A year in Norwegian metal – a purgatory of recombinations

Mord – Necrosodomic Abyss
Satyricon – The Age of Nero
Throne of Katarsis – Helvete – Det Iskalde Mørket
Aura Noir – Hades Rises
Celestial Bloodshed – Cursed, Scarred and Forever Possessed
Keep of Kalessin – Kolosus
Blood Red Throne – Souls of Damnation
1349 – Revelations of the Black Flame
Mare – Throne of the Thirteenth Witch EP

Mord – Necrosodomic Abyss

The new Osmose recruits Mord seem to have been actually born in Poland, then relocated to near Kristiansand, which is remembered as the location of a violent death metal sect in support of Varg Vikernes back in 1991 and the origin of Tchort (Blood Red Throne, Emperor, Green Carnation). Not quite living up to the bloody and progressive traditions of the area, Mord specializes in a cold, modern, thrashed-out black metal sound that could scientifically have been developed in a norsecore factory to create an endless amount of productive clones. Maybe because they are originally from Poland, they do seem to possess a better grasp of what makes Nordic black metal good than most Scandinavians around exhibit. They keep the album vile and to the point, imitating the blasphemous rhythm guitar of, besides Euronymous, Ivar Bjørnson during the phase of Enslaved when they dropped most of their classical influence and switched to riff rock. Later Ancient springs to mind in tracks such as “Opus II” which is essentially is a meeting of pop and black metal in a graveyard infested with drunked teenagers who wear makeup and like to flash stupid expressions in photos. It may sound bad but in fact, as guitar rock or something, it excels. It is simply lacking in the Romantic nature worship, warrior ideology and mysticism of Burzum, Ildjarn and the other greats. So while musically this has potential for an above average Norwegian black metal album (even though these ideas are 15 years late) it ends up as one more relic that brings black metal closer to mainstream acceptance and youth culture phenomena today, and no-one will remember it in ten years.

Satyricon – The Age of Nero

It should be obvious to anyone with even the slightest exposure to black metal music and ideas that while it’s arguable that he ever was a genius, for the last decade Satyricon has really gone far out of his way to create the most crowd pleasing, catchy, insipid rock’n’roll version of black metal. It sounds quite redundant to say in 2009 that this kind of music is abhorrent to “Euronymous’ ideals” or the Weltanschauung of the scene that existed in 1991-95 but I can’t help it. This is simply so far from anything that was great in old Norwegian black metal, what made me and so many others interested and follow the events and music with awe inspired by mystique. In this music there is no trace of passion, only of pure professional approach to musicianship and studio production, not even oriented to mastery of the style (in jazz sense) but to a desire to make money and gain profit. This sort of capitalist black metal makes for a new genre in itself. Mechanical, vapid and outdated, it mostly sounds like a collection of random groove metal tunes given a superficial black metal treatment (raped by the half beaten corpse of norsecore) for the mainstream listeners who want to get a piece of black metal’s evil but refuse to go all the way to possession. Precise riffs and metronomic drumming approach Rammstein-like monotony as they are arranged into the laziest sequence and development imaginable. Frost’s sometimes interesting drumscapes have been lost to the adult contemporary studio values and his fans are probably better off listening to 1349 or one of the other bands he plays/played in. Satyr is not trying to play Voivod riffs anymore (as he was doing in Rebel Extravaganza) nor can he duplicate the fast thrashy parts of Nemesis Divina – these new riffs by Satyr have a habit of getting old before the song is over.

Throne of Katarsis – Helvete – Det Iskalde Mørket

While the gloomy shroud of 21st century black metal clichés weighs like lead upon Throne of Katarsis, a sense of ambition and greatness, the carefully followed tread of frozen melody including an airy vastness copied from In the Nightside Eclipse or early Taake and some elegant and progressive forms makes this rise above the level of total weakness. Like Isvind and Tsjuder, Throne of Katarsis explore the melodic territory in between Darkthrone and Emperor in an effort to replicate the impression of transcendent evil boiling in the depths. Fast percussion underlies the sonic depression of dubiously plodding, soaring but monotone and unenergetic low production (Grieghallen copy) guitars repeating spherical themes (rotating the minor chords “De Mysteriis” style during the slow parts over and over again to give the melancholic feeling) over to vastness. The best of the musical ideas are hidden by the desire to create a standard black metal album, as they probably succumbed to creating an album too quickly and thinking that it’s enough to put out cold and intensity-devouring two-penny riffs that have been overused for 20 years – bulk Norwegian black metal in good and bad.

Aura Noir – Hades Rise

I do remember the Apollyon/Aggressor duo Aura Noir as a high-energy, motor powered and tradition respecting black metal cult from the days of the bewitching “Dreams Like Deserts” MCD, never afraid to rock out nor experiment with unusual guitar and drum techniques – even cross-quoting with Ved Buens Ende material. Something really devastating has happened and I don’t know if it has to do with Aggressor’s falling down from a balcony or something, but they sound totally drunk, tired and old on this album. I mean, if you think that Darkthrone nowadays sounds like a lazy beer-swilling band from the pub, try this one! I can hear they are trying to play like Sodom, but I can’t hear any Germanic “raaaaaah!” mania. I can hear Autopsy, but I can’t hear the stinking amputated corpses rising all around to wreak their vengeance upon the societies of the living. I can hear hardcore, but I can’t hear the decisive violent power of wrath against conformity. So, what is there left? It sounds a bit Southern Lord-y – you know, ironic old metal fan hipster who likes to get stoned out of his mind and listen to feel-good old-times metal. By the way, the drum production sounds like MIDI – utter failure. If you want real speed/black metal power, go for the originals, this one is a weak joke.

Celestial Bloodshed – Cursed, Scarred and Forever Possessed

It would be quite interesting to see if someone, somewhere in Norway, has during the year released black metal or death metal which does not a) try to duplicate the old Grieghallen soundscape with in the most generic no-sense-of-style manner, b) fill their album with a load of budget riffs called depressive black metal by the kids (which is actually C, D, E minor again… and again…). Anyway, while Celestial Bloodshed has ripped off these ideas from better bands, they are 50% better in their songcraft than Watain, Funeral Mist and other generic black metal of the era. Also, they have been able to create inner beauty towards the realization of the music in melodic intensity. Additionally, the fullness of the soundscape and the implications of the structure make this release more grim, oppressive and grinding than the mainsteam manipulations of Norwegian metal which can not be but a good thing. After a beautiful intro which sounds somewhat like one of the demos from Equimanthorn (Absu members’ ritual project) the album pounds into a lexicon of guitar techniques borrowed from a range of musicians from Mayhem to Enslaved, with a dynamic range from slow romantic soulseeking to blasphemous speeds, sometimes bridged with jarring changes, while death metal influenced vicious, likeable and personal (down to some insistent mannerisms) vocals pace like hammer upon an anvil the grim predictions of mortal future and the drummer operates battery like Faust and Hellhammer used to in the early 90′s. While all of this is not fully developed yet into pure communication, it speaks with instant, amazed, satanic impressions of life facing the darkness of Infinity – Celestial Bloodshed has replicated the old school with care, honesty and vicious intent.

Keep of Kalessin – Kolosus

Keep of Kalessin arouse my interest during their demo days, as 1997′s “Skygger av Sorg” repeated the style of old Satyricon in a series of simple, emotional song fragments that revealed a sad beauty lying underneath the grim soundscape. I had heard some less interesting newer material but it is truly shocking what they have submerged into now – an arrogant, over-produced tribute to the honor of Greek warriors through quasi-talented commercial death metal. Synth washes and expressive vocals (in the vein of Nergal when he’s really pissed off in the later Behemoth albums) fill this piece of plastic because they want to sound big and they want to play on a stadium. I am convinced that someone with their musicianship should be able to create a listenable and consistent album, but these super fast blastbeats and commercial heavy metal oriented song dynamics from quiet to loud make this just a faux extreme version of something like Spearhead or Deströyer 666, made worse by the angry shouter vocalist. The people interested only in dry technique and production standards will love this for being an emphatic and empty opera of sharp drumwork and the constantly shifting death metal type fast guitars and entertainment value. They are also happy that it lacks the primal natural force of old Norwegian metal, because it might be distrubing. The sense of space created should be one of a studio or a big venue, instead of a woodland crypt, right? This amount of polishing emphasizes the superficiality of the entire composure, down to metalcore action computer game synchronized by MIDI in Kolossus, where accurate but inconsequential fast drum beats follow cheap-ass tremolo melodies from the pits of norsecore Hell and the vocalist sounds angry at people at the nearby mall and emo pop chorus in “Ascendant” which doesn’t even fit the music underneath. Likewise the arabic solos in the middle part of “Kolossus” don’t seem to have anything to do with the metal riffs, nor do the “300″ soundtrack reminiscent bits with synths and tablas. Whoever has produced this must be a commercial minded jerk.

Blood Red Throne – Souls of Damnation

Tchort from Kristiansand was a newcomer to the death metal scene with his band Green Carnation right when the genre went out of fashion because of Euronymous’ hatefulness towards it and while that name was resurrected for Tchort’s progressive metal project he formed the neo-death metal group Blood Red Throne at the end of the millennium. While not having heard the early Green Carnation material, it’s easy to hear from this that some trace of early influence from excellent bands like Grave and Cadaver does exist, but none of their ability to turn basic riff structures into progressive and morbid magic. This type of song construction mostly resembles Cannibal Corpse and Deicide during the latter’s worst days of In Torment In Hell, filling songs with groovy mosh parts, faux-brutal growls and the drummer and bass player (from Deeds of Flesh) insisting wimpily on always playing to the beat of the riff. If this is the king on Norway’s death metal throne since Cadaver disbanded, it is quite sad actually. Most good (death) metal is memorable from its melodies, however convoluted and vicious they may be, but Souls of Damnation is mostly simple rhythmic phrases like guitar exercise patterns for introducing mechanical creation technique for sub-Florida death metal. Like all boring death metal, it severely underestimates its audience. I mean, many listeners do like death metal that sounds like basic no-frills brutal grind, but this worthless chugging goes too far. It seems like the whole album lacks even one interesting melody part or arrangement.

1349 – Revelations of the Black Flame

One of the newer Oslo bands mostly known from relentless and uncompromising fast black metal, 1349 surprise with their latest effort in refusing to conform to the rules of the flock. This time conjuring echoes of Samael’s Ceremony of Opposites and later Mayhem, 1349 composes suffocated, devilish and industrial tinged black metal sounds which despite being somewhat predictable, retain the doomy beauty of an industry of inferno. The loneliness of space as described in Moorcock’s trippy novel “The Black Corridor” and the classic fantasy movie “Alien” fill this Gigerian landscape of planets, threats and biomechanical blasphemies. Bodies twitch into contorted positions in a sea of light. The psychedelic feel is enhanced by a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of Sun” featuring Tom G. Warrior. Several tracks use minutes to unfold submerged ambient and experimental soundscapes, while there is some Red Harvest type digital manipulation featured in many of the metal songs too. The arrangement is dramatic and regal, with Frost’s drumming skills put to good use. Multiple vocal styles herald the theatrical nature. Some interesting lead guitars add desperate wails to the background. Some parts are in their wicked minimalism close to what one could also expect to, say, Beherit to compose if he were in a more commercial high budget recording project, making this one of the more worthwhile efforts from Norway last year in producing new vistas of black metal.

Mare – Throne of the Thirteenth Witch EP

This little EP from Mare, one of the infamous Trondheim cults tends to sound a bit like Live in Leipzig era Mayhem recording in a sewer infested with rats and worms and the decrepit and rotten soundscape makes this one an aesthetically more attractive listen than most of the studio produced turds. Intuitively they grasp the idea of structuring long songs in the old Emperor vein so that while the bits and pieces are redundant, it is a journey through minimalist music themes into the realization and acceptance of the power of darkness. Slow, crawling, anti-logical repetition of simple melody (where the keyboards add a tasteful of old Enslaved) make it a bit of an un-musical experience – the composition seems to be mostly oriented to the fans of droning soundscape whereas the planning and calculation in the overstated reverb, vocal sound (while Kvitrim is good at pacing) and lack of invention in the riffs suggest seem to be aimed for the black metal consumer. But it is deconstructive, degenerate and deceitful music – for pure ideas, about as good as the best of the bunch reviewed here. An ambience and sense of space is reached, the Faustian concept of man as a warrior who travels and explores the universe, only to relinquish his individuality to the higher natural order – in death and rebirth.

Written by Devamitra

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Sadistic Metal Reviews, 2007

P – The Larch Returns (Music Abuse, 2005)

As metal continues, like a snowball rolling over open ground it assimilates all that went before it and thrusts it forward in recombinations hoping to find another powerful aesthetic voice for the eternal metal spirit (which also picks up details, but rarely additions, to its sense of being). P is the side project of Alchemy member P and can be described as a black metal-informed death-doom band, with influences primarily in the Asphyx and Cianide camp with touches from Paradise Lost and Master. Its strengths are its booming, bassy, cinderblock-simple riffs that thunder through repetition in a trancelike resonance. Where many simple riffed bands can be irritating, these are sustaining. Songs move from one perspective to a final response to it without ado because the goal of this music is to carve tunnels of explosive sound through the rock face of silence, enacting mood more than drama. P needs to work on its rhythmic transitions and vocals, the former being stiff and the latter overacted; the local-band style of shout/rasp does nothing for a listener who might prefer to not be reminded of vocals at all should the question arise. Influence might also be gained by pacing riffs, especially introductory ones, differently to radically offset each other and effect a smoother convergence of forces. Three songs are of solid death/doom, and then there’s junk — an Aldo Nova cover that is unconvincing, a duet with a young girl that is amusing, and a comic song about baseball that dilutes the mood — but this is followed by a final instrumental that is beautiful like an unfocused eye, being a careless-sounding collection of sounds so natural that it is both unnoticed and profound in its emotional impact. Should this band ever decide to take a direction and master it, they will be a potent force in the death/doom field.

Alchemy – Alchemy (Alchemy, 2004)

Reminiscent of Abyssic Hate and Xasthur and I Shalt Become, Alchemy creates Burzum-styled ambient drone in a song format that seems inspired by Dark Funeral more than anything else. It is elegant and embraces the listener but beyond getting into said mood, goes nowhere: it is not directionless but each song is monodirectional to the point it might not be said to be a narrative or even statement as much as observant glimpse. If this band wishes to go to the next level, it needs to divide the formative material of each song into two parts, and layer the first one for 2/3 of the song until an apex, at which point it can switch into the conclusion for the last third and be more effective and satisfying to a listener. Far from incompetent, it is best viewed as something in transition.

Lubricant – Nookleptia (1992)

After the initial solidification of the the sound of death metal (1988-1990) a number of up-and-coming bands caused it to, like the dendritic expansion of a leafed branch, to explore every possible combination with past elements and stylistic possibility. Among the products of that tendency was Finland’s Lubricant, who sound like a progressive death metal band hybridized with hardcore punk under the direction of a hard rock conductor. Like countrymen Sentenced produced on Amok, these bouncy songs use a melodic core to create two-part expansions, bouncing between not call and response but hypothesis and counterpoint. Riffing makes extensive use of dissonant chords, some voicings in contexts familiar in both black metal and emo, and strip death metal riffs of much of the downstrum-empowered, recursive rhythm complexity so that they ride on a few notes and the rhythms of their presentation like a hardcore band. Although goofy experimentation like spoken and sung vocals in opposition to death growls are now rarities, in part thanks to the overuse of this technique by dreaded nu-metal bands, they occur here with enough ingenuity to be presumed innocent and not MTV in intent. Yet style is only half of a band; the melodies and rhythms here are simple but unencumbered and often beautiful in their spiralling cycle around a fragment of vision, in a way reminiscent of both Ras Algethi and Discharge. They are not quite decisive enough to encapsulate the sensation of a generation or era as some of the greater bands did, but they achieve a powerful observational facility from the periphery. My guess is that this band was overlooked because of its bouncy hard rock rhythm and its tendency to structure songs around breakdowns that filter through past riffs like computer code comparing arrays and finally reduce to a simple riff measurably more poignant than its counterparts. In other words, this is not only unfamiliar ground for death metal listeners, but is less discretely concise like beaded water sliding down plastic sheeting, and therefore, harder to identify and appreciate.

Bethzaida – Nine Worlds (1996)

In both guitar tone and composition this resembles Eucharist with a death metal sense of percussion and tempo, spindly melodic lead lines arching through a rhythm to enforce it in offset, but borrows from the short-lived “dark metal” genre that was transitional between death and black (its most persistent artifact is the first Darkthrone album): cyclic arpeggiated riffs give way to either racing fire of chromatic progressions or looser, short melodies repeated at different intervals in the scale comprising the foundation of each piece. Like Dissection, there is a tendency to etch out a dramatically even melody architected across levels of harmony, and then to curl it back around a diminishing progression to achieve closure; while this is effective, it must be used sparingly to avoid audience saturation with its effect, and it isn’t here. What kept this band from the big time might indeed be something similar, which is its tendency to set up some form of constant motion and, after descending into it, failing to undergo dynamic change. Much of its phrasing celebrates symmetry between resolution and inception, creating a squeaky clean obviousness that in metal unlike any other genre becomes tedious fast, and there is like Dissection a tendency to break a melodic scale into a counter direction and a counter to that, then regurgitate it in the dominant vector, then its opposite, then in turn its antithesis, producing a flow of notes that like a river bends in order to go straight. Zoom back on the scale function, and view the album as a whole: like most postmodern art, it is replacing lack of internal strength (encouragement toward self-sacrificial or delayed-gratification values, e.g. heroism and adventure) with a surplus of external embellishment, including flutes dressing up elaborate versions of tedious patterns and keyboards. Like Dissection it achieves a sheath of immersive aesthetic, and like Metallica (occasional similarities in chord progression) it maintains an internally resurgent energy, but when one peels back this externality, there is less of a compelling nature here than a flawless but overdone, directionless aesthetic.

Depression – Chronische Depression (1999)

Although aesthetically this band resembles a more dominating version of the early percussive death metal bands like Morpheus (Descends) or Banished, in composition it is most like grindcore: one thematic riff repeated unless interrupted by detouring counterpoints, then a series of breakdowns and transitions working back to the point of harmonic inception and rhythmic wrapper of the original riff. Like countrymen Blood this band specializes in the simple and authoritative in roaring noise, but musical development from repetition is even sparser and the anthemic factor of repeating a motif at different tempos and key-locations wears thin after some time. Undeniably, this band have talent and apply it well, but are limited by their conception of music to make sonic art that while forceful is so repetitive that few outside those who delight in the shock of its pure and total deconstruction of music will listen again to these mostly two-riff songs. Vocals are of the guttural alternation with shrieking whisper type and rather than counteracting this effect, bring it into prominence, but that seems to be the intent — this band desire to become the unrelenting assault of early Napalm Death but with rigid and not “organic” chaotic structure, and thus they take a concept sometimes unknown and sometimes built as a subset of known variants (Dies Irae themes, monster movie music, old hardcore progressions) and hammer it home over a sequence of staggered tempos, interweaves with oppositional riffs, and rhythmic breaks. Underneath it all is the kind of sly iconoclasm and gleeful weirdness that comes naturally in times when one must be careful about which truths one tells unmasked. Probably this grinding death CD is the closest we will have in this era to an updated version of DRI/COC-style thrash, and true to this form, it incorporates a number of figures from hardcore music. This will not be for everyone and will not be heard every week, but for an approach to this ultra-deconstructed style, Depression are one of the better efforts on record.

