Morbus 666 – Ignis Divine Imperium (2016)

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Article by Corey M

Featuring members of two well-respected underground metal bands – Imprecation and Bahimiron – the professional aptitude of the musicians is obvious as soon as Morbus 666’s album Ignis Divine Imperium is through with the first song, though that’s not to say that there is any showboating whatsoever from the players here. The sonic texture of this album is very similar to that of the latest releases by the aforementioned bands; dry, gritty guitars dominate the soundscape with a harsh midrange attack while scratchy vocals and a beautifully live-sounding drum set do little to assert their presence, but effectively support the hypnotically whirlpooling riffs.

Aesthetics aside, comparing Morbus 666’s music to that of Bahimiron is fair, because both feature a similar general sense of dynamics, method of structuring songs, and overall level of complexity (which is relatively minimalist in terms of modern metal in general). In both cases, we’re dealing with no-frills black metal that emphasizes gradual evolution of songs (strategically avoiding distracting melodic tangents) while eschewing ornamentation and anything other than rudimentary black metal technique: That is to say, the band’s whole arsenal consists mostly of tremolo picking, some creepy ringing chords, marching beats, and sometimes blasts. There are no guitar leads, acoustic interludes, stretches of vaguely disturbing ambient noise, or synthesized string sections. In fact, there aren’t even any drum fills or the sort of herky-jerky, stop-start tricks you might expect to hear from some of the more chaotic modern black metal acts. The engine of Ignis Divine Imperium is pure and relentlessly sinister melody, and for the most part, the band delivers impactful hymns that praise Satan as an anti-humanist archetype, denying (both lyrically and musically, and by extension ideologically) the casual fan the luxury of a comfortably passive listening experience.

The most effective bits of music in Ignis Divine Imperium are so simple and subtle that they may first pass by in a blur, but become more rewarding with repeated listens. For instance, the first track (“Fiery Abyss”) begins and ends with the same simple two-chord phrase, acting as bookends to the song. It works as an engaging introduction, but by the time this phrase is reintroduced, the experience of hearing it again is not just that of familiarity, but a more lucid contemplation of what sort of hidden meaning the melody implied at first, since it has now been contrasted with the winding riffs that have occurred in between the opening and closing.

To borrow another author’s* metaphor: Imagine standing at the edge of a valley, observing the lay of the land before you, and then descending into its depths and eventually emerging on top of the opposite edge. Looking back, you gain a more complete perspective of the depth and width of the valley through which you passed, since you are able to compare the span of time and steepness of the cliffs which you must have climbed down and then back up. In this same way, the introductory riffs of each song on the album serve to give the listener a general idea of what to expect, but it is not until emerging on the other side of the tangle of melodies that one can fully appreciate, by looking back, the journey as a continuum of experience, and realize that there was more to the introductory riff sequences than could be guessed by hearing them alone, as they relate to the riffs in the middle and then the end of a song. This seems like an obvious way to structure any song but amazingly (or not), many bands fail to make their songs interesting without drastic changes in rhythm and guitar techniques and naturally drifting from any main point that they wish to express. Meanwhile, the music of Morbus 666 succeeds by having strong riffs alone.

All this praise but some criticism yet; the simplicity of some of the riff sequences on this album work against the development of the song. There are definite stand-out tracks like “Fiery Abyss” and another near the end of the album, “Through the Black Fog Burns the Eyes of the Devil”, which explores the more majestic aspect of Satanic might with off-puttingly somber and yearning melodies, much like can be heard on the best Behexen tracks, but utilized much more convincingly by Morbus 666. However, other tracks sometimes fall into ruts which sound insincerely placid amidst the more viciously hateful passages. The band exercise possibly more restraint than is needed during these parts, which understandably serve as dynamic fluctuations to contrast and therefore highlight the harsher riffs, but they sound somewhat forced (as in uninspired) and can cause the concentration to falter after carrying on for so long. These minor flaws notwithstanding, the album earned a purchase from me, as I’m sure I’ll continue listening to it for some time to come. Besides, I’m very interested to hear another album from them, and hope that they can sharpen their songs even more, because they are on a war path and possess the firepower to eradicate any and all belligerents.

*If anybody knows who, I would like to know as well, since I remember the words but forgot where I read them, so can’t rightly credit the original.

Blood Incantation – Interdimensional Extinction (2015)

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Article by Corey M

Blood Incantation released their debut EP Interdimensional Extinction last year  to little fanfare. Having heard one of the US death metal band’s songs on a Dark Descent compilation, I was highly anticipating this release and was not disappointed. However, other respectable authors have dismissed it without giving it the attention it deserves. Because I’ve only grown to appreciate this EP more over the last several months, I intend to elaborate on Blood Incantation’s strengths, because I believe they deserve more coverage.

