What do musicians do when the drive to create has vanished?
When the label is clamoring for something new, does the band bow down and fulfill the request, or do they uphold standards? Black metal in particular has struggled with these questions for over a decade, with a myriad of responses. Some have chosen to retreat completely, seeking refuge in the wild.
Some have become exasperated with the genre, turning to electronic music before returning in glory. Others have waged war on modernity, risking well-being in pursuit of these goals. However, the greatest number have bowed to the wishes of the crowd and released a product that was quickly forgotten, which is where Satyricon’s self-titled album falls.
Embodying all that is lazy and lethargic, Satyricon is an excellent example of modern black metal ethos. Black metal only on the surface, the album is musically a hard rock/heavy metal album designed for max promotional appeal. Simple riffs with obvious sequencing, simple implementation, and solid production produce a well-shaped package that undoubtedly will allow the band to increase its commercial influence.
Sounding like a tribute to Fallen-era Burzum‘s minor-chord noodling but lacking even what little sense of spirit that album possessed, the band chucks in references to pop and blues cliches as if the label funded a study aimed at producing the most cookie-cutter album conceivable, then shared the results to the band…and let’s not delve into the collaboration with Sivert Høyem.
There is nothing here for readers of this site to enjoy, except for the more morbid members among us. This album goes nowhere. It has nothing to impart. And perhaps most damning, it’s not even terrible. It is simply a non-entity.
Your average person perceives music as good and bad, with a whole lot of bad and some good. The truth is more shocking: truly bad is rare like truly good, but the vast majority is just so-so.
So-so occurs not because an album has too much bad, but because it doesn’t have enough good. And this isn’t a by-the-pound determination. It needs to be good in a number of ways, including structurally and conceptually, or it devolves into chaos. Randomness. Disorder.
The average album usually has no defects. The instrumentation is good, the production is good, and individual members put in strong performances. They can write songs according to the book, and often have a unique concept. It just doesn’t hold together because it lacks a central idea.
Withdrawal is an example of a truly bad album. It is not bad because it is incompetent, but because it is whore. Woe takes the techniques of orthodox black metal and applies them to hard rock with touches of indie. This produces disorder with a face value different from its content.
On the surface, this album emulates Gorgoroth and Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger; a little bit under the surface, you find Ulver and Taake. Dig down deep enough and you find recycled Def Leppard and Quiet Riot riffs, with repetitive use of black metalTM technique like blast beats, melodic drone, bad production, and so forth.
As a product, Withdrawal is great because it’s open to everyone. On the surface, it’s rebellion; underneath, it’s the same complacent crap your parents were listening to. Maybe it’s a good pop album; I got bored halfway through. But it’s not black metal.
What’s an obviously hard-rock band doing on a deathmetal website? The answer is that it’s good to remember that there’s decent mainstream metal out there, but that all of it shares a singular trait: it stops trying to be cute and focuses on being heavy metal.
Rabbits sound like a three-way cross between MGMT, Crowbar and Motley Crue. The result is a somewhat violent psychedelic sound with a horde of riffs cut from familiar cloth that yet hold their own because they help this band deliver the experience it promises, which is chaotic and semi-antisocial modern (post-“alternative”) metal with deep roots in the world of gritty hard rock.
You’re not going to stagger back from this foaming at the mouth and proclaiming it genius, but you may enjoy it for its messy take on what metal would be if it weren’t focused on being so cute twee, deceptive, clever, etc. It’s just a rockin’-out experience, like Red Fang but without the smarm.
I read the news today. There was another miracle cure for cancer. In six moths, they’ll publish a retraction. What does this mean? Don’t take it at face value; ignore the hype.
In the same way, a lot of CDs come out that have interesting backstories. So-and-so is a progressive musician who turned to metal. Genius awaits. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. So unique they don’t even have a category for it, so we’ll put the genre names in scare quotes.
Then there’s Lalu. Promised as progressive rock/metal. Actuality: terrible hard rock with semi-difficult riffing and time changes, but no melodic development, unique song structure, or even musical complexity beyond technique.
I can’t blame the labels. It’s their job to hype stuff. I can’t blame the band; it must be like watching money walk by to see these other bands succeed. I blame the listeners, and some other reviewers, for not calling this what it is.
