Black Sabbath – 13

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Black Sabbath’s new album, 13, is a marvel. The first single “God Is Dead?” didn’t adequately prepare me for the experience of the whole work. This album contrasts the old sound and the new sound. The band frequently harkens back to their former work. I’ll note these instances when I treat the individual songs later in the review. In fact, some fans think 13 is too much like the earlier material. But they’re wrong. Surely we want them to recapture their earlier sound to some degree, but this album does much more than that. While surely somewhat nostalgic, this album does NOT fling itself into the market as a refurbished rehashing of used riffs. It’s a GREAT album. The original vibe remains as strong as ever. Fans agree and have propelled this album to #1 on the charts.

Let’s just talk about the players for a minute. Black Sabbath-for better or worse-always rests on the genius of guitarist extraordinaire, Tony Iommi. He has lost NOTHING on this album. He includes riffs and architectonic elements from ALL of his work with Black Sabbath, his recent work with Heaven and Hell, his solo albums, and perhaps even some of the blues roots that preceded Black Sabbath. His solos are as good as, or better than, his earlier work. When they do echo earlier compositions, they echo the very best soloing of his career.

Geezer Butler also plays as well here as he ever has, and a fan would do well to find anything on an earlier Sabbath album any better than his work here. Tony and Geezer seem to be playing for posterity. The lyrics of the entire album hint at the band’s contemplation of their own mortality, and surely Dio’s passing and Tony’s own illness make that inevitable. Ozzy Osbourne sounds pretty strong. His voice gets stronger as the album progresses, and some of the vocal melodies capture an Ozzy Osbourne solo sound — which was already developing on Never Say Die! (1978) back in the day. The synergy that made Black Sabbath a revolutionary band still exists in these three guys.

Brad Wilk’s drumming rounds out the record. The fan base made its displeasure at Bill’s absence very clear. Brad had a very big job trying to fill Bill Ward’s shoes. To his credit, he filled them well. We don’t hear the Butler/Ward swing anywhere on this record. Nor should we. Trying to imitate Bill would have been insulting. Brad did the job well, and he gets a big thumb’s up from this reviewer. All of these musicians in top form.

Musically, this album is VERY heavy in places. As mentioned, several of Tony’s solos equal anything he’s done so far, and his riffing remains the best there is. Lyrically, the darkness of this album stands with anything the band has ever done. The Grim Reaper peers over the horizon in nearly every song, and the tension between God and Satan (or at least the tension between the concepts of good and evil) emerges explicitly many times, as it did in their early work, when even the band were frightened by their own songs!

This review will address only the album proper, no bonus tracks. I may get an argument or two from some fans, but in general, I’ll say that the bonus tracks fail to achieve the same quality as the songs on the album. Perhaps more to the point, they do not “fit” the mood of the album proper.

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“The End of the Beginning” strikes me as the perfect title for the first track of this album. The return of the Ozzy-era line-up marks a new beginning for these elder statesmen of heavy metal. The main body of the song pays homage to the first Black Sabbath song “Black Sabbath” off the album Black Sabbath (1970). This song reflects Tony Iommi’s growth and range as a guitarist. The track opens with a heavy, doomy march of separated chords similar to “Shadow of the Wind” (The Dio Years – 2006) or “Atom and Evil” off The Devil You Know — a rather recent development used here to great effect. There are tempo changes, and the classic break that we hear on the first four albums. Some listeners may remark that they use the same sort of break in four of eight songs on the album, thus leaving them repetitive and even self-derivative. I don’t agree, but I concede they lean on this approach. It’s a part of their style and fits.

He plays two solos, as we see in Dehumanizer’s (1992) “Computer God”, using the same basic architectonics. The solos themselves soar into prominence. The first, at 4:42 or so, lasts 50 seconds, and features not only a fantastic Iommi-style lead but also a tempo change into a bluesy sound at the end. The second solo closes the song, and for around 90 seconds grows in intensity, rising to an effort VERY similar to “Lonely Is the Word” from Heaven and Hell (1980). Again, we are not talking about a mimeograph album. Tony taps into EVERYTHING he’s done. And he plays with abandon, with emotion.

Lyrically, we see a fresh address of the theme Society vs. the Individual, especially in terms of the former controlling the latter. This theme has been interrogated throughout the entire history of the band, dealing with societal issues like family collapse in “Wicked World” off Black Sabbath, economics in “Cornucopia” (Vol. 4 – 1972), psychology in “Johnny Blade,” (Never Say Die!) television in “Zero the Hero” (Born Again – 1983) and the eponymous “Mob Rules” (1983) and “Computer God” ( both self-explanatory). This song updates for the pervasiveness of the simulacrum, urging the “Reanimation of your cybersonic soul” and concluding “You don’t want to be a robot ghost / Occupied inside a human host / Analyzed and cloned relentlessly / Synthesized until they set you free.” This eight-minute opus is pure Black Sabbath.

