Black Sabbath – 13

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Black Sabbath’s new album, 13, is a marvel. The first single “God Is Dead?” didn’t adequately prepare me for the experience of the whole work. This album contrasts the old sound and the new sound. The band frequently harkens back to their former work. I’ll note these instances when I treat the individual songs later in the review. In fact, some fans think 13 is too much like the earlier material. But they’re wrong. Surely we want them to recapture their earlier sound to some degree, but this album does much more than that. While surely somewhat nostalgic, this album does NOT fling itself into the market as a refurbished rehashing of used riffs. It’s a GREAT album. The original vibe remains as strong as ever. Fans agree and have propelled this album to #1 on the charts.

Let’s just talk about the players for a minute. Black Sabbath-for better or worse-always rests on the genius of guitarist extraordinaire, Tony Iommi. He has lost NOTHING on this album. He includes riffs and architectonic elements from ALL of his work with Black Sabbath, his recent work with Heaven and Hell, his solo albums, and perhaps even some of the blues roots that preceded Black Sabbath. His solos are as good as, or better than, his earlier work. When they do echo earlier compositions, they echo the very best soloing of his career.

Geezer Butler also plays as well here as he ever has, and a fan would do well to find anything on an earlier Sabbath album any better than his work here. Tony and Geezer seem to be playing for posterity. The lyrics of the entire album hint at the band’s contemplation of their own mortality, and surely Dio’s passing and Tony’s own illness make that inevitable. Ozzy Osbourne sounds pretty strong. His voice gets stronger as the album progresses, and some of the vocal melodies capture an Ozzy Osbourne solo sound — which was already developing on Never Say Die! (1978) back in the day. The synergy that made Black Sabbath a revolutionary band still exists in these three guys.

Brad Wilk’s drumming rounds out the record. The fan base made its displeasure at Bill’s absence very clear. Brad had a very big job trying to fill Bill Ward’s shoes. To his credit, he filled them well. We don’t hear the Butler/Ward swing anywhere on this record. Nor should we. Trying to imitate Bill would have been insulting. Brad did the job well, and he gets a big thumb’s up from this reviewer. All of these musicians in top form.

Musically, this album is VERY heavy in places. As mentioned, several of Tony’s solos equal anything he’s done so far, and his riffing remains the best there is. Lyrically, the darkness of this album stands with anything the band has ever done. The Grim Reaper peers over the horizon in nearly every song, and the tension between God and Satan (or at least the tension between the concepts of good and evil) emerges explicitly many times, as it did in their early work, when even the band were frightened by their own songs!

This review will address only the album proper, no bonus tracks. I may get an argument or two from some fans, but in general, I’ll say that the bonus tracks fail to achieve the same quality as the songs on the album. Perhaps more to the point, they do not “fit” the mood of the album proper.

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“The End of the Beginning” strikes me as the perfect title for the first track of this album. The return of the Ozzy-era line-up marks a new beginning for these elder statesmen of heavy metal. The main body of the song pays homage to the first Black Sabbath song “Black Sabbath” off the album Black Sabbath (1970). This song reflects Tony Iommi’s growth and range as a guitarist. The track opens with a heavy, doomy march of separated chords similar to “Shadow of the Wind” (The Dio Years – 2006) or “Atom and Evil” off The Devil You Know — a rather recent development used here to great effect. There are tempo changes, and the classic break that we hear on the first four albums. Some listeners may remark that they use the same sort of break in four of eight songs on the album, thus leaving them repetitive and even self-derivative. I don’t agree, but I concede they lean on this approach. It’s a part of their style and fits.

He plays two solos, as we see in Dehumanizer’s (1992) “Computer God”, using the same basic architectonics. The solos themselves soar into prominence. The first, at 4:42 or so, lasts 50 seconds, and features not only a fantastic Iommi-style lead but also a tempo change into a bluesy sound at the end. The second solo closes the song, and for around 90 seconds grows in intensity, rising to an effort VERY similar to “Lonely Is the Word” from Heaven and Hell (1980). Again, we are not talking about a mimeograph album. Tony taps into EVERYTHING he’s done. And he plays with abandon, with emotion.

Lyrically, we see a fresh address of the theme Society vs. the Individual, especially in terms of the former controlling the latter. This theme has been interrogated throughout the entire history of the band, dealing with societal issues like family collapse in “Wicked World” off Black Sabbath, economics in “Cornucopia” (Vol. 4 – 1972), psychology in “Johnny Blade,” (Never Say Die!) television in “Zero the Hero” (Born Again – 1983) and the eponymous “Mob Rules” (1983) and “Computer God” ( both self-explanatory). This song updates for the pervasiveness of the simulacrum, urging the “Reanimation of your cybersonic soul” and concluding “You don’t want to be a robot ghost / Occupied inside a human host / Analyzed and cloned relentlessly / Synthesized until they set you free.” This eight-minute opus is pure Black Sabbath.

