Documentary film The Distorted Island: Heavy Metal Music and Community in Puerto Rico nears release, reveals artwork

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Artwork for a new documentary about Puerto Rico’s metal scene by the Puerto Rico Heavy Metal Studies Group, The Distorted Island: Heavy Metal Music and Community in Puerto Rico, makes its appearance today and in this blog. According to the creators of the film:

This upcoming documentary explores the emergence and maintenance of a metal scene in the Caribbean island. The documentary explores how local bands have survived for 30 years via strong community ties, while also highlighting the cultural and historical challenges faced along the way. Local artist Kadriel Betsen, a digital artist and guitarist for the extreme metal band Humanist, developed the artwork. Nelson Varas-Díaz, Osvaldo González, Eliut Segarra and Sigrid Mendoza compose the research and filmmaking team. Dr. Nelson Varas-Díaz is a metal fan and Associate Professor at the University of Puerto Rico who has led the team carrying out a research study on the local scene. The documentary will see its full release by the end of 2014.

When asked about the artwork for the movie poster, local artist Kadriel Betsen said the following: “This artwork attempts to capture the very essence of Puerto Rico’s Heavy Metal scene. A scene where a particular musical taste influences the way we perceive and express our culture, and where our culture enriches and influences the way we create music. These two powerful factors gave birth to the Distorted Island…”

For more information, see the Puerto Rico Heavy Metal Studies Group‘s Faceplant page.

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Blaspherian – Demos (2013)

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Death metal requires from its artists more than finding two parts in harmony that complement each other. It requires the creation of a visual experience, or a topographic one, through the interaction between riffs themselves. It helps to remove harmony from this equation and to use melody, harmony and other techniques selectively to highlight certain functions of the riff, like techniques used in language when writing a novel. This restores the ideas or sensations behind music to their rightful place, and puts the charms of music in their rightful place of servitude to the experience — sensation producing mentation — of music itself.
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Sinister – The Post-Apocalyptic Servant

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Dutch death metallers Sinister return in 2014 with The Post-Apocalyptic Servant. Sinister is a band most notable for the classic death metal offering Cross the Styx which wielded basic yet effective death metal. The quality of their releases waned since that time and after their ’98 effort Aggressive Measures, the flame became an ember (as is the common fate of early death metal bands).

Twenty one years after their debut, Sinister progresses their decline with this album. The riffs — while intense and biting — lack context, making the songs bland and disingenuous. This is an album of “moments”: no song on this album is good in its entirety, but certain details stand out. This isn’t the musical journey that death metal is supposed to convey; this is an exhibit of a handful of decent riffs spread out over the course of an underwhelming ten track album. Even their cover of “Fall From Grace” is lackluster and forced. It’s also an album that gets progressively worse as it plays through, like a runner sinking in quicksand.

The production is just as unsatisfying as the album itself. Completely synthetic and somewhat reminiscent of modern tech-death bands with the only trace of atmosphere emanating from the leitmotif at the beginning and end of the album. Everything else sounds like it was put together in a factory with some spare parts laying around. The result is an album that does not hold up. Memorable riffs without structures that could give them the life they need create a vicious, but not captivating, attempt at a comeback.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewU82oH8iyY

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Incubus – Incubus re-issued by Vic Records

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In the mid-late 80s death metal was still a vital force in which the standards of the genre were established. The new genre differentiated itself from speed metal several years before, but techniques common to both genres still overlapped without seeming artificial as they would when re-introduced later to make death metal more audience-friendly. This period gave rise to many bands which command universal respect today, but there were also a number of smaller projects which nevertheless imparted the same artistic drive and skill.

Recently reissued Incubus self-titled EP Incubus takes a short three-track voyage through the hinterlands of death metal’s darker yet constructive twisting of prior genre forms. Taking the work of Slayer, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, and other proto-death metal bands, and moving it into more extreme directions, this is the same trajectory from which Morbid Angel spawned an entire lineage within the genre.

Adept at tempo shifts, in addition to a layering of guitar tones ranging from the subterranean to the celestial, in only three tracks Incubus wrangles a distinctive creation with the trademark frenetic energy of death metal and the more hookish speed metal. Artistically coherent in a way that is rarely if ever seen today, this reminder of genuine purpose married to cultivated skill is very much worth hearing again, or particularly for the first time. Incubus will be released on June 16th via Vic Records.

