More black metal from the people who do not understand black metal. This is in the now popular style of pseudo black metal that sounds like war metal trying to be progressive. This lot probably new about black metal through the profound music of Michael’s Pink Frothy AIDS. Incoherent as it is flat, Gestalt identifies itself as modern by the insistence on arranging awkward juxtapositions and superimposed elements that do not match in the least. Keyboards that were not there before jump into the fore with no warning only to disappear and never return again in the song. Maniatic blast beats that underscore nothing except the fact that they are trying to play intense music followed by macho man riffs, only to slide into quiet endings or bridges that seem placed there because they simply could not think of anything else to put there.
Even the average metalhead will know to stay away from this circus motley outfit pretending to ironically catch a pulp fantasy sort of occult imagery backed by equally uncompromising profoundness — or so their kind say in this sort of empty words. As the late bitterman (where art thou? we could use you) would say: Vapid. Avoid.
Gods of metal, please liberate us from the blithe of samey industrial and doom metal from atmospheric-minded twats! Save us from the ignorance that plagues metal artists and fandom alike! Only then can these empty husks that resemble metal be driven out and seen for what they are. This album is one more kind of subversive tendency under empty pretentiousness that affects those with a penchant for the occult and a short-sighted vision for composition.
Mysterium Magnum consists of four songs of basically the same thing. At points it approaches the industrial sound of Beherit on Electric Doom Synthesis but without the distinct ideas and development. Temple of Gnosis’ music is rather a snapshot of that industrial metal with some minimalist melodies played in subtle keyboard sounds along shadowed vocals that lend to the darkness of the atmosphere. And that’s it. You take that and basically play that moment again and again in slightly different ways. The songs even have more or less the same length, and all equally fail at developing or show any variety. Perhaps the length was the measure stick to decide when to stop the songs.
Temple of Gnosis show us with Mysterium Magnum just how gullible both the industry and the average fan of metal can be. Or how blind and undiscerning the industry takes the metalhead to be. To be honest, this probably deserved since most metalheads show they cannot see past “the riff” or “the melody” in the case of the more mainstream-minded. The average metalhead is still a pop music fan, he sees music as separate moments and what each of them individually make him feel. He is also driven purely by what makes him “feel good”. That means that he will measure the quality of music by the count of how many moments tickled his funny bone. Thus you receive what you asked for, mediocre metalhead.
Hardcore punk band Survival offer us a humble release that although meager can give us a lesson on several album-writing guidelines that any metal band should follow. Shayda is a good example that riffs that are usually attributed to this or that subgenre of metal can be used in different contexts to different effects and reach. These Californians also show us the value of self-control, avoiding self-indulgence in favor of a juvenile honesty that is only fitting for a band in their genre.
There are a few moments in Shayda where one will recognize the predominance of an influence from 1908s hardcore punk bands , but then one will stumble over a happy punk riff, and then one or two brief moments that will flash by with the taste of deathcore breakdowns and even a little 90s hard rock. These are encased at very specific points and are only used extremely measuredly to push the song forward or twist it for a moment with a different taste only to warp back into focus. Their are also a few samples from a movie or a narration that are used as introductions or interludes in the middle of the album with incredibly effective results.
A major highlight of the album from the songwriting point of view is how aware these guys are of the “useful life” of an idea in the context of a style. According to its nature, punk is a genre of simple, direct and clear expression which does not lend itself to infinite variations of the pseudo-mathematical Bachean type. To remain fresh yet not start diverging, the length of the songs is necessarily short. Each of them gives the listener a very clear and single-minded idea. But as a whole Shayda provides a multifaceted experience that remains both consistent and coherent.
Like big brothers Blood, Survival dominate their tools of choice in their genre and work well within their limitations, creating a memorable and musically solid work that can and should be appreciated regardless of taste.
Opening with a piano section that is completely out of place within the context of their music, Suppuration give us brutal meets groovy streamlined and uneventful death metal with croaking vocals whose creativity and character borders on the comedy of pornogrind. A major cause for this might be the production which sandwiches everything into a very narrow frequency range. The drums feel as if they were behind everything else, the guitars and the voice almost superimposed. But the production is not to be blamed for the composition blunder this whole affair represents.
