Old school death metal band Remains from Mexico has unleashed its debut full length Evoking Darkness on Ablaze Productions. This professional release will be available worldwide and features this up-and-coming highly creative band and their unique take on the original style of death metal.2 Comments
Previously under-appreciated UK death metal band Malediction, whose sole release was a live recording on Wild Rags Records entitled Chronicles of Dissention, has partnered with Dark Blasphemies Records to re-issue its discography as Chronology of Distortion, sixteen tracks spanning 72 minutes of death metal slated for release in December 2015.
Known for their laconic take on the Morbid Angel style of phrasal guitar riffs woven together into a narrative, Malediction specialized in using selective melody and introspective lead guitar to create a unique vision of the death metal style. Fans who could not get the songs on Chronicles of Dissention the first time around will appreciate these lost classics finally coming to light.14 Comments
Brazilian speed/death metal band Unearthly have embarked on a tour of the United States which sees them which sees them hit over 20 dates with Krow and Nihilistinen Barbaarisus. Following the steps of Hate Eternal and Nile, Unearthly embrace a technical style of death metal which features the choppy riffs and stop/start techniques of speed metal. Listen to their 2014 album, The Unearthly, below.2 Comments
Dark Reign, a band most known for its 1980s demos of speed/death metal hybrid high-intensity metal, has released a 2015 demo entitled “Fire Power Resurrecting Death.” A sample track follows, showing more of ripping riffs and thunderous choruses for which this band — which granted members to other Texas death metal acts — has been known and appreciated for during the past two decades.No Comments
I. A brief introduction
In 1992, At the Gates released their first full-length album after an earth-shaking demo of unprecedented refinement in composition. The full-length, titled The Red in the Sky is Ours, was to become not only the band’s magnum opus but also the greatest achievement of Scandinavian death metal then and since then. Hidden under distinct layers of complexity, ideas at different levels flourish, diverge and converge in ways that are not always easy to follow, throwing the less-than-adamant and less perceptive listener off at every turn and twist of the way. This is not a spurious claim but an observation based on deep acquaintance with the composition of the music in this album as it stands in contrast with the groove-banality of most Swedeath, including favorites of the populace like Entombed Left Hand Path.
According to Anders Björler, this early output was almost entirely arranged by the much aged (about 6 years older than the rest of the band members) founding member Alf Svensson, who painstakingly controlled the process even in the vocal department. To be fair, this debut album is definitely the result of the best talents of all the participating musicians directed in a very concentrated direction by a mastermind. In fact, a distinct At the Gates’ “sound” in this era comes from Tompa’s unique style and the exchange between the quirkiness of Svensson’s style and the melodic clarity and repose of Björler’s, without failing to mention the flexible, stellar and extremely appropriate tailor-made drum arrangements of Erlandsson. Among the often-commented and curious ways Svensson had of getting ideas for At the Gates’ music was playing folk music tapes backwards. The whispers, screeches and screams of the vocals were also carefully gauged by this guy who even pitched certain passages — a very uncommon practice in death metal.
Given the strange appearance and convoluted (almost perverted) character of the music that confirm the topic of insanity and inner journeys discussed in the lyrics, it has been overlooked in the same way that even the great genius of J.S. Bach may be deemed “no more than a composer with a penchant for writing minor-key melodies” by the blind and the ignorant. This complexity extends from technique to progressive structures all the way to motif and idea.
Lyrically, The Red in the Sky is Ours is very poetic, describing scenes and mixing these visions with colored allusions and evocation of feelings, creating a land between the image and the emotion where the two come together and mix, blend and crystallize into one or the other at a different points. This mystic poetry is not only present in the words of the album but is reflected and paralleled in the music. The concept here is strongly integrated and reinforced at several levels that remain elusive enough to create a sense of mystery yet concrete enough to be identified without a shadow of doubt.
The mention of the use of a violin in the album is in order but should not be overemphasized as gimmick-oriented audiences have often highlighted it as if it were the defining or most interesting thing going on here. The violin is appropriately used and adds a very eerie aura through its intensified fretless access to microtones which make the semitone emphasis and augmented intervals sound even more off than they sound on the distorted electric guitar. One can still detect an amateur performance at some level on the instrument, but it is not that notes were missed or that wrong notes were played, and more of a lack of finesse in performance.
II. Apparent influences
At the Gates was formed out of the ashes of Grotesque, a melodic-motif-based, riff-salad-propelled progressive death metal band. The creative and savage impulse of the younger band remains in At the Gates, but filtered through a matured and controlled thought process under the guiding hand of a visionary metal composer. In my opinion, the single greatest metal influence on the band were the Americans from Atheist, whose shadow looms over the fully-formed style of At the Gates in The Red in the Sky is Ours.
Atheist’s trademark is found in its jazz-inspired rhythmic playfulness, ever throwing the audience off balance through ploys in the music that never allow one to feel too at home, always carrying the imagination forth in river rapids that form part of a distinctive greater whole that flows in one direction. As good metal, it is composed and not improvised (though improvisation definitely always plays a role in any composition process, to one degree or another). The stability-instability interplay from section to section follows the Gang‘s and Satz‘s described by A.B. Marx conceptually and through examples of Beethoven piano sonatas.
What At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours took from Atheist was an informed fearlessness in the face of convention that did not destroy the music for the sake of innovation but introduced all sorts of pauses, tempo and time signature changes as well as other creative rhythmic gestures within a homogeneous framework that maintained a clear language that conspired to a strong concept rather than indulging any of the musicians. But the younger band took this further and deeper than veterans even in their masterpiece Unquestionable Presence, creating much more powerful and meaningful gestures by making them varied yet subservient to a layered concept.
III. Creating a language
Usually, one relates a band with a style. This style implies the use of not only certain instrumentation but also musical tropes that the audience can expect. A good reason for a band to adopt a particular style (rather than going rogue and define parameters completely on their own) is intelligibility. Unfortunately, more often than not this is not the reason why bands do this, but rather because they are not gifted in music creation and thus only choose a style as a suit to wear and not as what it actually is: a language to speak.
