Naðra – Allir Vegir Til Glötunar (2016)

nadra

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)

vargstuhr

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)

Condemner - Omens of Perdition - cover

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.

David Rosales’ Expectations for 2016

condor3

Article (obviously) by David Rosales

Five years have elapsed since 2010, a year that seemed to mark a slight renewal in creative forces, a kind of premonition of a metal renaissance that came after 15 years of horrid decadence following the decease of black metal as a movement. By 2013 this force was still incipient but already showed potential for future development as acts with more refined views about composition grounded themselves in tradition, promising to build monuments to a past glory for future times. Musicians from the metal underground’s classical era also formed the bulk of this rebirth, either through perfection or purification of their own take on the art.

The last two years have seen a manner of steady output that is weakened in quantity of quality releases, little manifest presence to speak of, with a few exceptions. The same can be said of the years between 2010 and 2013. This seems to be in accordance with a 3-year pendulum swing as the small cycle of metal. The long one probably signaling stronger points of birth and decay – probably decades: 1970-birth, 1980-underground, 1990-golden era, 2000-dark ages, 2010-renaissance.

It was a different time, and when Slayer, Metallica and Iron Maiden were doing their thing at the beginning of the 1980s, metal was also at a mainstream high with many poopoo acts dominating the scene. When mainstream metal drowns in its filth at the end of the decade and the 90s leave them with unmetal metal like Pantera or Soundgarden is when the underground rears its head in greater numbers.This coincides a little with what is happening now, as nu-funderground and mainstream whoring like female-fronted so-called metal flourishes in numbers just as the shock rock and glam metal (hard rock) plague in the time of Slayer.

To make matters more complicated, we have the internet, along with other means of communication and technology that allow for pockets of both good and bad music to survive with less regard to overall trends. Metal is not yet at another apocalyptic end of an era like the one that saw the explosion of death metal, we may have to wait another decade for that, but there is rise not dissimilar to the rise of underground NWOBHM and soon after speed metal. The next ebbing of the tide is at hand, but not yet its climax. What changes is not the fact that there is or there isn’t more mainstream crap, but how much excellent underground music there is. The year 1990 was a very special time marker that signaled the advent of a climax low for the mainstream and climax high for the underground.

Now, that we posit the existence of such critical years does not mean that no excellent albums occur outside of them, but that there is a sort of genre-wide, or community-wide, perhaps, pulse that pushes general tendencies. Now, according to this idea, the next “big year” in the small cycle would be 2016. Below we give an overview of these so-called big years and some band releases we are looking forward to this year.

What are your expectations in metal releases in 2016?


A quick reference to distinguished metal works in the ‘pulse’ years. Not especially comprehensive.

 

1971:

  • Black Sabbath – Master of Reality

1974: (Not really metal, Black Sabbath is WAY ahead)

  • Deep Purple – Stormbringer
  • Rush – Rush
  • King Crimson – Red (Editor’s note: Probably closer in spirit to future metal than others)

1977:

  • Judas Priest – Sin After Sin
  • Motörhead – Motörhead

1980:

  • Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden
  • Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell
  • Angel Witch – Angel Witch
  • Cirith Ungol – Cirith Ungol

1983:

  • Metallica – Kill ‘Em All
  • Slayer – Show No Mercy
  • Iron Maiden – Piece of Mind
  • Mercyful Fate – Melissa
  • Manilla Road – Crystal Logic
  • Manowar – Into Glory Ride

1986:

  • Slayer – Reign in Blood
  • Metallica – Master of Puppets
  • Kreator – Pleasure to Kill
  • Morbid Angel – Abominations of Desolation
  • Sepultura – Morbid Visions
  • Fates Warning – Awaken the Guardian
  • Candlemass – Epicus Doomicus Metallicus

1989:

  • Sepultura – Beneath the Remains
  • Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness
  • Bolt Thrower – Realm of Chaos
  • Voivod – Nothingface
  • Helstar – Nosferatu
  • Powermad – Absolute Power
  • Rigor Mortis – Freaks
  • Pestilence – Consuming Impulse

1992:

