Sacrilege – Turn Back, Trilobite

December 5, 2014 –

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During the 1980s, multiple metal movements existed in parallel. The genre birthed itself a decade before and almost immediately got merged with hard rock, only waking itself up with the NWOBHM in time to avoid total assimilation. In the next decade, it diversified.

Sacrilege emerged from the UK proto-crust scene and transitioned slowly into metal as most of these bands did when, musical basics familiar, they sought to use their new artistic powers for more precise communication. The band put out a trio of albums before lapsing in the early 1990s. Turn Back, Trilobite was the third of these and showed the band leaving its punk roots behind entirely to explore a doom metal style. This release prompts comparisons to Candlemass because in its pacing, use of percussion and even vocal melodies it evokes that long-standing doom band.

The notable differences here are that Sacrilege sometimes slides into ludicrous hard-rock riffing that immediately pushes it into the background, and that one of these guitarists clearly listens to quite a bit of Metallica Ride the Lightning which shows up in some of the muted-strum double downstroke work here as well as in the Hammett-inspired lead guitars which use falling scales to produce lengthy solos from relatively consistent structures. This effect works better with the shorter solos on Metallica but here often becomes too symmetrical and rambling, but otherwise, adds a greater efficiency to some of these songs.

People like this album, and it is hard not to, because it is ambitious. It touches on tropes from jazz, rock, folk and hard rock in addition to its basis in heavy metal, and by using doom metal pacing, allows itself more space over which to stretch out vocals and riffs, installing a greater range of rhythms. The problems with this approach are that in many ways the band were not ready for it. Too much of this album is comped in with 1970s hard rock riffs, the vocalist for all of her range tends toward very similar patterns (which fits with the Ozzy-Marcolin range of vocals), and too many of the rhythms and riff shapes are similar, causing navigational difficulties for the casual listener.

As a random find in a record store on a rainy Saturday, this album provides some good listening because its ambition creates a world our brains can explore despite its failings. Like most doom metal, Turn Back, Trilobite relies too much on predictable and repeated tropes for enjoyable regular listening. The greater emphasis on “emotion” in doom metal tends to mean a narrower range of mood, and as a result the album flows past like tapwater more than distinguishing itself with the cornucopia of tropes it applies. That and the obvious Metallica derivations paired up with mediocre riff patterns excluded this one from running for the big time and shortly afterward, the band members excluded themselves to do other things. With the right producer to enforce some editing and variety, this could have been a massive release.

Sanctuary releases “Exitium (The Anthem of the Living)” from The Year the Sun Died

September 12, 2014 –

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During the 1980s, Sanctuary albums popped up wherever speed metal was sold but never quite found entry into the genre because of their reliance on a hybrid sound with the brainy radio heavy metal of the day. Like Queensryche, they embraced the dark rainy sound of the Northwest that later lived on in grunge which aims more toward presentation of intense vocal performances than a maze of riffs leading to detonation.

“Exitium (Anthem of the Living)” takes a doom-metal infused perspective on that style much in the style of Skyclad or Confessor, dropping into slower riffs to allow melancholy vocals to tie the song together. Song structure is simple and cyclic with flair but essentially exists to support vocals, so riffs follow a verse-chorus layout. The vocals sound a lot like Alice in Chains with more morbidity or Queensryche with more aggression, laying out a melody that is both hopeful and fatally self-contradictory. This creates an atmosphere of darkness with an inspirational tinge to it that seems almost like the band is exulting in self-pity.

The newest Sanctuary album The Year the Sun Died will walk among us on October 14. Fans of this band may find the changes unsettling and less intense than past works, but may appreciate the greater emotionality and connection to inner sensation that The Year the Sun Died appears to offer. As metal reaches toward rock in many directions, this somewhat overcast and isolated approach may work for Sanctuary as they try to forge anew their signature sound.

Divine Eve in studio finalizing new material

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Divine Eve’s Michael Sleavin and Matt Killen in the studio.

Doom/death metal band Divine Eve penetrated the walls of the studio some time ago to record their forthcoming full-length following up on the 2010 release of Vengeful and Obstinate, an EP which saw the Texas band build on the strengths of their 1990s debut As the Angels Weep. Since that time, audiences who enjoy the type of fusion between Swedish death metal, punkish heavy metal like Motorhead, and doom-death like Cathedral have eagerly awaited new material from Divine Eve.

It appears the wait may be over, or at least nearly so. An advance track, “Into the Conquest End,” graciously loaned to this writer by Divine Eve, shows the band maturing and stripping down their sound. Like classic death metal, Divine Eve know how to use a theme well, varying it both in speed and texture and also expanding upon it as the song progresses. The song begins with a raw death metal riff — reminiscent of Death “Altering the Future” — and repeats it on a trancelike beat. This theme repeats in two forms, one with an ending trill and another with a more rigid, doomlike conclusion. The band then breaks into an energetic and simple riff derived from the middle phrase of the previous at an upbeat punk tempo, and use this to introduce the chorus riff which hammers out the theme of the song in a riff answering the first theme.

The band rides the second theme against the chorus and picks up an energetic groove. This part of the song quickly falls into a comfortable zone, both enjoyable and straightforward, which appears to be the moment the band were waiting for… to strike. At this point, the song stops with a simple standoff riff reminiscent of the opening theme of Beethoven’s fifth in its rigidity and simplicity, then returns to the first them before dropping to a slower and darker version of the second theme which answers it in a mode more like that of the chorus. The band then transitions through a lightly strummed, drumless heavy metal style anticipation pause and then builds on that melodic riff as a means to transition to to a bounding doom metal riff that would have been at home on As the Angels Weep but with more of the old-school doom that Saint Vitus made famous. As this mood builds, it falters and collapses into the first theme, then chorus riff, and finally a variant on the standoff riff. The song wraps up its simple elements by repeating them multiple times in different pairings to create a sense of a deepening meaning emerging from the mundane, like an occult meaning derived from the pattern of everyday objects.

