On The Music of Demilich


Article by David Rosales; get more perspective by also reading his article on Timeghoul

Much has been said about Demilich here and elsewhere, but remarkably little has been written about the potential of their music as ground for future bands to elaborate. For starters, the fact that Demilich has a solid fanbase and many admirers among professional musicians, but very few bands produce music in the same vein tells us that it is no easy task. This may also be due to the fact that most people tend to confuse appearances with mechanics, and mechanics in turn with character and essence. It seems to me that there is very little to elaborate, since Demilich is only distinctive at its very surface, in a very similar case to Immolation’s. Anything anybody may take from them besides this sort of surface plagiarism are the abstract concepts of loosening and playing with rhythm and mode consistently to achieve a distinctive sound. Perhaps even taking cues from their distinctive style could yield the foundation for the trademark sound of a younger band.

First, what makes Demilich stand out is their idiomatic approach to death metal that takes the best out of playing with tritones and off-putting harmonies in the context of the gore-flavored aura strand of the genre. Where Immolation goes for uncomfortable and dissonant, Demilich takes the modal/harmonic and rhythmic aspects of death metal to the extreme of this aural potential without incurring in the surface character deconstruction of Immolation’s coloring. Both of these bands, however, make use of standard death metal song-wide structuring techniques of the riff-salad kind with motific liaisons.

This surface extravagance coupled with an inner orthodoxy makes it very tricky for anyone to successfully extract the core of their teachings. In the case of Demilich even more so, since it is the silly side of their music’s character that stands out the most, making it particularly difficult to emulate them without producing obvious imitations. This may lead younger bands to think that a particularly derivative passage’s conspicuous appearance might be mitigated by mixing it into a hodgepodge of different styles and sounds. But to the perceptive listeners out there this will only sound like a motley fabric, a bag o’ tricks on display intended to fill in for actual content (Editor’s note: Have we told you about carnival music?).

Finally, superficial appreciation of the music of Demilich often leads fans to single out their music as “progressive”, as “opposed to traditional death metal”. Frequent readers of this site should immediately identify the grave mistake in this. Be that as it may, when you take the misunderstanding how progressive death metal in general is, and you put it together with the common metalhead’s idea of what progressive rock or metal is, you may begin to envision the monumental blunders that might come as a result.

Rather than insert Demilich-sounding passages into modern Dream Theater soundtracks, the young death metal musician might take head from the way Demilich balances out their outlandish sound. Demilich’s music, when seen at an abstract and aural level, can be divided into passages that are either more pounding, more syncopated or what we now call doom-laden (Demilich never stops too much in these power chord phrasal statements, though, so they do not really stand out). The emphasis on groove and the goofy-gore character is a constant that gives them their trademark sound.

The value of these concepts lies in learning how to produce sections that create variety within a narrative, with a distinctive and constant language that lends a personality of its own to the music. The narrative is produced through the equivalent of formal statements, developments, pauses for air, retaking of the topic, etc, in their musical manifestations. This is the greatest value of the best classic death metal bands: their outstanding ability to articulate.

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28 thoughts on “On The Music of Demilich”

  1. SomberSun says:

    What do you think of their newer tracks that were released with the anniversary edition?

    1. Unnecessary but fun, though not as rich as the old stuff… perhaps on par with the density of the earlier demo

    2. Shatmuh Breeches says:

      Only the first track is new (written in 2006). The other two were rerecording of old rehearsal songs written in 1991.

  2. Mythic Imagination says:

    Great and insightful article as usual David! It seems that most of the so called ‘successors’ to this sound only learned to imitate some of the outward traits and had maybe a few similarly constructed riffs(i’m thinking Biolich, Chthe’ilist and Cosmic Atrophy here)

    1. Cory says:

      Cory from Cosmic Atrophy, here. Imitating Demilich isn’t hard, and copying them 100% was never the goal in the first place. They are but one influence among many that helped shape my particular sound.

      1. P says:

        you motherfucker! will you ever finish the 2nd CA album?

        1. Cory says:

          I’ve addressed it several times in several places, but I lost the recordings years ago in a hard drive crash. I’ll do something else with it eventually but I don’t have the gear to record it, or the money to get said gear.

  3. Daniel Maarat says:

    Demilich took tritones to the next level. The younger generation should do their own thing with tritones.

  4. Cauterized says:

    Most bands have trouble understanding and then building upon the musical language of Suffocation, let alone Demilich. I agree that influencees usually only take the surface elements, usually primarily the riff style.

    1. “Such things cannot be thought up, but must be grown again from the forgotten depths if they are to express the deepest insights of consciousness and the loftiest intuitions of the spirit, thus amalgamating the uniqueness of present-day consciousness with the age-old past of humanity.” — Carl Jung

  5. gay guy says:

    Trad doom metal is where death metal got its sense of groove and it deserves more credit for that!!!

    1. C. M. says:

      Seems that most groovy death metal gets its feel from the poppier styles of speed metal, which had lots of chugging grooves. Not sure what you mean by trad doom metal though, what are some examples?

      1. gay guy says:

        The grooves on albums like Effigy of the Forgotten and Dawn of Possession come from speed metal, yes. But I would argue that the slower grooving rhythms on albums like The IVth Crusade and Onward to Golgotha were heavily influenced by doom metal bands like Candlemass and Trouble, as well as their direct ancestor Black Sabbath.

        1. C.M. says:

          Hmm, I’d never imagined that connection. I hear slow sections in Bolt Thrower and Incantation songs but I don’t hear what I could fairly call a groove. When I think of “groove”, I think of rhythm & blues or funk music; basically a danceable tempo with lots of syncopated minor percussion and major emphasis on the 3rd beat of each measure. The contemporary variant would be hip-hop, which based totally on groove.

