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Thrones of Heresy – Realms of Desecration

July 9, 2013 –

thrones_of_heresy-realms_of_desecrationThe existence of modern death metal — the merging of multiple genres together and slapping the veneer of death metal over it should result in a product that does not appeal to any of the fans of the individual genres, as they will always have purer distillations of each type of metal available — fascinates me. Nevertheless, the genre exists and is evidently quite popular with someone, as numerous bands in the genre arise all the time and reach some measure of success.

Throne of Heresy is such a band, and is an able defender of this type of composition: any type of metal that has been popular over the past two decades is thrown into a blender and the result is a competent but stylistically confused product. Each section of the tracks is well-composed and well executed , though what’s lacking is any sense of purpose or meaning. The progenitors of each style of metal represented here had an intention behind their work, a desire to create art that is conspicuously absent on this EP.

Featuring a decidedly verse-chorus structure, the songs consist of tonally ambiguous palm-muted riffs morphing into admittedly catchy choruses that give way to whatever School of Metal technique is the flavor of the day: it could be a “melodic” solo, an awkward semi-clean breakdown, or perhaps even a key change. What makes these sectional divides even more jarring is that there is very little in the song to indicate when they are occurring, or indeed why they are occurring.

This is not to give the impression that there is nothing of merit occurring: the vocals on the whole are solid death metal belts, though on times they do take on the angry for the sake of being angry tinge that is ingrained in modern metal. Each of the instruments is composed and played well, but the lack of intention or drive that so characterizes modern metal creates an obstacle that cannot be overcome.

It seems to me that bands such as this are suffering from an identity crisis: they are trying to appeal to fans of every genre of metal. While this may be a sound financial decision, it is not a good artistic decision, which is a shame as there is definitely a core of talent to be explored here.

Impiety – The Impious Crusade

June 11, 2013 –

impiety-the_impious_crusadeWhen metal bands tire of the older styles that demand too much sense, they make something frenetic and use over-the-top vocals to tie it all together despite being random; that is why when metal ran out of ideas in the late 1990s it turned to metalcore. With The Impious Crusade, Impiety take this newer style and infuse it with some of the older style, producing something more deliberate than what we normally hear but within the chaotic styles of modern metal.

The result is equal parts late-1990s charging death metal, where riffs fit together in roughly circular fashion and hold together with pure momentum, and part a few experiments with borrowed items including speedy call and response between thunderous power chords and dissonant voicings, lead guitars that race through solos in an organic style reminiscent of early Vader, and Meshuggah-style sudden stop-start complex syncopation over two-note riffs.

The Impious Crusade delivers what makes Impiety great which is pure speed thrills with enough melody and textural context to remain interesting. Although it doesn’t reach the textural depth of older death metal, which can still incite some powerful moods, this MCD pounds out a gratifying high-intensity twenty minutes of ripping music that perverts modern metal into something more like the original death metal ideal.

Metalcore finally admits what it is: a grab bag of random parts

June 6, 2013 –

Bassist Craig Horky describes Cavalcade as “self-indulgent music nerds playing Cure-influenced, Fugazi-meets-Black Sabbath bastardization … in three different tunings — with black metal vocals.” Last year, the band even worked out an ‘80s dark New Wave cover set — not a typical move from a gang of headbangers. – Heavy Meta

Modern metal bands like to pretend they’re metal, but really they’re not. Like everything else in this society, they’re a bin of odds and ends because people are afraid of offending someone by leaving something out. The result is a total lack of direction, and this is why fans of modern metal are so adamant that their music is metal. If you point out that they’re listening to a musical garbage plate, it invalidates their whole worldview, which is to not pick a clear direction, to never take a stand, and to never find anything in life worth dying for. That would interrupt their all-important quest for personal authority, wealth and social relevance.

Blinded by Faith – Chernobyl Survivor

May 13, 2013 –

blinded_by_faith-chernobyl_survivorBlinded by Faith shape melodic metal out of the combined styles approach that The Haunted first used, complete with over-the-top vocals, and show an aptitude for writing fluid melodic riffs that don’t end up as saccharine floods of very similar patterns.

