The Canadian province of Québec seems to be situated upon some geographically freakish turf that exudes such a phenomenal electromagnetism as to twist and convolute whatever waveforms happen to waft into its borders. Psuedoscientific petrology aside, Dead Brain Cells are one such Canadian faction that reinterpreted the equatorial American sounds of skatethrash and reassembled its raw energy into a hyperborean bizzarerie, with an ambition in expressing the absurd crises symptomatic of a classically Huxleyan, oblivious society lured into the grip of an Orwellian tyranny by the mesmeric attractions of self-pleasure.
Taking aesthetic inspiration from the cruelly intelligent, modern firearms cacophony of Slayer’s ‘Chemical Warfare’ but fashioning riffs over the roguish, bursting structures typified by crossover acts Suicidal Tendencies and Corrosion of Conformity, Dead Brain Cells had paradoxically succeeded in applying scientific methods to truculent vandalism. Vocals, in compliment to the factorial churn and tumble of the instruments, are delivered in a robotic rant like the outcries of a citizen-turned-automaton denigrated by a lifetime of vacuous routine; lyrics are remarkably coherent and incisive considering the band’s Québécois nationality, of course with the mother tongue of French being a perennial obstacle for all aspiring Hessians allied under the fleur-de-lis. However, it is clear from DBC’s rather involved compositional style that their telos was not merely in writing protest music, but in establishing engaging, punkishly dynamic narratives such that every song is represented as its own vignette of dystopia — a sensibility that would be incorporated into the region’s burgeoning death metal movement, with vestiges apparent in such seminal works as Considered Dead and From This Day Forward.
This eponymous debut remains one of the exceptional examples of quality crossover thrash from outside of the U.S.A. and England; it’s also required listening for any avid scholars of Canadian death metal, in order to better understand the music’s gestation from heavy, quirky progressive rock to complex and sublimely dissonant killing noise.
A planet defaced with death and decay An atmosphere of hate Cities destroyed Their meanings forgotten And fertile lands lay waste A planet once prosperous Its future looked bright But an immature race had evolved Given time and the knowledge They soon could destroy The planet on which they revolved Not one life would be spared It wouldn’t happen again Because there is no second chance
Fighting the conspirations of ill health, amounting to months of delays, the much anticipated return of Slayer to England’s capital was in ominous syncronicity with the most auspicious time of the year for disciples of their church. As the Hessian-led International Day of Slayer falls upon us once again, last week’s early blasphemy proved to be an highly adequate preparation. The Slayer we all exhalt on this site was a mystical entity and their music excoriated the flesh of society’s body of lies and delusions, revealing the inner, beating heart of darkness and measurer of our mortal lives. They were also the progenitors of Death Metal, without whom many of the cults that feature in our catacombs may not have ever manifested with as advanced a template. The heat of the Spring sun, optimal for decomposition, drew the wehrmacht to Kentish Town’s Forum for an evening where the secrets of the dead promised to be revealed.
That, they would be, but not before some distractions within a chronology of events that would befit any highlight reel of modernity’s undoing, beginning with the supporting band from Sweden. The Haunted’s line-up consisted of some familiar faces, not just because they’ve been around for 10 years or so, initially Swedish Hardcore influenced Thrash before becoming the post-At The Gates band of Swedeath-influenced Speed Metal that they’re now famous for. Lead guitarist, Anders Bjorler of past-At The Gates fame, sporting a Disfear shirt in reference to both Swedish Hardcore and former bandmate Tomas Lindberg, launched with the band straight into ‘Bury Your Dead’, a signature track from their second album. Their set would mix old and new with some energy but the only problem from them is that their music sucks. This grammy-award winning combination of cliched galloping, groovy riffs interspersed with familiar and incoherently fragmented bursts of Swedish Death Metal melody, resulting in little to no melodic fluency is made even worse when the newer tracks demonstrate their love of pure nu-metal guitarwork. You know a set is bad when, despite it’s relative brevity and insignificance, every second of tedium feels absolutely unmitigated. They exit the stage with a warm crowd reception behind them but the diabolic concoction of Metal madness to follow boils the venue over with the hellish crepitance of anticipation.
Plumes of smoke veil the scene of everybody’s attention in stages of trademarked descent through noxious tributaries of the underworld. Led by battery commando Dave Lombardo, Slayer finally materialise from amidst the scarlet haze and open with ‘World Painted Blood, rendered near-flawlessy with Tom Araya’s completely static frame being the only, negligible sight to conflict with the fact that they’re still a well-oiled machine. Unlike other bands of such age and well-earned veneration, Slayer at least seem to understand the difference in purpose and spirit between their new and old recordings, rather than just the wear and tear of discographical order and simply ‘mixing it up’. The set was split roughly 50/50 in terms of timing, so there was quite some wait for the veterans to get their nu-material out of the way. The three standing band members would then congregate in a Seance-like circle formation around the beaten kit of Lombardo, ritually manifesting the schism and unleashing the demons of ancient times, channelling the wails of feedback as they did in their youth. Thus, the show really exploded with a rupturous performance of ‘Hell Awaits’ sending the violent hordes into a possessed frenzy. King and Hanneman were in brilliant, conversational form, damned to strike all the right notes and give a real sense of narrative familiarity to the chaotic and atonal guitar solos. Araya’s exoteric shouting was laid to rest and the invoked Mephistopheles conferred upon him sadistic scorn, the true voice of his priestly years, befitting such apocalyptic sermons as ‘Seasons in the Abyss’, ‘Mandatory Suicide’ and ‘Raining Blood’. The opening riff to ‘South of Heaven’ was possibly given it’s finest rendition to date, as the audio technicians menaced the sound with Kali-Yugic siddhis and lava on loan from Azagthoth. The song of the night was undoubtedly the pollutant ‘Chemical Warfare’, performed with as much vigour as on record way back in 1984. The intelligent, layered riff progressions that played out a multidimensional, mythologised communication of death, paranoia and destruction confounded the crowd but struck them hard, with the anthemic, holocaust winds of ‘Angel of Death’ to follow, releasing a tide of hatred and malevolence, and the highly multicultural crowd rose in unison to sing for the benefit of the Aryan race. The band known only as Slayer departed after covering the most recogniseable songs from ‘Haunting the Chapel’ through to ‘Seasons…’, reinforcing the memories of their greatness and perpetuating the echoes of their cryptic, Satanic messages.
