Today, Svart Records announces September 18th as the international release date for Skepticism’s highly anticipated new album, Ordeal. A legendary name in metal circles, Skepticism are widely hailed as one of the originators of funeral doom. Their first album for Svart and fifth overall, Ordeal is also the first Skepticism full-length since 2008’s Alloy. But instead of going the usual recording-in-the-studio route, the band decided to record this new album live before an audience on January 24th at Klubi in Turku, Finland, with the event also captured on film. A truly unique experience for a truly unique band, Ordealis a honest and accurate summary of what Skepticism is in 2015.
Keyboardist Eero Pöyry commented:
Recording the album live was a positive experience. I’ve come to think of Skepticism being at its best live, and the Ordeal session proved it for me. Having a whole day to concentrate in one shot at a perfect performance brought in a good pressure – and a bit of an ordeal, as well.
Adds drummer Lasse Pelkonen,
Recording live made the album sound a bit rough and dirty, which is suitable for us in any case.
The album will be available as a CD/DVD bundle and also as a LP/DVD set, featuring visual documentation of the whole Ordeal performance.
It is hard to think of a more street-credible approach to recording an album
I think metal is good only if one can recognize it as such by sound and arrangement. This happens on Ordeal. I am personally very happy with the new songs. They contain a lot of atmospheric changes and layering but still sound like Skepticism.
Guitarist Jani Kekarainen explains,
Life is an ordeal, the album is about ordeal, and making the album was an ordeal. To me, the music of Skepticism is essentially dynamic and atmospheric. These qualities in music are best presented live. Hence, recording live made it possible to capture the most authentic result for the album.
Finally, vocalist Matti concluded
It is difficult not to be and difficult to be; Ordeal is what music is – genuine without further explanation.
Tracklisting for Skepticism’s Ordeal
3. The Departure
4. March Incomplete
5. The Road
6. Closing Music
8. The March and the Stream
A supergroup comprised of members of Amebix and Voivod among other bands, Tau Cross emerged just a few years after Amebix returned with a radio heavy metal album named Sonic Mass in 2011 that used the Iron Maiden styled epic take on heavy metal to deliver a traditional Amebix point of view. That album also revisited the second album from the band back in 1987, Monolith, which showed a Motorhead influence repurposing the raw energy of the crust punk from earlier albums. Together, those two albums from after the “pure” crust era of Amebix demonstrate a direction toward heavy metal that combines the best of the early 1980s with the energy and concrete focus of punk. Tau Cross picks up from that point with a more varied approach, spanning from quality indie rock (non-emo) through modern metal like Filter with a host of minor influences as varied as Killing Joke, Metallica, Celtic folk music and Oi punk. This intensely varied album manages the best form of emotion, which is subtly built and keyed by a shift in the entire song, and not just vocals, creating an avalanche effect once it hits its trigger point and all of the previous material starts making sense in that context. Much of this will appeal to fans of Queenrÿche and other bands who specialize in taking mainstream styles, recombining them, and then dominating them with an ethos that originates in underground punk or metal but thrives in a more listenable form. Vocals are often reminiscent of Nirvana crossed with Minor Threat applied by Motorhead at a later Discharge pace, while guitars alternate between high-speed punk in the style of Cro-Mags but with more on-beat energy, but songwriting comes from the same intensely visual style that appeared on Sonic Mass, as if designed for an epic video that leaves the listener wondering for the next few days if they correctly interpreted the song. Song structures are formed of roughly verse-chorus patterning that is interrupted and redirected at key points, with interludes and pauses. Paranoid and cynical, lyrics seem to reflect a sense of total frustration with the modern condition converted into a bittersweet discovery of meaning in opposing it and going another way. First listen to this album let it be written off as hard rock, much like Monolith at first, but Tau Cross shows the benefit of years of experience in songwriting and working with melody, in addition to more flexible tempo changes and supporting instrumentals, and so takes that style in a more powerful direction. In many ways, this album picks up where the modern mainstream metal like Filter should have gone, which is to take the emotionality of alternative rock, the energy of hardcore and the epic structures of early 80s metal and blend them together into something terrifying and beautiful.
Immolation’s Close to a World Below marked a clear departure from their earlier style. Their previous release, Failures for Gods, came out only the year before, but play the two albums back-to-back and you might be surprised it is the same band. On average, the songs are much slower. The dissonance is harsher and often tonality gets lost in a mess of pitch bends. At the same time, almost paradoxically, the production is higher: every part can be heard clearly and is given equal weight. At first glance, the songs are much more chaotic, but on further reflection, they have matured greatly in terms of structure and development. Exploring this idea will be the focus of the review.