Phlegethon – Fresco Lungs (1992)

Many of the early contributors to death metal were heavy metal fans who wanted to avoid the sickening glossy vocals, dramatic love songs, and moronically one-dimensional aesthetic of heavy metal, so they incorporated the aesthetic and artistic direction of death metal, but underneath made music that could compete with Van Halen if applied to FM radio. Phlegethon is one such act; like “Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas” from Therion, this is a heavy metal album that uses the riff salad wrapped around a narrative thematic development of death metal, accented with keyboards and unusual song structures, to create epic music that eschews the mainstream cheese. Each song is gyrationally infectious and yet understated, like throwing the grenade of an irresistible rhythm into a room and then skipping down the hall whistling (one track deliciously parodies techno). Keyboards guide the root notes of power chords but vary harmony for conclusion or emphasis. Song structures bend out of introductory material into a sequence of candidates for introduction or transition to verse and chorus, and the result is an architectural feel like that of fellow Finns Amorphis as the listener progresses between riffs of different shape and sonic impact, like a flash of light outlining the features of a vast room — similarly, there are lengthy offtime melodic fretruns highlighting descending power chord riffs as that band also used to great effect. Admirably, drums migrate through layers which silhouette the current riff in contrast and foreshadow adept tempo changes; vocals are low guttural death growls that stretch themselves to the point of fragmentation, spearing the beat in each phrase and decaying after each emphatic syllable to create a reference frame of surreal incomplete rhythm. The rampant creativity and pulsingly infectious rhythms of this CD give it presence which so powerfully hints at a more complete musical language that the intrusions of heavy metal-derived music often seem like dilutions, but it is clear from even this glimpse that the world missed out on the future evolution of this band.

Avathar “Where Light and Shadows Collide” (CD, 2006)

A cross between In Battle and Summoning, this band attempts to make epic music but in the uptempo style of black metal such as Mayhem or Abigor. Like The Abyss, this band wield such a lexicon of technique that tendencies in their music become evident early on and seem repetitive by the end of the album. For background listening it is preferrable to the disorganized noise and posing produced by the black metal underground, but one wonders if this is not like most art in the modern time good with technique/appearance but poor at confronting the inner world of meaning.

Order From Chaos “Dawn Bringer” (Shivadarshana Records, 1994)

At the nexus of several rising conceptual directions in underground music, Order From Chaos fuses them sublimely into a subconscious manipulation by music that remains stranded in the older generations of punk and metal by its refusal to integrate longer melodies; it is pure rhythmic pattern and song structure, a Wagnerian demonstration of a course of thought developed through the sensation represented by riffs that like scenes guide listeners through the acts of the drama. It is this theatrical sense that interrupts the verse-chorus spiralling of riffs layered with accompaniment of increasing intensity from drums and vocals and bass, with songs dropping to moments of presentation and equalization when forward action ceases and a quietude of sorts drops over the action. In this, like early Krieg, the music is an improvisational theatre acting out the raw id of human experience when that experience represents those brainy enough to see how modern society and its assumptions (order, legality, morality) are completely bankrupt, but it is a scream of protest and not, as is needed, a counter-construction. Thus while no piece of this is in error, the whole is discohesive and with a good augmentation could become far better; among Nationalist bands (it is fair to note allusions to nationalism on this record, with “Die Fahne Hoch” making an appearance on track two) Skrewdriver remains pre-eminent because they wrote melodic, expressive — while as cheesy, overblown and dramatic as those from the Ramones or the Sex Pistols — songs that gave people something to live for as much as a knowledge of what is lacking in our world. With luck in future albums, this band will approach structure with as much pure energy as they unleash here. Track fourteen (Golgotha) contains a riff tribute lifted from the nether moments of “Reign in Blood.”

Vordven “Woodland Passage” (CD, 2000)

Hearing this album is like running into Boston and screaming “The British are coming!” in 2006: completely irrelevant. A mixture of old Emperor and Graveland stylings, it is perfectly competent but by emulating the past, both fails to uphold that spirit and precludes itself from finding its own direction. We don’t need new styles; we don’t need “progress”; we do need music that has some idea of what it wants to communicate, and can make that experience meaningful. This sounds like retro or a coverband in that everything is bureaucratically plotted: after the keyboard interlude comes the pre-theme, then the main theme, then break for demonic scream and drum battery to drive it all home. Clearly better musicians than many of the original bands, Vordven are lesser artists and thus have less of interest to give us. It feels less dishonest to listen to Muzak versions of Metallica hits from the 1980s.

Warhorse “Warhorse” (CD, 2000)

Sounding like a hybrid between old Confessor and middle-period Motorhead, Warhorse is a rock band playing doom metal with a sensibility for both slow pumplike riffs over which vocals suddenly slow, causing a relative shift that makes the entire song seem to stand still, and the type of pick-up transitions and breakdowns for which both Motorhead and death metal bands are famous. In the sense of bands like Saint Vitus or Cathedral this band is intensely mated to the rock culture and its dramatic self identity, adding over it high pitched vocals that sound like a whisky-soaked Sigur Ros in an Alabama bar. For this reviewer it is a question of relevance: what does one need express in this style that would take a band beyond the level of background music for a local bar? However, among those who undertake this format, Warhorse keeps a sense of style and intensity, even if by appropriately keeping its horizons forshortened in the ambition department.

Revenge “Victory. Intolerance. Mastery.” (Osmose, 2004)

Although in fundamentally the same style as previous releases, the latest from Revenge improves upon it by simplifying the chaotic stew of impulses diverging into every conceivable direction, therefore achieving a greater coherence and thus listenability. That being said, the same problems that plague previous releases are here: distracting directionless percussion, riff salad, a tendency to deconstruct without a replacement ideal. However, by dropping all but the most necessary elements of their music, Revenge have come closer to making an expressive black metal album.

Ankrehg “Lands of War”

Oh, neat: someone hybridized Impaled Nazarene with Gorgoroth and made a band that balances between sawing punk riffs and trills of melodic scale fretruns. Having mastered that technique, this band was left neurotic and clueless as they attempted to find a direction; barring that, they settled on a generalized path and threw everything but the kitchen sink into it, creating songs that leap at every conceivable point of the compass but seize nothing. Their technique is to distract the listener with this constant stream of chaos and hope it is not noticed as irrelevant; with this reviewer, it was, and thus the listening session ended. Worse than shit, this is confusion masquerading as profundity.

Revenge “Triumph. Genocide. Antichrist.” (Osmose, 2003)

Whenever one is handed a piece of music or writing, it makes sense to ask, “What are the artistic aims of this work?” Art does not exist in a vacuum, much as conversation does not; there has to be some joy in it, something shared between listener and creator. Revenge is blasting drums that chase a pace with successive lapses and then catch-up intensifying speed, harsh harmonized vocals that surge overhead like rainbows of oil in floodwaters, and riffs of often high quality; like the first Krieg album however, it arrays these in an incoherent order which results in the stream of consciousness sensation without imparting greater wisdom of any form. As such, this album is a stepping back from what black metal achieved, which was an arch grace and continuity in expressing a meaning to darkness, and a descent into the disorganized deconstructionism that denotes modern grindcore (as if to underscore this, the drumming here is highly reminiscent of Derek Roddy’s work on Drogheda’s “Pogromist”). To communicate breakdown, one does not portray breakdown in its literal form, necessarily – here we see good raw material – powerful percussion, adroit riffcraft – converted into a melange of confusion by its lack of deliberation and planning. No single part of it has anything wrong with it. The whole is a death of ambition, of heroism, of tragedy and meaning.

Vinterland “Welcome My Last Chapter” (2003)

This band is like The Abyss a template of black metal technique recombined around the most fundamental songwriting techniques, but to that mixture it adds lifts from Gorgoroth and Sacramentum to make it a flowing but gracefully intricate and arcane metal style. Nothing here is bad and it listens well, but it manages less suspension of disbelief than The Abyss (first album; the second one is random riffs and screaming) because although its songs are well-written and flow expertly it is hard to find a statement to any of them; what are they about? They’re about being melodic black metal songs. Undoubtedly Vinterland is far better than almost all of what has been called “melodic black metal” since 1996, but it’s only because our standards have fallen that such a band is construed as good listening. Preferrable would be a simpler more honest band trying to communicate an experience rather than partake of membership; in this Vinterland and Deathspell Omega are similar in that while both are at the top of their genre in formal ability, neither captures the essence of this music because they are trying to be the music, not trying to be something that ultimately will express itself in music. Hoarse whispery Dimmu Borgir vocals dive and glide over sheeting melodic guitar riffs, replete with fast fretruns and descending arpeggiations; the band know when to break from meaty riffs into calming simplicity like a ship exiting rapids. Those familiar with black metal history will hear lifts from Ancient, Dimmu Borgir, Sacramentum, The Abyss, Satyricon and Sacramentum, as well as hints of At the Gates and later Emperor. It is not badly done, but that’s not the point: this CD never takes any direction but tries to use summarizes of past paths as a condensed variety show of black metal; while it is an enjoyable listen the first time, it does not hold up as these other bands have, as there is nothing to center all of this technique and its moments of beauty, creating the impression of a sequence of distractions instead of deliberate craftsmanship helping to reveal a secret beneath the skin.

Regredior “Forgotten Tears” (Shiver Records, 1995)

This band of highly talented musicians have created an album that is half excellence and half disaster by focusing too much on individual instruments, and thus failing to organize songs by composition instead of playing, have been forced to rely on stitching together disconnected pieces of music with two-part attention span grabbers: a repeated pattern to seize attention, and then a pause and an “unconventional” response to fulfil that expectation. If that is a desired compositional style, one wonders why this band did not simply make grunge music and derive actual profit from the endeavor? They mean well and play well — the acoustic instrumentals here are beautiful, many of the riffs top-notch in the slumberlike earthmoving simplicity of older Therion, and concepts for songs are great — but the final product is marred by its own showiness and awkward assimilation of different musical impulses. Squeals, offtime drum hits, dissonant guitar fills and rhythmic jolts do not move compelling music along; they advance by inches and drain away the energies that allow bands to make the world-redefining musical statements required for songs to be distinctive and expressive enough to be great. For those who like later Carcass, this band utilizes many of the same techniques and has similar technicality.

Sombrous “Transcending the Umbra” (CD, 2005)

Imagine Biosphere executed with the sensibilities of Dead Can Dance: the same implications of melody in sonic curve rising to full volume and then pulsing like a wave before disappearing to form a cycle, with songs arising from the piling of successive layers at offset rhythms on top of one another. It is slow, percussionless, delicate, and in part thanks to the heavy reverberations used, as melancholic as the echo of one’s lonely voice in an abandoned cellar. The more style-heavy music gets and the farther it gets from something that can be easily played on one or two acoustic instruments, paradoxically, the easier it gets to create once one has mastered aesthetic, and if this music has a weakness it is the tendency to use four-note melodies as the basis of a song and only occasionally complement them with others. Biosphere helpfully used found melodies and instrumentals of greater detail to do this; Sombrous could actually go further within their own aesthetic and layer keyboards as they have but give them more to play than rising or falling modal lines. It would also help to even further vary the voices/samples used here, as too many echoed stringplucks or keyboard throbs start to sound the same; sometimes, one slips too far into the mood generated and boredom sets in. Yet there is something undeniable here in both aesthetic and composition, in that unlike almost all “ambient” releases from the underground this has grace and a sense of purpose that unites these tracks into a distinct musical entity. It is not unwise to watch this band for future developments.

Emit/Vrolok “Split”

Emit is ambient soundscapes made from guitar noise, sampled instruments and silences; it is good to see this band branch out into a greater range and artistic inspiration, but they would do well to remember the listener should be both learning and enjoying the experience of listening: what differentiates art from philosophy is that art is made to be a sensual tunneling through knowledge, where philosophy is a description of knowledge. Vrolok is of the Krieg/Sacramentary Abolishment school of fast noisy guitars over drums that outrace themselves and then catch up with flying chaotic fills. Nothing is poorly executed, but this recording seems to be an artist’s impression of what his favorite bands would do; there are some nice touches like background drones and bent-string harmonics of a sickening nature, but to what end? If black metal has another generation it’s not going to be in retrofitting the past in form, but in resurrecting the past in content, even if all the aesthetics are (like with the early Norse bands) garbage Bathory/Hellhammer ripoffs.

Nightbringer “Rex Ex Ordine Throni”

This is a competent black metal release with a Darkthrone/Graveland hybrid melodic guitar playing style, kettledrum flying battery in the Sacramentary Abolishment canon, vocals like later Dimmu Borgir and composition that, like that of Satyricon, assembles all of the correct elements but does not understand melody intuitively enough to keep the illusion going. If this band delved more deeply into composition and had something to say, this CD would be one of the best of the year because its aesthetic formula is perfect, but its melodies go nowhere and barely match harmonic expectation between phrases, when they’re not outright symmetrical and blatantly obvious; in short, it falls apart when one goes deeper than skin-level. If an ambitious melodic thinker gets transplanted into this band or its members grow in that direction (a big leap), it will be a major contribution.

Polluted Inheritance “Ecocide” (CD, 1992)

This is one of those CDs that came very close and with a little more focus and depth of thought could have been a classic of the genre. It is death metal in a hybrid style that includes jaunty post-speed metal expectant rhythms, such that incomplete rhythmic patterns provide a continuity through our anticipation of the final beat established through contrast of offbeats as necessary, and sounds as a result somewhere between Exhorder and Malevolent creation, with verse riffs that resemble later work from Death. Songs operate by the application of layers of instrumentation or variation on known riff patterns in linear binary sequence, driven by verse/chorus riffs and generally double bridges that convey us from the song’s introduction to the meat of its dispute to a final state of clarity. Probably too bouncy for the underground, and too abrasive for the Pantera/Exhorder crowd, this CD is very logical and analytic to the point that it makes itself seem symmetrical and obvious. With luck this band will continue writing, and will offer more of the ragged edge of emotion or concept which could make this a first-class release.

The Tarantists “demo 2004” (CD, 2004)

From the far-off land of Iran comes a band with a new take on newer styles of metal. Incorporating influences from Metallica, progressive and jazz-influenced heavy metal, and some of the recent grunge-touched modern metal, the Tarantists render something true both to themselves and to metal as an ongoing musical culture. Prominent jazzy drums lead riffs that are not melodic in the “style” of constant melodic intervals popular with cheesy Sentenced-ripoff bands, but use melodic intervals at structural junctures in riffs that smoothly branch between phrasal death metal styled riffs and bouncy recursive heavy metal riffs. Over this lead guitar winds like a vine and favors the bittersweet sensation of melodies that decline in harmonic spacing until they trail off in melted tendrils of sound; riffing is most clearly influenced by the NWOBHM style hybridized with speed metal’s adept use of muffled and offtime strums to vary up what are otherwise harmonically static riffs. The Tarantists can achieve this melding of motion-oriented and pure rhythm riffing through their tendency to change song structure rapidly after having made their point, such that listening to this resembles going between different parts of a complex city, climbing stairs and finally entering a destination, then jumping back in the car for a manic deviation to another location. Highly listenable, this is impressive work for a demo band and represents a brighter future for metal than the kneejerk tedium of nu-metal or the repetition of past glories offered blankfacedly by the underground. It is unabashedly musical, and takes pride in interlocking melodic bass and lead guitar lines that exchange scale vocabularies as freely as rhythm. The only area that seems unresolved are the gruff Motorhead-style vocals, which might be either updated or discarded for pure singing, as there’s enough sonic distance within this work to support such a thing. The clearest influences here are Iron Maiden and Metallica, but a familiarity with recent metal of almost every genre is also audible. Of the recent demos sent this way, this is the one most likely to gain repeated listening because it focuses on music first and aesthetics second… more

Beyond Agony “The Last of a Dying Breed” (CD, 2005)

Trying to mix the high-speed melodic riffing of black metal with the thunderous bassy trundle of mainstream death metal/nu-metal riffing, this band produce something that sounds like Acid Bath without the variation or singing, and resembles Pantera in its tendency to match riffs with clear poised expectant endphrases to rapped vocals and shuffle drumming. It’s a variation on a pattern seen many times before. It’s impossible to tell what kind of musical ability exists in these musicians because these riffs are rhythmic and aharmonic, since their melodic trills exist only to emphasize the E-chord noodling at the low end. Some Meshuggah fans might appreciate this, as might the hordes of people who think Slipknot and Disturbed are OK, but to an underground death metal fan there’s nothing here. These guys are clearly professional and have studied all of the other offerings in the field, and mixed in enough melody to distinguish themselves, and clearly these songs hold together better than your average nu-metal, but when one picks a dumbshit conception of music — which really, the entire Pantera/nu-metal genre is: music for morons to bounce around to while working off their frustration at having their democratic right to be spoiled and bratty constrained by reality — one limits oneself to making things that no matter how smart they get, have the dominant trait of being aimed at supporting and nurturing stupidity. I might even wax “open-minded” if I didn’t know that devolving metal into pure angry, pointless, rhythmic ranting has been the oldest tendency of the genre, and one that always leads it astray, because bands that do this have no way of distinguishing between each other except aesthetic flourishes and therefore end up establishing a competition on the basis of external factors and not composition. Some riffs approach moments of beauty but tend to come in highly symmetrical pairs which demand bouncy stop-start rhythms to put them into context. It’s all well-executed, but it’s standard nu-metal/late Pantera, with touches of Iron Maiden and Slayer. Should we care? Some of the celebrities who paid tribute to the late guitarist of Pantera/Damageplan noted that he had the ability to play well beyond the style which he’d chosen; it sounds like the same thing is evident here, and that seems to me a tragedy, because this style is so blockhead it absorbs all of the good put into it in its desire to provide a frustration condom for burnt-out suburban youth.

Fireaxe “Food for the Gods” (CD, 2005)

If you’ve ever wished that old-style heavy metal would be just a little less effete and self-obsessed, and take the literal attitude that hardcore punk had toward the world but give it that grand lyricism for which metal is famous, you might find a friend in Fireaxe. It’s low-tech, with basic production without the touches of tasty sound that make big studio albums so richly full, and it is often a shade short of where it needs to be in content – often repetitive or too basic in the logic that connects sections, as if it suffers from a surfeit of symmetry brought about by too much logical analysis – but it is what heavy metal could be if it grew up, somewhere between Mercyful Fate and Queensryche and Led Zeppelin, an epic style with a desire to be more of a kingshearth bard than a stadium ego-star. Brian Voth does the whole thing, using electronics for percussion and his trusty guitar, keyboards and voice to pull it off. His voice is thin like his guitar sound, and his solos are clearly well-plotted but do not let themselves go into chaos enough; his use of keyboards is reminiscent of a sparing take on Emperor. This 3-CD set is an attempted historiography of humanity and its religious symbolism, with a cynical outlook on such things as originally perhaps healthy ideas gone perverse and become manipulators. “On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense”? Perhaps, but this is earthier; in true heavy metal form, “Food for the Gods” delights in the literal manifestations of spacy otherworldly “truths.” Overall musical quality is high, and artistic quality is immaculate, but the CD is often designed less for the listener than to complete its thought cycle, and here it could use an edit; it is so analytical it is almost apoetic, and so literal it is almost a stab against symbolism itself (already in vogue for 90 years with the postmodernists, alas). My advice to Fireaxe would be to stop looking so deeply into causes and to start looking into spiritual solutions, e.g. to “sing” in the oldest sense of praising the beauty of life even in darkness, and lifting us up not into educated obligation but into ignorant but healthy spirits. Think of a bard singing by his cup of mead, looking for a way to console and encourage those who might on the morrow die in battlefields, all through the symbols, song and sense of ancient tales. This album could be cut to a single CD with proper editing gain some denseness and unpredictability it lacks; right now, although its patterns vary its delivery is of such an even mien that it is nearly predictable. The roots of excellent music are here, including Voth’s creative and playful leads, but need discipline into a more advanced and yet less progressive form for Fireaxe to have the full range of voice it requires. It is a welcome diversion from the insincere and manipulative stadium metal, and the guilelessly fatalistic underground music that shadows it (although it will not admit it), and while it waxes liberal in philosophy, does not go toward the eunuch extreme of emo; the heart is behind the music, and the flesh is competent, but somehow, the soul has not yet lifted its wings and flown, yet sits contemplating the right flightpath in radiant detail.

Gnostic “Splinters of Change” (5 song demo, 2005)

Upon hearing of the reemergence of pioneering Atheist drummer Steve Flynn, my curiousity was piqued immediately. I’d always appreciated his slippery brilliance behind the kit, forever giving the impression of struggling not to become caught in the tornado of bizarre rhythmic patterns he himself was creating. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that thirteen years between major recordings and immersion within the materialistic modern-day workplace had not dulled his creativity. In fact, his refreshingly brazen yet occultish approach to rhythmic structuralization is very reminiscent of his previous output, a fact which initially inspired hope. Further, Gnostic is composed of talented players. Former Atheist vocalist Kelly Shaefer produced the album. A concern nags silently: can this band escape the shadow of its predecessor?

