A Closer Look at Immolation’s “Father, You’re Not a Father”

closetoaworldbelow
Immolation’s Close to a World Below marked a clear departure from their earlier style. Their previous release, Failures for Gods, came out only the year before, but play the two albums back-to-back and you might be surprised it is the same band. On average, the songs are much slower. The dissonance is harsher and often tonality gets lost in a mess of pitch bends. At the same time, almost paradoxically, the production is higher: every part can be heard clearly and is given equal weight. At first glance, the songs are much more chaotic, but on further reflection, they have matured greatly in terms of structure and development. Exploring this idea will be the focus of the review.

In fact, this can probably be best understood by a thorough examination of a single track, “Father, You’re Not a Father.” The opening bass pattern is F descending to C scale-wise, but the catch is it is not a major or minor scale. The scalar pattern is the Locrian mode. Although this is typically considered a “standard” scalar mode, it is almost never used (parts of Sibelius’ 4th Symphony being a prominent exception), because the root chord is diminished. This makes the main chord of the key highly dissonant. The F to C construction is then used to introduce the first main riff (minor simplifications for readability were made):

picture1

The riff is offset from the start of the bass, so it occurs in a different place of the measure. It is also played in triplet rather than the bass duple. Everything about how these two main ideas are layered adds to the dissonance, confusion, and chaos of the sound. They even shift up a half step to F# and C# which layers a tritone on top of everything and pulls you temporarily out of the main key. Yet the whole riff is perfectly consistent and coheres with the introduction by being built from the same exact material. This is what I meant earlier when I said the songs sound chaotic at first but upon repeated listens, the internal logic emerges. We’ll call this section A.

The second main riff is introduced shortly after some vocals. A texture change happens for this riff, because it is played as power chords rather than single notes. The time signature also changes to 4/4 from the 3/4 of the beginning. The feel is naturally slowed by the use of quarter notes instead of eighth notes or eighth note triplets from section A. The riff itself ascends in opposition to the A idea which is descending.

All of this taken together is great songwriting, because the slower note values, longer measure, and power chords all contribute to a heavier feel. Each change they made between section A and B contributes in the same emotional direction. Many modern bands don’t understand this type of consistency. I wrote out the B idea for reference, but it there is enough going on that it could be heard differently by different people (maybe some fifths should be in there?):

picture2

The track returns to the A idea and then the B idea with some slight changes and vocals layered in. This can be seen as a development of the initial ideas or merely as a restatement. The next section is a true development section, because Immolation take a classical ornamentation idea and appropriate it into their own context. A mordant is a rapid alternating of the main note with a neighbor tone (sort of like a short trill). In this song, they glissando the whole thing and create an ugly, intensified version of it. This develops the A idea into its own groove which gives way to another development in which they elongate the opening bass motif.

While all of this is going on, more and more textures, intense drumming, extra dissonant notes, and layering of power chords contribute to a whole song build to the climax. The climax is the fantastic solo near the end. It teases by starting slow and slurred, almost like the guitar is trying to hold a single note that is unstable and can’t help but flick around. It then erupts into a short burst of technical prowess, and of course, quotes the A theme to tie it all together.

Overall, it is this type of excellent songwriting that makes the album worth listening to (and a departure from their earlier material). The songs are tightly constructed, coherent pieces that simultaneously feel unraveled and chaotic. They achieve a rare balance that speaks to both the mind and the emotions. Many newer bands have tried to copy the style unsuccessfully (the recent Ulcerate album comes to mind). They miss that this is not just static dissonance, but forward moving and organic in addition to being technical and rigid.

66 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Anarchus – Live in Tokyo (2014)

anarchus_-_live_in_tokyo

Despite spending most of my time listening to Haydn and Bruckner, I appreciate good grind: pattern languages of relative tonal motion and pure rhythm, laid out with the intensity of people who have stepped outside of all that is known and accepted. Anarchus has long been a favorite for delivering the raw goods without pretense and adopting a style of their own evenly between Terrorizer, Repulsion and Napalm Death that keeps the intensity of the peaks but varies it with seemingly impulsive gestures toward emptiness.

