Most metal journalism has a knack for identifying two particular things as “progressive”, none of which really are that. The first is incredibly messy music that obfuscates itself so much as to become an illegible carnival-fest of styles. The second is bands with tracks any longer than 3 minutes that deviates from pop format. My Hollow’s On Borrowed Time is a deathcore album that is experiencing the second of these two, using a strict rhythmic concordance as a restrictive chain that allows the rest of the musical dimensions to wander with a carefree liberty.
In deathcore, a heavily rhythm-based genre, the break-down-like passages lose their original meaning completely in a context that uses them for a completely different purpose than their original context intended them for. In the best moments in On Borrowed Time, My Hollow oddly attains a coherence through maintaining this rhythmic emphasis between different sections that can be either riff-oriented, melody oriented or pure-rhythm-oriented sections, successfully tying together otherwise disparate textures. This strict rhythmic concordance that becomes unbearable in most deathcore is used as an anchoring device that allows My Hollow to lash out with dangerously varied expression variety in the rest of the parameters that borders on the inconsistent.
When this strict rhythmic link is broken, the album degrades into a completely obscure incoherence all-too-common in this genre for pleasure-seekers with no attention span to speak of. When kept in check, the limitation it forces upon itself in its rhythmic component condemns the song to be a series of themes in wildly different landscapes akin to a collage of scenes with corresponding elements but no chronology or elaboration beyond the juxtaposition. Coherent tracks and spans of sections are unfortunately in the minority of On Borrowed Time, most of it descending into chaotic tough-guy feel-good nonsense.
Sporting the grindcore label, Maruta try very hard and not altogether without failure to insert technical deathcore riffcraft into a grindcore overall approach. While the technical abilities of the band is not in question as the musicianship in this album is superb and clinically precise, and neither is their creativity challenged, as they remain in focus in terms of style and approach through and through as they bring distinct ideas into the album, the premise of it all is not entirely convincing. The reason for this is that the carnival approach that the technical deathcore, although not completely incompatible with grindcore, is deficient by nature, bringing down the music against the effort of a talented band like Maruta.
Grindcore is known for short songs with abrupt beginnings and endings. The genre is characterized by spasmodic outbursts of madness with ventures into heavy and slightly groovy mid-paced sections whose focus remains on the brutality and aura of the music. All this is achieved by Maruta on Remain Dystopian, however, this is only the superficial description of the genre, the first impression it gives to an audience, and this is where most bands, including this one, get trapped. The grindcore of early Napalm Death, Blood or Repulsion can be described in that way, each with different percentages and variations of said description, but there is something that sets them apart from the crowd and it is that at the construction level, the relation between riffs is still carefully maintained. In Impulse to Destroy, Blood remains fluid through riff transitions even when the they switch between speeds or intensity levels, the smoothness within the song is maintained. At the risk of sounding contradictory, I would venture to say that even relatively abrupt transitions remained smoothed out through execution of small fills or very brief affectations that are characteristic of Blood. Maruta, on the other hand, obfuscate the music with the carnival approach of modern metal bands, creating interest through surprise instead of coherence and build up.
All in all Remain Dystopian is a far more accomplished effort than the vast majority of its contemporaries and fans of the genre should keep one eye on them. While fans of modern metal call this incoherence of the music “experimentation” and “nonconformity”, it all boils down to a lazy gimmick. Maruta has the technical chops, and they definitely have the vision as their focused compositions show us, but the chosen direction is perhaps not the best. Were Maruta to correct this direction and it is possible we would have a modern giant of grindcore in the making.
Protest deathcore band Xibalba have released a new video for their song “Guerrilla”. Playing an easy-to-understand style of heavy music for the masses, Xibalba find a strong audience among the disenfranchised members of the lower echelons of society looking for validation and a call to revolution by catering to their mental needs in their gang-themed revolution lyrics.
