Sadistic Metal Reviews 01-19-15

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Why do most people lead lives of quiet desperation, obeying all that they must do, and then choose boring and pointless music on top of it? Nonsense music flatters the ego and requires nothing of the listener. No person of any quality lives that way, so it’s time to force people upward and not outward, with the sweet tears of poseurs, hipsters, scenesters and tryhards occasioned by these Sadistic Metal Reviews

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Moonblood – Blut and Krieg

When black metal died in 1994, it did so by losing sight of its direction. In art, direction takes the form of something which can be communicated only through metaphor, an idea in formation. In part, black metal had given its ideas to the world and was sitting back to watch them spread, but in another sense, the message — a copy of a copy of a copy at that point — simply got lost as bands imitated the form without the substance of those that inspired them. The Moonblood review exists in the last sentence, since this album represents all that is odious in music: an imitation of the surface configuration and emotional tropes of a genre not only while not understanding what the genre and its founders valued, but without even trying to make coherence out of the noise. Most people like this for the vocals which are like a hybrid between Varathron and old Mayhem, and maybe they enjoy the winding minor key riffs, but the fact remains that these songs go nowhere. They set up a sensation, loop through it, and then end with a convenient exit like a hipster suddenly realizing the people at his party not only do not eat quinoa exclusively, but cannot pronounce “artisanal.” Lack of direction is fortunate for Moonblood since these songs wander when attempting to extend themselves because they have no center and no purpose. It is not surprising that shoegaze took over from this weakened form of black metal because this is directionless atmosphere that apes the past but approaches none of its value or even ability to communicate. In comparison, this is incoherent posing.

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Vital Remains – Horrors of Hell

If you see this in a sale or cut-out rack, you will perhaps feel it unjust. But compilations of demos tend to show a learning process, which means they start with the early attempts the band would rather forget (which is why bands tend to put boring covers on demo comps) and slowly work their way up to the ability level and hence material that you are accustomed to hearing. The demo that most are buying this for is “Reduced to Ashes” from 1989 which is the foundation of Vital Remains as a death metal band. This six-song offering shows the nascent death metal genre still emerging from a hybrid of speed metal (Metallica), thrash (DRI) and varied standout influences like Slayer, Sodom and early grindcore. In particular, large parts of this demo sound like they were heavily influenced by Repulsion, from riff style to the tendency to bring songs to a quick peak and then break away to a recapitulation that restates the main theme in coming and going perspectives. Vocals sound like the grim rant of Repulsion with all of its rhythmic power inherited from thrash, rather than the chant of speed metal or the full death metal growl. Riffs could fit on a Possessed or Dark Angel album, generally avoiding the muted down-strum of speed metal but not fully into constant tremolo of death metal, choosing some of the recursive open strumming of heavy metal. Rhythmically however this band does not fit into death metal. As in the first Possessed album, the drummer stays within the speed metal idea of aiming for concrete resolution at the end of each phrase, instead of recognizing that post-Discharge drums follow the guitar and thus must keep a continuous phrase. Although the band clearly knew more music than many of their contemporaries, it’s a stretch to call this “death metal.”

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Bloodhunter – Bloodhunter

Imagine the melodic style of At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul that did not attempt to hide its roots in heavy metal and some speed metal, instead of death metal. Bloodhunter has the same strident emo death vocals that At the Gates and The Haunted put to good use, but the underlying music comes from the melodic heavy metal camp with some of the technique of speed metal filtered through power metal. This means for the most part that songs follow the intro-verse-chorus format but that the band will double riffs with a melodic guitar attack and break songs for lengthy solos or other classic heav metal tropes. As a result, this album flows easily and abandons much of the pretense of profundity that flows from the more metalcore offerings, preferring instead to be heavy metal with a few observations of life and a triumphant attitude. Nothing here will surprise the experienced heavy metal listener but most will appreciate its competent musicality and ear for songs that are enjoyable to listen to as well as hard-hitting within the range that this style can achieve. Riff diversity is high, spanning a wide range of tempi and styles including NWOBHM, all updated with the newer approach to rhythm that emphasizes constant forward motion in the speed metal style. Where this band falls down is in trying to distinguish itself with whispered vocals and (excruciating cliche of cliches) a sampled intro from a Tarantino movie. Bloodhunter does best when it sticks to its strengths. This album will not be varied enough internally for death metal fans but should delight power metal and classic heavy metal appreciators.

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Sargeist – Satanic Black Devotion

Experienced reviewers wince at tryhard titles like “Satanic Black Devotion” because they indicate advertising, not a coherent statement from the band. Satanic Black Devotion might as well be a can of pureed, processed, sugar and salt added, preservative enhanced black metalTM. Imitating the style of later Gorgoroth and droning melodic black metal like Ancient or Marduk but with the chaotic approach of the first Krieg album, Sargeist is long on vocals and short on song construction. They hit on a few good riffs here and there and deliver those like Christmas presents, then repeat them ad nauseam. Most riffs show a tendency to cycle between symmetrical extremes and so fall into the same boring tropes as later hardcore did. Plenty of sawing guitar adorns this album as do riff patterns from past black metal albums but these are arranged in pleasant repeating rings that do not develop in any particular direction, leading to the listener’s brain grasping a bunch of droning minimalist guitar with an occasional melodic hook. Songs express nothing other than participation, and the inclusion of local band B- riffs alongside more developed ones leads the reviewer to wonder if the band has cribbed its best moments. Several patterns are note-removed from essential parts of Gorgoroth songs, but without the strong buildup, the Christmas riff drops in as a sudden variation and not a culmination or enhancement. This album does better than most because the band keeps the energy high and is smart enough to use the same song structure again and again to present its few powerful riffs, but the result of this randomness is more of what black metal wanted to escape, not create.

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Watain – Lawless Darkness

Pretense is the fundamental state of humankind. As apes with linguistic brains, we rage against our impotence and insignificance and come up with poses: “I am important because I am good, smart, rich, sexy, hip, unique, different, wise, etc.” For some, the pretense is more or less accurate. These we call arrogant instead of pretentious. For others, in fact for over 99.98% of humanity, the pretense is merely self-important vaingloriousness backed up by nothing other than some hipster friends, a few possessions, or maybe a claim to fame like having punched out a local celebrity. Watain launched themselves with Rabid Death’s Curse, a pop black metal album in the style of The Other Side from The Abyss which won fans for its simple direct melodic songs. Several albums later, it becomes clear these guys do better giving interviews on metal theory (where they exceed almost all others) than writing music. Lawless Darkness resembles the kids show at the circus where as soon as one act fades another takes its place in relatively random order with the goal being to distract the audience so they eat up more of that popcorn and cotton candy. The album opens with dramatic violin, but then drops into disorganized metal music where riffs are joined through energetic flourishes of drum and Pantera-style bounce riffs. These songs make “sense” in that they follow a basic rhythm but most of what is written here is closer to the technical speed/death riffing of Behemoth than black metal, and none of it serves to build an atmosphere other than constant distraction. It is in fact comically random and empty of message. Presumably the ringmaster coems out and doffs his top hat and juggles live frogs somewhere in here to keep our attention but the music utterly fails to do so.

