Coming from the depths of that technical death metal with strong bases in metalcore, Alustrium’s A Tunnel to Eden is perhaps intentionally misleading with its title and an intro that could make anyone think one is about to listen to a power metal album of the cheesiest saccharine minstrel metal. However, what they give us is a view of the most easily dismissed metalcore. What makes this album so pedestrian is its blatant reference to genre tropes on the one hand and the upholding the worse sins against music that this genre perpetrates on a common basis.
First of all, there is no intention of creating a theme for the songs, nor is there any intention to maintaining any sort of musical coherence. Every section is aimed at creating a rhythmic hook, while relation with adjacent sections and riffs is not important at all, only the shock induced by the change is important. Basically, this is a pop attack. The fact that it is “extreme” music does not hide its candy-ass popular nature to the discerning listener.
This is a “best of the month” list for this month, but making the title “Best of May 2015” sounds like giving too much of a spotlight for such a short span of time, and devaluating the word “Best of” somewhat, in my opinion. Therefore I chose a title to reflect reality more clearly: these are the only albums we heard of on this website this month that were decent enough to not be considered utter disgraces to the metal genre (those were in the SMRs or were ignored). The “decent” are those that show consistency in style, coherence, a direction and a clear artistic voice and goals. The “rescuable” are those that are still confused in their composition — unclear, or that seemed to be impeded from development by their own approach to music-making (or that of their own genre).
Having been called everything from thrash to death or melodic death metal, Dew-Scented play metalcore in its original inception, as inspired by At the Gates’ style on Slaughter of the Soul. Everything from the simple drums which half of the time fall into variations of fast d-beats, catchy and short melodic ideas on the guitars with a tendency towards breakdowns for variety, to the blatant imitation of Tomas Lindberg. Being an heir to this tradition reviled by the fans of the old school styles and hailed as an improvement and distillation of the best aspects of the older music by the mainstream audience, Intermination invites a comparison with At the Gates’ come back album released last year, At War with Reality.
While the seminal band tried to bridge a gap between fans of its older and later styles by taking its metalcore-founding album and introducing more complex elements as visited in Terminal Spirit Disease and vaguely from With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness, thereby creating a middle-of-the-road offering that pleased neither group, Dew-Scented plant themselves solidly on the style developed in Slaughter of the Soul and part faithfully from there to create variations without bringing down the delicate and extremely constricted walls delimiting the definition of this minimalist, extreme pop genre.
Being the catchy, duple-time riff-fest that this genre is, Dew-Scented do a phenomenal job at creating solid, punching riffs which if not necessarily connect concretely with each other too well throughout a song (given the shock-oriented nature of this modern style), go a long way to maintain the drive of songs by switching and keeping the overall feel, avoiding the over-use of a particular riff. Without any ill-will towards this talented band, we must clarify that the album presents a very flat result, which is a necessary result of the definition of the genre as driven by impacting riffs and sonic shock tactics. The tight upholding of ideals of the genre in Dew-Scented’s hands, even with their carefully and appropriately crafted variations, becomes a hindrance in the context of a crippling genre.
German metalcore band Dew-Scented will release their tenth album, “Intermination,” on June 30 in North America via Prosthetic Records.
Vocalist Leif Jensen says,
‘Affect Gravity‘ is probably a bit of an unusual track for Dew-Scented and not only because of the talkbox at the beginning. It’s got quite some melodic riffing and a very dark twist, but it’s always dynamic and heavy. It turned out to be one of my personal faves on the album and I look forward to playing it live too!
Drummer Koen Herfst added,
I tried to really emphasize the aggressiveness of the song by playing pretty much straightforward and really loud in the parts that ask for it. I love the way the toms turned out in the mix, which makes the parts that lead into the verses really heavy. Halfway through the song I do a groove inspired by Derek Roddy, which is basically a blast-beat on my second snare combined with a back beat on my main snare. After that I do a really heavy and basic groove which breaks things open in the guitar solo.
Dying Humanity are the perfect metalcore product. They’ve got all the moves, they know every trick in the book. Trope-masters Dying Humanity present us with a compilation of metalcore cliches titled Deadened which at its most lucid moments almost reaches the sobriety of Blinded by Faith‘s Chernobyl Survivor. Here and there we find nods to more mainstream acts like Killswitch Engage and then back to more extreme modern metalcore and other so-called melodic death metal bands following in the steps of Slaughter of the Soul. Tying mostly unrelated melodies in riffs in that last style, Dying Humanity supports them by the same square, straight-up d-beats ala Adrian Erlandsson.