Approaching deathcore like a doom metal band, Castrator mix invariant riff-chorus pairs with extended solos over slower riffing and hybridize the chromatic riffing of their influences with Judas Priest style hard rock riffs. The strength is the melodic soloing which, while very much cut from a conventional metal/rock mold, guides the slowly looping slow-paced riffs to make an interesting atmospheric piece. Their death metal riffs however both conform strictly to archetypes and achieve no variance, so that a wall of extremely similar sound gives way to a solo, then repeats briefly and fades away. Many of these riffs stick to fixed patterns at a single note, which produces the kind of droning that made post-Suffocation clones excruciating. Melodic hooks drape over power chords in a backdoor way of creating a groove, but these become repetitive quickly as well and have the kind of pop tendencies that trivialize death metal. The vocals perhaps provide the strongest point of focus for this band, but that in turn becomes a weakness, because vocals alone cannot unite a loop of similar verse/chorus riffs with breakdowns into a song. The gruff monotone vocals keep a bass-heavy pulse going that drives songs forward with aggression and anger. While the band write catchy songs, the low internal complexity and archetypal riffing detract from the desire to hear this again.
Joy Division remain important for the world of music because most of 1980s indie aggregated Joy Division post-punk guitar technique into bouncy pop-punk and formed of it the post-rock which also influenced the chaotic post-hardcore that is the basis for metalcore and modern metal. Where the newer bands were totally circular, Joy Division created more of an unsettling atmosphere of unsystematic and dissymetric music.
The film pitches the idea that Curtis suicided because his diagnosis with epilepsy condemned him to the side-effects of the drugs he took for the condition, and the tendency of seizures to hit at moments of high emotion made him fear the things that ultimately fulfilled him, like band, family and friends. As a result he became increasingly isolated at the same time his symptoms increased, with the exception of his remora of a Euro-girlfriend, Annik Honore.
It’s an interesting thesis, but suicides are too often blamed on medical conditions instead of an honest perception of the utter misery of life. Control shows us the more innocent and purposeful world in which Joy Division arose, the strong bond between the men in the band, and the left field attack of fame and seductive power. Without being a Joy Division historian, it is hard to say how accurate its perspective is, and it may be 100% true, but Deborah Curtis gets shown in a kind light. To its credit, the film does not extensively vilify others, except perhaps the extramarital affair (I’m told these are now called “side bitches”) which is portrayed as parasitic in this and other sources.
What makes Control worth watching is that it portrays artistic force as the utterly incoherent thing that it is; musicians have no idea how to articulate what they are doing, and yet they do it and often incorporate a good deal of thinking into the end result despite being unable to explain it. If anything, the movie could have done with more band scenes — the actors practiced together and became a Joy Division cover band for the purpose of the movie, with actor Sam Riley’s interpretation of the songs as a more Morrisonian Joy Division sometimes giving them new power — and less of the family drama behind it, but it is good to see that included, as it is to see the environment in which this band arose. Joy Division remains provocative and adored to this day, joining a long line of controversial rock vocalists who self-destructed upon seeing the ruin that is modernity. Perhaps this movie would have been stronger if it, like The Doors, incorporated more of that vision, but as it is it makes for an interesting introduction to Joy Division and post-punk.
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.
Ara drop into a difficult niche of the metal market, trying to be a fusion between modern metal or “technical death metal” like later Gorguts and contemporary Unique Leader bands who incorporate a mix of old death metal and new deathcore styles. The result causes a necessary re-examination of the difference between death metal and modern metal.
In music, composition can take roughly three approaches which can result in nearly infinite forms. In the first approach, the main urge gratified is the need for repetition and so verse-chorus patterns provide the basis with a possible “ironic” or “bittersweet” contrasting turn-around, transition or bridge. This is the most common song format, which like common tempi and common keys is chosen for the convenience of cognition both by composer and audience. The second approach takes a different view which places form in the control of the song instead of the other way around. In structure dominant songwriting of this type, melody or phrases fit together into a narrative, and this narrative — representative of content — dictates form. The problem with this form is that it is difficult, because each piece must relate to all others, instead of a reduced external standard like merely being in the same key. The third form avoids the problems of the first two by being novelty-based and requiring very little commonality between parts of a song arrangement, and generally arose from the fusion of punk rock and progressive rock, which produced more complex punk rock that often had little relation to its parts beyond rhythm. This brings us to the present time, where the structure-based and novelty-based approaches war it out in metal.