In fact, this can probably be best understood by a thorough examination of a single track, “Father, You’re Not a Father.” The opening bass pattern is F descending to C scale-wise, but the catch is it is not a major or minor scale. The scalar pattern is the Locrian mode. Although this is typically considered a “standard” scalar mode, it is almost never used (parts of Sibelius’ 4th Symphony being a prominent exception), because the root chord is diminished. This makes the main chord of the key highly dissonant. The F to C construction is then used to introduce the first main riff (minor simplifications for readability were made):
The riff is offset from the start of the bass, so it occurs in a different place of the measure. It is also played in triplet rather than the bass duple. Everything about how these two main ideas are layered adds to the dissonance, confusion, and chaos of the sound. They even shift up a half step to F# and C# which layers a tritone on top of everything and pulls you temporarily out of the main key. Yet the whole riff is perfectly consistent and coheres with the introduction by being built from the same exact material. This is what I meant earlier when I said the songs sound chaotic at first but upon repeated listens, the internal logic emerges. We’ll call this section A.
The second main riff is introduced shortly after some vocals. A texture change happens for this riff, because it is played as power chords rather than single notes. The time signature also changes to 4/4 from the 3/4 of the beginning. The feel is naturally slowed by the use of quarter notes instead of eighth notes or eighth note triplets from section A. The riff itself ascends in opposition to the A idea which is descending.
All of this taken together is great songwriting, because the slower note values, longer measure, and power chords all contribute to a heavier feel. Each change they made between section A and B contributes in the same emotional direction. Many modern bands don’t understand this type of consistency. I wrote out the B idea for reference, but it there is enough going on that it could be heard differently by different people (maybe some fifths should be in there?):
The track returns to the A idea and then the B idea with some slight changes and vocals layered in. This can be seen as a development of the initial ideas or merely as a restatement. The next section is a true development section, because Immolation take a classical ornamentation idea and appropriate it into their own context. A mordant is a rapid alternating of the main note with a neighbor tone (sort of like a short trill). In this song, they glissando the whole thing and create an ugly, intensified version of it. This develops the A idea into its own groove which gives way to another development in which they elongate the opening bass motif.
While all of this is going on, more and more textures, intense drumming, extra dissonant notes, and layering of power chords contribute to a whole song build to the climax. The climax is the fantastic solo near the end. It teases by starting slow and slurred, almost like the guitar is trying to hold a single note that is unstable and can’t help but flick around. It then erupts into a short burst of technical prowess, and of course, quotes the A theme to tie it all together.
Overall, it is this type of excellent songwriting that makes the album worth listening to (and a departure from their earlier material). The songs are tightly constructed, coherent pieces that simultaneously feel unraveled and chaotic. They achieve a rare balance that speaks to both the mind and the emotions. Many newer bands have tried to copy the style unsuccessfully (the recent Ulcerate album comes to mind). They miss that this is not just static dissonance, but forward moving and organic in addition to being technical and rigid.
Longstanding Italian death metal band Sadist, famous for incorporating Pestilence/Atheist style progressive and jazz influences into their work in the early 1990s, have returned from retirement with a new album. This one features more bouncy and spacious speed metal rhythms, such as on Voivod Dimension Hatross or Anacrusis Screams and Whispers, but stays true to their habit of interweaving different styles and narratives with metal riffing.
Bizarrely, perhaps in some transposition of Nietzschean ideas, the album and band seem to be using the visual theme of hyenas against prey animals. While this is not the goofiest thing in death metal, it seems a bit ill-advised because of the general view of hyenas, which forgets what vicious predators — on par with wolves but more energetically violent — hyenas are. See for yourself what you think of this odd campaign and the music that supports it on the album teaser.
Despite spending most of my time listening to Haydn and Bruckner, I appreciate good grind: pattern languages of relative tonal motion and pure rhythm, laid out with the intensity of people who have stepped outside of all that is known and accepted. Anarchus has long been a favorite for delivering the raw goods without pretense and adopting a style of their own evenly between Terrorizer, Repulsion and Napalm Death that keeps the intensity of the peaks but varies it with seemingly impulsive gestures toward emptiness.
