Zealotry – The Last Witness (2016)

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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 Remainsfortunately 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.

Readers may listen to The Last Witness on Zealotry’s Bandcamp page.

Liers in Wait – Spiritually Uncontrolled Art (1992)

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Article by Lance Viggiano

Liers In Wait cast chains of non-random riffs in the legato style of metal pioneered by Morbid Angel to no effective artistic purpose. Spiritually Uncontrolled Art comprised of rationally woven re-contextualization of familiar death metal patterns which never manage to take on a distinct character as individual tracks. The album as a whole doesn’t begin to approach a definable emotive personality because the subject of this work is the personality of the composer: a master of phrasing with an encyclopedic knowledge of metal so adept in his craft that self-editing would diminish the efficacy of his work. These streams of coherent yet cold consciousness are hewn to Necrolord’s own sense of bravado; made concrete by a vocal delivery that proffers dominance rather than dread.

This is neither music for music’s sake nor music for the sake of expressing a transcendental idea. It is entirely about the composer’s ability to write coherent music out of the first thing that comes to mind – a mind that is very much a wellspring. In some ways this album is analogous to Eighties shred which existed as a pure demonstration of superiority over its contemporaries by parasitizing familiar content that was then latticed to the listener through overly sentimental melodic hooks. Antithetically, Necrolord eschews hooks entirely as they would constitute breaks and disruptions in the stream by deploying recognizable moments and thereby give the impression of emphasizing the better material, and consequently highlighting the lesser ideas of which there are none to be found. Conceptually this seizes the middle ground between tuneless noise and the summa cum laude of ten-mile-long cock rock.

Lasting impressions, significance and meaning is for the sensitive feminine types, not the fucking overlord. In this sense, Liers in Wait is a resounding success. Those lamenting the fact that this music does not “Do something” gravely miss its point.

Sarpanitum – Blessed Be My Brothers…

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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.

Listen at Willowtip Record’s Bandcamp

Better yet, just listen to In the Nightside Eclipse again instead.

Blood Incantation – Interdimensional Extinction (2015)

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Article by Corey M

Blood Incantation released their debut EP Interdimensional Extinction last year  to little fanfare. Having heard one of the US death metal band’s songs on a Dark Descent compilation, I was highly anticipating this release and was not disappointed. However, other respectable authors have dismissed it without giving it the attention it deserves. Because I’ve only grown to appreciate this EP more over the last several months, I intend to elaborate on Blood Incantation’s strengths, because I believe they deserve more coverage.

Guitars are the focus of and main engine of Blood Incantation’s music. Typically one guitar plays chords in rhythmic bursts to support the other guitars which harmonize faster-moving and more complex melodies. An excellent balance between the low-register rhythm chords and the weird-and warbly-leads is always maintained. During high-tension segments, the guitars mainly play in unison for maximum impact, and during some of the more paranormal passages, the drums and rhythm intensity are dialed back just enough to open up space for the imaginative and unpretentious leads. The best of the guitar solos remind me of those on In the Nightside Eclipse, sharing that ability be technically modest yet very evocative. Blood Incantation’s flailing-tentacle leads mysteriously manage to reflect or echo the dynamics of the chord pattern underneath, achieving symbiosis with the rhythm guitars and drums, even while ratcheting up the tension to the point of anticipating a total musical disintegration. Other times, leads are used to gracefully close out a song, resolving the musical stress by harmonically tying together the wildly whipping threads of various melody.

Vocals are perfectly competent and never interfere with the shape of the riffs, partially due to having a more forward-sounding presence in the mix, compared to the guitars which cast a broader curtain of sound and envelop the rest of the instruments. Drums are in thrall to the guitars, and when the guitar rhythm turns odd or just a little unorthodox, they provide an unobtrusive, robust foundation on which the highly melodic riffs build. Special mention must go to the session player with the fretless bass, who plays in the technically adventurous death metal band Stargazer. Giving each a riff an uncanny, slithery feel, the fretless adds another layer of harmonic depth and texture in a way that is underutilized or outright ignored by many death metal bands.

On the extra-musical side, Interdimensional Extinction‘s cover art is not only very cool, but an effective visual representation of the themes present in the music, featuring a distant planetary body surrounded by an orbital ring of human skeletal bits. Human skulls are always related to human death and sometimes death in general, as a concept that extends further than the merely personal, into the planetary, the celestial, and yes, even the “interdimensional”! This far-out unearthly realm is what Blood Incantation attempts to explore, as their perspective encompasses not only human death, but death as a common fate for all for all systems of organized energy, from a single bacterium to the largest galactic cluster. Does the band intentionally attempt to establish a sympathetic link between humans and non-human things by relating us all under the empirical inevitability of death? Maybe; maybe not, but these are the sorts of imaginal realms that great death metal can take a listener’s mind.

All four songs on this EP are proficiently crafted and offer the very thing that most lovers of death metal are either actively searching for at least glad to hear; death metal in its unadulterated language, but through a distinctive dialect. Perhaps the band’s native Colorado landscape has informed their intuitive songwriting, as each song moves through jagged peaks and rolling valleys, organically and without pretense. Due to the clarity of the arrangements and mixing, the songs are actually relatively easy to follow, and riffs do not hide behind distracting, murky guitar tones or gratuitous reverb. There may appear to be similarities with Demilich or Immolation, but they are only skin-deep, and Blood Incantation use intriguingly idiosyncratic methods of riff development and song structuring. All things considered, including that I have been listening to this solidly for six months now, I can only think of good reasons to recommend this EP.

Sadistic Metal Reviews mini-feature – Arreat Summit

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.

Insision – Terminal Reckoning (2015)

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Insision take on the dying underground by combining brutal death metal, early technical death metal and adding in mild touches of modern death metal, creating a sound that hammers its listeners with intensity but works melodic leads and song construction into the mix for variety and depth. The result is a cornucopia of charging riffs and melodic turnarounds, in a style similar to later Gorguts mixed with Deeds of Flesh.

The band makes skillful use of dynamics to intensify songs and carefully presents each as a standalone concept. Guttural vocals ride the rhythm riff but break away to freestyle over the more open patterns. This allows Insision to work atmosphere into the blasting and otherwise violent guitar work. Fans of classic German speed metal like Destruction and Kreator will notice similarities as the album goes on; like the best from those bands, Terminal Reckoning uses single chord riffs with chromatic fills for pure rhythm effect.

If this album could improve, it would be in more internal diversity of riff and pace. Its use of melody thrusts aside the modern metal conventions and instead serves to develop songs, which avoids the becalming effect of too much similarity, and the interplay of vocals and guitar follows the mid-80s style instead of trying to constantly contrast the riffs. That and its inherent aggressive attack allows this album to escape the modern metal doldrums and bring back much of what fans adored in old school, technical and brutal death metal.

Thanks to Cátia Cunha from Against PR, Sevared Records and Insision, we can present to you the following streaming track from Terminal Reckoning

You can find out more about Insision at Facebook, YouTube or via Sevared Records.

Brutality to release new album – Sea of Ignorance

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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.

Obscura teases upcoming album – Akroasis

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.

Supuration releases video for “Reveries of a Bloated Cadaver” from upcoming compilation Reveries

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 – Visceral Infection (2015)

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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.