This one came to me as a hand-me-down. A friend wrote it off as a clone of Dunhill London Mixture. Being an intrepid sort, I shoveled it into the pipe and lit up, expecting nothing. Surprise awaited instead: Villiger 1888 Early Day is a Danish take on English tobacco that calms its extremes and leaves a deeply satisfying flavor.
Generally, when we think of “English tobacco,” something like the Dunhill London Mixture comes to mind. But really, English tobacco is a state of mind. It is distinguished from the Danish interpretation of it by its appreciation of the clash of flavors. The Dunhill mixes are spicy, sweet and full-bodied all at once; the Danish interpretation balances the three, so that it is full-bodied with hints of flavor from the spice and sweet without overwhelming. In my inner self, I find this to be a better approach, as it reduces a riotous clash of flavors to a comforting taste that deepens the more it is smoked.
Open opening, the tin emits a thick earthy smell like mulch breathing alongside rich earth. When smoked, the characteristic tang of English tobacco appears at first but muted, then fades to a rich dark chocolate taste tinged with the taste of the air from the deep woods. It burns thoroughly, with thick smoke, and avoids becoming the greasy mess that many English tobaccos become after the initial taste. A satisfying aftertaste remains; it can be smoked either fast, or slowly, but burns roughly the same. A sense of balance pervades this entire blend.
While Villiger will never make headlines — in part for the unfortunate name which sounds like “villager,” a term in English that conveys simplicity and mundanity — this tobacco remains undervalued for those who want a quiet smoke that continually rewards the peripatetic puffer with muted flavor and an absence of the extremities that render trendier pipe tobaccos annoying. This would be a good all-day smoke, on a boat or in a living room, for someone who has worked through the need to define themselves with the radical extremes of external objects, and instead intends only to savor the bounty of life itself.
Besides being on the look out for promising bands and nurture them as the future of metal, there is also a place to examine the living corpses of decadent and useless products release by the emotionally needy and artistically impaired. Sadistic Metal Reviews to put the pretentious wankers, the clueless “experimentalists” and the postmodernist “intellectuals” in their place: in line and ready to be disposed of.
Acrania – Fearless (2015)
Latin jazz deathcore featuring conga breakdowns, sax solos, bass slams, gang chants, tough guy
empowerment lyrics, and At the Gates. This is Elements with ear gauges for those who enjoy the
bongocore of later Sepultura. To improve their future releases, I recommend the band overdose on
artificial opiates cut with chemicals usually found in anti-dandruff shampoos.
Vattnet Viskar – Settler (2015)
Vattnet Viskar are screamo in the same vein as Deafheaven. On Settler they could have attempted to use careful melodies and riff progressions to emotionally convey to the listener the existential nihilism of an ordinary woman attempting to transcend her earthly existence only to be brutally splattered upon the Earth’s surface. Instead they disingenuously pander to a liberal hipster audience for whom Mayhem and Burzum are verboten by pretending to be an acceptable “black metal” band. Major scale tremolo riffs, sludgy hard rock, and hardcore breakdowns are randomly arranged in songs grounded by emotional choruses and vocal hooks. This is not shoegaze; Vattnet Viskar and Deafheaven are as far from My Bloody Valentine as they are from Darkthrone. Post-hardcore with comprehensible screeching as the primary emotional vehicle is screamo. Those who eat this album up and genuinely think it is true black metal are just deluding themselves about progressing beyond their whiny teenage musical tastes.
Gyre – Moirai (2015)
Gyre exploit the misguided nu-metal commercial revival driven by millennial ex frat boys wishing todefend their shitty taste as mall-dwelling tweens. Moirai is a nu-metal album with djent chugging and afew speed metal solos just in case a member of the target audience is the air guitar type. PreventingGyre from achieving financial success with this artistic failure is their lack of name recognitioncompared to Fred Durst and Serj Tankian. Thus Gyre are best advised to run back to the brostep clubs and never return.
Ysengrin – Liber Hermetis (2015)
Arranging simplified, slowed down Megadeth riffs around boring acoustic interludes doesn’t make for effective thrash and doom metal. Claiming to be blackened death metal as you play those riffs through distortion pedals into crappy solid state amps to get a more fuzzy than bestial guitar tone means you fail two more genres. Go listen to Rust in Peace again instead of subjecting yourself to this unnecessary career retrospective.
Nightland – Obsession (2015)
Slaughter of the Soul riffs? Check. Hit people breakdowns? Check. Random songwriting? Check. Metalcore with orchestral fluff played by guys in leather dresses is still metalcore. This time it’s just marketed toward fat Nightwish goths and frilly-shirted Fleshgod Apocalypse fans.
Cult of Fire – मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान (2013)
Here Cult of Fire randomly mix stolen Bathory, Immortal, and Emperor riffs with Abba keyboards and pointless eastern music into a pathetic failure of black metal. This album is yet more proof of how easily the basic compositional requirements of the genre can escape even the most technically accomplished musicians.
