Metal 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.
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.
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!
Grinding midwestern primitive catchy death metal band Nunslaughter will release The Devils Congeries Vol. 1 on July 23, 2013, on Hells Headbangers record label. This 2-CD set is part of a series of releases which will attempt to compile every single short-length Nunslaughter vinyl release from the late 90s and early 2000s with their Killed by the Cross early 7″ as well.
The second disc contains live versions of many of the same songs. An elaborate booklet contains artwork from each EP and other background information. While this CD set seems designed for collectors, it’s probably a great series like the Relapse Underground series from the late 1990s which can be both introduction and archive.
For those who enjoy the humorous, ribald, blasphemous and rhythmically infectious style of primitive death metal that Nunslaughter have produced for decades, The Devils Congeries Vol. 1 should be a delight of chaotic metal thrashing noise.
Disc 1 (studio)
2. Power of Darkness
4. Emperor in Hell
5. Demons Gate
6. Bring me the Head of God
7. If the Dead Could Speak
8. Devil Metal
9. Black Beast
10. Church Bizarre
11. Midnight Mass
13. It is I
14. Poisoned Priest
16. Obsessed with the Visions of a Satanic Priest
17. Atheist Ways
18. The Fucking Witch
19. She Lives by Night
21. I Am Death
23. Hells Unholy Fire
24. Killed by the Cross
25. Burn in Hell
26. Hells Unholy Fire
27. Death by the Dead
28. Killed by the Cross
29. I Am Death
Disc 2 (live)
1. Face of Evil
2. Emperor in Hell
3. Dead Plague
4. Midnight Mass
5. Killed by the Cross
8. Power of Darkness
9. Blood for Blood
10. The Fucking Witch
11. I am Death
12. Death by the Dead
13. It is I
14. Altar of the Dead
15. Atheist Ways
16. Reign in Blood
17. In the Graveyard
18. Obsessed with the Visions of a Satanic Priest
19. Burn in Hell
20. Burning Away
23. Black Horn of the Ram
26. Ritual of Darkness
27. Devil Metal
28. Church Bizarre
29. Poisoned Priest
Back in the early 1980s, before the teenage metal magazines got a grip on the term, there was a genre called thrash because it was invented by thrashers, that is, people who got around on skateboards and were as dropped out of society as the hackers and anarchists. In fact, there was a lot of overlap.
In the thrash genre, there are three big names who simultaneously invented this style of putting metal riffs in punk songs without losing the integrity of either genre, and those were DRI, COC, and Cryptic Slaughter. They crafted short songs out of 2-3 riffs and creative re-stylings of those riffs in the punk style, but using chord progressions and phrase-oriented riffs like metal bands. The result was a genre all on its own that was neither metal nor punk and literally invented a category for itself. Of those, COC had the most feeling of a classic punk band and got closer to what Suicidal Tendencies and MDC were doing, which was to make punk songs with a metal edge and play them faster than anyone else had ever done before.
For most of us, the only COC we could afford was the Caroline records issue of Eye for an Eye + Six Songs with Mike Singing on CD, since all we had before that were fifteenth-generation tape dubs from someone’s brother’s girlfriend’s uncle’s drinking buddy’s vinyl dubbed in a basement next to a rack of molotov cocktails and homegrown indo. These songs are brief punches of angst and insight, opening with pure outrage at the ongoing failure of humanity and transitioning to an energetic desire to do something about it, much like a mosh pit itself. Over them, gruff vocals are almost totally incoherent and drums mostly keep time but diverge when they want to for added emphasis.
Eye for an Eye + Six Songs with Mike Singing won most of us over for its raw creativity. It lifts some material, including a bass riff from Yes and at least a couple riffs from Black Sabbath, but that’s immaterial; the point is that each of these songs is a small story, and although circular one that mimics its topic matter and thus, each song is distinctive and yet within the same style so that the album holds together like a wartime journal and yet has enough variety to be heard time and again. Thrash lives with this re-release that brings the original material back to life for a new generation who may need a guidepost beyond the pre-packaged categories of music product.
When metal bands tire of the older styles that demand too much sense, they make something frenetic and use over-the-top vocals to tie it all together despite being random; that is why when metal ran out of ideas in the late 1990s it turned to metalcore. With The Impious Crusade, Impiety take this newer style and infuse it with some of the older style, producing something more deliberate than what we normally hear but within the chaotic styles of modern metal.
