Disincarnate – Dreams of the Carrion Kind

disincarnate-dreams_of_the_carrion_kindThe brainchild of James Murphy, a guitar virtuoso who released two instrumental “shred” albums through Shrapnel Records, Disincarnate is in theory an underground metal dream made reality. The band released its one and only album in 1993 on Roadrunner Records. Murphy’s legendary lead guitar work on Obituary’s Cause of Death created the promise of a killer album was in the making, only it was never delivered.

Disincarnate is part of the first wave of post-Human era Death/Cynic bands who were making death metal explicitly play nice with the Headbanger’s Ball and Guitar World audiences under the guise of Floridian rhythmic death metal. This watered-down death metal was designed to appeal to the casual Pantera and Chaos A.D. metal fans of the time. On Dreams of the Carrion Kind, song structures are simple and pop-oriented, reminiscent of an 80s speed metal act like Exodus, which is a riff salad without themes developing within it.

“Monarch of the Sleeping Marshes,” the best composition on the album, fails to capture its surprisingly elaborate lyrical concept, impeding upon the momentum of its inspired introductory riffcraft with an awkward pause after the chorus to make way for an incongruous bridge of generic Benediction mosh fare. Other tracks like “Soul Erosion” and “Deadspawn” sound like Brutality playing along to bouncy Fear Factory/Pantera chugging fare with death metal vocals and lyrics adapted around that framework, no doubt in a vain attempt to bridge two trends from the era. At best, it could be compared to a lowbrow version of the first half of Resurrection’s Embalmed Existence.

James Murphy’s dextrous playing and the early Roadrunner Records connection would make this seem innocent, but don’t be fooled. This release is cleverly disguised as something profound but is no more advanced than Benediction’s Transcend the Rubicon. It isn’t awful to the point where you would rather swan dive into a wood chipper, but the overly bluesy doom riffs and the grooved out relaxed tempos of tremolo riffs in cyclical song structures that break for a “guitar hero” solo suggests this band as having the confused character of something that wants to be morbid and sinister, but also pander to the Dimebag Darrell worshipers of that era.

While some of the wiser among us would simply dismiss this as not up to par with other releases in its genre, on closer inspection, this album alongside Malevolent Creation’s Retribution and Obituary’s The End Complete in addition to Roadrunner Records vast distribution network assisted in streamlining death metal into a more rock centric style that allowed the Gutted/Kataklysm mosh fare with flashy distraction breaks to become an Ozzfest/Hot Topic mainstay in the 2000s.

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Yass-Waddah – Cities of the Red Night

yass-waddah-cities_of_the_red_nightRising from Italy, Yass-Waddah play modern black metal in a style well suited for live performance. Simple, straightforward songs with coherent progressions bring about the merging of black metal techniques with heavy metal ethos, similar to Gorgoroth or Marduk.

Production wise, Cities of the Red Night (it’s unclear if this is named after the William S. Burroughs novel of the same title) has quite a clear sound for the genre: all instruments are audible and individually identifiable in the mix. Some may prefer this, as it avoids the “live from the sewer” feel of older black metal records, but others will lament the loss of the cold atmosphere so unique to black metal.

Musically, the band hits all the right steps of a band aiming to be invited to Wacken: Succinct tracks charge forward with a well-coordinated assault of blastbeats, high-pitched vocals, in addition to riffs constructed from melodies created by moving minor chords around the fretboard , which give the songs a focused method of attack.

Unfortunately, all songs on this EP follow the same structure, with only a few arpeggios and a bizarre solo sequence on the final track introducing variation. The consequence of this repetitive method of composition is that each track does tend to meld together, and after listening to this EP, one will be hard pressed to remember anything distinguishing them. Repetition in itself is not a negative (see Ildjarn), but the difference here is that there is little in terms of atmosphere and thus the attention shifts to the riffs – which do little to retain.

Nevertheless, the band avoids many of the pitfalls prevalent among its generation: there is no “glitter”, nor strange concessions to other genres included to entice more fans – just honest metal which has the potential to both drawn in new fans and appeal to long-time listeners of the genre. As this was merely a short demo, the band has potential to build from in future releases.