          Seems to me, anyway, that most music labeled “doom” is either 1. Black Sabbath worship or 2. slow heavy metal or 3. slow death metal. Maybe “doom” describes aesthetic characteristics, not style of composition or lexicon of techniques?

          1. gay guy says:

            Groove isn’t a well-defined musical concept though. Any hooky rhythm could be considered a groove, really. And to my ears, Bolt Thrower and Incantation both have groove in many of their riffs, maybe not the bouncy kind a la speed metal, but a more sinister, trudging variety.

          2. gay guy says:

            Brett has expressed similar sentiments about the nature of doom metal, ie being a genre modifier rather than a proper genre . I would agree for the most part, but it remains a useful descriptor of substyle, in The same way as power metal or new York death metal.

      2. gay guy says:

        The term trad doom is used to differentiate “plain” doom metal (which is basically slow heavy metal) from death doom and funeral doom. Bands like the aforementioned Trouble and Candlemass (the first albums of theirs are probably the pinnacle of the style), as well as Saint Vitus, Witchfinder General, Pagan Altar, Solitude Aeturnus etc.

      3. AzureMurakumo says:

        “Trad doom” typically refers to slower heavy metal acts such as Black Sabbath, Pentagram (USA), Saint Vitus, Candlemass, Cathedral, Pagan Altar, Witchfinder General, etc.

        That said, I don’t think most death metal bands that “groove” were necessarily directly influenced by these bands; two examples I can think of off the top of my head that WERE heavily influenced by some of the above bands are Autopsy and Divine Eve.

  6. OliveFox says:

    As interesting, often bizarre, as Demilich’s musical choices are…I never found the album to be that “weird” or “out there” as a lot of people claim. I have gotten many of my casual metalhead friends to enjoy the album without really knowing or caring why. Perhaps this is one of the reasons behind its continued appreciation…its depth of skill does NOT have to be fully understood to be well liked. I would point to the wonderful, yet still accessible, rhythm section. Wonder if any else sees what I mean? I am not a composition buff by any stretch of the word, but I have loved this album forever and find I can put it on at parties with the intelligent music buff and the boneheaded drunk alike.

    But if I put on GORGUTS (well, Obscura anyway)…it will usually turn a room sour except the “to hip for the room” academic types. Yet it seems way more bands found a way to take GORGUTS style and turn it into shitty “tech” metal and make it fairly popular.

    Either way, just a curious observation I have found through a couple of experiences…anyhow, great article, and any excuse to go back and throw on Nespithe is a welcome day indeed.

    1. Very good observation. I now think that the best music, no matter how complex inwardly, should be able to connect emotionally and intuitively (whichever) if the listener is “open to it”.

      Yeah, in a certain way, Gorguts’ Obscura is a hipster album, because its quirkyness is defined by trying “not to drum like Slayer, not to riff like typical death metal”. It remains good, however, because internally it still works like traditional death metal and it is further simplified in the arrangement of song parts so that that outer jarring feeling is complemented by an anchor.

      1. JizzSurge says:

        Not hipster at all . Just a band totally into what they were doing and willing to take their inspiration to the limit of what could be achieved in that time period, thereby becoming timeless really much the same as Darkthrone did with Black Metal

        1. JizzSurge says:

          Demilich is great too though, no denying! The styles were developing so fast back in the day that similar yet interesting contrasts of results are now observable across what appeared as vast devides. Genres, regional styles , whatever and I don’t think it’s a real issue even like today. Oh yeah I fuckin love that Timeghoul shit too eh cunt

        2. you read “hipster” and immediately ran away, read WHY I said it and you’ll know it is true. Their motivation was that of a hipster, but the album resulted good because it was still anchored in orthodoxy under the outer expressions

          1. JizzSurge says:

            You read that I read hipster and immediately ran away, which isn’t so, but oh well. A good album still is a good album and I’m glad you know it. Now how bout I buy you that drink old bear?

  7. Can you survive the blitzkrieg says:

    Every fucking person I’ve met who likes the Obscura album is a pretentious faggot. Demilich are great but a tad overrated, seeing as there is Demigod and Adramelech who share many similarities. Demigod are a tad better as they don’t have all those aerobics workout groove parts which are the cue for the novice idiots in the room that they can get into it now. In early 90s Finnish DM, Demilich should be the gateway to the rest of the genre, Purrenance and Abhorrence and all that shit, but I get you can impress the right people slobbering on Demilich’s bumpy deformed genitalia. And guess what? I love em! I bought Nespithe on CD for a ridiculous OOP price before reissue then wasted the same amount of money on the MP3-to-LP box.

    1. You are welcome to write an article clarifying why Demigod and Adramelech are better than Demilich.

      In my eyes, Amorphis’ The Karelian Isthmus is superior to those two you mentioned, musically, although it shows itself more laid back and less “technical”.

      Demigod and Adramelech are pretty flat, and Adramelech tends to lose itself (especially in Psychostasia), and Demigod just sort of navigates around the same place, its primary attraction being restatements of the same thing again and again. Neither of them achieve the consolidating yet widely articulating expression of either Demilich or Amorphis.

      1. Can you survive the blitzkrieg says:

        David: In my heart I know you are correct, especially with The Karelian Isthmus by Amorphis, I will say no more.

  8. your neighbourhood bigfoot says:

    They are also great live, seen them twice in the last half a year. The singer Antti is one of the most modest and pleasant persons around, he creates a cozy atmosphere of all of you just sitting in a living room. Had a hand injury, so they have a guest guitarrist for gigs who “makes mistakes in the same places as he does”. More to the topic – yes, I believe the narrative structure and within this frame the function of harmonies and rhythm choices has an effect also on people that are “ready” or “open” even though they would not be able to rationally explain why. Of course music is irreducible to words or explicit concepts.

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