The Swedish grindcore band Carbonized came from an era when metal was still defining itself, and grew up alongside the more intense death metal acts which were putting Sweden on the map. Carbonized remains somewhat less known because the band embraced weirdness and unconventionality in everything it did, which makes for great art but not a conveniently wrapped-up listening experience.
Through three classic albums — For the Security, Disharmonization, and Screaming Machines — Carbonized put its mark on the death metal and grindcore underground by using outrageous technique and converting ideas from other genres into their metal equivalents. While in too “raw” of a form on the Carbonized releases, these ideas were picked up by other bands in more easily digestible forms and thus made their way into the core of those genres.
Luckily someone has bootlegged the Carbonized demos in the grand tradition of underground metal. The three demos and one EP on this CD chronicle the emergence of Carbonized and, as time goes on, its refinement from a fuzzy concept to a clear personality and eventually, such a strong presence that its songwriting is immediately distinctive even when simpler and less polished than what we expect from the albums.
The “Auto-da-Fe” demo from 1989 shows the band as a primitive grindcore/death metal hybrid that leans toward the kind of epic statement that death metal bands made but without much reliance on tremolo strumming. “Re-Carbonized” from 1990 shows the style most will recognize from For the Security, with detuned guitars and recursive-chug riffing among the broad chord progressions played without embellishment in rigid linear rhythms. This gives the music a stark and birds-eye-view character but also places it outside of where death metal was, musically, at the time. This isn’t riff interplay so much as an advanced layering of verse-chorus pairs. Next is No Canonization which shows a messier and more conventional grindcore band that could have been on par with Napalm Death in the same year. A strong inclination to use melody to counter-balance chromatic riffing gives this an expansive feel. Finally, “Demo 3” from 1991 shows us a more confident and technically advanced band who have mixed the techniques of death metal into primitive grind and come up with a melodic but structured and semi-theatrical sound. Its essential character and weirdness shines through, which preserves the esoteric feel of this material.
Probably of interest only to Carbonized fanatics or at least Swedish death metal devotees, Demo Collection reveals facets of this band who shared members with Dismember, Therion and Entombed that had been lost to time. For those of us who think For the Security may be one of grindcore’s lost classics, seeing these demos emerge again is both a treat and an invitation to explore the murky history behind this shadowed movement.
I used to loathe end-of-year lists. They struck me as a pointless chance to advertise what should have been obvious before. Over the years they have risen in my estimation as a way not only to mark the year, but to bring up the gold that gets lost in the chaos of everyday life. And yes, they’re also shopping lists for the metalhead in your life.
This year our list is surprising even to hardened cynics. At a time when metal is bragging up and down the Williamsburg alleys about how “innovative” and “ground-breaking” it is, that novelty turns out to be the remnants of the 1980s: emo, pop punk, shoegaze and indie. The real innovation is as always underground, because to get out of the hive mind one must first remove oneself from participation in normalcy.
Thus what you will find here is not what you will see in either (a) the big-label-financed slick magazines and web sites or (b) the majority of small zines and websites out there. That is because the genre as a whole has shifted from creation towards an idea to emulation of the past, or reaction to the past by trying to adulterate it with outside influences. Neither approach succeeds.
When a reviewer chooses an album, he should pick one that will last in your collection. Your time is limited, as is your money. Thus we look only for works that you can purchase and enjoy over the years, and can return to with a sense of wonder and discovery as new angles and nuances emerge. This standard seems high, so they call us elitists. What we really are is people who love metal and want it to be strengthened by its best, not weakened by accepting its worst.
The following albums are those that merit such a standard:
Argus – Beyond The Martyrs
Rejecting the notion of newness in itself, Argus returns to fundamental influences from the 1980s and makes a band that sounds like a fusion between Mercyful Fate, Iron Maiden and Candlemass. Guitar riffery is designed to be inventive and interesting in its own right but is trimmed down to what fits the function of each song. As a result, these songs “sound like” the classics in more ways than one. They are thoughtful and deliberate, purposeful and driven. Classic heavy metal riffs merge with meandering leads that somehow pull it all together, under the mournful voice of a vocalist who clearly enjoys classic Candlemass both in vocal delivery and sense of melody. See full review / interview.
Autopsy – The Headless Ritual
Autopsy are famous for their contributions to death metal which notably peaked in Mental Funeral where their chaotic tendencies got wrapped up in their sense of atmosphere and produced a dark ambling journey into the subconscious. Of their later works, The Headless Ritual gets close to such a balance although it aims for something more everyday. This is an album that wants to deliver classic death metal thrills, and it does so with moderately paced songs that balance melody and savage chromatic riffing. Chris Reifert’s drumming pirouttes and grapples through vicious tempo changes as riffs unlock a Lament Configuration that is equal parts nostalgia and invention.
Birth A.D. – I Blame You
What happened to real thrash, like DRI and Cryptic Slaughter? In much the same vein as hardcore punk before it, thrash was so intense that it burned out after only four years of real presence. Birth A.D. wisely choose not to “bring it back” but rather to pick up as if thrash were a party and the next day, the hung over participants awaken among the ruins. They’ve sharpened its message, which merged the anarchy of punk with the search for societal purpose of metal, and given its riffs the S.O.D. speed metal infusion without unduly modernizing them. As a result, these two-minute songs hit hard and retreat into the jungle, leaving behind their sardonic lyrics mocking society for being so stupid. When the record stops playing, there is a sense of both having received too much information to process, and a sadness that there isn’t more. See full review.
Black Sabbath – 13
Realizing what Black Sabbath meant to fans not just as a named entity but as a phenomenon, Black Sabbath integrate the sounds of vocalist Ozzy Osbourne’s solo years into their later, more refined music, with citations to Master of Reality as well. The result is a powerful album that is more pop than their original works but, in a time when nu-metal rages on the radio, reclaims heavy metal as having a voice of its own. It also pushes controversy, affirming a presence of God in this world for good or ill at a time when most people want to get polemic one way or the other. A supporting cast of sprawling but hard-hitting songs make this a great immersive lesson and transition from regular rock to metal for new listeners. See full review.
Blitzkrieg – Back From Hell
This band shares members with Satan, who also re-entered the fray with an album of strong tunes. Like Satan, Blitzkrieg know how to simultaneously avoid “changing” for change’s sake (inevitably a lateral move to other contemporarily popular genres) and nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake, making instead an album that fits into their catalogue but doesn’t deny the older, wiser status of its members. These are mostly straightforward songs with melodic choruses and driving, riff-centric verses, plus nimble-fingered and harmonically-aggressive soloing. See full review.
Burzum – Sôl Austan, Mâni Vestan
People said they wanted old Burzum back. The spirit of old Burzum comes back in this ambient album. It’s a bit more hasty and less refined by fanatical attention to detail than his previous works, but it creates the same world, only zoomed forward in time. It is both a practical and imaginative album. In style, it resembles a cross between Tangerine Dream, William Orbit and the Scandinavian folk music of Grieg, Hedningarna or Wardruna. Strongly ritualized, it unfolds like a descent through mythical worlds and finds its own balance. One of the best offerings in this field. See full review / interview.
Centurian – Contra Rationem
For years many of us have wanted this Dutch band to catch a break. They have written several albums of relentlessly pounding, rhythmically intense riffing that somehow doesn’t add up. First, writing the whole album at high speed means that soon it backgrounds itself; second, there was always a lack of melody or song structure to hold it together. Centurian have improved on the latter two and toned down the former to a great degree, such that this is no longer trying to be Krisiun but more like a more Angelcorpse/Fallen Christ approach to Consuming Impulse. The result showcases this band’s dexterity with riffcraft and creates an intense atmosphere of violence. See full review.
