This unruly album launches into a mid-paced, melodic death metal style and then turns up the intensity with constant pounding rhythm. Each song builds itself around a distinctive riff and uses modifications of it to fashion structure out of a stream of creative guitar work that aims first to make a strong statement, and only later to make it fit within a groove the audience can appreciate.
Vocals follow the riffs, giving guitars plenty of room to experiment, and consist of a harsh-throated partial enunciation that allows them to serve as a rhythm and textural instrument. Songs develop according to a rhythm emphasized by both the primary riff and the chorus, evoking the notion of Immolation hybridized with Sodom, and the rest of the song plays with that fundamental tension, although most of the song consists of a verse-chorus loop with one riff per section. Some songs show a riff sensibility derived from European giants such as Demigod and Sinister.
Unlike almost everything that flies over my desk, this band stands on their own, not as much stylistically as in composition. These songs pop out of the album as independent, and while there are many similar rhythms and tempi used, these are interrupted by many changes that shape the chaos into a smooth expression. For a band that works in the area of later classic death metal to withstand modernity and go its own way, and do so smoothly, is exceptional and results in an enjoyable release.
Thanks to Kunal Choksi at Transcending Obscurity, we are able to present this exclusive stream of “Manicheism Inertia” from Dying Alone by Affliction Gate:
Insision take on the dying underground by combining brutal death metal, early technical death metal and adding in mild touches of modern death metal, creating a sound that hammers its listeners with intensity but works melodic leads and song construction into the mix for variety and depth. The result is a cornucopia of charging riffs and melodic turnarounds, in a style similar to later Gorguts mixed with Deeds of Flesh.
The band makes skillful use of dynamics to intensify songs and carefully presents each as a standalone concept. Guttural vocals ride the rhythm riff but break away to freestyle over the more open patterns. This allows Insision to work atmosphere into the blasting and otherwise violent guitar work. Fans of classic German speed metal like Destruction and Kreator will notice similarities as the album goes on; like the best from those bands, Terminal Reckoning uses single chord riffs with chromatic fills for pure rhythm effect.
If this album could improve, it would be in more internal diversity of riff and pace. Its use of melody thrusts aside the modern metal conventions and instead serves to develop songs, which avoids the becalming effect of too much similarity, and the interplay of vocals and guitar follows the mid-80s style instead of trying to constantly contrast the riffs. That and its inherent aggressive attack allows this album to escape the modern metal doldrums and bring back much of what fans adored in old school, technical and brutal death metal.
Thanks to Cátia Cunha from Against PR, Sevared Records and Insision, we can present to you the following streaming track from Terminal Reckoning
Black metal emerged as a reaction to the trend of death metal which had already established a musical vocabulary and through that achieved a higher degree of technicality as well as abstraction.
These bands took inspiration from the proto-black Hellhammer, Venom, Bathory and Sodom. The music of these early hybrid bands was quite unlike what became the second wave of black metal or death metal in that its motifs were simple yet concrete; overlaid onto a structure which juxtaposes seemingly unrelated motifs next to one another in an uncomplicated and often superficially nonsensical form. Yet, the result was surprisingly successful as a visceral and chaotic experience of raw, concrete, sensory imagery.
The black metal to follow refined this approach through retaining much of the simplicity and visceral nature of the earlier music while placing the motifs in a more logical format through phrasal composition, in which each riff has a shape created by its phrase and these form a language within each song. This and the trademark atmospheric riffs driven by waves of reverb and tremolo picking – largely invented by the Norwegian bands of note – came to define the public perception of black metal as a genre. Consequently, the Norwegian sound moved away from the rhythmic lineage of rock to music to something closer to the traditional western sensibility: harmony and melody over static, invariant rhythm as famously codified by the experimental gothic sensibilities of Transilvanian Hunger.
