Slayer Repentless over-analyzed

Slayer - Repentless (2015)

Only one can lead: guitars, voice, bass or drums. Whatever takes the lead will compel others to follow because lead means sketching out the structure of the song. The classic metal albums all lead with guitars and vocals catch up while drums provide accents and bass does whatever it feels necessary.

Repentless reverses this formula. It is built around Tom Araya’s mostly fast-spoken or chanted vocals, and guitar keeps up and drums frame the whole thing. The bass doubles the low notes and does little else, but Slayer has always used that technique. The problem is that in a desire to make catchy choruses and compelling verses, Slayer has relegated its most powerful aspect — the lead rhythm guitar — to a supporting role.

Despite a number of good riffs that call to mind material from the Seasons in the Abyss era, on this album Slayer has had to contort itself to fit around the vocals like a rock song, which de-emphasizes guitar and consequently cramps it and, in its reduced role, forces it to show off and simultaneously keep itself restrained. This keeps the worst of metal guitar and throws out the best. In addition, this reduces songs to minimal song structure based more around a lyrical narrative (or topic of a video) than development of melodies or patterns in the riffs.

This is far from a bad album. The problem is that it is the wrong sort of album. Metal escaped from rock by minimizing the human, especially vocals and feelings, to create a gritty realistic confrontation with the nihilism of existence — the knowledge that events do not depend on feelings or mythological beings, but cause and effect. Slayer expanded its audience in the 1990s to the present by being more centered on vocal hooks and foot-tapping rhythms, and does well at this, but at the expense of what made this band great.

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Satan – Atom by Atom (2015)

Satan - Atom by Atom (2015)

A good legacy and a promising single can do much to build up expectations for any album. Atom by Atom was shaping up to be a textbook example of this axiom back in September, when I first became aware of it. Having listened to the end result, I can confidently say that the band’s reformation continues to pay dividends to those who pay attention (and/or cash).

The general formula hasn’t changed since Life Sentence – Satan plays the same sort of NWOBHM/early speed metal style that they became famous for, but in a more musically adventurous fashion than they favored 30 years ago. This sort of path leads many a band to neglect the coherence and intelligibility of their songwriting, but that doesn’t turn out to be the case here. The guitarists are particularly inventive here – the melodic and consonant style they perform in belies the wide variety of riff construction techniques they’ve incorporated into these tracks. They’re particularly good at the harmonized ‘dueling leads’ that so many similar bands have adopted; lesser bands would find their musical language shackled by overuse of one mode or otherwise limited.

This power would be strong enough to draw in many a listener, but Satan’s strengths on Atom by Atom go beyond mere creative guitar wizardry, although they are still unified by an emphasis on mastering a subgenre. For instance, the vocals (which are pseudo-operatic in style) remind me somewhat of James Rivera’s contributions to Helstar in their sonority and dynamic range, although Brian Ross sings closer to the guitar lines than many similar vocalists. However, this applies most to the song structures – while Atom by Atom tends towards typical pop verse-chorus structures like so many albums before it, these songs notably don’t rely on any one specific technique to cloak this or elaborate on their musical ideas. It should not escape your notice that in doing this, Satan otherwise consistently sticks to the limits of their musical language; while the way they vary it suggests to me that they could successfully execute a major genre shift if they so desired, I find their success within a genre to be a good outcome as well.

Musically skilled, technically proficient metal may be the norm these days, but Atom by Atom also succeeds on the organizational, structural level that is lacking and often completely ignored in so many of its contemporaries. This makes it a highly worthy acquisition.

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Malevolent Creation – Dead Man’s Path (2015)

Malevolent Creation - Dead Man's Path (2015)

Malevolent Creation has been in my listening backlog for many, many years on the strength of a few tracks from Retribution. I never got to them, because I was constantly distracted by trendier bands (brands). When I first acquired Dead Man’s Path, I theorized that since the band’s been around for nearly 30 years and retains some of its original members, this was not going to be a major stylistic departure from those past works lest long-time fans abandon them in droves. The flipside of this, as evidenced by my experience with similar types of recent releases such as Repentless, is that I expected that regardless of the final quality, I expected a streamlined version of MC’s past style.

