Lugubrious Burial – “Rehearsal” (1989)

lugubrious_burial_-_rehearsal_1989

This track calls to mind the more underground edge of the 1985-1987 period. Its roots lie in speed metal and hardcore crossover, with much of its riffing relying on the type of heavily-downpicked recursive patterns that Metallica would have used if they, like hardcore bands, wanted to quiver on the edge of dissonance. The trudging riffing picks up the pace and is balanced by full-on necrotic underground metal vocals, dropping into a mid-paced groove with lots of chromatic riffs with more abrupt changes that you would see in speed metal. The vocals tend to carry this with a full mucosal drip distorted as if shouts after a bombing raid as the city burns. Would like to hear more from this band.

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Enforcer – From Beyond (2015)

Enforcer - From Beyond (2015)
Enforcer has colonized 1983 and created an album that synthesizes much of that era’s above-ground metal, along with some careful additions from early speed/power metal into a coherent and musically proficient, if not particularly inventive whole. When you take into mind that there was just as much disposable crap being released then as now (at least by ratios), this probably pulls ahead of much of its inspirations for taking advantage of the historical perspective granted by 30 years of hindsight. Whether or not that’s enough to make it worthwhile is one of the questions I had on my mind as I evaluated From Beyond.

In general, my reason for judging Enforcer’s work by this criterion is that many of the bands in their lineage had some affinity for extending and elaborating on their songwriting. Iron Maiden is an obvious choice, with their occasional ’80s diversions into progressive rock inspired content. Enforcer, however, also heeds the call of their more commercial ancestors, showcasing slightly glam-tinged vocals and the occasional straight up rock riff or progression. It seems that the various tracks on From Beyond are separated by substyle – compare fast but simplistic tracks like the album lead-in (“Destroyer”) to the longer and more elaborate ones that end LP sides (“Below the Slumber”, “Mask of Red Death”); this variety between tracks may very well be inspired by a variety of influences, but even Enforcer’s antecedents managed to incorporate many disparate musical ideas into their own works. Enforcer manages to retain some stylistic consistency while doing so, but that’s such a basic requirement that this review would be far more negative if the band failed to do so.

But I digress – From Beyond is ahead of most of the traditional/speed metal revivalists, and at the very least it succeeds as a modernization and synthesis of the various movements in early 1980s metal, without falling too deep into the trap of pandering to its audience. I feel it would be better still if it further built off its style to create more elaborate and varied works still, but based on what they’ve done already I’d put Enforcer on my list of “bands likely to improve over time”. Furthermore, I’d recommend this album on its own strengths – its virile and musically talented performance, its strong production, and overtures towards expanding on the stereotypical ’80s metal sounds, although I don’t know how long it’ll stay fresh compared to the brightest lights of the past.

 

 

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Dakhma – Astiwihad-Zohr (2015)

Dakhma cover
Article by David Rosales

What is up with this sudden influx of nonsensical war metal? Is this some sort of epidemic? Is there no end to subpar minimalist death metal clones? Dakhma’s Astiwihad-Zohr is one of the many albums that, once weighted and considered in the light of everything that has come before, forces one to ask if it was really necessary that someone waste any kind of resources recording it. While not outright offensive, it is lukewarm, at best while at worst, it is comical in its unabashed mediocrity.

It appears that anyone with a penchant for occultish themes and an appeal for the underground metal most superficial aesthetic feels entitled to put out one of these turds that the supporting community, the “scene”, considers an invaluable contribution to the ever-growing stack of EPs and albums nobody will give a second listen to. This needs to stop now. This metal funderground is destroying everything underground metal meant as an artistic refuge for true expression, even though uneducated and rough on the edges. No, it isn’t “cool” that we are immortalizing any of this shit in vinyls. No, it isn’t cool that nowadays there are so many bands to choose from when most of them are not worth a second of your life and they only drown and even suffocate those with actual potential.

