The relatively obscure Floridan death metal band Brutality is releasing a new studio album (Sea of Ignorance) on January 22nd, 2016, following up on 2013’s Ruins of Humans EP, and several albums in the 1990s. Back then, they mixed influences from various contemporary acts into their own unique style; generally more melodic and phrasal than not and sometimes even reminiscent of Scandinavian acts like At the Gates and Sentenced. Since Ruins of Humans built off that and the band apparently retains some of its lineup from that time (according to their Facebook), it’s likely that Sea of Ignorance will continue that style; it would certainly be a worthy addition to your collection if that turns out to be the case.
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.
Grindcore/alternative-rock/deathmetal/progressive rock band Supuration released a track “Reveries of a Bloated Cadaver” from their upcoming re-envisioning of earlier material, Reveries. The band has taken its style of technical death metal and unconventional progressive rock and used it to re-imagine these older tracks in newer form, but has done so without losing the distinctive energy of the earlier material.
Organ dealer play a brand of metalcore influenced by the sound of those in that genre who call themselves “technical death metal”, but excuse themselves from any responsibility to make complete songs or to make them coherent at all by claiming to be playing grindcore. While at some level there is a reason for this claim, Organ Dealer only fulfills the requirements of a grindcore outfit on the superficial level. That is, if one asked the general public to describe grindcore, Organ Dealer would meet the “requirements”. It is in the details, the realization and what we read in between the lines of music that the deception is identified.
While grindcore does introduce a mixture of frenetic passages and mid-pace groove that do not necessarily have concrete links between them, the emphasis of grindcore has traditionally been on the strength and trance that each section evokes arising from a certain clarity of expression, the modern metal nature of Visceral Infection place the emphasis on the contrast between them. Each individual section is more forgettable, usually lacking a clear image, the emphasis being on the brutality as a whole and their form usually channeling into the next incredibly contrasting section. In the first one is pulled towards each riff, in the latter one is led towards the intersections between riffs. The nature of grindcore is replaced by that of carnival modern metal.
Coming from the depths of that technical death metal with strong bases in metalcore, Alustrium’s A Tunnel to Eden is perhaps intentionally misleading with its title and an intro that could make anyone think one is about to listen to a power metal album of the cheesiest saccharine minstrel metal. However, what they give us is a view of the most easily dismissed metalcore. What makes this album so pedestrian is its blatant reference to genre tropes on the one hand and the upholding the worse sins against music that this genre perpetrates on a common basis.
First of all, there is no intention of creating a theme for the songs, nor is there any intention to maintaining any sort of musical coherence. Every section is aimed at creating a rhythmic hook, while relation with adjacent sections and riffs is not important at all, only the shock induced by the change is important. Basically, this is a pop attack. The fact that it is “extreme” music does not hide its candy-ass popular nature to the discerning listener.
Sporting the grindcore label, Maruta try very hard and not altogether without failure to insert technical deathcore riffcraft into a grindcore overall approach. While the technical abilities of the band is not in question as the musicianship in this album is superb and clinically precise, and neither is their creativity challenged, as they remain in focus in terms of style and approach through and through as they bring distinct ideas into the album, the premise of it all is not entirely convincing. The reason for this is that the carnival approach that the technical deathcore, although not completely incompatible with grindcore, is deficient by nature, bringing down the music against the effort of a talented band like Maruta.
Grindcore is known for short songs with abrupt beginnings and endings. The genre is characterized by spasmodic outbursts of madness with ventures into heavy and slightly groovy mid-paced sections whose focus remains on the brutality and aura of the music. All this is achieved by Maruta on Remain Dystopian, however, this is only the superficial description of the genre, the first impression it gives to an audience, and this is where most bands, including this one, get trapped. The grindcore of early Napalm Death, Blood or Repulsion can be described in that way, each with different percentages and variations of said description, but there is something that sets them apart from the crowd and it is that at the construction level, the relation between riffs is still carefully maintained. In Impulse to Destroy, Blood remains fluid through riff transitions even when the they switch between speeds or intensity levels, the smoothness within the song is maintained. At the risk of sounding contradictory, I would venture to say that even relatively abrupt transitions remained smoothed out through execution of small fills or very brief affectations that are characteristic of Blood. Maruta, on the other hand, obfuscate the music with the carnival approach of modern metal bands, creating interest through surprise instead of coherence and build up.