  • Burzum – Burzum
  • At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
  • Demigod – Slumber of Sullen Eyes
  • Morpheus Descends – Ritual of Infinity
  • Therion – Beyond Sanctorum
  • Sinister – Cross the Styx
  • Amorphis – The Karelian Isthmus
  • Deicide – Legion
  • Incantation – Onward to Golgotha
  • Atrocity – Longing for Death
  • Autopsy – Mental Funeral
  • Cadaver – …In Pains
  • Asphyx – Last One on Earth
  • Cenotaph – The Gloomy Reflections of Our Hidden Sorrows
  • Darkthrone – A Blaze in the Northern Sky
  • Emperor – Wrath of the Tyrant
  • Graveland – In the Glare of Burning Churches
  • Immortal – Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism
  • Sacramentum – Finis Malorum

1995:

  • Skepticism – Stormcrowfleet
  • Suffocation – Pierced from Within
  • Vader – De Profundis
  • Gorgoroth – The Antichrist
  • Graveland – Thousand Swords
  • Summoning – Minas Morgul
  • Deicide – Once Upon the Cross
  • Sacramentum – Far Away from the Sun
  • Immortal – Battles in the North
  • Abigor – Nachthymmen (From the Twilight Kingdom)
  • Funeral – Tragedies
  • Dissection – Storm of the Light’s Bane
  • Iced Earth – Burnt Offerings

1998:

  • Gorguts – Obscura
  • Vader – Black to the Blind
  • Incantation – Diabolical Conquest
  • Dawn – Slaughtersun
  • Sorcier des Glaces – Snowland
  • Angelcorpse – Exterminate
  • Blind Guardian – Nightfall in Middle-Earth
  • Symphony X – Twilight of the Gods
  • Rhapsody – Symphony of Enchanted Lands
  • Suffocation – Despise the Sun
  • Absurd – Asgardsrei
  • Soulburn – Feeding on Angels
  • Arghoslent – Galloping Through the Battle Ruins
  • Master – Faith is in Season
  • Skepticism – Lead and Aether

2001:

  • Gorguts – From Wisdom to Hate
  • Absu – Tara
  • Martyr – Extracting the Core
  • Lost Horizon – Awakening the World
  • Deeds of Flesh – Mark of the Legion
  • Averse Sefira – Battle’s Clarion
  • Graveland – Raise Your Sword!
  • Krieg – The Black Plague

2004:

  • Avzhia – The Key of Throne
  • Quo Vadis – Defiant Imagination

2007:

  • Blotted Science – The Machinations of Dementia

2010:

  • Avzhia – In My Domains
  • Krieg – The Isolationist
  • Burzum – Belus
  • Divine Eve – Vengeful and Obstinate
  • Atlantean Kodex – The Golden Bough
  • Graveland – Cold Winter Blades
  • Profanatica – Disgusting Blasphemies Against God
  • Autopsy – The Tomb Within
  • Overkill – Iron Bound
  • Decrepitaph – Beyond the Cursed Tombs

2013:

  • Black Sabbath – 13
  • Condor – Nadia
  • Graveland – Thunderbolts of the Gods
  • Satan – Life Sentence
  • Argus – Beyond the Martyrs
  • Autopsy – Headless Ritual
  • Profanatica – Thy Kingdom Cum
  • Imprecation – Satanae Tenebris Infinita

2016:

  • Condor?
  • Sammath?
  • Zealotry?
  • Deströyer 666? (Editor’s note: I have my doubts about this one’s possible… transcendence)
  • Vektor?
  • Voivod?
  • Summoning?
  • Graveland?

Rambo’s Top 10 Underground Metal Songs

first blood part 2

Rambo swung by and talked metal over a couple of beers this week. A now spirit-broken idealist, Rambo expressed his concerns for the sad state of modern life in the cities. I could not miss the palpable misanthropy in his tone as he crushed cans with one hand describing the faint-heartedness of limp-bodied SJWs.

10. Sepultura – Sarcastic Existence

There are no friendly civilians!

9. Marduk – Fistfucking Gods Planet

Don’t look at me, look at the road! That’s how accidents happen.

8. Heresiarch – Intransingent

Is there a law against me getting something to eat here?

7. Fallen Christ – Satanas

I’m no tourist.

