It is easy to recognize that this is a metalcore record. It is also easy for one to point out the problems in the music that arise as a result from the innate flaws of that genre. What is not easy is to understand are the developments that are taking place within some of the current tendencies of underground metal that bubble up even in bands with a metalcore background. From this origin Burial Vault attempts to build songs with strong sense of narrative, linking different sections smoothly with melody and consistent textures and using other devices on the meta-level rather than objective traits in the music structure to built a sort of soundtrack, a landscape to a story. All of this stands both in line and in contrast with the nature of their genre.
Many soundtracks being what they are, background ambience for stories, sometimes take the liberty to place incredibly disparate expressions to the point of incoherence in the music. As a background to the story, this supports the scene and is thus justified as a tool, a means to an end. But when we have music by itself, the music is not (or should not?) be a tool but rather the whole product itself. This is where music like late Dream Theater’s fails as music: it is only a background to a story. This is the pit where Burial Vault falls. In its impetus towards building a conceptual narrative, the concrete musical narrative is placed on a secondary level.
Following the precepts of metalcore, large portions of Unity in Pluralism move towards rhythmic hook introducing sharp contrasts that do not preserve the essence of motif-forms or themes. Even breakdowns with no reason to be except for fun make an appearance. The song-form is preserved and contrasting surprises are eventually placed in the place of priority. Song form is necessary for songs to maintain any semblance of coherence, by re-using ideas, lest they fall in near-total chaos and obliviousness to a coherent musical train of thought.
Going beyond the novel, Unity in Pluralism presents flashes of greatness that could be weaved into the fabric of a work that pushes metal forward. The future development of metal lies in its maturing, in its transcending the current subgenres and giving prominence to musical principles transcending both the adherence to cliche and the cult of novelty. Burial Vault have hinted at something, their sense as composers has guided them to stretch the boundaries of their constrictive genre but in preserving its aesthetics they are bound to the innate incoherence it is comprised of, balancing out the good in this album to make an interesting but ultimately overall wanting experience.
In a tug-of-war against the bases of their music, Burial Vault attempt, in some places, linking verse and bridge or solo sections by way of a smooth melodic transition that become almost imperceptible. In their most lucid moments, Burial Vault approach the aesthetics of a speed metal band with true progressive tendencies (that do not disregard consistency and coherence), but these are torn apart by the eventual advent of modern metal stuttering. The band would do well to take a hint from the likes of early The Chasm and bands they influenced like Cóndor (who have definitely a more whole work of art than the older band) from Colombia and the way they integrated metal into a true unity with different types of expression. But pluralism simply will not do. The work of art must be brought together under an over-arching principle that permeates the part, the whole and the relations.
For those of us who think that life is much more than buying the latest technology gadget we don’t need, watching the latest Hollywood TV commercial disguised as a movie or taking photo “selfies” pretending to be into something you really aren’t, romanticized medieval fantasy, ancient myth and legend provide not an escape from reality, but a highlighting of what is worthy of praise in life and human beings. This is the fantasy of Homer, Tolkien, Virgil or Lovecraft. Underneath the enveloping myth of the story, their stories preserve eternal truths about human nature and show it in a more realistic way than the candy-flavoured, shock-oriented realism of George R.R. Martin.
Today, we shall explore the idealist fantasy that sings to us in poetry of the gods, of virtue, and of the indelible kinship to nature as a whole that man has almost forsaken. In an inverted world in which greed has slowly attained a position of honor and in which ideals, philosophy and non-profitable values are systematically mocked, we sometimes find ourselves in need of a reminder that we are not just deluded madmen upholding untenable precepts of a long-forgotten age or even worse, believers of ideas that have never been in line with reality at any point in history.
Between the bushes we stared
At those who reminded us of another age
And told that hope was away
We heard the elven song and
Water that trickled
What once was is now
All the blood
All the longing and pain that
And the emotions that could be stirred
Colombian band Cóndor presents an album which European Romantics might have undertaken had their tastes run to heavy metal, with an explicit influence from Bedřich Smetana and a more subtle yet pervasive inspiration from Jean Sibelius, manifested in a style of underground metal that sounds like Atheist covering Graveland. An organic, fluent and natural flow embodied in sweeping melodies and choking riffs that overcome and seem to grow out of each other independent of the composer, as if taking a hint from a young Friedrich Nietzsche, gives this music a childish and innocent Dionysian center driven by instinct. The result is an album that must be listened to as a whole experience to find the moments which strike us as stereotypically metal sharing space with entirely contrasting ideas which set up the emotional background to those moments of violent intensity.