All in all Remain Dystopian is a far more accomplished effort than the vast majority of its contemporaries and fans of the genre should keep one eye on them. While fans of modern metal call this incoherence of the music “experimentation” and “nonconformity”, it all boils down to a lazy gimmick. Maruta has the technical chops, and they definitely have the vision as their focused compositions show us, but the chosen direction is perhaps not the best. Were Maruta to correct this direction and it is possible we would have a modern giant of grindcore in the making.
Boston’s Zealotry made a startling contribution to death metal in 2013 with their debut album The Charnel Expanse. Plodding, grim death metal inspired on the vague harmonic coloration of Immolation, the watery flow of tremolo-picked melodies of Adramelech and the syncopated off-feeling of Demilich. A non-explicit disciple of the abstract concepts underlying the strong and clear structural construction in the death metal of At the Gates’ Gardens of Grief, Zealotry’s offering makes strides in the direction of the ideal and whole technical death metal.
A superficial glance over the record can give the impression that this is a retro band and that this is an “old school death metal” record. The only truth in that remark lies solely on the fact that Zealotry picks up where old school bands left off before death metal hit rock bottom in the mid 1990s only to branch out helplessly in a multitude of retrograde subgenres. Zealotry shows us the way the obsession with technique and extremity in performance of the genre at the time (which became its focus roughly after 1992) could have been channeled into the sculpting of true works of art rather than demonstrations of narcissism and inadequacy.
Condensed into one sentence, the reason why this effort falls short of its mark is related to the how monumental that goal is. Were they to pull off the record they were looking for, it would have single-handedly given the current death metal landscape an example to follow and at the same time it would have marked the end of a chapter in the genre.
But the naivete that cripples The Charnel Expanse gives the metal student a clearer study of death metal construction. The way each riff and section is rounded off and resolved makes the record overbearingly predictable. The thoughtful enchantment of each next riff is what allows the listener to pull through despite the somewhat conclusion-less songs. Here is where the influence of The Chasm is made most clear. It is as full of fervent candor as it is clueless regarding to how to close off ideas or give them more than a transitory character.
The first album by the virtuoso technical death metal Obliveon, From This Day Forward, is a highly recommended release. Intricate and sophisticated guitar riffs along with clear, bright, shining bass grooving lines that are not just the echo of the guitars really catches my attention. The whole album is evocative, setting the epitome for technical bands today.
Which brings me to the following considerations. I turned down the second album, Nemesis a few days ago merely because I couldn’t find what I liked when it came to Obliveon: interesting bass lines that are composed in a way in which it is obviously competing for center stage with the two guitars. All without being too boasting, or too technically-oriented for the sake of showing off.
This is the reason why I love From This Day Forward.
With disappointment and bewilderment, I judged Nemesis as an album of low quality song-writing. But after I went through the whole album again, I realized this conclusion was just naive and ridiculous. We can’t just say Nemesis lost the spirit and the original intention of the band, but more specifically that they worked on a different dimension to explore how the sound of Obliveon could go on.
You can hear more complicated and fantastic guitar riffs which are connected tightly together in the way of unprecedented reach. Of course, undoubtedly, the bass parts in Nemesis are not as catchy and flexible as before, ending up being the echo of the guitars. This apparently unreasonable (I assumed they would carry this character on forever) change even made me check whether the line-up was preserved between the two albums. But by appreciating the more sophisticated guitars that make you catch your breath at every moment, this album succeeds in bringing an intense experience for technical death metal fans..
