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Analyze it to Life: Black Sabbath – Master of Reality

December 13, 2013 –

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The resurgence of Black Sabbath following the success of their new album 13 presents an ironic success when compared with the more substantial legacy of their earlier work. Without the first five albums, metal as we now know it would not exist. And on one album in particular, Black Sabbath laid the groundwork for three subgenres — stoner metal, thrash metal and doom metal — such that future generations could pick up the hint and fully develop these new alloys of the raw metal that Black Sabbath forged forty years ago.

Black Sabbath is widely acknowledged by critics and fans as the beginning of heavy metal. From the eerie tri-tone chills of “Black Sabbath” to the menacing crawl of “Electric Funeral,” from the sludge of “Cornucopia” to the pop sensibility of “Killing Yourself to Live,” the black stamp of Black Sabbath radiates forward into the future, culminating in a reprise of their career (including post-Ozzy line-ups) in 13. Ranking the first five Black Sabbath works on a scale of one to five, a convincing argument could be made for either chronological sequence going from best to least. It’s a toss-up for fans and critics alike. Paranoid garners most of the nods as the most influential album from all corners, and many fans cite Vol. 4 as their favorite. Numerous others consider Sabbath Bloody Sabbath the salvation of Black Sabbath, bringing a newer sound to the band

But whichever direction you go, Master of Reality stands in the center. It is the first, and maybe the last, Black Sabbath album from the Ozzy-era (and perhaps from the entire canon) to purge extraneous elements and render a pure metal, so pure that other alloys — especially stoner metal, thrash metal, and doom metal –- would not exist without it. While seeds of different genres surely exist on the other four albums mentioned, I will be arguing that Master of Reality not only undergirds these three subgenres of heavy metal but may well be the finest classic Black Sabbath album.

From start to finish, Master of Reality casts a dark, heavy, menacing, and philosophical spell on the listener. Perhaps “uncompromising” describes it best. As an artifact judged solely on its own composition and delivery, Master of Reality may be the first metal album conceived of as a metal album. While the first two Black Sabbath albums undeniably forge many elements of heavy metal, each deviates at certain points. Black Sabbath has numerous forays into jazz and blues. It’s heavy when it’s heavy, but an almost exploratory vibe pervades about one-third of the album. Paranoid, while certainly heavier overall and much more consistent than Black Sabbath, retains blues and jazz elements that do not appear on Master of Reality. The first two albums stand as classics of the genre, and valid arguments for their status as primordial metal albums absolutely exist. However, the unity and purposefulness of Master of Reality indicate that these albums were like drafts of an essay, brimming with good ideas and clever phrases but ultimately collections of elements rather than unified wholes. Master of Reality starts heavy, grows heavier, and finishes heaviest. As the analysis below will demonstrate, the thematic consistency of this album far exceeds that of its predecessors. The lyrical expression of the themes reflects a deeper and more reasoned understanding of the issues involved. Musically, the songs are tighter and more direct. While the free-form jams of the first two albums are quite interesting and in my opinion as good as anything of the era, they reflect yet again a collection of elements. Master of Reality offers much more stylistic consistency, indicating a more holistic approach to the project.

The opening track, “Sweet Leaf” stands as a blueprint for stoner metal. The lyrics celebrate marijuana as a window to another dimension only the enlightened perceive: “Straight people don’t know what you’re about / They put you down and shut you out / You gave to me a new belief / And soon the world will love you sweet leaf.” The plodding riff that dominates the song permeates the descendant genre. Then the break from around 2:35-3:25 shifts into a proto-thrash mode (especially evident in Bill Ward’s drumming) that will show up again and again on this record. The song concludes with the stoner plodding that begins it.

“After Forever” and “Children of the Grave” carry the proto-thrash elements to the next level. While many critics have begun to agree that “Symptom of the Universe” off Sabotage inaugurates proto-thrash, one hearing of Master of Reality should be adequate evidence that the thrash style was being perfected, not invented, by the time “Symptom” was pressed into vinyl. Taking on religion (and ironically deciding in its favor, saying “They should realize before they criticize / That God is the only way to love”), the shouted lyrics of “After Forever” offer a direct exploration of the question of the soul versus the institutionalized mechanisms that supposedly provide for its sustenance. Both of these themes persist into thrash metal. The up-tempo opening and subsequent power chord extravaganza stand as a stark contrast with the opening track. “Children of the Grave” is pure thrash. Again featuring a shouted vocal, the song amplifies lyrics that challenge war and societal manipulation with verses like “Show the world that love is still alive you must be brave / Or your children of today are children of the grave.” The lyrics of this song presage two of the most prominent themes in thrash metal. Like “Paranoid” before it, “Children of the Grave” chugs forward, adding sustained chord progressions above it. The break from 2:10-2:20 proves itself worthy thrash to this day. Bill Ward’s work heralds the prominence of drums in thrash. Taken together, these two songs form the blueprint for thrash metal.

