Coming up with the concept for the music video for ‘Contaminate’ was quite simple. The subject matter of the song deals with impending doom of the apocalypse, radiation sickness, and the suffering that war brings about in general. We combined disturbing archival footage from atrocities committed in the last century with a live show we played at Saint Vitus, in Brooklyn, to create a visual aesthetic to match the bleak subject matter and overall feeling of despair that we attempted to create when we wrote this song.
While most modern bands err on the side of so-called experiments and “open-mindedness”, Ashbringer tries to adopt a conservative posture in a manner that kills music with stagnancy. This may be either a product of a skewed appreciation of the classics or simply a good-intentioned but overzealous drive to keep coherence in check that might arise from an ignorance of music-writing procedures. Such procedures can and have been ignored by people with either great experience and understanding, or savants like Varg Vikernes who display an amazing instinctive talent for musical creation. Unfortunately, there is a myth that drives hordes of musicians of average talent (because that is the definition of average) to attempt to emulate the actions of those who are natural geniuses. Such combination of presumption with an unwillingness to educate themselves give us many sincere but ultimately deficient metal records (see early The Chasm).
In Vacant, Ashbringer present us songs which bear the mark of an intention of maintaining coherence by repeating the same idea and only venturing forth to use the same motif played in several different ways, offering carrying a whole song or entire super-sections mostly in this manner. The extent of these variations are limited to texture change and register change. Correctly sensing that this only creates a static picture seen through different-colored lenses, other ideas are introduced, but these do not bear a clear relation between each other beyond the concordance of similar technique, tonality and consistency in style. Akin to a series of unrelated pictures in a row in an album without a clear history to relate them, variety is forced, taking the songs out of painful and amateur-like stagnation in a forceful manner.
The few exceptions of progressions and and useful transformations are far and in between and should be saved by the band for future reference (the 5th and 6th tracks which should be one song as the first does not have the material to be an interlude but only a first-section to the following one), and Ashbringer could learn something about the use of related but changing and essentially different ideas. These should be related not by style, but by musical structure and patterns. The suggestion is perhaps a little too German-minded, but it is a more concrete beginning that is easier to grasp. Baby-steps before you can actually black metal.
The combination of true humbleness in creating music with a healthy dose of careful ambition is what is necessary here and in metal in general. A cycle of study, practice, introspection and revision in music-writing is what metal most needs as is shown by the limitations of this sincere but incredibly deficient album. These guys obviously have the intention of creating metal that is both elaborate and profound, technically proficient, musically satisfying and spiritually inspiring. They just need to face they aren’t musical geniuses and turn their heads to a more strict study and observation of the greats on the technical side at different levels of music composition.
NECROMASS’ video “Fair of Blasphemy” is now available. The video was directed by Stefano Poggioni and features Claudia Cataldi (Factory Prod.) as director of photography, both winners of several video-clips
and short films awards, such as “The Drift”.
This is the first official video of the cult florentine band and it is a first preview of the new split with Mortuary Drape, set to be released shortly by Funeral Industries.
Following the example of Kreator in Phantom Antichrist, Scythian unite riffing approaches from different metal subgenres under the banner of traditional heavy metal and growled or barked vocals, with a result along the lines of the so-called melodic death metal. In contrast with the noteworthy release Thy Black Destiny, by Sacramentum, Hubris in Excelsis does not coalesce into a thing of its own but just floats around as the result of spare parts being put together to form an undefined, impersonal and disparate heavy metal record. In this, and its revolving around the vocals it is more akin to the Iron Maiden – inclined heavy metal which sets one foot on hard-rock land, using disconnected riffs only as rhythm and harmony to carry the voice.
We hear doom metal proceedings and textures typical of black metal, but these are usually encapsulated within sections. These sections are used in conventional rock-song functionality. What determines this rock versus metal approach? Basically, the total relationship of riffs and sections to voice and in between themselves. Rock (and hard rock after it) carries the music after the vocal lines (thus we can see the slight influence of hard rock over Slayer in South of Heaven even though it doesn’t fully give in to the tendency to disqualify it as a metal record). The key tell-tale sign after this is the lack or at least a downplay of motif-relation between parts of the song, the support for main melody or vocal line becoming the most important and prominent element. The effect of this often results in something similar but in the end different from metalcore: disparate parts tied loosely by a certain background consistency (usually harmony for rock and rhythms or motifs drowned in an ocean of contrasts for metalcore).
