Formed in 1991, Horgkomostropus was a death metal band hailing from the unlikely land of Honduras, in Central America. Unlike virtually every other band coming from that the area, this band actually proposes something of other own. This music is not only several pegs above the vast majority of music in Central America, but it is also, in my view, a strong contender in the death metal world of the 1990s. That is not to say I would place Horgkomostropus besides a Morbid Angel, but perhaps above a Demigod and below the Amorphis of The Karelian Isthmus in terms of its artistic (merit in composition, in part) weight.
The style displayed on Lúgubre Resurrección (or Ingubre Resurrecciòn?) is akin to that blood-dripped death metal that slurs in a development of motifs thematically related and played through tremolo passages and power chord statements. Perhaps best described as an original and distinct-sounding follower of the styles in which Paul Ledney excels, this album strikes one as something that Gorguts’ Considered Dead could have been if it were not only the tongue-in-cheek musically-compelling banner of death metal it is.
There is something to be said about the place and time in which this work arose and what we can infer from it in terms of the band’s seriousness, commitment and perhaps its correlation with talent. During the 1990s, Central America was practically without the means to professionally produce music in general, let alone publish metal. Any metal band that would remotely hope to publish its music had to reach out for Mexico. To someone from a developed nation, this may seem like no big deal, but considering the Internet-less “Third World” of the time, this is cannot be taken lightly. In such inhospitable climate, how did a Central American death metal band get their demo/album out there? I am guessing this people had to be in the “mailing” circuit of the underground.
The band was able to get their first demo, Lúgubre Resurrección, out through Line America Productions, from Mexico. Needless to say, in these conditions, the commitment of the band against adversity and the complete lack of any possible material compensation reflects a disinterested sacrifice for art with a deeper meaning. Furthermore, given the limited resources and the difficulty of communication and publishing for death metal at the time and specially in the geographical area, the degree of talent needed to catch the attention of one of these very small labels that only supported very specific acts with equally uncommon mentality and faculties was by no means something to be overlooked.
Horgkomostropus’ Lúgubre Resurrección is an esoteric work that in later projects by the band leader and lead guitar player, Fernando Sánchez, would turn to purposefully veiled occult affairs like Aria Sepvlchralia. As has been proposed before, a clear theme or belief that a project holds as its ideal usually lights a candle in the dungeons of the mind that one has to walk in in order to bring together a composition. Most bands we hear out there are zombies who are still wandering there, too deluded and trapped in their own minds to even recognize their condition.
Lúgubre Resurrección shines forth dark light in a mixture of demonic-bent death metal with a black mentality influenced by the local styles of street-dirt heavy metal that prevailed in Latin America at the time, themselves a pure expression of the violent, desperate and decadent situation that was being ignored by Christian wishful-thinkers and hypocritical morals-mongers. Beautifully perverse thematic development occurs in these songs with such a strict adherence to a clear motif that it allows for a greater flexibility in the textures of the riffs, which are always kept in the style of early blasphemous death metal that emphasized a dirty sound, not on the level of production only, but the musical statements themselves: not atonal, but tonal phrases just given the necessary twist for an aura of perversion to be perceived encroaching on everything from above. This is the natural world before us, but there is a supernatural transgression taking place over it.
Beginning with an interesting melodic progression, picked on an acoustic guitar and accompanied by background noises of synthesized chords and muffled mechanical noises, the title track and introduction to Le Triomphe du Charnier suggests a world of underlying mystery and danger. After a noisy segue into the second track, we find that, not surprisingly, the music of Funeste is hardly acoustic guitar-oriented. Dual-guitar distorted riffs are constructed like a highway for heavy traffic, as one guitar militantly plugs away at a rhythm and sticks to one chord while the second guitar plays a melody that races along the foundation of the first guitar, taking twists and turns in cycles before switching to a new course once the harmonic tension is exhausted and the low-register rhythm guitar changes chords and opens up new paths for the flightier second guitar to navigate. This “lead guitar over rhythm guitar” approach is hardly a novel one for metal or rock music but Funeste pulls it off elegantly and with a very natural (rather than formulaic and unimaginative) feel, as the best of the classic black metal acts (Emperor and Immortal come to mind) have done. Vocals appear at the proper moment, reverb-laden and rather indistinct phonetically-speaking, but serving a purpose (through the stretched-out screams that decay slowly) as each vocal line connects riffs either from beginning-to-end or through transitions, from end-to-beginning.
During the second track which is the first fully proper song, Funeste displays an adroit sense of how to piece together their songs smoothly without relying on any uniform structure. The first really outstanding riff involves a downward chromatic drop that loops a handful of times before giving in to a less-disorienting melodic progression. After the lyrics have been vocalized, the progression then reiterates the downward drop once more before charging into the “outro”, the riffs that lead the song to its conclusion. This method of structuring a song is also traditional of great black metal; play a riff (A) that leads into a harmonically related riff (B), eventually looping back to the original riff (A) before boldly rushing into a new melodic territory altogether with a new riff (C).
