Horgkomostropus – Lúgubre Resurrección (1995)

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Formed in 1991, Horgkomostropus was a death metal band hailing from the unlikely land of Honduras, in Central America. Unlike virtually every other band coming from that the area, this band actually proposes something of other own.  This music is not only several pegs above the vast majority of music in Central America, but it is also, in my view,  a strong contender in the death metal world of the 1990s. That is not to say I would place Horgkomostropus besides a Morbid Angel, but perhaps above a Demigod and below the Amorphis of The Karelian Isthmus in terms of its artistic (merit in composition, in part) weight.

The style displayed on Lúgubre Resurrección (or Ingubre Resurrecciòn?) is akin to that blood-dripped death metal that slurs in a development of motifs thematically related and played through tremolo passages and power chord statements. Perhaps best described as an original and distinct-sounding follower of the styles in which Paul Ledney excels, this album strikes one as something that Gorguts’ Considered Dead could have been if it were not only the tongue-in-cheek musically-compelling banner of death metal it is.

There is something to be said about the place and time in which this work arose and what we can infer from it in terms of the band’s seriousness, commitment and perhaps its correlation with talent. During the 1990s, Central America was practically without the means to professionally produce music in general, let alone publish metal. Any metal band that would remotely hope to publish its music had to reach out for Mexico. To someone from a developed nation, this may seem like no big deal, but considering the Internet-less “Third World” of the time, this is cannot be taken lightly. In such inhospitable climate, how did a Central American death metal band get their demo/album out there? I am guessing this people had to be in the “mailing” circuit of the underground.

The band was able to get their first demo,  Lúgubre Resurrección, out through Line America Productions, from Mexico. Needless to say, in these conditions, the commitment of the band against adversity and the complete lack of any possible material compensation reflects a disinterested sacrifice for art with a deeper meaning. Furthermore, given the limited resources and the difficulty of communication and publishing for death metal at the time and specially in the geographical area, the degree of talent needed to catch the attention of one of these very small labels that only supported very specific acts with equally uncommon mentality and faculties was by no means something to be overlooked.

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Horgkomostropus’ Lúgubre Resurrección is an esoteric work that in later projects by the band leader and lead guitar player, Fernando Sánchez, would turn to purposefully veiled occult affairs like Aria Sepvlchralia. As has been proposed before, a clear theme or belief that a project holds as its ideal usually lights a candle in the dungeons of the mind that one has to walk in in order to bring together a composition. Most bands we hear out there are zombies who are still wandering there, too deluded and trapped in their own minds to even recognize their condition.

Lúgubre Resurrección shines forth dark light in a mixture of demonic-bent death metal with a black mentality influenced by the local styles of street-dirt heavy metal that prevailed in Latin America at the time, themselves a pure expression of the violent, desperate and decadent situation that was being ignored by Christian wishful-thinkers and hypocritical morals-mongers. Beautifully perverse thematic development occurs in these songs with such a strict adherence to a clear motif that it allows for a greater flexibility in the textures of the riffs, which are always kept in the style of early blasphemous death metal that emphasized a dirty sound, not on the level of production only, but the musical statements themselves: not atonal, but tonal phrases just given the necessary twist for an aura of perversion to be perceived encroaching on everything from above. This is the natural world before us, but there is a supernatural transgression taking place over it.

(P.S. Special thanks to the guy from Metal Honduras blog for keeping a profile and mp3s of the band that would allow me to discover this, if I may so myself — a recently converted and now fervent fanatic, invaluable gem. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Metal-Honduras/217812037969)

Horgkomostropus MP3s

The following is

An orchestral piece based on “Lúgubre Resurrección”, originally written by S:E:Nctvm for Horgkomostropus (Death Metal) in 1996.

Performed & Arranged by: S:A:Ph with insight from S:E:Nctvm (2011),

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A Closer Look at Suffocation’s “Pierced From Within”

piercedfromwithin
The title track of Suffocation’s third LP is a very interesting subject of analysis (as much as other excellent songs such as “Depths of Depravity”, “Suspended In Tribulation” or “Brood Of Hatred” from the same album could be) because it is a great example of recurrent motives reused in multiple different forms, of riff (musical ideas) progression and of narrative structure that ends with a climax and a release that brings a satisfying conclusion. The first step before going further is understanding how each idea of this song is crafted around the very simple and overused concept of two intervals a half step away from each other. The song is rather chromatic and has to be looked at with this idea in head.

