Blodhemn – H7

December 1, 2014 –

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Black metal surrendered to a farce back in the mid-1990s. This farce took the surface ideas of black metal and used them to enclose the same old crap that rock music had been passing off for at least two decades at that point. Blodhemn resurrects those glory days with an album that is not just random, but boring, and completely pointless.

H7 consists of songs about songs. That is, these are songs written by someone listening to black metal and trying to make a version of that, instead of attempting to understand the cause-effect relationship that pushed Norwegian musicians in the early 1990s to create some of the most epic and interesting music that heavy metal has ever seen. That is not to say that this album lacks moments of interesting riff, or transition, but that these things are put together into a package that drones through repetition and “unexpected” expected changes, linked up with riffs that are boring because they are predictable.

In these songs, careful attention to what black metal bands did in their glory days shows through in a penchant for certain dramatic riff types and transitions. These do not make the song, and frequently Blodhemn introduce a promising start then take it nowhere, either dropping into paint-by-numbers riffing or the post-Ulver carnival style where riffs do not relate to each other but provide “contrast” which ends up producing a song devoid of emotion or anything else that requires consistency, development and purpose. Vocals fit the trademark late-90s Norsecore rasp and many of these riff archetypes come from the proudest moments of Satyricon and Darkthrone. In particular, percussion shows a diligent understanding of how Fenriz produced a throbbing intensity of sonic force that swept listeners up into its mystery.

Unfortunately, no amount of doing the parts right can save H7 from its destiny, which is as a summary of the techniques of black metal without delving into the content that those bands labored to provide. As a result, even when promise emerges, it soon becomes lost in the flow of random and pointless activity. Blodhemn and H7 are good things to avoid, unless you really adore tedium and bootlicking.

Heavy metal as an extension of the Romantic movement

November 24, 2014 –

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Yesterday’s post on Romanticism reminded me of how long the Death Metal Underground has been making the comparison between Romanticism and heavy metal. The Heavy Metal FAQ has mentioned this association since its formulation in the early 1990s, but before that, it was written on the early versions of this website.

We continue to write about it because the linkage is and always has been inevitable, although it is clearest from literature — such as Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake and John Milton — that the metaphorical comparison can be made. On a subtler level, one can find connections between Romantic imagery in every generation of classical music, including the “Romantic era” which produced Franz Berwald, Niccolo Paganini and Franz Schubert in addition to the oft-mentioned Beethoven.

Our writers have highlighted the relationship between Romanticism and Satan, and the meaning of black metal, the linkage between Romanticism and mythic imagination, early black metal and Romanticism, and the relationship between Blake, Goethe and black metal. The connection has been clear from the get-go, when the Miltonic language of Slayer such as “to reign in Hell” made it clear that this genre had origins in the Romantic canon, as if the Gothic-cum-psychedelia of the self-titled Black Sabbath album did not:

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While it has taken them over two decades to catch up, others have started to wake up to the heavy metal-Romanticism connection:

But “beneath all the grim vibes of Black Metal,” Hunt-Hendrix insists, “there’s this kind of spiritual ecstasy.” The tremolo picking creates the effect of “a string orchestra.” The great “unacknowledged influence” of the genre? Nineteenth century Romanticism.

…Byron, as did many other Romantics, courted what scholars have since come to refer to as “Satanic aesthetics,” a rebellious and sinister dandyism that manifested not only in their artistic creations but also in their personalities. Romantic violinist Niccolo Paganini–whose successor Franz Lizst maintained an “unbelievable” yet strictly heterosexual “passion” for fellow-heartthrob Byron—was rumored to have perfected his musical technique while imprisoned for the murder of his mistress, a skein of whose intestine had been repurposed as his G-string. The bejeweled and frequently open-shirted Bryon was the pointed inspiration for Lord Ruthven in John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819), whose “Byronic look” was marked by “the curl of the upper lip, and the scowl of the brow.”

Black Metal, of course, has a penchant for Satanic aesthetics as well. In the hooded, sword-wielding visage of Rob Darken of Poland’s National-Socialist-leaning Graveland we see a medieval specter worthy of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), or one that might have been conceived during the famous 1816 idyll of Byron, Polidori, and the Shelleys on Lake Geneva, which ultimately yielded Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.

Much of the resistance to this idea comes from metalheads who wish to believe that their genre is sui generis, a term popular among hipsters used to mean “unique” in the sense of a style of yarn-bombing that no one else in Williamsburg thought of, and having the genre related to Romanticism diminishes its uniqueness. Others fear entryism if metal is associated with any other movement, hence the high hostility of metal to politics and organized religion entering its ranks (in addition to generalized hostility to feel-good illusions, of which organized religion is often considered one). Still others rage at the thought of heavy metal having anything “artistic” to it, and yet another group opposes this idea because it wants to find sociological (i.e. unconscious to the participants) motivations behind metal, not artistic ones which show some degree of alertness by the participants.

