Cryptopsy – The Book of Suffering (Tome 1) (2015)

Cryptopsy - The Book of Suffering (2015)

Would it be too brief to say that The Book of Suffering is like older Cryptopsy, but not quite as good? Probably not. Cryptopsy’s legacy after 1996 appears to be one of steady decay and loss of focus, although you could be forgiven for placing too much importance on the aberration that was The Unspoken King. Bands that aren’t able to jump to a new trend successfully often retreat to what they know, hence this utterly safe and sterile EP. It’s almost as if Cryptopsy wasn’t merely imitating None So Vile, possibly with some brief intrusions from more recent albums, but that the only song they’d heard by previous band lineups was that album’s introductory track (“Crown of Horns”), and that this EP was an effort to imitate that specifically.

Cryptopsy wastes no time in trying to forge the appropriate links in your brain. The spoken intro to “Detritus” (which is so obviously self-referential that it will probably insult you) made me suspect that the band was about to blast and scream, and from then on not a moment passed that wasn’t analogous to something off None So Vile. The overall effect evenly splits between being more orderly and more chaotic than this EP’s obvious inspiration. 20 years of studio experience understandably make for a more precise performance, as does the apparent use of a template. On the other hand, the Cryptopsy of the past had a better understanding of how to glue riffs together to create narrative and contrast in their songs. This incarnation of the band isn’t quite there yet and often uses breakdowns laden with pinch harmonics instead. Furthermore, None So Vile drew on a greater palette of musical language; part of this is that Lord Worm was a more versatile vocalist in his prime than Matt McGachy; a greater part is that Cryptopsy wasn’t relying merely on themselves as a template. Funny then, that this problem should also happen to another one of today’s reviews

In summary, the main problem with The Book of Suffering is that it’s uninspired, more than that it’s pseudorandom. Cryptopsy knows how to sound as if they are about to collapse into random noise at any moment without actually doing so, but they don’t do much of interest with this approach. Maybe if they hadn’t burnt themselves playing with the metalcore fire, this wouldn’t be a problem, although the amount of people looking forwards to a second The Unspoken King has to be rather less than those who will nonetheless accept The Book of Suffering as a continuation of form, if not necessarily substance.

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Grave Ritual – Morbid Throne (2015)

Grave Ritual - Morbid Throne (2016)

Review by Corey M

Grave Ritual released their debut album, Euphoric Hymns From the Altar of Death, on Razorback Records in 2010. I picked up the album after a cursory listen online and have been steadily listening ever since. It is based on the sort of whirlwind style of composition in which contrasting, visceral riffs are injected in rapid succession into the listener’s stream of consciousness, but the band keeps just enough pressure on the brakes to keep the songs from becoming haphazard and disorienting, and they know when to reign in the multi-directional melodic excursions and wrap up their exploration in a satisfying resolution. Grave Ritual are a well-oiled machine who are foremost concerned with playing death metal just the way death metal is “supposed” to be played. That is the strength and the weakness of this band.

Five years after their first release, Grave Ritual have given us Morbid Throne, which begins with an unnecessarily long intro track (“Baleful Aversion”) that is evidently designed to ease the listener into the aural aesthetic of the album. This is not a bad musical technique necessarily, but I find that being tossed right into the fray of warped chords and unexpected rhythmic shifts of traditional death metal is a much better introduction to the hopeless terror that is death metal’s specialty (aside maybe from an unironic ’80s-sounding synth). Listening to “Baleful Aversion” feels like I just exchanged a ticket for access to a “haunted” fun house and am leisurely strolling down the walkway that leads to the entrance, hearing electronic sound clips of spooky bat squeaks and creaking floors, passing “DANGER!” signs stuck in the nearby ground intended to give the appearance of haphazard placement and long-term neglect, but obviously carefully placed and maintained. Meanwhile the opening track of, say, Effigy of the Forgotten gives me the sense that I’ve been strapped into an unguided rocket and the engines have just ignited. In other words, there is a sense of carefulness on the part of the band to avoid getting “too crazy,” and this is the overall sense of the entire album, usually for the worse.

