Blood Urn – …of Gory Sorcery and Death (2014)

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Blood Urn is a death metal project whose approach to the genre is one that can reinvigorate it while being very traditional. Superficially, a listener who only glances over the surface of …Of Sorcery and Death may incorrectly say this is an old school album, a modern euphemism for retro-acts or merely those who do not play the metalcore-based so-called technical death metal. It is true that this is an old school release, but only in the sense that it upholds the same ideals of the best of that era, including certain preferences in aesthetics as a reflection of an inner attitude — an idea that stands in contrast with the superficial selection of genres and expressions of modern bands that wear style as a change of clothes to pose as something they are not.

If we made the mistake of approaching this distinction like most clueless people do, that is, with a shopping list of the aesthetic characteristics that usually accompany a genre in order to identify it, we would definitely arrive at the same conclusions. That is why premises are as important as having good logic. Wrong premises and good logic only lead you safely to wrong conclusions. But if we start with the premise that those aesthetic characteristics are only the reflection of a spirit which is much more than intention or purpose but also crystallized significance, we will recognize that the shopping-list approach is at best a collection of hints and not a concrete definition.

Blood Urn …Of Sorcery and Death is a death metal (‘old school’ death metal is the only one, with various regional styles) album in the truest sense. A death metal at heart and in representation. The expressions that seem typical of death metal are used here in what can be accurately described as progressive without incurring in the fallacy that all disparate appending of music qualifies as such.  In accordance with death metal tradition, music builds up through structural devices: mainly through variation and manipulation of theme with a climax and a clear musical goal in mind for an end.  By musical goal we mean one as defined by traditional classical theory, not by the “good intentions” of the music writer. Intention and realization are two different and distinguishable things, something relativists and individualists would do well to keep in mind.

While varied in expression, Blood Urn manages to remain fairly coherent, choosing to tie different textures in a mix that also incorporates the riff-salad approach. In this, it is somewhat similar to the way Horgkomostropus Lúgubre Resurrección builds in a very typical death metal push and pull between structural theme-play and variation and contrasting ideas that are brought gradually into the fold, first as a splash of cold water to the listener and then in gradual integration through interleaving and recombination of sections and themes. It is important to say that in good death metal fashion, the limit of the contrasting ideas does not break away from the chosen style, which is the sin of many a pseudo-prog outfit. This conjoined approach of dealing structural development from a theme with one and then riff-salad with the other only to increasingly interleave them and sometimes ultimately fuse them into altogether different endings can be referenced in masterful albums such as At the Gates’ The Red in the Sky is Ours and is also the approach of Blood Urn to music composition, albeit with a much more humble and less-layered result.

Triguna to release The Embryonic DVD

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Metal act Triguna release their first official music video for their debut record Embryonic Forms. Over the course of the next year they will release one a month. When all songs in the record have been released in individual takes, the band will collect them in a video compilation. Along with it, live footage as well as pre and post show footage will be released in The Embryonic DVD.

The video for the first song, “Rage”, has already been published on youtube.

Iron Kingdom – Ride for Glory (2015)

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Sounding like an Iron Maiden with the annoying voice from Queensryche’s vocalist from back in the day, Iron Kingdom make melodic heavy metal with the flexibility and propriety of conscious progressive rock. A very clear image of the character, lyrical theme and direction of the music arises through discrete but carefully-considered decisions to express the next clause with a literal musical change to match its change in words.

While the music could be described as progressive upon first impression, the result is closer to an extended and twisted pop-song format in which the pieces and functions are maintained but considerable variety is introduced. While some would object to this description, this is precisely what a progressive music arising from verse-chorus-bridge music should sound like: music that evolves to underpin the lyrical events taking place in the story being told. The vocals are kept within the framework of the music in a unified way through a composition of the melody line that strictly adheres to the moving harmony under it, rather than flying around in opera-like expression that takes a slow-moving support harmony as licence and liberty to stand out on its own. In here, the voice is a melodic instrument working in between the guitars and riding them (see Ozzy Obourne), not jumping on them as if they were trampolines (see Bruce Dickinson, Ronny James Dio).