This well-acknowledged (but not acknowledged enough!) band played live in Tokyo, and recorded it with moderate fidelity that captures the energy of this performance and through that, connects to the anguished and warlike anger lurking in this music. Basic song structures, modified by commentary on the song itself from within, cycle through a verse and chorus for basic structure but enjoy the sensation of power that comes after deconstruction in which the form molds to the expression. Vocals rage, both high and low tones, and give this intense texture, but the real performance is in writing grindcore songs that remain unique and expressive even in this time when we are drowning in grindcore. This is music to destroy the world, and thanks to some wise sonic engineering, appears to us in a clear form without too much of the “noise” (versus signal) of live performances. Obviously, whatever I was doing at the time this was recorded, I was in the wrong place, as I should have been in Tokyo hanging out with ANARCHUS and maybe visiting K.K. NULL aftewards.
Only an American company could come up with this: a bitter beer wracked by a sweet fruity aftertaste. It is the approach one takes to bribing children to eat the disgusting faux nutrition that is “health food,” namely by making the food as vile as possible and then dumping a bunch of sugar on top so they will eat it for that. On the tongue, Pale Ale tastes like a European delicacy like Grolsch for just a moment before undertones of vinegar kick in, followed by a sugary fruitness resembling a Kiwi fruit swimming in corn syrup. The result is vomitous, a race between extremes in which the middle point — the balance of flavors that makes a good brew — vanishes entirely. Instead, you get get hipster cred for liking this “acquired taste” while having a big dollop of cupcake icing to follow it, with the assumption that you will not vomit from the clash of tastes on the palate. In favor of this beer, it is cleaner than most American beers, without the murky swill of unintegrated fermentation byproducts that makes American beer taste like stagnant rainwater. On the other side, however, it is like a car with the engine in the trunk that you steer with the stereo. Absolutely no integration of flavor leaves it feeling more like watching a crowd of random people pass, than the smooth ballet of a good beer.
Black metal as a countercultural force is stronger than ever! Enlighten’s nevv, trve, and Mötley Crüe extended play sparks the minds of searching listeners with a novel twist on the ambient, droning minimalism of lovably scruffy internet meme and murderer Varg Vikernes. Ditching Burzum’s reprehensible racism and homophobia for the soulful 80s rock ballad edge of tattooed, Tom Hardy lookalike Jon Nödtveidt’s Dissection makes the perfect soundtrack for a chilly night drinking whisky on the porch with your cardigan on her back. Phösphorvs Paramovnt comes highly recommended for fans of the spiritual material of Skagos and Vattnet Viskar who were entranced by Vice’s “True Norwegian Black Metal” doc. This release is strictly not for those still stuck in the decade-old, checkout line pop of Coldplay. – KIM KELLY
Major scale hipster tomfoolery is a cancerous, changeling impostor. Just from the poor cover and title, you know this release is probably going to be Coldplay. Enlighten do not let the listener down in putting power ballad butt rock into songs that superficially resemble Burzum’s ambient, droning black metal. This is another one strictly for the jegginged, tattooed, alt-bros into “black metal” for the “feels.” On track two, “Devourer ov Stars”, they even jack the keyboards from Coldplay’s Clocks to appeal to those thirty five year old, former frat bro, date rapist dads married to that ex-sorostitute they roofied senior year who do not want their jams played over the Target intercom. Not even being sacrificed to the anti-cosmic gods by the Temple of the Black Light could make these wind up monkeys achieve spacetime nirvana.
Despite claims to being some sort of doom death with black metal influences, Creeping’s music is a progressive sort of rock music with little trace of the influence of metal apart from the most superficial traits. These traits can be briefly summarized in distorted guitars and vox, and rock and metal drum techniques. Creeping’s music in Revenant could be described as being through-composed with a minimalist touch to them. Once you remove this from sight and you look through them, it is evident this is not metal music. In general, their work here displays a very keen sense on smooth transitions and mood-capturing that only the most sensitive musicians are able to put together. What Creeping seems to be at a loss for is an organizing agent that condensates these living shapes into meaningful statements with heads and tails or at least a direction. As it stands, Revenant is only a sequence of related vague feelings without enough organization to convey a concrete meaning — a direct consequence of both being mostly empty of musical formations and missing the point that music and art in general are communication.