Funeste still make a handful of strange choices that may be chalked up to oversight on their part due to inexperience, or the choices may be conscious and intended to disorient the listener. Either way, there are some awkward transitions like a “bridge” near the end of the third track, Le Passager Invisible, which is made of strange background noises and a slowly plucked guitar melody with minimal percussive intervention. The band meanders lethargically through this segment for a while before abruptly breaking into a high-speed tremolo-picked riff that closes out the song. This is likely to disorient the listener since smooth transitions have been the norm up to this point, and something like a steady increase in tension would be expected as the band moved from a slow, clean-sounding section to a high-speed aggressive-sounding section. Instead, we as listeners are lead delicately along a cliff edge, allowed to take cautious glances over the side and, then, before getting a chance to really let the danger of our predicament sink in, booted clean off the ledge and dropped into freefall. While the effect is intense, it is not congruous with the smoothly-flowing nature of the rest of the song and serves as a “magic breaker” that snaps us out of our imagination and reminds us that we are only listening to a song, not experiencing a journey.
Further, there is a tendency for the musicians (in particular, the drummer) to suffocate the gripping melodies of the guitars with redundant ornamentation. The drums were apparently played by someone with a love of hip-hop-style grooves and amphetamines. While there is nothing inherently wrong with enhancing your drumming skills with amphetamines, this guy’s style often detracts from rather than enhances the melodies because he overplays the two drums that have the sharpest percussive attack – the snare and kick drum – in flailing, jolting beats that sometimes resemble overlong fills that draw most of the listener’s attention and end up leading nowhere. This is an unforgivable sin as it achieves the opposite effect of emphasizing the most important part of the music – the melody – by obfuscating the note changes. Imagine reading an engaging story, written with carefully-chosen words, but sprinkled randomly with periods, semicolons, parentheses, and ellipses. That is akin to the experience of listening to well-written music with intrusive drums. Still annoying but to a lesser degree, a guitar will sometimes break into a nonsensical stream of artificial harmonics or other obnoxious noise, but these fits are few and far between and don’t detract so much from melody as just add some uncalled-for ornamentation.
Beyond musicianship alone, Funeste have added too many background “found sounds” or just strange digitally-manipulated noises that add nothing to the “atmosphere”, which I assume was the reasoning behind adding these extra layers. There are two reasons why this is bad:
1. The riffs that are more harmonically sparse lose their dynamic capacity from being drenched in washes of amelodic background noise, and begin to sound even denser than the full-on blasting sections.
2. It makes the band seem underconfident in their ability to let the melody carry itself and express emotion, mood, thought, sense, experience, which the melody is perfectly capable of doing if just given some breathing room.
Much of the time, new bands (particularly those trying to play black metal) try to get away with being so simplistic that they sound like a really stoned punk band that can’t count how many measures they’ve been through and end up making ten-minute songs out of the same two chord progressions. Others focus so much on “technicality” that they end up playing something like etudes for guitar wankers. Funeste is special for committing neither sin; they have given us some good melody-focused work here that will benefit from having the extraneous elements removed.
The Belgian frites in Possession stumbled upon Mayhem’s Deathcrush EP on Youtube a few years ago and falsely epiphanized that black metal is Black Flag with blast beats. Deathcrush was heavily hardcore influenced but Mayhem applied speed metal to the primitive sonic violence of Venom and Hellhammer to create a fierce breed of blackened thrash. Possession ignore their idols’ basic compositional achievements in chainsaw gutsfucking by repeating three chord punk riffs for four to six minutes. Celtic Frost, Sodom, and Sepultura theft continually occurs and bores as Possession demonstrate their limits as a house party cover band.
The droning powerchords are not composed into coherent metal songs but placed within autistic perseverations on historical witchery. Each release regales the listener with minutiae on a different witch’s life before lamenting her fiery death for deviant behavior. These incomprehensible lyrics are probably meant to provoke feelings of injustice in bearded liberal ex-punks who tattoo themselves as a sexual display of non-conformity to fat women in Brooklyn.
The problem is few pop-punk Wiccans tolerate unclean vocals, greatly limiting the potential market. Iron Bonehead has rectified this by dousing these waffles in corpse paint and commissioning Chris Moyen to pick the pockets of the Beherit crowd. Those monochrome goats have to sell or else next month’s supply of cost-reduced Fernsehbier will be at risk.
