The Unbearable Boredom – On The Irrelevance of Ares Kingdom’s Music

Article by David Rosales (read the original by Dan McCormick here)

Ares Kingdom has brought yet another stillborn child into this world. It has all the ingredients, but somehow it is not alive. It possesses such an unbearable need to be metal that it becomes so self-consciously metal that it could be considered tongue in cheek, but it isn’t. This makes it painfully embarrassing to listen to, the annoyance it causes being staved off by a feeling of uncomfortable pity. While this will entertain and even have the superficial effect of caffeine on the young metalhead, it will translate into a sure headache for anyone expecting the music to say something besides “I am so cool”.

The Unburiable Dead is the sort of album that a band with a lot of metal in its “system” but altogether too few neurons could put together in about a month or so. It suffers from a reliance on rhythmic riffs completely divorced from strong themes that it is borderline nu metal. As it replaces concrete content with emotion, this music is a huge mess. In order to counter the effects of its own unfocused babbling, Ares Kingdom resorts to the simplest means of keeping the music on some sort of track, namely, bringing the song back to early riffs and verse-chorus appendages within the incongruous mass of wacky solos completely out of context running over riffs with little to none motific connection most of the time.

The previous review on this site placed the album squarely in an ultra-musical context to better appreciate it. This is very appropriate and we could argue that it is the best way to appreciate music. Music nonetheless must deliver powerfully, especially from within its intended context and mentality! If it fails to exploit the ground from which it grows, expanding from the idea to musical moods concretely and coherently expressed, then it simply has failed as music, no matter how interesting the original idea was. Rather than a metaphysical reflection of the world thrown into chaos, I get a picture of a drunken brawler swinging an axe at imagined foes in the middle of a forest. Perhaps this picture is also an accurate representation of civilization’s thin veneer, after all. Perhaps Ares Kingdom has succeeded in portraying the self-deceiving nonsense and purposeless chaos they criticize in civilization through the literal mediocrity of their music.

While at first one could be tempted to say that Ares Kingdom speaks a language of its own, that it has stylistic coherence, the microscope reveals something different. Their music, not only on this last fiasco but throughout the band’s play discography, is namely an extremely distracted riff salad in which the individual riffs can be brought in from sources as different as galloping power metal to thrashy death metal to alternative nu and groove “metal”. This is headbang-core for beer metallers and other social metalheads (those who listen to metal in social contexts only and are not actually addicted to it).

Ares Kingdom – The Unburiable Dead (2015)

Ares Kingdom - The Unburiable Dead (2015)
Article written by Daniel McCormick

Over four bitter cold days in February of 1934, there was an uprising in Austria. Tyranny was the victor then, and in the executions which followed, but the killing left its mark on history in the numerous “Unburiable Dead”. Stephen Vincent Benét wrote on the lingering ghost of this conflict, those “Unburiable Dead” in his ‘Ode to the Austrian Socialists’, which carries with it a central theme that I believe a quote from Chuck Keller, Ares Kingdom’s sole song writer, describes well:
“History tells: the veneer of civilization is very thin, and the world remains governed by the aggressive use of force… despite appeals to logic and reason, you get our world—the kingdom of Ares.”

 For while the gilding of modernity instills an inability to fully appreciate to the horrors of history, and we find ennui at the heart of much that is claimed to be injustice in our first world padded cells, the voice, these specters, still speak to us.

Now, turn back the hands of time twenty years prior to the Austrian Civil war and we find ourselves staring down the thick steel of a Vickers machine gun, at the onset of WWI. This is the stage for Ares Kingdom’s third full length album, a concept album of sorts, and a memorial in its own right to the “Unburiable Dead” and the vicissitudes which enveloped nations. From an unprecedented influx in engineering and patents that took place over the forty years prior to the onset of war came the engines of death capable of destruction beyond the understanding of the milieu which bore them. Such misery and violence underlies the imagery of the first four tracks, and, like Zarathustra come down from the peaks, the final three pieces are as songs of experience and wisdom, or is it despondency and spleen? Nonetheless, the album bears a easily followed framework, and one befitting the subject matter.

