I love used book stores — generally libraries, thrifts and small independents — because the chase is greater than the catch, and finding a rarity or just something fun to read is an inexhaustible thrill. A selection of old books gives a distinct perspective not just of writing but of history.
Each time I look over the dusty spines, castoffs of previous generations or well-loved volumes containing advice relied upon by those who came before, I am reminded how human history is a lattice of ideas. Each great thinker is a nodal point from which others branch, re-combining with other ideas or adding their own. And each writer boils down to one idea, usually, with the greatest having a handful.
The rest is a support system for that. To take a great idea and fling it out into the world requires a book, a third of which is introduction, a third explaining the idea in depth and a final third gesturing at relevance and shouting down the inevitable counter-arguments. Then the author spends the rest of his/her career amplifying on that idea or chasing its elusive ultimate form. Then, RIP and all of that boils down to a sentence of summary that most people know.
Think of Charles Malthus (“utilized resources expand algebraically, but population grows exponentially”) or even Adam Smith (“the self-interest of the many results in a balance”). Metal bands are remembered the same way: Black Sabbath (“used horror movie aesthetics on heavy rock to invent proto-metal”) or Suffocation (“used death metal textural complexity with speed metal choppy strumming styles”).
And Carcass? They will forever be remembered as the guys who made clumsy grindcore based around medical lyrics. This is too bad, as their real strength was to expand the grindcore song structure to include longer riffing that often emulated Second World War era popular music, even if unconsciously.
In fact, most of their success comes from the fact that they did everything unconsciously. On the surface, they were having a laugh with gore lyrics and sloppy grind. The first album, Reek of Putrefaction, is entirely unselfconscious in this way. It does not want to be anyone’s friend, or appeal to an audience. It is just having fun and accidentally unleashes the subconscious mind through a biting parody of society and its fear of disease and death.
It was that awkward and offhand element that caught the imagination of an audience. That, and the ripping tunes: the first Carcass album made grindcore complex enough for songs to be distinctive, but kept its rumbling chaotic surface that hid the structure. This made it heavier than most of what was out there at the time and inspired a thousand imaginations.
After that point, however, the Carcass story tapers off. Every album since then has been the band trying to re-interpret its original unintentional success, but to expand it by making the music more like Led Zeppelin and Metallica so that it can be “serious.” And therein is the problem: this band suffers a deep neurosis and when it tries to be serious, it fails. When just drunk and goofing around, these guys are able to reach into the unsocialized parts of their minds and come up with something good.
Symphonies of Sickness came out shortly after Reek of Putrefaction, but already shows us a more self-conscious band. The title is cute, the songs more obviously melodic and prone to borrow hard rock riffs, and the production still vicious but in a controlled way. Everything about the second Carcass album is a managed environment designed to manipulate appearance just like the neat rows of houses in the suburbs, political speeches and advertisements for security companies. The band reversed its raw approach and joined what they mocked.
After that, it has been all downhill. The Tools of the Trade EP showed us the new Carcass: melodic songs, death metal riffs and none of the grindcore urgency or organic appeal. It was all very much a product of the conscious mind trying to be serious so that other people would like it. Necroticism — Descanting the Insalubrious shat the bed with more of the same. For the time, it fit in competitively with death metal, and I listened to it then, but found over the years that I reached for it less and less.
I feared becoming like an old punker I met back in the early 1990s. “Carcass, great band, but they lost it after the first album,” he said. I knew these guys, I felt. They were like the old bearded dudes in robes who stood on streetcorners in the 1960s with signs saying THE END IS NEAR. They were walking stereotypes: the bitter old “truist” who only likes the demos and maybe the first album for any band, and will tell you to stop listening to that commercial shit you’re pimping and look up some rare, expensive and ineptly-packaged 7″ or cassette instead.
But the old guy — at probably 35, already a curmudgeon-in-training — had a point: most bands have only one idea. In metal and punk, bands are artists first and musicians second; they become musicians to express some idea or feeling. They intuit that musicians become experts in making music that people like and as a result, the external form dictates the content and it becomes about like everything else: technically correct, artistically empty like all the other products, fast food and celebrity autobiographies.
Carcass went on to get a PhD in bed-shitting with Heartwork, which was a decent speed metal album with some nice technical touches, but lacked any purpose so became overly “emo.” After that, the grindcore audience fled and the hard rock audience — this was pre-nu-metal days — was scared off by the vocals, so the Carcass brand went into free fall. The band launched a bitter final salvo with Swan Song in which they realized that their responsible, middle class daylight personalities always wanted to just be Led Zeppelin because that is how you work hard and succeed in rock ‘n’ roll as a career!