“God Is Dead?,” the first single, at almost nine minutes, seems like two songs. The first 4:00 or so offer a kinder, gentler sound. Then the chorus hits at 2:16 and at 2:26 that super-doomy descending lick hints at the Sabbath sound. Then they go back for the next verse. At 4:05 that Sabbath discord starts and at 4:09-4:10 Tony “shakes” the chord as only he does. Then a classic Iommi riff (4:17-4:18), a reprise of the aforementioned descending lick, and an expansion the power chords at 4:10 into back-and-forth riff, classic Black Sabbath-relentless, hypnotic. At 5:38 we get to the chorus with that descending lick again. Then at 5:48 they reprise the power chords from :30 into the song that form a bridge to the break at 6:19 that seems like something off the first album or Vol. 4 (or “Falling off the Edge of the World” off Mob Rules). Then at 6:27 Geezer Butler kicks it into high gear and never lets up. All the musicians do the same thing, classic Black Sabbath. Then Geezer starts what will be one of the best performances on bass guitar in the Black Sabbath oeuvre. Even when the song slows, his playing does not. The 15-second solo (7:38–7:53) has a bluesy, 60′s sound to it. Some listeners may have preferred a longer solo, but the musicianship and intensity so far have been so powerful that a solo isn’t needed for the song to have a high point. In fact, Geezer’s playing behind the solo almost equates with soloing itself as he’s playing much faster than Tony. The final minute is the descending lick behind repeated “God is dead” chorus. The chorus leaves us with a rather definitive statement “I don’t believe that God is dead.” The supremely dark lyrics offer the good vs. evil motif that this band has defined. These lines typify the questions asked in this song: “Nowhere to run / Nowhere to hide / Wondering if we will meet again on the other side / Do you believe a word / What the good book said? / Or is it just a holy fairy tale and god is dead?” Nothing says Black Sabbath like two songs in excess of eight minutes offering pessimism and plodding riffs. What a one-two punch!

“Loner” rocks: a flat-out, straight-ahead headbanger. Some say it reminds them of “N.I.B.” It actually recalls the basic riff pattern of the main riffs from “Black Oblivion” and “Flame On” from the 2000 solo album Iommi. Lyrically, the song speaks of isolation, and the head-banging groove of the song contrasts with the seriousness of the message, tied up in the final verse: “Communication’s an impossibility / His own best friend but he’s his own worst enemy / The secrets of his past locked deep inside his head / I wonder if he will be happy when he’s dead.” Perhaps one of the hallmarks of Black Sabbath and of the metal music they pioneered is an understanding of the angst — even depression – that their listeners experience. The strong of grounding in existentialism in their work makes even an up-tempo frolic cuts into the heart of the listener. The irony of the seriousness of the theme and the elation of the riff-similar in a way to “TV Crimes” off Dehumanizer bespeaks a long-standing Sabbath tradition as well.

“Zeitgeist” immediately reminds us of “Planet Caravan” off Paranoid. In a larger sense, perhaps the beauty of “Zeitgeist” is to recall Black Sabbath’s numerous slower and/or psychedelic tunes, such as the aforementioned, “Planet Caravan,” “Solitude” off Master of Reality, and admittedly, to a much lesser degree “Changes” off Vol. 4, “Spiral Architect” off Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973), “She’s Gone” off Technical Ecstasy (1976), and others off Dio-era albums. No innovation exists here vis-à-vis older Sabbath tunes of a similar nature. No doubt people will like this one-especially, perhaps, people who weren’t hardcore Sabbath fans. Unremarkable in comparison to the other songs on the album, it provides a break in the heaviness — much as the other songs noted here did for those albums — this song reminds us that Black Sabbath did this too. Insofar as this album may well become a historical document, “Zeitgeist” proves a worthy inclusion.

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The opening of “Age of Reason” sounds a bit like the opening of “Follow the Tears” off The Devil You Know. Another elaborately structured offering marked by numerous genre and tempo changes, reminiscent of “Dirty Women” off Technical Ecstasy, give this song an almost proggy feeling. The opening riff while really quite doom-laden, is also rather bluesy. While the structure and overall sound of the song unmistakably heralds Black Sabbath, the melody suggests Ozzy’s solo work (not to mention an echo of “Junior’s Eyes” off Never Say Die! which presaged the Ozzy Osbourne sound in many ways). The marvelous solo in this song recalls “Zero the Hero” a bit. Tony takes his time, and the solo carries us away as only an Iommi solo can. At the risk of being repetitive, Tony Iommi has lost nothing. The guitar work here stands up to anything he’s done. Similar to the general theme of “The End of the Beginning” and many other Black Sabbath songs, the lyrics describe a hopelessness accepted by people who have lost their will to be themselves: “Sustainable extinction / A fractured human race / A jaded revolution / Disappears without a trace.”

