Right now, above the metal underground there is what was coined, I believe originally by Pogrom from Arghoslent, the “Funderground”. The funderground consists of independent labels, sometimes mainstream distributed, releasing thousands of albums each year full of rehashed material or rebranded three-chord hardcore with different superficial aesthetics to fuel a bar show audience’s drunken moshing or make hipsters feel smart for liking an indie rock release with a dirty production. One can see this divide in most of the popular “underground” web forums such as those of Nuclear War Now! and Full Moon Productions. The most popular “underground” “metal” releases of each year are all older metal rehashed into pop-rock structures or rebranded hardcore. This divide is similar to what is felt in mainstream Western culture with the leftist “elites”‘ constant Marxist virtue signaling and branding freethinkers with various epithets for refusing to chant the praises of socialism mandated by the vanguard party.
Article by David Rosales.
A trend in the modern conception of anything has been that the newer something else, the better we expect or assume it to be. Experience in reality, however, has also given rise to another perception: that the new tends to be worse and not better. Attempts at rationalizing this drive the pseudo-intellectual, pro-sheeple crowd to say that times just change, but ratios of quality do not vary. This is not only unscientific but an obvious politically correct answer that has as its premise that everyone is equal, and hence, that the resulting products of these “equal” people must also be probabilistically equal. Impermeable external influence seems to them the only changing factor, with the internal being either infinitely constant or practically negligible. This is assumed and then possible causes are haphazardly and desperately pieced together, the answer is assumed and then anything is either positive evidence or brushed aside if too problematic to incorporate into the fairy tale. Ignorance compounded with pretense and emotional insecurity always results in capricious imposition of an arbitrary and dogmatic concepts and scale of values.
Occult-themed black metal that emphasizes its theme/ideology as its guiding light (as opposed to nu-black metal projects who can hardly be said to actually incorporate the ceremonial aspect into their music in any way besides their post-metal meanderings attempts at creating “atmosphere”) often fail for a variety of reasons. More often than not it is because they lose sight of what music is, and thinking only about their meta-presentation and try to justify poorly constructed music with the excuse that the goal lies outside music. In truth, good music is the goal itself, as a medium and experience. Rather than a gateway, it is the vehicle.
Necromantic Worship incorporates a very simple and almost rock-like repetitive black metal played with guitars that are barely set to override (not even truly distorted) and mix this with ambient-like passages that include the use of piano and synths, prayer exclamations and tremolo melodies. The best aspect of this three-song release is the latter. The simple and rock-like sections barely hold up musically, repeating for too-long with the only purpose of supporting the vocal track, itself only the medium for words. The verses that contain rapid-changing tremolo-picked melodies and soft blast beats are the only sections containing “singing” voice that can be rescued.
The sections that musically embrace the occult right and mix ambient and black metal are worthwhile and should be focused on by this artist in the future as his method has huge potential in its progressive bent. An alternative suggestion would be to learn motif-form variations in the black metal style from Varg Vikernes’ work with early Burzum. This, combined with a guitar tone that actually fills in the frequency spectrum of the audio would improve the overall experience.
Spirit of the Entrance Unto Death tracklist:
- Nergal, The Raging King
- Conjuration of the Fire God
- The Dark Young of Shub Niggurath
Colorful and dynamic, Adversarial’s brand of nu-black metal has many compelling moments and even long stretches of song, but overall falls prey to a combination of high-level meandering in search of an “atmosphere” while loose reign is given to the drums to fill in gaps with flare without any substantiation. In their defense, most of the instruments seem to work in a very directed manner, a direct result of the simplicity of the music, although this integration and interplay is not as clearly done or focused on a full musical-conceptual balance like Kaeck’s Stormkult.
Ultimately, the most compelling aspect of Death, Endless Nothing and the Black Knife of Nihilism is its delicious production. Everything is both pristine in the dirty and powerful way that violent death and black metal are mandated to be heard. Unfortunately, when one pays close attention to the development of whole songs, it is easy to notice that the songwriting does not rise above the level of, say, Peruan black metal band Goat Semen. In fact, given that Adversarial are more prone to that modern atmospheric meandering that is vaguely reminiscent of post-modern chord-hanging, I would rather listen to the forward moving and still related riff progressions of Goat Semen, although these also, in the end, do not amount to a clear picture of anything except the violence they produce outright.
While these will delight metal listeners that lie on the heavy and consistent pleasure-seeking spectrum, those in search of a balanced unification of images and respectable music construction will find nothing here.
There are some records that achieve greatness through their studied and natural use of the musical language that our civilization has been building up for many centuries. Such a record was Close to the Edge, reaching immortality with its self-titled piece. There are other records that do away with everything that came before them and in an unprecedented bout of madness envision doors to previously undreamed of realities. The key to such a door was given to Parabellum and what they found beyond that wall crystallized into Sacrilegio.
