Grave – Out of Respect For the Dead (2015)

Grave - Out of Respect For the Dead (2015)
As a death metal listener, I always ended up favoring the more melodic, complex substyles as exemplified by the work of bands like At The Gates and Necrophobic. Grave isn’t those, never was them, and probably will never will be. I can’t really fault them for their lack of ambition, but the impression I derived from previews of this album’s tracks seems generally accurate. Out of Respect for the Dead is an adequate recording, considering that it’s a retread of a basic style with few detours into others, but the aforementioned lack of ambition makes it difficult to appreciate the expertise Grave displays in their small niche.

As a deathpop album, this succeeds and fires on more cylinders than much of the other deathpop I’ve listened to in recent months. The song structures, while generally basic and reliably verse/chorus, show some expertise in hiding it through simple techniques like varying up the bridges and not forcing the vocalist to repeat the title of the song every 15 seconds. Furthermore, Grave tends to shove their most memorable riffs towards the beginning of each track; while this is a compositional limitation to be overcome, it’s a good idea from a commercial stance since it’ll at least recapture the attention of audience members whose interest might end up fading otherwise. Other hooks are carefully sprinkled throughout the tracks – the occasional “big” riff combined with some skilled use of tempo and texture shifts helps to maintain a basic level of musicality and memorability throughout the album. The product remains simple and accessible enough in spite of its consistent death metal aesthetic; and thusly Grave is guaranteed to sell albums, although I don’t know how much money they’re actually making off their musical legacy since the death metal niche is still not particularly large.

These successes are assuredly not enough to push Grave to the top of the Swedeath pile. They’ve clearly practiced their style to the point that it’s probably trivial for them to pump out a new album semi-regularly. However, most of the strong points of these songs merely make me wish that Out of Respect for the Dead was more ambitious in its songwriting. A failure in that regard is arguably more noble than a lack of effort, although from a philosophical stance that’s not a debate of particular importance or merit, especially when other bands have succeeded. If you absolutely need ultra-basic death metal in the Swedish vein, though, this will probably satisfy your needs.

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Dr. Shrinker – Grotesque Wedlock (2004)

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Death metal was born in 1983 with the unholy quartet of Sodom, Bathory, Hellhammer and Slayer, but it took many years to translate the new style into a full-fledged monster, which happened sometime in 1990-1991. In the interregnum, bands such as Possessed, Kreator, Destruction and Merciless took the speed metal approach, the broken drums of thrash, and the vocals and guitar techniques of death metal and made an intermediate style.

Dr. Shrinker comes to us from that era with this compilation of demos from its period of existence from 1987 to 1990. The tracklist breaks down as follows:

    “Wedding the Grotesque” (1989)

  1. Tools Of The Trade
  2. Mesmerization (Of A Corpse)
  3. Fungus
  4. Rawhead Rex
  5. Cerebral Seizure
  6. Dead By Dawn
  7. Open-Heart Surgery
  8. No Way To Live
  9. Pronounced Dead
  10. Chunk Blower
  11. Bacterial Encroachment
  12. Wedding The Grotesque
  13. “The Eponym” (1990)

  14. Tighten The Tourniquet
  15. Germ Farm
  16. “Recognition” (1988)

  17. The Command
  18. March Of The Undead
  19. Graphic Violence
  20. Inverted Direction
  21. Free At Lasssst!!!

These tracks display the conventions of that period pushing toward something more extreme: verses like the German speed metal bands, choruses like Swedish band Merciless with a bit of melody, and shifts from verse/chorus structure and fills much like later American band Nunslaughter. These songs display the holdover from 1970s metal through Venom which manifests in strong rhythm hooks to the vocal cadence of choruses balanced by driving inertia in the verses, deviating with strange fills that foreshadow future song developments. In this, part of the genesis of death metal can be seen: the transition from conventional song structures to entirely riff-driven evolution of theme as manifested itself on classics of the genre like Onward to Golgotha.

Showing the speed metal heritage, riffs are often single-picked and emphasize an internal rhythm, in contrast to the phrasal riffs to come later. Their simplicity in phrase allows the production of a basic driving rhythm which storms up against the ends of each iteration, creating a sense of a pile-up that conveys urgency to the listener. This ploughs into the chorus and creates a feeling of intensity with repetition, which is very much like the 1980s, a cross between Gordon Gekko and nuclear warfare. An interesting outlier is “March of the Undead,” which could have come off Cryptic Slaughter Convicted (and, at 1:21, has a song length to match).

