Sinister – Syncretism (2017)

Some bands gained prominence because of their influence on other musicians but were given less credit by fans years later because they no longer had current releases. The Dutch death metal assault Sinister crafted three albums of great influence but then faded away in the mid-1990s, leading to fewer people mentioning their place in the death metal canon.

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The Misnomer of “Melodic” Metal

carcass friends

“Melodic death metal” is meaningless. What is popularly called “melodic” death or black metal can be roughly divided into the three different types of music sketched out by Ludvig Boysen in his “The Three Types of Melodic Death Metal” article for Death Metal Underground. While Ludvig’s three categories are essentially correct, refining and broadening them allows formal classification of all “melodic” death and black metal. Note that Death Metal Underground’s extensive Heavy Metal FAQ covers the topic of genre in great depth but a brief rundown for the ignorant and lazy is in order.

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Carcass Announce 2016 North American Tour

Carcass doctors

Carcass have been touring almost-nonstop since reuniting and releasing their phoned-into-ProTools excuse to tour, Surgical SteelRight after supporting Slayer, they have announced yet another set of dates. Despite the mainstream metal openers, this “One Foot in the Grave 2016” might be worth worth checking for grindcore and death metal die hards as Carcass play material from all periods of their career when headlining.

Following a successful assault on our shores alongside label mates SLAYER and TESTAMENT, disinterred British metal icons CARCASS, will return to North America for a headlining tour this summer.! Joining them are southern metal heavy weights CROWBAR, horror thrashers GHOUL, and Los Angeles based metal act NIGHT DEMON.

“One Foot In The Grave 2016”
CARCASS, CROWBAR, GHOUL, NIGHT DEMON

07/16/16 Chicago, IL – Chicago Open Air Festival
07/17/16 Lawrence, KS – Granada Theater
07/19/16 Denver, CO – Bluebird Theatre
07/20/16 Salt Lake City, UT – The Complex
07/22/16 Sacramento, CA – Ace Of Spades
07/23/16 Santa Ana, CA – The Observatory
07/24/16 Los Angeles, CA – The Roxy Theater
07/25/16 Phoenix, AZ – Club Red
07/26/16 El Paso, TX – Tricky Falls
07/27/16 Albuquerque, NM – Sunshine Theater
07/29/16 Memphis, TN – New Daisy Theatre
07/30/16 Louisville, KY – Mercury Ballroom
07/31/16 Columbus, OH – Park Street Saloon
08/01/16 Baltimore, MD – Baltimore Sound Stage
08/02/16 Richmond, VA – Broadberry
08/03/16 Philadelphia, PA – Underground Arts
08/04/16 New York, NY – Gramercy Theatre
08/05/16 New Haven, CT – Toad’s Place
08/06/16 Montreal, QC – Heavy MTL Festival (Carcass only)

Keep in mind that Carcass are still entertaining when shitfaced:

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Brutality – Sea Of Ignorance (2016)

brutality_-_sea_of_ignorance

My experiences with Brutality prior to Sea of Ignorance‘s release lead me to believe that all of their works take a disproportionate acclimatization in order to properly comprehend, only surpassed in my experience by the wall of voodoo that is Incantation’s debut. This album has little to do with Incantation’s style, like most of their others, but it has only reinforced my hypothesis. Brutality’s take on “melodic” death metal consistently contains enough harmonic hooks in the riffs to draw a listener in, but odds are you’ll only find their music truly rewarding if you give it some time to sink in. That’s not exactly suited to the fast paced world of online music criticism (advertising thinly veiled as criticism), but odds are you’ll get more out of Brutality’s latest than your average death metal album even if you don’t give it a proper chance.

In general, Sea of Ignorance varies only subtly from its predecessors, and most of these changes play out on the surface. Brutality settled on their current approach early in their career, occupying the liminal space between their often sparser Florida contemporaries and the emphasis on structural and harmonic complexity of a band like At the Gates. The comparison to the latter has come up on occasion when DMU covers this band’s exploits, but Brutality synthesizes enough disparate influences that pulling any one out is difficult, although in my more comparative moments I might bring up Autopsy, since the band plays around with speed and atmosphere enough to significant enhance their formula. Sea of Ignorance follows from previous works in a fairly predictable way – more emphasis upon melody and simpler, more streamlined song structures than the past, but when they aren’t flat out covering Bathory (“Shores in Flames”), the lineage is obvious.

My opinion on this album is ultimately very similar to how I felt about Skull Grinder, although like most of the comparisons I’ve made in this review it’s a comparison of convenience as opposed to significant musical similarity. Sea of Ignorance is a stylistically appropriate if not particularly ambitious continuation of Brutality’s previous work; while it’s not particularly essential if you own any of those albums, it’s still a valuable purchase for those who want to study the strong points of this sort of death metal, and a good enough release to be worth financially supporting.

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Exmortus – Ride Forth (2016)

ride_forth

Article by David Rosales

Exmortus is a speed metal band with leanings towards what is commonly called ‘power metal’, although the general public seems to lump them in the mixed bag that so-called melodic death metal is due to their use of angsty growled-barked vocals. Exmortus have built up quite a following in the young, mainstream metal community. Ride Forth is the exciting fourth album these youngsters and guitar enthusiasts have been awaiting. This album features ‘neo-classical’ metal gestures that were first introduced in very small quantities by NWOBHM bands in combination with pentatonic soloing. It took the likes of Malmsteen and Randy Rhodes to bring this aspect to the fore. Exmortus themselves highlight it to the point of making it more than just the center of the music; enlarging it to be all the relevant music to be found herein.

In Ride Forth, Exmortus wears their infatuation with Beethoven and outward classical aesthetics on their sleeves and include a metal cover of the third movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 (“Appasionata“). Their previous album also included a track based on the third movement of his Piano Sonata No. 14 (aka “Moonlight”). Compare this to other bands that have gone beyond mere adaptation and have used them to expand compositions that take the themes and scale runs of the original piece such as ‘Pathway To The Moon’, by Pathfinder, based on the same Beethoven. Right at the top of the list lie the adaptations done by the Italian band Rhapsody, who only use the themes themselves for arrangements of interludes within otherwise completely original compositions. ‘Heroes Of The Waterfall’s Kingdom” sees Rhapsody using the main theme from the 4th movement (“Prestissimo”) of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 1.

pre-execution-boxer-rebellion

Exmortus Ride Forth can be vivisected for analysis in at least two ways. The first is in terms of the functions and performance of each of the three functional layers of metal; namely rhythm, leads and vocals. The second concerns the structuring of songs, the quality of the sequence of ideas exposed throughout the album. We may take a look at each of these individually and then at how they interact to produce a result.

The three layers are executed with metronomic precision, echoing the modern classical musician’s obsession with machine-like performance. The drums are standard and give no sign of humanity. The bass is functional but rigidly moves under the needs of the alto-soprano guitars. The guitars themselves have a clearly leading role. The whole instrumental texture is very reminiscent of C.P.E. Bach’s classical music, in which all layers are in the service of a main melody. The vocal department is not only out of place but also overdone, although this may have been somewhat enhanced and disfigured by a too clear-cut, synthetic production.

As a an aural story, Ride Forth shows the audience two faces. The first is what gives them what they think is their distinctive taste, their blatant and superficial imitation of classical music. The second is a mechanical speed metal without character that serves as neutral receptor for the former pretensions. The strongest contributor to the personality of the music on the side of metal is the vocalist. But just as Exmortus interpretation of classical music remains on the level of reflected shadows, their take on metal is that of a rebellious attitude that is closer to a child’s tantrum whose candy has been taken away than to a raiding viking.

post-execution-boxer-rebellion

The downplaying of the whole of instrumentation to emphasize guitar action along with the simplification on the metal side as mere bridge and support for pseudo-classical posturing give rise to the worst incarnation of Yingwie that one can imagine. In regards to the content, it has very poor communication value, as it takes music as pretty wallpaper noise. While these now cliched patterns were born out of the lingos of late 18th-century classical music and the incipient NWOBHM of the late 1970s, it is now presented as mere paper-mache for the fabrication of shiny toys; symbols without depth or reflection, enjoyed sensually in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

Here, we may insert a more general critique of the general ignorance the public suffers when it comes to genre significance and the importance of its ‘sub-cultural’ context for it to acquire meaning. We may assume that the reason why two genres are smashed carelessly in this way is because whatever gestures are native to each are considered mere adornments. However, we have reason to think that the particular tropes of different genres are very specific reflections of a very particular group’s intuitional understanding, so to speak, so that without understanding its proper setting, its depth is lost.

hanging-heads-boxer-rebellion

Exmortus’ guitarist obviously worships Ludwig van Beethoven, but instead of being inspired by the deeper aspects of the late master’s work, he seems content to masturbate to the angry German’s portrait while wearing a man-bikini made out of fur. The general metal ‘critic’ (haha…) will love this for its easy-going technically appeal and comical value, perhaps giving them the typical, meaningless high scores they hand out cheaply like condoms at a gay-fest. A more critical mind unmoved by gimmicks may see through the ruse and form a useful opinion. It is, therefore, that Death Metal Underground hereby assigns Ride Forth a score of 133/666 Bleeding Anuses.

DON’T

DO

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Arghoslent – Galloping Through the Battle Ruins (1998)

galloping through the battle ruins

Article by David Rosales

Arghoslent are frequently and incorrectly tagged as a death metal band while they are actually a speed metal seasoned with a traditional heavy metal approach to the use of melody and soloing that goes can be described as lyrical or ‘singable’. The barking vocals that are featured here are the only thing that is borrowed directly from death metal and their usage is still more heavy metal in nature, given that the relationship of vocals to the underlying music is more akin to the riff-riding of Ozzy than the punching counterpoint of Suffocation or Gorguts.

