When people mention death metal bands, they cite a short canon of Morbid Angel and Deicide. If this album had been of higher quality, Incantation would be the third on that list. Following the immensely powerful Onward to Golgotha, Incantation stood poised to take over American death metal with their unique sound and quality songwriting. On Mortal Throne of Nazarene, the band took a huge dive into a lesser category and were as a result bypassed by many fans.
Many factors may have influenced this decision. Relapse Records was at the time trying to grow large enough to be on par with bigger labels like Earache and Roadrunner. Incantation despite having a stable line-up benefited from the contributions of past members such as Paul Ledney and influences from other East Coast bands. Immense pressure was brought to bear on the band to make another Onward to Golgotha two years after their first album, during a time when rumored internal friction caused lineup changes and the semi-permanent departure of drummer Jim Roe and loss of bassist Ronnie Deo. As a result, those two years may not have represented the length of time the band had to write, incubate and revise this album.
Immediately noticeable is the primal flaw of this album: chord progressions and melodies used in fills are more obvious, or cut more exactly from scale patterns, which gives it an almost sing-song vibe at times. Rhythms are less fully integrated which causes the band to attempt ambitious forms but then fall back on relatively brown-wrapper metal tropes. The band incorporated many of these tracks with rhythm re-written on their followup EP The Forsaken Mourning of Angelic Anguish where changes in pacing and arrangement made them far more effective. This confirms much of what listeners felt, which was that Mortal Throne of Nazarene may have been completely written but it did not undergo the revision, editing and incubation process that mellowed Onward to Golgotha into a finely honed shape where no detail was extraneous and all parts worked together toward the impression conveyed by each song. Relapse promoted this album as more “technical,” back when that buzzword was new, meaning that there are additional chord shapes used and some difficult tempo changes, but it was not as well-integrated nor as purposeful.
Mortal Throne of Nazarene overflows with good ideas but they do not work together toward an end, and parts of it like the last half of Suffocation’s Breeding the Spawn sound like chromatic fills in regular rhythms that the band intended to revise later into full riffs with unique modality and rhythms more carefully enwrapped in the need of each song. Vocals are stunning as usual, production is much clearer, and individual performances show musical maturation and the type of learning that comes from having influences among historically important metal bands. Some songs remain standouts even in their partial form like “The Ibex Moon” and “Abolishment of Immaculate Serenity,” which shows the band perhaps coming together at the end of their song process, or having intended those since the beginning to be the bedrock of this album but having been lacking time to make the rest. But unlike Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, this album is not just unfinished but incomplete, and the result shows in the mixture of random and predictable that obscures otherwise powerful songs.
Morgoth defined its path in the 1990s with two EPs that combined the American and European death metal sounds, then deviated into a more contemporary sound with Cursed and ultimately Odium, at which point the band lay low for 18 years before returning with God is Evil, an EP of two songs which combine their early years with their middle-period work on Cursed, although the band consciously strives to make the aesthetic identification with the EPs stronger than anything else. That makes sense, since death metal and death metal nostalgia are both big business, with the younger audience wanting to hear the glory years come roaring to life again and the greybeards wanting to re-live some of their fond memories of what death metal meant back then.
“God is Evil” begins with the type of chord progression and accompanying constant double-bass drums that would have kicked off a classic Florida album, maybe Death Spiritual Healing, but with more of a European melodic flair. The Florida influences remained hidden to me until this release, where suddenly the influences from several big Florida bands including Deicide show in the riff rhythm and tempo changes as well as the choice of chord progression used. Death in particular specialized in these kind of storming extended riffs, but much like Death, Morgoth suffers from making the riffs too “pat” or too handily concluding on a symmetrical counterpart to their initiating phrase. The result makes this easy to nod along to. The song develops with slightly more melody in the guitar and some very Tampa downstroke triplet riffing, then fleshes out its theme expertly. This song strikes me as not only very well-done but as reflecting the kind of forward thought that a band can have when they stop worrying about how clear their influences are, and work instead on putting the song together like they would construct a building, engine or electronic gadget: each piece relating to one another with a function or design idea at the center.
