Metal Orthodoxy

You may have noticed a metal orthodoxy forming over the years, but especially 1998 to the present. This orthodoxy emphasizes “trueness” to the concept (as well as the trappings, aesthetic, style, etc) of the original bands, and is paranoid wary of newcomers who do not embrace it.

Now that the official hipster central of the internet, The Onion, has published a metal list, we can demonstrate why metal orthodoxy exists: it’s designed to keep metal from being assimilated, or taken on by the larger genre of popular music as a style without ideas of its own.

Keeping it simple:
Ideas -> music -> genre of its own = metal orthodoxy
Just a style, any ideas = rock ‘n roll

See why there’s a distinct movement to metal orthodoxy? No one in a genre that is unique wants to be assimilated by what’s not unique, and in fact is the average of everything it has so far consumed. Rock music is like a large corporation, eating up small brands and removing what makes them unique, turning them into a label that can be stuck on just about any product in order to sell it.

Here’s The Onion’s list:

  • Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope (2002)
  • Amon Amarth, Twilight Of The Thunder God (2008)
  • Anaal Nathrakh, The Codex Necro (2001)
  • Baroness, Blue Record (2009)
  • Blut Aus Nord, The Work Which Transforms God (2003)
  • Boris, Pink (2005)
  • Converge, Jane Doe (2001)
  • Deftones, White Pony (2000)
  • The Dillinger Escape Plan, Ire Works (2007)
  • Earthless, Rhythms From A Cosmic Sky (2007)
  • Electric Wizard, Dopethrone (2000)
  • Goatwhore, Carving Out The Eyes Of God (2009)
  • Harvey Milk, Life… The Best Game In Town (2008)
  • High On Fire, Blessed Black Wings (2005)
  • Isis, Oceanic (2002)
  • The Mars Volta, Frances The Mute (2005)
  • Mastodon, Leviathan (2004)
  • Melechesh, Djinn (2001)
  • The Melvins, (A) Senile Animal (2006)
  • Meshuggah, Catch Thirtythree (2005)
  • Opeth, Watershed (2008)
  • Orthrelm, OV (2005)
  • Pelican, The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw (2005)
  • Pig Destroyer, Phantom Limb (2007)
  • Queens Of The Stone Age, Songs For The Deaf (2002)
  • Skeletonwitch, Breathing The Fire (2009)
  • Slayer, Christ Illusion (2006)
  • Sleep, Dopesmoker (2003)
  • The Sword, Age Of Winters (2006)
  • System Of A Down, Toxicity (2001)

Why do they like these bands? Well, first and foremost — you, dear reader, are not naieve enough to think that there’s not a financial connection here. These are bands distributed by or signed to the labels that help support The Onion and may at this point be personal friends or just “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” type buddies.

But next, they’re bands that rock listeners can comprehend. Except Melechesh, which is there for a different reason. And that reason is next: each band is different, meaning that it doesn’t fit into a perceived orthodoxy. Each band is “different” by being not the perceived norm, as perceived by outsiders who cannot tell the difference between Incantation and Immolation even though that difference is immediately perceptible to anyone who likes, understands and most of all pays attention to the music.

The “different” plays into the psychology of the individual. You’re just a cog in the machine. You’d like to think differently, but every day you keep doing whatever a cog does. So you find some way to be the cog that’s a cog, but also has a little something else. Interpretive dance. A flute on your death metal album. Or you’re an oddity, the one thing of type X that isn’t like the others.

See this in action, with bonus points for adding a sense of victimization — all cogs are victims, because otherwise they’d be running the machine! — added in:

Long before The Sword, Boris was getting smeared as poseur metal. It’s unlikely that would have happened if the band wasn’t Japanese, and if lead guitarist Wata wasn’t a woman

That must be it.

Not that this band is indie rock dressed up with some metal stylings and has nothing in common with metal as an idea, as a genre, but everything in common with indie rock. After all, irony is a key way to be different.

Here’s another great dickslap in the face for metal:

Metal, more than most genres, rewards consistency; a lot of headbangers would just as soon their favorite bands keep making the same record over and over. As elsewhere, though, there’s always something to be said for progress, and Goatwhore’s most recent record is a great leap forward.

The same album over and over means “the album sounds the same aesthetically.” It doesn’t mean the notes are the same; it means the distortion, tempi, vocals, and concept are similar. So it’s not the same album, is it? But for people who cannot appreciate that album, it’s important to find a good put-down so they can feel better about their own CD rack. Yeah, it’s the same old stuff. Yeah, it’s just consistent. But this other band… they’ve (gush here) progressed, which means they added a flute to their grindcore. Did they progress? No, but all of us can tell that a flute is a change, where only a few of us can tell that composition gained depth, or new emotions, even if the aesthetic remained the same.

Indie rock is what happens when you have a bunch of people making music just as vapid as Madonna or Sting, but they want some way to appear not-a-cog so they trick it out in this superficial progress using irony to be different so we know they’re the unique cogs. But their problem is that every cog thinks it’s a unique cog, so then they’re in an arms race to both trick out their own music with weirdness, causing it be basically ugly trash (this has happened to all modern art), and put down any music which does have artistic content, because it threatens them.

And at the end of the day, that’s what this Onion article is about: the fear of masses of hipsters that they missed something within the music (e.g. not adding a flute) and therefore, that they are just cogs after all. Which as they go back to their hipster “it pays nothing but I feel educated or socially important” jobs, is a bitter consolation indeed.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 10-18-09

God is love, they tell me, and that universal brotherhood is the way to peace and happiness. But I’d rather have answers than peace, and I’d rather have really intense peaks of experience than absence from conflict. This is most true in music: absence of hatred, war, chaos, loss, tragedy, sodomy and demons means boredom and lots of twee “mixed emotions” poignant ironic dweeb-rock that some scenester in plaid and chains is going to lord over me like the hidden magics of Merlin. Attention hipsters: your music isn’t special. In fact, you’re only pretending it’s special because it’s not and you want a reason to feel really cool and to try to make me feel like the dweeb. But then again, I’m not the one wearing an ironic ensemble designed to tell the world I’m not a sheep. Because telling the world you’re not a sheep is not only transparent, it’s also one good way to get trolled by a large corporation. We’re here to dodge the sheep/anti-sheep dichotomy and just look for interesting music. Welcome again to Sadistic Metal Reviews.

Iron Age – The Sleeping Eye

Many things have two masters, but this band has two souls. The first sounds a lot like Manilla Road, with more of the aggression of later Destruction and the progressive vibe of Atrophy, with the nu-hardcore vocals of later At the Gates. The second is early alt/indie progressive speed and doom metal that sounds like a cross between Sabbat (UK) and St. Vitus, or any of the doomy hard-rock influenced bands like Sacrilege (“Turn Back Trilobite”). Lead guitar is the real standout, with solos that seem to wander around the obvious but chart a path right for the major theme and then spell it out offhandedly, as if unveiling a card trick, without losing the musician’s sense of spirit and audience that keeps them from being gimmick. Riffs are more of the European style, with one or two chords offset against a rhythm played in fairly inconsequential chords or open strings. From this the band modulates into its second soul, one in which a good Sabbathian doom riff must play out evenly against a changing backdrop of tempo, which through its permutations selects variations and complements to that theme. Compared to underground metal, this sounds sparse and somewhat like a Model T, with tempos and architectures of an earlier time. However, it’s quite good and puts both most doom metal bands and most speed metal bands from the post-1994 era to shame.

Evoken – Antithesis of Light

From the epic doom category inhabited by Skepticism and Disembowelment, Evoken make dark long slow heavy metal with melodic underpinnings and plenty of slow chords and arpeggios. They create as a result a mood of lightness and suspension of belief in the midst of a glacial motion, grinding forward into minor key melodies. On the whole, it is lighter and more conventional heavy metal than Skepticism, which is its closest stylistic cousin. The music is good but not particularly compelling.

Wardruna – Runaljod – Gap Var Ginnunga

Remember how hippies used to gather at any kind of “cultural” event to play music, and how, just like with the Grateful Dead, it was impossible to tell the difference between songs? Wardruna updates the hippie model by using traditional Norse instruments and chants in what are basically organic dub pieces. Organized around a beat, they grow through layers of vocals, jawharp, and other instruments, but layers come and go in a cyclic pattern which means that at some point the dub fades toward the horizon. It’s a neat experiment but not very listenable, mainly because in order to keep content bland, it does not let these songs breathe or grow.

Hopewell – Good Good Desperation

Technically, I s’pose, this is post-rock. Really it’s just a very cool updated hippie jam from the 1970s. Think MC5 in collision with the Grateful Dead as if executed by Motorhead and you get the general idea. Advantages are that it’s instrumentally dense rock music that’s still easy to listen to; downside is that it’s still stranded in rock ‘n roll land where everything must bounce and be dramatic. This sort of kills the overall dynamic. Parts of this are a David Bowie love fest, and other parts are reminiscent of a dark rock version of Sisters of Mercy. But on the whole, the bouncy ironic party atmosphere — like Talking Heads colliding with Faith No More — swallows up everything else, reducing it to a predictable cycle.

Caspian – Tertia

Post-rock with few vocal additions that works at building a mood through ambient repetition, using layers sparsely and mostly working a noisy but gentle mantle of sound, this CD is one of my recent favorites — for background use. It’s not too dissimilar to the forest style of black metal where you have droning riffs build up, then a solo that sounds designed for traditional instruments, and a slow fading away. It’s also very close to guitar ambient like Robert Fripp, but with active drums in the background and frequent use of punk/black metal/shoegaze hybrid riffs. It’s soft like a fountain in a garden, sweet like that well-intentioned nerd who tried to take your sister to a date at the Natural History museum, but also, kind of boring on repeated listening.

Meshuggah – Contradictions Collapse

With all the attention given to retro speed metal, it’s important to mention the best releases from Meshuggah. Clearly this band always intended to work jazzy technique into Metallica-style speed metal with Prong influences, meaning a more flexible sense of rhythm and harmony, in addition to a death metal-descended vigorous riff salad that often re-uses riffs at different tempos or broken into puzzle pieces and reassembled in different order and scalar direction. Solos are the kind of diminished scale, oblique harmony noodling that made jazz fusion fun for the first few years. There’s a bit of bombastic bounce in the Exhorder/Pantera style of howling verses and riot shout choruses, which makes this album sound dated. I can also pick up Destruction and Nuclear Assault influences. Hetfield influenced these vocals. This is by far the best thing this band have done because it shows them at their most honest making music they’d like to hear and judging by the subtlety of it relative to their later works, this was the last time they were freed from a cynical vision of their audience as wankers who love anything that sounds “technical” as it builds up their own egos. Other than the style being abrasively 1980s I’d listen to this, which I cannot say for anything else this band did save None, their EP before they got fully cynical and dollar sign oriented.

Heaven and Hell – The Devil You Know

This album represents a huge improvement on other Sabbath-related efforts over the last decade. Borrowing a page from the AC/DC book, it focuses on simple rhythms and movie soundtrack “epic” riffs mixed in with the heavy metal standards. Lyrics manage to capture a sense of the vaguely sinister and ironic, and vocalist Ronnie James Dio delivers them with even-handed clarity and force. The magical sense of songs developing into some protean animal unknown to their origins is not here, but the full dose of classic heavy metal feel with the relentless energy of contemporary AOR makes up for it. Instrumentalism is reined back; Iommi’s solos are fragmentary and cut from whole cloth, and bass follows guitar, which sticks to middle-of-the-road power chord riffs, but the result is not bad. It’s easy to listen to and enjoy with half a brain, and for that has some pleasant melodies and rhythms, all while keeping an almost trademark heavy metal sense of obsession with the dark, conspiratorial, occult, and inverted symbols. If you can imagine Mob Rules hybridized with Blow Up Your Video with a touch of Motorhead at the fringes, you can see why this album has more appeal than the hidebound retro attempts of other classic bands.

Lugubrum – Winterstones

We all try to like this. It’s Burzum-technique applied to a doom metal band. So it trudges, then picks us up with a little melody, then goes back into the deep harmony. Again and again. Without making any really clear points, or showing us an adventure not of our own projection. So after awhile, hey look what’s on TV — you know, they’re showing those commercials again with the annoying chick with the hipster hair. I was doing something, and there’s some kind of music on in the background, but it seems really generic. What the heck? Oh, Lugubrum. Not a bad effort but nothing I want to hear again. This artist needs to take some risks and show us what’s in his/her/its soul.

