One of the long-running metaphors here at DMU is the metal or grindcore band that adds flute parts to their music in an attempt to seem progressive and intelligent, but in doing so adds nothing of value of interest to their music beyond a slight hint of aesthetic novelty and a couple laughs for those of us who can see through their attempts. The fact that the flute solo that takes up most of of Gojira’s latest brief studio teaser has nothing to do with the rest of the video (some brief scratchings that may become indie-metal songs) only reinforces our understanding.
By the mid-1990s, it was clear that death metal and black metal were winding down if not over as far as their creative impetus was concerned. The great sell-out albums were yet to come, and bands explored the time-honored method of being “new” by mixing in established genres and calling the hybrid a new path. Where hybridization works, it brings something different to a genre and makes it work within the style of that genre; when it fails, it reverts to an ancestor.
Cultus Sanguine jumped in through a mixture of doom metal, suicidal black metal and shoegaze with influences from bands like Joy Division who worked through atmosphere. This early form of post-metal emphasized theatrical vocals and melodic simple guitar lines that emphasized a trudging rhythm, making it a lot like the post-metal explosion to come but with a more forceful approach.
Unlike many of the more recent bands, Cultus Sanguine attempted a narrative approach. This became absorbed within the need of vocals and atmosphere to predominate, creating a sense of interrupted mood with heavy emphasis on its return, but ultimately the simpler, rock-style riffs and their underlying progressions did not give the band enough to work with. Now a historical curiosity, this album was lauded for its “creativity” at the time and then rapidly faded into obscurity.
Controversial early footage has emerged of post-metal band Deafheaven in an earlier look for them: rigorous, military, and intolerant with shaved heads and NSBM styling to their approach.
Obviously this has changed over time, as the band now follow a retro-hipster aesthetic, but you can see the early footage here:
Ever get the feeling that some of the material featured on Death Metal Underground was constructed solely to bait us into posting something vitriolic and derisive? Brett-baiting is illegal in 43 countries, most recently Uzbekistan and Finland, but apparently not in America, where Relapse Records recently pushed out Myrkur’s M, a suitably ironic title for bittersweet indie-rock ironism pretending to be metal.
As a fan of analyzing music in its historical context, I’ve decided that digging too deeply into Relapse’s little stunt is to lose to them at the marketing game. You can read about the legends and myths surrounding M by Myrkur on your own time. For our purposes, it suffices to say that M is one of those “post-black metal” albums, and like most of the more commercially notorious content featured here, it’s a standard entry to the subgenre. Myrkur’s real problem isn’t that it’s a fusion, or even that it’s a failed fusion, but that the individual elements it pulls upon are not executed effectively, even in isolation. This is essentially the filler moments from a handful of black metal and indie pop albums spliced together and hastily glued by a the efforts of an ethereal vocalist who has trouble making much of an impression beyond that of vague prettiness.
That such an album as M might be a record of juxtapositions and asides is unsurprising, as this is a common and well-understood way to vary otherwise typically structured songwriting. However, it’s hard to find music with transitions and instrumentation shifts this awkward without delving into the wind-swept lands of the allegedly avant-garde. This generally applies only to the more dynamic tracks that make more effort to sound nominally metallic, but many were the times tracks melted into claustrophobic noise and reverb in order to dodge ending in a coherent fashion. Were these transitions better realized, we could probably pass this off as the mildly depressive shoegazing alternative rock recording it apparently wants to be when it grows up. But the occasional (and unsurprisingly rare) sections of overt black metal without obvious concessions to Myrkur’s shoegazing roots is poorly spent, with little in the way of intelligible riffing to the point that it’s almost a relief when the recording tries to do something different, even though it just ends up rehashing its previous ideas again.
You would have more luck loading up your favorite black metal recordings into a copy of Pro Tools and mixing in the misplaced indie pop promos we frequently receive, perhaps adding your own little twee ornamentation here and there. Perhaps this is why there are so many blackgaze recordings out there; Myrkur’s contributions would probably sink into the morass were it not for the incessant marketing of their label.
More unworthy garbage keeps coming our way, the splatter pattern created after all the filth has hit the surface behind us is put into words in our Sadistic Metal Reviews.