“Lord of this World,” “Solitude,” and “Into the Void” constitute a “doom suite.” As Osbourne’s plaintive wail pierces our eardrums, evil, demonic possession, psychological instability, and societal collapse penetrate our consciousness like a needle pushing a drug under the skin. The lyrics reflect a pessimism only hinted at in the preceding songs. The song titles themselves indicate a doom ethos. Try to imagine a darker or doomier final song than “Into the Void.” With the exception of a break in “Into the Void,” the tempos, riffs, and rhythms slow to a sometimes mechanistic, sometimes mournful, sometimes throbbing, always menacing procession of deliberate despair. The churning “Lord of this World” offers a view of demonic influence based not on Satan’s assiduity but human apathy: “You made me master of the world where you exist / The soul I took from you was not even missed.” The naysayers vilified in “After Forever” have won, and the dim hope that “God is the only way to love” offered in “After Forever” is snuffed out like a candle after a mass. “Solitude,” a slower, softer song expresses the ennui of a person suffering from self-directed pessimism. Ostensibly about a woman, the lyrics also sustain an interpretation of addiction or perhaps depression: “Crying and thinking is all that I do / Memories I have remind me of you.” The theme of hopelessness would become a staple of doom metal. “Into the Void” comprises interesting movements and perhaps one of the best introductory and main body riffs in all of Black Sabbath. The theme of contradictory practices, probably based on the co-occurrence of the Apollo missions and the Vietnam War, ultimately rests on the fact that hope is an illusion and the only peace that exists comes from journeying into the void — not on a rocket ship but in a grave on a planet “left to Satan and his slaves.” Again, the hope expressed in “After Forever” falls to the psychological manipulation of the children of the grave. The thematic consistency across the album is summarized and re-presented as a void that ultimately becomes the only option: a dark, heavy, menacing, and philosophical elaboration of the pessimism that will come to characterize heavy metal.

Master of Reality presents an overall coherence and depth reflective of a band that has realized its vision. Working out the details during the production of their first two records, Black Sabbath tempered that vision with experience. The musical, lyrical, and thematic sophistication of this album leads to an even heavier sound than had existed before. While it may be that down-tuning contributed to a darker sound, the beauty of this album emerges not from lower notes but from higher understanding. Some may suggest that Vol. 4 goes the next step further, but I would argue that it is the first step down-less consistent, less profound (although of Vol. 4 possesses a rather remarkable lyrical finesse). Sabbath Bloody Sabbath seems in the main a different enterprise than the first four albums (though it does elaborate some of the elements started on Vol. 4.) Some may suggest that Black Sabbath was an almost miraculous first outing, therefore making it best. I would agree that it laid the foundation for the genre but lacks the unity and purpose of Master of Reality, which is the album that confirmed the genre. Some may suggest the commercial success and exposure of Paranoid makes it the best expression of Black Sabbath’s ethos. Paranoid ranks as one of the greatest albums in the Sabbath canon, and many arguments could be made about the songs on Paranoid being their best work. But this analysis seeks to determine the best album. And Paranoid lacks the lyrical, thematic, and musical consistency of Master of Reality. In fact, from my perspective this level of excellence does not reappear until Heaven and Hell. But that album resulted from a new line-up and a new vision. In the end, I have to choose Master of Reality over Heaven and Hell.

A true testament to the importance of this album appears in the track list for 1997′s live collection Reunion. If we accept the postulate that Black Sabbath intended this collection to be a compendium representing the legacy of the Ozzy era as it stood at that time, the importance of Master of Reality becomes clear. Only four songs from the final five albums of the era are included. Only three are chosen from the eponymous first album. That leaves five songs each from Paranoid and Master of Reality (I’ll concede that “Orchid” is less important than any of the songs from Paranoid, yet there it is). With many fine tunes available from the final five albums, Black Sabbath included two-thirds of Master of Reality (four of six full-length songs). Surely they would not have featured so much of this album (and so little of the final five) if they did not want it to represent their legacy.

