We all want a powerful underground. The way to achieve that is to be harsh, cruel and unrelenting in our judgment of underground-style bands, or we permit lower quality to become the standard, and then because that is easier, it is what we will get. What we signal we accept becomes the norm. It is essential to be cruel to bullshit releases, and Desolate Shrine The Heart of the Netherworld is tryhard blather that permits introduction of modern metal tropes into old school metal while failing to achieve the power of expression that is the defining factor of old school underground metal.
On its surface, The Heart of the Netherworld is melodic doom-death. Under the surface, it consists of tired chord progressions and techniques worked around utterly repetitive songs which move in a wholly circular fashion and achieve nothing. The vocals pick up the modern metal trope of open-throated riding of the beat, putting the vocal in the lead role and deprecating guitar. That is as well, as no unique or expressive riffs fill this album. Instead, sort of like a slower degraded version of Nile, Desolate Shrine adapt rock riffs and add a few accidentals but tend to focus on a melodic interval accented by a strumming or arpeggiated pattern. The result is a form of churn, both at the riff-level and the song-level, which results in total boredom and directs the focus at the vocals, as if the vocalist were a parasitic organism that took over the brain of this band.
In addition, Desolate Shrine works in a number of modern metal patterns such as the recursive strum, the post-metal drone and (most odious of all) the chromatic ratchet turnaround that bad hardcore bands have been using for what feels like 40 years now. Aesthetically this album is exciting, but once you pop the hood and look inside, you realize it’s not a Mustang but one of those little Fiat microcars that sound like kitchen mixers that have been oiled too frequently. The underground is not a surface flavor; it is a way of composing, and to reach that stage, a way of thinking. Desolate Shrine have not taken the first step on that journey but have stepped off on another route.
Some things don’t age well, like mayflies or disco. Certain voices in the mainstream rock media have applied the same criticism to traditional heavy metal, claiming that its days have come and gone. Fortunately, they are incorrect as is evident by bands like Infernal Manes who continue to stoke that old flame without being solely a repetition of the older days in celebration of glories departed. But this band has its own very modern take on the ancient art of heavy metal.
Infernal Manes comes to us from the cold coasts of Norway with their self-titled debut LP. These traditional Norsemen have composed an energetic album of melodic heavy metal that tips its hat to Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate. Songs follow the standard verse-chorus format, but this imaginative album delivers not only heavy metal ancestral nostalgia but highly effective songwriting that knits together compelling riffs into an effective, cohesive format that provides the listeners with a spirited voyage into the days of yore. This band would stand on its own in any age but as we live in the present, it chooses to comment on the long and interesting history of heavy metal.
The only downside to this album is that it occasionally suffers from “Crazy Train Syndrome” — named for an Ozzy Osbourne composition in which an enigmatic chorus riff was paired with a joyous, almost witless bouncy hard rock riff in the verses — in which a few randomly emotionally jarring riffs disrupt the otherwise concise flow of the songs. For the most part however songs fit together well like the fine craftsmanship of a traditional artisan. Infernal Manes deliver exactly what you would expect from an old school heavy metal band, but with a bit more precision and efficiency. Complete with heroic and anthemic passion, Infernal Manes ensures that the old flame remains lit.
A few speak the truth, but most lie, not because they mean badly but because they think it helps them “get ahead.” Later do they learn that unearned merit simply means they are trapped in a world of having to uphold false images and it destroys their souls. To avoid this, we just cut the chaff from the wheat with pure linguistic and musical cruelty. Welcome to the latest installment of Sadistic Metal Reviews: come for the tears, stay for the (occasional) corn in the turd.
Rippikoulu – Musta Seremonia
Musta Seremonia is clearly B-level death metal that imitates many of those that went before it in the 1989-1991 period. It is excessively primitive, like Grave or Obscurity. Much of it tries to be doom metal, which is — with a few notable exceptions — boring music for boring people. Expect cudgel-primitive low-end power chords rumbling against each other and moveable melodic patterns which create an atmosphere of forward motion and near-symmetry. Like the best of the doom-death slice of the death metal genre, including Asphyx, Miasma, early Atrocity and Funerus, this band creates a grinding atmosphere but refuses to make it wholly repetitive, creating the sense of a plane flying through a ruined city to observe new interactions each time like disconnected visions of a mad prophet. The point is to lower you into the darkness and not let you up, which is excellent as an experience but like many bands in the doom genre, probably not an everyday experience. Unlike its contemporaries, Rippikoulu understand how to put contrast into a song and yet keep it focused on a goal of expression, even if in utter primitivism this goal is so basic as to be very similar from song to song… If this band falls down, it is the intersection of the disadvantages above that brings it down: the B-level death metal with citations in rhythm or melody from Amorphis, Incantation and Deicide; the repetition and relative similarity of approach; and the extremely basic nature of these riffs which, as in Swedish bands like Uncanny and Suffer, can create a sense of pervasive doom bordering on total entropy instead of preparing us for reconquest of the wasteland in the name of terror. And yet, Musta Seremonia lives on with infectious rhythms and a distinctive presence to itself which distinguishes it from others who have traveled this lonely path. It is less rhythmically recursive than Grave, and songs hold together better than Obscurity, and it does not fall into the reheated speed metal patterns which doom Insanity and Num Skull. It simply thunders, aiming to be primitive and basic in the same way Belial or Agonized. While this will not hold a candle to the best of Finland, like Demigod Slumber of Sullen Eyes or even Amorphis The Karelian Isthmus, it stands above the other retrospective acts for at least having a sense of purpose.