Cóndor – Nadia
This entry album by a new band shows a lot of promise in tackling the power metal format and trying to give it the balls of death metal and funeral doom metal. This contemplative, mostly mid-paced album shows a sense of atmosphere as manipulated by riff, in the death metal sense, given a somewhat upward curve and heroic spin in the best tradition of power metal. Although it’s a new act, and still organizing itself, Cóndor shows that life remains in true metal that can be explored by revisiting its motivations. See full review / interview.
Derogatory – Above All Else
In the tradition of Vader, Mortuary and other fast phrasal death metal bands, Derogatory invoke the classic death metal form with an album of nicely interlocking riffs that reveal a basic but distinctive structure beneath each song. This album is not self-consciously “retro” so much as it is using the voice of the older style, and while it doesn’t expand stylistically, it has found a voice of its own. See full review/interview.
Empyrium – Into the Pantheon
Combining funeral doom metal with European folk music creates for Empyrium a fertile style that is showcased here in a retrospective of the best of their career presented in a rare live setting. Expect plenty of use of silence and resonance to build up these songs, which start slowly and then become engaging before evaporating into more esoteric conclusions. While most funeral doom aims to be dark, Empyrium creates an emotional contrast like a Gothic band, with beauty arising from chaos only to be strangled by inevitability and fall again. See full review / interview.
Graveland – Thunderbolts of the Gods
Following up on 2012’s Lord Wind release, Polish/Italian artist Rob Darken unleashes a new work under his black metal brand Graveland. Like the band’s second career-defining Memory and Destiny, this release features Bathory Hammerheart-style guitars which mix speed metal and black metal to produce rhythmic riffing as a backdrop for keyboards and vocals, now featuring also human female vocals and violin. The result is a collision between heavy metal, neofolk and epic movie soundtracks that evokes the glory of the ancient past.
Master – The Witchhunt
Paul Speckmann is a metal institution who has stayed with death metal from its genesis in the early 1980s through the presence. His latest, The Witchhunt, showcases the stable lineup he has used for recent releases but tones down the overall intensity to focus on songwriting. Fast riffs blend together with touches of melody and the classic Speckmann vocal patterns which resemble the struggles of daily life turned up to eleven. Where previous Master works of recent vintage tended to blend together, on this one each song is distinct. See full review / interview.
Profanatica – Thy Kingdom Cum
Taking a hint from Necrovore and intensifying it through technical prowess, Profanatica step back from the longer melodic riffs of Profanatitas de Domonatia and instead write short, cyclic phrases within compact rhythms in the style of the ancient Texas death metal cult. The result is like a primitive album with complexity embedded in it as melodies expand within fixed riff forms, uniting savagery and beauty in the service of blasphemy. As with all Profanatica works, this is experimental to the extreme, but Thy Kingdom Cum ranks among their most listenable releases. See full review /interview.
Rudra – RTA
The Singaporean maniacs return with an album that uses more traditional melodic death metal riffing but retains its rhythmic structure based on speed metal and possibly the Hindu rituals described in its lyrics. As with most Rudra releases, RTA does not aim for the pop song idea of hitting a sweet spot and luring in your ears. It is the construction of an experience, in this case a dark descent that forges a resolve to continue through warfare and a martial stilling of the reckless personality through militant silence of the soul.
Satan – Life Sentence
The rougher edge of NWOBHM that was a kissing cousin to speed metal emerges again in this highly musical album from Satan. Like their groundbreaking early 1980s works which presaged the debut of Metallica and birth of speed metal, Life Sentence features inventive riffs in classic song format in which melodic development in the vocals harmonizes riffs to bring songs to a conclusion. Shy of speed metal mostly because it relies on relatively fixed song format which emphasizes verse-chorus riff pairs, this album nonetheless reveals both the greatness of NWOBHM and its continuing relevance in a time of tuneless songs and random song structure. See full review / interview.
Summoning – Old Mornings Dawn
After black metal fully constituted itself in the early 1990s in Scandinavia, people looked for the next development along these lines. Some went to dark ambient, but others like Summoning and Graveland instead explored longer melodies and more drawn-out, atmospheric songs. Summoning take a medieval and Tolkien-inspired approach in contrast to the more martial outlook of other bands, and produce as a result immersive waves of melody that evoke a more organic society. With Old Mornings Dawn, these Austrian metal maniacs build on the emotion of Oath Bound but exploit it in more compact and separable songs, making one of the more intense metal statements of the year. See full review.
Von – Dark Gods, Seven Billion Slaves
Following up on Von’s early career material like Satanic Blood is not easy; in fact, it’s impossible. A band would either have to re-create that minimalist style and risk irrelevance, or embark on a campaign to dress it up as something it is not. Von has opted for something else entirely which is to create a minimalistic core within a rock opera style of black metal, producing one of the more puzzling but satisfying releases in the underground metal world this year. See full review.
Wardruna – Runaljod – Yggdrasil
Combining folk music, world music, droning found noises and the type of ritualistic dark ambient that emerged from the end days of black metal, Wardruna is a black metal side project that offers a different vision of music. While earlier works seemed detached from the end listener, Runaljod – Yggdrasil embeds the listener within a wave of ceremonial sound that aims not to be forebrain listening as Western rock is, but a mentally ambient experience that overwhelms by addressing all of the senses and channeling that experience toward a realization.
War Master – Blood Dawn
Underground death metal continuation act War Master released a four-track EP, Blood Dawn, amidst personnel changes and other upheavals this year. Like the previous Pyramid of the Necropolis, Blood Dawn focuses on futuristic and yet ancient concepts, almost like Voivod taking on Robert E. Howard or Edgar Rice Burroughs. From this vast concept come songs that both grind their way to nihilism and implement the death metal method of matching riffs into an internal dialogue from which a conclusion emerges, creating a pocket of mystery which is filled with wonder and violence.
Album of the year:
Imprecation – Satanae Tenebris Infinita
There is no completely fair way to pick an album of the year from a list with this many strong contenders, but Imprecation win this one on both substance and situation. For substance, this is a solid album that combines a black metal sense of ritualistic song development with the death metal tendency to make abstract riffs into an organic whole. For situation, Satanae Tenebris Infinita sees a band that started in 1991 and is famous for releasing its discography of demos in 1995 finally reach a stage where it can release a full-length album independent of any past influences. In addition, Satanae Tenebris Infinita hits hard and does not relent. Each element serves a purpose toward creating a transition in moods, like a perpetual parallax as continents shift. If death metal was waiting for a direction forward, Imprecation have opened that gate to a new occult science and art of subversive metal. See full review / interview.
The following were considered, and then not so much considered:
Morbosidad – Muerte De Cristo En Golgota. This is like Krisiun or Impiety rendered in the style of Mystifier, or like any of the war metal bands that imitated Blasphemy but with a dose of downtuned Sarcofago. It’s not bad, but aside from high intensity rhythm, it doesn’t have much to offer. Thus think of it as Satanic death techno performed on muddy guitars.
Fates Warning – Darkness in a Different Light. Bands: don’t try to roll with the trends. You were good at something else for a reason. This album has strong smary indie rock influences on its vocals and the result is embarrassing to be caught listening to. Riffs are reasonable, but don’t particularly develop, and emphasize space and consistency more than something with a personality.
