Aion’s music falls into that territory between war metal or atmospheric death metal mistaken for black metal on account of its superficial attempt at creating atmosphere that results in simple meandering. As metal, for reasons that have been explained before on this website time and again, this release fails catastrophically. So perhaps we are listening to this in the wrong way. Perhaps as listeners we are not judging the music on its own terms. Since this does not accommodate the requirements of traditional metal of any kind, how about we take this as ambient music? How does this compare to Biosphere’s Substrata or Klaus Schulze’s Cyborg? Very poorly indeed. Verses of Perdition cannot be compared to Schulze’s work because the man’s work is too goal/conclusion-oriented.
Perhaps a more impressionistic interpretation is more apt for this sort of straight-up repetition of passages for atmospheric effect. In my view, this type of music still fails even if its criticism is taken that far away from metal, since impressionist music still needs a build up and a direction of some sort. Even Debussy’s pictorial approach is not reduced to such self-absorbed attempts at making the music become the atmosphere itself. The problem runs deep and a safe advice for any band is to avoid this route as it will only create vague visages and excuses for music.
Abyssion is an industrial metal band hailing from Finland, a land that typically has been cradle to some of the most pensive underground metal. Abyssion plays music in that same spirit while remaining pretty accessible, making transparent music that can be absorbed on first listen by any experienced listener. There more of the indie and the Oi! than the traditional black metal in this music.
While some may feel the temptation to describe this in relation to Burzum based on the music’s most superficial traits and on passing and distracted observations, Abyssion’s Luonnon harmonia ja vihreä liekki has a lot more in common with Darkthrone’s early black metal albums. The difference with either is still clear to anyone intimately acquainted with Burzum or Darkthrone. Burzum’s developmental variations have no parallel in Abyssion’s music, which works with straight-up repetition and synth distraction. Even in contrast with Darkthrone’s dense riffing, Abyssion appears more sparse as it is a more blatant attempt at creating atmosphere.
Here in lies the trap: the artist is not trying to create music but the effect of the music. When music becomes about the effect, an imbalance is created through which the music is no longer solid, nor is the effect lasting, since it is self-referential and insincere. Still, Abyssion’s offering is consistent in style and faithful to a spirit. Recommended as a gateway band for fans of Muse into the spirit of underground metal.
Skillfully bringing together doom/death, modern atmospheric and war metal styles, Unorthodox Equilibrium is more than a fitting name for describing the musical approach used in this album. Bands playing in any of the aforementioned styles have typically fallen prey to different misconceptions. Some have failed by attempting to adopt an orthodox position simplified to the precept that genre cliches guide songwriting and that the result will be good if it “feels good”. Others have taken a route that attempts to bring more original ideas into the mix but whose ultimate goal is still that each section gives them a certain feeling, an “atmospheric/ambient” effect. We can summarize the cause of these blunders by saying that their approach has been too pleasure-oriented.
In Unorthodox Equilibrium we can hear familiar voices bearing the mark of Worship in Last Tape Before Doomsday, Disembowelment (I refuse to follow ridiculous indications as to what letters should be written in uppercase format) in Transcendence into the Peripheral and Esoteric in Paragon of Dissonance. Unlike them, though, Shroud of the Heretic only slightly avoids falling into complacency with the immediate effect of their arrangements and instead channels these as methods used measuredly. The band manages to promote a sense of movement in each section while maintaining atmosphere without depending on stagnating in the harmony within one section or getting anchored to one kind of texture or intensity level for too long. This makes the album an incredibly varied experience within the non-restrictive but focused confines of a florid and eloquently coherent language.
Independently of whether this was a conscious decision or not, the heterodox and non-monolithic composition route taken by Shroud of the Heretic avoids this atmospheric metal trap and represents an excellent indicator of an artistically healthy direction for this subgenre of metal.
Perversor play a fast and ripping minimalist death metal which some would be tempted to encase in the line of primitive South American so-called black metal were it not for the strong structural development so strongly evident in the detail-intense songs which defeat any accusations of purely atmosphere-oriented thinking. In fact, Anticosmocrator gives us the opportunity to contrast their more musical approach to that of bands with a more vague and atmosphere-building composition mindset. This difference lies in the importance of keeping a balance between evocation and solid musical construction.
While Perversor fills all the requirements to be classified beside any atmosphere-minded bands like those playing war metal, for instance, it far outdoes them by virtue of achieving solid development of ideas in the composition of their songs. Typically, Perversor will take a fast riff and develop both variations on the riffs or transitioning into riffs that are easily recognized as being related to the previous ideas through the interval relations in the patterns used while the rhythms and register are changed. This is a formula that is easily summarized but which nonetheless requires great skill to apply and expand to create convincing songs that both take the listener from a beginning to a distinct ending yet do not exceed the natural reach of the riffs and ideas used.
This is the sort of release that is excellent but will not turn the heads of those who are always on the look out for bands thinking “out of the box” as if that were the whole basis of good music. Perversor compose songs on a solid basis and while not diverging or breaking any limits, create evocative, musically competent and whole music that should be at the top of any discerning metalhead’s list for 2015 .