Profanatica, from what can be intuited from rare interviews, had strong reactions towards both the Norwegian sound and death metal itself. As such their music took on a different character which has not garnered the band near as much acclaim. The Norwegian sound is, after all, is the standard against which all black metal music is held. Given the fact that all genres are imposed by observation after the fact, it seems that the difference between Profanatica and the Norwegian giants is not one of quality, but of a band not fitting within the aesthetic boundaries of a genre that the audience expects. That and the mad rush for Norwegian black metal pushed Profanatica to the boundaries of the black metal movement where its influence on artists and hardcore fans tells a different story of its importance.
Much like the Norwegians, Profanatica refined the approach of its influences by emphasizing an incoherent structure and seemingly random construction. The motifs themselves are anything but abstract; often sounding vaguely familiar if not recycled both literally and intuitively. The listener will detect a clear sense of familiarity with the image of a particular motif, yet its contextual placement is such that it reveals a new perspective on something familiar. To draw a metaphor, it is as if one obtains a view of the same landscape from the peak of different mountains. This freedom of association allows a particular feeling, idea or image to be used as appropriate, anywhere in a song without sounding out of place. That particular innovation is unique to this band alone.
Structurally, Profanatica develop the proto-black method by emphasizing its motif contrast and non-rational composition. The infamous “Weeping in Heaven” demonstrates this technique through a collection of riff ideas which bears little relationship to one another, nor are treated in such a way that might cause the music to blend seamlessly. The contrast is emphasized which leaves the listener in a position to experience the music on an intuitive level. The result speaks to the body and it speaks towards the id. Logical progression, causality and abstract musical language are rejected abjectly. Profanatica embraces the rhythmic tradition of non-Western forms; using it to give meaning to chaos and incoherence of raw experience. Where one might perceive conceptual weakness and compositional immaturity in the early black metal music, Profanatica matured their approach to the point of strength.
The greatest contrast between the Norwegian sound and their influences lay at the relationship between the subject and the perceiver. The musical component of the proto-black bands described the emotional reactions to a phenomenon portrayed, resulting in the internal discourse one expects when reacting to the representations given to them by their nervous system. The Norwegian sound attempts to paint the external world through its musical discourse. The valuations of the perceiver are never absent quite absent and serve to describe the relationship of the internal world to the external. It asks the question, “where do we fit in the image of the world as presented?”
In a sense it attempts to categorize a dark forest in nonverbal symbols. Profanatica, resting firmly in the proto-black tradition, presents the terror of a solitary human being in a forest without describing the forest itself through its musical symbols. The dialogue then, becomes a matter of internal sensation which is untamed and instinctual. In terms of artistry, that innovation ultimately expanded the initial range of expression without reasoning categorically about it.
The effectiveness of this particular approach may be observed on the medley from the Grand Masters Sessions release. The track consists of portions of the band’s demo material stitched together to form a single track. A listener familiar with Profanatica’s back catalog will no doubt sense the familiarity of the material yet what is most striking is the functionality of the piece as a whole. Despite being composed from entirely different songs, the song involves juxtaposition of each motif and its partial ordering, and as a result manages a level of unity as a stream of consciousness which reveals new perspectives on the material through context.
Profanatitas de Domonatia (2007) distills the familiar Incantation sound made famous on their debut record Onward to Golgotha – which Paul Ledney had a strong hand in developing – by stripping the material down to its most basic instincts. The result is a fierce and destructive force of will whose aim is deconstruction. The follow up Disgusting Blasphemies Against God saw the band barbarizing the famous emotional sensitivity of black metal’s melodic heritage and assembling those remains into hideous totems. The record’s defining characteristic is, after all, something of a crescendo implying the process of construction, perhaps out of the remains of that which its predecessor tore down. The latest record, Thy Kingdom Cum, lays siege to its two previous approaches by simplifying its rhythms to the point of idiocy while contorting its melodic forms to the point of mockery. The defining character of its predominant motifs is laughter which can be gleaned easily in the opening moments of the track “False Doctrina.” The aforementioned qualities are not something which need to be abstracted from the music; they are clear and obvious.