At the very least, Master of Reality caps the most important three-album sequence in the history of heavy metal. Although the first two albums present fierce, fatalistic, and fear-laden songs, songs with symphonic sensibilities and fusion-based energy, Master of Reality far exceeds both of them as a holistic project. The musical consistency and thematic pessimism of this album refines the ethos and aesthetic of the first two albums into a tighter work of art, at once more controlled and more innovative, perhaps because of the greater degree of precision and planning. Further, the variety of styles and increasing darkness of the themes and lyrics as the album progresses create the design signatures for the stoner, thrash, and doom metal of today, making it more influential than a cursory understanding would indicate. As a result Master of Reality reigns as the finest Black Sabbath album.

The Black Moriah – Casket Prospects

December 8, 2013 –

the_black_moriah-casket_prospectsAn ex-Absu member in this band means that comparisons to Absu will be inevitable. However, Absu is basically a death metal band (Barathrum V.I.T.R.I.O.L.) who morphed into a Mercyful Fate-styled heavy metal band with black metal vocals and technical death metal drumming and vocals. The Black Moriah evokes the best of that style by bringing us a more Americanized version of the underlying speed metal that Mercyful Fate made famous (Don’t Break the Oath being its classic) with modern black metal vocals and straightforward death metald drumming.

What is great about The Black Moriah is that these songs preserve what has always separated heavy metal from the rest, which is its ability to tie riffs together and then reduce them to an entirely new statement through a concluding riff. Most of the riffs that form the body of each song are umptempo tremolo-strummed shorter riffs etching out brief melodies suspended in chromatic fills, but these set up each song for concluding material that transforms similar melodies and creates a radical shift in context. The result brings out what death metal did best, which was like H.P. Lovecraft stories evoke new worlds out of the mundane.

Casket Prospects shows us the basis of this band’s vision and where it can improve. Its unfortunate choice of name will lead most people to think The Black Moriah is a metalcore act; further, its similarity to Absu will be appreciated by many but also puts The Black Moriah in a difficult competitive position as an underdog. Also, what The Black Moriah is trying to do is in general a hard sell, since the speed/heavy metal audience has differentiated out into power metal which has driven the death metal audience further apart. However their style evolves, this band have shown a strength in songwriting that will take them far if they can get the aesthetic elements in line.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 12-05-13

December 5, 2013 –

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? If you treat heavy metal like a form of art or culture, it suddenly reveals its inner depth. Labels want you to see the surface only. To separate the two, we must be brutally honest. Look for the occasional gem in the sands of sonic feces.

cemetary-phantasmaCemetary – Phantasma

Claiming to be tired of the “dungeons and dragons metal stuff”, Cemetary mainman Mathias Lodmalm stops trying to rip off Tiamat and Sisters of Mercy for Nuclear Blast fan boiz and unleashes his last pose. If his progressively more AIDS-influenced output didn’t clue you in, this last Cemetary album feels like a garage band project done for the purpose of emulating Nine Inch Nails or Skinny Puppy. It shows how interchangeable most poppy industrial is, so I can see something like this album succeeding on the radio, but as luck would have it, this is just another faceless electronica product in a sea of many. The only thing this release has in common with the previous Cemetary output is the same sub-standard quality that left them entombed in the chasms of out of print Black Mark releases no one cares for.

periphery-periphery_ii_this_time_its_personalPeriphery – Periphery 2: This Time It’s Personal

It’s important to note that borrowing a few techniques from the metal genre doesn’t make you a metal band. Underneath the “harsh” vocals and “crazy” drumming are mechanical Nu riffs and mathcore noodlings. Whiny crybaby vocals and pop-choruses make this nothing more than a commercial product for socialization amongst Xanax-addled teenagers who are somewhere between dropping out of high school and becoming Che Guevara shirt-wearing low level pot dealers who often lapse into 9/11 conspiracy rants. The whole thing is organized to seem more like an emo album with its pop-punk cheerfulness and feminine vocals that reflect a feeling of being “hurt” by “mean society and girls with standards,” much like their clone targets in Sikth. If these people were more honest with themselves, they would drop the superficial “EXTREME” portions and become the next Hawthorne Heights.

satyricon-the_shadowthroneSatyricon – The Shadowthrone

If you are looking for the start of black metal’s disintegration, it can be found here. Taking liberal inspiration from bands that preceded it, this album is the blueprint for how semi-talented musicians can copy a genre’s sound while embodying none of its spirit. The songs are narrative on the surface; however, when the listener attempts to peer beyond appearance it is quickly apparent that there is nothing of depth, the musical equivalent of modern poetry. Tracks meander from one location to another, never providing any causation for why the arena is changing. The riffs are tiring in their simplicity and irrelevance, and motifs are at best uninspired. The band also deserves blame for introducing drunken popularizations of folk melodies that distract listeners from the vapid quality of metal present, which has been the operating principle of folk metal for the last 20 years. The only people who can appreciate this album are the deaf and fans that lack standards.

