When a genre becomes buried under layers of confusion, people identify it by what it lacks more than what it is. A more sensible approach understands such a genre as having a spirit or other indefinable center that holds the rest together. Such is the case in death metal, which is relevant as Execration clearly aspire to an old-school death metal style that incorporates sounds from newer hybrid-metal genres.
For example, Morbid Dimensions makes greater use of the open strum as a harmonic fill between riffs, and prefers that its phrases end in rhythmic suspension, allowing them to use such fills to keep the music from becoming too violent. While they do not incorporate blatant sweeps, Execration enjoy putting riffs with clear influence from punk in with the metal, creating an oil on water effect. The band explores the textures and rhythms of the smarter edge of metalcore, stoner doom metal and the post-metal era, but works them into songs which aesthetically and compositionally hail the old school underground metal approach.
In that general mission, Execration succeed triumphantly: Morbid Dimensions presents an album of mid-paced doom-death songs which touch on favorite riff archetypes without becoming derivative, although in fairness this band sounds like Dismember playing Desecresy while taking advice from Hypocrisy and Unleashed. Riffs combine to form highly textured and thoughtful songs with a melodic basis, but the target here is clearly the post-metal model of long slow simple melodies unfurling rather than a charging desire to fit riffs together into brain Jenga about the imponderable. To break up the melodic mood domination, Execration vary the pattern with both Black Sabbath-sounding riffs and classic mid-paced death metal riffs. Like modern metal however, emphasis rides on the vocals rather than guitars, which creates more of a recognizable song format to rock listeners.
At their best, Execration manage a better version of the old-school sound than the twin evils of those who make imitations without soul, and those who make hybrids without sense. Despite this being a competent album, the inclusion of too many of the newer influences prevents Execration from using old school songwriting alone, and so sometimes they end up with riff salad. Several of these songs include one or two riffs that have no real relation to the content and suggest either hasty songwriting, or an argument between creators that is resolved by pacifying everyone and including whatever each person wants to throw in. For raw ability, Execration ranks up there with recent doom-death tyrants Desecresy, and if they can keep the randomness and post-nu-metal influences out, they might make a crushing album out of these raw materials.
Now that our society has fallen apart further, the 1980s like simple and honest like the 1950s did to people exhausted of modern society in the 1980s. A better outlook might be that however our fallen time, it is a more fallen version of the 1980s, with the same pitfalls and failures. Those who lived through it can tell you how much a time of terror it was, with nuclear warfare and social collapse at every turn, and how this propelled some artists to put their most sacred hopes and fears into music. Excel was not one of them.
Excel created this “crossover thrash” back in the 1980s but really, this album belongs in with the Pantera/Biohazard school of bouncy hard rock in punk form with some added metal riffs. The problem with hard rock is that it relies on a simple mentality behind its riffs and that it aims to attract, so it is the equivalent of carnival music or a dinner theater side-show, which is really obvious music that gratifies really basic desires. That keeps the interest less than something articulated and involved like DRI, which offers its own riff style that obviously derives influence from many places, but does not parrot them. The only hidden influence here would be a more pronounced version of the Orange County surf-rock sound that incorporates novelty and party music into basic rock and projects it onto whatever genre can serve as canvas, in this case the basic punk of Excel. The tendency toward riffs based on playing a consistent trope, then interrupting it so the audience can get excited for it to return, while a technique to some degree in most music here becomes a staple in the most basic, drunk football fan throwing feces at the stage way.
The “crossover” part here consists of faster punk riffs that pick up after the chunky bounce-metal riffs and grandstanding hard rock riffs run out. Over this, a vocalist essentially speaks his lines and ends them on a melodic uptake, and although he deserves some note for periodically sounding like Snake from Voivod, these vocals bring out nothing in the music and mostly try to draw attention to themselves with the rest of the music as background atmosphere. Drums sound like a jogger trying to keep up with the vocals and far too often fall into the same syncopated beat that adds nothing but background noise, since the guitar and vocal hooks are nearly in unison and provide all the rhythm we need. While from a distance this album will appear to be no different than DRI, Cryptic Slaughter and Suicidal Tendencies, it lacks the fundamental spirit toward the expression itself as something distinct from and not pandering to the crowd. There is too much pander in Excel, and it dumbs down the music.
