Blabbermouth reports that Cannibal Corpse have sold more than two million albums, which makes death metal one of the more successful niche genres out there, since album sales of that nature plus tours equal a tidy sum of money. With founding bands like Morbid Angel and Slayer still gracing the charts, the spectrum of death metal related music sells more of its older albums today than it did back in the 1980s.
This puts an end to the assumption that bands cannot sell out by choosing underground metal. Once that might have been true, but now a band can launch into a genre with millions of fans, sell some albums and then detour into an indie rock project which then carries the cachet of edgy cool from having been involved with that rebel badboy metal music. There’s a lot of money in this genre for those willing to dig, and this means more entryists pounding at the door with careful camouflage for their insipid rock music.
Early death metal barely made it out of the shadow of speed metal before. We call it speed metal, not thrash, because it was a direct extension of NWOBHM using some punk technique, not an outright punk hybrid like thrash. Speed metal represents one of the most varied sub-genres in metal, running the gamut from percussive (Exodus) through traditional (Metallica) and all the way to adventurous stuff like Voivod, Anacrusis, Coroner and Sacrifice. It is in that latter category that The Science of Horror begins.
This demo re-issue will be — for now — limited to 100 copies pressed to vinyl that incorporate two demos, The Science of Horror (1988) and Nocturnus (1987). These show both a band looking for a balance between the early death/speed hybrids and its future as a technical death metal band, and the personal vision that Mike Browning has been refining since this time through the present day with his current band, After Death. This vision unites the progressive with morbid rock and extremity, aiming for a theatrical presentation as much as musical obscurity, and never afraid — unlike too many prog bands — to use a primitive riff where it is effective. Like many progressive-inspired bands, there is a high degree of internal variation in these demos, Nocturnus and After Death, used like an ancient storyteller might use an extensive vocabulary. The theatrical nature of this approach means that the songs on these demos, which are mostly duplicative, take an atmospheric approach to a genre in transition that was otherwise more inclined toward all-ahead aggression. But like Anacrusis, Voivod and Coroner, Nocturnus adapted its songs to use both death metal technique and speed metal but creating a sense of rhythm of its own that emphasized frequent transitions and complex patterns without drifting into other known genres.
Several of the song segments used here show similarity to what appeared on Morbid Angel’s early work, notably its 1986 Abominations of Desolation, and feature the same flexible rhythm that nonetheless approximates the chorus rhythm without doing so in trope, leaving plenty of space for instruments to work independently. Like speed metal, much of this material aims for discrete chords in repetitive patterns, but especially on the second demo, use of tremolo to create smooth transitions gives this material a new aura of mystery and suspension of belief. As a document of early death metal, The Science of Horror both emphasizes the creative possibilities of metal at the time and reminds us how weirdness was once more front and center and how it did the genre well. On another level, this music provides pleasurable listening at the nexus not only of two genres but also several compositional styles, and the change from the first to later demo shows the incorporation of keys in the way that would later define Nocturnus and be expanded to become a fundamental part of the technique as a way of creating spacious, atmospheric death metal. With any luck, this pressing of the demos will see CD release later this year, as despite being the same tracks twice this recording serves well for casual listening as well as historical examination of death metal.
Tracklist The Science of Horror Demo 2 (1988)
1. Before Christ – After Death
2. Standing in Blood
4. Undead Journey Nocturnus Demo 1 (1987)
6. B.C. – A.D.
7. The Entity
8. Unholy Fury
Mike Browning: Drums, Vocals
Mike Davis: Guitars
Louis Panzer: Keyboards
Jeff Estes: Bass
Gino Marino: Guitars
Mike Browning: Drums, Vocals
Richard Bateman: Bass
Vincent Crowley: Guitars
Gino Marino: Guitars
What is life? Either you are working toward something or trying to find a way to pass the time. The real losers are not the people who lack the fancy objects that are the trend at the moment, but those without purpose to life, as they will always be unhappy in the deepest parts of themselves. Unhappy people demand music that is as hollow, vacuous and purposeless as they are, but such music makes bad listening for people who are here to make the most of life. We separate the tryhards and imitators from the real music amidst a shower of hipster poseur tears with the Sadistic Metal Reviews…
Reaction – Kill the Parasite
In the land of Pudouaccian, there are hairless creatures with smooth features and no teeth who call themselves Pudouaccians, and they spend their days attempting to “ouacc” (pronounced: whack) — a term for stimulate in lieu of reproduction — their “puds,” which is how they refer to their androgynous oversize genitals through which they see. Pudouaccians exclusively listen to music that combines the most rock ‘n roll aspects of heavy metal into a speed metal format, and tie it all together with a compelling rhythmic vocal that aims for choruses you can repeat like political slogans and verses with the energy of dishwasher detergent commercials on television. Although the title that gives a message we should all take to heart every day, because parasites are the most common creatures in nature and serve no purpose to their host except to exhaust them and lure them into continued bad decisions — like buying this album — so they become easier prey for the siphoning of their energy to support the parasite. Much of this release follows the power metal model of vocal-led melodic riffing with extended solos that comment on the song like a concordance, but a good deal of the groove plus heavy cadence riffing of later Pantera occupies the field as well. What really kills it is the vocals because when you make the vocals lead the music, songs cease to become compositions and instead become life support systems for a single instrument (vocals) which has overstepped its bounds, and thus they resemble a Hollywood actor and entourage more than a military time operating in smooth coordination to do something interesting. Many of the riff forms on this album come to us from the classic hard rock through NWOBHM lexicon, and while that should not disqualify anyone, nothing here is applied in a way specific to this band, leading us to wonder why it should exist at all.
