Smoking with Tolkien: Capstan – Original Navy Cut

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J.R.R. Tolkien wrote without an outline using only the thoughts gathered in his head over long hours of smoking his pipe and staring into a fireplace. Sitting at his typewriter, head wreathed in smoke, he pounded out a first draft of the Lord of the Rings mythos, and then discarded it, beginning again from scratch. As the story took form, it left behind a litter of empty blue-painted cans of tobacco.

The tobacco was Capstan Original Navy Cut. Members of his family remember the tins proliferating around the house and being used to store household items. When Tolkien and other members of his literary group The Inklings met, nicotine burned in abundance, and they could be found by following the trail of smoke. In his books, Tolkien inserted characters finding great comfort and wisdom in their pipes much as he did in his.

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As part of a recent binge of writings by Tolkien and fellow Inkling C.S. Lewis, this writer has indulged in their favorite tobaccos. Capstan Original Navy Cut comes in “flake” form, having been pressed into table-sized cakes and then sliced into wafers about a third the size of a playing card. These are either stuffed into the pipe or “rubbed out” which converts them into ribbons of tobacco. Throughout this experiment, the thought lingers at the back of the mind: why this tobacco, and does it resemble the Longbottom Leaf or Old Toby of his legends?

Original Navy Cut is composed of pure Virginias, but the pressing and aging has converted some of their sugar and acid into a more hay-like flavor, the partial decomposition of the leaf having released its most irksome elements. What remains is a sweet smoke, with slightly more Nicotine (PBUH) than the average medium smoke, which burns evenly and rewards small “sips” or short slow puffs, as one might take while hammering out words on a typewriter. It also admirably complements the smell of typewriter ribbon, for whatever that is worth.

Virginia flakes such as this tend to appeal to either new smokers who want a blend that is sweet and strong like a cigarette, or to the experienced who can nurse a pipe for hours. Since Tolkien was a master pipe smoker, he fit the latter category, and apparently always kept a pipe going with this and other blends to power himself through late-night endurance test writing sessions. And we can enjoy the results, and the metal inspired by them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8IC4aSq-Mg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oNVGi-dZ_E

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pq1JrJHQlAc

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Isvind – Gud (2015)

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Part of me still wants to like Gud. Isvind’s 4th studio album is a textbook example of how to sound like black metal, for sure, but the specific emphasis on consonant melody (mixed with some primitive and ambient elements ala Darkthrone) make for a substyle that at least can be done well in the right hands. Under this admittedly pleasing exterior, though, lies a heart of incoherence and confusion. Isvind, at least in 2015, is random to the core, and their inability to properly organize their songs makes for a tedious 45 minutes.

While this pervasive failure makes it more difficult to zero in on any one flaw, a few are at least more prominent and demanding of attention. One thing I immediately noticed were the presence of gimmicky female vocals – after the short but dissonant prelude at the beginning of the first track, they are scattered very sparsely throughout the rest of the tracks. They fail to add much beyond the occasional peak of shrill dissonance. As I kept analyzing Gud‘s tracks, I found that the tracks were full of these distractions in various forms, whether it was extra instrumentation, or stark shifts in tempo or tonality or other aspects of the songwriting. Each one of these is the musicological equivalent of being constantly pestered by a small child who demands your attention; eventually you get used to it, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. To their credit, Isvind manages to incorporate a great deal of dissonance into what is primarily a melodic and consonant style, which makes for some interesting isolated riffs, but since they can’t string the sections of their songs together properly, it almost doesn’t matter. To be fair, I don’t think this problem is caused specifically by the musical exploration, since other black metal bands (read: Averse Sefira) have written far more coherent and therefore interesting songs than are present on display here.

Still, I can’t recommend this in good conscience. It’s not quite as nonsensically random as Myrkur or a Krallice, but it’s a lot closer in spirit to those albums than what its aesthetics may lead you to believe on your initial listen.

P.S: I almost pluralized listens, but you shouldn’t give this album that much attention.