As it turns out, no. The band has missed the fundamentally esoteric application of that theory which lends such timelessness to Atheist; say what you will about such a loaded term as “populist” being utilized in musical review, but this is merely music written to “sound good” from a quasi-prog perspective. The musical framework has each component part of the equation stepping all over every other part to prove that the instrumentalists are capable, losing the transcendence which Atheist channeled through their controlled chaoticism. Gnostic is all over the map structurally, with Flynn doing everything he can to hold the ship together at the seams. There is no message here, other than one-dimensional instrumentalism. We’ve already heard these same songs from the same bands for fifteen years now. It seems to this reviewer that this demo chalks yet another victory up to Redundant Mediocrity over Art. Consume, consume, consume. – blaphbee

Therion “A’arab Zaraq Lucid Dreaming” (Nuclear Blast, 1995)

It’s hell on metal bands who want to leave the underground. In trying to popularize their style, they usually kill whatever appeal it had, because those who enjoy their music have found truth somewhere in the alienation and whatever values the band managed to sustain under that assault. Further, the band usually confuse themselves, and end up prostrating themselves as whores, thus losing the respect of their fans. This CD is a collection of outtakes from Theli, a soundtrack and some Therion odds and ends that chronicle this band’s descent into commerciality and simultaneous rise in the esteem of metal fans as a whole. The first two tracks represent everything disgusting about trying to make popular neoclassical music, in that they focus first on making foot-stomping crowd-pleasing music, and adorn it with bits of classical allusion and the like, creating in the end a carnival of confusion. The next track, “Fly to the Rainbow,” is apparently a cover of an old Dio tune, which is amusing considering how similar it is to “The Way” from Therion’s epic second album. This is followed by one of the cheesiest Iron Maiden covers ever, with overdone vocals drowning out the subtlety of the original, and a Running Wild
song that comes across as blockheaded, but is less dramatically re-enacted, and therefore is more welcome. It sounds very much like punk hardcore with a metal chorus. Next is an off-the-cuff cover of “Symphony of the Dead,” from the second album as well, but its mix emphasizes the keyboards to the point where it becomes muzak. Good song, terrible version, and as fully meaningless as the Emperor keyboard-only Inno A Satana. The band have lost their grasp of what made their earlier material great, that it blended the raw and the beautiful, not that it standardized itself for radio airplay as this CD clearly does. All finesse is gone, all artistry, and what replaces it is the populist heavy metal mentality. There’s no class to this, or self-respect, and while any of its elements are quite powerful, the whole is tediously directionless. This syndrome blights the remaining Therion tracks on this CD, which then takes us to the soundtrack portions – these are actually promising. Like a synthesis between Dead Can Dance and Summoning, these are wandering keyboard background musics that maintain a mood and are kept in check by the need to be less disruptively attention-seeking. Although plenty of cliches and obvious figures work their way into this music, it’s clear that (were Swedes to control Hollywood) soundtracks are where the “new” Therion belong.

Aletheian “Dying Vine” (Hope Prevails, 2005)

This album demonstrates how if you mix great ingredients randomly, you end up with something disgusting. About half of the riffs on this album are excellent, and the sense of rhythm the band has is wonderful. But it’s garish, gaudy and overblown. Like a metalcore band, they mix riffs in a merry-go-round of directionless ideas, never actually stating anything. In this case the riffs are of the melodic Swedish death metal meets technical speed metal style, with influences from “modern metal” and showboat heavy metal. Any one part of this could be great, but it says nothing and thus ends up being random elements stitched together in a circus show of diverse and incompatible fragments of ideas. Some goofy modern touches, like synthesized voices, put nails in the coffin. There’s a lot to like here but the whole is not worth loving. My advice to these dudes: meditate and work on your band politics, because the raw material in this album if presented differently would be listenable, but right now it’s a technical mash that has no artistic or aesthetic statement.

Harkonin “Sermons of Anguish” (Harkonin, 2005)

The good news is that Harkonin have good concepts, write good riffs, and understand something of gradual mood shifts. The bad news is that they compress this process, remove the anticipation, and hammer it out in repetitive endurance tests that hide the actual talent of the members of this band. None of the elements are bad; in fact, they’re far above average, and the band has an aesthetic vision – the CD skirts metalcore but incorporates some of the newer urban and rock influences into metal – that outpaces most of their contemporaries. However, they need to find some inner calm, and let it out slowly, and discover the poetry of their own vision, as right now, this album is unrelenting violence that becomes perceived as a single unchanging texture because of its emotional disorganization. Luckily this experienced band has time to take some of their more intense moments of riffing and put them at the end of each song, then re-arrange the other riffs (and maybe develop them by another layer, meaning for each good riff, split out two complementary ones that can resolve into it, Suffocation style) to lead up to that point. If they do that, they will be on the path toward conveying meaning through their music – right now, what it conveys is abrasion, and too much of that will pass in the listener’s mind into a sense of unchanging mood.

Dug Pinnick “Emotional Animal” (
Magna Carta, 2005)

Former King’s X member comes out with new album. Any guesses? It sounds like a heavier, groovier King’s X, which seems to be an attempt to make metal sound more like rock music. It’s jazzy and funky, and has some grunge-meets-prog metal riffing, but on the whole, the composition is the same stuff that gets played on the radio. Pinnick would do better applying his talents to something fully proggy like Gordian Knot.

Aphotic/Dusk “Split” (Cursed Productions, 2005)

Like most releases from Cursed Productions, this CD showcases regular guy songwriting enclosed in an unusual form. Aphotic is a fusion of soundtrack doom metal like My Dying Bride and Katatonia, fused with a progressive edge like that of Gordian Knot, creating a listenable package with plenty of depth to its instrumentation. Many of these riffs sound like something borrowed from a Graveland album, but on top of the basic guitar, flourishes of lead guitar and synthesized instruments accent the dominant theme, as does offbeat guitar playing with an emphasis on the internal rhythms for which metal is famous. Although these songs generate a great deal of atmosphere, and are at heart hook-laden and listenable to an extreme, they may be too sentimental for progressive rock fanatics and too straightforward for early 1990s black metal fans. An underpinning of old-fashioned foot-stomping heavy metal may make these popular in the contemporary metal audience, and if there’s any criticism here, it’s that this band could give their instrumentalism greater reign. Dusk, on the other hand, is a much clearer fusion of doom metal and classic heavy/power metal, with growling voices guiding bouncy riffs to their targets. It is proficient but on the whole not fully developed enough to either have its own voice or rise above metal cliche, but it is inoffensive listening especially for one who wouldn’t mind being locked in a room with Cathedral and Prong re-learning their formative material.

Odious Sanction “Three Song Demo” (2005)

These few cuts from the upcoming album “No Motivation to Live” feature the talents of Steve Shalaty, now drumming for Immolation, but that’s about the whole of their appeal. Much like his work in Deeds of Flesh, Shalaty’s percussion is ripe with a precision interplay between double bass and an ongoing breakdown of fills, but the music over it is numbingly empty of anything but relentless interrupted cadence rhythm. Somewhere between metalcore and deathgrind, it lacks most dimensions of harmony and any of melody, resulting in a whirring and battering mechanistic noise that offers little to the experienced listener.

Emit “A Sword of Death for the Prince” (2005)

The microgenre of blacknoise is what happens when one fuses the abrasive Beherit-style cacophonious assault of minimal black metal and the droning sonic collages of acts like Mz. 412 or Claustrum. Where this CD is excellent are the moments when being shockingly extreme and unlistenable are forgotten, and overlapping patterns of melodic or textural fragments knot the listener into moods of darkness and contemplation. Here, Emit has found an outlet for its style, as the guitar is liberated from rigid hardcore/black metal style riffing and can focus on the mournful and regal use of ambient, repetitive melody, hiding it amongst distorted voices and sampled aural experiences of modern life. The pretenses of black metal should be discarded, as this release has more in common with Tangerine Dream and Godflesh than anything else. If this reviewer has anything to suggest, it is that this band not hold itself back, but plunge forward in the direction it is exploring, and use its dense layers of sonorous noise-guitar and vocals to develop a sense of melody and composition, as that is the strength of both this band and non-instrumental music in general, and — well, nothing’s been “shocking” for some time.

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USBM: trailer trash or Western mystery school?

When black metal became in popular perception “the next big thing”, around 1992, it was rightly considered an European phenomenon which contained a cultural bias based on tradition, arts and society impossible to spiritually clone in the American way of life, even in the underground which had spawned death metal. Bands like Profanatica and VON showed that it is possible to create the blasphemy spewing minimalistic barbaro-black metal in USA as well as anywhere else, but the Romanticist type of black metal bands from USA were for a decade, if not more, the laughing stock of even American BM maniacs themselves. There was something wholeheartedly absurd about Sumerian sorcerers from Texas, druids from Minnesota and vampires from California. David “Blackmoon” Parland of the insipid Dark Funeral waged verbal war in zines against Proscriptor of Absu, who cast curses and spells in return. Judas Iscariot printed Nietzschean statements in German and moustached overweight pro-wrestling fans took pictures of themselves corpsepainted in suburban woods. Whereas musical quality grew through the times, so did the amount of excess people circulating in the American BM underground, leading to the explosion of “bedroom black metal” in the turn of the millennium, while black metal messageboards became populated with people whose IQ would be statistically rather rare in Norway and Sweden.

The dilemma seems to lie in the artificial distance between the sophisticated intellectual and man of the street which characterizes also the separation between the art and entertainment of 20th century America. Whereas the Oslo or Bergen black metaller would have been raised with equal awareness of Ibsen’s plays, American movies and classical music as well as punk, the US black metaller often came from the background of very little cultural perception besides TV, baseball, horror movies and aggressive competitive values. The obsession with social standing is such that looking or behaving different would easily be seen as gay or the sign of a wimp or nerd, but what fan of black metal would want to represent normality in every piece of action? Scandinavian, Austrian or even Polish metalhead did not and does not share this pressure of having to be a regular conservative guy because there are more different roles and stereotypes available in the society to identify with. Thus most of the US youth involved in black metal came to view themselves as either depressive, perverted losers or occult maniacs oriented to conjure the otherworld dressed in robes and armed with litanies of every available ancient magick tradition and spellcasting culture.

As case studies, take for example Crimson Moon from San Diego and Night Conquers Day from New York. Both are bands with respectable instrumental skill, dedication to the black metal arts beyond the normal “scene kid” wannabe interest and an intuitive grasp of the Romantic and Faustian in black metal. Yet, both are bands hard to take seriously at face value, because there is so much absurdity, alienation from reality and bad aesthetic choices involved. Crimson Moon presented themselves as a magical collective of energy vampires but the music was often a too simplistic rip off of influences from Cradle of Filth to Ancient, damaging the beauty, while their reputation suffered a blow from public arguments on online messageboards not at all fitting for the sorceric image – even splitting the band in two factions, Gorgoroth-style. Night Conquers Day posed in full daylight near a storage building with one of the members wearing corpsepaint (and the infamous moustache!) and the personal history of the members included getting into headlines for stealing gravestones and a keyboard player who disappeared but returns now and then to play a piece over the phone (I think I would go that way too if I had to live in the American society) and the 10-15 minute epic songs quoting several eras of metal from Mercyful Fate to Burzum remained unmemorable because of sounding like too many parts had been stitched together with no spiritual theme arching to wrap up its diverse aspects into a continuous whole.

Written by Devamitra

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Iconoclasm Sweeps Norvegia: Impressions of Norwegian Death Metal

1. Introduction
2. Pure Fucking Metal: The 80′s Underground
3. Vomit: Still Rotting CD
4. Mayhem: Deathcrush MLP
5. Cadaver: Hallucinating Anxiety LP
6. Darkthrone: Soulside Journey LP
7. Mortem: Slow Death EP
8. Old Funeral: The Older Ones CD
9. Thou Shalt Suffer: Into The Woods Of Belial CD
10. Arcturus: My Angel EP
11. Thyabhorrent: Death Rides At Dawn EP
12. Generalization: A Statement Of The End

Written by Devamitra with Fenriz (Darkthrone), Anders (Cadaver) and Manheim (Mayhem)

Introduction

 

I have had this Vision
of a voyage in mind and soul
Through silent Somniferous scenes
within the enclosed chambers of my
untouched spiritual experiences
Soaring through damp air
Seeing faces, twisting, plunging through my colour

– Darkthrone, Soulside Journey

 

From the downbeat plays by Henrik Ibsen to the introverted nightmare paintings of Edvard Munch, the Expressionist era of Norwegian art had a hundred years ago remembered the voices of the dead and listened to the weeping of the living.

Art connoisseurs took note of the summoned ancestors and the frozen shades of the Norse era, that had been united into jagged juxtapositions of a modern life and an industrializing society – a world of pain. As Norway rose in material wealth throughout the 20th century and discovered the dubious ideals of social democracy, the nation was forced to hide their deep embedded pride, honour and dignity into the bottomless domains of subconscious and hidden symbolism. Ghosts of the Nazi occupation haunted and shame caused people to understand moral problems. If grandmothers and grandfathers still had remembered the rites of witchcraft, the oaths spoken to the wallowing mist of the fjords, they were now abandoned to a worldview committed to science, humanism and well-being.

Pure Fucking Metal: The 80’s Underground

Young minds were seething with fury, anxiety and barely contained stellar potency of creation. Norway around them was filled with McDonalds, idiotic TV programs and insipid pop by A-Ha. The generation between 16 and 19 years of age had integrated into their worldview the stylistic tenets of punk, thrash and heavy metal, whose nexuses in the beginning were the heavy capitalist societies of the USA and the UK. The resulting chemistry was to inspire the manifestation of the most evil and brutal sounds possible, in retaliation towards the satiated ideal of “peace” that reeked of old, dying people and blasphemed the Viking ideal of death through battle.

Sweden, always ahead in trends of Western Europe and America, had led the path towards the Scandinavian idea of death metal with the original black metal sorcery of Bathory and followed with a string of demo-level bands (Corpse, Hellfire, Obscurity, Morbid and Sorcery to name some) years before death metal mania exploded. Finland lagged behind with Norway until Xysma and Abhorrence opened the gates of Hell there and death metal bands formed by school pals and neighbours surged from even the quietest suburbs that barely knew about heavy metal, as in Sweden.

Fenriz: There was no scene in Norway. For instance the Swedish punk scene wasn’t only 10 times as strong as Norway in early 80′s… try thirty times bigger! Finland was just a bit better with metal, but much better with punk. So we were like a third world country, and it was Mayhem and the Slayer mag that put us on the map originally in ’84-’88 (more intensely ’85-’87). Then a bunch of us others joined the underground with our bands too.

One without the experience of death metal life without public attention can not dive into the extreme and alienated emotion of a morbid artist who is intent on creating noisy demos with batches of cruel artwork, releasing only tapes or meager 7″ EP’s on mostly rip-off labels and this has to be kept in mind when the eternal “rock star” accusations are levelled towards the same people now. The spiritual impact of what these misfits created in the 80′s was as extreme of a phenomenon, if not more, than to commit crimes known to everyone in the vicinity. They were practically admitting to being insane.

Fenriz: There weren’t any fans. Everyone had own bands and were because of this isolation of course total maniacs. We had to make our own fans here, ha ha. But punks liked us, and we played good show at Blitz, famous Oslo punk house in 1990. Norway was not important, it was only underground work with snail mail that was important to me. That was 90% of my work.

Anders: This was before the Internet and to get a hold of an album like “Reek of Putrefaction” by Carcass meant
you had something truly extreme in your hands. The whole idea of being true and anti-normal came mostly from Euronymous and his developing Black metal philosophy. He had a strong impact on all of us and it was hard to get away from his force so to speak.

Manheim: It felt good, I can tell you that much. People didn’t understand it much. A lot of musicians and friends around us told us that we wasted our talent, and it wasn’t music that the average listener liked. But we didn’t make the music for the masses, we did it for our selves and for the few around the world that liked extreme music. We tried to make something new, and I do think we succeeded on that one.

In musical respect, the kickstart of the scene was from the capital Oslo, a violent clash between the anti-social, minimalist riff of hardcore and the agility exercise of speed metal; these sounds can particularly be heard in the demos of Vomit. Mayhem, also from Oslo, initially represented a similar style of music and Vomit members sometimes filled positions in Mayhem and vice versa, but it was soon to be conjoined with the extreme attitudes belonging to black metal, far before any other band in the world adhered to them. Small town (Kolbotn) thrash kids Gylve Fenris, Ivar and Anders created Black Death, which combined the speed metal of Destruction or Dark Angel with humorous lyrics relating to their daily life and later developed into the extreme entity that is Darkthrone.

Fenriz: 80′s metal scene was nothing in Norway, we made it ourselves, and broke away from all (lack of) standard here. Global underground was everything to us. Norway was not important, but became much better in ’89. Impostor was also a cool band, but had nothing to do with death metal.

Vomit: Still Rotting CD

The hyperactive Vomit was never to get a professional release for their material back in the day; this recent compilation hosts demos and rehearsals and the same line-up also reformed as Kvikksolvguttene in the 90′s to play some old and new songs. This CD contains several demo versions of the same tracks but it’s easy to listen all the way to such basic, catchy and hilarious manifests. Surprisingly sensitive, like a much simpler Slayer, this hyper-organic sequence of thrash aims its nuclear warheads towards society because of the realization that it is malfunctioning. It gives memories of early COC and Cryptic Slaughter, even Minor Threat in its high energy fueled rebellion – just check “Demonoid”‘s violence. The assaulting harsh vocals ranting about the legions from Hell remember Venom.

Musical cues from Kreator and Sodom in tracks such as “Rotting Flesh”, while rudimentary, suggest the evil power of proto death metal — confrontational punk metal in the spirit of Sepultura’s first album: non-produced and immature. When slowing down to groovy and grinding, the chaotic leads and chromatic chord progressions sound like a band from the old Earache catalogue. The primal energy in tracks such as “Armies of Hell” is simply infectious, inspiring to action for the sake of feeling, thrill and power, like this was a middle finger against the city, these kids were hanging out, overturning police cars and breaking windows. Overall it’s much better than today’s retro bands in a similar style.

FenrizVomit was the rawest well played band in mid-80′s, death thrash, completely awesome, as good as “Hell Awaits” or Dark Angel’s “Darkness Descends”.

AndersThe first Mayhem EP “Deathcrush” came out in 1987 and this is by far the most interesting release of the time.

Mayhem: Deathcrush MLP

Mayhem overturned the Norwegian underground with their maniacal proto-black metal, with an air reeking of chainsaw murders, snuff movies and glue sniffing. The barbaric simplicity of the songs defies even the logic of Hellhammer. We are witnessing the birth-gasps of the BM underground here as krautrock’s Conrad Schnitzler’s magniloquent, twisted avantgarde intro leads into an infernal journey through vistas of butchered early black metal. The recipe is mixing together the primal elements of speed metal and punk, then mangling them as unrecognizable traces of rock music that used to be “fun” but now torn to sarcastic pieces in the hands of bestial psychopaths. Any kind of elegance or progression was unknown to these guys. They make up for this bluntness by organizing with raw vitality and a clear purpose for doing it this way as the pieces of the image fit together. While Euronymous’ riffing is primitive-inventive and Manheim’s heavy drumming is perfect for the material, one can hear that the songs are still mostly in the level of demo versions for a band of Mayhem’s stature developing slowly towards their full potential. The impudently vicious lyrical side centered on gore and blasphemy would fare better through the mouth of the next vocalist Dead while on these recordings Messiah (not Marcolin!) stands out as the superior of Maniac of the two featured voices, as his Sodom-influenced pacing lends power to the old demo track “Pure Fucking Armageddon”.