Deflected – Deflected EP
From an armchair metalosopherTM, Deflected presents an interesting challenge. It applies the Pantera brocore method of stop/start riffing with pregnant pauses creating a primitive groove, but does so in the context of South American style speed/death metal with riot shouted choruses and fast energetic riffs, then slowly works in melodic death metal influences. The primary instrument remains the voice which often more resembles what would go on in a hardcore band or the shouts of Phil Anselmo than anything from recent metal, but it runs into subtly musical accompaniment from guitars, bass and drums who try to background themselves to these metalcore-styled vocals. Unfortunately, the result by being skewed toward the vocals cannot maintain the continuity essential for atmosphere and so is forced to rely on an increasing number of stunts and riff changes which borrow freely from forty years of metal but never coalesce into a voice. As a result, these sound like songs with stuff added on, rather than entities of their own possession developing out of influences. While many of the melodic riffs enter at about the right time to provide an emotional component, it is obliterated by the randomness of the rest of the song and the ranting vocals, and comprises the generic “mixed emotions” major-minor transition common in all rock music. Even the Iron Maiden styled harmonized guitars produce nothing more than an entry point for the head-nodding rhythm in the hands of the vocals. If this band wants to get anywhere, they need to stop trying to hide their metalcore and go fully into that style, or stop fence-sitting and pick a metal style or invent a new one.
Blackwingedsheep – Red Sheep Red
When direction is too hard, mix ‘n match bits of the past and maybe you have something “new” like those horrible 1970s casseroles that mixed leftover chicken with random ingredients from cans and put cheese on top. I lived in terror of those things because any time I spent the night at a friend’s place, his Mom was sure to haul out one of those for dinner and then I would end up crouching in the dark eating small animals after feeding my portion of the glop to the dog. The worst part was that since word gets out slowly through humanity, Moms — and sometimes their misguided offspring — were cooking up these disasters well into the late 1990s at which point everyone threw in the towel and started just buying pre-prepared food in anticipation of civilization collapse. Blackwinged Sheep is a lot like those casseroles: 1980s downstroke-crazy speed metal mixed with chromatic grindcore fills, on a death metal rhythm, with choruses that emphasize high contrast melodies with broad interval leaps much like early progressive metal experiments like Pestilence Testimony of the Ancients. The result is music that spends most of its time in very concrete rhythm work and then launches into melodies that go nowhere, creating a sense of constant disruption and destabilization with no shape to it, which in turn grants the music a wallpaper effect. No matter how much they vary technique within this formula, the musicians behing Blackwinged Sheep cannot escape the formula, and so they apply it with even more extreme technique which just results in more pounding. Most of the verse riffs on this album could have come from Coroner, and the chorus space-outs from any number of newer acts. Ultimately, while this band has a good grasp of rhythm and a few impressive riffs, it fails to knit this together as anything other than a kind of vocal theater where the lyrics and voice are supposed to give form to otherwise an indistinguishable flood of very similar elements that are not particularly evocative or distinctive from each other. With the perspective of metal as a melting pot of its own styles, this band has found a way to update the 1980s content and make it easy to keep churning out the same even in the midst of self-proclaimed iconoclasm.
Gouge – Beyond Death
Gouge makes energetic but harmonically basic grindcore that tends to use a death metal approach to framing rhythm, but reverts to speed metal and punk riffs frequently. The result uses established riff forms and, while it presents an aptitude for transitions and keeping a compelling rhythm going, ultimately becomes nearly stupefactive because it has zero development of tone. The verse and chorus riffs are variations on the same few notes and capture no particularly compelling melodic or harmonic tension, which results in the entire composition having the effect of a chromatic rhythm work with periodic random insertions of whole and melodic intervals. For influences, clearly these guys spent a lot of time studying Repulsion Horrified whose layering of vocals and guitar shred prevails throughout this release. However, where Repulsion worked carefully to have distinctive riffs, Gouge falls too quickly into hardcore punk tropes, making it a lot more like later Napalm Death without the pretensions of progressive styling. The high-speed approach imparts a good deal of energy, but without some more to hang it on, this becomes another panic indicator like the weekly news, angry questions from the boss, or car horns all night long from the city. Others might compare this to Terrorizer for its tendency to drop back to open riffs of fast tremolo to contrast single-picked slamming patterns, a technique which keeps a constant texture pulsing faster than the drums, conveying a sense of urgency in contrast to the pace of life. However, where Terrorizer stripped down to a focal point, Gouge focuses on rhythm and tucks everything else into place, sometimes dropping in bluesy solos to hope to unite the disparate. By halfway through the album, the band has run out of steam and is revisiting old hardcore punk tropes to try to inject new life where none remains. There is a lot to like about this release — good energy, some creative riffs, good transitions, old school sensibilities — but when taken as a whole, there is no reason to listen to it again unless you like disorganization and the urgent sounds of social decay.