Deconstructing Sequence – Access Code
Tragically progressive and technical metal have become gigwise, or in other words are composed for an existing audience on the basis of what they have liked in the past, instead of forging their own path to attract an audience on the musical merits of the composition. Deconstructing Sequence launch into this arena with a highly informed, creative and periodically musically elegant entry which bears a second look. The surface adornment will unfortunately drive away many die-hard fans and simultaneously attract the type of greebos who were drawn to Opeth because it made them look musically profound among the fedora m’lady crowd of NEETs and hipsters. Much of the surface aesthetic involves voice overs about space landings, lead guitars that cleverly emulate the beeps and quirks of digital computers, and jazz fusion-inspired riffing that mates the ultra-texturalism of Meshuggah with the harmonic depth that bands like Dream Theatre and Gorguts used to establish contrast for their melodic themes. A mixture of Pestilence from its technical years with Dream Theatre and Meshuggah might accurately describe the sound, but the composition here hearkens back to simpler — think Rush or Camel-level — interpretations of mid-1970s classic progressive rock, although this is sometimes hard to find under the layers of postmodern configuration. Underneath all the layers, much of the riffing here as in Meshuggah is the same early 1980s speed metal where guitar serves a purely rhythmic role with a secondary melodic role, as harmony is impossible, thus adopting the chromatic fills that death metal later turned into phrase; a comparison between Meshuggah and Linkin Park is appropriate because they both have their origins in blending this essentially keyless, harmonically-moveable style with jazz fusion and rap/rock respectively. If I have any advice for this band, it is to lose everything but the music. We’ll understand the space exploration theme from the cover and the Hal 9000 guitar noises. Then it might make sense to worry less about writing the heavier riffs and to focus instead on why people will like you, which is your harmonically-rich composition in which melodies stand out in context and are not used as a production quirk-cum-purpose as they are in most “melodic death metal” bands. Access Code compares favorably to works from Sadist and other progressive death metal bands even if its heart shares dual loyalties in the 1990s and 1970s.
Sacrocurse – Unholier Master
If you want to make metal strong, be hard on metal, especially of the type you like best. Otherwise, in the absence of quality control, that which is mediocre and predictable but familiar gets promoted and any musician who wants his or her work to be heard will avoid that genre like the plague. This is the problem with the NWN/FMP attitude toward classic metal, which is to find an aesthetic imitator that is “true” by being extreme and unrelenting and uphold it as an ideal. These bands are neither satisfying with the same musical punch as the individuals had, nor do they present a quality level markedly different from the newer metalcore hybrids, and thus they maintain a small but diehard audience while driving everyone else toward the newer material. In this way, the “underground” labels maintain a symbiotic relationship with the big media pap labels dumping warmed over hardcore with jazz fusion fixins onto a clueless audience. Unholier Master on its surface fits the underground with charging power chord riffs and extreme death metal vocals under high-speed drumming. The problem is that every riff on this album is excruciatingly obvious and repetitive, song development is near zero, and the main focus has thus become the vocals chanting repetitive but semi-catchy choruses. This reduces death metal to the same level of entropy that speed metal hit toward the end of the 1980s when tons of bands appeared who composed with almost exclusively chromatic rhythm music and hoped to distinguish themselves with vocals and increasingly random guitar solos. This album is an insult to the underground; throw it out and embrace natural selection instead, or you weaken death metal with your good intentions.
Monuments – The Amanuensis
Excruciating: soaring Gospel-like power metal suddenly breaks into some dude… rapping… in a death metal vocal. The album proceeds in this pattern, with simplified (but less chromatic) Meshuggah style riffing banging out hard rock tunes and then, as if nu-metal went underground, the rap-influenced death vocals kick in. The whole thing seems designed to distract at any given moment which is probably palliative care for the listener who presumably could not be dissuaded from putting the album on and, short of a power failure, will not be immediately delivered from it. Not only is the heavy metal part of this music as cheesy as humanly possible, the brocore rap/metalcore side of it is as insulting to the intelligence as possible. If you are a person of no intelligence who likes stupid things because they make it seem like the world is compatible with your utter lack of positive mental attributes, purchase this immediately and get the tshirt too so we can spot you at a distance, adjust for windage and elevation, and do what is necessary. An experienced listener hearing this is immediately embarrassed for the band, and those who listen, and those who accidentally must hear this album, which would confirm every negative stereotype of metal (maybe it is a counter-astroturfing effort by vegan techno bands). It combines everything stupid in rock, rap, metal and inspirational music into a single ball of string which drips a fermented slime of human oblivion over all that it touches. While normally I oppose censorship, this album makes me re-think censorship on a level of excluding bands of poor musical quality, since all this album does is create a heap of landfill that even bacteria will find insults their intelligence.
