Mayhem – Esoteric Warfare

June 30, 2014 –

mayhem-esoteric_warfare

Black metal band reformed as nu-metal powerhouse Mayhem released their latest album Esoteric Warfare on June 6, 2014. Much like late-career albums from Triptykon and Massacra, the latest Mayhem shows that as a metal band ages the probability of it becoming Pantera or Southern Fried rock approaches one.

Although the album communicates little to no artistry or depth, it offers a strong example of how to successfully appeal to one’s commercial audience by being both digestible and using lots of hard and heavy sounds the audience recognizes as dangerous… if they came in any other form than a commercial product. Esoteric Warfare creates a blueprint for success by appropriating nu-metal’s populist simplification of the speed metal style of mono-dimensional lower-string muted riffing and sprinkling it with the pixie dust of commercial black metal aesthetics..

The band thus builds its appeal entirely from catchy central riffs which are so reduced in complexity that one is capable of comprehending them on first listen. The rest is garnish: the introductions, acoustic breaks, spoken word sections, black metal fireworks, seemingly random caesuras and even some death metal technique that randomly flares in the midst of the thudding rhythmic hook. This album belongs more to the exoteric, or easily and equally grasped at first contact, than the esoteric like older black metal, which deepened in revelation the more the listener devoted his or her consciousness to exploring it.

With the latest generation, the rock-metal hybrid that industry has always wanted rears its ugly head here. The new innovation is this tendency to break up the monotony with garnish, which allows the monotonic lower register riffs to drone on with strategic breaks to remind the listener that the entirety of an album does not necessarily need to sound indistinguishable however much the band may be seemingly trying to lead it in that direction. Complete sonic pointlessness does not dissolve, but rather mutates into a more friendly and funky exterior, thus allowing the listener an escape from a complete degradation of metal as an art form into a complete degradation of jazz as an art form. Whether that constitutes progress will be left to the view of the reader.

Heavy metal as an industry

June 21, 2014 –

ac-dc-tour

Anyone who lived as a metal fan in the 1970s and 1980s remembers The Line: some bands were rock enough to make it into the newspaper, others were “too metal.” Major newspapers never covered Slayer, rarely covered Metallica, and generally drew The Line at anything heavier than Guns ‘n Roses. Thus even major bands like AC/DC got cut out of the mix.

No more. As the image above illustrates, the front page of goody-two-shoes news network CNN shows us the latest about the AC/DC 40th Anniversary Tour. Even the biggest megaphone for mainstream news which spends most of its time nagging us about our bad habits or flashing sensationalistic messages of world decay finally acknowledges heavy metal. In the 1980s, this would have been unthinkable. And yet, now we’re here.

What’s behind metal’s legitimization? It’s not so underground anymore, being one of the bigger non-rock/pop genres. It’s also not so extreme, since rap opened up the lyrical gates to violence, lust and obscenity and nu-metal got radio accustomed to heavy crunch (and lyrics about parental neglect). But most importantly, metal is now an industry. With enough consistent fans and labels behind it, and those labels having found a way to “metalize” or “metal-flavor” just about anything (indie, rock, jazz, blues, industrial), metal now provides one of the pillars of the entertainment industry.

Even more, heavy metal is now a recognized part of our culture. Rap music represents a certain kind of rebellion or a certain kind of irony. Heavy metal raises the flag for a certain kind of rebellion that is both cluelessly adolescent and “old soul” world-weary and informed. It’s a feeling we all have, and its appeal seems to be increasing.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 02-09-14

February 9, 2014 –

apocalyptic-flames

What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? When people decide that life is worth living, try to make good music. Unless they hope to make a quick buck, in which case they disguise bad music as “innovation.” We separate the good from the bad — with a machete. Come for the misery, stay for the occasional exception…

divine_circles-oblivion_songsDivine Circles – Oblivion Songs

The mainstream assimilation of metal continues. This is basically coffeehouse femme-folk-rock like Jewel would have spun two decades ago when metal was still doing something relevant. Instead, it sounds like a Taylor Swift/Janis Joplin hybrid on piano while someone strums a lightly distorted guitar in the background and some bell-bottomed burnout bangs a cowbell. I can appreciate the similarity to neofolk bands, especially Hekate, or even the folk-rock tradition of the Americas. But it’s most similar to the goddamn crap they play in Starbucks or our local “alternative” (read: clean every other Tuesday) coffee shack. A girl sings about fanciful things, there’s some guitar and a lot of slightly exotic rhythm. But when you leave and drive home, you’re thankful for the silence. This has nothing to do with metal and should go back to the coffee shops.