Attempting to create an atmospheric kind of death metal, Mefitic build their style on alternating sections of slow, assertive chords in simple rhythms and droning/fluttering, tremolo-propulsed, slowly-advancing melodies and motifs, both usually played in low registers to maintain the aura of heaviness. Unfortunately this is all that there is to say about this album. The description of a superficial traits is all that can be said for it, as the music construction is based on it and therefore paper-thin. The reason why it still deserves a review of its own is twofold. First of all, it gives us the opportunity to point out the deficiency of this songwriting approach, and second because Mefitic remains consistent and coherent throughout the whole album, which is more than can be said of the vast majority of releases.
While we must acknowledge the focus that Mefitic has displayed throughout the whole album, the overall result must be judged and its limitations pointed out. The consistency in color and expression is laudable and should be emphasized as an example of consistent songwriting. The limitations lie in the music being too riff-oriented and the goals remaining superficial, being completely bent on a sort of evocation and heaviness, leaving the musical composition as secondary. While in metal we consider that this is generally ideal, solid and effective composition should not be disregarded in favor of writing atmosphere-oriented sections that are lined up one after another. Solid composition gives a clear direction, an intricate picture to be discovered through subsequent listens. Forgetting about it leaves you open to the danger of painting a confused or too-general a picture that remains too mystic, indicating a way but not undertaking it.We condemn Woes of Mortal Devotion because this is all it achieves: the building of a foggy and general atmosphere that doesn’t solidify into a clear picture of anything.
Sporting the grindcore label, Maruta try very hard and not altogether without failure to insert technical deathcore riffcraft into a grindcore overall approach. While the technical abilities of the band is not in question as the musicianship in this album is superb and clinically precise, and neither is their creativity challenged, as they remain in focus in terms of style and approach through and through as they bring distinct ideas into the album, the premise of it all is not entirely convincing. The reason for this is that the carnival approach that the technical deathcore, although not completely incompatible with grindcore, is deficient by nature, bringing down the music against the effort of a talented band like Maruta.
Grindcore is known for short songs with abrupt beginnings and endings. The genre is characterized by spasmodic outbursts of madness with ventures into heavy and slightly groovy mid-paced sections whose focus remains on the brutality and aura of the music. All this is achieved by Maruta on Remain Dystopian, however, this is only the superficial description of the genre, the first impression it gives to an audience, and this is where most bands, including this one, get trapped. The grindcore of early Napalm Death, Blood or Repulsion can be described in that way, each with different percentages and variations of said description, but there is something that sets them apart from the crowd and it is that at the construction level, the relation between riffs is still carefully maintained. In Impulse to Destroy, Blood remains fluid through riff transitions even when the they switch between speeds or intensity levels, the smoothness within the song is maintained. At the risk of sounding contradictory, I would venture to say that even relatively abrupt transitions remained smoothed out through execution of small fills or very brief affectations that are characteristic of Blood. Maruta, on the other hand, obfuscate the music with the carnival approach of modern metal bands, creating interest through surprise instead of coherence and build up.
All in all Remain Dystopian is a far more accomplished effort than the vast majority of its contemporaries and fans of the genre should keep one eye on them. While fans of modern metal call this incoherence of the music “experimentation” and “nonconformity”, it all boils down to a lazy gimmick. Maruta has the technical chops, and they definitely have the vision as their focused compositions show us, but the chosen direction is perhaps not the best. Were Maruta to correct this direction and it is possible we would have a modern giant of grindcore in the making.
Having been called everything from thrash to death or melodic death metal, Dew-Scented play metalcore in its original inception, as inspired by At the Gates’ style on Slaughter of the Soul. Everything from the simple drums which half of the time fall into variations of fast d-beats, catchy and short melodic ideas on the guitars with a tendency towards breakdowns for variety, to the blatant imitation of Tomas Lindberg. Being an heir to this tradition reviled by the fans of the old school styles and hailed as an improvement and distillation of the best aspects of the older music by the mainstream audience, Intermination invites a comparison with At the Gates’ come back album released last year, At War with Reality.
While the seminal band tried to bridge a gap between fans of its older and later styles by taking its metalcore-founding album and introducing more complex elements as visited in Terminal Spirit Disease and vaguely from With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness, thereby creating a middle-of-the-road offering that pleased neither group, Dew-Scented plant themselves solidly on the style developed in Slaughter of the Soul and part faithfully from there to create variations without bringing down the delicate and extremely constricted walls delimiting the definition of this minimalist, extreme pop genre.
Being the catchy, duple-time riff-fest that this genre is, Dew-Scented do a phenomenal job at creating solid, punching riffs which if not necessarily connect concretely with each other too well throughout a song (given the shock-oriented nature of this modern style), go a long way to maintain the drive of songs by switching and keeping the overall feel, avoiding the over-use of a particular riff. Without any ill-will towards this talented band, we must clarify that the album presents a very flat result, which is a necessary result of the definition of the genre as driven by impacting riffs and sonic shock tactics. The tight upholding of ideals of the genre in Dew-Scented’s hands, even with their carefully and appropriately crafted variations, becomes a hindrance in the context of a crippling genre.
