Pureblood Albums – A 2013 Recap

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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”).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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. 

PROCREATION set release date for new NUCLEAR WAR NOW! collection‏

Procreation - Incantations of Demonic Lust for Corpses of the Fallen (2015) - Cover art

These contemporaries of seminal Canadian act Blasphemy are seeing another release of their demos. Incantations of Demonic Lust for Corpses of the Fallen contains both their original demos (1990’s “Rebirth Into Evil” and 1991’s “Coming of Hate”) and was initially released in 2004. This re-release promises improved sound quality and will most likely be of interest to anyone who seeks to explore the Vancouver scene, or simply fans of early “primitive” death metal.

The record label offered this statement:

In the years since its inception in the late 1980s, the cryptically-named Ross Bay Cult has earned a degree of reverence and mystique that is arguably unequaled by other scenes in death/black metal history in terms of its contributions of both music and legend. While the band most commonly referenced as the face of this British Columbian horde is undoubtedly the notorious Blasphemy, others such as Witches Hammer and Procreation shared members and/or stages with them and made significant impacts of their own. Procreation’s morbid tenure in this cult dated from 1989 until 1993, and although they suffered some defections in their ranks over the years, they maintained a steady nucleus throughout and played numerous live shows in the Vancouver area with the likes of Blasphemy, Tumult, Armoros, Nuclear Assault, Anvil, and Forced Entry.

Although Procreation did not survive long enough to unleash upon the masses a full-length album that demonstrated the primitive amalgam of death metal that pervaded their live rituals, they did leave in their wake two demos that were professionally recorded at the same Fiasco Brothers Studio also desecrated by Blasphemy. Both of these recordings, Rebirth into Evil and Coming of Hate (from 1990 and 1991, respectively), provide evidence that the Vancouver metal scene of the time was anything but one-dimensional. In contrast to the speed metal attack of Witches Hammer and the bestial black metal of Blasphemy, Procreation’s demos can best be characterized as a purposefully non-technical, mid-paced death metal that at times resembles a record cut to vinyl at 45 RPM that is being played at 33 RPM, perhaps mistakenly, but to greater effect. With all songs clocking in between the two- to four-minute range and with a dearth of gratuitous guitar leads, Procreation ignored the perceived need that many bands felt to build as much complexity into death metal as possible. Instead, they relied on a simple and straightforward but successful prescription of steady rhythms and riffs that prove their worth by gradually dismembering the listener, piece by piece.

Set for international release on October 1st via Nuclear War Now! Productions, the CD version of Incantations of Demonic Lust for Corpses of the Fallen includes both of Procreation’s demos in their entirety. For this second pressing, the audio has been remastered by James Plotkin to improve sound quality, while still succeeding to maintain the raw integrity of the original recordings. Additionally, this release once again features the demonic artwork of Wes Gauley, which serves as a fitting visual complement to the possessed nature of the sound that once stalked the Vancouver area and will continue to fester undead with the circulation of this compilation. Cover and tracklisting are as follows:

Tracklisting for Procreation’s Incantations of Demonic Lust for Corpses of the Fallen
1. Intro
2. Morbid Reality
3. Caking Blood
4. Afterlife
5. Darkest Force
6. Tomb of Assyria
7. Darkest Force
8. Rebirth into Evil
9. The Coming of Hate
10. Tomb of Assyria

Triguna – Embryonic Forms (2015)

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Triguna is a band that plays underground metal in that vague intersection between death metal, black metal and the phrasal speed metal of Slayer. Their independently-released Embryonic Forms is both an honest and musically-aware artistic offering that falls short for technical reasons. “Technical reasons” here should not be underestimated. The band’s instrumental skills are just enough to play he music they wrote, but it is the technical side of composition that is loose.

Technique in composition is believed by the populace to mean how many chord progressions and scale names you have memorized or how many contrasting sections you can pair up. In truth, what technical composition ideally affords is an experience and insight into musical forms, elements and their relations and effects along with historical reference points that help the composer distill the purest elements of music. Surely this can be derived by talented and innately perceptive musicians, but they are still building most things from the ground up.

