Capharnaum – Reality Only Fantasized (1997)

Capharnaum were a short-lived “tech-death” band hailing from Connecticut but then after the release moved to Florida in the dying of the Floridian movement in an attempt to gain recognition for what is a technical Death metal album that genuinely has musical quality beyond mere feats of virtuosity. Influences range from bands like Monstrosity, Death and Iron Maiden with various Jazz techniques inserted. Though this formula has led to an infinitely long list of terrible tech Death bands, Capharnaum avoid these shortcomings by implementing these techniques within a genuine Death metal context and a true passion for genre not halted by technical acumen.
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The Craft of Metal #2: Abominations of Desolation

Abominations of Desolation (1986) appeared during the fertile years of death metal as the first full-length release from Morbid Angel but was relegated to demo status during the period when the band became more well known. All the songs except “Demon Seed” were re-recorded on later releases.

The true first Morbid Angel album reveals the genetic material that the band would then expand for the next three releases during what would be their musical prime. It shows the band at their peak from a compositional point of view owing in part to the combination of Azagthoth’s and Browning’s genuine belief in the Necronomicon and the focus on making their music the soundtrack to their beliefs.

The incredibly diverse riffcraft shows the band absorbing influences principally from Hellhamer, Angel Witch, Slayer and Mercyful Fate. Unlike their influences, the band plays fully developed death metal with long tremolo picked passages, single picked notes, fast alternate picked open strings playing against moving power chord progressions, even playing with other diatonic chords from time to time and combining the whole in a varied amount of ways depending on the needs of the songs. Notably absent is the influence of speed metal which would appear on the more streamlined Altars of Madness (1989). None of the bounce nor the rhythmic interplay of their contemporaries is in evidence here; the band does not accentuate the offbeats nor do they use the choppy syncopation of their more well-known peers.

From the heavy metal that was so influential to this record Morbid Angel brought the device of guitar solos, not as an ornament or an embellishment, but as a central piece within the composition that works closely with the rhythm guitars playing underneath. Here is a band with a limited number of technical tools derived from previous bands but combined in a large variety of ways that sets the standard for all of death metal and allows the band to create much more powerful melodies that can be interconnected in maze like arrangements.

Contrary to popular belief Morbid Angel never attempted to create atonal music as they obviously do enjoy smashing one note or power chord and then making the whole sequence invert the relationship formerly established. However, on a much subtler note Trey Azagthoth does have the ability to play with tonality in the most twisted of ways. Take for example “Chapel of Ghouls” and how the low chugging has a particular power to it and never sounds like the chugging between riffs from any speed metal derived band. That is because the chugging note is not the actual root note of the song but what is referred to as the subtonic. This is the last note in the natural minor scale and demonstrates a lack of desire to lead into the root note of the scale. Rather than a rhythmic embellishment, we are treated to an integral note in the many motifs of “Chapel of Ghouls” and how the band managed to truly convey power and occultist ideology through simple yet effective musical choices.

Chromaticism at this point in time had already been a widespread technique but Morbid Angel decided to apply their own twist on it. Rather than create fully chromatic passages the songs are derived from the minor scale and its variations but with added streams of three or four chromatic bursts. This really did obscure the tonality of certain passages, and gave birth to the myth that Morbid Angel played atonal music to make the band seem much more intellectual where in reality the young band did even better than that: they adapted tonality for their own style and to this day very few bands have been able to emulate these techniques efficiently.

The arrangements here push the riff as being above all else. Multiple melodies form these songs that flow in such a fluid manner that this would inspire the Norwegian scene in their compositional choices. The melodies vary in tempo and in note selection yet the transitions never sound forced as the band will lengthen the note duration when speeding up and shorten the note duration when slowing down. This allows for these motifs to mutate without being held back by rhythm. The influence of Mozart is subtle but is ever present in the way the band designs the arrangement of each song. At first each song has a primary melody that either begins the composition or is introduced by a motif of minor importance. A development then occurs either through a new riff that either takes the previous motif and transforms it or through an entirely new riff accompanied with a tempo change to push the tension even further along. Eventually the music arrives at an apex where all the tension is released before it concludes on the main motif that has now become a revelation.

Let us look at “Angel of Disease,” which has a simple heavy metal motif in D# minor without any chromatic notes. It is then warped to a slower riff that is barely in D# minor but has been deformed entirely by surrounding chromatic notes and this continues the momentum of the main motif as the cycle repeats one more time before branching out into a palm muted stream of single notes working in opposition with the secondary motif leading us to the grand climax of the song. The solos Azagthoth performs obey the underlying riffs and, through a combination of insane melodies that are at times atonal whole tone jumps or some very unique arpeggios like the diminished seventh which is an endless stream of minor thirds, create some very unique sounds. The solos through their madness show a strong logic where they reinforce the arrangements either by providing the climax or by creating even more tension upon the chromatic segments.

Abominations of Desolation takes the underground metal that evolving at the same time and use it to make the first truly mature death metal record. Surprisingly the heavy metal of the past is still very present in this band though it remains a device for the creation of the more consonant motifs, yet one can only wonder what the avenue explored by the only song to not appear on future records “Demon Seed.” The extravagant heavy metal didn’t seem to be in accordance with the band’s future works but what we have here is a Judas Priest style composition that plays with its dual identity, and it would take a few years before the European bands would develop this style further.

