In addition to its notoriously contradictive definitional nature, doom metal remains something of an enigma in terms of its enduring popularity. Whether or not one chooses to view it as a distinctive subgenre, style or even technique, doom metal must bear one of the most in-proportionate quotas within metal music when it comes to quantity over quality. If attempting to depict doom metal from the perspective of enduring releases, the list of canonical works would become surprisingly short. It seems plausible that part of the explanation to this sad state is embedded in the very characteristics of the style. Doom bands have generally prioritized development of exceptionally powerful tools for conveying sonic heaviness at the expense of other aspects of the music. It might even be so that the techniques in themselves has forced artists into a particular way of writing music. Either way, there appears to be a widespread discrepancy between the means of expression and what is actually being expressed in doom metal; which in turn provides clues as to what makes for a genuinely satisfying doom-offering. With the above discussion in mind, today’s written offering presents the Australian death/doom act Paramaecium – one of few bands bearing the doom-tag that has managed to write compositions to match the sonic gravitas associated with said style. (more…)
As previously pointed out by the editor of this site, metal demo recordings does not exist as crass commercial propositions with the sole purpose of advertising the market viability of the artist, but function — at least ideally — as independent works produced and distributed without further infringement from the recording industry. In spite of eventual shortcomings resulting from lack of budget, experience, and time, demo-level recordings remain a breath of fresh air because they oftentimes capture bands at a nascent and untempered creative stage.
Varg Vikernes has started posting a series of black metal history videos on his ThuleanPerspective Youtube channel. “About a day in 1993 that changed Black Metal forever” summarizes how Euronymous was completely unfit to run a business as a communist, bungled the release of the Burzumself-titled album, and how Euronymous’s clownishness ended his reign as the media’s go to spokesperson for the Norwegian black metal scene follow Varg’s arrest in connection with the church arsons.
Indecent and Obscene was Dismember proving that in 1993 they had became at least as proficient musicians as their seventies and eighties idols. Dave Blomqvist took over the leader guitar duties from Nicke Andersson and added Mercyful Fate-like sweep-picked leads to the bluesy, Ritchie Blackmore-influenced solos. The songs continued in the vein of filthy Pieces EP with verse chorus verse bashers. The problem was they were slowed down, less distorted, and more lazily constructed: Beneath the RemainsSepultura minus a standard deviation or two in IQ. Every time Dismember play an interesting riff on this album, they allow it to wear out its welcome through repetition in brain-dead pop song structures. That is only when they have a good, counterpointed Carnage/Dismember riff. Most of the rhythm riffs are generic Autopsy riffs; riffs Autopsy stole from Celtic Frost, who stole it from Metallica, who stole it from some NWOBHM band who took it from AC/DC or The Stooges. These riffs were used just so Dismember could construct a basic d-beat song and sweep pick Guitar World readers’ faces off.
Matti Karki sounded just as rabid as ever but in every song sprouted off the title of the song in the chorus of the song as a vocal hook. This is the same as an awful Hollywood action film script containing dialogue saying the name of the movie in the movie, eg: “This is Con Air!” or “You Only Live Twice Mr. Bond!” Idiotic bridges kill off any tension too. “Why don’t you just kill yourself?” followed by breakdown of the main rhythm riff so all the hardcore kids for whom Suffocation was too heavy could slamdance before the air guitarable solo.
Dismember on Indecent and Obscene was Nuclear-Blasted into Cannibal Corpse before Nuclear Blast mandated all their bands sellout into death/black ‘n’ roll for the Bic-flicking festival crowd. While superior to most of the laterwork out of Sweden, Indecent and Obscene never approaches the transcendent Dark Recollections and Like an Ever Flowing Stream. The only praiseworthy aspects beyond the superficial icing are Fred Estby’s creative tom fills on songs such as “Sorrowfilled”. His underrated percussion is the only part building and resolving tension in these mediocre songs. That’s simply not enough to hold hessian attention. Decent material must still be composed and Dismember didn’t bother writing any worthy of repeated listening here.
Following up on Vic Records’ reissue of Christbait a couple months ago, Dunkelheit Produktionen from Germany is preparing a reissue of that album’s followup. O Agios Pethane also got a good review from the Dark Legions Archives at some point in the past and is presumably a worthy continuation of the band’s career in a similar style. The album is currently available for preorder from Dunkelheit’s online store and will be officially available on March 20th, 2016. Like its predecesssor, it should serve as a historic example of well written grindcore/death metal, although any band seeking to draw inspiration from it may need to also pull from other sources in order to produce something valuable.
