From the Vault: Miasma Changes

miasma-changesIt’s easy for us looking back on underground metal to see it like a textbook description, where it was ordained that certain bands would become pillars of the underground. In reality, it was more like a place where rivers meet, with currents flowing under and behind each other to weave into a body of water.

Miasma’s Changes never got much distribution, being on tiny and sometimes inconsistent Lethal Records, nor did it fit into what people expected. At a time when European metal was surging ahead with fast melodic material, this Changes combined doom metal with primitive American-style death metal like Morpheus Descends or Baphomet. With its heavy vocals and dark cadenced approach it made stuff like Entombed sound cheerful.

Like German heavyweights Atrocity, Miasma was calibrated incorrectly for what the audience wanted, but the band knew how to make crushing metal, more in the style of Grave and Uncanny than the At the Gates and Therion more delicate fare. Using trudging verses and choruses that seem to be from familiar memories of years past now forgotten, Miasma created music that was both intuitive and surprising. Even more, it worked in melody, but used it more like doom metal bands — think Candlemass here — who use the sweetness and light to accent the morbid and dark and make it all the more real.

Behind the scenes, this album influenced a wide range of people, but most of them were metal musicians. The fans never quite got it, other than a few hipsters in the early 2000s who wanted it for its collectable value. However, those who wanted to know how to make death metal that felt like a subconscious gesture, Changes remains a prized treasure.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IWVo8-M05s

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Carcass releases new song “Captive Bolt Pistol” from Surgical Steel

carcass-surgical_steel-band_photoCarcass started as a grindcore band with one crucial difference: they sang about gore, disease, decay and torture instead of political topics. It was a sort of metapolitics, a way of viewing the world that reduced humans to meat and hopefully induced compassion.

After a few years of doing this, and playing live many nights in a row, they improved at playing their instruments and began wanting the acclaim that other bands got. So their style drifted, first to death metal (Tools of the Trade), then to speed metal (Heartwork) and later to hard rock (Swansong). Then the band disbanded, and only returned this year.

“Captive Bolt Pistol,” which is the first song to leak from Surgical Steel, roughly resembles Tools of the Trade crossed with Swansong. It uses death metal tempos and inflections, but hard rock riffs, and lots of bluesy rock-style leads. If this is their new direction, it seems a reasonable assumption if they hope the rock audience will cross over to like a band named Carcass.

The first new Carcass album in 17 years, Surgical Steel was created by a lineup of original members Jeff Walker (lead vocals, bass), Bill Steer (guitar, vocals) and new drummer Daniel Wilding (ABORTED, HEAVEN SHALL BURN), with guest vocals from original drummer Ken Owen.

Tracklist:

  1. The Master Butcher’s Apron
  2. The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills
  3. A Congealed Clot Of Blood
  4. A Wraith In The Apparatus
  5. 316l Grade Surgical Steel
  6. Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System
  7. Captive Bolt Pistol
  8. Intensive Battery Brooding
  9. Non-Compliance To Astm F899-12 Standard
  10. Mount Of Execution
  11. 1985/Thrasher’s Abattoir
  12. Unfit For Human Consumption
  13. Zochrot
  14. Livestock Marketplace
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The underground realizes it is infested with hipsters… from within

satan_laughs_as_you_eternally_rotMuch as I love the title From Beyond, I think an altogether scarier title would be “From Within.” The things that really get you are the ones you can’t see because they’re behind your eyes. Metal got blindsided by one of these in the last decade.

What happened was that black metal ran out of ideas, and death metal ran out of energy, in about 1995 or 1998 depending on who you talk to. What came after that was metalcore and nu-metal, which are so close in compositional style — both very much closer to rock than metal — that we group them together as nu-core.

The response of metal was unfortunate. Ignoring the advice of sage elders, the metal fans who remained circled the wagons and insisted on ideological purity. No, not of the kind that excludes stuff incompatible with metal, like rock and rap. But literally, a hell-bent desire to repeat the past nearly exactly as it happened.

It’s like tourism. Charlemagne fought here, so you stand here and take a picture. Leonardo da Vinci sketched here, so you eat pizza here and Instagram it to your colleagues back home. Metal tourism involves pretending you’re Darkthone and it’s 1991 for the first time and you’re being a massive innovator by coming up with a new sound.