Grave Upheaval – Untitled. Not bad; mostly rumbling noises, very true to form. Unfortunately, also doesn’t go anywhere. It’s an atmosphere piece of one dimension.
Warlord – The Holy Empire. Some sort of rock-metal hybrid from back in the day, this form of power metal uses mostly lead riffing anchored by static open chording. The dominant instrument is the voice, more like Rush or Asia than most metal. It’s pleasant but lullabye and too close to rock music.
Hell – Curse and Chapter. Do you know how far I would have run to get away from this back in the 1980s? It’s NWOBHM/early power metal without much melodic movement in the riff, so there’s a lot of chugging and shifting but not much actual motion. Nor will you have much actual motion as you listen to this… in fact, you might find yourself immobile and snoring.
Battlecross – War of Will. This is traditional metal affected by metalcore aesthetics. The vocals follow the surge pattern of later hardcore, and the melodic riffs use rhythmic “chasing” to accelerate patterns older than Chuck Berry. The result is so distracting the band can’t compose a song, but instead write a riff pair and then leap into a blast beat to transition.
Enforcer – Death by Fire. Here we have another band from Scandinavia creating highly musically-literate, catchy and otherwise perfect music. The problems are twofold: (1) it is a clone of 1970s styles that are liked for their innocent pop cheeze (2) while it is emotive, and aesthetically appealing, it is also empty.
Queensryche – Queensryche. Since the band went legal on each other, there’s now two Queensryches… this one sounds like Coldplay. The same posi-pop vibe and expansive chorus feel drives this work, and it has a similar outlook on the world, which is a sort of pathological compulsion to make things beautiful instead of finding beauty where it is rare. Unsettling.
Leprous – Coal. If this Queen-slash-bad-indie band gets anywhere in metal, it’s time to bury the genre under warm ruminant feces. Power metal mixed with dramatic English pop. The result is bracingly twee with metal riffs batting about in the background.
Iggy and the Stooges – Ready to Die. Almost all reviews of this album will waffle, because it is good, but it’s not distinctive. It all kind of flows together, as if the band paid more attention to the aesthetics of sounding like themselves than whatever’s driving them. But how do you “be punk” when you have a paid up retirement plan and health insurance?
Abyssal – Novit Enim Dominus Qui Sunt Eius. This was the hip thing for a few weeks, but shows you that you cannot revive a genre by imitating it through outward form. These songs use all the right pieces, but in a random order, and thus create no mood except nostalgia. And I piss on nostalgia’s grave.
Tyrant’s Blood – Into the Kingdom of Graves. Great title, has a Blasphemy ex-member, can’t go wrong… right? There’s a lot to like about this, but it doesn’t hold together. It embraces the “hotel buffet” style of offering many different riff types in a single song that ends up distorting any coherence. Storming Perdition Temple-style fast metal explodes into melodic mid-paced riffs and then ends up chugging deathgrind, lost and adrift on the seas of making a point.
Cultes des Ghoules – Henbane. It’s ludicrous that so many in the underground were fooled by this comical album. It’s a lot of bad heavy metal riffs interrupted by “avantgarde” noise, samples, etc. — the usual cliches — so that you don’t notice it’s bog-standard. This is hipster incarnate.
Acerus – The Unreachable Salvation. Galloping uptempo yet mid-paced heavy metal with a lot of Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate. Not bad, but not particularly expansive to anything more than that aesthetic role.
Aosoth – IV: Arrow in Heart. This album, like Immolation, got credit because people expected it should. Its strong point is listenable songs with some technicality; its weakness is that they express nothing strong. It is Participation with an A+ for method and a B- for content.
Sodom – Epitome of Torture. This rather sentimental, somewhat modern-metal influenced take on a speed metal album is very catchy and represents Sodom’s most professional work, but also loses the unique perspective this band offered on the world around it. This is more like the heavy metal albums of their youths, heavy on emotion which makes their repetitive, chorus-heavy approach almost too saccharine.
Grave Miasma – Odori Sepulcorum. I have wallpaper. It’s named “It’s 1991 again and you can rediscover things you believed in once again.” It sounds like a mishmash of 1990s era death metal and yet, because it’s wallpaper, it never comes to a point. It just creates an atmosphere.
Týr – Valkyrja. Power metal of the newer stype seems to me it has a mystery ingredient, and that is devotional music. This sounds like church music, with sweeping choruses and whole-note cadences, and it has an admitted power, but it also loses much of what makes metal powerful: it’s not protest music, nor is it music that tries to cover ugliness with beauty, but music that finds beauty in what is considered ugly.
Onslaught – VI. Eager to effect a return to the music business, Onslaught speed up their punk/metal hybrid but adopt the vocal styles and constant driving mechanical rhythm of modern metal. The result is unrelenting but also disconnected and monolithic. The catchy choruses don’t help and seem almost to mock the rest of the music, which sounds like a pilotless threshing machine gone amok in a pumpkin patch…
Death Angel – The Dream Calls for Blood. In the 1980s, speed metal bands had a certain annoying rhythm where they tried to be as obnoxiously bouncy as possible while ranting as intensely as possible. With modern metal much of the internal rhythmic interplay has been eliminated, resulting in something that sounds like chanting Stalinist propaganda with guitars strobing in the background.
Bölzer – Aura. Like Oranssi Pazuzu, Bölzer experiment in disorganized slowed black/death/heavy metal with mixed-in weirdo alternative rock. Weirdo alternative rock has existed since early rock bands made a name for themselves by being odd. The problem is that it doesn’t connect to form an impression, only a sense of instrumentalism.
Coffins – The Fleshland. Doom-death with some quality riffing, Coffins nonetheless manage to inevitably get lost in each of their songs and fill the void with noodly pentatonic leads, distracted tributaries of non-essential riffs, and “atmospheric” repetition.
Metal Church – Generation Nothing. This shrill metal band has always struck me as more in the heavy metal camp than speed metal camp, and here it’s borne out. The riffs don’t have form like speed metal riffs do but are mostly static based on rhythmic repetition. Focus is on the voice, which wails. Not bad but annoying and kind of empty. Also, older guys trying to bond with the new generation is awkward when done this way.
Malthusian – MMXIII. Like many sonic experiments, this band relies on style to shape content because style is the substance of the experiment. The idea here is to combine the Incantation-clone death metal that is trendy with melodic progressive touches, including some sneakster modern metal influences. The result loses what could have been and fails to transition to what it wants to be.
Stratovarius – Nemesis. When did this band get so bad? The first track sounds like a rip of Heart’s “On My Own,” and the rest of the album proceeds in this fashion: combine classic metal riff archetype with classic 1980s vocal melody, add some flourishes and hope it’s good enough. I liked it better when this band was more speed metally and less pop.
As recent writings from Keith Kahn-Harris and others indicate, metal may be suffering from too much: too many bands, too huge an information flow, too many blogs, too much focus on surface aesthetics.
Contrasting this flood of “too much” is a true metal movement designed to emphasize what metal has always done well, but done anew by new generations. One member of this movement is Argus, whose album Beyond the Martyrs caught our attention for its NWOBHM/Candlemass classic metal fusion.
Luckily, frontman Butch Balich was available to answer a few profile questions and some existential ones via email. His answers strike me as relatively without contrivance, and show us this band both as it presents itself and as it is likely to be experienced.
Can you tell us how Argus formed? Did you come together on a mutual love of existing music, or a desire to create something that didn’t exist at the time?
