Sadistic Metal Reviews: Monday Mastications

FeedingPenguin
Oh here she comes. Watch out boy she’ll chew you up. She’s a maneater. – Darryl Hall and John Oates, 1982.

black tusk pillars of ash
Black Tusk – Pillars of Ash (2016)
A fusion of party rock, screamo, and hardcore punk, Pillars of Ash brings a risible contribution to the rock/punk spectrum that many a beginner is prone to confuse with metal. The relevant question here is whether or not Black Tusk have anything worthwhile to offer to the listener that may not be found in higher quality elsewhere. The answer is a resounding NO. The album plays like a tenuous stream of echoes of 1980s hardcore bands rearranged with Mario Paint.

tombs all empires fall
Tombs – All Empires Fall (2016)
Tombs is described in some places as black or post metal, and while there is some borrowing from black metal techniques in the use of some blast beats and an imitation of traditional black metal vocals, Tombs isn’t isn’t black metal. The post-metal is correctly applied in that this isn’t much more than a poor excuse for pseudo-ambient experiments with haphazardly connected sections being paraded as composition. There are strong references to doom metal, cheap and stompy heavy rock, with post rock being added as the way to get away with 3rd rate writing. All in all, boring, generic, unfocused, and unoriginal background music. Tombs is lounge music.

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Howls of Ebb – Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows (2016)
Entirely random pastiche of metal clichés loosely held together by psychedelic interludes and a drunk vocalist feigning faux lunacy. If a blend of Voivod, galloping heavy metal, canned black metal and fuzz drenched noise rock wah wah soloing wasn’t pointless enough, the band commands and impressively dissociated catalog of occult vocabulary to match.

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Nucleus – Sentient (2016)
Nucleus have fun in the studio and they want you, dear listener, to have fun at home with them. If you like Demilich but thought it was too strange, too serious, or too weird to play around your sister then Sentience is the record that delivers all the thrills of Finnish extradimensional insectoid death without danger of unthrashability. All the more perfect for fucking your sister behind the dumpster at the skatepark.

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Candelabrum – Necrotelepathy (2016)
Two twenty minute tracks of spooky landscapes, sad vampire vocals, and canned drum patterns. If the goal was to stride the line between hysterical and uncomfortable, this record is a resounding success. Necrotelepathy is more Vampire Diaries metal.

abyssus once entombed
Abyssus – Once Entombed (2016)
Another pizza thrash band with a veneer of death metal fronted by a Greek John Tardy fan. The album art and song titles make adequate use of Death Metal Band Generator. Perfect comedy for those Saturday mornings when you are drunk with fellow “scene veterans.”

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Clawhammer Abortion – Slaughter Campaign (2016)
This band took every criticism levied against death metal and wrote an album of it. In order to get through, I turned it into a drinking game: Hear a cliché, drink. The only problem is I passed out drunk after three songs and the Editor took over. He heard so many Sodom breakdowns and generic grindcore riffs that he kicked my ghetto blaster into the campfire. Only the most calcified kidneys and fattiest livers prevail in the Eternal War.

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Blood Incantation – Interdimensional Extinction (2015)

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Article by Corey M

Blood Incantation released their debut EP Interdimensional Extinction last year  to little fanfare. Having heard one of the US death metal band’s songs on a Dark Descent compilation, I was highly anticipating this release and was not disappointed. However, other respectable authors have dismissed it without giving it the attention it deserves. Because I’ve only grown to appreciate this EP more over the last several months, I intend to elaborate on Blood Incantation’s strengths, because I believe they deserve more coverage.

Guitars are the focus of and main engine of Blood Incantation’s music. Typically one guitar plays chords in rhythmic bursts to support the other guitars which harmonize faster-moving and more complex melodies. An excellent balance between the low-register rhythm chords and the weird-and warbly-leads is always maintained. During high-tension segments, the guitars mainly play in unison for maximum impact, and during some of the more paranormal passages, the drums and rhythm intensity are dialed back just enough to open up space for the imaginative and unpretentious leads. The best of the guitar solos remind me of those on In the Nightside Eclipse, sharing that ability be technically modest yet very evocative. Blood Incantation’s flailing-tentacle leads mysteriously manage to reflect or echo the dynamics of the chord pattern underneath, achieving symbiosis with the rhythm guitars and drums, even while ratcheting up the tension to the point of anticipating a total musical disintegration. Other times, leads are used to gracefully close out a song, resolving the musical stress by harmonically tying together the wildly whipping threads of various melody.

Vocals are perfectly competent and never interfere with the shape of the riffs, partially due to having a more forward-sounding presence in the mix, compared to the guitars which cast a broader curtain of sound and envelop the rest of the instruments. Drums are in thrall to the guitars, and when the guitar rhythm turns odd or just a little unorthodox, they provide an unobtrusive, robust foundation on which the highly melodic riffs build. Special mention must go to the session player with the fretless bass, who plays in the technically adventurous death metal band Stargazer. Giving each a riff an uncanny, slithery feel, the fretless adds another layer of harmonic depth and texture in a way that is underutilized or outright ignored by many death metal bands.