Reverie – Bliss (2015)
With a band name like Reverie and a seemingly ironic album title like Bliss you might have expected postmodern post-indie shoegaze hipster black metal to roar and pounce at you like an enraged kitten, but luckily, we are met with something at the very least resembling a lion here; pity this one just so happens to not be the king of the jungle.
In homage to the oldest Bathory-tradition, we find Reverie struggling to bring hardcore punk and ominous metal harmonics into a vileful matrimony. Where Reverie, like most other modern exploits of this scheme fail, is in the insistence on very low-brow hooks and plodding “anti-cosmic” disharmonics which only further leads the listener astray from whatever good basic riff the song was initially edified around. Acoustic interludes and vapid diversity in riffs can’t overshadow the monotony that all songs eventually end up in – Imagine a less successful and inspired newer Autopsy, and you’d be close to what the songwriting sounds like for the most part.
There are shining, spirited moments, but if this band is to evolve beyond the hordes of Katharsis-clones, they still have years of sadistic refinement to come.
Arvas – Black Satanic Mysticism (2015)
If there’s something the modern black metal scene likes to fawn over, it’s music with empty calories -Excellent riffs, delectably prepared into a concoction without any lasting impressions. Black Metal has at this point made it into the realms of nostalgia, and genre-pandering releases such as this one clearly proves this. The music found here clearly harkens back to the glory days of the Norwegian early 90’s, but are so firmly entrenched in their own sentimentality that they miss the original explorative spirit of the genre.
Nothing on here is offensive, as background-music it is highly soothing and comforting for anyone already introduced into the genre, since it is so highly conscious not to disrupt its conventions. If you’re the kind of person that likes Choco Puffs for breakfast rather than a swordfight with your mortal enemy to the death, then this release might just be the one for you.
Dystopia Nå! – Dweller on the Threshold (2015)
What else does the modern underground cherish? High-functioning blenders. The ingredients aren’t all that important, as long as the blend is interesting and “unique”. Once we taste the results after the blend, we’ll go into denial over its real flavours, and instead gaze at the moon as it reflects our own ego shining bright ëíIím the only one who understands this! This is the new wave!íí
What is Dystopia Nå!? It’s Screamo and Nu-metal of the 2000’s with instrumentation and lacing from De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Ironic, depressive quotes rumble through the wall of sound and powerless anguished screams echo through chuggy deathcore breakdowns, but neither of these elements hold any gravitas whatsoever, even for the most unscrupulous of hipsters. Like all other depressive black metal/rock, this is professional duping of young indie girls into the new “edgy” trend. No soothing ëartfulí piano-interludes or post-rock guitars could save this abomination. Avoid.
Harrow – Fallow Fields (2015)
Some bands don’t even know how to be subtle and mask their blatant source-material. Harrow is a pure rip-off of more successful atmospheric/post-rock black metal bands, and it becomes obvious from the very first seconds of the first track.
If you have heard Agalloch, Kroda and Drudkh, you have heard the instrumental ingredients of this release, but never before has someone managed to achieve this level of tedium in the faux-ambient genre. Pass this one up, and you’ll get some extra time to listen to Hvis Lyset Tar Oss instead.
Vardan – Between the Fog and Shadows (2015
Droning minor chords for minutes on end, replete with “catchy” piano and synth-“bloops” akin to a new-wave pop band. The dominant theory in our contemporary music scene is that this drivel was conjured up by the evocative gloom of Burzum, but there we must vehemently disagree. This is a spawn of the same old ego that spawned Grateful Dead, Opeth and Liturgy, this time merely slapped unto a production that they think would sell with the lower echelon of the black metal hordes; incapable of distinguishing a duck from an ostrich. It worked ten years ago, and we’re still seeing bands such as Vardan cashing in on the plastic underground credibility to this day.
Trials – This Ruined World (2015)
The instrumental performance of Pantera amalgamated with metalcore production and composition, sprinkled with the most basic uninspired Metallica-worship gallop and Sepultura breakdown. What do we get? Imagine a cake concocted by a skilled chemist lacking any taste buds. Technically, it’s proficient, but the emperor wears no clothes, and even the most passing glance at this record might confirm this. I’m sure these fellows think their murky, crusty chugs mixed with catchy melodic death metal riffs and pop choruses was a top notch idea to get all the chicks on the beach, but I assure them that for this atrocity they’ll receive only personal embarrassment in the future.