The plentiful references to many different genres extending all the way to cliche-ridden pagan black metal may throw off the attempts of most to nail down what Hubris in Excelsis actually is, what it consists of and what its essence ultimately is. Hubris in Excelsis is indeed a title that reflects this album beyond their intended concept. Hubris, an excess of self-confidence, often at the expense of prudence and seemliness, is placed in a position of glory, giving way to veiled expressions of ego that disregard any sense of coherence and little consistency beyond the most superficial.
An example of outstanding musical competence in melody-lead black metal, Bhagavat’s To Burn in a Lair of Snakes give us an initially almost seamless integration of many different elements under a clearly defined personal style. After the first half of the album, though, the album becomes a Planetary Duality-era The Faceless-style tech death tribute with black metal-like cliche connectors and decorations. While the first few songs present a solid and diverse yet uni-colored set of expressions that breathed clarity, as the album progresses, these elements take control over the music. The vision stops being in control and the stylistic expression starts guiding songwriting. In other words rampant cliches ensue.
While musically adept and gifted with a talent for placing together ideas in a flowing and integrated manner, Bhagavat could have focused into making a mention-worthy album. There is enough of that here to make a 3-song EP. But more than half of the album resorts to cliche-riding, while the band’s voice is heard standing beside them. To Burn a Lair of Snakes went from being a contestant to be included in best of the year lists to just another modern metal band trying to appropriate black metal as a disguise.
Wearing the mantle of blasphemous black metal, Goatblood play metal in the time-honoured tradition of grind-tinged black metal dancing the line between Sarcófago and Blasphemy. As most bands playing this style, Goatblood is automatically benefited by the immediate focus this restricted expression affords: a clarity in direction in accordance to its single-mindedness. Songs are consistent in expression as well as coherent in their narrative, blasphemy overspilling and music driving it — not quite deep enough.
The only obstacle towards excellence faced by Goatblood here is they are too content, or perhaps too shy, about developing songs. Most of them stop after a handful of simple riffs, ending not in a closing gesture a climax or even a complete development but an apparently arbitrary riff after which the band had no idea (or no time?) what to write. Rather than the defilement of Profanatica, Goatblood only half-whispers hidden desires to break free from dogmatic religion. Not brave enough to move forward, Adoration of Blasphemy and War is a collection of half-songs, or ideas for songs that have not yet been completed.
Den Kristne Stank, meaning “Christian Stench” in Danish, is an effort by the band Plague to bring some black metal with occult themes, blasphemy and just the general themes associated with the genre. The music reveals the same intent, applying different approaches to black metal creation but giving preference to the most obviously rock-based instance of it, disguised with intermingled soft blast beats. In an attempt to bring variety without a clear focus (rather, the focus seems to be the variety of black metal expression) we find ourselves at one point reminded of Kjeld, the next of some pagan folk black metal, but it is the influence of Samael is felt most strongly. The problem here is that the music (obviously as a result of the concept) never zeroes in on a direction — a goal is not necessary, but clear statement and acting out of what you are getting at is important.
On the good side, Plague is actually not wanking or over-indulging themselves. The music creates reasonable structures that connect well-enough with each other flowing smoothly most of the time. The complaint comes from observing its coherence and the picture it reveals. As has been previously stated, the critique is realized in the following manner: first we gather an impression on the whole, from those observations the individual musical elements are investigated and finally a theory rooted in concept is formulated. Any pair of adjacent steps (1 and 2 or 2 and 3) can be reexamined as many times as is necessary to try and clarify a perspective. Evaluating music as a whole, one should never go from ideology first nor should technical elements be taken as the central aspect. It is always the musical whole that is important. Formulations on intention and ideology are secondary and come as an afterthought and an attempt to explain excellence, focus or deficiencies in the music.