My listening throws this into question. Malevolent Creation’s early works tended towards the ancestral end of death metal, with obvious speed/thrash metal roots poking out of an otherwise standard monophonic, dissonant approach. Dead Man’s Path recalls something of this, but as predicted, it turned out more conventionally musical, with more consonant melody and a denser production (out with Scott Burns and in with Dan Swanö). Add in a somber march of an intro, and a renewed emphasis on vocal patterns, and you have a release that has definitely streamlined itself. It doesn’t rock the boat much, and it does still pass the aesthetic litmus tests that define death metal, but the production and packaging isn’t particularly interesting to write about beyond its most basic qualities.

Unlike most of the bands that take this approach, however, Malevolent Creation does a good job of applying their musical practice to write better songs. To my understanding, they were never a particularly complex act, and most of these songs rely at least in part on obvious verses and choruses. However, good use of tempo and rhythm shifts in particular keep things from getting too skull-crushingly obvious and predictable. The band members also showcase enough compositional awareness to move integral song elements around between tracks to obfuscate the formulas a bit. I would personally have liked to hear more variation in riff styles, as some of the songs here (“Corporate Weaponry” in particular) suggest that such could be successfully incorporated while retaining the strong points of the band’s approach. That, however, is a small flaw in an otherwise very solid package.

To be fair, I was not expecting the strengths of Dead Man’s Path to be so covert, but they are the sort of elements that take some time to properly dissect and understand. However, this makes it a more valuable and perhaps integral work than most of what passes through the review queue here.

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Satan to release Atom by Atom on October 2nd

Satan - Atom by Atom (2015)

Since we quite enjoyed Satan’s previous album (Life Sentence), it only makes sense to give their latest a mention as well. Satan’s musical style is understandably descended from the popular NWOBHM styles of the late ’70s and ’80s, but also showcases some musical techniques that would become influential in the speed and power metal camps, and their most recent albums adopt a similar style with understandably better studio polish. While this followup is not set to officially release for a few weeks, the band has released a track for promotional purposes. “The Devil’s Infantry” changes little if anything from Satan’s recent past, and hopefully the rest of the album will live up to the high standards it and the previous album set for the band.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQrtNA2VIMo

 

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Slayer – Repentless (2015)

Slayer - Repentless (2015)

It probably bears mentioning that I consider Hell Awaits to be Slayer’s peak. While it could’ve used a larger recording budget, it showcased some of the band’s most elaborate and well-written compositions. The band didn’t generally follow up on this approach on later albums, but you can hear the lessons applied on the rest of Slayer’s classic ’80s material, and therein lies a lesson. At their peak, Slayer had obvious songwriting formulas, but were able to go build more elaborate and memorable works due to their solid understanding of song structure.

Repentless is Slayer’s 3rd attempt to recapture something else of that era. The production standards are admittedly better (although Slayer generally had good producers working for them in the past as well), but everything else is the stereotypical speed/death assault that the band helped pioneer. Paul Bostaph and Gary Holt serve as adequate substitutes for the departed Dave Lombardo and the deceased Jeff Hanneman (R.I.P), carrying on general stylistic trends without rocking the boat too much. That this is a commercially viable endgame for popular metal bands is something I expect to be one of the major themes of my tenure here at DMU. Even now, though, cracks are showing in the war ensemble – Tom Araya’s vocals are a major stylistic weak point on Repentless. His shouts have become more “extreme” and insistent in recent years, but his ability to vary his vocal techniques has all but collapsed. This album’s prosody is the worst casualty yet, as he delivers these monotonous shouts in unvarying rhythms; the effect is essentially the same as shouting nursery rhymes into a megaphone from your neighborhood rooftops.

Araya’s weaknesses are particularly damning on an album that relies so heavily on vocals to retain the listener’s attention, especially when everyone else on the recording is so competently unremarkable. We live in the age of self-referential Slayer, a long darkness that our learned scholars perhaps debate the duration of in their moments of distraction. Repentless is essentially a more formulaic version of previous Slayer albums that themselves were a simplification of their own predecessors. It’s very likely that the songs here sound marginally more like classic Slayer than those on Christ Illusion or World Painted Blood, but their unwillingness (or inability) to expand on basics renders them ultimately pointless. I can’t fault the band for continuing, though; previous recordings, while underwhelming, more than satiate an omnivorous fanbase who will probably go back to Reign in Blood after a while.

