After parting ways with Carcass following the completion of Heartwork, the Swede Michael Amott embarked on his own project called Arch Enemy. Stigmata is the non-sell-out sibling of that last reviled/worshiped Carcass album in which Amott participated in. Starting out with Johan Liva barking in the vocal department, this was a far cry from the embarrassingly audience-pleasing act this band later became.
While most so-called melodic death metal acts, including later Arch Enemy, following in the footsteps of Carcass’ last album (Swansong should have been kept by Bill Steer for private use) produce clear, straight-up pop verse-chorus with riffs and solos in the manner of the most mainstream 1980s metal. Sticking out from the crowd, Stigmata explores different song structures, and different ratios between Swedeath Carnage-style riff sections and those which are direct references to 1980s melodic metal. Michael Amott presents us here, in this still underground release, the best of his ideas in their most sincere (though not optimal) form.
Symptomatic of the middle-age crisis that underground metal went through in the mid 1990s, Stigmata shows a sincere desire to produce solid, thought-out metal music, but its motivation and direction is misplaced in nostalgia-driven emulations of the past rather than a forward vision. This was the end of metal’s own romantic era. Metal artists’ general illiteracy in art could give no rise to a counterpart to the 20th century modernist classical music (perhaps Obscura was an exception?) and it went straight to post-modernist pandemonium shortly after the turn of the century.
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.
The phenomenon of #MetalGate expands as social justice warriors (SJWs) find themselves on the defensive, so they have retaliated with their favorite accusation: “There’s no issue here!” They want you to believe that #MetalGate was drummed up in response to “just two lines” in a SPIN article.
In their spin (no pun intended) metalheads and #GamerGate veterans formulated this whole situation out of pure hype, despite these being only a few of the articles written to try to shepherd metal into bowing down, becoming sociable, adopting the dominant paradigm of its age, and in other words becoming like everything else in media and music in its endorsement of an agenda favored by some people but not most metal fans: 123456789101112. These are just a sampling of the many articles written about metal and how it is either bad and terrible because it is not PC, or how now that it has become focused on “social issues” — generally something only grindcore bands do — that it is OK for normal, soft, fluffy and well-intentioned people to like it, but only the good bands with the right opinions. You know, the opinions like those of the 1960s bands that metal rebelled against in the first place!
Now let’s look at those “just two lines” again:
Metal is still dogged by the issues that arise from its deep-seated conservative values, but thanks to an increase in conversations about racism, politics, and feminism, those on the right side of history have gained solid ground.
Two-line statements have launched wars, ended careers and brought down economies. The question is the content of those lines, and in those words the writer tells us that metal is conservative, conservative is bad, and thus metal is bad, and that metal is on “the wrong side of history” if it does not start immediately making its focus creating propaganda (and let’s be fair: preachy lyrics are propaganda) about “racism, politics, and feminism.” This assumes that metal has not addressed these issues in the past and found another way of addressing the underlying issues. When the writer at SPIN says that metal needs to adopt these issues, she means that metal needs to preach the dogma she agrees with and abandon its own take on these issues. For political fanatics, framing of the issues is everything, and they frame those issues so that their conclusions are the only ones you can reach.
What we have here, as in #GamerGate, is a small group of people who — being inclined toward media and pop music — have infiltrated the metal scene and are trying to use it to preach their own propaganda. Metal already has its own way of addressing all these issues. We do not need to be bullied into agreeing with this small group of SJWs who contribute nothing but commentary and support only the “new” metal bands which are most emphatically not the classics of the genre, nor in the views of many of us anywhere near the quality of the classics. But these bands have the “right” opinions, you see, and for these fanatics, that is all that matters. Their latest attempts to minimize #MetalGate are just an attempt to distract and deflect from that reality, but they have picked the wrong group to attack, because metalheads specialize in unpleasant realities that socially pretentious people would like to avoid.
Had Sepultura taken this direction instead of the path they chose on Chaos A.D., they would have receded into rock history as legends and not warmed-over attempts at former glory that got swallowed by their attempts to popularize a form of music that is inherently against all things dictated by popularity and illusion in the heart of the individual.
As every write-up on this band will tell you, Les Tambours du Bronx are a sort of Blue Man Group from New York whose shtick is to have a dozen men banging on samizdat percussion instruments, most visually impressive when made from 55-gallon drums and malleted with baseball bats. Like Crash Worship, on whose fame they surely predicate their own but with an intent for a more public spectacle, Les Tambours du Bronx put on a show that is as much visual as audial. They team up with Sepultura, playing its crowd favorites from Chaos A.D. onward into the post-Max years. The result shows a great deal of promise that with a nudge it might live up to.
To make this a great release, they would have dropped the vocals and given Andreas Kisser more time lacing his lead guitar through the riffs like a jazz player covering an old standard in a new interpretation. They might have allowed Sepultura to do what they do best, which is to write a string of ear-snagging riffs in a riff salad that nonetheless makes sense, and let the rhythm of Les Tambours du Bronx carry the songs entirely. This would have given the music an intense ritual air with primal undertones that belong to no tradition and fuse the modern with the energy of antiquity. Instead, as usual, there are too many chefs stirring the pot, or as it might be said for metal music, too many influences warring for dominance. Random industrial noises and squeals, the ranting pseudo-death vocals of Derrick Green and other attempts to impose rock-style song structure onto this open jam limit its power.
Since leaving speed/death metal behind, Sepultura have sought a way to become a Ramones for heavy metal, playing simple riffs that unite a carnival crowd and bring people to a point of energetic focus. Similarly, the style of percussion on this album creates a massive feeling of unison especially as it internally deviates from the archetypal rhythms it sets up for the audience to follow. Together these make for a spectacle, but the musical intensity is not here mainly owing to the lack of focus on the Sepultura side. Instead of trying to use outside forces to accent their own music, they should adapt their music to complement those forces and through mutuality, achieve something new. Metal Veins: Alive at Rock in Rio as a live album makes for dubious listening owing to the muddy sound, but with this being basically a “we’re different” stunt using nu-Sepultura in unchanged form, it offers little for repeat listens.
Most metalheads know the name Dallas Toler-Wade from Nile, the modern metal band that dropped static riffing and late-1970s guitar rock structures into death metal and paved the way for a new generation of hybrids and mythological themes in metal. However, before Nile, Toler-Wade created music with his cohorts in the band that has become Narcotic Wasteland.
Narcotic Wasteland, which just released its self-titled debut album, picks up with an even more modern style which resembles the deathcore/percussive death metal mix that Suffocation shifted to around the turn of the millennium. Its emphasis is more on memorable songs than spurious guitarplay. We talked to Toler-Wade to find out more.
You’ve just launched an entirely new project, Narcotic Wasteland. How does the style of this band differ from the band you are quite well-known for, Nile?
This band musically is getting back to the things I was writing before I joined Nile. Now you will here some similarities in some of the musical ideas, but that’s part of the reason I was interested in trying out for Nile back in 1997 to begin with.
Do you think death metal is still relevant in a time of modern metal?
I think that all music that comes from the heart with the intention of connecting to other people will always be relevant to like minded people.
What spurred you on to create Narcotic Wasteland, and how did you choose your fellow musicians?
I had these ideas brewing for quite some time. When I am home one of the things I do most is record ideas. As far as the lyrical ideas for Narcotic Wasteland I really had some things to get off my chest. I have lost a lot of friends over the years to hard drugs, and I just had this confusion, anger, and sadness boiling in my stomach that I needed to purge. But not all of the songs are about this. I don’t think any band should be limited to just one subject. they should be able to do whatever they want.
As far as the musicians that make up Narcotic Wasteland I knew I really wanted to jam with my long time friend Edwin Rhone again. We worked very well together in the past, and the sound of our hands are very similar. Edwin is a great songwriter and player as well. Edwin recommended Chris Dupre for bass and vocals. Chris is very creative, and he totally fits the sound of the music. It was really hard to find a drummer with the right style. it took a couple years, but George Kollias recommended Erik Schultek for the drums, and once again the style really fit great.
All of the guys are super cool, super talented, hard working musicians. I really think the next release with all of our heads together will make an even better record.
It sounds like you’ve gone for a more explosive production sound. How did you achieve this, and how happy were you with how the album as a whole turned out, production-wise?
I am very happy with the way this record came out. I did not want it too polished, just tight and clear with not too much flash. I did not want to put just another squeaky metal album out there. I wanted it to have attitude, and sometimes things get so clean the aggression gets mixed right out. After all it’s metal as long as you can hear everything then people will be able to hear the ideas.
Is Narcotic Wasteland a conceptual band? Or is this first album conceptual, and will you be doing something unlike that for other albums?
I really feel we have created something kind of different. I think we will only expand on what we have already created.
Every time I see the Narcotic Wasteland logo (of some intoxicating white powder cut into the letters of the name) I am both stunned and intrigued. Why did you go with this logo, as opposed to a “traditional” death metal style logo? Did you make it yourselves with physical powder?
I wanted the logo readable for sure. There are too many bands out there with non-readable logos. I thought it would be something heavy and real that deals with real topics. It’s death metal, and when you look at that logo it’s like looking death in the eye.