On first listen some would easily assume that this release were a mere product of nostalgia of underground metal of the 1980′s, at least indicated so by the production and indication that are present here. However this is death/speed/black metal firmly rooted in the underground crossover tradition of the 80′s and retains a firmly Australian sound to it. A good description of Vomitor‘s output would be the the epic thrashing of national pioneers Slaughter Lord and the crusty, retrograde execution and production that was witnessed on Spear Of Longinus‘ brilliant ‘Domni Satnasi’ album. Seeing as Vomitor have two members of SOL in their line-up this overlap is of no surprise, and gives Bleeding The Priest a similar quality of riffcraft and execution, which is atavistic but is well versed in older styles of metal. The attitude of this release evokes German speed metal, doing the early works of Sodom and Kreator strong justice, and the manner in which catchy guitar sequences are utilised sometimes evokes Razor, had they been influenced by Possessed rather than Motorhead. A thoroughly consistent work, Bleeding The Priest stands strongly as a milestone of Australian metal, a like a few other traditionalist acts within this genre serves as proof of ability to make new waves from trodden water, rather than being a ‘re-hash’. Very good.
This series of reviews shows the infectious potential of condensing the multidimensional texture of darkness and mythology into a carefully trimmed brief explosion with no room for filler or long, meaningless passages of droning, experimentation or interludes. Those who mastered the art of the metal EP or mini-LP are rare, but deserve all the more credit for their achievements. The fact that you can listen to everything we have here easily within the space of one evening does not mean that the unlocked experiences won’t stay with you forever.
Slayer – Haunting The Chapel
Showing a strong advancement in technique and an evolution towards a darker style that would be the staple of records to come by the band, Slayer throw off the camp shackles of their excellent first album, and give a more progressive approach to songcraft yet give more emphasis on repetition within individual riffs. The violent droning guitar timbre of Discharge makes itself ever more present whilst the musical language of Judas Priest and Angel Witch works itself within those patterns. The dissonant twin soloing of King and Hanneman is more suitable to this new direction also, whilst Lombardo’s aggressive battery finds more cohesion in using less variation and being more of an ambient backdrop than before, with Araya’s unmistakable rasp encoding itself sadistically within the depths. A bleak affair that summed up the apocalyptic meanderings of the speed metal movement and the embryonic beginnings of the death metal that was yet to manifest. -Pearson
Napalm Death – Mentally Murdered
This work is like a convergence of Napalm Death and Carcass, having left From Enslavement to Obliteration and Reek or Putrefaction behind in order to expand on their styles, towards Harmony Corruption and Symphonies of Sickness respectively. By Napalm’s standards, at this point in their discography, these songs are quite lengthy and structured with an attention to detail that recaptures the subtle shifts in mechanical motion of the earliest side to Scum. This technique is re-invigorated by the cleaner production, relegating the extremity of fuzzy bass for the sake of a twin-guitar assault that creates an hypnotic and delusional sensation, and shows the input of Jesse Pintado who would go on to record another highly influential work of Grindcore – Terrorizer’s World Downfall. Composition is practically freed at very the earliest moments of songs onwards, unlike previous Napalm Death albums where these parts were used to establish exactly which single riff will become immersed in a barely discernable anarchic explosion for the rest of the 30 seconds of music. Instead, it’s given a more Death Metal treatment, e.g. in ‘The Missing Link’, the opening riff seems to degrade over time into smaller grinding patterns until the fragments are juggled like sacks of meat by morbid Death Metal riffs. This is where some of the tremelo melodies that would tear through the rotten wall of sound of Carcass finds its place, accompanied by the mocking lead guitars of Bill Steer. The human tornado, Mick Harris is even more precise than his previous effort, but doesn’t lose any of his epithet’s justification. Lee Dorrian’s vocals become more guttural and undecypherable, conceding to the futility of mainstream political discussion. The seeds of an approach closer in line with the burgeoning interest in Death Metal were sown here, simultaneously taking Grindcore one step further away from reaching the dead-end of short and simplistic outbursts of truncated riffs and hollow statements. -ObscuraHessian
Rotting Christ – Passage to Arcturo
Warm, playful and overflowing with the abundance of inspiration in the rediscovery of ancient shamanic techniques of mystical metal creation, the Greek pioneers of Rotting Christ forsook the aggravated modern noise of grindcore in time to ride the wave of blackness that usurped the European metal underground. Remnants and glimpses of 80’s fast modern metal (Slayer) give way to an astral, luminous intensity of synthesizers and slowly picked melodies that suspend the themes for a moment to enable the mind to stop wandering and relish the unholy moment of concentration, in a yogic gesture of blackness. Few have ever used the crushing sonic world of black and death metal to so fully immerse in ethereal ritual, and such rare examples as Drawing Down the Moon preserve plenty of subtle reminders to this widely heard classic of European black metal. As their chaotic exhortations in countless zines of the period conclude, Rotting Christ’s hybrid of gothic and black metal aimed for an architecture of the infinite, regal sunsets of lost kingdoms whose landscapes are not for the eyes of mortals, except in dreams and in death. As “Forest of N’Gai” aptly proves, black metal was at its height when not contorted to fit the schemes of a political ideology or an orthodox Satanist movement, but like the great works of literature a realm of fantasy of its own whose symbols are rooted in our deepest unconscious fears and desires. This sub-space can then be used by the analytical mind to figure the patterns of generation for a multitude of creative, even lunatic, concepts. -Devamitra
At the Gates – Gardens of Grief