The opening progression of “Live Forever” bears a similarity to the opening of “Lord of this World” off Master of Reality (with, again, a touch of that march of separated chords noted in “The End of the Beginning”) and then steps up the tempo to a riff strikingly similar to the up-tempo movement of “Cornucopia” off Vol. 4. This one really harkens back to the older groove. Even Brad’s use of cymbals seems rather Bill Ward-esque. While clearly adapting these older tunes, the nuanced use of the newer aesthetic and burnished sound of excellent production renders it a new song. Ozzy sings as only he can-with all the soaring menace of that same era. The lyrics of the song sustain the motif of aging and the looming presence of impending death. This song lacks the depth of the others on this album. For instance, the closing lines, “I may be dreaming or whatever / Watching my life go by / And I don’t wanna live forever / But I don’t wanna die!” certainly do not rise to the more profound, sometimes poetic, expression of the same uneasiness. I’ll neither label this song as filler nor dispute the inaccuracy of said label.

“Damaged Soul” is monumental. Clearly a tribute to their roots in the blues, this song amalgamates everything Black Sabbath not only does, but can do. Black Sabbath has made forays into the blues before, notable on the Seventh Star (1986) and the song “Dying for Love” off Cross Purposes proves a stunning blues song. But Sabbath hasn’t done this anywhere else. My first thought upon hearing it was that it sounds like Robin Trower, but heavier. There are moments in this song that sound like Electric Wizard. It almost demands a genre definition of “Doom-Blues.” Again, the soloing echoes “Lonely Is the Word.” The first solo at 3:49, lasts for about 45 seconds and never deviates from a standard blues structure. He means to play the blues here. Then at 5:26 we get another 30 seconds or so until a break takes us to another tempo. The harmonica wails into this change, and then Tony returns at 6:36 and serves up a solo of his own. While the rest of the players play the blues (and Ozzy even sustains a fine harmonica riff), the exit solo is pure Iommi. Lyrically, this may be the darkest song on this album and in the running for the darkest song they’ve ever made. Lyrically, the song calls up the career-long (or age-old?) subject of possession and reprises this album’s motif of impending death and the tension between good and evil: “I don’t mind dying ’cause I’m already dead / Pray not for the living; I’ll live in your head / Dying is easy; it’s living that’s hard / I’m losing the battle between Satan and God.”

“Dear Father” proves an indictment of Catholic Church’s priest sexual abuse tragedy, every bit as scathing and pessimistic an attack on this issue as “Wicked World,” “War Pigs” off Paranoid, or “Into the Void” off Master of Reality.” This song boasts a rather complex overall structure, featuring multiple tempo and style changes. But nothing in this song equals the rest of the album, musically. The reason for this appears to be that the band wants us to listen to the words. An album this good, with Tony and Geezer playing as well as they have ever played, with Tony playing his heart out in more than one place, would not forgo a solo without a reason. That reason must be to focus our attention on the message. The music changes every time the message changes, intensifying the merciless dissection of those merciless crimes. The closing lyrics sum up the song with perfect clarity: “Dear father forsaken, you knew what you were doing / In silence your violence has left my life in ruin.” The song closes with a repeating “In ruin, yeah” phrase, symbolizing the vile and on-going suffering caused by these atrocities. After this song ends, the rain sound effect from the beginning of the first album fades in for a few seconds, reminding us that this album not only provides a resurrection of the original line-up and sound but also offers a vital viewpoint on religion and music, contemporary issues and timeless questions.

In 13, Black Sabbath reflects both the original Black Sabbath sound, imagery, and philosophy and the influences of all their musical experience from their solo work, other incarnations of Black Sabbath, and their inherent genius. They recast the system of rock music 43 years ago, and in this “reanimation of the sequence,” they have again recast the system.

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Gorguts – Colored Sands preview

gorguts-colored_sandsThe re-formed Gorguts today released the first substantial sample we have from their new album, Colored Sands, which will be available on September 3 in the United States and August 30 in the rest of the world via Season of Mist. The default medium will be the CD digipak but Colored Sands will also be available on vinyl LP, including black vinyl, yellow in red vinyl (limited to 150 copies), and clear vinyl (limited to 350 copies).

