Necropsy – Buried in the Woods (2015)

necropsy

Article by Corey M

Finns Necropsy have been plugging away since 1989 but only recently (2011) released their first full-length album. In 2015 they released their second album, Buried in the Woods, showcasing a disciplined, modest, and even joyous approach to death metal. Every time I hear this album I get the sense that Necropsy’s members do not have any type of heady agenda or driving vision; rather they simply enjoy making plain-old death metal, emphasizing straightforward riffs that rely equally on rhythmic adherence and playful-but-conventional melodic deviations.

The actual sonic texture of the album is smooth and clear, taking full advantage of 2015’s recording technology. Both bass and distorted lead guitars are appropriately crunchy but never so deep and fuzzy as to approach the obscure levels of Infester or Incantation; they chug, ring, soar, and sing without losing a trace of clarity. This lucidity of individual tracks allows each instrument to be heard clearly and effortlessly, which is a major benefit since many of these songs shift back and forth between relatively uniform (all instruments playing the same thing) segments to more harmonically complex bits. Drums sit comfortably behind the melody, encompassing the other instruments and filling in the far left and right stereo space with just the right amount of reverb, never intruding on the melody. Meanwhile, the vocals only appear as low pitched roars that are somewhat hard to decipher, and mainly serve to augment the otherwise simple rhythmic interplay that generally features concomitant guitars and drums. During the last song, synthesized organ and string sounds come in to support the closing chord progression, but aside from this final track, the songs are functionally supported exclusively by the guitars, drums, and vocal patterns.

Judging by the description in the preceding paragraph, we should have all the ingredients necessary for a good death metal album. But, just as we find in actual food recipes, the order of ingredient addition, and time spent baking, are just as crucial to the final product as the ingredients themselves. Buried in the Woods is a smooth listen from front to back, as the creators probably intended. The casual listener may stop their analysis there; the more attentive listener may find that the conservative nature of the songs lend themselves to a relatively shallow range of dynamics. But this criticism is mainly aimed toward the album as a whole; the songs themselves move effortlessly between sections that slowly change in feel until making a satisfying shift back toward the introductory riffs. Nevertheless, by the fifth song you’ll have heard the band’s whole lexicon of riffs, which range from the derivative (mainly Grave-ish Swedeath and Sinister-ish NYDM) to the interesting-but-uninspired.

Finnish bands like Demilich and Demigod generated some bizarre death metal that, while unconventional by even death metal standards, was nevertheless intuitively relatable because the music presented a vision of horror that was spiritual-arising-from-the-biological. The songs expressed such extreme and severe experiences through a human lens that we as listeners were lead to question and explore our own peripheries of personal experience, and push our imaginations toward the impossible; that is the special territory of death metal. With this in mind, the generic horror concepts of Necropsy relate only to the biological and immediate sensations, falling short of that ability to breach into the “imaginal”; that territory in which we can experience events through the potency of imagination alone, affecting our feelings/biological chemistry on a profound scale.

Listen to Buried in the Woods because it illustrates several examples of a decently transparent and reliable template that can be used in constructing songs in a style as unorthodox as death metal. While you listen, you will probably find that such formulaic methods of song structure only work if there is a balance between surprise and rationality in the shifts between riffs. If the focus is too close toward surprise, the result is like metalcore, which lacks melodic structure and relies on rapid and unexpected dynamic shifts in rhythm and overall feel. If the focus is too close toward rationality, then you get something like Buried in the Woods, which is written skillfully enough to not be boring, but too conventionally to be exciting. Personally, I listened through it several times and developed fond feelings toward a few songs, but I won’t be listening to it again any time soon.

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Karl Willets and other death metal musicians form Memoriam

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Memoriam is very, very, very early in its history, to the point that their Facebook page only showcases a few rehearsal photos  but it’s beginning to build up some buzz, at least for its membership. Besides the aforementioned Karl Willets (of Bolt Thrower) and Andy Whale (also formerly of Bolt Thrower), the current lineup also features members of Benediction and Cerebral Fix. Bolt Thrower’s studio output withered after the 2000s due to bandmembers not being pleased with whatever they wrote after Those Once Loyal, so it’s worth noting that this could turn into a venue for part of the band to write and release more material. No guarantees of quality, though.

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On The Music Of Timeghoul

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Article by David Rosales

Timeghoul’s short lived existence gave us two excellent demos in 1992 and 1994. These both display very distinct facets of the project, each with their own merits and limitations. Even if we see the second as an evolution of the first, the first stands very firmly on its own ground. You could in fact argue that the second is not so much an evolution, as a different overall direction for the band.