Profanatica’s approach is much like an uncivilized warband conducting raids on the civilized. Such groups are as much a tribal patchwork out of violent young men as they are a patchwork of the spoils of their activities: contradictory compositions of the basic human and technological components of a greater civilization whose assemblage is entirely pragmatic and allows for them to serve functions other than intended, but no less effective than their original purpose. Out of elements bound tenuously is something effective, something purposeful, something deadly. The world this music operates in is one which is defined almost entirely by nature rather than one defined by humans.
Where proto-black metal is defined by its visceral nature and deconstructive character, Profanatica embrace the ignorance in a brash display of unconcern for the perfume-soaked intellectuals which decry those outside their borders. Dwelling within the primitive backwater fringe has its advantages by bearing immunity to the abstract and desperate silliness of the rest of the genre. The similarly-goaled war metal attempts to reach back into black metal’s foundations but does so in a way which reduces the motif as an objectified emotion or image into pure texture reducing its communicative efficacy. The work of Ledney and company retains the concrete sensory experiences which drove metal in each of its original incarnations and were later given musical scrutiny before completely fossilizing, allowing their art to pick the last of the low-hanging fruit of metal as a form while others languish in petty revivalism, soulless displays of technical mastery, or vapid experimentation that desperately seeks revitalization by looking to external music genres; copying but not transforming its clichés.
When you’re like us and operate on the assumption that most metal music is bad (or at least mediocre), you probably want to avoid Cannibal Corpse, since they’re still kind of the poster child of lame albeit studio-proficient death metal. In case you don’t, you can always see them on their upcoming US tour. As mentioned in the title, Obituary, Cryptopsy, and Abysmal Dawn will be supporting them. The first two bands in that selection admittedly produced some good content in their early days, but seem to be operating at a similar level of tired rehashes these days. Tickets will go on sale this Friday (December 11th), so you should soon be able to ignore our warning if you feel doing so is absolutely necessary.
Back in the day, Vader earned a bit of extra notoriety by releasing the original Future of the Past and presumably documenting their influences (and their taste for Depeche Mode) through cover songs. Nearly 20 years later, they’re doing it again. Future of the Past II: Hell in the East showcases a set of somewhat more obscure bands, trading in familiar speed/thrash acts for the Polish underground of the 1980s, as well as a few outliers like Krabathor from the Czech Republic. This cover compilation will be released on December 14th, along with another separate pressing of Vader’s demos and a re-release of Future of the Past [I]. I do not know why Poland produced such a disproportionate amount of metal during its last years under communism; Vader, having lived through it may very well have a better grasp on the causes.
Pestilence’s demos have been repressed at least once before, most notably on some printings of Malleus Malificarum, but this most recent compilation of them may end up being of at least historic value to the band’s fans. The Dysentery Penance combines both of the band’s 1987 demos into one release, showcasing what we described about two months ago as the “formative years” of the band. Possible added value comes from some remastering work provided by Dan Swano, as well as some live material bolted onto the end of the album. Whether or not the remaster ends up enhancing this product, it’s still probably a better purchase than the band’s post-reformation studio albums.
On one hand, this is obviously a descendant of previous Autopsy material, but on the other hand, Skull Grinder is more conventionally structured and musical than the band’s formative work. You could make a case for my hypothesis based on the first single – i.e a lot of older styles of metal seem to be filtering into latter day Autopsy. Around these parts, this usually spells disaster and results in things like At the Gates releasing Slaughter of the Soul. Autopsy manages to avoid this fate by using these otherwise difficult to control elements in a way that actually fits their roots.
