Helwetti – Unholy Extreme Black (1999)

Released in 1999, Unholy Extreme Black is the second of two demos released by the transitory Finnish black metal project Helwetti. Here, Helwetti provides richness through depth in the reach of its rather brief material by making constrained technique malleable to the natural requirements of a flow aimed at bringing in new ideas in a coherent yet always evolving stream. The secret of the elite, almost non-existent underground to producing rare minimalist music of such sublety is a rather bestial and ritualistique effort fueled by dark spiritual ideas founded on enacted reclusiveness. Within this darkness embraced, the true artist manages to bring a powerful invocation of infernal —lower-world, unconscious to the uninitiated— forces in a way that most of the later, allegedly more mature, projects have never reached by a long. The racing melodies of Helwetti’s music in traditional black metal dissonances arranged through percussive changes, opportune breaks and vocal overlays raise its minimalist expression to the best that could possibly be achieved while remaining so simple. The vocals on this recording are an incredible delight to listen to as they express a nuanced wealth of emotions, within this limited framework as the rest of the instruments, greatly adding to the overall atmosphere. The necro sound resulting from the tampering with the original sound gives it a veiled that is certainly not a detriment to the sound of the instruments. Thereby, the clarity of the instruments is not only maintained throughout, but it actually attenuates distractions typical to the metal genre, allowing the merit of the musical arrangements to come to the foreground.

In the matter of technique, guitars do not go beyond softly strummed power chords, not quite fast downstrokes and “tremolo picking” on one string. The bass serves as a proper low frequency holder that does not get in the way but noticeably reinforces the texture of the music. Drums vary between laid back, standard rock patterns in duple time, sometimes with triplet feels, that go on smooth crescendos of double-bass runs; these patterns are then alternated with “d-beats” at different speeds, depending on the location within the pieces. These are all very standard and quite basic techniques, but what raises this demo in musical, rather than technical quality, is arrangement of the parts. Logic is not enough, but a sense of naturality must be expressed that can only be correctly represented by the use of intuition. Black metal in general prides itself in placing intuition before mere logic or the debasing —often clownish and overbearing— technique flaunting of death metal. However, intuition depends entirely on an inwardly developed or innately inherited talent of the individual that is not produced by the application of logic. Also, under close inspection, music resulting from the application of logic (structure-oriented death metal, for instance) is quite different from music prominently steeped in the application of intuition (like the best of black metal). Which means that a lot is outside the normally conscious, calculable control of the individual composing. It is just in this trap that the elitism of black metal lies.

Within the seemingly narrow constraints of raw black metal, we can appreciate how Helwetti creates a rich variety of fluxions which overflow one into the next. Without leaving any question regarding the soundness of their transformations, adjacent patterns are related by transitions that flow smoothly as water downstream. More interestingly, the four different pieces in this demo act as movements within one work. Arguably, many underground demos were compounded in this way. And without there necessarily being a conscious intent in relating it to the classical tradition, the effect is somewhat similar when a release of the stature of Unholy Extreme Black manages to present variety of texture and theme within a coherent and consistent style, bringing interrelated pieces together further under an hidden phantasm grasped by the artist’s senses. It is in communion with “Satan,” “satans,” or “dead things,” and in their consistent, focused sensations thereof, that the black metal musician brings a stream of riffs directed at channeling patterns which vibrate with what is perceived in altered states. The extent to which such a communion is attained, and perhaps the authenticity or the quality of the experience, is what makes the results vary —not to mention actual musical talent. This is precisely the “ritual” to which many a wordless black metal acolytes (For who is truly an adept in this inherently left-handed path?) refer when attempting to describe what this music is as opposed to other kinds of “music” that are aimed at entertainment or technical exercise or narcissistic indulgence.

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Liana Saif The Arabic Influences on Early Modern Occult Philosophy (2015)

The present book explores different mystical and metaphysical ideas related to astrology and magic that fall under a philosophical framework that assigns the living cosmos a hierarchical order of influences that make the mechanics of the cosmos possible. The works studied here are chosen for their inherent worth, but here also for their influence over the developments in Western Occult Philosophy of the Medieval and Renaissance periods. They are termed ‘Arabic’ by virtue of the language the authors wrote the works in, although some of these authors were not themselves Arabs at all. Furthermore, Liana Saif strikes a very insightful balance in that she strives to truly understand this tradition of occult thought from the inside out, as a coherent system of thought from its own vantage point and not in relation to later philosophies.

