Death Metal Underground

Is all metal speed metal now?

March 15, 2014 –

pantera-cowboys_from_hell

Tom G. Warrior is a relentless innovator and amazing composer. As he details in his book Only Death is Real: An Illustrated History of Hellhammer he grew up in an abusive, uncertain environment within a broken home. He also grew up in “perfect” Switzerland, a place that has more rules than people. These events shaped his personality or rather, the limitations that are still imposed upon it.

What happened was that young Tom G’s ego was crushed and doubt was introduced into his mind. Doubt about the purpose of life, or even his own life. Doubt of self-worth. Fear that at any moment he might find himself without a justification for existing, and be truly discarded and alone. That’s a heavy load for a young person to carry, but the sequential success of Hellhammer and then Celtic Frost lifted Tom out of it. It also pushed aside a healing process.

When Celtic Frost evaporated, Tom launched on a series of attempts to find popularity again, but on his own terms. First, his highly inventive industrial music, and later, attempts to be contemporary. The latest two are below, and they are marked by a duality: a great underlying talent, desperately attempting to ingratiate itself with newer metal audiences. Like all things that do not take a clear direction, they are thus lost on both fronts.

This is not a hit piece on Tom G Warrior. Like many metalheads, I hold him in the highest regard. He is one of the great innovators and farseeing minds in metal. However, his tendency to try to adapt to what is current shows what is currently happening in metal: in a dearth of ideas, the genre is recombining past successes that represent the culmination of earlier genres, and is trying to recapture its lead by offering a buffet of different influences. But alas, like the music of Triptykon, these forays are lost causes.

Currently a morass of subgenre names exist. We can call it metalcore, or modern metal, or math metal, or tech-deth, or even djent, but all of it converges on a single goal: to make a form of that great 1980s speed metal — Metallica, Anthrax, Testament, Exodus, Nuclear Assault — that used choppy riffs made up of muted chords to encode complex rhythms into energetic songs. To that, the modern metal bands have added the carnival music tendency to pick entirely unrelated riffs to add variety, the grooves of later speed metal, and the vocals and chord voicings of late hardcore and its transition into emo.

What this represents is not a direction, but lack of one. By combining all known successes from late in these subgenres, modern metal is picking up where the past left off before death metal and black metal blew through and rewrote the book. The problem is that making music that is intense like those underground genres is difficult, and even more, unmarketable. It approaches the issues in life that most of us fear, like mortality and failure in the context of powerlessness and meaninglessness, and thus presents a dark and obscure sound that makes us uncertain about life itself. Like Tom G Warrior living through a shattered marriage of his parents and a society too concerned with order to notice its own boredom and misery, black metal and death metal shatter stability and replace it with alienated existential wandering.

On the other hand, late punk offered ideological certainty and heavy doses of emotion. Late speed metal, which Pantera cooked up out of heaping doses of Exhorder, Prong and Exodus, offers a groove and a sense of a party on the wild side. Inserting bits of death metal, especially its technical parts, and some of the frenetic riffing of Discordance Axis allows these bands to create a new kind of sound. But at its heart, this music is still speed metal. Where death metal played riff Jenga and put it all together in a sense that told a story, modern metal is based in variety and distraction. It exists to jar the mind, explore a thousand directions, and without coming to a conclusion ride out in the comforting emulation of the chaos of society around it.

But at its heart, these bands are speed metal. Like Triptykon who revitalize the E-string noodling and riff texture of more aggressive speed metal bands, with the bounce of Exodus and the groove of Pantera, these bands offer a smorgasbord combined into one. They mix in melodic metal, derived from what Sentenced and later Dissection made popular, to give it a popular edge. However, what they’re really doing is regressing to a mean. This has happened in metal before, when mid-1970s bands recombined Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath into rock-style metal, and in the mid-1980s when glam metal did the same thing but mixed in the gentler sounds of late 1970s guitar rock bands. When metal loses direction, it recombines and comes up with a mellower, less threatening version of itself.

All of this is well and good if we do one single but difficult thing: recognize that what we’re listening to now is a dressed-up version of what metal and punk were doing in the late 1980s. We’re walking backward in history, away from that scary underground death metal and black metal, and looking toward something less disturbing and more fun at parties. It seems no one has come out and said this, so I figured it must be said. Enjoy your weekend.

Deeds of Flesh – Portals to Canaan

October 18, 2013 –

deeds_of_flesh-portals_to_canaanDeeds of Flesh pioneered the West coast version of the percussive death metal innovated in New York by bands like Suffocation and Morpheus Descends, itself a derivative of the more textured muted-chord riffing of speed metal bands like Prong, Vio-lence, Exhorder and Exodus. With Portals to Canaan, Deeds of Flesh hope to expand their style into the future.

As a result, they’ve brought in some influences. Some come from expected quarters, like the Gorguts Obscura influence visible on many tracks, or the modern “tek-deth” borrowings. Others are more obscure: the use of background drones and electronic effects like Tangerine Dream, for example, or the repeated allusions to tracks from all of the first three Deicide albums. This tendency shows a band in touch with how stale both the old school bands currently and the entire concept of modern metal have become.

