Judas Priest – Stained Class

Stylistically and in terms of execution, this is perhaps the most important album that Judas Priest made. Some will argue that the Sad Wings Of Destiny album from 1976 was the record that encapsulated this, though the reviewer picks Stained Class on the basis that it shapes and crafts the periphery of what was yet to come from a still young musical form. The origins of extreme metal are hinted at in pieces such as ‘Exciter’, which elaborates further on the quintet’s advancement towards more aggressive techniques and motifs, heavy on palm muted rhythmic guitar riffs and rapid fire double bass pedals, overlaid with Rob Halford’s banshee-like falsetto and lead guitars which although in terms of patterns and scales are not yet free of the restraints of rock music from previous decades, clearly set a benchmark for the revival of neoclassical technique in the metal genre. This is additionally showcased in both the follow up piece ‘White Heat, Red Hot’  the title track and ‘Saints In Hell’, more adherent to mid-paced tempos though in terms of form, the same development is obvious.

‘Invader’, ‘Savage’, and ‘Better By You, Better Than Me’ are all anthemic, semi-melodic numbers that are more standardized than anything else on this album, and is easily of the quality of the best material that permeated the disappointing predecessor Sin After Sin. As is with much work within earlier NWOBHM, this creates a solid base that allows for the most joyous segments of this album to thrive so well. ‘Beyond The Realms Of Death’ which is by many seen to be a seminal piece for this band, is an excellent piece of balladry, to which a clear lineage of the more subtle, ‘slow burning’ work of Iron Maiden (“Children Of The Damned”), Manowar (“Valhalla”, “Bridge Of Death”), Bathory (“One Rode To Asa Bay”, “Twilight Of The Gods”), Metallica (“Sanitarium”, “Fade To Black”) can trace a root. With the exception of perhaps their triumphant Painkiller opus, this remains their most consistent and advanced work, and shows an act at their most vital and relentless. Metal was forged here.

 -Pearson-

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Therion – Gothic Kabbalah

 

Being dissatisfied with creating what might be called a pinnacle of death metal in Beyond Sanctorum (an undertaking that for all its immersive grandeur and epic legends never felt entirely comfortable within the genre), Therion mastermind Christofer Johnsson embarked upon a massive crusade in pursuit of an album that successfully integrated a symphonic revelry into a metal foundation. While others, including Mr. Johnsson himself, might disagree, it is the opinion of this reviewer that, having toiled for over fifteen years in this particular effort, Therion finally achieved the full extent of its aim in ‘Gothic Kabbalah’, and album that we not only deem to be the single best record of the past record, but also the most inventive, most ingenious accomplishment to emerge from a band no longer affiliated with the original death metal framework.

Once the listener can eventually penetrate the deeper meanings of Gothic Kabbalah, which can require a great deal of time and concentration due to the sheer immensity of its vision, he is likely to be struck by how purposeful the music seems. Every track sets out an individual lyrical theme (all lyrics written by the studious Thomas Karlsson), and the composition as a whole (not merely the vocals) actually reflects the corresponding theme as it should always do. This is where truly excellent music will unfailingly show its quality: the imaginative vision of the artist, whether the intent be conscious or not, is sublimely displayed in the overall thematic unity of the album, in both conceptual and strictly musical dimensions, as well as in an intricate understanding of precisely what the artist wishes to create, and of course of the tools that he is working with.

In Gothic Kabbalah, we are entranced by a composition that sings and dances fluidly in a notable contrast to the relatively plodding movements that characterize some of the earlier records. A full sense of the album’s strong self-awareness is manifested by an easy alliance between some convincing, eccentric vocals, plenty of nimble solos and delicate melodies, and a deeply visceral performance by a devoted rhythm section; taken as a whole, the instrumentation is perfectly charismatic. This does not altogether give the impression of being a fun, careless endeavour to entertain guests around a campfire; the album does, however, address some perennial subjects with a certain seriousness that graces them with an unmistakable aura of authenticity, all the while doing so with a natural easiness that only reinforces the sense of sincerity.

What makes this, Therion’s ninth album, especially remarkable is not that it approaches arcane material in the hope of evoking something real and mystical; previous albums have evidently been produced in this very eagerness. No, what makes Gothic Kabbalah special is that it actually accomplishes the invocation of a strong esoteric presence in a musical fabric that goes far beyond the aesthetical, something which the albums prior could never do. The true moments of greatness on this record are found wherever the shocking light of revelation pierces through the veil of the myth and of the occult; whereas Therion were previously content to simply demonstrate the shapes and the outlines of the old legends, ‘Gothic Kabbalah’ cannot cease until it has transcended them altogether!