The result is equal parts late-1990s charging death metal, where riffs fit together in roughly circular fashion and hold together with pure momentum, and part a few experiments with borrowed items including speedy call and response between thunderous power chords and dissonant voicings, lead guitars that race through solos in an organic style reminiscent of early Vader, and Meshuggah-style sudden stop-start complex syncopation over two-note riffs.
The Impious Crusade delivers what makes Impiety great which is pure speed thrills with enough melody and textural context to remain interesting. Although it doesn’t reach the textural depth of older death metal, which can still incite some powerful moods, this MCD pounds out a gratifying high-intensity twenty minutes of ripping music that perverts modern metal into something more like the original death metal ideal.
The promise of this album is exciting at first glance, but upon deeper investigation buried in paradox. Paul Speckmann specializes in a very early form of death metal that has a lot of punk to it and emphasizes compelling rhythm and simple songs. Swedish death metal, at its best in Carnage, Therion and Unleashed, represented almost an opposite type of music which used guitar riffs to carry a cadence-like rhythm and thus create a dark mood.
Sulphur Skies suffers from this confusion. Rogga Johansson (PAGANIZER) provides guitar and bass which are mostly of a hard rock nature, meaning that riffs set up a syncopated rhythm and then by pausing and restarting it create a sense of dynamic drama. The rhythms however are slightly more aggressive versions of stuff that came out in the 1970s, and songs are circular riff merry-go-rounds that feature a verse riff, a chorus riff, and a series of diversions.
Speckmann’s vocals are not only vicious but well-produced, as is the guitar tone. This album sounds great. The only problem is that the underlying composition is mired in paradox, which is that the personnel are making two different types of albums, neither of which fit the classic Swedish death metal mold which is what the audience wants when they hear that Sunlight Studios style guitar tone. Speckmann is a legend but this project accidentally misuses him.
Ireland’s a frustrating country in which to be a metalhead. On the one hand, it’s the land that produced latter-day genre ambassadors Primordial and cool-as-fuck proto-metallers Thin Lizzy. On the other, metal in Ireland is stuck between a mass-culture slavishly obsessed with low-grade British TV and an arts/intelligentsia scene more interested in brushing up its phony posh Hiberno-English accent and patronising 3rd rate continental post-modern knock offs. Metal is a poorly-supported fringe genre; too morbid for popular culture and too loud and unpretentious to fit in with ‘sophisticated’ culture.
Because of this, as great as many Irish metallers are, the Irish metal scene is infected with a section of people with an attitude that is both happy to accept and produce novelty trash, and is simultaneously chronically under-confident about being a metaller – berating anyone who to takes it seriously. “Sure it’s only a bit of craic.”
Other than sneering at it, Irish Journalists and other arbiters of public opinion rarely take notice of metal unless they want to leech some of its credibility; an act that apparently doesn’t require any research beyond wheeling out a few tired anecdotes about barely relevant 50s/60s bands.
It’s no coincidence that today metal is growing fastest in countries with oppressive regimes, notably Iran and China. For all its genre- splitting, commercialisation and in-fighting, metal remains, in the broader socio-political field,a transgressive form of music signifying individuality and defiance of authority.
Last month leading Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei released the first single off his “avant-garde heavy metal” album. With lyrics railing against censorship and human rights abuses in China, it’s as potent – in a political way – as the opening chords of You Really Got Me must have sounded in 1964.
Sorry pal, but metal is not some nice, cuddly, inclusive sausage-fest, where everyone can listen to whatever flavour they like and we all finish off holding hands in a circle, smiling dumbly to the sound of “Kumbaya.” It is not about giving your parents the finger and escaping the oppression of society to go live in a vegan organic farm where everyone lives by love, tolerance and inclusivity.
Some of the best metal has been made by people with beliefs considered unacceptable in polite society. Metal isn’t a rejection of authority; it’s a rejection of the idea that society is the answer to our problems. Metal says: we can’t all get along. To a metaller, a greater ill than an extreme and unfriendly ideology is a wimpy attempt to pretend that the reality is more sanitary than it actually is.
Sadly for this, much of the metal he cites as counter-examples either doesn’t exist, or is of such painfully low quality as to be of no significance. Like many a media forgery, he has used one example of something — despite it getting nowhere in the genre — as an example of a “trend.” There is of course a healthy scene in Israel, but I suspect Israeli Jews would be more annoyed than flattered to read themselves being used as examples of un-metal sounding metal.