Unique and meaningful in its expression, Parabellum’s music is hard to trace back to any defined subgenre at the time, perhaps even today. We know it is metal. We know it arises from the 1980s underground tradition and if we look very hard we may find traces of proto-black-death, hardcore and what can only be described as organized noise. At the same time, the band’s music cannot conceivably be cased into any of them, nor can it be wholly accounted for as a concoction of the same. Parabellum’s Colombian underground metal stands entirely alone and makes use of sounds, patterns and rhythms from its influences but is never defined by them.
While the compositions in it date back to 1983 or 1984, Sacrilegio was released in 1987 and is comprised of two tracks. Both of them, Madre Muerte (Mother Death) and Engendro 666 (Foetus-Abomination 666), are of relatively long duration by metal standards. None of them, however, feel overextended. While difficult to gauge here, this writer perceives no obvious loose ends, and no purposeless spaces in the pieces. Not interspersed, not interlocked, but breathing in living symbiosis with the extreme underground expressions we find silences, Azagthothean guitar solos together with painful, woeful laments.
Uncouth, savage and violent, Parabellum’s music also takes us through moments of passive dementia and ecstatic delirium. Together these propound stark, bleak and at points suffocating experiences of desperation resembling but going far beyond the misanthropic nature worship of Vidar Vaaer. If I could put my impression of Parabellum’s music in concise terms, I would describe it as what I picture is life as seen through the eyes of a mad epileptic.
Xendra was a heavy metal project from the Central American country, Honduras. Rumor has it that their only album was recorded within one week around the turn of the century. The simplicity of the production would never put this into doubt as it is just barely satisfies the requirements of the music to be listenable.
As Brett Stevens said in a previous article, one could make the experiment of imagining music played through a primitive or simple device or format like a midi output and then see how interesting the music becomes then as a measure of the actual resulting power of the composition. It is in this respect that the barely satisfactory production in this album becomes a test for the music. Despite the production, the compositions’ musical qualities shine through, modest as they admittedly are in the very-large scale of music appreciation.
Xendra’s brand of late heavy metal also takes on speed metal characteristics with melodic tendencies. This is a typical 1990s mid-paced, simple melodic heavy/speed amalgam that is exemplified today by Cruxiter. Most of the most iconic and prominent Central American metal bands played in this style. Its raw yet singable character being particularly apt to work as a channel for a kind of urban folk style. I often use a word callejero(“of the street”) to describe the particular brand of heavy metal that developed in Central and northern South America. It is a folk heavy metal not because it makes use of old aboriginal melodies for motifs, but rather because it is the language of the young people in touch with the crudest reality of their modern countries. As such it tends to be be full of socio-political protest, prone to melancholic bouts and occult visionary prophecies. We should stress that the latter is appropriate and perhaps even mandatory for any respectable underground metal genre. As a kind of folk music, a few simpler songs in verse chorus manner are sparkled throughout the sixteen tracks of the album. These do not sound pandering as indulging themselves or the singer but are veritable laments voiced impersonally.
Claiming to be influenced from the more mainstream rock and hard rock progressive outfits like Rush and Dream Theater, someone listening in a slightly distracted manner would miss where and how Xendra makes these influences manifest. While we hear Dream Theater making technical acrobatics and the contrasts from one section of the music to the next the main point of the music, a more sensible and humble band like Xendra uses them in key points as tools towards smooth expansion or creative and beautiful articulation between sections. The rendition of the heavy metal callejero as presented in 2000’s Xendra is one of the best of its kind. Displaying elegant songwriting, subtlety and the restraint of talented instrumentalists using their technical abilities where the music needs them, rather than when their ego fancies it.
The full album can be downloaded here.
Arising from modern popular music, underground metal has retained many vestigial traits that several artists have consciously tried to erase and that some observers have started to question as detrimental to the effective expression of the genre. As the title of this article reveals, the case in point is the matter of albums as song collections. A good example of this becoming a hindrance to the message of the music is Gorguts’ Obscura.
Clocking in at one hour, Obscura consists of twelve songs, a little over the typical ten tracks of metal albums since the mid 1970s. The number ten has traditionally been associated with wholeness or completeness. In the most mainstream heavy metal circles it is considered only right to fill that exact number. No more, no less. A lot of death and black metal albums have veered slightly away from this rule and tend close their albums with eight or twelve tracks. Grindcore degenerates have never let numbers stand in their way and have completely given the finger to this rule as Repulsion, Napalm Death and Blood have shown us with their two-digit track lists.
The reason why more original and progressive-minded artists pay no attention to these unofficial guidelines is because whatever the artist has to say in an album should not be restricted by too many tracks. Even worse than being limited by the number of tracks is having to fill up tracks in order to reach the required number. This is precisely how we get the albums with “filler” tracks. Tracks nobody cares for but which make the album more “meaty” for those who care about such things.
