Tags: 2016, Ambient, ambient music, boring, EP, gorguts, hipster bullshit, jazz fusion, Luc Lemay, orientalism, pleiades dust, pseudo-progressive, review, season of mist, techdeaf, wanking, wikipedia metal
This review was contributed to Death Metal Underground by Neil Sigmundsson.
The best albums are greater than the sum of their parts and provide the capability for listener immersion due to their length and integration but the song is still generally the most important and most fundamental compositional unit in death metal. Paying too much attention to atmosphere, musicianship, individual riffs, or other aesthetical and shallow (though important) qualities of an album can lead to overlooking compositional shortcomings, especially after the mind starts to fatigue or when listening to dense material. This is the case with Doomed Passages, which feels convincing – and in some aspects it is – but suffers from a number of flaws that might be missed during casual listening. That being said, even though the music of Question is imperfect, it is modest and sincere and at its best moments overflows with contagious vigor and energy that leaps fearlessly towards the abyss, a mark of the upper echelons of death metal artists.
First, praise is due to some of the mechanical and aesthetical elements of this album. The roaring, expressive vocals, replete with various single-syllable exclamations and grunts, are highly enjoyable and benefit from a cavernous quality due to studio-induced reverb. The drums are commendable in their creativity and in demonstrating a subtle understanding of the level of activity that best complements any given situation. Rumbling double bass creates a “rolling” sensation of high momentum at certain tempi. The production is deep and clear, and has a bit of cushion, but more separation between the instruments might have been beneficial.
There are two truly excellent songs on Doomed Passages: the second and fifth tracks. “Nefarious Conclusion” is the most structurally rigorous composition on the album, being basically linear but still having a clear exposition, rising action, climax, and falling action. This results in a rewarding experience. 0:00-0:50 is an example of creating variation, exploration, and motion out of a single phrase. The drum build-up to the invigorating climactic riff is genius; it sounds like transitioning from walking to running. The transitions at 1:15 and 4:34 are somewhat rough, but not enough to harm the composition. “Universal Path of Disgrace” has one of the most memorable riffs on the album, a sprawling eight bar tremolo-picked cycle. After the second occurrence of this riff and its accomplice, the song heads logically into a strange middle section that sounds like being in an unstable, slightly psychedelic limbo. A climax and resolution emerge from there. This song offers an interesting journey but it is slightly less satisfying than “Nefarious Conclusion.”
Aside from these two tracks, the remainder of the material on Doomed Passages shows promise and has shining moments but suffers from various problems. Some of these issues are abrupt transitions (“Mournful Stench” at 3:35), weak conclusions (“Devoured from Within”), and segments that overstay their welcome (the introduction of “…Bitter Gleam of Inexistence”). However, the major recurring problem and the biggest downfall of Question, though it is not immediately apparent due to the large number of riffs (many of which sound similar), is the purposeless, wandering song structures. In their template, Question take a single riff or a small group of riffs that act as an “anchor,” and they dance a bunch of ideas around that anchor before departing in an uncertain, random direction. This resembles a very relaxed version of what Slayer pioneered on tracks like “At Dawn They Sleep,” which completes two verse-chorus cycles and then departs radically from pop structure. The difference – and it’s a significant difference – is that Slayer maintained a strong narrative and a sense of purpose and tension throughout the entirety of their songs, whereas Question is usually content with wandering aimlessly. That Question can string a huge number of riffs together without the result sounding like patchwork is impressive (see “Grey Sorrow”), but cohesion alone does not make death metal of lasting quality, and as a result an appreciable amount of this material feels pointless and is frustrating to endure.
As hinted at above, there are simply too many riffs on Doomed Passages, a large proportion of which are interchangeable and forgettable, appear only once, and serve no vital function. Question demonstrate that they know how to overcome this problem in multiple ways (developing phrases, relating riffs through common or similar phrases, writing highly memorable riffs, returning to previous ideas in different contexts, etc.), but they need to apply these habits more diligently. There are focused passages, and there are highly memorable riffs, but ideally all of the passages should be focused and all of the riffs memorable and necessary. Thus, whereas many death metal bands have simplified their song structures to the detriment of the music, Question can actually benefit from being somewhat more repetitive in order to remove the forgettable and less evocative riffs and develop only their best and darkest ideas. This can be done while retaining the narrative, exploratory song structures. It will occurs more naturally and easily when the music is written and played with specific purpose and direction. More dynamics might also help in stressing important sections, as the sound sometimes blends into a monotonous stream. The digital, compressed production is of no help.
