During black metal’s most creatively fertile period in the early 1990s, a handful of Greek musicians forged an alternative musical path noticeably different from that of their Nordic peers. Their efforts would subsequently crystallize into the Hellenic black metal sound or style.
Article by Anton Rudrick.
Mgła provides us with a perfect example to round a trio of examples that together shape the main misunderstandings as to what black metal is through their misrepresentation of it in either carelessness or ignorance. While modern Watain plays a completely undefined mixture of incoherent tropes around a stomping heavy rock that never condenses into anything original, and modern Behemoth is a shock rock outfit with sterile tekdeaf (modern technical “death metal”) techniques, Mgła is the one that closest comes to black metal by its purposely limited form closely resembling it. However, at best it could be said that they are a musically poor black metal band devoid of the traditional character that fuels the adversarial music, and at worst it could be classified as a post metal band experimenting with close variations on a very simple theme.
One clear sign that a band’s direction is compromised can be seen through unity of style. In this case, we see Gorgoroth lacking a clear voice of their own, in place of which Instinctus Bestialis offers three main ways of constructing sections and a rather pop-oriented way of building whole songs. The first is a bare bones neoclassical melodic method using two guitars, which is an interesting addition to traditionally more modal and harmonically chromatic genres such as death and black metal. Due to the foreign nature of these, the incorporation can be quite delicate and ought to be treated with the utmost care. The second is a collection of standard modern metal tropes ranging from the rhythmic intonations of deathcore with a low-string chug riff, probably inherited from the most prosaic speed metal. Last is the most important of the three in a rather unexpected choice in anthemic heavy metal, which happens to be the customary choice for commercial metal acts which have become barren of inspiration and direction.
These sludgy noise rockers from Phoenix show potential, but ruin this release by having too much reverb and weird noises getting in the way of the songs. This album is too ambitious for its own good.
Article by Corey M.
Featuring several authors from many backgrounds including members of metal bands Manilla Road and Solstice, Swords of Steel is an exciting collection of short stories that are for the most part squarely rooted in the tradition of serialized weird fiction.
Article by David Rosales.
Dark Paths to Catharsis an album clearly intended to be atmospheric black metal, perhaps even a little too intentionally. Its method is of the so-called ‘melodic’ type, describing long, simple melodies played with tremolo picking, a backing power chord guitar, supporting bass, and mid-paced double-bass drums. The vocals are not entirely screeches though, being more a sort of angry dad-rock that is only mildly raspy in style. There are two major problems with the orientation and the structure-building method in Dark Paths to Catharsis: first of all, it is style-oriented; second, it replaces order with feeling.
Article by David Rosales.
When music is taken as communication, as a nurture of the soul, or even as a kind of magic then small details such as the name a band chooses for itself can forebode promise or ultimate triviality. The reason for this is that music, when taken as an integral enterprise, exudes the intention and capabilities of those who give birth to it. Hooded Menace’s name does not show much imagination but perhaps a rather superficial or commercial line of thinking. The title of their album, Darkness Drips Forth, isn’t much better. These suggest a lack of definition or the non-existence of a deeper wealth of thought.
In any case, the music comes first; prejudices must be set aside so that the stream of notes can dance unhindered. The structural approach of Hooded Menace’s doom metal is actually fairly convincing, and technically speaking, the composer-like qualities of whoever is writing the songs are sharp. The music is flowing, the passages never overstay or pass by too quickly, the dynamics of adjacent sections make sense together and their discourse feels natural enough. Individually, each section is tasteful though none is particularly original or distinctive. At first it may appear as if Hooded Menace may be the exception to the rule that one is supposedly bound to bump into sooner or later. Or are they?
Listening through this release and keeping in mind what has “happened” minutes before in the song, one starts to see that the content kept changing, but somehow hasn’t really gone anywhere. What is the problem then? Intuitive alarms such as this, when justified, must be grounded in concrete causes. The band had effectively avoided the carnival syndrome, it made use of motifs in linking sections — but only locally. This isn’t bad on its own, magnificent works based on the variations template have graced our ears in the past.
The problem is slightly different from song to song. The songs are not bound together by a common aura. They may go from a lethargic groove to a happy melody, but this is minimal. Some to flounder between a nondescript extreme metal counterpoint between the guitars to a Disturbed-like groove, only to return to something more characteristic of typical of doom metal. Far more detrimental to the aura is the relatively static sense of the harmony, constantly returning to the root and never, even for a second, leaving that tonal space except for overt and obvious effect. This is predictable and even vulgar. When you put these two together — imprecise style and weakly phrased, boring harmony — you have a recipe for subversively monotonous and superficial music.