slipknot-slipknotSlipknot – Slipknot

For people who thought Korn was too musical, Roadrunner has saved the day. ANGRY MAN babbling over death metal riffs reduced 100 levels of complexity, with random vinyl scratching noises and sampling thrown in for…some reason. These riffs were lifted from a White Zombie album which lifted them from a Metallica album which borrowed them from a NWOBHM 7″ which probably borrowed them from the rantings of cavemen etched into sandstone near the local juvenile detention center. To these basic speed metal riffs, they have added abundant bounce and doubling the internal rhythm on the offbeat, which gives the illusion of complexity for about ten seconds, and they’ve wrapped them around rock melodies. Speaking of wrapped, why aren’t we calling this rap/rock? It’s obviously rap music sanitized for the people too uptight for even backpack hip-hop, thus it gets injected into rock and to disguise the obvious lameness of this combination they cover it in heavy metal stylings like melted chocolate poured over a corpse. Lyrics are moronic, riffs are moronic, album art is moronic…is anything in this band appealing to functional humans? If a vengeful god were to rain napalm on America for producing this album, it would be justified.

eva_polgar-sandor_valy-gilgameshÉva Polgár & Sándor Vály – Gilgamesh

Art music faces one ultimate test: will people listen to it on a regular basis, in regular lives? I’m not talking about the heroin and cigarettes crowd in Williamsburg with their postmodern degrees from Brown, but normal people. Thoughtful, intelligent, realistic, well-adjusted people. Do they listen to it? Or is it something they think is neat, maybe would be good in a movie, and then politely clap and never hear it again? Gilgamesh qualifies as some of the better art music I’ve heard. It is an sonic backdrop to the famous tale, rendering in quickly played piano riffs while other instruments fill in background chording. This has more in common with industrial music and avantgarde jazz than rock, but each track creates a series of emotional sensations corresponding to its chapter of the Gilgamesh saga. It is artfully done and powerful but is too abrasive and repetitive for every day primary listening. Further, it is too arty and conceptual to find a place in the balanced life. It would make a killer soundtrack for a silent film however.

fear_of_domination-distorted_delusionsFear of Domination – Distorted Delusions

Music designed to pander to newer listeners is often excruciating. First, it must have an obvious novelty in style that usually defeats common sense. Next, it must appeal to people whose first instinct is essentially disruption and chaos. As part of this, they favor weapons like repetition and garish aesthetics. This album will not disappoint on those points. Mixing clubby techno (itself suspiciously like disco) with metalcore and crowd-positive industrial like Rammstein, Fear of Domination spit out music that is essential keyboard-led but has background guitar and bass which are entirely obliterated by the harsh, chanty and repetitive vocals. There is not a single metal riff on the album. There is also nothing new to people who have experienced even Ministry, but a form with novelty gives this some of the appeal of more austere industrial bands. Still the repetition level and degree of obvious manipulation makes it excruciating for people who have heard more than a dozen albums.

benighted-carnivore_sublimeBenighted – Carnivore Sublime

In the absence of Nu Metal, everyone is rushing to take over the territory of Limp bizkit or Korn. From bling bling tech-core band Despised Icon to recent Napalm Death to streamlined Unique Leader sounding Morbid Angel palm muting riffs, Benighted blend everything that’s hip and br00tal in the scene together as the perfect sonic weapon for the frustrated school kids. This whole album is full of preachy and overreacting jerking noise. The band’s new music video reflect all of these: attending school is bad and teachers are evil, the world is insane, so buying this album is the right way to the first step of revolution. The hilariously out of place cleared-throat howling choruses sound like any metalcore rather than death metal, they make me want to put on the Korn records instead. Nothing from Benighted’s album is remotely exciting to the ear of a longtime metal listener. The volume is louder than Grammy performer Metallica, but the music is just as bland. Benighted and their far relatives Insane Clown Posse and Fleshgod Apocalypse are definitely worth exiling from the metal world.

LP1037_RECHTS_tem_de.pdfFluisteraars – Dromers

What is problematic about post-metal/indie-metal, and rock music itself, is nto that it’s distinctive. Rather, like a good product, it’s created by audience surveys. What do they respond to? — put that in. What got bad response? — take it out. What was neutral? — reduce it. The problem is that you need all the colors of the rainbow to paint a picture, so just because audiences prefer blue over yellow does not mean yellow should be removed. In fact, it aims to create a monotone picture where all of it is the color audiences want in their living room and none is the less favored colors. But art is a communication of a mental journey between two points. It shows us someone emerging from a state to a higher realization and then acting on that for triumph. It reveals a mixture of emotions that signal an ultimate resolution, or at least a clarification in the mind. But what we call “modern metal” — itself a clone of the late hardcore, post-hardcore, emo and indie movements of the late 1980s through middle 1990s (Jawbreaker, Rites of Spring, Fugazi) — is like rock music designed to just be that perfect wallpaper for your life. The right shade of sweater, the right ironic frames for your glasses, the purse that makes you look like a wandering boho hippie who might just happen to have a degree in art history. It’s the cult of the ego, and the ego demands only what serves it in full and denies the experience required to get there. This is because the ego wants nothing to do with the external world, and prefers that which is “human,” namely itself and those it socializes with. Fluisteraars is 2/5 old school black metal like Enslaved and Darkthrone, and the rest the newer material in a dronining long form that uses multiple riffs derived from a single theme, like Pelican. The result is very pleasant to listen to but when it is done nothing has changed in your life. You are back shopping for wallpaper, ignoring anything outside of yourself, and consequently, missing out on anything that can be called soul.

woods_of_desolation-as_the_starsWoods of Desolation – As the Stars

Most of people can’t tell the difference between shallow light-hearted commercial product and art, therefore the conformists can always make some metallic indie rock to troll the underground. Woods of Desolation is the black metal version of Explosions In The Sky; both of them use the highest notes of the guitar chords to outline the weary lie-down-and-die pentatonic melodies while songs build around the sweeping textures. Just like the prototype of this sub-genre Alcest, Woods of Desolation’s music is nice and sweet and flawless, it make one hard to criticize them. But the reality is, three months after the hype, those who praised it like hell initially would throw this album away for these spun sugars annoying them just as the morning wake up cell phone jingles.

towers-iiTowers – II

Post-rock and post-metal generally mean attempts to recreate emo through expanded minimalist sound. Towers takes an approach more like Swans where they build a drone and then layer it with interesting textures. The result is rhythmically motivational, like a march, but ultimately can’t go anywhere because like the notion of “concept music” it can’t go anywhere but to its furthest extreme. Thus what we have is interesting, but not something you’d want to repeatedly listen to except in the background or as part of a movie soundtrack. It is not terrible in any part, and on the whole it is bland and inoffensive once you get past the “extreme” style. Arguably, Towers is the best example so far of how to make post-rock/emo into something that is not terrible. The problem is that listening to it feels like being driven over by Friday 5 pm NYC traffic, and so it’s unlikely that anyone will turn to this for repeated listens that bring out some positive aspect of being alive.

sunn-ulver-terrestrialsSunn O))) and Ulver – Terrestrials

Background drone of distorted guitar vibratto and feedback. Foreground slow chords, standard post-metal. Melody slowly layered, then repeats. It goes on in a big loop. Any given second of it is inoffensive and seems like something cool might be happening, but then, if you listen to the whole thing, you realize its fatal flaw is that it’s boring. Nevermind that Lull and Fripp did this years ago but better. Nevermind that these bands were both wrecking balls to metal’s integrity. Just listen to the music: it’s repetitive, doesn’t development, and basically does nothing but establish a drone and a half of a mood. What would you do with it? Listen to it? No, this is music for you to explain to your friends. The point is that you know something they don’t and you can thus explain how profound it (and you) are. It’s no different than people going to rap concerts to pose at being gangsters or young girls who cry when Shakira sings about her hips. It’s just more pretentious.

