Cult of Endtime – In Charnel Lights (2015)

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Cult of Endtime play a music that is actually both “melodic” and death metal. Taking the road of modified and expanded verse-chorus-bridge approach to music construction, this mid-paced death metal with a clear aftertaste of traditional metal maintains motific links within songs that ride clear phrasal riffs not unlike the manner of the early but already mature Black Sabbath. Although DMU does not usually hand out stars to shiny, mainstream packages because they usually are just uncreative or mediocre turds hidden under slick production, In Charnel Lights has definitely earned theirs.

A very well-performed and accomplished example of this style, the music stays within the boundaries of its chosen paradigm while introducing a variety of ideas without haphazard changes. This does imply a limited variation, a clutch of its chosen pop-format approach, which supports and defines it but cripples its movement at the same time. The nature of the music, then, reduces In Charnel Lights to a collection of songs. The result is pleasing and solid but can be repetitive in terms of musical ideas and in its adherence  to its center it fails to bring enough variety to artistically justify a second half beyond the urge to produce more of the same.

In spite of this, the variation it does introduce is not only used gracefully and properly but is both meaningful and powerful. Each variation of idea or new idea included, each slightly differing approach to a riff was probably very carefully considered and integrated with an attention to detail worthy of praise. Cult of Endtime are extremely consistent in style although they bring different techniques under its umbrella and produce strongly coherent riff-variations with a relatively wide range of character.

Sounding like a Black Sabbath reborn into death metal, Cult of Endtime build their music on phrasal riffs with a basis on heavy-sounding support and featuring melodic passages that emphasize clarity of expression and musicality rather than technique itself, although anyone paying attention to such things would not deny the professional-level musicianship of the band. Probably one of the best, if not the best, we are likely to get out of the mainstream this year, In Charnel Lights is extremely recommended to fans of metal.

Scythian – Hubris in Excelsis (2015)

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Following the example of Kreator in Phantom Antichrist, Scythian unite riffing approaches from different metal subgenres under the banner of traditional heavy metal and growled or barked vocals, with a result along the lines of the so-called melodic death metal.  In contrast with the noteworthy release Thy Black Destiny, by Sacramentum, Hubris in Excelsis does not coalesce into a thing of its own but just floats around as the result of spare parts being put together to form an undefined, impersonal and disparate heavy metal record. In this, and its revolving around the vocals it is more akin to the Iron Maiden – inclined heavy metal which sets one foot on hard-rock land, using disconnected riffs only as rhythm and harmony to carry the voice.

We hear doom metal proceedings and textures typical of black metal, but these are usually encapsulated within sections. These sections are used in conventional rock-song functionality. What determines this rock versus metal approach? Basically, the total relationship of riffs and sections to voice and in between themselves. Rock (and hard rock after it) carries the music after the vocal lines (thus we can see the slight influence of hard rock over Slayer in South of Heaven even though it doesn’t fully give in to the tendency to disqualify it as a metal record). The key tell-tale sign after this is the lack or at least a downplay of motif-relation between parts of the song, the support for main melody or vocal line becoming the most important and prominent element. The effect of this often results in something similar but in the end different from metalcore: disparate parts tied loosely by a certain background consistency (usually harmony for rock and rhythms or motifs drowned in an ocean of contrasts for metalcore).

The plentiful references to many different genres extending all the way to cliche-ridden pagan black metal may throw off the attempts of most to nail down what Hubris in Excelsis actually is, what it consists of and what its essence ultimately is. Hubris in Excelsis is indeed a title that reflects this album beyond their intended concept. Hubris, an excess of self-confidence, often at the expense of prudence and seemliness, is placed in a position of glory, giving way to veiled expressions of ego that disregard any sense of coherence and little consistency beyond the most superficial.

A Comment on Bardic Tradition in metal

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The terms bardic or minstrel metal have often been used to describe bands that usually sing in a clear voice and with anthemic overtones, often imitate medievalesque motifs and write lyrics in the manner of romanticized ancient legends. Generally, the metal subgenre most readily associated with bardic expression is power metal because they advertise themselves as modern-day minstrels and theirs is the kind of catchy and upbeat music most people can latch on to most easily. The bardic spirit along with the culture it transmits, however, requires a sturdier medium that is able to etch its runes indelibly without detracting from the importance of their message.

