November Reviews: Neutron Hammer, The Stone, Worship, Gehenna

Neutron Hammer – Extermination Kommand

A short and sweet five song EP by Neutron Hammer sees these young Finns tackle a simple, tried yet tested formula, typical of what we expect from retrograde black/death/thrash hybrids, seemingly with the only intention to rehash and rekindle lost memories of something many once saw as ‘true’. With a sharp and clear production that conveys great energy within the constraints of mostly verse/chorus song structures, Neutron Hammer often have a similar charge to their music not unlike Australian nostalgics Vomitor and Spear Of Longinus, though compacted to an catchy, anthemic mode that fits the early, primitive works of Impaled Nazerene and Beherit. Excellent work, and also worth watching if you can catch a live performance.

The Stone – Magla

Serbian black metallers The Stone create an epic work that resembles Texan act Averse Sefira, as both bands combine death metal riffing with Norwegian styled harmonies. The differences here are that the melodies are more obvious to untrained ears and we get much more variation in tempos. Amidst this framework there is a crepitating NWOBHM influence in the guitar work, laid beneath a sheen of violent, modern black metal phrasings. One of the best releases to come out of Eastern Europe since the turn of the recent millennium.

Worship – Last CD Before Doomsday

Reissued on CD format five years after being issued on cassette in 1999, Worship play in a funeral doom style that takes on the amelodic, sluggish, death-doom riffing of Thergothon and the suicidal themes and eclectic ambiences of fellow Germans Bethlehem. This lacks the sense of continuity that makes bands like Skepticism great, often losing its momentum in its search of unfathomable dirges of gloom, though this is no means to suggest it is a bad work, it still has its moments of quality.


Gehenna – First Spell

A minor classic of Norwegian black metal, Gehenna’s debut full length contains five songs that combine simple, punky chords and tremolo picked guitar harmonies amidst a backdrop of haunting, etheareal keyboards. Unlike most bands who have unsuccessfully tried to execute this ‘gothic’ variant of black metal, Gehenna clearly understand quality control, and whilst they allowed this aesthetic to play a key role in what you hear on the surface, it is kept in moderation and doesnt outweigh the artistic beauty on offer. If you are looking for something that triumphs where acts such as Cradle Of Filth handicapped their own potential, one should find it all here. Simple, imaginative, majestic and consistent, this is a highly recommended release.

Written by Pearson

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Identity Construction and Class Demonstration in Modern Black Metal

1. Introduction
2. The End of the Millennium: The Collapse of the Integrity of the “Scene”
3. Priests of Black Metal: The Surrealist Medievalist Reformation
4. Warriors of Black Metal: The Militant Romanticist Reformation
5. Evil Pseudo-art and the Rise of the Hipster: Revolution or Death?


Art must excite the imagination. This is a condition of aesthetic effect, and therefore a fundamental law of all the fine arts. But it follows from this that not everything can be given directly to the senses through the work of art, but only as much as is required to lead the imagination on to the right path. Something, and indeed the final thing, must always be left over for it to do.

– Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Inner Nature of Art

Black metal music is one of these great arts. There is no religion mixed with Black metal! When religions are mixed to music it result feeble feelings, pseudo-art.

– Wlad Drakkheim (Vlad Tepes)

Histories of early black metal are dime a dozen nowadays and by now you probably know how Mayhem and Burzum came about, if you are interested, and have figured out why the churches were burnt, if you are intelligent. However, what happened after 1995 is rarely put under reasonable scrutiny because as in politics, recent events contain too much unexposed lies and hidden agendas to bear daylight.

This article intends to take the bull by the horns and explain through an eyewitness’s observation the development of the philosophy of black metal from the first divide (the cultist vs. the crowdist) that occurred around 1996 to the second divide (the realist vs. the hipster) that occurred approximately ten years later.

The End of the Millennium: The Collapse of the Integrity of the “Scene”

When the blaze in the northern sky had died out and the geniuses of the previous generation were either rotting in a jail or in a pub, a new generation sought to rediscover the meaning of black metal as a lifestyle and as a Weltanschauung. The masses, representatives of mediocrity, had already found their way into black metal when most of the original acts had betrayed the ancestral trust by developing into a theatre of gothic makeups, glam rock attitudes and weak synth-based pseudo-heroic anthems.

The Internet grew into a unifying, though disputed and hated, medium for the black metal underground to bicker about trivialities, form projects and spread news and gossip. Forums and websites contained information about hundreds of new bands, far from the old realm of tape traders and fanatics who kept meticulous contact with friends abroad through letters and phone calls. Also, the beloved underground zine, responsible for establishing the mystique around the early 90s black metal scene, was relegated to minor status as an upholder of the cursed movement.

Because the crowds present were in no way contributing to the development of black metal, as opposed to practically everyone in the beginning of 90s who was interested, the scene started to show the same fissures that had obliterated punk, hardcore and a whole lot of other once-radical artistic movements to relic status. The scene grew introverted because the outside did not seem to be interested in participating in the original barbaric-Faustian quest for freedom in darkness, even if hoarding information and releases. The scene rotated around people who, despite their intelligence, were reluctant to break genre barriers because their attitude was commitment, not innovation.

Purity of intent became mangled in a scene setting; the desire to bring power and authenticity back, to solidify black metal fans into a commando force for opposing the democratic spinelessness of modern life, was mostly a disguise. The greatest psychological motivation was the worship of one’s own personality and identity and it’s separateness from others by self-aggrandizement, by wallowing in ideas such that one is extreme, unique and important. They were like the proud fallen angels but only in the surface aspects; the core was a youth subculture among many others who share exactly the same kind of attitudes and personality types.

The black metal underground adopted more and more extreme stances to make them impenetrable to the masses that were threatening to turn black metal into a parody and a freakshow. One of these positions was the National Socialist black metal, which had been already perpetrated in the early 90s by Absurd and Lord of Evil but failed to become a widespread movement until the end of the decade when the Allgermanische Heidnische Front and the Pagan Front along with, intentionally or not, Moynihan’s and Søderlund’s book Lords of Chaos promoted the mixture of national traditionalism and romantic black metal, to the disgust of the part of the scene retaining the leftist influence from grindcore.

For another segment of the underground, the message chosen was as corrupted, cryptic and vile as possible. Inspired by the first incarnation of black metal and of everything that was filthy and anti-social in the underground, satanic nihilists waged war on everything, as exemplified by the album titles Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan (Antaeus) and Kill Yourself or Someone You Love (Krieg). The actual message was hidden under the surface, for it utilized spewed vitriol for an introverted self-study, which was concealed as an attack. The Satanists and nihilists considered worldly things as folly, a curse imposed by God or nature upon the Faustian soul – all attachment and love in fleshly things was false figments of illusion, much like the Gnostic Christians believed.

Priests of Black Metal: The Surrealist Medievalist Reformation

The heirs of the nihilist black metal culture became known as the religious black metal scene, because in the original sense of the word religare, the artists sought to strip the world of its importance by detachment, perversion, self-flagellation and insanity to reach the transcendental quietude of the noumenalworld, perceived as a spiritual death. The ideal was modelled on characters like Dead and Euronymous of Mayhem, who were seen as the original martyrs of black metal.

The aesthetic defined by Mayhem on the classic De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, an amalgamation of the theological and the heretical, a re-interpretation of the sacred writings of Christianity, was given a full treatment by bands that musically attempted to find a balance between the creation of “experimental” black metal and “true” black metal (essentially two trends that had been around since new black metal became mostly home recorded and free of quality expectations).

The audience who felt more kinship with pagan ideals, heroism and warfare grew over the years to hate the depressive Satan-worshipping bands, not because they would oppose the best of their music, but because the scene concentrated into seeking whatever seemed most radical and hateful in the limited perspective of a Scandinavian middle class young man from an atheistic family. It was a very limited world and while some occultists were able to discuss their way around this problem, the limitation culminated artistically in satanic black metal bands going by hordes to the modern equivalent of Sunlight studios, the Necromorbus, to create endless similar sounding clones, many of which were pleasing listens but historically nothing more than footnotes.

The prime motivation to create this new style of theistic black metal was that newly found emphasis on production and melody that gave them a chance to try out their hand on professional musicianship combined with literate Satanism, and thus escape the falsely assumed impression of the last decade that you were either a capable musician or an extremist, not both.