Heavy metal has always been somewhat apocalyptic. Does your music address a collapse in process (as society or at least parts of it devolve into narcotic wastelands) or are you speaking from after the collapse, telling us how to rebuild, or something else?
I think that we are living in a Narcoitc Wasteland, and yes it is causing people not only death, but financial ruin, and also people with addiction problems cause anguish for their friends and family.
Your songs are technical but not extraneously so. What guided you in composing these tracks? What effect did you hope to have on the listener?
No matter what kind of song I’m writing I really just want to connect with the listener. I have gotten messages from lots of people saying that it really hit them in the heart. For me that’s what it’s all about, and metal has always been strong emotionally.
You’ve got your debut album out and seem to be selling it at a fast clip from the website. What’s next? Are you seeking more label interest, touring, or composing new material?
We would love to play shows. As far as labels — sure why not? — but we really want to see how far we can push it on our own steam for now. The more work we do ourselves the less anyone else will need to do. So far we have done everything in house from the recording, songs, video, and website. I think it’s very important for a band to be as hands-on as they can with everything. And yes we are already working on the next release.
According to your biography, Narcotic Wasteland seems like a continuation of a musical partnership that began before you joined Nile. How does it feel to be back, and how has your music changed in the intervening years?
It is great to be working with Edwin Rhone again. I always thought we made a great guitar team. I think we have all grown musically over the years. And music will almost always change as long as you keep learning the craft. I just want to be a better writer and player for any band I am part of.
Tom G. Warrior is a relentless innovator and amazing composer. As he details in his book Only Death is Real: An Illustrated History of Hellhammer he grew up in an abusive, uncertain environment within a broken home. He also grew up in “perfect” Switzerland, a place that has more rules than people. These events shaped his personality or rather, the limitations that are still imposed upon it.
What happened was that young Tom G’s ego was crushed and doubt was introduced into his mind. Doubt about the purpose of life, or even his own life. Doubt of self-worth. Fear that at any moment he might find himself without a justification for existing, and be truly discarded and alone. That’s a heavy load for a young person to carry, but the sequential success of Hellhammer and then Celtic Frost lifted Tom out of it. It also pushed aside a healing process.
When Celtic Frost evaporated, Tom launched on a series of attempts to find popularity again, but on his own terms. First, his highly inventive industrial music, and later, attempts to be contemporary. The latest two are below, and they are marked by a duality: a great underlying talent, desperately attempting to ingratiate itself with newer metal audiences. Like all things that do not take a clear direction, they are thus lost on both fronts.
This is not a hit piece on Tom G Warrior. Like many metalheads, I hold him in the highest regard. He is one of the great innovators and farseeing minds in metal. However, his tendency to try to adapt to what is current shows what is currently happening in metal: in a dearth of ideas, the genre is recombining past successes that represent the culmination of earlier genres, and is trying to recapture its lead by offering a buffet of different influences. But alas, like the music of Triptykon, these forays are lost causes.
Currently a morass of subgenre names exist. We can call it metalcore, or modern metal, or math metal, or tech-deth, or even djent, but all of it converges on a single goal: to make a form of that great 1980s speed metal — Metallica, Anthrax, Testament, Exodus, Nuclear Assault — that used choppy riffs made up of muted chords to encode complex rhythms into energetic songs. To that, the modern metal bands have added the carnival music tendency to pick entirely unrelated riffs to add variety, the grooves of later speed metal, and the vocals and chord voicings of late hardcore and its transition into emo.
What this represents is not a direction, but lack of one. By combining all known successes from late in these subgenres, modern metal is picking up where the past left off before death metal and black metal blew through and rewrote the book. The problem is that making music that is intense like those underground genres is difficult, and even more, unmarketable. It approaches the issues in life that most of us fear, like mortality and failure in the context of powerlessness and meaninglessness, and thus presents a dark and obscure sound that makes us uncertain about life itself. Like Tom G Warrior living through a shattered marriage of his parents and a society too concerned with order to notice its own boredom and misery, black metal and death metal shatter stability and replace it with alienated existential wandering.
On the other hand, late punk offered ideological certainty and heavy doses of emotion. Late speed metal, which Pantera cooked up out of heaping doses of Exhorder, Prong and Exodus, offers a groove and a sense of a party on the wild side. Inserting bits of death metal, especially its technical parts, and some of the frenetic riffing of Discordance Axis allows these bands to create a new kind of sound. But at its heart, this music is still speed metal. Where death metal played riff Jenga and put it all together in a sense that told a story, modern metal is based in variety and distraction. It exists to jar the mind, explore a thousand directions, and without coming to a conclusion ride out in the comforting emulation of the chaos of society around it.