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Don’t Break the Oath turns 31 today

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Mercyful Fate Don’t Break the Oath was released on September 7, 1984. Back then, you most likely purchased the album on vinyl or cassette. King Diamond, the vocalist of Mercyful Fate, expanded on the image that Kiss and Alice Cooper had adopted years earlier, but he backed it up with powerful speed/heavy metal with melodic vocals and lyrics informed by more than a passing acquaintance with the occult.

If you ask me, Don’t Break the Oath was the peak of his career. The band picked up on the speed metal techniques of rhythm and used them to expand heavy metal with more fluid tempo and riff styles, then built epic songs out of that which did not over-emphasize the vocals but let them aid the songs, much like on the second Iron Maiden album. In the 1980s, just about every metal band listened to this classic.

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Voivod – Negatron (1996)

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In the mid-1990s, it became clear that death metal and black metal had run through their formative and matured material and were now in decline, so bands experimented with developing older styles of metal using the new techniques. Voivod dropped Negatron into this period with a fusion of Ministry, old Voivod and Master of Puppets-era Metallica accented by alternative rock vocals. The result came about a decade before the audience was ready.

Continuity from classic Voivod remains present throughout in not the odd riffs, angular melodies, inverted guitar chords and challenging tempo changes but also the overall sensibility, which creates a sense of unease and infinite possibility at the same time as is appropriate for the sci-fi theme of the band. That impulse translates into Ministry-styled industrial-influenced percussion and the complex phrase-based but rhythmically-centered riffing of mid-period Metallica, creating a smooth fusion that can hold its own against mainstream heavyweights like Pantera, who dominated speed metal at the time. Instead of focusing on easy grooves however, Voivod center their music around disruption and order emerging from chaos, giving these alternative-rock style choruses built around the vocal a space to expand and a strong musical bedrock on which to develop. Vocalist/bassist Eric Forrest gives a strained vocal cord performance which adds to the urgency of the material, and creates a sinister suspension of what we normally think of as reality.

The creative riffs of classic Voivod are here, but bent and twisted around complex rhythms and given more standard power chords to anchor them around an increasingly irresistible rhythm. Like most of mid-90s metal, Negatron anticipates the underground being re-absorbed into the larger world of metal, and does so with distorted vocals and death metal strumming techniques mixed in with the progressive speed metal touches from earlier bands. What propels this album forward is its ability to bring out an underlying narrative and reveal a hidden side to the previous explanation for how its pieces fit together, causing — like good death metal, or even Carbonized which it periodically resembles — a sensation of discovery for the listener. Its task was Herculean because the type of listener who likes mainstream power metal will probably find this inscrutable, and underground listeners balked at the Nirvana-plus-Amebix vocal stylings. Their loss, because this album provides solid speed metal with the best integration of progressive and industrial influences yet seen.

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Order from Chaos – Frozen in Steel (2014)

Order from Chaos – Frozen in Steel (2014)

Review written by Daniel Maarat for DMU

The complete career recordings of unsung underground legends Order from Chaos have been definitely reissued by Nuclear War Now! Productions in five CD and nine and 12 LP boxed sets. These afford listeners the chance to experience the clear progression and compositional refinement from the band’s primitive Hellhammer, Sodom, and first wave beginnings. The LP editions have the usual analog distortion of vinyl and the peculiarities of GZ’s direct metal mastering. Fortunately, the CDs are well mastered with identical sound to the original pressings though the vinyl editions have the bonus of a 124-page hardbound book with lyrics, personal photos, and a biography of the band.

Stillbirth Machine opens with an excerpt from Ligeti’s “Requiem”and immediately proceeds into angular riffed, Teutonic deaththrash. Only intros and outros distract from the aural assault. The guitar tone resembles Swedish death metal with the fully dimed Boss Heavy Metal pedals but the production was marred by the inconsistent levels of a drunk seventies rock producer manning the knobs in an aging studio. The follow up Plateau of Invincibility EP is similar in material but self-recorded onto eight-track tape. This more amateur but consistent (e.g. no noise burst solos) production would continue for the rest of Order from Chaos’s career.