Christ Inversion – Obey the Will of Hell

The musicians behind this demo studied their black metal well, but never quite figured out how the composition of the music differs from regular old heavy metal and punk. There’s too much emphasis on verse/chorus structures in the punk style, and leaning on harmonic “sweet spots” with trudging repetition the way heavy metal makes choruses, ending up with something that sounds very much not like black metal. Songs are pretty basic and relatively musical but not memorable. Vocals are pitch-shifted and irritating, and riffs show a ton of BEHERIT influence but none of the grace. I guess it’s OK. I also guess I don’t care since I can find 400,000 demos that meet this description.

Land of Kush – Against the Day

After a lengthy 1970s ambient noise track from which you can smell the idealism and psilocybin lifting like a cloud of morning fog, this band detours into spacious ambient rock with chanted murmur vocals over insistent beats with serial changes and extensive instrumental soloing. This is enjoyable to listen to but it’s hard to imagine putting on except as background reality tuning, which it does well: dropping us into the hopeful deconstruction of the 1970s with the savvy layering of our contemporaries. It’s like Morcheeba without the affected digital disco urban funk.

General Surgery – Corpus in Extremis

It’s unlikely the broom will ever evolve beyond what it is now and has been for a thousand years. For certain needs, the response doesn’t need to change. General Surgery have tried to escape being a Carcass tribute band by shifting their vocals to later Carcass style and trying the modern death metal thing, which basically means death metal that writes its songs like metalcore and tries to distract/annoy like nu-metal does. There’s a lot of tribute to the old school in various riffs, but just as much tribute to sped up heavy metal and modern metal. It reminds me of the recent Seance and fails for the same reasons: too busy, too ambivalent about its own style and lacking any kind of refinement of message to an insightful, profound, gradually-revealing passage through experience transferred.

Eyes of Ligeia – What the Moon Brings

In that interesting intersection of indie rock and doom metal, Eyes of Ligeia is a veteran I remember first appearing in the middle 1990s — and to their credit, they’re making the same style of music but have improved it in every way over the years. Not many bands are able to define what they want and then instead of getting wide-eyed with trying to make their style fit an audience, divert their energies toward making their content and form mate each other more ideally. Eyes of Ligeia drone quitely under rasping black metal vocals, using either carefully picked open chord riffs or power chord earthmover doom riffs, but using both in complementary pairs with background keyboards that provide a deepening sense of mood. Reminiscent of ritual music, this repeating loop of sound produces a hanging atmosphere like overtones to a chord slowed down to the milisecond scale. For many of us, appreciation of this band is natural even if we find the sub-genre — doom metal — to be too repetitive for our tastes.

The Chariot – Wars and Rumors of Wars

Thrash bands broke into two groups, the punk-style and the metal-style, although both were mixes of metal and punk.Same way with metalcore: ranty, new style hardcore defines the sound of this metalcore band. The “core” in hardcore comes from the love of abrupt riff changes and random riff combinations, with really enigmatic choruses, and here it’s put to good use so that we hear loud angry ranting that changes abruptly like a car wreck, then there’s a recognizable pseudo-emo chorus. Do we need another band like this?

Drudkh – Microcosmos

Boring candy. That’s what you need to know. Every part of this CD sounds sweet, but it’s also boring as hell because like music they play in grocery stores, there’s no change in mood. There is no journey in these songs. They turn on; there’s a mood; they throw in all sorts of stuff to obscure the fact that it’s static and dimensionless; then it ends. Sum total change in outlook: nothing. It’s Britney Spears, like Aura Noir without the aggression. Notice how heavy metal shredder guitar coexists with Burzum derivations, Graveland folkish parts, and the occasional prog metal riff. And then a cheesy heavy metal solo that meanders. What does it mean? It’s the anti-meaning, which is to say there’s no direction other than self-reference. That’s why it’s boring. It’s candy because these are like pop songs very pendulum-like in their transition between recognized forms of non-threatening order. The prog parts remind me of Kong, the black metal parts of Abyssic Hate and Ved Buens Ende crossed.

Brutal Truth – Evolution Through Revolution

Like Sounds of the Animal Kingdom, this album shows Brutal Truth with more refined technique but a lack of gestalt that decreases the status of this album as something pushing a genre forward. Instead, it’s waving the flag but does so without finding an angle of its own on the genre, so it ends up being standard grindcore played with Brutal Truth technique by arguably the most proficient musicians in the genre. There are moments of sheer brilliance in riffology, and the cynical nature of these songs more resembles early DRI than the boiled tasteless political partisanship of recent grindcore, but nothing is going to really floor you despite having many powerful aspects.

Teitanblood – Seven Chalices

After everyone in the underground was done praising this new work as a resurrection of the spirit of the 1980s, there was a brief lapse in the hype as people re-thought their extravagant praise. Now it’s time for some reviewer to come along and haul out two names: Deathspell Omega, and Blasphemy. This CD doesn’t sound anything like Deathspell Omega, but it uses the same tactic of working its aesthetic like a Hollywood fashion designer. Lush layered voices, monastic chants, interludes and lots of guitar noise during songs make this “sound like” (to our conscious minds) it has depth, richness, different experience. But like Deathspell Omega, once you strip away all that art director frippery, you find a pretty ordinary CD. In Deathspell Omega’s case, it’s a long-melody fetish derived from early Ancient. In Teitanblood’s case, it’s a desire to use Bathory’s ideas, especially vocal ideas, in a form of death metal that emphasizes doomy passages alternating with a slamming interruption of cadence. The result is laborious. Get ready to let your monkey brain get distracted by the aesthetic while very unexceptional music bleats on by like a stream

Tragedy – Nerve Damage

People kept hearing me listen to Transilvanian Hunger and they’d say, “No way dude, you need to check out Tragedy, they started this style.” I have come to the conclusion that they never heard Discharge, GBH or Sarcofago; however, they’re partially correct. Tragedy is a very metal-oriented take on what it would sound like if Disfear covered a whole bunch of Blink 182, Offspring, Ramones and Sex Pistols songs. These are melodic bouncy punk that eschews the UK82 stylings for rock-style pocket drumming and Motorhead vocals with emo chord progressions melded into standard punk. Harmonically, it’s rock music on a series of power chord shapes. Structurally, it’s sugar pop with a big dose of AC/DC and old punk. For this type of music, it’s great and extremely catchy and fun listening, but it’s going to bore anyone who got into Transilvanian Hunger or Tangerine Dream (its inspiration) and grasped how much a non-linear atmosphere expands the enjoyment of music.

TheSyre – Exist!

This CD has absolutely nothing to do with black metal and death metal. I would style it instead as a hybrid between later Metallica, Amebix and Strapping Young Lad. Most of it is speed metal riffs that ride a bouncy rhythmic pocket, then deviate into harmonically oblique fretruns borrowed from the classic days of metal and rock but informed with an odd, rock-opera sensibility that gives each one place in an evolving narrative. As a reviewer, I have avoided this band for years because for the most part I avoid speed metal, and this is very speed metal in a style like a crossing of …And Justice for All with Kill ‘Em All: hard-edged muted-strum riffs rebounding from a bold heartbeat rhythm. The odd uses of harmony are SYL-ish, but the Motorhead-cum-Exploited vocals are pure Amebix as is the expanded but theatrical song structure to this thirty-two minute piece. If this recording has an undiscovered strength, it is its ability to make refreshing and new some classic riff patterns and put them into complex songs; if it has a weakness, it’s that like Amebix, it divides up its epics with aesthetic elements like sound samples and rhythmic pauses, and so doesn’t achieve the degree of musical integration it might like.

Orthrus – Tyrants of Deception

Imagine if Helstar, Forbidden and Coroner had a big orgy and decided to spawn an offspring with death metal vocals and speed but the German-inspired speed metal of the late 1980s. Within that context, this CD plays it right down the middle: nothing new, but well-executed, if not ambitious enough to make you reach for it again.

Pest – Rest In Morbid Darkness

This is the most schizophrenic band heard recently. It thinks it’s black metal, but really it’s head cheese made of ground up Slayer riffs with big thick chunks of heavy metal, speed metal and underground remnants. It’s good if you listen to each riff, but not really distinctive, and after a few tracks it becomes clear there’s no direction other than upholding an already well-known form.

Nagelfar – Hunengrab Im Herbst

Melodic black metal. They nailed the technique, but then wrapped it around very linear songs. They avoid carnival music, but don’t make it beyond one dimension of mood. Semi-comical vocals also make this dismal, as do recycled riff styles from speed metal.

Necromantia – The Sound of Lucifer Storming Heaven

This immensely creative music uses black metal vocals but is basically Judas Priest styled heavy metal with a dose of Queen or maybe Vangelis to give it an epic character. It is admirable for its variation and mastery of the rock/heavy metal form, but might not appeal to underground listeners.

Solis Aeterna – Sol Triumphalis

If you can imagine Lord Wind with simpler instrumentation and longer phases of repetition, you can visualize the style of this entry project, although it has a worldview all its own. What makes this enjoyable is that it attacks with the bombast of a movie soundtrack, but then dissipates until it resembles a background drone. The objective seems to be a mental tuning of the listener toward moods in which one can appreciate the eternal. Like Burzum’s Baldr’s Dod, Solis Aeterna applies entry-level synthesizer sequencing skills to layers of background rhythm and slow-changing tones, over which lead keyboards riff in rough time with the tribal drums. This project will improve in clarity as time goes on, but it might be best for simply unfocusing the mind as if listening to rain at midnight.

Incest – Misogyny

This Texas band produced one demo and then vanished. They attempted to make avantgarde death metal in a style like Timeghoul and Goatlord colliding with Nuclear Death in the wings. Vocals are from the “stand back ten feet and howl at the mike” variety, and drums are surging bashing in the punk style, but guitars make spidery lead riffs wend their way between the punchier power-chorded material. There are many attempts to mix melodic riffing with more putrescent, organic rhythms, and a desire to make song structures that interrupt the cycling of riff and chorus with a series of breaks to interludes which make good use of the aforementioned melodic proggishness. This is more interesting than all but a few things we get sent yearly, but it never really manages to take wing because it comes across more as a theatre of the violent and maladjusted than something we’d want to listen to, and the lack of melodic development reduces each song to a circularity of the inconsistent. Still, I wish they’d developed this further as there’s potential here.

Crematory – Wrath from the Unknown

People have always talked about how important this band is, but it — sounding like Obscurity, Lobotomy, Suffer or Grave — resembles some of the more battering and simplistic Swedish death metal, meaning that this is almost purely rhythm riffing with little melodic or harmonic organization, and as a result, songs are unified around the synchronicity between a slower rhythm and a series of faster ones. Like the heavy American bands, Crematory favor trudging and pounding patterns with lots of walk-up and breakdown action in the middle, battering us about with the change in tempo and rhythm but in a desperate bid to be nihilistic reducing music to the threshold of simplicity. While it is not bad for that style, it is also completely uninspiring in light of the better options out there.

Actors and Actresses – Arrows

This is indie rock shaped into shoegaze with the pace of a modern jazz band, like an early version of REM playing through the haze of Ride while covering the slower songs from Sting or a postmodern Dizzy Gillespie. The major asset here, besides musicians who can do coffeehouse sparse without coming across as dead air merchants, is the purring Morrisonian vocal track, which guides us all like a hypnotic trailblazer through this forest of pop sounds reformed. It is calming, however.

Mutiilation – Sorrow Galaxies

Someone decided to make the Hollywood version of a Mutiilation album. Instead of those long, deepending moods, we’ve now got carnival music, that like carnivals tries to distract you with something new and unrelated every second. It’s like walking between the stalls at a state fair: here’s a roundabout riff, then the bumper cars, then a droning Drudkh-style black metal riff, then the fortune teller, then a Burzumy moment — and a break for cotton candy — then back to the circular passage through songs. These are very sing-song, pleasant and not dark at all. It’s questionable why you’d listen to them since you can get the same thing from Dimmu Borgir with better production and keyboards.

Gorefest – Rise to Ruin

Let me up out of this one, O narrator. No matter what people claim is “new” in metal, it always sucks and involves simpler, catchier rhythms and more rock ‘n roll touches. This CD is no exception. It’s chock full of two chord riffs that feature a lot of repetition and sudden reversal in a rhythmic hook, and then a sort of extended jam session in the middle. Like all bad metal, everything is calibrated to the ranting, riot shout pace of the vocalist, which might “work” for Sepultura’s Chaos A.D. but here just dumbs down a great band. It’s death metal if you mix it with Led Zeppelin and a crowd chanting for free bread. While no part is horrible, the sensation of listening to all of it is dizzying numbness of the forebrain.