Klamm – Ernte (2015)
Blackened folk singalongs played by German hipsters? This music is the result of too much cuddling and too little beatings. Dumb to the point of being exasperating, Klamm tries to fulfill ideological cliches of what both folk and black metal represent. Press stop to leave the beer hall.
Horrendous – Ecdysis (2014)
Steal Heartwork riffs, run them through a Boss HM-2 pedal, and throw in some random Journey to pad out the tracks. Contrary to the title and cover art, this pretentious pseudo-Swedeath fails to shed its melodeaf skin. The only thing this album transcends is listeners’ patience when it assumes they are intellectually disabled by building multiple nu songs from the riffs in one very popular older song called Heartwork. Horrendous prove themselves musically no better than Archenemy and far inferior to them when it comes to musical common sense.
Örök – Übermensch (2015)
Coming from the spiritual-minded ambient “black” metal camp, this self-absorbed music is so ego-centric it somehow manages to be unaware of its stagnancy, vacuity, it’s lack of proposal and direction. As the title indicates, rather than an excellent specimen’s product, this is more of a diva’s self-appraisal. Untermensch.
Dismember – Massive Killing Capacity (1995)
After the commercial success of Entombed’s Wolverine Blues, money-grubbing record labels pressured the rest of the big Swedish death metal bands to pander to the Pantera crowd. Dismember turned down the distortion and gazed back to seventies rockers Kiss and Deep Purple for inspiration. Unfortunately, downtuned and distorted butt rock riffs coming out of JCM 900 heads are still butt rock riffs. A few songs that rip off Dismember’s own prior good work and Metallica’s Orion make this slightly more listenable than the aforementioned Wolverine Blues but do not come close to alleviating this death ‘n’ roll turkey’s massive shitting capacity. This is Highway Star death metal.
Nebiros – VII (2015)
Mellotrons and makeup do not paint your metal black. These overlong songs are structured around
deathcore breakdowns and stolen Gothenburg riffs. This is more Heartwork for subhumans than a Pure Holocaust.
Archaea – Catalyst (2015)
One could say this sounds like Unleashed only if Unleashed were one of those deathcore bands from five years ago with the token female keyboardists. This is a stereotypical blend of polka beats, breakdowns, Gothenburg candy melodies, and keyboard leads. Listening to it makes me want to lay my head down upon the train tracks just so an overweight man in a jumpsuit embroidered with his own name will be forced to power wash my brains off to the sweet voice of Kenny Rogers.
Many of us are fans of last.fm and other services which keep track of listening statistics. These allow me to link up various devices that I use and see what my actual listening patterns are instead of what I think they are. For example, if you asked me for a list of top death metal releases, I can easily name something like this list of the best in each genre. But that is an analytical opinion related to the art and music themselves, not a personal habit, which reflects more the day-to-day utility I find in different albums. Such is the split with Gorguts Obscura, an album I listened to extensively when it came out in accidental defiance of conventional wisdom, but then have not picked up since. Part of the reason is the unreasonably loud production, which makes it — like Sinister Hate and other albums of the “early ProTools era” — difficult to listen to alongside classic albums, and abrasively loud with lost texture of distortion. Another reason is that having heard it three times a day for five years, I may have simply absorbed it entirely. A third might be that while it is admirable as a piece of art, it may not be applicable to much of my life or thought process at this point.
I read Old Disgruntled Bastard‘s article “The postmodern Gorguts” with great interest not just because I enjoy ODB’s writing, but because he has cut into a vital topic: does Obscura belong to the old school death metal legions, or is it of a newer style that we call “modern metal”? Modern metal — comprised of nu-metal, metalcore, tech-death, post-metal and indie-rock — distinguishes itself from the old because it is composed like rock but with metal riffs mixed in among the jazz and prog affectations. The analysis of it as postmodern seems to make sense if one considers later postmodernism. Early postmodernism distrusted meta-narratives and so attempted to create its own based on the subtext, or invisible reality, as an alternative to the public text or consensual token-based narrative of our reality and civilization.
Later postmodernism simplified that to an idea of showing many different angles or perspectives of a topic, like a Pablo Picasso painting, which created a surface level of complexity of ingredients so intense that it reduced the organizing principle or internal complexity of the work to near nothingness. Compare Don Delillo’s White Noise to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (itself highly derivative of Pynchon, that highly derivative of Nabokov and Burroughs) for an example of this in literature.
The public school safe answer when asked about the origins of postmodernism is that it sprang up with Foucault, but someone who traces the history of ideas — and actually writes postmodern fiction — like myself may see the origins instead in an early writing by Fred “Mad Dog” Nietzsche entitled “On Truth and Lies in a Post-Moral Sense,” in which he points out the nihilism of language: tokens work only when people mean the same thing, but people project their own desires into the meaning through the imprecise device of memory, which means that narratives rapidly become deconstructed into manipulation and the only excuse is to discard the old values and definitions, and rebuild from common sense observation of reality.
