Swedish heavy metal/death metal band Desultory, who along with Dissection, Unanimated, and Sacramentum paved the way for legions of melodeath to follow, are back in wartime formation and planning to record a new album. The band posted the following to social media:
Ok, so finally! We´re back into the Necromorbus studio, now to record our next full lenght album. We will record during the spring and hope for a release during the fall. Thanx for all your support and patience, this album is for you!
While most of us know this band through their Metal Blade debut (and one of the first big label acknowledgements of death metal) Into Eternity, their collection of demos entitled From Beyond the Visions of Death is also quite worth attending to. It combines the melodic approach of Unanimated with a heavy metal core, which makes it both more accessible and prettier than regular death metal.
An experienced music listener who is new to black metal asked for a doorway into the genre. This raises the question of how to appreciate black metal, which like most things in life is mostly mental preparation. Without context, black metal seems like any other loud genre, and it becomes harder to distinguish the newer tryhard junk from the original.
The best way to gain context is to walk through the history of the genre from oldest to newest. This approach, common in art, literature and philosophy, allows people to see what developed from what and what the reasoning for that was and therefore, what the reasoning is behind what is here now.
The result of this query was a simple list to urge people to explore this genre further. This list originates in the history of black metal music, but also in influences that can be identified among the bands as immediately relevant. Toward the end it extends more into general conjecture based on what shows up later in highly different form among the black metal works of relevance listed above it.
I. Proto- Metal
Bathory – The Return
Slayer – Hell Awaits
Hellhammer – Apocalyptic Raids
Sodom – Persecution Mania
Sarcofago – INRI
Merciless – The Awakening
Blasphemy – Fallen Angel of Doom
Von – Satanic Blood
III. Black metal
Immortal – Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism
Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
Burzum – Burzum/Aske
Emperor/Enslaved – Split
Darkthrone – Under a Funeral Moon
Beherit – Drawing Down the Moon
Varathron – His Majesty in the Swamp
Havohej – Dethrone the Son of God
Impaled Nazarene – Ugra-Karma
Samael – Worship Him
IV. Second Wave
Gorgoroth – Antichrist
Graveland – The Celtic Winter
Ancient – Svartalvheim
Sacramentum – Far Away From the Sun
Ildjarn – Forest Poetry
Summoning – Dol Guldur
Zyklon-B – Blood Must Be Shed
Gehenna – First Spell
Behemoth – From the Pagan Vastlands
V. Extended Contemporary
Demoncy – Joined in Darkness
Sammath – Godless Arrogance
Mutiilation – Remains of a Ruined, Cursed, Dead Soul
Absurd – Asgardsrei
For immediate death metal background to black metal:
At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
Carnage – Dark Recollections
Godflesh – Streetcleaner
For heavy metal background to black metal:
Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath
Venom – Possessed
Angel Witch – Angel Witch
Destruction/Tormentor – Demos
For hardcore punk background to all metal:
Discharge – Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing
Amebix – No Sanctuary
The Exploited – Death Before Dishonour
Cro-Mags – Age of Quarrel
For electronic music background to underground metal:
Recent posting of an interesting article about transcendent realization in metal provoked a number of confused comments, none of which addressed the substance of the article. The objection was to modern metal, which many view as a misbegotten genre, and to secondarily to the bands involved.
As a thought experiment, I thought I might share some thoughts on analysis of metal. You will not find nice easy binaries and “objective” analyses here, more like qualitative assessments in a shifting frame of reference. Mostly these are questions which do not resolve to nice, uniform and balanced answers. They embrace the controversy.
However, you will find that as you look back over the journey — and that is the best metaphor for experiencing music, that of looking into a field of data — you will see that taken as a whole, the details point toward an overall picture. Your job then is to assess that against all other music and place it in context.
I start with these general questions:
What changes between start and finish?
What patterns can be found?
Do these patterns form a language of sorts?
If so, does it lead to the conclusion?
Art is a communication. Art that extends over time, like novels or music, takes the listener from a starting point to a conclusion. It is not very powerful, usually, to have the precepts equal the conclusion, but sometimes — rarely — a full circle can be revealing, like when one recognizes how utterly futile an idea was when applying it to an experience, and ends up abandoning it. Patterns can consist of any data that is discernibly isolated (relevant to all of its parts) and can often change meaning when repeated. Language uses patterns to build meaning by expressing tokens in context and changing that context to apply more attributes to those tokens. Language leads to a conclusion when internal conflict results in a clear answer as to what has become victorious, been destroyed or a merging of ideas.
