Det Som Engang Var: Significance and Merit

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Much like Darkthrone’s Under a Funeral Moon preceding Transilvanian Hunger or Immolation’s Herein After before Failures for Gods and Close to a World Below, Burzum’s Det Som Engang Var(roughly translatable as “What Once Was”) before Hvis Lyset Tar Oss(“If the Light Takes Us) puts on display all of Varg Vikernes’ faculties as a composer in a way that is still relatively easy for a listener to make out the different things he is doing, unlike the next album where a convergence and purification that only a minority are able to grasp in all its excellence and magnificence. As Brett Stevens commented not so long ago in reference to Immolation’s Close to a World Below, some bands make the same album again and again until they are able to solidify their vision in a magnum opus.

Many metalheads who respect this album may do so out of a respect for how influential it is, without truly understanding that even if this album came out today, after all the others they are said to have influenced, it would still be as impressive and worthy of high praise — but perhaps it would not be noticed by the same people who today profess to appreciate it. Contrary to common belief, its worth is musical, not historical only. This is not very different from people who “enjoy” Black Sabbath or Celtic Frost, but fail to see the monument that works like Master of Reality and To Mega Therion are. In great part this error lies in associating or equating technical prowess on the instrument and an apparent “complexity” of notes with  a complexity of thought and excellence in composition. These albums display an astounding clarity resulting from the exquisitely fused elements of music (harmony, melody, rhythm…) in a way that may strike the unaware as “simple”. Confusing intelligibility with limitation/blandness/simplicity is the greatest sin one can commit against masterworks of music, because the greatest works all share this as a common trait.. While this is even more true of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, it bears bringing into question the undue musical disrespect of which Burzum in general is the victim.

The album contains tracks that make use of abrasive and extremely dissonant intervals, very consonant and relaxed harmonizations of melodies, synths as support and synths as the main instrument in ambient tracks all together and mixed in different ways and given the spotlight in different tracks. It is, perhaps, this up-front “complexity” of having so many distinct colors that at least attracts the attention of and mention by even those who do not understand black metal. The composition itself is technically nuanced but like any proper work of art, comes off as intelligible to the point of being confused with “simplicity” in its negative connotation. The complexity of the works like Burzum lies in the seamless unfolding of a story, a masterfully woven tapestry blending all sorts of disparaged puzzles and meanings within its frames not unlike Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. The importance of discussing Det Som Engang Var is that it is here that his thinking  is most easily and obviously seen. Without understanding this album, monumental works like Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Burzum’s stepping-into ambient(or as he described it, Anti-Black Metal) territory, Filosofem, can never be truly appreciated.

Regarding its little-mentioned lyrical topics that are actually worth mentioning in any integral metal work, they consist on a mixture of melancholy and longing for a grand and fantastic past that exists more in the mind of a romantic than in historical reality (but which makes the values and traditions it longs for no less meaningful or real), and an existentialist questioning of the self’s position in a world of men that makes little sense and which launches the brave man in search of truth behind, or rather past, human constructions. In addition to that, the tendency towards nature worship and an attraction towards the forest as the archetypal home of homes, a safeguard from the evil of men and their perversions motivated by greed and thirst for power, is ever present in Varg Vikernes’ language and allusions. These have also been the target of cynical contempt by the petty minds of postmodernists who are unable to make a connection with nature and are rather too fond of themselves as creatures of a decadent society, leading them to denounce anyone pointing at obvious truths about its breaking-apart.

Restoring the pride and respect that Det Som Engang Var has never had in truth, just as Burzum hearkens to a grand past that has never existed here on Earth but that through an evocation of opposites rather points to an idealist future, so we attempt here to find a direction for future metal to grow in undreamed of ways that do not diverge from the essence of metal and that stand on the firm example of the greats that did exist but have never been duly studied.

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Necromantic Worship – Spirit of the Entrance Unto Death (2015)

Necromantic Worship

Occult-themed black metal that emphasizes its theme/ideology as its guiding light (as opposed to nu-black metal projects who can hardly be said to actually incorporate the ceremonial aspect into their music in any way besides their post-metal meanderings attempts at creating “atmosphere”) often fail for a variety of reasons. More often than not it is because they lose sight of what music is, and thinking only about their meta-presentation and try to justify poorly constructed music with the excuse that the goal lies outside music. In truth, good music is the goal itself, as a medium and experience. Rather than a gateway, it is the vehicle.