Why did most writers leave metal to the people who eagerly type in praise for anything that they feel, being new, will bring them personal renown for bandwagon-hopping? The reason is simple: almost all metal reviews these days must mention how the elements of each song are good, but that they do not create something larger than their arithmetic whole, with that process being the essence of art itself. If you pile together a group of good riffs randomly, or put together a song that focuses so much on form that it forgets content, the result is a listening experience that is pleasant enough when distracted but unsatisfying if you set aside whatever else you are doing and listen alone to the work. Haethen combines flowing Graveland riffs with high-energy Drudkh-styled sweeping melodic passages but does so in a way that inevitably tends toward both randomness and too much fixed structure, which means that nothing is communicated. Moments of beauty occur and it is crushing to watch them wasted, but the riff technique here is so similar between songs that it is difficult to claim more than one riff of each archetype in favor of this album. The real problem is that the songs are boring, whether from predictable patterns or a lack of relationship in linear progression from the elements of them, and as a result while this album would sound great in the background of a record store or while distracted by paperwork, it does not retain strength as a listening experience alone. This is unfortunate as many respected sources have endorsed this release, and it clearly shows aspiration toward an older and purer style of black metal, but “I must speak as I find,” and Shaped by Aeolian Winds goes nowhere.
An Autumn for Crippled Children – The Long Goodbye
This album falls within the “post-metal” camp although labels like to play the carnival sideshow game and claim that whatever pap they’re pumping “just cannot be classified” and then are careful to mention that it has “elements of” followed by the keywords of their target markets, all while not mentioning what it actually is. Simple formula: 1990s indie rock for verses, 1980s post-punk for choruses. Add a detour bridge or turnaround for that proggy feel. Then put crustcore vocals over the top of it, making them really dramatic and energetic to imply some kind of torment or passion, and claim that this is related to black metal so that you can get the edgy fedora kids to buy it. The Long Goodbye is a musical and artistic sham, but mostly just false advertising: this is 20-year-old music re-shaped for a new generation because disguised imitation is the business model of the music industry. While none of it is strikingly incompetent or poorly produced, in the way that underground metal can both be, none of it is compelling either. Once you see through the first level of artifice, nothing beneath remains. Essentially the same intervals — derived from emo and progressive punk and the rest of the indie spectrum — are used throughout, as well as the same devices, with only vocals to differentiate them, and the vocals are totally non-compelling. This album is mental entropy in a convenient package, with a trendy name, trendy production and faddish packaging because it is designed as a product for morons who are in denial that they are morons and thus are, like Opeth fans, compelled to buy the most pretentious, intolerant (because anything else is just musically less advanced, which is how hipsters say “inferior” indirectly by implication and yet say it all the same) and yet innocuous music possible. Your Mom could nap to this because it is completely non-controversial. No strong emotion, just self-pity and the usual bittersweet minor-key noodling to make you feel as if the problem is that you are misunderstood and not that the world needs us to creep out of our little shells and actually, you know, do something sane and realistic instead of narcissistic and delusional like everyone else. This album attempts the artistic equivalent of changing every dictionary so that the entry for “retarded” says “genius” and vice-versa, such that soon we would elect an Emperor with trisomy 21 and throw out our Beethoven and Darkthrone to favor two-note droning crap like An Autumn For Crippled Children. In summary: A Product For Crippled Minds.
Lago – Tyranny
The forefront of the metal industry — and industry means a group of rent-seekers supporting each other in quasi-collusion to do roughly the same stuff so the profit can keep flowing and costs can continue to be externalized through enforcement of mutual interest — consists these days of bands like Ara and Lago who are trying to hybridize deathgrind in the Unique Leader style with the metalcore/progressive metal that has been floating around for several years after rising from its archetype in the late years of punk, when “progressive” pop punk bands wrote longer songs based on high contrast between riffs to the point of incoherence, as if trying to emulate Black Flag The Process of Weeding Out without the heavy thematic load that album carried. This made sense for punk since when a genre has expressed its core ideas, no more can be done with them but to convert them to technique and to add complexity to hide the basic archetypes that would be revealed by simplicity (bands, after all, have to make product or they fail, both economically and in the economics of social prestige, where the members want to be known as the guys from that hip avantgarde whatever from wherever for the rest of their lives as industry insiders or hipsters working at local bookstores). The consequence of the deathgrind/metalcore hybrid is that bands incorporate the jazz/progressive/shredder stylings (equal parts Kenny G, Dream Theater and Joe Satriani) into more pummeling material that tries to unite itself in the way older death metal did, or at least to the level that Gorguts Obscura aspired to. This tames the most random and hopeless aspects of progressive punk and metalcore but can end up emphasizing the trivial aspects of death metal instead of its ability to knit together riffs and song structures to create journeys of discovery that were equal parts psychedelia and H.P. Lovecraft styled exploration of the morbid, realist subconscious. Lago demonstrates an ability to make competent Unique Leader styled deathgrind, complete with pig squeal vocals and constant high-intensity double bass, but to work into it both the more harmonically advanced riffs and instrumental interludes that the newer progressive variants feature. The result alternates between riffs so simple in conception that they make bricks bash their heads against walls, and instrumentals much more like progressive rock than metal. While Lago is among the best of the breed, the fusion isn’t there yet, because the parts separate instead of working toward a common intent. Still, these songs come together better than just about anything else in the sub-genre, and make Lago a band worth watching for the future.