“God Is Dead?,” the first single, at almost nine minutes, seems like two songs. The first 4:00 or so offer a kinder, gentler sound. Then the chorus hits at 2:16 and at 2:26 that super-doomy descending lick hints at the Sabbath sound. Then they go back for the next verse. At 4:05 that Sabbath discord starts and at 4:09-4:10 Tony “shakes” the chord as only he does. Then a classic Iommi riff (4:17-4:18), a reprise of the aforementioned descending lick, and an expansion the power chords at 4:10 into back-and-forth riff, classic Black Sabbath-relentless, hypnotic. At 5:38 we get to the chorus with that descending lick again. Then at 5:48 they reprise the power chords from :30 into the song that form a bridge to the break at 6:19 that seems like something off the first album or Vol. 4 (or “Falling off the Edge of the World” off Mob Rules). Then at 6:27 Geezer Butler kicks it into high gear and never lets up. All the musicians do the same thing, classic Black Sabbath. Then Geezer starts what will be one of the best performances on bass guitar in the Black Sabbath oeuvre. Even when the song slows, his playing does not. The 15-second solo (7:38–7:53) has a bluesy, 60′s sound to it. Some listeners may have preferred a longer solo, but the musicianship and intensity so far have been so powerful that a solo isn’t needed for the song to have a high point. In fact, Geezer’s playing behind the solo almost equates with soloing itself as he’s playing much faster than Tony. The final minute is the descending lick behind repeated “God is dead” chorus. The chorus leaves us with a rather definitive statement “I don’t believe that God is dead.” The supremely dark lyrics offer the good vs. evil motif that this band has defined. These lines typify the questions asked in this song: “Nowhere to run / Nowhere to hide / Wondering if we will meet again on the other side / Do you believe a word / What the good book said? / Or is it just a holy fairy tale and god is dead?” Nothing says Black Sabbath like two songs in excess of eight minutes offering pessimism and plodding riffs. What a one-two punch!

“Loner” rocks: a flat-out, straight-ahead headbanger. Some say it reminds them of “N.I.B.” It actually recalls the basic riff pattern of the main riffs from “Black Oblivion” and “Flame On” from the 2000 solo album Iommi. Lyrically, the song speaks of isolation, and the head-banging groove of the song contrasts with the seriousness of the message, tied up in the final verse: “Communication’s an impossibility / His own best friend but he’s his own worst enemy / The secrets of his past locked deep inside his head / I wonder if he will be happy when he’s dead.” Perhaps one of the hallmarks of Black Sabbath and of the metal music they pioneered is an understanding of the angst — even depression – that their listeners experience. The strong of grounding in existentialism in their work makes even an up-tempo frolic cuts into the heart of the listener. The irony of the seriousness of the theme and the elation of the riff-similar in a way to “TV Crimes” off Dehumanizer bespeaks a long-standing Sabbath tradition as well.

“Zeitgeist” immediately reminds us of “Planet Caravan” off Paranoid. In a larger sense, perhaps the beauty of “Zeitgeist” is to recall Black Sabbath’s numerous slower and/or psychedelic tunes, such as the aforementioned, “Planet Caravan,” “Solitude” off Master of Reality, and admittedly, to a much lesser degree “Changes” off Vol. 4, “Spiral Architect” off Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973), “She’s Gone” off Technical Ecstasy (1976), and others off Dio-era albums. No innovation exists here vis-à-vis older Sabbath tunes of a similar nature. No doubt people will like this one-especially, perhaps, people who weren’t hardcore Sabbath fans. Unremarkable in comparison to the other songs on the album, it provides a break in the heaviness — much as the other songs noted here did for those albums — this song reminds us that Black Sabbath did this too. Insofar as this album may well become a historical document, “Zeitgeist” proves a worthy inclusion.