Voivod – Infini

No one wants to give this thing a bad review because it’s like kicking Piggy, Voivod’s dead guitarist, when he’s down. However, it’s painful to listen to this thing. It sounds like Motorhead, updated through Prong, covering the Doors. Lots of really dramatic vocals, rhythmic riffs like boots scudding across a waxed floor, jaunty choruses, and occasional flashes of the lush dense chording that once defined Voivod. Percussive structure is equal parts plain and dramatic. Anytime you find yourself zoned out on the fairly unexciting riffs and the Nirvana-ish whiny vocals, there’s a constant pounding drum to remind you that you’re listening to music and you-are-glad-you-paid-for-it. Piggy was brilliant; some of the work on this is almost to that level; however, Voivod was heading downward since Negatron and this album continues the fall.

Dawnbringer – Sacrament

While this band is compared to At the Gates, a better comparison would be to Children of Bodom hybridized with Aurora Borealis. Chord progressions are very indie rock and technique comes from decades of melodic metal, while vocals sound like Motorhead, but the whole package would be more at home in the pop genre than metal. Simple-hearted melodies are in themselves good for their three-note span, but melodic development gets either so gratifying it’s impossible to appreciate, or is so predictable the other shoe dropped before the first. Nothing in particular to dislike here, but no reason to hunt it down.

Sick – Satanism Sickness Solitude

Very basic black/death metal written as if it were punk music, with simple loops of verse and chorus riffs, Sick incorporate some cyber elements like samples and vocoder but are essentially really basic metal not much changed from the early days of Metallica. While they do better than average at being this type of band, nothing really memorable stands out here, not just stylistically but compositionally — we’ve heard these combinations of notes and rhythms before, and no amount of “industrial” touches or even 400 lb transvetite divas could save us from the ordinariness of this offering.

Cryptic – Once Holy Realm

This is death metal made to sound like black metal, and it has a lot more common with a faster rippling less percussive version of standard Tampa metal than any esoteric origins. Melodic riffing fits into this framework, as does as a blackmetal rhythm, but song structures are closer to death metal riff salad and notes seem to be picked from very evident progressions. Like most reviews, this one concludes with “you won’t miss anything.”

Textures – Drawing Circles

Abstract song titles, cool conceptual name, obviously a lot of power thrown into production — oh hai, it’s post-Cynic “post-metal” metalcore that is like a cross between Jawbreaker and Spyro Gyra. And I really wanted to like this. The hackneyed punk riffs meet the hackneyed metal riffs and then explode into jazz-fusion cliches with angry Phil Anselmo(tm) vocals ranting over the whole mess. It would be impossible to give less of a shit. Where do the metalheads who like progressive/technical music go? This stuff has little in common with metal; it’s basically punk rock in that later quasi-emo style (Jawbreaker) with a lot of Pantera and nu-metal mixed in with the technical influences. That isn’t a direction, and you need to have a direction to articulate anything worthy enough of technicality.

Amorphis – Tuonela

This album is painful because it’s so well-executed, but so soulless and comical. It’s basic rock music that slightly reminds me of VNV Nation because Amorphis use picking of high notes in the background to highlight bassier foreground riffs, like if U2’s The Edge started taking on the sequenced keyboard trills VNV use in the background of their songs. There is something in the Scandinavian mentality that has them living in a paradise of social order, and longing for the grittier, weirder world of rock. Here it manifests itself in a stadium heavy metal version of the same kind of odd, introspective indie rock found on Quorthon’s “album.” They can’t quite leave metal behind, or underground metal at least, but want to make this really edgy (no pun intended) indie rock. On a musical level, it’s not particularly exceptional but is well-composed and can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the big bands for mastering the art of songwriting that makes a crowd get together and enjoy the music. Lots of bluesy solos, and odd honky-tonk keyboards overlay this busy, bombastic somewhat sentimental music. I can’t stand it but when I take my car in for an oil change, I’d prefer to hear this over the radio heavy metal in the newer, jump-metal style. But compared to classic Amorphis, on the level of expressing something artistic that is not caught up in the desires and confusions of the individuals and sees a transcendent picture of reality… this is a train wreck.

Magnum Carnage – More Unreal Than a Box of Precious Metal and Radioactive Ore

It’s hard not to like this audaciously homebrew release. If you can imagine an American version of Carcariass, meaning fast chaotic melodic heavy metal with death and black metal stylings, that’s what you’d have here. It’s more American — like a hybrid between North and South American types — in that it throws everything it can into each song and likes really abrupt breaks between genre influences. Sometimes it sounds like the Doors, sometimes it’s Judas Priest (“Painkiller” era), sometimes Led Zeppelin and then equally as frequently, a hybrid between Fallen Christ, Angel Corpse and Dissection. Mostly it’s a showcase for extremely interesting solos, fast riffs and some deft harmonic changes that give the listener the sense of a pit dropping out beneath the music and then a new pseudopod of sound rising from within it.

Gifts from Enola – From Fathoms

Let’s make one thing clear: one variant of post-rock is “techno played on guitars.” That means a layered style of composition, where themes are introduced and overlap to make patterns of their combination, and their coming and going has emotional significance. It’s an effective method. However, it’s also one that’s prone to formula since with the riff-length available to popular music, it means very simple three note fragments and literal-key soloing, which over time runs out of tricks. Gifts From Enola start with a swingin’ rhythm, and slowly add stuff in the mix so you can watch the colors change much as you would when cooking with a dough mixer. Watch the cinnamon red mix into the beige! See what happens as the egg dulls the ochre! It’s not bad but it aims for an atmosphere, and achieves degrees of lessening or intensifying, but beyond that, it is limited: the goal was not dynamic change but dynamic change serving the goal of a relatively static, semi-ritualistic emotional conditioning. It’s not terrible at all but like much music that tries to replace structure with creative repetition, rapidly becomes static. The surface creativity of this album is amazing as they blend sounds from pure noise to post-punk/emo guitar work to a dozen popular music genres including the world’s first disco grindcore, but underneath it is basically the same stuff we’ve been choking down since 1931. What’s nice about it: no vocals.

The Syre – Resistance

By casting aside any sense of genre allegiance, this French Canadian powerhouse have made their best album to date: equal parts indie, bluegrass, punk, oi, Motorhead-style metal and Devin Townsend or Probot style experimental material, this CD like a minstrel show adopts the guise of its influences to act out a theatrical journey through the different modes of human thought. Dominating by its rapidly changing aesthetic, this album is a concept piece that’s every bit as foot-tapping as Amesoeurs but has the raw aggression and bouncy determination of bands like Revenge or the aforementioned Motorhead. Clearly a lot of thought went into this. Its music does not aim to be groundbreaking, but like a concept album or modern folk, tries to unite theatre and music with idea and create an almost Jungian symbolism of the same. For those looking for an alternative to the now-hackneyed black metal, this is a deliverance in a form where one wouldn’t think to look.

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Death Metal is good for you

So they think they can keep us blind
We must be aware to survive

– Destroyer 666, Unchain the Wolves

Our friend from Houston wrote recently a piece on why heavy metal is good for you while the Hessian Studies Center relentlessly works to get the Hessian cause and viewpoints matter in society and politics. Everyone with personal experience of death metal bands knows that the musicians are intelligent and often highly educated, so there is no reason the average fan would want anything else than live, join in action and search for knowledge. The intricate and mysterious subject matter of death metal is a conglomeration of the scientific and the occult, inspiring personal and social development and even creating multiple career choices far more useful than a menial job at Wal-Mart, if one is capable of dealing with the intellectual challenge of an academic institution.

Parents since the dawn of time have been skeptical about death metal and convinced that it magically makes youth into losers, because they are not prepared to accept the idea that one can “win” by critical thinking and penetration of the illusion that makes up the world of adults – the unholy trinity of propaganda (in advertising and politics), numbing of mind / evasion of challenge (entertainment and most of work life) and consumerism (egoistic individualism).

It’s probably not big news to anyone that if you fight for the truth, you are going to offend people and you are going to get into problems. Parents, teachers and men of religion spent decades fighting against rock music that was basically about the problems concerning dating and loneliness, until heavy metal came along and changed matters for far worse. The songs dealt with social reality in a dark way and actually incorporated mythology and influence from philosophy. Progressive rock or psychedelic rock (The DoorsPink Floyd…) might have opened the gates for heavy subject matter, but still there was something about Black Sabbath‘s demonic prophecies and Judas Priest‘s irreligious romanticism that was simply too much, particularly for reborn Christians involved in movements. Ironically, when death metal and black metal submerged into more and more extreme symbols, the PMRC and the preachers didn’t care so much anymore – because their agenda was mind control based on paranoia about hidden messages and symbols. Documentaries such as Decline of Western Civilization part 2 paints a picture of heavy metal as unintellectual hedonists, but the chosen interviewees, you might notice, are mostly shock rock and hard rock performers.

Organized satanism and blatantly satanic art didn’t give zealots any chance to exercise their status as messengers of God, who reveals hidden evil. The extreme death and black metal of Hellhammer and Bathory stimulated fantasy, circulated in the underground and was in all ways a separate phenomenon from mainstream youth culture, where always resided the “souls that needed saving”. That’s why WASP and Twisted Sister albums were burnt – they were supposed to corrupt the innocent, while the assumption was that no-one in their right mind would listen to death metal in the first place. The reputation was backed by misconceptions I’d like to examine.

The morbid visuals of death metal, reminiscent at once of Gustave Dorésurrealism and satanic kitsch, were of course portraying the contortions of a soul writhing in the agony of Hell. Psychologists seem almost equivocal about the fact that this kind of feasts of gore fulfill a need in our personalities which can be repressed by formal, robotic upbringing and circumstance in a modern consumeristic society. Some of the lyrical content is focused on depictions of murder, satanic rituals and otherworldly visions. Like religious literature, mystical poetry and horror novels, dealing with powerful subjects seem evil and dangerous not because they would correlate with inspiring psychopaths, inciting youth violence or anything of the kind; the most frightening of scenarios is the journey – being taken outside of oneself to see reality from a cold, inhuman perspective, to grasp the freedom of a mind that exists beyond the boundaries of jurisdiction and morality. In other words, the slave is afraid to escape the master because out there is the world of predators and vastness, with no hand to feed him or slap him; survival requires action, not reaction, so the lazy and the ineffective choose never to test themselves, never to really engage.

The imaginative music of death metal, which incorporates chromaticism, atonalities and wild, untamed structures, incites unease, confusion and even revulsion. As when faced with a reasonably difficult piece of text or mathematical equation, the untrained human mind can develop surprising and irrational excuses in order to not deal with the challenge presented by the information at hand, such as claim that it is ugly or random or that “anyone can play that noise”.

Atheist‘s metaphysical, spatial vision of human existence is only thoroughly understood by the application of theoretical philosophy and psychologyBolt Thrower‘s tactical war metal inspires one to study military history and even national defence. Carcass‘ satirical surgery of organisms is perfect listening when reading for your medical degree exams. Deicide and Immolation challenge the theologist‘s empty dreams and drives to contemplate the images of God and Satan throughout cultural forms. Nocturnus seeks for the limits in astronomy and physics while Napalm Death is pure sociology and economics. Amorphis and Nile practically force you into World History 101.

You catch my drift. Be useful. Study. Develop. Win. Sodomize the weak! The war rages on…

And so the Psychic Saw meaningful ends
Become the meaning of it all
To set the stage
For the fears that will be
To pull the curtain
For the whole world to see

– Atheist, And the Psychic Saw

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 9-11-09

In the United States at least, there’s a lot of talk about “death panels” and “eugenics” because of some political thing or another. We just have to ask: if we’re talking about metal bands, what’s so wrong with having a death panel to clear out the garbage? As long as you appoint competent people to the death panel, they’re going to kill off the stupid, bland, symmetrical, tasteless and blockhead bands, and leave behind the interesting, talented, insightful and visionary. If you support good metal, please use this link to tell President Barack Obama that you want death metal death panels.