The band was put together by Erik and Kevin out of friendship and a desire to jam and play some tunes. I don’t think it was ever envisioned it would become what it has. Our goal has always been simply to write great songs. We don’t concern ourselves with whether or not we are forging new paths or treading well worn ones. Its all about playing music we love and infusing our personality into it.
What is a “working class metal sound” (from your official biography)? Do the members of Argus identify with working-class or blue-collar roots?
Those guys grew up here in Western, PA and I think definitely identify with a working-class, blue-collar set of roots. We see ourselves as hard working and our music as fairly straightforward — what you hear is what you get — we aren’t overly complex and fancy in either our writing or our performance yet both are powerful. So I think we meant to portray the band as a straight up true metal band that works hard and is not pretentious in any way.
What would you identify as your primary and enduring influences?
We’re all over the map really. If you separated us and asked each of us you’d hear everything from Sabbath to Slayer, KISS to The Beatles, Maiden to NOFX, Marvin Gaye to Slough Feg. Collectively I think we draw from a common pool of Maiden, Thin Lizzy, some doom like Candlemass, old Metallica… We know what we want the band to sound like though so you’ll hear big riffs, great harmonies… sometimes the bands that those things remind of are coincidental, for instance “The Ladder” from Boldly Stride the Doomed has a real Solitude Aeturnus vibe even though I’m probably the one guy in the band who loves them. We are also influenced/pushed by bands like Slough Feg or Valkyrie.
You’ve picked an amalgamation of older styles for your music, instead of trying to keep up with the cutting edge or invent something. Why did you make this choice? Is there anything new under the sun, musically?
Let’s be honest — there really aren’t any combinations of riffs or notes that haven’t been used. There is NO ONE reinventing the wheel musically anymore. SO, our goal is to write great songs that we love — it is the goal of any good band. Our goal has never been to create something wholly unique as that is impossible. We draw from what we love about the music we listen to and enjoy playing and hopefully our personality comes across enough — and that is what makes us special. The notes/riffs/melodies may not always be something unheard of but we each have way of playing our instruments that adds up to ARGUS sounding like ARGUS instead of a mere rate retro metal knockoff.
Do you think the style you play selects the audience you receive, and that some audiences are more supportive than others?
I think any fan of true metal would like the band. We are neither overly refined or simplistic. I think our music has the ability to appeal to folks across different spectrums as it mixes bits and pieces of things and has strong melodies. I do think we’ve been most accepted by true metal and doom crowds so far. So far every audience we’ve played for has been pretty damn supportive to be honest. I do feel there is a niche market for what we do even though it has the potential to grow larger. If you play the style we play you do need to be prepared to accept that the fanbase is fairly limited and it will take a great amount of touring, perseverance and luck to advance beyond cult level.
There has been a movement in metal over the past four or five years called “True Metal,” in which people are less interested in outward-looking hybrids and more in an inward-looking, metal-centric attempt to continue the spirit of classic bands, although not necessarily the details. Have you seen this? Would it apply to Argus?
There is a segment of folks who aren’t interested so much in modernism and would prefer new bands to play in the old style. This is me to extent though I prefer bands not to be complete ripoffs of a specific band. I prefer bands like Slough Feg, Pharaoh, Twisted Tower Dire, Enforcer who have obvious influences but whose own personality comes through and who don’t consign themselves to 80s production values 24-7. I think Argus fits in with a retro tag though I have to say I think we manage to sound modern without sounding modern (if that makes sense). Like we don’t sound dated even though we’re playing metal based on the classic metal and hard rock bands.
This is your third album, after an EP and a demo. How has your sound changed during this time? Do you see it going in another direction as time goes on?
I don’t see that our sound has changed so much as streamlined a bit. We’re trying to capture the vibe and point of each song without belaboring the point in endless repetitions of the same riff. Why take ten minutes to say what can be said in six? I think it’s been a gradual transition. We’ve definitely become better songwriters over 7 years. Stylistically though we’ve been fairly constant. Maybe less doomy but no less moody.
Why do you think heavy metal remains popular after forty years of existence?
Because it is powerful, honest, hits-you-in-the-gut music. Because lyrically it provides escape. It provides understanding. It’s a very gut level thing… metal. There is an energy to it that few other forms of music capture — …and power, volume… I also think metal is also where you will find musicians whose level of integrity and devotion to their fans is high as opposed to more throwaway styles of music where musicians are chasing dollars exclusively rather than the art.
What’s next for Argus? Are you going to tour, or write more material?
We’re about to start writing for album 4. We hope to get over to Europe again the Summer of 2014. We have a festival appearance booked at the Ragnarokkr Festival in Chicago the weekend of April 4-5, 2014. Other than that we’re looking at some possible US dates… we’ll see what happens. Are discussing plans for small releases like a possible 7″, an EP and maybe a split.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? Heavy metal is either art, or like the rest it’s a product to make sad people feel better about their empty and pointless lives. Brutal honesty is all that separates us from that abyss. Remember, tears are a sign that you’ve really reached people…
Evereve – Seasons
Nuclear Blast, this is NOT “music to mangle your mind.” This is the AIDS of the music world. Cheap, hokey synths ramble under tepid saccharine guitar melodies while effete whiny crooning that makes Morrissey sound like Tom Warrior radiates in the background. You can just about hear the teenage bedrooms of America, reeking of self-pity and masturbation, where the obese and inbred listen to this. It’s OK, kid, everyone gets turned down by a fleshlight at least once. If you can imagine heavy metal with all of its soul removed, candied like one of those disgusting little fruits in a fruitcake, this would be it. There is nothing here that is metal except under the flimsiest of pretenses. “Evereve” is more like “Summer’s Eve.” Seasons could be a forerunner for HIM. If you ever hear a note of this, you’re going to need hormone replacement therapy.
Covenant – Nexus Polaris (also released as The Kovenant – Nexus Polaris)
The cheese of “black metal” circa 1998 is on full display here in this one album. Considering the Dimmu Borgir membership and the touting of a drum performance by Hellhammer circa his “help, I need money and even joined Arcturus” days, you know this will be bad. The vaudevillian sideshow vibe of later Ancient and Cradle of Filth is tricked out to sound like a joyous PG rated sci-fi soundtrack is playing over a rock opera, making this all sound more absurd. Imagine the music from a children’s variety TV show but with some drunk guitarist in the background hammering out heavy metal riffs with black metal stylings as he copulates with close family members while wearing a tutu. If you heard a “black metal” parody in recent times, chances are it sounded like this.
Immolation – Majesty and Decay
This album brings to mind Dogwin’s Law for metal: as a metal band ages, the probability of it reverting to its influences becomes one. Immolation started out as a speed metal band, then detoured into death metal for a few albums, and now is back to heavy metal but in a simplified form using death metal technique. When they did that cover of Mercyful Fate, it shook something loose, and Immolation thought, “Why spend hours fitting twisty riffs into intricate combinations?” Verse, chorus, break, solo — done! Collect check, buy motorcycle parts. This is the metal equivalent of baby food: over-cooked, pre-ground, sweetened and without any difficult parts. Gone are the wildly imaginative riffs and catcomb-like song structures. Instead it’s The Jets covering Bryan Adams put into power chord riffs. Embarrassed by their own non-output, Immolation tries to hide the emptiness by getting emo on the choruses but nothing can save this pile of paint-by-numbers metal. This is metal’s equivalent of Bangerz with some guy howling along in the background about stuff he read on Infowars.com.