The original Gothenburg gloomy melody cult made one of their strongest statements on this early EP, pressed from demo to vinyl on the first year of the band’s existence. Fresh from life disrespecting bands such as Infestation and Grotesque, these Swedes nail the most desperate guitar harmonies since Candlemass, but infect them with the viral sensibility of a flux of death current. As if plugging the Sunlight Studios into your brains in direct interface, Svensson’s tremolos rip and rend mercilessly apart the soul of the beast that dared expose its true feelings of living in a world of hypocrisy and uncertainty. The band has preserved the most fragile moment of the Swedish death metal underground, the precarious balance between the catatonic psychosis of headbanging under alcoholic influence and the deep, burning, thoughtful soul of an encrypted Romantic in a world of pain and disguised memories. It all takes such tangible form in Tomas Lindberg’s cracking, maddened scream: “I am at the gates – Lord of Chaos – Let me sleep”. The fear and anger of At the Gates’ most revered albums will always remain something that divides audiences according to their response to such emotional cues, but “Gardens of Grief” is the un-terrorized, exuberant sound of youth that realizes the presence of death and dives into it headlong, appropriate to the Per Ohlin dedication in the liner notes. -Devamitra
Wings – Thorns On Thy Oaken Throne
An all too brief EP from Finnish gloomophiliacs Wings, as ephemeral as the tortured existence that is enshrouded in these twisted sounds of darkness-raped melody. Almost like the missing tracks from Cartilage’s cult classic ‘The Fragile Concept of Affection’, this continuation goes further to explore the sombre moods of songs like ‘Why Do I Watch The Dawn?’, in their Replicant-like reflections upon the transience of a human existence placed between the crushing, vice-grip of nothingness. Wings don’t peturb the balance of pace of slower, more expansive lakes of hypnotic melody that made up Cartilage’s contribution to their split with Altar, but there is greater focus on creating a doomier atmosphere, leaving no space for the grinding riffs of the past incarnation – a technique that parrelleled the Swedish Unleashed on their first album. Instead, an older treatment is given to the bouncier riffs, which could be heard as Punkier passages, but as this EP comes together as a whole to reveal, these bridge the narrative that seems to span across both songs with a mid-pace tempo in which the drawn out melodies pass through towards an expressive, quite neoclassical riff of totality – encompassing all the hopes that are weighed down by all the sorrows in the journey towards death. This poem in two parts is a valuable recording of Death Metal history, as a valid direction for these Finnish musicians to have taken following the demise of Cartilage, with all their weird melodic knowledge as baggage. -ObscuraHessian
Sacramentum – Finis Malorum
A true gem, Sacramentum’s first EP showcases a style that is melodic and emotive in a manner not unlike countrymen Dissection and Unanimated. Epic, catchy and well crafted compositions are multi-layered not unlike Emperor minus keyboards, the rush of guitar notes being vibrant and lively, with little emphasis towards a rhythmic expectation, as one would expect with most heavy metal and hard rock music. Simultaneously moody yet without being whiny, this early release by Sacramentum showcases a band who are able to master quality control and bring the best out of all the elements that define their music. Alongside At The Gates, artistically the finest Swedish metal act of the 1990′s. -Pearson
Zyklon-B – Blood Must Be Shed
Fast, raging black metal with the fury of early Deicide and the sharp harmonizing typical of Mayhem and Immortal’s ‘Pure Holocaust’ come head to head, in the guise of technically precise, abrupt songs. Shouty hardcore vocals, warm synth overlaps, a near constant blastbeat and anti-humanist lyrical concepts indicate a desire by known Norwegian musicians to advance the aggression of the black metal style and shift it’s idealogical focus away from romantic nostalgia. This brief E.P. lacks the spark of Norway’s foundational acts, but remains an influential statement of the subgenre. -Pearson
Vulpecula – Fons Immortalis
Who would have expected Chuck Keller to open the gates to very Orion itself after the folding of the aggressor squad par excellence Order from Chaos? As if a continuation of the promise of the astrological and alchemistic symbolism of the former bands’ lyrics, Vulpecula slows it down and strums soothing, yet vigorous melodies while the vocals multiple into wraith-like dimensions of rhythmic rasps and Keller’s leads occasionally burst into the aggressive, spasmous flight of an eagle amidst a thunderstorm. “Phoenix of the Creation” delves into exercises in authentic space synth, while “The First Point of Aries” harkens to the mid-paced woodland meditations that the Norwegians used to record at Grieghallen. Occasionally slightly hindered by the band’s eagerness to cram all the influences from Schulze to black metal into one short EP, the mere richness of it invites the ears to take their pleasure at will from the Babylonian garden of ponderous and prestigious movements that are achingly attractive and acceptable in their innocent refusal to complicate things with dissonance. Credit also goes for the lead guitar efforts of Keller on their traditional melodious injection which easily avoids the neutrality of more pop oriented bands trying to do the same. Almost like envisioning a “new age” approach to the genre, Vulpecula is an alien saucer amidst the orbit bound technologies of “progressive” death metal. -Devamitra
Divine Eve – Vengeful and Obstinate
The first new release that’s being reviewed for 2010 and it’s already giving distinct impressions of the kind of quality that made 1993′s ‘As the Angels Weep’ a genuinely classic EP. Divine Eve keeps the form of this new material far simpler, stripping away the Death Metal-infected sludginess for a more rudimentary homage to early brutal music like Celtic Frost. ‘Vengeful and Obstinate’ makes its own unique statement by honing in on the nihilistic and warlike spirit of the Swiss legend’s To Mega Therion magnum opus, even invoking the same battle-horns on ‘Ravages of Heathen Men’ that bring focus to the beauty of conflict and strife in a meaningless universe. The varied tempo of grinding riffs set to a dirty bass guitar adds to the atmosphere of struggle as an outlet for this primitive, instinctual response to the world. ‘Whispers of Fire’ being the exception on this EP for the constantly up-tempo pace, it’s a pleasure to hear such slow and sludgy music churning visions of the darker universe beyond our lives of comfort and languish. The final and most devastating touch of ‘Vengeful and Obstinate’ is how Divine Eve makes extensive use of the piercing tone that Xan’s grating guitar setup produces, highlighting the spiral passage of powerchords by revealing their hidden, melodic architecture, ingenuiously managing to explain and enhance this rugged approach of legendary lineage. It’s about time the band produced a full-length and they’ve proved that they possess more than enough knowledge of unholy riffcraft to do so. -ObscuraHessian
Taking the NWOBHM informed song structures that defined speed metal and the muted, percussive power chord led riffs that were the pattern language of the speed metal underground, Nuclear Assault incorporated elements of crossover punk and thrash into their music. Guitars have a sharp, grating and garage like-tone amidst the clear sounding and well thought out bass guitar lines of Dan Lilker. John Connelly’s punk falsetto is excellent, a gravelly yet apocalyptic wail that amuses yet inspires.