“Die As Deceiver” fares slightly worse. Starting with a riff that might have come from “Pull the Plug” with a few modifications, in the same way ground effects make a Honda Civic a race car, this song launches into a series of chant-heavy choruses that require lots of downstroke barrages to create emphasize, before a melodic vocal leading the chorus in the best Destruction style. Then the song breaks into a classic-era Death style transition with more of a hard rock modality to it, then layers this with increasing drum and bass accompaniment before breaking to the original loop. This song sounds hastier or at least more hesitant in that the band clearly builds itself around a couple of tropes but is unclear how they relate outside of rhythm, which creates the impression of a play with the scenes shown in the wrong order. The use of heavy expectation in riff delivery here creates more of a pop influence on this song and makes it less likely to sustain repeated listens. The strained vocals of Mark Grewe attempt to emulate the The Haunted or later At the Gates style and do nothing for the music, because like all “modern metal” (read: lapsed metal) that style leads with vocals and relegates guitar to a sidekick role, at which point it quick becomes more like mainstream rock, which seems to have been the goal. More like the average, more audience. Morgoth shows they do not need to stay current or worry about their influences from the first song but almost seem to have lost confidence on the second and fallen back on crowd-pleaser technique which promptly swallowed up their quality songwriting.
On the whole, God is Evil shows a revitalized Morgoth making a credible attempt at restoring the power of its early years while incorporating some of the musical lessons learned with its more populist albums. My advice to this band is to trust your gut, not your spreadsheets, and focus on writing the music that comes most naturally. Cursed and Odium were the same mistake in opposite directions: trying to be current with the most underground stuff possible, and trying to catch up with the mainstream stuff (which was actually a regression from what death metal had done). These are clearly talented players who, when they let themselves, make amazing death metal that infuses European melody into the charging Florida style.
This small label sent over a few of their releases in compilation format. Fallen Temple Records releases tapes and vinyls of rather obscure acts with specific audiences and put a range of stuff together for this compilation, which shows how wide the tastes of this label and its audiences are.
Betrayer/Neolith – Split
Long-time readers may be familiar with our obsession with Polish band Betrayer, whose 1990s debut Calamity remains an excellent but mostly overlooked piece of melodic death metal with speed metal influences. Betrayer return with a single track, “Beware,” which shows more of a late Morbid Angel (Covenant era) influence, specifically in vocals and rhythms “The Lion’s Den,” as well of more of a reliance on the more aggressive mid-paced speed metal rhythms to emerge in the 1990s. The musicality that allows melody to unite disparate elements into a single experience remains and so despite initial concern over style, listeners will find this track hard-hitting and rewarding after multiple listens. The noodly solo does little for it and the Pantera-ish influences slow down the power of this song, but the quality songwriting remains as does the ability to leave the listener transported after listening. We will be fortunate if we hear more from this under-noticed but intelligent band.
Neolith on the other hand sounds like Krisiun and Impiety had a spawn but balanced it with the second album from Grave. The result emerges as charging death metal with atmospheric use of keyboards. Unlike many bands, these guys seem to understand at least the rudiments of harmony and so it fits together both rhythmically and tonally but the constant drilling rhythm and high degree of repetition without variation of the structural loop within the song makes this somewhat repetitive. A late-song break to a Slayer-style riff then leads to more keyboards mixing poorly with the guitars by creating a competition between sounds instead of supporting atmosphere, which causes clashing influences in the song and sabotages mood. Then it all repeats. This band has a great deal of talent and if they chill out and apply it without worrying what people will think about them, they’ll do great.
Behelal – Satanic Propaganda
Behelal suffer from being too adept, which leads to them deciding to adopt multiple styles into the same musical persona, with the result of achieving stylistic anonymity. Fundamentally of a blackened death approach with post-metal style chord progressions and mixed in primal black metal, industrial and other influences, this song plus an intro conveys a lot of potential but not really any specific direction. It concludes much as it began, with a sense of darkness and possible beauty never realized. Compares to Pyogenesis.
