Gorement – The Ending Quest

November 26, 2014 –

gorement-the_ending_quest

Gorement could send a thank-you letter to Amorphis and the funeral doom movement for popularizing its riffs over the years, since despite a large amount of raw promise this release was never going anywhere. The Ending Quest is like a book of ideas, raw riffs of great potential floating in a background of poor ideas and randomness.

Often reasons exist for why underground treasures never made it to the surface back in the day. In the case of The Ending Quest, the reason is that it is a boring and frustrating listen, for two reasons. The band does not know how to develop songs, and thus its greatest ideas either go nowhere or run somewhere pointless, and its songwriting duties seem divided between a genius at melodic riffs and a guy who likes to write chromatic skim fills to keep those riffs from getting ahead of themselves.

Only two years after this album came out, a band named Skepticism took this aesthetic and brought it to a better place: crashing glacial riffs, slow bass-intense vocals, and a melodic basis. They dropped the death metal influences that required those melodic riffs to move quickly, and the guitar solos, which meant that they made their music in more of an ambient capacity. Gorement instead try to make death metal and so they piece it together, two boring riffs for every melodic sweet spot, and a sense of rhythm that often disconnects the needs of the riff from the needs of the song.

Material of stunning insight, foresight and promise fills this disc. Many of these riffs are cognizable from the albums of bands that went on to more success, and some of these ideas far exceed the substitutes that came in their place. The unique low and slow bass-intense vocals were an innovation, as was the tendency — later exploited by bands like Amorphis, Dissection, Sentenced, Bolt Thrower and Sacramentum — to stitch a fast melodic lead over a vermicular riff and slow partial groove. Gorement also know how to create a dramatic transition through simultaneous tempo and riff shift. The problem is that so many of these riffs fall into predictable patterns, and so many of these songs fail to organize their elements into any expression, so we end up with the curse of all early death metal: the album of good riffs that goes nowhere.

Our ex-editor Kontinual, who died suddenly of AIDS in 2010, wrote fondly of this band. But this is ultimately where we differ: death metal is propelled by structure, with each song forming a kind of “riff-poem” in which emotion is derived from how the riffs fit together, not the particular key and mode in which they are written. Riff-poems fail when they stop making sense, or when there is blathering nonsense that should have been edited out inserted just after a phrase of great profundity. The Ending Quest inspired legions of bands and imitators, is partially responsible for the first “melodic doom” explosion that tried to make death metal for rock music fans with Tiamat and later Opeth, and clearly gave many bands a riff book to use in their own projects. But as a listening experience, it resembles a speech by a distracted professor: moments of brilliance, surrounded by confusion.

Cóndor announces new album Duin will be released January 27, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

The tracklist is as follows:

  1. Río frío
  2. El lamento de Penélope
  3. La gran laguna
  4. Coeur-de-lion
  5. Condordäle
  6. Helle gemundon in mod-sefan
  7. Adagio
  8. Duin

Metal as Romanticism

November 23, 2014 –

caspar_david_friedrich-wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fog

Romanticism defined resistance to social pressures in the post-Enlightenment world, but also caved to the pressure to accept the fundamental ideals of that earlier era.

Where the Enlightenment placed emphasis on individual choice and emotion, so did the Romantics, although they tempered this with a strong attachment to ancient values and the ruined forms of a prior world. It had a number of salient attributes:

  1. A revolt against accepted form: democratization of subject and language, a less formal poetic voice, and a new range of subjects such as the supernatural and “the far away and the long ago” adopted by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats and others; the visionary mode of poetry adopted by William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Blake; and the use of metaphysical symbolism.
  2. Focus on the poet’s or writer’s own feelings instead of a universal emotion shared among all humanity. This emphasized spontaneity, meditative stillness, and a sense of discovery through intuition. Imagination was seen as more important than fact.
  3. External nature (landscape, plants, animals) became a persistent subject.
  4. Often written with the poet or writer as protagonist.
  5. A sense of progress, or of limitless good achievable by use of the imagination, instead of reliance upon past methods. — (M.H. Abrams, “Neoclassic and Romantic” in A Glossary of Literary Terms, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Orlando, FL 1993, pp. 125-129.)

