Reaching for a Red Sky


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.

Classical music for metalheads


Metal like any addiction sends us toward the next more intense experience by necessity. When we cannot find the rush in metal, we turn to other genres, but few of those satisfy. Metalheads often find themselves tempted by classical music, but shy away for a number of reasons.

Classical music requires greater attention to recording, conductor and year than do rock-style albums where artist name and album name will suffice. The choice of which of those to get appears at first baffling and ambiguous. The classical community can be a big help, but on the internet, fans of every stripe tend to have a holier-than-thou outlook which drives away others. Finally, classical cannot compete sonically with metal which is a constant delighted terror of high-intensity guitar.

For those who want to branch outward however, classical offers an option which resembles metal under the surface even if from a distance it appears the opposite. Classical music like metal is riff-based and knits those riffs together into compositions which transition between multiple emotions and forms to tell a story, unlike pop which is more cyclic if not outright static. It also embraces the same Faustian spirit of rage for order that defines metal.

The brave few might want to forge ahead with these albums which serve as good entry works to classical:

  1. Brahms, Johannes – The Four Symphonies

    Pure Romanticism, which is the most beautiful classical genre but also its most easily misled into human emotional confusion. Flowing, diving, surging passages which storm through tyrannical opposition to reach some of the most Zen states ever put to music.

    Four Symphonies by Herbert von Karajan/Berliner Philharmonik Orchestra

  2. Respighi, Ottorino – Pines, Birds, Fountains of Rome

    Italian music is normally inconsequential. This has an ancient feeling, a sense of weight that can only be borne out in an urge to reconquest the present with the past.

    Pines, Birds, Fountains of Rome by Louis Lane/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

  3. Schubert, Franz – Symphonies 8 & 9

    A sense of power emerging from darkness, and a clarity coming from looking into the halls of eternity, as translated by the facile hand of a composer who wrote many great pieces before dying young.

    Symphonies 8 & 9 by Herbert von Karajan/Berliner Philharmonik Orchestra

  4. Saint-Saens, Camille – Symphony 3

    Like DeBussy, but with a much wider range, this modernist Romantic rediscovers all that is worth living in the most warlike and bleak of circumstances.

    Symphony No. 3 by Eugene Ormandy/Philadelphia Orchestra

  5. Bruckner, Anton – Symphony 4

    Writing symphonic music in the spirit of Wagner, Bruckner makes colossal caverns of sound which evolve to a sense of great spiritual contemplation, the first “heaviness” on record.

    Romantic Symphony by Herbert von Karajan/Berliner Philharmonik Orchestra

  6. Berwald, Franz – Symphony 2

    The passion of Romantic poetry breathes through this light and airy work which turns stormy when it, through a ring composition of motives, seizes a clear statement of theme from its underlying tempest of beauty.

    Symphony No. 2 by David Montgomery/Jena Philharmonic

  7. Paganini, Niccolo – 24 Caprices

    Perhaps the original Hessian, this long-haired virtuoso wore white face paint, had a rumored deal with the devil, and made short often violent pieces that made people question their lives and their churches.

    24 Caprices by James Ehnes

  8. Anner Bylsma and Lambert Orkis – Sonatas by Brahms and Schumann

    We list these by performer because this informal and sprightly interpretation is all their own. Played on period instruments, it captures the beauty and humor of these shorter pieces with the casual knowledge of old friends.

    Brahms: Sonatas for Piano and Cello; Schumann: 5 Stücke im Volkston

Not everyone will take this path. Where metal, pop, rock, blues, techno, hip-hop and jazz aim for a consistent intensity, classical varies intensity as it does dynamics and mood. The point of listening to classical is to let it take you on an adventure, which much like metal will at some point encounter a crashing conclusion in which all things vast, powerful and beyond our reach come to bear on us for the ultimate feeling of heaviness.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 03-12-14


What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? The only path to metal glory is to make music that is metal both in form and content, and upholds the spirit of conquering the unknown and crushing the empty and pointless. Anything else fails and shall be mocked! Come for the impotent rage, stay for the occasional standout…

vrolok-voidVrolok – Void (The Divine Abortion)

After taking much, much too long to get started (by the way, the ‘tension building’ here is hitting an open E chord for 2 minutes), the first proper track begins with a drum beat that I’d expect to hear from GZA or Del Tha Funkee Homosapian. It only gets worse from there. This album sounds like someone took Burzum, Strid, xanax, and nu-metal and threw them all into a blender. The downright hilarious vocals are just as laugh-inducing as Nattramn of Silencer, and the bass drums sound like bongos. The tracks that aren’t overly long suffer from a lack of direction, and end much too suddenly. What a mess. No wonder this band has gotten much more exposure, they have all of the ‘eeevol’ ingredients that make their music sound scary to the tweenies, but to the experienced listener this is like hearing a group of circus monkeys play Aske.

hirilorn-legens_of_evil_and_eternal_deathHirilorn – Legends of Evil and Eternal Death

As black metal became awash in a sea of imitators, distinguish quality grew difficult due to the sheer number of bands that were releasing albums in the post-1996 entropic period of black metal. Thus it is refreshing to discover a release from that time with spirit and wonder in its construction. Hirilorn’s first and only album is that kind of release.