Unlike modern-day posturing in black metal, Duin looks toward the older tradition of abstract Romantic 19th century Nationalism as expressed in classical music and folk art. Both betray their presence in the use of typically long, modal, easy-to-get melodies of the folk kind. Sibelius lives in that tendency to drift into very paused passages and quiet dynamics seemlessly which was so characteristic of Nadia. In this sense, we could say that while Nadia was a Sibelian album, Duin is more of a Smetana-Fudali-ean album. It exists in a type of magical music like that conceived in Marsilio Ficino’s mind, a form of sonic art which follow celestial designs with metaphor of the spirit such that its effect over us is as sure and profound as that of the Sun and the Moon on the creatures of a forest. These strong ‘authentic’ folk inclinations serve as converging points of most visible influences. There is both a sylvan spirit underlying the music and a warm home-welcoming one as opposed to a warlike and epic one. These last two characters are instead represented in the more energetic passages which do not override the greater scheme of things and instead contribute to a desire for adventure that does not quite reach epic proportions. This follows the general theme of this work as, in contrast to the Apollonian rigid order of Beethoven or Bach, a wandering organic Dionysian spirit which aims to be appreciate from the atmosphere it saturates with meaning instead of a linear narrative progressing toward the conclusion of a musical argument. Like the naturalistic music of Burzum, Duin follows the thought process that repetition of a riff does not end when the composer or audience wants it to, but when the nature of that riff in the context of the song indicates a need for change. A kind of musical “sixth sense” pervades this album.
The first track, “Río Frío” starts off by quoting the last track from the debut album, El Roble Será Mi Trono Eterno for a few measures only to quiet down and performing an adaptation of Smetana’s Vltava for overidden and distorted guitars and bass. The second track, “El Lamento de Penélope” will probably give the strongest impression of this relation to Absurd in its urgent and minimalistic rhythmic riffing. The way the following melodies are carried in triple time reinforce this view until Vltava‘s theme is used in the climax section of the song. The following song, “La Gran Laguna,” is a roller coaster ride which takes us again through vistas of minimalist folk metal with quasi-marching beats and prominent melancolic melodies alternationg with ambient-like sections with a picked clean guitar outlining chords over the roar of its distorted partner. An instance of this supports the song’s solo section, which show off how Cóndor has stepped up even in its melodic treatment of solos which when compared to Nadia display a more mature independence from guitar-scale blocks.
“Coeur-de-lion” starts the visible slowing down and gradual elongating of expression that the album manifests increasingly a step at a time. The riffs are given a different tone by both the change in pacing, along with the playful exchange and duple and triple times which in different inceptions point the music in different directions. With a 2/4 reciting inisting, childish urgency, a 4/4 allowing for settling feeling, a 3/4 for a more bouncy feeling which slowed down and seen differently can be a martial and/or swinging 6/4 or 6/8, depending on the note value. “Condordäle” takes us one step further in what is almost a dirge in the beginning but which allows smooth and sensuous transition between riffs forming layers of an idea, with clear vocals reminiscent of a classical chorus.
“Helle Gemundon in Mod-Sefan” begins with a clear, long and emotional melody line gradually introduced and repeated, but is always interrupted by chords which sound dissonant in the context so as to disrupt the final resolution that we might expect in the line. Each time the line is allowed more time and to soar higher and higher. In the last of these repetitions the song then turns to the riff styling of the aforementioned dissonance-inducing chords, and riff after riff is wrought from this idea until its natural duration is expired. A break is brought which leads into a more conventional metal section comes in which a series of solos in the same vein are played. Mid-paced, emotional, almost aloof and relaxed playing which would not seem out of place in urban underground styles of rock characteristic of Latin America.
“Adagio” is an interlude for bass and clean electric guitars which serves as a beautiful gasping point before the last track, named after the album, that serves as a closing for the album. After the slowing down and exploration of different influences towards the middle of the album, a bit of everything is brought back in this song with a slow beginning which blooms almost inperceptibly harsh, hammering riffs, slow, folk-song melodies in lullabying triple time, which again alternate into a bridge of descending chromatic notes in the classical style leading directly into melodic indulgence in solo and riff proper of that folk metal which displays the transparency of rock and the honeset simplicity of the folk melody.
