Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls (2015)

Iron Maiden - The Book Of Souls (2015)
Iron Maiden’s main strength in their 1980s heyday was their ability to incorporate progressive rock tropes (and therefore useful techniques for song variation and extension) into what was otherwise a fairly standard, if well executed poppy heavy metal sound. Not the rarest trick in the book, but more than enough to turn the band into a commercial juggernaut whose influence can sometimes be heard even in the deepest dregs of the underground.

On first impression, The Book of Souls ages gracefully, offering an aesthetic mostly similar to the band’s earliest recordings with Bruce Dickinson if understandably and obviously brought up to modern production standards. Like the rest of the band’s latter day material however, it leans ever closer towards its prog-isms, resulting in several enormous tracks and inflating the content into a full-fledged double album. The unfortunate weakness of these epics is that they are replete with filler of questionable value to a track, and as the length of these albums and tracks grow ever longer, so does the tedium, as Iron Maiden’s ability to extend a track beyond 7-8 minutes or so has not advanced along with them. Tracks end up overwhelmed by moments stunningly reminiscent of old hooks and hit singles (for instance, the intro of “Shadows of the Valley” seems to channel “Wasted Years” from Somewhere In Time), and the true nature of the band’s recent weakness reveals itself.

Iron Maiden has become a band split between two souls that they are unable to effectively reconcile. Their urge to extend their songwriting and write metal epics is held back by their need to continuously sound like Iron Maiden and the corresponding need to push hit singles. Paring down some of the worst excesses would probably be the most profitable option, since the band has demonstrated many times through their career that they can handle some degree of extension. Even then, Iron Maiden is competing with their own past; a past that is more virile (if not as slickly produced or musically experienced) and still easily experienced at their live concerts. I expect this album to jump off the shelves of record shores for still being recognizably Iron Maiden, for having some memorable and well-written moments and for being a valid way to financially support the band, but as a work of music, I don’t expect it to retain much listener interest after its marketing blitz subsides.

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Krallice – Ygg Hurr (2015)

Krallice - Ygg Hurr (2015)

In one of the greatest misfiles of the 21st century, Krallice was labeled a sort of black metal band despite not even trying to ape the style on even the most basic level. Maybe there’s a few seconds that perfunctorily resemble the sort of chaotic ‘avant-garde’ black metal of a Deathspell Omega or whatever the kids are listening to these days. Krallice pulls more on the lengthy tradition of post-black – playing anything so long as you’re insistent that you’re beyond the juvenilia of the genre and/or that you’re pushing its musical and ideological boundaries. As a result, Ygg Hurr showcases every idea that Krallice’s members must have thought was even marginally cool, without any cohesive logic or anything in the way of quality filtering. Six Sigma this is not.

Every second of Ygg Hurr takes on a different meter, rhythm, tempo, tonality, and so forth. The band members definitely paid attention in their musical theory classes, and attempting to dissect any of the songs here would certainly yield a plethora of technical terms describing these tracks down to the note. It bears noting that compared to many other albums in similar styles, Krallice does not back up this writhing mess with unconventional instrumentation. That they stick to standard rock instrumentation makes this album less of a headache than it might be otherwise, but it further reveals weak production that probably caused a few executives at Profound Lore to tug at their collars. Outside of the record industry, its lack of intensity or at least atmosphere simply makes it even harder to take seriously as a “black metal” album. Calling it mathcore or “progressive” rock might make for more fruitful marketing, but ultimately, Krallice lacks the compositional range to pass for good examples of either.

Ironically, Krallice approaches flatness from the opposite approach of I usually hear. Instead of dwelling on one simplistic idea for an enormous quantity of time, Krallice abandons all their previous concepts like clockwork because it’s already time for the next riff. Constant change unmediated by anything resembling discipline makes for a particularly pseudorandom take on droning boredom, but it’s boredom none the less. This is stunningly reminiscent of the “horseshoe theory” in political science, which states that extreme political leftness and rightness converge more than expected. I don’t actually know or particularly care about any political goals of Krallice (At this point, it’s safer to assume there aren’t any), but my interest in history and especially its political aspects predisposes me to make such a comparison. The ensuing product is as bland as its musically simpler counterparts.