6. Black Sabbath – Nightmare

Your worst nightmare.

5. Metallica – Fade To Black

Sir, do we get to win this time?

4. Immolation – Those Left Behind

They’re all gone Sir.

3. Blood – Defaced Total Mutilation

I’ve got blood and everything and I’m tryin’ to hold him together! I’m puttin’… the guy’s fuckin’ insides keep coming out!

2. Rigor Mortis – Welcome to Your Funeral

I could have killed ’em all, I could’ve killed you. In town you’re the law, out here it’s me. Don’t push it! Don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe. Let it go. Let it go!!

1. Amebix – Drink and be Merry

For me civilian life is nothing! In the field we had a code of honor, you watch my back, I watch yours. Back here there’s nothing!

Death Metal Underground’s Best Albums of 2015

It took some time, but despite the deluge of content constantly bombarding us and aspiring metal fans worldwide, we’ve been able to reach some level of consensus on 2015’s worthwhile metal music. Not to say that we’re in perfect harmony (If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll note that there’s some room for dissonance in our musical language), but the hope is, like what our recent reinspection of 2013 revealed, that some of this material remains interesting for more than the year it was released.


 

Album of the Year
Kaeck
Stormkult

A wrathful reminder of what war metal should have been: a melodically-structured, chromatic holocaust to the god of this world. Jan Kruitwagen’s leads awe listeners and are optimally placed to hold attention just as each rhythm riff runs its course. An impenetrable mix rewards repeated listening to an album that may surpass Kruitwagen’s work on Sammath’s Godless Arrogance. March to Kaeck’s martial heartbeat or revel in shit.

Reviews:

 

Recommended Albums

 

Desecresy
Stoic Death

Bolt Thrower meets ritualistic black metal. Rather than cathartic bending into climactic oriental leads, Desecresy diffuse tension by methodically varying into bizarre melodies with carefully placed, otherworldly leads to a steady metronome.
Mid-paced riffing in the style of Bolt Thrower builds tension with melody and drifts off into space with variations and well placed leads. Where Bolt Thrower themselves shoot a rifle at the ballon using rhythmic change to introduce another riff or dramatically bending the riff into a climactic, oriental short solo, Desecresy insert ritualistic blackened leads for dramatic contrast with the rhythmic, power chord riffing.

Review and Interview:

 

Tau Cross
Tau Cross

Rob Miller returns from blacksmithing to his previous metallic occupation with an album of catchy post-punk in Motorhead and Metallica song formats. Thankfully free of the Godsmack and other MTV influences present on Amebix’s swansong.

Review:

 

Worthwhile releases

 

Cóndor
Duin

An effective album of mid-paced death and heavy metal riffing. There is no psychedelic rock pretending to be Black Sabbath “doom” here. Highly structured; the opposite of the random tossed riff salads of most modern metal. This band takes an approach more like that of classical guitarists toward melding death metal with progressive rock, blues, folk and other influences: it mixes them in serially and adopts them within the style, rather than hybridizing the two styles.

In other words, most bands that try to sound like progressive death metal try to act like a progressive rock band playing death metal, or a death metal band playing progressive rock. Cóndor takes an approach more like that of musicians in the past, which is to adopt other voices within its style, so that it creates essentially the same material but works in passages that show the influence of other thought.

Reviews and Interview:

 

Morpheus Descends
From Blackened Crypts

This vinyl 7” single features two new, well constructed death metal songs from one of from one of the few truly underrated bands in the genre. Those foresighted enough to purchase the identically-titled CD boxed set version received the band’s entire catalog in one of the rare remasters that sounds better than the original releases.

Interviews:

 

Motorhead
Bad Magic

One last Motorhead album of mostly Motorhead songs. Nothing “new” is introduced for those in the non-metal audience who disdain metal and wish to feel intellectually superior to the common headbanger. The final work from a relentless machine of a band.

Review:

 

Reissues

 

Grotesque
In the Embrace of Evil
Immolation
Dawn of Possession (Listenable Records)
Order From Chaos
Frozen in Steel (Nuclear War Now! Productions)
Carbonized
For the Security
Sammath
Strijd
Arghoslent
Arsenal of Glory and Galloping Through the Battle Ruins (Drakkar productions)
Blasphemy
Fallen Angel of Doom (Nuclear War Now! Productions)
Gorguts
Obscura

 

Those Left Behind
Zom
Flesh Assimilation

Crusty death metal of the better than braindead Benediction but worse than Cancer category.