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Crushing the sacred idols – Transylvanian Hunger (1994)

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Article by Lance Viggiano, read the more positive DLA review here

1993’s Under a Funeral Moon displays Darkthrone at their peak of creativity with a depth of vision that is initially challenging and abrasive yet contains a high degree of musically which constructs an experience out of relatively simple components and nuance whose reward is inexhaustible. Many place the decline of the band somewhere between 1995’s Panzerfaust and its follow up Total Death; in truth, Darkthrone as a creative force reached its nadir on 1994’s Transilvanian Hunger.

Unlike its predecessor, this record lacks in subtly and nuance. Gone is the inventive call and response of “To Walk the Infernal Fields”. The listener is mistreated by being deprived of the atonal, uncomfortable but highly inventive melody of “Natassja in Eternal Sleep”. Within the first minute, one will have gotten the gist of each track as the songs remain in a static pulse of two or ideas with a third idea serving as a bridge back to the initial thoughts, an interjection or an outro. Any relationship to an underlying narrative is tenuous to the charitable and absent to the honest. This is not a call for novelty in music as over time nothing remains novel; rather, it reveals a lack of dynamic character which offers no reward in a full listening of any track here; especially after the initial novelty fades with repeated listening.

As a piece of minimalism, this record fails abjectly. What is found in the successful minimalism of Eno, Reich – or perhaps Kraftwerk in moments – is the layering of simple ideas composed for multiple instruments in which absolute simplicity is woven together to create evocative if not complex art. Darkthrone instead chose to compose only for the guitar. The bass follows root notes of the guitar in a paltry attempt to give body while the drums meander near ceaselessly on a blastbeat which is only occasionally broken by an uninspired fill or a canned metal pattern. Their inclusion is questionable and unworthy of discussion or serious consideration. Their merit is valuable only to a critic as a display of the artists’ lack of confidence in leaving behind genre tropes to achieve a full realization.

Where the album finds success is by pandering to the overly sentimental via – admittedly – effective melodies and well executed aesthetics. Neither excuse the sheer laziness of construction nor the complete dearth of rhythmic variance and supportive content to fill out the body of the music. Instead what is presented is weightless and immediate music whose significance can only rely on memory of time and place; a sense of nostalgia for the first experience. It is thus difficult to discuss the emotional qualities of this music due to the near loss of artistry on part of its creator(s) which robs the record of any vitality and spirit. The music is heartfelt and bittersweet – with varying degrees of success – but ultimately it exists, at best, as audible candy for the melancholic.

Transilvanian Hunger‘s inability to grow with the listener over time and its misapplication of minimalism, despite containing a strong melodic component, places the record just a slight cut above the bargain bin. 2/10

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Autopsy – Skull Grinder (2015)

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On one hand, this is obviously a descendant of previous Autopsy material, but on the other hand, Skull Grinder is more conventionally structured and musical than the band’s formative work. You could make a case for my hypothesis based on the first single – i.e a lot of older styles of metal seem to be filtering into latter day Autopsy. Around these parts, this usually spells disaster and results in things like At the Gates releasing Slaughter of the Soul. Autopsy manages to avoid this fate by using these otherwise difficult to control elements in a way that actually fits their roots.

In general, Autopsy relies on a fairly simple formula to make their death metal – basic structures (not necessarily pop ones), limited technicality, and so forth. Perhaps the greatest reason Skull Grinder actually benefits from this is that Autopsy’s style always lent itself to having a strong vocal presence. Chris Reifert is on the top of his game here, successfully expanding the variety of vocal techniques he uses while remaining appropriate to the style of music on display. Similar expansions take place in the rest of the ensemble, including a more lead and solo heavy approach to guitarwork and more elaborate usage of melody in the rhythm guitar’s riffs. The downside of this more instrumentally interesting Autopsy is that it comes at expense of the band’s early mastery of song structure. In general, Skull Grinder is subtly, but definitely more haphazard in how it strings riffs together. This loss of organization skill is not drastic enough to ruin the record, but it’s an unfortunate shortcoming, and one that perhaps could have easily been avoided by giving the songwriting process a little more time to cook. Autopsy has certainly been releasing material quite consistently as of late, but I think the fans would tolerate a longer release cycle if it meant that the music was tightened up a bit and some of the more egregious filler was removed.

Despite this, Autopsy has created a better approximation of their early material than your average self-reviving band, and Skull Grinder does have a some material worthy of the band’s legacy in its short duration. There’s also some lessons to be learned here about how to expand your songwriting horizons; the best bands of the next few years will be those who can balance such wisdom with the more conventional truths Autopsy demonstrated in their past.