The music carries a continuity through out the album, and is very much in step with what one has come to expect from Ares Kingdom. Melodic and death stylings seem tied to a steel spine of traditional thrash, and at times verging on an extreme form of heavy metal. Alex Blume performs the vocals with great consistency, and while his range may be minimal the execution is imbued with virile aggression. Alex’s bass work seems solid, and to expectation but doesn’t offer me much on which to build commentary- may be it’s a different story in a live environment? Mike Miller’s percussion does well to accentuate and amplify the dynamics, though I did find myself with the nagging feeling that I was wishing it to go places at times which it never did. With a stand out performance in “Nom De Guerre”, “Demoralize” didn’t seem to indulge my attention in the same way, and overall the drums are greater than sufficient but well beneath virtuoso. A tight backing, as it were, for the main interest.

Chuck Keller’s guitar work, as I’ve come to expect, is the specific reason to seek this album out. If you’ve ever caught one of Ares Kingdom’s live sets, you’d know what I was talking about. Highly creative with technical prowess and gear capable of capturing a dense, traditional, metal tonality, the sound achieved on this album is a paramount effort. The high production values only further the experience. Chuck expressed in interviews that this album was a long time in the making, having begun writing some five years prior to release, and I believe there is much evidence of that. The music communicates – having been well developed, with a harmonious rhythmic body that consistently builds in intuitive and accessible manners, and which drives, with excess, the emoting of phrasing. Essentially, this is a brilliantly written and executed album by a true underground veteran.

This is an epic work, and I give full recommendation. It is astonishing that this comes from such a region of the US so destitute in quality metal music, though all the more reason for lending of support to a lone voice in a sea of banal creations by insipid hipsters and wannabe trash.

Obisidian ­ – No Self to Sue (2015)

The basic sonic template for this album is late-­model melodic hardcore in the vein of Champion or Verse; that means a melodic base of straightforward four-­chord (or less) progressions in a basic minor scale played rhythmically on the guitars, looped for four or eight bars, usually until the progression becomes stale (more common) or the vocals lead to a new riff cycle (less common). Each riff continues until Obisidian see fit (as typical of modern “hardcore”) to abandon the progression altogether and move on to a riff with a completely different feel instead of developing the last riff (through harmonic augmentation rather than plain repetition) and moving toward a new one logically.

Generally, this method of composition would be frowned upon, but in the case of this album, the changes are welcome since the listener is undoubtedly anticipating the next riff with relish since the last one is sure to have become stale after a few cycles. Obsidian avoid this jarring transition sometimes by simply shifting to another rhythmic style (for instance, playing the same (or a similar) chord progression with palm-­muted strokes and a half­-time drum beat). However, this is not always the case; toward the end of the album, we see some interesting melodic progressions that move forward in the style of black metal without the need for vocal embellishment. For the worse, these sections appear too few and ­far between.

The saving grace of this album is Obsidian’s ability to throw in NWOBHM­ style guitar lines which,
although rarely progressing rationally from the last riff, are very cool-­sounding and give a boost of energy to each song. However, the riffs feel generally out ­of ­place since, once they are over, the next section invariably drops back to cliche modern hardcore dime­-a­-dozen riffs. Nevertheless, the guitarist(s) display a refined sense exactly how far they can push the hardcore­ style riffs augmented by vocal rhythm before needing to introduce a more harmonically­ rich dual­ guitar segment. Beyond that, the band seems very comfortable when tying off­-time (usually switching from a 3/4 to 4/4 beat) rhythms together in a way that avoids the typical metalcore­ style riff­ salad style that feels like something you could hear during a tour of a zoo; “And if you look to your left you’ll see our lions as they feed on… oh, look to the right to see the zebras in a galloping herd!”

All ­in ­all, the music achieves its purpose as being something that impels the listener to charge their adrenaline and accomplish something physically demanding. It might make good workout music or something that would be great to experience in a live setting. However, a listener (particularly of the metal persuasion) looking for music that describes a series of situations narratively might find themselves bored by melodies that wear out their welcome before being augmented rhythmically, as this album is chock­full of cool riffs that make just as much sense when listened to at random intervals rather than in a riff­ by ­riff manner.

Did Accept invent speed metal with “Fast as a Shark” on Restless and Wild?


Wolf Hoffmann asserts that Accept wrote the first speed metal song ever with “Fast as a Shark” from Restless and Wild way back in 1982. While the debate rages across the internet, now the equivalent of 1980s daytime television, the question can be answered by looking to what speed metal is.