Infra – Initiation on the Ordeals of Lower Vibration
From the tryhard realm of the underground comes love for a new type of band that combines the simplistic Blasphemy/Incantation clone with “high art” and produces music that seems stately, deep and profound. Somehow all of these bands explore spiritual philosophies or ancient religious texts and invent large mythos for themselves. This parallels the tendency of nu-metalcore acts to write about whatever literature they remember from high school, or spiritualist topics of peace and love like Cynic did, which is a way for metal bands to improve their image through pretense. The problem with this approach is that it leads to a flood of metaphysical bullshit which is ill-advised for bands to mention. This band from Portugal, and that fact seems important from the bio, makes this new hybrid low/high-brow grinding black metal. Where Blasphemy channeled the id, this music may be too self-conscious, but is nonetheless well-executed but from these two tracks create a lukewarm effect because song-form and “purpose” rather than content dictate what occurs in each song. Thus we have songs about songs, a kind of theory about black metal, and they never come to a point. Further, they like to stack primitive riffs up against melodic ones, which creates a kind of “precious” response which is every bit as contrived as numu bands switching from distortion and shouting on the verses to acoustic and singing on the choruses. On Initiation on the Ordeals of Lower Vibrations, the black metal moments express themselves and fade into the background as we wait for Profound Moments… but these come not from this kind of preciousness, but in the form of melodic/atmospheric material that exemplifies the best of the old school, both simple and evocative of events in life.
Bleed – Seven Billion Demons
What is it that is so appalling about judging a band by its style? It is OK with some forms, clearly, since no one ever said “Well, you shouldn’t write that band off just because they’re disco.” But in metal we shy away from it, ignoring the fact that some styles are designed to reduce music to what attracts like moths to flame the most basic, blockheaded and purposeless human tendencies. Brocore is one such genre, and while Bleed is clearly above-the-fold brocore, it is still brocore: the ranting speed metal of Pantera, updated with the chromatic riff texture noodling of Meshuggah, but simplified to fit around hard rock chord progressions in the background, against which all the riffery serves as simply decoration. Thus when you peer down into the core of this album you find something closer to Look What the Cat Dragged In or Hysteria than Meshuggah or Pantera, just done up in a new (or should I say… “nu”) aesthetic for a new generation of the credulous and inexperienced who will spend their parents’ money on dreck that will keep the slacker jobs program known as the music industry operating for another year. No offense intended slackers, and none taken; as a proud slacker I defend the right of everyone to slack off as appropriate, but wish the music industry would admit this fact and stop wasting time with clear filler. Nothing on Seven Billion Demons is badly executed and in fact the album as a whole is quite professional, just empty, like a streetcar at night or an entry-level job. Thus if you have a soul — and you might if you’ve kept reading this far, not sure — you should probably avoid this. But if you’re looking for Brocore 2.0 and something to chant along with as you drink beer and (no homo) wrestle with your buddies at a keg party on the beach, Seven Billion Demons may be for you. Kegstand!
“You know kid, uhh, usually when someone pulls shit like that my first reaction is I want to punch his fucking lights out. But you know something? You’re all right!” Most re-visions of older works by popular musicians end in tears and terror. This one re-creates three classic Amebix tracks in a form the band suggested was always intended but was not possible owing to the primitive production and living conditions of the day, and Amebix surely knew that their fanbase — who grew up on the versions as they were — would approach this with trepidation and skepticism. But there is no easy review for this disk.
Redux does not fall into the usual trap of making a glamorized and overly-slick version of the past. Instead, Amebix restyle their foundational songs more as if Metallica and Prong had collaborated to emit a dystopian metal album. Double-picked muted downstrumming and faster tremolo strumming all make an appearance, along with approximately half the vocals which are a hybrid of the Amebix style of Motorhead-influenced distorted vocals and the bassier, gnarlier death metal vocals to follow. But what is really surprising here is how these songs work very well given the high intensity treatment, which transitions them from a kind of contemplative and mournful look at our world to a savage Nietzschean attack of those who want to hoist the black flag and slit some throats. There are times when, much as happened on the first Burzum LP, these vocals are simultaneously so vulnerable and savage that they convey a sense of total commitment to desperate acts.
In addition, the more rigid playing of these riffs and uptempo approach gives the entire EP a malevolent vibe. These songs were great in the past, and they would be known as great here as well had this been the past. That being said, it will offend many punk purists and metal purists alike, despite having faithfully upheld the spirit of both genres. Not only that, but the haunting and unsettling sense of peering under the skin of our society and seeing underneath the makeup and credentials a swarming mass of crawling horror remains and may be intensified by this more assertive re-creation. While I liked the album that followed, I would gladly sign up for a full album of Amebix songs in this style as well.
