Article by Lance Viggiano
Autechre began their lifecycle inspired by Kraftwerk’s robot-pop composed of complex layers of simple motifs transformed into dialogues in which each layer of sound appeared to be communicating with each other, resulting in intricate music that often sounded emotionally distant yet alluring and rewarding. This approach has been refined through later work by removing the individuality of each motif, stripping it of meaning and self-purpose; and instead crafting living wholes out of simplistic cells. With the AE_LIVE release, Autechre present a novel concept that was originally released as a four-part series and since has been expanded to nine separate compositions averaging around an hour each. For the sake of sanity and brevity, this review will focus on the original four performances.
Each performance is procession of distinct tracks whose form and aesthetic are pre-composed. The basic structure and sonic palette unfold in a live setting through improvisation resulting in a collection of compositions which are distinct but unified. The thing-in-itself is inaccessible and can only be approached through a variety of perspectives. Autechre manifest the underlying urge of each track through indeterminate duration, rhythmic and harmonic variance. The compositions contain no narrative arcs which may frustrate the listener however life itself is equally devoid of historical arcs, shapes of time, purpose, and rationality. If we can abstract a theme out of each manifestation it is the inner and outer turmoil of living a human life. The subject-object relationship to this work is different between listeners, therefore the meaning of the art is subject to variety since we do not have access to the inner contents.
Man’s primal, aggressive, and marauding nature is the subject of this composition. This experience is the most immediate of the original four and simplest to grasp for those used to musical tour de force. Exuberant synth erupttions are followed by moments of hesitation through cascading bass creating an abstract representation of threat, uncertainty, and sudden response. The rhythms often invoke a steady elevated heartbeat over which sharp patterns clash and dissolve. Autechre explore their early dialectic style in the compositions coda but instead of a conversational tone, invoke a confrontational quality. Elements compete with one another, increasingly at odds and less integrated as the whole piece winds down into an uncertain and exhausted conclusion.
The most dance and groove oriented take is predominantly physical in nature. The focus is on the body and its motion. Autechre push the limits of danceable rhythm which in turn challenges the body to remain in step with the ever-shifting cadence of life.
The most sparse and introspective variation. Track transitions are less abrupt while the whole retains more interdependence than the other pieces fitting for a contemplative journey. Autechre sort their mental contents in a relaxed meter. However, the character of the patterns are no less tumultuous and bombastic than the others.
External and visceral. Washes of ambience linger in the background giving off an impression of a subject traversing a landscape. This contains the most abrupt and forced transitions. A lack of fluidity is reminiscent of the rush of chaotic and divided sensory imagery washes over listeners who find themselves in unfamiliar places, isolated, without familiarity or a rational center.
With Earache Records promising us a re-release of this live album on vinyl in October, and an otherwise quiet week of upcoming relevant releases, I thought it might be a good idea to give this a more detailed look. Live albums are fundamentally interesting on a few levels – their attempts to capture something of the experience of a concert, their value as documentation of a period in a band’s career, the chance to possibly hear reinterpretations of favored songs, and so forth. Entangled in Chaos came out at the tail end of Morbid Angel’s commercial golden age and before the band tried to reinvent itself with Formulas Fatal to the Flesh. The product is low on references to the previously banal Domination for whatever reason, although whether that’s due to timing or creative reasons is beyond my knowledge.
These rerecordings end up more polished and standardized than the originals for the second time in MA’s discography, as the long holdovers from 1986 already got the Lemon Pledge treatment when they first entered the studios. Sometimes, the end results are rather stripped down; for obvious reasons studio adornments aren’t available, and Trey Azagthoth’s guitar solos are consistently altered from their original forms. Hearing the band’s earliest material with a production closer to Covenant or Domination is mildly interesting, to say the least, although the concessions to a live environment often cost these tracks some of their power and more musically interesting aspects. The performances are otherwise faithful to a fault, as such strict reproductions leave little room for reinterpretation… with the caveat that this is difficult to do successfully in a metal context and in this case might’ve resulted in an undesirable Domination II or similar.
There are not very many essential live albums in the realm of metal, and you can probably do without Entangled in Chaos in most cases. If you absolutely need to hear Morbid Angel playing relatively faithful but not particularly passionate renditions of their first era or are otherwise a collector, though, this rerelease may be to your tastes.
Flowing black metal band Graveland will play its first live dates ever in August of this year. Composer, guitarist and vocalist Robert Fudali announced his intent to play live on Facebook with the tantalizing detail that most of the set will be older songs with several new ones thrown in the mix, “more or less.”
