Sadistic Metal Reviews: Dark Symphonies Special

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Many lost “gems” have been reissued to capture undiscerning millennial money. Most never found a market as they weren’t up to par. The Death Metal Underground hopes that readers were not gifted any of these on the Unconquered Sun’s birthday.

hydra vein
Hydra Vein – Rather Death than False of Faith (1988)
Raining blood, from a lacerated sky! What? This isn’t Slayer. What the hell is this? Did Tom Araya have too much to drink? Wait this idiot’s British and doing drunken Motorhead karaoke and Kerry King air guitar solos at the pub. The cover looks like a ten year old’s Clash of the Titans fan art. This album is a fifteen year old’s Slayer fan art. Maybe if I drink half a bottle of whiskey my  brain will think Hydra Vein is actually Slayer. I could just turn it off and play Slayer.

morpheus son of hypnos
Morpheus – Son of Hypnos (1993)
Morpheus (no relation to Morpheus Descends) was an early nineties musical project put together by four residents of a Stockholm group home. The vocalist sounded like Sylvester Stallone imitating Glenn Benton, the guitarists idolized the Hoffmans, and everyone attempted to cover Kreator. During the recording sessions, the band members expressed situational homosexual behavior by prostate massaging one another with their genitalia. The orgasmic screams of these disturbed sodomites echoed jungle fowl being rended by monkeys. Son of Hypnos makes for an amusing pornographic soundtrack.

bloodstone
Bloodstone – Hour of the Gate (1996)
Hour of the Gate was produced by Tomas Skogsberg and Fred Estby at Sunlight Studios. I hit play and instead of crusty Swedeath my ears hear Incantation’s “Profanation” breaking down into Necrophobic riffing. Then Gothenburg leads and more Profanation. That lick’s from Megadeth. How many salads were tossed here? The shit-buttered anus of death metal was licked right well and clean. I need to get a drink. I blacked out listening to this turkey. This CD was not repressed as history wanted to black it out too.

sacrifical - forever entangled

Sacrificial – Forever Entangled (1993)
The sound of groove riffs ‘cross the glade,
Heshers cover your ears in horror.
This death trash is rather staid
Chugging along into the gutter.

Sacrificial, Sacrificial
Pantera meets Destruction
Sacrificial, Sacrificial
What a horrible production

Vocals are just way too loud.
Matti Karki would not be very proud.
Many metal songs are raped.
Their holes torn apart and gaped.

Sacrificial, Sacrificial,
Watched Blackadder the Third.
Sacrificial, Sacrificial
Another reissued turd.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews mini-feature – Arreat Summit

A quick EP of melodic metalcore/techdeaf – Arreat Summit’s Frostburn definitely hits all the expected points of 2008’s darling fusion – high levels of technical proficiency, candy coated melody, constant breakdowns, haphazard composition, and so forth. Usually this sort of thing doesn’t even rise to the point of being worthy of discussion (and I did find the actual music went almost unnoticed as I listened), but in this case, it resonated with me how eerily similar this is to playing the video games in the Diablo series that inspired it.

A quick primer – The first two games in the series are surprisingly atmospheric titles, at least by the standards of their age. In fact, I would go as far as to say that much of their potency is a result of Matt Uelmen’s excellent soundtrack work; Diablo II in particular frequently demonstrates his ability to mix coherent thematic development into unsettling ambient soundscapes. Back when I was most thoroughly engrossed in the game (read: 2008), though, my attention was instead turned towards repetitively grinding the game’s bosses in the slim hope of locating a powerful item that would allow me to do so slightly more efficiently. That was a much shallower and less fulfilling experience, albeit a powerfully addictive one more capable of destroying productivity than heroin. When you remove the setting from Diablo, it turns the game into a series of tangentially related and nonsensical murders. Similarly, when you remove the ‘setting’ from metal music, you’re left with what is little more than a technical exercise.

In summary, Arreat Summit’s successful portrayal of the grinding postgame of the series (to the point that they are named after a valuable piece of treasure that has no real lore attached to it) is a dubious honor at best.

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A look at Exmortus’s adaptation of “Appassionata”

For most of the bands we cover here at DMU, indirect influence from classical music and musicians is rather more common than direct performance of classical music, to the point that you’ll find more discussion of authentic period-style performance than metallic recontextualization. When word reached me of Exmortus honoring the 245th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth by releasing an adaptation of his 23rd piano sonata (the aforementioned Appassionata… well, the final movement of it), I figured listening to what the band could do with this material would make for some interesting writing. It’s worth noting that Exmortus has already done something similar for Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata, shredding their way through its fast and technically complicated final movement.

