The Classical-Metal connection expands

classical_and_metal

For 20+ years, first with the Dark Legions Archive and next with the Death Metal Underground, the writers behind this site have encouraged comparison with heavy metal and two things: European Romanticism in art, music, and literature; and European classical music, which overlapped with Romanticism both in a specific time period and in themes it revisits even to this day. The similarities are abundant and apparent but offensive to those who want to believe the blues-rock spectrum was part of an authentic tradition, when in fact it was a commercial product simplifying earlier styles, and that — of course — metalheads cannot have any associations more profound than the sacred indie rock and its origins in 1960s protest music.

Now, others are taking up the call. Perfect Sound Forever, one of the oldest e-zines on the net, addresses the metal-classical linkage in an article in its current edition:

I’m here to show you that rock and roll and classical are very much relatives in an, albeit, diverse musical family. First off, the sort of person who enjoys classical music is the same sort of person who would enjoy metal or heavy rock music. Research by scientists at Heriot-Watt University has found that not only are peoples’ personalities linked to their taste in music – classical and heavy metal listeners often have very similar dispositions.

“The general public has held a stereotype of heavy metal fans being suicidally depressed and a danger to themselves and society in general,” explained Adrian North, the professor who led the study. “But they are quite delicate things. Metal fans, like classical listeners, tend to be creative, gentle people, at ease with themselves. We think the answer is that both types of music, classical and heavy metal, have something of the spiritual about them — they’re very dramatic — a lot happens. ”

Perhaps more will be known about not only the similarities between these genres, but — because every cause has an effect — what similar ideas or emotions motivated artists to make such similar music centuries apart.

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Alexander Jacob – Richard Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen (2015)

alexander_jacob_-_richard_wagner_der_ring_des_nibelungen

On his previous album of classical piano interpretations of the music of Richard Wagner, Alexander Jacob converted a contemplative opera into an ambient soundtrack in which melodies emerged evanescent and drifted toward the surface. With Richard Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen, Jacob takes the more robust thematic material of that opera and makes from it an album of stormy but passionate classical piano pieces as we might find from Chopin or Brahms.

The piano attacks these pieces with a stormy bluster followed by periods of long contemplative expansion on the melodies, compressing lengthy operas into a classical piece that can easily fit into the listening of a normal classical listener, with more of a Romantic style on piano than the hybrid Romantic-Modernist style of the Wagner operas. In this, Jacob and the transcribers Richard Kleinmichel and Karl Klindworth translate Wagner into an entirely different style while distilling his lengthy compositions to the internal dialogue of complex but approachable pieces.

Where the last album occurred as waves of ambient melody as fit Parsifal, for the more sturm und drang material of the Ring cycle Richard Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen takes an appropriately forthright approach in reducing many layers of orchestration and voices to a piano monologue. As an introduction to Wagner, this album may be more approachable than the first, although that may show more of Wagner’s technique in composition as it distinguishes itself from others. For those who want a classical piano experience that delivers intensity without veering into bombast, Richard Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen will be a delight.

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On the mentality of “men against time”

fred_nietzsche

Yes, pipe smoking is old-fashioned. It’s an indulgence from a by-gone age. And that is precisely what draws me to it. Smoking a pipe is a statement of taste, a rejection of the joyless and mass-produced engineering of addiction that is the cigarette. It’s an enjoyment of the slower, the more refined, the ritual as opposed to the habit. It’s single malt instead of cheap vodka. It’s quality versus quantity. It’s mindful appreciation instead of a quick fix.

And that is why I like it. – fearsclave

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Firespawn to release Shadow Realms, but don’t bother purchasing it

Firespawn - Shadow Realms (2015)

What do you get when you form a supergroup from members of Entombed, Unleashed, and Necrophobic, all of whom released excellent formative death metal at the beginnings of their careers? Not much, apparently. Firespawn (formerly Fireborn) plays generic modern Swedeath with slight hints of melody and not much else of interest. If you ever needed a reminder that a promising lineup does not automatically translate into a product that is even promising at best, Shadow Realms is there for you – more accurately, you will be able to purchase it on November 13th from Century Media if its banality fails to undermine your interest. In the mean time, you can listen to one of its upcoming tracks (“Ruination”) for a textbook example of how to put together generic deathpop. Particularly notable are the rudimentary vocal rhythms and the exceedingly basic song structure.

Future coverage is possible, but very likely to be sadistic in nature.