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The opening of “Age of Reason” sounds a bit like the opening of “Follow the Tears” off The Devil You Know. Another elaborately structured offering marked by numerous genre and tempo changes, reminiscent of “Dirty Women” off Technical Ecstasy, give this song an almost proggy feeling. The opening riff while really quite doom-laden, is also rather bluesy. While the structure and overall sound of the song unmistakably heralds Black Sabbath, the melody suggests Ozzy’s solo work (not to mention an echo of “Junior’s Eyes” off Never Say Die! which presaged the Ozzy Osbourne sound in many ways). The marvelous solo in this song recalls “Zero the Hero” a bit. Tony takes his time, and the solo carries us away as only an Iommi solo can. At the risk of being repetitive, Tony Iommi has lost nothing. The guitar work here stands up to anything he’s done. Similar to the general theme of “The End of the Beginning” and many other Black Sabbath songs, the lyrics describe a hopelessness accepted by people who have lost their will to be themselves: “Sustainable extinction / A fractured human race / A jaded revolution / Disappears without a trace.”

The opening progression of “Live Forever” bears a similarity to the opening of “Lord of this World” off Master of Reality (with, again, a touch of that march of separated chords noted in “The End of the Beginning”) and then steps up the tempo to a riff strikingly similar to the up-tempo movement of “Cornucopia” off Vol. 4. This one really harkens back to the older groove. Even Brad’s use of cymbals seems rather Bill Ward-esque. While clearly adapting these older tunes, the nuanced use of the newer aesthetic and burnished sound of excellent production renders it a new song. Ozzy sings as only he can-with all the soaring menace of that same era. The lyrics of the song sustain the motif of aging and the looming presence of impending death. This song lacks the depth of the others on this album. For instance, the closing lines, “I may be dreaming or whatever / Watching my life go by / And I don’t wanna live forever / But I don’t wanna die!” certainly do not rise to the more profound, sometimes poetic, expression of the same uneasiness. I’ll neither label this song as filler nor dispute the inaccuracy of said label.

“Damaged Soul” is monumental. Clearly a tribute to their roots in the blues, this song amalgamates everything Black Sabbath not only does, but can do. Black Sabbath has made forays into the blues before, notable on the Seventh Star (1986) and the song “Dying for Love” off Cross Purposes proves a stunning blues song. But Sabbath hasn’t done this anywhere else. My first thought upon hearing it was that it sounds like Robin Trower, but heavier. There are moments in this song that sound like Electric Wizard. It almost demands a genre definition of “Doom-Blues.” Again, the soloing echoes “Lonely Is the Word.” The first solo at 3:49, lasts for about 45 seconds and never deviates from a standard blues structure. He means to play the blues here. Then at 5:26 we get another 30 seconds or so until a break takes us to another tempo. The harmonica wails into this change, and then Tony returns at 6:36 and serves up a solo of his own. While the rest of the players play the blues (and Ozzy even sustains a fine harmonica riff), the exit solo is pure Iommi. Lyrically, this may be the darkest song on this album and in the running for the darkest song they’ve ever made. Lyrically, the song calls up the career-long (or age-old?) subject of possession and reprises this album’s motif of impending death and the tension between good and evil: “I don’t mind dying ’cause I’m already dead / Pray not for the living; I’ll live in your head / Dying is easy; it’s living that’s hard / I’m losing the battle between Satan and God.”

“Dear Father” proves an indictment of Catholic Church’s priest sexual abuse tragedy, every bit as scathing and pessimistic an attack on this issue as “Wicked World,” “War Pigs” off Paranoid, or “Into the Void” off Master of Reality.” This song boasts a rather complex overall structure, featuring multiple tempo and style changes. But nothing in this song equals the rest of the album, musically. The reason for this appears to be that the band wants us to listen to the words. An album this good, with Tony and Geezer playing as well as they have ever played, with Tony playing his heart out in more than one place, would not forgo a solo without a reason. That reason must be to focus our attention on the message. The music changes every time the message changes, intensifying the merciless dissection of those merciless crimes. The closing lyrics sum up the song with perfect clarity: “Dear father forsaken, you knew what you were doing / In silence your violence has left my life in ruin.” The song closes with a repeating “In ruin, yeah” phrase, symbolizing the vile and on-going suffering caused by these atrocities. After this song ends, the rain sound effect from the beginning of the first album fades in for a few seconds, reminding us that this album not only provides a resurrection of the original line-up and sound but also offers a vital viewpoint on religion and music, contemporary issues and timeless questions.

In 13, Black Sabbath reflects both the original Black Sabbath sound, imagery, and philosophy and the influences of all their musical experience from their solo work, other incarnations of Black Sabbath, and their inherent genius. They recast the system of rock music 43 years ago, and in this “reanimation of the sequence,” they have again recast the system.

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Krypts – Unending Degradation

krypts-unending_degradationDoom metal isn’t a genre, but a palette of moods. Since doom metal itself varies all over the place in tempo, it doesn’t make sense to look at the first rhythm on an album, but instead to grasp the overall feel.