The most revealing moment when listening to Creeping is when one reaches the ending of a song and everything is put into perspective. Endings are reached uneventfully. They simply just end. The finishing sections as a group are indistinguishable from those at the beginning. In fact, they could be interchanged and it would make little difference as they do not carry any connotation. Not only are true endings missing but what we would physically try to locate as development sections of any sort (not necessarily Beethovenian) are also flat-out indistinguishable from sections at the beginning or ending. The clue here is not to look at the sections or groups of sections themselves only but also in relation to one another. How is the idea carried forward? What changed from this moment to two minutes in the future? How and why is the idea left behind towards the end? Is the idea actually changed towards the end? There is no answer to this questions in the context of this album, because none of that seems to ever have been in the mind of Creeping when writing these songs. Each section is a progression of chords with “powerful” drum beats. They took care that adjacent sections were related in character and texture (all the album uses the same texture and album) but nothing else. The album is a homogeneous creeping mass sliding down a hill like lava from an erupting mountain. It is an event, it is motion, but it is without life or purpose.
Creeping’s Revenant is one of those albums that will carry the flag of the mainstream in their incursions to try and conquer the underground by taking a depressive-sounding rock outfit and trying to make it look and sound like a convincing metal act. The fastest and most obvious way of doing this is by copying the traits that help identify underground metal through its superficial appearances. This is the second issue we take this album: that of pretending to be metal. Somewhat resembling post-metal, Creeping distinguishes itself from metal music in that it builds its music following chord progressions mainly, not phrases. What tells us that Creeping is rock music and not post-metal, though, is that it constantly follows actually-moving chord circles, effectively creating movement through that most basic device in Western music derived from the Common Practice Period classical music. Post-metal, on the other hand tends to stagnate in one harmony and try to play it in many different ways and with different decorations, usually ceding the task of promoting movement in the music solely to the drums. While there are parts where a melody can be heard, this is often just a decoration for an implied chord progression. The music in Creeping’s Revenant is utterly dependent on them, something underground metal distinguished itself from through years of rethinking itself and distancing itself from rock music in order to attain greater power of expression.
Given the way the songs in Revenant evolve and the atmosphere they seem to want to evoke in part as per the claims made that this band’s music adds a hint of black metal to their music, a comparison to Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is appropriate in order to dispel the former’s false claims and to put into perspective their more limited ability for communication. Creeping’s work and procedures have been described in some detail earlier here, so let’s proceed to take a look at Burzum. At a glance, there are many similarities between both. Songs in Hvis Lyset Tar Oss emphasize a smoothness of transition between sections whose borders are blurred out, except when there are major breaks in the music. Texture also consists of drums that change slightly independently of the rest of the music while still working with it, a strong bass, chord-strumming guitar and a rasping/growling vocal. Burzum’s music is further clarified by the use of a synth and another guitar that may outline melodies, phrases and themes. And themes are the key to Burzum’s music in this period (or any other, for that matter…). The discerning listener will notice that chords and progressions in the Norwegian’s music are only harmonic filling-outs of motifs in the bass line, oftentimes enhanced by a slight deviation in the soprano line. Chords are subsumed under motifs. Songs are defined by themes. In addition to that, and addressing the issue of whole-song structure and purpose, the first three songs in Burzum’s album do the same thing with visibly different approaches: present an idea, condense it into a solid and clear expression, introduce development, extend and come to an affirming closing idea smoothed through repetition rather than asserted in vainglorious expression typical of traditional metal. As a whole, and as a reflection of a cosmos that is contained in its smallest particles, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss follows that same pattern as an album. From its slowly building opening track, “Det Som Engang Var” to the more menacing and alienating expressions of the title track and the first half of “Inn in Slottet Fra Drømmen” which marks the climax of the album in frenetic expression only to dissipate into its second half, leading to the crystal-clear conclusion that is the ambient track, “Tomhet”.
In conclusion, Revenant ends up sounding like the indecipherable ramblings of an illuminated idiot. You can hear that there is, perhaps, a wisdom behind the sequence of misty phrases and bursts of adjective-noun pairs blurted out as if in poetic rapture, but there is not enough involvement of a conscience to even start to make sense of these. This is an album for the moment-oriented, people with short attention spans looking for prolonged sequences of singular atmospheric pictures, fans of masturbatory emotional neediness looking only for a cold shower of pleasure with no significance.
While most records can be dismissed by finding commonplace music-making missteps, some records seem to do everything competently and yet still manage to lack something vital to music. This is precisely the case with Moloch’s Verwüstung, which makes it a difficult album to assess justly. Fulfilling all that you can expect from a mid-paced, melodic black metal album to the letter, the result is monotonous and surprisingly empty-sounding despite the density of the content.