To be fair, given Triguna’s apparent technical level, their decision to make varied yet deliberately dirty, simple and straightforward passages was a realistic one that allowed them to concentrate on the coherence of the pieces as wholes. So while individual sections, riffs or solos are not altogether overwhelming, the songs are solid, enjoyable and meaningful. Creating fulfilling whole music that is not minimalist, Embryonic Forms is a perfect example of the extreme case of a vision superseding technique to achieve a musical triumph. The album garners at least honourable mentions alongside the likes of Manilla Road or early The Chasm (not that I am equating them, just classifying them), and is very much recommended on my part.

Serpent Ascending – The Enigma Unsettled (2011)

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Showing up on the metal radar somewhere between the third Therion album and the single release that Winterwolf put out, The Enigma Unsettled combines Scandinavian death metal with the more nuanced paces of doom metal and the subtler harmonies of instrumentally adept heavy metal. The result creates an atmosphere like a more listener-friendly version of Darkthrone Goatlord, building rhythmic intensity that it discharges through the unraveling of several threads of melody into a final statement of clarity and purpose. Guitars vary between death metal styled tremolo riffing and heavy metal style percussive offbeat riffs, creating a tension like a feral beast racing over land and through water, but these integrate similar rhythmic purpose and avoid the disintegration of song into component parts. Vocals take the hoarse and chanted approach, sounding like the calls of a demonic entity through a wall of distortion; these are probably the immediately recognizable weakest link. Inventive song structures, familiar riffs in new styles, and a tendency to have all parts of the song relate to each other and through multiple layers at the same time make this a well-sought listening experience for underground metal fans.

Pilgrim’s progress

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I thoroughly enjoyed William Pilgrim’s “The postmodern Gorguts” for its list of metal attributes. For many years, writers have attempted to categorize metal and most commonly have ended up with a list of surface traits such as loud distortion, screaming, fast drums and occult lyrics. Pilgrim’s list looks at the compositional tendencies of metal that are consistent from proto-metal through black metal, and bears another analysis as separated from the topic of Gorguts, which is only ancillary to the question of metal itself. Thus follows his list:

The original idea, as metal goes, is as much structural as it is ideological. There are a few qualities that are common to how all true metal should be constructed.

  1. Melodic contiguity: All forms of metal, even the harshest strains, are inherently and recognizably melodic in nature. This means that the individual phrases that make up a metal song obey cohesiveness, as tenuous as it may seem at times. Though individual phrases are often in different keys, it is paramount that they share the same musical space.
  2. Movement towards a discernible and logical conclusion: This is the will to motion previously outlined in these pages. Metal’s roots in traditional story-telling with a beginning, a middle, and an end, are not to be forgotten in eager exchange of a need to experiment. There has to be a gradual ascent, or a plummet as it were, towards an ultimate punctuation. Though various approaches can be used towards achieving this, playing for time in false hope of creating mood, while using ideas containing little intrinsic worth, is anathema to metal.
  3. Rhythm section to assume a strong yet only supporting role: Metal is a predominantly lead-melody oriented form of music. Bass and drums are integral to creating a fuller sound but should only be viewed as swells on an ocean on top of which riffs and songs float. Often, swells rise and raise their load with them, but this hierarchy in relations is crucial and is to be preserved.
  4. Atmosphere created not through textural embellishments and quirks but as a by product of composition: All claim to that shady word “atmosphere” should come from immanent qualities in the way the music is written. Metal does not need overt experimentation with harmonics or tone if these asides are incapable of holding together on isolated inspection.
  5. Awareness that all forms of groove play to a far baser inclination in the mind’s analytical apparatus. They can be enjoyed on a case-by-case basis but are not something to be eagerly sought out or encouraged in metal.
  6. A keen comprehension of repetition as device: Repetition is to be used as steadily outward-growing eddies that take a song to a different place, yes, but one that maintains a tangible relation to the place left behind. Individual components within the repeating phrase should have some emotional consonance and not serve as mere padding.
  7. Conscious realization that metal is in fact composed music and not free jazz.

