Cosmic Horrors is a Lovecraft-inspired affair standing somewhere between the primitive black metal of South America and grindcore-influenced death metal. Unlike most bands that could fall in this general description that encompasses a common cliche in underground metal, Nekromanteion stand out as a focused band making music balancing music aesthetics with a drive and intention that seems to lead the music, rather than the common mistake of letting the outer traits themselves dictate the music.
Displaying a progressive tendency in construction within healthy bounds alongside a reserved and rough technical expression, Cosmic Horrors present us with the ideal “atmospheric” death metal that war metal bands, for instance, are trying to deliver. The mistake of these or other atmosphere-oriented death metal bands like Phobocosm is that they are too steeply bent on trying to make the music have this effect. So much that they push the music to become the mood itself. Nekromanteion keeps a balance between evocation and satisfying musical aesthetics, which together have resulted in an outstanding EP.
Playing a black metal with structural tendencies that border on death metal, Necrophor delivers mid-paced songs grounded in orthodoxy in terms of technique and construction but taking the listener to unexpected places within this expression. The mid-paced characteristic of Exterminatus should be emphasized because this allows the band some leniency in regards to the types of riffs it will use. We find a very few chug-based moments that are just enough to serve as a neck between sections and only as accompaniment for measured time spans. We also find the typical moving minor chords that have become a staple of black metal. Strummed sections, slight tremolos, picked chords also make an appearance in this release.
Necrophor’s composition capabilities cannot be overstated in regards to the way all these techniques are integrated as hues in the artist’s arsenal. Too often do we see bands falling and depending on a particular technique to automatically provide the music with all it needs. Necrophor, on the other hand, are using the techniques to mold a vision that has been captured in the mind’s eye first. It isn’t only a matter of planning and intention, the technical capabilities of the band as arrangers are absolutely necessary for the elements in these songs to blend as they do. Exterminatus represents an excellent example of a band creating music inside to outside, not only because of the way these techniques were brought together to shape the music, but because they also seem to revolve around one point, a mood that changes character naturally and never too abruptly. A release that will definitely fly over most heads because of the production style not fulfilling brutality requirements and not being frost-bitten enough, or for the musical style not being close enough to a clone of a classic or a complete trashing of influences, Exterminatus is one of the most artistically accomplished releases I have had the pleasure of listening to from 2015.
Ascended Dead is a death metal band that intentionally keeps the production of their music lo-fi. Here, we may recognize two things. The first is the appeal to a sense of nostalgia that this sort of distorted tone may cause in fans of old underground metal. The second is that this choice is part of the band’s aesthetic choice and it contributes in a musical way. The latter is never fully acknowledged even by fans of this particular sound, resorting to embarrassed appeals to “guilty pleasure”.
Now, onto the music. In The Advent, Ascended Dead have brought together a collection of distinct but compatible sources in which, if we squint really hard and try to pierce the fog created by the artistic voice of the band, we can recognize the grindy, obscure, riff-salad Finnish spirit. One or two of the songs even betrays the influence of Demilich in its use of short, clear but twisted melody line motifs, but doesn’t go as far as to imitate the older band. The reference is no more than a head nod.
The Advent consists of a solidly integrated style. Ascended Dead’s songs are balanced and clear-headed in direction, while remaining organic, in line with the riff salad tradition. Riffs balance relationship with each other while introducing the tension needed to move forward, towards a new idea that comes as a massive waterfall releasing the potential energy channeled and incremented in the perfectly-defined course of a river of tumultuous waters. Despite all its merits, the artist’s most difficult task has yet to be completed in this project: finding its own voice. Displaying a musical awareness with which only true musicians are blessed, Ascended Dead give us an album that, although itself powerful, foreshadows possible works that will tower above the vast majority of death metal of our times.
Undead plays a well-tried formula of simple, middle-paced death metal while achieving effective songwriting. At times we can hear a tinge of Scandinavian sound, while some other parts scream out early and straight up U.S. death metal like Obituary or Death in Spiritual Healing. This isn’t as complex, structure-wise, as Cause of Death (which isn’t very complex to begin with either), and so approaches Schuldiner’s ultra simplistic death metal much more. Having mentioned both bands, fans of James Murphy’s work in them will not be disappointed with the soloing in False Prophecies.
This album shows the perfect balance between variety of content and consistency in style with clarity of voice. Songs do not sound like they are based on a template (even if they are, the important thing is that they do not appear like they are, that is the final product), but you can easily recognize them as belonging together. As in any album with good songwriting, the mood and character of riffs from one section of the song flows and dives into the next, carrying the listener forward without the obstacle of forced expressions. This style is heavily based on introducing appropriate variations in riff character without deviating from the mood at all.