Succeeding over the grandpa metal with progressive pretensions of post-2000 Iron Maiden by injecting a dose of proper progressive music with the influence of Queensryche, Iron Kingdom give us songs that actually progress and not just long, over-drawn affairs with over-extended bridge sections. While Ride for Glory is undeniably a song collection, the amount of content, its purpose within each song and their consistency track after track in all aspects while giving a distinctive-enough identity to each song give the album a chapters-in-a-story-like feeling of succession that while not altogether literal, can be felt from the music. Obviously an experienced band, Iron Kingdom know exactly what they are doing and more importantly the music is full with purpose, giving Ride for Glory a strong feeling of meaningfulness.

https://www.facebook.com/ironkingdom

My Hollow – On Borrowed Time (2015)

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Most metal journalism has a knack for identifying two particular things as “progressive”, none of which really are that. The first is incredibly messy music that obfuscates itself so much as to become an illegible carnival-fest of styles. The second is bands with tracks any longer than 3 minutes that deviates from pop format. My Hollow’s On Borrowed Time is a deathcore album that is experiencing the second of these two, using a strict rhythmic concordance as a restrictive chain that allows the rest of the musical dimensions to wander with a carefree liberty.

In deathcore, a heavily rhythm-based genre, the break-down-like passages lose their original meaning completely in a context that uses them for a completely different purpose than their original context intended them for. In the best moments in On Borrowed Time, My Hollow oddly attains a coherence through maintaining this rhythmic emphasis between different sections that can be either riff-oriented, melody oriented or pure-rhythm-oriented sections, successfully tying together otherwise disparate textures. This strict rhythmic concordance that becomes unbearable in most deathcore is used as an anchoring device that allows My Hollow to lash out with dangerously varied expression variety in the rest of the parameters that borders on the inconsistent.

When this strict rhythmic link is broken, the album degrades into a completely obscure incoherence all-too-common in this genre for pleasure-seekers with no attention span to speak of. When kept in check, the limitation it forces upon itself in its rhythmic component condemns the song to be a series of themes in wildly different landscapes akin to a collage of scenes with corresponding elements but no chronology or elaboration beyond the juxtaposition. Coherent tracks and spans of sections are unfortunately in the minority of On Borrowed Time, most of it descending into chaotic tough-guy feel-good nonsense.

Xendra – Xendra

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Xendra was a heavy metal project from the Central American country, Honduras. Rumor has it that their only album was recorded within one week around the turn of the century. The simplicity of the production would never put this into doubt as it is just barely satisfies the requirements of the music to be listenable.

 

As Brett Stevens said in a previous article, one could make the experiment of imagining music played through a primitive or simple device or format like a midi output and then see how interesting the music becomes then as a measure of the actual resulting power of the composition. It is in this respect that the barely satisfactory production in this album becomes a test for the music. Despite the production, the compositions’ musical qualities shine through, modest as they admittedly are in the very-large scale of music appreciation.

 

Xendra’s brand of late heavy metal also takes on speed metal characteristics with melodic tendencies. This is a typical 1990s mid-paced, simple melodic heavy/speed amalgam that is exemplified today by Cruxiter. Most of the most iconic and prominent Central American metal bands played in this style. Its raw yet singable character being particularly apt to work as a channel for a kind of urban folk style. I often use a word callejero(“of the street”) to describe the particular brand of heavy metal that developed in Central and northern South America. It is a folk heavy metal not because it makes use of old aboriginal melodies for motifs, but rather because it is the language of the young people in touch with the crudest reality of their modern countries. As such it tends to be be full of socio-political protest, prone to melancholic bouts and occult visionary prophecies. We should stress that the latter is appropriate and perhaps even mandatory for any respectable underground metal genre. As a kind of folk music, a few simpler songs in verse chorus manner are sparkled throughout the sixteen tracks of the album. These do not sound pandering as indulging themselves or the singer but are veritable laments voiced impersonally.

 

Claiming to be influenced from the more mainstream rock and hard rock progressive outfits like Rush and Dream Theater, someone listening in a slightly distracted manner would miss where and how Xendra makes these influences manifest. While we hear Dream Theater making technical acrobatics and the contrasts from one section of the music to the next the main point of the music, a more sensible and humble band like Xendra uses them in key points as tools towards smooth expansion or creative and beautiful articulation between sections. The rendition of the heavy metal callejero as presented in 2000’s Xendra is one of the best of its kind. Displaying elegant songwriting, subtlety and the restraint of talented instrumentalists using their technical abilities where the music needs them, rather than when their ego fancies it.