During the 1960s, rock fragmented into multiple forms. One of these, starting with experiments by The Beatles and other big pop acts, was the progressive form in which song arrangement was dictated by the needs of a narrative to the music itself; not surprisingly, many of these works were built around literature, mythology or an intricate story arc of their own. This in turn spawned the most ambitious experiments with structure which came from the space ambient bands like Tangerine Dream who did away with drums and any of the fixed aspects of progressive rock that made their songs at least initially represent standard song form. The parents who bought this material were Baby Boomers, whose music buying years of 18-28 occurred mostly between 1964-1984, and their children — who generally hit maturity from 1984-1994 — were the Generation X musicians who created death metal and black metal, and many of them inherited their parents’ albums, which since underground metal seemed to attract a fairly intelligent crop, represented the more interesting music from the previous generation. Much of the influence of progressive rock and space ambient or cosmic music came through in this generation of metal, much like the influence of aggro-prog bands like King Crimson and Jethro Tull emerged in Black Sabbath the generation before. In addition, the instrumentals from Metallica such as “Anaesthesia (Pulling Teeth)” and “Orion” as well as the lengthy “epic” compositions of some late-1970s progressive-tinged heavy metal and guitar rock influenced the new generation. For this reason, when proto-underground metal combined heavy metal with hardcore punk, it also added the type of composition used in progressive rock, from which came the process by which Asphyx calls “riff-glueing” where riffs are mated to each other on the basis of a dialogue between the phrases used in them, discarding harmony as the sole basis of compatibility along with the late-1980s “progressive punk” idea of novelty-based composition. This gave death metal its most unique aspect: prismatic composition, or the ability for riffs to be repeated in successively different contexts, such that each new iteration reveals a new interpretation based on what came before, much as in a poem that uses the same technique with repeated lines like a villanelle. While this is often a relatively minor influence, as with Morbid Angel, it remains an influence on all death metal and the dividing line between it and the imitators.
The most significant influences on Ara look to be the post-Suffocation thread of percussive death metal culminating in Unique Leader bands like Deeds of Flesh through a more complex interpretation of late-90s bands like Internal Bleeding and Dying Fetus, the 2010s interpretation of that as hybrid indie-rock known as “technical death metal” or modern metal, and old school progressive death metal like Gorguts Obscura and Demilich Nespithe. These influence style, not necessarily content, although when bands lose direction they reverse the compositional process and have style determine content, as opposed to the better method of having content select style. Ara show an insight into both riffcraft, or the act of writing riffs themselves, and the type of transitions in song that give meaning to previous riffs by shifting context. Unfortunately, they attempt to make music within the novelty-based style which interrupts itself to provide contrast instead of relying on the inherent contrast produced by such transitional moments. Bassy vocals ride herd on a stream of relatively unrelated riffs, sometimes culminating in a moment of parallax transferrence where a new riff makes the past seem to mean something entirely different, over precision technical drums. Riff forms borrow from “technical death metal,” itself a fusion of post-hardcore and lite jazz with the degraded simplified forms of late-90s death metal, and so a great variety of technique serves as the basis of these riffs, but unfortunately often this makes the riff a function of the technique and not vice-versa. If someone were to give this band good advice, it would be to look to those transitional moments and the riffs that really define each song and make all of the other riffs lead up to and support that moment even through opposing themes, which is a better method of contrast than attempting to shock the ear with radically difference or irony to the previous riff through technique alone. They have clearly mastered technique, as flourishes and fills which show influence from Gorguts and Demilich as well as a host of other metal and non-metal influences reveal, but it is the underlying structure of a song in such a way that evokes meaning which eludes them.
Devourer of Worlds contains a good album waiting to get out, but as it stands now, it forms painful listening because of its internal disorganization and reliance on technique alone. That makes it so much like two aspects of modern society, marketing and ideology, which serve as denial of reality using the mechanism of language and image to convince people that there is a way around the obvious realities of life. One can either focus on reality and deal with its limitations and implications, or look to symbols as a form of reality and manipulate those and then claim the result is the same as one innate to reality itself. All marketing, including advertising and propaganda, and all ideology, which combines prescriptive reasoning with propaganda to make the recipient feel pleasure at the rightness of a decision instead of its likely positive results, fit within this range of form dictating content and not the other way around. If reality is content, the form we should admire is that which fits to reality; when form is content, reality becomes secondary and we retreat into a ghetto of the human mind and forget about implication for what will result. As with all art, in music when the surface becomes predominant over content, it requires the core of each song to simplify itself or become near-random, at which point the work loses any sense of being memorable or meaningful and must content itself with novelty. These songs tend toward circularity, or cycling between two or three ideas which serve as a backdrop for the main action which is expressed through technique. This quandary calls to mind the break between the third and fourth Pestilence albums: Testimony of the Ancients increased the technicality of each song, but this put more emphasis into technique of each riff and less into the riff itself, which caused the band to rely on anchored harmonic positions much as in rock and embellish those with fills, which created relatively static phrases and as a result, simplified songs. On the album that followed, Spheres, Pestilence attempted to correct this with more guitar/synth leads and riffier songs, both returning to their earliest work but still remaining stranded within the simple-core complex-surface approach that the outward-in method of using technique to compose creates.
