Codex Obscurum – Issue Seven

Having watched this zine grow from humble origins to the reliable source of underground metal feature stories that it is today, the metalheads who comprise the underground — including death metal, black metal, grindcore, and some speed metal and doom metal — now expect high-quality on-point content from this zine, and Issue Seven delivers with style. Now possessing the journalistic weight and audience to command high-profile bands, Codex Obscurum returns with wide-ranging interviews, reviews, features and editorials with adventurous literary fiction as well.

Interviews have always pushed this zine above the rest because of their conversational nature but tendency to explore the thinking behind the musical decisions made by the band, with little attention spent on the surface fluff, but some questions that bring out the personalities of the musicians and explain their connection to the art. In this issue, the biggest name in interviews is Deceased, but perhaps the most powerful interview belongs to Thanatos. Covering both Hail of Bullets and Thanatos, this interview with Stephan Gebedi is as detailed and congenial as death metal interviews get, and covers a lot of history. The Deceased interview will strike most as idiosyncratic because it covers much of King Fowley personally and recent news, with less emphasis on background, but this reflects the general abundance of Deceased interviews on the early days. This updates us on the status of the band including information new to most sources. Other interviews with Wastelander, Drug Honkey, FaithXTractor, Crypt Sermon, Magic Circle, Dawn of Demise, Untergang, Slaughtbath and Blood Incantation follow similar patterns of compiling biographical details and consulting on musical intent, with the Untergang and Crypt Sermon being most compelling. All of these are well-executed and constitute the backbone of this zine.

Issue Seven contains a number of features, one of which takes the form of an interview. Artist Tony Cosgrove gives his points of view in a story which interweaves his images with his words, creating the sensation of being a museum exhibit with slightly longer detail cards. A feature on asymmetrical board games offers a glimpse into a world that overlaps with metal but is too nerdly for the mainstream tuffguy websites to cover. A lengthy write-up of the Kill-Town death fest in Denmark follows, which captures much of the atmosphere without excessive detail, but also skimps on a few vital points and may be the least powerful part of the zine. Then again, fest writeups are nearly impossible because everyone is tired and/or drunk (and stoned) so what remains are hazy recollections and the ability to look through the heaps of scored merch. Possibly my favorite features lurks at the rear of the zine, which is a malevolent and tongue-in-cheek editorial about the nature of battle jackets and how they should be worn. This piece reminds me of the 1980s text-files that hackers used to pass around: it has an off-the-cuff feel to the writing, but the thinking seems refined over time, which creates an interesting casual intensity. One intriguing feature, to my knowledge unique among current zines, comes in the form of a short story. Like a condensed zombie sci-fi horror movie, “Evil Seed” (named for the Morbid Angel tune?) efficiently whips through a haunting mystery of an experience with a powerful organic metaphor. This story not only adds to the zine, but its placement dead in the middle creates a break like that when flipping over a vinyl album to hear side two.

Toward the rear of the zine festers another important section: reviews. For metalheads without much time to wade through the mountains of spurious and often spiteful opinions in online comments, or the completely idiotic sales jobs that mainstream zines and web sites put out in place of reviews, where every release is the greatest ever and will tear your head off or make you look intellectual to the girlies, zine reviews offer peace of mind in purchasing by offering better than even chances that a given release will be a match. This occurs both through qualitative assessment, and quantitative description, both of which are featured here. These take a conversational tone but know when to drop the one or two lines of most vital description, and then an assessment, separating observations from judgments enough that the reader can shop by the relative distance between the taste of the reviewer and their own. In this issue, the selection of reviews is a lot more strategic and covers all of the vital ground for what was released during the press period of this issue.

As Codex Obscurum has grown, so has its proficiency in layout. This is the most readable issue yet, generally sticking a band logo at the start of an interview and then being sparse with other images and keeping the text high-contrast usually of a light grey on black variety. This format works well and the use of distinctly shaped fonts also keeps this from falling into the trap of the illegible muddy blur of a xerox disaster that many zines are. Reviews are black text on grey background for added readability, and whether from rush or deliberation, the black-on-white table of contents is if nothing else clear as a bell. Writing standards have inched upward, too, with tightly edited pieces and almost no typos and spelling errors. All of the above make it easy to pick up this zine, which at half-page size can be handily carried anywhere you would take a paperback, and to relax and absorb the content. It would not be surprising to see someone whip this out at a university library, transhumanist rally or on the international space station, because it has that kind of density of information and yet casual enjoyment factor. It is good to see this zine getting the recognition it deserves and its growth both in size and technique for an intensely professional and yet familiar metal reading experience.

