Some reviews you can write like people in rom-coms from Hollywood. You set up your MacBook on the rear veranda, overlooking the pool and the palm trees of Los Angeles, or maybe the soft lush vegetation of Martha’s Vineyard or the Riviera. Then you pour a glass of wine, and write quite happily in your own little bubble.
Other reviews make you groan because you have to slaughter the sacred cows of a generation and it feels sort of awful. As someone who has mistakenly said “Ok Boomer” to a prematurely grey Generation X-er in the past, I cannot claim to be an innocent here, because sometimes sacred cows make the best steak (apologies to Hindus).
To understand 1992-1994 Discography, we have to start with Outsider Art, specifically the subdivision of it concerned with claiming a place in a civilization by introducing your own version of “high art.” Now, we all know that none of this stuff is Beethoven, and so we are just beetles under the log of Real Music.
However, within the realm of popular music, there have been numerous attempts to make a version of real music for the rest of us, whether serfs or African-Americans. This leads to intellectual, artistic, and musical pretensions on a grand scale, at the same time that (ironically) the “real music” people are rediscovering “roots” music on the assumption that since proles do not wear ties and worry about their stock portfolios, they must “know something” about “real life” (spoiler: they don’t).
Early pretense involved making the blues into a genre of its own associated with African-Americans, even though musicology suggests that its roots belong to the Scythians, who introduced five-note scales without major or minor key to the world, enabling millions to make music. This group, living on as the modern Scots, represented itself quite well among slaveowners through another pretense, which is that of racial superiority brought on by the lurking fear in every Scot that if he looks back far enough in the family tree, he will find an Irishman. Scots like to taunt each other: “Hey there, Clan McAllan! We hear you have an O’Donellan on your mother’s side sixteen generations past. That means that you harvest the potatoes, and we’ll do the whipping!”
The Scots brought several innovations to the blues. First, the pentatonic scales; second, the “call and response” format; and third, the basic song structures that live on in countryside music throughout the highlands and lowlands. Add to that the German waltz percussion section, the wailing of tribal African music, the drone of Chinese music, and you have your everyday blues format, exploited by all.
Developed by cynical city music salesmen, the blues represented “roots music” to most of America, even though it is functionally identify to Scots-Irish country music, and sold itself well on that basis. However, it was pretty clear that it was musically primitive, so the next generations aimed to turn it into “jazz,” a version of the blues liberated by music theory and all that jazz. This ran into only one difficulty: the music theory was grafted on to very simple music, so you ended up with a bunch of chaotic stunts layered on top of cretinous little songs.
Luckily for the jazzmen, they were “discovered” by bearded anarchist graduate students in music, who promptly created a mythos that lives to this day of music of great profundity. As someone who has listened to thousands of hours of jazz, I can only say that this reputation is undeserved in the same way that a disorganized heavy metal solo played over a Rick Astley song must be. There were some great jazz players, no doubt, but the music itself was not great, merely pretense that allowed people to think that they were listening to something other than the repetitive, materialistic music of cosmopolitan industrial cities and their democratic short attention span.
As people noted even back in the day, it is best to listen to jazz while wasted. The more wasted, the better it sounds. Smash that short term memory into oblivion and suddenly all those licks just pop out at you like the word of God or something. Generations of inexperienced white boy college students have bought a ton of jazz records only to abandon them with the first girlfriend who inconveniently runs off with the milkman or Instagram influencer, since at the end of the day jazz offers little that the sounds of the subway do not.
However, rock followed the blues to jazz pretense train, trying to find ways to dress itself up as something other than what it was. After the Beatles finally convinced pop to leave behind its 1950s-era staid formats, they introduced a new way to compete, which was being random as a way of seeming to be profound. When people don’t understand something, they either have to suck up and admit it, or start posturing about how “deep” it is. They almost universally choose the latter, so the simple catchy songs of the Beatles built around a core of melody gave way to spacy drug experiments and navel-gazing meditations. If you took those out of the studio, edited them down to the basics, and listened hard, you would hear the same band that wrote pop jingles and radio ditties coming through loud and clear.
Alas the same was to be true of “progressive rock,” most of which consisted of typical rock songs dressed up in jazz theory and classical pretensions. Jazz theory came to us from those same bearded music students, who re-wrote the study of music to be based almost exclusively in clever tricks of harmony, since these allowed the beards to argue that just about any random note combination was actually foreshadowing of a chord change or a related scale that just sneaked itself in there, instead of some guy on heroin and weed blowing away at his saxophone to try to capture animal noises and the sound of casual alley sex amid the screams, sirens, and machine noises of the city.
Now, the best of progressive rock was pretty good. Early Genesis, Jethro Tull, Yes, and King Crimson had some insights and utilized some truly amazing musicians. Most of this petered out fairly early because there is only so much depth one can add to the basic rock ‘n roll format, which is songs about sex and self (I am being unkind here; some are about masturbation, as well). However, progressive rock gave the kids an excuse to run home to Mom and Dad and tell that here, finally, was the People’s Beethoven, and they should just chuck out the last three millennia of history and join the new groove. This tradition carried on with “progressive metal,” which mixed rock and jazz into metal, and ended up sound like rock, jazz, or noodly heavy metal, but rarely like a new genre or anything of value except to acne-pocked teenage guitarists wanting to sound “deep” at the weekly D&D game.
Timeghoul enters this picture as making the same mistake. These songs go nowhere, so they must be adorned with lots of thudding percussive death metal chromatic riffing, spindly rhythm leads that implicate nothing but a sense of being off-key and in the way, and “sudden” rhythm changes with the subtlety of elephant rape. At the core of each song is a basic heavy metal song, not death metal, and to it are applied as much harmony and instrumental bric-a-brac as possible, but it fails to hide the essence of these songs.
As a musical entity, the band really on hit its stride with “Occurance On Mimas,” and this shows what might have been had they quickly dropped their previous catalog and focused on more of the same. Too much of this however shows a band reacting to its own songs; if a riff is blockheaded, they throw in some off-time fills and make the song ramble with variations on the theme. If a song loops too early, they play it backwards for awhile. When all else fails, insert keyless noodling, and hope it fools the audience.
I know that at the time this was released, death metal was trying to prove itself at a time when all but a few people reacted with the observation that it sounded like PCP-fueled guitar practice by homeless people living in sewers. Rock musicians, raised in the jazz harmony school of thought, did not understand that death metal has its own form of progressive composition, namely that of knitting together a few hundred riffs into a storyline of subconscious symbolism. It is very hard to do well. This release, unfortunately, does not join that elite level.