Dew-Scented – Intermination (2015)

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Having been called everything from thrash to death or melodic death metal, Dew-Scented play metalcore in its original inception, as inspired by At the Gates’ style on Slaughter of the Soul.  Everything from the simple drums which half of the time fall into variations of fast d-beats, catchy and short melodic ideas on the guitars with a tendency towards breakdowns for variety, to the blatant imitation of Tomas Lindberg. Being an heir to this tradition reviled by the fans of the old school styles and hailed as an improvement and distillation of the best aspects of the older music by the mainstream audience, Intermination invites a comparison with At the Gates’ come back album released last year, At War with Reality.

While the seminal band tried to bridge a gap between fans of its older and later styles by taking its metalcore-founding album and introducing more complex elements as visited in Terminal Spirit Disease and vaguely from With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness, thereby creating a middle-of-the-road offering that pleased neither group, Dew-Scented plant themselves solidly on the style developed in Slaughter of the Soul and part faithfully from there to create variations without bringing down the delicate and extremely constricted walls delimiting the definition of this minimalist, extreme pop genre.

Being the catchy, duple-time riff-fest that this genre is, Dew-Scented do a phenomenal job at creating solid, punching riffs which if not necessarily connect concretely with each other too well throughout a song (given the shock-oriented nature of this modern style), go a long way to maintain the drive of songs by switching and keeping the overall feel, avoiding the over-use of a particular riff. Without any ill-will towards this talented band, we must clarify that the album presents a very flat result, which is a necessary result of the definition of the genre as driven by impacting riffs and sonic shock tactics. The tight upholding of ideals of the genre in Dew-Scented’s hands, even with their carefully and appropriately crafted variations, becomes a hindrance in the context of a crippling genre.

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Blind Guardian – Beyond the Red Mirror (2015)

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Compiling gestures from throughout legendary band Blind Guardian’s discography, Beyond the Red Mirror shows us a synthesis of their journey, bringing in their late 1980s style along with updates in the power and so-called symphonic metal up to the present state of affairs in said genres.  As such, this album’s strongest uniting element is the band’s own style, which lies in great part in the vocal approach of Hansi Kürsch. Apart from that, there is an evident diversity in the songwriting that ranges from the mediocre, to the best power metal from any period can offer. But it should be stressed that the consistency in style is still very strong and this along with the sober and talented songwriting skills of Blind Guardian lend a coherence to the music that set it on another level completely apart from the distracted music the vast majority of bands of its kind display. This is also something the band has improved on compared to its earlier albums where the anxiety to insert interludes bordered on gimmick instead of having them moderately and carefully contribute to the aura of the album.

 

Despite bringing a mature and experienced offering in Beyond the Red Mirror, Blind Guardian is not immune to the pitfalls of the power and “symphonic” metal subgenres. Some of the tracks still fall into simple catchy grooves with little thematic substance and straight-up pop structures. Some may raise their hands against this last comment, but in the context of the nature of power metal, a genre driven by standard chord progressions and simple, catchy tunes, having a strong theme is very important since the music is almost all about this. This is why choruses are so important in power metal as well (that and the fact that it is essentially pop music going on metal). The clearest example of this in the album is the fifth track, “Ashes of Eternity”, which is unabashedly a pop, pseudo symphonic metal track that relies almost entirely on groove, which indicates an empty song.

 

As for the highlights,  the band has some truly outstanding features in the album like very smooth tonicizations that elongate sections or connect two different sections smoothly in away that does not break up the melody but rather transforms the song, giving it the aforementioned variety within consistent style and coherent expression. I would like to point the audience in the direction of the fourth track (which is taken from their previous album), “At the Edge of Time” , for a remarkable example of this. This track contains all the cliche elements of modern power metal. The spoken word, the beginning without drums and only guitar melodies, the heavy synth “orchestration”.  But here they point strongly in a direction, they all seem to be working together for the concept, and actually carrying the song forward surely and decidedly through passages, ravines, forests that take your breath away through the power of expectation, prolongation and the shifting of the harmonic goal so that the moment you are almost there, a new vista is revealed. Each a vital support for the leading vocal melody, the different ideas in the smoothly connected sections build on and connect strongly with each other here, an exemplary lesson for metal composition of any kind.