While it was an affirmation of the individualism of the Enlightenment, it also rebelled against the group-think thus created, and emphasized the thoughts of the exceptional individual — personified in the writer — over the “universal emotion shared among all humanity.” This template provided the basis for any number of tropes among pop culture including the “rock star” himself, who is assumed to have messianic powers of insight which he conveys through the ritual of the concert.

Metal began with a mixed heritage arising from rock and soundtrack music. Among the rock influences were The Doors, Jethro Tull and King Crimson, all of whom emphasized apocalyptic themes beginning in a crisis of direction in the human individual. These dystopian rockers showed us that under the progress of technology and advancement of society lurked a dark undercurrent, which was our lack of faith in our own future. Since the future is determined by the present, they looked to sources of doubt and fear in humanity. Metal carried this onward in a mythological H.P. Lovecraft inspired form.

This caused a clash with Enlightenment values. What are those? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides a handy summation of the values of the Enlightenment:

In his famous definition of “enlightenment” in his essay “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (1784), which is his contribution to this debate, Immanuel Kant expresses many of the tendencies shared among Enlightenment philosophies of divergent doctrines. Kant defines “enlightenment” as humankind’s release from its self-incurred immaturity; “immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another.” Enlightenment is the process of undertaking to think for oneself, to employ and rely on one’s own intellectual capacities in determining what to believe and how to act. Enlightenment philosophers from across the geographical and temporal spectrum tend to have a great deal of confidence in humanity’s intellectual powers, both to achieve systematic knowledge of nature and to serve as an authoritative guide in practical life. This confidence is generally paired with suspicion or hostility toward other forms or carriers of authority (such as tradition, superstition, prejudice, myth and miracles), insofar as these are seen to compete with the authority of reason.

Metal brought a counter-Enlightenment mythos, as did much of the Romantics including writers like Mary Shelley and William Wordsworth: people are delusional and tend to prefer happy realities, and so they are not “guiding themselves” so much as choosing illusions that deny the fundamental nature of life as conflict. In the metal universe, conflict is a good thing as it leads to the rise of the stronger above the rest, and thus improves the quality of what is there. From Black Sabbath to Slayer and beyond, metal has criticized the happy hippie “love” mythos and replaced it with one where, in contrast to the Enlightenment, individual judgment does not reign supreme but instead misleads.

Death Metal Underground has advocated the belief that metal is a Romantic art form for over two decades now. In our prior incarnation as other web sites, FTP sites and even g-files during the bulletin board days, we emphasized the Romantic nature of this music as an explanation for its occultism, warlike outlook and amoral or nihilistic worldview. Now it seems that metal journalism has caught up with this idea somewhat, as an article on urban metal site Invisible Oranges mentions it:

Beethoven’s music was less a road map through musical theory and more a guide to the very center of the human psyche. And history has rewarded his efforts; the name Beethoven is now known to a significant portion of the world’s population. His music was still recognizably Classical, but it introduced a host of new compositional techniques that shook the entire creative world.

And you know what? The same thing is happening to metal. Right now. And it’s not just a single band or album that’s leading the charge, either; Deafheaven, and Ihsahn, as well as less prominent artists like Aquilus, have also become what I’ll affectionately call “musically uninhibited.”

Other than the premise of this article being badly flawed, which is that anything “new” equals Romantic, and that recycling burned-out 1990s rock tropes through black metal and death metal is somehow “new,” it leads us to question the nature of the Romantic in metal. Metal displays many attributes of Romantic thinking but, like Mary Shelley or later Romantic Gothic writers including those in the Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft traditions, also displays skepticism about the “Enlightened” future. Specifically, it knows most people are purposeless and weak, that most “truths” are lies, and that society covers up its inner core of decay and desire for conflict. That’s perhaps the most useful way to frame this question, instead of “does nu-indie constitute a Romantic revolution in metal?”

Disentomb – Misery

October 31, 2014 –

disentomb-misery

Contemporary brutal death metal fills its world with feces and dismembered women in lieu of content. While that repugnant stench has kept the critical listeners away, the less-discerning still inhale the fumes, but now a band from Australia threatens to unite the audiences on a newer and more advanced form of the genre.

