Sadistic Metal Reviews mini-feature – Vargstuhr – Howlings (2015)

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Article by David Rosales

Musical genres work very much like languages, transmitting information at an abstract level, albeit simultaneously at a much more intuitive and unconscious level, hence its surfacing in the form of emotions. Unfortunately, many musicians fall into the trap of taking forms and cliches merely as that: a formula that is interpreted either as a constraint or a shortcut. Neither approach correctly assesses the real value of so-called cliched forms and expressions.

Vargstuhr’s Howlings presents a pop opera variation of this thinking by making a wolf-pack themed album whose center are the lyrics. All music revolving around it is incidental and it tends to twist around in its particular emphasis while roughly remaining in the area of a third-grade black metal act with very poorly thought-out interactions between the vocals and the music. Like any opera-like production, it tries to keep its eye on themes of some kind, but the music is still too secondary and plays more like an excuse for a soundtrack.

Besides its poor structuring, Howlings also fails at a local performance level, managing to sound awkward in almost each of the instruments at least at some point. We normally do not complain at all about production, but here the music is so bad that the excessively out of balance mix emphasizes the flaws of the album. The only prize Vargstuhr will be winning here is an award for one of the most uncomfortable albums to listen to in recent memory.

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Zloslut – U Transu Sa Nepoznatim Siluetama (2015)

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Article by Corey M

Serbian black metal group Zloslut received some well-deserved coverage on DMU in 2013 when they released their first album, Zloslutni Horizont – Donosilac Prokletstva, Očaja I Smrti, in which the musicians demonstrated a humble and patient method of constructing epic songs based around the simplicity of a few chord changes. This method contrasts (pleasantly) with the typical songwriting method of modern black metal bands, which is to hurl rapid-fire oppositional riff pairs at the listener with the intention of disorienting and distracting from the lack of any coherent musical thread. Zloslut’s music promises a refreshing return to the minimalist style that the best black metal bands of the early 1990s used to produce memorable and effective songs.

U Transu Sa Nepoznatim Siluetama moves at a familiar pace for the experienced listener, but the albums dynamics are generally so well-balanced that even someone not engaged in black metal would not be offended or confused by the aural layout. The average intensity of the music is nearer to that of In the Glare of Burning Churches than Pure Holocaust, which means that each song has plenty of room to breathe and the listener never feels battered or overwhelmed by density or speed. Songs themselves are built out of a handful of chord cycles that are aesthetically consistent and highly motivational; never does a chord cycle become so stale that you will actually desire its end to relieve boredom, but never is a riff so complex that it blows by and is forgotten for not having been catchy or repeated enough. Each segment of music is paced accordingly and results in each song becoming a miniature journey of sorts, leading the listener along a path through moments of surprise, anger, despair, hatred, and finally toward some appropriate resolution that can’t be described in text, only experienced sonically.

Zloslut’s success stems from the songwriter’s intuitive sense of balance and momentum. When a song picks up speed, the tension increases but is balanced out with slower-moving riffs played with more major intervals. After a song has expended its motivational energy, the guitars drop down and drag the melody through murky valleys of foreboding and loss. I want to be clear that the dynamic balance maintained throughout this album does not mean that the experience is emotionally flat; rather, that every peak is paired with a valley, and every action has an equal and opposite (or, is it complimentary?) reaction. The spacious feel of the album allows for stretches of melancholic introspection like one might find themselves amidst while listening to Vampires of Black Imperial Blood or the more recent When the Light Dies. But don’t make the mistake of associating Zloslut with the emo-leaning depressive style that has crept into the black metal canon over the last decade. U Transu Sa Nepoznatim Siluetama is ferocious and concedes nothing, sparks the listener’s imagination, and encourages one to seek out and confront the obscure biases and phobias that lurk in the far-flung corners of the psyche.