Since the dawn of metal the music industry has sought to stretch the definition of “heavy metal” to include anything with heavy guitars because that would enable them a new sales channel for the usual pap. The arguably metal-influenced seemed to excite labels for that reason.
I freely admit to liking this release but not recommending it. This takes some unpacking to make sense, so let me first remind us all of the role of a record reviewer: we need to help you buy the 1% among all the new stuff that is worth listening to multiple times. That elite group consists of records that are not only aesthetically interesting, but musically interesting, and have some form of artistic content, because nothing other than those three will hold the attention of a metalhead for very long. What I do not want to do is hype a record that has an excess of one of the three without the others catching up, like a punk record with really deep political reviews, or a post-metal disc with great production, or even a jam band that remakes jazz but communicates nothing. A record that you will listen to time and again requires all three in roughly matching proportions, and if it lacks those, you will find you bought something in the way pop music listeners do, so that it fascinates you for a week and then languishes in the closet to get dumped at the used record store (where you will find many others of the same record, and get fifty cents for it as a result).
Blackwolfgoat is basically an atmospheric jam. There are spoken interludes on drone-related topics that really offer nothing and are replaying a hackneyed technique; if you delete those tracks (1, 5 and 9) you are left with a record of distorted guitar which uses technique and recursive melody well but aims for ambiance, i.e. not really coming to a point. This is where it fails: this is a jam, not an artistic communication, so while there’s a lot to like here, there is not much to listen to repeatedly here. The intention to create specific moods and expand their depth rather than extend them linearly, which is the core attribute of ambient music, does not rear its head often. Thus while this is enjoyable, it is best passed buy until the time when it hits the used rack for fifty cents, at which time it will make an interesting study in technique and texture for the budding guitarist.
This small label sent over a few of their releases in compilation format. Fallen Temple Records releases tapes and vinyls of rather obscure acts with specific audiences and put a range of stuff together for this compilation, which shows how wide the tastes of this label and its audiences are.
Betrayer/Neolith – Split
Long-time readers may be familiar with our obsession with Polish band Betrayer, whose 1990s debut Calamity remains an excellent but mostly overlooked piece of melodic death metal with speed metal influences. Betrayer return with a single track, “Beware,” which shows more of a late Morbid Angel (Covenant era) influence, specifically in vocals and rhythms “The Lion’s Den,” as well of more of a reliance on the more aggressive mid-paced speed metal rhythms to emerge in the 1990s. The musicality that allows melody to unite disparate elements into a single experience remains and so despite initial concern over style, listeners will find this track hard-hitting and rewarding after multiple listens. The noodly solo does little for it and the Pantera-ish influences slow down the power of this song, but the quality songwriting remains as does the ability to leave the listener transported after listening. We will be fortunate if we hear more from this under-noticed but intelligent band.
Neolith on the other hand sounds like Krisiun and Impiety had a spawn but balanced it with the second album from Grave. The result emerges as charging death metal with atmospheric use of keyboards. Unlike many bands, these guys seem to understand at least the rudiments of harmony and so it fits together both rhythmically and tonally but the constant drilling rhythm and high degree of repetition without variation of the structural loop within the song makes this somewhat repetitive. A late-song break to a Slayer-style riff then leads to more keyboards mixing poorly with the guitars by creating a competition between sounds instead of supporting atmosphere, which causes clashing influences in the song and sabotages mood. Then it all repeats. This band has a great deal of talent and if they chill out and apply it without worrying what people will think about them, they’ll do great.