The basic sonic template for this album is late-model melodic hardcore in the vein of Champion or Verse; that means a melodic base of straightforward four-chord (or less) progressions in a basic minor scale played rhythmically on the guitars, looped for four or eight bars, usually until the progression becomes stale (more common) or the vocals lead to a new riff cycle (less common). Each riff continues until Obisidian see fit (as typical of modern “hardcore”) to abandon the progression altogether and move on to a riff with a completely different feel instead of developing the last riff (through harmonic augmentation rather than plain repetition) and moving toward a new one logically.
Generally, this method of composition would be frowned upon, but in the case of this album, the changes are welcome since the listener is undoubtedly anticipating the next riff with relish since the last one is sure to have become stale after a few cycles. Obsidian avoid this jarring transition sometimes by simply shifting to another rhythmic style (for instance, playing the same (or a similar) chord progression with palm-muted strokes and a half-time drum beat). However, this is not always the case; toward the end of the album, we see some interesting melodic progressions that move forward in the style of black metal without the need for vocal embellishment. For the worse, these sections appear too few and far between.
The saving grace of this album is Obsidian’s ability to throw in NWOBHM style guitar lines which,
although rarely progressing rationally from the last riff, are very cool-sounding and give a boost of energy to each song. However, the riffs feel generally out of place since, once they are over, the next section invariably drops back to cliche modern hardcore dime-a-dozen riffs. Nevertheless, the guitarist(s) display a refined sense exactly how far they can push the hardcore style riffs augmented by vocal rhythm before needing to introduce a more harmonically rich dual guitar segment. Beyond that, the band seems very comfortable when tying off-time (usually switching from a 3/4 to 4/4 beat) rhythms together in a way that avoids the typical metalcore style riff salad style that feels like something you could hear during a tour of a zoo; “And if you look to your left you’ll see our lions as they feed on… oh, look to the right to see the zebras in a galloping herd!”
All in all, the music achieves its purpose as being something that impels the listener to charge their adrenaline and accomplish something physically demanding. It might make good workout music or something that would be great to experience in a live setting. However, a listener (particularly of the metal persuasion) looking for music that describes a series of situations narratively might find themselves bored by melodies that wear out their welcome before being augmented rhythmically, as this album is chockfull of cool riffs that make just as much sense when listened to at random intervals rather than in a riff by riff manner.
Funeste play black metal with a tendency to emphasize atmosphere through the creation of spaces, voids within the music in a treatment of the style that is very modern. In Le Triomphe du Charnier
one is able to identify great potential, as some of the elements in the music are very well-written, solid and balanced musically, consistent while not forgetting to create the movement necessary to give life. On the other hand, there are also more regrettable decisions here that can lead a fan of the old school to cringe. What the reader needs to understand is that those who understand the old school have this sort of reactions to many methods of the “new school” because the latter tends to lack a center, favoring whims that border on an experimentalism that is little more than ignorance of composition in its complete sense (and not just attending to its most basic and superficial necessities like playing in a key or using a particular mode).
On Le Triomphe du Charnier, Funeste often use arrangements in which three guitars playing distinct parts may be recognized. Sometimes there are only two or even as little as one guitar present. The transitions between these are reasonably smooth although sometimes tend to verge towards the modern tendency of lazy contrast excused as surprise. When the guitars are treated like melody lines, sometimes collaborating, sometimes providing accompaniment and counter-melody, sometimes just forming a mega-riff, Funeste show us the amazing arrangements that can be applied to metal guitar styles without having to sound superficially “neo-classic” or to resort to jazz-mongering.
There is a particular element on this album that stands out as the rotten apple in the barrel: the drumming. While in the three-part guitar sections a guitar may sometimes engage in some indulging and completely unjustified (musically unjustified, that is, not connected to the rest of the music very clearly, but just floating as an extra appendage) decoration takes place, the drumming patterns seem disconnected from the music most of the time. It is not enough that the drums play in the correct tempo and time signature, but this instrument also has to blend in with the rest of the music in a way that subordinates it to the whole and not as a self-important and self-agrandizing member. I am sorry if the traditional metal’s balance consisting on having the drums play a supporting role hurts the ego of drummers but mindful and reserved composition should come before anything else.
Neo-metalists of recent times take this to be a kind of close-minded imposition on their creativity and will try to release drumming from its subservient role and let it run around unchecked, affirming its presence and new-found freedom as a child who’s been chastized for the least of things throughout his life and grows up to suddenly find himself free of limitations and now runs amok performing actions of painfully self-referential significance. So it is that we find the drumming in this album attempting to take over dominance, fighting it out with the rest of the music, and accounting for the unnecessarily busy feeling of the music that is taken by neo-metallers as “creative complexity”. In truth, this is no more than lazy self-indulgence, this so-called complexity being no more than an increased quantity of notes. The drums should work from within the nature of the movement of melody and harmony to enhance the whole, adding to it not as something else occurring besides the rest of the instruments but as an indispensable breathing apparatus.