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The Cult of Light – The Cult of Light

Crafted in the style of Meshuggah rather than the metalcore it partially inspired, The Cult of Light creates rhythmic speed metal — similar to Prong, Exodus, Pantera and various proto-prog bands like Anacrusis and Supuration — which installs a jazzy bounce into the speed metal cadence. This approach creates problems in that it makes it difficult to pace together multiple riffs in the speed metal style because the rhythms either conflict or resemble each other too much to distinguish the riffs. On this album, the band chooses instead to have only two major riffs per song but numerous transitions/intros and budget riffs to distract, as if installing turnarounds at each segment of the song before restoring the normal loop order. Vocals are the post-At the Gates rant which aims to complete before the beat and then hold an open-throat growl like a ringing note. Underneath this album lies a heavy metal work pointed toward the art-rock sensibilities that graced the far edge of off-mainstream rock in the 1990s, which means that despite the monotonic growl vocals the aim here is ultimately to set up a dense harmonic space which serves as the hook of the song and provides a space for contrast by other instruments. Unlike most heavy metal bands, The Cult of Light prefer keyboards and what can only be described as aggro-mood-jazz leads which use repeated patterns to serve in more of a lead rhythm guitar role than pure lead. The band builds its songs in layers in order to create spaces for effect, then introduces dramatic changes led by vocals, resulting in a sense of a radio play unfolding before our ears. While this style seems overdone, even on this composition where the need to keep the rigorous bounce and “different” riff styles contorts song structures in several cases, the underlying gentle arty heavy metal is worth appreciating. At the moment of that realization however one begins to wonder why bother with the adornments of style at all, since there is a shortage of arty heavy metal and an audience waiting for it.

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Necros Christos – Nine Graves

Southern fried, bluesy rock/metal hybrid with swinging beats and hookish choruses, the new Down album — oh wait, this is Necros Christos. How did this make it into the underground black metal pile? It has deathy vocals but everything else is a slightly sped up version of Pantera but with more dimestore Satanic cult chanting vocals. Some of the chants come straight out of NWOBHM and many of the melodic riffs resemble those from the technical metal period that lumped itself on top of speed metal, calling to mind Anacrusis or DBC. Songs hold up well but basically express nothing but a vague gesture toward a certain type of experience while drinking beer and feeling sleazy somewhere lost in the modern morass. This could easily be a Ratt side project. Musically competent, it nonetheless expresses no greater mood than confusion and a certain type of teenage grimness which could be summarized as “my French fries are cold, and I suffer for it.” The chanting vocals add a certain unreality to the whole thing but evoke more of a sense of Marilyn Manson trying to rile up the apathetic, bored and directionless than the summoning of evil forces. When the band does force radical change in song dynamics or structure it seems more of a transition to a different seat in the same room than a change in how life or the song is viewed. Doubtless reviewers praise this as a fusion of stoner doom and black metal, but what really emerges here is a careful camouflaging of the same old stuff as the latest evil thing, and the real victims here are those who had to listen to this without getting it for free. Ignore trends, focus on structure and meaning in music. Learn from what Necros Christos has failed to apprehend.

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Yob – Clearing the Path to Ascend

Someone made Trouble Psalm 9 for idiots, wrapping it up in the 1960s stylings that shows our commercial overlords that we, too, follow the one true path to the light. Because stupidity loves pretense, it contains Cynic-style statements about opening your mind and being a hip groovy 23 skiddoo cat… hasn’t anyone realized this crap is ancient? Other than the periodic death vocals and louder production, this stuff comes to us right from the hippie era. Musically it is not terrible but not terribly interesting either, since it essentially repeats tropes in circularity until ready for a linear withdrawal to equilibrium. The whining vocalist sounds like he is trying too hard to be pacifistic and profound under his patchouli and denim and the riffs fit more in line with jam bands of the 19670s than a heavy metal band. Yob count on the listener being lulled to sleep by the pace and the hypnotically boring vocals so that the person listening forgets what has happened and every riff is new like it fell right out of the sky and exploded. Instead riffs just kind of plod along, barely related to each other, in what might be filler songs on a Bruce Springsteen album if they sped them up and got rid of the posturing. This really has nothing to do with metal but it tries hard to fit in like a bear lost in the coatcheck room. Its pacing and wailing call to mind the albums from Confessor more than the Trouble works, but aesthetically it resembles the early heavy metal doom metal bands like Trouble, Pentagram, and Candlemass but made safe by turning them into warmed-over TV dinner hippie rock. Not surprisingly the music industry gave this a big thumbs up in a nod to the Baby Boomers.

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Interview with A.V. of Dead Congregation

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Back in 2012, I conducted an interview with one of the new “morbid wave” death/black metal bands who focus on atmosphere instead of pure riff acrobatics and internal contrast. These bands, borrowing widely from Incantation and Blasphemy, create a rushing wave of darkness that drones into extended mood pieces immersing the listener in a hopeless morbidity. Guitarist A.V. answered my questions…

What was your primary goal since the beginning that you set out to emanate with Dead Congregation and how do you think the band stands compared to other contemporaries of this style? Do you think Dead Congregation has carved its mark in the underground as an entity to be reckoned with?

Our time has been extremely limited in the past couple of years so we don’t really do interviews anymore, this one is of the new exceptions. Our goal was will always be to feed the fire of creation we have in us as artists and channel all that inspiration in the shape of compositions and ultimately recordings. Once our songs are recorded the way we have conceived them then it’s out of our hands. We’re not after world domination and other vanity-driven goals. We’re not the ones who should say what makes us different from our peers but it definitely seems that we have a stronger following than most.

Your debut album Grave of the Archangels received quite a bit of attention from the underground/extreme metal community when it was released in 2008; how important was the distribution of the album and what are your thoughts on all the constructive feedback concerning it? I gather you must be more than content with the good promotion endowed by NWN?

In reality there was no promotion at all from either the band or the label. NWN has a strong name in the underground and many people follow what that label does but none of us have ever sent out any promos or placed adds on related press and such. Apart from some selective gigs that we do most of the attention we’ve received is gained by ‘word of mouth’ in the underground. I guess when the material is strong it will find its way to surface sooner or later. Although we were extremely confident about the quality of our recording we didn’t really expect to receive so much feedback and sell so many copies.

Before the debut, you released the mini-album called Purifying Consecrated Ground which was released under Konqueror Records. What can you tell us about this rather obscure label and how you got in contact with them? How many copies and formats were printed of this release and what are your feelings regarding it on the present day? Has the style changed much at all between the two releases?

Konqueror Records got in touch with us in regards to our previous band Nuclear Winter and they wanted to sign us for an album. We explained that Nuclear Winter was laid to rest and we had a new band working on new material and they trusted us enough to offer a deal without listening a demo from Dead Congregation. We will always be grateful to them for releasing the first ever Dead Congregation recording and meeting all our demands with success. After that initial version there have been a lot of re-releases: CASSETTE version (Nuclear Winter Records, 515 copies and counting), 10”MLP (Necrocosm Records, 666 copies), MCD Digipack (Enucleation Records, 1000 copies), 12”MLP (NWN!, 1000 copies), 12”MLP (NWN! tour edition, 250 copies), 12”MLP Picture Disc (NWN!, 200 copies), MCD re-release with altered design (Nuclear Winter Records, 500 copies). We’re still proud of it as a recording, looking back you always find things you could have done differently/better yet it still represents the band at that time and some of the compositions in there are of the strongest we’ve done, in my opinion. The style is the same, yet we took it a few steps further for the album in the sense that we have a more personal sound on the full length.

Music-wise, what are to you the most essential aspects for a death metal band? Some say it’s the rhythm of the guitars, some say it’s the drum beat, and others say it’s the vocals… Maybe it’s a bit of everything? How do you manage do create such a morose atmosphere with your music?

I think it’s the feeling and atmosphere above all. The same riff can sound completely different if you alter important factors such us sound, drumming, the way you hit the chords on the guitar and many more. But in the end it’s all about the atmosphere a recording creates, if it doesn’t ooze of death and morbidity then it shouldn’t be labeled as Death Metal simply because the vocals are distorted and the drums are fast.

