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An ennead of Terrifying visions – classic EP’s of Death Metal

February 3, 2010 –

Slayer – Haunting The Chapel
Napalm Death – Mentally Murdered
Rotting Christ – Passage to Arcturo
At the Gates – Gardens of Grief
Wings – Thorns On Thy Oaken Throne
Sacramentum – Finis Malorum
Zyklon-B – Blood Must Be Shed
Vulpecula – Fons Immortalis
Divine Eve – Vengeful and Obstinate

This series of reviews shows the infectious potential of condensing the multidimensional texture of darkness and mythology into a carefully trimmed brief explosion with no room for filler or long, meaningless passages of droning, experimentation or interludes. Those who mastered the art of the metal EP or mini-LP are rare, but deserve all the more credit for their achievements. The fact that you can listen to everything we have here easily within the space of one evening does not mean that the unlocked experiences won’t stay with you forever.

Slayer – Haunting The Chapel

Showing a strong advancement in technique and an evolution towards a darker style that would be the staple of records to come by the band, Slayer throw off the camp shackles of their excellent first album, and give a more progressive approach to songcraft yet give more emphasis on repetition within individual riffs. The violent droning guitar timbre of Discharge makes itself ever more present whilst the musical language of Judas Priest and Angel Witch works itself within those patterns. The dissonant twin soloing of King and Hanneman is more suitable to this new direction also, whilst Lombardo’s aggressive battery finds more cohesion in using less variation and being more of an ambient backdrop than before, with Araya’s unmistakable rasp encoding itself sadistically within the depths. A bleak affair that summed up the apocalyptic meanderings of the speed metal movement and the embryonic beginnings of the death metal that was yet to manifest. -Pearson

Napalm Death – Mentally Murdered

This work is like a convergence of Napalm Death and Carcass, having left From Enslavement to Obliteration and Reek or Putrefaction behind in order to expand on their styles, towards Harmony Corruption and Symphonies of Sickness respectively. By Napalm’s standards, at this point in their discography, these songs are quite lengthy and structured with an attention to detail that recaptures the subtle shifts in mechanical motion of the earliest side to Scum. This technique is re-invigorated by the cleaner production, relegating the extremity of fuzzy bass for the sake of a twin-guitar assault that creates an hypnotic and delusional sensation, and shows the input of Jesse Pintado who would go on to record another highly influential work of Grindcore – Terrorizer’s World Downfall. Composition is practically freed at very the earliest moments of songs onwards, unlike previous Napalm Death albums where these parts were used to establish exactly which single riff will become immersed in a barely discernable anarchic explosion for the rest of the 30 seconds of music. Instead, it’s given a more Death Metal treatment, e.g. in ‘The Missing Link’, the opening riff seems to degrade over time into smaller grinding patterns until the fragments are juggled like sacks of meat by morbid Death Metal riffs. This is where some of the tremelo melodies that would tear through the rotten wall of sound of Carcass finds its place, accompanied by the mocking lead guitars of Bill Steer. The human tornado, Mick Harris is even more precise than his previous effort, but doesn’t lose any of his epithet’s justification. Lee Dorrian’s vocals become more guttural and undecypherable, conceding to the futility of mainstream political discussion. The seeds of an approach closer in line with the burgeoning interest in Death Metal were sown here, simultaneously taking Grindcore one step further away from reaching the dead-end of short and simplistic outbursts of truncated riffs and hollow statements. -ObscuraHessian

Rotting Christ – Passage to Arcturo

Warm, playful and overflowing with the abundance of inspiration in the rediscovery of ancient shamanic techniques of mystical metal creation, the Greek pioneers of Rotting Christ forsook the aggravated modern noise of grindcore in time to ride the wave of blackness that usurped the European metal underground. Remnants and glimpses of 80’s fast modern metal (Slayer) give way to an astral, luminous intensity of synthesizers and slowly picked melodies that suspend the themes for a moment to enable the mind to stop wandering and relish the unholy moment of concentration, in a yogic gesture of blackness. Few have ever used the crushing sonic world of black and death metal to so fully immerse in ethereal ritual, and such rare examples as Drawing Down the Moon preserve plenty of subtle reminders to this widely heard classic of European black metal. As their chaotic exhortations in countless zines of the period conclude, Rotting Christ’s hybrid of gothic and black metal aimed for an architecture of the infinite, regal sunsets of lost kingdoms whose landscapes are not for the eyes of mortals, except in dreams and in death. As “Forest of N’Gai” aptly proves, black metal was at its height when not contorted to fit the schemes of a political ideology or an orthodox Satanist movement, but like the great works of literature a realm of fantasy of its own whose symbols are rooted in our deepest unconscious fears and desires. This sub-space can then be used by the analytical mind to figure the patterns of generation for a multitude of creative, even lunatic, concepts. -Devamitra

At the Gates – Gardens of Grief

The original Gothenburg gloomy melody cult made one of their strongest statements on this early EP, pressed from demo to vinyl on the first year of the band’s existence. Fresh from life disrespecting bands such as Infestation and Grotesque, these Swedes nail the most desperate guitar harmonies since Candlemass, but infect them with the viral sensibility of a flux of death current. As if plugging the Sunlight Studios into your brains in direct interface, Svensson’s tremolos rip and rend mercilessly apart the soul of the beast that dared expose its true feelings of living in a world of hypocrisy and uncertainty. The band has preserved the most fragile moment of the Swedish death metal underground, the precarious balance between the catatonic psychosis of headbanging under alcoholic influence and the deep, burning, thoughtful soul of an encrypted Romantic in a world of pain and disguised memories. It all takes such tangible form in Tomas Lindberg’s cracking, maddened scream: “I am at the gates – Lord of Chaos – Let me sleep”. The fear and anger of At the Gates’ most revered albums will always remain something that divides audiences according to their response to such emotional cues, but “Gardens of Grief” is the un-terrorized, exuberant sound of youth that realizes the presence of death and dives into it headlong, appropriate to the Per Ohlin dedication in the liner notes. -Devamitra

Wings – Thorns On Thy Oaken Throne

An all too brief EP from Finnish gloomophiliacs Wings, as ephemeral as the tortured existence that is enshrouded in these twisted sounds of darkness-raped melody. Almost like the missing tracks from Cartilage’s cult classic ‘The Fragile Concept of Affection’, this continuation goes further to explore the sombre moods of songs like ‘Why Do I Watch The Dawn?’, in their Replicant-like reflections upon the transience of a human existence placed between the crushing, vice-grip of nothingness. Wings don’t peturb the balance of pace of slower, more expansive lakes of hypnotic melody that made up Cartilage’s contribution to their split with Altar, but there is greater focus on creating a doomier atmosphere, leaving no space for the grinding riffs of the past incarnation – a technique that parrelleled the Swedish Unleashed on their first album. Instead, an older treatment is given to the bouncier riffs, which could be heard as Punkier passages, but as this EP comes together as a whole to reveal, these bridge the narrative that seems to span across both songs with a mid-pace tempo in which the drawn out melodies pass through towards an expressive, quite neoclassical riff of totality – encompassing all the hopes that are weighed down by all the sorrows in the journey towards death. This poem in two parts is a valuable recording of Death Metal history, as a valid direction for these Finnish musicians to have taken following the demise of Cartilage, with all their weird melodic knowledge as baggage. -ObscuraHessian

Sacramentum – Finis Malorum

A true gem, Sacramentum’s first EP showcases a style that is melodic and emotive in a manner not unlike countrymen Dissection and Unanimated. Epic, catchy and well crafted compositions are multi-layered not unlike Emperor minus keyboards, the rush of guitar notes being vibrant and lively, with little emphasis towards a rhythmic expectation, as one would expect with most heavy metal and hard rock music. Simultaneously moody yet without being whiny, this early release by Sacramentum showcases a band who are able to master quality control and bring the best out of all the elements that define their music. Alongside At The Gates, artistically the finest Swedish metal act of the 1990′s. -Pearson

Zyklon-B – Blood Must Be Shed

Fast, raging black metal with the fury of early Deicide and the sharp harmonizing typical of Mayhem and Immortal’s ‘Pure Holocaust’ come head to head, in the guise of technically precise, abrupt songs. Shouty hardcore vocals, warm synth overlaps, a near constant blastbeat and anti-humanist lyrical concepts indicate a desire by known Norwegian musicians to advance the aggression of the black metal style and shift it’s idealogical focus away from romantic nostalgia. This brief E.P. lacks the spark of Norway’s foundational acts, but remains an influential statement of the subgenre. -Pearson

Vulpecula – Fons Immortalis

Who would have expected Chuck Keller to open the gates to very Orion itself after the folding of the aggressor squad par excellence Order from Chaos? As if a continuation of the promise of the astrological and alchemistic symbolism of the former bands’ lyrics, Vulpecula slows it down and strums soothing, yet vigorous melodies while the vocals multiple into wraith-like dimensions of rhythmic rasps and Keller’s leads occasionally burst into the aggressive, spasmous flight of an eagle amidst a thunderstorm. “Phoenix of the Creation” delves into exercises in authentic space synth, while “The First Point of Aries” harkens to the mid-paced woodland meditations that the Norwegians used to record at Grieghallen. Occasionally slightly hindered by the band’s eagerness to cram all the influences from Schulze to black metal into one short EP, the mere richness of it invites the ears to take their pleasure at will from the Babylonian garden of ponderous and prestigious movements that are achingly attractive and acceptable in their innocent refusal to complicate things with dissonance. Credit also goes for the lead guitar efforts of Keller on their traditional melodious injection which easily avoids the neutrality of more pop oriented bands trying to do the same. Almost like envisioning a “new age” approach to the genre, Vulpecula is an alien saucer amidst the orbit bound technologies of “progressive” death metal. -Devamitra

Divine Eve – Vengeful and Obstinate

The first new release that’s being reviewed for 2010 and it’s already giving distinct impressions of the kind of quality that made 1993′s ‘As the Angels Weep’ a genuinely classic EP. Divine Eve keeps the form of this new material far simpler, stripping away the Death Metal-infected sludginess for a more rudimentary homage to early brutal music like Celtic Frost. ‘Vengeful and Obstinate’ makes its own unique statement by honing in on the nihilistic and warlike spirit of the Swiss legend’s To Mega Therion magnum opus, even invoking the same battle-horns on ‘Ravages of Heathen Men’ that bring focus to the beauty of conflict and strife in a meaningless universe. The varied tempo of grinding riffs set to a dirty bass guitar adds to the atmosphere of struggle as an outlet for this primitive, instinctual response to the world. ‘Whispers of Fire’ being the exception on this EP for the constantly up-tempo pace, it’s a pleasure to hear such slow and sludgy music churning visions of the darker universe beyond our lives of comfort and languish. The final and most devastating touch of ‘Vengeful and Obstinate’ is how Divine Eve makes extensive use of the piercing tone that Xan’s grating guitar setup produces, highlighting the spiral passage of powerchords by revealing their hidden, melodic architecture, ingenuiously managing to explain and enhance this rugged approach of legendary lineage. It’s about time the band produced a full-length and they’ve proved that they possess more than enough knowledge of unholy riffcraft to do so. -ObscuraHessian

November Reviews: Neutron Hammer, The Stone, Worship, Gehenna

November 22, 2009 –

Neutron Hammer – Extermination Kommand

A short and sweet five song EP by Neutron Hammer sees these young Finns tackle a simple, tried yet tested formula, typical of what we expect from retrograde black/death/thrash hybrids, seemingly with the only intention to rehash and rekindle lost memories of something many once saw as ‘true’. With a sharp and clear production that conveys great energy within the constraints of mostly verse/chorus song structures, Neutron Hammer often have a similar charge to their music not unlike Australian nostalgics Vomitor and Spear Of Longinus, though compacted to an catchy, anthemic mode that fits the early, primitive works of Impaled Nazerene and Beherit. Excellent work, and also worth watching if you can catch a live performance.


The Stone – Magla

Serbian black metallers The Stone create an epic work that resembles Texan act Averse Sefira, as both bands combine death metal riffing with Norwegian styled harmonies. The differences here are that the melodies are more obvious to untrained ears and we get much more variation in tempos. Amidst this framework there is a crepitating NWOBHM influence in the guitar work, laid beneath a sheen of violent, modern black metal phrasings. One of the best releases to come out of Eastern Europe since the turn of the recent millennium.


Worship – Last CD Before Doomsday

Reissued on CD format five years after being issued on cassette in 1999, Worship play in a funeral doom style that takes on the amelodic, sluggish, death-doom riffing of Thergothon and the suicidal themes and eclectic ambiences of fellow Germans Bethlehem. This lacks the sense of continuity that makes bands like Skepticism great, often losing its momentum in its search of unfathomable dirges of gloom, though this is no means to suggest it is a bad work, it still has its moments of quality.

 


Gehenna – First Spell

A minor classic of Norwegian black metal, Gehenna’s debut full length contains five songs that combine simple, punky chords and tremolo picked guitar harmonies amidst a backdrop of haunting, etheareal keyboards. Unlike most bands who have unsuccessfully tried to execute this ‘gothic’ variant of black metal, Gehenna clearly understand quality control, and whilst they allowed this aesthetic to play a key role in what you hear on the surface, it is kept in moderation and doesnt outweigh the artistic beauty on offer. If you are looking for something that triumphs where acts such as Cradle Of Filth handicapped their own potential, one should find it all here. Simple, imaginative, majestic and consistent, this is a highly recommended release.

Written by Pearson

Winter – Into Darkness

November 10, 2009 –

Winter

In his cyclical conception of world histories, the German thinker Oswald Spengler likened the phase of decay that all civilizations eventually undergo to the seasonal onset of winter. In the post-Enlightenment western world, this is in part characterised by the rule of materialism and a corresponding inversion of traditional hierarchy, prioritising the dominant, consuming impulses of the era. What band then, could be more aptly named to reflect the cold and bleak visions of a world declining under even more advanced conditions of the organico-cultural decay that Spengler described, than the Death Metal cult of Winter?

Perhaps the slowest Metal music recorded at the time, Winter’s only full-length album is part crushing Doom of Hellhammer/Celtic Frost-inspired power-chord arrangements, and part ambient dirgewaves caught between broken transmissions of a shattered technocratic infrastructure. This distinct choice of pacing is achieved and explained by the guitar, down-tuned to the extent of coalescing with the register of droning bass-chords. Not the reverb-driven, existential heaviness of a diSEMBOWELMENT, Winter’s guitar tone has more of a hollowness to it, enough to let the bass pass through like a dying heart struggling to pump blood around cold-narrowed arteries, a fading will-to-live in an empty and broken world. The exploration of this particular aesthetic also gives rise to more of the ambient sensibilities that are present in the album. Slowly but inevitably shifting compositions open up to vistas of endless wasteland, picking up the ghostly electro-static interference left by a fallen metropolis, as guitars and bass are modulated in a manner more-or-less similar to Cliff Burton’s famous set-up on Metallica’s instrumental song, ‘Call of Ktulu’, and random radio frequencies are tuned in and out of.

Each element of instrumentation seems to impose itself on the listener in a different way. This is very apparent when being pummeled by Joe Goncalves’ overbearing bass-drumming, which is like Obituary in its restrained tempo but largely detached from such a comparatively conventional sense of tempo. Instead, drum fills cascade out of the distorted noise, as though the foundations upon which modern society were built are gradually crumbling away. The vocals present yet another side to the album, just as imposingly. The rich, guttural voice of John Alman is right in the foreground, sounding full of pure disgust but nevertheless resilient to barren environment in his midst. Lyrics are not complaints of a wounded soul hopelessly trapped within the system that is caving in on him, but observations of a world plunged into darkness and ignorance, in an allegorical, mythologised style that harkens back to an ancient, golden age. If Winter ever did read Spengler, it might be safe to assume that they were greeting a new cycle.

-ObscuraHessian-

August 29th, 2009 – Low End Festival, Waterford

September 8, 2009 –

By the time the doors opened at the Forum at 2pm, individuals were already gathering outside the venue. As the hours passed themselves by, more people congregated in accordance with the more prominent bands that were playing.

Cork duo Ghost Of Medina began proceedings just after the doors opened, and played purely instrumental music that bore strong resemblances to the music of post-hardcore acts such as Isis and Neurosis. At this early stage of the day, the venue was under packed and more or less saturated the impact of their live performance: both guitarist and drummer were highly able, and performed compositions that were well thought out, though like most bands of their ilk, it seemed at times like a disorganized pastiche of ideas. Nothing particularly special, but an otherwise necessary means to begin proceedings.

The next band to play, Belfast’s Overoth, played an excellent short set, and played mid-to high pace death metal that were of a consistent formula: the simplistic song structures of Swedish acts, such as Unleashed and Dismember, combined with the techniques not uncommon on the early works of New York metal acts Suffocation and Immolation. The production on their studio output is the clear, crunchy tone not unlike the sound of classic Entombed, though their live acoustics this day had a rough edge to it, sounding raw yet discernible, like Morbid Angel’s ‘Covenant’ it was well treated yet free of artificial compressions. For a crowd that was not yet numerous enough at that early stage and somewhat less participant than could have been, Overoth had quite a commanding presence in the midst of what could do lesser acts a complete lack of justice.

Just as energetic and fierce were England’s Spearhead, whose appearance at the venue was partially beset and delayed by unknown travel circumstances. A somewhat abrupt end to the band’s brief set came across as a slight disappointment. A well respected act on the underground circuit, their style is a hybrid of the British death metal/grindcore that defined Carcass and Bolt Thrower, with the charging tempos and structures of modern acts, Angelcorpse and Axis Of Advance. Guitar technique was skillful yet not over-extravagant, solos bearing a strong resemblance to the classic Trey Azagthoth/Richard Brunelle trade-off style, with vague similarities to the shredding Gene Palubicki, with clicking, compressed and tight drums an aesthetical paean to the acoustics of a machine gun. Their precise, warlike songs again should have generated a much more enthusiastic reception from a venue that was still under crowded at that phase, though they were still a pleasure to watch, and made their craftsmanship known.

Kildare’s Mourning Beloveth were the first act of the night to generate strong passions from the audience. Their morbid, downtempo heavy metal was met with a good stage humour, and they received the warmest of responses from a crowd that was by this time, healthy in a size and possibly spurred on to enthusiastic involvement by the ingestation of alcohol. More fitting to this good performance was the set time they were allocated, which allowed for their lengthy dirges to weave momentum. Musically, they bring about the gothic overtones of My Dying Bride and mix it with simpler, melodic song structures that resemble influential NWOBHM bands like Witchfinder General or Angel Witch, and sluggish, flowing tempos that echo Skepticism.

Onslaught played a very competent and energising set, their Discharge-esque speed metal came across as provocative and inspired. Even with newer songs that seemed watered down at times, and perhaps lacking the chaotic splendor of their early period, their setlist was full of momentum, and was performed with great prowess, the falsetto wails of the vocalist evoking a general atmosphere of nostalgia of an era that pre-dated the mass commercialization of the metal genre. I would conclude personally that Onslaught may be now past their best days, but their excellence as a live band is fitting to a climate where an improving work ethic and a greater respect for artistic clarity is making itself heard amidst what some have called ‘hard times’.

Primordial got the warmest of receptions by a native crowd, and stylistically began where Mourning Beloveth left off; melancholic in a sense that only Ireland could fathom and know, but more triumphal than the former, and almost Nietzschean in the sense that their music makes one stare into the abyss, only to emerge a better man. They played a lengthy set, consisting of material that ran in fluid cohesion, like a more hookish, streamlined My Dying Bride, and a use of guitar dominated forms that reference Burzum as much as they do Candlemass. Impressive as is known the onstage dynamism of vocalist Alan Averill, whose onstage character is that vibrant it comes across as bring rhetorical without having to make use of words. In terms of showmanship, professionalism, a will to evoke the vision of tragic heroism, Primordial were the most impressive band of the entire festival, with little room for dispute.

Legendary grindcore veterans Napalm Death were hotly anticipated though came across as a disappointment due to two factors: the first being the depleted length of their set, and the second being what some perceived as a muddied sound job that permeated the guitars during their time onstage. During the intensity of their set, which given their indisputable live reputation would have made little difference to the highly involved crowd; though due to an unbalanced mix, it was only possible to follow the song forms through memory of having heard them before. Songs were from the mostly from the earlier part of their discography, and in between this were pieces taken from their latest release. Anyone new to the band listening to their performance I am sure would have had trouble trying to appreciate the nature of some of the output, and would have otherwise physically involved themselves in the ensuing crowd actions purely for the sake of doing so. The set did not even exceed forty-five minutes and this was also perceived as an obvious disappointment given the fact that they were given the headlining slot.

In spite of anything that might have at anytime proved to be detrimental, this happened to be an excellent day and evening. It was especially brilliant for an event such as this to actually take place in the south-east of Ireland. By all accounts it was a memorable night.

-Pearson-

diSEMBOWELMENT – Transcendence into the Peripheral

August 31, 2009 –

Transcendence into the Peripheral

diSEMBOWELMENT’s only full-length release is one of those classic Metal albums that takes the most rudimentary elements of the previous generation and arranges them in accordance with a unique and evolved artistic and spiritual vision. Though initially reminiscent of the blasting, grinding chaos of bands like Necrovore and Napalm Death, diSEMBOWELMENT waste no time setting in motion the epic, spiritual journey that they have clearly defined through the course of the album. The resonant tremelo riff that suddenly mystifies the raw and brutal, typically Death Metal soundscape is actually the centerpiece of the entire album. It’s a phrase that will recur throughout, and as it strummed, chanted, plucked and synthesized, it reflects an elevation of consciousness from the realisation of mortality, suffering and the nothingness that envelops it all to a state of serene understanding. The frenetic riffing more often gives way to monumentally heavy and meditatively slow passages, crafting a sense of silence or stillness that is at one with cold and impersonal reality. These are punctuated and layered with primal rhythms and manifestations of that central theme, as the journey unfolds to illustrate the gruelling path of spiritual awakening. Transcendence… is an album that should be approached with the same discipline that the band itself put into it’s creation. It’s one of the most thoughtfully crafted works of Death Metal that deserves a place as more than just an unusual, cult classic.

-ObscuraHessian-