Necromantic Worship incorporates a very simple and almost rock-like repetitive black metal played with guitars that are barely set to override (not even truly distorted) and mix this with ambient-like passages that include the use of piano and synths, prayer exclamations and tremolo melodies. The best aspect of this three-song release is the latter. The simple and rock-like sections barely hold up musically, repeating for too-long with the only purpose of supporting the vocal track, itself only the medium for words. The verses that contain rapid-changing tremolo-picked melodies and soft blast beats are the only sections containing “singing” voice that can be rescued.

The sections that musically embrace the occult right and mix ambient and black metal are worthwhile and should be focused on by this artist in the future as his method has huge potential in its progressive bent. An alternative suggestion would be to learn motif-form variations in the black metal style from Varg Vikernes’ work with early Burzum. This, combined with a guitar tone that actually fills in the frequency spectrum of the audio would improve the overall experience.

Spirit of the Entrance Unto Death tracklist:

  1. Nergal, The Raging King
  2. Conjuration of the Fire God
  3. The Dark Young of Shub Niggurath
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Cianide – Death, Doom and Destruction (2015)

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Earlier in the Coffins review, it was mentioned how that band was little more than a superficial imitator of bands like Cianide, and that apart from imitating the same types of riffs, achieved little in the way of communication. This has everything to do with how a piece of music is organized. It is is not in the riff itself but the relationship between riffs and in how, in relation to each other, they sketch a landscape. Cianide understands this, Coffins and the multitudes of third-rate imitators do not.

While the tag of “doom” is attached to Cianide, it is only right to call them death metal. Period. A death metal band that sometimes plays in relatively slow tempos using completely diatonic schemes. This is strongly reminiscent of Black Sabbath, which were dubbed “doom” only in hindsight after later acts like Saint Vitus or Witchfinder General. Both of these bands just play simple heavy metal in a style that emphasizes the weight of riffs. Being the talented musicians they are, their song-construction is fluent and their parts inter-related. This goes without saying when it comes to good metal. The term “doom” only makes sense as a genre tags for acts such as Skepticism, Worship or Thergothon which definitely do not follow a death metal or a heavy metal template but operate on entirely different “ideological” (so to speak, but not politically, rather, artistically) premises.

In Death, Doom and Destruction, Cianide bring a more mobile conception of their particular style that emphasizes the dynamics afforded by their mid-paced trudging that allows them to waiver between heavy-trudging riffs ala Celtic Frost and faster tremolo-picked passages. Compared to their early work, this newer album is slightly simplified at the riff-level, although the construction has suffered little deterioration that this listener can perceive. The songwriting skills that allow them channel the rhythmic and harmonic impulse of one section onto the next and to trace a roller-coaster-like curve in the course of these musical pieces is stronger than ever. If anything, I would call this a condensed Cianide.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hj8SAYBUG4

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Coffins – Craving to Eternal Slumber (2015)

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While acts such as Immolation, Suffocation or Vader are routinely and falsely accused of making the same unchallenging album all over every few years without bringing anything to the table, this judgement is much more accurate when directed at a band like Coffins. While the attack leveled on the former bands is merely a lack of appreciation of the subtlety of the progression (in their early career) and latter downfall (mostly after the year 2000) of bands that were never stagnant but rather extremely consistent in their trajectory, in Coffins we find a band presenting Cianide-like doom-death cliches in a string of riffs that have no head, no tails, no climax, but rather a sequence of pleasing moments for the fan of the style.

These Japanese death metallers started this project right during the start of the worse decade for metal, the decade when all progress was dead and which had, apart from a few respectable echoing the remains of a golden era ten years in the past, a penchant for completely empty and lavishing parading of style cliches. Four full-length albums and a billion demos, EPs, and splits into their career, and Coffins still does not have a sound of its own. In them we can hear Cianide, and echos of other bands (but most Cianide). There is absolutely no trace of something that belongs to them. In fact, when played back to back with the aforementioned underground classic one wonders if Coffins’ release isn’t just an uninspired album by the first band.

Cult classics are usually (but not always) “cult” — that is having a very particular and reduced audience that listens to them almost as a guilty pleasure or with a fanatical eye for a very special reason — because they are not very good to begin with. Their is the underground, and then there are the “cult” bands. We can not apply the same rule to every band, but a good rule of thumb is: they did not make it for a reason, and they also became cult for a reason. In the case of Coffins, it is just a very faithful superficial imitation of cliches of the genre, which pleases all those looking for the exterior fascination but who apparently perceive very little of the progress of a music piece and what it has to communicate. Any serious death metal fan would do well to avoid losing their time with this passing bland piece of junk.