There are, after all, very few ideas in history, and much as Plato was a watershed, Nietzsche defined the different perspectives in the modern time, but this analysis is too far-reaching to be made in public, least of all on the government dime. I remember talking with Audrey Ewell (Until the Light Takes Us) over this very split and finding myself dismissed as perhaps not knowing the background material, which is very un-postmodern as it affirms an official narrative in defiance of the introspection that leads to analysis of externality by structure and not appearance, a trait shared between Nietzsche and the Romantics that lives on in postmodernism albeit faintly, and only in the important works, excluding the forgettable Mitchell for example. Postmodernism appears in movies by David Lynch and Lars von Trier, specifically the death metal-friendly Melancholia, and even in the theories we tell ourselves about daily life. Discontent with The NarrativeTM abounds, but very few agree on what that narrative is or what is the truth that it conceals, which shows a difficulty of postmodernism: it deconstructs and points vaguely in a new direction, but never finalizes the task, which relegates it to the academic realm of sipping Merlot and watching the world build up tinder for the final carnage.
Having boiled out all of that context to postmodernism as idea, let us look at William Pilgrim’s excellent article. Death Metal Underground tries to provide multiple perspectives — in the postmodern sense — on any topic, but diverges from the postmodern narrative by affirming that reality itself is truth, and we can approximate that truth, so we must undertake the almost never undertaken second part of the process which is through reasoned debate to then find answers. People love the idea of multiple perspectives, because it means that since nothing is true, they can do whatever they want and that “feels” good to the forlorn or under-confident soul. They are less enthusiastic about boiling down the data found and constructing from it an assessment of truthfulness. The article contains two essential nodal points, the first of which is the definition of postmodernism:
…a school of thought that attempts to reject overarching structural meaning and belief in greater narratives. To the post-modern mind, existence and experience consist of pluralities, splintered into fiercely individualistic cells prone to subjective rule, and inimical to any attempt at establishing a universal system of knowledge. Under this philosophy, adherence to a common-law guidebook serving as a framework for value judgments would amount to giving tacit approval to an authoritarian scheme of things.
This sounds surprisingly like one of my favorite definitions, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy definition of “nihilism”:
Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated…By the late 20th century, “nihilism” had assumed two different castes. In one form, “nihilist” is used to characterize the postmodern person, a dehumanized conformist, alienated, indifferent, and baffled, directing psychological energy into hedonistic narcissism or into a deep ressentiment that often explodes in violence…In contrast to the efforts to overcome nihilism noted above is the uniquely postmodern response associated with the current antifoundationalists….French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard characterizes postmodernism as an “incredulity toward metanarratives,” those all-embracing foundations that we have relied on to make sense of the world. This extreme skepticism has undermined intellectual and moral hierarchies and made “truth” claims, transcendental or transcultural, problematic. Postmodern antifoundationalists, paradoxically grounded in relativism, dismiss knowledge as relational and “truth” as transitory, genuine only until something more palatable replaces it (reminiscent of William James’ notion of “cash value”). The critic Jacques Derrida, for example, asserts that one can never be sure that what one knows corresponds with what is.
Much of interest stands out here starting with caste. Alan Pratt seems to see the two interpretations of nihilism as reflecting degrees of abstraction. On one level, people say that life has no inherent meaning — that is the correct short form translation of what he says above — and translate that into dissipation; on the other, they see this as an opportunity to escape the dead definitions of a dying civilization and re-evaluate all that is known and how it is seen as important; in other words, to go back to Nietzsche and his Romantic-tinged apocalyptic renewal.
This also introduces the fundamental problem of modern philosophy, which it tries to handle through grammars of different fields of study, consisting of the coherence/correspondence split. A sentence can be completely grammatical and parse-able but contain no meaning because it imitates outward form but refers to nothing and resembles nothing found in reality. “A = x; if A > x, then the world ends” is entirely sensible as an expression, yet gives no information and relates to nothing. Like Nietzsche, most postmodern philosophers attack language, but unlike Nietzsche, they seek to find ways around language where Nietzsche’s point was the more flexible idea that language, logic and other forms of communication and truth-assessment are dependent on those who wield them, their intelligence, honest and intent; in other words, as he said, “There are no truths, only interpretations.”
This nihilism — which sounds a lot like postmodernism itself — distrusts not just a narrative, but the idea that there can be a narrative, or in other words one explanation of reality and how to deal with it that applies to all people. This translates to a distrust of the inherent or innate, such as the idea of “writing on the wall” or any other kind of definitive sign that communicates to all people. In other words, reality is out there, and all of our access to it comes through interpretations; these vary in value, and communication between them occurs through reality, so is subject to the same weakness. This means that there is no single symbolic or token communication which can be said to be innately true, and since the world itself issues forth no data in symbolic form, “truth” is a property of human minds and dependent on the quality, discipline and application of those minds, and is not shared among humanity collectively.