Even worse, like a salesman after a three-martini lunch, he’s trying the old trick of making metal palatable to us by claiming that it’s something we already recognize and accept. Citing ‘alt’ ‘rap’ and ‘funk’ as leading genres of metal shows almost no awareness of what defines metal and makes no account for it as anything other than an interchangeable synonym for rock. But that’s what he wants — he fears that metal might be something by itself and for itself, beyond the control of the society and social thinking he so slavishly obeys.
Whether the writer likes it or not (perhaps that should be ‘whether he knows it or not’, given the extent of investigation done appears to be sub-Wikipedia?) metal is not about fitting into a trendy political creed, but about exploring the dangerous, the feral and the ugly for the sake of transcending moralism and understanding the world as it is, not as it should be according to any given utopian outlook.
I think if you’d ask most hessians, they would say that we live in the age of kali yuga. If you get a chance to speak with lower-case-c conservative people, they express the same feeling: that something is lost. That some form of refinement, culture, and civility is gone from modern culture, if you could even call it that.
One of the complaints that repeats itself regards the state of the arts, and more specifically, music. It is simplistic, they complain. It is crass, uncultured, fatalistic, naval gazing, hedonistic, idiotic and stupefying. None of these is wrong.
It saddens me, then, when people complain about rap, rock, and Lady Gaga, they usually lump metal along with the complaint. I get it, though. The way metal appears to most of the world is not as a refined style. Some of it is also the product of the vast machine of idiocy that turned music into the nightmare that it is today. They made it safe, by making it mockable.
But some of the fault lies with hessians. Not all bands are Pantera and Slipknot. There is an entire world encapsulated in the metal genera. It is one of the only styles that keeps on expanding and developing. We have some commitment, as hessians, to support metal, in the great cultural discussion that extends through the generations.
Good metal will always be there, and will always be a legitimate art form. It would be sad, however, if those who could appreciate it (they don’t have to like it) would appreciate it, instead of buying into this elaborate hoax by the impetus of insignificance espoused by commercial music.
First and foremost, metal is a legitimate art form. A legitimate form of music. Yes, there is metal which is certainly not music. Pantera and Slipknot come to mind.
However, there is something in metal, a movement that existed since its advent in Black Sabbath’s first album, which expresses immortal truths. It feels as a sort of pessimistic conservative message.
Are things running down? Is there a process of degradation, a willful suicide enacted by modern culture? This observation was expressed by Black Sabbath, in an attempt to rain on the hippy party. We won’t go into why hippies are the end of civilization right now, but know that if some movement, since its advent, was diametrically opposed to such movement, there already is some root credibility to it. The hippies wanted to create a world without values, without temples or transcendence. Metal, on the other hand, constantly seeks transcendence, enlightenment, and a form of holiness. It is not base and animalistic, but in fact, a deeply religious experience.
In metal, there is encapsulated an idea that holiness cannot exist in a vacuum. If there is holiness in life, it must be whole. Blasphemy became an act of holiness and worship of life in its fullest.
To truly love life, you must love it completely, including the scary, red in tooth and claw parts. Metal expresses these aspects in purity and vicarious form. There is no need to describe beauty, truth, and love, because you cannot accept them until you have delved into pain, struggle, overcoming, violence, exposing hypocrisy, self reliance, heroism and individuality. These ideas are the bread and butter of metal music. It is not individualism, but individuality.
Undeniably, there is a nihilistic streak in metal. It is not the passive, fatalistic kind of nihilism, but the nihilism that views happiness, success and overcoming as dependent upon choices made by the self. No avoidance of consequences, looking ugly truths in the eye. There are inescapable things in life. Death, pain, lies, predators, and all the degeneration that arises from the human condition.
Do you deny these exist? Deny their necessity? It would be like denying rot and defecation. Ignore them and you’re in for a mess. Accept their inevitability, and you get a daily battle which never ends. It’s like mowing the lawn.
Metal is the tool which shapes this view of life. It might seem bleak, but the happy warrior never despairs. It’s an existential battle, and metal is the fuel, the blood in its veins, the fire burning in its soul.
I wouldn’t be who I am today without metal. Without these immortal truths as my guides and friends. I could be there, smoking the pipe-dreams of modernity. Drinking the kool-aid. Why chose suffering and a constant fight?
This week I have mostly been listening to…. Immortal – Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism
Less often cited as a classic than the follow up, Pure Holocaust, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism is still to my mind one of the gems of second wave black metal. Some of the transitions between riffs/themes are a bit ragged, and the drummer is clearly not up to much of a standard playing-wise, but there’s great charm in this album, and some real magic about the riff-craft at work on it.