Among those who do investigate the link between Romanticism and metal, many look into the German writers. After all, DRI named an album after a Herman Hesse novel, and the term “heavy metal” was partially popularized by a band who took their name from another one of his works. Alistair McCartney, in The End of the World Book, writes about the connection between death metal and Romanticism:

Back in the late 20th century, specifically in the decades that have come to be known as the 1980s and 1990s, it seemed that every other day, teenage boys, tired of the sturm und drang of adolescence and inspired by the death-positive lyrics of so-called death-metal bands, were taking their own lives in very violent ways, which, according to sociologists, was typical of young men: a gun in the mouth and a car over a cliff were the preferred modes of suicide.

We can see these young North American men who were infatuated with death as direct descendants of the young European men, who, in the late eighteenth century, read Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, which ends with the lovesick hero with the supremely heavy heart taking his own life. Upon its publication in 1774, the book inspired two crazes on the continent: one for wearing blue coats, just like the coat the moody Werther wears; and one for suicide.

In this sense, although the first death-metal album did not technically appear on the horizon until 1985, with the release of Seven Churches by the band Possessed, this genre or subdivision of heavy metal was already getting slowly underway in 1772 when the then twenty-three-year-old Goethe, in residency at the Court at Wetzlar and fresh from a failed love affair, began writing the book to ease his own heavy heart.

…Historians argue that death metal’s popularity peaked in 1994. Similarly, not quite as many fans of death metal are taking their own lives — historians argue that this trend also peaked in 1994.

However, it seems the connection between Romanticism and metal is gaining momentum in the mainstream discourse. The bigger question is where we go from this point of realization. Romanticism was itself a reaction to the Enlightenment, and German Idealism a reaction to the reaction. History seems to be dancing around some idea it cannot quite get a handle on, and balances this with eternal sentiments like those of the Romantics: ideas that appear wherever society is “too much with us” and the individual is squeezed out by judgment of the herd.

Metal as Romanticism

November 23, 2014 –

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Romanticism defined resistance to social pressures in the post-Enlightenment world, but also caved to the pressure to accept the fundamental ideals of that earlier era.

Where the Enlightenment placed emphasis on individual choice and emotion, so did the Romantics, although they tempered this with a strong attachment to ancient values and the ruined forms of a prior world. It had a number of salient attributes:

  1. A revolt against accepted form: democratization of subject and language, a less formal poetic voice, and a new range of subjects such as the supernatural and “the far away and the long ago” adopted by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats and others; the visionary mode of poetry adopted by William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Blake; and the use of metaphysical symbolism.
  2. Focus on the poet’s or writer’s own feelings instead of a universal emotion shared among all humanity. This emphasized spontaneity, meditative stillness, and a sense of discovery through intuition. Imagination was seen as more important than fact.
  3. External nature (landscape, plants, animals) became a persistent subject.
  4. Often written with the poet or writer as protagonist.
  5. A sense of progress, or of limitless good achievable by use of the imagination, instead of reliance upon past methods. — (M.H. Abrams, “Neoclassic and Romantic” in A Glossary of Literary Terms, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Orlando, FL 1993, pp. 125-129.)

While it was an affirmation of the individualism of the Enlightenment, it also rebelled against the group-think thus created, and emphasized the thoughts of the exceptional individual — personified in the writer — over the “universal emotion shared among all humanity.” This template provided the basis for any number of tropes among pop culture including the “rock star” himself, who is assumed to have messianic powers of insight which he conveys through the ritual of the concert.

Metal began with a mixed heritage arising from rock and soundtrack music. Among the rock influences were The Doors, Jethro Tull and King Crimson, all of whom emphasized apocalyptic themes beginning in a crisis of direction in the human individual. These dystopian rockers showed us that under the progress of technology and advancement of society lurked a dark undercurrent, which was our lack of faith in our own future. Since the future is determined by the present, they looked to sources of doubt and fear in humanity. Metal carried this onward in a mythological H.P. Lovecraft inspired form.

This caused a clash with Enlightenment values. What are those? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides a handy summation of the values of the Enlightenment:

In his famous definition of “enlightenment” in his essay “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (1784), which is his contribution to this debate, Immanuel Kant expresses many of the tendencies shared among Enlightenment philosophies of divergent doctrines. Kant defines “enlightenment” as humankind’s release from its self-incurred immaturity; “immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another.” Enlightenment is the process of undertaking to think for oneself, to employ and rely on one’s own intellectual capacities in determining what to believe and how to act. Enlightenment philosophers from across the geographical and temporal spectrum tend to have a great deal of confidence in humanity’s intellectual powers, both to achieve systematic knowledge of nature and to serve as an authoritative guide in practical life. This confidence is generally paired with suspicion or hostility toward other forms or carriers of authority (such as tradition, superstition, prejudice, myth and miracles), insofar as these are seen to compete with the authority of reason.