 

The appropriate, technically efficient and inspiring guitar solos come when expected and do not steal the show. This in itself should be a lesson for power metal bands. Blind Guardian have also finally reached a point (which they have been approaching throughout their discography) where the music does not seem to be entirely about the saccharine expression of the vocals or screechy guitar melodies that do not add anything to the construction of the music except superficial flare. This is a mature band that has released in Beyond the Red Mirror one of the best records this genre can offer, which is admittedly very limited by its very nature. In spite of this, and contrary to personal preference complaints (the overdubbing of the vocals this guy always does is beyond irritating), I have to say that if you absolutely have to listen to this sort of music, then listen to Blind Guardian.

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Pseudogod – Sepulchral Chants (2015)

PSEUDOGOD - Sepulchral Chants

 

Death metal band Pseudogod come back this year with a compilation that collects songs from their early demos and splits. Falling into an intersection between blasting, grindcore-influenced death metal ala Infester and the more recent approach of “atmospheric” death metal bands, the result at times approaches war metal, but avoids the stagnancy of the music typical of that genre. Contrasting Pseudogod’s 2012 Deathwomb Catechesis, which was more of an empty blast-fest similar to the more popular extreme metal outfits,this early output is full of content and in the spirit of good death metal of its kind, tends heavily towards progressive structures. This includes more paused sections that allow the songs to breathe in the middle of the faster, more suffocating parts. This is done with enough grace and consistency in style to seem smooth and appropriate. Although not masterpieces of structure-oriented composition and leaning on the riff-salad side of death metal composition, this release showcases Pseudogod’s earliest and most promising output.

 

https://sektovgnozis.bandcamp.com/album/pseudogod-sepulchral-chants

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Blasphemic Cruelty – Crucible of the Infernum (2015)

blasphemic cruelty - MCD cover

 

Ripping, furious death metal in the vein of 1980s death metal with vestiges of speed metal, solos that bear the mark of Trey Azagthoth, this band is one of the many followers of the legendary Morbid Angel. However, Blasphemic Cruelty is not content with being a clone and continues the work of Angelcorpse by playing a style that takes one facet of Morbid Angel and expanding on it. It is basically the older band’s most brutal side taken as the parting point and center of the music. While Azagthoth would mix a few fast sections with his own trademark of mid-paced and slow riffs, Blasphemic Cruelty pushes the pedal to the max throughout the entire pieces.

 

While Crucible of the Infernum will not distinguish itself as innovative in any way, it is an example of excellent composition for this style of ripping, blasting death metal. The band’s work here is ideal in the sense that within the limitations it sets for itself, every single space it uses is purposeful by virtue of its integration within the big picture, even if this picture isn’t very big. Admittedly a work of modest reach, Crucible of the Infernum is a solid release strongly recommended for fans of Angelcorpse, Sodom and early Morbid Angel.

 

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Imposition – Memento Mori (2013)

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Imposition is a single-man black metal project which can be compared in approach to what Sort Vokter did in their sole release, Folkloric Necrometal. Minimalist composition, backed with synths that outline a melody, Imposition creates a racing and urgent music which combined with the sensation of space that the synt-produced organ-voices, gives the listener the experience of going through a space-time portal into a darker dimension. But rather than another physical dimension, Memento Mori seems to bring into focus the spirit world of energies, the subconscious comes to the fore as the material and our conscious awareness of it recedes. Part of the solidness of this is that there is enough space between synth and guitar, but they are also close enough that there is no sensation of emptiness or vaccum between then, which can appear to be grander to some, but is ultimately a cheap trick to make the music appear larger than it actually is. Imposition plays no such trick on the listener and uses the elements at its disposal to honest use, building what it can without pretending to be more.

 

This release is probably only meant as an EP, as the duration of the whole thing is very short, as are the songs themselves. The songs being short is not a problem in itself, as when you string these together, the whole album becomes one whole work with minimalist movements. Taken this way, Imposition’s conspicuous music is one of the most promising if this man is able to solidify this into a full album. A word of advice from my point of view would be to try and develop the ideas in the songs a little further, with the same caution with which the music has been written until now. At the end of this Memento Mori, one has the impression that something amazing has been glimpsed, but no complete memory of it remains.

 

Imposition on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Impositionbm

 

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Nekromanteion – Cosmic Horrors (2015)

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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.

 

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Necrophor – Exterminatus (2015)

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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.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSoZ7OIk720

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Ascended Dead – The Advent

ascended dead - the advent cover

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.

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Undead – False Prophecies

undead - cover haulix

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.

 

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Undergang – Døden Læger Alle Sår

undergang

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.

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