Devouring Your Prayers shows several marks of incompetence. In this album we can find distracted riffing and drumming that doesn’t completely match, it is as if the musicians where just doing their own thing and they assumed that as long as they were playing in the same tempo and time signature everything would be fine. Second the interludes are completely extraneous to the album, from the musical point of view. Even worse, we find the modern tendency to move from one idea into a completely unrelated one in order to move the music forward. This is a metaphor for denial of reality, not progress.
The band manages to sound both overt yet devoid of character and completely lacking an individual voice. Presenting us with the fireworks, bells and whistles aimed at casual listeners of “the brutal”, Suppuration exemplifies the mediocre, the sell-out and the moronic side of death metal all at once.
Genital Grinder’s Abduction is one of those albums whose main goal is to punch the listener in the face. They are not the wanker posers of so-called tech death. But they only aim slightly higher: pure brutality. In this case technicality in the service of brutality. There are two angles we should approach this before reaching a conclusion. The first is a lenient way of judging this work on “its own terms”. The second is judging if the overall result is meaningful in the least.
To an insider, that Genital Grinder is a band bent on brutality — on giving the listener a rush based on violent imagery and blunt sound– is a self-evident fact. If in doubt we can take each song and try to describe what is the most salient feature. It is almost always how direct and intense the sections are. The band does insert some brief moments of almost mid-paced trudging without which this would be unbearable on a physical level even for their own fans (although they would still praise it as mind-blowing-ly “br00tal”). The album comes out as a single-minded effort that remains in style while providing enough variation of themes and coherence in songs for them to be distinct. A simple goal has been achieved: another super brutal album has been made.
Regarding the more relevant issue on ranking Abduction on the overall quality scale of music. The songs built around clear ideas and are built around them. The band’s composition limits are revealed when we observe that they are unable to produce major explorations within their music without destroying the idea they presented at first. When they attempt to do so, they are reduced to grooving sections or cliche short melodic riffs with simple 3rds or 5ths doubling.
An incredibly limited release that is monochromatic at all conceivable levels, Abduction will be a solid although uneventful item in the collections and playlists of those either looking for a casual brutality fix or the Homer Simpsons of death metal who think Cannibal Corpse is “the shit”.
Conceived in rehearsals between 1984 and 1985, Abominations of Desolation was completed and recorded by 1986, showcasing the most concentrated and solid (in composition) release either Trey Azagthoth or Mike Browning have put out until now (or likely to ever release, for that matter). I hesitate to use the word refined here as that would imply a correcting of minute details at every level, which this album obviously does not posses. The next three albums make use of this material and refine it in different ways and distinct directions, filling out the rest of the albums with some good ideas and mostly filler.
On Altars of Madness, the most significant changes to the music besides the studio production (including tone and what no) and vocals were to tempo. The composition of the songs themselves remained the same. Basically they were played much faster and the drumming was made more “tight”. The new songs that were not taken from Abominations of Desolation were essentially inferior filler, although the songs were not necessarily bad, just not as good as the earlier material. There are two things to be said regarding the tempo changes. On the one hand, Altars of Madness is mandatory study material for any true fan of the genre and even more so for the aspiring death metal musician because it is a textbook example of excellent technical accomplishment of flexible death metal compositions. On the other hand, accelerating so much destroyed the original character of the songs which no longer sounded mystically infused with darkness but rather comically colorful. The tempo also obfuscated the structural features rather than highlighting and exploiting them, lending a flatter and more pop-oriented sound that emphasized hooks in the middle of a maelstrom of madness.
In 1991, Morbid Angel released Blessed are the Sick, which sees the band attempting to regain the spirit they lost in Altars of Madness in search of a more professionally competitive tone and production. The early songs used in this album were not as distorted, retaining their original aura, but they were re-recorded with very soft and mellow guitar and drum sound. The new songs composed for the album also matched the dense atmosphere and dynamics of the older songs. A concept orientation was adopted and the result was the artistic peak of Morbid Angel, presenting the highest refinement of the material in balance with a whole-work oriented album rather than a simple collection of songs. Here we find the best of Azagthoth’s collaboration with Browning meeting the best of Morbid Angel’s later work. While Altars of Madness came out as slightly comical, Abominations of Desolation seemed dark and serious about its occult nature and Blessed are the Sick made a serious attempt at recovering that.