At the risk of using the “it’s 2015, we should be past this by now,” argument, Grave Ritual seem to be doing themselves a disservice by sticking so closely to established death metal tropes. The album is evidently supposed to sound like it was recorded in 1992, including the guitar, drum, and vocal techniques. We need only reference Immolation or Atheist to see that there isn’t necessarily an established canon of techniques that define that era; rather, it was a time when bands were pushing the limits of metal in terms of what was physically feasible to play on an instrument, and what sounds were psychologically jarring without going to the point of unlistenability. Grave Ritual play riffs with the same intervals and scales and power chords that the death metal bands in 1992 used, but they play them like rock riffs, which at some point need to cycle back to the original chord that began the riff in order to resolve. Grave Ritual, however, instead of truly resolving a section of music and allowing the next section to develop, will just drop a riff after it gets played enough times (before you can get bored with hearing it, to the band’s credit) and a new riff arises out of the same scale but in a different rhythm or at a different tempo, to give the appearance of motion and development. This means that, if you listen closely with attention paid to the beginning and ending chords of each riff, you’ll notice that the guitarists will stay on a single chord pattern for a very long time, occasionally switching up the speed or pattern of notes but only changing how the notes are played, not what notes are played.

Grave Ritual use an effective but dated method of riffcraft: 1. Pick a dissonant interval. 2. Play some scattered, atonal riff to jump between the two notes. 3. Play basically the same thing on a different place on the neck, but slower. This worked very well for Incantation, but Incantation’s music is grounded by an intuitive sense of motion and tension, probably because the guitarists knew that they had to move on to a different riff and aimed toward it, rather than milking each riff for all its worth by cycling through indefinite rhythmic mutations before the riff expires. Meanwhile, the two-chord back-and-forth riffs on “Morbid Throne” do not build tension as they are repeated over and over; their main purpose seems to be providing a rhythmic hook to anchor the rest of the inoffensive-but-generally-unremarkable two-chord riffs that make up the meat of most songs.

And hooky, they are. The best parts on Morbid Throne are very cool sounding; imagine Autopsy riffs played at half-speed while authoritative drum patterns are augmented by a very deep and grisly voice chanting spells of suicidal vengeance. It’s a dependable aesthetic formula because it has held up against the scrutiny of generations and has continued to sell in a rapidly shifting industry for over thirty years. Unfortunately Grave Ritual’s dedication to this aesthetic has made them a slave, rather than master, to it. One prime example is the guitar lead that comes in just before the minute mark in “Lewd Perversities”; we hear string bends and rapidly tapped melodies, but that’s all there is to hear. It’s just an exposition of technique. There is nothing being expressed through the technique; the only expression is of the technique itself, which is a backward way to write and play death metal.
The best death metal albums work by pairing musical sections that are unlike on the surface (being in a different key, or of a different rhythm or tempo) and then eventually tying them together by offering more transitions and comparisons until the listener’s stubborn insistence that unlike sections conflict is broken and he submits to the song as a whole rather than a collection of contrasts. Grave Ritual understand that pairing incongruent riffs haphazardly makes the music an incongruent shuffle. This lets them gracefully avoid the two major pitfalls of modern death metal; one being that overwhelming percussive impact will convince the listener that they are hearing something extremely “brutal” and the other being that “atmosphere” is the goal of any album and bizarrely-voiced dissonant amelodic progressions are the most appropriate take on a death metal “atmosphere”. For this, they are to be commended. Yet in the end, this album has no teeth. There is no sense of danger or tension throughout. The product is a death metal album designed for easy listening, and in this way, it succeeds.

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Deathrow – Deception Ignored (1988)

Deathrow - Deception Ignored (1988)
Guest post by Maxton Watchurst

We live in an alienating society. I speak not of mere platitudes referring to ‘the elite’ or ‘the powers that be’, for they are mere symptoms in the overall system. Whether it was born with intent or unconsciously, the modern individual is mentally thrown off by paranoia, surreality, and above all else an apparent lack of purpose. This is not to say the past holds what we seek. On the contrary, nothing has quite changed in this regard, but it has become distorted and confused to such an extent that all we can wonder about when considering an actual meaning in our world is… why?