The weaknesses of this album may lie in individual riffs, which in the end does more merit to the songwriting abilities of these gentlemen. This is to say, if you make a boring riff, sound appropriate, useful, and driving because of its context, then you have succeeded in your task as a composer. Still, this minor complaint will be on the minds of metalheads as it is the nature of the genre to look forward to strong riffs, the muscles of metal, even more important in the straight forward style of Undead.
Playing a cavernous underground music, Undergang have crystallized a style in Døden Læger Alle Sår that harks back to the sound not only of obvious Scandinavian forefathers but also to that of Morpheus Descends and Demoncy. Rather than spiraling through serpentine corridors as Incantation does, Undergang uses vocabulary from the Swedeath lingo here, and then the atmospheric death metal riff of Morpheus Descends there, only to descend into a the more inconspicuous atmospheric tremoloing of Demoncy to further the expression. Enriching this mixture of influences, we can also find unexpected doom-like moments with the economical and spacious approach of Worship.
Even though all these are present in Døden Læger Alle Sår, the style parade that a collection of influences often results in is not present here. It is also very important to stress that Undergang does not fall into trope repetition nor does it wink at the listener with a cliche here and a cliche there. The band expertly appropriates the different stylistic conventions under a overall Swedish death metal mantle and, more impressively, escapes the cliches of the latter as well. The reason why it can work is because the grindy Nihilist, the American Morpheus Descends and the decorative ends in Demoncy and Worship – like breaths are all compatible. It is only unfortunate that while all this has been accomplished, Undergang’s own voice still seems only visible as a blurry image behind this coherent, translucid tapestry.
Dying Humanity are the perfect metalcore product. They’ve got all the moves, they know every trick in the book. Trope-masters Dying Humanity present us with a compilation of metalcore cliches titled Deadened which at its most lucid moments almost reaches the sobriety of Blinded by Faith‘s Chernobyl Survivor. Here and there we find nods to more mainstream acts like Killswitch Engage and then back to more extreme modern metalcore and other so-called melodic death metal bands following in the steps of Slaughter of the Soul. Tying mostly unrelated melodies in riffs in that last style, Dying Humanity supports them by the same square, straight-up d-beats ala Adrian Erlandsson.
While Dying Humanity will not appeal to fans of the old school, it will not appeal to fans of any kind of music that revels in attention to logical construction and detail. Deadened may nonetheless prove to be a satisfying commercial success with the casual head-banging crowd which only needs a catchy dose of sterile, well-produced music that has as much staying power as a Big Mac.
Hailing from Ukraine, Bureviy (Буревій = Hurricane) play a modern take on black metal which makes use of old school sub-styles by keeping them relatively uncontaminated but subsumed under the band’s personal voice. In Concealed Beyond the Space we find the folk-oriented black metal with rock sensibilities of Nokturnal Mortum, the swaying of long melodies of Drudkh, and a collection of strumming, tremolo picking and metal riffing that meld as diverse raw material for a black metal language descended and definitely compatible with but ultimately different from the more uniform black metal of old.
This approach is somewhat of a signature among Eastern European and Québécois black metal bands. The phenomenon is interesting when found in albums that manage to channel this almost faceless style into beautiful and meaningful expression. It demands a stricter attention to musical coherence in composition as the link between musical ideas will not be found in stylistic uniformity. Bureviy even makes use of acoustic guitars to decorate or fill passages that at first may feel like misplaced filler. A closer and paradoxically more comprehensive look also shows these passages are in line with the sections they connect and are not gimmicky interludes but articulations, points of exhalation.
A single spin of this will pass unnoticed. It is like a dense temperate forest, you need to get close and see the trees, the rocks and the streams. It takes more time and familiarity with the album to experience what it is trying to transmit. Ancient Slavic nature-worship and the mystic contemplation in tune with the proud mountains, the warm hillsides and the powerful rivers is channeled through Concealed Beyond the Space.
Tagged as black metal and ambient, Wende is a one-man project that attempts to not only appropriate Burzum’s style, but also build on it, effectively using it to express something different. In this release we find riffs that are not right out of early Burzum, but that one could easily associate with Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. But the approach is not smooth and layered as in that album. There is a diversity of expressions in Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft but it is presented as a series of pictures which are not necessarily strongly connected to each other in a musical way, requiring the listener to make somewhat of a leap and follow the song by maintaining the emotion and atmosphere in mind. In regards to this organization, this album is more similar to Filosofem, more ambient-oriented. It even has the long dungeon synth sections and songs.