harm-cadaver_christiHarm – Cadaver Christi

The real way to be a reviewer is to assume that nothing is free. No one gets a promo. Everyone must pay mall prices. There are no buddy hookups, freebies from the cutout bin, and you have a budget that’s commensurate with that which the average 15-27 year old can field. It doesn’t matter that the wiper blades for your Lexus cost more than even an album from overseas; the question is what your audience can afford. Your readers. And knowing that they have finite money and time, what’s worth spending it on for them? Music is a zero-sum game. If you can buy only five CDs a month, you want to buy the best five possible. All of this is what was once called common sense, apparently, but now is voodoo quantum dark energy esoteric witchcraft knowledge to most people. That being said, I’m sure the guys in Harm are nice people but this album is dismal. It’s bog-standard Swedish-style mid-paced death metal with every cliche of bad metal involved, including the highly derivative riffs, emphasis on vocals as lead instrument (a fatal failure for metal bands), plodding pace and lack of melodic or structural development. Avoid unless you’re so average that anything else is over your head.

xysma-first_and_magicalXysma – First and Magical

Starting life as a Carcass clone, Xysma have progressively been perverting that band’s Symphonies of Sickness formula into becoming a more accessible “rock” product through perceptively mainstream blues and psychedelic moments as well as the “angsty” sounds of then “nu” radio hit band Helmet. With liner notes claiming The Beach Boys as an influence, it all comes together as a light-hearted parody of underground metal through the juxtaposition of “happy” and “trippy” moments amidst blasting death/grind fare and two-note groove riffs. Arguably the first death n’ roll band, Xysma could be held responsible for the mainstreaming of death metal through the use of elements the genre at that point have fully filtered out of its sound. While I don’t think the band meant any harm with this release, it has nothing to offer except “light-hearted fun” and seems like a bizarre interim period between their old Carcass-influenced sounds and the Helmet style they would adopt on their next album Deluxe. Similar to what Tiamat and Entombed did, Xysma saw the potential for material gain in emphasizing grooves and so got rid of the vestigial underground baggage to embrace commercialization.

inquisition-obscure_verses_for_the_multiverseInquisition – Obscure Verses for the Multiverse

Inquisition has been a constant within the American metal scene for over a decade, churning out albums that differ little in quality from one another, though with still enough distinction to be recognizably different. The band’s latest release, Obscure Verses for the Multiverse, is a continuation of the band’s recognizable style.

On this album, the band further perfects its rendition of the rock-influenced black metal genre, with many similarities to bands such as Satyricon or Marduk. Rather than a connected narration binding each song together, tracks are riff composites that sacrifice atmosphere for chaos and disorder. In compensation, riffs utilize ornamentation such as harmonics, bends, and minor chord strums in order to retain interest as drums blast away incessantly. This succeeds for approximately 30 seconds before the listener realizes that he could derive the same effect by shaking a glass container of marbles as a phone rings in the distance, simultaneously entertaining and a source of exercise.

However, this author has no desire to be unjust: the album undoubtedly will be praised by many a Wacken attendee and provide each an hour of entertainment, and truly; that is the goal of metal. After all, it certainly couldn’t be art!

sheol-sepulchral_ruins_below_the_templeSheol – Sepulchral Ruins Below the Temple

This is a really good effort but ultimately isn’t distinctive enough, and it’s not a matter of style. The style applied here is mid-period death metal hybridized with the latest trend, which has been Incantation/Demoncy worship by people who love linear riffs that internally counterbalance themselves with extended chromatic fills that crush melodic tension. Sheol have put a lot of thought into the amount of variation in each song, the coherence of the style, and in adding distinctive elements like intros, melodic accents and rhythmic breaks. However, ultimately this is a churning stampede of riffs that are relatively similar in approach and thus form, and the result is that it feels like listening to the wind while riding a train with the window open.

harm_wulf-theres_honey_in_the_soil_so_we_wait_for_the_tillHarm Wülf – There’s Honey In The Soil So We Wait For The Till