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Relapse Records reissues Incubus/Opprobrium’s Serpent Temptation

Not to be confused with the Incubus that Mike Browning played in between his tenures in Morbid Angel and Nocturnus; this Incubus (who changed their name to Opprobrium almost a decade later) was formed by Brazilian immigrants to the USA and fits well with the plethora of bands halfway between extreme speed metal and early death metal in the late 1980s. They’re probably most notorious these days for their pro-Christian, almost crusade oriented lyrical themes; as far as I know they were one of the first to bring such into extreme metal. Historical trivia aside, Relapse’s reissue showcases some remastering work that generally makes the album sound sharper and treblier and appears to be based on the original, as opposed to the 1996 edition with rerecorded vocals.

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Condemner – Omens of Perdition (2015)

Condemner - Omens of Perdition - cover

Article by David Rosales

Published as an EP last year, Omens of Perdition is a minimalist death metal act that could easily draw comparisons with Desecresy. They share the spacious (and spacey-vortexy) approach to an Incantation like style through the sound of the Finns. When we go into particulars, however, the differences make it clear that resemblances are mostly a matter of general sound preferences, not methodology.

While Desecresy as most perfectly materialized in Stoic Death gives us a Finnish death metal that depends on high-note, short melodies as hooks with laid-back riffs for support, meat and almost harmonic accompaniment, Condemner goes through no such hoops, cutting to the chase, delivering an unrefined but naturally compelling train of dark thoughts. Riffs in Omens of Perdition are essentially melodies with few notes that constitute the bare-bone themes of the music, with nothing else but a bass unison and soft-punch, minimalist blast-beating drums.

These drums are played lightly but insistently, providing for emphasis on dynamics and accent in an application somewhat reminiscent of Paul Ledney’s style on Dethrone the Son of God by Havohej without the occasional flair. Rather than complement each other, the instrumentation in this music forms a total unison, even the percussion. Intensity varies evenly, changes affect all instruments towards the same side of the spectrum. When arriving at the slowest and vastest, the music may even exhibit silences on the drums, while huge guitar power chords roar as the drums only mark accents, reminding one of certain parts of Skepticism’s Stormcrowfleet.

Songs alternate thematic riffs that run over mirroring, enhancing drums, with scantly-clad doomy statements covered by a mantle of skeletal power chords. To the detriment of this otherwise quite satisfying music, what effaces the identity of individual songs (and of the release and band itself) is the complete lack of obvious climaxes. We can also take this as both the strength and willing limitation of Condemner, which presents a clear, solid monolithic picture. This steadiness may allow the author to draw an abstract parallel with J.S. Bach’s fugal writing for the keyboard or chorales.

While there doesn’t seem to be any particular goal in Condemner Omens of Perdition, the straight-forward treatment is accompanied by an inconspicuously dexterous development of themes. This in itself is more than could be wished as a saving grace. It becomes both a protection of higher music from the pop-hook addicts and a mystical gateway which opens up through direct intuitional experience to he who is listening.

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Witchblood – Hail to Lyderhorn(2014)

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Article by David Rosales

Witchblood is a black metal band that falls on the darkest corner of the folky side of the fence. While not specifically minimalist, Hail to Lyderhorn is a very simple and straightforward music that leans completely on the guitars for content and texture. This album may get repetitive or even a little thin at times but its saving grace is its coherent diversity of textures and techniques. The scant but effective use of keyboards is laudable, being effective as it is magnetic.

The guitars function as one only voice most of the time, with a trusty bass for a spinal chord. The meanness of this portion of the instrumentation places great stress over the role of percussion. The drums have now to fill up spaces and act like the second rock in the bolas of an Argentinian gaucho. To Witchblood’s merit, this is accomplished more than satisfactorily, with drums that compliment or mirror the metal strings, rising to the occasion as required.

Comments will be made about the quality of the vocal performance, which is neither deep, rich nor very powerful. Despite this, the overall result of the music in Hail to Lyderhorn does not seem affected negatively noticeably because of this. In part this is because, as with the instrumentation, the vocalizations were performed well within the boundaries of their limits, allowing them to perform effectively, and therefore avoiding the possible blunders of overextension. We may also want to point out that the textures for guitar riffs and their chosen registers stay clear of the space in which the voice moves. When the guitar’s approach changes (for example, arpeggiating chords into higher notes), the vocal approach also changes, sometimes to a haunting witch chant.

