Dawn to re-issue entire back catalog through Century Media in 2014

dawn-slaughtersun_crown_of_the_triarchy

Swedish black/death metal outfit Dawn returned from the chaos of the 2000s a year ago and have been steadily moving toward releasing new material since. In support of this, the band will be re-issuing its entire discography through Century Media in 2014.

Formed in 1990, Dawn migrated from the death metal of their early demos into a more complex, melodic, epic and atmospheric style of black/death metal that culminated in Slaughtersun – Crown Of The Triarchy in (1998). Along with Dissection, Unanimated, Eucharist and Sacramentum, Dawn created a hybrid of melodic metal styles that expressed Iron Maiden-style harmony and melodic within the more rigorous rhythmic format of underground death metal.

During the first half of 2014, Dawn‘s back catalog will finally be made available again on CD and — for the first time ever — on vinyl. Carefully re-mastered by Dan Swanö, who also mastered Sacramentum and Fleshcrawl classics, these re-issues feature re-developed artwork done with full cooperation with the band.

Look for these releases in 2014:

  • (title TBA) Demos 1991-1993 on CD/LP
  • Nær Sólen Gar Niþer For Evogher (1994) on CD/LP
  • Sorgh På Svarte Vingar Fløgh (1996) on MCD/MLP
  • Slaughtersun – Crown Of The Triarchy (1998) on CD/2LP

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7_q_F9ubwE

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Apocryfal – Aberration of Mind

apocryfal-aberration_of_mindThis new band synthesizes faster death metal with the mid-tempo pacing of classic Swedish death metal. That method gives their songs a grind effect which, combined with the rhythm and melodic hooks to their chorus riffs, create the power of heavy metal balladry within simple death metal.

Aberration of Mind is a solid EP which gives a glimpse of where this band is headed. Apocryfal generally make a good synthesis of this although at times when they are unsure of how to proceed they fall back on bouncy heavy metal downstrum riffs, which at this point sound not only dated but incongruous. However the majority of their riffs would fit on a later Vader or Fleshcrawl album.

Strong vocals understate their own case but let the guitars carry the day, and percussion shadows guitars as well. Moderate technicality avoids both showing off and shortcuts. If they develop this another level and stay old school it could allow them to create an interesting album in the future.

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Exhumed kick off North American tour with release of Necrocracy

exhumed-necrocracyExhumed, the band that combined up-beat Swedish death like later Fleshcrawl with the crepitant grind of Carcass but gave it the bounce of more punk-oriented grindcore bands, has returned from the dead and unleashed Necrocracy, an infectiously catchy but hard-hitting slab of recreational grind that should keep listeners in motion.

Following an early career of more grind-influenced music, the band began to see the possibilities in more energetic and listenable ventures, and so began to mix enthusiastic heavy metal into the grind and then blur the grindcore technique with a fair amount of death metal. Like many revival movements, this aims to put a modern superstructure into the aesthetics of the past.

Necrocracy represents the kind of thrill that came with later Ministry albums. Speed, excess and unflagging energy combined to make a record that could both motivate you to drive 120 mph down a lonely road, or socialize with friends while shouting lyrics about masticating corpses. The band kicks off a US tour this October.

EXHUMED w/ Dying Fetus

10/04/ Mojo 13 Wilmington, DE
10/05/ The Soapbox Wilmington, NC
10/06/ Back Booth Orlando, FL
10/07/ The Orpheum Tampa, FL
10/09/ Fitzgerald’s Houston, TX
10/10/ Red 7 Austin, TX
10/11/ Trees Dallas, TX
10/12/ Chameleon Room Oklahoma City, OK
10/13/ Warehouse 21 Santa Fe, NM
10/14/ Rocky Point Tempe, AZ
10/15/ Observatory Santa Ana, CA
10/16/ The Whisky W. Hollywood, CA
10/17/ DNA Lounge San Francisco, CA
10/18/ Branx Portland, OR
10/19/ Studio Seven Seattle, WA
10/20/ Rickshaw Theater Vancouver, BC
10/22/ Republik Calgary, AB
10/23/ Pawn Shop Edmonton, AB
10/24/ Riddell Centre Regina, SK
10/25/ Park Theater Winnipeg, MB
10/26/ Station-4 St Paul, MN
10/27/ Reggie’s Chicago, IL
10/29/ Peabodys Cleveland, OH
10/30/ Chance Theater Poughkeepsie, NY
10/31/ Palladium Worcester, MA
11/01/ Gramercy Theater New York, NY
11/02/ Empire Springfield, VA

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Revel in Flesh – Manifested Darkness

revel_in_flesh-manifested_darknessRevel in Flesh explores the area previously inhabited by recent Swedish tribute bands such as Entrails, who mix the bludgeoning simple music of Grave or Suffer with the wisps of melody that make recent Swedish death metal offerings both listenable and murderous.

Riffs slam along with a rudimentary intensity that resembles that of battlements carved roughly from ancient rock, but then are contrasted by melodic single-picked leads that add an infectious hook to the relentlessly compelling rhythm. Over this, two vocal tracks play off each other in the style of older Carcass.

Manifested Darkness bypasses imitating first album Entombed for the more ear-catching sounds of the recent Swedish death metal revival, which mix the cudgel-like chromatic riffing of early Swedish death metal with the relaxed song structures and 1970s heavy metal melodic and chorus riffs that bands like Unanimated and Desultory used to great effect.

Having Revel in Flesh discover its own path instead of emulating the past works out well for the band. Like later offerings from Fleshcrawl, little time is spent on complex arrangements that take five minutes to get to the point. Like early Motorhead, these songs are rough and ready and charge right into their groove and then exploit it. As each song reaches conclusion, riffs shift and melody leaves a sense of lingering loneliness and isolation.

On Manifested Darkness, Revel in Flesh upholds the best Motorhead-ish tradition of simple riffs and verse-chorus song structures with transitions to liven the experience. It reminds me of Motorhead’s 1916 crossed with Entombed’s To Ride, Shoot and Speak the Truth.

The soaring melodies and melancholic moods conceal how much roadhouse heavy metal hides within these album. The trademark crunchy “Swedish style” distortion accelerates the classic metal power of thunderous riffs and gives this album a balance between rocking out and musical destructiveness that any heavy metal fan will appreciate.

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Interview: Willie Desamero of Pathogen

pathogen

As stated in our recent review of Miscreants of Bloodlusting Aberrations, Pathogen craft fast and slashing ripping death metal from simple elements and add an uncanny dissonance and tributes to the last three generations of metal.

This riff-intensive high-energy package should probably be banned by the authorities here in suburban USA, but since it is not, we can enjoy it with its full brain-crushing intensity. We were fortunate to be able to speak to Pathogen mastermind Willie Desamero, who plucks both strings and vocal chords for this band that is gaining an increasing underground following.

Miscreants of Bloodlusting Aberrations was originally recorded in 2009 and self-released, and only now is seeing the light of day on a label. Why did you decide to self-release and why or why not would you recommend that path to others?

After the release of our first album, Blasphemous Communion in late 2007, which has garnered a considerable amount of exposure from having been released on multiple formats from cassette tape, CD and vinyl LP on various independent record labels world-wide (not counting our own D.I.Y. version of it on CD-r prior to the release of the said formats) we planned the recording of our second album, Miscreants Of Blood Lusting Aberrations in mid-2008, things went downhill for the band. Both personally and career-wise, some band members had personal problems and many of the labels we once trusted turned their backs upon us because of the Blasphemous Communion dispute between two labels who released the CD version of it, namely Old Cemetery in the US and Dead Center Productions from Russia which has created quite a stir.