Mistweaver – “The Greatest Threat”
Core is the new glam. This song combines flowing MTV choruses with uplifting melodies and the nu-metal form of degraded speed metal chugging riffing into a black metal song format with gentle keys interacting with tremolo riffs. This many spare parts can only be glued together by the most basic central element, which genericizes the song; in fact, the more out there music tries to be, the less its parts become compatible and the more generic it becomes at its core. This could be the latest Steel Panther video if the glam band decided to be slightly darker in theme and adopt techniques from Metallica, Emperor and Morbid Angel, who are (roughly) the most defining acts of the past 30 years. Combinging them makes everything weaker.
Stages of Molestation – “Cadaveric Molestation”
This band made itself many fans by varying its chortling guttural death metal with really basic old school death metal informed by the Swedish and Northern California scenes. The problem here is that, while these songs are catchy, they are so harmonically, melodically and riff-structurally basic that they do not merit a second listen. The band is on to something with the style itself however.
Death metal band turned prog-core act Gorguts has re-issued the latter two albums from its classic period, Gorguts and From Wisdom to Hate, on industry powerhouse Century Media Records. The re-issues — on jewelcase CD, 2LP and limited edition 2LP — will be available in pre-order starting March 9, 2015.
Says guitarist/composer Luc Lemay: “I’m proud to announce that our 1998 record Obscura and 2001’s From Wisdom To Hate will finally be re-released! …For this re-issue, I decided to include liner notes that tell the story behind each record. How we got together as musicians, what was the composition process that made this sound possible and that made us grow as artists…I decided to change the logo because, with a step back, I realized that I never really like the original one on Obscura and I wanted to give the record a fresh look. I kept the same logo for From Wisdom To Hate, because it was created for this record…Thanks again to all our fans for their unconditional support through all those years.”
The re-issues see official release on April 6, 2015 in Europe and April 7, 2015 in North America. Both are dedicated to the memory of former members Steeve Hurdle (R.I.P. 2012) and Steve MacDonald (R.I.P. 2002). While Gorguts has deviated into progressive-themed *core territory with their latest, Colored Sands, this band helped forge the sound of technical death metal back when that term simply referred to death metal which required technical ability to play. While Obscura has often been imitated in style, those who have tried to imitate it have generally done so on the basis of style alone and missed the sublime composition within which made this album a classic independent of style.
Ripping death metal band Vader, who gained stature in the field of Morbid Angel/Slayer-influenced fast tremolo death metal, plan to re-issue three early demos on CD, cassette and LP via Witching Hour Records starting on April 3, 2015.
The three demos — “Live in Decay” (1986), “Necrolust” (1989), adn “Morbid Reich” (1990) — will see separate releases unlike the last collection of Vader demo material, 1996’s Reborn in Chaos which remains a sought-after release for its Pavement Records version which contains better sound than other variants. These capture the transition of Vader from aspiring speed metal/death metal hybrid to catching on to the new death metal style and picking a fast but explosive style that graced their first album, The Ultimate Incantation and subsequent albums De Profundis and Sothis EP.
As Vader continue to release material in a fast although simplified and more hookish style, these retrospectives may provide insight into the origins of this band back in the days of the Soviet bloc. It will be interesting to see what bonus tracks, if any, Witching Hour Records adds to pad these releases up to full-length duration.
Unlike many bands, Desecresy — the product of experienced musicians a decade after their first entry into the scene — formed with a full concept that manifests on the first album as a slow form of death metal. Peeling back the layers, influences can be seen at many levels here, but the most prominent are Bolt Thrower for the sense of rhythm, Carnage for riff transitions, Therion for use of synchronized strumming to adjust rhythm, and Paradise Lost for the use of lead-picked melodies evoking harmony in the riff below for a resonant, haunting sound. The result more approximates the moods and sensations to the listener of a funeral doom metal band, but at varieties of middle pace instead of extremes, creating the feeling of a descent into a subterranean world populated by non-verbal creatures.
