Path to Ruin – Path to Ruin (2015)

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Upon reading the tag of “technical death metal”, discerning listeners knows this usually only means “metalcore played with more notes”. Although DMU constantly looks down on genres like metalcore, very few readers understand the understand the underlying reasons for this. Those who identify as more “open-minded” tend to view all genres as simply “different expressions”. Although spiritually more mature, this thinking is based on an ignorance of the nature of music. In their ignorance, they do not understand the limitations and power of certain musical forms and the dangers of unchecked “experimentation”. On the opposite camp we have the die-hards, who may belong to either strict old-school or “true” associations. Most of these believe in the superiority of one style over another as a Catholic fanatic believes the words of the Pope or the Scriptures. In their ignorance, they would be unwilling and unable to acknowledge something as good music if it were to come from one of the vilified, retrograde genres.

Approaching the issue with enough information and without bowing completely to neither prejudice nor morally-supplied egalitarian fallacies  we can find that different music styles bound by different types of expressions not only have different tendencies in the types of emotion they attempt to evoke, but that this intention has a connection to concrete aspects in the composition. This is no news to anyone with at least vague and rudimentary notions of musical composition. The next logical step in this train of thought, which is generally avoided for one reason or another, is to see how these specific choices for delimiters, technique and instrument choice impose limitations on character and direction that affect possibilities in variety if one is to maintain consistency and coherence. These limitations are, of course, constructs of humans, but they are based, at least partially, on human nature — not completely arbitrary rules arising from culture only. We must stress that these limitations are conventions taken up for the sake of attempting a communication as best as possible, conventions that have a mirror in language and grammar– also a proper set of conventions.

Now we come to Path of Ruin’s self titled album, a work arising from the metalcore camp but producing music of the best caliber possible in this genre. Such limitations arise in part from being built around vocals in the manner of hard rock (and consequentially rock). In hard rock the different riffs are meant to be separate sections that say different things in drastically different ways. This is not to say that this music cannot preserve consistency, what it has trouble with is coherence. To keep this partially incoherent expression in check, the power has to be limited to expanded or varied verse-chorus structures. Path of Ruin gives us the variety-bordering-on-incoherence metalcore while tying it up with motif and a very strong consistency and clarity of purpose. The clarity of purpose comes from one more imposition it sets upon itself: that of reusing past riffs as new sections, not necessarily a circularity but a coming back to balance the strangeness.

There is a famous precedent in the most misunderstood Obscura by Gorguts, which uses a very humble, even shy approach to organization that comes to pull back the blurry coherence and wide-range of expression it boasts. To exemplify not the contrary but an also consistent and technically accomplished release that fails to give meaningful variety (tied in coherent expressions) and balance to its music is Ara’s Devourer of Worlds. Both Obscura and this last one can be dizzying yet actually ride a very strong consistency but in the long run tend to stretch, twist, bend  the motif beyond recognition to the point where you have highly contrasting sections. In favor of Ara, Devourer of Worlds‘ songs tend to extend riffs and ideas in longer riff-groups before changing direction or idea, becoming a commendable exercise in riff-variation at a local level. However, while Gorguts pulls the reigns on this crazy roller coaster ride that Obscura is by resorting to simple and straight up re-use of riffs — an approach they used with less pressure or necessity in The Erosion of Sanity, Ara spirals out of control ultimately becoming a collection of snippets and maybes that hold little interest beyond the riff-arrangement, but not the composition as a whole. It is a difference in the ability to see the big picture.

In a genre that by definition introduces heavy incoherence in the music, the safe approach taken in Path to Ruin comes as a wise decision that limits the music with the effect of awarding the album the power and clarity of good and balanced traditional speed metal.