Morgoth – Feel Sorry for the Fanatic
Another case of mid-90s “evolution,” Morgoth ditch the Death Leprosy worship for a sound more akin to Voivod at their most commercial playing Killing Joke at their poppiest. Vocals sound like a parody of Amebix, lots of mumbling and tuneless sung-shouts. Verse-chorus structures and an industrial rock production suggest this band was attempting to cash in on the industrial/cyber image trend of Ministry, Godflesh, and Fetish 69. With waves of label hype behind it, Feel Sorry for the Fanatic failed as only the falsest of marketing hype can. Creating a neutered album with fringe-accessibility to an audience that didn’t exist the year this album was released left the band to fall on its face in embarrassment and dishonorably disband.
Wolves in the Throne Room – BBC Session 2011 Anno Domini
This band of hippies in denial have improved in the songwriting department, but by so doing reveal the underlying emo to their music. It’s clearer than ever before that Wolves in the Throne Room were never black metal. This two-song release allows the “post-metal” to shine, but musically “post-metal” is identical to emo, a subset of late hardcore/indie rock hybrids of the late 1980s. Musically, nothing has changed since that time, so if you’ve been in a cave since 1984 you might enjoy this band. These two tracks are far less random than previous Wolves in the Throne Room output. While they try to ape black metal with heavy guitar distortion and howled vocals, in harmony and choice of scale this material would fit in on a Jawbreaker or Rites of Spring album more than any black metal album. In fact it’s a complete sham to ever list this band as black metal because it misses out on what they do well, which is a very slow version of emo. Droning emptiness portrayed with slighly dissonant tracks that sound like self-pity incarnate. It evokes a lot of different feelings that boil down to the same state of suspension, in which mixed-emotions and self-pity that brings self-doubt resolve all things to the same. I wouldn’t recommend this for any metal fan or anyone who remembers the late 1980s.
Solar Deity – Devil Worship
If you approached a black metal band as if it were a doom metal band, you might end up with something like Solar Deity. Very musically literate in a way that is reminiscent of Necrophobic, with understated melodic riffs and good rhythm, this band nonetheless suffers from a type of drone syndrome where just not enough changes to keep interest, although there’s nothing offensive. Clearly mostly inspired by the first two Gorgoroth albums, Solar Deity attempt to set up a number of songs to narrate and develop theme, and do a reasonable job of it, but their riffs are rather lukewarm and repetition-intensive as is their usage. The result would be great if designed for doom metal, but as black metal ends up being an abrasive drone and sense of confused purpose within otherwise well-composed music. It might be good background music for repetitive tasks. You know, really feel that tedium as you clean water heaters, file taxes or chase hipsters off your front lawn with a shotgun (aim for the knees).
Tribulation – The Formulas of Death
Death metal isn’t hard rock. If it wanted to be hard rock, its members being honest people, it would have elected to simply be that instead. However, there’s a huge market in dressing up regular boring corporate product rock music as something “edgy” like death metal, which still hasn’t been conquered by the civilizing forces of socialization. Like previous Tribulation releases, The Formulas of Death is ambiguously in the death metal realm and in fact treats its death metal elements with ironic scorn. The result is a pretty good hard rock band embedded in a bunch of unnecessary stuff. Get a real vocalist, throw out the token chromatic riffs and d-beats, and re-style this album as something along the lines of early Queensryche or Cinderella and it would be great. This will make just about every “Best of 2013” because people can’t tell the difference between turd and steak tartare but also because it’s catchy. Simple music for simple minds.
Skeleton Witch – Serpents Unleashed
If focus groups found a way to slam Sentenced Amok and At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul into a metalcore product that panders to Adult Swim viewers, then Skeleton Witch would be the abomination unleashed. Tired and generic riffs more bound to cliche than tradition power an interchangeable series of mellow-deaf parts stitched into galloping rhythms. Although it appears to be like metal from a distance, I suspect if MC Hammer knew how to play a guitar, he’d come up with something like this. Poppy and bouncy background noise for people who value video games and Comedy Central more than music, Serpents Unleashed might be the sonic equivalent of a middle schooler’s diary: covered in stickers and glitter, but the content within is more than predictable in essence even if not in particulars, and in ten years it will humiliate them if unleashed.
Beyond – Fatal Power of Death
The problem with retro works is context. What was once a whole context is broken down into techniques, “moments,” transitions, tempo changes, riff-archetypes and melodic frameworks, and then reconstituted. However, since there’s no motivation except to be retro, there’s no new context except appearance. Thus the bands doing this tend to default to the simplest elements possible, which are either age-independent but average stuff the original genre tried to escape or conventions of the present age. The result is that you get the same stuff, but someone has covered it in retro-feeling-stuff. The end result is like a bison spray-painted with corporate logos, a contextless mishmash that’s oblivious to its own true nature. Beyond make a credible effort but they are trying to fit riffs together, not use riffs like words or colors on a painting, and as a result, nothing is communicated by frenetic energy, doubt and disorganization. Moments of this release are stunning, but the whole does not add up to much because it’s not about anything.
Every death metal listener has at some point heard some variation on the statement that death metal bands are untalented, and that instead of mellifluous singing, there’s some guy “just standing there screaming” (that’s from my Mom, about 25 years ago).
Despite three decades of these vocals, they remain vastly misunderstood. Leaving aside for a moment the question of their purpose and effect, there’s also the technical question of how they are produced. And how does this compare to regular “sing-a-long” vocals?
When heavy metal vocal coach Lane Taylor reached out to us here at Death Metal Underground, we asked him if he could resolve this issue. Is screaming singing? Is it a technique, with a right way and wrong way?
And most of all, what’s the right way? Here’s our interview with Lane.
You’re a vocal instructor for metal bands. How did you find this path in life?
Heavy music was my first true love. I was hooked the moment I brought home Metallica’s Black Album at the age of 10. As the years progressed and new styles of metal developed I decided to join a couple local bands to try my hand at composing the music I love. I enjoyed minor success in the local music scene and actually came pretty close to getting signed around 2007. As life would have it things didn’t work out with the band so I decided to get into teaching. There are a million guitar teachers out there so I decide to be different and study the art of screaming heavy metal vocal styles. I had already taken plenty of singing lessons at this point but could never find someone who taught screaming! For years I read every book and watched every instructional tutorial I could find on the subject and then later developed my own approach. The lesson feedback from my early students was great and so I decided to make a go of becoming a heavy metal vocal instructor!
Are death metal vocals a form of “singing”?
Technically no. When you sing you are singing musical notes in the keys of A,B,C,D,E,F or G. Musical notes fit together like a language to form musical scales. Screaming is a bit different in that you scream at a pitch instead of singing musical notes. When you scream it is done at a low, middle or high pitch.
Many people would say that metal vocals don’t offer much to the technicalist. Do you have some favorite examples that prove that talking point wrong?
Perhaps screaming is not that technical in a musical note sense but that is because it is a different beast! Metal music as a whole in my opinion is the most technical music there is! Many of today’s metal vocalists sing AND scream in their music which is very tough to do while still maintaining a clean powerful singing voice. Finding the right balance of singing and screaming when performing is technical in its self. Of course it is just my opinion but I believe Randy Blythe of Lamb of God is a pretty technical screamer. The man can do a lot with his voice! He has a lot of awesome vocal tones and really can mix it up with his screams.
Do you instruct people in death metal vocals? What methods do you teach?