While Dr. Shrinker does a great job of this style, the problem for me — and others — is that this style seems dated and the bands interchangeable at this point. You could throw on an album by Necronomicon, Merciless, Kreator, Destruction or late-80s Sodom and get the same experience and roughly the same riff archetypes. For this reason, Grotesque Wedlock remains in the purchasing domain of people who love this speed/death hybrid style and metal historians.

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Unleashed – Dawn of the Nine (2015)

Unleashed - Dawn of the Nine (2015)
There is no real difference between Dawn of the Nine and an album from a more mainstream Viking themed death metal themed heavy rock band (which, at this point in the history of the universe, means Amon Amarth). Sure, Unleashed is less consonant and theoretically more chromatic, but you’re still listening to an especially standardized and formulaic pop music product, even if Unleashed arguably sticks closer to their original sound than the rest of Nihilist’s progeny. Still, Dawn of the Nine is at least one way to feed metalheads the infamous “death’n’roll” sound without them complaining… at least not immediately.

On this album, like others before it, Unleashed sticks to the arena rock end of the pop sphere. Consonant, monophonic melodic riffing over generic drumming, no real bass, and unvarying vocal technique probably brings to mind many of the other generic, basal Swedeath styled albums we’ve rejected over the years. The songwriting here, though, is unusually fixated on the repetition of simple choruses to a degree that few bands dare approach, even when they’re just as obvious. Therein lies the tragedy of Unleashed, at least in the present – the guitarists have developed a sense of melody and rhythm that would be well suited towards writing good narrative (albeit probably more traditionally styled) metal. At points, there are some genuinely interesting musical elements being thrown around, but rarely if ever are they developed upon because, shockingly enough, it’s time for the song’s chorus. Other times, the musicians toss around extremely basic musical ideas for what are presumably commercial reasons, but that at least is common throughout the industry, and even then you can justify the occasional basic break in the middle of a track as part of an effort to write a more dynamic and interesting song.

What particularly strikes me about my own opinions on Dawn of the Nine is how close they are to previous site writings on new Unleashed recordings. The emphasis on tired, overly basic rock tropes weakens the entire album beyond what its also predictable strengths of musicianship and production can recover. It’s usually not this incredibly obvious on the recordings of this band’s contemporaries, though, but someday they too may need to pander especially hard to the blockheads to retain their underground cred.

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Mountains Are Mountains

chineseMountains
Guest post by former editor David Rosales

 

老僧三十年前未參禪時、見山是山、見水是水、及至後夾親見知識、有箇入處、見山不是山、見水不是水、而今得箇體歇處、依然見山秪是山、見水秪是水

Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.

— Ch’ing-yüan Wei-hsin, Ch’uan Teng Lu

Those who thirst for knowledge and wisdom move in cycles of understanding delimited by internalization and externalization. These transitions are not tied to fixed degrees and their own depth as well as their distance from the next phase varies from one person to the next. The cycles of understanding can be exemplified by the process of finding out how an electronic or mechanical device works: we first pry it open and find ourselves faced with a multitude of components whose nature we usually do not even begin to understand. It is only after a while that we slowly start to identify the function pertaining each of these elements.

At first, and as we acquire basic information on the system, we are taken aback by the complexity of the relations between the different pieces working with each other in interlocked patterns. Even after understanding the purpose and function that each of the pieces has, one is not assured a proper grasp of the bigger picture. The reason for this is that this is not simply the result of the mechanical output of wheels and cogs, but something else arising from the total.

And so, after a first wave of study, analysis and pondering, a first picture is obtained. The student may think he now knows what’s going on, and that all undetermined parts are simply “subjective” or “random” and cannot be considered relevant. Some would call it a day and leave it at that. Others would continue from this higher ground, recharging batteries and pushing forth theories and testing them for incongruences until a newer picture emerges, one where what he considered parts of a whole are only parts of a partial system, embedded in either a greater mesh or having a completely different shape or balance of parts.

In dealing with the enigma of true learning, the conscious human mind is impaired with an understanding that remains clear only up to very straightforward deterministic causal relations and requires its most powerful tool to attain its full potential: the underestimated intuition. If anyone has doubts regarding the role of intuition and the subconscious (unconscious?) in learning (the attaining of understanding), one only has to think that cramming on a particular subject yields instant information on the most direct and obvious levels, but that it is only after one has “slept on it” that repercussions and otherwise unimagined dependencies are revealed to the mind.