In general, Autopsy relies on a fairly simple formula to make their death metal – basic structures (not necessarily pop ones), limited technicality, and so forth. Perhaps the greatest reason Skull Grinder actually benefits from this is that Autopsy’s style always lent itself to having a strong vocal presence. Chris Reifert is on the top of his game here, successfully expanding the variety of vocal techniques he uses while remaining appropriate to the style of music on display. Similar expansions take place in the rest of the ensemble, including a more lead and solo heavy approach to guitarwork and more elaborate usage of melody in the rhythm guitar’s riffs. The downside of this more instrumentally interesting Autopsy is that it comes at expense of the band’s early mastery of song structure. In general, Skull Grinder is subtly, but definitely more haphazard in how it strings riffs together. This loss of organization skill is not drastic enough to ruin the record, but it’s an unfortunate shortcoming, and one that perhaps could have easily been avoided by giving the songwriting process a little more time to cook. Autopsy has certainly been releasing material quite consistently as of late, but I think the fans would tolerate a longer release cycle if it meant that the music was tightened up a bit and some of the more egregious filler was removed.
Despite this, Autopsy has created a better approximation of their early material than your average self-reviving band, and Skull Grinder does have a some material worthy of the band’s legacy in its short duration. There’s also some lessons to be learned here about how to expand your songwriting horizons; the best bands of the next few years will be those who can balance such wisdom with the more conventional truths Autopsy demonstrated in their past.
In the world of old school death metal, few manage to revive the past and carry it forward in a unique voice. Desecresy resurrects the greatness and gives it a unique spin with atmospheric lead melodic guitar droning over death metal and doom-death riffs, and on Stoic Death they increase the variety of death metal riffs and the dynamic impact of songs in a style more like that of their first album, Arches of Entropy.
Stoic Death begins at full speed and continues to vary pace throughout in order to build intensity, applying the resonant melodies selectively like layers, enwrapping the surging power chord riffs in sheets of harmonic background that intensifies at crucial moments in each song. The doom-death influence shows its strength most in the careful pacing of each song and introduction of elements like seasons, cycling to a conclusion.
The increased variety of riff types shows a familiarity with death metal of the oldest school, but now they take on a new language, with Asphyx-style percussive riffs sliding into rolling Bolt Thrower style dirges, and then emerging with the powerful Finnish-style death metal riffs anchored in melody that specialize in crucifying beauty with cruelty. The mid-paced approach might seem to kill aggression, but it has replaced that sentiment with a deepening sense of melancholy, dread and suspension of all normalcy as the bizarre becomes sensible.
This album feels like a descent into a tunnel shrouded in darkness, where as the voyager goes deeper both in the ground and behind the layers of twists and turns, the daylight world seems more remote and unreal. The songwriting technique Desecresy has made into their trademark presents challenges in that the overall sound is similar between tracks, but here the band differentiates them with elegance and creates a complexity of texture in which the listener can gratefully lose themselves.
More Godflesh influences permeate this album as do nods to recent changes in metal toward the more atmospheric, but Desecrey channel these into its own voice, translating the insipid into the ambiguous and the comforting into a threatening lack of center. What emerges from that fertile combination is a voice perfect for this time, a great sea of doubt in which glimpses of beauty are hidden behind primal uncertainty. Like the best of metal, it makes greatness from conflict and then shows the wisdom of that atavistic outlook through precisely-architected composition.
Codex Obscurum has distinguished itself over the course of seven issues by putting the underground first and focusing on quality of music, in addition to a range of topics about what we might call metal culture, or other areas of life in which metalheads find an interest. Over time, the editors have become more adventurous and now include a wide diversity of genres, artists and the ever-popular gaming features and editorials.
Issue Eight takes up the mantle with eleven band interviews, two live reviews, thirty-nine album reviews and an artist interview. These span genres from traditional underground bands to rough roadhouse hard rock, touching on grindcore and punk and even juggalo rock, giving the kind of panoramic view of the genre that big glossy magazines pretend they have. Speaking of, apparently Decibel referred to Codex Obscurum as “elitist,” which is a media code word for not regurgitating the spew from promotional mailers, and that gratifying tendency means that a refreshing honesty about the limits of many of these bands cuts back the hype and focuses on the actual.