I fall between your average suburban music fan and the old crusty punk. Perhaps the Peel Sessions, “Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment” demo and a few scattered 7″ and live shows are the “real” Carcass, but the first album is real enough for me. After that, the band gets self-conscious and soon there is a stinky speedbump under the sheets. But Reek of Putrefaction is great and every person who enjoys quality outsider music should hear it.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? When people decide that life is worth living, try to make good music. Unless they hope to make a quick buck, in which case they disguise bad music as “innovation.” We separate the good from the bad — with a machete. Come for the misery, stay for the occasional exception…
Divine Circles – Oblivion Songs
The mainstream assimilation of metal continues. This is basically coffeehouse femme-folk-rock like Jewel would have spun two decades ago when metal was still doing something relevant. Instead, it sounds like a Taylor Swift/Janis Joplin hybrid on piano while someone strums a lightly distorted guitar in the background and some bell-bottomed burnout bangs a cowbell. I can appreciate the similarity to neofolk bands, especially Hekate, or even the folk-rock tradition of the Americas. But it’s most similar to the goddamn crap they play in Starbucks or our local “alternative” (read: clean every other Tuesday) coffee shack. A girl sings about fanciful things, there’s some guitar and a lot of slightly exotic rhythm. But when you leave and drive home, you’re thankful for the silence. This has nothing to do with metal and should go back to the coffee shops.
Slipknot – Slipknot
For people who thought Korn was too musical, Roadrunner has saved the day. ANGRY MAN babbling over death metal riffs reduced 100 levels of complexity, with random vinyl scratching noises and sampling thrown in for…some reason. These riffs were lifted from a White Zombie album which lifted them from a Metallica album which borrowed them from a NWOBHM 7″ which probably borrowed them from the rantings of cavemen etched into sandstone near the local juvenile detention center. To these basic speed metal riffs, they have added abundant bounce and doubling the internal rhythm on the offbeat, which gives the illusion of complexity for about ten seconds, and they’ve wrapped them around rock melodies. Speaking of wrapped, why aren’t we calling this rap/rock? It’s obviously rap music sanitized for the people too uptight for even backpack hip-hop, thus it gets injected into rock and to disguise the obvious lameness of this combination they cover it in heavy metal stylings like melted chocolate poured over a corpse. Lyrics are moronic, riffs are moronic, album art is moronic…is anything in this band appealing to functional humans? If a vengeful god were to rain napalm on America for producing this album, it would be justified.
Éva Polgár & Sándor Vály – Gilgamesh
Art music faces one ultimate test: will people listen to it on a regular basis, in regular lives? I’m not talking about the heroin and cigarettes crowd in Williamsburg with their postmodern degrees from Brown, but normal people. Thoughtful, intelligent, realistic, well-adjusted people. Do they listen to it? Or is it something they think is neat, maybe would be good in a movie, and then politely clap and never hear it again? Gilgamesh qualifies as some of the better art music I’ve heard. It is an sonic backdrop to the famous tale, rendering in quickly played piano riffs while other instruments fill in background chording. This has more in common with industrial music and avantgarde jazz than rock, but each track creates a series of emotional sensations corresponding to its chapter of the Gilgamesh saga. It is artfully done and powerful but is too abrasive and repetitive for every day primary listening. Further, it is too arty and conceptual to find a place in the balanced life. It would make a killer soundtrack for a silent film however.
Fear of Domination – Distorted Delusions
Music designed to pander to newer listeners is often excruciating. First, it must have an obvious novelty in style that usually defeats common sense. Next, it must appeal to people whose first instinct is essentially disruption and chaos. As part of this, they favor weapons like repetition and garish aesthetics. This album will not disappoint on those points. Mixing clubby techno (itself suspiciously like disco) with metalcore and crowd-positive industrial like Rammstein, Fear of Domination spit out music that is essential keyboard-led but has background guitar and bass which are entirely obliterated by the harsh, chanty and repetitive vocals. There is not a single metal riff on the album. There is also nothing new to people who have experienced even Ministry, but a form with novelty gives this some of the appeal of more austere industrial bands. Still the repetition level and degree of obvious manipulation makes it excruciating for people who have heard more than a dozen albums.
Benighted – Carnivore Sublime
In the absence of Nu Metal, everyone is rushing to take over the territory of Limp bizkit or Korn. From bling bling tech-core band Despised Icon to recent Napalm Death to streamlined Unique Leader sounding Morbid Angel palm muting riffs, Benighted blend everything that’s hip and br00tal in the scene together as the perfect sonic weapon for the frustrated school kids. This whole album is full of preachy and overreacting jerking noise. The band’s new music video reflect all of these: attending school is bad and teachers are evil, the world is insane, so buying this album is the right way to the first step of revolution. The hilariously out of place cleared-throat howling choruses sound like any metalcore rather than death metal, they make me want to put on the Korn records instead. Nothing from Benighted’s album is remotely exciting to the ear of a longtime metal listener. The volume is louder than Grammy performer Metallica, but the music is just as bland. Benighted and their far relatives Insane Clown Posse and Fleshgod Apocalypse are definitely worth exiling from the metal world.