In a similar fashion to Enslaved’s classic Vikingligr Veldi, this album consists of lengthy songs with subtle harmonies and adventurous structures. Unlike Enslaved, however, Hirilorn are a power metal hybrid but not in such a way that sabotages direction in their music. A particularly outstanding element is the lead guitar, which often plays variations on the melodies of the main riffs throughout the song. It is very much in the forefront of the mix, which is quite unusual for black metal, but here the melodies are evocative and compelling, so this approach works. Vocals are a consistent mid ranged shriek, but occasionally clean vocals are used (such as in “Through The Moonless Night”). Though they are a bit shaky, the result is similar to listening to Quorthon’s singing; it’s not very ‘good’ but it is honest and therefore has a distinct charm.

Where this album succeeds is in creating a world to journey to; these songs tell stories which one can envision easily upon several close listens. It is performed well, ambitious, and seeks to create something new from black metal’s framework. Its failures are a tendency to be overlong and as a result this album feels unfinished at times. Still, this is an interesting work which is a definite highlight of the creatively uninspired late 1990s period of black metal.

stormhold-eyes_in_the eyesStormhold – Eyes in the Eyes

Once you strip away all the layers of other aesthetic, this is metalcore of the melodic “death metal” type, like a hybrid between The Haunted and Dark Sanctuary, which is essentially very basic heavy metal with reliance on too much unison between vocal rhythms and guitars. Good metal leads with guitars and vocals follow, because that allows the most expression; bad metal sets up a vocal rhythm to make people feel comfortable and has guitars echo it, which ends up sounding like a TV commercial.


ballgag-getting_fucked_by_lifeBallgag – Getting Fucked by Life

Extremely middle of the road grindcore. It’s hard to screw up grindcore, since there are no rules. This band keep their songs compact, balance between punkish open rhythms and grinding riffs that crunch momentum. Vocals are incomprehensible which makes all of this into one uniform texture. It’s both quality and unexceptional. Maybe drop the pretentious name and try to be a Napalm Death style grind band. Essentially, there’s raw material here that could be good and more importantly, the will to pare down songs so that they’re not random, but the band are unwilling to choose a direction. The nonsense shock name and nonsense shock album title are clues here, but even more so is the utter middle-of-the-road choices the band makes in tempo and riff that obscure its contributions. Refocusing this band would involve a lot more guts and probably a great deal more glory than this innocuous release will garner.


bane_of_bedlam-monument_of_horrorBane of Bedlam – Monument of Horror

This strong band is divided between trying to be 1980s speed metal and attempting to fit 2010s “modern metal” into that framework. The verses are rhythmic, single-chord muted strum playing with quick turnaround fills. Choruses use melodic guitar riffs and more expansive patterns to create a sense of space. Unfortunately the vocals tend to influence the music, both by forcing metalcore/post-hardcore guitar-chasing-the-vocals riff-writing and vocalizations of the emphatic type that modern metal uses, where the vocal rants out a beat and then relies on lengthy decay for the last few iterations. Waa waa waa, waa waa, waa waa waaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh. This in turn drives drums to play a catch-up role. The result is that this band’s strength in riffing and song assembly is buried under poor choices. They integrate radical contrast riffs into these songs like a 1980s speed metal band, and while they don’t do as many dynamic shifts in rhythm, they know how to avoid hammering a trope into the ground as well. If this band wants to get ahead, it’s time to drop the modern metal vocals and influences and focus on finding a unique voice in 1980s-style speed metal. Otherwise they’re going to get lost in the modern metal morass, which is producing ten times as many bands as it can sell, and find itself offering the same thing others do without being fully trendy and modernized.

nasum-helveteNasum – Helvete

If you’re someone that is just getting into grindcore, it’s easy to see why this release might appeal to you. It’s got a pretty good handle on riffcraft, good dueling vocals, coherent songs, and is very punk in spirit adn approach. However, Helvete quickly loses its luster. The songs are incredibly simple to the point where one can guess what will happen in most by hearing the first few seconds. It also gets too groovy (moronically so), throwing out a lot of the actual grind for this.