We went ahead recording Miscreants Of Blood Lusting Aberrations in late 2009 and afterwards, we got several record deals to release it on CD the first was from a local label, which I won’t name, but it didn’t push through, perhaps they have other plans. After that Inner V.O.I.D. Records from Tennessee wanted to release it, but that didn’t push through either, we then snatched up an offer from an obscure French label, Satanized Productions to release Miscreants Of Blood Lusting Aberrations tape in March of 2010. They made 300 copies of it, which actually sold out pretty quickly. After that we released it independently on a CD-r and then traded and spread them out to all fanzines, bands and maniacs world-wide. We also sent out many copies of it to other record labels world-wide for a proper CD release but nobody was interested-perhaps we’ve hit on what was called a “sophomore slump” which has afflicted one too many bands world-wide.

But anyway, we actively traded away Miscreants Of Blood Lusting Aberrations for the better part of 2010 to 2012 until we stumbled upon Bernd of Dunkelheit Produktionen when we did some trades for his band, Nacht. Initially, I didn’t know that he was running Dunkelheit until a little later when he offered us a deal to release Miscreants Of Blood Lusting Aberrations which turned out to be a very good company and very professional, too. He did everything he promised us. And that’s pretty much the entire story of our second album, Miscreants Of Blood Lusting Aberrations.

Anyway, it certainly is a good way to build your bands’ name and credentials in a D.I.Y./independent way. I would advice that to any serious new band starting out — to rely on themselves more. In this so called “music industry” these days, having talent and musical skills is not enough. You also need skills to promote your own music-which is relatively “easy” now in this hyper-connected world compared to 10-15 years ago. And one more thing you need is international cooperation. Get in contact and befriend fellow independent/underground bands and fanzines everywhere! There is no place for xenophobia these days. We’re living in a vastly globalized world for the past 15 years with the internet thing and such. I suppose those are the things that we held as an advantage to other local bands here. I mean we’re not the most talented band in the world and we’ve gone through countless ups and downs as well — “Spinal Tap situations,” if you will — and even if no label would ever sign us today we will still be releasing and spreading our own music that way.

This album seems very much in the fast death metal style of Angelcorpse, but there’s also a lot of other influences peeking in here and there. Which metal bands inspired you to take on this style?

I’m glad you noticed! Hammer Of Gods knocked me out of my brains first time I heard it. But there’s a lot more to it if you listen to the album very closely. Many of the fast parts are certainly Morbid Angel/Angel Corpse influenced but other fast riffs there are also influenced by European death metal, Swedish and German, in particular. I really like the haunting melodic edge and almost crust/punk-ish D-beat sensibilities of bands like early Entombed, Carnage, Dismember, Treblinka, Unleashed and the aggression of Morgoth and Fleshcrawl.

A lot of the slow and mid-paced parts of Miscreants Of Blood Lusting Aberrations are inspired by Asphyx, Autopsy and Celtic Frost. Many bands have shaped Pathogen’s sound and more often than not, we wear our influences proudly on our sleeves. From early Carcass, to Master, Winter and Nuclear Death — but we also have our roots planted firmly on the pre-death metal era extreme thrash and black metal bands and punk/crust as well-you know, the classics: Celtic Frost/Hellhammer, Venom, Possessed, Sodom, Kreator, Bathory, Voivod, Onslaught, Sacrilege U.K., Amebix, Hellbastard, Sarcofago, early Sepultura, early Napalm Death, Cerebral Fix, Deathwish… I could go on forever!

Those influences tend to rub off our songwriting. We don’t listen to one particular genre or metal style. We also dig classic heavy metal and some progressive rock stuff. A lot of people think of music is primarily a performance art — sure, performing and practice is certainly a very big part of it — but in reality, music is primarily a listening art. You have to listen to it a lot in order to play it, especially in this kind of genre. It practically feeds off itself.

No two bands are alike, but a few other bands from the Philippines have adopted a style similar to yours. Is this a local sound, that you all developed out there? Is there a “metal culture” specific to the Philippines?

Not really, I mean, metal is really not that big here unlike in other Asian countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Japan where there are really big logistical support systems set up for even the underground bands up to the big mainstream metal acts visiting from the US and Europe. Here in the Philippines, metal in a general sense are still very much an underground phenomenon. Fans or even bands themselves organize their own shows and release their own demos and fanzines and a few financially well-off groups can do tours to nearby and far-flung cities and provinces.

There are no metal festivals here and gigs are usually held in small bars and pubs with shitty equipment attended by mostly by the band members themselves. Davao City probably has the highest concentration of metal fans in this country. I’ve been told that even ordinary gigs there can rake several hundred people, unlike in Manila or here in our city (San Pablo) where gig attendance rarely reach past 100 or so, except when foreign bands are playing. There is no future for a metal band in this country that’s why we have invested a lot on getting our name known overseas.

Anyhow, yeah, there are a few bands here that have chosen the same path as we do, such as Toxemia, Servorum and Comatose — which are cool. But you know majority of Filipino bands that are known overseas are not death metal at all, Incarion, Deiphago, Korihor, Maniak, Kratornas are actually black metal bands while Paganfire is thrash.

You’re making metal that would fit in right into the middle of the 1990s, but it’s not the 1990s anymore. What made you decide to stay with the older style, and what advantages do you think it offers?

Well, it’s mainly because we really miss this kind of music. Death Metal or even Metal, in a general sense, from back then has a different vibe. They have more “feel” and atmosphere to the music and their attitudes didn’t seem to be fake and contrived. I mean, “death metal” to the newer generation is all about superfast drumming, million notes per second guitar playing, low, unintelligible vocals, overtly gory lyrics and such. While back in the 80s and 90s death metal was both the fastest and slowest musical form there is! They have an aura of darkness and evocative atmospheres, dismal haunting melodies and very intelligent lyrics that are rarely heard today!

And that’s what we are trying to achieve with Pathogen. Back then there wasn’t any competition for who can play the fastest — everybody was sort of doing their own thing about death metal whether adding thrash, black metal or progressive influences into the fold. Nowadays death metal seems to have a set of pre-determined norms and nobody is pushing the envelope or doing it with the kind of sincerity that the older bands have except for a few bands in the underground who can actually still re-create that old magic.

On “Miscreants of Bloodlusting Aberrations,” you demonstrate two seemingly opposite techniques. You use a lot of dissonance, but also have a lot of melodic riffs keeping these songs going. What made you choose this style?

I personally like the contrast of having dissonance and countering it with a dark sounding melody. It’s good to have that balance, that variety, and not get the listener bored with monotony. When we do an album, we always think of a way to keep the listener’s attention on our music. For instance on the track “Uranium Messiah” almost the entire song is charging away with aggression and ferocity, and after a dissonant false ending, it opens the outro with this Maiden-esque dual guitar harmonies that fades away into oblivion. Those are some of the things that excites me when I listen to a record-hearing the unexpected and being somewhat musically adventurous. That’s the kind of vibe I get when I listen to old Venom or Iron Maiden records. And as I have stated earlier the reason we chose this particular style is we because we miss it. A lot of bands should put more effort into their songwriting instead of their individual playing.

With this signing, it looks like things are picking up for you as a band. What do you think your next move is going to be?

After a decade of hard work and self-promotion things are really looking up for us-for the first time in our careers. It was never easy considering the fact that we have no managers and no producers helping to create and promote our records and general lack of resources-but we always make do with what we have and make things happen for us. There are countless of times where we have gone broke and close friends, parents, relatives, girlfriends are all discouraging us to give up our goals and ambitions. But we kept on slogging nevertheless because our dreams are all that we got, you know.

We didn’t want to end up in obscurity like everyone else, living a brain-numbing 9 to 5 job and married to an ugly bitch that kept on fuckin’ nagging you. It would either be making a career out of playing metal, or die trying! Next on our agenda would be to find a professional management to finally help put us on the road and record our fourth album sometime this year. We got all the new songs readied and demoed since last year. We just have to scrape the finances to put them all together into a proper album.

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Lifeless interview

lifeless-traditional_death_metalWhen you review underground metal these days, bands skim across your desk like frisbees flung by absent-minded demons. Most of them skitter and disappear over the other side as you listen, realize it’s about the same, and then move on. Others stick around because they’ve got some spirit or animating force that makes them stand out, and motivates them to write better music.

