Al-Namrood – Diaji Al Joor (2015)

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Al-Namrood is so kvlt that they can’t even turn down their projects’ master levels a few decibels. While simply nudging everything down a bit so it doesn’t clip as much might not be the best way to go about it, the fact that this completely insane brickwalling that’s apparently been dogging the fellows throughout their career goes yet unresolved on Diaji Al Joor does not exactly fill me with hope. As previously mentioned the last time a DMU writer took notice, Al-Namrood’s big gimmick is that they’re from Saudi Arabia and are theoretically risking more to get their content out. Remove their background and the absolute garbage mixing job, and you’re left with an okay but generally underwhelming folk metal album with some black metal influences.

On a scale of Orphaned Land to Melechesh, Al-Namrood leans closer to the latter for keeping a greater amount of metal technique in their formula. For whatever reason, they end up consistently midpaced in all instrumentation and otherwise lean towards a consistent sound. From a musicological perspective, their consistent use of Arabic maqams (a seven tone system of tuning and intonation) makes for a great selling point in the Western world and, amongst other things, leads to some dissonant/microtonal droning sections that I barely hear in metal; I furthermore believe that more ambitious and proficient musicians could do great things with such. On Diaji Al Joor, this potential is squandered and turned into tedious filler that adds little of value. This is best described as more of a vocal-driven album, anyways – the vocalist (who goes by the pseudonym of “Humbaba”) barks and rattles his way through these tracks and seems to have some idea of how to vary up his inflection and pitch to make himself more interesting and prominent. I’m cynical enough to call him a case of wasted potential given the lack of direction that manifests below him.

I’d probably go as far as to say this is, in spite of its clear flaws, ever so slightly better than Melechesh’s recent effort (Enki) was, since it’s a bit less openly streamlined and digs a hint deeper into its respective reservoir of musical ideas. That judgement may, however, be too subjective for your tastes. Even if it isn’t, the fact that Diaji Al Joor fails to rise beyond a basic level of competence makes it an irrelevant comparison.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews – Game Day Ice Edition

Editor’s note: Like gelled (i.e not whole berry) cranberry sauce and the driest cuts of turkey, there are still metal albums you want to keep off your table on the American feast of Thanksgiving.

def leppard

Def Leppard – Def Leppard (2015)

Def Leppard are best known for a one armed drummer and being one of the biggest turkey pseudo-metal bands of all time. Responsible for the majority of STI infections in Des Moines in 1987. I’m only listening to this as “Getcha Rocks Off” was on on Lars Urlich’s New Wave of British Heavy Metal ’79 Revisited. Lars was wrong though. Def Leppard were not a part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Their debut Def Leppard EP has one riffy 1960s style rocker, one fairly well done seventies metallic hard rock song in the vein of bands like Deep Purple (“Getcha Rocks Off”), and unsuccessful Led Zeppelin on drugs number. “Getcha Rocks Off” was their sole career highlight.

Why do established bands released self-titled albums that nobody cares about? Sodom’s Sodom which nobody remembers anything from, Dismember’s Dismember without Fred Estby, now Def Leppard’s Def Leppard for deaf, fat 55 year old lot lizards on crystal meth. The first two songs of this are fairly standard by the numbers glam metal pop. The third, “Are You Man Enough?” is a Queen song if Freddie Mercury and Brian May took power drills to their own foreheads in the manner of Shiite militias of Iraq. Def Leppard ask you in typical Def Leppard “We wrote the lyrics while getting head from a call girl” fashion “Are you man enough to be my girl?” Is Joe Elliot asking the audience if they are man enough to let him fuck them in the ass? The fourth song is a Christian rock number whose lyrics sound like Moses is about to spread some ass cheeks and lick some bunghole. The sixth also sounds like a nu-WASP song minus the burning in hell. Def Leppard do not seem to grasp Christian theology. They seem to believe than when Jesus returns, he’;s going to bukkake your face and you’ll float away to eternal life in the Kingdom of God on Def Leppard’s cum. Beyond butt rock. It could be Pygmies in Africa steatopygia rock, but pygmies are still little. Wal-Mart shopper with type two diabetes with her tits tucked into her jorts rock.

necockwren

Nechochwen – Heart of Akamon (2015)

Opeth hates white people now? So conquering the new world was wrong? What? This is Opeth if Opeth was a whiny social justice warrior in a van abducting seven year old white and black kids for playing ninjas as that’s cultural misappropriation and all appropriators of foreign culture must be shot and buried in a ditch as people of a different color hired ninja spies to rape and murder the family of the Shogun’s Decapitator. The band claims this is “Native American Folk Black Metal”. This is Hammerheart if Quorthon was the token HIV-positive cast member on The Real World in 1998 that later ended up credited for bass on a System of a Down album. This nu-metal band has less T-cells than Charlie Sheen’s AIDS-infested, coke-limped cock. Give them some blankets for warmth and smallpox.

game day ice

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Orcrypt – Mercenaries of Mordor (2015)

mercenaries of mordor
Here’s another recording released by Iron Pegasus Records. Like yesterday’s Eurynomos, it occupies that strange liminal space between traditional heavy metal and black metal, although the existence of two such albums in quick succession sometimes leads me to believe that it’s larger than previously suspected. However, if Eye of the Pantheon was at home in 1984 or so, Mercenaries of Mordor is more reminiscent of the early 1990s, although its ancestry is more obvious than the actual recordings of that era. It also labels itself “Pure Goblin Black Metal” for what are presumably marketing purposes, but people looking for a new Summoning in Orcrypt are going to find something more conventional by far.