With no heads or tale to speak of, these songs meander between heavy minimalist riffs, meaningless silences and long growls and grunts for “the feels”. This is all part of the idiocy of postmodernist thinking that falls into the trap of awarding relevance only to individual, ultra-subjective feelings towards passing moments in the music, and meaning to nothing in art. This is psychobabble for morons trying to feel smart. They forget that although human rules of social engagements are, indeed, “constructs”, this does not mean they are less relevant. They forget that all spoken or written language is also a “construct”, yet it is not any less meaningful because of it. This understanding that requires a journey into complexity and back again into perspective seems to be out of reach for most. Enslave the masses. Take away their means of assailing our senses with this display of mental retardation.

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Diavolos – You Lived, Now Die (2015)

Diavolos - You Lived, Now Die (2015)
Review by David Rosales

Band and album names often reveal the character of the music contained in detail, but the art of discerning or intuiting these things requires some experience as well as conscious and active attention to correlations. A tongue-in-cheek and mainstream-friendly name like Diavolos already conveys an ironic attitude towards the genre itself. A empty and virtually meaningless album name like You Lived, Now Die lets through the stink of missionless, anarchist fun.

All that said, Diavolos does excel in its technical application and configuration of riffs and riff compendiums as a progressions. But this is only skin deep and it is right after middle of songs that their lack starts to show in the need for solos sections that break off from the initial idea only to connect with a speeding outro. These songs are built and pieced together as IKEA furniture. Cheap and convenient.

Diavolos’ You Lived, Now Die will prove an entertaining listen to those with a weakness for eighties Teutonic speed metal, but will probably not be spun more than once or twice as it provides little that cannot be found in older bands. I am guessing that the bet of a label on this is just to keep presenting the same thing in a new package. This works only because most are too lazy to explore and actually listen to the music, which would reveal most of this second-rate vanity as completely redundant and even more importantly, unable to achieve valuable communication.

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Triumvir Foul – Triumvir Foul (2016)

TF_frontcover
Review by David Rosales

All exteriors, no soul. All pretension, no content. These are the sort of comments that are hard to back, especially in the light of the predominant materialist paradigm that chooses to ignore or reject the validity of any metaphysical judgements on.. well, anything. This includes music, which among the arts is the least given to materialist interpretations and whose nature lies wholly in the experience created within the triangle of producer, product and receptor/consumer. That is to say, the intention and thought of the composer codified into the music and its interpretation, the qualities of the product itself, and the reception of the same work by an audience with a singular background.
Some take this harsh judgement to mean that the writer is implying that the person who wrote the music had no intention or feeling for the music, but it is not so much that as the fact that a music veiled in unoriginal styles (which are in any case the words of the classic role models being imitated) cannot possibly convey the unique mental states of this imitator. Now, this is not a matter of requiring everyone to be 100% “original”, having to reinvent the wheel at every corner. This would entail failing as innovation hipsters do, at grasping the value of working on the work of the greats before you. But, your own work should precisely build on and not just use exactly the same expressions. In other words, bands such as Triumvir Foul sound very similar to Christian fanatics who cannot resist the compulsion of quoting three verses from the Bible for every dull sentence they babble.
In other words, the discussion on whether a music is superficial or not is usually a complex one and must be examined on a case-by-case basis, since the reason why this Triumvir Foul fails as art is completely different from the reason that, say, Ara, utterly fails and burns as a Hindenburg full of fireworks. While many metal albums may give you the specific tropes in techniques, tone and even riff-arrangement styles, only a very talented composer and original thinker can provide you with the most worthwhile aural experience. Triumvir Foul definitely is not up to that task.