On the extra-musical side, Interdimensional Extinction‘s cover art is not only very cool, but an effective visual representation of the themes present in the music, featuring a distant planetary body surrounded by an orbital ring of human skeletal bits. Human skulls are always related to human death and sometimes death in general, as a concept that extends further than the merely personal, into the planetary, the celestial, and yes, even the “interdimensional”! This far-out unearthly realm is what Blood Incantation attempts to explore, as their perspective encompasses not only human death, but death as a common fate for all for all systems of organized energy, from a single bacterium to the largest galactic cluster. Does the band intentionally attempt to establish a sympathetic link between humans and non-human things by relating us all under the empirical inevitability of death? Maybe; maybe not, but these are the sorts of imaginal realms that great death metal can take a listener’s mind.

All four songs on this EP are proficiently crafted and offer the very thing that most lovers of death metal are either actively searching for at least glad to hear; death metal in its unadulterated language, but through a distinctive dialect. Perhaps the band’s native Colorado landscape has informed their intuitive songwriting, as each song moves through jagged peaks and rolling valleys, organically and without pretense. Due to the clarity of the arrangements and mixing, the songs are actually relatively easy to follow, and riffs do not hide behind distracting, murky guitar tones or gratuitous reverb. There may appear to be similarities with Demilich or Immolation, but they are only skin-deep, and Blood Incantation use intriguingly idiosyncratic methods of riff development and song structuring. All things considered, including that I have been listening to this solidly for six months now, I can only think of good reasons to recommend this EP.

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Chthe’ilist – Le Dernier Crépuscule (2016)

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Article by David Rosales

Chthe’ilist’s debut has been expected by underground death metal fans for some time.  To them, it seems like a promising project faithful to the ideals of atmospheric technical bands such as Demilich and Timeghoul, from whom it takes unmistakable cues. Less fortunate are the influences of popular (in the underground) but ultimately less effective acts Rippikoulu and Crematory. The first two lend a constructive helping hand while Crematory’s contribution distracts with purely technical and empty nonsense detached from clear evocation, and the unimpressive Rippikoulu lends its spacious approach that suffers from the blunders of Wagnerian operas: sparsely located treasures in a sea of boredom. Worth mentioning are a couple of very Voivodesque moments that are surprisingly integrated in a way that they do not seem out of place.

There are several reasons why this release is worth taking a close look at independently of how close we consider it to come to a masterpiece. Existing reviews come awfully short of a real musical insight, opting instead to spend a huge chunk of the time in talking about how cool the guys in the band are, or how ‘awesome’ the vibe is. They are utterly useless when they reach their faux attempts at providing any meaningful observations on the technical side of things. At most, they manage a colorful picture of the mental impressions that the music gives them; this at least is inspiring. Chthe’ilist’s album gives us so much more to discuss not only from its plentiful contents but what they relate to as descendants and composers.

In the interest of a well-rounded critique, Le Dernier Crépuscule should be observed from two different vantage points. The first is to place it within its historical context, and keep present whatever musical influences it appears to have. The second is to ignore everything but our intuition (which is dependent on past experience and understanding, in any case), so that we allow it to articulate and speak out for itself as it draws energy from predecessors we take notice only as an afterthought.

I. Technical Overview

Le Dernier Crépuscule can be roughly divided into two sections, the first consisting of the first five tracks and the second of the remaining two. The first track itself should probably be excluded as it is little more than an intro. The structuring of the next four follows a certain pattern while the last two each follow a freer approach than the one preceding them. The first is Crematory-dominated, while the last increasingly shows a predominant Timeghoul presence. Throughout the record one finds Demilich’s riff style in about half of the individual riffs. This emulation ranges from almost outright shoplifting from Nespithe to more respectable yet still recognizable inspiration. The rest of the riffs also contain the less distinct (read as ‘more random’) but technically recognizable influence of Crematory and some war metal filler while the more creative and original single sections probably come from general Timeghoul influence, which allows for more open interpretation.

Tracks two to five follow a rough plan of riff variations1 lined up one after the other until the solo comes to mark a climax, after which there is a reiteration of previous material and the song ends. It is the “easy way out” of death metal structures, albeit expanded by a greater quantity of riffs. Le Dernier Crépuscule takes the most relaxed route when it comes to conceptualization as well, choosing to go for Crematory’s2 brand of strands of riff variations connected in riff salad manner. Now, Crematory’s style is marked by another particular aspect, and that is that it places technical flare and variety at the top of its priority list. Its choice of allowing runs of related riffs is more the following of what was in vogue at the time, since one can observe that songwise, there is very little keeping it all together but the general tag of the genre. Something similar happens to these first songs by Chthe’ilist.

The sixth and seventh tracks are clearly steeped in a more progressive mindset, allowing for creativity to bubble up as the band tries to craft a narrative. This is conducted with far more success on the last track, ‘Tales of the Majora Mythos Part 1″, than on the hybrid ‘Vecoiitn’aphnaat’smaala’. This emphasis on following a far-reaching narrative reaches formidable proportions in this last track where I would venture to call it a storyline. Variety in riff type is actually richer here than anywhere else in the album, yet through this story-telling technique (that is very much reminiscent of the dramatic flair of Timeghoul on Panaramic Twilight) Chthe’ilist achieves something beyond mere coherence — a smooth flow of ideas connected through careful considerations in texture and rhythmic contrast between sections. These considerations must reach further than adjacent riffs or mere riff-strands so that the song itself does not fall apart.