ManheimThe band image and style was something that came quite early. But it wasn’t the reason for the formation of the band. We started the band because we shared the same ambition to make something different and extreme. I’ve tried to explain it on my blog post “Am I evil”. I recommend that you watch the documentaries “Pure Fucking Mayhem” and “Once Upon a Time in Norway”. The main musical influences were of course metal related, in combination with extreme musical genres. Lyrics were inspired by many sources, but were specifically designed to fit the musical soundscape and the aggressive image surrounding the Mayhem concept. The interest for avantgarde music was something Euro and I shared. We also formed a project we called L.E.G.O. where we explored ideas and concepts within noise and experimental music.

FenrizMayhem was unique, but not an inspiration for death metal. Euronymous only liked death metal up to “Scream Bloody Gore”. He was sceptical to Autopsy when I played him the demo in ’89. But we loved and still love Autopsy of course.

Cadaver was the next major band to heed the call to arms, from the small coastal town of Råde nearer to Sweden, playing a version of death metal not too far removed from the bass heavy, electric sound that was already becoming huge in Sweden and not surprisingly, Cadaver was to be the first Norwegian death metal band to release a full-length album on a label, racing past Darkthrone who still continued developing through a serious of demos in death, doom and black metal style incorporating a psychedelic tendency that was unique, Norwegian and unforgettable, actually sounding more like the Munch paintings come to life than loud rock rebels. By this time various other death metal bands were spawned by the soil which had absorbed the blood of the sacrifices to Odin. Like mushrooms bands such as Old Funeral from the pagan and occultist infested Bergen, Thou Shalt Suffer from the sports and music obsessed Telemark countryside and Mortem from “global” Oslo sprung up, all being practicing grounds for a legion of musicians destined to fame and glory in future projects.

Cadaver: Hallucinating Anxiety LP

The viral and persistent Cadaver took the death metal art in Norway to a new level: besides violating the listener with speed, the intricate composition aims to rip through artificial examinations of reality through morbid revelations. This controlled and logical death metal experience is not quite the absolute psychic expressionism of Darkthrone’s masterpiece but musically soars high above the previous releases and most of what was to follow. Quoting Celtic Frost and Morbid Angel for listenability, hardcore influenced beats underpin a consistently brutal and bludgeoning riffwork in Carcass’ minimalist vein, bringing to mind images of an industrial age wasteland. Vocals are harsh, grating commands in the rhythm of Brazilian bands, promising continuity of experience all the way into grim death. While hateful, arrogant and mid-paced, centered around gore and loss of hope, some of the most beautiful tendencies of Scandinavian death metal already arise on this release and are made all the better by incorporating the best of the deconstructivist tendencies from grindcore music. Twisted and narrative in arrangement, the barbarous and thundering old school death metal riffs of Cadaver proceed to explain the magic of reality in their series of devastating conclusions, proving the album a long lasting gem.

AndersWe had a variety of favorite bands that inspired us at the time. Apart from the bands mentioned we were all into Napalm Death, Kreator, Sodom, Slayer, Death, Autopsy, Paradise Lost, Mayhem, Equinox and not forget Voivod. We were a part of the scene and into all the stuff that came out on demos etc. too so it is not right to say we were influenced by just a few bands. We were into hardcore stuff like A.O.D., S.O.D., Carnivore etc. as well as black metal bands. It was a wild mix.

FenrizCadaver was absolutely great in ’88 and ’89, we played with them and saw them live many, many times! Cadaver was the first Norwegian death metal release, we came right after with the 2nd.

Darkthrone: Soulside Journey LP

An album released 20 years ahead of its time, it’s one of those timeless classics that defy description and comparison. Even today it’s impossible to find death metal that sounds quite like it. It somewhat escaped people’s attention back in the day and has existed on the verge of rediscovery with the sporadic bootleg and official releases of the Darkthrone demos but is still not very widely known among the Darkthrone fanbase. Resembling Celtic Frost taken by the hand of a witch doctor through a series of cosmogonic explanations while on an LSD trip, what starts as gnarly and crawling doomdeath becomes an experience from the beyond. The album has very little in the way of the overbearing brutality of Florida death metal or the catchy Slayer-punk riffing of the Swedes, but it is full of parts that stick to mind and make you come back to its sequences of mystical, foreboding and inconclusive themes and landscapes. Some of the resolutions of its parts are almost disgusting in their divergence from habitual speed metal, death and thrash and they wrack the mind. The evil and brooding melodies crawl over your neck like alien insectoids. Nocturno Culto’s vocals already show their depth and power and so do Fenriz’ inimitable lyrics. On this release Fenriz’ unique drumming skills are the most apparent; pure cult in the making. The eerie use of synths heard on this album would undoubtedly have spiced up some of the later Darkthrone material too. This is the birth of “death metal for the intellectual”.

FenrizThere’s only one Celtic Frost riff on “Soulside Journey”! We were inspired by Possessed, Autopsy, Death, Nihilist, Sepultura (“Schizophrenia” album only), Nocturnus (2nd demo), Devastation (Chicago) and such, Black Sabbath too… but most importantly we had a mission statement: all the riffs should be able to slow down and play on a synth as horror movie effects. So we played technical horror death metal with doom elements and also our eternal inspiration, visions of the universe: even our first demo in early ’88 had an outer space painting as cover.

AndersThe Darkthrone debut album has some great songs in it and it blew me away at the time. It sounds very Swedish and if it had the grim sound of lets say Autopsy it could have showed a different path for Norwegian death metal along with us for young bands at the time. Who knows?

Mortem: Slow Death EP

Mortem’s seldom heard EP boasted some of the most catchy riffs of Norway’s early death metal and one of drum legend Hellhammer’s earliest performances on record. Mortem joins the company of Vomit in aiming to produce the death metal experience with hardcore-like simplicity. Tracks such as “Milena” and “Slow Death” are pure headbanging mania, not much else, though the latter also has an interesting modal type of guitar solo. Considering the general sound quality, drums are surprisingly clear and powerful and show Hellhammer’s early skill in arranging rhythm. Such elements and the beautiful intro to “Nightmare” leave one wondering a bit how it would have been if this band had recorded an album. The heavily distorted vocal performance is of a dubious benefit, like an overblown imitation of Maniac’s already annoying screams on “Deathcrush”. However, they lend a chaotic, absurd and insane element to the proceedings of what is rather usual demo level death metal from a young band.

Old Funeral: The Older Ones CD

At times nearly reminiscent of “Soulside Journey” in enwrapping the listener with pure twisted melody riffs, its surprising that this compilation of material from some of the most interesting line-ups (future Immortal, Burzum and Hades members) of death metal is not too much celebrated. It’s easy to already hear traces of the epic ambient guitar that would characterize the members’ later bands – the Wagnerian “My Tyrant Grace” could easily be an early Immortal recording. Old Funeral’s recordings do often fall short of brilliance, songs having good parts but being incomplete. Old Funeral had potential to be a magnificent band but sadly never got a stable enough line-up or enough work and attention to make it happen. At worst (“Lyktemenn”) the material is unorganized and thrashy, emotionally anguished in a selfish way and using half written heavy metal influenced melodies in a despicable way, inconclusively jumping from one phrase to the next – obscure but not visionary or evolving, just a collection of moods. “Into Hades” approximates early doomdeath. “Abduction of Limbs” is inspired by technical US death metal and succeeds in building an evil ambience. “Devoured Carcass” is more obviously Scandinavian in manufacture, akin to the barbarous blasphemies of Treblinka or Beherit as microbic riffs intone trances of darkness in a nightmare of lost souls. Slower funereal passages on the compilation echo traces of ancient Cemetary and Therion. The black thrashing of “Skin and Bone” reminds of Bathory or early Voivod while throwing some sparkling, clever leads into the mix, creating a surprisingly war metal-like high energy plutonium explosion. This ripping and rocking track manages to approximate brilliance. The core simplicity of most of Old Funeral’s material will hinder the pleasure of the elitist metal listener, but much of it remains highly listenable as even the live recordings work surprisingly well.

Thou Shalt Suffer: Into The Woods Of Belial CD

Thou Shalt Suffer was the product of an already long development from band formations such as Dark Device, Xerasia and Embryonic, composed of future music-magicians who would form Emperor, Ildjarn and the Akkerhaugen sound studio. Mostly early 90′s Swedish satanic death metal in style, Thou Shalt Suffer assaulted the listener with disorganized yet compelling demo level death metal noise with submerged, intense and evil soundscape. Seriously brutal in nature, interlocking chromatic riffs in the vein of Incantation or early Amorphis race on, sporadically bursting into uncontrolled grind. Vocals are super-dramatic in Ihsahn’s craziest early style, ranging from humorously weird to total evil and synths repeat a few doomy patterns, foreshadowing Ihsahn’s later neo-symphonic obsessions. The songs are expectedly not quite there and everything sounds unplanned and spontaneous but for pure spirit it can be quite exhilarating to listen to it today. The discordant, fractured and genius stream of melody of the main riffing recalls ideas later developed further in beautiful way while the expert rhythm guitar is able to create the texture of an infernal landscape. Fragmented but compelling, it should go without saying that it has already done more than most of today’s death metal releases. A special award should be presented for the long experimental outro track “Obscurity Supreme”, seething with a truly avantgarde ambition beyond the later “art metal” habits, worthy of its title.

Arcturus: My Angel EP

The Mortem line-up returned with this piece of madness before plunging into black metal sounds using this band name. Arcturus started its career reminiscent of Swedish second tier satanic death metal bands in the vein of Tiamat, cutting through the intricacies of the narrative death metal of Cadaver and Darkthrone to hammer out Wagnerian power chord doom, with not much appreciation for subtle nuances. The first track “My Angel” starts out psychedelic and impressive, foreshadowing the deep symbolic exploration of the internal cosmos done later by bands such as Tartaros. However, in Arcturus it remains as just another eclectic act, as the dramatic development proceeds in an expected way. While the impressive parts are there it doesn’t reach the magnanimous stature it’s trying to achieve, with the keyboard melodies from film soundtracks and the evil vocals reminiscent of early Samael. “Morax” is a track with gothic, Cathedral-inspired doomdeath wrapped in a synth layer of Nocturnus. Arcturus attempted to obtain a complex, insane atmosphere of invocation but it was not to be their forte; the careening splendour of “Aspera Hiems Symfonia” would be better music.

Thyabhorrent: Death Rides At Dawn EP

Thyabhorrent, led by Occultus (another figure from the early black metal history around Mayhem and Helvete), specialized in simple death metal which used some speed metal riffs and emotive lead guitar interludes. Occasionally similar to Dissection, it seems to carry an eerie foreshadow of Gothenburg and today’s mainstream death metal style while still proudly enwrapped in the mystique of the Norwegian underground. The catchy metal riffing and try-hard vocals in “Condemnation” are halfway to serious power, falling short of the atmosphere obtained by almost all other works of the era. The good riffs are wasted by the very simplistic construction of songs and the unfortunate tendency to rip a wrong context: heavy metal. “Occultus Brujeria” displays an elegantly romantic tendency which could have been something with more development: doomy clean vocals herald simple black metal of expressive, gothic, über-dramatic character. Some of the interludes suggest ideas that could have turned this into an elaborate progressive black metal band but as it stands, it’s a much weaker and tamer version of the kind of material released by Necromantia, Burzum or Isengard early on.

Generalization: A Statement Of The End

The original death metal underground of Norway was alienated, silent and private and thus gave a chance to develop all these ideas towards their full fruition. When the scene burst into the attention of a million of trendy fans, it dealt a blow to the atmosphere that could not be recovered from it. The sanity of the fragile artistic mindset required that the adherents move away towards new areas of quietude and purity (“away from the noise of the marketplace” in the words of Nietzsche) to continue the serious contemplation of darkness. What follows is the history of the early 90′s black metal phenomenon; Cadaver remains the sole band of the ancient underground that is still around cranking out evil death metal.

Anders: We split up in 2004 – so no, we are not around. To call Death Metal trendy is a sidetracking of the whole thing. I don’t share the idea that we ever played something trendy. To play death metal in 1999 was as un-trendy as it could be. I call what I play death metal still because it is my playing style. Death metal can mean much more that most people think. I am a death metal man by hand and a black metal man by soul.

Fenriz: I can with my hand on my heart say that I only bought like 5-6 death metal releases in 1990, and maybe 2 in 1991… or none. The studios like Morrisound and Sunlight were fresh in the very beginning, but organic sound is the best and I quickly learnt to hate these click click bass drum sounds that started to ruin metal in ’89 and have completely ruined generations of metalheads later on. In ’89 death metal compilation tapes were overflowing the underground, I had already been through hard rock and heavy metal and power and thrash and everything possible, then I saw that thrash metal got boring and too copied and the same thing happened with death metal, it was too many bands, but the sound was good in ’89. But to me, I heard Hungarian Tormentor on one of those tapes, and got back into more “evil” sound again, like Destruction “Infernal Overkill” and such, as I hadn’t listened to them for a while. I saw it as just thrash, but after getting an evil revelation with Tormentor, I saw a lot of the thrash I had from before in a new black light, and I got more and more into Bathory. And in 1990 I mostly listened to the more primitive stuff, but our craft was technical death metal and we needed to complete our album. Even after our album we had lots of material pouring out of us (became “Goatlord” album) but it had to stop with this technical style, we were all agreeing on this except Dag. We took a U-turn unto the primitive lane in 1991.

Even a cursory investigation to the workings of the early Norwegian metal underground should dissolve one of the most persistent illusions about Norwegian black metal bands such as Burzum and Immortal: that they did not know how to handle their instruments, or did not have an extensive background in musical expression. Do you think they simply wanted to pose evil with corpsepaint? They were talented musicians who had years of experience playing technical styles of death metal before the black metal explosion. The simplified sound of black metal was due to the ethics of black metal and the spirit of black metal. The black metal resurgence intended to develop metal music to a new level of intensity and create a purer atmosphere, unpolluted by the social agreements of the new death metal people.

For most metal fans Norwegian death metal means either black metal or the new digitally produced bands in the vein of Zyklon and Blood Red Throne. The intent of this excursion has been to show how pure death metal was the fundamental force in establishing the original Norwegian underground metal scene and how it ultimately grew into the most vital and archaic musical movement of the 90′s, Norwegian black metal.

Anders: The bands such as Darkthrone, Mayhem and Immortal were in fact very inspired by death metal. If you listen to the latest Emperor, Satyricon, Dimmu Borgir albums they all have strong elements of death metal in them. The scene that was to become the Norwegian black metal scene was never a “one-way-street”. The issues with Swedish bands in ’91-’93 was mainly about the fact that death metal became conformed, predictable and non-dangerous. The strong standing of the black metal scene overshadowed any death metal band for many many years and this is still the case.

Manheim: I of course felt and feel proud of being responsible for giving people inspiration. That so many people in Norway and around the globe have taken this further is of the good. Of course there’s a lot of bands that appeared that didn’t do anything else than copying those before them, but the development of genres like Norwegian BM and others shows that there’s a lot of creativity and wonderful musical contribution that has been done after Mayhem released its first demos and “Deathcrush”. My personal favorite releases are Darkthrone’s early works – and if I have to choose, “Under a Funeral Moon”.

Fenriz still works on Darkthrone, promotes his favorite underground bands and speaks against forest industry. Anders has been playing live guitar and bass for major bands such as Celtic Frost and Satyricon. Manheim composes and performs experimental music and writes a good blog on culture and music. Deathmetal.org thanks them all for their kind contribution.

Cosmic Fear arrives, I hold a dead one,
Surrounded by my many candles
(I burn to cleanse the air)
Rotten Unclean Sacrifice Nightmares
Unreal Psychedelic Journey
Ride The Darkside
Search The Soulside

– Darkthrone, Soulside Journey

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May 16th, 2009 – Skepticism in Helsinki, Finland

Shall the words not sing of sorrow
Leave for others words of lament

The label ‘Funeral Doom Metal’ is used to describe a plethora of bands that share a largely fatalistic ideological outlook in common. This is an extreme interpretation of the inherent misery of Doom Metal as a wider movement that dates back to when 70′s bands such as Pentagram and Pagan Altar, and 80′s bands St. Vitus, Candlemass and Cathedral from the early 90′s carried the baton bearing these surface qualities taken from Black Sabbath. It was, later still, passed on to bands best represented by Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Katatonia, who integrated this slow and doleful style with Death Metal techniques, as this movement had reached it’s apex in the remarkable ‘goldmine’ period (1989 – 1993). This style called Doomdeath would eventually become more extreme, spawning suicidal and eschatological Funeral Doom Metal bands such as Mournful Congregation, Paramaecium, Worship and Pantheist. They would claim more of a descent from the band most synonymous with the tag: Finland’s Skepticism, however, whose consistancy and contribution to Metal music as a whole far outweighs their status as the archetypal form of some sub-sub-genre. Emerging almost simultaneously from the South of Finland, both Skepticism and Thergothon were playing music less concerned with the self-obsessed emotions of Doom Metal; infact, they followed more in the footsteps of Death and Black Metal, illustrating their reverence for nature/cosmos, it’s eternal patterns and magestic forces that confront our fragile and often illusory perceptions (and feed the despair of most Doom Metal in it’s fatalism).

This appropriately brings us to the annual ‘Dooomstock’ festival held at the Lepakkomies bar in the Sörnäinen district of Helsinki. More importantly, it brings us to Skepticism’s role not only as headliner, but the most uncompromising example of what has been discussed so far: that Skepticism – who bring the epic spirit of Romantic, nihilistic Metal to the Doom scene – reign supreme in a sea of shit. It’s the second day of the festival, and the opening act – Funeral Planet – amounted to little more than an extremely heavy and slow Rock band, which is the most unfortunate symptom of this kind of Black Sabbath worship. Thanks to the trial-and-error, improvisational nature of Rock composition, one or two riffs could be enjoyed but, without some meaningful musical context, only as a soundtrack to consuming bottles of Karhu – Finland’s premium lager. The Celtic Frost cover was a nice addition to the set but only served to increase the anticipation for Skepticism by hearing the work of another legendary band. Such an honourable title, the Finns in attendance would tell you, couldn’t be more applicable to the country’s original Doom Metal band and second act on the line-up: Spiritus Mortis, now being fronted by Sami Hynninen who is more well-known as Albert Witchfinder from Reverend Bizarre. Their brand of traditional Doom Metal is more competent than the preceding act, in that their sound hybridizes a wider range of influences, from Trouble and St. Vitus to the somehow rousing dirge-anthems of Pagan Altar and post-Nightfall Candlemass. But was there more to the set than a collection of tightly-played tribute songs for a diehard group of Finnish Doom Metal connoisseurs? Beside’s Sami’s enthusiasm for singing to his own band within this lot of fans, in a voice more suited to Spiritus Mortis than to a bizarre cover of Burzum’s ‘Dunkelheit’, the answer would be that there was no more meaning. The next band, Ophis from Germany represented the new generation of Doomdeath bands, and delivered almost as promised, a juvenile set of clichéd tracks that rip-off the approach played first by diSEMBOWELMENT and littered this with token chugging lifted from the cruder moments of Worship’s first album. Ending the set with a cover of a band that nobody had heard of planted Ophis solidly into the grave, but it did feature a lot more of that chugging which is ambrosia for the Doom Metal fan, as shredding is for speed-addicts.

With all of this noise done and dusted, the stage was set for the mighty Skepticism, and those who seemed to have better understood the significance of what would come made their way to the feet of the masters. Skepticism’s image is about as disparate from their peers’ as their music is, with the band maintaining a strictly non-Metal sartorial code, led by Matti on vocals and his dishevelled conductor’s suit. The set began with an awe-inspiring and trance-inducing rendition of the classic ‘Sign of a Storm’, opener to the debut album. The opening words are growled more chthonically than on record, accompanied by Matti’s gestures as he appears to summon and conduct the elemental forces of nature, explaining his customary choice of attire. His performance as vocalist is in sharp contrast with Sami’s; his actions are erratic extensions of a music which is greater than himself and, though he is aware of the audience, knows his role as mediator at all times. In the basic element of sound, Skepticism sound more like a coherent whole rather than an unbalanced loudspeaker for an isolated riff, some crowd-friendly chugging or double-bass layer. The next song, as the tracklist of the Stormcrowfleet album dictates is ‘Pouring’ and demonstrates the brutal harmony of their sound. None of their coherence is sacrificed as the set enters the classic ’Aether’ from the second album, which creates a lot more ambient space and dynamic demands that are delivered expertly. ‘The Curtain’ and ‘The Arrival’ from the latest album, Alloy follow to demonstrate the quality music that Skepticism is still creating – a very rare phenomenon in the world of Metal. Next came two tracks that, while enjoyable, explain why ’Farmakon’ was such a hit-and-miss affair. The riffs are quite cumbersomely arranged, but with their characteristic power and glimpses of innovation, Skepticism drive them forward regardless. To close, nothing could have been a more fitting choice of song than the epic ‘March October’ as the band returns to ‘Alloy’ one last time. What a gift to leave behind for the audience to be inspired – sonic patterns of the continuum of life. The epic Skepticism transcended the Doom Metal festival in every aspect of their music and performance, and this is what, perhaps paradoxically, makes a Metal band great; by letting the form of the music be shaped and directed by the fundamental impulses that inspire it, like the sea upon the coming of a storm.

