The Chasm – A Conscious Creation from the Isolated Domain – Phase I

Daniel Cochardo loves metal. It is no question- from his tenure fronting The Chasm, his work in Cenotaph and his contributions to the last above-average Incantation album Diabolical Conquest that the man is steadfast in his dedication to extreme metal.  Throughout his impressive library of work, we haven’t seen any indication of a wavering of passion or hints of selling out in any way.  What we however have seen is a middling assemblage of efforts that come close to sublime heights but ultimately fall short of the metal ideal. Therfore The Chasm has always flown a bit under the radar, consistently releasing material that has a unique voice commanding the charge but a lack of cohesion giving the music a timeless appeal.  With CCI, The Chasm ends their longest drought between records with an assertive gesture in the form of an instrumental concept album, and although that may hint at a rejuvenated band that is hungry to finally make the profound artistic statement they have always fallen short of, unfortunately The Chasm has given us a release more puzzling than declarative.

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Control Denied – The Fragile Art of Existence (1999)

Control Denied was formed in the mid-1990s by late Death-frontman Chuck Schuldiner to cater to his desire to explore more traditional metal stylings.  Schuldiner, however, was still bound to Death’s contract with Nuclear Blast and thus agreed to record one more album under the Death-moniker before concentrating fully on his new band and musical direction.  As a result, songs originally intended for Control Denied were shoe-horned into a death metal context on The Sound of Perseverance (1998) which partly explains the lackluster, two-faced nature of the last and arguably worst Death-album. With contractual entanglements finally sorted out, Control Denied’s debut The Fragile Art of Existence saw the light of day in 1999.
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Analysis of Death Metal Vocalists

Guttural vocals are the only true vocal innovation in metal as other singing styles are derived from other genres. The growed vocal technique is a combination of multiple frequencies and is harmonically too rich to be treated in the same way as more tonal styles.  Since they are different to all that came before them they must be analyzed differently.  And as metal continues to be penetrated by the mainstream it is important to understand what should be expected from a vocalist and what each one brings to the table since as humans we are inclined to judge vocals first.

In the spirit of understanding the wide variety that the technique has to offer, take a look at some of the more interesting and/or well known vocalists that death metal has given us throughout the years:
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Weathering the Storm as a Republican Metalhead

November 8th, 2016.  Manhattan, NY.  Election night.  I was there.

Wading back and forth between a crowd of suits and red hats gathered outside the Fox News building on 6th ave and a similar group gathered a few blocks north outside the Hilton hotel where the soon-to-be President-Elect was present, I celebrated ecstatically as electoral college results came in showing my favorite politician on the cusp of capturing the presidency.  All of us were over the moon with excitement and bliss, particularly because New York City had seldom presented a place where support of the man the media branded as Hitler 2.0 could be expressed openly.

While walking home and passing virtually every media truck parked for a mile along the road where America’s next President prepared his victory speech, a young NPR reporter excitedly rushed over to me with her microphone and cameraman after seeing the ridiculous “Trump 2020” pins on my shirt.  I agreed to her request for interview and explained why I thought Trump’s non-interventionist foreign policy and realist economic objectives would benefit the country’s middle and working classes.  Admitting her surprise to learn that I was a compliance director working near Wall St. and not the basic redneck Trump voter the media had branded us as, she asked if I was excited about the likelihood of supporting Trump being more socially acceptable now that he was president.  “Yeah” I said “It finally won’t be taboo now!”

We could not have been more wrong.
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Dark Horizons: Upcoming Metal for 02/09/2018

As we predicted at the close of last year, a storm of power metal is coming at last and replacing the soon to be dead genre of post-metal.  With beta-male hipsters turning toward retro rehashes of classic metal they are at last abandoning the pretentious nasalings of post metal.  Let us rejoice in the death of post-black metal!

