5 albums that ruined metal

August 12, 2014 –

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If you create anything of beauty in this world, people will be attracted to it. They will want what it has, but because achieving that would require them to change themselves, they will instead make a version of your beautiful thing that fits their needs. This will become popular and soon idiots everywhere will adopt their dumbed-down version of your beautiful thing, effectively ruining what you have created.

Over the course of metal’s lifespan, it has several times been afflicted with the curse of popularity. During the middle 1970s, bands began cloning what Black Sabbath did and mixing it with the more radio-friendly sounds of Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Who and Deep Purple. The result gave metal such a bad name it required an underground genre, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, to renovate it with punk energy and DIY spirit. Then in the late 1980s, speed metal bands started selling out and making radio-friendly jive that quickly destroyed the genre because no one wanted to associate with it anymore. Only a few years later in 1994, underground metal imploded as clone bands and outsiders began making imitations of the new sound that used songwriting conventions and “values” from other genres. Most recently in the 2000s metal became “socially acceptable” and became basically a cover story for lite jazz and indie/emo which now could claim they were groundbreaking and authentic.

But I digress. Let us look at a brief history of bands that helped ruin metal and see if we can figure out where their influences ended up in today’s milktoast hybrid metal.

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Pantera – Cowboys From Hell

Before this album came along, speed metal had a certain gravitas to it. Songs were about war, human moral conflict, literature and the apocalypse. Then along came Pantera and injected a bro-sized dose of personal drama into it. After Pantera, speed metal included talking about how angry you are, getting drunk and starting fights about whose jeans are out of fashion this season, and raging about your inability to retain women who are not covered in naturally-growing wool. It was a strike of Idiocracy against the intense music of Metallica, Nuclear Assault, Overkill, Testament, Anthrax and Megadeth that dumbed it down to the Belieber level, just with more angsty testosterone. Not only that but the complex songs got replaced by verse-chorus and lots of “emotional” vocals accompanied by softer guitar parts. The path to death for speed metal started with this watered-down, dumbed-down, ego-drama path to stupidity. Luckily after they had made their money, Pantera disappeared and the band members went on to more reputable projects.

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Cannibal Corpse – Tomb of the Mutilated

In the year that death metal reached its peak, Cannibal Corpse release an album that made death metal accessible and in doing so, made it a satire of itself. This is Dethklok before Dethklok. Borrowing from the percussive style that Suffocation innovated, Cannibal Corpse took out all the complex songwriting and replaced it with somewhat complex riffs in predictable format. It took away difficult rhythms and topics and replaced them with I-puke-blood style blockheaded lyrics. They also introduced Pantera-style songs about sexually mutilating women because women are difficult and sometimes all one can get is a brojob back at the frat house. This album crushed the growing death metal movement by putting a giant IDIOTS AND SYCOPHANTS WELCOME sign over the door to the genre and convincing people that songs with blockheaded gore lyrics and simplistic structures under grunting incoherent vocals were more “death metal” than the complex music of integrity that defined the genre at the time.

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Cradle of Filth – The Principle of Evil Made Flesh

Point your TARDIS back to 1994. Black metal was in full-swing, having just put forth all of its founding works and then exploded in a media-fueled inferno of murder, anti-Christian and politically incorrect sentiments. In come the “smart” people who figure they can make a buck off this new phenomenon. Their formula: make Iron Maiden style metal with the new screechy vocals and make it emo so that kids can feel like it sympathizes with their horrible lives where their parents just totally control them and stuff. Then mix in the usual “teen paranormal romance” rambling about vampires and evil and you have baby food for coddled toddlers. It took some brains to like black metal, but Cradle of Filth asks nothing so challenging of its listeners! Even more, this band introduced the “carnival music” style of putting radically different riffs next to each other so that the listener loses track of song structure entirely. These songs are basically advertising jingles and warmed-over Goth rock stuck into second-rate metal, but all the kiddies brought their sweaty dollars to Hot Topic because they felt it “understood them.”