Power metal could be described as a blend of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden mixed with the energy of speed metal. The influence of Ritchie Blackmore cannot be overstated either. In time, they developed their own tropes and particular voices that set them apart from their Briton godfathers. Bands making music in this style are known for an overt expression and presentation that falls just a little short from that of the despicable glam metal. More often than not, these theatrical habits and indulgences overshadow both the content of the music and the words, both of which come close to becoming only an excuse for narcissistic expression. The persona takes precedence over the message.

A sensible division of terms would be advisable here since the words bard and minstrel actually denote two very similar but different traditions. The bard was said to be an itinerant poet who, with the help of music, kept traditions and values alive through stories and legends written in meter. The minstrel made its most significant appearances in courts. Its main job was to entertain the nobility. The latter job’s description often overlaps with that of a jester whose curriculum included clownish acts like juggling. Here is where we find the most apt description for bands like Helloween or Blind Guardian, who willingly and naively took the latter term for themselves.

In lieu of this minstrel metal, a bardic one, with enduring power to carry and transmit the word by giving it the place of honor, is needed. Firstly, any musical tradition with this aim must achieve an optimal balance between being both evocative and submerging yet enveloping the words so that these are propelled forward, emphasized, given contour and colour. Secondly, this is metal. And as proper metal, the riff must lead.

Slayer – Show No Mercy

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On December 3, 1983, a force of unparalleled musical terror was unleashed upon a more innocent world. Combining the high speed strum detached from percussion used by Discharge with the architectural riffing of Judas Priest and the melodic understructure used by Iron Maiden, Slayer created a new style of heavy metal which exceeded all previous efforts.

While Show No Mercy sounds tame compared to later Slayer effort Reign in Blood (1986), for the time it revolutionized metal and punk alike. Most metal of the era was still recovering from the mid-1970s slump that occurred when Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were hybridized into a new rock-based style, manifesting after a brief revolution in the NWOBHM as the usual lowest-common-denominator crowd pleaser in acts like Motley Crue. Slayer brought back the longer phrasal riffs used by Black Sabbath and through the tremolo strum added greater flexibility and detached chord changes from the beat of the snare, which allowed the guitar to dominate composition and relegated drums to timekeeping. This in turn gave the band more options for varying riffs within a phrase and escaping the verse-chorus pop radio song format that had infected metal in the previous years.

Even outdoing other hardcore punk/NWOBHM hybrids like speed metal bands (Metallica) and thrash (DRI), Slayer created a fury that could also be beautiful. To this they added a mythological view of humanity and the ongoing collapse of Western civilization, placing us into a mode of viewing it as a conflict between good and evil with the prize being survival more than a spiritual state of obedience. In doing so, Slayer laid the foundation both musically and topically for the future death metal genre, while also spurring speed metal on to greater intensity. Most of what we cover on this site would not have existed when it did without Slayer and contemporaries such as Bathory, Hellhammer and Sodom who opened the gates to this new style.

Witchfinder General – Death Penalty

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After Black Sabbath invented proto-metal, people mixed together hard rock like Led Zeppelin and came up with a new hybrid they called heavy metal, but it lacked the intensity of Black Sabbath. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) fused the energy of punk and garage rock back into the music to restore the alienated energy, and Witchfinder General numbered among its strongest arguments.

Bands making music of this nature face a challenge: the entire rock community is based on making things sound smooth and grandiose in the kind of narcissistic ecstasy that people who want to be the center of attention for their 15 minutes exhibit, and this clashes with the need to sound like a combat unit taking a break to bash out a few tunes. As the Witchfinder General Live ’83 release shows us, this band had great intensity when they could focus their energies in that fashion.

While Death Penalty features the same excellent songwriting, matching vocal melodies that evoke the ambition without regard for convention that made Ozzy Osbourne the favorite Black Sabbath vocalist, and powerful riffing that expanded beyond the rock vocabulary to the side door of speed metal, the more refined production convinced Witchfinder General to play these songs more slowly and to layer on additional lead guitar and production effects to “enhance” the sound. The result is that much of the energy dissipates into a 1970s rock filter, and the production emphasizes a thin guitar tone to which the band adapts. Other than this disadvantage, Death Penalty shows us Witchfinder General at their most powerful.

