Article by David Rosales
Chthe’ilist’s debut has been expected by underground death metal fans for some time. To them, it seems like a promising project faithful to the ideals of atmospheric technical bands such as Demilich and Timeghoul, from whom it takes unmistakable cues. Less fortunate are the influences of popular (in the underground) but ultimately less effective acts Rippikoulu and Crematory. The first two lend a constructive helping hand while Crematory’s contribution distracts with purely technical and empty nonsense detached from clear evocation, and the unimpressive Rippikoulu lends its spacious approach that suffers from the blunders of Wagnerian operas: sparsely located treasures in a sea of boredom. Worth mentioning are a couple of very Voivodesque moments that are surprisingly integrated in a way that they do not seem out of place.
There are several reasons why this release is worth taking a close look at independently of how close we consider it to come to a masterpiece. Existing reviews come awfully short of a real musical insight, opting instead to spend a huge chunk of the time in talking about how cool the guys in the band are, or how ‘awesome’ the vibe is. They are utterly useless when they reach their faux attempts at providing any meaningful observations on the technical side of things. At most, they manage a colorful picture of the mental impressions that the music gives them; this at least is inspiring. Chthe’ilist’s album gives us so much more to discuss not only from its plentiful contents but what they relate to as descendants and composers.
In the interest of a well-rounded critique, Le Dernier Crépuscule should be observed from two different vantage points. The first is to place it within its historical context, and keep present whatever musical influences it appears to have. The second is to ignore everything but our intuition (which is dependent on past experience and understanding, in any case), so that we allow it to articulate and speak out for itself as it draws energy from predecessors we take notice only as an afterthought.
I. Technical Overview
Le Dernier Crépuscule can be roughly divided into two sections, the first consisting of the first five tracks and the second of the remaining two. The first track itself should probably be excluded as it is little more than an intro. The structuring of the next four follows a certain pattern while the last two each follow a freer approach than the one preceding them. The first is Crematory-dominated, while the last increasingly shows a predominant Timeghoul presence. Throughout the record one finds Demilich’s riff style in about half of the individual riffs. This emulation ranges from almost outright shoplifting from Nespithe to more respectable yet still recognizable inspiration. The rest of the riffs also contain the less distinct (read as ‘more random’) but technically recognizable influence of Crematory and some war metal filler while the more creative and original single sections probably come from general Timeghoul influence, which allows for more open interpretation.
Tracks two to five follow a rough plan of riff variations1 lined up one after the other until the solo comes to mark a climax, after which there is a reiteration of previous material and the song ends. It is the “easy way out” of death metal structures, albeit expanded by a greater quantity of riffs. Le Dernier Crépuscule takes the most relaxed route when it comes to conceptualization as well, choosing to go for Crematory’s2 brand of strands of riff variations connected in riff salad manner. Now, Crematory’s style is marked by another particular aspect, and that is that it places technical flare and variety at the top of its priority list. Its choice of allowing runs of related riffs is more the following of what was in vogue at the time, since one can observe that songwise, there is very little keeping it all together but the general tag of the genre. Something similar happens to these first songs by Chthe’ilist.
The sixth and seventh tracks are clearly steeped in a more progressive mindset, allowing for creativity to bubble up as the band tries to craft a narrative. This is conducted with far more success on the last track, ‘Tales of the Majora Mythos Part 1″, than on the hybrid ‘Vecoiitn’aphnaat’smaala’. This emphasis on following a far-reaching narrative reaches formidable proportions in this last track where I would venture to call it a storyline. Variety in riff type is actually richer here than anywhere else in the album, yet through this story-telling technique (that is very much reminiscent of the dramatic flair of Timeghoul on Panaramic Twilight) Chthe’ilist achieves something beyond mere coherence — a smooth flow of ideas connected through careful considerations in texture and rhythmic contrast between sections. These considerations must reach further than adjacent riffs or mere riff-strands so that the song itself does not fall apart.
Unfortunately, although this last track shows us the brightest future for Chthe’ilist, Monsieur Tougas has yet to learn how to finish a song, and what could be an incredible opus is watered down by an unsure appendage after the coda following the solo, a four-minute long welling up of unnecessary nothingness. Content-wise, this adds nothing to the song except confusion, since it is mostly noise and blast beats, which we may presume is an ill-achieved attempt at creating ambience3. The rest of the song itself might be as clear-minded as Timeghoul’s best work, but it is still a work in progress.
I. Aural Impressions
Le Dernier Crépuscule is constantly touted as “Lovecraftian death metal”, and while I get the reference, it seems to me that the character of the music is much more cartoonish than even the original stories, which is saying a lot considering that Lovecraft’s work is already minimalist pulp horror. Taking only a chunk from this author’s work and making a concept album out of it becomes a bit redundant after 2 or 3 songs, and in this album I mostly hear At the Mountains of Madness with some more general references to the Cthulhu mythos towards the end. This limitation results in a bloated album with more words than actual things to say.
In fact, I’d say that for a Lovecraftian experience this is too limited. Timeghoul’s sound, for instance, is very appropriate for expanding on the whole range of cloudy feelings and visages that Lovecraft exposes, not only the mouth-tentacles of his famous monster-deity. Proof of this is that while a Demilich sound on a Crematory template can at most show entrails and guts and an in-your-face horror, the last track had me catching glimpses of R’lyeh through the oceanmist. In Lovecraft you find not only the gnarly gore of slimy and ghoulish creatures, but visitations to otherworldly views in a variety of dream states, alienation from reality expressed through either an increasingly horrifying vision of the world or just not knowing at which side of the sleep curtain it lies.
Lovecraft condenses the very essence of the death metal spirit in its several manifestations and a project with the gigantic potential of Chthe’ilist is surprisingly limited in its choice of evocation, while playing around withtoo many riffs than needed in what appears to be that Crematory-like bloating of content for its own sake with little reference to anything beyond it. Chthe’ilist has a potential of ‘epic proportions’, as the common saying goes. It could have us contemplating at Algol, wondering… it could take us on a bizarre journey through perilous Kadath, and it could make us doubt the very truthfulness of our material existence. In short, it could be the long-awaited metal Messiah that crystallizes the whole of Lovecraftian experience from the essence of the most meaningful obscure acts of the past. But it isn’t.
