Shroud of the Heretic – Unorthodox Equilibrium (2015)

shroud of the heretic_LP2 cover haulix

Skillfully bringing together doom/death, modern atmospheric and war metal styles, Unorthodox Equilibrium is more than a fitting name for describing the musical approach used in this album. Bands playing in any of the aforementioned styles have typically fallen prey to different misconceptions. Some have failed by attempting to adopt an orthodox position simplified to the precept that genre cliches guide songwriting and that the result will be good if it “feels good”. Others have taken a route that attempts to bring more original ideas into the mix but whose ultimate goal is still that each section gives them a certain feeling, an “atmospheric/ambient” effect. We can summarize the cause of these blunders by saying that their approach has been too pleasure-oriented.

In Unorthodox Equilibrium we can hear familiar voices bearing the mark of Worship in Last Tape Before Doomsday, Disembowelment (I refuse to follow ridiculous indications as to what letters should be written in uppercase format) in Transcendence into the Peripheral and Esoteric in Paragon of Dissonance.  Unlike them, though, Shroud of the Heretic only slightly avoids falling into complacency with the immediate effect of their arrangements and instead channels these as methods used measuredly. The band manages to promote a sense of movement in each section while maintaining atmosphere without depending on stagnating in the harmony within one section or getting anchored to one kind of texture or intensity level for too long.  This makes the album an incredibly varied experience within the non-restrictive but focused confines of a florid and eloquently coherent language.

Independently of whether this was a conscious decision or not, the heterodox and non-monolithic composition route taken by Shroud of the Heretic avoids this atmospheric metal trap and represents an excellent indicator of an artistically healthy direction for this subgenre of metal.

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Perversor – Anticosmocrator (2015)

perversor - anticosmocrator cover

Perversor play a fast and ripping minimalist death metal which some would be tempted to encase in the line of primitive South American so-called black metal were it not for the strong structural development so strongly evident in the detail-intense songs which defeat any accusations of purely atmosphere-oriented thinking. In fact, Anticosmocrator gives us the opportunity to contrast their more musical approach to that of bands with a more vague and atmosphere-building composition mindset. This difference lies in the importance of keeping a balance between evocation and solid musical construction.

While Perversor fills all the requirements to be classified beside any atmosphere-minded bands like those playing war metal, for instance, it far outdoes them by virtue of achieving solid development of ideas in the composition of their songs. Typically, Perversor will take a fast riff and develop both variations on the riffs or transitioning into riffs that are easily recognized as being related to the previous ideas through the interval relations in the patterns used while the rhythms and register are changed. This is a formula that is easily summarized but which nonetheless requires great skill to apply and expand to create convincing songs that both take the listener from a beginning to a distinct ending yet do not exceed the natural reach of the riffs and ideas used.

This is the sort of release that is excellent but will not turn the heads of those who are always on the look out for bands thinking “out of the box” as if that were the whole basis of good music. Perversor compose songs on a solid basis and while not diverging or breaking any limits, create evocative, musically competent and whole music that should be at the top of any discerning metalhead’s list for 2015 .

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Mefitic – Woes of Mortal Devotion (2015)

GDOB2-30CH-001.cdr

Attempting to create an atmospheric kind of death metal, Mefitic build their style on alternating sections of slow, assertive chords in simple rhythms and droning/fluttering, tremolo-propulsed, slowly-advancing melodies and motifs, both usually played in low registers to maintain the aura of heaviness. Unfortunately this is all that there is to say about this album. The description of a superficial traits is all that can be said for it, as the music construction is based on it and therefore paper-thin. The reason why it still deserves a review of its own is twofold. First of all, it gives us the opportunity to point out the deficiency of this songwriting approach, and second because Mefitic remains consistent and coherent throughout the whole album, which is more than can be said of the vast majority of releases.

While we must acknowledge the focus that Mefitic has displayed throughout the whole album, the overall result must be judged and its limitations pointed out. The consistency in color and expression is laudable and should be emphasized as an example of consistent songwriting. The limitations lie in the music being too riff-oriented and the goals remaining superficial, being completely bent on a sort of evocation and heaviness, leaving the musical composition as secondary. While in metal we consider that this is generally ideal, solid and effective composition should not be disregarded in favor of  writing atmosphere-oriented sections that are lined up one after another. Solid composition gives a clear direction, an intricate picture to be discovered through subsequent listens. Forgetting about it leaves you open to the danger of painting a confused or too-general a picture that remains too mystic, indicating a way but not undertaking it.We condemn Woes of Mortal Devotion because this is all it achieves: the building of a foggy and general atmosphere that doesn’t solidify into a clear picture of anything.