Dawn Bringer continued the compositional elaboration. The songs were more experimental and the melody that characterizes guitarist Chuck Keller’s and drummer Mike Miller’s future band, Ares Kingdom, appears on a twisted cover of Voivod’s “War and Pain.” The martial marching beats of the hybrid war metal sub-genre of first wave black metal and the three chord, hardcore punk side of grindcore was birthed too. Ending everything is the start of the intentional raw noise for which that bastard sub-genre is known as Keller pries off his guitar strings and pickups at full volume to end the album on “Webs of Perdition.”

An Ending in Fire shows the perfectionism that differentiated Order from Chaos from most of their contemporaries in the death and black metal scenes to even the most passive listeners. Earlier riffs and songs were rearranged with completely new material into three epic compositions. The songwriting focused on clever compositional coherency and melodic congruity rather than the random masturbation and showmanship of technical death metal. “Conqueror of Fear” twisted many of the band’s similar, Teutonic works into a flowing five-track declaration of bassist Pete Helmkamp’s existential, social Darwinist philosophy later laid out in his controversial Conqueror Manifesto. “There Lies Your Lord! Father of Victories!” was wholly original to the album and among Keller’s best guitar work. “Somnium Helios” updated the punky “Nucleosynthesis” from the Will to Power EP as the beginning of a requiem for the Earth’s future solar immolation. Order from Chaos broke up after An Ending in Fire’s recording, considering the album as fulfilling the band’s musical vision. The session outtakes were released as the And I Saw Eternity EP included in the set. This is true progressive heavy metal. Speaking more of musical specifics and the evolution of individual riffs and songs is best left for future articles as that would spoil listeners’ enjoyment.

Frozen in Steel is a fantastic value for fans. Purchasing just Order from Chaos’s three albums alone would cost well over a hundred dollars on the secondary market. Nuclear War Now! Productions should be commended for offering all the band’s studio material along with the extra rehearsals and live shows starting at just forty. This is the most significant and well put together anthology of an extreme metal band’s collected works since Demilich’s 20th Adversary of Emptiness.

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Rigor Mortis vocalist Bruce Corbitt facing health challenges

bruce_corbitt_-_rigor_mortis

Sometimes the people with the biggest hearts find those organs in trouble. Rigor Mortis/Wizards of Gore vocalist Bruce Corbitt has undergone a series of medical procedures to correct a misfiring heart, and has embarked on a grueling schedule of benefits to fund these costly undertakings.

As the Dallas Observer reports:

But last week, two heart complications in less than five days changed Corbitt’s reasoning. At the ER, Corbitt found that his heart was misfiring, which caused his blood pressure to skyrocket. The doctors told him that he would need heart surgery. After months of living healthy, even changing his diet, he finally agreed. He couldn’t take the chance of dying on stage like his late guitarist and friend Mike Scaccia, who died playing at Corbitt’s 50th birthday bash at the Rail Club in Fort Worth.

“It became very evident that I can’t live a normal life anymore without doing the surgery, without fixing the problems,” Coribtt says. “It’s not fair to me, my wife, my family and my band to have to worry. It’s no way to live: ‘Oh we can’t go out of town without worrying about his heart messing up.’ Nah, it’s worth the risk of surgery to live a normal life again. I feel like a walking time bomb.”

Fans can support Bruce through a crowdfund, shopping at the Rigor Mortis store, or attending a benefit show on October 17 in Forth Worth, TX.

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Dark Reign releases “Fire Power Resurrecting Death” demo (2015)

dark_reign_-_fire_power_resurrecting_death

Dark Reign, a band most known for its 1980s demos of speed/death metal hybrid high-intensity metal, has released a 2015 demo entitled “Fire Power Resurrecting Death.” A sample track follows, showing more of ripping riffs and thunderous choruses for which this band — which granted members to other Texas death metal acts — has been known and appreciated for during the past two decades.

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