This well-acknowledged (but not acknowledged enough!) band played live in Tokyo, and recorded it with moderate fidelity that captures the energy of this performance and through that, connects to the anguished and warlike anger lurking in this music. Basic song structures, modified by commentary on the song itself from within, cycle through a verse and chorus for basic structure but enjoy the sensation of power that comes after deconstruction in which the form molds to the expression. Vocals rage, both high and low tones, and give this intense texture, but the real performance is in writing grindcore songs that remain unique and expressive even in this time when we are drowning in grindcore. This is music to destroy the world, and thanks to some wise sonic engineering, appears to us in a clear form without too much of the “noise” (versus signal) of live performances. Obviously, whatever I was doing at the time this was recorded, I was in the wrong place, as I should have been in Tokyo hanging out with ANARCHUS and maybe visiting K.K. NULL aftewards.

1 Comment

Tags: ,

Sadistic Metal Reviews 06-30-15

sadistic_metal_reviews_-_06-30-15

Music serves a role in our lives: it connects us to truths about life and restores in us a belief in who we can be. Metal in particular either fills the soul with a rage for order, or creates an institutional-strength mental entropy by being disorganized. Bands that lack the guts and brains to write about real things and try instead to imitate what made others successful are doomed to fail, and we separate them from the rest with vicious strokes of the knife. Come for the cruelty, stay for the indignation and resentment, with this week’s Sadistic Metal Reviews

nocturnal_torment_-_they_come_at_night

Nocturnal Torment – They Come At Night

This punk/metal/grind hybrid acquits itself well by attempting to be no more than what it is: punk/grind songs with added death metal riffs, expanding upon a basic rhythm to drive it to detonation. If this band has room to improve, it is in putting the vocals into a support role for guitars and focusing more on continuing momentum rather than interrupting it early. Too much randomness and obvious riffs flesh out this album, but from the sound of things they were adopted to connect different parts in such a way that the vocals could continue their role as narrative organizer (N.O.) of the album. Like the first Bolt Thrower album, They Come At Night combines attributes of classic heavy metal with extreme underground punk hardcore, resulting in an oil-on-water separation at times. Lead guitars emphasize chaos in the way that enjoys bending the seemingly random into coherence just in time to slam into a conclusion, setting as much of the surrounding territory on fire as possible. There is much to like about this release, and a fair amount — but not more than is done right — to improve.

feral_-_for_those_who_live_in_darkness

Feral – For Those Who Live in Darkness

Hopefuls send us their releases, and we murder there. Here hope must die: Feral is cycling Burzum-style riffs over simple song structures with emphasis on vocals to guide it. The vocals, unlike Burzum, forsake nuance for consistency and so quickly kill the mood. Riffs in themselves are not bad, but as assembled, are incoherent. This is painful to listen to for anyone who likes order, pattern or even chaos. It is just repetition of tropes in a slightly new form without the ability to express much but frustration at the four walls of an apartment and the desire to be in a black metal band. The challenge of humanity is to be able to tell the truth when it is unsociable, and that is what I attempt to do here. So much could go right with this release, but the best parts are marooned in a vast sea of disorganization and emulation outward-in of others, which stifles the inner voice. To this musician: go back to the studio, play music you like regardless of what your useless posturing friends say, and then record that. If it comes out as indie rock or folk music, only an idiot would think less of you for staying true to yourself and making something good, rather than this “me too” release.

reptilian_death_-_the_dawn_of_consummation_and_emergence

Reptilian Death – The Dawn of Consummation and Emergence

More from the Nile camp, Reptilian Death uses the modern death metal sound of vocal-dominated songs with riffing as commentary that integrates intensely with drums to produce the kind of texturing that Meshuggah used, but without the overdominance of technique. To their credit, the band stitch together riffs well to produce tempo and layer changes that provide compelling background, but the focus remains on the vocals and so not only misses the death metal ideal but becomes repetitive in the way that nu-metal was: a chorus dominates, and a verse vocal rhythm backs it up, with instruments filling in the space. While well-executed in this case, that approach combines the worst of brutal death metal with the melodic hooks of indie-metal, resulting in catchy songs with no endurance.

imperial_savagery_-_imperial_savagery

Imperial Savagery – Imperial Savagery

In the style of new-death bands like Nile, this aggressive band orient themselves around the vocals and keep a rhythm drilling along that pattern while stringing along whatever riffs they can. These riffs show promise, but too often fall into the new-death paradigm of etching out a rhythm instead of a phrase, which results in a lack of coherence. Vocals pick up the slack, but the vocals are probably the least part of any death metal band, and that degrades the staying power of this release. Emphasis on jazz-style off-beat chording works as an interruption sometimes but appears too frequently to be a technique, becoming a trope. Angelcorpse-style charging riffs make up a large part of this album and they generate intensity but it needs to be “caught” by other parts of the song, and those devolve into the not-quite-chaos of relatively straightforward drum-guitar rhythm riff explosions. Chord progressions attempt to escape the ghetto of chromaticism but end up being so similar as to fade into background sound. There is nothing wrong with this release, but it falls short of enough right to have an enduring appeal. This is a shame, since clearly a great deal of fine musicianship went into this release.