Unending Degradation is a heck of a doom metal album. It is structured like doom metal in that tracks are based around a riff and a return to its theme, building with harmony and rhythm a plodding expectation that is both welcome when it is gratified, and gradually grinding us into the ground. Behind it is the science of the four-note minor key melody.

Someone tossed this to me and said, “Hey, check out this old school death metal,” but I think he was very, very high. This isn’t death metal at all; it’s doom-death, but its heart is doom metal. These tunes plod, trudge, dirge and resonate. The music doesn’t get any faster than the first Cathedral EP. The majority of it is radiantly dark and slow, and repetitive.

I wouldn’t expect old school death metal. There’s no riff Jenga here. There’s layers of variants on a theme producing a mood more like an ambient band or techno than death metal. But if you like the old school dark and doomy, this album full of catchy melodies and churning rhythms should satisfy.

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Summoning – Old Mornings Dawn

summoning-old_mornings_dawnAfter the first wave of Norwegian black metal entirely re-defined the genre into a melodic and intensely artistic form of music, it seemed metal had culminated. Its technique exploded in death metal, and with black metal, it began the process of creating narrative melodic compositions.

Summoning jumped into this heap by evolving from a relatively straightforward downtempo black metal band into a melange of keyboards, lengthy fast-picked slow melodic passages, and soundtrack-style framing of song structures in the context of atmospheric, Tolkien-inspired vaguely medievalist metal. Ever since they nailed that combination on Dol Guldur, Summoning has been a legend in the metal scene.

After the experiment in greater use of vocals and folk-like dynamics that was Stronghold, Summoning returned with Oath Bound, which edged them closer to the territory last explored on Dol Guldur before the music got more atmospheric on the Nightshade Forests EP. Seven years later, anticipation ran high for their latest, named Old Mornings Dawn.

Coming from the same creative wellspring as other Summoning works, Old Mornings Dawn channels three separate influences: the classic downtempo black metal of its origins, the “Renaissance Faire” style of folk/world music that it became, and an influence that can only be described as dark 1980s industrial goth pop. This album fits in with Joy Division, Soft Cell, Sisters of Mercy and other darker forms of synthpop and EBM, much in the same way that Nightshade Forests picked up similar influences. At the same time, hints of the Stronghold style where vocals lead composition help define these songs.

What is most pronounced on this album however is that Summoning are using the layered style that worked so well on not only Nightshade Forests but the Lost Tales EP as well, but have removed even more of the metal “forward” style narrative composition. Instead, these are circular compositions with layers, but in the best metal style, moods accrue and eventually force change into an entirely different but complementary riff. The result is a ferment of slightly differentiated influences fit into the only song structures that could incorporate them all. The result is like an exotic tour alongside a riverbank populated by fantastic figures from dreams.

Old Mornings Dawn is a creative journey into the recesses of the mind and embraces the sentimental alongside the epic, using its ambient structuring to immerse the listener in a world far beyond anything they have experienced. The result drifts farther from black metal without betraying black metal, and instead creates a voice unique to Summoning which sensibly does not try to be Dol Guldur II, but to create a niche for itself. Its decreased distance from the listener allows emotion to meld with music and create an atmosphere unique to this band and the spread of time they have chosen with their music.

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Imprecation – Satanae Tenebris Infinita

imprecation-satane_tenebris_infinitaThe long-awaited first real album from Imprecation resembles less their 1995 debut Theurgia Goetia Summa but a more streamlined and moody creation. While the demos compiled into that album revealed a raw understructure of a morbid subconscious arising, the newer work from Imprecation focuses on deliberate and meticulous ritual.

Shifting from a predominantly fast-riffed approach, Imprecation meld 1980s-style speed metal back into their death metal. Satanae Tenebris Infinita use extensive palm-muted downstrumming to carry riffs that are less phrasal than previously, and as a result are less distracting from the vocals and their integration with drums and (occasional) keyboards. IN addition to speed metal influences, riffing reveals the Slayer tendency toward angular riffing and an enmeshment with riff forms from earlier death metal.

While songs break to fast riffs, and vary standard song structure on a regular basis, the majority of the work here is mid-paced death metal with melodic underpinnings. In old school metal style, riffs start out simple and run into contrasting riffs, which fit together by relationship of riff shape and the emotions evoked. Songs later pick up on earlier themes and conclude; this patterning is reminiscent of early Celtic Frost. Lead guitars appear like schools of fish in twisting metallic sounds that dissipate into the dark surroundings.