The target audience, which was mostly composed of young, sensitive, intelligent and fragmented personalities with an emotional attachment to the mystique of Satan and Christianity, mostly liked it since the music was tried and true melodic black metal not far from that of the eternal crowd favorites Marduk and Dissection, with updated imagery and lyrics. It was also suitable to the retro-purist tendency to reject political developments in black metal on the grounds that such were not originally a part of it, despite the fact that they themselves introduced many aspects such as the Bible quotations and theological analysis which belonged to it even less.

Warriors of Black Metal: The Militant Romanticist Reformation

The pagan warriors fared a little better on the quest for Romantic, neo-classical black metal art. The core bands of nationalist pagan black metal, such as Totenburg, Heldentum and Eisenwinter, realized a synthesis of the street punks’ (through Oi and RAC) music with folk and heavy metal and some of the naturalistic black metal instinct of Ildjarn and Burzum. These bands steered clean from pleasing the public with melodic death metal influences or digital production standards, while many others such as Temnozor, Kroda, later Forest and Graveland, led their epics by vocal and folk instrument melodies, influences from symphonic soundtracks and recurring Hammerheart–era Bathory riffs, mostly in rock format.

Despite the extreme horror incited in some countries and scenes by the open admiration of the principles of Hitler and the SS, part of its power in the mind of the participants was also that it was positive: encouraging respect for ancient tradition, working for society and appreciating love and friendship.

Norway’s black metal had played ruthlessly upon a reputation of morbid obsession and criminal darkness, preying upon the minds of weak-willed individuals who were seeking a chance to submit to the will towards death. NS influences in black metal had been a natural development for many key practitioners from Darkthrone to Impaled Nazarene regardless of whether or not they ever admitted to anything more than a slight inspiration and a shock statement. It gave a chance to balance the darkness of witch-cults with the light of European virtue.

An esoteric nationalism, inspired by traditionalists Evola and Guénon and by philosophers Nietzsche and Bergson, also emerged, and was more sophisticated than the crude hedonism of LaVey or the superstitions of Elizabethan Devil worshippers. But when presented to the working class it meant believing that the sickness of the world is a manifestation of the plots of other races, particularly the Jews, for the subversion of the higher culture of the White Aryan.

In fact, only a small part of the fans of NSBM ever were devotees of pure National Socialism. The movement of nationalist pagan black metal was united by the opposition of globalization, multiculturalism, crime and vice perceived by them to be the import of African and Semitic races to Europe: drugs, rape, apathy and disrespect for the local authority, which a regular Scandinavian tends to trust implicitly. Additionally, communism and anarchism were seen as anti-national and anti-cultural forces that have the power to assume control in the media under various guises.

While many of the aesthetic ideals of NSBM, such as respect, healthiness, personal integrity, constructive activity and diligence in work, were close to being acceptable in mainstream European societies, in general the involved characters were dedicated individuals facing hatred and opposition in all directions and actively treating life as a battle-like challenge. The movement could act as a representation of the tradition and
will of any social class in Europe, so that both those with lower and higher education could find their own ways to see the core ideal: an agreement of a very common sense rooted resistance to multiculturalism, runes and the metaphysics of Wiligut and Heidegger.

The ideology did not encourage escapism through occult and religious experience, or delving deep into the decadent side of modern society. Nor did it deny any of the basic wishes and instincts of man such as having a constructive job, raising a family or having a good time with friends and warriors. But the stigma — and in some countries, criminality — of the symbology forced the adherents to always be careful, prepare for confrontation and face all the consequences of the living the worst possible implications of his ideal.

The youth took this by the face value and were excited about the chance to do something on the streets, be it simply dressing in camo pants and Dr. Martens or actually joining local skinheads or political organizations. Many of them were of the opinion that the virtue of the message and imparted “Aryan” aesthetics, and the right attitude (underground, intolerant, street credible) behind it are what makes black metal worthwhile, not intellectual satisfaction or beauty.

Evil Pseudo-art and the Rise of the Hipster: Revolution or Death?

The emphasis on action and practical message differentiated “Aryan” black metal from what has been the crux of the satanic black metal of the new millennium, which in the spirit of Emperor and particularly Dissection has been creating requiems and sonatas to Him from a more learned and encyclopedic background, quoting the likes of Dali, thus creating hipster-friendly amalgamations of styles that suggest intelligence and taste but only little activity and spirit, or in the words of Vlad Tepes, “pseudo-art”.

In nihilist, depressive and theistic black metal rhetoric, the most vile and offensive threats were brought upon mankind and society in praise of the Devil while concepts such as rape, abuse and suicide were glorified. In some circles it became a game of how low one can sink into the medievalist approach to Satanism, inspired by nothing so much as a Euronymous statement taken out of context: “We are but slaves of the one with horns.” But since the masquerade was obvious, satanic black metallers never seemed like criminals to society except in cases where the adherents actively sought participation in drugs and assaults.

It was one of the most two-faced cults seen in metal – extremely powerful symbolism and literature was abused by people who constantly admitted to failure and self-defeated feelings in the guise of a reborn Gnostic/Jesuit theology that denies the world having anything of value. Artists and philosophers gave long and explanatory answers in interviews that were too difficult for the majority to understand and thus ended up taken out of context. Many, though, considered this the natural way of “evil”: the weak and the stupid deserve to be corrupted, driven into suicide, fear and madness by the power of Lucifer’s light.

What seemed to make Devil worshipping black metal dangerous and potent was its mercurial nature; unlike in the nationalist pagan scene, one’s class and education completely determined the understanding of the given compulsory Bible, Bataille and Sitra Ahra quotations. A son of a religious family with no higher education would see the Devil worshippers’ theology in a totally different perspective from a university student of comparative religion or literature.

Especially through the down-to-earth, joyless Protestantism of Scandinavia, faith and belief in gods and the supernatural are approached with mania, neuroses and fetishism and the resulting phenomenon glorified anyone who committed atrocities in the name of primitive Devil worship. The educated middle and upper classes both loathed and envied the non-educated and thus “untamed” madman because he seemed more capable of spontaneous action and breaking free of the foulest captor of the middle class: the desire for comfort and to avoid suffering.

The will to join the masquerade, to choose for oneself the identity of a “pagan warrior” or “a Devil worshipper” has fed the black metal market for the last decade. Despite some achievements and innovations in philosophical and musical expression, it has contributed to the downfall of black metal in that it has been all too easy for the crowd to gather under the banners, to create redundant projects that copy the originals without understanding the message and to buy everything that conforms exactly to the imagery one wishes to associate oneself with.

If one is allowed to bluntly generalize, one tends to see on message boards nationalists expressing themselves with a crude, uneducated language reminiscent of trailer park fascism, yet having a solid idea worthy of being developed further, a meaning behind the words. On the other hand a Theistic Satanist can easily lecture you on the Blavatskyan concept of Ego as Lucifer, or on the problems of empirical science, but one is left quite unsure why it is important.

The best black metal of the decade has not been revolutionary in any sense, rather interesting explorations on encoding message into either a rediscovered sense of classical melody or the soothing but barbaric minimalism of ambient. A minority still tries to seek out the best amongst the piles of waste created by the attention seekers; many from the original scene have lost interest in practically all black metal created since ‘95.

Master purveyors of black metal have sought to describe a world of fallen souls and unremembered voices, as if they have brought to life the curses of our ancestors who scream in the Abyss their indictment of the world of man, which has failed to uphold ancient, heroic and traditional laws and to pay the proper respect to the spirits of death and of darkness.

If we could catch for an instant a glimpse of the might and terror of the pure universe, unfettered by the shackles of human perception, our paths would be revealed as singular paths of light amidst infinite space, strands weaving patterns of complexity and beauty, constantly changing nature through an evolution borne by the battle waged by opposing principles.

Written by Devamitra

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Metal Orthodoxy

You may have noticed a metal orthodoxy forming over the years, but especially 1998 to the present. This orthodoxy emphasizes “trueness” to the concept (as well as the trappings, aesthetic, style, etc) of the original bands, and is paranoid wary of newcomers who do not embrace it.

Now that the official hipster central of the internet, The Onion, has published a metal list, we can demonstrate why metal orthodoxy exists: it’s designed to keep metal from being assimilated, or taken on by the larger genre of popular music as a style without ideas of its own.