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On Appreciating Music and Reverse Engineering

04 Apr 2012, Athens, Greece --- April 4, 2012 - Athens, Greece - The famous ''Antikythera Mechanism'' is the earliest preserved portable astronomical calculator.The ''Antikythera Shipwreck'' exhibition takes place at National Archaeological museum in Athens. All antiquities recovered in 1900-1901 and 1976 from the legendary shipwreck off the islet of Antikythera, South of the Peloponnese will be presented for the first time in a temporary exhibition. The recovery of the shipwreck itself was the first major underwater archaeological expedition. It was undertaken by sponge divers with the assistance of the Greek Royal navy(1900-1901). The wreck is dated aproximately in 60-50 BC. (Credit Image: © Aristidis Vafeiadakis) --- Image by © Aristidis Vafeiadakis/ZUMA Press/Corbis

Music analysis and judgement (of any of its attributes or as a whole) can be done from different vantage points and with different emphases. Generally speaking, there are a few main approaches that are common in pop and metal reviews. Some judge it by its production qualities and its popularity, that is, mainly as a marketable commercial product. Others that are inclined to “feeling” the music will base their reviews on technically uninformed emotional impressions of the music. Others with a limited but comprehensive understanding of the technical will judge music as if it were a contraption, even being able to separate emotional impressions from material achievements of music. These are broad categories but individual reviewers usually fall in grey areas in between them with stronger tendencies towards one or another.

DMU’s approach has traditionally been one of judging music as romantic-era (19th century) literary and music critics would: an attention to evocative results as a function of technical means with a holistic emphasis. What this means is that what is most important is the final and total result and not the individual merits.  Additionally, we focus on the lasting evocative power arising from a layered and technically (at the composition level) competent work that moves beyond the technicality itself while not disregarding the musical balance it provides. In music we see the construction of Gothic cathedrals and not modern skyscrapers.

A useful analogy can be made between detailed music appreciation and reverse engineering in software engineering. Some might jump at the thought of comparing the two since “music is not a computer program” but these are nonsensically reductionist complaints. Anyone who truly understands how an analogy works knows that the source of its power arises from the insurmountable distance between the two obviously disparate objects being placed beside each other. The distance and disparity only serves to bring to the fore and underscore the characteristics we are interested in, achieving greater clarity by a negation of the irrelevant. The objects are not equated, they are superimposed. More precisely the main object under analysis is transposed into the space of the second one being used as an analogy.

To understand reverse engineering we must understand the order and direction of original construction. A vague idea is conceived usually behind a foggy screen since the builders have not yet figured out the details of how they will bring this into reality. Then, a step a time and usually with deviations from the original concept, the “material” shape of the concept comes into being. At the other end, when we are presented with a piece of software to reverse engineer, that is to say, to analyze and understand in terms of its parts, what we can see is the materialized concept only. The first step is to understand what this piece of software exactly does as we do not know how it was built. We get to understand what it does by categorizing input and output relations, which direct us towards an understanding its behavior in different situations — different contexts. The result of  a successfully reverse-engineered software program is a piece of code whose compiled object behaves the same as the original one in every conceivable way possible. This code is most probably different from the original one, but this is irrelevant since the importance of this code is the understanding and reproducing of the final piece of software. Original software building moves from details and into the solidification of a vision. Reverse engineering moves from the solidified vision and into the details.

In other words, what matters most is the total end result (as in music or software engineering) and not the judging of parts for their own sake (but only in relation as to how they affect that end result). This is why it is important as an analyst to move in a backward manner. But for this to be valuable, the person must understand this holistic result first, and this is only achieved through study and knowledge. This is comparable to the analyst of software who needs to not only see the input and output relations but understand higher-level concepts and probabilistic tendencies derivable from those. In the same way the analyst of music must through his own lenses and knowledge grasp a picture of the whole in its relations between harmony, rhythm and melody derive a map of sequences of movements and balances.

Going from the general to the specific enables us to keep a holistic view in focus. It helps us place the sum of the parts over the individual parts themselves. Trying to pick out the traits first and then judging the whole by making a recapitulation of these is not only obfuscating the whole which some with a more limited understanding judge to be impossible to put in objective terms but can be deceiving of just what the true quality of this work actually is.

