Nekromanteion – Cosmic Horrors (2015)

Cosmic Horrors is a Lovecraft-inspired affair standing somewhere between the primitive black metal of South America and grindcore-influenced death metal. Unlike most bands that could fall in this general description that encompasses a common cliche in underground metal, Nekromanteion stand out as a focused band making music balancing music aesthetics with a drive and intention that seems to lead the music, rather than the common mistake of letting the outer traits themselves dictate the music.

Displaying a progressive tendency in construction within healthy bounds alongside a reserved and rough technical expression, Cosmic Horrors present us with the ideal “atmospheric” death metal that war metal bands, for instance, are trying to deliver. The mistake of these or other atmosphere-oriented death metal bands like Phobocosm is that they are too steeply bent on trying to make the music have this effect. So much that they push the music to become the mood itself. Nekromanteion keeps a balance between evocation and satisfying musical aesthetics, which together have resulted in an outstanding EP.

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On The Underrating of Recognized Classics

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Two of the most pervasive topics in metal are the “underrating” and the “overrating” of a band or album. Given that most people are prone to confuse their emotional attachment to music with a sign of its quality, most of these claims are specious complaints that reflect the need for acknowledgement from other people as a fan more than anything else. Claims of “underratement” usually occur in regards to cult bands, and less often, to personal favorites that should be recognized by each fan as a mere guilty pleasure. Statements of “overrating”, then, comprehensibly come about when a disgruntled fan wants to bash any band that does not appeal to him, independently of the reason.

 

However, when leveled as a result of balanced, informed and insightful judgement, these observations become meaningful in that they have solid foundation and a motivation outside selfish emotional need for attention. Contrary to popular opinion, these arguments only need to be based on objective observations but need not be objective in the full sense of the word themselves. The reason for this is that the concepts of objectivity and subjectivity represent a false dichotomy inapplicable in the context of art appreciation. Appreciation rests outside any single preference, it always lies outside the emotional reaction of any one person, but is nonetheless attached to a social group’s set of principles. And principles are a human construct, not tangible, objective reality. In other words, it entails the individual perception through the lenses of convention of objectively observed qualities.

 

Art appreciation can be reduced to the appreciation of beauty. The concept of beauty has always been a complicated one, and like anything complicated, it gets reduced to the absurd by small minds that feel the need to fool themselves into believing they have everything under control. A sense of what is beautiful rests on what is considered to be good taste. The nature of both beauty and taste is neither objective nor subjective. If it were objective, beauty would be a hard, flat fact measurable by scientific instruments, and not the esoteric – perhaps mystical – sign existing completely and individually in meaning, perception and medium but also in the whole of an object, all at the same time. A divine omnia in omnibus, as it were, perceptible to the unconscious but only vaguely grasped by the conscious as an ethereal idea. The duality that implies being human,  having one eye on time and the other on eternity. On the other hand, if it were subjective, it would be completely pointless to talk about beauty or taste, as these would be demoted to euphemisms for what is simply our personal preference.

 

It is therefore, unsurprising that beauty is sometimes linked to the presence of the divine, and therefore of that which is natural, full of meaning and in balance. Again, simplified misconceptions come to distort each of these and in an increasingly individualist society that is just so for the sake of individualism itself, renders them powerless, trapped in small containers as catchwords for egotistical affectations. In other words, beauty has indeed been stripped from its cosmic framework and taste has become personal rather than communal. Both have lost any of the usefulness they had for communication of hermetic meaning.

 

This egotistical individualism is deeply entrenched in group-oriented thinking, paradoxically self-indulging as it is unoriginal and lacking in personal identity. This is to be expected since unthinking compliance to the system goes hand in hand with a deep-rooted cowardice of the mind. So, taking refuge in the rise of science, humanism and tacit nihilism, our brave new world does away with meaning as it has forgotten why man created it in the first place. Our modern society, contemptibly lacking in any courage to face reality and the pressing matters of our times, turns away from an understanding of the transcendent in favor of self-validation.

 

Art and its appreciation suffer first in this headlong plunge into the shadows. The reason for this is that art (artificial) arises entirely from man-given meaning. The greatest art has always had the power to communicate and bring forth an awareness of enduring meaning through individually-perceived universal truths of the human condition. Forsaking the use of any actual meaning in beauty, and consequently in art, music becomes a vulgar tool for individual satisfaction.