Now, it is quite clear that Therion have indeed managed an artistic representation of a wondrous realm in Esoterism, and have made it come alive therein; what is especially remarkable, however, is how the many different mythic strands that the albums touches on are eclipsed by a strong recurrence to the specifically Hellenic idea of the ‘Sophia Perennis’, or of the universal idea of the ‘Eternal Wisdom’. Just as a decidedly bombastic classical music has melded with a more crudely defined death metal background, as well as with other styles besides, so too have the various topics respectful to esoterism conformed to the overriding aim for the beautiful Sophia. So, while the cryptic meaning of the pair of terms Gothic Kabbalah still escapes us, the meaning of this album has not: it is the soulful execution of a vision set squarely upon the sun and the heavens above, and as such it is the perfect transition from a typically death metal perception that stares perpetually into a deep, long, and fiery abyss.

-Xavier-

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Satan – Court in the Act

Hailing from Newcastle, the same turf as fellow Geordies Venom, Satan’s debut album offers a more finely executed and grandiose vision of the NWOBHM, and on Court In The Act they deliver a masterwork that arguably represents the peak of the style. Each composition is defined by intricate rhythm and lead guitar work, and a pacy ryththm section that has all the momentum of an up-tempo take on Stained Class by Judas Priest. A very well tamed vocal retains a mostly mid-range croon throughout songs, unleashing semi-operatic falsettos wherever necessary to give greater punctuality to the conclusions of riff cycles. On repeat listens Court In The Act can bring about various comparisons, with the proto-speed metal gallop of Judas Priest, the melodic noodling of Iron Maiden and an anthemic niche shared by Angel Witch. Witchfinder General also comes to mind, albeit lacking the Black Sabbath influence that informed said act.

Melody and song structure here is flawless, and unlike many albums of the NWOBHM there is no real incohesion or disruption halting the flow of compositional prowess. Quite an archaic use of notation that makes great use of pentatonics, yet moderates the restraints of blues and R&B music, has something more in common with European music of centuries past. If one were to imagine listening and removing the aesthetics of the modern band-set up, and replacing the electrical distortions of the guitars with perhaps harpsichord or sole acoustic guitar in it’s place a bridge can more or less be established as an imaginative transition to a modern form of music. One of the absolute best releases of traditional metal, this is highly overlooked and highly recommended.

Pearson-

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S.U.P. – Room Seven

By the time 1997 rolled around Death Metal had all but returned to the primordial abyss from which it had emerged, and Black Metal had basically committed suicide. As if sensing the demise of extreme metal or unable to overcome the perceived expressive limitations of extreme metal, S.U.P. with an eye to their Heavy Metal and progressive rock influences, release a surprisingly expressive, intelligent and interesting album that could be referred to as industrial progressive death rock. Mid-paced, melancholy, unsettling, dreamlike and enigmatic, the listener of “Room Seven” is submerged into a world of varying and compelling experiences that often times work simultaneously to challenge and lift the listener beyond the simple, linear and emotive reactions that arise from rock and other forms of popular music. Despite some of the heavy metal fist pumping riffs and the common and accessible themes, “Room Seven” does a great job of placing the listener in a relative position of omniscience and thus introducing a position from which to contemplate and apply the wisdom of this release to one’s own life.

Masters at presenting simultaneously varying and subtly different shades of a theme, SUP reminds those who have the ears to listen that life is more than the mere temporal, logical and linear succession of events and experiences. Rather the listener is urged to contemplate life as the compound and expression of various and seemingly disparate elements, working simultaneously to create the complexity of life and its experiences, while remaining fundamentally connected. Vocals themselves, while melodic are emotionally restrained, dreary and often times express a profound fatalism, stoicism or a dissinterested acceptance of the superior forces alluded to above. Although “Room Seven” remains a compelling listen, the heavy metal and rock based themes preclude the possibility of this album reaching the cosmic heights of certain Black Metal and Death Metal classics, nonetheless as a testament to the intricacies of the human experience this album offers satisfying insight.

