Marduk – Frontschwein (2015)

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Marduk attempts to return to their past of blasting melodic war-themed ultra-simplistic black metal, evoking Panzer Division Marduk more than the mysterious album which preceded it, Opus Nocturne, which remains arguably their strong point. The band incorporates some elements of tribal-industrial hybrid rhythms, but stays on point with short riffs. Arguably this mature form of Marduk offers more variation in tonal construction and riff form than ever before, but its tendency to use similar song structures and nearly constant exercise-video style tempi wears down the power of this release.

Like later Vader albums, the attempt to make the album fully intense creates a wallpaper effect where all of the intensity flows together because lack of internal variation deprives it of the context to make a truly great impact; in addition, riffs use a very similar vocabulary of rhythm and pattern, which makes songs hard to distinguish. Where Marduk excels is in, while avoiding the standard MTV form most metal bands use, orchestrating a rise of intensity that explodes into a clever use of melody and tempo change to produce a dramatic impression. The theatrical side of this band creates moments of impressive songwriting throughout the album.

Black metal vocals of the type that approach a chant more than a howl decorate this album and while much of listener focus is anticipated to be directed at these, they stand back when the guitars lay forth a mix between sawing rhythm and gentle lifts of melody, much like early Dawn albums or their militant spin-off Niden Div. 187. Frontschwein shows Marduk at their best in recent memory, and in modern warfare they have found a new inspiration, but the whimsy and mysterious nature-mysticism of Opus Nocturne was closer to black metal than what we might call this, ‘melodic war metal,’ and as a result like most rock projects it fades into repetition that becomes distinguished only by vocals and lyrics. Nonetheless good material appears throughout this album.

Tracklist

  1. Frontschwein
  2. The Blond Beast
  3. Afrika
  4. Wartheland
  5. Rope Of Regret
  6. Between The Wolf-Packs
  7. Nebelwerfer
  8. Falaise: Cauldron Of Blood
  9. Doomsday Elite
  10. 503
  11. Thousand-Fold Death
  12. Warschau III: Necropolis (Mediabook bonus track, in cooperation with ARDITI)

Tour
EUROPEAN HEADLINER tour with Belphegor (special guest) and two support acts
19.02.2015 HOL Rotterdam / Baroeg
20.02.2015 HOL Eindhoven / Effenaar
21.02.2015 HOL Sneek / Het Bolwerk
22.02.2015 BEL Vosselaar / Biebob
23.02.2015 UK Plymouth / The Hub
24.02.2015 UK Manchester / Academy 3
25.02.2015 UK Glasgow / Audio
26.02.2015 UK London / Underworld
27.02.2015 FR Paris / Divan du Monde
28.02.2015 CH Monthey / Pont Rouge
01.03.2015 FR Toulouse / Dynamo
03.03.2015 SP Madrid / Caracol
04.03.2015 SP Barcelona / Apolo
06.03.2015 ITA Turin / Cafe Liber
07.03.2015 ITA Brescia / Circolo Colony
08.03.2015 SLO Nova Gorica / Mostovna

HATEFEST 2015 with Six Feet Under, Vader and Hate
02.04.2015 DE – Leipzig, Hellraiser
03.04.2015 AT – Wien, Gasometer
04.04.2015 CH – Pratteln, Z7
05.04.2015 DE – Essen, Weststadthalle
06.04.2015 DE – Saarbrücken, Garage
07.04.2015 DE – Lindau, Club Vaudeville
08.04.2015 DE – Ludwigsburg, Rockfabrik
09.04.2015 DE – Hamburg, Markthalle
10.04.2015 DE – Geiselwind, Musichall
11.04.2015 DE – München, Backstage
12.04.2015 DE – Berlin, Postbahnhof

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Kjeld – Skym (2015)

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Kjeld tackles black metal by drawing a line through all of the bands to capture the concept through history and then pulling out the best and adapting it to a local sound, producing a band that alternates between mid-paced and high speed melodic black metal that balances its pleasant sounds with savage primitive riffing. The result introduces enough variation that melody serves as a technique within a palette, and brings out the implications of the phrases of the more chromatic riffing, allowing songs to mature into a clear perspective rising above the chaos.

The closest comparison to this band may come from second-wave bands like Kvist and Setherial, who shortened the longer melodies of Emperor and Burzum and focused on longer songs that brought forth the full melody later in it, more like the cosmic ambient music that inspired much of black metal. Similarly, Kjeld like to begin songs with a theme that develops in clash with more brutally straightforward riffing, then let it develop in order to be obliterated, then be reborn in its final form leading to re-interpretation of the initial theme. This effect works remarkably well as it allows songs to have the intensity of Zyklon-B (the band) with an endpoint like the flowing moments from Eucharist or Ancient, albeit in a style of melody that fits more in the local area from which this band came, much as the Sinister Diabolical Summoning brought forth a sense of if not ancestral at least familiar melody.