Keeping it simple:
Ideas -> music -> genre of its own = metal orthodoxy
Just a style, any ideas = rock ‘n roll

See why there’s a distinct movement to metal orthodoxy? No one in a genre that is unique wants to be assimilated by what’s not unique, and in fact is the average of everything it has so far consumed. Rock music is like a large corporation, eating up small brands and removing what makes them unique, turning them into a label that can be stuck on just about any product in order to sell it.

Here’s The Onion’s list:

  • Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope (2002)
  • Amon Amarth, Twilight Of The Thunder God (2008)
  • Anaal Nathrakh, The Codex Necro (2001)
  • Baroness, Blue Record (2009)
  • Blut Aus Nord, The Work Which Transforms God (2003)
  • Boris, Pink (2005)
  • Converge, Jane Doe (2001)
  • Deftones, White Pony (2000)
  • The Dillinger Escape Plan, Ire Works (2007)
  • Earthless, Rhythms From A Cosmic Sky (2007)
  • Electric Wizard, Dopethrone (2000)
  • Goatwhore, Carving Out The Eyes Of God (2009)
  • Harvey Milk, Life… The Best Game In Town (2008)
  • High On Fire, Blessed Black Wings (2005)
  • Isis, Oceanic (2002)
  • The Mars Volta, Frances The Mute (2005)
  • Mastodon, Leviathan (2004)
  • Melechesh, Djinn (2001)
  • The Melvins, (A) Senile Animal (2006)
  • Meshuggah, Catch Thirtythree (2005)
  • Opeth, Watershed (2008)
  • Orthrelm, OV (2005)
  • Pelican, The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw (2005)
  • Pig Destroyer, Phantom Limb (2007)
  • Queens Of The Stone Age, Songs For The Deaf (2002)
  • Skeletonwitch, Breathing The Fire (2009)
  • Slayer, Christ Illusion (2006)
  • Sleep, Dopesmoker (2003)
  • The Sword, Age Of Winters (2006)
  • System Of A Down, Toxicity (2001)

Why do they like these bands? Well, first and foremost — you, dear reader, are not naieve enough to think that there’s not a financial connection here. These are bands distributed by or signed to the labels that help support The Onion and may at this point be personal friends or just “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” type buddies.

But next, they’re bands that rock listeners can comprehend. Except Melechesh, which is there for a different reason. And that reason is next: each band is different, meaning that it doesn’t fit into a perceived orthodoxy. Each band is “different” by being not the perceived norm, as perceived by outsiders who cannot tell the difference between Incantation and Immolation even though that difference is immediately perceptible to anyone who likes, understands and most of all pays attention to the music.

The “different” plays into the psychology of the individual. You’re just a cog in the machine. You’d like to think differently, but every day you keep doing whatever a cog does. So you find some way to be the cog that’s a cog, but also has a little something else. Interpretive dance. A flute on your death metal album. Or you’re an oddity, the one thing of type X that isn’t like the others.

See this in action, with bonus points for adding a sense of victimization — all cogs are victims, because otherwise they’d be running the machine! — added in:

Long before The Sword, Boris was getting smeared as poseur metal. It’s unlikely that would have happened if the band wasn’t Japanese, and if lead guitarist Wata wasn’t a woman

That must be it.

Not that this band is indie rock dressed up with some metal stylings and has nothing in common with metal as an idea, as a genre, but everything in common with indie rock. After all, irony is a key way to be different.

Here’s another great dickslap in the face for metal:

Metal, more than most genres, rewards consistency; a lot of headbangers would just as soon their favorite bands keep making the same record over and over. As elsewhere, though, there’s always something to be said for progress, and Goatwhore’s most recent record is a great leap forward.

The same album over and over means “the album sounds the same aesthetically.” It doesn’t mean the notes are the same; it means the distortion, tempi, vocals, and concept are similar. So it’s not the same album, is it? But for people who cannot appreciate that album, it’s important to find a good put-down so they can feel better about their own CD rack. Yeah, it’s the same old stuff. Yeah, it’s just consistent. But this other band… they’ve (gush here) progressed, which means they added a flute to their grindcore. Did they progress? No, but all of us can tell that a flute is a change, where only a few of us can tell that composition gained depth, or new emotions, even if the aesthetic remained the same.

Indie rock is what happens when you have a bunch of people making music just as vapid as Madonna or Sting, but they want some way to appear not-a-cog so they trick it out in this superficial progress using irony to be different so we know they’re the unique cogs. But their problem is that every cog thinks it’s a unique cog, so then they’re in an arms race to both trick out their own music with weirdness, causing it be basically ugly trash (this has happened to all modern art), and put down any music which does have artistic content, because it threatens them.

And at the end of the day, that’s what this Onion article is about: the fear of masses of hipsters that they missed something within the music (e.g. not adding a flute) and therefore, that they are just cogs after all. Which as they go back to their hipster “it pays nothing but I feel educated or socially important” jobs, is a bitter consolation indeed.

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Winter – Into Darkness


In his cyclical conception of world histories, the German thinker Oswald Spengler likened the phase of decay that all civilizations eventually undergo to the seasonal onset of winter. In the post-Enlightenment western world, this is in part characterised by the rule of materialism and a corresponding inversion of traditional hierarchy, prioritising the dominant, consuming impulses of the era. What band then, could be more aptly named to reflect the cold and bleak visions of a world declining under even more advanced conditions of the organico-cultural decay that Spengler described, than the Death Metal cult of Winter?

Perhaps the slowest Metal music recorded at the time, Winter’s only full-length album is part crushing Doom of Hellhammer/Celtic Frost-inspired power-chord arrangements, and part ambient dirgewaves caught between broken transmissions of a shattered technocratic infrastructure. This distinct choice of pacing is achieved and explained by the guitar, down-tuned to the extent of coalescing with the register of droning bass-chords. Not the reverb-driven, existential heaviness of a diSEMBOWELMENT, Winter’s guitar tone has more of a hollowness to it, enough to let the bass pass through like a dying heart struggling to pump blood around cold-narrowed arteries, a fading will-to-live in an empty and broken world. The exploration of this particular aesthetic also gives rise to more of the ambient sensibilities that are present in the album. Slowly but inevitably shifting compositions open up to vistas of endless wasteland, picking up the ghostly electro-static interference left by a fallen metropolis, as guitars and bass are modulated in a manner more-or-less similar to Cliff Burton’s famous set-up on Metallica’s instrumental song, ‘Call of Ktulu’, and random radio frequencies are tuned in and out of.

Each element of instrumentation seems to impose itself on the listener in a different way. This is very apparent when being pummeled by Joe Goncalves’ overbearing bass-drumming, which is like Obituary in its restrained tempo but largely detached from such a comparatively conventional sense of tempo. Instead, drum fills cascade out of the distorted noise, as though the foundations upon which modern society were built are gradually crumbling away. The vocals present yet another side to the album, just as imposingly. The rich, guttural voice of John Alman is right in the foreground, sounding full of pure disgust but nevertheless resilient to barren environment in his midst. Lyrics are not complaints of a wounded soul hopelessly trapped within the system that is caving in on him, but observations of a world plunged into darkness and ignorance, in an allegorical, mythologised style that harkens back to an ancient, golden age. If Winter ever did read Spengler, it might be safe to assume that they were greeting a new cycle.


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Slayer – World Painted Blood

Slayer came out with their latest and we listened, mainly because if someone has once done something great, they have the potential to do it again.

The good news: It’s Slayer finding a style they can work with, and it happens to be mostly like their old style.

The bad news: epic song structures and Satanic mythologies are replaced by more literal and verse/chorus constructions.

The summary: It’s not old Slayer, but it’s better than anything since Seasons in the Abyss.

Read the review for the full story:

Slayer – World Painted Blood review and samples.

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October 24th, 2009 – AMON AMARTH, ENTOMBED, The Academy, Dublin

In what was what I would call a ‘mixed bag’ of a gig, Entombed were the disappointment, and Amon Amarth the pleasant surprise. The Academy was a packed venue, nearly full and with a decent enough set-up, good acoustics and an intimate setting, the stage not being isolated from the proximity of the audience.

