Abyssum – Cum Foeda Sanie Ex Ore (2015)

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The brainchild of Rex Ebvleb, Abyssum started out as a black metal project in the mid-nineties, resulting in a few demos and finally its sum in Thy Call, 1998. After a little time, the band simply was no more, with Ebvleb carrying on the torch on his own and in a reserved way. Disgusted by the scene that formed in the name of black metal, Ebvleb took Abyssum away, neglecting even to be openly recognized by the tag. Tags being what they are and changing in meaning as history advances for all but the most stout scholars of any given discipline, are put aside by the independent thinkers and outstanding individuals that an inverted society can never recognize. This reborn Abyssum that distances itself from what the crowds of what is now called “black metal” maintains the truly black essence of the genre that goes beyond speech and pretending, and which, as Sammath’s Kruitwagen, Antaeus’ MkM and other underground artists have pointed out in the past, is a way of life and a mindset — not just a music style.
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First Impressions on Skepticism’s Ordeal (2015)

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Descending like a blessing from the sky comes another album by a legendary band which only nine years ago presented us with a masterful album vastly superior to what they had done since their debut.

In Ordeal we find a regression into their middle period while nods to Stormcrowfleet are discernible here and there without actually engaging and setting out on an undistracted trance like the younger band on that album.

Self-referential statements which rely directly on the established style of the band and the reputation it has already acquired makes this sound like one of the second rate bands that followed in their footsteps.

Already a tired band showing no signs of progression or development in style, we perceive a simplification of ideas on top of which a facade that sounds like Skepticism is erected.

Passing and forgettable, we find a Skepticism attempting to be as sparse as Worship, yet finding themselves in foreign territory.

Positioning chord after chord and following them in a slightly rock-like manner reminiscent of lesser “doom metal” acts, the motifs as themes are nowhere to be seen.

One must also ask, what happened to the singer’s voice? Is this on purpose?

Instead of the pictures in poetry and majestic motif colorations of Stormcrowfleet before “doom metal” was a thing, we have a band trying to impersonate itself.

Nobody asks a band like Skepticism to venture forth and put out new material because “it is time,” as if they were some puny mainstream band, but this here is probably the less inspired and most uneventful Skepticism album to date.

Tedious in a way that only a collection of uninspired references to all the different points in their discography could be, if this is a farewell, it is indeed a sad one.

Mannerisms in the guitars seem to be excuses only to keep them doing anything — a lack of worthwhile ideas is apparent.

Estranged from the poetry that they embodied, the repetition in Ordeal is odious rather than transporting.

Nuances are missing, everything that there is to this new release seems to be all placed at one level: that of the presentation.

The cover art should have been a warning.

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Festering – From the Grave (2015)

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Most of us now forget how much of the early death metal experience was shaped by the speed metal story arc: starting in 1983 as a rebellion against the glam explosion of hard rock, it re-metalized NWOBHM with more complex riffs using the muted strum to expand rhythm, and then promptly began selling out. Most fans got queasy when Metallica came out with Master of Puppets, but there are other culprits to just as easily finger. The point is that everything sells out in humanity when it gets exposes to the masses because the masses demand the same old crap in new form, instead of new ideas deviating from the same old crap, and that took down speed metal, which caused death metal bands to try to be more aesthetically extreme.

“How would you ever sell out this?” a friend asked once when I was listening to Incantation. My response to him was that aesthetics does not correspond to composition. I can take a Justin Bieber song, translate it to guitar and transpose it to a lower key, then play it with lots of tremolo picking, guitar squeals and crunchy power chords, doubling the tempo and adding distorted vocals. To most people, that will be “death metal.” To a death metal fan, it is a sheep in the clothing of a wolf. Death metal is not its aesthetic traits alone; those exist to aid the composition, which is (1) phrasal with complex song structures to support (2) collective without individual superstars (3) emphasizes cadence and melodic development over off-beat, quirkiness, ironism, etc. Death metal is musically distinct from rock and blues, themselves only a simplification of European music from the past century with a false label of African-American origin added to sell them as “unique” and “different,” which makes it one of the few genres which is not fake in all of popular music. Accept what you know to be true: popular music is just as fake as Big Macs, Cokes or reality TV. It has always been fake because it has always been a product with a conveniently oddball but totally untrue history. If you have heard the music of the African coast, you realize it is far more complex than the limply distilled methods of rock and blues. Similarly, European folk music had much more going for it than country or rock. Death metal threw all of this back in their faces, and their revenge was to sell it out. This does not involve evil indie rock musicians creeping into death metal band studios late at night to covertly record disguised rock themed as death metal; rather, it involves the transmission of social memes and attitudes about what constitutes death metal, which then lowers the bar so “everyone” can participate. At that point, you get the same old crap dressed up as a revolution.

