Black metal band reformed as nu-metal powerhouse Mayhem released their latest album Esoteric Warfare on June 6, 2014. Much like late-career albums from Triptykon and Massacra, the latest Mayhem shows that as a metal band ages the probability of it becoming Pantera or Southern Fried rock approaches one.
Although the album communicates little to no artistry or depth, it offers a strong example of how to successfully appeal to one’s commercial audience by being both digestible and using lots of hard and heavy sounds the audience recognizes as dangerous… if they came in any other form than a commercial product. Esoteric Warfare creates a blueprint for success by appropriating nu-metal’s populist simplification of the speed metal style of mono-dimensional lower-string muted riffing and sprinkling it with the pixie dust of commercial black metal aesthetics..
The band thus builds its appeal entirely from catchy central riffs which are so reduced in complexity that one is capable of comprehending them on first listen. The rest is garnish: the introductions, acoustic breaks, spoken word sections, black metal fireworks, seemingly random caesuras and even some death metal technique that randomly flares in the midst of the thudding rhythmic hook. This album belongs more to the exoteric, or easily and equally grasped at first contact, than the esoteric like older black metal, which deepened in revelation the more the listener devoted his or her consciousness to exploring it.
With the latest generation, the rock-metal hybrid that industry has always wanted rears its ugly head here. The new innovation is this tendency to break up the monotony with garnish, which allows the monotonic lower register riffs to drone on with strategic breaks to remind the listener that the entirety of an album does not necessarily need to sound indistinguishable however much the band may be seemingly trying to lead it in that direction. Complete sonic pointlessness does not dissolve, but rather mutates into a more friendly and funky exterior, thus allowing the listener an escape from a complete degradation of metal as an art form into a complete degradation of jazz as an art form. Whether that constitutes progress will be left to the view of the reader.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? When people decide that life is worth living, try to make good music. Unless they hope to make a quick buck, in which case they disguise bad music as “innovation.” We separate the good from the bad — with a machete. Come for the misery, stay for the occasional exception…
Divine Circles – Oblivion Songs
The mainstream assimilation of metal continues. This is basically coffeehouse femme-folk-rock like Jewel would have spun two decades ago when metal was still doing something relevant. Instead, it sounds like a Taylor Swift/Janis Joplin hybrid on piano while someone strums a lightly distorted guitar in the background and some bell-bottomed burnout bangs a cowbell. I can appreciate the similarity to neofolk bands, especially Hekate, or even the folk-rock tradition of the Americas. But it’s most similar to the goddamn crap they play in Starbucks or our local “alternative” (read: clean every other Tuesday) coffee shack. A girl sings about fanciful things, there’s some guitar and a lot of slightly exotic rhythm. But when you leave and drive home, you’re thankful for the silence. This has nothing to do with metal and should go back to the coffee shops.
Slipknot – Slipknot
For people who thought Korn was too musical, Roadrunner has saved the day. ANGRY MAN babbling over death metal riffs reduced 100 levels of complexity, with random vinyl scratching noises and sampling thrown in for…some reason. These riffs were lifted from a White Zombie album which lifted them from a Metallica album which borrowed them from a NWOBHM 7″ which probably borrowed them from the rantings of cavemen etched into sandstone near the local juvenile detention center. To these basic speed metal riffs, they have added abundant bounce and doubling the internal rhythm on the offbeat, which gives the illusion of complexity for about ten seconds, and they’ve wrapped them around rock melodies. Speaking of wrapped, why aren’t we calling this rap/rock? It’s obviously rap music sanitized for the people too uptight for even backpack hip-hop, thus it gets injected into rock and to disguise the obvious lameness of this combination they cover it in heavy metal stylings like melted chocolate poured over a corpse. Lyrics are moronic, riffs are moronic, album art is moronic…is anything in this band appealing to functional humans? If a vengeful god were to rain napalm on America for producing this album, it would be justified.
Éva Polgár & Sándor Vály – Gilgamesh
Art music faces one ultimate test: will people listen to it on a regular basis, in regular lives? I’m not talking about the heroin and cigarettes crowd in Williamsburg with their postmodern degrees from Brown, but normal people. Thoughtful, intelligent, realistic, well-adjusted people. Do they listen to it? Or is it something they think is neat, maybe would be good in a movie, and then politely clap and never hear it again? Gilgamesh qualifies as some of the better art music I’ve heard. It is an sonic backdrop to the famous tale, rendering in quickly played piano riffs while other instruments fill in background chording. This has more in common with industrial music and avantgarde jazz than rock, but each track creates a series of emotional sensations corresponding to its chapter of the Gilgamesh saga. It is artfully done and powerful but is too abrasive and repetitive for every day primary listening. Further, it is too arty and conceptual to find a place in the balanced life. It would make a killer soundtrack for a silent film however.
Fear of Domination – Distorted Delusions
Music designed to pander to newer listeners is often excruciating. First, it must have an obvious novelty in style that usually defeats common sense. Next, it must appeal to people whose first instinct is essentially disruption and chaos. As part of this, they favor weapons like repetition and garish aesthetics. This album will not disappoint on those points. Mixing clubby techno (itself suspiciously like disco) with metalcore and crowd-positive industrial like Rammstein, Fear of Domination spit out music that is essential keyboard-led but has background guitar and bass which are entirely obliterated by the harsh, chanty and repetitive vocals. There is not a single metal riff on the album. There is also nothing new to people who have experienced even Ministry, but a form with novelty gives this some of the appeal of more austere industrial bands. Still the repetition level and degree of obvious manipulation makes it excruciating for people who have heard more than a dozen albums.