The underlying story of Deception Ignored is more important to understanding the album than one might realize. Each song details a different aspect of life, linearly progressing in time, that has been assaulted by this society’s entropic alienation all from a nameless man’s perspective. It would likely be best to lay out a brief explanation for this supposed macrostructure, would it not? Thus this lays out the ‘journey’ of the nameless man through the unconscious order of the world:

  1. Inception: Immersion in society’s paranoid mindset
  2. Depression born from inability to end this alienation, but overcoming desire for death
  3. Contemplation on the self’s meaninglessness versus holding onto an ideal within sleep
  4. Internalization of routine and coping with the world
  5. Comprehension of the world’s apathy
  6. Defeatism through distracting oneself from the events of the world
  7. Finale: Realization of the breadth of the system and struggle to change

A rather depressing story, eh?

Beyond just the conceptual outline of this album exists its wonderfully constructed music. Despite repetition of lyrics within the tracks, the unconventional construction makes it apparent that these tracks do not simply follow a cyclic pattern. Through-composition integrated in with the unorthodox chorus usage renders the choruses’ purpose as a means to express the thematic development; it is not so much a mere return to a section as it is reintroducing melodies for the next section to work off.

Uwe Osterlehner, who joined the band in 1988, is responsible for much of this. Prior to then, Deathrow’s sound was stylistically within the Teutonic thrash metal scene, albeit with their own quirks here and there. Uwe played a role similar to that of Alf Svensson (of At the Gates) for Deathrow, acting as a guiding hand and showing the true potential bound within them as a group. His intensely neoclassical compositional style, bringing the music to the utmost technical extents of thrash, was essentially a transcendental conception of that which is speed/thrash metal. Melodies are interwoven in every which way across each point within the overarching structure of this work; each song expresses a theme, develops it in seemingly every way possible, and brings it all to a conclusion. Yet it seems as if the songs themselves don’t have traditional climaxes, eh? The overarching structure is quite important to recognize. Just as Alf Svensson talents transcended ATG’ abilities through taking command up until 1993, Uwe Osterlehner was the mastermind behind Deception Ignored.

“Triocton” itself deserves a mention. It is the third track, and despite its instrumental nature, the music speaks for itself and contributes to the narrative. The complexity of the album is brought to its zenith, and it bestows on us an inimitable display of thematic interrelationships. To the listener, this may appear at first to be a ‘riff-salad’ due to the seemingly ridiculous amount of thematic introductions within this track. Disregarding it as such a meaningless term would be foolish, however. Several thematic melodies all centered around one overarching melodic phrase which is constantly subject to variation itself. Such a labyrinthine structure is truly daunting.

Uwe, as the primary guitarist and songwriter, and assisted by the other guitarist Sven Flügge, used a heavily nuanced and technical melodicism in his compositions that expressed simultaneously two predominant emotions found within the story: a sense of mechanical alienation and the triumphant will to overcome. This dual embodiment gives a feeling of uncertainty across the album, but not in the sense that it’s directionless. The narrative is in fact enhanced by this emotive confusion as the two emotions embodied in the melodic elements carry each other through each passage, as ebb and flow, to demonstrate the complex emotional structure inherent – a fine balance of order and chaos.

The basswork of Milo (also the vocalist) and the drumming of Markus Hahn provides far more than simply an adequate rhythmic backing to the complex melodicism acting above. Myriads of time changes, winding exchanges between the dueling guitars and the underlying rhythmic patterns, and (even beyond mere technical aspects) the tremendous aggression expressed all show the sheer power underlying the melodies within Deathrow’s sound. The cryptic time signature changes do far more than the typical progressive metal band does with such things; the time is constantly altering itself to suit the emotional context of each present moment and to develop each track’s narrative. Far from technical masturbation, Deathrow utilizes the utmost technicality to express far more than sterile proficiency.

Bizarrely enough, Deathrow (likely not including Uwe) disowned Deception Ignored. Despite its sheer immensity, they perhaps felt that Uwe’s direction was not what they desired. It’s a shame since his genius resulted in this masterwork, even if their talents allowed Uwe to express his ideas. It always confuses me when bands disown their works…

Regardless of this nonsense, Deception Ignored stands high as a daunting yet beautiful expression of both alienation and will within the framework of metal.