King Crimson demonstrate within older radio rock style how to destroy the limitations of pop music as a compositional style, both removing popular conventions and launching their own musical lexicon with Red. This group is noted to have influenced Black Sabbath and have in turn influenced the black metal and death metal produced a generation later. Although progressive rock differs in aesthetic and ideology, the fundamental spirit is shared with these extreme genres much as despite their internal diversity they find commonality between radically dissimilar acts, much as Burzum and Sentenced do not share an ideology but have the same approach in spirit to life and music.
Red joined us in 1974, after the great hippie meltdown of 1969 but before the truly industrial product music of the 1980s. Harmonic rhythm notes jump across power chord riffs while motifs range across genre techniques from rock to heavy metal music in an assortment of ecclectic jazz beat music. Much as in the solo careers of these musicians, the music acts as a sort of sponge for influences, styles, techniques and ideas, but remains at its core the kind of imaginative progressive rock that drove Jethro Tull, Yes and Aphrodite’s Child. Notably electric guitar feedback loops amplified by acoustic resonance of room sound are used to produce a sonic resonance and lead melodic development, often resembling keyboard orchestra sounds as they define each song by developing atmosphere through the contrast between texture, tone and phrase.
Vocal songs as popular formatted compositions show movement rather than immediate resolution in music. Violent minimalism becomes eerily present as a lead guitar tone, carving sonic landscapes through sustained notes ringing in what would be describes as loops in ambient music, then intensifying these repeated patterns by doubling the guitars with crushing distortion. Songs show use another method of composition as opposed to the conventional rock major chord resolutions of popular music. Harmonically this album relies on half-steps followed by whole notes in a style then typical of the jazz fusion movement in rock. As if paying tribute to ancients, the rhythm is very rich with guitars producing massive sustain, reminiscent of DBC. A power chord motif leads order into disorder as the leitmotif is repeated inconsistently inbetween chaotic passages of large intervals creating sense of horror. Robert Fripp later innovated minimalist music playing his electric guitar through a tape feedback recorder and distortion and the nascent elements of that idea appear here as well.
If you went to an opera hall for a music performance, “love me do” pop-rock would not provide a sufficient intensity of experience. Redundant and eventually contradicting itself in political dogma, the rock format remained the same — guitar, bass, drums and singing lyrics — as the medium proved adequate enough to express a much wider range of music than what the format was originally intended for, but this required innovation in style and substance as King Crimson set out to do and succeeded with brilliantly in Red. Exceptional guitar works can be found still within parts of songs for those who take the time to listen to the whole album, which creates a feeling of mixed rock, jazz and classical music. The mythological, lyrical content of King Crimson continues a long legacy, reminiscent of much older works of this band, which continues through progressive rock to the underground metal of today.
This re-issue gives a classic black metal treatment to this underground powerhouse, which previously was heard as being more of a death metal album owing to its production more resembling that of the Incantation/Revenant vein of metal, in addition to many of its riffs fitting within the same form. With more spacious sound, the album sounds more distant and less loud which gives it a background resembling that of the Norse black metal which inspired the first wave of black metal. This more resonant sound brings out more of the tone in these songs and allows the melodic sense to shine, giving the album as a whole less abrasion but more atmosphere. As if to underscore this choice, the re-issue includes “The Ode to Eternal Darkness,” a nine-minute song which emphasizes the building of mood through repetition with internal melody in the style of black metal bands recognized more for their melodic sensibility. Although I am a sentimental bastard prone to like what I know, I prefer this mix to the original or the intermediate re-issue and hope the same treatment is given to other Demoncy albums which remain under-recognized despite their high quality.
With art by Chris Moyen and this powerful new sound, the Forever Plagued Records re-issue of Joined in Darkness stands poised to introduce a new generation of fans to one of the top handful of black metal releases to come from the New World.
Cleverness — glib intelligence focused on past good results manipulating an existing system — serves as the enemy to innovation. Balancing that is the notion that what is older is usually better because, human conditions having never changed, that which serves well once will continue to do so until the situation changes (which usually means it is simply decaying and unstable). Ctulu takes us back to 1997 and combines Swedish melodic death metal, Greek black metal and the classic Iron Maiden style of melodic heavy metal for a satisfying listen that is nonetheless non-essential. In this case, “non-essential” means that you can go listen to the original albums for a more complete (less clever) view of the genre, but that Ctulu will be fun for weekend listening and the local or regional metal scene.
Now, the above seems strikingly unfair. After all, Ctulu is a good band, and the fact that they repeat trills and melodic progressions from sources as diverse as later Sacramentum, Necrophobic, Unanimated, Mayhem, Rotting Christ and Piece of Time seems irrelevant to their quality as a band; that is very much true. But what is being played here is not so much the instrument as the genre and the expectation of fans based on those older works, so what occurs is ultimately clever instead of innovative. This band has developed its own voice, but it is a voice that converses only in the context of these past acts. Without them, this band would appear strikingly different but also starkly empty. These well put together songs reflect not an interest in pushing an envelope but in gratifying a need that already exists, which is why by the sixth track the sensation of listening itself has become repetitive more than the music itself. We know what it conveys; it has found different ways of doing roughly the same thing and while most of us will grudgingly admit to adoring the melodic metal sound, it works best in service to a grand or epic vision as in the underrated later Sacramentum speed metal hybrid albums which Sarkomand frequently resembles. Here we have a local band holding the horns and beer stein high, keeping up the tradition, but this is the worst of conservative thinking in that it is creating this tradition from outward-in, not from some motivation within toward an end product, and as a result it trivializes what is here and what was there.