-ObscuraHessian-

Proudly join the tunes sounding
Gallant ways the pulse beating
Take their place in the Alloy
Fortify the compound forming
And unite the substance growing
And meld matter made for lasting
To complete the March October

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Interview: David Herrera (Imprecation)

In the late 1980s/early 1990s in the expansive United States, the nascent genre of death metal developed multiple strains. The more accessible of them included the well-known, technically-impressive bands from the scenes in New York and Florida, respectively. A third major bloodline, arising from the likes of early Morbid Angel, Necrovore and Possessed found itself in darker territory, more readily embracing deep occult themes with palatable atmospheres of musical evil to match. Imprecation, hailing from Houston, Texas, were among the early participants in this subgenre, helping carry it to its mature phases in the mid-1990s along with acts like Incantation and Fallen Christ. The bands’s 1995 discography-to-date release, Theurgia Goetia Summa, is a succinct statement of death metal’s ability to inspire moral horror that reaches beyond the banal graphic fantasy often associated with it.

Answers by vocalist David Herrera.

What was forming a death metal band like, back in the early days before people really knew what death metal was? How did you explain it to people, and how did they react?

It was kinda strange, the whole “Earache” scene was starting to gain momentum, and yet there was an even ‘darker’ undercurrent that was gnashing it’s teeth into the throats of Christians. This is the cauldron that we bubbled out of! It was very unknown at the time, especially with everything being heard solely through tape trading or if you were lucky an underground radio program that would turn you on to bands that were only existing on word of mouth such as Incantation, Profanatica, Impaled Nazarene, Beherit, Phlebotomized, Demigod, Archgoat, and more. We had a radio program here in Houston called “Sweet Nightmares” airing on Tuesday nights/Wednesday mornings from midnight to like 4 am, hosted by Wes Weaver and Bill “the Master” Bates. We’d stay up out in the woods with lots of acid and alcohol and make bonfires to this radio program to check out all of the unknown stuff that they would turn us on to, it was such a drag when it stopped airing as this was a weekly ritual for us. I remember the first time I heard the new extreme in the underground, it was on this show in ’89 or ’90 and Wes had just got the advances from Earache of Morbid Angel’s “Maze of Torment” and Terrorizer’s “After World Obliteration”. He played them back to back and it completely floored us. That ‘s when I knew that I had to be creating this music, to actually live it!

I understand that two members came from the Kreator-y/Slayer-y “Dark Reign.” What caused them to make such a stylistic jump to greater extremity and darkness?

Well, Dark Reign were such a repected band in Houston, really no one was nearly as extreme as they were when they were around. To find out that I was gonna be in the same band as the main songwriters, well I could not believe it. It was like going from the pit to the stage in one swoop, I really lucked out to have my first official band to be rounded out with guys who took their craft seriously. I always felt that the “Ceremony of the Nine Angles” (NOT ANGELS! people to this day seem to think we misspelled this haha!) demo had a lot of Dark Reign and Undertaker (which was basically what Imprecation morphed out of) all over it. Basically I came in as a guitarist, they heard my vocals and decided they wanted me to contribute that way instead. The darkness was honed through some of the lyrics that i brought to the table, although Ruben and Phil were already some dark motherfuckers. I just let them know that if I was gonna be their vocallist, i wasn’t singing politics or government or anything of the kind, not that there is anything wrong with that. But my love lies in utter darkness, and blasphemy is my scripture.

What were the influences on early Imprecation, and did these change over time?

eh, basically it was more that we were inspired by certain bands, and these inspirations remain firm almost 20 years later. Phil came to me when we actually started to piece together our first song “Blinded” and said he was really bitten by the sound coming out of Sweden at that time, most notably Entombed and Carnage. I was always a big fan of Nihilist, so I completely understood! He’s also a big Hellhammer/Celtic Frost fan, along with Dark Angel and Possessed, so I think that is where we got our music stylings guitarwise from, kinda a mixture of those styles. Ruben has a drum style completely all to his own, Ben Falgoust once said that you could make a comp with a hundred bands on it and throw a project with Ruben involved and he could pick his drums out of the lot. I totally agree 100%! I once asked Ruben what made him tick, and he just basically said he was a big John Bonham and Keith Moon fan, as well as a fervant supporter of Mercyful Fate, Slayer and Exodus. To this day he definitely marches to his own drum beat heh heh. My vocal stylings were born of early Morbid Angel, Blasphemy, Beherit, and Immolation worship. Also a healthy dose of early Deicide, I always dug Benton’s approach especially on the self titled LP and “Legion”.

What is good?–Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself, in man.

What is evil?–Whatever springs from weakness.

What is happiness?–The feeling that power increases–that resistance is overcome.

Not contentment, but more power; not peace at any price, but war; not virtue, but efficiency (virtue in the Renaissance sense, virtu, virtue free of moral acid).

The weak and the botched shall perish: first principle of our charity. And one should help them to it.

What is more harmful than any vice?–Practical sympathy for the botched and the weak–Christianity…

– F.W. Nietzsche, The Antichrist (1888)

Theurgia Goetia Summa is most often compared to early Incantation, with a healthy infusion of early Morbid Angel. Did these bands influence you at all, or do you think you hit on a style that’s inherent in metal?

eh, Incantation is fuckin killer but I’d be lying if I told you they were an influence. I was a big fan, and still very much am, but they never came into the equation when we were writing any of our material. I saw them on their tour with Anal Cunt, supporting their “Entrantment of Evil” 7inch and their “Unholy Massacre” cassette at both the Pik n Pak and the Axiom and let me tell you, in 1990 it was a unheard of to see a band of their magnitude live. At least down here in Texas. Also in that same year we saw Morbid Angel on their “Altars of Madness” tour, with heh heh, you guessed it, Dark Reign supporting their Texas shows. I cannot deny the impact that performance had on my life, and what that album plus their “Abominations….” album did for us muscially, but as I said before it was pure INSPIRATION. I feel to this day that Imprecation were on to something special and original, especially with the “Sigil of Baphomet” ep and the Mark Beecher fronted ‘deathymns’ (A.S.!) that started the first three tracks on “Theurgia Goetia Summa”. Even when Mark took ’em in a more black metal direction it still had that Imprecation low tuned crush that made us easily identifiable!

What, in your view, is the difference between black metal and death metal, if any?

Well if you are talking about pure negligent praise of moral destruction and the end of life as we know it, there is no real difference. But that is where it stops when talking as a genre in it’s entirety. I always felt that true Black Metal was very focused on atmosphere and infernal aesthetics, kinda like a funeral shroud that draped around your being, candles lit and pure Satan worship whether Satan existed as a deity or a form of negativity. True Death is more embracing the soil, the musk of things decayed, the creak of a coffin lid, the chop of an axe, and focused on bringing it to you in a very unforgiving and pummeling assault to the senses. I prefer when either style mixes a little flavor of the other to make it a grand combination of destruction. That is where I think Imprecation succeeded most of all, through a perfect balance of Death and Black. Bands like Archgoat, Necros Christos, Teitanblood, Katharsis, Incantation, Watain, and Portal bring this type of rotting stench to my speakers! Death Metal that is as pitch black as a bottomless pit, falling through the infinite abyss…..

Do you think that metal bands, like indie bands, need to develop a “persona” that they support with a unique lingo, habits, styles of dress and mannerism, etc?

Sometimes it is okay to have something that can bring identity to one’s stylings, you know to give ’em that certain trait that makes them all their own. Venom, Voivod, Sadistik Exekution, Hellhammer/Frost, Carnivore, Judas Priest, Blasphemy, Bolt Thrower, Mayhem/Darkthrone, Misfits, W.A.S.P. hell; even Manowar whom I fuckin hate had something that made them stand on their own. I don’t think a band has to develop it’s own original persona or sound to succeed, however, but it definitely helps when they have CONVICTION in their musical execution!

You (David Herrera) also write and perform for Bahimiron, a gutter-vicious Gorgoroth/Motorhead-styled black metal band. What’s the difference in your songwriting there, as opposed to when working with Imprecation?

Huge difference. Where Imprecation focuses on getting most every note played with tightness and clarity, we in Bahimiron believe in being akin to “an eyeball loose and wild”. We embrace death and the devil, and are at one with ways of alcohol abuse and loaded firearms. Heh heh I know a certain someone who does not embrace our love for whiskey and the such, maybe “misguided” in our directions (I’m looking at you, Mr. Prozac!) but none-the-less it is how we live. As the Electric Hellfire Club once proudly displayed on an album “Drugs, Death and the Devil”. It is not for everyone, but when we proclaim that we are Whiskey Fueled Black Metal it is not in a “party” attitude, rather a result of the harm that this way of life can do to one’s self or to any who get in the way!

Our national drug is alcohol. We tend to regard the use of any other drug with special horror.

– William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch (1959)

If sound is like paint, and we use different techniques and portray different things in our paintings, what does it say when a genre sounds similar and has similar topic matter and imagery? Can the genre be said to have a philosophy or culture of its own?

I think that sounds about correct. I mean, that is how cults are born, a group of individuals who try to accomplish the same goals, missions, or end results. I think as far as true death and black metal it definitely qualifies, especially if one lives it’s message as a completely dedicated lifestyle.

Like in the late 1970s, metal feels to many people like it has lost direction and become hollow. Is a change in direction needed, and if so, will that come from within metal?

Well it depends. I like my metal true to form, and if you start mixing techno or emo punk into it then it is complete shit in my ears and I could give a fuck if that is the new “saviour” of metal. I mean, look at the nu metal scene. And by that I am not talking Korn, I am talking Killswitch Engage or Job For A Cowboy. If that is the change needed to bring metal to a different plateau, then I’ll stay in the valley with my old standbys. I still put in my “Seven Churches”, “Reign In Blood”, “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”, or “Fallen Angel of Doom” records KNOWING how many bands aped these styles, and it still summons the demon abyss from my speakers. Even the bands that border on plagerism of these styles score high points with me as compared to what some idiots are calling death or black metal nowadays. I’d rather hear a Blasphemy rip off than God Forbid any day!

Did you learn music theory? Did it help you or slow you down in achieving your musical goals? If not, did musical illiteracy help or hinder you?

No. I do not think that one needs music theory to create music. As a matter of fact i think when one knows TOO much about their instrument, it fails to “wow” me and the end result is total boredom. I get more out of a band who are shaping their music through pure devotion to make it work with the skills or lack of skills that they have than a band who is worried if they are playing in 4/4 time or how many diminished triads they can pull off in a measure. All the music theory I need lies in my record collection.

It has been observed that death metal and black metal use “narrative” composition, where a series of riffs form a sort of poem that tells a story about a change in states of mind. Is this reflected in your songwriting at all?

I’d like to think so. I mean, that has always been the appeal for me through a lot of metal: where are the instruments taking me? I need passageways to form lyrics to, sometimes a narrow corridor covered in blood will do, other times an ocean of blood with floating corpses does my mind good. Some people write their lyrics before music, I write my lyrics THROUGH the music. I let the Devil take my mind, and the instruments guide my pen to paper. Most lyrix i have writ were on the first stab.

Do you think a genre of unpopular “popular music” like death metal and/or black metal can be a form of art? What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?

Absolutely. What seperates the two? Art succeeds from the within, damn the outsider’s opinion. Entertainment comes with the ideals that for it to succeed, you must please a group of people whether large or small. I think it is possible to be a bit of both, as when we write music we do it for ourselves firstly, but we do care if our message poisons the right people. I mean, if you really did not care if your music or art was embraced by anyone then why release it? Now, it does not bother me if we get negative response, if we wanted to be liked by all then we would be involved in a band hunting for a major label and become a tool for their bank accounts. That is where it ceases being art, and falls strictly into the “please the sheep” category!

Have the values of metal music changed from the early 90s? How and why?

Somewhat. Like I mentioned earlier, there are kids that really think these bands like Unearth are Death Metal. Pathetic.

Are there any skills you have learned from being a death metal band that can be applied to other areas of life?

eh, the only time it was a benefit for me was when I worked in the field of Demolition. Now I am a construction foreman, and i don’t think that really applies to the fine art of fuckin shit up!

Imprecation has just reformed after a dozen years absent, and now you’re opening for Mayhem. How does that feel? Where are you going next?

It feels great man. It feels natural that our first show back is gonna be with Mayhem and Marduk onstage. I mean, our very first show as a band was in early 1992 opening for Grave/Massacre and the very next one was opening for Entombed/Exhorder, so we are used to “breaking the ice” on a big stage. We have a real killer show planned in June with Father Befouled and Thornspawn, and we will be playing in Mexico in August and New York in December with some killer bands.

Is that live recording that made it to tape ever going to see a general release? What about a re-release of TGS?

No. It was only a small production, never meaning to be an official Imprecation release. If you got one, cool, but it stops at that cassette as far as our involvement with it. As far as Theurgia Goetia Summa, it will be re-released this summer on Die Todesrune records in Spain. The original release never gave proper credit to Phillip or myself. I mean, Phil wrote the music to at least 6 of those songs and my lyrics and vocals were on 6 of the nine tracks to no mention. Everyone who don’t know us think that Mark Beecher does all the vocals, when his vocal contribution stops after the third song. From then on it’s me, and Phil is playing the guitar on everyone of the Sigil of Baphomet and Ceremony tracks as well. So that’s gonna be re-released and also we have a killer new 7 inch that has been recorded on Negativity Records that will be entitled “Sigil of Lucifer”, to be released this summer.

We appreciate your spending so much time on these questions, and know it’s going to be important information in the underground. If you have anything else to add that we were too dumb to ask, please stick it here.

Thanks Herr Prozak for the interview. Hails and horns to ANUS.com, and to all affiliated with its writings!!

Here and NOW is our day of torment! Here and NOW is our day of Joy! Here and now is our opportunity! Choose ye this day, this hour, for no redeemer liveth. Every attempt made to organize the future must necessarily collapse. The present is our domain, and our chief duty is to take immediate possession thereof upon strict business principles. Strive therefore against them that strive against you, and war against them that war against thine. Lay hold of shield and buckler or their equivalents; stand up! Be a terrible one in thine own defense. Raise up also the clenched hand, and stop the way of them that would persecute you. Say unto thine own heart and soul: “I, even I, am my own redeemer.” Let them be hurled back into confusion and infamy, who devise thine undoing. Let them be as chaff before the cyclone, and let the Angel of Death pursue them, nay, overtake them. In a pit they have hidden a trap for thy feet; into that very destruction let them fall. Then, exultant, “sound the loud timbrel”. Rejoice! Rejoice! in thine own salvation. Then all thy bones shall say pridefully, “Who is like unto me? Have I not delivered myself by mine own brain? Have I not been to strong for mine adversaries? Have I not spoiled them that would have spoiled me?”

– Ragnar Redbeard, Might is Right (1896)

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 12-29-08

Lubricant – Nookleptia (1992)

After the initial solidification of the the sound of death metal (1988-1990) a number of up-and-coming bands caused it to, like the dendritic expansion of a leafed branch, to explore every possible combination with past elements and stylistic possibility. Among the products of that tendency was Finland’s Lubricant, who sound like a progressive death metal band hybridized with hardcore punk under the direction of a hard rock conductor. Like countrymen Sentenced produced on Amok, these bouncy songs use a melodic core to create two-part expansions, bouncing between not call and response but hypothesis and counterpoint. Riffing makes extensive use of dissonant chords, some voicings in contexts familiar in both black metal and emo, and strip death metal riffs of much of the downstrum-empowered, recursive rhythm complexity so that they ride on a few notes and the rhythms of their presentation like a hardcore band. Although goofy experimentation like spoken and sung vocals in opposition to death growls are now rarities, in part thanks to the overuse of this technique by dreaded nu-metal bands, they occur here with enough ingenuity to be presumed innocent and not MTV in intent. Yet style is only half of a band; the melodies and rhythms here are simple but unencumbered and often beautiful in their spiralling cycle around a fragment of vision, in a way reminiscent of both Ras Algethi and Discharge. They are not quite decisive enough to encapsulate the sensation of a generation or era as some of the greater bands did, but they achieve a powerful observational facility from the periphery. My guess is that this band was overlooked because of its bouncy hard rock rhythm and its tendency to structure songs around breakdowns that filter through past riffs like computer code comparing arrays and finally reduce to a simple riff measurably more poignant than its counterparts. In other words, this is not only unfamiliar ground for death metal listeners, but is less discretely concise like beaded water sliding down plastic sheeting, and therefore, harder to identify and appreciate.

Bethzaida – Nine Worlds (1996)

In both guitar tone and composition this resembles Eucharist with a death metal sense of percussion and tempo, spindly melodic lead lines arching through a rhythm to enforce it in offset, but borrows from the short-lived “dark metal” genre that was transitional between death and black (its most persistent artifact is the first Darkthrone album): cyclic arpeggiated riffs give way to either racing fire of chromatic progressions or looser, short melodies repeated at different intervals in the scale comprising the foundation of each piece. Like Dissection, there is a tendency to etch out a dramatically even melody architected across levels of harmony, and then to curl it back around a diminishing progression to achieve closure; while this is effective, it must be used sparingly to avoid audience saturation with its effect, and it isn’t here. What kept this band from the big time might indeed be something similar, which is its tendency to set up some form of constant motion and, after descending into it, failing to undergo dynamic change. Much of its phrasing celebrates symmetry between resolution and inception, creating a squeaky clean obviousness that in metal unlike any other genre becomes tedious fast, and there is like Dissection a tendency to break a melodic scale into a counter direction and a counter to that, then regurgitate it in the dominant vector, then its opposite, then in turn its antithesis, producing a flow of notes that like a river bends in order to go straight. Zoom back on the scale function, and view the album as a whole: like most postmodern art, it is replacing lack of internal strength (encouragement toward self-sacrificial or delayed-gratification values, e.g. heroism and adventure) with a surplus of external embellishment, including flutes dressing up elaborate versions of tedious patterns and keyboards. Like Dissection it achieves a sheath of immersive aesthetic, and like Metallica (occasional similarities in chord progression) it maintains an internally resurgent energy, but when one peels back this externality, there is less of a compelling nature here than a flawless but overdone, directionless aesthetic.

Depression – Chronische Depression (1999)

Although aesthetically this band resembles a more dominating version of the early percussive death metal bands like Morpheus (Descends) or Banished, in composition it is most like grindcore: one thematic riff repeated unless interrupted by detouring counterpoints, then a series of breakdowns and transitions working back to the point of harmonic inception and rhythmic wrapper of the original riff. Like countrymen Blood this band specializes in the simple and authoritative in roaring noise, but musical development from repetition is even sparser and the anthemic factor of repeating a motif at different tempos and key-locations wears thin after some time. Undeniably, this band have talent and apply it well, but are limited by their conception of music to make sonic art that while forceful is so repetitive that few outside those who delight in the shock of its pure and total deconstruction of music will listen again to these mostly two-riff songs. Vocals are of the guttural alternation with shrieking whisper type and rather than counteracting this effect, bring it into prominence, but that seems to be the intent — this band desire to become the unrelenting assault of early Napalm Death but with rigid and not “organic” chaotic structure, and thus they take a concept sometimes unknown and sometimes built as a subset of known variants (Dies Irae themes, monster movie music, old hardcore progressions) and hammer it home over a sequence of staggered tempos, interweaves with oppositional riffs, and rhythmic breaks. Underneath it all is the kind of sly iconoclasm and gleeful weirdness that comes naturally in times when one must be careful about which truths one tells unmasked. Probably this grinding death CD is the closest we will have in this era to an updated version of DRI/COC-style thrash, and true to this form, it incorporates a number of figures from hardcore music. This will not be for everyone and will not be heard every week, but for an approach to this ultra-deconstructed style, Depression are one of the better efforts on record.

