Article by Johan P continuing Death Metal Underground’s progressive rock coverage.
Morte Macabre is a collaboration between members of the Swedish prog revivalist groups Landberk and Anekdoten, who joined forces to create progressive rock that is equal parts beautiful and disturbing. Their only album – Symphonic Holocaust – is a real treat for those who enjoy creepy music in general, especially 1970s Italian horror movie soundtracks. It is a tribute to the darker side of 70s progressive rock, with reference to Italian groups and composers like Celeste, Goblin, Museo Rosenbach, Fabio Frizzi and Riz Ortolani. An explicit Red-era King Crimson influence permeates the album as well.
Defining metal has never been easy in part because as time has gone on, all techniques have migrated to just about all genres. For this reason, describing it by loud guitars, screaming vocals and pounding drums reveals very little. Instead, we have to inspect what holds metal together and makes these elements so powerful: its spirit.
Unlike the various popular music genres, metal is not focused on the experience of the individual, but the negation of it. This is metal’s nihilism: it destroys the idea of any thing having absolute authority or inherent meaning. Instead, meaning is where it is found, but it must fit within the whole vision of the world, which boots out most of the self-focused material.
As Black Sabbath created the rudiments of the genre, they referred to the dark soundtracks to horror films. In these, there is a fascination with final states. They look toward death, destruction and a mythological-historical view to determine how any human activity fares. This flew in the face of the flower power music of the late 1960s, and brought a dose of dark realism to the debate. But it also brought a sense of epic adventure, swords ‘n’ sorcery type material, inherited from its pursuit of meaning that cannot be negated.
What emerges from that proto-metal and all (honest) metal since is a focus on triumph and dark love. There is a world of nothingness, swirling horror and eternal emptiness, and then there are those who make something of this. They find triumph in overcoming their limitations to connect to the viewpoint of the mythological-historical, like metal’s two largest influences, H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien. There is a search for that which overcomes our individual situations in life and unites us, a quest for survival itself.
As part of this, metal embraces a dark love. When a pilot flies a military jet high above his homeland, he feels this dark love. At any minute, a single twitch of the stick could bring about unthinkable disaster, death and destruction. And yet those forces must be corralled and used toward positive ends, much as how metal makes beauty out of the loud distorted sounds of guitars and tortured screams of its vocalists. The love is dark because it is not universal nor is it certain; instead, it rests in the ability to do something great in times of degradation.
Dark love is what a hunter feels as he cuts down some prey and not others. It is what a farmer feels as he prunes his trees, or what a king experiences as he leads his forces into battle. It is what great thinkers know, as they look at history and attempt to steer a path between the disasters of the past toward a future force of promise. It is a love that reaches beyond method to goals, and shows individuals how to rise above fear and reach toward something ineffable, with the promise of triumph.
Where metal fails is when it becomes focused on the individual. Songs of protest, or songs of individual karmic drama, do not reflect dark love but a desire for certainty and absolutes. Metal negates these. Instead, it shows us a world of uncertainty and ambiguity where nothing can last, except that which is eternal and larger than the individual. It is this “largeness” that we often fear as humans because it makes us insignificant.
Although most live in fear of these truths, metal harnesses them. It casts aside the devices we have invented to help obscure our fears, and looks into the abyss, hoping to sculpt with nothingness a great work that instead reveals an inner light. This light is not absolute, but derived from the interplay of nothingness and eternity. It is cosmic, mythological, epic and mystical. It is the adventure of life itself.
If you approached Slaughter of the Soul with the stylistic outlook of Left Hand Path, you would follow the path that Abscession travel on Death Incarnate. These are short, melodic songs that understand the dramatic nature of successful Swedish death metal.
Easily imitated, Swedish death metal is hard to master. The basics are simple: play d-beat drums under riffs adapted from the vocal melodies of 1970s horror film music and American guitar rock bands, then stack those against faster Black Sabbath-styled chromatic rhythm riffs. Is there really such a void between “Symptom of the Universe” and “Crawl,” or the soundtrack to Carnival of Souls and Clandestine? Not if you listen to them side-by-side.
Thus, by combining Discharge and heavy metal with horror soundtracks, the Swedes invented a new style and kicked it into high-gear with that buzzsaw dimed-Boss distortion. But while qualification in this style is easy, it quickly becomes generic. That is because to take riffs out of context, one must build up a next dramatic context to give them framing, such that the change in riff (and tempo) is symbolically and aesthetically significant to the listener.
Abscession kick off this mini-album (EP) with a lengthy intro that, while funny at a first listen as it reveals death metal obliterating the music of normals, probably isn’t going to be fun past the first couple of listens. After that, it’s into what they do best: buzz-saw rhythm riffs which give way to lengthier melodic riffs which are played in power chords instead of single-string-picked like the first At the Gates.
The result captures much of the mood from Clandestine with big bristly clouds of buzzing distortion cushioning us as a melody emerges from within, like flying through clouds and seeing the moon emerge above. Once we’ve settled into the feel of the fully mature song, Abscession give it a kick or otherwise challenge it with a dramatic transition, which requires guitarwork to wrangle the song back toward its final state of affirming order.
What makes this release stand out is how well-composed the melodies are and how the band is able to arrange riffs in a meaningful manner, even if a simple “meaning” like the sensation of a walk through a dangerous forest at night and a confrontation with mortality as the blade of a foe emerges. Riffcraft is good and focuses on the longer melodies that distinguish the professionals from the “Garage Band” weekend activists in metal at this point, and all musicianship is good, but it is the content and composition of these songs that sets Abscession ahead of the Swe-death pack.