Tough guy empowerment activist and former heroin addict Phil Anselmo has formed a new extreme metal “supergroup.” Scour features members of metalcore and post-hardcore bands Pig Destroyer, Cattle Decapitation, Decrepity Birth, and Animostiy. Anselmo claims they play “predominantly, in my ear, modern-ish black metal sounding, thrashy black metal type stuff.” All underground metal fans can do is wait and hear if former Pantera frontman is describing randomized first wave black metal with breakdowns, the Britney Spears black metal exemplified by Aura Noir slowed down, or Gothenburg melodeaf influenced metalcore with nu-metal vocals.
When I first became aware of this recording, I figured the obvious points of comparison would be Mercyful Fate for spawning the eponymous duo of this act, and Satan because that word was in this album’s title. Those comparisons have turned out to be less appropriate than initially expected – Satan’s Tomb draws more from recent mainstream heavy/power metal than either of those two. It’s not enough to separate them entirely from this comparison, but those expecting the second coming of Don’t Break The Oath are going to walk away disappointed for more reasons than they might expect.
What we have here is an arguably “darker” recording. There are a few overtures towards Denner and Shermann’s past in Mercyful Fate, like the harmonized guitar leads at the beginning of the title track, but musically, the members pull more on techniques popularized after the early ’80s, creating guitar sounds from a more dissonant, chromatic, abrasive source, as if the band had occasionally listened to more extreme works and allowed a tinge of their riffing style to seep in at crucial moments. The vocals also adopt a different style – Sean Peck relies on strained screams with little in the way of falsetto to make his presence known. Oddly enough given this approach, his vocals are not the prime attraction – I would go as far as to say he is subordinate to the guitarists despite his attempts to sing over them. Regardless of style, Satan’s Tomb does fairly well on the instrumental front, showing better technique and a good use of microvariation and riff diversity within its style.
The main flaw of this album is that its songwriting is particularly haphazard. One thing Denner/Shermann consistently draws from its musicians’ past is an emphasis on complicated song structures. The band members try to recapture some of this, but songs here consistently suffer from organizational problems, including one particularly ill-planned coda at the end of “War Witch”. Without anything to properly glue together more obvious transitions, songs here listen like a heap of unrelated samples, which is amusingly similar in effect to the band’s promotional trailer. More conventionally structured songs like the title track don’t suffer to this degree, but the album wouldn’t necessarily be better if it were more simply shaped. Ultimately, we’re left with a somewhat ambitious, but flawed effort – while the rest of the album is otherwise acceptable or better, structural weaknesses are, as a rule, simply too great to ignore.
I think I missed this band’s big moment in the limelight. By the time I became aware of underground metal in any fashion, they’d already received a lot of flak for not playing the same style of vaguely neoclassical themed pop melodeath that they started their career with, and I steered my musical inquiries away. Apparently they’ve metamorphosed into some sort of bizarre fusion of such with overt Pantera style groove party rock, which sounds like an obvious awful, misguided idea that even the more mainstream-leaning metalheads would reject out of hand. That I Worship Chaos often juxtaposes various styles of former pop metal tends to support this hypothesis.
Underneath everything it carelessly throws at the listener, I Worship Chaos is not very artfully written. Like most pop music, it’s vocally driven, and like most pop music that adopts metal technique and aesthetics, the vocals are monotonous; in this case, they’re locked into a mid-range shriek with little in the way of timbral or rhythmic variation. The other band members are aren’t shackled to the same degree, so they take advantage of it by performing riffs and patterns reminiscent of many other previously commercially successful subgenres. Nuclear Blast probably has it down to a science – “Add a long breakdown here, and some stop-start riffing in the middle of this one song, and maybe one noisy solo after that, and we’ll earn 38% more tour ticket sales per album purchase” levels of formula that don’t exactly make for intelligent songwriting.
