Festering – From the Grave (2015)

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Most of us now forget how much of the early death metal experience was shaped by the speed metal story arc: starting in 1983 as a rebellion against the glam explosion of hard rock, it re-metalized NWOBHM with more complex riffs using the muted strum to expand rhythm, and then promptly began selling out. Most fans got queasy when Metallica came out with Master of Puppets, but there are other culprits to just as easily finger. The point is that everything sells out in humanity when it gets exposes to the masses because the masses demand the same old crap in new form, instead of new ideas deviating from the same old crap, and that took down speed metal, which caused death metal bands to try to be more aesthetically extreme.

“How would you ever sell out this?” a friend asked once when I was listening to Incantation. My response to him was that aesthetics does not correspond to composition. I can take a Justin Bieber song, translate it to guitar and transpose it to a lower key, then play it with lots of tremolo picking, guitar squeals and crunchy power chords, doubling the tempo and adding distorted vocals. To most people, that will be “death metal.” To a death metal fan, it is a sheep in the clothing of a wolf. Death metal is not its aesthetic traits alone; those exist to aid the composition, which is (1) phrasal with complex song structures to support (2) collective without individual superstars (3) emphasizes cadence and melodic development over off-beat, quirkiness, ironism, etc. Death metal is musically distinct from rock and blues, themselves only a simplification of European music from the past century with a false label of African-American origin added to sell them as “unique” and “different,” which makes it one of the few genres which is not fake in all of popular music. Accept what you know to be true: popular music is just as fake as Big Macs, Cokes or reality TV. It has always been fake because it has always been a product with a conveniently oddball but totally untrue history. If you have heard the music of the African coast, you realize it is far more complex than the limply distilled methods of rock and blues. Similarly, European folk music had much more going for it than country or rock. Death metal threw all of this back in their faces, and their revenge was to sell it out. This does not involve evil indie rock musicians creeping into death metal band studios late at night to covertly record disguised rock themed as death metal; rather, it involves the transmission of social memes and attitudes about what constitutes death metal, which then lowers the bar so “everyone” can participate. At that point, you get the same old crap dressed up as a revolution.

Festering, on an aesthetic level, is perfect for death metal fans. It sounds like Swedish death metal played with the rhythmic precision of speed metal. It has gnarly vocals, great distortion, and uses the right techniques: it layers each new riff, applies tremolo in the right pattern to introduce secondary ideas as new primaries, and drifts into tempi at about the right pace to have cadence. But it also works in the static-style rock riffs, the cheesy color notes as the basis of riffs from the blues, and the constant off-beat that sounds to me like a labrador running with its tongue out of its mouth. Not to mention the constant verse-chorus song structures that remind me of Bruce Springsteen. In short, this band is a well-executed forgery that conceals rock within death metal, and so while I want to like it for aesthetic reasons, the music itself remains unsatisfying and leaves me with a queasy feeling. Good effort that should be avoided by all death metal fans, but rock fans weekending as death metallers should love it.

M.H.X’s Chronicles – Infinite Ocean (2015)

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Playing a so-called melodic death metal in the vein of Insomnium, Chronicles try to step up onto the pop metal stage the . Infused with alternative metal inspirations and backed by keyboards playing standard progressions and happy-inspirational melodies, the only thing that tells us this is a metal release is that the drums are intense and that the vocals are growls. The squeaky-clean production is enviable and on par with pop metal divas Nightwish.  The way the music elements are carried, the contrast between sections that serve as verse-chorus rather than phrasal progressions place this squarely in the pop modality. The percussive riff carrying the voice, the single-mindedness of the contrasting riffs also point towards a metalcore inspiration. By the third track (which is actually the second song in the album) they have already introduced mellow and comforting young-man vocals.  In line with the modern tradition, when attempting to create variety, the band introduces incoherence in their music. Song’s are basically a long “inspirational melody” intro, pointless verse-chorus exchange, incoherent bridge and unrelated outro and/or verse chorus.

M.H.X.’s Chronicles have managed to unite in Infinite Ocean the diva-esque attitude of Nightwish, the boring melodic-based flatness of Insomnuim, the superficial pretentiousness of Epica and the easy-catchy, dumbed-down songwriting of metalcore inspired on Slaughter of the Soul. In other words we have here the summary of modern metal pop banality.

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.

Delirium – Tiempo, Limites y Espacio

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Delirium was formed in 1990 as Delirium Tremens. In 1995 they debuted with a self-titled album considered to be a Central American classic. It was a particular style drawing influences from many different styles of metal ranging from NWOBHM, Speed Metal, Thrash to punk and alternative rock without falling into the carnival approach of modern metal bands. The influences blend and boil down to form an almost concrete and new street-dirty heavy metal style. A close look at Delirium’s discography shows how the band has evolved through the years gradually taking in more mainstream influences after having parted from a mixture of early Iron Maiden and Metallica. Looking under the hood of post-debut Delirium one can find a weakening of an original voice and the more obvious influence of 1980s Rush and late, prog-bent Iron Maiden.