Speed metal — as distinct from thrash a genre popularized by Thrasher magazine devotees and skaters making hardcore/metal crossover such as Dirty Rotten Imbeciles and Cryptic Slaughter — originated in the use of a single technique: the muted strummed downpicked power chord. This technique combined the repetitive downpicking of punk with palm muting, previously used only to emphasize specific notes. Much of its appeal came from the changes in amplification and production since the previous decade which allowed louder music to exist. Much like the 1980s itself, the muted strum conveyed a sound of clashing absolutes and decreased the amount of harmony heard in each chord, making the music more purely percussive like techno and early industrial. Even more, it gained the volume punks had always aspired to with its explosive and uncompromising sound. In the process, it inspired more use of accidentals leading to more chromatic fills, which in the next generation with death metal became a form of riffs themselves, where speed metal relied more on the NWOBHM song form and harmony.

Generally regarded as starting in 1983 with Metallica Kill ‘Em All, speed metal presented a radically new sound which had precursors in extreme (for the time) bands like Motorhead, Judas Priest, Blitzkrieg, Tank and Satan. However, no bands had fully adopted the new technique as the basis of their composition until the early cluster of Metallica, Exodus, Mercyful Fate, Nuclear Assault, Anthrax and Megadeth. During the 1980s these bands were the most extreme metal that most people could find in their local record stores, which were how most people got music back then, with the exception of Slayer which was a speed/death hybrid and Venom which was a punk-influenced form of NWOBHM. Accept does not measure up to this standard on the basis of technique, since its song fits within older heavy metal format and does not use the muted strum.

This statement does not decrease the importance of Accept in the creation of speed metal. A long line of innovations occurred leading to speed metal, starting with the incredibly rough sound of Motorhead in 1976 but aided by progressive bands like King Crimson and Greenslade as well as a chain of punk acts who pushed the envelope such as Discharge, The Exploited, Amebix and the Cro-Mags. Below you can hear “Fast as a Shark” and see this heritage for yourself, contrasted with the archetypal speed metal song, “Creeping Death” from the second Metallica work Ride the Lightning and Blitzkrieg’s self-titled track from their 1981 EP Buried and Alive.

Letters: Why isn’t Metallica “thrash metal”?

metallica-kill_em_allA reader writes with a few questions:

Why is Metallica’s debut classified in your website as Speed Metal and not Thrash Metal? What defines Thrash Metal and why are Metallica and Kreator placed under Speed Metal? The second question really being what defines Speed Metal?

What is speed metal? Speed metal is the music formed of the hybrid of NWOBHM and punk music. NWOBHM itself was a fusion of Black Sabbath and the “metal-like” hard rock genres of the time, including some progressive rock, given an underground and DIY outlook. The definitive speed metal album is the first Metallica work, but we could also look to Overkill, Nuclear Assault, Anthrax, Megadeth, Testament and Prong.

What is thrash metal? A marketing term for “speed metal.” Some argue that it’s a separate genre, namely speed metal with “broken beats” or d-beats, but the fact of the matter is that the d-beat-influenced drumming was already part of speed metal. Musically, anything regarded as “thrash metal” is speed metal. Hence use of that term instead.

Now, as to Kreator — why is it speed metal? Kreator is on the line between speed metal and death metal but ultimately has more in common with later speed metal like Destruction and Sodom than it does with outright death metal. It was a previous generation to the music that expanded in the late 1980s through early 1990s.

What is thrash? Thrash is a hybrid form of heavy metal and punk music preferred by thrashers, i.e. skaters. This music evolved out of the explosion of punk music at the end of the 1970s and the tendency of bands like Discharge, Amebix, The Exploited, the Cro-Mags and others to take on metal riff-styles, especially as inspired by Slayer and other heavily punk-influenced bands. However, many thrash bands used riff influences from NWOBHM or before, with Black Sabbath being prominent.

The reason we separate speed metal and thrash is that they are different movements. Speed metal is metal that incorporates some aspects of punk; thrash is a metal/punk hybrid that generally uses punk song structures and metal riffs, laying the groundwork for grindcore. There’s also no point in expanding the speed metal franchise into many different sub-types when all are essentially musically identical.