As the socialized world of love and trust winds down in revealing its own incompetence and corruption, we turn toward the dead genres of underground metal, hailing the few who carry on a message no one understands for the sake of speaking clarity into the howling void of sense that is human activity.
Fortunately, among all of the bean-counters and latecomers, a few works of vital importance stand out and give us a decent chance at having a few satisfying listens in the age of all the illusions crashing down around us.
Imagine that someone went back to that brief period of time when music like Merciless, Devastation, and Sarcofago hovered between speed metal and the underground metal to come, and then approached it with the high-intensity styles of war metal and black metal.
SolarCrypt sees no need to “innovate,” and this forces songs to develop internally instead of screwing around with style, instrumentation, and production. Expect lots of riffs in an interesting order that sometimes recurses to reintroduce ideas in a new context, and a steadily building mood of oppressive melancholic aggression, even if through simple power chord phrases.
Showing influence from later Immolation blended with early thunderous Florida death metal, this band attempts to reinvent a genre by going back to its roots and carrying forward instead of changing paths. Flesh Pit know how to bring songs to a point of focus on the clash of their themes and from that, to bring out a triumphant synthesis that allows the initial theme to shine forth afterward in a new context.
Death Reich brings enough grindcore, black metal, and death metal riffcraft into war metal to liberate it from the tedium of too many thudding lower-five-frets chromatic riffs, but keeps the uptempo intensity and use of a simple theme to organize all of its riffs and drive toward a satisfying conclusion.
Swiss depressive onslaught Excruciation work funeral doom pacing and grindcore riffing to the doom-death genre, removing excess to leave a plain and sub-lingual mood of futile antagonism and existential anomie. This uses slow riffs to build a mood only to tear it down and restart it, each time wearing away the outer soul like erosion so that the inner motivation can celebrate despair, destruction, and eventually, rebirth.
Pharmacist comes more from the school of a technical version of later Carcass that integrates the heavy percussive aspects of mid-1990s death metal. Each song approaches its development strategically, with earlier riffs having an introductory feel and riffs in the middle focused on cultivating momentum, while later riffs expound on the contradictions between the chain so far, leading to a collision and decay. Songs chain together riffs in pairs, then rotate through these, working outward toward the earlier riffs after the halfway point.
Imperishable begin songs with tightly-socketed riffs that correspond directly to each other, then build up to melodic riffs that are equal parts Iron Maiden and classic death metal, adding an air of mystery and a shifting ambience of emotion to their songs. Riff patterns both deconstruct and augment themselves with swelling melodic riffs at the same time percussion slows, creating a space for atmosphere that complements the initial energy and builds on its inertia in the style the Swedes perfected.
Punk-style repetitive strum power chord riffs guide industrial-like spacious percussion frameworks, with keyboards and lead guitars injecting melody periodically, while vocals provide less of a rhythmic role than a textural one. Take stoner doom, add in Sisters of Mercy and Killing Joke, then modulate it with small amounts of black metal, shoegaze, and atmospheric punk music and you get a spacy style that reduces focus on vocals to let guitars dominate but aims for ambience more than “message.”
In the vein of early Demigod and Sinister, this music adores a good brutal and primitive riff to bludgeon us, then extending the idea of that riff into theme and ultimately massaging it into melody. This vertiginous tactic causes a suspension of disbelief, and we drop into a world of similar rhythms and tempi but varied expression.
Pazuzu alternates between the time-honored language of death metal and grindcore riffing and its own vocabulary of elaborate but not predictable architectures, sort of like the ruins of an ancient civilization draped in the vines, moss, and foliage of the forest swallowing them from without. Frequently the band deviates unpredictably from its main riff pairs in each song, venturing down dark pathways in which a subconscious order hints at itself rather than gesturing clear tokens, producing a wonderfully ambiguous if sometimes uneven experience.
Putrid Offal makes grindcore which leans toward the tremolo strum more than the slam, and therefore whips up a powerful inertia which it mutates to develop each song. Crepitant vocals, heavy distortion, and hardcore-influenced riffs round out the package. This wrests expression from a flood of chromatic riffs that signal contrary motion, bring out conflict, and sculpt a structure out of a few contorted power chords played like a puzzle in different formations.
At the core of this Biosphere utilizes its most powerful tool, namely the unnervingly incomplete melodies that gesture at something lost or unfound, creating a profound sense of displacement and mortality. Sampled classical riffs and longer melodies elaborating on previous themes add layers to this central pulsing ambiguous and seductive atmosphere.
Grandeur builds songs around melodic riffs over constant and featureless drumming, but sandwiches those between more traditional heavy metal riffing adapted to black metal modalities and use of drone. This band explores lengthier melodies and uptempo oi/punk inspired choruses, but keeps a sense of the darkness, mystery, and most of all sense of nocturnal possibility and untapped potential of existence that kept black metal multi-dimensional.
Hasufel present us an aesthetic experience that is its own message or absence thereof, more of an emotional tuning in which thought can develop within the listener. The mood veers away from somber into more of a meditative appreciation for the aesthetics of decay and renewal. This presents atmospheric industrial music that drives itself with sound samples and gently intermingling keyboard riffs at a glacial pace, perfect for creating an enduring mood but perhaps not the jarring expressions that metal refines.
Album of the Year:
Kaeck – Het Zwarte Dictaat
In its blend of war metal, doom-death, and black metal, Kaeck runs the gamut of tempi and rhythms over the course of this album, transitioning from the primitive to the almost reverentially mood-driven. With use of precise riffs, this album creates atmosphere in the classic underground metal style that contrasts loping hypnotic riffs with bursts of fury, allowing the song to emerge from a smoldering inner conflict like a car shooting out of a darkened tunnel into the light, looking for clarity within a shifting landscape of ambiguity and violence.