The Chasm – A Conscious Creation from the Isolated Domain – Phase I

Daniel Cochardo loves metal. It is no question- from his tenure fronting The Chasm, his work in Cenotaph and his contributions to the last above-average Incantation album Diabolical Conquest that the man is steadfast in his dedication to extreme metal.  Throughout his impressive library of work, we haven’t seen any indication of a wavering of passion or hints of selling out in any way.  What we however have seen is a middling assemblage of efforts that come close to sublime heights but ultimately fall short of the metal ideal. Therfore The Chasm has always flown a bit under the radar, consistently releasing material that has a unique voice commanding the charge but a lack of cohesion giving the music a timeless appeal.  With CCI, The Chasm ends their longest drought between records with an assertive gesture in the form of an instrumental concept album, and although that may hint at a rejuvenated band that is hungry to finally make the profound artistic statement they have always fallen short of, unfortunately The Chasm has given us a release more puzzling than declarative.

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Ashbringer – Vacant (2015)

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While most modern bands err on the side of so-called experiments and “open-mindedness”, Ashbringer tries to adopt a conservative posture in a manner that kills music with stagnancy. This may be either a product of a skewed appreciation of the classics or simply a good-intentioned but overzealous drive to keep coherence in check that might arise from an ignorance of music-writing procedures. Such procedures can and have been ignored by people with either great experience and understanding, or savants like Varg Vikernes who display an amazing instinctive talent for musical creation. Unfortunately, there is a myth that drives hordes of musicians of average talent (because that is the definition of average) to attempt to emulate the actions of those who are natural geniuses. Such combination of presumption with an unwillingness to educate themselves give us many sincere but ultimately deficient metal records (see early The Chasm).

In Vacant, Ashbringer present us songs which bear the mark of an intention of maintaining coherence by repeating the same idea and only venturing forth to use the same motif played in several different ways, offering carrying a whole song or entire super-sections mostly in this manner. The extent of these variations are limited to texture change and register change. Correctly sensing that this only creates a static picture seen through different-colored lenses, other ideas are introduced, but these do not bear a clear relation between each other beyond the concordance of similar technique, tonality and consistency in style. Akin to a series of unrelated pictures in a row in an album  without a clear history to relate them, variety is forced, taking the songs out of painful and amateur-like stagnation in a forceful manner.

The few exceptions of progressions and and useful transformations are far and in between and should be saved by the band for future reference (the 5th and 6th tracks which should be one song as the first does not have the material to be an interlude but only a first-section to the following one), and Ashbringer could learn something about the use of related but changing and essentially different ideas. These should be related not by style, but by musical structure and patterns. The suggestion is perhaps a little too German-minded, but it is a more concrete beginning that is easier to grasp. Baby-steps before you can actually black metal.

The combination of true humbleness in creating music with a healthy dose of careful ambition is what is necessary here and in metal in general. A cycle of study, practice, introspection and revision in music-writing is what metal most needs as is shown by the limitations of this sincere but incredibly deficient album. These guys obviously have the intention of creating metal that is both elaborate and profound, technically proficient, musically satisfying and spiritually inspiring. They just need to face they aren’t musical geniuses and turn their heads to a more strict study and observation of the greats on the technical side at different levels of music composition.

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Burial Vault – Unity in Pluralism (2015)

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It is easy to recognize that this is a metalcore record. It is also easy for one to point out the problems in the music that arise as a result from the innate flaws of that genre. What is not easy is to understand are the developments that are taking place within some of the current tendencies of underground metal that bubble up even in bands with a metalcore background. From this origin Burial Vault attempts to build songs with strong sense of narrative, linking different sections smoothly with melody and consistent textures and using other devices on the meta-level rather than objective traits in the music structure to built a sort of soundtrack, a landscape to a story. All of this stands both in line and in contrast with the nature of their genre.

Many soundtracks being what they are, background ambience for stories, sometimes take the liberty to place incredibly disparate expressions to the point of incoherence in the music. As a background to the story, this supports the scene and is thus justified as a tool, a means to an end. But when we have music by itself, the music is not (or should not?) be a tool but rather the whole product itself. This is where music like late Dream Theater’s fails as music: it is only a background to a story. This is the pit where Burial Vault falls. In its impetus towards building a conceptual narrative, the concrete musical narrative is placed on a secondary level.

Following the precepts of metalcore, large portions of Unity in Pluralism move towards rhythmic hook introducing sharp contrasts that do not preserve the essence of motif-forms or themes. Even breakdowns with no reason to be except for fun make an appearance. The song-form is preserved and contrasting surprises are eventually placed in the place of priority. Song form is necessary for songs to maintain any semblance of coherence, by re-using ideas, lest they fall in near-total chaos and obliviousness to a coherent musical train of thought.

