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.
Luciferian Rites play black metal in a style that at first calls to mind middle-period Graveland. The hand-strum technique outlining chords is also in line with Immortal’s At the Heart of Winter and less obviously with Burzum’s technique. Immortal haunts this monument of an album in its most aggressive parts, but it is the commanding voice of Fudali that we hear echoing through the halls. Once the first impression has passed and the inventory of recognizable influences has been done, though, the individual beauty slowly comes out. It does not reveal itself, as this is very subtle music. It is the listener that must tune in, must hang on to the song, the album, and hear as every inseparable and utterly dependent — and necessary — part of its construction works together to create the transcendental black metal experience.
Drums play an incredibly important role here, lending an eloquence not even Immortal or Graveland, from whom Luciferian Rites borrow their musical language, show. The Achilles’ Heel of When the Light Dies is that songs start and end in strong statements that only serve as such because nothing comes before or after them, respectively. After a song starts, though, it is carried through a seamless transition of sections whose single riffs appear to be the most simple but that brought together create a magnificent super-riff. This could go on and serve as the song itself, but the band will often take a break in the middle, only long enough so that it counts as one. Unlike most other bands who use this structure, Luciferian Rites does not do this as a means to restart a song that has ran out of gas. Instead, in this brief moment the listener’s attention is brought back from the stupor of the first part of the song into conscious focus, only to renew the journey.
Some will say this album is seen in a positive light on this site because it adheres to old school precepts. Simple-minded people prefer simple explanations, it relieves them from the burden of having to think analytically. The truth is much more complex. Luciferian Rites excels in the subtle art of coherent, sensible, and purposeful composition, independently of the style. In their effort to find simple explanations and excuses not to have to face judgement and challenge their own views and the status quo, composition choice is equated to musical style. To some degree this is true, some styles have been built upon essentially flawed concepts (see Deathcore). But it is not true to the extent that we excuse bad composition by calling it stylistic difference, because “we are just different, but no one is superior”. This misplaced humanitarian impulse drives art to starvation and highlights gimmick and novelty acts as the masses of casual listeners turn their heads towards momentary satisfaction.
When the Light Dies is a strong candidate to the Mexican metal pantheon, standing in quality besides the best of legendary countrymen Avzhia and Cenotaph. Calling to mind the sensibility of Ancient’s Svartalvheim, Luciferian Rite’s sophomore release expertly builds on the classic works, sweeping aside accusations of retro-worship in a confident gesture of originality.
Tengger Cavalry is a band from Mongolia whose main selling point is that they make extensive use of Mongolian traditional instruments in a metal context. Now, it may be that I am prejudiced both towards East Asian metal and the prominent use of folkloric music in metal, but there are statistical reasons for that. East Asians are not known for their originality in metal (not only…). And very often, when a band sells itself mainly because it uses traditional instruments we can smell the stink of gimmick all over it. Some kind of prejudice is based on the probability of an event given our experience. Sometimes enough experience justifies the validity of this probability. And sometimes we may find ourselves erring in our prejudice. But Tengger Cavalry are not the exception, they are the rule.
The “metal” element in this music is provided through a Rammstein-styled modern stadium heavy rock, a little ala Rob Zombie. The rest is comprised of simple, repetitive melodies played on folk instruments that are never developed . Decorations are provided by different kinds of instruments, while the Rammstein element is used as a backbone. This would work very well as a soundtrack for Arcade machine slasher games, providing a momentary sugar-high with no lasting nutritional value.
The production value here is necessarily very high quality. The music is incredibly catchy and all the same irrelevant, placing Blood Sacrifice Shaman in the same category of embarrassingly cartoonish party-rock-pretending-to-be-metal as late Chthonic and Babymetal. Recommended as T.V. commercial jingles for on-line games and such.
Labeled under the very loose term melodic death metal, Spanish band Mistweaver write a versatile power metal with mainstream sensibilities and growling vocals. An experienced band sharing the stage with many prominent acts such as Suffocation, Enslaved, Exodus, Grave and Sodom, Mistweaver is onto their 5th full-length album.