To longtime underground metal aficionados, this represents a sort of holy grail as like many early black metal acts, Graveland never played live. Formed of a hybrid between grinding Oi and melodic black metal, Graveland distinguished itself early on for its landscape-like melodies and ambient atmosphere, but has since developed its sound to be more like movie soundtracks with layers of instrumentation and composition inspired by ancient traditions in European music, as well as epic soundtracks such as those from the Conan movies by Vangelis. To hear the full evolution in a single show would be of great interest to most black metal fans.
Slayer blasted their way into the underground metal scene in 1983. Metal had just shifted; the genre of Black Sabbath got taken over by the Led Zeppelin fans, resulting in glam and arena rock, and was just being taken back by a DIY movement via speed metal. Inspired by that speed metal movement, Slayer took their music in a slightly different direction.
“Heavy metal and British punk, that’s what we are.” The four young men from Southern California shaped their music by instinct, applying the techniques of punk to the most intense moments of heavy metal. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Angel Witch, GBH and Discharge. It all went into the blender and the result emerged more vicious than ever before.
Woodstock – Los Angeles, CA – March 28, 1983
The Keystone – Berkeley, CA – January 27, 1984
The Country Club – Reseda, CA – September 1, 1984
Heavy Sound Festival – Poperinge, Belgium – May 26, 1985
Dynamo Club – Eindhoven, Netherlands – May 28, 1985
The Ritz – New York City – June 12, 1986
Felt Forum – New York City – August 31, 1988
Clash of the Titans – Genk, Belgium September 22, 1990
Show No Mercy reflected more of a heavy metal bias, still hanging on to the grandeur of the 1970s. By Hell Awaits, Slayer forged their own style, inspired in part by the minimalism of the Haunting the Chapel EP. Even more, the band discovered a mythology in Satanic rebellion against a world where the term “good” meant obedient, oblivious and zombie-like in pursuit of individual pleasure at the expense of realism. They hated this world, and branded it with an inverted cross in rage at its existence. This outlook was healthier than the pleading resentment of the protest rock bands and less dead-end apathetic than what punk became. Metal had a new voice.
With the next album, Reign in Blood, Slayer pulled out all stops and most melody to create the ultimate hardcore album. The metal elements infused riff structure and song structure but its energy was pure hardcore punk, the raging album that The Exploited and Black Flag always had wanted to birth. In the 1980s, endorsing Satan and singing about the dark underbelly lurking beneath our happy commercial Utopia was in itself a life sentence of exclusion. Slayer wore it with pride and as people caught on to the new music, the most extreme band in underground metal headed toward the dead center of the genre.
In response, Slayer did what few bands have the guts to do: they backtracked from their nihilistic extreme and made a melodic album, but kept the melody constrained to a sense of dark atmosphere that would not be revisited until black metal exploded four years later. South of Heaven immersed the listener in pure mood and then manipulated it to create an unnerving experience of getting in touch with emotion by leaving behind all that is human. This was the peak of Slayer and represented the end of their emotional involvement with their own music, thus afterwards they pursued ideas that others had made popular and successful, hoping to make their own form of the alien.
With over 70 bands playing four stages in total, Maryland Deathfest has become one of the biggest meetings of metalheads in the US, and it will only get bigger from here on, as the organizers possibly look to cash in on years of service. One only hopes they don’t sacrifice quality in the choice of bands to achieve it, though this year is touch and go. Giving relative unknowns a chance is one thing, promoting mega-bands past their prime or not worth your time is another, though overall it’s a worthwhile four day fest for those who enjoy metal and musicality.
Thursday May 23
The almighty Bolt Thrower was the only reason why the first day of the festival was sold out months in advance. This reviewer also caught sight of Abigail, who one astute festival-goer described as a sideshow Venom/Bathory rip off, though they’re more honest than Cobalt, who play an uncomfortable mix of styles from metalcore to prog-metal to post-metal while attempting to borrow a black metal feel and atmosphere.
Bolt Thrower rarely disappoints, in your CD player or in concert, hence the hivemind excitement and anticipation generated for what to worn eyes must be just another routine appearance in the United States. What is standard is the playlist offered, which is a mix favoring their more ear/crowd pleasing but less inspired later albums. The intent for passion in live performance is still there, only unrelenting socioeconomic pressures get in the way of conveying a totality in epic experience. What we get instead is war metal presented as a theme, with half of the set songs embodying the essence of war more forcefully than the rest. Bolt Thrower up to For Victory… is a progressive evolution from classic grindcore to a peak in the unique and balanced style that stands as testament to the band’s contribution to metal. This is the half that works, and works well, especially in the enclosed “metal tent” setting preferred by these UK legends. After that album they went wayward into non-threatening, passthe-time music, so while it helps to have party music for a live show, the experience is diluted, i.e. not “pure,” but still invigorating and appreciated.
