By the time Despise The Sun was released, Suffocation were on top of the death metal world and had at this point already influenced the rising slam and brutal death metal styles that would inundate and signal the downfall of the whole genre as the technicality and the percussive nature of the music would be the focal point rather than the incredible songwriting present. This short EP would prove to be the band’s final charge as they would soon break up only to reform a few years later, but without Doug Cerrito the band drifted off into mediocrity and tired attempts at pleasing the deathcore crowd. (more…)18 Comments
Death Metal Underground is glad to host an interview with Lou Ferrara of Sapremia, a true Hessian who has continued to develop his underground metal art throughout more than two decades while battling in real life beyond pretensions and illusions. So far, Death Metal Underground has published reviews of two of Sapremia’s works: Existence of Torture (1994), and With Winter Comes Despair (2008).
1. Sapremia released two demos back in the day, Subconscious Rot in 1992 and Existence of Torture in 1994. What brought about your return, and development of two full-length albums in 2008 and 2013?
Lou: We actually played until 1996, and had enough material for a third demo, but our drummer left and we could not find a suitable replacement. At the time, the decision was to “go to sleep” instead of putting out any inferior quality that we held ourselves to. Around 2005, we began to talk about “waking up” and we had found a drummer worthy of bringing our material to life. We brought back a few old songs, wrote a few new songs, and booked a bunch of gigs which were to begin in January 2007. At the very first gig, a rep from Open Grave Records approached us about releasing material and actually followed us around to the next few gigs to make sure of it. In Philly, the 4th show back in 10 years, we signed a deal with OGR for an EP and a full length. The EP, Hollow, came out in July 2007 and the full length came out early 2008. We had not planned on this, it just happened and we embraced it as the EP sold out in presale, and the full length went through four pressings. One guitarist left, bringing us back to a three piece, which is how we were from 93-96. We ambitiously gigged a ton in the next few years, which slowed the writing process down a bit. Autumn’s Moon was released July of 2013 on Butchered Records, as we had talked with them several times through touring about our next release. As of now, we are working on the final track for our next release, which with good fortune should be released 2019.
2. How does the playing of live performances feed into the creative process of Sapremia? Can the same potent effects and thought out structures we hear in With Winter Comes Despair (2008) be repeatedly accomplished without the experience of live performances?
Lou: Live performances feed into the process 110%! During our writing process, as the band molds each track, we generally will test them live. Audiences never realize that they hear a new song and may never hear it in that form again… there are only small changes, but they indeed happen, especially lyrics and vocal patterns as I become more comfortable singing and playing the songs. It is only through playing live that we truly find what each track needs and go forth from there. The only downside to this process is that the next album is always revealed to live audiences before it is ever recorded.
3. Testing each track live and modifying it until it feels ready explains why you take many years between albums. Do you think that those songs could be modified and improved even after the album has been released, perhaps indefinitely, or does the album ‘freeze’ them in time? How do you know when a composition is ready: does it depend on the audience or is it the composition itself revealing “its needs” to you? Could your best creations keep changing and ‘grow’ old together with you… until the end?
Lou: They most definitely still evolve after the album is completed and released. Nothing is ever frozen with us, we change things up often, especially my vocal delievery. Most of the time, we will just know when a track is ready for recording, even if it may change, we are comfortable with the way it is set at that time. As example, in “The Despair of Winter,” we recorded the fourth riff of the song straight through, as we play it now; the third time played has a bunch of stops in it to accentuate the notes and give it a feeling of being more tight. I would definitely say the songs are as much part of the band as the members themselves, so they can and probably always will be tweaked as we continue to play them.
4. When writing music, how do you approach song-writing / composition with respect to organization or structuring to achieve a result that makes sense and feels complete?
Lou: I do almost all of the initial writing for each track. It usually starts with an idea or two floating in my mind and I begin to hash them out on guitar (though I play bass for the band). I usually like to weave similar note patterns into each riff of a single track, as it seems to make that particular track flow better within itself. When we were young and writing those demos, this was definitely not our approach at all, and it was only as I got older that I started to do this in an attempt to make songs less jerky and all over the place, giving them more of a flow and essence to themselves. I am not sure if anyone has ever picked up on my patterns, but most people, musician and non musician will say that our songs are memorable and engaging. That’s all I really am looking for: to take the listener on a ride with each track. When we all get together to play the songs out, little things will change here and there, and the songs become complete with a group effort.
5. We can personally attest to the fact that attentive listeners can consciously pick up on such patterns. It is also fair to say that even when the listener is not fully aware of them, such logical patterns play an important psychological role in the overall feeling of cohesion of the song. Do you usually start with one of those patterns (motifs) as pure sensations of flow and movement, or do you think more in terms of trying to make a guitar/bass riff?
Lou: I definitely have them start out more as sensations or feels. My intent while writing is never to write a riff, but to fiddle around with whatever concepts flow from my subconscious until I have something that I enjoy listening to. Usually this concept becomes the focal point to a track, it will mold and change, but it has started there. As I being to entwine other riffs into a track, then I may be more concerned with actually writing a riff, again using notes and structures from the original concept to make it flow to the attentive and casual listener alike.