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Brouwerij Affligem – Affligem Dubbel (2015)

brouwerij_affligem_-_affligem_double

What sort of beer would you want at a metal gig? Strong, savage perhaps, but flavorful. What about a metal gig with keyboards? There you might have Affligem Dubbel, a tasty and strong double-fermented beer with a fruity and spicy undertone that is less extreme than found in most Belgian ales. It pours in a thick medium brown stream with minimal head, and immediately presents the scents of a rich beer. In flavor, it is mostly a darker sensation with mostly a malt flavor, some bitterness from spices (coriander in a blend unique to this variety of beer) and as it spreads and warms on the tongue, a fruity flavor like apple and pear baked together with a citrus topping. Alcohol flavor melds smoothly with the beer and is hardly detectable, melding into a strong caramelized flavor with a pleasant aftertaste of molasses. If you want a comparison to more familiar beers, consider this a richer and denser German-style version of Newcastle Brown Ale as made by Belgium corporations… err, Trappist monks (the first hipsters to popularize the beard). At 6.8% alcohol, this beast provides enough of a dose in a single 750ml serving to satisfy the metalhead who still wants to remember the show. Affligem Dubbel succeeds at making a beer for daily enjoyment, which is a process of understanding how flavors meld to make a satisfying beer experience, and its wide availability suggests it is geared for a market other than the foodie-style novelty crowd. It does not yet rise to the level of an iconic taste like many of the best-loved beers, but presents a solid middle ground which incorporates the Belgian style without going over the top. While many of the nu-Belgian style coriander-and-citrus beers are outright disgusting, this one is worth the time and fighting through the burly men with long bears and tattoos who are buying IPAs at the beer counter.

Quality rating: 4/5
Purchase rating: 3/5

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Extreme metal, old and new

Asteroid impact

Guest post by William Pilgrim

A reader recently posted a comment asking my opinion on modern extreme metal bands like Teitanblood and Ascension. We often take it as an article of faith that modern metal is a fallen genre that parted ways from the aspects that made the heyday of this music so glorious; indeed, it is almost a guarantee that any random second or third tier album from the early years of the genre will compare favourably with the current wave of practitioners.

But why should this be so? Forget about the intangibles for just now; elan vital, vir, passion, and spirit, as much stock as one puts in them, are ultimately amorphous, unquantifiable entities. But to the discerning ear, the very manner in which this music is played contributes greatly to the nurture and propagation of these ideas. But let’s not leave it at that even; the manner in which music is played is the result of an outlook on life and the world around us, a perspective that originates inside the mind with very distinct inspirations and goals assigned for itself. At least it should be so for the genuine musician who is willing to pay tribute to something greater than himself rather than be just another among the flock vying for whatever holds his fancy in the moment. When looked at from this angle, song writing and the musical techniques involved therein become offshoots of a state of mind. The difference between old and new then becomes the difference between states of mind that are separated by time, culture, and upbringing.

On the surface – and this is a broad generalization but it holds for the most part – new extreme metal bands lack definition and detail in riffs. Consider the most recent Teitanblood album Death and contrast it with something as universally unheralded – deservedly so in many quarters – as Krabathor’s debut Only Our Death from 1992. Teitanblood, hugely influenced as they are by the war metal of Blasphemy, attempt to paint broad swathes of atmosphere through repetition as opposed to the many-toothed, serrated approach to songwriting that Krabathor and others from that pocket of time display. The former lulls the unsuspecting listener into a trance-like state by concealing its lack of songwriting virtue through synthetic extremeness, but the second approach usually contains more thought, effort, and dynamics, and mimics the constant upturning and redressal of values that great death metal strives towards.

caspar_david_friedrich-the_wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fog

Old death metal as a combination of romanticism…

Edvard Munch - The Scream (1893)

…and expressionism

Bands like Teitanblood prioritize mood over content and coherence

Bands like Teitanblood prioritize mood over content and coherence

Borrowing terms from the schools of art and retrospectively applying them to metal, we can then say that old death metal is a curious but potent blend of romanticism and a nihilistic expressionism, on more or less equal footing: romantic in self-awareness, expressionist in revealing the horrors of the mind, and nihilistic in rejecting established values in favour of new belief systems. A band like Teitanblood, on the other hand, can be said to belong to an impressionist state of mind, the word impressionist signifying in no way any relation between Teitanblood and purveyors of that stream of thought in the arts. Instead, impressionism is used here merely to suggest the preeminence of mood over content, and the blurring of the music’s outer edges to the point of dissociation.