Many of my students are into death metal bands like Cannibal Corpse and Bolt Thrower to name a couple. One of my first students even had a tattoo of the band Deicide – now that is a loyal fan! Since guttural low screams are a signature element in most death metal bands I will start the student out with a focus on the lows. After taking the student through several breathing and vocal warm up exercises we get into the meat of the screaming exercises which include “The Medicine Ball Toss”, “The Barbarian Hey!”, “Dog Barks and Growls” and “The Karate Voice Throw”. More information on these techniques is available at Scream Like A Rockstar!
Can you describe, in technical terms, how death metal vocals are produced?
In your throat you have the true vocal cords which are very thin pieces of tissue that allow you to speak and sing. These vocal cords block the escaping air that is pushed up from your diaphragm muscle and this creates a tension on the vocal cords. As the air pressure escapes through these cords they vibrate and produce speech or singing. There are thicker more durable pieces of tissue attached to the vocal cords and these are known as the false cords. These false cords are what a screamer relies on to produce a scream. When these cords come together with the right tension and air pressure it basically turns your throat and mouth into an echo chamber and your scream is produced. The false cords are very necessary in heavy metal vocals because they take much of the strain of the true vocal cords. Without the false cords the true vocal cords would be damaged very easily by screaming.
What are the benefits to a metal vocalist of receiving instruction? Are there ergonomic and health benefits as well as performative ones?
For the beginner screaming lessons are a must! If you are new to screaming and practicing with poor technique it is important to correct it so you don’t injure yourself. Just as it takes time to build muscle at the gym the same is true with building up strong vocal cords that can handle this type of extreme music. For a seasoned veteran screamer a good instructor can provide great ways to warm up which will help ward off vocal injuries and will also help to increase vocal stamina when performing. In my program I also provide vitamins and supplements you can take if you get sick on tour or need to bring down vocal inflammation.
How do people avail themselves of your services, and do you work remotely?
I am based out of the North Bay area here in California but for those who aren’t local I also have an instructional DVD at my website Scream Like A Rockstar. The DVD took 3 years to make and contains lots of goodies to help metal musicians reach their rock star dreams! At the website I also run a blog with some good free tips to help novice screamers. Thank you very much to the staff at Death Metal Underground for allowing me the opportunity for this interview!
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? If you treat heavy metal like a form of art or culture, it suddenly reveals its inner depth. Labels want you to see the surface only. To separate the two, we must be brutally honest. Look for the occasional gem in the sands of sonic feces.
Cemetary – Phantasma
Claiming to be tired of the “dungeons and dragons metal stuff”, Cemetary mainman Mathias Lodmalm stops trying to rip off Tiamat and Sisters of Mercy for Nuclear Blast fan boiz and unleashes his last pose. If his progressively more AIDS-influenced output didn’t clue you in, this last Cemetary album feels like a garage band project done for the purpose of emulating Nine Inch Nails or Skinny Puppy. It shows how interchangeable most poppy industrial is, so I can see something like this album succeeding on the radio, but as luck would have it, this is just another faceless electronica product in a sea of many. The only thing this release has in common with the previous Cemetary output is the same sub-standard quality that left them entombed in the chasms of out of print Black Mark releases no one cares for.
Periphery – Periphery 2: This Time It’s Personal
It’s important to note that borrowing a few techniques from the metal genre doesn’t make you a metal band. Underneath the “harsh” vocals and “crazy” drumming are mechanical Nu riffs and mathcore noodlings. Whiny crybaby vocals and pop-choruses make this nothing more than a commercial product for socialization amongst Xanax-addled teenagers who are somewhere between dropping out of high school and becoming Che Guevara shirt-wearing low level pot dealers who often lapse into 9/11 conspiracy rants. The whole thing is organized to seem more like an emo album with its pop-punk cheerfulness and feminine vocals that reflect a feeling of being “hurt” by “mean society and girls with standards,” much like their clone targets in Sikth. If these people were more honest with themselves, they would drop the superficial “EXTREME” portions and become the next Hawthorne Heights.
Satyricon – The Shadowthrone
If you are looking for the start of black metal’s disintegration, it can be found here. Taking liberal inspiration from bands that preceded it, this album is the blueprint for how semi-talented musicians can copy a genre’s sound while embodying none of its spirit. The songs are narrative on the surface; however, when the listener attempts to peer beyond appearance it is quickly apparent that there is nothing of depth, the musical equivalent of modern poetry. Tracks meander from one location to another, never providing any causation for why the arena is changing. The riffs are tiring in their simplicity and irrelevance, and motifs are at best uninspired. The band also deserves blame for introducing drunken popularizations of folk melodies that distract listeners from the vapid quality of metal present, which has been the operating principle of folk metal for the last 20 years. The only people who can appreciate this album are the deaf and fans that lack standards.
Harm – Cadaver Christi
The real way to be a reviewer is to assume that nothing is free. No one gets a promo. Everyone must pay mall prices. There are no buddy hookups, freebies from the cutout bin, and you have a budget that’s commensurate with that which the average 15-27 year old can field. It doesn’t matter that the wiper blades for your Lexus cost more than even an album from overseas; the question is what your audience can afford. Your readers. And knowing that they have finite money and time, what’s worth spending it on for them? Music is a zero-sum game. If you can buy only five CDs a month, you want to buy the best five possible. All of this is what was once called common sense, apparently, but now is voodoo quantum dark energy esoteric witchcraft knowledge to most people. That being said, I’m sure the guys in Harm are nice people but this album is dismal. It’s bog-standard Swedish-style mid-paced death metal with every cliche of bad metal involved, including the highly derivative riffs, emphasis on vocals as lead instrument (a fatal failure for metal bands), plodding pace and lack of melodic or structural development. Avoid unless you’re so average that anything else is over your head.
Xysma – First and Magical
Starting life as a Carcass clone, Xysma have progressively been perverting that band’s Symphonies of Sickness formula into becoming a more accessible “rock” product through perceptively mainstream blues and psychedelic moments as well as the “angsty” sounds of then “nu” radio hit band Helmet. With liner notes claiming The Beach Boys as an influence, it all comes together as a light-hearted parody of underground metal through the juxtaposition of “happy” and “trippy” moments amidst blasting death/grind fare and two-note groove riffs. Arguably the first death n’ roll band, Xysma could be held responsible for the mainstreaming of death metal through the use of elements the genre at that point have fully filtered out of its sound. While I don’t think the band meant any harm with this release, it has nothing to offer except “light-hearted fun” and seems like a bizarre interim period between their old Carcass-influenced sounds and the Helmet style they would adopt on their next album Deluxe. Similar to what Tiamat and Entombed did, Xysma saw the potential for material gain in emphasizing grooves and so got rid of the vestigial underground baggage to embrace commercialization.
Inquisition – Obscure Verses for the Multiverse
Inquisition has been a constant within the American metal scene for over a decade, churning out albums that differ little in quality from one another, though with still enough distinction to be recognizably different. The band’s latest release, Obscure Verses for the Multiverse, is a continuation of the band’s recognizable style.
On this album, the band further perfects its rendition of the rock-influenced black metal genre, with many similarities to bands such as Satyricon or Marduk. Rather than a connected narration binding each song together, tracks are riff composites that sacrifice atmosphere for chaos and disorder. In compensation, riffs utilize ornamentation such as harmonics, bends, and minor chord strums in order to retain interest as drums blast away incessantly. This succeeds for approximately 30 seconds before the listener realizes that he could derive the same effect by shaking a glass container of marbles as a phone rings in the distance, simultaneously entertaining and a source of exercise.
However, this author has no desire to be unjust: the album undoubtedly will be praised by many a Wacken attendee and provide each an hour of entertainment, and truly; that is the goal of metal. After all, it certainly couldn’t be art!