While Dying Humanity will not appeal to fans of the old school, it will not appeal to fans of any kind of music that revels in attention to logical construction and detail. Deadened may nonetheless prove to be a satisfying commercial success with the casual head-banging crowd which only needs a catchy dose of sterile, well-produced music that has as much staying power as a Big Mac.
Joy Division remain important for the world of music because most of 1980s indie aggregated Joy Division post-punk guitar technique into bouncy pop-punk and formed of it the post-rock which also influenced the chaotic post-hardcore that is the basis for metalcore and modern metal. Where the newer bands were totally circular, Joy Division created more of an unsettling atmosphere of unsystematic and dissymetric music.
The film pitches the idea that Curtis suicided because his diagnosis with epilepsy condemned him to the side-effects of the drugs he took for the condition, and the tendency of seizures to hit at moments of high emotion made him fear the things that ultimately fulfilled him, like band, family and friends. As a result he became increasingly isolated at the same time his symptoms increased, with the exception of his remora of a Euro-girlfriend, Annik Honore.
It’s an interesting thesis, but suicides are too often blamed on medical conditions instead of an honest perception of the utter misery of life. Control shows us the more innocent and purposeful world in which Joy Division arose, the strong bond between the men in the band, and the left field attack of fame and seductive power. Without being a Joy Division historian, it is hard to say how accurate its perspective is, and it may be 100% true, but Deborah Curtis gets shown in a kind light. To its credit, the film does not extensively vilify others, except perhaps the extramarital affair (I’m told these are now called “side bitches”) which is portrayed as parasitic in this and other sources.
What makes Control worth watching is that it portrays artistic force as the utterly incoherent thing that it is; musicians have no idea how to articulate what they are doing, and yet they do it and often incorporate a good deal of thinking into the end result despite being unable to explain it. If anything, the movie could have done with more band scenes — the actors practiced together and became a Joy Division cover band for the purpose of the movie, with actor Sam Riley’s interpretation of the songs as a more Morrisonian Joy Division sometimes giving them new power — and less of the family drama behind it, but it is good to see that included, as it is to see the environment in which this band arose. Joy Division remains provocative and adored to this day, joining a long line of controversial rock vocalists who self-destructed upon seeing the ruin that is modernity. Perhaps this movie would have been stronger if it, like The Doors, incorporated more of that vision, but as it is it makes for an interesting introduction to Joy Division and post-punk.
What is life? Either you are working toward something or trying to find a way to pass the time. The real losers are not the people who lack the fancy objects that are the trend at the moment, but those without purpose to life, as they will always be unhappy in the deepest parts of themselves. Unhappy people demand music that is as hollow, vacuous and purposeless as they are, but such music makes bad listening for people who are here to make the most of life. We separate the tryhards and imitators from the real music amidst a shower of hipster poseur tears with the Sadistic Metal Reviews…
Reaction – Kill the Parasite
In the land of Pudouaccian, there are hairless creatures with smooth features and no teeth who call themselves Pudouaccians, and they spend their days attempting to “ouacc” (pronounced: whack) — a term for stimulate in lieu of reproduction — their “puds,” which is how they refer to their androgynous oversize genitals through which they see. Pudouaccians exclusively listen to music that combines the most rock ‘n roll aspects of heavy metal into a speed metal format, and tie it all together with a compelling rhythmic vocal that aims for choruses you can repeat like political slogans and verses with the energy of dishwasher detergent commercials on television. Although the title that gives a message we should all take to heart every day, because parasites are the most common creatures in nature and serve no purpose to their host except to exhaust them and lure them into continued bad decisions — like buying this album — so they become easier prey for the siphoning of their energy to support the parasite. Much of this release follows the power metal model of vocal-led melodic riffing with extended solos that comment on the song like a concordance, but a good deal of the groove plus heavy cadence riffing of later Pantera occupies the field as well. What really kills it is the vocals because when you make the vocals lead the music, songs cease to become compositions and instead become life support systems for a single instrument (vocals) which has overstepped its bounds, and thus they resemble a Hollywood actor and entourage more than a military time operating in smooth coordination to do something interesting. Many of the riff forms on this album come to us from the classic hard rock through NWOBHM lexicon, and while that should not disqualify anyone, nothing here is applied in a way specific to this band, leading us to wonder why it should exist at all.
Deflected – Deflected EP
From an armchair metalosopherTM, Deflected presents an interesting challenge. It applies the Pantera brocore method of stop/start riffing with pregnant pauses creating a primitive groove, but does so in the context of South American style speed/death metal with riot shouted choruses and fast energetic riffs, then slowly works in melodic death metal influences. The primary instrument remains the voice which often more resembles what would go on in a hardcore band or the shouts of Phil Anselmo than anything from recent metal, but it runs into subtly musical accompaniment from guitars, bass and drums who try to background themselves to these metalcore-styled vocals. Unfortunately, the result by being skewed toward the vocals cannot maintain the continuity essential for atmosphere and so is forced to rely on an increasing number of stunts and riff changes which borrow freely from forty years of metal but never coalesce into a voice. As a result, these sound like songs with stuff added on, rather than entities of their own possession developing out of influences. While many of the melodic riffs enter at about the right time to provide an emotional component, it is obliterated by the randomness of the rest of the song and the ranting vocals, and comprises the generic “mixed emotions” major-minor transition common in all rock music. Even the Iron Maiden styled harmonized guitars produce nothing more than an entry point for the head-nodding rhythm in the hands of the vocals. If this band wants to get anywhere, they need to stop trying to hide their metalcore and go fully into that style, or stop fence-sitting and pick a metal style or invent a new one.
Blackwingedsheep – Red Sheep Red
When direction is too hard, mix ‘n match bits of the past and maybe you have something “new” like those horrible 1970s casseroles that mixed leftover chicken with random ingredients from cans and put cheese on top. I lived in terror of those things because any time I spent the night at a friend’s place, his Mom was sure to haul out one of those for dinner and then I would end up crouching in the dark eating small animals after feeding my portion of the glop to the dog. The worst part was that since word gets out slowly through humanity, Moms — and sometimes their misguided offspring — were cooking up these disasters well into the late 1990s at which point everyone threw in the towel and started just buying pre-prepared food in anticipation of civilization collapse. Blackwinged Sheep is a lot like those casseroles: 1980s downstroke-crazy speed metal mixed with chromatic grindcore fills, on a death metal rhythm, with choruses that emphasize high contrast melodies with broad interval leaps much like early progressive metal experiments like Pestilence Testimony of the Ancients. The result is music that spends most of its time in very concrete rhythm work and then launches into melodies that go nowhere, creating a sense of constant disruption and destabilization with no shape to it, which in turn grants the music a wallpaper effect. No matter how much they vary technique within this formula, the musicians behing Blackwinged Sheep cannot escape the formula, and so they apply it with even more extreme technique which just results in more pounding. Most of the verse riffs on this album could have come from Coroner, and the chorus space-outs from any number of newer acts. Ultimately, while this band has a good grasp of rhythm and a few impressive riffs, it fails to knit this together as anything other than a kind of vocal theater where the lyrics and voice are supposed to give form to otherwise an indistinguishable flood of very similar elements that are not particularly evocative or distinctive from each other. With the perspective of metal as a melting pot of its own styles, this band has found a way to update the 1980s content and make it easy to keep churning out the same even in the midst of self-proclaimed iconoclasm.
Gouge – Beyond Death
Gouge makes energetic but harmonically basic grindcore that tends to use a death metal approach to framing rhythm, but reverts to speed metal and punk riffs frequently. The result uses established riff forms and, while it presents an aptitude for transitions and keeping a compelling rhythm going, ultimately becomes nearly stupefactive because it has zero development of tone. The verse and chorus riffs are variations on the same few notes and capture no particularly compelling melodic or harmonic tension, which results in the entire composition having the effect of a chromatic rhythm work with periodic random insertions of whole and melodic intervals. For influences, clearly these guys spent a lot of time studying Repulsion Horrified whose layering of vocals and guitar shred prevails throughout this release. However, where Repulsion worked carefully to have distinctive riffs, Gouge falls too quickly into hardcore punk tropes, making it a lot more like later Napalm Death without the pretensions of progressive styling. The high-speed approach imparts a good deal of energy, but without some more to hang it on, this becomes another panic indicator like the weekly news, angry questions from the boss, or car horns all night long from the city. Others might compare this to Terrorizer for its tendency to drop back to open riffs of fast tremolo to contrast single-picked slamming patterns, a technique which keeps a constant texture pulsing faster than the drums, conveying a sense of urgency in contrast to the pace of life. However, where Terrorizer stripped down to a focal point, Gouge focuses on rhythm and tucks everything else into place, sometimes dropping in bluesy solos to hope to unite the disparate. By halfway through the album, the band has run out of steam and is revisiting old hardcore punk tropes to try to inject new life where none remains. There is a lot to like about this release — good energy, some creative riffs, good transitions, old school sensibilities — but when taken as a whole, there is no reason to listen to it again unless you like disorganization and the urgent sounds of social decay.
Why did most writers leave metal to the people who eagerly type in praise for anything that they feel, being new, will bring them personal renown for bandwagon-hopping? The reason is simple: almost all metal reviews these days must mention how the elements of each song are good, but that they do not create something larger than their arithmetic whole, with that process being the essence of art itself. If you pile together a group of good riffs randomly, or put together a song that focuses so much on form that it forgets content, the result is a listening experience that is pleasant enough when distracted but unsatisfying if you set aside whatever else you are doing and listen alone to the work. Haethen combines flowing Graveland riffs with high-energy Drudkh-styled sweeping melodic passages but does so in a way that inevitably tends toward both randomness and too much fixed structure, which means that nothing is communicated. Moments of beauty occur and it is crushing to watch them wasted, but the riff technique here is so similar between songs that it is difficult to claim more than one riff of each archetype in favor of this album. The real problem is that the songs are boring, whether from predictable patterns or a lack of relationship in linear progression from the elements of them, and as a result while this album would sound great in the background of a record store or while distracted by paperwork, it does not retain strength as a listening experience alone. This is unfortunate as many respected sources have endorsed this release, and it clearly shows aspiration toward an older and purer style of black metal, but “I must speak as I find,” and Shaped by Aeolian Winds goes nowhere.
An Autumn for Crippled Children – The Long Goodbye
This album falls within the “post-metal” camp although labels like to play the carnival sideshow game and claim that whatever pap they’re pumping “just cannot be classified” and then are careful to mention that it has “elements of” followed by the keywords of their target markets, all while not mentioning what it actually is. Simple formula: 1990s indie rock for verses, 1980s post-punk for choruses. Add a detour bridge or turnaround for that proggy feel. Then put crustcore vocals over the top of it, making them really dramatic and energetic to imply some kind of torment or passion, and claim that this is related to black metal so that you can get the edgy fedora kids to buy it. The Long Goodbye is a musical and artistic sham, but mostly just false advertising: this is 20-year-old music re-shaped for a new generation because disguised imitation is the business model of the music industry. While none of it is strikingly incompetent or poorly produced, in the way that underground metal can both be, none of it is compelling either. Once you see through the first level of artifice, nothing beneath remains. Essentially the same intervals — derived from emo and progressive punk and the rest of the indie spectrum — are used throughout, as well as the same devices, with only vocals to differentiate them, and the vocals are totally non-compelling. This album is mental entropy in a convenient package, with a trendy name, trendy production and faddish packaging because it is designed as a product for morons who are in denial that they are morons and thus are, like Opeth fans, compelled to buy the most pretentious, intolerant (because anything else is just musically less advanced, which is how hipsters say “inferior” indirectly by implication and yet say it all the same) and yet innocuous music possible. Your Mom could nap to this because it is completely non-controversial. No strong emotion, just self-pity and the usual bittersweet minor-key noodling to make you feel as if the problem is that you are misunderstood and not that the world needs us to creep out of our little shells and actually, you know, do something sane and realistic instead of narcissistic and delusional like everyone else. This album attempts the artistic equivalent of changing every dictionary so that the entry for “retarded” says “genius” and vice-versa, such that soon we would elect an Emperor with trisomy 21 and throw out our Beethoven and Darkthrone to favor two-note droning crap like An Autumn For Crippled Children. In summary: A Product For Crippled Minds.