Many say that black and death metal must remain as subversive as possible or else it loses touch with its primary essence; what are your thoughts on that? Would you consider a band a sellout if they signed to a big label like Nuclear Blast?

It’s hard to say because in the old days all bands were on major labels without compromising their integrity and some bands still manage to do it. It has to do with how focused you are and what your goals have been from the beginning as spoken earlier. If a band feels like a label is trying to make them deviate from their initial goal then it’s up to the band to decide if they want to stick with that label or not. Truth is that on big labels you get to have less artistic freedom and it’s one of the reasons why we’ve rejected all offers from big labels but I’ll never judge another band for wanting to get ‘big’ and sign to a big label. If that’s what they want it’s fine by me, they do their thing, we do our thing.

What inspired the name DEAD CONGREGATION? I think it articulates your music rather well.

Thank you, we think so too. It’s a song title from our previous band Nuclear Winter and it seemed very appropriate as the moniker of the new incarnation.

Just how important is artistic appeal for you? Does aesthetics play a big role in your music? If Black and Death Metal doesn’t classify as art, then what is it?

Aesthetics are very important as long as they serve a purpose. If they complement the album as a whole and work hand in hand with the music and lyrics then I’m definitely all for good artwork and design. The problem is that many bands focus on that too much and forget the essence which is music above all. They try to hide their mediocre albums behind fancy illustrations and 20-page booklets for the vinyl edition. Same goes for ‘die hard’ versions of albums by bands that can barely sell 300 copies of a release. So yes, in some cases it is important when it’s done by bands who actually have to offer something substantial but a dirty whore will always remain one even if you dress her up in the most expensive clothes if you know what I mean.

As a counterpoint to great aesthetics I have to mention albums like Deicide’s debut that were badly designed, yet that eliminated none of the greatness of the album after all.

What would be the perfect depiction for your sound and what would you like for the listener to feel while he/she is listening to your music?

There are no fancy terms to describe our music, it’s just darkened Death Metal the way we perceive it as true.

I’m curious about the split you did with Germany’s Hatespawn and how you got in contact with the band. What do you think about their demo, “Ascent From The Kingdom Below”?

Hmm, can’t remember if it was us who asked them to join us for the split release or the other way around. We definitely admire Hatespawn’s body of work collectively otherwise we’d never have agreed to do a split release with them.

How important is it for a band like yourself to do a split with bands with whom you share a common vision? I personally don’t think it would suite your band very well to do a split with an ordinary thrash or punk act. I mean, your music is dark and evokes an atmosphere of pure morbidity, thus I think its obligatory for a band of your nature to do a split with bands, who, more-or-less, have the same ideals as you; do you agree? I guess it’s a controversial subject to dive into.

As I said above, we do find it important that bands who are featured in split releases share common grounds in vision, ideology, aesthetics, etc. Diversity is definitely accepted on music itself, as long as there’s similar ideals behind both bands. For example we don’t sound anything like Teitanblood or Katharsis but we’d gladly do a split with those bands because we know they’re like-minded people and our general perception of death/black metal is very similar. The same goes for gigs, when we are asked to play live we always check if the other bands on the billing have similar values as us, at least the majority of them.

How has the current economic climate in your Country affected you personally and what do you think are the possibilities of the situation improving soon?

It affects everyone in Greece more or less but I can’t complain, I’m a fighter and I’ll always find a way to get by even under harder circumstances. I’m not too optimistic about the economy improving soon since we’re governed by idiots and incompetent politicians who don’t care about the country’s prosperity.

What would it really take for human beings to change or do you think we are incapable of such?

The human race is the definition of a parasite, especially in these days of materialistic values. The majority of people’s actions are driven by selfish intentions and very few see the big picture and how every action has a consequence that might back fire on you in the end. It will take some very dramatic change in our lives before we have our wake-up call and then it will be too late.

From one point of view that’s good because the weak will be weeded out, however leeches and parasites always have a way of surviving also so there’s no hope for mankind after all.

Which 5 albums would you consider as the pinnacle of death metal and why?

That’s very hard to limit to only 5 albums but some of the most important in the sense that they shaped entire scenes are:

  • Morbid Angel – Abominations of Desolation / Altars of Madness
  • Immolation – Dawn of Possession
  • Death – Scream Bloody Gore
  • Entombed / Nihilist – early material
  • Malevolent Creation – The Ten Commandments (because it’s one of my fave albums of all time regardless of genres)

With which bands have you played live with, and what would you consider as one of your most worthwhile moments as far as playing live? Are there any interesting stories you can perhaps share with us? What about alcohol, does that play a factor at your shows or do you try to keep things as professional and tight as possible?

We have shared the stage with too many bands to be mentioned here but the truth is that personally I always enjoy it more when we play with buddies and allies of ours such as Grave Miasma, Cruciamentum, Drowned, Archgoat, Kaamos, Antaeus etc, than playing with bigger bands and/or big festivals. The atmosphere and vibes are a lot better when you play with like minded people as said before. A recent gig that was very close to perfect from all aspects was when we played with Sadistic Intent and Nocturnal Vomit some months ago.

We’re not heavy drinkers at all, we always have a few drinks but never to the point of being drunk out of our minds. It’s how we are as people and it doesn’t have to do with wanting to be ‘professional’ or ‘tight’.

Is there anything else you’d like to disclose before we close this interrogation? Maybe you can tell us what to expect from your death-coven in the future?

Our next album is entirely composed and we hope to record it on the early months of 2013, we just need to find some time between gigs and focus on that. We already recorded a 3-song demo in August and it sounds pretty massive without even mixing it so we’ll have a similar recording approach for the album which is basically: record everything as good as you can without correcting mistakes because you’re only human and you can’t fake to be something better than you are and most importantly IGNORE everything that the sound engineer says because he’s just a tool and his recommendations just slow you down and make you go in circles before you’ll end up in your initial approach anyway, haha.

All Hails, see you on the road sometime!

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Martyr – Extracting the Core: Live 2001

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Coming from the French-Canadian progressive metal powerhouse that later loaned members to Gorguts, Extracting the Core shows us Martyr playing a live set of their classic works. Before you wince: this is one of the better-produced live albums available such that it is indiscernible from a good but not excellent studio job; all instruments are clear and mixed in a way that fits expectations of studio recordings, and crowd noise is minimal. As a live album, it preserves everything you might want to hear from a band on record or live with a bit of extra energy in the vocals as musicians trying to cram ten thousand notes into six-minute songs howl at the audience with a high rate of exertion. The real question regards the style of this musically-erudite band, which brings up the question of poetry versus burritos.

A burrito, as you may know, is one of nature’s most perfect foods. A wrap of flour and lard encloses ingredients ranging from guacamole, pico de gallo, and carne asada to Spanish rice, sour cream and refried beans, and the whole thing is then consumed with the aid of delicious picante and verde sauces. What makes a burrito excellent is that instead of choosing what to have for dinner, you have everything, but in a form more convenient even than a sandwich. One cannot praise this Mexican-Spanish-Texican-Californian dish enough. But when composing metal, it becomes a brutal force. As Socrates tells us, all events have causes. What is the cause of a song? One either intends it to tell a story, or assembles a few musical theories into contrasting elements and makes a burrito of it. As with the burrito, uniqueness is lost in favor of a kind of sameness of differentness, where each song has everything and the kitchen sink, but over time — much like the constant pounding brutality of early Napalm Death or later Suffocation-inspired bands — it all starts to become the same, different variants of essentially an identical idea. With a poem, the form of the song and techniques used reflect the content; with a burrito, the content of the song reflects the need to include many different things in the form. You can analogize to variety shows, pluralism, unitarianism, and even Christianity itself — a compilation of a dozen religions, mostly Greek, Hindu, Jewish, Nordic, Babylonian and Egyptian — if you feel the need. But the point is that while the burrito pleases everyone, it does not achieve the distinctive expression that makes a song evocative of experience, thought or perception, which is what makes a poem or song stand out. It feels like something you have encountered, or something you wish to, and more than creating a solid impression it creates a space of balanced parts ambiguity and clarity, which makes you want to launch into it and battle for the beautiful to win out over the mundane, boring, pointless, directionless and entropic. In a burrito, this space does not exist because it is being used to hold all those delicious ingredients together.