1 Comment

Tags: , , , , , ,

Psynthesis releases first video

psynthesis

Hailing from Israel, Psynthesis plays a style of death metal with riffing that shows a connection to speed metal in the same way that Slayer’s Hell Awaits is, by definition, a death metal album while maintaining a riff-style and vocal-music interplay similar to speed metal. Following a conservative line, Psynthesis’ power lies in its deliberate limitation of musical scope and expression which results in a focused and clear result.

While the band has only released one track, “Den of Wolves”, they are planning to either release an EP or a full album in the near future. The band consists of two members and are still looking for a permanent drummer. If the full album parts from the quality of this single, Psynthesis promises to give us one of the best albums this year worthy of remembering years later as mature and subtle metal in a traditional vein.

No Comments

Tags: , , , ,

Demigod/Necropsy – Unholy Domain (1992)

demigod_necropsy_-_unholy_domain

This collection of Scandinavian metal shows these bands migrating beyond their speed/death roots into death metal and struggling to implement their most ambitious ideas. Demigod launches the split with its “Unholy Domain” demo which displays songs that later made it onto Slumber of Sullen Eyes but with more muted-strum riffing, divided syncopation in placement within tempo, and over-active drumming. Like the early works of Possessed, these twin seven-inch recordings show bands emerging from the older paradigm but not yet able to grasp the full implications of the new. Demigod does so on a structural level, where Necropsy assesses the riffing style more accurately. Together these form a historical document of much interest to those who find the separation of death metal from heavy metal as a pivotal moment in the history of the genre.

Demigod leads off the split with its “Unholy Domain” demo which shows later songs in a more downstroke, muted-strum heavy form that consequently has less fluid tempo changes and as a result, misses somewhat on the dark atmosphere which Slumber of Sullen Eyes created. However, the formation of the songs reveals itself through how these riffs interplay, with the strummed riffs occupying space so that others can take the fore, showing which themes are dominant and which are merely supporting. This reveals Demigod without the pervasive atmosphere of enigmatic doom that defined the later album, but instead shows them as a band striving to place interesting riffs into combinations which brought them together as more than the sum of their parts.

Necropsy, on the other hand, unleash what may be the best recording of the band because it lacks the self-consciousness of later releases. It does not attempt to be hard, but resembles a three-way cross between Morgoth, Powermad and Asphyx, plodding through doomy passages and picking up the rhythm with speed metal riffing before building to a classic death metal melodic confrontation between internal themes. Much of this carries the same murky atmosphere as Darkthrone Goatlord, but with more internally-reflective syncopated riffing in the style of the first Deicide album, albeit slower to fit a mid-paced approach much like early Kreator. This recording shows the creativity of this band achieving a result that is not completely formed, yet shows direction more clearly than the more artificed later versions. Together these two recordings make a compelling view into early death metal.

No Comments

Tags: , , ,

A tentative list to get into death metal

TheSoundofDeathMetal

Getting into underground metal styles has never been a straightforward thing for anyone. The exception might be the Cannibal Corpse crowd that approach this music as fix for a certain mood, but see little beyond the most sensual appeal of the music. For those actually trying to appreciate the music anywhere beyond the surface either in a technical manner, it’s significance or the experience it provides beyond simple monochromatic sensual indulgence, the path consists of several steps in not one path but a multitude of paths that conform to the singular state and journey of each listener.

The present list does not attempt to give a template that will fit all as that is impossible. It is simplistic in its attempt to generalize and exemplify. The most important starting assumption is that the listener is at least fond of traditional heavy metal or hard rock in the worse case. I tried to avoid using of overtly offensive gateway bands like Craddle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir or Arch Enemy but these should not be completely discarded as possibilities to enable a smooth and pleasant transition into death and black metal.

For this example of a road map towards understanding and appreciation of death metal I have distinguished five different steps with suitable albums as follows:

I. Easy-going quasi death metal

  1. Carcass – Heartwork
  2. Entombed – Left Hand Path

II. Welcoming and easy-to-understand simple death metal that is only complex on a local level and so can inspire a sense of technical wonder in the listener while maintaining mood.