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Yog Sothots – Demo I (1987)

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Much of what attracts newcomers to the heavy metal world is the ferocity of mythology in metal. The unsafe world of endless possibilities that this music projects can be especially attractive to the daring and inquisitive soul. That it further bonds itself to a mysticism of heroes and giants fighting for existential domination of reality itself gives it a gravitas and yet engaging playfulness. And like the dark thrill of a glory ride into Armageddon the sole ’87 demo from Quebecois speed metallers Yog Sothots is a feral litany of war.

Much like the Canadian war metal that would come later, (and to a lesser extent, the hammering simplicity of Von) Yog Sothots deliver a crushing blast of speed metal that is more aligned with the extreme metal that was at the time developing, rather than the tamer likes of earlier bands which had found mainstream acceptance just that year. These songs explode in a fury of whirling carnage that builds intensity like a town tormented by a mighty and growing thunderstorm. The primal nature of this demo combined with the organic and low-fi production makes this a savage though somewhat predictable journey.

The only drawback here is that many of these songs seem to struggle with developing an identity of their own, and tend to grow stale upon repeated listens (the same curse that struck Sodom’s debut). Caught between the developing speed metal tendencies of non-mainstream metal contemporary to its origins and the more focused yet rule-less rage of black and death metal, this Canadian band opted for a compromise. Yog Sothots was swallowed by time, and honestly, better acts. Still, this is a worthy effort and deserving of praise. Though this demo is far from perfect, it captures the true spirit of metal: a headlong dive into the abyss, spawned by the curiosity of what might be found.

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Horrid – Sacrilegious Fornication

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The anthemic, direct energy form of death metal is one of the most recognizable strains of the many sub-groupings within the genre. Possibly the most popular type of death metal, it bridges the gap from heavy and speed metal to more developed and darker forms of metal. For most listeners, this zone stretches from Judas Priest Painkiller to Morbid Angel Covenant with many stops in between.

On Sacrilegious Fornication, Italian death metal band Horrid go back to this method of composition (along with ubiquitous Sunlight Studious production) in an attempt to root their latest album in traditional, tried & true death metal creation. Taking inspiration from bands such as (early) Death, Massacra, and Entombed, the well-crafted balance between melody and ferocity that each band embodied is preserved.

By keeping relatively straightforward time, rhythms are simple enough to understand at first listen, freeing the mind to appreciate the whole of the composition without being thrown off by faux-complexity. While simple, riffs are not low-minded, as the phrasal nature of them trancends verse-chorus limitations and provides the framework for vocals and drums to fit in on either side of the melee, merging into technological barrages that wind their way through a journey of war and death.

Some critics may wish to dismiss bands such as Horrid for being just another “Entombed clone” among dozens. While it’s true that there isn’t much to laud here as being “unique,” what instead can be appreciated is the quality of the music, its careful arrangement, and the enjoyment of listening to an album that respects the higher forms of death metal and wishes to preserve them into the present generation.

Sacrilegious Fornication was released on May 1st and is available from Dunkelheit Produktionen.

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Century Media releases additional information about Massacra re-issues

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The albums have been skillfully remastered by Patrick W. Engel / Temple Of Disharmony (Asphyx, Desaster, Darkthrone etc), were specially mastered for vinyl and feature heavy 180gr vinyl, a 30x30cm 4-page LP booklet whereas the CD and digital format come along with additional bonus tracks and will be offered at mid-price.

“Final Holocaust” offers tracks from a previously unreleased 1990 live show, “Enjoy The Violence” also contains a rehearsal from 1991 and “Signs Of The Decline” extra live tracks, so look forward to some rare rawness as bonus treats.

The LP booklet and 24 pages CD booklet include all lyrics, detailed interviews with guitarist Jean-Marc Tristani, photos, fanzine snippets, flyers and more.

“Researchers Of Tortures” from Final Holocaust

“Enjoy The Violence” from Enjoy the Violence

“Full Frontal Assault” from Signs of the Decline

Here is an overview on the different vinyl editions and limitations:

Final Holocaust:
200 copies – black vinyl
400 copies – transparent blue vinyl
400 copies – clear vinyl

Enjoy The Violence:
200 copies – black vinyl
400 copies – solid white vinyl
400 copies – clear vinyl

Signs Of The Decline:
200 copies – black vinyl
400 copies – red vinyl
400 copies – clear vinyl

You can order them from the Century Media store.