One such recent discovery is Germany’s Lifeless. Sounding like a cross between Carnage and Unanimated, this Swedish-style death metal band pound out songs of crunchy riffs interspersed with nocturnal melodies that convey both emptiness and satisfaction with the potentiality of that state. It is adventure music for those who would leave behind the comforts of modern society and explore the abyss.

Lifeless released Godconstruct a few days ago, and while this album is just beginning its arc through the metal media, we were fortunate to get a few minutes with guitarist/vocalist Marc Niederhagemann answering a few questions about what it’s like to be Swedish death metal from Germany in 2013.

You’re from Germany and you play brutal but melodic Swedish-style death metal. How many times a day do you get compared to Fleshcrawl?

Well, in general we are not really compared to them but often mentioned as usurpers of their throne, ha, ha. But Germany is big enough for more than one band doing this kind of music. Fleshcrawl are a cult act from the 90´s beyond any doubts. Sven even did some guest-vocals on our song “Sworn to death”, so everything´s fine.

Although the mechanics of your guitar playing and production are more like Swedish heavyweights Carnage, there’s a lot of classic metal using melodic harmonization from the Iron Maiden school in your work, like Dissection or the second album from Unanimated. Are these influences? Can you tell us what else influenced you?

Of course there are various influences. The old Swedish, American and British DM bands from the early 90s. The all time classics like Maiden, Slayer, Metallica etc. And of course bands like Dissection, Unanimated and Necrophobic who did such a fucking great job in combining Death and Blackness as well. Sound-wise one could easily say we are just a Swedish styled OSDM band but if you listen closely there are all these influences in there too.

Is it hard being a death metal band from Germany? Your country is renowned for its excellent power metal, thrash and speed metal, but fewer death metal bands. How did you end up taking the death metal path, instead of going another way? Are you able to have a local fan-base?

The DM scene here in Germany is quite big and there are a lot of bands too. You are right, in the 90s heyday Germany played just an inferior role in the DM scene but nowadays there are a lot of great new DM acts coming from Germany. Sulphur Aeon, Chapel Of Disease, Deserted Fear, December Flower… the list goes on and on. And there is a big fan base for these bands and their music too.

A fan hearing one of your songs for the first time might first expect them to go in a more brutal death metal direction, but like a Kinder Egg(tm) your songs unfold to have a melodic center. How do you write a song like this — do you start with a melody, an idea, or just a fistful of entrails and a beer?

Well, in general there is no masterplan for us how to write songs. I catch my guitar and play around. Some cool riffs come up that might fit together. If there are enough riffs that could match together for a song, everything is arranged and completed in the rehearsal room by the whole band. Some riffs are added, some melodies come up. Everything comes kind of naturally. Step by step until there is this special feeling that everything´s fine as it is.

Do you think the death metal genre has a values system, or an idea behind it? What makes it different from other styles of metal, and why
is it that some bands seem to “get it” and others do not?

No, there is no special value system behind it I guess. Not in the sense of a movement or the like. I think DM is just honest and pure music. Despite the commercial heyday in the early 90s it has always been a passion to those who are into DM. Fans and musicians. In my opinion DM-heads stay always the passionate kids who just enjoy the whole thing with a kind of childish excitement. Despite of their true age, ha, ha…

If bands don’t “get it” they probably lost exactly this kind of childishness. Dunno…

Do you think death metal is dead, buried under these new more “hardcore” style bands, or do you think it still lives? What made you decide to go against trends and release an old school death metal album, instead of a nice lucrative power metal or metalcore album?

DM has never been dead and it never will be. After being trend it just shrunk and recreated in the underground. Nowadays it´s back with the same power and a lot of new stunning bands. Lifeless was intentionally founded to play OSDM. Modern stuff was never an option. Music should be passion, not trend. If you found a band to jump up on a trend you didn´t get what art, culture and the rebellious force from wich styles like Metal came from are about. If you see music just from a commercial point of few or if you just want to be famous, you should better do Pop-music or some other superficial shit…

What’s it like to experience Lifeless live?

Four aged kids rocking a stage, ha, ha… we rather bang our heads and move on stage than to play everything perfect. Playing live should be just fun for both sides, band and fans…

What are you looking forward to in the future? More tours, more recording? Think you’ll make it to see us in Texas (land of sheep-love and inbreeding)?

Yes, more tours/gigs/festivals of course. The next album to be released in about two years. Of course it would be great to make it to Texas/the US… we´ll see…

In the Swedish death metal style, what are the essential releases you think everyone should own? I use the term “style” because not all of these bands are from Sweden or even close!

  • Entombed – Left hand path/Clandestine
  • Dismember – Everything
  • Unleashed – Where no life dwells/Shadows in the deep
  • At the gates – Slaughter of the soul
  • Dark Throne – Soulside Journey
  • Grave – Into the grave/You´ll never see
  • Desultory – Into eternity/Bitterness
  • Edge Of Sanity – The spectral sorrows

And so on… too many to mention ’em all, ha, ha…

What’s your advice to new bands starting out now who want to make quality metal and put their mark on the metal universe?

Stay yourselves and don´t give a shit about trends and what people think what is right or wrong for you. If you have skills and talent for songwriting being authentic is the most iportant thing in Metal. Don´t try to be something you aren´t.

Thanks for taking the time to consider our questions. Our readers appreciate the responses, as do I.

Thanx for this interview and all your support. See you hopefully soon on a stage nearby…

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Lifeless – Godconstruct

lifeless-godconstructSwedish-style death metal remains one of the high-water points of underground metal. Both brutal and insightful, semi-popular and alienated, it united melody and deconstruction into a single package which made death metal epic and adventurous.

With so much history behind the genre, it’s a hard act to follow, since any future releases will inevitably get compared to classics like Carnage, Therion, At the Gates and Nihilist. Following in the footsteps of countrymen Fleshcrawl, Lifeless are Germans who make Swedish death metal with an ear toward brutality, but inside of it, a melodic heavy metal core.

As you might expect, a prominent feature of the sound is the electric buzz-hum of Sunlight Studios production, including the distortion that takes a death metal pedal racked to the limit and pumps it through a dimed amp to create that fuzzy ultra distortion that brings out the melody in even the crunchiest power chord riffing. In rhythm and riff shape, Lifeless hit like heavyweights Dismember, but in use of guitar harmony and melodic leads, this sounds more like Unanimated’s Ancient God of Evil or even Dissection under the skin.

The result is a pulsating journey through metal of the last three generations but also a sense of supreme normalcy. This band know how to make death metal with a childlike sense of wonder at the world, both a destructive outlook at a broken adult society and a hopeful outlook at the possibilities of an awakening human spirit. Nietzsche would be proud.

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The Best Underground Metal of 2012

The year is done. It brought many things: a new wave of hipster metal that blipped and died, an old school revival that’s been percolating for years, drama and sadness with the recent death of Rigor Mortis’ Mike Scaccia. Above all else, however, it brought us some quality music, some of which is heavy metal and some of which is metal in spirit only. Enjoy this survey of the best of 2012.