Released in 2014, Witchblood Hail to Lyderhorn is a deserving release that might have escaped the radar of most fans who would otherwise have derived much value from it. While it’s no classic or game changer, this album is nonetheless a low-key example of shrewd amateur efficiency and spirit.

Editor’s note: “Hail to Lyderhorn” was briefly covered in our best of 2014.

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Imperial Age – Warrior Race (2016)

IMPERIAL-AGE_Warrior-Race_Artwork2016_final (artwork by Jan Yrlund)

Article by David Rosales

Power metal releases are, admittedly, not the the first thing this site’s audience mainly come here for, but every once in a while we grace your eyes with the occasional appraisal of very rare honorable mentions of this superficial genre. More often than not, power metal is vain and empty, and although musically competent, also musically laughable. By its very nature, it has a higher incidence of worthless products, but that could be said of almost any mainstream genre when compared to underground ones. Contrary to your expectations, Imperial Age will receive praises here today. A cursory glance at Warrior Race might leave the impression that there is nothing new, nothing different in here that could set it apart from the bulk of contemporary power metal releases. It does not even pretend to have the progressive inclinations that some of its most ambitious competitors boast of. Structure-wise, it is as predictable as the most rigid sing-along pop acts. The tone is typically flamboyant and aristocratically haughty as becomes a European power metal ensemble.
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Mortuary (FRA) – Nothingless Than Nothingness (2016)

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Not to be confused with the Mortuary on the Dark Legions Archives from Mexico, this Mortuary started as a contemporary of the great Massacra, although they didn’t get a studio album out until 1996. Nothingless than Nothingness is separated from even that by 20 years, so the usual rhetoric about evolving or dramatically changing bands applies, but this band’s early material may very well have been inspired on some level by Massacra’s works; at the very least, Final Holocaust and similar was pushing Mortuary towards velocity and intricacy of individual riffs over minimal backing.

To get it out of the way – Nothingless than Nothingness has very little to do with that style, and instead takes cues from pre-Slaughter of the Soul melodic death metal; while less obvious about their melodic influences than most, material on here reminds me of… well… Thy Black Destiny, of all albums. Sacramentum’s 1999 effort may have seemingly little to do with this recording, but its similar use of monophonic melody, variety of texture, hints of contemporary black metal instrumentation, and gradual gestures towards a more rock-oriented form of songwriting (such as frequent breakdowns and vocal emphasis) make for an eerie similarity, if far from an exact one. This is backed up by a band that is technically accomplished in the pedestrian variety that I’ve long since come to expect from modern death metal. One thing that did stand out, however, the vocalist, who showcases his proficiency in adding dimensions to the songs by varying up his rhythm and the textures of his growls; the way he interacts with the drummer, in fact, is probably the strongest point of this album and something other death metal bands could learn from.

Nothingless than Nothingness arguably ends up ahead of the pack for at least having one superlative element worthy of study. Unfortunately, the compositions are afflicted by a few of the problems endemic to modern metal music. First of all, most of these tracks showcase haphazard breakdowns that enter abruptly and contribute little to the ideas of the song. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that Mortuary uses extended sections of blast beats to good effect, so hearing the band dwell on their weaknesses is disheartening. The other problem is that even though many of the individual sections are musically interesting, they’re arranged in a fashion that is attention-deflecting at best and essentially random at worst. If Mortuary put more effort into making coherent arrangements, they’d be a serious force to be reckoned with, but the lack of organization is such an enormous blow to an otherwise promising and well done album.

Mortuary’s latest album will release officially on January 18th, for those who are still interested.

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Blliigghhtted – Kosmoskampf (2015)

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It taunted me with its existence – for nearly half a month, working on DMU meant being privvy to our eventual stream of the upcoming Kosmoskampf. Blliigghhtted is for all purposes another star in the Merdümgiriz constellation (read: label), most notably sharing several members with the AxCx flavored Viranesir. As a result of this, there are some musical similarities, but at least going by the the lyrical content, Blliigghhtted is oriented a bit more towards the occult end of the shock rock spectrum, possibly making it easier for laypeople to digest. It’s still an especially challenging listen. While Kosmoskampf is marketed as a sort of black metal, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had instead been sold as some sort of extreme post-punk recording. Overlap and common ancestors aside, Blliigghhtted’s lengthy, dissonant songs make for easier comparisons to an act like Swans. It just so happens to be the complete antithesis of what I look for in music!

