Zemial – Nykta

zemial-nyktaFrom the way this album was promoted, a reader would anticipate an underground metal onslaught. However, outside of growly vocals that are just a shade removed from Motorhead, there’s nothing underground here. This is good old fashioned mid-paced speed metal in the early style that Onslaught and Exodus pioneered.

On Nykta, you’ll find choruses so infectious that the CDC is already tracking them. To offset that, you will find trudging riffs in the style of slower speed metal, with some nods to the catchier moments of heavy metal crossovers like Manilla Road and Cirith Ungol. There’s some decent guitar work experimenting on top of it, but the basis of this music is a steady procession of thoughtful primitive power-chorded riffs.

Luckily, Zemial know when to vary this up and so despite the heavy emphasis on hookish choruses, there is riff variation and transitional material that calls to mind the heavy rock bands of the mid-1970s like Deep Purple. On top of that shredding is tasteful and melodic, accenting what is otherwise a constant droning saw of guitar.

There are nods to the German speed metal scene as well, especially in percussion and its tendency to keep a pulsing beat with somewhat awkward tempo transitions that magically work once the momentum of the next riff picks up. Oddly the growly vocals, being semi-whispered and half-spoken, act more like a tour guide on a trance tour through hell than functioning like traditional vocals.

While this style may deserve a trigger warning for people who dislike repetition, Zemial acquit themselves well by knowing when to break the trope with abrupt transitions or melodic extensions of the riff idea. The result is simultaneously a new mapping of the past and a gentle tribute that keeps an ancient culture alive.

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Letters: Why isn’t Metallica “thrash metal”?

metallica-kill_em_allA reader writes with a few questions:

Why is Metallica’s debut classified in your website as Speed Metal and not Thrash Metal? What defines Thrash Metal and why are Metallica and Kreator placed under Speed Metal? The second question really being what defines Speed Metal?

What is speed metal? Speed metal is the music formed of the hybrid of NWOBHM and punk music. NWOBHM itself was a fusion of Black Sabbath and the “metal-like” hard rock genres of the time, including some progressive rock, given an underground and DIY outlook. The definitive speed metal album is the first Metallica work, but we could also look to Overkill, Nuclear Assault, Anthrax, Megadeth, Testament and Prong.

What is thrash metal? A marketing term for “speed metal.” Some argue that it’s a separate genre, namely speed metal with “broken beats” or d-beats, but the fact of the matter is that the d-beat-influenced drumming was already part of speed metal. Musically, anything regarded as “thrash metal” is speed metal. Hence use of that term instead.

Now, as to Kreator — why is it speed metal? Kreator is on the line between speed metal and death metal but ultimately has more in common with later speed metal like Destruction and Sodom than it does with outright death metal. It was a previous generation to the music that expanded in the late 1980s through early 1990s.

What is thrash? Thrash is a hybrid form of heavy metal and punk music preferred by thrashers, i.e. skaters. This music evolved out of the explosion of punk music at the end of the 1970s and the tendency of bands like Discharge, Amebix, The Exploited, the Cro-Mags and others to take on metal riff-styles, especially as inspired by Slayer and other heavily punk-influenced bands. However, many thrash bands used riff influences from NWOBHM or before, with Black Sabbath being prominent.

The reason we separate speed metal and thrash is that they are different movements. Speed metal is metal that incorporates some aspects of punk; thrash is a metal/punk hybrid that generally uses punk song structures and metal riffs, laying the groundwork for grindcore. There’s also no point in expanding the speed metal franchise into many different sub-types when all are essentially musically identical.

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Slayer launches five-week North American tour

slayer-2013-north-american-tourLegendary moshers Slayer, who combined NWOBHM and hardcore punk to invent their own style of music which bridged speed metal and the nascent death metal movement, along with Hellhammer and Bathory creating the sound of underground metal, are back on tour.

Slayer‘s five-week North American tour shows the band with replacement musicians — guitarist Gary Holt and drummer Paul Bostaph — replacing musicians Jeff Hanneman and Dave Lombardo, respectively. The band was shaken by Hanneman’s untimely death earlier this year and have been struggling to return to routine.