Divine Eve added a sense of mystery and atmosphere to the world of death metal bands that play extensive segments of doom metal in their work, expanding upon a lengthy list of death metal influences. Like Cianide, the band has drifted toward a fusion of older metal styles (notably Motorhead) that maintain the same mood, which is a bleak but militant droning which suggests a dystopian collapse followed by rise of vengeance warriors bent on restoring an atavistic order. The result gives more variability to the death metal style and may confuse listeners in a positive way by taking different ideas and restating them in the language of death metal. The production on this track takes an organic and spacious sound and gives to it the dense textures of ancient walls, clarifies drums far more than previous releases and keeps vocals grim but intense enough to stand on their own. The result suggests that the power of the older material will take on a new militarism on the forthcoming album.

Saint Vitus on 35th anniversary tour of North America

March 11, 2014 –

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Classic heavy metal doom metal band Saint Vitus embark on a tour celebrating the band’s 35-year history from May 8-25, 2014. The band will be playing the entirety of their Born Too Late album, the first to feature Scott Weinrich on vocals. Saint Vitus made a name for itself in the world metal community for being one of two bands to continue the 1970s style of metal throughout the 1980s and 1990s, making heavy metal hymns slowed down to reflect a completely alienated worldview.

Tourdates:

  • 5/08/2014 Launch Pad – Albuquerque, NM
  • 5/09/2014 Club Red – Phoenix, AZ
  • 5/10/2014 Cheyenne Saloon – Las Vegas, NV
  • 5/11/2014 The Observatory (Psycho De 5o Fest) – Santa Ana, CA
  • 5/13/2014 The Echo – Los Angeles, CA
  • 5/14/2014 SLO Brew – San Luis Obispo, CA
  • 5/15/2014 Strummer’s – Fresno, CA
  • 5/16/2014 Thee Parkside – San Francisco, CA
  • 5/17/2014 Branx – Portland, OR
  • 5/18/2014 Highline – Seattle, WA
  • 5/20/2014 In The Venue – Salt Lake City, UT
  • 5/21/2014 Marquis Theatre – Denver, CO
  • 5/23/2014 Red 7 (Outside) – Austin, TX
  • 5/24/2014 Fitzgerald’s Downstairs – Houston, TX
  • 5/25/2014 Three Links – Dallas, TX

Lineup:

  • Dave Chandler – guitar
  • Scott Weinrich – vocals
  • Mark Adams – bass
  • Henry Vasquez – drums

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When Bassnectar was a metalhead

January 31, 2014 –

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Metal is not a job and will never pay the bills. Hence many metal musicians move on to other careers. Sometimes this includes other forms of music. Such is the case of Lorin Ashton, a/k/a Bassnectar, who previously was in a black/doom metal band called Pale Existence.

Correctly intuiting that metal would not pay the bills, and being from the already-undernoticed San Jose scene which got obscured by the greater prominence of nearby San Francisco, Ashton migrated from underground metal to playing multiple DJ sets a day in an effort to develop his hybrid style.

The result was Bassnectar, a merging of afterhours club music and sonic torment which showed its heavy metal origins. While Ashton retains his long hair and metal/punk tshirts collection, this lengthy history of involvement in underground metal is probably lost on his audience.

Pale Existence also featured Steve Cefala of doom/black metal band Dawning. Most fans don’t know of this underground history, so we present a comparison of Lorin Ashton a/k/a Bassnectar in both the old days as Pale Existence and in his newest form:

Interview with Steve Cefala (Dawning)

January 14, 2014 –

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Steve Cefala (R) and Birdo (L) of Dawning.

Welcome to the strange and protean world of Steve Cefala, black/doom metal musician, MMA fighter, former adult entertainment actor, and now, the force behind the returning Dawning and its unique brand of slow melodic metal with horror movie keyboards.

Dawning was born in 1996 at the hands of Mr. Cefala and a close cadre of collaborators. Dormant for many years, but never forgotten, the band was resurrected with the – – –/Dawning split that showcased a classic song for the band and gave it new arrangement and orchestration.

We were lucky to catch up with Mr. Cefala between his many high-energy ventures and get in a few words about the split, the history of Dawning, and its future both as band and concept.

When did Dawning form?

Bud Burke (now in Exhumed) and I quit Pale Existence and started Dawning in 1996. Bud and I may have done some rough Dawning recordings on his four track as early as 1995. We were juniors in high school. We had just terrorized the high school battle of the bands with our cheesy Satanic side project Desecrator (there’s so many bands called that).

Why do you think Dawning is less known that other bands from the era?

First, although not many people know about Dawning, the people I know of that like Dawning are people I respect.

But there are several reasons for Dawning’s relative obscurity. Some are obviously self-inflicted: personnel/lineup problems and changes, lack of self-promotion, etc. We were more focused on making good music and recording it than on the promo side. Also not fitting an exact genre or lack of other doom/black metal bands locally at the time did not help.

We also had offers to be published by record companies which we messed up. As we were about to record for a 10″ release, the incredibly talented bassist who was the band’s contact had a breakdown from acid and thought he was an alien… and the other guitarist Mike Rabald turned super flakey and just would not record his darn guitar tracks, despite being at the recording studio drinking ale and playing Sega Genesis every day instead! After months of that B.S., when we finally threatened to kick him out, he and the sound engineer showed up at my front door demanding cash for what we had recorded so far or they would to destroy the reel! Prick…..

For some reason, we just could not get a show at this period in time. This pissed me off because I was the first metal guy to rent the local library out and throw many underground DIY metal shows and I had set up a lot of shows for local bands with my previous band Pale Existence. Some ugly heifer from my high school ended up renting the library out and getting metal shows banned from the library due to burning bible, blood spills, and setting off fire alarms. Way to go! I also threw a lot of shows for Exhumed and a bunch of local acts at the Cupertino library. They are cool guys but they never reciprocated because we were not gore metal (I remember them helping out Gory Melanoma a lot with shows for instance) or would not kiss their ass or something. Drummer Brian and I used to tease them about them being Carcass rip offs and Matt Harvey being Mr. Rockstar. Anyways, the library shows I threw were integral in bringing the South Bay death metal scene together. They were free all ages DIY shows that united a bunch of different metal and hardcore genres.