Here the main thing was to understand the combination and opposition of the three great factors in music- rhythm, melody and harmony; to understand, for example, that the cadence that is harmonically and melodically perfect will have a weaker effect if it does not occur simultaneously with the rhythmic cadence
— Johannes Brahms
Commending Funeste on its overall music-organization and especially on its very promising and mostly controlled guitar arrangements is in order. The band’s drummer is more than obviously technically gifted and definitely has talent but he or she must make decision here and now: will you write music as a “musician” looking for technical performance perfection or as a “creator” — a composer trying to give birth to an artistic expression? As a black metal drummer trying to achieve balance, it is recommended that one should first study the work of Fenriz in the albums released with Darkthrone around Transilvanian Hunger, trying to understand how and why he plays what he plays. After that a hard and long look at Adrian Erlandsson’s work in At the Gates’ The Red in the Sky is Ours will prove to be an invaluable lesson of drumming giving life to music in creative, varied yet reserved manner as well. Even though to simple minds it might seem that he is just being limited, others might understand his intention towards affording music with the necessary percussion while retaining proportion and a semblance that does not diverge too greatly from the intended concept.
Following up on Brett Steven’s review of Kaeck’s Stormkult, the present review starts off where he left off: the fusion of styles in Stormkult that are brought together under one unifying banner. The truth is that trying to split this album into its influences is almost pointless as it broke them down to such atomic and almost indivisible parts to build something that is completely their own. We may hear a trace of what Sammath or Kjeld sounds like almost only because we were told that members from these bands participate here. Otherwise, we would be hard pressed to find concrete influences.The previously mentioned review does a very good job at describing the album both in an evocative way, as in describing a picture and by summoning the presence of other bands as to give the reader some idea of how Kaeck goes about building their music, but in no moment does this imply that Kaeck actually sounds like any of them (except, of course, for the fact that they are all black metal).
Kaeck’s “sound” can be broken down into the layered functions that the instruments fill. First we have the drums at the bottom. These are used more like a heartbeat rather than a metronome. A typical background black metal drum pattern will keep the beat with standard beats, but here the drum patterns are reduced in such an intentional manner to something that can only be described as primitive battle drums whose sole function is to drive deep and resounding vibrations in the martial host’s body. Guitars distorted to the poing of disfugurement provide the thickness of the sound, notes and chords themselves being barely recognizable through the fuzz and chaos of frequencies bent to the whims of an unfathomable will. Riding the maelstrom of riffs comes a coarse voice which simultaneously commands us out of lethargic inaction and commends us to embrace the defying and righteous — though heretical — mission of the Angel of Light. A luminescence that, contrary to what the waylayer Paul would have us believe, is in all truth the true essence of that entity shrouded in damned robes of exhile. A garb worn as camouflage to avoid the tyrannical embrace that paralyzes thought from within in exchange for blissful mental atrophy. Echoing across the catacombs that serve as an imaginable setting for Stormkult we can hear a keyboard that outlines short melodic motifs counterpointing and delineating the whole in a loop, only changing with the tempestuous guitar and arising from within its bowels only to go back to them as a lost, desperate soul attempting to escape imminent destiny only be pulled back by a reality that admits no denial.
What we have now, is a static picture of Kaeck. But the enduring power of Stormkult resides in the living movement through temporal dimension that music is. Affirming dominance over the elements of music, bending them in an abuse characteristic of a necromancer trespassing the bounds set by divine order, we hear the violent plight of Godless Arrogance coming to fruition in the reining in of a beast of unnatural origin. The experience through which Kaeck hauls our terrified soul appears at first as an indistinguishable blur. It is only after our eyes have time to adjust in the dim light pushed into corners by an overpowering darkness that we see a pattern emerge in the frescoes on the walls splattered by blood old and new. And from the synchronized layers of sound we hear subtle transformations that a moment ago seemed to comprise only one motif in repetition. Once we latch on to the combat-inciting beats, and the voice guides us over the patterns of the riffs as the melodies produced in the keyboard and a soloing guitar move in and out of our field of view, we start to envisage this humble temple in all the dimensions conceived by its creator: the evolving motifs on the timeline as well as the entities represented in the melodies existing as reflections of the riff itself on parallel worlds.
While any music can rightfully pronounce themselves as comprising all necessary dimensions, seldom do creators actually think fully in all of them. It is usually the case that the whole is forgone to give prominence to one of the elements, no matter what is claimed. When the goal is the whole, all the parts are cared for in an obsessive manner in attention to how they affect the whole and not according to how they stand on their own which often leads to an imbalance in the relation of the parts that obstructs communication, for what is intended by the whole is either distorted or fades into the background to give way to the prominence of egos. These considerations must include the temporal relations of things, it is not just how the instruments in the present riff interact, but how they interact with different parts throughout the song. Balance, then, does not imply a static situation where everything is still as a result of equating forces pulling in different directions, rather, a stable condition is attained without which a clear direction would be very difficult to follow. And although one should also keep in mind that there is no one singular formula to approach composition, each tradition has its guidelines based on conventions without which music would only be what modern popular music wants it to be: personalized pleasure fountains.