III. Integral Critique
Bringing together the last two discussions allows us to properly discuss the results Chthe’ilist has achieved. Most bands seem to create a division between music making and lyrical topics, which is not necessarily a bad decision if everything is flowing from a same wellspring of inspiration. The pitfall of this approach is that the sources could end up being distinct, even if compatible, so that the impact of either is dulled by even the slightest hint of cognitive dissonance. This dissonance may even occur in music that is supposedly unified with its lyrical content, and in the case of technically-oriented bands like Chthe’ilist it usually comes about in the form of what could be called ‘riff distraction’.
Riff distraction is a phenomenon that consists of the metal artist losing sight of perspective as he lies on the floor, dull-sensed on proverbial soma. This sends riff-writers off in a mythical quest for the perfect riff combination until they end up with a mass of exciting but ultimately meaningless mumbo jumbo. This is the plague that afflicts this release; its most obvious priority seems to be riff-making, and the clearest sign of a climax is the guitar solo. This album’s is very intentional and varied, but with no precise evocative purpose in mind, so that this huge ball of varied rhythms ends up being a uniform mass when seen from afar. The guitar solo, then, becomes the only way of bringing the song to a breaking point so that at least something in the landscape stands out as a signaling agent for the ending to come with at least a semblance of an excuse.
Alas, the limitation that is holding back Chthe’ilist lies in the mindset of Master Tougas: his towering talent and creative juices ooze with latent power, but his imagination appears to be held back by rationalist prejudices of modern thought that reduce a powerful mythos to mere cartoon. This results in tongue-in-cheek funny horror, which may be an overplaying of the purposely awkward feeling of Demilich that is often perceived simply as funny yet interesting. Timeghoul’s immense aural depth could be the answer here, as the flexibility of its approach lies in the dramatic expansion of predefined techniques within a limited (yet more varied, at the same time) vocabulary that makes even its most complex statements convincing and manifestly intelligible4.
IV. Final Remarks
As pretentious as the thousands of words I’ve already written might make me sound, I would still like to encourage Monsieur Tougas to continue this general line of thinking, while paying closer attention to composition and evocation aspects that lead to a stronger narrative in longer songs. These seem to possess, at least in their present state, the greatest potential of his technical and atmospheric style. His work can bring to reality not only what Timeghoul could have become, but something beyond it, with a long-awaited deftly and graciously applied riffcraft inspired by Demilich. Ditch the Crematory when it comes to structuring decisions, and refactor out any content that isn’t completely indispensable5.
Personally, when it comes to heavily-charged albums such as Le Dernier Crépuscule, I hold a 10-time listening policy: testing how well and in what manner a music album holds up after listening to it completely the first ten times in less than a few days. This has several interesting effects, the first of which is that initial shock effects fade away, technical flare appears more fixed to context, everything gains perspective. Sadly, this album only made it to six listens before losing its luster, and this is mainly because the overall structure of songs and the character they evoke fall into place as an integral whole, revealing the utter simplicity lying behind the tons of riffs and tasty guitar licks.
The reason why the most convincing underground metal has almost always come from the minds that are most “out there” is because their music flows from deeply-ingrained convictions, veritable nightmares that are as real as the sun’s burning sensation, or the excruciating pain of sincere longing for a different reality. While your metal remains “meta”, while it remains only a “fun” way of exploring “spooky” images that are “not real”, your metal will also remain a laughable cartoon.
In earlier ages, as instinctive concepts welled up in the mind of man, his conscious mind could no doubt integrate them into a coherent psychic pattern. But the “civilized” man is no longer able to do this. His “advanced” consciousness has deprived itself of the means by which the auxiliary contributions of the instincts and the unconscious can be assimilated. These organs of assimilation and integration were numinous symbols, held holy by common consent.
In earlier times, these principles were worshiped in all sorts of rituals, which at least showed the psychic significance they held for man. But now they have become mere abstract concepts.
— Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols
1 By riff variation, I mean a grouping of related riffs that arise as variations from a seminal idea.
2 When taking Crematory’s Denial as a point of reference, we can observe how Crematory cannot hold a mood and a line of thought for too long. The music is based on providing variation; for instance, it introduces contrasting ideas in rhythm in extreme fashion so that even very Latin African rhythms pop up right besides more grindy ones with no particular purpose. It may be more difficult to notice, but Demilich already contains such range of variation, but it is much better organized, so that it does not feel haphazard. Furthermore, Demilich is able to stamp their own seal on each section by delimiting certain combinations of rhythm and mode, while Crematory pretty much just throws whatever it can find in your face as it desperately clutches for more content to display a different drum technique.
It’s not that Crematory plays no positive role in the music of Chthe’ilist, but it should be used within its effective scope: the riff variation; and taking note from those who excel at long-range composition when organizing structure.
3 This is a distractor that infects the mentality of modern death metal musicians; it’s almost as if they feel that the music is not enough, that they need to add more “stuff”, whatever it is. This fools the less-focused sort of listeners (apparently, the majority), but not those who would listen to music from multiple angles so as to extract all it contains and more.
4 That is to say, although the difference between the opposite styles within Timeghoul’s vocabulary (from pounding, crowded gnarly riffs to clean-vocal lamentations) may be wider than Crematory’s, the consistency with which they are used imbues them with a more meaningful sense of purpose.
5 A lesson might be learned from Ludwig van Beethoven’s own methods. He is probably the most respectable of classical composers with an inclination for “wild progressive” ideas, since he did not slip into avant-garde stupidity. Beethoven’s music was shocking in its own time for its juxtaposition of apparently contrasting ideas, but he would not leave them there. They were justified, as it were, through their careful development and envelopment throughout the rest of the piece or even in later movements, creating an unprecedented technique in bringing together content in long-range fashion through a process of entanglement.
