War Iron released their first album in 2010 with the explicit intention of making pulverizing heavy music and creating bone-crushing riffs. If they accomplish the first of these is up to each particular listener to decide, the second is true by the very nature of slow-tempo, duple-time patterns played in de-tuned guitars with incredibly fat but clear distortion. But music with a profound and long-lasting repercussions, that is, with depth, relies on its concrete and intrinsic (rather than an external argument for possible)multiple levels of appreciation, which go beyond attributes of heaviness.
As the sharp observer of metal artwork covers may notice, the colors and penmanship of Procession of the Equinoxes are a fair warning of what this music is and what it is not. The lyrical topics are a cartoonish and theatrical representation of topics deemed occult and dark in popular culture. It is then no surprise that the music is consistent with these as well. Sludge (a slow counterpart to the vacuous Stoner) riffs march in procession. One by one they march. They do not talk to each other, they do not communicate anything. They do groove though. And they groove heavily. And then the album is over.
Fans of intense and heavy riffing, slow trudging music and a cool, and dark atmosphere that feels like the music accompanying a recitation of Evil Dead‘s Necronomicon will love this for its uncompromising devotion to heaviness.
Vod is the one-man project of bassist Dave Trembley. Announced as an indescribable anomaly, a blend of interesting ideas in astounding ways, this is a actually a fairly clear mixture of influences that never coalesces into an original voice. Dancing and jumping between general ambient, post rock, and the break-down metal of Meshuggah (mostly in derivative and simplified Djentish manner, for groove more than for percussion wankery). The whole album is nonetheless covered by a recognizable blanket, although it is not a distinct expression but only a consistency in the use of the same collection of styles.
Rather than establish a mood and submerge the listener in it, or take us into a spiraling well of moments to build atmosphere, Vod simply gives us cool-vibe-inducing moments gathered from the aforementioned genres. Heavily relying on the most primal effects of both ambient and Djent, Tuurngait will often fall into a simple ambient drone or into the simplest and easiest to catch syncopated modern groove. Careful and smooth in taking the songs from a whisper to a full-on groove-party, this music is good conversation material as it is easy to digest.
There are some records that achieve greatness through their studied and natural use of the musical language that our civilization has been building up for many centuries. Such a record was Close to the Edge, reaching immortality with its self-titled piece. There are other records that do away with everything that came before them and in an unprecedented bout of madness envision doors to previously undreamed of realities. The key to such a door was given to Parabellum and what they found beyond that wallcrystallized into Sacrilegio.
Unique and meaningful in its expression, Parabellum’s music is hard to trace back to any defined subgenre at the time, perhaps even today. We know it is metal. We know it arises from the 1980s underground tradition and if we look very hard we may find traces of proto-black-death, hardcore and what can only be described as organized noise. At the same time, the band’s music cannot conceivably be cased into any of them, nor can it be wholly accounted for as a concoction of the same. Parabellum’s Colombian underground metal stands entirely alone and makes use of sounds, patterns and rhythms from its influences but is never defined by them.
While the compositions in it date back to 1983 or 1984, Sacrilegio was released in 1987 and is comprised of two tracks. Both of them, Madre Muerte (Mother Death) and Engendro 666 (Foetus-Abomination 666), are of relatively long duration by metal standards. None of them, however, feel overextended. While difficult to gauge here, this writer perceives no obvious loose ends, and no purposeless spaces in the pieces. Not interspersed, not interlocked, but breathing in living symbiosis with the extreme underground expressions we find silences, Azagthothean guitar solos together with painful, woeful laments.
Uncouth, savage and violent, Parabellum’s music also takes us through moments of passive dementia and ecstatic delirium. Together these propound stark, bleak and at points suffocating experiences of desperation resembling but going far beyond the misanthropic nature worship of Vidar Vaaer. If I could put my impression of Parabellum’s music in concise terms, I would describe it as what I picture is life as seen through the eyes of a mad epileptic.
Khors is a Ukrainian black metal band formed in 2004. Coming from the same general scene as Drudkh and Nokturnal Mortum, Khors’ brand of black metal is made by mostly simple riffs and long, simple and slow melodies. These are all very typical of the Slavic black metal sound. Accessible to the novice listener of black metal, Khors offers an experience that lies closer to what purists would consider closer to black metal than most mainstream acts rising the flag of the genre despite the real nature of their music
Cold consists mostly of simple guitar strumming outlining singable melodies with constant rock-like drums that use the double bass intermittently. The music relies on heavy repetition with very little changes. This is compensated by the tightening and releasing the drums provide through the simple effect of using and not using double bass drums. Particularly understated keyboards provide the spacious backdrop in which ghastly vocals carefully make sparing apparitions.
Production in this reissue of the album is stellar, outshining that of releases by countrymen Nokturnal Mortum. The rock-oriented sensibilities of this Ukranian black metal could tick off purist fans of the more extreme expressions of black metal, but Cold remains a black metal album at its center. Content-wise representing little more than a mouthful for the experienced listener, this is a perfect release for those starting out with the genre. Strongly recommended as an authentic gateway album.