This is Slayer‘s first North American tour in two years and will include the band’s previously announced return to New York’s Theatre at Madison Square Garden and the Hollywood Palladium, venues the band hasn’t performed at in 25 years.

Tickets for all dates on Slayer‘s U.S. tour, go on sale beginning this Friday, September 6. Click here for complete on-sale dates and ticketing information.

OCTOBER
22 Sullivan Sports Arena, Anchorage, AK
25 The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV
28 Hollywood Palladium, Hollywood, CA
30 Events Center @ San Jose State, San Jose, CA

NOVEMBER
1WAMU Center, Seattle, WA
3Stampede Corrall, Calgary, AB
4Shaw Center, Edmonton, AB
5Praireland Park Center, Saskatoon, SK
7MTS Center, Winnipeg, MB
8 Myth, Minneapolis, MN
10 FunFunFun Fest, Austin, TX
12 Bayou Music Center, Houston, TX
13 South Side Ballroom, Dallas, TX
15 Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, IL
16 The Fillmore, Detroit, MI
17 LC Pavilion, Columbus, OH
19 The Fillmore, Washington, D.C.
20 Stage AE, Pittsburgh, PA
21Ricoh Colibsum, Toronto, ON
23CEPSUM/University of Montreal, Montreal, QC
24Pavilion de la Jeunesse, Quebec, QC
26 Oakdale Theatre, Wallingford, CT
27 Theatre @ MSG, New York, NY
29 Susquehanna Bank Center, Camden, NJ
30 Tsongas Arena, Boston, MA

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Cóndor – Nadia

condor-nadiaOne of the enduring critiques of modern metal bands is their lack of stylistic coherence. The mashing of various genres and influences over the course of an album with no unifying principle produces a product that is difficult to absorb from start to finish.

On their newly released album Nadia, Cóndor attempt to solve this dilemma by creating what may best be described as contemplative metal. Composed with a purpose, the metal sections of the album album consist primarily of low-to-mid-paced riffs ranging the gamut from doom, death, and black metal. These are complimented by influences from progressive rock, in which tonal contrasts add nuance and a way of connecting differing parts within the album.

What this band does well is elegantly shaping this vast array of influences into a package that is understandable and actually enjoyable to listen to. Everything is structured with care and attention, avoiding the “genres in a blender” sensation that many of their contemporaries produce. Throughout the span of a single track, snapshots of each moment lead organically into the next, while low-pitched vocals provide a sturdy framework and induce continuity. At the conclusion of the album, the listener feels as if he experienced something meaningful, which is at the heart of metal and unfortunately is something that often seems missing among contemporary bands.

Curmudgeons (of which the author admittedly is) will initially be put off by the non-metal elements and unorthodox structure. However, when viewed in context of the whole, these fall into place and do achieve meaning within the album, producing something both the strident Hessian and modern metal fan can appreciate.

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Triptykon announce new yet-unnamed album

tom_g_warrior-hellhammer-celtic_frost-tryptikon-thomas_gabriel_fischerDoom/death metal band Triptykon have announced that they have begun working on their next album with a presumed release date sometime in 2014. As of now the new album is still untitled for the public, but a few song titles have been released which fit into the occult theme established by the band’s debut album. Describing the music as epic and diverse, it seems to suggest that the album will have more variation than the relatively straightforward Eparistera Daimones, which suffered from a linear composition that made its songs less interesting than they otherwise could be.

Straddling the boundary between classic metal and modern compositional technique, Triptykon continued the sound that was debuted on Celtic Frost’s Monotheist. Our review found that there were a few intriguing elements present, although subjugated to simplistic verse-chorus repetition. Because of this, the morbid atmosphere that was omnipresent in Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost was lost.

