Article by David Rosales
Exmortus is a speed metal band with leanings towards what is commonly called ‘power metal’, although the general public seems to lump them in the mixed bag that so-called melodic death metal is due to their use of angsty growled-barked vocals. Exmortus have built up quite a following in the young, mainstream metal community. Ride Forth is the exciting fourth album these youngsters and guitar enthusiasts have been awaiting. This album features ‘neo-classical’ metal gestures that were first introduced in very small quantities by NWOBHM bands in combination with pentatonic soloing. It took the likes of Malmsteen and Randy Rhodes to bring this aspect to the fore. Exmortus themselves highlight it to the point of making it more than just the center of the music; enlarging it to be all the relevant music to be found herein.
In Ride Forth, Exmortus wears their infatuation with Beethoven and outward classical aesthetics on their sleeves and include a metal cover of the third movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 (“Appasionata“). Their previous album also included a track based on the third movement of his Piano Sonata No. 14 (aka “Moonlight”). Compare this to other bands that have gone beyond mere adaptation and have used them to expand compositions that take the themes and scale runs of the original piece such as ‘Pathway To The Moon’, by Pathfinder, based on the same Beethoven. Right at the top of the list lie the adaptations done by the Italian band Rhapsody, who only use the themes themselves for arrangements of interludes within otherwise completely original compositions. ‘Heroes Of The Waterfall’s Kingdom” sees Rhapsody using the main theme from the 4th movement (“Prestissimo”) of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 1.
Exmortus Ride Forth can be vivisected for analysis in at least two ways. The first is in terms of the functions and performance of each of the three functional layers of metal; namely rhythm, leads and vocals. The second concerns the structuring of songs, the quality of the sequence of ideas exposed throughout the album. We may take a look at each of these individually and then at how they interact to produce a result.
The three layers are executed with metronomic precision, echoing the modern classical musician’s obsession with machine-like performance. The drums are standard and give no sign of humanity. The bass is functional but rigidly moves under the needs of the alto-soprano guitars. The guitars themselves have a clearly leading role. The whole instrumental texture is very reminiscent of C.P.E. Bach’s classical music, in which all layers are in the service of a main melody. The vocal department is not only out of place but also overdone, although this may have been somewhat enhanced and disfigured by a too clear-cut, synthetic production.
As a an aural story, Ride Forth shows the audience two faces. The first is what gives them what they think is their distinctive taste, their blatant and superficial imitation of classical music. The second is a mechanical speed metal without character that serves as neutral receptor for the former pretensions. The strongest contributor to the personality of the music on the side of metal is the vocalist. But just as Exmortus interpretation of classical music remains on the level of reflected shadows, their take on metal is that of a rebellious attitude that is closer to a child’s tantrum whose candy has been taken away than to a raiding viking.
The downplaying of the whole of instrumentation to emphasize guitar action along with the simplification on the metal side as mere bridge and support for pseudo-classical posturing give rise to the worst incarnation of Yingwie that one can imagine. In regards to the content, it has very poor communication value, as it takes music as pretty wallpaper noise. While these now cliched patterns were born out of the lingos of late 18th-century classical music and the incipient NWOBHM of the late 1970s, it is now presented as mere paper-mache for the fabrication of shiny toys; symbols without depth or reflection, enjoyed sensually in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
Here, we may insert a more general critique of the general ignorance the public suffers when it comes to genre significance and the importance of its ‘sub-cultural’ context for it to acquire meaning. We may assume that the reason why two genres are smashed carelessly in this way is because whatever gestures are native to each are considered mere adornments. However, we have reason to think that the particular tropes of different genres are very specific reflections of a very particular group’s intuitional understanding, so to speak, so that without understanding its proper setting, its depth is lost.
Exmortus’ guitarist obviously worships Ludwig van Beethoven, but instead of being inspired by the deeper aspects of the late master’s work, he seems content to masturbate to the angry German’s portrait while wearing a man-bikini made out of fur. The general metal ‘critic’ (haha…) will love this for its easy-going technically appeal and comical value, perhaps giving them the typical, meaningless high scores they hand out cheaply like condoms at a gay-fest. A more critical mind unmoved by gimmicks may see through the ruse and form a useful opinion. It is, therefore, that Death Metal Underground hereby assigns Ride Forth a score of 133/666 Bleeding Anuses.