Compiling gestures from throughout legendary band Blind Guardian’s discography, Beyond the Red Mirror shows us a synthesis of their journey, bringing in their late 1980s style along with updates in the power and so-called symphonic metal up to the present state of affairs in said genres. As such, this album’s strongest uniting element is the band’s own style, which lies in great part in the vocal approach of Hansi Kürsch. Apart from that, there is an evident diversity in the songwriting that ranges from the mediocre, to the best power metal from any period can offer. But it should be stressed that the consistency in style is still very strong and this along with the sober and talented songwriting skills of Blind Guardian lend a coherence to the music that set it on another level completely apart from the distracted music the vast majority of bands of its kind display. This is also something the band has improved on compared to its earlier albums where the anxiety to insert interludes bordered on gimmick instead of having them moderately and carefully contribute to the aura of the album.
Despite bringing a mature and experienced offering in Beyond the Red Mirror, Blind Guardian is not immune to the pitfalls of the power and “symphonic” metal subgenres. Some of the tracks still fall into simple catchy grooves with little thematic substance and straight-up pop structures. Some may raise their hands against this last comment, but in the context of the nature of power metal, a genre driven by standard chord progressions and simple, catchy tunes, having a strong theme is very important since the music is almost all about this. This is why choruses are so important in power metal as well (that and the fact that it is essentially pop music going on metal). The clearest example of this in the album is the fifth track, “Ashes of Eternity”, which is unabashedly a pop, pseudo symphonic metal track that relies almost entirely on groove, which indicates an empty song.
As for the highlights, the band has some truly outstanding features in the album like very smooth tonicizations that elongate sections or connect two different sections smoothly in away that does not break up the melody but rather transforms the song, giving it the aforementioned variety within consistent style and coherent expression. I would like to point the audience in the direction of the fourth track (which is taken from their previous album), “At the Edge of Time” , for a remarkable example of this. This track contains all the cliche elements of modern power metal. The spoken word, the beginning without drums and only guitar melodies, the heavy synth “orchestration”. But here they point strongly in a direction, they all seem to be working together for the concept, and actually carrying the song forward surely and decidedly through passages, ravines, forests that take your breath away through the power of expectation, prolongation and the shifting of the harmonic goal so that the moment you are almost there, a new vista is revealed. Each a vital support for the leading vocal melody, the different ideas in the smoothly connected sections build on and connect strongly with each other here, an exemplary lesson for metal composition of any kind.
The appropriate, technically efficient and inspiring guitar solos come when expected and do not steal the show. This in itself should be a lesson for power metal bands. Blind Guardian have also finally reached a point (which they have been approaching throughout their discography) where the music does not seem to be entirely about the saccharine expression of the vocals or screechy guitar melodies that do not add anything to the construction of the music except superficial flare. This is a mature band that has released in Beyond the Red Mirror one of the best records this genre can offer, which is admittedly very limited by its very nature. In spite of this, and contrary to personal preference complaints (the overdubbing of the vocals this guy always does is beyond irritating), I have to say that if you absolutely have to listen to this sort of music, then listen to Blind Guardian.
Death metal band Pseudogod come back this year with a compilation that collects songs from their early demos and splits. Falling into an intersection between blasting, grindcore-influenced death metal ala Infester and the more recent approach of “atmospheric” death metal bands, the result at times approaches war metal, but avoids the stagnancy of the music typical of that genre. Contrasting Pseudogod’s 2012 Deathwomb Catechesis, which was more of an empty blast-fest similar to the more popular extreme metal outfits,this early output is full of content and in the spirit of good death metal of its kind, tends heavily towards progressive structures. This includes more paused sections that allow the songs to breathe in the middle of the faster, more suffocating parts. This is done with enough grace and consistency in style to seem smooth and appropriate. Although not masterpieces of structure-oriented composition and leaning on the riff-salad side of death metal composition, this release showcases Pseudogod’s earliest and most promising output.
Ripping, furious death metal in the vein of 1980s death metal with vestiges of speed metal, solos that bear the mark of Trey Azagthoth, this band is one of the many followers of the legendary Morbid Angel. However, Blasphemic Cruelty is not content with being a clone and continues the work of Angelcorpse by playing a style that takes one facet of Morbid Angel and expanding on it. It is basically the older band’s most brutal side taken as the parting point and center of the music. While Azagthoth would mix a few fast sections with his own trademark of mid-paced and slow riffs, Blasphemic Cruelty pushes the pedal to the max throughout the entire pieces.
While Crucible of the Infernum will not distinguish itself as innovative in any way, it is an example of excellent composition for this style of ripping, blasting death metal. The band’s work here is ideal in the sense that within the limitations it sets for itself, every single space it uses is purposeful by virtue of its integration within the big picture, even if this picture isn’t very big. Admittedly a work of modest reach, Crucible of the Infernum is a solid release strongly recommended for fans of Angelcorpse, Sodom and early Morbid Angel.