On Mercenaries of Mordor, Orcrypt desperately claws for atmosphere and ambiance and creates songs of long drones stapled together by sampled audio (shamelessly ripped from the Ralph Bakshi adaptation of Lord of the Rings) and a great deal of guitar leads. It’s often reminiscent of of the blastier bands in the genre, but since the drumming and songwriting is generally of a middling pace, the rhythmic texture of the album ends up spacious in a way that deemphasizes the percussion. Besides the Bakshi, though, everything here has frequently been done. Orcrypt’s strength here is that they manage to pull a mixture of techniques and aesthetic adornishments from the air in a relatively organic way. Part of this is a pseudo-lofi production that is crystal clear (even the bassist is audible and prominent) despite its attempts to sound like garbage. It does, however, give them a strong foundation on which to build songs and make something valuable, but their dedication to that is spotty at best, mostly due to the emphasis on drone with limited elaboration outside the sound effects.

Ultimately, this is a proficient but not particularly interesting record, especially since it exists in a context of bands that have done what it does more effectively. I feel like a lot of the problems here are explained by the marketing material. The record label’s site claims that the band “…plays in the tradition of the early 90s underground, before Black Metal became popular,” and generally cites the earlier, more prototypical works of bands like Burzum and Emperor as influences as opposed to their more refined peaks. From a stance of rawness, that’s all fine and well, but it generally does more for you to imitate your idols’ heights rather than their rises. However, Orcrypt would have to go beyond merely imitating either of these to become particularly valuable as more than a quick shot of nostalgia.

 

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Eurynomos – Eye of the Pantheon (2015)

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This short EP has been sitting in our review queue for a while, for better or worse. I personally didn’t know what to expect from this band, but I certainly wasn’t expecting Root or After Death style ‘traditional’ heavy metal with extreme metal technique (i.e what we call power metal in the local parlance). The specific genre probably isn’t important, but Eye of the Pantheon does fit in quite well with the nebulous “first wave” of black metal despite its contemporary vintage. Luckily for us, Eurynomos takes after the better metal in that vein by making up for its technical shortcomings with ambitious songwriting and that certain ineffable gutter charisma I find rather common in similarly primitive recordings.

A lot of our readers will probably remember how, during the last decade, Darkthrone earned some notoriety for creating deliberate throwbacks to traditional metal and hardcore punk that were too goofy and self-referential to be of much value. Eurynomos seems to be aiming for something similar, but their efforts actually end up more accomplished and coherent. The musical language is very similar – both bands employ consonant but minimal riffs, halfway harsh shouted vocals, simple song structures, and so forth. Eurynomos, though, manages to write and perform in a more elaborate fashion, hiding their verse-chorus nature with well constructed bridging material and using their vocalist more effectively. Given a style that isn’t all that technically precise, his clear enthusiasm for the material means I’m willing to overlook his awkward cadence and his slurred diction. This overall mix of pros and cons does, as previously mentioned, extend to the rest of the band, especially since this mixture of traditional heavy metal with old underground tropes does not have the greatest musical demands.

In the process of appraising material for DMU reviews (and more generally, just listening to music), I find that a lot of bands would benefit from either simplifying or complicating their material. In this case, I think that Eurynomos would benefit from being a more elaborate and technically ambitious band within their style, but what they have so far is a good foundation, and it’s worth listening to in its own right.

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Black Flames of Blasphemy VI review

bflames 6
Review by “Blackcat”

A swirling miasma of ethanol greeted us upon the last Black Flames of Blasphemy, a festival held this past November in the picture perfect setting of Helsinki. The night before the scheduled Warmup event, I flew into town and made a beeline for Bar PRKL, a space named for the Finnish profanity likely exposed to most readers of this site from the comedy album released by the quirky Impaled Nazarene.

Those of us who live in less utopian societies than Finland often wonder why the idyllic nations in this area are able to produce such incredible music. “Finnish people can’t admit that they have goodness,” chuckled ApeX lead guitarist Arttu, an incredibly young thrash band who were in the process of violating the few revelers in attendance at PRKL that night. Indeed, as such documentaries as Until the Light Takes Us strove to illustrate, perfection has cast a pall on everything in much of the remaining non-disintegrating portions of the globe. It is almost as if the human condition is predisposed to strife, and that ostensibly perfect societies lead the average citizen to turn to perversion to bring balance into life – thus possibly explaining why places like Germany and Japan end up with penchants for coprophilia and bestiality.