SoulLine – Welcome My Sun (2015)
At some point in the mid-to-late 90’s, the term melodic death metal, once the moniker used for bands using the death metal labyrinth-riff through leitmotifs of recognizable melodies more so than percussive grounding, became usurped by the most twee of electro-pop bands, grunge-rejects and the burgeoning modern screamo and post-hardcore genres.
The band might define itself as a melodic death metal band, but one would be hard-pressed to find any differences in this material from your typical screamo/crunkcore-band. A band like Attack Attack will have the same moronic, oversimplified Pantera-grooves, monotone, emotionless vocals, random disco drums and pop structures with a slaphappy yet indignant “mad-at-father” choruses. The only differing elements are the chunkier metal production and the fact that there are a few more listless harmonies in the breakdowns. Melodic death metal is a sham, it has nothing to do with death metal, and just about anything labelled this after 1995 is a marketing ploy to get both the listless Cannibal Corpse-fans who will gobble up anything death metal-related for the “br00tal” street cred and the emo kids who’ve had enough of the bullying at school into bands like this in this putrid, yawn-inducing horror of a genre.
Shrapnel Storm – Mother War (2015)
Looking at this record superficially we see the image of a forsaken mother clutching a decayed baby as though it was all that was left for her in her life. The Apocalypse is raging all around in an urban environment and the future is bleak. This imagery has a striking resemblance to what crust punk constantly portrayed.
This is no accident. One of the bases for the Swedish death metal sound which this Finnish band pursues was this Discharge/Amebix-influence. The Stockholm HM-2 Boss guitar sound was the natural evolution of the bass-driven, gritty rasp that could be heard on Amebix releases as early as 1983’s Winter. Shrapnel Storm’s idea on how to elaborate on this legacy is to strip back the evolution of Swedish Death Metal one step further into the lost realm of Crust-bleakness where monotony and desolation rules. This is a valid endeavour and the result does predictably come off similar to a modernized, groovier version of what Deviated Instinct and Bolt Thrower did in the late 80’s.
There’s only one vital flaw: The music isn’t very engaging and hearkens back to Wolverine Blues and Welcome to the Orgy more than it does Left Hand Path and Arise!. Rather than exploring the ambiance that could be found in both of these genres when played with expertise, in actual content, Shrapnel Storm for the most part makes this seem like just another mediocre death-n-roll record rather than the potential their sound actually might possess.
If they drop the simple bluesy riffs, focus on the monotone but engaging crusty riffs, play around with song structures more you might actually find a worthwhile record from these guys sometime in the future, but for now, it’s not salvageable and we’re left with dull and mediocre riffs that go nowhere but straight into the bin.
Nihilosaur – Icebreaker Hope (2014)
Reminiscent of the overtly artsy post-death metal bands in Finland after the countries initial boom of creativity died out, this band tries to take death metal in an interesting direction, but ends up sounding like a mediocre Sludge Metal band with no clear direction on how to escape the forest of their own design.
Loud, buzzing bass-distortion and peculiar, sometimes Godflesh-like guitar-notes screech in the distance. But no one will listen, except for their mothers who assure that they’re as special and unique as ever. The main differing factor between Godflesh or other quirky but successful bands like Carbonized and this is ultimately the fact that Nihilosaur merely know how to take you on an obscure journey through industrial film noir-visuals, but then leave they leave you with no satisfying conclusion. It starts and ends with a vortex of randomness where listlessness is king.
This is the Mulholland Drive of death metal, it wishes it was Voivod or other narrative bands, but for this fairytale, the narrator has long been asleep at the wheel, never to be found again. Good riddance.
Minority Sound – Drowner’s Dance (2015)
Did you ever want Marilyn Manson with a bit more EBM, injected with leftover riffs from Megadeth Risk album to then be spiced with movie soundtrack electronic orchestras, desperately trying to inject some novelty into the tween-metal? No? You elitist bigot!
The band is definitely more instrumentally competent than most in the industrial metal genre but like other novel bands like Babymetal the music is pop music on steroids, disguised as an ironic, competent “new” take on metal. If the fair is too expensive for you but you still want that roaring deluge of incomprehensible, meaningless sounds and images to barrage before your senses and this might be just right for you.
Lothlöryen – Principles of a Past Tomorrow (2015)
The trouble with the modern power metal genre is its overwhelming mediocrity, where the bulk of the music sounds like pop music on speed conjured up by the high from their own auto-effluvial sniffings. It is truly a rare gift to see anything even resembling what Iron Maiden could achieve with the beginnings of this sound in the mid-80ís. But that’s Is a story for another time.