Cock Sparrer – Here We Stand

With age, comes self-referentiality: scenes no longer write to the world at large, but comment on themselves to themselves. This album manages to avoid the staleness of that fate, and like middle period Iron Maiden, is melodic and exercise-inspiringly rhythmic in a way that the best power pop is, but it keeps itself rooted in a hybrid between The Clash-style light punk and the more pungent Oi from which this band originated. Every second of this record is highly crafted and without an ounce of extra fat, both hitting hard and being gratifyingly fun to listen to in an emotional but not maudlin way like the best of punk. Lyrics are positive, encouraging people to take a stand and move past the destruction around them, but it’s not a wallowing as much as a dismissal. This band has not just aged, but matured, and they’re riding a fine line between pop punk and truly dangerous music, but in the meantime, it’s here for us to enjoy and anyone who likes a good insurgent punk tune will love this.

Bahimiron/Unchrist – Last of the Confederates

Trying to forge a sound out of black metal is difficult because like a new universe, it expanded and diversified so rapidly as to become a wide field of options formed from the same basic elements. Bahimiron have taken the grimy, gnarled, ugly and digestive black metal of their debut EP and infused it with an Impaled Nazarene-style sense of all-ahead-go, taking the best of “war metal” and making out of it simple melodic hooks like were found on the first two Gorgoroth albums and other classics of violent, primitive black metal. About every other song really captures a sense of epic emotion rising out of disorder, and the others, like the first Krieg album, succumb to their own chaos and fade into the background noise. There’s a good sense of dynamic here, especially on the majestic “Blackest Morning Coming Down” and “Texas Witch Hammer,” which are the real reasons to own this CD. The latter ends with a Burzum-style lead rhythm solo that sounds straight out of Ancient and an Oi band making sweet love. Unchrist, on the other hand, are trying to be — much like Phil Anselmo’s project Christ Inverted — a classic deconstruction act, tearing music down into its very basics and doing so at high speed with unique aesthetic. Like all things deconstructive, it converges on the ghetto into which punk fit itself, and despite catchy rhythms never goes anywhere. This fits it squarely into that place reserved for all extreme bands that are competent but never found anything to express, where we all shrug and ask “Why would I listen to that?”

Red Fang – Red Fang

Imagine making a modern version of the punk/blues hybrid of early Motorhead, like mixing in 20% more Z.Z. Top and then rendering the whole thing through a computer programmed in modern indie album-oriented rock. There’s a fair amount of metal, except in song composition; there’s a lot of bluesy fills, bouncy driving hard rock rhythm and solos, punk riffs and then vocals straight out of the more recent Phrase For a Name style bands. A good deal of the vocal delivery and riff styling comes from the hard-driving honky-tonk blues/hard rock bands of the 1970s, and this rounds out this style to make a listenable and high intensity stream of sound, although over time it does not develop depth (like, we presume, a fine wine). Forget progress, subtlety, sincerity, emotion or artistry: This is straightforward gritty bar fight hard rock for your inner beast, designed for you to want to start drinking hard and smashing skulls. Don’t question it.

Atrocity – Contaminated

I love metal, but see no need for about 98% of the genre. The reasons for discarding this majority vary with each release, from artistic irrelevance, incompetence, vapidity, and simple boredom. In the case of Atrocity (US), I’d like to like this CD but it’s like a droning fever in the background. The primary influences on this are probably Repulsion and Slaughter; there’s a lot of two-chord riding rhythms and chaotic noise, interspersed with Slayer-style chiasmatic chord exchanges. Active bass really guides these songs, forming a doppler convergent nightmare sound, but repetition is high. The album is really high energy. It’s not high on organization or form however, which makes it sound like a less advance version of Angelcorpse.

Taranis – Flandriae

Black thrash…is like Destruction, but twenty years too late, with a full black metal rasp. If you’re looking for nostalgia, this does OK, but the Slaughterlord album or later Merciless is more powerful. Like Destruction, there’s so much emphasis on a foot-tapping, shout-chanting chorus that everything else gets simplified. However, this band use chords like an American band: sparsely, emphasizing a few clear notes and then dropping the rest into fast muted strum of open strings. It’s not terrible, just simple-minded, and you already have that Destruction album. Rasp to it and you’re ahead of the game.

Stinking Lizaveta – Sacrifice and Bliss

Postmodern fragmented rock jams that maintain a hard-driving rock rhythm but try to do the unexpected, the songs on this CD are spacious and noisy and tempting to like, but they try so hard to be “different” they forget a voice of their own. In fact, much of the music on this CD seems to be having its own dialogue such that each time a change occurs, the song must comment on that change to obscure any similarities it has with other music. These changes however are aesthetic; underneath the skin, this is standard indie rock that has been broken and re-arranged with a cut-up technique that leaves us peering toward its inner structure through layers of repetition. There’s not much to dislike, but the whole is formless and so becomes an exercise in trying to extract a motif from something whose technique is its own outlook.

Thor’s Hammer – Three Weeds From the Same Root

This fusion of skinhead punk music with simple, Darkthrone-cum-Graveland style black metal mirrors the early development of Graveland, but takes a punk direction instead of a metal one. The result is punk improved: while most of it is riff chorus, transition material gets us past binary riffs to three melodic fragments in motion in some cases; riffs vary pacing and use tremolo to better melodic effect; dynamic and pacing vary to create contrast. If you like Discharge, Cock Sparrer, GBH or any other classic punk hardcore, this CD represents a huge improvement on that style. Subtle melodies interweave with riot-incitement percussion and classic hardcore riffs, giving depth to music that is otherwise pure muscle on the street power. The problem is that it’s still highly repetitive punk-based music, so while much of the majesty of black metal is transferred, many of the people who enjoyed black metal for its depth will find this one-dimensional.

Anael – From Arcane Fires

Channeling early Samael and Darkthrone’s “Goatlord” in the same moment, Anael make a CD that is half indie-rock like Wolves in the Throne Room but uses its open tonal leaps to create waves of atmospheric harmony. It is a good effort; despite its repetition, this CD keeps the sense of feeling high. Unfortunately, that feeling goes nowhere, so it is like entering and exiting an atmosphere, and when the song ends, another repeats the process in highly similar ways. However, it’s a welcome break from the chromatic flailing of burst intensity bands.

Corpus Rottus – Ritual of Silence

Energetic death metal similar to a cross between Deicide and Malevolent Creation, the music of Corpus Rottus keeps momentum and charges forward in constant pummeling roar, but never manages to anchor this energetic rhythm into the sense of tonal dynamic that could give songs distinctiveness. Like Fallen Christ, this music seems to blur together because songs use similar patterns, tempi and textures. All of it is extremely well-played and better than anything from the deathcore era, but this will remain a B-level band for lacking a topography of harmonic meaning or poetic configuration to each song.

Sotajumala – Teloitus

Metalcore is the leftovers of the punk and metal movements. Like a hipster, it thinks it can hide emptiness with external adornments like costume, details of technical playing, and even outlandish behavior, but nothing can hide the lack of clarity in thinking. It’s like a politician who makes speeches about how he organizes files in his office. It’s a withdrawal from life itself. This band is straight down the middle metalcore, sticking in random metal riffs from four generations of metal, but its basic organization is that of punk, or deconstructionism. See how different this riff is from the last. Here’s a guitar solo to distract you. Now we’re going to chant. This riff goes in circles; this next one goes straight ahead. It’s basically random except for key and tempo, and those fail to compel.

Pensees Nocturnes – Vacuum

What if we crossed Mutiilation with progressive symphonic metal? That is the question asked by this rather interesting release. If it has a weakness, it’s a lack of solidly distinctive metal riffs, mainly because it is focused on making the whole thing work together. This artist does best when letting the melodies expand and doesn’t limit them in length or ambition “just because” they’re played on a guitar. Like many symphonic bands, Pensees Nocturnes unleash some of their best work in synthesized keyboards or violins, accenting some metal riffs that are now cut from archetype, namely influences as diverse as Gorgoroth, Ancient and Kvist. However, what this band really understands is the theatrical nature of metal: how each song must tell a story with internal conflict resolving into new contexts, like a poem, and it must do it through dramatic gestures that reinforce this story in a way that we feel it and know it at the same time. This can become a container for generic music, however, since the centrality of guitars is de-emphasized. For this reason, this release is head and shoulders above the rest of the genre, and if it more distinctive guitar riff voices can be built into the mix, will be a powerful force in the genre.

Ninth Kingdom – Where No Kings Shall Roam

This band has great potential, but hovers over a great pitfall as well. Their power is a facile ability to write riffs within several different styles and fit them together into a clean narrative. The pitfall is that this enables them to string together just about anything without some central direction, or narrative of some kind, which leads perilously close to the “circus music” that all deathcore and Cradle of Filth-style metal ends up being, where random riffs form a song without contributing to a central meaning. The melodic technical metal aspects of this CD fit in shoulder to shoulder with the best bands coming out of Europe in this style, and their wise use of faster death metal riffs to break up song development keeps them from falling into either uniformity or too much “hard rock” like, say, COF. It makes more sense to compare these guys to later At the Gates than the latest crop of Dimmu-inspired melodic disorganized black metal. For Ninth Kingdom however, their strength is their weakness; they are good at writing riffs and transitions, but need to slow down and shape their abundance of music into clearly-defined songs that communicate something unique to each song. The most conventional song on this CD, “A Storm on the Horizon,” is probably their most powerful statement. I will be watching this local band as they grow.

Sepultura – A-lex

Taking a slightly different approach to metalcore, Sepultura stick punchy punk rock riffs onto rigid drumbeats and then finish them off with metal touches like basic harmonization, layered rhythm, and chaotic interlude riffs of a chord or two. Like that genre of bands that tried to update death metal without becoming reliant on expectation of complements to offbeat emphasis, Sepultura just keep driving ahead with ranting vocals over a guitar/drum interplay that is extremely linear. Occasional sung choruses drift in randomly; so do noisy, squealing transitions. Drums keep trucking. Songs are simple and begin and end well, but it’s the middle part that runs long. Verse/chorus song structures are the norm, interruptions the adornment. If you can imagine Chaos A.D. with less bombast and more mechanistic forward drive, that’s about where this once great band is now.

S.V.E.S.T. – Urfaust

One man does something, another man sees, and he imitates, then tries to figure out a way to put the meaning into what he’s doing. Unfortunately, meaning comes from intent. S.V.E.S.T. carefully pidgin imitate the Norse and Black Legions past, and make some noisy melodic stuff that is very sweetly poignant, if you listen to the parts, but adds up to a whole bunch of nowhere.

Origin – Antithesis

Once you get past the fireworks, this album is wallpaper. It displays techniques in the same order and adapts them to whatever fragmentary notion of song differentiates each of these. Sweep, sweep; fill; chug-chug; offtime chord chiasmus; sweep sweep; squeal; fast riff, repeat. I consider this album the definitive deathcore archetype because it shows us mixed death metal, melodic death metal, heavy metal and rock riffs in a cycle of randomness that resembles the way punk bands liked to assemble their riffs, not the period doubling style of death metal where each riff makes each previous riff make sense in an expanding context. As a result, it’s highly literate circus music, and joins later Behemoth, Cradle of Filth, Cannibal Corpse and others in writing incoherent stuff and making people like it because it’s technical and has catchy rhythms. Deathcore, unlike death metal before it, is deconstructionist like punk, and leaves us with a sense of the helpless, although some of these sweeps are excellent guitar practice for a moderately advanced player.

Asag – Asag

This is black metal in the Funeral Mist style, which is to put really raw sawing riffs on top of very danceable rhythms and hope no one notices. The result is messy on the surface but if you start tabbing it out, tends toward the ridiculous. They tend to stay within a very narrow harmonic range as well, which makes this essential rhythm music with a few melodic intervals and harmonized chord progressions to keep your attention. There is as the old cliche goes “Much sound and fury, signifying nothing.” They know their black metal moves and put them in a semi-sensible order, but you don’t actually get much out of it as a listener on than the sensation that somewhere, black metal is occurring.

Samael – Above

A painful kind of harmonic symmetry emerges in rock music when bands do not design melodies, but tail basic riffs with melodic fills. As a result, there is a great temptation of beauty, and then a sense of disappointment when one realizes that complementary phrases end in very basic differences. This makes the music breathe boredom like alcohol from a whisky drunk as he sweats, even if the stuff on the surface seems interesting. Samael have returned to metal here by combining Gothenburg, late-model black metal and really basic punk/death metal hybrid riffs. It’s a commendable return to form but musically it’s boring, something they try to counterbalance by keeping a driving rhythm going, which tends to normalize the experience. This is where music is different than passing a test: this CD passes all tests, but still is nothing you will reach for time and again. A better example of this style is the final Sacramentum album.

