Master – An Epiphany of Hate (2016)

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Master, Autopsy, Motörhead –  what do they all have in common? They’re all long running bands that settled on a workable style relatively early and generally stuck with it for decades, gradually refining their craft while managing not to lose control of the forces that initially motivated them. Master is arguably the grandfather of this tradition within the realms of death metal, as they’re the approximate beginning of the constellation of Paul Speckmann projects (since War Cry is allegedly a far cry from most of his work). Given that Master sticks with tradition on An Epiphany of Hate, anyone who’s familiar with Master should know exactly what they’re going to get.

This album belongs to the more elaborate school of Mastercraft that’s come into being in the last few years; while Master has never written especially long or complicated songs, the level of musicianship and organization on display here is a definite improvement from the early days of the band. The production and mixing is also higher fidelity, but improving such is not nearly as difficult as becoming a better songwriter. I’d argue that Paul Masidval’s (protip: Cynic) contributions to Master during his brief mercenary period in the early 1990s must’ve resonated with Speckmann on some level and encouraged this elaboration. An Epiphany of Hate is still relatively sparse in its overall construction; the songs here are built out of comparatively few riffs; if not necessarily the three per song figure that comes up in older discussions. Monophony is still the band’s weapon of choice, but like many of the bands that have… mastered this sort of metal, Master’s musicians know when to keep it up and enjoy their freedom of melody and tonality and when they should instead use some sort of harmonic reinforcement. This expansion without overextension is something a lot of bands aren’t able to successfully pull off, so it does reflect pretty well on them.

I don’t know how much of an advance An Epiphany of Hate represents over 2013’s The Witchhunt, if any, but it’s still a good addition to Master’s legacy and a worthy addition to your 2016 collections.

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Abbath – Abbath (2016)

possible abbath cover

Abbath’s pitfalls on Abbath are garden variety pitfalls (haphazard songwriting, too much time on the mixing consoles). What really distinguishes this album from all the other comebacks (like our recent coverage of Dystopia) is its main author’s legacy. Abbath’s previous accomplishments with Immortal factor very heavily into any promotion of his solo efforts, and this album has already received a great deal of praise because it doesn’t rock the boat by not sounding like Immortal and its more openly rock-like spinoffs (Between Two Worlds, March of the Norse). Divorced from the fame, Abbath might draw a little positive attention for having slightly above average individual riffs and instrument interaction, but that doesn’t stop it from paling in comparison to what Immortal themselves achieved.

A lot of what I could say about this album has already been used to describe previous efforts from when Immortal itself lost the impetus that made it so interesting in its early years. Running a simple search and replace on Brett’s descriptions of Damned in Black to replace band names makes for a very accurate, albeit not particularly original summation of how Abbath falls short. Surprisingly, it also describes some of the strong points; this album is arguably a lot more appealing on a superficial level than Immortal’s earlier studio albums. While skillful organization of musical content makes careful listening to a track like “The Call of the Wintermoon” off the debut pay off in the long run, I will admit that earlier material sometimes falls short in individual riffs and solos, mainly because the band members were less technically skilled in the past. That attention to detail, though, rendered the old works more ambitious. In contrast, a couple of tracks here come off as especially contrived; for instance, “Ocean of Wounds”, which sounds like Abbath and company decided that they absolutely needed to have a mid-paced arena headbanger. Many of the tracks aren’t as obviously pop oriented, but they’re still pretty haphazard and unmemorable once you start memorizing the individual elements.

It should come as no surprise that I don’t exactly recommend Abbath. The main difference between this and most of the chaff is that I think the musicians involved could do better if they set their minds to it based on the fact that they have, although the subtleties of the past sometimes just don’t pay the bills. At the very least, a financially successful but vapid comeback is a different problem than continued effort from bands that never put out anything of value.

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Megadeth – Dystopia (2016)

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Megadeth has cycled between obvious mainstream rock pandering and careful imitation of their best appreciated works at an ever accelerating rate since their reformation in 2004. If this trend keeps up, they’ll be changing styles with every strum of their guitars in a few years. Dystopia isn’t quite as quick to alter its own sounds as that rather implausible hypothetical peak, but it’s still obviously colored by two colliding trends; Dave Mustaine’s desire to outsell Metallica, and the fact that even relatively extreme metal can sell enormous volumes in 2016. This makes what would be yet another comeback album into a surprisingly disjointed experience at times.

