Vic Records is rereleasing Blood’s 1992 album Christbait on September 28th. This German death metal/grindcore act received some praise in the old archives for successfully adding some conventional musicality to a standard formula. In that regard this is similar to how Carcass and Napalm Death expanded their sounds on Symphonies of Sickness and Harmony Corruption; Christbait is similarly more intelligible and elaborate than Blood’s previous work (although still fairly simplistic) while retaining much of its intensity. Newer bands would do well to learn from these examples if they want to create works of similar quality.
While the new last.fm redesign seems to me another exercise in pointless self-justification by middle management, the ability to see statistics on my listening has entirely changed how I view the music held closest to my heart. Seeing the numbers has shown me how it is one thing to list a band as a favorite or recommendation, and one far different animal to listen to it on a monthly basis. One is assessment alone, as if listening were your sole task, and the other utility, showing that this piece of music has a place in your life of many tasks and goals.
This assessment filters among the upper level of the highest echelon of metal. The assessment itself filters out the nonsense, all of which suffers from a single sin — disorganization — which takes many different forms but reveals a lack of will, purpose and principle in constructing art and always red-flags a directionless listen. But among those bands who have escaped the madness, there is no equality in listening. Some have risen and some have fallen over 20 years of pounding out metal from my speakers as I work or relax at home. In most cases, the reaction was first shock and then realization that the seeds of this knowledge were there all along. Let us look at a few pairs where listening habits elevated one album over a similar one…
Blasphemy Fallen Angel of Doom vs. Blood Impulse to Destroy
Over the years metal has frequently benefited from punk influences because metal, as befits its partially progressive rock heritage, has a tendency to create layers of abstraction and complex musical discourse where punk cuts to the chase. This is both a strength and weakness for each genre; metal is abstract, which makes imitators very obvious but can get lost in muddle-headed musical wanderings, and punk is concrete, which makes it effective but imitation easy. Blasphemy introduced a punk-based genre, grindcore, into black metal. It adopted the aesthetic approach of Sarcofago but underneath applied the percussive lower-five-frets texture musik of grindcore. The result is very effective, and easy to listen to, but also — if you have many other options — kind of boring. In fact, many of these riff patterns are the same ones, albeit simplified, that speed metal bands tried and failed to use to revitalize that genre. As raw motivational material, the music is fantastic, but over time, it fades a bit as one realizes that its strength as low-complexity high impact music also means that its content is one-dimensional. Over the past 20 years, I have thrown this record on five times and apparently terminated it early each time.
I chose Impulse to Destroy because Germany’s Blood also occupies the narrow space of grindcore bands who think like black metal or death metal bands. Grindcore generally self-reduces to extreme minimums and must, like junk food, reintroduce sugar and salt at the surface to spice up the otherwise one-dimensional utilitarian approach. Death metal on the other hand is not utilitarian, while it is consequentialist (“only death is real” being the ultimate statement of that belief) and yet also has a highly aesthetically-motivated but not aesthetically-expressed transcendental outlook. At its best, grindcore overcomes its utilitarian tendencies for a ludic or playful view of the collapsing world, and from that some of the best material emerges. Blood for example creates a dark and morbid absurdism which brings to light all that our society suppresses with itself, and like Blasphemy, creates it through patterning cut from the chromatic strips of the lower registers of guitar. In this case, however, the textures take on a life of their own, like a three-dimensional house made from flat punch-out cards. Different riffs interact with one another and dramatic pauses and collisions give rise to interesting song structures. Like Disharmonic Orchestra Expositions Prophylaxe, Impulse to Destroy provides a wealth of riff archetypes applied with enough personality and purpose to create unique compositions which may be enjoyed for decades or longer despite their simplicity.