I really need to brush up on my mathematics so I can make a proper reference to deterministic chaos and attractors, but even without such a metaphor it should be apparent that Krallice’s music isn’t very well thought out. They favor what sounds experimental when their time would be better spent taking some of the ideas on display and developing them.

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Motörhead – Bad Magic (2015)

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Motörhead (n.): Consistency, especially over a long period of time

The way I see it, time has not been much of anything at all to Motörhead, positive or negative. Every few years sees another album, with gradually improving production standards and gradually evolving vocals from Lemmy Kilmister. It’s been a very long time since the band experimented with its formula. Essentially, Motörhead’s formula is so basic (blues rock amped up until it becomes metal and sped up or slowed down as necessary) that they’ve been able to keep pumping out consistent work to this point, and Bad Magic keeps this going despite Lemmy’s recent health scares.

The art of Motörhead is very much like that of oat porridge, perhaps with a bit of cinnamon or fruit for flavor. You can’t go into this expecting anything but very basic, especially blues inflected heavy/speed metal. This extends to the songwriting, which I can accept considering that there’s no pretensions of being sophisticated or experimental or Myrkur or whatever the target of the day is. Perhaps the instrumentation is a bit more complicated than on something like Overkill or Ace of Spades, but Bad Magic is separated from such formative works by decades of technological advance and metal marketing. This recording still has much in common with its predecessors, and you could reasonably make the argument that since Motörhead keeps making mostly the same albums, they aren’t adding much by churning these out.

On the other hand, consistency is a virtue of its own, and in many ways, Bad Magic is a safe, sane, and predictable purchase. A slightly more refined and more technical Motörhead album, preparation for whatever concerts they might be able to play in their area, and most likely more enjoyment and value than some of the gimmicky recordings in this genre. It might be better for neophytes to start with earlier work, but as a relatively basic “more of the same” type album, Bad Magic is certainly a success. There really isn’t much to say beyond that, and I trust readers can make an informed decision about whether new Motörhead is something they want in their lives.

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Voivod – Negatron (1996)

voivod_-_negatron

In the mid-1990s, it became clear that death metal and black metal had run through their formative and matured material and were now in decline, so bands experimented with developing older styles of metal using the new techniques. Voivod dropped Negatron into this period with a fusion of Ministry, old Voivod and Master of Puppets-era Metallica accented by alternative rock vocals. The result came about a decade before the audience was ready.

Continuity from classic Voivod remains present throughout in not the odd riffs, angular melodies, inverted guitar chords and challenging tempo changes but also the overall sensibility, which creates a sense of unease and infinite possibility at the same time as is appropriate for the sci-fi theme of the band. That impulse translates into Ministry-styled industrial-influenced percussion and the complex phrase-based but rhythmically-centered riffing of mid-period Metallica, creating a smooth fusion that can hold its own against mainstream heavyweights like Pantera, who dominated speed metal at the time. Instead of focusing on easy grooves however, Voivod center their music around disruption and order emerging from chaos, giving these alternative-rock style choruses built around the vocal a space to expand and a strong musical bedrock on which to develop. Vocalist/bassist Eric Forrest gives a strained vocal cord performance which adds to the urgency of the material, and creates a sinister suspension of what we normally think of as reality.

The creative riffs of classic Voivod are here, but bent and twisted around complex rhythms and given more standard power chords to anchor them around an increasingly irresistible rhythm. Like most of mid-90s metal, Negatron anticipates the underground being re-absorbed into the larger world of metal, and does so with distorted vocals and death metal strumming techniques mixed in with the progressive speed metal touches from earlier bands. What propels this album forward is its ability to bring out an underlying narrative and reveal a hidden side to the previous explanation for how its pieces fit together, causing — like good death metal, or even Carbonized which it periodically resembles — a sensation of discovery for the listener. Its task was Herculean because the type of listener who likes mainstream power metal will probably find this inscrutable, and underground listeners balked at the Nirvana-plus-Amebix vocal stylings. Their loss, because this album provides solid speed metal with the best integration of progressive and industrial influences yet seen.