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Invocation Spells – Descendent The Black Throne (2015)

invocation spells - throne cover
Article by David Rosales

Downward strums; rock-like, minimalist d-beats; a repetitive, constant duple-time cadence that becomes a familiar entrancing device. These are all the hallmarks of eighties Hellhammer inspired evil speed metal plus plus. What we hear in Descendent The Black Throne is, basically, what we would hear if Tom G. Warrior were more “progressive” minded and less careful about creating a strong atmosphere of darkness (Editor’s note: Tom eventually got around to that in a fashion on Celtic Frost’s Into the Pandemonium, although such is certainly not Hellhammer inspired).
It is precisely the feeling that Invocation Spells seem to be more bent on the “evil of fun” rather than the “fun of evil” of a Hellhammer. This can be seen in the fact that songs focus on the variety of rhythms rather than in respecting motifs and emphasizing them. Now, this is not the mindless progressive obsession that refuses to produce any sort of repetition as sections are, in fact, reused, but the different sections seem to bear little relation to each other outside stylistic coherence. This forward momentum that emphasizes rhythmic acceleration and intensification over clarity makes Invocation Spells’ Descendent The Black Throne akin to run-of-the-mill “infernal”, pseudo-black, speed metal of the eighties.
While I could recommend this for fans of this particular style of metal, what I would actually recommend is that you download Hellhammer’s full discography, as well as Bathory’s and Celtic Frost’s early output and make this the sole repository of your attention to this spectrum of minimalist evil metal. Nothing you find out there rivals them, and if you want to get acquainted with excellence and not just flooded with quantity, you have a choice to make. Oppose irrelevance. Oppose mediocrity. Avoid mental indolence.

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Abysmal Lord – Disciples of the Inferno (2015)

abysmal lord - disciples cover

Article by David Rosales

Yet another sludgy, heavy-treading death metal album with Sarcofago pretensions arrives at our shores. All the production candy is present, from the attenuated, dry fog that takes away the annoying reflection of shiny exteriors to the thick and bassy tone of the instruments that gives them presence but is not impertinent. Abysmal Lord Disciples of the Inferno fills all of the requirements for your average death metal fan’s enjoyment and seal of approval. But it is ultimately irrelevant, and moreover, it is definitely an unnecessary accessory.

Listening to Disciples of the Inferno reminded me of listening to one of those post-Haydn Classical or Romantic-era composers who were certainly above average, but never truly found their own voice and rather latched on to the conventions of the time. You’ve probably heard one of these many Mozart clones (I’m talking to you, Kuhlau) who produced decent works of great technical competency that never rose above their models in artistic merit. This is the sort of album that is good enough an imitation that you want to go listen to classical albums that influenced the origins of their style.

Abysmal Lord Disciples of the Inferno proves an entertaining listen during a couple of tracks, although as I said, it mostly just urges one to go listen to classic giants of the genre. Furthermore, past the first of the album, the music is decidedly samey and rehashed riffs along with uninspired progressions mark the early death of the music.

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Necrosemen – Vglns (2015)

necrosemen - cover
Review by David Rosales

Necrosemen play the kind of war metal going on death metal that has become increasingly popular in recent years. There are several reasons for this, and popularity being what it is, none of these are particularly flattering. This style of music concentrates on the texture generated by the sheer, gross output of a good amplifier through high-quality effects, a deep voice and blasting drums. The most prominent value – if we may call it that – this music has is the shock of its production quality and the immensity of its sound. It’s “darker” music for the average moron. Then, there is the fact that this sort of music is extremely easy to write. Very little artistic insight is needed and minimal technical competence (learn a few key pattern styles, be able to play them with a metronome, and that’s about it) suffices to come up with a couple of these songs.

In terms of its composition, this Vglns could not possibly be more derivative than it already is. Not only are the patterns tired and tried, patterns that never really were spectacular to begin with, but they’re also lazy riffs that rely on the impact of distortion and big sound. The problem here is that these tremolo-laden riffs are “atmospheric” in the same sense that a constant blast beat barrage becomes a blanket and background. When you have a uniform set of these parading one after the other, with minimal variation, what you have is a blanket of guitars with “cool tone” over a blanket of pounding drums, and an occasional growl here and there. Now, very few changes are all right when you have a long composition whose aim is literally to create an atmosphere, and when, in the grand scheme, a real journey is traced from beginning to end. But Necrosemen give us between 4 and 7 minutes of utter sameness while expecting to be taken seriously as metal.