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Classical String Quartets for the death metal fan, fourth edition

schubert webern

 

Today, we’ll visit string quartets from both the Romantic and Modernist eras. The purpose is to give continuity to the line started in the first few articles. We visited Beethoven and Shostakovich, then Mozart and Bartók, and for the last time we visited the respected teachers Haydn and Schoenberg. This time we visit one of the the Romantic heirs to the Beethovenian tradition, the writer of music with a very private character, Schubert, and the genius serialist composer Webern, one of the most (if not the most) outstanding students of Schoenberg.

 

Franz Schubert: String Quartet no. 14, Der Tod und das Mädchen

This quartet is dubbed after an earlier lied of the same name, whose main theme Schubert used as the theme for the the second movement of this string quartet.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jlzv1yUFo-A

 

Anton Webern: 5 Sätze für Streichquartett op.5 (5 movements for string quartet)

It is a common misconception that serialism is a more mechanical method of composition, because it s a method. While some (including myself) believe it is an unnatural (contrary to the Common Practice Period notions) method contradicting the physics of frequencies, it is, apart from that fact, as much of a valid and constrictive method as any other. No more, no less. It just follows a different set of rules. And because it is counter-intuitive for people unaccustomed  to it, compositions with this method may well prove to be even more demanding by virtue of this lack of familiarity the general public has with it – it has harder to make something that makes any sense for the human ear. In my humble opinion, the dependency on an ethereal pulse becomes paramount in this type of music.

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Pseudogod – Sepulchral Chants (2015)

PSEUDOGOD - Sepulchral Chants

 

Death metal band Pseudogod come back this year with a compilation that collects songs from their early demos and splits. Falling into an intersection between blasting, grindcore-influenced death metal ala Infester and the more recent approach of “atmospheric” death metal bands, the result at times approaches war metal, but avoids the stagnancy of the music typical of that genre. Contrasting Pseudogod’s 2012 Deathwomb Catechesis, which was more of an empty blast-fest similar to the more popular extreme metal outfits,this early output is full of content and in the spirit of good death metal of its kind, tends heavily towards progressive structures. This includes more paused sections that allow the songs to breathe in the middle of the faster, more suffocating parts. This is done with enough grace and consistency in style to seem smooth and appropriate. Although not masterpieces of structure-oriented composition and leaning on the riff-salad side of death metal composition, this release showcases Pseudogod’s earliest and most promising output.

 

https://sektovgnozis.bandcamp.com/album/pseudogod-sepulchral-chants

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Coathanger Abortion Debuts New Track

coathangerabortionband

Tennessee death metal band Coathanger Abortion have debuted a new track from upcoming album Observations of Humanity, to be released on  June 2.

Tracklist for the album:

  1. Suffering the Weak
  2. Media Mindsnare
  3. Wading Through Existence
  4. Prescription Paradise
  5. Coathanger Abortion
  6. The Possession
  7. Audra Sleeps
  8. Forget the Past
  9. Hypocritical Majority
  10. Detained Indefinitely

https://soundcloud.com/apochs-dotnet/coathanger-abortion-media-mindsnare

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Blasphemic Cruelty – Crucible of the Infernum (2015)

blasphemic cruelty - MCD cover

 

Ripping, furious death metal in the vein of 1980s death metal with vestiges of speed metal, solos that bear the mark of Trey Azagthoth, this band is one of the many followers of the legendary Morbid Angel. However, Blasphemic Cruelty is not content with being a clone and continues the work of Angelcorpse by playing a style that takes one facet of Morbid Angel and expanding on it. It is basically the older band’s most brutal side taken as the parting point and center of the music. While Azagthoth would mix a few fast sections with his own trademark of mid-paced and slow riffs, Blasphemic Cruelty pushes the pedal to the max throughout the entire pieces.

 

While Crucible of the Infernum will not distinguish itself as innovative in any way, it is an example of excellent composition for this style of ripping, blasting death metal. The band’s work here is ideal in the sense that within the limitations it sets for itself, every single space it uses is purposeful by virtue of its integration within the big picture, even if this picture isn’t very big. Admittedly a work of modest reach, Crucible of the Infernum is a solid release strongly recommended for fans of Angelcorpse, Sodom and early Morbid Angel.