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Incantation – Dirges of Elysium

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For over two decades, Incantation has been one of the leading innovators of death metal. Although it never received the public accolades worthy of its contributions, Incantation represented a titanic figure in the underground scene that created works of more consistent quality than that of its contemporaries, although as with all bands from metal’s golden age there’s been a noticeable tiredness creeping into its work.

On Incantation‘s latest album Dirges of Elysium the tiredness reveals how it has spread to composition. While the traditional core of recognizable Incantation shines through at times, audible indications of decline present themselves on every track. The band did not attempt to create something to move either upwards or forwards, but instead sullenly sinks back into uninspired riffs and concessions to the contemporary marketplace.

Incantation displayed willingness from its very beginning to stretch the realms of death metal, particularly with slowed-down tempos of doom metal; however, when the band did this it was well-placed within the order of the present track and was synonymous with the expression of the blistering assault book-ending it on either side. On this album, this expert sense of structure is greatly reduced. Rather than being weaved together in an organic whole, riffs are placed parallel to each other with little to bind them together. While some riffs are competent, the lack of any unifying cohesion to the album leaves them stranded as brief moments of interest.

Although the core of the album remains as death metal, there are also hints where the veneer cracks: straightforward speed metal riff fragments signify the lack of imagination present and the simplistic pounding of palm-muted riffs occasionally approaches the knuckleheadedness of post-hardcore bands. The speed metal influence as inherited through its hybrid with jazz-lite and math metal in metalcore presents a subtle but pervasive decline to the integrity of the palette Incantation uses. When throwaway riffs and foot-tapping crowd pleasers become acceptable random h’ors d’ouvres among the meatier riffs, chaos has overcome order.

It is also worth mentioning the final track as a case study in decline. Clocking in at almost 17 minutes in length, this song completely dominates the album in terms of proportion. While this author was excited to hear this composition, the fact is that this track is extraordinarily difficult to listen to. It is the entropic decline of the entire genre expressed: a reduction of everything to faux-angst, lazy generalities that signify no individual artistic direction. A modern mess and doom/speed metal disaster, it is very hard to imagine that this track (and album) was composed by the same band that released some of the best death metal albums of all time.

Readers are advised to temper their expectations before listening. Dirges of Elysium will be released on June 24th via Listenable Records.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJXUQFDOb1I

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Massacra first three albums — Final Holocaust, Enjoy the Violence and Signs of the Decline — reissued

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Classic band Massacra remains legendary for its ripping acerbic metal that maintained a playful spirit of destruction. The band’s second LP, Enjoy the Violence, was recently featured in our list of eternal death metal albums. Now it seems that Century Media Records will be releasing the first three albums — Final Holocaust, Enjoy the Violence and Signs of the Decline — on June 2 in Europe and the following day in North America.

Guitarist Jean-Marc Tristani had this to say: “Massacra are proud to present you the official re-issues of the first three albums, Final Holocaust (1990), Enjoy the Violence (1991) and Signs Of The Decline (1992). Century Media worked hard to add extra value to these releases. The packaging is really nice and you can find lots of extra stuff in there: detailed interviews, tons of rare photos, etc! We also wanted to make as much as possible visible of Formosa’s excellent artworks, so we scanned the original LPs and came up with designs that fit to the spirit of last year’s Day Of The Massacra demo compilation. On the CDs you will find some pretty interesting bonus material, like an unreleased live show from 1990 from my personal archive, some bootleg tracks, plus a rehearsal recording that was previously published with very bad sound and disguised as live tracks with no track-listing. That rehearsal also includes a song (‘Cyclone’) that has never been re-recorded afterwards. A lot of the material we used was provided by real diehard collectors out there, so a special thanks to them for supporting this project!”

Remastered by Patrick W. Engel at Temple of Disharmony (Asphyx, Darkthrone) the re-issues of these classic Massacra works come in 180gr vinyl with a 30x30cm 4-page booklet, or on CD with bonus tracks. This allows a new generation to own professional copies of some of the classics of the death metal genre.