At this point, the reviewer took a break to wallow in his own unfamiliarity with the subgenres on display.

Kosmoskampf is a complete mess, but as far as I can tell, it’s an intentional mess. I remember seeing the term “critic-proof” somewhere while doing my perfunctory research for this review, and to put it bluntly, it’s the perfect description. Each of the songs is a 10-11 minute cesspit of whatever technique thrown together without much in the way of coherent organization. The constantly shifting tempos and repeated periods of pure dissonance don’t exactly tie things together, although the instrumentation stays fairly consistent. So far, I’ve been able to dredge up the occasional guitar phrase reminiscent of a melodic black metal recording, the occasional moaned vocals drenched in reverb, and so forth; in general there are some musical elements I can latch onto, and I can say with some confidence that the album isn’t complete noise. Beyond that, all bets are off. Performing such music must be interesting on a ritual level, but outside perhaps a live experience, a great deal of potential energy (or at least concert debauchery) goes missing.

Despite my attempts not to, I find Kosmoskampf‘s efforts endearing, perhaps influenced as I am by the performers’ antics outside the album. I still would not be surprised if few shared my admittedly nebulous opinions.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews mini-feature – Cauldron – In Ruin (2016)

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This is, without any subtlety, an exceedingly middle of the road work of traditional heavy metal. It’s not particularly ‘heavy’, containing little more than a set of rudimentary melodic rock riffs played at a middling pace overlaid with an exceedingly generic frontman. It bears more than a passing resemblance to the ‘glam’ metal (read: harder radio rock) of the ’80s, although Cauldron’s visual aesthetic is closer to a generic metalhead look. Nothing is particularly offensive here – the vocals are a bit lamer than average for reasons that are hard to quantify, but otherwise this is a vaguely competent albeit unremarkable recording that I am already forgetting as I write this album. You, on the other hand, are probably wondering why I would choose to cover something that’s so devoid of positive or negative qualities. It turns out that listening to this sort of recording places a few important ideas in my head.

By now, our readers should be familiar with how quickly our species as a whole forgets about the… lower tier of media works that are quickly forgotten once something more novel comes along. A sufficient amount of effort and/or financial wizardry can distort this phenomenon, occasionally resulting in an artist who refuses to leave the public eye due to radio payola, or personal misconduct, or whatever reason. Cauldron, to my understanding, is not thusly blessed, although they and associates presumably have enough business resources to create some buzz for a while. Maybe they’ll become one of those “moderately successful” metal bands I talked about earlier that can live comfortably, if not glamorously off their money. I highly doubt, however, that a band this generic is going to make any serious impact on most listeners, though and will probably fade quickly whenever they call it quits. There are two important corollaries here – the metal fanbase Cauldron has to fight for will turn over with time, and similarly so will the metal bands competing for mindshare. There’s definitely a lesson to be learned here about the state of the metal world, although you can also make a case that it’s better studied through either a more notorious band, an objectively worse one, or some combination of the two.

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Exmortus – Ride Forth (2016)

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Article by David Rosales

Exmortus is a speed metal band with leanings towards what is commonly called ‘power metal’, although the general public seems to lump them in the mixed bag that so-called melodic death metal is due to their use of angsty growled-barked vocals. Exmortus have built up quite a following in the young, mainstream metal community. Ride Forth is the exciting fourth album these youngsters and guitar enthusiasts have been awaiting. This album features ‘neo-classical’ metal gestures that were first introduced in very small quantities by NWOBHM bands in combination with pentatonic soloing. It took the likes of Malmsteen and Randy Rhodes to bring this aspect to the fore. Exmortus themselves highlight it to the point of making it more than just the center of the music; enlarging it to be all the relevant music to be found herein.
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