Where the influence of future country singer David Vincent would push Morbid Angel to explore grindcore and speed metal whilst taking influence from this album, Mike Browning was able to channel the band toward creating a powerful piece of art that is still to this day not fully understood and that neither musician has been able to recreate. There are far too many elements in this album to effectively analyze in such small an article as this is, but it reveals the power held by the common beliefs of two above average individuals, as well as reveals the magic that happened in that incredibly short period time only to disappear back to the depths of hell.

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Ectovoid – Dark Abstraction (2015)

In this age of musical saturation, noteworthy releases slip through the cracks as mediocrity bombards the average Death metal listener who prefers to remain within the well-defined boundaries of the classics of the genre. Some bands distinguish themselves the horde and create compelling works that while not classics are sincere and well-crafted pieces of music that deserve attention and that merit multiple listens. Very rarely do we see works of art crafted within this genre that can be compared on equal footing to the greats of the past in creating their own unique voice. Here at Death Metal Underground we have entered Sammath and Serpent Ascending into that category. Today we open the gates for Ectovoid and their release Dark Abstraction (2015).
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Death metal influence on power metal

After the initial explosion of Death metal, metal had finally made the breach into untapped territory. Gone were the tropes of previous influences and the race to reach new summits of musical expression had begun. On the sidelines the speed metal bands saw themselves pushed into irrelevance; hardcore had now evolved into Grindcore and heavy metal heroes had now degenerated into more commercial sounds in order to expand their fanbase in a world that had left them behind. The European power metal bands found escape in Tolkienesque fantasy and escapism. In America, the USPM movement was not interested in the more flowery interpretation of European power metal. Some of these artists recognized the power of the early Death metal moved by Slayer and sought to integrate it into their own music for greater effect. Here we shall omit the failures of bands that attempted such experiments like Satan’s Host or Iron Cross.
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Septic Flesh – Temple of the Lost Race (1991)

It is not without good reason that the early 1990s are heralded as the golden era of metal music around these parts. In less than 5 years, not only did death metal reach its hitherto most mature stage, but in its immediate wake came the pinnacles of the by-then emerging black metal movement which remains unsurpassed to this day. (more…)

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Gradus ad Phlegethon: First Thoughts

A notion has sprung out of Andreas Languetus’ mind for a project titled Gradus ad Phlegethon the sole purpose of which is not simply to study or theorize, but rather construct a viable method of transmitting the compositional techniques of ‘death and black‘ metal. Where this accumulation of illustrative techniques will take us, we cannot yet tell. But we know that it shall bring together concrete musical practices, basic contrapuntal and motif-writing techniques, as well as techniques aimed at directing the mind to appropriate states. Each of these are instrumental to the formation of a true and complete methodology that encompasses a true evolution of metal into and beyond death and black metal. Said endeavor lies in parallel, though perhaps meeting at intersections, with the search for and use of pure sound as notions for metal and dark ambient composition.
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Sadistic Metal Reviews: Rehash Buffet Edition

Given that newer metal musicians are quickly realizing that current trends within the genre are artistically bankrupt, many new bands are reaching backwards into previous sounds forged during the splintering of the death metal genre in the mid-90s. Superficially these bands may succeed in gaining metal cred through filtering their outsider millennial approach through the lens of those who had created the sounds they are aping, but we at DMU know better. Onward to the gallows!
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Afflicted

Afflicted were a Swedish metal band from the late 80’s to the mid 90’s releasing only two albums and a handful of demos. They began as Afflicted Convulsion playing primitive yet erratic death metal/grindcore. Although the riffs on their earliest (listenable) demo, Beyond Redemption, do little to set themselves apart from their contemporaries, we are presented with nuanced compositions that keep the listener enticed through each track, presenting satisfying wholes rather than myopic moments of inspiration. As Afflicted, the band would take their compositional skills and apply them to unique riffs on their demos and first album, Prodigal Sun. (more…)

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Hellhammer Discography Overview

Our tribute to Hellhammer is more than a recognition of their historical importance. Rather, we understand the relevance of Hellhammer as one artistic, in terms of the development of the craft of metal, and as the time-less place of several of their compositions. In general, we can hear the band’s material broken in two directions: one is the temporal rock n’ roll influence, and the other a hint of madness, an intrusion of the unknown into the mind of Tom G. Warrior especially. It is the exploration of this unknown side that brought forth what makes Hellhammer the realization of underground metal as music, not simply as idea or as a ‘social’ movement or a ‘sub/counter’ culture. The latter two are temporal, and ultimately just by-products. What concerns us here is the dark side channeled, the a-/supra- temporal, the in-human and the un-humane making headway unbeknownst and not fully understood by the artists themselves.
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The Craft of Metal #1: Satanic Rites —Part II

Form and Function

Musical innovation does not spawn independently. Most of the progressions in underground metal have taken stylistic influence from more accessible genres and within those aural parameters created a new foundational narrative to divorce the context from the aesthetics it had previously used as a guideline. This approach allows for a less jarring immersion into a musical journey while at the same time utilizing tropes of superficial familiarity to manipulate the audience into being subjugated to an indirect path towards the artistic catharsis of unique expression that is the spiritual negative of the aesthetics used. On Satanic Rites, we can observe how Hellhammer has utilized the foundation of punk rock to shape their sound while introducing a unique tonality and dynamic scope to flesh out the beginnings of a new musical genre.
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