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Desecresy – Stoic Death (2015)

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In the world of old school death metal, few manage to revive the past and carry it forward in a unique voice. Desecresy resurrects the greatness and gives it a unique spin with atmospheric lead melodic guitar droning over death metal and doom-death riffs, and on Stoic Death they increase the variety of death metal riffs and the dynamic impact of songs in a style more like that of their first album, Arches of Entropy.

Stoic Death begins at full speed and continues to vary pace throughout in order to build intensity, applying the resonant melodies selectively like layers, enwrapping the surging power chord riffs in sheets of harmonic background that intensifies at crucial moments in each song. The doom-death influence shows its strength most in the careful pacing of each song and introduction of elements like seasons, cycling to a conclusion.

The increased variety of riff types shows a familiarity with death metal of the oldest school, but now they take on a new language, with Asphyx-style percussive riffs sliding into rolling Bolt Thrower style dirges, and then emerging with the powerful Finnish-style death metal riffs anchored in melody that specialize in crucifying beauty with cruelty. The mid-paced approach might seem to kill aggression, but it has replaced that sentiment with a deepening sense of melancholy, dread and suspension of all normalcy as the bizarre becomes sensible.

This album feels like a descent into a tunnel shrouded in darkness, where as the voyager goes deeper both in the ground and behind the layers of twists and turns, the daylight world seems more remote and unreal. The songwriting technique Desecresy has made into their trademark presents challenges in that the overall sound is similar between tracks, but here the band differentiates them with elegance and creates a complexity of texture in which the listener can gratefully lose themselves.

More Godflesh influences permeate this album as do nods to recent changes in metal toward the more atmospheric, but Desecrey channel these into its own voice, translating the insipid into the ambiguous and the comforting into a threatening lack of center. What emerges from that fertile combination is a voice perfect for this time, a great sea of doubt in which glimpses of beauty are hidden behind primal uncertainty. Like the best of metal, it makes greatness from conflict and then shows the wisdom of that atavistic outlook through precisely-architected composition.

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Obscure Oracle – In Death We Trust

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Sometimes, the 1980s seeks you out. Sounding like a cross between old Nuclear Assault and Forbidden, with hints of Iron Maiden, Obscure Oracle bash out In Death We Trust by using death metal tremolo riffing in a mid-paced speed metal band with melodic accents to its riffs and noisy guitar fireworks. Borrowing from the riff forms that picked up speed coming out of the NWOBHM years, Obscure Oracle fall into the comfortable pacing of later speed metal, and crown it with high-pitched but tense vocals that could come from Bruce Dickenson on a Monday morning. Songs fit together well, keeping a dominant rhythmic figure that can induce nodding and foot-tapping in even the most hardened audience. While the result could send the Tardis back to 1987 at a distance of fifty paces, this band keeps their own sound and lets their enthusiasm for the material carry this future-to-past melange to new heights.

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Misanthropical – Conjuring Thy Infernal Lord

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Coming from that early intersection of death metal and black metal that produced bands such as Havohej, Misanthropical aim for awkward riffs like the sinews of a polymeliac beast, combining them with crudely cut black metal rhythms and surging melodic drones. The result shows a band starting out, but with a good concept that is enough removed into the bizarre, like bands such as Resuscitator or Legion of Doom, to leave us wondering what thought process could create it. The band is strongest when they abandon genre conventions and let the weirdness out, mixing riding riffs that compel energy with connective tissue that bends it into odd contortions, putting the listener on edge. They are weakest when trying too hard to be raw black metal or when filling spaces in songs with cymbal crashes and repetitive drones. Of interest is the unsteady fusion of doom metal moods with the more martial modes, creating a soundscape that sounds like battle by those with vast inner doubt and torment. Conjuring Thy Infernal Lord demonstrates the basics of a powerful voice that with growth and maturation could take this band in interesting and intriguing ear-torturing directions.

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Codex Obscurum – Issue Eight

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Codex Obscurum has distinguished itself over the course of seven issues by putting the underground first and focusing on quality of music, in addition to a range of topics about what we might call metal culture, or other areas of life in which metalheads find an interest. Over time, the editors have become more adventurous and now include a wide diversity of genres, artists and the ever-popular gaming features and editorials.