Chernobyl Survivor stands out for having these melodic patterns emerge from the otherwise chaotic stream of mixed-genre elements and dominating vocals. Within all of what’s going on, which is a lot of fast-fingered frenzied riffing in the style of technical metalcore bands like Ulcerate, what emerges is the ability that Blinded by Faith has to write melodies and then expand upon them. They also have a really good nose for rhythm and how to match riffs and rhythm to make a song.

The best bands to compare to Blinded by Faith are Ulcerate or Cosmogenesis-era Obscura, but Blinded by Faith appears to be pulling away from the strict metalcore approach that Obscura in particular has taken. I realize “metalcore” isn’t a definition and that most people refer to Ulcerate and Obscura as “tech-deth” bands. It’s an anti-definition, meaning stuff that uses metal riffs but isn’t metal, because it reflects how those riffs are put together. Metal bands use their riffs to glue each other together, commenting on each other and furthering evolution. Rock bands use riffs like foundations, as something to build upon with vocals and other instruments, and don’t expect them to comment on each other. In fact, they like them to be radically different for a sense of change, and rely on harmony (key, scale) to make them fit together. This is why all rock-based music with metal riffs is probably going to be metalcore, much like all rock-based music with punk riffs became post-hardcore and eventually developed all of the tropes we see in metalcore today. Blinded by Faith is reversing this metalcore tendency by making their metal riffs comment on each other, kind of like themes in 1950s musicals, but more intense!

This CD could be many things. Chernobyl Survivor could easily be made into an amazing power metal album. It has elements of the old (real) death metal as well, and could also go the other way and be a killer jazz-prog album like At War With Self. Right now, it’s searching for the next evolution of its voice somewhere in the middle of these.

On the whole, Blinded by Faith have put together an album that helps nudge this style closer toward figuring out who or what it is, which is good because the tech-deth/metalcore explosion is running out of steam. If they continue in this direction, they could claim a place in the next evolution of popular music and be recognized for their strength in writing melodic riffs.

Is this the end of all music?

May 12, 2013 –

eskimo_callboy-bury_me_in_fucking_vegasFriedrich Nietzsche posited that at the end of human times there would be a “last man” who cared for nothing other than immediate personal pleasure, and in this vapidity would banish civilization to the abyss.

I believe in metal we have found this moment through the work of “Eskimo Callboy.” This band are metalcore/electro crossover. I use the term metalcore to differentiate music from metal that, unlike metal which likes to string riffs together into a continuity creating atmosphere, likes to make abrupt contrast like “protest songs” do through its jarring, discordant and deconstructed melodic structure.

However, that’s just the start of the description. Metalcore means metal riffs without metal composition, but it’s basically a catch all into which we’ve dumped the last forty years of music: rock, rap, punk, post-punk, post-hardcore, techno and even disco. As if emphasizing this, the song below “Is Anyone Up” fits the disco pattern that techno appropriated, and works into it a second layer where verses are doubled with one double being played as straight metalcore, and the other being autotuned vocals in a club music setting.

What continually amazes me about mass culture products is how competent and diligent they are. Not even in the way that some bands, like Ara or De Profundis (both of whom are metalcore, which is sometimes called “modern metal” to hide its hybrid origins), are competent, which is to say they write songs that on a musical level fit together. No, these bands are competent as products. A McBurger must be sweet, tangy and leave you wanting more; good pop must be oozing with consonance, but bittersweet and minor key in its “mixed emotions” that give it “profundity” or a feeling of “authentic” emotion, and leave you wanting more because for a moment you felt like something stirred actual emotion in your soul (when in fact, all you were feeling was your longing for such emotion).