Guitars are the focus of and main engine of Blood Incantation’s music. Typically one guitar plays chords in rhythmic bursts to support the other guitars which harmonize faster-moving and more complex melodies. An excellent balance between the low-register rhythm chords and the weird-and warbly-leads is always maintained. During high-tension segments, the guitars mainly play in unison for maximum impact, and during some of the more paranormal passages, the drums and rhythm intensity are dialed back just enough to open up space for the imaginative and unpretentious leads. The best of the guitar solos remind me of those on In the Nightside Eclipse, sharing that ability be technically modest yet very evocative. Blood Incantation’s flailing-tentacle leads mysteriously manage to reflect or echo the dynamics of the chord pattern underneath, achieving symbiosis with the rhythm guitars and drums, even while ratcheting up the tension to the point of anticipating a total musical disintegration. Other times, leads are used to gracefully close out a song, resolving the musical stress by harmonically tying together the wildly whipping threads of various melody.

Vocals are perfectly competent and never interfere with the shape of the riffs, partially due to having a more forward-sounding presence in the mix, compared to the guitars which cast a broader curtain of sound and envelop the rest of the instruments. Drums are in thrall to the guitars, and when the guitar rhythm turns odd or just a little unorthodox, they provide an unobtrusive, robust foundation on which the highly melodic riffs build. Special mention must go to the session player with the fretless bass, who plays in the technically adventurous death metal band Stargazer. Giving each a riff an uncanny, slithery feel, the fretless adds another layer of harmonic depth and texture in a way that is underutilized or outright ignored by many death metal bands.

On the extra-musical side, Interdimensional Extinction‘s cover art is not only very cool, but an effective visual representation of the themes present in the music, featuring a distant planetary body surrounded by an orbital ring of human skeletal bits. Human skulls are always related to human death and sometimes death in general, as a concept that extends further than the merely personal, into the planetary, the celestial, and yes, even the “interdimensional”! This far-out unearthly realm is what Blood Incantation attempts to explore, as their perspective encompasses not only human death, but death as a common fate for all for all systems of organized energy, from a single bacterium to the largest galactic cluster. Does the band intentionally attempt to establish a sympathetic link between humans and non-human things by relating us all under the empirical inevitability of death? Maybe; maybe not, but these are the sorts of imaginal realms that great death metal can take a listener’s mind.

All four songs on this EP are proficiently crafted and offer the very thing that most lovers of death metal are either actively searching for at least glad to hear; death metal in its unadulterated language, but through a distinctive dialect. Perhaps the band’s native Colorado landscape has informed their intuitive songwriting, as each song moves through jagged peaks and rolling valleys, organically and without pretense. Due to the clarity of the arrangements and mixing, the songs are actually relatively easy to follow, and riffs do not hide behind distracting, murky guitar tones or gratuitous reverb. There may appear to be similarities with Demilich or Immolation, but they are only skin-deep, and Blood Incantation use intriguingly idiosyncratic methods of riff development and song structuring. All things considered, including that I have been listening to this solidly for six months now, I can only think of good reasons to recommend this EP.

A Playlist: Going Under

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Article by David Rosales

It is no secret that we believe that the best of metal has come out mostly of what we now call ‘the underground’, a tradition that has been characterized by standing outside of the wheel of commercial production in the arts. The moment a band signs a contract, lands big deals and makes a break through while effectively becoming shackled to the money-making industry, it has sold out. This is because as a commercially-oriented product, its main purpose is to be able to sell, it has to pander to the preferences of a certain audience, however whimsical they are.

It is true that music must retain a natural connection to man and its true test is how different people receive it. But this is not the same as the populist idea that the best music is that which appeals to the largest number of people, which is nothing more than a dumbing down to the least common denominator. The authentic underground stands between independence from commercial pandering and the need to communicate naturally through organized sound itself (Editor’s note: At the best of times, it furthermore isn’t simply content to dwell on its alleged authenticity; cue the endless mockery of albums that are too “kvlt” to be any good).

The following are short underground metal works released throughout the nineties. These represent specific moments and sides of metal that were, at that particular moment, true to their roots and the spirit of metal. They stand out in each particular moment as either outstanding examples in a times of superficial distraction, decadence or a complete lack of direction across the underground metal movement.

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1. At the Gates – Gardens of Grief (1991)

A favorite underground EP of many for the wrong reasons, this first official release by At the Gates stands squarely on the pillars of traditional old school death metal while innovating a unique approach to songwriting which built a whole platform on top of its basis, elevating the progressive art of death metal to a whole other level of refinement.