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Sammath unleashes title track from Godless Arrogance

sammath-godless_arroganceWhat a difference studio recording and mastering can make. Sammath went into the studio with a demo full of their iconic black/death battle metal, but in the studio, something magic happened: it became transformed into a hybrid of early Morbid Angel and early Ancient, being both relentless and hiding melody inside its rigorous riffs.

Godless Arrogance promises to be a relentless war-charge of high speed percussion, fuzzily distorted fast riffing, and demented mocking vocals which sound like a criticism of the mundane world by something beyond it. The band have upgraded their playing to leave fewer spaces in the wall of sound, and have used production to mate their fuzzy guitars and whirlwind drums into a channel of sonic violence.

To be released by Hammerheart Records worldwide, Godless Arrogance shows this Dutch-German band backing off of the technicality of the last album in favor of the relentless riff assault of their most popular middle albums, combined with the sublime sense of melody that made their first album a keeper for so many metalheads.

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Armaroth – False Vision

armaroth-false_visionBands seeking to play death metal in 2013 are faced with a curious conundrum: they grew up with undeniably great records that inform their knowledge of the genre, and yet their potential audience in this current generation clamors for simpler material with more digestible melodies. Bands then have to decide to what extent they will incorporate the “modern metal” influence into the death metal which is their reason for playing in the first place.

Armaroth play a fusion of death metal and speed metal, with some modern melodic metal influences introducing cross-generational appeal. Death metal riffs drive the songs forward, providing the backbone for the other elements to build upon. The riffs in their best moments are darker than the typical modern death metal fare, bringing out a sense of foreboding that has more evocative impact than just pure aggression. Speed metal lends itself to connecting riffs between verse and chorus, providing motion with palm-muted riffs that introduce rhythmic variation.

These sections are solid in themselves, but the band often moves from one to the next without giving sufficient care to set up transitions, leaving songs at times feeling as if they’re collections of riffs thrown together rather than conceived with a purpose. Moments as such are aggravated by the modern metal elements, such as embarrassingly catchy choruses and ambiguous guitar wankery which sharply contrasts with the more polished material.

The band recently released their first EP, False Vision. In their future material, if the band were to focus on and improve what they already do well and abandon the tendency towards including concessions for the newer generation, their material would be well above average in the current milieu.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eF7_crOv3uM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmKdXAZn3m0

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Earthen Grave – Earthen Grave re-issued as double LP/CD

earthen_grave

Former Trouble member Ron Holzner joins celebrated violinist Rachel Barton Pine in Earthen Grave, a doom metal band with heavy metal energy and hard rock groove. It fits in the niche between depressive heavy metal doom like Derketa and stoner doom of the Spirit Caravan variety, but has some of the gravitas and theology of Trouble and other depressive heavy metal doom bands from the 1980s.

Earthen Grave, the band’s debut, has been re-issued as a double-CD or double-LP on the Ripple Music label, appearing in stores and online on July 9, 2013. The completely re-mastered debut release now contains a new song, “death is another word….” with drummer Chris Wozniak (formerly of Lair of the Minotaur).

While Earthen Grave has not gotten the overflowing press attention that has accompanied many other doom metal bands, this band offers more of a pure older-school feel to its doom metal, and does not pander to the me-first mentality that many people want to hear in their music. The result is pure bleakness and self-negation that periodically rocks out and then launches into a series of musically erudite solos. As a result, Earthen Grave may appeal to the musicians among us first, and later spread to the rest of the metal audience.

** – EARTHEN GRAVE featuring Rachael Barton Pine

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Exhumed – Necrocracy

exhumed-necrocracyFounded by a group of career metalheads, Exhumed started with a simple mission: make grind, but make it entertaining and participatory like the better heavy metal of the past few generations. While they were initially known as a Carcass clone, that comparison involves the vocals, while the guitar music is itself quite different.

Necrocracy continues the tradition with some very professional songwriting. The technique is pure death metal, grindcore and smatterings of punk and speed metal; under that surface, what lurks is old school heavy metal combined with Swedish-style melodic songwriting (which interestingly was also discernible on the debut).