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Razor Rape – Orgy in Guts (2015)

RazorRape - OrgyInGuts COVER

Razor Rape is a grindcore band that focuses on gore for the fun of it. Whatever this particular style of grindcore is called out there is unimportant. It is only important to recognize that it is trying to be some kind of grindcore and describe it as groove-oriented, fluid, and offering no new thinking past the first two songs. By the third song, you are already hearing the band repeat itself. Then it’s just the same experience on a loop.

This makes Orgy in Guts yet another good example of how the limitations of the lyrical/ideological concept of the album affect the formation of art. If we start by placing the concept of this album, namely, the “orgy in guts”, an unabashed and obviously tongue-in-cheek gore comedy, with the music, namely, the bland and simple-minded rehashing of a couple of groove riffs in short arrangements that end not because the point was made already (as is the case with classics like early Napalm Death, and  all Blood) but just because grindcore songs are short and well, it’s a good excuse to not have to think about more riffs or sections.

Grindcore in presumption only, every song here is a cliche-collection arranged with little variation or purpose other than carrying  the vocal line enough so that screams out the mostly-unintelligible gore fantasies that serve to take listeners safely to a “dangerous” and “dark” place of the human mind. A project that does not take itself seriously can get away with presenting apparently controversial, taboo or shocking topics in a comedic way for the average Joe to approach it with a sense of morbidity without feeling that he is in any actual danger. Razor Rape forms part of the unnecessary fodder that plagues today’s metal landscape. Do avoid.

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Horgkomostropus – Lúgubre Resurrección (1995)

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Formed in 1991, Horgkomostropus was a death metal band hailing from the unlikely land of Honduras, in Central America. Unlike virtually every other band coming from that the area, this band actually proposes something of other own.  This music is not only several pegs above the vast majority of music in Central America, but it is also, in my view,  a strong contender in the death metal world of the 1990s. That is not to say I would place Horgkomostropus besides a Morbid Angel, but perhaps above a Demigod and below the Amorphis of The Karelian Isthmus in terms of its artistic (merit in composition, in part) weight.

The style displayed on Lúgubre Resurrección (or Ingubre Resurrecciòn?) is akin to that blood-dripped death metal that slurs in a development of motifs thematically related and played through tremolo passages and power chord statements. Perhaps best described as an original and distinct-sounding follower of the styles in which Paul Ledney excels, this album strikes one as something that Gorguts’ Considered Dead could have been if it were not only the tongue-in-cheek musically-compelling banner of death metal it is.

There is something to be said about the place and time in which this work arose and what we can infer from it in terms of the band’s seriousness, commitment and perhaps its correlation with talent. During the 1990s, Central America was practically without the means to professionally produce music in general, let alone publish metal. Any metal band that would remotely hope to publish its music had to reach out for Mexico. To someone from a developed nation, this may seem like no big deal, but considering the Internet-less “Third World” of the time, this is cannot be taken lightly. In such inhospitable climate, how did a Central American death metal band get their demo/album out there? I am guessing this people had to be in the “mailing” circuit of the underground.

The band was able to get their first demo,  Lúgubre Resurrección, out through Line America Productions, from Mexico. Needless to say, in these conditions, the commitment of the band against adversity and the complete lack of any possible material compensation reflects a disinterested sacrifice for art with a deeper meaning. Furthermore, given the limited resources and the difficulty of communication and publishing for death metal at the time and specially in the geographical area, the degree of talent needed to catch the attention of one of these very small labels that only supported very specific acts with equally uncommon mentality and faculties was by no means something to be overlooked.

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Horgkomostropus’ Lúgubre Resurrección is an esoteric work that in later projects by the band leader and lead guitar player, Fernando Sánchez, would turn to purposefully veiled occult affairs like Aria Sepvlchralia. As has been proposed before, a clear theme or belief that a project holds as its ideal usually lights a candle in the dungeons of the mind that one has to walk in in order to bring together a composition. Most bands we hear out there are zombies who are still wandering there, too deluded and trapped in their own minds to even recognize their condition.

Lúgubre Resurrección shines forth dark light in a mixture of demonic-bent death metal with a black mentality influenced by the local styles of street-dirt heavy metal that prevailed in Latin America at the time, themselves a pure expression of the violent, desperate and decadent situation that was being ignored by Christian wishful-thinkers and hypocritical morals-mongers. Beautifully perverse thematic development occurs in these songs with such a strict adherence to a clear motif that it allows for a greater flexibility in the textures of the riffs, which are always kept in the style of early blasphemous death metal that emphasized a dirty sound, not on the level of production only, but the musical statements themselves: not atonal, but tonal phrases just given the necessary twist for an aura of perversion to be perceived encroaching on everything from above. This is the natural world before us, but there is a supernatural transgression taking place over it.