Since I’d never actually sat down and listened to the original Appassionata in any form, I started by listening to a performance. It’s been a while since I was properly attuned to Western classical music, but in my quick inspection I was able to pick up on many of the period tropes (it’s worth noting that Beethoven bridged the often lighter styles of the late 18th century with the melodramatic and more technically accomplished works of the early “Romantic” period of classical music), and I noticed how much mileage he was able to get out of a few relatively simple leitmotifs through various elaboration techniques. The sonata is clearly worthy of further study, although in the mean time one of our more classical-oriented writers would probably be able to shed further light on its hidden depths.

My main goal with this article, anyways, was to take a look at what Exmortus themselves did with the material. In their original moments, Exmortus plays a modernized speed metal style that takes some aesthetic cues from contemporary death metal; this recipe has in the past produced things like ATG’s Slaughter of the Soul, although this band’s usually a bit more subtle in their exploration of such tropes. Their adaptation of Appassionata makes very dramatic changes to the organization of the original. Much of these would be expected due to the mere change in instrumentation; perhaps the most notable is a consistent layer of percussion that understandably makes for a different texture. They’ve also condensed their adaptation down a bit; it would take me further listening to say which parts were specifically cut, but this is definitely an important change. Perhaps the greatest weakness of Exmortus’s version is that it also compresses the dynamic range down to nothing, and it does nothing with texture or rhythm to compensate for that. While the aesthetic needs of metal music often allow for reduced dynamic range, one of the more striking parts of the 3rd movement of Appassionata is that a skilled pianist can create strong contrasts despite the lengthy periods of rapid, stamina-draining performance, and that the ‘metal’ adaptation feels somewhat diminished for lacking this crucial element.

This track is still an interesting novelty that might push a few people to explore the original work. The album this single belongs to (Ride Forth) will go on sale January 8th, although I don’t expect it to contain any more neoclassical efforts. For an example of how original work in this vein can open up new possibilities, try Helstar’s “Perseverance and Desperation” off Nosferatu.

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Beorn – Time to Dare (2015)

beorn_-_time_to_dare

Power metal, the post-2000 incarnation of speed metal that mixes radio rock and Hollywood-style theatrical music into a hybrid, gets a lot of flack for being cheesy. This is true. However, it is also one of the few areas where metal musicians can create epic music and still have a large audience, since the underground metal audience disconnected from quality with war metal and was replaced with post-hardcore at the hands of vegan SJWs riding fixies to their artisanal bagel shops.

Beorn is quite cheesy, but musically creative, and they know how to write a competent song. Expect verse chorus with interruptions for operatics and dynamics, but generally heavy metal riffs with speed metal and some death metal technique, mated together with Queen- and Judas Priest-styled vocals. The melodies are awfully similar to those from other power metal acts, but this betrays the hidden influences of the genre in movie music, dinner theater and vaudeville, and even inspirational music. There are certain patterns, and these set up the need to deliver certain conclusions, and these songs do it along with the best of them.

High-pitched vocals guide melodic riffs over jazz-style drums which guide and comment but do not take a leading role. The vocals follow the guitar riff less in rhythm that in riffing off its basic melody, which allows more instrumental depth per passage than the unified approach of underground metal. Constant double-bass keeps the pulse pumping, and choruses carefully silhouette the chant-style rhythm of the vocals, but songs break to interludes and stack those with variations on the major themes. Lead guitars stay within the canon of guitar-rock heroics from the 70s but accelerate themselves to a frenetic postmodern pace.

I sometimes write about the difference between appreciating musical quality and liking something. I will never pick up a Beorn album because the cheesiness of this style repulses me, but I’d be a liar to not acknowledge the quality of the music here and its ability to be powerful in the right context. This type of power metal gives heavy metal the breadth of musicality it always wanted and, while cheesy, brings out a wide range of emotions and evokes the powerful sense of taking a journey that the best prog rock albums did. For those who appreciate that, Time to Dare will be a delight.

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Affliction Gate – Dying Alone (2015)

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This unruly album launches into a mid-paced, melodic death metal style and then turns up the intensity with constant pounding rhythm. Each song builds itself around a distinctive riff and uses modifications of it to fashion structure out of a stream of creative guitar work that aims first to make a strong statement, and only later to make it fit within a groove the audience can appreciate.