disordered_-_carnal_materialism

Disordered – Carnal Materialism

This heavy metal/death metal hybrid would be best served by giving up the death metal pretense but keeping the drum attack. Quality guitar work, good melodic hooks and excellent pacing recommend this to the listener but as it falls short of death metal structuring, it ends up sounding empty where it could be more intense by simply opting to be edgy heavy metal. Iron Maiden and other melodic metal influences intrude where they can and are well-applied, but in the context of these songs seem floating in complete absence. As with most bands that have trouble organizing their disparate parts, Disordered rely too much on vocals, which correspondingly become the primary rhythmic hook, which forces guitars into a commentary role as in 70s rock. While nothing here is per se bad, the result does not form enough of a compelling narrative to be anything but background sound, and even then comes across as a hard rock band stranded in the wrong genre trying to make a tighter style work for what is ultimately a looser approach. Many of the tropes in this date back four decades and attempt to intermix with death metal pacing and layering, which just makes them sound ludicrous. This band needs to pick an approach instead of trying to satisfy “everyone.”

sepulchra_aura_-_demonstrational_cd_mmvii

Sepulchral Aura – Demonstrational CD MMVII

Most people misunderstand black metal, especially the musicians after 1994. The point was to make beautiful music that concealed itself in an ugly sound. Most people interpret that as “ugly sound” and then add in quirks, idiosyncrasies and iconoclastic alterations to standard form. The end result reduces music to boredom by using constant interruption of its own process to produce an absence of end result, which ruins the function of music as a conveyance for emotion, understanding or even aesthetic appreciation. What is left is hipsterism and a focus on triviality. While there are some good riffs on this album, every one of the worst albums ever had some good riffs; what makes a great album is the ability to develop riffs in such a way that they reflect thought, reality, or emotion in a way that is meaningful to the audience. This release instead mirrors the confused mind of a modern person, and we do not need music for that, since an abundance of media and personal experience will come our way whether we want it or not. I had high expectations, but found the rule here of “if it’s after ’94, walk with extreme caution” applies on this album. The disorganized mess produces only a sense of emptiness, not the bravery going into emptiness that black metal once rendered.

3 Comments

Tags: , , , , ,

Sadistic: Enlighten – Phösphorvs Paramovnt (2015)

enlighten

Review

Black metal as a countercultural force is stronger than ever! Enlighten’s nevv, trve, and Mötley Crüe extended play sparks the minds of searching listeners with a novel twist on the ambient, droning minimalism of lovably scruffy internet meme and murderer Varg Vikernes. Ditching Burzum’s reprehensible racism and homophobia for the soulful 80s rock ballad edge of tattooed, Tom Hardy lookalike Jon Nödtveidt’s Dissection makes the perfect soundtrack for a chilly night drinking whisky on the porch with your cardigan on her back. Phösphorvs Paramovnt comes highly recommended for fans of the spiritual material of Skagos and Vattnet Viskar who were entranced by Vice’s “True Norwegian Black Metal” doc. This release is strictly not for those still stuck in the decade-old, checkout line pop of Coldplay. – KIM KELLY

Translation

Major scale hipster tomfoolery is a cancerous, changeling impostor. Just from the poor cover and title, you know this release is probably going to be Coldplay. Enlighten do not let the listener down in putting power ballad butt rock into songs that superficially resemble Burzum’s ambient, droning black metal. This is another one strictly for the jegginged, tattooed, alt-bros into “black metal” for the “feels.” On track two, “Devourer ov Stars”, they even jack the keyboards from Coldplay’s Clocks to appeal to those thirty five year old, former frat bro, date rapist dads married to that ex-sorostitute they roofied senior year who do not want their jams played over the Target intercom. Not even being sacrificed to the anti-cosmic gods by the Temple of the Black Light could make these wind up monkeys achieve spacetime nirvana.

19 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Moloch – Verwüstung (2015)

cover

While most records can be dismissed by finding commonplace music-making missteps, some records seem to do everything competently and yet still manage to lack something vital to music. This is precisely the case with Moloch’s Verwüstung, which makes it a difficult album to assess justly. Fulfilling all that you can expect from a mid-paced, melodic black metal album to the letter, the result is monotonous and surprisingly empty-sounding despite the density of the content.