Expect flowing melodic passages which elevate the fill to central position so that riffs may reverse direction through the scale and achieve a sense of rapid motion. Mate that with highly proficient drumming that generally stays out of the focus but frames it expertly, mid-level death metal vocals and heavy metal choruses and you have the basic idea. While most of the riffing is death metal derived and would fit on a Sentenced or Dissection album, much of the underlying song motion more resembles black metal in its choice of atmosphere followed by saturation of that atmosphere and an angsty breakout. Like many bands influenced by this style, Ctulu know how to write a chorus that is both pleasing to the ear and yet carefully hides its addictive tendencies over just enough detachment to make it plausible instead of cloying. At this, Ctulu best the competition and it explains why they have risen above the utter horde of melodic retro death metal bands to be in the position they are in also. And yet, Sarkomand remains an album that is fun to listen to but when it departs, nothing feels missing.
Colombian band Cóndor presents an album which European Romantics might have undertaken had their tastes run to heavy metal, with an explicit influence from Bedřich Smetana and a more subtle yet pervasive inspiration from Jean Sibelius, manifested in a style of underground metal that sounds like Atheist covering Graveland. An organic, fluent and natural flow embodied in sweeping melodies and choking riffs that overcome and seem to grow out of each other independent of the composer, as if taking a hint from a young Friedrich Nietzsche, gives this music a childish and innocent Dionysian center driven by instinct. The result is an album that must be listened to as a whole experience to find the moments which strike us as stereotypically metal sharing space with entirely contrasting ideas which set up the emotional background to those moments of violent intensity.
Unlike modern-day posturing in black metal, Duin looks toward the older tradition of abstract Romantic 19th century Nationalism as expressed in classical music and folk art. Both betray their presence in the use of typically long, modal, easy-to-get melodies of the folk kind. Sibelius lives in that tendency to drift into very paused passages and quiet dynamics seemlessly which was so characteristic of Nadia. In this sense, we could say that while Nadia was a Sibelian album, Duin is more of a Smetana-Fudali-ean album. It exists in a type of magical music like that conceived in Marsilio Ficino’s mind, a form of sonic art which follow celestial designs with metaphor of the spirit such that its effect over us is as sure and profound as that of the Sun and the Moon on the creatures of a forest. These strong ‘authentic’ folk inclinations serve as converging points of most visible influences. There is both a sylvan spirit underlying the music and a warm home-welcoming one as opposed to a warlike and epic one. These last two characters are instead represented in the more energetic passages which do not override the greater scheme of things and instead contribute to a desire for adventure that does not quite reach epic proportions. This follows the general theme of this work as, in contrast to the Apollonian rigid order of Beethoven or Bach, a wandering organic Dionysian spirit which aims to be appreciate from the atmosphere it saturates with meaning instead of a linear narrative progressing toward the conclusion of a musical argument. Like the naturalistic music of Burzum, Duin follows the thought process that repetition of a riff does not end when the composer or audience wants it to, but when the nature of that riff in the context of the song indicates a need for change. A kind of musical “sixth sense” pervades this album.
The first track, “Río Frío” starts off by quoting the last track from the debut album, El Roble Será Mi Trono Eterno for a few measures only to quiet down and performing an adaptation of Smetana’s Vltava for overidden and distorted guitars and bass. The second track, “El Lamento de Penélope” will probably give the strongest impression of this relation to Absurd in its urgent and minimalistic rhythmic riffing. The way the following melodies are carried in triple time reinforce this view until Vltava‘s theme is used in the climax section of the song. The following song, “La Gran Laguna,” is a roller coaster ride which takes us again through vistas of minimalist folk metal with quasi-marching beats and prominent melancolic melodies alternationg with ambient-like sections with a picked clean guitar outlining chords over the roar of its distorted partner. An instance of this supports the song’s solo section, which show off how Cóndor has stepped up even in its melodic treatment of solos which when compared to Nadia display a more mature independence from guitar-scale blocks.
“Coeur-de-lion” starts the visible slowing down and gradual elongating of expression that the album manifests increasingly a step at a time. The riffs are given a different tone by both the change in pacing, along with the playful exchange and duple and triple times which in different inceptions point the music in different directions. With a 2/4 reciting inisting, childish urgency, a 4/4 allowing for settling feeling, a 3/4 for a more bouncy feeling which slowed down and seen differently can be a martial and/or swinging 6/4 or 6/8, depending on the note value. “Condordäle” takes us one step further in what is almost a dirge in the beginning but which allows smooth and sensuous transition between riffs forming layers of an idea, with clear vocals reminiscent of a classical chorus.