Like the best of NWOBHM bands, Witchfinder General used shorter riffs than Black Sabbath and focused more on melodic guitar composition that echoed the previous generation of British heavy guitar rock. In addition, the band injected fast rhythmic riffing using a muted strum, and fast lead fills that allowed more flexibility in riff placement, but also borrowed from many of the progressive bands a more flexible sense of song structure. There will be the verse-chorus cycle, but it often transitions with a break that emphasizes some aspect of the song and allows the band to use variants of riffs for great contrast, before returning to the original cycle. To death metal fans, it may seem tame, but in the day it was a revolution against heavy metal convention, and these songs still stand tall with a power that all those artists who wish to be more polished than pugnacious cannot capture.

Much of the focus of songwriting wraps around the vocals which guide each song ably by taking the high register and infusing just enough melody into these riffs to give each passage a hook. Sometimes this limits what the band could spend its energy on, as we can hear through many of the incidental guitar passages such as the fade-out instrumental break in “Death Penalty,” but it also helps hold together these sounds which are bursting with energy and musical creativity. Much of this album sounds like later Black Sabbath with more caffeinated leads, but that is its voice and not its essence, which is a flexible view of songwriting that never loses the need for a charge of the light brigade in power chords against the pleasant illusions of the average rock fan, then or now.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uu-UW7agTkY

Updated version of The Heavy Metal FAQ published

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Version 2.0 of The Heavy Metal FAQ exists within grasp of your browser. This update and addition to the sprawling work that first began in the early 1990s when a group of die-hard metal fans began writing to each other on USENET, first published in full form in 1996, now contains information on the metal years after the turbulent 1990s.

Running over 100 pages of print in length, The Heavy Metal FAQ covers the origins, history, philosophy and artistic purpose of heavy metal and its many sub-genres including death metal, black metal, NWOBHM, thrash, grindcore, speed metal and proto-metal. Its new and more detailed chronicle of the rise and proliferation of heavy metal reveals the development of this genre and its many offshoots.

Written by a former death metal radio presenter and editor of this site, the document aims to address the common questions that readers and listeners have about heavy metal, and then to go one layer deeper so they can see the motivation behind these artists and the social and historical significance of heavy metal. Not for the faint of heart, much like metal itself, The Heavy Metal FAQ could be a gateway to a lifelong habit of heavy metal reading.

Happy 63rd birthday, Rob Halford

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The legendary Judas Priest frontman (born 1951) is 63 years old today, August 25, 2014. Introduced to Judas Priest bassist Ian Hill by his sister, Halford became the vocalist for the group and quickly defined his iconic style of singing and found a way to adapt it to the new style.

With Stained Class, Halford adopted what became his trademark visual imagery, which is the leather and studs clothing that spread throughout metal after that time. He later expanded this imagery to include military gear, motorcycles, whips and chains.

Judas Priest defined much of 1970s heavy metal by taking its NWOBHM sound and adding the album-oriented stadium rock feel, giving the music greater accessibility, but simultaneously focusing on strong lead guitar and use of multiple riffs to create a puzzle-piece feel.

Without Halford, Priest might have accomplished this role but not in such an iconic sense or perhaps with such amazingly flexible vocals. Halford joins Ronnie James Dio, Ozzy Osbourne and Tom Arya among others in the category of legendary heavy metal vocalists. Happy Birthday!

Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls

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Judas Priest contributed much to the science of metal riffing. Where Black Sabbath strung together power chords into long phrases, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden re-introduced lead picking to this role as well with guitars that harmonized each other; Iron Maiden focused more on melody, where Judas Priest narrowed its exploration to the use of structure in riffs to get around the predictable patterns and rhythms still inherited from rock music. The band straddled the line between rock, hard rock and heavy metal.