Attempting to deviate from the soulless average that has infested the genre, Disentomb with Misery unleash a work of complex but stripped-down death metal. Like the energetic offspring of Immolation and Disgorge, this album creates dark and dissonant brutal death metal yet still stays true to the frenetic riff-salad recipe that is inherent to the brutal death metal artistic voice. On Misery, the internal dialogue of these riffs projects the type of landscape we might find in a dystopic wasteland, tearing songwriting down to its bare, primal foundations in a method evocative of early Suffocation.

Misery exudes chaos, depravity, and most importantly, direction. While their contemporaries languish in a pool of defecation and flat-bills, Disentomb dream bigger and help steer brutal death metal toward a new direction. In particular, songwriting returns in a sense other than boxy variations on standard pop/rock song form. Songs vary from the brooding mid-paced drone of darker material to the bright and abrasive aggression of fast and chaotic tracks and use each other for contrast so the album as a whole highlights a range of emotions. The result is a complete package of death metal brutality and intensity that aims for an artistically alert audience.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 10-18-14

October 18, 2014 –

kvlt_juggalette

What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? As you lie on your deathbed and look over life, you will divide everything you know into things you will miss and things you have forgotten already. Some metal is worth remembering, but the vast majority is just background noise. We hail the former and smite the latter, salting their wounds with our sardonic laughter…

internal_bleeding-imperium

Internal Bleeding – Imperium

After Suffocation got big in the mid-90s as the next big direction for death metal, lots of bands took the Cannibal Corpse hint and started imitating the easier parts of the Suffocation percussive death metal approach. Unfortunately, doing so creates music that is dumber than malformed concrete, and Internal Bleeding quickly distinguished itself as the death metal version of Pantera: brocore for bros who like to you know drink beer and punch their heads into walls. Checking in with them 19 years later, it seems little has changed. These songs are hook-laden and not fully random, but the hook relies on the most basic of rhythms and their expectation, sort of like watching a chihuahua chase its tail. The band tries to compensate for their basic and unexciting music with really active vocals and occasional melodic touches on guitar, but nothing changes the fact that these songs are based around extremely basic patterns designed to numb and erode the mind. The famous breakdowns are back and serve to break up some of the constant muted-strum chugging and ranting vocals that shadow the rhythm of the guitar riff, but even if they dropped occasional symphonic parts into this Internal Bleeding could not hide the fact that most of this music is designed to destroy brain cells or appeal to those who have already voluntarily obliterated their own minds.

oppression-sociopathie_and_gloire

Oppression – Sociopathie & Gloire

This band will be overlooked by many because the production on this album makes it hard to hear anything but bass, vocals and metals (cymbals and high-hat). However, what lies beneath the obscurity is a quality melodic punk album that verges on Oi and shows us what emo could have been in the hands of quality songwriters; you could compare this to the Descendents and the Misfits because this band write quality vocal melodies over melodically hookish riffs and rhythms, producing a sense of familiarity and yet a sense of weight like that of history or topics that pop up in every life no matter what age. Vocals alternate between a black metal-ish rasp and sung punk vocals, with the latter being more convincing. As with Misfits, the composition of these vocal melodies defines the song, combining old world melodic intensity with a casual punk sense that favors the simple and almost childlike. Touches of metal technique accentuate the harmonic space created by these rather open melodies, but generally, what you hear is punk that sounds as much like Blitz or Reagan Youth as something more recent. The result brings together the best of punk in its attempts to combine its energy with depth, and provides for a good listen, if the listener is able to hear past the abysmal production.