 

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House of Atreus – The Spear and the Ichor That Follows (2015)

House of Atreus - The Spear and the Ichor That Follows (2015)
Review by Daniel McCormick
House of Atreus, a four piece hailing from Minneapolis, are a relatively newer melodic death metal act. 2015 saw the release of their first full length, The Spear and the Ichor that Follows, and the overall reception appears to be quite positive. The lyrics and imagery focus on Greek and Roman  mythology, though, much like the band Baltak’s Macedonian premise, this is not necessarily easily derived from the music alone. I have mixed feelings about this release – it has grown on me a little, but I find there are a few flaws worth noting.

Nearly every review I’ve read cites Arghoslent as a similar artist followed by the obligatory, “but they don’t refer to African Americans as cargo.” It is easy to see where this reference comes from, but I’d clarify that there is a difference in so much as House of Atreus sound more like something polished coming out of Sweden than the American raw, brutal, rough, and bloody variety. Perhaps it is an issue of production, which lends a full presence and solid mix, but take for example the song ‘The River Black’. I’m drawn more towards citing Kalmah, Amon Amarth, or At The Gates over anything I’d actually seek out to listen to. I realize there is a large audience for this type of sound, but as a strident, hateful elitist, I’m left unmoved.

That aside, the musicians are competent, the songs are all accessible, and the album is generally inoffensive. This is aided by incorporating aspects of melodic black metal and modern thrash in the riffing, with an overarching aim towards catchy melodies. Song structures are mostly straightforward; they’re developed and creative, but I’d have appreciated greater diversity to maintain my attention over the course of an entire album. The vocals employed give the dynamics a pleasant emphasis, with thoughtfully constructed patterns, but I do wish more of the context of each song shone with more clarity. The percussion is thunderous and solid, it elevates the progressions nicely and I’ve no real criticism to offer.

I’d like to be positive, to recommend this with gushing enthusiasm out of my affinity for antiquity, but unless you’re predisposed towards fanaticism to this genre you’d likely fail to see what unique niche this album fills. To me it sounds like dozens of other melodic death metal works released over the last fifteen years, few of which actually struck me as necessitated additions to my collection. So I’ll leave you with that, to decide for yourself.

 

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Horrendous – Anareta (2015)

Horrendous - Anareta (2015)
Horrendous is evolving. They’re not content to merely be one of our masochistic metal victims, so they’ve been gradually and haphazardly incorporating more jazz fusion and djent influences into what was previously a Heartwork inflected sound, and what continues to partially stink of it. What entertains me so much about Anareta is how neatly compartmentalized these two styles are and therefore how little they interact, making for perhaps two EPs stitched together and all sorts of increasingly implausible hypotheses about the band’s songwriting and tracking process that distract from the main issue at hand. Neither half of Anareta is exactly a sterling example of what already are difficult styles to pull off well in a metal context.

The “progressive” side of Horrendous leads off the album and appears to occupy significantly more of its runtime. This part of the recording emphasizes its internal rhythms – it is midpaced, replete with offbeats and odd time signatures, and it showcases some complicated interplay with the local guitarwork. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the band is at least trying to make something interesting and complicated, but there are a couple of problems with their approach. One admittedly trivial (but strangely attention-grabbing) flaw is that they have no idea how to write introductions to their tracks; therefore, many of Anareta‘s tracks begin with a minute or so of pseudo-random gassing. More importantly, the emphasis on surface rhythmic complexity isn’t matched by a willingness to expand the percussive textures that underlie it. Furthermore, the guitar tracks above this, while benefiting from the rhythmic prowess of the band, rarely allow their actual riff content to escape from the traditional metal and rock tropes that hold the band back. At the very least, Horrendous will need to severely edit their tracks and develop a better sense of narrative composition in order to master this substyle.

While it’s pointless to judge whether vaguely “progressive” metal is better or worse than generic melodeath and Stockholm syndrome, the gradual shift in emphasis towards the former over the band’s career suggests that if they keep going, they might have a genuinely good album on their hands in a few years. Anareta definitely hasn’t reached that point yet, being too haphazard and scatterbrained in its ambitions to really hit home, while still occasionally lapsing into straight up generic guitar pop.

