Along with a planned review for the upcoming week, Ihsahn has made it back onto my list of “musicians who clearly exist” with the upcoming release of Arktis. It is set for a March 4th release and will be Ihsahn’s 6th full studio length. If previous press releases and media praiseworshipspeak is to be believed (I’m looking at Blabbermouth here), Arktis will somehow be both more traditionally structured than Ihsahn’s previous solo albums, which tend to already employ a lot of pop song structures, and also somehow pushing “…boundaries and preconceived sounds typically assigned to heavy music”. That’s either a tall order or a marketing department ignoring what the artist says to revel in their own promotional efforts.
The group organizers issued the following statement:
This group was founded to promote the idea that bands should stay out of Baltimore or risk millennial crybabies attempting to ruin band’s careers over the numerous things they find offensive. Every city has this problem, true. But, the children of Baltimore have made this particular city undesirable for having a good time and enjoying a show.
ENTER BALTIMORE AT YOUR OWN RISK!
Once in the underground, #metalgate is heating up as people oppose the idea of censorship and political conformity in metal. Many remember what such herd-thinking did to hardcore in the 1980s and the attempts to censor metal from right and left during the same decade. Others simply believe that genres dedicated to extremity should keep all ideas on the table, especially when the standard of political conformity seems to agree with what most governments, media and large corporations endorse. Time will tell.
Cirith Gorgor bases its music around a strong vocal in the modern metal style of several emphatic syllables which then trail off, and this primary rhythm instrument propels the music forward. Underneath it flow melodic riffs which are not based on unique shape for its own ends, but fit around the rhythm of the vocals, approximating the style of later Emperor.
All of the familiar patterns are here: the sweeps, the gently falling melodic riffs, and the sawing upsurge riffs, and they are ordered in sensible songs. These songs do not particularly distinguish themselves from one another, nor evoke any type of emotion other than a general sense of feelings about the genre, but they are not random and are better assembled than the average. They resemble a sort of ongoing conversation that appears in different forms.
If this band has a weakness, it is reliance on the modern style of “yapping chihuaha” vocals. These are easier to follow than the old way, but place too many demands on the guitars for them to lead songwriting. The melodic hooks are pleasant and the discourse of songs orderly, but this band has a way to go before it expresses something like the power this genre has sleeping within it.
Blackdeath is a Russian black metal band that just so happens to perform their lyrics in German. Funny how that works out. I’m not sure what the motivation is, but it’s a mildly interesting bit of trivia that you might get a kick out of. The actual album (which is intended to release on January 1st, 2016, and was provided via promos) was initially released in two parts in 2004, as parts of splits with Mortifera and Leviathan produced in exceedingly small qualities, so while the material is far from new, this may be your first chance to hear what comes off as a competent, but unremarkable and therefore disposable piece of old school black metal. Definitely not “best of 2016” material.
Now, the promo message we were sent claims that Totentanz is “…nothing like you have heard before”, but in my personal experience, there’s not much here that’s particularly novel. Blackdeath’s PR agency was probably listening primarily to the guitar, which showcase a nice mixture of standard melodic black metal phrases with more dissonant, atonal phrases. By not confining themselves to tonal centers, the band has opened up some realms of musical technique that could come in handy. That’s about all I can say in favor of the instrumental end of this album – nothing here is “wrong” or out of place (even the drum machine), but it’s otherwise very standard for its subgenre.
I suppose the specific problem with Totentanz is that it does little to coordinate its individual elements into a coherent whole. Blackdeath seemingly values the “kvlt” side of black metal, and thusly this album is blessed with a stereotypical low fidelity mix. The most prominent issue here is that the percussion is nearly inaudible; this appears to be a constant problem throughout the band’s discography. It’s not really a problem for a more ambient black metal act like Darkthrone or Sorcier des Glaces, but Blackdeath seemingly aspires towards the more violent side of the genre, at least if the rest of their musical elements aren’t misleading me. Totentanz also has the sort of arbitrary songwriting that so many other metal bands fall into. In this case, I find it unusually hard to isolate specific elements for criticism; however, the aesthetic/songwriting mismatch seems to be most responsible for this recording going in one ear and out the other without getting much in the way of proper mental attention.
I guess it’s a dubious honor that the first upcoming release of 2016 I’ve reviewed avoids the Sadistic Metal Reviews pile, but honestly, the best thing I can say about Totentanz is that it’s surrounded by mildly interesting circumstances.
Vic Records plans to re-issue the 1995 debut album from Finnish black metal band Mythos in early 2016. The new issue will include ten bonus tracks taken from the split CD Vociferous & Machiavellian Hate. Mythos fit into the later black metal years with music like Impaled Nazarene but adapted to longer, death-metal style songs.