Founder of the band Tom Gabriel Fischer is known for his often unorthodox incorporation of external influences in his music, which have produced some of the best extreme metal albums in the early days of Celtic Frost. If he is able to create an album that successfully merges the underground spirit with focused influences from other spheres, it will assuredly be superior to almost all contemporary releases. However, if concessions are made to modern stylings, it could result in a diluted product, as plagued the releases since Celtic Frost‘s reformation. We strongly hope for the former over the latter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzaI6jQM0wE

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First in Line: Metallica – Kill ‘Em All

metallica-kill_em_allThirty years ago, a struggling band from California unleashed their first album and changed the world of heavy metal forever. The genre that they may not have invented but certainly formalized was speed metal, and it represented the start of heavy metal’s journey away from verse-chorus rock into the dual worlds of hardcore punk intensity and progressive rock song structures.

At first, these changes were less obvious. Kill ‘Em All owes a huge debt to the heavy metal that came before it, and embraces many of the conventions of rock music as well, but it funneled them through a singular filter and achieved a uniformity of sound. In addition, this new style crept in with a number of innovations, like the use of introductions and instrumentals to change song structure, that presaged where this new subgenre would go.

From a casual observer’s position, the first Metallica album isn’t that far removed from its predecessors. The dual influences of UK heavy metal and hardcore punk are clear, as is the distinctive feature of speed metal: the muted strum that produces a choppy explosive sound from percussive lead rhythm guitar, allowing the construction of more complex riffs by making the power chord a building block instead of a place where the riff rests, as open chords are in rock.

Kill ‘Em All showed a new blueprint for metal that developed the extremity of Motorhead with the intricate riffery of Judas Priest and other NWOBHM bands, making for a brainy album that relied on speed to cram all of its power into songs of a normal length. In addition, the speed kicked it up to a new level of complexity in riffing. Speed reveals the sparseness of a riff, and so the one- and two-note riffs of the past would seem immensely repetitive at a faster pace. Thus the riff itself grew with speed metal.

Conceptually, metal grew up with Kill ‘Em All as well, at least partly. Yes, there were some embarrassing songs that sounded like West Side Story retrofitted for violent Northern California speed metal gangs. But more importantly, there was an epic view of existence. Songs about fate, about the fall of civilization, and dark lore that reveals the topics feared by daylight conversation all gave the album a weight beyond its (merely) heavy riffs. Like hardcore punk, this was the howling voice of the apocalypse at our door.

One of Metallica’s most important contributions was to liberate the riff from the drums, hence the “lead rhythm guitar” designation that appeared with many speed metal bands. Following the lead of UK crust punk bands like Discharge, Metallica viewed the drums as a background timekeeper which framed the riff loosely rather than accentuated it, and thus the riff could change without the drums changing. This allowed the riff to change more frequently without forcing tempo changes, although the band delighted in abrupt and surprising tempo changes as well.

Speed metal took this pattern and ran with it. While its antecedents are clear, such as the proto-speed metal of Satan/Blitzkrieg and Motorhead, and the fast-fingered intricate melodic riffs of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, the new speed metal band from California turned up the intensity and pushed aside conventional song structures. This set metal free from the world of rock, and laid the groundwork for the next generation, which would not only inherit the true lawlessness of hardcore punk, but build up complexity to be closer to the world of progressive rock.

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Armaroth – False Vision

armaroth-false_visionBands seeking to play death metal in 2013 are faced with a curious conundrum: they grew up with undeniably great records that inform their knowledge of the genre, and yet their potential audience in this current generation clamors for simpler material with more digestible melodies. Bands then have to decide to what extent they will incorporate the “modern metal” influence into the death metal which is their reason for playing in the first place.

Armaroth play a fusion of death metal and speed metal, with some modern melodic metal influences introducing cross-generational appeal. Death metal riffs drive the songs forward, providing the backbone for the other elements to build upon. The riffs in their best moments are darker than the typical modern death metal fare, bringing out a sense of foreboding that has more evocative impact than just pure aggression. Speed metal lends itself to connecting riffs between verse and chorus, providing motion with palm-muted riffs that introduce rhythmic variation.

These sections are solid in themselves, but the band often moves from one to the next without giving sufficient care to set up transitions, leaving songs at times feeling as if they’re collections of riffs thrown together rather than conceived with a purpose. Moments as such are aggravated by the modern metal elements, such as embarrassingly catchy choruses and ambiguous guitar wankery which sharply contrasts with the more polished material.