I had a grandfather who traveled the country as a journalist, interviewing union leaders. This generally happened on Greyhoud buses, because if you were a man of the people back then, you wanted to be seen in the common man’s transportation. During a disproportionate number of these interviews, someone was softly playing a guitar in the background and singing. It sounds exactly like Harm Wülf. Despite the cute somewhat edgy name and the aura of mysterious darkness, Harm Wülf is a fifteenth-generation copy of a copy from four generations ago. Soft guitar playing uses only about three strum patterns and gently loops over a verse and chorus while the half-whispered, half-sung vocals are the real focus. This is how college weenies have been getting laid since 4,000 B.C. It seems deep on the surface, but it’s really a pile of cliches, starting with the awkward and obviously imitative title. It wants to emulate a well-known post-Neurosis project, but that’s actually good. This is just rehash, reheated and disguised behind a single sprig of parsley.

ayreon-the_theory_of_everythingAyreon – The Theory of Everything

Oddly, this band merges 1970s prog rock sounds with 1980s pop and ends up mixing in a number of diverse influences that, per the nature of ambitious merges, default to a common ancestor. Thus this album ends up being ambitious AOR with periodic metal riffs, a lot of keyboards, and a lot of cheesy vocals. If you like walking turds like Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys this cheese-fest will delight you. It is not as pretentious as the 1970s progressive rock that defined the genre, but it’s also uncannily pop which makes it hard for an experienced listener to tolerate. Musically, it is better than average, other than a lack of melodic development or use of harmony and key as we’d expect from a prog band. Aesthetically, it’s the contemporary equivalent of Boston or Asia or any of those other prog-soundalikes that never crossed that line to got full-on hardcore.

deathbreed-your_stigmataDeathbreed – Your Stigmata

Fairly standard deathcore, Deathbreed sounds death but doesn’t feel deathy. That is, there’s a lot of quoting of classic motifs from death metal, but they don’t get developed, and the band has no agenda so they end up at a musical LCD that’s basically rock made like a punk band would if using metal riffs. The result is predictable, but that’s not its problem. What kills it is that it has nothing to express. Even teenagers bleating out predictable platitudes about their trivial problems would be more realistic than this photocopy of a photocopy (with added jump-beats for the slower kids).

ulcerate-vermisUlcerate – Vermis

On Vermis, Ulcerate once again fool the gullible into thinking that “if it’s needlessly discordant and has growls on it, it’s the NEW and EVOLVED death metal,” only it’s not that apt. Underneath all the wankery, you’ll discover the songs never really go anywhere beyond the idea established in the beginning. All the superficially chaotic sounds render a meta-atmosphere of insanity through discordance, but the one fixed mode of expression this dwells in makes it all very obvious by the first track’s conclusion.

Cryogen – Continuum

November 22, 2013 –

cryogen-continuumTwo revelations before listening to this: first, when I first got into music I thought talent and ability were rare; now I realize they’re commonplace, but the ability to apply them in some non-inert interesting way is rare. Second, that metalcore — the mix of metal genres in the post-hardcore style of “contrast without continuity” riffing — borrows almost everything it has from 1980s speed metal.

Cryogen offer us a highly musical take on metalcore with Continuum, which displays excellent playing abilities, clear songwriting aptitude, and even the rarer ability to present songs in such a way that they are not only emotionally engaging but create a sense of transition that is coherent and not just random emotional outbursts giving way to one another like the rants of officer workers on sitcoms.

What brought us metalcore? A fusion of Meshuggah and The Haunted. Both used speed metal as a basis, but broke down the metal structure of internal riff dialogue and replaced it with the post-hardcore notion that great contrast between riffs to the point of incoherence makes for a better song. What it does is emphasize deconstruction and isolation to the point where the listener’s attention span is destroyed, which makes it easier to compose this way since the requirements are much lower.

Cryogen is best when the speed metal peeks out, or even when the heavy metal parts emerge. With their technical skill, they could easily make a classic heavy metal album. Instead they insist on burdening themselves with surface complexity, which because it must cram in more diverse elements, requires the unifying elements of the song be simplified. The result is very basic chord progressions underlying a pile of textural depth and intensive variation, which means that when you drill down you find your father’s bouncy heavy metal riffs.

I wish this band would knock it off with trying to stay current, and just drift in the direction they clearly want to go, which is in the direction of the first Cynic album. Those songs actually held together, and the core of them was a complex sense of harmony leading to a flexibility in key transition that gave them elegance. Cryogen is sort of the opposite: a lot of styling that is ultimately held back by the musically simplistic core enforced on it by the burden of participating in the great metalcore trend.