Satan
Atom by Atom

I’ve possibly heard too much but Hanger 18. I know too much. Although not as degradingly vulgar as Surgical Steel, Atom by Atom results in a pretty tacky affair. Vocals are as emotional as in the first album, except that in here they seem even more disconnected from the music as the music veers into some sort of progressive speed metal akin to Helstar’s. (Editor’s note: I liked it, but David Rosales was critical)

Sarpanitum
Blessed Be My Brothers

The band shows promise with their Unique Leader-style rhythmic riffing and soaring heavy metal leads. While being above par for technical deaf metal, aping a different one of your heroes every few verses doesn’t make for particularly enjoyable repeated listening.

House of Atreus
The Spear and the Ichor that Follows

Fredrik Nordstrom’s Arghoslent.

Denner/Sherman
Satan’s Tomb

Technical power metal carnival music.

Iron Maiden
The Book of Souls

Nobody is allowed to edit themselves or turn on their bullshit filters in Steve Harris’s band anymore (Read a full review here).

Kjeld
Skym

Kvist meets the randomness of metalcore. Indistinct riffing and songwriting mix with pointless shoutout verses to past greats that makes listeners wonder why they aren’t just playing Sodom and Mayhem in the first place.

Malthusian
Below the Hengiform

Where are the riffs?

Throaat
Black Speed

Every Teutonic speed metal band gone Voltron.

Ares Kingdom
The Unburiable Dead

The band has no need to repeat half the song just so the guitarist can get over his refractory period and play another solo. This is also an extremely distracted riff salad in which the individual riffs can be brought in from sources as different as galloping power metal to thrashy death metal to alternative nu and groove “metal”. This is headbang-core for beer metallers and other social metalheads. This recording received two reviews in 2015.

Obsequaie
Aria of Vernal Tombs

A collection of interesting renaissance faire riffs written into songs that quickly wear out their welcome as metal, becoming RPG background music.

Sarcasm
Burial Dimensions

A few strong songs on a demo do not warrant a two CD set of Swedish death with limpid keyboards anticipating the steps black metal took towards mainstream goth rock in the late nineties.

Mgla
Exercises in Futility

This is the type of black metal as repetitive rock music that ignorant hipsters will praise as “ritualistic”. The album’s title sums the quality of its musical content: futile. (Editor’s note: I wanted to give this album a chance. It didn’t age well.)

Horrendous
Anareta

Gothenburg cheese and Meshuggah licks are less appetizing than a lead-laced Mexican lollipop.

Cruciamentum
Charnel Passages

Grave Miasma returns. This time with 1993’s atmosphere.

Crypt Sermon
Out of the Garden

Candlemass meets Soundgarden.

Vorum
Current Mouth

Every Teutonic speed metal band gone Voltron.

Exhumation
Opus Death

Solid underground metal in the spirit of Sarcofago that is perfectly well-written but does not amount to more than the sum of its parts; does not conjure up any long-lasting message.

Pureblood Albums – A 2013 Recap

office-space-machine-beating

Article by David Rosales

As another year ends and a new one begins, many “best of” lists pop up here and there, among them our own here at DMU. While others may be eager to know about what is ever new, we are more interested in what stands the test of time. Today we will look at some albums that were highlighted here as the foremost products of the year 2013, which was a year of renewal, great comebacks, startling discoveries and a general wellspring of inspiration. In the opinion of this writer, 2013 has been the best year for metal in the 21st century.