Article by David Rosales; get more perspective by also reading his article on Timeghoul
Much has been said about Demilich here and elsewhere, but remarkably little has been written about the potential of their music as ground for future bands to elaborate. For starters, the fact that Demilich has a solid fanbase and many admirers among professional musicians, but very few bands produce music in the same vein tells us that it is no easy task. This may also be due to the fact that most people tend to confuse appearances with mechanics, and mechanics in turn with character and essence. It seems to me that there is very little to elaborate, since Demilich is only distinctive at its very surface, in a very similar case to Immolation’s. Anything anybody may take from them besides this sort of surface plagiarism are the abstract concepts of loosening and playing with rhythm and mode consistently to achieve a distinctive sound. Perhaps even taking cues from their distinctive style could yield the foundation for the trademark sound of a younger band.
First, what makes Demilich stand out is their idiomatic approach to death metal that takes the best out of playing with tritones and off-putting harmonies in the context of the gore-flavored aura strand of the genre. Where Immolation goes for uncomfortable and dissonant, Demilich takes the modal/harmonic and rhythmic aspects of death metal to the extreme of this aural potential without incurring in the surface character deconstruction of Immolation’s coloring. Both of these bands, however, make use of standard death metal song-wide structuring techniques of the riff-salad kind with motific liaisons.
This surface extravagance coupled with an inner orthodoxy makes it very tricky for anyone to successfully extract the core of their teachings. In the case of Demilich even more so, since it is the silly side of their music’s character that stands out the most, making it particularly difficult to emulate them without producing obvious imitations. This may lead younger bands to think that a particularly derivative passage’s conspicuous appearance might be mitigated by mixing it into a hodgepodge of different styles and sounds. But to the perceptive listeners out there this will only sound like a motley fabric, a bag o’ tricks on display intended to fill in for actual content (Editor’s note: Have we told you about carnival music?).
Finally, superficial appreciation of the music of Demilich often leads fans to single out their music as “progressive”, as “opposed to traditional death metal”. Frequent readers of this site should immediately identify the grave mistake in this. Be that as it may, when you take the misunderstanding how progressive death metal in general is, and you put it together with the common metalhead’s idea of what progressive rock or metal is, you may begin to envision the monumental blunders that might come as a result.
Rather than insert Demilich-sounding passages into modern Dream Theater soundtracks, the young death metal musician might take head from the way Demilich balances out their outlandish sound. Demilich’s music, when seen at an abstract and aural level, can be divided into passages that are either more pounding, more syncopated or what we now call doom-laden (Demilich never stops too much in these power chord phrasal statements, though, so they do not really stand out). The emphasis on groove and the goofy-gore character is a constant that gives them their trademark sound.
The value of these concepts lies in learning how to produce sections that create variety within a narrative, with a distinctive and constant language that lends a personality of its own to the music. The narrative is produced through the equivalent of formal statements, developments, pauses for air, retaking of the topic, etc, in their musical manifestations. This is the greatest value of the best classic death metal bands: their outstanding ability to articulate.
You don’t get a great deal of straight up Demilich worship, but Chthe’ilist got some buzz a few years ago for having some clear similarities in their aesthetics and writing style. This presumably continues on the band’s upcoming full length debut – Le Dernier Crépuscule will come out in January 2016. Several record labels have claimed the rights to various formats, but Profound Lore is responsible for the CD pressing and digital releases, so that’s probably who you should go unless you’re a major collector. Profound Lore has already released a preview track from this album – “Voidspawn” bears some surface similarities to the works of Demilich, but otherwise sounds a bit smoothed out and obviously streamlined to meet the requirements of a larger audience.
Formed of five of seven Jess and the Ancient Ones members including Deathchain/Winterwolf guitarist Thomas Corpse as primary songwriter, The Exploding Eyes Orchestra explores a different side of garage rock which merges the nightclub chanteuse sound of the 1940s with the expansive atmospheric sound of 1970s heavy rock. The result has high emotional intensity, compelling vocals, and much of the darkness that keyboard-assisted bands like The Doors wrought from rock music.
The Exploding Eyes Orchestra launches its debut album, simply titled I, on June 12th via Svart Records. According to Thomas Corpse, the band channels material which was incompatible with the Jess and the Ancient Ones concept. Lengthy recording sessions in Kuopio, Finland during the winters of 2013 and 2014 produced two albums of material, the second half of which will be released as II in 2016, also via Svart Records.
The band prides itself on its “strong, carefully planned compositions” with classic rock influences and strong female vocals. The Exploding Eyes Orchestra has released a first track, “My Father the Wolf,” streaming below. For more information, seek out the band at the The Exploding Eyes Orchestra Facebook page.
From a recent interview with our editor:
You and the other reviewers are notorious for having incredibly harsh reviews. What would you say are your favorite metal albums of all time?
These metal albums have stayed in weekly rotation over the years:
- Massacra – Final Holocaust
- Slayer – Show No Mercy
- Incantation – Onward to Golgotha
- Sepultura – Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation
- Deicide – Legion
- Beherit – Drawing Down the Moon
- Cianide – A Descent Into Hell
- Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
- Demilich – Nespithe
- Demoncy – Joined in Darkness
The reason my analysis is different than that of other metal sites is that populist writers prioritize surface novelty and underlying similarity to mainstream rock, where I look at metal as a form of art in its own right. It should be measured by the quality of its internal organization and ability to artistically represent a vision of power. The popular “best of” lists specialize in bands that will be forgotten in a few years because when the novelty is gone, they are the same old stuff you could get anywhere else.
I keep a copy of Sepultura Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation in every room in the house. I dislike being too far from one at any given time.
What contemporary bands should we be paying attention to?