The variety itself is not the problem, of course, but that it is never brought under control by a higher purpose. Instead of this involved yet forgettable collection of rock black metal techniques and compilation of general themes, I would suggest the reader to imbue himself with this year’s EP release by Necrophor, which presents the same degree of musical variety without the technique-collection effect of the former. Consistently with these observations, one may notice how the lyrical concept (or the concept as a whole) of Necrophor’s EP is much more precise and clear. Empirical evidence shows the importance of clarity of concept for the realization of focused music. Plague give us an example of a metal release that has everything except that.
I thoroughly enjoyed William Pilgrim’s “The postmodern Gorguts” for its list of metal attributes. For many years, writers have attempted to categorize metal and most commonly have ended up with a list of surface traits such as loud distortion, screaming, fast drums and occult lyrics. Pilgrim’s list looks at the compositional tendencies of metal that are consistent from proto-metal through black metal, and bears another analysis as separated from the topic of Gorguts, which is only ancillary to the question of metal itself. Thus follows his list:
The original idea, as metal goes, is as much structural as it is ideological. There are a few qualities that are common to how all true metal should be constructed.
- Melodic contiguity: All forms of metal, even the harshest strains, are inherently and recognizably melodic in nature. This means that the individual phrases that make up a metal song obey cohesiveness, as tenuous as it may seem at times. Though individual phrases are often in different keys, it is paramount that they share the same musical space.
- Movement towards a discernible and logical conclusion: This is the will to motion previously outlined in these pages. Metal’s roots in traditional story-telling with a beginning, a middle, and an end, are not to be forgotten in eager exchange of a need to experiment. There has to be a gradual ascent, or a plummet as it were, towards an ultimate punctuation. Though various approaches can be used towards achieving this, playing for time in false hope of creating mood, while using ideas containing little intrinsic worth, is anathema to metal.
- Rhythm section to assume a strong yet only supporting role: Metal is a predominantly lead-melody oriented form of music. Bass and drums are integral to creating a fuller sound but should only be viewed as swells on an ocean on top of which riffs and songs float. Often, swells rise and raise their load with them, but this hierarchy in relations is crucial and is to be preserved.
- Atmosphere created not through textural embellishments and quirks but as a by product of composition: All claim to that shady word “atmosphere” should come from immanent qualities in the way the music is written. Metal does not need overt experimentation with harmonics or tone if these asides are incapable of holding together on isolated inspection.
- Awareness that all forms of groove play to a far baser inclination in the mind’s analytical apparatus. They can be enjoyed on a case-by-case basis but are not something to be eagerly sought out or encouraged in metal.
- A keen comprehension of repetition as device: Repetition is to be used as steadily outward-growing eddies that take a song to a different place, yes, but one that maintains a tangible relation to the place left behind. Individual components within the repeating phrase should have some emotional consonance and not serve as mere padding.
- Conscious realization that metal is in fact composed music and not free jazz.
To insert a minor quibble, I disagree that metal is “ideological.” If anything, it is anti-ideological, being based in a harsh realism rather than a set of platitudes about Utopia, which seems to be the basis of all ideology to me. Metal is intensely artistic, and artists tend to have strong opinions, and from a distance this may look like ideology or even count as an ideology of sorts, but not in the modern sense, which means a series of appealing thoughts designed to mobilize mass approval and thus, political power. If metal has an ideology, it is an artistic outlook of a very general nature and not directed toward specific manipulations resulting in immediate real-world changes; rather, it hopes to condition the outlook of those who participate in it with the most general philosophies toward life itself.
By the same token, metal seems to me to less succumb to lists than a spirit which reflects this philosophy. Technique is a means to that end, and that we now live in an age when power chords and heavy distortion create a sense of foreboding of doom and insurgent power determines that these become the primal technique that unites all the others, like a drawstring bag around otherwise random artistic implements. Metal focuses on the union of harsh realism and intense mythology, because metal is fundamentally a worship of power and these are the greatest powers in human life. Only death is real, and yet people follow religions and hail the ancient stories. If metal has a goal, it is making realism into a kind of poetry, and it uses a series of techniques to that end that form its most visible component, but they are not in and of themselves the goal of the genre.