It must be highlighted that the Arabic treatises explored in this book are of a ‘rational’ character, even if treating of magic and astrology. As Alfred Ayer —who would nonetheless be against notions of magic, said regarding systems of thought— explained in Language, Truth and Logic about philosophy and metaphysis: the only requirement for them to be valid is coherence. From then on, the connection that a system of thought has to ‘reality’ has to do with how its accuracy is gauged, and so how it is applied to achieve any kind of results. In the case of these Arabic influences, “knowledge of resemblances, analogies and sympathies,” played the role of mechanistic causality in these system, even though the system was treated as a living organism in which forces —dynamis, according to Georg Luck— are spirits with volition in a graded hierarchy of beings of descending intellectual power and self-awareness.

Astrology is said to be first of all dependent on a knowledge of astromony. But whereas astronomy attempts only a mathematical calculation of the movements of the heavens, astrology seeks to find causal relations between said movements and the states of beings on our ‘sublunar’ plane (basically, the planet Earth). To this end, many a creative rule of resemblance, sympathy and anipathy is applied, but with the ultimate end of finding a sense, not of feeding superstition. If the conjured explanation is unable to provide a satisfying unifying pattern of ideas with the actual manifest movements, then it is invalid. Furthermore, and most obviously, if within the parameters of the worldview no actual predictions or results are achieved from any presumed astrological knowledge or magical working, these are not supposed to be valid either. It is in this sense that astrology and magic are treated rationally, from its own chosen metaphysical premises.

Liana Saif tells us that explanations based on “causality,” even those that are now deemed “scientific,” do not in any way invalidate interpretations of a spiritual or semiological kind. In this regard, Carl Jung has stressed that human reality lies within phantasia, and neither in the purely physical nor the mental. What this means is that we percieve and act in a world that comes together between the two, and which phantasia eventually follows its own rules and patterns independent yet fed by the upper and lower worlds of the physical and the mental, correspondingly. And so, if a consistency of signs and meanings is achieved from an observation of nature in relation to the human mind and its ability to perceive details, then the efficacy of magic has thereby been attested.

The book itself is pleasant to read in many respects, not least of which is the fluid prose which, while academic in tone, is not bogged down by a lack of style or attention to clarity. What makes the present work powerful and congruent in that respect is that the author uses all modern advantages of systems and knowledge in the service of better understanding and explaining the worldviews and metaphysical propositions of these medieval Arabic thinkers on occult philosophy. It is exciting and fulfulling to read Liana Saif move seemlessly into the mentality of medieval occult thought with full attention and in an apparent “inner comprehension,” even as if she held a stake in this alternate “world,” only to then slide out and provide respectful commentary in the light of modern academic research.

“…the natural way of doing this is to start from the things which are more knowable and clear to us and proceed towards those which are clear and more knowable by nature.”

—Aristotle, Physics

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Old Wainds / Навь (Nav’) – We Are the North… Mean Cold War… (2003)

The early phenomenon of Old Wainds played an extremely condensed and straightforward style of black metal that represented the ultimate distillation of what the genre had to offer as a sequence of meaningful flows based on guitar riffs that form aggressively articulated phrases the pressure of which is carefully regulated. The project was a great exception to the reliable rule that says, from experience, that black metal (or metal music in general) from Slavic countries has nothing to offer musically. More often than not, what is called “slavic black metal” is anything but, and in the best of cases falls into what has been misleadingly and ironically called “flowing black metal” to describe a pointless, melodic meandering rock music that lacks significant changes in pacing and texture, and so never is never able to produce the necessary dynamics of tension and release. Alas, Old Wainds plays the exalted and unassuming post-1995 black metal form first seen in the condensed masterpiece of Uranium 235, crushing the heads of the genre as a whole, dividing the line between mundane scenester fanboys and solitary black mystics.