For those who would dare point fingers at bands like Incantation who also play a minimalist style of death metal, I would point out that the difference lies in that the classic band presents an articulate differentiation of songs within a relatively homogeneous style. Such differentiation between riffs and their combinations into mega riffs are varied enough to constitute different meanings as the music slows, speeds up, the phrase is inverted, is cut off, or is extended. At the same time, the similarity is such that they stay within range of the aura of what was expressed before and is cohesive with the “topic” of the album (and band) as a whole. In the case of these new bands, what we have is riffs that are virtually the same being played again and again through the song and through different songs in the album. The only difference between them is the particular notes played. In short: there is not enough vocabulary to actually say more than a sentence.

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Austaras – Prisoner of Sunlight (2015)

Austaras - Dragged Into Sunlight
An old issue of Sadistic Metal Reviews once contained some interesting commentary on the subject of Agalloch – drop the “metal pretense” and possibly see album sales soar. The counterpoint is that there’s always an audience for rock music disguised as some sort of metal, but if Prisoner of Sunlight (Austaras’ first full length album after an allegedly post-black metal inspired debut EP in 2011) is to be believed, there’s also an audience for rock albums that don’t bother with the deception. As a mopey, vaguely depressive, pseudo-artsy post rock album that’s presumably been done a million times before, Prisoner of Sunlight is unsurprisingly less offensive than the halfway approach of a Deafheaven or a Myrkur or whatever the kids are forgetting about these days, but that’s not quite enough to make it worthwhile.

Above all else, Prisoner of Sunlight is a flat and directionless experience. The band builds their songs out of short chord progressions and brief guitar leads with little in the way of heavy metal styled riffing. They promptly do little to develop or elaborate on their musical ideas beyond the occasional break in for slow acoustic passages. Vocals are notably entirely clean sung, and stylistically they’re pretty much the standard Mikael Åkerfeldt for better or worse. I suppose you could say the technique needs some work to really shine, but they’re otherwise competent and perhaps stylistically appropriate. Any ambitions the vocalist has, though, are stamped on by the sheer flatness of the songwriting. Other elements fail to add any real interest to this – occasional synthesizer lines and generic rhythmic backing aren’t quite the selling point I would hope for. On the other hand, the album does nothing particularly wrong – no particularly jarring moments of randomness or especially obvious pandering to youth demographics, but the sense that Austuras focuses on texture and ‘ambiance’ above all else, while not necessarily a flaw (since some musicians can pull it off effectively), is a dealbreaker.

Ultimately, Prisoner of Sunlight is not a good album, but it isn’t even a bad enough album to laugh at. You might get the impression that more popular post-metal bands would sound like this if they too stripped all the metal from their approach. Perhaps they would; the lesson here is that you need a better understanding of how to vary your music if you’re going to write “atmospheric” metal. That’s more difficult than it would appear on first glance.

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Nightwish, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, and ideological conveyance

Nightwish - Endless Forms Most Beautiful (2015)
Review by Daniel McCormick

It has been said that there is non-overlapping magisteria confining the world of scientific inquiry outside the the realm of “human purposes, meanings, and values.” (Stephen J. Gould) John Keats once said science presents a “cold philosophy” with a “dull catalogue of common things” that reduces life to terms insufficient to the subjective needs of man. Upon this assertion they then heap arguments of moral relativism, theology, and social revision which are based on their personal feelings and beliefs. This is common for religious or political figures but one also encounters this thinking in artists as well. In conversation one can easily find an artist prattling on about how x-piece speaks to man’s soul, or how true beauty lies in one’s personal interpretation, and that judgement is merely a subjective experience, that art itself communicates on levels that can not be directly observed or defined. All manner of feeble logic can you encounter, yet there is at heart a mirroring of intention. What they attempt is to self insulate from reproach, to self aggrandize through idealizing, and to manipulate your willingness to believe comforting thoughts. Because, to them, empirical definitions inundate the mind with a materialist philosophy that somehow cuts out the beauty from the universe around them. They say life is “too mad for mere material chains to bind” (Alexander Pope), and that “knowledge is not happiness, and science but an exchange of ignorance for that which is another kind of ignorance.”(Lord Byron)