What makes music great as opposed to passable or adequate for a few weeks’ listening is this ability to both reflect reality and give it meaning by showing a response to it that sings of its strengths and reveals purpose to its weaknesses. All songs are in actuality songs of praise for the existence which we lead, avoiding the reaction of the human being — a type of surface-level form instead of content — and looking toward the effects on our lives as they are. These can take the form of harsh criticism of that which is unrealistic, including methods of control like ideology and advertising, and can even indulge fantasy which is different from reality but reveals it through metaphor, but they rarely include the “Vote for me and all will be perfect forever!” and “This product will make you smart, sexy and successful!” that surface-level thinking promotes. Ara are caught forever between the two and are facing the mortal certainty of choice by which the individual goes down one path to the exclusion of all others, and thus defines their life as surely as death itself, and this buries their strengths among their least auspicious tendencies. While Devourer of Worlds shows vast improvement over 2013’s The Blessed Sleep, its tendencies toward what is called metalcore — which is either a hybrid of death metal and late hardcore, as I argue, or simply incompetent death metal as others have asserted — prevent it from reaching the heights possible for these songwriters.
Adam Bujny – Vocals
Jerry Hauppa – Guitars
James Becker – Bass/Vocals
Erik Stenglein – Drums
The music fan possesses limited resources to achieve the goal of an enjoyable listening experience: time, money and energy. Reviewers tend to write about how cool everything is, but they should be writing about how mediocre most albums are so they can focus on the few that can be enjoyed for the next few years at least. It is hard to be cruel, but it is kinder than kindness. With that I introduce our latest round of Sadistic Metal Reviews…
Villainy – Villainy I
This enjoyable little romp reminds the death metal listener of later Sentenced crossed with the Venom-worship of Nifelheim and other bands who, in the old school days, were simply referred to as Venom tributes. Heavy metal genre riffing, combining the best tropes of the late 1970s and early 1980s, meets a harsh Cronos-styled vocal and updated technique. Nothing sloppy here; the band are tight and the arrangements show no spurious detail. However, despite the somewhat harsh vocals, like Venom this is NWOBHM and 1970s heavy metal revivalism without any particular relevance beyond that era. It skips speed metal textures for a death/black metal styled fast strum and continuous drumming as if taking notes from Merciless, and injects melody, but mostly stays within verse-chorus with introductory and transitional riffs different. The riff forms will be familiar to fans of heavy metal from that era. Lead guitar strikes a pentatonic blitz that is both enjoyable and very much within form. Unlike Merciless however this album focuses on writing hard rocking tunes and does not develop an evolving mood or atmosphere beneath.
Tenebrous – Arias Toward the Black Sun
Underground metal needs a new trope for a certain type of composition which appears frequently among our ranks. I dub this “80s situational comedy” after the movies where a character makes a bad decision, then to hide it chooses another bad option, then deceives and conceals in a string of events leading to absurdity and eventual plot collapse. Sitcom metal occurs when a band finds a riff they like and write other riffs to fit that riff without having an awareness of what the riff communicates emotionally to the listener, thus what the song is actually about, and so you end up with a cool riff and reactions to that riff which are designed to put it into context but ultimately have the opposite effect. Tenebrous fits this pattern through its work in a style that combines a whole lot of Graveland with some of the more aggressive strains of black metal. They have mastered the basic flowing riff, but not building a song around it, only building a song commenting on it. This is underscored by the cover of “Unpunished Herd” which ends the album and makes the rest of it look incoherent in contrast.