Festering, on an aesthetic level, is perfect for death metal fans. It sounds like Swedish death metal played with the rhythmic precision of speed metal. It has gnarly vocals, great distortion, and uses the right techniques: it layers each new riff, applies tremolo in the right pattern to introduce secondary ideas as new primaries, and drifts into tempi at about the right pace to have cadence. But it also works in the static-style rock riffs, the cheesy color notes as the basis of riffs from the blues, and the constant off-beat that sounds to me like a labrador running with its tongue out of its mouth. Not to mention the constant verse-chorus song structures that remind me of Bruce Springsteen. In short, this band is a well-executed forgery that conceals rock within death metal, and so while I want to like it for aesthetic reasons, the music itself remains unsatisfying and leaves me with a queasy feeling. Good effort that should be avoided by all death metal fans, but rock fans weekending as death metallers should love it.

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Abyssum – Thy Call (1998)

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When we say that metal’s golden era peaked in 1994 and that everything went downhill, it does not mean that there was nothing good after that. By definition, quality after a peak must go downhill in comparison. More importantly, when we say such things, we are referring to a genre-wide average, not to specifics. After all, we have Summoning releasing their classic of classics in 1996 and more great music before and around the turn of the century. The same is true of several black metal bands and a very few death metal ones. In Central America, ever one (or ten or twenty) steps behind in everything as a result of traceable historical processes, what little its reduced population, resources and culture allowed for metal to develop flourished between 1995 and 2000.
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Twilight Fauna/Jennifer Christensen Split 2015

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That good music makes its way to the promo stack occasionally is not a huge surprise. We do not expect it to happen in more than one in twenty or thirty occurrences, but sooner or later, something good does come. And then, we expect a great album (not a true classic, but perhaps a highlight in the year) to arrive at an expected rate of about one every two or thee months. What we do not expect is a two-track split in which the first is a modernist piece composed for strings in the manner reminiscent of Górecki’s 3rd String Quartet or Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.

The second track, “Crossing the Threshold” by Twilight Fauna, is one of those supposedly black metal ambient pieces that amounts to little more than sounds here, noises there, sometimes violated by a heavily distorted guitar that adds nothing to what’s going on. All for the sake of ambience. It falls into the same category of poorly-done but pretentious music like Ulver’s and Sun O))), themselves a parody of what Robert Fripp did much better in The Gates of Paradise or his work with Brian Eno in Evening Star. I’d recommend these guys to study the work of early Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, the master. If what they want is actually something more black metal, but elongated and that does not sound like some sort of pointless intro, they should check out Paysage d’Hiver’s work. Because the track has not been made public, we can only share their own release earlier this year through bandcamp for reference.

“Sickness Unto Death”, by Jennifer Christensen, is a patient work that I would venture to describe as minimalist. But rather than the circular pop minimalism of Philip Glass, this is more of the religious and dark nature typical of Górecki’s music. Clearly structural in construction but never rushed, motifs pass you by and interleave as passing scenes and a whole flora and fauna of a world evolved from a single primeval cell arise in distinguishable affinity. Now, as much as I not only enjoy but appreciate the higher quality of Ms. Christensen’s work here, I am wondering why would she release this in a split with a dark-ambient-going-on-black-metal band.

If she is somehow planning on turning her efforts in this direction, her classically trained mind and obvious talents for dark minimalist music would be interesting if applied to the whole spectrum of ambient instrumentation. Or even to two guitars, drums and backbone bass — that kind of black metal with a solid musical base would be much appreciated. After listening to her track many times, we know that the attitude and the spirit for this kind of music is definitely not missing. But the question is, does she actually understand the black metal spirit? Independently of this, I am looking forward to listening to more music composed by her, metal or not.

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

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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)

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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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