This applies less to the idea of a narrative within, say, a death metal album, that to the idea of a narrative describing our world and universal values to address it. However, individual interpretations can more closely approximate an understanding of reality, even if they cannot be communicated because communication depends on symbolic parity between all parties, which in turn depends on the ability to understand those symbols in roughly the same way. In ancient times, that viewpoint was called “esotericism” because it suggested that reality revealed its truths to those who were ready for them, with both a sense of knowledge being cumulative and not open to all people. A genius or highly talented person sees a different truth than others, thus this truth is localized to that person, and cannot be shared by the act of encoding it in symbols and speaking or writing them to others.
Taking this path through postmodern reveals that while postmodernism “flouts conventions”, as the article states, flouting conventions is not the total of postmodernism; it is one attribute, and it occurs not in and of itself but for the sake of undermining the narrative. This brings us to the core of Pilgrim’s analysis of Obscura:
In its abundant jagged outcroppings and in its constant search for the next unorthodox detour, Obscura shortchanges the simple truth that holds up metal and indeed all ‘essential’ music, that of relating an idea through sound.
I will simplify this in a grotesque but accurate way: tail wags dog. Instead of technique being used as a means of expressing an idea, the technique becomes the goal and the idea is filled in afterwards to unite the different technical parts. This common criticism of metal rings true in almost all disorganized works because the band wrote a bunch of riffs, adjusted rhythm like a big paper bag to fit them all together, and then called it a “song” despite having nothing in common between its parts, and thus no emergent atmosphere or communication which makes the whole more than the sum of the parts. This leaves us with the criticism of Obscura as failing to maintain a narrative, and whether this is related to the postmodern distrust of narratives, which itself could constitute a narrative. We could create a thesis of history describing humanity as a successive series of escapes from previously limiting narratives to new ones, but that then portrays postmodernism entirely as a form of deconstruction, which while compatible with the notion of extreme skepticism fails to capture the Nietzschean notion of “re-evaluation of all values” which is the second half of the postmodern process: (1) deconstruct and (2) reconstruct, from reality (correspondence) and not internal grammars (coherence).
The only remaining question is to analyze the music itself and see if its parts in fact associate in some way as to make a meaningful whole, which is the question here; postmodernism has served as a useful filter for introduction but not really a guide to how to do this. We are back to using the same compositional analysis that would apply to any death metal release, or any through-composed music.
Specifically, Pilgrim identifies the lack of a melodic or structural center:
Conventional melody is used not as the driving force behind the songs heard on this album, but as ballast to the band’s almost painful need to expand the template of extreme metal prevalent till then.
At this point my own narrative must switch to the incredibly general in lieu of analyzing each song. My take on this album is that Gorguts wrote an album in the style of The Erosion of Sanity and then, possibly through the work of Steve Hurdle, added strong melodic continuity. Then, they chopped it and re-arranged it so that riffs introduced themselves both in “backward” order of distilling from more texturally complex to most melodically clear, and arranged them so that the melody was introduced in a pattern which broke up its normal flow in order to introduce pieces in a sequence that created another emotional impression, then assembling it from its conclusion for the final part of the song. This seems to me both not the tail wags dog approach, but also a use of technique over composition, but in this case it was effective because the music was already composed and was modified with an additional layer of complexity and perhaps, some anticipatory contrarianism, in order to make its labyrinthine journey of fragmentary melodies into more of a puzzle assembled in the mind of the listener, not unlike how postmodern novels like Naked Lunch separated a story into vignettes and multiple character/setting groups in order to disguise it and force the reader to assemble it in the abstract, before repeating it in a finale in more concrete form.
However, it seems to me that the core of Pilgrim’s essay is his listing of seven attributes of metal, and that perhaps his intent is to use Gorguts and postmodernism as a point to speak about metal as both having postmodern attributes, and opposing postmodernism by asserting a narrative construction of its own. In this, metal may be a nihilistic exception to the norm of postmodernism, in that while it distrusts the contemporary narrative, and negates the idea of inherent truth/knowledge/communication, it asserts that it can portray reality in a fragment in such a way that others can appreciate it. Regarding the charges of amateurism, Pilgrim makes some solid points. The fixation on iconoclasm and paradigm-inversion, which itself strengthens a narrative by the fact that exceptions tend to prove the rule, and deliberately “whacky” permutations of arrangement draw skepticism, and deservedly so. The third possibility offered by this author is that like most works of art, parts of Obscura are sincere and insightful, and other parts are bullshit designed “outward in,” or from appearance to core, meaning that they communicate little or were modified to express something convenient after the fact. If taken as a whole however, the album minimizes these parts by fitting them within other songs that attract less trivial attention. Where Pilgrim seems proven right to me is through recent Gorguts output which emphasizes mysticism of the trivial as a means of enhancing the self-estimation of its listeners, much as Opeth and Meshuggah built a cottage industry around making simple music seem complex to attract low self-esteem fans who want bragging and pretense rights over their friends; where he falls short is that From Wisdom To Hate, while a more rushed and uneven album, further develops the techniques on Obscura.