When it comes to this band’s early works, the first step in understanding just what exactly this style they chose is requires an acknowledging of the fact that At the Gates created a dialect of their own from the firm bases of contemporary underground metal at the time. This consisted in abandoning as much as possible stylistic tendencies in structure or composition and reducing their relation to death metal to rudimentary technique aspects such as blast beats, d-beats and other variations basic percussion patterns when it came to the drums, and “tremolo” picking for melodies, power chords (and absolutely no use of any other kind of chord in a single guitar), hammer-on’s and simple, non-tremolo picking mostly for syncopated passages.
It is not claimed here that all this was precisely calculated by the band, and it is acknowledged that in all possibility, it was the result of the unconscious result of musically talented minds searching for self-expression. The following section illustrates approaches in applications of typical then-contemporary death and black metal techniques in the framework of distinct songwriting procedures in The Red in the Sky is Ours.
IV. Tainting the sky with red
- Motif forms. Motif forms in developmental variation as described by Arnold Schoenberg in his Fundamentals of Musical Composition is a series of melodic patterns evolve from executing transformation functions on a primordial one. As little as two distinctive notes from this first melodic pattern can be highlighted and played upon as the central motif, while the rest is twisted, expanded, contracted, flipped, omitted or changed in any other way in progressively differentiating ways. This is not to be confused with a theme, which is a distinctive melodic pattern that is kept intact in the relative relation between its notes and which in the most extreme cases is played slower or faster, or in a different register. Motif forms allow for a wider range of manipulation that nonetheless preserves a link to a central idea that can be sometimes difficult to see at first, leading relations between sections to sound less than obvious. In the case of The Red in the Sky is Ours, this has resulted in accusations of riff-salad looseness, but these allegations do not hold up in light of the evidence. However, it is true that a degree of intelligibility is sacrificed when flexibility is increased, and these two are one of the so many extreme poles in between which musics attempt to find a certain balance or inclination for their expression.
- Harmonic coloring. After the selection and limitation to a rudimentary “alphabet”, the reducing of building materials to a homogeneous mixture, At the Gates proceeds to define the next layer: their vocabulary. What happens next are the decisions that shape the character and coloring of the music in terms of the relations between the instruments in terms of texture and harmony. Harmony here does not only refer to the horizontal relation of notes at any one point in time, but of the sequence of harmonic implications within or between riffs. In the strictly horizontal aspect, when the two guitars play melody lines, they often play the same, leaving “harmonization” as an afterthought until after the riff has been properly introduced and the listener is very well-acquainted with it. Rather than a way to easily beef-up the music as in Sentenced North from Here, At the Gates makes a much more elegant and measured use of it as if it were a punctuation mark. This is mostly done in fifths, sometimes in octaves and a very few times in minor third intervals. A very few passages make use of short counterpointed melodies of the most basic sort, but inserted in crucial points to a very powerful effect. The use of each of these not as a feature but as part of a set of calculated flourishes is another thing that makes At the Gates rise above most bands. Needless to say, the rhythm-and-lead modality is used by At the Gates very, very little and usually takes the form of something more akin to melody and counter-melody. The second aspect can be noticed in different applications. One of them is playing a melodic pattern in one register and then playing it exactly as it is exactly one semitone above its original instantiation. The band uses this simple technique to expand several riffs throughout their debut and is in line with the music’s apparent penchant for focusing on the semitone as a motif, giving the music a very uncomfortable lingering feeling most of the time as the minor second interval is a very dissonant one only a little step away from perfect resolution. This, in turn, is liberated by the addition of more stable (so-called “melodic” — correct term: consonant) passages that are in turn intensified and elevated by being placed amongst the ever-present hanging melodic, semi-tone dissonance.
- Percussion. As has been said before, the drums in metal should be more than the strict representation of tempo, but they should not run amok in self-indulgent expressions of virtuosity or “feeling” either. In the band’s debut album, Adrian Erlandsson achieves perfection in balance between creativity and functionality in a very technically-oriented style. Like many of the early classics, this technically intense music can go undetected because of two reasons this writer can think of in this moment. The most easily pointed out is the fact that the basic expressions are rudimentary metal techniques which in themselves do not present a challenge to accomplished drummers. But looks can be deceiving as the difficulty lies in the smoothness between patterns, in addition to the right emphasis within and between them in relation to the rest of the music. This is basically metal drumming taken to classical heights and taking technical cues from the only available precedent: old jazz drumming. A very good example is the way the drums complement (rather than mirror) the speed of the notes and intensity of the guitar patterns. Sometimes these two come together and accents are focused, sometimes the drums will reduce intensity and calm down to a very basic pattern in order to give space and highlight to a particularly melodic-consonant guitar melody interplay and yet sometimes it will blast away as the guitars play moderately midpaced and slow notes. These never feel forced or out of place when seen from the point of view of being an expression inside a larger scheme, but may seem a little “weird” when taken out of context. Unfortunately for the appreciation of this album, most listeners cannot go beyond the moment and the riff or the cool drum pattern. The beauty of truly advanced drum arrangement (as opposed to virtuosic display alone) is completely lost on most of the audience.
- Silences and pauses. A subtle but decisive element that elevates the composition in The Red in the Sky is Ours to a place actually besides classical music (as opposed to the many metal albums that are superficially likened to classical music based on this or that pattern in the music) is the use of silences for articulation — yet another device used by Atheist that At the Gates took to a whole other level. Silences throughout the album work mainly as expectation creators, creating an effect of falling through empty space, and as buffers between two different motific areas. It is also worth pointing out that silences do not only occur in total muting of all the instruments. Sometimes the little trick Atheist likes of letting the bass run over a little drum pattern alone only to have the guitars come after it is used. But also, one guitar alone over drums, or only drums, or alternations of all of them (as occurs in the closing passage of “City of Screaming Statues”).