Satanae Tenebris Infinita shows a band mastering their riff-craft and intensity of their earlier work by adding layers of dark moods, combining several genres of metal to produce a mid-paced death metal epic with the emotional depth of doom metal or early Metallica. The result resembles a ritual descent into an occult netherworld, and achieves the suspension of reality for which death metal is famous, filling the void with a world of grotesque beauty and raging death metal energy.

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Satan – Life Sentence

satan-life_sentenceBack in the 1980s, the wisdom was that Satan had something to do with the founding of speed metal, along with Blitzkrieg and a few others who got into the choppier, more muted strum side of NWOBHM.

Having two members go on to avant-progressive speed metal act Skyclad did not hurt the legend. Thirty years later, Satan return with Life Sentence, an album that is musical enough for power metallers but uses the same efficient mix of speed and classic riffing that made Judas Priests’s Painkiller such an enduring favorite.

In addition, this band has internal quality control, which is something that seemed to go out the window with the rise of MP3s. This album fits together as an album, not as a concept album but as enough and varied interpretations of a style to make a consistent but not repetitive package.

Riffs on Life Sentence are of known general types but are not recognizably derived from anything else, and while they are generally used in pop-style song structures, tend to illustrate the theme of each song in sound. In addition, Satan use riffs as archetypes and vary them for fills or changes in song direction. This distinguishes them from many of the more template-based heavy metal bands.

The strong underpinning of riffs supports a subtly jazz-influenced percussion that mimics the guitar while trying to stay as much in the background as possible until it is time for a strategically interesting fill, at which point it explodes. Over this the melodic vocals of Brian Ross, who also sang in Blitzkrieg, surge in both full operatic style and a more surly half-chant.

Lead guitar fireworks are minimized but like everything else on this album, appear when it helps push the song along. However, songwriting on its own is strong, with each song having a clear theme that is played out in the tension between verse and chorus riffs. Nothing sounds hasty or ill-thought; it all fits together and moves as one.

For metalheads who like musicality but might want something more aggressive than your average power metal band, Satan offer a powerful competitor that does not fall into excesses, but keeps its own spirit alive. Life Sentence does not sound like it came out in the 1980s, but also, evokes much of the strength and beauty of the music of that era. This should be a major contender for the thinking metalhead vote in 2013.

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Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance (reconsidered)

darkthrone-the_underground_resistanceA few days ago, we published a controversial review of the new Darkthrone album, The Underground Resistance. Wherever this has been mentioned, it has generated quite a backlash from people who want to assure us that they indeed do not find it so devoid of benefit, and want to remind us that we’re simply dour sourpusses who hate anything except the avantgarde.

I am aware that human beings specialize in denial, and that our method of handling denial is transference and projection, by which we invert accountability and place it on those who do not conform to social expectations, which is a vast tolerance of everything and anything that some living breathing human has put out. As a result, I don’t expect much from the first wave of reviews anywhere, but I’m also not the kind of jerkoff editor who will cut his writers off at the knees.

This left only one solution: listen to The Underground Resistance myself.

This is more difficult than it seems. I do not believe youth is the sweetest time of life; in fact, I hate nostalgia. But when I was developing (or clarifying) the most important ideas and truths I have found in this life, it was a reasonable guess that Darkthrone might have been on the stereo (back then, we used big hulking stereo amplifiers with CD players to reproduce sound from a primitive form of MP3 file stored on a physical medium with reflective bits). In fact, I can remember a number of important discoveries in which Darkthrone featured prominently by being the soundtrack to some dark and some light realizations, and at least one Darkthrone tape (ah yes, youngsters; unless you were rich, you had a “cassette tape player” in your car, to which you dubbed CDs using your big hulking stereo, and then played primitive analogues of MP3 files using magnetic flipped bits on chromium dioxide-covered plastic tape) that lived in my car during a dark era when I drove many miles at night under the threat of an uncertain future.

When I had triumphs, I threw on Transilvanian Hunger, which was a cry to war for a generation. When I studied late at night, Soulside Journey was often on the stereo (low volume, using an anachronistic physical volume knob — crazy shit, man). I remember first “getting” the black metal ideal when listening to Under a Funeral Moon, and realizing this was the revenge of the naturalists. It wasn’t bad production; it was organic sound, a blaze of it, in which the message hid like a signal/noise ratio refinement experiment. It was deliberately obscured, esoteric music in which one could hide the truths that a dying society could no longer face. I loved it, and still do, but I really hate nostalgia. Nostalgia says the best days were past; that’s nonsense, since we learn every day and constantly get better at being who we are. That last sentence contained the main point of this article.