What pop music represents is not a unique musical style in and of itself, but a style of music designed with a singular goal in mind, which is to be mass accessible. As a result, it has no rules per se, although it has many studied patterns it uses. It also has no soul, no style and no boundaries; it assimilates everything it can, and churns it into the same old stuff. Give it a genre like, say, reggae, and it will invent reggae-flavored pop that on the surface uses reggae rhythms and sounds, but underneath is composed just like all other pop. Give it jazz and you get Dave Matthews, Sting, Yanni or Richard Marx; give it punk and you get Blink 182, Avril Lavigne and Fall Out Boy. When you hand it metal, it can’t handle it, because on a musical level, metal breaks the mold. Metal insists that riffs fit together in some way that maintains atmosphere and mood, and thus that riffs address one another. Pop functions by having its “riffs” address only one thing, which is staying in key and being distractingly clingy and catchy.

The threat to genres like metal is that it will be assimilated. Eskimo Callboy assimilates metal through metalcore, which borrows metal styles and some metal riffing and puts it into the post-hardcore “carnival music” style, but also adds electro (disco/techno/trance fusion) and even a small part of broken suburban rap to the mix. The result is quite good, as pop. Every moment is catchy and simple, and while it seems immature to those who’ve heard more music than a teenager, it certainly isn’t amateur. In fact, it’s totally professional. Every instant on this record is calculated to make people like it, and through that, to make it make money. It’s not like more challenging material, which skims the line of what you can like and expands what you’re willing to recognize; it takes what you recognize, sweetens it and over-processes it, and then serves it to you in heaping spoonfuls. That’s just on a composition level. On a production level it’s really to be admired: everything is perfectly placed, the sound is loud and pure, but with enough effects to give it texture. This is the work of masters at their craft.

Those of you who caught the shocked reaction by the band Ara to being called “metalcore” may now see why the band reacted so badly. Eskimo Callboy is metalcore, unabashedly so, and even embrace the label. However, it’s correct to call both bands metalcore, because both betray the metal principle of riffs commenting on riffs, and as a result are at best metal-flavored rock. Metalcore is that which wishes to be metal on the surface without being metal underneath, and it’s a polite catch all that can be applied to “modern metal” (Necrophagist, Ulcerate), nu-metal, blackgaze, black punk, crabcore, etc. We don’t even need to address these bands as metal because even they don’t see themselves as metal.

As it turns out, the song “Is Anyone Up” has somewhat of a concept behind it. It’s dedicated to the (former) Is Anyone Up website, on which people posted anonymous nude pictures which were then linked to online profiles for ridicule and mockery. The site was like 4chan on steroids with a specific intent to be cruel to the foolish, unwise, promiscuous and generally ill-parented girls of the lost generations in the West. While it seems cruel and destructive to me, it’s hard to feel that much surprise when you people email nude pictures to their latest hookup and in the hope that he won’t become bitter when they move on and email them to a friend. Of course he will — treat a man like a disposable lighter, and he treats you like something that must burn.

Let’s look at these insightful lyrics:

and I tell you I’m sorry girl
it was nothing personal
is anyone up?
is anyone up?
your pussy
your boobies
on the world wide web
girl it’s nothing personal
I’m sorry for this
but I think you fuck anal so well
that everybody should know
your pussy deserves much more attention
than I could give to you
you said that I’d be the only one
-you are nothing more than a folder on my harddisk
and you are nothing more than the guys I’ve met before
-fuck you little whore I’ve got your cunt in HD
and I tell you I’m sorry girl
it was nothing personal
is anyone up?
is anyone up?
your pussy
your boobies
on the world wide web
oh lord ,shame on me!
gnargoyles everywhere
I’ve lost my ability
to infactuate hot chicks
you never will expose a girl again
your daddy will be proud of his stupid little girl
shut the fuck up
tonight I’m on a photo date
with the highschool-sexgrenade
and I tell you I’m sorry girl
it was nothing personal
is anyone up?
is anyone up?
your pussy
your boobies
on the world wide web
I’ve seen a lot of boobies
I’ve seen a lot of cunts
as long as there are hot chicks
there’ll be always men that hunt
#NBHNC
means a lot to me
we cannot stop to stare
so put your ass up in the air

If you live in a world of innocence like me, you probably have no idea what #NBHNC means. It’s a crass term from the above site, on par with the famous Deke chant “no means yes, yes means anal”. Basically, imagine rancid scorn, regret and longing wrapped up into one package of human emotional poison.