Behelal – Satanic Propaganda
Behelal suffer from being too adept, which leads to them deciding to adopt multiple styles into the same musical persona, with the result of achieving stylistic anonymity. Fundamentally of a blackened death approach with post-metal style chord progressions and mixed in primal black metal, industrial and other influences, this song plus an intro conveys a lot of potential but not really any specific direction. It concludes much as it began, with a sense of darkness and possible beauty never realized. Compares to Pyogenesis.
Blackwhole – Another Starless Night
The world might be happier if bands abandoned pun names, if that is what this is. The listener will first notice that and either be thrilled by it because they are a moron who delights in the trivial, or avoid it because they are disgusted by the flood of mundane morons delighted by the trivial. But assuming that the name is not a pun, consider how you would feel about an album at the pace of early Samael with some of the influences of later. The result requires the kind of mentality that doom metal fans have while listening, but incorporates some electronic influences but basically just drones. Its simple chord progressions are not unpleasant and its riffs somewhat unique, but the main problem most of us have with this is that well-composed or not, it is somewhat boring. The pace allows for little change and the plodding riffs wear us into the ground. Like early Samael, it has a certain charm as mood music since it sounds like demons practicing dirge music in the basement of an ancient house on haunted land.
Devil Lee Rot/Ajatus – Split
Devil Lee Rot is extremely predictable but catchy hard rock dressed up as some kind of Dissection-formatted heavy metal band with occasional death metal vocals. If you really adore middle-period AC/DC, this might stir your cauldron, but generally this has nostalgia appeal and is dripping in cheese without managing to be fun or entertaining. It is hard to write off this band because of their obvious musical skill, but it does not save the end result from being a warm-over of the past. Ajatus aim for the late days of the 1980s with a fast speed metal/death metal combination that uses fast riffs and death metal vocals but the riff patterns of speed metal. These riffs are predictable but use a bit of melody and songs come together well, which marks this as eternal B-level death metal that compares to Fleshcrawl and Dismember but never quite achieves those heights.
Eternal Rot – Grave Grooves
Much as you might expect, this band undertakes a fusion of morbid metal and dark grooves. The result sounds like Fleshcrawl covering Autopsy at the pace of early Sleep material, and this delivers a listening experience that is pleasant. Morbid vocals burble up from the background as bass-intense guitar tracks rumble through the front and songs fit together well. Riffs are a bit too asymmetrical and songs too much cut from the same wallpaper, but this release only has two tracks. A full length album might show more. Eternal Rot struggles against contradictory impulses to set up a groove and to use simple riffs, which creates the unfortunate result of droning power chords ad nauseam. If this band could work in more death metal style riffing it might inject some energy into this otherwise fairly plodding sound. Then again, those who like groove tend to get excited by predictability.
Hin Hale – Beyond
This band attempts early style black metal with distorted vocals but music influenced by the speed metal years, much like early Sodom or some of the many South American bands who have undertaken this style. Hin Hale keeps up the energy and throws in some good riffs but the background of this release somewhat swallows it in similarity. Finding a voice in this style proves very difficult because of so many riff patterns and song patterns known from the past, so revivalists such as this face an uphill battle. They complicate this with a named unrecognized by most and an unfortunate thin guitar production.
Malum in Se – …Of Death…of Lurid Soul
Malum in Se blends three generations of Swedish death metal into a single melodic death metal voice that avoids being as random as the post-metal and “tek-deaf” material tends to be. Unfortunately it also avoids being distinctive and so comes across as a well-articulated style in need of direction. Some excellent riffs in here show not only promise, but an ability to stagger riffs for contrast and achieve mood, but the overall energy charges too far ahead and not enough into depth, and many of these patterns seem too symmetrical to be memorable. The insistence on nearly constant vocal rhythms and frequent high speed pummeling make it hard for listeners to stay tuned in to the inevitable conclusion, which is usually able done and worth the wait. This band have made a good job of analyzing their style, but now need to find a sense of making it more of an aesthetic experience of beauty and with that, a larger purpose than the style itself.