- Orchestration. The bas-reliefs created in The Red in the Sky is Ours thus run at multiple levels, from these plays of harmony, to motif relations, to textural adjustments in between the instruments in which the percussion plays no small role. An analysis of the flow of the music from one section to another reveals a painstaking amount of planning and consideration regarding these elements. The album amounts to an extremely expressive and variable set of statements and arguments from a single voice (embodied by the aforementioned homogeneous-ness from adherence to rudimentary techniques and particular harmonic-melodic inclinations). When it comes to orchestration, the decisions of how and when to let the guitars use this or that picking technique, when to make them play the same or in harmony, when to let the drums lead, when to make the drums fade into the background seem to obey a song-wide plan, and not one in which only the shock or pleasing nature of any one passage is considered. So, it is not which techniques or approaches At the Gates used in their debut, but how and to what ends they did. This music speaks out as if it had sentient and emotional capacity of its own beyond the words or the execution of any single instrument that produces it.
“The term orchestration in its specific sense refers to the way instruments are used to portray any musical aspect such as melody or harmony.”
— Orchestration Wiki
V. Long-range planning
Now comes one of the most exciting and accomplished aspects of The Red in the Sky is Ours: its composition on the scale of whole pieces, rather than in a collection of disparaged cool-sounding passages. Without any assumption of a voluntary or conscious reference by the band to master composers, this writer feels the need to illustrate the outstanding crystallization of advanced thought processes in composition by making a connection between this great metal work to certain general procedures of Ludwig van Beethoven, Anton Bruckner and Antonio Vivaldi.
Structurally, the affinity to Beethoven’s method comes first as it refers to the encompassing of motifs and their tying-together by entanglement. The late German master would develop a first main motif, sometimes introducing a contrasting idea that may be mistaken as simple gimmicks for effect here and there. Now, he would not allow these to remain simple dead ends. These initial and apparently random passages that salted the presentation of a first motif would become the seeds for other areas of development, thereby revealing them as hints and vistas of what lay ahead. Like At the Gates, Beethoven sometimes introduced new ideas in a contrasting and almost transition-less manner, and then proceeded to slowly integrating them by interpolating them and already-established motifs, even using them together while always looking ahead in the development. Beethoven’s late quartets display everything one can look forward to in At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours in more advanced arrangements.
The reference to Anton Bruckner may not be as pervading and far-reaching as Beethoven’s, but it is still a key aspect of the character of At the Gates’ debut. This is a specific way of reusing and sometimes transforming a motif which works on a different dimension than the developmental variation. This is the attention to the color of a same idea, perhaps a theme or simply a motif in different contexts as it shines through different harmonies and textures. Brett Stevens has aptly described this as prismatic technique, alluding to the effect a crystal has over light going through it and exiting from different angles.
Last comes the most general and slightly elusive comparison to Antonio Vivaldi’s music. The relation of any metal music which has separate guitar lines can be likened to a lot of Vivaldi’s music for two violins, as this revolves around two lines. The best melodic death metal uses this concept to its full potential. Also, the clarity and rhythmic straightforwardness and affirmative character of this pure, Italian baroque music is a template and reflection of good and simple progressive underground melodic metal such as the album under discussion. In the case of this metal masterpiece, I want to especially call attention to an section-expanding procedure in which a pattern is repeated while elements surrounding it add to its texture in increasing waves or in slide-shift manner that quickly takes one idea and juxtaposes it to a second as the second one takes precedence towards the end of the whole section. (Typical in At the Gates’ music -> G1: A A A’ A’ BBB’B’ B’B’, G2: AAAA A’BB’B’ B’harB’har)
Last of all, there is a high-level characteristic that gives this music a very organic feeling, that is how the number of repetitions adjust to the needs of the music, often avoiding sounding too squared, too even. Instead of a lot of the typical “repeat four times” formula we find in metal we find a lot of different combinations that nonetheless favor the even-ness traditional to the genre. What is achieved here is an element that lends unpredictability but does not detract from the music, a small tool used when music needs a little push from un-evenness: odd number of repetitions. This becomes especially powerful when combined with the riff-motif sliding technique just mentioned. A perfect exampled can be distinguished in the middle climax/breaking point of “City of Screaming Statues”.
While most would agree that most death and black metal need to be analyzed with a modal mindset, approaching The Red in the Sky is Ours with this more simple-minded preconception would be doing the masterpiece a great disservice. The powerful way in which harmony, implied or explicitly presented, is used here was unprecedented in its time and has largely remained unparalleled since in the death metal world. Yet it is not this or that aspect what makes it astounding, but the convergence of all the elements and the stacked up layers of refined aspects from playing technique to mind-numbing attention to composition technique in its vertical and horizontal dimensions and in its short and long ranges.
Crafting a unique album in the full sense of the expression, At the Gates gave us an example of how thinking that everything has already been done is just a scapegoat for people who were not meant to be creating artists in the first place. The Red in the Sky is Ours does not introduce new playing techniques or strange avant-garde-isms in strange influences that change the character of the music, but for those with the eyes to see it, they rose above the masses in producing a profound work of art that will remain immortal so long as its objective qualities, at least, are understood. This is an album that stands besides Burzum Det Som Engang Var and Cóndor Duin in showing us how excellent, original and forward-looking music can be created without resorting ignorant attempts at directly redefining paradigms or favoring nonsensical experimentation that results in garbage. Instead, what we have here is sure-footed creativity based on tradition that is carefully gauged through both technical knowledge in its Apollonian manifestation and its inner Dionysian sense to a both logical but unpredictable result.95 Comments
Tags: 1992, Adrian Erlandsson, Anders Björler, anton bruckner, Antonio Vivaldi, Arnold Schoenberg, At the Gates, atheist, death metal, entombed, Left Hand Path, Ludwig van Beethoven, Melodic Death Metal, Sweden, The Red in the Sky is Ours
Some albums have an inherently nocturnal mood to them, a form of parent moods to all others; Cemetary combines the sensation of doom metal with a heavy metal twist with the lighter and more ethereal vein of death metal to create an album of suspension of the world to venture into an exploration of nocturnal, ambiguous and excitingly lawless worlds.