Also present at PRKL were two members of Sammath, who descended upon Helsinki specifically for a dose of damage to tympanic membranes and liver. Hundreds of euros worth of alcohol consumed before the festival even started explains the reduced quality of the writing herein. Any complaints may be directed towards those two for rendering me quasi-unable to write let alone think. The fact that the screed was written on a tortured local keyboard and the reviewer is used to a U.S. issued one didn’t help a whit either.

We older, more cynical types were delighted to find youth as enthusiastic about all things metal as ApeX, and though 17 year olds themselves were unusual in their devotion, Helsinki was remarkable for having metal and punk culture literally everywhere one went. Taxis, restaurants, public toilets, airport shuttles and hotels all had a notably worthwhile theme of fine harder music. This trend did display its cellulitic underbelly in billboards featuring nerdwank outfit, Nightwish, hawking air-brushed, wet-dream-inducing Caucasian female thighs and an exorbitantly expensive line of bling suitable for teenagers in wealthy northern countries with too much pocket money for their age.

But I digress. Our focus should be on the festival, and that was one thing that the festival organizers seemed to have done quite well over the years. Black Flames of Blasphemy has been a fairly well attended sub-underground festival, running on and off for the last six years. The early years were vomited forth in a now rededicated cathedral in central Helsinki, and whilst the festival has moved on to less atmospheric surrounds, the organizers’ devotion to only the most rabidly necrotic bands is no small feat. Originally launched by Kold Reso Kult, the festival seems to have taken on a raison d’etre of its own over the years and drawn numerous acts known for playing a very limited number of shows such as Antaeus and Blasphemy. The scarcity of many of the acts led to a non-trite sense of novelty that led to a triangulated feeling somewhere between reverence, arrogance and pride for having been one of the few to have seen such veritable narwhals of the musical world.

This year was allegedly the last, and whilst threats of this sort are often made in the world of underground metal (only 120 copies to be made in hymen blood, and then no more ever again NO CORE, NO TRENDS, . . . until we release it in vinyl again in a few months on an even more ridiculously limited run), there seemed to be little threat that the crowd did not lend it a credence as evidenced by the flagrant hedonism on display at virtually every level of the setting. Nosturi, as the venue was called, must have some connection to vile ‘rhoidrock band HIM, as their logo appears in the lighting-rig and several other locations in the building; but detestable associations aside, the venue was actually quite accommodating.

The "HIM" logo, allegedly tattoo'ed on Steve-O

This tattoo is not completely and utterly unrelated to the HIM logo.

The staff at Nosturi were kind and courteous, putting up with the sort of reprehensible behavior that one would expect from a down syndrome five-year-old on amphetamines. Indeed, this seemed to be true for most Helsinkians, who were never seen to act heavy-handedly despite the questionable behavior of many of our associates. The drinks were of course ridiculously expensive, as are all things in Finland, (3 euro for the coatroom, 1 euro to retrieve said coat!?!?) but that did not stop the cohort from literally drinking the place into oblivion every single bloody evening.

Black Flames of Blasphemy VI should be noted to have featured the most solid lineup in the history of the festival. Indeed, more than a few have been solidly praised on this site amongst others for their solid contributions to the overall gestalt of extreme metal achievement in the prime years of the scene. Still, it was uneven. As has been reiterated time and again on this site, 99% of metal is absolute shit, and bands like Blackwinged embodied the nadir of human endeavor. The silver lining to this is that more time was made for sightseeing / mind abusing opportunities.

On then to the reviews as they were penned by this reviewer in the classic manner: via sweat, ink and beer soaked notebook clutched between pumping fists, and the contributions of the stalwart brood of iniquitous, abusive pundits who wandered in and out of the fuzzy borders of the violence ringing in his ears.

DAY 1: WARMUP – Grunt / Bizarre Uproar / Ride for Revenge / Obscure Burial / Deströyer 666

Grunt

Grunt in concert

Grunt: Said to be a side project of Clandestine Blaze / Northern Heritage sociopath, Mikko Aspa, Grunt kicked off the “Warmup” to the festival by doing quite the opposite. Monotonous, repetitive pulses punctuated by amateur feedback made me wonder why people are still drawn to artrock. Images of highly disturbing matter lent the show a more tolerable air, but pudgy white guys in bondage masks barking at random made me conscious of guarding my asshole too much to enjoy the show. Over all, Grunt in concert were a bit like listening to your fey roommate having an orgy whilst listening to Godflesh on a broken turntable next door. The playing of the belt sander on the thunder machine was an interesting flare, but with all due respect, Mr. Aspa should keep his day job.

Bizarre Uproar

Bizarre Uproar

Bizarre Uproar: Seems like Grunt just changed into their street clothes and got fatter. A Dutchman near me noted that this band gave him earAIDS. This drove us back to the bar as it wasn’t nearly so interesting as twenty well executed shots of salmiakki licorice alcohol. Cirrhosis is always preferable to aural loss. Look not for the successors to the great Throbbing Gristle here.