Another lesser issue with Doomed Passages is that consonance sometimes feels out of place when it appears in the midst of the generally dissonant and chromatic music. The interlude “Through the Vacuous River” is the most blatant offender, though the riff at 5:28 of “Universal Path of Disgrace” is questionable as well. While consonance is not vital for this music to express something meaningful, there is potential in its skillful application, as demonstrated by 3:00-3:35 of “Mournful Stench,” a section that arises at an appropriate time but is unfortunately not fully developed. The acoustic final track also works fairly well in context. If Question would hone their skills at incorporating consonance into their musical language, the wider range of expression will provide them with more tools for communication.
The standout songs on this album prove that Question is capable of writing intense and adventurous narrative death metal of the highest caliber. All of the tracks have redeemable and enjoyable qualities and marks of skilled craftsmanship, but most are hampered by the flaws discussed above. To further improve their already above average music, Question need to at least scrap the forgettable riffs and instead develop more extensively their best ideas while taking the reins and writing more directed and focused compositions. The second change can be realized either by forcing the songs to move toward clear climaxes and satisfying conclusions or by finding some wisdom and inspiration that can be represented in and communicated through the music. These young musicians are certainly technically proficient but need to write more coherent compositions if they want to inspirit their music instead of joining the ranks of so many other failed techdeath endeavors.10 Comments
Article by David Rosales.
On their tantalizing debut album, Zealotry showed charm that often characterizes first releases. Debuting bands earnestly try to capture the aura of the music as they juggle with the technical aspects of playing it. First albums often come off as awkward or even flawed but there still containing endearing and thoroughly captivating elements. Many groups lose this enchantment in their sophomore album only to recover it with the third. This happened to Sepultura, who reached the pinnacle of their transcendental contributions on their only death metal album, Morbid Visions. They followed it with a boring mass of riffs with no heads or tails. Their much superior 1989 speed metal album, Beneath the Remains, fortunately corrected this. Hopefully, this will be the case with Zealotry as well.
The Last Witness plays like an extension of The Charnel Expanse‘s final track, “The Unmaking”, the least structured song on the album. The band tangentially explored the technical ramifications found by playing their particular style. From the creators’ perspective, this seemed like a clear path. In taking this choice to focus on a narrower voice, the evocative deficiencies of that streamlined, tremolo-picked, sequence-of-riffs approach had to be compensated for. This was completely ignored and instead there is a heavier emphasis on playing the technical parts of the songs correctly.
Musically, there is a lot of worthwhile content here; It just doesn’t tell a story as much as give scattered visions that are not arranged properly, do not have clear beginnings, and even less conclusions. The painstaking composition in a self-conscious style with a corrective attitude is extremely promising. This is admittedly the hard route as it requires extreme discipline; it is the classical composer’s way for reaching to perfection on all fronts. However, composers need many, many errors before turning trial into triumph.
As it stands, The Last Witness is a collection of exquisite details into which a very attentive reader can dive. He will discover many forms but nothing solid enough to materialize a clear vision. In part, this is due to the tendency towards extreme variation and superficial indulgence of musicianship, and too much escapism in the codas. Follow the title track attentively to hear what I am referring to. The problems here mirror those of Monsieur Tougas on his side project except that Zealotry has a much more individualized voice.
Zealotry would also do well to stay away from the death and war metal influences with atmospheric pretensions seen in the empty music of Phobocosm. Instead, they should work on their motific death metal, develop the themes to establish long-range links, and fully utilize their proper sense of breathing space. Zealotry should play to their strengths instead of diverging horribly and incoherently as in the final track, “Silence”. I am sure with practice and discipline, the time will come when this band will dominate a wider range of expressions. For now, shaping up this very narrow music into that which breathes, lives, and envisions a story is still a goal.3 Comments
Sarpanitum’s Blessed Be My Brothers was one of Death Metal Underground’s rejected albums for the Best of 2015. The album initially showed promise. The introductory track, “Komenos”, presents the audience with Sarpanitum’s combination of chromatic death metal riffs, melodic heavy metal leads, Unique Leader Records brutality, and Emperor-like use of a melotron to approximate medieval polyphony to anchor the concept album’s theme of the Crusades.
