the care and diligence required to shape these into anything coherent, it just falls into all of the typical metalcore traps, so it sounds less like an album and more like a checklist of errors. Besides what I’ve already mentioned in dissecting the first track, Obscura’s songwriting is full of aesthetic novelties (vocoders, non-metal instruments for no apparent reason) and they even incorporate a goofy breakdown in “The Monist” because apparently, metalcore musicians just can’t resist the temptation. Obscura would be a much better band if they could resist their vices, but were they to try and succeed, they would probably become completely unrecognizable to their fans. Why would they bother? The disorganized candy coated tech-death approach seems to be netting them enough fans.

10 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.

6 Comments

Tags: , , , , , ,