Ancient Wind – The Chosen Slain

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Properly belonging to the power metal camp that hybridized heavy metal with death metal technique, Ancient Wind plays fast melodic songs with conventional structure in a style influenced by melodic death metal favorites like At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul but also takes its influence from higher-energy bands in that style like Unanimated Ancient God of Evil and Merciless Unbound.

Within that context, this band is highly competent but it is possible to win the battle and lose the war, and unfortunately by managing their technique so carefully Ancient Wind have created the most unfortunate of all metal mis-steps, which is the album of constant intensity. This same disadvantage plagues bands like Perdition Temple and Fallen Christ with an energy that is so incessant it causes the music to fade into the background because of its invariant nature. That being said, there is some quality riffing here although nothing all that surprising, much of which recycles the 1980s era of heavy metal with a focus on Iron Maiden. Bluesy leads with staggered tonal center shifts complete that part of the picture. With all of that considered, it begs the question whether Ancient Wind should keep up the death metal front at all because with more internal tempo changes and a classic Hetfield-style strong male vocal, they could be on the edge of a speed metal revival which not only is a less crowded field than melodic “death metal” — put in quotations because at its heart this is heavy metal or speed metal with death metal technique but not composition — but more accurately represents the inclinations of this band. Liking classic heavy metal has never been a bad thing, but a modern tribute to that style will have to achieve the same distinction that the original had or it fades into the stylistic background much like constant high intensity and similar song structures causes it to flow past like a faucet on “high.”

The Chosen Slain displays many strong attributes including impeccable musicianship through riffs that demand not just precision siting of chords in the technical heavy metal style, but accurate textural strumming in the death metal method. Clearly a lot of effort went into this release. With more tempo changes, song structures that wait to present conclusions until they culminate tension in the music, and a few stylistic adjustments, this could be a really excellent record. As it is now, it faces a difficult struggle differentiating itself in the melodic death metal field despite being better than most contenders. As this band gains more confidence and listens more to their own material, it is likely these changes will come naturally, and an album which strikes the listener as competent but not memorable like The Chosen Slain will give way to something more like its inspiration in Merciless and Unanimated and less like the immensely popular but saccharine and uninspiring drivel that At the Gates put out after giving up on their own art and wanting metal to be a day job instead.

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First impressions: Kaeck (NL)

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Composed of members of Kjeld, Noordelingen and Sammath, Kaeck is a new style of black metal that upholds the intensity of war metal but infuses it with the elegant melody of classic black metal. The result is a surging malevolence on the surface with an inner core of transcendent beauty.

To the experienced ear, comparisons arise immediately to Impaled Nazarene and Zyklon-B, both of whom used the blasting full-speed attack with undertones of melody to its advantage. A more bestial presence occurs here, taking influence from both the death metal crossover of later black metal and the burly high-intensity rhythm and noisy attack of war metal. The result melds sawing riffs with rising hints of melody and then runs that violence into archly ascending phrases which emphasize a union of the aggression and the beauty into a rejection of all but the pure feral naturalism of both beast and forest.

Although Kaeck is in its earliest stages, the band has material currently being mastered which will unleash itself within the week. Several labels have shown interest and one will probably snap up this promising new take on older sounds because it achieves the rhythmic intensity of current metal in concert with the elements of black metal that made it the most enduring underground metal genre, namely its ability to find purpose in nature and alienation from the corrupted mess that is our society. Both listenable and true to its genre roots, Kaeck opens a door to new possibilities in black metal.

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Maanes – Under Ein Blodraud Maane

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When a genre performs a postmortem on itself as black metal is about to do, it looks back through the years not only to find its peaks, but to find its forgeries. Like the first real black metal forgery, Ulver Nattens Madrigal, Maanes is an artistic fraud that uses the technique of black metal for its own sake, without having any idea of the underlying expression. It does not matter what that expression is because it cannot be policed with a list of rules, but the fact that it exists in actual black metal and not here is a matter of historical record.

“Sensitive guy” metal was nothing new when this was released. Opeth had already been mincing around the edges of the underground for a few years, following up on melodic softer death metal from Tiamat and Cemetary. Paradise Lost was huge and so was the idea of “crossover,” since everyone and their dog realized black metal had a narrow set of ideas that required exceptional people to implement, and that with those exhausted there was now a market for imitators. Maanes starts with the proposition that Burzum can be cloned, and to make that clone palatable to the kids emerging from the suburbs like spores from fungus, this clone could be hybridized with light progressive rock like Pink Floyd. The result is 90% black metal tropes laid out in mellow songs that develop seemingly independently of the melodic and corresponding artistic implications of the riffs, making an experience that is pleasant on the surface but leaves a gnawing emptiness from its failure to deliver the kind of profound transport and insightful revelation that black metal provided.