Scandinavian Tobacco Group sells more pipe tobacco than any other firm on earth, and by repute their Lane Limited 1Q variety sells more than any other. It is easy to see why: this mellow blend leaves a warm vanilla smell in the room, burns slowly and tastes sweet. Almost no one will object to it; most people will agree that it, indeed, is pipe tobacco and thinking no further than that, will enjoy it because it has an inoffensive and easily liked flavor and strikes no dischordant notes. The argument that this tobacco should be sold with all new pipes is a solid one not for the above reasons but because it represents a perfect middle of the road plus extra sugar, and it teaches us what to like — and to what to dislike.
As the helpful introduction to pipe tobacco page at STG explains, pipe tobacco comes from many varieties and pseudo-varieties of the same plant. Varieties consist of genetically separated members of the family, and pseudo-varieties rely on differences in cultivation, seasoning and curing to create different flavors. 1Q comes from the aromatic family, combining Virginia and oriental varieties with vanilla flavoring, for a low-to-medium nicotine dose and extremely sweet, mellow flavor with excellent “room note” or the smell left behind after smoking. The latter part is clearly true; for a mix that wives and coworkers will not mind and in fact enjoy, like a non-dramatic incense, 1Q fills the role.
On the downside, this is the Big Mac of tobacco. Low in nicotine, it is also low in strong flavors, which means that vanilla takes over from the tobacco frequently. It has some bite, mainly because its optimal burning speed is very slow. It is meant to be sipped all day like a hip flask, and yet often pipe smoking varies with the speed of conversation or intensity of thought, so this seems like a poor design idea. It delivers the classic barbershop tobacco smell and is almost impossible to screw up, being resistant to long storage periods as well as inept packing and burning, but the consequence is a character undivinable because it represents every trait of tobacco balancing every other, then obscured by the aforementioned vanilla flavoring.
The average smoker can burn this all day, in part because the nicotine and burn speed are so low that it is more like staying in a room where someone else is smoking a pipe. While it is clearly well-executed by competent people, it also loses character and connection to the nicotiana itself, and fits into that category of neither hating it nor loving it, and only regretting its loss in the absence of other tobaccos. The popularity of this tobacco fits mainly within the nexus between social inoffensiveness and personal caving to the convenient, in this case a sweet vanilla taste, like most human evils. At the same time, it is enjoyable if the low nicotine content and sweetened mass-produkt nature does not alienate you.
Playing in the style of NWOBHM bands with harsh vocals (aka “melodeath”), Dark Tranquility have carved a name for themselves on the mainstream fringes of metal among the sensitive fans that look for a mixture of melody, polished production and a semblance of aggressiveness.
Dark Tranquility is coming back this year and have released a first video for their new single, “The Science of Noise”.
Combining rough and rowdy energetic chaos music with the type of black metal staging and melody that proved effective on the first two Gorgoroth and Burzum albums, No God Only Pain could properly be described as a black metal-influenced attempt to create an atmospheric genre out of the fusion between underground metal and a hardcore punk take on more roadhouse material like Motorhead. No God Only Pain retains the gravitas of the underground while giving it the energy and flexibility of the wider metal world, using the black metal theatrical-style song structures to introduce a mixture of speed, death, punk and heavy metal riffs.
No God Only Pain start their songs with a simple progression, usually in a minor melodic scale, and build onto it with texture of drums, bass and vocals and through the use of similar riffs in opposition, forcing the progression to mutate into different forms of the same riff. Eventually the song reaches a point of conflict, and then launches off in another direction, eventually bringing it to culmination and returning to the original theme. Riffs are noisy and simple but widely varied within their chosen styles and appropriate to each part of the song, without the randomness that 99% of metal bands seem to adore intruding; the sensibility of this album emphasizes continuity through conflict, and this comes out songs that alternate between immensely gratifying dark sounds and energetic droning counter-themes.
It sells short Joy of Suffering to refer to it as black metal, as it is more like a thematically-nuanced form of doom metal sped up to Motorhead speeds with the aggression of GBH. Each song has a powerful melodic hook and yet never shirks on the sawing high-intensity riffs, which propel the song forward so that it may continue to be both simple and variegated. Bonus cover of the Ramones “Pet Semetary” shows this style applied to familiar pop-punk and in the process making it more vicious. As metal searches for new outlets, this style may help grease the wheels by escaping expectations and unleashing a wider metal style to absorb the cult and hard-rocking impulses alike, forcing them to forge a voice worthy of the darkness in metal.
Playing a mixture between the primitive South American black metal of Sarcofago, the unrelenting and mindlessly simplistic assault that borders on comedy of Marduk and something of its own, Deiphago’s Into the Eye of Satan is both a highlight and representation of half-cooked modern nostalgia metal. The references to the influences are pretty clear for someone to see and even though Deiphago escapes them and proposes something of their own, the sections in which we hear the older voices are two transparent. Rather than an integration of influences, we hear quotes to other composers in the midst of Deiphago’s maddened ramblings.