steve_hackett-genesis_revisited_live_at_royal_albert_hall

Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live at Royal Albert Hall

Among the 1970s progressive rock bands, Genesis is frequently mentioned but often forgotten. It seems to me that the reason is that its vocalist, not its guitar-keyboard duo, dominated the composition and thus it drifted closer to the regular-rock tinged Pink Floyd style of “light” progressive rock, without getting as populist and compact as Pink Floyd or Rush did. However, it would be a mistake to overlook the first few Genesis albums which were ambitious although steeped in a self-righteousness which seems more pretentious than the usual self-indulgent musically masturbatory egoism of progressive rock. On this live recording, Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett revisits the older Genesis material with the benefit of an extensive solo career and an entirely different band. The result makes Genesis sound more pastoral, with greater emphasis on vocals and mood in the style of later-1970s big radio rock bands, but also brings out some of the more aggressive guitar that got buried under keyboards and vocals on the originals. Vocalist Nad Sylvan manages a more soulful and less starchily self-referential voice than the original, and all accompanying musicians are excellent including a cast of highly talented players who, while not fully noticed by name in the mainstream, have demonstrated their abilities in complement to larger acts in the past. While all of this shines, the fundamental problem with Genesis remains the “oil on water” feel when it switches between something that sounds like Queen and a sort of extended figurative structured jam. While highly musical, Genesis often seems atopical and thus lost between its rock drama and its progressive underpinnings, and in many ways, having Hackett reinforce the role of guitar both reduces this gap and highlights what is left. For Genesis fans who wondered what this band might have been like with a different internal balance of power, these re-envisioned tracks will provide hours of exploration.

wolf-devil_seed

Wolf – Devil Seed

This album takes the speed and intensity of a speed metal album, adds in Accept-style power metal vocals, but underneath the skin is something more like a hybrid between the first albums from Motley Crue and Queensryche. The result is… well, there’s no nice way to say this, but: annoying. Highly skilled and highly repetitive, vocally demonstrative and vocally over-dramatic, catchy and infectious and yet cloying, it hammers out the earworm qualities of glam metal at the pace of speed metal with the production and sound of power metal. If this is your first album from this style, it might be interesting to own, but probably difficult to listen to on a regular basis because of the similarity of the tracks and the consistently high levels of sentiment and bounding energy. The 1980s varied moods of glam metal have been replaced with the aesthetics of techno or punk, and it just keeps going and eventually even drowns itself out. Musically, nothing here ventures outside of the camp of what has worked before and become established, although a few adept variations give greater power to the framework. As with most metal/rock hybrids, what brings it down is the need for vocals to lead which crowds out other instruments, in turn squeezing the space available for song development. While the vocals are impressive, when they become too predominant like this they lose some of their power; Halford or Dickinson (or Di’Anno) would have been more selective in the use of their full-bore intensity and emotional depth.

vardan-enjoy_of_deep_sadness

Vardan – Enjoy of Deep Sadness

This band combines “suicidal black metal” with the shoegaze/emo/indie variant that specialized in certain minor key chord progressions turning upward at the end of each phrase to convey a sense of misplaced “hope,” much in the way early 1990s emo-punk bands did. The result is merely a new aesthetic slapped on top of very ancient and pointless music, since the “mixed emotions” sensation has been popular in rock music since the 1960s and produces the type of emotions one might want in the background of a movie about losing your favorite race car, but apply not at all to any life with depth, where the emotions are more than mixed but intertwined in some way more than a balance of sadness/joy that seems like it came off a greeting card. This isn’t bad in execution; it’s soulless in intent. While the former is forgivable, the latter renders this music irrelevant to anyone who is here to live for the purpose of living, because to such a person confused self-pity and weepy “hope” is completely non-applicable. In the same way it is entirely possible to listen to this entire EP, nod once, and then read a book on database administration and be more thoroughly moved by its depth and emotion than anything Vardan will ever record.

savn-savn

Savn – Savn

Anyone else remember The Gathering? They had a female vocalist, a quite good one name Anneke something-impossible-in-Dutch, and she was not only adorable but also could sing. But that’s the distraction. The question of whether a metal band can have a female vocalist is never asked when the female vocalist goes the route of Doro or another high performer. It’s when the presence of a female vocalist changes the sound of the band that people start wanting to talk about that instead of the music. And Savn cleverly starts out with very black metal sounds, then the keyboards kick in, and then very pretty female vocals intrude. Excellent production. There’s even a harmonica, for the sake of Zuul. The whole nine yards. But if you stop hearing the distortion for a moment, you realize you’re hearing standard folk rock that has been 100% consistent from the 1960s through the present day. It fits the female vocal and range but even more, it fits the needs of people in boutique shops that sell crystals to feel vaguely empowered, slightly sad and yet charged with some kind of great Meaning that has lifted up their insignificant lives of watching television and answering phones at work to the focal point of some vast collision between human emotions that form the basis of the cosmos itself. You can imagine Jewel belting out this album, or Linda Rondstadt, or even Taylor Swift. Savn would do better to just run Doris Day vocals over old Burzum albums. I do not contest the assertion that they are talented, good players, imaginative, and that the production here is amazing. I just question what it has to convey. The answer is feeling good while you shop and pretend that the universe is not a cold empty place, and that somehow your emotions derived from pop music are totally relevant and might even determine the future. On an emotional and artistic level, this release is poisonous; on any other level, it is simply a product that doubtless will sell many crystals, possibly cube cars and haircuts too.