What makes this release hard to attack is that it is well-executed, well-produced and carefully concealed. Maanes are not amateurs; more likely, they are guys who got tired of having no success in other genres despite being better musicians than the people who were making the big bucks and getting their names in the newspapers. Like other Burzum clones of the era, most notably Abyssic Hate, Maanes make good use of Burzum sweep technique and even give a nod to Filosofem with the production. Using grandiose keyboards alongside somewhat obvious riffs capitalizing on known black metal patterns, Maanes keep up the black metal “sound” but these songs never go through the emotional process of discovering what lies beneath and so rapidly the listening experience becomes like hearing a front-loading washer finish up a duvet cover, if the washer had a good background in rock guitar.

The tragedy of black metal is that while it cannot be cloned it can be imitated, and so bands like Ulver and Maanes emerged to put a black metal surface on the same stuff they would have done with their Oingo Boingo cover bands a few years before. Interestingly, the technical competence as songwriters of these bands has declined over the years as nu-black has set its sights more on punk than on progressive rock. The approach remains the same and the effect similarly hollow, leaving listeners wanting more but not sure they want more of this. These sprawling songs carefully disguise how much they repeat their themes, often for seven minutes at a time, in what is essentially verse chorus songwriting that every two repetitions interrupts itself with a brief divergence. Newer bands do not even bother to do that, but make straight-up pop songs with black metal distortion and a few riff archetypes. Nods to Burzum, Darkthrone and Mayhem bubble to the surface throughout this release but it is unable to build context for its riffs to create the kind of atmosphere that those founding bands manipulated so well. The result is like every other aspect of modern society, ultra-competent on the surface and directionless within.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbYP0mK9xVU

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Remains – Evoking Darkness

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Old school death metal band Remains returns with its fourth release Evoking Darkness which shows inspiration from the Swedish and American greats of mid-90s death metal merged with the type of bluesy and infectious integration of classic heavy metal that made Clandestine a powerful album, albeit placed in a style that is closer to a cross between older Dismember and Unleashed. The band does not attempt to innovate in aesthetics but creates a sonic charge with the energy and unsettling corruption of mainstream archetypes which defined death metal during its heyday.

The band produced an impressive body of work with its 2012 demo “The True Essence,” the …Of Death EP the following year and Angels Burned in 2014, and follows up on those with simpler, tighter songs that eschew pure grinding in favor of a well-blended integration of metal styles designed to be both audially compelling and unnerving in the method of classic death metal. Songs rotate around a central break from the verse/chorus pairings, repeating themselves in both introduction and egress from that core confrontation. Lead guitars drop in with a variety of styles integrated into organic but energetic explosions of clusters of notes and lengthy fret runs. Vocals take on the gruff exhortations of older Dismember and give it the percussive rhythm of American death metal like Malevolent Creation, crafting a narrative of violence with a lining of excited morbidity. Remains shy away from the melancholic and dark side of death metal and instead converge on its region of pure energy, with music that delights in the finely-picked textures of Swedish death metal alongside the percussive power of Florida death metal. Herein lies where Remains can improve this work, which is that the hard rock/heavy metal integration into the death metal does not always emerge triumphant and often consumes the death metal portion, and extremely basic chord progressions which do not give songs much room to expand in structure or melody. The aesthetic, energy and atmosphere remain perfect and can expand over time as this band matures.

Most people will be floored by how Evoking Darkness not only stays true to the old school sound but gives it life through a voice of its own which is not expressed in style but in these songs themselves and their unique takes on the riff forms from the past forty years of metal. Where Remains shows its power is in the fitting together of these meticulously crafted rhythms so that riffs both flow and contrast one another; while greater harmonic or melodic death would enhance this, it alone makes Evoking Darkness more listenable than all but a few of the retro-death albums which fit together blockily or unevenly. These riffs balance each other in dissymmetry and create a sense of an evolving lacuna which propels the listener forward to see what comes next. Not only do riffs counterpart each other well, but their internal rhythms show a study of the power of the riff itself, and the album flows past without lapses or discontinuities. It shows vast improvement over the previous album from this band and signals a path to their future, since Remains has built a framework upon which more complexity, both in complexity of structure and use of tone, can be built.