Except you’re not. It’s 1999 or 2013 and you’re in a bedroom with garage band, making another recombinant album for another recombinant audience. They’ll praise it to the skies for two weeks, then drift on to something else because basically it’s generic, and then popularity becomes a game of making people like your stuff by being their internet buddies.

This kind of toxic environment gave the Full Moon Productions bulletin board such a bad name the label basically quit. FMPers could be counted on to buy lots of records, but that’s like 1000 per pressing, and since they’re so elite and rare, spend a lot of money on them. Other than that, it was favoritism, infighting, backstabbing, and other pointless activity.

Now, in the unlikeliest of places, Nuclear War Now! productions forum has come to face the same problem — and it’s dawning on metalheads that this isn’t limited to a specific place or time, but is a universal human failing like hipsterism:

From the Devil’s Tomb was pretty good imo, but of course the tryhards will disagree. These fags change taste like underwear. Just look at the recent Wrathprayer thread. Now it is “overrated”, but a year ago these same poseurs were worshipping it like it’s the best thing ever since sex. – Candlemass

The vitriol picked up speed:

I’ve come to understand this board is full of kvltist wanna-be’s who are in fact a bunch of hipsters trying to follow trends to appear “elite”, though only a fractional minority truly “gets it”. Thoth

This post isn’t designed to mock the NWN board, or even the FMP board, or the people involved. They’re important because they’ve been perceptive enough to notice something that’s gone wrong with the metal community: it went within, and in doing so, lost its sense of what made it great. Now it’s the emotional equivalent of burnt-out old men, either repeating the past or cynically making derivative crap because they can sell it.

Our future lies beyond these barriers.

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Poisoned

heavy_metal_anxietyThe best magicians work by making you think what they’re doing in front of you is the action, when in fact something goes on in the background that suddenly changes everything.

We experienced a change like that around 1999 from two factors, both technological. First, the internet arose and made it easy for any dog to appear as a band. Second, the one part of making a record that still wasn’t cheap — the recording process — became a home activity requiring a $400 PC only.

In the 1980s, DIY was radical, just as in the 1970s. Recording meant tape, and tape was expensive. Releasing your music meant getting a master, saving up a bunch of money, and putting it out there. That’s why bands did 7″ and cassette releases. A full LP was too expensive.

At the end of the 1980s, the newer CD pressing plants began offering far cheaper releases. CDs were smaller and cheaper to produce than LPs. This condition didn’t improve much until the mid-1990s, when suddenly everyone could afford a computer that could do (a) desktop publishing, including CD layouts, and (b) some kind of mastering and/or CD burning.

The cost barriers were falling.

Thus, while it was revolutionary to be underground in the 1980s, and while having a rough or dirty sound was somewhat of a stab against an expensive process then, it ceased to be in the mid to late 1990s. When it cost a lot to have a record sound good, throwing that aside was like a revolution. It was a rebellion against the tendency to make everything sound slick and perfect, and thus to overthrow the natural.

Now in the 2010s, we have a different problem. All production is a matter of choice. This is only going to get worse as the software improves. You can have perfect drums, pristine guitars, even autotune your vocals (or if you’re sneaky, your guitars). Thus now, making a dirty and abrasive production has no rebellion value. It’s just another option, like choosing to have a trumpet on the record or not.

What’s happened to metal? Some people decided to stick with repeating the past. They’ve formed a small and insular group that makes old school music. The only problem is that, while this group frequently talks up new releases, over the last ten years we haven’t seen anything great come out of them. “Above average” just isn’t impressive.

There’s another group that has gone commercial by making metal more like the parent genres from which it escaped, rock and punk (or rather, post-hardcore). This group has really improved instrumentalism, has excellent production, but completely hollow music that is distinguished only on the level of technique. It seems to have no content whatsoever except being in a band and knowing music theory.

The point here, I guess, is that we are being poisoned by form. Metal is stagnant because it hasn’t invented a new form that it can work with, or found a way to resurrect the old (mainly because of the parasitic past-repeaters). As a result, it’s left in perpetual limbo, either recycling the past or obliterating itself by becoming its opposition.