Lago – Tyranny
The forefront of the metal industry — and industry means a group of rent-seekers supporting each other in quasi-collusion to do roughly the same stuff so the profit can keep flowing and costs can continue to be externalized through enforcement of mutual interest — consists these days of bands like Ara and Lago who are trying to hybridize deathgrind in the Unique Leader style with the metalcore/progressive metal that has been floating around for several years after rising from its archetype in the late years of punk, when “progressive” pop punk bands wrote longer songs based on high contrast between riffs to the point of incoherence, as if trying to emulate Black Flag The Process of Weeding Out without the heavy thematic load that album carried. This made sense for punk since when a genre has expressed its core ideas, no more can be done with them but to convert them to technique and to add complexity to hide the basic archetypes that would be revealed by simplicity (bands, after all, have to make product or they fail, both economically and in the economics of social prestige, where the members want to be known as the guys from that hip avantgarde whatever from wherever for the rest of their lives as industry insiders or hipsters working at local bookstores). The consequence of the deathgrind/metalcore hybrid is that bands incorporate the jazz/progressive/shredder stylings (equal parts Kenny G, Dream Theater and Joe Satriani) into more pummeling material that tries to unite itself in the way older death metal did, or at least to the level that Gorguts Obscura aspired to. This tames the most random and hopeless aspects of progressive punk and metalcore but can end up emphasizing the trivial aspects of death metal instead of its ability to knit together riffs and song structures to create journeys of discovery that were equal parts psychedelia and H.P. Lovecraft styled exploration of the morbid, realist subconscious. Lago demonstrates an ability to make competent Unique Leader styled deathgrind, complete with pig squeal vocals and constant high-intensity double bass, but to work into it both the more harmonically advanced riffs and instrumental interludes that the newer progressive variants feature. The result alternates between riffs so simple in conception that they make bricks bash their heads against walls, and instrumentals much more like progressive rock than metal. While Lago is among the best of the breed, the fusion isn’t there yet, because the parts separate instead of working toward a common intent. Still, these songs come together better than just about anything else in the sub-genre, and make Lago a band worth watching for the future.
Mistweaver – “The Greatest Threat”
Core is the new glam. This song combines flowing MTV choruses with uplifting melodies and the nu-metal form of degraded speed metal chugging riffing into a black metal song format with gentle keys interacting with tremolo riffs. This many spare parts can only be glued together by the most basic central element, which genericizes the song; in fact, the more out there music tries to be, the less its parts become compatible and the more generic it becomes at its core. This could be the latest Steel Panther video if the glam band decided to be slightly darker in theme and adopt techniques from Metallica, Emperor and Morbid Angel, who are (roughly) the most defining acts of the past 30 years. Combinging them makes everything weaker.
Stages of Molestation – “Cadaveric Molestation”
This band made itself many fans by varying its chortling guttural death metal with really basic old school death metal informed by the Swedish and Northern California scenes. The problem here is that, while these songs are catchy, they are so harmonically, melodically and riff-structurally basic that they do not merit a second listen. The band is on to something with the style itself however.
Ara drop into a difficult niche of the metal market, trying to be a fusion between modern metal or “technical death metal” like later Gorguts and contemporary Unique Leader bands who incorporate a mix of old death metal and new deathcore styles. The result causes a necessary re-examination of the difference between death metal and modern metal.
In music, composition can take roughly three approaches which can result in nearly infinite forms. In the first approach, the main urge gratified is the need for repetition and so verse-chorus patterns provide the basis with a possible “ironic” or “bittersweet” contrasting turn-around, transition or bridge. This is the most common song format, which like common tempi and common keys is chosen for the convenience of cognition both by composer and audience. The second approach takes a different view which places form in the control of the song instead of the other way around. In structure dominant songwriting of this type, melody or phrases fit together into a narrative, and this narrative — representative of content — dictates form. The problem with this form is that it is difficult, because each piece must relate to all others, instead of a reduced external standard like merely being in the same key. The third form avoids the problems of the first two by being novelty-based and requiring very little commonality between parts of a song arrangement, and generally arose from the fusion of punk rock and progressive rock, which produced more complex punk rock that often had little relation to its parts beyond rhythm. This brings us to the present time, where the structure-based and novelty-based approaches war it out in metal.
During the 1960s, rock fragmented into multiple forms. One of these, starting with experiments by The Beatles and other big pop acts, was the progressive form in which song arrangement was dictated by the needs of a narrative to the music itself; not surprisingly, many of these works were built around literature, mythology or an intricate story arc of their own. This in turn spawned the most ambitious experiments with structure which came from the space ambient bands like Tangerine Dream who did away with drums and any of the fixed aspects of progressive rock that made their songs at least initially represent standard song form. The parents who bought this material were Baby Boomers, whose music buying years of 18-28 occurred mostly between 1964-1984, and their children — who generally hit maturity from 1984-1994 — were the Generation X musicians who created death metal and black metal, and many of them inherited their parents’ albums, which since underground metal seemed to attract a fairly intelligent crop, represented the more interesting music from the previous generation. Much of the influence of progressive rock and space ambient or cosmic music came through in this generation of metal, much like the influence of aggro-prog bands like King Crimson and Jethro Tull emerged in Black Sabbath the generation before. In addition, the instrumentals from Metallica such as “Anaesthesia (Pulling Teeth)” and “Orion” as well as the lengthy “epic” compositions of some late-1970s progressive-tinged heavy metal and guitar rock influenced the new generation. For this reason, when proto-underground metal combined heavy metal with hardcore punk, it also added the type of composition used in progressive rock, from which came the process by which Asphyx calls “riff-glueing” where riffs are mated to each other on the basis of a dialogue between the phrases used in them, discarding harmony as the sole basis of compatibility along with the late-1980s “progressive punk” idea of novelty-based composition. This gave death metal its most unique aspect: prismatic composition, or the ability for riffs to be repeated in successively different contexts, such that each new iteration reveals a new interpretation based on what came before, much as in a poem that uses the same technique with repeated lines like a villanelle. While this is often a relatively minor influence, as with Morbid Angel, it remains an influence on all death metal and the dividing line between it and the imitators.
The most significant influences on Ara look to be the post-Suffocation thread of percussive death metal culminating in Unique Leader bands like Deeds of Flesh through a more complex interpretation of late-90s bands like Internal Bleeding and Dying Fetus, the 2010s interpretation of that as hybrid indie-rock known as “technical death metal” or modern metal, and old school progressive death metal like Gorguts Obscura and Demilich Nespithe. These influence style, not necessarily content, although when bands lose direction they reverse the compositional process and have style determine content, as opposed to the better method of having content select style. Ara show an insight into both riffcraft, or the act of writing riffs themselves, and the type of transitions in song that give meaning to previous riffs by shifting context. Unfortunately, they attempt to make music within the novelty-based style which interrupts itself to provide contrast instead of relying on the inherent contrast produced by such transitional moments. Bassy vocals ride herd on a stream of relatively unrelated riffs, sometimes culminating in a moment of parallax transferrence where a new riff makes the past seem to mean something entirely different, over precision technical drums. Riff forms borrow from “technical death metal,” itself a fusion of post-hardcore and lite jazz with the degraded simplified forms of late-90s death metal, and so a great variety of technique serves as the basis of these riffs, but unfortunately often this makes the riff a function of the technique and not vice-versa. If someone were to give this band good advice, it would be to look to those transitional moments and the riffs that really define each song and make all of the other riffs lead up to and support that moment even through opposing themes, which is a better method of contrast than attempting to shock the ear with radically difference or irony to the previous riff through technique alone. They have clearly mastered technique, as flourishes and fills which show influence from Gorguts and Demilich as well as a host of other metal and non-metal influences reveal, but it is the underlying structure of a song in such a way that evokes meaning which eludes them.
Devourer of Worlds contains a good album waiting to get out, but as it stands now, it forms painful listening because of its internal disorganization and reliance on technique alone. That makes it so much like two aspects of modern society, marketing and ideology, which serve as denial of reality using the mechanism of language and image to convince people that there is a way around the obvious realities of life. One can either focus on reality and deal with its limitations and implications, or look to symbols as a form of reality and manipulate those and then claim the result is the same as one innate to reality itself. All marketing, including advertising and propaganda, and all ideology, which combines prescriptive reasoning with propaganda to make the recipient feel pleasure at the rightness of a decision instead of its likely positive results, fit within this range of form dictating content and not the other way around. If reality is content, the form we should admire is that which fits to reality; when form is content, reality becomes secondary and we retreat into a ghetto of the human mind and forget about implication for what will result. As with all art, in music when the surface becomes predominant over content, it requires the core of each song to simplify itself or become near-random, at which point the work loses any sense of being memorable or meaningful and must content itself with novelty. These songs tend toward circularity, or cycling between two or three ideas which serve as a backdrop for the main action which is expressed through technique. This quandary calls to mind the break between the third and fourth Pestilence albums: Testimony of the Ancients increased the technicality of each song, but this put more emphasis into technique of each riff and less into the riff itself, which caused the band to rely on anchored harmonic positions much as in rock and embellish those with fills, which created relatively static phrases and as a result, simplified songs. On the album that followed, Spheres, Pestilence attempted to correct this with more guitar/synth leads and riffier songs, both returning to their earliest work but still remaining stranded within the simple-core complex-surface approach that the outward-in method of using technique to compose creates.