Skym maintains its intensity throughout the album mostly by varying tension internally in songs so that despite the high rate of fire the music never falls into a sonic wallpaper of uniform consistency that, even if intense, loses its power by becoming predictably so and relegating itself to a kind of drone. Instead, these songs develop as their own creations, and song structure varies moderately as a result, producing a series of listening experiences that put together create a power greater than the mere sum of their parts. Without putting itself in a camp or time period, Kjeld upholds the strength of black metal in both savagery and beauty, making this album the rare uncompromising listening experience that voices itself in a style fitting both its own experience and the ideal of the genre.

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Uncreation – The Great Delusion (2014)

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Australia band Uncreation combines several underground metal styles: trudging death metal in the Immolation style, bursting speed metal like Artillery, and technical death metal for transitions. Avoiding explicit hard rock, it cycles between different ideas compatible with death metal, but focuses too much on trudging beats like the Suffocation clones of the late 1990s. Technically adept, with highly proficient drumming, the band makes good work of these many styles and throws in some excellent riffs with an eye for transitions that increase emotional momentum even when slowing down. Vocals are of the raspy chihuahua-on-meth variety interpersed with the basement toad guttural that paces the beat during trudging parts. Within The Great Delusion is a promising album, buried under too much trope, with not enough emphasis placed on cultivating a mood and developing it instead of using it as a conduit to return to the trudge. Apparently the band has disbanded after the untimely death of their drummer Rowley Hill, and has made this album available for free and legal download.

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Paradise Lost releases “No Hope In Sight” from The Plague Within

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Seminal heavy metal/doom metal band Paradise Lost will release The Plague Within on June 1, 2015 in Europe (June 2 in USA) through Century Media Records. During the early 1990s, this band inspired death metal and black metal bands to experiment with layered melodic lead rhythm guitar over distorted power chords, and to this day holds a position both close to popular music and using underground technique.

Paradise Lost comments: “Check out the first track from our new album ‘The Plague Within’. ‘No Hope In Sight’ was one of the first tracks we wrote and it reflects a blend of styles. From death metal to gothic to classic rock. It’s like all eras of PL wrapped up into one track. We hope you all like it!”

“No Hope in Sight” follows a familiar format, which is as much Iron Maiden as Black Sabbath, using melodic hooks contrasted by slow bass-heavy chord progressions in an extended pop song format that made its debut back in the early days of MTV. The result is infectious and on the lighter side, but dark enough in spirit to attract Gothic and metal fans alike who enjoy well-composed straightforward music.

PARADISE LOST live:
29/05/2015 – Rockavaria – Munich – Germany
30/05/2015 – Rock im Revier – Gelsenkirchen – Germany
18/07/2015 – Castle Party Festival – Bolkow – Poland
15/08/2015 – Summer Breeze – Dinkelsbuhl – Germany

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Thantifaxath – Sacred White Noise (2014)

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The audience for this album are the same people who are fooled by magic shows at carnivals, speak in tongues at revivals, buy the latest iGadget sight unseen, and smoke in bed. If you claim to like this album, you are either not paying attention or merely a fool. Like every sell out, it is designed to cater to the lowest common denominator, which generally recruits idiots.

Thantifaxath combine trivialist “progressive,” minor key black metal riffs, and indie rock to make what they call “depressive suicidal black metal.” Songs start with basic black metal-ish riffs, but instead of featuring a varied internal texture, these are uniform with an equal number of strums per chord and chords generally changing on the beat, creating a drone effect. The band then play “progressive” riffs that amount to showy but not all that complex guitar and sonic technique used as distraction, and then get to the main point, which is minor key indie-rock riffs that feature the hook to the song. If you can imagine LSD guitar practice plus a basement black metal band ending up in a cover of someting off Daydream Nation, that is the sum total of Thantifaxath.

While the sin committed by Sacred White Noise is insincerity, its musical failing comes from being essentially contentless and relying on fireworks or pop techniques to fill in the void. What does this album communicate? According to people who claim to love DSBM, they find an emotional rush from this in realizing how horrible life truly is. But how is that different from emo? Late 80s emo achieved the same thing but it kept the pop more visible, so it could cry through the tears, as the saying went. This band wallows in its sadness and then plays random music over the top to distract from how fundamentally simple it is.

