Deathspell Omega – The Synarchy of Molten Bones (2016)

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Article by Lance Viggiano.

Deathspell Omega return with another uninspired and uninspiring record entitled The Synarchy of Molten Bones. Their last record, Paracletus, was built on a foundation of Voivod-lite chords executed with the alt metal sensibilities of The Dillinger Escape Plan. In an effort to build ambience, additional guitar tracks would attempt to produce a microtonal effect without actual production of microtones; just more dissonance. These techniques were then deployed over pop-leaning melodies which become pronounced should one decide to hum the otherwise atonal morass.

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The Mystic Tradition in Metal

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As a movement arising from in the post-modernist era but against this establishment, metal has often taken connotations of mysticism. To further clarify this position we must stress that contrary to what seems to be the popular understanding, mysticism is anything but superstitious. Mysticism was the response of lone wolves, singled-out intellectuals and contra-status-quo savants  to established and unquestioned dogma for hundreds of years. Come the age of post-Enlightment scientific-mechanistic materialism, it was the mystics who opposed its arrogance as well: the pretension of the mechanistic paradigm of the sciences that attempted to define reality only by what they could account for within the limitations of their formulae. Mysticism cannot be defined as a philosophical current per se, because its tradition is one of scattered individuals barely connected in a network that spans through cultures and time as well as transcending gender and race as the privilege of those who rise above the self-centered and limited vision of the societies into which they were born.

When referring to metal in this elevated manner, we are referring to the best of the best, and to those who upheld a deeper view of the genre while crystallizing the view with great musical prowess. Both need to be present, the power of a dialectical mind and the divine rapture that lights the unconscious and undefinable. As was explained, mysticism as a tradition is more of a method and a mindset that parts from the notion that experience cannot be shared and that the best attempts to communicating deeper and holistic experiences come from the use of objects and language as opaque symbols that indicate relations and motions rather than refer back to the physical object or original “logical” concept they were referring to. What Cusanus refers to as the “coincidence of opposites” and others as the all in all, the all in one and the one in all — the universe in a drop of water.

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These elite metal artists that do not follow directly after each other but appear consciously independent of one another (Iommi, Quorthon, Hanneman, Warrior, Azagthoth, Vikernes, Ledney, among others) illustrate in ways that seek to evoke and communicate first, and consider artistry as an after thought, if at all. A latent danger of aesthetic lawlessness may be perceived here that has been adopted by lesser minds in their confusion about how to go about implementing this. The mystic artist does not do away with language or convention altogether, he bends it so that words and expressions create impressions. The original meaning of the figure of speech/music or term has to be known by the audience for them to understand the solidification and transposition that the artist puts the symbol through.

As a way of illustration we can take repetition, which in classical tradition is used minimally for the audience to get acquainted with an idea, is used in metal for mood-setting and an entrancing — a setting-out in a grand adventure or a passing-through the gates of perception into another plane. The proportion of repetition in relation to the length and weight of other sections as well as a consideration of their individual properties and relations between the sections, structures and riffs all weigh on the mind of the gifted and mindful artist.

The chaos of bands like late Deathspell Omega that seek to shock and produce a random feeling of overwhelming disorientation can never communicate anything more than a blatant sense of disorder. That is the limitation of such experimental or avant-garde bands: their revolution is only skin deep and being concerned with appearances and the effect of how changing these directly affect the experience. Metal in its highest mystic expression will use the existing language as it is, allowing the significance of symbols (cadences, ascending or descending melodies, percussion, etc) retain a semblance of their original function while their actual usage is shifted to point to the indescribable and unrepresentable meaning, becoming the vehicle for new relations directed by the mind of the composer — a method illustrated but little comprehended in Ludwig van Beethoven’s process.

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But understanding of this Platonic acknowledgement is not given to most and so interpretation of metal’s nature gets diluted and bastardized to terms such as “playing with feeling” or  “being heavy” that barely scratch the surface. We understand these and their superficial descriptions, but when in the hands of the uninitiated, such simplification becomes the total understanding and decadence of a movement becomes imminent as ideas are perverted by inferior comprehension. Metal was started and carried forward at each meaningful juncture by one of these luminaries, and while a few lost underground gems wrought by excellent minds can be found in caves, in between, there was only uncountable fodder.

