Empyrean – Resurrection Engine: This is really one of the more musical things to cross my desk, but these guys are on heavy drugs if they think the audience for this genre will reward them. First they try to do some metalcore, which I’m now convinced is basically emo (an offshoot of hardcore, originally popularized by Fugazi, then becoming its own genre) with metal riffcraft: songs are three-riff, with one riff for verse, one for chorus, and one a melodic interlude that happens every third repetition of the others and can be expanded upon without moving the fret hand much. As a result, their straight-ahead songs have a very cookie-cutter sound; the band really shines when they take post-rock literally and make spacy ballads that are as much folk music or ambient in spirit as they are rock (think Agalloch), and are very removed from metal and doubly so from punk. When the band launches into this type of material, my ears perk up. It has been dumbed-down a bit for the high school audience, most of whom are still trying to decide whether to dedicate their suicide to a girl, or nuclear warfare. However, a great sense of harmony underlies these songs. I think the band should chuck all the metalcore/post-metal horseshit and just do what they do best, which is atmospheric folk post-rock like Hawkwind crossed with Laurie Anderson or Brian Eno. I say do it you boys because metalcore/emo-core is like all rock music a giant aggregation of styles, which ties you down with so many conventions that soon you’re just repeating cliches in “new, exciting” forms. Empyrean have a chance to break free. Do it.
Herpes – Doomsday: This band make facile doom/death with underscorings of punk, shadowing early work by Autopsy and Cianide. They like to launch into songs with rough skeletal riffs, then develop those with their most grind/punk-influenced verse riffs, and then rotate through variations on that theme before concluding with a circuitous “descending into the dungeon” style resonant doom riff. This makes for an engaging mixture: just hookish enough to lure you in, twisted and cryptographic enough to keep your attention, but mostly these old school death metal tunes just immerse you in a dark atmosphere and then let it soak in, saturating you in a morbidity and empty despair that mirrors the purposelessness of modern life. Some influences from modern metal appear in the riffing but not in the song structure or tempi. Percussion is excellent and to these ears sounds solidly in the Chris Reifert tradition, both energetic and holding back just enough to keep the sensation of being in the midst of a dirge. This 2010 demo portends a bright future for these French old schoolers.
Glaukom Synod – The Unspeakable Horror: The industrial/metal fusion has been attempted many times since the Killing Joke/Ministry/Godflesh triumvirate back in the late 1980s, and it rarely comes together as anything other than industrial music with random riffing. Glaukom Synod do better than that, setting up a form of droning EBM that takes the bounce and happy right out of its percussion not by eliminating swing but by hammering offbeats only as a secondary role to the abrupt rhythm of whatever sample or keyboard riff dominates even the drum machine. On the whole this is more on the Ministry side of things, with catchy beats and intermittent appearances by noisy guitars, but like many industrial projects has difficulty closing a song. Songs more than anything else just fade out, reminding this reviewer of the Godflesh reworking “Love and Hate in Dub” which was literally dub: sonic wallpaper that rotated past, gaining a little momentum each time, and then evaporated. It’s quite competent and makes for good listening if you like this range of styles.
Impureza – Inquisition – The demo years: If you like Nile, you’ll like Impureza, because they share an approach. Riffs are not fluid rapid motion using chords like notes in a melody, as occurs in death metal; riff development is not riffs counterpointing one another like a conversation that only makes sense after you’ve heard both parts, as in death metal. Instead, as with Nile, riffs are designed around a chord repeated at a particular rhythm with a few melodic offsets, more like progressive rock or guitar AOR (Rush) than death metal, but still quite musical — in fact, more conventionally recognizable as music. This album starts with classical-styled acoustic guitar and gradually integrates this grinding progressive indie death metal into the mix, then tears through over a dozen songs of high-intensity material. These songs are technical but not in the sense of “completely losing site of having a topic.” They’re a layer of technical on top of regular songwriting, which instead of distracting from the song fleshes it out and gives it more momentum. In a world of “technical death metal” that’s basically really repetitive, sweep-happy metalcore, Impureza is a refreshing blast of sanity.