  1. Death – Spiritual Healing
  2. Adramelech – Psychostasia
  3. Demigod – Slumber of Sullen Eyes

III. Excellent, but mostly on a technical level, with raw power and refinement in style, solid and well-produced albums that do not transcend their technical aspects

  1. Morbid Angel – Covenant
  2. Cryptopsy – None so Vile 
  3. Vader – Litany 

IV. Authentic, representative of the core of the death metal spirit while being original

  1. Demilich – Nespithe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjutXYAwc_0
  2. Deicide – Legion
  3. Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten

V. Completely past appearances and technical infatuation, almost on the spiritual level of true and good black metal

  1. At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
  2. Immolation – Unholy Cult
  3. Gorguts – Obscura

 

88 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Blasphemy – Fallen Angel of Doom (1990, 2015)

blasphemy cover

Bringing together the grindcore of Napalm Death and the primitive black metal of Bathory and Sarcófago into a death metal way of thinking, Blasphemy gave the world a solid although juvenile Fallen Angel of Doom. Racing in consisting grinding expression while going beyond the riff and into an atmosphere-inducing state as a result of the progression of riffs that is fitting of that primitive black metal, the songs in this album open a portal through which disturbing visions come to alienate us, inducing a feeling of aloneness, doom and  fear.

That strong evocation is accomplished from the fusion of these two genres, in my opinion, because they are not just smashed together but rather assembled in a different mold, that of death metal and made into one language. The other thing is that you do not hear interleaving riffs in different styles, although we do hear a good deal of flexibility in riff type in terms of rhythm, texture and note length. The riffs themselves are both completely fitting for grindcore, but it is the duration of their repetition and the effect of their arrangement that results in a similarity with primitive black metal. In order to achieve a stronger result coming from goal-oriented development, the structural-minded songwriting of death metal comes to round off and concentrate the raw energy of the other two genres.

2 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Dysentery – Fragments (2015)

dysenteryeragments

Self-identifying with the “Slam” tag, Dysentery play a mid-paced, groove-oriented deathcore. The music is based on two poles. The first is very simple grooving rhythms either in slow tempo or in blast-beat-ridden sections with very obvious and simple stress points. The second is the use of pinch harmonics (aka squeals) to round off some phrases.

The music shows a single-minded ambition: grooving brutality. Simple rhythmic indulgence in a pleasure-oriented music. As such, this music is little more than the reggaeton of “extreme” metal. The band might as well change their guitars and drums for a computer software simulator of a mixer and start playing with beats and singing about big-ass girls and how macho you are and what not.

4 Comments

Tags: , , , , , ,

Suppuration – Devouring Your Prayers (2015)

devouringyourprayers

Opening with a piano section that is completely out of place within the context of their music, Suppuration give us brutal meets groovy streamlined and uneventful death metal with croaking vocals whose creativity and character borders on the comedy of pornogrind.  A  major cause for this might be the production which sandwiches everything into a very narrow frequency range. The drums feel as if they were behind everything else, the guitars and the voice almost superimposed.  But the production is not to be blamed for the composition blunder this whole affair represents.

Devouring Your Prayers shows several marks of incompetence. In this album we can find distracted riffing and drumming that doesn’t completely match, it is as if the musicians where just doing their own thing and they assumed that as long as they were playing in the same tempo and time signature everything would be fine. Second the interludes are completely extraneous to the album, from the musical point of view. Even worse, we find the modern tendency to move from one idea into a completely unrelated one in order to move the music forward. This is a metaphor for denial of reality, not progress.

The band manages to sound both overt yet devoid of character and completely lacking an individual voice. Presenting us with the fireworks, bells and whistles aimed at casual listeners of “the brutal”, Suppuration exemplifies the mediocre, the sell-out and the moronic side of death metal all at once.

No Comments

Tags: , , ,

Genital Grinder – Abduction (2015)

genitalgrinderband

Genital Grinder’s Abduction is one of those albums whose main goal is to punch the listener in the face. They are not the wanker posers of so-called tech death. But they only aim slightly higher: pure brutality. In this case technicality in the service of brutality. There are two angles we should approach this before reaching a conclusion. The first is a lenient way of judging this work on “its own terms”. The second is judging if the overall result is meaningful in the least.

To an insider, that Genital Grinder is a band bent on brutality — on giving the listener a rush based on violent imagery and blunt sound– is a self-evident fact. If in doubt we can take each song and try to describe what is the most salient feature. It is almost always how direct and intense the sections are. The band does insert some brief moments of almost mid-paced trudging without which this would be unbearable on a physical level even for their own fans (although they would still praise it as mind-blowing-ly “br00tal”). The album comes out as a single-minded effort that remains in style while providing enough variation of themes and coherence in songs for them to be distinct. A simple goal has been achieved: another super brutal album has been made.