Vocals follow the riffs, giving guitars plenty of room to experiment, and consist of a harsh-throated partial enunciation that allows them to serve as a rhythm and textural instrument. Songs develop according to a rhythm emphasized by both the primary riff and the chorus, evoking the notion of Immolation hybridized with Sodom, and the rest of the song plays with that fundamental tension, although most of the song consists of a verse-chorus loop with one riff per section. Some songs show a riff sensibility derived from European giants such as Demigod and Sinister.

Unlike almost everything that flies over my desk, this band stands on their own, not as much stylistically as in composition. These songs pop out of the album as independent, and while there are many similar rhythms and tempi used, these are interrupted by many changes that shape the chaos into a smooth expression. For a band that works in the area of later classic death metal to withstand modernity and go its own way, and do so smoothly, is exceptional and results in an enjoyable release.

Thanks to Kunal Choksi at Transcending Obscurity, we are able to present this exclusive stream of “Manicheism Inertia” from Dying Alone by Affliction Gate:

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Cirith Gorgor – Visions of Exhalted Lucifer (2016)

cirith_gorgor_-_visions_of_exalted_lucifer

Cirith Gorgor bases its music around a strong vocal in the modern metal style of several emphatic syllables which then trail off, and this primary rhythm instrument propels the music forward. Underneath it flow melodic riffs which are not based on unique shape for its own ends, but fit around the rhythm of the vocals, approximating the style of later Emperor.

All of the familiar patterns are here: the sweeps, the gently falling melodic riffs, and the sawing upsurge riffs, and they are ordered in sensible songs. These songs do not particularly distinguish themselves from one another, nor evoke any type of emotion other than a general sense of feelings about the genre, but they are not random and are better assembled than the average. They resemble a sort of ongoing conversation that appears in different forms.

If this band has a weakness, it is reliance on the modern style of “yapping chihuaha” vocals. These are easier to follow than the old way, but place too many demands on the guitars for them to lead songwriting. The melodic hooks are pleasant and the discourse of songs orderly, but this band has a way to go before it expresses something like the power this genre has sleeping within it.

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Insision – Terminal Reckoning (2015)

insision_-_terminal_reckoning

Insision take on the dying underground by combining brutal death metal, early technical death metal and adding in mild touches of modern death metal, creating a sound that hammers its listeners with intensity but works melodic leads and song construction into the mix for variety and depth. The result is a cornucopia of charging riffs and melodic turnarounds, in a style similar to later Gorguts mixed with Deeds of Flesh.

The band makes skillful use of dynamics to intensify songs and carefully presents each as a standalone concept. Guttural vocals ride the rhythm riff but break away to freestyle over the more open patterns. This allows Insision to work atmosphere into the blasting and otherwise violent guitar work. Fans of classic German speed metal like Destruction and Kreator will notice similarities as the album goes on; like the best from those bands, Terminal Reckoning uses single chord riffs with chromatic fills for pure rhythm effect.

If this album could improve, it would be in more internal diversity of riff and pace. Its use of melody thrusts aside the modern metal conventions and instead serves to develop songs, which avoids the becalming effect of too much similarity, and the interplay of vocals and guitar follows the mid-80s style instead of trying to constantly contrast the riffs. That and its inherent aggressive attack allows this album to escape the modern metal doldrums and bring back much of what fans adored in old school, technical and brutal death metal.

Thanks to Cátia Cunha from Against PR, Sevared Records and Insision, we can present to you the following streaming track from Terminal Reckoning

You can find out more about Insision at Facebook, YouTube or via Sevared Records.

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Blackdeath – Totentanz (2016)

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Blackdeath is a Russian black metal band that just so happens to perform their lyrics in German. Funny how that works out. I’m not sure what the motivation is, but it’s a mildly interesting bit of trivia that you might get a kick out of. The actual album (which is intended to release on January 1st, 2016, and was provided via promos) was initially released in two parts in 2004, as parts of splits with Mortifera and Leviathan produced in exceedingly small qualities, so while the material is far from new, this may be your first chance to hear what comes off as a competent, but unremarkable and therefore disposable piece of old school black metal. Definitely not “best of 2016” material.