The big question for Hessians is whether Colored Sands will sound like nu-core, either frenetic Gothenburg-styling finger wiggling or breakdown-heavy antsy post-hardcore noise like the tek-deth noodlers. The answer is surprisingly that this band is in a three-way tie between slowed-down droning alternative metal like Gojira, technical death metal of the old school, and the new school of jazz-influenced indie-style progressive metal. Unfortunately, it’s not very exciting because as you can imagine, the focus is on form, and not content.

For example, “Forgotten Arrows” tries to hard to be about something but the music doesn’t match. It’s cut from multiple skeins of metal and alternative/indie rock cloth, but the song never gets a voice of its own. All of it is well-executed, and it avoided the irritating aspects of nu-core, which is commendable. However, it never really gains a spirit, like older Gorguts did.

That being said, this is only one track, and it’s a lot better than expected for the title (which may reflect a Vedic influence) and the addition of people like Colin Marston, who while he was a friendly and articulate fellow when I met him, is forever damned in metal for releasing the droning black metal imitation flavoring turd Krallice. The new guitarist and drummer seem to keep up admirably with grand old metal man Luc Lemay and his adroit fingers.

Track Listing:

  1. Le toit du monde
  2. An Ocean of Wisdom
  3. Forgotten Arrows
  4. Colored Sands
  5. The Battle of Chamdo
  6. Enemies of Compassion
  7. Ember’s Voice
  8. Absconders
  9. Reduced to Silence

Gorguts 2013 U.S. Tour Dates:

  • 09/05 – Springfield, Va. @ Empire
  • 09/06 – Raleigh, N.C. @ Hopscotch Festival
  • 09/07 – Wilimington, Dela. @ Mojo 13
  • 09/08 – Worcester, Mass. @ Palladium

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Resurrection of the old school spirit in Atlanta, GA

sadistic_ritual-death_metal_atlanta_georgiaHistory is a big circle, and it’s coming around again. According to the loafers at Creative Loafing Atlanta, Atlanta, GA has resurrected an old school style metal scene.

First, these bands are playing 1985-1995 fodder. Second, they live together and promote each other. Finally, there’s no hint of the nu-core blight that has afflicted metal from 1998 through the present day, which allows these bands to develop their own take on an older sound.

For example, Sadistic Ritual sounds like Kreator…. to a point. Somewhere, they diverge and find their own voice, although as a demo band, they’re still trying to get a handle on that. But the fact is that they’re aping the past in form without aping its content, which separates them from the nu-thrash “revival” that first ripped off 1980s speed metal, then Swedish death metal, and now has moved on to punk.

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Acheron to release Kult Des Hasses on Listenable Records

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Legendary dark heavy metal band Acheron have entered the mixing and mastering phase of preparing their Listenable Records debut, Kult Des Hasses (“Cult of Hate” in German), which will be released later this year.

Acheron plans to do a mini-tour with Incantation in late July, having enlisted Dismemberment guitarist Jacob Shively to fill the second guitar slot. Acheron founder Vincent Crowley said, “Jacob is a talented guitarist and fan of the band. His group DISMEMBERMENT opened for ACHERON a few times and I really liked them. That is why I asked him about filling in. But we are taking baby steps. We’ve learned from past experiences not to just give hire someone right away. For now he is playing with us for all upcoming live shows. We’ll just have to see if it progresses into something more. But we are indeed open to the idea if the dedication and chemistry is there.”

In addition, Acheron will head to Germany in September to headline the Death Doomed the Age Fest and and return in October for the Under the Banner of the Black Light fest. The following are the confirmed live dates for Acheron’s two European visitations:

  • 07/18 – Philadelphia, PA @ TBA
  • 07/19 – Baltimore, MD @ Ottobar w/ INCANTATION
  • 07/20 – Providence, RI @ Fete w/ INCANTATION
  • 09/06 – Lichtenfels, Germany @ Death Doomed the Age Fest
  • 10/12 – Gieben, Germany @ Under the Banner of the Black Light fest

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Megadeth – Supercollider

megadeth-super_colliderMegadeth has been a major influence on my journey through metal. I remember that when I first heard the opening riff to “Holy Wars”, I realized that this music was different. In contrast to the verse-chorus structure of the music I was listening to at the time; it was narrative based, similar to classical music.

It took the listener on a journey of apocalyptic visions of a society shot to pieces — where humanity had ceased to think and would rather delude itself into oblivion than deal with its problems. This was something that I could relate to, far easier than any of the forgettable faux-agression bands that the unwise me was enduring at the time. This eventually led me to discover death metal and then black metal, after realizing that both of these genres took this style of writing to new heights and did it more thoroughly and deeply, yet I still retain a soft spot for speed metal.