A riff-salad is often deemed to be intrinsically affiliated to music with no order and random ideas. But the best use of this song-writing approach make use of different kinds relationships between one riff and the next, and between all riffs in the song. Given the superficial independence of motifs and patterns of different riffs, stylistic consistency is, above all, indispensable.
Advertised as Thrash, UnKured make schyzophrenic music materializing the worse riff-salad nightmares. Not only does each new riff that comes do away with whatever the previous riff was saying, but influences from the most undefined and messy prog-speed albums like The Sound of Perseverance to almost deathcore-like breakdown rhythms and back to late 1980s barking death metal make an appearance.
Fans looking for the fun provided by Chuck Schuldiner’s naivete will enjoy this release even though this is less organized and more confusing for anyone trying to get an integral view of the music.
Xendra was a heavy metal project from the Central American country, Honduras. Rumor has it that their only album was recorded within one week around the turn of the century. The simplicity of the production would never put this into doubt as it is just barely satisfies the requirements of the music to be listenable.
As Brett Stevens said in a previous article, one could make the experiment of imagining music played through a primitive or simple device or format like a midi output and then see how interesting the music becomes then as a measure of the actual resulting power of the composition. It is in this respect that the barely satisfactory production in this album becomes a test for the music. Despite the production, the compositions’ musical qualities shine through, modest as they admittedly are in the very-large scale of music appreciation.
Xendra’s brand of late heavy metal also takes on speed metal characteristics with melodic tendencies. This is a typical 1990s mid-paced, simple melodic heavy/speed amalgam that is exemplified today by Cruxiter. Most of the most iconic and prominent Central American metal bands played in this style. Its raw yet singable character being particularly apt to work as a channel for a kind of urban folk style. I often use a word callejero(“of the street”) to describe the particular brand of heavy metal that developed in Central and northern South America. It is a folk heavy metal not because it makes use of old aboriginal melodies for motifs, but rather because it is the language of the young people in touch with the crudest reality of their modern countries. As such it tends to be be full of socio-political protest, prone to melancholic bouts and occult visionary prophecies. We should stress that the latter is appropriate and perhaps even mandatory for any respectable underground metal genre. As a kind of folk music, a few simpler songs in verse chorus manner are sparkled throughout the sixteen tracks of the album. These do not sound pandering as indulging themselves or the singer but are veritable laments voiced impersonally.
Claiming to be influenced from the more mainstream rock and hard rock progressive outfits like Rush and Dream Theater, someone listening in a slightly distracted manner would miss where and how Xendra makes these influences manifest. While we hear Dream Theater making technical acrobatics and the contrasts from one section of the music to the next the main point of the music, a more sensible and humble band like Xendra uses them in key points as tools towards smooth expansion or creative and beautiful articulation between sections. The rendition of the heavy metal callejero as presented in 2000’s Xendra is one of the best of its kind. Displaying elegant songwriting, subtlety and the restraint of talented instrumentalists using their technical abilities where the music needs them, rather than when their ego fancies it.
An incredibly brief, foggy, quasi symphonic intro with Marduk-like vocals pronouncing some indecipherable gibberish, followed by minimalist and recklessly fast riffs could fool one into thinking this is precisely a Marduk clone. In truth, there are mid-paced sections interspersed here and there to mitigate the onslaught of the indecipherable and impetuously fast sections. This upgrades this release to a later Marduk clone. Although probably upgrade is not the most accurate descriptor here.
The best and undeniably valuable product of extremely fast, loud and unrelenting black metal has been contributed in the last few years by albums like Advent Parallax and in the veritable modern classic Godless Arrogance. Marduk, on the other hand, was always wild abandon to mindless, truly mindless, speed and minimalism for the sake of it and more importantly for the joke of it.
But while Marduk are explicitly joking about everything they write about while staying somewhat seriously offensive, Infernal Execrator manage to sound like a joke more easily acceptable among the Godflesh Apocalypse extreme metal crowd. The words Ad Infinitum Satanic Adherent themselves are more than enough warning that this should be placed besides the likes of Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz. The only difference is that Impaled Nazarene triumph in the same way that Sharknado does: by embracing the joke and being happy with it. These Singaporeans purport to be more (by calling posers out) while not being able to take themselves entirely seriously. Fans of the Marduk, Behemoth and Cannibal Corpse will find this release palatable and fashionable.
Advertised as a black metal release, Terra contains each and every one of the traits people might identify the genre with. The raspy vocals eclipsed by the distortion of the guitars, the dominating use of tremolo or simple strumming on the guitars and the steady and smoothly changing pace of the songs, and even a folk melody or two.