Final Holocaust:
Black LP: 200 copies
Transparent blue LP: 400 copies
Clear LP: 400 copies

Enjoy The Violence:
Black LP: 200 copies
Solid white LP: 400 copies
Clear LP: 400 copies

Signs Of The Decline:
Black LP: 200 copies
Red LP: 400 copies
Clear LP: 400 copies

The CDs will feature extensive 24-page booklets and the following track-listings:

Final Holocaust (re-issue+bonus):
1. Apocalyptic Warriors
2. Researchers Of Tortures
3. Sentenced For Life
4. War Of Attrition
5. Nearer To Death
6. Final Holocaust
7. Eternal Hate
8. The Day Of Massacra
9. Trained To Kill
10. Beyond The Prophecy
11. Researchers Of Tortures (Live in France 1990)
12. War Of Attrition (Live in France 1990)
13. Sentenced For Life (Live in France 1990)
14. Final Holocaust (Live in France 1990)
15. Eternal Hate (Live in France 1990)
16. The Day Of Massacra (Live in France 1990)
Total playing time: 78+ min

Enjoy The Violence (re-issue+bonus):
1. Enjoy The Violence
2. Ultimate Antichrist
3. Gods Of Hate
4. Atrocious Crimes
5. Revealing Cruelty
6. Full Of Hatred
7. Seas Of Blood
8. Near Death Experience
9. Sublime Extermination
10. Agonizing World
11. Researchers Of Tortures (Rehearsal 1991)
12. Beyond The Prophecy (Rehearsal 1991)
13. Final Holocaust (Rehearsal 1991)
14. Cyclone (Rehearsal 1991)
15. Trained To Kill (Rehearsal 1991)
Total playing time: 57+ min

Signs Of The Decline (re-issue+bonus):
1. Evidence Of Abominations
2. Defying Man’s Creation
3. Baptized In Decadence
4. Mortify Their Flesh
5. Traumatic Paralyzed Mind
6. Excruciating Commands
7. World Dies Screaming
8. Signs Of The Decline
9. Civilization In Regression
10. Full Frontal Assault
11. Gods Of Hate (Live in Germany 1991)
12. Full Of Hatred (Live in Germany 1991)
Total playing time: 47+ min

Last year’s demo compilation, Day Of The Massacra, can still be purchased as a CD and LP here: http://www.cmdistro.com/Search/massacra

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Death metal albums of which I will never tire

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Early death metal (Bathory, Slayer, Hellhammer, Sodom, Master) emerged as an aggregate of the past, comprised of speed metal (Metallica, Exodus, Nuclear Assault, Testament, Megadeth), late hardcore (Cro-Mags, Amebix, Discharge, The Exploited, GBH), classic heavy metal (Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motorhead) and thrash (DRI, COC, Cryptic Slaughter). As a result, most death metal bands exhibited some tendencies more than others, although the founding early death metal bands tended toward the type of tremolo-powered phrase-based riffing exemplified by Slayer.

For example, Deicide on its second album Legion arguably made the album that …And Justice For All wanted to be, with lots of choppy percussive riffing forming intricate textures from which a melody emerged. Early Master sounded more like a punk band with its simple song structures and emphasis on droning, protest-like vocals. Second-wave death metal like Death and Possessed had a tendency to apply speed metal song structures and riff styles. Even advanced death metal like Pestilence often sounded like a more technical and complex version of early speed metal.

But focusing on death metal requires we look at what was unique to it. Getting past the vocals and the intensity, what distinguishes it musically is its use of that tremolo-strummed phrasal riff. This in turn forced bands to escape from riffs integrated strictly with drums, and to as a result put more riffs into the song to drive changes that previous would have been done by the drums. That in turn forced bands to make those riffs fit together, what Asphyx call “riff-gluing,” so that songs avoided the “riff salad” plague that captured later speed metal.

These bands exploded onto the world from 1983-1985, inspired in part by Discharge’s Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing which hit the ground in 1982. Slayer in particular stitched together classic heavy metal and ambient hardcore like Discharge and GBH and ended up with its particular formulation, taking the tremolo and riffs independent of drums from Discharge and matching them to the complex proggy structures of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden with Motorhead speed and aggression. This was what launched death metal free from the shadow of speed metal, which was the first metal genre to break out of underground status despite being — for the time — fast, aggressive and dark.

