The Craft of Metal #2: Abominations of Desolation

Abominations of Desolation (1986) appeared during the fertile years of death metal as the first full-length release from Morbid Angel but was relegated to demo status during the period when the band became more well known. All the songs except “Demon Seed” were re-recorded on later releases.

The true first Morbid Angel album reveals the genetic material that the band would then expand for the next three releases during what would be their musical prime. It shows the band at their peak from a compositional point of view owing in part to the combination of Azagthoth’s and Browning’s genuine belief in the Necronomicon and the focus on making their music the soundtrack to their beliefs.

The incredibly diverse riffcraft shows the band absorbing influences principally from Hellhamer, Angel Witch, Slayer and Mercyful Fate. Unlike their influences, the band plays fully developed death metal with long tremolo picked passages, single picked notes, fast alternate picked open strings playing against moving power chord progressions, even playing with other diatonic chords from time to time and combining the whole in a varied amount of ways depending on the needs of the songs. Notably absent is the influence of speed metal which would appear on the more streamlined Altars of Madness (1989). None of the bounce nor the rhythmic interplay of their contemporaries is in evidence here; the band does not accentuate the offbeats nor do they use the choppy syncopation of their more well-known peers.

From the heavy metal that was so influential to this record Morbid Angel brought the device of guitar solos, not as an ornament or an embellishment, but as a central piece within the composition that works closely with the rhythm guitars playing underneath. Here is a band with a limited number of technical tools derived from previous bands but combined in a large variety of ways that sets the standard for all of death metal and allows the band to create much more powerful melodies that can be interconnected in maze like arrangements.

Contrary to popular belief Morbid Angel never attempted to create atonal music as they obviously do enjoy smashing one note or power chord and then making the whole sequence invert the relationship formerly established. However, on a much subtler note Trey Azagthoth does have the ability to play with tonality in the most twisted of ways. Take for example “Chapel of Ghouls” and how the low chugging has a particular power to it and never sounds like the chugging between riffs from any speed metal derived band. That is because the chugging note is not the actual root note of the song but what is referred to as the subtonic. This is the last note in the natural minor scale and demonstrates a lack of desire to lead into the root note of the scale. Rather than a rhythmic embellishment, we are treated to an integral note in the many motifs of “Chapel of Ghouls” and how the band managed to truly convey power and occultist ideology through simple yet effective musical choices.

Chromaticism at this point in time had already been a widespread technique but Morbid Angel decided to apply their own twist on it. Rather than create fully chromatic passages the songs are derived from the minor scale and its variations but with added streams of three or four chromatic bursts. This really did obscure the tonality of certain passages, and gave birth to the myth that Morbid Angel played atonal music to make the band seem much more intellectual where in reality the young band did even better than that: they adapted tonality for their own style and to this day very few bands have been able to emulate these techniques efficiently.

The arrangements here push the riff as being above all else. Multiple melodies form these songs that flow in such a fluid manner that this would inspire the Norwegian scene in their compositional choices. The melodies vary in tempo and in note selection yet the transitions never sound forced as the band will lengthen the note duration when speeding up and shorten the note duration when slowing down. This allows for these motifs to mutate without being held back by rhythm. The influence of Mozart is subtle but is ever present in the way the band designs the arrangement of each song. At first each song has a primary melody that either begins the composition or is introduced by a motif of minor importance. A development then occurs either through a new riff that either takes the previous motif and transforms it or through an entirely new riff accompanied with a tempo change to push the tension even further along. Eventually the music arrives at an apex where all the tension is released before it concludes on the main motif that has now become a revelation.

Let us look at “Angel of Disease,” which has a simple heavy metal motif in D# minor without any chromatic notes. It is then warped to a slower riff that is barely in D# minor but has been deformed entirely by surrounding chromatic notes and this continues the momentum of the main motif as the cycle repeats one more time before branching out into a palm muted stream of single notes working in opposition with the secondary motif leading us to the grand climax of the song. The solos Azagthoth performs obey the underlying riffs and, through a combination of insane melodies that are at times atonal whole tone jumps or some very unique arpeggios like the diminished seventh which is an endless stream of minor thirds, create some very unique sounds. The solos through their madness show a strong logic where they reinforce the arrangements either by providing the climax or by creating even more tension upon the chromatic segments.