Ride for Revenge

Ride for Revenge

Ride For Revenge: Repetitive, sludgy, and coming off like Goatlord, but not quite as inspired, RfR still brought the focus of the show more firmly in a metal direction. The band’s stage presence was directionless, and at times reminiscent of one of those hunting dioramas at a second rate sporting goods store.

Obscure Burial: The writing in my notebook point is smeared by unknown fluids for this act. What is legible bleeds through as follows: “A triple barbed fishhook – much more focused than any other band thus far. An Australian nearby wrote this:

“We walked up to the upstairs area and there were cocks everywhere. It was gay as shit! It was like listening to Kreator in 99! Fuck that shit.”

Another picture of Ride for Revenge, if you're into that sort of thing.

Another picture of Ride for Revenge, in case you’re into that sort of thing.

This was followed by multiple images of genitalia with wings.

Deströyer 666

Deströyer 666

Deströyer 666: Maligned in some quadrants for playing in a thrashy, hook-flaying style that may have contributed to the formation of “war metal,” and in others for K.K. Warslut’s obnoxious attitude, Deströyer 666 were a true joy to behold. Filled out by an entirely new band, K.K. and the boys managed to finally shake the torpid audience out of their inertia. Tracks such as the shocking “Raped” gave the listener the same queasy pleasure that one derives from listening to the Fearless Iranians from Hell’s “Blow up the Embassy.” “I am the Wargod,” and “Black City,” were played with more chin-jutted pride and beauty than on the vinyl, whilst the ethereal “Trialed by Fire” raised the hair on necks and the spirits of the dejected. Deströyer even launched a kerosene-soaked rendition of Motörhead’s “Iron Fist,” tipping their chrome-studded hats to Phil “Philthy” Taylor’s passing earlier in the day. All in all, Deströyer 666 certainly made showing up to the festival a night early well worth it, purging our ears of much of the fluff which preceded them.

Day 2: FRIDAY 13th – Blackwinged / Vampire / Hell Militia / Xibalba / Mayhemic Truth / Midnight / Blasphemy

Blackwinged: Guest reviewer – Vlad, Russian virus and vodka enthusiast, and general psychopath: “Blackwinged? FUCK THEM ALL! Suck my fucking wrinkled dick.” It may be said that they weren’t a favorite amongst the crowd.

Vampire

Vampire

Vampire: Concho belted, pretty boy Aerosmith antics of the lead vocalist Command aside, it has to be said that Vampire were one of the big surprises of the show. With an approach akin to Kreator’s “Extreme Aggression,” Vampire managed to transcend the Italian horror-film shtick of their stage set, album art and, yes, band name to actually convey the attraction of mortification. Although I was unfamiliar with the tracks, the music whelmed in a not untasteful rock format that seared themes presumably of the undead into the conscious. Channeling Riccardo Freda in the best ways possible, Vampire delivered an entertaining show that was only slightly marred by the less-cocksure presence of the string section.

Hell Militia: 666 – no report – 666

Xiblaba

Xibalba (Editor’s note: It’s a toss-up as to whether “Sac Ibteelob Cab” or “Sign of Eastern War” is the better song. One of the more trivial debates in this world, though.)

Xibalba: Undeniably shitty drum solos and crude corpse-paint aside, Xibalba stood as one of the zeniths of the festival. These heroes of the second wave of black metal came on with a garage band sincerity that outshone the more highly polished acts throughout the rest of the evening. Thank Satan for this eager aural feast! Tracks like “Sign of Eastern War” and “Sac Ibteeloob Cab” were executed with a grim clarity that were occasionally missed on the original disc. Young new band members injected an off-kilter virility into the music that is essential for such an ambitious project.

Mayhemic Truth: Best known for changing monikers as often as John “Cougar” Mellancamp, and for many of the same shitty dishonest reasons, Morrigan were cut from the same overrated Kraut-tripe, kvlt-as-fvck cheesecloth as their vacuous countrymen Moonblood. In the 90s before MP3s made the obscure-kvlt fad obsolete, I was of the brood vainly attempting to find releases by this act . . . only to be astonished by how over-hyped they were when I finally heard them. Jeffemic Truthship did not fail to disappoint by disappointing with hackneyed black metal cliché after hackneyed black metal cliché. Stay obscure, White Stripes of kvltmetal, so that the rest of us don’t have to hear your sorry excuse for music.

Midnight: This reviewer was looking forward to some sort of decent blackened speed akin to Sodom, and was bouncing off the walls for some old school headbanging. Unfortunately, I wasn’t much impressed, so gave the job of review again to the ruthless peanut gallery around me: “nice thrash. ßit’s not, so fk off! Cheap ass trash. Fucking bollocks!!! Boring. It’s not even midnight assholes. They started at 11:45 – midnight my arse!! Midshite!!”

Blasphemy performs?

Blasphemy performs?