In music as in all things, I am an elitist. This means that I want the best music available because time is short and there is no point wasting it on the trivial. Keep an eye on Demoncy, Sammath, Blaspherian, Kjeld, Desecresy, Kaeck, Blood Urn, and Kever.
Some accuse your site of manufacturing a controversy with MetalGate but the SJW infiltration of political correctness in metal has technically been going on since the late 90s. Do you think metal can actually be tamed by leftists and what is your perspective on the attempts to make metal safe?
SJWs are incapable of understanding the aesthetics of metal, which is why all leftist music tends to be metal-flavored riffing wrapped around rock or punk. Metal music sounds the way it does because its outward form represents what its composers wish to communicate. Ignoring lyrics and imagery, which are entirely secondary to composition much as production is, the music itself conveys an abstract and distant sound that makes beauty out of ugliness through a respect for power. In metal, what is powerful creates excellence, and from within that comes the elegance of form and portrayal of reality that makes great art.
Rock takes the opposite view. It is basically intense repetition with an ironic twist at the end, which means that it differentiates itself through “message.” People love catchy lyrics that embody some idea they find appealing at the time, but these are always experiences based in the individual, which is why almost all of rock music is love songs or “protest music” that wails about how inconvenient it is that some complex idea stands between the individual and a good time. You cannot both be pro-nationalist and listen to rock music.
Metal came about when Black Sabbath wanted to interrupt the hippies — what they called SJWs back when they opposed The Establishment — with some “heavy” (hippie slang for intense, epic and terrifying) realism. The West was falling apart, and the popular movements insisted that if we just focused on peace, love and happiness, all our problems would magically vanish. This focus on reality makes metal appear right-wing to leftists. It embraces consequentialism, worship of the ancient, distrust of the narcissism in the individual, and the idea of conflict itself, so that those who are strongest win. This inherently clashes with the individualist groupthink of the left, which seeks to avoid conflict and manage people indirectly through guilt.
When SJWs make metal, it ends up sounding like punk rock or rock because those forms of “protest music” reflect the individualist and yet group-oriented mentality of the SJW. Like the Christians with their “white metal” in the 1980s and the many times commercial record labels have tried to launch rock bands disguised as metal to capture the metal audience, social justice workers (SJWs) are trying to force entry by liberal ideas into metal so they can take over the space of culture that it dominates, and its audience, and indoctrinate them in leftism. Both media and labels support this because it is cheaper to make rock bands than metal bands.
Metalgate rose to resist this conspiracy and call it what it is, which is an attempt to control our minds through propaganda in music, as well as a gambit to replace what we know of as metal with a “safe” version based in indie rock. Most people do not know it, but metal generates a lot of income because metal fans are loyal to the genre over the course of their lives. Record labels could make a lot of money if they could sell the same old pap with metal flavoring. Luckily metalheads are resisting as they have resisted every attempt to assimilate their genre into rock ‘n roll, break its spirit and make it repeat the same dogma that exists in every other genre of music.
William Burroughs often wrote about the “edge,” or the liminal threshold between states. The last real edge year for underground metal was 2009 when strong contenders and new voices united to defend extreme metal against the onslaught of imitators making Potemkin village metal from hipster flair and lite-jazz fireworks but underneath it, nothing but disorganized songwriting and an absence of something to express. As the underground has come back with a vengeance, it has begun to displace the imitators because their music simply does not measure up. This has created a backlash as the hipsters defend their territory with guilt, ostentation, pretense and surface-level novelty. On the other hand, the underground has produced some strong contenders. And so we move forward through the past to the future, remembering that what is true is eternal, and trends, novelties, fads, hipsters and other transient moments pass quickly away…
Blaspherian – Demos (Compilation of Death)
Compilation of Death Records has re-issued the a classic demo and rehearsal from a band of recent vintage but oldschool origins, Blaspherian. Their thunderous death metal sounds like Incantation and Obituary covering Deicide but has a voice of its own and unique perspective. It also carries forward the old school sensibility of building intensity and contrast in a morbid mood that is not self-echoing and redundant. Songwriter Wes Weaver (Imprecation, Infernal Dominion) avoids solos and other adornments to focus on tunneling riffs that are distinctive and create interplay with others in each song to give every song a unique feel within the lexicon of symbol and emotion that death metal addresses. Like the bands that inspire it, Blaspherian aims to create an immersive atmosphere of doom and morbidity in which it can bring forth other emotions in layers, such that the “mixed emotions” feel common to much music is not something achieved at the peak of a song, but is a constant in which the emotions mixed vary like a texture, revealing new combinations under the shifting striations of darkness.
Blood Urn – …of Gory Sorcery and Death (Terrorghoul)
Death metal of the classic style fascinates this young band who write music much like the early years of death metal but with more of an emphasis on melodic bridging material, avoiding the pitfall of using melody as essentially a production technique and instead causing it to highlight songs that come alive with a ferment of conflicting riffs. Vocals use the old-school method of shadowing riffs and the salad of phrases itself fits together and creates a deepening mood. While on the heavier and slower side of death metal, this demo is varied enough to touch on all areas of the genre, assembling rich textures as a means to develop depth to the emotions in each part of the song. Unlike many newer bands, Blood Urn decided not to follow a single identifiable influence but instead sound like a study of European and American death metal rendered by someone approaching it with a fresh vision.
Cenotaph – Riding Our Black Oceans (Chaos, re-issue)
A re-issue of this album restores it to its rightful place in the death metal canon. After the immensely powerful Gloomy Reflections of Our Hidden Sorrows, the thunderous Mexican death metal band Cenotaph changed their style to an airier and more intense high-speed melodic death metal sound. Unlike contemporary “melodic death metal” this style embraced the vigor of death metal by expressing it through sequences of tones that added melody without obscuring structure and darker moods, and Cenotaph displayed its customary acumen for songwriting by keeping each track centered around an idea that came forth not only in the whole but in the shape of its riffs. In the years following Sentenced North From Here and At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours, many bands attempted this newer style but few made it as vicious and uncompromising as Cenotaph.