Riff-wise, this album is not fully black metal, but borrows heavily from death metal, although the band covers the fact with a cavernous production and droning under parts. Unlike the straightforward melodic approach of black metal the bulk of these riffs are composed in two parts: a modal/chromatic melodic part that becomes more detailed with iteration, and a counter-part that responds to the first idea at a lower register with an oppositional retort. ‘Epic’ moments are generally more straightforwardly black metal – single-motif melodic ideas with plenty of yearning, emotive harmonies.
The interplay between the epic bits and the controlled-chaos parts are really where this album shows what it’s about – an icy warrior outlook that turns whirlwinds of strife into the joy of the fight and the triumph of cosmic forces.
Musically this is also where things can become a bit rough sounding. Sometimes it works really well – Like around the 3/4 minute mark in “A Perfect Vision of the Rising Northland,” where themes from the chaotic/violent moments intermingle and then separate again to create an excellent fist-in-the-air, hair-flying-in-the-wind sort of moment. Other times, there’s only a steep drop off from one theme to the next; which is a little less satisfying even if the production does a decent job of smoothing over the edges (see certain moments in “Call of the Wintermoon” and “Unholy Forces of Evil” – less obvious when you’re just letting the mood of the music take you along, but a bit more noticeable when you’re listening more intently. Contrarily though, “Unholy Forces of Evil” is probably a better track on the whole than “A Perfect Vision”…).
This style of riff writing disappears somewhat on the following two (more melodic-riff centred) albums, but makes a return on Blizzard Beasts – which, although also a good album, wears the death metal influence in less of an understated way, taking away from some of the mysteriousness that made the first album special. Unlike with some of the other prominent Nordic second-wavers (Darkthrone, Mayhem, Burzum) I can’t immediately think of anyone who successfully and completely took on Immortal’s early riff writing style (although Averse Sefira’s latter two albums sound like they might’ve been at least partly influenced). Perhaps this is down to the more technical/complex nature of the band’s sound when compared to that of their peers, and the hyperactive, difficult-to-repeat playing style of Demonaz. As well as being a quality album then, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism is also an interesting hint at where black metal might’ve gone had it stuck closer to death metal ideas of riff creation.
I think the best way to understand the new band from Texas called Sixgun Serenade is that they are a pop band that likes metal riffs. This song features chuggy riffs from speed metal, noodly lead riffs from tek-deth, but otherwise, is pure alternative-rock-tinged pop music which delivers a gratifying melodic hook in a song that knows, like a dancer in the rain, how to pause and when to move. It combines really effective radio pop with some depth, and battering metalcore and metal riffs that keep the pop from swallowing up a realistic sense of how life is struggle.
If you remember the video for “Cemetery Gates” by Pantera, in which the vocalist had a similar hairstyle and tossed the hair in a similar way, and in which the verses were abrasive and the choruses sweetened by melody and soft vocals, the approach here may seem familiar. In fact, you might see it as a nod or tribute to that video, which kicked off the tendency of metal to accept alternative rock sounds and thus make melodic choruses to counterbalance the rage. Here, the battering metalcore/tek-deth aspects of the music are balanced by what would be a highly successful pop band in the chorus.
Obviously, this is not going to be for everyone. Some say metalcore is a contemporary version of glam metal or hard rock, but I think it’s more like a catch-all rock/metal hybrid not unlike Led Zeppelin or Tool. It aims for a rock audience, and hopes to wean them onto metal, or at least metal riffs, and from there to let nature take over. One thing that Sixgun Serenade do well is that they embrace technicality but, unlike many of the truly chaotic core/tek bands, use it wisely. That doesn’t mean selectively exactly, more than they tailor their techniques to the roles in which those techniques complement the song.
Another thing to like about Sixgun Serenade is that they do not indulge in pretense or hide their origins. This is pop music in the best tradition of the MTV era, where each song is designed to be compact, slightly repetitive, hooky and to have some form of song development that parallels what goes on in the video. The result combines silent theatre, language and music and creates a unified entertainment product. Unlike most pop music, however Sixgun Serenade wrap some guitar fireworks and abrupt riffing into their payload.
Sixgun Serenade released their most recent full length album, Avenue of the Giants, on March 26, 2013 via Dark Slate Records. Describing itself as “a passionate five piece American Metalcore band,” Sixgun Serenade comprises Cody Roye- vocals, Justin Werner- guitar, Stephen Loftin- guitar, Cody Blevins-bass guitar, and Justin Hendrix- drums. Currently the band is touring in support of Avenue of the Giants.