As part of that professionalism, Exhumed fit each song into a series of gratifications: a good introduction, pounding verses, surging choruses, fireworks for solos and then a transition through a minor key melody into a triumphant return to the verse, plus an optional outro. This formula — adopted in part from glam ballads — propelled speed metal and heavy metal bands to the stratosphere. It’s doing something similar for Exhumed.

What makes Necrocracy hold together is that each song is composed of only necessary parts toward achieving this goal, which could be roughly described as half wanting to be a fun grindcore band, and half wanting to be a professional metal band with MTV-ready songs. Much like Amebix recently saw the utility of this format for reaching the slumbering masses, Exhumed use it to inject some death metal into the melange of hard rock, punk, speed metal, grind/death and heavy metal that makes up their songs.

It is probably not wise for old school death metal fans to rush to this album. It has more in common with grindcore and album-oriented stadium heavy metal, since it relies on the verse-chorus and derives much of its effect from application of known songwriting technique instead of straying into odd structures, bizarre twists, and experimental riffs. Its choruses are hooky, its verses catchy and chanty, and the heavy production and technique hides a band that could go toe-to-toe with the big heavy metal bands of the 1980s through 2000s. Their audience is its audience, updated a bit.

Carrying on the tradition of making metal music that pushes past what is socially acceptable, Exhumed return with an onslaught of cynicism about humanity that takes joy in its own dire predictions. Energetic and necrotically enthusiastic, Necrocracy pumps out the energy and the engaging heavy metal tropes in a voice that is all its own, and will serve as a great introduction for many to these genres.

Necrocracy will be released on August 6, 2013 via Relapse Records and can be pre-ordered here. Catch Exhumed on tour:

EXHUMED European Takeover 2013 [remaining dates]:

  • 7/17/2013 Vlamrock – As, Belgium
  • 7/23/2013 Metal Days – Tolmin, Slovenia
  • 7/24/2013 Garage – Munich, Germany
  • 7/25/2013 Eisenwahn – Obersinn, Germany

EXHUMED w/ Dying Fetus, Devourment, Waking The Cadaver

  • (10/4 – 10/19), Abiotic,Rivers Of Nihil (10/26 – 11/2):
  • 10/04/2013 Mojo 13 – Wilmington, DE
  • 10/05/2013 The Soapbox – Wilmington, NC
  • 10/06/2013 Back Booth – Orlando, FL
  • 10/07/2013 The Orpheum – Tampa, FL
  • 10/09/2013 Fitzgerald’s – Houston, TX
  • 10/10/2013 Red 7 – Austin, TX
  • 10/11/2013 Trees – Dallas, TX
  • 10/12/2013 Chameleon Room – Oklahoma City, OK
  • 10/13/2013 Warehouse 21 – Santa Fe, NM
  • 10/14/2013 Rocky Point – Tempe, AZ
  • 10/15/2013 Observatory – Santa Ana, CA
  • 10/16/2013 The Whisky – W. Hollywood, CA
  • 10/17/2013 DNA Lounge – San Francisco, CA
  • 10/18/2013 Branx – Portland, OR
  • 10/19/2013 Studio Seven – Seattle, WA
  • 10/20/2013 Rickshaw Theater – Vancouver, BC
  • 10/22/2013 Republik – Calgary, AB
  • 10/23/2013 Pawn Shop – Edmonton, AB
  • 10/24/2013 Riddell Centre – Regina, SK
  • 10/25/2013 Park Theater – Winnipeg, MB
  • 10/26/2013 Station-4 – St Paul, MN
  • 10/27/2013 Reggie’s – Chicago, IL
  • 10/29/2013 Peabodys – Cleveland, OH
  • 10/30/2013 Chance Theater – Poughkeepsie, NY
  • 10/31/2013 Palladium – Worcester, MA
  • 11/01/2013 Gramercy Theater – New York, NY
  • 11/02/2013 Empire – Springfield, VA

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Thrones of Heresy – Realms of Desecration

thrones_of_heresy-realms_of_desecrationThe existence of modern death metal — the merging of multiple genres together and slapping the veneer of death metal over it should result in a product that does not appeal to any of the fans of the individual genres, as they will always have purer distillations of each type of metal available — fascinates me. Nevertheless, the genre exists and is evidently quite popular with someone, as numerous bands in the genre arise all the time and reach some measure of success.