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Meshuggah – None

Right in the middle of 1994 it became clear that black metal and death metal had left the building. They had said what they wanted to; people had to either top it or find some easier and sleazier way to do. Ripping off the percussive textures of Exhorder, Prong and Exodus, Meshuggah came up with a “new” style that consisted of over-extending ideas from previous and better bands. It’s worth mentioning that Meshuggah’s first album was 80s speed metal with death metal vocals, but that it was extremely boring. Meshuggah figured that if they just made their style more dramatic and used lots of choppy riffs with shiny new “complex” polyrhythms, they could fool a new generation into liking their stuff. Without fail, it worked, and now metal bands find it necessary to incorporate the worked-over 70s groove with two-chord texture riffs and claim a “djent” influence. At its core, this band remains the same bad 80s speed metal that failed on its first album.

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Opeth – Orchid

You can pitch a market one of two ways: on one hand, you can be “just one of us regular guys” and pull a Bruce Springsteen (or warmed over punk); on the other, you can claim that you are so far out and deep that only a few deep people can understand you. The best is to hide the former in the latter so that you are selling the “profundity” of sing-song music for children but it gives them a chance to pop on a Fedora and think they are really so deep, you know totally deep, that no one can be as deep as they are. Opeth sold itself on being “open-minded,” which is this message: we are different from the rest of metal because we use acoustic passages instead of just solid heavy metal riffs. What they choose not to tell their fans is that they are more like everything else that is not metal, so to like this stuff is to admit you fail as a metal listener and go back to pumping radio pap through your Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. But every underconfident basement-dwelling pretentious geek loved this stuff even though it consisted of a simple formula, soft verse and hard chorus, that is most famous for its use among nu-metal bands. Nonetheless, Opeth opened the door for people who wanted to signal to the world how profound and different they were, and now most bands are tinged with the same simpering pander that makes this music sickly sweet and an inch deep.

Hardcore, Punk, and Other Junk: Aggressive Sounds in Contemporary Music edited by Eric James Abbey and Colin Helb

August 10, 2014 –

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Metalheads tend to distrust academia. We distrust the machine in all of its forms, and since the machine accepts academia, we believe the voice of academia is tainted by interest toward social acceptance. Academia also has a habit of finding ways to cram reality into its theories rather than the other way around. However, some academics make insightful contributions to the study of metal and Hardcore, Punk, and Other Junk: Aggressive Sounds in Contemporary Music provides an example of the best of this process.

This collection of essays looks at extreme music in general and extends this to metal, hardcore punk and punk rock communities. Sadly many authors make the mistake many do of incorporating recent pseudo-metal hybrids as some form of legitimate metal, which spams their results with some nonsense. The balance of results however turns out for the best because these academics look at detail-level reproducible phenomena and so are able to avoid the kind of craziness that would happen if they took “modern death metal” to be a legitimate form of the genre. Since metal and hardcore punk share a heritage both influencing and as influences of one another, the multiple pieces on that topic serve to bolster the understanding of metal.

Ross Hagen‘s piece “No Fun: Noise Music, Avant-garde expression and Sonic Punishment” ventures into the world of noise as music and explores a number of theories of its appeal. His most tantalizing riff zeroes in on the idea that society attempts to control noise and categorize it by the containers used to sample it, thus the tendency of irregular acoustic noise is to overthrow the social control imposed for the convenience of society having categorical dominance. While this piece does not seem to be directly on point to metal, it explores the same sonic space that metal uses and suggests reasons for it that may overlap with the psychology of metalheads.

Nelson Varas-Diaz contributes writing that analyzes Puerto Rico as a metal scene and the historical antecedents for appreciation of metal in this unique context. While his research involves statistical analysis, the best part of it may be the narrative aspect where he explains the history of metal in Puerto Rico as a type of struggle to be heard. In this piece also can be found extensive information about founding and contemporary Puerto Rican metal bands.

While it is beyond the scope of this review to cover every piece in the book, several others merit immediate attention by the wandering metalhead. Mika Elovaara looks into the meaning of metal lyrics and finds something akin to the mythical-historical view expounded upon in these digital pages. As if clarifying Lords of Chaos, one of his research subjects from Norway opines:

I feel that it is important that people understand why they have been born and that other people fought for our well-being and to preserve our culture and society. Our cultural heritage is going to die because people ignore it or do not even realize its significance. Viking and Norse mythology have been described as something evil and distant, but in reality, it is close to home and not necessarily evil at all. That it is not Christian does not mean it is evil. I use the mythology to describe situations in the world and politics, actual topics that were part of our lives a thousand years ago just as they are today. One can be proud of one’s heritage and identity without any racist or nationalistic tendencies. And Satanism is quite outside of this.

