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

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

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

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

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

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Thantifaxath – Sacred White Noise (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Toxemia – Ancient Demon

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

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

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

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Funeral Bitch – The Demos

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

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

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

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

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Infamous – Abisso

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

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

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

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Corpse Machine – Depths of the Abyss

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

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

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

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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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