6. Do you think that, besides the sense of enjoyment that one has for one kind of music or other, different kinds of music open ‘windows’ to different ‘dimensions’ inside us? So that, no matter what words are forcefully pasted on or appended to the music, the music has its own character, its own nature, and is a kind of key that opens specific doors in the mind?
Lou: Absolutely! Sapremia by no stretch of any imagination has invented any kind of wheel in the DM world, but I feel that we do have a certain sound that is unique to us. Part of that is because our drummer, Ryan Hill, basically comes from a hardcore / thrash background, and our guitarist, Brian Rulli, has not really listened to much newer styles of death metal since the 90’s. I personally listen to many different styles of music and it helps to not just be stuck into writing “a death metal song.” We came from an area in the early 90’s that has the NY Brutal DM label attached to most bands that are our peers, we tended to play more of the Scandinavian stlye of DM, with grooves and hooks, Ry added a lot of the off tempo and d beat drumming from his background to make it complete.
7. Is death metal a way to visualize powerful forces beyond human control that show us our place in reality, or is death metal only a way to fantasize and escape reality?
Lou: I believe that it can be both. Death metal is a juggernaut when done in the proper way, something that is colossal and has a life force unto itself. When I hear death metal in its true form, I am definitely swayed to feel it is unstoppable and beyond normal human understanding. I also feel that not all death metal encompasses this, and not saying this death metal is inferior in any way, just saying that it can help to escape reality if only for a few fleeting moments, but is not life altering. I know when I hear it, what I mean; I’m sure others do as well…
8. We share your opinion that not all death metal encompasses this, and that we know when we hear the ‘life-altering’ effects of more involved death metal of deeper consequences. What, in your opinion, is the nature or effects of mental bending or warping that (true) death metal can cause in the focused listener? Is it a removal of the petty, ignorant human vision that sets us as the center of the universe? Does (true) death metal help us not only understand, but to feel in our gut and deepest corners of the mind, that the universe is shaped by marvelous forces that neither care about —nor are aware of— our feelings and desires?
Lou: This is a truly deep question, and I am not sure the any one answer would be the same for everyone. I only know what I hear and feel when a death metal phenomena occurs. For me, usually it occurs during a live performance, as outside forces and happenings will change each scenario. There are times when I am experiencing such a thing, and when it is completed, I really am not sure where I was, what I did, or what happened, other than the death metal experience itself. I have found this occur, and immediately need to leave the venue even though other performers are still to come, because nothing can touch what I just experienced.
9. Have you been able to find equivalent experiences through other media, such as literature or film? If so, how do those experiences differ to those had with music?
Lou: Oh yes, mostly with literature, as I am an avid reader. A lot of my lyrical ideas come from books and movies in which I adore. It is different than listening to music, as being at a show or listening to a favorite album brings out more raw emotion, that will leave me physically spent. Books and/or film take me on a journey that I can leave reality behind for a little while, but not have me as physically attached. If I’m locked into a good book, i can read for hours and come out of it not realizing what time it is or what has happened around me. A good film can have that same effect, though I would venture to say that it usually will only happen at the cinema and not at home from the couch,
10. We often talk about ‘narrative’ in music, as the way in which musical structure tells a story with a beginning, a middle and an end with a significant climax somewhere in there. Do you see any other parallels between music as a form of structured communication, and literature as organized thoughts?
Lou: Music and literature go hand in hand in these regards. The biggest of differences to me, are that even literature, while not visual, has description and direction that the author tries to steer their own audience to ‘see’. Musical landscapes are more open to the individual interpretation of one’s mind. I am not speaking of lyrics, just the music itself, every listener will hear it in a different way than the next. So while there are definite parallels between music and literature as far as structure, they also differ from one another in the uniqueness of the delivery.
11. What literature in particular, and why, would you recommend? Do any of these relate to some aspect of underground metal or what it points to?
Lou: This is a very individual response, anything can relate to underground metal depending on any persons perspective. Personally, I am all horror and fantasy, which is sort of cliche in our genre but definitely a driving force behind it. Tolkien, Brooks, Thompson are among my favorite fantasy authors, and I have definitely borrowed from each in certain aspects of lyrical motivation. Barker, King, Lovecraft, Stoker, are among the horror that I enjoy.
12. A lot of the less respectable metal has little value except for shock value. To what extent should an authentic underground metal artist strive to reflect in deeds what he in art praises, condemns or generally reflects as an interpretation of reality?
Lou: I really feel that that should be left up to the individual, as far as they want to pursue alternative means for which to get their perspective across. Personally, I am a fan of letting the music do all the talking, I do not need visual stimulation from an act to aid in the enjoyment of what they are trying to provide musically. This is not to say that any one approach is right or wrong, it is up to the individual performs to find what works the best for themselves.
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.
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.12 Comments
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).
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.
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…)4 Comments
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.
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!
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…)17 Comments