The important distinction between death metal and doom metal that appears in this work is the tendency of death metal toward wonder, and a Lovecraftian obsession with the workings of the universe, where doom metal focuses on a despairing, passive and self-focused mood that makes no such commentary and in fact symbolizes fatalism. Desecresy keeps that outlook, and shears from it any sense of real-world issues such as the crusade against Christianity or need for social justice, replacing those with a mythological view of existence in which darkness is not self-pity but an outlook reflecting the red in tooth and claw essence of nature, itself a logical response to the need to avoid stagnation and mediocrity. Like Bolt Thrower, Desecresy envisions a world of constant warfare, but in this case the warfare emerges from the clashes of biological and mystical entities rather than modern political forces. All of this emerges from the music itself — the lyrics could as well be ingredients written on soup cans — which uses its riffs in a constant grinding which slowly grows into articulation of dual principles, ending without resolution into a singularity but a fragmentation followed by evolution which more reflects the state of nature in which conflict creates speciation instead of singularity. Riffs start as two chords colliding, then through the slowly equalizing rhythms of downstroked chords reach equilibrium, at which point they mutate into something else. The intense similarity of many of these riffs, built of the same few chords, puts emphasis on their form and its mutation and development from a microbial state to that of full of organism.
Over this flow the type of chanted vocals that adorned the first Therion album, using the death shout not as a rhythm to impart urgency to the guitars, but in a timekeeping role that counterbalances that of the drums which serve more as a texture of rhythm to allow internal motion to have reference points. In the midst of this sonic landscape the reverb heavy lead picking of melody creates a sheet of sound against which the power chorded rhythm guitars can develop, allowing songs to slide forward under this cover and develop what are essentially background riffs into rhythms that pick up additional internal variation and thus command more complex riffs. Desecresy generally keep it simple and grinding in the style of middle-period Bolt Thrower, but at crucial moments intervene with complex riffs and elegant transitions. This completes the cycle of this album, moving from serene but conflicted stability to complex and ambiguous change, a repeating pattern which creates the impression of lawless growth and beauty appearing from nothingness that lingers in the mind of a listener like a nearly-forgotten hope.
Perdition Temple’s sophomore album is one of riffs written and dispersed as discrete packages. These are sewn together into short, explosive bundles extremely dense in content but not always boasting the smoothest of transitions.
Often the tonal shift between adjoining bars is far too drastic to convey any sense of uniform texture, giving the impression of an album constructed from a granular, low-level perspective rather than a more holistic, top-down approach. Meaning that the band came up with a whole bunch of riffs first, before cobbling them together into songs. Performed at near-always breakneck speed, songs pass by in a whirlwind of intense activity that isn’t always easy to discern. This is blistering and warring death metal displaying none of the stalling tactics practiced by modern death metal bands, and for that much it deserves credit.
There is interesting micro-play within individual parts but the whole doesn’t foster or even attempt to put much store in memorability. The addition of Bill Taylor as guitar foil has given Gene Palubicki free rein to indulge himself as he never had chance to on past efforts in Angelcorpse or even the Perdition Temple debut. The role of rhythm is sometimes completely dispensed with, the two guitars intertwining like Hermes’ serpents about a support of hyperactive drumming, sniping and spitting out angular phrases that, in surface aspect, wouldn’t be unseemly on a tech-death album. But this act’s pedigree being firmly rooted in death metal, the constant barrage of information never loses its essence of violence. A return to themes familiar from older works, primarily through the use of groove as introductory and relaxation device, is in greater evidence during the second half of the album.
As always, incendiary solos faithfully modeled after Trey Azagthoth find space on a Palubicki album. Azagthoth’s best work was unparalleled, however, because it was the original extension of its creator’s will and personality, much like the eternal consciousness standing outside of time and space, before the birth of time and space, that Eastern monism proposes, willing all creation into existence from within itself. Palubicki’s solos are the finest replicas of Trey Azagthoth that death metal has seen but ultimately they fall on, and should be judged by, the sword of rote inspiration that created them in the first place.
Underground metal zine Codex Obscurum gained an audience for its focus on music of an underground nature without the associated fetishism of image and product obsession that blights most zines no matter how underground. In that sense, it was a regression to the healthier times of the 1990s, when fanzines were fan-oriented instead of label-oriented, and both old and new audiences have delighted in it for five issues.
Contemplating Issue Six of this magazine shows how far it has come and how it has not lost any of the delight in the music that marks a good fanzine. Over the past several issues the focus of the magazine has shifted to interviews and reviews, and this shows in the much wider coverage that Codex Obscurum achieves with Issue Six. More bands see print in this issue and, through greater experience of interviewers, questions cover a wider range. The issue starts with an interview with War Master, whose albums regularly feature in our best-of lists around here. While this interview is short, it provides the vital news that this band is working on a second album and an EP, and talks about touring and general attitude of the band after switching vocalists. After this follows a thoughtful and probing interview with (the New) Mayhem guitarist Teloch, which contains mostly striking revelations about the black metal scene and its relationship to political correctness. For those of us more inclined to avoid newer versions of once-classic bands, this shows insight into the thought process behind the current “scene.” Further interviews with Anatomia, Lantern, Obliteration, Rottrevore, Symptom, Acid Witch, Castle Freak, Impaled Nazarene, Fister, Hecate Enthroned and Ritual Decay. The interviewers in all of these approach the subject with knowledge and tailor their questions to the subject’s personality, which brings out more of the people behind the bands.