1
In this case, as I will (try to) demonstrate, the most important interval is the major third, and then the perfect fifths/fourths. From this basis we can establish five constant elements that will be identified throughout the whole analysis.

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  1. Element “a” is the collection of pitches that represent the major third intervals. Suffocation plays a lot with those intervals to create new motives and harmonies. It could also be considered as part of a harmonic minor scale (the last 3 degrees and the tonic).
  2. Same thing applies to element “b” but with the intervals of perfect fifths (and thus fourths), although the relation between the chromatic 5ths/4ths will gain another larger dimension sometimes.
  3. Element “c” is a diminished chord, something we will encounter frequently (Suffocation also uses frequently tritones and augmented fifth chords, especially in the Breeding The Spawn LP).
  4. Element “d” is a precise motive (and not collection) that finds meaning during the development of the song.
  5. Element “e” is just an ascending 3-notes chromatic scale that is used many times to partially conclude motives and phrases. It is of secondary importance.

I am not claiming that Suffocation used those leitmotifs very carefully and consciously like a classical composer would have, but my point is rather to show how, despite the lack of tonal material in the song “Pierced From Within”, unity was achieved between all components and how it creates a great song, structurally.

*From now on all the examples are in the F-clef*

Riff 1

The song starts with a long phrase at a fast tempo (riff 1) that is twice repeated. As shown in the score below, it is a mix of power chords and fast, technical strumming. We can see many manifestations of “a” as well as the repetition of rhythmic cells to create coherence. With its additional time, the last bar helps to generate an effect of oddness and temporal confusion through a more simple and effective way than modern bands trying over-technical rhythms and time signatures. This technique is used a few times in the song as you will see. Some have written the 3/4 as 12/8 but I prefer the former to adequately show rhythmic accents.

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Riff 1 is followed by a short bridge made of an arpeggiated diminished chord (element c) and an augmented fifth chord (constructed upon two major thirds, suggesting “element a”).

4

Riff 2

From this long and complex riff, the music moves on to a generic “br00tal” verse (riff 2) where the vocals enter. However, it still manages to rhythmically catch interest due to the triplets at the end of the phrases.

5

Suffocation used different basic textures (tremolo, then muted power chords) to make both verses different while keeping the same harmonic outline, but this is not much of a big deal since the difference is not very flagrant:

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Riff 3

Between the two verses appears riff 3(a), an intricate “melody” which marks a break for the vocals. This interlude introduces Suffocation’s technique of creating long musical phrases by the juxtaposition of motives that share different conclusions, yet constructed with the same material, as explained below. In addition of this, the different parts of the whole riff shift between “tonalities” or “regions”; where in the first bar the notes revolve around a certain fifth chord, in the next bar this fifth chord will be a semitone lower, hence the “larger” utilisation made of “element b” versus “a”. This is a very common (and cheap) way to make your material sound less repetitive when you are a bad and unoriginal death metal band, but in this song it becomes justified by the fact that the underlying concept of this technique is also used within a single part of a riff (and not only between parts) as the basis to craft multiple different melodic elements (just like the beginning of each bar in riff 3).

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Right after our second verse, the song returns to the riff 3, but only for one bar because Suffocation shifts to a complete variation of it. While all the verses and riff 3a were written in 4/4, Suffocation adds another 4/4 bar after this first one (of riff 3b) and with the help of a drum fill switches to 6/8, once again destabilizing the listener. The ideas of riff 3a are then developed under groups of 6 sixteenth notes and constitute an even more intricate melody. Descending and ascending power chords bring us to an atonal cascade of notes which contains, of course, our previously identified elements rearranged in many ways. Mike Smith contributes to this by adding a lot of unexpected snare accents. Once again, Suffocation added a beat to the last bar to create the same effect as riff 1, but this time it is silent. This stop-start technique will be used a few times and is now an overused element of many technical bands. As usual, the whole riff is repeated with changes at the end to form a different and better transition.

Fun fact: the total of eighth notes comprised within the repetition marks of the riff is 47, a prime number, which proves the total irregularity of the “melody”.