To illustrate this point we can observe how appreciation of many so-called progressive acts is carried out. The positive reviews of these usually entail a shopping list of traits to be filled. Tempo changes, signature changes, contrasting moods, variety of instrumentation, instrumental competence, catchy and captivating melodies perhaps, too. An album like Dream Theater’s Images and Words fits these requirements to the letter and yet the result is a messy carnival train wreck that expresses nothing in particular precisely because there is no view of the whole in mind as a musically-balanced entity, but only as a sequence of cool moments.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mh3c0eys-8o

This phenomenon can also occur through ignorance of what music constitutes. This happens in pop and the so-called symphonic metal, which I will re-baptize with a more honest name: metal-like pop, or just metal pop. In this vein, an album like Nightwish’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful is received by its fans and judged primarily in terms of how catchy it is. How effective its hooks are and how much they will like its melodies. Arguably a more musically honest affair than the pseudo prog of Dream Theater, this reduces music to only one of its many aspects and judges the whole by its effectiveness.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewd0z6fJbR4

Finally, I would like to mention the often mis-appreciated Obscura by Gorguts. Ignorant and pretentious journalist twats like Anthony Fantano spewing almost nonsensical and musically irrelevant descriptions such as “intense technicality”, “noisy surprises” and “dizzying structures” of Gorguts’ music in Coloured Sands represent the epitome of the post-modernist hipster’s appreciation of the band’s music. While popular arguments in favor of Obscura include how “technical” it is (while most fans barely even grasp what this actually entails, they think it has to do with how difficult it is to play or hear), how foreboding its atmosphere is while remaining “brutal” (an obviously superficial judgement of quality) or even worse, how “original” (by which they mean different) it is. They’ve basically reduced a masterpiece to “difficult to play and listen to, brutal and quite different from most stuff out there”.

The merits of Obscura are far more subtle than that, as are any real merits resulting from true excellence. The degree to which it sounds superficially different comes from a use of the riff that I would call mystical. That is to say, the riffs and their harmony here no longer represent what they traditionally do, but they remain significant in terms of the operations they build in the context of their neighboring riffs. They stop being translucent symbols that show the way into a harmonic and melodic conclusion and they become opaque, acquiring new meaning — a specific musical function dictated by their author– determined by their positions at different moments that instead causes the mind to reach that conclusion on its own through coherent indirection and dissimilitude of expression within a consistent language. In this, Obscura is the death metal counterpart to Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXpnR695uj4

Stepping away from the dynamic picture that music is and listening for the total results and relations in the big picture enable us to know exactly what to look for as explanations for these. In a way it implies focusing on an interplay between the subjective (our impressions of the whole) and the objective (the music structures themselves) to locate music — itself an expression of beauty, to which the dichotomy of objective and subjective is inapplicable — somewhere in between.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Q3LeWKYyCQ

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A tentative list to get into death metal

TheSoundofDeathMetal

Getting into underground metal styles has never been a straightforward thing for anyone. The exception might be the Cannibal Corpse crowd that approach this music as fix for a certain mood, but see little beyond the most sensual appeal of the music. For those actually trying to appreciate the music anywhere beyond the surface either in a technical manner, it’s significance or the experience it provides beyond simple monochromatic sensual indulgence, the path consists of several steps in not one path but a multitude of paths that conform to the singular state and journey of each listener.

The present list does not attempt to give a template that will fit all as that is impossible. It is simplistic in its attempt to generalize and exemplify. The most important starting assumption is that the listener is at least fond of traditional heavy metal or hard rock in the worse case. I tried to avoid using of overtly offensive gateway bands like Craddle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir or Arch Enemy but these should not be completely discarded as possibilities to enable a smooth and pleasant transition into death and black metal.