As a mystic understanding and reaching for the Dionysian through differing Apollonian guises metal seeks to discretely transmit glimpses of phenomena that recur in and around us. A reality that flows and changes state producing what we know as time, but that remains one and the same through and through from beginning to end.

“True, authentic being consists in our ability to let all that is be as and how it is, not distorting it, not denying its own being and its own nature to it.”

— Jan Patočka

 

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S.V.E.S.T. – Urfaust (2003)

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Playing a style of black metal that became more prominent and perhaps common after the turn of the century, S.V.E.S.T.’s “atmospheric” approach is of the sort that creates a fog out of different layers of intsruments playing different notes to form dissonant chords and having the drums by a vehicle for intensity. Although black metal per se has inclinations towards minimalism and ambience, this explicit brand of atmospheric black metal stretches song durations as long as it is necessary to induce the sense of evaporating time and alienating experience they are looking for.  While many different bands can claim to be part of this, very few retained an anchor in reality and still building something meaningful. S.V.E.S.T. Urfaust is such an album.

The way this balance is achieved in a style of black metal attempting to create a chaotic semblance is to always have one element that is static in proportion to how much other things vary or lash out wildly. For example, this band always keeps some sort of diffuse organlike notes playing in the background, either with some kind of synth or with tremolo-picked guitars, while the drums change slightly more freely, but always responding to changes in the music as a whole, and the lead guitars are allowed to roam around more freely creating the and blending the motifs that lend each piece its personality in a background that is a raging maelstrom.

Of course, the counterpoint between instruments needs to be maintained, it will not do to have an heavy riff underscored by drum patterns that take away the attention from a center in the music  and rather give us two shows in one. Such an event spells out incoherence. The controlled way in which such chaotic force is wielded strongly calls to mind the prophetic work of Colombian pioneers Parabellum.

Urfaust is a gem of an offering whose music lends itself to an esoteric interpretation. Listened to from afar or in a distracted manner, the music may be perceived as a simple repetition of ideas throughout a long time. In part, this effect is intended as the listener is expected to lose himself in the music, instead of counting measures and the number of times this or that theme come and go. Furthermore, the density of the layers covering the details is such that to pierce the uniformity, the listener experiencing this must become acquainted with it in an almost meditative state in repeated visits.

In this, it is similar to the roads taken by Abyssum Cum Foeda Sanie Ex Ore, Kaeck Stormkult and Paysage D’Hiver’s eponymous album. All this leads to an effect in which content is blurred from an unattending audience but revealed to a foccused attention that can both let the music flow and attend to the relationships within it. Masterful music that achieves this must embed these details, progressions and variations behind a strong veil of consistency that also serves to preserve coherence in a rather forceful manner that is vindicated by the overall balance achieved.

This album has an art music work orientation with respect to its overall orientation in concept and publication. First of all, this is a three-song full-length album in which the songs are movements that belong together and not a collection of three songs. The relationship goes beyond a very clear and distinctive choice in voice and is made explicit in motifs throughout the album, with its most obvious gesture being that the opening section of the album in the first movement is the same as the closing one in the third. Another example worthy of attention and presenting an immersive experience is Fanisk Noontide.

The element of chaos is, of course, a metaphorical one, represented in disorienting rhythms that quickly come back to a stable state and are safely supported by anchors. It is their repetition, variation, combination and alternation between different motifs along with the unrelenting percussive attack that create the picture of crumbling sanity from compositions that are technically firm and delineated.

This is where a band like S.V.E.S.T. far surpasses the uncontrolled madness of later Deathspell Omega which incurred in a common mistake in  nu-black metal: the attempt of becoming the atmosphere itself. The so-called experimental disorganization and hispterish disavowal of rules for the sake of breaking conventions displayed by Deathspell Omega leads them to the lazy decision to try to portray chaos by actually making a huge mess out of the music.  Unfortunately, S.V.E.S.T. later took from this band the idea of uncontrolled freedom in fits of post-modern delirium.