Thantifaxath use questionable “black metal” riffs. The riffing is essentially static such as that which bands like Nile or Necrophagist used, where the point was to play a chord in a certain rhythmic pattern and then add an extended fill so it seemed like a death metal riff, despite having more in common with Elvis or Lynyrd Skynyrd than death metal. These parallel the “progressive” playing, which seems to focus on finding a whacky guitar technique (whacky: odd, ironic, rarely used — because it is useless for expressing anything but musical confusion) and repeating it at different notes quickly and erratically. Sometimes this becomes comical when these patterns resemble familiar phone numbers or radio jingles. Its indie rock is clearly its heart, because the full melodic hook comes out here, but it does not distinguish itself from thousands of other bands in this area.

In summary, Thantifaxath create directionless melodic wandering at a slow pace with a hookish atmosphere in three styles, doing none well and fooling only those who have no particular ability to pay attention for prolonged periods of time. At its best, its melodies resemble the wandering style that Celestia brought out, but this style owes more to lack of purpose than to any idea or feeling it communicates. An astute observer will notice that for all of its supposed variation, this album expresses only one mood and it never changes — only is interrupted by distraction — and that it applies technique uniformly to create sonic wallpaper from even the most “different” pieces. To its audience, who apparently are so deep in self-pity that “depressive suicidal black metal” seems important, I have a word of advice: cut harder.

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Vexilla Regis Prodeunt Inferni – Vexilla Regis Prodeunt Inferni (2012)

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To make meaningful commentary on a band like Vexilla Regis Prodeunt Inferni, or any other band walking the old death metal tightrope for that matter, one has to hear them in context with the specific niche in time that their sound occupies. Execute a bit of nifty time-travel in the mind and place the band concerned in the august company that it aspires to keep. Observe if it compares favourably with at least the spirit of the originals in terms of aspects like general coherency in songwriting, perpetual will to forward motion, and, above all else, that ineffable, visceral reaction that only the very best are capable of evoking. Originality in this cloistered paradigm is a disingenuous word; what the avid listener hopes for is a transmission of the same vitality that informed the heyday of this music.

Vexilla Regis Prodeunt Inferni posits no claim to innovation but that is no crime in itself. Incantation, the bread n’ butter of modern death metal, is frequently referenced in the use of flowing tremolo lines plucked from the chromatic scale. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the use of atonality in death metal – it indeed comprises much of the bedrock of the genre – it also becomes something of a cop-out in the hands of lazy bands that lack the creativity required to compose tastefully and in accordance with tradition. Vexilla Regis Prodeunt Inferni aren’t an especially lazy band and are perfectly capable of constructing riffs according to harmonic conventions as heard in the more black metal-inspired sections of this album.

Where Vexilla Regis Prodeunt Inferni falls hard is in arrangement. Songs rarely build up to any kind of crescendo, even compromising whatever momentum may have been built up initially. While any topography consists of peaks and troughs, there appears to be no aesthetic meaning to Vexilla Regis Prodeunt Inferni‘s contours. Riffs rise and fall like waves on the ocean but without any of nature’s geometry, and what results is an album that touts itself as Satanic death metal but feels curiously void of life’s irrepressible energy.

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Toxemia – Ancient Demon

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Underneath the trappings of an underground death metal band, Toxemia create 1970s-style doom metal, formed mainly of heavy metal elements but incorporating stylistic influences from a variety of darker shades of underground metal, most notably Autopsy Mental Funeral.

In chord progressions, song structure and lead guitar, this album most closely resembles what might happen if old Saint Vitus crossed over with a primitive proto-death metal band like Master, albeit at the slower tempi necessary for doom metal. Each song features a riff loop for verse and chorus with discursive riffs and use of both freeform lead guitar and rhythmic lead guitar overlays to distinguish the song. Clear themes emerge and while tonally there are few surprises, the arrangement of these familiar elements in forms that fit the particular worldview of this band makes these tracks interesting. While the underground metal influence can be seen in tremolo technique and layering of drums and guitars around a tempo change in the death metal style, the essence of Ancient Demon remains in the hard rock/heavy metal roots of the first generation of doom metal bands.

Experienced listeners may find some kinship here with the first Varathron album which also took a theatrical approach to traditional heavy metal and created dark atmospheres which both fulfilled expectations of that genre and distorted them into outsider commentary on the conventions themselves. The use of doom-death technique accelerates this band past most of the bands heading backward in time in the doom metal genre, but its spirit remains in that ideal and its execution is both faithful and inventive.

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Funeral Bitch – The Demos

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The varied Paul Speckmann projects — Master, Abomination, Funeral Bitch, Death Strike and Speckmann Project — reveal attempts to forge a new genre out of the ashes of speed metal. Roughly combined of metal, punk and 60s rock, the Speckmann approach took several forms which reflected his vision of what was occurring in music at the time.