Навь (Nav’) was Old Wainds’ twin project, in which at least one of the band members differed. Musically, what distinguished the two was a the attempted emphasis of Nav’ on more fluid tendencies and softer contours, even if ever so slightly in comparison to Old Wainds. Nav’s distinct aim is arrived at in their first full-length, Чертоги смерти (2004), which basically was a pleasant but weak exposition of the melodic component already present in the best of Old Wainds’ music. While Old Wainds from the beginning has a very narrow style, in the sense of being impressively mature and well-formed, rather than incapacitatingly rigid, Nav’ expresses the riffing and melodic avenues that are left over from the former, but which still fall within this aggressive, dark music.

In time, both projects fell out of grace by their own hand, in a rather telling way that perhaps reveals who the artistic luminary was in both groups. While Kull only participates in the Nav’ demo that is reproduced in this split, along with the second Old Wainds demo, he participates in Old Wainds in every release until Oбжигающий холодныйScalding Coldness— (2005), a comparatively weakened but still recognizable expression of the project founded on proper black metal riff-flurry. After Kull leaves Old Wainds, the music changes drastically in to a completely uninspired imitation of itself, a sign that the departing element in the team was the author of the significant phrases at the center of the music. This is also true of Nav’, whose best work is found in their 1998 demo Гимн холодному безмолвию, reproduced in this split, and which sees the only apparition of Kull in the project.

Furthermore, after their first full length, Where the Snows are Never Gone (1997) —and with the exception of this split which uses material from the second demo from 1999— Old Wainds’ songwriting was suffering from debilitating notions ever since their second full-length album. We sense a lost grasp or connection to the powerful pulse that created a maelstrom around an inward-looking conversation between the riffs, which can only be described as a vortex of encircling energy. The energy in a void whence arises this power is said inner dialogue of the music, that can only be achieved by two necessary elements: the first is that each section must have a clear and significant fluxion [1] expressed; and the second, consequent of the first, is that these fluxions must achieve a certain dynamic flow in between each other. The interaction between the individual fluxions is most excellently demonstrated in Old Wainds’ debut, and consists in the sense achieved by the parts arranged in sequence, first of all, but also in how they match simultaneously. They who grasp the meaning of this lexic contradiction, but that is not a contradiction in the phenomenon described, may have a first key to unlocking the more effective value of this black metal to the more superfluous acts considered de rigueur.

Notes

[1] http://www.deathmetal.org/article/black-fluxions/

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Sabbat – Envenom (1991)

Sabbat are a cult Japanese band known for primarily for being Japanese and playing a heavily Venom influenced style of Heavy metal that sometimes crosses over to real black metal though rarely and for the briefest of periods. This record is actually more known for the exotic origins of its creators rather than the actual quality presented here. Replacing the seriousness of other similar bands with a certain rock and roll cheese and tongue in cheek lyrics that ultimately pull this band behind the rest.

Sabbat have a terrible habit of wearing their influences on their sleeves with far too much pride. “Satan Bless you” has a main motif particular similar to Venom’s “Black Metal” and all of the speed metal parts can be attributed to the English Sabbat. “Evil Nation” is so reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s “2 minutes to midnight” that you can easily sing the verse parts on top of it and there would be almost no difference as the chord progression, rhythm and techniques are practically identical. Carcassvoice steals the first two passages of Mayhem’s “Deathcrush” and only slightly changes the rhythm and added to this package is a hilarious imitation of Maniac’s high pitch rasp. Though these are the most obvious acts of plagiarism, the entirety of the album is drenched in déja-vu and this refrains the album from reaching the same level as their Norwegian and Brazilian peers.

Arrangements tend to be in the classic pop style except for some brilliant moments of over the top soloing and the inclusion of speed metal breakdowns. Though some tracks experiment with the stop and start mechanics from Motorhead’s Overkill (1979) but ultimately fail as the individual parts function in solitude but do not combine as a whole and we are treated to separate songs encapsulated within a single track. There is nothing to be found of the narrative Death and Black metal structures here as this album is firmly rooted in Heavy metal.