Extracting the Core overflows with delicious ingredients. Head shredder Daniel Mongrain may be one of the most interesting guitarists in popular music. His jazz-influenced leads — this means dialing back the simplicity of rock music and accepting more complex harmony and corresponding technique — both display impressive technique and the ability to write a melodic solo with multiple emotions. All instruments show great proficiency, from the adept technical drumming that avoids overshadowing other instruments, to a subtle but present bass and complex riffing with difficult time signatures all nailed perfectly. The problem is the means by which this band composes: requiring a burrito means that a band must default to, at the core of each song, the simplest possible construction which can include all of its elements. When the randomness is removed, what remains is a simple speed metal song, with Meshuggah-style abrupt off-beat (as opposed to cadenced, like Metallica) speed metal riffing that alternates with hard rock and thinly-disguised jazz fusion riffs.

Essentially, this album is Pantera after music graduate school, much as Meshuggah simplified Suffocation and Exhorder and then amplified the degree of texture at oddball timings to produce their overrated material. While it is mournful to admit this, it kills the album and makes the listening experience one of tuning out the over-dramatic and busy riffing to get to the solos. In addition, in order to support the burrito, Martyr adopt many different voices of composition, from Supuration-style alternative-progressive metal to nearly hardcore, and the result injects further randomness. It would be better, as Gorguts did, to give this band a song template varied enough to tempt them but purposeful enough to channel these energies toward more musical profundity through instantial contrast in a prolonged and developing narrative.

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Desolate Shrine – The Heart of the Netherworld

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We all want a powerful underground. The way to achieve that is to be harsh, cruel and unrelenting in our judgment of underground-style bands, or we permit lower quality to become the standard, and then because that is easier, it is what we will get. What we signal we accept becomes the norm. It is essential to be cruel to bullshit releases, and Desolate Shrine The Heart of the Netherworld is tryhard blather that permits introduction of modern metal tropes into old school metal while failing to achieve the power of expression that is the defining factor of old school underground metal.

On its surface, The Heart of the Netherworld is melodic doom-death. Under the surface, it consists of tired chord progressions and techniques worked around utterly repetitive songs which move in a wholly circular fashion and achieve nothing. The vocals pick up the modern metal trope of open-throated riding of the beat, putting the vocal in the lead role and deprecating guitar. That is as well, as no unique or expressive riffs fill this album. Instead, sort of like a slower degraded version of Nile, Desolate Shrine adapt rock riffs and add a few accidentals but tend to focus on a melodic interval accented by a strumming or arpeggiated pattern. The result is a form of churn, both at the riff-level and the song-level, which results in total boredom and directs the focus at the vocals, as if the vocalist were a parasitic organism that took over the brain of this band.

In addition, Desolate Shrine works in a number of modern metal patterns such as the recursive strum, the post-metal drone and (most odious of all) the chromatic ratchet turnaround that bad hardcore bands have been using for what feels like 40 years now. Aesthetically this album is exciting, but once you pop the hood and look inside, you realize it’s not a Mustang but one of those little Fiat microcars that sound like kitchen mixers that have been oiled too frequently. The underground is not a surface flavor; it is a way of composing, and to reach that stage, a way of thinking. Desolate Shrine have not taken the first step on that journey but have stepped off on another route.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 01-12-15

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A few speak the truth, but most lie, not because they mean badly but because they think it helps them “get ahead.” Later do they learn that unearned merit simply means they are trapped in a world of having to uphold false images and it destroys their souls. To avoid this, we just cut the chaff from the wheat with pure linguistic and musical cruelty. Welcome to the latest installment of Sadistic Metal Reviews: come for the tears, stay for the (occasional) corn in the turd.

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Rippikoulu – Musta Seremonia

Musta Seremonia is clearly B-level death metal that imitates many of those that went before it in the 1989-1991 period. It is excessively primitive, like Grave or Obscurity. Much of it tries to be doom metal, which is — with a few notable exceptions — boring music for boring people. Expect cudgel-primitive low-end power chords rumbling against each other and moveable melodic patterns which create an atmosphere of forward motion and near-symmetry. Like the best of the doom-death slice of the death metal genre, including Asphyx, Miasma, early Atrocity and Funerus, this band creates a grinding atmosphere but refuses to make it wholly repetitive, creating the sense of a plane flying through a ruined city to observe new interactions each time like disconnected visions of a mad prophet. The point is to lower you into the darkness and not let you up, which is excellent as an experience but like many bands in the doom genre, probably not an everyday experience. Unlike its contemporaries, Rippikoulu understand how to put contrast into a song and yet keep it focused on a goal of expression, even if in utter primitivism this goal is so basic as to be very similar from song to song… If this band falls down, it is the intersection of the disadvantages above that brings it down: the B-level death metal with citations in rhythm or melody from Amorphis, Incantation and Deicide; the repetition and relative similarity of approach; and the extremely basic nature of these riffs which, as in Swedish bands like Uncanny and Suffer, can create a sense of pervasive doom bordering on total entropy instead of preparing us for reconquest of the wasteland in the name of terror. And yet, Musta Seremonia lives on with infectious rhythms and a distinctive presence to itself which distinguishes it from others who have traveled this lonely path. It is less rhythmically recursive than Grave, and songs hold together better than Obscurity, and it does not fall into the reheated speed metal patterns which doom Insanity and Num Skull. It simply thunders, aiming to be primitive and basic in the same way Belial or Agonized. While this will not hold a candle to the best of Finland, like Demigod Slumber of Sullen Eyes or even Amorphis The Karelian Isthmus, it stands above the other retrospective acts for at least having a sense of purpose.

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Deconstructing Sequence – Access Code

Tragically progressive and technical metal have become gigwise, or in other words are composed for an existing audience on the basis of what they have liked in the past, instead of forging their own path to attract an audience on the musical merits of the composition. Deconstructing Sequence launch into this arena with a highly informed, creative and periodically musically elegant entry which bears a second look. The surface adornment will unfortunately drive away many die-hard fans and simultaneously attract the type of greebos who were drawn to Opeth because it made them look musically profound among the fedora m’lady crowd of NEETs and hipsters. Much of the surface aesthetic involves voice overs about space landings, lead guitars that cleverly emulate the beeps and quirks of digital computers, and jazz fusion-inspired riffing that mates the ultra-texturalism of Meshuggah with the harmonic depth that bands like Dream Theatre and Gorguts used to establish contrast for their melodic themes. A mixture of Pestilence from its technical years with Dream Theatre and Meshuggah might accurately describe the sound, but the composition here hearkens back to simpler — think Rush or Camel-level — interpretations of mid-1970s classic progressive rock, although this is sometimes hard to find under the layers of postmodern configuration. Underneath all the layers, much of the riffing here as in Meshuggah is the same early 1980s speed metal where guitar serves a purely rhythmic role with a secondary melodic role, as harmony is impossible, thus adopting the chromatic fills that death metal later turned into phrase; a comparison between Meshuggah and Linkin Park is appropriate because they both have their origins in blending this essentially keyless, harmonically-moveable style with jazz fusion and rap/rock respectively. If I have any advice for this band, it is to lose everything but the music. We’ll understand the space exploration theme from the cover and the Hal 9000 guitar noises. Then it might make sense to worry less about writing the heavier riffs and to focus instead on why people will like you, which is your harmonically-rich composition in which melodies stand out in context and are not used as a production quirk-cum-purpose as they are in most “melodic death metal” bands. Access Code compares favorably to works from Sadist and other progressive death metal bands even if its heart shares dual loyalties in the 1990s and 1970s.