Blackwhole – Another Starless Night
The world might be happier if bands abandoned pun names, if that is what this is. The listener will first notice that and either be thrilled by it because they are a moron who delights in the trivial, or avoid it because they are disgusted by the flood of mundane morons delighted by the trivial. But assuming that the name is not a pun, consider how you would feel about an album at the pace of early Samael with some of the influences of later. The result requires the kind of mentality that doom metal fans have while listening, but incorporates some electronic influences but basically just drones. Its simple chord progressions are not unpleasant and its riffs somewhat unique, but the main problem most of us have with this is that well-composed or not, it is somewhat boring. The pace allows for little change and the plodding riffs wear us into the ground. Like early Samael, it has a certain charm as mood music since it sounds like demons practicing dirge music in the basement of an ancient house on haunted land.
Devil Lee Rot/Ajatus – Split
Devil Lee Rot is extremely predictable but catchy hard rock dressed up as some kind of Dissection-formatted heavy metal band with occasional death metal vocals. If you really adore middle-period AC/DC, this might stir your cauldron, but generally this has nostalgia appeal and is dripping in cheese without managing to be fun or entertaining. It is hard to write off this band because of their obvious musical skill, but it does not save the end result from being a warm-over of the past. Ajatus aim for the late days of the 1980s with a fast speed metal/death metal combination that uses fast riffs and death metal vocals but the riff patterns of speed metal. These riffs are predictable but use a bit of melody and songs come together well, which marks this as eternal B-level death metal that compares to Fleshcrawl and Dismember but never quite achieves those heights.
Eternal Rot – Grave Grooves
Much as you might expect, this band undertakes a fusion of morbid metal and dark grooves. The result sounds like Fleshcrawl covering Autopsy at the pace of early Sleep material, and this delivers a listening experience that is pleasant. Morbid vocals burble up from the background as bass-intense guitar tracks rumble through the front and songs fit together well. Riffs are a bit too asymmetrical and songs too much cut from the same wallpaper, but this release only has two tracks. A full length album might show more. Eternal Rot struggles against contradictory impulses to set up a groove and to use simple riffs, which creates the unfortunate result of droning power chords ad nauseam. If this band could work in more death metal style riffing it might inject some energy into this otherwise fairly plodding sound. Then again, those who like groove tend to get excited by predictability.
Hin Hale – Beyond
This band attempts early style black metal with distorted vocals but music influenced by the speed metal years, much like early Sodom or some of the many South American bands who have undertaken this style. Hin Hale keeps up the energy and throws in some good riffs but the background of this release somewhat swallows it in similarity. Finding a voice in this style proves very difficult because of so many riff patterns and song patterns known from the past, so revivalists such as this face an uphill battle. They complicate this with a named unrecognized by most and an unfortunate thin guitar production.
Malum in Se – …Of Death…of Lurid Soul
Malum in Se blends three generations of Swedish death metal into a single melodic death metal voice that avoids being as random as the post-metal and “tek-deaf” material tends to be. Unfortunately it also avoids being distinctive and so comes across as a well-articulated style in need of direction. Some excellent riffs in here show not only promise, but an ability to stagger riffs for contrast and achieve mood, but the overall energy charges too far ahead and not enough into depth, and many of these patterns seem too symmetrical to be memorable. The insistence on nearly constant vocal rhythms and frequent high speed pummeling make it hard for listeners to stay tuned in to the inevitable conclusion, which is usually able done and worth the wait. This band have made a good job of analyzing their style, but now need to find a sense of making it more of an aesthetic experience of beauty and with that, a larger purpose than the style itself.
Necromantical Screams – Deadly Frost
This band approach Funeral Doom much like old school doom in the style of Saint Vitus with heavy downstroke repetitive strumming guided by the croaking distorted vocals. On the one original song included here, much of the riff-writing approximates the speed/death metal years and while it incorporates a good amount of melody, ends up being driven by rhythmic expectation in the sense of a cadence ending on an offbeat. Many Autopsy influences color this and they result in a somewhat boring song. The second track is a slightly slowed but mostly faithful cover of the Celtic Frost song from which this band takes its name. They successfully execute it but put more emphasis in varying the vocals with each phrase to give it a new atmosphere, but this loses the austere calm and sense of dread to the original. While there is nothing to dislike here, the simple outlook approach to riffs plus slowdown generally equals a type of funeral doom best reserved for going to sleep after funerals.