This isn’t utterly horrific by modern power metal standards, it’s just so average that it could be any tired Blind Guardian-influenced attire shuffling through the fog for an original approach to songwriting that isn’t copy-pasted from an early Helloween album. The occasional EBM interlude and gimmicky parody of a Celtic major-driven song-and-dance isn’t doing this already stillborn record any favours – the only favour I can ask of the band members to do for themselves would be to stop wasting valuable plastic on this insipid tripe. That, or move to Finland, join a Polka-troupe and finally kill themselves.
Crown – Natron (2015)
Indie rock will always find new aesthetic means to plague us and infest any worthwhile medium of creative composition. They will perpetuate Shakespeare’s legacy as if it were Comic Sans in their vain vision of art.
What does this new incarnation bring us? Well, the black rider in the night wears the robes of sludge/doom metal of the lowest caliber, laced with post-rock and industrial clichès. If you’re a fan of pseudo-prog of the last decade but would like it artsier, “spiritually deeper”, more Agalloch-infused and Rammstein-attuned, then this might be for you. Mind you, you would have had to have lost your taste buds ages ago if you find that sounding remotely palatable, so I’m sure you’ll gobble it up like a any fine happy meal from the garbage bin.
Locrian – Infinite Dissolution (2015)
As the album initiates its sonic onslaught, we are at first greeted with something resembling early Godflesh, but with a more derivative, flaccid production. Where will this lead us? I’ll tell you where, to post-rock and Wolves In the Throne Room-tedium. The industrial aesthetic attempt to hide the fact that this is the same tired quasi-ambient formula where emotionless “emotional” sounds roll unto the listener until a barrage of harmonic, almost Liturgy-like random melodic throwaways strikes as if it is the only path for the music to take, until it dies a tragic death in reflection of its own hubris.
This pattern is repeated throughout the entire record. It’s clear that they want to be Drudkh 2.0 and some of the slower melodies hold some meagre musical merit, but the approach and composition is botched with no saving grace to be found. Avoid or fall into oblivion, as is the fate of this album.
Credit where credit is due: The album title perfectly describes how focused the composition is on the record.
Sonick Plague – Street Wars (2015)
An 80’s speed metal band, forgotten by time and space, decide to make a new record almost 30 years after being out of business. One can wonder if anyone ever found their output special to begin with, as what we find here is something akin to early Megadeth without any substantial riff variation and a latter-day groove metal influence, pedalling in these similar motifs that don’t go much further than tying themselves up in a nice enough fashion. This is the barcode for mediocre, it might get them some high fives from their friends at the pub that they haven’t met since the late 80’s, but to the general public this is as forgettable as they come.
Funebria – In Dominus Blasfemical Est… Ad Noctum Sathania (2015)
Some bands are only after the lipstick and aesthetics. Funebria is a Venezuelan black metal band that despite their best efforts, come off as a modern melodic death metal/metalcore act with dynamics borrowed from Marduk and Cradle of Filth. They try their best to disguise this under raw, simplistic war metal lyrics and scene pandering, but for the discerning ear this is as vapid as the latest Dimmu Borgir albums, unfortunately for this album however, they lack even the instrumental proficiency of the latter. Let this abortion sink into the depths that their doted Ea might give them a final mercy kill so we might never hear such belligerently tedious music ever again.
Note: Oddly, this sounds like “Fun”+ “ebria” (drunk in Spanish).
Concocting the perfect metal-beginner waylayer album, Behold! The Monolith come back with an album that brings together disparate and formulaic applications of different metal and hard rock styles in a way that emphasizes changing moods and contrasting sections that should feel exciting because they are new to the listener in each moment. This approach was first popularized by Åkerfeldt Pink Frothy AIDS and has since been a bomb among both hipsters and distracted listeners that only look for a dose of “heaviness” in metal. For the latter all that suffices is a string of heavy-sounding and catchy moments that are capable of inducing head-banging. For the first, the hipsters, it is important that the song superficially parts away from the norm, thus differentiating itself as an insult to any sort of tradition, an affront to any implication of real meaning embedded in the song, a statement that meaning is only what they want it to be.
