Introduction to Power Metal, Part I: Origins and Influences

(Join DMU Legend Johan Pettersson for what may be the most expansive analysis of power metal ever presented in the first of a 3 part series.  Listen to the accompanying suggested listening here)

Of all the subgenres and styles that fall within the metal spectrum (hence excluding unmitigated relapses into rock such as death’n’roll, stoner, nu- and indie metal), power metal most definitely counts as the one that has received the highest amount of scorn and ridicule from critics, fans and outsiders alike. (more…)

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Cirith Ungol reforming to play live shows

cirith ungol festival

The cult tradmetal band Cirith Ungol (not to be confused with the promising Dutch black metal band Cirith Gorgor) is stirring after decades of inactivity. The first sign of this was perhaps the original “Frost and Fire” festival they organized last year; now, they’re escalating their own participation by headlining the second one. In addition to Cirith Ungol, the festival will also feature many other traditional metal bands, as well as two other reunions that have yet to be announced. Cirith Ungol’s official forum claims that the extremely lengthy period in which tickets are on sale is a result of the original festival selling out despite two months’ availability. The resulting festival might be a interesting opportunity for anyone who lives in SoCal.

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Megadeth – Dystopia (2016)

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Megadeth has cycled between obvious mainstream rock pandering and careful imitation of their best appreciated works at an ever accelerating rate since their reformation in 2004. If this trend keeps up, they’ll be changing styles with every strum of their guitars in a few years. Dystopia isn’t quite as quick to alter its own sounds as that rather implausible hypothetical peak, but it’s still obviously colored by two colliding trends; Dave Mustaine’s desire to outsell Metallica, and the fact that even relatively extreme metal can sell enormous volumes in 2016. This makes what would be yet another comeback album into a surprisingly disjointed experience at times.

In general, Dystopia provides its potential listeners with several varieties of vintage Megadeth to peruse at their leisure, ranging from the technical wizardry of the ’80s and Rust in Peace (arguably the musical peak of this band) to the streamlined pop metal that immediately followed such, and even hints of recent albums through conceptual and musical continuity. Beyond the vocals of Dave Mustaine and the frequent guitar leads, though, there’s little that distinguishes this from other poppy speed metal of the mid 2010s, especially since this is one of those dime-a-dozen studio perfect recordings with perfectly appropriate production and instrumentation. One definite problem, however is that Dave Mustaine’s vocal and lyrical contributions have decayed in quality in recent years. Megadeth’s always been political at the best of times, but more often than not the lyrics devolve into political sloganeering that might be appropriate if he actually ran for president of the USA. In song format, though, all they do is annoy, irritate, and pander. Mustaine also relies increasingly on digital processing to mask the age-related decay of his voice, most notably on “Fatal Illusion“. This isn’t an innately bad thing, and you could theoretically make a case for the chorusing and harmonies opening new ideas for Megadeth to explore, but it pushes unneeded emphasis on the vocals, so even the average listener that decides that the technique sounds kind of cool might find it grating regardless. Perhaps I shouldn’t be focusing on the vox too much, but when the rest of the album is competent and yet unremarkable, it’s sometimes the only option.

In short, Dystopia is kind of disposable; most metal albums that try to approximate known classics are. It’s still better than Repentless, but the “Big Four” have all since run out of momentum, which makes Dystopia‘s slick technical competence marred by excessive streamlining even more unremarkable than it would otherwise be. The last time Megadeth tried their hands at this, they cranked out Endgame, which was well received at the time of its release and generally similar in approach, but has since faded from the public eye. Do you still have space in your listening rotation for Endgame? If you don’t, you won’t have time for Dystopia either.

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Iron Maiden working on their second video game

iron_maiden

Back in 1999, Iron Maiden released Ed Hunter, a greatest hits compilation that also included a video game of the same name. The game hasn’t aged well at all (and even in 1999, it was underwhelming). 17 years, though, have wrought enormous changes in the video gaming industries, and thusly, Iron Maiden’s second effort (at least, if you don’t count the minigame released for “Speed of Light”) is under development. Legacy of the Beast describes itself as “an epic free-to-play mobile role playing game, set in the expansive Iron Maiden universe,” and like any bandgame it understandably includes many songs from Iron Maiden’s career, as well as some live recordings that will remain exclusive to the game for some time. Little concrete information has been released on how this game will actually play, but a signup for a mailing list on the game’s webpage suggests upcoming information in the near future…