Throne of Heresy is such a band, and is an able defender of this type of composition: any type of metal that has been popular over the past two decades is thrown into a blender and the result is a competent but stylistically confused product. Each section of the tracks is well-composed and well executed , though what’s lacking is any sense of purpose or meaning. The progenitors of each style of metal represented here had an intention behind their work, a desire to create art that is conspicuously absent on this EP.

Featuring a decidedly verse-chorus structure, the songs consist of tonally ambiguous palm-muted riffs morphing into admittedly catchy choruses that give way to whatever School of Metal technique is the flavor of the day: it could be a “melodic” solo, an awkward semi-clean breakdown, or perhaps even a key change. What makes these sectional divides even more jarring is that there is very little in the song to indicate when they are occurring, or indeed why they are occurring.

This is not to give the impression that there is nothing of merit occurring: the vocals on the whole are solid death metal belts, though on times they do take on the angry for the sake of being angry tinge that is ingrained in modern metal. Each of the instruments is composed and played well, but the lack of intention or drive that so characterizes modern metal creates an obstacle that cannot be overcome.

It seems to me that bands such as this are suffering from an identity crisis: they are trying to appeal to fans of every genre of metal. While this may be a sound financial decision, it is not a good artistic decision, which is a shame as there is definitely a core of talent to be explored here.

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Amon Amarth – Deceiver of the Gods

amon_amarth-deceiver_of_the_godsFans of Amon Amarth will find their latest offering Deceiver of the Gods to be a solid continuation of the band’s heavy and bloody recapitulation of Norse mythology, albeit a little less heavy and a little less bloody. 

Those new to the latest album by this 14-year-long line-up of Swedish death metal royalty will find a great introduction to their sound and ethos. While Deceiver of the Gods does not have the intensity of classics With Oden on Our Side or Twilight of the Thunder God, this album certainly offers everything expected of an Amon Amarth album. 

The first two tracks, “Deceiver of the Gods” and “As Loke Falls” show a strong Iron Maiden influence.  “Father of the Wolf” — for which a video is being produced — is thrashier.  “Shape Shifter” is an epic song that proves a bit heavier than the offerings to this point. “Under Siege” steps things up nicely with a fairly intricate opening, a much more complex structure overall, and a couple of extra minutes to develop.  At 6:17 it is the second-longest song on the album (and this reviewer’s favorite track) and exemplifies the melodic death metal aesthetic Amon Amarth has so adroitly sustained year after year, album after album. “Blood Eagle,” “We Shall Destroy,” and “Hel” are solid tunes if a bit tiring; “Hel” also features the vocal contributions of Messiah Marcolin, notable for his work with unique doom metal band Candlemass. “Coming of the Tide” drives harder, and the energy it brings — as well as tempo changes and nice guitar work — recall the intensity of earlier albums. The eight-minute epic “Warriors of the North” closes the album with classic Amon Amarth flair.

Those interested in the deluxe edition will find a four-song EP-Under the Influence– included.  Each song appears to be a tribute to an influential band. “Burning Anvil of Steel” (Judas Priest), “Satan Rising” (Black Sabbath), “Snake Eyes” (AC/DC), and “Stand Up to Go Down” (Motorhead) constitute an intriguing contemplation of Amon Amarth’s sources.

Expertly produced, mixed, and mastered by veteran metal-maven Andy Sneap (originally of Sabbat UK), Deceiver of the Gods is a good album and well worth the asking price. Fans will appreciate the new material and those new to Amon Amarth and/or death metal will find this album a worthy introduction.

