Xendra – Xendra

Xendra

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

obscuraTracklist

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

terraAdvertised 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

obsolete

“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.

King Crimson spinoff group The Crimson ProjeKCt releases Live in Tokyo

the_crimson_projekct-live_in_tokyo

A supergroup composed of King Crimson musicians, The Crimson ProjeKCt, will release Live in Tokyo through InsideOut Music on March 18, 2014. To commemorate the announcement of the live album’s release, the band have issued a video of their live performance of the 1974 King Crimson classic “Red” off the album by the same name.

“Red is one of the pre-80s instrumentals that has remained an integral part of King Crimson’s repertoire up until the early 2000s. Our interpretation of this classic piece is uniquely energetic and always ‘on-the-edge’, especially the double drumming from Pat and Tobias. Markus is doubling the main guitar part in a baritone register, which adds a subtle new pushing element to the song. The roar going through the audience when we start playing this is one of the highlights of our shows for us,” said the band in a statement issued collectively.

The Crimson ProjeKCt is organized in the “double trio” lineup that King Crimson popularized from 1994-1997, and features Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, Markus Reuter, Julie Slick and Tobias Ralph, all of whom have played with King Crimson during the past. The band mostly focuses on later King Crimson work that was popular from the early 1980s through mid-1990s.

Tracklist

  1. B’Boom
  2. THRAK
  3. Frame By Frame
  4. Dinosaur
  5. Industry
  6. Elephant Talk
  7. VROOOM VROOOM
  8. Sleepless
  9. Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part II
  10. Indiscipline
  11. Red
  12. Thela Hun Ginjeet

Tourdates

  • 5th March – Heichal Tarbut, Tel-Aviv – Israel
  • 6th March – Bingo Club, Kiev – Ukraine
  • 7th March – Usine A Gaz, Nyon – Switzerland
  • 8th March – Amager Bio, Copenhagen – Denmark
  • 9th March – Cosmopolite, Oslo – Norway
  • 11th March – Ziquodrome, Compiegne – France
  • 12th March – O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London – UK
  • 13th March – Trabendo, Paris – France
  • 14th March – De Boerderij, Zoetermeer – Netherlands
  • 16th March – Arena Club, Moscow – Russia
  • 17th March – Palace of Culture Lensoveta, St. Petersburg – Russia
  • 19th March – Palladium Club, Warsaw – Poland
  • 20th March – Klub Studio, Krakow – Poland
  • 21st March – Neuberin Halle, Reichenbach – Germany
  • 22nd March – Konzerthause, Karlsruhe – Germany
  • 23rd March – Frankfurter Hof, Mainz – Germany
  • 25th March – Grughalle, Essen – Germany
  • 26th March – Z7, Basel – Switzerland
  • 27th March – Archa Theatre, Prague – Czech Republic
  • 29th March – Auditorium Supercinema, Chieti – Italy
  • 30th March – Auditorium Manzoni, Bologna – Italy
  • 31st March – Auditorium Verdi, Milan – Italy
  • 1st April – Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome – Italy
  • 2nd April – Viper Theatre, Firenze – Italy
  • 4th April – Kongresu Nams, Riga – Latvia
  • 24th June – Auckland – the Studio – New Zealnd
  • 26th June – Melbourne – The Hi-Fi – Australia
  • 27th June – Sydney – The Hi-Fi – Australia
  • 28th June – Brisbane – The Hi-Fi – Australia
  • 2nd July – Fremantle – Fly By Night – Australia

Oblivion Called to Rise live stream and interview

oblivion-called_to_riseOf all the newer school bands out there, Oblivion struck us here at deathmetal HQ as one of the more imaginative ones.

It is clearly of the modern metal model, following the “great contrast” approach in riffing rather than the integrative nature of the old school, but it displays intense creativity and technical mastery. In addition, Oblivion seem to know how to make a song out of a musical idea and not devolve into randomness like so many of their contemporaries.

Other aspects of Called to Rise impressed us as well. There’s experimentation with sound on these tracks, a willingness to corrupt the metalcore “great contrast” riffing with some integrative ideas, and an adoption of classical forms, songs and approaches that pushes this album over the top.

