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
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.
Despite claims to being some sort of doom death with black metal influences, Creeping’s music is a progressive sort of rock music with little trace of the influence of metal apart from the most superficial traits. These traits can be briefly summarized in distorted guitars and vox, and rock and metal drum techniques. Creeping’s music in Revenant could be described as being through-composed with a minimalist touch to them. Once you remove this from sight and you look through them, it is evident this is not metal music. In general, their work here displays a very keen sense on smooth transitions and mood-capturing that only the most sensitive musicians are able to put together. What Creeping seems to be at a loss for is an organizing agent that condensates these living shapes into meaningful statements with heads and tails or at least a direction. As it stands, Revenant is only a sequence of related vague feelings without enough organization to convey a concrete meaning — a direct consequence of both being mostly empty of musical formations and missing the point that music and art in general are communication.
The most revealing moment when listening to Creeping is when one reaches the ending of a song and everything is put into perspective. Endings are reached uneventfully. They simply just end. The finishing sections as a group are indistinguishable from those at the beginning. In fact, they could be interchanged and it would make little difference as they do not carry any connotation. Not only are true endings missing but what we would physically try to locate as development sections of any sort (not necessarily Beethovenian) are also flat-out indistinguishable from sections at the beginning or ending. The clue here is not to look at the sections or groups of sections themselves only but also in relation to one another. How is the idea carried forward? What changed from this moment to two minutes in the future? How and why is the idea left behind towards the end? Is the idea actually changed towards the end? There is no answer to this questions in the context of this album, because none of that seems to ever have been in the mind of Creeping when writing these songs. Each section is a progression of chords with “powerful” drum beats. They took care that adjacent sections were related in character and texture (all the album uses the same texture and album) but nothing else. The album is a homogeneous creeping mass sliding down a hill like lava from an erupting mountain. It is an event, it is motion, but it is without life or purpose.
Creeping’s Revenant is one of those albums that will carry the flag of the mainstream in their incursions to try and conquer the underground by taking a depressive-sounding rock outfit and trying to make it look and sound like a convincing metal act. The fastest and most obvious way of doing this is by copying the traits that help identify underground metal through its superficial appearances. This is the second issue we take this album: that of pretending to be metal. Somewhat resembling post-metal, Creeping distinguishes itself from metal music in that it builds its music following chord progressions mainly, not phrases. What tells us that Creeping is rock music and not post-metal, though, is that it constantly follows actually-moving chord circles, effectively creating movement through that most basic device in Western music derived from the Common Practice Period classical music. Post-metal, on the other hand tends to stagnate in one harmony and try to play it in many different ways and with different decorations, usually ceding the task of promoting movement in the music solely to the drums. While there are parts where a melody can be heard, this is often just a decoration for an implied chord progression. The music in Creeping’s Revenant is utterly dependent on them, something underground metal distinguished itself from through years of rethinking itself and distancing itself from rock music in order to attain greater power of expression.
Given the way the songs in Revenant evolve and the atmosphere they seem to want to evoke in part as per the claims made that this band’s music adds a hint of black metal to their music, a comparison to Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is appropriate in order to dispel the former’s false claims and to put into perspective their more limited ability for communication. Creeping’s work and procedures have been described in some detail earlier here, so let’s proceed to take a look at Burzum. At a glance, there are many similarities between both. Songs in Hvis Lyset Tar Oss emphasize a smoothness of transition between sections whose borders are blurred out, except when there are major breaks in the music. Texture also consists of drums that change slightly independently of the rest of the music while still working with it, a strong bass, chord-strumming guitar and a rasping/growling vocal. Burzum’s music is further clarified by the use of a synth and another guitar that may outline melodies, phrases and themes. And themes are the key to Burzum’s music in this period (or any other, for that matter…). The discerning listener will notice that chords and progressions in the Norwegian’s music are only harmonic filling-outs of motifs in the bass line, oftentimes enhanced by a slight deviation in the soprano line. Chords are subsumed under motifs. Songs are defined by themes. In addition to that, and addressing the issue of whole-song structure and purpose, the first three songs in Burzum’s album do the same thing with visibly different approaches: present an idea, condense it into a solid and clear expression, introduce development, extend and come to an affirming closing idea smoothed through repetition rather than asserted in vainglorious expression typical of traditional metal. As a whole, and as a reflection of a cosmos that is contained in its smallest particles, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss follows that same pattern as an album. From its slowly building opening track, “Det Som Engang Var” to the more menacing and alienating expressions of the title track and the first half of “Inn in Slottet Fra Drømmen” which marks the climax of the album in frenetic expression only to dissipate into its second half, leading to the crystal-clear conclusion that is the ambient track, “Tomhet”.
In conclusion, Revenant ends up sounding like the indecipherable ramblings of an illuminated idiot. You can hear that there is, perhaps, a wisdom behind the sequence of misty phrases and bursts of adjective-noun pairs blurted out as if in poetic rapture, but there is not enough involvement of a conscience to even start to make sense of these. This is an album for the moment-oriented, people with short attention spans looking for prolonged sequences of singular atmospheric pictures, fans of masturbatory emotional neediness looking only for a cold shower of pleasure with no significance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Aversion play black metal that floats in the area between the tendency of “pagan” bands to use a mid-paced, back-and-forth rhythm with a simple grooves and that of melodic black metal bands that submit every part of the music to the “will” or destiny of a main melody. Aversion also shows a preference for constructing songs in a “progressive” way, that is, looking forward, trying to take the song where it has not been before without looking back. The character of the riffs themselves remain in the general area between happy and slightly serious, while the whole does not feel unified enough to have a solid shape. On the positive side, Aversion keep strictly to one style and produce varied riffs that do not violate their initial proposal.