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Nile – What Should Not Be Unearthed (2015)

Nile - What Should Not Be Unearthed (2015)

Nile’s latest begins topical, with a blastfest themed after the recent years of strife in the Middle East. This is going to date the album some years from now, but from a commercial stance it’s still an excellent idea, certain to create buzz and boost the band’s reputation. They take a pot shot at a common enemy, and continue their legacy of Egyptian mythological themes in standard, professionally produced “brutal” death metal. All in a day’s work for the deathpop industry.

Surprisingly, I am not rehashing my thoughts on Infernus from a few days back like I expected I would when I first began researching this recording. On What Should Not Be Unearthed, Nile contributes to the corpus of accessible mainstream death metal in a broadly similar fashion to their Rutanian brethren, but in a fashion I find far less obnoxiously flat. It seems that Nile’s members have a better grasp of pop songwriting (and importantly, how to incorporate the instrumentation and technique of death metal into such formulas) that could potentially earn them enormous amounts of money if they were to sell their service as songwriters.

Nile’s Egyptologist trappings are one of their big gimmicks and therefore makes necessary discussion whenever they are brought up. The ideas certainly permeate the lyrics, but rarely go beyond that, with the notable exception of the occasional short filmic “Egyptian”/Middle Eastern interludes. There is nothing I can say for or against their authenticity, but few if any of the musical ideas they present in these asides make their way into the metal side of the songwriting. The constant usage of various musical scales and modes, though, might appear to be missing link for listeners not used to the general chromaticism and/or tonal experimentation of your average death metal band. The idea occasionally turns into a Billboard-style pop hook (see the intro to “Evil To Cast Out Evil” for an obvious example), though, and that’s probably good enough for Nuclear Blast.

Dwelling too much on Nile’s gimmick, though, is like only eating the plastic topper off an extremely sugary wedding cake. What Should Not Be Unearthed hasn’t got much in the way of coherent song structures or direction, and that’s why you’ll probably forget about it after a few spins. Judging from the content here, the band members understand on a basic level that they need to vary their parameters throughout a song in order to not come across as a vague buzzing sound. When they try to go beyond basic pop formulas, though, they collapse into stereotypical alternating blasting sections and breakdowns and occasionally make me giggle by, for instance, pitch bending a guitar harmonic chord at the beginning of the title track. It’s nominally better than no variation, but it’s going to take a lot more thought and organizational work than what’s on display here to write intelligent tracks.

Ambition is nothing without preparation, though, and Nile remains strongest (and commercially strongest) as musicians and songwriters when they stick to their basic deathpop. In that regard, What Should Not Be Unearthed is a partial success, and the rest probably… should not be unearthed.

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Order from Chaos – Frozen in Steel (2014)

Order from Chaos – Frozen in Steel (2014)

Review written by Daniel Maarat for DMU

The complete career recordings of unsung underground legends Order from Chaos have been definitely reissued by Nuclear War Now! Productions in five CD and nine and 12 LP boxed sets. These afford listeners the chance to experience the clear progression and compositional refinement from the band’s primitive Hellhammer, Sodom, and first wave beginnings. The LP editions have the usual analog distortion of vinyl and the peculiarities of GZ’s direct metal mastering. Fortunately, the CDs are well mastered with identical sound to the original pressings though the vinyl editions have the bonus of a 124-page hardbound book with lyrics, personal photos, and a biography of the band.

Stillbirth Machine opens with an excerpt from Ligeti’s “Requiem”and immediately proceeds into angular riffed, Teutonic deaththrash. Only intros and outros distract from the aural assault. The guitar tone resembles Swedish death metal with the fully dimed Boss Heavy Metal pedals but the production was marred by the inconsistent levels of a drunk seventies rock producer manning the knobs in an aging studio. The follow up Plateau of Invincibility EP is similar in material but self-recorded onto eight-track tape. This more amateur but consistent (e.g. no noise burst solos) production would continue for the rest of Order from Chaos’s career.