To insert a minor quibble, I disagree that metal is “ideological.” If anything, it is anti-ideological, being based in a harsh realism rather than a set of platitudes about Utopia, which seems to be the basis of all ideology to me. Metal is intensely artistic, and artists tend to have strong opinions, and from a distance this may look like ideology or even count as an ideology of sorts, but not in the modern sense, which means a series of appealing thoughts designed to mobilize mass approval and thus, political power. If metal has an ideology, it is an artistic outlook of a very general nature and not directed toward specific manipulations resulting in immediate real-world changes; rather, it hopes to condition the outlook of those who participate in it with the most general philosophies toward life itself.

By the same token, metal seems to me to less succumb to lists than a spirit which reflects this philosophy. Technique is a means to that end, and that we now live in an age when power chords and heavy distortion create a sense of foreboding of doom and insurgent power determines that these become the primal technique that unites all the others, like a drawstring bag around otherwise random artistic implements. Metal focuses on the union of harsh realism and intense mythology, because metal is fundamentally a worship of power and these are the greatest powers in human life. Only death is real, and yet people follow religions and hail the ancient stories. If metal has a goal, it is making realism into a kind of poetry, and it uses a series of techniques to that end that form its most visible component, but they are not in and of themselves the goal of the genre.

Let me then add my components of metal:

  1. Nihilism. The music must use the simplest and most gutter-level techniques possible when they are powerful.
  2. Through-composed. From Black Sabbath onward, metal bands have been stacking riffs to explode melodies.
  3. Guitar is lead rhythm. Songs are advanced by guitars, with drums/bass/vocals in supporting role.
  4. Phrasal riffs. Riffs use fills as main body of riff in order to create shapes which interact across key, time and form.
  5. Immanent meaning. No riff or part is the meaning, but the progression of the whole “reveals” meaning.

Any sensible observer will note that the above are simply less specific and more distilled versions of Pilgrim’s seven points above. His focus is more on specificity; mine more on spirit. And yet the two overlap and somehow hash out the same realistic truths about heavy metal. Metal is fundamentally anti-social music, in that it rejects “what everyone thinks” and experiences a downfall instead as it reverts to a nihilistic, literal, organic, materialistic and naturalistic level of reality. It rejects human society and all of its ideas, which are essentially pretense, in favor of harsh realism and mythological aims like beauty, truth, eternal love and eternal hate. I would argue that metal is conservative except for its constant forward focus, not toward “progress” but adventure.

As a result, I would argue that metal is impervious to both ideology and trends, since it consists solely of spirit and the aforementioned method. In fact, it takes no particular point of view, since its method must appear in all that it does. Thus metal is “spirit,” and will adapt to any developments in music, but since there have been none, it howevers around the intersection of the best humanity has produced so far — classical, modernist and baroque — using the techniques available to four guys, guitars, microphone and drums. This then leads us to a more vital question when examining metal, which is whether a band adopts this outlook and method through the question of what an adaptation of that method to the particular style of the band would look like. With post-metal, nu-metal, tech-death, metalcore and other modern metal, we find that missing and its opposite principle, the looping narrative of rock, instead.

Necrophor – Exterminatus (2015)

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Playing a black metal with structural tendencies that border on death metal, Necrophor delivers mid-paced songs grounded in orthodoxy in terms of technique and construction but taking the listener to unexpected places within this expression. The mid-paced characteristic of Exterminatus should be emphasized because this allows the band some leniency in regards to the types of riffs it will use. We find a very few chug-based moments that are just enough to serve as a neck between sections and only as accompaniment for measured time spans. We also find the typical moving minor chords that have become a staple of black metal. Strummed sections, slight tremolos, picked chords also make an appearance in this release.

 

Necrophor’s composition capabilities cannot be overstated in regards to the way all these techniques are integrated as hues in the artist’s arsenal. Too often do we see bands falling and depending on a particular technique to automatically provide the music with all it needs. Necrophor, on the other hand, are using the techniques to mold a vision that has been captured in the mind’s eye first. It isn’t only a matter of planning and intention, the technical capabilities of the band as arrangers are absolutely necessary for the elements in these songs to blend as they do. Exterminatus represents an excellent example of a band creating music inside to outside, not only because of the way these techniques were brought together to shape the music, but because they also seem to revolve around one point, a mood that changes character naturally and never too abruptly. A release that will definitely fly over most heads because of the production style not fulfilling brutality requirements and not being frost-bitten enough, or for the musical style not being close enough to a clone of a classic or a complete trashing of influences, Exterminatus is one of the most artistically accomplished releases I have had the pleasure of listening to from 2015.