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Sacrocurse – Unholier Master

If you want to make metal strong, be hard on metal, especially of the type you like best. Otherwise, in the absence of quality control, that which is mediocre and predictable but familiar gets promoted and any musician who wants his or her work to be heard will avoid that genre like the plague. This is the problem with the NWN/FMP attitude toward classic metal, which is to find an aesthetic imitator that is “true” by being extreme and unrelenting and uphold it as an ideal. These bands are neither satisfying with the same musical punch as the individuals had, nor do they present a quality level markedly different from the newer metalcore hybrids, and thus they maintain a small but diehard audience while driving everyone else toward the newer material. In this way, the “underground” labels maintain a symbiotic relationship with the big media pap labels dumping warmed over hardcore with jazz fusion fixins onto a clueless audience. Unholier Master on its surface fits the underground with charging power chord riffs and extreme death metal vocals under high-speed drumming. The problem is that every riff on this album is excruciatingly obvious and repetitive, song development is near zero, and the main focus has thus become the vocals chanting repetitive but semi-catchy choruses. This reduces death metal to the same level of entropy that speed metal hit toward the end of the 1980s when tons of bands appeared who composed with almost exclusively chromatic rhythm music and hoped to distinguish themselves with vocals and increasingly random guitar solos. This album is an insult to the underground; throw it out and embrace natural selection instead, or you weaken death metal with your good intentions.

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Monuments – The Amanuensis

Excruciating: soaring Gospel-like power metal suddenly breaks into some dude… rapping… in a death metal vocal. The album proceeds in this pattern, with simplified (but less chromatic) Meshuggah style riffing banging out hard rock tunes and then, as if nu-metal went underground, the rap-influenced death vocals kick in. The whole thing seems designed to distract at any given moment which is probably palliative care for the listener who presumably could not be dissuaded from putting the album on and, short of a power failure, will not be immediately delivered from it. Not only is the heavy metal part of this music as cheesy as humanly possible, the brocore rap/metalcore side of it is as insulting to the intelligence as possible. If you are a person of no intelligence who likes stupid things because they make it seem like the world is compatible with your utter lack of positive mental attributes, purchase this immediately and get the tshirt too so we can spot you at a distance, adjust for windage and elevation, and do what is necessary. An experienced listener hearing this is immediately embarrassed for the band, and those who listen, and those who accidentally must hear this album, which would confirm every negative stereotype of metal (maybe it is a counter-astroturfing effort by vegan techno bands). It combines everything stupid in rock, rap, metal and inspirational music into a single ball of string which drips a fermented slime of human oblivion over all that it touches. While normally I oppose censorship, this album makes me re-think censorship on a level of excluding bands of poor musical quality, since all this album does is create a heap of landfill that even bacteria will find insults their intelligence.

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Infra – Initiation on the Ordeals of Lower Vibration

From the tryhard realm of the underground comes love for a new type of band that combines the simplistic Blasphemy/Incantation clone with “high art” and produces music that seems stately, deep and profound. Somehow all of these bands explore spiritual philosophies or ancient religious texts and invent large mythos for themselves. This parallels the tendency of nu-metalcore acts to write about whatever literature they remember from high school, or spiritualist topics of peace and love like Cynic did, which is a way for metal bands to improve their image through pretense. The problem with this approach is that it leads to a flood of metaphysical bullshit which is ill-advised for bands to mention. This band from Portugal, and that fact seems important from the bio, makes this new hybrid low/high-brow grinding black metal. Where Blasphemy channeled the id, this music may be too self-conscious, but is nonetheless well-executed but from these two tracks create a lukewarm effect because song-form and “purpose” rather than content dictate what occurs in each song. Thus we have songs about songs, a kind of theory about black metal, and they never come to a point. Further, they like to stack primitive riffs up against melodic ones, which creates a kind of “precious” response which is every bit as contrived as numu bands switching from distortion and shouting on the verses to acoustic and singing on the choruses. On Initiation on the Ordeals of Lower Vibrations, the black metal moments express themselves and fade into the background as we wait for Profound Moments… but these come not from this kind of preciousness, but in the form of melodic/atmospheric material that exemplifies the best of the old school, both simple and evocative of events in life.

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Bleed – Seven Billion Demons

What is it that is so appalling about judging a band by its style? It is OK with some forms, clearly, since no one ever said “Well, you shouldn’t write that band off just because they’re disco.” But in metal we shy away from it, ignoring the fact that some styles are designed to reduce music to what attracts like moths to flame the most basic, blockheaded and purposeless human tendencies. Brocore is one such genre, and while Bleed is clearly above-the-fold brocore, it is still brocore: the ranting speed metal of Pantera, updated with the chromatic riff texture noodling of Meshuggah, but simplified to fit around hard rock chord progressions in the background, against which all the riffery serves as simply decoration. Thus when you peer down into the core of this album you find something closer to Look What the Cat Dragged In or Hysteria than Meshuggah or Pantera, just done up in a new (or should I say… “nu”) aesthetic for a new generation of the credulous and inexperienced who will spend their parents’ money on dreck that will keep the slacker jobs program known as the music industry operating for another year. No offense intended slackers, and none taken; as a proud slacker I defend the right of everyone to slack off as appropriate, but wish the music industry would admit this fact and stop wasting time with clear filler. Nothing on Seven Billion Demons is badly executed and in fact the album as a whole is quite professional, just empty, like a streetcar at night or an entry-level job. Thus if you have a soul — and you might if you’ve kept reading this far, not sure — you should probably avoid this. But if you’re looking for Brocore 2.0 and something to chant along with as you drink beer and (no homo) wrestle with your buddies at a keg party on the beach, Seven Billion Demons may be for you. Kegstand!

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Ctulu – Sarkomand

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Cleverness — glib intelligence focused on past good results manipulating an existing system — serves as the enemy to innovation. Balancing that is the notion that what is older is usually better because, human conditions having never changed, that which serves well once will continue to do so until the situation changes (which usually means it is simply decaying and unstable). Ctulu takes us back to 1997 and combines Swedish melodic death metal, Greek black metal and the classic Iron Maiden style of melodic heavy metal for a satisfying listen that is nonetheless non-essential. In this case, “non-essential” means that you can go listen to the original albums for a more complete (less clever) view of the genre, but that Ctulu will be fun for weekend listening and the local or regional metal scene.

Now, the above seems strikingly unfair. After all, Ctulu is a good band, and the fact that they repeat trills and melodic progressions from sources as diverse as later Sacramentum, Necrophobic, Unanimated, Mayhem, Rotting Christ and Piece of Time seems irrelevant to their quality as a band; that is very much true. But what is being played here is not so much the instrument as the genre and the expectation of fans based on those older works, so what occurs is ultimately clever instead of innovative. This band has developed its own voice, but it is a voice that converses only in the context of these past acts. Without them, this band would appear strikingly different but also starkly empty. These well put together songs reflect not an interest in pushing an envelope but in gratifying a need that already exists, which is why by the sixth track the sensation of listening itself has become repetitive more than the music itself. We know what it conveys; it has found different ways of doing roughly the same thing and while most of us will grudgingly admit to adoring the melodic metal sound, it works best in service to a grand or epic vision as in the underrated later Sacramentum speed metal hybrid albums which Sarkomand frequently resembles. Here we have a local band holding the horns and beer stein high, keeping up the tradition, but this is the worst of conservative thinking in that it is creating this tradition from outward-in, not from some motivation within toward an end product, and as a result it trivializes what is here and what was there.