Now, the promo message we were sent claims that Totentanz is “…nothing like you have heard before”, but in my personal experience, there’s not much here that’s particularly novel. Blackdeath’s PR agency was probably listening primarily to the guitar, which showcase a nice mixture of standard melodic black metal phrases with more dissonant, atonal phrases. By not confining themselves to tonal centers, the band has opened up some realms of musical technique that could come in handy. That’s about all I can say in favor of the instrumental end of this album – nothing here is “wrong” or out of place (even the drum machine), but it’s otherwise very standard for its subgenre.

I suppose the specific problem with Totentanz is that it does little to coordinate its individual elements into a coherent whole. Blackdeath seemingly values the “kvlt” side of black metal, and thusly this album is blessed with a stereotypical low fidelity mix. The most prominent issue here is that the percussion is nearly inaudible; this appears to be a constant problem throughout the band’s discography. It’s not really a problem for a more ambient black metal act like Darkthrone or Sorcier des Glaces, but Blackdeath seemingly aspires towards the more violent side of the genre, at least if the rest of their musical elements aren’t misleading me. Totentanz also has the sort of arbitrary songwriting that so many other metal bands fall into. In this case, I find it unusually hard to isolate specific elements for criticism; however, the aesthetic/songwriting mismatch seems to be most responsible for this recording going in one ear and out the other without getting much in the way of proper mental attention.

I guess it’s a dubious honor that the first upcoming release of 2016 I’ve reviewed avoids the Sadistic Metal Reviews pile, but honestly, the best thing I can say about Totentanz is that it’s surrounded by mildly interesting circumstances.

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Dodheimsgard – Kronet til Konge (1995)

dodheimsgard_-_kronet_til_konge

Kronet til Konge shows what happens when a genre overshoots its inertia. Everything labeled “Norwegian black metal” with “that sound” was selling like hotcakes, which is a rare position for metal to find itself in. The fans, labels and magazines howled for more, which is always a sign that the quantity-over-quality groupthink has arrived. This band pasted together a bunch of riffs and called it an album.

The result shows us how important metal songwriting is: it’s not just about the riffs. Good metal comes from arranging riffs so they talk to each other to create “heavy” moments which feel like realizations (or provoke them). Normal rock is designed to distract you or get you lost in a sea of bittersweet conflicting emotions. Metal builds up illusions and tears them down, then inverts the whole structure to show you a hidden truth. This is the mythological nature of metal.

Dodheimsgard are talented musicians. They have about one good riff idea per song, and are musically adept enough to cook up the other riffs and bits necessary to tie it together into a song, but these are addressing the riff itself and not some underlying topic or feeling for the song. As a result, these songs feel random and convey nothing, although it’s hard to come to this conclusion when caught in a quality riff. But the sum has to be more than the total of its parts and that leap to greatness is not made here.

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Abigail Williams – The Accuser (2015)

The accuser

I had high hopes for The Accuser… of a sort. I was expecting an ungainly, melodramatic symphonic black metal ala Dimmu Borgir. Unfortunately, Dimmu Borgir hasn’t released an album for Abigail Williams to ape in over five years!  Cue the necessary stylistic shift, and the dashing of my admittedly dubious hopes, founded on information about this band that was similarly out of date. The Accuser is one of those indie-darling post-black metal albums, and while it’s usually not as blatant about its weepy, depressive influences as Deafheaven or Myrkur (whom I always seem to mention in pairs), it’s still a pretty flat and bland experience.

Abigail Williams’ latest actually pulls on a fairly wide mixture of post-black approaches, although they are generally united by a consistent production. The production team decided to portray this band as just fuzzy and indistinct enough to possibly pass as ‘true’ for a moment, but not enough that the intended audience would complain about a garbled aesthetic. There’s also the occasional awkward high pitched scream strewn in the mix, but it’s an otherwise standard sound. Within this, Abigail Williams explores such things as jangling consonant guitar leads, lengthy drone sections, start-stop riffing, and so forth. Now, there is nothing innately anything about musical techniques, and this is especially the case on this album, where the songwriting is haphazard at best. The difficulty that you often run into with this sort of musical language is that it’s difficult to build off these ideas in any way, whether it be the standard theme and development shtick we advocate around here, a more ambient approach, or much of anything, really. In general, Abigail Williams has a serious problem gluing things together and seemingly tries to hide it with minor stylistic shifts within and between tracks; regardless of their intent they don’t manage to pull off such subterfuge.

For whatever small reasons, I don’t find this album quite as annoying as many of its genre contemporaries. It still is, however, a boring listen that does little of interest with the hand of tricks it’s taken.

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