Like the primeval forest, the world of thought outside of what Society demands must be true is an unnerving place full of possibility and danger, and Cemetary tempers this with a more traditional heavy metal compositional style but uses some of the death metal method of song structure as a means of emotional conveyance, much like opera does in theater. Songs break to reconstruct themselves, and then burrow deeper into a circular wending of riffs that culminates in a collision of internal forces which forces the dormant mood to the surface, by reflexive contrast relegating the previous sensations of personable melancholy to the background and uncovering a more unsettling feel of indirect, invisible forces at work.
Featuring use of a left-hand technique that seems to achieve a two-note vibrato for a further ghostly sound, these songs betray an Iron Maiden-styled heavy metal background in both progression and harmonic structure, but augment this with extensive internal evolution in the death metal style. Many will recognize this band (and fellow travelers Tiamat) as the inspiration behind Opeth, who realized if they kept the death metal to choruses and added some bouncy self-pitying pretentious folk rock for the verses they could convince the basement NEETs of the world to pompously parade around telling others how Opeth was perhaps too deep for them, by reflex incarnating themselves as agents of profundity. Cemetary avoids that fate with a simple pragmatism in that its destabilizing obscurity and isolated emotion pairs itself with good times heavy metal, converting both so that the familiar becomes self-critical and the darkness warms so that it gains a friendly touch. This gives the album a perfect mental feel for an evening with friends and a pipe of dark tobacco, perhaps Dunhill Nightcap or one of the dark flakes that conceal their high strength behind matured harvest flavors.
As in a good tobacco, the power of An Evil Shade Of Grey blooms from within the darkness, appearing first as a light alternative but then taking on a demonic sense of perverting the familiar into the uncertain. This bloom then matures in its own darkness, and reintegrates with the more friendly sounds, creating a continuum which releases expectations and allows the blended moods of solitary introspection and vigilance against imminent camouflaged threats to become themselves a type of familiarity. Through that device, this simultaneously conventional and oddball album achieves a deep subconscious effect on the listener, like all good death metal unfolding so that past riffs shift context dramatically and create the sense of discovery for the listener.
Most remember this album for its selective use of acoustic guitar in with the death metal riffs, and its parallels of listenability and challenging emptiness, but its surface traits only serve to propel it deeper into its own brooding ambiguity. An Evil Shade Of Grey recently celebrated 23 years since its introduction, and remains as perfect for nighttime perambulation and contemplation as it did then, joining albums like the first Darkthrone and early doom metal in stimulating both the mind and the heart in a study of the dark spaces of existence.8 Comments
For over twenty years, this site and its predecessors have advanced the idea that heavy metal bears much in common thematically with the Romantic movement in literature, arts and music. Multiple parallels exist between what metal idealizes, and what the Romantics did.
Consider one of the better summaries of Romantic philosophy available:
Romanticism can be seen as a rejection of the precepts of order, calm, harmony, balance, idealization, and rationality that typified Classicism in general and late 18th-century Neoclassicism in particular. It was also to some extent a reaction against the Enlightenment and against 18th-century rationalism and physical materialism in general. Romanticism emphasized the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental.
Among the characteristic attitudes of Romanticism were the following: a deepened appreciation of the beauties of nature; a general exaltation of emotion over reason and of the senses over intellect; a turning in upon the self and a heightened examination of human personality and its moods and mental potentialities; a preoccupation with the genius, the hero, and the exceptional figure in general, and a focus on his passions and inner struggles; a new view of the artist as a supremely individual creator, whose creative spirit is more important than strict adherence to formal rules and traditional procedures; an emphasis upon imagination as a gateway to transcendent experience and spiritual truth; an obsessive interest in folk culture, national and ethnic cultural origins, and the medieval era; and a predilection for the exotic, the remote, the mysterious, the weird, the occult, the monstrous, the diseased, and even the satanic.
Let us put those attributes in simplified form:
At this point, the argument makes itself, because metal frequently exhibits all of these. Naturalism manifests itself along with introspection, or a reliance on the beast within over the reasoning that becomes external when codified. Anti-rationalism and anti-formalism become a similar crossover, with a distrust of justification, rules, laws, public morals and arbitrary versions of abstract theory. Elitism is apparent both in metal’s innate hierarchy, manifested in both its quest for the hardest and heaviest music possible, and the tiered layers of importance signaled through what band is on a metalhead’s t-shirt. Occultism has been with metal from its early days, both through the horror movie and religion-inspired metaphysical explorations of Black Sabbath and the creation of epic, Tolkien-style spiritual mythology from Slayer through black metal.
Finally, we come to nationalism, which proves a troubling subject because of the ghost of Adolf Hitler which seems to loom large over all modern endeavors. While the National Socialists were nationalists (nationalism + socialism = national socialism), they were not alone in this, nor was their interpretation universal. Most saw nationalism as a glorification of national culture and a reason to turn away foreigners and not genocide them, although the numerous black and death metal lyrics about mass killing and WWII confuse the issue. Clearly Slayer were not pro-Nazi as their pejorative lyrics to “Angel of Death” illustrate, and while much of black metal — Burzum, Darkthrone, Graveland, and Emperor among others — endorsed outright national socialism, most bands took a more traditional nationalist path through pride in their identity and by reflex action, the rejection of anything which would dilute it. As the multicultural states of the West roil themselves yet again with ethnic unrest, we have to wonder if the “middle path” of Immortal, Mayhem, Enslaved and Storm might not have been a better one.
Yet nationalism is only one part of the bigger picture, although an inseparable one. People who favor a surface reading of history tend to opine that nationalism only occurred with the Enlightenment, confusing the formation of nation-states with the existence of nations, which are in fact the opposite of nation-states. A nation-state defines itself politically; a nation, both ethnically and culturally. Where the Nazis believed they could define a nation via a state with an exclusive ethnic delineation — although they had no problem admitting those who were mixed, and consequently 150,000 soldiers of mixed-Jewish heritage fought for Hitler — the Romantic-era nationalists tended to be more like Elias Lönnrot in focusing on a positive method of unification by strengthening culture against the dual onslaught of the Enlightement and the Industrial Revolution. In black metal, the form of elitism known as misanthropy crosses over with this nationalism, which seems it could be summarized as preserving the best of an ethnic group and killing off the cultureless, valueless, soft-handed beta cuck city dwellers who litter the countryside when on vacation and do nothing of value in their cubicle jobs.