The first release, Tumultuous Travelings, had a much more suffocating feeling to it, but already showcasing Timeghoul’s distinct personality, setting it apart from any contemporary. This distinction, however, is one of language and not one of technique; so that the casual onlooker might consider this first work to be a typical release for its time. In reality, once we acknowledge its allegiance to the traditions of death metal, the particular traits of Timeghoul’s music (even on Tumultuous Travelings) are anything but typical.

In 1994 came Panaramic Twilight (sic), which boasted of more explicitly progressive intentions, giving it automatic recognition in the mind of the same simple metalhead who passed off their first demo as standard. Seldom is it recognized that Timeghoul’s “progressive” qualities were already present on the first release, which is a trend that itself fails to stand out as few recognize these leanings in even the most developed death metal of the early 1990s. Timeghoul’s most significant development on Panaramic Twilight was that they stepped up the drama and Wagnerian soundtrack-like constructions, which required longer silences, longer notes and a wider variety of expression.

Now, when constructing music, composers have to strike a balance between intelligibility and variety (a.k.a. outer complexity). Most metal musicians, however, seem totally unaware of this, and this is why bands who, out of a humble degree of proficiency, produce simpler music have a more enduring impression on the audience in general. Aesthetic variety will not keep your interest if the music that underlies it is incoherent, muddy, and lacking in clarity. However, mere clarity is not enough; the image remains blurry if the overall picture has not been built with enough concrete purpose.

This is where Timeghoul excels; coherent and concrete purpose in songwriting is their most meaningful contribution to metal. They have opened this door to a world of possibilities within their paradigm of dramatic and obscure (rather than gory) death metal that does not require a band to clone their approach to follow in their steps. In comparison, trying to learn from Demilich or Immolation often results in blatant plagiarism, unless your efforts and results arise from a detailed technical analysis and are applied only in an abstract manner. Timeghoul compensates for the silences, rapid-fire changes in rhythms, and the use of texture to enhance different feelings in their music by using a very limited range of techniques. This is comparable to what At the Gates did on their own album. The techniques themselves aren’t numerous; nor are they extremely advanced. The band chooses a lexicon of technique, and relies on it consistently within a harmonic/modal framework that lends each song their own “harmonic feel” (arising from the interplay with the vocal’s timbre as well, I presume).

The wide range of expression is achieved through the types of arrangements and the changes in texture and rhythm, which are not selected at random like we saw in the work of Crematory. Timeghoul is very clearly telling a story and each bit of music, each switch from blast beat to silence, from frenetic power chord torrent to slow, single-note melody lines makes sense as a narrative. Timeghoul’s approach is not one of riff-salad, but rather more akin to that of an opera. In short, the music of Timeghoul provides another healthy avenue for metal musicians to explore. What you can learn from this unfortunately short-lived project on the abstract level is of far more value than what you can imitate by simply trying to emulate their sound. It is their intuitional organization that deserves praise; the powerful narrative element of Timeghoul’s music is a rare gem.

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Crematory – Denial (1992)

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Article by David Rosales

Crematory’s 1992 EP is the very definition of good, old riff salad death metal, at least from a basic technical stance. Strings of ideas fly by with less-than-optimal riff glue to hold them together, but an intuitive flow is always present. Adjacent riffs may be linked motif-wise, but sharp corner-turns are never too far away. There is a clear emphasis in contrasting rhythms to create interest in the music in the absence of clearer goals. Denial is a good example of why many black metal musicians who were originally playing death metal chose to forgo this style in order to look for more artistically meaningful avenues of expression. Crematory is fun, and there is an obvious emphasis on technical proficiency that although not forgetting entirely about coherence leaves it as a second thought, and any other landscaping is all but forgotten. Concept building is left to the lyrics, while the music is only an engine to carry those words.

Fans of this old school band’s work tag this lazy and faceless approach as ‘Crematory style’, but in truth, it is just run-of-the-mill riff salad without any particular purpose; only remarkable for presenting some technical variation. This can be particularly observed when the band attempts to take rhythm to the edge of what their speed-based approach allows them and creates this ass-shaking syncopation worthy of Brazilian carnivals. This comes out as comical, but perhaps technically ‘interesting’ for drummers. The guitar’s work is completely driven by these frenetic drums that seem more interested in showing off how many different patterns they can cram into half a minute than in contributing to the larger picture. In fact, the whole of the music appears to be an excuse for rhythmic exercises in “fun and gore”. This is an early demonstration of tongue-in-cheek emptiness that lead these musicians to explore technique but reveal nothing to the soul.