The fact that it is very punky is another shortcoming; a lot of this music is just that — hardcore punk with some blast beats and nu-metal inspired groove — with very little actual grind to be found. What is left is aesthetic only and that tires quickly. Many do not wish to give this band bad reviews on account of the tragically unfortunate death of the singer/mainman, but it would be an insult to the artist to not grade this honestly: a C/C+ at best. If one is really interested in this band, their first album and the material before it are much more compelling, but you could always just listen to Discordance Axis or Blood instead. Turd chunder.

skeletonwitch-beyond_the_permafrostSkeletonwitch – Beyond the Permafrost

This is like the soundtrack to some pimply-faced kid wherein he imagines beating up the bullies and emerging victorious; except he never actually does this and continues to get beat up because he’s a wimp. That’s what this album sounds like. Retreat into a fantasy world that is incongruent with reality, dress it up with some weak black metal shrieking and Gothenburg riffs, rinse and repeat. It’s no wonder this stuff’s so popular – it hits all of the right marks to endear it to the mall going young teen demographic. None of these riffs even sound menacing, most are major scale based. So you get weird happy sounding riffs in music that is trying to sound evil. This band even labels themselves ‘thrash’…..well if this is thrash then I’m the new leader of the DPRK. Someone call the US government to let them know we have new suitable music for torturing prisoners in Guantanamo.

abyssic_hate-suicidal_emotionsAbyssic Hate – Suicidal Emotions

When bands claim direct inspiration from one other band in particular, one must approach this description with caution. Does said band actually take techniques/methods of their influences and incorporate them into new song structures? Or does said band merely try to sound as close to their influences as possible? For this album, it’s the latter.

There are some truly excellent, somber riff passages here. The problem is that instead of building up to a conclusion (such as in Burzum or Graveland, the two biggest influences on this recording) Abyssic Hate just drone on in repetition of the aesthetic influence. Three of these tracks could have had several minutes shaved off of each and they’d be no worse for the wear. The shortest track is the most complete, but that is only by virtue of it not being as overly repetitive as the longer tracks can be. If this group could develop its sharp riffcraft into more adventurous song structures, we’d be looking at something interesting. It doesn’t, so the end result is something that is atmospherically soothing, even a little eerie, but after a few minutes that wears off and you’re left with the sounds of a radiator buzzing for 40 more minutes.

anton_bruckner-symphony_number_2-herbert_von_karajan-berlin_philharmonic_orchestraAnton Bruckner – Symphony No. 2 (Herbert von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, 1981)

Artists who produce great and powerful bodies of work leave behind less-noticed works that are by no means lesser. Bruckner’s Symphony No. 2 is actually his fourth symphonic work, and is relentlessly overshadowed by his more intense symphonies such as the lengthy and crushing Eighth, which produces a pervasive sense of inexorable conflict and restless destructive renewal.

The Second on the other hand builds quietly from a nearly pastoral origin to a peaceful state of mind that then like a dragon rising from the mist turns to fire and warfare in the tumultuous and restive finale. Beginning with a gentle interweaving of naturalistic themes, the first movement assembles them in a style not dissimilar to the riff sequencing of Celtic Frost or Incantation, a type of prismatic construction that excels in placing repetitive in sequences interrupted from within such that each recurrence is a return with new knowledge to a familiar theme and thus an expansion instead of a reiteration. These build to the two middle movements which reflect more of an inner state of mind, in which melodies are carefully organized into a developing sequence which shows balance and harmony. Expert organ improviser Bruckner shows his true power here in his approach to the sonic tapestry where resonant sequences gradually alter themselves and through negative space and absence generate a higher intensity of presence. These techniques expanded with his later symphonies but can be seen in a lighter application here as part of a focused series of techniques.

The finale rotates between nascent versions of several triumphant melodies, bringing each one out of primordial chaos so that it can develop, then detouring to another, then returning, so that these melodies complement each other and explode in a triumphant final martial processional followed by a meditative recapitulation of the mood and theme of the earlier movements. The result is a breathtaking dynamic that shatters not just expectations but the intractable egoism of humanity that renders them closed to the inherent adventure of life itself.

Listening to Bruckner always reminds me of the secret of life that hides in plain sight. These immersive and epic symphonies etch out a clue that all of life is pervaded with meaning and holiness, and we deny it only to feel “in control” which is nothing but pretense. I don’t care what religious tradition you come from, or even a negation of religion, because you can access this sentiment through any viewpoint. It is simply this: life is an intricate and balanced design of great beauty and thus, truth, and through this we learn why we endure, and even more, why we strive.

This outlook is always just below the surface of all that we perceive, but it hides from us, because we must be open to it to see what is potential, and thus, what is immanently real. Although most people choose death and control over being part of the great complex beauty that breathes incessantly around them, Bruckner reminds us that the option is always there to lose ourselves and gain a cosmos.