Cadaver – Necrosis

Bands returning to the death metal genre after a long absence try to update it in some way or another to distinguish themselves, show they’ve progressed, and find a way to appeal to a wider audience. Here, Cadaver try to combine the deathcore sound with the kind of charging technical take on d-beat punk that Impaled Nazarene used to do. If you can imagine Disfear, Impaled Nazarene and Neuraxis in a blender, that’s about corrupt — punk riffs levitate verses, tightened death metal riffs conduct choruses, technical fills end each, and songs fade out into melodic punk alternating with death metal rhythm riffs of the single- or double-chord variety much like later Master. It’s a musically impressive album and catchy as all hell, but when compared to old Cadaver, it lacks the mysterious atmosphere and sense of joyful exploration. This is much more of an adult album, meaning that it aims to be consistent and to remember the milk at the grocery store, but its sense of wonder at the world has been absorbed by a functionalism that is both the source of its consistency and the gateway to its missing openness.

Obscura – Cosmogenesis

I really wanted to like this, but it’s circus music. Technical circus music, but still, it has ludicrous happy melodies that would fit been played from an ice cream truck. These are played in challenging rhythms, but because that involves so much emphasizing and complementing offbeats, they are played at a bouncy pace like Iron Maiden and Parliament writing video game music together. It bounces. It flounces. It knows its scales and chord construction, but it goes nowhere because it’s looking outside-in: it’s trying to use technicality to make art, instead of making art and finding a voice in technicality for that impetus. The circus music aspects come also from their tendency to throw as many diverse possibilities into a song as possible, ending up with a tour of unrelated elements tied together by key and rhythm, yet having no significance other than that proximity. This is far better than the recent Cynic, but that’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Infernum – Farewell

If later Graveland albums had been less opulent in layers of keyboards, battle noises, and guitars, they might sound like this: a stripped-down and more melodic Graveland reminiscent of Thousand Swords and Following the Voice of Blood merged in an early Emperor filter. Because it’s stripped down, it doesn’t get lost in working through all those layers, and instead develops a very simple point. Like most Graveland, it repeats themes in an attempt to find their ultimate evolution, which keeps it from falling into irrelevance. It’s like the old themes become starter cultures and from it grows a mass of new themes, like throwing yeast into a vat of corn syrup. As a result however, this album seems instantly familiar, and brings on that reality distortion field that is one of the most glorious things about Graveland: you forget you’re listening to amplified guitars conveyed through MP3 on a 2009 personal computer, and think you’re in a deep valley hearing the voice of the wind forming figures around the rocks above.

Suffocation – Blood Oath

Much of what we know of death metal now came from Monstrosity, Malevolent Creation, and Suffocation, who invented the style that Cannibal Corpse distilled and popularized. Suffocation, in particular, was the first band to come roaring out of obscurity with intensely percussive songs where drums led guitars in a series of complex riff conglomeration and destruction. When Doug Cerrito left, a lot of that got replaced by faster riffing and more straight-ahead songwriting. In use of harmony, especially use of scalar harmony to hold songs together, Suffocation has improved to the point where rock and jazz musicians can recognize their musicality more easily. However, they’ve dropped out the focus on rhythmic work; Mike Smith’s excellent drum work now plays along with melodic guitars and muted strum speed metal style full stops. Songs are built around a vocal chant, usually with a creeping rhythm, and the ensuing repetition loses much of the power this band once had. If they return to making the intricate structures, and consequent theatre of pummeling dynamics, that distinguished their best work, Suffocation could easily be the top death metal band performing today.

Asphyx – Death…The Brutal Way

A good summary is that this album upholds the style and feel of the first two Asphyx albums, but more resembles the last few in that while it’s well done, it’s restating known themes. It sometimes does this in a self-aware way, like an artist looking at a past work and trying to copy it from outside. Where it thrives however is in delivering rushing rhythms, like combatants sizing each other up at a run, that ride forward into thunderous climactic theatre. Where most death metal is dusty from the city, this album surges with a post-human viewpoint that creates legitimate fear amongst the herd. However, it never loses sight of making enjoyable rolling thunder music that beats us with the most reductionist approaches to music and yet makes us like them and see them as artful. This band has never released anything but solid music, and although this CD probably lags toward the non-essential end of their release spectrum, it crushes all of the other death metal band comeback albums handily.

Nidrike – Blodsarv

You know how people will take a tiny little Mazda and give it ten grand of ground effects? This band is an improvement on Deathspell Omega, who have the same style: create a harmonically simple song and trick it out with melodies, long discursive passages that seem exciting in their radical leaps of tone but ultimately converge on the same spot, like a tetherball wacked by a retard on meth. Clearly a lot of effort went into this CD but it all went into building up the songs, not coming up with some insightful or unique angle of attack, so at the end of the day you’re back to the same essential chord progressions most black metal uses, even if there’s lots of finger-wiggling to make it seem like an epic melody is going to bust out of that Mazda and pwn your ass.

Death – Scream Bloody Gore

The more experience I have in life, the more I like this album. For starters, Chuck wasn’t left alone on songwriting: he had scene legends like Chris Reifert (Autopsy) and Kam Lee (Massacre) to help him, but also, had just completed jaunts with Repulsion and Slaughter (the proto-death metal band, like a cross between early Master and Necrophagia, but better). What’s great about this CD is that it’s the same old Death, which is a fusion between speed metal and nascent proto-Death like Master, but that it’s pure spirit. There are no pretensions to musicality here, so it’s pure rigid chord progressions and thunderous rhythms, but unlike later Death, it uses the death metal “riff salad” that tells a story better than any modulating-harmonic but static-form rock music could. True, there’s a wipeout or two in the solos, and often these very basic riffs are pretty messy, but the CD keeps up the high energy pace and inventive transitions between riffs that are variations on known themes from NWOBHM and punk, which makes it solid as hell. The second half sort of runs together into mush; I’m guessing that it was partially written or refined in the studio. But unlike the other great Death album, Human, this CD is chaotic and organic like a tradesman’s riot. Human is good but it’s like an introductory textbook to music theory because each song has two parts — (1) getting ready for the big picture and (2) here’s the big picture — and so for all its “musical complexity” it’s a simpler, easier and less interesting composition than this early fire-spitting version of Death.

Karnarium – Karnarium

When conducting audience surveys, it’s easy to confuse a desire for primal music with music that is so basic it becomes boring. The point is to “sound” primitive, not to be primitive. Karnarium confuse the two; it’s a hybrid of early Grave and Cannibal Corpse, resulting in alternating blasts of percussive riffing and fast death metal riffs which limit themselves to four notes. We would all like to like this, but it does not provide any lasting enjoyment of the style, only a battering repetition of discontinuous themes which leaves life more confusing and less coherent than before. Songwriting needs to be focus for this band because they have their technique down but fail to stitch together a meaningful code of these fragmented riffs.

Conjuration – Funeral of the Living

Let’s try being Barathrum or Countess, except as a doom metal/black metal band. Are you excited yet? Umm… yeah, we’ll toss in the extra evil, extra loud and extra repetitive spells, and try for a saving throw with a bluesy undertone to our chord progressions a lot like Cathedral. Are we having fun yet? It ends up sounding like Saint Vitus as if created by Cianide. It’s not bad but song development occurs with typical metal harmonization and abrupt breaks, and the riffs and rhythms are straight out of the late 1970s. Guitar sound is flamingly awesome however. The only problem is the whole MCD is kind of boring. I think they should play this in old age homes and have everyone clap in time.

Inveracity – Extermination of Millions

So that’s where Suffocation went: they got reincarnated as Inveracity. This band is not as fully coherent as Suffocation was for their first three albums, but captures the essence of their technique with a powerful forward drive, much like Deeds of Flesh. They could get from B+ to A by making their songs more clearly express a central theme and a journey toward a concluding mood, which would give them more than a sound a personality and a vision of reality that others could participate in. As it stands, the technique speaks for too much, but it’s done well — an A+ — with more of the melodic leads stitched in among fast ripping power chording, as Deeds of Flesh started doing with Inbreeding the Anthropophagi. Watch this band for future development.

Mordicus – Dances From Left

An interesting hybrid of death metal and speed metal, this album sounds like Destruction riffs put in the less disjointedly repetitive song structures of American speed metal bands like Testament. It flows quite well. The riffs are not unusual to someone familiar with Destruction, Kreator and Forbidden, but they fit cleanly into well-constructed songs. Clearly thought went into this record, which makes it unusual for the speed metal genre. In use of layers and lead melodic riff accents, this album shows a heritage of death metal. Like later Merciless, it is highly melodic and often quite graceful, but the tendency of this genre to like percussive guitar strumming and pounding chorus rhythms may drive away listeners accustomed to the greater subtlety of black and death metal. Still, this is a good record.

Chord – Flora

This project reminds me of the Mitch Harris project Lull, except that Chord have an appreciation for slow-building development through contrast and dynamic variation in songs, where much of Lull was either too abrupt or too linear. However, they’re still facing the challenge of noise (which, since it’s a type of communication using sound for its inherent properties, is probably music, but noise devotees freak out if you call it “noise music”) which is making something that a listener could enjoy repeatedly and not as a novelty. Like Justin Broadrick’s epic Final, Chord choose the distorted guitar and possibly modded electronics as their medium, and specialize in making reverb waves and then harmonizing to them. In the background, dark metallic abrasion noises churn far below the waves of light and atmosphere that are the feedback and sustain-fed echoes of the secondary notes and harmonics in chords and notes, creating a mental scene of a moribund industrial city at war under a vivid sunrise. There are overtones of the Fripp/Eno projects and their tendency to pit counterpoint noises against steadily increasing but repetitive patterns, creating a sense of cosmic order through creation and destruction that is quite beautiful. Of all the noise releases I’ve heard, this is probably the most listenable outside of middle-period K.K. Null.

Himinbjorg – Europa

A tribute to Bathory in a style halfway between Blood Fire Death and Hammerheart, with some updated technique borrowed from the early 1990s Norse revolution, this CD is what Viking heavy metal should be if we update it for the current era. Immediately evident is the restrained musicianship; these gents are not playing at the top of their technique, but have chosen a simplified version to achieve direct communication. The music resembles nothing else except in style, and maintains a good sense of harmony while creating the epic rhythm and melodic riffs that give metal its power. Vocals are probably going to be too Donald Duck for some, and the music is too heavy metal for the black metal fanbase, which could explain why this otherwise excellent CD remains undernoticed.

Electrocution – Inside the Unreal

Welcome to good B+ grade old school underground metal. Thankfully, this band have avoided the “modern death metal” (read: metalcore with death metal riffs) trap and just gone for old school material in the vein of Necrophiliac, Morpheus Descends or Oppressor but have upped the ante with technical improvements. Drums lead songs more accurately through more permutations of riff, and maintain an atmosphere of cadence and not kickhappy offbeat-anticipation patterns. Guitars collaborate tightly and deliver variations on the known styles of death metal riffs from the simple booming patterns fit into complex textures mold. Where this CD could improve is in some variation of the intervals used in writing riffs; too much of it falls into the whole-half variation that eventually gives it a feeling of tendency and an ashen lack of melodic or harmonic potential. For pure rhythm riffing however, this solid death metal album delivers the thrills.

The Warlocks – The Mirror Explodes

Mix Lou Reed, Sonic Youth and early REM and you get this indie for indie’s sake release. It’s quite good power pop wrapped in an aesthetic of decay and loneliness. As with most things, I don’t see the fucking point in the posing. Just be the The Beatles II and write songs about life with a nuance of the positive. I like their ability to stretch out a verse with noise and subtle variations on their main riff, creating a drone in layers that expands Ride-style to wrap a vocal track in lush sound. Unlike most bands, The Warlocks know how to draw out tension like moments before orgasm, keeping the sugar lust explosion of pop away until we’re good and exhausted by their waves of shuddering guitars softened by a lazy room mix. Musically, I like this. Artistically, I fear it’s going to get lost in a horde of others with the same “aesthetic” and “outlook” on life.

Katharsis – Fourth Reich

Unknown to most of us, this band resurrected the war metal tradition: speed up Bathory, mix in some Blasphemy, and make frenetic music which goes nowhere. True, this is more explicitly in the house that Darkthrone built, but even the longer songs cannot hide the lack of direction. Good songs throw pieces on the table like clues to a mystery, and slowly bring out a response to that mystery, so the listener feels as if they are in a combat situation and want a good outcome — but are learning what that would be from the experience conveyed by the music. Instead, this is “hot tub” black metal — it has two stages, getting into the hot tub, and getting out. The song begins and then you’re in the midst of it, with some fairly gratifying riffs, but then it ends without having anything changed in the listener’s mind. You were in the hot tub. In the hot tub, you found life exactly as it was before. Now towel off, and skip this record.