Entombed played a set that disappointed, and this was partially due a lack of their better material being played. Much of the setlist consisted of numbers that were lifted from their third full-length, Wolverine Blues and then onwards, with a lack of attention given to their more pioneering work that was put out on their first two albums, Left Hand Path and Clandestine. Songs were less death metal than they were an aggressive take on stoner rock, songs being much more inclined to the verse/chorus school of rock songwriting, the rhythms more inclined to provoke the shaking of hips and the tapping of feet than they were to bang heads. Whilst this was all good and competent, certainly the great soundtrack of an alcohol fueled evening in the capital of Eire, none of these works, as far as the reviewers opinion is concerned had the violent charge nor the momentum that characterized their legendary debut. Some credit will be given to the vocalist, whose onstage presence and frantic onstage manners gave more depth and urgency to songs that otherwise were devoid of it, and the guitarists tone was brilliant, the same buzzing, ‘chainsaw’ like tone that they helped pioneer back in the early nineties through maximum amplification. Entombed concluded their set with a brilliant rendition of Left Hand Path the staple and title track of their debut album, and it put a redeeming conclusion to what was an expertly performed, yet borderline mediocre set on occasions. It would be wonderful to hear what paths could be treaded if they realise the urgency that made their earlier music essential.

Amon Amarth played an excellent and intense set, mostly consisting of the melodic, fluid and anthemic traditional metal that they have come to be easily associated with. Infectious melodies and precise, double-bass lead drum rhythms bring to mind a hybrid of Blind Guardian and late period Immortal, whilst the muscle and simplicity of their music brings to mind fellow countrymen Unleashed in both the subject matter and the simplicity of the song structures. Musically Amon Amarth have an obvious strong commercial potential, sound highly accessible by the subgenre’s standards, and whilst they are not exactly breaking any new artistic ground, they are still workmanlike and this shows in what was a very well received and well performed set. Johan Hegg is a good front man and throughout the set uses the opportunity to incite the audience to terrace chant amidst his bellowing, whilst taking turns to consume from the mead horn that is his custom to bring on stage with him. Admittedly I would not consider these to be an act of the highest caliber, though they are unique in that they have one foot stood in the primitive and barbaric, with one firmly in the ability to reach out to a large audience. It was a privilege to be involved among the audience that night.


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Hypocrisy – A Taste of Extreme Divinity

Like the previous Hail of Bullets, Pestilence and Seance albums, the new Hypocrisy is an attempt to retain old-school death metal cred while putting out an “updated” and “contemporary” style. If you cut through all the marketing and bloviation by inexperienced fans, you’ll see this for what it is: Behemoth-style metalcore.

A Taste of Extreme Divinity, like most things that rank appearance over content, uses a formula which is designed to wow you with its slick style so that you fail to notice it’s a collection of random riffs that sound good if you’re not paying attention to the rest of the song. Fast melodic riff, then a doubletime stomp, then a breakdown with a Gothenburg riff, than nu-hardcore style rant and blast; repeat in random order.

Add rattletrap triggered drumming that overplays its technique every time, and wrap the whole thing in semi-synthesized “digital whisper” vocals. If you look at how this music is composed, you’ll see that it is “embellished” verse/chorus constructions where the band designs two riffs of radically different types to serve as verse and chorus, then adds in slight rhythmic variations and purely random diversions. This style of composition is the basis of rock and punk, but not death metal. In fact, it’s the opposite of death metal, which tries to make a series of riffs express an expanding similarity even though they appear radically disparate.

The oldest con in the world is mixing some even older stuff into the old, repackaging it and calling it new. With this album, Hypocrisy are trying stuff that was old even in the days of extreme death metal, but people figured the audience was too savvy for tricks that didn’t even work with the hardcore kids. But now, few remember that old spirit, and those that do get shouted down by a new audience that’s delighted with anything new and easily digestible.

This CD is easily digestible. It is easily listened to. Nothing requires more commitment than putting your brain on hold, and paying attention to only one riff at a time. That way, each riff sounds kind of interesting. It’s only when you try to put them together into songs you realize this CD is like computer-generated text: it makes sense grammatically, but says nothing.

They finally found a way to assimilate metal into rock music. Get rid of the structure, dress up the production and really hammer out the violent riffs that just scream “metal!” even if they’re more closely related to Destruction and Exodus than death metal. Then convince everyone this carnival music is extreme because it’s random, fast and loud.

But we the discerning listeners — who value our time, and know that we get only one life so we take our music like every other aspect of our lives quite seriously — find ourselves nodding off. This is like Britney Spears on meth, repeating the same few lines over and over again until we all rush to escape the room from sheer existential boredom.

In other words, it’s metalcore.

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October 22nd & 24th, 2009 – Calling of the Satanachian Storms

Hellfires were set loose in Helsinki, Finland last weekend by a horde of black metal maniacs from all over the Earth. Profanation, an intangible feeling of myth, alignment of spirits, pervaded the atmosphere. Let me remind you that while the gig situation concerning underground black and death metal in Finland is rich and fertile, every so-called cult band appearing on stage is no longer going to change anyone’s life to something more mysterious and powerful. Maybe the younger audience sees the matter differently, but I believe they are becoming jaded also. This weekend was something different however. The main event was the 2-day Black Flames of Blasphemy fest, on 23rd and 24th, the Friday night featuring Taake and Horna, among others, but I wasn’t attending, on one hand because of a lack of interest regarding the bands, on the other because I could use one spare night between the “pre-party” on 22th (aptly called “Unholy Night to Remember”) and the Saturday explosion featuring bands of the caliber of Blasphemy and Revenge from Canada.

The dark side of Finland

So, it all started on a rainy and windy Thursday night, in a small Helsinki pub called Darkside which I had only visited once before, when it was empty. No-one was expecting a large crowd because normal people would have jobs and studies to attend to, but the place was crowded and intense. Demonos of Barathrum, the drunken bastard, was shouting at the doorman and people were consuming beer like it was the eve of ragnarók. In that one room of a few hundred cubic meters had been compressed all the dreams and neuroses of Finnish black metal since its very beginning. Even Pete Helmkamp came around to see for himself what the fuck was going on. Ofdoom, a Blasphemy clone from Hamina whose members are barely 18 years old, played a reasonably aggressive set of uncannily familiar sounding songs. I am thankful that at least the cover song choice was “Christ’s Death” by Sarcofago instead of something from the war metal scene. Many of the old school maniacs I met applauded the energy and sincerity these young guys brought to the evening. However, I was more thrilled by the Goatmoon set that saw the audience become a rioting mass of fists and headbanging. The garage punks of Finnish black metal, Goatmoon unleashed a set of familiar songs from their albums mostly resembling a triumphantly melodic cross of Dimmu Borgir demos and Absurd, not to mention an enormously provocative cover from Finnish RAC band Mistreat.

But the real reason why everybody was there that night, the crux of all the anticipation and nervous violence was the return of the infamous Azazel on stage, an early Finnish black metal coven lost to annals of history but fondly remembered by everyone who breathed the air of 90′s Finland, when worship of darkness was still pure and cold… clad in spikes. Stories about Azazel and their infamous frontman Lord Satanachia are equivalent to an inverted saga, one of madness and devotion. For a decade the band was forgotten until suddenly it seemed to have reformed in alliance with some members from young occult metal band Charnel Winds. It all seemed unbelievable and to see it with one’s own eyes… triumph!

It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that an Azazel gig might prove to be a disaster, in normal sense. Enveloped in the mists and throes of an ancient curse, the guitarist’s malfunctioning equipment threw the disorganized band from the brink of a metaphorical cliff into the abyss, to be carried upon the wings of Death. While Demonos threw himself from the audience into the stage in an alcoholic spasm, wires were torn, microphones were ripped and fists started flying. Part of the equipment was mute, the rhythm section was confused and Satanachia’s croaks were barely audible chants and incantations of demonic names. A morbid pall descended upon Helsinki. In anti-arranged structures of primitive, broken black metal, Azazel mocked everything and everyone. Brilliant and beautiful riffs, performed at variable and confused speeds, interlocked with rhythms and blasts whose randomness remained cryptically problematic. No-one knew if the songs are actually like this or have all the members gone insane. The most sensitive part of the crowd was devastated and ultimately impressed. Others were bored and drunk. Enough said about that evening except that I doubted even Saturday can give a more authentic black metal experience, because for the rest of the night and the next day, Azazel’s psychosis was still deeply within my heart.