The note selection stays within the usual combination of the natural minor scale and the minor pentatonic except when the band allows themselves forays into fully developed black metal territory as seen on track “King of Hell” which has a long droning sequence with a lot of chromaticism that contrasts most of this record but then on closer inspection this feels more like a reject on Bathory’s The Return (1985). The drums hint towards more developed black metal at times as they play a martial techno beat here and there without fills but this record is exceedingly behind what was going during that time period. The best part of the entire record are the solos and how are they given the kind of space and freedom suited for the more commercial strands of metal. The solos first and foremost obey the whims of the accompanying riffs and seek to amplify what they convey with the use of a large repertoire taking from the most famous relevant shredders. The compositions do have their charm in how they use the energetic approach of their heroes to create uplifting and fun music but ultimately play on shock rock tropes like main influence Venom.

The best composition here is the instrumental “Dead March” which takes a simple Judas Priest like motif and advances it forward with perfect control of mood as the motif twists and turns and the interactions between it and the second guitar that either harmonizes in conventional thirds or plays some contrapuntal melodies. The song conveys perfectly a march of the dead and escapes the pop structure through the reuse of certain passages and a complete lack of chorus. A fantastic bridge between the Heavy metal of the past and the Black metal of the future as it takes those elements and applies it in ways that the Norwegian bands would then apply on darker melodies.

Envenom shows a band going through multiple periods as this album was released seven years after the band initially formed and shows this progression from NWOBHM worship to Mayhem’s Deathcrush unfortunately this record shows the timeline of the genre but fails to do anything with it nor add a unique twist to it. Envenom remains a fun record but lacks any transcendent quality that separates it from some of the more forward-thinking acts in the genre and probably because there seems to be not a single ounce of influence from what was going in the Death metal or a willful ignorance to the innovations brought over. An easy listening album to bring over neophytes but for the experienced listener this is enjoyable for a few listens with a beer or two but has nothing else to offer.

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Decieverion – Decieverion (2002)

D E C I E V E R I O N

Decieverion

2002 Era Horrificus

Decieverion start out making what can precisely be described as dark metal, an amalgam of death, black and heavy metal techniques underpinned by extreme metal vocals which can be of a variety of kinds. The purpose of this music is first and foremost to take the listener through sights both bleak and destructive, but also moving and pensive. To this end, dark metal, and so Decieverion, adopt a variety of techniques which, while not disparate or incongruous, make it hard for the critic to place them within one style or genre. Unlimited by such restrictions, the music wanders around seemlessly without great contrasts being perceived as outright offensive. On the downside, the lack of stylistic focus gives this music an altogether weak voice, even if execution is enjoyable and profficient. Incumbered by the liberties and confusion of dark metal, Decieverion tread a middle path that allows for the transmission of varied emotionality at the expense of clarity and elaboration towards depth. A final valuation of the present work reveals that the greatest treasure to be found here is one of countless things to say subsumed under a same aura and personality.

Dark metal moves, as its name directly implies, towards themes “of darkness.” In short towards the less pleasant, the less visited, but no less crucial aspects of our lives and minds that are often neglected but which are more decisive to human experience than the parts that are “positive” or “nice,” —human delusions not withstanding. Furthermore, dark metal as a whole tends towards personal sensations of frustration or desperation, rather than the painting of mythological outlooks. In this there is the advantage of being able to raise a sign that says “I have seen and I have lived.” The disadvantage is that in taking up the space and time to represent this subjective, changing and capricious individuality, the comprehensible link that would make the music self-evident through structures and style to others becomes blurred and debilitated. Instead, it is the bleeding emotionality that seeps through the cracks that impressionistically transmits a holistic image that can only be captured by intuition. Furthermore, the commonplace nature of the expressions used ensures that it is the intuition of a human unencumbered by layers of abstractions and “artistic” demands that finds the emotional clarity found herein as the Decieverion’s most important asset.

Decieverion then moves between passages that hint at black metal, at death metal and at so-called doom metal, in a way that many would interpret as a that of an undefined underground metal. But being these stylistic differentiations within an ultimately united genre, a prudent mind can fuse them together without the slightest hint of incongruity. Sufficiently intelligible complexity is achieved by smoothing out the textures of adjacent sections, and using contrasts in this texture as narrative markers, rather than as tools of shock, which would have destroyed the music’s credibility. The rightful complaint to be made is not so much that the styles are mismatching, because they are taken back to the power chord, as well as the multi-purpose percussion style that is founded upon the rock-based extremisms of underground metal. As such, and in order to attain stylistic variety, Decieverion errs on the side of more mainstream genres. To summarize, Decieverion let themselves be understood by choosing the more comprehensible popular aspects of metal, as far as they go, while developing a narrative by extending songs that connect sections through a proper minding of texture and by protecting the integrity of tonality.