His extensive interviews bring up other similar flirtations with the taboo which makes sense as metal is “edge music” that exists to push social standards beyond what they normally accept. He probes the filaments of metal’s obsession with the evil and dark, and yet finds a certain kind of benevolence. “They mean critical thinking and encourage independent thinking,” said one fan about metal lyrics. The entire study is too complex to summarize here but at a minimum provides food for thought about what metal is attempting to communicate.

Another metal-related piece by Marcus Erbe looks into the science of producing death metal vocals and what that type of sound might mean in the unconscious and shared experience of being human. He finds that human vocals universally split between a melodic voice and a textural voice, with the latter expressing “monstrous” sensations. He then explores the nature of the monstrous in psychology and finds that it includes both the other and our fears for what is within us. This thought-provoking essay fuels further the question about what it is in metal that is really socially unacceptable, its rejection of social mores or its seeing through them.

Other articles explore more specific topics. On the whole, the book shows a new face for academia in looking into metal that is less afraid of certain areas of metal that are alien to what academia customarily writes about and may reject attitudes held by the majority of academics. The insight offered into the mechanics of metal and the associated symbols that it invokes also suggests new areas for academics and thinkers to pry into this interesting genre. Hardcore, Punk, and Other Junk: Aggressive Sounds in Contemporary Music lives up to its title and presents a window into the troubling questions that most would ignore raised by these dissident genres.

Interview: Question

August 8, 2014 –

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Question come from Querétaro, Mexico and create technical death metal in a combination of old school styles. Their debut album Doomed Passages saw release through Chaos Records in early June. Question deliver a very spacious style of death metal reminiscent of The Chasm with some Finnish touches. The guitarist, Rodrigo, agreed to talk to us about the band.

Question caught my eye as an unusual name for a death metal band. What made you choose this name?

“Question” is a name which is coherent with the philosophy of the band and the lyrics; it’s consistent with the context that we want to portray. A friend came with the idea and we thought it fit perfectly with the music that we were composing at the time. It’s not surprising that some think it is a weird or dumb name; you’ll always find people that keep looking for the most rude or evil names, but I think that has become a weak point with the past of the years in the metal scene.

I detect a strong Finnish death metal influence on Doomed Passages. Would I be correct?

Well, we are fans of some early Finnish death metal bands; also we listen to some contemporary bands that have been spreading rottenness lately. However, it’s more appropriate to say that we’re heavily influenced by obscure death metal in general; Mexico has a lot of obscure metal bands and some of them are big influences for us. Also, besides metal, we listen to a lot of punk, progressive rock, etc.

What drove you to create death metal?

Curiosity. In terms of composition death metal has a very vast spectrum of possibilities and we all are very into obscure, heavy and strange stuff, not just music, also books, films, so I guess it’s natural to feel a tendency to create and play this kind of tunes.

Is art separate from entertainment or are they one in the same?

I’m afraid I’ve never established a delimited frontier between these two concepts; any attempt to be objective will fail, however I can resume my thoughts with the following: many expressions of art can be entertaining, but entertainment mostly lacks art. Art is an intimate vision of an artist, and sometimes the vision is shared with some people. In contrast, entertainment is made for the masses, is a guided story that leads to a guided conclusion. Art is more subjective, it makes you think what you’ve experienced.

Tell me about the recording process of Doomed Passages.

We recorded the album in April 2013 at Oz Recording Studios in Mexico City. The process lasted five days and it was the first time for the actual lineup to record something. All went well, the studio is amazing, and we had a really good time, although the mixing and mastering process was more exhausting, as we couldn’t make a connection with Roberto Granados. I think the result is good.

What does the artwork on Doomed Passages signify and how does it tie into what is being expressed musically?

Hector and I wrote a couple of ideas for the artwork based on the lyrics and the band’s philosophy. We send this to Arturo Vargas and he came with this spectral vision that became the cover of our first album. The significance is relative; art should not be restricted to a single interpretation.

Interview: Unaussprechlichen Kulten

August 5, 2014 –

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We recently reviewed Unaussprechlichen Kulten Baphomet Pan Shub-Niggurath, a death metal album that knits together old school and newer styles of the underground metal art. We were lucky to get a few moments with Joseph Curwen, guitarist and composer, to explain the intricate secrets behind this dark cult act.