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Domains – Sinister Ceremonies (2014)

Domains_Sinisterceremonies
Guest post by former editor David Rosales

In the reception of a new work of art (rather than a commercial product), there are two main ways of going about evaluating its worth. The first is to assess its qualities on their own and their overall result as a unitary agent. The second is to consider its relative worth in terms of the time and place when it was produced as well as taking a utilitarian view point that can give a “function” to it. The first of these two is the hardest as it requires technical and philosophical insights working holistically, the background for which is not obtained through casual acquaintance of history or plain repetition of “classics” of the genre. It requires years of internalization of both composition methods and a constant meditation on the powers behind music as pertaining to the human mind. The latter is naturally the common choice by virtue of its extreme relativism, which makes almost any interpretation, whether negative or positive, admissible and excusable.

Sinister Ceremonies came out last year, apparently made some waves and popped up in “Best of the year” lists. While it did not make it to DMU’s own list, this may be more due to a lack of diligence on part of the staff than anything else. But given the limited manpower the site wields and the overwhelming number of records released per year, it is not surprising that even an outstanding record flies by unnoticed, let alone a commendable but unimpressive and ultimately irrelevant effort like Domains’. The opinion of the average metal journalist/critic/blogue means little after all, and their majority support of anything is an indicator of lowest common denominator appeal (fuck democracy).

Taking the simple-minded relativist stance, Sinister Ceremonies comes out with a full checklist as it is both balanced, intelligible, catchy, easy to listen to, and to some, perhaps even “brutal” and “dark”. Objectively, to be fair, the songwriting here is actually sober and very self-conscious. The constructions and composition methodology is clear textbook — but perhaps too clear. Its unimaginative and extremely conservative adherence to proven techniques at all levels from riff execution to build-ups and long-range developments are a sure score with conservative underground listeners with a mid-range attention span but fall short of a complete work. What this means is that while the album covers the basics of metal songwriting exemplarily, the full art of composition — its power to attribute meaning and direction to passages weaving into a story — is something that may be entirely foreign to the band.

Finally, the minor achievement that constitutes Domains’ “solid” composition is only a highlight because of the depressive state of affairs of the modern metal landscape, when mediocrity and capricious nonsense made by non-musicians (“professional” or not) reign supreme. In and of itself, Domains Sinister Ceremonies will garner passing and only temporary attention by some conservative types, but its shallow waters will prove an uneventful disappointment for the more serious listener in search of a dungeon to brave.

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Melechesh – Enki (2015)

Melechesh - Enki (2015)
Back in 2010, Melechesh’s previous album (The Epigenesis) made its way onto our “Best of 2010” list. I don’t know what to make of that, but this year’s batch of Melechesh doesn’t live up to that hype, despite sticking to the band’s signature mixture of streamlined extreme metal with older substyles and (importantly) a Middle Eastern folk garnish. The problem here is a common one – directionless, flat, almost random songwriting. Whether or not this afflicted previous works by the band is hopefully something someone more versed in their past might be able to shed some light on.

That the structural side of this album is so underwhelming is belied by the good first impression that Melechesh makes with their polished sound. They succeed in combining their three aesthetic streams where many bands stumble with two… or less. For instance, the band constructs almost every riff and phrase they use from vaguely exotic scales like the Phyrgian dominant, the double harmonic (“Arabic”), etc. This indicates greater dedication to the aesthetic than, for instance, Nile, and doing something similar in your own work will probably get you further in the long run than merely tossing in some instruments that are culturally relevant to what you’re trying to imitate. Not to say that Melechesh doesn’t add in extra instrumentation, but it’s skillfully incorporated into their sound to the point that it never seems incongruous. The older metal and rock elements, in comparison, don’t make themselves as immediately apparent, but they imbue this recording with a strong sense of conventional musicality that makes it easy to pick up off the shelves and listen to by the standards of its nominal genre.