Benighted – Carnivore Sublime
In the absence of Nu Metal, everyone is rushing to take over the territory of Limp bizkit or Korn. From bling bling tech-core band Despised Icon to recent Napalm Death to streamlined Unique Leader sounding Morbid Angel palm muting riffs, Benighted blend everything that’s hip and br00tal in the scene together as the perfect sonic weapon for the frustrated school kids. This whole album is full of preachy and overreacting jerking noise. The band’s new music video reflect all of these: attending school is bad and teachers are evil, the world is insane, so buying this album is the right way to the first step of revolution. The hilariously out of place cleared-throat howling choruses sound like any metalcore rather than death metal, they make me want to put on the Korn records instead. Nothing from Benighted’s album is remotely exciting to the ear of a longtime metal listener. The volume is louder than Grammy performer Metallica, but the music is just as bland. Benighted and their far relatives Insane Clown Posse and Fleshgod Apocalypse are definitely worth exiling from the metal world.
Fluisteraars – Dromers
What is problematic about post-metal/indie-metal, and rock music itself, is nto that it’s distinctive. Rather, like a good product, it’s created by audience surveys. What do they respond to? — put that in. What got bad response? — take it out. What was neutral? — reduce it. The problem is that you need all the colors of the rainbow to paint a picture, so just because audiences prefer blue over yellow does not mean yellow should be removed. In fact, it aims to create a monotone picture where all of it is the color audiences want in their living room and none is the less favored colors. But art is a communication of a mental journey between two points. It shows us someone emerging from a state to a higher realization and then acting on that for triumph. It reveals a mixture of emotions that signal an ultimate resolution, or at least a clarification in the mind. But what we call “modern metal” — itself a clone of the late hardcore, post-hardcore, emo and indie movements of the late 1980s through middle 1990s (Jawbreaker, Rites of Spring, Fugazi) — is like rock music designed to just be that perfect wallpaper for your life. The right shade of sweater, the right ironic frames for your glasses, the purse that makes you look like a wandering boho hippie who might just happen to have a degree in art history. It’s the cult of the ego, and the ego demands only what serves it in full and denies the experience required to get there. This is because the ego wants nothing to do with the external world, and prefers that which is “human,” namely itself and those it socializes with. Fluisteraars is 2/5 old school black metal like Enslaved and Darkthrone, and the rest the newer material in a dronining long form that uses multiple riffs derived from a single theme, like Pelican. The result is very pleasant to listen to but when it is done nothing has changed in your life. You are back shopping for wallpaper, ignoring anything outside of yourself, and consequently, missing out on anything that can be called soul.
Woods of Desolation – As the Stars
Most of people can’t tell the difference between shallow light-hearted commercial product and art, therefore the conformists can always make some metallic indie rock to troll the underground. Woods of Desolation is the black metal version of Explosions In The Sky; both of them use the highest notes of the guitar chords to outline the weary lie-down-and-die pentatonic melodies while songs build around the sweeping textures. Just like the prototype of this sub-genre Alcest, Woods of Desolation’s music is nice and sweet and flawless, it make one hard to criticize them. But the reality is, three months after the hype, those who praised it like hell initially would throw this album away for these spun sugars annoying them just as the morning wake up cell phone jingles.
Towers – II
Post-rock and post-metal generally mean attempts to recreate emo through expanded minimalist sound. Towers takes an approach more like Swans where they build a drone and then layer it with interesting textures. The result is rhythmically motivational, like a march, but ultimately can’t go anywhere because like the notion of “concept music” it can’t go anywhere but to its furthest extreme. Thus what we have is interesting, but not something you’d want to repeatedly listen to except in the background or as part of a movie soundtrack. It is not terrible in any part, and on the whole it is bland and inoffensive once you get past the “extreme” style. Arguably, Towers is the best example so far of how to make post-rock/emo into something that is not terrible. The problem is that listening to it feels like being driven over by Friday 5 pm NYC traffic, and so it’s unlikely that anyone will turn to this for repeated listens that bring out some positive aspect of being alive.
Sunn O))) and Ulver – Terrestrials
Background drone of distorted guitar vibratto and feedback. Foreground slow chords, standard post-metal. Melody slowly layered, then repeats. It goes on in a big loop. Any given second of it is inoffensive and seems like something cool might be happening, but then, if you listen to the whole thing, you realize its fatal flaw is that it’s boring. Nevermind that Lull and Fripp did this years ago but better. Nevermind that these bands were both wrecking balls to metal’s integrity. Just listen to the music: it’s repetitive, doesn’t development, and basically does nothing but establish a drone and a half of a mood. What would you do with it? Listen to it? No, this is music for you to explain to your friends. The point is that you know something they don’t and you can thus explain how profound it (and you) are. It’s no different than people going to rap concerts to pose at being gangsters or young girls who cry when Shakira sings about her hips. It’s just more pretentious.