 

While quiet deference is directed towards names like Yes, King Crimson, Black Sabbath, Slayer, Bathory or Morbid Angel, my experience tells me that most fans who hold these bands in some kind of respect do not understand half of the reasons why these bands are great. The case of directly disrespected and underrated but equally excellent art like that of selected works of Burzum or early At the Gates is a different although related matter into which I will not go here. In the meantime, let’s turn our attention to canonical works of the metal underground.

 

It seems rather unfortunate that after achieving canonical status in any genre, a classic work is condemned to be defiled in two stages. The first is one in which the cause and effect relationship between being a classic and achieving canonical status is not inverted but flattened, the popular conception of the relationship between the terms being one of equality and interchangeability. Something then happens as a direct consequence of this misunderstanding along with an ignorance of the nature of classical works at several levels. In this second stage the distorted image of what being a canonical work implies is rightly questioned, resulting in an at least partial repudiation of their validity. The term classic is then also demoted into a euphemism for “what many/most people like”. Equating popularity with quality in art is a direct consequence of the loss of meaning discussed earlier.

 

This is why it is important to clarify what is originally meant by classical. It is closest to the condition of being an epitome, except that this latter term is neutral and can signify an accurate representation of the qualities of a group or classification. Classical refers to the highest degree of excellence in regards to quality, which implies distinction, perfect balance and adequacy in a work within its genre. Disquieting as the perversion of this concept is, simple and effective education coupled with the audience’s willingness to let go of their ego would be enough to remedy this situation. As with many things, it is easier said than done.

 

An additional third stage also bears mentioning which can then be appended to the steps in the process of decay in the perception of classic works. After the flattening and disavowal of the aforementioned terms has taken place in the collective mind, a confusion ensues which brings forth the nominating of undeserving artists or works into what used to be a pantheon of the gods. As I see it, there are two main ways in which this happens. The first was already mentioned, very popular works are inserted into the lists by virtue of their popularity itself. The other is the result of the backlash classic works receive from the lack of understanding towards their classic status. The original and true classics are reduced by a narrow-minded audience with a lack of depth perception to a collection of tropes to be imitated. A collateral effect of this in metal is that after a certain amount of time, since the audience cannot understand what a classic actually is, seniority is equated with relevance and quality, and then novelty is equally mistaken for innovation.

 

Without control or awareness, these things happened lightning-fast in progressive rock and metal, accounting for the extremely fast evolution of metal genres running away from the mainstream limelight and into increasingly obscure territories. Giants like King Crimson, Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer and Genesis were then piled up with second-raters from all over the world. Nowadays it is customary to see Rush, Camel or Jethro Tull mentioned besides the first. Childish and musically wanting works belonging to the catalogues of Schuldiner’s Death and Cannibal Corpse even take precedence over the monumental early Morbid Angel. A closer and more knowledgeable and perceptive look into the qualities of their works reveals an enormous chasm in musical excellence and refinement separates them. They belong to completely different worlds.

 

Metal is encumbered by an additional hindrance: a recurrent appeal to cavemanish foolishness by the audience. This is the belief that as an essentially underground movement, metal is a blue-collar music which needs to be kept rough, dirty, mean and, well, ignorant. It is a combination of something similar to communism’s appeal to the true sense of the young masses and the testosterone posturing of a macho Homer Simpson. This idiotic claim basically consists in the stereotype that metal’s nature resides in young and unlearned spirit which yearns for adventure, rebellion and hedonism.  They do not realize that these are closer to the hippie ideals than to the true metal spirit which actually resides in a warrior’s mysticism that stares reality in the face without losing sight of the transcendent.

 

While metal needs to grow up and continue in its journey towards higher peaks, it must do so through a profound understanding of its roots and thereby a correct appreciation of its own classics and an embracing of its core and true ideals. The mainstream would have metal become a compliant rock music in disguise, an edgy but safe expression of castrated dissent. Absorbing or becoming other genres is not progress, it is only regression or distraction. This must be rejected at all costs and a unique path into the maturity of the genre must take place in a truly forward-looking but conservative manner. Metal has always made its most significant strides in those albums which on the surface seemed orthodox but which brought meaningful innovation at the level of musical thinking, information and communication. It was not the experimentalists who revel in the strange, the unexpected and the new, but the disciplined adherents to the tenets of metal who look for their own voice while keeping the spirit of Vir at the heart of the music who move metal forward.