In general, Dystopia provides its potential listeners with several varieties of vintage Megadeth to peruse at their leisure, ranging from the technical wizardry of the ’80s and Rust in Peace (arguably the musical peak of this band) to the streamlined pop metal that immediately followed such, and even hints of recent albums through conceptual and musical continuity. Beyond the vocals of Dave Mustaine and the frequent guitar leads, though, there’s little that distinguishes this from other poppy speed metal of the mid 2010s, especially since this is one of those dime-a-dozen studio perfect recordings with perfectly appropriate production and instrumentation. One definite problem, however is that Dave Mustaine’s vocal and lyrical contributions have decayed in quality in recent years. Megadeth’s always been political at the best of times, but more often than not the lyrics devolve into political sloganeering that might be appropriate if he actually ran for president of the USA. In song format, though, all they do is annoy, irritate, and pander. Mustaine also relies increasingly on digital processing to mask the age-related decay of his voice, most notably on “Fatal Illusion“. This isn’t an innately bad thing, and you could theoretically make a case for the chorusing and harmonies opening new ideas for Megadeth to explore, but it pushes unneeded emphasis on the vocals, so even the average listener that decides that the technique sounds kind of cool might find it grating regardless. Perhaps I shouldn’t be focusing on the vox too much, but when the rest of the album is competent and yet unremarkable, it’s sometimes the only option.

In short, Dystopia is kind of disposable; most metal albums that try to approximate known classics are. It’s still better than Repentless, but the “Big Four” have all since run out of momentum, which makes Dystopia‘s slick technical competence marred by excessive streamlining even more unremarkable than it would otherwise be. The last time Megadeth tried their hands at this, they cranked out Endgame, which was well received at the time of its release and generally similar in approach, but has since faded from the public eye. Do you still have space in your listening rotation for Endgame? If you don’t, you won’t have time for Dystopia either.

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Sodom – Sacred Warpath (2014)

sacred warpath

Article by Daniel Maarat

Sodom’s latest EP was ignored by the Death Metal Underground when it was originally released in late 2014 due to the more commercial nature of the band’s work over the past decade. After recruiting guitarist Bernd “Bernneman” Kost, Sodom abandoned their traditional black thrash style and adopted a more American speed metal, eighties Metallica and Megadeth oriented sound. Most of their new songs are rock structured, speed metal riff salads, peppered with occasional slowed-down extreme metal riffs.

Sacred Warpath is no different. The title track is the only new material and is strictly verse-chorus-verse. There is no melodic riff glue except for the verse riff variations. The chorus where Tom Angelripper snarls the name of the song in the song as a vocal hook like a line of dialogue from a cheesy action movie just serves as a way to repeat the verse verbatim to kill time. An acoustic interlude allusion to Agent Orange (“It’s like poetry; it rhymes.” – George Lucas) leads to a random speed metal solo for the Wacken whelps.

Following that speed metal drag, there are a few live songs nobody will ever listen to again: a cover of “Surfin’ Bird” (originally from M-16 in 2001) that leads into the fan favorite singalong “The Saw is the Law”, a generic Slayer-style song, and Sodom attempting Gothenburg melodeaf. These are here just to take this release from a 7” single and digital download to a 10” 33 ⅓ RPM EP and CD so Steamhammer can charge Sodomites more money. An underwhelming and mediocre cash-in, but the new song is less offensive than the Kill ‘em All “loving” on 2013’s Epitome of Torture.

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Brutality – Sea Of Ignorance (2016)

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My experiences with Brutality prior to Sea of Ignorance‘s release lead me to believe that all of their works take a disproportionate acclimatization in order to properly comprehend, only surpassed in my experience by the wall of voodoo that is Incantation’s debut. This album has little to do with Incantation’s style, like most of their others, but it has only reinforced my hypothesis. Brutality’s take on “melodic” death metal consistently contains enough harmonic hooks in the riffs to draw a listener in, but odds are you’ll only find their music truly rewarding if you give it some time to sink in. That’s not exactly suited to the fast paced world of online music criticism (advertising thinly veiled as criticism), but odds are you’ll get more out of Brutality’s latest than your average death metal album even if you don’t give it a proper chance.

In general, Sea of Ignorance varies only subtly from its predecessors, and most of these changes play out on the surface. Brutality settled on their current approach early in their career, occupying the liminal space between their often sparser Florida contemporaries and the emphasis on structural and harmonic complexity of a band like At the Gates. The comparison to the latter has come up on occasion when DMU covers this band’s exploits, but Brutality synthesizes enough disparate influences that pulling any one out is difficult, although in my more comparative moments I might bring up Autopsy, since the band plays around with speed and atmosphere enough to significant enhance their formula. Sea of Ignorance follows from previous works in a fairly predictable way – more emphasis upon melody and simpler, more streamlined song structures than the past, but when they aren’t flat out covering Bathory (“Shores in Flames”), the lineage is obvious.