For this example of a road map towards understanding and appreciation of death metal I have distinguished five different steps with suitable albums as follows:

I. Easy-going quasi death metal

  1. Carcass – Heartwork
  2. Entombed – Left Hand Path

II. Welcoming and easy-to-understand simple death metal that is only complex on a local level and so can inspire a sense of technical wonder in the listener while maintaining mood.

  1. Death – Spiritual Healing
  2. Adramelech – Psychostasia
  3. Demigod – Slumber of Sullen Eyes

III. Excellent, but mostly on a technical level, with raw power and refinement in style, solid and well-produced albums that do not transcend their technical aspects

  1. Morbid Angel – Covenant
  2. Cryptopsy – None so Vile 
  3. Vader – Litany 

IV. Authentic, representative of the core of the death metal spirit while being original

  1. Demilich – Nespithe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjutXYAwc_0
  2. Deicide – Legion
  3. Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten

V. Completely past appearances and technical infatuation, almost on the spiritual level of true and good black metal

  1. At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
  2. Immolation – Unholy Cult
  3. Gorguts – Obscura

 

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On Obscura and metal albums as song collections

obscuraTracklist

Arising from modern popular music, underground metal has retained many vestigial traits that several artists have consciously tried to erase and that some observers have started to question as detrimental to the effective expression of the genre. As the title of this article reveals, the case in point is the matter of albums as song collections. A good example of this becoming a hindrance to the message of the music is Gorguts’ Obscura.

Clocking in at one hour, Obscura consists of twelve songs, a little over the typical ten tracks of metal albums since the mid 1970s. The number ten has traditionally been associated with wholeness or completeness. In the most mainstream heavy metal circles it is considered only right to fill that exact number. No more, no less. A lot of death and black metal albums have veered slightly away from this rule and tend close their albums with eight or twelve tracks. Grindcore degenerates have never let numbers stand in their way and have completely given the finger to this rule as Repulsion, Napalm Death and Blood have shown us with their two-digit track lists.

The reason why more original and progressive-minded artists pay no attention to these unofficial guidelines is because whatever the artist has to say in an album should not be restricted by too many tracks. Even worse than being limited by the number of tracks is having to fill up tracks in order to reach the required number. This is precisely how we get the albums with “filler” tracks. Tracks nobody cares for but which make the album more “meaty” for those who care about such things.

More important than the adherence to a particular number of songs or tracks in an album is the fact that most bands produce precisely that: individual tracks bundled up in collections. This is Gorguts’ worse enemy even on their classic of classics. Every one of the songs up to the sixth track, Clouded, expresses a very distinct message in its method. After that, we basically get more of the same. The songs aren’t bad at all, but they do not add anything more to the album except extra minutes and more good songs whose essence is not any different from the ones before them. It’s basically thesaurus recitation.

Some propose that metal needs to look beyond the number, both as a rule and as a kind of indulgence. Just because that you have more songs does not mean you have to put them in the album. Just because you have more riffs does not mean they need a song to contain them. It is suggested that the album format in underground metal be exchanged for the classical opus format, where we have movements belonging to a coherent whole work, in which saying the same thing again and again is unnecessary and highly discouraged but in which consistency in style and voice is required to a healthy but not over-restrictive degree. Metal is not young anymore, the time to consciously take the step to the next level has come.

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Obscura and Osho

obscura

If, like me, the reader has also purchased the latest reissue of Gorguts’ Obscura, he will find that the booklet’s back side is graced by the following quote by Osho:

The journey is long and the path is pathless and one has to be alone. There is no map and no one to guide. But there is no alternative. One cannot escape it, one cannot evade it. One has to go on the journey. The goal seems impossible but the urge to go on is intrinsic. The need is deep in the soul.

Although definitely not typical of a 1990s death metal record, these lines describe the drive that produced this almost accidental album. But aren’t all such savant releases at least partially accidental?