Phlegethon – Fresco Lungs (1992)

Many of the early contributors to death metal were heavy metal fans who wanted to avoid the sickening glossy vocals, dramatic love songs, and moronically one-dimensional aesthetic of heavy metal, so they incorporated the aesthetic and artistic direction of death metal, but underneath made music that could compete with Van Halen if applied to FM radio. Phlegethon is one such act; like “Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas” from Therion, this is a heavy metal album that uses the riff salad wrapped around a narrative thematic development of death metal, accented with keyboards and unusual song structures, to create epic music that eschews the mainstream cheese. Each song is gyrationally infectious and yet understated, like throwing the grenade of an irresistible rhythm into a room and then skipping down the hall whistling (one track deliciously parodies techno). Keyboards guide the root notes of power chords but vary harmony for conclusion or emphasis. Song structures bend out of introductory material into a sequence of candidates for introduction or transition to verse and chorus, and the result is an architectural feel like that of fellow Finns Amorphis as the listener progresses between riffs of different shape and sonic impact, like a flash of light outlining the features of a vast room — similarly, there are lengthy offtime melodic fretruns highlighting descending power chord riffs as that band also used to great effect. Admirably, drums migrate through layers which silhouette the current riff in contrast and foreshadow adept tempo changes; vocals are low guttural death growls that stretch themselves to the point of fragmentation, spearing the beat in each phrase and decaying after each emphatic syllable to create a reference frame of surreal incomplete rhythm. The rampant creativity and pulsingly infectious rhythms of this CD give it presence which so powerfully hints at a more complete musical language that the intrusions of heavy metal-derived music often seem like dilutions, but it is clear from even this glimpse that the world missed out on the future evolution of this band.

Avathar “Where Light and Shadows Collide” (CD, 2006)

A cross between In Battle and Summoning, this band attempts to make epic music but in the uptempo style of black metal such as Mayhem or Abigor. Like The Abyss, this band wield such a lexicon of technique that tendencies in their music become evident early on and seem repetitive by the end of the album. For background listening it is preferrable to the disorganized noise and posing produced by the black metal underground, but one wonders if this is not like most art in the modern time good with technique/appearance but poor at confronting the inner world of meaning.

Order From Chaos “Dawn Bringer” (Shivadarshana Records, 1994)

At the nexus of several rising conceptual directions in underground music, Order From Chaos fuses them sublimely into a subconscious manipulation by music that remains stranded in the older generations of punk and metal by its refusal to integrate longer melodies; it is pure rhythmic pattern and song structure, a Wagnerian demonstration of a course of thought developed through the sensation represented by riffs that like scenes guide listeners through the acts of the drama. It is this theatrical sense that interrupts the verse-chorus spiralling of riffs layered with accompaniment of increasing intensity from drums and vocals and bass, with songs dropping to moments of presentation and equalization when forward action ceases and a quietude of sorts drops over the action. In this, like early Krieg, the music is an improvisational theatre acting out the raw id of human experience when that experience represents those brainy enough to see how modern society and its assumptions (order, legality, morality) are completely bankrupt, but it is a scream of protest and not, as is needed, a counter-construction. Thus while no piece of this is in error, the whole is discohesive and with a good augmentation could become far better; among Nationalist bands (it is fair to note allusions to nationalism on this record, with “Die Fahne Hoch” making an appearance on track two) Skrewdriver remains pre-eminent because they wrote melodic, expressive — while as cheesy, overblown and dramatic as those from the Ramones or the Sex Pistols — songs that gave people something to live for as much as a knowledge of what is lacking in our world. With luck in future albums, this band will approach structure with as much pure energy as they unleash here. Track fourteen (Golgotha) contains a riff tribute lifted from the nether moments of “Reign in Blood.”

Vordven “Woodland Passage” (CD, 2000)

Hearing this album is like running into Boston and screaming “The British are coming!” in 2006: completely irrelevant. A mixture of old Emperor and Graveland stylings, it is perfectly competent but by emulating the past, both fails to uphold that spirit and precludes itself from finding its own direction. We don’t need new styles; we don’t need “progress”; we do need music that has some idea of what it wants to communicate, and can make that experience meaningful. This sounds like retro or a coverband in that everything is bureaucratically plotted: after the keyboard interlude comes the pre-theme, then the main theme, then break for demonic scream and drum battery to drive it all home. Clearly better musicians than many of the original bands, Vordven are lesser artists and thus have less of interest to give us. It feels less dishonest to listen to Muzak versions of Metallica hits from the 1980s.

Warhorse “Warhorse” (CD, 2000)

Sounding like a hybrid between old Confessor and middle-period Motorhead, Warhorse is a rock band playing doom metal with a sensibility for both slow pumplike riffs over which vocals suddenly slow, causing a relative shift that makes the entire song seem to stand still, and the type of pick-up transitions and breakdowns for which both Motorhead and death metal bands are famous. In the sense of bands like Saint Vitus or Cathedral this band is intensely mated to the rock culture and its dramatic self identity, adding over it high pitched vocals that sound like a whisky-soaked Sigur Ros in an Alabama bar. For this reviewer it is a question of relevance: what does one need express in this style that would take a band beyond the level of background music for a local bar? However, among those who undertake this format, Warhorse keeps a sense of style and intensity, even if by appropriately keeping its horizons forshortened in the ambition department.

Revenge “Victory. Intolerance. Mastery.” (Osmose, 2004)

Although in fundamentally the same style as previous releases, the latest from Revenge improves upon it by simplifying the chaotic stew of impulses diverging into every conceivable direction, therefore achieving a greater coherence and thus listenability. That being said, the same problems that plague previous releases are here: distracting directionless percussion, riff salad, a tendency to deconstruct without a replacement ideal. However, by dropping all but the most necessary elements of their music, Revenge have come closer to making an expressive black metal album.

Ankrehg “Lands of War”

Oh, neat: someone hybridized Impaled Nazarene with Gorgoroth and made a band that balances between sawing punk riffs and trills of melodic scale fretruns. Having mastered that technique, this band was left neurotic and clueless as they attempted to find a direction; barring that, they settled on a generalized path and threw everything but the kitchen sink into it, creating songs that leap at every conceivable point of the compass but seize nothing. Their technique is to distract the listener with this constant stream of chaos and hope it is not noticed as irrelevant; with this reviewer, it was, and thus the listening session ended. Worse than shit, this is confusion masquerading as profundity.

Revenge “Triumph. Genocide. Antichrist.” (Osmose, 2003)

Whenever one is handed a piece of music or writing, it makes sense to ask, “What are the artistic aims of this work?” Art does not exist in a vacuum, much as conversation does not; there has to be some joy in it, something shared between listener and creator. Revenge is blasting drums that chase a pace with successive lapses and then catch-up intensifying speed, harsh harmonized vocals that surge overhead like rainbows of oil in floodwaters, and riffs of often high quality; like the first Krieg album however, it arrays these in an incoherent order which results in the stream of consciousness sensation without imparting greater wisdom of any form. As such, this album is a stepping back from what black metal achieved, which was an arch grace and continuity in expressing a meaning to darkness, and a descent into the disorganized deconstructionism that denotes modern grindcore (as if to underscore this, the drumming here is highly reminiscent of Derek Roddy’s work on Drogheda’s “Pogromist”). To communicate breakdown, one does not portray breakdown in its literal form, necessarily – here we see good raw material – powerful percussion, adroit riffcraft – converted into a melange of confusion by its lack of deliberation and planning. No single part of it has anything wrong with it. The whole is a death of ambition, of heroism, of tragedy and meaning.

Vinterland “Welcome My Last Chapter” (2003)

This band is like The Abyss a template of black metal technique recombined around the most fundamental songwriting techniques, but to that mixture it adds lifts from Gorgoroth and Sacramentum to make it a flowing but gracefully intricate and arcane metal style. Nothing here is bad and it listens well, but it manages less suspension of disbelief than The Abyss (first album; the second one is random riffs and screaming) because although its songs are well-written and flow expertly it is hard to find a statement to any of them; what are they about? They’re about being melodic black metal songs. Undoubtedly Vinterland is far better than almost all of what has been called “melodic black metal” since 1996, but it’s only because our standards have fallen that such a band is construed as good listening. Preferrable would be a simpler more honest band trying to communicate an experience rather than partake of membership; in this Vinterland and Deathspell Omega are similar in that while both are at the top of their genre in formal ability, neither captures the essence of this music because they are trying to be the music, not trying to be something that ultimately will express itself in music. Hoarse whispery Dimmu Borgir vocals dive and glide over sheeting melodic guitar riffs, replete with fast fretruns and descending arpeggiations; the band know when to break from meaty riffs into calming simplicity like a ship exiting rapids. Those familiar with black metal history will hear lifts from Ancient, Dimmu Borgir, Sacramentum, The Abyss, Satyricon and Sacramentum, as well as hints of At the Gates and later Emperor. It is not badly done, but that’s not the point: this CD never takes any direction but tries to use summarizes of past paths as a condensed variety show of black metal; while it is an enjoyable listen the first time, it does not hold up as these other bands have, as there is nothing to center all of this technique and its moments of beauty, creating the impression of a sequence of distractions instead of deliberate craftsmanship helping to reveal a secret beneath the skin.

Regredior “Forgotten Tears” (Shiver Records, 1995)

This band of highly talented musicians have created an album that is half excellence and half disaster by focusing too much on individual instruments, and thus failing to organize songs by composition instead of playing, have been forced to rely on stitching together disconnected pieces of music with two-part attention span grabbers: a repeated pattern to seize attention, and then a pause and an “unconventional” response to fulfil that expectation. If that is a desired compositional style, one wonders why this band did not simply make grunge music and derive actual profit from the endeavor? They mean well and play well — the acoustic instrumentals here are beautiful, many of the riffs top-notch in the slumberlike earthmoving simplicity of older Therion, and concepts for songs are great — but the final product is marred by its own showiness and awkward assimilation of different musical impulses. Squeals, offtime drum hits, dissonant guitar fills and rhythmic jolts do not move compelling music along; they advance by inches and drain away the energies that allow bands to make the world-redefining musical statements required for songs to be distinctive and expressive enough to be great. For those who like later Carcass, this band utilizes many of the same techniques and has similar technicality.

Sombrous “Transcending the Umbra” (CD, 2005)

Imagine Biosphere executed with the sensibilities of Dead Can Dance: the same implications of melody in sonic curve rising to full volume and then pulsing like a wave before disappearing to form a cycle, with songs arising from the piling of successive layers at offset rhythms on top of one another. It is slow, percussionless, delicate, and in part thanks to the heavy reverberations used, as melancholic as the echo of one’s lonely voice in an abandoned cellar. The more style-heavy music gets and the farther it gets from something that can be easily played on one or two acoustic instruments, paradoxically, the easier it gets to create once one has mastered aesthetic, and if this music has a weakness it is the tendency to use four-note melodies as the basis of a song and only occasionally complement them with others. Biosphere helpfully used found melodies and instrumentals of greater detail to do this; Sombrous could actually go further within their own aesthetic and layer keyboards as they have but give them more to play than rising or falling modal lines. It would also help to even further vary the voices/samples used here, as too many echoed stringplucks or keyboard throbs start to sound the same; sometimes, one slips too far into the mood generated and boredom sets in. Yet there is something undeniable here in both aesthetic and composition, in that unlike almost all “ambient” releases from the underground this has grace and a sense of purpose that unites these tracks into a distinct musical entity. It is not unwise to watch this band for future developments.

Emit/Vrolok “Split”

Emit is ambient soundscapes made from guitar noise, sampled instruments and silences; it is good to see this band branch out into a greater range and artistic inspiration, but they would do well to remember the listener should be both learning and enjoying the experience of listening: what differentiates art from philosophy is that art is made to be a sensual tunneling through knowledge, where philosophy is a description of knowledge. Vrolok is of the Krieg/Sacramentary Abolishment school of fast noisy guitars over drums that outrace themselves and then catch up with flying chaotic fills. Nothing is poorly executed, but this recording seems to be an artist’s impression of what his favorite bands would do; there are some nice touches like background drones and bent-string harmonics of a sickening nature, but to what end? If black metal has another generation it’s not going to be in retrofitting the past in form, but in resurrecting the past in content, even if all the aesthetics are (like with the early Norse bands) garbage Bathory/Hellhammer ripoffs.

Nightbringer “Rex Ex Ordine Throni”

This is a competent black metal release with a Darkthrone/Graveland hybrid melodic guitar playing style, kettledrum flying battery in the Sacramentary Abolishment canon, vocals like later Dimmu Borgir and composition that, like that of Satyricon, assembles all of the correct elements but does not understand melody intuitively enough to keep the illusion going. If this band delved more deeply into composition and had something to say, this CD would be one of the best of the year because its aesthetic formula is perfect, but its melodies go nowhere and barely match harmonic expectation between phrases, when they’re not outright symmetrical and blatantly obvious; in short, it falls apart when one goes deeper than skin-level. If an ambitious melodic thinker gets transplanted into this band or its members grow in that direction (a big leap), it will be a major contribution.

Polluted Inheritance “Ecocide” (CD, 1992)

This is one of those CDs that came very close and with a little more focus and depth of thought could have been a classic of the genre. It is death metal in a hybrid style that includes jaunty post-speed metal expectant rhythms, such that incomplete rhythmic patterns provide a continuity through our anticipation of the final beat established through contrast of offbeats as necessary, and sounds as a result somewhere between Exhorder and Malevolent creation, with verse riffs that resemble later work from Death. Songs operate by the application of layers of instrumentation or variation on known riff patterns in linear binary sequence, driven by verse/chorus riffs and generally double bridges that convey us from the song’s introduction to the meat of its dispute to a final state of clarity. Probably too bouncy for the underground, and too abrasive for the Pantera/Exhorder crowd, this CD is very logical and analytic to the point that it makes itself seem symmetrical and obvious. With luck this band will continue writing, and will offer more of the ragged edge of emotion or concept which could make this a first-class release.

The Tarantists “demo 2004” (CD, 2004)

From the far-off land of Iran comes a band with a new take on newer styles of metal. Incorporating influences from Metallica, progressive and jazz-influenced heavy metal, and some of the recent grunge-touched modern metal, the Tarantists render something true both to themselves and to metal as an ongoing musical culture. Prominent jazzy drums lead riffs that are not melodic in the “style” of constant melodic intervals popular with cheesy Sentenced-ripoff bands, but use melodic intervals at structural junctures in riffs that smoothly branch between phrasal death metal styled riffs and bouncy recursive heavy metal riffs. Over this lead guitar winds like a vine and favors the bittersweet sensation of melodies that decline in harmonic spacing until they trail off in melted tendrils of sound; riffing is most clearly influenced by the NWOBHM style hybridized with speed metal’s adept use of muffled and offtime strums to vary up what are otherwise harmonically static riffs. The Tarantists can achieve this melding of motion-oriented and pure rhythm riffing through their tendency to change song structure rapidly after having made their point, such that listening to this resembles going between different parts of a complex city, climbing stairs and finally entering a destination, then jumping back in the car for a manic deviation to another location. Highly listenable, this is impressive work for a demo band and represents a brighter future for metal than the kneejerk tedium of nu-metal or the repetition of past glories offered blankfacedly by the underground. It is unabashedly musical, and takes pride in interlocking melodic bass and lead guitar lines that exchange scale vocabularies as freely as rhythm. The only area that seems unresolved are the gruff Motorhead-style vocals, which might be either updated or discarded for pure singing, as there’s enough sonic distance within this work to support such a thing. The clearest influences here are Iron Maiden and Metallica, but a familiarity with recent metal of almost every genre is also audible. Of the recent demos sent this way, this is the one most likely to gain repeated listening because it focuses on music first and aesthetics second.

Beyond Agony “The Last of a Dying Breed” (CD, 2005)

Trying to mix the high-speed melodic riffing of black metal with the thunderous bassy trundle of mainstream death metal/nu-metal riffing, this band produce something that sounds like Acid Bath without the variation or singing, and resembles Pantera in its tendency to match riffs with clear poised expectant endphrases to rapped vocals and shuffle drumming. It’s a variation on a pattern seen many times before. It’s impossible to tell what kind of musical ability exists in these musicians because these riffs are rhythmic and aharmonic, since their melodic trills exist only to emphasize the E-chord noodling at the low end. Some Meshuggah fans might appreciate this, as might the hordes of people who think Slipknot and Disturbed are OK, but to an underground death metal fan there’s nothing here. These guys are clearly professional and have studied all of the other offerings in the field, and mixed in enough melody to distinguish themselves, and clearly these songs hold together better than your average nu-metal, but when one picks a dumbshit conception of music — which really, the entire Pantera/nu-metal genre is: music for morons to bounce around to while working off their frustration at having their democratic right to be spoiled and bratty constrained by reality — one limits oneself to making things that no matter how smart they get, have the dominant trait of being aimed at supporting and nurturing stupidity. I might even wax “open-minded” if I didn’t know that devolving metal into pure angry, pointless, rhythmic ranting has been the oldest tendency of the genre, and one that always leads it astray, because bands that do this have no way of distinguishing between each other except aesthetic flourishes and therefore end up establishing a competition on the basis of external factors and not composition. Some riffs approach moments of beauty but tend to come in highly symmetrical pairs which demand bouncy stop-start rhythms to put them into context. It’s all well-executed, but it’s standard nu-metal/late Pantera, with touches of Iron Maiden and Slayer. Should we care? Some of the celebrities who paid tribute to the late guitarist of Pantera/Damageplan noted that he had the ability to play well beyond the style which he’d chosen; it sounds like the same thing is evident here, and that seems to me a tragedy, because this style is so blockhead it absorbs all of the good put into it in its desire to provide a frustration condom for burnt-out suburban youth.

Fireaxe “Food for the Gods” (CD, 2005)

If you’ve ever wished that old-style heavy metal would be just a little less effete and self-obsessed, and take the literal attitude that hardcore punk had toward the world but give it that grand lyricism for which metal is famous, you might find a friend in Fireaxe. It’s low-tech, with basic production without the touches of tasty sound that make big studio albums so richly full, and it is often a shade short of where it needs to be in content – often repetitive or too basic in the logic that connects sections, as if it suffers from a surfeit of symmetry brought about by too much logical analysis – but it is what heavy metal could be if it grew up, somewhere between Mercyful Fate and Queensryche and Led Zeppelin, an epic style with a desire to be more of a kingshearth bard than a stadium ego-star. Brian Voth does the whole thing, using electronics for percussion and his trusty guitar, keyboards and voice to pull it off. His voice is thin like his guitar sound, and his solos are clearly well-plotted but do not let themselves go into chaos enough; his use of keyboards is reminiscent of a sparing take on Emperor. This 3-CD set is an attempted historiography of humanity and its religious symbolism, with a cynical outlook on such things as originally perhaps healthy ideas gone perverse and become manipulators. “On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense”? Perhaps, but this is earthier; in true heavy metal form, “Food for the Gods” delights in the literal manifestations of spacy otherworldly “truths.” Overall musical quality is high, and artistic quality is immaculate, but the CD is often designed less for the listener than to complete its thought cycle, and here it could use an edit; it is so analytical it is almost apoetic, and so literal it is almost a stab against symbolism itself (already in vogue for 90 years with the postmodernists, alas). My advice to Fireaxe would be to stop looking so deeply into causes and to start looking into spiritual solutions, e.g. to “sing” in the oldest sense of praising the beauty of life even in darkness, and lifting us up not into educated obligation but into ignorant but healthy spirits. Think of a bard singing by his cup of mead, looking for a way to console and encourage those who might on the morrow die in battlefields, all through the symbols, song and sense of ancient tales. This album could be cut to a single CD with proper editing gain some denseness and unpredictability it lacks; right now, although its patterns vary its delivery is of such an even mien that it is nearly predictable. The roots of excellent music are here, including Voth’s creative and playful leads, but need discipline into a more advanced and yet less progressive form for Fireaxe to have the full range of voice it requires. It is a welcome diversion from the insincere and manipulative stadium metal, and the guilelessly fatalistic underground music that shadows it (although it will not admit it), and while it waxes liberal in philosophy, does not go toward the eunuch extreme of emo; the heart is behind the music, and the flesh is competent, but somehow, the soul has not yet lifted its wings and flown, yet sits contemplating the right flightpath in radiant detail.