Although the subtlety of Burzum is not lost on Wende, and patience is certainly not lacking in this release, the savant genius of Vikernes makes all the difference in the world. The strong link that one can find between Master Vikernes’ riffs and how his songs build up and flow is completely missing here. On the other hand, there are very good riffs that morph naturally over relatively long stretches of time. Riffcraft here is good, but evocative songcraft may fall a tad of the magical offering Varg made to the gods again and again.
The synth music in this release is not allowed to sink into the listeners mind as Tomhet does, slowly extending only to fade away ever so gently. Wende integrated the synth ambient music as sections within metal instrumented songs and experimented with the possibilities this might open. The risks of this decision are not small and the strength of the final creation was visibly affected by it.
Props to Wende for not falling into the trap of being a clone of the band he admires. He took it and ran his own way, attached his own ideas, and made what he deemed were corrections of some sort to the weaknesses in Burzum’s music. The intention is worthy of praise, and the end result is interesting. The end result ofVorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft is not on par with the masterworks of the Norwegian sage, but it is an outstanding disciples’ effort worthy of attention.
Being a split, it is necessary to judge both bands here separately and the release itself as a whole. Both bands play death metal, but while the former is provisioned with a modern war-doom arsenal, the latter seem at least partially influenced by Scandinavian old-school black/death tremolo riffing. The production itself is much more clear and powerful in Into Oblivion’s songs.
Into Oblivion play death metal in a combination of modern voices including saturated style of war metal and the heavy, doom-oriented riffing of certain sludge bands. The more impetuous of these is reminiscent of Teitanblood or Heresiarch, except it is difficult to distinguish an original personality present in Into Oblivion’s music. Individually, some sections are engaging, even mesmerizing and beautiful (the beginning of By this Marvel Overthrown) but as a whole, the result is far from outstanding. Construction of the songs could be deemed lazy and/or cheap, advancing through alternations of saturated and doom textures by inserting riffs that are played until their momentum runs out and its balancing counterpart is inserted, and not according to a direction or necessity of expression in the music.
Disinterred also play with this alternation of fast and slow sections, except that Disinterred is better able to maintain a train of thought and expand it. The songs in this latter half seem more mature, the converging styles in it being more difficult to disentangle, a more solid product arising from a clear vision making use of its influences. One can also observe the use of saturation, but instead of a modern war metal, we have a disguised and worked Scandinavian spell at work. A strong advice for Disinterred would be to get rid of the triggered drums and do away with the cheap double-bass-drum-saturated drum fills that sound like Godflesh Apocalypse hiding its lack of ideas. This second half of the split brings a visible shape into focus, a haunting shadow reflecting the maddened character of the music. Still, it is only a vague shadow which Disinterred have not finished summoning just yet.
At this point, Oblivion’s Oceans shows us what is mostly a soulless collection of voices. Despite this, there is some promise in the music. Personally, this writer would not place too much hope on the nature of these bands changing or growing much as the nature of proper death metal bands itself seems to be monolithic. Any attempt to change them often results in their destruction and watering down. Few manage achieving the required reincarnation, often coming to life again as a simpler life form.
Being a casual listener, it is easy to miss black metal’s essence completely. It is easy to think that it is just some repetitive “atmospheric riffing”. What we forget is that verbal descriptions of things do not reflect reality in its entirety but are just placeholders for things we know. And for things we do not know, they just serve as attempts to describe aspects of the object in question. This is why, when it comes to detailed descriptions of feelings, we resort to poetic language, metaphor and example, a simple “sad” or “happy” is not enough to express the experience precisely. This is also where the difficulty of expressing and discussing the success or failure of a music to convey something lies. Some critics resort to evaluating purely musical aspects in a technical way which lets them make solid judgements from the vantage point of tradition and taste. Taste itself lies in the middle-ground between what is considered objective and subjective, since it is a concept developed communally, not individually.
Absconditus take black metal’s most superficial description at face value and runs with it. Kατάβασις (Katavasis) is a collection of repetitive, atmosphere-inducing-oriented pieces that serve more as a background than as proper music. The tracks here all sound like introductions to something else. Simple repetition along with a little groovy improvisation on the drums and a melody here and a melody there carry this set of intros to the end. One gets the feeling that something is about to start and then each track ends. And then the album reaches an uneventful stop. It is as if Absconditus is just making a series of proposals of ideas that could become songs. Even if Absconditus would take its time more and develop actual songs, the way ideas were presented in Katavasis was cliche-oriented and crowd-pleasing, so that the result would still be average at best. This project/album needs to be restarted from scratch.