Going beyond the novel, Unity in Pluralism presents flashes of greatness that could be weaved into the fabric of a work that pushes metal forward. The future development of metal lies in its maturing, in its transcending the current subgenres and giving prominence to musical principles transcending both the adherence to cliche and the cult of novelty. Burial Vault have hinted at something, their sense as composers has guided them to stretch the boundaries of their constrictive genre but in preserving its aesthetics they are bound to the innate incoherence it is comprised of, balancing out the good in this album to make an interesting but ultimately overall wanting experience.

In a tug-of-war against the bases of their music, Burial Vault attempt, in some places, linking verse and bridge or solo sections by way of a smooth melodic transition that become almost imperceptible. In their most lucid moments, Burial Vault approach the aesthetics of a speed metal band with true progressive tendencies (that do not disregard consistency and coherence), but these are torn apart by the eventual advent of modern metal stuttering. The band would do well to take a hint from the likes of early The Chasm and bands they influenced like Cóndor (who have definitely a more whole work of art than the older band) from Colombia and the way they integrated metal into a true unity with different types of expression. But pluralism simply will not do. The work of art must be brought together under an over-arching principle that permeates the part, the whole and the relations.

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Triguna – Embryonic Forms (2015)

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Triguna is a band that plays underground metal in that vague intersection between death metal, black metal and the phrasal speed metal of Slayer. Their independently-released Embryonic Forms is both an honest and musically-aware artistic offering that falls short for technical reasons. “Technical reasons” here should not be underestimated. The band’s instrumental skills are just enough to play he music they wrote, but it is the technical side of composition that is loose.

Technique in composition is believed by the populace to mean how many chord progressions and scale names you have memorized or how many contrasting sections you can pair up. In truth, what technical composition ideally affords is an experience and insight into musical forms, elements and their relations and effects along with historical reference points that help the composer distill the purest elements of music. Surely this can be derived by talented and innately perceptive musicians, but they are still building most things from the ground up.

To be fair, given Triguna’s apparent technical level, their decision to make varied yet deliberately dirty, simple and straightforward passages was a realistic one that allowed them to concentrate on the coherence of the pieces as wholes. So while individual sections, riffs or solos are not altogether overwhelming, the songs are solid, enjoyable and meaningful. Creating fulfilling whole music that is not minimalist, Embryonic Forms is a perfect example of the extreme case of a vision superseding technique to achieve a musical triumph. The album garners at least honourable mentions alongside the likes of Manilla Road or early The Chasm (not that I am equating them, just classifying them), and is very much recommended on my part.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 01-26-15

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Sturgeon’s law holds that 90% of everything is mediocre. This condition occurs because most people are not thinking at all about what they are doing. When they want to be important, they create a metal band to make them look important, instead of trying to make good music. With brutal cruelty and ecstatic sadism we separate the poseurs and tryhards from the real deal with Sadistic Metal Reviews

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Collision/The Rotted – Split

Three tracks comprise this aggressive split. Collision leads in with two tracks of rigid, violent grindcore which incorporates a few ideas from percussive death metal to give it additional crush. These tracks keep intensity through speed and chaotic blasting but harbor no surprises in chord progression of phrase, which makes them fun to listen to incidentally but perhaps nothing one would seek out. The Rotted on the other hand slashes out a single track of old-school hardcore with a catchy chorus, extremely rudimentary but melodically hookish riff balanced against a sawing (but not grinding) verse riff, and genre conventions from older punk. Both of these bands aim to uphold the genres they are from and do it competently but when a genre is well-established, every band is a local band until it rises above from some distinctive personality or idiosyncratic perception. They do not need to be “unique,” since such a thing has never really existed, but they must be their own creation. Both bands here feel like minor variations on known archetypes and, while competent, do not inspire particular allegiance. That being said, they both remain enjoyable for that local grindcore/band experience, and together these tracks enhance each other like memories of the set you saw while drinking craft beer and talking up that sexy Facebook consultant at a bar that has changed hands eleven times in the last quarter. It would be interesting to see what these bands did with a longer recording as that would put more pressure on them to differentiate style or at least expand upon it.

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Decline of the I – Rebellion

Someone raised this question the other day: is metalcore a new style, or simply incompetent death metal? After all, we had bands who tried that Pantera-Fugazi-Nasum hybrid stuff in the past and generally it turned out that they were simply terrible songwriters who had no idea how to focus on an idea and bring it to clarity. Similarly, one wonders about “post-metal.” Is this just idiots dressing up garbage and incompetence as the avantgarde, because that’s what the avantgarde really is? Seriously, I’d love to see one of these artists who makes sculptures of his own feces that interpret the metaphysics of Schopenhauer as quantum physics, for once, just for once, make a classically beautiful art work first so I don’t simply think he’s a Damien Hirsch style conjob. Decline of the I is really hilarious when you realize that it thrusts this question upon us. It sounds like stoned desperation with a home studio: random bits of metal songs that went nowhere, stitched together with what every 90s con man used in his band, the sampler. It doesn’t flow in any direction or express anything other than “moments” of perception, like standing on a street corner while two cars collide and a pigeon defecates on a 24-year-old copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Rebellion amalgamates speed metal, death metal and punk riffs together with a bunch of influences outside of metal. There is no continuity, only a series of exhibits like a subway train going through an art gallery. These clowns use the different styles as wallpaper slides to color otherwise empty music and hide the collection of hackneyed tropes made “new” by hackneyed avantgarde tomfoolery and snake oil salesperson confidence jobs. Even the most incompetent ordinary metal band is preferable because its dishonesty is limited to its music, while Decline of the I brings in every posture, pose, pretense and fabrication necessary to make this hacked-up studio defecation seem like music.

