A Closer Look at Suffocation’s “Pierced From Within”

piercedfromwithin
The title track of Suffocation’s third LP is a very interesting subject of analysis (as much as other excellent songs such as “Depths of Depravity”, “Suspended In Tribulation” or “Brood Of Hatred” from the same album could be) because it is a great example of recurrent motives reused in multiple different forms, of riff (musical ideas) progression and of narrative structure that ends with a climax and a release that brings a satisfying conclusion. The first step before going further is understanding how each idea of this song is crafted around the very simple and overused concept of two intervals a half step away from each other. The song is rather chromatic and has to be looked at with this idea in head.

1
In this case, as I will (try to) demonstrate, the most important interval is the major third, and then the perfect fifths/fourths. From this basis we can establish five constant elements that will be identified throughout the whole analysis.

2

  1. Element “a” is the collection of pitches that represent the major third intervals. Suffocation plays a lot with those intervals to create new motives and harmonies. It could also be considered as part of a harmonic minor scale (the last 3 degrees and the tonic).
  2. Same thing applies to element “b” but with the intervals of perfect fifths (and thus fourths), although the relation between the chromatic 5ths/4ths will gain another larger dimension sometimes.
  3. Element “c” is a diminished chord, something we will encounter frequently (Suffocation also uses frequently tritones and augmented fifth chords, especially in the Breeding The Spawn LP).
  4. Element “d” is a precise motive (and not collection) that finds meaning during the development of the song.
  5. Element “e” is just an ascending 3-notes chromatic scale that is used many times to partially conclude motives and phrases. It is of secondary importance.

I am not claiming that Suffocation used those leitmotifs very carefully and consciously like a classical composer would have, but my point is rather to show how, despite the lack of tonal material in the song “Pierced From Within”, unity was achieved between all components and how it creates a great song, structurally.

*From now on all the examples are in the F-clef*

Riff 1

The song starts with a long phrase at a fast tempo (riff 1) that is twice repeated. As shown in the score below, it is a mix of power chords and fast, technical strumming. We can see many manifestations of “a” as well as the repetition of rhythmic cells to create coherence. With its additional time, the last bar helps to generate an effect of oddness and temporal confusion through a more simple and effective way than modern bands trying over-technical rhythms and time signatures. This technique is used a few times in the song as you will see. Some have written the 3/4 as 12/8 but I prefer the former to adequately show rhythmic accents.

3

Riff 1 is followed by a short bridge made of an arpeggiated diminished chord (element c) and an augmented fifth chord (constructed upon two major thirds, suggesting “element a”).

4

Riff 2

From this long and complex riff, the music moves on to a generic “br00tal” verse (riff 2) where the vocals enter. However, it still manages to rhythmically catch interest due to the triplets at the end of the phrases.

5

Suffocation used different basic textures (tremolo, then muted power chords) to make both verses different while keeping the same harmonic outline, but this is not much of a big deal since the difference is not very flagrant:

6

Riff 3

Between the two verses appears riff 3(a), an intricate “melody” which marks a break for the vocals. This interlude introduces Suffocation’s technique of creating long musical phrases by the juxtaposition of motives that share different conclusions, yet constructed with the same material, as explained below. In addition of this, the different parts of the whole riff shift between “tonalities” or “regions”; where in the first bar the notes revolve around a certain fifth chord, in the next bar this fifth chord will be a semitone lower, hence the “larger” utilisation made of “element b” versus “a”. This is a very common (and cheap) way to make your material sound less repetitive when you are a bad and unoriginal death metal band, but in this song it becomes justified by the fact that the underlying concept of this technique is also used within a single part of a riff (and not only between parts) as the basis to craft multiple different melodic elements (just like the beginning of each bar in riff 3).

7

Right after our second verse, the song returns to the riff 3, but only for one bar because Suffocation shifts to a complete variation of it. While all the verses and riff 3a were written in 4/4, Suffocation adds another 4/4 bar after this first one (of riff 3b) and with the help of a drum fill switches to 6/8, once again destabilizing the listener. The ideas of riff 3a are then developed under groups of 6 sixteenth notes and constitute an even more intricate melody. Descending and ascending power chords bring us to an atonal cascade of notes which contains, of course, our previously identified elements rearranged in many ways. Mike Smith contributes to this by adding a lot of unexpected snare accents. Once again, Suffocation added a beat to the last bar to create the same effect as riff 1, but this time it is silent. This stop-start technique will be used a few times and is now an overused element of many technical bands. As usual, the whole riff is repeated with changes at the end to form a different and better transition.

Fun fact: the total of eighth notes comprised within the repetition marks of the riff is 47, a prime number, which proves the total irregularity of the “melody”.