Then came Covenant, the last album to use seminal material from Abominations of Desolation. This album is a strong attempt at bringing the best from the two previous albums, it is Morbid Angel attempting to summarize, solidify their voice, carving a new path after having released their magnum opus. This is always the most difficult album in a classic band’s career. It often results in an emphasizing of technical aspects while the band tries to discover how they can continue after they have achieved greatness. The result is often undeniably outstanding material that lacks spirit. It happened to Yes after Close to the Edge, the greatest and most ambitious organic expression of who they were. Becoming self-referential in Tales from Topographic Oceans and then, not knowing where to go artistically, Yes used the best of their technical abilities to produce their technical highlight: Relayer. Covenant is Morbid Angel’s Relayer.
I am tempted to say that the best work these two artists ever did was together. It is a pity that personal problems had to come between them. Same sad story of Celtic Frost’s, who also never reached its early heights after the dynamic duo at its center separated. It is hard to tell how each of these artists complement each other, but judging from their projects away from each other we can observe that without Browning, Azagthoth becomes streamlined and even sterile, while without the latter Browning indulges in an adventurous music full of life that is unfortunately musically crippled by a lack of discipline and organization. Perhaps this is also related to a merely technical appreciation of Mozart by Azagthoth and the excited yet musically uninformed admiration of Rush on Browning’s side.
Complaining about the production and tone in Abominations of Desolation and overlooking the whole composition is like missing a great book of classic literature because you do not like the cover and the font in which it is written. You can complain about the font, but the font is not the organized information that literature is. So it is that production values do not make up what music is, only a medium. This does not mean that we should not criticize this, but it seems to me that it is over the top and superficial to say that, for instance, Altars of Madness is superior because the tone and production is better there. In fact, since the best songs in that “first” album are taken from Abominations of Desolation, and the rest are second-rate filler in comparison, I would say that in terms of content this early output is the best release to ever come out under the name of Morbid Angel.
The extent to which the artist’s belief in what he says and does, and how much he is actually familiar and imbued with the material, affects the final result of the music. While the young band fervently believed in the Ancients and the Arabic magic spells referenced in their lyrics, the more “mature” band only held on to these in a more tongue-in-cheek, ironic or perhaps metaphorical sense. Abominations of Desolation concentrates and summarizes all the power Morbid Angel had to give at that point which unfortunately only dissipated in future releases. This 1986 release, and no other, is the embodiment of what Morbid Angel is.
A cult classic of death metal, Nocturnus’ The Key often elicits outwardly moderate yet intense praise from connoisseurs of the genre. Reading online reviews and commentaries on the album one realizes that these praises are based on a three points. The first is the prominent use of keyboards throughout the album, then there is the ubiquitous, ripping guitar solos and last, its supposed resemblance to Morbid Angel, which is mainly based on the fact that Mike Browning took charge of the vocals on Nocturnus but also on the so-called thrash/speed-death amalgam this style is supposed to be. Let’s shoot each of these down one at a time.
The much-mentioned “pioneering” death metal with keyboards is an example of how too much of the metal critique is bent on praising novelty. Not only is the use of keyboards in the album amateur but it is often gimmicky, half of the time being out of place, the other half being completely extra and unnecessary — not strongly integrated into the music except in a very few places (“Neolithic” has a gesture in the solo section that shows promise). There are very good reasons why you do not hear keyboards often in death metal, and it goes beyond the fact that most death metal musicians are not learned enough to integrate them and would rather just make “pummeling and brutal riffs”. Style has to accommodate instrument choice. As it stands, The Key only crams keyboards wherever it can, but it is little more than a gimmick. Overall, a metalhead should look up to In the Nightside Eclipse for a better example of keyboards in underground metal.
On to the much lauded guitar solos in this album. What can I say? Besides being mindlessly infantile and trivial in their transparent scale runs, the solos throughout this album are, like the keyboard sections, often out of place and come off as being only superimposed on top of the rest of the music rather than composed within it. On their own and apart from the discussion on whether they fit into the music or not, it is not the messiness of the solos but their complete lack of character that would give one a good reason to ditch them and never think about them again.