“Helle Gemundon in Mod-Sefan” begins with a clear, long and emotional melody line gradually introduced and repeated, but is always interrupted by chords which sound dissonant in the context so as to disrupt the final resolution that we might expect in the line. Each time the line is allowed more time and to soar higher and higher. In the last of these repetitions the song then turns to the riff styling of the aforementioned dissonance-inducing chords, and riff after riff is wrought from this idea until its natural duration is expired. A break is brought which leads into a more conventional metal section comes in which a series of solos in the same vein are played. Mid-paced, emotional, almost aloof and relaxed playing which would not seem out of place in urban underground styles of rock characteristic of Latin America.
“Adagio” is an interlude for bass and clean electric guitars which serves as a beautiful gasping point before the last track, named after the album, that serves as a closing for the album. After the slowing down and exploration of different influences towards the middle of the album, a bit of everything is brought back in this song with a slow beginning which blooms almost inperceptibly harsh, hammering riffs, slow, folk-song melodies in lullabying triple time, which again alternate into a bridge of descending chromatic notes in the classical style leading directly into melodic indulgence in solo and riff proper of that folk metal which displays the transparency of rock and the honeset simplicity of the folk melody.
This is an album in which each song feels “better” than the one before. But when listened to many times one discovers this is not really the case. It is just that the progression between songs and within songs makes it feel as if each new event in the music is reaching towards a new goal, new vistas, but always through the eye of the Cóndor. Just like the compositions of the young Sebastian Bach shortly before and after his visiting Dietrich Buxtehude in Lübeck betrayed the unmistakable mark of the old master in form and method but never bowed down to him so that the pieces were, nevertheless, stamped with the young genius’ name, so does the band manages yet again to sound like itself independently or in spite of its distinguishable inspirations. Sounding like a more seasoned band than on Nadia, the telling silhouette of the Cóndor comes out of the foggy shadows and into a golden Autumn light.
Following up on its doom-death full-length Reduced to Sludge released in 2011, Funerus surges forth with three new tracks on a 7″ entitled The Black Death to be released on Dark Descent Records within the next few weeks. This short work shows that where Reduced to Sludge finalized the Funerus style, newer works further intensify the strong doom-death sound which has propelled this band for decades of enjoyment in the death metal underworld.
Sounding very much in company with widely varied acts such as Divine Eve, Cianide and Asphyx, Funerus writes grinding death metal riffs which develop over the course of a song with hints of melody and layers of texture, building an incrementally crushing atmosphere around a strong theme. On The Black Death, melodic elements serve a stronger role but entirely without becoming fluff or reducing the impact. Funerus uses melody in death metal correctly, which is to underscore the evocative vocal rhythm of a chorus and bring out variation in riffs so that repetition increases the crushing sense of morbid doom instead of adulterating it. These songs build like the experience of descending into a deep cave, with the heaviness of the air growing more oppressive and the fear surging with each foot further into the void that return from this abyss will be impossible. Where older Funerus relied on more varied technique and sometimes conflicted with the pure power of its doom-death riffs, this new incarnation clears out everything but the essentials and uses them to complement the fiery riffing to give it a further sense of oppressive hopeless violence.
In addition, vocals provided by bassist Jill McEntee, who shares instrumental duties with her husband John McEntee of Incantation, both through clarity of production and greater savagery produce an effect of urgent despair like chanted emergency messages broadcast by loudspeaker in the ruins of a dystopian city. Of the three tracks on this album, “The Black Death” grinds almost like a Bolt Thrower track but builds to a staggering sledgehammer doom-death riff instead of a melodic counterpoint to the abrasive chromatic dirge. The second track “The Minding” applies a melodic Swedish-style death metal riff much as might appear on a Carnage or Amorphis record but throws behind it a bulldozer of rhythmic momentum. Closing out the record, “On the Edge of Death” charges more like early Asphyx and keeps the intensity higher at a mid-paced speed with relentless vocals calling forth like battle command. Together these three tracks show a streamlined, stripped-down and more articulate Funerus that intends greater malice and achieves a sound competitive with the best of the underground that shows us this band at its greatest power yet.
The music fan possesses limited resources to achieve the goal of an enjoyable listening experience: time, money and energy. Reviewers tend to write about how cool everything is, but they should be writing about how mediocre most albums are so they can focus on the few that can be enjoyed for the next few years at least. It is hard to be cruel, but it is kinder than kindness. With that I introduce our latest round of Sadistic Metal Reviews…
Villainy – Villainy I
This enjoyable little romp reminds the death metal listener of later Sentenced crossed with the Venom-worship of Nifelheim and other bands who, in the old school days, were simply referred to as Venom tributes. Heavy metal genre riffing, combining the best tropes of the late 1970s and early 1980s, meets a harsh Cronos-styled vocal and updated technique. Nothing sloppy here; the band are tight and the arrangements show no spurious detail. However, despite the somewhat harsh vocals, like Venom this is NWOBHM and 1970s heavy metal revivalism without any particular relevance beyond that era. It skips speed metal textures for a death/black metal styled fast strum and continuous drumming as if taking notes from Merciless, and injects melody, but mostly stays within verse-chorus with introductory and transitional riffs different. The riff forms will be familiar to fans of heavy metal from that era. Lead guitar strikes a pentatonic blitz that is both enjoyable and very much within form. Unlike Merciless however this album focuses on writing hard rocking tunes and does not develop an evolving mood or atmosphere beneath.