Issue Eight takes up the mantle with eleven band interviews, two live reviews, thirty-nine album reviews and an artist interview. These span genres from traditional underground bands to rough roadhouse hard rock, touching on grindcore and punk and even juggalo rock, giving the kind of panoramic view of the genre that big glossy magazines pretend they have. Speaking of, apparently Decibel referred to Codex Obscurum as “elitist,” which is a media code word for not regurgitating the spew from promotional mailers, and that gratifying tendency means that a refreshing honesty about the limits of many of these bands cuts back the hype and focuses on the actual.

Interviews abound. This latest edition begins with a relaxed interview with The 3rd Attempt that gives some context to the last two generations of black metal, then launches into an energetic discussion with PanzerBastard that reveals some of the Motorhead plus apocalypse thinking behind that act. It follows with an honest and ambitious interview with Skelethal, whose thoughtful responses make me want to listen past the name, and a somewhat guarded interview with Castrator where the band’s attempt to repeat its talking points fades under wily questioning. Then comes an interview with songwriter Ninkaszi about his latest project, Impenitent Thief, which covers a decade of New England metal in a few pages. Noisem follows with an interview of probing questions and somewhat surface-level answers, revealing more about this band than the band intended. After that, Jake Holmes of Plutonian Shore, Under the Sign of the Lone Star zine, and about ten other bands talks Morgengrau and gives some context to what this band has released. Then arrives a rough-hewn interview with hard rock band Rawhide, a contemplative discussion with Zemial, and a detailed look into Blood Red Throne. After the centerpiece of pen and ink art, Teutonic speed metal lords Blizzard weigh in with an irreverent but topical interview.

CO: You’ve started your own paper zine called Under the Sign of the Lone Star. Can you tell us a little about it, and how we can order a copy?

JH – Under the Sign… started as a reaction against click-baiting, witch-hunting, hypersensitive-PC and overall-clueless “metal” blogs/mags that are unfortunately ubiquitous these days. The PMRC may have been the enemy of the 80s, but at least they never passed themselves off as “one of us” like these rags do! The premise of Ut-SotLS was to write about Texan bands that I really like without stirring controversy or spreading gossip for increased ad revenue: passion, not profit. (16)

The centerpiece takes the form of a deliciously gory mythological-apocalyptic-dystopian scene hanging in blackness, which adds to the mood of the zine, and divides an interview with artist Sebastian Mazuera, who reveals quite a bit about the craft of metal art and the thought process behind it. Then the zine takes a Burzum/Bolt Thrower turn with an article about Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, showing the development and pitfalls of this very metal pastime. Most interesting here is the analysis of how fan interaction shaped, and possibly limited, the game. From the gonzo journalism department, two honest reviews of metal festivals — Blastfest and Messes de Morts — revealing the alcohol abuse and manic social aspects as well as the performances by bands both well-known and nearly unknown. These gave more of a feeling of “being there” than the usual paint-by-numbers reviews, plus hilarity in an honest and uncensored look at how well these bands actually performed.

Incorporating elements of crust, doom, even death metal at times this band can take a left turn in their composition at a moment’s notice. From open palm droning and melodic riff structures moving into driving thrash renditions and crusty d beats, these types of elements give the band a really varied and aggressive sound…With tasty build ups making use of both dynamics and tempo, their song structure is quite complex and makes for an entertaining replay value without seeming repetitive after multiple listens. (47)

From there, it is on to the reviews. These establish both how a band composes and records, and reviewer reaction to the utility of listening to the material in question. Although the review of juggalo band The Convalescence is a high point for sadistic mockery in the best offhand zine style, the bread and butter here is nailing a realistic buy/avoid assessment of bands from Empyrium to Tau Cross, Dysentery to Malthusian, and W.A.S.P. to Paradise Lost. These read well, are witty and biting, but are unstinting with praise where it is deserved. Choice of albums here shows more of a strong hand with the reviewers choosing both movers ‘n’ shakers of the underground as well as undernoticed contributions of interest. It would be hard to find a more straightforward and observant review section in print.