Regarding Nocturnus sounding like a “Morbid Angel on steroids” or “an improved version of Morbid Angel”, we can say it comes from extremely superficial comparisons and a complete lack of discernment concerning composition quality. While Nocturnus perfectly exemplifies the brand of speed metal that wants to be death metal but is not quite there yet, early Morbid Angel was known as “death-thrash” only as a result of the audience’s ignorance. In this respect and given that The Key was released in 1990, when death metal had already solidified as a genre, we can say Nocturnus’ music is retrograde gimmick. The distinction between the death metal of Morbid Angel and the harsh, late-speed metal of Nocturnus lies in the phrase construction of the first that becomes the central development of the music, while the latter produces riffs to carry the voice that end in hooks. Death metal is progressive-symphonic phrasal music, speed metal is still heavy metal of a pop nature. Rather than compare them to Morbid Angel it would be more fitting to compare them to that other famous retrograde and gimmicky act called Death.
All in all, The Key still captures the imagination despite its amateur character and its great faults. I believe the reason for this is that in spite of its immature musical notions, its concept is very clear and this comes through in a very strong manner, outshining the blunders it houses. For the sake of metal, its future and the education of the audience, it is important to give albums like this their correct place. This is enjoyable and fun in much the same way that Sharknado is. You know it is silly, you know its appeal comes from its exaggerations and awkwardness, but a focused awkwardness with a clear idea in mind.
Masturbate on the throne of god
Crucifixion of a thousand saints
Stakes are mounted with the heads of angels
Nocturnal spells are casted,
Heaven begins to bleed
Chapel of Ghouls is a very interesting metal song to start with for several reasons. First of all, it is the epitome of the traditional death metal song and displays the marks of excellent composition by way of being balanced and maintaining perfect mood. Second and related to this mood evocation is the fact that this is a song written for guitars tuned to E-flat standard tuning and uses the open low string often but is not in the key of E-flat, giving the low-chug a very distinctive aura that comes from the sharpened leading tone being emphasized so much that is not the comforting home tonic we hear in commonplace metal. In general, this song also gives us a very special opportunity to see how attention to the use of scale degrees in the right places lends a very specific purpose to different passages with a very powerful effect.
My exposition and analysis of Chapel of Ghouls parts from the a posteriori premise that the key in which it is written is E minor. While making frequent use of chromatism, this piece is undeniably tonal and by that very nature it has a tonal center. It is up to the analyst to unearth just what that center is. The next most important assumption which applies to a lot of metal, is that the playing of fifths is decorative, making use of the sonorous effect this interval has when played on the distorted electric guitar. We do not consider this as an important element of functional harmony and we should only consider the main bass note as pertinent to our discussion of motifs and patterns.
We may observe that if we take riff-groups as sections and we ignore the variations in number of repetitions, the general structure of the song can be summarized in the following manner:
A-A’-B-C A-A’-B-C | D-E D-E | F | B-C-A
We can see the artistic abstraction and application of Classical-era concepts in Morbid Angel’s use of chromaticism for emotional effect within a clearly tonal framework. Even more telling and importantly, Chapel of Ghouls’ structure reveals an adapted classical sonata form. The sonata form is characterized by being divided into three sections: an exposition, a development and a recapitulation. An exposition generally presented the main materials that would be used to develop the piece. These were usually stated and then repeated once with small variations. The development traditionally implied a modulation into a different key and a development of the ideas into more foreign territory. After a flourish in the development section called a retransition that would bring the song back to the tonic area, the recapitulation was a restatement in an abridged way, of the main ideas stated in the exposition. Chapel of Ghouls fills all these requirements to the letter:
Exposition: A-A’-B-C presents the main ideas, and is repeated again with a small divergence in the number of repetitions of the riff. The second time around it is played, it is repeated more times, a simple and primitive way to echo an expansion.
Development: While part “D” is still in the same key, it starts a shift in the importance of the notes which can be considered a modulation. When we reach E, the song is in a different key than the rest of the song, and a different theme defines this section as well, even though we can hear an affinity with the motif of part “B”. Ironically, we call this type of development monothematic, although it may have more than one theme of its own (as this one demonstrably does).
Retransition: part “F”, a slowed down section treading the same some of of the tones (degrees 2 and 3, specifically) that have been used again and again in succession in this song, only to round it off by clearly stating the main motif and theme of the song decorated with an octave doubling rather than with the typical fifth used elsewhere in the song.
Recapitulation: re-use of “A”, “B” and “C” in different order and condensed number of repetitions. The final use of A incurs in a variation that heavily emphasizes the main theme as its final phrase.
Furthermore, the way solos run over more stable rhythm sections and moments when the rest of the music is quiet resembles the tutti-solo-tutti exchanges typical of works from the Classical era. The piece displays an adept of use of pauses and brief silences to enhance expectation and stress unstable tones at inflection points to promote forward movement.
