An At the Gates career retrospective

January 28, 2014 –

at-the-gates-band-photo

Since the days of being a small child I have been fascinated by how things fall apart. At an early age I could recognize decay, but knew it was separate from the tendency of human efforts to disintegrate once they grew past their initial effort.

A simple example was our veterinarian. He started out with a group of other animal doctors. Then people realized this one guy does great work. He struck out for himself. Soon he had too much work to do. He expanded, hiring more people and getting a new building. Soon he was no longer doing great work and he was more expensive. It took people a decade to find out. Most of them were still telling each other the accepted truth that he was doing great work.

At the Gates have announced their reformation as part of the 2013-inspired wave that saw Gorguts and Carcass return. Unlike the 2009-wave of returning bands, like Asphyx and Beherit, this retro-underground-revival has featured classic bands “modernizing” their sound. It also generally exhibits bands who had already cast aside their metal roots for musical reasons. Where the previous wave was more a sense of bands returning to pick up where they left off, the new wave seems to be about bands participating in the new metal scene and trying to siphon off some of that interest, newsworthiness and cash flow.

At the Gates started from the ashes of Grotesque back in 1990. They quickly released an EP, Gardens of Grief, followed by an LP, The Red in the Sky is Ours. These two works constitute the important artistic output from At the Gates because they were so radical in death metal. First, they incorporated melody as a structural device, where previously it had been used as a technique and worn to death. Next, they showed song development that surpassed what most bands were doing. Finally, their use of single-note picked riffs and spacious drumming produced a greater range of dynamics for death metal. Between At the Gates and other Swedish death metal acts that used melody such as Therion and Carnage, the roots of black metal were laid.

After that, things got confused. With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness followed in 1993 but lacked the clarity of the early work, showing a band in conflict over whether it wanted to follow its initial style, or get more power chords and catchy choruses in there. This led to the departure of original member Alf Svensson and regrouping with guitarist Martin Larsson, formerly of House of Usher. At this point, the band reformulated their sound to be more like regular death metal and yet also more like accepted rock music, including displaying the technical chops expected in that field. Now, like countrymen Dissection, At the Gates sounded like a death metal wrapper around a regular rock band, and a good one at that. Interest soared. The band released Slaughter of the Soul to grand acclaim despite the album having more in common with the speed metal of the mid-1980s than the death metal of the 1990s.

After their most popular album ever, the band fragmented when the Björler brothers moved on to form The Haunted. Most metalheads recognize that moment as the ground zero for melodic metalcore, which combined the 1980s speed metal approach to songwriting with the late hardcore tendency to value random riffs stacked together in carnival sideshow music style. However, for a new neurotic generation, this distraction-oriented music was a perfect soundtrack, and The Haunted became a success in its own right. At the Gates put out a few retrospectives and occasionally re-united but basically was dead.

In 2014, it’s hard to imagine the band not making Slaughter of the Soul II. It was their greatest success and introduced themes of self-pity, such as suicide, which are always popular with the youth of narcissistic parents who essentially feel doomed from puberty onward despite living in relative luxury. Slaughter of the Soul was a clear precursor to The Haunted which took the frenetic randomness of bands like Discordance Axis and Human Remains and made it into a new style that, by using the sweet sounds of Iron Maiden-styled harmony, found mass appeal.

At the Gates made the following statement:

We know you are all curious about the new material, and to make a simple explanation of where we are at musically, we would describe it as a perfect mix between early AT THE GATES & ‘Slaughter of the Soul’-era AT THE GATES, trying to maintain the legacy and the history

This leaves us wondering what they consider “early” At the Gates since presumably that’s everything before Slaughter of the Soul, and they did not specifically mention the first EP or LP by name.

Shakira (feat. Wyclef Jean) – “Hips Don’t Lie”

January 9, 2014 –

shakira_feat_wyclef_jean-hips_dont_lie

Every now and then, even the most cynical of metal writers loses a bet.

We who toil in darkness and expect no reward because we consider pop music to be the incoherent rantings of a egomaniac egalitarian society gone amok, despite our misgivings, must sometimes venture to the above-ground world to see what the majority listen to.

It’s first important to note that it’s not clear if the majority actually listen to this. If an album sells ten million copies in the US, it’s considered huge, even though 29 out of 30 people did not buy it. I suppose that’s the problem of pluralities: make enough noise and it seems like everyone agrees with you.

The bet in question involved “the best-selling song of the new century,” which according to group graffiti wall Wikipedia is Shakira (feat. Wyclef Jean) – “Hips Don’t Lie.”

For me, this is a confrontation with a mass culture that I gratefully abandoned years ago and avoid whenever possible. I see it as bringing out the worst in humanity by appealing to our animal impulses and the lowest common denominator thoughts in our minds. It is like a McDonald’s cheeseburger. Or a speeding ticket. It is everything bad, distilled into an appealing package. I shudder at the thought.

Nevertheless, I am ready. Green tea topped off, fully loaded shotgun in the corner, pencils sharpened, and I crank this thing up on the stereo. (It’s too late to contemplate suicide. Besides, people would assume it had been inspired by some emo-indie “depressive black metal.”)

While we listen, follow along with the lyrics. I’ve annotated where structural changes occur and what is basically the song at the heart of this song.