Many have claimed the death of the zine, but with more people cutting the cord to the internet because of the sheer amount of spam disguised as reporting, having a volume like this — that you can pick up and then feel you have a good basic grasp of the scene after an hour of reading — reduces the chaos and puts many metalheads with otherwise full lives back into the game. On its eighth issue, Codex Obscurum has expanded its reach without losing touch with its direction, which is a feat of focus that most metal writers should aspire to.

You can still get copies of Issue Eight through the CO online store.

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Revenge – Behold.Total.Rejection (2015)

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Review by Daniel McCormick

While listening to this album I find myself wondering… What is the value of qualities without purpose? What is the value of all this vague imagery – shackles, skulls, knives, goat headed eagle crests, as if synaptic plasticity somehow became enhanced by yet another butchered attempt at speaking through indeterminate representation? Flip through the booklet and you’re met with page after page of disorganized and undirected symbolism that falls into stereotypes we are then obligated to assign meaning to. This is a common theme in modern art, the idea that a work’s purpose can be wholly derived from imagined substance in its qualities and that actual intent is an unnecessary notion. Today’s thinking sets imagery on a pedestal as the contemporary method of artistic communication and gives primary focus to one’s impulses and feelings. In this philosophy, personal bias will blend with empowered selfish instincts and a form of aggrandizement deludes one with a sense of elevated ideal from which the reward is derived. There is an important distinction which occurs whereby the projection of substance into the indefinite imagery engenders a form of external relation and this fictional attachment emerges therefrom as a personal investment of belief. This ‘believing’ belies all the pissing about feelings and impressions and arises as a fabrication in lieu of actual purpose; art as Dionysian beggary.
The music of Behold.Total.Rejection is in every way as communicative as the textual/ visual content and thusly fails because of a formulaic approach in tone and structure that completely abandons traditional values in song writing, such as melody or harmony or creativity. Because of this, the album comes off as considerably one dimensional and with the memorability of a passing siren. It contains too much unqualified imagery and overt shock effect with too little direction, story telling, or definition. As Dr. Steven Pinker has written, “images are interpreted in the context of deeper understanding,” and that, “the postmodernist equating of images with thought has not only made a hash of several scholarly disciplines but has laid waste to the world of contemporary art.” Behold.Total.Rejection is ironically in step with status quos in this respect as there is little to no textual or audio context for the array of imagery presented. An example of this would be the track “Mass Death Mass”, with the lines, “if we succeed we will be dead and gone but so will they.” Militant iconography and rhetoric, but it’s us versus them intergroup dynamics that say nothing about the actual groups in conflict, nor the conflict, and supports a ‘merely for effect’ argument towards lax creativity. It puts onto the audience the burden of definition so as to deepen the shallow artistry. Another example of this creative void comes from the track ‘Nihilist Militant’, “lone wolf segregation worship existing within the zone at all times”,… the zone? If the artist’s intent was to confuse and communicate little to nothing beyond throwaway lines of imagery then success, but the text communicates in a form of stale sensationalism and clichéd ‘it was dark and stormy’ style generic mannerisms that while it may leave purpose free for personal narrative it also renders potentially strong topicality sterile.
Thus this is a problem of a minimalist memetic device and how the imagination will imbue the ill-defined object with character that is then seen as possessed and not appropriated. The platitudes and redundant nature conceal themselves in this illusory veneer and somehow the repetition of simplistic ideation achieves a propaganda-like effect. As you listen you can begin to see how this album takes on an ambient experience through this subtlety in variation, as the tracks bleed into each other, and the lack of interesting activity leaves the individual elements merging into a cacophony of poor production qualities and you become lost in the directionless effort. Perhaps fifteen years ago, this novel approach would’ve proven of interest, but to linger too long is to stagnate and rightly the rehash of a rehash of a rehash provides insufficient framework to support powerful ideas. If nothing else, I do appreciate the supremacist malevolence expressed by the general themes as antisocial nihilist misanthropy is something we can all relate to, but there is no grander framework of structure by which this is advanced and to which I can pay compliment. Perhaps the repeated audio form represents a philosophy of elitist consistency for which sentimental value can be argued but is this not also the bane? It would seem then the real worth of this album is in the individual experience, not its potential artistic qualities.

 

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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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