Necromantical Screams – Deadly Frost
This band approach Funeral Doom much like old school doom in the style of Saint Vitus with heavy downstroke repetitive strumming guided by the croaking distorted vocals. On the one original song included here, much of the riff-writing approximates the speed/death metal years and while it incorporates a good amount of melody, ends up being driven by rhythmic expectation in the sense of a cadence ending on an offbeat. Many Autopsy influences color this and they result in a somewhat boring song. The second track is a slightly slowed but mostly faithful cover of the Celtic Frost song from which this band takes its name. They successfully execute it but put more emphasis in varying the vocals with each phrase to give it a new atmosphere, but this loses the austere calm and sense of dread to the original. While there is nothing to dislike here, the simple outlook approach to riffs plus slowdown generally equals a type of funeral doom best reserved for going to sleep after funerals.
Does anyone remember Driller Killer? Wömit Angel joins the tradition of metal bands making novelty releases on the society-hating side. Obviously inspired by Impaled Nazarene, Wömit Angel serves up fast hardcore riffs with a heavy dose of hard rock on the choruses.
And that is about all you must know.
This release makes for pleasant listening in that obviously these guys have been in metal bands for some time and know all the ways to give a song power. There are no random wanderings like one finds with inexperienced bands; everything fits together like a puzzle. The problem is that each puzzle is based around a melodic hook per song, with a corresponding rhythmic hook in vocals, and then nothing really interesting happens even when they inject a bit of riff salad. What fails to hold these songs together is internal, at a conceptual level lower than music. They are all variations of the same idea which is fun background music to hate society and self-destruct to.
Driller Killer was similar but of 1999 or so vintage. It was fast hardcore with melodic undertones but the heavier emphasis on chorus vocal rhythm common to German speed/death metal bands (we’re looking at you, Destruction). It was catchy. No part of it was incompetent. But like Holy Goatse, the Driller Killer album was temporary, transient and quickly forgotten. Music is best when it evokes a feel from life and observes something poetic about it. If that feeling is living on Euro-welfare, drinking $9 beers and hating society — with no motivation to find a reason why — the result will be a nostalgia-tinged journey through influences and convenient songwriting.
Thus rises the epitaph of Wömit Angel. If you found this at a yard sale, it would hold your attention for a couple weeks, but mostly for the novelty of the name and cover. Then you would put it in a box and ten years later drop it off somewhere where it would again end up as a yard sale item. Music must have meaning or it becomes universal pop which is like elevator music at this point: always there, always cheap, and rarely lasting more than an instant.
During the 1980s, multiple metal movements existed in parallel. The genre birthed itself a decade before and almost immediately got merged with hard rock, only waking itself up with the NWOBHM in time to avoid total assimilation. In the next decade, it diversified.
Sacrilege emerged from the UK proto-crust scene and transitioned slowly into metal as most of these bands did when, musical basics familiar, they sought to use their new artistic powers for more precise communication. The band put out a trio of albums before lapsing in the early 1990s. Turn Back, Trilobite was the third of these and showed the band leaving its punk roots behind entirely to explore a doom metal style. This release prompts comparisons to Candlemass because in its pacing, use of percussion and even vocal melodies it evokes that long-standing doom band.
The notable differences here are that Sacrilege sometimes slides into ludicrous hard-rock riffing that immediately pushes it into the background, and that one of these guitarists clearly listens to quite a bit of Metallica Ride the Lightning which shows up in some of the muted-strum double downstroke work here as well as in the Hammett-inspired lead guitars which use falling scales to produce lengthy solos from relatively consistent structures. This effect works better with the shorter solos on Metallica but here often becomes too symmetrical and rambling, but otherwise, adds a greater efficiency to some of these songs.