Do you identify with the “old school spirit” in the metal underground? If so, what is it and how does it emerge in your music?

Not really. “Old School” sounds like a “nostalgic trend” of “clone bands.” For us the Death Metal way is one style. It may have variants like brutal, old style or mixtures with other styles. But if the bands begin to clone all — the style, sound and even the graphics and pics — this really… sucks. Poorly made copies are not necessary! The “Sunlight” or “Tampa Florida” styles are wonderful and are always “inspiring,” I know it’s difficult to innovate in a “strict” style and with so many old bands as reference … but if a band does not have in its purpose something new, creative, original… anything in particular that distinguishes… why make that band?

The name “Unaussprechlichen Kulten” or “nameless cults” comes from the Cthulhu mythos, as do many of your song titles. How important is Lovecraft’s work to your art, and to metal in general? What other occult/romantic/fantasy writers influence you?

You are right about our name. Lovecraft’s literary legacy is rich in terminology and knowledge, therefore allows us to explain with his words the religious or spiritual concepts that otherwise we would be forced to use “Christian” or “common” terms so they can be understood. Lovecraft always publicly declared himself to be an atheist, but his erudition in the occult was something more than an amateur.
Therefore we are not only focused on the work of Lovecraft. We also include other topics, including Chilean mythology. The Necromancy is not unique to any particular culture, so what we do is explore in different subjects, always mystical and dark, but with the work of Lovecraft as a reference. Other interesting writers are Robert Bloch and Robert E. Howard, classics occultist like Blavatsky and Eliphas Levi, even contemporary Chilean writers as Oreste Plath and M. Serrano and others

Metal has always been influenced by the literature of Terror, and Lovecraft is the horror writer who made the most important revolution in the genre. He will always be a benchmark in the lyrics of Metal bands.

Baphomet Pan Shub-Niggurath sounds like it takes influence from both newer and older raditions in underground metal. What are your influences? Which of these did you find most useful in creating this album?

A lot of influences, you know mainly 80-90. Classic Swedish and American death Mmetal. Some from South American or Scandinavian… older? …mmm INCANTATION, NECRODEATH, GORGUTS, SHUB NIGGURATH, IMMOLATION, NECRODEATH, PENTAGRAM, MORBID ANGEL (old), MORTA SKULD, DISMEMBER, the mighty SADISTIC INTENT, DEMIGOD (old), MORTEM, and of course SLAYER, MERCYFUL FATE, SACRIFICE….. Newer? Throneum, Karnarium, Deathspell Omega, Godless, After Death, Dead Congregation, Hatespawn, Katharsis among many others.

In the early 1990s, there were few bands and not that many fans. Now there are more of both, and metal is accepted as normal in the mainstream press. How has this changed what it is to be a metal band? How has it not changed how it is to be a metal band?

Good question. It’s been over 20 years and society (worldwide) changed. We live in the information age; in the early 90s without internet, the bands depended on the promotion and diffusion that could be done through the “official” and monopolized media (radio, tv, zines Poser, label’s flyers, etc). Now every band can do their own promotion, also in these 20 years there was a “democratization” of recording technologies now make it possible to make music in a “Home Studio” way. More music available and easier to access it produces “the moment” in which we live.

This album embraces a dark and occult way of putting riffs in order and making songs of them. How do you know which riffs fit with each other? And how do you compose a song — do you start with a melody, a riff, an idea, an image?

From “People of the Monolith” onward our approach has always been the same way — to do riffs. I bring the riffs, arrangements and dis-harmonies of both guitars (I come with everything done and ready in accordance to what lyrics need like faster, slower or thicker parts, strange arrangements, etc.). It’s personal, a kind of trance. I only think in the “concept” and the lyrics, while I do an old trick: I move my fingers over the guitar until I’m no longer playing at random, but there is a “pattern” becoming a “riff.” Once I show the guitars to Butcher, drumming is 100% his responsibility. Then we adjust the structure and cuts together in the rehearsal room. When that base is settled, we incorporate the bass (based on drums). I used to do the bass but in this last record, NAMRU IMPETRADORUM MORTEM was integrated into the creative process of basses, all of them were 100% invented by him in Chapter VIII.