Regarding the more relevant issue on ranking Abduction on the overall quality scale of music. The songs built around clear ideas and are built around them. The band’s composition limits are revealed when we observe that they are unable to produce major explorations within their music without destroying the idea they presented at first. When they attempt to do so, they are reduced to grooving sections or cliche short melodic riffs with simple 3rds or 5ths doubling.

An incredibly limited release that is monochromatic at all conceivable levels, Abduction will be a solid although uneventful item in the collections and playlists of  those either looking for a casual brutality fix or the Homer Simpsons of death metal who think Cannibal Corpse is “the shit”.

No Comments

Tags: , , , ,

Trey’s and Mike’s best: the Abominations of Desolation

ma86

Conceived in rehearsals between 1984 and 1985, Abominations of Desolation was completed and recorded by 1986, showcasing the most concentrated and solid (in composition) release either Trey Azagthoth or Mike Browning have put out until now (or likely to ever release, for that matter). I hesitate to use the word refined here as that would imply a correcting of minute details at every level, which this album obviously does not posses. The next three albums make use of this material and refine it in different ways and distinct directions, filling out the rest of the albums with some good ideas and mostly filler.

On Altars of Madness, the most significant changes to the music besides the studio production (including tone and what no) and vocals were to tempo. The composition of the songs themselves remained the same.  Basically they were played much faster and the drumming was made more “tight”. The new songs that were not taken from Abominations of Desolation were essentially inferior filler, although the songs were not necessarily bad, just not as good as the earlier material. There are two things to be said regarding the tempo changes. On the one hand, Altars of Madness is mandatory study material for any true fan of the genre and even more so for the aspiring death metal musician because it is a textbook example of excellent technical accomplishment of flexible death metal compositions. On the other hand, accelerating so much destroyed the original character of the songs which no longer sounded mystically infused with darkness but rather comically colorful. The tempo also obfuscated the structural features rather than highlighting and exploiting them, lending a flatter and more pop-oriented sound that emphasized hooks in the middle of a maelstrom of madness.

In 1991, Morbid Angel released Blessed are the Sick, which sees the band attempting to regain the spirit they lost in Altars of Madness in search of a more professionally competitive tone and production. The early songs used in this album were not as distorted, retaining their original aura, but they were re-recorded with very soft and mellow guitar and drum sound. The new songs composed for the album also matched the dense atmosphere and dynamics of the older songs. A concept orientation was adopted and the result was the artistic peak of Morbid Angel, presenting the highest refinement of the material in balance with a whole-work oriented album rather than a simple collection of songs. Here we find the best of Azagthoth’s collaboration with Browning meeting the best of Morbid Angel’s later work.  While Altars of Madness came out as slightly comical, Abominations of Desolation seemed dark and serious about its occult nature and Blessed are the Sick made a serious attempt at recovering that.

Then came Covenant, the last album to use seminal material from Abominations of Desolation. This album is a strong attempt at bringing the best from the two previous albums, it is Morbid Angel attempting to summarize, solidify  their voice, carving a new path after having released their magnum opus. This is always the most difficult album in a classic band’s career. It often results in an emphasizing of technical aspects while the band tries to discover how they can continue after they have achieved greatness.  The result is often undeniably outstanding material that lacks spirit. It happened to Yes after Close to the Edge,  the greatest and most ambitious organic expression of who they were. Becoming self-referential in Tales from Topographic Oceans and then, not knowing where to go artistically, Yes used the best of their technical abilities to produce their technical highlight: RelayerCovenant is Morbid Angel’s Relayer.

I am tempted to say that the best work these two artists ever did was together. It is a pity that personal problems had to come between them. Same sad story of Celtic Frost’s, who also never reached its early heights after the dynamic duo at its center separated. It is hard to tell how each of these artists complement each other, but judging from their projects away from each other we can observe that without Browning, Azagthoth becomes streamlined and even sterile, while without the latter Browning indulges in an adventurous music full of life that is unfortunately musically crippled by a lack of discipline and organization. Perhaps this is also related to a merely technical appreciation of Mozart by Azagthoth and the excited yet musically uninformed admiration of Rush on Browning’s side.