Most valuable information, of course, can also come through experience and a scientific exploration of any subject, which provides the springboard of systematized analysis that scientific thought is. Unfortunately for humanity, “science” has slowly become a synonym for “materialist close-mindedness” ever since the so-called Enlightenment, and anything that is not “scientifically proven” (which is an interesting parallel to reducing any idea to the lowest common denominator in its requirement of the idea in question being universally reproducible in laboratory conditions) is held to be unreliable and irrelevant – unless the establishment likes the idea (for political or ego reasons, more often than not), making the profit-based scientific research advance at an unbearably slow speed towards the fabrication of commodities and pointless lifespan prolongation.

Applying this description of universal acquisition of human wisdom to music appreciation cannot only afford us with a clearer way of realizing the value of art but may as well arm us with the steel necessary to combat the nonsensical idea of complete subjectivity in the perception of music which cripples any discussion on its value in favor of modernist un-human experimentalism and post-modernist adoration for the recycled novelty. Modernist and post-modernist ideas about art arise from the same so-called-scientific materialist thinking that spawned infantile Marxist thought. All of these have in common that they use the word “science” and “objectivity” as a shield while they naively ignore human nature in favor of completely biased ideas on how civilization should proceed in their consideration of either arts, politics or economy. The haughty claim is made that there is no such thing as human nature or that nobody understands what this even means. As if its imperfect understanding were enough to discard it as irrelevant, all evidence to the contrary.

In the true spirit of the scientist, the learner, the explorer, the experimenter, the reader and avid metal fan is encouraged to never stop considering the reasons behind the effects of music, the role of structures and textures and how they can be perceived, how they relate to meaning and in what contexts, as well as any other ideas that lead to understanding rather than to an obfuscation into which unscientific thought has lead the establishment while at the same time they hijack the word “science” for their personal views! Just because a problem is hard to solve, just because the variables involved are complex, and just because the obtaining of a knowledge does not represent life or death it does not mean it need not be pursued. Humans thrive on the tackling of problems, and the supplying of baser needs such as food and clothing should only mean that human intellect is now more free than ever to delve into higher mysteries.

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Metal riffs without distortion

As something of a followup to yesterday’s article about rearranging or otherwise reinterpreting metal for compositional purposes – Youtube guitarist VAALVLA recently uploaded a video showcasing the main riffs of some popular metal and rock songs played clean and without any guitar distortion.

This was insightful and/or gimmicky enough to earn the attention of a couple other metal journalism websites, and it helps to reveal, on some level, the difference in technique between, for example, a Slayer and a Pantera song. A drum track was provided, but it doesn’t detract from the lesson at hand. VAALVLA also has several other videos in a similar vein that may be interesting to our readers.

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Hipsters

croquet

The metal community has always defended itself against poseurs, with most of us realizing that hipsters, scenesters and other groups are varieties of poseur.

What is a poseur? Someone who pretends for the social status of being seen in a hip group. Metal, as it turns out, has authenticity because we are actual rebels, not rock ‘n’ rollers singing protest songs to give legitimacy to their pursuit of hedonism.

Hipsters, poseurs and scenesters are threatening because they are insincere. They adopt a musical genre to make themselves look cool, and in the process sabotaging it by bring it to a lowest common denominator of attention-getting behavior.

This guts the genre from within. The spirit that made it authentic has been replaced with the same trashy plastic advertising that covers everything else. The genre then becomes absorbed by the same old stuff, which is itself a mishmash of whatever has sold records over the past five generations.

Perhaps the best definition of hipster — the mishmash left over when a civilization fails — comes to us from AdBusters magazine:

Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.

But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”

An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.

But even that captures what hipsters are now, not the simple fact that they are an old archetype going back to The Enlightenment. The Bohemians of the 1900s, the rebels of the 1600s, and the giggin’ hipsters of the 2010s have some things in common: deliberately unconventional behavior, focus on ironism and uniqueness at an aesthetic level, and hedonistic lifestyles at the expense of the rest of us.