If music is to be ultimately interpreted as an art of communicating what words cannot describe, then the art of Decieverion is accomplished at that of the transmission of experience-based insight from individual to individual. While other works leave great impressions of great art, they are ultimately impersonal and lacking immediate relevance to the majority that behold them in awe.

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Serpent ov Old – Withering Hope (2012)

S E R P E N T  O V  O L D

Withering Hope

2012 Era Horrificus

It is the way of things that genres arise from culture and philosophy, as well as from personal interpretions of that culture and philosophy. In the case of metal, we see its subgenres and styles mingling in different ways to different degrees of acceptance and satisfaction by audience, artists and critics. In the case of Serpent ov Old, this has taken the form of an amalgamation of black metal and power metal, which has surprisingly and graciously bypassed the technicisms of death metal. And while there is word of power metal taking up death metal techniques into its repertoire, the mainstay of power metal has never executed this transition. The truth of the matter is that the melodicity and emphasis on comprehensible chord progressions of power metal has more to gain from the elegant emphasis on melodies-made-flows that the best of black metal has mastered inwardly. At the same time, Serpent ov Old makes music that stands primarily as evocative music elevated above discussions on techniques or style, even if the techniques and ways of expression have been clearly adopted from the sources mentioned above.

Serpent ov Old builds music by stating themes in the fashion of power metal, while balancing —purging— the saccharine effects by the application of black metal underpinnings in percussion, vocalization and guitar strumming. What we can hear is a music dominated by harmonic movement across which significantly active melodic lines move. Tension is built and released and then recaptured by both the melodic-harmonic interplay of lessons learned from black metal here, and those adopted from power metal there. Furthermore, the textural effects of the percussion and how these affect impulse, constriction and relaxation are taken primarily from black metal. The band makes this work by connecting power metal and black metal techniques to their common speed metal foundations, meaning that in many of the cases, the approach of the central riffing and percussion could fall into a nebulous area which both genres share in mature forms of speed metal, although this ambivalence is usually resolved towards black metal. As a whole, power metal is used as a bombastic paintbrush that allows Serpent ov Old to magnify the usually understated dramatism of black metal.

All this has to be accomplished tastefully, and we never find a reliance on trope or techniques: compositions are driven by the central, “invisible” essence of motion and contrast, and fluctuations of power and direction, by and for which the instrumentation exists. The “shredding” abilities of the guitarists in this work are used much in the same way that Trey Azagthoth’s atonal noise solos ripped through old Morbid Angel songs: as hyeroglyphs rather than as pretentious elaborations. These are to be taken as impressionist impressions, and should not be confused as baroque virtuosic displays, for such scale-based quasi noise shreds lack the self-sufficiency of the proper baroque solo instrument that we would hear in a work for viola da gamba by Marin Marais, for instance. And as one listens to the music more and more closely, subsequent spins allow the listener to perceive these relations properly, allowing them to see where the backbone is located, and how the peaks and valleys are formed by the creators of this landscape of poetic rashness.

The music of Serpent ov Old is fierce romantic dramatism akin to powerful forces of nature that destroy yet also create. By adopting and moderating the extroverted expression of power metal and delicately subsuming it under black metal, Serpent ov Old makes the music genres escape the narcissistic trap and makes them serve a transcendent expression of inner experience. Furthermore, this profound experience, if authentic, is one of darkness and anguish; but which darkness and anguish, if contronted and assimilated unto individuation, can presumably lead to the creation of a new type of being. However, the music is still limited by this personal flavor, which still tends to be merely inward looking, but not yet deep enough that a new space is opened up through the self as a gate. We may say that this is ultimately a question of personal experience, reflection and individual meaning. But ultimately, as music, it must be able to develop the ability to somehow come up with an aural language that can communicate a general intimation of what is presenced from beyond.

Note: We might yet see Withering Hope released under the banner of Deathwave Nexion.