We must start by handing out the praises the album deserves. The consistency in style, the balance between repetition and the timing to bring in the next idea as well as the breaks in dynamics and texture that produce elegant caesuras in the music. Style is clear and while not completely original, is distinctive (in the sense that we are not left trying to figure out what they are trying to do as a result of any contradiction or meandering of the style) and gets to the point clearly. What Verwüstung can be compared to is a stout robotic armor that moves on its own and can handle tasks effectively but lacks a heart and life of its own so that, when questioned directly, is unable to respond with anything beyond the most mundane observations. What is missing is not the organizing agency that the composer is, but the vision that builds music not only coherently but assembling it in ridges, plains, and other geographical variations that make it a text to be traveled through, and not just a sequence of technically-convincing patterns.

(…) the natural world cannot be grasped in the same way that natural science grasps things, that it requires a fundamental change of attitude, an orientation that focuses no longer on things but on their phenomenal nature, the way they manifest themselves. Thus, it turned out further, the question is not one of the world and its structures but of the phenomenon of the world; that it has to do, first of all, with a description and an analysis of the way in which the world presents itself, then with an explanation of why it presents itself this way.

— Jan Patočka

This vital je ne sais quoi lies on the spiritual dimension of music.  It is both its motivator and its end product. The alpha and the omega of the creative process, it comes to the artist that would have it and through the singular vision, the particular abilities and the subjective filter of the individual surfaces again in reborn form from the composition and execution stages. Music, then, if it is indeed the output of this flow, should feel like a living organism. Moving together and in harmony with all its parts, first of all, but also displaying an independent thinking, a freedom of thought of sorts. This creature may or may not be crippled by the creative power of the human mind through which it flows to be transformed and born again, but its qualities as living spirit cannot be questioned.

When the music process does not flow from a strong inspiration — from a commanding apparition that would ask cooperation of the perceptive human being that is to bring this entity from the highest layer of existence, that of the divine mind, and into the physical one we perceive every day — then no such life is perceived in the music. The most refined techniques and calculated relations become the exercise of uninspired composers. Although this may be difficult to grasp for the average reader, there is a direct link between these explanations and the actual musical elements: beyond the coherence and balance of elements, one finds life in the vivid dynamics, pulsating textures and varying relations that come after the previous requirements (the order is important as some would have only a messy variation without them being the result of the necessary sacred union between coherence, clarity and inspiration). At the expense of using descriptions bordering on the religious, the accusation leveled against Moloch is that of having produced a soulless abomination.

5 Comments

Tags: , , ,

Detention – Marginal (2015)

marginal

Reviewing promos sometimes entails reviewing albums that to the general public may pass as metal but to us they are not. In fact, this happens more often than not, especially with the tons of third-rate atmospheric music of all stripes trying to pass as black metal, as if the genre did not have enough bland imitators as it is. In this case, we have a female fronted alternative rock album with heavy guitars that somehow made its way into a metal promo stack. Not being our standard fare here for obvious reasons, this review will serve as an example to show not that we do not “like” this style, but rather, why these pop rock styles are, as a whole, musical failures.

The formula used by Detention is pretty common place, use easy, jumpy rhythms that work to keep the listeners attention while a soft female voice keeps throwing simple melodic hooks to serve as the initial pull. None of this is outstanding in the least, in fact, many individual sections may make one cringe as simple passages are squandered in an attempt to create a slightly eerie deviation which one cannot be sure was intentional or not. Songs consist of the usual intro-verse-chorus-bridge organization with some small deviations to create interest. This is the only place where one can tip the hat to Detention: theirs is a sincere attempt at creating music. As with many other bands, it is the pop encasing that limits them and the overall result is found naturally wanting. The belief that a catchy rhythm and nice melodies are the bases of good music. Unfortunately, this is the prevalent belief even in metal circles, which only add the “aggressive” tag to that list.

Although comparisons may be made to a host of different female-fronted so-called symphonic metal or alternative “metal” outfits, in Marginal we see yet another group trying to emulate the sound of early The Gathering and becoming little more than a less competent clone. The Gathering is another one of those groups that in being a “people’s music” and casual feel to it, understate the expertise and talent of the band members, luring many a clueless imitator into trying their underdeveloped talents at this “easy” style.  The greatest failure of this, as that of other minimalist music, lies in not knowing that the power of the original pioneers who pulled these styles off was that of excellence in the details, and an attention to relations and balance that even experienced musicians struggle to grasp and that amateur-level pop bands like Detention are unlikely to ever achieve.