Unfortunately, their second album does not seem to bring the same feeling of overall fulfillment as From This Day Forward. Maybe I did not explore or experience the album thoroughly, failing to catch what Nemesis is supposed to deliver as a whole.
Death metal band turned prog-core act Gorguts has re-issued the latter two albums from its classic period, Gorguts and From Wisdom to Hate, on industry powerhouse Century Media Records. The re-issues — on jewelcase CD, 2LP and limited edition 2LP — will be available in pre-order starting March 9, 2015.
Says guitarist/composer Luc Lemay: “I’m proud to announce that our 1998 record Obscura and 2001’s From Wisdom To Hate will finally be re-released! …For this re-issue, I decided to include liner notes that tell the story behind each record. How we got together as musicians, what was the composition process that made this sound possible and that made us grow as artists…I decided to change the logo because, with a step back, I realized that I never really like the original one on Obscura and I wanted to give the record a fresh look. I kept the same logo for From Wisdom To Hate, because it was created for this record…Thanks again to all our fans for their unconditional support through all those years.”
The re-issues see official release on April 6, 2015 in Europe and April 7, 2015 in North America. Both are dedicated to the memory of former members Steeve Hurdle (R.I.P. 2012) and Steve MacDonald (R.I.P. 2002). While Gorguts has deviated into progressive-themed *core territory with their latest, Colored Sands, this band helped forge the sound of technical death metal back when that term simply referred to death metal which required technical ability to play. While Obscura has often been imitated in style, those who have tried to imitate it have generally done so on the basis of style alone and missed the sublime composition within which made this album a classic independent of style.
Over the past decade, metal and related genres have shifted toward a highly technical perspective on instrumentalism. Where earlier genres valued the primitive and passionate, bands now tend to begin with a grounding in jazz and progressive rock theory and expand into metal.
This raises the bar for entry into the genre, but on the level of mechanics only. Corresponding, creativity seems to have declined in the genre, perhaps because artists with something to communicate — a.k.a. “content” — now face an uphill path toward technical perfection before that content will be accepted in the genre.
A similar phenomenon occurred in the classical genre as well. Like metal, this niche genre struggles to keep existing fans while making new ones and not becoming “dumbed-down” like everything else in popular culture. As a result, it has become perfectionist on a technical level, perhaps to the detriment of content, notes an article on the evolution in classical music.
Today’s classical musicians are rarely given this choice between expression and perfection. As David Taylor, assistant concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, recently told the Los Angeles Times, “Today, perfection is a requirement. You must have flawless intonation, you must be a machine.” A single missed note or halting phrase could be a musician’s downfall: the end of a job interview, perhaps the end of a career.
This perfectionist culture can crush young musicians’ creativity: they’re too afraid of messing up to take risks. As Thor Eckert Jr. wrote for the Christian Post back in 1982, “the very qualities that made Rubinstein unique have been abandoned in the music world today. Rather than emotion, we now have technical prowess, rather than expressivity and poetry we have accuracy, rather than individuality, we have a bland sameness.”
The article goes on to discuss the impact that technology has had on classical music, namely a lowering of concert attendance and less of a tendency to purchase albums in favor of individual songs. This development threatens the mainstay income of classical musicians, and has driven them toward entrepreneurial ventures including pop music hybrids. While this particular source feels this is a positive development, many of us are not so sure.
When commerce takes over any given form, whether art or music or writing, it tends to increase the tangible factors of quality while decreasing the intangible ones, like content or profundity. This in turn drives artists toward increasing degrees of triviality and novelty in an effort to distinguish themselves, with the result that few focus on quality of expression beyond the technical at all.
Simultaneously, the knowledge of technical precision becomes democratized or spread widely at low cost, which means that soon the genre floods with highly proficient players who may have no ability to compose, improvise or otherwise contribute anything but “new” recombined versions of what previously existed. In metal, this has been a death knell; let us hope that for classical it is not the same.