Over the years, the band has unlike any other metal band explored any influences it could make meaningful. In the 1980s, Judas Priest explored electronic sounds and applied them to a type of hard rock/metal tinged with industrial and synthpop influences. In the early 1990s, the band took on Slayer and death metal with perhaps its highest musical point, Painkiller. Two decades later, the band both returns to its roots and attempts to find new directions for an artform which has lost sense of its urgency.

Redeemer of Souls begins with a pure hard rock track that shows off bluesy guitars and familiar rhythms and riff forms from 1970s-1980s radio hard rock. Perhaps the idea is to start the album slowly, or to have some track that can make it onto radio, but this track probably turned off most actual music fans because it is the metal equivalent of a cliché. After that, the band launches into more ambitious fare that quotes from the past styles of Judas Priest but tries to work in the rock appeal that marked its earliest albums. Hints of Ram it Down merge with a mainstay of pulsing rhythms from the Painkiller and Jugulator years slowed down to fit within the more sedate pacing of early Judas Priest.

Occasional citations can be heard to diverse metal bands including Metallica and at least one riff that sounds like later Iron Maiden. The band experiments with a number of variants on the theme citing mostly from rock favorites, such as the ballad and classic country, as well as working in a number of rock tropes in lead guitar and rhythm. Halford’s vocals take on a more restrained and sentimental approach. Tipton’s influence emerges through a style that fits classic Priest with a leaning toward the bluesy over the progressive or more metallic structured solos of the past. Where more intensive metal riffing emerges, it tends to lead not to an expansion on the same, but to a more vocal-centric and slower-paced take.

Redeemer of Souls like many later albums from groundbreaking bands revisits many successes of the past and mixes them in with known crowd pleasers, but seems focused more than Judas Priest in recent memory on fusing rock and metal to escape the sterile and eclectic but unfocused material of the jazz-lite fusion years of recent metal. While Redeemer of Souls has moments of power, its focus on breadth and variety leaves it feeling less like an album and more like a collection of singles, and experienced Priest fans may find it both approximates past releases too much and fails to leap to their level of intensity.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBnBwc_3pXU

Judas Priest announce Redeemer of Souls

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Legendary heavy metal band Judas Priest have released their first new music following the departure of longtime guitarist K.K. Downing. Entitled “Redeemer of Souls,” it is the first single off the upcoming album of the same name. It reveals a band simultaneously keeping with modern expectations of heavy metal composition and production and staying loyal to their roots in the NWOBHM movement.

“Redeemer of Souls” will trigger mixed reactions. While it shows some updated sound, this track at least is standard heavy metal fare, avoiding the later attempts of the band to update their sound after the explosion of speed metal reshaped the metal landscape. In a statement, guitarist Glenn Tipton confirmed the conservative nature of the album:

Sometimes in the past we may have come under fire for being too adventurous musically – so we have listened…From start to finish, Redeemer of Souls is 13 songs of pure classic Priest metal.

Judas Priest achieved its universal acclaim for its development of heavy metal into a cogent, distinct art form. Later to become one of the two main pillars of speed metal’s foundation (along with punk), the band has maintained its central status as a metal icon for decades, despite perhaps a natural decline as the band goes into its fifth decade. Redeemer of Souls will be released in America on July 15th via Epic Records.

Satan “Life Sentence” tour 2014 kicks off in April

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Satan won 2013’s Best of the Year award from Death Metal Underground for its album Life Sentence which shows the best of NWOBHM merged into the powerful techniques of the speed metal the band inspired back in the day.

Now, for the first time, Satan is touring North America starting in April. You can catch this classic metal band (which shares personnel with Blitzkrieg) at several locations already announced for the east coast, with more to come.

If you enjoy metal anywhere from the late 1970s through late 1980s models of technical, inventive riffcraft bearing and emotionally complex metal, Satan Life Sentence provides an older and wiser take on that era with just as much invention and perhaps more intensity.

  • 4/11 – Black Bear Bar, Brooklyn NY
  • 4/12 – Katacombes, Montreal QC
  • 4/13 – Ralph’s Rock Diner, Worcester MA
  • 4/14 – Kung Fu Necktie, Philadelphia PA
  • 4/15 – Strange Matter, Richmond VA
  • 4/16 – The Metro Gallery, Baltimore MD