Napalm Death Scum vs. Carbonized For the Security
This is one of those albums that most people get for the sake of novelty. “But check these guys out, they’ve got one second songs and stuff, it’s just about noise…” — rock music does not get more ironic than that. And ultimately, that was the power of grindcore. Like punk a decade before, it removed all the pretense of rock and boiled it down to simple songs. It then sometimes added in new flourishes of song structure which made those songs more interesting than radio pop, which had been studied by MBAs and PhDs and reduced to a simple formula distinguished only (barely) by rhythm, production, instrumentation and vocals. But once the money men and white lab coats were able to look at rock as a product like any other, they saw that to please enough people in the audience to make it a hit, they did not have to innovate at all. They only needed a new skin for the same basic patterns and they could produce it over and over again with high margins (well, until digital piracy hit). Like the punk rock and then hardcore punk, grindcore stripped away illusion and replaced it with innovation. The problem here is that these songs are very similar themselves because they rely on dramatic confrontation within each song, which like all things “turned up to 11” becomes expected and thus a sort of background noise. Every time I have listened to this album it has made itself into sonic wallpaper before the halfway point.
Some of the albums which were considered “also-rans” back in the 1990s had more to them than people initially considered. This one has been a favorite for me, along with the second album from Carbonized but not the third, for two decades. I listen to it regularly, finish the whole thing, and sometimes start it over. Record labels tried to shoehorn Carbonized into the “death metal” model despite some clear warning signs, and consequently bungled — the root of all evils is incompetence at some level, starting with the ability to be honest — the career of this promising band, but for those of us who lumped this in with aggressive grindcore like Terrorizer and Repulsion, the similarities outweighed the differences. For the Security expresses paranoia, existential insecurity, melancholic doubt of the future and a desire to explore all that life offers in depth, all within and as part of the same outlook. This is the music of a brighter-than-average teenager who perceives the world honestly and rejects the foolishness but wants to look deeper into the interesting stuff that, because it does not affirm the dominant lie, is rejected by the herd. Chunky riffs alternate with broader rhythms derived from punk and yet are dominated by a desire to make song structure vary with content inherited through metal from progressive rock. Each song forms a sonic sigil to the topic at hand and the response of the artist, making each bursting with personality and reality portrayed in finely-observed ways at the same time. This is a masterful album which will never bore.
As you can see, Dear Reader, these albums are both quite similar on the surface — and quite different underneath. That bands can do so much with a handful of power chords, and have such different outcomes, is endlessly fascinating. Yet not every metal-influenced album is, even among A-listers like these. It may be time for all of us to go back through our listening, search ourselves honestly, and see what has actually stood the test of time.
This is the reissue of a grindcore album released by a Dutch band in 1991 and was previously only available in cassette format. Most of these are just hipster and collector fun coming to light. In the case of this Monastery, the music is solid but just does not have any spark in it. Everything in Ripping Terror had already been done better by the trinity of grindcore, Repulsion, Napalm Death and Blood (bands that have rendered all other grindcore output virtually redundant). Thus, the re-release of this passing triviality is just one more move to cash in on nostalgia and collector’s obsession to possess every tape out there.
This impulse bring back to life just about any band from the golden era of underground metal is both detrimental and helpful. On the one hand, the albums that are really deserving in being reissued, the ones whose legacy should endure are being suffocated in their own niche by a great many Bs, Cs and Ds that had no reason to come to light back in the day and have no reason to do so today. On the other hand, a historian of music wishing to compile human activity in a genre will be delighted to have such a large-scale reproduction of the output of the era.
I am torn between the two and my proposed solution is that the albums are produced on demand instead of Cs like Monastery getting thrown in with the rest of the promos. Which also implies that re-releases or re-issues should have a stack or channel of their own that does not mix in or get clotted by the rivers of filth being vomited on the audience by modern bands. Now, having separate stacks, and the reissues only being produced on demand would save us all time and trouble. Whoever is interested in a completely forgettable like this from back in the day can indulge himself, while Massacra, Incantation, Immolation or Gorguts can dominate the market as they ought to as superior works of art. Save the planet, recycle, stop manufacturing more plastic to release mediocre albums, EPs and demos.
Razor Rape is a grindcore band that focuses on gore for the fun of it. Whatever this particular style of grindcore is called out there is unimportant. It is only important to recognize that it is trying to be some kind of grindcore and describe it as groove-oriented, fluid, and offering no new thinking past the first two songs. By the third song, you are already hearing the band repeat itself. Then it’s just the same experience on a loop.
