The sheer power of war comes alive in the third full-length from New Zealand warriors Diocletian, Gesundrian. The name Diocletian comes from the Roman emperor of the same name who waged what came to be known as the Diocletianic Persecution, which was the final and most severe attack on Christians in the Roman Empire. This band carries on the tradition of hatred and violence from those ancient times in the ferocious Gesundrian.
Not unlike similar acts such as Angelcorpse, Diocletian crafts war metal band but delves into more chaotically melodic construction rather than remaining a cookie-cutter clone of the Canadian bands. Gesundrian thunders forth with a dirge-like riff that builds an intense ardency, like sadness warping into anger, and progresses into a violent and powerful stampede of riffs throughout the entirety of this album like hordes of horseback warriors in the midst of battle.
While not offering anything fundamentally new, Gesundrian maintains the warlike spirit of metal, musically, lyrically, and structurally. For those who crave the invigorating dangers of ancient times, this is a work for you. Sound the drums of war: Diocletian approaches.
Entitled IX (it would appear the band scrapped the earlier title, Corinthians) the album sees COC continuing their recent pattern of mixing rock with a non-threatening and reduced version of their punk trajectory. Hook-driven riffs array to complement the sing-along nature of the vocal tracks. When vocals cease, guitar riffs pick up the sugar-candy melodic impulse and continue it onwards, with easy post-Sabbath riffing and bland solos which quickly fade from memory into the formless void. Simplistic in its catchiness, this album bears some semblance to Cathedral’s final album in that it represents a band stripped of impetus, creating entertainment as opposed to art. Although the talent and skill of the members involved still leaks through, thus lending the album more credence than many of its contemporaries, and probably earning them well-deserved financial success and recognition, nothing can save the lack of purpose to this album.
Corrosion of Conformity, along with DRI and Cryptic Slaughter, helped construct the genre known as thrash, which brought the epic quality of metal together with the topical focus of punk in a high-energy cocktail that inspired a strong reaction from an alienated generation. Although it was not simple protest music, the heroic looking-forward present in thrash stands in contrast to its anger and regret in an organic circle of experience, which is particularly stark when returning from the obscene vapidity present on album IX.
Much can be said with very little, as is the case with the early era of the experimental titans known as Swans. Their discography ranges from the intensely violent to the melancholically beautiful and their sophomore effort Cop stands out as the perfection of the style present on their debut Filth which acted as the foundation of what was to come.
Influencing the likes of Godflesh, Cop launches forth with a cerebral wall of sound crushing everything in its wake like a colossal bulldozer laying waste to a city. The most consistently pummeling album in the Swans catalog — unlike later efforts (namely Soundtracks for the Blind) — attempts to engage its listeners in a gradual and destructive descent into the darkest recesses of the earth rather than projecting a more horror-inspired soundscape. The brooding ambiance conveys a sense of downward direction towards something unknown, like rappelling down a previously unexplored cave.
Though arguably not quite a metal release, it possesses heaviness both aesthetically and internally as well as the ability to create an all-encompassing atmosphere of destruction and dark curiosity. I recommend this album to any metal fan looking to explore the influential and often undiscovered Swans.
Neoambient gains another stronghold. This genre — constructed of film soundtracks, Dead Can Dance style medievalism, neofolk and dark ambient with some structural ideas from black metal — rose out of the ashes of black metal, with bands like Beherit, Neptune Towers (Darkthrone), Lord Wind (Graveland), Danzig (Black Aria) and Burzum leading. On The Ways of Yore, Burzum integrates organic sounds like vocals and guitar into the cosmic ambient that defined the last album, Sôl austan, Mâni vestan.
The Ways of Yore creates within the same spectrum of music stretching between Dead Can Dance and Tangerine Dream that marked the previous album but with even more of an ambient feel. Songs rely on repetitive patterns with layers of instrumentation and song structures that shift to develop melody or make dramatic contrast enhance the imitation of their subjects. As in ancient Greek drama, poetry and music merge with sole musician Varg Vikernes‘ spoken and sung vocals guiding the progress of keyboard-sample-based music. Melodies refer to each other across the length of the album through similarity and evoke themes from past albums, culminating in “Emptiness” which previously made itself known as “Tomhet” on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, the album that ended black metal by raising the bar above what others could imitate.