The church of blasphemy

Saturday night was again cloaked in the weather of Jack the Ripper’s London. Through the rain we approached the ominously titled Dante’s Highlight, converted from an old church on whose steps Mannerheim and Hitler had shaken hands in a pact of war. It served as a normal nightclub until a few years ago it became one of the prominent metal bars of Helsinki. We have no knowledge how much blasphemous intent influenced its current use, but it was something to see candles and torches lighting the altar (stage), bestowing a comforting, cavernous gleam upon the high ceiling and reflecting from the chain-wrapped wooden posts adorned with gasmasks. The gig organizers par excellence Kold Reso Kvlt had taken lots of care in making this event perfect, as it was also the destination of a veritable exodus of German, French, Italian and other foreign black and death metal fans.

Proclamation from Spain launched into formally perfect, yet somehow vague and heartless Blasphemy aping primitive death metallic sounds and while the gig was technically the dream of your standard NWN forum fan, it raised apprehension that this is going to be an evening where every band sounds the same and everyone plays a Blasphemy cover! There was still some space to move around the building but despite three floors, it was rapidly becoming claustrophobic and difficult to breathe. The gig had been sold out ages ago. Black Witchery from Florida, USA, specialized in repetitive high speed exercise of redundant riffs, which despite its great marketing value to black metal consumers lacks the spiritual depth and intellectual convolution of the high masters of the genre. To anyone who has heard a Black Witchery album or two it was easy to guess what the gig is all about and for their fans, they probably did deliver the goods. I liked a few of the atonal, destructive, confusional parts that reminded me of the greatness of the Australian disbanded legend Bestial Warlust.

By the time the third band, Archgoat from Turku, Finland, commenced their set, the full force of the Finnish metal scene had already coalesced upon the building and for anyone who knows people or is known himself, much time and attention had to be spent on greetings, handshakes, throwing the horns, mock fighting and the like. However, the atmosphere was also rapidly gaining a more intense, expectant and noxious odour. Screams, blood and bursts of madness spattered the overcrowded club. Between pockets of peace, chaos reigned, the passing of souls from one layer of Hell to another, brother and enemy united in prayers of profanation. While for some people the grinding, organic and physical malevolence of Archgoat marked their best gig ever, I say the 2005 comeback gig after a decade of silence still holds the scepter. Heavily influenced by VON and Sarcofago, Archgoat was the first band of the evening to capture a cold, theatrical melody and frame the counterpoints of primitive death metal riffs with heavy, well placed doom. It was the only performance of the evening whose spine was not hardened by monotonous speed. Instead, it slithered up the walls like a serpent of abomination.

Nature’s revenge

Amidst beer, guts and blood, headbanging Italians and Finns going mad over the controversies and abstractions of the night’s leading band (“Are Blasphemy real, do they really exist?” “Is that negro over there Caller of the Storms?”) everyone who was ever famous in Finnish black metal walked entranced amidst the crowd, as one with the spiritually dead. Black metal skinheads went out for a smoke and traded with kebab and banana merchants around the corner. Someone’s face was fisted and another got a kiss from a new girl.

Revenge, the Canadian commando force, was for some members of the audience the main event to witness here and for a good reason. By the unholy candles’ light, between the walls built to serve God, James Read attacked the drumkit like a voodoo priest releasing magick vapours of steaming ether, in a sharp and fluid tribute to grindcore percussion masters. In a battle position, in the attire of a right wing street fighter, Helmkamp’s fingers tore thrash influenced phrases from the trusty bass guitar as he used to do already decades ago in Order from Chaos, while his sharp intonation revealed the lyrics be less a narration, more a ritual chant of words whose meaning and connotation have been obvious to warriors for millennia: “traitor”, “victory”, “blood”, “conquest”, “force”, “survival”. The robotic, inhumanly precise ability of the three musicians to control chaos resulted in the most impressive technical display of the evening. It caused uncertainty and fear. What can even the mighty Blasphemy do after this 100-percent martial art display of perfect war metal kata forms?

Luckily we didn’t need to wait very long until Black Winds and co. gave us the answer. As a storm of the angels of apocalypse and doom, this noisy but influential group of Canadians were far from any kind of perfection in their music. They appeared as in constant battle, a crackling terror of violent audial force, ripping and rending the soundscape of world without end. Dramatic and physical, it seemed as if the walls are about to collapse. Black Winds seemed at times lost, at others frenzied and focused. Strong war screams arose from his throat in defiance to heavens. Caller of the Storms didn’t play his guitar, he molested its corpse. A gargantuan sized session bassist filled the forefront and provided background vocals. Ryan Förster of Conqueror played second guitar wearing a gasmask. Original drummer 3 Black Hearts of Damnation and Impurity pulsed, leaped and attacked with his beats as lightning that strikes amidst a raging storm. It wouldn’t be correct to say the band was in top form, or something. The band was a force of nature, a mission of war that happened on stage. It didn’t compete with the musical precision and finesse of Revenge. It maimed the listeners with its droning and anti-sacred frequencies into submission, obeisance and ultimately an intuitive sense of the laws of nature. Cosmos, life, nature is about war. That’s what war metal and Blasphemy is about. The order of things, as it is, revealed in chaos. The highest principle of art, which is truth. Rarely, in years of seeing the finest of the bands perform on stage, have I been filled with such a calm, inspired joy as in the midst of this night’s rendition of “War Command”.

Thus, I have witnessed two of the finest evenings of black metal this year. I give my highest and sincere thanks to individuals who year after year, day after day, spend their attention and hard work to organize cultural events of the highest magnitude, even while they will never be as celebrated for their work as even mediocre bands are. Flyers and ads already promise interesting happenings for next year, so for now, I still very much enjoy living in this Northern land of bloody lakes and corpse-strewn woods!


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Sadistic Metal Reviews 10-18-09

God is love, they tell me, and that universal brotherhood is the way to peace and happiness. But I’d rather have answers than peace, and I’d rather have really intense peaks of experience than absence from conflict. This is most true in music: absence of hatred, war, chaos, loss, tragedy, sodomy and demons means boredom and lots of twee “mixed emotions” poignant ironic dweeb-rock that some scenester in plaid and chains is going to lord over me like the hidden magics of Merlin. Attention hipsters: your music isn’t special. In fact, you’re only pretending it’s special because it’s not and you want a reason to feel really cool and to try to make me feel like the dweeb. But then again, I’m not the one wearing an ironic ensemble designed to tell the world I’m not a sheep. Because telling the world you’re not a sheep is not only transparent, it’s also one good way to get trolled by a large corporation. We’re here to dodge the sheep/anti-sheep dichotomy and just look for interesting music. Welcome again to Sadistic Metal Reviews.

Iron Age – The Sleeping Eye

Many things have two masters, but this band has two souls. The first sounds a lot like Manilla Road, with more of the aggression of later Destruction and the progressive vibe of Atrophy, with the nu-hardcore vocals of later At the Gates. The second is early alt/indie progressive speed and doom metal that sounds like a cross between Sabbat (UK) and St. Vitus, or any of the doomy hard-rock influenced bands like Sacrilege (“Turn Back Trilobite”). Lead guitar is the real standout, with solos that seem to wander around the obvious but chart a path right for the major theme and then spell it out offhandedly, as if unveiling a card trick, without losing the musician’s sense of spirit and audience that keeps them from being gimmick. Riffs are more of the European style, with one or two chords offset against a rhythm played in fairly inconsequential chords or open strings. From this the band modulates into its second soul, one in which a good Sabbathian doom riff must play out evenly against a changing backdrop of tempo, which through its permutations selects variations and complements to that theme. Compared to underground metal, this sounds sparse and somewhat like a Model T, with tempos and architectures of an earlier time. However, it’s quite good and puts both most doom metal bands and most speed metal bands from the post-1994 era to shame.

Evoken – Antithesis of Light

From the epic doom category inhabited by Skepticism and Disembowelment, Evoken make dark long slow heavy metal with melodic underpinnings and plenty of slow chords and arpeggios. They create as a result a mood of lightness and suspension of belief in the midst of a glacial motion, grinding forward into minor key melodies. On the whole, it is lighter and more conventional heavy metal than Skepticism, which is its closest stylistic cousin. The music is good but not particularly compelling.

Wardruna – Runaljod – Gap Var Ginnunga

Remember how hippies used to gather at any kind of “cultural” event to play music, and how, just like with the Grateful Dead, it was impossible to tell the difference between songs? Wardruna updates the hippie model by using traditional Norse instruments and chants in what are basically organic dub pieces. Organized around a beat, they grow through layers of vocals, jawharp, and other instruments, but layers come and go in a cyclic pattern which means that at some point the dub fades toward the horizon. It’s a neat experiment but not very listenable, mainly because in order to keep content bland, it does not let these songs breathe or grow.

