Burzum mastermind Varg Vikernes demonstrates a long history of crossing over between worlds. With Burzum, he crossed black metal with the cosmic space ambient music (RIP Edgar Froese) that defined the best of the previous decade, and now with his newer folk/ambient work he crosses over between the world of role-playing games, philosophies that get bast the postmodern thought-loop which has stalled humanity for the past century, and the inspiration in warfare, wizardry and medievalism that distinguished the aesthetics of his black metal.
In releasing the new track “Mythic Dawn,” Vikernes shows us a work in progress with a somewhat sparse but distinct track in the style of the second half of The Ways of Yore, specifically “Autumn Leaves” for the shimmery distorted background guitar effect and “The Lady of the Lake” for the plodding slightly offtime loop of neo-tribal drums over a simple bidirectional chord progression. As a work in progress, the new track is naturally sparser, but the chord progression seems very basic and song structure less integrated with its own purpose, which suggests this is a very early conceptualization of this track without the traditional Burzum “magic” being added. As musicians age, they often retreat into the realm of techniques and textures such as specific samples or types of melody, and this can adulterate the material that in their younger years they would have agonized over until all of it had an intensity of its own and none fit within a template, even if of their own making. With some luck and gumption Burzum will not avoid that fate.
As part of the video, Vikernes reveals pages of his Myfarog role-playing game (similar to Dungeons and Dragons, usually abbreviated “D&D”) and in the text on the background image of the video describes its appeal to those who, like Vikernes, have rejected modernity not just as an experience but as a concept entirely and seek alternatives outside of the realm of what modernity can describe. The game looks complex, and the song is promising for its initial stages although it looks like it will require some work, and so the audience looks on with interest at this evolving event and hopes for more.
Underground metal zine Codex Obscurum gained an audience for its focus on music of an underground nature without the associated fetishism of image and product obsession that blights most zines no matter how underground. In that sense, it was a regression to the healthier times of the 1990s, when fanzines were fan-oriented instead of label-oriented, and both old and new audiences have delighted in it for five issues.
Contemplating Issue Six of this magazine shows how far it has come and how it has not lost any of the delight in the music that marks a good fanzine. Over the past several issues the focus of the magazine has shifted to interviews and reviews, and this shows in the much wider coverage that Codex Obscurum achieves with Issue Six. More bands see print in this issue and, through greater experience of interviewers, questions cover a wider range. The issue starts with an interview with War Master, whose albums regularly feature in our best-of lists around here. While this interview is short, it provides the vital news that this band is working on a second album and an EP, and talks about touring and general attitude of the band after switching vocalists. After this follows a thoughtful and probing interview with (the New) Mayhem guitarist Teloch, which contains mostly striking revelations about the black metal scene and its relationship to political correctness. For those of us more inclined to avoid newer versions of once-classic bands, this shows insight into the thought process behind the current “scene.” Further interviews with Anatomia, Lantern, Obliteration, Rottrevore, Symptom, Acid Witch, Castle Freak, Impaled Nazarene, Fister, Hecate Enthroned and Ritual Decay. The interviewers in all of these approach the subject with knowledge and tailor their questions to the subject’s personality, which brings out more of the people behind the bands.
One of the bigger changes since the last issue appears in the abundance of reviews that Issue Six has to offer. These take two forms: mid-length descriptive and personalitied reviews, and semi-dismissive Haiku form reviews that often tell more than a few pages of labored, assiduous writing. The descriptive reviews offer a practical assessment of how a metal listener might approach an album in a compact package. Witness the review of Cruxiter Cruxiter:
Cruxiter – S/T (2013 – PrismaticO Records)
Wow, what a surprise this album was. Cruxiter are not a well-known band, as this is their first full-length and they’ve only been around for a couple of years. But it sounds like they’ve been around since the ’80s. In fact, this whole album sounds like it’s from the ’80s. Cruxiter are traditional heavy metal from the wastelands of Texas and will not disappoint one bit. It’s as if early Mercyful Fate had a ménage à trois with Manilla Road and early Iron Maiden, all while listening to ’70s guitar-driven rock. The musicianship on this album is fantastic; each song is a classic metal anthem with soaring vocals and impressive guitar riffs. Miggy Ramirez’s vocals are high-pitched and remain steady throughout — he certainly pulls off the style perfectly. The highlight of the album is “The Devils of Heavy Metal” and is one of the best songs of this style I’ve heard in quite some time. The one thing that may dissuade some listeners (and it’s a shame, at that) is the production of the album. There are no crystal-clear sounds on this album, everything is produced in a way that makes sounds like it was recorded in 1984. It adds to the retro-feel of this album, and is part of what makes this album a great listen. The album is streaming on their bandcamp page, I’d highly recommend you check it out if traditional heavy metal is your thing. Keep an eye out for this band. — James Doyle
Ten pages of reviews of this type help inform the listener on the cutting edge of underground metal, skipping the numu/indie/post gibberish, and then detour into two pages of Haiku form reviews which cut to the core of each album from a listener’s standpoint. While these are more dismissive, oftentimes they utterly nail why an album is irrelevant or why we the audience should look past style and appreciate what makes it great. These offer a counterpoint to the desire for articulation that motivates the descriptive reviews, and give a quick synopsis where that is all that is needed. They are more motivational than merely reporting the facts; this style might be useful in dismissing some of the recent material that labels pump out which requires no more than a few minutes to recognize as an archetype of fail and dismiss.