Somber moods prevail throughout this work which mixes melancholy with a sense of reverence for the past. Hearing Varg sing and develop harmonies with his voice shows room for expansion by this creative musician who previously let the guitars do the talking. Guitars show up on later tracks, distorted in the shuddering but mid-tone texture that gave Filosofem its otherworldly sound. Even though songs begin with simple note clusters, they expand to full melodies which match to a cadence and regulate atmosphere. The result demands attention through its conquest of empty space with the barest of sounds but over time reaches an intensity of expectation that resembles a ritual.
What makes people love neoambient is that it obliterates the pace of modernity and replaces it with a reverent, transcendental atmosphere. Burzum takes an approach that aims at a sound older than medieval, a primeval cave-dwelling primitivism that strips away the pretenses of developed culture. Its striking Nordic imagery, including songs to Odinn and Freyja, add to this mystery and the Burzum mythos as a whole. Escaping black metal, while controversial, granted Vikernes a chance to explore the development of melody in silence, and the result serves to expand atmosphere beyond our age to something that is both ancient and futuristic.
Death metal requires from its artists more than finding two parts in harmony that complement each other. It requires the creation of a visual experience, or a topographic one, through the interaction between riffs themselves. It helps to remove harmony from this equation and to use melody, harmony and other techniques selectively to highlight certain functions of the riff, like techniques used in language when writing a novel. This restores the ideas or sensations behind music to their rightful place, and puts the charms of music in their rightful place of servitude to the experience — sensation producing mentation — of music itself. (more…)
Former extreme shoegaze/indie band Wolves in the Throne Room released a lengthy track from their upcoming album Celestite Mirror. This time they follow the path of cosmic synth bands like Tangerine Dream, Neptune Tower and Jääportit. The new Wolves in the Throne Room uses of the flexible and grand sound of synthesizers to write sci-fi symphony that invokes a celestial world above our head.
Unlike Tangerine Dream and Neptune Tower, Wolves in the Throne Room demonstrate a clearer melodic pattern. Through the method of successive repetition and progress like a serial of logical thoughts, the music maintains the organizational strength of metal music while adding melodic development and an expansion of mood beyond the intense surging power of guitars. As a result, Celestite Mirror advances the heritage established by Tangerine Dream and Neptune Tower.
Whether Celestite Mirror emerges as a strong fusion of metal and cosmic ambient or not, it merits our anticipation. Metal possesses a will to catch up with classical music and always has, which is what the core fans of this genre expect and hope for too. The new Wolves in the Throne Room might fulfill the vision we dreamed of all these years.
Dutch death metallers Sinister return in 2014 with The Post-Apocalyptic Servant. Sinister is a band most notable for the classic death metal offering Cross the Styx which wielded basic yet effective death metal. The quality of their releases waned since that time and after their ’98 effort Aggressive Measures, the flame became an ember (as is the common fate of early death metal bands).
Twenty one years after their debut, Sinister progresses their decline with this album. The riffs — while intense and biting — lack context, making the songs bland and disingenuous. This is an album of “moments”: no song on this album is good in its entirety, but certain details stand out. This isn’t the musical journey that death metal is supposed to convey; this is an exhibit of a handful of decent riffs spread out over the course of an underwhelming ten track album. Even their cover of “Fall From Grace” is lackluster and forced. It’s also an album that gets progressively worse as it plays through, like a runner sinking in quicksand.
The production is just as unsatisfying as the album itself. Completely synthetic and somewhat reminiscent of modern tech-death bands with the only trace of atmosphere emanating from the leitmotif at the beginning and end of the album. Everything else sounds like it was put together in a factory with some spare parts laying around. The result is an album that does not hold up. Memorable riffs without structures that could give them the life they need create a vicious, but not captivating, attempt at a comeback.
Defining metal has never been easy in part because as time has gone on, all techniques have migrated to just about all genres. For this reason, describing it by loud guitars, screaming vocals and pounding drums reveals very little. Instead, we have to inspect what holds metal together and makes these elements so powerful: its spirit.
Unlike the various popular music genres, metal is not focused on the experience of the individual, but the negation of it. This is metal’s nihilism: it destroys the idea of any thing having absolute authority or inherent meaning. Instead, meaning is where it is found, but it must fit within the whole vision of the world, which boots out most of the self-focused material.