Metalcore is a pop genre, not a metal one. Like most pop genres, it is based in the principle of flattering the listener and hoping to appeal to both their egomania and their weakness at once, making them want to become part of your little club. Not surprisingly, the video for this song actually occurs in a club, but that’s not the type of club I’m speaking of. Instead, think of what psychologists call an “in-group.” It’s any group that (like Costco) requires some kind of token exchange to gain entrance as a member. In social circles, it’s often as easy as buying a pop song and knowing the words. Pop is generic music that makes you feel like you’re part of some mass movement for listening along with it, and so it seduces your brain.

All that is needed to complete this review is a bit of comparison. I was recently subjected to The Dark Knight Rises or at least the first twenty minutes of it. Like generic pop metalcore, it is well-produced and written to keep the attention of its audience. Unlike metal and a movie worth watching, the plot is unrealistic and the acting looks like acting, instead of camouflage of their real identities that allows actors to reveal the meaning of the script. More than anything else, the word for this movie is stupid. The script is dumb and implausible, the cartoony characters (“Bane” — LOL) are ridiculous and not threatening, and even every attempt to imbue it with nuance comes across as ham-handed like the truly phoned in acting by Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy. And yet it is popular. The same is certainly true of Eskimo Callboy, which at last count had 75k “likes” on Facebook, where most underground death metal bands languish at 1,500. However, as if often true in life, the rare is the exceptional, which is fortunate as Eskimo Callboy is only exceptional in its endorsement of “last man” attitudes.

What the heck is metalcore?

April 23, 2013 –

fugazi_flyerDuring the late 1990s, a different style of metal emerged in the death metal camp. Starting with bands like Dillinger Escape Plan, Killswitch Engage, Misery Index, The Haunted, Human remains, Ulcerate, Meshuggah and Discordance Axis, this new style was given many names at first.

It’s math-metal, they said. No, it’s technical death metal (later shortened to “tech-deth” to keep people from expecting something like what Pestilence did on Spheres). Finally someone came up with “modern metal,” which many of us use like a catch-all.

The record companies were excited. Musically it was different. This style is accessible to more musicians, in addition to more fans, than the old style. It’s easier to make a reasonable impression of it, at least.

Thematically it was different. It’s everything that rock ‘n’ roll has always been. It’s loud, angry, and chaotic; perfect to disturb parents, which sells albums. Finally, unlike metal, it doesn’t stray into truly dangerous areas of thought. It is more likely to be written from an individual perspective, and less likely to glorify war, disease and death than protest them. Socially, it’s much “safer.”

What made it new was that it wasn’t like the extreme metal before it. However, it shared many techniques in common not just with that generation, but the generation before it. Specifically, many of the composition aspects are similar to those from post-hardcore bands like Fugazi, Rites of Spring, and Botch. These differences distinguished it from death metal in the following ways:

  1. Vocal rhythms. Death metal vocals are more like speed metal, which is to chant out the rhythm of the main riff or chorus phrase. Modern metal vocals are much like hardcore, which uses regularity of intervals between syllables to form a sound of protest. Death metal also prefers monotonic delivery with variant timbre, where hardcore vocals prefer more melodic vocal delivery with invariant timbre.
  2. Riffing. Death metal riffs are phrasal, or written as a flow of power chords forming a phrase or melody, and these fit together to form a narrative with poetic form, meaning that it takes the song from an initial place to a final place with a much different outlook. Modern metal riffs are inherently designed toward circular song constructions, like hardcore, and are based upon radical contrast between each other to suggestdeconstruction, like hardcore. Metal riffs form a synthesis through contrast; hardcore riffs deconstruct through contrast and reject synthesis.
  3. Drumming. Death metal drumming tends to follow the riff changes; modern metal drumming tends to lead the riff changes, anticipating them. In death metal, instruments tend to act in unison. In metalcore, they tend to each work separately and overlap as convenient.
  4. Style. Death metal aims toward unison of all instruments and riffs fitting together to make a larger narrative so as to maintain mood; modern metal, like hardcore before it, seeks to interrupt mood as if a form of protest music.