(P.S. Special thanks to the guy from Metal Honduras blog for keeping a profile and mp3s of the band that would allow me to discover this, if I may so myself — a recently converted and now fervent fanatic, invaluable gem. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Metal-Honduras/217812037969)

Horgkomostropus MP3s

The following is

An orchestral piece based on “Lúgubre Resurrección”, originally written by S:E:Nctvm for Horgkomostropus (Death Metal) in 1996.

Performed & Arranged by: S:A:Ph with insight from S:E:Nctvm (2011),

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More on Le Triomphe du Charnier

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Beginning with an interesting melodic progression, picked on an acoustic guitar and accompanied by background noises of synthesized chords and muffled mechanical noises, the title track and introduction to Le Triomphe du Charnier suggests a world of underlying mystery and danger. After a noisy segue into the second track, we find that, not surprisingly, the music of Funeste is hardly acoustic guitar-oriented. Dual-guitar distorted riffs are constructed like a highway for heavy traffic, as one guitar militantly plugs away at a rhythm and sticks to one chord while the second guitar plays a melody that races along the foundation of the first guitar, taking twists and turns in cycles before switching to a new course once the harmonic tension is exhausted and the low-register rhythm guitar changes chords and opens up new paths for the flightier second guitar to navigate. This “lead guitar over rhythm guitar” approach is hardly a novel one for metal or rock music but Funeste pulls it off elegantly and with a very natural (rather than formulaic and unimaginative) feel, as the best of the classic black metal acts (Emperor and Immortal come to mind) have done. Vocals appear at the proper moment, reverb-laden and rather indistinct phonetically-speaking, but serving a purpose (through the stretched-out screams that decay slowly) as each vocal line connects riffs either from beginning-to-end or through transitions, from end-to-beginning.

During the second track which is the first fully proper song, Funeste displays an adroit sense of how to piece together their songs smoothly without relying on any uniform structure. The first really outstanding riff involves a downward chromatic drop that loops a handful of times before giving in to a less-disorienting melodic progression. After the lyrics have been vocalized, the progression then reiterates the downward drop once more before charging into the “outro”, the riffs that lead the song to its conclusion. This method of structuring a song is also traditional of great black metal; play a riff (A) that leads into a harmonically related riff (B), eventually looping back to the original riff (A) before boldly rushing into a new melodic territory altogether with a new riff (C).

Funeste still make a handful of strange choices that may be chalked up to oversight on their part due to inexperience, or the choices may be conscious and intended to disorient the listener. Either way, there are some awkward transitions like a “bridge” near the end of the third track, Le Passager Invisible, which is made of strange background noises and a slowly plucked guitar melody with minimal percussive intervention. The band meanders lethargically through this segment for a while before abruptly breaking into a high-speed tremolo-picked riff that closes out the song. This is likely to disorient the listener since smooth transitions have been the norm up to this point, and something like a steady increase in tension would be expected as the band moved from a slow, clean-sounding section to a high-speed aggressive-sounding section. Instead, we as listeners are lead delicately along a cliff edge, allowed to take cautious glances over the side and, then, before getting a chance to really let the danger of our predicament sink in, booted clean off the ledge and dropped into freefall. While the effect is intense, it is not congruous with the smoothly-flowing nature of the rest of the song and serves as a “magic breaker” that snaps us out of our imagination and reminds us that we are only listening to a song, not experiencing a journey.

Further, there is a tendency for the musicians (in particular, the drummer) to suffocate the gripping melodies of the guitars with redundant ornamentation. The drums were apparently played by someone with a love of hip-hop-style grooves and amphetamines. While there is nothing inherently wrong with enhancing your drumming skills with amphetamines, this guy’s style often detracts from rather than enhances the melodies because he overplays the two drums that have the sharpest percussive attack – the snare and kick drum – in flailing, jolting beats that sometimes resemble overlong fills that draw most of the listener’s attention and end up leading nowhere. This is an unforgivable sin as it achieves the opposite effect of emphasizing the most important part of the music – the melody – by obfuscating the note changes. Imagine reading an engaging story, written with carefully-chosen words, but sprinkled randomly with periods, semicolons, parentheses, and ellipses. That is akin to the experience of listening to well-written music with intrusive drums. Still annoying but to a lesser degree, a guitar will sometimes break into a nonsensical stream of artificial harmonics or other obnoxious noise, but these fits are few and far between and don’t detract so much from melody as just add some uncalled-for ornamentation.

Beyond musicianship alone, Funeste have added too many background “found sounds” or just strange digitally-manipulated noises that add nothing to the “atmosphere”, which I assume was the reasoning behind adding these extra layers. There are two reasons why this is bad:

1. The riffs that are more harmonically sparse lose their dynamic capacity from being drenched in washes of amelodic background noise, and begin to sound even denser than the full-on blasting sections.