Portals to Canaan does one better, which is that it attempts to make these riffs work with another. This leads to a sort of game: how outlandish can we be and still pull it off? As a result, the guitar fireworks immediately dive into almost paranoid riffs that despite being primitive show a delicate sensibility of avoiding predictability. Deeds of Flesh love breakneck tempi, but even more, they love to break up patterns, transition through a series of barely related ideas, and then return to the original. Tempo changes explode, riffs invert themselves, and guitars chase each other oblivion and emerge in harmony.

The primary downside of this album is that it borrows from both deathgrind and tek-deth, which both include tropes that are aesthetically annoying. Deathgrind has the chromatic chugging advance while the vocals chant in double time, and tek-deth has its video-game-sound sweeps and noodly squeal riffs. Deeds of Flesh try to minimize this whenever possible, but rely on it frequently enough that it is hard to overcome. What is great about this album however is that it is able to unite its wide variety with the riffs themselves, like an old school band, and not fall into the nu-death trap of being so divergent that the only unification can be found through return to very standard song forms after short deviations.

Culminating in the epic track “Orphans of Sickness,” Deeds of Flesh Portals to Canaan offers a credible attempt to find a new path through metal. I’d rather they dropped the deathgrind and modern metal and focused solely on inheriting the other techniques they have innovated over the years, but Deeds of Flesh have converted some annoying modern metal tendencies into fertile techniques and shown how old school metal’s approach to gluing riffs together to make sensible songs can overwhelm even the modern metal influence. In addition, the use of ambient sound and innovative song construction makes this release a good listen, even if as I do you wince at the core/grind parts.

Interview with Paul Ryan of Origin

October 10, 2013 –

origin-ultravioletsocialclubOriginating from Kansas in 1998, Origin contrive unprecedented mastery of musicianship and merge cosmic and horror concepts to differentiate themselves from the slew of other technical death metal bands.

Their debut album Origin established a well-rounded sound that would cater to casual death metal listeners, as well as those who approach the genre looking for the most technically proficient of brutal wizardry. Since then, Origin have released four more albums and are in the process writing the next one.

We are fortunate to have virtuosic guitarist Paul Ryan reveal the happenings of Origin. Point your browser here for the full interview with Origin’s Paul Ryan.

Interview: Origin

origin-ultravioletsocialclubOriginating from Kansas in 1998, Origin contrive unprecedented mastery of musicianship and merge cosmic and horror concepts to differentiate themselves from the slew of other technical death metal bands.

Their debut album Origin established a well-rounded sound that would cater to casual death metal listeners, as well as those who approach the genre looking for the most technically proficient of brutal wizardry. Since then, Origin have released four more albums and are in the process writing the next one.

We are fortunate to have virtuosic guitarist Paul Ryan reveal the happenings of Origin.

You’re currently writing material for your next album. What do you hope to accomplish with your next release? Will there be new elements that Origin hasn’t expressed yet?

A continuation in the development in the sound of the band. I guess that the thing for me is that I am a old metalhead who enjoys a lot of different styles of metal which in the early days of the band I only presented a more straight-forward stylistic approach… I am using a couple of ideas from the past in technique and in dynamics to not present the same album again… I hope to keep both old and new listeners entertained by something fresh on every Origin album… During our live shows while playing I kept asking myself what can we bring to our live set that we don’t have yet… I feel that is what influenced my writing the most!

You’ve been ranked as one of the best guitarists in metal by several publications. Do you have any advice for guitar players that hope to advance their technical abilities?

Well I must say it comes with practice, practice, practice. There wasn’t Youtube or professional lessons online when I was growing up & now there are so many resources out there today to assist a young emerging guitarist to get very good, very fast. Something that I’ve noticed in today’s generation is that it isn’t always about composition on a computer, but being in the garage with other musicians brainstorming ideas & grinding it out (some of the funnest moments as a musician I’ve ever had). I spent many days of my life going to shows/practices just learning about how other bands worked as well.

A lot of Origin’s lyrics and titles encompass how small and minuscule our existence is. Is there a philosophical standpoint behind the band or is this something that’s derived from general contemplation?

Prior to Origin I played Death metal with typical Death Metal lyrics. Once I realized that I wasn’t going to kill anyone (unfortunately a few friends of mine did), I wanted to find something to write about that wasn’t so singularly based. Sci-fi & Horror always entertained me & Music took me away from the hell that I heard in my head. It was a positive release of negative energy. I was just looking for something that was endless that could be written about… The unknown.

So, Origin’s listeners can assume that you desire to reach a more broad scope to what the band wants to convey? Not just about blasphemy, blood and guts, but about a more meaningful or challenging way to look at life as a whole? Something that each individual ponders about, but may have a different take on?