There is a fundamental flaw in this anti-science rhetoric which stems from its untenable premise: that methods of inquiry lessen the artistic value of a ‘thing’. My view is much different; when I understand something (a process, an object, etc.) it allows me to observe with keener insight the object as it actually is. For instance, I am no less able to appreciate viewing the sky because I understand that the color I see is the result of lightwaves interacting with molecules, that these molecules are held in the atmosphere by gravity, that what I am seeing is the projection of the information my senses feed my mind, and that my mind and my senses are a direct result of millions of years of evolving characteristics. Like Darwin himself, I believe “there is grandeur in this view.” There is magnificence in grasping the chain of events, that all complexity today is directly a result of the low entropy state of the Big Bang some fourteen billion years ago, or that all life today is a direct descendant from a common ancestor that happened to have evolved billions of years ago on this watery green rock.

Of the untold bounty of scientific progress there are a few ideas more open to criticism than others but none seem as targeted as evolution. This theme of biological descent with modification and/or natural selection is an important idea, so important in fact that it is to our benefit to communicate this effectively, because its importance draws in so much unsubstantiated criticism. In other words, it is an imperative to communicate the theory and evidence effectively so as to combat its antagonists who are ever reproaching science and the philosophy of inquiry for some perceived wrong it has done them, or their group. Because of this constant willingness to attack empiricism, it usually falls to the popularizers of science to keep public opinion from drifting over the precipice and into the cult of the faithful and superstitious. It also becomes an imperative to demonstrate that works of art are in no way diminished by focusing on scientific research.

From this perspective I find myself listening to the eighth full length album from Finnish power metal band Nightwish. Endless Forms Most Beautiful focuses on artistically communicating the understanding of science in a very easily approached manner. Musically, this is what I have come to expect from Nightwish: a sound that is overly popular with a power metal base that drifts between heavy metal, hard rock, and light classical influences. Female vocals drive the bulk of the music, and the structural variations add a bit to what may otherwise falls into the formulaic. The performances are all flawless, over produced, and nearing the mechanical with over the top choruses, strings, keys, acoustic guitars, etc. You could simply say the album is extraordinarily inoffensive, mainstream, and essentially a work of metal music accessible to all ages, and potentially those not traditionally in the category of metal enthusiast.

What makes this interesting is the underlying premise carried through out the album. You can derive it from the album title which is itself a fragment from the ending chapter of The Origin of Species:

“There is grandeur in this view of life, …whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”  – Charles Darwin

The work is presented in a layman, artistic, fashion but emphasizes many specific ideas underlying the theory of evolution. This is furthered by the addition of narrations from Professor Richard Dawkins which includes the rather famous beginning passage of Dawkins’ own book, Unweaving the Rainbow. The sung lyrics may bear at times an odd nonlinear sappiness, a positivist’s perspective on the war of nature, but they also paraphrase words from scientists like Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, and Stephen Hawking. While the general theme may be summarized as awe the presenting of this includes the happenstance of self replication, the scale of space time in which we exist, the chance of beneficial mutations, etc. Hefty complex subjects which are admittedly not delved into with expert authority, but presented in a way which will hopefully draw some scientifically illiterate person to partake the grand art of autodidacticism.

Collectively, there are issues to be taken with this method of communication, at least if you’re a die hard metal enthusiast like me, but as an expression bent on the popularizing of science I can see where this album has value. It in no way replaces the dozens of books I have on the subject, but it does build from and give insight into the substance of the information. The greatest show on Earth may well be the greatest show in the universe, and we know the party doesn’t go on forever so I urge you to make good use of what little time you have to expand your understanding and to appreciate things for what they offer to more than just yourself.

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones.”

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