Demigod/Necropsy – Unholy Domain (1992)

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This collection of Scandinavian metal shows these bands migrating beyond their speed/death roots into death metal and struggling to implement their most ambitious ideas. Demigod launches the split with its “Unholy Domain” demo which displays songs that later made it onto Slumber of Sullen Eyes but with more muted-strum riffing, divided syncopation in placement within tempo, and over-active drumming. Like the early works of Possessed, these twin seven-inch recordings show bands emerging from the older paradigm but not yet able to grasp the full implications of the new. Demigod does so on a structural level, where Necropsy assesses the riffing style more accurately. Together these form a historical document of much interest to those who find the separation of death metal from heavy metal as a pivotal moment in the history of the genre.

Demigod leads off the split with its “Unholy Domain” demo which shows later songs in a more downstroke, muted-strum heavy form that consequently has less fluid tempo changes and as a result, misses somewhat on the dark atmosphere which Slumber of Sullen Eyes created. However, the formation of the songs reveals itself through how these riffs interplay, with the strummed riffs occupying space so that others can take the fore, showing which themes are dominant and which are merely supporting. This reveals Demigod without the pervasive atmosphere of enigmatic doom that defined the later album, but instead shows them as a band striving to place interesting riffs into combinations which brought them together as more than the sum of their parts.

Necropsy, on the other hand, unleash what may be the best recording of the band because it lacks the self-consciousness of later releases. It does not attempt to be hard, but resembles a three-way cross between Morgoth, Powermad and Asphyx, plodding through doomy passages and picking up the rhythm with speed metal riffing before building to a classic death metal melodic confrontation between internal themes. Much of this carries the same murky atmosphere as Darkthrone Goatlord, but with more internally-reflective syncopated riffing in the style of the first Deicide album, albeit slower to fit a mid-paced approach much like early Kreator. This recording shows the creativity of this band achieving a result that is not completely formed, yet shows direction more clearly than the more artificed later versions. Together these two recordings make a compelling view into early death metal.

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Goat Semen – Ego Sum Satana (2015)

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Following in the footsteps of Sarcófago without becoming their clone, Goat Semen play a form of primitive black metal with riffs bordering on grind death. The music here is of consistent style, but its coherence is more metaphorical than literal, advancing more through sequences of sections that make sense together in mood but not necessarily in theme or other basic music element. Good variety while keeping a clear concept and a traditional sense of beginning and ending to the songs balance the previously described loose musical coherence.

While fans of this particular style, such as myself, will enjoy this album thoroughly and will play it on repeat for hours, the loose kinks in its armor will be apparent to the discerning listener. For a more exemplary release in this vein the listener looking for musical excellence is encouraged to take a serious look into Exhumantion’s Opus Death. While Goat Semen’s music is exciting in its juvenile chaos barely harnessed by recognizable traditional gestures of music, Exhumantion’s is a study in solid musical composition with an enviable rigor propelling it to much higher levels of refinement, offering a more layered experience than Ego Sum Satana.

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Terrorizer/Nausea – Split Demos (1991)

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For those who did not get a chance to own the original demo tapes, or simply desire them on a newer and more robust medium, this disc consisting of the Terrorizer demo from 1987 and the Nausea demo from the following year reveals the grindcore and punk giants at approximately the time when the classic World Downfall was released. These two bands share personnel, but take radically different approaches: Terrorizer adopts the angular riffing and cadenced percussion of metal, where Nausea keeps the syncopated guitar rhythms and open initial intervals of punk. For those who have heard the Terrorizer release, few surprises await on the demo, which essentially showcases the same tracks in a slightly less focused form with less vocal savagery. However, these songs also have more space to breathe, which makes this demo often a better listening experience than the album, which in the Morbid Angel style concentrates on hard-hitting tight composition and production, at the expense of some of the organic restlessness of the original.

Nausea on the other hand provides simply what every person wishes their punk bands would sound like, much as Slayer did the same for metal. This unruly music spills out of boundaries and transgresses every convention while remaining simple and keeping songs focused around a rhythm and vocal hook that makes them hummable while remaining savage. It sounds more militant than the Euro-punk of the day and more like the Cro-Mags from New York, but like a metal band zeroes in on the changes between riffs to achieve a kind of theatrical-Wagnerian effect, which takes punk from the verse-chorus loop into a kind of presentation that gives depth to its alienation. Full of energy and yet pointed toward a goal that is more personal artistic outrage than ideology, Nausea takes the basic outlook of punk and turns it up while making it more listenable than the spotty, erratic and often haphazard bands of the later punk era, or worse, the “post-hardcore” bands that combined random riffs in carnival music or dinner theater style.