Conquering Dystopia – Conquering Dystopia
Conquering Dystopia creates instrumental mental that hybridizes death metal styles with progressive heavy metal and some of the newer progressive styles like that of At War With Self. The result often sounds a lot like Joe Satriani’s older works in that clear theme is expressed and highly repeated, but varied with other instrumental detours which strengthen it as the song progresses and all the pieces fit together more an in interrupted linear way than the geometries of pure death metal. While this is like most commercial rock indulgently emotional, the underlying music is good and the technique interesting without leaving service to what each song needs, which keeps it not only topical but interesting.
Dead Congregation – Promulgation of the Fall (Martyrdoom)
Although this band gets mentioned as the foremost in the “Incantclone” series of bands inspired by streaming columnar detuned tremolo underground metal in the style of Incantation, Demoncy and Havohej, Dead Congregation draws influence as well from the subtler structuring of older Immolation in its use of melody to underscore is otherwise a thunderous series of chromatic rhythm riffs needing a center. Although songs vary in completeness throughout the album, generally these storming high-intensity dirges fit together well and produce an encompassing atmosphere which both crushes and awes the listener. If anything, this band could let up on the classic technique and float more of their own aesthetic ideas now that they are established.
Demilich – 20th Adversary of Emptiness (Svart, re-issue)
Back when death metal was viewed by just about everyone as an incompetent genre of malcontent losers who would go nowhere and who were complaining about our new consumer+hippie paradise, a few bands emerged who saw the emerging genre not as a style but as an artistic voice with unlimited possibilities. One of these, Finland’s Demilich, created an album so circuitous and bizarre that the metal press basically dropped it and ran in fear, as did many fans. For those who discovered it however, Nespithe presented unlimited potential as to how death metal could adopt technicality and yet not be mastered by it and forced into the type of generic jazz-blues-rock theory that served to actually limit what musicians could conceive of and execute. With its twisted passages and seemingly erratic rhythms, Nespithe resembled a strange machine risen from the bowels of earth to conquer humankind. Instead, it inspired generations of fans and musicians to visualize death metal as a broader language than many wanted it to be. This re-issue pairs up older works with a handful of newer songs to make for a complete experience of this distinct voice and its concept.
Desecresy – Chasmic Transcendence (Xtreem)
Desecresy combine Swedish death metal, doom-death metal and atmospheric influences from black metal to create towerlike scenes of dark moods in collision. With Chasmic Transcendence, the band update the formula with more easily separable rhythms to riffs and use of melodic transitions to intensify the building sense of doom. It builds grinding tension and discharges it in lengthy melodic passages which expand beyond their origins into new landscapes. Add to this a tendency to use lead melodic rhythm guitars over its power chord riffs and this makes for a haunting listen that resembles a descent into the underworld. With this third album, the band shows not only its staying power but the depths of the well of its creativity in not just re-inventing older styles but finding a new combination of them and using that to express a perspective which elaborates upon the basics of the genre and gives them new elegance and power.
Enthroned – Sovereigns (Agonia)
Famed for their high-speed melodic black metal, Enthroned take the populist approach of middle-period Dimmu Borgir — before it went into its final stage as warmed-over hard rock — and craft it with greater urgency and the instrumental approach of older black metal. The result more resembles the later Bathory albums where heavy metal, proto-black metal and post-Slayer death metal influences merged to create a potent ferment. Sovereigns does not achieve the vast contrasts and epic sense of loss of earlier black metal, but upholds a battle-spirit and pushes it into song with strong melodies that do not lapse into the cloying saccharine world of “feelings” — personal observations based on personal perspective — but instead appeal to emotions, or the shared sense of importance and value to certain things which might be eternal. This album breaks up the formula slightly with slower songs as the album expands, in the style of Hypocrisy Penetralia.
Entrench – Violent Procreation (War Anthem)
Following in the steps of Merciless, who could be seen as the stylistic ancestor of this band, Entrench craft speed/death metal with melodic underpinnings and a frantic but strident voice which guides riffs much in the way Dio narrated his own songs. To the Merciless formula of adroit ripping riffs concluding in both ambiguity and alignment, Entrench adds a Kreator style of finality to both vocal and guitar phrase, making these songs less emotional but more solidly violent. While speed/death hybridization usually ends badly, here the essence is speed metal riffs played as if by a death metal band in the context of a rhythm more like that of death metal. The result is satisfyingly impact-oriented but for it to take the next step to where Merciless is, it will have to coordinate its melodies and cultivate ambiguity both for it to resolve and preserve to keep the dark sensation produced by the riff-style of death metal, minor key melodies and mentalities outside those of the herd.
Heresiarch – Wælwulf (EP, Dark Descent)
Attempting to forge a niche for itself in the Incantation/Blasphemy inspired style that has become a de facto underground currency during the past few years, Heresiarch create a muddier and more obscure version of their previous works, focusing less on tunneling riffs and more on simple two-chord riffs introducing songs that expand to greater degrees of structure with the slightest hints of melody. The band, in hoping to take war metal to the next dimension, probably consider their work to be unstudied and arising on impulse, but these songs show a clear pattern of development from the grinding to the structural and as a result, take the listeners with them on a journey of finding beauty in darkness and coherence in chaos. The violent slamming intensity remains but by lessening its consistency the band achieves a greater sense of contrast, like raising a sacred object higher above the marble floor to ensure that when it shatters the pieces are irreducible.
Kever – Eon of Cycling Death (Dark Descent)
Perhaps one of the most inspiring releases this year, Eon of Cycling Death wears its old school influences in Suffocation and Morbid Angel on its sleeve but without imitating them in pale imprint of their technique without understanding their essence. Instead this band forges on with a kind of fantasy death metal that shows them living an alternative and parallel timeline to these bands, developing the basics they innovated with a voice specific to these individuals regardless of what time they are born into. Percussive riffs give way to an ensemble of death metal styles united by rhythm and space which convincingly outline the ideas of each song and then give them depth through internal dialogue. On top of it, an abrupt and croaking vocal gives new life to a very familiar technique with its guttural but carefully sculpted sonic enunciation.