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Infernal Dominion – Salvation Through Infinite Suffering

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The late 1990s belonged to bands of the Suffocation style of percussive death metal which derived its essential technique, the muted-strum power chord, from speed metal, but worked riffs into mazes with high dynamic variation but consistent narrative in the death metal style. This balance proves difficult to maintain as choppy riffing lends itself too easily to simply circular riff patterns and the resulting patchwork song structures. Starting with Sinister Hate in 1996, the subgenre experienced a revitalization through the injection of melody and the more theatrical song structures of mid-paced death metal. With the rise of Unique Leader bands in the early 2000s, the percussive brutal death metal sub-sub-genre exploded, and into that environment Infernal Dominion dropped its only album.

Salvation Through Infinite Suffering dwells within that narrow musical range but derives most of its influence from bands like Incantation (specifically 1997’s Forsaken Mourning of Angelic Anguish) and Immolation, although it applies these within the percussive blasting style. Bands of this era struggled to balance the need for compelling rhythm in vocals and verse riffs with the more fluid and aggressive choruses and other riffs designed to support the developing song structure. Any greatest strength is a greatest weakness, and in percussive death metal the same type of sound that makes it compelling also can take over composition and result in boring songs that repeat too much of the same stuff and go nowhere.

Infernal Dominion interpret this style as having a high dynamic intensity in song structure but built around loops that emphasize the verses and allow vocals and percussive strumming to take center stage. Onto that they add complex lead guitars that while jazz and rock influenced stay out of entirely cloning those styles. Many excellent riffs, some of the archetypes that later appear in guitarist Wes Weaver’s more recent band Blaspherian, go into this release as does a violent and compelling performance by the vocalist and other instrumentalists. The challenge remains allowing both influences to breathe, both the guttural blasting death metal that occupies the surface style and the underlying fascination with the darker doom-death and cavernous death metal styles. Sometimes the styles emerge and separate like two heads of a dragon fighting one another, and by the law of compromise the band defaults to the simpler elements.

While Salvation Through Infinite Suffering offers many moments of greatness, it possesses more potential than was ultimately delivered. It relies too much on its great strength, trying to make the vocals lead songs where guitar needs to lead, and then packing too much into each song. As the inclusion of several tracks from 2004 show on this release, over time the band streamlined its material and achieved greater clarity while still keeping the terrifying guttural vocals and perhaps making them even more violent. While this album may have attempted a grand vision that never quite realized itself, in part because of stylistic or personality conflicts in the band, it also provides a grimoire of great musical ideas which await development by future death metal musicians.

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Mütiilation – Vampires of Black Imperial Blood

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In the 1990s, there dwelled a cabal of musicians in France called Les Légions Noires which specialized in basic, raw, occult black metal. Many of the LLN releases were superb, most however, were significantly less than appealing. One of the more exceptional records to be served out of this French cauldron is Mütiilation’s debut album Vampires of Black Imperial Blood.

Stylistically, this album is similar to Black Funeral in terms of both riffing approach and occult fascination. This release works on its ability to place the listener upon the fulcrum between terror and nightly beauty. Cavernous rivers of melody advance and collide in such a way that it plunges the listener through a gloomy current that fluctuates between those two sensations until they are indistinguishable.

Vampires of Black Imperial Blood is often eclipsed by the oppressively colossal Remains of a Ruined, Dead, Cursed Soul that would come later. This makes sense because their sophomore effort does indeed leave a more lasting impression. However, to skip over this album would be a mistake as it nails down the grisly basis for the mastery to come.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwQFsBlWelQ

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 02-25-15

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What is the human problem? Everything we do is insincere, and any time someone rises above that standard, they are torn down out of the fear that their excellence might offend those who are mediocre, who (conveniently) comprise the majority of humanity. We separate mediocre conformity from people who make realistic, sincere and inspired art out of heavy metal genres, and ignore the blood on the floor and the tears on the fedora because feelings are always less important than truth. Step over the bodies of hipsters, poseurs, tryhards, SJWs, scenesters, day trippers, rationalization hamsters and sell-outs, and welcome to Sadistic Metal Reviews