This year’s proposal, Architects of the Void, is mental cancer incarnate, delusional pretension combined with self-serving posturing ooze through each decision about the content and direction of the songs. We hear a doom metal riff opening, then we suddenly find ourselves in a full on Stoner groove only to be followed by a speed metal attack with tremolo-picking, a break for an acoustic fill that does not last more than 15 seconds only to by hit by uneventual melodic heavy metal guitar lines, only to come back by Stoner riff patterns propelling the Korn-like vocals. Not only is the juxtaposition of styles comical but besides a little attention to smoothness in tempo and dynamics, there is evidence anywhere that the band had any intention whatsoever of giving these songs a central theme. Any riff in any song could be easily interchangeable with almost any other riff from any other song. It would make little difference, if any.
The poser-like mental weakness displayed by Behold! The Monolith Architects of the Void goes beyond the mere mental weakness that drives them into mediocrity and complacency. With the attitude of post-rock/metal and the technical approach of hard rock, this band represents the monster that metal’s assimilation into the mainstream represents. A product suitable for the pleasure of subpar intelligence in music, it is not only recommended that this album is avoided but its copies are actively searched for and destroyed. The possibility that this project takes a place in name besides truly artful underground projects is an insult to them and a building-up of distracting fodder. Of course, the truly discerning out there will know to avoid this screamo-spirited music full of SJW teenage rage, but there are those out there who are still digging their way through metal, those who are still learning. For the sake of metal itself, this album must make it into the lists of worst insults to the genre.
PS. The band is from Los Angeles, California. Should this have been a clue?
Colorful and dynamic, Adversarial’s brand of nu-black metal has many compelling moments and even long stretches of song, but overall falls prey to a combination of high-level meandering in search of an “atmosphere” while loose reign is given to the drums to fill in gaps with flare without any substantiation. In their defense, most of the instruments seem to work in a very directed manner, a direct result of the simplicity of the music, although this integration and interplay is not as clearly done or focused on a full musical-conceptual balance like Kaeck’s Stormkult.
Ultimately, the most compelling aspect of Death, Endless Nothing and the Black Knife of Nihilism is its delicious production. Everything is both pristine in the dirty and powerful way that violent death and black metal are mandated to be heard. Unfortunately, when one pays close attention to the development of whole songs, it is easy to notice that the songwriting does not rise above the level of, say, Peruan black metal band Goat Semen. In fact, given that Adversarial are more prone to that modern atmospheric meandering that is vaguely reminiscent of post-modern chord-hanging, I would rather listen to the forward moving and still related riff progressions of Goat Semen, although these also, in the end, do not amount to a clear picture of anything except the violence they produce outright.
While these will delight metal listeners that lie on the heavy and consistent pleasure-seeking spectrum, those in search of a balanced unification of images and respectable music construction will find nothing here.
Despite claims to being some sort of doom death with black metal influences, Creeping’s music is a progressive sort of rock music with little trace of the influence of metal apart from the most superficial traits. These traits can be briefly summarized in distorted guitars and vox, and rock and metal drum techniques. Creeping’s music in Revenant could be described as being through-composed with a minimalist touch to them. Once you remove this from sight and you look through them, it is evident this is not metal music. In general, their work here displays a very keen sense on smooth transitions and mood-capturing that only the most sensitive musicians are able to put together. What Creeping seems to be at a loss for is an organizing agent that condensates these living shapes into meaningful statements with heads and tails or at least a direction. As it stands, Revenant is only a sequence of related vague feelings without enough organization to convey a concrete meaning — a direct consequence of both being mostly empty of musical formations and missing the point that music and art in general are communication.
The most revealing moment when listening to Creeping is when one reaches the ending of a song and everything is put into perspective. Endings are reached uneventfully. They simply just end. The finishing sections as a group are indistinguishable from those at the beginning. In fact, they could be interchanged and it would make little difference as they do not carry any connotation. Not only are true endings missing but what we would physically try to locate as development sections of any sort (not necessarily Beethovenian) are also flat-out indistinguishable from sections at the beginning or ending. The clue here is not to look at the sections or groups of sections themselves only but also in relation to one another. How is the idea carried forward? What changed from this moment to two minutes in the future? How and why is the idea left behind towards the end? Is the idea actually changed towards the end? There is no answer to this questions in the context of this album, because none of that seems to ever have been in the mind of Creeping when writing these songs. Each section is a progression of chords with “powerful” drum beats. They took care that adjacent sections were related in character and texture (all the album uses the same texture and album) but nothing else. The album is a homogeneous creeping mass sliding down a hill like lava from an erupting mountain. It is an event, it is motion, but it is without life or purpose.