If you want to get to the core of death metal, these albums might help. They’re albums I keep returning to year after year because they have enough complexity and that unquantifiable quality of having purpose and being expressive, perhaps even emulating the life around them and converting it into a beast of mythological quality, which makes them interesting each time I pick them up. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, the players….

Slayer – Show No Mercy

While Hell Awaits has more expert composition, South of Heaven better control of mood and melody, and Reign in Blood more pure rhythmic intensity, Show No Mercy captures Slayer flush with the fervor of youth and the belief in big concepts. As a result, it is an intensity mystical album, uniting a narrative about war between good and evil with the actions of people on earth. It is not like Hell Awaits more solidly situated in a single mythology, nor like Reign in Blood and after an attempt to explore the dark side of modern existence in a literal sense. Instead, it is a flight of imagination mated to an apocalyptic vision of a society crumbling from within. As a result it is musically the most imaginative of Slayer albums, creating grand constructions of visions of worlds beyond that stimulate the fantasy dwelling within our otherwise obedient minds.

Massacra – Enjoy the Violence

Another early album in very much the style of Slayer but with intensity cranked to the ceiling, Enjoy the Violence shows a band intent on conveying intense energy through their music. To do this, they rely on not only near-constant breakneck speed but also vivid contrasts between the types of riffs that are used in a song, welding a rich narrative from riffs that initially seem simple like the scattered twisted bits of metal left after a battle. The result is closer to epic poem that punk music and blows conventional heavy metal and speed metal out of the water with the sense of unbridled aggression and lust for life that surges through its passages. In addition, it carries on the mythological tradition of Slayer but adds a Nietzschean spin whereby constant war for supremacy and domination is the only path not only to victory, but to personal integrity.

Morbid Angel – Abominations of Desolation

Most prefer the more refined versions of these songs from Altars of Madness and Blessed Are the Sick, but my ear favors these nuanced and unsystematic detail-heavy songs which feature more of a blending of textures into what sounds like a communication from another world heard underwater or through the croaking voice of a medium. Trey Azagthoth’s solos were best when he used his half-whole step leaps to make solos that sounded like the creation of gnarly sculptures, and these songs powered by Mike Browning’s drums and voice have more of an organic jauntiness to them than the later mechanistic tanks-crushing-the-shopping-mall sound of the full albums. In addition, this combination of songs strays from the later more interruption-based riffing this band would attempt and instead brings out their inner desire to rip all ahead go at all times, creating a suspension of reality like war itself.

Incantation – Onward to Golgotha

When the idea comes to mind of death metal at its essence, this album will be mentioned because it creates a sound unlike anything else. Incantation took the Slayer riff and song formula and slowed it down, doubled the complexity, and focused on alternating tempos and riff styles to create a building mood of immersive darkness. The result was not only aggressive, but melancholic and contemplative, like a warrior looking out over an abandoned bullet-pocked city. Detuned riffs collide and deconstruct one another, resulting in a sound like the inexorable flow of black water through underground caverns as civilizations collapse above. This rare group of musicians achieved a triumph here that none have been able to repeat individually, suggesting this album was born of a magic confluence of ideas more than a process (ham sandwiches on a conveyor belt).

Carnage – Dark Recollections

If you want “the Swedish sound” at its most powerful, Dark Recollections offers every component synthesized into a package that has not yet had time to become self-critical and neurotic, and thus is an unfettered expression of the thoughts of precocious adolescents translated into sound. The components of Swedish death metal are the modified d-beat, the use of melody to expand song development, a gritty electric explosion of guitar sound, and a tendency to write songs that are half searing budget riff and half horror movie sound track.

Sepultura – Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation

The first EP in this two-EP package is the more classic death metal version and packs a solid blast of inventive riffcraft staged with theatrical precision into songs that form narratives of the topics denoted in their titles. But the riffs are instant creations of their own, shaped from raw chromaticism and whipped into fury by two levels of rhythm, both in the change of chords and the texturing of the sounding of them. The result owes quite a bit to Slayer, Bathory and Hellhammer, but also to the punk hardcore underlying those acts and a good knowledge of dark metal of the time, and yet is still its own animal. Nothing sounds like this except it, and by giving itself a unique voice, it conjures a power of revelation that endows these songs with lasting enjoyment for the listener.

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