Let me then add my components of metal:
- Nihilism. The music must use the simplest and most gutter-level techniques possible when they are powerful.
- Through-composed. From Black Sabbath onward, metal bands have been stacking riffs to explode melodies.
- Guitar is lead rhythm. Songs are advanced by guitars, with drums/bass/vocals in supporting role.
- Phrasal riffs. Riffs use fills as main body of riff in order to create shapes which interact across key, time and form.
- Immanent meaning. No riff or part is the meaning, but the progression of the whole “reveals” meaning.
Any sensible observer will note that the above are simply less specific and more distilled versions of Pilgrim’s seven points above. His focus is more on specificity; mine more on spirit. And yet the two overlap and somehow hash out the same realistic truths about heavy metal. Metal is fundamentally anti-social music, in that it rejects “what everyone thinks” and experiences a downfall instead as it reverts to a nihilistic, literal, organic, materialistic and naturalistic level of reality. It rejects human society and all of its ideas, which are essentially pretense, in favor of harsh realism and mythological aims like beauty, truth, eternal love and eternal hate. I would argue that metal is conservative except for its constant forward focus, not toward “progress” but adventure.
As a result, I would argue that metal is impervious to both ideology and trends, since it consists solely of spirit and the aforementioned method. In fact, it takes no particular point of view, since its method must appear in all that it does. Thus metal is “spirit,” and will adapt to any developments in music, but since there have been none, it howevers around the intersection of the best humanity has produced so far — classical, modernist and baroque — using the techniques available to four guys, guitars, microphone and drums. This then leads us to a more vital question when examining metal, which is whether a band adopts this outlook and method through the question of what an adaptation of that method to the particular style of the band would look like. With post-metal, nu-metal, tech-death, metalcore and other modern metal, we find that missing and its opposite principle, the looping narrative of rock, instead.
Having watched this zine grow from humble origins to the reliable source of underground metal feature stories that it is today, the metalheads who comprise the underground — including death metal, black metal, grindcore, and some speed metal and doom metal — now expect high-quality on-point content from this zine, and Issue Seven delivers with style. Now possessing the journalistic weight and audience to command high-profile bands, Codex Obscurum returns with wide-ranging interviews, reviews, features and editorials with adventurous literary fiction as well.
Interviews have always pushed this zine above the rest because of their conversational nature but tendency to explore the thinking behind the musical decisions made by the band, with little attention spent on the surface fluff, but some questions that bring out the personalities of the musicians and explain their connection to the art. In this issue, the biggest name in interviews is Deceased, but perhaps the most powerful interview belongs to Thanatos. Covering both Hail of Bullets and Thanatos, this interview with Stephan Gebedi is as detailed and congenial as death metal interviews get, and covers a lot of history. The Deceased interview will strike most as idiosyncratic because it covers much of King Fowley personally and recent news, with less emphasis on background, but this reflects the general abundance of Deceased interviews on the early days. This updates us on the status of the band including information new to most sources. Other interviews with Wastelander, Drug Honkey, FaithXTractor, Crypt Sermon, Magic Circle, Dawn of Demise, Untergang, Slaughtbath and Blood Incantation follow similar patterns of compiling biographical details and consulting on musical intent, with the Untergang and Crypt Sermon being most compelling. All of these are well-executed and constitute the backbone of this zine.