These lead to other questions, such as regarding technique:
Does this technique fit a need, or is the need made to fit the technique?
Is it evocative of any real-world experience or vivid thoughts?
Are the values of proportion, balance and purpose applied in this use of the technique?
Is there another more relevant technique that was not use?
The biggest question here is whether the technique is used for a purpose or not. A band that merely makes a list of all techniques, assigns them to songs and then barfs out a song using them will not only be boring, but will miss an opportunity to communicate something more than the technique — including composition — itself. The worst problem here is the “wallpaper effect” where the band does not vary the intensity within each song, creating a listening experience like listening to a faucet on full blast.
I also suggest the following for seeing past aesthetic:
If the lyrics were absent, how well would this piece stand up?
If I played this on a kazoo or acoustic guitar, would it still sound as powerful?
Is there depth to this imagery, or is the song a framing for the presentation of an image?
I find it useful to have a smaller CD player or computer in another room with not-so-excellent speakers. You can fire up the music on one of those and listen from a room or two away, which creates a sort of ad hoc filter that removes the value of production. You end up hearing root notes and rhythm the most, but also lose many of the flourishes that hide the actual music.
Then you should ask of its artistic relevance:
What does this piece of music express?
Does this address something relevant to life itself?
What have I learned or experienced through this piece?
These questions explore significance. That exists on both a musical and thematic level, with the best music having the two operating at once toward the same ends. Music that is relevant expresses something we know of in life, and finds a way to make it beautiful and create transcendence from it. Clarity, or truth about reality, can itself have a transcendent effect in that it clears aside confusion and opens up a pathway to future creation. Good art creates a world that you want to step into and help fight it out so that the best, the beautiful, the good and the interesting prevails over Big Macs and Cheetos.
And then, finally, your duty to the reader:
How many times could I listen to this without getting bored?
In what situations would I discuss with others what this conveyed?
How does this expand the metal lexicon of technique and ideas?
If you are writing as a reviewer, your readers do not have infinite time or money. They can purchase a few albums but are going to rely on these for enjoyment and learning over the course of the coming years. Remember your Bell Curve: most albums are in the middle, with some outright turds to the left and a few real standouts to the right. Your job is to pick the standouts because people can love these for years, and/or some of the high middle albums. Do not be afraid to be vicious. This is the money of normal people being spent on this music, and if they end up dissatisfied, it creates more landfill and causes them to despair on quality. Whatever is rewarded in the marketplace predominates, meaning you get more of it, so any sane person will be strict about quality.
With that being said…
Here’s a couple tracks for you to try. The only comments that are worthwhile are analytical ones. If you want to call someone a fag, go to one of the other threads and call me a fag. I got over it long ago and now I just ask for phone numbers or cock pics.
Back in the early 1990s, Supuration grew from a gore-oriented grindcore band into a death metal band, and then infused the mix with brainy indie/alternative rock of a progressive nature, carrying forward all three influences in varying degrees of balance.
Two decades later, the band plans to release Reveries of a Bloated Cadaver, a modern recording and high-value re-envisioning of the earlier songs with more technical playing, better production and improved cover art. To tease the fans, Supuration released a video for “Suffocate Through Asphyxia” that shows the direction this album will take.
Interestingly, the band preserve the underground metal focus of this material and take it in the proficient but still intensely violent and alienated direction that bands like Autopsy and Entombed embarked upon toward the mid-1990s. Improved playing and more adept tempo changes distinguish the original material of these songs, which appears somewhat reorganized to present itself more distinctively, and place it into a fully modern death metal sound.
It will be interesting to see what they do with other tracks that had more of a grindcore or alternative rock orientation back in the day. Supuration was the original alternative rock/metal crossover, but was ignored by the media because it retained its metal-ness instead of making metal-flavored Fugazi clones like the recent spate of media darlings. Maybe the band will reclaim its position in history with this upcoming release.
Underneath the trappings of an underground death metal band, Toxemia create 1970s-style doom metal, formed mainly of heavy metal elements but incorporating stylistic influences from a variety of darker shades of underground metal, most notably Autopsy Mental Funeral.
