ZOM is essentially a crust band who starched by a discordant boondock black metal sensibility resulting in parlor tunes to cap off a hard day picking potatoes. Neither being soaked in rye nor smoked out on Dublin can make this release stand out in the fields of barley. The riffs aren’t worth paying attention to and as background music it is simply too assertive so it tends to pinch you if your mood isn’t wearing the right color.
Longhena is grindcore that is actually musical. Takafumi Matsubara (Mortalized) became the sole guitarist after Orphan and brought a longer, more narrative, heavy metal sense of songwriting to Gridlink’s hyper proficient blend of their musical influences. The riffing varies from post-hardcore chord progressions to New Wave of British Heavy Metal harmonies of the type originated by Thin Lizzy. Somewhat shocking for a grindcore band not Carcass or Bolt Thrower, Matsubara actually progressive his riffs to tell short narratives in short, cyclical compositions varying from one to three minutes in length, usually climaxing in a bittersweet, often melancholic solo. The drumming is blasting, inspired, and semi-tasteful, with fills that feel almost as if they are about to go off the rails but return to be properly enslaved by the riffing. Vocals are reminiscent of Assuck with lyrical topics ranging from nuclear holocaust to anime and lamentations of the destruction of the player-controlled spaceship in shoot ’em up arcade game. All melodically and lyrically reflect upon listeners certain Buddhist mental concepts of the emptiness, nothingness, and meaninglessness of human existence and suffering.
All metalheads secretly want the return of early 1990s death metal and black metal. Instead we get nostalgia bands who prey on our desires by delivering aesthetic imitation of the past, but with none of its depth, and by doing so, make a mockery of the underground as desperate metalheads embrace this stuff.
Article by Lance Viggiano.
Hostile Terraforming is the result of a lot of instrumental practice and absolutely no artistic or even musical ambition. Every moment is technically precise in the pursuit of puritanically banal phrases which fake variation by playing the same motif in a higher octave. Cyclical song structures allow the players to shred freely while never needing to establish an emotive core. The EP lasts only as long as it takes for the musicians to run through every show-off-in-a-public-space rite of passage stylistic flair which is recited in the most obsessively canned manner – essentially a musical diet of Doritos and Pepsi. Like all such outfits, the drums are produced to resemble a typewriter thus ensuring maximum clarity so the listener can hear every soulless tap and click as the performer slavishly follows the guitar around like a gimp-clad submissive. Yes, there are musical pauses to give the bass guitar its obligatory solo which has no purpose within a greater melodic arc of the song; not that the drunk dive bar crowd notices or cares.
Article by Corey M.
Article by Corey M.
Chalice is a real shit show. From a purely musical perspective, the self-titled EP Chalice is transparent hard rock with some metal-ish riffing that never gets quite as aggressive as Deep Purple. Now indeed, aggression is not the only or even most crucial element that goes into making good rock or metal, but Chalice fall fa(aaaaaaaa)r short in every other facet of songwriting and performance.
This review was contributed to Death Metal Underground by Neil Sigmundsson.
The best albums are greater than the sum of their parts and provide the capability for listener immersion due to their length and integration but the song is still generally the most important and most fundamental compositional unit in death metal. Paying too much attention to atmosphere, musicianship, individual riffs, or other aesthetical and shallow (though important) qualities of an album can lead to overlooking compositional shortcomings, especially after the mind starts to fatigue or when listening to dense material. This is the case with Doomed Passages, which feels convincing – and in some aspects it is – but suffers from a number of flaws that might be missed during casual listening. That being said, even though the music of Question is imperfect, it is modest and sincere and at its best moments overflows with contagious vigor and energy that leaps fearlessly towards the abyss, a mark of the upper echelons of death metal artists.
First, praise is due to some of the mechanical and aesthetical elements of this album. The roaring, expressive vocals, replete with various single-syllable exclamations and grunts, are highly enjoyable and benefit from a cavernous quality due to studio-induced reverb. The drums are commendable in their creativity and in demonstrating a subtle understanding of the level of activity that best complements any given situation. Rumbling double bass creates a “rolling” sensation of high momentum at certain tempi. The production is deep and clear, and has a bit of cushion, but more separation between the instruments might have been beneficial.