Over a month ago, this site previewed the first single from the band’s now released album, Supercollider. The track was rather off-putting as essentially a hard rock track, but I held out hope for an overall metal tone to the album…unfortunately, this was not the case. On the whole, Supercollider is a collection of songs that challenge no commercial norms and they are structured for mass radio appeal. Any superficial stylings of speed metal in a rare moment are quickly exposed for what they really are: metal in an aesthetic sense only.

Supercollider features riffs designed to fit into a verse-chorus structure rather than shaping the song around the riffs, as the band used to do. Solos and the drumming are entirely forgettable, in their highest moments their impact is merely of acknowledgment – they achieve their prescribed role in the song, but offer nothing to stick in your memory after they’re over – which is a fitting description of the album as a whole.

Yet, even in this wasteland, there are a few signs of life. In spots, the album has some impactful melodies — moments of brightness — before the waves of drudgery crash back down on the listener. Synths soar about crunchy guitar riffs, which are held together by Dave Mustaine’s unique vocal style, and as a folksy acoustic guitar adds a foreboding element to an otherwise unremarkable track. Astute readers may be noticing a pattern here — the album’s better points arise when the riffs are not the main focus of the song, which seems a bit backwards for a speed metal band. Vocals come in varying quality – some fans will cringe as Mustaine declares “Burn baby, burn!” in a style reminiscent of any ’80s stadium rock band, yet his piercing social criticism still surfaces and is as unabashed as ever.

Comparisons will inevitably be made with Risk, but I don’t think this is very accurate. Rather than a fake attempt at making the band more marketable, I think this is a more honest endeavor; it is the product of a band that has aged. Seemingly, at a certain point in time, the young provocateur grows up and realizes that he has spent decades of his life struggling against society – then wakes up one morning and notices that he has carved a pretty good life out for himself. He may not embrace it fully, but he no longer wishes to agitate either. The allure of riding out into the sunset eventually becomes greater than the misery of dissatisfaction and thus he decides to create a safe work that challenges no boundaries.

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Krypts – Unending Degradation

krypts-unending_degradationDoom metal isn’t a genre, but a palette of moods. Since doom metal itself varies all over the place in tempo, it doesn’t make sense to look at the first rhythm on an album, but instead to grasp the overall feel.

Unending Degradation is a heck of a doom metal album. It is structured like doom metal in that tracks are based around a riff and a return to its theme, building with harmony and rhythm a plodding expectation that is both welcome when it is gratified, and gradually grinding us into the ground. Behind it is the science of the four-note minor key melody.

Someone tossed this to me and said, “Hey, check out this old school death metal,” but I think he was very, very high. This isn’t death metal at all; it’s doom-death, but its heart is doom metal. These tunes plod, trudge, dirge and resonate. The music doesn’t get any faster than the first Cathedral EP. The majority of it is radiantly dark and slow, and repetitive.

I wouldn’t expect old school death metal. There’s no riff Jenga here. There’s layers of variants on a theme producing a mood more like an ambient band or techno than death metal. But if you like the old school dark and doomy, this album full of catchy melodies and churning rhythms should satisfy.

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Distorting the medium

hipster_black_metal_flavored_alternative_rock_fanBy 1992, the metal underground was flirting with mainstream visibility to some degree; whether it was Slayer headlining an arena tour, death metal albums being distributed by Sony, news reports, or metal music videos on MTV.

An emerging horde of people saw how awesome death metal looked and leaped at the opportunity to be a part of a new movement and start their own bands. The problem was, these were the people weaned on The Black Album who wanted to be the next Kurt Cobain, so they chose the newest, edgiest method possible: extreme metal.

Every suburban nobody with a guitar thought if they dressed up their uneventful, radio friendly rock in a different way, they would be seen as unique, offering something new to the world that wasn’t there before. When these people make extreme metal, they keep the surface traits and miss the core. The down tuned guitar rhythms, guttural vocals and fast drums are easily cloned, but underneath the aesthetic of death metal lies something that is not too different from what the corporate rock that Metallica and Nirvana were shipping out at this time were expressing.