Sheol – Sepulchral Ruins Below the Temple
This is a really good effort but ultimately isn’t distinctive enough, and it’s not a matter of style. The style applied here is mid-period death metal hybridized with the latest trend, which has been Incantation/Demoncy worship by people who love linear riffs that internally counterbalance themselves with extended chromatic fills that crush melodic tension. Sheol have put a lot of thought into the amount of variation in each song, the coherence of the style, and in adding distinctive elements like intros, melodic accents and rhythmic breaks. However, ultimately this is a churning stampede of riffs that are relatively similar in approach and thus form, and the result is that it feels like listening to the wind while riding a train with the window open.
Harm Wülf – There’s Honey In The Soil So We Wait For The Till
I had a grandfather who traveled the country as a journalist, interviewing union leaders. This generally happened on Greyhoud buses, because if you were a man of the people back then, you wanted to be seen in the common man’s transportation. During a disproportionate number of these interviews, someone was softly playing a guitar in the background and singing. It sounds exactly like Harm Wülf. Despite the cute somewhat edgy name and the aura of mysterious darkness, Harm Wülf is a fifteenth-generation copy of a copy from four generations ago. Soft guitar playing uses only about three strum patterns and gently loops over a verse and chorus while the half-whispered, half-sung vocals are the real focus. This is how college weenies have been getting laid since 4,000 B.C. It seems deep on the surface, but it’s really a pile of cliches, starting with the awkward and obviously imitative title. It wants to emulate a well-known post-Neurosis project, but that’s actually good. This is just rehash, reheated and disguised behind a single sprig of parsley.
Ayreon – The Theory of Everything
Oddly, this band merges 1970s prog rock sounds with 1980s pop and ends up mixing in a number of diverse influences that, per the nature of ambitious merges, default to a common ancestor. Thus this album ends up being ambitious AOR with periodic metal riffs, a lot of keyboards, and a lot of cheesy vocals. If you like walking turds like Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys this cheese-fest will delight you. It is not as pretentious as the 1970s progressive rock that defined the genre, but it’s also uncannily pop which makes it hard for an experienced listener to tolerate. Musically, it is better than average, other than a lack of melodic development or use of harmony and key as we’d expect from a prog band. Aesthetically, it’s the contemporary equivalent of Boston or Asia or any of those other prog-soundalikes that never crossed that line to got full-on hardcore.
Deathbreed – Your Stigmata
Fairly standard deathcore, Deathbreed sounds death but doesn’t feel deathy. That is, there’s a lot of quoting of classic motifs from death metal, but they don’t get developed, and the band has no agenda so they end up at a musical LCD that’s basically rock made like a punk band would if using metal riffs. The result is predictable, but that’s not its problem. What kills it is that it has nothing to express. Even teenagers bleating out predictable platitudes about their trivial problems would be more realistic than this photocopy of a photocopy (with added jump-beats for the slower kids).
Ulcerate – Vermis
On Vermis, Ulcerate once again fool the gullible into thinking that “if it’s needlessly discordant and has growls on it, it’s the NEW and EVOLVED death metal,” only it’s not that apt. Underneath all the wankery, you’ll discover the songs never really go anywhere beyond the idea established in the beginning. All the superficially chaotic sounds render a meta-atmosphere of insanity through discordance, but the one fixed mode of expression this dwells in makes it all very obvious by the first track’s conclusion.
With the tragic early death of Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman earlier this year, it was inevitable that artifacts would unearth themselves, as has happened with the Seeds of Horror release. This album contains both demos for an unreleased concept album by Slayer and a demo from Hanneman’s side hardcore project Papsmear.
The Slayer demos involve material that mostly made it on to later albums but also contain some unreleased and unrealized material. Generally recorded with Hanneman on guitar and vocals and a drum machine for percussion, the demos include some conceptual material like the title track from which this CD/LP takes its name.
Seeds of Horror also contains extensive liner notes introducing each track as it was mentioned by the band in interviews and tracking the lineage of each song, many of which appeared in fragmentary form elsewhere (riffs and other concepts were recycled). Two of the Papsmear tracks will be familiar to any who have Slayer’s Undisputed Attitude. The full demo features Dave Lombardo as well as Rocky George from Suicidal Tendencies fleshing out the mix.
Art direction for preparing album aesthetics is important for delivering a visual representation for the music that it banners. Francesco Gemelli has been providing visual artistry for numerous bands and other clients. With utmost professionalism displayed in his works, Francesco is expanding his work as art director for record labels and freelance endeavors. He’s amassed quite a hefty resume of album covers and logos.
How did you start out in art and what inspired you?
In general, growing in Italy gives to you the chance to become familiar with Art since a young age. Furthermore, in my case, the proximity to Roman and Greek archeological areas influenced my artistic imaginary that I have later developed progressively at school. I started drawing very early and, above all, I have been attracted rapidly by the computerized graphics. Indeed, I did my first experiments on an Atari St back in 1986, publishing later my first works on specialized magazines.
What encouraged you to also start creating artwork for album covers?
To create album covers and work with the bands allows me to keep on my relation with the musical environment that represents one of the biggest passions in my life. As often happens, I started drawing logos and put together collages for demos of local bands, but the first significant occasion was given to me by Riccardo Conforti of Void of Silence that, having known some of my oeuvres, entrusted me with the creation of the new symbol/logo for the band and the artwork for “Human Antithesis”. I’m deeply attached to this album that has become a pillar of the modern doom metal and, even today, many people speak with fondness about this great release, pointing out the balance between the musical and the visual components. Moreover, Riccardo honored my work tattooing on his nape the logo that I have designed. His gesture deeply touched me.
More recently, Diego of ATMF and Luciano of I, Voidhanger Records chosen me as art director for their labels and I would like to use this opportunity to thank them for trusting me, allowing more people to know my work.
How much does your art reflect what you perceive of the music or its themes?
I like define myself as “visual interpreter”: when I work with a band my goal is to translate visually the music and the related concept. Chasing this target I don’t try to forcedly impose my personal style or my works but to find instead the right visual elements to complete and enrich the music. That’s why I’m always open to collaborations with other artists: in specific occasions, indeed, I prefer to assume the role of art director, choosing the works of other artists that I like and making those coherent and organic with the music. When, in the making of an artwork, you have the chance, for example, to use the incredible pieces of a genius like the painter/sculptor Nicola Samorì or of the worldwide known photographer John Santerineross, you have only to enhance theirs oeuvres all possible and to create a connection between these and the songs. Recognizability is a central point for an artist in the contemporary art, but for an art director the mark of identifiability has to be the quality of your work and satisfaction of the client.
What other artists, musicians or thinkers influence your style?
My work is extensively influenced by the art of the 1900s: equally by the first years of the century as well as by the current tendencies. Between the different art movements, the Informalism certainly had a big influence on my artistic development.
As you may have figured out at this point, I don’t follow a single procedure to realize my works, so I attend as much as possible exhibitions and galleries to meet and discover new artists and ideas. Working on artworks, I involve a mix of different media and softwares: some pieces grow out only through the pencils, others are the outcomes of computer graphics, some else come out from a mix between handcrafted and digital resources.
Are there certain themes that you naturally gravitate toward? Do you see your artwork as having a naturally bleak or desolate character?