Creeping’s Revenant is one of those albums that will carry the flag of the mainstream in their incursions to try and conquer the underground by taking a depressive-sounding rock outfit and trying to make it look and sound like a convincing metal act. The fastest and most obvious way of doing this is by copying the traits that help identify underground metal through its superficial appearances. This is the second issue we take this album: that of pretending to be metal. Somewhat resembling post-metal, Creeping distinguishes itself from metal music in that it builds its music following chord progressions mainly, not phrases. What tells us that Creeping is rock music and not post-metal, though, is that it constantly follows actually-moving chord circles, effectively creating movement through that most basic device in Western music derived from the Common Practice Period classical music. Post-metal, on the other hand tends to stagnate in one harmony and try to play it in many different ways and with different decorations, usually ceding the task of promoting movement in the music solely to the drums. While there are parts where a melody can be heard, this is often just a decoration for an implied chord progression. The music in Creeping’s Revenant is utterly dependent on them, something underground metal distinguished itself from through years of rethinking itself and distancing itself from rock music in order to attain greater power of expression.
Given the way the songs in Revenant evolve and the atmosphere they seem to want to evoke in part as per the claims made that this band’s music adds a hint of black metal to their music, a comparison to Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is appropriate in order to dispel the former’s false claims and to put into perspective their more limited ability for communication. Creeping’s work and procedures have been described in some detail earlier here, so let’s proceed to take a look at Burzum. At a glance, there are many similarities between both. Songs in Hvis Lyset Tar Oss emphasize a smoothness of transition between sections whose borders are blurred out, except when there are major breaks in the music. Texture also consists of drums that change slightly independently of the rest of the music while still working with it, a strong bass, chord-strumming guitar and a rasping/growling vocal. Burzum’s music is further clarified by the use of a synth and another guitar that may outline melodies, phrases and themes. And themes are the key to Burzum’s music in this period (or any other, for that matter…). The discerning listener will notice that chords and progressions in the Norwegian’s music are only harmonic filling-outs of motifs in the bass line, oftentimes enhanced by a slight deviation in the soprano line. Chords are subsumed under motifs. Songs are defined by themes. In addition to that, and addressing the issue of whole-song structure and purpose, the first three songs in Burzum’s album do the same thing with visibly different approaches: present an idea, condense it into a solid and clear expression, introduce development, extend and come to an affirming closing idea smoothed through repetition rather than asserted in vainglorious expression typical of traditional metal. As a whole, and as a reflection of a cosmos that is contained in its smallest particles, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss follows that same pattern as an album. From its slowly building opening track, “Det Som Engang Var” to the more menacing and alienating expressions of the title track and the first half of “Inn in Slottet Fra Drømmen” which marks the climax of the album in frenetic expression only to dissipate into its second half, leading to the crystal-clear conclusion that is the ambient track, “Tomhet”.
In conclusion, Revenant ends up sounding like the indecipherable ramblings of an illuminated idiot. You can hear that there is, perhaps, a wisdom behind the sequence of misty phrases and bursts of adjective-noun pairs blurted out as if in poetic rapture, but there is not enough involvement of a conscience to even start to make sense of these. This is an album for the moment-oriented, people with short attention spans looking for prolonged sequences of singular atmospheric pictures, fans of masturbatory emotional neediness looking only for a cold shower of pleasure with no significance.
Post-metal, a dirty word in knowing circles, can and should be applied to Gorguts‘ classic Obscura. Post-metal is an offshoot of post-modernism, a school of thought that attempts to reject overarching structural meaning and belief in greater narratives. To the post-modern mind, existence and experience consist of pluralities, splintered into fiercely individualistic cells prone to subjective rule, and inimical to any attempt at establishing a universal system of knowledge. Under this philosophy, adherence to a common-law guidebook serving as a framework for value judgments would amount to giving tacit approval to an authoritarian scheme of things.