Metal brought a counter-Enlightenment mythos, as did much of the Romantics including writers like Mary Shelley and William Wordsworth: people are delusional and tend to prefer happy realities, and so they are not “guiding themselves” so much as choosing illusions that deny the fundamental nature of life as conflict. In the metal universe, conflict is a good thing as it leads to the rise of the stronger above the rest, and thus improves the quality of what is there. From Black Sabbath to Slayer and beyond, metal has criticized the happy hippie “love” mythos and replaced it with one where, in contrast to the Enlightenment, individual judgment does not reign supreme but instead misleads.

Death Metal Underground has advocated the belief that metal is a Romantic art form for over two decades now. In our prior incarnation as other web sites, FTP sites and even g-files during the bulletin board days, we emphasized the Romantic nature of this music as an explanation for its occultism, warlike outlook and amoral or nihilistic worldview. Now it seems that metal journalism has caught up with this idea somewhat, as an article on urban metal site Invisible Oranges mentions it:

Beethoven’s music was less a road map through musical theory and more a guide to the very center of the human psyche. And history has rewarded his efforts; the name Beethoven is now known to a significant portion of the world’s population. His music was still recognizably Classical, but it introduced a host of new compositional techniques that shook the entire creative world.

And you know what? The same thing is happening to metal. Right now. And it’s not just a single band or album that’s leading the charge, either; Deafheaven, and Ihsahn, as well as less prominent artists like Aquilus, have also become what I’ll affectionately call “musically uninhibited.”

Other than the premise of this article being badly flawed, which is that anything “new” equals Romantic, and that recycling burned-out 1990s rock tropes through black metal and death metal is somehow “new,” it leads us to question the nature of the Romantic in metal. Metal displays many attributes of Romantic thinking but, like Mary Shelley or later Romantic Gothic writers including those in the Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft traditions, also displays skepticism about the “Enlightened” future. Specifically, it knows most people are purposeless and weak, that most “truths” are lies, and that society covers up its inner core of decay and desire for conflict. That’s perhaps the most useful way to frame this question, instead of “does nu-indie constitute a Romantic revolution in metal?”

Isten zine compilation Isten Fanzine: Don’t Break the Ghost released December 12, 2014

November 20, 2014 –

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Svart Records will release a compilation of Isten zine from 1984-2014 on December 12, 2014. Entitled Isten Fanzine: Don’t Break the Ghost, the anthology will be published in hardcover and contain 800 pages of all things published and unpublished by Isten during those years.

Isten creator Mikko Mattila, who began the zine in his hometown of Tampere, Finland three decades ago, said, “Isten has always been characterized by murkiness and a lingering quality. Indeed, it took us nearly five years to do this anthology. It truly is a treasure chest, a time machine, and an open grave.”

Sadistic Metal Reviews 10-18-14

October 18, 2014 –

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? As you lie on your deathbed and look over life, you will divide everything you know into things you will miss and things you have forgotten already. Some metal is worth remembering, but the vast majority is just background noise. We hail the former and smite the latter, salting their wounds with our sardonic laughter…

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Internal Bleeding – Imperium

After Suffocation got big in the mid-90s as the next big direction for death metal, lots of bands took the Cannibal Corpse hint and started imitating the easier parts of the Suffocation percussive death metal approach. Unfortunately, doing so creates music that is dumber than malformed concrete, and Internal Bleeding quickly distinguished itself as the death metal version of Pantera: brocore for bros who like to you know drink beer and punch their heads into walls. Checking in with them 19 years later, it seems little has changed. These songs are hook-laden and not fully random, but the hook relies on the most basic of rhythms and their expectation, sort of like watching a chihuahua chase its tail. The band tries to compensate for their basic and unexciting music with really active vocals and occasional melodic touches on guitar, but nothing changes the fact that these songs are based around extremely basic patterns designed to numb and erode the mind. The famous breakdowns are back and serve to break up some of the constant muted-strum chugging and ranting vocals that shadow the rhythm of the guitar riff, but even if they dropped occasional symphonic parts into this Internal Bleeding could not hide the fact that most of this music is designed to destroy brain cells or appeal to those who have already voluntarily obliterated their own minds.

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Oppression – Sociopathie & Gloire

This band will be overlooked by many because the production on this album makes it hard to hear anything but bass, vocals and metals (cymbals and high-hat). However, what lies beneath the obscurity is a quality melodic punk album that verges on Oi and shows us what emo could have been in the hands of quality songwriters; you could compare this to the Descendents and the Misfits because this band write quality vocal melodies over melodically hookish riffs and rhythms, producing a sense of familiarity and yet a sense of weight like that of history or topics that pop up in every life no matter what age. Vocals alternate between a black metal-ish rasp and sung punk vocals, with the latter being more convincing. As with Misfits, the composition of these vocal melodies defines the song, combining old world melodic intensity with a casual punk sense that favors the simple and almost childlike. Touches of metal technique accentuate the harmonic space created by these rather open melodies, but generally, what you hear is punk that sounds as much like Blitz or Reagan Youth as something more recent. The result brings together the best of punk in its attempts to combine its energy with depth, and provides for a good listen, if the listener is able to hear past the abysmal production.

