Richard Wagner wrote epic operas based around primal mythology as based on Nordic and German folklore. Almost two centuries later, Alexander Jacob sat down with piano scores by Richard Kleinmichel and created an album of spacious, otherworldly music using that interpretation of the original. Numen Media released Richard Wagner: Parisfal on digital and compact disc for an audience wanting to explore Wagner in a sitting and not an afternoon.
The selected scenes from the opera translate into music with strong themes emerging from dense backgrounds, giving it both the textural feel of contemporary electronic music and the depth of heavy instrumental complexity as is found in most classical and progressive rock, but in the single voice of the piano this becomes a comforting shift like transition from city to country to town via train. Themes arise and then recede, like ideas in a dream, and play off related ideas in a shifting scenery which reveals its contours only slowly.
Transitioning to a single instrument from the multi-layered score written by Wagner, which famously required larger orchestras than were normally used, requires sacrificing some detail as many voices become one. The piano, on the other hand, demands lack of outright repetition as it becomes too obvious. Jacob and Kleinmichel navigate those obstacles by isolating different leitmotifs and working them into the piano as complementary voices. The result strikes the listener as more peaceful than Wagner, and relies on subtlety to bring out its power, manifesting out of a background ambiance a striking and sudden clarity like an explosion in darkness, then returning to a piece that almost conceals itself in calm. As a result, Richard Wagner: Parsifal serves as soothing music which inserts its intensity like a revelation in the mind of the listener after the fact, leaving a lingering sense of being transported to a different and more epic era.
After a very promising debut album which the band explained as consisting of a collection of demos and other recordings, Antaeus released their first “proper” album in 2002: De Principii Evangelikum. Antaeus play a saturated black metal that foreshadows the developments of Sammath and shares with it an antecedent in Uranium 235 Total Extermination. For all the violence expressed here on the face, the riffs ride very short melodies that make up for the constant percussive assault. The more one gets familiar with the album, the more this balance is perceived. Like most black metal albums, the front assaults or deceives the listener (some albums present a saccharine front that actually contains very thoughtful and detailed music, even if not reflected in quantity or variation of patterns) that only reveal their whole worth after both repeated listens and emotioal immersion in the music.
De Principii Evangelikum does sound like a consolidated Antaeus, insofar as they choose a very particular approach narrowed down from their previous album, Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan. In a Faustian gambit, Antaeus ripped all pretension of ambience and took the frontal assault that only figured as one aspect of their earlier music. As such, this is a condensation of that style that even if it limits the expression range of theband, it allows it to refine a very particular language and also sets it in a track in which a band attempt to perfect a sound until they get it. A parallel would be Sammath’s more-than-a-decade long efforts that finally culminate in 2014’s Godless Arrogance, a kindred spirit of De Principii Evangelikum.
As a first full-album effort, De Principii Evangelikum show us a highly focused band that knows what they want and that have matured musically. It is the realization and not the concept that is still being experimented on. In De Principii Evangelikum this is practically realized in potency and convincing excellence. The question is, is this all the band is aiming for?
Olivier Messiaen about 1940 at the console of the Cavaillé-Coll-organ St.Trinité in Paris
Famously noted for having claimed that he saw colors when listening to music, Olivier Messiaen was born very early in the 20th century (1908) and was one of the last in a bastard’s litter of composers to be caught in the crossfire between a lingering romantic spirit and modernist aesthetics. This extremely vivid perception of musical tones and his fondness for birds and their songs were, doubtless, a great influence on his methodical choice for musical language. This includes his own compiled and defined modes of limited transposition. These existed before but he was the first to compile them and examine their boundaries and relationships exhaustively.
Hanging in an interesting intersection of the concentrated meditations of Ildjarn Landscapes, Tangerine Dream’s and Klaus Schulze’s early improvisation-like soundscapes and the latter’s methodic motific constructions, Messiaen’s organworks such as Les Corps Glorieux anticipates them all and brings them together in a very personal language. Appart from that, we find passages that could be taken from the most bizarre organ fantasias dreamed of by Baroque or Romantic composers. What is special about these works is the convincing power with which he brings all this together without falling into the modern tendency of classical music to twist around and transform ideas so quickly the listener barely has time to be submerged in them.