Interviews abound. This latest edition begins with a relaxed interview with The 3rd Attempt that gives some context to the last two generations of black metal, then launches into an energetic discussion with PanzerBastard that reveals some of the Motorhead plus apocalypse thinking behind that act. It follows with an honest and ambitious interview with Skelethal, whose thoughtful responses make me want to listen past the name, and a somewhat guarded interview with Castrator where the band’s attempt to repeat its talking points fades under wily questioning. Then comes an interview with songwriter Ninkaszi about his latest project, Impenitent Thief, which covers a decade of New England metal in a few pages. Noisem follows with an interview of probing questions and somewhat surface-level answers, revealing more about this band than the band intended. After that, Jake Holmes of Plutonian Shore, Under the Sign of the Lone Star zine, and about ten other bands talks Morgengrau and gives some context to what this band has released. Then arrives a rough-hewn interview with hard rock band Rawhide, a contemplative discussion with Zemial, and a detailed look into Blood Red Throne. After the centerpiece of pen and ink art, Teutonic speed metal lords Blizzard weigh in with an irreverent but topical interview.
CO: You’ve started your own paper zine called Under the Sign of the Lone Star. Can you tell us a little about it, and how we can order a copy?
JH – Under the Sign… started as a reaction against click-baiting, witch-hunting, hypersensitive-PC and overall-clueless “metal” blogs/mags that are unfortunately ubiquitous these days. The PMRC may have been the enemy of the 80s, but at least they never passed themselves off as “one of us” like these rags do! The premise of Ut-SotLS was to write about Texan bands that I really like without stirring controversy or spreading gossip for increased ad revenue: passion, not profit. (16)
The centerpiece takes the form of a deliciously gory mythological-apocalyptic-dystopian scene hanging in blackness, which adds to the mood of the zine, and divides an interview with artist Sebastian Mazuera, who reveals quite a bit about the craft of metal art and the thought process behind it. Then the zine takes a Burzum/Bolt Thrower turn with an article about Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, showing the development and pitfalls of this very metal pastime. Most interesting here is the analysis of how fan interaction shaped, and possibly limited, the game. From the gonzo journalism department, two honest reviews of metal festivals — Blastfest and Messes de Morts — revealing the alcohol abuse and manic social aspects as well as the performances by bands both well-known and nearly unknown. These gave more of a feeling of “being there” than the usual paint-by-numbers reviews, plus hilarity in an honest and uncensored look at how well these bands actually performed.
Incorporating elements of crust, doom, even death metal at times this band can take a left turn in their composition at a moment’s notice. From open palm droning and melodic riff structures moving into driving thrash renditions and crusty d beats, these types of elements give the band a really varied and aggressive sound…With tasty build ups making use of both dynamics and tempo, their song structure is quite complex and makes for an entertaining replay value without seeming repetitive after multiple listens. (47)
From there, it is on to the reviews. These establish both how a band composes and records, and reviewer reaction to the utility of listening to the material in question. Although the review of juggalo band The Convalescence is a high point for sadistic mockery in the best offhand zine style, the bread and butter here is nailing a realistic buy/avoid assessment of bands from Empyrium to Tau Cross, Dysentery to Malthusian, and W.A.S.P. to Paradise Lost. These read well, are witty and biting, but are unstinting with praise where it is deserved. Choice of albums here shows more of a strong hand with the reviewers choosing both movers ‘n’ shakers of the underground as well as undernoticed contributions of interest. It would be hard to find a more straightforward and observant review section in print.
Many have claimed the death of the zine, but with more people cutting the cord to the internet because of the sheer amount of spam disguised as reporting, having a volume like this — that you can pick up and then feel you have a good basic grasp of the scene after an hour of reading — reduces the chaos and puts many metalheads with otherwise full lives back into the game. On its eighth issue, Codex Obscurum has expanded its reach without losing touch with its direction, which is a feat of focus that most metal writers should aspire to.
You can still get copies of Issue Eight through the CO online store.
Tampa melodic death metal band Brutality plans to release its full-length album, Sea of Ignorance, the followup to its 2013 EP Ruins of Humans. Pre-order begins on December 1, 2015 and the official release date is set for January 22, 2016. Copies may be ordered from the band website.