My opinion on this album is ultimately very similar to how I felt about Skull Grinder, although like most of the comparisons I’ve made in this review it’s a comparison of convenience as opposed to significant musical similarity. Sea of Ignorance is a stylistically appropriate if not particularly ambitious continuation of Brutality’s previous work; while it’s not particularly essential if you own any of those albums, it’s still a valuable purchase for those who want to study the strong points of this sort of death metal, and a good enough release to be worth financially supporting.

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Naðra – Allir Vegir Til Glötunar (2016)

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Article by David Rosales

It is hard to ascertain if it’s pretentiousness or merely a poor appreciation of classic minimalist metal that brings about all these very underdeveloped (or simply shitty) releases. It seems that most of these would-be musicians think that all it takes to put out a folk-melodic black metal album is to write a simple consonant melody in standard time signature, play it in with tremolo picking, use variations of blast beats and mid-paced double-bass drums and a combination of bark-scream-screeches and the now-fashionable “war calls”.

The result of this sort of thinking is, again, surface oriented and only manages to turn what was originally a unique expression that bubbled up from a deep feeling into a list of characteristics to be filled in order to sound appealing to a particular demographic of undiscerning music fans. Rather than beat up another mediocre artist of absolutely no relevance, we must also turn our muskets in the direction of the masses of uncaring metal fans who take no heed of who they “vote up” or what they buy as long as it is mildly pleasing.

It is you, the average fan, that decides what sort of projects receive support and that subpar music is put aside. The old excuse of supporting up-coming acts that may in time improve and write outstanding music is a poor one. Let them struggle, let them first earn their merit. Metal is no aristocratic art that needs spoiled kids to have their ego stroked so that they somehow become musical geniuses. No legendary metal album is the result of undeserved favors, they are all, almost invariably, the result of struggle, of blood and tears.

For the sake of metal itself, if not for the sake of your own mental health and nutrition, throw away and put aside all projects that stand on the same quality level as Naðra Allir Vegir Til Glötunar. This has absolutely nothing to do with production. This has absolutely nothing to do with monetary support for touring. This is about not only creativity but the perseverance, ability and knowledge or intuition to arrange convincing structures that amount to Dionysian calls from the inner man. Allir Vegir Til Glötunar is only dead weight for the metal genre.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews mini-feature – Vargstuhr – Howlings (2015)

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Article by David Rosales

Musical genres work very much like languages, transmitting information at an abstract level, albeit simultaneously at a much more intuitive and unconscious level, hence its surfacing in the form of emotions. Unfortunately, many musicians fall into the trap of taking forms and cliches merely as that: a formula that is interpreted either as a constraint or a shortcut. Neither approach correctly assesses the real value of so-called cliched forms and expressions.

Vargstuhr’s Howlings presents a pop opera variation of this thinking by making a wolf-pack themed album whose center are the lyrics. All music revolving around it is incidental and it tends to twist around in its particular emphasis while roughly remaining in the area of a third-grade black metal act with very poorly thought-out interactions between the vocals and the music. Like any opera-like production, it tries to keep its eye on themes of some kind, but the music is still too secondary and plays more like an excuse for a soundtrack.

Besides its poor structuring, Howlings also fails at a local performance level, managing to sound awkward in almost each of the instruments at least at some point. We normally do not complain at all about production, but here the music is so bad that the excessively out of balance mix emphasizes the flaws of the album. The only prize Vargstuhr will be winning here is an award for one of the most uncomfortable albums to listen to in recent memory.

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Zloslut – U Transu Sa Nepoznatim Siluetama (2015)

zloslut 2015

Article by Corey M

Serbian black metal group Zloslut received some well-deserved coverage on DMU in 2013 when they released their first album, Zloslutni Horizont – Donosilac Prokletstva, Očaja I Smrti, in which the musicians demonstrated a humble and patient method of constructing epic songs based around the simplicity of a few chord changes. This method contrasts (pleasantly) with the typical songwriting method of modern black metal bands, which is to hurl rapid-fire oppositional riff pairs at the listener with the intention of disorienting and distracting from the lack of any coherent musical thread. Zloslut’s music promises a refreshing return to the minimalist style that the best black metal bands of the early 1990s used to produce memorable and effective songs.