The post-modern mind rebels against the idea of linear progress and containing edges. Instead it chooses to break free of tradition and to chase the open-ended horizon, giving wing to its often reactionary attitudes; in fact, it can be said that post-modernism, as an approach to inspecting knowledge and the various forms it finds expression in, exists only to uproot convention. It seems to lack a defining purpose of its own, mired as it is in its perpetual obsession to bring down pre-existing ideological superstructures.
However, in the absence of a time-honoured, governing set of principles, can ambiguity be far away? Can a severing with tradition with no motive other than just the severing and that alone ever have an impact beyond the momentary fascination that novelty engenders? A need to improve on boxed-in ideas is natural but is doing so by gleefully discarding much of what goes into the making of the original idea any improvement at all?
The original idea, as metal goes, is as much structural as it is ideological. There are a few qualities that are common to how all true metal should be constructed.
- Melodic contiguity: All forms of metal, even the harshest strains, are inherently and recognizably melodic in nature. This means that the individual phrases that make up a metal song obey cohesiveness, as tenuous as it may seem at times. Though individual phrases are often in different keys, it is paramount that they share the same musical space.
- Movement towards a discernible and logical conclusion: This is the will to motion previously outlined in these pages. Metal’s roots in traditional story-telling with a beginning, a middle, and an end, are not to be forgotten in eager exchange of a need to experiment. There has to be a gradual ascent, or a plummet as it were, towards an ultimate punctuation. Though various approaches can be used towards achieving this, playing for time in false hope of creating mood, while using ideas containing little intrinsic worth, is anathema to metal.
- Rhythm section to assume a strong yet only supporting role: Metal is a predominantly lead-melody oriented form of music. Bass and drums are integral to creating a fuller sound but should only be viewed as swells on an ocean on top of which riffs and songs float. Often, swells rise and raise their load with them, but this hierarchy in relations is crucial and is to be preserved.
- Atmosphere created not through textural embellishments and quirks but as a by product of composition: All claim to that shady word “atmosphere” should come from immanent qualities in the way the music is written. Metal does not need overt experimentation with harmonics or tone if these asides are incapable of holding together on isolated inspection.
- Awareness that all forms of groove play to a far baser inclination in the mind’s analytical apparatus. They can be enjoyed on a case-by-case basis but are not something to be eagerly sought out or encouraged in metal.
- A keen comprehension of repetition as device: Repetition is to be used as steadily outward-growing eddies that take a song to a different place, yes, but one that maintains a tangible relation to the place left behind. Individual components within the repeating phrase should have some emotional consonance and not serve as mere padding.
- Conscious realization that metal is in fact composed music and not free jazz.
How does Obscura, universally regarded as Gorguts‘ creative zenith, fare in context with these? On an individual song basis and on an album-wide scale, Obscura flouts more than a few of these observations. Obscura‘s sound is a swirling melange of dissonant tones under cyclic orientation, created on a wildly giddy bedrock of percussion. Conventional melody is used not as the driving force behind the songs heard on this album, but as ballast to the band’s almost painful need to expand the template of extreme metal prevalent till then. Guitarists coax unnatural sounds out of their instruments, resembling those made by scurrying creatures of the night, and mold them into a form of strange melody not without appeal, but on honest reflection little more than an outlier gimmick.
While not all associations with the band’s previous classic Erosion Of Sanity have been severed, Obscura greatly favours repetition of its themes, themes that at times fail to register as true motifs, often to the point of tedium. Where the band’s younger work had irrepressible momentum on its side, they now seem stuck in a rut of their own making with no clear vision of how to extract themselves from it. Songs regularly lapse into the kind of navel-gazing that is so aggravating in modern technical bands, in hindsight obviously influenced by this album. The most obvious example of this would be ‘Clouded‘, an idea that would be deemed insufficient even for the most basic of interludes but here stretched beyond all limits of endurance.
It would be disingenuous to suggest that Obscura detonates the core of music entirely, contrary to epithets of “chaotic” and “cacophonous” regularly appended to its descriptions. There is a kind of twisted logic to these songs but it is so far removed from what has gone before in the metal canon that it barely, if at all, qualifies as metal. Perhaps the album’s greatest failing as a purportedly metal album is in the lack of a human aspect. One would have to project really hard to glean any kind of meaningful emotion from these songs, uniformly monochromatic, mechanized, and without hope, or rage, as they are. In its abundant jagged outcroppings and in its constant search for the next unorthodox detour, Obscura
What essence, then, does Obscura have to relate?