In chord progressions, song structure and lead guitar, this album most closely resembles what might happen if old Saint Vitus crossed over with a primitive proto-death metal band like Master, albeit at the slower tempi necessary for doom metal. Each song features a riff loop for verse and chorus with discursive riffs and use of both freeform lead guitar and rhythmic lead guitar overlays to distinguish the song. Clear themes emerge and while tonally there are few surprises, the arrangement of these familiar elements in forms that fit the particular worldview of this band makes these tracks interesting. While the underground metal influence can be seen in tremolo technique and layering of drums and guitars around a tempo change in the death metal style, the essence of Ancient Demon remains in the hard rock/heavy metal roots of the first generation of doom metal bands.
Experienced listeners may find some kinship here with the first Varathron album which also took a theatrical approach to traditional heavy metal and created dark atmospheres which both fulfilled expectations of that genre and distorted them into outsider commentary on the conventions themselves. The use of doom-death technique accelerates this band past most of the bands heading backward in time in the doom metal genre, but its spirit remains in that ideal and its execution is both faithful and inventive.
Streaming music service Spotify recently crunched data on its users to determine which fans are the most loyal. Specifically, it looked for users who went back to their favorites over time. The results might astonish outsiders:
To find out, we first identified the “core” artists that, according to The Echo Nest (a part of Spotify), are most central to each genre, starting with the big ones, on a global level. Then we did the same thing with local genres in various countries around the world. To create a measure of genre loyalty, we divided the number of streams each core artist had by their number of listeners. All of the charts are normalized against the genre with the loyalest fans.
The first thing we noticed: Metal fans are the world’s loyalest listeners (we’ll get to the individual countries soon):
To metal fans, however, this is not surprising. Metal has a quality-focused worldview that is also highly internally competitive, and as such it is “winner take all”: bands acknowledged as better than the rest are upheld as highly desired, and everything else fades into the background much like the rest of society to a metalhead. The point is that novelty and personableness take a back-seat to musical power, because metal is music that worships power as a means of making the ugly into the beautiful, and so the quality bands once discovered remain favorites.
Spotify also noted something else:
This doesn’t necessarily mean Metal is “better” than Jazz (metalheads would disagree), but it does tell us that Metal fans are in fact the most hardcore, according to this new measure of genre loyalty.
Metal fans are the most hardcore because to them, the music is not an expression of self but of truth. A metal fan seeks music with power and that can only occur through ability, whether musical or artistic, and so music that is merely friendly or sociable does not meet this standard.
As we watch yet another wave of rock assimilationists assault metal and try to re-form it in the image of rock music with metal “flavoring” or surface touches, it becomes clear why metal is desirable: the audience is highly desirable because their esteem is not lightly given and will last for decades. This challenges rock, which is based in personal music with a high degree of novelty or a message with which the listener agrees. Metal undoes all of that; in metal, the message is in the music and the personal value is in finding the best, which is why metal remains an outlier in the music market.
Perhaps you hoped that Venom would put out a technical album without losing the energy of its primitive side. Corpse Machine aims for that gap with a heavy metal album dressed up as death/black metal, using mostly old school heavy metal riffs but concluding its songs in the soaring melodic motions which made black metal a favorite of its audience. Like Fester, Dissection and other heavy metal/black metal hybrids, the result has relatively predictable song structures and high doses of repetition but creates emotional tension through melody and makes songs into little worlds where the listener can cycle through a brief contrast in emotions.
While the stylistic aspects of this album will drive away the purist black metal fan, the underlying melodic composition is good: both compelling rhythmically and harmonically, it creates layered spaces of emotion with simple riffing formed in pairs. When Corpse Machine turn up the intensity the result is more energy behind the music but not a fundamental change in mood. The result seems crushed by its decision to straddle two different worlds, as this would make an amazing heavy metal album but ranks as confused for black metal. In many ways, it represents what Venom should have become if it had chosen to stay current with metal technique, and might fit alongside bands like Gehenna and Dodheimsgard which have a similar approach.
For Corpse Machine to rise to the next level, it makes sense for them to clarify this confusion in style and add more internal tension to give the satisfying moments of this release more power and thus to enhance their atmosphere. Depths of the Abyss shows an aptitude for engaging songs but does not rise to the black metal level of intensity despite having a similar approach to melody. Like other experiments in heavy/black like Dissection and Immortal At the Heart of Winter, it has an almost sentimental tint that amplifies its autumnal and post-apocalyptic sensations, but unlike those the darker parts of its composition cannot quite separate themselves from technique. Still there is great promise here that may develop on future works.