One might say that even undisputed classics like Darkthrone and Burzum used the repetition mentioned above to make their point, but the important thing to remember in those bands’ cases is that repetition was used as a story telling device to travel between distinctly realized book ends. Many modern bands seem to lack the roughest notion of what it means for a song to have a beginning and an end, and how islands spread across the length of the song can be used as “hooks” to hop from one spot to another, but always with the ultimate aim in mind: the song is God and everything else superfluous. Hear the song posted below from Ascension, a band many supposedly educated fans claim to be the second coming of the genre. Then contrast it with the Kvist song that immediately follows. Hear them back to back so that the dissonance stands out in stark relief.

Hear how the entire body of ‘Vettenetter’ is geared towards safeguarding the primacy of a greater idea, an idea that is directed outwards as opposed to the redundant, self-absorbed mannerisms of the Ascension track. The feelings Kvist induce in the listener can be classified as “romantic” in the truest sense of the word, a mixture of awe, beauty, human insignificance, yes, but also the perpetual struggle to understand and realize a greater meaning to our place in the world. As opposed to Kvist’s romanticism, however, bands like Ascension are entirely hedonistic, which by association implies a pathetic solipsism. The self is greater than the whole, the moment is greater than eternity, live now while you can, however you can, for who knows what tomorrow will bring?

This isn’t just abstract wool gathering; Ascension’s solipsism manifests itself in the carelessly strewn-about rock star solos, in the abrupt shifts in tone, in the complete absence of a unifying theme, and ultimately in the absurd, conceited belief that what they’re doing is in any way or form of artistic merit. Where Kvist intentionally dwarf themselves in humble tribute to the magnificent life-giving forces of nature, Ascension are like ghosts trapped between worlds, with no sense of who they are or what purpose they presently serve. Their concoction is cynically designed to appeal to Everyman, meaning the lowest common denominator in listener intelligence. A little of this, a little of that, take a potluck lunch home and you’re bound to find a bone to gnaw on. World Terror Committee, indeed.

Which of the two is the greater evil? Teitanblood’s impressionism, cheap and disoriented as it is, can be understood on some level as a honest effort from poor students of the metal genre. That is not to give it more credence than it deserves nor does it mean that it shouldn’t be called out for its many weaknesses or for its fans’ sheep-like mentality. But it’s only a matter of time before these bands are consigned to the dustbin of obscurity because of their self-devouring approach to music.

Bands like Ascension, however, work on the principle of fast-food equality, but through mechanisms subtler than what Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir employed twenty years ago. On the surface, they appear intoxicating to simpler tastes, shiny exterior, ersatz evil and all. They even go some distance in mimicking the sound of their elders, only to douse jaded listeners with buckets of icy cold water. Most listeners don’t care, however, and these pathetic tidbits are enough to guarantee the Ascensions of the world a name in the “new underground” for the foreseeable future.

The greater tragedy, however, is that these bands signify the death of the mind, and this is evidenced in the class of discussion that occurs around them and their music. To sensitive ears and minds, there is no higher emotion that a plastic, cookie-cutter band like Ascension is capable of eliciting, but by their subversive nature and by being infiltration points into this music for all the wrong elements, bands like these present the greatest danger to metal. That should no longer be considered an exaggeration, because for every new kid that discovers old treasures, ten more will flock to an Ascension and will eventually use the same strategies when they come to make music of their own, not knowing any better. After all, noise when amplified enough will always drown out quality.

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Mercyful Fate members reunite in Denner/Shermann

Denner/Shermann - Satan's Tomb (2015)
Mercyful Fate was one of the high points of traditional heavy metal in the 1980s, exerting huge influence through their over-the-top visual aesthetic and elaborate, theatrical songwriting. They arguably peaked on 1984’s Don’t Break The Oath; later works by both this band and its frontman’s project (King Diamond) varied in their ability to capture such high points.

October 2nd will see yet another effort from the band’s musicians – alumni from the band have united to form Denner/Shermann, and to release Satan’s Tomb, an EP of material in a similar but presumably modernized vein. The release date and album title are probably going to draw comparison to the band Satan’s upcoming album on the same day (Atom by Atom), despite definite differences in style. While our knowledge of Denner/Shermann’s sound and approach is less confirmed at this point, I’m fairly certain they need a better marketer on their side; at least as evidenced by the questionable decisions of the following trailer.

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Morbid Angel – Entangled In Chaos (1996)

Morbid Angel - Entangled In Chaos (1996)

With Earache Records promising us a re-release of this live album on vinyl in October, and an otherwise quiet week of upcoming relevant releases, I thought it might be a good idea to give this a more detailed look. Live albums are fundamentally interesting on a few levels – their attempts to capture something of the experience of a concert, their value as documentation of a period in a band’s career, the chance to possibly hear reinterpretations of favored songs, and so forth. Entangled in Chaos came out at the tail end of Morbid Angel’s commercial golden age and before the band tried to reinvent itself with Formulas Fatal to the Flesh. The product is low on references to the previously banal Domination for whatever reason, although whether that’s due to timing or creative reasons is beyond my knowledge.