The deception this entails means it took me a bit to pick up on how little of the content here was actually making its mark. Enki showcases its share of isolated musical ideas with which one could build a song, but arranges them in an entirely haphazard and arbitrary fashion. The general lack of dynamics also helps in building an environment full of interchangeable content – one entirely folk interlude (“Doorways to Irkala”) and some halfhearted soft sections does not an adequate substitute make. It may be that drone and repetition form an integral part of Melechesh’s songwriting, but the best bands to rely on such techniques don’t simply vary themselves through minor variation, but arrange such in a fashion that allows for actual in-song progression. Melechesh’s failure to do so combined with other aspects of their style make for an experience that decays to irrelevance shockingly fast.

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Manilla Road – The Blessed Curse (2015)

Manilla Road - The Blessed Curse (2015)

Article written by Daniel McCormick

In James Howell’s 1660 Lexicon Tetraglotton one finds the proverb, “When thou hast made a turd leave it.” – advice not heeded by Manilla Road on The Blessed Curse. The biggest issues are twofold: length, and creativity. Yet, had brevity been a predilection, there’s little saving grace, even considering the august bloodline. I must admit that within the first minute thirty I was well prepared to hit stop and attempt to return my album. This is not to say that the music is performed sloppily, or that it’s lacking in merits altogether, but the substance of the music rarely rises above the common or generic, and it comes across more as embryonic than as a well crafted communicative device. It is as if this double album were a construct built from a month of jamming in a rehearsal room.

Therefore, I find this to be the type of album which would have greatly benefited from the group spending another year grinding away, incubating and contriving, and instead of 99 minutes of overextension a consistent 28 minutes could have been wrought. I’ll grant there are well layered harmonies (“Tomes of Clay”), vocally and otherwise, and there is some catchy structuring (“Kings of Invention”), but there is nothing to be found here exceedingly worthy of praise. This sentiment is exemplified by the lyrics, and the odd free form approach taken, because even stanza to stanza there’s a lack of cohesive narrative that leaves the listener lost to define direct intent, outside of cheesy throwaway lines. The vocals present these lyrics with a unique presence, but it is of little benefit when you consider the diminutive range and how the patterns do little to add dynamic qualities. In short, a dearth of vibrance.

This album had great potential to appeal to my tastes, with its folk leanings and rough production, and traditional metal approach, but that was an illusion dissolved like skin drenched in hydrofluoric acid. The folk aspects on this album come across as pop sap (“The Muses Kiss”) in most regards. The production is very well the best quality to my ear, in so much as it presents a purer, retro, feel. The traditional metal approach, though, is very much hit and miss – the verse chorus style grows old quickly when there is too little creativity at base. I suppose I am not so much disappointed as I am confused as to why this was so well received by so many. Perhaps I’ll never understand that. I simply conclude this album was intended for die hard fans who would have been happy with anything, and I do not recommend it.

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Ares Kingdom – The Unburiable Dead (2015)

Ares Kingdom - The Unburiable Dead (2015)
Article written by Daniel McCormick

Over four bitter cold days in February of 1934, there was an uprising in Austria. Tyranny was the victor then, and in the executions which followed, but the killing left its mark on history in the numerous “Unburiable Dead”. Stephen Vincent Benét wrote on the lingering ghost of this conflict, those “Unburiable Dead” in his ‘Ode to the Austrian Socialists’, which carries with it a central theme that I believe a quote from Chuck Keller, Ares Kingdom’s sole song writer, describes well:
“History tells: the veneer of civilization is very thin, and the world remains governed by the aggressive use of force… despite appeals to logic and reason, you get our world—the kingdom of Ares.”

 For while the gilding of modernity instills an inability to fully appreciate to the horrors of history, and we find ennui at the heart of much that is claimed to be injustice in our first world padded cells, the voice, these specters, still speak to us.

Now, turn back the hands of time twenty years prior to the Austrian Civil war and we find ourselves staring down the thick steel of a Vickers machine gun, at the onset of WWI. This is the stage for Ares Kingdom’s third full length album, a concept album of sorts, and a memorial in its own right to the “Unburiable Dead” and the vicissitudes which enveloped nations. From an unprecedented influx in engineering and patents that took place over the forty years prior to the onset of war came the engines of death capable of destruction beyond the understanding of the milieu which bore them. Such misery and violence underlies the imagery of the first four tracks, and, like Zarathustra come down from the peaks, the final three pieces are as songs of experience and wisdom, or is it despondency and spleen? Nonetheless, the album bears a easily followed framework, and one befitting the subject matter.