In contrast, his music lingers in the ecstatic wonder that we might guess was induced by an appreciation of nature and its patterns as the grand work of the Judeo-Christian god as per his Roman Catholic beliefs. The exact source of it is not important, but the state of mind achieved in silent and inner introspection and outwardly-projected contemplation is transmitted in these organworks through a plethora of distinct techniques that Messiaen manipulate without incurring in an overcrowding of any particular piece. But even when a comparison between movements is done, the nature of the whole work is not disrupted, all come under an intent, even though each of these is an idea of its own. While any can lump compositions and songs in an album or title and call it a day, in Messiaen’s different organworks we find the perfect example of works as expressions of ideas in episodes. Integral works that divide individual ideas into self-contained movements.
The recordings of 1956 are said to suffer from audo-technical problems even for the recording technology of the time. A hiss is present here and there, and not all tones are captured in the pristine way that classical music audiophiles fantasize about. In addition to that, the way Olivier Messiaen himself plays his works on the organ is criticized heavily by some, arguing that he is not a real organist. This is quite a statement given that he held a post as an organist at a church for decades. The third condition that affects the recording is that the organ is said to be out of tune, with some pipes diverging slightly from how they should sound. In my personal opinion, given the nature and character of Messiaen’s music, and the fact that he wrote the pieces for that precise organ, the imperfect condition of the instrument is perfect for the performance. His talents are more than enough, as he composed and feels the music he gave birth to, filling it with expression in rubato and more as it flows through and out of him. The subpar recording and defects in hiss and what not only add to the eery atmosphere of mixed wonder and dread that probably represents the Christian fear of God. Love and admiration and extreme fear mixed together in irreconcilable battle for primacy in an endless cycle that fades into eternity.
The following is a three-part series of articles discussing this performance and contain links to horribly-tagged mp3 files of the 1956 performance of the composer’s works by himself:
“While he was instrumental in the academic exploration of his techniques (he compiled two treatises: the later one in five volumes was substantially complete when he died and was published posthumously), and was himself a master of music analysis, he considered the development and study of techniques to be a means to intellectual, aesthetic and emotional ends. Thus Messiaen maintained that a musical composition must be measured against three separate criteria: it must be interesting, beautiful to listen to, and it must touch the listener.”
Playing a style of black metal that became more prominent and perhaps common after the turn of the century, S.V.E.S.T.’s “atmospheric” approach is of the sort that creates a fog out of different layers of intsruments playing different notes to form dissonant chords and having the drums by a vehicle for intensity. Although black metal per se has inclinations towards minimalism and ambience, this explicit brand of atmospheric black metal stretches song durations as long as it is necessary to induce the sense of evaporating time and alienating experience they are looking for. While many different bands can claim to be part of this, very few retained an anchor in reality and still building something meaningful. S.V.E.S.T. Urfaust is such an album.
The way this balance is achieved in a style of black metal attempting to create a chaotic semblance is to always have one element that is static in proportion to how much other things vary or lash out wildly. For example, this band always keeps some sort of diffuse organlike notes playing in the background, either with some kind of synth or with tremolo-picked guitars, while the drums change slightly more freely, but always responding to changes in the music as a whole, and the lead guitars are allowed to roam around more freely creating the and blending the motifs that lend each piece its personality in a background that is a raging maelstrom.
Of course, the counterpoint between instruments needs to be maintained, it will not do to have an heavy riff underscored by drum patterns that take away the attention from a center in the music and rather give us two shows in one. Such an event spells out incoherence. The controlled way in which such chaotic force is wielded strongly calls to mind the prophetic work of Colombian pioneers Parabellum.
Urfaust is a gem of an offering whose music lends itself to an esoteric interpretation. Listened to from afar or in a distracted manner, the music may be perceived as a simple repetition of ideas throughout a long time. In part, this effect is intended as the listener is expected to lose himself in the music, instead of counting measures and the number of times this or that theme come and go. Furthermore, the density of the layers covering the details is such that to pierce the uniformity, the listener experiencing this must become acquainted with it in an almost meditative state in repeated visits.