The Best Metal (and related) of 2012

  • Abhorrence – Completely VulgarThis legendary band existed before Amorphis and plays a grittier style of the bold, warlike and heavy yet melodic music that graced Amorphis’ first album, The Karelian Isthmus. These Abhorrence tracks show the band that would later write that album as they emerge from early grind/death stylings and gradually work more melody into their work. This is metal’s holy grail: how to be both epic and amoral in the nihilistic sense of worshipping power, darkness and nature, but also use melody and harmony to give the works some staying power. As this collection of re-released demos progresses, the fusion of the two gets more confident and deft, leading us up to the point where the greatness of the first Amorphis album was inevitable.
  • Angel Witch – As Above, So BelowAfter a lengthy absence, this classic NWOBHM band returns with an album that shows integration of more recent influences, specifically American heavy metal and progressive metal, but still keeps up the power. These songs are not as distinctive or as oddball as the heavily personalitied offerings from their self-titled album, but As Above, So Below is important because it takes disparate influences and places them under the control of one voice and style, which gives others room to build on. The oil-on-water aspect of bands switching between influences is gone and replaced by a smooth enwrapping of these styles into the substrate of Angel Witch’s lauded and learned evil heavy metal.
  • Beherit – Celebrate the DeadIf death metal was modernism, with its emphasis on structure, black metal was postmodernism, or an attempt to show through atmosphere the many facets of an idea in a clarity which could not be confined to a single statement. This was a quest as old as humanity, which is how to communicate in such a way that people who do not understand it do not simply imitate it from the outside-in and make something that looks about like it, fooling most people. Since the late 1990s Beherit have been at work inventing the next wave or movement of metal, one in which multiple statements co-exist in contradictory opposites that reveal the shadow or silhouette of an underlying truth. Two forms are in tension here: the “loop” form of traditional ambient music, in which layers are poured on top of a basic dub to create a simple sonic tapestry, and the pure narrative form which electro-acoustic music (and even some dubstep) touches on, in which a story is told through the change of riffs. This is closer to the original death metal idea of structure, but it is structure created through atmosphere, like old Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno albums, or even classical music. To this end, Beherit has re-released two demo songs from Engram which are ambitious longer (13- and 15-minute) works which show a deepening and changing of atmosphere, using both looping and narrative constructs at the same time. This is a valiant and clear-headed attempt to resurrect black metal, which has fallen into the hands of those who imitate the “external” aspects of the early classics like simple riffs and fast songs, but understand none of the underlying ideas or songwriting methods. While it seems unconventional at first, Celebrate the Dead is a return to the truest form of black metal by expanding its orthodoxy to include the transcendental narrative of those more experienced in both this world, and the realms beyond. Be not fooled — evil pervades this release, so subtly that you will not know until it has seized your soul.
  • Dead Can Dance – AnastasisFor their return after some absence, Dead Can Dance have taken the style on Spiritchaser and refined it even more with the sensibility of modern club music and soundtrack influences. Rhythms and tempo work like you might expect a big label ambient album to work, fitting very much into the slightly picked up chill-out range with gentle backing beats that are still identifiable enough to make it easy to listen to. Consistent with even earlier work, songs use extended structures, but they fit the pattern of an early MTV video or short film more than a musical one. The result is that these are immersive little sonic ventures that are both easy to hear and not surprising, and also, rewarding in their consistency and adept arrangements. Melodies themselves are not as adventurous or period/locale-specific as older Dead Can Dance, and in fact more lifts from earlier influences can be heard (check out the Doors “The end” inspirations on the first track). For a purist, this will not be the best Dead Can Dance album, but for something that has stepped into the Loreena McKennit or Enya range of “accessible,” this is far beyond what most would encounter otherwise and makes for a pleasant listen on its own.
  • Demoncy – Enthroned is the NightAlong with Beherit, this shares the top spot as album of the year. In 2012, a wave of bands like Cruciamentum and Heresiarch rediscovered the sound of classic Incantation from the Onward to Golgotha area. Having come from the same school, joined to Incantation by Ixithra’s former band Havohej’s primary composer, Paul Ledney, having been an original member of Incantation, Demoncy launched into the same by creating a faithful followup to 1996’s Joined in Darkness. In this case, Demoncy add a bit of melody and atmosphere, channeling from first album Unleashed and other Swedish death metal classics, thus combining the two most intense areas of death metal into what is really a death metal album with a black metal sense of atmosphere. The result is a descent into a dark and primal place in which occult spiritual warfare transpires through the battling of motifs in this complex album made of simple parts. Like Joined in Darkness, it is otherworldly and foreboding, but a bit less purely alienated; instead, this album creates a sense of symbolic significance emerging like melody from the clouded obscure. Very little black metal of this intensity has been made since the mid-1990s which makes this both faithful to the spirit and pushing the boundaries of the genre, a simultaneous advancement that eludes most musicians and fans alike.
  • Derkéta – In Death We MeetArising from the ashes of Mythic, the all-female doom-death band from the early 1990s, Derkéta follows in a more purely doom metal path including some of the juicy 1970s heavy metal style doom metal that audiences enjoy with bands like Pentagram and Witchfinder General. 24 years later, this album is the first for this promising band, and holds back nothing. Like Mythic, the music is formed of giant bolsters of tunneling power chords colliding slowly over a changing melodic landscape. Atmosphere emerges from within. The simplicity of it removes the glitz and contentless enhancement of current doom metal bands, and takes the listeners back to the essence of the genre, which is an unsettling sense of pervasive dread. A prominent Candlemass Ancient Dreams influence seems to be present in these compact and droning songs.
  • Desecresy – The Doom SkeptronDesecresy approach Finnish death metal the way others might approach doom metal, using melody and abstract song structures to convey an experience not unlike watching the helmet camera of a pilot flying through a vast and ancient underground cave in which demons seem to lurk behind every stalagtite. Comparable to a hybrid between Amorphis and Skepticism, this album nonetheless keeps up the umptempo riffing and lets its melodies emerge to construct an emanating atmosphere. The result is both aggressive and enjoyable from a purely death metal perspective, but where appropriate, it uses the moods of doom metal to complete that raging insanity to produce an experience that is like a journey. There are doubts, fears, joys, rage and sadness, but pervading all of it is a sonorous melancholy which indicates a change in viewing life from orientation toward what is safe, to prizing what is adventurous and as such being alone on a planet of people concerned with safety labels and microwave cooking.
  • Drawn and Quartered – Feeding Hell’s FurnaceImagine a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Num Skull. These songs are extremely basic, like the melodies of horror movies, but are put together with interlocking rhythms that propel them forward and give them atmosphere. As a result, their themes feel intuitive like paths through a forest remembered from a childhood story. There will not be surprise at the ways these tunes twist and bend, but appreciation for a well-done interpretation on a necessary idea. In the same way you might appreciate an excellent sword or well-executed painting of a familiar subject, these songs will be appreciated for how well they do what they love. Just as most musicians make their best work when they design it to be enjoyed repeatedly by people with their own tastes, this faithful and yet creative interpretation of the old school death metal genre will be shared among those who can appreciate it, for taking the past and making it live on by keeping it current to itself and through inventiveness, an enjoyable listen.
  • Faustcoven – Hellfire and Funeral BellsThis release is not particularly metal, or at least underground metal, even though it aspires to the aesthetics of it. Rather, this is like Marilyn Manson interpreting classic heavy metal in a gothic doom metal context as informed by death metal aesthetics but not technique. It’s basically blues rock with short phrase power chord riffs and highly compelling rhythm, underneath leads that are reminiscent of a friendlier version of St. Vitus. Good use of theme allows this release to be a faithful listen and also have some staying power for those who like this style. Like most doom metal, it is designed to build a repetitive atmosphere that is part curl of enjoyment, and part linear path of a melancholic mood. The death metal vocals would normally be out of place here but with the heavy reverb they take a backseat and let the guitars talk, which is the point of this band. It will probably not delight those who like underground metal, but if you’re looking for someplace to go for your next Cathedral or Sleep fix, this furry doom band holds the ticket.
  • Grave – Endless Procession of SoulsGrave return to the Swedish style which they helped make famous. Like later Fleshcrawl, this music is simplified from the original riff-salad which was reverse-assembled to make a journey into darkness emerge from thin air, but although it uses plenty of verse-chorus segments, they are not the entirety of each song. There are enough labyrinthine twists and turns to be fun, a good motivational rhythm, and an atmosphere of darkness and aggressive that is also (oddly) comforting and natural. Although musically this is fairly basic, like early Grave, it shows more use of melody and harmony, which adds an appreciable dimension of compactness and centering without falling into standard rock music. The result is easy to listen to and yet brings out its power in moments of sudden clarity which, as in life, make the listener think there might be more afoot than the obvious.
  • Imprecation – Jehovah DeniedThis four-song EP shows the resurrected Imprecation: more consistent in its songwriting, slightly less manic, and more inclined to create a pervasive atmosphere of darkness. The occult death metal founders from Houston originally shone in the early 1990s, when their demos and later CD were released, but returned after inaction and the lending of band members to other acts. Their earlier material had more of a Morbid Angel influence and presented itself as clear occultism, where the newer material goes back more toward where Possessed and early old school death metal (Morpheus Descends, Massacre) were headed back in their day. Mood-enhancing use of background keyboards gives an aura of the mysterious to these dark melodies and the organic rhythms which suffuse them. Influences on this music span from pre-death metal, through the walking and stalking rhythms of speed metal, to the later black metal works in song structure and atmosphere. This EP presages a killer full-length but stands on its own as quality music with a voice particular to its worldview.