The band recently released their first EP, False Vision. In their future material, if the band were to focus on and improve what they already do well and abandon the tendency towards including concessions for the newer generation, their material would be well above average in the current milieu.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eF7_crOv3uM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmKdXAZn3m0

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Megadeth – Supercollider

megadeth-super_colliderMegadeth has been a major influence on my journey through metal. I remember that when I first heard the opening riff to “Holy Wars”, I realized that this music was different. In contrast to the verse-chorus structure of the music I was listening to at the time; it was narrative based, similar to classical music.

It took the listener on a journey of apocalyptic visions of a society shot to pieces — where humanity had ceased to think and would rather delude itself into oblivion than deal with its problems. This was something that I could relate to, far easier than any of the forgettable faux-agression bands that the unwise me was enduring at the time. This eventually led me to discover death metal and then black metal, after realizing that both of these genres took this style of writing to new heights and did it more thoroughly and deeply, yet I still retain a soft spot for speed metal.

Over a month ago, this site previewed the first single from the band’s now released album, Supercollider. The track was rather off-putting as essentially a hard rock track, but I held out hope for an overall metal tone to the album…unfortunately, this was not the case. On the whole, Supercollider is a collection of songs that challenge no commercial norms and they are structured for mass radio appeal. Any superficial stylings of speed metal in a rare moment are quickly exposed for what they really are: metal in an aesthetic sense only.

Supercollider features riffs designed to fit into a verse-chorus structure rather than shaping the song around the riffs, as the band used to do. Solos and the drumming are entirely forgettable, in their highest moments their impact is merely of acknowledgment – they achieve their prescribed role in the song, but offer nothing to stick in your memory after they’re over – which is a fitting description of the album as a whole.

Yet, even in this wasteland, there are a few signs of life. In spots, the album has some impactful melodies — moments of brightness — before the waves of drudgery crash back down on the listener. Synths soar about crunchy guitar riffs, which are held together by Dave Mustaine’s unique vocal style, and as a folksy acoustic guitar adds a foreboding element to an otherwise unremarkable track. Astute readers may be noticing a pattern here — the album’s better points arise when the riffs are not the main focus of the song, which seems a bit backwards for a speed metal band. Vocals come in varying quality – some fans will cringe as Mustaine declares “Burn baby, burn!” in a style reminiscent of any ’80s stadium rock band, yet his piercing social criticism still surfaces and is as unabashed as ever.

Comparisons will inevitably be made with Risk, but I don’t think this is very accurate. Rather than a fake attempt at making the band more marketable, I think this is a more honest endeavor; it is the product of a band that has aged. Seemingly, at a certain point in time, the young provocateur grows up and realizes that he has spent decades of his life struggling against society – then wakes up one morning and notices that he has carved a pretty good life out for himself. He may not embrace it fully, but he no longer wishes to agitate either. The allure of riding out into the sunset eventually becomes greater than the misery of dissatisfaction and thus he decides to create a safe work that challenges no boundaries.

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Evile – Skull

evile-skullIn the year 2013, most good (and bad) metal ideas have already been executed – genre boundaries have been clearly defined, and each has its long list of heroes. Bands striving to create in this age are faced with a choice: do they stay with what is firmly established or do they attempt to find what little unexplored ground remains? British speed metal band Evile has decided to take the former approach, with mixed but mostly positive results.

Throughout the course of this album, the band attempts to survey the history of speed metal from its more occult origins, to the current stage of secular nu-metal influenced syncopated riffage. Touches of other genres make their presence felt: echoes of death metal are heard in some of the riff structures, and hard rock make its presence known in some of the chorus harmonies. The merging of these diverse takes on the genre would be rendered incompatible by many contemporary bands, but Evile manages to pull it off well.

Although its composition may be sound, it’s hard to identify the soul of the album. There isn’t anything individually exciting about it, yet its skill in composition of the whole makes it stand out from the crowd. Fans who are searching for the next great innovation are encouraged to look elsewhere, but for those that are just looking for a speed metal album with good tunes, it is worth investigating.

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