When music is taken as communication, as a nurture of the soul, or even as a kind of magic then small details such as the name a band chooses for itself can forebode promise or ultimate triviality. The reason for this is that music, when taken as an integral enterprise, exudes the intention and capabilities of those who give birth to it. Hooded Menace’s name does not show much imagination but perhaps a rather superficial or commercial line of thinking. The title of their album, Darkness Drips Forth, isn’t much better. These suggest a lack of definition or the non-existence of a deeper wealth of thought.
In any case, the music comes first; prejudices must be set aside so that the stream of notes can dance unhindered. The structural approach of Hooded Menace’s doom metal is actually fairly convincing, and technically speaking, the composer-like qualities of whoever is writing the songs are sharp. The music is flowing, the passages never overstay or pass by too quickly, the dynamics of adjacent sections make sense together and their discourse feels natural enough. Individually, each section is tasteful though none is particularly original or distinctive. At first it may appear as if Hooded Menace may be the exception to the rule that one is supposedly bound to bump into sooner or later. Or are they?
Listening through this release and keeping in mind what has “happened” minutes before in the song, one starts to see that the content kept changing, but somehow hasn’t really gone anywhere. What is the problem then? Intuitive alarms such as this, when justified, must be grounded in concrete causes. The band had effectively avoided the carnival syndrome, it made use of motifs in linking sections — but only locally. This isn’t bad on its own, magnificent works based on the variations template have graced our ears in the past.
The problem is slightly different from song to song. The songs are not bound together by a common aura. They may go from a lethargic groove to a happy melody, but this is minimal. Some to flounder between a nondescript extreme metal counterpoint between the guitars to a Disturbed-like groove, only to return to something more characteristic of typical of doom metal. Far more detrimental to the aura is the relatively static sense of the harmony, constantly returning to the root and never, even for a second, leaving that tonal space except for overt and obvious effect. This is predictable and even vulgar. When you put these two together — imprecise style and weakly phrased, boring harmony — you have a recipe for subversively monotonous and superficial music.
Sinistrous Diabolous creates funeral doom metal from the fragments of death metal. It uses the rapid strumming of slow chording that made Incantation so thunderous, merged with the abrupt tempo changes of Autopsy, and the mixed sounds and dynamic variation of Winter.
Total Doom // Desecration is as a result both shockingly absent of any of the trimmings of civilization or what we recognize as music, and also momentarily beautiful, like a ship emerging from the fog only to be lost again. Its primitive production and dark chromatic riffs enhance this sense of naturalism emerging against the hopeless mental muddle of humanity.
The atmosphere of murky ambiguity that enshrouds this album also grants it a resonant sense of purpose. Between power chorded riffs, interludes of pure sound or lighter instruments pervade, creating a sensation like slowly poling a raft through a dense swamp, looking for enemies.
Of note are the vocals, which deliberately abstract themselves into an uncivilized and primitive growl that calls alongside the music like a pack of dogs howling at a kill. Percussion fits the Autopsy model, being both alert and intense and knowing when to fade out into the drone.
Sinistrous Diabolous use heavy sustain not only on their guitars, but in the way riffs are sliced into these songs. Notes of doubt and ambiguity hang over every change, waiting for the song to roll over again and from the relentless ferment of its imagination, pull forth another riff.
While many doom albums come and go, and most either slide into the 1970s style or death-doom, this album cleanly integrates the last two decades of the variation in the latter styles, and comes up with something that is not only bone-crushingly weighty in sound and meaning, but also brings forth a beautiful melancholic isolation at sensing what has been lost.
In his cyclical conception of world histories, the German thinker Oswald Spengler likened the phase of decay that all civilizations eventually undergo to the seasonal onset of winter. In the post-Enlightenment western world, this is in part characterised by the rule of materialism and a corresponding inversion of traditional hierarchy, prioritising the dominant, consuming impulses of the era. What band then, could be more aptly named to reflect the cold and bleak visions of a world declining under even more advanced conditions of the organico-cultural decay that Spengler described, than the Death Metal cult of Winter?
Perhaps the slowest Metal music recorded at the time, Winter’s only full-length album is part crushing Doom of Hellhammer/Celtic Frost-inspired power-chord arrangements, and part ambient dirgewaves caught between broken transmissions of a shattered technocratic infrastructure. This distinct choice of pacing is achieved and explained by the guitar, down-tuned to the extent of coalescing with the register of droning bass-chords. Not the reverb-driven, existential heaviness of a diSEMBOWELMENT, Winter’s guitar tone has more of a hollowness to it, enough to let the bass pass through like a dying heart struggling to pump blood around cold-narrowed arteries, a fading will-to-live in an empty and broken world. The exploration of this particular aesthetic also gives rise to more of the ambient sensibilities that are present in the album. Slowly but inevitably shifting compositions open up to vistas of endless wasteland, picking up the ghostly electro-static interference left by a fallen metropolis, as guitars and bass are modulated in a manner more-or-less similar to Cliff Burton’s famous set-up on Metallica’s instrumental song, ‘Call of Ktulu’, and random radio frequencies are tuned in and out of.
Each element of instrumentation seems to impose itself on the listener in a different way. This is very apparent when being pummeled by Joe Goncalves’ overbearing bass-drumming, which is like Obituary in its restrained tempo but largely detached from such a comparatively conventional sense of tempo. Instead, drum fills cascade out of the distorted noise, as though the foundations upon which modern society were built are gradually crumbling away. The vocals present yet another side to the album, just as imposingly. The rich, guttural voice of John Alman is right in the foreground, sounding full of pure disgust but nevertheless resilient to barren environment in his midst. Lyrics are not complaints of a wounded soul hopelessly trapped within the system that is caving in on him, but observations of a world plunged into darkness and ignorance, in an allegorical, mythologised style that harkens back to an ancient, golden age. If Winter ever did read Spengler, it might be safe to assume that they were greeting a new cycle.