Gnostic “Splinters of Change” (5 song demo, 2005)

Upon hearing of the reemergence of pioneering Atheist drummer Steve Flynn, my curiousity was piqued immediately. I’d always appreciated his slippery brilliance behind the kit, forever giving the impression of struggling not to become caught in the tornado of bizarre rhythmic patterns he himself was creating. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that thirteen years between major recordings and immersion within the materialistic modern-day workplace had not dulled his creativity. In fact, his refreshingly brazen yet occultish approach to rhythmic structuralization is very reminiscent of his previous output, a fact which initially inspired hope. Further, Gnostic is composed of talented players. Former Atheist vocalist Kelly Shaefer produced the album. A concern nags silently: can this band escape the shadow of its predecessor?

As it turns out, no. The band has missed the fundamentally esoteric application of that theory which lends such timelessness to Atheist; say what you will about such a loaded term as “populist” being utilized in musical review, but this is merely music written to “sound good” from a quasi-prog perspective. The musical framework has each component part of the equation stepping all over every other part to prove that the instrumentalists are capable, losing the transcendence which Atheist channeled through their controlled chaoticism. Gnostic is all over the map structurally, with Flynn doing everything he can to hold the ship together at the seams. There is no message here, other than one-dimensional instrumentalism. We’ve already heard these same songs from the same bands for fifteen years now. It seems to this reviewer that this demo chalks yet another victory up to Redundant Mediocrity over Art. Consume, consume, consume. – blaphbee

Therion “A’arab Zaraq Lucid Dreaming” (Nuclear Blast, 1995)

It’s hell on metal bands who want to leave the underground. In trying to popularize their style, they usually kill whatever appeal it had, because those who enjoy their music have found truth somewhere in the alienation and whatever values the band managed to sustain under that assault. Further, the band usually confuse themselves, and end up prostrating themselves as whores, thus losing the respect of their fans. This CD is a collection of outtakes from Theli, a soundtrack and some Therion odds and ends that chronicle this band’s descent into commerciality and simultaneous rise in the esteem of metal fans as a whole. The first two tracks represent everything disgusting about trying to make popular neoclassical music, in that they focus first on making foot-stomping crowd-pleasing music, and adorn it with bits of classical allusion and the like, creating in the end a carnival of confusion. The next track, “Fly to the Rainbow,” is apparently a cover of an old Dio tune, which is amusing considering how similar it is to “The Way” from Therion’s epic second album. This is followed by one of the cheesiest Iron Maiden covers ever, with overdone vocals drowning out the subtlety of the original, and a Running Wild
song that comes across as blockheaded, but is less dramatically re-enacted, and therefore is more welcome. It sounds very much like punk hardcore with a metal chorus. Next is an off-the-cuff cover of “Symphony of the Dead,” from the second album as well, but its mix emphasizes the keyboards to the point where it becomes muzak. Good song, terrible version, and as fully meaningless as the Emperor keyboard-only Inno A Satana. The band have lost their grasp of what made their earlier material great, that it blended the raw and the beautiful, not that it standardized itself for radio airplay as this CD clearly does. All finesse is gone, all artistry, and what replaces it is the populist heavy metal mentality. There’s no class to this, or self-respect, and while any of its elements are quite powerful, the whole is tediously directionless. This syndrome blights the remaining Therion tracks on this CD, which then takes us to the soundtrack portions – these are actually promising. Like a synthesis between Dead Can Dance and Summoning, these are wandering keyboard background musics that maintain a mood and are kept in check by the need to be less disruptively attention-seeking. Although plenty of cliches and obvious figures work their way into this music, it’s clear that (were Swedes to control Hollywood) soundtracks are where the “new” Therion belong.

Aletheian “Dying Vine” (Hope Prevails, 2005)

This album demonstrates how if you mix great ingredients randomly, you end up with something disgusting. About half of the riffs on this album are excellent, and the sense of rhythm the band has is wonderful. But it’s garish, gaudy and overblown. Like a metalcore band, they mix riffs in a merry-go-round of directionless ideas, never actually stating anything. In this case the riffs are of the melodic Swedish death metal meets technical speed metal style, with influences from “modern metal” and showboat heavy metal. Any one part of this could be great, but it says nothing and thus ends up being random elements stitched together in a circus show of diverse and incompatible fragments of ideas. Some goofy modern touches, like synthesized voices, put nails in the coffin. There’s a lot to like here but the whole is not worth loving. My advice to these dudes: meditate and work on your band politics, because the raw material in this album if presented differently would be listenable, but right now it’s a technical mash that has no artistic or aesthetic statement.

Harkonin “Sermons of Anguish” (Harkonin, 2005)

The good news is that Harkonin have good concepts, write good riffs, and understand something of gradual mood shifts. The bad news is that they compress this process, remove the anticipation, and hammer it out in repetitive endurance tests that hide the actual talent of the members of this band. None of the elements are bad; in fact, they’re far above average, and the band has an aesthetic vision – the CD skirts metalcore but incorporates some of the newer urban and rock influences into metal – that outpaces most of their contemporaries. However, they need to find some inner calm, and let it out slowly, and discover the poetry of their own vision, as right now, this album is unrelenting violence that becomes perceived as a single unchanging texture because of its emotional disorganization. Luckily this experienced band has time to take some of their more intense moments of riffing and put them at the end of each song, then re-arrange the other riffs (and maybe develop them by another layer, meaning for each good riff, split out two complementary ones that can resolve into it, Suffocation style) to lead up to that point. If they do that, they will be on the path toward conveying meaning through their music – right now, what it conveys is abrasion, and too much of that will pass in the listener’s mind into a sense of unchanging mood.

Dug Pinnick “Emotional Animal” (Magna Carta, 2005)

Former King’s X member comes out with new album. Any guesses? It sounds like a heavier, groovier King’s X, which seems to be an attempt to make metal sound more like rock music. It’s jazzy and funky, and has some grunge-meets-prog metal riffing, but on the whole, the composition is the same stuff that gets played on the radio. Pinnick would do better applying his talents to something fully proggy like Gordian Knot.

Aphotic/Dusk “Split” (Cursed Productions, 2005)

Like most releases from Cursed Productions, this CD showcases regular guy songwriting enclosed in an unusual form. Aphotic is a fusion of soundtrack doom metal like My Dying Bride and Katatonia, fused with a progressive edge like that of Gordian Knot, creating a listenable package with plenty of depth to its instrumentation. Many of these riffs sound like something borrowed from a Graveland album, but on top of the basic guitar, flourishes of lead guitar and synthesized instruments accent the dominant theme, as does offbeat guitar playing with an emphasis on the internal rhythms for which metal is famous. Although these songs generate a great deal of atmosphere, and are at heart hook-laden and listenable to an extreme, they may be too sentimental for progressive rock fanatics and too straightforward for early 1990s black metal fans. An underpinning of old-fashioned foot-stomping heavy metal may make these popular in the contemporary metal audience, and if there’s any criticism here, it’s that this band could give their instrumentalism greater reign. Dusk, on the other hand, is a much clearer fusion of doom metal and classic heavy/power metal, with growling voices guiding bouncy riffs to their targets. It is proficient but on the whole not fully developed enough to either have its own voice or rise above metal cliche, but it is inoffensive listening especially for one who wouldn’t mind being locked in a room with Cathedral and Prong re-learning their formative material.

Odious Sanction “Three Song Demo” (2005)

These few cuts from the upcoming album “No Motivation to Live” feature the talents of Steve Shalaty, now drumming for Immolation, but that’s about the whole of their appeal. Much like his work in Deeds of Flesh, Shalaty’s percussion is ripe with a precision interplay between double bass and an ongoing breakdown of fills, but the music over it is numbingly empty of anything but relentless interrupted cadence rhythm. Somewhere between metalcore and deathgrind, it lacks most dimensions of harmony and any of melody, resulting in a whirring and battering mechanistic noise that offers little to the experienced listener.

Emit “A Sword of Death for the Prince” (2005)

The microgenre of blacknoise is what happens when one fuses the abrasive Beherit-style cacophonous assault of minimal black metal and the droning sonic collages of acts like Mz. 412 or Claustrum. Where this CD is excellent are the moments when being shockingly extreme and unlistenable are forgotten, and overlapping patterns of melodic or textural fragments knot the listener into moods of darkness and contemplation. Here, Emit has found an outlet for its style, as the guitar is liberated from rigid hardcore/black metal style riffing and can focus on the mournful and regal use of ambient, repetitive melody, hiding it amongst distorted voices and sampled aural experiences of modern life. The pretenses of black metal should be discarded, as this release has more in common with Tangerine Dream and Godflesh than anything else. If this reviewer has anything to suggest, it is that this band not hold itself back, but plunge forward in the direction it is exploring, and use its dense layers of sonorous noise-guitar and vocals to develop a sense of melody and composition, as that is the strength of both this band and non-instrumental music in general, and — well, nothing’s been “shocking” for some time.

P – The Larch Returns (Music Abuse, 2005)

As metal continues, like a snowball rolling over open ground it assimilates all that went before it and thrusts it forward in recombinations hoping to find another powerful aesthetic voice for the eternal metal spirit (which also picks up details, but rarely additions, to its sense of being). P is the side project of Alchemy member P and can be described as a black metal-informed death-doom band, with influences primarily in the Asphyx and Cianide camp with touches from Paradise Lost and Master. Its strengths are its booming, bassy, cinderblock-simple riffs that thunder through repetition in a trancelike resonance. Where many simple riffed bands can be irritating, these are sustaining. Songs move from one perspective to a final response to it without ado because the goal of this music is to carve tunnels of explosive sound through the rock face of silence, enacting mood more than drama. P needs to work on its rhythmic transitions and vocals, the former being stiff and the latter overacted; the local-band style of shout/rasp does nothing for a listener who might prefer to not be reminded of vocals at all should the question arise. Influence might also be gained by pacing riffs, especially introductory ones, differently to radically offset each other and effect a smoother convergence of forces. Three songs are of solid death/doom, and then there’s junk — an Aldo Nova cover that is unconvincing, a duet with a young girl that is amusing, and a comic song about baseball that dilutes the mood — but this is followed by a final instrumental that is beautiful like an unfocused eye, being a careless-sounding collection of sounds so natural that it is both unnoticed and profound in its emotional impact. Should this band ever decide to take a direction and master it, they will be a potent force in the death/doom field.

Alchemy – Alchemy (Alchemy, 2004)

Reminiscent of Abyssic Hate and Xasthur and I Shalt Become, Alchemy creates Burzum-styled ambient drone in a song format that seems inspired by Dark Funeral more than anything else. It is elegant and embraces the listener but beyond getting into said mood, goes nowhere: it is not directionless but each song is monodirectional to the point it might not be said to be a narrative or even statement as much as observant glimpse. If this band wishes to go to the next level, it needs to divide the formative material of each song into two parts, and layer the first one for 2/3 of the song until an apex, at which point it can switch into the conclusion for the last third and be more effective and satisfying to a listener. Far from incompetent, it is best viewed as something in transition.

One Liners

Toil – Demo I

Slick in ability and appearance but boring as rocks except for the enlightening, faithful, identical cover of Graveland’s “Thurisaz.”

Cannibal Corpse – Kill

A formula continuing the tradition of getting more like rap music and Six Feet Under, so is basically like every other Cannibal Corpse album. That alone is reason to avoid it, unless you like music designed to coordinate the head motions of retarded children being electrocuted.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 11-07-08

AC/DC – Black Ice: This has to be my pick of this batch. It lacks any pretense toward being anything but what it is, which is high octane rock music with a diverse set of influences on its lead guitar and total mastery of rhythm and songwriting. Each of these songs rolls off the mind as if buttered, lingering just long enough, composed to fit pentatonic scales but not in a brainless way. Melodies are mostly of the guitar nature because of the ashen-voice monotone in which they are mostly sung. The throbbing bass drives them, drumming keeps a pocket moving, and the rhythm riffs are inventive and topped by guitar that is more like a singing voice than fireworks, although it’s technically advanced. There’s a bit too much of three chord and turnaround songwriting formula for this to really endure in any meaningful sense, but for a band to be in the world this long and still so consistently listenable is impressive. No song will fully insult your intelligence although each will put it on hold, especially if you try to listen to the drunken babble that is the lyrics. AC/DC has gotten more Led Zeppelin over the years, with a few lifts here and there, and continues to incorporate a gnarly blues influence that reminds me of Eric Clapton working with punchier rhythms. Still, hard work shows in how well these pieces fit together like finely planed wood, and how each song keeps its mood with power and lacks any fat and confusion. There are not as many truly distinctive moments as there were on say, Back in Black, but none of these songs fade into the woodwork entirely either. Even if we pre-postmodern metalheads may not dig the motivations, one has to respect the craft at work here.

Disfear – Live the Storm: Motorhead with a D-beat and metalcore choruses and breakdowns, aspiring to the kind of melodic songwriting that made both Led Zeppelin and U2 household favorites. Unfortunately, the technique used reduce this to blurring noise interrupted by hookish choruses. Gone is the energetic punk of the past and now this band is falling into the worst habit of any act, which is to try to pander to your audience and so to incorporate enough of what has worked for others to drown out whatever might work for you. Vocals are underutilized, because this vocalist is clearly capable of some range and melody, but he’s afraid to open up and be sensitive in a meaningful way so we get the omnidirectional, pointless, nullifying Pantera-style rage. Musically this is derivative; artistically it is as hollow as corporate advertising. “Soul Scars” is a masterpiece. “Live the Storm” is a pretentious wannabe. Avoid.

Kataklysm – Prevail: this is pure chant cadence, repetition ad nauseam, with some death metal/hardcore hybrid riffs. Composition is stronger than most metalcore, but it’s also much simpler, which allows them to work out a couple really good riff patterns in interaction and then have the rest be something so repetitive it would even make Phil Anselmo nod off. It reminds me of Deicide’s “Once Upon the Cross” but even more sing-song, in a riot chorus kind of way. It’s not bad but I couldn’t listen to this. It’s like hearing someone each day come home from work and tell you exactly what went wrong, every single detail. First the copier was busted. Then I had to get paper from upstairs. Then I took a dump and it hurt. There were no sandwiches at lunch. It’s like a complaint anthem that pounds your head until you basically submit to apathy with a smile. same creepy mix of melodic and heavy chugging that alternates like linkin park between acoustic and distorted; really fucking basic.

Cynic – Traced in Air: When death metal was born, people said that death metal was incompetent musicianship and crass subject matter. The second generation of death metal, led by Pestilence and Atheist, tried to disprove that with technical music that incorporated the influences of progressive rock, jazz and classical. Since that time, progressive metal has become a big hit with people who want to think they’re musically educated. Most of it leans toward the jazz side, because this requires less of an ability to plan into the future and make a unique structure; you add a jam session to metal, which is easy and fun, so musicians love it and fans have something to be pompous about. “Traced in Air” plays into the worst of this tendency. Cynic has genericized themselves by pandering to an audience they know drools more over technicality than songwriting, and so have taken their technique from focus, mixed it up with generic jazz-prog-death, and have overplayed every single aspect of it so the CD is literally dripping with “prog moments” — but like a stew, the more stuff you toss in, the less distinctive the flavor is. We now have generic jazz prog-metal, complete with cliches. Drums are ridiculously overplayed; subtlety is dead, but you’ll spot that technique even if you’re dumb as a lichen. These musicians seem less interested in writing metal than in playing jazz under the guise of metal. You can hear the conversation now: “They went nuts over the last album, and now the market is finally huge! Let’s make it big with this next album, just make it jazzier and stuff it full of hot licks and drum fills.” I think people will listen to this for six weeks, then six months later be unsure when they stopped listening to it and why, yet not want to pick it up again. What a disappointment.

Speirling – The Piper: This reminds me of Ulver crossed with Satyricon with huge elements of a bombastic heavy metal doom metal hybrid like The Obsessed. Broad superstructure riffs crash into each other, recharging from their difference in conflict, and then drain to the ocean through a nice linear atmospheric riff. Repeat x 7. If you got into metal music so that you could find a way to dress up rock music as something rebellious, like a Priest in tranny French maid prostitute outfits, then this is great. Otherwise, why bother.

Apollyon Sun – Sub: Tom G. Warrior of Celtic Frost does Nine Inch Nails with an EBM/Industrial record that lets vocals guide its developments, which is a shame when contrasted to the power of industrial without a vocal lead, like Beherit’s Electric Doom Synthesis or Scorn’s “Evanescence.” As Warrior prepares to move past Celtic Frost and its triumphant return with Monotheist, his past work — this CD came out in 2000 — shows us much of where he might move. It’s much more rock, gothic and sleaze than Celtic Frost, more sardonic in melody, and the faster riff style is more triumphant and powerful. Above all else, it is catchy and follows modified pop and techno song structures, which means it’s both easy to remember and has a few surprises here and there. The vinegar vocals are less than listenable but not as terrible as much of Nine Inch Nails.

The Funeral Pyre – Wounds: Someone tries to resurrect classic At the Gates, but mixes in a little too much The Haunted. Melodic riffs reconnoiter after driving pure rhythm, a lot like Slaughter Lord, and the melodic riffs have more in common with “Slaughter of the Soul” or Niden Div 187 than early At the Gates. This gets a solid alright, especially for the periodic later Gorgoroth technique, but the melodies are too basic to really go anywhere. Lyrics sound like Dead Infection crossed with Neurosis, with DRI in the wings. It’s salady enough to be modern death/black, a/k/a metalcore. like The Abyss hybridized with Slaughter of the Soul, like Watain but better, still a lot of the indie/metalcore influence which makes it kind of simplistic.

Bilskirnir – Hyperborea: This is a very clever EP. Hybridize the Infernum style Iron Maiden/Graveland mix with the more Burzumy black metal clones, and you have something that sounds OK and bounces a long a lot like indie rock, not particularly distinguished unless the image, words or scene-significance gives you a reason to like it. If this is your first black metal, you will dig it, especially since it is very heavy metal. But over time, you will wonder why you bother.

Demonizer – Triumphator: So class, what’s black/death? Answer: when we run out of ideas, make speed metal and dress it up as black/death hybrid. I don’t see the point. Just make your Slayer/Metal Church tribute band and tell everyone you play fast because you love meth. This is like a simpler version of Sweden’s Merciless or Triumphator, with fast chromatic riffs leading into melodic chorus riffs. It’s pretty well done, actually, but in a style that makes even retarded kids bored after a few minutes. Clap your flippers and bob your heads.

Scott Kelly – The Wake: This Neurosis member also wants to make an acoustic album, and makes an intriguing one — is this a reference to Finnegans Wake, or just a wake? Because it sounds like one. Droning acoustic songs are blocky like hardcore, without much change or dynamic, but they plod on until they ingratiate themselves and have a primitive sincerity to them. The sensation is like the stunned moment after an impact when you’re not sure if your bones hurt or if the air around you is doing the hurting, and you just feel it. It will be interesting to see where he develops this style.