provocator-antikristus

Provocator – Antikristus

Joining on the primitive black metal thread which bands like Von thrust to the forefront, Provocator crafts simple sawing black metal based on extremely rudimentary chord progressions that are nonetheless not pure chromatic, giving it a more accessible base of tones to expand upon. Like Acheron or Ungod, these riffs rely on building momentum and then redirecting it with quick rotational motion, but the repetition of this technique wears thin. Extensive demonic vocals crowd over the top but instead of giving this depth, simply distract from both the underlying guitar and the effect of the vocals to the point where it sounds like trying to listen to a portable radio in a busy train station. Nothing on this is terrible or misplaced, but it also provides no particularly compelling content and no reason to revive this style as a result. While it plays, the comfortingly familiar Sarcofago-style drone and chaos at the right BPM will make most black metal fans accept it without a further thought, but the real question with any release is whether you will seek it out again. In this case, nothing is offered that cannot be found elsewhere in a less repetitive form. Although this is no reason to choose an album, the blasphemous song titles and Blasphemy-style prison escape vocals add to some enjoyment but cannot compensate for the fact that this is like listening to a throttle test on a ’78 Camaro.

Organic (formerly Organic Infest) release new material

October 13, 2014 –

organic-logo

Puerto Rican death metal band Organic Infest took a new direction with new members and became Organic, which has re-issued its discography and recently unleashed a new track, “The Holocaust,” which shows the direction the band will take upcoming recordings.

As usual defying the conventional method and trends alike, Organic features a drummer, a bassist and… a second bassist. Chew Correa plays a piccolo bass in place of guitar which prompts unconscious fear by metalheads that the music will not have the same crashing intensity as regular death metal. “The Holocaust” puts these fears to rest.

Organic takes an approach to death metal which differs from the more aggressive riff-based attack; this is a layered, spacious and highly melodic vision of death metal without seeping into the sappy land of warmed-over heavy metal made pretty for listening at parties which is essentially what “melodic death metal” has become. Instead, Correa leads his team in an approach more like structured jazz, with deep percussive texture allowing the stringed instrument players time to overlap one another in patterns that do not quite mimic guitar, but push bass in a new direction as well.

“The Holocaust” shows Organic ripping into fast death/speed hybrid riffs with room for melodic touches and rhythmic fills, creating variety between the shredding straight-ahead approach and the more nuanced layering. Complete with roaring vocals that approach a “bestial” side of metal instead of the more uniform barking or riot shouts, Organic use this track to forge a new style based on their strengths and many attributes of classic heavy metal.

Soulburn unleashes “Under the Rise of a Red Moon” from upcoming The Suffocating Darkness

soulburn-the_suffocating_darkness

Dutch underground metal band Soulburn — formed from the ashes of Asphyx and related acts — carries on in a new direction with new track “Under the Rise of a Red Moon” released in advance of forthcoming November release The Suffocating Darkness.

This track shows more of a black metal vibe and trope to this band, eschewing the percussive feel (and left-hand-mute sheeting distortion guitar technique) of Asphyx in favor of a dark atmosphere with melodic continuations driving the song, which was the style of black metal that exhibited the last gasp of an underground through bands like Deathspell Omega and Inquisition. However, the band cites first-generation proto-underground bands like Celtic Frost and Bathory as well as NWOBHM band Venom as inspiration, although Soulburn exhibits technique from later black metal.

Soulburn features Asphyx anchor and drum talent Bob Bagchus but also Eric Daniels, who wrote some of the more interesting guitar on early works up through the self-titled album, although by that point he had exited the band. Added to the list are Remco Kreft on guitar, who played with Daniels in Grand Supreme Blood Court, and Twan van Geel on bass. Notably missing is Wannes Gubbels of Pentacle who may be responsible for the melodic direction that Death… The Brutal Way took which was missing from the more mechanistic Deathhammer. However, Daniels and Gubbels serve similar roles in creating the melodic understructure of songs.