As a result, I suggest a new openness to difference in form. Let’s bring the weird back. Only where form and content are united does music make sense; otherwise, it’s either propaganda (content only) or decoration (form only). What will drive our new form is leaving behind the tropes of the past and attacking things that are real to us now.

That isn’t to say that the human condition, or that of art, has changed. It hasn’t. But art must carry the spirit of its age, and interact with its age, and strive for something. It must be a process of becoming. Metal ceased to be that in 1995 and its relevance dropped away, so now it feels like a drunk old man at a retirement home.

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Death Melodies Series: Gustav Mahler

The Death Melodies Series (DMS) continues with composer Gustav Mahler.

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I was recently invited to my local symphony to see Mahler’s third symphony. The first movement crept dismally slow; almost like a worm being poked with a stick and curling in its own demise. It was the best movement of the entire symphony and it brought a sense of dread that wasn’t extended upon in the later movements. The whole show was about eighty minutes and it was literally all over the place. There was a children’s choir in it which made the masculine first movement rather irrelevant. With no intermission for me to gather my thoughts or drain my bladder, I sat in my seat and experienced the entire symphony without interference.

Mahler was a late Romantic composer, but some would consider him as a Modernist. I believe that he’s in league with Liszt in the sense that he branches both in the Romantic and Modernist periods (Liszt’s Totentanz is a good example of both Romanticist and Modernist). Being that Mahler was inspired by Richard Wagner, it gets a bit muddy classifying him as a Romantic composer.

Much of Mahler’s life was spent conducting, so he wasn’t as prolific as Beethoven or other composers were, though he spent many summers composing. Tragedy wasn’t far from Mahler’s life. One of his two daughters died while she was still young and he himself had a defective heart. Mahler also faced prejudice for being an Austrian Jew, but it didn’t hinder his successes.

I picked these two pieces to coincide with the Death Melodies Series’ goal of sharing classical music that metalheads might enjoy.

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Seasons of Mist unleashes Ildjarn re-issues onto a grateful world

ildjarn-re_releasesBack in the 1990s, most people couldn’t stand Ildjarn and side-project Sort Vokter. These bands were seen as too simple, primitive, nihilistic, raw and amoral for even black metal.

One web site — our direct ancestor — praised the releases to the skies, claimed they were brilliant, and aggressively advocated them, culminating in an interview with the mastermind behind Ildjarn himself. We were ridiculed, mocked, scourged, spit upon, etc. until suddenly people woke up and realized the brilliance of Ildjarn.

Ildjarn mocks deconstruction. Modern people love to deconstruct things into tiny little statements that are true but also incomplete; Ildjarn took many tiny states, and using them like spatter-paint making a silhouette on canvas, used them to create a vision of a much broader and pervasive truth, as exemplified in the phrase “Forest Poetry.” Ildjarn is naturalism that does not retreat to happy Disney Land where all the animals are fuzzy and cute. Ildjarn is feral reality coming back through the (poetic) beast within.

Many years later, label Seasons of Mist has opted to re-release the classic of the Ildjarn era with new artwork and hopefully minimal remastering if any. These releases are already available for pre-order in the Seasons of Mist online shop.

We encourage all people who have not experienced Ildjarn to listen and revel in the simple coordinated profundity of this primal black metal band. These mighty slabs of minimalist metal will be available on August 16, 2013.

Ildjarn – Ildjarn

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Ildjarn – Forest Poetry

ildjarn-forest_poetry-re-issue

Ildjarn – Strength and Anger

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Imprecation – Satanae Tenebris Infinita out now

imprecation-satane_tenebris_infinitaHouston, Texas death metal band Imprecation have returned after nearly two decades since their epic slab of morbid death metal, Theurgia Goetia Summa, and have not only not mellowed but have added a streamlined power to their sound which combines the best of old school doom-death, black metal and high intensity underground death metal.