The spiritual and existentialist atmosphere that this quote evokes actually reflects the nature of the album as a whole and are in perfect alignment with its lyrics.

Some metal albums have beautiful lyrics accompanying the music. But the best albums bring sound and word together to shape a living entity that takes lodge in man’s heart.

Latest being drowned
In fictive degradation
Coming depression revolved
Around an Earth
Nostalgia excludes the whole

As spleen takes over me
Resound, the echoes of my threnodies
And then the fact of being
Has no longer meaning
The hymns of light
They’ll sing once I’ll be gone

Reverie appears cause
Existence collapse

Nostalgia
Sadness shall obnuilate

Sadness, feels, the desolated

Desperately lost within
Lament, pain and misery
The more lies burden lives,
The more I am dying
The realm of light
I’ll reach once I’ll…

Latest feeling drowned
In lucid contradiction
Coming relation revolved
Around a heart
Nostalgia excludes the whole

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Century Media re-issues Gorguts Obscura and From Wisdom to Hate

gorguts_-_obscura_and_from_wisdom_to_hate_reissues

Century Media Records has recently re-issued the death metal classics Obscura and From Wisdom to Hate by Canadian band Gorguts. The 2015 editions of these records were created in close cooperation with guitarist and songwriter Luc Lemay, who describes the history and context of these releases in accompanying liner notes. The re-issues are dedicated to the memory of former members Steeve Hurdle (R.I.P. 2012) and Steve MacDonald (R.I.P. 2002).

GORGUTS Obscura (Re-Issue 2015)

  • Gatefold black 2LP
  • Gatefold mint 2LP – limited to 200 copies (only available via CMDistro.com / Europe only – sold out in the US)
  • Gatefold lilac 2LP – limited to 200 copies (only available via CMDistro.com / US webshop only)
  • Gatefold transparent blue 2LP – limited to 100 copies (exclusive to GORGUTS’ current label Season Of Mist)
  • Standard Jewelcase CD (offered at mid-price)

GORGUTS From Wisdom To Hate (Re-Issue 2015)

  • Black LP+CD
  • Silver LP+CD – limited to 200 copies (only available via CMDistro.com / European & US webshop)
  • Transparent red LP+CD – limited to 200 copies (only available via CMDistro.com / US webshop only)
  • Clear vinyl LP+CD – limited to 100 copies (exclusive to GORGUTS’ current label Season Of Mist)

To order:

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Gorguts re-issues Obscura and From Wisdom to Hate on Century Media

gorguts-reissues_of_obscura_and_from_wisdom_to_hate

Death metal band turned prog-core act Gorguts has re-issued the latter two albums from its classic period, Gorguts and From Wisdom to Hate, on industry powerhouse Century Media Records. The re-issues — on jewelcase CD, 2LP and limited edition 2LP — will be available in pre-order starting March 9, 2015.

Says guitarist/composer Luc Lemay: “I’m proud to announce that our 1998 record Obscura and 2001’s From Wisdom To Hate will finally be re-released! …For this re-issue, I decided to include liner notes that tell the story behind each record. How we got together as musicians, what was the composition process that made this sound possible and that made us grow as artists…I decided to change the logo because, with a step back, I realized that I never really like the original one on Obscura and I wanted to give the record a fresh look. I kept the same logo for From Wisdom To Hate, because it was created for this record…Thanks again to all our fans for their unconditional support through all those years.”

The re-issues see official release on April 6, 2015 in Europe and April 7, 2015 in North America. Both are dedicated to the memory of former members Steeve Hurdle (R.I.P. 2012) and Steve MacDonald (R.I.P. 2002). While Gorguts has deviated into progressive-themed *core territory with their latest, Colored Sands, this band helped forge the sound of technical death metal back when that term simply referred to death metal which required technical ability to play. While Obscura has often been imitated in style, those who have tried to imitate it have generally done so on the basis of style alone and missed the sublime composition within which made this album a classic independent of style.