Critics of the terms “metalcore” and “modern metal” correctly note that these terms are being used as a catch-all. That’s correct, but it’s only part of the story. These terms are being used to describe something that’s not new, but existed before death metal and black metal reached their modern form. It’s an alternate branch of metal’s evolution, upgraded with death metal technique.

For students of metal history, this isn’t surprising. Genres tend to lie dormant in alternating generations, and then pick up on whatever was done well by the intervening generation. For example, power metal is what happens when speed metal and glam metal bands integrate death metal technique. Grindcore occurs when hardcore adopts crust and death metal technique. Speed metal occurs when metal adopts punk technique. By the same token, metalcore is what happens when you mix Fugazi with death metal technique.

This is not an argument against metalcore. If we’re going to like metal, we should understand it; if we’re going to understand it, we should study it; if we study it, we should organize our categories and language so as not to mislead each other. By this analysis, metalcore is an extension not of metal, but of the post-hardcore movement using metal technique, and thus it should be analyzed as more like hardcore instead of having us project our metal expectations upon it.

Interview: Ara

April 22, 2013 –

ara-band_photo

Music is never in stasis. It is composed of two parts, a form and a content. The two are related; in the best of situations, content causes the musician to innovate a new form. When the content changes, the old form is not relevant. However, some things are timeless and those forms persist.

Such questions emerge at the front of the mind when we look at Wisconsin’s Ara and their latest album, The Blessed Sleep. Whatever the changes that have been wrought in metal over the past 20 years, Ara roll back some of the tendencies toward excessive form and pointless technicality, and return the focus to songwriting. (See our review of The Blessed Sleep.)

Ara presents a challenge to what metal has become and to what many conceive of as metal. We figured we would go deeper for the whole story, and were fortunate to speak with guitarist and band cofounder Jerry Hauppa, who helped clarify the situation and told us about the inspiration and musical vision behind Ara’s latest, The Blessed Sleep.

You approach metalcore/tech-deth with a stripped-down style that focuses more on songwriting. What made you decide to do this, against the conventions of the genre?

None of us are really thrilled by the theatrics of sweeped scales masquerading as riffs in extreme metal nowadays. To the casual fan this can superficially be interpreted as sounding crazy and chaotic but we all come from older metal backgrounds where the riffs and arrangements had to have creativity and personality in order to express deviation between songs and moods. Cluttering up a song with a ton of parts can be an effective way to display chaos at times but we are trying to make sure each part serves the song well enough where nothing seems to be either filler or extraneous.

What do you think separates “modern metal” (metalcore, tech-deth, indie metal) from the older extreme metal like death metal and black metal?

The Blessed Sleep seems to have indirectly caused quite the argument about this in the comments section of your review for the record, but in my defense of death metal I clearly differ from the opinion of your readers in terms of what I feel falls under its umbrella. I think that “modern metal” is less a genre and more a statement that tries to separate any current take on the genre that threatens the ethos created in the early 90s. I agree that most of what I hear nowadays doesn’t resonate with me, but I’m not going to invalidate it by claiming it isn’t death metal or black metal because I’m afraid of what that means for me as a listener.

What I will say, is that I feel I have an uncanny ability to hear motive in music, and what I think you are getting at with the title “modern metal” is the unfortunate actions of -core acts that clearly resemble marketing ploys and the inhibiting crutches present in their writing, which throw at the listener a sense of immediate gratification through the aforementioned sweeps and of course, breakdowns. What we are trying to do is not throw the listener a bone so I feel we have more in common with the rebellious aspects of the early death metal movement than what people are considering to be “modern.”

In your view, what are the founding acts that influenced this style? What influences do you as a band have in addition to these?