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Ascended Dead – The Advent

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Ascended Dead is a death metal band that intentionally keeps the production of their music lo-fi. Here, we may recognize two things. The first is the appeal to a sense of nostalgia that this sort of distorted tone may cause in fans of old underground metal. The second is that this choice is part of the band’s aesthetic choice and it contributes in a musical way. The latter is never fully acknowledged even by fans of this particular sound, resorting to embarrassed appeals to “guilty pleasure”.

Now, onto the music. In The Advent, Ascended Dead have brought together a collection of distinct but compatible sources in which, if we squint really hard and try to pierce the fog created by the artistic voice of the band, we can recognize the grindy, obscure, riff-salad Finnish spirit. One or two of the songs even betrays the influence of Demilich in its use of short, clear but twisted melody line motifs, but doesn’t go as far as to imitate the older band. The reference is no more than a head nod.

The Advent consists of a solidly integrated style. Ascended Dead’s songs are balanced and clear-headed in direction, while remaining organic, in line with the riff salad tradition. Riffs balance relationship with each other while introducing the tension needed to move forward, towards a new idea that comes as a massive waterfall releasing the potential energy channeled and incremented in the perfectly-defined course of a river of tumultuous waters.  Despite all its merits, the artist’s most difficult task has yet to be completed in this project: finding its own voice. Displaying a musical awareness with which only true musicians are blessed, Ascended Dead give us an album that, although itself powerful, foreshadows possible works that will tower above the vast majority of death metal of our times.

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Undead – False Prophecies

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Undead plays a well-tried formula of simple, middle-paced death metal while achieving effective songwriting. At times we can hear a tinge of Scandinavian sound, while some other parts scream out early and straight up U.S. death metal like Obituary or Death in Spiritual Healing. This isn’t as complex, structure-wise, as Cause of Death (which isn’t very complex to begin with either), and so approaches Schuldiner’s ultra simplistic death metal much more. Having mentioned both bands, fans of James Murphy’s work in them will not be disappointed with the soloing in False Prophecies.

 

This album shows the perfect balance between variety of content and consistency in style with clarity of voice. Songs do not sound like they are based on a template (even if they are, the important thing is that they do not appear like they are, that is the final product), but you can easily recognize them as belonging together. As in any album with good songwriting, the mood and character of riffs from one section of the song flows and dives into the next, carrying the listener forward without the obstacle of forced expressions. This style is heavily based on introducing appropriate variations in riff character without deviating from the mood at all.

 

The weaknesses of this album may lie in individual riffs, which in the end does more merit to the songwriting abilities of these gentlemen. This is to say, if you make a boring riff, sound appropriate, useful, and driving because of its context, then you have succeeded in your task as a composer. Still, this minor complaint will be on the minds of metalheads as it is the nature of the genre to look forward to strong riffs, the muscles of metal, even more important in the straight forward style of Undead.

 

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Undergang – Døden Læger Alle Sår

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Playing a cavernous underground music, Undergang have crystallized a style in Døden Læger Alle Sår that harks back to the sound not only of obvious Scandinavian forefathers but also to that of Morpheus Descends and Demoncy. Rather than spiraling through serpentine corridors as Incantation does, Undergang uses vocabulary from the Swedeath lingo here, and then the atmospheric death metal riff of Morpheus Descends there, only to descend into a the more inconspicuous atmospheric tremoloing of Demoncy to further the expression. Enriching this mixture of influences, we can also find unexpected doom-like moments with the economical and spacious approach of Worship.