Disfigurement – Soul Rot

November 21, 2013 –

disfigurement-soul_rotSoul Rot shows Disfigurement melding a number of different styles with an attitude of keeping intensity at full speed like a raging death metal band in the Pentacle or Hail of Bullets style. On the surface, this is percussive blasting death metal, but underneath the skin are rich bluesy solos reminiscent of Metallica, melodic riffs off an Amon Amarth album, and varied death metal influences from the late 1990s.

However, at its core, this band hearkens back to the mid-1980s and the collision of speed metal with underground metal that occurred on Bathory’s Blood Fire Death. On that album, charging riffs led songs into full-speed development, then dropped them into rhythmic riffing that recalls the best of Exodus and Nuclear Assault. Here the influences are more from the death metal side, but the speed metal core emerges over time.

Guttural vocals and a strong sense of rhythm from the interaction between bass and drums drive Disfigurement to apex sonic terrorism. Where this band is weak is in the loss of dynamics caused by the constant high intensity riffing, but their strength is in riffcraft and knowing when to leave out extraneous threads. The result is hard-hitting and musically literate.

We are fortunate to have a chance to talk with Nate from Disfigurement, who wants to remind you that you can hear the title track from Soul Rot and other songs at Disfigurement’s bandcamp page.

What was the moment at which you decided to become Disfigurement? How did the band come together, and were there any influences on which you “bonded” that later shaped your music?

Cheers, thanks for interviewing us. We’re very forfunate that people are interested in what we’re doing, especially Deathmetal.org.

Disfigurement came together at the very beginning of 2011. Adam and I were hanging out a lot, and he told me about this project he had been wanting to start for a while, a straight-forward thrashy-death metal band. He had been talking to some people that he’d played in bands with before, and gotten Richard and Max together, I volunteered to try out for vocals.

Once we got Vaedis onboard with drums, we had a whole line-up and were playing shows by March. I remember Vader and Carcass being the main influences for Adam at the time, and Panzerchrist and Deicide being the main influences of mine. There were also many bands like Morbid Angel, Dissection and Sodom that were going to play a part in our sound. We played around with the vocal styling a bit, but from the beginning were pretty set on the sound that we have to this day.

Soul Rot seems to be influenced by old school death metal and melodic metal, perhaps even Swedish bands like Necrophobic. How do you balance these two extremes, the guttural blasting chromatic menace of old school death metal, and the more elegant melodic side?

I feel that it’s always come naturally to us. That’s not to say that its always easy. I also don’t really feel that OSDM and more melodic death metal are really extremes; I guess it depends on what exactly you consider old-school or melodic. I think that the techniques used to deliver certain riffs and ideas can change it from brutal to melodic even though the ideas are really very similar. Our music has always had a very strong melodic basis, even if it’s over straight blasting and guttural vocals.

What makes a good metal song for you, and how do you write one? Do you start with a riff, lyrics, an idea or something else?

Our writing process usually involves Adam writing a sort of thematic idea that the song is based off. Most to all of the muisic is written, which is what I write vocals over. The song’s idea has a lyrical concept, often one word. I take that theme and build an entire concept for the song around that. The lyrics are written following this idea. Often the idea that I have is somewhat different or more complex than the original notion, but it’s rooted at the core of the song, and likewise the album. There is always an emotion central to the song’s essence.

A good metal song to me is one that is impossible to listen to without having a gut-wrenching reaction to. It has to grab me from the inside: heavy, and dynamic, but always evocative.

The production on Soul Rot is quite clear despite a lot going on during the album. How did you record this one, and did you use any special instrumental techniques to slash out those riffs?

There’s really no tricks or thrills, we just focused on getting crushing tones, and building from there. There is really no room for error in what we play, but at the same time, it has to come across as human and alive. We took our time tracking and made sure everything was precise, but not mechanized and sterile.

Can you tell us what you hope for in the future, and what you’re working on now?

We hope to be playing some festivals in the near future, and getting the backing to support a tour. Right now we are just trying to promote Soul Rot, which is what we’ve been working on for quite some time and really put ourselves into. We’re hoping Soul Rot will garner the support we need to continue.

Why did you choose old school metal styles over the newer options available? Do you think the fans will penalize you for this choice?

I don’t know that we decided consciously to start playing an old death metal style. A lot of the albums that we listen to that are very influential for us, such as Litany, Winds of Creation, M-16, Soul Collector, Gateways to Annihilation, and Serpents of the Light all came out in 2000, or the very late 90s. I suppose that’s still a much older style than much of the more modern bands’ stuff, but we’ve never been interested in anything like that. We just play in a way that conveys our message. It seems that old school death metal is the proper medium to express our feelings of nihilism and aggression. As far as the fans, it seems that many have been waiting for an album such as this to come out in recent years; as far as those who don’t like the style, there’s plenty else to chose from.