 

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Nekromanteion – Cosmic Horrors (2015)

Cosmic Horrors is a Lovecraft-inspired affair standing somewhere between the primitive black metal of South America and grindcore-influenced death metal. Unlike most bands that could fall in this general description that encompasses a common cliche in underground metal, Nekromanteion stand out as a focused band making music balancing music aesthetics with a drive and intention that seems to lead the music, rather than the common mistake of letting the outer traits themselves dictate the music.

Displaying a progressive tendency in construction within healthy bounds alongside a reserved and rough technical expression, Cosmic Horrors present us with the ideal “atmospheric” death metal that war metal bands, for instance, are trying to deliver. The mistake of these or other atmosphere-oriented death metal bands like Phobocosm is that they are too steeply bent on trying to make the music have this effect. So much that they push the music to become the mood itself. Nekromanteion keeps a balance between evocation and satisfying musical aesthetics, which together have resulted in an outstanding EP.

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On The Underrating of Recognized Classics

chaosHeresy

Two of the most pervasive topics in metal are the “underrating” and the “overrating” of a band or album. Given that most people are prone to confuse their emotional attachment to music with a sign of its quality, most of these claims are specious complaints that reflect the need for acknowledgement from other people as a fan more than anything else. Claims of “underratement” usually occur in regards to cult bands, and less often, to personal favorites that should be recognized by each fan as a mere guilty pleasure. Statements of “overrating”, then, comprehensibly come about when a disgruntled fan wants to bash any band that does not appeal to him, independently of the reason.

 

However, when leveled as a result of balanced, informed and insightful judgement, these observations become meaningful in that they have solid foundation and a motivation outside selfish emotional need for attention. Contrary to popular opinion, these arguments only need to be based on objective observations but need not be objective in the full sense of the word themselves. The reason for this is that the concepts of objectivity and subjectivity represent a false dichotomy inapplicable in the context of art appreciation. Appreciation rests outside any single preference, it always lies outside the emotional reaction of any one person, but is nonetheless attached to a social group’s set of principles. And principles are a human construct, not tangible, objective reality. In other words, it entails the individual perception through the lenses of convention of objectively observed qualities.

 

Art appreciation can be reduced to the appreciation of beauty. The concept of beauty has always been a complicated one, and like anything complicated, it gets reduced to the absurd by small minds that feel the need to fool themselves into believing they have everything under control. A sense of what is beautiful rests on what is considered to be good taste. The nature of both beauty and taste is neither objective nor subjective. If it were objective, beauty would be a hard, flat fact measurable by scientific instruments, and not the esoteric – perhaps mystical – sign existing completely and individually in meaning, perception and medium but also in the whole of an object, all at the same time. A divine omnia in omnibus, as it were, perceptible to the unconscious but only vaguely grasped by the conscious as an ethereal idea. The duality that implies being human,  having one eye on time and the other on eternity. On the other hand, if it were subjective, it would be completely pointless to talk about beauty or taste, as these would be demoted to euphemisms for what is simply our personal preference.

 

It is therefore, unsurprising that beauty is sometimes linked to the presence of the divine, and therefore of that which is natural, full of meaning and in balance. Again, simplified misconceptions come to distort each of these and in an increasingly individualist society that is just so for the sake of individualism itself, renders them powerless, trapped in small containers as catchwords for egotistical affectations. In other words, beauty has indeed been stripped from its cosmic framework and taste has become personal rather than communal. Both have lost any of the usefulness they had for communication of hermetic meaning.

 

This egotistical individualism is deeply entrenched in group-oriented thinking, paradoxically self-indulging as it is unoriginal and lacking in personal identity. This is to be expected since unthinking compliance to the system goes hand in hand with a deep-rooted cowardice of the mind. So, taking refuge in the rise of science, humanism and tacit nihilism, our brave new world does away with meaning as it has forgotten why man created it in the first place. Our modern society, contemptibly lacking in any courage to face reality and the pressing matters of our times, turns away from an understanding of the transcendent in favor of self-validation.

 

Art and its appreciation suffer first in this headlong plunge into the shadows. The reason for this is that art (artificial) arises entirely from man-given meaning. The greatest art has always had the power to communicate and bring forth an awareness of enduring meaning through individually-perceived universal truths of the human condition. Forsaking the use of any actual meaning in beauty, and consequently in art, music becomes a vulgar tool for individual satisfaction.