Dodsferd – The Parasitic Survival of the Human Race
Despite the ideologically-correct title (for black metal), this band shows us the true death of black metal: it has been assimilated by punk music. This sounds, with the exception of a couple black metal open strum riffs, exactly like the same droning hardcore bands were pumping out in the early 1980s. That music was the source of the stagnation that launched underground metal. I’ve listened to this thing three times and it has no negatives. There is nothing wrong with it. There’s also nothing compelling about it; it’s just more void. Technically, it all fits together. It’s just boring and expresses nothing. It is essentially hardcore punk music from the early 1980s with better drumming and production, maybe a black metal riff every seven riffs. But if you already own Discharge and Darkthrone, there’s utterly no reason to listen to this. Even if you don’t, it makes no sense to try to listen to this instead.
Gris – À l’Âme Enflammée, l’Äme Constellée…
Oh wow. Titles in French, looks misanthropic, maybe Vlad Tepes has returned! Second coming of Loudblast, even? No, it’s emo. Riddle me this: if emo isn’t like the fat girl addicted with meth that you woke up next to in the basement and felt great shame for the next, why do people keep trying to hide it? This is the same droning yet bittersweet minor-key background noise that Jawbreaker put on their albums and before that, that emo bands kept trying to insert into punk. What is emo, after all, but the very basic tonalities of rock music translated over an upbeat groove into power chords with dissonant voicings? When you look at what can’t be used, you see what is left. In the same way that the blues scale is the classical diatonic major scale with the key-centric notes removed (and a blue note for color-note rhythm comp fudging), emo is what happens when you take all the life out of music and translate it into rules to keep an audience in suspense. It doesn’t ever go anywhere, just shifts between these same few interval progressions. And yet, there it is. And people who apparently know nothing about thinking keep buying it. This is very frilly, dressed-up, entertaining variety, but underneath all the stupid pet tricks and gaudy clothing is the same old tedium. This is the sound of a genre dying.
Frost Legion – Death of Mankind
Crossing punk and heavy metal styles with a black metal aesthetic of constant high-intensity drumming and droning riffs, Frost Legion make black metal that often sounds like it is assembled from spare parts but tries to keep a focus on the melody and savagery of black metal. Vocals are a constant rasp that varies inflection as little as possible, over active double-bass drumming reminiscent of later Ancient Rites. Riffs are often drifting melodic constellations formed of a few chords which work through permutations of loss and re-acquisition of a root note. Often the riffs are very similar to each other which causes an unsettling loss of orientation, and frequently they bring out melodies which resemble music from the 1930s, but the effect is to create a sense of longing. One thing this band could do better is dynamics; it uses nearly constant intensity most of the time which is exhausting. While song structure is essentially riff-based, these riffs may need to correlate to something else in order to make the composition memorable. The constant melodic riffing is reminiscent of Carcariass and bands of that ilk who are deeply invested in guitar creativity and sometimes lose sight of memorable songs. This is a good start and it will be interesting to see where these guys end up after they’ve had a chance to contemplate the results of listening to this album several dozen times.
Aethereal – Faceless Messiah
We walk among you. We are legion and yet can travel unnoticed in the midst of your cities. We are those who try too hard, and many of us ended up in black emtal. Aethereal brings many strengths but suffers from trying too hard. Coming from the wilds of the USA, the amazing thing about this demo is that it attempts to shape the melodic architectures of a European band. It seems caught between a more vicious Behexen-style assault and a traditional melodic metal attack shaped around Sacramentum, Dissection and perhaps even Sentenced. Most would argue this into the black metal camp on vocals alone, but it has aspects of many genres of metal. Technically precise and musically coherent, these longer songs more resemble the ambitious music before the Great Partition in black metal which set the classics in the past and brought a deluge of imitators to attempt to pollute the genre. The first track, “Scornful Skies,” launches from a battering assault of melodic chords resembling rainfall in sheets to a neo-Celtic style intricate lead riff, fading into a Dissection styled mood piece before evaporating into an interlude of gentle strumming without distortion and a return to a contortion of its origins. The second track, “Qliphothic Reflections,” resembles much more of the black metal of the post-initial era, with low use of dynamics and high intensity blasting with transitional melodic riffs leading us through a semi-circular structure. Both tracks show promise if developed. But again, the problem is trying too hard: looking at what all the great songs have, and trying to make your own version without knowing what connects them. If these guys trust their gut instinct and what they like to listen to rather than what they think they should be creating, they would do better. Take it from a guy who tries too hard in his biggest failures as a writer.
Asking Alexandria – Stand Up and Scream
If any of you were to discover that your testosterone levels were too high, and your doctor advises you to take estrogen injections: before doing that, consider listening to this album – in approximately 3 minutes, you will feel immediate results. An album like this could be created only by the results of a CIA project designed to make people believe malls are desirable. (Somewhere, Bill Hicks is turning over in his grave.) For the rest of us, upon hearing this we wish that we were in that grave. This band has the uncanny ability to not only make every song sound identical, but also every riff. Then again, most people listening to this are undergoing “spiral learning” – the repetition is something they’re used to. Please don’t listen to this. If you don’t have enough respect for yourself to avoid this, just go all the way: go to Starbucks, pick up a la- oh alright, that joke is overused. This band sucks. That’s all.
In the 1980s, the term “poseur” or “poser” was used to near-death by people trying to describe those who were involved with the music simply to make themselves look cool.
In the 1990s, we had “scenesters” who were people who hung around a musical scene to use it as a justification for their lifestyle. If someone questioned their lack of success or purpose in life, they pointed to the “scene” that they were part of.
And now, as the hands of time have run down further, we have hipsters: people who use music as a form of lifestyle adornment to explain why their life is better than yours. Generally they do this from a position of outsiderness, and by proving to be more obscure in their tastes than you, make you look like a herd-sheep in contrast.