 

The full album can be downloaded here.

 

 

On Obscura and metal albums as song collections

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Arising from modern popular music, underground metal has retained many vestigial traits that several artists have consciously tried to erase and that some observers have started to question as detrimental to the effective expression of the genre. As the title of this article reveals, the case in point is the matter of albums as song collections. A good example of this becoming a hindrance to the message of the music is Gorguts’ Obscura.

Clocking in at one hour, Obscura consists of twelve songs, a little over the typical ten tracks of metal albums since the mid 1970s. The number ten has traditionally been associated with wholeness or completeness. In the most mainstream heavy metal circles it is considered only right to fill that exact number. No more, no less. A lot of death and black metal albums have veered slightly away from this rule and tend close their albums with eight or twelve tracks. Grindcore degenerates have never let numbers stand in their way and have completely given the finger to this rule as Repulsion, Napalm Death and Blood have shown us with their two-digit track lists.

The reason why more original and progressive-minded artists pay no attention to these unofficial guidelines is because whatever the artist has to say in an album should not be restricted by too many tracks. Even worse than being limited by the number of tracks is having to fill up tracks in order to reach the required number. This is precisely how we get the albums with “filler” tracks. Tracks nobody cares for but which make the album more “meaty” for those who care about such things.

More important than the adherence to a particular number of songs or tracks in an album is the fact that most bands produce precisely that: individual tracks bundled up in collections. This is Gorguts’ worse enemy even on their classic of classics. Every one of the songs up to the sixth track, Clouded, expresses a very distinct message in its method. After that, we basically get more of the same. The songs aren’t bad at all, but they do not add anything more to the album except extra minutes and more good songs whose essence is not any different from the ones before them. It’s basically thesaurus recitation.

Some propose that metal needs to look beyond the number, both as a rule and as a kind of indulgence. Just because that you have more songs does not mean you have to put them in the album. Just because you have more riffs does not mean they need a song to contain them. It is suggested that the album format in underground metal be exchanged for the classical opus format, where we have movements belonging to a coherent whole work, in which saying the same thing again and again is unnecessary and highly discouraged but in which consistency in style and voice is required to a healthy but not over-restrictive degree. Metal is not young anymore, the time to consciously take the step to the next level has come.

Terra – Untitled (2015)

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Advertised as a black metal release, Terra contains each and every one of the traits people might identify the genre with. The raspy vocals eclipsed by the distortion of the guitars, the dominating use of tremolo or simple strumming on the guitars and the steady and smoothly changing pace of the songs, and even a folk melody or two.

 

A few tell-tale signs tell us this is more in the vein of post-rock with progressive pretension. The inclination towards plain major-scale melodies can be considered superficial, but more often than not does separate black metal from the foreigners who are only borrowing its tools. The alien scent is most offensive in the blatant filler of Dj-groove sections which almost bring to mind Periphery’s Matt Halpern.

 

The importance of dissecting Terra lies in the relevance of knowing how to separate black metal’s “atmospheric” tendencies versus post-metal and the lesser (most) ambient music whose sole point is to “create atmosphere”. Black metal creates atmosphere and that atmosphere becomes a tool to what it is saying. Terra’s music is atmosphere.

 

Music is not about pointing out different elements.

Music, a work of music, is about integrating all the elements.

If you are able to say “this is a very rhythmical part/this is a very emotional part/this is a very technical part/this is a very atmospheric part”, you are not making music.  You are, maybe, only producing some (could be also very interesting and very beautiful) sounds.

— Daniel Barenboim

Is Progressive Metal Progressive?

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I got thinking about this while reading through some of the stuff on The Gabriel Construct’s webpage. He said he wants to make progressive metal progressive again. After thinking about this, I realized that this really strikes a chord with me. It is probably one of the reasons I’ve felt so uninspired by the stuff I’ve been listening to.

Let’s take as a case study: HeavyBlog’s top 12 of 2013 so far list (restricting to 2013 will not influence this discussion at all, since the best prog of 2012 falls into the same tropes) and pull the albums that can be labelled as “prog.” I actually like a lot of prog metal. You should remember this, because it is going to sound like a post in which I slam prog metal. Instead, this should be read as a sadness that such a promising genre has hit a stasis.