“By Virtuous Reclamation” surges forth with soaring, harmonized guitars calling for the conquest of the Holy Land continuing into an Immolation style rhythm riff. A break starts the counterpointed dissonant riffing in the Unique Leader style that variates logically enough for Pope Urban II to call for crusade against the heathen Saracens with a metalcore scream, providing a harbinger of the randomness to come. The band returns to the opening riff minus the accompanying lead. The lead’s eventual return signals the start of the Emperor melotron. A sudden slowdown for a cheesy emotional solo continues into the original riffs, climaxing into a polyphonic blend of every musical element and texture. The song barely avoids falling on its face on the way to to the finish line.
The second real song, “Truth” opens directly with Unique Leader riff salad. The Emperor worship is only to plant listeners in a Western European medieval mindset to distract them from the fact the tension built up by the dissonant riffing is never appropriately resolved. The emotional stadium rock solos are just as disconnected from the death metal as the Emperor aping. “Glorification Upon the Bones of the Sundered Dead” better glues the riffs together but still resorts to emotional, Slash-style solos to impart the triumph of the Siege of Jerusalem.
If Blessed Be My Brothers had ended there, it would have been a disparate but listenable concept album. Instead Sarpanitum use the second half to tell the Muslim side of the later Crusades through similarly flawed but less effective songs. This isn’t just a 180 degree change in perspective: the band added another of their heavy metal heroes to the blender. Ersatz Gorguts riffing plus even more masturbatory glam rock solos leads distract from the effective atmospheric and brutal elements. The songs turn even more so into senseless technical deaf metal with Emperor rendered down into pop hooks.
The drastic changes of viewpoint and influence betray the album’s semi-successful first half. The atmosphere of Western mysticality established using Emperor to approximate a polyphonic medieval choir is wrecked by the hippie drum circle interlude, “I Defy For I Am Free”. Blessed Be My Brothers is a postmodern, apologetic Frankenstein. Wikipedia “neutral point of view” metal for meek liberals is antithetical to Emperor’s classical triumph and heavy metal’s “Compassion is the vice of kings: stamp down the wretched and the weak,” virtus.3 Comments
Tags: 2015, blackened death metal, christianity, cuckrock, emperor, islam, medieval metal, melodeaf, metalcore, mithras, modern metal, orientalism, random, review, sarpanitum, tech-deth, techdeaf, Technical Death Metal, tek-deth, the crusades, unique leader, wikipedia metal, willowtip
With the metal scene as it is these days, one out of three DMU-approved bands isn’t too bad. Marduk, Immolation, Origin, and a band named Bio-Cancer will be touring Europe throughout May 2016. While Marduk is headlining, their companions in general seem to have similar levels of notoriety; I wouldn’t dwell too much on the specifics of the headlines. I’m betting European fans of Death Metal Underground’s writing will treat this as a possible opportunity to see Immolation in concert. While that’s an optimistic appraisal, the band allegedly gives their older and stronger some emphasis when live, so if you can grit your teeth through the other material it could very well be worth your while. Otherwise, you’ll have to hope there’s good beer… and that there’s plenty of beer money in your pockets.8 Comments
Akroasis stands proud as a representative of cracked out incoherent sugar high penguin of doom random technical “death” metal, and even has a cover that looks like various forms of congealed sugar melting together into a nutrition-free whole. It is truly the perfect product – a deceptively simplistic and potentially addictive recording with little in the way of more rewarding development. Obscura’s efforts on this album alternate between either random gibberish or surprisingly basic song constructions that don’t quite fit the apparent intent and would be shockingly obvious were they not surrounded by thousands of rapid fire notes like a swarm of flies around rotting meat.
One thing that makes reviewing Akroasis particularly easier is how the first track (“Sermon of the Seven Suns”) encapsulates so much of what Obscura is attempting to do. Much has been made of what this band takes from Death, particularly from their later traditional/death fusion works, but the most patronizing is the circular song structures. “Sermon of the Seven Suns” doesn’t have a lot of content, and after an intro arguably inspired by Cynic, it awkwardly rotates between its two major sections of rapidfire blasting and slow jazz fusion jams. The band uses some basic modulation techniques to disguise the repetition, particularly in the first section, but the overall structure does little more than hide the excessively basic structure. While the band’s apparent devotion to this on this track is vaguely admirable for how holistic it is (extending even to the lyrics), it doesn’t make for particularly compelling listening once the shock factor of Obscura’s instrumental proficiency wears off. At best, they’re slightly more creative than Chuck Schuldiner was with song structures – as an FYI, pretty much everything Death put out went main section -> bridge -> repetition of main section -> who needs a coda anyways?