Fluisteraars – Dromers
What is problematic about post-metal/indie-metal, and rock music itself, is nto that it’s distinctive. Rather, like a good product, it’s created by audience surveys. What do they respond to? — put that in. What got bad response? — take it out. What was neutral? — reduce it. The problem is that you need all the colors of the rainbow to paint a picture, so just because audiences prefer blue over yellow does not mean yellow should be removed. In fact, it aims to create a monotone picture where all of it is the color audiences want in their living room and none is the less favored colors. But art is a communication of a mental journey between two points. It shows us someone emerging from a state to a higher realization and then acting on that for triumph. It reveals a mixture of emotions that signal an ultimate resolution, or at least a clarification in the mind. But what we call “modern metal” — itself a clone of the late hardcore, post-hardcore, emo and indie movements of the late 1980s through middle 1990s (Jawbreaker, Rites of Spring, Fugazi) — is like rock music designed to just be that perfect wallpaper for your life. The right shade of sweater, the right ironic frames for your glasses, the purse that makes you look like a wandering boho hippie who might just happen to have a degree in art history. It’s the cult of the ego, and the ego demands only what serves it in full and denies the experience required to get there. This is because the ego wants nothing to do with the external world, and prefers that which is “human,” namely itself and those it socializes with. Fluisteraars is 2/5 old school black metal like Enslaved and Darkthrone, and the rest the newer material in a dronining long form that uses multiple riffs derived from a single theme, like Pelican. The result is very pleasant to listen to but when it is done nothing has changed in your life. You are back shopping for wallpaper, ignoring anything outside of yourself, and consequently, missing out on anything that can be called soul.
Woods of Desolation – As the Stars
Most of people can’t tell the difference between shallow light-hearted commercial product and art, therefore the conformists can always make some metallic indie rock to troll the underground. Woods of Desolation is the black metal version of Explosions In The Sky; both of them use the highest notes of the guitar chords to outline the weary lie-down-and-die pentatonic melodies while songs build around the sweeping textures. Just like the prototype of this sub-genre Alcest, Woods of Desolation’s music is nice and sweet and flawless, it make one hard to criticize them. But the reality is, three months after the hype, those who praised it like hell initially would throw this album away for these spun sugars annoying them just as the morning wake up cell phone jingles.
Towers – II
Post-rock and post-metal generally mean attempts to recreate emo through expanded minimalist sound. Towers takes an approach more like Swans where they build a drone and then layer it with interesting textures. The result is rhythmically motivational, like a march, but ultimately can’t go anywhere because like the notion of “concept music” it can’t go anywhere but to its furthest extreme. Thus what we have is interesting, but not something you’d want to repeatedly listen to except in the background or as part of a movie soundtrack. It is not terrible in any part, and on the whole it is bland and inoffensive once you get past the “extreme” style. Arguably, Towers is the best example so far of how to make post-rock/emo into something that is not terrible. The problem is that listening to it feels like being driven over by Friday 5 pm NYC traffic, and so it’s unlikely that anyone will turn to this for repeated listens that bring out some positive aspect of being alive.
Sunn O))) and Ulver – Terrestrials
Background drone of distorted guitar vibratto and feedback. Foreground slow chords, standard post-metal. Melody slowly layered, then repeats. It goes on in a big loop. Any given second of it is inoffensive and seems like something cool might be happening, but then, if you listen to the whole thing, you realize its fatal flaw is that it’s boring. Nevermind that Lull and Fripp did this years ago but better. Nevermind that these bands were both wrecking balls to metal’s integrity. Just listen to the music: it’s repetitive, doesn’t development, and basically does nothing but establish a drone and a half of a mood. What would you do with it? Listen to it? No, this is music for you to explain to your friends. The point is that you know something they don’t and you can thus explain how profound it (and you) are. It’s no different than people going to rap concerts to pose at being gangsters or young girls who cry when Shakira sings about her hips. It’s just more pretentious.
Dodsferd – The Parasitic Survival of the Human Race
Despite the ideologically-correct title (for black metal), this band shows us the true death of black metal: it has been assimilated by punk music. This sounds, with the exception of a couple black metal open strum riffs, exactly like the same droning hardcore bands were pumping out in the early 1980s. That music was the source of the stagnation that launched underground metal. I’ve listened to this thing three times and it has no negatives. There is nothing wrong with it. There’s also nothing compelling about it; it’s just more void. Technically, it all fits together. It’s just boring and expresses nothing. It is essentially hardcore punk music from the early 1980s with better drumming and production, maybe a black metal riff every seven riffs. But if you already own Discharge and Darkthrone, there’s utterly no reason to listen to this. Even if you don’t, it makes no sense to try to listen to this instead.
Gris – À l’Âme Enflammée, l’Äme Constellée…
Oh wow. Titles in French, looks misanthropic, maybe Vlad Tepes has returned! Second coming of Loudblast, even? No, it’s emo. Riddle me this: if emo isn’t like the fat girl addicted with meth that you woke up next to in the basement and felt great shame for the next, why do people keep trying to hide it? This is the same droning yet bittersweet minor-key background noise that Jawbreaker put on their albums and before that, that emo bands kept trying to insert into punk. What is emo, after all, but the very basic tonalities of rock music translated over an upbeat groove into power chords with dissonant voicings? When you look at what can’t be used, you see what is left. In the same way that the blues scale is the classical diatonic major scale with the key-centric notes removed (and a blue note for color-note rhythm comp fudging), emo is what happens when you take all the life out of music and translate it into rules to keep an audience in suspense. It doesn’t ever go anywhere, just shifts between these same few interval progressions. And yet, there it is. And people who apparently know nothing about thinking keep buying it. This is very frilly, dressed-up, entertaining variety, but underneath all the stupid pet tricks and gaudy clothing is the same old tedium. This is the sound of a genre dying.
Frost Legion – Death of Mankind
Crossing punk and heavy metal styles with a black metal aesthetic of constant high-intensity drumming and droning riffs, Frost Legion make black metal that often sounds like it is assembled from spare parts but tries to keep a focus on the melody and savagery of black metal. Vocals are a constant rasp that varies inflection as little as possible, over active double-bass drumming reminiscent of later Ancient Rites. Riffs are often drifting melodic constellations formed of a few chords which work through permutations of loss and re-acquisition of a root note. Often the riffs are very similar to each other which causes an unsettling loss of orientation, and frequently they bring out melodies which resemble music from the 1930s, but the effect is to create a sense of longing. One thing this band could do better is dynamics; it uses nearly constant intensity most of the time which is exhausting. While song structure is essentially riff-based, these riffs may need to correlate to something else in order to make the composition memorable. The constant melodic riffing is reminiscent of Carcariass and bands of that ilk who are deeply invested in guitar creativity and sometimes lose sight of memorable songs. This is a good start and it will be interesting to see where these guys end up after they’ve had a chance to contemplate the results of listening to this album several dozen times.
Aethereal – Faceless Messiah
We walk among you. We are legion and yet can travel unnoticed in the midst of your cities. We are those who try too hard, and many of us ended up in black emtal. Aethereal brings many strengths but suffers from trying too hard. Coming from the wilds of the USA, the amazing thing about this demo is that it attempts to shape the melodic architectures of a European band. It seems caught between a more vicious Behexen-style assault and a traditional melodic metal attack shaped around Sacramentum, Dissection and perhaps even Sentenced. Most would argue this into the black metal camp on vocals alone, but it has aspects of many genres of metal. Technically precise and musically coherent, these longer songs more resemble the ambitious music before the Great Partition in black metal which set the classics in the past and brought a deluge of imitators to attempt to pollute the genre. The first track, “Scornful Skies,” launches from a battering assault of melodic chords resembling rainfall in sheets to a neo-Celtic style intricate lead riff, fading into a Dissection styled mood piece before evaporating into an interlude of gentle strumming without distortion and a return to a contortion of its origins. The second track, “Qliphothic Reflections,” resembles much more of the black metal of the post-initial era, with low use of dynamics and high intensity blasting with transitional melodic riffs leading us through a semi-circular structure. Both tracks show promise if developed. But again, the problem is trying too hard: looking at what all the great songs have, and trying to make your own version without knowing what connects them. If these guys trust their gut instinct and what they like to listen to rather than what they think they should be creating, they would do better. Take it from a guy who tries too hard in his biggest failures as a writer.
Asking Alexandria – Stand Up and Scream
If any of you were to discover that your testosterone levels were too high, and your doctor advises you to take estrogen injections: before doing that, consider listening to this album – in approximately 3 minutes, you will feel immediate results. An album like this could be created only by the results of a CIA project designed to make people believe malls are desirable. (Somewhere, Bill Hicks is turning over in his grave.) For the rest of us, upon hearing this we wish that we were in that grave. This band has the uncanny ability to not only make every song sound identical, but also every riff. Then again, most people listening to this are undergoing “spiral learning” – the repetition is something they’re used to. Please don’t listen to this. If you don’t have enough respect for yourself to avoid this, just go all the way: go to Starbucks, pick up a la- oh alright, that joke is overused. This band sucks. That’s all.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? Music is art when it has something to say, entertainment when it’s distracting. Since none of us have infinite time, we pick the best and strongest music we can and mock the rest. The path to true metal is littered with sweet, sweet poseur tears and the occasional gem of non-failure, a secret delight for the wary traveler…
Behemoth – The Satanist
Promising to make a “statement” and deliver “art,” The Satanist summons borrowed Morbid Angel and Angelcorpse cliches thrown into a carnival style arrangement with such poor taste it makes late 90s Ancient seem good by comparison. A typical “song” — they cut this album up like a pizza because the riffs in each song have no relation to one another — begins with a slow build up that is awkwardly discarded to make room for a blasting section that sounds like Trey Azagthoth circa 2001 trying to intonate his 7 string while Pantera is rehearsing in the background and reggaeton horns are thrown over the top. If you can imagine a drunken outtake from a later Septic Flesh album that randomly ends after about 3 “riffs” that meander about without purpose are played for about 2 minutes each, that approximates the effect here. It’s not atmosphere, and it’s not death metal. It’s circus music. You will never fail to be distracted as the riffs dance past. And yet, they make no sense when put together. The only thing holding these songs together is that you know roughly when there’s going to be a chorus to tap those toes and listen for the melodic riff. Not even a crappy Gateways to Annihilation imitation act anymore, Behemoth now make it well known that they’re a merchandising front that’s somehow more shallow than recent Watain. Stupid music, regurgitated themes… this is the Marilyn Manson of “underground metal.” No, scratch that; he wrote actual songs. Lullabies for molested children struggling through impossibly awkward teenage years, perhaps, but actual songs. This is just gee-whiz riff practice with incoherent blasphemy and angsty mincing underneath the guitar masturbation.