No Comments

Tags: , ,

Urðun – Horror & Gore (2015)

cassette cover

Urðun play a form of primitive death metal that is sufficiently competent to be pleasing to the fan of the style yet be utterly forgettable by virtue of its being both indistinguishable from its peers. But credit should be given where it is due. The band knows how to make clear beginnings, how to turn riffs on their head, create breaks, twists and introduce new ideas without destroying the continuity of the music. The coherence of the song is reinforced by bringing back main riffs in later parts of the songs even if for shorter spans of time than earlier in the songs.

Horror and Gore is the old school tremolo heavy-groove riff procession you might expect from a band like Urðun, but the songs are far from being riff salads. While some contrasting riffs are introduced as new ideas, most riffs obviously proceed from each other evolving in proper motif forms by maintaining one or more dimensions and altering others. Differing enough to be considered separate riffs (you would not consider them as derived from each other right away) but being similar enough that the idea is not broken.

As a demo, Horror and Gore is a modest triumph, but Urðun must, for a future full-length release, be able to refine their style, bringing out a distinctive identity in order to stand out. The way to find this identity is to start thinking about the riffs and this style is the end goal itself and rather to think of them as the tools for them to express what they want. Once they become a means to an end, the conceptual picture of something beyond the music can become the band’s focus, and when the listener experiences the music, he will be able to fall through the music, piercing layer after layer in subsequent repetitions of an album that is more than the sum of its parts and more than its musical structures.

No Comments

Tags: , , , ,

Organ Dealer – Visceral Infection (2015)

CD600G_out

Organ dealer play a brand of metalcore influenced by the sound of those in that genre who call themselves “technical death metal”, but excuse themselves from any responsibility to make complete songs or to make them coherent at all by claiming to be playing grindcore. While at some level there is a reason for this claim, Organ Dealer only fulfills the requirements of a grindcore outfit on the superficial level. That is, if one asked the general public to describe grindcore, Organ Dealer would meet the “requirements”. It is in the details, the realization and what we read in between the lines of music that the deception is identified.

While grindcore does introduce a mixture of frenetic passages and mid-pace groove that do not necessarily have concrete links between them, the emphasis of grindcore has traditionally been on the strength and trance that each section evokes arising from a certain clarity of expression, the modern metal nature of Visceral Infection place the emphasis on the contrast between them. Each individual section is more forgettable, usually lacking a clear image, the emphasis being on the brutality as a whole and their form usually channeling into the next incredibly contrasting section. In the first one is pulled towards each riff, in the latter one is led towards the intersections between riffs. The nature of grindcore is replaced by that of carnival modern metal.

1 Comment

Tags: , , , , , ,

Iron Kingdom – Ride for Glory (2015)

IK_RFG_Cover

Sounding like an Iron Maiden with the annoying voice from Queensryche’s vocalist from back in the day, Iron Kingdom make melodic heavy metal with the flexibility and propriety of conscious progressive rock. A very clear image of the character, lyrical theme and direction of the music arises through discrete but carefully-considered decisions to express the next clause with a literal musical change to match its change in words.

While the music could be described as progressive upon first impression, the result is closer to an extended and twisted pop-song format in which the pieces and functions are maintained but considerable variety is introduced. While some would object to this description, this is precisely what a progressive music arising from verse-chorus-bridge music should sound like: music that evolves to underpin the lyrical events taking place in the story being told. The vocals are kept within the framework of the music in a unified way through a composition of the melody line that strictly adheres to the moving harmony under it, rather than flying around in opera-like expression that takes a slow-moving support harmony as licence and liberty to stand out on its own. In here, the voice is a melodic instrument working in between the guitars and riding them (see Ozzy Obourne), not jumping on them as if they were trampolines (see Bruce Dickinson, Ronny James Dio).

Succeeding over the grandpa metal with progressive pretensions of post-2000 Iron Maiden by injecting a dose of proper progressive music with the influence of Queensryche, Iron Kingdom give us songs that actually progress and not just long, over-drawn affairs with over-extended bridge sections. While Ride for Glory is undeniably a song collection, the amount of content, its purpose within each song and their consistency track after track in all aspects while giving a distinctive-enough identity to each song give the album a chapters-in-a-story-like feeling of succession that while not altogether literal, can be felt from the music. Obviously an experienced band, Iron Kingdom know exactly what they are doing and more importantly the music is full with purpose, giving Ride for Glory a strong feeling of meaningfulness.

https://www.facebook.com/ironkingdom

3 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , ,