“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.
Texas heavy metal band Obscure Oracle has released its latest work, a track which takes us back to both the early 1980s and its grandiose power metal, and an improved version of the melodic death metal of the mid-90s. “Pray for Nothing” features 1980s style choruses with less repetitive verses than bands of that nature would use, sliding into melodic guitar riffing that would have At the Gates envious, but used sparingly like an Iron Maiden/Judas Priest era band would have used. This track foreshadows great things to come from this original Texan band! Because it is a sneak preview, you cannot hear the track at this time, but you can catch the band live just a few months ago:
Back when At the Gates called it a day for the first time, a new band and a new sound emerged in metal. This hybrid mixed the late hardcore style of random and chaotic riffing with melodic metal and grindcore intensity, creating what most called “metalcore” with overtones of “math metal.” Unbeknownst to the band at the time, the entire industry followed their lead.
Almost two decades later, The Haunted return at the same time At the Gates is making a bid for return, and many remain curious as to how this band will continue its own evolution and contribute to the future of metal-punk hybrids. We were able to get in a few words with Adrian and Ola of The Haunted, thanks to Century Media’s Nikki Law.
The Haunted is returning with a new album and what seems like a new direction. Is that so? How does what you’re doing now compare to your previous album?
Hi there. Yes the new album definitely showcases a new style for the band. Its a return to our thrashy roots in some ways, but rather in a more modern version than what we were doing on the first few albums. It doesn’t really compare to Unseen. its just so far removed from that album on so many levels. Not strange though cause it was in sense a very different band with a different outlook and approach to what we are today.
The Haunted is widely credited with establishing metalcore, the style that took post-hardcore style composition and added in metal and melodic metal riffs. What is metalcore? How did The Haunted contribute to it?
I really have not got any clue about these genres. We just play the stuff that we like to listen to and the kind of tunes we like to play. Categories are really for people that needs to file music into compartments… For us they really are not that important.
Ola, you are in Feared as well, a band that sounds like Pantera performing Metalhead as performed by a deathgrind band. What influences your sound in Feared? How much of that will you bring to the new The Haunted record?
I keep my ideas separated; it’s clear to me when I start writing a song if it will be a song for the Haunted or for Feared. When I write songs for the band they were written a bit from a fan perspective initially before I started finding my role in the band. I bring youth and aggression to the outfit.
It’s impossible to discuss The Haunted without mentioning At the Gates. Why do you think At the Gates was so influential? What part of that sound lives on in The Haunted?
I really don’t know why. I guess it was a combination that we did what we wanted and did it with a lot of conviction. What we did hadn’t really been done by that many at the time when we did it… And then we disappeared. That’s what I think made it such a hype. My playing in The Haunted is way more open than what I do on the drums in At the Gates. When you hear the new At the Gates album i think you will be able to understand what i mean.
Adrian, you were in the original At the Gates lineup and founded The Haunted. How did the final At the Gates album, Slaughter of the Soul, contribute to the The Haunted sound?
It didn’t contribute at all. The Haunted was formed by Jensen and me the day after At the Gates split up and we wanted nothing to do with the last At the Gates album at that time. It was a fresh new start with brand new influences. I guess that the last At the Gates album contributed in the way that we knew how we didn’t want our new band to sound…
Slaughter of the Soul seemed like a break from the traditional At the Gates sound, and less death metal than a modern take on the melodic speed metal of Ride the Lightning or Don’t Break the Oath. Were those influences?
Slaughter of the Soul was influenced by a lot of different albums but mainly by the hardship and legal shit the band when through during the touring for Terminal Spirit Disease. We were so filled with aggression and wanted to make a full on album, a condensed more direct album than its predecessor.
How do you think The Haunted has changed death metal, and what is the nature of this change? Are the old school days dead, or did all of these genres (death metal, hardcore, speed metal) sort of merge into one?
Metal has merged in so many different ways and bands are combining different styles left right and center. I have actually stopped paying attention. My favorite metal albums are mostly from the 80s and early 90s. For The Haunted, we will continue mixing the different influences we have collectively within the band, play and write the kind of stuff we like regardless of what the style its called.
Ola, you have also played in Six Feet Under. How is it different to play in a Tampa-style band from a band like The Haunted?
Six Feet Under was pure death metal whereas The Haunted’s back catalog has so many different aspects to the playing and songwriting. I enjoyed Six Feet Under as well as shaping the future with The Haunted.
How does The Haunted write songs? Do you come up with riffs and then put them together, or use Jenga or another type of puzzle to make them all fit together, or is there some secret alchemy (numerology, occult symbolism) that explains these riff-mazes?
The songs are sometimes a contribution by one person that writes the whole thing. Sometimes they are a combination of someone’s verse and someone elses’s chorus and intro riff. There is no fixed formula. If the songs that takes shape is good then its a success.
You’ve got a new lineup and a new start as The Haunted. What do you hope your music will communicate, and how are you looking forward to sharing this with fans on tour?
There was no deep hidden meaning in the creation of Exit Wounds other than huge “Fuck off, we are not dead! Here we are and we are heavier than we have been in years!” Come and see for yourself at an upcoming gig! It will smoke you!
Thanks again for your support and hope to see you on the road!
Greek black metal founders Varathron return with a new album that takes the band in a modernized melodic metal direction but does so without losing the unique balance of heavy metal hooks and dark atmosphere that defined the debut, His Majesty at the Swamp.
Untrodden Corridors of Hades, which will see release via Agonia Records on November 21 in Europe and December 9 for the rest of the world, veers away from the old school doom metal sound of the debut but picks up with a version of the melodic metal of Walpurgisnacht but in a modernized style. This new style adopts the frenetic pace and compressed song structure of contemporary metal, but within that style, the ear for melodic composition and atmosphere of the original band makes itself audible.
With a cover by famed metal artist Mark Riddick, Untrodden Corridors of Hades was recorded, mixed and engineered by Kostas Kalampokas at Infinite Loop Music Studio in Greece and mastered by Tom Kvålsvoll at Strype Audio in Norway. The new album resembles 2009 release Stygian Forces of Scorn but with new energy and louder sound, as the embedded sample below reveals.
Kabalistic Invocation of Solomon
Realm of Obscure
The Bright Trapezium
Delve Into the Past
Stefan Necroabyssious – vocals
Achilleas C – guitars
Sotiris – guitars
Stratos – bass
Haris – drums
Back in the chaotic early 1990s, most death metal bands were racing to catch up with albums like Morbid Angel Blessed Are the Sick and Deicide Legion. Bands increasingly experimented with complex rhythms and riffs but eschewed the radio-friendly sound of the last generations of metal, including the melodic harmonized guitar attack of Iron Maiden.
Enter Sentenced. Like At the Gates before them, this Finnish band decided to work with melody in addition to complex riffs, and to do so began to work with lead-picked single-string melodies. After their first album of Swedish-inspired primal death metal called Shadows of the Past, Sentenced improved musically and artistically and took the leap into melodic metal. At this point, almost no bands would touch this style as it seemed an anachronism held over from the 1980s where death metal was forging ahead with chromatic riffs and difficult tempi.
Sentenced took the Slayer approach to songwriting with verse-chorus songs interrupted by transitional riffs for emphasis wrapped around a lyrical concept and added to it the Iron Maiden style harmonized guitars producing a melodic effect. Following a lead from At the Gates, the band also allowed melodies to evolve over the course of a song, creating an immersion in similar sound in which slight textural and phrasal changes could take on greater effect. Along with other bands like Unanimated and Cemetary, Sentenced forged a different path which succeeded because it kept the alienated and dark sound of death metal.