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Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat

It has often been suspected that bands, when they run out of actual motivation, pick one off the shelf to make themselves seem profound. Their profundity means our guilt if we do not buy the album because we have turned down a great gift to humanity, you dig? But the fact is that they went into the big closet of Hollywood motivations — the poor, the downtrodden, the children, suffering animals, drug addiction and being raped — and pulled out one giant compulsion to make you like their empty music. Napalm Death went down this route when after Fear, Emptiness, Despair guitarist Jesse Pintado embarked on a course of alcoholism so crippling he could not bail out the rest of the band anymore. That is too bad, since Pintado essentially revitalized the band and created three of their best albums with his homegrown grindcore know-how. Ever since then, Napalm Death has been wandering in a wilderness of not giving a damn buuutttt something needs to pay for this condo, so they puke out another album. Apex Predator – Easy Meat takes Napalm Death full cycle from a band that protested pop music to a band that makes the worst of pop. This pretense-pop would be OK if it were good pop, because then we could laugh off the guilt, but instead it is a series of very similar riffs that break into very similar choruses which cycle until the end with a few breaks that are almost visual or high school theater department drama because they are so transparent and obviously manipulative. It was embarrassing to be noticed listening to this because it is not just bad, it is inept; its ineptitude is covered up with rock star glitz and production, but it still sounds hollow and horrifyingly empty. Please, give these guys jobs in media relations because they are done as a band and this embarrassing formalization just removes whatever shreds of self-respect they once had.

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The Chasm – Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm

Although Daniel Corchado is obviously one of the most talented composers in underground metal, The Chasm does not present his best work. The appeal can be immediately seen: epic metal band with lengthy songs that play out internal conflicts in a way the audience can identify with. Under the hood, while there are some touches of DBC-style riffing, what greets us here is the cliches of 1980s speed metal with added progressive-ish fills that demonstrate guitar talent and knowledge of harmony. The songs remain basic when you factor these out, excepting the longer instrumental passages, which also rely on riffs from the past dressed up or lots of rhythmic downpicking that adds little other than keeping a place in the harmony. Additionally, occasionally comical vocals and a number of hackneyed metal stalwarts mar this release, but the real crisis here is the lack of interesting riffs, the shamminess of the songs in dressing up the mundane as exotic, and the coup de grace which is the inability of this album or its songs to convey an emotional experience outside of the music itself. They resemble nothing other than constant variations in a style of technical speed metal riffing that bands like Anacrusis made great by putting around evocative songs, but the latter part is missing here. Individual moments shine with the brilliance that can be expected of Corchado, and moments in songwriting show insight. The problem is that there needs to be more of the random or evocative in riffs, which would allow Corchado’s song structure ideas to take on significance, and less of the highly talented progressive tinged touches that are impressive on a guitar-playing level but compositionally, serve the role of filler. On the whole, this album resembles the kind of tuned-up musical entropy that all of us ran to death metal to escape around 1989 or so.

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Edge of Haze – Illumine

In theory, this should be hated: a hybrid of Gothic music, power metal and djent-inspired percussive speed metal. In reality, Edge of Haze restore balance to these genres by putting them in the right context. Speed metal is the hard rock of the 2010s, thirty years after its release, and updating it with a smary 1980s Gothic pop vocal and power metal “inspirational” choruses gives it the right context as the popular music of the age. It may be cheesy, as one might expect from these populist niche genres, but Edge of Haze seems at least comfortable in its own skin and the removal of the usual death metal vocals gives this album both greater levity and a greater intensity, as well as removing the crowding effect of harsh monotonic vocals. In addition, this re-introduces the voice as a melodic instrument which allows guitars to focus purely on rhythm and rudiments of harmony without losing direction to a song. Edge of Haze executes this hybrid well by capturing the dark pop aspects of Gothic and creating for them a framing of boldly abrasive metal that runs the gamut of styles from the last three decades without creating an oil-on-water effect by having those styles dominant the rhythm and song structure for a segment so that other parts seem like extra organs in a cadaver, puzzling the drunken pathologist at 4 AM as he files the report on the latest Jane Doe. Edge of Haze present something as intense as nu-metal but with a darker aesthetic that carries more gravitas than the dad-hating victimhood affirmation that nu-metal conveyed, also removing the rap/rock beats and making a form of popular metal that can be not only relatively heavy, but have a grace of beauty in darkness, and still write some quality pop songs. Aesthetically, this makes my skin crawl; musically, it is well-done and should be praised for putting this style of music in the context it warrants and deserves.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qw8qJedbrjA

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