These rerecordings end up more polished and standardized than the originals for the second time in MA’s discography, as the long holdovers from 1986 already got the Lemon Pledge treatment when they first entered the studios. Sometimes, the end results are rather stripped down; for obvious reasons studio adornments aren’t available, and Trey Azagthoth’s guitar solos are consistently altered from their original forms. Hearing the band’s earliest material with a production closer to Covenant or Domination is mildly interesting, to say the least, although the concessions to a live environment often cost these tracks some of their power and more musically interesting aspects. The performances are otherwise faithful to a fault, as such strict reproductions leave little room for reinterpretation… with the caveat that this is difficult to do successfully in a metal context and in this case might’ve resulted in an undesirable Domination II or similar.

There are not very many essential live albums in the realm of metal, and you can probably do without Entangled in Chaos in most cases. If you absolutely need to hear Morbid Angel playing relatively faithful but not particularly passionate renditions of their first era or are otherwise a collector, though, this rerelease may be to your tastes.

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Varathon to release The Confessional of the Black Penitents

Varathron - The Confessional of the Black Penitents (2015)
One of the most famous voices in the Greek metal scene (along with Rotting Christ, Necromantia, and Septic Flesh), Varathron is continuing their career with a new EP set to release on October 23rd. Containing both new songwriting and live recordings of previous works, it should serve well as a benchmark of the band’s current approach and a future full length. Agonia Records wrote the following press statement:

New seven-track EP from Greek black metal legends, VARATHRON. “The Confessional Of The Black Penitents” precedes the release of the band’s sixth full-length album and features three new exclusive songs along with four classic tracks recorded live in 2015. All together almost 45 minutes running time.

Placed amongst the forefathers of Hellenic black metal scene, VARATHRON has spawned albums that are celebrated as the cornerstones of Greek metal. Alongside Necromantia and Rotting Christ, with whom the group shared members, VARATHRON’s fascination towards early style remains unique and forthright. Since their inception back in 1988, the band’s trademark are mid-paced riffs that have a classic, old-school feel strengthened by a progressive view as well as epic atmospheres that only few can match.

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Malevolent Creation – Dead Man’s Path (2015)

Malevolent Creation - Dead Man's Path (2015)

Malevolent Creation has been in my listening backlog for many, many years on the strength of a few tracks from Retribution. I never got to them, because I was constantly distracted by trendier bands (brands). When I first acquired Dead Man’s Path, I theorized that since the band’s been around for nearly 30 years and retains some of its original members, this was not going to be a major stylistic departure from those past works lest long-time fans abandon them in droves. The flipside of this, as evidenced by my experience with similar types of recent releases such as Repentless, is that I expected that regardless of the final quality, I expected a streamlined version of MC’s past style.

My listening throws this into question. Malevolent Creation’s early works tended towards the ancestral end of death metal, with obvious speed/thrash metal roots poking out of an otherwise standard monophonic, dissonant approach. Dead Man’s Path recalls something of this, but as predicted, it turned out more conventionally musical, with more consonant melody and a denser production (out with Scott Burns and in with Dan Swanö). Add in a somber march of an intro, and a renewed emphasis on vocal patterns, and you have a release that has definitely streamlined itself. It doesn’t rock the boat much, and it does still pass the aesthetic litmus tests that define death metal, but the production and packaging isn’t particularly interesting to write about beyond its most basic qualities.

Unlike most of the bands that take this approach, however, Malevolent Creation does a good job of applying their musical practice to write better songs. To my understanding, they were never a particularly complex act, and most of these songs rely at least in part on obvious verses and choruses. However, good use of tempo and rhythm shifts in particular keep things from getting too skull-crushingly obvious and predictable. The band members also showcase enough compositional awareness to move integral song elements around between tracks to obfuscate the formulas a bit. I would personally have liked to hear more variation in riff styles, as some of the songs here (“Corporate Weaponry” in particular) suggest that such could be successfully incorporated while retaining the strong points of the band’s approach. That, however, is a small flaw in an otherwise very solid package.

To be fair, I was not expecting the strengths of Dead Man’s Path to be so covert, but they are the sort of elements that take some time to properly dissect and understand. However, this makes it a more valuable and perhaps integral work than most of what passes through the review queue here.

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