-TheWaters

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Dantesco – Pagano

The challenge of creating relevant but still traditional Heavy Metal in this current age where even the most commercial face of Metal has been changed by the extremity of the underground seems to be an almost insurmountable task. The most recent efforts of mainstream veterans like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest in continuing the genre provides little in and of themselves to enthrall the masses as they did with their once advanced, Romanticist art. There are also the countless Power and Doom Metal bands that have hijacked the older forms and do so with little to none of the magic that possessed the music of the seventies and eighties. Though the secrets of the grand, old tradition have been apparently condemned to obscurity, they can never be lost and befitting the nature of lost wisdom, have turned up in the least likely of places.

Dantesco hail from the small Latin American island of Puerto Rico and through their music, divulge a rich tradition of Spanish music and highly exoteric and vibrant Catholicism. Although chronicling the triumphant Heathen soul at war with Christendom, ‘Pagano’ conjures the sounds of the immanent culture and possesses it with a bestial inflection, as the vocals of Erico that dominate this album resemble a Latin black mass arranged with the magestic sensibilities of an European opera. Infact, the vocal style is as properly operatic as imagineable in Heavy Metal music, putting the high-pitched aspirations of a Rob Halford or Messiah Marcolin in their places, though still conveying a sense of extreme primality and visceral power rivalled only by the demonic throats of Black Metal vocalists. These sermons are conducted exclusively in the native Spanish tongue, which suits the guitars incredibly well, as the melodicism of the riffs is only supplemented by the Doomy heaviness of Candlemass influence, but really crafted with Spanish classical guitars in mind. This is where the music really comes alive, before there’s any chance of hearing the vocals as just a unique ethnic gimmick to fill space with. The compositions are constantly engaging, commanding narratives the scale of the epic title-track to Iron Maiden’s ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son‘ with attention to mood dynamics often passed over in favour of an intentionally one-dimensional wallowing by other bands who play this melodic, traditional and Doomy kind of Metal. All the techniques on show have been long perfected, and more recently, have even found their way into the mallcore slang of pre-teen alternative/hard rock bands (via. Gothenburg), but fortunately, it’s all found an orderly, emotive and inspiring expression in ‘Pagano’. The tight but hyperbolic interplay of vocals and guitar is a feast for those that love to follow several strands of ancient melody at once, as if transforming the old Hispanic anthems of Mexico’s Luzbel into rousing, harmonised hymns, tempered and then unleashed to invoke the spirits of pre-Christian warriors. True Heavy Metal, fit for contemporary ears, giving the current crop of extreme-influenced Pagan and Black Metal bands a serious run for their money.

-ObscuraHessian-

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Becoming a classical listener

For kicks I decided to listen to nothing but classical music for a month. Having bounced around looking for the next genre to capture the power of old school metal, I realized that none were coming close, so skipped the drama and went right for the heavyweight — classical. In specific, I’d found the following frustrations:

  1. Jazz fans tend to praise music for its external traits, like how wild the sounds are, not the composition. This is because jazz composition is either based on pop music from the 1930s, or totally random. Most of the soloing is 80% random or memorized licks used to kill time while the musician tries to think up something good. Jazz fans don’t want to hear this because they listen to jazz to seem profound to their friends, and like talking about how it’s superior to every other form of music, especially country, metal and classical (“those people can’t improvise,” they say of the people who invented and still practice structured improvisation).
  2. I like the idea of noise music and many of the people involved with it. The music itself is fucking boring. It’s a texture study with some dynamic manipulation for effect, which gives them only a few semi-linear song structures they can develop. The result is a focus on the trivial, so that anyone who mikes his colon and samples a tractor engine through it then finds a way to distort it using atmospheric noise and biofuels becomes the Latest Genius, even though the end result sounds about like everything else.
  3. Similarly, I like the idea of industrial music, but it has been swallowed up by dance music and the beat-addicted nature reminds me of all I don’t like about our modern time: spoon-fed, concentration-interrupting, doofus-friendly society. Even stuff like VNV Nation, which is pretty brainy, gets old after a listen or two for this reason.
  4. I like the idea of country, and can enjoy bluegrass and pre-hippie folk, but not all the time. Much of it sounds very similar to my ears which may have to do with its reliance on similar techniques.
  5. I would never listen to metal for metal’s sake. That’s how you make something weak, by being an unquestioning audience. For this reason, other than a handful of releases, I skip out on post-1996 metal. The exceptions are great however.
  6. The “youth culture” aspects of popular music — how it’s a high-ticket item sold on certain assumptions, how millions of people use it as a cause/life/goal substitute, how it’s generally not profound thus people contort to give it extra gravitas — are what doomed metal and doom these other genres. I want to avoid the kiddie marketing and in-group/out-group social club aspects that get in the way of the music.
  7. This “youthiness” to the music means that you are expected to be willing to spend absurd sums of money, waste hours of time poking around magazines and web sites and youth chatter boards, all while becoming a target for the “youth market” of large corporations who realize that you can pander to people while condescending to them. They treat anything “youth” like it’s for morons and still people eat it up. They’re not going to do anything but insult your intelligence and cryptically hide information so someone can be the smartest monkey in the group for having found it.
  8. Popular music is, under the hood, very similar in melody, harmony and rhythm. As a result, dressing it up becomes the most important task. If you take a standard pop song and add a screaming female vocalist, a tuba player and a disco beat, it’s now “edgy.” Take that same pop song, drop the drums and add a chorus of gay penguins, and it’s “innovative.” Or just indulge in camp and mixed-up styles from the past and you’re “ironic.” Does anyone actually fall for this? Well, they know nothing of music theory, have little experience of life, and… here’s the secret: they have low self-esteem, are ordinary, but are trying to socialize by having something in common with others that they can trade around in a transactional basis. So they have rock music and they don’t care as much about the music as the cool.