The important point about Romanticism as noted above is that it rejected the Enlightenment. That dogma held that the human being itself was the highest good; Romanticism held that specific human beings, denoted by their ability to have specific thought process and mental abilities, was the highest form. Where the Enlightenment mandated a mob, the Romanticists demanded a hierarchy of realists (introspection leads to “know thyself” and thus a better understanding of reality itself). This puts Romanticism in perpetual clash with the dominant paradigm of our time, even if it is also popular with silly people who want to pretend to be deep for a few years from high school until their second job. We might distinguish between actual Romanticism and theater department Romanticism, or even “#yolo Romanticism,” which comprises the latter category.
Where do we see Romanticism in metal? First and foremost, in topic: metal bands tend to visualize life as a conflict between a thoughtless herd and a few realists who bring the heavy reality. It also shows up in the lyrics frequently, although not as clearly as in Romantic poetry. But let us begin our exploration of Romanticism with one of those classics, albeit a very popular one:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
– The World is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth (1789)
From that we venture to a rather Romantic composition by Black Sabbath which seems out of place considering the stereotype of metal lyrics. Its poetic imagery is nearly pastoral, but still incorporates at least some of the rage of nature (“red sun” & cockerels cry”).
Red sun rising in the sky
Sleeping village, cockerels cry
Soft breeze blowing in the trees
Peace of mind, feel at ease
– Black Sabbath, “Sleeping Village,” Black Sabbath (1970)
Then, for a mixed Enlightenment/Romanticism approach, there is this rather defiant piece by Metallica which takes teenage resentment of incompetent adulthood and a one-size-fits-all egalitarian and utilitarian society and channels that anger into a statement of defiance based in the individual, but reasoning from objective problems with society at large:
Rape my mind and destroy my feelings
Don’t tell my what to do
I don’t care now, ’cause I’m on my side
And I can see through you
Feed my brain with your so called standards
Who says that I ain’t right
Break away from your common fashion
See through your blurry sight
Out of my own, out to be free
One with my mind, they just can’t see
No need to hear things that they say
Life is for my own to live my own way
– Metallica, “Escape,” Ride the Lightning (1984)
Slayer took this general approach and converted it into a mythology that was as much Christian — avoidance of Satan, and fascination with the mythos of The Fall — as it was occult, incorporating elements of both alongside some defiant egotism. In this piece, the individual declares himself the opposition of all that is approved of (symbolized by “God” and “lie”) and takes on a mystical, spectral and vengeful presence:
Screams and nightmares
Of a life I want
Can’t see living this lie no
A world I haunt
You’ve lost all control of my
Heart and soul
Satan holds my future
Watch it unfold
I am the Antichrist
It’s what I was meant to be
Your God left me behind
And set my soul to be free
– Slayer, “The Antichrist,” Show No Mercy (1983)
Perhaps the most evocative lyric to my mind, and recalling scenes from another southern writer, William Faulkner, the Texas thrash band Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (DRI) wrote this paean to resistance to modern society on the basis of its ugliness and numbness. Again, the utilitarian — a culmination of Enlightenment thought — shows itself to be the enemy of the individual, but the individual points to larger things of importance (nature, beauty) as the reason for his enmity:
They block out the landscape with giant signs
Covered with pretty girls and catchy lines
Put up fences and cement the ground
To dull my senses, keep the flowers down
– Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (D.R.I.), “Give My Taxes,” Dealing With It (1985)
Finally, we come to a more stylized statement of the Slayer/DRI approach, in which the individual has like Friedrich Nietzsche rejected the definition of “good” used by the dying civilization. Instead, he is the enemy of humankind for having “(mis)understood” “this romantic place.” The usage of “romantic” here clearly refers to Romantic, and not lowercase-r romantic as in the rather icky novels with Thomas Kinkade covers. Much like Zarathustra, this individual rejects love (“hateful”) and civilization itself (“savages”) with a form of evil that originates in nature versus human delusion. Its call to destroy the excess of society and replace it with woods evokes the elitism and misanthropy of black metal, in that it sees most humans as “talking monkeys with car keys” (Kam Lee, Massacre).
Hateful savages, strong black minds
Out of the forest, kill the human kind
Burn the settlements and grow the woods
Until this romantic place is understood!
– Absurd, “Green Heart,” Raubritter/Grimmige Volksmusik (2007)
Perhaps this subject will receive future study instead of the rather politically-inclined pieces about race and gender in metal, neither of which seem to matter to metalheads except at the level of the political. Men and women of all races and creeds happily mix at metal shows, completely disagreeing with each other but, because they see civilization as failed, realizing they are not defending a social order but maintaining their own separate ones. This Romantic view sees the modern state as a parasite and modern society as a corrupt bourgeois entity dedicated to its own pleasure and wealth at the expense of shared good things like woods and truth. With that outlook, almost every metalhead can agree at least.21 Comments
A few weeks ago, the opportunity to interview Finnish band Desecresy presented itself. Having been a long-time fan of their three solid albums of old school death metal with melodic and doom-death touches, I leaped at the opportunity. Little did I know that I would be fortunate enough to speak to both members of this dark and intense band, Tommy Gronqvist who plays all instruments, and Jarno Nurmi who commands vocals. Nor could I know that Desecresy fans have a lot to look forward to in the coming years. I expected intelligent and challenging answers, and neither I — nor you, Dear Reader — will be disappointed. Read on for my interrogation of these musical mood-crafters from the dark Finnish woods and caves…
Tommi: Starting up Desecresy I wanted to concentrate more in the songwriting and creating instead of live playing. That is why there was never full line up gathered for Desecresy since there is no real need to have a separate guy for each instrument. From the beginning it was clear that Desecresy was more about the mood and therefor the song structures on the first album were less complicated compared to the Death Metal I had worked on before. Desecresy was never meant to be a tribute band or plain old school/retro band. Towards recent times, I have been happy to see that there are people who seem to get that.