Just a few years later, this sound would explode as bands like Dissection mixed more of the NWOBHM melody and even more abrasive death metal and black metal technique into the mix. After that, clone bands like Dark Tranquillity and In Flames took this style further toward radio metal, but for a few years, this small group of melodic death metal bands revealed the potential of this style. North From Here much like its iconic cover transports the listener to a consciousness beyond the everyday in which union with the empty cosmos and the potential of transcendence of the everyday propels the mind through not only darkness but into a sense of magical light which rediscovers life as a visionary journey. Without losing any of the intensity of their earlier album, Sentenced layered emotion on top of aggression and produced a lasting and unsurpassed testament to the power of this genre.
Crossing the melodic structure of black metal with the vicious riff attack of primal death metal, Godless Arrogance expands upon this band’s career with an album that shows technical skill but doesn’t show off, and is focused on delivering raging tunes with an underpinning of melody.
To partake of underground metal in the current year is to keep eyes open for new possibilities. Because this is underground — meaning-first and surface appeal later, where everyone else does it the other way around — music, this requires looking past early limitations to see if a band has the outlook required. This worldview is a desire to make music in the true metal spirit, with a personal voice that reveals vastly impersonal truths.
Under our eye for some time has been Colombian band Cóndor, whose album Nadia represents a good future path for metal that is both innovative and true to the ideals and lifestyle of metal since its inception. It’s underground, so it isn’t groovy, crowd-friendly, slickly produced or designed to appeal ironically. It is exactly as it represents itself, and clearly thrives from bonding its metallic influences with a unique view of the world.
Checking in with Cóndor, we found the band clarifying its vision and intent and also, planning for the future. As is the nature of underground music, this band exists in the interstices of official tasks and required acts of life, filled in with spare moments and sheer will. We were lucky to get a brief update from the band as they barely pause in their quest to become known.
When was Cóndor founded, and what music influenced you? Did you have a plan, stylistically or otherwise?
Cóndor was founded in late 2012. The plan from the outset was to create narrative heavy metal and to have the lyrics deal with the collapse of Western civilization viewed from the vantage point of the great grandchildren of the Conquistadors. Musically we were influenced mostly by the early work of melodic metal bands in various subgenres, such as Amorphis, At the Gates, Mournful Congregation, Sacramentum, Candlemass etc.
Do you have other non-metal or non-musical influences?
Non-metal influences are limited mostly to the realm of romantic classical music, particularly 20th century “nationalist” composers such as Sibelius, Smetana and Vaughan Williams. As far as non-musical influences, the work of J.R.R. Tolkien heavily influences our music, and our lyrical/conceptual outlook is indebted to the conception of time as destiny present in the works of Oswald Spengler and Martin Heidegger. The most important influence however is the landscape of our native region, and the story of our Spanish forefathers, to which we are heirs.
How long had you all been metalheads? Or are you metalheads?
We all got into metal while very young, around the ages of 11 and 12. The level of individuals’ current dedication to metal varies within the band, some of us still being fully devout while others have drifted away, but metal was everyone’s path into music and we all share deep roots in it, thus why we chose it as a vehicle.
What’s the scene like in Bogotá? Is it hard or easy to be a metalhead there?
Even though it is an ever-growing community, unfortunately it is swarmed with people who are attracted merely by the metal aesthetic, or people who don’t really think about what they’re listening to. The same people that go to a black metal concert can then go to a metalcore one the day after, which leads one to believe all they get from listening to metal is fun, rebellious noise. After an initial rush of inspiration in the 80s local bands have since been mostly derivative and boring, which has led to widespread skepticism about newer bands. Add that to the fact that venues tend to be geared towards the 80s rock crowd and gigging locally becomes a hard and often fruitless endeavor. However there are many encouraging factors, for one the sheer amount of metalheads as well as the incredibly devout local medium of cult metal record stores, along with an increasing number of international bands who come around to play in the city. It’s worth mentioning that the scene had many classic bands when it was peaking in the late 80s/early 90s, such as Parabellum, Reencarnación, Kraken, Masacre, Kilcrops, Witchtrap and Acutor.
How did you write the songs on Nadia? Were they conceptual songs, or just kickin’ around some riffs?