Unfortunately, although this last track shows us the brightest future for Chthe’ilist, Monsieur Tougas has yet to learn how to finish a song, and what could be an incredible opus is watered down by an unsure appendage after the coda following the solo, a four-minute long welling up of unnecessary nothingness. Content-wise, this adds nothing to the song except confusion, since it is mostly noise and blast beats, which we may presume is an ill-achieved attempt at creating ambience3. The rest of the song itself might be as clear-minded as Timeghoul’s best work, but it is still a work in progress.

I. Aural Impressions

Le Dernier Crépuscule is constantly touted as “Lovecraftian death metal”, and while I get the reference, it seems to me that the character of the music is much more cartoonish than even the original stories, which is saying a lot considering that Lovecraft’s work is already minimalist pulp horror. Taking only a chunk from this author’s work and making a concept album out of it becomes a bit redundant after 2 or 3 songs, and in this album I mostly hear At the Mountains of Madness with some more general references to the Cthulhu mythos towards the end. This limitation results in a bloated album with more words than actual things to say.

In fact, I’d say that for a Lovecraftian experience this is too limited. Timeghoul’s sound, for instance, is very appropriate for expanding on the whole range of cloudy feelings and visages that Lovecraft exposes, not only the mouth-tentacles of his famous monster-deity. Proof of this is that while a Demilich sound on a Crematory template can at most show entrails and guts and an in-your-face horror, the last track had me catching glimpses of R’lyeh through the oceanmist. In Lovecraft you find not only the gnarly gore of slimy and ghoulish creatures, but visitations to otherworldly views in a variety of dream states, alienation from reality expressed through either an increasingly horrifying vision of the world or just not knowing at which side of the sleep curtain it lies.

Lovecraft condenses the very essence of the death metal spirit in its several manifestations and a project with the gigantic potential of Chthe’ilist is surprisingly limited in its choice of evocation, while playing around withtoo many riffs than needed in what appears to be that Crematory-like bloating of content for its own sake with little reference to anything beyond it. Chthe’ilist has a potential of ‘epic proportions’, as the common saying goes. It could have us contemplating at Algol, wondering… it could take us on a bizarre journey through perilous Kadath, and it could make us doubt the very truthfulness of our material existence. In short, it could be the long-awaited metal Messiah that crystallizes the whole of Lovecraftian experience from the essence of the most meaningful obscure acts of the past. But it isn’t.

III. Integral Critique

Bringing together the last two discussions allows us to properly discuss the results Chthe’ilist has achieved. Most bands seem to create a division between music making and lyrical topics, which is not necessarily a bad decision if everything is flowing from a same wellspring of inspiration. The pitfall of this approach is that the sources could end up being distinct, even if compatible, so that the impact of either is dulled by even the slightest hint of cognitive dissonance. This dissonance may even occur in music that is supposedly unified with its lyrical content, and in the case of technically-oriented bands like Chthe’ilist it usually comes about in the form of what could be called ‘riff distraction’.

Riff distraction is a phenomenon that consists of the metal artist losing sight of perspective as he lies on the floor, dull-sensed on proverbial soma. This sends riff-writers off in a mythical quest for the perfect riff combination until they end up with a mass of exciting but ultimately meaningless mumbo jumbo. This is the plague that afflicts this release; its most obvious priority seems to be riff-making, and the clearest sign of a climax is the guitar solo. This album’s is very intentional and varied, but with no precise evocative purpose in mind, so that this huge ball of varied rhythms ends up being a uniform mass when seen from afar. The guitar solo, then, becomes the only way of bringing the song to a breaking point so that at least something in the landscape stands out as a signaling agent for the ending to come with at least a semblance of an excuse.

Alas, the limitation that is holding back Chthe’ilist lies in the mindset of Master Tougas: his towering talent and creative juices ooze with latent power, but his imagination appears to be held back by rationalist prejudices of modern thought that reduce a powerful mythos to mere cartoon. This results in tongue-in-cheek funny horror, which may be an overplaying of the purposely awkward feeling of Demilich that is often perceived simply as funny yet interesting. Timeghoul’s immense aural depth could be the answer here, as the flexibility of its approach lies in the dramatic expansion of predefined techniques within a limited (yet more varied, at the same time) vocabulary that makes even its most complex statements convincing and manifestly intelligible4.

IV. Final Remarks

As pretentious as the thousands of words I’ve already written might make me sound, I would still like to encourage Monsieur Tougas to continue this general line of thinking, while paying closer attention to composition and evocation aspects that lead to a stronger narrative in longer songs. These seem to possess, at least in their present state, the greatest potential of his technical and atmospheric style. His work can bring to reality not only what Timeghoul could have become, but something beyond it, with a long-awaited deftly and graciously applied riffcraft inspired by Demilich. Ditch the Crematory when it comes to structuring decisions, and refactor out any content that isn’t completely indispensable5.

Personally, when it comes to heavily-charged albums such as Le Dernier Crépuscule, I hold a 10-time listening policy: testing how well and in what manner a music album holds up after listening to it completely the first ten times in less than a few days. This has several interesting effects, the first of which is that initial shock effects fade away, technical flare appears more fixed to context, everything gains perspective. Sadly, this album only made it to six listens before losing its luster, and this is mainly because the overall structure of songs and the character they evoke fall into place as an integral whole, revealing the utter simplicity lying behind the tons of riffs and tasty guitar licks.