Blasphemy: Blasphemy’s terrifying Cro-Magnon antics delineated why the genre of black metal flourished for one brief, outstanding moment back at the fall of the Soviet Empire. The Canadian masters of knuckle-dragging avant-garde horror imprecisely dissected the audience as a claw hammer muddles and pulverizes the veiny membranes of a victim’s genitals. While the Ross Bay maniacs may never have quite reached the spacey brilliance of their Finnish protégés, Beherit, the “organized chaos” of their technique was matched that night only by the gunfire lighting up stadiums in Paris 2,000 kms away. Tracks such as “Goddess of Perversity” were executed with an intensity reminiscent of some of the more hyperactive Discharge tracks, and intros were faithfully inserted without a hint of humor. Photos attempted at short range during this show mostly consisted of purple blurs and the back of brutarian ham-hock elbows. The show also illustrated again why Blasphemy have only ever put out two real efforts (yes, I know that there are technically three, but come on – they’re basically fifteen minute punk affairs). The band made their contracted dynamo statement of grunted, jack-booted hate in a blood-clot of chains, crudely applied paint and beer-gutted belches. After forty insanely punishing minutes, the Helsinki authorities carted them off to their respective cells in solitary confinement where they belong.

Blasphemy performing, this time with a more competent photo.

Blasphemy performing, this time with a more competent photo.

DAY 3: Satanic Warmaster / Infernal War / Irkallian Oracle / Funeral Winds / Goat Semen / Varathron / Mysticum

Satanic Warmaster: Written by a drunk Finn: HAISTA VITTU VITUN HUORA KUSIPĀĀ, IME MUNAA JA KUOLE! SAATANA LLINEN SOTA HERRA NY LOPPU SAHTI. PRIEKĀ, NO LATVIHAE. LAI TEV LABA DZIVE PRIEKS TEVI SATIKT. Actually, those last couple of phrases might be in Latvian.

Infernal War: 666 – No report – 666

Ikrallian

Ikrallian Oracle. Check out the tambourine.

Irkallian Oracle: I really wanted to hate this band. They are so phenomenally over the top. A bunch of ring-wraiths holding sparkly tambourines and bells. Faces masked by silver sheets. The kind of accouterments and flashy hocus-pocus that one would expect from a second-rate Ed Wood movie. And yet, the band was enigmatic. Themes held together throughout the whole concept of a track, cycling back from start to finish to start again, alpha and omega encompassing a solid core. The mystery behind the act was far more compelling than with more gimmicky acts that have been abused on these pages. This band is what GHOST wishes it was. I will be interested to pick up the album to see whether the whole disc sounds as good as it did live.

Funeral Winds: See: Mayhemic Truth. Or just about any Xerox copy black metal.

Goat Semen: Came off as a kind of second rate bully boy Blasphemy. Sure, they have cleaner riffs from time to time, but do they convey the same core of absolute spinning disgust and pummeling loathing? Perhaps it’s just that Blasphemy are so much more familiar from having been played time and again . . . or that they developed this genre, and that anything else emulating it is just that: a plastic reproduction, no matter how faithfully copied.

More Blasphemy. This time, their crumpled setlist.

More Blasphemy. This time, their crumpled set list.

Varathron: For almost three decades these innovative masters of crawling necrotic horror have forged timeless odes to their Hellenic ancestors. Rivaled in their excellence and originality in Greece perhaps only by the great Necromantia, Varathron have been criminally overlooked by basement-dwelling pseudonymed fanboys more interested in the likes of obscure releases by Moëvöt than incredibly well developed music that perfectly emotes the Dionysian strophe and anti-strophe of ancient cultic form. Varathron took the stage with more presence than could have been imagined from some of the cheesier rock mantras that they fell prey to in the early 2000s, and launched into a barrage of tracks from across their storied career. Recent(ish) drummer Haris is an amazing addition to the band, and one that this reviewer wishes had been present on classics such as “His Majesty at the Swamp,” which suffered from drummachineitis. Guitarist Achilleas decimated the audience much like his warrior-hero namesake, along with twin slayer in savagery Sotiris and recently added bassist, Stratos. Varathron reached their climax with the amazing “Kabalistic Invocation of Solomon,” where band high priest Necroabyssius read from Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, in a huge tome edition, green lights all ablaze, magnificence all ablaze. Incidentally, the entire band are really nice blokes too.

We at DMU like Varathron too. Even their new stuff has merit.

We at DMU like Varathron too. Even their new stuff has merit.

Toxicology report: Mysticum: *Journalist’s disclaimer – order of events may have played out slightly differently than reported – notes were not taken during the actual performance, but recalled from cottony memory* Twin streams of quicksilver lashed the crowd as the techno triumvirate of Cerastes, Prime Evil, and Dr. Best took to the stage. Nineteen years elapsed since this dystopian nightmare last synthesized an audience into freebased crystallized human waste. I had grave doubts about whether this band would be anything interesting live. Idols are often deflating in situ, and although their demos and first album were good, the production levels often made the backtrack sound like bubble paper being stomped on by Japanese girls in platforms. All fears were allayed as the thumping horror of “Black Magic Mushrooms” battered the audience and surreal monochromatic strobewar of lights blistered our retinas. The light show and visuals were truly unique throughout a performance interestingly heavy on tracks from the new “Planet Satan” release, including “Lucifer in the Sky with Demons,” “All Must End,” and my personal favorite, “The Ether.” On the screen, forms morphed from chemical compounds of LSD and other intoxicants, to Nazi soldiers, to skulls and swirling maelstroms of insanity. A paralyzing early intermezzo left the crowd confused and disoriented, after which “Crypt of Fear’s” ominous intro shook them into hysteria. Mysticum left no room for error: they are back to stay, and dominate. 100% pure satanic peyote!