Tiempo, Limites y Espacio is a collection of acoustic arrangements of older songs. The band retains a professional musician’s touch for pacing and pausing, showing us why they are still one of the leading acts in central america. We find Latin-styled acoustic guitar leads, understated popular drum rhythms along with Latin hand-percussion in some interludes, bridges and intros. Occasional use of maracas for rhythmic emphasis are use in very limited instances. Verses reduce guitar to chords supporting the vocal melody line. Characteristically 1970s synth effects are used for melodies and even a solo on the track Abismo, while the remaining use of keyboard functions are simple and direct organ and piano chord outlining. The refreshing presence of bow instruments grace brief interludes. The aura these exude may remind one of Empyrium’s Into the Pantheon, a personal favorite of the writer. It is also clear that the singer is consciously aiming to emulate the overt style of Adrian Barilari, of the late Rata Blanca, and by extension the style of Bruce Dickinson.

What we find here are original Latin street heavy metal and alternative heavy metal styled songs fine tuned and made ready for mainstream radio exposure for quick acceptance with a mainstream audience. This acoustic release (as is any faithful acoustic arrangement of metal music) is a highlight of the qualities behind the music and the songwriting capabilities of the band.

The album can be downloaded for free here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wphEkDrQq9Q

12 Months of Rush

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With the exception of the debut album, Rush’s remaining 14 albums originally published by Mercury will be reissued through 2015. The reissues are made available in vinyl format with an accompanying download card to access the digital audio files corresponding to the release.

Additionally, three of the releases will be released on Blu-ray Pure Audio. The three albums to be released in this format are Fly By Night, A Farewell to Kings and Signals.

The albums release schedule is as follows:

1. January 26: Fly by Night (Vinyl+Download Code / High Res Digital Audio / Blu-Ray Audio)
2. February: Caress of Steel (Vinyl+Download Code / High Res Digital Audio)
3. March: 2112 (Vinyl+Download Code / High Res Digital Audio), All the World’s a Stage (Vinyl+Download Code / High Res Digital Audio)
4. April: A Farewell to Kings (Vinyl+Download Code / High Res Digital Audio / Blu-Ray Audio)
5. May: Hemispheres (Vinyl+Download Code / High Res Digital Audio)
6. June: Permanent Waves (Vinyl+Download Code / High Res Digital Audio)
7. July: Moving Pictures (Vinyl+Download Code / High Res Digital Audio), Exit… Stage Left (Vinyl+Download Code / High Res Digital Audio)
8. August: Signals (Vinyl+Download Code / High Res Digital Audio / Blu-ray Audio)
9. September: Grace Under Pressure (Vinyl+Download Code / High Res Digital Audio)
10. October: Power Windows (Vinyl+Download Code / High Res Digital Audio)
11. November: Hold Your Fire (Vinyl+Download Code / High Res Digital Audio)
12. December: A Show of Hands (Vinyl+Download Code / High Res Digital Audio)

Is rock ‘n’ roll assimilating metal?

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Metal interviews are like connecting violent minds to an amplifier. The musician is given a chance to speak plainly, and rewarded for saying something outlandish enough to make a headline. It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire.

Much as “in vino veritas” describes how drunk people often accidentally blurt out the truth, interviews often get the essential thoughts out of musicians. Tired, often doing multiple interviews in a day, musicians are apt to cut to the chase. Further, since they’ve been working that part of the brain that makes language, they’re often at their clearest several interviews into the process.

Thus it’s not sensible to either discount interviews, or to wholly accept them without being critical. But recent comments by Nominon drummer Per Karlsson highlight why metal interviews will always be popular — the offhanded, casual and yet direct blurting of truth:

I’d say that black and death metal pretty much go hand in hand, but that’s just my opinion. I am a bit worried though, since more or less all death/black metal of today has turned into rock ’n’ roll or something, all the new bands seems to be more into retro-rock, either that or looking/sounding like Ghost. I am ashamed of what this has turned into, it makes me sick.

Score one for the surly musician. First it makes sense to discard is the “that’s just my opinion” which is a passive-aggressive way of saying that some opinions coincide with truth where others do not. Then to analyze his main point, which is basically that rock music is assimilating metal.

For a brief historical re-cap, metal is a breakaway genre from rock, itself a breakaway genre from blues, itself a breakaway genre from folk. Rock music represents a distillation of many traditions down to the simplest transmissible commercial product. It was always a simpler option to the popular music of the time, and then at some point in the 1960s it took over not just music but popular culture. Much of this has to do with how our commercial society worships whatever seems popular at the moment.

Metal never wanted to be rock. If it had, it would have stayed in the rock camp. It also didn’t fully want to be blues. The influences on Black Sabbath were not only previous rock and heavy blues, but progressive rock and horror movie soundtracks (these inherited heavily from modernist classical, notably Wagner). With metal, rock’s rather static textural riffing evolved into the power chord phrase, which is closer to the horror movie music than what rock was doing at the time.

This upset the existing order.

Rock music saw itself as the bad boy and rebel, the counterculture upsetting civilization. Now there was a counter-culture to the counter-culture. Where the rock boys were singing about flowers, love, peace and our bright future, metal brought in the harsh discordant notes of realism: idealism is poppycock, death is ever-present, and the obliviousness of the average person (see “War Pigs”) is what brings evil into the world. Where the rock guys thought you could fight evil with love, metal counter-posited that you can only fight evil with vigilance, and eyes-wide-open awareness of life, warts and all. That shocked the rock community.

Since that time, metal has been the go-to imagery for advertising firms, movies, books and other entertainment products to symbolize “rebellion.” They also try with punk. Metal and punk are the two drop-out genres that consciously elect to be outsiders, and to avoid just doing what other rock bands doing and, by following that trend, to choose “success.” Popular music is fairly simple: find a unique version of doing what everyone else is doing so your audience both recognizes what you’re doing, and has some unique “mental handle” that causes them to single you out. It’s basic memetics.

This means that entertainment products have both a core and a surface. The core is the actual musical content; the surface is the aesthetics, the quirk, the irony, the imagery, and so forth. Metal has rebellion both in its core and its surface. However, if that metal surface could be transferred to rock, the ideal product would result. The band that came closest was Guns n’ Roses who managed rock song format with later Black Sabbath-styled riffs and bluesy leads. If someone were able to make hard rock that felt like metal, the market would roll over and beg for them.

As a result, the primary threat to metal is bands that “look like” (surface) metal but are actually the same old stuff. A number of bands are indicted under this banner, including Opeth and all nu-metal (which under the skin is “rap/rock”). Recently this process has picked up more steam in the underground. “Post-metal” — which is basically late 1980s post-hardcore, emo or indie rock — has begun to be sold as black metal. Nu-metal with late hardcore stylings has been sold as death metal. The result is fans unable to tell the difference between metal and rock.

This advertiser’s dream will backfire. The more metal gets like rock, the more it loses its outsider status. The more metal shows up in “legitimate” publications and entertainment, the less it is consciously outside of the mainstream world. Like punk, it will end up a “flavor” of rock that is used to sell certain products like motorcycles, cologne, hot dogs and chain saws. This is what Karlsson is warning us against, and it’s a good thing we heed him.

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Convulse – Evil Prevails

convulse-evil_prevailsAs has been said countless times before, the worst record review is a waffle: “It’s OK for what it is, if you like that.” This corresponds to someone neither moved to ire or adoration by a work; in other words, it barely registered. Convulse is not like that. It is a band to both love and hate, but at the same time.

Evil Prevails should be loved for the rare moments of clarity in which riffs are glued together to reach a conclusion that makes sense out of them, causing a sense of rising above the confusion of life as the various dots connect. Themes add up and then grow, and this is where the band shines. They develop beautiful riffs from less interesting ones, and in those riffs, have a sublime sense of how phrase corresponds to emotion.

On the other hand, the dark side of this release is twofold. First, many of its riffs are simplistic in an American football death metal way, reminiscent of Carbonized or Grave but less enigmatic. Second, when riffs aren’t galloping across your forehead, the band likes to work in random rock, blues and jazz influences that don’t fit with the whole. These are not only incongruous, but relatively undistinguished.

Some might say that this in itself is an unorthodox aesthetic. By making a grab-bag of parts, Convulse is exuding deconstruction or nihilism, in other words. However, more likely, this mirrors a committee. The average is bad, but occasionally someone has a flash of inspiration; in the meantime, dramatic people who are good at what’s normally accepted are busy getting in their moments in the sun, showing off and getting promoted.

As a result, it’s hard to like Evil Prevails; it’s a mess with some nuggets of gold. If you like plodding bands like Gorement, the brutal riffs will not disappoint; if you like incomplete-synthesis bands like Afflicted you’ll enjoy the guitar fireworks. But more likely you will background the music until a nugget appears, have an “Aha!” moment, and then forget it as the churn goes on.