In this, it is similar to the roads taken by Abyssum Cum Foeda Sanie Ex Ore, Kaeck Stormkult and Paysage D’Hiver’s eponymous album. All this leads to an effect in which content is blurred from an unattending audience but revealed to a foccused attention that can both let the music flow and attend to the relationships within it. Masterful music that achieves this must embed these details, progressions and variations behind a strong veil of consistency that also serves to preserve coherence in a rather forceful manner that is vindicated by the overall balance achieved.
This album has an art music work orientation with respect to its overall orientation in concept and publication. First of all, this is a three-song full-length album in which the songs are movements that belong together and not a collection of three songs. The relationship goes beyond a very clear and distinctive choice in voice and is made explicit in motifs throughout the album, with its most obvious gesture being that the opening section of the album in the first movement is the same as the closing one in the third. Another example worthy of attention and presenting an immersive experience is Fanisk Noontide.
The element of chaos is, of course, a metaphorical one, represented in disorienting rhythms that quickly come back to a stable state and are safely supported by anchors. It is their repetition, variation, combination and alternation between different motifs along with the unrelenting percussive attack that create the picture of crumbling sanity from compositions that are technically firm and delineated.
This is where a band like S.V.E.S.T. far surpasses the uncontrolled madness of later Deathspell Omega which incurred in a common mistake in nu-black metal: the attempt of becoming the atmosphere itself. The so-called experimental disorganization and hispterish disavowal of rules for the sake of breaking conventions displayed by Deathspell Omega leads them to the lazy decision to try to portray chaos by actually making a huge mess out of the music. Unfortunately, S.V.E.S.T. later took from this band the idea of uncontrolled freedom in fits of post-modern delirium.
The vulgar idea of attempting to imitate what is being portrayed in an overtly obvious and direct manner is not new, although in our era the clowns doing it come out to the unaware as being original thinkers of some kind. Great masters of music like Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach played in this line and warned themselves and others of the dangers of falling to either side of the narrow wall that music forms between evocation and aesthetics. S.V.E.S.T Urfaust stands proudly and firmly as a monument to this balance where both music is preserved in its formality yet evocation and idea envelop it as the non-destructive organization and manipulation of the aesthetics themselves become the door and medium to the experience.
“(…)a symphony of Beethoven presents to us the greatest confusion, which yet has the most perfect order at its foundation, the most vehement conflict, which is transformed the next moment into the most beautiful concord. It is rerum concordia discors, a true and perfect picture of the nature of the world which rolls on in the boundless maze of innumerable forms, and through constant destruction, supports itself. But in this symphony all human passions and emotions also find utterance; joy, sorrow, love, hatred, terror, hope, etc., in innumerable degrees, yet all, as it were, only in abstracto, and without any particularization; it is the mere form without the substance, like a spirit world without matter. Certainly we have a tendency to realize them while we listen, to clothe them in imagination with flesh and bones, and to see in them scenes of life and nature on every hand. Yet, taken generally, this is not required for their comprehension, or enjoyment, but rather imparts to them a foreign and arbitrary addition; therefore it is better to apprehend them in their immediacy and purity.”
Another day, another pretender. Iskra claim to be black/crust, which is a nonsense genre in itself that insults both of its origins, but in actuality are more like an Angelcorpse style band with occasional flashes of melody and to avoid the un-PC Nietzschean narrative of black metal, lyrics about war and politics.
All of the above presents zero problem if well-executed, but the problem here is that Ruins is a collection of tropes from those genres held together by sheer momentum, which means that at the time of listening it is inoffensive but there is zero reason to pick it up. It is based on previous forms without injecting any essential spirit or direction of its. Like At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul, it is cleverly designed from a commercial perspective, in that underneath the fast tremolo riffs and breathless raspy howl the songs are very convention riff-chorus with one transition between what are essentially identical halves. Its other clever business strategy is realizing that people might enjoy a version of Angelcorpse that like Napalm Death Fear, Emptiness, Despair introduced a bit of melody and broke down the blitzkrieg drive into more recognizable song patterns.
Unlike most of these bands, Iskra do one thing well: they know when to break rhythm and transition tempo to avoid the monolithic wall of sound that war metal bands too often engage in, but they also miss the outsider perspective of crust and the atmosphere of black metal. If you were one of those people who were satisfied with all-ahead-go speed metal bands that did not write their own melodies, you will not be offended by this, but do not be surprised when it has a staying power measured in days and not weeks or years.