Tracklist:

  • Deceiver of the Gods (4:19)
  • As Loke Falls (4:38)
  • Father of the Wolf (4:19)
  • Shape Shifter (4:02)
  • Under Siege (6:17)
  • Blood Eagle (3:15)
  • We Shall Destroy (4:25)
  • Hel (4:09)
  • Coming of the Tide (4:16)
  • Warriors of the North (8:12)

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Why Hellhammer’s Satanic Rites is possibly the most important metal record ever made

hellhammer-satanic_ritesMost people place the birth of black and death metal somewhere between Venom’s first album Welcome to Hell (1981) and Bathory’s third full-length Under the Sign of the Black Mark (1987). The exact moment of divergence from ancestors depends on the speaker’s level of metal puritanism and their favorite albums are from that era, and can sometimes seem a trivial dichotomy. Moot though it may be, my pick for the first discernible piece of death/black metal music is also, more importantly, the moment at which metal realizes it can be more than just warmed-over rock music.

Tom Warrior and co will forever be canonised in the metal pantheon for the early Hellhammer and Celtic Frost releases, which collectively shaped the sound of metal in a way that is only really matched by Slayer (who were probably influenced by Hellhammer in their change of sound between Show no Mercy and Haunting the Chapel). The first couple of Hellhammer demos however were only really third rate crust punk/Venom rip off played by three young guys who didn’t really know what they were doing. With the third demo and the introduction of Martin Ain to the writing team though, Hellhammer began introducing ideas that weren’t immediately noticed or appreciated by the rest of the world, prompting the band to less than twelve months later reconstitute itself as Celtic Frost and spend most of the next three decades trying to bury the Hellhammer name and the material associated with it.

Many of the tracks on Satanic Rites are in much the same vein as the first two demos, although better played and with greater surety about the morbid chromatic rock riffs. However, with “Buried and Forgotten,” and to a slightly lesser extent “Triumph of Death,” there is a real ‘eureka’ moment. Verse-chorus-verse, single groove writing gives way to longer structures that piece together like musical jigsaw puzzles, reminiscent of the best moments of Black Sabbath made more twisted and involving. The grimmer, more elemental, less blues-rocky riffs of Hellhammer also hint at emergent melodic shapes, whose detail unfurls piecemeal over the course of the track.

“Buried and Forgotten” for a little over two and half minutes builds one riff atop another towards an emotional plateau, each one referencing some element (however small) of the one that preceded it. The rest of the track then recombines and repeats all the material amassed over the course of the opening part, changing the order of and implied relationship between riffs. All except one slightly dodgy contrasting riff towards the end (which stands out by a mile), is built out of the same basic pool of ideas, and so each can be moved about and fit back together again as they are and create a neat, logical song structure.

This streamlined song-writing mentality also filters down quite brilliantly into the track “Messiah,” which is probably the most well-known, heavily covered Hellhammer song, and a borderline genius exercise in metal song-writing fundamentalism. Effectively the entire song is crafted out of one interval (the space between two notes, denoting their relationship to each other): a minor 2nd (or semitone), the smallest interval in regular Western music. Everything from the ponderous two-note verse riff, to the creeping chorus motif of four descending consecutive semitones, to the brief bridge section made up of the same rumbling low E that drives the verse and a major 7th above that (which, deceptively, is just an inversion of a minor 2nd, and so basically the same note relationship as nearly everything that has come before it in the song).

All of a sudden the focus shifted from form (and the resulting dramatic arc it creates) as something that comes from solely juxtaposing contrasting elements, to something that can grow out of only a tiny number of ideas, and through clever variation and development can became something much more journey-like. This makes this music unlike rock, jazz and more recent false-metal, and more like a Beethoven symphony or a Bach fugue. Needless to say, I’m not suggesting for a moment that Hellhammer is equal to the work of Bach. What I am saying however is that both classical music and the more inspired moments of this demo proceed from a similar sort of underlying sense of elegance in developing things methodically out of smaller details into bigger, consistent ideas.

The version of “Triumph of Death” on this demo is inferior to the one on Apocalyptic Raids (which has, surely, one of the greatest metal vocal performances anywhere, ever) and as far as Celtic Frost/Hellhamer goes my favourite work is probably To Mega Therion. Still, it’s hard to understate just how important this demo and the ideas it set in motion are to all of the metal that has followed it. Underground metal not only became scarier, heavier and less po-faced after Hellhammer, but from this demo (and the Celtic Frost/Hellhammer works that followed it) metal inherited a paradigm that enabled the construction of more complex, distinctive songs and would come to define underground metal.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsJ1I1cL_NY

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