As has been the trend with the last few issues of Codex Obscurum, the editors struggle to balance a gory old-school art-driven layout with a postmodern format that is easy to read in the age of computers, tablets and whatever “et cetera” will soon encompass. An abundance of great artwork appears throughout Issue Six, with more use of graphics inserted in the text stream or offset to one side. The Acid Witch, Fister and Ritual Decay interviews could fit in either a glossy pro-printed magazine or a contraband underground zine and show an optimization of this layout style. One thing that could improve is the differentiation between interviewer and interviewee, which is currently done with the industry standard of the speaker’s initials at the start of the line. An ideal layout of this format has proved elusive, with some zines bolding the comments by the interviewee, but this like most other solutions burns more page real estate. On this site, we put the interviewer’s comments in bold because that makes them easy to skip, but also requires more paragraph space which is at a premium in a zine that has to render itself to paper instead of the limitless scrolling of modern society’s replacement for daytime television, the internet. An ideal answer may conceal itself on this issue but it is the only area where this zine proved difficult to read at a glance, which is otherwise facilitated by its clean layout with clearly separated art and well-signaled interviews with band logo at the top of each.
Issue Six continues what seems to be becoming a section in Codex Obscurum, which is an unboxing and review of Dungeons & Dragons gaming sets and lines of books. While many in the metal community seek to isolate themselves from the inner nerd inherent to all metal, a more realistic assessment shows that many metalheads are in fact nerds “in the closet” who enjoy many activities which stimulate the imagination and analytical thought process simultaneously much as D&D does. This feature goes beyond the knowledge of the casual attendee at D&D games and could stand on its own in any lifestyle or technical magazine. Among the thoughtful interviews and carefully articulated reviews, the role-playing game material fits hand in glove, and adds to the feeling of this zine as well-rounded in the underground sense, covering music and lifestyle without drifting into the product fetishism that shears mainstream magazines off from the flow of what fulfills people both as metal fans and individuals. Looking forward to seeing this zine continue to grow and develop.
We all seek a claim that our lives are worth living. For some, this comes from money; for others, being right or at least being cool. In order to achieve either or both, one must emit product, and far too often this product tries to flatter and pander to its audience rather than grow some balls and make a point. You could write an album about cooking an omelette with more passion than most bands approach topics like war, death, genocide, evil and emptiness. When the surface takes over from the core, the cart has come before the horse and all is lost, which is why we savor the sobbing tears of poseurs, tryhards and scenesters with Sadistic Metal Reviews…
Like a Storm – Awaken the Fire
In a flashback to the bad parts of the 90s, this album opens with a digeridoo before breaking into predictable hard rock riffs with heavier production and more basic rhythms. Then some guy starts singing in his best lounge lizard voice, building up to a pop chorus that could be straight off an Eagles album if they sped it up and did not worry about how truly incongruous the whole package would be. If you like speed metal trudge riffs paired with AOR favorite techniques and Coldplay-style vocals, this album might be for you. But the question remains: why even bother to release this as a metal album? Clearly it would be happier as country, pop, rock or even blues if they truncated the scenery-chewing vocals. It seems the music industry has found an update for nu-metal which is to channel it into this rock/metal hybrid which takes the angry parts of Pantera and pairs them with the smarmiest parts of overproduced, excessively pandering fraternity rock. These guys have a Titty Bingo sticker on their van. The scary thing is that the “inspirational” rock stylings here are a kissing cousin to much of what has infested power metal. But this takes it a step further to the point where what comes out of the speakers resembles the worst of corporate rock from the 90s and 00s to the point that heavier guitars cannot disguise the essential frat party rock tendency of this flaming turd. This goes well with a pukka shell necklace and lots of hair gel, with a NO FEAR sticker on the overly polished ‘stang next to the keg of Natty Light.
Abominator – Evil Proclaimed
Angelcorpse invoked a revelation in death metal, but not entirely a good one. The basic idea was to accelerate the rhythmic fill to the level of riff, such that the composer could use one or two chords in a charging rhythm much like war metal or hardcore punk, but then work in elaborate brachiated chord phrases to avoid the riff concluding in the stunningly obvious chord progression that otherwise must result. Add a bunch of these together in constant rhythm and the essence of that style shines forth. Abominator attempts to break up the constant charging and give songs more shape, as well as use actual fills which complement the riffs, but despite this effort and some inventive songwriting, the blockhead forward charging — like Cannibal Corpse working on the longer Bathory riff outtake that opened the first Angelcorpse album — continues and ruins any atmosphere except a constant tension that starts to resemble an eyestrain headache after a few songs. Speaking of songs, these are nearly indistinguishable, written at similar tempos with similar riff forms and while not random pairing of riffs, reliance on phrasal similarity to the point that songs sound like one giant charging riff with some textural flickering within. To Abominator’s credit, Evil Proclaims is a lot better than the other Angelcorpse tributes out there. Unfortunately, that’s about all that this album remains as and a few moments of power notwithstanding, remains mired in a sea of formless raging metal which never reaches a point.
Venom – “Long Haired Punks” (from From the Very Depths)
Venom are NWOBHM, not black metal; this fact flies in the face of what you will be told in 99% of the metal propaganda out there. The band themselves have never denied it. On this track however, Venom throws us a twist by sounding exactly like Motorhead except with more sudden stops at the end of each phrase where Motorhead would have kept a methamphetamine groove going. “Long Haired Punks” features punkish riffing combined with Venom’s archetypal primitive, broad leaps of tone and nearly chromatic fills. A bluesy solo that seems designed to be slightly abusive to key and chaotic accompanies this as do the purely Lemmy-styled vocals in what is essentially a verse-chorus two riff song with a bridge. The sudden pauses grow tedious within the passage of the song to newer listeners but then again, those grew up after metal assimilated Discharge, Amebix and The Exploited. For someone from 1979, this would seem like a slicker version of Venom with more emphasis on carefully picked chords and less onrushing punk energy, which makes the title ironic. It is well-composed within the limited style that Venom has preferred all these years, but attempts to update the NWOBHM stylings plus Motorhead of Venom have failed and should either be rolled back or the original style entirely discarded. This band is halfway between trying to be what it was, but in a post-1983 sound, and what it could be, which probably would resemble nothing like the original except for the raw “gut instinct” energy which unfortunately, attempts to modernize have limited. While I am not the world’s biggest Venom fan, it is hard to deny (1) their catchy punk/Motorhead/NWOBHM pop power and (2) their aesthetic influence on much but not all of underground metal, and it would be great to see this band develop into all it can be. From “Long Haired Punks,” it seems in doubt that From the Very Depths will be that evolution.