SPOKEN:
Ladies up in here tonight
No fighting, no fighting
We got the refugees up in here
No fighting, no fighting

Shakira, Shakira

MALE SINGING:
I never really knew that she could dance like this
She makes a man wants to speak Spanish
Como se llama (si), bonita (si), mi casa (si, Shakira Shakira), su casa
Shakira, Shakira

FEMALE SINGING:
Oh baby when you talk like that
You make a woman go mad
So be wise and keep on
Reading the signs of my body

And I’m on tonight
You know my hips don’t lie
And I’m starting to feel it’s right
All the attraction, the tension
Don’t you see baby, this is perfection

REGGAE-ISH:
Hey Girl, I can see your body moving
And it’s driving me crazy
And I didn’t have the slightest idea
Until I saw you dancing

And when you walk up on the dance floor
Nobody cannot ignore the way you move your body, girl
And everything so unexpected – the way you right and left it
So you can keep on shaking it

MALE SINGING:
I never really knew that she could dance like this
She makes a man want to speak Spanish
Como se llama (si), bonita (si), mi casa (si, Shakira Shakira), su casa
Shakira, Shakira

FEMALE SINGING:
Oh baby when you talk like that
You make a woman go mad
So be wise and keep on
Reading the signs of my body

And I’m on tonight
You know my hips don’t lie
And I am starting to feel you boy
Come on lets go, real slow
Don’t you see baby asi es perfecto

Oh I know I am on tonight my hips don’t lie
And I am starting to feel it’s right
All the attraction, the tension
Don’t you see baby, this is perfection
Shakira, Shakira

A CAPELLA INTERLUDE:
Oh boy, I can see your body moving
Half animal, half man
I don’t, don’t really know what I’m doing
But you seem to have a plan
My will and self restraint
Have come to fail now, fail now
See, I am doing what I can, but I can’t so you know
That’s a bit too hard to explain

SPANISH MUSIC:
Baila en la calle de noche
Baila en la calle de día

Baila en la calle de noche
Baila en la calle de día

MALE SINGING:
I never really knew that she could dance like this
She makes a man want to speak Spanish
Como se llama (si), bonita (si), mi casa (si, Shakira Shakira), su casa
Shakira, Shakira

Oh baby when you talk like that
You know you got me hypnotized
So be wise and keep on
Reading the signs of my body

FLAMENCO-ISH INTERLUDE:
Senorita, feel the conga, let me see you move like you come from Colombia

Mira en Barranquilla se baila así, say it!
Mira en Barranquilla se baila así

SPOKEN:
Yeah
She’s so sexy every man’s fantasy a refugee like me back with the Fugees from a 3rd world country
I go back like when ‘pac carried crates for Humpty Humpty
I need a whole club dizzy
Why the CIA wanna watch us?
Colombians and Haitians
I ain’t guilty, it’s a musical transaction
No more do we snatch ropes
Refugees run the seas ’cause we own our own boats

FEMALE SINGING:
I’m on tonight, my hips don’t lie
And I’m starting to feel you boy
Come on let’s go, real slow
Baby, like this is perfecto

Oh, you know I am on tonight and my hips don’t lie
And I am starting to feel it’s right
The attraction, the tension
Baby, like this is perfection

SPOKEN:
No fighting
No fighting

The core of this song is the section outlined in dark red, which constitutes either a verse and a chorus or a two-part chorus serving as a verse and a chorus in contrast to the spoken or rhythmic parts of this song. The rapped and spoken parts serve as a foil to this, repeating the essential rhythms that are used to express its melody, but never delivering the final punch of the full hook.

And that’s what it is, in a nutshell: the song is pure hook. The first part of the chorus is a sort of invocation by supplementing the rhythm of the percussion which sets up the phrase for the melody to come; the second half of the chorus delivers the real hook, stepping outside the regular rhythm of the previous half while simultaneously expanding its tonal range, creating a sensation of free fall. Even within this dual melody however the fundamental dichotomy of the song between rhythmic shuffle and vocal melody exists, because both halves end in essentially monochromatic rhythmic expressions that dampen the harmonic expectation created earlier in the phrase.

Twice during the song these choruses are delivered back-to-back in male and female vocals, forming a duet within a song. These occur on either side of the middle break. If I had to call a genre behind this song I’d say Motown, especially in the disconnected melody that plays on its earlier parts with rhythm to dampen and a long drop to intensify, but with deliberate flavorings of Spanish-influenced music. One part of Jean’s performance is a reggae passage that re-uses some notes from the pre-chorus, and much of the rest is rapping — the non-metal world’s equivalent of E-string noodling. The a cappella interlude plays up the heritage of jazz-based music with what is simultaneously a rhythmic breakdown and complement to the earlier reggae-inspired interlude. This allows the song to transition to sampled Spanish/flamenco-ish music, then transfer directly to repetition en route to its finale, which is a reprise of the first duet.

All in all, not as brutally simplistic as most pop, but simplistic in a different way. There isn’t really much going on here other than a repeated duet to which separating passages have been added, and each of those plays on what the vocalist is known for. Further, while the melody grows in an internal dialogue between the two parts of the chorus, the first half is fairly linear and the second gains its power from violating the order set up by the first. This shows the “call-response” pattern of early rock expanded as if it were an ideology, first in the melody, second in the duets, finally in the interplay between two halves of song interrupted each by an interlude. It’s a clever way of folding the song in on itself by adding variation without having to actually develop the melody or rhythm, which remains nearly constant throughout, which would add actual complexity.

Let’s take a look at the live experience next.

What strikes me most about this live event is how they must have a staff of people to pull this off… then again, their vocals do sound awfully well produced. Lip-synced? I don’t know, but it might be the only way to ensure quality control with such a complex production. What gets me is how the event itself is of self-announced importance, and the people in the audience instead of seeing themselves as purchasers see themselves as participants. They dance, they sing the lyrics, they pose like the stars onstage. One young woman even appears to be having an emotional moment. This reconnects to what I fear about mass culture: it appeals through the ego, but turns you into a zombie.

Interesting also is how speech, dance and music are merged in this presentation. Wyclef Jean performs a lengthy rapped/spoken section of the song that appears to introduce political topics, citing some kind of pacifism, refugee status, the CIA and Tupac Shakur not to mention some kind of Colombian-Haitian friendship pact. “Ebony and Ivory” for a new generation? While performer Shakira spends some of this video doing the robot dance she puts far more time into showing off her belly-dancing skills and the kind of dance you might see in an urban club late at night.

The official music video also presents a number of dimensions for analysis. First is that it seems most mainstream songs are not really love songs per se, but attraction songs. This song feels like it’s set in your typical bar, but it’s an idealized interaction where the man and woman are offering up sexual attraction to one another. For his part, the lyrics emphasize conscious desire; for hers, the desire is unconscious and she doesn’t expect to be heard but to have her body movements analyzed. If this were any species but humans we’d call it a mating ritual.

The setting in a club is sort of like the idealized commercial dream of a place where you can buy sex and importance, and the intense focus that this song creates on performance and the people acting out the dream conveys importance more than anything else. It is as if the world were pushed aside, and the significance of these moments to the listener took over. It is like a participation fantasy, designed to create focus through the attention of others and then project the listener into it.

One trope that repeats in the lyrics is that of not being in control. These people are not consciously making decisions; they are drawn to them, pushed into them, and communicate them through unconscious desires and bodily responses. This is like the idea of “falling in love” amplified many times, where people do not make choices but react to impulses. This feeling is echoed in the audience, who are swept up in the impulse, but do not control the choices made ( “my hips don’t lie / And I am starting to feel it’s right” is the ultimate statement of ex post facto decision making). They are living through a vicarious existence, following the script another has concocted, presumably because it delivers what they wish they had in their lives. It is as if the ultimate extension of individualism is to abolish the individual in the mass activity, where snapping your fingers at the same time that everyone else does constitutes self-expression.

And now, thankfully, I can take this thing off the speakers and go back to some death metal. It isn’t relentlessly catchy or sexual like “Hips Don’t Lie,” but it has more internal development and emphasizes a sense of connection to something bigger than the individual. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In addition, of course, it totally rips.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 12-12-13

December 12, 2013 –

garbage_dump

What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? Heavy metal is either art, or like the rest it’s a product to make sad people feel better about their empty and pointless lives. Brutal honesty is all that separates us from that abyss. Remember, tears are a sign that you’ve really reached people…

evereve-seasonsEvereve – Seasons

Nuclear Blast, this is NOT “music to mangle your mind.” This is the AIDS of the music world. Cheap, hokey synths ramble under tepid saccharine guitar melodies while effete whiny crooning that makes Morrissey sound like Tom Warrior radiates in the background. You can just about hear the teenage bedrooms of America, reeking of self-pity and masturbation, where the obese and inbred listen to this. It’s OK, kid, everyone gets turned down by a fleshlight at least once. If you can imagine heavy metal with all of its soul removed, candied like one of those disgusting little fruits in a fruitcake, this would be it. There is nothing here that is metal except under the flimsiest of pretenses. “Evereve” is more like “Summer’s Eve.” Seasons could be a forerunner for HIM. If you ever hear a note of this, you’re going to need hormone replacement therapy.

covenant-nexus_polarisCovenant – Nexus Polaris (also released as The Kovenant – Nexus Polaris)

The cheese of “black metal” circa 1998 is on full display here in this one album. Considering the Dimmu Borgir membership and the touting of a drum performance by Hellhammer circa his “help, I need money and even joined Arcturus” days, you know this will be bad. The vaudevillian sideshow vibe of later Ancient and Cradle of Filth is tricked out to sound like a joyous PG rated sci-fi soundtrack is playing over a rock opera, making this all sound more absurd. Imagine the music from a children’s variety TV show but with some drunk guitarist in the background hammering out heavy metal riffs with black metal stylings as he copulates with close family members while wearing a tutu. If you heard a “black metal” parody in recent times, chances are it sounded like this.

immolation-majesty_and_decayImmolation – Majesty and Decay

This album brings to mind Dogwin’s Law for metal: as a metal band ages, the probability of it reverting to its influences becomes one. Immolation started out as a speed metal band, then detoured into death metal for a few albums, and now is back to heavy metal but in a simplified form using death metal technique. When they did that cover of Mercyful Fate, it shook something loose, and Immolation thought, “Why spend hours fitting twisty riffs into intricate combinations?” Verse, chorus, break, solo — done! Collect check, buy motorcycle parts. This is the metal equivalent of baby food: over-cooked, pre-ground, sweetened and without any difficult parts. Gone are the wildly imaginative riffs and catcomb-like song structures. Instead it’s The Jets covering Bryan Adams put into power chord riffs. Embarrassed by their own non-output, Immolation tries to hide the emptiness by getting emo on the choruses but nothing can save this pile of paint-by-numbers metal. This is metal’s equivalent of Bangerz with some guy howling along in the background about stuff he read on Infowars.com.

morgoth-feel_sorry_for_the_fanaticMorgoth – Feel Sorry for the Fanatic

Another case of mid-90s “evolution,” Morgoth ditch the Death Leprosy worship for a sound more akin to Voivod at their most commercial playing Killing Joke at their poppiest. Vocals sound like a parody of Amebix, lots of mumbling and tuneless sung-shouts. Verse-chorus structures and an industrial rock production suggest this band was attempting to cash in on the industrial/cyber image trend of Ministry, Godflesh, and Fetish 69. With waves of label hype behind it, Feel Sorry for the Fanatic failed as only the falsest of marketing hype can. Creating a neutered album with fringe-accessibility to an audience that didn’t exist the year this album was released left the band to fall on its face in embarrassment and dishonorably disband.

wolves_in_the_throne_room-bbc_session_2011_anno_dominiWolves in the Throne Room – BBC Session 2011 Anno Domini

This band of hippies in denial have improved in the songwriting department, but by so doing reveal the underlying emo to their music. It’s clearer than ever before that Wolves in the Throne Room were never black metal. This two-song release allows the “post-metal” to shine, but musically “post-metal” is identical to emo, a subset of late hardcore/indie rock hybrids of the late 1980s. Musically, nothing has changed since that time, so if you’ve been in a cave since 1984 you might enjoy this band. These two tracks are far less random than previous Wolves in the Throne Room output. While they try to ape black metal with heavy guitar distortion and howled vocals, in harmony and choice of scale this material would fit in on a Jawbreaker or Rites of Spring album more than any black metal album. In fact it’s a complete sham to ever list this band as black metal because it misses out on what they do well, which is a very slow version of emo. Droning emptiness portrayed with slighly dissonant tracks that sound like self-pity incarnate. It evokes a lot of different feelings that boil down to the same state of suspension, in which mixed-emotions and self-pity that brings self-doubt resolve all things to the same. I wouldn’t recommend this for any metal fan or anyone who remembers the late 1980s.

solar_deity-devil_worshipSolar Deity – Devil Worship

If you approached a black metal band as if it were a doom metal band, you might end up with something like Solar Deity. Very musically literate in a way that is reminiscent of Necrophobic, with understated melodic riffs and good rhythm, this band nonetheless suffers from a type of drone syndrome where just not enough changes to keep interest, although there’s nothing offensive. Clearly mostly inspired by the first two Gorgoroth albums, Solar Deity attempt to set up a number of songs to narrate and develop theme, and do a reasonable job of it, but their riffs are rather lukewarm and repetition-intensive as is their usage. The result would be great if designed for doom metal, but as black metal ends up being an abrasive drone and sense of confused purpose within otherwise well-composed music. It might be good background music for repetitive tasks. You know, really feel that tedium as you clean water heaters, file taxes or chase hipsters off your front lawn with a shotgun (aim for the knees).

tribulation-the_formulas_of_deathTribulation – The Formulas of Death

Death metal isn’t hard rock. If it wanted to be hard rock, its members being honest people, it would have elected to simply be that instead. However, there’s a huge market in dressing up regular boring corporate product rock music as something “edgy” like death metal, which still hasn’t been conquered by the civilizing forces of socialization. Like previous Tribulation releases, The Formulas of Death is ambiguously in the death metal realm and in fact treats its death metal elements with ironic scorn. The result is a pretty good hard rock band embedded in a bunch of unnecessary stuff. Get a real vocalist, throw out the token chromatic riffs and d-beats, and re-style this album as something along the lines of early Queensryche or Cinderella and it would be great. This will make just about every “Best of 2013″ because people can’t tell the difference between turd and steak tartare but also because it’s catchy. Simple music for simple minds.

skeletonwitch-serpents_unleashedSkeleton Witch – Serpents Unleashed

If focus groups found a way to slam Sentenced Amok and At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul into a metalcore product that panders to Adult Swim viewers, then Skeleton Witch would be the abomination unleashed. Tired and generic riffs more bound to cliche than tradition power an interchangeable series of mellow-deaf parts stitched into galloping rhythms. Although it appears to be like metal from a distance, I suspect if MC Hammer knew how to play a guitar, he’d come up with something like this. Poppy and bouncy background noise for people who value video games and Comedy Central more than music, Serpents Unleashed might be the sonic equivalent of a middle schooler’s diary: covered in stickers and glitter, but the content within is more than predictable in essence even if not in particulars, and in ten years it will humiliate them if unleashed.

beyond-fatal_power_of_deathBeyond – Fatal Power of Death

The problem with retro works is context. What was once a whole context is broken down into techniques, “moments,” transitions, tempo changes, riff-archetypes and melodic frameworks, and then reconstituted. However, since there’s no motivation except to be retro, there’s no new context except appearance. Thus the bands doing this tend to default to the simplest elements possible, which are either age-independent but average stuff the original genre tried to escape or conventions of the present age. The result is that you get the same stuff, but someone has covered it in retro-feeling-stuff. The end result is like a bison spray-painted with corporate logos, a contextless mishmash that’s oblivious to its own true nature. Beyond make a credible effort but they are trying to fit riffs together, not use riffs like words or colors on a painting, and as a result, nothing is communicated by frenetic energy, doubt and disorganization. Moments of this release are stunning, but the whole does not add up to much because it’s not about anything.

Coffins / Noothgrush – Split

December 5, 2013 –
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coffins-noothgrush-split2013 has been a big year for Coffins, with the release of their debut album The Fleshland for Relapse Records in July and the recent announcement of their upcoming appearance at Baltimore’s Maryland Deathfest in 2014. Coffins toured with Noothgrush in 2013 in Japan, thus it is not surprising that the two, who have gifted each other with fresh ideas, have decided to release a split EP on Southern Lord Records.

While Coffins have always had their fair share of sludge influence, the band up the ante by incorporating more stoner rock riffing and melody. The result is slower and stripped down, with less of an Autopsy and more inspiration from Eyehategod. The band still retain their core sound with mid-paced riffing hybridizing Coffins’ downpicked death metal chug and Noothgrush’s crawling musical ethic. Lead work, although sparse, brings a brightly colored spark. The drums straddle the line between D-beat infused percussion in the style of Deathstrike and the breakdowns that are archetypal to the sludge hybrid-genre. Inflected riffing pounds through both tracks in the stoner metal style, inserting absurd jauntiness into droning music.

Noothgrush on their half of the split apply characteristic sludge riffing accompanied by sample-infused soundscapes which provide abstract narratives pertaining to the song titles. The material retains an earthy, doomy sound without digitised production artifacts. “Jundland Wastes” samples the kick drum from “Tusken Raiders” amidst desert winds, reminiscent of the tripped out atmospherics of “Dystopia” but with a more concrete narrative function. “Thoth” follows in very much the same footsteps, with a sample-driven interlude halfway through — complete with layers of ear-piercing feedback and tasteful synth pads — provides a welcome break from the crushing, monolithic riffing.

Whilst Noothgrush ominously work their trademark, sample inflected sludge machine, Coffins’ foray into the sludgier side of the doom-influenced musical spectrum is somewhat generic; it feels lacklustre in comparison to Noothgrush’s experienced assault. Where Noothgrush manage to keep things interesting, if a bit mundane, Coffins’ offering for this split EP feels rushed and uninspired.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 11-27-13

November 28, 2013 –

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? We write about the artistic and musical side of metal, not how many teenyboppers or bloated old guys think it’s “fresh.” In the holiday spirit, we call metal’s turkeys what they are. Expect delicious outrage and denial, with the (occasional) quality release.

massemord-stay_fucking_necroMessemord – Stay Fucking Necro

Black metal is among the hardest genres to master within metal, which is why so few people have managed to do it well. Beyond the mechanical characteristics of the genre, there exists a need for personal integrity and semi-spiritual fervor driving the musicians onward towards higher realms of art. That is not present in this release.

On their questionably-titled album, Stay Fucking Necro, Messemord perform a style of “black” metal that has much in common with post-millennial Satyricon or Gorgoroth. “Black & Roll” cliches are abundant as well as influences from “melodic” black metal, rendered here as irritating arpeggios that push tracks closer to lighter melodies, which are not at all helped by the bouncy drum patterns. Tracks are thrown-together collections of riffs that have been overused for at least a decade, and they don’t become more inspiring hearing them again…although the Transilvanian Hunger ripoff riff is listenable.

There is nothing here to interest anybody who has beyond a surface interest in the genre. Actually, I don’t know why anybody would be interested in this. This band seems to be yet another example of an “underground” band that’s underground only because it’s terrible.

benediction-the_dreams_you_dreadBenediction – The Dreams You Dread

I remember calling this album a sellout, but the truth is it’s probably Benediction’s defining moment. By removing all the extraneous elements that Benediction once utilized like slow doom riffs and a “morbid” feeling on some numbers, the band play up their hardcore/punk influence to seem “rebellious” as was the trend of the time and making their B-grade Massacre songs sound more like something you might hear on a Marauder album. If you can imagine Harmony Corruption-era Napalm Death covering Sepultura’s “Biotech is Godzilla” backwards eleven different ways while lapsing into blockheaded Pantera or later Sacred Reich grooves, you know how this will sound. Generic and mediocre death metal is thrown out the window, making room for the groove infatuated vapidity “with a punk attitude” that this band always had in its heart.

grave_miasma-odori_sepulcrorumGrave Miasma – Odori Sepulcrorum

The verdict is in: Cruciamentum is more interesting than Grave Miasma. Alhough the bands share musicians, Grave Miasma contrive dull and uninspired Incantoclone riffs that are randomly stitched together. There are two decent songs that kept my attention, but the same droning “atmospheric” chords are present in every moment of Odor[i] Sepulcrorum. It’s like they implemented texture for the sake of implementing texture without using it to move anywhere interesting. Perhaps this should be marketed as a sleeping aid instead of a death metal album. The main problem with this release is that it sounds like the songwriter/s ran out of ideas before they even started writing it. This is disappointing since their prior EPs were much better efforts. I’m tired of writing about it and in fact, I need a place to lie down. To sleep, perchance to not hear this thing ever again.

darkane-the_sinister_supremacyDarkane – The Sinister Supremacy

This is basically the middle of the road millennium metal that has replaced the 90s groove trend and 80s Metalli-clones. Slaughter of the Soul-styled mellow-deaf riffs are thrown next to mechanical groove riffs, with songs that go from “angry” verses to “melodic” choruses in simple Wacken metal format. Solos run the gamut from bluesy “rebellious” fodder to ultra pretentious Malmsteen mimicry and vocals are “harsh” but sung with inflection to be melodic. There is no reason to listen to this album or for this band to exist. If you want another version of the same crap Nuclear Blast and Century Media release on a weekly basis, you’ll find more interchangeable extreme pop-metal fare here with nothing to distinguish it from any of the others.

autumnblaze-every_sun_is_fragileAutumblaze – Every Sun is Fragile

Another emo album. There’s no point disguising that this is an indie-rock/punk-rock hybrid from the late 1980s. It sounds exactly like the bands that became popular then and into the early 1990s, just with better production. Even the topics and moods are the same. Even worse, every song is musically very similar, aiming for that moment of double parallax when multiple contrasting directions emerge. Artistically, however, this i vapid, like being lost at a mall and feeling sorry for yourself… for four hours. Every now and then a quasi-metal riff comes on, and gets replaced by a crooner with the indulgent lyrics of a snake oil salesman. How did this end up in the metal queue? Any attempt to insult this insincere, derivative dreck is an insult to some group that in contrast is honorable, like idiots, fools, droolers and lichen rapists.

the_haunted-unseenThe Haunted – Unseen

If metal bands had FDA labels this one would read “100% feces.” The Haunted hang the towel on their crowd-pandering metalcore to make room for the musical ornamentation and forms that bands utilize when they want to make it to the mainstream. “Emotional” vocals more befitting screamo and alt-rock bands croon and drone over listless nu-groove metal. While the albums before sounded like commercial Wacken pandering, this album sounds like something that Roadrunner would have released in the late 90s. With so many people using Slaughter of the Soul as a template for manufacturing artistically-void muzak, something different but just as stupid needed to be tested within the crucible over at Century Media’s headquarters. The result is more worthless music that sounds like it could be Linkin Park, Incubus, or any of those other MTV bands you hear on the radio. It’s hard to believe the man who wrote Kingdom Gone is responsible for much of this rap-rock/emo oriented fare but, then again, we’ve already seen the depths this bunch had fallen since 1993.

arsis-unwelcomeArsis – Unwelcome

“EXTREME” Wacken metal. Aside from proficient performances, this is what death metal would sound like if performed by Bon Jovi. “Hard rocking” blasting verse riffs show you that these guys are “ANGRY”, but don’t fear! The stadium rock melodic chorus that sounds like something Stryper or Europe would play comes in to rationalize the “aggression” with feelings of “bitter sweetness”. Vocals that sound carbon copied from Jeff Walker further makes this album sound no different to the recent Carcass disaster, making this seem all the more vapid. If this band had any common sense, they would look at the European metal fest lineups, realize they still haven’t made it to “the big time”, and retire to being guitar teachers as opposed to clogging the airwaves with more AOR mellow-deaf. The “ironically uncharacteristic for death metal” music video to this album’s closing track further suggests this band is the musical equivalent to watching an Adult Swim cartoon. Worthless music.

ephel_duath-hemmed_by_light_shaped_by_darknessEphel Duath – Hemmed By Light, Shaped By Darkness

When you wander among the teenage social wastelands of the earth, you will encounter many sophomoric characters and each one will have his own catchphrase explaining why he knows something, when he does not. One example is the “I like a little bit of everything” guy who picks music based on it having a great deal of variety. He’s concerned that music might be too much the same if it were consistent, so he likes quirk. This is another form of the mentality that causes people to order variety plates in restaurants; they don’t know what they want, because they don’t know what they like, mainly because they have no idea who they are. Ephel Duath is a band for that segment of the world. It is putatively some form of black metal, but compositionally is heavy metal with additions of all sorts of odd sounds and different riff types. Then if you missed the memo, they’re going to screech at you full volume and have cheesy dramatic song structure changes to emphasize that Something Is Happening Here, when in fact nothing is. As the song ends, you’ll note that it came back to the exact same place where it started. Not a restatement of theme in a new context, but literally, the same stuff after a distracting middle. It’s like window shopping; see the world without having to adapt at all. And correspondingly, it’s both hollow and annoying.

finnrs_cane-a_portrait_painted_by_the_sunFinnr’s Cane – A Portrait Painted by the Sun

This is a nice little emo album, but as this isn’t a punk site (although we support hardcore punk, which is a different genre from generic radio punk a/k/a “punk rock”) there’s no interest. It’s time to drop labels like shoegaze and blackdrift and call this what it is, which is late-1980s and early-1990s style emo. The same dissonant chord progressions, rhythms, vocal inflections, atmospheres, even song topics and naming conventions persist, with nothing new added. There’s a little aesthetic tweaking, but not enough to conceal what’s here. There is zero metal, and zero black metal, in this release. Other than that, it’s OK, I guess, but all these bands sound the same. What, how can you say that, that’s intolerant! you spit. Yes, but the fact is that there’s just not much musical variation between songs by the same band or bands that share this genre (emo). That’s why emo is so popular with record labels and unemployed musicians alike. If you master a few techniques, it’s really easy to do and you’ll sound about like your heroes. That is, before you get a job at a management consulting firm, take out the piercings and hide the tattoos and get on with your self-pitying prole-drone cubicle-bound life as an average citizen of the modern state.

manii-kollapsManii – Kollaps

Utterly boring “depressive-suicidal” black metal from the original Manes personel. While the unsettling open-string dissonance and vocal performance is the same, the music remains in one fixed tempo throughout what could be variations on one song. Aside from the aesthetic reversion towards this band’s original sound, the music is more in line with the commercial nature of the later electronica/alt-rock Manes in spirit. As a result, this could be a Xasthur or Shining album and no one would tell the difference. The mystique is gone, replaced by the saccharine emotion one would expect from a depressive Marilyn Manson song.

Cryogen – Continuum

November 22, 2013 –

cryogen-continuumTwo revelations before listening to this: first, when I first got into music I thought talent and ability were rare; now I realize they’re commonplace, but the ability to apply them in some non-inert interesting way is rare. Second, that metalcore — the mix of metal genres in the post-hardcore style of “contrast without continuity” riffing — borrows almost everything it has from 1980s speed metal.

Cryogen offer us a highly musical take on metalcore with Continuum, which displays excellent playing abilities, clear songwriting aptitude, and even the rarer ability to present songs in such a way that they are not only emotionally engaging but create a sense of transition that is coherent and not just random emotional outbursts giving way to one another like the rants of officer workers on sitcoms.

What brought us metalcore? A fusion of Meshuggah and The Haunted. Both used speed metal as a basis, but broke down the metal structure of internal riff dialogue and replaced it with the post-hardcore notion that great contrast between riffs to the point of incoherence makes for a better song. What it does is emphasize deconstruction and isolation to the point where the listener’s attention span is destroyed, which makes it easier to compose this way since the requirements are much lower.

Cryogen is best when the speed metal peeks out, or even when the heavy metal parts emerge. With their technical skill, they could easily make a classic heavy metal album. Instead they insist on burdening themselves with surface complexity, which because it must cram in more diverse elements, requires the unifying elements of the song be simplified. The result is very basic chord progressions underlying a pile of textural depth and intensive variation, which means that when you drill down you find your father’s bouncy heavy metal riffs.

I wish this band would knock it off with trying to stay current, and just drift in the direction they clearly want to go, which is in the direction of the first Cynic album. Those songs actually held together, and the core of them was a complex sense of harmony leading to a flexibility in key transition that gave them elegance. Cryogen is sort of the opposite: a lot of styling that is ultimately held back by the musically simplistic core enforced on it by the burden of participating in the great metalcore trend.

Oblivion Called to Rise live stream and interview

November 1, 2013 –

oblivion-called_to_riseOf all the newer school bands out there, Oblivion struck us here at deathmetal HQ as one of the more imaginative ones.

It is clearly of the modern metal model, following the “great contrast” approach in riffing rather than the integrative nature of the old school, but it displays intense creativity and technical mastery. In addition, Oblivion seem to know how to make a song out of a musical idea and not devolve into randomness like so many of their contemporaries.

Other aspects of Called to Rise impressed us as well. There’s experimentation with sound on these tracks, a willingness to corrupt the metalcore “great contrast” riffing with some integrative ideas, and an adoption of classical forms, songs and approaches that pushes this album over the top.

Oblivion is a modern metal metal band to watch, and Call to Rise is an album that will surely stimulate some depth of discussion. We are thus fortunate here at DeathMetal.org to be able to both stream this album live, and present our interview with Oblivion’s Nick Vasallo:

What got you into metal?

I resisted Metal as long as I could. I was more of a punk rocker as a teenager, but I realized the awesomeness of Metallica’s “One” when it came out. During the double bass, palm-muted, open-E breakdown I was a secret admirer of metal. Seeing a band from Oakland called Eldopa (1332) sealed the deal. Then my good friend at the time (Ben Orum, who is now in Oblivion), turned me onto Death Metal. For this reason I still think Cannibal Corpse’s The Bleeding and Deicide’s Legion are the best albums from this genre.

As you grew into metal, what brought you to your current form? How did you all come together, and what types of music and ideas were influencing you at the time?

I formed Antagony with Ben, our best friend Carlos Saldana, and our late friend Jody Handy. We just wanted to create the heaviest, darkest music possible. We ended up creating something that was, in hindsight, very influential to other bands that came after us. I stepped away from music for a while, but had the urge to come back and write music that was more technically demanding on the musician and listener.

You’ve outlined a clear relationship between classical music and metal on this CD, with three string orchestra pieces and a cover of “Canon in E Minor.” What inspired you to write and cover these pieces?

I wanted listeners to hear that there is a direct parallel between these two musics. For instance, when the song “Multiverse” is initially presented it is a metal song because it is played by a metal band. In context we are stuck to this association. But when the song is reprised it is performed by a strong orchestra and we perceive it differently. Perhaps the complexities emerge because we now listen to it and look at it through a different lens.

Do you think metal and classical share anything in common?

YES, they do. I have written about this subject extensively and I hope it is okay that I direct readers to my writings here: http://nickvasallo.com/#!papers/ccca

Where did you guys get your technical chops? Are you professionally trained musicians?

I don’t like the term “professionally” trained. There are some musicians I know that have never taken up formal music training, but can play better than someone that has been trained since they were a toddler. Every musician picks up something from another. That is how music was taught originally. But to answer the question, yes – Luis and I have been trained academically. Everyone else has either taken guitar lessons with a talented musician and/or learned in from playing with a multitude of other talented musicians.

Can you tell us how you got the distortion on your guitars? Are you using pedals, processors, virtual amps, amplifier settings or a combination of the above?

We use tube amps with distortion. Ted is sponsored by Rhodes, Ben by ENGL.

Do you think metal is evolving? Where do you think it’s going?

Yes, Metal is evolving. And it better evolve or it will stagnate and die! Most bands stagnate and eventually die. Movement is necessary to encourage growth and progress. I don’t know where Metal is going. If it follows the same pattern, it will continue to find avenues of transgression. Only to revert back to its fundamentals one day, searching for truth.

What’s next for Oblivion? Will you be touring, and/or writing new material?

Begin writing our second album.

If you could ask fans to do one thing in order to understand your music, what would it be?

Put your phone away, put your internet away, and give your undivided attention. Listen carefully…

Do you think metal fans are open-minded or closed-minded or somewhere in between?

A paradox of open minded close-mindedness.

Now that you’ve completed this massive work of complex metal, what’s the next challenge for you as songwriters?

Evolving.

Dialogue with a reader

August 20, 2013 –

An interested reader wrote in, and so we continue our discussion of whether modern metal is important at all, and whither the future of metal.

So, metal music is over? Or do you that have a big journey to happen?

No, it’s not over. It needs to find new content. Its form is a refinement of its original form, and it can be refined further, but not by hybridizing it with other genres. Jazz-metal is dead, math-metal is dead, blues-metal is dead, indie-metal is dead, alt-metal is dead because these were always old and tired ideas. Alternative rock is punk mixed with 1980s indie rock. It’s self-pity music. Indie metal is emo and Fugazi mixed with d-beat and black metal. Post-metal is just slowed down indie metal. All of this music sounds more like Nirvana, Jawbreaker, Fugazi, Rites of Spring, etc. than metal. All of that stuff was born dead. What’s alive is the metal spirit. From Black Sabbath through Judas Priest through Slayer through Incantation through Immortal, it’s a continuum. Metal has just finally left rock behind with death/black metal and it needs to continue that transformation. It needs to finally become its own musical language entirely separate from everything else.

What is your opinion about mathcore (Botch, Converge)?

It’s an extension of late hardcore. Black Flag “The Process of Weeding Out” is the grandfather, and they ran it through the Fugazi filter. Neurosis was a better direction but the people who’ve cloned that don’t understand what Neurosis was on about. They can imitate the music, not understand the soul.

And what will happen with the black metal genre?

It died in 1996. Since then, with maybe five exceptions, the new bands have been imitators. Their goal is to make music that’s like black metal on the surface, but like regular indie rock underneath, so they can sell it to the kids for weekend rebellion but not so much that it sets them off-course and they can’t return to school, jobs, watching TV and voting for idiots during the week.

What will happen with metal? It’s over? There new things to create?

See the first question. “Big journey” is more true than “over.”

Is nu/alt/indie metal at the same level of quality as old school underground death metal?

August 19, 2013 –

A reader writes:

Do you think the new underground waves bands like Cryptopsy are good like the old school bands. Or do you think that death metal is the only good option?

The new school metal has not, so far, come close to what the older death metal was able to do.

I don’t think this is stylistic, so much that people are thinking about different things. When you think about things like death metal, the big topics in life like death and justice and war, you are able to make death metal (complex thoughts). When you think about yourself, who are you gonna party with and what your parents are doing that you don’t like, you end up with nu-metal, metalcore, indie metal and other new-wave underground metal band types.

Nu/Alt/Indie metal honors its origins in late 1980s Dischord bands, Fugazi included

August 17, 2013 –

strangelight-9_daysStrangelight, a new nu/alt-metal/indiemetal/metalcore/drone band comprised of members of Made Out Of Babies, Thursday, Red Sparowes, Pigs, United Nations, Goes Cube, Mussels and Kiss It Goodbye, will release its debut EP 9 Days on October 1, 2013 on Brooklyn hipster label Sacrament Music.

Written and recorded at vocalist Brendan Tobin’s own Ice Cream Audio in Brooklyn, New York in just nine days (hence the title), 9 Days aims to be a low-pretense version of the music presently in vogue in the hybrid metal/indie scene.

While their past and current bands share little in common, Strangelight — comprised of Tobin, Cooper, Kenneth Appel, John Niccoli and Geoff Rickly — focuses on the modern indie/metal hybrid ideal of jarring music that is also melancholic and self-indulgent.

But here’s where it gets interesting. The press release reveals the roots of indie/metal:

Drawing heavily upon DC visionaries, Amphetamine Reptile destroyers and Touch & Go noisemakers and named in honor of a track off Fugazi’s last record, The Argument, STRANGELIGHT offers up all the signature makings of an early ’90s Dischord band

DeathMetal.org has consistently offered up the idea that post-Minor Threat band Fugazi, along with Rites of Spring and Jawbreaker, provided the post-punk basis to all modern metalcore, drone, nu-metal, alt-metal, indie metal and tek-deth.

It’s good to see that a band such as Strangelight, which contains influences from foundations of the nu-indie-metal scene such as Red Sparowes, Pigs, United Nations, Goes Cube, Mussels and Kiss It Goodbye, in addition to more recent offerings Out Of Babies and Thursday, acknowledges this fundamental influence.

9 Days Track Listing:

  1. Split And Divide
  2. Mosh Party
  3. High Five Hailstorm
  4. Tiers Of Joy
  5. Xmas
  6. White Feather