8

Riff 3b, containing less literal repetition, brings us to what I called a “development”, because it is a short section of unique bars. Bar 1 and 4 are similar in concept, and the latter builds tension according to the former that will be released with another break and two violent snare hits. Between this, bar 2 and 3 offer chaotic rhythm where low palm muted chords meet high pitched tremolo notes and artificial harmonics. Notice that bar 1 uses what could be identified as harmonic minor scales, and thus suggesting our “element c” of diminished chords.

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Riff 4

After this, riff 4 comes in as the powerful and savage release of the tension with its unmerciful tremolo phrases. You can see once again the technique of using different conclusions to the motive that starts each bar. On second repeat, the riff stays almost the same but emphasis is put on the phrases’ end with the removal of all instruments but one guitar to play the first beats of each bar, and with the addition of power chords on “conclusions”. The interesting element is right at the end of the riff: element d is heard very fast both times with both techniques. Then, again, the song stops and is followed by a slow, apocalyptic moment.

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Breakdown and return

This moment is what I called (more or less rightfully) the “breakdown”. Now here is the trick: the first phrase of this section is exactly the same “element d” that concluded riff 4 but played way slower with power chords. Suffocation plays once again with textures and creates different accents with the use of palm mutes. And for another time, the last bar of the riff has an additional beat for your daily dose of rhythmic anarchy (or nihilism, as would say a controversial metal reviewer). This last bar present a rising chromatic phrase that we can interpret as developing “element d” and that presents a new 4-notes collection than in the first two bars. If you take those 2 pitches collections, you can notice that they are a major third away from each other (element a). I am not saying this was intentional or not, but I try to point out (coincidental?) links between all parts of the song.

11

The slow breakdown leads us to a sudden fast solo. I won’t analyze it here, but you can find a lot of “scales” constructed with “element a”. Listen also how the guitar sometimes melts with the triplets of riff 2.

The song returns to riff 3a, and then instead of continuing with riff 3b moves on to a new variation of the idea, riff 3c. This time, the riff takes a more urgent turn and creates the final tension, while Mullen cries the last lyrics: “I am your savior/Shapeless to your perception/For I am you/Pierced from within”. You can see how some melodic elements are now harmonized with major thirds. As usual, the second phrase (bars 3-4) uses a different conclusion.

After a repetition with a new ending, this rising tension is interrupted by a suspended chord that brings us to riff 1, played once. The song concludes abruptly before the end of the riff while the last words, “Pierced from within”, are repeated on the last four power chords. I did not talk much about vocals’ rhythm but it is cleverly constructed to fit the different parts of the song, and I am personally fond of how the lyrics are arranged in riff 3b.

Conclusions

As I said earlier, this approach might be over-technical and exaggerated, but the important thing for the reader is to at least understand how the song is well-crafted on every aspect and not entirely a sequence of random ideas. An analysis of a less technical song that contains great development would provide a good counterbalance to this article. Something out of Cianide’s The Dying Truth comes to my mind.

It is sad to think that after this album, Suffocation would never come up with anything on par with their previous material, because they certainly had to potential to improve and create new highly artistic pieces of aggressive and intelligent death metal. I still think their recent (post-reunion) albums are getting better each time and Pinnacle Of Bedlam, despite a terrible production, showed promising signs of great songwriting even though they apparently opted for a more tonal and melodic modern metal-like approach.

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Gawaith Hoggarth TT Ltd. – Coniston Cut Plug (“Unscented”)