Issue Seven contains a number of features, one of which takes the form of an interview. Artist Tony Cosgrove gives his points of view in a story which interweaves his images with his words, creating the sensation of being a museum exhibit with slightly longer detail cards. A feature on asymmetrical board games offers a glimpse into a world that overlaps with metal but is too nerdly for the mainstream tuffguy websites to cover. A lengthy write-up of the Kill-Town death fest in Denmark follows, which captures much of the atmosphere without excessive detail, but also skimps on a few vital points and may be the least powerful part of the zine. Then again, fest writeups are nearly impossible because everyone is tired and/or drunk (and stoned) so what remains are hazy recollections and the ability to look through the heaps of scored merch. Possibly my favorite features lurks at the rear of the zine, which is a malevolent and tongue-in-cheek editorial about the nature of battle jackets and how they should be worn. This piece reminds me of the 1980s text-files that hackers used to pass around: it has an off-the-cuff feel to the writing, but the thinking seems refined over time, which creates an interesting casual intensity. One intriguing feature, to my knowledge unique among current zines, comes in the form of a short story. Like a condensed zombie sci-fi horror movie, “Evil Seed” (named for the Morbid Angel tune?) efficiently whips through a haunting mystery of an experience with a powerful organic metaphor. This story not only adds to the zine, but its placement dead in the middle creates a break like that when flipping over a vinyl album to hear side two.
Toward the rear of the zine festers another important section: reviews. For metalheads without much time to wade through the mountains of spurious and often spiteful opinions in online comments, or the completely idiotic sales jobs that mainstream zines and web sites put out in place of reviews, where every release is the greatest ever and will tear your head off or make you look intellectual to the girlies, zine reviews offer peace of mind in purchasing by offering better than even chances that a given release will be a match. This occurs both through qualitative assessment, and quantitative description, both of which are featured here. These take a conversational tone but know when to drop the one or two lines of most vital description, and then an assessment, separating observations from judgments enough that the reader can shop by the relative distance between the taste of the reviewer and their own. In this issue, the selection of reviews is a lot more strategic and covers all of the vital ground for what was released during the press period of this issue.
As Codex Obscurum has grown, so has its proficiency in layout. This is the most readable issue yet, generally sticking a band logo at the start of an interview and then being sparse with other images and keeping the text high-contrast usually of a light grey on black variety. This format works well and the use of distinctly shaped fonts also keeps this from falling into the trap of the illegible muddy blur of a xerox disaster that many zines are. Reviews are black text on grey background for added readability, and whether from rush or deliberation, the black-on-white table of contents is if nothing else clear as a bell. Writing standards have inched upward, too, with tightly edited pieces and almost no typos and spelling errors. All of the above make it easy to pick up this zine, which at half-page size can be handily carried anywhere you would take a paperback, and to relax and absorb the content. It would not be surprising to see someone whip this out at a university library, transhumanist rally or on the international space station, because it has that kind of density of information and yet casual enjoyment factor. It is good to see this zine getting the recognition it deserves and its growth both in size and technique for an intensely professional and yet familiar metal reading experience.
- Codex Obscurum – Issue Seven $4 + shipping
Contrary to the modern northern predilection to either go with the “intellectual” or “sentimental” strain of black metal expression, Latin American bands seem more inclined to follow Sarcófago. Many of these, in my opinion, retain the “authenticity” while actually improving on the music of the Brazilian punk-minded godfathers. Following the comparison with the northerners, while these try to create “the atmosphere” itself, actually trying to force the music to become the effect or the feeling itself (something advised against through the Common Practice Period all the way to the end of the Romantic musical era as it destroys the music), the grind/punk primitive black metal bands like Rito Profanatorio focus on punching songs that make use of short melodic motifs, and concentrate on the continuity of the riffs, letting the music do its job and create atmosphere and evoke feeling in the listener.
That being said, the music on Grimorios e Invocaciones desde el Templo de la Perversión is not the best of its kind. While it nails powerful riffs and have clear “melodic contiguity” (thanks for the descriptive term, ODB), the main problem lies in where they take the songs. Development is smooth, sliding deliciously into different ideas that carry follow “logically” from the point of departure. But after this, the band starts to lose a bit of control, the song keeps going forward without an ending in view, and then it suddenly stops. What makes these endings more offensive is that they are cliche metal endings inserted haphazard manner.
While this is not particularly original and the transgressions are great, it would be worthy to highlight their name and keep an eye on Rito Profanatorio’s development. Long live Peruan metal! May it develop and refine itself into something that contributes to a worthy future of metal as it has the authentic feel and musical (rather than technical) inclinations that seem so absent from the northern countries these days.