Satanae Tenebris Infinita adds a smooth transition between distinctive moods to this band’s strong infrastructure of aggressive riffs and abrupt tempo changes, acknowledging that while Theurgia Goetia Summa created a masterful vocabulary of death metal motifs, Satanae Tenebris Infinita connects them together in a narrative that reveals their inner compatibility and thus shows more than tells of the dark topics of the album.

While the music industry has kept itself busy “playing metal” with metal-flavored rock and punk creations like the nu-core and indie-core genres, underground metal has steadily reinvented itself, with bands like Beherit, Demoncy, Summoning and Imprecation returning to the front with not only new material, but a new view of the intent and purpose behind their older works, fusing them into new languages with a mastery and control that was not present before.

Released on Dark Descent Records, Satanae Tenebris Infinita features cover art by Chris Moyen (Incantation, Blasphemy, Beherit) and is Imprecation‘s first official full-length release, since Theurgia Goetia Summa was a compilation of earlier short works and demos. Satanae Tenebris Infinita can be purchased on CD for $10 at the label, or you can read our full review of Satanae Tenebris Infinita.

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Skepticism recording album for release in 2014

skepticism-alloyFuneral doom metal pioneers Skepticism have recently begun composing music for a new album planned for a late 2014 release. Alongside their countrymates Thergothon, Skepticism shaped this style from slow melodic chord progressions, sustained deathy vocals, and keyboards meshed to create an enveloping tapestry of sound.

The band have rebounded from the creative momentum lost after their first album Stormcrowfleet with their 2008 release Alloy, which showed a return to a more guitar-driven sound and songs which unraveled more subtly, creating an album of enduring quality. This showed the band resurrecting the metal within the Gothic doom and using it to drive song development past what more pop styles could offer.

Much like other metal bands, Skepticism are both rediscovering their roots and surging past them. A parallel can be drawn to recent Summoning, who recovered from a bout of misguided efforts by returning to an earlier composition style whilst creating albums which are expressively different and of quality. As a result, we have high expectations for this band’s next release.

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The enduring brilliance of Varathron’s His Majesty at the Swamp

varathron-his_majesty_at_the_swampHad I encountered this album in the early days of my journey of metal discovery I probably would’ve dismissed it as boring. True enough, this album does get a bit samey and the production doesn’t really help things by being quite plain and unadorned. What this album does have going for it – and what certifies it a classic, is its patient and utterly logical riff writing.

Taking the tradition as laid down by Hellhammer/Celtic Frost (more on that next week), each new musical idea on this album proceeds from a blueprint motif/riff that drives the whole track and makes each change sound like a clear and meaningful development from the one that preceded it. Most of the tracks remain in the one key for more or less their entire duration, whilst introducing a sparing and arguably quite Classical (Haydn, Mozart) sense of chromaticism at specific points to colour passing harmonic regions and create the necessary dramatic arc in the track. Being largely monodic though, it skirts the line between evocative ancient-feeling, modal style melody and more Classical structure-centric writing.

For example, Son of the Moon first deviates from its blueprint Aeolian/natural minor by introducing a riff with a # 3rd, returns to the Aeolian melodic shape and then introduces a riff with a raised 4th – two very typically Classical bits of chromaticism that colour regions related by the circle of fifths (a system that explains keys relationships and how to change key coherently) yet also, in the way they are used, give the riff a folkish/modal feel. They also come at just the right moment in the track, when the initial idea has been very much established and it’s time to reveal a bit of conflict and ambiguity. True to the narrative structural approach the track has been leading us along, what follows is a riff that returns to the Aeolian basis, responding to the ‘conflict section’ and expanding the original melodic idea. A properly satisfying emotional resolution is delayed until the very end of the track, yet even then, in typically metal form, the sensation it leaves the listener with is one reminding them that the journey goes ever on – rather than offering up a neat ‘happily ever after’ cadence, the way a pop song or even a piece of Classical music would be expected to end with.

The fact that the production comes with no proverbial bells and whistles means all the more that the riffcraft is laid bare and made the main focus of the listener’s attention. Melodically a lot of the album is very simple, and it really doesn’t stretch itself in terms of speed, variety or technicality, but it does what it does very well, revealing the essentiality of metal song writing in a relatively calm and assured way.

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Black Sabbath – 13

black_sabbath_-_13

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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