  • Incantation – Vanquish in VengeanceWith new personnel and possibly the strongest sense of unity in a long time, Incantation very sensibly took influences deliberately from their own two greatest successes: Onward to Golgotha and Diabolical Conquest. The result is an album that self-consciously borrows from those albums in style but tries to create new songs to wrap in that style, and with the aid of new guitarist Alex Bouks (ex-Goreaphobia) shapes its works around melodic shapes but does not adorn them in melodic riffing, creating a sense of an inner region of hidden energy within the exterior of rugged chromatic shapes. The result is one of Incantation’s most conventional albums but also a festival of the methods that made early Incantation so distinctive and powerful, which combined makes for a good later death metal listen.
  • Legion of Doom – The Summoning of ShadowsThis oddity of an album begins with some form of sung prayer and launches into songs that are both adorned in the harmonic glaze of melodic playing and also possessed of the manic simplicity of early black metal. Like the primitive era of black metal, these songs are specific structures fitting the content of each song, with droning riffs that interact and build to a culmination before dissipating. On this album, Legion of Doom use more death metal and speed metal technique in with their Burzum-inspired black metal, ending in a result that sounds more like an ornate and elegant version of Gorgoroth’s Destroyer. Like all Legion of Doom releases, The Summoning of Shadows features songs that accelerate thematic intensity in layers and produce an immerse, ambient experience that suspends reality through the sheer dominating power of its riffs. This album is more efficient than the last couple of releases of this band, and by embracing a listenable style, makes the type of outsider album that Marduk or Watain wish they could.
  • Lord Wind – Ales StenarIf you want to immerse yourself in ancient sensation, Graveland axeman Rob Darken’s ambient/neofolk/soundtrack project Lord Wind is a good place to start. Unlike previous Lord Wind efforts, Ales Stenar mixes real vocals and violin with electronic music that is roughly inspired by the Conan and Red Sonja soundtracks. The goal however is less like the rock-ish folk songs of neofolk, or the grand accompaniment for cinema provided by soundtracks; this is music like Burzum or Graveland that is designed for the listener to lose themselves in its repetitive hypnotic surges, like a catechism or mantra. Its soaring melodies and plunging dynamics give it a familiarity like the rush of blood through veins in the ears, and the result feels natural and yet inspired to rise above the mundane at the same time. Like entering a forest, the songs open up to repeated listens and soon each part is distinct, but our natural way is to hear it all at once and derive a sentimental feeling, perhaps warlike, from it. This is the most proficient and perhaps most profound of the Lord Wind albums, proffering a complete escape from reality to a world that is both fantasy and more real than the stuporous dream of modernity.
  • Master – The New EliteOver the past few albums, punk/heavy metal hybrid Master has steadily been migrating toward late-1990s death metal. This new album presents a more technical view than the verse-chorus-exposition songs that Master (and related Speckmann projects) evolved from. Much like On the Seventh Day God Created…Master, riffs are strummed with precision at high speed and tend to lead away from stable grouping by adding riffs to the existing loop. These riffs use longer progressions and more chromatic fills, giving the music a mechanical terror that makes it sound like technocracy taking over. Speckmann’s vocals are tighter than in the past and urge the music along, but somewhere in this musical process of evolution, his overall tone has started sounding less like protest music and more like a cheering of the coming conflagration. Seeing that Master keep improving over time provides a great incentive to follow this band as they evolve further.
  • Profanatica – Sickened by Holy Host / The Grand Masters SessionsSometimes, in order to reach your next aspiration, it is necessary to part with the past. Profanatica have done this in grand style by accumulating old tracks and re-working them in parallel, with one disc containing newer versions done in the early 1990s style, and the other containing older session takes on the same songs, interspersed with acoustic landscapes by Aragorn Amori, the band’s much-admired deceased former guitarist. Through its long history, the entity known as Profanatica/Havohej (or: Paul Ledney and friends) has consistently released material showcasing a truly artistic brilliance. Usually, between moments of brilliance there are experiments and less intense offerings that make it easy to forget that when they are in full swing, these musicians are unstoppable forces creating a unique type of black metal that is closer to ambient death metal but unlike most black metal at this time, possessed of a full mythos and unique view of the world. Like the best of Profanatica/Havohej, these two discs are ripping sonic terror that transcend daily life and divulge the essence of the feral spirit of pre-civilized humanity. In that vision of evil, Profanatica offer us something both inspiring and instructive, and do so through some of the best music of their career.
  • Terrorizer – Hordes of ZombiesPeople love change if it is constant and hate it if not. Terrorizer misstepped with their first post-World Downfall album, but came back with a strong contender on Hordes of Zombies. It does not attempt to be World Downfall II which is intelligent since outward-in emulation of the past usually produces hollow shells, and a good many classic bands have gone to their graves in disgrace by doing the same thing. Instead, this aims more at the territory scoped by Napalm Death with Fear, Emptiness, Despair: a modern form of grindcore that is musical and listenable without being commercial, and aims less at creating an atmosphere of terror and misery than creating motivational, energetic and yet literalist/realist music. These songs convey a desire to look at a dangerous situation with hopeless odds, then jump in and fight it out. It’s war music, but music of a normalized war, like going out into a declining civilization and fighting for mundane survival. Hordes of Zombies does this through a somewhat overused metal metaphor, that of the zombie takeover of society, but as a movie/musical trope this theme has remained consistent since the 1960s because it so aptly describes egalitarian society. Consumerism, mass trends, fads, panics, elections, Black Friday sales, save-the-children; it’s all in there. Terrorizer may be brilliant satirists for transforming all of that mass neurosis into a simple symbol and then making these engaging songs about it. Each piece uses a combination of rhythmic and slight melodic hook to lure us in, then pits grinding riffs against one another while fitting them into bounding rhythms that unleash an inner fury in their conflict between the fear and the mundane. The result is a stream of ferocious riffs in songs that hold together as songs in the Terrorizer tradition, creating an experience of immersion in conflict that is both justified and everyday. For a genre such as grindcore, this more stable form is preferable to re-living the past or trying to “innovate” by including outside elements. As a result, Hordes of Zombies is not only a great listening experience but an archetype others will follow.
  • Thevetat – Disease to DivideOne of the more interesting entries comes from ex-Ceremonium musician Thomas Pioli who has assembled a new team to make music that sounds like early NYDM mixed with the melodic undertones of heavy but intriguing bands like Montrosity, Malevolent Creation and Gorguts. The result hits hard with a rushing wall of chords and then drops into socketed rhythms that invoke a change in riffs, causing a twisted inner torment to emerge in Protean form. This gives old school death metal a new life without giving it a new form, since the form is the result of the content, which is essentially unchanged but slightly updated since 1992. No concessions to “modernization” (a/k/a mixing death metal with rock, jazz, metalcore, disco, punk, etc.) occur here, which allows this music to be in touch with its own spirit and flow freely from the source of its own inspiration. It is thunderous and yet perceptive, bringing with it the spirit of doom metal and its introspective melancholy. Although a three-song EP, this release beats out most albums released this year for pure death metal intensity.
  • Timeghoul – 1992-1994Metal developed its own sense of “progressive” and “technical” music long before it imported jazz-fusion in order to help it. In fact, part of metal’s birth was from the original progressive rock in the 1970s and the soundtracks of horror movies, which gave it a predilection for this direction. “Progressive” itself is a misnomer since nothing new gets discovered in music, but probably more accurately means “complex”: music with unconventional song structures, extensive use of harmony, melody and key; possibly linked to some kind of story outside the music itself and the usual topics (love, sex, drama) of pop songs. These songs craft winding riffs and intricate structures, using embedded melody to transition between more chromatic riffs, and culminate in odd twists of fate that translate them into seemingly the reverse of their initial outlook. Culminating in the epic 10-minute “Occurrence on Mimas,” this collection of early works by this band showcase the enjoyably weird variety of death metal in its early days.
  • War Master – Pyramid of the NecropolisThis modern band attempts to revive the death metal style, starting with the deathgrind of its namesake Bolt Thrower and incorporating influences from many of the bands of the era, and succeeds by staying true to its own enjoyment. As a result, it’s working in a style, and not from a template; the band want to create old school death metal, but aren’t doing it by imitating songs or styles, but by writing in that style based on similar inspirations. As a result, this band has its own voice despite being very familiar in technique, and has chosen its own path for subject matter and thus the arrangement of many of these songs and the types of riffs used. Its aesthetic mixes the grinding mid-tempo riffs and repetitive choruses of grindcore with the circuitous riffing of death metal and its tendency to unveil changes in layers of rhythm, guitar and vocals. While the style shows the influences of later death metal, its sensibility is firmly grounded in the early years, which makes this a great old-school death metal experience. However, its most salient factor is that it’s also interesting music. Songs are formed around their topic, with riffs and structure contorting to resemble the object, and riffcraft shows learning from the past but creation of its own new forms. Guttural vocals which maintain an ascetic detachment from the emotional content of the music help to give Pyramid of the Necropolis the ultimate death metal point of view, which is as a dispassionate observer amongs the ruins detailing the conflict that created this mess, and must endure after its collapse.