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Torche – Restarter

What is sludge? It is what failed in other forms slowing itself down and mixing metal into its techniques in order to disguise that it has failed. If you tuned the guitars up, played it at mid-pace and avoiding the metal downstroke technique, Torche would be just another indie rock band in the late 90s style. The focus is on melancholic but egotistical vocal lines which are almost autistic and certainly narcissistic (and aren’t the two degrees of the same problem, which is exclusive self-referentiality?) in their tendency to confirm their precepts with their conclusions, backed by lots of downstrummed guitars and slow drums. In the 1990s, labels tried this style with Fudge Tunnel and later even Godflesh got in the game, but went nowhere, because people could realize the basic “Nirvana + doom” formula used back then. The formula now is even more basic. It is indie rock with metal technique and nothing else. Much of this sounds like outtakes from a Filter or Faith No More album, but updated with the kind of simplistic approach that became popular when music videos faded and became incorporated into mainstream cinema instead. This would be great background music for teenagers smoking dope by the old reservoir or similarly pointless rebellion that ends with them just getting locked into the system harder. This music is a fraud and its fans are idiots.

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Armageddon – Captivity & Devourment

The title refers to the album itself: it lures you in with the promise of extreme metal, then subjects you to the 80s speed metal/nu-metal/melodeath hybrid cooked up by music industry executives looking over Excel spreadsheets of sales successes, or maybe just opportunistic musicians. Either way, most of our species are simple-minded idiots and this music panders to them with lots of Pantera/Meshuggah style violent verses and binary riffs that sort of wiggle around in the space between two points, ending symmetrically on the opposite note from the one that resolves the first half of the phrase. Lots of e-chord rhythm riffing in this style combines randomly with other influences and creates an end result that is not quite as blatantly distracting “carnival music” as Behemoth but more like heavy metal featured in movies: it sounds good when the solo kicks in, but the rest is lead-up to that with industrial music style vocals disguised as metal, and random riffs fleshing out what are otherwise pop songs whose parts barely relate to one another. For all the instrumental prowess of this band, they seem to have no idea what to write, and it shows in this amalgam of label darlings lashed together with rhythm for the brain-damaged.

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Vermis Mortem – Evil Never Dies

The intro to this EP is pointless and should be deleted for being both without purpose and annoying. What follows is very closed-circuit death metal in a style like Angelcorpse merged with Hate Eternal and older Death, which is to say a very modern style, that emphasizes the vocals which lead songs through some rather stereotypical and extremely balanced and basic riffs. The result is painful boredom unless you like the vocals, which enunciate and jump around like a performer at a Shakespeare revival in the park, but this over-acting does not save us from the musical tedium of this release. It is catchy, its rhythms are compelling, but it develops nowhere. Vocal rhythms are obvious like children’s rhymes and riffs represent streamlined versions of what has worked well in the past 20 years, but in this streamlining, the parts of the riff that gave its shape interesting dimension are removed, and we are left with a three-part puzzle with no mystery. Burden a riff like that with the duty to provide support for vocals which are blurting out similarly quasi-catchy patterns and the result is a song which seems to chant in unison the most simplistic elements it has in common, and the listener is back in pop territory where repetition becomes a bludgeon and even small variations seem exciting. For as much as this band wants to be old school, its reliance on the ego — the vocals — forces it into surface-level composition and obliterates whatever of depth it may have hoped to express.

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Pentagram – Relentless

We can all agree that 90% of everything on earth is crap and that most people are merely self-interested, meaning that there is no greater dimension to them, and as they tend to be incompetent they become the type of parasite that takes everything for itself and then destroys it, left blaming others for its “misfortune.” Most people behave this way and because they are somewhat aware of this, they seek material to camouflage their mediocrity with irony, novelty and other “different” and “unique” signals. These signals allow them to defer criticism by showing how they aren’t like the rest, which is a way of saying they are afraid we will find out that they are exactly like the rest. Pentagram has become somewhat of a media favorite and a crowd favorite mainly because it is not metal. This is straight out of the 1960s rock explosion, focused on melodic hooks in chorus and voice acting on the verses. They even made a movie about this band and its strung out vocalist, as if trying to make Pentagram into the doom metal version of Roky Erikson. The problem here is that Pentagram is a step back to before Black Sabbath but uses the muted strum of speed metal and the detuning of a heavy metal band, although its songs really have more in common with the previous generation. Beware of what the herd likes because they are liars trying to conceal their mediocrity, and this applies doubly with Pentagram. This band would not have gone far as a regular rock band but if you add the novelty factor of doom metal plus Satan-ish overtones, people are interested. Stoner doom metal is generally a fraud that disguises failed rock as innovative metal, and Pentagram is no exception. The herd lies and it will destroy anything it can control in its desperate quest to hide its own lack of soul, integrity and purpose. Throw this band in the ditch with the other 60s burnouts and move on to real, actual metal instead.