When i’m listening to music & reading the lyrics I want to go on a Cerebral Journey. I hope that in some way my music can take someone out of the moment of their own personal life & just sit back & listen to music. I dunno if there is personal enlightenment in our message other than I hope we are conveying some new topics to think about.

What bands have inspired you over the years? Which are your favorites? Can you pinpoint any musicians that have had a profound influence on you?

Well in the very beginning of my playing it was Slayer, Celtic Frost, Cryptic Slaughter, & Yngwie Malmsteen. These bands influenced my early playing style & eventually crafted what I am today. Death, Napalm Death, Suffocation, Early Carcass, Early Deicide, and Bolt Thrower had a lot to do with it as well.

What are your hobbies outside of music?

Music is my life. I work in a music store. Other than playing music I enjoy exercise & spending time with my girl, going to shows & MORE GUITAR!

Origin has extensively toured over the years and has succeeded in reaching a very broad metalhead fanbase. Which shows have been the most memorable?

Oh man there are too many to name… You always remember your first & last I guess… Every show has HAD ITS MOMENTS OF INSANITY!!! Always playing a new venue, city, or country is a pleasure. My mentality has been this..

Every show. Every Fan. Every City. Every State. Every Country. Every Time…
I try to give it my all every time. I want people to enjoy a show they paid for no matter the turnout whether its a 100 or a 1000.

You’ve enlisted Lonegoat from Goatcraft to aid with some synthesizer work for the next album. How did this come to be?

Basically as a musician on the road you get guys handed cds by many other musicians… I try to listen to everything that I get…. Once you get something good you don’t forget it. One night of driving all night to the next gig I popped in a cd that took me on a journey!!! I listened to the album all night on repeat!!! Basically I just contacted him directly & said I really enjoy your work & I have a piece of music that fits what you do perfectly!!! Hopefully we can put something else together as well!!!

Many guitarists treasure their gear and guitars. What’s your current setup like? What will you use on the next album?

I use a Jackson Warrior w Emgs
Mesa Boogie Stereo 100 power amp
RecPre Dbx166xl compressor-limiter-noise-gate
a bbe Sonic Maximizer 882e
Mesa Boogie cabs
Monster Cables

Do you think your sound is evolving? If so, from what and to what?

Yeah to the outside world. I am very private & most of my music isn’t ever heard by Origin fans…I have literally hundreds of riffs that didn’t make it to a Origin album that I enjoy playing; it’s just that the Death Metal scene is very singular in what they want to hear on a album. I think I have learned a lot about the guitar since the beginning of this band & feel that most fans only enjoy what they hear first from a band… To say that my earlier work is stronger than my latter is comical as a musician.

What genre is Origin’s music? What are the primary influences on that genre as a whole?

DeathShred!!!

I hear a lot Origin’s influence in the Death/Grind/Core scene today… I am very humbled by that.

A lot of your earlier music had themes to it. Are you going to continue along that direction, or relax a little and get more down-to-earth?

Well we are still in the writing process for the next album, so I can’t give you a correct answer to that. We are very excited to see & hear what this lineup can bring with Jason Keyser contributing to this album vocally & lyricaly… It will be Origin, but even in just the new demoing of the material Jason has a different approach which I feel will add another dimension to the music!!

Entering the studio for the next album in January so expect a spring/summer release on Nuclear Blast Records in 2014

Also in the mix is re-releasing A Coming Into Existence with Bonus material of the bands I was in before Origin & the DVD is slowly becoming a reality!!!

Thanks for the interview!!!

Visit Origin’s facebook page here.

Gorguts – Colored Sands

September 3, 2013 –

gorguts-colored_sandsTwo of the worst fates in the world: to not know why people like what you do, and to get thrown into the big bin marked “not bad” that contains 99% of human endeavors which are quickly forgotten.

Colored Sands, which sees release today, attempts to recapture the magic of Obscura and From Wisdom to Hate. On the surface, one would see these as a collection of techniques: off-time riffs, odd chord voicings, “deep” lyrics and an affinity for classical music.

Unfortunately, that’s all Gorguts took from their back catalog.

As said above, this reviews damns this CD with the faint praise of “not bad.” It’s much better than the rest of the tek-deth genre, but that’s sort of like saying that chainsaw dismemberment is better than Evola. The real problem with Colored Sands is that it’s transparent.

You can imagine a group of guys sitting in a room thinking, “How do we make a death metal album edgy?” For starters, they throw in the list of techniques I mentioned. But then they use very similar rhythms, song structures, riff types and even sequence of chord voicings.

We could call this “the Opeth effect”: for an instant audience, make music that sounds difficult but in fact is moron-simple and predictable, because it allows people to pose at being elite. It’s in full effect here, as bad as on the second Cynic album. It’s progressive music for pop fans.

Most of us had higher expectations because Gorguts traditionally held themselves to a higher standard. But what’s here is 50% traditional death metal and 50% tech-deth dressed up as prog, and it’s boring. The best part is the brief classical piece in the style of the Russians, which is both populist and not all that exciting in the convention of that style.