Disappointments of 2012

Abigor – Quintessence

Apparently this is new and old material. The shift between the new and old is like jumping out of a sauna into the snow. The newer material shapes itself to an expectation, much like the newer Swedishy bands in the style of Watain, that combines melodic punk with raw and random riffing in catchy rhythms. The result is like a painting made of painted dog turds, in that from a distance it is appealing, but as you get closer its mundane nature is revealed. Abigor have always suffered from being too quick-thinking and inventive for their own good, because they can always throw together a bunch of quality riffs and make most people think a song happened, but here that model breaks down. The songs feel more like slide-shows than organic wholes. The older material is good however.

Absurd – Asgardsrei

This remaster of the 1998 album was in theory supposed to improve sound quality. Had they simply done that, this would have been a shining victory. Instead, it has been standardized. The drums have been pumped up to emphasize rhythm, and the guitars doubled and bass-maximized, with vocals shrouded in reverb. Alone that removes much of the distinctive sound, but attempts have also been made to lower the volume on elements that are not orthodox black metal-cum-oi that Absurd makes now. The result is a loss of detail and an emphasis on the simpler parts of each riff, not the interesting interplay of riffs. They’ve made this album sound more like their remakes of earlier material and by pandering to one audience, lost a lot of what made Absurd interesting.

Acephalix – Deathless Master

A highly-praised release, this album purports to combine Swedish death metal and crustcore. What it ends up with is neither, but a mishmash of riffs around a rollicking beat, changing entirely at random. You hear a little bit of old Entombed, some Dismember, and a lot of filler riffing that really goes nowhere. For about three songs, it’s pleasant listening because you can tap your toes to it and it reminds you of Left Hand Path. Then you realize the songs never went anywhere. They’re like wallpaper. And to the horror of any crust fan, this is built on the bouncy beats and song structures of pop-punk. It’s closer to Blink 182 than Entombed or Amebix.

Aura Noir – Out to Die

Once upon a time, I referred to Aura Noir as a black metal Britney Spears because their music is pop dressed up as black metal. However, it’s normally fun pop with high energy and catchy riffs, even if in verse-chorus structures so repetitive that you have to background it. But with this album, they go into the boring zone. This is almost like a drone with a horse galloping in the background to keep up energy. And yet, like the lady that doth protest too much, the more “energy” you need to inject, the less the music is actually compelling. And on that level, this album is basically the same speed metal/Motorhead style riffs that bands were rehashing back in the 1980s, but now revived in an even more exhausted form.

Coffin Texts – The Tomb of Infinite Ritual

The people behind this band are good, and their intentions are good. The result of their efforts however is bog-standard death metal, not so because it imitates anything else, but because it is unreflective of any purpose outside being death metal. It’s predictable in the sense that nothing is surprising, and yet, it doesn’t really gesture at anything more than being death metal itself. I hope these guys stop trying to be whatever they think they should be, and find whatever they actually enjoy instead. Best yardstick for your music: what you enjoy and would listen to on your own, even if you knew no one in the band.

Graf Spee – Reincarnation

Some things should stay in the 1980s. This is prescient in that it emphasizes the kind of bouncy riffing that fits on the spectrum from Anthrax to Meshuggah and onward to metalcore, but it’s disorganized, inconsistent with the vocals, and feels more like a pile of spare parts than a smoothly running engine.

Hellevetron – Death Scroll of Seven Hells and Its Infernal Majesty

2012 was the year everyone rediscovered Onward to Golgotha. I agree, it’s a killer album. There’s nothing wrong with Hellvetron, who seem like competent musicians, but this album attempts to imitate the outward form of Onward to Golgotha without grasping the underlying tension in the music that makes it work. As a result, Hellvetron impose current song structures (loops) and standards onto the aesthetic of the past, which makes for a decent listen until it becomes apparent that it’s not really about anything except itself.

Impiety – Ravage and Conquer

It’s hard not to enjoy this album, which is like a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Mortem with a squidge more melody. However, it is highly repetitive because it doesn’t go much beyond that concept. Like Krisiun before it, the concept is full speed ahead skull-crushing aesthetic, and this is so powerful it squeezes out most artistic content. This leaves you with some creative riffs, some talented use of tempo, but nothing that holds together long enough to listen to for a decade.

Inverloch – Dusk | Subside

These ex-Disembowelment musicians have a bit of a cult formed around themselves. Part of the reason is that unlike almost every other band before black metal, they knew how to write melodic music, which they do here as well, in something that resembles a cross between death-doom like Asphyx and melodic doom like Candlemass or Paradise Lost. Crashing riffs coexist with gentle melodic fills and overlays that create a dense atmosphere of nocturnal wonder. However, beyond that, the direction seems confused, which is appropriate for a re-entry EP but excludes it from this year’s best of.

Mantas – Death by Metal

Before the first Death album, Chuck Schuldiner tried out his riffcraft in Mantas, named in tribute (by educated guess) to Venom. There’s a reason these sort of re-releases are confined to collectors, and that is that these demos show a young band trying to get the order of riffs in its songs correct and at the same time develop an image, sound and voice. The result is great, if you like listening to parts of the same six songs 18 times each. A true-blue die-hard ultra-kvlt collector will put this on the stereo next to “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Spiritual Healing” and start working out each riff until he’s sure how everything works. Then again, with the hindsight of nearly thirty years, we know exactly how it should turn out, which means that for the rest of us, this will sit on the shelf in perpetuity except as a conversation piece.

Maveth – Coils of the Black Elite

This album reminds me of middle period Immolation, in which creative riffing often fell into very similar rhythms and as such, the songs sort of became a continuum which resembled pulled taffy: cut off a length of Immolation, let’s listen to that. Oh look, sliced Immolation! It’s the same way here. Maveth has very creating riffing with excellent right-hand control, but the songs themselves are a muddle because the riffs are the direction and as such, there’s not really a way to put the riffs together that makes sense, so the band converges on a mean and drops into very similar trudge rhythms to make the songs catchy. At first listen, especially the first three tracks, promise is everywhere; by track five, it’s clear that circularity has occurred.