 

On The Underrating of Recognized Classics

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Two of the most pervasive topics in metal are the “underrating” and the “overrating” of a band or album. Given that most people are prone to confuse their emotional attachment to music with a sign of its quality, most of these claims are specious complaints that reflect the need for acknowledgement from other people as a fan more than anything else. Claims of “underratement” usually occur in regards to cult bands, and less often, to personal favorites that should be recognized by each fan as a mere guilty pleasure. Statements of “overrating”, then, comprehensibly come about when a disgruntled fan wants to bash any band that does not appeal to him, independently of the reason.

 

However, when leveled as a result of balanced, informed and insightful judgement, these observations become meaningful in that they have solid foundation and a motivation outside selfish emotional need for attention. Contrary to popular opinion, these arguments only need to be based on objective observations but need not be objective in the full sense of the word themselves. The reason for this is that the concepts of objectivity and subjectivity represent a false dichotomy inapplicable in the context of art appreciation. Appreciation rests outside any single preference, it always lies outside the emotional reaction of any one person, but is nonetheless attached to a social group’s set of principles. And principles are a human construct, not tangible, objective reality. In other words, it entails the individual perception through the lenses of convention of objectively observed qualities.

 

Art appreciation can be reduced to the appreciation of beauty. The concept of beauty has always been a complicated one, and like anything complicated, it gets reduced to the absurd by small minds that feel the need to fool themselves into believing they have everything under control. A sense of what is beautiful rests on what is considered to be good taste. The nature of both beauty and taste is neither objective nor subjective. If it were objective, beauty would be a hard, flat fact measurable by scientific instruments, and not the esoteric – perhaps mystical – sign existing completely and individually in meaning, perception and medium but also in the whole of an object, all at the same time. A divine omnia in omnibus, as it were, perceptible to the unconscious but only vaguely grasped by the conscious as an ethereal idea. The duality that implies being human,  having one eye on time and the other on eternity. On the other hand, if it were subjective, it would be completely pointless to talk about beauty or taste, as these would be demoted to euphemisms for what is simply our personal preference.

 

It is therefore, unsurprising that beauty is sometimes linked to the presence of the divine, and therefore of that which is natural, full of meaning and in balance. Again, simplified misconceptions come to distort each of these and in an increasingly individualist society that is just so for the sake of individualism itself, renders them powerless, trapped in small containers as catchwords for egotistical affectations. In other words, beauty has indeed been stripped from its cosmic framework and taste has become personal rather than communal. Both have lost any of the usefulness they had for communication of hermetic meaning.

 

This egotistical individualism is deeply entrenched in group-oriented thinking, paradoxically self-indulging as it is unoriginal and lacking in personal identity. This is to be expected since unthinking compliance to the system goes hand in hand with a deep-rooted cowardice of the mind. So, taking refuge in the rise of science, humanism and tacit nihilism, our brave new world does away with meaning as it has forgotten why man created it in the first place. Our modern society, contemptibly lacking in any courage to face reality and the pressing matters of our times, turns away from an understanding of the transcendent in favor of self-validation.

 

Art and its appreciation suffer first in this headlong plunge into the shadows. The reason for this is that art (artificial) arises entirely from man-given meaning. The greatest art has always had the power to communicate and bring forth an awareness of enduring meaning through individually-perceived universal truths of the human condition. Forsaking the use of any actual meaning in beauty, and consequently in art, music becomes a vulgar tool for individual satisfaction.

 

While quiet deference is directed towards names like Yes, King Crimson, Black Sabbath, Slayer, Bathory or Morbid Angel, my experience tells me that most fans who hold these bands in some kind of respect do not understand half of the reasons why these bands are great. The case of directly disrespected and underrated but equally excellent art like that of selected works of Burzum or early At the Gates is a different although related matter into which I will not go here. In the meantime, let’s turn our attention to canonical works of the metal underground.