Article by David Rosales; get more perspective by also reading his article on Timeghoul
Much has been said about Demilich here and elsewhere, but remarkably little has been written about the potential of their music as ground for future bands to elaborate. For starters, the fact that Demilich has a solid fanbase and many admirers among professional musicians, but very few bands produce music in the same vein tells us that it is no easy task. This may also be due to the fact that most people tend to confuse appearances with mechanics, and mechanics in turn with character and essence. It seems to me that there is very little to elaborate, since Demilich is only distinctive at its very surface, in a very similar case to Immolation’s. Anything anybody may take from them besides this sort of surface plagiarism are the abstract concepts of loosening and playing with rhythm and mode consistently to achieve a distinctive sound. Perhaps even taking cues from their distinctive style could yield the foundation for the trademark sound of a younger band.
First, what makes Demilich stand out is their idiomatic approach to death metal that takes the best out of playing with tritones and off-putting harmonies in the context of the gore-flavored aura strand of the genre. Where Immolation goes for uncomfortable and dissonant, Demilich takes the modal/harmonic and rhythmic aspects of death metal to the extreme of this aural potential without incurring in the surface character deconstruction of Immolation’s coloring. Both of these bands, however, make use of standard death metal song-wide structuring techniques of the riff-salad kind with motific liaisons.
This surface extravagance coupled with an inner orthodoxy makes it very tricky for anyone to successfully extract the core of their teachings. In the case of Demilich even more so, since it is the silly side of their music’s character that stands out the most, making it particularly difficult to emulate them without producing obvious imitations. This may lead younger bands to think that a particularly derivative passage’s conspicuous appearance might be mitigated by mixing it into a hodgepodge of different styles and sounds. But to the perceptive listeners out there this will only sound like a motley fabric, a bag o’ tricks on display intended to fill in for actual content (Editor’s note: Have we told you about carnival music?).
Finally, superficial appreciation of the music of Demilich often leads fans to single out their music as “progressive”, as “opposed to traditional death metal”. Frequent readers of this site should immediately identify the grave mistake in this. Be that as it may, when you take the misunderstanding how progressive death metal in general is, and you put it together with the common metalhead’s idea of what progressive rock or metal is, you may begin to envision the monumental blunders that might come as a result.
Rather than insert Demilich-sounding passages into modern Dream Theater soundtracks, the young death metal musician might take head from the way Demilich balances out their outlandish sound. Demilich’s music, when seen at an abstract and aural level, can be divided into passages that are either more pounding, more syncopated or what we now call doom-laden (Demilich never stops too much in these power chord phrasal statements, though, so they do not really stand out). The emphasis on groove and the goofy-gore character is a constant that gives them their trademark sound.
The value of these concepts lies in learning how to produce sections that create variety within a narrative, with a distinctive and constant language that lends a personality of its own to the music. The narrative is produced through the equivalent of formal statements, developments, pauses for air, retaking of the topic, etc, in their musical manifestations. This is the greatest value of the best classic death metal bands: their outstanding ability to articulate.
Straight from the peak of the death metal movement comes the French band Catacomb and their 1993 demo / EP In the Maze of Kadath. The production is suitable and enhances the vibe that any death metal band would want, saved from overproduction by the limitations of its time and probably band finances. It is the sort of release that from the time period that has all the right examples of its betters so that it can produce an appropriate atmosphere, but its capacity to create something original and valuable of its own is shaky at best.
Songs are introduced by a monochromatic piano, not unlike that of Goatcraft on All for Naught. After a short passage, the band proceeds to pick motifs from it and move on to a very consciously “progressive” treatment of the music. As I have said before, all good death metal is progressive music, in the sense of the word’s original usage when describing classic and jazz inspired rock bands of the early seventies. Bands that sound more explicitly and intentionally progressive are usually trying something closer to through-composition. The dangers of through-composition, however, can be seen in how acts such as The Chasm meander into nothingness, or in the corners of Timeghoul’s longer explorations, which they barely keep together. Catacomb is an example of a band biting off more than it can chew. While not outright offensive, one gets the feeling that the songs’ storylines get lost, and part of this is because it’s difficult to tell if Catacomb has a clearly defined style or not. It is more like a collection of atmospheric death metal tropes combined with more conventional technique closer to a traditional/speed metal approach, although Catacomb tends to perform at middling tempos.