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Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live at Royal Albert Hall

Among the 1970s progressive rock bands, Genesis is frequently mentioned but often forgotten. It seems to me that the reason is that its vocalist, not its guitar-keyboard duo, dominated the composition and thus it drifted closer to the regular-rock tinged Pink Floyd style of “light” progressive rock, without getting as populist and compact as Pink Floyd or Rush did. However, it would be a mistake to overlook the first few Genesis albums which were ambitious although steeped in a self-righteousness which seems more pretentious than the usual self-indulgent musically masturbatory egoism of progressive rock. On this live recording, Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett revisits the older Genesis material with the benefit of an extensive solo career and an entirely different band. The result makes Genesis sound more pastoral, with greater emphasis on vocals and mood in the style of later-1970s big radio rock bands, but also brings out some of the more aggressive guitar that got buried under keyboards and vocals on the originals. Vocalist Nad Sylvan manages a more soulful and less starchily self-referential voice than the original, and all accompanying musicians are excellent including a cast of highly talented players who, while not fully noticed by name in the mainstream, have demonstrated their abilities in complement to larger acts in the past. While all of this shines, the fundamental problem with Genesis remains the “oil on water” feel when it switches between something that sounds like Queen and a sort of extended figurative structured jam. While highly musical, Genesis often seems atopical and thus lost between its rock drama and its progressive underpinnings, and in many ways, having Hackett reinforce the role of guitar both reduces this gap and highlights what is left. For Genesis fans who wondered what this band might have been like with a different internal balance of power, these re-envisioned tracks will provide hours of exploration.

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Wolf – Devil Seed

This album takes the speed and intensity of a speed metal album, adds in Accept-style power metal vocals, but underneath the skin is something more like a hybrid between the first albums from Motley Crue and Queensryche. The result is… well, there’s no nice way to say this, but: annoying. Highly skilled and highly repetitive, vocally demonstrative and vocally over-dramatic, catchy and infectious and yet cloying, it hammers out the earworm qualities of glam metal at the pace of speed metal with the production and sound of power metal. If this is your first album from this style, it might be interesting to own, but probably difficult to listen to on a regular basis because of the similarity of the tracks and the consistently high levels of sentiment and bounding energy. The 1980s varied moods of glam metal have been replaced with the aesthetics of techno or punk, and it just keeps going and eventually even drowns itself out. Musically, nothing here ventures outside of the camp of what has worked before and become established, although a few adept variations give greater power to the framework. As with most metal/rock hybrids, what brings it down is the need for vocals to lead which crowds out other instruments, in turn squeezing the space available for song development. While the vocals are impressive, when they become too predominant like this they lose some of their power; Halford or Dickinson (or Di’Anno) would have been more selective in the use of their full-bore intensity and emotional depth.

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Vardan – Enjoy of Deep Sadness

This band combines “suicidal black metal” with the shoegaze/emo/indie variant that specialized in certain minor key chord progressions turning upward at the end of each phrase to convey a sense of misplaced “hope,” much in the way early 1990s emo-punk bands did. The result is merely a new aesthetic slapped on top of very ancient and pointless music, since the “mixed emotions” sensation has been popular in rock music since the 1960s and produces the type of emotions one might want in the background of a movie about losing your favorite race car, but apply not at all to any life with depth, where the emotions are more than mixed but intertwined in some way more than a balance of sadness/joy that seems like it came off a greeting card. This isn’t bad in execution; it’s soulless in intent. While the former is forgivable, the latter renders this music irrelevant to anyone who is here to live for the purpose of living, because to such a person confused self-pity and weepy “hope” is completely non-applicable. In the same way it is entirely possible to listen to this entire EP, nod once, and then read a book on database administration and be more thoroughly moved by its depth and emotion than anything Vardan will ever record.

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Savn – Savn

Anyone else remember The Gathering? They had a female vocalist, a quite good one name Anneke something-impossible-in-Dutch, and she was not only adorable but also could sing. But that’s the distraction. The question of whether a metal band can have a female vocalist is never asked when the female vocalist goes the route of Doro or another high performer. It’s when the presence of a female vocalist changes the sound of the band that people start wanting to talk about that instead of the music. And Savn cleverly starts out with very black metal sounds, then the keyboards kick in, and then very pretty female vocals intrude. Excellent production. There’s even a harmonica, for the sake of Zuul. The whole nine yards. But if you stop hearing the distortion for a moment, you realize you’re hearing standard folk rock that has been 100% consistent from the 1960s through the present day. It fits the female vocal and range but even more, it fits the needs of people in boutique shops that sell crystals to feel vaguely empowered, slightly sad and yet charged with some kind of great Meaning that has lifted up their insignificant lives of watching television and answering phones at work to the focal point of some vast collision between human emotions that form the basis of the cosmos itself. You can imagine Jewel belting out this album, or Linda Rondstadt, or even Taylor Swift. Savn would do better to just run Doris Day vocals over old Burzum albums. I do not contest the assertion that they are talented, good players, imaginative, and that the production here is amazing. I just question what it has to convey. The answer is feeling good while you shop and pretend that the universe is not a cold empty place, and that somehow your emotions derived from pop music are totally relevant and might even determine the future. On an emotional and artistic level, this release is poisonous; on any other level, it is simply a product that doubtless will sell many crystals, possibly cube cars and haircuts too.