As a reader, you’re probably not looking for what is essentially a carnival of warmed over old pop metal and probably would avoid Children of Bodom’s latest even without our criticism. However, I Worship Chaos also fails in comparison to other recent pop metal albums. The fact it throws so many cliches at the listener (like rotting fruit) is bad enough, but the brickwalled production won’t do it any favors, either. Although it’s far from the worst example of such I’ve heard recently, the fact that the band attempts to have some dynamics (even if only by alternating obvious fast songs with obvious ballads) renders it unfitting. It does pass the major label litmus test of being otherwise competently performed and produced, but skilled musicians playing banal parts have never been on the menu here at DMU, and such does not save the band members from my displeasure.
Interview video sourced from Metal Wani
The legacy of Suffocation continues, at least in some form, as the band is currently writing material for a new album, possibly to come out some time in 2016 if all goes well. Suffocation’s recent works have lacked the strong organization of their 1990s peak, and it seems unlikely that this one will be a significant improvement. However, a fiscally successful album release may lead to a new cycle of touring, and possibly a chance for our readers to see the band perform some of their old classics in a live setting. An actual review of the as-of-yet unnamed album will probably show up on this site closer to its release date.
Inspired by the buzzing Boss pedals of the Swedish death metal scene (and even featuring a cover of a track by Grave), Bloodstrike from Colorado has announced that their full length debut In Death We Rot will be released to the public on September 25th. Samples suggest a fairly basic, hardcore punk inflected recording that might come in handy at house parties. The band released the following press statement:
Combining the putrid licks & groove of early 90s Stockholm with the dark and cryptic delivery of early 90s death metal in the Midwestern United States, Denver, Colorado’s Bloodstrike are showing us what it means to truly redefine darkness with their first full length LP. Grave, Entombed, Dismember with a smattering of Bolt Thrower and early Obituary are all present here, so If you are searching for an old school sound in 2015, Bloodstrike is the answer.
After a head spinning (and splattering) demo in 2014, the quintet of metal veterans (having spent time in Silencer, Moth, and Havok to name a few) will not stop until the piles of rotten bodies their brand of death metal harvests, blot out the sun. If you prefer the ominous and rawer end of the death metal spectrum rather than what many of today’s studio wiz kids have to offer than look no further, Bloodstrike will be the best addition to your hall of suffering!!
Ryan Alexander Bloom | Drums
Artwork courtesy of the legendary Mark Riddick
“Soulless” written by Grave & released by Century Media Records 1994.
In one of the greatest misfiles of the 21st century, Krallice was labeled a sort of black metal band despite not even trying to ape the style on even the most basic level. Maybe there’s a few seconds that perfunctorily resemble the sort of chaotic ‘avant-garde’ black metal of a Deathspell Omega or whatever the kids are listening to these days. Krallice pulls more on the lengthy tradition of post-black – playing anything so long as you’re insistent that you’re beyond the juvenilia of the genre and/or that you’re pushing its musical and ideological boundaries. As a result, Ygg Hurr showcases every idea that Krallice’s members must have thought was even marginally cool, without any cohesive logic or anything in the way of quality filtering. Six Sigma this is not.
Every second of Ygg Hurr takes on a different meter, rhythm, tempo, tonality, and so forth. The band members definitely paid attention in their musical theory classes, and attempting to dissect any of the songs here would certainly yield a plethora of technical terms describing these tracks down to the note. It bears noting that compared to many other albums in similar styles, Krallice does not back up this writhing mess with unconventional instrumentation. That they stick to standard rock instrumentation makes this album less of a headache than it might be otherwise, but it further reveals weak production that probably caused a few executives at Profound Lore to tug at their collars. Outside of the record industry, its lack of intensity or at least atmosphere simply makes it even harder to take seriously as a “black metal” album. Calling it mathcore or “progressive” rock might make for more fruitful marketing, but ultimately, Krallice lacks the compositional range to pass for good examples of either.
Ironically, Krallice approaches flatness from the opposite approach of I usually hear. Instead of dwelling on one simplistic idea for an enormous quantity of time, Krallice abandons all their previous concepts like clockwork because it’s already time for the next riff. Constant change unmediated by anything resembling discipline makes for a particularly pseudorandom take on droning boredom, but it’s boredom none the less. This is stunningly reminiscent of the “horseshoe theory” in political science, which states that extreme political leftness and rightness converge more than expected. I don’t actually know or particularly care about any political goals of Krallice (At this point, it’s safer to assume there aren’t any), but my interest in history and especially its political aspects predisposes me to make such a comparison. The ensuing product is as bland as its musically simpler counterparts.
I really need to brush up on my mathematics so I can make a proper reference to deterministic chaos and attractors, but even without such a metaphor it should be apparent that Krallice’s music isn’t very well thought out. They favor what sounds experimental when their time would be better spent taking some of the ideas on display and developing them.
Beginning with an interesting melodic progression, picked on an acoustic guitar and accompanied by background noises of synthesized chords and muffled mechanical noises, the title track and introduction to Le Triomphe du Charnier suggests a world of underlying mystery and danger. After a noisy segue into the second track, we find that, not surprisingly, the music of Funeste is hardly acoustic guitar-oriented. Dual-guitar distorted riffs are constructed like a highway for heavy traffic, as one guitar militantly plugs away at a rhythm and sticks to one chord while the second guitar plays a melody that races along the foundation of the first guitar, taking twists and turns in cycles before switching to a new course once the harmonic tension is exhausted and the low-register rhythm guitar changes chords and opens up new paths for the flightier second guitar to navigate. This “lead guitar over rhythm guitar” approach is hardly a novel one for metal or rock music but Funeste pulls it off elegantly and with a very natural (rather than formulaic and unimaginative) feel, as the best of the classic black metal acts (Emperor and Immortal come to mind) have done. Vocals appear at the proper moment, reverb-laden and rather indistinct phonetically-speaking, but serving a purpose (through the stretched-out screams that decay slowly) as each vocal line connects riffs either from beginning-to-end or through transitions, from end-to-beginning.
During the second track which is the first fully proper song, Funeste displays an adroit sense of how to piece together their songs smoothly without relying on any uniform structure. The first really outstanding riff involves a downward chromatic drop that loops a handful of times before giving in to a less-disorienting melodic progression. After the lyrics have been vocalized, the progression then reiterates the downward drop once more before charging into the “outro”, the riffs that lead the song to its conclusion. This method of structuring a song is also traditional of great black metal; play a riff (A) that leads into a harmonically related riff (B), eventually looping back to the original riff (A) before boldly rushing into a new melodic territory altogether with a new riff (C).
Funeste still make a handful of strange choices that may be chalked up to oversight on their part due to inexperience, or the choices may be conscious and intended to disorient the listener. Either way, there are some awkward transitions like a “bridge” near the end of the third track, Le Passager Invisible, which is made of strange background noises and a slowly plucked guitar melody with minimal percussive intervention. The band meanders lethargically through this segment for a while before abruptly breaking into a high-speed tremolo-picked riff that closes out the song. This is likely to disorient the listener since smooth transitions have been the norm up to this point, and something like a steady increase in tension would be expected as the band moved from a slow, clean-sounding section to a high-speed aggressive-sounding section. Instead, we as listeners are lead delicately along a cliff edge, allowed to take cautious glances over the side and, then, before getting a chance to really let the danger of our predicament sink in, booted clean off the ledge and dropped into freefall. While the effect is intense, it is not congruous with the smoothly-flowing nature of the rest of the song and serves as a “magic breaker” that snaps us out of our imagination and reminds us that we are only listening to a song, not experiencing a journey.
Further, there is a tendency for the musicians (in particular, the drummer) to suffocate the gripping melodies of the guitars with redundant ornamentation. The drums were apparently played by someone with a love of hip-hop-style grooves and amphetamines. While there is nothing inherently wrong with enhancing your drumming skills with amphetamines, this guy’s style often detracts from rather than enhances the melodies because he overplays the two drums that have the sharpest percussive attack – the snare and kick drum – in flailing, jolting beats that sometimes resemble overlong fills that draw most of the listener’s attention and end up leading nowhere. This is an unforgivable sin as it achieves the opposite effect of emphasizing the most important part of the music – the melody – by obfuscating the note changes. Imagine reading an engaging story, written with carefully-chosen words, but sprinkled randomly with periods, semicolons, parentheses, and ellipses. That is akin to the experience of listening to well-written music with intrusive drums. Still annoying but to a lesser degree, a guitar will sometimes break into a nonsensical stream of artificial harmonics or other obnoxious noise, but these fits are few and far between and don’t detract so much from melody as just add some uncalled-for ornamentation.
Beyond musicianship alone, Funeste have added too many background “found sounds” or just strange digitally-manipulated noises that add nothing to the “atmosphere”, which I assume was the reasoning behind adding these extra layers. There are two reasons why this is bad:
1. The riffs that are more harmonically sparse lose their dynamic capacity from being drenched in washes of amelodic background noise, and begin to sound even denser than the full-on blasting sections.
2. It makes the band seem underconfident in their ability to let the melody carry itself and express emotion, mood, thought, sense, experience, which the melody is perfectly capable of doing if just given some breathing room.
Much of the time, new bands (particularly those trying to play black metal) try to get away with being so simplistic that they sound like a really stoned punk band that can’t count how many measures they’ve been through and end up making ten-minute songs out of the same two chord progressions. Others focus so much on “technicality” that they end up playing something like etudes for guitar wankers. Funeste is special for committing neither sin; they have given us some good melody-focused work here that will benefit from having the extraneous elements removed.
It is easy to recognize that this is a metalcore record. It is also easy for one to point out the problems in the music that arise as a result from the innate flaws of that genre. What is not easy is to understand are the developments that are taking place within some of the current tendencies of underground metal that bubble up even in bands with a metalcore background. From this origin Burial Vault attempts to build songs with strong sense of narrative, linking different sections smoothly with melody and consistent textures and using other devices on the meta-level rather than objective traits in the music structure to built a sort of soundtrack, a landscape to a story. All of this stands both in line and in contrast with the nature of their genre.
Many soundtracks being what they are, background ambience for stories, sometimes take the liberty to place incredibly disparate expressions to the point of incoherence in the music. As a background to the story, this supports the scene and is thus justified as a tool, a means to an end. But when we have music by itself, the music is not (or should not?) be a tool but rather the whole product itself. This is where music like late Dream Theater’s fails as music: it is only a background to a story. This is the pit where Burial Vault falls. In its impetus towards building a conceptual narrative, the concrete musical narrative is placed on a secondary level.
Following the precepts of metalcore, large portions of Unity in Pluralism move towards rhythmic hook introducing sharp contrasts that do not preserve the essence of motif-forms or themes. Even breakdowns with no reason to be except for fun make an appearance. The song-form is preserved and contrasting surprises are eventually placed in the place of priority. Song form is necessary for songs to maintain any semblance of coherence, by re-using ideas, lest they fall in near-total chaos and obliviousness to a coherent musical train of thought.
Going beyond the novel, Unity in Pluralism presents flashes of greatness that could be weaved into the fabric of a work that pushes metal forward. The future development of metal lies in its maturing, in its transcending the current subgenres and giving prominence to musical principles transcending both the adherence to cliche and the cult of novelty. Burial Vault have hinted at something, their sense as composers has guided them to stretch the boundaries of their constrictive genre but in preserving its aesthetics they are bound to the innate incoherence it is comprised of, balancing out the good in this album to make an interesting but ultimately overall wanting experience.
In a tug-of-war against the bases of their music, Burial Vault attempt, in some places, linking verse and bridge or solo sections by way of a smooth melodic transition that become almost imperceptible. In their most lucid moments, Burial Vault approach the aesthetics of a speed metal band with true progressive tendencies (that do not disregard consistency and coherence), but these are torn apart by the eventual advent of modern metal stuttering. The band would do well to take a hint from the likes of early The Chasm and bands they influenced like Cóndor (who have definitely a more whole work of art than the older band) from Colombia and the way they integrated metal into a true unity with different types of expression. But pluralism simply will not do. The work of art must be brought together under an over-arching principle that permeates the part, the whole and the relations.
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.
Control looks into the life of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, who committed suicide in 1980, through the eyes of his wife Deborah who wrote a book of her experience, Touching from a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division upon which the movie is based.
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.