The versatility in style mentioned earlier refers to a range in riffing that oscillates between straight up heavy metal to heavy-doom to acoustic passages that come out of nowhere topped with typical folk melodies ala Wintersun. But these guys are more accessible than the black-touched Wintersun, making heavier use of headbanging chugs and simple melodies. The use of keyboards is similar to the role given to them in In the Nightside Eclipse. Some sections touch on the more opera rock – oriented brand of power metal, the so-called symphonic power metal.
Mistweaver is the sort of band that has stayed on top of their game by doing everything that is expected of them. They have been active and playing with big names, they have put out an average of one album every three years (long enough for the judicious fan not to fall for a fast and cheap album, but not so long so that said fan does not conclude that the band has gone rusty), and their music has every single trait a fan of the general power metal and related genres might wish to find in an album of this kind.
Hailing from Italy, Final Fright play ripping speed metal right out of the mid 1980s. Established in 2010, the band played covers, released the demo Abusive Grindhouse in 2012 and now in 2015 present us with their first full-length album, Artificial Perfection.
Unabashedly retro in their choice of style, Final Fright feels completely at home and does not try to impose modern conventions on the language of this particular brand of speed metal. Neither is the band copy pasting from particular acts. Artificial Perfection sounds like a someone learning and dominating a foreign language. When this happens, the music does not come out sounding like a cardboard front disguising something else, but the artists are able to express themselves as native speakers in the lingo of the genre.
But speaking a language does not necessarily imply you have something worth saying. So it is that the honest and proficient handling of the musical language by Final Fright is satisfactory and even enjoyable but unexceptional all the same. People looking for bouncy, authentic speed metal in a different mouth and voice but offering nothing different will find this is a fantastic release for them.
Iranian band Nex Carnis plays death metal in the old school vein with flashes of what they describe as experimentation. The actual state of affairs is a little different. The old school differences are pretty clear as one can hear the spirit of Morbid Angel and Sinister in the music. But there is also a tendency towards phrasings and sound paintings that would be completely at home with more surreptitiously mainstream acts like Sylosis or Goatwhore. Regarding the descriptive term experimental there is much to be said.
To begin with, every time the word experimental is used to describe any album, it causes cautious eyebrows to be raised. Here is a wiki-description of what is experimental music:
Elements of experimental music include indeterminate music in which the composer introduces the elements of chance or unpredictability with regard to either the composition or its performance. There are many ideas broadly utilized by experimental musicians which are not, however, strictly experimental music concepts, having seen significant application prior to the advent of experimental music, particularly by the avant garde. Examples include: extended techniques (Instrumental or vocal performance techniques that step outside (often far outside) conventional performance techniques) and graphic notation (music which is written in the form of diagrams or drawings. Other elements include “Prepared” instruments—ordinary instruments modified in their tuning or sound-producing characteristics; using instruments, tunings, rhythms or scales from non-Western musical traditions; using sound sources other than conventional musical instruments, such as trash cans, telephone ringers, or doors slamming; creating experimental musical instruments for enhancing the timbre of compositions and exploring new techniques or possibilities; using a tape loop to create a tape phase; and removing perceived barriers of traditional concert settings by putting performers scattered among the audience.
In other words, mostly gimmicky music. Music that intends to attract through the use of unconventional techniques. The very nature of experimental music, it has huge pitfalls, a dangerous land which only the most visionary and steadfast artists tread safely. One of these treks was successfully undertaken by the Candian band Gorguts and the result was Obscura. Incredibly aware and well-constructed, but also conventional and even orthodox death metal which could only be described as experimental in regards to the guitar techniques, pitches and noises they used in their improvisation-born riffs.
Obscure Visions of Dark, however, are more in line with the experimentation as exemplified by Deathspell Omega. Although not going to the extreme that band went to, Nex Carnis’ music is characterized by digressions and branch-outs from the main ideas in the songs. These often take the form of atmospheric interludes. Nex Carnis will appeal to Deathspell Omega fans looking for something slightly more conventional and inconspicuous.