People like this album, and it is hard not to, because it is ambitious. It touches on tropes from jazz, rock, folk and hard rock in addition to its basis in heavy metal, and by using doom metal pacing, allows itself more space over which to stretch out vocals and riffs, installing a greater range of rhythms. The problems with this approach are that in many ways the band were not ready for it. Too much of this album is comped in with 1970s hard rock riffs, the vocalist for all of her range tends toward very similar patterns (which fits with the Ozzy-Marcolin range of vocals), and too many of the rhythms and riff shapes are similar, causing navigational difficulties for the casual listener.
As a random find in a record store on a rainy Saturday, this album provides some good listening because its ambition creates a world our brains can explore despite its failings. Like most doom metal, Turn Back, Trilobite relies too much on predictable and repeated tropes for enjoyable regular listening. The greater emphasis on “emotion” in doom metal tends to mean a narrower range of mood, and as a result the album flows past like tapwater more than distinguishing itself with the cornucopia of tropes it applies. That and the obvious Metallica derivations paired up with mediocre riff patterns excluded this one from running for the big time and shortly afterward, the band members excluded themselves to do other things. With the right producer to enforce some editing and variety, this could have been a massive release.
On December 3, 1983, a force of unparalleled musical terror was unleashed upon a more innocent world. Combining the high speed strum detached from percussion used by Discharge with the architectural riffing of Judas Priest and the melodic understructure used by Iron Maiden, Slayer created a new style of heavy metal which exceeded all previous efforts.
While Show No Mercy sounds tame compared to later Slayer effort Reign in Blood (1986), for the time it revolutionized metal and punk alike. Most metal of the era was still recovering from the mid-1970s slump that occurred when Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were hybridized into a new rock-based style, manifesting after a brief revolution in the NWOBHM as the usual lowest-common-denominator crowd pleaser in acts like Motley Crue. Slayer brought back the longer phrasal riffs used by Black Sabbath and through the tremolo strum added greater flexibility and detached chord changes from the beat of the snare, which allowed the guitar to dominate composition and relegated drums to timekeeping. This in turn gave the band more options for varying riffs within a phrase and escaping the verse-chorus pop radio song format that had infected metal in the previous years.
Even outdoing other hardcore punk/NWOBHM hybrids like speed metal bands (Metallica) and thrash (DRI), Slayer created a fury that could also be beautiful. To this they added a mythological view of humanity and the ongoing collapse of Western civilization, placing us into a mode of viewing it as a conflict between good and evil with the prize being survival more than a spiritual state of obedience. In doing so, Slayer laid the foundation both musically and topically for the future death metal genre, while also spurring speed metal on to greater intensity. Most of what we cover on this site would not have existed when it did without Slayer and contemporaries such as Bathory, Hellhammer and Sodom who opened the gates to this new style.
When people want to say something “controversial” but inoffensive about metal, they talk about how great 1980s speed metal was. I beg to differ: that music had a few standouts but for the most part was exceptional only in pulling metal out of its 1970s slump into audience-pleasing hard rock, and most of it was boring and repetitive like the punk on which it was based.
Powerlord create a functional hybrid between Judas Priest and early Metallica with The Awakening, but songs develop more like the middle-of-the-road heavy metal of the 1970s. Like dolphins swimming, songs dive from surface to chorus and resurrect, with perhaps a bridge but often just a break, and then do it again until the end.
Nostalgia for the 80s seems misplaced when listening to this 1986 recording re-mastered for a new generation, or the 40-somethings who want to recapture some of the joy of youth by purchasing things. It completely fails here, because the 1980s were essentially a hybrid time. Caught between the salaryman mentality of the 1950s and the licentious 1970s, with fear of the ugliness of the late 1960s resurrecting, the 1980s showed America pulling itself apart between two extremes, those who wanted to join with the Soviets and those who would rather die by nuclear warfare than yield to them. This created a powerfully unstable social climate but also meant that to stay in the middle, artists had to focus on the trivial. From that you get goodtimes metal like Powerlord which avoids hitting anything too hard, but repetitively tears into known quantities that the audience has been proven to enjoy.