Unrest – Grindcore
The title proclaims this release as grindcore but a better description might be later punk styled as grindcore with a nod toward pop punk. These songs fit together nicely, but rely on two unfortunate things that doom them: repetition of classic punk and grindcore tropes as if they established something in themselves, and use of very much pop rhythmic hooks and song transitions. The vocals are great, the instrumentation fantastic for this genre, the melodies adequate and the rhythms good, but the meaning is not there. The recent Nausea album achieved a great deal more with less by focusing on having each song present an idea and then developing a basic, albeit circular looping context. Grindcore attempts instead the infamous “outward-in” composition of tribute bands everywhere where the need to include the tropes on the surface pushes out the need for internal structure based around a coherent thought, so songs end up being technique only, which is somewhat ironic in such a theoretically anti-technique genre. Most of these result in that “feel” of classic punk and hardcore but add to it the heavy technique of grindcore, which only serves to reveal how disorganized these tracks are. By the time they fall into imitating classic punk open chord picking and stop/start conventions halfway through the album, it has already been long clear that this is a highly competent tribute band but nothing more. To the credit of the label, production is flawless and clear without sounding too slick and the vocals are perfectly mixed. That cannot save Grindcore, nor can its periodically great guitar work, from being reliant on the crutch of imitating the past in lieu of writing songs. Maybe all the great hardcore and grindcore that could be written was long ago.
Archgoat – The Apocalyptic Triumphator
Much like the late days of hardcore, underground metal is standardizing into a war metal/death metal hybrid that emphasizes fast slamming rhythm without the obvious rock, jazz and blues breakdowns that make it clear that music belongs to the peace, love and happiness side of metal. Archgoat, by applying the structure of Scandinavian metal to the raw onslaught of Blasphemy/Sarcofago styled proto-black metal, stands as an innovator to this sub-genre which tends to combine Onward to Golgotha, Fallen Angel of Doom and Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz into a single style that like the bands which combined The Exploited, Black Flag and the Cro-Mags into a single voice, standardizes itself and becomes just about interchangeable. The sad fact of The Apocalyptic Triumphator is that a lot of good songwriting went into this album and some quality riff-writing, but this band remains literally imprisoned by the style in which they choose to create. About half of this album, preying on all of us who wish there were somewhere undiscovered in a vault another four hours of Drawing Down the Moon, borrows rhythms and arrangement patterns from that highly-esteemed work, as well as developing known riff types from the above influences. None of this is bad; however, it does not add up to enough to be compelling, like previous Archgoat works. This album represents the most professional work from this band so far and clearly exceeds any previous efforts, but the genericism of its riffs make songs indistinguishable both from one another and in terms of structure, creating the musical equivalent of listening to a flood sewer. For every good riff, four “standard” ones borrowed from the war metal/Blasphemy-tribute/Incantoclone group crowd them out. Periodic moments of greatness are balanced by a double frequency of moments of staggering obviousness which make it hard to get behind hearing this one on a regular basis. What I want to know is: what do these musicians actually idealize in music, outside of this style? Their work in such an artistically liberated medium might unleash the creativity that this narrow style suppresses.
Heaving Earth – Denouncing the Holy Throne
Disruption metal. In business, the idea of disruption is that some new entrant into the market disturbs it to the point of throwing everything else out. This should simply be thrown out. Trudging riffs, squeals, chortled vocals, mind-numbing rhythms and melodic fills that sound more like video game noises than metal. An album of this would be excruciating, doubly so if you listened to it.
Ancient Wind – The Chosen Slain
Style over substance defines this release: built on a base of melodeath, Ancient Wind regurgitates several different influences but predominantly Sodom and Wintersun. The result is a sampler plate of styles that never comes together but, because it has no topic other than the need to record something for a half hour or so, the lack of style damages nothing nor salvages anything. You are left with the typical experience of hearing something disorganized, then seeing a fat woman eat ice cream, and suddenly being unable to recall if the music had been on earlier. In one ear and out the other, if you’re lucky.
Sacrilegium – Wicher
1996, out of Poland. Like Graveland? A more conventional version of Graveland: less scary, more uptempo, more musically predictable. Sounds a lot like there was a Dimmu Borgir influence. While it’s tempting to like the style, the lack of substance suggests this album should have stayed in 1996 with the other proto-tryhards.
Battle Beast – Unholy Savior
An album’s worth of that one song your junkie ex-girlfriend is really into. For Lady Gaga listeners who like the sound of electric guitars. Halestorm meets fantasy. Daddy-issues metal. I’m out of jokes, just don’t listen to this.
Idolatry creates basic black metal with a flowing melodic inner structure despite its raw exterior. The strikingly morose atmosphere of the music is what appealed to me the most. The mood is sometimes reminiscent of the sounds of Les Légions Noires with hints of early Norwegian Black Metal.