Because of this, I chucked aside the notion of listening to popular music — at all. Even if it’s underground or indie, if it’s in the popular music format, that’s how it will be perceived and treated, which in turn affects how I’ll have to interact with it and get ahold of it. Specifically, I noted how the greatest artists were straining to escape the kiddie music ghetto, like Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Fripp and Eno. Why keep pushing the dead agenda?

Instead I hauled out an already moderate classical collection and went on a shopping spree at Amazon and Joel’s Classical Music, a local shop. My idea was to go the opposite direction for a month and see where it led me. I didn’t do any research because I wanted to emulate the experience of the normal, curious listener who has a job and family and so discovers things by serendipity while the music is playing in the background, over the screaming kids, chattering coworkers, and blaring TV.

What made the transition hardest was the difference in dynamics. Rock music is meant to be a constant pulse; classical music is like a ocean wave, sometimes loud and sometimes inaudible, usually somewhere in the middle. With rock music, you hear the first thirty seconds and set your sound level; with classical, you really have to find the loudest part of the piece because the bulk of it may be softer.

Even more, there’s a textural difference. Where rock is guitars and bass and drums and vocals, classical musicians have a choice of more than a dozen instruments. They use them unevenly because what’s a good effect for one emotion, or part of an emotional journey, doesn’t fit in another. You can be awash in violins one moment, and caught up in bass and brass the next.

Finally, there’s a time difference. Rock music is three-minute songs, with a few exceptions. Classical music has some three-minute songs, but more commonly, longer pieces are composed of several movements. Themes are shared across these movements, like a conversation with question, answer, debate, modification and restatement. You can’t hum a melody knowing that in thirty seconds, after the chorus, it’ll be back.

But I did it: I spent a month listening to nothing but classical, except the unavoidable retro swing-rockabilly at the ‘Bucks and the clinky ringtones of my fellow subway riders. Having fought it through, I have a few recommendations for those wanting to get into classical music.

  1. Stick with the standards. Learn to listen to the music by sticking with the most time-tested successes, namely Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Schubert, and Wagner. You can branch into baroque later, and modern classical later, as these are reaches. Learn first how to listen to the music.
  2. Don’t find the most obscure, dark and stormy or avant-garde classical you can. Every cretinous idiot who wants to show you how profound he is will come out of the woodwork and recommend you listen to Buttzurski’s Ten Meditations For a Dying, Fly-Covered Child in Marshall McLuhan’s Singularity, but the modern stuff doesn’t meet the challenge of the older and is in fact kind of trivial. Equally idiots will try to get you to listen only to “dark” classical or classical for rock fans. This is always a path to stupidity. Learn to understand the big names and anything else will be easy.
  3. Pick conductor carefully but worry less about orchestra and year. Conductors are like film directors; they interpret the piece and can either ruin it or make it shine. However, the difference between great conductors is minimal, while the difference between a great conductor and a bad one is infinite. Pick some established names, like von Karajan or Harnoncourt.
  4. Don’t shy away from Naxos. Naxos has a simple business model: find inexpensive orchestras in out of the way places to record classical pieces in interpretations based on the greats. It’s part-clone, part-practicality. We can’t all afford the big name conductor box set, but we can afford a $8 Naxos CD that uses a similar approach and unknown, rising musicians.
  5. Support your local classical store. Among other things, the people that work there took that job because they love the music — they’re not getting paid much. They are probably susceptible to polite conversation, almost always open to questions, and if encouraged, will give you a viewpoint you can use to plot your own course through classical music. If you find someone who hates everything you love and loves everything you hate, the value is not lessened — apply the “Rule of 180” and go nuts.
  6. Don’t tell your friends until you are listening to classical music regularly. People are going to try to talk you out of it because they fear that you’re going to see The True Musical Truth of Truthy Truthness, and turn around and treat them like they’d treat you, by saying that their music is the random mutterings of droning peon brains. Even if that’s true — and in my view, it is for most rock and jazz — you don’t want to get into that fight. Don’t act like the jazz fans. Instead, do your thing and when someone asks, tell them the composer name but don’t mention it’s classical. “I’ve been listening to a lot of this Italian guy, Arcangelo Corelli.” If you’re a total deviant like me, you can describe the music as atmospheric narrative instrumental music, and no one is going to think it’s anything other than Autechre with a voice-over.

I found it rewarding to throw out the rules and plunge into the abyss, and leave behind all the safety blankets I had come to know. I still love metal, but I’ve found that classical music listening has sharpened my ear and made it easy for me to throw out the crap metal and keep the best, which means that the metal in my life is stronger in quality not quantity and so it is able to compete well with any other genre. In addition, I’ve found a new musical passion that doesn’t require me to ever hear the term “ironic” again.

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August 29th, 2009 – Low End Festival, Waterford

By the time the doors opened at the Forum at 2pm, individuals were already gathering outside the venue. As the hours passed themselves by, more people congregated in accordance with the more prominent bands that were playing.

Cork duo Ghost Of Medina began proceedings just after the doors opened, and played purely instrumental music that bore strong resemblances to the music of post-hardcore acts such as Isis and Neurosis. At this early stage of the day, the venue was under packed and more or less saturated the impact of their live performance: both guitarist and drummer were highly able, and performed compositions that were well thought out, though like most bands of their ilk, it seemed at times like a disorganized pastiche of ideas. Nothing particularly special, but an otherwise necessary means to begin proceedings.

The next band to play, Belfast’s Overoth, played an excellent short set, and played mid-to high pace death metal that were of a consistent formula: the simplistic song structures of Swedish acts, such as Unleashed and Dismember, combined with the techniques not uncommon on the early works of New York metal acts Suffocation and Immolation. The production on their studio output is the clear, crunchy tone not unlike the sound of classic Entombed, though their live acoustics this day had a rough edge to it, sounding raw yet discernible, like Morbid Angel’s ‘Covenant’ it was well treated yet free of artificial compressions. For a crowd that was not yet numerous enough at that early stage and somewhat less participant than could have been, Overoth had quite a commanding presence in the midst of what could do lesser acts a complete lack of justice.

Just as energetic and fierce were England’s Spearhead, whose appearance at the venue was partially beset and delayed by unknown travel circumstances. A somewhat abrupt end to the band’s brief set came across as a slight disappointment. A well respected act on the underground circuit, their style is a hybrid of the British death metal/grindcore that defined Carcass and Bolt Thrower, with the charging tempos and structures of modern acts, Angelcorpse and Axis Of Advance. Guitar technique was skillful yet not over-extravagant, solos bearing a strong resemblance to the classic Trey Azagthoth/Richard Brunelle trade-off style, with vague similarities to the shredding Gene Palubicki, with clicking, compressed and tight drums an aesthetical paean to the acoustics of a machine gun. Their precise, warlike songs again should have generated a much more enthusiastic reception from a venue that was still under crowded at that phase, though they were still a pleasure to watch, and made their craftsmanship known.