How did Unaussprechlichen Kulten form? Did you know each other from previous bands? Did you have a stated goal in coming together and forming the band?

In the beginning we was just two members, with no previous bands, the first name was “SPAWN.” With that name we just recorded 5 tracks of traditional Death Metal (never edited!). During that period of time I always felt unsettled about the name of the band so I decided to change it for a name in Spanish: “Culto Innombrable” was the one that came into my mind, it was a good name, we even made a logo. At that time I realize about the coincidence with the apocryphal Lovecraftian book: “UNAUSSPRECHLICHEN KULTEN”, diabolically whispered in my ear by Azathoth!

How well has the album been received so far? As more people hear your music, will your plans change? What comes next for Unaussprechlichen Kulten?

So far very good reviews, but our plans will not change. We are a “not popular” or “trendy” band. It has been more than ten years since it all began. So far we are a very unknown band out of Chile, we have been into the deep underground always, and I think will always be so because of our style. Death Metal is not a “trendy” style at this moment; now Death Metal is made by people who are stubborn and headstrong which maintains this “sectarian” behavior. It is true that more and more bands are appearing… on one hand this is good … the “scene” looks “healthy,” alive, which allows bands to exist and makes the media interested in promoting them (and of course in our case, more people hear our music), but on the other hand, also the “overpopulation” of bands is huge, generating a size of information unable to be processed. “A lot of bands” are not synonymous with “quality of bands.”

Fenriz (Darkthrone) launches new podcast

August 4, 2014 –

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Darkthrone drummer and composer Fenriz introduces a new series of Peaceville Records podcasts with a retrospective on classic underground metal and influences on his own style. As usual, expect Fenriz’ unique sense of humor and eclectic but visionary taste in metal.

Unaussprechlichen Kulten – Baphomet Pan Shub-Niggurath

August 2, 2014 –

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Named after a fictional work of occult literature in the Cthulhu mythos by H.P. Lovecraft, the “nameless cults” give their name also to this band who create modern death metal that remains true to the death metal style. Like Immolation circa 2000, carefully tuned guitars and use of odd diminished melodies create a suspension of reality that a rhythmic approach like that of the Deathspell Omega era “progressive” black metal complements and expands.

Baphomet Pan Shub-Niggurath cites from fully four generations of metal, mixing speed metal riffs with modern black metal and the aforementioned dissonant and complex death metal, but sometimes slides in old school death metal riffs and transitions reminiscent of the hybrid era of underground metal in the early 1980s. The tendency to offset rhythms to insert additional riffs comes from the newer style of black metal, which permits groove so long as it is disturbingly detached from consistent expectations, but the core of this album comes from the streamlining of death metal in the early years of this century that brought different chord shapes and dramatic conclusions to the genre.

Other influences work their way in here including a use of plodding cadences that would have fit onto a God Macabre or Afflicted album. Songs work riffs into a circular pattern that always returns to familiar themes for choruses but splits verses across multiple riffs using a Slayer-inspired pattern of working in a precursor riff, then changing riff, and then altering its texture and tempo with layers of drums, bass and vocals. Then the song culminates much like later black metal in a kind of revelation which melts down into the soup of primordial riff ideas that earlier served to introduce or complement themes.

For contemporary metal, Baphomet Pan Shub-Niggurath keeps its focus more firmly in the continuance of past traditions into the future than bands like Immolation managed. It does carry the tendency to be too emotive on its surface like Deathspell Omega, which leads to technique replacing content, but keeps this in line. This work impresses with the first couple listens and while it will undoubtedly socket itself into the secondary tier of death metal bands, crushes most of its contemporaries handily and displays a blueprint for death metal to get out of the metalcore funk and back to a newer version of its roots.

Godflesh Streetcleaner: triumph of industrial grindcore

July 24, 2014 –

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Sometimes great albums happen. Multiple forces converge — influences, musicians, leaders, ideas, opportunities — and everyone involved becomes more than they are. They rise above their mortal lives and create something profound enough to live in, a musical world we want to inhabit and take up its struggles and make it turn into the full potential we see nascent within its objects.