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Acid King – Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere

Heavy metal grew out of many influences including psychedelic music. The challenge to psychedelic music is to make sound that induces hallucinogenic experience in sober people, not to create music which appeals only to the very stoned with cover art that looks good next to a bag of Cheetos. Like most stoner rock, Acid King is a fraud: basically slow jam rock with heavy distortion played with a few aesthetic elements of doom metal, but essentially unchanged from the 1970s jive that sent people fleeing to heavy metal in the first place. This is boring music played slowly to disguise how little actually goes on. A female vocal drones alongside a rock-style riff, with no “shape” as metal riffs have, and then guitars wheedle-beedle and zeetly-zeetly-zeet after prolonged “melodic” solo introductions that are merely repetitive. If you are very high, preferably on the higher grade of cheap weed that deactivates all higher brain function except what is required to order pizza and play NES ironically, you may find this appealing because it is sonically well-formed and texturally distinctive enough. But there is no meaning here, nor even a really good distraction, which tends to be the case with all stoner doom (which we might as well be honest and call “nu-doom” or “nu-heavy” metal).

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Eternal Solstice – Remnants of Immortality

What a horror: death metal styling applied like vinyl siding to what is essentially hard rock with an addiction to uniform conclusions and obvious riff forms. It is just blockhead, paint-by-numbers death metal. At this point, nothing more needs be said except to mention the electronic vocals, which would not be a problem except they sound like a bad American crime show where the bad guy uses a voice disguiser bought from Radio Shack back in the 1970s to hide his identity when calling over a pay phone. The style alone would not doom this band, if they could simply make hard rock in the heavier vein somewhere between early Motley Crue and later Pantera, but their music is just boring. No harmonic or melodic hook exists, and the rhythmic hook consists of the same type of expectation that comes from waiting for the person in the apartment above to drop the second shoe on the floor before retiring to bed for the night. Sometimes, bands like this get miscalled “heavy” because they are numbing through repetition and sheer simplistic mentality to their riff-writing, and Eternal Solstice qualifies in this department. What drives you to listen to this band is the quasi-OCD that people on the internet talk about, which is that if there is a basic sequence of events, you want to see it completed. Other than that, no appeal, and this one should go back to the pits of hell for recycling.

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Recueil Morbide – Morbid Collection

Recueil Morbide takes the fertile music of the late 1980s where bands verged on death metal from speed metal and adds to it a sense of melody and modern metal vocals. The result attempts to fuse the Unique Leader style of brutal deathcore with melodeath and come out with a good result, which this band mostly does, but is limited by the demands of the style that it keep within one level of cause and effect, resulting in pounding riffs and soaring melodic passages being used as effects in otherwise fairly straightforward death metal songs. That is distinct from the classic death metal approach which used structure to express content, instead of doing so on the surface where structure was recombinant and vocals, lyrics, effects, etc. were required to make an impression on the listener. Too much of Recueil Morbide takes the same approach and the result is that meaning and interest — what distinguishes this band from all others — are left on the surface with a feeling of being unexplored. If this band wants to succeed, they will focus less on the stuff everyone else does and more on what they do, taking it from 10% of this album to a much higher figure. As a side note, the melodies that this band writes sound like variations on the James Bond theme, which happens several times on this release. Maybe it’s an allusion.

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Znafelriff – Ruin

Creating melodic death/black with simple song structures, Znafelriff uses a number of influences along these lines — “Ruin” borrows quite a bit from “Mountains of Might” from Immortal Blizzard Beasts — to forge together music which keeps charging energy high but never intensifies the energy itself, leading to a kind of circularity. Songs start, launch into a riff, add a counterpoint riff, and then cycle until they wear down. When the band wants more power, they add blasting drums and more extreme vocals; for emotion, they work in melody. Many parts of this resemble early Tormentor given a death metal makeover. While nothing is particularly wrong here, it leaves no particular impression either since songs are exercises in maintaining a mood rather than developing it, and the style is a semi-unique mix of standard influences resulting in a genericism of low expectations. If this band wants to move further toward excellent, it should rely less on vocals and more on combining riffs to create a focal point at which atmosphere shifts, and to make that atmosphere resemble something other than a vague uncertainty, darkness and rage.