Oblivion is a modern metal metal band to watch, and Call to Rise is an album that will surely stimulate some depth of discussion. We are thus fortunate here at DeathMetal.org to be able to both stream this album live, and present our interview with Oblivion’s Nick Vasallo:

What got you into metal?

I resisted Metal as long as I could. I was more of a punk rocker as a teenager, but I realized the awesomeness of Metallica’s “One” when it came out. During the double bass, palm-muted, open-E breakdown I was a secret admirer of metal. Seeing a band from Oakland called Eldopa (1332) sealed the deal. Then my good friend at the time (Ben Orum, who is now in Oblivion), turned me onto Death Metal. For this reason I still think Cannibal Corpse’s The Bleeding and Deicide’s Legion are the best albums from this genre.

As you grew into metal, what brought you to your current form? How did you all come together, and what types of music and ideas were influencing you at the time?

I formed Antagony with Ben, our best friend Carlos Saldana, and our late friend Jody Handy. We just wanted to create the heaviest, darkest music possible. We ended up creating something that was, in hindsight, very influential to other bands that came after us. I stepped away from music for a while, but had the urge to come back and write music that was more technically demanding on the musician and listener.

You’ve outlined a clear relationship between classical music and metal on this CD, with three string orchestra pieces and a cover of “Canon in E Minor.” What inspired you to write and cover these pieces?

I wanted listeners to hear that there is a direct parallel between these two musics. For instance, when the song “Multiverse” is initially presented it is a metal song because it is played by a metal band. In context we are stuck to this association. But when the song is reprised it is performed by a strong orchestra and we perceive it differently. Perhaps the complexities emerge because we now listen to it and look at it through a different lens.

Do you think metal and classical share anything in common?

YES, they do. I have written about this subject extensively and I hope it is okay that I direct readers to my writings here: http://nickvasallo.com/#!papers/ccca

Where did you guys get your technical chops? Are you professionally trained musicians?

I don’t like the term “professionally” trained. There are some musicians I know that have never taken up formal music training, but can play better than someone that has been trained since they were a toddler. Every musician picks up something from another. That is how music was taught originally. But to answer the question, yes – Luis and I have been trained academically. Everyone else has either taken guitar lessons with a talented musician and/or learned in from playing with a multitude of other talented musicians.

Can you tell us how you got the distortion on your guitars? Are you using pedals, processors, virtual amps, amplifier settings or a combination of the above?

We use tube amps with distortion. Ted is sponsored by Rhodes, Ben by ENGL.

Do you think metal is evolving? Where do you think it’s going?

Yes, Metal is evolving. And it better evolve or it will stagnate and die! Most bands stagnate and eventually die. Movement is necessary to encourage growth and progress. I don’t know where Metal is going. If it follows the same pattern, it will continue to find avenues of transgression. Only to revert back to its fundamentals one day, searching for truth.

What’s next for Oblivion? Will you be touring, and/or writing new material?

Begin writing our second album.

If you could ask fans to do one thing in order to understand your music, what would it be?

Put your phone away, put your internet away, and give your undivided attention. Listen carefully…

Do you think metal fans are open-minded or closed-minded or somewhere in between?

A paradox of open minded close-mindedness.

Now that you’ve completed this massive work of complex metal, what’s the next challenge for you as songwriters?

Evolving.

Lalu – Atomic Ark

lalu-atomic_arkI read the news today. There was another miracle cure for cancer. In six moths, they’ll publish a retraction. What does this mean? Don’t take it at face value; ignore the hype.

In the same way, a lot of CDs come out that have interesting backstories. So-and-so is a progressive musician who turned to metal. Genius awaits. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. So unique they don’t even have a category for it, so we’ll put the genre names in scare quotes.

Then there’s Lalu. Promised as progressive rock/metal. Actuality: terrible hard rock with semi-difficult riffing and time changes, but no melodic development, unique song structure, or even musical complexity beyond technique.

I can’t blame the labels. It’s their job to hype stuff. I can’t blame the band; it must be like watching money walk by to see these other bands succeed. I blame the listeners, and some other reviewers, for not calling this what it is.

If you really liked Quiet Riot, and wished it had jazzier tempos and more intricate lead rhythm riffs with slightly dissonant melodies, then this is your lucky day. If not, you’ve already wasted too much time on it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdGYmcJR5DI

Monsterworks – Album of Man

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.