Tenebrous – Arias Toward the Black Sun
Underground metal needs a new trope for a certain type of composition which appears frequently among our ranks. I dub this “80s situational comedy” after the movies where a character makes a bad decision, then to hide it chooses another bad option, then deceives and conceals in a string of events leading to absurdity and eventual plot collapse. Sitcom metal occurs when a band finds a riff they like and write other riffs to fit that riff without having an awareness of what the riff communicates emotionally to the listener, thus what the song is actually about, and so you end up with a cool riff and reactions to that riff which are designed to put it into context but ultimately have the opposite effect. Tenebrous fits this pattern through its work in a style that combines a whole lot of Graveland with some of the more aggressive strains of black metal. They have mastered the basic flowing riff, but not building a song around it, only building a song commenting on it. This is underscored by the cover of “Unpunished Herd” which ends the album and makes the rest of it look incoherent in contrast.
Pagan Flames – Symbol de Vie et Lumiere
This atmospheric black metal band combines Burzum-styled lead folk melodies over sweeping guitar riffs. Its strength is its melodic composition; its weaknesses are its vocals, which focus on rhythms that are too obvious and thus trite, and its tendency to try to work slamming full-stop and bounce rhythms into what should be a more continuous architecture. Barring those two disadvantages, Symbol de Vie et Lumiere presents black metal that unlike most recent efforts tries for the ancient, melancholic and epic warlike sound that made this genre popular before idiots invaded with thinly-disguised rock music to keep the mouth-breathers occupied. Many of these songs verge on being folk music itself and like the Darkthrone sidepoject Storm, feature trudging rhythms over which pagan lyrics are chanted to volkisch-reminiscent melodies. The fractured aesthetic presented by the overly busy vocals and tendency toward self-interruption with choppier rhythms narrowly keeps this album from being top tier but it distinguishes itself on its essence — attempting to write actual music through melody — from the formless legions of tryhards, shoegazers and hard rockers trying to use black metal as a vehicle for their own failed prior attempts at other genres.
Skrømt – Sjelebrann
Not since Disharmonic Orchestra Not to be Undimensional Conscious has a hybrid of this variety yet which retained its ability to express itself been cast among the metal minions. Skrømt combine alternative metal, post-metal, rough punk and older black metal influences (Ancient, Enslaved) into a form which keeps the catchy songwriting of indie rock bands but fleshes it out with a rich backdrop of shifting harmonic texture and, like metal, combines multiple riffs into chains to create a moveable part of a narrative. For the most part, songs stick to verse-chorus as augmented by background material and sometimes with a second instrumental chorus to expand upon the first loop. Like alternative metal, songs guide themselves through the vocals and the presentation of lyrics in a combination of shouted, sung and harsh vocals. Where this goes wrong is that rock and metal do not mix on an aesthetic and thus artistic level, and so the end result is rock gilded with metal riffs which are quickly absorbed, and some of the best work of this album exists in the shadow of the alternative rock tropes that it stands far superior to. This is unfortunate as clearly many good ideas and musical insights went into this album. Most inspiring in this release is the technical work applied to making the various riffs and styles fit together. It is rare for a band to understand how to connect different emotions together without following a blatant formula, but Skrømt stitches together multiple moods and styles into a coherent whole on a musical level, even if making it work on an aesthetic level seems difficult.
Church of the Dead – Vol. 4 – Meet Me in the Tomb
The term “cultural appropriation” seems trendy these days but few realize what it means. Blatant theft of the cultural methods of another group is too easily detected, so people appropriate those cultural methods by translating them into a form that most will not recognize. In this case, while Church of the Dead clearly uses death metal riffs and death metal vocals, its vocal rhythms are influenced by rap and its riff rhythms are closer to Motown than standard issue death metal. Thus while this disc shows some musical promise, it remains a confused aberration that wants to be in one genre but keeps itself in another, losing the spirit and atmosphere of that genre. Each piece tends to feature both Cannibal Corpse style trope cadence rhythm vocals and sing-song jingle-style vocals, making these hard to listen to without a wincing cringe, but also internalizes groove to the point where riffs take a basis in Morbid Angel and Malevolent Creation and become closer to Pantera. As a result, despite the many positives for this album, the overall negative is that its overall presentation is bouncy, poppy, and very much “rock” and not metal in form.