Jarno: Yes, there definitely seems to be more understanding nowadays that we, among some others, are not merely an old-school death metal band. I think the beginning was quite fluent because there was no need to find more musicians, though it naturally took some time to get into the new thing after finishing others. Maybe there was also a certain kind of counter-reaction to the schedules and struggles of a band that plays live like we did earlier but it has proved to be more than just a reaction and we’ve had the chance to work effectively and release albums without problems with members joining and leaving.
What does the name “Desecresy” mean, or where is it from? (It might be a neologism of “desecreation” + “heresy”?)
Tommi: You could also throw secrecy in that neologism. Of course Desecresy is not a “real” word so its meaning is more in the feel of it than an actual description. I think of it as something that lies hidden not yet revealed.
Jarno: Yes and this idea of something hidden and unveiled has been one of the guidelines to me when considering the art of Desecresy and writing lyrics for example.
Your music is often described as doom-death, or slower death metal with doom metal influences. What doom metal bands influenced you? Were you inspired by nearby doom like Skepticism and Thergothon? What death metal influenced you? Did you have any other influences, including non-musical ones?
Tommi: The doomyness mainly comes from comparatively dropped tempo and the atmosphere, that is not so often searched by Death Metal bands. I haven’t listened much to the bands you mentioned. I do like some Doom/ Doom Death bands but to use them as reference of influence would be misleading. To mention some influential death metal bands I would say Abhorrence, Bolt Thrower, Demigod, Grave, Immolation, Incantation etc. I try not to be too much influenced by any particular band, so trying to make these lists always feels somewhat forced.
Non-musically the surrounding environment over all gives its own influence. I think changes of the seasons and changes of light in particular effects the music in the north. I don’t only mean natural environments either. For instance, colossal concrete or metal structures such as industrial buildings, bridges, water towers etc. have a surreal feel of space and solitude that can also transcend to music. “Infinite Halls” is one example of influence and inspiration from such surroundings.
Jarno: Surely playing death metal means we’re automatically influenced by at least some of the old bands, for example the ones Tommi mentioned but they are definitely only a part of the big picture. In the earlier years when playing in some other bands there was probably more will to sound like someone else or do something similar but not that much anymore. I have been a big fan of the Finnish death metal bands as well as the ones from the US and UK, for example Demigod, early Sentenced, Incantation, Immolation, Bolt Thrower and Benediction. Lot of black metal has influenced me, Burzum, Graveland, early Behemoth, Hate Forest, Ulver etc. I have to admit that I haven’t been following doom metal that much, only some early Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus.
I find non-musical inspiration from mythology and history as well as nature. Some easily noticeable traces of these are visible in the lyrical concepts of Desecresy, refering especially to Greco-Roman and Northern mythology but these are usually handled through interpretative and renewing process. Some experiences of everyday life do influence song-writing but in such subtlety that the songs or lyrics don’t lose their feeling of otherness or remoteness. Literature inspires me a lot, such as Hermann Hesse, Knut Hamsun, Philip K. Dick, Aldous Huxley and many of the old masters of literature, poetry and philosophy.
Desecresy songs often make use of a single-picked rhythm lead melody over power chord rhythm guitar, which I compare to early Paradise Lost and the second part of Burzum “Key to the Gate” in a recent review. Were these influences? What prompted you to choose this musical direction? What do you like about it?
Tommi: I can’t really say those bands are influences to Desecresy, but similarities between bands don’t always come from direct absorption of influence. The similarities may be representative of where the bands are coming from musically and where they are going to. Even bands with different musical backgrounds may come to explore similar elements. Through Desecresy I want to search deeper to the dark and atmospheric feel without forgetting the core of Death Metal. This style works better for having memorable songs compared to some other forms of Death Metal (great in their own ways too) that concentrate on speed, technical maneuvering or just brutality.
Jarno: Early Paradise Lost and Burzum are both fine examples of highly inspiring and often atmospheric music that has depth in it and both have original feeling and mood in their releases. If we can speak of influences, attaining the atmosphere and depth with music is certainly something to seek and I believe in this sense some bands like Bolt Thrower and Demigod have also brought the realization that this kind of things can be done. I enjoy the certain seriousness there is in Desecresy and the strict concept of the art.
On Arches of Entropy, a death metal and Bolt Thrower-style grindcore sound can be heard. Why did you choose this style, and why did you migrate toward more Scandinavian death metal sounding material on The Doom Skeptron (more Abhorrence than Bolt Thrower)? (What inspired the title “Arches of Entropy”?)
Tommi: First of all, early Death Metal bands from Finland (which is not included in Scandinavia) such as Abhorrence, had different sound from the Swedish (Scandinavian) Death Metal! Sorry I’ll just step down from my soapbox here. I know what you mean by “Scandinavian.” Anyways… There was never an attempt to swing our style from one influence towards another. Merely to migrate towards our own sound. Every album is a counter reaction to the previous one, so some aspects are more present than others in each album. Probably that is why they may give different associations of bands to the listener. The title of the debut album refers to crypts containing the seeds of destructive forces.
Jarno: Arches of Entropy was the primitive beginning and I enjoy it as such. Raw and primitive, yet the mood and atmosphere is already there. The Doom Skeptron evolved a bit further and naturally Chasmic Transcendence was again a new step on this path. Interestingly the form of an arch has stayed visible in our album cover art for each of the first three albums and I’d like to think of this as a symbol of getting deeper in the original idea and bringing it into being. So the same “destructive force” has stayed there and has been looked at from different views without getting too much into one-sided naive and simple outlook at it.
As a two-person band, touring would be difficult. Do you have any plans to play live, and how would you pull it off?
Tommi: We haven’t been planning live sets, but I don’t want to restrain us by declaring that we would never do that. We would have to scratch up some kind of live session band to do it of course.
Jarno: As playing live is not among our priorities I think it would demand a very special occasion to ever do so. I don’t see it happening yet but who knows what the future might bring.
Much of your music seems to exhibit a contrast between death metal style interlocking riffing of an intensely structural nature, and atmospheric parts of a more relaxed and layered approach. What do these compositional techniques represent or what are they intended to do, and how does the contrast work in your songwriting?