Released as a split demo tape in 1991, these recordings see the light of day again with this 2012 CD re-issue by forces unknown. Sound quality remains good although thankfully the re-issue has not been remastered or had volume fiddled with in any way, which preserves the tone and room sound of these demos. This means the listener must adjust the dial; you suffer (but why?) because this is a better outcome than sterile reproductions which are more convenient but destroy depth of sound. These do not sound like a nostalgia trip, but more a journey inside the inner 17-year-old of every listener that likes intense music that sounds like it came from a garage or backyard party with a message that perhaps few will understand but many will enjoy.

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Obsequiae – Aria of Vernal Tombs (2015)

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On their first album, Obsequiae made use of very simple but consistent and creative melodies in a harmony emulating that of early western music from the late medieval period. Under the Brume of Eos consisted of songs that were essentially folk-heavy metal in the vein of Primordial with black metal vocals. Each few songs an interlude played in an acoustic instrument was inserted. The material was fine for the first fifteen minutes, after that it just boiled down to a collection of songs which were merely collections of riffs. Aria of Vernal Tombs unfortunately did not move beyond this same strategy.

It is important to go back to the just-mentioned style of Primordial. Primordial is one of those bands that is really ideology first, aura and image of the band first, and then music. The music itself is flat, only serving to carry a mood while the image that the listener has in mind (given by lyrics and song names — concept) is imprinted on it from the outside. Obsequiae work in a similar way, except that they take it a step further and actually make use of musical patterns that evoke the era they are using as theme. They also surpass Primordial in that in the short-term, songs are far more dynamic and in Aria of Vernal Tombs particularly coordinate wonderfully with the vocal pulse.

Obsequiae could still move beyond this “cool-riff” sequence approach and give us much stronger songs — and perhaps a conceptual album extending beyond the lyrical and well into the music. Inserting interludes is only the easy way to do this.  Metal bands like Blind Guardian, Rhapsody and even Morbid Angel (on Blessed are the Sick) have done this light and easy concept album arranging, each going further in different ways. Obsequiae and any band looking for using relatively simple yet self-contained and solid songs as the bricks for a strong concept album can look up to Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Until now Obsequiae have only given us scattered ideas in an obviously consistent and distinguishable language. And if music is a language of some kind, Aria of Vernal Tombs is one message in a loop of synonyms and like-words drawn from a thesaurus.

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American Laundromat Records – A Tribute to Repo Man

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Many of you know how I consider this one of the finest movies ever made because it accurately nails the desolate and isolated conditions that thinking people found themselves in when the world when crazy in the 1980s. “Cult movie” does not describe a work of cinematic art that scoops up the narrative, shakes it out and shows its holes, then re-organizes it according to a broader and more realistic principle through which the artistry of the movie can make beauty out of dysfunction. To all of those who found themselves stranded in popular culture, caught between miserable careers and a constant crime wave of social collapse, hoping for some ray of light that could make sense or even comedy of it all, Repo Man delivered the goods.

Now, a dozen bands take on the original sound track, which back in the day featured bands as varied as Black Flag, Iggy Pop, Fear, Suicidal Tendencies and The Circle Jerks. That is a hard act to follow, especially since many of these songs went on to become classics in their own right, but American Laundromat Records assembled brave voyagers to give it a shot, and were gracious in providing us with this promotional release. With a release this varied, only a track by track view will work…