Friday May 24
Credit the organizers for knowing their grindcore and knowing their customers, giving them on day two a mini grind feast that gets the blood pumping and ready for infusion with gore and horror.
A comedian vocalist and groupies on stage were employed to keep us entertained between songs as Repulsion, a pair of “fucking old” dudes and a drummer from Criton, ripped through a set of the original™ grindcore that helped define the genre. In truth, this band set the tone and standard for the festival, showing the usual pretenders and prospectives the meaning of grind and the spirit of metal. What is not mentioned often enough in metal is that it is a smashing of ego, which includes all posturing, to see the details of reality for what they are, gory as they may be. This for me is what Repulsion’s seminal 1986 offering Horrified represents and exemplifies, and what this performance more or less achieves, peering at an extra layer of detail that even thrash couldn’t stomach, exploring it in closer to death metal riff form. As an expressive effect of the songs themselves, the physicality of performance (while in a manner appearing more punk-hardcore than grindcore) is a burst of energy that is age defiant while maintaining that nonchalant approach to technicality (though technically sound). To boot, this trio appear as clean-cut, overgrown miscreant types and of note is the popularity of this band, pulling almost as big a crowd as Carcass later this evening. Also played was a cover of Schizo from all time veteran purveyors of satanic imagery Venom.
Right out the starting blocks these fellows made a huge noise appropriate to stir up chaos in the pit, playing a boil of randomness that has its moments but is overall a mess, veering more to deathcore or newer Cryptopsy than early Brutal Truth. Adding depth of timbre to the metalcore vocals won’t hurt.
Mitch Harris from Napalm Death is the standout performer for this quartet who are equal parts speed and grind. His trademark scrowl is matched by intensity in characterization, facial figures of torment and black eyes serving as portals to the abyss. A thoroughly enjoyable set from one of those late 80s/early 90s bands that showed promise but then lost momentum and faded.
When a band comes out of retirement, there should be a community of independently like-minded individuals who question their motivations, forcing the band members themselves to introspect honestly, instead of only appearing to do so. Not many people will admit that after Symphonies of Sickness this band’s career took a drastic trip south in quality in terms of existential seriousness, in fact becoming a milquetoast series of affairs. The mixing engineer did these veterans no favours, but they were doomed from the start to show a huge audience a good time with what turned out to be a performance bereft of soul and even shaky technique as Jeff Walker struggles through his more demanding vocal sections. Personally, this reviewer enjoys on a musical level a great deal of this cheesy porridge, but evidence of this showing is that the forthcoming release will not be worth the time for anyone looking for engagement with any offering containing artistic integrity.
“Suck a new dick.” -Scott Carlson, Repulsion
Regrettably missed: Benediction, Convulse
Saturday May 25
As if wary of burn out, Antaeus temper the reckless excess of past live appearances while still managing to engender a metonymy of Satanic Khaos. The serpent, headed by venomous MkM, terminated by the tail-whip of ceremonial percussion, disseminating hateful sermons of sin and sacrifice unto the gathered black mass of devotees who subsume it gladly into bodily rite like wicked creatures unsatisfied with humble supplication. An incarnation of the underworld serving as liminal barrier to the state of silence left when furious life expires. Impressive as ever, frontman MkM refuses to allow stage presence to slip into merely sufficient professionalism, augmenting the latter with evocations of genuine misanthropic disdain. The next hope for this band is that they take this approach to the studio and make something with the same attitude that gave us their 2000 full-length debut.
Regrettably missed: Anhedonist, Aosoth
MkM with Aosoth
Sunday May 26
One of the few post-2005 black death metal bands who know how to build mood intensity while maintaining a firm grasp on structure, what I love about this band is that like the best metal of the 80s and 90s songs sound like the subject matter described in the lyrics, and these point to a will to higher forms of life.
These guys kick off the heavy metal fare for the final day of the fest with probably the most musically aware performance in comparison to the “sludgers” and “stoners” on show like Sleep. This is probably power metal at its best, though it could also be Iron Maiden/Angel Witch rip-off with touches of early speed metal.
If you’re looking for doom metal you’ll have more luck with Saint Vitus or Black Sabbath, while the stage antics from decrepit scarecrow Bobby Liebling are entertaining all the same. I must be wrong as this heavy metal crew are widely credited as forerunners to the style, but their contribution above Sabbath seems to be more focus on playing lower in the register while chord/note progression is still “safe”. It just ain’t that heavy in an existential sense, songs are about doom but don’t sound like doom, relegating this band to historical/academic interest.
Regrettably missed: Venom, Carpathian Forest (canceled)
All pictures courtesy Sabrina Ellis and Jaqueline Meraz.