The reason why the most convincing underground metal has almost always come from the minds that are most “out there” is because their music flows from deeply-ingrained convictions, veritable nightmares that are as real as the sun’s burning sensation, or the excruciating pain of sincere longing for a different reality. While your metal remains “meta”, while it remains only a “fun” way of exploring “spooky” images that are “not real”, your metal will also remain a laughable cartoon.

In earlier ages, as instinctive concepts welled up in the mind of man, his conscious mind could no doubt integrate them into a coherent psychic pattern. But the “civilized” man is no longer able to do this. His “advanced” consciousness has deprived itself of the means by which the auxiliary contributions of the instincts and the unconscious can be assimilated. These organs of assimilation and integration were numinous symbols, held holy by common consent.

In earlier times, these principles were worshiped in all sorts of rituals, which at least showed the psychic significance they held for man. But now they have become mere abstract concepts.

— Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols

1 By riff variation, I mean a grouping of related riffs that arise as variations from a seminal idea.

2 When taking Crematory’s Denial as a point of reference, we can observe how Crematory cannot hold a mood and a line of thought for too long. The music is based on providing variation; for instance, it introduces contrasting ideas in rhythm in extreme fashion so that even very Latin African rhythms pop up right besides more grindy ones with no particular purpose. It may be more difficult to notice, but Demilich already contains such range of variation, but it is much better organized, so that it does not feel haphazard. Furthermore, Demilich is able to stamp their own seal on each section by delimiting certain combinations of rhythm and mode, while Crematory pretty much just throws whatever it can find in your face as it desperately clutches for more content to display a different drum technique.

It’s not that Crematory plays no positive role in the music of Chthe’ilist, but it should be used within its effective scope: the riff variation; and taking note from those who excel at long-range composition when organizing structure.

3 This is a distractor that infects the mentality of modern death metal musicians; it’s almost as if they feel that the music is not enough, that they need to add more “stuff”, whatever it is. This fools the less-focused sort of listeners (apparently, the majority), but not those who would listen to music from multiple angles so as to extract all it contains and more.

4 That is to say, although the difference between the opposite styles within Timeghoul’s vocabulary (from pounding, crowded gnarly riffs to clean-vocal lamentations) may be wider than Crematory’s, the consistency with which they are used imbues them with a more meaningful sense of purpose.

5 A lesson might be learned from Ludwig van Beethoven’s own methods. He is probably the most respectable of classical composers with an inclination for “wild progressive” ideas, since he did not slip into avant-garde stupidity. Beethoven’s music was shocking in its own time for its juxtaposition of apparently contrasting ideas, but he would not leave them there. They were justified, as it were, through their careful development and envelopment throughout the rest of the piece or even in later movements, creating an unprecedented technique in bringing together content in long-range fashion through a process of entanglement.

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Necropsy – Buried in the Woods (2015)

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Article by Corey M

Finns Necropsy have been plugging away since 1989 but only recently (2011) released their first full-length album. In 2015 they released their second album, Buried in the Woods, showcasing a disciplined, modest, and even joyous approach to death metal. Every time I hear this album I get the sense that Necropsy’s members do not have any type of heady agenda or driving vision; rather they simply enjoy making plain-old death metal, emphasizing straightforward riffs that rely equally on rhythmic adherence and playful-but-conventional melodic deviations.

The actual sonic texture of the album is smooth and clear, taking full advantage of 2015’s recording technology. Both bass and distorted lead guitars are appropriately crunchy but never so deep and fuzzy as to approach the obscure levels of Infester or Incantation; they chug, ring, soar, and sing without losing a trace of clarity. This lucidity of individual tracks allows each instrument to be heard clearly and effortlessly, which is a major benefit since many of these songs shift back and forth between relatively uniform (all instruments playing the same thing) segments to more harmonically complex bits. Drums sit comfortably behind the melody, encompassing the other instruments and filling in the far left and right stereo space with just the right amount of reverb, never intruding on the melody. Meanwhile, the vocals only appear as low pitched roars that are somewhat hard to decipher, and mainly serve to augment the otherwise simple rhythmic interplay that generally features concomitant guitars and drums. During the last song, synthesized organ and string sounds come in to support the closing chord progression, but aside from this final track, the songs are functionally supported exclusively by the guitars, drums, and vocal patterns.

Judging by the description in the preceding paragraph, we should have all the ingredients necessary for a good death metal album. But, just as we find in actual food recipes, the order of ingredient addition, and time spent baking, are just as crucial to the final product as the ingredients themselves. Buried in the Woods is a smooth listen from front to back, as the creators probably intended. The casual listener may stop their analysis there; the more attentive listener may find that the conservative nature of the songs lend themselves to a relatively shallow range of dynamics. But this criticism is mainly aimed toward the album as a whole; the songs themselves move effortlessly between sections that slowly change in feel until making a satisfying shift back toward the introductory riffs. Nevertheless, by the fifth song you’ll have heard the band’s whole lexicon of riffs, which range from the derivative (mainly Grave-ish Swedeath and Sinister-ish NYDM) to the interesting-but-uninspired.

Finnish bands like Demilich and Demigod generated some bizarre death metal that, while unconventional by even death metal standards, was nevertheless intuitively relatable because the music presented a vision of horror that was spiritual-arising-from-the-biological. The songs expressed such extreme and severe experiences through a human lens that we as listeners were lead to question and explore our own peripheries of personal experience, and push our imaginations toward the impossible; that is the special territory of death metal. With this in mind, the generic horror concepts of Necropsy relate only to the biological and immediate sensations, falling short of that ability to breach into the “imaginal”; that territory in which we can experience events through the potency of imagination alone, affecting our feelings/biological chemistry on a profound scale.