There are two truly excellent songs on Doomed Passages: the second and fifth tracks. “Nefarious Conclusion” is the most structurally rigorous composition on the album, being basically linear but still having a clear exposition, rising action, climax, and falling action. This results in a rewarding experience. 0:00-0:50 is an example of creating variation, exploration, and motion out of a single phrase. The drum build-up to the invigorating climactic riff is genius; it sounds like transitioning from walking to running. The transitions at 1:15 and 4:34 are somewhat rough, but not enough to harm the composition. “Universal Path of Disgrace” has one of the most memorable riffs on the album, a sprawling eight bar tremolo-picked cycle. After the second occurrence of this riff and its accomplice, the song heads logically into a strange middle section that sounds like being in an unstable, slightly psychedelic limbo. A climax and resolution emerge from there. This song offers an interesting journey but it is slightly less satisfying than “Nefarious Conclusion.”
Aside from these two tracks, the remainder of the material on Doomed Passages shows promise and has shining moments but suffers from various problems. Some of these issues are abrupt transitions (“Mournful Stench” at 3:35), weak conclusions (“Devoured from Within”), and segments that overstay their welcome (the introduction of “…Bitter Gleam of Inexistence”). However, the major recurring problem and the biggest downfall of Question, though it is not immediately apparent due to the large number of riffs (many of which sound similar), is the purposeless, wandering song structures. In their template, Question take a single riff or a small group of riffs that act as an “anchor,” and they dance a bunch of ideas around that anchor before departing in an uncertain, random direction. This resembles a very relaxed version of what Slayer pioneered on tracks like “At Dawn They Sleep,” which completes two verse-chorus cycles and then departs radically from pop structure. The difference – and it’s a significant difference – is that Slayer maintained a strong narrative and a sense of purpose and tension throughout the entirety of their songs, whereas Question is usually content with wandering aimlessly. That Question can string a huge number of riffs together without the result sounding like patchwork is impressive (see “Grey Sorrow”), but cohesion alone does not make death metal of lasting quality, and as a result an appreciable amount of this material feels pointless and is frustrating to endure.
As hinted at above, there are simply too many riffs on Doomed Passages, a large proportion of which are interchangeable and forgettable, appear only once, and serve no vital function. Question demonstrate that they know how to overcome this problem in multiple ways (developing phrases, relating riffs through common or similar phrases, writing highly memorable riffs, returning to previous ideas in different contexts, etc.), but they need to apply these habits more diligently. There are focused passages, and there are highly memorable riffs, but ideally all of the passages should be focused and all of the riffs memorable and necessary. Thus, whereas many death metal bands have simplified their song structures to the detriment of the music, Question can actually benefit from being somewhat more repetitive in order to remove the forgettable and less evocative riffs and develop only their best and darkest ideas. This can be done while retaining the narrative, exploratory song structures. It will occurs more naturally and easily when the music is written and played with specific purpose and direction. More dynamics might also help in stressing important sections, as the sound sometimes blends into a monotonous stream. The digital, compressed production is of no help.
Another lesser issue with Doomed Passages is that consonance sometimes feels out of place when it appears in the midst of the generally dissonant and chromatic music. The interlude “Through the Vacuous River” is the most blatant offender, though the riff at 5:28 of “Universal Path of Disgrace” is questionable as well. While consonance is not vital for this music to express something meaningful, there is potential in its skillful application, as demonstrated by 3:00-3:35 of “Mournful Stench,” a section that arises at an appropriate time but is unfortunately not fully developed. The acoustic final track also works fairly well in context. If Question would hone their skills at incorporating consonance into their musical language, the wider range of expression will provide them with more tools for communication.