Streetcleaner falls into this category. After a stylistically-inspiring but somewhat deconstructive first EP that never really created a direction of its own except aesthetically, the three individuals who comprise Godflesh returned with a new energy. They combined influences from their fledgling industrial grindcore, indie rock and death metal, and came up with an album resonant with layers of potential. Instead of aiming to destroy melody, they built it from the smallest elements so that it could only be seen when those overlapped and only then often by implication, creating a haunting album like an ancient mansion full of unexplored pathways and secret rooms.

Slowing down their attack, Godflesh carved time into a space through the selective introduction of sounds which then received an ecosystem of other sonic fragments with which to interact, creating an atmosphere that also had form and narrative. From indie rock they borrowed melancholic but affectionate melodies, from death metal complex song structures, and from industrial the sound that genre had always desired to express, namely a machine crushing human hope like a Charles Dickens novel. Together these influences formed a sound like Killing Joke accelerated into apocalyptic nihilism with the raw sonic experimentation of death metal.

Streetcleaner came together like an impossible dream. It borrowed from many musical traditions but the band kept both its own voice and a style specific to the album. What really distinguishes this album however is the content. Streetcleaner captures a range of human emotions in response to the disaster of human emotions that creates our modern world: individualistic selfishness leading to herd behavior empowering vast evils. In putting this into sound, Godflesh opened a dialogue with the darkest parts of our souls and the reason those souls are dark, which is that we know the possibility of light.

The band never concentrated its energy in such a way again. The following album, Pure, went back to a higher concept version of their first EP, but never managed the emotional intensity that the interwoven melodic streams of Streetcleaner brought out among the crushing noise and abrasive battle robot rhythms. They swung back the other way toward indie rock for a few more albums, but those went too far into face-value emotion and lost both intensity and honesty. Eventually the band faded out into a series of projects pursuing influences as most senior underground efforts do. However Streetcleaner remains as the apex of industrial music and the album every dark topics band wishes they could make, as well as a profound influence on the rising black metal movement and the second wave of death metal.

5 albums that invented underground metal

July 14, 2014 –

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Before there were names for styles like death metal and black metal, and before anyone beyond a handful of people knew of these genres, pioneers created the groundwork for both genres and influences on several others. They had little at their disposal besides primitive recording and photocopied zines, but somehow these founders established the basis of new styles.

The media eventually adopted the term “extreme metal” but originally this music went by the appellation “underground metal” because you could not find it in stores, magazines, on TV or in academia. Eventually the genres within underground metal gained recognition and you could find them in record stores starting in 1997 when the distribution model changed.

But years before that the groundwork was laid by a few dissident artists. Let us look at the albums that set up the groundwork for both styles of underground metal, death metal and black metal:

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1. Discharge – Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing

By the time Discharge emerged, punk and metal both had large followings. Discharge birthed itself from within the movement called “hardcore punk” that assembled itself when punk fans felt like their music had been co-opted by the very radio industry it hoped to alienate. Hardcore punk bands lived in squats, recorded with whatever was handy, and promoted themselves with zines and 45 RPM singles (the origin of today’s 7″ records). They made their music deliberately abrasive and their themes beyond anarchistic into pure nihilism and rejection of all social thinking so that radio could not co-opt them. For the most part, they were successful, but then the genre became inundated with imitators who saw the simplicity of the music and the power of the social scene and entered for their own purposes, like marketers and advertisers would do years later. Discharge struck back with the ultimate anti-rock album. Drums did not coordinate with guitars, instead keeping time while streams of power chords flowed over them and changed at will. Vocals repeated short cryptic koans that entirely rejected the idea of society itself. Taking a cue from Motorhead, Discharge also added organic distortion to the vocals, creating a sound like an unearthly howl from a place collapsing into hell. Released in 1982, Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing launched a wave of others who used these techniques, including all of underground metal.

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2. Hellhammer – Apocalyptic Raids

In sunny, peaceful and socially engineered to perfection Switzerland, discontent arose with this occult and anti-social release. Turning up the intensity on distorted vocals, drawing influence from both Venom and Motorhead, Hellhammer wrote slower riffs than Discharge but added in the sense of dark finality that bands like Black Sabbath successfully captured a decade before. In addition, Hellhammer contributed a style of songwriting that probably derived from progressive rock records, who themselves borrowed it from classical: song structure followed the content of the song and not a standard song format. This caused the band to spend a great deal of energy matching up riffs so that they “talked” to one another with a type of internal dialogue. Heard best on the epic 9-minute “Triumph of Death,” this technique allowed Hellhammer to fuse the alienation of punk with the dramatic theological imagery of Black Sabbath into a mini-Wagnerian opus. These techniques came to live on in radically different forms in both the rising death metal and black metal genres.