Listen to Buried in the Woods because it illustrates several examples of a decently transparent and reliable template that can be used in constructing songs in a style as unorthodox as death metal. While you listen, you will probably find that such formulaic methods of song structure only work if there is a balance between surprise and rationality in the shifts between riffs. If the focus is too close toward surprise, the result is like metalcore, which lacks melodic structure and relies on rapid and unexpected dynamic shifts in rhythm and overall feel. If the focus is too close toward rationality, then you get something like Buried in the Woods, which is written skillfully enough to not be boring, but too conventionally to be exciting. Personally, I listened through it several times and developed fond feelings toward a few songs, but I won’t be listening to it again any time soon.

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On The Music Of Timeghoul

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Article by David Rosales

Timeghoul’s short lived existence gave us two excellent demos in 1992 and 1994. These both display very distinct facets of the project, each with their own merits and limitations. Even if we see the second as an evolution of the first, the first stands very firmly on its own ground. You could in fact argue that the second is not so much an evolution, as a different overall direction for the band.

The first release, Tumultuous Travelings, had a much more suffocating feeling to it, but already showcasing Timeghoul’s distinct personality, setting it apart from any contemporary. This distinction, however, is one of language and not one of technique; so that the casual onlooker might consider this first work to be a typical release for its time. In reality, once we acknowledge its allegiance to the traditions of death metal, the particular traits of Timeghoul’s music (even on Tumultuous Travelings) are anything but typical.

In 1994 came Panaramic Twilight (sic), which boasted of more explicitly progressive intentions, giving it automatic recognition in the mind of the same simple metalhead who passed off their first demo as standard. Seldom is it recognized that Timeghoul’s “progressive” qualities were already present on the first release, which is a trend that itself fails to stand out as few recognize these leanings in even the most developed death metal of the early 1990s. Timeghoul’s most significant development on Panaramic Twilight was that they stepped up the drama and Wagnerian soundtrack-like constructions, which required longer silences, longer notes and a wider variety of expression.

Now, when constructing music, composers have to strike a balance between intelligibility and variety (a.k.a. outer complexity). Most metal musicians, however, seem totally unaware of this, and this is why bands who, out of a humble degree of proficiency, produce simpler music have a more enduring impression on the audience in general. Aesthetic variety will not keep your interest if the music that underlies it is incoherent, muddy, and lacking in clarity. However, mere clarity is not enough; the image remains blurry if the overall picture has not been built with enough concrete purpose.

This is where Timeghoul excels; coherent and concrete purpose in songwriting is their most meaningful contribution to metal. They have opened this door to a world of possibilities within their paradigm of dramatic and obscure (rather than gory) death metal that does not require a band to clone their approach to follow in their steps. In comparison, trying to learn from Demilich or Immolation often results in blatant plagiarism, unless your efforts and results arise from a detailed technical analysis and are applied only in an abstract manner. Timeghoul compensates for the silences, rapid-fire changes in rhythms, and the use of texture to enhance different feelings in their music by using a very limited range of techniques. This is comparable to what At the Gates did on their own album. The techniques themselves aren’t numerous; nor are they extremely advanced. The band chooses a lexicon of technique, and relies on it consistently within a harmonic/modal framework that lends each song their own “harmonic feel” (arising from the interplay with the vocal’s timbre as well, I presume).

The wide range of expression is achieved through the types of arrangements and the changes in texture and rhythm, which are not selected at random like we saw in the work of Crematory. Timeghoul is very clearly telling a story and each bit of music, each switch from blast beat to silence, from frenetic power chord torrent to slow, single-note melody lines makes sense as a narrative. Timeghoul’s approach is not one of riff-salad, but rather more akin to that of an opera. In short, the music of Timeghoul provides another healthy avenue for metal musicians to explore. What you can learn from this unfortunately short-lived project on the abstract level is of far more value than what you can imitate by simply trying to emulate their sound. It is their intuitional organization that deserves praise; the powerful narrative element of Timeghoul’s music is a rare gem.

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Interview with Condemner

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We covered Condemner’s Omens of Perdition recently and found quite a bit to like in its death metal stylings. When the band reached out to us for an interview, staff writer Corey M rose to the occasion and spoke with the band members.


CM: First, please introduce yourselves and describe your roles in making Condemner’s music.

PB: I am PB. I play guitar and handle drum programming, song writing, and, thus far, most lyric writing.
JH : I am JH and I provide all vocals and bass.

CM: Can you give us a brief history of Condemner? What inspired you to write and play metal?