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Catacomb – In the Maze of Kadath (1993)

CATACOMB-The-Lurker-at-the-Threshold-In-the-Maze-of-Kadath-CD

Article by David Rosales

Straight from the peak of the death metal movement comes the French band Catacomb and their 1993 demo / EP In the Maze of Kadath. The production is suitable and enhances the vibe that any death metal band would want, saved from overproduction by the limitations of its time and probably band finances. It is the sort of release that from the time period that has all the right examples of its betters so that it can produce an appropriate atmosphere, but its capacity to create something original and valuable of its own is shaky at best.

Songs are introduced by a monochromatic piano, not unlike that of Goatcraft on All for Naught. After a short passage, the band proceeds to pick motifs from it and move on to a very consciously “progressive” treatment of the music. As I have said before, all good death metal is progressive music, in the sense of the word’s original usage when describing classic and jazz inspired rock bands of the early seventies. Bands that sound more explicitly and intentionally progressive are usually trying something closer to through-composition. The dangers of through-composition, however, can be seen in how acts such as The Chasm meander into nothingness, or in the corners of Timeghoul’s longer explorations, which they barely keep together. Catacomb is an example of a band biting off more than it can chew. While not outright offensive, one gets the feeling that the songs’ storylines get lost, and part of this is because it’s difficult to tell if Catacomb has a clearly defined style or not. It is more like a collection of atmospheric death metal tropes combined with more conventional technique closer to a traditional/speed metal approach, although Catacomb tends to perform at middling tempos.

One strength of this band on In The Maze of Kadath is their haunting use of keyboard, its sound complementing the tone of the guitar as they play in unison. This is a subtlety lost on modern bands who fail to notice how a huge and devouring guitar sound eats up the space where a keyboard would spread to get that truly haunting feeling. Less admirable are the random guitar solos with very little staying power (a lack of correspondence with the music, with which it only shares tonal coherence) and often awkward-sounding arpeggiations. All in all, this is an enjoyable but unimpressive and forgettable work music. If you wanted the progressive ‘chops’ with the dark atmosphere, Timeghoul provides a much better delivery. If that proves too gnarly and the reader only wants that spacey, desolate sound, Thergothon’s Stream from the Heavens would be a far more compelling and potent choice. In the Maze of Kadath may please momentarily and entertain for its cult status, but musically, anything it has to offer has been realized more convincingly in the works of others.

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Incantation rejoins Relapse Records, working on 10th album

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Relapse Records and Incantation both recently announced through their various websites (including Incantation’s official page) that Incantation is rejoining Relapse’s roster. Incantation’s most recent studio albums (including 2014’s Dirges of Elysium) had been released through Listenable Records; this change of record labels coincides with the band’s upcoming album, which is currently being recorded at the band’s own studio. Incantation will also be touring Europe in April alongside Morgoth, Darkrise, and Omophagia, as well as playing the Czech “Obscene Extreme Festival”. Hopefully, the new album will not be afflicted the “tiredness” a DMU contributor saw in the band’s recent studio work.

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Sarcasm – Burial Dimensions (2015)

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Article by Corey M

Burial Dimensions is a compilation of releases by Swedish death metal band Sarcasm, featuring six demos (released between 1992 and 1994) and a full-length album (also recorded in 1994, but first officially released in 2011). For most of this review, I’ll be talking mainly about the titular full-length album when I use “Burial Dimensions”, and not the compilation as a whole.

As for the compilation as a complete package – It has cool cover art and all the demos you could want, but they sounded redundant to me, though in full disclosure, I was unfamiliar with Sarcasm before getting this release, and didn’t know any of their demos before listening to this compilation. Fans will no doubt find more value in having this large collection of demos on two CDs, even though casual listeners may not spend much time listening to them. The full-length features the best songs with the best production quality, so I focused in listening to it the most.