Not at all. A key-point of my research has always been to contrast some aspect widespread in the metal extreme genre and when the bands have been sufficiently “courageous” to share my point of view, I have always tried to take distance from the common solutions. Take, for example, my artwork for the “Inter Uterum Et Loculum” of Locus Mortis: although they play a fast and aggressive traditional black metal, I have described their music drawings gentle figures and using a bright palette of colours. Even when the bands expressly requested me traditional solutions for their artworks, I have always tried to put in there some elements of innovation: from the involved technique of production to the chromatic palette. It’s hard and maybe not useful to eradicate and betray overused commonplaces, but it’s possible to innovate from the “inside” without renege the past, and to try to “educate” people to new solutions and artistic waves.
You’ve worked with altered photographs (such as in “Aus Der Transzendenz” 2012 Promo Pics) which bring out a majestic nature to your subjects. What is your technique here? How do you decide on the balance between obscurity and clarity? Does your alteration direct the eye to a focal point in each piece?
I usually adapt the photo manipulation technique to the characteristics of the band. In this case, the band asked me to place the group in an “unreal” and “magical” dimension. So, I operated on the background, working also on colors, tones and lights. I didn’t alter the eyes of the members: they were already striking a theatrical pose in the picture.
What pieces of your art have been displayed in exhibitions? Where can people expect to see your work next? Will you expand beyond album covers?
The original pieces that I created as artwork for the debut of my industrial project Eidulon on Malignant Records have been part in contemporary art exhibitions. These stark black and white illustrations were inspired by Taschism and Spatial Art.
Who do you think are the most historically important and/or best metal album cover artists of all time?
I don’t think that there is a most important cover in metal history; I consider, however, some artworks and artistic choices crucial for the development of the “heavy metal aesthetics”: between the late ’70s and mid-’80s, bands like Back Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Venom, Mercyful Fate and Metallica laid the foundation to the process of identification of those symbols and themes that have differentiate the HM from the other genres. This process has gone to influence the audience on how they perceive themselves and, in its turn, the aesthetics of the new bands.
Despite this developing trend, in the 80s, the different bands were visually recognizable and there still was an “artisanship” in producing artworks. By moving to 90s, with the diffusion of PCs, the computer graphics software became something that everybody can have and, even if there’s nothing negative about that per se, the “layering process” permitted by these new instruments resulted in a standardization of metal artworks that started to look too similar to each other.
In the last ten years, with the widening of the process of fragmentation of subgenres and publics, the need to stand out visually is becoming increasingly important. As mentioned before, recognizability is a focus point for an artist in the contemporary market, so it’s implausible, even in the extreme genres, to overlook the visual elements of a musical project.
Where can we expect to see your work in upcoming musical and artistic projects?
I just finished the artwork for the re-recording of the debut album of Janvs, “Nigredo”, on Avantgarde Music and I will cooperate very soon with Benjamin Vierling for the new Spectral Lore album. At the same time, I would expand my experiments to video-art and, since now I’m working between Montréal and Toronto, I hope to find this opportunity and new inputs too.
I will try to develop new joint collaborations and I would like the chance to work with other great graphics like Metastazis from France, Trine + Kim from Norway and with a band like Elend that I follow and appreciate from the very beginning of their glorious career.
I recently started my Facebook page, so anyone who might be interested can follow my future works there.
Death Metal Underground Weekly Newsletter 11/18-11/24 Because Metal Is Art
Five things every musician needs
Those of us who have had the fortune to hang around the music industry for a few decades tend to pick up a few ideas about what works and what doesn’t.
If you are trying to get your music out there, you’ll get a lot of advice from people with agendas. They want you to do x so that they get y. What follows is generic advice for putting your best foot forward.
Back in 1993, Demilich released a killer album entitled Nespithe. The album innovated consciously in every way possible. It took the audience a decade to warm up to it, but by the time Demilich re-united in 2006 for a reunion tour, death metal had fully bonded with this inventive act.
Fast forward a few more years and Demilich is finally getting the recognition it deserves through re-releases of its classic material. These were originally planned in 2006, but got delayed a bit as the wheels of music justice ground. Demilich has just announced the release of a limited edition box set with a 44-page booklet, sticker and new cover art.
If you break any ground as a band, you will suffer from momentum inertia. Your initial direction will carry you quickly to its end, and after three albums, you will find yourself with a loss of direction.
This occurs because in your vision, substance and form were joined, and you made a language out of what you wished to express. For some visions, a lifetime of specifics can be created; for most, there are big picture things to do, and then emptiness.
Two revelations before listening to this: first, when I first got into music I thought talent and ability were rare; now I realize they’re commonplace, but the ability to apply them in some non-inert interesting way is rare. Second, that metalcore — the mix of metal genres in the post-hardcore style of “contrast without continuity” riffing — borrows almost everything it has from 1980s speed metal.
About a decade ago, the trend of flash fiction or micro-stories seized the literary world by storm. The reasoning was that as people did more of their reading via phones and portable computers, they would want shorter, harder-hitting fiction.
Pink Frothy AIDS frontman says metal fans are “close-minded”
Heavy metal music gets a bad rap, not just from people who dislike it, but from people who claim to like it. The problem is that criticism draws attention to the speaker, so there’s no better way to stand out than to stand up and say, “All of this is wrong!”
While some critics of the current way are motivated by a desire to create useful change, most people are motivated by self-interest and change for change’s sake, which lets them seize attention and/or power. Pink Frothy AIDS’s frontman Mikael “Mick” Åkerfeldt recently attempted such a power grab.
His statements, recorded in a Metal Hammer interview via Metal Injection, are harshly critical of metal but suffer a gigantic logical “plot hole” that makes them totally nonsense.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? These reviews address the music itself, instead of the social impact of assembling a public persona out of bands you claim to like. Since almost all human endeavors are mostly mediocrity, there will be tender self-pity follow by rage. Come for the laughs, stay for the schadenfreude… and occasional quality metal.
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Two revelations before listening to this: first, when I first got into music I thought talent and ability were rare; now I realize they’re commonplace, but the ability to apply them in some non-inert interesting way is rare. Second, that metalcore — the mix of metal genres in the post-hardcore style of “contrast without continuity” riffing — borrows almost everything it has from 1980s speed metal.
Cryogen offer us a highly musical take on metalcore with Continuum, which displays excellent playing abilities, clear songwriting aptitude, and even the rarer ability to present songs in such a way that they are not only emotionally engaging but create a sense of transition that is coherent and not just random emotional outbursts giving way to one another like the rants of officer workers on sitcoms.
What brought us metalcore? A fusion of Meshuggah and The Haunted. Both used speed metal as a basis, but broke down the metal structure of internal riff dialogue and replaced it with the post-hardcore notion that great contrast between riffs to the point of incoherence makes for a better song. What it does is emphasize deconstruction and isolation to the point where the listener’s attention span is destroyed, which makes it easier to compose this way since the requirements are much lower.
Cryogen is best when the speed metal peeks out, or even when the heavy metal parts emerge. With their technical skill, they could easily make a classic heavy metal album. Instead they insist on burdening themselves with surface complexity, which because it must cram in more diverse elements, requires the unifying elements of the song be simplified. The result is very basic chord progressions underlying a pile of textural depth and intensive variation, which means that when you drill down you find your father’s bouncy heavy metal riffs.
I wish this band would knock it off with trying to stay current, and just drift in the direction they clearly want to go, which is in the direction of the first Cynic album. Those songs actually held together, and the core of them was a complex sense of harmony leading to a flexibility in key transition that gave them elegance. Cryogen is sort of the opposite: a lot of styling that is ultimately held back by the musically simplistic core enforced on it by the burden of participating in the great metalcore trend.