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Return of the Dutch Deathmasters – August 14th & 15th, 2009 – Jalometalli Festival in Oulu, Finland

This summer’s festival season of carnage is nearing its bloody end and while drinking beer from skullcaps we have been reading and writing reports, listening to albums and throwing the sign of the horns to all bands that still really understand what death metal is about. Maryland Deathfest 2009 was a success as were of course countless of smaller events in USA, Germany, wherever, and I myself attended the true-as-fuck Jalometalli 2009 in Oulu, Finland. It was truly a pleasure to see that this country still has a metal festival which is not totally invaded by metalcore people and hipsters. It has been getting worse, because metal is trendy now and even though that means more gigs, it also means that corporate rock bastards see the marketing potential.

While old school speed metal bands regenerated themselves with great force, the likes of Agent Steel, Death Angel and Whiplash riffing and headbanging like it was goddamned 1985, the band that really dominated the Oulu proceedings was the mighty Asphyx, always too underrated, always better than pretty much anything else from Netherlands, whose little brother Hail of Bullets didn’t fare that much worse with their Bolt Thrower impersonation. Despite the open air / big stage setup, the underground feeling of it was something that could have happened in one of those legendary “youth center” gigs of the early 90′s death metal scene in Scandinavia. No glamour, no gimmicks, some death metal possessed kids throwing a moshpit, and pure old school musical values dating even back to demo material (the legendary cut “Rite of Shades”).

So, forget the hippie Atheist, boring Pestilence and greedy Carcass, whomever else has made the comeback for all the wrong reasons. Asphyx is here to stay and crush.

-Devamitra-

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Son of Metal FAIL

When we let rip with our “Metal FAILs — Volume I,” people were pissed — mainly because we didn’t include their favorite fails. So in the grand tradition of whoring ourselves for populist acclaim, and thus perhaps thousands of grubby fingers clicking on the same links, we’ve brought you the sequel: “More Metal FAILs” or “Son of Metal FAIL,” depending on what you want to call it. We just call it not letting this abundant bushel of failure slip the noose. So without much further ado, here’s another heaping helping of metal FAIL:

10. Celtic Frost – Cold Lake

Years of being a metalhead will condition a bowel release when you see this album. Celtic Frost is one of the handful of bands who created a completely unique take on metal, and this album represents their moment of exhaustion with life and its deeper questions. “Screw it all, we’ll be a hair metal band!” While this record is clearly a fail, it’s a minor fail because while the music is dressed up as glam, the compositions would have fit seamlessly onto “Into the Pandemonium” without the vocals.

9. Death – Individual Thought Patterns

As in life, in music the time when you are most likely to screw up is right before your final victory. Death clawed their way up the ranks and after the superlative “Human,” appeared poised to take over metal entirely. Then out came this throwback to the pretentious, glammy, art-metal of the late 1980s. It’s basically reboiled Queensryche and Shok Paris, given a death metal edge, but under the skin pure heavy metal. Now the only people who like this album are drunk masturbators on guitar has-been forums.

8. Massacre – Promise

Alcoholism is probably to blame for this weepy, whiny, and downright creepy rendition of Massacre. Their first album was great brainless hard-driving death metal, and then they tried to get all emo on us, ending up simultaneously smug and as brain-bleachingly confessional as Facebook at its worst. This album was so bad it would bring an easy chair and a newspaper whenever it arrived in a used CD rack, knowing it would be there for a while… a long while.

7. Atrocity – Blut

Their first album was good cryptic death metal, and their second a feast of technical death metal that could compete with the American bands. Next logical move? Why, go Goth metal, of course, probably because after the 11th beer what record label execs say almost seems sensible. So Atrocity excreted this poppy, dance-friendly piece of crap, and now the only people who buy it are Germans, out of misplaced national loyalty. (True story: I found one at a garage sale in the distant suburbs two months ago, proving just how far metalheads will drive to drop off this furry turd.)

6. Cryptopsy – Whisper Supremacy

Riding high on “None So vile,” Cryptopsy was a sure winner… until this. Wanting to be both death metal and “different,” as their label probably kept whining for them to be, Cryptopsy invented proto-deathcore with this disconnected, jaunty, chaotic album. The same people who love Marilyn Manson and Slipknot think it’s pretty cool. I repeat… well, you get the point.

5. Terrorizer – Darker Days Ahead

Legendary band makes comeback album almost twenty years later. Quick, what’s the first thought that pops into your head? Legendary fail? That’s correct! Unlike the first Terrorizer album, which had balls and distinct songs, this collection of riffs sounds like these guys working around their drug habits, appointments for car repair, ex-wives and beer guts. Uninspired and wandering, this album will stun you into a stupor.

4. Sepultura – Chaos AD

How do you follow up to an album as classic as “Beneath the Remains”? You make a watered-down but more musical version, Arise. One of the ten billion things you did to that record was include a few seconds of tribal beats… so that’s your new direction, obviously. It wasn’t the quality songwriting, the epic riffs, or the powerful atmosphere: it was that tribal beat. So start making standard nu-metal with a tribal beat and hey, you’ve got your niche! Even though this album pre-dated nu-metal, the (Mordred) writing was already on the wall that this was how mainstream rock would take over underground metal.

3. Carcass – Heartwork

Famous for making gutter-level grindcore, you decide to make a frilly speed metal album like your older brother (you know, the one on methadone) might have liked. Most fans don’t know this, but this album is a collection of recycled riffs and cliches from the power metal bands of the late 1980s who didn’t make it. Just a few years later, Carcass decided to re-envision all that old stuff with their trademark vocals intact. The result is as painfully blockheaded as speed metal, and as inept as grindcore bands without a good topic to write on. Fail and forget.

2. At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul

Wait, he must be crazy; that’s their most popular album! Yep, but if you made a graph of its popularity since release, you’d see it’s a steady downward curve. That’s because unlike everything else this band did, “Slaughter of the Soul” is an attempt to sound like other bands who made it big, just — you know — Swedishy instead. So it’s recycled 1980s speed metal with death metal flavor, like soda pop’s flavor is inspired by something that once tasted sort of organic. Now that we have dozens of melodic death metal bands, this FAIL just seems ordinarily bad.

1. Atheist – Elements

The number one dropping on our second list of bulging, greenish, corn-studded, mucus-sheathed turds is this raging FAIL from Atheist. This band is clearly one of the best in metal, and their first two albums are top notch. Then there’s this thing. Sounding like a Phish ripoff with occasional metal riffs, it fails like all progressive music does, mainly by being so busy jamming on cool stuff, man, that it fails to concentrate and write songs. So instead you get the kitchen sink: a little funk, a lotta jazz, some rock riffs, some metal, and then back again. Add the extra pretense of a prog metal album and you have a turd with an English accent, an emo livejournal, and a disorganized snobbery even us prog-metal fanatics cannot stand.

BandFAILs

Now, as an added bonus track to this blog posting, you’ll get more — BANDFAILS: bands who should never have existed or if they had to exist, should have stayed underground in mom’s cellar until suicide was the better option.

10. Weapon

We get it — all those years of black metal getting beyond its roots were too hard to re-do, so you’re going back to the roots as you see ’em, which is Venom. Nevermind that Venom sounds like clumsy NWOBHM, not black metal. Let’s re-live that past one more time!

9. In Flames

If you’re a Dissection clone, and the Dissection guy shoots himself, do you do it too? Might not be a bad idea. From their first derivative album, which sucked in comparison to everything else out at the time, to their recent awkward contortions in order to stay “hip,” this band have been like AIDS at a swinger party.

8. Origin

This comical deathcore band make really goofy songs, to the point that you think someone would say, “Hey, didn’t I hear that melody on a commercial for a 24-hour law firm?” But people seem to not want to notice, because someone in a magazine somewhere told them this band is the future of metal. If so, I hope the sun swallows us first.

7. Meshuggah

During your first year of guitar lessons, this band just seems killer. Man, listen to those rhythms. Then as time goes on you realize that (a) not much goes on in Meshuggah songs and (b) past the rhythmic technique, nothing they’re doing is particularly hard. So you’re listening to faux prog that really has more in common with a bad Exhorder or Vio-lence clone. Errr… I’ll pass.

6. Cannibal Corpse

This band makes experienced musicians weep through their laughter. A large musical joke, Cannibal Corpse depends on fans being stoned enough to think irony means pretending you like something really dumb because, you know, dumb is funny. That lets the band keep touring and buying the quality weed. When they “compose,” they buy the cheap weed. Repeat the same blunt-shaped metal riff and chanting vocal, then split for fast guitar and a breakdown, then repeat. This music demands nothing of its fans except they think it’s pretty funny, when you’re high. In fact, you have to be wasted on something to even tolerate it.

5. Opeth

Over a breakfast of fish eyes in milk one morning, Mikael said to his friends, “You know, metalheads have low self-esteem and like simple music. If we make simple music that sounds like it is complicated, it will make the metalheads feel smart, and we will be able to afford all the spandex we want!” So Opeth was formed, causing progressive rock fans everywhere to weep. The riffs don’t add up. The fans don’t care. They’re too busy thinking about how smart they are.

4. Cradle of Filth

If someone paid me, I could not design a bigger metal failure than Cradle of Filth. If a new metal genre comes about, try to make it as boring as possible by repeating the same old formula with the new vocals and faster drumming. Then again, if they hadn’t, we’d think they were just another piss-poor Iron Maiden clone.

3. Mortician

While just about no one remembers this band now, for some time they were the future of metal: basic riffs, no key changes, simple rhythms and a drum machine doing kickbeat drums at dirge pace. It’s as if Spock rushed back into the engine room, screamed “Set phasers for dumb!” and then let the ship’s computer write an album.

2. Necrophagist

Like Opeth and Cynic, this band survives by convincing people with little experience of music that they’re experts. Overnight, they become sophisticated aficionados of the difficult, obscure and brainier-than-thou art of technical death metal. But when you peel back the hype, you find very simple songs wrapped in layers of sweep, chug, squeal, repeat. Confusing this with quality metal is like admiring a painter who can paint cars really well, but sucks at painting anything else, so he makes who pastoral scenes out of Hyundais talking to Lamborghinis.

1. Pantera

This is it, friends… the metal doofus epicenter of the universe: Pantera. They started as a hair band, then were a Metallica/Alice in Chains crossover that hit MTB big time with “Cemetery Gates,” and then suddenly they became the metal equivalent of hip-hop. Songs about the hard life on the streets: Check. Marijuana songs: check. Violent, swaggering attitude: check. Songs based mostly on rhythm with occasional random melodic fragments: check. If these guys were more honest, they would have just been a Public Enemy tribute band called We Rule the Burbs.

For whiners

Yes, we know: you hate us, you hate them, you hate something, you’re bubbling over with rage at how someone on the intertard can be so wrong. Either that or you were reading ANUS once, came upon a word you didn’t recognize and instead of growing a pair, tip-toeing your fingers to dictionary.com and rising to the occasion, you wimped out with the chorus all failed people like to repeat: “It’s not my fault, you’re an elitist, it’s not fair!”

To all such people we say: Go whine up a rope, because the only people who like that kind of mealymouthed rambling are other failures. You can all go fail together somewhere. And maybe touch each other, but in the grand tradition of being in denial so you can fail more efficiently, you’ll insist you’re not gay… it has nothing to do with what Uncle Ted did to your peenor after he’d been drinking. If you’ve failed at life, it’s because you’re disorganized and cannot man up and face reality. Don’t blame us for your weakness; fix it. (Listening to the albums on this list will not help.)

People get bent out of shape about our opinions, but somehow it’s only the people who have nothing better going on. Humans of that type enter any situation with the goal of making it “safe” for themselves, meaning that they don’t want to hear about how some fail and some are great, only that we’re all accepted. We’re all the same and we’re all OK. That kind of bullshit, of course, converts thriving metal scenes into big circle-jerks where everyone accepts everyone else but ten years later, you look back and realize finally that all the music was thinly-disguised FAIL with smugness for bling.

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The most epic metal FAILs of all time

Of all genres of music, metal is unique because the line between “acceptable” and “total failure” is very narrow. Making metal is easy, but making good metal… difficult. Periodically, metal bands either sell out or have personal problems, and they create metal failures.

We’re going to tour some of these today.