Kaeck approach this ideal of balance in all dimensions from the particular filter of minimalist and raging black metal. In Stormkult the tempered voices of the outward chaos of late Sammath and the adventurous impulse of Kjeld are not just channeled but fused and distilled to the point where only the most basic of essentials remains. This is why although we cannot actually hear Sammath or Kjeld in the music (apart from predictable superficial observations like “the vocalist is the same” or “it’s also aggressive black metal”), their approaches to music construction — from the naturalistic violence of Sammath that defines consistent yet distinct riff-writing to the refined delicacy of movement of Kjeld provided by a melding of sections through simple yet perspicacious rhythmic and melodic devices that makes such changes almost imperceptible, Stormkult is the titan born of a god and a primordial monster.
I’ve been meaning to write a review on Nadia for some time but even though, emotionally, I am deeply touched by this album, it has been impossible to bring myself to do so for this very reason: the overwhelming impression this music makes on me makes it difficult to develop an unbiased and piece-wise discussion. Listening to Nadia each time feels like falling in love once and again; one’s brain so full of endorphins that any effort to produce coherent verbal expression is rendered futile. I readily recognized this latent danger with Cóndor’s second album, Duin, and rather than try and present a crippled analysis, I embraced my impressions and came up with a description using everything that was on my mind at that point in time. The result was a mish-mash of philosophical and historical references, amateur attempts at designing metaphors and contradiction-based descriptions in the manner of mystics that pleased few people apart from myself and those in tune with that expression. More than a review, it was a picture of disjunct images. With Nadia, I have been afraid of not being able to give her everything she deserves. Just as we may shy away from a platonic love, a stalling of a well overdue caress whose occurrence suddenly becomes reality, inducing irreparable shock.
But now, the time has come to take on the undeferrable task of examining this portrait of romantic idealism and longing for a land and people that is not far from illusory. An admittedly Heideggerean notion of respect and admiration for an invisible essence or spirit that is found in all things yet in no single one at all. The related idea of technologies (techniques, approaches) as means to an end as the ungraspable static-immanent essence of things shone through in a sequence of truths that continually come into view and recede into the past permeates this album in its methodology.
First impressions of Cóndor’s debut invariably surround its stylistic menagerie and maudlin character. A basic technical analysis of an album like Nadia should be easy enough for most musicians to carry out successfully. Even without it, we can easily sight its modest means, perceive an almost too-sincere humility that becomes the target of disdain by those who have learned enough musicianship to play an instrument proficiently (and perhaps even developed the basic and undeniably necessary imitation-based creation skills) but not enough about music to grasp its essence, which they confuse with their own emotional reactions alone. One must not only become the receptacle of this essence, but one must also be equipped by experience, insight and meditations with a referential awareness that can connect the music to both its intentionality and context, judging its balance in accordance with its musical premises and contextual relations.
Here, I choose to avoid the incursions behind the the scenes of the music that a good review would normally entail, in fear of causing unnecessary degradation of the illusion that this artwork is in my eyes. This is not to say that there is a lack solid musical substance at the level of structures here. On the contrary, it is a sparse and opaque painting that transmits a story that flows from within the pigments in an ethereal stream of experiences that fade in and out of focus. We could go step by step in each song and show on a score (for a reference to patterns and structural framework) and with the recording (for references to dynamics and other performance-produced factors) how this occurs musically.
Many, many listens and a familiarity from the audience’s (rather than from the analyst’s) perspective with it may still reveal these ‘secrets’, but in a natural way and in due time.It is rather because of the modesty of the individual elements in the music that focusing on them would be an insult to the grand work that is produced from them. Furthermore, a too-detailed acquaintance with every implementation detail also runs the risk of causing the inability in the listener to properly distinguish the living spirit of the music: the unified whole. Deep familiarity with every gesture of the music from the functional point of view becomes an obstacle to perceiving it as ecstatic experience instead of as a collection of contraptions in a device. We must preserve the unified and spiritual dimension of art in mind first before diving further, which is precisely why it is paramount to go about analyzing music in a top-down manner.
In Nadia, Cóndor musically mirrored what the American continent represented for Europeans and other Old World immigrants after South American independence: a new vision, a new path that started at the meeting point of many other paths of distinct origins. This very nature that leaves undeniable traces in the structural dimension of its music, is what lies at the heart of my decision to not dwell in the minuteness of a melody or a riff. It is, nevertheless, worthy of our attention pointing out that the album is full of powerful and memorable such tributaries to its main current. In time the album reveals itself as unified in meaning and style, the erroneous perception of disalignment receding from perspective and displaying the mosaic that makes up the condor’s own featureless figure.