New York Magazine has more on the history of the hipster:

The hipster, however, was someone else already. Specifically, he was a black subcultural figure of the late forties, best anatomized by Anatole Broyard in an essay for the Partisan Review called “A Portrait of the Hipster.” A decade later, the hipster had evolved into a white subcultural figure. This hipster—and the reference here is to Norman Mailer’s “The White Negro” essay for Dissent in 1957—was explicitly defined by the desire of a white avant-garde to disaffiliate itself from whiteness, with its stain of Eisenhower, the bomb, and the corporation, and achieve the “cool” knowledge and exoticized energy, lust, and violence of black Americans. (Hippie itself was originally an insulting diminutive of hipster, a jab at the sloppy kids who hung around North Beach or Greenwich Village after 1960 and didn’t care about jazz or poetry, only drugs and fun.)

The hipster, in both black and white incarnations, in his essence had been about superior knowledge—what Broyard called “a priorism.” He insisted that hipsterism was developed from a sense that minorities in America were subject to decisions made about their lives by conspiracies of power they could never possibly know. The hip reaction was to insist, purely symbolically, on forms of knowledge that they possessed before anyone else, indeed before the creation of positive knowledge—a priori.

This leads us to wonder: why are hipsters so omnipresent, if they are transparent? Hipsters seek others who are either clueless or equally dependent on not mentioning the fakeness of hipsterism. Like drug addicts clustering, or cult members in their caverns, hipsters seek out people they can manipulate, control and influence.

The New York Times gives us a glimpse into the psychology of the hipster:

All hipsters play at being the inventors or first adopters of novelties: pride comes from knowing, and deciding, what’s cool in advance of the rest of the world. Yet the habits of hatred and accusation are endemic to hipsters because they feel the weakness of everyone’s position — including their own. Proving that someone is trying desperately to boost himself instantly undoes him as an opponent. He’s a fake, while you are a natural aristocrat of taste. That’s why “He’s not for real, he’s just a hipster” is a potent insult among all the people identifiable as hipsters themselves.

With all that being said, would you want this self-important psychology and fake social scene to invade your genre? This question weighs heavily on metalheads as SJWs emerge as the newest form of hipster, combining the demands for personal hedonism with a Communist-derived insistence that others subsidize it through tolerance and, ultimately, actual subsidies. It’s not surprising that many hipsters exist on an equal diet of trust funds and food stamps.

SJWs want to have the hipster psychology take over heavy metal, and while they claim it is for political reasons, the real reason is much simpler: they want to fill the room with people they can control, manipulate and influence by excluding anyone who is a realist, or has a complex worldview, or adheres to traditional heavy metal ideals. SJWs want to destroy our standards and replace them with their own so that, in the new chaos, they can keep the genre filled with clueless people who won’t point out the obvious.

That SJWs are just giggin’ hipsters.

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The History of Metal and Horror documentary begins filming

The History of Metal and Horror

Director Mike Schiff has embarked on a new project: a documentary called The History of Metal and Horror which explores the complex relationship between heavy metal and horror films. The documentary will include interviews with horror icons such as Tom Savini, Gunnar Hansen, Sid Haig, and John Russo as well as musicians such as Kirk Hammett, Corey Taylor, Alice Cooper, Jonathan Davis, and more.

Metal Blade founder and icon Brian Slagel is producing the film. The producers released the following statement:

A documentary (currently in production) which explores the history of heavy metal music, horror films, and how the two genres have merged together over time.

Various metal artists share their greatest fears, favorite horror films, their influences, and much more. Horror film icons also discuss how their films have influenced the horror genre, their connections to metal artists, and why metal and horror work together.

For more info, head over to the movie website and watch the promo trailer below.

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Trench Warfare releasing new split albums

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Militant complex war metal band Trench Warfare plans to unleash two new splits, hot on the heels of its three-song EP Perversion Warfare. This shows the band continuing its style of textured riff-frenzy with songs that reach a definite apex and conclusion, in contrast to most of the war metal genre.

The band released the following statement:

Trench Warfare is currently recording three tracks for an upcoming four-way split entitled “Of Vultures and Vermin” which will be available via Surrealistic Fatality Releases (SFR). The other bands featured on the split are Sturmtiger (UK), Formulus (Alabama) and Lugubrious Descent (Florida).

We have also begun writing for a split with Morocco’s Agurzil for which we have enlisted the exceptionally talented drummer Lee Fisher. Lee has performed with Commit Suicide, Psyopus and Overlord Exterminator.