Devourment – 1.3.8: It’s hard not to like this at first because it is so relentlessly hookish in the weird way death metal bands lure you in with a cadence, and then make expectation of its fulfillment an ongoing necessary event in order to make sense of the otherwise overwhelming barrage of noise. Devourment switch between slow and chugging riffs and blasting mayhem religiously, downshifting with “breakdowns,” or deconstruction of a tempo by using internal attributes of a drum pattern to play off one another and slow it down, and upshifting with leaps in tempo that build up like a walk up stairs carrying a heavy automatic weapon. Much of it resembles the work of Suffocation, Malevolent Creation, Deicide, Deeds of Flesh and others who have worked within the percussive model of death metal, which inherits the palm-muted technique of speed metal and adds density of complexity. Here complexity and variation are necessary for this music to have staying power; its production is awful and tinny, and its songwriting is very similar between songs, which creates an onslaught of monolithic sound that few listeners will distinguish over time. Varying the technique and types of tempo changes would greatly improve this otherwise engaging, satisfyingly destructive band.

Agent Orange – Living in Darkness: Dug this out of the classics closet and have to say I like it. It’s melodic vocal punk like the Descendents, lots of bouncy stop-rhythms to guitar riffs and wandering, emo-style vocals that manage enough melody to keep themselves going. Would I listen to this stuff over Kraftwerk? No, but like the Descendents, the Minutemen, etc. it’s a part of the heritage of this music, and it’s a billion times better than punk now.

Diapsiquir – Virus S.T.N.: Say, what if Deathspell Omega were a lot simpler and incorporated the collage-of-garbage sound approach that WAR used? And maybe if they used lots of bouncy riffs and harmonized vocals? This sounds like a metal dog that has been kicked in the ribs singing how beautiful its death would be. Every clique and novelty possible has been employed to keep you from seeing that this band and this album slap themselves with limp wrists, gurgle and poo themselves.

Gridlink – Amber Gray: Containing ex-Discordance Axis personnel, this band aims to continue the fast-fingered assault of riffs that fit together like Tetris pieces and create a whole that, while like hardcore and grindcore is predictable in song structure, delivers the thrills with raw speed and dynamic phrase change like sigils flashing by in a mirror. Luckily this band has the wisdom to keep its work simple and to focus on what it does well, which is blasting slightly melodic versions of classic riffs. What I like about it is that it recalls the power violence and crossover music of the past which wanted to saturate us in insane energy as a motivic force, and with this CD, it works. Clocking in at 11 minutes it is nonetheless a full-length, albeit one that passes before you can recognize it. This CD has much more spirit than other CDs and while it claims to be grindcore, that’s grindcore like later Napalm Death with lots of metal influences in the formation of riffs and very punk song structures, except more jagged in this case which makes it tastier.

Shape of Despair – Shades Of…: Let’s make a Burzum clone but shape it into a doom band a lot like Skepticism, except even more entrenched in the vestiges of heavy metal? We’ll add a twist: play a rhythm lead, very simple, on a keyboard over the strobing riffs sound it sounds like a movie soundtrack to the proles. Fully competent, this band goes nowhere that Paradise Lost didn’t, and not only is less catchy, but depends on boring you into a stupor with Burzum-cum-Pelican drone technique that leaves most of us hoping to flatulate in harmony for variation. The most annoying parts are the rock rhythm, based on expectation like jazz or funk, so very bouncy and reliant upon us to care whether the returning rhythm catches the outgoing one. In fact, there are many good techniques throughout, but it’s basically verse-chorus music — with the simpleminded catchiness of a lullabye — that occasionally goes into extended overtime.

Equilibrium – Sagas: This album is simultaneously one of the better things I’ve heard this year, and one of the most completely ludicrous things I’ve heard. It vamps like a polka, bouncing with keyboards and guitars hitting together just before the beat, giving it a carnival atmosphere. Plenty of quality guitar work and overactive but competent keyboards, and songs with nice but very rock-ish two part melodic development, and hoarse death metal style vocals come together in a stew of confusion that has however very tasty bits. For strict songwriting assessment, this band is on par with later Iron Maiden and makes good songs. Aesthetically… if anyone heard me listening to this, I’d die of shame.

Soulfly – Conquer: This CD is Spinoza Ray Prozak musical hell. Every terrible idea in metal, recycled into a smoothly-written but directionless series of songs, has been offered up here in very loud production with a very angrily clueless vocalist. This is worse than shit. Feces at least decomposes in silence. Soulfly offer up generic Meshuggah/Pantera angry bounce-riffing, where any single impact is doubled so you expect its syncopated response, and the band hopes the catchy vocal ranting and bounce will lead you to care what happens next. It is battering, not heavy. It is a mile wide and an inch deep, with production that clearly cost a ton of money. I thought the whole idea of being revolutionaries was to be DIY and have the truth on your side. This album is propaganda for (a) Cavalera’s politics and (b) a vapid distillation of speed metal, death metal and punk hardcore into the most generic form of pointless angry music you can imagine. I use this CD to drive rats out of the attic but only the smarter rats leave.

Fullmoon – United Aryan Evil: While I generally detest neo-Nazi bands on principle, just like I refuse to listen to boilerplate leftist propaganda like The Dead Kennedys, looking for good metal these days means you run into bands who interpret the Romanticist Nationalism inherent to all good black metal as a narrow political ideal. It’s not much different than how punk bands translate being against mechanistic society into braindead liberalism. It’s hard to hate this band, but equally hard to listen again. They make paint-by-the-numbers melodic droning NSBM, and then interrupt it with slower melodic transitions, but the repetition waxes painful and the technique is a clearly lifted hybrid of Darkthrone, Graveland and Burzum. It reminds me of music for children, except that this tries to sound as deliberately blown out as possible, which with the tools available at this point is an obvious contrivance like Ulver’s “Nattens Madrigal.” When your best riffs sound like Burzum classics with one or two notes changed, something else must be done.

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diSEMBOWELMENT – Transcendence into the Peripheral

diSEMBOWELMENT – Transcendence into the Peripheral
Review by Alexis

While the doom metal genre during the early ’90s in general followed the melodic style of bands like Candlemass, Australian Disembowelment pushed the genre forward by concentrating its topics into esoteric territory, in an attempt to re-discover the abstract language behind metal. Traditionally seen as one of the main innovators of the death/doom crossover, this band fused grindcore influences with the technical patterns of death metal, distilled in epic-long compositions.

Transcendence into the Peripheral from 1993 is their only full-length album and marks the height of the band’s career. The first compositions roughly follow a sonata form, with melodic introductions accentuating the main theme, long passages of structural improvisation, and ending with a repetition of the introductory theme, sometimes fading into technical percussive patterns, hailing its death metal language roots.

Often pending between fast paced moments and longer, intricate passages where the symphonic and droning riffs melt in with the cathedral-like sound production, this band adopts the staggering, epic phrases of Black Sabbath, discarding melody in favour of a rhythmic-harmonic aesthetic. This gives the music its spiritual, ritualistic aesthetic, setting this band apart from most other doom metal bands at the time. The droning sound of the bass and guitars, melting with the drums that pound like gigantic timbales for a funeral ceremony, invokes a sound picture of huge reverb, letting each sound slowly die away like space dust in the universe.

The second half of the album somewhat loses the sonata intention and instead builds up 9+ minute improvisational compositions, where the structural changes in the music require full attention from the listener. Not dissimilar from a mental ritual, the language of Disembowelment is both hopelessly beautiful and heroically assertive, expressing in both content and form the Sumerian concept of the tree of life and death, stretching from the ocean of eternal truth (Abzu) to the divine heaven (Anu).

Although lacking in the department of melodic development, and despite a compositional coherence that could have tied the intricate riff salads together into more central harmony from the lead guitarist, Transcendence into the Peripheral stands apart from the rest of the metal clones to date through its direction into the abstract foundation of metal language. Macabre, stylistic, technical and emotionally heavy, this is a musical manual into personal development–and during its heights, transcendence beyond the mundane world of humans.

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Sadistic Record Reviews, 9-26-08

We got slowed up by the hurricane a bit, because when the power’s gone and the water’s gone, there’s not much to do except kick back and play acoustic grindcore. But now that we’re back online, here are this week’s Sadistic Record Reviews, reaming the latest batch.

Metallica – Death Magnetic

We live in a world of hype. We were told this CD would be a return to Metallica’s older form, something I oppose (why re-do the past? people want authenticity, and ripping yourself off is not it). What you get instead is a highly advanced form of pander. They sort of do the older style, by dropping to a muffled E5 chord, but that occurs between verses and choruses of their new alternative-metal-grunge-country style. There are surface attempts at extremity (squealy, shreddy leads from kirk, a few pick-ups and breakdowns) but they know their audience, and anticipate that they’re thinking slowly, so it has the pace of a heavy metal record with a few brutal downstrums. The problem with such transparency in a CD it’s that it’s obvious to the pand that they’re pandering, and so they make half-hearted attempts which mock good talent, notably in writing melodies that harmonize well between leads and rhythm guitar. If you find yourself enjoying this album, check over your shoulder, because surely an anal rapist is what’s making you smile. As with all things Metallica since 1987, the melodies are well-written but the songs are confused and go basically nowhere, so you end up with a catchy chorus in your head and then a muddle as you try to figure out where that great clarity from their first album went. Avoid this turd of a CD. You will hear it for two weeks before you figure out what a farce it is, and then out of shame, will continue to pretend to like it, just like you did with those neo-homoerotic Pantera CDs a few years back.

Lustmord – [OTHER]

It takes one person in a room full of people to stand up and ask the question that shows the emperor’s new clothes, unravels the ball of yarn, sends the walls tumbling down, etc. In this case, I have to ask: does anyone listen to noise music except as backdrop? Some noise, like K.K. Null or Maeror Tri, has enough musicality to suffice, but other bands, like Lustmord, Lull and Final, who most resemble each other, are droning passages to nowhere built on the dubious concept of “layers” whereby different sounds are stopped and started at different times, creating a perception of ongoing revelation without really going anywhere. I mean, Final for example had some great material, if you were alone in a silent place listening for a very linear progression from rough sound to the origins of melody, but even that was somewhat one-dimensional. Lull was fun to put on shuffle and put fans up to guessing which track was which, a task they always failed. Lustmord is another neat experiment that will be bought mostly for its novelty value. Atmospheric noise, some wind noise, a few hilarious crashes and thuds, then a guitar gently strumming the same three notes, all zooming and panning through a sonic space that seems designed more to distract us long enough to complete than to bring revelations. I know they work hard on this, and try to take it seriously, and I can see that in the end product, but I think that like postmodern literature, it’s time to admit that noise as music had a few good basic concepts, but is an evolutionary dead end.

Auspicium – A Basilica of Black Stars

The introduction to this piece of later black metalwork takes after the Graveland “The Celtic Winter” introduction to the Gates of the Kingdom of Darkness, and then the demo launches onward into fast-strummed but slow-paced black metal with vocals cast upward like cats crying to an empty sky. Think of I Shalt Become and Xasthur in a feeding frenzy on the corpse of Burzum and you have the general idea, and this demo is comparable in quality to the better stuff Xasthur has put out. However, like most bands emulating the Burzum style, there is a lot of riding the drone and the harmony, and not enough dynamic change that makes enough oddball sense to inject meaning into each piece, meaning that we’ve got the metal wallpaper effect that reduces it to a soundtrack for any given thirty seconds of a mournful part of a forgotten Norwegian TV show. “Saltborne” launches this CD with a variation on the riff from Unleashed “Shadows in the Deep,” but slow and fibrously ethereal in the way that distorted guitar can be made by those who want atmosphere. This song barely changes riff cluster (Unleashed-drone riff, dissonant counterpoint, and reversal) and does some “Det Som Engang Var” styled layering, with Ancient-esque Tangerine Dream-inspired lead guitars layered over it, toward the end as it is about to fade out, making it quite linear. “The Crane” has Swans-y drunk on a rainy day chanted vocals, but goes similarly nowhere. Something indicates a Black Funeral influence to this track. The final song doesn’t massively deviate from the formulae enumerated above. Better than average / not enough that others will radically notice / we know you know how to write black metal, but what do you have to say with it?

Behexen – My Soul for His Glory

This sounds like Sodom around the time of M-16 put their brains around writing a black metal album, combining the uptempo Burzum moments with the plodding rhythms of Darkthrone, yet keeping the surging riffs and pumping syncopation of later Sodom. The first song does its take on the Burzum rhythm from “Det Som Engang Var,” complete with the dissonant harmony toward the second half of the song, but it goes nowhere we the adventurous want to go. Instead, it returns its energy to a loop from which it cannot escape. Where this album really shines is in the riff judo department, where it keeps up high energy like Angelcorpse and Merciless in a cage match. They should really stick to this and leave the black metalisms to others, because here, they don’t particularly complement the music. This band should just go retro-speed/death and call it a day. Like most things in life that are good but not good enough to search out, this album’s about a B and will amuse the upper quadrile of human intelligences for up to a week. These songs start with riffs that would make anyone want to fight but then drop into Abyssic Hate styled three-note Burzum-ish dirges, and then trail off. They are competent at fast three-chord rippers, and derivative with everything else. I would like to like this. But it would be hard to see it as having any permanence, even if it is a competent continuance of technique.

Cancer Bats – Hail Destroyer

Throw Hatebreed, Pantera and Motley Crue into a think tank and have them come up with an album to motivate street snipers to resistance, and it would sound roughly like the Cancer Bats. It’s catchy, and chorusy, but just where you think it might get stupid some structural variation bursts forth with enough power to surprise you. One of its better innovations is what I’m calling the chorus majora, which is where a verse/chorus structure expands into another type of chorus, one that restates all its principles in a harmony of disharmony. Vocals sound like metalcore stalwarts Meshuggah or The Haunted, but there’s more punk in the rhythms and riff structures, which makes it less of a battering ram preventing you from even thinking about the music playing. It probably will not fit a metal audience since riffs are too close to known archetypes, but might please fans of Superjoint Ritual or later Cathedral.

Helms Alee – Night Terror

As the new gold rush for the music industry, superseding hip-hop which was our last hope to escape the stale hipster repetition of freaky new same old from rock music, post-rock is a new age and yet still undefined enough that people can have fun playing with it. Unlike too many other bands to count, Helms Alee have not forgotten that “to play” music means “to play,” and they have created here a fun hybrid of Maudlin of the Well, King Crimson and older Filter, something that rocks and then breaks into pure chaos, through which it finds a non-linear path to resume its linear rockin’ along. Insouciant female vocals, buttermilk in a warm tinged with a yet unrealized sourness of outlook, waft through the music like dancers dodging night porters in speakeasies. Chaotic, deconstructed, it tries to leave us behind, but then comes back like a boomerang, needing to be heard even in its total secession from reality. This CD has an obsession with strategically placed silences and elision-as-transition which sometimes reminds me of 90s aggro-pop bands like Joydrop or Medicine. I liked this, even if it isn’t my style of regular listening, and if only postmodern prog rockers will really “get it” enough to get the logo tattooed on their flesh. It’s probably the best of this batch, living up to its starkly artistic cover.

Elite – We Own the Mountains

Very reminiscent of later Darkthrone, around the Total Death era, or perhaps some of the middle-period Gorgoroth and Ancient material, this CD attempts fast black metal with an explicitly melodic but not rockish outlook, and achieves that fairly well for a solid but not exceptional album. Variations on riff patterns from many years of underground metal appear here, used to great effect alongside droning bass, in a high-speed attack like a black metal version of Centurian or a melodic version of Angelcorpse. It is basic; it is not profound; it is compellingly rhythmic; it is better than most doing this style. What is solid here is the tendency to write in the old school style of verse/chorus interrupted by interludes and transitions, and its ability to maintain speed and energy throughout without becoming redundant anger like some of the past bands attempting this aesthetic. Like many early Swedish melodic bands, Elite develop a simple theme early in the song and repeat it with layers until the song ends, which gives the song a certainty that other styles lack, but also locks this CD in one dimensionality.

A Storm of Light – And We Wept the Black Ocean Within

So if later Corrosion of Conformity and Skepticism were traveling to a gig together, and got thrown into a Vulcan mind-meld, this might be what it would sound like. Droning but artsy, it is Pelican as informed by underground theatrical metal from Therion through Agalloch, more indie than metal but just when you think it is going to veer into R.E.M. territory, it surges back with a metallic power in the conflict between its riffs. Like Skepticism, A Storm of Light know how to set a scene with keyboards and guitars intermeshing as a fuzz which finds harmony only in its most disassembled soundwaves, but like more modern bands they are able to bring their audience to a core handful of rhythms and riff shapes that are repeated despite interruptions. Like Neuraxis, this is a break from the worst of the *-core (metalcore, deathcore, mathcore) in that it aims for continuity — even if glaringly simplistic — where others try to keep the chaos in motion as a way of, like riot bullhorns shouting slogans, suspending our ability to think and judge while we nod our heads. This CD will appeal to post-rockers and indie metallers most but shows a better understanding of metal than most of these Only A Sentence Is Enough type band name bands.

Diocletian – Decimator

It’s a good season for Thergothon- and Skepticism-inspired doom, probably spurred on by Sunn-goatse who took those and Winter as inspiration, and Diocletian mixes that into death/black of a NYDM-inspired variety. This trudges. It drones. It holds chords and then returns to its original impetus. Then it explodes into racing high-hat blasting mayhem with undertones of melody. It does this again and again, with jazz-like drum commentary in the background. It adds death metal passages and hints of black metal in the chording of its faster complements. There is some promise in the tendency to use bass to provide countertheme, and in its ability to manipulate tempo, but the whole enchilada is not yet ready. Its sense of tempo is reminiscent of Incantation, and its songwriting, of Emperor, but it frequently falls into a rapidly devolving mess. Clearly thought has gone into this work, for which I’m grateful, but it needs more development and more clarity for it to have a personality, a character, as makes classic albums distinctive.

sBach – sBach

Some will call this post-rock, I’ll call it postmodern rock or postmodern hard pop. Using sounds collaged from daily life, including video games and telephones and machine noise, sBach make quirky and playful pop that has a metal/hardcore sensibility in how it handles dynamic change. Warning: many of these sounds are irritating, annoying, even, and like a good postmodern novel, it’s a chore to get through, but every bite is packed with inventiveness and a sense of ludic absurdity that enjoys mocking the seriousness that shakes its fist at it from the sidelines of rock’n’roll pretense.

US Christmas – eat the low dogs

What is post-rock? It’s rapidly becoming rock, and in the meantime, there are bands trying to stake a place in the hybridsphere. If you ask this reviewer, post-rock is ambient rock music, with the drums set back and the standard pop format put on hold; it’s like what emo should have been but got sidetracked into buttery self-pity instead. US Christmas takes a straightforward approach informed by indie-alternative in the 1990s style, mixing at atmospheric Pelican-styled drone with Burzumish lush harmonization and Iggy Pop-styled naked whipper vocals. There is not enough dynamic change for metalheads, but a good use of harmony that calls to mind Agalloch or Kyuss, and Motorheadish rhythms that just about anyone can enjoy. Like all post-rock, it blends in a good deal of acoustic and instrumental breakdowns, which is one way this rises above the hordes of post-rock that are arguably just upgraded *-core bands with more drone and emo vocals. Sometimes this reminds me of the second and third Danzig albums, attempting to write an epic song that anyone can toe-tap to, but there’s a good deal of atmospheric lead guitar noodling that reminds me of the second Carbonized album or the later tracks from the Repo Man soundtrack. This CD is as much alternative as post-rock, but in doing so, it presents one way for post-rock to get out of the *-core ghetto which keeps it from developing any harmonic structure of interest.

Withered – Folie Circulaire

This band takes the current state of underground metal, gives it proficient riffing and the kind of musical knowledge one gets from studying songwriting, and just about gets away with a very subtle indie influence underneath the kind of underground classic study that can only come from those who love it. Reminiscent of a slower, more musical Fallen Christ, this band throws in the riffs and stops short of making a true salad of them, preferring to return to melodic chord progressions for choruses and to round out their music with instrumental flourish. It holds together well, but does not in the contrast between steps reveal enough in negative space to convey an idea in the underground style, making me think these guys should take the Acid Bath or Superjoint Ritual path and write rock songs with metal riffs, as that lends itself more to their harmonic style. Although it would be more repetitive and less densely riff’d, the album would end up being a triumph because this style of riff is still terrifying to that audience. In the meantime, this technical death/black metal is enjoyable, highly competent, and while nothing new unpainful to listen to unlike the recent raft of new stuff from the “true underground” camp.

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