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Provocator – Antikristus

Joining on the primitive black metal thread which bands like Von thrust to the forefront, Provocator crafts simple sawing black metal based on extremely rudimentary chord progressions that are nonetheless not pure chromatic, giving it a more accessible base of tones to expand upon. Like Acheron or Ungod, these riffs rely on building momentum and then redirecting it with quick rotational motion, but the repetition of this technique wears thin. Extensive demonic vocals crowd over the top but instead of giving this depth, simply distract from both the underlying guitar and the effect of the vocals to the point where it sounds like trying to listen to a portable radio in a busy train station. Nothing on this is terrible or misplaced, but it also provides no particularly compelling content and no reason to revive this style as a result. While it plays, the comfortingly familiar Sarcofago-style drone and chaos at the right BPM will make most black metal fans accept it without a further thought, but the real question with any release is whether you will seek it out again. In this case, nothing is offered that cannot be found elsewhere in a less repetitive form. Although this is no reason to choose an album, the blasphemous song titles and Blasphemy-style prison escape vocals add to some enjoyment but cannot compensate for the fact that this is like listening to a throttle test on a ’78 Camaro.

Kraftwerk nominated for Rock and Roll hall of fame

October 17, 2014 –

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Electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk, whose work along with Tangerine Dream and Dead Can Dance influenced all of black metal, have received a nomination from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to finally be recognized by the semi-official industry group.

Kraftwerk burst into electronic music in a time before the personal computer or the programmable sound chip; instead, they created their early sounds with analog electronic instruments and by modifying their own synthesizers and sequencers to achieve a wider range of sounds than previously thought possible. Their greatest contribution however came through their transportative melodies and alert arrangements, as well as songs that through subject matter peered into the dark heart at the center of the glittering chrome positivism of modernity.

Black metal bands found the dark atmospheres and moral questioning of melancholic, alienated works such as Computer World (1986) to be highly influential, and bands as diverse as Mayhem, Burzum and Darkthrone inherited influence from Kraftwerk and other German-revival “cosmic” bands. Perhaps the greatest observation from Kraftwerk comes from their 1978 hit “The Robots” in which the ideal worker lauds obedience and tractability as a form of victory. Such cynical takes on modern time, coupled with a positive alternative vision of technology, defined the Kraftwerk approach during its classic years.

Summoning at work on new material

October 13, 2014 –

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Flowing black metal band Summoning have issued the following update:

After having turned our attention on different things during the first half of this year, we are back to concentrate on summoning again. There are already some new riff composed and rearrangements have been done of songs from the O.M.D session. Protector also started to recreate our homepage, with a total new design and updated content.

So the hammers are pounding loudly again in carven deep and far on the horizons the first ray of light are bearing witness of the return of the old ways …

This announcement cheers many who have come to appreciate the Summoning brand of black metal: longer melodies more tightly integrated with keyboard counterparts, slower pace with more atmosphere, and a medieval/Tolkien-esque escape from the nominalist insanity of modernity.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 10-13-14

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? The first metal album that you really connect with should be a magic experience, one that transforms your life. But a large group of people want you to apply that same feeling to their album so they can take your money, but their music is mediocre. SMR is the dividing line between the greatness and the forgettable, and we exult in the tears of the latter, for they are the sweetest of wines…

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Solace of Requiem – Casting Ruin

A new epidemic trend grips metal, following war metal, which is the tendency to Angelcorpse — yes, that’s being used as a verb — a mixture of metal influences and tie the mess together with loud vocals. Fast guitars and overactive drums work for Angelcorpse, who clearly came along in the Fallen Christ vein of blasting streamlined death metal, but metal bands now are using that style like a tortilla to dump everything else into, wrap up the ends and make a metal burrito. While some bands that make burrito metal are able to keep interest, the problem with this style and the carnival music high contrast (read: randomness) aesthetic of bands like Behemoth that rose in parallel is that by turning the volume up to 11 for everything, it creates a constant flow of essentially invariant sound that possesses no dynamic and no real progression. It is thus easier to write; songs require no real internal contrast, and songwriters can stack bits of whatever they have on hand and stitch it up with some technicality. I find Solace of Requiem to be unlistenable for this reason. It is a barrage of noise that, if someone were to take any part of it and break it out into parts divided by its internal tension and then make a song of it, might work. But the whole burrito does not. The Solace of Requiem burrito includes more lead guitar and melody and some NYDM style technicality and sweeps borrowed from metalcore, but that does not differentiate its essential approach from all the other Behemoth/Angelcorpse hybrids. Like Taco Bell, it goes down quickly, is easily forgotten and leaves an unpleasant odor lingering in its wake.