Pagan Flames – Symbol de Vie et Lumiere
This atmospheric black metal band combines Burzum-styled lead folk melodies over sweeping guitar riffs. Its strength is its melodic composition; its weaknesses are its vocals, which focus on rhythms that are too obvious and thus trite, and its tendency to try to work slamming full-stop and bounce rhythms into what should be a more continuous architecture. Barring those two disadvantages, Symbol de Vie et Lumiere presents black metal that unlike most recent efforts tries for the ancient, melancholic and epic warlike sound that made this genre popular before idiots invaded with thinly-disguised rock music to keep the mouth-breathers occupied. Many of these songs verge on being folk music itself and like the Darkthrone sidepoject Storm, feature trudging rhythms over which pagan lyrics are chanted to volkisch-reminiscent melodies. The fractured aesthetic presented by the overly busy vocals and tendency toward self-interruption with choppier rhythms narrowly keeps this album from being top tier but it distinguishes itself on its essence — attempting to write actual music through melody — from the formless legions of tryhards, shoegazers and hard rockers trying to use black metal as a vehicle for their own failed prior attempts at other genres.
Skrømt – Sjelebrann
Not since Disharmonic Orchestra Not to be Undimensional Conscious has a hybrid of this variety yet which retained its ability to express itself been cast among the metal minions. Skrømt combine alternative metal, post-metal, rough punk and older black metal influences (Ancient, Enslaved) into a form which keeps the catchy songwriting of indie rock bands but fleshes it out with a rich backdrop of shifting harmonic texture and, like metal, combines multiple riffs into chains to create a moveable part of a narrative. For the most part, songs stick to verse-chorus as augmented by background material and sometimes with a second instrumental chorus to expand upon the first loop. Like alternative metal, songs guide themselves through the vocals and the presentation of lyrics in a combination of shouted, sung and harsh vocals. Where this goes wrong is that rock and metal do not mix on an aesthetic and thus artistic level, and so the end result is rock gilded with metal riffs which are quickly absorbed, and some of the best work of this album exists in the shadow of the alternative rock tropes that it stands far superior to. This is unfortunate as clearly many good ideas and musical insights went into this album. Most inspiring in this release is the technical work applied to making the various riffs and styles fit together. It is rare for a band to understand how to connect different emotions together without following a blatant formula, but Skrømt stitches together multiple moods and styles into a coherent whole on a musical level, even if making it work on an aesthetic level seems difficult.
Church of the Dead – Vol. 4 – Meet Me in the Tomb
The term “cultural appropriation” seems trendy these days but few realize what it means. Blatant theft of the cultural methods of another group is too easily detected, so people appropriate those cultural methods by translating them into a form that most will not recognize. In this case, while Church of the Dead clearly uses death metal riffs and death metal vocals, its vocal rhythms are influenced by rap and its riff rhythms are closer to Motown than standard issue death metal. Thus while this disc shows some musical promise, it remains a confused aberration that wants to be in one genre but keeps itself in another, losing the spirit and atmosphere of that genre. Each piece tends to feature both Cannibal Corpse style trope cadence rhythm vocals and sing-song jingle-style vocals, making these hard to listen to without a wincing cringe, but also internalizes groove to the point where riffs take a basis in Morbid Angel and Malevolent Creation and become closer to Pantera. As a result, despite the many positives for this album, the overall negative is that its overall presentation is bouncy, poppy, and very much “rock” and not metal in form.
Deep Wound – Deep Wound EP
At some level all hardcore punk approximates the same thing because the genre solidified certain tropes and combined with the mathematical limitations on complexity, these defined the variety of punk songs. Deep Wound creates songs that sound either like Black Flag without the dissonance, or early Corrosion of Conformity without so many pauses. The vocals strikes a jaunty and sarcastic pause when they are not in full blur mode. As far as thrash goes, this is closer to the punk side like the first DRI LP, and its riffs are less metal than hardcore in minor key, but it beats the recent “crossover thrash” rebranding that verges too much on speed metal territory and becomes either tame or inanely jingle-y as a result. The hardcore spirit lives faithfully in this music but because of the vast similarity of hardcore, it also does not stand out in any particular way — riffs are not radically different, nor song forms, nor even vocals — so qualifies as a fun listen but not as definitive as the albums from DRI, Cryptic Slaughter and COC that defined thrash as a genre. However, this stands head and shoulders above the “party thrash” of recent years and by coming at the genre from the hardcore side, brings in an energetic simplicity that metal riffs make too complex to self-sustain.