These failures have one thing in common: an otherwise promising band made a shining, mucus-sheathed, corn-studded turd of an album, and in most cases didn’t have the decency to shoot themselves in the face. In some cases, they went on to get rich and famous, even though they failed at making quality metal.

10. Slayer – Divine Intervention

There will never be anything cooler than Slayer. Most metalheads agree that this is fact. However, they will be quick to add, “…old Slayer.” What they mean to say is that sometime in 1996 or so, Slayer switched from their mythological, occult, intense music to dumbed-down impersonations of themselves. Maybe they were jealous of Pantera getting all the big bucks. Maybe it was alcoholism. No one knows. But this album is a series of one-noted-removed interpretations of older Slayer riffs, and really simple songs that sound almost like Slayer except they’re boring. It took the band ten years to come back from this with “Christ Illusion.”

9. Cynic – Traced in Air

The first Cynic album was a ripoff of all jazz fusion and prog metal to date, sure, but it was a good ripoff so we don’t care, even if they did use early autotune vocals. But the followup? It’s a disorganized pile of derivative jazz riffs interrupted by banging, dumbed-down, mouth-breathing metal. Fail on both counts.

8. Pestilence – Hold the Mustard

This album is so bad I can’t even remember the title. It’s like they booked an afternoon of studio time and pulled an album out of their asses, then tried to make it extra bang-y just so the dumb kids in the crowd could like it. The result is both boring and annoying at once, which is usually hard to do but Pestilence packed this so full of fail it was effortless for them.

7. Morbid Angel – Domination

More metalheads shouted “what the hell is this?” at their speakers for this album than any previous. After three brilliant studio albums, Morbid Angel decided to sound like Pantera, and came out with this cranky, braindead-simple, bouncy shadow of their former selves. Gone were the brains. Instead we had bounce. This album was so dumbed-down it lost all of the Morbid Angel mystique, and sounded like another third-rate Pantera ripoff. Add to that the goofy cover and you’ve got a cup runnething over with FAIL.

6. Emperor – IX Equilibrium

This Norwegian band used to make the kind of mystical musical experience in album form that made you want to never let go of the CD. “In the Nightside Eclipse” transported more teenagers to midnight forests than Tolkien, almost. And then they came out with this hunk of rubbish, basically a riff salad with singing amongst the black metal vocals. It shocked many people into simply abandoning black metal altogether because Emperor went from “getting it” to “clueless” in thirty seconds of mismatched riffs.

5. Suffocation – Souls to Deny

Basically inventing the style of blasting deathgrind, Suffocation used to make these epic, legendary albums. Then they heard a bunch of deathcore, and formed an equation in their minds: deathcore = how to succeed. So they ripped it off, but tried to make it fit into Suffocation, or vice-versa. The result sounds like Suffocation with a fever, on cheap drugs, and locked in a rape basement with a one-eyed inbred tormentor. The riffs don’t make sense. The songs are bad. But it’s definitely deathcore. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

4. Obituary – Back From the Dead

Their previous album, “World Demise,” was bad, but on this one they had to go hyperspace into pure feces. If the rap/rock remix “Bullitary” didn’t clue you in, the suddenly “streetwise” song titles and cliche cover might have. But if you ignored all the warnings and listened anyway, you were in for a vomit launch of cliche meeting absent-minded riffing that fulfilled every negative stereotype about death metal.

3. Asphyx – God Cries

Asphyx are legends. They dominate completely. Except on this album. Two members left, so the remaining members sought a clue, and one drunken night decided to do a morose, emo tribute to one band member’s dead father. So instead of cavernous booming riffs of doom, you get weepy, slow, melodic chanting choruses and really bad interludes. Most Asphyx fans deny this album exists. To do otherwise might make their heads explode, especially if they sit down with “The Rack” in one hand and this lump of guano in the other.

2. Entombed – Wolverine Blues

“Clandestine” captured the imagination of every death metal fan on earth when it was released. That fuzzy, thick guitar sound! Those song titles promising realms beyond the visible! The powerful rhythm riffing and breathtaking tempo changes! And then… out came this, a bluesy rock album with some death metal riffs and a cartoon character on the cover, sounding like a fifteenth-rate jeer of an Alice in Chains ripoff. We still don’t understand why they chose to give their career a Viking funeral in this manner.

And the #1 metal FAIL of all time is…

1. Metallica – The Black Album

You knew it was going to be this. The bringer of grimaces to the faces of metal fans, this was the album when “we’ll never stop, we’ll never quit, ’cause we’re Metallica” became a curse. Cliff Burton spun so fast in his grave he got vertigo and barfed all over his own ashes. It’s sappy, sentimental, slow, goofy and really panders to the dumbest, geekiest, most clueless among us. Yet it launched their mainstream career, proving again that most people are complete idiots with no musical taste.

From looking over these, there are some warning signs that metal bands are about to fail. First, they get sensitive. Next, they start writing songs about being themselves. Finally, they get bitter that the Pantera guys don’t have to work day jobs. Put together one part sell-out, two parts disorganization and fifteen parts clueless, and you have a METAL FALL on a grand scale.

We had a buttload of runner-ups. In fact, since most metal bands start falling apart when their members are given the choice of “sell more albums, or it’s back to your day jobs,” no shortage of material can be found. But ordinary sell-outs are nothing compared to these epic turds. If you ever want proof of Newton’s idea that every action creates an equal and opposite reaction, you have it here: the bands that started out the best went just as fast in the other direction when the time came. We can’t change that, but if you see these albums waiting to pounce on a used CD rack somewhere, don’t walk but run in the opposite direction.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 8-16-09

Scientists have found that we learn more from our successes than our failures because of the way individual brain cells respond in real time. Like natural selection, this is a process where the winner takes all: when the idiots have run out of steam or exterminated themselves, the smart take over and breed like mad. Metal is exactly the same way. Across the world, tens of thousands of bands launch their albums at one giant egg which is the mass consciousness of metal fans, and a few make it in and become golden classics that people will talk about for decades. It’s not random; it’s about music quality. In the following reviews, we search for the 0.1% of quality in the metal world and mock the 99.9% of directionless gloop that people will talk about this week and next, and then forget.

Medusa – En Raga Sul

You know, post-metal is horsepuckey just like post-punk was. You’re making the same music with a little more dexterity and some slicker exterior. But you can’t escape the fact that your approach is the same. This circularity of doom by ignorance of abstract afflicts Medusa. These guys — normally from indie bands — can clearly play their instruments, but they understand metal on the same level as my parents. “Oh, I get it, be as loud and interruptive as possible, and random if you can.” No way, dueds. Random is an indie hipster thing. Order rising from chaos in a majestic fountain of context-expanding revelation is a metal thing. Like post-rock, post-punk, etc. this is a disappointed because they threw everything but the kitchen sink into the compositional mix, and came out with one giant average that screeches, howls, whines and cajoles like a methed-out whore. This CD will experience the wrath of Lord Bic, my lighter (and the object into which I have projected the spirit of my dead warrior ancestors).

Zebulon Pike – Intransience

This lengthy EP brings three songs in a fusion between King Crimson of the Red era and the mellower, rolling doom metal of bands like Cathedral. Thankfully, there are no vocals, which makes this quite exciting; sadly, it’s still entrenched in the “prog rock” category and does not make a metal voice out of its influences. However, it one-ups bands like Cynic or Maudlin of the Well by escaping the pop song ghetto and going for the gusto with these lengthy, prog-worshipping songs that are not so much intricately structured as they are intricate structures applied cumulatively in repetitive layers, causing a sensation of ascending a spiral staircase that changes geometric dimension at every floor. All instrumentation is straight out of 1970s King Crimson, with occasional bounding punk or doom-death metal riffs, but by the nature of keeping open harmony so it can write melodies through the chord lines in a complex fashion, there’s a lot of clanging open chords and chords formed around the upper notes of the scale, giving it a clangy old school vibe. Fans of Pelican might appreciate this fusion between indie retro aesthetic and the impetus toward topographic space savant rock epics, but if this band really wants to move forward they should forget their influences long enough to fuse a new language out of the shared heritage of rock, prog and metal that fuels this exploratory band.

Havok – Being and Nothingness

Despite the cool song titles and album concept, this is tedious metalcore: a mix of prog metal, speed metal, avantgarde punk and indie rock that uses death metal technique sometimes. Lots of heavily repetitive strumming, “groove” occurring in the midst of rhythmic chaos, and sudden breaks to “unexpected” acoustic or proggy parts in the same self-considered profundity that Opeth and Meshuggah use. Maybe you’ll like it if you like those. But then it would be an imitation of an imitation.

Woodtemple – Voices of Pagan Mountains

I am told by reliable sources that other CDs from this band are not as good. However, this one stays on my B-list of metal and will eventually be purchased. In the 2000s, buying something you’ve had kicking around on mp3 forever is a sure sign it’s destined for repeated listening. In style, this disc is like Graveland Following the Voice of Blood re-done in the style of Thousand Swords, but as if informed by early Ancient, say, Trolltaar. Longer riff-melodies and repetition interrupted by a kind of prismatic re-use and re-contexting of past riffs makes this an engrossing, labyrinthine listen. There’s some hilarious intrusions from later Bathory (Hammerheart), including experimentation with percussive riffing, but on the whole, this is a great disc and one of my favorites from post-entropy (1994) black metal, even if in style it’s a total tribute to the past.

Amesoeurs – Amesoeurs

Proving again that they’re low self-esteem losers, the vocal black metal community tripped over its own feet rushing to praise this release. I understand why; it’s easily listened to, pleasing to the air, and maintains an atmosphere that is pleasant. However, it’s shoegaze and not black metal, and deviates entirely from the moods which produce the epic experience of black metal. For sure, there are moments of storming guitar riff over blasting drums. But musically, it has little in common with black metal, and does a lot of dressing up My Bloody Valentine-style pop as something more extreme, kind of like a brainier version of Marilyn Manson. The problem with the pop approach is that it’s two-stroke: you get two emotions, mix them, and leave people with that wistful sense that something important happened and they missed it. That will not scratch the black metal itch because it’s very karmic,

Worship – Dooom

I really wanted to like this. But playing a heavy metal band this slowly crushes the ability to make riffs that are distinctive, so you end up with chord progressions you’ve heard before in a rhythm too slow to recognize; when that gets arduous, the band pause like waiting for an audience to clap along, and then resume again. And so it goes, for minutes upon minutes. It isn’t bad but it’s not necessary, and it will always gall me to have CDs sitting around that aren’t as good as the other stuff I have, but are “newer” so must be really important. It’s not. Stoner doom is the latest trend and while we all like a trend because it seems like the hand of the world has reached down to offer us an easy solution, usually this means that people adapt whatever they have to the new trend with predictable results. These songs are generic stoner doom of the heavy variety; seek Skepticism instead!

Havohej – Kembatinan Premaster

Paul Ledney makes brilliant albums every other album. You can tell from his history that he has an active mind and explores new methods of making music. Some are communicative, and so make us understand the dark mental journeys he’s taking, and others convey emptiness in a way that not only is un-informative, but also is not much fun to listen to. After all, good art is half Schopenhauer and half “Harry Potter”: it should have the profundity to twist our minds to see a greater context to our lives, but it should also be entertaining and show us our everyday struggles in a new context where we can more easily grasp what we’d rather be doing in similar situations. This latest from Havohej, like Man and Jinn before it, is an experiment in ritual rhythm music using noise instead of guitars and bass. His technique appears to be using ultrasonic noise and sublimated harmony in the drone to create additional rhythms through separation sounds (as used when tuning an instrument). The result is “interesting” academically, but horrible for listening. The sense of adventure is dead. It’s more like a mathematical proof by an interior decorator. Skip this and pick up the excellent Profanatica Profanatitas de Domonatia instead.

Greenfly – Hidden Pleasures of a Nonexistent Reality

This CD is just bad. The choice of notes is predictable; the choice of rhythms is blockheaded; the instrumentation is so competent it’s thoroughly uncreative. It’s so strikingly obvious in construction it’s hard to imagine it as something other than guitar practice that got accidentally recorded. The metalcore vocals don’t help either, nor do the recycled and completely cut-from-form speed metal riffs. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this was a parody of death metal. It’s like an angry caveman howling while he beats rocks with his club. I think the worst part is that this band seem to think they’re clever, or pure in some ironic way, for having distilled the genre into this blurting, bumbling, pounding disaster.