Expect flowing melodic passages which elevate the fill to central position so that riffs may reverse direction through the scale and achieve a sense of rapid motion. Mate that with highly proficient drumming that generally stays out of the focus but frames it expertly, mid-level death metal vocals and heavy metal choruses and you have the basic idea. While most of the riffing is death metal derived and would fit on a Sentenced or Dissection album, much of the underlying song motion more resembles black metal in its choice of atmosphere followed by saturation of that atmosphere and an angsty breakout. Like many bands influenced by this style, Ctulu know how to write a chorus that is both pleasing to the ear and yet carefully hides its addictive tendencies over just enough detachment to make it plausible instead of cloying. At this, Ctulu best the competition and it explains why they have risen above the utter horde of melodic retro death metal bands to be in the position they are in also. And yet, Sarkomand remains an album that is fun to listen to but when it departs, nothing feels missing.

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Funerus – The Black Death

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Following up on its doom-death full-length Reduced to Sludge released in 2011, Funerus surges forth with three new tracks on a 7″ entitled The Black Death to be released on Dark Descent Records within the next few weeks. This short work shows that where Reduced to Sludge finalized the Funerus style, newer works further intensify the strong doom-death sound which has propelled this band for decades of enjoyment in the death metal underworld.

Sounding very much in company with widely varied acts such as Divine Eve, Cianide and Asphyx, Funerus writes grinding death metal riffs which develop over the course of a song with hints of melody and layers of texture, building an incrementally crushing atmosphere around a strong theme. On The Black Death, melodic elements serve a stronger role but entirely without becoming fluff or reducing the impact. Funerus uses melody in death metal correctly, which is to underscore the evocative vocal rhythm of a chorus and bring out variation in riffs so that repetition increases the crushing sense of morbid doom instead of adulterating it. These songs build like the experience of descending into a deep cave, with the heaviness of the air growing more oppressive and the fear surging with each foot further into the void that return from this abyss will be impossible. Where older Funerus relied on more varied technique and sometimes conflicted with the pure power of its doom-death riffs, this new incarnation clears out everything but the essentials and uses them to complement the fiery riffing to give it a further sense of oppressive hopeless violence.

In addition, vocals provided by bassist Jill McEntee, who shares instrumental duties with her husband John McEntee of Incantation, both through clarity of production and greater savagery produce an effect of urgent despair like chanted emergency messages broadcast by loudspeaker in the ruins of a dystopian city. Of the three tracks on this album, “The Black Death” grinds almost like a Bolt Thrower track but builds to a staggering sledgehammer doom-death riff instead of a melodic counterpoint to the abrasive chromatic dirge. The second track “The Minding” applies a melodic Swedish-style death metal riff much as might appear on a Carnage or Amorphis record but throws behind it a bulldozer of rhythmic momentum. Closing out the record, “On the Edge of Death” charges more like early Asphyx and keeps the intensity higher at a mid-paced speed with relentless vocals calling forth like battle command. Together these three tracks show a streamlined, stripped-down and more articulate Funerus that intends greater malice and achieves a sound competitive with the best of the underground that shows us this band at its greatest power yet.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 01-06-14

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The music fan possesses limited resources to achieve the goal of an enjoyable listening experience: time, money and energy. Reviewers tend to write about how cool everything is, but they should be writing about how mediocre most albums are so they can focus on the few that can be enjoyed for the next few years at least. It is hard to be cruel, but it is kinder than kindness. With that I introduce our latest round of Sadistic Metal Reviews

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Villainy – Villainy I

This enjoyable little romp reminds the death metal listener of later Sentenced crossed with the Venom-worship of Nifelheim and other bands who, in the old school days, were simply referred to as Venom tributes. Heavy metal genre riffing, combining the best tropes of the late 1970s and early 1980s, meets a harsh Cronos-styled vocal and updated technique. Nothing sloppy here; the band are tight and the arrangements show no spurious detail. However, despite the somewhat harsh vocals, like Venom this is NWOBHM and 1970s heavy metal revivalism without any particular relevance beyond that era. It skips speed metal textures for a death/black metal styled fast strum and continuous drumming as if taking notes from Merciless, and injects melody, but mostly stays within verse-chorus with introductory and transitional riffs different. The riff forms will be familiar to fans of heavy metal from that era. Lead guitar strikes a pentatonic blitz that is both enjoyable and very much within form. Unlike Merciless however this album focuses on writing hard rocking tunes and does not develop an evolving mood or atmosphere beneath.

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Tenebrous – Arias Toward the Black Sun

Underground metal needs a new trope for a certain type of composition which appears frequently among our ranks. I dub this “80s situational comedy” after the movies where a character makes a bad decision, then to hide it chooses another bad option, then deceives and conceals in a string of events leading to absurdity and eventual plot collapse. Sitcom metal occurs when a band finds a riff they like and write other riffs to fit that riff without having an awareness of what the riff communicates emotionally to the listener, thus what the song is actually about, and so you end up with a cool riff and reactions to that riff which are designed to put it into context but ultimately have the opposite effect. Tenebrous fits this pattern through its work in a style that combines a whole lot of Graveland with some of the more aggressive strains of black metal. They have mastered the basic flowing riff, but not building a song around it, only building a song commenting on it. This is underscored by the cover of “Unpunished Herd” which ends the album and makes the rest of it look incoherent in contrast.

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Pagan Flames – Symbol de Vie et Lumiere

This atmospheric black metal band combines Burzum-styled lead folk melodies over sweeping guitar riffs. Its strength is its melodic composition; its weaknesses are its vocals, which focus on rhythms that are too obvious and thus trite, and its tendency to try to work slamming full-stop and bounce rhythms into what should be a more continuous architecture. Barring those two disadvantages, Symbol de Vie et Lumiere presents black metal that unlike most recent efforts tries for the ancient, melancholic and epic warlike sound that made this genre popular before idiots invaded with thinly-disguised rock music to keep the mouth-breathers occupied. Many of these songs verge on being folk music itself and like the Darkthrone sidepoject Storm, feature trudging rhythms over which pagan lyrics are chanted to volkisch-reminiscent melodies. The fractured aesthetic presented by the overly busy vocals and tendency toward self-interruption with choppier rhythms narrowly keeps this album from being top tier but it distinguishes itself on its essence — attempting to write actual music through melody — from the formless legions of tryhards, shoegazers and hard rockers trying to use black metal as a vehicle for their own failed prior attempts at other genres.

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Skrømt – Sjelebrann

Not since Disharmonic Orchestra Not to be Undimensional Conscious has a hybrid of this variety yet which retained its ability to express itself been cast among the metal minions. Skrømt combine alternative metal, post-metal, rough punk and older black metal influences (Ancient, Enslaved) into a form which keeps the catchy songwriting of indie rock bands but fleshes it out with a rich backdrop of shifting harmonic texture and, like metal, combines multiple riffs into chains to create a moveable part of a narrative. For the most part, songs stick to verse-chorus as augmented by background material and sometimes with a second instrumental chorus to expand upon the first loop. Like alternative metal, songs guide themselves through the vocals and the presentation of lyrics in a combination of shouted, sung and harsh vocals. Where this goes wrong is that rock and metal do not mix on an aesthetic and thus artistic level, and so the end result is rock gilded with metal riffs which are quickly absorbed, and some of the best work of this album exists in the shadow of the alternative rock tropes that it stands far superior to. This is unfortunate as clearly many good ideas and musical insights went into this album. Most inspiring in this release is the technical work applied to making the various riffs and styles fit together. It is rare for a band to understand how to connect different emotions together without following a blatant formula, but Skrømt stitches together multiple moods and styles into a coherent whole on a musical level, even if making it work on an aesthetic level seems difficult.