While that impulse for progression is not taken to the dangerous extreme consequence of jumping between styles or letting the musicality of songs fail through sharp contrasts in texture, it produces problems by becoming the foremost preoccupation of the songwriting process, instead of being the consequence of a deeper need. There are exceptions in which changes are a little forced, but these represent a minority in the album. The problem that Aversion faces from this progressive intent is that they have the tendency to accumulate new material, new events in the song, without necessarily attributing them any meaning. Not that riffs have precise meanings, but while an inside-outside process would produce riffs from a precise flow of feelings and an intended direction, in here, riffs sound good together, the musicians have used a criteria of appropriateness to decide whether or not a next riff should be included or not, but it has come from this outer judgement, and not from the impulse that would produce the riff as necessary from the inside. Thus parts sound good together but are not made indispensable, a common weakness in melodic black metal: the happiness of the melody line becomes ruler.
Aversion’s self-titled is still the result of a vague vision that keeps these musicians from looking beyond the surface while they stay afloat through sheer judgement of their own ideas after they have been produced. I posit that in their writing process, riffs are produced and then are considered for the song, instead of riffs being devised with a specific purpose in mind. This is one of the many subtle differences between producing from the inside or from the outside. It is also worth clarifying that there is no dichotomy, these characteristics are manifest in a gamut of degrees as I am sure Aversion are not oblivious to looking for some kind of character in their riffs, otherwise the constant style and character with which they infuse each section would not be as clear. If Aversion can look deeper and find a motivator, they may well give us a worthwhile black metal album in the future.
Most metal journalism has a knack for identifying two particular things as “progressive”, none of which really are that. The first is incredibly messy music that obfuscates itself so much as to become an illegible carnival-fest of styles. The second is bands with tracks any longer than 3 minutes that deviates from pop format. My Hollow’s On Borrowed Time is a deathcore album that is experiencing the second of these two, using a strict rhythmic concordance as a restrictive chain that allows the rest of the musical dimensions to wander with a carefree liberty.
In deathcore, a heavily rhythm-based genre, the break-down-like passages lose their original meaning completely in a context that uses them for a completely different purpose than their original context intended them for. In the best moments in On Borrowed Time, My Hollow oddly attains a coherence through maintaining this rhythmic emphasis between different sections that can be either riff-oriented, melody oriented or pure-rhythm-oriented sections, successfully tying together otherwise disparate textures. This strict rhythmic concordance that becomes unbearable in most deathcore is used as an anchoring device that allows My Hollow to lash out with dangerously varied expression variety in the rest of the parameters that borders on the inconsistent.
When this strict rhythmic link is broken, the album degrades into a completely obscure incoherence all-too-common in this genre for pleasure-seekers with no attention span to speak of. When kept in check, the limitation it forces upon itself in its rhythmic component condemns the song to be a series of themes in wildly different landscapes akin to a collage of scenes with corresponding elements but no chronology or elaboration beyond the juxtaposition. Coherent tracks and spans of sections are unfortunately in the minority of On Borrowed Time, most of it descending into chaotic tough-guy feel-good nonsense.
Cult of Endtime play a music that is actually both “melodic” and death metal. Taking the road of modified and expanded verse-chorus-bridge approach to music construction, this mid-paced death metal with a clear aftertaste of traditional metal maintains motific links within songs that ride clear phrasal riffs not unlike the manner of the early but already mature Black Sabbath. Although DMU does not usually hand out stars to shiny, mainstream packages because they usually are just uncreative or mediocre turds hidden under slick production, In Charnel Lights has definitely earned theirs.
A very well-performed and accomplished example of this style, the music stays within the boundaries of its chosen paradigm while introducing a variety of ideas without haphazard changes. This does imply a limited variation, a clutch of its chosen pop-format approach, which supports and defines it but cripples its movement at the same time. The nature of the music, then, reduces In Charnel Lights to a collection of songs. The result is pleasing and solid but can be repetitive in terms of musical ideas and in its adherence to its center it fails to bring enough variety to artistically justify a second half beyond the urge to produce more of the same.
In spite of this, the variation it does introduce is not only used gracefully and properly but is both meaningful and powerful. Each variation of idea or new idea included, each slightly differing approach to a riff was probably very carefully considered and integrated with an attention to detail worthy of praise. Cult of Endtime are extremely consistent in style although they bring different techniques under its umbrella and produce strongly coherent riff-variations with a relatively wide range of character.
Sounding like a Black Sabbath reborn into death metal, Cult of Endtime build their music on phrasal riffs with a basis on heavy-sounding support and featuring melodic passages that emphasize clarity of expression and musicality rather than technique itself, although anyone paying attention to such things would not deny the professional-level musicianship of the band. Probably one of the best, if not the best, we are likely to get out of the mainstream this year, In Charnel Lights is extremely recommended to fans of metal.