These raptures proper of a madman that Into the Eye of Satan exposes us to are as endearing as they are nonsensical. It makes one think of the epileptic attacks that Colombian’s Parabellum subjected the listener to. The difference is that the Latin American savant band actually produced coherent music within the wild and often disorienting music that nonetheless had a clear large-scale plan. Deiphago on the other hand attacks the listener with pure chaos, subjecting it to passages that border on noise improvisation and structures that appear to consist of haphazardly placed extreme-sounding sections. The theme here is chaos, the destruction of music and ideas themselves while the picture is not completely given up on. While not incurring in the sin of trying to become atmosphere itself nor becoming self-referential symbols, Into the Eye of Satan sadly still falls short of a year’s highlight due to what I perceive to be compositional laziness and/or lack of controlling musical notions in spite of a solid artistic vision.
As mentioned in our first article on the topic, the “first album” from Morbid Angel remains a vague category because the band recorded two first albums, each given a name starting with the letter A which fits into the alphabetical sequence to which their albums have conformed to this day. We took a few moments to speak to original drummer/vocalist Mike Browning (Nocturnus, After Death) about Abominations of Desolation versus Altars of Madness as the true first album of this essential band…
You were one of the original players on Morbid Angel’s Abominations of Desolation (referred to as AOD), which was released before most of the publicly acknowledged death metal classics. What was the band lineup for AOD? How does it feel to have participated in such a historic and musically intense recording?
The line-up on the AOD album was:
Mike Browning -‐ drums and vocals
Trey Azagthoth -‐ guitar
Richard Brunelle -‐ guitar
John Ortega -‐ bass
At the time back in 1986 everything was just still called metal and it didn’t matter if you were more on the death or power metal side, it was still all considered Metal and the Metal crowd was unified and everyone got along for the most part, so to us back then we were just recording another new metal album and we weren’t concerned with being the fastest or the heaviest, we just did our own thing and kept it as original as possible. Back then the main thing was to be real and not fake in what we were doing.
Was it intended to be the first Morbid Angel album? How do you know? Was this fact …inconvenient… for anyone?
It still amazes me that this is even questionable, but here is the thing, we were offered a RECORD CONTRACT to record an ALBUM under the name MORBID ANGEL by Goreque Records, a label owned by David Vincent and his partner Mark Anderson. We signed the contract and Bill Metoyer of Metal Blade producer/engineer that recorded and mixed more albums than I can even think of, was hired to engineer the album.
So Goreque Records rented us a UHaul truck and we packed up our gear and went to a studio in Charlotte, North Carolina. We were furnished with hotel rooms and I met David Vincent and Mark Anderson for the first time face to face and the next day we started to record the album, after about 5 or 6 days there we were finished with the recording and David Vincent sent all of us but Trey back to Tampa and kept Trey there by himself for the mixdown, little did the rest of us know that the whole time David Vincent was really brainwashing Trey and telling him how bad the album was and that he should quit the band and come join his band. When Trey came back from the mixing, he acted like a completely different person and everything went downhill from there.
What was the reaction to its release at the time (1986) and five years later in 1991?
Well that is the thing, the album never got released because I ended up catching Trey with my girlfriend and I beat him up for it and that was the end of me being in Morbid Angel because Trey and Richard moved from Tampa to Charlotte and did get in a band with David and his drummer Wayne Hartsell. I know that John Ortega had a copy of a rough mix that we had at the point that we all left to go back to Tampa, so when Trey got back he said that David Vincent told him that the bass playing was so bad on the album that we had to fire John Ortega if we wanted the album to still come out on his label and replace him with Sterling Scarborough, we didn’t even know who Sterling was, but again it was David’s idea for us to replace Johnny with Sterling, so Trey did it and the band only lasted a couple months once this happened.
When [AOD] came out in 1991 I think it confused a lot of people as to what it was because there was no information or pictures as to who was actually playing on the album, except for a couple of lines in the front right corner of the cover that said it was AN ALBUM that was recorded in 1986, but never released, so even on the Earache version it says that it was an unreleased album, not a demo, it just also didn’t give any info on who was on it!
When did Morbid Angel decide to record Altars of Madness (referred to as AOM), and what were the changes between songs on that album and AOD?
I guess about two years later, so they had two years to actually work on most of those same songs and make them tighter and faster, they only changed a few words here and there to most of them and a lot of the drum parts were similar only faster.
When Earache released AOD, did they make any changes to the original recording?
I really don’t think they did, of course it never really got released back in 1986, so there is nothing to compare it to except the rough mix that John Ortega had and released as a bootleg.
Who is Sterling von Scarborough?
John Sterling Scarborough was his real name, but he went by Sterling Von Scarborough. He was a bass player from Atlanta that had a band called Incubus and David Vincent knew him and told Trey that we had to replace John Ortega, so he recommended Sterling and so Sterling came to Tampa and tried out for us and became our bass player. He was never on the AOD recording and he joined the band after we recorded the AOD album. We only did one live show with him at a place called The Volley Club in 1986 and Ammon (now Deicide) opened for us that night. Unfortunately that show was never recorded and it was the last show I ever played with Morbid Angel as well.