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Church of the Dead – Vol. 4 – Meet Me in the Tomb

The term “cultural appropriation” seems trendy these days but few realize what it means. Blatant theft of the cultural methods of another group is too easily detected, so people appropriate those cultural methods by translating them into a form that most will not recognize. In this case, while Church of the Dead clearly uses death metal riffs and death metal vocals, its vocal rhythms are influenced by rap and its riff rhythms are closer to Motown than standard issue death metal. Thus while this disc shows some musical promise, it remains a confused aberration that wants to be in one genre but keeps itself in another, losing the spirit and atmosphere of that genre. Each piece tends to feature both Cannibal Corpse style trope cadence rhythm vocals and sing-song jingle-style vocals, making these hard to listen to without a wincing cringe, but also internalizes groove to the point where riffs take a basis in Morbid Angel and Malevolent Creation and become closer to Pantera. As a result, despite the many positives for this album, the overall negative is that its overall presentation is bouncy, poppy, and very much “rock” and not metal in form.

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Deep Wound – Deep Wound EP

At some level all hardcore punk approximates the same thing because the genre solidified certain tropes and combined with the mathematical limitations on complexity, these defined the variety of punk songs. Deep Wound creates songs that sound either like Black Flag without the dissonance, or early Corrosion of Conformity without so many pauses. The vocals strikes a jaunty and sarcastic pause when they are not in full blur mode. As far as thrash goes, this is closer to the punk side like the first DRI LP, and its riffs are less metal than hardcore in minor key, but it beats the recent “crossover thrash” rebranding that verges too much on speed metal territory and becomes either tame or inanely jingle-y as a result. The hardcore spirit lives faithfully in this music but because of the vast similarity of hardcore, it also does not stand out in any particular way — riffs are not radically different, nor song forms, nor even vocals — so qualifies as a fun listen but not as definitive as the albums from DRI, Cryptic Slaughter and COC that defined thrash as a genre. However, this stands head and shoulders above the “party thrash” of recent years and by coming at the genre from the hardcore side, brings in an energetic simplicity that metal riffs make too complex to self-sustain.

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Nidsang – Into the World of Dissolving Flames

  • Basic black metal combined with Angelcorpse-style aggression, but leaning on the latter for songwriting. As a result, not much atmosphere but plentiful aggression. Melodic riffing adds some depth but consistent song form and intensity rob this album of much enduring power.

Aborted – The Necrotic Manifesto

  • Aborted took their high-intensity low-complexity grind and gave it the modern metal (a/k/a deathcore) treatment which made it more chaotic. The more elements you add, the more internal complexity (melody, structure, theme) you must have or you reduce your core complexity to nothing, which is what happens here. Catchy chorus + two grinding riffs + hard rock influences.

Abysmal Dawn – Obsolescence

  • Workable death metal with heavy metal influences in abundant lead soloing, melodic riffing and catchy choruses. Very paint-by-numbers however with not much of an intent to put anything into a song but energy and internal cohesion. Good riffs give it strength but do not make it compelling; modern-metal-style chanted choruses ahead of the riff also increase frustration.

Cemetery Fog – Towards the Gates

  • This attempt at Paradise Lost-styled doom metal is both well-composed and artistically relevant, but highly cheesy from the use of melodies that directly gratify pop instincts to the occasional female vocals which aesthetically create the type of cheese that Motley Crue could only dream of. Songs are well-written and express a unique form and content for each, even though they drone on through a series of heavy metal riffs slowed down and are united by a melodic lead shadowed by vocals. While not bad, this makes the album as a whole somewhat sentimental in the sort of obvious Thomas Kinkade calendar way that drives away people like me, but it would be remiss to not notice the quality of songwriting here.

Abigor – Leytmotif Lucifer

  • Black metal needs to stay black metal. Abigor try to work in late Gorgoroth through early Deathspell Omega influences and it makes their already spotty music more spotty. Some good melodies, no continuity, too much style.

Aevangelist – Writhes in the Murk

  • Imagine Teitanblood with melodic riffing and slowed down to fast mid-paced death metal. The one cool effect here is the use of abrupt transitions to create a theatrical effect, but the lack of underlying riff and song consistency makes even this seem hollow.

Bethlehem – Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia

  • Most will notice the creeping Rammstein influence: clean vocals, more dance-able beats, more pronounced use of German lyrics. However, a good deal of this sounds like recent Absurd as well with more of a folk influence creeping in and while the rhythms are more popular music friendly, they are far from industrial, and what appears instead more resembles NWOBHM with more groove than the quasi-modernist sound of Rammstein. Otherwise, the riff wizardry remains but is muted, with more emphasis on vocals and repetitive choruses, but generally these songs fit together well musically and develop an internal melodic sense that produces a multifacted atmosphere.

Agatus – Dawn of Martyrdom (re-issue)

  • Sort of like a cross between Legion of Doom and old Rotting Christ, Agatus uses the full punk style of even strumming speed creating droning riffs. These are pleasurable in themselves, and fit together well in songs, but they are both too obvious as melodies/phrases and too similar as rhythm riffs to make this work. In addition, many of the melodic choices here are simply rudimentary crossing into bad. This could have been an epic album if a more critical eye had been applied during composition.

Acheron – Kultes des Hasses

  • The challenge to Acheron has always been to overcome their cadenced rhythm that comes to a full stop in perfect symmetry, sounding a bit like a child’s song. On this latest album they work up the usual assortment of great riffs in bad rhythm and occasional disorganized order.

Baphometh – In the Beginning

  • Essentially speed metal with plenty of repetition, catchy choruses and circular song structure, this band nonetheless adopts death metal vocals. However, it is better for fans of B-rated Metallica and Exodus clones than anything newer. While none of this is incompetent, songs have no center around any kind of conflict, so the general mode is repetition and circularity.

Authorize – The Source of Dominion

  • Thudding, predictable, circular and confused, Authorize are Swedish death metal in the style of Suffer but with none of what holds songs together or makes them anything but basic guitar practice. Lead guitars totally incongruous, other elements equally out of place. Should have stayed unreleased.

Aurora Borealis – Worldshaper

  • The melodic death metal band works Absu-style jaunty vocals into the mix, but they take over composition too much. Riffs follow the vocal lead which dominants rhythm and creates a kind of circus atmosphere with the MC describing each act and then the trained bears of the riffs, clowns of the background vocals and highwire dancers of guitars take over. Sounds a lot like Warfather but more melody.
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How music reviews are made

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If you must (“must”) watch television, probably the best thing on continues to be the Canadian program How It’s Made which shows the process by which everyday objects are manufactured. A similar program for the music industry might attract fewer watchers but be similarly informative.

The basics of the industry are that labels produce records, media write about those records, and artists — a pretentious term for musicians and bands — try to get chosen by either or both. Most records produce almost all of the profit they will create within a relatively short duration of their release. Labels need to constantly produce output so that they stay in the news, and media needs to constantly produce favorites (or drama) to sell news. Artists, on the other hand, are trying to create long-term audiences, but only if the artist believes they can produce quality material for a long period. Otherwise, their goal is to cash in and drop out, so they can go back to being the cool barista in a seaside town known for having put out that edgy metalcore album back in ’06.