To start off, we shall pay respects to long-lasting acts with a black metal background, namely Graveland, Summoning and Burzum. While the last has left the metal camp for good, its approach and spirit is still very much enriched by the essence of the deepest metal infused with transcendental values. Summoning is still doing their thing, ever evolving, trying a different permutation of their unique style. Fudali’s project has become the warrior at the frontlines of the strongest nationalism grounded in music that uplifts the heart with an authentic battle feeling (as opposed to those other bands playing funny-jumpy rock and acting all “dangerous”).

burzum-sol_austan_mani_vestan

Sôl austan, Mâni vestan is an ambient affair that uses short loops which revolve around clear themes in each track. The approach is a little formulaic, thereby limiting the experience with a feeling of repetition. However, as with many good works of art, this self-imposed canalization serves to speed the result in a direction. As with a lot of Burzum’s work, this is a concept album that must be listened to as a whole. When this is followed and one stops looking for novelty and instead concentrates on the details that bring variation within the familiar landscape, the somewhat arduous experience brings great rewards once the summit is reached and the journey is taken more than once.

summoning-old_mornings_dawn

Something similar can be said of the slightly pop-minded Old Mornings Dawn. This effort by Summoning certainly lacks the density of their masterpiece, Dol Guldur, but is no less effective, although perhaps shallow. But what isn’t shallow when compared to that masterpiece? As with every Summoning album, Old Mornings Dawn has a very separate personality, and in this case, it is one of heroism, light, regeneration and hope. Something that will never leave the band’s trademark sound is the deep feeling of melancholy and longing for ruins.

Thunderbolts_front2013_

Graveland materializes in Thunderbolts of the Gods one of their most warlike efforts to date in a smooth trajectory that has gone from rough-pagan to long-winded and epic to heroic war music. What raises this offering above others in Fudali’s current trend is the awesome bringing forth of destructive energies mustered in the imposing drumwork. Gone are the clumsy rhythms of Cold Winter Blades and the redneckish tone of the (nonetheless great) album Following the Voice of Blood. This is the technically polished and spirit-infused summit of this face of Graveland.

black_sabbath-13

One of the most deserving releases of 2013 was Black Sabbath’s 13. More expectations could not have been placed on anyone else. Yet the godfathers of metal delivered like the monarchs they are: with original style, enviable grace, magnificent strength and latent power. Along with the last three albums just mentioned, this album shows itself timeless in the present metal landscape. It encompasses all that it is metal, and brings it back to its origin. This is an absolute grower which will age like the finest wine and is, in my opinion, the album of the year of 2013.

profanatica-thy_kingdom_cum

In 2013, Profanatica finally achieved amazing distinction with Thy Kingdom Cum, which can be considered the fully developed potential of what Ledney presented in the thoroughly enjoyable Dethrone the Son of God under the Havohej moniker. To say this is the natural outcome of Profanatica’s past work is as true as it is misleading in its implications. This is not just a continuation of what the band was doing before, but a deliberate step, a clear decision in the clear change in texture quality that means the world in such minimalist music where a simple shift in technique or modal approach defines most of the character of the music.

condor-nadia

Cóndor’s Nadia was probably the hidden pearl of the year. Never mind the metaphor of the “diamond in the rough”, there is nothing rough about this. It is polished, but it is hidden. The shy face of this beautiful lady is covered by a veil that turns away the unworthy, the profane! This is immortal metal artwork which to uninitiated eyes and ears seems but like the simple, perhaps even amateur, collection of Sabbathian cliches and tremolo excuses of an unexperienced band. The knowledgeable and contemplating metal thinker recognizes the Platonic forms under the disfigured shapes.

imprecation-shirt-satanae_tenebris_infinita

Imprecation’s Satanae Tenebris Infinita and Blood Dawn by Warmaster draw our attention to the strong presence of a more humble but profoundly (though not obviously) memorable album and EP. These will stand the chance of time, but will not necessarily remain strong in the mind of a listener in a way that he feels compelled to come back to them often.

von-dark_gods_seven_billion_slaves

Dark Gods, Seven Billion Slaves by VON seemed more enticing at the time. It’s definitely a solid release, but it is however a very thinly populated album with more airtime than content. Whatever content it has is also not particularly engaging. The enjoyability of this one is a much more subjective affair and like a soundtrack is more dependent on extra-musical input from the listener’s imagination.

argus-beyond_the_martyrs

As delightful as the three heavy metal albums Argus Beyond The Martyrs, Blitzkrieg Back From Hell and Satan are, the intrinsic qualities of their selected subgenres makes them a difficult candidate for long-lasting and profound impact. That is not to say they have no lasting value. If anything, these are albums one can come back a thousand times and perhaps they will not grow that much, but they will never truly grow old.