A few tell-tale signs tell us this is more in the vein of post-rock with progressive pretension. The inclination towards plain major-scale melodies can be considered superficial, but more often than not does separate black metal from the foreigners who are only borrowing its tools. The alien scent is most offensive in the blatant filler of Dj-groove sections which almost bring to mind Periphery’s Matt Halpern.
The importance of dissecting Terra lies in the relevance of knowing how to separate black metal’s “atmospheric” tendencies versus post-metal and the lesser (most) ambient music whose sole point is to “create atmosphere”. Black metal creates atmosphere and that atmosphere becomes a tool to what it is saying. Terra’s music is atmosphere.
Music is not about pointing out different elements.
Music, a work of music, is about integrating all the elements.
If you are able to say “this is a very rhythmical part/this is a very emotional part/this is a very technical part/this is a very atmospheric part”, you are not making music. You are, maybe, only producing some (could be also very interesting and very beautiful) sounds.
After parting ways with Carcass following the completion of Heartwork, the Swede Michael Amott embarked on his own project called Arch Enemy. Stigmata is the non-sell-out sibling of that last reviled/worshiped Carcass album in which Amott participated in. Starting out with Johan Liva barking in the vocal department, this was a far cry from the embarrassingly audience-pleasing act this band later became.
While most so-called melodic death metal acts, including later Arch Enemy, following in the footsteps of Carcass’ last album (Swansong should have been kept by Bill Steer for private use) produce clear, straight-up pop verse-chorus with riffs and solos in the manner of the most mainstream 1980s metal. Sticking out from the crowd, Stigmata explores different song structures, and different ratios between Swedeath Carnage-style riff sections and those which are direct references to 1980s melodic metal. Michael Amott presents us here, in this still underground release, the best of his ideas in their most sincere (though not optimal) form.
Symptomatic of the middle-age crisis that underground metal went through in the mid 1990s, Stigmata shows a sincere desire to produce solid, thought-out metal music, but its motivation and direction is misplaced in nostalgia-driven emulations of the past rather than a forward vision. This was the end of metal’s own romantic era. Metal artists’ general illiteracy in art could give no rise to a counterpart to the 20th century modernist classical music (perhaps Obscura was an exception?) and it went straight to post-modernist pandemonium shortly after the turn of the century.
When receiving descriptions of new releases from labels, one can read all sort of outrageous and preposterous claims on par with “the beginning of a new era in metal”, “unprecedented innovation”, “I’m tougher than Vladimir Putin” or “We went to Afghanistan to bring democracy to the people”. It wasn’t all that surprising, then, to read the first introductory line and find that young Indonesian band Exhumation was being hailed as a classic. I rolled my eyes at this and proceeded to get my face punched.
Exhumation plays a violent proto-black metal in the vein of Sarcófago and an aftertaste of Blasphemy. I will stress that they play in the vein of those bands. But they escape the clone-curse and give the listener a familiar but altogether new and original experience. As underground metal styles death and black have moved well past the initial stages of formation and definition, most bands have turned to simple rehashing or attempts at innovation. Unfortunately innovation is often perceived superficially. We should talk about progress and not innovation, which is often confused with novelty. I would not hesitate to call this album true progress. Albeit a conservative, cautious progress in this particular style.
Opus Death, a silly title which made me seriously doubt the album at first, is Exhumation’s second album. Exhumation understand the language and are proficient users of the same, knowing how to formulate their own statements. Not only are they original in what they say, but they also learn from the classics by avoiding their errors and carefully expanding where there is potential to expand. Ideas and the riffs they span let the listener become familiar with them as is required in the black metal tradition, but they do not overstay their visit nor overstep their roles. Transition riffs are adequately unstable and work effectively with drum patterns to create the gasping effect so that the listener can breath before the music goes on, unrelenting.
Both highly chromatic, Slayeresque solos as well the simple, rough and tonal melodies make an appearance in the record without sounding disparate in any way. The balance of taste and style always carefully preserved. Much can be said of the placing of the solos which is always optimal and contributing to the emotional upheaval they cause within the emotional predictability of this kind of music.
Another feature of this album that should not be overlooked or underestimated is the use of piano and guitar interludes right at the middle and at the end of the album, respectively. It is hard not to draw a parallel with Blessed are the Sick, but I am willing to venture and say that as to their contribution to the album as a whole, they are much more powerful and relevant in Opus Death. Both beautiful in their minimalist rendition of the harmonic skeleton behind the ripping black metal of the band, they contrast the slaughtering slashes of the rest of the album and serve as inverted climaxes.
Trying to praise this as uncompromising is an insult to Exhumation. Rather, the mature and sensible compromises Exhumation incurs in are what account for the steady and sure steps of their music. It might be too soon to call it a classic, but it sure feels like one. Far from naive or wanting in any technical respect, Opus Death shows us that even though traditional and true underground metal may be difficult to carry on whilst being original, it is not impossible, but we need to look beyond juvenile feelings of rebellion to do so. Metal is not young anymore, act accordingly.