More important than the adherence to a particular number of songs or tracks in an album is the fact that most bands produce precisely that: individual tracks bundled up in collections. This is Gorguts’ worse enemy even on their classic of classics. Every one of the songs up to the sixth track, Clouded, expresses a very distinct message in its method. After that, we basically get more of the same. The songs aren’t bad at all, but they do not add anything more to the album except extra minutes and more good songs whose essence is not any different from the ones before them. It’s basically thesaurus recitation.
Some propose that metal needs to look beyond the number, both as a rule and as a kind of indulgence. Just because that you have more songs does not mean you have to put them in the album. Just because you have more riffs does not mean they need a song to contain them. It is suggested that the album format in underground metal be exchanged for the classical opus format, where we have movements belonging to a coherent whole work, in which saying the same thing again and again is unnecessary and highly discouraged but in which consistency in style and voice is required to a healthy but not over-restrictive degree. Metal is not young anymore, the time to consciously take the step to the next level has come.
After parting ways with Carcass following the completion of Heartwork, the Swede Michael Amott embarked on his own project called Arch Enemy. Stigmata is the non-sell-out sibling of that last reviled/worshiped Carcass album in which Amott participated in. Starting out with Johan Liva barking in the vocal department, this was a far cry from the embarrassingly audience-pleasing act this band later became.
While most so-called melodic death metal acts, including later Arch Enemy, following in the footsteps of Carcass’ last album (Swansong should have been kept by Bill Steer for private use) produce clear, straight-up pop verse-chorus with riffs and solos in the manner of the most mainstream 1980s metal. Sticking out from the crowd, Stigmata explores different song structures, and different ratios between Swedeath Carnage-style riff sections and those which are direct references to 1980s melodic metal. Michael Amott presents us here, in this still underground release, the best of his ideas in their most sincere (though not optimal) form.
Symptomatic of the middle-age crisis that underground metal went through in the mid 1990s, Stigmata shows a sincere desire to produce solid, thought-out metal music, but its motivation and direction is misplaced in nostalgia-driven emulations of the past rather than a forward vision. This was the end of metal’s own romantic era. Metal artists’ general illiteracy in art could give no rise to a counterpart to the 20th century modernist classical music (perhaps Obscura was an exception?) and it went straight to post-modernist pandemonium shortly after the turn of the century.
Following in the steps of Repulsion, mid-period Blood and Napalm Death, Honduran band Corruption write mid-paced Grindcore with lyrical content ranging from the socio-political to the more gore-oriented character. Corruption’s music also features tonal guitar solos that stress a dark mood rather than a wild outburst of chaos.
This self-titled demo released in early March 2015 is the culmination of a 5-year interaction between guitar player Manuel Velásquez and vocalist Ángel Mejía. The demos were recorded in december, 2014, under the following line up:
Manuel Velásquez – guitar and vocals
Christhofer Ayestas – guitar
Roberto Molina – bass
Arnold Flores – drums
The band has made this demo freely available. It has been reuploaded and can be downloaded here.
Change is easy to spot from afar. You watch a whole continent break loose, or a planet change its orbit. The challenge is being able to spot it when you’re on that continent or planet. Is that rumble your home island floating away, or just too much Taco Bell?
Lately the underground has been changing again, as it has in the past. First, a number of people seem to be recognizing that for the last couple years, something has shifted. The quality of releases is better, and the nu-core/indie/alt-metal/shoe-gaze just doesn’t attract the throngs. I blame Beherit, War Master, Profanatica, Blaspherian, Imprecation, Birth A.D. and others for bringing back old styles with new voices.
Next, there’s renewed interest in older formats of music. Cynics will say this is just hipsters, but it’s too big for that. It’s almost like a generalized reaction to the impermanence of MP3s and the lack of control you have if Amazon or iTunes decides to delete your profile for blasphemy.
Finally, there’s renewed interest in zines. Not only are there promising new zines like Codex Obscurum, but there’s people writing about zines and the effect they can have on the underground. (Many of them are pointing toward our Classic Death Metal Zine Archive and The Heavy Metal FAQTM.)
Like vinyls, zines have an appeal. It’s not that they are somehow more effective than the internet at spreading information. Rather, like vinyl, their saving grace is that they’re less convenient. This creates a big pyramid between bands and fans where multiple people filter the thousands of possibilities down to fifty pages in a zine or 15 LP choices in a distro or record store. They reduce the amount of chaotic information and give you more options, ironically, as a result.
It might be this is all in my head (dead brain cells). But there’s something in the air. It’s not just fall, which we’ll get in Texas in another three months. It’s a sweeping change, what they call a “sea change” in the elite newspapers. After fifteen years of dormancy while the imitations swept in and appropriated what others had created, metal is bouncing back. And it’s bringing back the old ways.