headless_ritual_large

Autopsy’s Headless Ritual is one of the strongest yet most understated albums of the year. The extremely rough character of the music may contribute to how it carelessly it can be left behind. Fans of brutal music will find it little different from the rest and will quickly forget it. Fans of wider expressions and deeper thoughts will pass it by with little interest. Such is the tragedy of this very respectable album.

master-the_witchhunt

A few stragglers in this group; Master’s The Witchhunt, Centurian’s Contra Rationem, Derogatory’s Above All Else, and Rudra’s RTA proved to be more impact and potential than manifest presence. These will remain fun and quaint for a very occasional listen, perhaps even a sort of throwback feeling, but lacking the long-lasting impact of others in this list.

empyrium-into_the_pantheon-cover

A special mention is deserved by Into the Pantheon, the essential synthesis of Empyrium, being their most revealing, powerful and clear release. While not outwardly metal, this live recording everything that is to be metal at the level of character and spirit. As such it is the perfect closing note for this recapitulation and reevaluation of past selections.

Skepticism – Ordeal (2015)

skepticism_ordeal

Our previous editor got his hands on some version of Ordeal and was not particularly fond of it; in particular he criticized it for being “self-referential” and lacking in well thought out composition. In doing so he cast a great shadow over my hopes for this album, but one I could not even acknowledge until I had listened for myself and determined whether or not his criticisms were accurate. It was a very persuasive argument in the mean time; the very title of the album, the fact it contained two rerecordings of previous Skepticism tracks, the gimmicky recording technique, and so forth come together to predict validity without actually being sufficient indication of the contents within.

Actually listening to the album immediately put me into mind of one major lesson I derive from my own personal review efforts: I respond more quickly to music that reminds me of my own efforts as a musician, and Skepticism with their funeral doom style is the antithesis of myself. While my experience with the band’s previous efforts is limited, their particular take on the subgenre is still interesting on some level, as their overall choice of tonality and instrumentation seems to absorb all the doom and depression one might expect and replace it with the musical equivalent of barren, but sublime natural landscapes – mountain peaks, desert canyons, and so forth. That’s the ideal, at least; given that Ordeal‘s sloth makes it superficially resemble ambient music, and that plenty of both metal and ambient musicians turn towards Earth’s ecosystems for inspiration, it seems a reasonable goal. Still, something deeper and more fundamental wasn’t clicking, and in an attempt to more quickly absorb the structures of this album into my mind, I turned to pitch-shifting algorithms.

While playing Ordeal at three times its intended speed ended up making everything sound daft, it helped to reveal the underlying structures of Skepticism’s music. It turns out that, at least from a mathematical perspective, these compositions are definitely janky, as they are full of sudden shifts to subtly different material at odd intervals. In a style as slow and orderly as this, that seems a poor fit and makes for anything but an organic approach. This exercise also suggested, rather more sinisterly, that Skepticism’s compositions are perhaps assembled at a higher speed and then stretched out as necessary to create longer tracks. While I can’t confirm anything about how the music was constructed, I would not be fretting about it so much if the end result was not held back by its own awkwardness, and if the laggardly tempos didn’t make appreciating any musical moments a chore.

Since the rest of the band’s discography is at least superficially similar to this, I can at least extend Skepticism a hearty congratulations for making me doubt the value of the rest of their discography. That, if anything, is a (dubious) honor, but hardly one worthy of praise.

Cruciamentum – Charnel Passages (2015)

Cruciamentum - Charnel Passages (2015)
AKA Unholy Cult II. I suppose it would be unreasonable to ask Cruciamentum’s full length debut after several years of formative demos, EPs, and a brief period of disunion not to be instrumentally refined and polished as crystal clear as death metal allows; I reference Immolation’s 2002 effort not because Charnel Passages is a clear aesthetic match for it (although both are more melodic than the usual straight-ahead DM while not quite qualifying for the “melodic” buzzword), but the sense of rising formulas that could very well strangle any band.