tiskoviny 1.cdrDodsferd – The Parasitic Survival of the Human Race

Despite the ideologically-correct title (for black metal), this band shows us the true death of black metal: it has been assimilated by punk music. This sounds, with the exception of a couple black metal open strum riffs, exactly like the same droning hardcore bands were pumping out in the early 1980s. That music was the source of the stagnation that launched underground metal. I’ve listened to this thing three times and it has no negatives. There is nothing wrong with it. There’s also nothing compelling about it; it’s just more void. Technically, it all fits together. It’s just boring and expresses nothing. It is essentially hardcore punk music from the early 1980s with better drumming and production, maybe a black metal riff every seven riffs. But if you already own Discharge and Darkthrone, there’s utterly no reason to listen to this. Even if you don’t, it makes no sense to try to listen to this instead.

gris-a_l_ame_enflamee_l_ame_constelleeGris – À l’Âme Enflammée, l’Äme Constellée…

Oh wow. Titles in French, looks misanthropic, maybe Vlad Tepes has returned! Second coming of Loudblast, even? No, it’s emo. Riddle me this: if emo isn’t like the fat girl addicted with meth that you woke up next to in the basement and felt great shame for the next, why do people keep trying to hide it? This is the same droning yet bittersweet minor-key background noise that Jawbreaker put on their albums and before that, that emo bands kept trying to insert into punk. What is emo, after all, but the very basic tonalities of rock music translated over an upbeat groove into power chords with dissonant voicings? When you look at what can’t be used, you see what is left. In the same way that the blues scale is the classical diatonic major scale with the key-centric notes removed (and a blue note for color-note rhythm comp fudging), emo is what happens when you take all the life out of music and translate it into rules to keep an audience in suspense. It doesn’t ever go anywhere, just shifts between these same few interval progressions. And yet, there it is. And people who apparently know nothing about thinking keep buying it. This is very frilly, dressed-up, entertaining variety, but underneath all the stupid pet tricks and gaudy clothing is the same old tedium. This is the sound of a genre dying.

frost_legion-death_of_mankindFrost Legion – Death of Mankind

Crossing punk and heavy metal styles with a black metal aesthetic of constant high-intensity drumming and droning riffs, Frost Legion make black metal that often sounds like it is assembled from spare parts but tries to keep a focus on the melody and savagery of black metal. Vocals are a constant rasp that varies inflection as little as possible, over active double-bass drumming reminiscent of later Ancient Rites. Riffs are often drifting melodic constellations formed of a few chords which work through permutations of loss and re-acquisition of a root note. Often the riffs are very similar to each other which causes an unsettling loss of orientation, and frequently they bring out melodies which resemble music from the 1930s, but the effect is to create a sense of longing. One thing this band could do better is dynamics; it uses nearly constant intensity most of the time which is exhausting. While song structure is essentially riff-based, these riffs may need to correlate to something else in order to make the composition memorable. The constant melodic riffing is reminiscent of Carcariass and bands of that ilk who are deeply invested in guitar creativity and sometimes lose sight of memorable songs. This is a good start and it will be interesting to see where these guys end up after they’ve had a chance to contemplate the results of listening to this album several dozen times.