tobacco

Flake tobacco has a reputation for being for the more experienced pipe smoker because of its dense and hard-to-light form and the higher tobacco of most of these blends. Tobacco undergoes a process of refinement where it is picked, dried, cased and then cured by a number of methods. Some are fermented; others cooked; still others sun-dried or aged. The many varieties of tobacco come mostly from how the plant is grown, with varying degrees of nutrition and water, and how it is cased — a process where a small amount of flavoring is added — and cured, which also includes topping off with other scents, producing “aromatic” or flavored and scented tobacco. Coniston Cut Plug gets close to the raw tobacco with minimal casing and simple curing during which it is pressed in large blocks and allowed to age. When curing is done, these are sliced and those are somewhat broken up to produce lanky fibers of clumped tobacco leaf. This dense mixture has a reputation for being hard to light, although I have found that if you bend it in the middle and cram it loosely into the pipe with frayed ends pointing upward, two cardboard matches or one solid wood match will get it going. At that point, be ready for the gods of Nicotine. This alkaloid finds praise throughout history for those who mention its intoxicating powers. With Coniston Cut Plug, the gods of Nicotine ride in on a chariot of iron and whip your skull with burning flails. Many of us find this quite agreeable, but others pass along recommendations to smoke this while sitting down and after a full meal as you might feel it in your stomach. Glorious, rich smoke with a natural flavor somewhere between fresh-cut hay and charred wood-bark, Coniston Cut Plug provides a wonderful basis for a smoke that would be recommendable for all except for one horrific glitch: during the curing or casing, someone approaches this tobacco with a giant bucket of soapy rosewater and soaks it thoroughly. This creates a stench of noxious ammoniac rose around the tobacco that is so strong it is ill-advised to keep it in the same room where you sleep, lest it kick off a fit of sneezing. In addition, the rosewater smell permeates through the smoke, ruining an otherwise delightfully savage leaf-burning experience. Some writers speak of “ghosting” of the pipe, where former tobaccos can be detected in subsequent bowls. Coniston Cut Plug summons an entire army of undead zombie rosewater demons who infest the next several bowls, usually toward the end when the drippings ignite and momentarily haunt you again with the stench of decaying soap-slathered roses. If it were not for the rosewater infiltration, many of us would rank this among our favorites. Instead, it goes into the (far) back of the cupboard, where it will wait for a few years to see if the spectral roses will depart.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 06-30-15

sadistic_metal_reviews_-_06-30-15

Music serves a role in our lives: it connects us to truths about life and restores in us a belief in who we can be. Metal in particular either fills the soul with a rage for order, or creates an institutional-strength mental entropy by being disorganized. Bands that lack the guts and brains to write about real things and try instead to imitate what made others successful are doomed to fail, and we separate them from the rest with vicious strokes of the knife. Come for the cruelty, stay for the indignation and resentment, with this week’s Sadistic Metal Reviews

nocturnal_torment_-_they_come_at_night

Nocturnal Torment – They Come At Night

This punk/metal/grind hybrid acquits itself well by attempting to be no more than what it is: punk/grind songs with added death metal riffs, expanding upon a basic rhythm to drive it to detonation. If this band has room to improve, it is in putting the vocals into a support role for guitars and focusing more on continuing momentum rather than interrupting it early. Too much randomness and obvious riffs flesh out this album, but from the sound of things they were adopted to connect different parts in such a way that the vocals could continue their role as narrative organizer (N.O.) of the album. Like the first Bolt Thrower album, They Come At Night combines attributes of classic heavy metal with extreme underground punk hardcore, resulting in an oil-on-water separation at times. Lead guitars emphasize chaos in the way that enjoys bending the seemingly random into coherence just in time to slam into a conclusion, setting as much of the surrounding territory on fire as possible. There is much to like about this release, and a fair amount — but not more than is done right — to improve.

feral_-_for_those_who_live_in_darkness

Feral – For Those Who Live in Darkness

Hopefuls send us their releases, and we murder there. Here hope must die: Feral is cycling Burzum-style riffs over simple song structures with emphasis on vocals to guide it. The vocals, unlike Burzum, forsake nuance for consistency and so quickly kill the mood. Riffs in themselves are not bad, but as assembled, are incoherent. This is painful to listen to for anyone who likes order, pattern or even chaos. It is just repetition of tropes in a slightly new form without the ability to express much but frustration at the four walls of an apartment and the desire to be in a black metal band. The challenge of humanity is to be able to tell the truth when it is unsociable, and that is what I attempt to do here. So much could go right with this release, but the best parts are marooned in a vast sea of disorganization and emulation outward-in of others, which stifles the inner voice. To this musician: go back to the studio, play music you like regardless of what your useless posturing friends say, and then record that. If it comes out as indie rock or folk music, only an idiot would think less of you for staying true to yourself and making something good, rather than this “me too” release.