8

Riff 3b, containing less literal repetition, brings us to what I called a “development”, because it is a short section of unique bars. Bar 1 and 4 are similar in concept, and the latter builds tension according to the former that will be released with another break and two violent snare hits. Between this, bar 2 and 3 offer chaotic rhythm where low palm muted chords meet high pitched tremolo notes and artificial harmonics. Notice that bar 1 uses what could be identified as harmonic minor scales, and thus suggesting our “element c” of diminished chords.

9

Riff 4

After this, riff 4 comes in as the powerful and savage release of the tension with its unmerciful tremolo phrases. You can see once again the technique of using different conclusions to the motive that starts each bar. On second repeat, the riff stays almost the same but emphasis is put on the phrases’ end with the removal of all instruments but one guitar to play the first beats of each bar, and with the addition of power chords on “conclusions”. The interesting element is right at the end of the riff: element d is heard very fast both times with both techniques. Then, again, the song stops and is followed by a slow, apocalyptic moment.

10

Breakdown and return

This moment is what I called (more or less rightfully) the “breakdown”. Now here is the trick: the first phrase of this section is exactly the same “element d” that concluded riff 4 but played way slower with power chords. Suffocation plays once again with textures and creates different accents with the use of palm mutes. And for another time, the last bar of the riff has an additional beat for your daily dose of rhythmic anarchy (or nihilism, as would say a controversial metal reviewer). This last bar present a rising chromatic phrase that we can interpret as developing “element d” and that presents a new 4-notes collection than in the first two bars. If you take those 2 pitches collections, you can notice that they are a major third away from each other (element a). I am not saying this was intentional or not, but I try to point out (coincidental?) links between all parts of the song.

11

The slow breakdown leads us to a sudden fast solo. I won’t analyze it here, but you can find a lot of “scales” constructed with “element a”. Listen also how the guitar sometimes melts with the triplets of riff 2.

The song returns to riff 3a, and then instead of continuing with riff 3b moves on to a new variation of the idea, riff 3c. This time, the riff takes a more urgent turn and creates the final tension, while Mullen cries the last lyrics: “I am your savior/Shapeless to your perception/For I am you/Pierced from within”. You can see how some melodic elements are now harmonized with major thirds. As usual, the second phrase (bars 3-4) uses a different conclusion.

After a repetition with a new ending, this rising tension is interrupted by a suspended chord that brings us to riff 1, played once. The song concludes abruptly before the end of the riff while the last words, “Pierced from within”, are repeated on the last four power chords. I did not talk much about vocals’ rhythm but it is cleverly constructed to fit the different parts of the song, and I am personally fond of how the lyrics are arranged in riff 3b.

Conclusions

As I said earlier, this approach might be over-technical and exaggerated, but the important thing for the reader is to at least understand how the song is well-crafted on every aspect and not entirely a sequence of random ideas. An analysis of a less technical song that contains great development would provide a good counterbalance to this article. Something out of Cianide’s The Dying Truth comes to my mind.

It is sad to think that after this album, Suffocation would never come up with anything on par with their previous material, because they certainly had to potential to improve and create new highly artistic pieces of aggressive and intelligent death metal. I still think their recent (post-reunion) albums are getting better each time and Pinnacle Of Bedlam, despite a terrible production, showed promising signs of great songwriting even though they apparently opted for a more tonal and melodic modern metal-like approach.

Skepticism set release date for new album

skepticism_band_2015
Today, Svart Records announces September 18th as the international release date for Skepticism’s highly anticipated new album, Ordeal. A legendary name in metal circles, Skepticism are widely hailed as one of the originators of funeral doom. Their first album for Svart and fifth overall, Ordeal is also the first Skepticism full-length since 2008’s Alloy. But instead of going the usual recording-in-the-studio route, the band decided to record this new album live before an audience on January 24th at Klubi in Turku, Finland, with the event also captured on film. A truly unique experience for a truly unique band, Ordealis a honest and accurate summary of what Skepticism is in 2015.

Keyboardist Eero Pöyry commented:

Recording the album live was a positive experience. I’ve come to think of Skepticism being at its best live, and the Ordeal session proved it for me. Having a whole day to concentrate in one shot at a perfect performance brought in a good pressure – and a bit of an ordeal, as well.

Adds drummer Lasse Pelkonen,

Recording live made the album sound a bit rough and dirty, which is suitable for us in any case.

The album will be available as a CD/DVD bundle and also as a LP/DVD set, featuring visual documentation of the whole Ordeal performance.