Hammemit – Spires Over the Burial Womb

Over the last dozen years, I have become more cynical about noise and ambient music. The reason is that there’s so much of it, yet 90% drops into the category of “goes nowhere, does nothing.” Hammemit straddles the line: a good deal of thought went into these compositions which create a ritual atmosphere of contemplation. The problem is that they do so under the conscious level, and do not form any distinct thought, only a vague impression of something sacred happening. I like that, but it’s not going to motivate people to listen to any piece of music (same problem modern and postmodern “classical” has). These collections of moans, natural phenomena noises, occasional piano and guitar, and found sounds are compelling in that they do not whack you over the head like modern material does, but they also shy away from approaching the clarity of ancient works. My suggestion to this artist is to vary the sound palette between tracks, and to aim at making the concrete form out of nothingness, as that way the mind will retain what’s afoot here.

Ihsahn – Angl

I’m going to say what others are afraid to say: this album is shit. Equal parts Cynic and Meshuggah, it shows nothing of the creativity of Ihsahm during his Emperor days; actually, it’s just a collection of well-done cliches. It’s like Nordic metal is the peak of ability in making songs, but if you feed the same crap into it, you just get a better version of that crap. I think instead we need something, like — just to pull a name out of the hat — Emperor where they made something entirely different, and as a result, were inspired to make better quality music. Repeating the past is painful. This recombines and repeats the past. I had to run across the room to hide my Emperor CDs from this dripping turd.

Demigod – Shadow Mechanics

This refreshing album eschews the pure death metal outlook for a hybrid of death metal and later Voivod-style progressive metal, using complex rhythms and multiple offsets place emphasis of protean phrases; there’s also the usual expanded chord voicings and quirky tempo changes, and while song structures are basically complex verse/chorus in the Rush model, there are enough deviations — usually about two per song — to give atmosphere and create anticipation. Smooth vocals and catchy rhythms give a nod to populism, but it’s unlikely the band thought they were authoring a best seller. It’s more likely that, like Obliveon on Nemesis or Voivod on Negatron, they were simply hoping for a more accessible canvas onto which to splash their brighter ideas, in the camouflage of being an entertainment/leisure product.

Grave – Into the Grave

After enjoying this album during the early days of Death Metal, I set it aside for about a dozen years. I don’t know why I set it aside. I know why I picked it up: I was curious to see what degree nostalgia played in my enjoyment of music, and why I seem to pathologically forget to mention this band or even think about it. Now I know: this is an album with passion, rhythmic intensity, and utterly boring selection of chords in very similar riffs and very, very similar song constructions. Musically, it’s like Asphyx played a lot faster with Slayer-esque drumming, and almost no deviation from a half-whole interval progression. They do a good job of thematic presentation, but every riff is astoundingly self-evident and without much tonal contrast. True, it’s heavy as hell, but like a bulldozer pushing rocks: after a while the dynamic is dead and you have background noise.

Corpus Christii – The Fire God

The Fire God should consume this CD. It’s entirely coherent, but aims so low that fitting together verse and chorus riffs with a bevvy of hovering keyboard trills should be easy. And it is, and that’s kind of the problem: there’s nothing here you could not find somewhere else in a more articulate form. In addition to being basically bland black metal, this CD also incorporates a lot of heavy metal elements blah blah you know the story by now. Throw in too many ingredients, and the recipe turns to mush. So does this CD. It needs a fire god to give it real passion, but for that that, it will have to pick a direction and try to find songs that can express conclusions of its own voice. Right now, it sounds like a clever recombination of things known from other sources and since I own those, well, why would I listen to this?

Demigod – Let Chaos Prevail

Most people confuse external form with content, because they assume form mirrors function. It does, but the function must come first; if there’s no clear function, we end up with an aggregate of misplaced ideas. That’s what has happened here. Demigod have tried to update their death metal sound with the “modern death metal” (read: deathcore, which is deathy metalcore) style, complete with sweeps and jazzy chugging rhythms, and the result is that they’ve adulterated their music — even while producing at the top of their musical knowledge and technical ability. In this, they are very similar to Cadaver, who did the same thing with Necrosis. The bouncy, jaunty, distraction-oriented nature of rock music and metalcore does not mix with the subtle building of atmosphere out of seemingly unrelated attributes of a stream of riffs; instead, on this CD, Demigod sound like a riff/chorus band who periodically jam on alternate riffs before going back to the safe and repetitive. Clearly they are talented, a lot like Behemoth and better than Meshuggah, but this is written in such a blockhead way that the dumbing-down traps all hopeful bits and intelligent riffs in the amber of a soon-to-be-obsolete style called metalcore.

Death Courier – Necrorgasm

What happens to innovators when the music they produce is not all that exceptional? Like Venom, this Greek band helped establish the aesthetic of death metal. Their music is not bad; it’s just boring. Moderately technical, it shows a nice grasp of basic harmony, and is probably about 50% rock music and 50% death metal. There are plenty of heavy metal riffs. There’s a clear influence on early Darkthrone, especially Goatlord, in some of the bidirectional chord progressions used in riffs. Some might point out similarities to Varathron His Majesty at the Swamp as well and not be inaccurate. But listening to this for a modern death metal listener is kind of painful.

Criterion – The Dominant

I really wanted to like this, but the riffs are too… obvious. Not much other than straightforward riffing like cutting bread, at least harmonically. Rhythmically, there’s more space, but with two glitches: their voice is derived entirely from Deicide “Once Upon the Cross” meets later Morbid Angel, and the organization of these riffs goes nowhere. Songs cycle, then end. Thud. The spirit and intent seems good behind this CD but the result is battering repetition.

Code – Resplendent Grotesque

This is really bad. It’s dramatic gothic rock pretending to be black metal, sort of a fusion between the Dimmu Borgir softer parts and Mardukish harder parts. But at the end of the day, it’s the same ranting style of vocals without much organization, recycled riffs, and lots of noise to hide where there’s no real idea. This is to be avoided if you have musical knowledge or just like quality music.

Angantyr – Haevn

I keep trying to like this band and getting halfway there. It’s very pretty; it’s very repetitive; somewhere in the middle, its direction ends up getting simplified and to my ears, not really deviating from its starting point. However, if you want to swing your willowy limbs to something pleasant and droningly melodic, this will fit the bill. Fit the bill. Fit the bill. Fit the bill.

Diaboli – Mesmerized by Darkness

Resembling Impaled Nazarene’s Ugra-Karma most in its approach, this is pneumatically-driven high speed quasi-melodic black metal with a relentless attack. Like the most extreme hardcore band you can imagine, Diaboli roar into song with verse/chorus riffing interrupted by some transitional “budget riffs” of rhythmic variations on a couple of chords. As a result, like most hardcore, it wears thin after some time. However, there are some great riffs on here and the intensity stays high. This would probably not make a great go-to album, since it lacks the kind of mystic atmosphere Forest Poetry or the aforementioned Ugra-Karma created, but it’s a good rainy day fallback.

End – III

Someone made the perfect generic black metal album: it’s rugged and rough black metal written as if it were “symphonic” metal and the keyboards got accidentally left off. Heavy metal riffs, black metal drums and vocals, sounding a lot like a cross between Absu and later Immortal if you then crossbred that with something really bouncy like Nifelheim. Even if you’re not an orthodox blackmetaller, you can see how this lack of direction leads to a very confused band who basically jam on some really basic stuff and then try to differentiate it however they can. It’s not badly done but there’s no reason to listen to it. Imagine the best SUV ever made, if you hate SUVs.

Behemoth – Evangelion

No matter what anyone says, this is deathcore or metalcore: it’s not put together like death metal. The idea behind death metal is that a string of riffs makes sense in an expanding context. This is totally cyclic, a bit of verse/chorus dressed up with some transitions, and instead of emphasizing a through-composed outlook, it directs itself toward — just like rock ‘n roll — a rhythmic chorus pattern with open chords behind it. The “carnival music” aspect of pasting together disparate riffs and layering them in keyboards to distract us is gone; these are basic heavy metal riffs done “extreme” with high BPM and lots of distortion. Vocals are masked in some odd way that makes them sound like a crowd of laryngitis sufferers demanding their change at a Burger King. It’s fair to mention that Behemoth know their basic music theory and so this holds together well as music; it’s more harmonically coherent and thus easy to listen to than most death metal. However, it conveys mostly a repetition of battering rhythm, put into the minor-key Gothic theatricism that is a kissing cousin to Marilyn Manson, which makes it more suited to the punk/rock crowd who enjoy metalcore because it’s basically rock music with prog-metal riffs.

Detournement – Screaming Response

For a minute, I was thrown back into 1994 when the fresh-voiced, power-pop-infused posi-pop-punk started hitting the shelves. Like all those bands, these guys try really hard to show both how purist punk they are, and how not punk they are, by cutting a ballad like “No Estan Solos” full of soulful appeal but ultimately pretty repetitive. The rest is surging political punk that tries to keep the outrage high but, as in the 1990s, sounded simply like the children of a post-industrial wasteland howling protests at leaders themselves in the grip of forces they cannot control. Both of these tendencies make the pandering and amateurishness come out, but other than that, there’s nothing wrong with this high-energy modern hardcore EP.

Havohej – Man and Jinn

The difference between the indefinable presence of discernible structure, natural forces and emergent properties, and the world as we experience it of visual appearance and seemingly absolute cause/effect linkages that yet are not universal, afflicts this EP both in its triumph and its failure. Its triumph is that by using sampled sounds of nuclear explosions and other droning material sounds, Paul Ledney creates a recording that sounds like avantgarde black metal without blatantly slipping into avantgarde territory. In doing so, he tweaks our noses for accepting the “air conditioner with a drumbeat” style that black metal has become; unfortunately, the failure of this CD is that it does not provide a better artistic and listening experience, only a demonstration of form. Sometimes, I wish Ledney would devote his considerable talents to writing analysis about metal instead of trying to show us sonic evidence for what only a few can perceive anyway.

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Black Sheep Bred in Turbulent Times – On Metal, Hardcore Punk and Industrial

At all times, the function of art is to bring its audience as close to reality as possible, whether that reality is circumscribed to a certain group, in which its particular culture connects the group to a larger living frame, or by looking at that frame directly, not as members of race, nation or even as humans, but as conscious beings wishing to be more aware of the structure of the universe.

In healthy times, art is seen as necessary for the purpose described above. In sick, decadent times, on the other hand, the situation is drastically different. In times that are ruled by delusion and deception, true art is seen as dangerous, albeit the craft that could potentially create true works of art still exist. Such craft, however, doesn’t reach such heights in most cases, and generally the result is as empty as the values of the time the works were created.

In other words: false art is universally preferred and recognized over true art.

Three genres of music were, at least on their origins and their respective better days, not only true to the strict definition of what art is, but were created as a reaction to the present situation. Those genres are hardcore punk, industrial and heavy metal. These initially were the vehicles in which discontented youngsters with artistic talent and a sharper consciousness which allowed them to view the world in a more realistic fashion could pour their ideas and frustration in sonic form. Hardcore punk took a public-friendly style crafted by marketing and deconstructed it, making it more violent, minimalistic and less rigidly enclosed into a singular form. In the same way, industrial took mainstream music, mixed it with electronically generated sounds and turn that combination into a harsh and cold environment which reminded the listener of the monotonous sound of the industrial machinery that defines our times.

Metal was born into the industrial settings of England by taking rock music and injecting a strong dose of fatalism into it, influenced no doubt by the bleak and dehumanizing surroundings that the first metal heroes experienced. With time, the genre made gigantic leaps, evolving into a nihilistic, naturalistic and romantic artform which splitted from the mainstream forms (the “craft”) from which it initially developed.

Consequentially, those three genres of music are the most hated and ridiculed by the majority of people in today’s society. The fight against these was not only limited to finger pointing, but as a process of assimilation in which the spineless crowd filling the pockets of the mainstream music industry attempted to streamline the genres to make them more tame and accessible.

So, as much as there is false and true art, there is also false metal, false punk, and false industrial, with the proportion of true and false having a certain ratio to it. The struggle for each hessian, then, is to know the true from the false, and how? Easy: recognize that only a modest percentage of metal is worthy of your time; skew the rest; don’t listen to hipsters and other social manipulators; listen and buy only the music you most closely connect to; stay away from scenes: most are dens of manipulation in which the social takes precedence over the artistic, and you will waste valuable time listening to the drivel those people will shove down your throat, so you can be either as “open minded” or “elite” as them.

Lastly, remember the golden rule: if something (music, ideas) is hated with an irrational passion, give it a chance. It may probably be worth something. Be brave, and go against the grain, and you will reach for the best.

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