The vulgar idea of attempting to imitate what is being portrayed in an overtly obvious and direct manner is not new, although in our era the clowns doing it come out to the unaware as being original thinkers of some kind. Great masters of music like Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach played in this line and warned themselves and others of the dangers of falling to either side of the narrow wall that music forms between evocation and aesthetics. S.V.E.S.T Urfaust stands proudly and firmly as a monument to this balance where both music is preserved in its formality yet evocation and idea envelop it as the non-destructive organization and manipulation of the aesthetics themselves become the door and medium to the experience.

“(…)a symphony of Beethoven presents to us the greatest confusion, which yet has the most perfect order at its foundation, the most vehement conflict, which is transformed the next moment into the most beautiful concord. It is rerum concordia discors, a true and perfect picture of the nature of the world which rolls on in the boundless maze of innumerable forms, and through constant destruction, supports itself. But in this symphony all human passions and emotions also find utterance; joy, sorrow, love, hatred, terror, hope, etc., in innumerable degrees, yet all, as it were, only in abstracto, and without any particularization; it is the mere form without the substance, like a spirit world without matter. Certainly we have a tendency to realize them while we listen, to clothe them in imagination with flesh and bones, and to see in them scenes of life and nature on every hand. Yet, taken generally, this is not required for their comprehension, or enjoyment, but rather imparts to them a foreign and arbitrary addition; therefore it is better to apprehend them in their immediacy and purity.”

— Arthur Schopenhauer

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Nex Carnis – Obscure Visions of Dark

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Iranian band Nex Carnis plays death metal in the old school vein with flashes of what they describe as experimentation. The actual state of affairs is a little different. The old school differences are pretty clear as one can hear the spirit of Morbid Angel and Sinister in the music.  But there is also a tendency towards phrasings and sound paintings that would be completely at home with more surreptitiously mainstream acts like Sylosis or Goatwhore. Regarding the descriptive term experimental there is much to be said.

To begin with, every time the word experimental is used to describe any album, it causes cautious eyebrows to be raised. Here is a wiki-description of what is  experimental music:

Elements of experimental music include indeterminate music in which the composer introduces the elements of chance or unpredictability with regard to either the composition or its performance. There are many ideas broadly utilized by experimental musicians which are not, however, strictly experimental music concepts, having seen significant application prior to the advent of experimental music, particularly by the avant garde. Examples include: extended techniques (Instrumental or vocal performance techniques that step outside (often far outside) conventional performance techniques) and graphic notation (music which is written in the form of diagrams or drawings. Other elements include “Prepared” instruments—ordinary instruments modified in their tuning or sound-producing characteristics; using instruments, tunings, rhythms or scales from non-Western musical traditions; using sound sources other than conventional musical instruments, such as trash cans, telephone ringers, or doors slamming; creating experimental musical instruments for enhancing the timbre of compositions and exploring new techniques or possibilities; using a tape loop to create a tape phase; and removing perceived barriers of traditional concert settings by putting performers scattered among the audience.

In other words, mostly gimmicky music. Music that intends to attract through the use of unconventional techniques. The very nature of experimental music, it has huge pitfalls, a dangerous land which only the most visionary and steadfast artists tread safely. One of these treks was successfully undertaken by the Candian band Gorguts and  the result was Obscura. Incredibly aware and well-constructed, but also conventional and even orthodox death metal which could only be described as experimental in regards to the guitar techniques, pitches and noises they used in their improvisation-born riffs.

Obscure Visions of Dark, however, are more in line with the experimentation as exemplified by Deathspell Omega. Although not going to the extreme that band went to, Nex Carnis’ music is characterized by digressions and branch-outs from the main ideas in the songs. These often take the form of atmospheric interludes. Nex Carnis will appeal to Deathspell Omega fans looking for something slightly more conventional and inconspicuous.

