Article contributed to Death Metal Underground by Cullen Toner.
In an age where the culture war has reached all corners of American life it is essential to understand the immense significance of the extreme metal frontier. As a liberal movement on the brink of extinction adapts a full blown communist agenda and wages totalitarian warfare against all beneficiaries of natural selection and individual freedom it is mandatory for the iron willed men and women of metal to defend the most liberated of all musical genres. By defeating these dystopian LARPers on the battlefield of metal culture we will accelerate their complete evisceration and ultimately emancipate the underground metal genre from it’s stagnant state. Therefore we must understand the enemy to swiftly and decisively destroy it.
Fenriz has been in the mainstream news lately for winning an election to his local town council by circulating a photo of him holding his stray cat Nugatti. He won election for a four year term as the second back up councilor who steps in when the first replacement is unavailable.
Hate Eternal hits all the notes they intend to. From a technical stance, there’s really nothing missing – an extremely precise instrumental section provides all the velocity and intricacy you’d expect from this sort of death metal. The production and sound is crystalline in its precision, too; all of the important sound frequencies are accounted for, the instrumentation is clear (although like many metal bands, the bassist drowns), and the vocals of Erik Rutan remain suitably midpitched and intelligible for the album’s 45 minute duration. If you wanted to demonstrate textbook “brutal” death metal to your friends and colleagues, a sample from Infernus would leave them more knowledgable about what to expect from the genre, especially if you drew comparisons to Morbid Angel and other well-appreciated bands in Hate Eternal’s long and storied lineage. It’s a shame, then, that such an archetypal album doesn’t make for good listening.
It all comes down to the arrangements. The major problem with songs on Infernus is that they drone where they should instead develop, to the point that Rutan’s guitar parts even contain droning tremolo notes and chords buzzing under riffs, hiding ashamed at the edge of hearing. Consider the album’s dynamic range; when your recording is this loud and insistent, your ability to emphasize any one section of your song over others suffers. As a result, even when Hate Eternal does pull out a relatively interesting riff pattern (like the outro of “Zealot, Crusader Of War”), it’s likely to pass over without commentary or attention due to listener fatigue. Some might argue that the very death metal stylings of this band justify such a constant aural assault, or that the occasional tempo/rhythm shift or sound gimmick that often performs the role of dynamics in this style creates enough variety, but while such points are worthy of acknowledgement, they don’t exactly help the content.
The other half of the drone problem is that songs on Infernus are remarkably conservative about varying their overall structures. I don’t think I’ve heard a death metal band rely on a basic formula so consistently since… well… Death, which had much the same issue with being unable to change up their own songwriting techniques throughout their career, even as their aesthetics constantly evolved. Hate Eternal I am not so familiar with, but the first half of any given track here is interchangeable with the first half of any other. The latter halves offer more room for anything besides business as usual, but if you play a random track, odds it’s going to start by repeating the verse and chorus twice and going straight into a solo. It’s as if the music is not written, but manufactured to government pop standards on industrial machinery… which, in death metal, usually leads to a dismal and forgettable product and makes you more receptive to the next CD on the assembly line.
So if there were a conspiracy in record labels to increase sales by reducing people’s attachment to music (which I doubt, because it would require enormous folly beyond what we as a species can muster), Infernus would be the perfect product. In reality, it’s just a technically competent but flawed and unambitious offering; it’s not as obnoxious as, for instance, the thinly disguised technical exercise death metal wave of the mid-2000s, or the metalcore bogeyman in your younger sister’s closet. Nothing that would scare me off from the concert of a band I was interested in, but not something I can earnestly recommend seeking out on your own.
Despite claims to being some sort of doom death with black metal influences, Creeping’s music is a progressive sort of rock music with little trace of the influence of metal apart from the most superficial traits. These traits can be briefly summarized in distorted guitars and vox, and rock and metal drum techniques. Creeping’s music in Revenant could be described as being through-composed with a minimalist touch to them. Once you remove this from sight and you look through them, it is evident this is not metal music. In general, their work here displays a very keen sense on smooth transitions and mood-capturing that only the most sensitive musicians are able to put together. What Creeping seems to be at a loss for is an organizing agent that condensates these living shapes into meaningful statements with heads and tails or at least a direction. As it stands, Revenant is only a sequence of related vague feelings without enough organization to convey a concrete meaning — a direct consequence of both being mostly empty of musical formations and missing the point that music and art in general are communication.
The most revealing moment when listening to Creeping is when one reaches the ending of a song and everything is put into perspective. Endings are reached uneventfully. They simply just end. The finishing sections as a group are indistinguishable from those at the beginning. In fact, they could be interchanged and it would make little difference as they do not carry any connotation. Not only are true endings missing but what we would physically try to locate as development sections of any sort (not necessarily Beethovenian) are also flat-out indistinguishable from sections at the beginning or ending. The clue here is not to look at the sections or groups of sections themselves only but also in relation to one another. How is the idea carried forward? What changed from this moment to two minutes in the future? How and why is the idea left behind towards the end? Is the idea actually changed towards the end? There is no answer to this questions in the context of this album, because none of that seems to ever have been in the mind of Creeping when writing these songs. Each section is a progression of chords with “powerful” drum beats. They took care that adjacent sections were related in character and texture (all the album uses the same texture and album) but nothing else. The album is a homogeneous creeping mass sliding down a hill like lava from an erupting mountain. It is an event, it is motion, but it is without life or purpose.