Kildare’s Mourning Beloveth were the first act of the night to generate strong passions from the audience. Their morbid, downtempo heavy metal was met with a good stage humour, and they received the warmest of responses from a crowd that was by this time, healthy in a size and possibly spurred on to enthusiastic involvement by the ingestation of alcohol. More fitting to this good performance was the set time they were allocated, which allowed for their lengthy dirges to weave momentum. Musically, they bring about the gothic overtones of My Dying Bride and mix it with simpler, melodic song structures that resemble influential NWOBHM bands like Witchfinder General or Angel Witch, and sluggish, flowing tempos that echo Skepticism.

Onslaught played a very competent and energising set, their Discharge-esque speed metal came across as provocative and inspired. Even with newer songs that seemed watered down at times, and perhaps lacking the chaotic splendor of their early period, their setlist was full of momentum, and was performed with great prowess, the falsetto wails of the vocalist evoking a general atmosphere of nostalgia of an era that pre-dated the mass commercialization of the metal genre. I would conclude personally that Onslaught may be now past their best days, but their excellence as a live band is fitting to a climate where an improving work ethic and a greater respect for artistic clarity is making itself heard amidst what some have called ‘hard times’.

Primordial got the warmest of receptions by a native crowd, and stylistically began where Mourning Beloveth left off; melancholic in a sense that only Ireland could fathom and know, but more triumphal than the former, and almost Nietzschean in the sense that their music makes one stare into the abyss, only to emerge a better man. They played a lengthy set, consisting of material that ran in fluid cohesion, like a more hookish, streamlined My Dying Bride, and a use of guitar dominated forms that reference Burzum as much as they do Candlemass. Impressive as is known the onstage dynamism of vocalist Alan Averill, whose onstage character is that vibrant it comes across as bring rhetorical without having to make use of words. In terms of showmanship, professionalism, a will to evoke the vision of tragic heroism, Primordial were the most impressive band of the entire festival, with little room for dispute.

Legendary grindcore veterans Napalm Death were hotly anticipated though came across as a disappointment due to two factors: the first being the depleted length of their set, and the second being what some perceived as a muddied sound job that permeated the guitars during their time onstage. During the intensity of their set, which given their indisputable live reputation would have made little difference to the highly involved crowd; though due to an unbalanced mix, it was only possible to follow the song forms through memory of having heard them before. Songs were from the mostly from the earlier part of their discography, and in between this were pieces taken from their latest release. Anyone new to the band listening to their performance I am sure would have had trouble trying to appreciate the nature of some of the output, and would have otherwise physically involved themselves in the ensuing crowd actions purely for the sake of doing so. The set did not even exceed forty-five minutes and this was also perceived as an obvious disappointment given the fact that they were given the headlining slot.

In spite of anything that might have at anytime proved to be detrimental, this happened to be an excellent day and evening. It was especially brilliant for an event such as this to actually take place in the south-east of Ireland. By all accounts it was a memorable night.

-Pearson-

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Forbidden – Twisted Into Form

forbidden-twisted-into-form

A late addition to the pantheon of great Speed Metal albums, Twisted Into Form salvages its importance from the dying days of the genre by pushing those exhausted conventions to their limits. The historical and ideological positioning of this album does render their musical ancestry quite prominently. Forbidden did not come from the same school of Metal that imported influences of more radical dissidence such as Hardcore Punk and Thrash as well as morbid and occult imagery. These are what contributed to separating albums like Hell Awaits and Seven Churches from the Speed and Heavy Metal world, laying the foundations for the more vivid and nightmarish Death Metal sound to come. Instead, Twisted Into Form encapsulates and advances on the spirit of individualism inherited from music going back as far as late 70′s Judas Priest to Fates Warning and Metallica. The album itself is a relentlessly searching affair, a quest for mental strength and autonomy in a world of the blind acceptance of pleasant illusions. Melodies shift between different textural assaults, retaining an expressive sense of narrative from a maze of neoclassical shredding that fractalises its parts. This could have been dumbed down by the standard cyclic structure of many of the songs were it not for the mind-warping finesse that sits somewhere between Master of Puppets and Gorguts’ The Erosion of Sanity via. an inversion of Voivod’s Dimension Hatross, being so typical of this cerebrocentric approach to riffcraft. The vocals play an important role in having the melodic acumen to bring some more direction to the music between and during choruses, which is crucial when it’s shifting so disorientatingly within a fairly simple framework that doesn’t always resolve itself instrumentally. Perhaps released a year too late, it’s still Forbidden’s best and most influential work, and an insightful, sincere and technically inspiring musical gravestone.