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Ghayat al-Hakim: Book I, Chapter One

The Ghayat al-Hakim, “The Goal of the Wise,” was originally written in Arabic around the year 1000 C.E. and made famous throughout Europe by its Latin translation titled Picatrix. The importance of the text is paramount to those who would inquire into the true roots of not only modern occultism of the European lineage, but even of Western mysticism (and hence also theology) as a whole —if the esoteric roots of propagandistic exotericism are sought. While most English editions are based on the different Latin texts, there is an edition presumably translated directly from the original Arabic by Hashem Atallah and edited by William Kiesel. This latter is precisely the edition to which we will be making reference in this brief, amateur reccount of what is presented in the first chapter of Book I.

The first chapter of the Ghayat al-Hakim is an essay dealing concisely and to the point with the subject of knowledge originating in wisdom. All wisdom starts by recognizing the One Being, from whom everything else takes their “truth” and their properties, yet It is not limited by any set of properties nor does It derive Its truth from anywhere else. Wisdom appears to be directly granted by Allah, and which particular conception of wisdom appears to be defined as an insight into the abstract workings of reality. From wisdom stems the ability to obtain knowledge through different kinds of disciplines, also referred to as “arts of wisdom.” The essay ends by stating how philosophers, those seeking knowledge, develop themes with subjects and predicates, and by the use of informational statements that are either true or false.

Of the One Being it is said not only that everything else derives essence, reality and identity from It, as in the emanations that later Jewish and Christian mystics would derive, but also that It is “all-knowing” of these things. More precisely, the One Being is all-knowing of the different ranks of all beings. That there are those who come first and who themselves have no cause, have effects under them. That there are those in the middle who have causes and effects. And finally, that there are the last, who are the end of the chain, having causes but no effects. Interestingly, it is said that these ranks are not fixed, but that the last in this hierarchy of beings may ascend until they reach the first. The ranks serve the mechanics of emanation, by the first being able to understand how order is imparted, and then this understanding moving downwards until all of manifestation accepts it.

Of wisdom it is said that it has three subjective characteristics. The first is that it “grows and never vanishes.” The second that “it chastises and disciplines.” And lastly, that “it will not approach anyone who is not interested in it.” Simple words, and mayhaps a bit quaint, but they are as an open book to read for those who want to gain a basic yet heartfelt understanding of how to start to think about things. To seek wisdom, “is an obligation, as well as a virtue.” From here, knowledge only comes as a conclusion from work inspired or motivated by wisdom, which is itself obtained only as grace from the Allah, to whom all things are subject. We can therefore extrapolate that it is inspiration as fuel of the will comes from an holistic awareness of a reality in which we are contained, and into which we only gain insight by the adoption of a higher view, and an openess to the numinous. That it is clearly stated that Allah is also able to visit ruin upon any one It wishes, is quite clearly the sinisterly in this un-stated, and only apparent dichotomy.

“I have only created djinn and men so that they may serve me.”

“And not I have created the djinn and the mankind except that they worship Me.”

—Sura 51, verse 56

Knowledge is consequently obtained through the previously mentioned arts of wisdom. These arts are said to be religious, natural, theological or logical and analytical. The arts are obviously philosophical in character, but they are not only different lines of inquiry, but rather different “methods.” The religious art includes not only “revelation” (what can be glimpsed from scripture), but the practice of asceticism, and the study of jurisprudence, and hence of proper human behavior, relations and ethics. The natural art includes observations of the celestial (astronomy and astrology?), the world and the universe. The latter classification revealingly includes the study of evil as part of the natural art. It is interesting that what is here called the theological art is not confounded, as the Christians do to this day, with philosophy proper itself, and is rather abscribed to the “knowledge of the self and Creator”—perhaps what we today would consider Jungian psychology. Finally, and apparently as a fourth level of concrete understanding, comes the logical and the analytical, through which clear and unequivocal statements and derivations are made in the development of ideas.

Thus comes to an end the first chapter of Book I of the Ghayat al-Hakim, The Goal of the Wise.