Music and lyrics on Nadia were written simultaneously with a view towards creating a coherent atmosphere and a dynamic structure. The concept of the album pertains mainly to the question of identity and destiny in the modern world, viewed naturally through our particular vantage point as Colombians. However, many of the riffs are very old and were simply worked into the broader scheme of the album later on. The material on the album stretches back at least three years in some cases while some of it was written just weeks before recording.
Did your influences change for Nadia from past efforts? How much had you learned since your earlier recordings, rehearsals or live performances?
Nadia was our first effort, and the entirety of the album was written before the band ever played together in a room, so this is a tough question to address. As far as live performances we believe they must reflect visually what the audience is listening to. That’s why we use body paint and use elements such as the accordion and wine during shows, to create an experience that enhances the atmosphere and weltanschauung that is already inherent in the music.
What has response been like so far?
Nadia has received a limited, but largely positive response, which we weren’t expecting to be honest. Colombian record stores have been enthusiastic, though larger distribution has been lacking. A few people seem to really dig the album, which is encouraging.
What’s next? Will you record more, tour or rest awhile?
Album number two is currently in the works and we hope to record it in summer of 2014, which would imply an early 2015 release date. Touring is unlikely for now as the band has been scattered by collegial pursuits, but you never know…
If you had to pick the most important bands in the evolution of metal, how would you do it? What bands would be there?
This is a tough question… I guess the method would be to pick bands that innovated in a way that helped the genre evolve without compromising its boundaries and also managed to make albums that stand on their own as coherent and meaningful works. Clearly, the bands that have had a real significance are most often those with members who really understood what they were doing; this applies for both metal and non-metal bands alike. Unfortunately, most great bands have a good start and release one or two great albums, but then seem to lose their touch and limit themselves to appease their audience, without giving much thought to the composition process.
Obviously objectivity is unattainable in such an endeavor… So without further ado, the much desired, and highly subjective, name dropping: Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Manilla Road, Manowar, Mercyul Fate, Slayer, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Possessed, Bathory, Fates Warning, Helloween, Morbid Angel, At the Gates, Darkthrone, Enslaved, Thergothon, Beherit, Skepticism, …After this the real innovation stops and the tenets of the genre are pretty much established, but many significant works have been published since then by bands such as Sacramentum, Averse Sefira, Fanisk, Pallbearer, etc. Metal is alive and well; quality output is just a bit slower than in days of yore.
If people are interested in supporting Cóndor, how do they acquire your recordings and keep in touch with the new happenings with the band?
Nadia can be bought both digitally (for whatever price you want) and physically through our bandcamp page. People living in Colombia or Mexico are encouraged to contact us through our Facebook page or our email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to obtain a physical copy directly through a band member. To keep in touch with the band and its happenings follow us on facebook or send us an e-mail and we’ll add you to our mailing list.
The mysterious entity known as Empyrium has attracted its share of attention over the years by upholding the strongest nature-mystic tradition in metal, and dark ambient into which it migrated.
Like other nature mystics in metal, Empyrium expand the metal lexicon with lush dark organic soundscapes and dynamics that more represent the whims of nature than the mechanical sounds of city or ideology.
Into the Pantheon shows Empyrium in a live setting, both with a concert DVD and a documentary film made about the band and this event. Eagerly awaited by fans who remain loyal to this publicity-shy act, Into the Pantheon delivers a subtle but powerful live experience.
We were fortunate to be able to catch up with Markus Stock of Empyrium for a quick interview.
How did Empyrium come about? Did you have a concept when you went into this practice, or did it develop naturally?
When we started Empyrium back in 1993 we were just 15 year old kids and didn’t have a detailed plan or concept whatsoever at first. We just followed our heart and made music that came naturally to us…now, 20 years later, we still follow that rule, but of course we are much more experienced and skilled these days.
Were you influenced by past metal bands who’ve used acoustic instruments among the distorted guitars, like Cemetary and Pyogenesis?