What bugs me most about Charnel Passages is that Cruciamentum is competent. The members know how to construct lengthy, relatively varied death metal songs that avoid the worst excesses of the random and nonsensical. This puts them far ahead of most of the disorganized or simply flat acts out there. Presumably, their study of various greats in the genre has taught them how to construct riffs, drum patterns, song sections from their various influences and recombine them as desired. While they lean primarily on the percussive, rhythmically complex style of the old New York death metal scene, there are tinges of so many other contributors to death metal scattered throughout. These are minuscule at best and don’t draw much attention to their incongruities unless the listener is actively searching for them. Ultimately, it works in the band’s favor, and these incorporated influences showcase them as knowledgeable musicians passionate about their beloved death metal recordings and able to assemble new tracks with no major flaws in their construction.

However, Charnel Passages fails to rise beyond this level of stewardship. It is as if they are so devoted to imitating the great moments of the past that they are unable to build off them. In the process of listening to this album for review, I was constantly bombarded with moments where I found a transition slightly jarring, a breakdown slightly overblown, a blasting section more out of obligation than of narrative strength. Were I less attentive, I would probably not notice these, but they would still gradually push me away and towards proven classics. As a result, while it probably meets the average listener’s standards and will force its way onto many a best-of list of 2015, I expect it to be condemned to obscurity in the long run, popping up occasionally in internet discussions of “lost gems of the 2010s”. If it weren’t so close to being a good record, this wouldn’t be as much of a tragedy.

To be honest, it’s possible I may end up giving Cruciamentum the benefit of the doubt in the long run. Critics have been known to double back on their old opinions from time to time, and considering its level of quality, Charnel Souls seems like the sort of album I could change my position on very easily.

Kaeck – Stormkult (2015) – Another Perspective

Kaeck - Stormcult (2015); another variant of the cover art

Kaeck has received quite the buzz from other contributors to this site, which was actually how I discovered it. It turns out that this is one of the best black metal releases I’ve heard since Sorcier des Glaces’ The Puressence of Primitive Forests in 2011. It’s not the most accurate comparison since this is a significantly more violent and melodramatic album (Puressence, for all its strengths, is candy-coated), but I digress.

Stormkult belongs to an especially claustrophobic school of black metal, with its bassy production and keyboard soundscapes. Of all the instruments, though, the vocal section was the first to particularly draw my attention. They are all over the place, and the constant variation of vocal technique is effective in distinguishing sections of songs and their corresponding moods. For some, these may take some acclimation; there are some particularly anguished screams and shouts that only avoid coming off as goofy or otherwise inappropriate through their scarcity and correspondence to climaxes in the rest of the songwriting. Since I can’t understand the Dutch these vocalists apparently perform, I have to pay special attention to how they use their voices as instruments, but I am thusly rewarded with the strength of their performances even if I can see some not enjoying the style.

Other parts of the recording are more conventional, although the dense soundscapes and keyboards tend to put me in mind of Emperor’s debut (In The Nightside Eclipse). Despite not being as overtly symphonic, the content here has a similar pacing of riff delivery – slower chord progressions over fast, if relatively unvariegated drumming; percussion is admittedly not the major emphasis here, although the drums are mixed prominently enough for this reality to reach my attention. There’s definitely room for more variety in the drumming without overemphasizing it and thusly creating awkward stylistic conflicts. Some more tempo shifts might’ve been helpful, too, as the album does seem to lean towards a theatrical, narrative style in other parts of its instrumentation, and a few well placed breaks can be very powerful. A more shrewdly degraded production might also help – Stormkult sounds almost crystal clear in spite of its overtures towards low fidelity, which suggests the latter may have been created by something as artificial as slicing out all the sounds above a certain frequency.

The positives here outweigh the negatives by a great margin, though; Kaeck’s approach on this album is fundamentally sound, although there is definitely room for refinement and greater sophistication if they choose to go forwards with future recordings. Those could potentially stand with the god-tier recordings we’ve enshrined here, but that Kaeck comes close to them makes me confident that they could reach that level with practice and effort. I write this knowing I have yet to finish penetrating Stormkult‘s depths, but an album that doesn’t surrender its secrets immediately is better than the alternative.


Author’s note: DMU has had access to this album for some time, but in light of its official physical release, I feel writing about my own experience with it is appropriate.