Dawn Bringer continued the compositional elaboration. The songs were more experimental and the melody that characterizes guitarist Chuck Keller’s and drummer Mike Miller’s future band, Ares Kingdom, appears on a twisted cover of Voivod’s “War and Pain.” The martial marching beats of the hybrid war metal sub-genre of first wave black metal and the three chord, hardcore punk side of grindcore was birthed too. Ending everything is the start of the intentional raw noise for which that bastard sub-genre is known as Keller pries off his guitar strings and pickups at full volume to end the album on “Webs of Perdition.”

An Ending in Fire shows the perfectionism that differentiated Order from Chaos from most of their contemporaries in the death and black metal scenes to even the most passive listeners. Earlier riffs and songs were rearranged with completely new material into three epic compositions. The songwriting focused on clever compositional coherency and melodic congruity rather than the random masturbation and showmanship of technical death metal. “Conqueror of Fear” twisted many of the band’s similar, Teutonic works into a flowing five-track declaration of bassist Pete Helmkamp’s existential, social Darwinist philosophy later laid out in his controversial Conqueror Manifesto. “There Lies Your Lord! Father of Victories!” was wholly original to the album and among Keller’s best guitar work. “Somnium Helios” updated the punky “Nucleosynthesis” from the Will to Power EP as the beginning of a requiem for the Earth’s future solar immolation. Order from Chaos broke up after An Ending in Fire’s recording, considering the album as fulfilling the band’s musical vision. The session outtakes were released as the And I Saw Eternity EP included in the set. This is true progressive heavy metal. Speaking more of musical specifics and the evolution of individual riffs and songs is best left for future articles as that would spoil listeners’ enjoyment.

Frozen in Steel is a fantastic value for fans. Purchasing just Order from Chaos’s three albums alone would cost well over a hundred dollars on the secondary market. Nuclear War Now! Productions should be commended for offering all the band’s studio material along with the extra rehearsals and live shows starting at just forty. This is the most significant and well put together anthology of an extreme metal band’s collected works since Demilich’s 20th Adversary of Emptiness.

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Kaeck – Stormkult (2015) – Another Perspective

Kaeck - Stormcult (2015); another variant of the cover art

Kaeck has received quite the buzz from other contributors to this site, which was actually how I discovered it. It turns out that this is one of the best black metal releases I’ve heard since Sorcier des Glaces’ The Puressence of Primitive Forests in 2011. It’s not the most accurate comparison since this is a significantly more violent and melodramatic album (Puressence, for all its strengths, is candy-coated), but I digress.

Stormkult belongs to an especially claustrophobic school of black metal, with its bassy production and keyboard soundscapes. Of all the instruments, though, the vocal section was the first to particularly draw my attention. They are all over the place, and the constant variation of vocal technique is effective in distinguishing sections of songs and their corresponding moods. For some, these may take some acclimation; there are some particularly anguished screams and shouts that only avoid coming off as goofy or otherwise inappropriate through their scarcity and correspondence to climaxes in the rest of the songwriting. Since I can’t understand the Dutch these vocalists apparently perform, I have to pay special attention to how they use their voices as instruments, but I am thusly rewarded with the strength of their performances even if I can see some not enjoying the style.

Other parts of the recording are more conventional, although the dense soundscapes and keyboards tend to put me in mind of Emperor’s debut (In The Nightside Eclipse). Despite not being as overtly symphonic, the content here has a similar pacing of riff delivery – slower chord progressions over fast, if relatively unvariegated drumming; percussion is admittedly not the major emphasis here, although the drums are mixed prominently enough for this reality to reach my attention. There’s definitely room for more variety in the drumming without overemphasizing it and thusly creating awkward stylistic conflicts. Some more tempo shifts might’ve been helpful, too, as the album does seem to lean towards a theatrical, narrative style in other parts of its instrumentation, and a few well placed breaks can be very powerful. A more shrewdly degraded production might also help – Stormkult sounds almost crystal clear in spite of its overtures towards low fidelity, which suggests the latter may have been created by something as artificial as slicing out all the sounds above a certain frequency.