Abominations of Desolation takes the underground metal that evolving at the same time and use it to make the first truly mature death metal record. Surprisingly the heavy metal of the past is still very present in this band though it remains a device for the creation of the more consonant motifs, yet one can only wonder what the avenue explored by the only song to not appear on future records “Demon Seed.” The extravagant heavy metal didn’t seem to be in accordance with the band’s future works but what we have here is a Judas Priest style composition that plays with its dual identity, and it would take a few years before the European bands would develop this style further.

Where the influence of future country singer David Vincent would push Morbid Angel to explore grindcore and speed metal whilst taking influence from this album, Mike Browning was able to channel the band toward creating a powerful piece of art that is still to this day not fully understood and that neither musician has been able to recreate. There are far too many elements in this album to effectively analyze in such small an article as this is, but it reveals the power held by the common beliefs of two above average individuals, as well as reveals the magic that happened in that incredibly short period time only to disappear back to the depths of hell.

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Forces of Satan Stumble

The consensus seems to be that Christ does not belong in metal.  Well, neither does Satan.  Rigid patterns of thought are not conductive to the creation of transcendental metal music.  The failure of NSBM stems from the rigid ideology into which the music was forced like a Procrustean bed.  The two Christian metal bands worth a shit have been covered on this site: Paramaecium and Antestor.  The only NSBM bands that are not terrible are the bands, like Graveland, that preceeded the creation of the subgenre and were only lumped in with the scene later… Gontyna Kry seems to be the sole exception to NSBM sucking.

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The Most Popular Death Metal Bands- Who is #1?

Who is the most popular death metal band?

It’s one of those esoteric questions that wanders in and out of the mind without a quick Google search to offer a definite solution.  But today it dawned on me that if I don’t try to find an answer, it’s unlikely any one else will do a decent job at doing so.  And given the fact that deathmetal.org is the number one site that comes up when you Google “death metal news,” I believe we have a journalistic duty to present the world with this information.

Since where to draw the line on what’s “true” death metal or not is a matter of opinion moreso than concrete fact, I determined that anything labeled “death metal” would be fair game whether it truly was a pure death metal band or not.  Therefore I’d consider melodic death metal, black metal, and even deathcore in an effort to find who had conquered the greater sphere of death metal.

Unfortunately, the Nielsen record sale tracking data is not public and often does not identify how well an album has sold for many years after its release.  Thus, I determined that the most accurate metric for mining this data would be to measure by Facebook likes.  Yes, I know it’s not an exact science- many fans aren’t on Facebook, and many people click a band’s like button without really listening to them.  But still, it was as good as I would ever get to finding who the most popular band in the greater bounds of “death metal” truly was.

I expected to see the favorites of the 90’s metal press and MTVX dominate- Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Decide, Death, and probably In Flames take the number 1 spot.  Imagine my shock, that only one of these bands even cracked the top 5!  I had always heard about Morbid Angel and Deicide had the highest album sales, but it appears neither band has been able to conquer the internet age.

So again, this list was populated within very forgiving boundaries (bands loosely considered death metal, whether or not I believed them to be), and the best metric I could come up with.  Also, DO NOT FUCKING EVEN THINK OF CONFUSING THIS AS BEING A LIST OF THE BEST DEATH METAL- IT IS QUITE THE OPPOSITE!!!  And finally, if there are any bands you think I missed please let me know in the comments below and I will gladly do a live update and give you credit- maybe.