Epilogue: Starting at a flat line

The shuttle bus at the airport is rooted to the ground. Won’t move anywhere. The heater is up way too high. I’m roasting in morkkis, a Finnish term for a kind of hideous hangover defined by creeping dread and a sense of, well, mortification. One poor soul we interviewed might best sum up the atmosphere of the entire festival. He was hobbling around on crutches. When asked what transpired, he confided that early on in the show, he and some colleagues had taken a few doses of LSD. Having come down into a troubled, drug addled sleep he was jolted awake by a fellow reveler, who had hallucinated that the police were raiding their dwelling. His immediate reaction was to jump from the upper story window down to a painful and humiliating full stop below. Morkkis. The human condition is low indeed. Yet I am buoyed by the knowledge that even if most of what moved this reporter was music penned two decades ago, it was a zenith of human achievement, and which could have only been commemorated by the bacchanalian Black Flames of Blasphemy.

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Gama Bomb – Untouchable Glory (2015)

untouchableglory
Review by Corey M

Having never heard of Gama Bomb before this album, after the first few moments of music I was afraid that I had gotten ahold of some sort of the modern-faux-thrash-revival that is somehow cool to people who don’t listen to thrash bands. But I was wrong; Untouchable Glory is not a forced revival or a rip-off; it’s just dumb music. This not to say that the guys in the band are dumb, because they clearly have practiced their musicianship and are attentive to the dynamics and compositional symmetry in their songs. But the result of what they do is still dumb, and apparently they want it that way.

The basis of Gama Bomb’s style is made up of high-speed two- or three-chord minor riffs over which a vocalist rants and chants cleverly cadenced lyrics with just enough emphasis that his voice never becomes a full-on yell but keeps up (barely) enough energy to avoid sounding bored. A typical Untouchable Glory song starts up at full-speed right out of the gate and rushes through a verse, then hits you with slightly bouncier, chunkier variation of the same riff you just heard (but transposed a few steps up or down) as the drums switch from dense d-beats to a sort of swaggering rock rhythm. After that comes the chorus, which is usually not made up of a more interesting riff but does have some very catchy vocal pattern that, coupled with the rapid-fire lyrics, creates a hook powerful enough to snag a whale. Some songs have guitar leads and these are mostly made of 16th-note blather with no discernible direction other than back and forth because that’s the extent of the movement of the chords. There are a couple of times where the chords underneath the lead shift unexpectedly and the lead follows (which undermines the purpose of a lead! Maybe I shouldn’t be calling the guitar antics “leads”…) and resolves the progression in a viscerally satisfying way. However this satisfying resolution is all too rare and the guitar leads rather serve as marks of distinction among the generally formulaic songs.

So far, I’ve only pointed out common failings of metal albums – probably more than 95% of all metal commits the transgressions that I’ve detailed above. So what makes Untouchable Glory worse than a mediocre album is the purpose mentioned in the first paragraph? Gama Bomb is made up of competent musicians, but they have no ambition. Every song sticks to the same method of structure and dynamic manipulation. Every lead begins and ends in the same way. The band must rely on their vocalist and his method of delivery, which does a great job to augment the repetitious rhythm of the guitars, but this only exposes the weakness in the guitar and drum composition, because the vocals never let up or give the music a chance to expand beyond its immediate template. Typically I’d refer to chord progressions when describing song structure but the chord patterns that make up the songs on Untouchable Glory don’t progress, they just recycle. This tendency in the composition reflects the band’s attitude toward metal (and presumably music) as a whole.

The ultimate failure of this album is not in its compositional shortcomings but in its intentional stupidity. Song subjects cover kitsch and cliche topics such as getting high, getting drunk, hating authority, burning witches, being a ninja, and being undead. That these topics are dealt with is not enough to warrant criticism, but the self-consciously ironic attitude that Gama Bomb takes towards the topics is what separates them from quality acts that they are aping. Metal and punk bands have been covering these topics for decades but they didn’t have their tongues in their cheeks while doing so. Since those topics were taboo, metal bands explored new methods of song construction to fit with such uncomfortable or repulsive themes and great music was created as a result (and I always refer the uninitiated to Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast” or Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” for an example of how musicality and lyrics support one another to establish and expand on a theme). Meanwhile, Gama Bomb have nothing new to say about any of these topics and so it would logically follow that they needn’t invent any new music to support their take on the topics. Thus all we get to hear is basically a parody of speed metal and thrash. If you think that type of music deserves to be joked about, then Gama Bomb might be right for you. If, however, you appreciate and honor the innovators who brought extreme subjects into popular music and brainstormed methods of expressing them musically and lyrically, then you’d best move along, because Untouchable Glory is an affront to honesty.