Purtenance – Sacrifice the King

This EP suffers from a primary flaw, which is disorganization. It’s not random, but it’s what happens when you decide to make death metal and so treat that as a container, and then “write to fill” and twist the riffs into place so they work with each other. It’s not about anything, and thus is “random” in the sense that it could mean anything. As a musical experience, it mostly conveys a sense of disorganization and frustration. The best bands mold that sort of raw emotion into something which rises above the confusion and achieves clarity. If not beauty, truth, goodness, etc. at least something that is desired more than it is hated, and so inspires them, even if that goal is hatred itself.

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Death Metal

Death metal uses tremolo strummed power chords in phrasal riffs, creating an internal dialogue of melody to project a narrative which takes us from a starting point through internal conflict to an ending radically removed from the start. This often complex music relies heavily on chromatic scales and solos that resemble sonic sculpture more than a reliance on scales or harmony, and use “modal stripes” or repeated interval patterns (such as a half interval followed by a whole) to maintain a mood. Inherently structuralist, death metal can be recognized by its “post-human” perspective, seeing the world through biology, history, warfare and mythology instead of the “I/me/mine” viewpoint of a modern society.

House recommendations: Morbid Angel, Slayer, Monstrosity, Cryptopsy, Suffocation, Therion and Vader.

BEST EVER

1. Massacra – Final Holocaust
2. Deicide – Legion
3. Morbid Angel – Blessed Are the Sick
4. Therion – Beyond Sanctorum
5. Sepultura – Morbid Visions
6. Incantation – Onward to Golgotha
7. Morpheus Descends – Ritual of Infinity
8. Necrophobic – The Nocturnal Silence
9. Obituary – Cause of Death
10. Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten
11. Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
12. Dismember – Like an Ever-Flowing Stream
13. Amorphis – The Karelian Isthmus
14. At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
15. Demilich – Nespithe
16. Asphyx – The Rack

COMPILATIONS

Projections of a Stained Mind (C.B.R. Records)
Harmony Dies Vol. 1 (Slayer Magazine)
Pantalgia (MBR Records)
Live Death: Vol 1 (Restless)
Sampler Volume I (JL America)
Deterioration of the Senses (Morbid Metal)
Book I: Induction (Hits Underground)

Reviews have mp3 sound samples for each album, coverscan, tracklist and label contact information.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 11-19-11

Vallenfyre – Desecration

If you can imagine a cross between newer Bolt Thrower, old Paradise Lost and recent Fleshcrawl, you would have a good basis for the rock from which Vallenfyre carve their death metal hybrid. They use the Swedish buzzsaw guitars and the kind of melodic hooks that would make Watain proud in that these riffs are simple and hard to get out of your head, but then use a layered style of riff and response that comes straight from old Paradise Lost, with fewer of the heavy metal touches. If this EP gets its pop influence from anywhere, it would be Brit electro. The riffs are reasonable, and while sparse in the longer song constructions, the band’s habit of treating them as phrases and thus giving them multiple endpoints creates a sombre and contemplative atmosphere. Looking forward to seeing what the full length will bring.

Pestilence – Doctrine

Attempting to keep up with the times, Pestilence make a Meshuggah-style version of a deathcore album and add in their trademark ecclectic tone-twisting jazz leads. As if thinking that fans now must be blockheads to like such music, Pestilence deliberately dumb down the music with lots of chanting verses and repetitive, ultra-simple riffs based on old heavy metal tonal patterns. They vary these up with breakdowns and interludes, using abundant percussive strumming to shake two chords into forty seconds of constant texture variation. This is well-executed and unlike their previous album, does not feel off-the-cuff; attention has been paid to making these songs flow well and stay together. However, like most djent and textural music, it’s almost binary and thus is exhausting from a mental perspective. If you can imagine Celtic Frost Monotheist combined with Meshuggah’s None and Coroner’s Grin, you have a good idea of what Pestilence is doing these days. As an improvement over the past, Doctrine gives me hope, but I still think these guys are best when making complex, twisted, ingenious old school death metal.

Antidote – Thou Shalt Not Kill

NYHC came in on the punk scale halfway to thrash, being very much based in the more extreme school of UK hardcore. This album of short, straight-up, anthemic songs belts out a paean to working class existence in New York by combining the catchy choruses of punk with the fast, nearly technical riffs of later UKHC. Vocals are eerily similar to what Kurt Brecht did in the same year with DRI, a youthful voice shouting itself breathless and yet managing to capture cadence and through it, the hook of the chorus. Guitars are minimal but pick more challenging rhythms in order to underscore the chorus and its lead-up in the fast ranted verse lyrics, giving these songs like early speed metal an insanely infectious quality that borders on frustration with how the message bores into the brain. This is almost like the Circle Jerks sped up 4x with the middle class faux angst translated into rage at the three-block area surrounding the squat.

Atman – Like Pure Unawaited Magic

This CD would stand a chance if it weren’t so goofy. The intrusion of operatic vocals at random times with maximum pretense and minimal musicality pretty much kills its chances of ever having people want to listen to it, but underneath it are good, simple minor key melodic riffs like early Abigor or Emperor simplified. Huge parts of this CD feel pasted together, as if the artist kept creating as many different elements as possible to extend a song, and many of the melodic riffs are too similar in structure for this to really take the top shelf, but it has moments that match the intensity described by the title.

Evil – Pagan Fury 1994-1996

Probably the only band that can compete with Ildjarn for turning the obvious into the profound, Evil are high-speed pneumatic drums with a languid bass following searingly distorted, simple riffs that rise into sublime three-note melodies. While this is well executed, this is all they have to offer; if you like Ildjarn and Blood, you’ll like this because it sounds like a cross between the two. Songs generally feature two grindcore riffs and a melodic black metal riff to unite them, which produces a sense of high energy potential flowing into a melancholic panorama that encompasses the moods previous.

Aosoth – III

The only underground trend to counter metalcore can probably be blamed on Thorns and the emergence of the 7-string guitar. In this style, open chords or oddball movable chords are strummed in quick sweeps to produce a wash of sonic possibility; this can give great power to a quality song, like the “sonic cathedral” approach of some classical composers, but with a directionless series of riffs it falls apart like later Mayhem. Aosoth strides the line, sometimes sounding like Portal or Molested in the harmonic possibilities unveiled, and other times sounding like an avantgarde acoustic band that somehow got the wrong guitar rig. The tempos and riff styles are compelling but songs often do not pick a direction other than restating their theme, which leaves us stranded in the sonic wash between what could be and what is.

Denial Fiend – They Rise

These guys have a unique intepretation of old school death metal. Imagine proto-death like early Master, but instead of faster tremolo riffs, the kind of muted strum chugging that distinguished bands like Exodus predominates during verses. A Misfits influence rides the vocals and the hookish rhythms of the choruses, but otherwise this is 100% straight-ahead metal. Like many of the caveman bands from the past, no silly punches are pulled here and it is refreshingly free of ornamentation and other artifice for the sake of disguising its basic simplicity. Percussion keeps energy high by creating a forward momentum that catches itself in tidy pockets that drive it forward like tempo changes; vocals are a hoarse yell with the riot delivery of Demolition Hammer or Exhorder.

Nunslaughter – Demoslaughter

This primitive, rhythmic metal is hard to justify as anything but five-note modal stripes bent into song through riffcraft, but for the old school primal style this band is at the top of the curve. Vocal rhythms and the ratio of riff rhythms used in transition resemble Deicide; some riff patterns approximate early Death; many of the more sing-song riffs evoke early Mayhem. Nunslaughter on some level understand the “soul” of death metal, in which a riff puzzle constantly expands in context like a winding journey that descends into profundity. Nunslaughter, despite having many holdover elements from early punk and radio-friendly heavy metal, understand this essence of underground metal. The result is primitive, at types awkward, but represents a surge of energy toward expressing an idea of such magnitude that among the 56 tracks offered here, much as on other micro-omnibus albums like Impulse to Destroy, Expositions Prophylaxe and From Enslavement to Obliteration, a complete vision of humanity and where it stands regarding its ultimate purpose is expressed.