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Nader Sadek – The Malefic: Chapter III

When I first heard this artist, I thought: someone attempting to make something of the Hate Eternal style, itself a smart move by Eric Tucker which tried to harness the appeal of modern metal through a style that still retained the coherence of older metal. The problem artists deal with is that this style brooks no compromise. It demands constant charging vocals ahead of the drums with insistent patterns and those lead the song, which crowds out other instruments as lead, which demotes guitar to a secondary role and thus demotes melody and structure as well, in favor of relatively monotonic vocals. Guitars appear as adornments to this basic style, which is closer to pop than heavy metal, but when the detour is over the ranting vocals resume. This forces the band to cram its best activities into relatively small areas of each song. Nader Sadek struggles with this impossible burden as well. It is simply paradoxical. The interesting parts of these songs are the little transitions and flights of fancy between the “hard” verse riffs with charging vocals and the parts of the solos that are designed to be fireworks for a “wow factor” with the mouth-breathing, fetus-hands and neck-bearded audience. Can’t some label give this artist enough money that he can write songs based on those interesting parts, instead of the parts which we know the herd will clap its little hands without forearms for? The style betrays the artist.

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Ossuaire – “Le Troubadour Necrophageophile” (demo 2014)

For that feeling of old school mid-paced death metal, Ossuaire makes a credible stab: good riff variation, songs fit together well, but with too much emphasis on vocals and not enough on structure, and often too much reliance on riffs that make their hook out of brief interruption of utter predictability. Those disadvantages are minor compared to the overall appeal of this brief recording which is its ability to keep intensity in a death metal style without relying on crutches, and while maintaining a character of its own, somewhere between old Morgoth, Infester and later Suffocation. The challenge for this band will not be to develop its own style, although it will want to go further in that direction, but to edit its material so that it presents its most dramatic elements at the right time after the right build-up, and so creates the kind of mood-shifting experience that made classic death metal great. All of the parts are there and the execution rapidly approaches that place; it would be aided with less reliance on the vocalist, which as many classic death metal bands found out, results in lessening of the influence of other instruments which bends composition back toward the rock/pop standard, which is designed as background music for vocals which exist to blurt out some message of peacelove or happiness, which was generally the point of rock ‘n roll. Ossuaire have done well to escape that, but if they do better, can be a top-flight death metal band.

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Keep of Kalessin – Epistemology

This band went from being a bad black metal imitation to being a thinly-disguised modern metal band that uses melodic choruses to hide its otherwise bog-standard post-Pantera speed metal approach. Their “black metal” combined boring tryhard blasting with purposeless folk-metal styling and fooled a number of people, most notably the clueless NWN/FMP crowd, but apparently eventually the market caught up with them and started over-producing sing-song black metal so Keep of Kalessin switched to what could easily fit into the MTV hard rock of the late 80s with a stylistic upgrade to be contemporary. The melodic hooks are adequate but of well-known forms, and verses emphasize some kind of drama to distract from the underlying purposelessness, and the songs progress according to the formula of friendly verse, dramatic chorus, a brief bridge with noodly solo and then return to the loop. This formula appears in all rock, techno, blues, etc. and serves its purpose well for being background music to the unexceptional lives of the many people out there who, unwilling to step beyond the bounds of self to escape narcissism, flit from one distraction to the next without caring much about content. For anyone with a functional brain or any listening experience, Keep of Kalessin rings hollow and seems as commercial as it secretly is underneath the skin. It would be more honest to pick up an old Def Leppard album where these riff patterns and song forms are crafted with more conviction, and the nature of the music does not have to hide itself behind pretense, subterfuge and illusion.

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Ravencult – Morbid Blood

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Around a decade ago, the funderground types (NWN/FMP) started a campaign to include Venom as the “first wave of black metal,” even though before that time nearly all sources agreed that Venom were NWOBHM and probably less influential on black metal than Motorhead. But suddenly this huge push existed to bring Venom into black metal; why? Listening to Ravencult, it is clear: so that they could make mediocre heavy metal, speed it up like a punk band and add rasping vocals and call it black metal. This created an instant doubling of product to capture that boom in clued-out kids trying to buy into the black metal hype.