This is an album in which each song feels “better” than the one before. But when listened to many times one discovers this is not really the case. It is just that the progression between songs and within songs makes it feel as if each new event in the music is reaching towards a new goal, new vistas, but always through the eye of the Cóndor. Just like the compositions of the young Sebastian Bach shortly before and after his visiting Dietrich Buxtehude in Lübeck betrayed the unmistakable mark of the old master in form and method but never bowed down to him so that the pieces were, nevertheless, stamped with the young genius’ name, so does the band manages yet again to sound like itself independently or in spite of its distinguishable inspirations. Sounding like a more seasoned band than on Nadia, the telling silhouette of the Cóndor comes out of the foggy shadows and into a golden Autumn light.
South American death metal and progressive band Cóndor will release its second album, Duin, on January 27. This band takes an approach more like that of classical guitarists toward melding death metal with progressive rock, blues, folk and other influences: it mixes them in serially and adopts them within the style, rather than hybridizing the two styles.
In other words, most bands that try to sound like progressive death metal try to act like a progressive rock band playing death metal, or a death metal band playing progressive rock. Cóndor takes an approach more like that of musicians in the past, which is to adopt other voices within its style, so that it creates essentially the same material but works in passages that show the influence of other thought.
Cóndor‘s first album Nadia made our best of 2013 for its mix between primal death metal and other guitar-oriented styles. It will be interesting to see how much the band matured and developed during the past two years and how it will handle what are undoubtedly new influences.
To partake of underground metal in the current year is to keep eyes open for new possibilities. Because this is underground — meaning-first and surface appeal later, where everyone else does it the other way around — music, this requires looking past early limitations to see if a band has the outlook required. This worldview is a desire to make music in the true metal spirit, with a personal voice that reveals vastly impersonal truths.
Under our eye for some time has been Colombian band Cóndor, whose album Nadia represents a good future path for metal that is both innovative and true to the ideals and lifestyle of metal since its inception. It’s underground, so it isn’t groovy, crowd-friendly, slickly produced or designed to appeal ironically. It is exactly as it represents itself, and clearly thrives from bonding its metallic influences with a unique view of the world.
Checking in with Cóndor, we found the band clarifying its vision and intent and also, planning for the future. As is the nature of underground music, this band exists in the interstices of official tasks and required acts of life, filled in with spare moments and sheer will. We were lucky to get a brief update from the band as they barely pause in their quest to become known.
When was Cóndor founded, and what music influenced you? Did you have a plan, stylistically or otherwise?
Cóndor was founded in late 2012. The plan from the outset was to create narrative heavy metal and to have the lyrics deal with the collapse of Western civilization viewed from the vantage point of the great grandchildren of the Conquistadors. Musically we were influenced mostly by the early work of melodic metal bands in various subgenres, such as Amorphis, At the Gates, Mournful Congregation, Sacramentum, Candlemass etc.
Do you have other non-metal or non-musical influences?
Non-metal influences are limited mostly to the realm of romantic classical music, particularly 20th century “nationalist” composers such as Sibelius, Smetana and Vaughan Williams. As far as non-musical influences, the work of J.R.R. Tolkien heavily influences our music, and our lyrical/conceptual outlook is indebted to the conception of time as destiny present in the works of Oswald Spengler and Martin Heidegger. The most important influence however is the landscape of our native region, and the story of our Spanish forefathers, to which we are heirs.
How long had you all been metalheads? Or are you metalheads?
We all got into metal while very young, around the ages of 11 and 12. The level of individuals’ current dedication to metal varies within the band, some of us still being fully devout while others have drifted away, but metal was everyone’s path into music and we all share deep roots in it, thus why we chose it as a vehicle.
What’s the scene like in Bogotá? Is it hard or easy to be a metalhead there?
Even though it is an ever-growing community, unfortunately it is swarmed with people who are attracted merely by the metal aesthetic, or people who don’t really think about what they’re listening to. The same people that go to a black metal concert can then go to a metalcore one the day after, which leads one to believe all they get from listening to metal is fun, rebellious noise. After an initial rush of inspiration in the 80s local bands have since been mostly derivative and boring, which has led to widespread skepticism about newer bands. Add that to the fact that venues tend to be geared towards the 80s rock crowd and gigging locally becomes a hard and often fruitless endeavor. However there are many encouraging factors, for one the sheer amount of metalheads as well as the incredibly devout local medium of cult metal record stores, along with an increasing number of international bands who come around to play in the city. It’s worth mentioning that the scene had many classic bands when it was peaking in the late 80s/early 90s, such as Parabellum, Reencarnación, Kraken, Masacre, Kilcrops, Witchtrap and Acutor.