Lyrically this takes the satire one could associate with crossover acts such as Adrenalin O.D. and Fearless Iranians From Hell, and rather than solely attempting to amuse us, makes for relevant social commentaries that reflected and mocked the issues that were heavy on the American subconscious, amongst mildly apocalyptic themes that still were embedded in the Cold War’s late phase, warning of post-nuclear desolation.
Short, humoured and abrupt songs such as ‘Hang The Pope’ and ‘My America’ resemble a more aggressive take on the thrashings of DRI and Millions Of Dead Cops, whilst ‘Sin’, ‘Stranded In Hell’ and ‘Brain Death’ are richly melodic and have a brilliant sense of irony, and almost reminds of Iron Maiden stripping themselves of romanticism in the wake of an uncertain, primitive future.
This is commonly also available with the follow-up EP ‘The Plague’ on CD format and compliments the excellence of their full-length. In addition, this is a timeless and influential metal album that summed up the hopes, dreams and fears of 1980’s America in less than an hours worth of material, and is absolutely essential.
In what was what I would call a ‘mixed bag’ of a gig, Entombed were the disappointment, and Amon Amarth the pleasant surprise. The Academy was a packed venue, nearly full and with a decent enough set-up, good acoustics and an intimate setting, the stage not being isolated from the proximity of the audience.
Entombed played a set that disappointed, and this was partially due a lack of their better material being played. Much of the setlist consisted of numbers that were lifted from their third full-length, Wolverine Blues and then onwards, with a lack of attention given to their more pioneering work that was put out on their first two albums, Left Hand Path and Clandestine. Songs were less death metal than they were an aggressive take on stoner rock, songs being much more inclined to the verse/chorus school of rock songwriting, the rhythms more inclined to provoke the shaking of hips and the tapping of feet than they were to bang heads. Whilst this was all good and competent, certainly the great soundtrack of an alcohol fueled evening in the capital of Eire, none of these works, as far as the reviewers opinion is concerned had the violent charge nor the momentum that characterized their legendary debut. Some credit will be given to the vocalist, whose onstage presence and frantic onstage manners gave more depth and urgency to songs that otherwise were devoid of it, and the guitarists tone was brilliant, the same buzzing, ‘chainsaw’ like tone that they helped pioneer back in the early nineties through maximum amplification. Entombed concluded their set with a brilliant rendition of Left Hand Path the staple and title track of their debut album, and it put a redeeming conclusion to what was an expertly performed, yet borderline mediocre set on occasions. It would be wonderful to hear what paths could be treaded if they realise the urgency that made their earlier music essential.
Amon Amarth played an excellent and intense set, mostly consisting of the melodic, fluid and anthemic traditional metal that they have come to be easily associated with. Infectious melodies and precise, double-bass lead drum rhythms bring to mind a hybrid of Blind Guardian and late period Immortal, whilst the muscle and simplicity of their music brings to mind fellow countrymen Unleashed in both the subject matter and the simplicity of the song structures. Musically Amon Amarth have an obvious strong commercial potential, sound highly accessible by the subgenre’s standards, and whilst they are not exactly breaking any new artistic ground, they are still workmanlike and this shows in what was a very well received and well performed set. Johan Hegg is a good front man and throughout the set uses the opportunity to incite the audience to terrace chant amidst his bellowing, whilst taking turns to consume from the mead horn that is his custom to bring on stage with him. Admittedly I would not consider these to be an act of the highest caliber, though they are unique in that they have one foot stood in the primitive and barbaric, with one firmly in the ability to reach out to a large audience. It was a privilege to be involved among the audience that night.
Hellfires were set loose in Helsinki, Finland last weekend by a horde of black metal maniacs from all over the Earth. Profanation, an intangible feeling of myth, alignment of spirits, pervaded the atmosphere. Let me remind you that while the gig situation concerning underground black and death metal in Finland is rich and fertile, every so-called cult band appearing on stage is no longer going to change anyone’s life to something more mysterious and powerful. Maybe the younger audience sees the matter differently, but I believe they are becoming jaded also. This weekend was something different however. The main event was the 2-day Black Flames of Blasphemy fest, on 23rd and 24th, the Friday night featuring Taake and Horna, among others, but I wasn’t attending, on one hand because of a lack of interest regarding the bands, on the other because I could use one spare night between the “pre-party” on 22th (aptly called “Unholy Night to Remember”) and the Saturday explosion featuring bands of the caliber of Blasphemy and Revenge from Canada.
The dark side of Finland
So, it all started on a rainy and windy Thursday night, in a small Helsinki pub called Darkside which I had only visited once before, when it was empty. No-one was expecting a large crowd because normal people would have jobs and studies to attend to, but the place was crowded and intense. Demonos of Barathrum, the drunken bastard, was shouting at the doorman and people were consuming beer like it was the eve of ragnarók. In that one room of a few hundred cubic meters had been compressed all the dreams and neuroses of Finnish black metal since its very beginning. Even Pete Helmkamp came around to see for himself what the fuck was going on. Ofdoom, a Blasphemy clone from Hamina whose members are barely 18 years old, played a reasonably aggressive set of uncannily familiar sounding songs. I am thankful that at least the cover song choice was “Christ’s Death” by Sarcofago instead of something from the war metal scene. Many of the old school maniacs I met applauded the energy and sincerity these young guys brought to the evening. However, I was more thrilled by the Goatmoon set that saw the audience become a rioting mass of fists and headbanging. The garage punks of Finnish black metal, Goatmoon unleashed a set of familiar songs from their albums mostly resembling a triumphantly melodic cross of Dimmu Borgir demos and Absurd, not to mention an enormously provocative cover from Finnish RAC band Mistreat.
But the real reason why everybody was there that night, the crux of all the anticipation and nervous violence was the return of the infamous Azazel on stage, an early Finnish black metal coven lost to annals of history but fondly remembered by everyone who breathed the air of 90′s Finland, when worship of darkness was still pure and cold… clad in spikes. Stories about Azazel and their infamous frontman Lord Satanachia are equivalent to an inverted saga, one of madness and devotion. For a decade the band was forgotten until suddenly it seemed to have reformed in alliance with some members from young occult metal band Charnel Winds. It all seemed unbelievable and to see it with one’s own eyes… triumph!
It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that an Azazel gig might prove to be a disaster, in normal sense. Enveloped in the mists and throes of an ancient curse, the guitarist’s malfunctioning equipment threw the disorganized band from the brink of a metaphorical cliff into the abyss, to be carried upon the wings of Death. While Demonos threw himself from the audience into the stage in an alcoholic spasm, wires were torn, microphones were ripped and fists started flying. Part of the equipment was mute, the rhythm section was confused and Satanachia’s croaks were barely audible chants and incantations of demonic names. A morbid pall descended upon Helsinki. In anti-arranged structures of primitive, broken black metal, Azazel mocked everything and everyone. Brilliant and beautiful riffs, performed at variable and confused speeds, interlocked with rhythms and blasts whose randomness remained cryptically problematic. No-one knew if the songs are actually like this or have all the members gone insane. The most sensitive part of the crowd was devastated and ultimately impressed. Others were bored and drunk. Enough said about that evening except that I doubted even Saturday can give a more authentic black metal experience, because for the rest of the night and the next day, Azazel’s psychosis was still deeply within my heart.
The church of blasphemy
Saturday night was again cloaked in the weather of Jack the Ripper’s London. Through the rain we approached the ominously titled Dante’s Highlight, converted from an old church on whose steps Mannerheim and Hitler had shaken hands in a pact of war. It served as a normal nightclub until a few years ago it became one of the prominent metal bars of Helsinki. We have no knowledge how much blasphemous intent influenced its current use, but it was something to see candles and torches lighting the altar (stage), bestowing a comforting, cavernous gleam upon the high ceiling and reflecting from the chain-wrapped wooden posts adorned with gasmasks. The gig organizers par excellence Kold Reso Kvlt had taken lots of care in making this event perfect, as it was also the destination of a veritable exodus of German, French, Italian and other foreign black and death metal fans.
Proclamation from Spain launched into formally perfect, yet somehow vague and heartless Blasphemy aping primitive death metallic sounds and while the gig was technically the dream of your standard NWN forum fan, it raised apprehension that this is going to be an evening where every band sounds the same and everyone plays a Blasphemy cover! There was still some space to move around the building but despite three floors, it was rapidly becoming claustrophobic and difficult to breathe. The gig had been sold out ages ago. Black Witchery from Florida, USA, specialized in repetitive high speed exercise of redundant riffs, which despite its great marketing value to black metal consumers lacks the spiritual depth and intellectual convolution of the high masters of the genre. To anyone who has heard a Black Witchery album or two it was easy to guess what the gig is all about and for their fans, they probably did deliver the goods. I liked a few of the atonal, destructive, confusional parts that reminded me of the greatness of the Australian disbanded legend Bestial Warlust.
By the time the third band, Archgoat from Turku, Finland, commenced their set, the full force of the Finnish metal scene had already coalesced upon the building and for anyone who knows people or is known himself, much time and attention had to be spent on greetings, handshakes, throwing the horns, mock fighting and the like. However, the atmosphere was also rapidly gaining a more intense, expectant and noxious odour. Screams, blood and bursts of madness spattered the overcrowded club. Between pockets of peace, chaos reigned, the passing of souls from one layer of Hell to another, brother and enemy united in prayers of profanation. While for some people the grinding, organic and physical malevolence of Archgoat marked their best gig ever, I say the 2005 comeback gig after a decade of silence still holds the scepter. Heavily influenced by VON and Sarcofago, Archgoat was the first band of the evening to capture a cold, theatrical melody and frame the counterpoints of primitive death metal riffs with heavy, well placed doom. It was the only performance of the evening whose spine was not hardened by monotonous speed. Instead, it slithered up the walls like a serpent of abomination.
Amidst beer, guts and blood, headbanging Italians and Finns going mad over the controversies and abstractions of the night’s leading band (“Are Blasphemy real, do they really exist?” “Is that negro over there Caller of the Storms?”) everyone who was ever famous in Finnish black metal walked entranced amidst the crowd, as one with the spiritually dead. Black metal skinheads went out for a smoke and traded with kebab and banana merchants around the corner. Someone’s face was fisted and another got a kiss from a new girl.
Revenge, the Canadian commando force, was for some members of the audience the main event to witness here and for a good reason. By the unholy candles’ light, between the walls built to serve God, James Read attacked the drumkit like a voodoo priest releasing magick vapours of steaming ether, in a sharp and fluid tribute to grindcore percussion masters. In a battle position, in the attire of a right wing street fighter, Helmkamp’s fingers tore thrash influenced phrases from the trusty bass guitar as he used to do already decades ago in Order from Chaos, while his sharp intonation revealed the lyrics be less a narration, more a ritual chant of words whose meaning and connotation have been obvious to warriors for millennia: “traitor”, “victory”, “blood”, “conquest”, “force”, “survival”. The robotic, inhumanly precise ability of the three musicians to control chaos resulted in the most impressive technical display of the evening. It caused uncertainty and fear. What can even the mighty Blasphemy do after this 100-percent martial art display of perfect war metal kata forms?