But at its heart, these bands are speed metal. Like Triptykon who revitalize the E-string noodling and riff texture of more aggressive speed metal bands, with the bounce of Exodus and the groove of Pantera, these bands offer a smorgasbord combined into one. They mix in melodic metal, derived from what Sentenced and later Dissection made popular, to give it a popular edge. However, what they’re really doing is regressing to a mean. This has happened in metal before, when mid-1970s bands recombined Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath into rock-style metal, and in the mid-1980s when glam metal did the same thing but mixed in the gentler sounds of late 1970s guitar rock bands. When metal loses direction, it recombines and comes up with a mellower, less threatening version of itself.
All of this is well and good if we do one single but difficult thing: recognize that what we’re listening to now is a dressed-up version of what metal and punk were doing in the late 1980s. We’re walking backward in history, away from that scary underground death metal and black metal, and looking toward something less disturbing and more fun at parties. It seems no one has come out and said this, so I figured it must be said. Enjoy your weekend.
Norwegian black metal band Mayhem have released the first side of their upcoming single, entitled “Psywar.” At 3.5 minutes it shows the band continuing their foray into modern extreme metal aesthetics.
The track starts out with palm-muted tremolo picking, which shares more with simplistic death metal than the band’s history of black metal. The verse begins with shouted vocals, with the guitar riff beginning to incorporate modern black metal’s ambiguous arpeggiated aesthetics; which then over-take the track in a short breakdown section, consisting of needling treble notes and “profound” whispered vocals. The track then goes back into action with rather standard modern black metal minor chord strumming, before a short homage back to basic death metal which concludes the track. In short, formulaic and predictable, though it is put together well and probably will garner the band financial reward.
Mayhem was noteworthy for its foundational role in shaping the Norwegian black metal scene. Although a few other bands may have had a more prodigious output, the role provided by the band in organizing the metal scene and the strength of its De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas album cemented the band’s legendary status.
For those who are intrigued by what’s presented on this single, but wish to hear the band in its former higher state, visit our Mayhem review archive here.
Ex-Celtic Frost guitarist and compose Tom G. Warrior releases the second album of his Triptykon project, Melana Chasmata (“dark valleys”) on April 14 in Europe and April 15 in the USA through Century Media Records/Prowling Death Records Ltd.
This follows up on the first Triptykon album, Eparistera Daimones, which introduced the modern speed metal (think Pantera or a more artistic and slower Meshuggah) style mixed with Gothic and doom metal elements that so far has characterized the band.
The album will clock in at 67 minutes of music and will feature an HR Giger cover. Century Media has planned several special releases including a box set and a single on vinyl to commemorate the album. The band has recorded additional music to be released as an EP or mini album later in 2014 or early in 2015.
Nile guitarist Dallas Toler-Wade has unveiled his new project Narcotic Wasteland with the debut of their self-titled album today and the release of a sample song, “Shackles of Sobriety.”
Based on this song, it’s clear the album comes from the modern metal camp and not the death metal camp. It starts with an impressive melodic metal introduction, then drops into the trademark of modern metal, which is Pantera-influenced vocals leading the guitars, reversing the classic death metal formula. Thus most of what you hear is vocal rhythm with guitar keeping constant texture on the backdrop, not guitar leading and vocals filling in secondary texture as all the best death metal bands did.
This creates a “rant effect” which makes me want to scream “Are you talkin’ to me?” at the screen. Behind this during verses is an updated version of the type of lead-picked speed metal riff that might have gone on a Forbidden, Anacrusis or Coroner album back in the day. Then for the chorus, we switch to similar vocal rhythms over a more percussive death metal riff which leads in to remnants of the melodic introduction. That in turn leads to a high-speed guitar solo which borrows obliquely from jazz technique but tends to do so in a throwaway style as if the solo was more there to occupy a necessary space than to serve a musical role. Then repeat and fade away.
“Shackles of Sobriety” is part of a concept album about drug addiction. Apparently Toler-Wade and friends live in a neighborhood blighted by people getting strung out and being dysfunctional, and decided to put it to comedic use by styling it as a narcotic wasteland. All humor at the over the top but prescient reference aside, there’s legitimacy to their gripe. Most of America and Europe are strung out at least on alcohol, and the result is massive dysfunction everywhere. This has been consistent since at least 1959 when William S. Burroughs wrote his epic Naked Lunch, where everybody has some vice, and some have more than enough.
While I applaud this effort by DTW and friends, I still can’t get jazzed for either Nile or this because I am a death metal fan. Nile sounds on the surface like death metal, but it uses harmonically static riffs and keeps them in standard verse-chorus positions most of the time, which obliterates the riff-leading composition used by death metal bands. Most of their stuff more resembles speed metal, as does this modern metal offering.
Of 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?
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?