Billing themselves as “blackened death metal,” Soulburn clearly seek to distinguish their music from the choppy explosive death metal that Asphyx and related acts like Hail of Bullets are currently producing. “Under the Rise of a Red Moon” features a dark and lush ambiance with song structure mutations in unexpected places, leading to a sense of destabilization and ambiguity. This contrasts the style of Asphyx, which increasingly sounds like a reduction of the world into discrete and concrete statements, and embraces a future of dystopia and confusion.

Drummer Bob Bagchus, who left Asphyx at some point after they started to sound like Hail of Bullets, leaves us with this summary: “This track shows well what Soulburn is all about: cold, dark and grim blackened doom/death metal. ‘Under the Rise of a Red Moon’ is furious and contains all the elements we love the most about metal. This song also shows that one does not need many riffs to create a grim atmosphere…this is a mid-paced assault with a pure and heavy 80s feel, just how we wanted it!”

Sadistic Metal Reviews 10-13-14

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? The first metal album that you really connect with should be a magic experience, one that transforms your life. But a large group of people want you to apply that same feeling to their album so they can take your money, but their music is mediocre. SMR is the dividing line between the greatness and the forgettable, and we exult in the tears of the latter, for they are the sweetest of wines…

solace_of_requiem-casting_ruin

Solace of Requiem – Casting Ruin

A new epidemic trend grips metal, following war metal, which is the tendency to Angelcorpse — yes, that’s being used as a verb — a mixture of metal influences and tie the mess together with loud vocals. Fast guitars and overactive drums work for Angelcorpse, who clearly came along in the Fallen Christ vein of blasting streamlined death metal, but metal bands now are using that style like a tortilla to dump everything else into, wrap up the ends and make a metal burrito. While some bands that make burrito metal are able to keep interest, the problem with this style and the carnival music high contrast (read: randomness) aesthetic of bands like Behemoth that rose in parallel is that by turning the volume up to 11 for everything, it creates a constant flow of essentially invariant sound that possesses no dynamic and no real progression. It is thus easier to write; songs require no real internal contrast, and songwriters can stack bits of whatever they have on hand and stitch it up with some technicality. I find Solace of Requiem to be unlistenable for this reason. It is a barrage of noise that, if someone were to take any part of it and break it out into parts divided by its internal tension and then make a song of it, might work. But the whole burrito does not. The Solace of Requiem burrito includes more lead guitar and melody and some NYDM style technicality and sweeps borrowed from metalcore, but that does not differentiate its essential approach from all the other Behemoth/Angelcorpse hybrids. Like Taco Bell, it goes down quickly, is easily forgotten and leaves an unpleasant odor lingering in its wake.

wombbath-internal_caustic_torments

Wombbath – Internal Caustic Torments

This is one of those bands that makes plodding rhythms catchy to the point that a listener will fall into the groove and not mind, but also will not seek it out repeatedly because of the sheer repetition without much of a direction. These riffs came straight out of hard rock, got detuned and had some quick fills added, but remain as predictable as listening to AC/DC covers at the local karaoke bar. The result is that Wombbath batters your brain until it gives up, then pours a layer of relatively obvious material over it, including songs that complete an arc but without any real doubt or tension in the middle, such that like the riffs, the structure of the songs themselves is duplicative and numbing. Nothing is done poorly and this band clearly shows mastery of the old school style, but what it lacks is a reason for a listener who is aware of the best of old school death metal to embrace this. Internal Caustic Torments expresses in many ways the worst of old school death metal and the tendency that caused the genre to collapse on itself, which was nailing the style and then using it to hammer out repetition like propaganda. This album could be improved overnight by introducing actual tension between the first and second riffs, then seeing where that leads and using it to reorganize these songs, because many of the raw elements are there.