The context in which Darkthrone exists for its longtime listeners is hard to express, however. It’s somewhere aligned with worship and built on trust. We entrusted our hopes, fears, terrors and anger to Darkthrone back in the day, and in exchange vested in them a belief in them as musicians and people. They were no longer just a bunch of guys bashing on guitars, but sages, deliverers of wisdom. Maybe this is wrong, but black metal is a somewhat messianic genre to which children run when they start to realize that the modern world is not a train to Utopia, but a train wreck of false illusions and trends which the majority of people are too zombie-drugged on consumerism and ideology to notice. We the children of this dead world were seeking some reason to keep going and to thrive, and Darkthrone gave us those reasons among other black metal sages.

As a result, it’s impossible (think of Heisenberg) to simply listen to a Darkthrone album. Too much comes with it: history, context, emotion. For many artists, this is good. For example, Robert Fripp and Brian Eno are still making ambient music and their faithful buy up each one and revel in the new space discovered. Some bands find niches and are able to keep improving. Others flatten out, having lost the point of what they were doing, and instead try to become inclusive and patch together all their influences and all the stuff they know makes people happy to listen to their songs. The result is like a hotel room, in that it fits everyone’s specifications but no one’s needs.

When I first listened to The Underground Resistance, I was tempted to consider Jon Wild’s piece inaccurate. Darkthrone have made an album of pleasant music that is equal parts Iron Maiden, Celtic Frost and random death metal and speed metal era influences. I caught Slayer references, something that sounded like a Destruction cadence, and many riff types from the last four decades of metal. I doubt any of this is wholly and completely lifted, but I could be wrong. The fact is that they’re of the same archetypes. However, that has no bearing on whether the album is good or not. If someone were to assemble songs of classic riffs, and give those riffs new life by putting them together in a song which was evocative of some emotion or concept, then that would be a victory. Originality doesn’t matter, because no matter what you’re doing, Haydn did it four centuries ago, or Mozart slightly later. That’s the great farce of music. It’s not about discovering some new theory about making music, but about making music, and much as you’d write a story or sculpt a figurine, using those skills to shape raw material into something which reminds us of something truthful in life. The best art becomes “classic” because it did that better than anyone else.

However, as time went on, I realized Jon is both far off — and dead on. The problem with this album is not the recycled riffs, or the style, or the goofy vocals. It’s that it has nothing to express except that a metal band made an album out of things they knew would work. We know Fenriz and Nocturno Culto can put together a great catchy album in their sleep, and have it humming it all year if they want. Here, they seem exhausted, a couple of old buddies who got together on the weekend to jam and when it was done, cut the tape and mailed it off. This tendency is most clear in the fills that connect riffs to one another. They are obvious in the sense of being very basically musically, not adapted to the song, not possessed of grace. They just tie together some riffs and do an adequate job, and that’s apparently all that’s required.

Remember above how I said the main point of the article was encoded in a sentence about nostalgia? We should always be growing in knowledge and power, and moving toward being better at what we do. Darkthrone still have this in them; for some reason, they’re tired of exercising it. In doing so, they’ve become a cult of their own entropy. There’s nothing wrong with this album except that it has nothing to recommend it. It is competent; it’s fun to listen to; I never want to hear it again. It is people who gave up on their own future and now are doing what the world expects of them, just like going to a job. Our world is broken and failed indeed if it has condemned such talented people to such a fate, but I hope they pull out of this tailspin because they as people and Darkthrone as a concept are worth doing better than this.

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Malevolent Creation – Unreleased 1987 Album

Malevolent Creation – Unreleased 1987 Album

Production: The first three tracks showcase the studio work of Jim Nickles, and make the latter three, which are awful tape-grade garage production, sound like a middling 1990s studio with moderate volume, good tone, and reasonable bass. For the most part, he’s album to separate the instruments, which avoids the kind of washout frequent in recordings of this era.

Review: Before they were a thunderous death metal band, Malevolent Creation started out as a late speed metal band in the style of Slayer’s “Aggressive Perfector” matured a few years with influences from Metallica, Massacra and Sepultura. Unlike most early death metal bands who sound like primitive chromatic punk making warrior metal, this three-song 1987 garage recording shows us a sound comparable to Artillery, Devastation and Nuclear Assault or any other second-tier bands that lacked the rock sensibilities of Metallica but borrowed their technique to mix into a Slayer/GBH fueled frenzy. Riffs are short and use rhythm more than phrase in the death metal style, and like other speed metal bands, Malevolent Creation use catchy bouncy choruses which repeat the song title multiple times. Their verse riffs are more in the Slayer school, and their choruses more the Metallica style of broad intervals permitting harmonization, which creates space for lead guitar and vocal melody. Had they continued in this direction, Malevolent Creation would be a promising power metal band today. The first track, “Sacrificial Annihilation,” is a pure speed blur that calls to mind early Nuclear Assault; “The Traitor Must Pay” follows with familiar pieces of music from Malevolent Creation’s first album, and sounds like Slayer crashing into Massacra; finally, “Confirmed Kill” borrows a Metallica chord progression and puts it to good use. It’s good to see this historical document riding again so the rest of us can explore the genesis of Malevolent Creation.