 

Even though all these are present in Døden Læger Alle Sår, the style parade that a collection of influences often results in is not present here. It is also very important to stress that Undergang does not fall into trope repetition nor does it wink at the listener with a cliche here and a cliche there. The band expertly appropriates the different stylistic conventions under a overall Swedish death metal mantle and, more impressively, escapes the cliches of the latter as well. The reason why it can work is because the grindy Nihilist, the American Morpheus Descends and the decorative ends in Demoncy and Worship – like breaths are all compatible. It is only unfortunate that while all this has been accomplished, Undergang’s own voice still seems only visible as a blurry image behind this coherent, translucid tapestry.

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Entrails stream track Obliterate

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Two weeks away from the release of their next full-length album, Obliteration, Entrails are giving the public a small taste of what is to come. Captured by guitarist Jimmy Lundqvist at his own Bloodshed Studios and mixed and mastered by the famous musician and producer Dan Swanö (Edge Of Sanity, Bloodbath, Aeon, Hail Of Bullets etc.) at Unisound, Obliteration is a nine-track old-school Swedish death metal album.

Producer Dan Swanö commented:

I guess Entrails have sold their souls to the Devil because there is no other way to explain how a band that’s been doing the same style of SweDeath for more than twenty years, can keep making better and better records! In fact, some of the tracks on this album are among the best death metal songs I have ever heard. Such a great album…it pisses me off!

You can listen to Obliterate on Soundcloud.

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Into Oblivion / Disinterred Split – Oblivion’s Oceans (2013)

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Being a split, it is necessary to judge both bands here separately and the release itself as a whole. Both bands play death metal, but while the former is provisioned with a modern war-doom arsenal, the latter seem at least partially influenced by Scandinavian old-school black/death tremolo riffing. The production itself is much more clear and powerful in Into Oblivion’s songs.

Into Oblivion play death metal in a combination of modern voices including saturated style of war metal and the heavy, doom-oriented riffing of certain sludge bands. The more impetuous of these is reminiscent of Teitanblood or Heresiarch, except it is difficult to distinguish an original personality present in Into Oblivion’s music. Individually, some sections are engaging, even mesmerizing and  beautiful (the beginning of By this Marvel Overthrown) but as a whole, the result is far from outstanding. Construction of the songs could be deemed lazy and/or cheap, advancing through alternations of saturated and doom textures by inserting riffs that are played until their momentum runs out and its balancing counterpart is inserted, and not according to a direction or necessity of expression in the music.

Disinterred also play with this alternation of fast and slow sections, except that Disinterred is better able to maintain a train of thought and expand it. The songs in this latter half seem more mature, the converging styles in it being more difficult to disentangle, a more solid product arising from a clear vision making use of its influences. One can also observe the use of saturation, but instead of a modern war metal, we have a disguised and worked Scandinavian spell at work. A strong advice for Disinterred would be to get rid of the triggered drums and do away with the cheap double-bass-drum-saturated  drum fills that sound like Godflesh Apocalypse hiding its lack of ideas. This second half of the split brings a visible shape into focus, a haunting shadow reflecting the maddened character of the music. Still, it is only a vague shadow which Disinterred have not finished summoning just yet.

At this point, Oblivion’s Oceans shows us what is mostly a soulless collection of voices. Despite this, there is some promise in the music. Personally, this writer would not place too much hope on the nature of these bands changing or growing much as the nature of proper death metal bands itself seems to be monolithic. Any attempt to change them often results in their destruction and watering down. Few manage achieving the required reincarnation, often coming to life again as a simpler life form.

 

https://youtu.be/GhUND-naAwI

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Zealotry Announces New Drummer

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Boston-Quebec old-school technical death metalers Zealotry have announced that Alex Zalatan (Inhumatus) will be joining their ranks as the band’s permanent drummer. Zalatan will be in charge of percussion duties for Zealotry’s upcoming sophomore release, The Last Witness. Besides mastermind Roman Temin, Zealotry’s line up also includes Phil Tougas, single member of the project Chthe’ilist, on lead guitars.

Zealotry have made the following announcement on their facebook page:

It is with great pleasure that we announce today that for the first time in our history Zealotry has a permanent drummer.
Alex Zalatan, also of Inhumatus, Cymatics and Burial Moss.
Alex will be performing on our upcoming second album The Last Witness and any future shows we play. We’re very excited abut having someone of his considerable talents behind the drum kit for us.

A demo of what is to come in the second album was uploaded in 2014 and can be heard here.

 

 

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