While the special acknowledgement to Felix Mendelssohn in the credits of Nadia may puzzle some and amuse most, the key lies in understanding the album’s relation to the romantic composer’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64. Alas, contrary to what one may expect, Nadia is more dependent on the concerto by Mendelssohn than even Duin is on Smetana’s Die Moldau. But the dependence manifests itself in a different dimension. In Duin we find a band that is differentiating itself, its expression becoming more and more distinct. It is a metal oeuvre utilizing and manipulating Smetana’s melodic themes for its purposes. The first album, on the other hand, took a hint from the Mendelssohn’s concerto as a seed for a physically (structurally) deeper motivation in the music: it learned from it a way to build and structure music, its way of carrying music through. In fact, like a concerto, Nadia is replete with solos that for very long spans of time are actually the music itself while the rest of the instrumentation plays the role of emphasizing and coloring in a sparse and laid-back manner to the point of being strongly reminiscent of the classical way of going about this which reduces accompaniment in many middle sections to almost complete silence.
But Cóndor is careful enough as to not mar its spirit in search of a foreign inspiration and template for structure. Despite all the interludes which are the backbone of the album, the importance of riff sections as tutti sections in a concerto is still prominent and on equal ground as the solos themselves (differentiating itself from both the concerto and from traditional metal methodology). In this and many other ways, Nadia thus remains decidedly a metal album that wisely and inspiredly uses metal and rock techniques with a classical approach to structure within a metal framework and use of texture.
Kaeck — a collaboration between members of Sammath, Kjeld and Noordelingen — introduces itself to black metal at a time when the genre has lost the momentum of two decades ago and replaced it with primitive but mostly uninspired, very similar music. Of that music, the clear forerunner is war metal, which takes the extremity of black metal to new heights but simultaneously reduces it to sawing high-speed chromatic riffs like later hardcore punk. Gone are the epic melodies and entrancing adaptive song structures. Through this, the techniques of black metal outlive the genre.
Combining the raw intensity of black metal, the odd vocals of pagan metal, and the melodic understructure of early 1990s black metal, Kaeck produces a high-intensity blast that resembles a more technical version of Blasphemy fused with early Immortal and Isengard. Where Zyklon-B created high-intensity black metal around simple melodies, and Dawn used constant melody over raging war-drums, or even Impaled Nazarene shaped songs from simple riffs rounding out into melodies over high-powered percussion, Kaeck keeps the melodic center to songs and uses it as a flavoring to otherwise savage riffs, but lets songs structure themselves to fit the melody. On top of this, vocalist Oovenmeester layers epic vocals that resemble those of Isengard, Storm or Mayhem “Life Eternal,” using these to produce both texture and melody to complement the raging guitars and resonant melody.
With that as the basis of its style, Kaeck varies the formula across the album, with each song being its own chapter with a different approach, but crafted admirably within the same consistent style to give the band a unified voice. Fast mid-range power chord melodies over blasting drums, in the Immortal Pure Holocaust style, give Stormkult an otherworldly feel that quickly descends into untamed rushing chaos and then emerges on the other side as a complementary melody. Keeping energy high, and using bass and guitars as a lead phrasal instrument over drums which frame them with less chaos than Immortal but a more flexible structure than most black metal bands short of Sarcófago can handle, Kaeck slashes out anthems of the abyss with a silver lining which suggests a divinity of thought in animalistic, irrational and feral assertion of the nature within. The result takes the best from war metal and fuses it with the best of classic black metal, creating the album we might have wished for when desiring Zyklon-B to be more complex or Dawn to be less drenched in melody as a technique.
Coming from a merger of the New Wave of Dutch Black Metal bands such as Kjeld, whose Skym roared up the black metal charts but features less internal variation in the style of Dawn with more varied riffing, and Sammath whose Godless Arrogance paid tribute to both Immortal and the most savage members of the black and death metal pantheon, this approach develops a consistent sound for these bands: old world melody, new world violence, and a fusion of the two that delivers both emotional and visceral satisfaction. Stormkult creates a world of its own and then soars above it like an avenging spirit crossing through the clouds before the sun, then allows its inner being to expand without indulging in any extraneous material. With this approach, and songwriting that taps into the melancholic rage and alienation coupled with a warlike desire to set the world right that defined early black metal, Kaeck stands poised to conquer much of the black metal world.
The title track of Suffocation’s third LP is a very interesting subject of analysis (as much as other excellent songs such as “Depths of Depravity”, “Suspended In Tribulation” or “Brood Of Hatred” from the same album could be) because it is a great example of recurrent motives reused in multiple different forms, of riff (musical ideas) progression and of narrative structure that ends with a climax and a release that brings a satisfying conclusion. The first step before going further is understanding how each idea of this song is crafted around the very simple and overused concept of two intervals a half step away from each other. The song is rather chromatic and has to be looked at with this idea in head.