I appreciate the effort required by these questions and look forward to the end result.

Once again, thanks for the interview. We’re glad there is an interest in what we’re doing. We couldn’t do it without Sleyja over at Boris Records, please check out the other stuff that he’s doing as well and support our rising wave of bands that are putting out killer material.

Ritual Decay – Conquering Darkness

November 18, 2013 –

ritual_decay-conquering_darknessHere at DMU HQ, we see many potential topics for review. Some are terrible, and are sent to receive a public shaming via Sadistic Metal Reviews. Most are average, doing something somewhat competently but not in a unique fashion worthy of note; these we mention in passing or let languish in silence. The smallest group is that which does something uniquely and with room for potential future development. It is in this last group that we find Ritual Decay, with extracts from their upcoming demo Conquering Darkness.

The eponymous track is a winding, minimalist affair. The more thoroughly composed of the two tracks, it presents a slower form of death metal informed through the black metal tradition, though this track does not quite reach the same level of sinister malaise that this description might evoke.

Coming to the listener from a distance, the production sounds subterranean and contributes to the narrative by forming a bleak backdrop for minor tonal variation to paint color on. However, this is interrupted to an extent by the up-front placement of the drums and their prominent use within the song. The guitars’ motif endures throughout the entire track, undergoing modification as it progresses, but still retaining a common melodic and rhythmic base reinforced by drum patterns that provide forward motion. Where this track succeeds is in the way various riffs fit together to communicate commonality to the overall sensation, though still providing a definite direction in movement to a place related to the beginning, but identifiably unique.

The second track is much shorter and also more forgettable. Having more in common with a punk influence than with death or black metal, particularly in the vocal rhythm and delivery; this is a direct forward assault that does not come close to instigating the sense of foreboding that the preceding track did. Riffs are competent enough, though not enough to induce a desire for repeat listening, seeming more a collection of riffs, than a full-fleshed song; though this may be part of the nature of a demo.

There is a core of talent present within this band; though at least in the two tracks presented so far, the band is suffering from stylistic confusion in how to best amalgamate its various influences. If the band has the opportunity to explore ideas in greater detail, it will be interesting to see how the music develops in the future; hopefully keeping what is done well and discarding the rest.

Blitzkrieg – Back From Hell

November 11, 2013 –

blitzkrieg-back_from_hellBritish NWOBHM band Blitzkrieg have returned with a new album, entitled Back From Hell. Melodic while still retaining structure, this album will appeal to fans of 80s era heavy metal, as well as those who prefer death/black metal but can appreciate skillfully constructed metal whatever form it may take.

Back From Hell has the band mostly keeping true to the traditional NWOBHM sound, with a few elements of further-developed speed metal present. Songs are expertly arranged, with each track featuring a clearly developed concept that never loses focus. This allows immersion within the verse-chorus structure and quickly illuminates the theme present within each. Verse and chorus are linked together with skillful transitions that makes the distinction between them organic, rather than artificial. Ornaments such as solos and fills are executed tastefully, with an eye towards shaping them into the song rather than the reverse.

Tracks are a mixture between heavier material and those that have more in common with 90s radio hard-rock and seem placed solely for commercial exposure. On these tracks the band forgoes thematic development in favor of repetition. Fortunately, those are the exception and not the rule; and while they do interrupt the album’s narrative to an extent, are still competently conceived.

Exuberant and honest in a way rarely seen among contemporary metal releases, in its best moments Back From Hell transports the listener back to a time when heavy metal was still exciting, and for that reason will be present on many best-of lists for 2013, even if it is marred by some concessions.

Death Invoker – “Demo 2010″

November 9, 2013 –

death_invoker-demo_2010This demo offers a new name to remember for the old school fans. Coming from South America, and having a Sarcófago cover as a hidden track on the Polish version, the inevitable comparison for Death Invoker’s “Demo 2010″ will be Sarcófago‘s I.N.R.I..

There’s a lot more than that going on here however. Death Invoker incorporate older speed metal material, including rhythms that develop ideas Metallica used, and death metal from the period after Sarcófago. These songs tend to be short and of relatively circular development that builds off of verse-chorus songs with a few deviations and transitions, but this band really know how to set the stage for a song.

Each song has a clear development and doesn’t get lost in the confusion. If anything, some disappear into similar riff patterns that end up creating ambiguity, and a few more distinctive tempo changes would improve this, but on the whole, each expresses itself as its own entity. If the band refines these songs for an album, the biggest area of improvement could be in making each song have a distinctive structure and approach (“angle”) relative to the rest.