Former Angelcorpse guitarist Gene Palubicki and his band Blasphemic Cruelty have announced the cover for their upcoming mini-album Crucible of the Infernum to be released on Hells Headbangers in early 2015.
The EP will feature three new tracks and a cover of Sodom “The Crippler,” in addition to cover art by Juanjo Castellano Rosado. Palubicki says: “It has taken a bit of time, since 2008, to get back here with some new Blasphemic Cruelty material, but time has come for our death engines to rattle, and it is in the form of Crucible of the Infernum. It will feature three new full-force death/thrash insanities as the band is known for from the previous output and a merciless cover version of Sodom’s ‘The Crippler.’ Final mixing sessions are in mid-January, and we’re aiming for an early 2015 release.”
On December 3, 1983, a force of unparalleled musical terror was unleashed upon a more innocent world. Combining the high speed strum detached from percussion used by Discharge with the architectural riffing of Judas Priest and the melodic understructure used by Iron Maiden, Slayer created a new style of heavy metal which exceeded all previous efforts.
While Show No Mercy sounds tame compared to later Slayer effort Reign in Blood (1986), for the time it revolutionized metal and punk alike. Most metal of the era was still recovering from the mid-1970s slump that occurred when Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were hybridized into a new rock-based style, manifesting after a brief revolution in the NWOBHM as the usual lowest-common-denominator crowd pleaser in acts like Motley Crue. Slayer brought back the longer phrasal riffs used by Black Sabbath and through the tremolo strum added greater flexibility and detached chord changes from the beat of the snare, which allowed the guitar to dominate composition and relegated drums to timekeeping. This in turn gave the band more options for varying riffs within a phrase and escaping the verse-chorus pop radio song format that had infected metal in the previous years.
Even outdoing other hardcore punk/NWOBHM hybrids like speed metal bands (Metallica) and thrash (DRI), Slayer created a fury that could also be beautiful. To this they added a mythological view of humanity and the ongoing collapse of Western civilization, placing us into a mode of viewing it as a conflict between good and evil with the prize being survival more than a spiritual state of obedience. In doing so, Slayer laid the foundation both musically and topically for the future death metal genre, while also spurring speed metal on to greater intensity. Most of what we cover on this site would not have existed when it did without Slayer and contemporaries such as Bathory, Hellhammer and Sodom who opened the gates to this new style.
Texas old school death metal (which is to say, “death metal”) band Blaspherian return after the triumphant Allegiance to the Will of Damnation with a two-song EP showcasing a newer style which is both more brooding and more raw, chaotic and abrupt. (more…)
Deathcore relies on trope to the point where the style becomes almost all convention with little variation within. Joining other styles like rap and techno, it reduces itself to minor deviations from a norm and so the difference between bands, albums and songs becomes less important than currency.
Decimation attempt to restore deathcore with many of the stylistic methods of later percussive death metal, specifically Suffocation Pierced From Within, and are remarkably successful in doing so but because of their extensive reliance on deathcore passages may not make the threshold for many death metal listeners. When looking through history, we see deathcore arising from the Cannibal Corpse axis where vocals lead the music and guitars exist to blat out rhythmically hook-centric riffs in coordination with drums but in support of vocal rhythms.
Decimation upgrade this to giving the guitars more leeway at the ends of phrases and between verses, where the band use phrasal riffing and open strumming to generate interest. They even write in melodic lead riffing over high-speed strumming in the way Suffocation would, which infuses these songs with a new energy but will probably offend deathcore purists. If you can imagine a hip-hop troupe who broke every other phrase to play full-on bebop, the effect is similar here in that it makes return to the deathcore that much more jarring but puts into play enough for the ears to listen to that the deathcore parts become more like rhythm comping to build up for the sweetness. Deathcore fans will note that the characteristic lack of variation in technique and approach to rhythm is consistent on the deathcore passages.