  1. Those Darlins – “Repo Man” (Iggy Pop): This track differs from the original mostly through the vocals, which take a candy-rock approach with ironic, saucy and sometimes surly female lead vocals that transform this song from the growly original into a more sinister take that approaches with soft sounds and turns into an acid monster.
  2. Polar Bear Club – “TV Party” (Black Flag): A faithful cover with overtones of punk nerd, this take on the well-known Black Flag anthem gives it a slightly faster tempo and more proficient guitars, but inserts vocals that sound like The Descendants back from a prison bash, capturing the surly of the original. Of note are the riot vocals which are both faithful and gleefully pure tribute.
  3. Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra – “Institutionalized” (Suicidal Tendencies): Most of this song is spoken word, which is modified here to be more about peer pressure than parents, and now gets stitched over a skacore take on the Suicidal Tendencies light thrash original. That creates a kind of lounge environment which shows off the vocal performance more, and Palmer accelerates her performance to Shakespeare-in-the-Park levels, which makes this track more unnerving but also somewhat overstates what was originally more subtle. This works less well on the thrash parts of the vocals, which become more whiny than the desperate violence unleashed of the original.
  4. New York Rivals – “Coup d’Etat” (The Cirle Jerks): As if giving the Morrisey treatment to this punk rock classic, New York Rivals drop in a male crooner vocal taken to Diamanda Galas extremes, then treat the guitars more like a late 80s synth/industrial band, complete with blatant drum machine. The result is compelling as a pure sonic treatment.
  5. Black Francis & Spanish for Hitchhiking – “El Clavo Y La Cruz” (The Plugz): A covertly jazz-infused take on this atmospheric tune, this cover remains faithful while often unrecognizable with more of a Tejano sound designed to capture a live recording or at least the feel of one. Additional guitar texture gives this added power, but the more dramatic internal rhythmic shifts do less for it, although they do handily distinguish this version from the original.
  6. The Tellers – “Pablo Picasso” (Burning Sensations): An electro-lounge take on this crowd favorite proves enjoyable but puts too much emphasis on the vocal performance, which reduces the effectiveness of the song as a mad rush of insanity and makes it sound more like background music that fades into the indie-rock milieu. That aside, this song is well-executed and could easily introduce a new generation to this song without them even knowing it. Interesting rhythm guitar playing.
  7. Mike Watt & The Secondmen – “Let’s Have a War” (Fear): This approach reminds me of the style of Cop Shoot Cop or Big Black, executed by The Minutemen’s Mike Watt and unnamed musicians. The pounding keyboards and synthetic sounds make this song even more disturbing, as does Watt’s megaphone-styled vocals which sound like an apocalyptic news announcement more than a pop song.
  8. The Suicide Dolls – “When The Shit Hits the Fan” (The Circle Jerks): Playing this song on guitars more like a straight later hardcore-influenced punk rock song, and then doubling male and female vocals, The Suicide Dolls give this song a different life. It becomes more disaffected and less ironically humorous, also picking up the rhythms and pacing of underground after-hours clubs. The increased guitar presence makes this a more enjoyable listen than the original.
  9. Matthew Sweet – “Hombre Secreto (Secret Agent Man)” (The Plugz): Nothing wrong with this energetic and fluid take on the original song, but it loses the unique feel of it and may not replace it with anything more than a sense of disinterested passion for life. The vocals dominate the song, and a more precise take on its rhythms makes it more forceful.
  10. Moses Coltrane – “Bad Man” (Juicy Bananas): Essentially a spoken word piece over some background music, this song paralleled the rants by the character Lite as he introduced Otto to the rougher side of automobile repossession, as contrasted to the overly optimistic and detached screeds from Bud. This new cover introduces more aggressive guitars and voice-over quality vocals, causing this song to pick up momentum instead of being merely background noise.
  11. Weekend – “Reel Ten” (The Plugz): Whole swathes of Generation X still get misty-eyed when this song comes on, and no challenge is greater than taking on an emotional classic. This industrial-tinged take on the song keeps the mystery, sounding like a hybrid between Erasure and Sisters of Mercy with an eye for the epic, complete with Tangerine Dream styled space effects. Well done.

It would have been easy to botch this album or make it cute. Instead, whoever organized this took the time to seek out musicians who would make interesting contributions. In my view, the weakest tracks are the Amanda Palmer and Matthew Sweet, but none are incompetent. Taken as a whole, Tribute to Repo Man renovates these songs in a language that newer listeners and older fans alike can appreciate, creating new angles of approach to one of the more idiosyncratic and yet purposeful soundtracks ever created. Whoever these American Laundromat guys are, I hope they do more like this.

http://www.alr-music.com/main.php?content=shop&no=alr-0028

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No God Only Pain Joy of Suffering (2015)

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Combining rough and rowdy energetic chaos music with the type of black metal staging and melody that proved effective on the first two Gorgoroth and Burzum albums, No God Only Pain could properly be described as a black metal-influenced attempt to create an atmospheric genre out of the fusion between underground metal and a hardcore punk take on more roadhouse material like Motorhead. No God Only Pain retains the gravitas of the underground while giving it the energy and flexibility of the wider metal world, using the black metal theatrical-style song structures to introduce a mixture of speed, death, punk and heavy metal riffs.

No God Only Pain start their songs with a simple progression, usually in a minor melodic scale, and build onto it with texture of drums, bass and vocals and through the use of similar riffs in opposition, forcing the progression to mutate into different forms of the same riff. Eventually the song reaches a point of conflict, and then launches off in another direction, eventually bringing it to culmination and returning to the original theme. Riffs are noisy and simple but widely varied within their chosen styles and appropriate to each part of the song, without the randomness that 99% of metal bands seem to adore intruding; the sensibility of this album emphasizes continuity through conflict, and this comes out songs that alternate between immensely gratifying dark sounds and energetic droning counter-themes.