The Pain Amplifier re-issue will include rare pictures and extensive liner notes, including notes from Evil Omen label boss Ludo Lejeune. This continues the “underground metal bubble” of re-issues and special additions for Generation Xers and millennials who never got a chance to own them the first time around, and this solid B-level black metal release should appeal to many from that group.
German black metal label Purity Through Fire has released a promotional sampler of bands from the new wave of black metal inspired music, including Leichenzug, Kroda, Bergrizen, Vspolokh, Myrd, Svartblodgard, Sarkrista, Infamous, Heldentod, and Irminsul.
We’ve sampled a few of the tracks Olve Eikemo has released as part of the Abbathproject. They certainly exist, that much I can tell you, but I personally wasn’t able to get much out of them beyond a certain level of instrumental proficiency. Response from the rest of the metal communities (curse their still-beating hearts) has been more positive, and Abbath’s proper solo debut will come out on January 22nd, along with a plethora of other albums we’ll have to at least give a perfunctory look. In the mean time, another track from this album (“Count the Dead“) has been released as a single, in case you didn’t already have enough clues about Abbath’s musical approach. Furthermore, Abbath is headlining the 2016 Decibel Magazine Tour through March and April, so he’s definitely got a busy schedule ahead of him.
Black metal emerged as a reaction to the trend of death metal which had already established a musical vocabulary and through that achieved a higher degree of technicality as well as abstraction.
These bands took inspiration from the proto-black Hellhammer, Venom, Bathory and Sodom. The music of these early hybrid bands was quite unlike what became the second wave of black metal or death metal in that its motifs were simple yet concrete; overlaid onto a structure which juxtaposes seemingly unrelated motifs next to one another in an uncomplicated and often superficially nonsensical form. Yet, the result was surprisingly successful as a visceral and chaotic experience of raw, concrete, sensory imagery.
The black metal to follow refined this approach through retaining much of the simplicity and visceral nature of the earlier music while placing the motifs in a more logical format through phrasal composition, in which each riff has a shape created by its phrase and these form a language within each song. This and the trademark atmospheric riffs driven by waves of reverb and tremolo picking – largely invented by the Norwegian bands of note – came to define the public perception of black metal as a genre. Consequently, the Norwegian sound moved away from the rhythmic lineage of rock to music to something closer to the traditional western sensibility: harmony and melody over static, invariant rhythm as famously codified by the experimental gothic sensibilities of Transilvanian Hunger.
Profanatica, from what can be intuited from rare interviews, had strong reactions towards both the Norwegian sound and death metal itself. As such their music took on a different character which has not garnered the band near as much acclaim. The Norwegian sound is, after all, is the standard against which all black metal music is held. Given the fact that all genres are imposed by observation after the fact, it seems that the difference between Profanatica and the Norwegian giants is not one of quality, but of a band not fitting within the aesthetic boundaries of a genre that the audience expects. That and the mad rush for Norwegian black metal pushed Profanatica to the boundaries of the black metal movement where its influence on artists and hardcore fans tells a different story of its importance.
Much like the Norwegians, Profanatica refined the approach of its influences by emphasizing an incoherent structure and seemingly random construction. The motifs themselves are anything but abstract; often sounding vaguely familiar if not recycled both literally and intuitively. The listener will detect a clear sense of familiarity with the image of a particular motif, yet its contextual placement is such that it reveals a new perspective on something familiar. To draw a metaphor, it is as if one obtains a view of the same landscape from the peak of different mountains. This freedom of association allows a particular feeling, idea or image to be used as appropriate, anywhere in a song without sounding out of place. That particular innovation is unique to this band alone.
Structurally, Profanatica develop the proto-black method by emphasizing its motif contrast and non-rational composition. The infamous “Weeping in Heaven” demonstrates this technique through a collection of riff ideas which bears little relationship to one another, nor are treated in such a way that might cause the music to blend seamlessly. The contrast is emphasized which leaves the listener in a position to experience the music on an intuitive level. The result speaks to the body and it speaks towards the id. Logical progression, causality and abstract musical language are rejected abjectly. Profanatica embraces the rhythmic tradition of non-Western forms; using it to give meaning to chaos and incoherence of raw experience. Where one might perceive conceptual weakness and compositional immaturity in the early black metal music, Profanatica matured their approach to the point of strength.
The greatest contrast between the Norwegian sound and their influences lay at the relationship between the subject and the perceiver. The musical component of the proto-black bands described the emotional reactions to a phenomenon portrayed, resulting in the internal discourse one expects when reacting to the representations given to them by their nervous system. The Norwegian sound attempts to paint the external world through its musical discourse. The valuations of the perceiver are never absent quite absent and serve to describe the relationship of the internal world to the external. It asks the question, “where do we fit in the image of the world as presented?”