It is hard to think of a more street-credible approach to recording an album

contends Lasse,

I think metal is good only if one can recognize it as such by sound and arrangement. This happens on Ordeal. I am personally very happy with the new songs. They contain a lot of atmospheric changes and layering but still sound like Skepticism.

Guitarist Jani Kekarainen explains,

Life is an ordeal, the album is about ordeal, and making the album was an ordeal. To me, the music of Skepticism is essentially dynamic and atmospheric. These qualities in music are best presented live. Hence, recording live made it possible to capture the most authentic result for the album.

Finally, vocalist Matti concluded

It is difficult not to be and difficult to be; Ordeal is what music is – genuine without further explanation.

skepticism_ordeal

Tracklisting for Skepticism’s Ordeal

1. You
2. Momentary
3. The Departure
4. March Incomplete
5. The Road
6. Closing Music
7. Pouring
8. The March and the Stream

www.skepticism.fi

www.svartrecords.com
www.facebook.com/svartrecords
www.youtube.com/svartrecords
www.twitter.com/svartrecords

A Closer Look at Immolation’s “Father, You’re Not a Father”

closetoaworldbelow
Immolation’s Close to a World Below marked a clear departure from their earlier style. Their previous release, Failures for Gods, came out only the year before, but play the two albums back-to-back and you might be surprised it is the same band. On average, the songs are much slower. The dissonance is harsher and often tonality gets lost in a mess of pitch bends. At the same time, almost paradoxically, the production is higher: every part can be heard clearly and is given equal weight. At first glance, the songs are much more chaotic, but on further reflection, they have matured greatly in terms of structure and development. Exploring this idea will be the focus of the review.

In fact, this can probably be best understood by a thorough examination of a single track, “Father, You’re Not a Father.” The opening bass pattern is F descending to C scale-wise, but the catch is it is not a major or minor scale. The scalar pattern is the Locrian mode. Although this is typically considered a “standard” scalar mode, it is almost never used (parts of Sibelius’ 4th Symphony being a prominent exception), because the root chord is diminished. This makes the main chord of the key highly dissonant. The F to C construction is then used to introduce the first main riff (minor simplifications for readability were made):

picture1

The riff is offset from the start of the bass, so it occurs in a different place of the measure. It is also played in triplet rather than the bass duple. Everything about how these two main ideas are layered adds to the dissonance, confusion, and chaos of the sound. They even shift up a half step to F# and C# which layers a tritone on top of everything and pulls you temporarily out of the main key. Yet the whole riff is perfectly consistent and coheres with the introduction by being built from the same exact material. This is what I meant earlier when I said the songs sound chaotic at first but upon repeated listens, the internal logic emerges. We’ll call this section A.

The second main riff is introduced shortly after some vocals. A texture change happens for this riff, because it is played as power chords rather than single notes. The time signature also changes to 4/4 from the 3/4 of the beginning. The feel is naturally slowed by the use of quarter notes instead of eighth notes or eighth note triplets from section A. The riff itself ascends in opposition to the A idea which is descending.

All of this taken together is great songwriting, because the slower note values, longer measure, and power chords all contribute to a heavier feel. Each change they made between section A and B contributes in the same emotional direction. Many modern bands don’t understand this type of consistency. I wrote out the B idea for reference, but it there is enough going on that it could be heard differently by different people (maybe some fifths should be in there?):

picture2

The track returns to the A idea and then the B idea with some slight changes and vocals layered in. This can be seen as a development of the initial ideas or merely as a restatement. The next section is a true development section, because Immolation take a classical ornamentation idea and appropriate it into their own context. A mordant is a rapid alternating of the main note with a neighbor tone (sort of like a short trill). In this song, they glissando the whole thing and create an ugly, intensified version of it. This develops the A idea into its own groove which gives way to another development in which they elongate the opening bass motif.

While all of this is going on, more and more textures, intense drumming, extra dissonant notes, and layering of power chords contribute to a whole song build to the climax. The climax is the fantastic solo near the end. It teases by starting slow and slurred, almost like the guitar is trying to hold a single note that is unstable and can’t help but flick around. It then erupts into a short burst of technical prowess, and of course, quotes the A theme to tie it all together.

Overall, it is this type of excellent songwriting that makes the album worth listening to (and a departure from their earlier material). The songs are tightly constructed, coherent pieces that simultaneously feel unraveled and chaotic. They achieve a rare balance that speaks to both the mind and the emotions. Many newer bands have tried to copy the style unsuccessfully (the recent Ulcerate album comes to mind). They miss that this is not just static dissonance, but forward moving and organic in addition to being technical and rigid.