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DBC – Dead Brain Cells

The Canadian province of Québec seems to be situated upon some geographically freakish turf that exudes such a phenomenal electromagnetism as to twist and convolute whatever waveforms happen to waft into its borders. Psuedoscientific petrology aside, Dead Brain Cells are one such Canadian faction that reinterpreted the equatorial American sounds of skatethrash and reassembled its raw energy into a hyperborean bizzarerie, with an ambition in expressing the absurd crises symptomatic of a classically Huxleyan, oblivious society lured into the grip of an Orwellian tyranny by the mesmeric attractions of self-pleasure.

Taking aesthetic inspiration from the cruelly intelligent, modern firearms cacophony of Slayer’s ‘Chemical Warfare’ but fashioning riffs over the roguish, bursting structures typified by crossover acts Suicidal Tendencies and Corrosion of Conformity, Dead Brain Cells had paradoxically succeeded in applying scientific methods to truculent vandalism. Vocals, in compliment to the factorial churn and tumble of the instruments, are delivered in a robotic rant like the outcries of a citizen-turned-automaton denigrated by a lifetime of vacuous routine; lyrics are remarkably coherent and incisive considering the band’s Québécois nationality, of course with the mother tongue of French being a perennial obstacle for all aspiring Hessians allied under the fleur-de-lis. However, it is clear from DBC’s rather involved compositional style that their telos was not merely in writing protest music, but in establishing engaging, punkishly dynamic narratives such that every song is represented as its own vignette of dystopia — a sensibility that would be incorporated into the region’s burgeoning death metal movement, with vestiges apparent in such seminal works as Considered Dead and From This Day Forward.

This eponymous debut remains one of the exceptional examples of quality crossover thrash from outside of the U.S.A. and England; it’s also required listening for any avid scholars of Canadian death metal, in order to better understand the music’s gestation from heavy, quirky progressive rock to complex and sublimely dissonant killing noise.

-Thanatotron-

A planet defaced with death and decay
An atmosphere of hate
Cities destroyed
Their meanings forgotten
And fertile lands lay waste
A planet once prosperous
Its future looked bright
But an immature race had evolved
Given time and the knowledge
They soon could destroy
The planet on which they revolved
 Not one life would be spared
It wouldn’t happen again
Because there is no second chance

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Autopsy – Severed Survival

Although Chris Reifert’s work on the now legendary, but perhaps over hyped Scream Bloody Gore was compelling, it is hardly worth mourning the fact that this death metal genius would leave Death and form the mighty Autopsy. On the contrary it remains a blessing, and while Death would continue to churn out a few more solid death metal records, Autopsy would themselves create a few classics whose extreme visions of death would underlie much of the philosophical vision of countless metal bands. Undoubtedly, Autopsy would also influence the worldview of many fans who would learn to eschew the illusion and flight and fantasy of modernity, in favour of a sober glimpse into the workings of reality in all its horrifying and powerful glory.

Autopsy’s barbaric and seminal album Severed Survival offered the listener what would by 1989 arguably represent the nihilistic and amoral apex of the burgeoning death metal genre and thereby cement their place in death metal history. Primitive and raw, the power with which Autopsy frantically bash out these energetic incisions into the human psyche, indicates a desire to transcend and break down the perceived but illusory moral world order and come to terms with the cold harsh realities of existence. On Severed Survival, Autopsy unabashedly presents the listener with a sometimes shocking but nonetheless candid and unmitigated reality, smashing to pieces any presupposition of a cosmic moral world order. As listeners we are forced to come face to face with death, desperation and the unspeakably twisted and cursed elements inherent in the mechanisms of reality and in the collective human consciousness, which Autopsy, like a skilled pathologist expertly dissect and examine. Exhumed are the intense, destructive and “degenerate” elements that are not spoken of in civilized society but which nonetheless drive reality and remain active as motive within the omnipresent but subterranean catacombs of the human mind. Unquestioningly suppressed out fear or an inability to place these depraved realities within the context of our currently constructed, illusory but ubiquitously advocated a priori moral world-view, it is Autopsy who courageously revel in exploring the obscene and who seem bent on destroying illusion in favor of discovering, conforming to and coming to grips with the power of reality.