Some of these abominations might be in your album collection as well because, as they saw the horde forming, many established bands began imitating the imitators in a pathetic attempt to draw a new audience and get rich enough to quit their coffee shop jobs. Borrowing the rhythm guitar techniques from Bolt Thrower and Celtic Frost is no challenge, and bands like Gorefest and Obituary realized they too could make it big if they dressed up what the major labels were shipping out at this time. Thus, began the dumbing down of underground metal. Gorefest masked their rock bounce as death metal and Obituary thought reinforcing a Biohazard album with memes on rotting would lead them to success. It worked.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vnv7QNS7CMg

The hipsters of olde saw that it appeared different, but sounded similar enough to their radio fodder that they can add something derived from a morbid subculture into their “unique” fashion derived personality without threatening their social sphere. Eventually acts like Fear Factory would capitalize on this, finding much success by combining the sounds of Earache records popular Napalm Death and Godflesh into verse-chorus heavy-soft proto nu-metal. They were not using this music as a platform for artistry, but for label attention that they would use to springboard themselves into a radio rock career. They would fool their ‘death metal fans’ who were never able to discover the styles true potential into “maturing” with the artist, unaware that they were being used as another sales number until the band name became a corporate brand.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Plcbw8KfKQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFWDZ85icyo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1ORPlxLGqY

While most people blame bands like Opeth for dumbing down metal into corporate rock, others are the blame for this process that started long before Opeth noticed it and decided to profit from it. The false ones who have been allowed into the halls of the underground have been going unchecked for too long. They might have fooled you at one point. If it’s not honest thoughts turned into music, you can be guaranteed it’s a gimmicky pose or well-disguised radio fodder meant to take as much money from as many wallets as possible. It should be no surprise that around half a decade later they all drop the aesthetic and unleash something like this upon the world:

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How metal introduces fans to foreign languages

iron_maiden_golfingMetal as a subject expands in different directions the more it is studied. Beyond being a genre of music with its own tonal characteristics, it is also an identifiable culture that extends worldwide. Fans who cannot understand each other find relation in the same style of music, often with unique local twists. However, some fans become so captivated by the different perspectives presented to them that they seek to understand it beyond just the sound.

The WSJ recently ran a piece on how metal has inspired listeners to become captivated by the languages they hear and attempt to learn them, in many cases successfully. Numerous university students have shaped their studies through what metal exposed them to – not just of other languages, but of an alternative way of viewing the world:

Olivia Lucas, a Harvard doctoral candidate who is working on a dissertation about Nordic metal, said people “simply want to understand what the culture is like that has produced this music.” It doesn’t take long, she said, to draw a parallel between the melancholy and gloom that underpins Finnish metal and the wider Finnish psyche. “Finns are comfortable with this feeling, and don’t feel pressure to be cheerful all the time,” Ms. Lucas, 25, said. Their music “embraces this view of the world.”

Although not directly stated in the article, this is actually common of metal on the whole – it seeks meaning not so much in what’s commonly seen as good, but rather what’s seen as bad. It revels in violence and destruction with a mystical undertone, not in contempt of life, but rather in favor of it. It recognizes that through struggle is how the great succeed, and the weak removed. It holds that values are eternal, and spiritual contentment is more satisfying than a momentary high. In short, it embraces everything that our current civilization seeks to rid itself of.

What these students have done, is to find through metal a gateway to a better experience of life. Through the experience of art, they have become enamored not just of another culture, but cognizant of what it might have to say about ours: we have lost our way. We have replaced towering cultural achievements with short mass-entertainment that the simplest prole can enjoy. Metal is our way back.

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Interview: Morpheus Descends (Rob Yench)

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Back in the early days of death metal, it was fun to spin some contrast on the radio. Start out with the phrasal bands like Morbid Angel and Slayer, work up to something percussion like Deicide or Suffocation, then drop into the doom-death. Somewhere in there, Obituary, Asphyx, Incantation, and Morpheus Descends all got displayed.

The latter was a puzzler since it was grim, primitive and primal, yet thoughtful and very distant from the normal everyday lives most people aspired to. It was truly music to keep the listener outside the arc of society’s concerns, guilt and manipulations, and for many of us it was deliverance. It blended into the other death metal as if it belonged there, a distinct voice that yet upheld a shared spirit.

Morpheus Descends was thus for many of us a go-to band when we wanted the old school underground sound. Music from beyond this world, it chanted dark praises of outsider viewpoints on reality while crushing our heads with intensely grinding, explosive riffs. It is with great pleasure that after many years, I am finally able to interview Rob Yench/Xul of this massive underground cult…

Morpheus Descends appeared early in the death metal movement. What were you influences, and how did you conceive of the then-new musical style you were creating?

Before forming Morpheus, we were all in local area bands, Ken and I did a Voivod / DBC styled band called “Volitle Zylog”, Sam, Steve and Craig were all in a band called “Infectious Waste.” During the summer of 1990 we played an outdoor show together with a few other area bands. At the show we were talking to each other about the bands we were all interested in, as it turned out our tastes were very similar. When Ken and I heard “Infectious Waste” do a Pestilence cover we talked with the three of them right after the show and we decided to start a death metal band. A month later the five of us had all quit the bands we were in and formed “Morpheus.” Our first practice was on October 31st, 1990. Our style was based on what we listened to at the time, late 80s & early 90s bands like Death, Morbid Angel, Pestilence, Obituary, Napalm Death and our earlier influences like Black Sabbath, Voivod, Kreator and Celtic Frost. Once we became a band and played shows we started to meet other bands who shared the same goals, also playing many shows with our peers shaped the style known as New York Death Metal.