Massacra – Enjoy the Violence (Century Media, re-issue)
One of the great classics of death metal, long passed-over for more dramatic acts, gained new life with this re-issue. Massacra created their early music in the style which stretches from Slayer through Morbid Angel and emphasizes fast strumming of rapidly-colliding riffs which emphasize ambiguity and openness over the kind of certainty that works well with more percussive styles. Enjoy the Violence is like a rollercoaster between extremes where all things lead back to the same point, but the experience is changing enough that it is almost unrecognizable as the same. With the remaster, some of the weaker sound from the earlier recording is corrected and bonus tracks are added, giving new life to this under-recognized classic of the genre that was more highly influential among musicians than fans, and took on new life in the bands it influenced.
Massacra – Final Holocaust (Century Media, re-issue)
This foundational album of death metal by Massacra has been re-issued by Century Media with bonus tracks and a booklet rich in information. That provides a good introduction to this view of the death metal style, which instead of attempting to be “heavy” aimed for shock and awe with fast riffs and convoluted songs that somehow emerged into an almost peaceful calm after chaos and combat. Massacra derive their strength from the ability to write fast-fingered riffs that capture the thrill and terror of being alive into a single moment and use this to make basic clashes within life into a mythology of trying to conquer empty spaces with the will and sensibility of a warrior wandering a dystopian wasteland. While this album was forgotten in the day mostly due to its mids-heavy (in contrast to bass-heavy) production and relative availability through distribution contracts more circuitous than its riffs, it rides again in new form.
Massacra – Day of the Massacra (Century Media)
Century Media compiled several early Massacra demos into a single disc, paired it with extensive liner notes and pictures, and remastered everything for an insight into the rise of the Massacra sound while it was recognizable as what would emerge on the first two and most influential Massacra albums. These recordings show the band merging its early influences into a style and then finding its own voice within that beast, allowing it to compose distinctive and evocative songs immediately including several pre-album tracks with some duct tape still visible. While this might appeal most to Massacra maniacs, it also serves as a useful introduction to new fans who may appreciate the heavier production and more aggressive primitive approach here as a means of transitioning to the albums that follow, which focused not so much on slamming impact as a kind of sky architecture of riffery.
Nausea – Condemned to the System (Willowtip)
Straddling the line between grindcore, crust and old-fashioned hardcore — which are inches apart as it is — Nausea return with this recording of older and newer tracks alike. Carefully pared down to incorporate only necessary elements and keep energy high, Condemned to the System demonstrates the simpler style of punk composition with all of the riff power of early grindcore, including several tracks (and pieces thereof) that later made it to the first Terrorizer album, World Downfall. The listener who can forget that heritage however will discover merely a crushing, efficient and streamlined album of enjoyable but hard-hitting punkish music that will not win awards for extremity or technicality, but shows care applied to songwriting so that a listener does not feel lost in a sea of riffs or drone, but can isolate each song in the mind and appreciate its individual attack.
Nunslaughter – Angelic Dread (Hells Headbangers)
While some may be tempted to categorize Nunslaughter as dinosaurs, the fact remains that this band takes the raw ingredients of power metal, speed metal and most death metal and makes a stripped-down, hardcore-punk style ripping version of this that remains highly listenable even if not particularly distinguishable on a song-to-song basis. Like other collections of many short songs, such as Dead Infection or Carcass, Angelic Dread operates like many small insights into roughly the same idea. Somehow, what this band creates never gets old, in part because they understand their riffs as a language from the same basic source, and in part because like a thrash band their song format carefully fits the particular clash of the two riffs (with a few budget transitions, and sometimes rhythmic variations, Nunslaughter uses two riffs per song on average) and the need of presenting them in the best light. The result is compelling and enjoyable and upholds the best tradition of riffcraft and expressive violence in underground music.
Oppression – Sociopathie & Gloire (Preposterous Creations)
Merging Oi!-style punk with some enhancements from black metal, tracks are short (2-3 minute) affairs. Melodies are catchy, yet wistful lines grounded in simple guitar and bass riffs, with vocal alternating between manic shrieks and an idiosyncratic, youthful attempt at melodic singing. Using the more linear style composition of punk, as opposed to the riff-stacking song construction used by much of black metal, each song contributes a sense of motion that builds the album up over successive tracks. Production values are what one would expect for this style of music; clear enough to make out each instrument, but raw enough to preserve low-budget ethos. This is a release that is not attempting to invent a new genre, but rather one which seeks to renew genres that had collapsed under their own entropy. The strange aesthetics may be off-putting to some, but if those can be sublimated into the spirit of this album, a refreshingly honest work will open itself for enjoyment.
Personal Device – Microorganismos del Mal
First there was the faux 80s crossover thrash revival with party retro-thrash bands like Toxic Holocaust and Municipal Waste, then bands like Birth A.D. bounced back with actual thrash and reformed the genre. Now Personal Device take it a step both further and in a different direction by being a classic hardcore band that informs itself with early speed metal like the first Metallica and Nuclear Assault albums. The result is bouncy fast and precise punk like Ratos de Porao or even middle-period Bad Brains that is thoroughly enjoyable with riff breaks that resemble “The Four Horsemen” or maybe even “Live, Suffer, Die.” Their guitars are remarkably precise which creates an unusual sound for punk that by making it mechanistic makes it seem more inexorable than like protest music, and the result is a more testosterone-fueled and warlike approach. Mix that with the surging chord changes of speed metal and the fast repetitive chanted choruses from thrash, and you have a high-energy band. Its flaws are that experienced listeners may find this a bit too transparent, and that many of its rhythms are similar, but the band has administered its style with an editor’s red pen handy, cutting out any lesser parts, which gives it more staying power than all but a few albums in this stylistic range.