Ravencult drops firmly within this camp. They keep the constant forward rhythm of a war metal band and underneath it re-visit riffs from the 80s and 90s which, despite their chromatic nature, often have a basis in the rhythms and tonal changes of hard rock. The result is something that you want to like but it is too simple-minded and repetitive ultimately to provide anything but a sting of nostalgia and then lots of comforting background noise. It will never motivate anyone to any particular greatness like the old bands used to do. As they say in the funderground, at least it is true… or is that so? It might be better to sever from the past, and create something new instead. Or at least something with the same intensity of death/black metal, instead of trying to make lower intensity versions of the classics so that people can enjoy them like easy listening music or lite jazz, sitting on their comfortable sofas sipping Chivas and “appreciating” black metal.

and of course the unholy genesis of underground metal — Hellhammer, Bathory, Sodom and Slayer —

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Alchemyst – Nekromanteion

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Purveyors of occult black/death Alchemyst introduced their ominous presence in the underground in 2009 only to seclude themselves in 2014. During that time the band released three demos, a compilation, a split, and the full length effort in question, Nekromanteion. While the atmosphere that this band deploys finds kinship in the mystic aura of black metal, its genesis lies in the archaic realms of ultra-cryptic riff-labyrinth death metal.

Alchemyst manifests through cavernous, dark death metal with an atmosphere that crushes the listener under pressure while simultaneously enervating them with despair. Songs are comprised of unique, murky, and arcane riffs that resound varying moods, which creates a dark and meancing instability. The compelling essence of the atmosphere originates in the unpredictable motion of the music, which varies both tempi and riff form on a constant basis, like musical quicksand obliterating any consistency or hope wherever it finds it. Bass plays an equally vital role in the dynamics of the song, both structuring songs through foreshadowing, and traversing a vitriolic, dark tone that goes hand in blender with the chaos that the guitars conjure. Penetrating the sense as though breathing serpent fire, the ensuing descent feels like having a luminous light permeating your body and devouring it like nuclear explosion from the inside out.

Alchemyst share a kinship with contemporary abyss-dwellers such as Antediluvian, Abyssal, and Lantern, in its use of dark, meditative resonance as the basis of its mood. However, it takes a different route toward instability, which is to base its sound in unexpected variation rather than constant grinding.

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Compilation of Death – Volume II Issues I & II

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In the many years of reading about metal, I have often wished for something like Compilation of Death: a zine that goes back through other zines, pulls out the best content and annotates it so that a historical record is composed from many sources. Each of the stories in this zine are like a shelf in a great library of metal, usually about a band but equally possibly a scene, a sound or a time.

What you will find among these pages is a carefully curated view of metal, which borrows whole pages from zines from the periods in which these bands were active, combines them with current-day interviews and perspectives, and assembles them into a kind of metal investigative reporting that shows us a well-rounded picture of each band or topic.

Compilation of Death carefully gives credit to each of the source zines and includes information on how to contact them, so in addition to being a feast of metal zine information, this is a promotion for the entire idea of zines, which are experiencing a renaissance as people tire of the information overload — which guarantees a predominance of low-value content — and endless useless people who clog today’s internet. Democratizing content merely means that every bad idea gets repeated thousands of times and good ideas get driven to the periphery, so that established commercial interests with the bucks to advertise on the big sites win out. Zines on the other hand are by their nature curated, meaning that someone plays the role of librarian/editor and picks bands deliberately, asks questions with intent, and reveals something unique to that subject with the resulting reporting. This is different than the assembly line process of web sites and big metal magazines, who process whatever the labels send them in roughly the same way with surface changes so that the “quirky” outlook hides the utter sameness and entropy of it all. What made zines powerful was that they had purpose, which allowed them to reveal a truth non-objectively and for reasons of itself, instead of secondary reasons like popularity and profit. Compilation of Death doubles down on this concept by not only choosing direction and topic, but picking from the vast number of zines out there the best of what is written on that topic.

These two volumes offer reading matter that can be pored over many times because they are bursting with details that become increasingly relevant the more one knows about a topic. In addition, metal historians will find many unknown but important details here confirming the motivations of bands and their art, in addition to a broader perspective on the people behind the music which is never revealed by the more uptight, formal and procedural interviews conducted by big magazines. For those who want a heavy dose of information about the underground in a form that rewards the diligent reader with a deep understanding, Compilation of Death is a treat that can be revisited time and again to bring out the nuance of its topic.

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