Deep Wound – Deep Wound EP
At some level all hardcore punk approximates the same thing because the genre solidified certain tropes and combined with the mathematical limitations on complexity, these defined the variety of punk songs. Deep Wound creates songs that sound either like Black Flag without the dissonance, or early Corrosion of Conformity without so many pauses. The vocals strikes a jaunty and sarcastic pause when they are not in full blur mode. As far as thrash goes, this is closer to the punk side like the first DRI LP, and its riffs are less metal than hardcore in minor key, but it beats the recent “crossover thrash” rebranding that verges too much on speed metal territory and becomes either tame or inanely jingle-y as a result. The hardcore spirit lives faithfully in this music but because of the vast similarity of hardcore, it also does not stand out in any particular way — riffs are not radically different, nor song forms, nor even vocals — so qualifies as a fun listen but not as definitive as the albums from DRI, Cryptic Slaughter and COC that defined thrash as a genre. However, this stands head and shoulders above the “party thrash” of recent years and by coming at the genre from the hardcore side, brings in an energetic simplicity that metal riffs make too complex to self-sustain.
Nidsang – Into the World of Dissolving Flames
Basic black metal combined with Angelcorpse-style aggression, but leaning on the latter for songwriting. As a result, not much atmosphere but plentiful aggression. Melodic riffing adds some depth but consistent song form and intensity rob this album of much enduring power.
Aborted – The Necrotic Manifesto
Aborted took their high-intensity low-complexity grind and gave it the modern metal (a/k/a deathcore) treatment which made it more chaotic. The more elements you add, the more internal complexity (melody, structure, theme) you must have or you reduce your core complexity to nothing, which is what happens here. Catchy chorus + two grinding riffs + hard rock influences.
Abysmal Dawn – Obsolescence
Workable death metal with heavy metal influences in abundant lead soloing, melodic riffing and catchy choruses. Very paint-by-numbers however with not much of an intent to put anything into a song but energy and internal cohesion. Good riffs give it strength but do not make it compelling; modern-metal-style chanted choruses ahead of the riff also increase frustration.
Cemetery Fog – Towards the Gates
This attempt at Paradise Lost-styled doom metal is both well-composed and artistically relevant, but highly cheesy from the use of melodies that directly gratify pop instincts to the occasional female vocals which aesthetically create the type of cheese that Motley Crue could only dream of. Songs are well-written and express a unique form and content for each, even though they drone on through a series of heavy metal riffs slowed down and are united by a melodic lead shadowed by vocals. While not bad, this makes the album as a whole somewhat sentimental in the sort of obvious Thomas Kinkade calendar way that drives away people like me, but it would be remiss to not notice the quality of songwriting here.
Abigor – Leytmotif Lucifer
Black metal needs to stay black metal. Abigor try to work in late Gorgoroth through early Deathspell Omega influences and it makes their already spotty music more spotty. Some good melodies, no continuity, too much style.
Aevangelist – Writhes in the Murk
Imagine Teitanblood with melodic riffing and slowed down to fast mid-paced death metal. The one cool effect here is the use of abrupt transitions to create a theatrical effect, but the lack of underlying riff and song consistency makes even this seem hollow.
Bethlehem – Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia
Most will notice the creeping Rammstein influence: clean vocals, more dance-able beats, more pronounced use of German lyrics. However, a good deal of this sounds like recent Absurd as well with more of a folk influence creeping in and while the rhythms are more popular music friendly, they are far from industrial, and what appears instead more resembles NWOBHM with more groove than the quasi-modernist sound of Rammstein. Otherwise, the riff wizardry remains but is muted, with more emphasis on vocals and repetitive choruses, but generally these songs fit together well musically and develop an internal melodic sense that produces a multifacted atmosphere.
Agatus – Dawn of Martyrdom (re-issue)
Sort of like a cross between Legion of Doom and old Rotting Christ, Agatus uses the full punk style of even strumming speed creating droning riffs. These are pleasurable in themselves, and fit together well in songs, but they are both too obvious as melodies/phrases and too similar as rhythm riffs to make this work. In addition, many of the melodic choices here are simply rudimentary crossing into bad. This could have been an epic album if a more critical eye had been applied during composition.
Acheron – Kultes des Hasses
The challenge to Acheron has always been to overcome their cadenced rhythm that comes to a full stop in perfect symmetry, sounding a bit like a child’s song. On this latest album they work up the usual assortment of great riffs in bad rhythm and occasional disorganized order.
Baphometh – In the Beginning
Essentially speed metal with plenty of repetition, catchy choruses and circular song structure, this band nonetheless adopts death metal vocals. However, it is better for fans of B-rated Metallica and Exodus clones than anything newer. While none of this is incompetent, songs have no center around any kind of conflict, so the general mode is repetition and circularity.
Authorize – The Source of Dominion
Thudding, predictable, circular and confused, Authorize are Swedish death metal in the style of Suffer but with none of what holds songs together or makes them anything but basic guitar practice. Lead guitars totally incongruous, other elements equally out of place. Should have stayed unreleased.
Aurora Borealis – Worldshaper
The melodic death metal band works Absu-style jaunty vocals into the mix, but they take over composition too much. Riffs follow the vocal lead which dominants rhythm and creates a kind of circus atmosphere with the MC describing each act and then the trained bears of the riffs, clowns of the background vocals and highwire dancers of guitars take over. Sounds a lot like Warfather but more melody.