Article by Lance Viggiano
Autechre began their lifecycle inspired by Kraftwerk’s robot-pop composed of complex layers of simple motifs transformed into dialogues in which each layer of sound appeared to be communicating with each other, resulting in intricate music that often sounded emotionally distant yet alluring and rewarding. This approach has been refined through later work by removing the individuality of each motif, stripping it of meaning and self-purpose; and instead crafting living wholes out of simplistic cells. With the AE_LIVE release, Autechre present a novel concept that was originally released as a four-part series and since has been expanded to nine separate compositions averaging around an hour each. For the sake of sanity and brevity, this review will focus on the original four performances.
Each performance is procession of distinct tracks whose form and aesthetic are pre-composed. The basic structure and sonic palette unfold in a live setting through improvisation resulting in a collection of compositions which are distinct but unified. The thing-in-itself is inaccessible and can only be approached through a variety of perspectives. Autechre manifest the underlying urge of each track through indeterminate duration, rhythmic and harmonic variance. The compositions contain no narrative arcs which may frustrate the listener however life itself is equally devoid of historical arcs, shapes of time, purpose, and rationality. If we can abstract a theme out of each manifestation it is the inner and outer turmoil of living a human life. The subject-object relationship to this work is different between listeners, therefore the meaning of the art is subject to variety since we do not have access to the inner contents.
Man’s primal, aggressive, and marauding nature is the subject of this composition. This experience is the most immediate of the original four and simplest to grasp for those used to musical tour de force. Exuberant synth erupttions are followed by moments of hesitation through cascading bass creating an abstract representation of threat, uncertainty, and sudden response. The rhythms often invoke a steady elevated heartbeat over which sharp patterns clash and dissolve. Autechre explore their early dialectic style in the compositions coda but instead of a conversational tone, invoke a confrontational quality. Elements compete with one another, increasingly at odds and less integrated as the whole piece winds down into an uncertain and exhausted conclusion.
The most dance and groove oriented take is predominantly physical in nature. The focus is on the body and its motion. Autechre push the limits of danceable rhythm which in turn challenges the body to remain in step with the ever-shifting cadence of life.
The most sparse and introspective variation. Track transitions are less abrupt while the whole retains more interdependence than the other pieces fitting for a contemplative journey. Autechre sort their mental contents in a relaxed meter. However, the character of the patterns are no less tumultuous and bombastic than the others.
External and visceral. Washes of ambience linger in the background giving off an impression of a subject traversing a landscape. This contains the most abrupt and forced transitions. A lack of fluidity is reminiscent of the rush of chaotic and divided sensory imagery washes over listeners who find themselves in unfamiliar places, isolated, without familiarity or a rational center.
Sarpanitum’s Blessed Be My Brothers was one of Death Metal Underground’s rejected albums for the Best of 2015. The album initially showed promise. The introductory track, “Komenos”, presents the audience with Sarpanitum’s combination of chromatic death metal riffs, melodic heavy metal leads, Unique Leader Records brutality, and Emperor-like use of a melotron to approximate medieval polyphony to anchor the concept album’s theme of the Crusades.
“By Virtuous Reclamation” surges forth with soaring, harmonized guitars calling for the conquest of the Holy Land continuing into an Immolation style rhythm riff. A break starts the counterpointed dissonant riffing in the Unique Leader style that variates logically enough for Pope Urban II to call for crusade against the heathen Saracens with a metalcore scream, providing a harbinger of the randomness to come. The band returns to the opening riff minus the accompanying lead. The lead’s eventual return signals the start of the Emperor melotron. A sudden slowdown for a cheesy emotional solo continues into the original riffs, climaxing into a polyphonic blend of every musical element and texture. The song barely avoids falling on its face on the way to to the finish line.
The second real song, “Truth” opens directly with Unique Leader riff salad. The Emperor worship is only to plant listeners in a Western European medieval mindset to distract them from the fact the tension built up by the dissonant riffing is never appropriately resolved. The emotional stadium rock solos are just as disconnected from the death metal as the Emperor aping. “Glorification Upon the Bones of the Sundered Dead” better glues the riffs together but still resorts to emotional, Slash-style solos to impart the triumph of the Siege of Jerusalem.