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Upcoming Tours: Ghost

ghostposter

One of our targets is coming to the United States. Ghost has repeatedly made their way into our Sadistic Metal Reviews for Meliora alone, but their retro rock/metal sound and vaguely clerical aesthetic has won them a lot of fans. Thusly, they’re making their way to the United States. This tour loosely coincides with the upcoming Grammy Awards in February, giving the band many an opportunity to further boost their commercial success. While it’s not necessarily to our fans’ interest, maybe someone could visit a concert and give us a writeup? I’m sure it’d make for interesting reading; we’ve had success with the concept in the past.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews mini-feature – Cauldron – In Ruin (2016)

cauldroninruincd

This is, without any subtlety, an exceedingly middle of the road work of traditional heavy metal. It’s not particularly ‘heavy’, containing little more than a set of rudimentary melodic rock riffs played at a middling pace overlaid with an exceedingly generic frontman. It bears more than a passing resemblance to the ‘glam’ metal (read: harder radio rock) of the ’80s, although Cauldron’s visual aesthetic is closer to a generic metalhead look. Nothing is particularly offensive here – the vocals are a bit lamer than average for reasons that are hard to quantify, but otherwise this is a vaguely competent albeit unremarkable recording that I am already forgetting as I write this album. You, on the other hand, are probably wondering why I would choose to cover something that’s so devoid of positive or negative qualities. It turns out that listening to this sort of recording places a few important ideas in my head.

By now, our readers should be familiar with how quickly our species as a whole forgets about the… lower tier of media works that are quickly forgotten once something more novel comes along. A sufficient amount of effort and/or financial wizardry can distort this phenomenon, occasionally resulting in an artist who refuses to leave the public eye due to radio payola, or personal misconduct, or whatever reason. Cauldron, to my understanding, is not thusly blessed, although they and associates presumably have enough business resources to create some buzz for a while. Maybe they’ll become one of those “moderately successful” metal bands I talked about earlier that can live comfortably, if not glamorously off their money. I highly doubt, however, that a band this generic is going to make any serious impact on most listeners, though and will probably fade quickly whenever they call it quits. There are two important corollaries here – the metal fanbase Cauldron has to fight for will turn over with time, and similarly so will the metal bands competing for mindshare. There’s definitely a lesson to be learned here about the state of the metal world, although you can also make a case that it’s better studied through either a more notorious band, an objectively worse one, or some combination of the two.

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On Metal Transcriptions and Metal Music Percussion

Article by David Rosales

This very entertaining cover of Iron Maiden’s song ‘Hallowed be Thy Name’ as performed by a bass clarinet quartet was posted on Youtube a few years ago. The instruments take on the melodic lines of the song, which was aptly selected as it is rich in them. This experiment is not only fun to listen to but interesting in how a different instrumentation highlights one aspect of the music while utterly losing a whole dimension exploited by the original composition.

The clarity of melody and harmony is quite enhanced here and so their study and appreciation by the guitar student seeking to learn and emulate this aspect of the song will greatly benefit from this adaptation. However, the loss of the power chord, and particularly the power chord played on the distorted electric guitar means the loss of an ocean of artificial artifacts that form the bulk of the richness of sound of the instrument and which lend metal and hard rock music one of its distinctive aural characteristics.

The necessary absence of the drum set is seen by the more classically-oriented music fan or musician as, perhaps, negligible, but this is only because of the widespread ignorance (either through pop culture or academic music indoctrination) about the relevance of percussion in metal. Contrary to the now-traditional view of percussion as a less important aspect of music (which, in fact, flies in the face of many traditional folk musics around the world, where it is recognized and studied by academicians yet still seen with derision as “primitive”), this reliance that metal has exhibited in increasing amounts is not a measure of scarcity of content or artistic deficiency, but rather the appearance of an unknown variable.

Metal percussion in its most advanced states, that is, in its use in the more artistically (as opposed to technically) developed subgenres of death and black metal shows a usage and expansion that just does not exist in traditional or experimental classical music. As such, academicians have no precedent by which to measure or qualify this. They should perform field research, they should listen, but they are too comfortable and busy feeling self-important. This is the sad state of the intellectually self-gratifying (and ‘morally’ bankrupt) art that results from two centuries of overarching materialism, corruption and decay.

Many would point to the obvious origin of metal percussion in traditional rock, and that is factually right, yet its use and direction has gone far beyond it and in some cases taken cues even from electronic music (especially in the case of some black metal)and jazz music (in the case of some death metal). Metal percussion incorporates aspects of these and has built a whole new art out of it that could be considered the more spiritual child of the pleasure-oriented and technically-nuanced jazz (Editor’s note: DMU has written about this very hypothesis in the deep past).