Fins rising above his head and arms, the sea creature crept from the briny abyss and mounted the ladder which took him to the dock. There he assumed his stance, threatening and ambiguous, in his nightly role as a disturbed of the peace and scary of nosy observers. But as he stepped forward, something clicked under the loose boards, and a net dropped over his head.
“Now let’s sea who this deep sea terror really is,” said Fred Jones, ripping the plastic mask from the face of the oily monster.
“Mr. Amstel Brouwerij B. V.!” the team exclaimed in unison.
“This must be why he was trying to scare people away,” said Velma, pulling aside a door to show giant vats of sludgy tan goo.
“That’s right, I admit it. I made this costume to scare off passerby. You see, I’ve made quite a profit smuggling in this beer-flavored sludge from Amsterdam, and then mixing it with soda water to make an ultra-low cost beer which I sell to consumers at import prices. And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!”
Once upon a time, Amstel Light was decent beer. Developed by the same brewer that makes Heineken and designed for the American market, it took the fuller flavor of European beer and adapted it to the market demand for lower-calorie beverages. Since it was head and shoulders better than the standard dreck, it got a good name for itself, and so the MBAs at Amstel Brouwerij B. V. realized there was a “profit pocket” — a certain amount of time they could bank on the good name by selling a far cheaper ersatz version and yet the audience would still, with insectlike motions, continue purchasing it at the higher price — and ran the brand into the ground. Amstel Light now resembles an American beer in its water, skunky, quasi-fruity flavor with the distinctly bilgy taste of most pasteurized mass-market beers. You might think that at import prices, this would be better than your average bottled drool, but they have played a bait and switch on you just like with Heineken.
The brainchild of Rex Ebvleb, Abyssum started out as a black metal project in the mid-nineties, resulting in a few demos and finally its sum in Thy Call, 1998. After a little time, the band simply was no more, with Ebvleb carrying on the torch on his own and in a reserved way. Disgusted by the scene that formed in the name of black metal, Ebvleb took Abyssum away, neglecting even to be openly recognized by the tag. Tags being what they are and changing in meaning as history advances for all but the most stout scholars of any given discipline, are put aside by the independent thinkers and outstanding individuals that an inverted society can never recognize. This reborn Abyssum that distances itself from what the crowds of what is now called “black metal” maintains the truly black essence of the genre that goes beyond speech and pretending, and which, as Sammath’s Kruitwagen, Antaeus’ MkM and other underground artists have pointed out in the past, is a way of life and a mindset — not just a music style.
There are three clearly distinguishable components in the music apart from the foggy and sparse vocals and enunciations. These are the drums, keyboards and guitars, each of which have a very crucial role to play. This is minimalism at all levels, including instrumentation. Only the necessary, the indispensable is used. No gimmick, no posturing. The drums are locked in, not as a machine, but like a vital organ in a living creature, underscoring, emphasizing yet adding motions of its own. None of the instruments is a slave or subordinate, precisely to the others, rather, they represent partial reflections of an otherwise indivisible will. Evident proof is further found in the expert interplay between keyboards and guitars which seem to come to the fore, allowing the other to take the lead at each given moment, or focusing on one idea to drive a penetrating dagger through darkness.
Hermetic in essence and esoteric in its unveiling, Abyssum shares with the greateset like Hvis Lyset Tar Oss to the recent Stormkult, an obscurantist embedding of thought and intention that reveals nuances in the music, a music that is that is only deceptively and superficially simple, to the aware or those who are ready to receive it, which in itself implies not a precise knowledge but a state of mind to which one may come about through different paths. This is a trait that the masterpiece Stormcrowfleet also shared, which still flies over and past most metalheads without them even noticing. In other words, this is not music for everybody or anybody. Not because its “understanding”requires a particular taste (that is a different issue altogether) but because an aural and holistic absorption of the music that supercedes technique and the palpable must be achieved that is never objectively –scientifically verifiable and may only be taken in as a personal experience and inner unutterable comprehension.
AKHERRA .. drums and percussion, graphyx
P.E.R.O.D. EBVLEB .. all music and arregments, ideologies and instruments.
mix and recording by EbvleB
“Y para esos que desprecio por millones no creare jamás un segundo de música…”
Descending like a blessing from the sky comes another album by a legendary band which only nine years ago presented us with a masterful album vastly superior to what they had done since their debut.