When labels send out promotional packages, their goal is to ensure the reviewer spends as little time on the music as possible. They would prefer that the reviewer spend most of her time on the press release and biography, writing about the “unique” background to the band and how their album release is a news event, not a musical event. Ideally, the writer will focus on production and style more than substance, since new variations in production and style are easily produced while quality music is limited to a certain percentage of artists and striving for quality makes artists more valuable and labels/media less valuable.

The gig as a music reviewer is to say as little as possibly that is not blindingly obvious about the music while working in as many details as possible. The most successful reviews talk mostly about the biography, then about production, then style, and only finally in passing about the music itself. By the music itself I mean the composition, such that if you transferred it to midi or kazoo you would still recognize the song(s) but all of the production values from guitar sound through effects would be removed and you would see the composition as it is. If you have ever listened to someone playing acoustic guitar and realized the music sounds familiar, then figured out which song they are playing, you have had the experience of connecting with the music itself. The music itself however is the one part of music as a commodity that cannot be easily quantified and reproduced through systematic means (think of a recipe or instruction book). As a result, the music itself makes no one any money during the short period in which most albums generate profit.

You may see familiar names when you switch between your favorite magazines and your favorite music labels and the promotion companies that service them. The goal of most music reviewers is to get promoted within the industry, either as workers at the labels or writers in the media. They do this by making personal contacts, which generally happens when they are helpful to those people and promote whatever release they are working at the time. Very few people stay in the industry for long because it rewards a certain type of highly sociable person who writes whatever is needed to promote a record. This is why when you read record reviews, they normally take on a breathless tone that borders on praise. The goal of the reviewer is as a marketer, not a writer. Their job is to make you want to buy the album, but in such a way that you think it is your own idea, and so you blame no one when two weeks later you stop listening to it.

Most people are not words-people. They operate by gut feel, which is how their brains make a synopsis of all of the impulses they have in response to something. They tend to respond enthusiastically to new things but as time goes on, they respond less to them. For this reason, very few fans are aware of bad albums versus good ones. They know only that they bought something, they were excited about it, and then… it just sort of faded out of their consciousness. It became less interesting. The methods of art and music are well-known after centuries of exploration and what makes an album stay with us is no mystery. A good album is both musically adept, even if primitive, in that it is organized and produces something pleasing and non-obvious out of what it has to work with, and evocative, or representative of some feeling in ourselves or experience we have had in the world. Very few albums do this, but lots of albums can hit us with the pure physical sensation of listening to them, like acrobatic guitars, intense production, a bizarre or fresh style or even pure sonic intensity. These fascinate for a short while and then fade from our awareness.

As a reader, you must now be thinking this article is somewhat apocalyptic. I have just told you that the music industry has interests contrary to your own; they want to pump out formulaic stuff with new style/production, and you want to listen to music that stretches your time, money and energy by rewarding your listening minutes over many years. Actually I consider myself on the side of the music industry, because without labels to concentrate money that they can invest in production and promotion, good bands would remain unheard and without the budget to bring their promising music to a point where it is both pleasant as composition and pleasant to be heard. Few would listen to Beethoven if the only albums were played on kazoos and recorded on iPhones in subway restrooms. The music industry represents its own worst enemy because whenever something new — a band, an idea, a genre — makes a fan base, industry grows in response to it and produces more stuff “like” it that does not deliver the punch of the original. They thus ride trends for profit and then self-destruct when the trend is over, excepting a few labels who rise above the rest on the basis of having more profit, thus more money to put out new releases. The industry would be healthier if it could stop riding trends and instead focus on what makes bands and labels wealthy, which is the long tail or long-term relationship with fands.

The archetypal long tail band is Metallica. When …And Justice For All broke into the top 200, it brought every previous album of the band with it. During its classic era, when Metallica put out a new album and made a new fan, that fan tended to go out and buy everything else the band did, plus tshirts and concert tickets. It is the same way with massively successful acts in every genre — they cultivate a dedicated fanbase — but metal is a standout in how clearly it is defined in this way. The labels that dominate are the ones who get behind a band that cultivates a long-term audience. However, these bands are few and far between so labels make do with what they have. Unfortunately for them, the market is contracting as online availability of music reduces the power of novelty (“newness” + unique production/style). People can simply listen to the new fascination online for two weeks and then move on without having bought it.

To counter this, I propose a new model for the music industry: licensing. Under this model, bands would retain their copyright in an album and take out a license from the label, which would have the right to retain the album as long as they kept it in print. Big labels would license this content from smaller labels, creating a pyramid where the top reflects the bands with the best long-term audience potential and the bottom reflects new entries who are trying to build that audience. This would put more of a burden on the bands, who would be essentially taking a loan from the labels to produce their albums in exchange for that extensive promotion, but would enable labels to focus on the true breadwinners with their long-tail artists. In addition, because artists would be forced to assume direction of their efforts, there would be less of the kind of childish behavior of superstars in the 1970s and 1980s that caused labels to become strict in how they control their artists. This model also fits with the de facto standard of online music sales as they will become, which is the granting of a license to “own” the music regardless of form to the consumer. When physical form is no longer as important, we switch from a “goods” model to a “services” model, and the sooner labels do this the sooner they escape the overhead of defending a past business model and can move on to the future.

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Thou Shell of Death – Sepulchral Silence

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Resembling a collision between space-ambient music, doom metal and black metal, Thou Shell of Death creates slow-paced doom metal with the atmosphere of black metal bands — a more melancholic, brooding and existentially nihilistic outlook — but like past doom metal greats Winter, the lead instrument here may well be the keyboards, which in reverb-heavy waves lace melody through crashing guitar chords which gives them both context and foreshadows development. The ethereal and spectral sound of the keyboards conveys simultaneously an otherworldly removal and a soaring sense of possibility, which temples the normal self-indulgence of doom metal into an exploration of wonder in the darkened halls of a fallen world.

Guitars on Sepulchral Silence intelligently vary texture in the background under the keyboards which are more clearly heard both through being louder in the mix and being a clearer sound, which makes their orientation as lead intelligence. The musical role of guitar in this context is to set a basic progression in the background which the keyboards riff against in order to produce a sense of convergence, as if actors were in harmony with their background and role rather than opposed. Often mid-paced, guitars use a variety of technique including fast downstroking and tremolo but just as often fall back to the Black Sabbath/Winter styled power chords played open, or strummed once and allowed to resonate. Behind them drums lag comfortably and minimally, removing what might have been a distraction to a role as timekeeper plus a sound of inexorable time that affirms emptiness. Each progression stands distinct and keyboards take advantage of this to set up a mood that, like ambient music even of the discotheque variety, resonates around the listener while vocals are demoted to speech filling in the gaps with a narrative to center the song. Over this, heavily reverbed vocals hang like shrouds and flags hanging torn above ruins, battered by the winds of history.

Avoiding the dual traps of becoming essentially slowed-down hard rock or slowed-down death metal, Thou Shell of Death renovates funeral doom music with a new variety of emotions and technique that avoids the pitfall of this music, which is that it is often tedious both from its slowness and the resulting relative invariance of its riff texture. While riffs are relatively few compared to death metal in these songs, as in black metal songs, each serves a purpose and riffs tend to change with lyrical progress, creating the sense of a morbid storybook tale narrated by a demon rather than a rock song over which someone is ad libbing Tolkien. From this basic approach, Sepulchral Silence makes a dense liquid atmosphere that provides all of the dread and despair of doom metal but with the adventurous spirit of black metal and the hope of discovery that pervades electronic music, creating a new voice for funeral doom.

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