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My Dying Bride – Feel The Misery (2015)

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Regardless of how you might feel about My Dying Bride as a whole, you could make the point that their earlier, more death metal oriented works gave them more musical breadth to work with. Feel The Misery mostly tosses the ‘death’ part of the band’s legacy and doesn’t replace the holes with anything. To be honest, I found it quite depressing, but I don’t think it was really for the reasons that the band intended. By trying to stretch out a minimum of musical ideas to just over an hour, My Dying Bride has turned their latest studio album into an exercise in tedium and predictability.

Like many a doom band before them, MDB takes a style of metal (on this album, really basic traditional Black Sabbath type stuff) and plays it especially slowly. The emphasis is generally on the vocal performance of Aaron Stainthorpe, who on this album seems shackled by the sluggish pace and constant atmosphere of the recording. His combination of both proficient growls and a clean baritone register give him some versatility that would certainly come in handy on an album with enough diversity of musical language to accommodate his talents. The emphasis on the traditional, mainstream sorts of metal, though, come with a troublesome burden – permanent consonance and conventional pop music language mean that anything the band introduces often lasts for a very long time or is callously discarded without much in the way of elaboration. The songwriting here isn’t completely stagnant, but it certainly meanders, and the inability to properly develop on anything makes an already lengthy album feel even more drawn out than it already is.

The obvious point of comparison is not necessarily to death-doom or even more mainstream forms of doom metal as a whole, but to other drawn out, minimalist/ambient works. The best works of that sort (sparse as their construction often is) tend to trace out a sort of musical “journey” by building up a logical connection between every aspect of the music. Compared to more conventionally structured music, it’s simultaneously easier and harder – the former because there’s less elements to work with, and the latter because listeners would therefore have more opportunity to inspect and scrutinize what actually is there. It seems, however, that My Dying Bride doesn’t even attempt this on Feel the Misery, which is content to wallow in its own sorrow. If you want a miserable navel gazing experience, it would fit just fine, but as a work of metal, it is a dismal failure.

 

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Black Vul Destruktor – Beyond Time and Portals of Death (2013)

black vul destruktor
The Argentinian (Patagonian) city of Neuquén is an important regional industrial and agricultural center, but it’s still in a relatively remote part of the world and probably analogous in some ways to living in the Great Plains of the United States and Canada. If this compilation by Black Vul Destruktor is to be believed, knowledge of extreme metal has made its way to the region. The material on Beyond Time and Portals of Death seemingly takes more after the proto-underground; its mixture of stereotypical black and death metal technique marks it as a descendant of the Bestial Devastation school of metal, but more often not trading pure chaos and insanity for some level of refinement.

Since Beyond Time and Portals of Death compiles both the band’s Bestial Obscure Metal Kaos demo (from 2012) and an older demo from 2008, there’s a clear split in sound, but not necessarily in composition. The old material is understandably much rougher in production and mixing (although it’s still intelligible), but it shares much of its DNA with the new material. Both recordings showcase Black Vul Destruktor writing loosely structured and performed songs composed of fluent chromatic tremolo riffs over initially sloppy and later more coherent drumming. Everything’s a bit amorphous at the best of times, but this extremely stripped down method leaves enough wiggle room for the band to experiment with structure a bit. The material seems to generally work better on the more primitive demo, although Bestial Obscure Metal Kaos does achieve a higher level of satisfying rhythmic prowess. Everything feels a bit more charismatic on the earlier material, at least in that ineffable early Blasphemy/Beherit/Sarcofago/good “war metal” way; especially in its vocals, which have little regard for meter or prosody. It’s nearly the exact antithesis of how I compose, but the style admittedly has its value.

The end product is far from original, but it showcases some careful study of what made the simpler, more hardcore-inflected black metal work, and it occasionally throws in some threshold-expanding ideas of its own (see the goofy melodic outro of “Slaves”, or the constant variety of tempo and texture on the later material). It is very much of its scene, showcasing a great deal of techniques and stereotypes I’d associate with the South American underground, but what it does, it does well, even seemingly responding to the common criticism of underground metal (that it’s limited to mere worship and aping of the great classics) by pushing for some innovation within its adopted framework.

This album can be streamed and purchased from Bandcamp thanks to the services of Blood Harvest Records.

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The Unbearable Boredom – On The Irrelevance of Ares Kingdom’s Music

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Article by David Rosales (read the original by Dan McCormick here)

Ares Kingdom has brought yet another stillborn child into this world. It has all the ingredients, but somehow it is not alive. It possesses such an unbearable need to be metal that it becomes so self-consciously metal that it could be considered tongue in cheek, but it isn’t. This makes it painfully embarrassing to listen to, the annoyance it causes being staved off by a feeling of uncomfortable pity. While this will entertain and even have the superficial effect of caffeine on the young metalhead, it will translate into a sure headache for anyone expecting the music to say something besides “I am so cool”.