In a sense it attempts to categorize a dark forest in nonverbal symbols. Profanatica, resting firmly in the proto-black tradition, presents the terror of a solitary human being in a forest without describing the forest itself through its musical symbols. The dialogue then, becomes a matter of internal sensation which is untamed and instinctual. In terms of artistry, that innovation ultimately expanded the initial range of expression without reasoning categorically about it.
The effectiveness of this particular approach may be observed on the medley from the Grand Masters Sessions release. The track consists of portions of the band’s demo material stitched together to form a single track. A listener familiar with Profanatica’s back catalog will no doubt sense the familiarity of the material yet what is most striking is the functionality of the piece as a whole. Despite being composed from entirely different songs, the song involves juxtaposition of each motif and its partial ordering, and as a result manages a level of unity as a stream of consciousness which reveals new perspectives on the material through context.
Profanatitas de Domonatia (2007) distills the familiar Incantation sound made famous on their debut record Onward to Golgotha – which Paul Ledney had a strong hand in developing – by stripping the material down to its most basic instincts. The result is a fierce and destructive force of will whose aim is deconstruction. The follow up Disgusting Blasphemies Against God saw the band barbarizing the famous emotional sensitivity of black metal’s melodic heritage and assembling those remains into hideous totems. The record’s defining characteristic is, after all, something of a crescendo implying the process of construction, perhaps out of the remains of that which its predecessor tore down. The latest record, Thy Kingdom Cum, lays siege to its two previous approaches by simplifying its rhythms to the point of idiocy while contorting its melodic forms to the point of mockery. The defining character of its predominant motifs is laughter which can be gleaned easily in the opening moments of the track “False Doctrina.” The aforementioned qualities are not something which need to be abstracted from the music; they are clear and obvious.
Profanatica’s approach is much like an uncivilized warband conducting raids on the civilized. Such groups are as much a tribal patchwork out of violent young men as they are a patchwork of the spoils of their activities: contradictory compositions of the basic human and technological components of a greater civilization whose assemblage is entirely pragmatic and allows for them to serve functions other than intended, but no less effective than their original purpose. Out of elements bound tenuously is something effective, something purposeful, something deadly. The world this music operates in is one which is defined almost entirely by nature rather than one defined by humans.
Where proto-black metal is defined by its visceral nature and deconstructive character, Profanatica embrace the ignorance in a brash display of unconcern for the perfume-soaked intellectuals which decry those outside their borders. Dwelling within the primitive backwater fringe has its advantages by bearing immunity to the abstract and desperate silliness of the rest of the genre. The similarly-goaled war metal attempts to reach back into black metal’s foundations but does so in a way which reduces the motif as an objectified emotion or image into pure texture reducing its communicative efficacy. The work of Ledney and company retains the concrete sensory experiences which drove metal in each of its original incarnations and were later given musical scrutiny before completely fossilizing, allowing their art to pick the last of the low-hanging fruit of metal as a form while others languish in petty revivalism, soulless displays of technical mastery, or vapid experimentation that desperately seeks revitalization by looking to external music genres; copying but not transforming its clichés.
How many people listen to Hellhammer’s Death Fiend? What about Sodom’s 1982 Witching Metal? How popular are Death’s earliest demos? When it comes to early proto-underground bands, these earliest demos probably don’t get the listening attention they used to in the deep past, even from people who would rush to their defense on the internet. Part of this could be that they’re still harder to obtain, which theoretically makes this repressing of Sarcofago’s demos quite helpful. This joint effort between Cogumelo and Grayhaze Records claims to go beyond making the band’s early demos officially available by also doing the typical “release more rarities” trick, notably including demos from the Rotting EP and The Laws of Scourge. It probably won’t replace INRI or Sarcofago’s other studio albums in your rotation, but it’s another way to give Wagner Lamounier money in case you’re worried he isn’t making enough teaching economics.
Rotting Christ’s 12th studio is in the works. Entitled Rituals, it will come out on Feburary 12th, 2016; a single has already been officially released to the internet for streaming. Given the timing, I’m not under the impression that Rotting Christ’s latest upcoming album was directly inspired by Varathron’s most recent efforts, but that’s something to ask the band’s personnel, if at all. Interestingly, the album is currently available for preorder from Season of Mist‘s online store. While I am not familiar with Rotting Christ’s later discography, I haven’t heard much complimentary about it from the DMU types. If they’re to be believed, it doesn’t really measure up to the band’s strong formative work, perhaps even coming off as a pale and overly streamlined imitation of such. Might be better for you to stick to modern Varathron if that’s the case.