Properly belonging to the power metal camp that hybridized heavy metal with death metal technique, Ancient Wind plays fast melodic songs with conventional structure in a style influenced by melodic death metal favorites like At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul but also takes its influence from higher-energy bands in that style like Unanimated Ancient God of Evil and Merciless Unbound.
Within that context, this band is highly competent but it is possible to win the battle and lose the war, and unfortunately by managing their technique so carefully Ancient Wind have created the most unfortunate of all metal mis-steps, which is the album of constant intensity. This same disadvantage plagues bands like Perdition Temple and Fallen Christ with an energy that is so incessant it causes the music to fade into the background because of its invariant nature. That being said, there is some quality riffing here although nothing all that surprising, much of which recycles the 1980s era of heavy metal with a focus on Iron Maiden. Bluesy leads with staggered tonal center shifts complete that part of the picture. With all of that considered, it begs the question whether Ancient Wind should keep up the death metal front at all because with more internal tempo changes and a classic Hetfield-style strong male vocal, they could be on the edge of a speed metal revival which not only is a less crowded field than melodic “death metal” — put in quotations because at its heart this is heavy metal or speed metal with death metal technique but not composition — but more accurately represents the inclinations of this band. Liking classic heavy metal has never been a bad thing, but a modern tribute to that style will have to achieve the same distinction that the original had or it fades into the stylistic background much like constant high intensity and similar song structures causes it to flow past like a faucet on “high.”
The Chosen Slain displays many strong attributes including impeccable musicianship through riffs that demand not just precision siting of chords in the technical heavy metal style, but accurate textural strumming in the death metal method. Clearly a lot of effort went into this release. With more tempo changes, song structures that wait to present conclusions until they culminate tension in the music, and a few stylistic adjustments, this could be a really excellent record. As it is now, it faces a difficult struggle differentiating itself in the melodic death metal field despite being better than most contenders. As this band gains more confidence and listens more to their own material, it is likely these changes will come naturally, and an album which strikes the listener as competent but not memorable like The Chosen Slain will give way to something more like its inspiration in Merciless and Unanimated and less like the immensely popular but saccharine and uninspiring drivel that At the Gates put out after giving up on their own art and wanting metal to be a day job instead.
Speed/death metal band Deceased has gradually been drifting toward its heavy metal roots over the past two decades. Its personnel went on to create Doomstone and October 31, the former trying death vocals and guitars with traditional heavy metal, and the latter launching full-on into the old school of the old school.
After Doomstone Those Whom Satan Hath Joined appeared as the album that did Deceased better than Deceased, the band reconsidered and began to incorporate traditional heavy metal on albums like Surreal Overdose. Now the band formalizes its past with Cadaver Traditions, a 2CD set of 50 cover songs from the past three decades.
Deceased vocalist/drummer King Fowley noted on social media the progress made: “DECEASED ‘cadaver traditions’ update. i’m finishing the liner notes to it all this week and its going to press. 2 cd set of 50 cover songs from our 30 years together!!! june release as said before; stays right on projected time.”
Those of us who have often wished for an end to the split personality in Deceased look forward to this. Not only will it be many classics re-imagined, but it will show Deceased in the full power of its style which unites past to present and future.
If you do not assert the truth, idiots come in and talk endlessly about their vision of it, which other idiots accept as truth, and soon a circle jerk starts where just about everyone thinks the lie is the truth. This is what happened to writing about black metal.
As the genre attempts to recapture itself from the theorists who will convert it into an esoteric sub-field of either Marxism or economics, new books emerge such as the Black Metal Theory (BMT) series advanced by the same people behind the symposium Hideous Gnosis. The latest from that group, Floating Tomb: Black Metal Theory, collects writings published on BMT “focusing on mysticism, a domain of thought and experience with deep connections both to the black metal genre and to theory (as theoria, vision, contemplation). More than a topic for BMT, the mystical is here explored in terms of the continuous intersection between black metal and theory, the ‘floating tomb’ wherein black metal is elevated into the intellectual and visionary experience that it already is.”