Nidsang – Into the World of Dissolving Flames
Basic black metal combined with Angelcorpse-style aggression, but leaning on the latter for songwriting. As a result, not much atmosphere but plentiful aggression. Melodic riffing adds some depth but consistent song form and intensity rob this album of much enduring power.
Aborted – The Necrotic Manifesto
Aborted took their high-intensity low-complexity grind and gave it the modern metal (a/k/a deathcore) treatment which made it more chaotic. The more elements you add, the more internal complexity (melody, structure, theme) you must have or you reduce your core complexity to nothing, which is what happens here. Catchy chorus + two grinding riffs + hard rock influences.
Abysmal Dawn – Obsolescence
Workable death metal with heavy metal influences in abundant lead soloing, melodic riffing and catchy choruses. Very paint-by-numbers however with not much of an intent to put anything into a song but energy and internal cohesion. Good riffs give it strength but do not make it compelling; modern-metal-style chanted choruses ahead of the riff also increase frustration.
Cemetery Fog – Towards the Gates
This attempt at Paradise Lost-styled doom metal is both well-composed and artistically relevant, but highly cheesy from the use of melodies that directly gratify pop instincts to the occasional female vocals which aesthetically create the type of cheese that Motley Crue could only dream of. Songs are well-written and express a unique form and content for each, even though they drone on through a series of heavy metal riffs slowed down and are united by a melodic lead shadowed by vocals. While not bad, this makes the album as a whole somewhat sentimental in the sort of obvious Thomas Kinkade calendar way that drives away people like me, but it would be remiss to not notice the quality of songwriting here.
Abigor – Leytmotif Lucifer
Black metal needs to stay black metal. Abigor try to work in late Gorgoroth through early Deathspell Omega influences and it makes their already spotty music more spotty. Some good melodies, no continuity, too much style.
Aevangelist – Writhes in the Murk
Imagine Teitanblood with melodic riffing and slowed down to fast mid-paced death metal. The one cool effect here is the use of abrupt transitions to create a theatrical effect, but the lack of underlying riff and song consistency makes even this seem hollow.
Bethlehem – Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia
Most will notice the creeping Rammstein influence: clean vocals, more dance-able beats, more pronounced use of German lyrics. However, a good deal of this sounds like recent Absurd as well with more of a folk influence creeping in and while the rhythms are more popular music friendly, they are far from industrial, and what appears instead more resembles NWOBHM with more groove than the quasi-modernist sound of Rammstein. Otherwise, the riff wizardry remains but is muted, with more emphasis on vocals and repetitive choruses, but generally these songs fit together well musically and develop an internal melodic sense that produces a multifacted atmosphere.
Agatus – Dawn of Martyrdom (re-issue)
Sort of like a cross between Legion of Doom and old Rotting Christ, Agatus uses the full punk style of even strumming speed creating droning riffs. These are pleasurable in themselves, and fit together well in songs, but they are both too obvious as melodies/phrases and too similar as rhythm riffs to make this work. In addition, many of the melodic choices here are simply rudimentary crossing into bad. This could have been an epic album if a more critical eye had been applied during composition.
Acheron – Kultes des Hasses
The challenge to Acheron has always been to overcome their cadenced rhythm that comes to a full stop in perfect symmetry, sounding a bit like a child’s song. On this latest album they work up the usual assortment of great riffs in bad rhythm and occasional disorganized order.
Baphometh – In the Beginning
Essentially speed metal with plenty of repetition, catchy choruses and circular song structure, this band nonetheless adopts death metal vocals. However, it is better for fans of B-rated Metallica and Exodus clones than anything newer. While none of this is incompetent, songs have no center around any kind of conflict, so the general mode is repetition and circularity.
Authorize – The Source of Dominion
Thudding, predictable, circular and confused, Authorize are Swedish death metal in the style of Suffer but with none of what holds songs together or makes them anything but basic guitar practice. Lead guitars totally incongruous, other elements equally out of place. Should have stayed unreleased.
Aurora Borealis – Worldshaper
The melodic death metal band works Absu-style jaunty vocals into the mix, but they take over composition too much. Riffs follow the vocal lead which dominants rhythm and creates a kind of circus atmosphere with the MC describing each act and then the trained bears of the riffs, clowns of the background vocals and highwire dancers of guitars take over. Sounds a lot like Warfather but more melody.
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.