2. It makes the band seem underconfident in their ability to let the melody carry itself and express emotion, mood, thought, sense, experience, which the melody is perfectly capable of doing if just given some breathing room.

Much of the time, new bands (particularly those trying to play black metal) try to get away with being so simplistic that they sound like a really stoned punk band that can’t count how many measures they’ve been through and end up making ten-minute songs out of the same two chord progressions. Others focus so much on “technicality” that they end up playing something like etudes for guitar wankers. Funeste is special for committing neither sin; they have given us some good melody-focused work here that will benefit from having the extraneous elements removed.

https://www.facebook.com/funestemtl?fref=ts

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Sadistic Possession Vivisection

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The Belgian frites in Possession stumbled upon Mayhem’s Deathcrush EP on Youtube a few years ago and falsely epiphanized that black metal is Black Flag with blast beats. Deathcrush was heavily hardcore influenced but Mayhem applied speed metal to the primitive sonic violence of Venom and Hellhammer to create a fierce breed of blackened thrash. Possession ignore their idols’ basic compositional achievements in chainsaw gutsfucking by repeating three chord punk riffs for four to six minutes. Celtic Frost, Sodom, and Sepultura theft continually occurs and bores as Possession demonstrate their limits as a house party cover band.

The droning powerchords are not composed into coherent metal songs but placed within autistic perseverations on historical witchery. Each release regales the listener with minutiae on a different witch’s life before lamenting her fiery death for deviant behavior. These incomprehensible lyrics are probably meant to provoke feelings of injustice in bearded liberal ex-punks who tattoo themselves as a sexual display of non-conformity to fat women in Brooklyn.

The problem is few pop-punk Wiccans tolerate unclean vocals, greatly limiting the potential market. Iron Bonehead has rectified this by dousing these waffles in corpse paint and commissioning Chris Moyen to pick the pockets of the Beherit crowd. Those monochrome goats have to sell or else next month’s supply of cost-reduced Fernsehbier will be at risk.

https://www.facebook.com/hisbestdeceit?fref=ts

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Obisidian ­ – No Self to Sue (2015)

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The basic sonic template for this album is late-­model melodic hardcore in the vein of Champion or Verse; that means a melodic base of straightforward four-­chord (or less) progressions in a basic minor scale played rhythmically on the guitars, looped for four or eight bars, usually until the progression becomes stale (more common) or the vocals lead to a new riff cycle (less common). Each riff continues until Obisidian see fit (as typical of modern “hardcore”) to abandon the progression altogether and move on to a riff with a completely different feel instead of developing the last riff (through harmonic augmentation rather than plain repetition) and moving toward a new one logically.

Generally, this method of composition would be frowned upon, but in the case of this album, the changes are welcome since the listener is undoubtedly anticipating the next riff with relish since the last one is sure to have become stale after a few cycles. Obsidian avoid this jarring transition sometimes by simply shifting to another rhythmic style (for instance, playing the same (or a similar) chord progression with palm-­muted strokes and a half­-time drum beat). However, this is not always the case; toward the end of the album, we see some interesting melodic progressions that move forward in the style of black metal without the need for vocal embellishment. For the worse, these sections appear too few and ­far between.

The saving grace of this album is Obsidian’s ability to throw in NWOBHM­ style guitar lines which,
although rarely progressing rationally from the last riff, are very cool-­sounding and give a boost of energy to each song. However, the riffs feel generally out ­of ­place since, once they are over, the next section invariably drops back to cliche modern hardcore dime­-a­-dozen riffs. Nevertheless, the guitarist(s) display a refined sense exactly how far they can push the hardcore­ style riffs augmented by vocal rhythm before needing to introduce a more harmonically­ rich dual­ guitar segment. Beyond that, the band seems very comfortable when tying off­-time (usually switching from a 3/4 to 4/4 beat) rhythms together in a way that avoids the typical metalcore­ style riff­ salad style that feels like something you could hear during a tour of a zoo; “And if you look to your left you’ll see our lions as they feed on… oh, look to the right to see the zebras in a galloping herd!”

All ­in ­all, the music achieves its purpose as being something that impels the listener to charge their adrenaline and accomplish something physically demanding. It might make good workout music or something that would be great to experience in a live setting. However, a listener (particularly of the metal persuasion) looking for music that describes a series of situations narratively might find themselves bored by melodies that wear out their welcome before being augmented rhythmically, as this album is chock­full of cool riffs that make just as much sense when listened to at random intervals rather than in a riff­ by ­riff manner.

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