How did you write the songs on Nadia? Were they conceptual songs, or just kickin’ around some riffs?
Music and lyrics on Nadia were written simultaneously with a view towards creating a coherent atmosphere and a dynamic structure. The concept of the album pertains mainly to the question of identity and destiny in the modern world, viewed naturally through our particular vantage point as Colombians. However, many of the riffs are very old and were simply worked into the broader scheme of the album later on. The material on the album stretches back at least three years in some cases while some of it was written just weeks before recording.
Did your influences change for Nadia from past efforts? How much had you learned since your earlier recordings, rehearsals or live performances?
Nadia was our first effort, and the entirety of the album was written before the band ever played together in a room, so this is a tough question to address. As far as live performances we believe they must reflect visually what the audience is listening to. That’s why we use body paint and use elements such as the accordion and wine during shows, to create an experience that enhances the atmosphere and weltanschauung that is already inherent in the music.
What has response been like so far?
Nadia has received a limited, but largely positive response, which we weren’t expecting to be honest. Colombian record stores have been enthusiastic, though larger distribution has been lacking. A few people seem to really dig the album, which is encouraging.
What’s next? Will you record more, tour or rest awhile?
Album number two is currently in the works and we hope to record it in summer of 2014, which would imply an early 2015 release date. Touring is unlikely for now as the band has been scattered by collegial pursuits, but you never know…
If you had to pick the most important bands in the evolution of metal, how would you do it? What bands would be there?
This is a tough question… I guess the method would be to pick bands that innovated in a way that helped the genre evolve without compromising its boundaries and also managed to make albums that stand on their own as coherent and meaningful works. Clearly, the bands that have had a real significance are most often those with members who really understood what they were doing; this applies for both metal and non-metal bands alike. Unfortunately, most great bands have a good start and release one or two great albums, but then seem to lose their touch and limit themselves to appease their audience, without giving much thought to the composition process.
Obviously objectivity is unattainable in such an endeavor… So without further ado, the much desired, and highly subjective, name dropping: Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Manilla Road, Manowar, Mercyul Fate, Slayer, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Possessed, Bathory, Fates Warning, Helloween, Morbid Angel, At the Gates, Darkthrone, Enslaved, Thergothon, Beherit, Skepticism, …After this the real innovation stops and the tenets of the genre are pretty much established, but many significant works have been published since then by bands such as Sacramentum, Averse Sefira, Fanisk, Pallbearer, etc. Metal is alive and well; quality output is just a bit slower than in days of yore.
If people are interested in supporting Cóndor, how do they acquire your recordings and keep in touch with the new happenings with the band?
Nadia can be bought both digitally (for whatever price you want) and physically through our bandcamp page. People living in Colombia or Mexico are encouraged to contact us through our Facebook page or our email (email@example.com) to obtain a physical copy directly through a band member. To keep in touch with the band and its happenings follow us on facebook or send us an e-mail and we’ll add you to our mailing list.
One of the enduring critiques of modern metal bands is their lack of stylistic coherence. The mashing of various genres and influences over the course of an album with no unifying principle produces a product that is difficult to absorb from start to finish.
On their newly released album Nadia, Cóndor attempt to solve this dilemma by creating what may best be described as contemplative metal. Composed with a purpose, the metal sections of the album album consist primarily of low-to-mid-paced riffs ranging the gamut from doom, death, and black metal. These are complimented by influences from progressive rock, in which tonal contrasts add nuance and a way of connecting differing parts within the album.
What this band does well is elegantly shaping this vast array of influences into a package that is understandable and actually enjoyable to listen to. Everything is structured with care and attention, avoiding the “genres in a blender” sensation that many of their contemporaries produce. Throughout the span of a single track, snapshots of each moment lead organically into the next, while low-pitched vocals provide a sturdy framework and induce continuity. At the conclusion of the album, the listener feels as if he experienced something meaningful, which is at the heart of metal and unfortunately is something that often seems missing among contemporary bands.
Curmudgeons (of which the author admittedly is) will initially be put off by the non-metal elements and unorthodox structure. However, when viewed in context of the whole, these fall into place and do achieve meaning within the album, producing something both the strident Hessian and modern metal fan can appreciate.