This is going to get hairy with putting bands into certain boxes, but as I see it the list is Tesseract (should djent actually count as a form of prog?), Persefone (is symphonic metal a form of prog?), Coheed and Cambria, Intronaut, Extol (OK, I haven’t actually listened to this one, but the list says it’s prog), Leprous, and The Ocean.

What do these bands have in common that makes them prog? They tend to have technical playing with technique that derives from classical skills of fast arpeggios and scale patterns than more traditional metal/rock techniques. The chord progressions tend to be less straightforward. This can mean jazz influenced or excessive chromaticism. The time signatures tend to be less straightforward and can even involve alternating time signatures and metric modulations. Lastly, the songs tend to be longer and more thoroughly developed and tied together with a common theme.

So what’s the problem? Well, at one point in time doing these things within metal was a progressive thing to do. They weren’t being done. It was interesting and new. It was moving the genre forward. Now it seems that these things that define the genre have become tropes. You have to have x number of time changes, y number of chromatic patterns, and z number of songs over 8 minutes long. Oh yeah, and we’ll praise you mindlessly if you make these numbers without actually doing anything original.

Instead of being truly progressive and trying to bring in new influences to make interesting and new music, it all ends up sounding similar. Just because you came up with a way to arpeggiate faster, using a “new” pattern, and you do more chromatic steps doesn’t mean you’re “more progressive” or even more interesting. It is more of the same pretending to be different.

Maybe I’m reacting to an over-saturation of prog lately, and I won’t feel this way after a break from it, but sometimes when listening to prog it sounds like a joke. It sounds like the band is stringing together a bunch of tropes in mockery of how derivative it all has become. Scale the Summit is unfortunately going to get my wrath, but I can’t listen that new album. It has such high praise all over the place, but I’m so bored by it. I mean listen to this. It is pretty, and quite impressive technically at parts, but how many times have you heard this?

No offense to Scale the Summit, I could have picked something off literally any of the bands listed above and some of those albums might even make my top 10 of the year. It is just a feature of the current prog scene. It has become static. There are the occasional minor details that are new, but overall, it isn’t progressing.

Progressive metal can become progressive again. To some people it may seem shocking. What more do I want? They are already employing all of the complexity you would find in any fully trained classical composer. I’d reply, well, yes, any trained composer through the 19th century. But this stuff is more than a century old now. You could incorporate tons of modern developments. You don’t have to write atonally, but you can incorporate interesting post-tonal techniques to make something progressive without losing your band’s characteristic sound.

Other than tonality, there have been tons of other innovations from play style (stop with the incessant arpeggios, please), to modern electronic filtering of sound in new ways, to how your band layers together its pieces texturally, to instruments used (thank you Hybrid for showing us clarinet can be used in metal), to more original genre crossover, and on and on. You shouldn’t have to be an Animals as Leaders or Dream Theater clone to be prog. I bet I could write a fugue a la Hindemith that would sound really good by a metal band. How about someone tries that for originality?

I know there are actually lots of bands out there doing this, but they immediately get labelled as avant garde and pushed out of the prog scene. As I pointed out last time, this term should probably be reserved for the really, really out there stuff. Incorporating these techniques subtly into your standard prog sound should still count as prog metal. We should embrace more experimentation to finally get out of this stasis.

Obsolete – Riven

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“Why?” you ask. Why indeed. “Why is this on a website called deathmetal.org?”. Because to promote ideals, what must be avoided must also be examined. Obsolete gives us plenty of material to work with in this respect. It has the gimmicky over-emotional vocals and the string unrelated catchy and head-bob-inducing sections that would not be out of place in a Coheed and Cambria record.

With the all-too-common excuse of being a progressive band, Obsolete give little thought to whether the ideas they are pasting together actually make any sense as a whole. Not only is the whole unconvincing but the individual ideas are also echoes of the past in a series of bland reincarnations of alternative rock voices. Often voicing social protest in Latin American music, this style of music is used by Obsolete to speak of plain and obvious things as if they were the most mysterious enigmas of the universe. Such is the power channeled by this music.

Riven represents the lowest common denominator for the casual music fan. By definition, there is no shortage of these, so that this album is sure to find a substantial audience ready to talk about how deep and emotional this music and its lyrics are.

The reader can help themselves to this profound music here.