As Black Sabbath created the rudiments of the genre, they referred to the dark soundtracks to horror films. In these, there is a fascination with final states. They look toward death, destruction and a mythological-historical view to determine how any human activity fares. This flew in the face of the flower power music of the late 1960s, and brought a dose of dark realism to the debate. But it also brought a sense of epic adventure, swords ‘n’ sorcery type material, inherited from its pursuit of meaning that cannot be negated.
What emerges from that proto-metal and all (honest) metal since is a focus on triumph and dark love. There is a world of nothingness, swirling horror and eternal emptiness, and then there are those who make something of this. They find triumph in overcoming their limitations to connect to the viewpoint of the mythological-historical, like metal’s two largest influences, H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien. There is a search for that which overcomes our individual situations in life and unites us, a quest for survival itself.
As part of this, metal embraces a dark love. When a pilot flies a military jet high above his homeland, he feels this dark love. At any minute, a single twitch of the stick could bring about unthinkable disaster, death and destruction. And yet those forces must be corralled and used toward positive ends, much as how metal makes beauty out of the loud distorted sounds of guitars and tortured screams of its vocalists. The love is dark because it is not universal nor is it certain; instead, it rests in the ability to do something great in times of degradation.
Dark love is what a hunter feels as he cuts down some prey and not others. It is what a farmer feels as he prunes his trees, or what a king experiences as he leads his forces into battle. It is what great thinkers know, as they look at history and attempt to steer a path between the disasters of the past toward a future force of promise. It is a love that reaches beyond method to goals, and shows individuals how to rise above fear and reach toward something ineffable, with the promise of triumph.
Where metal fails is when it becomes focused on the individual. Songs of protest, or songs of individual karmic drama, do not reflect dark love but a desire for certainty and absolutes. Metal negates these. Instead, it shows us a world of uncertainty and ambiguity where nothing can last, except that which is eternal and larger than the individual. It is this “largeness” that we often fear as humans because it makes us insignificant.
Although most live in fear of these truths, metal harnesses them. It casts aside the devices we have invented to help obscure our fears, and looks into the abyss, hoping to sculpt with nothingness a great work that instead reveals an inner light. This light is not absolute, but derived from the interplay of nothingness and eternity. It is cosmic, mythological, epic and mystical. It is the adventure of life itself.
In the mid-late 80s death metal was still a vital force in which the standards of the genre were established. The new genre differentiated itself from speed metal several years before, but techniques common to both genres still overlapped without seeming artificial as they would when re-introduced later to make death metal more audience-friendly. This period gave rise to many bands which command universal respect today, but there were also a number of smaller projects which nevertheless imparted the same artistic drive and skill.
Recently reissued Incubus self-titled EP Incubus takes a short three-track voyage through the hinterlands of death metal’s darker yet constructive twisting of prior genre forms. Taking the work of Slayer, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, and other proto-death metal bands, and moving it into more extreme directions, this is the same trajectory from which Morbid Angel spawned an entire lineage within the genre.
Adept at tempo shifts, in addition to a layering of guitar tones ranging from the subterranean to the celestial, in only three tracks Incubus wrangles a distinctive creation with the trademark frenetic energy of death metal and the more hookish speed metal. Artistically coherent in a way that is rarely if ever seen today, this reminder of genuine purpose married to cultivated skill is very much worth hearing again, or particularly for the first time. Incubus will be released on June 16th via Vic Records.
The movement that some are calling “neoambient” — a fusion of dark ambient, Conan soundtracks, and neofolk — generally arose out of the metal community. The classics of the genre converge on Lord Wind (Graveland), Burzum and Black Aria (Glenn Danzig). In addition, metal bands contributed to related forms of epic ambient, like Beherit (Electric Doom Synthesis) and Neptune Towers (Darkthrone). Newer entrants like Winglord and Hammemit explore different paths along similar directions.
But how do we trace the influences and evolution of this genre? Glenn Danzig (Misfits, Samhain, Danzig) launched a partial revolution in 1992 with his Conan-inspired Black Aria. Several years later, Burzum followed this with Daudi Baldrs and Hlidskjalf, both of which used Dead Can Dance-themed ancient world music to frame the epic nature of its compositions, giving it a feel not just of Conan-styled epic conflict, but of a cultural basis.
There’s another influence lurking just a few years before Danzig — affirmed by Rob Darken as an influence on his music in Lord Wind — which was the music of Clannad as used in the BBC series Robin of Sherwood: