Chthe’ilist – Le Dernier Crépuscule (2016)

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Article by David Rosales

Chthe’ilist’s debut has been expected by underground death metal fans for some time.  To them, it seems like a promising project faithful to the ideals of atmospheric technical bands such as Demilich and Timeghoul, from whom it takes unmistakable cues. Less fortunate are the influences of popular (in the underground) but ultimately less effective acts Rippikoulu and Crematory. The first two lend a constructive helping hand while Crematory’s contribution distracts with purely technical and empty nonsense detached from clear evocation, and the unimpressive Rippikoulu lends its spacious approach that suffers from the blunders of Wagnerian operas: sparsely located treasures in a sea of boredom. Worth mentioning are a couple of very Voivodesque moments that are surprisingly integrated in a way that they do not seem out of place.

There are several reasons why this release is worth taking a close look at independently of how close we consider it to come to a masterpiece. Existing reviews come awfully short of a real musical insight, opting instead to spend a huge chunk of the time in talking about how cool the guys in the band are, or how ‘awesome’ the vibe is. They are utterly useless when they reach their faux attempts at providing any meaningful observations on the technical side of things. At most, they manage a colorful picture of the mental impressions that the music gives them; this at least is inspiring. Chthe’ilist’s album gives us so much more to discuss not only from its plentiful contents but what they relate to as descendants and composers.

In the interest of a well-rounded critique, Le Dernier Crépuscule should be observed from two different vantage points. The first is to place it within its historical context, and keep present whatever musical influences it appears to have. The second is to ignore everything but our intuition (which is dependent on past experience and understanding, in any case), so that we allow it to articulate and speak out for itself as it draws energy from predecessors we take notice only as an afterthought.

I. Technical Overview

Le Dernier Crépuscule can be roughly divided into two sections, the first consisting of the first five tracks and the second of the remaining two. The first track itself should probably be excluded as it is little more than an intro. The structuring of the next four follows a certain pattern while the last two each follow a freer approach than the one preceding them. The first is Crematory-dominated, while the last increasingly shows a predominant Timeghoul presence. Throughout the record one finds Demilich’s riff style in about half of the individual riffs. This emulation ranges from almost outright shoplifting from Nespithe to more respectable yet still recognizable inspiration. The rest of the riffs also contain the less distinct (read as ‘more random’) but technically recognizable influence of Crematory and some war metal filler while the more creative and original single sections probably come from general Timeghoul influence, which allows for more open interpretation.

Tracks two to five follow a rough plan of riff variations1 lined up one after the other until the solo comes to mark a climax, after which there is a reiteration of previous material and the song ends. It is the “easy way out” of death metal structures, albeit expanded by a greater quantity of riffs. Le Dernier Crépuscule takes the most relaxed route when it comes to conceptualization as well, choosing to go for Crematory’s2 brand of strands of riff variations connected in riff salad manner. Now, Crematory’s style is marked by another particular aspect, and that is that it places technical flare and variety at the top of its priority list. Its choice of allowing runs of related riffs is more the following of what was in vogue at the time, since one can observe that songwise, there is very little keeping it all together but the general tag of the genre. Something similar happens to these first songs by Chthe’ilist.

The sixth and seventh tracks are clearly steeped in a more progressive mindset, allowing for creativity to bubble up as the band tries to craft a narrative. This is conducted with far more success on the last track, ‘Tales of the Majora Mythos Part 1″, than on the hybrid ‘Vecoiitn’aphnaat’smaala’. This emphasis on following a far-reaching narrative reaches formidable proportions in this last track where I would venture to call it a storyline. Variety in riff type is actually richer here than anywhere else in the album, yet through this story-telling technique (that is very much reminiscent of the dramatic flair of Timeghoul on Panaramic Twilight) Chthe’ilist achieves something beyond mere coherence — a smooth flow of ideas connected through careful considerations in texture and rhythmic contrast between sections. These considerations must reach further than adjacent riffs or mere riff-strands so that the song itself does not fall apart.

Unfortunately, although this last track shows us the brightest future for Chthe’ilist, Monsieur Tougas has yet to learn how to finish a song, and what could be an incredible opus is watered down by an unsure appendage after the coda following the solo, a four-minute long welling up of unnecessary nothingness. Content-wise, this adds nothing to the song except confusion, since it is mostly noise and blast beats, which we may presume is an ill-achieved attempt at creating ambience3. The rest of the song itself might be as clear-minded as Timeghoul’s best work, but it is still a work in progress.

I. Aural Impressions

Le Dernier Crépuscule is constantly touted as “Lovecraftian death metal”, and while I get the reference, it seems to me that the character of the music is much more cartoonish than even the original stories, which is saying a lot considering that Lovecraft’s work is already minimalist pulp horror. Taking only a chunk from this author’s work and making a concept album out of it becomes a bit redundant after 2 or 3 songs, and in this album I mostly hear At the Mountains of Madness with some more general references to the Cthulhu mythos towards the end. This limitation results in a bloated album with more words than actual things to say.

In fact, I’d say that for a Lovecraftian experience this is too limited. Timeghoul’s sound, for instance, is very appropriate for expanding on the whole range of cloudy feelings and visages that Lovecraft exposes, not only the mouth-tentacles of his famous monster-deity. Proof of this is that while a Demilich sound on a Crematory template can at most show entrails and guts and an in-your-face horror, the last track had me catching glimpses of R’lyeh through the oceanmist. In Lovecraft you find not only the gnarly gore of slimy and ghoulish creatures, but visitations to otherworldly views in a variety of dream states, alienation from reality expressed through either an increasingly horrifying vision of the world or just not knowing at which side of the sleep curtain it lies.

Lovecraft condenses the very essence of the death metal spirit in its several manifestations and a project with the gigantic potential of Chthe’ilist is surprisingly limited in its choice of evocation, while playing around withtoo many riffs than needed in what appears to be that Crematory-like bloating of content for its own sake with little reference to anything beyond it. Chthe’ilist has a potential of ‘epic proportions’, as the common saying goes. It could have us contemplating at Algol, wondering… it could take us on a bizarre journey through perilous Kadath, and it could make us doubt the very truthfulness of our material existence. In short, it could be the long-awaited metal Messiah that crystallizes the whole of Lovecraftian experience from the essence of the most meaningful obscure acts of the past. But it isn’t.

III. Integral Critique

Bringing together the last two discussions allows us to properly discuss the results Chthe’ilist has achieved. Most bands seem to create a division between music making and lyrical topics, which is not necessarily a bad decision if everything is flowing from a same wellspring of inspiration. The pitfall of this approach is that the sources could end up being distinct, even if compatible, so that the impact of either is dulled by even the slightest hint of cognitive dissonance. This dissonance may even occur in music that is supposedly unified with its lyrical content, and in the case of technically-oriented bands like Chthe’ilist it usually comes about in the form of what could be called ‘riff distraction’.

Riff distraction is a phenomenon that consists of the metal artist losing sight of perspective as he lies on the floor, dull-sensed on proverbial soma. This sends riff-writers off in a mythical quest for the perfect riff combination until they end up with a mass of exciting but ultimately meaningless mumbo jumbo. This is the plague that afflicts this release; its most obvious priority seems to be riff-making, and the clearest sign of a climax is the guitar solo. This album’s is very intentional and varied, but with no precise evocative purpose in mind, so that this huge ball of varied rhythms ends up being a uniform mass when seen from afar. The guitar solo, then, becomes the only way of bringing the song to a breaking point so that at least something in the landscape stands out as a signaling agent for the ending to come with at least a semblance of an excuse.

Alas, the limitation that is holding back Chthe’ilist lies in the mindset of Master Tougas: his towering talent and creative juices ooze with latent power, but his imagination appears to be held back by rationalist prejudices of modern thought that reduce a powerful mythos to mere cartoon. This results in tongue-in-cheek funny horror, which may be an overplaying of the purposely awkward feeling of Demilich that is often perceived simply as funny yet interesting. Timeghoul’s immense aural depth could be the answer here, as the flexibility of its approach lies in the dramatic expansion of predefined techniques within a limited (yet more varied, at the same time) vocabulary that makes even its most complex statements convincing and manifestly intelligible4.

IV. Final Remarks

As pretentious as the thousands of words I’ve already written might make me sound, I would still like to encourage Monsieur Tougas to continue this general line of thinking, while paying closer attention to composition and evocation aspects that lead to a stronger narrative in longer songs. These seem to possess, at least in their present state, the greatest potential of his technical and atmospheric style. His work can bring to reality not only what Timeghoul could have become, but something beyond it, with a long-awaited deftly and graciously applied riffcraft inspired by Demilich. Ditch the Crematory when it comes to structuring decisions, and refactor out any content that isn’t completely indispensable5.

Personally, when it comes to heavily-charged albums such as Le Dernier Crépuscule, I hold a 10-time listening policy: testing how well and in what manner a music album holds up after listening to it completely the first ten times in less than a few days. This has several interesting effects, the first of which is that initial shock effects fade away, technical flare appears more fixed to context, everything gains perspective. Sadly, this album only made it to six listens before losing its luster, and this is mainly because the overall structure of songs and the character they evoke fall into place as an integral whole, revealing the utter simplicity lying behind the tons of riffs and tasty guitar licks.

The reason why the most convincing underground metal has almost always come from the minds that are most “out there” is because their music flows from deeply-ingrained convictions, veritable nightmares that are as real as the sun’s burning sensation, or the excruciating pain of sincere longing for a different reality. While your metal remains “meta”, while it remains only a “fun” way of exploring “spooky” images that are “not real”, your metal will also remain a laughable cartoon.

In earlier ages, as instinctive concepts welled up in the mind of man, his conscious mind could no doubt integrate them into a coherent psychic pattern. But the “civilized” man is no longer able to do this. His “advanced” consciousness has deprived itself of the means by which the auxiliary contributions of the instincts and the unconscious can be assimilated. These organs of assimilation and integration were numinous symbols, held holy by common consent.

In earlier times, these principles were worshiped in all sorts of rituals, which at least showed the psychic significance they held for man. But now they have become mere abstract concepts.

— Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols

1 By riff variation, I mean a grouping of related riffs that arise as variations from a seminal idea.

2 When taking Crematory’s Denial as a point of reference, we can observe how Crematory cannot hold a mood and a line of thought for too long. The music is based on providing variation; for instance, it introduces contrasting ideas in rhythm in extreme fashion so that even very Latin African rhythms pop up right besides more grindy ones with no particular purpose. It may be more difficult to notice, but Demilich already contains such range of variation, but it is much better organized, so that it does not feel haphazard. Furthermore, Demilich is able to stamp their own seal on each section by delimiting certain combinations of rhythm and mode, while Crematory pretty much just throws whatever it can find in your face as it desperately clutches for more content to display a different drum technique.

It’s not that Crematory plays no positive role in the music of Chthe’ilist, but it should be used within its effective scope: the riff variation; and taking note from those who excel at long-range composition when organizing structure.

3 This is a distractor that infects the mentality of modern death metal musicians; it’s almost as if they feel that the music is not enough, that they need to add more “stuff”, whatever it is. This fools the less-focused sort of listeners (apparently, the majority), but not those who would listen to music from multiple angles so as to extract all it contains and more.

4 That is to say, although the difference between the opposite styles within Timeghoul’s vocabulary (from pounding, crowded gnarly riffs to clean-vocal lamentations) may be wider than Crematory’s, the consistency with which they are used imbues them with a more meaningful sense of purpose.

5 A lesson might be learned from Ludwig van Beethoven’s own methods. He is probably the most respectable of classical composers with an inclination for “wild progressive” ideas, since he did not slip into avant-garde stupidity. Beethoven’s music was shocking in its own time for its juxtaposition of apparently contrasting ideas, but he would not leave them there. They were justified, as it were, through their careful development and envelopment throughout the rest of the piece or even in later movements, creating an unprecedented technique in bringing together content in long-range fashion through a process of entanglement.

Chthe’ilist to release Le dernier crépuscule

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You don’t get a great deal of straight up Demilich worship, but Chthe’ilist got some buzz a few years ago for having some clear similarities in their aesthetics and writing style. This presumably continues on the band’s upcoming full length debut – Le Dernier Crépuscule will come out in January 2016. Several record labels have claimed the rights to various formats, but Profound Lore is responsible for the CD pressing and digital releases, so that’s probably who you should go unless you’re a major collector. Profound Lore has already released a preview track from this album – “Voidspawn” bears some surface similarities to the works of Demilich, but otherwise sounds a bit smoothed out and obviously streamlined to meet the requirements of a larger audience.

Zealotry Announces New Drummer

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Boston-Quebec old-school technical death metalers Zealotry have announced that Alex Zalatan (Inhumatus) will be joining their ranks as the band’s permanent drummer. Zalatan will be in charge of percussion duties for Zealotry’s upcoming sophomore release, The Last Witness. Besides mastermind Roman Temin, Zealotry’s line up also includes Phil Tougas, single member of the project Chthe’ilist, on lead guitars.

Zealotry have made the following announcement on their facebook page:

It is with great pleasure that we announce today that for the first time in our history Zealotry has a permanent drummer.
Alex Zalatan, also of Inhumatus, Cymatics and Burial Moss.
Alex will be performing on our upcoming second album The Last Witness and any future shows we play. We’re very excited abut having someone of his considerable talents behind the drum kit for us.

A demo of what is to come in the second album was uploaded in 2014 and can be heard here.

 

 

Sadistic Metal Reviews – “Fuck Nostalgia” Edition

This world is composed of snares that waste your time. Their job is to reach out, grab you, and destroy your chances of doing anything more impressive with those moments. One snare is nostalgia. It’s Pavlovian. A scent, a sound or a shape reaches out to your senses and before you know it, a chain has formed in your mind. You’ve linked this new thing to a happy older memory and by sheer impulse, since memory is more idealized and thus sweeter than present tense, you just leap into enjoying it. It’s only later that you realize it’s empty.

obliteration-nekropsalmsObliteration – Nekropsalms

Borrowing the aesthetic of nocturnal death and grind from Carbonized through Cadaver, Obliteration make a type of doom-death with heavy metal underpinnings that is very easy to listen to. Indeed, hours can pass while you listen. It may in fact be like being dead. There’s nothing wrong with this sort of pleasant withdrawal from active participation in life. However, although it doesn’t have any negatives, it also doesn’t add any positives. This is basically riff practice shaped by tempo into songs, sort of like those “modern art” sculptures made from whatever the artist had at hand. “So then I welded the dildo the engine block, wrapped the condoms around it, dumped paint on it and put a doll’s head on top.” Songs catchy and you’ll have a few favorite parts. Over time you will start hearing the lifts from Slayer, Deicide, Mayhem and others. Eventually this will leave you feeling empty. You will realize that these are riffs and nostalgia and nothing more. Total time elapsed: two weeks.

sarcofagus-cycle_of_lifeSarcofagus – Cycle of Life

As I go through life, it amazes me how many people know so much and yet can do nothing with it. They are able to memorize the outward details and even excel at that, but their understanding of the structure beneath is lacking so what they produce sounds like an imitation. This band, who are painfully awful and remind me of everything that makes metal loathsome, are an Angel Witch clone who through in more of the moddish blues and rock influences of the late 1960s and early 1970s to try to differentiate themselves. I don’t mean to be cruel; this is just painfully bad. It is not cliches, but rather slight modifications of known riff archetypes jazzed up with a little bit of well-studied technique, thrown together randomly. These aren’t songs; they sound like songs. They are imitation from the outward in, a student emulating the masters without grasping what motivated them. Turn it off… this is cringeworthy.

chtheilist-amechthntaasmrriachthChtheilist – Amechthntaasmrriachth

Gosh, we all remember the day we first heard Demilich like we remember the day we first “got it” with many iconic metal bands. That day is gone and will never be back. If you try to bring that day back, it’s like believing that a gold-plated aluminum idol is a god. You can’t restore that day by imitating it. Just like it wasn’t the beer, the temperature, the cycle of the moon, etc. that defined the day you remember as “the best day of my life,” it isn’t the outward characteristics that make Demilich. It was a vision in the minds and souls of its creator that was became the freaky music you know because that ecclectic combination was the only means to express what needed to be said. Imagine “It’s Raining Men” sung by heterosexuals; it just doesn’t deliver. Demilich isn’t its own style. Demilich is whatever motivated those artists to see the world a certain way and then express it. That being said, this Ctheilist album is an attempt to imitate Demilich and Timeghoul but because it’s outward-in emulation, it ends up being all technique. Underneath this is a very basic death metal album that uses relatively normal chromatic and minor key progressions, riffs and stylings. It resembles a collision between Nocturnus and Broken Hope. It’s quite good for that zone, but it’s not Demilich and while the tribute is touching, it doesn’t make this relatively ordinary music any more interesting.

ofermod-tiamtuOfermod – Tiamtu

It’s hard to dislike this band aesthetically because it imitates the best era of Mayhem, the De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas year(s). Makes you want to kick back, open a beer and a light up a church, right? However, all things that are aesthetic without soul are pointless. Soul means a principle of organization that the artists want to express and communicate. It may be a feeling, a shape or a memory. But it is being expressed, or rather described, as the song takes you from a place of ignorance to a place of doubt to knowledge of the whole thing. When bands have no soul, it is because they are imitating the aesthetic of something. They are like OJ Simpson’s defense lawyers. However, there is no highest principle of organization because it is a checklist of things that imitate the past with no core, no center, no idea behind them. This album sounds like Mayhem’s Wolves Lair Abyss done in the style of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, since it cycles like circus music and goes nowhere. Beware nostalgia, it is a death grip on your soul.

entrails-tales_from_the_morgueEntrails – Tails from the Morgue

Swedish death metal is the sleeper hit of the last 21 summers. Even babies and dolphins love Swedish death metal. Combine the crunchiest distortion possible with simple melodies and aggressive tempo changes, not to mention the characteristic use of textured strumming to give each piece an internal rhythm, and you have pure win as far as metal style goes. It’s like the phrase “do it for the children” in a political speech. But what made the greats great as opposed to footnotes like everyone to follow is more nuanced. At the end of the day, it’s two things: songwriting, and having something to write about. The best Swedish bands had about three good albums in them while they unleashed their perceptions as shaped charges of emotion mated to careful realism. The result was a shuddering cascade of layered sensations of total alienation that conveyed how intelligent people saw the yawning abyss of post-1980s modern society. And then there are those who imitate this, and like a costume ball or a carnival, it must be “fun” because it has no content. The immaculate production on this record is like a doctor’s rubber mallet tapping the knee, because the reflex jerks… and that’s about it. The lack of any further depth and the insistence on using the antiquated hard rock cliches of the 1980s makes this dubious, but the real absence is anything to tie these songs together and make them anything but jam-room projects. Might as well write “NOT Left Hand Path” on the cover to warn people.

sargeist-let_the_devil_inSargeist – Let the Devil In

Post-1996 black metal is out of ideas. For example, how many times can you imitate “Bergtrollets Hevn” and “Måneskyggens Slave” (Gorgoroth) before you truly admit you’re using Silly Putty to life an image from a newspaper, then pretending it’s the real thing? The vocals on this album surge so consistently that it sounds like someone riding a merry-go-round while screaming at the top of his lungs. Despite an obviously intensive and thorough study of older black metal (probably with note cards and those little colored tab things in a binder) Sargeist has none of what makes the songs good. Like Ancient, it tends to like to use melodic minor scale patterns and then drift into more cheerful whole intervals, creating a sense of lifting out of darkness. Unlike Ancient, this band has no idea how to structure songs; these don’t go anywhere, but cycle around until you’ve heard all the good parts, and then evaporate. It’s tempting to want to like this because it’s catchy, sounds like old black metal from a distance, and isn’t all wimpified like more recent black metal. But it’s missing that core, the substance and the unique beauty that black metal found in darkness.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7DMl_wsKPo

Remember, nostalgia is a way of thinking that says your best days are behind you. You might as well write VICTIM on your forehead (remember to do it backwards if you use a mirror). The best days are ahead. They may not look like the old days, but that’s what life is all about: structure, not appearances. Celebrate the best of the past, and redouble your efforts toward a better future. There’s no reason you can’t do it at any age; Milton wrote Paradise Lost in his 80s, Raymond Chandler got published in his 50s for the first time, and Brahms was in his mid-40s before his first symphonies saw a performance. Take heart! Charge forward! Take no prisoners (and if you do, sodomize them)! Kill! Fight! Win!