It’s also not like people didn’t know we were available. Dawning got only three shows! The KFCJ radio show, one at a frat party in SLO, one in a gazebo teen center I rented. This was despite that I had a full band lineup from 1996-2003! A third show was set up in an alley in Gilroy and the club owner canceled the show at like 7 pm (Maelstrom was headliner) before metal heads, who showed up later like 8, could get the message.

I would mention some other excellent local bands from that era which may have been forgotten includes Gory Melanoma, Infanticide, Butt, Agents of Satan, Deity, Disembodiment, Doomed-horn, and Gorgasm! :) I am glad to see that Morbosidad is still active also :)

Originally, what did Dawning sound like — what was the intent, and what were the influences, behind the sound you were going for?

The sound I have always aimed for with Dawning is to take a synthed out movie soundtrack and cross it with raw doom or black metal guitars and vocals. With a hint of ambient (backwards vocals, chimes, timpani drums). The end of the first demo has a incredibly slow doom ending with a collage of apocalyptic samples. When I started recording this shit back in 1996 I didn’t hear anyone grinding black metal guitar chords over a doom beat. I still barely ever hear that. I guess all the black metal bands are playing doom and ambient now mostly — at least the ones who aren’t constantly blasting as if they are at some type of competitive track meet event.

“New” Dawning sounds basically exactly like original Dawning. It’s all written on the Roland JV series keyboard mostly. There were some demos we did that trended more towards black metal, and some had hippy elements.

Our influences include movie sountracks like Goblin, Angelo Badalamenti (Twin Peaks), John Carpenter scores, Vangelis, Jerry Goldsmith (the Omen), etc. as well as classic 90s doom and black metal — Winter, Disembowlment, Grief, Marduk, Darkthrone, Impaled Nazarene, and My Dying Bride. There is also some trance influence from raves and partying. On the hippier demos there’s a Hendrix and Sabbath vibe to the guitars at times.

Also, Dawning has goth/industrial influences. I listen to Godflesh, Rammstein, Depeche Mode, My Life With The Thrill Kill Cult, Type O Negative, etc.

How did that sound change over time?

  • Demo 1 – Blackened doom/new age-ish (hint of ambient). Just Bud and I, no bass.
  • Demo 2 – Live on KFJC. Groovier. More Hendrixy and more Sabbathy. Full band lineup starting with this demo. Trippier more occult-based song themes. Bouncy hippy basslines.
  • Demos 3 and 4 – More black metal. Less doom.
  • Demo 5 – Exit Bud Burke, enter Mike Beams (Exhumed). More brutal and detuned. Added elements of sludge doom.

…then back to the original sound of demo 1 again for the split. The upcoming full length is like demo 1 but with more mid-paced grooves and a few blasts besides the doom beats.

You’ve re-recorded “Divine Arrival of the Massive Hoof” for the split with – – – on Preposterous Creations. How did this split come about, and what’s new with the re-recording?

I hooked up with Phil from Presposterous Creations on a web forum where he had posted some old Dawning demo links. I was told Gary from Noothegrush (who actually recorded our live at KFJC demo back in the day) helped get Phil interested in Dawning. Chiyo and Gary (from Noothegrush) have always been most supportive of my band. I honestly think Dawning might not exist today if not for them. And I was told that John Gossard (Weakling) had also talked to Phil about us, which helped. Originally Bud was planning to come out on vacation to visit and record on the new tracks with me. But Exhumed called him and off on tour he went. Now he doesn’t return my calls or lousy Facebook messages even.

“Divine Arrival of the Massive Hoof” on the split has a new arrangement. Better recording. Also, there was a period during these most recent recordings where I was diagnosed as allergic to sunlight. This time was depressing and that gave the songs a darker tone.

A couple of years ago I noticed there was something called the “101 Rules of Black Metal” going around the internet (you can google it). I noticed a rule saying that “the exact date if the divine arrival of the massive hoof shall never be revealed under any circumstance.” It even made it on the Ozzfest official page at that time. I was a little surprised that phrase was ingrained as a rule of metal (I see no other song title as a rule — but I could be wrong). I will admit that I did want to get some credit for the notoriety of the song I had created in 1995-96 and that was part of my motivation in redoing the song and getting it published. I am extremely thankful to Phil and to Noothegrush and the handful of people including John Gossard who kept the spirit of Dawning alive on underground message boards and such. Also whoever put it in the rules of metal I am thankful but would have been better had Dawning been given proper credit.

What’s – – – like, in your words? What was the appeal in working with them?

As far as actually splitting the record with – – – , it was Phil who came to me with this idea. Personally I find the piano parts on all – – – songs to be very inspired and unique and I also love his guitar tone (it reminds me of early Ulver!). So I was honored to split the LP with – – –, though I know nothing about them it is an honor to be associated with that level of talent.

Do you think metal is in a slump, or a time of over-abundance? Are there any parallels to humanity at large?

I do not like the overall musical trends in metal. Blast beat blast beat blast beat. Hail Satan this, hail Satan that. Blast beat blast beat blast beat. Blah blah blah. Playing drums like a track meet competition.

Most of the Gothic doom bands seem really gay (not in a happy sense though) compared to My Dying Bride, at least locally. Stoner bands who are not stoney — or original. Technical death metal which gives me a headache. I also don’t like the super mainstream bands right now like Lamb of God.

Nachtmystium and Electric Wizard and a few other amazing bands in the mainstream (I enjoy Noothegrush, Ludicra, and Weakling) but there’s too much crummy bands you have to go through to find a good one. Compared to the 90s — it sucks!

Locally I fell into the boring status quo sound a little too much with my last band Condemned to Live (DJ) for a few years so I must also take my share of this blame.

And yes humanity stinks too. Pretty much everything stinks these days honestly. I stopped listening to Marduk and Vader, and then Fear Factory and bands like that when they put out that pseudo techno album in the late 90s.

Also when you play a show these days its often a pissing competition between the bands instead of a brotherhood of metal. The other bands come up to you and complain about the band order instead of introducing themselves. Or you could be informed that another guy in the other black metal band that night does not like your band etc I was playing black metal live when he was in kindergarten but hey whatever…

In the 90s we knew we were all social rejects and we bonded over that. Today these kids who grew up in a post 9-11 world live in a darker cutthroat worldview. 90s metal tended to have some sense of humor that is now absent by in large. I think the global economic depression has caused metal to lose its fun fantasy oriented spirit that it had before. By the way outside a few dive bars here like the Caravan, metal is so unpopular where I live in San Jose — everything is gangster rap this, gangster rap that. I can go out for a whole week and maybe see one metal tshirt. Funny thing is my gangster friends like Dawning and are supportive.

What do you think are the differences between black metal, doom metal and regular old heavy metal?

Honestly, it’s all over genre-ized. I honestly wouldn’t even mention my bands genre but I feel strongly we were ahead of our time and deserve a little credit, even if its just a tiny bit. Everyone is mixing black metal and doom now. Back then I heard maybe one Incantation album that did that a bit, not much else.

I can tell you locally while I respect the underground hardcore approach of many bands — mostly everyone just wants to be a genre guy and fit in, which is sad cause metal ain’t even popular in the US in mainstream pop culture so these days why worry about fitting in.

It’s sad to me. Oh well. When I talk to other musicians these days its “Hey, I like this one band, Electric Funeral — let’s do a band like that” or “Hey, I like this band Cradle of Filth lets do one of those!” Nobody wants to make their own band sound. It’s much easier to join a specific genre, follow that genre’s rules to the T, and network from just within that genre. That’s my main problem with modern metal. Of course there are exceptions.

As I understand it, you also had a career in pornography. Can you tell us about this? What was it like? How did it inform your worldview as a metal musician?

For me it was just a job. It paid better than my retail job had been paying however.

The funniest thing was when I started working in it nobody believed me. Then when I showed them proof, everyone said I was weird for bringing the mp3 with me. That’s life. It was also weird I got in through the studios that mostly filmed “blacks” (Black Market XXX for instance). Eventually I worked for some big companies including JM Productions, Immoral Productions, Bang Bros, and more. I quit right after I had a shoot with Playboy channel where I was to play guitar and shoot with Tuesday Cross as well as a pilot of series for HBO fall through.

It was surrealistic working in that industry. The scenes were sometimes elating. But at the same time the conditions of a shoot were often sterile. The bright lighting, lack of music, no pictures on the walls, taking orders from director; also I was commuting to LA for this which made it harder. It was fun but also hard work. For one thing you have to stand on one leg most of the time so the camera can see. And theres a lot more logistics and networking compared to even a normal job. One thing I will tell you is we do most scenes twice. Once for the pics on the box. Then clothes back on and film the scene on video. Also going and getting tested monthly for STDs (mandatory) was a pain in the ass and came out of pocket. And a lot of the female models were too much drama and ruined the fun.

I was also sponsored as a mixed martial arts (MMA) athlete by a clothing company at the time. Between training MMA, doing the porn shoots, and performing metal in the clubs with Condemned to Live I had a wild lifestyle. I stopped working in the films back in 2010 though. That industry suffered from piracy much like the music industry. Anyways I have a girlfriend, a normal job, and a traditional modest lifestyle now.

Is Dawning back on the warpath? Will we hear more in the coming weeks, months and years?

I create the music of Dawning for myself and for the chosen few who are willing to listen to what Dawning has to offer them. To those who will listen we offer an escape to another another dimension in which their imagination can run free.

While I have been trying to get the band going live, at this point I am tired of auditioning show-off types and have taken matters into my own hands. I am currently playing electronic drums while at the same time playing keyboards on with my other foot (Moog Tarus clone). My right hand also plays some keyboards. So I am playing drums and keyboards; the drums are electronic, so I feel like I am piloting a spaceship when I am playing I can be in my own world. Also I am not a great drummer, but I can keep the beat.

My girlfriend Charity has taken over on bass guitar for now. She has named herself Nubian WitchGoddess (is that one taken?) and I am working with a guitar player named Gabriel. If this lineup works out we will be performing very soon. The Caravan has always been supportive and said we can play anytime. Noothegrush expressed willingness to play the tiny club with us eventually, which was very nice of them. Also I personally have an entire band’s worth of equipment including every instrument and amp and drums and PA etc., so let it be known I have 100% been trying to take Dawning live for the last year or so and basically have received little to no support from local musicians in this effort. I have had many ads out with few responses. And, funny, what do you know — now that the record came out like 10 people just contacted me all of a sudden about joining. Way of the world I suppose!

There is a full length album I finished recording coming out on cassette in a few months on French label. It has some more upbeat black metal stuff but plenty of doom too. It flows. The new full length album is about the Satanic albino cult that lives high in the hills above Silicon Valley, by the way. My car broke down up there many years ago and the Sherrif told me about them and gave me gas to get the fuck out of there.

Interview: Argus

December 15, 2013 –

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As recent writings from Keith Kahn-Harris and others indicate, metal may be suffering from too much: too many bands, too huge an information flow, too many blogs, too much focus on surface aesthetics.

Contrasting this flood of “too much” is a true metal movement designed to emphasize what metal has always done well, but done anew by new generations. One member of this movement is Argus, whose album Beyond the Martyrs caught our attention for its NWOBHM/Candlemass classic metal fusion.

Luckily, frontman Butch Balich was available to answer a few profile questions and some existential ones via email. His answers strike me as relatively without contrivance, and show us this band both as it presents itself and as it is likely to be experienced.

Can you tell us how Argus formed? Did you come together on a mutual love of existing music, or a desire to create something that didn’t exist at the time?

The band was put together by Erik and Kevin out of friendship and a desire to jam and play some tunes. I don’t think it was ever envisioned it would become what it has. Our goal has always been simply to write great songs. We don’t concern ourselves with whether or not we are forging new paths or treading well worn ones. Its all about playing music we love and infusing our personality into it.

What is a “working class metal sound” (from your official biography)? Do the members of Argus identify with working-class or blue-collar roots?

Those guys grew up here in Western, PA and I think definitely identify with a working-class, blue-collar set of roots. We see ourselves as hard working and our music as fairly straightforward — what you hear is what you get — we aren’t overly complex and fancy in either our writing or our performance yet both are powerful. So I think we meant to portray the band as a straight up true metal band that works hard and is not pretentious in any way.

What would you identify as your primary and enduring influences?

We’re all over the map really. If you separated us and asked each of us you’d hear everything from Sabbath to Slayer, KISS to The Beatles, Maiden to NOFX, Marvin Gaye to Slough Feg. Collectively I think we draw from a common pool of Maiden, Thin Lizzy, some doom like Candlemass, old Metallica… We know what we want the band to sound like though so you’ll hear big riffs, great harmonies… sometimes the bands that those things remind of are coincidental, for instance “The Ladder” from Boldly Stride the Doomed has a real Solitude Aeturnus vibe even though I’m probably the one guy in the band who loves them. We are also influenced/pushed by bands like Slough Feg or Valkyrie.

You’ve picked an amalgamation of older styles for your music, instead of trying to keep up with the cutting edge or invent something. Why did you make this choice? Is there anything new under the sun, musically?

Let’s be honest — there really aren’t any combinations of riffs or notes that haven’t been used. There is NO ONE reinventing the wheel musically anymore. SO, our goal is to write great songs that we love — it is the goal of any good band. Our goal has never been to create something wholly unique as that is impossible. We draw from what we love about the music we listen to and enjoy playing and hopefully our personality comes across enough — and that is what makes us special. The notes/riffs/melodies may not always be something unheard of but we each have way of playing our instruments that adds up to ARGUS sounding like ARGUS instead of a mere rate retro metal knockoff.

Do you think the style you play selects the audience you receive, and that some audiences are more supportive than others?

I think any fan of true metal would like the band. We are neither overly refined or simplistic. I think our music has the ability to appeal to folks across different spectrums as it mixes bits and pieces of things and has strong melodies. I do think we’ve been most accepted by true metal and doom crowds so far. So far every audience we’ve played for has been pretty damn supportive to be honest. I do feel there is a niche market for what we do even though it has the potential to grow larger. If you play the style we play you do need to be prepared to accept that the fanbase is fairly limited and it will take a great amount of touring, perseverance and luck to advance beyond cult level.

There has been a movement in metal over the past four or five years called “True Metal,” in which people are less interested in outward-looking hybrids and more in an inward-looking, metal-centric attempt to continue the spirit of classic bands, although not necessarily the details. Have you seen this? Would it apply to Argus?

There is a segment of folks who aren’t interested so much in modernism and would prefer new bands to play in the old style. This is me to extent though I prefer bands not to be complete ripoffs of a specific band. I prefer bands like Slough Feg, Pharaoh, Twisted Tower Dire, Enforcer who have obvious influences but whose own personality comes through and who don’t consign themselves to 80s production values 24-7. I think Argus fits in with a retro tag though I have to say I think we manage to sound modern without sounding modern (if that makes sense). Like we don’t sound dated even though we’re playing metal based on the classic metal and hard rock bands.

This is your third album, after an EP and a demo. How has your sound changed during this time? Do you see it going in another direction as time goes on?

I don’t see that our sound has changed so much as streamlined a bit. We’re trying to capture the vibe and point of each song without belaboring the point in endless repetitions of the same riff. Why take ten minutes to say what can be said in six? I think it’s been a gradual transition. We’ve definitely become better songwriters over 7 years. Stylistically though we’ve been fairly constant. Maybe less doomy but no less moody.

Why do you think heavy metal remains popular after forty years of existence?

Because it is powerful, honest, hits-you-in-the-gut music. Because lyrically it provides escape. It provides understanding. It’s a very gut level thing… metal. There is an energy to it that few other forms of music capture — …and power, volume… I also think metal is also where you will find musicians whose level of integrity and devotion to their fans is high as opposed to more throwaway styles of music where musicians are chasing dollars exclusively rather than the art.

What’s next for Argus? Are you going to tour, or write more material?

We’re about to start writing for album 4. We hope to get over to Europe again the Summer of 2014. We have a festival appearance booked at the Ragnarokkr Festival in Chicago the weekend of April 4-5, 2014. Other than that we’re looking at some possible US dates… we’ll see what happens. Are discussing plans for small releases like a possible 7″, an EP and maybe a split.

Analyze it to Life: Black Sabbath – Master of Reality

December 13, 2013 –

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The resurgence of Black Sabbath following the success of their new album 13 presents an ironic success when compared with the more substantial legacy of their earlier work. Without the first five albums, metal as we now know it would not exist. And on one album in particular, Black Sabbath laid the groundwork for three subgenres — stoner metal, thrash metal and doom metal — such that future generations could pick up the hint and fully develop these new alloys of the raw metal that Black Sabbath forged forty years ago.

Black Sabbath is widely acknowledged by critics and fans as the beginning of heavy metal. From the eerie tri-tone chills of “Black Sabbath” to the menacing crawl of “Electric Funeral,” from the sludge of “Cornucopia” to the pop sensibility of “Killing Yourself to Live,” the black stamp of Black Sabbath radiates forward into the future, culminating in a reprise of their career (including post-Ozzy line-ups) in 13. Ranking the first five Black Sabbath works on a scale of one to five, a convincing argument could be made for either chronological sequence going from best to least. It’s a toss-up for fans and critics alike. Paranoid garners most of the nods as the most influential album from all corners, and many fans cite Vol. 4 as their favorite. Numerous others consider Sabbath Bloody Sabbath the salvation of Black Sabbath, bringing a newer sound to the band

But whichever direction you go, Master of Reality stands in the center. It is the first, and maybe the last, Black Sabbath album from the Ozzy-era (and perhaps from the entire canon) to purge extraneous elements and render a pure metal, so pure that other alloys — especially stoner metal, thrash metal, and doom metal –- would not exist without it. While seeds of different genres surely exist on the other four albums mentioned, I will be arguing that Master of Reality not only undergirds these three subgenres of heavy metal but may well be the finest classic Black Sabbath album.

From start to finish, Master of Reality casts a dark, heavy, menacing, and philosophical spell on the listener. Perhaps “uncompromising” describes it best. As an artifact judged solely on its own composition and delivery, Master of Reality may be the first metal album conceived of as a metal album. While the first two Black Sabbath albums undeniably forge many elements of heavy metal, each deviates at certain points. Black Sabbath has numerous forays into jazz and blues. It’s heavy when it’s heavy, but an almost exploratory vibe pervades about one-third of the album. Paranoid, while certainly heavier overall and much more consistent than Black Sabbath, retains blues and jazz elements that do not appear on Master of Reality. The first two albums stand as classics of the genre, and valid arguments for their status as primordial metal albums absolutely exist. However, the unity and purposefulness of Master of Reality indicate that these albums were like drafts of an essay, brimming with good ideas and clever phrases but ultimately collections of elements rather than unified wholes. Master of Reality starts heavy, grows heavier, and finishes heaviest. As the analysis below will demonstrate, the thematic consistency of this album far exceeds that of its predecessors. The lyrical expression of the themes reflects a deeper and more reasoned understanding of the issues involved. Musically, the songs are tighter and more direct. While the free-form jams of the first two albums are quite interesting and in my opinion as good as anything of the era, they reflect yet again a collection of elements. Master of Reality offers much more stylistic consistency, indicating a more holistic approach to the project.

The opening track, “Sweet Leaf” stands as a blueprint for stoner metal. The lyrics celebrate marijuana as a window to another dimension only the enlightened perceive: “Straight people don’t know what you’re about / They put you down and shut you out / You gave to me a new belief / And soon the world will love you sweet leaf.” The plodding riff that dominates the song permeates the descendant genre. Then the break from around 2:35-3:25 shifts into a proto-thrash mode (especially evident in Bill Ward’s drumming) that will show up again and again on this record. The song concludes with the stoner plodding that begins it.

“After Forever” and “Children of the Grave” carry the proto-thrash elements to the next level. While many critics have begun to agree that “Symptom of the Universe” off Sabotage inaugurates proto-thrash, one hearing of Master of Reality should be adequate evidence that the thrash style was being perfected, not invented, by the time “Symptom” was pressed into vinyl. Taking on religion (and ironically deciding in its favor, saying “They should realize before they criticize / That God is the only way to love”), the shouted lyrics of “After Forever” offer a direct exploration of the question of the soul versus the institutionalized mechanisms that supposedly provide for its sustenance. Both of these themes persist into thrash metal. The up-tempo opening and subsequent power chord extravaganza stand as a stark contrast with the opening track. “Children of the Grave” is pure thrash. Again featuring a shouted vocal, the song amplifies lyrics that challenge war and societal manipulation with verses like “Show the world that love is still alive you must be brave / Or your children of today are children of the grave.” The lyrics of this song presage two of the most prominent themes in thrash metal. Like “Paranoid” before it, “Children of the Grave” chugs forward, adding sustained chord progressions above it. The break from 2:10-2:20 proves itself worthy thrash to this day. Bill Ward’s work heralds the prominence of drums in thrash. Taken together, these two songs form the blueprint for thrash metal.

“Lord of this World,” “Solitude,” and “Into the Void” constitute a “doom suite.” As Osbourne’s plaintive wail pierces our eardrums, evil, demonic possession, psychological instability, and societal collapse penetrate our consciousness like a needle pushing a drug under the skin. The lyrics reflect a pessimism only hinted at in the preceding songs. The song titles themselves indicate a doom ethos. Try to imagine a darker or doomier final song than “Into the Void.” With the exception of a break in “Into the Void,” the tempos, riffs, and rhythms slow to a sometimes mechanistic, sometimes mournful, sometimes throbbing, always menacing procession of deliberate despair. The churning “Lord of this World” offers a view of demonic influence based not on Satan’s assiduity but human apathy: “You made me master of the world where you exist / The soul I took from you was not even missed.” The naysayers vilified in “After Forever” have won, and the dim hope that “God is the only way to love” offered in “After Forever” is snuffed out like a candle after a mass. “Solitude,” a slower, softer song expresses the ennui of a person suffering from self-directed pessimism. Ostensibly about a woman, the lyrics also sustain an interpretation of addiction or perhaps depression: “Crying and thinking is all that I do / Memories I have remind me of you.” The theme of hopelessness would become a staple of doom metal. “Into the Void” comprises interesting movements and perhaps one of the best introductory and main body riffs in all of Black Sabbath. The theme of contradictory practices, probably based on the co-occurrence of the Apollo missions and the Vietnam War, ultimately rests on the fact that hope is an illusion and the only peace that exists comes from journeying into the void — not on a rocket ship but in a grave on a planet “left to Satan and his slaves.” Again, the hope expressed in “After Forever” falls to the psychological manipulation of the children of the grave. The thematic consistency across the album is summarized and re-presented as a void that ultimately becomes the only option: a dark, heavy, menacing, and philosophical elaboration of the pessimism that will come to characterize heavy metal.

Master of Reality presents an overall coherence and depth reflective of a band that has realized its vision. Working out the details during the production of their first two records, Black Sabbath tempered that vision with experience. The musical, lyrical, and thematic sophistication of this album leads to an even heavier sound than had existed before. While it may be that down-tuning contributed to a darker sound, the beauty of this album emerges not from lower notes but from higher understanding. Some may suggest that Vol. 4 goes the next step further, but I would argue that it is the first step down-less consistent, less profound (although of Vol. 4 possesses a rather remarkable lyrical finesse). Sabbath Bloody Sabbath seems in the main a different enterprise than the first four albums (though it does elaborate some of the elements started on Vol. 4.) Some may suggest that Black Sabbath was an almost miraculous first outing, therefore making it best. I would agree that it laid the foundation for the genre but lacks the unity and purpose of Master of Reality, which is the album that confirmed the genre. Some may suggest the commercial success and exposure of Paranoid makes it the best expression of Black Sabbath’s ethos. Paranoid ranks as one of the greatest albums in the Sabbath canon, and many arguments could be made about the songs on Paranoid being their best work. But this analysis seeks to determine the best album. And Paranoid lacks the lyrical, thematic, and musical consistency of Master of Reality. In fact, from my perspective this level of excellence does not reappear until Heaven and Hell. But that album resulted from a new line-up and a new vision. In the end, I have to choose Master of Reality over Heaven and Hell.

A true testament to the importance of this album appears in the track list for 1997’s live collection Reunion. If we accept the postulate that Black Sabbath intended this collection to be a compendium representing the legacy of the Ozzy era as it stood at that time, the importance of Master of Reality becomes clear. Only four songs from the final five albums of the era are included. Only three are chosen from the eponymous first album. That leaves five songs each from Paranoid and Master of Reality (I’ll concede that “Orchid” is less important than any of the songs from Paranoid, yet there it is). With many fine tunes available from the final five albums, Black Sabbath included two-thirds of Master of Reality (four of six full-length songs). Surely they would not have featured so much of this album (and so little of the final five) if they did not want it to represent their legacy.

At the very least, Master of Reality caps the most important three-album sequence in the history of heavy metal. Although the first two albums present fierce, fatalistic, and fear-laden songs, songs with symphonic sensibilities and fusion-based energy, Master of Reality far exceeds both of them as a holistic project. The musical consistency and thematic pessimism of this album refines the ethos and aesthetic of the first two albums into a tighter work of art, at once more controlled and more innovative, perhaps because of the greater degree of precision and planning. Further, the variety of styles and increasing darkness of the themes and lyrics as the album progresses create the design signatures for the stoner, thrash, and doom metal of today, making it more influential than a cursory understanding would indicate. As a result Master of Reality reigns as the finest Black Sabbath album.

Torchure – Beyond the Veil

December 6, 2013 –

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Torchure‘s Beyond the Veil, recently re-issued on Vic Records, shows the best of the inventive spirit that hovered at the boundaries of extreme metal.

I say at the boundaries because this release, like early Sentenced or middle-period Therion, keeps one foot in the relatively accepted worlds of speed metal and heavy metal while another remains planted in the underground. Properly described, it’s a doom metal (of the heavy metal variety) hybrid with death metal.

The deathier aspects are embedded in mid-paced passages that show, in an odd twist for the genre, melodic development in both guitar and vocals, creating a sense much like that Dissection wielded of an inner core of beauty to a crashing heaviness. Slower doom riffing resembles both Cathedral and funeral doom bands to follow like Skepticism, although this would be considered uptempo.

Offsetting those elements are a number of harder-rocking numbers that use repurposed heavy metal riffs in a death metal context to deliver charging intensity at a faster pace. Many of these resemble the interstitial music between speed metal and death metal, like Slayer or Destruction. The melodic balances the spacier pentatonics and the crashing chromatic riffs that connect it together.

The result is a highly inventive album that showcases a study of metal riffing from the early 1970s onward, and by maintaining a doomy mood, expands death metal from raw riff interplay to a science of developing riffs in the context of a carefully planned mood shift in each song. This comes at the expense of the more expansive song structures which death metal could adopt by changing riffs every 24 seconds.

Vic Records has unleashed a quality re-release here with sound quality intact and no loss of detail, building on the strength of the original and delivering an improved experience. With luck this will allow a new generation to discover this often-overlooked (probably because of the misspelled name) German death metal band.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 12-05-13

December 5, 2013 –

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? If you treat heavy metal like a form of art or culture, it suddenly reveals its inner depth. Labels want you to see the surface only. To separate the two, we must be brutally honest. Look for the occasional gem in the sands of sonic feces.

cemetary-phantasmaCemetary – Phantasma

Claiming to be tired of the “dungeons and dragons metal stuff”, Cemetary mainman Mathias Lodmalm stops trying to rip off Tiamat and Sisters of Mercy for Nuclear Blast fan boiz and unleashes his last pose. If his progressively more AIDS-influenced output didn’t clue you in, this last Cemetary album feels like a garage band project done for the purpose of emulating Nine Inch Nails or Skinny Puppy. It shows how interchangeable most poppy industrial is, so I can see something like this album succeeding on the radio, but as luck would have it, this is just another faceless electronica product in a sea of many. The only thing this release has in common with the previous Cemetary output is the same sub-standard quality that left them entombed in the chasms of out of print Black Mark releases no one cares for.

periphery-periphery_ii_this_time_its_personalPeriphery – Periphery 2: This Time It’s Personal

It’s important to note that borrowing a few techniques from the metal genre doesn’t make you a metal band. Underneath the “harsh” vocals and “crazy” drumming are mechanical Nu riffs and mathcore noodlings. Whiny crybaby vocals and pop-choruses make this nothing more than a commercial product for socialization amongst Xanax-addled teenagers who are somewhere between dropping out of high school and becoming Che Guevara shirt-wearing low level pot dealers who often lapse into 9/11 conspiracy rants. The whole thing is organized to seem more like an emo album with its pop-punk cheerfulness and feminine vocals that reflect a feeling of being “hurt” by “mean society and girls with standards,” much like their clone targets in Sikth. If these people were more honest with themselves, they would drop the superficial “EXTREME” portions and become the next Hawthorne Heights.

satyricon-the_shadowthroneSatyricon – The Shadowthrone

If you are looking for the start of black metal’s disintegration, it can be found here. Taking liberal inspiration from bands that preceded it, this album is the blueprint for how semi-talented musicians can copy a genre’s sound while embodying none of its spirit. The songs are narrative on the surface; however, when the listener attempts to peer beyond appearance it is quickly apparent that there is nothing of depth, the musical equivalent of modern poetry. Tracks meander from one location to another, never providing any causation for why the arena is changing. The riffs are tiring in their simplicity and irrelevance, and motifs are at best uninspired. The band also deserves blame for introducing drunken popularizations of folk melodies that distract listeners from the vapid quality of metal present, which has been the operating principle of folk metal for the last 20 years. The only people who can appreciate this album are the deaf and fans that lack standards.

harm-cadaver_christiHarm – Cadaver Christi

The real way to be a reviewer is to assume that nothing is free. No one gets a promo. Everyone must pay mall prices. There are no buddy hookups, freebies from the cutout bin, and you have a budget that’s commensurate with that which the average 15-27 year old can field. It doesn’t matter that the wiper blades for your Lexus cost more than even an album from overseas; the question is what your audience can afford. Your readers. And knowing that they have finite money and time, what’s worth spending it on for them? Music is a zero-sum game. If you can buy only five CDs a month, you want to buy the best five possible. All of this is what was once called common sense, apparently, but now is voodoo quantum dark energy esoteric witchcraft knowledge to most people. That being said, I’m sure the guys in Harm are nice people but this album is dismal. It’s bog-standard Swedish-style mid-paced death metal with every cliche of bad metal involved, including the highly derivative riffs, emphasis on vocals as lead instrument (a fatal failure for metal bands), plodding pace and lack of melodic or structural development. Avoid unless you’re so average that anything else is over your head.