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Reptilian Death – The Dawn of Consummation and Emergence

More from the Nile camp, Reptilian Death uses the modern death metal sound of vocal-dominated songs with riffing as commentary that integrates intensely with drums to produce the kind of texturing that Meshuggah used, but without the overdominance of technique. To their credit, the band stitch together riffs well to produce tempo and layer changes that provide compelling background, but the focus remains on the vocals and so not only misses the death metal ideal but becomes repetitive in the way that nu-metal was: a chorus dominates, and a verse vocal rhythm backs it up, with instruments filling in the space. While well-executed in this case, that approach combines the worst of brutal death metal with the melodic hooks of indie-metal, resulting in catchy songs with no endurance.

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Imperial Savagery – Imperial Savagery

In the style of new-death bands like Nile, this aggressive band orient themselves around the vocals and keep a rhythm drilling along that pattern while stringing along whatever riffs they can. These riffs show promise, but too often fall into the new-death paradigm of etching out a rhythm instead of a phrase, which results in a lack of coherence. Vocals pick up the slack, but the vocals are probably the least part of any death metal band, and that degrades the staying power of this release. Emphasis on jazz-style off-beat chording works as an interruption sometimes but appears too frequently to be a technique, becoming a trope. Angelcorpse-style charging riffs make up a large part of this album and they generate intensity but it needs to be “caught” by other parts of the song, and those devolve into the not-quite-chaos of relatively straightforward drum-guitar rhythm riff explosions. Chord progressions attempt to escape the ghetto of chromaticism but end up being so similar as to fade into background sound. There is nothing wrong with this release, but it falls short of enough right to have an enduring appeal. This is a shame, since clearly a great deal of fine musicianship went into this release.

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Disordered – Carnal Materialism

This heavy metal/death metal hybrid would be best served by giving up the death metal pretense but keeping the drum attack. Quality guitar work, good melodic hooks and excellent pacing recommend this to the listener but as it falls short of death metal structuring, it ends up sounding empty where it could be more intense by simply opting to be edgy heavy metal. Iron Maiden and other melodic metal influences intrude where they can and are well-applied, but in the context of these songs seem floating in complete absence. As with most bands that have trouble organizing their disparate parts, Disordered rely too much on vocals, which correspondingly become the primary rhythmic hook, which forces guitars into a commentary role as in 70s rock. While nothing here is per se bad, the result does not form enough of a compelling narrative to be anything but background sound, and even then comes across as a hard rock band stranded in the wrong genre trying to make a tighter style work for what is ultimately a looser approach. Many of the tropes in this date back four decades and attempt to intermix with death metal pacing and layering, which just makes them sound ludicrous. This band needs to pick an approach instead of trying to satisfy “everyone.”

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Sepulchral Aura – Demonstrational CD MMVII

Most people misunderstand black metal, especially the musicians after 1994. The point was to make beautiful music that concealed itself in an ugly sound. Most people interpret that as “ugly sound” and then add in quirks, idiosyncrasies and iconoclastic alterations to standard form. The end result reduces music to boredom by using constant interruption of its own process to produce an absence of end result, which ruins the function of music as a conveyance for emotion, understanding or even aesthetic appreciation. What is left is hipsterism and a focus on triviality. While there are some good riffs on this album, every one of the worst albums ever had some good riffs; what makes a great album is the ability to develop riffs in such a way that they reflect thought, reality, or emotion in a way that is meaningful to the audience. This release instead mirrors the confused mind of a modern person, and we do not need music for that, since an abundance of media and personal experience will come our way whether we want it or not. I had high expectations, but found the rule here of “if it’s after ’94, walk with extreme caution” applies on this album. The disorganized mess produces only a sense of emptiness, not the bravery going into emptiness that black metal once rendered.

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Villiger 1888 – Early Day

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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.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 06-20-2015

SMR

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
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

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
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
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
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-
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
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
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
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
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
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-
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.

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Further thoughts on Obscura

gorgutsband

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.

 

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Lane Limited – Lane 1Q

lane_1q_pipe_tobacco

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.

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Dark Tranquility releases new video for “The Science Of Noise”

darktranquility

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”.

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No God Only Pain Joy of Suffering (2015)

no_god_only_pain_-_joy_of_suffering

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.

http://nogodonlypain.bandcamp.com/releases

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