-ObscuraHessian-

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May 16th, 2009 – Skepticism in Helsinki, Finland

Shall the words not sing of sorrow
Leave for others words of lament

The label ‘Funeral Doom Metal’ is used to describe a plethora of bands that share a largely fatalistic ideological outlook in common. This is an extreme interpretation of the inherent misery of Doom Metal as a wider movement that dates back to when 70′s bands such as Pentagram and Pagan Altar, and 80′s bands St. Vitus, Candlemass and Cathedral from the early 90′s carried the baton bearing these surface qualities taken from Black Sabbath. It was, later still, passed on to bands best represented by Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Katatonia, who integrated this slow and doleful style with Death Metal techniques, as this movement had reached it’s apex in the remarkable ‘goldmine’ period (1989 – 1993). This style called Doomdeath would eventually become more extreme, spawning suicidal and eschatological Funeral Doom Metal bands such as Mournful Congregation, Paramaecium, Worship and Pantheist. They would claim more of a descent from the band most synonymous with the tag: Finland’s Skepticism, however, whose consistancy and contribution to Metal music as a whole far outweighs their status as the archetypal form of some sub-sub-genre. Emerging almost simultaneously from the South of Finland, both Skepticism and Thergothon were playing music less concerned with the self-obsessed emotions of Doom Metal; infact, they followed more in the footsteps of Death and Black Metal, illustrating their reverence for nature/cosmos, it’s eternal patterns and magestic forces that confront our fragile and often illusory perceptions (and feed the despair of most Doom Metal in it’s fatalism).

This appropriately brings us to the annual ‘Dooomstock’ festival held at the Lepakkomies bar in the Sörnäinen district of Helsinki. More importantly, it brings us to Skepticism’s role not only as headliner, but the most uncompromising example of what has been discussed so far: that Skepticism – who bring the epic spirit of Romantic, nihilistic Metal to the Doom scene – reign supreme in a sea of shit. It’s the second day of the festival, and the opening act – Funeral Planet – amounted to little more than an extremely heavy and slow Rock band, which is the most unfortunate symptom of this kind of Black Sabbath worship. Thanks to the trial-and-error, improvisational nature of Rock composition, one or two riffs could be enjoyed but, without some meaningful musical context, only as a soundtrack to consuming bottles of Karhu – Finland’s premium lager. The Celtic Frost cover was a nice addition to the set but only served to increase the anticipation for Skepticism by hearing the work of another legendary band. Such an honourable title, the Finns in attendance would tell you, couldn’t be more applicable to the country’s original Doom Metal band and second act on the line-up: Spiritus Mortis, now being fronted by Sami Hynninen who is more well-known as Albert Witchfinder from Reverend Bizarre. Their brand of traditional Doom Metal is more competent than the preceding act, in that their sound hybridizes a wider range of influences, from Trouble and St. Vitus to the somehow rousing dirge-anthems of Pagan Altar and post-Nightfall Candlemass. But was there more to the set than a collection of tightly-played tribute songs for a diehard group of Finnish Doom Metal connoisseurs? Beside’s Sami’s enthusiasm for singing to his own band within this lot of fans, in a voice more suited to Spiritus Mortis than to a bizarre cover of Burzum’s ‘Dunkelheit’, the answer would be that there was no more meaning. The next band, Ophis from Germany represented the new generation of Doomdeath bands, and delivered almost as promised, a juvenile set of clichéd tracks that rip-off the approach played first by diSEMBOWELMENT and littered this with token chugging lifted from the cruder moments of Worship’s first album. Ending the set with a cover of a band that nobody had heard of planted Ophis solidly into the grave, but it did feature a lot more of that chugging which is ambrosia for the Doom Metal fan, as shredding is for speed-addicts.