A bloody pile of discharge flesh

Is what you see as you face death

 On the ground is the lifeless meat

Stillborn child lays at your feet

Musically, Severed Survival is a conceptually flawless album that offers insight, contrast, and dynamic through its expert use of eclectic influences and moreover, succeeds in synthesizing musical and lyrical expression to form a complete experience also made possible through the phrasal composition inherent in the songwriting of all good death metal. Drawing on Celtic Frost and the simple power chord progression that made the latter’s work so completely unified and clear, synthesizing it with heavy metal’s tendency to express impending doom through the use of slower meditative riffs, and drawing on the frantic and schizophrenic lead guitar work of proto-death metal or speed metal giants, such as Slayer, Autopsy on Severed Survival  executed an effectively simple, dynamic and epic work whose elements united  to create a gripping journey that remains to this day, compelling, interesting and perspective altering. Highly recommended!

-TheWaters-

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Immolation – Majesty and Decay

The mind can’t erase what the soul can’t embrace

The most anticipated death metal release of 2010 (along with the upcoming Morbid Angel, of course) Majesty and Decay has everything to please any sophisticated fan of the genre, yet still doesn’t quite meet the impossibly high standards of the group’s past. The 2007’s Shadows in the Light while it seemed to have retained all the ingredients of the New York masters’ brew somehow failed to live up to spoiled listeners’ expectations. The unfortunate flirting with “nu metal” elements as well as almost complete discarding of drumming-based structure poisoned the arrangements and conveyed a bad aftertaste to the whole record. Still head and shoulders above any fellow North American squad Immolation has taken the prolonged break in order to revise their direction and yet again prove themselves the ruling kings of the genre.

The best news Majesty and Decay has to offer is Steve Shalaty’s drumming. The man has been replacing Immolation’s godly Alex Hernandez ever since 2005’s Harnessing Ruin but it is only here that he unlocks his true talent. Steve has surely developed his own musical language since 2007 and the band has finally regained its rhythmic “pillars”. Everything has fallen into place at last: blasting endurance, inventive drum breaks and mid-paced punishment. The “inverted” riffing – although not as all-pervasive as on, say, Close to a World Below, – stresses the drumming very nicely and allows for some smooth gliding down the interwoven landscape of melody. Indeed, what sets the album apart in the vast Immolation discography is the use of melody. While the band is still a riff-fed beast, the heavy metal melody injecting the solos and seeping through the riffs enriches the sound world of the group, introduces “humanity” to the demonic environment of their instrumentation. The songs are shorter compared to the classic 90s era material, more to-the-point composition-wise, and definitely more “human” than we have come to expect from these New Yorkers.

Vigna (wonderfully supported by Bill Taylor as usual) goes right after Shalaty in this album’s list of heroes. The tight, powerful riffing, the wild soloing echoing with sadness and despair – all of it enhanced by the tasteful and balanced production ensures a satisfying listen. Guitars are put to good use in both the “Intro” and the “Interlude”, which indeed set the atmosphere very well. Ross Dolan’s vocals have become completely decipherable on here without loosing the emotion and recklessness, while his bass is so elegantly put into the mix that it acquires percussive quality at times. All of the above perfectly reflects the lyrical themes of the album: the loneliness of modern man lost in the midst of colossal fight for world domination, the evaporation of values and purposes igniting intrinsic hells and leaving no hope for the spirit.

“Our threatened kingdoms The world is divided Trample ourselves While we claw for the prize”

Still, the album comes with its share of flaws too. The band implements the tension buildup/release approach in some of the songwriting here and not only fails to achieve the desired effect, but sometimes looses momentum completely (most notably “The Purge”, “Divine Code”, “Power and Shame” ). The distribution of Immolation’s volatile energy here often reduces the impact instead of boosting it. This new trick is still very raw/unrefined and cannot fully replace the mathematic complexity of their 90s output. The classic (and eagerly awaited) “last song devastation” is also pretty much wasted here: next to all the best, epic songs scattered across the album “The Comfort of Cowards” feels pretty weak (while certainly not entirely filler) for a killing blow. The cover art is a disgrace. This computer game-like visual representation does justice neither to music nor lyrics. Also, the band probably needs to consider revising their logo after all these years of using a stretched font as one.

All in all, this is a mandatory purchase for anyone with at least a slight interest in today’s metal. It is entirely possible that Immolation’s return will be the finest mainstream death metal album by the end of the year (even with all the mentioned flaws taken into account) as this reviewer doubts Morbid Angel or any other competitor for that matter has the guts to top this material.

-The Eye in the Smoke-

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