The style shown on the record, or in modern metal? As for the latter, I have no idea really. I know that it seems many young bands don’t understand the history of metal and are trying to emulate a band that has emulated another band and so on, and that’s a shame with the ease of resources we have nowadays.

I guess as for the aspect of a more chaotic form of death metal, you could probably say that Cryptopsy’s Whisper Supremacy took the idea of a metal song arrangement and turned it upside down- at least for me, when I heard it, nothing really sounded like it. Today’s bands probably are really far removed from that record but the bands they ripped off might be familiar, I don’t know.

As for the influences of the band, for me, I’ve always been drawn to more complex music because I like to hear something new in a song each time I hear it. I’d say Gorguts, Anata and Cryptopsy are definite influences, as well as Theory in Practice and maybe the early explosion of Unique Leader bands. As far as how the record sounds, I could probably say I was drawn to the feel of Sinister’s Aggressive Measures record in terms of their atonal leanings and not having the guitars be tuned super low. The rest of the guys in the band have a huge list of influences, but I can say I know Erik worships Discordance Axis, Adam loves stuff like Fleshgod Apocalypse and Jim listens to everything under the sun.

How did you get the crisp sound on The Blessed Sleep? It sounds like you played it live, but somehow got a nice digital snap to each track. Where was it recorded?

We recorded with Shane Hochstetler at Howl Street Studios, and we are extremely happy with the sound. We have recorded there numerous times with other projects and he is a blast to work with and everything he does sounds amazing. I don’t really care for the sterile production of modern metal bands and really wanted this record to sound tight yet savage, so we deliberately left it without too much polish to give it its own atmosphere. As for how we got the sound, I know there are tons of guitar tracks going on all the time so it has a wall of sound that gives it the heaviness that I think a lot of technical bands are lacking.

What prompted you to found Ara, in the style you’ve chosen, and what additions do you hope to make to the genre?

I always wanted to do my take on death metal since I was a teenager, and only now am I lucky enough to be around the musicians that can make it happen. The style is I suppose an amalgamation of all of my influences in extreme metal, but as I get better at writing music I really feel as though the compositions are inherently mine and don’t directly emulate any particular band.

As far as the second half of your question, I don’t have any lofty goals where I think we can be flagbearers for any kind of genre movement, I just hope people check out the record and like it. If I had any wish that we could influence anything, I do hope the riff can come back. I miss and mourn for the riff.

Where do you want to go after The Blessed Sleep? It seems like you’ve reached a peak within this genre; are you going to grow in a new direction, or refine?

As of today I have written 11 songs for a full length and am really excited to see how the new material will shape up. The rest of the guys know four of the new songs and I would say it is decidedly different from The Blessed Sleep. There is a much greater focus on melody but not in the At the Gates way, probably more in an Anata way. I am trying to make the songs complex but with very few themes explored per song because I want each song to be its own entity. You can hear one of the new songs in the live set on the youtube video you posted, it’s the last one we played. I’m trying to balance melody with discordance in each song. Some of the newer stuff is way faster than anything we’ve done and we have some doomier stuff as well. If you like The Blessed Sleep I think you’ll be excited for the progression. Also, we are very much hoping for label support for future recordings.

What do you think draws people to your music?

The band is very new so I don’t really know yet. People like speed and we have and love lots of blast beats. We also try to be atypical so I assume people that like weird metal will hopefully like it. Time will tell.

If fans wanted to explore your music, where do you recommend they start, and what should they do next?

You can stream the whole record at arawi.bandcamp.com, so there you go. Then I suppose you should follow us on Facebook to find out what we’re up to and where we’re playing.

Will you be touring for this album? Will we see you in Texas?

I absolutely want to get on the road for this record and hopefully we can do so later in the year. Erik and I play in another band called Northless that is in the studio next month so after that is wrapped up we can get our scheduling straight and play outside our home town. We would love to play in Texas if everything works out and if so we will definitely let you know! Thanks for your time and the support!