Hopewell – Good Good Desperation

Technically, I s’pose, this is post-rock. Really it’s just a very cool updated hippie jam from the 1970s. Think MC5 in collision with the Grateful Dead as if executed by Motorhead and you get the general idea. Advantages are that it’s instrumentally dense rock music that’s still easy to listen to; downside is that it’s still stranded in rock ‘n roll land where everything must bounce and be dramatic. This sort of kills the overall dynamic. Parts of this are a David Bowie love fest, and other parts are reminiscent of a dark rock version of Sisters of Mercy. But on the whole, the bouncy ironic party atmosphere — like Talking Heads colliding with Faith No More — swallows up everything else, reducing it to a predictable cycle.

Caspian – Tertia

Post-rock with few vocal additions that works at building a mood through ambient repetition, using layers sparsely and mostly working a noisy but gentle mantle of sound, this CD is one of my recent favorites — for background use. It’s not too dissimilar to the forest style of black metal where you have droning riffs build up, then a solo that sounds designed for traditional instruments, and a slow fading away. It’s also very close to guitar ambient like Robert Fripp, but with active drums in the background and frequent use of punk/black metal/shoegaze hybrid riffs. It’s soft like a fountain in a garden, sweet like that well-intentioned nerd who tried to take your sister to a date at the Natural History museum, but also, kind of boring on repeated listening.

Meshuggah – Contradictions Collapse

With all the attention given to retro speed metal, it’s important to mention the best releases from Meshuggah. Clearly this band always intended to work jazzy technique into Metallica-style speed metal with Prong influences, meaning a more flexible sense of rhythm and harmony, in addition to a death metal-descended vigorous riff salad that often re-uses riffs at different tempos or broken into puzzle pieces and reassembled in different order and scalar direction. Solos are the kind of diminished scale, oblique harmony noodling that made jazz fusion fun for the first few years. There’s a bit of bombastic bounce in the Exhorder/Pantera style of howling verses and riot shout choruses, which makes this album sound dated. I can also pick up Destruction and Nuclear Assault influences. Hetfield influenced these vocals. This is by far the best thing this band have done because it shows them at their most honest making music they’d like to hear and judging by the subtlety of it relative to their later works, this was the last time they were freed from a cynical vision of their audience as wankers who love anything that sounds “technical” as it builds up their own egos. Other than the style being abrasively 1980s I’d listen to this, which I cannot say for anything else this band did save None, their EP before they got fully cynical and dollar sign oriented.

Heaven and Hell – The Devil You Know

This album represents a huge improvement on other Sabbath-related efforts over the last decade. Borrowing a page from the AC/DC book, it focuses on simple rhythms and movie soundtrack “epic” riffs mixed in with the heavy metal standards. Lyrics manage to capture a sense of the vaguely sinister and ironic, and vocalist Ronnie James Dio delivers them with even-handed clarity and force. The magical sense of songs developing into some protean animal unknown to their origins is not here, but the full dose of classic heavy metal feel with the relentless energy of contemporary AOR makes up for it. Instrumentalism is reined back; Iommi’s solos are fragmentary and cut from whole cloth, and bass follows guitar, which sticks to middle-of-the-road power chord riffs, but the result is not bad. It’s easy to listen to and enjoy with half a brain, and for that has some pleasant melodies and rhythms, all while keeping an almost trademark heavy metal sense of obsession with the dark, conspiratorial, occult, and inverted symbols. If you can imagine Mob Rules hybridized with Blow Up Your Video with a touch of Motorhead at the fringes, you can see why this album has more appeal than the hidebound retro attempts of other classic bands.

Lugubrum – Winterstones

We all try to like this. It’s Burzum-technique applied to a doom metal band. So it trudges, then picks us up with a little melody, then goes back into the deep harmony. Again and again. Without making any really clear points, or showing us an adventure not of our own projection. So after awhile, hey look what’s on TV — you know, they’re showing those commercials again with the annoying chick with the hipster hair. I was doing something, and there’s some kind of music on in the background, but it seems really generic. What the heck? Oh, Lugubrum. Not a bad effort but nothing I want to hear again. This artist needs to take some risks and show us what’s in his/her/its soul.

Christ Inversion – Obey the Will of Hell

The musicians behind this demo studied their black metal well, but never quite figured out how the composition of the music differs from regular old heavy metal and punk. There’s too much emphasis on verse/chorus structures in the punk style, and leaning on harmonic “sweet spots” with trudging repetition the way heavy metal makes choruses, ending up with something that sounds very much not like black metal. Songs are pretty basic and relatively musical but not memorable. Vocals are pitch-shifted and irritating, and riffs show a ton of BEHERIT influence but none of the grace. I guess it’s OK. I also guess I don’t care since I can find 400,000 demos that meet this description.

Land of Kush – Against the Day

After a lengthy 1970s ambient noise track from which you can smell the idealism and psilocybin lifting like a cloud of morning fog, this band detours into spacious ambient rock with chanted murmur vocals over insistent beats with serial changes and extensive instrumental soloing. This is enjoyable to listen to but it’s hard to imagine putting on except as background reality tuning, which it does well: dropping us into the hopeful deconstruction of the 1970s with the savvy layering of our contemporaries. It’s like Morcheeba without the affected digital disco urban funk.

General Surgery – Corpus in Extremis

It’s unlikely the broom will ever evolve beyond what it is now and has been for a thousand years. For certain needs, the response doesn’t need to change. General Surgery have tried to escape being a Carcass tribute band by shifting their vocals to later Carcass style and trying the modern death metal thing, which basically means death metal that writes its songs like metalcore and tries to distract/annoy like nu-metal does. There’s a lot of tribute to the old school in various riffs, but just as much tribute to sped up heavy metal and modern metal. It reminds me of the recent Seance and fails for the same reasons: too busy, too ambivalent about its own style and lacking any kind of refinement of message to an insightful, profound, gradually-revealing passage through experience transferred.

Eyes of Ligeia – What the Moon Brings

In that interesting intersection of indie rock and doom metal, Eyes of Ligeia is a veteran I remember first appearing in the middle 1990s — and to their credit, they’re making the same style of music but have improved it in every way over the years. Not many bands are able to define what they want and then instead of getting wide-eyed with trying to make their style fit an audience, divert their energies toward making their content and form mate each other more ideally. Eyes of Ligeia drone quitely under rasping black metal vocals, using either carefully picked open chord riffs or power chord earthmover doom riffs, but using both in complementary pairs with background keyboards that provide a deepening sense of mood. Reminiscent of ritual music, this repeating loop of sound produces a hanging atmosphere like overtones to a chord slowed down to the milisecond scale. For many of us, appreciation of this band is natural even if we find the sub-genre — doom metal — to be too repetitive for our tastes.

The Chariot – Wars and Rumors of Wars

Thrash bands broke into two groups, the punk-style and the metal-style, although both were mixes of metal and punk.Same way with metalcore: ranty, new style hardcore defines the sound of this metalcore band. The “core” in hardcore comes from the love of abrupt riff changes and random riff combinations, with really enigmatic choruses, and here it’s put to good use so that we hear loud angry ranting that changes abruptly like a car wreck, then there’s a recognizable pseudo-emo chorus. Do we need another band like this?

Drudkh – Microcosmos

Boring candy. That’s what you need to know. Every part of this CD sounds sweet, but it’s also boring as hell because like music they play in grocery stores, there’s no change in mood. There is no journey in these songs. They turn on; there’s a mood; they throw in all sorts of stuff to obscure the fact that it’s static and dimensionless; then it ends. Sum total change in outlook: nothing. It’s Britney Spears, like Aura Noir without the aggression. Notice how heavy metal shredder guitar coexists with Burzum derivations, Graveland folkish parts, and the occasional prog metal riff. And then a cheesy heavy metal solo that meanders. What does it mean? It’s the anti-meaning, which is to say there’s no direction other than self-reference. That’s why it’s boring. It’s candy because these are like pop songs very pendulum-like in their transition between recognized forms of non-threatening order. The prog parts remind me of Kong, the black metal parts of Abyssic Hate and Ved Buens Ende crossed.