Why do you think Earache released AOD in 1991, five years after it was originally recorded? Why do you think they chose to claim AOM as the first album instead of AOD?
From what I heard was that they released AOD in 1991 to stop all the bootleg versions of it that were being made, from that one tape that Ortega had, all the bootlegs of it were made from that, so generation after generation they got sounding worse and worse. Earache and David and Trey made a deal to release the AOD album because David had the master reels, so he sold them to Earache and they gave Trey some money as well and they released it to stop the bootlegging.
Funny thing was I was on Earache Records at the time in Nocturnus and they never even told me that they were putting it out, I didn’t even find out about it until after it was already out and in the stores. That album has, guitar, bass, drums and vocals and I am doing 2 of those 4 things and I was never even told that it was gonna be released!
Did Morbid Angel take a different compositional (choice of notes, not production or vocals) direction with AOM versus AOD? Why did they do that? What did the original direction offer that the new one did not?
Well it was a couple years later that they had quite a bit of time to work on those songs and a few more and with everything but the guitar being new, of course it was going to have a new and different sound, especially when you change vocalists. And if you notice, David tries to sing a lot more like me, but he gave that up and went for a completely different style on Blessed Are The Sick. They also had a big budget and recorded the album in Morrisound which is a studio known for Metal, that studio that we recorded AOD in was actually some kind of a country music recording studio, so the guys that ran that place had never even had any type of metal band even in there before, so of course you are gonna have a huge difference in the production because of those things alone.
Rumor has it that you formed a band named “Ice” with Trey Azagthoth, pre-Morbid Angel. Wow… a moment in death metal history! What did you want to do with that band, and what was inspiring you at that moment?
Trey and I met in high school back in 1981 and I even remember his mom buying him his first guitar, a wood colored Gibson SG and we started jamming together in my mom’s back room of my house, so we put a little high school band together and even played the high school talent show. It was literally the beginning of what would become Morbid Angel.
I find that musical “inspiration” extends beyond other albums, but includes them. Were there any non‐musical experiences, books, ideas, plays, movies, thoughts, etc. that influenced you, and how did they parallel what you found in the music that influenced you?
Both Trey and I were into the occult, so when he moved into my area of Tampa and started going to school at my school and we met and started talking about what we were both into and we both were musicians that liked the occult and most especially we were both into a book called The Necronomicon and we really believed every bit of that book was true and real, so we decide to put a band together that was based on music that would please these Sumerian Gods that were in The Necronomicon. We were totally serious about what we were doing and the whole purpose of the band was to make music that would bring forth these Ancient Ones back to the Earth.
Did you and other members of Morbid Angel meet in high school, as is the rumor? Where was that? What was it like (hell?) and how did that help you bond?
It was only Trey and I as far as that ended up in Morbid Angel that knew each other in high school. Morbid Angel itself started around 1984 with me, Trey and Dallas Ward on bass.
The High School we went to was called HB Plant High school and it still is in South Tampa, there was an area where all the cool cigarette smokers and hippy type people hung out at the high school called The Alley and everyone would hang out there before school and at lunch and we met there and would always talk about music and The Necronomicon.
As “Ice,” what kind of material did you play? What songs did you cover? How did they mold your style? What was your practice schedule like? Did this influence how Morbid Angel did things later?
We really only played cover songs at first, like Judas Priest and Scorpions and Black Sabbath, because there was no Slayer or Celtic Frost or even Hellhammer yet back then. We did start messing around with some original stuff, but when I graduated from high school, Trey moved again at that time to the North end of Tampa, so for probably a good 6 months I didn’t even see him, so I started jamming with some other guys playing metal covers and Trey met Dallas and Charles, a singer and they had a drummer that was older than all of them and he lived in another town north of Tampa and he only came into town on some weekends to jam with them, so when I started talking to Trey again I decided to quit the cover band and start playing with Trey and these new guys Dallas and Charles and they already had a name for the band and it was called Death Watch. The singer got arrested and went to jail, so that is when we became a three-piece and Dallas was singing and we called the band Heretic, but we quickly found out that there was already another Heretic, so that’s when we finally became Morbid Angel.
How do you conceptualize death metal? Was progressive rock an influence? What about classical or jazz?
I don’t really think most of the music I have done was only considered to be death metal, because it had a lot of different elements to it, especially with Nocturnus. But I would say that death metal is a very heavy, fast and aggressive type of music with lyrics mainly focused on death, gore and a lot of anti-Christian themes. For me progressive rock has always been an influence, I really liked Rush when I was in high school and they were about as progressive as you could get back then. I also liked classical because I had been in the school band, from grades 6-‐10 playing percussion, so I learned to play all kinds of percussion like tympanis and bells playing classical and marching band music. I never really got into the jazz style of music, although I wish I had now, because jazz has some of the most amazing drummers and really off timing drum parts.
Your musical style is both highly proficient and idiosyncratic. How did you learn to play? What deepened your understanding of music? How important was the rising death metal scene in changing how you understood music?