Were you among the creators of this genre? What do you think your contributions were?

All the previous mentions plus so many more helped create the genre but I will limit my scope to the bands that grew out of the scene that we were part of; Suffocation, Immolation, Mortician, Incantation, Ripping Corpse, Prime Evil, Human Remains, Nokturnel, Gorephobia, Deceased and Apparition (Sorrow). I don’t really measure what our contributions were to the genre except to say that I think the best reflection of what we have done as a band in Death Metal scene is all the people who still come up to us or still contact us online to tell us how much the band’s music means to them. We played a lot of shows in many states and even Mexico from 1990 – 1997, so I think we reached a lot of people in a time when Death Metal was “electric”.

I noticed that Suffocation seemed to have quite a bit of influence from Morpheus (Descends), with Terrance Hobbs wearing a Morpheus t-shirt on Effigy of the Forgotten and using one riff that seems similar to one of the riffs on Ritual of Infinity. Do you think you influenced Suffocation? Who else do you think you influenced?

Both bands were very good friends in the early 90s; we played our first show with them in Buffalo NY. After that it seemed like every weekend for a while, they either drove to our hometown to hangout or we drove to Long Island to hang with them. We would share ideas and jam with each other and show one another riffs and songs we had been working on. I think we are about as much an influence to Suffocation and much as Suffocation was and influence to us. The same things could be said for a lot of the other death metal bands from NY around that time too.

They’re talking about a “big five” of death metal bands doing a tour. Why do you think Morpheus Descends isn’t out there? What makes a death metal band popular more than others?

First and foremost I think the more popular DM bands of our era were signed to bigger labels (EARACHE, ROADRUNNER, NUCLEAR BLAST, METAL BLADE). We worked with a much smaller, less successful record label (JL AMERICA). With more promotion, bigger distribution and record company help; they also landed US and European tours. We did do some touring but not to the extent that a lot of those bands got to do. So they were much more accessible to fans in a time before the internet was so popular. We did EVERYTHING ourselves, touring, merchandise and even pressing. Outside of JL releasing the CD it was all 100% DYI.

Can you tell us the story behind your name change from Morpheus to Morpheus Descends? What happened to the other Morpheus?

JL had RED for distribution; they got a call that from RED that they wouldn’t be able to distribute the Morpheus CD because they already had a band of that name in their catalog. This band was some “gay” techno band, we did try to fight it but JL basically told us change the name or it will not be released. We had always planned to write a song called “Morpheus Descends”, so after some discussions we made the name change and never looked back.

You signed with JL America for your first album, which ended up being a rough path. What happened there? How would you do it differently if you had to “do it over”?

Well since NO other labels had any serious interest in us, it was a good choice. We got our music out to a lot of people that we would have never reached doing it ourselves. It may not have been exactly the record deal we were looking for but at least people saw the CD at stores and bought it. This is part of the reason for our notoriety today; you could buy the CD in most big record store chains at the time. Also it was distributed overseas as well. As far as doing it differently, it would have taken a better record label to have stepped and worked with us, which didn’t happen so there is no regrets when it comes to our history.

One of the things that stuck with me from Ritual of Infinity was the formal language you used for the titles. “Proclaimed Creator,” “Enthralled to Serve,” and “Ritual of Infinity” set a standard which other bands especially in New York aspired to. Where did you get the idea to write song titles this way?

Many of the songs you mention, we came up with the song title first; then we would talk about the concept of the lyrics; then Sam would write the lyrics around those ideas. I think that is why the titles sound so “formal”, we wanted the names of the songs to provoke interest in wanting to hear the songs. We stayed away from the simple titles of blood and gore and concentrated on making the titles and lyrics more interesting to the listener.

Is “Accelerated Decrepitude” a reference to Blade Runner? Were there other non-musical works that influenced you greatly? What about non-metal bands?

No, Blade Runner was not really an influence for this song. Progeria, the rare genetic condition that produces rapid aging in children was really the thought when we wrote the song as well as the artwork we used for the demo of the same name. Our take on it was that at birth the infant was already a century old, ancient and decrepit. I do not really think any non-metal bands are an influence to us, but we did listen to a lot of Wesley Willis when we traveled.

After Ritual of Infinity, Morpheus Descends came out with two very powerful EPs, Chronicles of the Shadowed Ones and The Horror of the Truth. Each of those had its own character. How do you see the band as changing during that time?