In Ordeal we find a regression into their middle period while nods to Stormcrowfleet are discernible here and there without actually engaging and setting out on an undistracted trance like the younger band on that album.
Self-referential statements which rely directly on the established style of the band and the reputation it has already acquired makes this sound like one of the second rate bands that followed in their footsteps.
Already a tired band showing no signs of progression or development in style, we perceive a simplification of ideas on top of which a facade that sounds like Skepticism is erected.
Passing and forgettable, we find a Skepticism attempting to be as sparse as Worship, yet finding themselves in foreign territory.
Positioning chord after chord and following them in a slightly rock-like manner reminiscent of lesser “doom metal” acts, the motifs as themes are nowhere to be seen.
One must also ask, what happened to the singer’s voice? Is this on purpose?
Instead of the pictures in poetry and majestic motif colorations of Stormcrowfleet before “doom metal” was a thing, we have a band trying to impersonate itself.
Nobody asks a band like Skepticism to venture forth and put out new material because “it is time,” as if they were some puny mainstream band, but this here is probably the less inspired and most uneventful Skepticism album to date.
Tedious in a way that only a collection of uninspired references to all the different points in their discography could be, if this is a farewell, it is indeed a sad one.
Mannerisms in the guitars seem to be excuses only to keep them doing anything — a lack of worthwhile ideas is apparent.
Estranged from the poetry that they embodied, the repetition in Ordeal is odious rather than transporting.
Nuances are missing, everything that there is to this new release seems to be all placed at one level: that of the presentation.
Most of us now forget how much of the early death metal experience was shaped by the speed metal story arc: starting in 1983 as a rebellion against the glam explosion of hard rock, it re-metalized NWOBHM with more complex riffs using the muted strum to expand rhythm, and then promptly began selling out. Most fans got queasy when Metallica came out with Master of Puppets, but there are other culprits to just as easily finger. The point is that everything sells out in humanity when it gets exposes to the masses because the masses demand the same old crap in new form, instead of new ideas deviating from the same old crap, and that took down speed metal, which caused death metal bands to try to be more aesthetically extreme.
“How would you ever sell out this?” a friend asked once when I was listening to Incantation. My response to him was that aesthetics does not correspond to composition. I can take a Justin Bieber song, translate it to guitar and transpose it to a lower key, then play it with lots of tremolo picking, guitar squeals and crunchy power chords, doubling the tempo and adding distorted vocals. To most people, that will be “death metal.” To a death metal fan, it is a sheep in the clothing of a wolf. Death metal is not its aesthetic traits alone; those exist to aid the composition, which is (1) phrasal with complex song structures to support (2) collective without individual superstars (3) emphasizes cadence and melodic development over off-beat, quirkiness, ironism, etc. Death metal is musically distinct from rock and blues, themselves only a simplification of European music from the past century with a false label of African-American origin added to sell them as “unique” and “different,” which makes it one of the few genres which is not fake in all of popular music. Accept what you know to be true: popular music is just as fake as Big Macs, Cokes or reality TV. It has always been fake because it has always been a product with a conveniently oddball but totally untrue history. If you have heard the music of the African coast, you realize it is far more complex than the limply distilled methods of rock and blues. Similarly, European folk music had much more going for it than country or rock. Death metal threw all of this back in their faces, and their revenge was to sell it out. This does not involve evil indie rock musicians creeping into death metal band studios late at night to covertly record disguised rock themed as death metal; rather, it involves the transmission of social memes and attitudes about what constitutes death metal, which then lowers the bar so “everyone” can participate. At that point, you get the same old crap dressed up as a revolution.
Festering, on an aesthetic level, is perfect for death metal fans. It sounds like Swedish death metal played with the rhythmic precision of speed metal. It has gnarly vocals, great distortion, and uses the right techniques: it layers each new riff, applies tremolo in the right pattern to introduce secondary ideas as new primaries, and drifts into tempi at about the right pace to have cadence. But it also works in the static-style rock riffs, the cheesy color notes as the basis of riffs from the blues, and the constant off-beat that sounds to me like a labrador running with its tongue out of its mouth. Not to mention the constant verse-chorus song structures that remind me of Bruce Springsteen. In short, this band is a well-executed forgery that conceals rock within death metal, and so while I want to like it for aesthetic reasons, the music itself remains unsatisfying and leaves me with a queasy feeling. Good effort that should be avoided by all death metal fans, but rock fans weekending as death metallers should love it.