Where Decimation excels is in assembling songs around an idea despite surrounding it with a riff salad. These songs sound more composed than your average deathcore song in that they have a center and changing layout to reflect what that is, but less “composed” in that unlike classic deathcore they do not attempt to create a rhythm groove and ride it, alternating with a chorus, into the ground. Bass-intense vocals fall into cadence with guitar during verses, but range free for fills and choruses, allowing the range and texture of vocals to expand. Drums adopt the overactive style of post-Suffocation deathcore but keep an emphasis on varied internal rhythm to produce expectation rather than sheer repetition and breakdown as both techno and deathcore tend to do.
Reign of Ungodly Creation will split death metal purists. If you could listen to Cannibal Corpse alongside Suffocation and Kataklysm, this 37-minute diatribe will appeal and seem to expand on those conventions. If like many you preferred death metal before it started imitating post-hardcore, there may be too much deathcore in here for you. This perspective is entirely understandable, as the deathcore portions of this album use a few common forms in many variations, where the death metal segments vary more widely in form. It is more infectiously rhythmic and disciplined than most deathcore and so could well inject some needed life into that flagging genre.
Back around 1991 or so, Grave Into the Grave lived in every Hessian room across the land. It combined an intense rhythmic attack with a type of accessibility that did not on the surface resemble the pop music — generally downtempo bittersweet wailing indie-rock — of the age. Then the band seemed to drop out of reality.
Listening to Necropsy: The Complete Demo Recordings 1986-1991 has clarified for me exactly what I like and detest about this band. Unlike most bands of that era, Grave understood the concept of hook, in this case a rhythm that is fascinating enough to be instantly memorable. On the downside, the hook swims in what are ultimately predictable song structures borrowed from the lower echelons of 1980s speed metal. These demos show Grave developing its style from an early Possessed/Kreator hybrid into full-fledged death metal, yet the band never really breaks into what made death metal powerful. These songs cycle through verse-chorus with exceptions made to fit in some transitional riffs, but never construct themselves around an idea expressed in both riff and song. As a result, they come across as random outside of the one moment of clarity for the hook, at which point the brain goes to sleep waiting for the random power chord slamming to end and the hook to come around again.
The good parts of Grave should not be understated. At a time when most bands were trying to make themselves presentable to the average music listener by reining in their extreme tendencies, Grave leaped howling into the abyss with rigid and abrupt riffs that slammed home with the intensity of the big American bands. Much like style-mates Seance and Hypocrisy, Grave took Swedish death metal away from the melodic riffs and restraint into full-on textural assault with primitive rhythm as its guide. And yet listening back over this, one might wish for a little bit more of Carnage and Entombed in with the Malevolent Creation style riffs. The song structures are too simple to give these riffs room to breathe, so they just cycle, which is to say raw repetition “one removed” by introduction of a contrary or at least different theme. If tied together with some melody, more structure, or even a greater sense of internal dialogue between the songs, the early work from Grave would have been legendary and far surpassed Entombed and others who made big names for themselves in Swedish metal.
These demos progress from the prescient in style works of the 1986-1988 period in which bands were still figuring out how to work with the fertile ferment of Bathory, Hellhammer, Possessed, Sepultura, Sodom and Slayer. The Grave tracks from this era sound like a second-rate speed metal band imitating Possessed as death vocals ring out around clumsier versions of riff patterns you might find on a Heathen or Dark Angel album. As time goes on, the riffs pick up more technique and the clumsiness becomes an aggressive slamming rhythm mated to an adroit sense of pick-up rhythm that conserves and intensifies the energy of each riff. But, much as with Kreator, the riff is the hook and the “sweet spot” in the midst of relatively unrelated material, which means songs keep clunking along on the rhythm of the drums and vocals while the guitars do random stuff. It’s as if these bands never fully come together and are just too individualistic for their own good, Kreator especially. As the demos accelerate toward 1991, the technique streamlines into recognizable full death metal, but the song structures revert to the 1986 styles and despite increased proficiency remain just as clumsy in end result.