Brutal Truth – Evolution Through Revolution

Like Sounds of the Animal Kingdom, this album shows Brutal Truth with more refined technique but a lack of gestalt that decreases the status of this album as something pushing a genre forward. Instead, it’s waving the flag but does so without finding an angle of its own on the genre, so it ends up being standard grindcore played with Brutal Truth technique by arguably the most proficient musicians in the genre. There are moments of sheer brilliance in riffology, and the cynical nature of these songs more resembles early DRI than the boiled tasteless political partisanship of recent grindcore, but nothing is going to really floor you despite having many powerful aspects.

Teitanblood – Seven Chalices

After everyone in the underground was done praising this new work as a resurrection of the spirit of the 1980s, there was a brief lapse in the hype as people re-thought their extravagant praise. Now it’s time for some reviewer to come along and haul out two names: Deathspell Omega, and Blasphemy. This CD doesn’t sound anything like Deathspell Omega, but it uses the same tactic of working its aesthetic like a Hollywood fashion designer. Lush layered voices, monastic chants, interludes and lots of guitar noise during songs make this “sound like” (to our conscious minds) it has depth, richness, different experience. But like Deathspell Omega, once you strip away all that art director frippery, you find a pretty ordinary CD. In Deathspell Omega’s case, it’s a long-melody fetish derived from early Ancient. In Teitanblood’s case, it’s a desire to use Bathory’s ideas, especially vocal ideas, in a form of death metal that emphasizes doomy passages alternating with a slamming interruption of cadence. The result is laborious. Get ready to let your monkey brain get distracted by the aesthetic while very unexceptional music bleats on by like a stream

Tragedy – Nerve Damage

People kept hearing me listen to Transilvanian Hunger and they’d say, “No way dude, you need to check out Tragedy, they started this style.” I have come to the conclusion that they never heard Discharge, GBH or Sarcofago; however, they’re partially correct. Tragedy is a very metal-oriented take on what it would sound like if Disfear covered a whole bunch of Blink 182, Offspring, Ramones and Sex Pistols songs. These are melodic bouncy punk that eschews the UK82 stylings for rock-style pocket drumming and Motorhead vocals with emo chord progressions melded into standard punk. Harmonically, it’s rock music on a series of power chord shapes. Structurally, it’s sugar pop with a big dose of AC/DC and old punk. For this type of music, it’s great and extremely catchy and fun listening, but it’s going to bore anyone who got into Transilvanian Hunger or Tangerine Dream (its inspiration) and grasped how much a non-linear atmosphere expands the enjoyment of music.

TheSyre – Exist!

This CD has absolutely nothing to do with black metal and death metal. I would style it instead as a hybrid between later Metallica, Amebix and Strapping Young Lad. Most of it is speed metal riffs that ride a bouncy rhythmic pocket, then deviate into harmonically oblique fretruns borrowed from the classic days of metal and rock but informed with an odd, rock-opera sensibility that gives each one place in an evolving narrative. As a reviewer, I have avoided this band for years because for the most part I avoid speed metal, and this is very speed metal in a style like a crossing of …And Justice for All with Kill ‘Em All: hard-edged muted-strum riffs rebounding from a bold heartbeat rhythm. The odd uses of harmony are SYL-ish, but the Motorhead-cum-Exploited vocals are pure Amebix as is the expanded but theatrical song structure to this thirty-two minute piece. If this recording has an undiscovered strength, it is its ability to make refreshing and new some classic riff patterns and put them into complex songs; if it has a weakness, it’s that like Amebix, it divides up its epics with aesthetic elements like sound samples and rhythmic pauses, and so doesn’t achieve the degree of musical integration it might like.

Orthrus – Tyrants of Deception

Imagine if Helstar, Forbidden and Coroner had a big orgy and decided to spawn an offspring with death metal vocals and speed but the German-inspired speed metal of the late 1980s. Within that context, this CD plays it right down the middle: nothing new, but well-executed, if not ambitious enough to make you reach for it again.

Pest – Rest In Morbid Darkness

This is the most schizophrenic band heard recently. It thinks it’s black metal, but really it’s head cheese made of ground up Slayer riffs with big thick chunks of heavy metal, speed metal and underground remnants. It’s good if you listen to each riff, but not really distinctive, and after a few tracks it becomes clear there’s no direction other than upholding an already well-known form.

Nagelfar – Hunengrab Im Herbst

Melodic black metal. They nailed the technique, but then wrapped it around very linear songs. They avoid carnival music, but don’t make it beyond one dimension of mood. Semi-comical vocals also make this dismal, as do recycled riff styles from speed metal.

Necromantia – The Sound of Lucifer Storming Heaven

This immensely creative music uses black metal vocals but is basically Judas Priest styled heavy metal with a dose of Queen or maybe Vangelis to give it an epic character. It is admirable for its variation and mastery of the rock/heavy metal form, but might not appeal to underground listeners.

Solis Aeterna – Sol Triumphalis

If you can imagine Lord Wind with simpler instrumentation and longer phases of repetition, you can visualize the style of this entry project, although it has a worldview all its own. What makes this enjoyable is that it attacks with the bombast of a movie soundtrack, but then dissipates until it resembles a background drone. The objective seems to be a mental tuning of the listener toward moods in which one can appreciate the eternal. Like Burzum’s Baldr’s Dod, Solis Aeterna applies entry-level synthesizer sequencing skills to layers of background rhythm and slow-changing tones, over which lead keyboards riff in rough time with the tribal drums. This project will improve in clarity as time goes on, but it might be best for simply unfocusing the mind as if listening to rain at midnight.

Incest – Misogyny

This Texas band produced one demo and then vanished. They attempted to make avantgarde death metal in a style like Timeghoul and Goatlord colliding with Nuclear Death in the wings. Vocals are from the “stand back ten feet and howl at the mike” variety, and drums are surging bashing in the punk style, but guitars make spidery lead riffs wend their way between the punchier power-chorded material. There are many attempts to mix melodic riffing with more putrescent, organic rhythms, and a desire to make song structures that interrupt the cycling of riff and chorus with a series of breaks to interludes which make good use of the aforementioned melodic proggishness. This is more interesting than all but a few things we get sent yearly, but it never really manages to take wing because it comes across more as a theatre of the violent and maladjusted than something we’d want to listen to, and the lack of melodic development reduces each song to a circularity of the inconsistent. Still, I wish they’d developed this further as there’s potential here.

Crematory – Wrath from the Unknown

People have always talked about how important this band is, but it — sounding like Obscurity, Lobotomy, Suffer or Grave — resembles some of the more battering and simplistic Swedish death metal, meaning that this is almost purely rhythm riffing with little melodic or harmonic organization, and as a result, songs are unified around the synchronicity between a slower rhythm and a series of faster ones. Like the heavy American bands, Crematory favor trudging and pounding patterns with lots of walk-up and breakdown action in the middle, battering us about with the change in tempo and rhythm but in a desperate bid to be nihilistic reducing music to the threshold of simplicity. While it is not bad for that style, it is also completely uninspiring in light of the better options out there.

Actors and Actresses – Arrows

This is indie rock shaped into shoegaze with the pace of a modern jazz band, like an early version of REM playing through the haze of Ride while covering the slower songs from Sting or a postmodern Dizzy Gillespie. The major asset here, besides musicians who can do coffeehouse sparse without coming across as dead air merchants, is the purring Morrisonian vocal track, which guides us all like a hypnotic trailblazer through this forest of pop sounds reformed. It is calming, however.

Mutiilation – Sorrow Galaxies

Someone decided to make the Hollywood version of a Mutiilation album. Instead of those long, deepending moods, we’ve now got carnival music, that like carnivals tries to distract you with something new and unrelated every second. It’s like walking between the stalls at a state fair: here’s a roundabout riff, then the bumper cars, then a droning Drudkh-style black metal riff, then the fortune teller, then a Burzumy moment — and a break for cotton candy — then back to the circular passage through songs. These are very sing-song, pleasant and not dark at all. It’s questionable why you’d listen to them since you can get the same thing from Dimmu Borgir with better production and keyboards.

Gorefest – Rise to Ruin

Let me up out of this one, O narrator. No matter what people claim is “new” in metal, it always sucks and involves simpler, catchier rhythms and more rock ‘n roll touches. This CD is no exception. It’s chock full of two chord riffs that feature a lot of repetition and sudden reversal in a rhythmic hook, and then a sort of extended jam session in the middle. Like all bad metal, everything is calibrated to the ranting, riot shout pace of the vocalist, which might “work” for Sepultura’s Chaos A.D. but here just dumbs down a great band. It’s death metal if you mix it with Led Zeppelin and a crowd chanting for free bread. While no part is horrible, the sensation of listening to all of it is dizzying numbness of the forebrain.