What all these definitions have in common is that they reflect people who are using music in a backward thought process. Most people listen to music because they like it, and use their social life as a means to that music. Insincere people use the music as a means to the end of having a social life, and eventually drag down the community by forcing it in irrelevant directions. Entropy, in other words, caused by social need.
Recently No Clean Singing entered the fray with their analysis of the hipster gradient to Deafhaven:
What bothers me is that some people seem to be judging albums (and labeling the music “hipster”) mainly because they’ve become very popular, to the point of becoming “crossover” hits. We all know that the more successful, the more popular, the less “underground” a metal album becomes, the more it’s going to be put down within the community of metal. It’s a kind of perverse streak that our community seems to have.
I hope this author allows me to respectfully dissent here. The problem isn’t that these albums are popular; it’s that they’re not metal. Metal like most outsider genres has a strict sense of identity and purpose, and it fears adulteration for good reason. If metal starts admitting regular music into its inner sanctum, then metal will become assimilated by mainstream music.
We think of mainstream music as some bold direction but, if you look at history, it’s not. Pentatonic music appeared in Europe and Asia as a way to create popular music without having to wrangle with key or mode. The song form we now know as the pop song came from English drinking songs, the percussion from German waltzes, and the call-response format from gospel churches. This music isn’t a single direction; it’s what was compatible between many different directions, a lowest common denominator.
Metal broke away from this and went in its own direction. Part of being an outsider genre is to police your own borders. The only thing that gives you integrity is that spirit that allowed you to break away and have a different vision of reality. The problem is that you are constantly under assault. To the majority, you’re a threat because you’re doing things differently. And yet they wish they could be you, or at least be as seemingly cool as you are.
Hipsters are what happens when a social scene invades a musical movement. Instead of people working toward the music, people are using the music to justify their lifestyles, show off their outsider status (which is a raised status), or give themselves a unique purpose in life that others do not have. When people call Deafhaven a hipster band, they’re acknowledging the obvious: musically, Deafhaven has more in common with emo and indie rock than it ever will in metal, and we want the traitors out.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? We write about the artistic and musical side of metal, not how many teenyboppers or bloated old guys think it’s “fresh.” In the holiday spirit, we call metal’s turkeys what they are. Expect delicious outrage and denial, with the (occasional) quality release.
Messemord – Stay Fucking Necro
Black metal is among the hardest genres to master within metal, which is why so few people have managed to do it well. Beyond the mechanical characteristics of the genre, there exists a need for personal integrity and semi-spiritual fervor driving the musicians onward towards higher realms of art. That is not present in this release.
On their questionably-titled album, Stay Fucking Necro, Messemord perform a style of “black” metal that has much in common with post-millennial Satyricon or Gorgoroth. “Black & Roll” cliches are abundant as well as influences from “melodic” black metal, rendered here as irritating arpeggios that push tracks closer to lighter melodies, which are not at all helped by the bouncy drum patterns. Tracks are thrown-together collections of riffs that have been overused for at least a decade, and they don’t become more inspiring hearing them again…although the Transilvanian Hunger ripoff riff is listenable.
There is nothing here to interest anybody who has beyond a surface interest in the genre. Actually, I don’t know why anybody would be interested in this. This band seems to be yet another example of an “underground” band that’s underground only because it’s terrible.
Benediction – The Dreams You Dread
I remember calling this album a sellout, but the truth is it’s probably Benediction’s defining moment. By removing all the extraneous elements that Benediction once utilized like slow doom riffs and a “morbid” feeling on some numbers, the band play up their hardcore/punk influence to seem “rebellious” as was the trend of the time and making their B-grade Massacre songs sound more like something you might hear on a Marauder album. If you can imagine Harmony Corruption-era Napalm Death covering Sepultura’s “Biotech is Godzilla” backwards eleven different ways while lapsing into blockheaded Pantera or later Sacred Reich grooves, you know how this will sound. Generic and mediocre death metal is thrown out the window, making room for the groove infatuated vapidity “with a punk attitude” that this band always had in its heart.
Grave Miasma – Odori Sepulcrorum
The verdict is in: Cruciamentum is more interesting than Grave Miasma. Alhough the bands share musicians, Grave Miasma contrive dull and uninspired Incantoclone riffs that are randomly stitched together. There are two decent songs that kept my attention, but the same droning “atmospheric” chords are present in every moment of Odor[i] Sepulcrorum. It’s like they implemented texture for the sake of implementing texture without using it to move anywhere interesting. Perhaps this should be marketed as a sleeping aid instead of a death metal album. The main problem with this release is that it sounds like the songwriter/s ran out of ideas before they even started writing it. This is disappointing since their prior EPs were much better efforts. I’m tired of writing about it and in fact, I need a place to lie down. To sleep, perchance to not hear this thing ever again.
Darkane – The Sinister Supremacy
This is basically the middle of the road millennium metal that has replaced the 90s groove trend and 80s Metalli-clones. Slaughter of the Soul-styled mellow-deaf riffs are thrown next to mechanical groove riffs, with songs that go from “angry” verses to “melodic” choruses in simple Wacken metal format. Solos run the gamut from bluesy “rebellious” fodder to ultra pretentious Malmsteen mimicry and vocals are “harsh” but sung with inflection to be melodic. There is no reason to listen to this album or for this band to exist. If you want another version of the same crap Nuclear Blast and Century Media release on a weekly basis, you’ll find more interchangeable extreme pop-metal fare here with nothing to distinguish it from any of the others.
Autumblaze – Every Sun is Fragile
Another emo album. There’s no point disguising that this is an indie-rock/punk-rock hybrid from the late 1980s. It sounds exactly like the bands that became popular then and into the early 1990s, just with better production. Even the topics and moods are the same. Even worse, every song is musically very similar, aiming for that moment of double parallax when multiple contrasting directions emerge. Artistically, however, this i vapid, like being lost at a mall and feeling sorry for yourself… for four hours. Every now and then a quasi-metal riff comes on, and gets replaced by a crooner with the indulgent lyrics of a snake oil salesman. How did this end up in the metal queue? Any attempt to insult this insincere, derivative dreck is an insult to some group that in contrast is honorable, like idiots, fools, droolers and lichen rapists.
The Haunted – Unseen
If metal bands had FDA labels this one would read “100% feces.” The Haunted hang the towel on their crowd-pandering metalcore to make room for the musical ornamentation and forms that bands utilize when they want to make it to the mainstream. “Emotional” vocals more befitting screamo and alt-rock bands croon and drone over listless nu-groove metal. While the albums before sounded like commercial Wacken pandering, this album sounds like something that Roadrunner would have released in the late 90s. With so many people using Slaughter of the Soul as a template for manufacturing artistically-void muzak, something different but just as stupid needed to be tested within the crucible over at Century Media’s headquarters. The result is more worthless music that sounds like it could be Linkin Park, Incubus, or any of those other MTV bands you hear on the radio. It’s hard to believe the man who wrote Kingdom Gone is responsible for much of this rap-rock/emo oriented fare but, then again, we’ve already seen the depths this bunch had fallen since 1993.
Arsis – Unwelcome
“EXTREME” Wacken metal. Aside from proficient performances, this is what death metal would sound like if performed by Bon Jovi. “Hard rocking” blasting verse riffs show you that these guys are “ANGRY”, but don’t fear! The stadium rock melodic chorus that sounds like something Stryper or Europe would play comes in to rationalize the “aggression” with feelings of “bitter sweetness”. Vocals that sound carbon copied from Jeff Walker further makes this album sound no different to the recent Carcass disaster, making this seem all the more vapid. If this band had any common sense, they would look at the European metal fest lineups, realize they still haven’t made it to “the big time”, and retire to being guitar teachers as opposed to clogging the airwaves with more AOR mellow-deaf. The “ironically uncharacteristic for death metal” music video to this album’s closing track further suggests this band is the musical equivalent to watching an Adult Swim cartoon. Worthless music.
Ephel Duath – Hemmed By Light, Shaped By Darkness
When you wander among the teenage social wastelands of the earth, you will encounter many sophomoric characters and each one will have his own catchphrase explaining why he knows something, when he does not. One example is the “I like a little bit of everything” guy who picks music based on it having a great deal of variety. He’s concerned that music might be too much the same if it were consistent, so he likes quirk. This is another form of the mentality that causes people to order variety plates in restaurants; they don’t know what they want, because they don’t know what they like, mainly because they have no idea who they are. Ephel Duath is a band for that segment of the world. It is putatively some form of black metal, but compositionally is heavy metal with additions of all sorts of odd sounds and different riff types. Then if you missed the memo, they’re going to screech at you full volume and have cheesy dramatic song structure changes to emphasize that Something Is Happening Here, when in fact nothing is. As the song ends, you’ll note that it came back to the exact same place where it started. Not a restatement of theme in a new context, but literally, the same stuff after a distracting middle. It’s like window shopping; see the world without having to adapt at all. And correspondingly, it’s both hollow and annoying.
Finnr’s Cane – A Portrait Painted by the Sun
This is a nice little emo album, but as this isn’t a punk site (although we support hardcore punk, which is a different genre from generic radio punk a/k/a “punk rock”) there’s no interest. It’s time to drop labels like shoegaze and blackdrift and call this what it is, which is late-1980s and early-1990s style emo. The same dissonant chord progressions, rhythms, vocal inflections, atmospheres, even song topics and naming conventions persist, with nothing new added. There’s a little aesthetic tweaking, but not enough to conceal what’s here. There is zero metal, and zero black metal, in this release. Other than that, it’s OK, I guess, but all these bands sound the same. What, how can you say that, that’s intolerant! you spit. Yes, but the fact is that there’s just not much musical variation between songs by the same band or bands that share this genre (emo). That’s why emo is so popular with record labels and unemployed musicians alike. If you master a few techniques, it’s really easy to do and you’ll sound about like your heroes. That is, before you get a job at a management consulting firm, take out the piercings and hide the tattoos and get on with your self-pitying prole-drone cubicle-bound life as an average citizen of the modern state.
Manii – Kollaps
Utterly boring “depressive-suicidal” black metal from the original Manes personel. While the unsettling open-string dissonance and vocal performance is the same, the music remains in one fixed tempo throughout what could be variations on one song. Aside from the aesthetic reversion towards this band’s original sound, the music is more in line with the commercial nature of the later electronica/alt-rock Manes in spirit. As a result, this could be a Xasthur or Shining album and no one would tell the difference. The mystique is gone, replaced by the saccharine emotion one would expect from a depressive Marilyn Manson song.