One of the bigger changes since the last issue appears in the abundance of reviews that Issue Six has to offer. These take two forms: mid-length descriptive and personalitied reviews, and semi-dismissive Haiku form reviews that often tell more than a few pages of labored, assiduous writing. The descriptive reviews offer a practical assessment of how a metal listener might approach an album in a compact package. Witness the review of Cruxiter Cruxiter:
Cruxiter – S/T (2013 – PrismaticO Records)
Wow, what a surprise this album was. Cruxiter are not a well-known band, as this is their first full-length and they’ve only been around for a couple of years. But it sounds like they’ve been around since the ’80s. In fact, this whole album sounds like it’s from the ’80s. Cruxiter are traditional heavy metal from the wastelands of Texas and will not disappoint one bit. It’s as if early Mercyful Fate had a ménage à trois with Manilla Road and early Iron Maiden, all while listening to ’70s guitar-driven rock. The musicianship on this album is fantastic; each song is a classic metal anthem with soaring vocals and impressive guitar riffs. Miggy Ramirez’s vocals are high-pitched and remain steady throughout — he certainly pulls off the style perfectly. The highlight of the album is “The Devils of Heavy Metal” and is one of the best songs of this style I’ve heard in quite some time. The one thing that may dissuade some listeners (and it’s a shame, at that) is the production of the album. There are no crystal-clear sounds on this album, everything is produced in a way that makes sounds like it was recorded in 1984. It adds to the retro-feel of this album, and is part of what makes this album a great listen. The album is streaming on their bandcamp page, I’d highly recommend you check it out if traditional heavy metal is your thing. Keep an eye out for this band. — James Doyle
Ten pages of reviews of this type help inform the listener on the cutting edge of underground metal, skipping the numu/indie/post gibberish, and then detour into two pages of Haiku form reviews which cut to the core of each album from a listener’s standpoint. While these are more dismissive, oftentimes they utterly nail why an album is irrelevant or why we the audience should look past style and appreciate what makes it great. These offer a counterpoint to the desire for articulation that motivates the descriptive reviews, and give a quick synopsis where that is all that is needed. They are more motivational than merely reporting the facts; this style might be useful in dismissing some of the recent material that labels pump out which requires no more than a few minutes to recognize as an archetype of fail and dismiss.
As has been the trend with the last few issues of Codex Obscurum, the editors struggle to balance a gory old-school art-driven layout with a postmodern format that is easy to read in the age of computers, tablets and whatever “et cetera” will soon encompass. An abundance of great artwork appears throughout Issue Six, with more use of graphics inserted in the text stream or offset to one side. The Acid Witch, Fister and Ritual Decay interviews could fit in either a glossy pro-printed magazine or a contraband underground zine and show an optimization of this layout style. One thing that could improve is the differentiation between interviewer and interviewee, which is currently done with the industry standard of the speaker’s initials at the start of the line. An ideal layout of this format has proved elusive, with some zines bolding the comments by the interviewee, but this like most other solutions burns more page real estate. On this site, we put the interviewer’s comments in bold because that makes them easy to skip, but also requires more paragraph space which is at a premium in a zine that has to render itself to paper instead of the limitless scrolling of modern society’s replacement for daytime television, the internet. An ideal answer may conceal itself on this issue but it is the only area where this zine proved difficult to read at a glance, which is otherwise facilitated by its clean layout with clearly separated art and well-signaled interviews with band logo at the top of each.
Issue Six continues what seems to be becoming a section in Codex Obscurum, which is an unboxing and review of Dungeons & Dragons gaming sets and lines of books. While many in the metal community seek to isolate themselves from the inner nerd inherent to all metal, a more realistic assessment shows that many metalheads are in fact nerds “in the closet” who enjoy many activities which stimulate the imagination and analytical thought process simultaneously much as D&D does. This feature goes beyond the knowledge of the casual attendee at D&D games and could stand on its own in any lifestyle or technical magazine. Among the thoughtful interviews and carefully articulated reviews, the role-playing game material fits hand in glove, and adds to the feeling of this zine as well-rounded in the underground sense, covering music and lifestyle without drifting into the product fetishism that shears mainstream magazines off from the flow of what fulfills people both as metal fans and individuals. Looking forward to seeing this zine continue to grow and develop.