In this case, as I will (try to) demonstrate, the most important interval is the major third, and then the perfect fifths/fourths. From this basis we can establish five constant elements that will be identified throughout the whole analysis.
Element “a” is the collection of pitches that represent the major third intervals. Suffocation plays a lot with those intervals to create new motives and harmonies. It could also be considered as part of a harmonic minor scale (the last 3 degrees and the tonic).
Same thing applies to element “b” but with the intervals of perfect fifths (and thus fourths), although the relation between the chromatic 5ths/4ths will gain another larger dimension sometimes.
Element “c” is a diminished chord, something we will encounter frequently (Suffocation also uses frequently tritones and augmented fifth chords, especially in the Breeding The Spawn LP).
Element “d” is a precise motive (and not collection) that finds meaning during the development of the song.
Element “e” is just an ascending 3-notes chromatic scale that is used many times to partially conclude motives and phrases. It is of secondary importance.
I am not claiming that Suffocation used those leitmotifs very carefully and consciously like a classical composer would have, but my point is rather to show how, despite the lack of tonal material in the song “Pierced From Within”, unity was achieved between all components and how it creates a great song, structurally.
*From now on all the examples are in the F-clef*
The song starts with a long phrase at a fast tempo (riff 1) that is twice repeated. As shown in the score below, it is a mix of power chords and fast, technical strumming. We can see many manifestations of “a” as well as the repetition of rhythmic cells to create coherence. With its additional time, the last bar helps to generate an effect of oddness and temporal confusion through a more simple and effective way than modern bands trying over-technical rhythms and time signatures. This technique is used a few times in the song as you will see. Some have written the 3/4 as 12/8 but I prefer the former to adequately show rhythmic accents.
Riff 1 is followed by a short bridge made of an arpeggiated diminished chord (element c) and an augmented fifth chord (constructed upon two major thirds, suggesting “element a”).
From this long and complex riff, the music moves on to a generic “br00tal” verse (riff 2) where the vocals enter. However, it still manages to rhythmically catch interest due to the triplets at the end of the phrases.
Suffocation used different basic textures (tremolo, then muted power chords) to make both verses different while keeping the same harmonic outline, but this is not much of a big deal since the difference is not very flagrant:
Between the two verses appears riff 3(a), an intricate “melody” which marks a break for the vocals. This interlude introduces Suffocation’s technique of creating long musical phrases by the juxtaposition of motives that share different conclusions, yet constructed with the same material, as explained below. In addition of this, the different parts of the whole riff shift between “tonalities” or “regions”; where in the first bar the notes revolve around a certain fifth chord, in the next bar this fifth chord will be a semitone lower, hence the “larger” utilisation made of “element b” versus “a”. This is a very common (and cheap) way to make your material sound less repetitive when you are a bad and unoriginal death metal band, but in this song it becomes justified by the fact that the underlying concept of this technique is also used within a single part of a riff (and not only between parts) as the basis to craft multiple different melodic elements (just like the beginning of each bar in riff 3).
Right after our second verse, the song returns to the riff 3, but only for one bar because Suffocation shifts to a complete variation of it. While all the verses and riff 3a were written in 4/4, Suffocation adds another 4/4 bar after this first one (of riff 3b) and with the help of a drum fill switches to 6/8, once again destabilizing the listener. The ideas of riff 3a are then developed under groups of 6 sixteenth notes and constitute an even more intricate melody. Descending and ascending power chords bring us to an atonal cascade of notes which contains, of course, our previously identified elements rearranged in many ways. Mike Smith contributes to this by adding a lot of unexpected snare accents. Once again, Suffocation added a beat to the last bar to create the same effect as riff 1, but this time it is silent. This stop-start technique will be used a few times and is now an overused element of many technical bands. As usual, the whole riff is repeated with changes at the end to form a different and better transition.
Fun fact: the total of eighth notes comprised within the repetition marks of the riff is 47, a prime number, which proves the total irregularity of the “melody”.
Riff 3b, containing less literal repetition, brings us to what I called a “development”, because it is a short section of unique bars. Bar 1 and 4 are similar in concept, and the latter builds tension according to the former that will be released with another break and two violent snare hits. Between this, bar 2 and 3 offer chaotic rhythm where low palm muted chords meet high pitched tremolo notes and artificial harmonics. Notice that bar 1 uses what could be identified as harmonic minor scales, and thus suggesting our “element c” of diminished chords.
After this, riff 4 comes in as the powerful and savage release of the tension with its unmerciful tremolo phrases. You can see once again the technique of using different conclusions to the motive that starts each bar. On second repeat, the riff stays almost the same but emphasis is put on the phrases’ end with the removal of all instruments but one guitar to play the first beats of each bar, and with the addition of power chords on “conclusions”. The interesting element is right at the end of the riff: element d is heard very fast both times with both techniques. Then, again, the song stops and is followed by a slow, apocalyptic moment.