What does any band deserve? A fair review. If the band is good, it should be said so, to what degree. If it just sucks, it also needs to be said. And that’s why we’re here with the latest edition of Sadistic Metal Reviews.
Weekend Nachos – Still
If their stupid name didn’t already clue you in, the atrocity that is Weekend Nachos represents a lesser acknowledged evil in the underground music scene: nu-grind, or powerviolence played by MTV2 jockcore fans. Similar to other Relapse bands like Benümb, except all the fast strummed “anger” is a holdover for later day “tough guy” or straight-edge 90s hardcore “everyone mosh on the dancefloor” gimmickry that preys on low IQs who don’t listen to music beyond “breakdowns.”
Hate Forest / Ildjarn – Those Once Mighty Fallen
The title on this may be ironic because it can apply only to Ildjarn, and only if the band ships something bad. This isn’t bad, but it’s an entirely different form of music. Where older Ildjarn was an idiosyncratic expression in equal parts ambient black metal, drone hardcore and forest Oi/Rac-influenced metal like Absurd, this new material is clearly designed to sound like black metal. Its songs use typical black metal intervals, develop according to the pattern, and even use vocals in the same rhythms as early Dimmu Borgir or other first-and-a-half wave bands. If you’re tuning in to Ildjarn, you expect something at least as lawless and feral as his later work on keyboards; this will be a problem for many listeners. As far as quality, it’s not bad at all and in fact is very natural-sounding, sort of like the first Dimmu Borgir or Graveland albums. Some have hypothesized that Ildjarn did not write the material, and the production changes and incorporation of additional instrumentation, in addition to the stylistic changes, suggest either a casual interest in this as a project to “stay in the game” or delegation of many musical tasks to a new team. Production sounds more recent than the early 1990s Ildjarn material. Use of background keyboards, faster bass riffing, textural discontinuities and other distinguishing effects show an interesting set of musical tools emerging, but the band may need to rediscover its voice. Hate Forest never struck me as being all that significant, but they make a very credible effort here, with production that matches the Ildjarn but is very carefully adjusted to sound as distinctive as possible. Their songs are fairly regulation black metal with an attempt to insert complex fills and transitions, and then to balance that, simplify the chorus riffs. The result is not atmospheric per se but achieves a relaxed atmosphere in which the focal point becomes the interruption, like a sunny sky with an intriguing cloud cluster. None of it is particularly distinctive but it’s not bad either. Songs maintain atmosphere well but there’s not a huge amount of development here, so the band sensibly rely on circularity to keep from appearing jagged. A rumored Ildjarn interview claims that this release was an early 1990s project between himself and Ihsahn of Emperor, which could explain the resemblance to post-Reverence Emperor material.
Melvins – Bullhead
Entropy embodied, this is the band that provided inspiration for Southern Lord’s entire catalogue of musical abortions. Deconstructive, linear riffs that seek to express nothing except ennui, combined with faux-crooning self-pitying lyrics ensure that this will continue to be a favorite band of mentally vacant children for decades to come. This is the mentality of grunge in a different form.
Code – Augur Nox
For a brief while, power metal (speed metal w/death metal drums) looked like it would save True Metal. The problem is, however, anytime you walk back up the metal family tree, you get back toward the stuff metal was formed to run away from. As I listened to the first tracks on this, I thought, they’ve got some interesting riff ideas — let’s see how long it last — however, they sound like they want to be a rock band that’s primarily about vocal performance and personal identification with the vocalist. About half-way through the album, they shifted to tap-dance rhythm riffs and soaring vocals, the combination meaning no ideas but how to rip through some 1960s material. Eventually it got so bad it sounded like Queensryche on a bad day as a disco combo covering old CCR B-sides. If you don’t have an idea, by definition, you are an imitator recycling the old in a new form, and we have a word for that: stagnation.
Immolation – Kingdom of Conspiracy
Continuing their decline, Immolation return to the bouncy simplicity of Harnessing Ruin, only this time they downplay the “nu” sounds and try to make it sound more aesthetically in line with their old sound. This doesn’t change it from being a predictable verse-chorus version of NYDM and shows Immolation in their most neutered form yet, trying to pander to a metalcore audience whilst retaining their trademark sound. After the last album, I reckon the only reason people see these guys tour anymore is to get a Failures for Gods longsleeve. Linear, predictable, and disappointing considering this group’s potential.
Izegrim – Congress of the Insane
After a few brave people direction-find their way to a new genre, in come the people who want to partake. They often bring superior skills but they don’t understand what they’re doing. Izegrim is a fine example. It’s chanty metal. When metal gets chanty, which is the nerdy equivalent of rapping, you know that a central narrative has been replaced by adherence to appearance and where that doesn’t work, filling in the gaps with the same old stuff. While this band is instrumentally superior to your average metal band, they don’t know what to do with the odd bits and ends they’ve assembled as songs, so they tie it all together with the simplest elements possible. That meants chants, crowd-pleaser but repetitive riffs, and lots of bombast to cover up for the big void within.
Nachtmystium – Silencing Machine
When a band wishes to play black metal without embodying any of its spirit, this is what’s produced. Lethargic, tremolo-strummed droning with ANGRY MAN vocals and uninspired drumming produces an album of tracks that are indistinguishable. Albums like these would be better off as hard rock, because at their heart that is what these musicians are aiming to create…though at least it’s not as bad as the the latest Satyricon abortion.
Broken Hope – Omen of Disease
After failing to become “Oppressor meets Deeds of Flesh” with their last couple albums, Broken Hope return after a long hiatus and have churned out what can best be described as a Unique Leader band covering mainstream hip hop tracks in double speed. Considering their “beefs” with death metal bands and Source Awards concert turn outs, it should be no surprise that this has more in common with Tupac than it does Suffocation, approaching death metal from the same “gangster” outlook that Six Feet Under did in the 90s.
Secrets of the Moon – Seven Bells
“Artistic” black metal, otherwise known as black metal watered down with fruity “post-rock” produces a product that is post-art. Designed for a generation that believes interrupting narration with pointless deviations is artistically viable, in form this shares for more in common with modern metal than with relevant black metal bands. Listen to this only if you enjoy consuming pumpkin spice lo-fat frappuccinos.
Laibach – S
These three tracks — “Eurovision,” “No History” and “Resistance is Futile” — comprise 2/3 of the EP S (which can be streamed here) released in advance of the new Laibach album to show where the band is at this point. Some might think it odd to review industrial music on a metal blog, but Laibach has been supportive of metal in the past, including the notorious Morbid Angel remixes and positive statements made in public. Further, industrial and metal share a root, which is that we deny the happy vision that came about in the 1960s of love, peace and uniformity that would save us from the horrors of the modern time. Our vision is to point out that the beast is within, and as long as humans refuse to discipline their minds, they will end up re-inventing the horror, futility and self-destruction of the near past and the ancient past, before civilization evolved. Both genres also point to a path outside of what is acknowledged as “higher values” or “the right thing to do,” seeing morality as confining and misinterpreted. That being said, it seems that industrial hasn’t changed much since the EBM days of the 1980s. In fact, much as Nine Inch Nails basically made a more pop form of that genre with added guitars, Laibach have simply made a more stern form, albeit a self-mocking one. What you will find: compelling beats, blasts of static, sampled voices, a surly European-accented voice almost chewing out the lyrics in a conversational growl, and even bits of other musics woven through the material. Ultimately, what makes industrial different than metal is that it knows how to pull off a good pop song and make it sound good, even with machine-ish touches, where metal tries to make something beyond what people consider music. As a result, these songs have heavy dead-beat grooves and build up to a compelling motion. There isn’t as much internal development as metal so there’s some question of whether a metal fan would enjoy hearing these repeatedly, but it’s hard to ignore the sheer pop power and terrifying view of the world brought up by this assault of music and (if you go to the site) imagery.
Sepultura – The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart
Claiming to be inspired by the old science-fiction movie Metropolis, Sepultura collaborate with tone deaf AIDS guru Ross Robinson to create an album that, much like recent Sepultura, is high in pretension and low in musical payoff. Death metal sounds are utilized here but only serve as what sounds like Pantera or later Sacred Reich occasionally lapsing into a parody of Slowly We Rot at its simplest than anything from their 80s output. A guest appearance by Dave Lombardo doing a “tribal” drumming outro feels more like a marketing gimmick, lacking any of the imagination found in his instrumental track for Grip Inc. (incidentally, their only good song). Most of the songs devolve into effects laden meandering, which is to be expected considering the producer. Even then, nothing is gained or lost on this album. Sepultura is still like a fish out of water, churning out another vapid reiteration of their 1998 album that will piss off old fans and make no new ones.
Cattle Decapitation – Your Disposal
The first riff sounds like screamo, then clean vocals played over what sounds like a “post-black” abomination, then the breakdown with “eerie arpeggios”… this is metalcore. Looking past the “shocking” image stolen from early Carcass made to appeal to self-loathing Starbucks regulars, Cattle Decapitation now seem to be in direct contact with the same focus group Gojira employ when coming up with their gimmick ridden, indie rock friendly vapidity, eschewing the F-grade death/grind of their past for metalcore acceptance. Beyond the aesthetic drape of underground metal, this is nothing more than a random collage of parts “EXTREME” bands play for mainstream appeal under the pretense of having “matured” as “artists.”
Twilight – Monument to Time End
The “supergroup” of a bunch of hipsters that convinced Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth to ruin the genre alongside them, Twilight perverts black metal by using the treble guitar tone and anguished vocal styling to dress up what is middle of the road “post-sludge”. Members pool their collective inability to write metal into one product that comes off like a brain washing tool Scion would use to convince Gojira fans to purchase SUVs, all the while looking “edgy.”
Cromlech – Ave Mortis
This imaginative release explores the world of Iron Maiden-tinged power metal with an epic metal mindset, preferring extensive clean vocals, lengthy melodic parts and high-speed pickup riffs of the Maiden style. However, it also works in a fair amount of newer technique, sounding sometimes at the edge of later At the Gates. This is interesting material and an ambitious offering. However, this band has a few things it needs to work on. First, the vocalist is too present both in the composition and the approach to songwriting, and needs to go back to being one of the instruments. Second, this CD weighs in at 1:10 and is a B- album at that length, where if they boiled it down to 35 minutes would be closer to an A. (Note to bands: if you can’t listen to your own CD, while doing nothing else, on repeat for several times in a row, make changes). It has genre confusion problems that need to be resolved by getting more comfortable with its own style. Finally, Cromlech should learn from Iron Maiden and focus on making song structures clear: one intro, a theme, a countertheme, and some kind of developmental area where the melody grows before returning to the more predictable parts of songs. This is about their approach anyway, but it’s muddled by uneven application of technique. In addition, it wouldn’t kill them to look through for repetitive themes and excise or consolidate them. All in all, a great first effort, and I tack on all these suggestions because starting bands often need a push to fully develop.