One strength of this band on In The Maze of Kadath is their haunting use of keyboard, its sound complementing the tone of the guitar as they play in unison. This is a subtlety lost on modern bands who fail to notice how a huge and devouring guitar sound eats up the space where a keyboard would spread to get that truly haunting feeling. Less admirable are the random guitar solos with very little staying power (a lack of correspondence with the music, with which it only shares tonal coherence) and often awkward-sounding arpeggiations. All in all, this is an enjoyable but unimpressive and forgettable work music. If you wanted the progressive ‘chops’ with the dark atmosphere, Timeghoul provides a much better delivery. If that proves too gnarly and the reader only wants that spacey, desolate sound, Thergothon’s Stream from the Heavens would be a far more compelling and potent choice. In the Maze of Kadath may please momentarily and entertain for its cult status, but musically, anything it has to offer has been realized more convincingly in the works of others.
The year was 1993, and Western society’s appetite for ultraviolence was steadily growing, as perhaps evidenced by our knowledge of the period’s death metal. Besides the music industry, other forms of entertainment embraced this, including Id Software, which at the time was a small but successful video game developer who increasingly specialized in first person shooters. Doom used much of the same technology as Id’s previous games in the genre, but due to better technology and marketing, it sold enormously more copies and understandably exerted more influence on game culture. Particularly interesting to us at DMU was Id’s decision to incorporate metal music into Doom. This wasn’t the first video game to showcase a straight up heavy metal soundtrack; that honor most likely goes to Rock’n’Roll Racing on the Super Nintendo, six months before the release of Doom. Rock’n’Roll Racing used synthesized covers of several popular heavy metal and hard rock tunes, but Doom arguably went a step further by using nominally original music. Robert Prince’s compositions for the game (and its immediate sequel, Doom II) are split between these ‘metal’ tracks and more ambient, downtempo tracks.
The music of Doom is definitely inspired by contemporary popular metal works to the point of near plagiarism; Prince mentions on the fan site Doomworld that Id initially asked him to do a contemporary metal soundtrack. Other sources mention that Prince relied primarily on the game’s design documents to inform his efforts and had limited contact with Id’s employees during the process. Regardless, tracks here are often just a few notes off from literally being rehashed Slayer or Metallica or one of the other popular bands that inspired this music. Song structures and everything else is understandably simplified, as video game music generally has to loop and can’t afford to be too prominent or obnoxious lest it be muted by an irritated player. It is still a reasonably appropriate backdrop to Doom‘s mixture of gun combat and labyrinthine exploration, although some players here will just use their death metal collections instead.
While streamed, sampled audio was common in video games by 1993, Doom initially used sequenced music, presumably to save on storage space and to avoid locking out potential buyers without access to a CD-ROM drive. The soundtrack was originally composed for General MIDI-compatible devices like Prince’s synthesizers, but on the average computer of the time, it’s most likely the soundtrack’s metal simulacra would play through one of Yamaha’s FM synthesis chips. The main problem with the OPL3 version of this soundtrack is a hardware one – while capable of producing a wide variety of sounds, the OPL3 suffers from severe anemia, particularly because of its weak percussion abilities, and therefore this version belies the music’s instrumentation.
Doom was, however, quickly ported to many other computers and consoles in light of its commercial success, where it would run into all sorts of technical limitations. Everyone involved in the ports handled the soundtrack differently, ranging from the complete omission of music on the Atari Jaguar, to rearrangements of various quality, including the infamously bad Sega 32X version, and even the Playstation port, notable as its main composer (Aubrey Hodges) contributed his own, original soundtrack of dark ambient music instead of using Prince’s work. The most “authentic” way to experience the soundtrack is probably Prince’s Doom Music compilation, which showcases much of the music performed on its original synthesizers; any additions are at least intended by the original author, although I still find the ability of mid-90’s electronics to mimic a distorted guitar underwhelming at best.
I doubt Id was specifically planning to popularize metal music when they released Doom, but they probably did a great deal in that regard, even though by 1993, mainstream metal was on the verge of commercial collapse and/or Pantera. The correspondence between common metal imagery, and the game’s demon-slaughtering violence and hellscapes is too obvious to ignore, though. Doom presumably sold more copies for pushing computers to their limit and being graphically violent, but the soundtrack’s decisions definitely paved the way for more and better-known works to feature metal as a soundtrack. In the process, it’s won such fans as Trey Azagthoth of Morbid Angel, who even made his own content for the game (although unfortunately, he didn’t bother to include his band’s music).