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2. Divine Eve – As The Angels Weep (1993)

This single nostalgic (inherently, not in retrospect only) release from back in the day by this Texan outfit brought together gestures from early Celtic Frost and Cathedral within a Scandinavian death metal frame, succeeding in climaxing in its own voice during certain moments in between.

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3. Ancient – Trolltaar (1995)

A condensation and evolution of their soul-enchanting debut, this EP shows Ancient at its darkest and most minimalist state, while displaying its most potent emotional impact that reaches out as an invisible hand to clutch at the listener’s heart (Note: Infamous’ Of Solitude and Silence seems to echo the feeling of this ancient-souled EP).

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4. Absurd – Asgardsrei (1999)

Crude and rhythmic, a simple and punk-like punch to the face in the time of metal emptiness, superficiality and posturing, Absurd’s roughness disguises the poetry of the tribesman’s spirit, the man following his instincts untouched by modernist presumptions of what reading of history and human nature better fits their interests.

Sadistic Metal Reviews mini-feature: Deathraid – Submit to the Will of Chaos (2016)

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Article by David Rosales

It is always amusing to watch one of these clueless bands take a stab at making an album that falls into the mythical yet non-existent genre of black speed metal. It does not exist for a good reason: it is only a creature in the imagination of those who cannot tell the two genres apart. It is probably also what Venom fans consider to be “first wave black metal”. You gotta have some compassion for these nitwits. Or not.

The music on Deathraid Submit to the Will of Chaos (originally released in extremely limited quantities in 2001) is typically messy, grindy and when it comes around to its most clear-minded, it sounds like a try-hard Hellhammer, without the ability to maintain atmosphere and therefore devolving into boring streamlined noise. From the modern perspective, it is just another variation of war metal stupidity or modern “atmospheric” black metal. Irrelevant as it is lame, this may just be what some of us were looking for – it’s the perfect music for goat love-making.

Darth Vader’s Top 10 Underground Metal Songs

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Article by David Rosales

Child prodigy, genius wielder of the Force, Darth Vader was the result of an excess of talent and aptitude leading to a complete disregard for standards and rules, tradition and caution. The Dark Side’s poster boy was kind enough to impose his favorite 10 underground metal songs on us:

10. Master – Funeral Bitch

Don’t fail me again, Admiral.

9. Merciless – Dreadful Fate!

I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.

8. Massacra – Researchers Of Tortures

Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them.

7. Bolt Thrower – World Eater

The Empire will compensate you, if he dies. Put him in.

6. Torchure – Genocidal Confessions

Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son.

5. Blaspherian – In the Shadow of his Blasphemous Glory

I hope so, Commander, for your sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.

4. Brutal Truth – I See Red

He is as clumsy as he is stupid!

3. Celtic Frost – Visual Aggression

No. Leave them to me. I will deal with them myself.

2. Destruction – Bestial Invasion

You underestimate the power of the Dark Side. If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny.

1. Profanatica – Angel With Cock

I have *felt* him, my master.

Cirith Ungol reforming to play live shows

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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.

Conan’s Top 10 Underground Metal Songs

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Growing up as a ruthless barbarian in a desolate and cruel world born made Conan the toughest around. He is the wet dream of every orthodox power metal fan and the unspoken desire of funderground war metal addicts. This is a list of the 10 underground metal songs that this head crusher chose for us:

10. Blood – Sodomize the Weak

Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women.

9. Atrocity – Hold Out (To The End)

Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!

8. Cirith Ungol – Master of the Pit

The riddle… of steel.

7. Iron Maiden- The Duelist

For us, there is no spring. Just the wind that smells fresh before the storm.

6. Bathory – To Enter Your Mountain

He is strong! If I die, I have to go before him, and he will ask me, “What is the riddle of steel?” If I don’t know it, he will cast me out of Valhalla and laugh at me. That’s Crom, strong on his mountain!

5. Manowar – Pleasure Slave

They’re all sluts! He’s dead already!

4. Rhapsody – Steelgods Of The Last Apocalypse

Crom laughs at your four winds. He laughs from his mountain.

3. Kreator – Carrion

Does it always smell like this? How does the wind ever get in here?

2. Candlemass – Demons Gate

CONAN: You killed my mother! You killed my father, you killed my people! You took my father’s sword!

1. Immortal – As the Eternity Opens

Adieu!

Naðra – Allir Vegir Til Glötunar (2016)

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Article by David Rosales

It is hard to ascertain if it’s pretentiousness or merely a poor appreciation of classic minimalist metal that brings about all these very underdeveloped (or simply shitty) releases. It seems that most of these would-be musicians think that all it takes to put out a folk-melodic black metal album is to write a simple consonant melody in standard time signature, play it in with tremolo picking, use variations of blast beats and mid-paced double-bass drums and a combination of bark-scream-screeches and the now-fashionable “war calls”.