Some listeners might be able to guess that Sarcasm are Swedish by the first riff, and most of the musical techniques they use had been well-developed by 1994, so this album is more about refining a craft than innovating. Except for a few incongruent flourishes, Burial Interludes is mostly sinewy, sometimes fluttery death metal, but melodically bears resemblance to some contemporary heavy metal-influenced black metal like Rotting Christ’s Thy Mighty Contract, with a lot of tense, enigmatic harmonies and an emphasis on keeping songs flowing smoothly throughout dynamic transitions between high- and low-intensity passages. However, due to the band’s admirable unwillingness to shift dynamics too quickly, some of the more low-tension parts in songs drag on for too long, dispelling the sinister insinuations of the more intense passages as we are lulled by comfortable but impotent consonance. These soft sections subvert the dark spirit that these songs aim to conjure, and are almost always too off-putting to ignore. Examples include a brief break for a female operatic vocal to take over a song which is otherwise made of imposing, sharp riffs, and some dull segments that showcase an unmotivated (and unmotivating) lead meandering over a melodramatic chord progression. These parts always sound insincere and drag the album down because other parts of the songs really rip into you.

The production of Burial Dimensions is raw (and the demos sound considerably worse), with some gnarly analog compression and heavy reverb on everything, giving the sensation of the sound being squished and distant. This isn’t necessarily bad and allows the guitars space to grind through high and low frequencies, giving the rhythm guitars a dangerous-sounding, shredded, spiky texture. In many riffs, a second guitar will pick out a higher-register harmony that stands separate from the rhythm guitars by having a distinct echoing tone. Usually following the rhythm fairly closely, the second guitar is also sometimes used for counterpoint melodies, and at times these are very effective at bringing out the full impact of the riffs, especially when the bass guitar splits from playing in unison with the rhythm guitars and all three guitar melodies hit you from different directions in three-part harmony. Sarcasm can create an impressively broad and rich sound with the three guitars being utilized this way, but during the worst parts of the songs, the counterpoint will be played in some such off-kilter way that doesn’t synchronize intuitively with the rhythm guitars and some strange harmonies emerge, negatively altering the flow of tension that is channeled so well during the more simply-structured passages.

Sarcasm sound amateur at worst, mainly due to the artificial melancholy that butts in and trips up a series of otherwise engaging riffs. Some of the better examples of riffs that really take you along for a ride begin the songs “Through Tears of Gold” and “Never After”, but frustratingly their momentum falters when one of the more flaccid, weepy progressions intrudes with clean guitars and soft synthesizer washes. “Pile of Bodies” and “Scattered Ashes” both begin with slow, chunky riffs that menace and lumber, but eventually either song gets bogged down in slowly-strummed reverb-drenched chords and leads too timid to venture far enough from the chords to inspire much sense of wonder or foreboding.

All considered, this album probably never achieved wide recognition because of the incongruent dynamics which can leave you with a sense of ambiguity about the whole experience. If you listen closely, you’ll hear lots of cool-sounding riffs scattered throughout, but they are offset by the sappiness that inevitably kicks in during any song’s development. In this way the amateur nature of the band works for and against them; when they get into energetic and fearsome riffing, the sensation is both threatening and mystical, but their inability to maintain tension while focusing more on the mystical than the threatening aspect means that each burst of strong riffs is undermined by a stretch of weak soloing or ostentatious gimmicks.

If you are a fan of Sarcasm, this release is right up your alley; you get some upgraded album art and a collection of demos in their original condition (not retouched or remastered, as far as I can tell). If you are not a fan but curious to see what Sarcasm are all about, I strongly recommend finding some of the music online or streaming it and giving it a close listen before making the decision to purchase. Personally, I don’t see any lasting replay value in Burial Dimensions; Sarcasm are just one of the many death metal bands that fell by the wayside during the ’90s heyday, and for good reason. If you are really itching to hear some death metal from the ’90s with lots of black metal-esque melody and heavy metal leads, compare this album to Necrophobic’s The Nocturnal Silence, which is a perfect example of how these influences (black, death, and heavy metal) can merge fluidly and efficiently. And Intestine Baalism beat these Swedes at their own game with 1997’s An Anatomy of the Beast, which does a better job than Burial Dimensions of combining raw and evil-sounding riffs with dramatically melancholic lead melodies.

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Obscura – Akroasis (2016)

Akroasis

Akroasis stands proud as a representative of cracked out incoherent sugar high penguin of doom random technical “death” metal, and even has a cover that looks like various forms of congealed sugar melting together into a nutrition-free whole. It is truly the perfect product – a deceptively simplistic and potentially addictive recording with little in the way of more rewarding development. Obscura’s efforts on this album alternate between either random gibberish or surprisingly basic song constructions that don’t quite fit the apparent intent and would be shockingly obvious were they not surrounded by thousands of rapid fire notes like a swarm of flies around rotting meat.