That doesn’t limit the power of this demo release, and it is a demo, so deserves more leeway. With choruses following more of the “speed metal” pattern, and being very catchy, and verses speeding along in more of the “death metal” style, this band unites the two in a potent variant on these styles. It will be interesting to watch these guys develop.

Pestilence – Obsideo

November 1, 2013 –

CANDLE419CD_BOOKLET.inddPestilence avoids controversy poorly. After the legendary Consvming Impvlse, the band went on to produce a series of albums culminating in the synth-sounding jazz-heavy Spheres, which remains one of metal’s most divisive albums: people either love it or hate it, with few in the middle gray areas.

Then after years apart, Pestilence returned in 2009 with Resurrection Macabre followed two years later by Doctrine. These albums showed Pestilence trying more for a contemporary style of modern technical metalcore (sometimes called “tek-deth”) without as much of the crazy instrumental embellishment of past albums. Now, possibly from a better state of balance within the band, Pestilence unleash Obsideo.

Obsideo returns to a long-running controversy in this band which is not metal-versus-jazz as many would think, but among two types of metal. Specifically, the album Malleus Maleficarum showed Pestilence reining back the death metal of their later demos, and trying for a death metal infused with American-style speed metal. Think Kreator covered Megadeth and you have roughly the same style, although in Pestilence’s case this revealing a longstanding tendency with the band: eschewing the phrase-based riffs of death metal for more rhythmic variations on chord progressions in the speed metal style, then filling in the space with leads.

But if we were to extrapolate Malleus Maleficarum into the present, updating its 1980s speed metal on the cusp of death metal with the metalcore-inspired insistence on variety and riffs that ride a vocal rhythm on the nose, we might find the blueprint for Obsideo. It’s more repetitive and confrontational, simpler and less nuanced, and reflects more of the industrial and hardcore influence into metal of the late 1990s. In addition, songs have fewer fireworks in terms of song structure, but more in lead guitar, which is often used as transitional material in song or for kinds of extended fills to denote layering in riff motif.

Fortunately the space-age jazz-fusion guitar of Spheres has returned in the lead guitar department. While not every lead is quite as distant from normalcy as those, these are more confident, both proficient and playful, showing these musicians at a point where they’ve absorbed the changes in their own ability and can put them to better use. Often a song will snowball with power chord riffs but flesh out its mood with leads, and then fade out into the use of similar themes in the lead to take over the direction of the song.

Production sounds like a chunkier, bassier version of Spheres but doesn’t have the compressed and blasted feel of the two comeback albums. This album shows metal at an interesting place as it tries to recap the thirty years of growth since heavy metal transitioned to speed metal, but on the whole, Pestilence have done a good job of it. This is more listenable than their last two, seems more compelling and personal, but also brings musicianship back into the mix in a way that coincides with these musicians’ instrumental focus.

Mercyful Fate – Melissa is 30 years old today

October 30, 2013 –

mercyful_fate-melissaReleased on October 30, 1983, the first album from Denmark’s Mercyful Fate proved to be a decisive one for metal. While the band never ventured behind a NWOBHM-speed metal hybrid comparable to Blitzkrieg/Satan, Tank or Diamond Head, the uniquely operatic vocals of King Diamond and the band’s ability to write compelling heavy metal that also had a touch of the otherworldly quickly made Mercyful Fate an important band.

While many have written about their influence on black metal, it’s important to mention that this is not a black metal band, or album. Expect heavy metal, with the type of muted-strum riffs that later made speed metal capture the attention of metalheads worldwide, but with a greater focus on dynamics and pacing. On the surface, it sounds like many other bands from the era, but Mercyful Fate gave the music a unique spin and pushed quality over the top.

As a result, the band, fronted by the legendary King Diamond in his Alice Cooper-inspired face paint, became a staple of the “below-mainstream” metal crowd and quickly won a place on every metal record store’s walls. Through a series of early albums such as Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath, the band gradually shaped metal’s underground away from repetitive intensity and more toward the type of operatic variation in intensity that marked the influences on King Diamond’s vocals.

30 years have passed since this album first detonated car stereos and home units, but its influence is vast and hard to estimate. First, it shaped bands like Metallica toward more imaginative and melodic songwriting; next, it shaped black metal as a melodic, dynamic, motif-driven genre. Finally, the band’s outright flirtation with Satanism as a form of successor philosophy to the genteel benevolence of the society at the time influenced the metal to follow in non-musical as well as musical ways.