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Gorguts – Colored Sands

gorguts-colored_sandsTwo of the worst fates in the world: to not know why people like what you do, and to get thrown into the big bin marked “not bad” that contains 99% of human endeavors which are quickly forgotten.

Colored Sands, which sees release today, attempts to recapture the magic of Obscura and From Wisdom to Hate. On the surface, one would see these as a collection of techniques: off-time riffs, odd chord voicings, “deep” lyrics and an affinity for classical music.

Unfortunately, that’s all Gorguts took from their back catalog.

As said above, this reviews damns this CD with the faint praise of “not bad.” It’s much better than the rest of the tek-deth genre, but that’s sort of like saying that chainsaw dismemberment is better than Evola. The real problem with Colored Sands is that it’s transparent.

You can imagine a group of guys sitting in a room thinking, “How do we make a death metal album edgy?” For starters, they throw in the list of techniques I mentioned. But then they use very similar rhythms, song structures, riff types and even sequence of chord voicings.

We could call this “the Opeth effect”: for an instant audience, make music that sounds difficult but in fact is moron-simple and predictable, because it allows people to pose at being elite. It’s in full effect here, as bad as on the second Cynic album. It’s progressive music for pop fans.

Most of us had higher expectations because Gorguts traditionally held themselves to a higher standard. But what’s here is 50% traditional death metal and 50% tech-deth dressed up as prog, and it’s boring. The best part is the brief classical piece in the style of the Russians, which is both populist and not all that exciting in the convention of that style.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igkV8F4-fc0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALRfZPBj4iY

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZlzOOllYdA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pl_LfGnckLs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWe8gkBRiJM

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Gorguts – Colored Sands preview

gorguts-colored_sandsThe re-formed Gorguts today released the first substantial sample we have from their new album, Colored Sands, which will be available on September 3 in the United States and August 30 in the rest of the world via Season of Mist. The default medium will be the CD digipak but Colored Sands will also be available on vinyl LP, including black vinyl, yellow in red vinyl (limited to 150 copies), and clear vinyl (limited to 350 copies).

The big question for Hessians is whether Colored Sands will sound like nu-core, either frenetic Gothenburg-styling finger wiggling or breakdown-heavy antsy post-hardcore noise like the tek-deth noodlers. The answer is surprisingly that this band is in a three-way tie between slowed-down droning alternative metal like Gojira, technical death metal of the old school, and the new school of jazz-influenced indie-style progressive metal. Unfortunately, it’s not very exciting because as you can imagine, the focus is on form, and not content.

For example, “Forgotten Arrows” tries to hard to be about something but the music doesn’t match. It’s cut from multiple skeins of metal and alternative/indie rock cloth, but the song never gets a voice of its own. All of it is well-executed, and it avoided the irritating aspects of nu-core, which is commendable. However, it never really gains a spirit, like older Gorguts did.

That being said, this is only one track, and it’s a lot better than expected for the title (which may reflect a Vedic influence) and the addition of people like Colin Marston, who while he was a friendly and articulate fellow when I met him, is forever damned in metal for releasing the droning black metal imitation flavoring turd Krallice. The new guitarist and drummer seem to keep up admirably with grand old metal man Luc Lemay and his adroit fingers.

Track Listing:

  1. Le toit du monde
  2. An Ocean of Wisdom
  3. Forgotten Arrows
  4. Colored Sands
  5. The Battle of Chamdo
  6. Enemies of Compassion
  7. Ember’s Voice
  8. Absconders
  9. Reduced to Silence

Gorguts 2013 U.S. Tour Dates:

  • 09/05 – Springfield, Va. @ Empire
  • 09/06 – Raleigh, N.C. @ Hopscotch Festival
  • 09/07 – Wilimington, Dela. @ Mojo 13
  • 09/08 – Worcester, Mass. @ Palladium

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