The music carries a continuity through out the album, and is very much in step with what one has come to expect from Ares Kingdom. Melodic and death stylings seem tied to a steel spine of traditional thrash, and at times verging on an extreme form of heavy metal. Alex Blume performs the vocals with great consistency, and while his range may be minimal the execution is imbued with virile aggression. Alex’s bass work seems solid, and to expectation but doesn’t offer me much on which to build commentary- may be it’s a different story in a live environment? Mike Miller’s percussion does well to accentuate and amplify the dynamics, though I did find myself with the nagging feeling that I was wishing it to go places at times which it never did. With a stand out performance in “Nom De Guerre”, “Demoralize” didn’t seem to indulge my attention in the same way, and overall the drums are greater than sufficient but well beneath virtuoso. A tight backing, as it were, for the main interest.

Chuck Keller’s guitar work, as I’ve come to expect, is the specific reason to seek this album out. If you’ve ever caught one of Ares Kingdom’s live sets, you’d know what I was talking about. Highly creative with technical prowess and gear capable of capturing a dense, traditional, metal tonality, the sound achieved on this album is a paramount effort. The high production values only further the experience. Chuck expressed in interviews that this album was a long time in the making, having begun writing some five years prior to release, and I believe there is much evidence of that. The music communicates – having been well developed, with a harmonious rhythmic body that consistently builds in intuitive and accessible manners, and which drives, with excess, the emoting of phrasing. Essentially, this is a brilliantly written and executed album by a true underground veteran.

This is an epic work, and I give full recommendation. It is astonishing that this comes from such a region of the US so destitute in quality metal music, though all the more reason for lending of support to a lone voice in a sea of banal creations by insipid hipsters and wannabe trash.
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Varathron – The Confessional of the Black Penitents (2015)

Varathron - The Confessional of the Black Penitents (2015)
As half original work (a short EP) and half live document, The Confessional of the Black Penitents seems more compilation than unified album at first glance. I wouldn’t be surprised if the live tracks were added in an attempt to increase the supposed ‘value’ of this EP, but this is one of those cases where the commercial intent of a tracklisting decision seems less important than its overall effect on how I engage with the tracks themselves.

Varathron does admittedly stick to the stereotypical “Greek” aesthetic on the original half of this EP – in this case, a combination of contemporary black metal technique and production with elements of older metal and rock. After an extended intro, the two lengthy tracks that form the core of this half tend to explore this by alternating more overtly extreme sections with slower sections similar to older works and frequently interspersed with melodic guitar leads. These tracks showcase a strength of organization and a tasteful, limited incorporation of modern metal elements in a fashion similar to that of the band’s previous album. Based on this, and compared to other bands in the Greek scene, Varathron has aged gracefully, avoiding the contrasting pitfalls of endless repetition, excess streamlining, or overextension in the name of artistic progress or even just diversity.

The live half of this recording could serve as a general survey of Varathron as reinterpreted through the band’s modern lineup, although it is lacking in the band’s 2000s output. With three of its four tracks sourced from the band’s earliest days, it showcases the often slower and sparser approach of the band’s earliest days. Even the faster, blasting components showcased on the original tracks here make some appearance, so the main difference appears to be that in their ‘classic’ era, Varathron focused more on the rhythmic and percussive elements of their music. The other live track comes from 2014’s Untrodden Corridors of Hades; this rendition does much to render it closer to the older material in sound, which helps highlight the similarity of their songwriting. The production also helps to unify these tracks – while rougher than a proper studio environment, it’s still intelligible and in some ways more polished than that of the original material.

The new studio tracks, at the very least, make The Confessional of the Black Penitents a fine purchase. Fewer will go out of their way to acquire this EP for its live component (although it is apparently Varathron’s first official live release), but it too has value, as it provides an introduction of sorts to the band’s older material.

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