Luckily we didn’t need to wait very long until Black Winds and co. gave us the answer. As a storm of the angels of apocalypse and doom, this noisy but influential group of Canadians were far from any kind of perfection in their music. They appeared as in constant battle, a crackling terror of violent audial force, ripping and rending the soundscape of world without end. Dramatic and physical, it seemed as if the walls are about to collapse. Black Winds seemed at times lost, at others frenzied and focused. Strong war screams arose from his throat in defiance to heavens. Caller of the Storms didn’t play his guitar, he molested its corpse. A gargantuan sized session bassist filled the forefront and provided background vocals. Ryan Förster of Conqueror played second guitar wearing a gasmask. Original drummer 3 Black Hearts of Damnation and Impurity pulsed, leaped and attacked with his beats as lightning that strikes amidst a raging storm. It wouldn’t be correct to say the band was in top form, or something. The band was a force of nature, a mission of war that happened on stage. It didn’t compete with the musical precision and finesse of Revenge. It maimed the listeners with its droning and anti-sacred frequencies into submission, obeisance and ultimately an intuitive sense of the laws of nature. Cosmos, life, nature is about war. That’s what war metal and Blasphemy is about. The order of things, as it is, revealed in chaos. The highest principle of art, which is truth. Rarely, in years of seeing the finest of the bands perform on stage, have I been filled with such a calm, inspired joy as in the midst of this night’s rendition of “War Command”.
Thus, I have witnessed two of the finest evenings of black metal this year. I give my highest and sincere thanks to individuals who year after year, day after day, spend their attention and hard work to organize cultural events of the highest magnitude, even while they will never be as celebrated for their work as even mediocre bands are. Flyers and ads already promise interesting happenings for next year, so for now, I still very much enjoy living in this Northern land of bloody lakes and corpse-strewn woods!
Britannia was throughout much of the 1980’s, with the exception of the grindcore movement, a musical wilderness ever since the general decline of the NWOBHM movement, which globally had given way to the speed metal movement, and subsequently what were then ‘embryonic’ or otherwise non-foundational forms of death and black metal.
The year here was 1987. Onslaught had already made their mark with their first two full-lengths, and Sabbat were yet to release their debut. Virus’s debut will remind some of Onslaught, as both bands have seem to have inherited a lot of their influence from the music of crossover act, Discharge.
Virus take a more primitive approach to their music, both in execution and production. In the guitar patterns we see a heavy influence from the early music of Sodom, the melodies tend to be fashioned in the same NWOBHM- indebted manner as their ‘In The Sign Of Evil’ E.P. whilst they are executed at a more quick and furious pace that resembles their first full-length Obsessed By Cruelty. The drums are not as chaotic and more or less run more fluidly with the pacing of the guitars, and are of a low volume, giving an almost ‘cautious’ sound that is rather similar to Bathory’s self-titled debut. Vocals are a direct shout, English-accented, and an obvious paean to Discharge or Subhumans. Lyrical content focuses on themes of post-nuclear society, and the consequences of chemical and agent warfare, lyrics and song titles almost laid out as if to honour the broken English vocabularies of early Sepultura and Sarcofago. In short, like a lot of classic speed metal it sums up the way the genre analysed the Cold War world; decades of pacifistic tension and the foreknowledge of ultimate conflict.
In hindsight this band were quite unique; the hybridisation of styles into a rough and cohesive song format, all bound by a common theme appears to have shown it’s influence on various bands throughout the years. Like countrymen Onslaught they were deeply rooted in the attitude of early 80’s British punk hardcore, and although minor, crafted a minor sub-style within the trappings of their era that was uniquely English. They are still an obscure act today, but given that in said period tape trading was considered a norm, it would be hard to not to imagine prominent bands today. Some of these would easily include Beherit, Conqueror, Bolt Thrower, Impaled Nazerene, Blasphemy, Angelcorpse, Spearhead, among others.
Whilst not a ‘direct influence’ per se, if we consider many black/death hybrids we see today, amongst modern underground crazes such as ‘war metal’ for example, it is easy to establish on listening to this release where some of these acts derived and later advanced their themes and concepts. As well as this it serves as a nice example of music that borrows forms from the metal and punk traditions, and comes across as honest and original without going out of it’s own way to do so. Worth a check.
This summer’s festival season of carnage is nearing its bloody end and while drinking beer from skullcaps we have been reading and writing reports, listening to albums and throwing the sign of the horns to all bands that still really understand what death metal is about. Maryland Deathfest 2009 was a success as were of course countless of smaller events in USA, Germany, wherever, and I myself attended the true-as-fuck Jalometalli 2009 in Oulu, Finland. It was truly a pleasure to see that this country still has a metal festival which is not totally invaded by metalcore people and hipsters. It has been getting worse, because metal is trendy now and even though that means more gigs, it also means that corporate rock bastards see the marketing potential.
While old school speed metal bands regenerated themselves with great force, the likes of Agent Steel, Death Angel and Whiplash riffing and headbanging like it was goddamned 1985, the band that really dominated the Oulu proceedings was the mighty Asphyx, always too underrated, always better than pretty much anything else from Netherlands, whose little brother Hail of Bullets didn’t fare that much worse with their Bolt Thrower impersonation. Despite the open air / big stage setup, the underground feeling of it was something that could have happened in one of those legendary “youth center” gigs of the early 90′s death metal scene in Scandinavia. No glamour, no gimmicks, some death metal possessed kids throwing a moshpit, and pure old school musical values dating even back to demo material (the legendary cut “Rite of Shades”).
So, forget the hippie Atheist, boring Pestilence and greedy Carcass, whomever else has made the comeback for all the wrong reasons. Asphyx is here to stay and crush.