Deathseeker to release album

deathseeker

Self-identifying as death metal on the “brutal” spectrum, Deathseeker actually playing something more akin to the groove metal of Lamb of God without engaging in the jumpiness and maintaining a stabler basis. Rather it is based on chugs and rhythmic tremolo-based bursts while vocals accentuate in unvarying and short phrases. While it is hard to call this death metal at all, it is closer to an industrial-influenced groove metal whose central focus is that of heaviness itself. As such it loses vision of musically constructing anything beyond immediate and banal pleasure.

Deathseeker has been in the making for some time already but the creation process has been a recent affair. Now the band is set to release a full-length album, even though they have not given a particular date yet.

www.facebook.com/deathseekerfromnorway

Urðun – Horror & Gore (2015)

cassette cover

Urðun play a form of primitive death metal that is sufficiently competent to be pleasing to the fan of the style yet be utterly forgettable by virtue of its being both indistinguishable from its peers. But credit should be given where it is due. The band knows how to make clear beginnings, how to turn riffs on their head, create breaks, twists and introduce new ideas without destroying the continuity of the music. The coherence of the song is reinforced by bringing back main riffs in later parts of the songs even if for shorter spans of time than earlier in the songs.

Horror and Gore is the old school tremolo heavy-groove riff procession you might expect from a band like Urðun, but the songs are far from being riff salads. While some contrasting riffs are introduced as new ideas, most riffs obviously proceed from each other evolving in proper motif forms by maintaining one or more dimensions and altering others. Differing enough to be considered separate riffs (you would not consider them as derived from each other right away) but being similar enough that the idea is not broken.

As a demo, Horror and Gore is a modest triumph, but Urðun must, for a future full-length release, be able to refine their style, bringing out a distinctive identity in order to stand out. The way to find this identity is to start thinking about the riffs and this style is the end goal itself and rather to think of them as the tools for them to express what they want. Once they become a means to an end, the conceptual picture of something beyond the music can become the band’s focus, and when the listener experiences the music, he will be able to fall through the music, piercing layer after layer in subsequent repetitions of an album that is more than the sum of its parts and more than its musical structures.

Organ Dealer – Visceral Infection (2015)

CD600G_out

Organ dealer play a brand of metalcore influenced by the sound of those in that genre who call themselves “technical death metal”, but excuse themselves from any responsibility to make complete songs or to make them coherent at all by claiming to be playing grindcore. While at some level there is a reason for this claim, Organ Dealer only fulfills the requirements of a grindcore outfit on the superficial level. That is, if one asked the general public to describe grindcore, Organ Dealer would meet the “requirements”. It is in the details, the realization and what we read in between the lines of music that the deception is identified.

While grindcore does introduce a mixture of frenetic passages and mid-pace groove that do not necessarily have concrete links between them, the emphasis of grindcore has traditionally been on the strength and trance that each section evokes arising from a certain clarity of expression, the modern metal nature of Visceral Infection place the emphasis on the contrast between them. Each individual section is more forgettable, usually lacking a clear image, the emphasis being on the brutality as a whole and their form usually channeling into the next incredibly contrasting section. In the first one is pulled towards each riff, in the latter one is led towards the intersections between riffs. The nature of grindcore is replaced by that of carnival modern metal.

RazorRape announce new album Orgy In Guts

razorrapeband

Swedish death-influenced gore/grind band RazorRape have scheduled the release of their upcoming album Orgy in Guts for August, 2015.

Tracklist:
1. Bonesaw Facefuck
2. A Beast of Human Waste
3. Holy Gory Glory Hole
4. Spinal Cord Impalement
5. Vomit Drenched In Mucus
6. Choking On Feces
7. Orgy In Guts
8. Black Flood Of Body Fluids
9. Bitch Butcher Boogie
10. Grinding The Dead
11. Rampage In Red
12. Rot In Excrement
13. Lady Gagball
14. Hey Whore, Let’s Gore
15. Tennis Racket God

Internal Bleeding release new video

Internal Bleeding band

NYC death metal band, Internal Bleeding, is pleased to unveil the official new video for “Fabricating Bliss. Filmed by director Kirk Farrington and adapted from a concept developed by bassist Jay Liff and vocalist Keith DeVito, the video was shot in a chaotic style to match the frenzied mind of the video’s protagonist.

http://www.facebook.com/internalbleeding

http://www.Internal-Bleeding.com

Kronos premiers new track off their new album

kronos

Italian technical death metal band Kronos have posted a new song from their next album, Arisen New Era, whose release is approximately one month away (July 24).

As samples of the studio recording are readily available everywhere, here is a 2013 live recording  of the same, displaying both the technical competence of the band as well as the live power of the material!