Without further ado, here is – for the first time in history – a list of the most popular bands that people considered to be death metal, and an explanation to why I would endure the immense visceral hatred for even considering them:

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Analysis of Immolation’s “Christ’s Cage”

Immolation are legends in Death metal and rightfully so, though their heydays were after the initial burst that characterized the NYDM scene and have cemented their place with the likes of Cryptopsy and Immortal for prolonging the lifespan of that classic period of metal. Longevity seems to be the forte of the band’s centerpieces Dolan and Vigna and while they released a few decent albums, none of them quite hold up to Here in After. Black Sabbath and Slayer stretched the palette for what was possible in metal and introduced endless possibilities whereas Immolation took one closed approach and pushed it to its limit on this album. Though Close To A World Below took experimentation further, the whole was not as cohesive or powerful. Let us look as the closing track which truly concludes the album.

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CASE STUDY: DEATH METAL POSITIVE, BUT ONLY FOR SELECT PERSONALITY TYPES

A trio of Australian PhD researchers recently shared the results of an ambitious case study on death metal listeners.  The project, titled “Who Enjoys Listening to Violent Music and Why?” (Thompson et al., 2018), aimed to determine if there were personality differences in fans who enjoyed death metal and if lyrical content that involved inducing harm or death to individuals had any effect on the listener’s experience.  Examined were possible differences in emotional stimuli between death metal fans and non fans, genders, and participants who either were or weren’t given a lyric sheet.  The publication indicates findings similar to earlier studies that measured emotional reaction of music and personality bias as stated:

These findings are consistent with evidence that personality mediates preferences for music (Rentfrow & Gosling, 2003; Vuoskoski & Eerola, 2011a, 2011b) and that, conversely, music preferences communicate information about one’s personality (Rentfrow & Gosling, 2006). Rentfrow and Gosling (2003) examined the structure of music preferences, as well as the association between personality and music preferences. They used exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis to reveal that music preferences revolved around four major types of music: Reflective and complex (classical, jazz, blues); intense and rebellious (alternative, rock, heavy metal), upbeat and conventional (country, pop, religious), and energetic and rhythmic (hip-hop, rap, soul, funk, electronic, dance). Preferences were also dependent on personality variables. For example, people who preferred intense and rebellious music – including heavy metal – tended to be open to new experiences, considered themselves to be intelligent and athletic, and showed no signs of neuroticism or disagreeableness.

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Decimation: Atonality in Death Metal

Never has there been a word in metal as misunderstood as atonal, allowing all kinds of ridiculous claims since most individuals confuse atonality with dissonance and chromatism.

There are two ways to define atonality, one being the complete lack of tonal character and being reduced to noise like some of Kerry King’s solos or the works of Merzbow. The other definition that interests us here is the complete lack of functional harmony. In simpler terms that implies not having the root note that commands a certain melody. Without a root note, the notes in an atonal melody are not connected by scales, modes or chords.

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Death Metal General- Day of the Rake Edition

The thankfully short lived Canadian metal scene was another low in the attempt to blend death metal with tough-guy hardcore. Through a gross cocktail of taking a technical death metal template, squeezing all of the feeling and memorability from the riffs, breakdowns, and linear “riff salad” song structures with no repetition or thematic continuity, the Canadian metal scene gave us the foundation for the horrendous abomination that was deathcore- the ugliest perversion of death metal the genre had seen since Six Feet Under collaborated with Ice-T.  Ultimately, we remember Canadian metal as the musical version of a shit post- something so autistic and obnoxious that it made everyone around the world quickly realize that Canadian metal bands were something to be mocked and avoided.
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Morbid Angel – Kingdoms Disdained (2017)

There are twelve notes. There are twenty-six letters. We can form them into combinations/patterns. The ones that stay with us are the ones that communicate. This takes us above the level of riff (metal), harmony (jazz/rock), and into the realm of melody, which uses phrase and harmony as means of strengthening the expression of a melody, or a unique combination which resembles the psychological sensation of a certain experience.

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Morbid Angel – Kingdoms Disdained (2017)

It has been twenty years since Formulas Fatal to the Flesh first graced record store shelves, which still existed back then. That comeback album was the strongest statement from Morbid Angel after their initial surge of genre-defining creativity. It may have also been their high-water mark because everything since has shown a downward trajectory.

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