Yeah, we were. I loved the first Pyogenesis MCD (on Osmose) when it came out. Big influences also were My Dying Bride, early Paradise Lost, very early Cradle Of Filth, Darkthrone and Emperor (especially their unbelievable split with Enslaved).
Some have hypothesized that metal is in a slump, and for it to break out, it’s going to need to get closer to genres like classical or folk music where there’s a greater range of instrument used, thus more musical possibilities. Did you have a similar idea in your own path?
Actually, no. Today I don’t view Empyrium as a Metal Band anymore. We have influences from many, many genres and styles of music. I think the whole “let’s mix our metal with folk/classical/hip-hop/funk/whatever” went a little overboard and today I enjoy Metal much more when it retains some purity of the genre. Nothin wrong with some classical elements or keyboards but the electric guitar and the pounding drums should be the centerpiece of a Metal Band.
Into the Pantheon is an immaculate concert with high technical performance but also emotional intensity. How did you practice for this? And how much did you just “wing it” to keep the mood strong?
We practiced alot. I wrote a score for each live musician involved so they could prepare themselve at home and then we rehearsed about a week in a smal venue that was rented for us. It was important to me to be well prepared.
Do you see an affinity between yourselves and other atmosphere based metal bands like Summoning?
Oh yes. I loved the whole Summoning stuff. I hear they made a new album I need to check that, though I find it hard to retain this kind of 90ies atmospheric today.
Most would identify your style as some kind of doom metal, like My Dying Bride or Paradise Lost, but at the pace of a funeral doom band, like Skepticism or Winter. What made you choose the tempi at which you play, and what does it suggest, artistically?
Like mentioned earlier I can see influences and similarities to bands like Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride in our very early works but Skepticism or Winter? Definitely no.
Empyrium has a reputation for being secretive. Are you secretive? If so, why?
No I am not. This is because we haven’t played live in more than 15 years of band history. But, I am not lurking in a cave, deep in the woods, pondering in solitude and silence over my future plans.
Metal bands seem to have this life cycle where they start out with fresh ideas, and then become more like their influences, then get big and quality plummets after that. Have you observed this? How will Empyrium beat this cycle?
We have actually finished a new album and with a break between the last album and this one of almost 10 years – believe me, if you follow your heart and do the music that comes out of you it will be fresh again.
In addition to the live concert, there was a DVD made about the band. How did this come about? What did you think of the final product?
I think it’s a nice addition to the live part of the DVD and was a lot of work. Personally I can’t see myself talking over such a long period of time but fans will definitely love the detail and the work that went into this documentay,
Once this DVD and documentary hit the stores, there’s going to be a reaction. How much does it influence you? Will it inspire you to tour, or release more music?
There will be no tour with Empyrium. A few selected live appearances but no tour. As mentioned earlier we have a new album in the pipeline to be released maybe early next year.
What are your non-musical influences? Are there works of art or literature that capture the vision you’re trying to create in sound?
Of course. Movies, literature, paintings – everything I consume inspires me. Nature and landscapes have always been a big influence on Empyrium. Past, present and future.
It must be challenging to integrate so many instruments and voices of such different loudness and timbre into your works. How do you compose your songs? Do you start with an idea, or a melody, or a riff?
It usually starts with just one theme – a small melody or a riff…from there we go and build up a song. With newer Empyrium material it’s is often that a song is based on one single theme and we go from there and build it up, let it collapse again, change small details etc. to make the theme work over the period of the song. You’ll hear that when the new album hits the streets.
In your view, what is heavy metal “about”? Does that change for doom metal?
Heavy Metal is about energy to me. Wild, touching, deep and archaic emotions at the same. As mentioned earlier, I don’t see Empyrium as a Metal band – we are more about the silence and the thoughts that come to you in silence. It’s much more introverted versus the the extroverted spirit of Metal.
Nocturno Culto, who forms one-half of the nefarious duo known as Darkthrone, has a long history of side projects. Among other contributions, he worked out the intricate riffcraft behind Satyricon’s Nemesis Divina, making it a favorite in that band’s catalog.