This makes Orgy in Guts yet another good example of how the limitations of the lyrical/ideological concept of the album affect the formation of art. If we start by placing the concept of this album, namely, the “orgy in guts”, an unabashed and obviously tongue-in-cheek gore comedy, with the music, namely, the bland and simple-minded rehashing of a couple of groove riffs in short arrangements that end not because the point was made already (as is the case with classics like early Napalm Death, and all Blood) but just because grindcore songs are short and well, it’s a good excuse to not have to think about more riffs or sections.
Grindcore in presumption only, every song here is a cliche-collection arranged with little variation or purpose other than carrying the vocal line enough so that screams out the mostly-unintelligible gore fantasies that serve to take listeners safely to a “dangerous” and “dark” place of the human mind. A project that does not take itself seriously can get away with presenting apparently controversial, taboo or shocking topics in a comedic way for the average Joe to approach it with a sense of morbidity without feeling that he is in any actual danger. Razor Rape forms part of the unnecessary fodder that plagues today’s metal landscape. Do avoid.
Despite spending most of my time listening to Haydn and Bruckner, I appreciate good grind: pattern languages of relative tonal motion and pure rhythm, laid out with the intensity of people who have stepped outside of all that is known and accepted. Anarchus has long been a favorite for delivering the raw goods without pretense and adopting a style of their own evenly between Terrorizer, Repulsion and Napalm Death that keeps the intensity of the peaks but varies it with seemingly impulsive gestures toward emptiness.
This well-acknowledged (but not acknowledged enough!) band played live in Tokyo, and recorded it with moderate fidelity that captures the energy of this performance and through that, connects to the anguished and warlike anger lurking in this music. Basic song structures, modified by commentary on the song itself from within, cycle through a verse and chorus for basic structure but enjoy the sensation of power that comes after deconstruction in which the form molds to the expression. Vocals rage, both high and low tones, and give this intense texture, but the real performance is in writing grindcore songs that remain unique and expressive even in this time when we are drowning in grindcore. This is music to destroy the world, and thanks to some wise sonic engineering, appears to us in a clear form without too much of the “noise” (versus signal) of live performances. Obviously, whatever I was doing at the time this was recorded, I was in the wrong place, as I should have been in Tokyo hanging out with ANARCHUS and maybe visiting K.K. NULL aftewards.
Organ dealer play a brand of metalcore influenced by the sound of those in that genre who call themselves “technical death metal”, but excuse themselves from any responsibility to make complete songs or to make them coherent at all by claiming to be playing grindcore. While at some level there is a reason for this claim, Organ Dealer only fulfills the requirements of a grindcore outfit on the superficial level. That is, if one asked the general public to describe grindcore, Organ Dealer would meet the “requirements”. It is in the details, the realization and what we read in between the lines of music that the deception is identified.
While grindcore does introduce a mixture of frenetic passages and mid-pace groove that do not necessarily have concrete links between them, the emphasis of grindcore has traditionally been on the strength and trance that each section evokes arising from a certain clarity of expression, the modern metal nature of Visceral Infection place the emphasis on the contrast between them. Each individual section is more forgettable, usually lacking a clear image, the emphasis being on the brutality as a whole and their form usually channeling into the next incredibly contrasting section. In the first one is pulled towards each riff, in the latter one is led towards the intersections between riffs. The nature of grindcore is replaced by that of carnival modern metal.
Swedish death-influenced gore/grind band RazorRape have scheduled the release of their upcoming album Orgy in Guts for August, 2015.
1. Bonesaw Facefuck
2. A Beast of Human Waste
3. Holy Gory Glory Hole
4. Spinal Cord Impalement
5. Vomit Drenched In Mucus
6. Choking On Feces
7. Orgy In Guts
8. Black Flood Of Body Fluids
9. Bitch Butcher Boogie
10. Grinding The Dead
11. Rampage In Red
12. Rot In Excrement
13. Lady Gagball
14. Hey Whore, Let’s Gore
15. Tennis Racket God
Intent guide results and results reflect intent in a mirror-like relation akin the blurred causality presented by modern physics where the only ordering factor is time. We get a clear hint from the song names, but should not be hasty towards concluding everything abut a work without inspecting all the evidence. Being a work of music, it is our main interest to examine that, first and foremost, and then try to link our conclusions about the musical part with other observations and in an attempt to sniff out possible originating intentions.