demo_tapeAethereal – Faceless Messiah

We walk among you. We are legion and yet can travel unnoticed in the midst of your cities. We are those who try too hard, and many of us ended up in black emtal. Aethereal brings many strengths but suffers from trying too hard. Coming from the wilds of the USA, the amazing thing about this demo is that it attempts to shape the melodic architectures of a European band. It seems caught between a more vicious Behexen-style assault and a traditional melodic metal attack shaped around Sacramentum, Dissection and perhaps even Sentenced. Most would argue this into the black metal camp on vocals alone, but it has aspects of many genres of metal. Technically precise and musically coherent, these longer songs more resemble the ambitious music before the Great Partition in black metal which set the classics in the past and brought a deluge of imitators to attempt to pollute the genre. The first track, “Scornful Skies,” launches from a battering assault of melodic chords resembling rainfall in sheets to a neo-Celtic style intricate lead riff, fading into a Dissection styled mood piece before evaporating into an interlude of gentle strumming without distortion and a return to a contortion of its origins. The second track, “Qliphothic Reflections,” resembles much more of the black metal of the post-initial era, with low use of dynamics and high intensity blasting with transitional melodic riffs leading us through a semi-circular structure. Both tracks show promise if developed. But again, the problem is trying too hard: looking at what all the great songs have, and trying to make your own version without knowing what connects them. If these guys trust their gut instinct and what they like to listen to rather than what they think they should be creating, they would do better. Take it from a guy who tries too hard in his biggest failures as a writer.

asking_alexandria-stand_up_and_screamAsking Alexandria – Stand Up and Scream

If any of you were to discover that your testosterone levels were too high, and your doctor advises you to take estrogen injections: before doing that, consider listening to this album – in approximately 3 minutes, you will feel immediate results. An album like this could be created only by the results of a CIA project designed to make people believe malls are desirable. (Somewhere, Bill Hicks is turning over in his grave.) For the rest of us, upon hearing this we wish that we were in that grave. This band has the uncanny ability to not only make every song sound identical, but also every riff. Then again, most people listening to this are undergoing “spiral learning” – the repetition is something they’re used to. Please don’t listen to this. If you don’t have enough respect for yourself to avoid this, just go all the way: go to Starbucks, pick up a la- oh alright, that joke is overused. This band sucks. That’s all.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 11-27-13

November 28, 2013 –

sadistic_metal_turkeys

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

massemord-stay_fucking_necroMessemord – Stay Fucking Necro

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

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

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

benediction-the_dreams_you_dreadBenediction – The Dreams You Dread

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

grave_miasma-odori_sepulcrorumGrave Miasma – Odori Sepulcrorum

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

darkane-the_sinister_supremacyDarkane – The Sinister Supremacy

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

autumnblaze-every_sun_is_fragileAutumblaze – Every Sun is Fragile

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

the_haunted-unseenThe Haunted – Unseen

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

arsis-unwelcomeArsis – Unwelcome

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

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

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

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

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

manii-kollapsManii – Kollaps

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

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

August 19, 2013 –

A reader writes:

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

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

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

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

August 17, 2013 –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 Days Track Listing:

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

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.

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.

Monsterworks – Album of Man

April 1, 2013 –

monsterworks-album_of_manThe job of a reviewer is to describe music, not judge it. Assessment ultimately becomes obvious from the context of expectation created by the reviewer which shows where all things must fit in the bigger pattern.

Monsterworks resembles a mixture of things and prefers to stay that way. The majority of the structural parts of songs are like Led Zeppelin mixed with Southern Rock and early doom metal, using metalcore style rasp vocals, so that most of what you hear is very guitar-rock styled heavy metal. This is a welcome change from the less organic metalcore of late.

If you like guitar playing that is bluesy, varied and emotional, this album will pique your interest. While the vocals rant, guitars hit all the right rhythms and then work in leads with the fills, slowly building up intensity until the song explodes in sound. If you can imagine Led Zeppelin and Ion Dissonance collaborating on a stoner doom album, this might be about it.

Monsterworks create very much in the 1970s style, and yet with its vocals and aesthetics, very much in the 2010s style as well. The result is both deeply engaged and like newer metal hybrids, incessant in its peak intensity, which can make it meld together indistinctly. It often detours into “different” arenas, like progressive rock, tech-deth, and straight up hardcore, as if a variety show.

Album of Man reforms the anti-technical side of post-metal and metalcore however by using the guitar as a voice of its own, and breaking up the strident extremity with old fashioned instrumentalism. This both brings rock and metal back to their core and renews the intensity of the vocals. By doing so, it takes newer metal to a better place and makes for a more satisfying listen.