Now he has embarked on a new side project which is a pure traditional heavy metal band called Gift of Gods. Gift of Gods will release its debut mini-album Receive on Peaceville Records on November 5, 2013.
Commented Nocturno Culto, “Finally, the mini-album is done. Gift Of Gods has been a great ride for me. I don’t want this to end now, so I will most likely work on new material. Thanks to my partner in crime, K.A. Hubred, we got to rehearse during the last two years. What to expect? I have no idea how to describe this, but it’s metal for sure.”
Receive was performed and recorded by Culto and Hubred at Culto’s home studio, and mixed and mastered by Jack Control at Enormous Door, who recently worked with Nocturno on Darkthrone’s The Underground Resistance.
So far the only reports tell us this will be traditional heavy metal with a wide range of influences and that it will lead toward the melodic side of things. This EP/mini-album will be a half-hour of material including a cover of “Looking For an Answer” originally by obscure Swedish 80s band Universe.
From the opening dual guitar harmonies straight out of 1985 that bring to mind the live intro to a Europe or Stryper set, it’s obvious that this album will be more in line with the guitar hero pop-metal of Arch Enemy than anything from Symphonies of Sickness or Reek of Putrefaction.
To some degree, that’s to be expected. Carcass threw in the towel on forward momentum long ago (1991) and have resorted to playing up their namesake for the purpose of phoning in stadium metal for the aesthetically overblown Wacken age, and Surgical Steel is perhaps their most commercially flexible attempt at filtering late model radio format speed metal through a death metal aesthetic filter, where actual death metal technique is limited to tremolo picking, blast beats, and Jeff Walkers vocals.
Carcass joining an elite cadre of financially successful bands by doing so, starting with At the Gates’s Slaughter of the Soul and even Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven. Let me state it again for those who wish to be millionaires: the appearance of being an outsider to a society nearly universally loathed by its inhabitants, with an underhanded delivery of comfortingly familiar derivative works that by their obedience affirm the social order, will always be a financial success. It allows the appearance of rebellion with none of the actual costs. It’s like artistic insurgency tourism.
Surgical Steel ends up being a mix of Swansong‘s Thin Lizzy-isms applied to the framework of songs like “This Mortal Coil” and “Doctrinal Expletives.” These songs have more to do with Mike Amott’s recent Wacken pandering than anything on Heartwork. “A Congealed Clot of Blood” resembles a “revisited”, more uptempo version of Swansong‘s “Don’t Believe a Word” and the last song, brings to mind the best years of Sanctuary with its sentimental melodic guitar intro, or evokes the Overkill ballads “The Years of Decay” and “Soulitude” with its emotional framing and pacing.
Some tracks like “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System” attempt aggression by utilizing the same speed metal meets extreme music technique as “Carnal Forge” from Heartwork, but with the obvious “money riff” effect of the dual harmony guitar part that is the focus of these songs. The reversion to old lyrical themes (based off the song titles and album artwork) seems like misdirected fan service as these songs would probably win over more people from the Century Media crowd if the lyrics had the same simple “emotional” topics that songs such as “No Love Lost” had.
While this album may appease the simple appetites of those who merrily purchase Arch Enemy and Children of Bodom albums, many songs try to deviate from the verse-chorus stylings with an overloaded, ill-fitting bridge that detract from their simple nature. This divided nature may keep Surgical Steel from being as successful as recent Hypocrisy or Slaughter of the Soul in the arena of stadium faux-death AOR metal for drunken Wacken attendees.
Again, we say: if your heart is no longer in death metal, don’t bother. Start up a project band and transition into progressive rock, classic rock, or whatever it is that actually appeals to you. Explore your new musical pathways. It’s just as much a sell-out to try to “stay true!” when you no longer care as it is to make Justin Bieber-styled pop because you know ten million teeny boppers from the ‘burbs will buy it. Musicians, chase your dreams. We get the best of your talent that way, even if we have to transition genres to appreciate it.