There is more of Manilla Road’s Crystal Logic than Slayer’s Hell Awaits here; where the latter has a clear thematic development going on in riffs and the former is more conservatively classical in its harmony. Also, the long-term structuring is the subtle, progressive path of ‘epic’ heavy metal, so termed as to not mix it up with the carnival music of more ‘open’ bands who would appropriate the official name of seventies classically and jazz-inspired experimental rock music.

In Galloping Through the Battle Ruins, Arghoslent seem a little careless regarding the character or emotional quality (for lack of a better term) of the implied harmony, often incurring in silly or happy-sounding passages which would sound completely out of place in most death or black metal. These are, however, a common staple of technically-oriented speed metal as it exploits scale-wise expansion of patterns, often resorting to sequences.

At the Gates circumvented this unavoidable side effect of using sequences in their earliest work by following through with complete transpositions of a same mode to new tonal centers instead of adhering to the sprawling stepping-stones of fully-defined classical harmony. Arghoslent, on the other hand, and like any traditional heavy or speed metal band, remains rooted in this latter orthodoxy, accepting and making use of any bright arpeggios with far more openness than more-evolved underground metal would allow.

Arghoslent Galloping Through the Battle Ruins achieves an effective balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces by bringing in some of the conservative (by which “pop-structured” is not meant) spirit of proper death metal to the epic intent of an Iron Maiden in their best hour with ‘The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’ or ‘Phantom of the Opera’. Furthermore, this album is dirty and thrashy, grounding it and preventing the music from becoming overly fond of itself or too self-conscious. The latter is an ever-present and far more subtle trap that may even be perceived in Cóndor’s sophomore effort.

An inevitable comparison may be drawn to The Chasm, who are hailed for the density and apparently more complex structures. But where The Chasm gets lost in its own dreams of madness as songs are taken from promising illusion and wonder into confusion and pointlessness, Arghoslent remains stalwart; their resolute convictions clearly stamped on well-balanced music that brings a sense of adventure to visions of crude reality, and the fantasy of time travel with the brutal honesty of an unrepressed child.

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Earache pushes Carcass LP box set

Carcass - Casket Case (2015)
On Friday, November 13th, you will be able to purchase Carcass’s latest compilation (Casket Case) for up to one minute. Earache Records claims that their previous ultra-limited box sets have sold out incredibly fast and it seems unlikely that this will be an exception. Casket Case features all five of the studio LPs Carcass released for Earache, meaning that you get the later underwhelming “melodic death metal” material as well as earlier, formative grindcore and death metal if you manage to get your hands on this. As a consolation price for those who fail to get their hands on this apparent bounty, Earache is also discounting the separate albums on CD for some time, as well as two compilations from when the band was dissolved during the late ’90s and early 2000s.

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House of Atreus – The Spear and the Ichor That Follows (2015)

House of Atreus - The Spear and the Ichor That Follows (2015)
Review by Daniel McCormick
House of Atreus, a four piece hailing from Minneapolis, are a relatively newer melodic death metal act. 2015 saw the release of their first full length, The Spear and the Ichor that Follows, and the overall reception appears to be quite positive. The lyrics and imagery focus on Greek and Roman  mythology, though, much like the band Baltak’s Macedonian premise, this is not necessarily easily derived from the music alone. I have mixed feelings about this release – it has grown on me a little, but I find there are a few flaws worth noting.

Nearly every review I’ve read cites Arghoslent as a similar artist followed by the obligatory, “but they don’t refer to African Americans as cargo.” It is easy to see where this reference comes from, but I’d clarify that there is a difference in so much as House of Atreus sound more like something polished coming out of Sweden than the American raw, brutal, rough, and bloody variety. Perhaps it is an issue of production, which lends a full presence and solid mix, but take for example the song ‘The River Black’. I’m drawn more towards citing Kalmah, Amon Amarth, or At The Gates over anything I’d actually seek out to listen to. I realize there is a large audience for this type of sound, but as a strident, hateful elitist, I’m left unmoved.

That aside, the musicians are competent, the songs are all accessible, and the album is generally inoffensive. This is aided by incorporating aspects of melodic black metal and modern thrash in the riffing, with an overarching aim towards catchy melodies. Song structures are mostly straightforward; they’re developed and creative, but I’d have appreciated greater diversity to maintain my attention over the course of an entire album. The vocals employed give the dynamics a pleasant emphasis, with thoughtfully constructed patterns, but I do wish more of the context of each song shone with more clarity. The percussion is thunderous and solid, it elevates the progressions nicely and I’ve no real criticism to offer.

I’d like to be positive, to recommend this with gushing enthusiasm out of my affinity for antiquity, but unless you’re predisposed towards fanaticism to this genre you’d likely fail to see what unique niche this album fills. To me it sounds like dozens of other melodic death metal works released over the last fifteen years, few of which actually struck me as necessitated additions to my collection. So I’ll leave you with that, to decide for yourself.

 

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