Songs consist of basic structure and interestingly well-executed rhythms evoking the aura of death. The vocals here are throaty rasps displaying the deepest soul-tormenting hate, accompanied with heinous war cries to add to the overall dynamics. Drums set a fluid but standard pattern, yet are skillfully implemented and complement the tempos, mostly going from slow to mid-pace. Idolatry proves that blast beats are not a requirement in creating an intense atmosphere. Nothing here pushes any boundaries but competently executes a variety of black metal at doom metal paces. Of note are the vocals which expand beyond rhythmic and acoustic frame to rage all over the place, sounding more like a commentary on the song itself from a nearby mental ward than an integrated part of the music.
Production creates a “raw” Finnish second wave texture and through some form of sonic sorcery retains a clean delivery of the work despite this acidic texture. Imagine Mütiilation (Vampires of Black Imperial Blood era), Graveland (Carpathian Wolves era), Mayhem (De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas era), involving some more recent touches from the likes of Craft and Pseudogod, melted together into an album with the pace of Samael.
Commanded by Witchblood composer Megan Leo, Idis Örlög creates acoustic folk music with accompaniment by flutes, pipes and other indigenous European instruments, sounding very much like a better version of the Celtic and German pagan folk bands which show up at Renaissance Faires across the United States. What makes The Spiral Tide of Seasons stand out is its capacity for capturing a mood that is less influenced by popular music and more concerned with the timeless and original, expanding on its themes with a perspective that carries forward the eternalist thoughts of black metal into a new genre.
Songs feature guitar as the primary instrument but are guided by Leo’s voice, which is alternatingly soothing and harsh, and uses that variety more in the way a storyteller would than in the flattering methods of bands you hear in bars. Absent are excessively hookish choruses over decorative verses, and in their place songs find a gentle pace of narration which allows lyrics and sound to coexist much as they have in the bardic tradition for centuries. As each song develops, it achieves a different kind of intensity by melding and subtracting the different layers of voice and instrument, shaping not just an atmosphere but a relationship between the vocals and the individual human. Although an acoustic guitar features primarily in this process, the style of playing more resembles the selective picking of unique textures of black metal than the rote application of known crowd-pleaser patterns that you find with coffeehouse ballads. These songs find their own pace and their own destination, which allows the instruments and vocals to follow along like a descriptive chorus, instead of shoving “emotional” moments into our faces repetitively like the kumbaya rockers do.
While many of us are still scarred from the burst of popularity in the 1990s that brought us Jewel and other new age acoustic folk players, Idis Örlög takes a different pace which more resembles the tradition of sung poetry than the popular music tradition of self-based description. Its songwriter knows how to make a phrase not just infectious to the ear, but develop over time into an appreciation within the listener for it and its related musical ideas, crafting a varied and unfolding experience while detaching its audience from the mundanity of everyday existence and immersing them in a different world.
Black metal like most underground metal compares to Romantic art because it has a passion for nature, the raw power of the universe and the emotions which are true in the human being. This inherently rejects the false madness of the madding crowd but most fans of Romantic literature never get to that phase and translate its meaning into nature fetishism and self-pity. Infamous restore the Romanticism to metal with a dark nature worship album that preserves the savage beauty of this genre.
Deriving its basic approach from what can only be described as the more ambitious early Ancient compositions applied to the thematic material of early Enslaved, albeit translated to a country far from the frozen north, Of Solitude and Silence drops into a lush series of melodies that maintain distinctive shape and expression in both rhythm and tone, allowing Infamous to weave songs of multiple contrasting themes that conclude in a beautiful rising of mood from within. These are outright sentimental, like work from Graveland, Sorcier des Glaces or Immortal on Pure Holocaust, but if you can get over that vulnerable yet accessible and stately violent emotion, much excellent songwriting is found therein. Infamous primarily rely on the renowned black metal high speed tremolo strum overly slowly changing drum patterns, aided by reverb and closet-muffled production in achieving its atmospheric ends, but the strength of each song comes from the ability to put riffs together in a coherent form which nonetheless maintains internal contrast to create the sensation of motion and change outside the individual, which is where the essence of the black metal sound (and Romantic poetry) originates.
Instrumentation takes a path for simple but effective, with guitars avoiding complex technique in favor of complex riffs of basic power chords and arpeggiated chords at a slower polyrhythmic strum. At some point, this drummer has listened to a fair amount of hardcore or Oi, possibly even verging into Ildjarn-worship. But the essence of this release remains the flowing longer instrumentals of early black metal experimentation, a source of great potential it never followed up on, and by indulging these in a layered sense of emotion Infamous creates an entirely transporting musical journey. While this one fell off the radar for most of us, it presents one of the more capable and visionary concepts of black metal after the first wave from Norway.
A few speak the truth, but most lie, not because they mean badly but because they think it helps them “get ahead.” Later do they learn that unearned merit simply means they are trapped in a world of having to uphold false images and it destroys their souls. To avoid this, we just cut the chaff from the wheat with pure linguistic and musical cruelty. Welcome to the latest installment of Sadistic Metal Reviews: come for the tears, stay for the (occasional) corn in the turd.
Rippikoulu – Musta Seremonia
Musta Seremonia is clearly B-level death metal that imitates many of those that went before it in the 1989-1991 period. It is excessively primitive, like Grave or Obscurity. Much of it tries to be doom metal, which is — with a few notable exceptions — boring music for boring people. Expect cudgel-primitive low-end power chords rumbling against each other and moveable melodic patterns which create an atmosphere of forward motion and near-symmetry. Like the best of the doom-death slice of the death metal genre, including Asphyx, Miasma, early Atrocity and Funerus, this band creates a grinding atmosphere but refuses to make it wholly repetitive, creating the sense of a plane flying through a ruined city to observe new interactions each time like disconnected visions of a mad prophet. The point is to lower you into the darkness and not let you up, which is excellent as an experience but like many bands in the doom genre, probably not an everyday experience. Unlike its contemporaries, Rippikoulu understand how to put contrast into a song and yet keep it focused on a goal of expression, even if in utter primitivism this goal is so basic as to be very similar from song to song… If this band falls down, it is the intersection of the disadvantages above that brings it down: the B-level death metal with citations in rhythm or melody from Amorphis, Incantation and Deicide; the repetition and relative similarity of approach; and the extremely basic nature of these riffs which, as in Swedish bands like Uncanny and Suffer, can create a sense of pervasive doom bordering on total entropy instead of preparing us for reconquest of the wasteland in the name of terror. And yet, Musta Seremonia lives on with infectious rhythms and a distinctive presence to itself which distinguishes it from others who have traveled this lonely path. It is less rhythmically recursive than Grave, and songs hold together better than Obscurity, and it does not fall into the reheated speed metal patterns which doom Insanity and Num Skull. It simply thunders, aiming to be primitive and basic in the same way Belial or Agonized. While this will not hold a candle to the best of Finland, like Demigod Slumber of Sullen Eyes or even Amorphis The Karelian Isthmus, it stands above the other retrospective acts for at least having a sense of purpose.
Deconstructing Sequence – Access Code
Tragically progressive and technical metal have become gigwise, or in other words are composed for an existing audience on the basis of what they have liked in the past, instead of forging their own path to attract an audience on the musical merits of the composition. Deconstructing Sequence launch into this arena with a highly informed, creative and periodically musically elegant entry which bears a second look. The surface adornment will unfortunately drive away many die-hard fans and simultaneously attract the type of greebos who were drawn to Opeth because it made them look musically profound among the fedora m’lady crowd of NEETs and hipsters. Much of the surface aesthetic involves voice overs about space landings, lead guitars that cleverly emulate the beeps and quirks of digital computers, and jazz fusion-inspired riffing that mates the ultra-texturalism of Meshuggah with the harmonic depth that bands like Dream Theatre and Gorguts used to establish contrast for their melodic themes. A mixture of Pestilence from its technical years with Dream Theatre and Meshuggah might accurately describe the sound, but the composition here hearkens back to simpler — think Rush or Camel-level — interpretations of mid-1970s classic progressive rock, although this is sometimes hard to find under the layers of postmodern configuration. Underneath all the layers, much of the riffing here as in Meshuggah is the same early 1980s speed metal where guitar serves a purely rhythmic role with a secondary melodic role, as harmony is impossible, thus adopting the chromatic fills that death metal later turned into phrase; a comparison between Meshuggah and Linkin Park is appropriate because they both have their origins in blending this essentially keyless, harmonically-moveable style with jazz fusion and rap/rock respectively. If I have any advice for this band, it is to lose everything but the music. We’ll understand the space exploration theme from the cover and the Hal 9000 guitar noises. Then it might make sense to worry less about writing the heavier riffs and to focus instead on why people will like you, which is your harmonically-rich composition in which melodies stand out in context and are not used as a production quirk-cum-purpose as they are in most “melodic death metal” bands. Access Code compares favorably to works from Sadist and other progressive death metal bands even if its heart shares dual loyalties in the 1990s and 1970s.
Sacrocurse – Unholier Master
If you want to make metal strong, be hard on metal, especially of the type you like best. Otherwise, in the absence of quality control, that which is mediocre and predictable but familiar gets promoted and any musician who wants his or her work to be heard will avoid that genre like the plague. This is the problem with the NWN/FMP attitude toward classic metal, which is to find an aesthetic imitator that is “true” by being extreme and unrelenting and uphold it as an ideal. These bands are neither satisfying with the same musical punch as the individuals had, nor do they present a quality level markedly different from the newer metalcore hybrids, and thus they maintain a small but diehard audience while driving everyone else toward the newer material. In this way, the “underground” labels maintain a symbiotic relationship with the big media pap labels dumping warmed over hardcore with jazz fusion fixins onto a clueless audience. Unholier Master on its surface fits the underground with charging power chord riffs and extreme death metal vocals under high-speed drumming. The problem is that every riff on this album is excruciatingly obvious and repetitive, song development is near zero, and the main focus has thus become the vocals chanting repetitive but semi-catchy choruses. This reduces death metal to the same level of entropy that speed metal hit toward the end of the 1980s when tons of bands appeared who composed with almost exclusively chromatic rhythm music and hoped to distinguish themselves with vocals and increasingly random guitar solos. This album is an insult to the underground; throw it out and embrace natural selection instead, or you weaken death metal with your good intentions.
Monuments – The Amanuensis
Excruciating: soaring Gospel-like power metal suddenly breaks into some dude… rapping… in a death metal vocal. The album proceeds in this pattern, with simplified (but less chromatic) Meshuggah style riffing banging out hard rock tunes and then, as if nu-metal went underground, the rap-influenced death vocals kick in. The whole thing seems designed to distract at any given moment which is probably palliative care for the listener who presumably could not be dissuaded from putting the album on and, short of a power failure, will not be immediately delivered from it. Not only is the heavy metal part of this music as cheesy as humanly possible, the brocore rap/metalcore side of it is as insulting to the intelligence as possible. If you are a person of no intelligence who likes stupid things because they make it seem like the world is compatible with your utter lack of positive mental attributes, purchase this immediately and get the tshirt too so we can spot you at a distance, adjust for windage and elevation, and do what is necessary. An experienced listener hearing this is immediately embarrassed for the band, and those who listen, and those who accidentally must hear this album, which would confirm every negative stereotype of metal (maybe it is a counter-astroturfing effort by vegan techno bands). It combines everything stupid in rock, rap, metal and inspirational music into a single ball of string which drips a fermented slime of human oblivion over all that it touches. While normally I oppose censorship, this album makes me re-think censorship on a level of excluding bands of poor musical quality, since all this album does is create a heap of landfill that even bacteria will find insults their intelligence.
Infra – Initiation on the Ordeals of Lower Vibration
From the tryhard realm of the underground comes love for a new type of band that combines the simplistic Blasphemy/Incantation clone with “high art” and produces music that seems stately, deep and profound. Somehow all of these bands explore spiritual philosophies or ancient religious texts and invent large mythos for themselves. This parallels the tendency of nu-metalcore acts to write about whatever literature they remember from high school, or spiritualist topics of peace and love like Cynic did, which is a way for metal bands to improve their image through pretense. The problem with this approach is that it leads to a flood of metaphysical bullshit which is ill-advised for bands to mention. This band from Portugal, and that fact seems important from the bio, makes this new hybrid low/high-brow grinding black metal. Where Blasphemy channeled the id, this music may be too self-conscious, but is nonetheless well-executed but from these two tracks create a lukewarm effect because song-form and “purpose” rather than content dictate what occurs in each song. Thus we have songs about songs, a kind of theory about black metal, and they never come to a point. Further, they like to stack primitive riffs up against melodic ones, which creates a kind of “precious” response which is every bit as contrived as numu bands switching from distortion and shouting on the verses to acoustic and singing on the choruses. On Initiation on the Ordeals of Lower Vibrations, the black metal moments express themselves and fade into the background as we wait for Profound Moments… but these come not from this kind of preciousness, but in the form of melodic/atmospheric material that exemplifies the best of the old school, both simple and evocative of events in life.
Bleed – Seven Billion Demons
What is it that is so appalling about judging a band by its style? It is OK with some forms, clearly, since no one ever said “Well, you shouldn’t write that band off just because they’re disco.” But in metal we shy away from it, ignoring the fact that some styles are designed to reduce music to what attracts like moths to flame the most basic, blockheaded and purposeless human tendencies. Brocore is one such genre, and while Bleed is clearly above-the-fold brocore, it is still brocore: the ranting speed metal of Pantera, updated with the chromatic riff texture noodling of Meshuggah, but simplified to fit around hard rock chord progressions in the background, against which all the riffery serves as simply decoration. Thus when you peer down into the core of this album you find something closer to Look What the Cat Dragged In or Hysteria than Meshuggah or Pantera, just done up in a new (or should I say… “nu”) aesthetic for a new generation of the credulous and inexperienced who will spend their parents’ money on dreck that will keep the slacker jobs program known as the music industry operating for another year. No offense intended slackers, and none taken; as a proud slacker I defend the right of everyone to slack off as appropriate, but wish the music industry would admit this fact and stop wasting time with clear filler. Nothing on Seven Billion Demons is badly executed and in fact the album as a whole is quite professional, just empty, like a streetcar at night or an entry-level job. Thus if you have a soul — and you might if you’ve kept reading this far, not sure — you should probably avoid this. But if you’re looking for Brocore 2.0 and something to chant along with as you drink beer and (no homo) wrestle with your buddies at a keg party on the beach, Seven Billion Demons may be for you. Kegstand!
This re-issue gives a classic black metal treatment to this underground powerhouse, which previously was heard as being more of a death metal album owing to its production more resembling that of the Incantation/Revenant vein of metal, in addition to many of its riffs fitting within the same form. With more spacious sound, the album sounds more distant and less loud which gives it a background resembling that of the Norse black metal which inspired the first wave of black metal. This more resonant sound brings out more of the tone in these songs and allows the melodic sense to shine, giving the album as a whole less abrasion but more atmosphere. As if to underscore this choice, the re-issue includes “The Ode to Eternal Darkness,” a nine-minute song which emphasizes the building of mood through repetition with internal melody in the style of black metal bands recognized more for their melodic sensibility. Although I am a sentimental bastard prone to like what I know, I prefer this mix to the original or the intermediate re-issue and hope the same treatment is given to other Demoncy albums which remain under-recognized despite their high quality.
With art by Chris Moyen and this powerful new sound, the Forever Plagued Records re-issue of Joined in Darkness stands poised to introduce a new generation of fans to one of the top handful of black metal releases to come from the New World.
The music fan possesses limited resources to achieve the goal of an enjoyable listening experience: time, money and energy. Reviewers tend to write about how cool everything is, but they should be writing about how mediocre most albums are so they can focus on the few that can be enjoyed for the next few years at least. It is hard to be cruel, but it is kinder than kindness. With that I introduce our latest round of Sadistic Metal Reviews…
Villainy – Villainy I
This enjoyable little romp reminds the death metal listener of later Sentenced crossed with the Venom-worship of Nifelheim and other bands who, in the old school days, were simply referred to as Venom tributes. Heavy metal genre riffing, combining the best tropes of the late 1970s and early 1980s, meets a harsh Cronos-styled vocal and updated technique. Nothing sloppy here; the band are tight and the arrangements show no spurious detail. However, despite the somewhat harsh vocals, like Venom this is NWOBHM and 1970s heavy metal revivalism without any particular relevance beyond that era. It skips speed metal textures for a death/black metal styled fast strum and continuous drumming as if taking notes from Merciless, and injects melody, but mostly stays within verse-chorus with introductory and transitional riffs different. The riff forms will be familiar to fans of heavy metal from that era. Lead guitar strikes a pentatonic blitz that is both enjoyable and very much within form. Unlike Merciless however this album focuses on writing hard rocking tunes and does not develop an evolving mood or atmosphere beneath.
Tenebrous – Arias Toward the Black Sun
Underground metal needs a new trope for a certain type of composition which appears frequently among our ranks. I dub this “80s situational comedy” after the movies where a character makes a bad decision, then to hide it chooses another bad option, then deceives and conceals in a string of events leading to absurdity and eventual plot collapse. Sitcom metal occurs when a band finds a riff they like and write other riffs to fit that riff without having an awareness of what the riff communicates emotionally to the listener, thus what the song is actually about, and so you end up with a cool riff and reactions to that riff which are designed to put it into context but ultimately have the opposite effect. Tenebrous fits this pattern through its work in a style that combines a whole lot of Graveland with some of the more aggressive strains of black metal. They have mastered the basic flowing riff, but not building a song around it, only building a song commenting on it. This is underscored by the cover of “Unpunished Herd” which ends the album and makes the rest of it look incoherent in contrast.
Pagan Flames – Symbol de Vie et Lumiere
This atmospheric black metal band combines Burzum-styled lead folk melodies over sweeping guitar riffs. Its strength is its melodic composition; its weaknesses are its vocals, which focus on rhythms that are too obvious and thus trite, and its tendency to try to work slamming full-stop and bounce rhythms into what should be a more continuous architecture. Barring those two disadvantages, Symbol de Vie et Lumiere presents black metal that unlike most recent efforts tries for the ancient, melancholic and epic warlike sound that made this genre popular before idiots invaded with thinly-disguised rock music to keep the mouth-breathers occupied. Many of these songs verge on being folk music itself and like the Darkthrone sidepoject Storm, feature trudging rhythms over which pagan lyrics are chanted to volkisch-reminiscent melodies. The fractured aesthetic presented by the overly busy vocals and tendency toward self-interruption with choppier rhythms narrowly keeps this album from being top tier but it distinguishes itself on its essence — attempting to write actual music through melody — from the formless legions of tryhards, shoegazers and hard rockers trying to use black metal as a vehicle for their own failed prior attempts at other genres.
Skrømt – Sjelebrann
Not since Disharmonic Orchestra Not to be Undimensional Conscious has a hybrid of this variety yet which retained its ability to express itself been cast among the metal minions. Skrømt combine alternative metal, post-metal, rough punk and older black metal influences (Ancient, Enslaved) into a form which keeps the catchy songwriting of indie rock bands but fleshes it out with a rich backdrop of shifting harmonic texture and, like metal, combines multiple riffs into chains to create a moveable part of a narrative. For the most part, songs stick to verse-chorus as augmented by background material and sometimes with a second instrumental chorus to expand upon the first loop. Like alternative metal, songs guide themselves through the vocals and the presentation of lyrics in a combination of shouted, sung and harsh vocals. Where this goes wrong is that rock and metal do not mix on an aesthetic and thus artistic level, and so the end result is rock gilded with metal riffs which are quickly absorbed, and some of the best work of this album exists in the shadow of the alternative rock tropes that it stands far superior to. This is unfortunate as clearly many good ideas and musical insights went into this album. Most inspiring in this release is the technical work applied to making the various riffs and styles fit together. It is rare for a band to understand how to connect different emotions together without following a blatant formula, but Skrømt stitches together multiple moods and styles into a coherent whole on a musical level, even if making it work on an aesthetic level seems difficult.
Church of the Dead – Vol. 4 – Meet Me in the Tomb
The term “cultural appropriation” seems trendy these days but few realize what it means. Blatant theft of the cultural methods of another group is too easily detected, so people appropriate those cultural methods by translating them into a form that most will not recognize. In this case, while Church of the Dead clearly uses death metal riffs and death metal vocals, its vocal rhythms are influenced by rap and its riff rhythms are closer to Motown than standard issue death metal. Thus while this disc shows some musical promise, it remains a confused aberration that wants to be in one genre but keeps itself in another, losing the spirit and atmosphere of that genre. Each piece tends to feature both Cannibal Corpse style trope cadence rhythm vocals and sing-song jingle-style vocals, making these hard to listen to without a wincing cringe, but also internalizes groove to the point where riffs take a basis in Morbid Angel and Malevolent Creation and become closer to Pantera. As a result, despite the many positives for this album, the overall negative is that its overall presentation is bouncy, poppy, and very much “rock” and not metal in form.
Deep Wound – Deep Wound EP
At some level all hardcore punk approximates the same thing because the genre solidified certain tropes and combined with the mathematical limitations on complexity, these defined the variety of punk songs. Deep Wound creates songs that sound either like Black Flag without the dissonance, or early Corrosion of Conformity without so many pauses. The vocals strikes a jaunty and sarcastic pause when they are not in full blur mode. As far as thrash goes, this is closer to the punk side like the first DRI LP, and its riffs are less metal than hardcore in minor key, but it beats the recent “crossover thrash” rebranding that verges too much on speed metal territory and becomes either tame or inanely jingle-y as a result. The hardcore spirit lives faithfully in this music but because of the vast similarity of hardcore, it also does not stand out in any particular way — riffs are not radically different, nor song forms, nor even vocals — so qualifies as a fun listen but not as definitive as the albums from DRI, Cryptic Slaughter and COC that defined thrash as a genre. However, this stands head and shoulders above the “party thrash” of recent years and by coming at the genre from the hardcore side, brings in an energetic simplicity that metal riffs make too complex to self-sustain.
Nidsang – Into the World of Dissolving Flames
Basic black metal combined with Angelcorpse-style aggression, but leaning on the latter for songwriting. As a result, not much atmosphere but plentiful aggression. Melodic riffing adds some depth but consistent song form and intensity rob this album of much enduring power.
Aborted – The Necrotic Manifesto
Aborted took their high-intensity low-complexity grind and gave it the modern metal (a/k/a deathcore) treatment which made it more chaotic. The more elements you add, the more internal complexity (melody, structure, theme) you must have or you reduce your core complexity to nothing, which is what happens here. Catchy chorus + two grinding riffs + hard rock influences.