What makes music great as opposed to passable or adequate for a few weeks’ listening is this ability to both reflect reality and give it meaning by showing a response to it that sings of its strengths and reveals purpose to its weaknesses. All songs are in actuality songs of praise for the existence which we lead, avoiding the reaction of the human being — a type of surface-level form instead of content — and looking toward the effects on our lives as they are. These can take the form of harsh criticism of that which is unrealistic, including methods of control like ideology and advertising, and can even indulge fantasy which is different from reality but reveals it through metaphor, but they rarely include the “Vote for me and all will be perfect forever!” and “This product will make you smart, sexy and successful!” that surface-level thinking promotes. Ara are caught forever between the two and are facing the mortal certainty of choice by which the individual goes down one path to the exclusion of all others, and thus defines their life as surely as death itself, and this buries their strengths among their least auspicious tendencies. While Devourer of Worlds shows vast improvement over 2013’s The Blessed Sleep, its tendencies toward what is called metalcore — which is either a hybrid of death metal and late hardcore, as I argue, or simply incompetent death metal as others have asserted — prevent it from reaching the heights possible for these songwriters.
Adam Bujny – Vocals
Jerry Hauppa – Guitars
James Becker – Bass/Vocals
Erik Stenglein – Drums
I write a lot about hipsters because I am fascinated by subcultures and how they attempt to find meaning independent of the center. You can join the ska kids, Goths, rivetheads, wi-fi hobos, ecolos or channers. You might have a thedic identity, a de facto tribe combined of ethnic pride and politics, or an outright political group like the earth firsters, crypto-coms or far-right. In a time of no actual commonality to our deconstructed societies, you know you will be a cog in the machine: working a job, paying taxes and housing, and doing all the day-to-day stuff like shopping at Costco that is about as romantic as math homework. To counter-balance that, people seek an identity which shows why their lives are important. All of these are extensions of the original “keeping up with the Joneses” that saw people trying to out-consume each other, but now we are consuming the image of ideas instead of pure product.
Modern life represents at its core a long slow grinding compromise. Any idea is taken from where it is found and made into a product by simplifying it, exaggerating its surface features, and then presenting it for mass consumption. Joining an identity first involves a shopping trip for music, books, clothing and personal accessories including tattoos, piercings, scarification and hitting the gym. Through this process, unique identities are gradually “assimilated,” or made into variants of the mainstream. Every ideation operator declares the gradual entry of those who perpetuate this process into their chosen identity — the falses, the poseurs, the day-trippers, scenesters and imitators — because when enough of them arrive, the unique group becomes overwhelmed and as happens in democracy, what is popular and easily understood wins out over the original idea, which then fades into a distant memory and a cartoon of itself.
Hipsters represent those who have given up on the idea of idea itself. They realize early on that this society is a kicked clip, empty of ammunition and fit only to be returned to the pocket and another retrieved, starting over. But discovering what we want for a future represents a good deal more ambiguity and risk than knowing simply what we detest, and in the meantime, people need an identity to distinguish themselves from the faceless mass. The hipster was born out of this situation by Generation X, who combined slacker culture with counter-culture and added the suburban desperation of their parents, who were only to happen to discuss in detail how the world was going to hell, in front of their children. As a result a new identity formed based on those who have dropped out of society but still seek a way to distinguish themselves, and instead of doing so through strong group identity, they base their concept of self on self-image alone. Thus the hipster opposes the idea itself, and instead seeks a different kind of center: what everyone else is doing, but with some unique conceit for the individual itself. Hipsters are bog-standard people who have hobbies in craft beer, tattooing, making artisanal objects, odd collections, activities chosen for their apparent randomness, and of course art, art and more art, because nothing makes a person look profound like the boho artist lifestyle.
Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.
But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”
An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.
People who seek an idea loathe hipsters because hipsters are the anti-idea. They reject the notion that we can have purpose outside of ourselves, and instead make their time by adorning the self with new fascinating attributes which are always bizarre because their sole goal is to distinguish themselves from the rest, and so whatever is sensible and normal is verboten. The hipster seeks to be unique, individual and different (UID) so that they do not get mistaken for the rest. Part of this is a counter-culture style protest saying that they do not endorse or enjoy the mainstream, and in fact oppose it so should not be held accountable for its failings; the rest comes from the simple need to distinguish oneself in a social scene flooded with people who are all trying to be noticed. Where in the 1920s doing stunts on the lawn might have worked, and in the 1980s it was enough to join an indie band, for the people who come after the reunion of right and left in the 1990s there is no longer an obvious majority culture to oppose. There is only the gradual compromise, and trying to stand out in its midst.
Hipsters suffer for the time into which they were born and the lack of easy and safe ways to rebel against it. Smoking weed and living in a VW van involved relatively few risks; at worst, an arrest occurred in some random little town in Ohio and dear old Dad had to dispatch money and lawyers to fix it. But opposing the conglomeration of democracy, capitalism, liberalism, consumerism and patriotism takes some guts and some time on the thinking couch, because it is not like The Establishment an easy thing to identify. Who can blame these people for laboring as poor cogs just trying to have normal lives? They can laugh at them but not indict them as the problem itself. The focus of the hipster becomes not reform of a society that is already lost, but saving oneself by at least being socially competitive through appearance and having a life independent from concern about the inward collapse — an idea — which might obligate one to sacrifice time otherwise spent on self toward some purpose.
That tendency reveals the problem with hipsters: they are perpetual entryists. Their only idea is the self, so any identity they discover they will turn into a product just as surely as their grandfathers did back in the 1950s. In essence, hipsters are the same consumers that people have always been, except now they are casting around for an appearance of having an idea and thus always sacrifice the idea itself because they are fundamentally opposed to ideas. Subcultures fear the hipster because to admit the hipster is to abolish the subculture and allow it to live on in zombie form as another branch of the great compromise but now as an adornment, like the “French bread” flavoring in the industrial-processed bread aisle or the “exotic scales” used in bog-ordinary rock music to dress it up and disguise its ordinariness. The hipster is indeed the dead end not of just Western civilization, but all civilization, because civilization requires an idea and with hipsterdom, all ideas have been sacrificed to the self.
At the same time, hipsters deserve our sympathy. They are the people on the deck of the Titanic, watching the unstoppable disaster that will inevitably compose them, choosing to get another pint from the bar and bum another cigarillo while bravely chatting about the inconsequential. The water grows incrementally closer and the lifeboats are long gone. Nothing remains except to live it up a little, stand out from the crowd and have your fun, before the darkness inexorably takes over. If you wonder why hipsters look as stressed and miserable as their parents, even when they have trust funds (and an alarming number of them do) and hip indie bands with the flavoring of metal, it is because they too see the approaching disaster and have found nothing to do about it.
Of all the modern metal tendencies that can be completely annoying, the insistence of vocals leading the piece takes the cake. Like rap, the music takes a backseat to whatever is being shouted at you like political slogans or advertising offers. Here the band writes a grind-death hybrid distilled to high-energy riffs under a slowly-enunciated cadence of vocals that makes for utter tedium. The problem is that the band is equipped to write two-riff songs and when they go beyond this they sense they are out of their depth and offer instead melodic metal fills.
Like all metalcore, which is as good a container as you will find for “modern metal” which follows hardcore songwriting with metal riffs, The King is Blind comes across as disorganized because it is in metal terms. In rock terms it is highly organized, with verses matching choruses in key and rhythm. The problem is that the riffs are unrelated so they serve the same role as a slow double-strummed open C in a Bruce Springsteen tune: they keep background harmony to the vocals, which are the real focus here. Except these vocals are mostly monotone. Throwing in simplified Slayer riffs just creates a circus atmosphere, as does the use of other metal technique to try to give momentum to this otherwise pointless music.