The Unburiable Dead is the sort of album that a band with a lot of metal in its “system” but altogether too few neurons could put together in about a month or so. It suffers from a reliance on rhythmic riffs completely divorced from strong themes that it is borderline nu metal. As it replaces concrete content with emotion, this music is a huge mess. In order to counter the effects of its own unfocused babbling, Ares Kingdom resorts to the simplest means of keeping the music on some sort of track, namely, bringing the song back to early riffs and verse-chorus appendages within the incongruous mass of wacky solos completely out of context running over riffs with little to none motific connection most of the time.

The previous review on this site placed the album squarely in an ultra-musical context to better appreciate it. This is very appropriate and we could argue that it is the best way to appreciate music. Music nonetheless must deliver powerfully, especially from within its intended context and mentality! If it fails to exploit the ground from which it grows, expanding from the idea to musical moods concretely and coherently expressed, then it simply has failed as music, no matter how interesting the original idea was. Rather than a metaphysical reflection of the world thrown into chaos, I get a picture of a drunken brawler swinging an axe at imagined foes in the middle of a forest. Perhaps this picture is also an accurate representation of civilization’s thin veneer, after all. Perhaps Ares Kingdom has succeeded in portraying the self-deceiving nonsense and purposeless chaos they criticize in civilization through the literal mediocrity of their music.

While at first one could be tempted to say that Ares Kingdom speaks a language of its own, that it has stylistic coherence, the microscope reveals something different. Their music, not only on this last fiasco but throughout the band’s play discography, is namely an extremely distracted riff salad in which the individual riffs can be brought in from sources as different as galloping power metal to thrashy death metal to alternative nu and groove “metal”. This is headbang-core for beer metallers and other social metalheads (those who listen to metal in social contexts only and are not actually addicted to it).

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Another perspective on Satan’s Atom by Atom

The cover of Satan's latest album flipped vertically
Review by David Rosales (read the original by Gabe here)

First things first – let’s get the obvious clear and out of the way. Satan is a band of not only competent instrumentalists, but songwriters with an ear for balance, color and dynamics. The previous review written for DMU on this album emphasized and praised this point as much as the band deserves. As it remarks, the attention to structure in the composition throughout the record and its faithfulness to its chosen style is worthy of praise. The only thing being suggested here is going one step further in our observations.

Sure, from the point of view of a purely academic critique, this is an outstanding work as it plays within its own style with dexterous flexibility, maintaining a certain cohesion and strong sense of flow throughout as colors and transformations are shown and removed. But metal goes beyond the formalities of technical music. Metal is about the the essence, hence it is about the ritual that directs a focus in the listener towards a certain attitude. But with Atom by Atom it sounds like we are gaily riding at full speed to the circus. At this point, we may question whether we are not making the mistake of placing something else besides or outside the music before the music itself. The answer is no; this is still about the content of the music, however non-objective it may seem, and is of the utmost important to a genre that claims to be more than fireworks and self-gratification (both on the artist’s and the listener’s sides).

We could go about explaining this with a loose inductive argument. Humans all tend to hear unisons and fifths as being more in repose and in balance than minor seconds or sevenths. This is because these correspond to very different and constant relations between sound waves at different frequencies, and their effect on the human brain on the physical level is, then, also constant. The way the appreciation of these changes and is trained through the exposure to different types of biases is a different matter, although equally important. Suffice it to say, that at the end it is a matter of the relation between the objective characteristics of sound and the conditioning by the environment of the subject.

Different systems around the world base their music on different philosophies, parting from these facts, even though they may not identify with exact things such as what Western music calls “perfect” or “imperfect” intervals. In the case of metal, it arises from the system of traditional Western tonality of the 19th century with a tendency towards terraced dynamics similar to those of Baroque music. The emphasis on content and delivery over flare that distinguishes metal from rock music also brings it closer to minimalism and one could even say, to early European music.

These are systems based on premises that are not just there as illusions, and serve as the objective sense on which this tonality is built. Certain intervals and progressions, certain melodies contrasted or complemented by the underlying chords, as well as the different rhythmic patterns (predominance of longer notes followed by shorter ones in bars and riffs) all possess distinct auras and characters. And although these cannot be pin-pointed with words, which would then obviate the need for music, we can generally define nebulous areas which range from what we know as human feelings to mental images and even divine morality (hence we have music that is predominantly described as ‘pure’, and music that sounds ‘evil’).

In the case of Satan’s 2015 opus, it’s as if the band had disregarded all sense of meaning in tonality and the character that the interaction between rhythm and melody projects onto the listener. In bouts of pure excitement and fanciful excess, Satan colors this album as a circus clown’s gala suit. Vocals are as emotional as in the first album, except that in here they seem even more disconnected from the music as the music veers into some sort of progressive speed metal akin to Helstar’s.

Although not as degradingly vulgar as Surgical Steel, Satan Atom by Atom results in a pretty tacky affair. This is an album that can serve as study case for guitar players when it comes to technical details in arrangement but falls short of a purposeful metal work. Its lack of heavy theme (from which the term heavy metal comes from) or any particular topic the musical level except the fun-funny carnival mood places it squarely outside any consideration for outstanding albums.

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