U Transu Sa Nepoznatim Siluetama moves at a familiar pace for the experienced listener, but the albums dynamics are generally so well-balanced that even someone not engaged in black metal would not be offended or confused by the aural layout. The average intensity of the music is nearer to that of In the Glare of Burning Churches than Pure Holocaust, which means that each song has plenty of room to breathe and the listener never feels battered or overwhelmed by density or speed. Songs themselves are built out of a handful of chord cycles that are aesthetically consistent and highly motivational; never does a chord cycle become so stale that you will actually desire its end to relieve boredom, but never is a riff so complex that it blows by and is forgotten for not having been catchy or repeated enough. Each segment of music is paced accordingly and results in each song becoming a miniature journey of sorts, leading the listener along a path through moments of surprise, anger, despair, hatred, and finally toward some appropriate resolution that can’t be described in text, only experienced sonically.

Zloslut’s success stems from the songwriter’s intuitive sense of balance and momentum. When a song picks up speed, the tension increases but is balanced out with slower-moving riffs played with more major intervals. After a song has expended its motivational energy, the guitars drop down and drag the melody through murky valleys of foreboding and loss. I want to be clear that the dynamic balance maintained throughout this album does not mean that the experience is emotionally flat; rather, that every peak is paired with a valley, and every action has an equal and opposite (or, is it complimentary?) reaction. The spacious feel of the album allows for stretches of melancholic introspection like one might find themselves amidst while listening to Vampires of Black Imperial Blood or the more recent When the Light Dies. But don’t make the mistake of associating Zloslut with the emo-leaning depressive style that has crept into the black metal canon over the last decade. U Transu Sa Nepoznatim Siluetama is ferocious and concedes nothing, sparks the listener’s imagination, and encourages one to seek out and confront the obscure biases and phobias that lurk in the far-flung corners of the psyche.

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Relapse Records reissues Incubus/Opprobrium’s Serpent Temptation

Not to be confused with the Incubus that Mike Browning played in between his tenures in Morbid Angel and Nocturnus; this Incubus (who changed their name to Opprobrium almost a decade later) was formed by Brazilian immigrants to the USA and fits well with the plethora of bands halfway between extreme speed metal and early death metal in the late 1980s. They’re probably most notorious these days for their pro-Christian, almost crusade oriented lyrical themes; as far as I know they were one of the first to bring such into extreme metal. Historical trivia aside, Relapse’s reissue showcases some remastering work that generally makes the album sound sharper and treblier and appears to be based on the original, as opposed to the 1996 edition with rerecorded vocals.

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Condemner – Omens of Perdition (2015)

Condemner - Omens of Perdition - cover

Article by David Rosales

Published as an EP last year, Omens of Perdition is a minimalist death metal act that could easily draw comparisons with Desecresy. They share the spacious (and spacey-vortexy) approach to an Incantation like style through the sound of the Finns. When we go into particulars, however, the differences make it clear that resemblances are mostly a matter of general sound preferences, not methodology.

While Desecresy as most perfectly materialized in Stoic Death gives us a Finnish death metal that depends on high-note, short melodies as hooks with laid-back riffs for support, meat and almost harmonic accompaniment, Condemner goes through no such hoops, cutting to the chase, delivering an unrefined but naturally compelling train of dark thoughts. Riffs in Omens of Perdition are essentially melodies with few notes that constitute the bare-bone themes of the music, with nothing else but a bass unison and soft-punch, minimalist blast-beating drums.

These drums are played lightly but insistently, providing for emphasis on dynamics and accent in an application somewhat reminiscent of Paul Ledney’s style on Dethrone the Son of God by Havohej without the occasional flair. Rather than complement each other, the instrumentation in this music forms a total unison, even the percussion. Intensity varies evenly, changes affect all instruments towards the same side of the spectrum. When arriving at the slowest and vastest, the music may even exhibit silences on the drums, while huge guitar power chords roar as the drums only mark accents, reminding one of certain parts of Skepticism’s Stormcrowfleet.

Songs alternate thematic riffs that run over mirroring, enhancing drums, with scantly-clad doomy statements covered by a mantle of skeletal power chords. To the detriment of this otherwise quite satisfying music, what effaces the identity of individual songs (and of the release and band itself) is the complete lack of obvious climaxes. We can also take this as both the strength and willing limitation of Condemner, which presents a clear, solid monolithic picture. This steadiness may allow the author to draw an abstract parallel with J.S. Bach’s fugal writing for the keyboard or chorales.

While there doesn’t seem to be any particular goal in Condemner Omens of Perdition, the straight-forward treatment is accompanied by an inconspicuously dexterous development of themes. This in itself is more than could be wished as a saving grace. It becomes both a protection of higher music from the pop-hook addicts and a mystical gateway which opens up through direct intuitional experience to he who is listening.

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