Some say The Awakening helped found the power metal genre. Aside from the fact that power metal means “speed metal,” this statement may be true but does not change the fact that this music owes more to its 1980s backdrop than to heavy metal itself. It repeats itself, goes nowhere, and while not fully random like bad metal, also has no internal dialogue and so seems really pointless unless the sound itself of repetitive downstroke riffing makes you excited.
Norrønasongen Kosmopolis proves to be a fine album in a style only tangentially related to metal, but fails to rise to the point of making me want to listen to it again. Folk music can be comforting, sometimes interesting, but is usually known for being participatory, that is a group of people around a campfire singing as part of a ritual.
Solefald come to us from the entertainment fringe of folk, which here is a combination between the bands that play in the background at a Renaissance Faire and the kind of music that might be used in a low budget Romantic comedy to establish that the characters are indeed in Norway. Norrønasongen Kosmopolis features songs composed in layers, such that the band sets up a repeating pattern and then other instruments layer within that while vocals between male and female trade off, chanting lyrics of apparently great lutefisk significance.
Then it breaks into this with dinner theater style dramatic breaks where other vocalists join in abrupt transition to another pattern, like the scene has changed or perhaps the lyrics have referenced something terrifying, like a moose roaming free in the local churchyard. All of it is well-executed, with pleasant flutes and string instruments, and the vocals are elegant, but the artistic intention behind this is confused. It tries to organize itself around vocal events which do not work without visual cues, and it specializes in the kind of sing-song rhythms that work best with a “Little Vikings” playset or uncritical audience at the aforementioned Renaissance Faire. When metal guitars intrude, it is as a background instrument that makes the mix louder without adding much of musical note, which makes the vocals even louder.
At the local pub, these songs would be more fun to sing if their parts fit together in a method that allowed people to remember them and have fun experimenting within that known framework. Instead, we get a serial sequence of repetitive frameworks which change randomly for reasons unrelated to the music. That probably qualifies as “progressive” in the dissolved metal scene of today, but in reality, it is the kind of drama that attracts pretentious people looking for something mentally easy to digest. The result guarantees tedium for those who dare notice, and comfortable but random background music for the rest.
Texas old school death metal (which is to say, “death metal”) band Blaspherian return after the triumphant Allegiance to the Will of Damnation with a two-song EP showcasing a newer style which is both more brooding and more raw, chaotic and abrupt.
These two songs show the Celtic Frost influence in the way riffs are arranged to contrast one another, as if by competing groups of demons howling blasphemies across a chasm in Hell, each building the intensity of its own blasphemy based on the statements of the others. “Awakened Into Impious Absolvement” starts with a relatively simple charging riff, than breaks into another one and picks up the narrative there by adding textural variation, then creates an interplay between competing riffs that allows a return to the original pattern with greater strength. “Phoenix Of Uncreation” on the other hand shows a fully intense influence of early Incantation (most intensely “Profanation”) by building from a fast riff to an extensive doomy passage which is developed into a series of mid-paced riffs which alternate between the textures already introduced, as if preparing us through a long journey for something revelatory found at the end, which comes through an atmospheric detour into a riff played at the pace of doom metal with the fast death metal strum. That creates an otherworldly atmosphere which is resolved in return to earlier themes which like a snowball build intensity with each break and restatement. The song ends in blazing fury as its contrary impulses collide, culminating in faster and streamlined versions of earlier patterns exploding into a final theme.
Upon the Throne...of Eternal Blasphemous Death shows Blaspherian exploring its roots in more idiosyncratic and chaotic death metal with the application of songwriting principles learned from the last full-length. This creates a more moody sound and one which requires more from the listener, but like the more polished works reflected on the unpolished days of their demos, resurrects the sense of a detached and irrational world manifested through evil intent.