As a wave of revivalists of the old metal ways of the late 80s and early 90s assail us with full optimism, we are face with the dilemma of creation of the new through the emulation of that which is no more. From this sincere intent are born projects like Schattenvald who attempt to extend the lessons of the adventurers of more than two decades ago. However, the bar that was raised by those heroes is set higher than even such well-intentioned moderns band can reach.
Modern death metal is a cesspool. Riffless atonal texture and rehashed generic riffs combine into a poppy carnival of random boring bullshit to feed the typical underground record label ponzi scheme. Rare was the new release anything worth the attention of any older fans even over a decade ago in 2005. Coming years after their heroes in Morbid Angel, Incantation, and Immolation stopped releasing worthy or even interesting material (but before they went “radikult”), Dead Congregation’s debut EP, Purifying Consecrated Ground, showed a powerful potential that awed many into submission.
Whatever the musicians of Olkoth are physically doing with their instruments is nothing extraordinary but the idiosyncratic placement of notes and the resulting higher-level structures that emerge in their songs are truly something to behold. “Rollercoaster” and “Labyrinth” metaphors abound when writers try to describe metal with this sound. The most appropriate real-world visual analog would be an ancient sculpture, specifically what can be found in Mesoamerican architecture: Vivid figures and images symmetrically organized and actually making up the architecture itself rather than being mere aesthetic reliefs. Hearing this music is much like view ancient reliefs: there is an obvious narrative even though the specific symbols belong to alien cultures and distant epochs. The representations ring true by striking a Jungian chord deep within the recesses of our collective unconsciousness. However, these super-emotive runes are not activated at will; the listener must cultivate a passive mindstate to avoid projecting their own idiosyncratic symbolism onto the music. That will only serve to obfuscate the encoded messages just waiting to be decrypted.
There are some records that achieve greatness through their studied and natural use of the musical language that our civilization has been building up for many centuries. Such a record was Close to the Edge, reaching immortality with its self-titled piece. There are other records that do away with everything that came before them and in an unprecedented bout of madness envision doors to previously undreamed of realities. The key to such a door was given to Parabellum and what they found beyond that wallcrystallized into Sacrilegio.
Unique and meaningful in its expression, Parabellum’s music is hard to trace back to any defined subgenre at the time, perhaps even today. We know it is metal. We know it arises from the 1980s underground tradition and if we look very hard we may find traces of proto-black-death, hardcore and what can only be described as organized noise. At the same time, the band’s music cannot conceivably be cased into any of them, nor can it be wholly accounted for as a concoction of the same. Parabellum’s Colombian underground metal stands entirely alone and makes use of sounds, patterns and rhythms from its influences but is never defined by them.
While the compositions in it date back to 1983 or 1984, Sacrilegio was released in 1987 and is comprised of two tracks. Both of them, Madre Muerte (Mother Death) and Engendro 666 (Foetus-Abomination 666), are of relatively long duration by metal standards. None of them, however, feel overextended. While difficult to gauge here, this writer perceives no obvious loose ends, and no purposeless spaces in the pieces. Not interspersed, not interlocked, but breathing in living symbiosis with the extreme underground expressions we find silences, Azagthothean guitar solos together with painful, woeful laments.
Uncouth, savage and violent, Parabellum’s music also takes us through moments of passive dementia and ecstatic delirium. Together these propound stark, bleak and at points suffocating experiences of desperation resembling but going far beyond the misanthropic nature worship of Vidar Vaaer. If I could put my impression of Parabellum’s music in concise terms, I would describe it as what I picture is life as seen through the eyes of a mad epileptic.