Gojira – L’enfant sauvage
The biggest sham in metal to this day. Being a propaganda tool used by hippies to turn metal into rock music, Gojira continue what they’ve done since the beginning: making “heavy” parts out of rhythmic chugging with pick scraping sounds before playing “soft” parts that sound lifted from A Perfect Circle. Rock made for angry menstruating Deepak Chopra reading faux-guru hippies. Add the cringe worthy “deep” lyrics and it’s no wonder people thought the world was going to end in 2012 when both this album came out and a new record was set the world over in dolphins beaching themselves.
Although there’s a very noodly and “progressive” surface to Azure Emote, what lies beneath the skin is a mixture of speed metal and alternative rock. That gets layered in metal riffs, jazzy guitars, industrial-style vocals and complex percussion.
The Gravity of Impermanence despite having a cool-sounding name delivers almost nothing of what we want from progressive metal, which is puzzles. Games. Brain witchcraft. Interesting twists and turns that make us look forward to another day of being alive, again.
Instead, Azure Emote deliver relatively consistent surges of volume in vocals and drums, and “unpredictability” that’s so predictable it’s like watching a dancer so bad she lunges in exactly the wrong direction at the wrong time. As if sensing this is paltry, the band experiments with extensive vocal weirdness and frequent build-up/break-down types structures.
Perhaps looking for some underground cred, Azure Emote throw in every third riff as something vaguely death metallish in the Nocturnus-Obliveon spectrum of technical riffs. However, without the context to support it, it becomes random instead of interesting.
The point of indie rock was to no longer be conquest music. Ordinary rock was about getting the girl, going out there and being a big star. Indie rock was about being at home in your room, wondering where the hell the world was going.
When indie collided with rock again, they mixed in ambient elements and took out the folk, giving a sensation of pure melancholy. Building in that vein, Better Living (Through Chemistry) showcases two bass guitars weaving simple melodies around droning sounds of emptiness and desolation contrasted by somewhat upbeat vocals.
Methadrone features ex-Incantation guitarist/vocalist Craig Pillard crooning softly over heavily repetitive bass. One bass guitar tackles rhythm; the other dodges and dives around this with noise, counter-melody and sometimes pure droning sound. The result is, like Jesu, a wall of sound from which absences make more impact than additions.
While Better Living (Through Chemistry) demonstrates the melancholy of isolation that indie rock applied to great strength, evoking the lost lone voice of a person trying to find a place in a world gone mad, it underscores this with a fascination with life itself. Despite the requisite anti-hero posturing involved with using drug imagery, this is an album of self-discovery and some mastery.
Indie rock remains ambivalent for many because despite its many musical contributions it sequestered itself in a certain world outlook that while inoffensive had no particular fascination past self-pity. By hybridizing that again with a contemplative but alienated withdrawal and loneliness, Methadrone casts post-rock into a new role from which it can grow.
Following the Housecore Horror Film Festival, speed metal/math metal band The Black Moriah will embark on a short tour of Texas to showcase its most recent album, Casket Prospects. Formed by a former Absu member and experienced metal musicians, The Black Moriah attempts to bridge classic and modern metal.
Casket Prospects shows the band integrating the indie-metal styles in black and death metal with classic metal hooks. Droning dissonant riffs compete for space with speed metal riffs, heavy metal choruses, and complex conjurations of song structure underneath the modern metal “surge style” vocals.
While the alternative metal stylings may not appeal to the average Absu fan, the technicality and frenetic intensity of this release may satisfy in its stead. The “Trail of Texas Terror” tour shows the band reaching out to a new fanbase more on the alternative/indie side while attempting to keep its core fanbase in more traditional metal.
The Black Moriah – Trail of Texas Terror tour 2013
In the 1980s, the big news was metal-punk hybrids. Now it’s metal-rock hybrids, specifically alternative rock and then its less sarcastic ancestor, indie rock.
Arthouse Hours combines 1970s art rock with 1990s indie rock and throws in stitches of metal riffing to keep the whole thing urgent. Over this, dreamy high-pitched vocals blend with soaring background sounds to create a dreamlike audience not unlike an updated version of The Velvet Underground.
All For One keeps energy high with constantly changing riff forms and textures but still manages to pull out sweet melodic hooks in choruses. With its protean texture, this album creates an experience of delirium that allows these different riffs to meld together elegantly.
The only vital gap is that it is unclear what this band hopes to portray except the experience of being drunk in an afterhours coffeehouse talking about art. Having more of a point of view and less participation might organize it internally as well as externally.
Standout elements are the aforementioned outer-space vocals and the well-studied guitars which are able to allude to, without citing from, forty years of art-rock and shredder delights. It will be interesting to see where this band develops on its subsequent releases.
Do you think the new underground waves bands like Cryptopsy are good like the old school bands. Or do you think that death metal is the only good option?
The new school metal has not, so far, come close to what the older death metal was able to do.
I don’t think this is stylistic, so much that people are thinking about different things. When you think about things like death metal, the big topics in life like death and justice and war, you are able to make death metal (complex thoughts). When you think about yourself, who are you gonna party with and what your parents are doing that you don’t like, you end up with nu-metal, metalcore, indie metal and other new-wave underground metal band types.