The rest of Akroasis is more densely packed with content, but instead of employing the care and diligence required to shape these into anything coherent, it just falls into all of the typical metalcore traps, so it sounds less like an album and more like a checklist of errors. Besides what I’ve already mentioned in dissecting the first track, Obscura’s songwriting is full of aesthetic novelties (vocoders, non-metal instruments for no apparent reason) and they even incorporate a goofy breakdown in “The Monist” because apparently, metalcore musicians just can’t resist the temptation. Obscura would be a much better band if they could resist their vices, but were they to try and succeed, they would probably become completely unrecognizable to their fans. Why would they bother? The disorganized candy coated tech-death approach seems to be netting them enough fans.10 Comments
A quick EP of melodic metalcore/techdeaf – Arreat Summit’s Frostburn definitely hits all the expected points of 2008’s darling fusion – high levels of technical proficiency, candy coated melody, constant breakdowns, haphazard composition, and so forth. Usually this sort of thing doesn’t even rise to the point of being worthy of discussion (and I did find the actual music went almost unnoticed as I listened), but in this case, it resonated with me how eerily similar this is to playing the video games in the Diablo series that inspired it.
A quick primer – The first two games in the series are surprisingly atmospheric titles, at least by the standards of their age. In fact, I would go as far as to say that much of their potency is a result of Matt Uelmen’s excellent soundtrack work; Diablo II in particular frequently demonstrates his ability to mix coherent thematic development into unsettling ambient soundscapes. Back when I was most thoroughly engrossed in the game (read: 2008), though, my attention was instead turned towards repetitively grinding the game’s bosses in the slim hope of locating a powerful item that would allow me to do so slightly more efficiently. That was a much shallower and less fulfilling experience, albeit a powerfully addictive one more capable of destroying productivity than heroin. When you remove the setting from Diablo, it turns the game into a series of tangentially related and nonsensical murders. Similarly, when you remove the ‘setting’ from metal music, you’re left with what is little more than a technical exercise.
In summary, Arreat Summit’s successful portrayal of the grinding postgame of the series (to the point that they are named after a valuable piece of treasure that has no real lore attached to it) is a dubious honor at best.7 Comments
Usually, when the word “obscura” enters my brain, it’s because of the works of Gorguts, and not this band. Then again, Obscura’s jazz-fusion-prog-techdeath-clusterfuck approach hasn’t won much of a fandom here, but it has won some acclaim from the meatworld for being disorganized, diverse, and instrumentally proficient. The teaser for Akroasis is full of more of the same, beginning with an intro highly reminiscent of “Veil of Maya” off Cynic’s debut album before abruptly shifting into an unrelated progression for reasons that very likely are not related to this video being composed of 45-60 second snippets of Akroasis‘s songs. If the rest of the album is like this (and I’m sure it will be), even its most ardent fans will find themselves infatuated with something else long before this album gets its own successor.5 Comments
The mystery behind this Australian band as well as their approach to music making has been very appealing ever since they arrived at the scene with their demo back in 1998. The boiling cauldron of Lovecraftian aesthetics, ambient and death metal appears to be potent enough to completely reinvent the genre and this is something we secretly hope for with every Portal release… But it never happens. Well, not quite. There is always something that stands in the way of the pure demonic current: be it compositional flaws, production quality or artwork. The latest release is no exception here.
The servants of Chaos return with their third full-length effort. Following the pattern set by its predecessor, Outre (2007) the songs on Swarth take the muddy path of broken arrangements jumping in and out of focus constantly. The vocals are buried in the mix and thus enhance the overall blurry feel of this sound wall. The jagged, at times almost black metal-sounding guitar backdrop wails and waves over the skittering, jazzy drumming. The band manages to recreate the menacing sonic world of Immolation (an obvious influence here), yet where Immolation weaves their melodies and rhythms into some otherworldly math, Portal attempt at playing “ambient” death metal. These attempts often result in completely vague and non-inspired parts, a gray monotonous sound shimmer. The highlights of the album (“Omenknow”, “Marityme” and “Werships”, the latter being a re-recorded version of the track appeared on 2004’s Sweyy EP) feature some nice half-melodies, “inverted” riffing and conceivable – yet no less chaotic, – rhythm structure. Slowing things down a little definitely helps these Lovecraftian priests to get a better idea of their own conjuring and set up a good involving atmosphere.
An important note: Portal badly needs a good visual artist. With so much of their appeal coming from on-stage imagery, theatrics and general entourage it seems like the obvious Photoshop approach to their album artwork paired with some bad taste comic art doodles is extremely ill-advised. The band pictures are always appropriately evil though. Go see them live at MDF next year!
-The Eye in the Smoke-No Comments