Yes, each MCD has a distinct sound and each time it was a reflection of the lineup at the moment and direction we would move in. We wanted to distance ourselves from a lot of the saturation of death metal bands of the mid 90’s, many were all using the same template as successful bands but really lacking their own identities. Chronicles of the Shadowed Ones was the first time we had time in the studio and did not have to rush ourselves; we developed a lot of ideas and had a real good time creating the music. It was also a transition time in the band; Sam and I became the main song writers and that is why you hear such a difference in the music. This music became much darker and doom laden than our previous endeavors.

When it came time to record Horror of the Truth more changes occurred; we had parted ways with Jeff our vocalist as well as our second guitar player Brian. Tom Stevens had recently joined the band as the replacement to Brian Johnson and then filled the vocal spot as well. So now the band had a different configuration and we went to Cleveland to record with our longtime friend Brian Seklua. The songs on that MCD were much faster and contain furious guitar solos; this was in contrast to the style of Chronicles of the Shadowed Ones. This would be the last recording we would do together as a band and I think the release didn’t get the exposure that it deserved. This was all shortly before the band disbanded, I would have liked to have seen where we could have gone with that lineup and sound.

Do you have any current plans for resurrection, touring, recording, etc? I see you’re set up for Martyrdoom Fest. Who’s in the lineup, and what expectations/hopes do you have?

We are taking things slow, things feel real good in rehearsals and it is sounding like Morpheus Descends should sound. This is very important to us to deliver what the band should sound like and to do justice to the legacy the band has become to Death Metal fans around the world. The lineup is the 4 of the original members from the MORPEHUS 1990 inception lineup. Sam Inzera, Rob Yench, Craig Campbell and Ken Faggio, Steve Hanson was not able to be a part of the reunion. Steve lives in Florida and when we started talking about making this happen we called him to see if he would like to be a part of this “return.” As much as he would have liked to do this, the distance is the real hurdle to work around; Steve did give this his “unholy blessing” and wished us the best!

After Martyrdoom, we are planning to work on some new songs for possible 2014 EP release. We have already exchange riff ideas and it sounds very Morpheus Descends!! Also there is a possibility in 2014 for more shows too but nothing confirmed as of yet.

What do you think of the state of death metal now? Is it fair to divide death metal into “old school death metal” and “modern death metal,” which is the term people use for the new style which has hardcore breakdowns, prog-math-metal riffs, and lots of sweeps?

There is a distinct difference between the two types of Death Metal you speak of; I myself am not really a fan of the “modern” death metal sound. I prefer what I grew up with and what feels comfortable to me. This is not meant to be a “dis” on this style but it is just not for me.

In your view, what are the bands who really shaped death metal into what it was, and what does death metal stand for? Does it have something to communicate, or is it just slightly weird music?

Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Death, Entombed, Carcass and Obituary would be some of the best known pioneers of the genre. As far as any deep meaning the music, I think each person has their own interpretation of what this means to each of them. For me it has been a way of life, family, work and Metal !!

Do you have any plans to re-release your older material?

There are plans in the works for some really cool stuff, but I will bite my tongue for now until things are more solid than at the moment. We want everything we do to be of quality and something that would be fitting in any MD fans collection!!

Members of Morpheus Descends have gone on to form a number of projects, including Mausoleum. How do these differ from Morpheus Descends, and do they reflect things you learned from the Morpheus Descends experience?

I play in four bands; Morpheus Descends, Mausoleum, Engorge and Typhus, Sam has Morpheus Descends, Mortician and Funerus. Ken does Morpheus Descends, Rooms of Ruin and Cabal 34. We have also done session work and played in a few other bands too but you see we are very immersed in Metal!! The bands we do are all different than Morpheus Descends, but what has been learned by me is to work with people and let each person express themselves and have input in all aspects of the process. Morpheus Descends was the “boot camp” for knowing how things work and what doesn’t.

How were the songs on Ritual of Infinity composed? They’re like mazes of riffs. Did you start with a riff, or an idea, or a story, or an image? How did you compose these mind-twisting tunes?

This was a time in the band when everyone was throwing riffs out there, we just kept sewing the riffs together and making things work and it ended developing into a style where we rarely returned to a riff once it was played in the song. When I listen back sometimes, I hear some riffs and I think “wow we could have done more with this riff!!” All in all though this is what helped made us unique.

What do you listen to currently?

OK here is what is in my playlist as I am doing this interview Repuked, Anatomia, Scaremaker, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Motorhead, Manowar, new Mausoleum songs, Deceased, Sadistic Intent, Slayer, Nekrofilth and Midnight !!

Thanks, Rob, and good luck in the future with all of your bands!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06uNofaxjSQ

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