Another little trick that is worth highlighting is that when they make tempo changes either to a faster or a slower, Morbid Angel will shorten or stretch average note length in order to counter the change (if we change to a faster tempo, the notes become longer, and the opposite in the same manner). This helps make transitions much more smooth sounding, pulling the length of the notes towards an central average despite the difference in tempos in different sections.
Lastly, every one of the riffs/parts we defined above with letters of the alphabet are written in period form. A period contains an antecedent and a consequent. The second one of these is a repetition of the first with variations in the end goal, the harmony or anything else that does not destroy the identity of the original idea. Traditionally, the antecedent ends in the dominant or a transition to the dominant and the consequent ends in the tonic, coming back to stability. In the case of Morbid Angel’s Chapel of Ghouls, all the periods’ antecedents, except those that make up parts “D” and “E”, finish on tones that are not part of the E-minor scale, while the consequents all end on in-scale tones. In the case of the exceptions just mentioned, this is inverted and D# is tonicized, effectively constituting a modulation to a different key.
Trey Azagthoth’s early infatuation with Mozart is often taken lightly even by fans of Morbid Angel but Chapel of Ghouls is a clear example of how this claimed influence went deep and affected the way motif, theme and development were handled. Trey did not just copy the classical style of Mozart, but adapted methods perfected by the late master to the needs of the budding death metal genre Morbid Angel helped define.
Watching the greats fall is always painful. But watching Darkthrone go from Transilvanian Hunger to The Underground Resistance is not half as painful as seeing how Enslaved defile their name in a pseudo-prog mainstream pop metal album like In Times after knowing they were capable of something like Vikingligr Veldi. Even without drawing a comparison, the contrast-oriented sequence of scenes posited by the modern metal of In Times as an excuse for music is in itself enough to throw this out the window.
The sort of failure that an album like this represents is one of the most pervasive maladies that afflicts modern metal, but it was born long before the metal itself developed. The pseudo-prog musical fallacy of either stitching unrelated sections with disparate characters and contrasting ideas or merely repeating riffs and similar ideas with no subtlety was born as soon as progressive rock became a “thing” and paper-thin rednecks like Camel and Rush were confused with the real-deal bands like Yes and King Crimson which require much more subtlety to appreciate. This is a sickness that metal has to overcome if it is to have an artistic future and if the absorption into mainstream pop music is to be staved off.
This absorption is always taking place, and there are always pockets of resistance. Enslaved is showing us the most dangerous example of this watering down. It is the most dangerous because it gives the superficial appearance of attaining greater complexity. But it is a trivial complexity. It is no real musical complexity as it only consists in stacking elements that sound appealing in passing much in the way Michael’s Pink Frothy AIDS constructs for the intellectual, sensitive hipsters. This music is painful to listen to for any discerning listener looking for coherence and meaning in art and should be avoided by any fan or musician looking for excellence except as an example of a common pitfall of the pseudo-intellectual metal movement.
Playing a mixture between the primitive South American black metal of Sarcofago, the unrelenting and mindlessly simplistic assault that borders on comedy of Marduk and something of its own, Deiphago’s Into the Eye of Satan is both a highlight and representation of half-cooked modern nostalgia metal. The references to the influences are pretty clear for someone to see and even though Deiphago escapes them and proposes something of their own, the sections in which we hear the older voices are two transparent. Rather than an integration of influences, we hear quotes to other composers in the midst of Deiphago’s maddened ramblings.
These raptures proper of a madman that Into the Eye of Satan exposes us to are as endearing as they are nonsensical. It makes one think of the epileptic attacks that Colombian’s Parabellum subjected the listener to. The difference is that the Latin American savant band actually produced coherent music within the wild and often disorienting music that nonetheless had a clear large-scale plan. Deiphago on the other hand attacks the listener with pure chaos, subjecting it to passages that border on noise improvisation and structures that appear to consist of haphazardly placed extreme-sounding sections. The theme here is chaos, the destruction of music and ideas themselves while the picture is not completely given up on. While not incurring in the sin of trying to become atmosphere itself nor becoming self-referential symbols, Into the Eye of Satan sadly still falls short of a year’s highlight due to what I perceive to be compositional laziness and/or lack of controlling musical notions in spite of a solid artistic vision.