The result of this sort of thinking is, again, surface oriented and only manages to turn what was originally a unique expression that bubbled up from a deep feeling into a list of characteristics to be filled in order to sound appealing to a particular demographic of undiscerning music fans. Rather than beat up another mediocre artist of absolutely no relevance, we must also turn our muskets in the direction of the masses of uncaring metal fans who take no heed of who they “vote up” or what they buy as long as it is mildly pleasing.

It is you, the average fan, that decides what sort of projects receive support and that subpar music is put aside. The old excuse of supporting up-coming acts that may in time improve and write outstanding music is a poor one. Let them struggle, let them first earn their merit. Metal is no aristocratic art that needs spoiled kids to have their ego stroked so that they somehow become musical geniuses. No legendary metal album is the result of undeserved favors, they are all, almost invariably, the result of struggle, of blood and tears.

For the sake of metal itself, if not for the sake of your own mental health and nutrition, throw away and put aside all projects that stand on the same quality level as Naðra Allir Vegir Til Glötunar. This has absolutely nothing to do with production. This has absolutely nothing to do with monetary support for touring. This is about not only creativity but the perseverance, ability and knowledge or intuition to arrange convincing structures that amount to Dionysian calls from the inner man. Allir Vegir Til Glötunar is only dead weight for the metal genre.

Sadistic Metal Reviews mini-feature – Vargstuhr – Howlings (2015)

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Article by David Rosales

Musical genres work very much like languages, transmitting information at an abstract level, albeit simultaneously at a much more intuitive and unconscious level, hence its surfacing in the form of emotions. Unfortunately, many musicians fall into the trap of taking forms and cliches merely as that: a formula that is interpreted either as a constraint or a shortcut. Neither approach correctly assesses the real value of so-called cliched forms and expressions.

Vargstuhr’s Howlings presents a pop opera variation of this thinking by making a wolf-pack themed album whose center are the lyrics. All music revolving around it is incidental and it tends to twist around in its particular emphasis while roughly remaining in the area of a third-grade black metal act with very poorly thought-out interactions between the vocals and the music. Like any opera-like production, it tries to keep its eye on themes of some kind, but the music is still too secondary and plays more like an excuse for a soundtrack.

Besides its poor structuring, Howlings also fails at a local performance level, managing to sound awkward in almost each of the instruments at least at some point. We normally do not complain at all about production, but here the music is so bad that the excessively out of balance mix emphasizes the flaws of the album. The only prize Vargstuhr will be winning here is an award for one of the most uncomfortable albums to listen to in recent memory.

Condemner – Omens of Perdition (2015)

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Article by David Rosales

Published as an EP last year, Omens of Perdition is a minimalist death metal act that could easily draw comparisons with Desecresy. They share the spacious (and spacey-vortexy) approach to an Incantation like style through the sound of the Finns. When we go into particulars, however, the differences make it clear that resemblances are mostly a matter of general sound preferences, not methodology.

While Desecresy as most perfectly materialized in Stoic Death gives us a Finnish death metal that depends on high-note, short melodies as hooks with laid-back riffs for support, meat and almost harmonic accompaniment, Condemner goes through no such hoops, cutting to the chase, delivering an unrefined but naturally compelling train of dark thoughts. Riffs in Omens of Perdition are essentially melodies with few notes that constitute the bare-bone themes of the music, with nothing else but a bass unison and soft-punch, minimalist blast-beating drums.

These drums are played lightly but insistently, providing for emphasis on dynamics and accent in an application somewhat reminiscent of Paul Ledney’s style on Dethrone the Son of God by Havohej without the occasional flair. Rather than complement each other, the instrumentation in this music forms a total unison, even the percussion. Intensity varies evenly, changes affect all instruments towards the same side of the spectrum. When arriving at the slowest and vastest, the music may even exhibit silences on the drums, while huge guitar power chords roar as the drums only mark accents, reminding one of certain parts of Skepticism’s Stormcrowfleet.

Songs alternate thematic riffs that run over mirroring, enhancing drums, with scantly-clad doomy statements covered by a mantle of skeletal power chords. To the detriment of this otherwise quite satisfying music, what effaces the identity of individual songs (and of the release and band itself) is the complete lack of obvious climaxes. We can also take this as both the strength and willing limitation of Condemner, which presents a clear, solid monolithic picture. This steadiness may allow the author to draw an abstract parallel with J.S. Bach’s fugal writing for the keyboard or chorales.

While there doesn’t seem to be any particular goal in Condemner Omens of Perdition, the straight-forward treatment is accompanied by an inconspicuously dexterous development of themes. This in itself is more than could be wished as a saving grace. It becomes both a protection of higher music from the pop-hook addicts and a mystical gateway which opens up through direct intuitional experience to he who is listening.