While the likes of Napalm Death sought to shock, surprise or amuse in different ways and with different purposes (from insults and nonsense to social and political issues), their early albums were balanced out as a whole between the different concepts, to form a whole that was both entertaining and full of content while remaining constant in their choice for aesthetics. Grindcore must be strictly appreciated on an album basis, not a song basis. By themselves, many tracks lack any sense, but in the context of the whole work of art (not in the context of an extra-musical agent, which is a different topic) they attain a purpose and/or a meaning.
Napalm Death approached their goal using different techniques in a coherent manner and this gave albums like Scum a wide range of expression to produce a collection of songs of different duration and speed but like character. The technique would accommodate to the character and mold around it as needed. Songs with mid-paced sections are allowed to flesh out the groove before they enter frenetic trance. The tracks that are mini-bursts of demented blasting were also given their place and were not over-extended. In an undeterred flow from primal reactions to sonic expression, the early music of Napalm Death completely forgets about the self and like all great works of authentic art becomes an entity unto itself.
In Nekro Drunkz we see a band bent on projecting an image of disgust and fun. Admittedly a work of comedy, Absolute Filth has little staying power beyond the “catchy” brutality inherent to the grindcore genre. The reason for this lies in the poor and uneventful sections put together to support an ironic expression whose sole purpose is to shock. Musically, what we find in this album is song after of song that pair two or three riffs that do not do anything in particular. They do not escalate, they do not accelerate, they do not twist, riffs do not play on one another. Songs all express the same thing musically and lyrically. The lyrics are intended to tell you how disgusting they are and the music is only recognizably grindcore yet does little else than carry the voice while it blurts out its tired, “shocking” and friendly softcore gore.
While recognizing the intended goal of a work is paramount to understanding it, it is not an excuse for low quality. The argument usually runs along the lines of “And what if they wanted to make a piece of shit of an album?”. This is fallacy that assumes that if something is explained or is voluntary then it is exempt from any quality judgement. I do not see how this is so but it seems to be a popular belief. The fact remains that this album is, whether intentionally or not, a piece of shit.
Having watched this zine grow from humble origins to the reliable source of underground metal feature stories that it is today, the metalheads who comprise the underground — including death metal, black metal, grindcore, and some speed metal and doom metal — now expect high-quality on-point content from this zine, and Issue Seven delivers with style. Now possessing the journalistic weight and audience to command high-profile bands, Codex Obscurum returns with wide-ranging interviews, reviews, features and editorials with adventurous literary fiction as well.
Interviews have always pushed this zine above the rest because of their conversational nature but tendency to explore the thinking behind the musical decisions made by the band, with little attention spent on the surface fluff, but some questions that bring out the personalities of the musicians and explain their connection to the art. In this issue, the biggest name in interviews is Deceased, but perhaps the most powerful interview belongs to Thanatos. Covering both Hail of Bullets and Thanatos, this interview with Stephan Gebedi is as detailed and congenial as death metal interviews get, and covers a lot of history. The Deceased interview will strike most as idiosyncratic because it covers much of King Fowley personally and recent news, with less emphasis on background, but this reflects the general abundance of Deceased interviews on the early days. This updates us on the status of the band including information new to most sources. Other interviews with Wastelander, Drug Honkey, FaithXTractor, Crypt Sermon, Magic Circle, Dawn of Demise, Untergang, Slaughtbath and Blood Incantation follow similar patterns of compiling biographical details and consulting on musical intent, with the Untergang and Crypt Sermon being most compelling. All of these are well-executed and constitute the backbone of this zine.