Complaining about the production and tone in Abominations of Desolation and overlooking the whole composition is like missing a great book of classic literature because you do not like the cover and the font in which it is written. You can complain about the font, but the font is not the organized information that literature is. So it is that production values do not make up what music is, only a medium. This does not mean that we should not criticize this, but it seems to me that it is over the top and superficial to say that, for instance, Altars of Madness is superior because the tone and production is better there. In fact, since the best songs in that “first” album are taken from Abominations of Desolation, and the rest are second-rate filler in comparison, I would say that in terms of content this early output is the best release to ever come out under the name of Morbid Angel.

The extent to which the artist’s belief in what he says and does, and how much he is actually familiar and imbued with the material, affects the final result of the music. While the young band fervently believed in the Ancients and the Arabic magic spells referenced in their lyrics, the more “mature” band only held on to these in a more tongue-in-cheek, ironic or perhaps metaphorical sense. Abominations of Desolation concentrates and summarizes all the power Morbid Angel had to give at that point which unfortunately only dissipated in future releases. This 1986 release, and no other, is the embodiment of what Morbid Angel is.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9G-NAKOg6E

 

 

11 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Raping of Sacred Assholes: Nocturnus – The Key (1990)

thekey

A cult classic of death metal, Nocturnus’ The Key often elicits outwardly moderate yet intense praise from connoisseurs of the genre. Reading online reviews and commentaries on the album one realizes that these praises are based on a three points. The first is the prominent use of keyboards throughout the album, then there is the ubiquitous, ripping guitar solos and last, its supposed resemblance to Morbid Angel, which is mainly based on the fact that Mike Browning took charge of the vocals on Nocturnus but also on the so-called thrash/speed-death amalgam this style is supposed to be. Let’s shoot each of these down one at a time.

The much-mentioned “pioneering” death metal with keyboards is an example of how too much of the metal critique is bent on praising novelty. Not only is the use of keyboards in the album amateur but it is often gimmicky, half of the time being out of place, the other half being completely extra and unnecessary — not strongly integrated into the music except in a very few places (“Neolithic” has a gesture in the solo section that shows promise). There are very good reasons why you do not hear keyboards often in death metal, and it goes beyond the fact that most death metal musicians are not learned enough to integrate them and would rather just make “pummeling and brutal riffs”. Style has to accommodate instrument choice. As it stands, The Key only crams keyboards wherever it can, but it is little more than a gimmick. Overall, a metalhead should look up to In the Nightside Eclipse for a better example of keyboards in underground metal.

On to the much lauded guitar solos in this album. What can I say? Besides being mindlessly infantile and trivial in their transparent scale runs, the solos throughout this album are, like the keyboard sections, often out of place and come off as being only superimposed on top of the rest of the music rather than composed within it. On their own and apart from the discussion on whether they fit into the music or not, it is not the messiness of the solos but their complete lack of character that would give one a good reason to ditch them and never think about them again.

Regarding Nocturnus sounding like a “Morbid Angel on steroids” or “an improved version of Morbid Angel”, we can say it comes from extremely superficial comparisons and a complete lack of discernment concerning composition quality. While Nocturnus perfectly exemplifies the brand of speed metal that wants to be death metal but is not quite there yet, early Morbid Angel was known as “death-thrash” only as a result of the audience’s ignorance. In this respect and given that The Key was released in 1990, when death metal had already solidified as a genre, we can say Nocturnus’ music is retrograde gimmick.  The distinction between the death metal of Morbid Angel and the harsh, late-speed metal of Nocturnus lies in the phrase construction of the first that becomes the central development of the music, while the latter produces riffs to carry the voice that end in hooks. Death metal is progressive-symphonic phrasal music, speed metal is still heavy metal of a pop nature. Rather than compare them to Morbid Angel it would be more fitting to compare them to that other famous retrograde and gimmicky act called Death.

All in all, The Key still captures the imagination despite its amateur character and its great faults. I believe the reason for this is that in spite of its immature musical notions, its concept is very clear and this comes through in a very strong manner, outshining the blunders it houses. For the sake of metal, its future and the education of the audience, it is important to give albums like this their correct place. This is enjoyable and fun in much the same way that Sharknado is. You know it is silly, you know its appeal comes from its exaggerations and awkwardness, but a focused awkwardness with a clear idea in mind.


 

Masturbate on the throne of god
Crucifixion of a thousand saints
Stakes are mounted with the heads of angels
Nocturnal spells are casted,
Heaven begins to bleed

–Havohej

No Comments

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Classic reviews:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z