PB: As an entity, Condemner was formed in October of 2015, but the seeds of it date back to Summer of 2009. At that point, I had been playing guitar for a few years, but everything I wrote was black metal in a harmony-heavy style reminiscent of French bands such as Mutiilation or Haemoth. At the time, I felt that death metal was too limited; I had, incorrectly, perceived it as a sub-genre that was almost entirely focused on immediate facts of what we see in front of us in the world, entirely sacrificing the “spiritual” in the process; focused on the phenomenon, rather than the noumenon, for those who dislike such “religious” descriptions. What changed all of this was seeing Imprecation live for the first time in Summer of 2009. That band’s performances conjure the dark aether in the way that I had only associated with black metal. This revelation, combined with the fact that I felt like my black metal songwriting was a bit overwrought and emotionally overindulgent and needed more discipline, made the path clear to me, and I started writing death metal in the style that you hear on Omens of Perdition. “Reverence Towards the Pernicious Tyrant”, in particular, dates back to these earliest days. Originally, I didn’t have any plans to turn it into an actual band, and was just writing the songs for my own pleasure, with the occasional quick-and-dirty guitar-only recording so I could easily remember my own material, but a friend and mentor in the Texas metal scene who I have the highest respect for told me to turn it into something “real”, and shot down every excuse I made for not doing so, at which point I started learning drum programming, multi-tracking, and the rest of the things that would be required to make a proper recording.

As for what inspired me to write and play metal as opposed to something else entirely — I’m was a hessian before I was a musician, so I was obviously going to write what I love.

JH: I will only speak to my own history in Condemner: I was approached to record vocals on Omens of Perdition in late winter 2015 and took over the bass duties when the individual that was originally going to record bass dropped out of the project. I learned and recorded all of the bass parts on Omens of Perdition in less than a day and completed the vocals a short while later. The demo was digitally released in December and the reception has been very positive in the underground.

The initial inspirations for myself (assuming we’re starting from the beginning) were the usual suspects of ‘80’s Metallica, Slayer, and Sepultura as a teenager which led to bands like Voor and Slaughter (Can.) which led further down the path of death metal, black metal, etc. Inspirations as far as vocal performances for Condemner are Ross Dolan of Immolation, Nick Holmes of (early) Paradise Lost and Chris Gamble of Goreaphobia for their articulation of lower growls. Craig Pillard on the first two Incantation albums was definitely an influence for the demo as well. MkM of Antaeus is always an influence — although I am using my lower range in Condemner instead of my typical higher range, MkM’s intensity is something that resonates with me regardless of which range I am using. Finally, Rok of Sadistik Exekution is an example of the complete primal fury that every metal vocalist should attempt to channel.

CM: Condemner’s lyrics read like actual worship of death as both a real eventual experience and an abstract concept personified by an evil force. Is this on purpose? And if so, how specifically do the lyrics fit with the rest of the music?

PB: This is on purpose, but it’s a means, not an end. Speaking for the three songs I wrote the lyrics to, the key concepts are strictness and severity. Often in death metal, evil and Satan are seen as stand-ins for liberation and freedom, but there’s another side to this coin — not just opposer, but accuser as well. Black Sabbath wrote “Begging mercies for their sins/Satan laughing spreads his wings”, Slayer wrote “Bastard sons begat your cunting daughters/Promiscuous mothers with your incestuous fathers/Engreat souls condemned for eternity/Sustained by immoral observance a domineering deity”, Immolation wrote “Glorious flames… Rise above/Show us pain… And cleanse our world”, and Condemner follows along the same lines, seeing death, evil, and Satan as the whip that justly lashes across the back and the flames that rightly burn the flesh of weak, failing humanity. This is the source of the band’s name, as well as the lyrics — “Condemner” is an antonym for “pardoner”. No forgiveness.

As for how the lyrics fit with the rest of the music, the music is always written first (writing lyrics-first is part of what caused my older black metal works to be overindulgent), and then words are written to match the composition — first, more generally, as a song title, and then, more specifically, as actual lyrics. Some might notice the parallel between the lyrical topics and my own intent for the music here to be more disciplined than my previous works, but this wasn’t intentional; I didn’t notice it myself until long after I had already decided on Condemner’s concept.

JH: I can’t speak so much on the writing side of things, but I would say that I see death as a force to be honored and revered for its might. I prefer to not speak too much on the matter but the lyrics I contributed for the demo’s final track “Blood On The Oak (Death’s Wisdom Great)” are about an experience I had in which I was confronted with that might. It was a triumph of death, to say the least. I relate my own experiences to PB’s lyrics as well, although again I will not speak much on the subject.

I would completely say that the lyrics fit the morbidity of the music — any other lyrical topics would be monstrously out-of-place for an atmosphere like this. Interestingly enough, the lyrics for “Blood on the Oak” were initially written in late 2014 and were used in two different bands that each split up before the song could be recorded, but I would say that it has found a perfect home in Condemner.

CM: The individual riffs on Omens of Perdition are relatively simple when compared to what a lot of contemporary so-called “technical” metal bands are doing. Was that simplistic approach something that you chose on purpose or did that style of having all your instruments playing melody in unison just come about naturally?

PB: The riffs on Omens of Perdition aren’t technical because I don’t like the music that most “technical” metal bands make. With a few exceptions (Demilich!!!), it’s all attention-grabbing pyrotechnics with little portent behind it. It wasn’t a conscious decision — there’s no way that someone who loves Profanatica and hates Necrophagist is going to make something like Necrophagist. As to the instruments playing in unison, that was simply a result of how the songs were written — as mentioned earlier, all of the music was originally written for a single guitar, so the other instruments were always destined to follow the guitar.

JH: For the bass, everything is kept simple and following the guitar parts for maximum force and impact on the listener. I see Condemner as following the Tom G. Warrior school of “less is more”, and I’d say that the end result was successful.

CM: Can you explain (in as great or little detail as you want) the process of writing a song? Does it begin by jamming until new riffs emerge or is there a more structured method?