The new Osmose recruits Mord seem to have been actually born in Poland, then relocated to near Kristiansand, which is remembered as the location of a violent death metal sect in support of Varg Vikernes back in 1991 and the origin of Tchort (Blood Red Throne, Emperor, Green Carnation). Not quite living up to the bloody and progressive traditions of the area, Mord specializes in a cold, modern, thrashed-out black metal sound that could scientifically have been developed in a norsecore factory to create an endless amount of productive clones. Maybe because they are originally from Poland, they do seem to possess a better grasp of what makes Nordic black metal good than most Scandinavians around exhibit. They keep the album vile and to the point, imitating the blasphemous rhythm guitar of, besides Euronymous, Ivar Bjørnson during the phase of Enslaved when they dropped most of their classical influence and switched to riff rock. Later Ancient springs to mind in tracks such as “Opus II” which is essentially is a meeting of pop and black metal in a graveyard infested with drunked teenagers who wear makeup and like to flash stupid expressions in photos. It may sound bad but in fact, as guitar rock or something, it excels. It is simply lacking in the Romantic nature worship, warrior ideology and mysticism of Burzum, Ildjarn and the other greats. So while musically this has potential for an above average Norwegian black metal album (even though these ideas are 15 years late) it ends up as one more relic that brings black metal closer to mainstream acceptance and youth culture phenomena today, and no-one will remember it in ten years.
Satyricon – The Age of Nero
It should be obvious to anyone with even the slightest exposure to black metal music and ideas that while it’s arguable that he ever was a genius, for the last decade Satyricon has really gone far out of his way to create the most crowd pleasing, catchy, insipid rock’n’roll version of black metal. It sounds quite redundant to say in 2009 that this kind of music is abhorrent to “Euronymous’ ideals” or the Weltanschauung of the scene that existed in 1991-95 but I can’t help it. This is simply so far from anything that was great in old Norwegian black metal, what made me and so many others interested and follow the events and music with awe inspired by mystique. In this music there is no trace of passion, only of pure professional approach to musicianship and studio production, not even oriented to mastery of the style (in jazz sense) but to a desire to make money and gain profit. This sort of capitalist black metal makes for a new genre in itself. Mechanical, vapid and outdated, it mostly sounds like a collection of random groove metal tunes given a superficial black metal treatment (raped by the half beaten corpse of norsecore) for the mainstream listeners who want to get a piece of black metal’s evil but refuse to go all the way to possession. Precise riffs and metronomic drumming approach Rammstein-like monotony as they are arranged into the laziest sequence and development imaginable. Frost’s sometimes interesting drumscapes have been lost to the adult contemporary studio values and his fans are probably better off listening to 1349 or one of the other bands he plays/played in. Satyr is not trying to play Voivod riffs anymore (as he was doing in Rebel Extravaganza) nor can he duplicate the fast thrashy parts of Nemesis Divina – these new riffs by Satyr have a habit of getting old before the song is over.
Throne of Katarsis – Helvete – Det Iskalde Mørket
While the gloomy shroud of 21st century black metal clichés weighs like lead upon Throne of Katarsis, a sense of ambition and greatness, the carefully followed tread of frozen melody including an airy vastness copied from In the Nightside Eclipse or early Taake and some elegant and progressive forms makes this rise above the level of total weakness. Like Isvind and Tsjuder, Throne of Katarsis explore the melodic territory in between Darkthrone and Emperor in an effort to replicate the impression of transcendent evil boiling in the depths. Fast percussion underlies the sonic depression of dubiously plodding, soaring but monotone and unenergetic low production (Grieghallen copy) guitars repeating spherical themes (rotating the minor chords “De Mysteriis” style during the slow parts over and over again to give the melancholic feeling) over to vastness. The best of the musical ideas are hidden by the desire to create a standard black metal album, as they probably succumbed to creating an album too quickly and thinking that it’s enough to put out cold and intensity-devouring two-penny riffs that have been overused for 20 years – bulk Norwegian black metal in good and bad.
Aura Noir – Hades Rise
I do remember the Apollyon/Aggressor duo Aura Noir as a high-energy, motor powered and tradition respecting black metal cult from the days of the bewitching “Dreams Like Deserts” MCD, never afraid to rock out nor experiment with unusual guitar and drum techniques – even cross-quoting with Ved Buens Ende material. Something really devastating has happened and I don’t know if it has to do with Aggressor’s falling down from a balcony or something, but they sound totally drunk, tired and old on this album. I mean, if you think that Darkthrone nowadays sounds like a lazy beer-swilling band from the pub, try this one! I can hear they are trying to play like Sodom, but I can’t hear any Germanic “raaaaaah!” mania. I can hear Autopsy, but I can’t hear the stinking amputated corpses rising all around to wreak their vengeance upon the societies of the living. I can hear hardcore, but I can’t hear the decisive violent power of wrath against conformity. So, what is there left? It sounds a bit Southern Lord-y – you know, ironic old metal fan hipster who likes to get stoned out of his mind and listen to feel-good old-times metal. By the way, the drum production sounds like MIDI – utter failure. If you want real speed/black metal power, go for the originals, this one is a weak joke.
Celestial Bloodshed – Cursed, Scarred and Forever Possessed
It would be quite interesting to see if someone, somewhere in Norway, has during the year released black metal or death metal which does not a) try to duplicate the old Grieghallen soundscape with in the most generic no-sense-of-style manner, b) fill their album with a load of budget riffs called depressive black metal by the kids (which is actually C, D, E minor again… and again…). Anyway, while Celestial Bloodshed has ripped off these ideas from better bands, they are 50% better in their songcraft than Watain, Funeral Mist and other generic black metal of the era. Also, they have been able to create inner beauty towards the realization of the music in melodic intensity. Additionally, the fullness of the soundscape and the implications of the structure make this release more grim, oppressive and grinding than the mainsteam manipulations of Norwegian metal which can not be but a good thing. After a beautiful intro which sounds somewhat like one of the demos from Equimanthorn (Absu members’ ritual project) the album pounds into a lexicon of guitar techniques borrowed from a range of musicians from Mayhem to Enslaved, with a dynamic range from slow romantic soulseeking to blasphemous speeds, sometimes bridged with jarring changes, while death metal influenced vicious, likeable and personal (down to some insistent mannerisms) vocals pace like hammer upon an anvil the grim predictions of mortal future and the drummer operates battery like Faust and Hellhammer used to in the early 90′s. While all of this is not fully developed yet into pure communication, it speaks with instant, amazed, satanic impressions of life facing the darkness of Infinity – Celestial Bloodshed has replicated the old school with care, honesty and vicious intent.