 

While quiet deference is directed towards names like Yes, King Crimson, Black Sabbath, Slayer, Bathory or Morbid Angel, my experience tells me that most fans who hold these bands in some kind of respect do not understand half of the reasons why these bands are great. The case of directly disrespected and underrated but equally excellent art like that of selected works of Burzum or early At the Gates is a different although related matter into which I will not go here. In the meantime, let’s turn our attention to canonical works of the metal underground.

 

It seems rather unfortunate that after achieving canonical status in any genre, a classic work is condemned to be defiled in two stages. The first is one in which the cause and effect relationship between being a classic and achieving canonical status is not inverted but flattened, the popular conception of the relationship between the terms being one of equality and interchangeability. Something then happens as a direct consequence of this misunderstanding along with an ignorance of the nature of classical works at several levels. In this second stage the distorted image of what being a canonical work implies is rightly questioned, resulting in an at least partial repudiation of their validity. The term classic is then also demoted into a euphemism for “what many/most people like”. Equating popularity with quality in art is a direct consequence of the loss of meaning discussed earlier.

 

This is why it is important to clarify what is originally meant by classical. It is closest to the condition of being an epitome, except that this latter term is neutral and can signify an accurate representation of the qualities of a group or classification. Classical refers to the highest degree of excellence in regards to quality, which implies distinction, perfect balance and adequacy in a work within its genre. Disquieting as the perversion of this concept is, simple and effective education coupled with the audience’s willingness to let go of their ego would be enough to remedy this situation. As with many things, it is easier said than done.

 

An additional third stage also bears mentioning which can then be appended to the steps in the process of decay in the perception of classic works. After the flattening and disavowal of the aforementioned terms has taken place in the collective mind, a confusion ensues which brings forth the nominating of undeserving artists or works into what used to be a pantheon of the gods. As I see it, there are two main ways in which this happens. The first was already mentioned, very popular works are inserted into the lists by virtue of their popularity itself. The other is the result of the backlash classic works receive from the lack of understanding towards their classic status. The original and true classics are reduced by a narrow-minded audience with a lack of depth perception to a collection of tropes to be imitated. A collateral effect of this in metal is that after a certain amount of time, since the audience cannot understand what a classic actually is, seniority is equated with relevance and quality, and then novelty is equally mistaken for innovation.

 

Without control or awareness, these things happened lightning-fast in progressive rock and metal, accounting for the extremely fast evolution of metal genres running away from the mainstream limelight and into increasingly obscure territories. Giants like King Crimson, Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer and Genesis were then piled up with second-raters from all over the world. Nowadays it is customary to see Rush, Camel or Jethro Tull mentioned besides the first. Childish and musically wanting works belonging to the catalogues of Schuldiner’s Death and Cannibal Corpse even take precedence over the monumental early Morbid Angel. A closer and more knowledgeable and perceptive look into the qualities of their works reveals an enormous chasm in musical excellence and refinement separates them. They belong to completely different worlds.

 

Metal is encumbered by an additional hindrance: a recurrent appeal to cavemanish foolishness by the audience. This is the belief that as an essentially underground movement, metal is a blue-collar music which needs to be kept rough, dirty, mean and, well, ignorant. It is a combination of something similar to communism’s appeal to the true sense of the young masses and the testosterone posturing of a macho Homer Simpson. This idiotic claim basically consists in the stereotype that metal’s nature resides in young and unlearned spirit which yearns for adventure, rebellion and hedonism.  They do not realize that these are closer to the hippie ideals than to the true metal spirit which actually resides in a warrior’s mysticism that stares reality in the face without losing sight of the transcendent.

 

While metal needs to grow up and continue in its journey towards higher peaks, it must do so through a profound understanding of its roots and thereby a correct appreciation of its own classics and an embracing of its core and true ideals. The mainstream would have metal become a compliant rock music in disguise, an edgy but safe expression of castrated dissent. Absorbing or becoming other genres is not progress, it is only regression or distraction. This must be rejected at all costs and a unique path into the maturity of the genre must take place in a truly forward-looking but conservative manner. Metal has always made its most significant strides in those albums which on the surface seemed orthodox but which brought meaningful innovation at the level of musical thinking, information and communication. It was not the experimentalists who revel in the strange, the unexpected and the new, but the disciplined adherents to the tenets of metal who look for their own voice while keeping the spirit of Vir at the heart of the music who move metal forward.

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