The future and refinement of metal this metal percussion should not to reside in the empty groove explorations of fusion as seen in djent nor in the facetious exercises of tekdeth which may even borrow directly from genres such as samba in their search for “entertaining and interesting” bits to play, regardless of how this may affect the character of the music. Also defunct inside are the dead-end and superficial attempts at applications of abstract concepts in nu-black metal and war metal. As in all other aspects of the already-cemented, fully-formed language of metal, the role of its percussion and its abstract concepts have been made known implicitly in the music of the classics. Go, listen, study, learn, apply.

 

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Arghoslent – Galloping Through the Battle Ruins (1998)

galloping through the battle ruins

Article by David Rosales

Arghoslent are frequently and incorrectly tagged as a death metal band while they are actually a speed metal seasoned with a traditional heavy metal approach to the use of melody and soloing that goes can be described as lyrical or ‘singable’. The barking vocals that are featured here are the only thing that is borrowed directly from death metal and their usage is still more heavy metal in nature, given that the relationship of vocals to the underlying music is more akin to the riff-riding of Ozzy than the punching counterpoint of Suffocation or Gorguts.

There is more of Manilla Road’s Crystal Logic than Slayer’s Hell Awaits here; where the latter has a clear thematic development going on in riffs and the former is more conservatively classical in its harmony. Also, the long-term structuring is the subtle, progressive path of ‘epic’ heavy metal, so termed as to not mix it up with the carnival music of more ‘open’ bands who would appropriate the official name of seventies classically and jazz-inspired experimental rock music.

In Galloping Through the Battle Ruins, Arghoslent seem a little careless regarding the character or emotional quality (for lack of a better term) of the implied harmony, often incurring in silly or happy-sounding passages which would sound completely out of place in most death or black metal. These are, however, a common staple of technically-oriented speed metal as it exploits scale-wise expansion of patterns, often resorting to sequences.

At the Gates circumvented this unavoidable side effect of using sequences in their earliest work by following through with complete transpositions of a same mode to new tonal centers instead of adhering to the sprawling stepping-stones of fully-defined classical harmony. Arghoslent, on the other hand, and like any traditional heavy or speed metal band, remains rooted in this latter orthodoxy, accepting and making use of any bright arpeggios with far more openness than more-evolved underground metal would allow.

Arghoslent Galloping Through the Battle Ruins achieves an effective balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces by bringing in some of the conservative (by which “pop-structured” is not meant) spirit of proper death metal to the epic intent of an Iron Maiden in their best hour with ‘The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’ or ‘Phantom of the Opera’. Furthermore, this album is dirty and thrashy, grounding it and preventing the music from becoming overly fond of itself or too self-conscious. The latter is an ever-present and far more subtle trap that may even be perceived in Cóndor’s sophomore effort.

An inevitable comparison may be drawn to The Chasm, who are hailed for the density and apparently more complex structures. But where The Chasm gets lost in its own dreams of madness as songs are taken from promising illusion and wonder into confusion and pointlessness, Arghoslent remains stalwart; their resolute convictions clearly stamped on well-balanced music that brings a sense of adventure to visions of crude reality, and the fantasy of time travel with the brutal honesty of an unrepressed child.

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Power metal musicians form “Gathered in Darkness” project

Michael “Dr. Froth” Millsap isn’t exactly a household name in his progressive rock flavored niche of metal, but through some means, he’s managed to put together a formidable roster of musicians for the “Gathered in Darkness” project. Essentially a narrative-heavy concept album; its most notable contributors include Rob Lowe of Solitude Aeternus and Candlemass, and James Rivera of Helstar. If you’ve ever listened to the works of Nevermore or similar bands, you have a good idea of what to expect from this track – power metal vocals over vaguely progressive-rock oriented mid-paced jazz-fusion groove-metal hyphencore. The musicians involved certainly value their own technical prowess, but overall this is a difficult sell to the DMU audience, and it may end up as little more than a footnote about how that alone is not enough to make an album interesting and worthy of discussion.

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RIP Lemmy Kilmister (1945-2015)

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Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister of Motörhead (and formerly Hawkwind) passed away today. According to Motörhead’s Facebook page, Lemmy died after “…a short battle with an extremely aggressive cancer”; one that he had only found out about two days before his death. More information may be released in coming days. This death follows the recent death of Phil Taylor and puts a unfortunate note onto the band’s 40th anniversary. It is worth noting that Motörhead remained strong up to the very end, touring despite instances of bandmember illness and even releasing a quality studio album a few months ago.

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