xysma-first_and_magicalXysma – First and Magical

Starting life as a Carcass clone, Xysma have progressively been perverting that band’s Symphonies of Sickness formula into becoming a more accessible “rock” product through perceptively mainstream blues and psychedelic moments as well as the “angsty” sounds of then “nu” radio hit band Helmet. With liner notes claiming The Beach Boys as an influence, it all comes together as a light-hearted parody of underground metal through the juxtaposition of “happy” and “trippy” moments amidst blasting death/grind fare and two-note groove riffs. Arguably the first death n’ roll band, Xysma could be held responsible for the mainstreaming of death metal through the use of elements the genre at that point have fully filtered out of its sound. While I don’t think the band meant any harm with this release, it has nothing to offer except “light-hearted fun” and seems like a bizarre interim period between their old Carcass-influenced sounds and the Helmet style they would adopt on their next album Deluxe. Similar to what Tiamat and Entombed did, Xysma saw the potential for material gain in emphasizing grooves and so got rid of the vestigial underground baggage to embrace commercialization.

inquisition-obscure_verses_for_the_multiverseInquisition – Obscure Verses for the Multiverse

Inquisition has been a constant within the American metal scene for over a decade, churning out albums that differ little in quality from one another, though with still enough distinction to be recognizably different. The band’s latest release, Obscure Verses for the Multiverse, is a continuation of the band’s recognizable style.

On this album, the band further perfects its rendition of the rock-influenced black metal genre, with many similarities to bands such as Satyricon or Marduk. Rather than a connected narration binding each song together, tracks are riff composites that sacrifice atmosphere for chaos and disorder. In compensation, riffs utilize ornamentation such as harmonics, bends, and minor chord strums in order to retain interest as drums blast away incessantly. This succeeds for approximately 30 seconds before the listener realizes that he could derive the same effect by shaking a glass container of marbles as a phone rings in the distance, simultaneously entertaining and a source of exercise.

However, this author has no desire to be unjust: the album undoubtedly will be praised by many a Wacken attendee and provide each an hour of entertainment, and truly; that is the goal of metal. After all, it certainly couldn’t be art!

sheol-sepulchral_ruins_below_the_templeSheol – Sepulchral Ruins Below the Temple

This is a really good effort but ultimately isn’t distinctive enough, and it’s not a matter of style. The style applied here is mid-period death metal hybridized with the latest trend, which has been Incantation/Demoncy worship by people who love linear riffs that internally counterbalance themselves with extended chromatic fills that crush melodic tension. Sheol have put a lot of thought into the amount of variation in each song, the coherence of the style, and in adding distinctive elements like intros, melodic accents and rhythmic breaks. However, ultimately this is a churning stampede of riffs that are relatively similar in approach and thus form, and the result is that it feels like listening to the wind while riding a train with the window open.

harm_wulf-theres_honey_in_the_soil_so_we_wait_for_the_tillHarm Wülf – There’s Honey In The Soil So We Wait For The Till

I had a grandfather who traveled the country as a journalist, interviewing union leaders. This generally happened on Greyhoud buses, because if you were a man of the people back then, you wanted to be seen in the common man’s transportation. During a disproportionate number of these interviews, someone was softly playing a guitar in the background and singing. It sounds exactly like Harm Wülf. Despite the cute somewhat edgy name and the aura of mysterious darkness, Harm Wülf is a fifteenth-generation copy of a copy from four generations ago. Soft guitar playing uses only about three strum patterns and gently loops over a verse and chorus while the half-whispered, half-sung vocals are the real focus. This is how college weenies have been getting laid since 4,000 B.C. It seems deep on the surface, but it’s really a pile of cliches, starting with the awkward and obviously imitative title. It wants to emulate a well-known post-Neurosis project, but that’s actually good. This is just rehash, reheated and disguised behind a single sprig of parsley.

ayreon-the_theory_of_everythingAyreon – The Theory of Everything

Oddly, this band merges 1970s prog rock sounds with 1980s pop and ends up mixing in a number of diverse influences that, per the nature of ambitious merges, default to a common ancestor. Thus this album ends up being ambitious AOR with periodic metal riffs, a lot of keyboards, and a lot of cheesy vocals. If you like walking turds like Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys this cheese-fest will delight you. It is not as pretentious as the 1970s progressive rock that defined the genre, but it’s also uncannily pop which makes it hard for an experienced listener to tolerate. Musically, it is better than average, other than a lack of melodic development or use of harmony and key as we’d expect from a prog band. Aesthetically, it’s the contemporary equivalent of Boston or Asia or any of those other prog-soundalikes that never crossed that line to got full-on hardcore.

deathbreed-your_stigmataDeathbreed – Your Stigmata

Fairly standard deathcore, Deathbreed sounds death but doesn’t feel deathy. That is, there’s a lot of quoting of classic motifs from death metal, but they don’t get developed, and the band has no agenda so they end up at a musical LCD that’s basically rock made like a punk band would if using metal riffs. The result is predictable, but that’s not its problem. What kills it is that it has nothing to express. Even teenagers bleating out predictable platitudes about their trivial problems would be more realistic than this photocopy of a photocopy (with added jump-beats for the slower kids).

ulcerate-vermisUlcerate – Vermis

On Vermis, Ulcerate once again fool the gullible into thinking that “if it’s needlessly discordant and has growls on it, it’s the NEW and EVOLVED death metal,” only it’s not that apt. Underneath all the wankery, you’ll discover the songs never really go anywhere beyond the idea established in the beginning. All the superficially chaotic sounds render a meta-atmosphere of insanity through discordance, but the one fixed mode of expression this dwells in makes it all very obvious by the first track’s conclusion.