Breakdown and return
This moment is what I called (more or less rightfully) the “breakdown”. Now here is the trick: the first phrase of this section is exactly the same “element d” that concluded riff 4 but played way slower with power chords. Suffocation plays once again with textures and creates different accents with the use of palm mutes. And for another time, the last bar of the riff has an additional beat for your daily dose of rhythmic anarchy (or nihilism, as would say a controversial metal reviewer). This last bar present a rising chromatic phrase that we can interpret as developing “element d” and that presents a new 4-notes collection than in the first two bars. If you take those 2 pitches collections, you can notice that they are a major third away from each other (element a). I am not saying this was intentional or not, but I try to point out (coincidental?) links between all parts of the song.
The slow breakdown leads us to a sudden fast solo. I won’t analyze it here, but you can find a lot of “scales” constructed with “element a”. Listen also how the guitar sometimes melts with the triplets of riff 2.
The song returns to riff 3a, and then instead of continuing with riff 3b moves on to a new variation of the idea, riff 3c. This time, the riff takes a more urgent turn and creates the final tension, while Mullen cries the last lyrics: “I am your savior/Shapeless to your perception/For I am you/Pierced from within”. You can see how some melodic elements are now harmonized with major thirds. As usual, the second phrase (bars 3-4) uses a different conclusion.
After a repetition with a new ending, this rising tension is interrupted by a suspended chord that brings us to riff 1, played once. The song concludes abruptly before the end of the riff while the last words, “Pierced from within”, are repeated on the last four power chords. I did not talk much about vocals’ rhythm but it is cleverly constructed to fit the different parts of the song, and I am personally fond of how the lyrics are arranged in riff 3b.
As I said earlier, this approach might be over-technical and exaggerated, but the important thing for the reader is to at least understand how the song is well-crafted on every aspect and not entirely a sequence of random ideas. An analysis of a less technical song that contains great development would provide a good counterbalance to this article. Something out of Cianide’s The Dying Truth comes to my mind.
It is sad to think that after this album, Suffocation would never come up with anything on par with their previous material, because they certainly had to potential to improve and create new highly artistic pieces of aggressive and intelligent death metal. I still think their recent (post-reunion) albums are getting better each time and Pinnacle Of Bedlam, despite a terrible production, showed promising signs of great songwriting even though they apparently opted for a more tonal and melodic modern metal-like approach.
A supergroup comprised of members of Amebix and Voivod among other bands, Tau Cross emerged just a few years after Amebix returned with a radio heavy metal album named Sonic Mass in 2011 that used the Iron Maiden styled epic take on heavy metal to deliver a traditional Amebix point of view. That album also revisited the second album from the band back in 1987, Monolith, which showed a Motorhead influence repurposing the raw energy of the crust punk from earlier albums. Together, those two albums from after the “pure” crust era of Amebix demonstrate a direction toward heavy metal that combines the best of the early 1980s with the energy and concrete focus of punk. Tau Cross picks up from that point with a more varied approach, spanning from quality indie rock (non-emo) through modern metal like Filter with a host of minor influences as varied as Killing Joke, Metallica, Celtic folk music and Oi punk. This intensely varied album manages the best form of emotion, which is subtly built and keyed by a shift in the entire song, and not just vocals, creating an avalanche effect once it hits its trigger point and all of the previous material starts making sense in that context. Much of this will appeal to fans of Queenrÿche and other bands who specialize in taking mainstream styles, recombining them, and then dominating them with an ethos that originates in underground punk or metal but thrives in a more listenable form. Vocals are often reminiscent of Nirvana crossed with Minor Threat applied by Motorhead at a later Discharge pace, while guitars alternate between high-speed punk in the style of Cro-Mags but with more on-beat energy, but songwriting comes from the same intensely visual style that appeared on Sonic Mass, as if designed for an epic video that leaves the listener wondering for the next few days if they correctly interpreted the song. Song structures are formed of roughly verse-chorus patterning that is interrupted and redirected at key points, with interludes and pauses. Paranoid and cynical, lyrics seem to reflect a sense of total frustration with the modern condition converted into a bittersweet discovery of meaning in opposing it and going another way. First listen to this album let it be written off as hard rock, much like Monolith at first, but Tau Cross shows the benefit of years of experience in songwriting and working with melody, in addition to more flexible tempo changes and supporting instrumentals, and so takes that style in a more powerful direction. In many ways, this album picks up where the modern mainstream metal like Filter should have gone, which is to take the emotionality of alternative rock, the energy of hardcore and the epic structures of early 80s metal and blend them together into something terrifying and beautiful.