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Wombbath – Internal Caustic Torments

This is one of those bands that makes plodding rhythms catchy to the point that a listener will fall into the groove and not mind, but also will not seek it out repeatedly because of the sheer repetition without much of a direction. These riffs came straight out of hard rock, got detuned and had some quick fills added, but remain as predictable as listening to AC/DC covers at the local karaoke bar. The result is that Wombbath batters your brain until it gives up, then pours a layer of relatively obvious material over it, including songs that complete an arc but without any real doubt or tension in the middle, such that like the riffs, the structure of the songs themselves is duplicative and numbing. Nothing is done poorly and this band clearly shows mastery of the old school style, but what it lacks is a reason for a listener who is aware of the best of old school death metal to embrace this. Internal Caustic Torments expresses in many ways the worst of old school death metal and the tendency that caused the genre to collapse on itself, which was nailing the style and then using it to hammer out repetition like propaganda. This album could be improved overnight by introducing actual tension between the first and second riffs, then seeing where that leads and using it to reorganize these songs, because many of the raw elements are there.

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Pilgrim – II: Void Worship

Stoner doom metal happened when 1970s jam music swallowed up doom metal and remains basically stuck in the 1970s, Slacker, That 70s Show, etc. mentality. In other words, it aims to dig out wonder in the smallest of things, much as stoners can find a universe in their toenails. In this case, it is not the “doom” aspect that is problematic, but the fact that this music seems designed to find the fascinating and earth-shattering in simple chord progressions that remind us of Foreigner and Journey releases but without the strong sense of harmony. Instead, it’s every stoner’s dream: just start plodding along, then jam over that until some sort of magic emerges. When you think about it, that is what the Grateful Dead did for decades, blarting out never-ending tuneless solos that incorporated every technique in the book but to no end, because there was no point, only a desire to keep the jam going for as long as possible so the audience and band could take more drugs, be more groovy, pose more in front of the flower-painted school bus and other activities for people who have voids in their souls and no purpose to their lives. Pilgrim are more musically adept than most bands which cross this desk, but they take it nowhere. Songs jam, build up, trail off. Solos and fills drop in competently but express nothing. The album has a big concept somewhere if you read the theory about it that they include with all releases nowadays — I never do — but it is not expressed in the music. Much like a recent failed indie-metal album about whales, the putative topic is not the subject matter, but a cover story for playing the same crap. Really, just go get the first Def Leppard album because it does everything that happens here but with a purpose. A vapid purpose, but no purpose is more vapid than no purpose itself. Flee.

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Midnight – No Mercy for Mayhem

Warmed over NWOBHM with American glam metal glitz under a glaze of alt-death bands like Nifelheim or Gehennah. Remember when that stuff came out? It was 1998 and black metal had officially shot its wad, following death metal the dubious status of having a fully developed form but having expressed all of its relevant content three years or more prior. Thus bands thought, “Well, we have this new technology in the death metal and black metal styles, why not mix them and use them to encode the same old crap that bands were talking about in the 1970s?” You know, the safe stuff: alcohol, sex, partying and pissing off your parents. No one in a modern liberal democracy will argue with you for such an assertion of individualism and defiance of The Establishment. Thus it’s about as challenging and volatile as tap water, as controversial as feeding pigeons in a park, and the perfect product because it takes almost zero effort to make a few catchy hard rock songs with heavier vocals and more intense drums. Anyone can do it! Those were the words they used in the dying years of punk, also, which meant that anyone and everyone did do it, which ensured that the music became boring because it wasn’t about anything. Midnight isn’t about anything either. Its members are fixated only on being in a band and making some tunes that people like. That’s sort of like a chef deciding that he wants to make Big Macs instead of Filet Mignon because “people like it.” Like a Big Mac, No Mercy For Mayhem is soft and uniform in consistency and slightly sweet with a tangy sauce of rebellious high school rock. But it resembles an average of every burger ever made with the never-fail treatment of adding fat, salt and sugar, thus there is no growth, learning or evolution in it. It is simply an object, a product. And like all soulless things, it can only occupy your time, not enhance it, which means you stagnate, and you know what they say about stagnation.

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Cemetery Lust – Orgies of Abomination

I suppose this is intended to sound like Autopsy, but it more sounds like the bad SOD and DRI clones of the late 1980s: really simple sing-song two-point riffs driven by the vocals to keep the rhythmic hook alive because that is basically all the song does. Rhythms are very similar to old DRI, COC and SOD as well. Lots of downpicking. Nothing is poorly done and yet this style, like all rap music, is just too simple to express much of anything especially with these entirely standard song structures. Each song consists of two related riffs, a vocal hook, and support from other instruments. The result is not exciting unless people playing stuff faster than normal excites you. Lots of tropes from middle-1980s speed metal and early death metal, but the songs never really get any momentum going and sound about thirty years old, out of date and without personality. Some things belong in the past and should be buried next to all the bands who didn’t make it because they sounded like watered-down versions of their influences. This band can join them.