We all seek a claim that our lives are worth living. For some, this comes from money; for others, being right or at least being cool. In order to achieve either or both, one must emit product, and far too often this product tries to flatter and pander to its audience rather than grow some balls and make a point. You could write an album about cooking an omelette with more passion than most bands approach topics like war, death, genocide, evil and emptiness. When the surface takes over from the core, the cart has come before the horse and all is lost, which is why we savor the sobbing tears of poseurs, tryhards and scenesters with Sadistic Metal Reviews…
Like a Storm – Awaken the Fire
In a flashback to the bad parts of the 90s, this album opens with a digeridoo before breaking into predictable hard rock riffs with heavier production and more basic rhythms. Then some guy starts singing in his best lounge lizard voice, building up to a pop chorus that could be straight off an Eagles album if they sped it up and did not worry about how truly incongruous the whole package would be. If you like speed metal trudge riffs paired with AOR favorite techniques and Coldplay-style vocals, this album might be for you. But the question remains: why even bother to release this as a metal album? Clearly it would be happier as country, pop, rock or even blues if they truncated the scenery-chewing vocals. It seems the music industry has found an update for nu-metal which is to channel it into this rock/metal hybrid which takes the angry parts of Pantera and pairs them with the smarmiest parts of overproduced, excessively pandering fraternity rock. These guys have a Titty Bingo sticker on their van. The scary thing is that the “inspirational” rock stylings here are a kissing cousin to much of what has infested power metal. But this takes it a step further to the point where what comes out of the speakers resembles the worst of corporate rock from the 90s and 00s to the point that heavier guitars cannot disguise the essential frat party rock tendency of this flaming turd. This goes well with a pukka shell necklace and lots of hair gel, with a NO FEAR sticker on the overly polished ‘stang next to the keg of Natty Light.
Abominator – Evil Proclaimed
Angelcorpse invoked a revelation in death metal, but not entirely a good one. The basic idea was to accelerate the rhythmic fill to the level of riff, such that the composer could use one or two chords in a charging rhythm much like war metal or hardcore punk, but then work in elaborate brachiated chord phrases to avoid the riff concluding in the stunningly obvious chord progression that otherwise must result. Add a bunch of these together in constant rhythm and the essence of that style shines forth. Abominator attempts to break up the constant charging and give songs more shape, as well as use actual fills which complement the riffs, but despite this effort and some inventive songwriting, the blockhead forward charging — like Cannibal Corpse working on the longer Bathory riff outtake that opened the first Angelcorpse album — continues and ruins any atmosphere except a constant tension that starts to resemble an eyestrain headache after a few songs. Speaking of songs, these are nearly indistinguishable, written at similar tempos with similar riff forms and while not random pairing of riffs, reliance on phrasal similarity to the point that songs sound like one giant charging riff with some textural flickering within. To Abominator’s credit, Evil Proclaims is a lot better than the other Angelcorpse tributes out there. Unfortunately, that’s about all that this album remains as and a few moments of power notwithstanding, remains mired in a sea of formless raging metal which never reaches a point.
Venom – “Long Haired Punks” (from From the Very Depths)
Venom are NWOBHM, not black metal; this fact flies in the face of what you will be told in 99% of the metal propaganda out there. The band themselves have never denied it. On this track however, Venom throws us a twist by sounding exactly like Motorhead except with more sudden stops at the end of each phrase where Motorhead would have kept a methamphetamine groove going. “Long Haired Punks” features punkish riffing combined with Venom’s archetypal primitive, broad leaps of tone and nearly chromatic fills. A bluesy solo that seems designed to be slightly abusive to key and chaotic accompanies this as do the purely Lemmy-styled vocals in what is essentially a verse-chorus two riff song with a bridge. The sudden pauses grow tedious within the passage of the song to newer listeners but then again, those grew up after metal assimilated Discharge, Amebix and The Exploited. For someone from 1979, this would seem like a slicker version of Venom with more emphasis on carefully picked chords and less onrushing punk energy, which makes the title ironic. It is well-composed within the limited style that Venom has preferred all these years, but attempts to update the NWOBHM stylings plus Motorhead of Venom have failed and should either be rolled back or the original style entirely discarded. This band is halfway between trying to be what it was, but in a post-1983 sound, and what it could be, which probably would resemble nothing like the original except for the raw “gut instinct” energy which unfortunately, attempts to modernize have limited. While I am not the world’s biggest Venom fan, it is hard to deny (1) their catchy punk/Motorhead/NWOBHM pop power and (2) their aesthetic influence on much but not all of underground metal, and it would be great to see this band develop into all it can be. From “Long Haired Punks,” it seems in doubt that From the Very Depths will be that evolution.
Unrest – Grindcore
The title proclaims this release as grindcore but a better description might be later punk styled as grindcore with a nod toward pop punk. These songs fit together nicely, but rely on two unfortunate things that doom them: repetition of classic punk and grindcore tropes as if they established something in themselves, and use of very much pop rhythmic hooks and song transitions. The vocals are great, the instrumentation fantastic for this genre, the melodies adequate and the rhythms good, but the meaning is not there. The recent Nausea album achieved a great deal more with less by focusing on having each song present an idea and then developing a basic, albeit circular looping context. Grindcore attempts instead the infamous “outward-in” composition of tribute bands everywhere where the need to include the tropes on the surface pushes out the need for internal structure based around a coherent thought, so songs end up being technique only, which is somewhat ironic in such a theoretically anti-technique genre. Most of these result in that “feel” of classic punk and hardcore but add to it the heavy technique of grindcore, which only serves to reveal how disorganized these tracks are. By the time they fall into imitating classic punk open chord picking and stop/start conventions halfway through the album, it has already been long clear that this is a highly competent tribute band but nothing more. To the credit of the label, production is flawless and clear without sounding too slick and the vocals are perfectly mixed. That cannot save Grindcore, nor can its periodically great guitar work, from being reliant on the crutch of imitating the past in lieu of writing songs. Maybe all the great hardcore and grindcore that could be written was long ago.