Ripper – Raising the Corpse (Underground Defenders)
Much like Merciless, Ripper know to invoke a melodic hook with a rhythmic hook and gradually bring a song into unity, at which point they hammer home the infectious chorus until the audience is ready to carve it into their own flesh. While some may point out that little new occurs here stylistically, and many of these riff forms can be traced back to Slayer or Destruction, what Ripper does well is keep this music high-intensity without falling into sameness and to streamline into an effective delivery mechanism that outgrows the confused collision of styles that was the mid to late 1980s. This approach fits within the early speed metal model that formed the basis of great hook-laden German bands like Destruction and Sodom, and this tradition continues with Ripper. Where Ripper succeeds is in removing extraneous material and cutting to the core of its music, eliminating some of the distraction and randomness that blighted later work from the German bands.
Sorcier Des Glaces – Ritual Of The End (Obscure Abhorrence)
Flowing dark melodic forest black metal band Sorcier des Glaces burst onto the scene as any appreciation for this style of Graveland and Immortal influenced black metal fully waned as the initial loss of momentum in the genre caught up with its inertia. Since that time, the band has continued its path of making naturalistic long-melody black metal with the distinctive wandering tempo and phrasal development that many of the French bands also explored. With Ritual of the End, Sorcier des Glaces present their vision in a more focused style that nonetheless preserves the inconclusive nature of their earlier music, becoming like a vision of the woods at twilight equal parts promise and ambiguity, revealing the continuous nature of life through its inability to achieve finite endpoints. When metal mistakenly went toward faster/more extreme variants of the past, it lost the majestic beauty which inspired imagination as well as aggression, and Sorcier des Glaces return it.
Varathron – Untrodden Corridors Of Hades (Agonia)
One of the original Greek black metal bands, Varathron returns with higher speed and more dominant melody in a style that approximates what Borknagar and other later black metal bands tried to do, with some nods to music since but fundamentally a sensibility closer to Rotting Christ Thy Mighty Contract. Keeping energy high with frequent changes but return to theme and focus on a melody or progression at the heart of each song, Varathron expand their repertoie and craft an album that speaks enough of a contemporary language to dominate that style with the vocabulary of the older era, invoking both a return to and a continuation of the past. While the influence of the present time makes itself known, it remains under control of the guiding forces behind this band that seek to open the imagination instead of gratify self-image, and as a result more possibility emerges here than in other contemporary works.
Witchblood – Hail to Lyderhorn (Aurora Australis)
Attempting to uphold the values of classic black metal while introducing to them some of the more recent developments in tradfolk-inspired music, Witchblood combines the catchy attack of Venom with riff technique from mid-90s black metal and adds its own voice, which consists of equal part narrative bardic style and an idiosyncratic ability to make memory-haunting tunes. The result features a range of techniques from the history of metal, including NWOBHM-inspired riffing right alongside streaming tremolo picked melodic riffs, but this band makes it work by keeping focus on an essential melody in each song paired to a vocal rhythm designed to deliver a foot-tapping chorus, as bands like Sodom or Destruction did years ago. The result takes the Venom school of metal, upgrades it with black metal, and restores it to a 1980s delivery that is both clear and dark and then infuses that with the type of ancestral identity and epic sensation of purpose that arises from folk music. Through this, Witchblood creates its own form of metal that shows clear roots in much older traditions.
Woodtemple – Forgotten Pride (Sacrilege)
Showing more of an influence from Following the Voice of Blood era Graveland, Woodtemple return with a more focused version of their flowing black metal. In the past, the music more resembled flowing hills in a landscape of vast breadth, but now greater internal contrast makes what is portrayed closer to a mountain range with ragged crags over deep valleys. The addition of floating female vocals and gentle keyboards allow the band to put more aggression into guitars and bass, keeping vocals semi-backgrounded which produces the effect of reducing the “human” feel to the music. As a result, songs come together with more focus, making this the clearest statement from Woodtemple yet made. Like most metal in this style, Forgotten Pride creates an effect of distance from the human world, isolation and a focus on the larger picture through a lens of large leaps in time, but now creates another hypnotic effect in a distancing from humanity itself. This band, while not a Graveland side project, features Graveland composer Rob Darken on bass.
Album of the Year 2014
Sammath – Godless Arrogance (Hammerheart)
Godless Arrogance features nearly constant high-intensity rhythmic riffing and finally has a production to match which emphasizes internal harmony but projects vocals and guitars to the forefront, creating an enveloping wall of sound. Drumming is violent martial battery without the happy kickbeat tendencies of overly rock-trained drummer; percussion here is more like punk, hard-driving intensity to channel the guitars, which alternate between abrupt chromatic confrontation in the Demoncy style to gentle unfolding melodies much like were found on Strijd. Bass folds into the guitar, and vocals are the high-volume bluster that reduces distorted vocals to a sound like a whisper spoken close to a microphone in high wind. The result is incessant and unrelenting but also has an inner life of melody that gives it depth and allows it to manipulate riff context like a death metal band while evoking ambient atmosphere in the best tradition of black metal. For resurrecting the black metal spirit of great beauty hidden within massive aggression and alienation, Godless Arrogance deserves to be seen as the best album of 2014.
When too many utterly mindless and pandering bands pile up in the review queue, even life seems washed out and hopeless. At that point, even death metal has lost its power and mystique. When that happens, I throw on Demilich Nespithe and my faith in the genre is restored. This album presents such a creative and yet meaningful interpretation of death metal that it restores faith in a lot more than the genre.
The 20th Adversary of Emptiness reproduces a restored Nespithe complete with original art, adds two songs from the 2006 return of Demilich, and then compiles the demos of this formative band. Svart Records prints these on vinyl and CD formats, with the vinyl option as a box set and the CD for more everyday listening (that way you can have a copy in the car, too). Naturally this adds three areas for study.