PB: Generally, it starts with me coming up with a melody in my head, and turning it over in my head for a few days, silently humming variations of it to myself. Once I’ve done that, I can generally pick up my guitar and write riffs that complement the one that I had in my head with little trouble, and then I can work on expanding that narrative, writing contrasting riffs and looping the structure back on itself as is fit. The real meat of the process, though, is simply playing the song until there’s something about it that I dislike, fixing that problem, and then repeating that process over and over. There’s one song on Omens of Perdition that’s an exception to this rule — “Executioner’s Canticle” was built around a structuring technique I had noticed Morbid Angel using on “Maze of Torment”.

JH: Currently PB writes all Condemner material and most of the lyrics (I wrote “Blood on the Oak (Death’s Wisdom Great)”); an arrangement that is working well. PB and I are located several hours apart and lack a human drummer, so “jamming” in the traditional sense isn’t really an option.

CM: Being from Texas, are you part of a uniquely regional style or does your expression of death metal run counter to any regional paradigm?

PB: I don’t think there really is a “Texas death metal sound” in the way that there’s a “Stockholm death metal sound” or a “New York death metal sound”. That said, I think it’s obvious that Imprecation and Blaspherian had an influence on Condemner’s style.

JH: While Texas has some of the strongest contenders to the death metal throne in its ranks, I would not say that Condemner sounds like many acts within our region. I believe that the closest would be in the form of some of the Houston death cults such as Imprecation and Blaspherian, but we are far from clones.

CM: What are the plans for Condemner’s future? Do you intend to gather a full line-up for live shows?

PB: No live shows are planned. I’m not opposed to the idea, but JH and I live about four hours apart, so logistics for rehearsals would be difficult. As for what’s planned for the future, most immediately, physical versions of Omens of Perdition will be coming soon — ZKD, whose work you have seen on the cover of all three issues of “Under the Sign of the Lone Star”, has agreed to do the cover art. A second demo, “Burning the Decadent”, with four more songs written in the period from 2009-2015, is planned; I currently plan on beginning the recording process in the Spring, which means you’ll probably hear it some time in the Summer. What happens beyond that is unknown, and dependent on the resources available and how long it ends up taking me to write new material.

JH: The reception to Omens of Perdition has been killer for sure, and there will certainly be new material. There are plans for a physical format of Omens as well, as the cover art is still in progress.

It would be great to perform these songs on a stage some day, although PB and I are currently separated by a distance of several hours which makes the idea of rehearsal logistically complex. I also maintain a heavy schedule with other bands not named here (as I do not want Condemner to be any “featuring members of X” act – it stands on its own) which adds complications to the idea of getting together to play live. Still, I certainly wouldn’t rule it out in the future, especially since live session members wouldn’t be hard to find within my network.

CM: Any last words?

PB: Thanks to Deathmetal.org, both for the support of Condemner, and for keeping the flame of the DLA alive! As mentioned, physical copies of Omens of Perdition will be available soon– keep an eye out!

JH: Thanks to all who have supported this group in its short existence, including Left Hand Path Designs for the excellent logo. For the unaware, Omens of Perdition may be downloaded for free on the Condemner Bandcamp (a pay option is also provided for the inclined). Nothing more needs to be said — the music speaks for itself.

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Chthe’ilist to release Le dernier crépuscule

chtheilist
You don’t get a great deal of straight up Demilich worship, but Chthe’ilist got some buzz a few years ago for having some clear similarities in their aesthetics and writing style. This presumably continues on the band’s upcoming full length debut – Le Dernier Crépuscule will come out in January 2016. Several record labels have claimed the rights to various formats, but Profound Lore is responsible for the CD pressing and digital releases, so that’s probably who you should go unless you’re a major collector. Profound Lore has already released a preview track from this album – “Voidspawn” bears some surface similarities to the works of Demilich, but otherwise sounds a bit smoothed out and obviously streamlined to meet the requirements of a larger audience.

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Order from Chaos – Frozen in Steel (2014)

Order from Chaos – Frozen in Steel (2014)

Review written by Daniel Maarat for DMU

The complete career recordings of unsung underground legends Order from Chaos have been definitely reissued by Nuclear War Now! Productions in five CD and nine and 12 LP boxed sets. These afford listeners the chance to experience the clear progression and compositional refinement from the band’s primitive Hellhammer, Sodom, and first wave beginnings. The LP editions have the usual analog distortion of vinyl and the peculiarities of GZ’s direct metal mastering. Fortunately, the CDs are well mastered with identical sound to the original pressings though the vinyl editions have the bonus of a 124-page hardbound book with lyrics, personal photos, and a biography of the band.

Stillbirth Machine opens with an excerpt from Ligeti’s “Requiem”and immediately proceeds into angular riffed, Teutonic deaththrash. Only intros and outros distract from the aural assault. The guitar tone resembles Swedish death metal with the fully dimed Boss Heavy Metal pedals but the production was marred by the inconsistent levels of a drunk seventies rock producer manning the knobs in an aging studio. The follow up Plateau of Invincibility EP is similar in material but self-recorded onto eight-track tape. This more amateur but consistent (e.g. no noise burst solos) production would continue for the rest of Order from Chaos’s career.