 

It seems rather unfortunate that after achieving canonical status in any genre, a classic work is condemned to be defiled in two stages. The first is one in which the cause and effect relationship between being a classic and achieving canonical status is not inverted but flattened, the popular conception of the relationship between the terms being one of equality and interchangeability. Something then happens as a direct consequence of this misunderstanding along with an ignorance of the nature of classical works at several levels. In this second stage the distorted image of what being a canonical work implies is rightly questioned, resulting in an at least partial repudiation of their validity. The term classic is then also demoted into a euphemism for “what many/most people like”. Equating popularity with quality in art is a direct consequence of the loss of meaning discussed earlier.

 

This is why it is important to clarify what is originally meant by classical. It is closest to the condition of being an epitome, except that this latter term is neutral and can signify an accurate representation of the qualities of a group or classification. Classical refers to the highest degree of excellence in regards to quality, which implies distinction, perfect balance and adequacy in a work within its genre. Disquieting as the perversion of this concept is, simple and effective education coupled with the audience’s willingness to let go of their ego would be enough to remedy this situation. As with many things, it is easier said than done.

 

An additional third stage also bears mentioning which can then be appended to the steps in the process of decay in the perception of classic works. After the flattening and disavowal of the aforementioned terms has taken place in the collective mind, a confusion ensues which brings forth the nominating of undeserving artists or works into what used to be a pantheon of the gods. As I see it, there are two main ways in which this happens. The first was already mentioned, very popular works are inserted into the lists by virtue of their popularity itself. The other is the result of the backlash classic works receive from the lack of understanding towards their classic status. The original and true classics are reduced by a narrow-minded audience with a lack of depth perception to a collection of tropes to be imitated. A collateral effect of this in metal is that after a certain amount of time, since the audience cannot understand what a classic actually is, seniority is equated with relevance and quality, and then novelty is equally mistaken for innovation.

 

Without control or awareness, these things happened lightning-fast in progressive rock and metal, accounting for the extremely fast evolution of metal genres running away from the mainstream limelight and into increasingly obscure territories. Giants like King Crimson, Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer and Genesis were then piled up with second-raters from all over the world. Nowadays it is customary to see Rush, Camel or Jethro Tull mentioned besides the first. Childish and musically wanting works belonging to the catalogues of Schuldiner’s Death and Cannibal Corpse even take precedence over the monumental early Morbid Angel. A closer and more knowledgeable and perceptive look into the qualities of their works reveals an enormous chasm in musical excellence and refinement separates them. They belong to completely different worlds.

 

Metal is encumbered by an additional hindrance: a recurrent appeal to cavemanish foolishness by the audience. This is the belief that as an essentially underground movement, metal is a blue-collar music which needs to be kept rough, dirty, mean and, well, ignorant. It is a combination of something similar to communism’s appeal to the true sense of the young masses and the testosterone posturing of a macho Homer Simpson. This idiotic claim basically consists in the stereotype that metal’s nature resides in young and unlearned spirit which yearns for adventure, rebellion and hedonism.  They do not realize that these are closer to the hippie ideals than to the true metal spirit which actually resides in a warrior’s mysticism that stares reality in the face without losing sight of the transcendent.

 

While metal needs to grow up and continue in its journey towards higher peaks, it must do so through a profound understanding of its roots and thereby a correct appreciation of its own classics and an embracing of its core and true ideals. The mainstream would have metal become a compliant rock music in disguise, an edgy but safe expression of castrated dissent. Absorbing or becoming other genres is not progress, it is only regression or distraction. This must be rejected at all costs and a unique path into the maturity of the genre must take place in a truly forward-looking but conservative manner. Metal has always made its most significant strides in those albums which on the surface seemed orthodox but which brought meaningful innovation at the level of musical thinking, information and communication. It was not the experimentalists who revel in the strange, the unexpected and the new, but the disciplined adherents to the tenets of metal who look for their own voice while keeping the spirit of Vir at the heart of the music who move metal forward.