The standout songs on this album prove that Question is capable of writing intense and adventurous narrative death metal of the highest caliber. All of the tracks have redeemable and enjoyable qualities and marks of skilled craftsmanship, but most are hampered by the flaws discussed above. To further improve their already above average music, Question need to at least scrap the forgettable riffs and instead develop more extensively their best ideas while taking the reins and writing more directed and focused compositions. The second change can be realized either by forcing the songs to move toward clear climaxes and satisfying conclusions or by finding some wisdom and inspiration that can be represented in and communicated through the music. These young musicians are certainly technically proficient but need to write more coherent compositions if they want to inspirit their music instead of joining the ranks of so many other failed techdeath endeavors.
Article by Daniel Maarat
Sodom’s latest EP was ignored by the Death Metal Underground when it was originally released in late 2014 due to the more commercial nature of the band’s work over the past decade. After recruiting guitarist Bernd “Bernneman” Kost, Sodom abandoned their traditional black thrash style and adopted a more American speed metal, eighties Metallica and Megadeth oriented sound. Most of their new songs are rock structured, speed metal riff salads, peppered with occasional slowed-down extreme metal riffs.
Sacred Warpath is no different. The title track is the only new material and is strictly verse-chorus-verse. There is no melodic riff glue except for the verse riff variations. The chorus where Tom Angelripper snarls the name of the song in the song as a vocal hook like a line of dialogue from a cheesy action movie just serves as a way to repeat the verse verbatim to kill time. An acoustic interlude allusion to Agent Orange (“It’s like poetry; it rhymes.” – George Lucas) leads to a random speed metal solo for the Wacken whelps.
Following that speed metal drag, there are a few live songs nobody will ever listen to again: a cover of “Surfin’ Bird” (originally from M-16 in 2001) that leads into the fan favorite singalong “The Saw is the Law”, a generic Slayer-style song, and Sodom attempting Gothenburg melodeaf. These are here just to take this release from a 7” single and digital download to a 10” 33 ⅓ RPM EP and CD so Steamhammer can charge Sodomites more money. An underwhelming and mediocre cash-in, but the new song is less offensive than the Kill ‘em All “loving” on 2013’s Epitome of Torture.
Decapitated from Poland used to be the darling of many a metalhead back in the 2000s; their original technical death metal style reminiscent of Vader and their youth making for many fruitful marketing campaigns. Nothing of that sort remains; the Decapitated of the current decade is modern, sleek, and understandably pretty banal. Recently, they commissioned an animated music video featuring the talents of Lukasz Rusinek, whom on this video showcases a stark and minimalistic visual style to go along with the chugs. I’m not familiar enough with Decapitated’s early work to say whether their formative work had any merit, but I highly doubt that this is an improvement.
Article by David Rosales
Witchblood is a black metal band that falls on the darkest corner of the folky side of the fence. While not specifically minimalist, Hail to Lyderhorn is a very simple and straightforward music that leans completely on the guitars for content and texture. This album may get repetitive or even a little thin at times but its saving grace is its coherent diversity of textures and techniques. The scant but effective use of keyboards is laudable, being effective as it is magnetic.
The guitars function as one only voice most of the time, with a trusty bass for a spinal chord. The meanness of this portion of the instrumentation places great stress over the role of percussion. The drums have now to fill up spaces and act like the second rock in the bolas of an Argentinian gaucho. To Witchblood’s merit, this is accomplished more than satisfactorily, with drums that compliment or mirror the metal strings, rising to the occasion as required.
Comments will be made about the quality of the vocal performance, which is neither deep, rich nor very powerful. Despite this, the overall result of the music in Hail to Lyderhorn does not seem affected negatively noticeably because of this. In part this is because, as with the instrumentation, the vocalizations were performed well within the boundaries of their limits, allowing them to perform effectively, and therefore avoiding the possible blunders of overextension. We may also want to point out that the textures for guitar riffs and their chosen registers stay clear of the space in which the voice moves. When the guitar’s approach changes (for example, arpeggiating chords into higher notes), the vocal approach also changes, sometimes to a haunting witch chant.
Released in 2014, Witchblood Hail to Lyderhorn is a deserving release that might have escaped the radar of most fans who would otherwise have derived much value from it. While it’s no classic or game changer, this album is nonetheless a low-key example of shrewd amateur efficiency and spirit.
Editor’s note: “Hail to Lyderhorn” was briefly covered in our best of 2014.