The original album remains as powerful as it was back in the 1990s. If any remastering has occurred, it has been slight because the originally subterranean and organic sound has been preserved. There is not much to say about this classic that wasn’t said in the original 1993 review, but for a short introduction, it is a death metal album that uses lead riffing and complex riff-rhythm interaction and development to create an entirely otherworldly sound. Into this it drops doubt, loneliness, and a sense of restoration through imagination. It is from the oldest school of artistry and a work of intensely fine-tuned thinking and musicianship.
Much will be made of the newer tracks. I see these as an attempt to take the classic Demilich sound into the more technical and streamlined death metal of the early 2000s. In fact, two these songs — “of Vanishing” and “of Emptiness” — were written in the early 1990s, while “Faces Right Below the Skin of the Earth” was the only one penned in 2006. The three tracks hold true to the Demilich format but give it more aggression and death metal thrills. “Faces Right Below the Skin of the Earth” starts with a rhythm tear that resembles something Covenant-era Morbid Angel and first album At the Gates might envision if they collaborated, but then drops into a cyclic riff that follows the old Demilich pattern. In developing that riff, the band put it into the more rhythmically challenging format that contemporary metal listeners might desire, but then begin their trademark cyclic polyrhythm while mutating the riff toward a larger pattern. Eventually this becomes the concluding theme and the song drives hard to a conclusion. “of Vanishing” uses a Morbid Angel trope, namely “Immortal Rites,” but gives it the more complex rhythmic and melodic vision of Demilich. This then filters through a full stop and drum roll into Demilich-styled cyclic melodic riffing before returning to theme. Interesting guitar solo on this one. “of Emptiness” uses a throttling melodic riff more like the stuff that Necrovore used to apply, and builds into the most conventional song in this three-track set. It slides into an almost Black Sabbath-styled doomy charging riff and alternates it with lead-picked riffs used to change tempo and add depth, but then returns to its aggressive attack. This track uses a lot of stops and starts and loses some momentum. On the whole, these three tracks show an interesting attempt to modernize Demilich and make it more aggressive, but also show why the band probably did not want to continue going in that direction. Sometimes the past is too distinct to be resurrected as anything but itself, and not everyone may want to do that two decades later.
On to the demos… these are fascinating because they show how deliberate the final Demilich sound really is. These songs are familiar but each has different changes. In particular, different styles of lead guitar were tried as well as attempts to make the riffs fit more into the rhythm styles favored by different subgenres of death metal. The closer demos get to Nespithe chronologically the more they exhibit an intense technicality and unique style, but as one goes back in time they are closer to standard death metal with some unique innovations woven in. As time passes, the weaving becomes more intense and the new style takes over the raw elements. It is fascinating to watch these songs develop and the demo pressing here is entirely worth the price of this album (or even box set). They do not bore and there is always something new to be heard in each of these classic demo tracks.
20th Adversary of Emptiness offers something to just about anyone. If this is your first Demilich experience, stick to the first disk (Nespithe) for a glimpse into classic death metal when it wasn’t afraid to be weird. For dyed-in-the-wool Demilich fans and hardcores, there’s hours of interest to be found in tracking back these older demo pieces and seeing where they go. Both groups will enjoy the three 2006-era tracks which show a more violent and streamlined Demilich. Ultimately, this whole package lives up to its strange title because it is an adversary of emptiness.
This music evokes loneliness and a hollow, achingly empty universe without inherent point, and shows the creation of a mythos within that void that could keep us focused on survival and improvement even through a long and depleting arctic circle winter. Seeing these rare tracks ride again is rewarding as is seeing Nespithe get the credit that it has always deserved but almost missed as people chased death metal trends back in the day. The booklet, featuring both classic art and pictures, comes with a length interview with guitarist Antti Boman and his commentary on each song with lyrics. This is rare and wonderful also. Just make sure you avoid reading the introduction, which is written by some idiot and makes no sense.
With Nespithe turning 20 this year, it’s a good time for two decades of career to be compiled in a form that most people can purchase. Nespithe was a controversial album in 1993 and spent most of the next decade in sale bins, until mysterious forces caused its resurrection in the early 2000s and restoration to its rightful place in the death metal hierarchy.
The LPs in the box set come in three colors: transparent blood red (150 copies), slimy green (350 copies) and black (500 copies). The double CD comes with a 40-page booklet, and the LP with a 44-page booklet, including Demilich reviews, interviews, commentary and history.
For those of us who remember throwing this album on the CD player and broadcasting it out to a radio population that eventually came to accept and enjoy it, the transformation is gratifying to see. This box set also looks legendary, and sounds legendary as well. Below find a video showcasing the remixed sound of Nespithe, which according to the label is entirely remastered from the source tapes.
Here’s the description from Svart Records, who are putting out both the 3LP box set and the 2CD digipak compilation:
All boxes feature three LPs, the 1st of which is Nespithe in a separate jacket. Platters 2 and 3 have both the 2006 recordings and all of the group’s demos, wrapped in a gatefold jacket. There’s also a sticker, poster and a 44 page Demilich ‘zine, all housed in a sturdy box set.
20th Adversary of Emptiness contains everything Demilich have ever recorded, starting from Regurgitation of Blood demo (1991) and rounding things off with three songs the band recorded during their brief comeback in 2006. The only Demilich full length album Nespithe has been reissued several times over the years in various guises, but always using the inferior 16-bit CD masters and sometimes brickwalled beyond recognition. For this release we dug up the original unmastered 24 bit studio tapes for Nespithe and best possible sources for the demo material, and then had Sami Jämsén of Studio Perkele thoroughly clean everything up and create new masters. This is Demilich as you’ve never heard it before.
Nespithe LP is wrapped in the original Turkka Rantanen cover art, lovingly restored, and a new artwork by Mr Rantanen adorns the box itself. For the demo compilation cover the band commissioned new art from renowned underground artists David Mikkelsen and Johnny Maddox, inspired by Demilich lyricals. Mikkelsen’s art also comes as a poster in the package.