Tommi: The use of those different approaches is there to create a mindset that is not aggressive or filled with pacified wonder, but somehow beyond those stages. That contrast is the biggest challenge in the music of Desecresy. Atmosphere is easily disturbed by structural changes in riffing and drum work, but Death Metal on the other hand often relies on the intensity of those changes. It is a guest to discover the philosopher’s stone to combine those elements to be simultaneously present in harmony.
On Chasmic Transcendence, there seem to be some influences from newer styles of metal, but adapted to the old school ways. What were these influences, and how did you put them into your own musical language so to preserve the old school feeling?
Tommi: Chasmic Transcendence is an album that could not have been recorded in the early 90s, and our goal was never just to repeat what was done back then, even though we are influenced by bands of that era. Again it is impossible to point some specific influences that would have been used to increase the modernity of the album. Everything I have ever heard influences what I come up with. What matters is how those influences are harnessed to create something new.
Jarno: It’s difficult to point out what influences the album holds in itself and I’m also a bit afraid of over-analyzing our work publicly. I feel it’s like a result of everything that was done to that point during the existence of Desecresy. It couldn’t have been done in the early 90s but it’s also an album that couldn’t have been done by any other band either.
Your songs are highly distinctive individually, but also seem to work together as an album of similar themes and related ideas. Do you “design” albums as a whole according to a plan or concept, or does this similarity come from other factors? What effect do you think it creates?
Tommi: The songs are first worked with separately but later, as there is more material and the lines of the album begin to form, there will be consideration of how much of which elements should be presented in each song. Certain similarity within the songs keeps the album whole. Jumping around too much between styles and states of mind only creates a tasteless mishmash.
Chasmic Transcendence was selected by DMU as one of the best of 2014. Your other albums belong on best of lists for their respective years as well. Are you getting the amount of fan attentiveness you hoped for? Is it difficult for original acts in metal at this point in time? Why?
Tommi: We have noticed that Chasmic Transcendence was included in your list and some other best of 2014 lists as well. It is gratifying to get that kind of recognition! I am so used to negative feedback that it has been a pleasant surprise to me. I think we are getting enough fan attentiveness. Things shouldn’t be too difficult for any band these days unless they are motivated by money or some rock stardom fantasy.
Jarno: I have been very happy to receive all the positive words and feedback from deathmetal.org and from people who contact us via email or facebook etc. It feels like we have received more attention after Chasmic Transcendence and of course it takes years of work to build up some reputation and we’re still relatively unknown. Yet I know we’re not really making it easier at all for people to find out about Desecresy as we don’t tour and don’t promote aggressively and to many we’re probably not the easiest music to listen to and get into. I think that healthy amount of elitism is needed and I am quite happy how things are slowly progressing.
Do you have plans to develop your musical style in different ways, such as longer songs, instrumental songs or more technical elements? Have you ever considered experimenting with longer melodies like Summoning?
Tommi: Maybe there will be longer more technical songs or maybe there will be shorter more primitive songs, or both. The songs form in the process. There can’t be that specific plan before hand of what will come. There may be longer melodies heard in the future but the repetition of a shorter melody is a deliberate choice in Desecresy songs.
Speaking of those leads I have a little bone to pick about that in depth analysis of Chasmic Transcendence on deathmetal.org. There was some complaint about the monotonous and simplistic use of lead guitars and how they are linked to the other parts of the songs. Desecresy‘s guitar leads are not meant to launch to some traditional ballad guitar solo wanking! They are meant to be minimalistic and nihilistic. Their purpose is not to be sentimental, but to set a certain stoic mental state.
Jarno: Some want us to be more aggressive and brutal, or more melodic or epic or faster or whatever but it would turn us into completely different band if we followed suggestions that people write in the internet. Yet experimenting on what works with Desecresy and what does not is certainly an on-going process but I’d say there is a certain artistic ideal for Desecresy and straying from that wouldn’t possibly bring good results. Anyway, as long as it’s reasonable and the purpose is clear I think there’s still a lot possibilities for songs that are for instance longer just like on the Chasmic Transcendence we had mostly shorter songs.
When you compose songs, what do you start with (a concept, an image, a riff, a melody, a structural idea)? When do the vocals and lyrics come in? How do you know when a song is “ready” for release?
Tommi: The composition of a Desecresy song can start with any of the things you mentioned. Lyrics and vocals come in at stage where other instruments are recorded and songs are other wise some what complete. There are sometimes changes made to the songs at the very last stage of the process. Eventually you just have to let go of the songs and the album and call it a day. That is surprisingly difficult mentally after a year or so of working on them.
Many claim the internet killed the death metal underground. Is this so, in your view? How is the underground doing? Does it still exist?
Tommi: In some ways the internet has killed the underground as it was defined in the pre-internet time, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Sure you don’t need as much commitment anymore when anyone can find and listen to some obscure bands with just couple of clicks. On the other hand, since you don’t need to belong to a specific social circle to find those bands, more individuals have a possibility to find something great by their selves regardless of their connections. I also think that in the end, the underground metal is and always has been a bit vague term.
One could claim that something like Finnish Death Metal of the early 90s for instance could not have happened if there had been internet at the time, because there would have been too much world wide interaction restraining some initial characteristics to appear. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that. I am sure however that without the internet, many of those bands would be unknown to most of the people that now are aware of them — including me.
Jarno: I don’t always know what people mean when they speak of the underground. I am not at all interested in every shitty band that there is trying to gain some underground reputation, yet I think most of the interesting bands that I listen to are part of the underground. In the past it was more difficult to find the right bands for yourself as you might not get much information from anywhere. Nowadays it’s probably equally difficult to find the bands because the internet is overflown with music and things to hear and it’s just too easy to become deaf and numb. The good side is that you can find interesting things by yourself without getting in touch with all the stupid people hanging around in the scene.