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3. Bathory – The Return…

An entirely homebrew project, Bathory took what metal bands were doing to its logical conclusion and starting in 1984 recorded a series of albums using heavy distortion, occult themes, distorted vocals and fast chromatic riffs. While much of this material stuck closer to standard song format, quite a bit deviated with inventive songwriting that suggested a power of theater in the presentation of metal riffs. “The Return Of Darkness and Evil,” the title track from the second Bathory LP, demonstrated this power with its soundtrack-like thematic composition. Although this band derived no influence from Venom, its distorted vocals took a higher path toward a harsh shriek like one might find in a horror movie soundtrack. As a result, not only death metal but all black metal bands derived influence from this founding act.

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4. Slayer – Hell Awaits

Starting the year after the release of the Discharge album, Slayer crafted a new kind of heavy metal using the chaotic rhythms and chromatic composition of hardcore punk but the elegant and theatrical structures of heavy metal. The result shifted from social awareness lyrics to mythology that revealed a dark future for humanity, and stitched together songs of multiple contrasting riffs which shifted to support content instead of content supporting song form as most pop bands did. This created albums in which listeners could lose themselves entirely and made Slayer one of the biggest and most respected metal bands in history. The tremolo-picking used to create fast flowing riffs that kept energy high, unlike the muted-picking used by most speed metal bands of the time, formed the basis of the technique used by all death metal and black metal bands since. If a band falls within the underground umbrella, it undoubtedly takes influence from the first four Slayer records and most likely has at least one die-hard Slayer fan among its members.

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5. Sodom – Obsessed by Cruelty

Inspired by Venom, Sodom combined the energy of hardcore punk and the new techniques of Slayer and speed metal bands to come up with its own primitive version of this new style. These shorter songs resembled the thrash which was rising as a style at the time but instead picked dark and morbid occult topics. Despite the basic instrumentation, Sodom gave its songs serious themes and pulled off epic melodies which fit an archetypal pattern much like those of horror soundtracks do. The resulting concentrated bursts of fury gave rise to much of the viciousness of underground metal as well as its twilight atmosphere and fiery sense of destruction for all that occupied positions of social acceptance. While many of these songs fit standard song format, Sodom interrupted that to present concluding material in a style like that of Black Sabbath. As time went on, this band verged closer to death metal but kept the searing emptiness which lived on in black metal.

Emptiness – Nothing but the Whole

July 9, 2014 –

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Belgian death metallers Emptiness return with Nothing but the Whole which combines death/black metal intensity with the brooding ambiance of dark ambient similar to Desiderii Marginis. The result creates a dark, visceral experience.

The album exudes a deeply haunting and nightmarish feel which the band expands with its knowledge and application of melodic development. Songs unfurl in a rise-and-fall approach to intensity showing us different levels of thought and mood which develop and eventually conclude in melancholic unity.

Like similar experiment Lykathea Aflame Elvenefris, Nothing but the Whole occasionally struggles with direction which can cause a distracted and confused outcome which translates into meandering filler. There are also some unappealing “rock” riffs that do not fit well with the context of the songs.

Emptiness have attempted to add their own creative spark to the death/black metal world and have produced a decent creation albeit one that needs more focus and direction. Like many experimental albums, Nothing but the Whole is best described as a stimulating listen that will inspire others to expand upon its aesthetic ideas.

Morgue Eroded Thoughts re-issue pre-orders begin

July 2, 2014 –

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Classic Midwestern death metal band Morgue sees release on Dark Descent and The Crypt in the coming months. This band hovered at the periphery of death metal in the early 1990s, essentially filling in stylistic gaps and creating a unique testament to the power of death metal that inspired more musicians than fans owing to low visibility in the market.

Now the band gets a second chance with this release of their only full-length Eroded Thoughts with the “Random Decay” and “Severe Psychopathology” demos as bonus tracks. A 16-page booklet includes classic photos and a lengthy introduction explaining the band and its place in history.