One thing that makes reviewing Akroasis particularly easier is how the first track (“Sermon of the Seven Suns”) encapsulates so much of what Obscura is attempting to do. Much has been made of what this band takes from Death, particularly from their later traditional/death fusion works, but the most patronizing is the circular song structures. “Sermon of the Seven Suns” doesn’t have a lot of content, and after an intro arguably inspired by Cynic, it awkwardly rotates between its two major sections of rapidfire blasting and slow jazz fusion jams. The band uses some basic modulation techniques to disguise the repetition, particularly in the first section, but the overall structure does little more than hide the excessively basic structure. While the band’s apparent devotion to this on this track is vaguely admirable for how holistic it is (extending even to the lyrics), it doesn’t make for particularly compelling listening once the shock factor of Obscura’s instrumental proficiency wears off. At best, they’re slightly more creative than Chuck Schuldiner was with song structures – as an FYI, pretty much everything Death put out went main section -> bridge -> repetition of main section -> who needs a coda anyways?

The rest of Akroasis is more densely packed with content, but instead of employing the care and diligence required to shape these into anything coherent, it just falls into all of the typical metalcore traps, so it sounds less like an album and more like a checklist of errors. Besides what I’ve already mentioned in dissecting the first track, Obscura’s songwriting is full of aesthetic novelties (vocoders, non-metal instruments for no apparent reason) and they even incorporate a goofy breakdown in “The Monist” because apparently, metalcore musicians just can’t resist the temptation. Obscura would be a much better band if they could resist their vices, but were they to try and succeed, they would probably become completely unrecognizable to their fans. Why would they bother? The disorganized candy coated tech-death approach seems to be netting them enough fans.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews mini-feature – Infernal Curse – Apocalipsis (2016)

infernal curse

Article by David Rosales

When listening to most of these modern funderground bands, one gets the impression that a group of random guys eating hot dogs suddenly came up with the idea of recording a death metal album to give some variation to their Saturday afternoons in which they normally just discuss fantasy football. Is this derogatory? You bet. Is this accusation completely out of hand and unjustifiable? Not really, there are very clear reasons to say this.

For starters, a release like Apocalipsis by Infernal Curse amounts to nothing more than foggy noise, lacking any memorability but the memory of a passing metallic cloud of percussion and occasional chords. You might perceive this as being only the personal impression of the author, that it amounts to nothing more than another opinion on an otherwise objectively tolerable and enjoyable work of music. But nobody here is objecting to the idea that someone might enjoy this music. The point is that it is indistinguishable from anything even vaguely similar and devoid of its own character.

Apocalipsis is only the reflection of the disaster that war metal has been for death metal, a poor and superficial of what being an underground art movement is. This is usually the result of becoming self-referential, very much like university “revolutionaries” and other posers who confuse image with content. The trap is believing that through imitation of appearances you might somehow bring about the essence of what is being imitated. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and this piece of unrecognizable shit is just more ammunition for our poser-bashing posts.

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Master – An Epiphany of Hate (2016)

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Master, Autopsy, Motörhead –  what do they all have in common? They’re all long running bands that settled on a workable style relatively early and generally stuck with it for decades, gradually refining their craft while managing not to lose control of the forces that initially motivated them. Master is arguably the grandfather of this tradition within the realms of death metal, as they’re the approximate beginning of the constellation of Paul Speckmann projects (since War Cry is allegedly a far cry from most of his work). Given that Master sticks with tradition on An Epiphany of Hate, anyone who’s familiar with Master should know exactly what they’re going to get.

This album belongs to the more elaborate school of Mastercraft that’s come into being in the last few years; while Master has never written especially long or complicated songs, the level of musicianship and organization on display here is a definite improvement from the early days of the band. The production and mixing is also higher fidelity, but improving such is not nearly as difficult as becoming a better songwriter. I’d argue that Paul Masidval’s (protip: Cynic) contributions to Master during his brief mercenary period in the early 1990s must’ve resonated with Speckmann on some level and encouraged this elaboration. An Epiphany of Hate is still relatively sparse in its overall construction; the songs here are built out of comparatively few riffs; if not necessarily the three per song figure that comes up in older discussions. Monophony is still the band’s weapon of choice, but like many of the bands that have… mastered this sort of metal, Master’s musicians know when to keep it up and enjoy their freedom of melody and tonality and when they should instead use some sort of harmonic reinforcement. This expansion without overextension is something a lot of bands aren’t able to successfully pull off, so it does reflect pretty well on them.

I don’t know how much of an advance An Epiphany of Hate represents over 2013’s The Witchhunt, if any, but it’s still a good addition to Master’s legacy and a worthy addition to your 2016 collections.

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