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Capharnaum – Reality Only Fantasized (1997)

Capharnaum were a short-lived “tech-death” band hailing from Connecticut but then after the release moved to Florida in the dying of the Floridian movement in an attempt to gain recognition for what is a technical Death metal album that genuinely has musical quality beyond mere feats of virtuosity. Influences range from bands like Monstrosity, Death and Iron Maiden with various Jazz techniques inserted. Though this formula has led to an infinitely long list of terrible tech Death bands, Capharnaum avoid these shortcomings by implementing these techniques within a genuine Death metal context and a true passion for genre not halted by technical acumen.
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The Craft of Metal #2: Abominations of Desolation

Abominations of Desolation (1986) appeared during the fertile years of death metal as the first full-length release from Morbid Angel but was relegated to demo status during the period when the band became more well known. All the songs except “Demon Seed” were re-recorded on later releases.

The true first Morbid Angel album reveals the genetic material that the band would then expand for the next three releases during what would be their musical prime. It shows the band at their peak from a compositional point of view owing in part to the combination of Azagthoth’s and Browning’s genuine belief in the Necronomicon and the focus on making their music the soundtrack to their beliefs.

The incredibly diverse riffcraft shows the band absorbing influences principally from Hellhamer, Angel Witch, Slayer and Mercyful Fate. Unlike their influences, the band plays fully developed death metal with long tremolo picked passages, single picked notes, fast alternate picked open strings playing against moving power chord progressions, even playing with other diatonic chords from time to time and combining the whole in a varied amount of ways depending on the needs of the songs. Notably absent is the influence of speed metal which would appear on the more streamlined Altars of Madness (1989). None of the bounce nor the rhythmic interplay of their contemporaries is in evidence here; the band does not accentuate the offbeats nor do they use the choppy syncopation of their more well-known peers.

From the heavy metal that was so influential to this record Morbid Angel brought the device of guitar solos, not as an ornament or an embellishment, but as a central piece within the composition that works closely with the rhythm guitars playing underneath. Here is a band with a limited number of technical tools derived from previous bands but combined in a large variety of ways that sets the standard for all of death metal and allows the band to create much more powerful melodies that can be interconnected in maze like arrangements.

Contrary to popular belief Morbid Angel never attempted to create atonal music as they obviously do enjoy smashing one note or power chord and then making the whole sequence invert the relationship formerly established. However, on a much subtler note Trey Azagthoth does have the ability to play with tonality in the most twisted of ways. Take for example “Chapel of Ghouls” and how the low chugging has a particular power to it and never sounds like the chugging between riffs from any speed metal derived band. That is because the chugging note is not the actual root note of the song but what is referred to as the subtonic. This is the last note in the natural minor scale and demonstrates a lack of desire to lead into the root note of the scale. Rather than a rhythmic embellishment, we are treated to an integral note in the many motifs of “Chapel of Ghouls” and how the band managed to truly convey power and occultist ideology through simple yet effective musical choices.

Chromaticism at this point in time had already been a widespread technique but Morbid Angel decided to apply their own twist on it. Rather than create fully chromatic passages the songs are derived from the minor scale and its variations but with added streams of three or four chromatic bursts. This really did obscure the tonality of certain passages, and gave birth to the myth that Morbid Angel played atonal music to make the band seem much more intellectual where in reality the young band did even better than that: they adapted tonality for their own style and to this day very few bands have been able to emulate these techniques efficiently.

The arrangements here push the riff as being above all else. Multiple melodies form these songs that flow in such a fluid manner that this would inspire the Norwegian scene in their compositional choices. The melodies vary in tempo and in note selection yet the transitions never sound forced as the band will lengthen the note duration when speeding up and shorten the note duration when slowing down. This allows for these motifs to mutate without being held back by rhythm. The influence of Mozart is subtle but is ever present in the way the band designs the arrangement of each song. At first each song has a primary melody that either begins the composition or is introduced by a motif of minor importance. A development then occurs either through a new riff that either takes the previous motif and transforms it or through an entirely new riff accompanied with a tempo change to push the tension even further along. Eventually the music arrives at an apex where all the tension is released before it concludes on the main motif that has now become a revelation.