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Rippikoulu – Ulvaja

Funeral doom metal with death metal touches in the vein of Skepticism, Rippikoulu on this release create a convincing atmosphere that relies too much on texture of vocals and instrumentation but nonetheless is convincing. These songs begin with simple riffs and expand both depth and tonality, moving from minor-key intervals to more open intervals much like Ancient used to on its longer tracks, creating a sense of a moving target on a lengthy journey. Use of piano, strings and female vocals both soften the abrasive distortion and force more spacious dynamics, allowing other themes more room to move. While these songs clearly focus on atmosphere, the more important idea here is the change of moods like seasons, which gives them a grace and makes the distorted guitar seem actually jarring by way of contrast. Although this release is an EP and thus short, the mood created by this musical approach could be, like Summoning Nightshade Forests, the basis for a short escape from reality that reveals more about existence than direct confrontation ever could.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 10-08-14

October 8, 2014 –

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? When fans, writers, radio presenters and musicians get fed up with the exhausting flood of imitators and demand that music have a purpose, because only music that has content can express something of beauty or horror about reality and thus be relevant to our lives, because unlike the herd that seeks escape, we seek a means of understanding and glorifying life. Death to the imitators, drowning in a sea of angsty tears.

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Edge of Paradise – Immortal Waltz

This jaunty take on a cross between burlesque music and hard rock with symphonic overtones seems designed to showcase the talents of vocalist Margarita, who layers her vocals in waves that create, along with the carnival horror show keyboards, a sense of being in some oddity of a dream. But this band really invites comparison to bands like Genitorturers and Marilyn Manson more than heavy metal; these songs are vehicles for the vocals and are designed to create a sensation of spectatorship more than have the music itself inundate the mind. Aesthetically, this will strike underground fans as cheesy; while not terrible musically, it also derives much of its compositional direction from riffing off known archetypes of the type of music it cites. That and the way songs are entirely driven by vocals places this outside the range of most expecting riff-based music, and the simplicity of its delivery ensures that it will sound like children’s music to most death metal fans. If this is symphonic metal, it is clearly not for me, but if you like the Marilyn Manson style spectacle and ironic deconstruction of cultural tokens, it might appeal.

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Krieg – Transient

Krieg started as purely chaotic improvisational black metal, then organized itself into a ripping war metal variety, and finally detoured into indie/shoegaze. With Transient, the band returns to roots with a primitive type of death metal fused with a heavy amount of punk and garnished with varieties of its previous influences. The shoegaze influence is still here as are some classic black metal riffs but they are suspended in a gelatinous mass of punkish simple death metal riffs which keep an energetic uptempo charge. While it sculpts atmosphere with agreeable verve, most of modern Krieg consists of transitions into moods and then riding of those moods, which interrupts the frenetic energy this band once conveyed while simultaneously not building up to its transitions with enough groundwork to give them power beyond their own attributes. Black metal works its atmospheric magic by manipulating context and showing a progression between events like a battle scene, but this new style is more like visiting different rooms in a spooky hotel. That being said, Krieg is stronger in riff-writing and understanding of the dimensions of harmony and how to navigate them with a riff than other American black metal bands, and also beats the hell out of Sonic Youth.

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English Dogs – The Thing With Two Heads

This punk band uses a lot of metal riffs and rhythms in that it likes to interrupt continuity with abrupt internal collisions in its music, and uses the muted strum in a style spanning the spectrum from speed metal to Meshuggah. Unfortunately, it also mates this with a rock style of offbeat leading phrases that make this music bounce just like rock or hip-hop, which kills any gravitas or building of intensity. There are some great speed metal riffs on here and some moments of pure punk energy but the whole is torn apart by musical discontinuities which result in what sounds like a train crash between the 1980s and early 2000s that never resolves itself into a voice that can express anything. If this band dropped half the riffs and focused on making songs that generate momentum and then channel it somewhere, it would hit like a ton of bricks but as it is now, it sounds like something that should be on in the background during an LMN late-night movie about kids hanging with the wrong crowd and ending up in an organ harvesting gang.

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Horrified – Descent Into Putridity

This album shows a great deal of initial promise in its attempt to resurrect the old underground. It gets beyond the two-point riffs that hammer a rhythm and then answer it and go nowhere, preferring longer riffs that lead on to different points and at times in the Deathspell Omega way extend themselves into wandering melodies. Its combination of Swedish death metal and Autopsy power death metal worship works on the surface. But the nu-underground has never understood the purpose of death metal riffing which is to create subterranean structures that mirror what goes on in our subconsious minds; death metal is about looking beneath the surface to reveal structure and a subtext of motivation. Horrified in contrast has one layer, which is some riffy music on the surface that fits together nicely, but lacks a core of something which cuts between the mental state and the music. Thus over time this wears thin and repetitive at about the same time the listener starts noticing how many riffs are anchored with doubled downpicking and how few of these riffs, despite growing in their own right, amplify the subject matter of the song. Horrified come closer to the original than any others attempting this style recently but still miss the root of what makes the underground what it is, and so verge closer to the much more “face value” work of speed metal bands, at which point the repetition creates bad flashbacks of late 1980s metal and the repetition PTSD kicks in.