Creeping’s Revenant is one of those albums that will carry the flag of the mainstream in their incursions to try and conquer the underground by taking a depressive-sounding rock outfit and trying to make it look and sound like a convincing metal act. The fastest and most obvious way of doing this is by copying the traits that help identify underground metal through its superficial appearances. This is the second issue we take this album: that of pretending to be metal. Somewhat resembling post-metal, Creeping distinguishes itself from metal music in that it builds its music following chord progressions mainly, not phrases. What tells us that Creeping is rock music and not post-metal, though, is that it constantly follows actually-moving chord circles, effectively creating movement through that most basic device in Western music derived from the Common Practice Period classical music. Post-metal, on the other hand tends to stagnate in one harmony and try to play it in many different ways and with different decorations, usually ceding the task of promoting movement in the music solely to the drums. While there are parts where a melody can be heard, this is often just a decoration for an implied chord progression. The music in Creeping’s Revenant is utterly dependent on them, something underground metal distinguished itself from through years of rethinking itself and distancing itself from rock music in order to attain greater power of expression.
Given the way the songs in Revenant evolve and the atmosphere they seem to want to evoke in part as per the claims made that this band’s music adds a hint of black metal to their music, a comparison to Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is appropriate in order to dispel the former’s false claims and to put into perspective their more limited ability for communication. Creeping’s work and procedures have been described in some detail earlier here, so let’s proceed to take a look at Burzum. At a glance, there are many similarities between both. Songs in Hvis Lyset Tar Oss emphasize a smoothness of transition between sections whose borders are blurred out, except when there are major breaks in the music. Texture also consists of drums that change slightly independently of the rest of the music while still working with it, a strong bass, chord-strumming guitar and a rasping/growling vocal. Burzum’s music is further clarified by the use of a synth and another guitar that may outline melodies, phrases and themes. And themes are the key to Burzum’s music in this period (or any other, for that matter…). The discerning listener will notice that chords and progressions in the Norwegian’s music are only harmonic filling-outs of motifs in the bass line, oftentimes enhanced by a slight deviation in the soprano line. Chords are subsumed under motifs. Songs are defined by themes. In addition to that, and addressing the issue of whole-song structure and purpose, the first three songs in Burzum’s album do the same thing with visibly different approaches: present an idea, condense it into a solid and clear expression, introduce development, extend and come to an affirming closing idea smoothed through repetition rather than asserted in vainglorious expression typical of traditional metal. As a whole, and as a reflection of a cosmos that is contained in its smallest particles, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss follows that same pattern as an album. From its slowly building opening track, “Det Som Engang Var” to the more menacing and alienating expressions of the title track and the first half of “Inn in Slottet Fra Drømmen” which marks the climax of the album in frenetic expression only to dissipate into its second half, leading to the crystal-clear conclusion that is the ambient track, “Tomhet”.
In conclusion, Revenant ends up sounding like the indecipherable ramblings of an illuminated idiot. You can hear that there is, perhaps, a wisdom behind the sequence of misty phrases and bursts of adjective-noun pairs blurted out as if in poetic rapture, but there is not enough involvement of a conscience to even start to make sense of these. This is an album for the moment-oriented, people with short attention spans looking for prolonged sequences of singular atmospheric pictures, fans of masturbatory emotional neediness looking only for a cold shower of pleasure with no significance.
Death metal band Skinless will be releasing their first full-length album in a long time, Only The Ruthless Remain. The Skinless play a brand of mainstream-ed NYDM produced as loud as possible and simplified for mass consumption.
The album will be out on June 2. You can preview the album through one of the tracks being streamed on Soundcloud.
Iranian band Nex Carnis plays death metal in the old school vein with flashes of what they describe as experimentation. The actual state of affairs is a little different. The old school differences are pretty clear as one can hear the spirit of Morbid Angel and Sinister in the music. But there is also a tendency towards phrasings and sound paintings that would be completely at home with more surreptitiously mainstream acts like Sylosis or Goatwhore. Regarding the descriptive term experimental there is much to be said.
To begin with, every time the word experimental is used to describe any album, it causes cautious eyebrows to be raised. Here is a wiki-description of what is experimental music:
Elements of experimental music include indeterminate music in which the composer introduces the elements of chance or unpredictability with regard to either the composition or its performance. There are many ideas broadly utilized by experimental musicians which are not, however, strictly experimental music concepts, having seen significant application prior to the advent of experimental music, particularly by the avant garde. Examples include: extended techniques (Instrumental or vocal performance techniques that step outside (often far outside) conventional performance techniques) and graphic notation (music which is written in the form of diagrams or drawings. Other elements include “Prepared” instruments—ordinary instruments modified in their tuning or sound-producing characteristics; using instruments, tunings, rhythms or scales from non-Western musical traditions; using sound sources other than conventional musical instruments, such as trash cans, telephone ringers, or doors slamming; creating experimental musical instruments for enhancing the timbre of compositions and exploring new techniques or possibilities; using a tape loop to create a tape phase; and removing perceived barriers of traditional concert settings by putting performers scattered among the audience.
In other words, mostly gimmicky music. Music that intends to attract through the use of unconventional techniques. The very nature of experimental music, it has huge pitfalls, a dangerous land which only the most visionary and steadfast artists tread safely. One of these treks was successfully undertaken by the Candian band Gorguts and the result was Obscura. Incredibly aware and well-constructed, but also conventional and even orthodox death metal which could only be described as experimental in regards to the guitar techniques, pitches and noises they used in their improvisation-born riffs.
Obscure Visions of Dark, however, are more in line with the experimentation as exemplified by Deathspell Omega. Although not going to the extreme that band went to, Nex Carnis’ music is characterized by digressions and branch-outs from the main ideas in the songs. These often take the form of atmospheric interludes. Nex Carnis will appeal to Deathspell Omega fans looking for something slightly more conventional and inconspicuous.