Let us look at “Angel of Disease,” which has a simple heavy metal motif in D# minor without any chromatic notes. It is then warped to a slower riff that is barely in D# minor but has been deformed entirely by surrounding chromatic notes and this continues the momentum of the main motif as the cycle repeats one more time before branching out into a palm muted stream of single notes working in opposition with the secondary motif leading us to the grand climax of the song. The solos Azagthoth performs obey the underlying riffs and, through a combination of insane melodies that are at times atonal whole tone jumps or some very unique arpeggios like the diminished seventh which is an endless stream of minor thirds, create some very unique sounds. The solos through their madness show a strong logic where they reinforce the arrangements either by providing the climax or by creating even more tension upon the chromatic segments.

Abominations of Desolation takes the underground metal that evolving at the same time and use it to make the first truly mature death metal record. Surprisingly the heavy metal of the past is still very present in this band though it remains a device for the creation of the more consonant motifs, yet one can only wonder what the avenue explored by the only song to not appear on future records “Demon Seed.” The extravagant heavy metal didn’t seem to be in accordance with the band’s future works but what we have here is a Judas Priest style composition that plays with its dual identity, and it would take a few years before the European bands would develop this style further.

Where the influence of future country singer David Vincent would push Morbid Angel to explore grindcore and speed metal whilst taking influence from this album, Mike Browning was able to channel the band toward creating a powerful piece of art that is still to this day not fully understood and that neither musician has been able to recreate. There are far too many elements in this album to effectively analyze in such small an article as this is, but it reveals the power held by the common beliefs of two above average individuals, as well as reveals the magic that happened in that incredibly short period time only to disappear back to the depths of hell.

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Putrid Offal – Premature Necropsy (split w/ Exulceration) (1991)

At its most direct and well-calibrated, grindcore is a viciously effective medium for both emotional and corporal catharsis. But, as is often the case with experiential intensity, those equally delightful and terrifying moments seldom endure and will at best leave us grappling with a sensation of unresolved clarity. Whether or not this observation resonates with the reader, it may well be applied as an analogy for the grindcore phenomenon at large. Once a fortuitous offspring of hardcore punk and primordial death metal, early grindcore managed to tap into the deeper recesses of human discontent and paranoia and somehow channel this raw force into musical form. However, it didn’t take long before this short burst of essentially intuitive creativity gave in to rationalization and before anyone had realized it: game over.

The main point in case here would be Carcass. As have been previously chronicled on these pages, early Carcass lifted grindcore out of its self-inflicted musical and ideological circumscriptions with their debut Reek of Putrefaction (1988) —somewhat ironically, given its crude nature and presentation— before embarking on a steady slope into insignificance as the band got caught up with making music to please audiences. Since then, a veritable substyle has been founded upon Carcass’ earliest works reaching up to their third LP. Not surprisingly, the artistic results have been chiefly meagre because most successors have focused on mimicking style rather than the essential qualities of the music. Consider this in parallel to the poignantly limited musical palette of grindcore and a scenario takes form where novelty rather than substance is rewarded; because in a field where everything sound practically identical on the surface, the easiest way to gain notoriety is through aesthetic manipulation. Consequently, discovering worthy material quickly turns into a struggle of Sisyphosian proportions, as it requires extensive and often in-depth digging.

Unanimously forgotten by the metal world at large, Putrid Offal’s 1991 split LP with Exulceration comes across as a seemingly indistinctive affair at first glance. However, a deeper acquaintance with the material reveals this to be one of the more rewarding non-canonical works within the genre. Putrid Offal comfortably operates within a style somewhere between the first and second Carcass album if played with the intense rigidity of an early Napalm Death. Where the band excels is in a conjoinment of Reek of Putrefaction’s playful and frequently destabilizing nature with the more cogent and death metal-oriented riff sequencing witnessed on Symphonies of Sickness (1989). Riffs strive to expand beyond the simple chromatic patterns that has become a staple among grindcore acts. This allows the band not only to apply greater textural nuance to phrases, but also an opportunity to string riffs into sequences that defy binary modes of communication. While intensity remains as main focus throughout the playing time, both structure and riffology implies an undercurrent darker than what is usually expected of such a direct form of music.

Setting aside aspirations of petty “uniqueness”, Putrid Offal ironically enough belongs to the infinitesimal cadre of bands who’ve managed to expand upon the Carcass legacy.

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