It sells short Joy of Suffering to refer to it as black metal, as it is more like a thematically-nuanced form of doom metal sped up to Motorhead speeds with the aggression of GBH. Each song has a powerful melodic hook and yet never shirks on the sawing high-intensity riffs, which propel the song forward so that it may continue to be both simple and variegated. Bonus cover of the Ramones “Pet Semetary” shows this style applied to familiar pop-punk and in the process making it more vicious. As metal searches for new outlets, this style may help grease the wheels by escaping expectations and unleashing a wider metal style to absorb the cult and hard-rocking impulses alike, forcing them to forge a voice worthy of the darkness in metal.

http://nogodonlypain.bandcamp.com/releases

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Blasphemy – Fallen Angel of Doom (1990, 2015)

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Bringing together the grindcore of Napalm Death and the primitive black metal of Bathory and Sarcófago into a death metal way of thinking, Blasphemy gave the world a solid although juvenile Fallen Angel of Doom. Racing in consisting grinding expression while going beyond the riff and into an atmosphere-inducing state as a result of the progression of riffs that is fitting of that primitive black metal, the songs in this album open a portal through which disturbing visions come to alienate us, inducing a feeling of aloneness, doom and  fear.

That strong evocation is accomplished from the fusion of these two genres, in my opinion, because they are not just smashed together but rather assembled in a different mold, that of death metal and made into one language. The other thing is that you do not hear interleaving riffs in different styles, although we do hear a good deal of flexibility in riff type in terms of rhythm, texture and note length. The riffs themselves are both completely fitting for grindcore, but it is the duration of their repetition and the effect of their arrangement that results in a similarity with primitive black metal. In order to achieve a stronger result coming from goal-oriented development, the structural-minded songwriting of death metal comes to round off and concentrate the raw energy of the other two genres.

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M.H.X’s Chronicles – Infinite Ocean (2015)

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Playing a so-called melodic death metal in the vein of Insomnium, Chronicles try to step up onto the pop metal stage the . Infused with alternative metal inspirations and backed by keyboards playing standard progressions and happy-inspirational melodies, the only thing that tells us this is a metal release is that the drums are intense and that the vocals are growls. The squeaky-clean production is enviable and on par with pop metal divas Nightwish.  The way the music elements are carried, the contrast between sections that serve as verse-chorus rather than phrasal progressions place this squarely in the pop modality. The percussive riff carrying the voice, the single-mindedness of the contrasting riffs also point towards a metalcore inspiration. By the third track (which is actually the second song in the album) they have already introduced mellow and comforting young-man vocals.  In line with the modern tradition, when attempting to create variety, the band introduces incoherence in their music. Song’s are basically a long “inspirational melody” intro, pointless verse-chorus exchange, incoherent bridge and unrelated outro and/or verse chorus.

M.H.X.’s Chronicles have managed to unite in Infinite Ocean the diva-esque attitude of Nightwish, the boring melodic-based flatness of Insomnuim, the superficial pretentiousness of Epica and the easy-catchy, dumbed-down songwriting of metalcore inspired on Slaughter of the Soul. In other words we have here the summary of modern metal pop banality.

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Dysentery – Fragments (2015)

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Self-identifying with the “Slam” tag, Dysentery play a mid-paced, groove-oriented deathcore. The music is based on two poles. The first is very simple grooving rhythms either in slow tempo or in blast-beat-ridden sections with very obvious and simple stress points. The second is the use of pinch harmonics (aka squeals) to round off some phrases.

The music shows a single-minded ambition: grooving brutality. Simple rhythmic indulgence in a pleasure-oriented music. As such, this music is little more than the reggaeton of “extreme” metal. The band might as well change their guitars and drums for a computer software simulator of a mixer and start playing with beats and singing about big-ass girls and how macho you are and what not.

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Nyseius – De Divinatione Daemonum‏ (2015)

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While not profoundly insulting as most bands pretending to play black metal, Nyseius just plays very boring black metal. Now, this isn’t just an emotional remark, I have concrete reasons linked to the music’s construction to back it up and say what it is relevant. Nyseius is also rooted in the modern misunderstanding of black metal by its outer traits. Thinking that black metal consists in ad nauseam repetition of samey riffs to create atmosphere. And they get stuck in this word, atmosphere, as if it were music itself and not an effect of certain music. And thus they attempt to create that thing itself, mistaking it for music. This is the abysmal trap in which all metal that willingly identifies itself with that word falls into.

Arnold Schoenberg said that variation itself did not need justification, it was a merit on its own. He also said that this variation needed to be harnessed and guided by an equally powerful and balancing restraint and coherence. But in discussing De Divinatione Daemonum the first aspect becomes the most pertinent since this music lacks variation. Bent on forcing the creation and sustaining of this atmosphere, this featureless mass, this wall of same-length notes only seldom breathes in order to continue aimlessly towards oblivion.

The last factor that drives this into a wreck is that they have infected black metal with the superficial craving to be extreme. This is what drives them to this dissonance, and an ignorant use of dissonance at that. Dissonance not as a tool of tonal music, not even a dissonant musical language, it is just the use of single dissonant chords for their own sake, for the momentary and twisted satisfaction that it can bring to the human ear. Exemplifying yet another dead end of metal caused by a superficial appreciation of the classics or of music in general, Nyseius will gradually fade into oblivion as purposelessly as the notes they put together into atmosphere, not music.

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