Issue Seven contains a number of features, one of which takes the form of an interview. Artist Tony Cosgrove gives his points of view in a story which interweaves his images with his words, creating the sensation of being a museum exhibit with slightly longer detail cards. A feature on asymmetrical board games offers a glimpse into a world that overlaps with metal but is too nerdly for the mainstream tuffguy websites to cover. A lengthy write-up of the Kill-Town death fest in Denmark follows, which captures much of the atmosphere without excessive detail, but also skimps on a few vital points and may be the least powerful part of the zine. Then again, fest writeups are nearly impossible because everyone is tired and/or drunk (and stoned) so what remains are hazy recollections and the ability to look through the heaps of scored merch. Possibly my favorite features lurks at the rear of the zine, which is a malevolent and tongue-in-cheek editorial about the nature of battle jackets and how they should be worn. This piece reminds me of the 1980s text-files that hackers used to pass around: it has an off-the-cuff feel to the writing, but the thinking seems refined over time, which creates an interesting casual intensity. One intriguing feature, to my knowledge unique among current zines, comes in the form of a short story. Like a condensed zombie sci-fi horror movie, “Evil Seed” (named for the Morbid Angel tune?) efficiently whips through a haunting mystery of an experience with a powerful organic metaphor. This story not only adds to the zine, but its placement dead in the middle creates a break like that when flipping over a vinyl album to hear side two.
Toward the rear of the zine festers another important section: reviews. For metalheads without much time to wade through the mountains of spurious and often spiteful opinions in online comments, or the completely idiotic sales jobs that mainstream zines and web sites put out in place of reviews, where every release is the greatest ever and will tear your head off or make you look intellectual to the girlies, zine reviews offer peace of mind in purchasing by offering better than even chances that a given release will be a match. This occurs both through qualitative assessment, and quantitative description, both of which are featured here. These take a conversational tone but know when to drop the one or two lines of most vital description, and then an assessment, separating observations from judgments enough that the reader can shop by the relative distance between the taste of the reviewer and their own. In this issue, the selection of reviews is a lot more strategic and covers all of the vital ground for what was released during the press period of this issue.
As Codex Obscurum has grown, so has its proficiency in layout. This is the most readable issue yet, generally sticking a band logo at the start of an interview and then being sparse with other images and keeping the text high-contrast usually of a light grey on black variety. This format works well and the use of distinctly shaped fonts also keeps this from falling into the trap of the illegible muddy blur of a xerox disaster that many zines are. Reviews are black text on grey background for added readability, and whether from rush or deliberation, the black-on-white table of contents is if nothing else clear as a bell. Writing standards have inched upward, too, with tightly edited pieces and almost no typos and spelling errors. All of the above make it easy to pick up this zine, which at half-page size can be handily carried anywhere you would take a paperback, and to relax and absorb the content. It would not be surprising to see someone whip this out at a university library, transhumanist rally or on the international space station, because it has that kind of density of information and yet casual enjoyment factor. It is good to see this zine getting the recognition it deserves and its growth both in size and technique for an intensely professional and yet familiar metal reading experience.
- Codex Obscurum – Issue Seven $4 + shipping
Bringing together the grindcore of Napalm Death and the primitive black metal of Bathory and Sarcófago into a death metal way of thinking, Blasphemy gave the world a solid although juvenile Fallen Angel of Doom. Racing in consisting grinding expression while going beyond the riff and into an atmosphere-inducing state as a result of the progression of riffs that is fitting of that primitive black metal, the songs in this album open a portal through which disturbing visions come to alienate us, inducing a feeling of aloneness, doom and fear.
That strong evocation is accomplished from the fusion of these two genres, in my opinion, because they are not just smashed together but rather assembled in a different mold, that of death metal and made into one language. The other thing is that you do not hear interleaving riffs in different styles, although we do hear a good deal of flexibility in riff type in terms of rhythm, texture and note length. The riffs themselves are both completely fitting for grindcore, but it is the duration of their repetition and the effect of their arrangement that results in a similarity with primitive black metal. In order to achieve a stronger result coming from goal-oriented development, the structural-minded songwriting of death metal comes to round off and concentrate the raw energy of the other two genres.