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Xerath – III

The horror, the horror. Symphonic metal must be done gracefully but with aggression and force; Xerath approach it like hard rock and use it as a vehicle for over-dramatic vocals. This hurts to listen to because the keyboards drift, the riffs sound like a heavier version of Def Leppard, and the metal gets forgotten. Synthesizing two disparate things only works when a common ground and thus basis for a common voice is found, and otherwise what emerges is the oil-on-water effect that produces carnival music where random patterns contrast one another as if they were designed to accompany a cartoon and its wacky action. Xerath goes down all of these rabbit trails and comes out at a comical level. Distraction, deflection, recursion, confusion. Like Behemoth and other bands in this newer style, Xerath does great work at the level of detail, but when you add it up the only picture that emerges is confusion and haste resulting in an entirely random platter of stuff that is recognizable as metal but by depriving itself of continuity and context, entirely lacks the punch. It compensates for that lack by hammering extra hard on pounding rhythms and blasting passages which do nothing but highlight the sense of On Through the Night colliding with a roadside minstrel show on its way to play the outer reaches of Alaska and hope its luck changes there.

My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond by Max Cavalera with Joel McIver

October 5, 2014 –

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With all of the unanswered questions behind Sepultura lurking in the minds of metal fans, it makes sense that Max Cavalera would launch a guided autobiography like My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond. Together with metal writer Joel McIver, Cavalera pens a work that fits within the genre of rock ‘n’ roll confessional-biographies but underneath the surface, a careful hand edited this narrative into a smoothly-flowing storyline that hits the points of interest to Sepultura fans.

Since the fragmentation of Sepultura, fan rumors and lore have obscured the complex dynamic of interacting personalities that made up the Sepultura camp and led to the consequent splintering off of Soulfly and other related projects. McIver shows his prowess in debunking lore by tracing it back to its origins and exploring the context of the time, which tends to show the lore as anomalous, and then making suggestions as to what was more likely to have happened. Cavalera seems amenable to this process.

My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond reads like McIver accompanied Cavalera for months asking him questions about the past and then stitched together the chaotic responses into a single line of thought. The result is both genial and informative, since with multiple choices for any data point, McIver picked the one that was most thoughtful. As a result the text tends to frequently read as a pleasant narrative that suddenly gets serious in tone and detailed when an important point arises but does not, like most rock bios, leave fundamental questions unanswered by glossing over them with a trivial acknowledgment or anecdote.

The result knits together many complex threads in a narrative that has been both shrouded in mystery and inundated in propaganda from multiple warring points of view during the later years of Cavalera’s career. McIver makes the text flow so that the whole book resembles a campfire conversation. He brings out the texture in Cavalera’s voice by allowing as much as possible of his original statements to persist but seems to have re-ordered them and edited them to make them more efficient and thus intense than your average rock interview.

I started using only four strings on my guitar right after Bestial Devastation. My B-string broke at a practice, and we had a roadie, Silvio, who ended up singing for a band called Mutilator. He said, ‘We have a bit of money left, so we can buy a new string or booze,’ and I was like, ‘Fuck the strings, I never use that one anyway, so let’s get drunk.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you take the top E-string off as well and make it four?’ and I was like, ‘Why not?’

I got used to it, and it became my trademark. I never learned to play lead guitar, and I still can’t, to this day.I could learn if I worked really hard on it, and if I just did a simple, slow solo, but I always wanted to be rhythm only. I wanted to take riff-making to a new level. (61)

From this approach comes a wealth of information about the early days of Sepultura, but it is best read in its full form without an attempt at summary here which would miss the richness of detail and character it reveals. Over half of the book focuses on the post-Sepultura years, which for those of us whose interest in this band died with Arise seems like it would be extraneous, but surprisingly was not. I started reading this like any other story and found Max Cavalera a compelling subject as presented by McIver, and was curious to see how the story fully developed. As the story of a musician trying to find his path, it was ultimately satisfying to see Cavalera achieve the commercial success he has desired for years.

While many metalheads shudder at the mention of Soulfly or Cavalera’s extensive projects after that time, My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond correctly identifies the origin of this tendency in Chaos A.D. and also shows how this was the fulfillment of Cavalera’s original intent. For him, death metal was a transition toward what he liked, which was the simple roots rock and early punk in which a catchy riff and chorus made the song. Through careful storytelling, this fact emerges fully-documented by the backstory of Cavalera’s early life and musical inspirations, and changes what seems like a sinister sell-out to a quiet disagreement. Similarly, seeing the narrative leading up to the Cavalera brothers Igor and Max feuding in the post-Sepultura landscape explains many of the mysteries and lore that surround them to this day.

Although rock biography is not known for its depth and is generally assumed to be more of a public relations exercise than historical fact-based mission, My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond does its best to balance the two and let Max tell the stories as he sees them, while uncovering a factual framework that puts his words in context. Thanks to some inspired interviewing and editing, it is now easy to delve into the fascinating history of the Sepultura experience and how it shaped metal.