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Deathspell Omega – Paracletus (2010)

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The secret to excellent marketing is found in the word “different.” A successful salesperson puts a surface on an ordinary product so it appears new, luxurious or otherwise distinctive. In music, the best method is to put a new surface on whatever is trendy at the time. Thus cloaked, it allows its listeners to appreciate the same stuff everyone else is listening to, but with its different appearance, they can claim they are different and unique special snowflakes.

Deathspell Omega took the idea of the metalcore dominant at its time — mix up dissonant and technical or jazzy riffing with metal riffs in carnival-style rotational song order based on internal interruption — and put a black metal face on it. For black metal, it relied on what Ulver and Satyricon did, which was to create long melodies that start impressively but go nowhere and require the song structure to intervene “dramatically” and interrupt before people realize that the melody is like the rambling of a drunken person. On top of this, they put choppy technical-style riffing and dissonant chords, but keep the focus on the vocals to distract from the carnival music nature of this randomness, tying it together with rhythm and the strong vocal as post-black bands like Behemoth did.

If the vocals were removed, good portions of this album would appear to have come from recent Cynic albums. Often a jazzy break goes right into hard rock riffing that comes from the pop canon, but as if the band becomes self-conscious, a more violent riff intervenes. The real problem here — as in all rock-derived music — is that unlike metal, this is vocal-driven not riff-driven. The riffs tag along for the ride as the voice tells you things it thinks you want to hear. As such, Paracletus is not only a pretender to the black metal throne, but worse, is musically incoherent which results in mental confusion and boredom.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews: Androgel Edition

Androgel is a testosterone supplement that you take when you’ve heard too much weepy mainstream pseudo-metal and become a useless person. Here’s a list of bands designed to make you mute, impotent and masturbatorily dramatic.

wolves_in_the_throne_room-celestial_lineageWolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage

For a band supposedly attempting to harness the beauty of nature, this is an astonishingly vapid album. Bland synths interact with tired black metal riffs you’ve heard too many times before…but then again, recycling is green. Listening to this album gives me the overwhelming urge to buy a used Scion, then take my Macbook to Starbucks and drink overpriced coffee. There’s nothing resembling wolves here, more like domesticated house dogs. For music that actually plumbs the full depths of nature in its transcendent glory and gore, see Ildjarn.

agalloch-marrow_of_the_spiritAgalloch – Marrow of the Spirit

When hipsters want to play metal, what do they do? Well, after picking up a Frappuccino they head to Guitar Center and get lessons on how play guitar solos, pick up a few effects pedals, and buy a chord progression songbook. After studying said book for three months, they book studio time and record their album. The vocalist is into that “heavier shit, brah” and thus records his vocals in the style of a strangled animal. The guitarist is into pop rock and thus records bouncy powerchords in that style, though sometimes gets a bit adventurous and throws in a folksy breakdown. Meanwhile, the drummer was arrested for selling marijuana under the overpass and has to be replaced by the local high-school band teacher, who really can’t stand this music but needs some extra cash. The band finishes recording and takes the finished project to their fair trade commune, where the community listens to it while getting stoned and spray-painting peace signs on walls. Afterwards, the band teacher goes into class and tells his students; “Don’t ever turn into those people.”

skinless-progression_towards_evilSkinless – Progression Towards Evil

Big news this week is that thud-metal band Skinless has reformed with a new guitarist named Dave Matthews. Cue jokes about Dave Matthews Band, who more resemble Opeth than Skinless. The truth is that if Skinless started playing Dave Matthews covers, it would be a huge improvement. There would be… like… music and stuff to it. Instead, we go down memory lane to the first Skinless album, which is the musical equivalent of opening your high school locker with your forehead. Peel back the skin, and this is standard grunt-and-bash death metal of the type that was an also-ran back in the day. But say what you want about the Skinless guys, they’re good businessmen. So what do with generic metal? Dress it up as a new style influenced by hip-hop and techno that uses breakdowns like a rave set and jaunty bounce riffs like nu-metal if it were influenced by underground hip hop. The result is this: thud thud thud, thud thud thud, whuuuttttt, smash smash thud thud, thud. These rhythms are catchy in the same way sirens on emergency vehicles are. And it’s death metal in the same way Apollo 13 was a successful mission.