Shrinebuilder – Shrinebuilder

To kill a darling, raise the knife above your head; there is no point pretending contrition or doubt. While sludge and stoner doom metal are the darlings of the industry at this point because they appeal to legions of new fans bleeding over from rock, they are not the heir to the throne of metal. In fact, they are taking it in the opposite direction back down the evolutionary ladder, a man devolving to chimpanzee to mouse. Since the inception of metal, industry has sought in vain for a way to adopt the rebellious image of metal and slap it on music basically indistinguishable from other rock; this way, they maximize profit by using interchangeable parts for the music and handling the “genre” through studio fakery. This album could easily be a U2 album. It is three-riff rock music, with one each for verse and chorus and one for the bridge or jam interlude, and as a result it relies heavily on repetition and basic harmony through which a “melody” (fragment of melodic scale + pentatonics) rambles. If you can imagine early Crowbar and later Eyehategod mixed up with some Sonic Youth or Nirvana, that roughly describes what you get here. It probably helps to be stoned so you have a short memory and cannot notice how repetitive this album is.

NYC Mayhem – Discography

It is not difficult to see why metalheads loved this band. Like Agnostic Front and the Cro-Mags, these guys are a hardcore band that shied away from the simplified rock songs of most punk bands and instead went for metal-like riffs, thrash tempos and a brutally post-human view of the world. Riffs are phrasal and have actual shape, unlike hardcore riffs which were boxier; there are plenty of moments that resemble Slayer or Destruction. These alternate with punk-style riffs returning to a single chord for stability instead of remaining open-ended or slammingly conclusive. Vocals fit the hardcore style of a masculine shout without the bassy tone of later voices. Song composition is closest to early COC, with an effort made to distinguish each song by use of varied structure and introductions, interludes and unique changes in tempo. They write great riffs, but never manage to keep momentum in each song, which causes a process of acceleration followed by breakdown that is somewhat exhausting to the listener. The decrepit garage production merges sounds together into an organic whole, showing us a window into history with grit on the edges.

Calciferum – The Beast Inside

Inside of this old school styled album lurks a new school sensibility: a random collection of riffs, vocals taking over from guitars as the primary instrument, bouncy rhythms and a theatrical sensibility imposed on top of the music not emanating from it. It is tempting to like this, but it’s too linear and too random at the same time. Underneath the slamming exterior is a good sense of binary pop, but its vocabulary is limited, which creates the effect of a listener thrown into a washing machine on spin cycle, ratcheted back and forth by a relentless and circular process.

Anu – Opus Funaerum

The intro to this album captures a vision of chaos rising from order that exists only in one other art form, which is structured noise music from Japan. What follows is pleasant black metal that sounds like Kvist and Gorgoroth had a baby. The band tend to make good use of the harmonic minor scale to achieve a lasting atmosphere, and write some pleasant basic riffs. The problem is that atmosphere is all that is offered here, and it is very 1994ish, right before black metal jumped the shark, meaning that there’s no exceptional direction. If you want competent and pleasant music that does not distinguish itself particularly, this will be OK, but this musical elitist requires more.

Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit

Do you remember positive jazz and lite rock from the 1980s? Hopefully not: it was the crossover between Muzak, or elevator music, and the new jazz fusion and adult rock categories. Industry needed music that it could play in communal areas and not offend anyone, so they took the soul-searching out of jazz and rock and came up with two super-consonant, super-upbeat and uplifting formats that they then used to beat the heart out of us. Post-rock is the new positive jazz (Kenny G) and lite rock (Michael Bolton). However, in order to cater to a new generation of self-pity, the lords of industry have made this both minor-key and self-reflexively super-balanced, so it’s like uplifting music that tells you it’s not your fault and watches Napoleon Dynamite with you. It is impossible to distinguish post-rock from the audience who listen to it, who are indie-rockers and hipsters, or those who have found no meaning in life so they focus on themselves, and accessorizing their personalities with beaucoup “ironic,” “unique” and “different” things. Industry encourages them because they are perfect consumers who will quietly work as web designers their whole lives, stay single and keep buying entertainment products, and despite all their grumbling are only too happy to report to work. Agalloch make an interesting meshing of textures and styles in Marrow of the Spirit, and there are no musical grounds for criticism. Artistically, for all its attempts to be different, the underlying songwriting is more like regular indie rock music and so while it’s “unusual” for metal, it’s actually the usual thing when you look at music as a whole. Summary: Agalloch make great rock music and should drop the metal pretense and just get bigger than Dave Matthews, because their current style panders to insincere people and those so clueless they think novelty in style is more important than clarity and meaning in content.

Triptykon – Eparistera Daimones

Tom G. Warrior, although an artist of great talent, gets sidetracked into trying to “stay current.” This happened to Celtic Frost in the late 1980s, and it now happens with Triptykon, which tries hard to be modern metal with touches of Rammstein and Marilyn Manson yet keeping the underground honest morbidity. This impossible task results in Triptykon dumbing down their music through repetition and really obvious, repetitive choruses that rant out memes in raw form and pound them into our heads. Songwriting is good although directionless because all else has been shoved aside to keep those “catchy” ranty choruses, and some interesting melodies come of this, but I don’t want to listen to it. It’s annoying and reduces consciousness to a background hum because it’s so loud and repetitive. What we loved from Celtic Frost was the atmosphere; Triptykon is the anti-atmosphere. It’s too bad because if Tom G. looked honestly in the mirror, he’d see that he is loved for the quality and content of his music and not its style, so he should get more honest with the style even if it seems 20-30 years out of date. Who cares what the trends are? In three years they’ll be gone along with this album, and in 30 years kids will still be learning to play “Triumph of Death.”

Abraxas – Damnation

Nothing wrong with this band — standard late-model death metal, like Vader crossed with Devourment. Not bad but nothing particularly exciting. Overuse of “intensity” makes this monolithic, like reading a page of zeroes. Like the band named Damnation, it hammers too hard to achieve any kind of variation in which a story or drama could play out, and so the result is like Napalm Death’s “Scum” if the songs had been five minutes instead of ten seconds, and rigid instead of sloppy. Nothing is done wrong here but the whole does not add up to much of enduring power.

Decrepit Birth – Polarity

Someone crossed Cynic’s Focus, Death’s Human and modern technical death metal to get a fruity sounding progressive band embedded in the midst of blast and breakdown. Individual parts are great, the whole is hilarious and absurdly unclear on any kind of direction. In fact, it reminds me of modern society: the salesperson goes through the list and ticks off all that is required, and then it gets passed to the factory floor, where they bolt everything together and hope it flies. The result here is really goofy and entirely misses the grandeur and imagination of metal. Flee.

Bahimiron – Rebel Hymns of Left-Handed Terror

Against all odds, this band have reinvented themselves with a new sound. This new styling works because the band have both stripped-down what they do and focused on making every bit count. The songwriting sounds hasty but as if a very deliberate focus were placed behind each piece, so that the band knew what they needed and fought until they found it, even if it went rather quickly. Combining the Demoncy “Joined in Darkness” cum Profanatica “Profanatitas de Domonatia” sound of fuzzy, foreboding, inverse-march riffs with the remnants of the original Gorgoroth-inspired sound that propelled this band into focus, albeit with bits of the Southern style (Down, Eyehategod) and classic death metal mixed in, the new Bahimiron makes fast songs in the style of hardcore punk but gives them a uniquely metal vibe. They aim at being incomplete; the songs themselves are complete, but the emotional concept they express is one of partial completion. Plenty of speed and power in these riffs; no particularly groundbreaking variations occur, and the noisy lead guitar (Watain “Rabid Death’s Curse” style) creates no enduring atmosphere. Even the EP itself tapers off, bringing in a few speed metal riffs and even modern metal influences toward the end (blame Krieg’s latest) but the riffs wrap up in hard-hitting songs that are not scattered random thoughts and as a result, create a memorable listen. Glad to see these guys returning on a high note.

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