The positives here outweigh the negatives by a great margin, though; Kaeck’s approach on this album is fundamentally sound, although there is definitely room for refinement and greater sophistication if they choose to go forwards with future recordings. Those could potentially stand with the god-tier recordings we’ve enshrined here, but that Kaeck comes close to them makes me confident that they could reach that level with practice and effort. I write this knowing I have yet to finish penetrating Stormkult‘s depths, but an album that doesn’t surrender its secrets immediately is better than the alternative.


Author’s note: DMU has had access to this album for some time, but in light of its official physical release, I feel writing about my own experience with it is appropriate. 

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Hate Eternal – Infernus (2015)

Hate Eternal - Infernus (2015)

Hate Eternal hits all the notes they intend to. From a technical stance, there’s really nothing missing – an extremely precise instrumental section provides all the velocity and intricacy you’d expect from this sort of death metal. The production and sound is crystalline in its precision, too; all of the important sound frequencies are accounted for, the instrumentation is clear (although like many metal bands, the bassist drowns), and the vocals of Erik Rutan remain suitably midpitched and intelligible for the album’s 45 minute duration. If you wanted to demonstrate textbook “brutal” death metal to your friends and colleagues, a sample from Infernus would leave them more knowledgable about what to expect from the genre, especially if you drew comparisons to Morbid Angel and other well-appreciated bands in Hate Eternal’s long and storied lineage. It’s a shame, then, that such an archetypal album doesn’t make for good listening.

It all comes down to the arrangements. The major problem with songs on Infernus is that they drone where they should instead develop, to the point that Rutan’s guitar parts even contain droning tremolo notes and chords buzzing under riffs, hiding ashamed at the edge of hearing. Consider the album’s dynamic range; when your recording is this loud and insistent, your ability to emphasize any one section of your song over others suffers. As a result, even when Hate Eternal does pull out a relatively interesting riff pattern (like the outro of “Zealot, Crusader Of War”), it’s likely to pass over without commentary or attention due to listener fatigue. Some might argue that the very death metal stylings of this band justify such a constant aural assault, or that the occasional tempo/rhythm shift or sound gimmick that often performs the role of dynamics in this style creates enough variety, but while such points are worthy of acknowledgement, they don’t exactly help the content.

The other half of the drone problem is that songs on Infernus are remarkably conservative about varying their overall structures. I don’t think I’ve heard a death metal band rely on a basic formula so consistently since… well… Death, which had much the same issue with being unable to change up their own songwriting techniques throughout their career, even as their aesthetics constantly evolved. Hate Eternal I am not so familiar with, but the first half of any given track here is interchangeable with the first half of any other. The latter halves offer more room for anything besides business as usual, but if you play a random track, odds it’s going to start by repeating the verse and chorus twice and going straight into a solo. It’s as if the music is not written, but manufactured to government pop standards on industrial machinery… which, in death metal, usually leads to a dismal and forgettable product and makes you more receptive to the next CD on the assembly line.

So if there were a conspiracy in record labels to increase sales by reducing people’s attachment to music (which I doubt, because it would require enormous folly beyond what we as a species can muster), Infernus would be the perfect product. In reality, it’s just a technically competent but flawed and unambitious offering; it’s not as obnoxious as, for instance, the thinly disguised technical exercise death metal wave of the mid-2000s, or the metalcore bogeyman in your younger sister’s closet. Nothing that would scare me off from the concert of a band I was interested in, but not something I can earnestly recommend seeking out on your own.

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An Impression on Stormkult

kaeck_-_stormkult

Like a tapestry woven of coloured threads Kaeck Stormkult is music in which simple individual elements are brought together with a larger vision in mind. The overall expression is an affirmation of violence and chaos tempered by a sense of order and beauty. Individual ideas are violent sawing chromatic fragments which generate new material by subtle variation. This tendency to unify songs through variations on a single idea is contrasted by the occasional introduction of a more expansive melody, these melodic phrases will be familiar to Sammath listeners for their strangely chromatic and yet tonal quality. These elements combine to make Kaeck one of the more interesting recent acts in black metal. There is an understanding here that individual riffs cannot stand alone but require a conceptual framework which transcends them. Each song is unique in its composition and yet there is a sense that this work is a unified statement. Whilst there is still room for improvement in overall consistency Kaeck offers black metal with real vision and some hope for the future of the genre.

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