opeth-heritageOpeth – Heritage

Opeth stopped pretending to have balls and have now fully embraced their feminine side. This is a good thing because they were never “heavy” or “death metal” in the first place, but here their true nature is proudly on display: angry fat women complaining about washing the dishes because it interferes with their power block of eating cheesecake while crying to daytime soap operas. Perhaps the most honest Opeth album yet, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a sign of legitimacy — it’s still Melissa Etheridge with Jeff Goldbloom on vocals.

in_solitude-sisterIn Solitude – Sister

Avril Lavigne parodying the demo from post VON project Sixx, only not as apt. Like other Swedish pyramid scheme acts like Tribulation, Repugnant, Ghost, and other bands created by androgynous men who lack the ability to grow facial hair, listening to In Solitude is akin to getting a chemical castration and attending a Culture Club concert simultaneously.

skinless-from_sacrifice_to_survivalSkinless – From Sacrifice to Survival

This is another stunner from Skinless. Imagine that you took someone, and drilled through his forebrain and sucked out the tissue. Hollow-headed, he might turn to a record store and come home with this one and love it. Its heritage betrays a link to Pantera, who also liked stop-start riffs with chromatic progressions, but this is almost amusical. It is “first five frets” music exclusively, in chromatic patterns exclusively, using the most bone-poundingly basic rhythms, exclusively. It sounds like a special education field trip to a dynamite testing plant.

blut_aus_nord-777_sectsBlut Aus Nord – 777 Sect(s)

Clearly this band took Fenriz literally when he said black metal consisted of playing up and down the neck. Seemingly random chromatic riffs inch their way up and down with nothing connecting one section of a song to another. Sounding like a bastardized version of modern black metal and Godflesh-style industrial grindcore, confusion runs rampant over aggression. While this album may appeal to hearing-impaired wrist-slashers, it has nothing to offer functional people.

forestfather-hereafterForestfather – Hereafter

The end product of metal-archives regulars finding a way to make Ulver’s first album have more indie rock parts and appeal to Meatloaf fans, this brain bleaching, testosterone sapping travesty has no purpose other than to appear as another “artsy” product that hopes to one day occupy the same void of purpose Wolves in the Throne Room currently inhabit.

skinless-trample_the_weakSkinless – Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead

The tragedy of this album is that Skinless finally refined their formula to the point where it rolls smoothly out of their instruments like an infectious bowel movement. What makes it tragic is that, despite being at the top of its game, this music still sucks in ways that would require a thousand philosopher-kings to explicate fully. The basic problem is that it aims at a moronic vision of music. In this vision, people want very basic riffs pounded into their heads. These riffs must resemble the process of hammering a stump out of the ground or beating dead horses. As with most truly annoying and terrible albums, there’s nothing wrong with the musicianship or even songwriting ability. It’s just that Skinless intends to make music for morons doing moronic loud and repetitive things, and they succeed. And now they’re back, and THEY’RE GOING TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN. AAAAAAHHHHHHNNOOOOOOOO!!!

deathspell_omega-paracletusDeathspell Omega – Paracletus

How these albums get filed under black metal astonishes me, as inept metalcore and 2 DEEP 4 U lyrics are all this band has to offer. If you think: “Hey, that sounds like every transcendental French post-black metal band in existence”, you’d be right. ANGRY MAN vocals are present, but it’s never clear what exactly he’s angry about.

Let’s take a look at the lyrics for a clue:

Two glances overwhelmed with woes
Reflecting the echoes of a fall upon a bed of rocks
Such a hideous clamour
An agony that stained the azure
The light of the world
And the wretched olive tree
Stars receded with shaking grace
Degraded holy essence, the third hypostasis

Well, that clears it up.

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