pilgrim-ii_void_worship

Pilgrim – II: Void Worship

Stoner doom metal happened when 1970s jam music swallowed up doom metal and remains basically stuck in the 1970s, Slacker, That 70s Show, etc. mentality. In other words, it aims to dig out wonder in the smallest of things, much as stoners can find a universe in their toenails. In this case, it is not the “doom” aspect that is problematic, but the fact that this music seems designed to find the fascinating and earth-shattering in simple chord progressions that remind us of Foreigner and Journey releases but without the strong sense of harmony. Instead, it’s every stoner’s dream: just start plodding along, then jam over that until some sort of magic emerges. When you think about it, that is what the Grateful Dead did for decades, blarting out never-ending tuneless solos that incorporated every technique in the book but to no end, because there was no point, only a desire to keep the jam going for as long as possible so the audience and band could take more drugs, be more groovy, pose more in front of the flower-painted school bus and other activities for people who have voids in their souls and no purpose to their lives. Pilgrim are more musically adept than most bands which cross this desk, but they take it nowhere. Songs jam, build up, trail off. Solos and fills drop in competently but express nothing. The album has a big concept somewhere if you read the theory about it that they include with all releases nowadays — I never do — but it is not expressed in the music. Much like a recent failed indie-metal album about whales, the putative topic is not the subject matter, but a cover story for playing the same crap. Really, just go get the first Def Leppard album because it does everything that happens here but with a purpose. A vapid purpose, but no purpose is more vapid than no purpose itself. Flee.

midnight-no_mercy_for_mayhem

Midnight – No Mercy for Mayhem

Warmed over NWOBHM with American glam metal glitz under a glaze of alt-death bands like Nifelheim or Gehennah. Remember when that stuff came out? It was 1998 and black metal had officially shot its wad, following death metal the dubious status of having a fully developed form but having expressed all of its relevant content three years or more prior. Thus bands thought, “Well, we have this new technology in the death metal and black metal styles, why not mix them and use them to encode the same old crap that bands were talking about in the 1970s?” You know, the safe stuff: alcohol, sex, partying and pissing off your parents. No one in a modern liberal democracy will argue with you for such an assertion of individualism and defiance of The Establishment. Thus it’s about as challenging and volatile as tap water, as controversial as feeding pigeons in a park, and the perfect product because it takes almost zero effort to make a few catchy hard rock songs with heavier vocals and more intense drums. Anyone can do it! Those were the words they used in the dying years of punk, also, which meant that anyone and everyone did do it, which ensured that the music became boring because it wasn’t about anything. Midnight isn’t about anything either. Its members are fixated only on being in a band and making some tunes that people like. That’s sort of like a chef deciding that he wants to make Big Macs instead of Filet Mignon because “people like it.” Like a Big Mac, No Mercy For Mayhem is soft and uniform in consistency and slightly sweet with a tangy sauce of rebellious high school rock. But it resembles an average of every burger ever made with the never-fail treatment of adding fat, salt and sugar, thus there is no growth, learning or evolution in it. It is simply an object, a product. And like all soulless things, it can only occupy your time, not enhance it, which means you stagnate, and you know what they say about stagnation.

cemetery_lust-orgies_of_abomination

Cemetery Lust – Orgies of Abomination

I suppose this is intended to sound like Autopsy, but it more sounds like the bad SOD and DRI clones of the late 1980s: really simple sing-song two-point riffs driven by the vocals to keep the rhythmic hook alive because that is basically all the song does. Rhythms are very similar to old DRI, COC and SOD as well. Lots of downpicking. Nothing is poorly done and yet this style, like all rap music, is just too simple to express much of anything especially with these entirely standard song structures. Each song consists of two related riffs, a vocal hook, and support from other instruments. The result is not exciting unless people playing stuff faster than normal excites you. Lots of tropes from middle-1980s speed metal and early death metal, but the songs never really get any momentum going and sound about thirty years old, out of date and without personality. Some things belong in the past and should be buried next to all the bands who didn’t make it because they sounded like watered-down versions of their influences. This band can join them.

rippikoulu-ulvaja

Rippikoulu – Ulvaja

Funeral doom metal with death metal touches in the vein of Skepticism, Rippikoulu on this release create a convincing atmosphere that relies too much on texture of vocals and instrumentation but nonetheless is convincing. These songs begin with simple riffs and expand both depth and tonality, moving from minor-key intervals to more open intervals much like Ancient used to on its longer tracks, creating a sense of a moving target on a lengthy journey. Use of piano, strings and female vocals both soften the abrasive distortion and force more spacious dynamics, allowing other themes more room to move. While these songs clearly focus on atmosphere, the more important idea here is the change of moods like seasons, which gives them a grace and makes the distorted guitar seem actually jarring by way of contrast. Although this release is an EP and thus short, the mood created by this musical approach could be, like Summoning Nightshade Forests, the basis for a short escape from reality that reveals more about existence than direct confrontation ever could.