If you really liked Quiet Riot, and wished it had jazzier tempos and more intricate lead rhythm riffs with slightly dissonant melodies, then this is your lucky day. If not, you’ve already wasted too much time on it.
From the opening dual guitar harmonies straight out of 1985 that bring to mind the live intro to a Europe or Stryper set, it’s obvious that this album will be more in line with the guitar hero pop-metal of Arch Enemy than anything from Symphonies of Sickness or Reek of Putrefaction.
To some degree, that’s to be expected. Carcass threw in the towel on forward momentum long ago (1991) and have resorted to playing up their namesake for the purpose of phoning in stadium metal for the aesthetically overblown Wacken age, and Surgical Steel is perhaps their most commercially flexible attempt at filtering late model radio format speed metal through a death metal aesthetic filter, where actual death metal technique is limited to tremolo picking, blast beats, and Jeff Walkers vocals.
Carcass joining an elite cadre of financially successful bands by doing so, starting with At the Gates’s Slaughter of the Soul and even Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven. Let me state it again for those who wish to be millionaires: the appearance of being an outsider to a society nearly universally loathed by its inhabitants, with an underhanded delivery of comfortingly familiar derivative works that by their obedience affirm the social order, will always be a financial success. It allows the appearance of rebellion with none of the actual costs. It’s like artistic insurgency tourism.
Surgical Steel ends up being a mix of Swansong‘s Thin Lizzy-isms applied to the framework of songs like “This Mortal Coil” and “Doctrinal Expletives.” These songs have more to do with Mike Amott’s recent Wacken pandering than anything on Heartwork. “A Congealed Clot of Blood” resembles a “revisited”, more uptempo version of Swansong‘s “Don’t Believe a Word” and the last song, brings to mind the best years of Sanctuary with its sentimental melodic guitar intro, or evokes the Overkill ballads “The Years of Decay” and “Soulitude” with its emotional framing and pacing.
Some tracks like “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System” attempt aggression by utilizing the same speed metal meets extreme music technique as “Carnal Forge” from Heartwork, but with the obvious “money riff” effect of the dual harmony guitar part that is the focus of these songs. The reversion to old lyrical themes (based off the song titles and album artwork) seems like misdirected fan service as these songs would probably win over more people from the Century Media crowd if the lyrics had the same simple “emotional” topics that songs such as “No Love Lost” had.
While this album may appease the simple appetites of those who merrily purchase Arch Enemy and Children of Bodom albums, many songs try to deviate from the verse-chorus stylings with an overloaded, ill-fitting bridge that detract from their simple nature. This divided nature may keep Surgical Steel from being as successful as recent Hypocrisy or Slaughter of the Soul in the arena of stadium faux-death AOR metal for drunken Wacken attendees.
Again, we say: if your heart is no longer in death metal, don’t bother. Start up a project band and transition into progressive rock, classic rock, or whatever it is that actually appeals to you. Explore your new musical pathways. It’s just as much a sell-out to try to “stay true!” when you no longer care as it is to make Justin Bieber-styled pop because you know ten million teeny boppers from the ‘burbs will buy it. Musicians, chase your dreams. We get the best of your talent that way, even if we have to transition genres to appreciate it.
Carcass started as a grindcore band with one crucial difference: they sang about gore, disease, decay and torture instead of political topics. It was a sort of metapolitics, a way of viewing the world that reduced humans to meat and hopefully induced compassion.
After a few years of doing this, and playing live many nights in a row, they improved at playing their instruments and began wanting the acclaim that other bands got. So their style drifted, first to death metal (Tools of the Trade), then to speed metal (Heartwork) and later to hard rock (Swansong). Then the band disbanded, and only returned this year.
“Captive Bolt Pistol,” which is the first song to leak from Surgical Steel, roughly resembles Tools of the Trade crossed with Swansong. It uses death metal tempos and inflections, but hard rock riffs, and lots of bluesy rock-style leads. If this is their new direction, it seems a reasonable assumption if they hope the rock audience will cross over to like a band named Carcass.
The first new Carcass album in 17 years, Surgical Steel was created by a lineup of original members Jeff Walker (lead vocals, bass), Bill Steer (guitar, vocals) and new drummer Daniel Wilding (ABORTED, HEAVEN SHALL BURN), with guest vocals from original drummer Ken Owen.