Someone close to the band also leaked three demo tracks from forthcoming Trench Warfare compositions. I traded a brick of Semtex for a dub and was able to hear clearly the progression in this band. Their same unrelenting approach has deepened its texture, with more interplay between riffs, and more fast tremolo riffs in the death metal style. The result is just as hard-hitting but has more internal variation and conflict, leading to a style of war metal that borrows the complexity of death metal, the intensity of grindcore and yet keeps true to its hammering martial assault.

Good things are coming from this promising Texas band, who raised eyebrows with the inscription on their debut EP:

NO MELODIES, NO GROOVES, NO SLAMS, NO BREAKDOWNS
ONLY HATE AND WAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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How to write better metal music – Recontextualization

Rachmaninoff playing a Steinway grand piano

Too many of the bands I review are (apparently) uninterested in their songwriting beyond a basic level, and too many of those that actually are interested approach improving it from exclusively an academic position – the idea that applying enough ideas from theory will make for interesting content. DMU’s orthodox positions are firstly that being able to work from some sort of message/concept is a potent motivator, and secondly that greater emphasis is needed on structural development. These are both useful things to keep in mind, but properly implementing them requires a great deal of effort and possibly some rearrangement of your internal mental hardware. While there is no substitute for hard work, there is one particularly useful technique I’d like to share that helps with the latter.

The concept is fairly basic – take a work of music, transcribe it, and adapt it for different instrumentation, but executing it effectively takes some proficiency. For the best results, you need to use instruments that require radically different performance technique than the originals, or at least something that imposes major restrictions on your sonic palette. The canonical example around here is either a kazoo or a piano, depending on how serious an article discussing the subject is. As someone who relies heavily on software to create and ‘perform’ music, I would tend to recommend restrictive, simulationist sequencing software like Famitracker (which emulates the limited sound hardware of the Nintendo Entertainment System). Ultimately, the exercise has been done enough by other people that de-emphasizing the specific choice of instrument makes sense.

Ideally, the very act of rearranging a composition will provide some insights into its structure. Transcribing the composition requires some understanding of what an instrument can and can’t do, and possibly a strong ear if good notation or transcription is lacking. Furthermore, the limitations of the new instruments may force one aspect of the songwriting into the limelight, revealing its strengths and weaknesses. One caveat is that the derivative you end up making will probably incorporate your own biases as a performer and composer, but even that might help you to understand your own strengths and weaknesses in that regard. I personally should know, since I often end up taking my own compositions and rearranging them as I gain access to new tools I want to take advantage of. In the process, I often end up making structural changes that hopefully strengthen the new versions, and I also learn ways to make future works better.

In short, rearranging is a useful technique to learn some aspects of composition, although it’s no panacea, especially since there are limits to how much original thought you add while still calling it a rearrangement. Given an opportunity to hone your composition skills, though, you should seriously consider giving it a shot, especially if you’re in a band that likes to play covers.

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Carnage – …Left to Suffer in the Aftermath…

carnage_-_left_to_suffer_in_the_aftermath

In my view, the premiere Swedish death metal releases were Therion Beyond Sanctorum, At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours and Carnage Dark Recollections. Those who appreciate the latter may enjoy this disc of a live set from 1990, a soundcheck from 1989, and the “The Day Man Lost” demo from that same year.

This compilation/re-issue is exactly what it purports to be: a highly competent live set of the songs in the form you remember them from Dark Recollections, a brief glimpse of the more chaotic earlier live performance, and the classic demo that is mostly similar to the album. For this reason, …Left to Suffer in the Aftermath… will be essential for no one except death metal historians and those who want a less-detuned and slightly faster version of these classic songs for the “live experience” feel. The 1990 set dominates the release with its uptempo take on the Dark Recollections songs, with little if any deviation from the album, where the demo shows the details of the crustcore plus death metal fusion barely beginning to come together. The 1989 sound check shows an interesting glimpse of this band in a more vicious mood, but peters out when it gets going, and could easily be forgotten. The demo is faithful and a pleasurable rough listen.

For almost any occasion, it makes more sense to throw on Dark Recollections, especially since the re-issue contains this same demo. The live set however conveys a certain energy that studio recordings can never hope to duplicate and is a great listen for afternoons outdoors when you want something loud and chaotic but structured, sort of like the reason that people still treasure Mayhem Live in Leipzig despite the microphone-in-Satan’s-anus sound quality. Obviously, if you are still reading, you are a Swedish death metal and/or Carnage fanatic, and you probably need this on your shelf.

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