If Blessed Be My Brothers had ended there, it would have been a disparate but listenable concept album. Instead Sarpanitum use the second half to tell the Muslim side of the later Crusades through similarly flawed but less effective songs. This isn’t just a 180 degree change in perspective: the band added another of their heavy metal heroes to the blender. Ersatz Gorguts riffing plus even more masturbatory glam rock solos leads distract from the effective atmospheric and brutal elements. The songs turn even more so into senseless technical deaf metal with Emperor rendered down into pop hooks.
The drastic changes of viewpoint and influence betray the album’s semi-successful first half. The atmosphere of Western mysticality established using Emperor to approximate a polyphonic medieval choir is wrecked by the hippie drum circle interlude, “I Defy For I Am Free”. Blessed Be My Brothers is a postmodern, apologetic Frankenstein. Wikipedia “neutral point of view” metal for meek liberals is antithetical to Emperor’s classical triumph and heavy metal’s “Compassion is the vice of kings: stamp down the wretched and the weak,” virtus.
Article by Corey M
Blood Incantation released their debut EP Interdimensional Extinction last year to little fanfare. Having heard one of the US death metal band’s songs on a Dark Descent compilation, I was highly anticipating this release and was not disappointed. However, other respectable authors have dismissed it without giving it the attention it deserves. Because I’ve only grown to appreciate this EP more over the last several months, I intend to elaborate on Blood Incantation’s strengths, because I believe they deserve more coverage.
Guitars are the focus of and main engine of Blood Incantation’s music. Typically one guitar plays chords in rhythmic bursts to support the other guitars which harmonize faster-moving and more complex melodies. An excellent balance between the low-register rhythm chords and the weird-and warbly-leads is always maintained. During high-tension segments, the guitars mainly play in unison for maximum impact, and during some of the more paranormal passages, the drums and rhythm intensity are dialed back just enough to open up space for the imaginative and unpretentious leads. The best of the guitar solos remind me of those on In the Nightside Eclipse, sharing that ability be technically modest yet very evocative. Blood Incantation’s flailing-tentacle leads mysteriously manage to reflect or echo the dynamics of the chord pattern underneath, achieving symbiosis with the rhythm guitars and drums, even while ratcheting up the tension to the point of anticipating a total musical disintegration. Other times, leads are used to gracefully close out a song, resolving the musical stress by harmonically tying together the wildly whipping threads of various melody.
Vocals are perfectly competent and never interfere with the shape of the riffs, partially due to having a more forward-sounding presence in the mix, compared to the guitars which cast a broader curtain of sound and envelop the rest of the instruments. Drums are in thrall to the guitars, and when the guitar rhythm turns odd or just a little unorthodox, they provide an unobtrusive, robust foundation on which the highly melodic riffs build. Special mention must go to the session player with the fretless bass, who plays in the technically adventurous death metal band Stargazer. Giving each a riff an uncanny, slithery feel, the fretless adds another layer of harmonic depth and texture in a way that is underutilized or outright ignored by many death metal bands.
On the extra-musical side, Interdimensional Extinction‘s cover art is not only very cool, but an effective visual representation of the themes present in the music, featuring a distant planetary body surrounded by an orbital ring of human skeletal bits. Human skulls are always related to human death and sometimes death in general, as a concept that extends further than the merely personal, into the planetary, the celestial, and yes, even the “interdimensional”! This far-out unearthly realm is what Blood Incantation attempts to explore, as their perspective encompasses not only human death, but death as a common fate for all for all systems of organized energy, from a single bacterium to the largest galactic cluster. Does the band intentionally attempt to establish a sympathetic link between humans and non-human things by relating us all under the empirical inevitability of death? Maybe; maybe not, but these are the sorts of imaginal realms that great death metal can take a listener’s mind.
All four songs on this EP are proficiently crafted and offer the very thing that most lovers of death metal are either actively searching for at least glad to hear; death metal in its unadulterated language, but through a distinctive dialect. Perhaps the band’s native Colorado landscape has informed their intuitive songwriting, as each song moves through jagged peaks and rolling valleys, organically and without pretense. Due to the clarity of the arrangements and mixing, the songs are actually relatively easy to follow, and riffs do not hide behind distracting, murky guitar tones or gratuitous reverb. There may appear to be similarities with Demilich or Immolation, but they are only skin-deep, and Blood Incantation use intriguingly idiosyncratic methods of riff development and song structuring. All things considered, including that I have been listening to this solidly for six months now, I can only think of good reasons to recommend this EP.