With all of this noise done and dusted, the stage was set for the mighty Skepticism, and those who seemed to have better understood the significance of what would come made their way to the feet of the masters. Skepticism’s image is about as disparate from their peers’ as their music is, with the band maintaining a strictly non-Metal sartorial code, led by Matti on vocals and his dishevelled conductor’s suit. The set began with an awe-inspiring and trance-inducing rendition of the classic ‘Sign of a Storm’, opener to the debut album. The opening words are growled more chthonically than on record, accompanied by Matti’s gestures as he appears to summon and conduct the elemental forces of nature, explaining his customary choice of attire. His performance as vocalist is in sharp contrast with Sami’s; his actions are erratic extensions of a music which is greater than himself and, though he is aware of the audience, knows his role as mediator at all times. In the basic element of sound, Skepticism sound more like a coherent whole rather than an unbalanced loudspeaker for an isolated riff, some crowd-friendly chugging or double-bass layer. The next song, as the tracklist of the Stormcrowfleet album dictates is ‘Pouring’ and demonstrates the brutal harmony of their sound. None of their coherence is sacrificed as the set enters the classic ’Aether’ from the second album, which creates a lot more ambient space and dynamic demands that are delivered expertly. ‘The Curtain’ and ‘The Arrival’ from the latest album, Alloy follow to demonstrate the quality music that Skepticism is still creating – a very rare phenomenon in the world of Metal. Next came two tracks that, while enjoyable, explain why ’Farmakon’ was such a hit-and-miss affair. The riffs are quite cumbersomely arranged, but with their characteristic power and glimpses of innovation, Skepticism drive them forward regardless. To close, nothing could have been a more fitting choice of song than the epic ‘March October’ as the band returns to ‘Alloy’ one last time. What a gift to leave behind for the audience to be inspired – sonic patterns of the continuum of life. The epic Skepticism transcended the Doom Metal festival in every aspect of their music and performance, and this is what, perhaps paradoxically, makes a Metal band great; by letting the form of the music be shaped and directed by the fundamental impulses that inspire it, like the sea upon the coming of a storm.

-ObscuraHessian-

Proudly join the tunes sounding
Gallant ways the pulse beating
Take their place in the Alloy
Fortify the compound forming
And unite the substance growing
And meld matter made for lasting
To complete the March October

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Obscura – Cosmogenesis / Kalisia – Cybion

“Progressive” death metal is probably the most difficult death metal subgenre to do anything interesting in, because for the most part it is mainstream metal given the spin with dynamic production, aesthetic variation and all kinds of pointless superimposed elements, giving only rehashes of the popular substyles of death metal. It does not come as a surprise that on the new album Cosmogenesis, Obscura blends very well into the bland mainstream oriented current of Gothenburg (esp. Dark Tranquillity) and tech-death (esp. Atheist) influences. While apparently taking their name from a perennial Gorguts favorite, this neo-progressive metal opera only hints at the beautiful quasi-random soulseeking of Alf Svensson’s space-themed Oxiplegatz project and fails to unite all the various tendencies and instrumental parts into a descriptive work: the acoustic guitars, the Cynic-esque clean vocals, the fusion guitar heroics and even the modern grindcore reminiscent of Nile comes and goes at will but fails to instate lasting effect because the structure is uninvolving. Who anyway thought that it’s a good idea to combine Cynic’s “Focus” with metalcore standards and “catchy” lead guitar? It’s the most anal “heavy” music in 2009 but, hey, it will get 10000% in Metal-Archives because the majority are suckers for this! I like to think that these guys are very good jazz musicians but for metal, sorry, unable to capture the intensity and genius of the originators of the death metal genre.

Resembling a ten times more cheesy Nocturnus, Kalisia utilizes mainstream metal production values to hybridize progressive space metal with Arch Enemy school death/thrash. It contains some astonishingly bad sequences, like those belonging to vapid jazz musicians attempting death metal, especially when the solos scream conservatory trained pop musician virtuoso. Think of the latest Cynic album and make it more commercial and add booming synths and easy listening female vocals. In a weaker approximation of the massive sagas of Oxiplegatz and Bal-Sagoth, Kalisia goes for pure theatre of the macabre, a narrative science fiction tale of soundtrack cliches, processed voices and ADHD mix of influences as if doing something new, but wimpy and non-challenging. Death metal can lend itself beautifully to science fiction operas (think of Nocturnus or SUP) but it works only when suggestive use of texture can build an alien landscape – this kind of shrill, digital and annoying pop-influenced soundscape is closer to Nightwish than real death metal. The wanking and the various processes make Kalisia sound flashy and hysterical, rooted in a human personality. It has too much safe music for people who do not dare to truly break out and dream of the Otherworld. The professional musicianship may satisfy a fan of mainstream metal, but there’s very little sparkling innovation, unique spirit or brutal force to make an underground metal fan’s passion ignite.

 -Devamitra-

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