With Fridays becoming the new Tuesdays for metal releases (for reasons unbeknownst), let’s turn our attention to the next meaty drop of 2018 extreme metal.
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Portal – Ion

Newer metal bands in the mid-2000s went one of few ways: the competition among users of extreme techniques caused a degree of one-upmanship that obscured the message of the music of “technical” bands, while the desire to get the audience to move caused the compositions of -core bands to be infiltrated by danceable open-note rhythms, and those left outside these groups grew more and more abstract in execution as if to rebel against conventional songwriting.  The issue here is that all three avenues, despite the latter being the most declarative, require an aesthetic sleight-of-hand to mask the lack of authoritative message in composition while the music is steered with the effects on the listener in mind rather than coming from the innate desire of a composer to communicate.  Portal, along with Ulcerate and Deathspell Omega, ushered in a style of metal that is entirely rooted in audience manipulation through a reliance on discordance that borders on desperation.  A challenge in viewing bands like this objectively is that it is difficult to fully understand whether the intent is holistically realized or if the sound and execution is the result of having no spirit of communication beyond purely aesthetic virtues.  Perhaps the evolution in sound was the understanding that metal did need to progress, and although there were surely undiscovered ways to do so, an analysis of all prior compositions reveal that metal was comprised of a multitude of expressions utilizing the same symbols: songs needed intros, various types of phrases that build tension, bridges, climaxes, and resolutions, and the catalog of conventional music that we have is constructed of various shufflings of these elements.  So, although a new act could in theory have a unique approach to music, they were essentially draping a new skin on a tired skeleton.  Metal, and music in general, had to go somewhere and it had to be led by someone that had a clear vision of something to communicate. And most importantly, it had to be done so without a reliance on the tropes that human nature has formulated with respect to the idea of song; ultimately, it needed to cripple it from within.

Is Portal the band to breach these waters, or are the efforts of the band a reflection of a lack of having anything to say intrinsically while still being able to coast on a formulaic command of discordant textures where fully realized phrases once guided the listener through a narrative journey?

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Pestilence Attempts Comeback But Forgets What Makes Death Metal Great

Listen to a track from the upcoming Hadeon from longstanding Dutch band Pestilence, one is immediately struck by the similarity to late-1990s Morbid Angel: the riffs are there, albeit a bit impatient and tightly circular, but the whole experience is not. What is missing? To understand this, we must go to the core of what made death metal what it is.

If you wanted to explain to a normal person what death metal is, looking at the core of its spirit, you might haul out Slayer Hell Awaits, Hellhammer Apocalyptic Raids, and Bathory The Return… because these influenced the techniques, composition, and spirit of death metal. From Hellhammer and Slayer, it got its song structure and aesthetics; from Bathory its themes and riff technique.

Death metal took the original idea of metal, formed when Black Sabbath and others began using power chords to make phrasal riffs instead of harmony-oriented open chord riffs, and developed it further. This is different than doing something “new” or “progressing” because it means undertaking the much harder task of developing an idea further at a structural level instead of just changing aesthetics.

With the rise of underground metal, death metal adopted chromatic riffing and made the interplay between riffs form a narrative to each song. This abolished typical rock song structure and, because the guitar served as a melodic instrument instead of a harmonic one, forced vocals, bass and drums into a background role. How well the riffs fit together and portrayed an atmosphere, idea, or sensation defined the quality of the music.

Pestilence came from a solid death metal background with Consuming Impulse but showed a speed metal styled approach on Malleus Maleficarum, and this tension has stayed with the band for its entire career. The speed metal style of verse and chorus built on a singular theme that is present in the music is easier to jam on and use harmony to complement, where death metal rarely explicitly states its theme, only silhouetting it in the interaction between its many riffs. With speed metal, bands can set up a chord progression and develop it in layers of internal commentary like jazz, and this puts vocals back in position number one among the lead instruments.

“Non-Physical Existent” is a two-riff song with both based on the same note progression. It creates its intensity through the clash between a ripping circular high speed riff and a slower chromatic riff that uses odd harmony to distinguish notes in an otherwise linear theme. The song breaks into a solo section over one of the riffs, and has a type of turnaround the drops into the faster riff as a return. But there is no real interplay nor any narrative.

From the riffs themselves, this is a good song, but unfortunately, it is not death metal. Nor will it last because essentially it is a closed-circuit video of itself, a riff commented on by another, without resembling any particular experience or emotion, therefore being a null journey, more like stasis in space while riffs loop. It is better than not bad, but still not of real interest to the death metal fan.

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