Abysmal Dawn – Obsolescence
Workable death metal with heavy metal influences in abundant lead soloing, melodic riffing and catchy choruses. Very paint-by-numbers however with not much of an intent to put anything into a song but energy and internal cohesion. Good riffs give it strength but do not make it compelling; modern-metal-style chanted choruses ahead of the riff also increase frustration.
Cemetery Fog – Towards the Gates
This attempt at Paradise Lost-styled doom metal is both well-composed and artistically relevant, but highly cheesy from the use of melodies that directly gratify pop instincts to the occasional female vocals which aesthetically create the type of cheese that Motley Crue could only dream of. Songs are well-written and express a unique form and content for each, even though they drone on through a series of heavy metal riffs slowed down and are united by a melodic lead shadowed by vocals. While not bad, this makes the album as a whole somewhat sentimental in the sort of obvious Thomas Kinkade calendar way that drives away people like me, but it would be remiss to not notice the quality of songwriting here.
Abigor – Leytmotif Lucifer
Black metal needs to stay black metal. Abigor try to work in late Gorgoroth through early Deathspell Omega influences and it makes their already spotty music more spotty. Some good melodies, no continuity, too much style.
Aevangelist – Writhes in the Murk
Imagine Teitanblood with melodic riffing and slowed down to fast mid-paced death metal. The one cool effect here is the use of abrupt transitions to create a theatrical effect, but the lack of underlying riff and song consistency makes even this seem hollow.
Bethlehem – Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia
Most will notice the creeping Rammstein influence: clean vocals, more dance-able beats, more pronounced use of German lyrics. However, a good deal of this sounds like recent Absurd as well with more of a folk influence creeping in and while the rhythms are more popular music friendly, they are far from industrial, and what appears instead more resembles NWOBHM with more groove than the quasi-modernist sound of Rammstein. Otherwise, the riff wizardry remains but is muted, with more emphasis on vocals and repetitive choruses, but generally these songs fit together well musically and develop an internal melodic sense that produces a multifacted atmosphere.
Agatus – Dawn of Martyrdom (re-issue)
Sort of like a cross between Legion of Doom and old Rotting Christ, Agatus uses the full punk style of even strumming speed creating droning riffs. These are pleasurable in themselves, and fit together well in songs, but they are both too obvious as melodies/phrases and too similar as rhythm riffs to make this work. In addition, many of the melodic choices here are simply rudimentary crossing into bad. This could have been an epic album if a more critical eye had been applied during composition.
Acheron – Kultes des Hasses
The challenge to Acheron has always been to overcome their cadenced rhythm that comes to a full stop in perfect symmetry, sounding a bit like a child’s song. On this latest album they work up the usual assortment of great riffs in bad rhythm and occasional disorganized order.
Baphometh – In the Beginning
Essentially speed metal with plenty of repetition, catchy choruses and circular song structure, this band nonetheless adopts death metal vocals. However, it is better for fans of B-rated Metallica and Exodus clones than anything newer. While none of this is incompetent, songs have no center around any kind of conflict, so the general mode is repetition and circularity.
Authorize – The Source of Dominion
Thudding, predictable, circular and confused, Authorize are Swedish death metal in the style of Suffer but with none of what holds songs together or makes them anything but basic guitar practice. Lead guitars totally incongruous, other elements equally out of place. Should have stayed unreleased.
Aurora Borealis – Worldshaper
The melodic death metal band works Absu-style jaunty vocals into the mix, but they take over composition too much. Riffs follow the vocal lead which dominants rhythm and creates a kind of circus atmosphere with the MC describing each act and then the trained bears of the riffs, clowns of the background vocals and highwire dancers of guitars take over. Sounds a lot like Warfather but more melody.
For those who wanted more of Following the Voice of Blood, Woodtemple approximates this style in longer songs that allow a range of emotion to create a backstory to the dominant mood of darkness and ambiguity. Often these take the form of folksinger style acoustic (or at least sans distortion) strumming of simple melodies which reflect often pastoral moods, before contrast with abrupt tempo change to the darker black metal tremolo or churning slow strum in the style inspired by Mayhem/Thorns but taken to a darker place. While these two tracks sound like they could have come off the Graveland album, the emotional outlook for Woodtemple is both more naturalistic and more varied.
Vocals follow an entirely open pattern that comments at half-speed to the pace of the riff, with guitars enfolding internal texture through strumming speed and variation among strings creating an empty and lonely sound, allowing songs to background drums to a faster pace without making the guitars pick up speed, although creating a background of urgency. Often dual guitar tracks create a clear voice of simple strumming over a brooding, distorted sound, building up a tension of instability and threat within the sound. Songs tend to move in a cyclic pattern through multiple riffs that return to a chorus riff and vocal pattern through the contrast created by other pairs of riffs warring it out to establish a mood to contrast the dominant theme.
Hidden in Eternal Shadow creates the experiment black metal should have embarked on earlier in creating the intense dark atmosphere for which the genre is known, and then manipulating it like a mural, taking it to different places as a means of creating context and showing the origin of the melancholic morbidity. This follows up on the experiments of the Graveland/Lord Wind early years which attempted to find a folk voice in black metal that was not merely surfacing, as in the “Viking metal” (power metal with Norse lead guitar melodies and styling) of the time, and does so successfully by creating a new form of ambience which both drones and builds upon itself to the point of expression of melody. For this reason, Hidden in Eternal Shadow shows not just Woodtemple at its strongest but black metal evolving to pick up the promise it birthed and nurture it further toward the creation of what might be a new genre.