When we say that metal’s golden era peaked in 1994 and that everything went downhill, it does not mean that there was nothing good after that. By definition, quality after a peak must go downhill in comparison. More importantly, when we say such things, we are referring to a genre-wide average, not to specifics. After all, we have Summoning releasing their classic of classics in 1996 and more great music before and around the turn of the century. The same is true of several black metal bands and a very few death metal ones. In Central America, ever one (or ten or twenty) steps behind in everything as a result of traceable historical processes, what little its reduced population, resources and culture allowed for metal to develop flourished between 1995 and 2000.
The ratios of complete rubbish to authentic music to outstanding music can, in my experience, be roughly and informally distributed in percentages 95%, 4.9% and 0.1%. An actual and precise statistic would be interesting, it’s just a matter of time before we have some empirical data for you here. It is no surprise, then, that you can count the number of enduring releases from Central America with your fingers. To the best of my knowledge, the two bands that are worth mentioning for posterity (rather than out of nostalgia, which would be more inclusive) are death metallers Horgkomostropus from Honduras and black metal project Abyssum, officially from Guatemala.
Formed by the Honduran Akherra on drums and the Guatemalan Rex Ebvleb on vox and the rest of the instruments, Abyssum released two demos in the span of 1995 and 1996, and finally a full-length in 1998 titled Thy Call (it should be clarified that the drummer in this album specifically was Diatharma Thoron). In here the band follows in the most advanced footsteps of mature black metal that is inclined towards ambient music yet does not yet abandon its black metal roots. No trace of rock whatsoever is in sight. In fact, a familiar vibe of dark and “dungeon”/medieval ambient is felt in its instrumentation and coloration. It is the coming-out of metal on the other side of the spectrum and into purity, but Abyssum stops itself short of departing from metal altogether.
As if walking into the forest domain of an ancient mountain god, one sees the vibrant symbiosis and inter-dependent life forms, so insignificant in themselves but meaningful and majestic when brought together. Simple acoustic guitar picked passages, arpeggios that complement synth chords and melodies in a loop followed by episodes born through them. Some of these originating passages serve as starting points in pathways into this wilderness, not complete in themselves, but without which the magic of the next distinct moments would be without significance as all manner of relative points of departure or reference would be missing.
The perfect balance of parallel worlds, one of the physical, the other of the energetic and spiritual, is portrayed vividly in Thy Call. The music is taken to the extreme of what respectable metal can indulge in ambient repetition, while keeping it relevant not only with respect to the rest of the music, but a healthy, though minimalist, movement in harmony guided by a leading melody is ever present. Life itself manifested in the inseparable music. Its nature is not rhythmic, neither is it based on the hanging-on of one harmony either, and it definitely is not the pop indulgence of a single melody line without any other merit. It is neither and yet it is all. Take away one, and it is utterly destroyed. It is a perfect balance of the three in which a holy, indivisible yet distinguishable trinity of elements which would be for naught without each other.
Treading through this dreamy world reached by walking through a portal created by Abyssum, we come by all these scenes of lush greenery among the autumn pigments of melancholy. Here and there animals rush to and fro — an electric guitar and drums disturb the calm, calling out in cries that rip through the whistling wind. Well into our journey, we finally come face to face with the lord of the realm, an old, powerful beast crowned with leaf, moss and flower. Screeches fly over among powerful but controlled black metal drumming made famous and effective in Emperor and Graveland and supported by tremolo-picked melodies rushing under echoing synths.
This is the atmosphere that envelops one in its presence, this is your shuddering under its gaze. If it were prone to violence, there would be no escape. But the old one is the guardian and center of life and its benevolence is abundant towards those who do not come with destruction. And so, quietly, gracefully, it departs and fades into the vegetation. Distorted guitars and drums vary in patterns that bring it closer to a calm. Acoustic guitars, voice and cello synths come in to see peace instaurated as passages continue in singular impermanence, forming a continuous and uninterrupted existence as they die and are born (and reborn). We walk away and out, with only a lingering note and the whistling of the wind in our ears.