We must start by handing out the praises the album deserves. The consistency in style, the balance between repetition and the timing to bring in the next idea as well as the breaks in dynamics and texture that produce elegant caesuras in the music. Style is clear and while not completely original, is distinctive (in the sense that we are not left trying to figure out what they are trying to do as a result of any contradiction or meandering of the style) and gets to the point clearly. What Verwüstung can be compared to is a stout robotic armor that moves on its own and can handle tasks effectively but lacks a heart and life of its own so that, when questioned directly, is unable to respond with anything beyond the most mundane observations. What is missing is not the organizing agency that the composer is, but the vision that builds music not only coherently but assembling it in ridges, plains, and other geographical variations that make it a text to be traveled through, and not just a sequence of technically-convincing patterns.
(…) the natural world cannot be grasped in the same way that natural science grasps things, that it requires a fundamental change of attitude, an orientation that focuses no longer on things but on their phenomenal nature, the way they manifest themselves. Thus, it turned out further, the question is not one of the world and its structures but of the phenomenon of the world; that it has to do, first of all, with a description and an analysis of the way in which the world presents itself, then with an explanation of why it presents itself this way.
— Jan Patočka
This vital je ne sais quoi lies on the spiritual dimension of music. It is both its motivator and its end product. The alpha and the omega of the creative process, it comes to the artist that would have it and through the singular vision, the particular abilities and the subjective filter of the individual surfaces again in reborn form from the composition and execution stages. Music, then, if it is indeed the output of this flow, should feel like a living organism. Moving together and in harmony with all its parts, first of all, but also displaying an independent thinking, a freedom of thought of sorts. This creature may or may not be crippled by the creative power of the human mind through which it flows to be transformed and born again, but its qualities as living spirit cannot be questioned.
When the music process does not flow from a strong inspiration — from a commanding apparition that would ask cooperation of the perceptive human being that is to bring this entity from the highest layer of existence, that of the divine mind, and into the physical one we perceive every day — then no such life is perceived in the music. The most refined techniques and calculated relations become the exercise of uninspired composers. Although this may be difficult to grasp for the average reader, there is a direct link between these explanations and the actual musical elements: beyond the coherence and balance of elements, one finds life in the vivid dynamics, pulsating textures and varying relations that come after the previous requirements (the order is important as some would have only a messy variation without them being the result of the necessary sacred union between coherence, clarity and inspiration). At the expense of using descriptions bordering on the religious, the accusation leveled against Moloch is that of having produced a soulless abomination.
Reviewing promos sometimes entails reviewing albums that to the general public may pass as metal but to us they are not. In fact, this happens more often than not, especially with the tons of third-rate atmospheric music of all stripes trying to pass as black metal, as if the genre did not have enough bland imitators as it is. In this case, we have a female fronted alternative rock album with heavy guitars that somehow made its way into a metal promo stack. Not being our standard fare here for obvious reasons, this review will serve as an example to show not that we do not “like” this style, but rather, why these pop rock styles are, as a whole, musical failures.
The formula used by Detention is pretty common place, use easy, jumpy rhythms that work to keep the listeners attention while a soft female voice keeps throwing simple melodic hooks to serve as the initial pull. None of this is outstanding in the least, in fact, many individual sections may make one cringe as simple passages are squandered in an attempt to create a slightly eerie deviation which one cannot be sure was intentional or not. Songs consist of the usual intro-verse-chorus-bridge organization with some small deviations to create interest. This is the only place where one can tip the hat to Detention: theirs is a sincere attempt at creating music. As with many other bands, it is the pop encasing that limits them and the overall result is found naturally wanting. The belief that a catchy rhythm and nice melodies are the bases of good music. Unfortunately, this is the prevalent belief even in metal circles, which only add the “aggressive” tag to that list.
Although comparisons may be made to a host of different female-fronted so-called symphonic metal or alternative “metal” outfits, in Marginal we see yet another group trying to emulate the sound of early The Gathering and becoming little more than a less competent clone. The Gathering is another one of those groups that in being a “people’s music” and casual feel to it, understate the expertise and talent of the band members, luring many a clueless imitator into trying their underdeveloped talents at this “easy” style. The greatest failure of this, as that of other minimalist music, lies in not knowing that the power of the original pioneers who pulled these styles off was that of excellence in the details, and an attention to relations and balance that even experienced musicians struggle to grasp and that amateur-level pop bands like Detention are unlikely to ever achieve.