Funeral Bitch comes to us straight from the 1986-1987 era and reflects the influence of thrash on Speckmann. Not thrash as the teeny-bopper magazines us it to describe Metallica-style speed metal bands, but thrash in the sense of Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, Corrosion of Conformity and Cryptic Slaughter. Funeral Bitch sounds like the first COC album hybridized with the early Sodom demos under the advice of The Mentors.

Short songs weighing in at around two and a half minutes or less use the infectious vocals Speckmann borrowed from 60s rock, the buoyant energy from punk, and the shaped phrasal riffs of metal but deliver the punch quickly. Versions of “The Truth” and “Funeral Bitch” from other Speckmann projects reveal how these songs were sped up and the vocals simplified to a single cyclic hook for this rendition. The result is in many ways more compelling, because the extreme speed and thrashing drum aggression of Funeral Bitch requires simplification and removes many of the excesses inherited from rock that made Master and Abomination releases confused at times. Like commando raids in the night, these short songs leap in to the fray, speak their piece, bash down the opposition and then disappear into the jungle.

These two demos provide different views of the same idea. The earlier one shows more of a punk influence, while the later shows the marks of actual thrash and perhaps influences from the rising grindcore scene. On this re-issue they are at radically different volume levels which makes regular listening difficult, but these historical recordings fit another piece in the puzzle of the evolution of underground metal and provide a punchier, more effective version of the Speckmann vision.

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Infamous – Abisso

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Much like Nordic pioneers Ildjarn, Infamous combines the sounds of Oi and hardcore punk with black metal, but takes an approach similar to that of the Southern European black metal scene: longer melodies and song constructions building up to a triumphant explosion of rage.

Infamous uses longer melodies in the recursive style of RAC bands, which builds off a simple series of intervals a phrase with quite a bit of range, achieving an effect that inverts the drone of rock/blues into a diminishing melodic interval that expands into the stronger whole note and chromatic scales. Adding to this the band dig into a vast lexicon of black metal styles and produce a language all their own, choosing one progression (much like Enslaved) to guide the song and then branching to variations and oppositional phrases to build tension before a reunion, often with a sentimental lead guitar figure over the top. This creates an immersive sound which is both highly emotional and devoid of association with the comfortable sounds of music centered on humans, sounding more like ancient processionals filtered through violent punk bands and translated into black metal. The resulting atmosphere suspends disbelief and creates a fantastic world in which themes come alive as if on a stage.

With Abisso, Infamous improve over their debut Of Suicide and Silence by varying the form of each song more and as a result differentiating melodies through their development. In addition, higher speed drumming and guitar strum gives this EP a greater intensity without falling into sawing chaos. In many ways, it presages the wider changes which were to occur with the next full-length, Rovine e Disperazione, which took the band further into Ildjarn territory. For those who appreciate the pure spirit of black metal as it explores more of one of its foundational influences, this half-hour detour into an unearthly existence will provide savage enjoyment and contemplation.

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Corpse Machine – Depths of the Abyss

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Perhaps you hoped that Venom would put out a technical album without losing the energy of its primitive side. Corpse Machine aims for that gap with a heavy metal album dressed up as death/black metal, using mostly old school heavy metal riffs but concluding its songs in the soaring melodic motions which made black metal a favorite of its audience. Like Fester, Dissection and other heavy metal/black metal hybrids, the result has relatively predictable song structures and high doses of repetition but creates emotional tension through melody and makes songs into little worlds where the listener can cycle through a brief contrast in emotions.

While the stylistic aspects of this album will drive away the purist black metal fan, the underlying melodic composition is good: both compelling rhythmically and harmonically, it creates layered spaces of emotion with simple riffing formed in pairs. When Corpse Machine turn up the intensity the result is more energy behind the music but not a fundamental change in mood. The result seems crushed by its decision to straddle two different worlds, as this would make an amazing heavy metal album but ranks as confused for black metal. In many ways, it represents what Venom should have become if it had chosen to stay current with metal technique, and might fit alongside bands like Gehenna and Dodheimsgard which have a similar approach.

For Corpse Machine to rise to the next level, it makes sense for them to clarify this confusion in style and add more internal tension to give the satisfying moments of this release more power and thus to enhance their atmosphere. Depths of the Abyss shows an aptitude for engaging songs but does not rise to the black metal level of intensity despite having a similar approach to melody. Like other experiments in heavy/black like Dissection and Immortal At the Heart of Winter, it has an almost sentimental tint that amplifies its autumnal and post-apocalyptic sensations, but unlike those the darker parts of its composition cannot quite separate themselves from technique. Still there is great promise here that may develop on future works.

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