I think people easily accept bands that are not doing anything interesting after all and the internet gave every band almost equal possibilities to gain attention which is nowadays easily achieved if you have a funny or stupid idea of how to market your band to the audience. Some years ago some people could just call their new band religious or orthodox black metal and attain a mysterious image and the attention was guaranteed. Of course such deception will never last long but it always hinders the things that later on turn to be the most important things of a certain period. This is probably how it has always been and will be and somewhere beneath the hype and superficial facade the underground is doing just fine.
I know you both have day jobs and normal lives. What is your practice schedule like, and how does Desecresy fit into your lives? Are your families and friends (and jobs) accepting of what you do?
Tommi: I have not been condemned to hell by anyone I know this far.
I do kind of keep my band activities to myself because there isn’t much reason to share that with people who are not into it. As we don’t have a line up to play live, we don’t really practice together. I work on the instruments and record them. After that Jarno records his vocals.
Jarno: I think friends as well as other acquaintance have been quite supportive. I don’t speak much of my views or interests with my family or colleagues, though, and after all I’m not really interested if they support them or not. Schedule-wise it’s sometimes a bit complicated but I think we’ve had quite steady progress and not as much trouble as there could have been had there been a full line-up to rehearse with.
How do you achieve your distortion? What technique do you use to make your albums sound subterranean but clear and loud without being overpowering like some modern productions?
Tommi: Distortion mainly comes from Line6 über metal distortion pedal and the original Boss Heavy Metal II (Japan version). I don’t want to bore anyone with more details, nor do I want to give out the secrets of the trade, so to speak. I think there is a bit of home distillery side flavor in the Desecresy sound that much of the modern productions lack.
What’s next for Desecresy — are you writing material, thinking up ideas, and/or plotting world domination? If people want to know more about Desecresy, what should they do? Will you ever tour Texas and help us shoot guns, drink beer and wrestle alligators?
Tommi: Well that tour seems unlikely and from what I hear Texans don’t need help shooting guns or wrestling alligators! But as Finns we could extend a helping hand towards that beer. I know I like draining Budweiser down my throat! Or maybe there’s some more local Texas beers, I don’t know..
We have just finished our fourth album called Stoic Death, which will be out somewhere in the future, so keep an eye open for that! We are working on that world domination but meanwhile you can contact us in firstname.lastname@example.org or through email@example.com.
I guess that’s all from me. Thank you for the interview! Appreciate your interest!
Jarno: Though we don’t tour or play gigs I do encourage someone to book us somewhere on the other side of the globe just to have some beers, I wouldn’t mind! Meanwhile I hope The Stoic Death will be out as soon as possible! Thank you for the interview and your great work with Death Metal Underground!14 Comments
Warfather has issued a studio update on the progress of the band’s as-of-yet-untitled sophomore album. Rhythm guitars, drums and bass tracks are completed. Vocals should be finished soon.
Warfather ‘s Steve Tucker (Morbid Angel) had this to say about the album’s progress:
“Working with Erik Rutan on this record is both an honor and an amazing experience. Erik knows death metal better than any producer or engineer on this planet! He knows how to get the best performance out of everyone who steps through Mana Recording studios’ doors. A true professional and a Legend!”
Producer Erik Rutan (Hate Eternal, ex-Morbid Angel) added:
“Recording with Steve and the guys on the new Warfather album has been fantastic! It has been a blast to be working on this monster album in the studio once again with my great friend and former band mate. The songs are heavy as hell and just outright awesome. We have some great tones and performances and I’m really excited about the whole process. We have just finished all the drums, bass and rhythm guitars. The massive foundation has been formulated. Now it is time to start vocals and solos and onward to the mix!”
Blood Urn is a death metal project whose approach to the genre is one that can reinvigorate it while being very traditional. Superficially, a listener who only glances over the surface of …Of Sorcery and Death may incorrectly say this is an old school album, a modern euphemism for retro-acts or merely those who do not play the metalcore-based so-called technical death metal. It is true that this is an old school release, but only in the sense that it upholds the same ideals of the best of that era, including certain preferences in aesthetics as a reflection of an inner attitude — an idea that stands in contrast with the superficial selection of genres and expressions of modern bands that wear style as a change of clothes to pose as something they are not.
If we made the mistake of approaching this distinction like most clueless people do, that is, with a shopping list of the aesthetic characteristics that usually accompany a genre in order to identify it, we would definitely arrive at the same conclusions. That is why premises are as important as having good logic. Wrong premises and good logic only lead you safely to wrong conclusions. But if we start with the premise that those aesthetic characteristics are only the reflection of a spirit which is much more than intention or purpose but also crystallized significance, we will recognize that the shopping-list approach is at best a collection of hints and not a concrete definition.
Blood Urn …Of Sorcery and Death is a death metal (‘old school’ death metal is the only one, with various regional styles) album in the truest sense. A death metal at heart and in representation. The expressions that seem typical of death metal are used here in what can be accurately described as progressive without incurring in the fallacy that all disparate appending of music qualifies as such. In accordance with death metal tradition, music builds up through structural devices: mainly through variation and manipulation of theme with a climax and a clear musical goal in mind for an end. By musical goal we mean one as defined by traditional classical theory, not by the “good intentions” of the music writer. Intention and realization are two different and distinguishable things, something relativists and individualists would do well to keep in mind.
While varied in expression, Blood Urn manages to remain fairly coherent, choosing to tie different textures in a mix that also incorporates the riff-salad approach. In this, it is somewhat similar to the way Horgkomostropus Lúgubre Resurrección builds in a very typical death metal push and pull between structural theme-play and variation and contrasting ideas that are brought gradually into the fold, first as a splash of cold water to the listener and then in gradual integration through interleaving and recombination of sections and themes. It is important to say that in good death metal fashion, the limit of the contrasting ideas does not break away from the chosen style, which is the sin of many a pseudo-prog outfit. This conjoined approach of dealing structural development from a theme with one and then riff-salad with the other only to increasingly interleave them and sometimes ultimately fuse them into altogether different endings can be referenced in masterful albums such as At the Gates’ The Red in the Sky is Ours and is also the approach of Blood Urn to music composition, albeit with a much more humble and less-layered result.No Comments