Voivod – Infini

No one wants to give this thing a bad review because it’s like kicking Piggy, Voivod’s dead guitarist, when he’s down. However, it’s painful to listen to this thing. It sounds like Motorhead, updated through Prong, covering the Doors. Lots of really dramatic vocals, rhythmic riffs like boots scudding across a waxed floor, jaunty choruses, and occasional flashes of the lush dense chording that once defined Voivod. Percussive structure is equal parts plain and dramatic. Anytime you find yourself zoned out on the fairly unexciting riffs and the Nirvana-ish whiny vocals, there’s a constant pounding drum to remind you that you’re listening to music and you-are-glad-you-paid-for-it. Piggy was brilliant; some of the work on this is almost to that level; however, Voivod was heading downward since Negatron and this album continues the fall.

Dawnbringer – Sacrament

While this band is compared to At the Gates, a better comparison would be to Children of Bodom hybridized with Aurora Borealis. Chord progressions are very indie rock and technique comes from decades of melodic metal, while vocals sound like Motorhead, but the whole package would be more at home in the pop genre than metal. Simple-hearted melodies are in themselves good for their three-note span, but melodic development gets either so gratifying it’s impossible to appreciate, or is so predictable the other shoe dropped before the first. Nothing in particular to dislike here, but no reason to hunt it down.

Sick – Satanism Sickness Solitude

Very basic black/death metal written as if it were punk music, with simple loops of verse and chorus riffs, Sick incorporate some cyber elements like samples and vocoder but are essentially really basic metal not much changed from the early days of Metallica. While they do better than average at being this type of band, nothing really memorable stands out here, not just stylistically but compositionally — we’ve heard these combinations of notes and rhythms before, and no amount of “industrial” touches or even 400 lb transvetite divas could save us from the ordinariness of this offering.

Cryptic – Once Holy Realm

This is death metal made to sound like black metal, and it has a lot more common with a faster rippling less percussive version of standard Tampa metal than any esoteric origins. Melodic riffing fits into this framework, as does as a blackmetal rhythm, but song structures are closer to death metal riff salad and notes seem to be picked from very evident progressions. Like most reviews, this one concludes with “you won’t miss anything.”

Textures – Drawing Circles

Abstract song titles, cool conceptual name, obviously a lot of power thrown into production — oh hai, it’s post-Cynic “post-metal” metalcore that is like a cross between Jawbreaker and Spyro Gyra. And I really wanted to like this. The hackneyed punk riffs meet the hackneyed metal riffs and then explode into jazz-fusion cliches with angry Phil Anselmo(tm) vocals ranting over the whole mess. It would be impossible to give less of a shit. Where do the metalheads who like progressive/technical music go? This stuff has little in common with metal; it’s basically punk rock in that later quasi-emo style (Jawbreaker) with a lot of Pantera and nu-metal mixed in with the technical influences. That isn’t a direction, and you need to have a direction to articulate anything worthy enough of technicality.

Amorphis – Tuonela

This album is painful because it’s so well-executed, but so soulless and comical. It’s basic rock music that slightly reminds me of VNV Nation because Amorphis use picking of high notes in the background to highlight bassier foreground riffs, like if U2’s The Edge started taking on the sequenced keyboard trills VNV use in the background of their songs. There is something in the Scandinavian mentality that has them living in a paradise of social order, and longing for the grittier, weirder world of rock. Here it manifests itself in a stadium heavy metal version of the same kind of odd, introspective indie rock found on Quorthon’s “album.” They can’t quite leave metal behind, or underground metal at least, but want to make this really edgy (no pun intended) indie rock. On a musical level, it’s not particularly exceptional but is well-composed and can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the big bands for mastering the art of songwriting that makes a crowd get together and enjoy the music. Lots of bluesy solos, and odd honky-tonk keyboards overlay this busy, bombastic somewhat sentimental music. I can’t stand it but when I take my car in for an oil change, I’d prefer to hear this over the radio heavy metal in the newer, jump-metal style. But compared to classic Amorphis, on the level of expressing something artistic that is not caught up in the desires and confusions of the individuals and sees a transcendent picture of reality… this is a train wreck.

Magnum Carnage – More Unreal Than a Box of Precious Metal and Radioactive Ore

It’s hard not to like this audaciously homebrew release. If you can imagine an American version of Carcariass, meaning fast chaotic melodic heavy metal with death and black metal stylings, that’s what you’d have here. It’s more American — like a hybrid between North and South American types — in that it throws everything it can into each song and likes really abrupt breaks between genre influences. Sometimes it sounds like the Doors, sometimes it’s Judas Priest (“Painkiller” era), sometimes Led Zeppelin and then equally as frequently, a hybrid between Fallen Christ, Angel Corpse and Dissection. Mostly it’s a showcase for extremely interesting solos, fast riffs and some deft harmonic changes that give the listener the sense of a pit dropping out beneath the music and then a new pseudopod of sound rising from within it.

Gifts from Enola – From Fathoms

Let’s make one thing clear: one variant of post-rock is “techno played on guitars.” That means a layered style of composition, where themes are introduced and overlap to make patterns of their combination, and their coming and going has emotional significance. It’s an effective method. However, it’s also one that’s prone to formula since with the riff-length available to popular music, it means very simple three note fragments and literal-key soloing, which over time runs out of tricks. Gifts From Enola start with a swingin’ rhythm, and slowly add stuff in the mix so you can watch the colors change much as you would when cooking with a dough mixer. Watch the cinnamon red mix into the beige! See what happens as the egg dulls the ochre! It’s not bad but it aims for an atmosphere, and achieves degrees of lessening or intensifying, but beyond that, it is limited: the goal was not dynamic change but dynamic change serving the goal of a relatively static, semi-ritualistic emotional conditioning. It’s not terrible at all but like much music that tries to replace structure with creative repetition, rapidly becomes static. The surface creativity of this album is amazing as they blend sounds from pure noise to post-punk/emo guitar work to a dozen popular music genres including the world’s first disco grindcore, but underneath it is basically the same stuff we’ve been choking down since 1931. What’s nice about it: no vocals.

The Syre – Resistance

By casting aside any sense of genre allegiance, this French Canadian powerhouse have made their best album to date: equal parts indie, bluegrass, punk, oi, Motorhead-style metal and Devin Townsend or Probot style experimental material, this CD like a minstrel show adopts the guise of its influences to act out a theatrical journey through the different modes of human thought. Dominating by its rapidly changing aesthetic, this album is a concept piece that’s every bit as foot-tapping as Amesoeurs but has the raw aggression and bouncy determination of bands like Revenge or the aforementioned Motorhead. Clearly a lot of thought went into this. Its music does not aim to be groundbreaking, but like a concept album or modern folk, tries to unite theatre and music with idea and create an almost Jungian symbolism of the same. For those looking for an alternative to the now-hackneyed black metal, this is a deliverance in a form where one wouldn’t think to look.

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Demolition Hammer – Epidemic of Violence


This well-respected album from the early nineties is a lethal injection of pure destruction enough to satisfy anybody’s lust for laying waste to humans and their buildings. Preferably while they are still inside them so the bricks and mortar can rain down on their skulls and shatter all bones, leaving human remains indistinguishable from the rubble. I doubt this experience varies much for each listener as this album has been engineered precisely as a soundtrack of de-construction. Heavily shredded riffs reminiscent of Beneath the Remains-era Sepultura are tightly packed into a Death Metal container more appropriate for the time. This is obviously characterised by the frantic, relentless tempo of the music. More important however, is the interplay of drums and vocals as synchronous rhythmic overlay to the jackhammer guitarwork. The results are precise blows punctuated by piercing, animalistic vocals. Each riff is like something maleable or just fucking ugly for the battering drums to lay waste to like an instinctive response to something undesirable. This mechanistic attack then gives way to climaxes of lead guitar or more prolonged and guttural growls. Ecstatic brutality. It is unashamedly extremely one-dimensional music, but does not lack purpose nor the energy to violently make its point as an update of the Speed/Death sound.

Interestingly, Epidemic of Violence is the second album to use ‘Lovecraft’s Nightmare’ by Michael Whelan as cover art. I’ll use this opportunity to present it, knowing you’ll recognise who were first.




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