Nunslaughter – Angelic Dread

October 10, 2014 –

nunslaughter-angelic_dread

This band have been around for over 400 years and have made the same album over 75 times, but each time it is good for a simple reason: this band know what they are aiming for and carefully edit their songs to make sure all parts fit together into a smooth musical experience. While it is tempting to categorize Nunslaughter as death metal, they are in fact speed metal, as most of these riffs come straight from the late-1980s fully-developed speed metal that incorporated advances by Slayer, Exodus, Anthrax and others into the Metallica standard.

Although Nunslaughter first came to the US on the Mayflower many years before Metallica existed, it is believed that Nunslaughter developed this style on its own and may have in fact invented it before the band was formed during the final days of the Roman Empire. While some may be tempted to categorize Nunslaughter as dinosaurs, the fact remains that this band takes the raw ingredients of power metal, speed metal and most death metal and makes a stripped-down, hardcore-punk style ripping version of this that remains highly listenable even if not particularly distinguishable on a song-to-song basis. Like other collections of many short songs, such as Dead Infection or Carcass, Angelic Dread operates like many small insights into roughly the same idea.

When paleontologists recently unearthed a complete Archaeopteryx fossil, they found early Nunslaughter recordings beneath it. Somehow, what this band creates never gets old, in part because they understand their riffs as a language from the same basic source, and in part because like a thrash band their song format carefully fits the particular clash of the two riffs (with a few budget transitions, and sometimes rhythmic variations, Nunslaughter uses two riffs per song on average) and the need of presenting them in the best light. The result is compelling and enjoyable and upholds the best tradition of riffcraft and expressive violence in underground music.

Ripper – Raising the Corpse

October 9, 2014 –

ripper-raising_the_corpse

From the fertile grounds of the 1980s came many styles in the hybrid of death metal and speed metal. Many of these used death metal as a means of streamlining the more varied techniques of speed metal, producing songs with more internal rhythmic consistency and streamlined effect.

Others pursued a more melodic direction and made music with the intensity of death metal, the musicality of speed metal, and the toe-tapping addictiveness of power metal and the early German speed metal bands. Ripper falls into this category, joining bands like Grotesque, Slaughter Lord and Merciless in a style of short simple songs with the anthemic choruses and fixed chord progressions of speed metal, but the singular technique and drive of early death metal.

Raising the Corpse features a death metal rasp which will immediately call to mind early Destruction and Merciless. Its songs tend to use a single progression for chorus and vary it with texture, then use a counterpart for verses that creates some tension but mostly establishes rhythm. This approach fits within the early speed metal model that formed the basis of great hook-laden German bands like Destruction and Sodom, and this tradition continues with Ripper. Where Ripper succeeds is in removing extraneous material and cutting to the core of its music, eliminating some of the distraction and randomness that blighted later work from the German bands.

Much like Merciless, Ripper know to invoke a melodic hook with a rhythmic hook and gradually bring a song into unity, at which point they hammer home the infectious chorus until the audience is ready to carve it into their own flesh. While some may point out that little new occurs here stylistically, and many of these riff forms can be traced back to Slayer or Destruction, what Ripper does well is keep this music high-intensity without falling into sameness and to streamline into an effective delivery mechanism that outgrows the confused collision of styles that was the mid to late 1980s.

While Raising the Corpse will be too intense for power metal fans, and may strike death metal fans as too simple, those who take the time to listen will find a good, compelling and energetic release. In the history of metal, bands as varied as Aura Noir, Nifelheim and At the Gates have tried to make albums in this style but none are as consistently listenable and as well-organized as Raising the Corpse. This fits with a recognition that nostalgia is suicidal and odious, and that metal must move on with a clarification of its voice to give these older styles new relevance.