It started even before that though because my mom had a 70s rock band that she sang for and they used to practice in the same back room that Trey and I ended up practicing in and I was only about 9 or 10, so I used to sit back there and watch them rehearse and I always liked watching the drummer play the most, so when they offered band when I got in 6th grade I wanted to take the drums of course!
Playing that style of music like marching band and classical stuff and also seeing my mom play in a band really gave me the early understanding of what it was like to play music and be in a band. I was into bands like Led Zeppelin and Styx when I first started and then I got into heavier stuff like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and then Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and from there I discovered Slayer, Venom Mercyful Fate, Hellhammer and I wanted to be in a band like that, but I also wanted to be different, I have never been into copying anyones style and being like someone else, so I guess why even today I still kind of just do my own thing whether it makes money or not has never been a concern to me, I only play music because I get enjoyment out of it and if other people like what I do, then that is awesome to me!
How was AOD recorded? It sounds rough but preserves the texture of the instruments, instead of trading detail for loudness and polished sound like AOM. What made you choose to record it this way?
Back when we recorded AOD in 1986, we really didn’t know much about recording or what equipment was best for recording, so even though we went into a real professional 24 track studio, we still weren’t that prepared to do a well polished album. I had only been singing a couple months and some of the songs were just put together and we were also under a time constraint because we were in another state recording in an unfamiliar place and we only had so much studio time to get it all done.
If we had better equipment and more knowledge on recording, it probably would have sounded much better, but we were just a bunch of crazy kids with a record contract! I was also never included in the mixdown of the music, so all I got to hear was pretty much the raw unmixed tracks until Trey came back with the album mixed and finished. At least the album has a certain energy to it that was still able to come through, even with all the problems that we did have.
Can you tell us about your current projects, such as (but not limited to!) Afer Death 666? How are these efforts different from typical death metal, AOD and AOM? If people want to find out more about what you’re up to these days, where should they go?
Right now I have 2 bands with the same members in both bands, one is Nocturnus AD, which is a continuation of what I wanted to do with Nocturnus after we recorded The Key in 1990, it is much more technical sci-fi stuff than what is on AOD and it has keyboards and it is tuned in E-flat which is what Nocturnus was tuned in back in 1987‐1992 and the other band is just called After Death and as I mentioned it does have the same members, but After Death is a little heavier on the occult side of things and the music is less technical and more atmospheric and tuned in D.
The thing I keep up with most is my Facebook page, which is just under Mike Browning and it has the most up to date info on it, but we also have Facebook pages for Nocturnus AD and After Death and we also have a website www.afterdeath666.com , which has info for both bands on the site.
Skillfully bringing together doom/death, modern atmospheric and war metal styles, Unorthodox Equilibrium is more than a fitting name for describing the musical approach used in this album. Bands playing in any of the aforementioned styles have typically fallen prey to different misconceptions. Some have failed by attempting to adopt an orthodox position simplified to the precept that genre cliches guide songwriting and that the result will be good if it “feels good”. Others have taken a route that attempts to bring more original ideas into the mix but whose ultimate goal is still that each section gives them a certain feeling, an “atmospheric/ambient” effect. We can summarize the cause of these blunders by saying that their approach has been too pleasure-oriented.
In Unorthodox Equilibrium we can hear familiar voices bearing the mark of Worship in Last Tape Before Doomsday, Disembowelment (I refuse to follow ridiculous indications as to what letters should be written in uppercase format) in Transcendence into the Peripheral and Esoteric in Paragon of Dissonance. Unlike them, though, Shroud of the Heretic only slightly avoids falling into complacency with the immediate effect of their arrangements and instead channels these as methods used measuredly. The band manages to promote a sense of movement in each section while maintaining atmosphere without depending on stagnating in the harmony within one section or getting anchored to one kind of texture or intensity level for too long. This makes the album an incredibly varied experience within the non-restrictive but focused confines of a florid and eloquently coherent language.
Independently of whether this was a conscious decision or not, the heterodox and non-monolithic composition route taken by Shroud of the Heretic avoids this atmospheric metal trap and represents an excellent indicator of an artistically healthy direction for this subgenre of metal.
German metalcore band Dew-Scented will release their tenth album, “Intermination,” on June 30 in North America via Prosthetic Records.
Vocalist Leif Jensen says,
‘Affect Gravity‘ is probably a bit of an unusual track for Dew-Scented and not only because of the talkbox at the beginning. It’s got quite some melodic riffing and a very dark twist, but it’s always dynamic and heavy. It turned out to be one of my personal faves on the album and I look forward to playing it live too!
Drummer Koen Herfst added,
I tried to really emphasize the aggressiveness of the song by playing pretty much straightforward and really loud in the parts that ask for it. I love the way the toms turned out in the mix, which makes the parts that lead into the verses really heavy. Halfway through the song I do a groove inspired by Derek Roddy, which is basically a blast-beat on my second snare combined with a back beat on my main snare. After that I do a really heavy and basic groove which breaks things open in the guitar solo.