Dawn Bringer continued the compositional elaboration. The songs were more experimental and the melody that characterizes guitarist Chuck Keller’s and drummer Mike Miller’s future band, Ares Kingdom, appears on a twisted cover of Voivod’s “War and Pain.” The martial marching beats of the hybrid war metal sub-genre of first wave black metal and the three chord, hardcore punk side of grindcore was birthed too. Ending everything is the start of the intentional raw noise for which that bastard sub-genre is known as Keller pries off his guitar strings and pickups at full volume to end the album on “Webs of Perdition.”

An Ending in Fire shows the perfectionism that differentiated Order from Chaos from most of their contemporaries in the death and black metal scenes to even the most passive listeners. Earlier riffs and songs were rearranged with completely new material into three epic compositions. The songwriting focused on clever compositional coherency and melodic congruity rather than the random masturbation and showmanship of technical death metal. “Conqueror of Fear” twisted many of the band’s similar, Teutonic works into a flowing five-track declaration of bassist Pete Helmkamp’s existential, social Darwinist philosophy later laid out in his controversial Conqueror Manifesto. “There Lies Your Lord! Father of Victories!” was wholly original to the album and among Keller’s best guitar work. “Somnium Helios” updated the punky “Nucleosynthesis” from the Will to Power EP as the beginning of a requiem for the Earth’s future solar immolation. Order from Chaos broke up after An Ending in Fire’s recording, considering the album as fulfilling the band’s musical vision. The session outtakes were released as the And I Saw Eternity EP included in the set. This is true progressive heavy metal. Speaking more of musical specifics and the evolution of individual riffs and songs is best left for future articles as that would spoil listeners’ enjoyment.

Frozen in Steel is a fantastic value for fans. Purchasing just Order from Chaos’s three albums alone would cost well over a hundred dollars on the secondary market. Nuclear War Now! Productions should be commended for offering all the band’s studio material along with the extra rehearsals and live shows starting at just forty. This is the most significant and well put together anthology of an extreme metal band’s collected works since Demilich’s 20th Adversary of Emptiness.

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A tentative list to get into death metal

TheSoundofDeathMetal

Getting into underground metal styles has never been a straightforward thing for anyone. The exception might be the Cannibal Corpse crowd that approach this music as fix for a certain mood, but see little beyond the most sensual appeal of the music. For those actually trying to appreciate the music anywhere beyond the surface either in a technical manner, it’s significance or the experience it provides beyond simple monochromatic sensual indulgence, the path consists of several steps in not one path but a multitude of paths that conform to the singular state and journey of each listener.

The present list does not attempt to give a template that will fit all as that is impossible. It is simplistic in its attempt to generalize and exemplify. The most important starting assumption is that the listener is at least fond of traditional heavy metal or hard rock in the worse case. I tried to avoid using of overtly offensive gateway bands like Craddle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir or Arch Enemy but these should not be completely discarded as possibilities to enable a smooth and pleasant transition into death and black metal.

For this example of a road map towards understanding and appreciation of death metal I have distinguished five different steps with suitable albums as follows:

I. Easy-going quasi death metal

  1. Carcass – Heartwork
  2. Entombed – Left Hand Path

II. Welcoming and easy-to-understand simple death metal that is only complex on a local level and so can inspire a sense of technical wonder in the listener while maintaining mood.

  1. Death – Spiritual Healing
  2. Adramelech – Psychostasia
  3. Demigod – Slumber of Sullen Eyes

III. Excellent, but mostly on a technical level, with raw power and refinement in style, solid and well-produced albums that do not transcend their technical aspects

  1. Morbid Angel – Covenant
  2. Cryptopsy – None so Vile 
  3. Vader – Litany 

IV. Authentic, representative of the core of the death metal spirit while being original

  1. Demilich – Nespithe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjutXYAwc_0
  2. Deicide – Legion
  3. Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten

V. Completely past appearances and technical infatuation, almost on the spiritual level of true and good black metal

  1. At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
  2. Immolation – Unholy Cult
  3. Gorguts – Obscura

 

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Ascended Dead – The Advent

ascended dead - the advent cover

Ascended Dead is a death metal band that intentionally keeps the production of their music lo-fi. Here, we may recognize two things. The first is the appeal to a sense of nostalgia that this sort of distorted tone may cause in fans of old underground metal. The second is that this choice is part of the band’s aesthetic choice and it contributes in a musical way. The latter is never fully acknowledged even by fans of this particular sound, resorting to embarrassed appeals to “guilty pleasure”.

Now, onto the music. In The Advent, Ascended Dead have brought together a collection of distinct but compatible sources in which, if we squint really hard and try to pierce the fog created by the artistic voice of the band, we can recognize the grindy, obscure, riff-salad Finnish spirit. One or two of the songs even betrays the influence of Demilich in its use of short, clear but twisted melody line motifs, but doesn’t go as far as to imitate the older band. The reference is no more than a head nod.

The Advent consists of a solidly integrated style. Ascended Dead’s songs are balanced and clear-headed in direction, while remaining organic, in line with the riff salad tradition. Riffs balance relationship with each other while introducing the tension needed to move forward, towards a new idea that comes as a massive waterfall releasing the potential energy channeled and incremented in the perfectly-defined course of a river of tumultuous waters.  Despite all its merits, the artist’s most difficult task has yet to be completed in this project: finding its own voice. Displaying a musical awareness with which only true musicians are blessed, Ascended Dead give us an album that, although itself powerful, foreshadows possible works that will tower above the vast majority of death metal of our times.

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