Obscure Oracle – Demo 2013
Hybridizing power metal, progressive speed metal such as Anacrusis, and death metal, San Angelo’s Obscure Oracle focuses on the newer metal styles of a stream of technical riffs but unlike the newer bands, returns to the 1980s for a chorus-focus in rhythm and riff shape which holds these songs together better than most bands can manage. The detours into instrumentals often inspired by other genres are usually pretty well managed but the problem of making them a steady feature of the stylistic canon is that they must appear frequently and they must stay distinctive, so never really fit within the composition but serve as a kind of oppositional interlude. Obscure Oracle do this better than 90% of other bands and keep the focus on the song, giving us some hope for these guys despite the unfortunate modern influences.
Centinex – Subconscious Lobotomy
I always wondered why this album did not go farther back in the day. It had the thunderous electric distortion, heavy vocals, hardcore-style drumming (but flattened from offbeat emphasis to cadence), and everything else. Maybe it was the amateur hour cover drawing on the original? On re-listen to this beautifully re-mastered re-issue, I realize the actual problem: where Entombed was rocky, this album is death metal and punk that never picks up on a direction and so ends up back in rock ‘n’ roll. It sounds like regression. Entombed’s songs expanded out into these soundtrack-influenced beautiful sections that gave them death and intensity. This thrashes around, then ends up on bouncy hard rock riffs. Even more, it’s almost strictly verse-chorus without allowing for melodic development between the two. Thus, it trudges. Repetition emerges. It feels like being lost in the back alleys of an unfamiliar city, and the sensation is akin to boredom. The story the record labels want you to believe is that somewhere, someone buried a lost cache of genius Swedish death metal under a carpet somewhere. The reality is that it was a relatively small group of people who figured it out and everyone else missed the boat not through lack of opportunity but lack of cognition.
Ingested – Revered by No-One, Feared by All
Another worthless band that plays jockcore masquerading as a death metal band. Nothing about this album is morbid, sinister, or “brutal”. It’s just a bunch of stop-start mechanical rap/rock grooves sandwiched between random Cryptopsy (circa the “wearing Earth Crisis sweatpants promo pics” bad years) blasting randomness without any rhyme or reason. Do you enjoy opening storage containers with your face? Do you know how quickly you can shotgun a PBR if it’s room temperature and the game is in two hours? Put on those wife beaters, cheer for the team, and here’s some tailgate party slam death metal brocore to get the night started! If Pyrexia were tasked with rewriting Machine Head’s Burn My Eyes in a way that would appeal even more to Wu-Tang Clan fans, this EP would be the result. This “slam” garbage is Tupac with better merchandising, but since the cover art here is crappier than what they had on their debut, it seems they’re failing as being a merchandising brand used to sell “death slammer bro” lifestyle products to confused backward ball-cap fratboys as well. Another drink coaster that might as well say Aborted or Skinless on it.
Alcest – Shelter
It has become painfully obvious that the lucrative bandwagon of “post-black metal” has headed off the road and is now tumbling down a gentle hillside, to be followed by a sudden drop into total irrelevance. This won’t be surprising to those who recognized “post-black”, sludge, shoegaze, indie-metal, etc. as basically warmed over 1980s emo music. At this point, Alcest sounds about like the average generic indie rock band as these artists and their fan bases stop with the lies and come to terms with what they really want to hear: socially acceptable whine rock. If you ever want to know what a lobotomy feels like, give this track a listen. You will feel emotion on the surface, followed by an emptiness which is your brain recognizing the total lack of content other than a veneer of meaningful music. There will be wheedly-wheedly guitars, extensive arrangements that go nowhere, vocal posturing and lots and lots of false drama like that diabetes-inducing icing they spread on the cheap cakes at American grocery stores. Everything is on the surface however, designed to fool you like a Those who value their mortality, stay far away from this brain bleaching turd.
Metallica – Metallica
While it may be unfair to classify this as the first “commercial speed metal” album, it certainly was the most breathtaking example of a band choosing profit over artistry. We all know they’re out there: the vast horde of people who will buy just about anything as long as you dumb it down so it doesn’t confuse them. They like verse-chorus structures, gentle melodies, pentatonic soloing and big buoyant 4/4 verses. Metallica took one look at this audience and thought, “Well, Cliff’s dead — he’ll never know!” and so they made an album after the butt-rock that sold out in the decade before Metallica was formed. If you’re thinking Boston and REO Speedwagon with more muted E chords, you’re right! The continuation of …and Justice for All‘s proto-nu-metal stop-start riffs combined with adult contemporary crooner vocals and rock-style song structures represent a distillation of the lowest elements of metal in a form suitable for easy consumption by the masses. It’s not technically incompetent, and in fact is reasonably well-executed, if you’re expecting rock music. It misses the point of metal song construction and instead is rehashing the blues-rock and stadium country hits from the 1970s. This is the album most people think of when they hear the term “heavy metal” — and we wonder why they find it hard to respect heavy metal from that point on. Abandon all hope, ye who go down this path of listening.
Tennessee Murder Club – Human Harvest
Promising a “timeless” death metal album, this immediately sounds unlike anything a self-respecting fan of death metal fan would listen. Never mind the off putting metalcore vocals and modern guitar tone (plus the stupid metalcore band name and logo), under the surface this is Lamb of God with “horror” riffs thrown in random arrangements. With albums like this alongside Repugnant and Entrails, the blame could always be placed on Bloodbath for mixing Pantera mall grooves with generic third tier Entombed wannabe Stockholm death metal and creating a new lifestyle product for mainstream “headbangers” during their interim between Slipknot and the Dave Matthews Band. “Death metal” for angry truck drivers. So it’s really just Pantera with tremolo picking, and I wouldn’t wish for this rancid batch of sonic diarrhea to befall the ears of even my worst enemy.
Hellbastard – Heading For Internal Darkness
Debut album from the band that likely coined the term ‘crust’, this ambitious work falls short of excellence due to a few unusual and unsavory choices in aesthetic and composition. First, though certain songs pick up the pace much of this album sticks to one or two tempos? a bit more variation (such as the track “Civilized”) would be welcome. Second, poorly and sometimes awkwardly inserted female vocals are placed in parts of songs where the riff should instead be emphasized. It doesn’t take much to filter them out, but it would be far better without them? they add nothing to the music and in some cases detract from it (the faster section of “Death Camp” is a prime example). Otherwise, this is an energetic and spirited work. Chunky speed metal riffing mixed with thrash and early death metal touches compliments a looseplaying drummer. There’s an unhindered exuberance to the performance which echoes the best of hardcore punk. Basically sounds like early Metallica or Exodus mixed with Amebix, Crass, and Discharge. Its flaws hinder it from truly ascending to the top, but this is still a solid album that ranks in the top 5% of the crust genre.
Disfiguring the Goddess – Black Earth Child
Apart from growling and blast beats, this is nu-mu. Rap/rock chugging thuds (djent) and “ambient” synth/sampling forays in guitar driven rhythm oriented songs (where attention is given to vocal rhythms) give this more of a Korn character than anything else. This is a produced to perfection turd of a release that was no doubt made to pacify the simple minds of neckbeards that spend too much free time on Facebook. Songs go nowhere, literally being a series of blocky rhythmic chugging sequences reiterated in different ways. It’s monotonous and stupid. The solo “metal” project of a dubstep producer, this release borrows the surface aesthetic from “brutal death metal”, but accomplishes little more than sounding like a more “extreme” Slipknot. Considering the interest in this project has more to do with its merchandising and the personality behind it all, it’s no surprise all of this “slam” vapidity functions as an embarrassing social tool for indie-rockers and hipsters: another lifestyle product that under the surface of “crazy music”, provides more of the same disposable radio rock.
Clit Commander – Tex Mex Ass Blast
How can you hate a record with this hilarious title? That’s what they’re hoping your friends will say to you. They only need to fool you for about thirty minutes, long enough to place that order and slide that card. Then the sale is made and everyone wins… at the label. The fact is that if you buy this, you’ve not only wasted money but done something stupid enough that you really should end your life! This is predictable death-grind of the mid-paced variety that specializes in linear riffs and abrupt tempo changes that lead nowhere. Song construction is circular and yet still manages to be disordered. If you already feel a massive ennui overwashing you such that you no longer care if you live or die, imagine listening to it. It’s worse.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? Heavy metal is either art, or like the rest it’s a product to make sad people feel better about their empty and pointless lives. Brutal honesty is all that separates us from that abyss. Remember, tears are a sign that you’ve really reached people…
Evereve – Seasons
Nuclear Blast, this is NOT “music to mangle your mind.” This is the AIDS of the music world. Cheap, hokey synths ramble under tepid saccharine guitar melodies while effete whiny crooning that makes Morrissey sound like Tom Warrior radiates in the background. You can just about hear the teenage bedrooms of America, reeking of self-pity and masturbation, where the obese and inbred listen to this. It’s OK, kid, everyone gets turned down by a fleshlight at least once. If you can imagine heavy metal with all of its soul removed, candied like one of those disgusting little fruits in a fruitcake, this would be it. There is nothing here that is metal except under the flimsiest of pretenses. “Evereve” is more like “Summer’s Eve.” Seasons could be a forerunner for HIM. If you ever hear a note of this, you’re going to need hormone replacement therapy.
Covenant – Nexus Polaris (also released as The Kovenant – Nexus Polaris)
The cheese of “black metal” circa 1998 is on full display here in this one album. Considering the Dimmu Borgir membership and the touting of a drum performance by Hellhammer circa his “help, I need money and even joined Arcturus” days, you know this will be bad. The vaudevillian sideshow vibe of later Ancient and Cradle of Filth is tricked out to sound like a joyous PG rated sci-fi soundtrack is playing over a rock opera, making this all sound more absurd. Imagine the music from a children’s variety TV show but with some drunk guitarist in the background hammering out heavy metal riffs with black metal stylings as he copulates with close family members while wearing a tutu. If you heard a “black metal” parody in recent times, chances are it sounded like this.
Immolation – Majesty and Decay
This album brings to mind Dogwin’s Law for metal: as a metal band ages, the probability of it reverting to its influences becomes one. Immolation started out as a speed metal band, then detoured into death metal for a few albums, and now is back to heavy metal but in a simplified form using death metal technique. When they did that cover of Mercyful Fate, it shook something loose, and Immolation thought, “Why spend hours fitting twisty riffs into intricate combinations?” Verse, chorus, break, solo — done! Collect check, buy motorcycle parts. This is the metal equivalent of baby food: over-cooked, pre-ground, sweetened and without any difficult parts. Gone are the wildly imaginative riffs and catcomb-like song structures. Instead it’s The Jets covering Bryan Adams put into power chord riffs. Embarrassed by their own non-output, Immolation tries to hide the emptiness by getting emo on the choruses but nothing can save this pile of paint-by-numbers metal. This is metal’s equivalent of Bangerz with some guy howling along in the background about stuff he read on Infowars.com.
Morgoth – Feel Sorry for the Fanatic
Another case of mid-90s “evolution,” Morgoth ditch the Death Leprosy worship for a sound more akin to Voivod at their most commercial playing Killing Joke at their poppiest. Vocals sound like a parody of Amebix, lots of mumbling and tuneless sung-shouts. Verse-chorus structures and an industrial rock production suggest this band was attempting to cash in on the industrial/cyber image trend of Ministry, Godflesh, and Fetish 69. With waves of label hype behind it, Feel Sorry for the Fanatic failed as only the falsest of marketing hype can. Creating a neutered album with fringe-accessibility to an audience that didn’t exist the year this album was released left the band to fall on its face in embarrassment and dishonorably disband.
Wolves in the Throne Room – BBC Session 2011 Anno Domini
This band of hippies in denial have improved in the songwriting department, but by so doing reveal the underlying emo to their music. It’s clearer than ever before that Wolves in the Throne Room were never black metal. This two-song release allows the “post-metal” to shine, but musically “post-metal” is identical to emo, a subset of late hardcore/indie rock hybrids of the late 1980s. Musically, nothing has changed since that time, so if you’ve been in a cave since 1984 you might enjoy this band. These two tracks are far less random than previous Wolves in the Throne Room output. While they try to ape black metal with heavy guitar distortion and howled vocals, in harmony and choice of scale this material would fit in on a Jawbreaker or Rites of Spring album more than any black metal album. In fact it’s a complete sham to ever list this band as black metal because it misses out on what they do well, which is a very slow version of emo. Droning emptiness portrayed with slighly dissonant tracks that sound like self-pity incarnate. It evokes a lot of different feelings that boil down to the same state of suspension, in which mixed-emotions and self-pity that brings self-doubt resolve all things to the same. I wouldn’t recommend this for any metal fan or anyone who remembers the late 1980s.
Solar Deity – Devil Worship
If you approached a black metal band as if it were a doom metal band, you might end up with something like Solar Deity. Very musically literate in a way that is reminiscent of Necrophobic, with understated melodic riffs and good rhythm, this band nonetheless suffers from a type of drone syndrome where just not enough changes to keep interest, although there’s nothing offensive. Clearly mostly inspired by the first two Gorgoroth albums, Solar Deity attempt to set up a number of songs to narrate and develop theme, and do a reasonable job of it, but their riffs are rather lukewarm and repetition-intensive as is their usage. The result would be great if designed for doom metal, but as black metal ends up being an abrasive drone and sense of confused purpose within otherwise well-composed music. It might be good background music for repetitive tasks. You know, really feel that tedium as you clean water heaters, file taxes or chase hipsters off your front lawn with a shotgun (aim for the knees).
Tribulation – The Formulas of Death
Death metal isn’t hard rock. If it wanted to be hard rock, its members being honest people, it would have elected to simply be that instead. However, there’s a huge market in dressing up regular boring corporate product rock music as something “edgy” like death metal, which still hasn’t been conquered by the civilizing forces of socialization. Like previous Tribulation releases, The Formulas of Death is ambiguously in the death metal realm and in fact treats its death metal elements with ironic scorn. The result is a pretty good hard rock band embedded in a bunch of unnecessary stuff. Get a real vocalist, throw out the token chromatic riffs and d-beats, and re-style this album as something along the lines of early Queensryche or Cinderella and it would be great. This will make just about every “Best of 2013” because people can’t tell the difference between turd and steak tartare but also because it’s catchy. Simple music for simple minds.
Skeleton Witch – Serpents Unleashed
If focus groups found a way to slam Sentenced Amok and At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul into a metalcore product that panders to Adult Swim viewers, then Skeleton Witch would be the abomination unleashed. Tired and generic riffs more bound to cliche than tradition power an interchangeable series of mellow-deaf parts stitched into galloping rhythms. Although it appears to be like metal from a distance, I suspect if MC Hammer knew how to play a guitar, he’d come up with something like this. Poppy and bouncy background noise for people who value video games and Comedy Central more than music, Serpents Unleashed might be the sonic equivalent of a middle schooler’s diary: covered in stickers and glitter, but the content within is more than predictable in essence even if not in particulars, and in ten years it will humiliate them if unleashed.
Beyond – Fatal Power of Death
The problem with retro works is context. What was once a whole context is broken down into techniques, “moments,” transitions, tempo changes, riff-archetypes and melodic frameworks, and then reconstituted. However, since there’s no motivation except to be retro, there’s no new context except appearance. Thus the bands doing this tend to default to the simplest elements possible, which are either age-independent but average stuff the original genre tried to escape or conventions of the present age. The result is that you get the same stuff, but someone has covered it in retro-feeling-stuff. The end result is like a bison spray-painted with corporate logos, a contextless mishmash that’s oblivious to its own true nature. Beyond make a credible effort but they are trying to fit riffs together, not use riffs like words or colors on a painting, and as a result, nothing is communicated by frenetic energy, doubt and disorganization. Moments of this release are stunning, but the whole does not add up to much because it’s not about anything.
A post-black metal project finally does what many of us have encouraged for some time, which is to drop the extraneous black metal and to bridge directly to the type of music they want to play. This is a Gothic/indie hybrid straight out of the early 1980s, complete with open-phrase drumming and soulful vocals. If you liked the darker side of 1980s pop like Sisters of Mercy, Dead Can Dance and Joy Division, you’ll like this detour into outspokenly emotional and catchy music.
Composed of Andreas Pettersson (Armagedda, Lönndom), Frank Allain (Fen) and percussionist Johan Marklund, De Arma (Swedish for “the poor”) previously recorded a well-acclaimed split EP. This album will hit the streets on July 2 of this year, and while it’s being marketed as depressive and dark, a better way to describe it is having the same melancholistic spirit as Burzum’s Filosofem but within the context of 1980s Gothic rock. Since black metal and indie of this nature share a similar open-chord cascading-strum style, the transition was easy, but there’s very little black metal (or dark) in this. It’s just good darkside pop.
As the inaugural release on what is presumably a post-metal indie/Gothic label Trollmusic,Lost, Alien and Forlorn will appeal to a new decade of listeners who will find exactly what made this type of music appealing in the 1980s. As essentially pleasant pop music, but which acknowledges a sense of doubt and decay about the modern world, De Arma offer a gentle transition from the bubble-world of mass consciousness to the underground of semi-realists below.
This band is the origin of all emo music. Starting in the mid-1980s, post-Minor Threat musicians tried to re-invent music and ended up with sensitive guy indie rock/post-hardcore hybrid. All post-2000 “metal” originates in what Fugazi did, except Fugazi was musically better. However, its attitude was totally corrupt and self-pitying. As a result, it attracted the type of person who now becomes a hipster: the self-pitying, defensive, self-obsessed, reality-denying narcissistic life dropout.
Fugazi’s label, Dischord Records, launched a digital archive of the band’s live …shows this fall. Twenty-five new shows are being added each month, including over 800 songs that have never been released.
Boris [has not been a] heavy metal band at all. From the first day, we have never called ourselves as heavy metal. However, we are totally fine if everyone calls us a heavy metal band. We have been doing what we like and as a result we welcome if everyone says so, puts a tag on us or categorizes in specific genre. – Phoenix New Times
We aren’t, but if our fans are stupid and insist upon it, then that’s real to them and we are. For dollars.