What emerges from these demos as a result is a crash-course in how to write great death metal riffs without writing great death metal. Grave faded before its time because it never knitted these power riffs into full songs, and went after the German model of a friendly rhythm with great hook in a song where everything else is essentially linear. This makes the listener fade in for the hook, then fade out, and end the listening session with no sense of continuity or overall impression of an event, emotion or attitude. In this, Grave — despite having mastered the science of death metal riffcraft — missed the boat on the innovation that death metal brought to the wider world of heavy music, and this explains why their work has not obtained the staying power assigned easily to bands with less-powerful riffing but more focus on integrative songwriting.
Gorement could send a thank-you letter to Amorphis and the funeral doom movement for popularizing its riffs over the years, since despite a large amount of raw promise this release was never going anywhere. The Ending Quest is like a book of ideas, raw riffs of great potential floating in a background of poor ideas and randomness.
Often reasons exist for why underground treasures never made it to the surface back in the day. In the case of The Ending Quest, the reason is that it is a boring and frustrating listen, for two reasons. The band does not know how to develop songs, and thus its greatest ideas either go nowhere or run somewhere pointless, and its songwriting duties seem divided between a genius at melodic riffs and a guy who likes to write chromatic skim fills to keep those riffs from getting ahead of themselves.
Only two years after this album came out, a band named Skepticism took this aesthetic and brought it to a better place: crashing glacial riffs, slow bass-intense vocals, and a melodic basis. They dropped the death metal influences that required those melodic riffs to move quickly, and the guitar solos, which meant that they made their music in more of an ambient capacity. Gorement instead try to make death metal and so they piece it together, two boring riffs for every melodic sweet spot, and a sense of rhythm that often disconnects the needs of the riff from the needs of the song.
Material of stunning insight, foresight and promise fills this disc. Many of these riffs are cognizable from the albums of bands that went on to more success, and some of these ideas far exceed the substitutes that came in their place. The unique low and slow bass-intense vocals were an innovation, as was the tendency — later exploited by bands like Amorphis, Dissection, Sentenced, Bolt Thrower and Sacramentum — to stitch a fast melodic lead over a vermicular riff and slow partial groove. Gorement also know how to create a dramatic transition through simultaneous tempo and riff shift. The problem is that so many of these riffs fall into predictable patterns, and so many of these songs fail to organize their elements into any expression, so we end up with the curse of all early death metal: the album of good riffs that goes nowhere.
Our ex-editor Kontinual, who died suddenly of AIDS in 2010, wrote fondly of this band. But this is ultimately where we differ: death metal is propelled by structure, with each song forming a kind of “riff-poem” in which emotion is derived from how the riffs fit together, not the particular key and mode in which they are written. Riff-poems fail when they stop making sense, or when there is blathering nonsense that should have been edited out inserted just after a phrase of great profundity. The Ending Quest inspired legions of bands and imitators, is partially responsible for the first “melodic doom” explosion that tried to make death metal for rock music fans with Tiamat and later Opeth, and clearly gave many bands a riff book to use in their own projects. But as a listening experience, it resembles a speech by a distracted professor: moments of brilliance, surrounded by confusion.
South American death metal and progressive band Cóndor will release its second album, Duin, on January 27. This band takes an approach more like that of classical guitarists toward melding death metal with progressive rock, blues, folk and other influences: it mixes them in serially and adopts them within the style, rather than hybridizing the two styles.
In other words, most bands that try to sound like progressive death metal try to act like a progressive rock band playing death metal, or a death metal band playing progressive rock. Cóndor takes an approach more like that of musicians in the past, which is to adopt other voices within its style, so that it creates essentially the same material but works in passages that show the influence of other thought.
Cóndor‘s first album Nadia made our best of 2013 for its mix between primal death metal and other guitar-oriented styles. It will be interesting to see how much the band matured and developed during the past two years and how it will handle what are undoubtedly new influences.