Archgoat – The Apocalyptic Triumphator
Much like the late days of hardcore, underground metal is standardizing into a war metal/death metal hybrid that emphasizes fast slamming rhythm without the obvious rock, jazz and blues breakdowns that make it clear that music belongs to the peace, love and happiness side of metal. Archgoat, by applying the structure of Scandinavian metal to the raw onslaught of Blasphemy/Sarcofago styled proto-black metal, stands as an innovator to this sub-genre which tends to combine Onward to Golgotha, Fallen Angel of Doom and Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz into a single style that like the bands which combined The Exploited, Black Flag and the Cro-Mags into a single voice, standardizes itself and becomes just about interchangeable. The sad fact of The Apocalyptic Triumphator is that a lot of good songwriting went into this album and some quality riff-writing, but this band remains literally imprisoned by the style in which they choose to create. About half of this album, preying on all of us who wish there were somewhere undiscovered in a vault another four hours of Drawing Down the Moon, borrows rhythms and arrangement patterns from that highly-esteemed work, as well as developing known riff types from the above influences. None of this is bad; however, it does not add up to enough to be compelling, like previous Archgoat works. This album represents the most professional work from this band so far and clearly exceeds any previous efforts, but the genericism of its riffs make songs indistinguishable both from one another and in terms of structure, creating the musical equivalent of listening to a flood sewer. For every good riff, four “standard” ones borrowed from the war metal/Blasphemy-tribute/Incantoclone group crowd them out. Periodic moments of greatness are balanced by a double frequency of moments of staggering obviousness which make it hard to get behind hearing this one on a regular basis. What I want to know is: what do these musicians actually idealize in music, outside of this style? Their work in such an artistically liberated medium might unleash the creativity that this narrow style suppresses.
Heaving Earth – Denouncing the Holy Throne
Disruption metal. In business, the idea of disruption is that some new entrant into the market disturbs it to the point of throwing everything else out. This should simply be thrown out. Trudging riffs, squeals, chortled vocals, mind-numbing rhythms and melodic fills that sound more like video game noises than metal. An album of this would be excruciating, doubly so if you listened to it.
Ancient Wind – The Chosen Slain
Style over substance defines this release: built on a base of melodeath, Ancient Wind regurgitates several different influences but predominantly Sodom and Wintersun. The result is a sampler plate of styles that never comes together but, because it has no topic other than the need to record something for a half hour or so, the lack of style damages nothing nor salvages anything. You are left with the typical experience of hearing something disorganized, then seeing a fat woman eat ice cream, and suddenly being unable to recall if the music had been on earlier. In one ear and out the other, if you’re lucky.
Sacrilegium – Wicher
1996, out of Poland. Like Graveland? A more conventional version of Graveland: less scary, more uptempo, more musically predictable. Sounds a lot like there was a Dimmu Borgir influence. While it’s tempting to like the style, the lack of substance suggests this album should have stayed in 1996 with the other proto-tryhards.
Battle Beast – Unholy Savior
An album’s worth of that one song your junkie ex-girlfriend is really into. For Lady Gaga listeners who like the sound of electric guitars. Halestorm meets fantasy. Daddy-issues metal. I’m out of jokes, just don’t listen to this.
Hailing from North Rhine-Westphalia/Germany, Evoked issues four savage compositions of blistering mid-paced death metal honoring the early days of the genre on their demo “Return of the Dead.” This demo came out in 2014 and uses Swedish-style blistering production but actually hails to an earlier era.
In the style of bands such as Possessed, Grotesque and Slaughter Lord, Evoked creates standard format songs stacking three riffs against one another, one each for verse and chorus and a transition, and based them around the kind of fast mid-paced rhythm with very tangible stops that speed metal bands used. This music harkens to the era of transition 1985-1989 when metal was abandoning the speed metal legacy and transitioning into death metal, and so calls to mind early Morgoth, Death, Pestilence Malleus Maleficarum and the like. What makes it stand out is that it holds enough content to pique the interest of old-school metal enthusiasts.
While a four-song demo gives little insight into the future of the band, Evoked show absolutely no inclination to deviate from this classic style, which has the advantage of being highly comprhensible. While the band shows no sign of taking this to a simpler and more mob-pleasurable sellout place, it also clearly panders to the tryhard audience with a demo that would have been amazing in 1989 but in 2015 is just adequate.