Keep of Kalessin – Kolosus
Keep of Kalessin arouse my interest during their demo days, as 1997′s “Skygger av Sorg” repeated the style of old Satyricon in a series of simple, emotional song fragments that revealed a sad beauty lying underneath the grim soundscape. I had heard some less interesting newer material but it is truly shocking what they have submerged into now – an arrogant, over-produced tribute to the honor of Greek warriors through quasi-talented commercial death metal. Synth washes and expressive vocals (in the vein of Nergal when he’s really pissed off in the later Behemoth albums) fill this piece of plastic because they want to sound big and they want to play on a stadium. I am convinced that someone with their musicianship should be able to create a listenable and consistent album, but these super fast blastbeats and commercial heavy metal oriented song dynamics from quiet to loud make this just a faux extreme version of something like Spearhead or Deströyer 666, made worse by the angry shouter vocalist. The people interested only in dry technique and production standards will love this for being an emphatic and empty opera of sharp drumwork and the constantly shifting death metal type fast guitars and entertainment value. They are also happy that it lacks the primal natural force of old Norwegian metal, because it might be distrubing. The sense of space created should be one of a studio or a big venue, instead of a woodland crypt, right? This amount of polishing emphasizes the superficiality of the entire composure, down to metalcore action computer game synchronized by MIDI in Kolossus, where accurate but inconsequential fast drum beats follow cheap-ass tremolo melodies from the pits of norsecore Hell and the vocalist sounds angry at people at the nearby mall and emo pop chorus in “Ascendant” which doesn’t even fit the music underneath. Likewise the arabic solos in the middle part of “Kolossus” don’t seem to have anything to do with the metal riffs, nor do the “300″ soundtrack reminiscent bits with synths and tablas. Whoever has produced this must be a commercial minded jerk.
Blood Red Throne – Souls of Damnation
Tchort from Kristiansand was a newcomer to the death metal scene with his band Green Carnation right when the genre went out of fashion because of Euronymous’ hatefulness towards it and while that name was resurrected for Tchort’s progressive metal project he formed the neo-death metal group Blood Red Throne at the end of the millennium. While not having heard the early Green Carnation material, it’s easy to hear from this that some trace of early influence from excellent bands like Grave and Cadaver does exist, but none of their ability to turn basic riff structures into progressive and morbid magic. This type of song construction mostly resembles Cannibal Corpse and Deicide during the latter’s worst days of In Torment In Hell, filling songs with groovy mosh parts, faux-brutal growls and the drummer and bass player (from Deeds of Flesh) insisting wimpily on always playing to the beat of the riff. If this is the king on Norway’s death metal throne since Cadaver disbanded, it is quite sad actually. Most good (death) metal is memorable from its melodies, however convoluted and vicious they may be, but Souls of Damnation is mostly simple rhythmic phrases like guitar exercise patterns for introducing mechanical creation technique for sub-Florida death metal. Like all boring death metal, it severely underestimates its audience. I mean, many listeners do like death metal that sounds like basic no-frills brutal grind, but this worthless chugging goes too far. It seems like the whole album lacks even one interesting melody part or arrangement.
1349 – Revelations of the Black Flame
One of the newer Oslo bands mostly known from relentless and uncompromising fast black metal, 1349 surprise with their latest effort in refusing to conform to the rules of the flock. This time conjuring echoes of Samael’s Ceremony of Opposites and later Mayhem, 1349 composes suffocated, devilish and industrial tinged black metal sounds which despite being somewhat predictable, retain the doomy beauty of an industry of inferno. The loneliness of space as described in Moorcock’s trippy novel “The Black Corridor” and the classic fantasy movie “Alien” fill this Gigerian landscape of planets, threats and biomechanical blasphemies. Bodies twitch into contorted positions in a sea of light. The psychedelic feel is enhanced by a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of Sun” featuring Tom G. Warrior. Several tracks use minutes to unfold submerged ambient and experimental soundscapes, while there is some Red Harvest type digital manipulation featured in many of the metal songs too. The arrangement is dramatic and regal, with Frost’s drumming skills put to good use. Multiple vocal styles herald the theatrical nature. Some interesting lead guitars add desperate wails to the background. Some parts are in their wicked minimalism close to what one could also expect to, say, Beherit to compose if he were in a more commercial high budget recording project, making this one of the more worthwhile efforts from Norway last year in producing new vistas of black metal.
Mare – Throne of the Thirteenth Witch EP
This little EP from Mare, one of the infamous Trondheim cults tends to sound a bit like Live in Leipzig era Mayhem recording in a sewer infested with rats and worms and the decrepit and rotten soundscape makes this one an aesthetically more attractive listen than most of the studio produced turds. Intuitively they grasp the idea of structuring long songs in the old Emperor vein so that while the bits and pieces are redundant, it is a journey through minimalist music themes into the realization and acceptance of the power of darkness. Slow, crawling, anti-logical repetition of simple melody (where the keyboards add a tasteful of old Enslaved) make it a bit of an un-musical experience – the composition seems to be mostly oriented to the fans of droning soundscape whereas the planning and calculation in the overstated reverb, vocal sound (while Kvitrim is good at pacing) and lack of invention in the riffs suggest seem to be aimed for the black metal consumer. But it is deconstructive, degenerate and deceitful music – for pure ideas, about as good as the best of the bunch reviewed here. An ambience and sense of space is reached, the Faustian concept of man as a warrior who travels and explores the universe, only to relinquish his individuality to the higher natural order – in death and rebirth.