Blinded by Faith – Chernobyl Survivor

May 13, 2013 –

blinded_by_faith-chernobyl_survivorBlinded by Faith shape melodic metal out of the combined styles approach that The Haunted first used, complete with over-the-top vocals, and show an aptitude for writing fluid melodic riffs that don’t end up as saccharine floods of very similar patterns.

Chernobyl Survivor stands out for having these melodic patterns emerge from the otherwise chaotic stream of mixed-genre elements and dominating vocals. Within all of what’s going on, which is a lot of fast-fingered frenzied riffing in the style of technical metalcore bands like Ulcerate, what emerges is the ability that Blinded by Faith has to write melodies and then expand upon them. They also have a really good nose for rhythm and how to match riffs and rhythm to make a song.

The best bands to compare to Blinded by Faith are Ulcerate or Cosmogenesis-era Obscura, but Blinded by Faith appears to be pulling away from the strict metalcore approach that Obscura in particular has taken. I realize “metalcore” isn’t a definition and that most people refer to Ulcerate and Obscura as “tech-deth” bands. It’s an anti-definition, meaning stuff that uses metal riffs but isn’t metal, because it reflects how those riffs are put together. Metal bands use their riffs to glue each other together, commenting on each other and furthering evolution. Rock bands use riffs like foundations, as something to build upon with vocals and other instruments, and don’t expect them to comment on each other. In fact, they like them to be radically different for a sense of change, and rely on harmony (key, scale) to make them fit together. This is why all rock-based music with metal riffs is probably going to be metalcore, much like all rock-based music with punk riffs became post-hardcore and eventually developed all of the tropes we see in metalcore today. Blinded by Faith is reversing this metalcore tendency by making their metal riffs comment on each other, kind of like themes in 1950s musicals, but more intense!

This CD could be many things. Chernobyl Survivor could easily be made into an amazing power metal album. It has elements of the old (real) death metal as well, and could also go the other way and be a killer jazz-prog album like At War With Self. Right now, it’s searching for the next evolution of its voice somewhere in the middle of these.

On the whole, Blinded by Faith have put together an album that helps nudge this style closer toward figuring out who or what it is, which is good because the tech-deth/metalcore explosion is running out of steam. If they continue in this direction, they could claim a place in the next evolution of popular music and be recognized for their strength in writing melodic riffs.

What the heck is metalcore?

April 23, 2013 –

fugazi_flyerDuring the late 1990s, a different style of metal emerged in the death metal camp. Starting with bands like Dillinger Escape Plan, Killswitch Engage, Misery Index, The Haunted, Human remains, Ulcerate, Meshuggah and Discordance Axis, this new style was given many names at first.

It’s math-metal, they said. No, it’s technical death metal (later shortened to “tech-deth” to keep people from expecting something like what Pestilence did on Spheres). Finally someone came up with “modern metal,” which many of us use like a catch-all.

The record companies were excited. Musically it was different. This style is accessible to more musicians, in addition to more fans, than the old style. It’s easier to make a reasonable impression of it, at least.

Thematically it was different. It’s everything that rock ‘n’ roll has always been. It’s loud, angry, and chaotic; perfect to disturb parents, which sells albums. Finally, unlike metal, it doesn’t stray into truly dangerous areas of thought. It is more likely to be written from an individual perspective, and less likely to glorify war, disease and death than protest them. Socially, it’s much “safer.”

What made it new was that it wasn’t like the extreme metal before it. However, it shared many techniques in common not just with that generation, but the generation before it. Specifically, many of the composition aspects are similar to those from post-hardcore bands like Fugazi, Rites of Spring, and Botch. These differences distinguished it from death metal in the following ways:

  1. Vocal rhythms. Death metal vocals are more like speed metal, which is to chant out the rhythm of the main riff or chorus phrase. Modern metal vocals are much like hardcore, which uses regularity of intervals between syllables to form a sound of protest. Death metal also prefers monotonic delivery with variant timbre, where hardcore vocals prefer more melodic vocal delivery with invariant timbre.
  2. Riffing. Death metal riffs are phrasal, or written as a flow of power chords forming a phrase or melody, and these fit together to form a narrative with poetic form, meaning that it takes the song from an initial place to a final place with a much different outlook. Modern metal riffs are inherently designed toward circular song constructions, like hardcore, and are based upon radical contrast between each other to suggestdeconstruction, like hardcore. Metal riffs form a synthesis through contrast; hardcore riffs deconstruct through contrast and reject synthesis.
  3. Drumming. Death metal drumming tends to follow the riff changes; modern metal drumming tends to lead the riff changes, anticipating them. In death metal, instruments tend to act in unison. In metalcore, they tend to each work separately and overlap as convenient.
  4. Style. Death metal aims toward unison of all instruments and riffs fitting together to make a larger narrative so as to maintain mood; modern metal, like hardcore before it, seeks to interrupt mood as if a form of protest music.

Critics of the terms “metalcore” and “modern metal” correctly note that these terms are being used as a catch-all. That’s correct, but it’s only part of the story. These terms are being used to describe something that’s not new, but existed before death metal and black metal reached their modern form. It’s an alternate branch of metal’s evolution, upgraded with death metal technique.

For students of metal history, this isn’t surprising. Genres tend to lie dormant in alternating generations, and then pick up on whatever was done well by the intervening generation. For example, power metal is what happens when speed metal and glam metal bands integrate death metal technique. Grindcore occurs when hardcore adopts crust and death metal technique. Speed metal occurs when metal adopts punk technique. By the same token, metalcore is what happens when you mix Fugazi with death metal technique.

This is not an argument against metalcore. If we’re going to like metal, we should understand it; if we’re going to understand it, we should study it; if we study it, we should organize our categories and language so as not to mislead each other. By this analysis, metalcore is an extension not of metal, but of the post-hardcore movement using metal technique, and thus it should be analyzed as more like hardcore instead of having us project our metal expectations upon it.

Monsterworks – Album of Man

April 1, 2013 –

monsterworks-album_of_manThe job of a reviewer is to describe music, not judge it. Assessment ultimately becomes obvious from the context of expectation created by the reviewer which shows where all things must fit in the bigger pattern.

Monsterworks resembles a mixture of things and prefers to stay that way. The majority of the structural parts of songs are like Led Zeppelin mixed with Southern Rock and early doom metal, using metalcore style rasp vocals, so that most of what you hear is very guitar-rock styled heavy metal. This is a welcome change from the less organic metalcore of late.

If you like guitar playing that is bluesy, varied and emotional, this album will pique your interest. While the vocals rant, guitars hit all the right rhythms and then work in leads with the fills, slowly building up intensity until the song explodes in sound. If you can imagine Led Zeppelin and Ion Dissonance collaborating on a stoner doom album, this might be about it.

Monsterworks create very much in the 1970s style, and yet with its vocals and aesthetics, very much in the 2010s style as well. The result is both deeply engaged and like newer metal hybrids, incessant in its peak intensity, which can make it meld together indistinctly. It often detours into “different” arenas, like progressive rock, tech-deth, and straight up hardcore, as if a variety show.

Album of Man reforms the anti-technical side of post-metal and metalcore however by using the guitar as a voice of its own, and breaking up the strident extremity with old fashioned instrumentalism. This both brings rock and metal back to their core and renews the intensity of the vocals. By doing so, it takes newer metal to a better place and makes for a more satisfying listen.