We got a hint of Voivod’s upcoming plans a while back. Post Society may or may not be building up to Voivod’s next full length, but it still might be of value to fans of the band; it will release on February 26th. Besides compiling the tracks Voivod released as part of their recent splits with At the Gates and Napalm Deaths, this EP will also feature two original tracks and a cover of “Silver Machine” by Hawkwind. At least going by “We Are Connected”, it seems that Voivod is continuing the path set forth by their previous full-length – an accessible mixture of of their signature late ’80s sound with more modern alternative and progressive rock influences.
Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree recently conducted an interview with Metal Wani. In the linked second part, he suggested an aesthetic reason for the backlash against the swarm of “progressive” metal acts – according to him, there are too many progressive metal bands that are overusing the “metal guitar sound”, to the point that such loses its impact. In the mean time, Wilson is trying to explore dark and melancholic themes outside of metal, most notably in his collaboration with Mikael Akerfeldt in Storm Corrosion. This is obviously a different perspective than our usual narrative here at DMU – if you ask us, your pseudo-progressive band failed not because metal guitar is a cliched sound (which doesn’t eliminate the possibility), but more likely because your songwriting either took the form of modern pop in disguise or incoherent nonsense.
A quick EP of melodic metalcore/techdeaf – Arreat Summit’s Frostburn definitely hits all the expected points of 2008’s darling fusion – high levels of technical proficiency, candy coated melody, constant breakdowns, haphazard composition, and so forth. Usually this sort of thing doesn’t even rise to the point of being worthy of discussion (and I did find the actual music went almost unnoticed as I listened), but in this case, it resonated with me how eerily similar this is to playing the video games in the Diablo series that inspired it.
A quick primer – The first two games in the series are surprisingly atmospheric titles, at least by the standards of their age. In fact, I would go as far as to say that much of their potency is a result of Matt Uelmen’s excellent soundtrack work; Diablo II in particular frequently demonstrates his ability to mix coherent thematic development into unsettling ambient soundscapes. Back when I was most thoroughly engrossed in the game (read: 2008), though, my attention was instead turned towards repetitively grinding the game’s bosses in the slim hope of locating a powerful item that would allow me to do so slightly more efficiently. That was a much shallower and less fulfilling experience, albeit a powerfully addictive one more capable of destroying productivity than heroin. When you remove the setting from Diablo, it turns the game into a series of tangentially related and nonsensical murders. Similarly, when you remove the ‘setting’ from metal music, you’re left with what is little more than a technical exercise.
In summary, Arreat Summit’s successful portrayal of the grinding postgame of the series (to the point that they are named after a valuable piece of treasure that has no real lore attached to it) is a dubious honor at best.
Neurosis is going to record their next album at Electrical Audio Studio with Steve Albini starting on December 27th. This former hardcore punk band quickly evolved into one of the most influential voices on the indie-sludge-post sort of metal that was more popular a few years ago, and yet they seem to have earned some praise from site staff in the past. Going merely off the producer (Steve Albini has worked with the band for many years), I wouldn’t expect major changes to the band’s approach, but exceptions can always happen. The band’s official site claims that in 2016, they will play a few tour dates to celebrate their 30th anniversary – two in San Francisco, three in the Netherlands, and a few more in other parts of Europe.
Along with a planned review for the upcoming week, Ihsahn has made it back onto my list of “musicians who clearly exist” with the upcoming release of Arktis. It is set for a March 4th release and will be Ihsahn’s 6th full studio length. If previous press releases and media praiseworshipspeak is to be believed (I’m looking at Blabbermouth here), Arktis will somehow be both more traditionally structured than Ihsahn’s previous solo albums, which tend to already employ a lot of pop song structures, and also somehow pushing “…boundaries and preconceived sounds typically assigned to heavy music”. That’s either a tall order or a marketing department ignoring what the artist says to revel in their own promotional efforts.
Our previous editor was not a fan of Tengger Cavalry (accusing them of being simplistic stadium metal dressed up in Mongolian ornamentation), but they’ve managed to score a performance at the prestigious Carnegie Hall. However, if promotional materials are to be believed, this is going to be an ‘unplugged’ performance that emphasizes the folk/world music elements of the band over their rock/metal influences. Viewed in this light, it seems more mundane; Carnegie Hall has presumably seen many distinguished performances from folk music acts throughout its history. This is still a great boon to the band’s fame and a possible boost to the presence of Asian metal bands in society. The concert will be held on December 24th in the Weill Recital Hall.
For most of the bands we cover here at DMU, indirect influence from classical music and musicians is rather more common than direct performance of classical music, to the point that you’ll find more discussion of authentic period-style performance than metallic recontextualization. When word reached me of Exmortus honoring the 245th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth by releasing an adaptation of his 23rd piano sonata (the aforementioned Appassionata… well, the final movement of it), I figured listening to what the band could do with this material would make for some interesting writing. It’s worth noting that Exmortus has already done something similar for Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata, shredding their way through its fast and technically complicated final movement.
Since I’d never actually sat down and listened to the original Appassionata in any form, I started by listening to a performance. It’s been a while since I was properly attuned to Western classical music, but in my quick inspection I was able to pick up on many of the period tropes (it’s worth noting that Beethoven bridged the often lighter styles of the late 18th century with the melodramatic and more technically accomplished works of the early “Romantic” period of classical music), and I noticed how much mileage he was able to get out of a few relatively simple leitmotifs through various elaboration techniques. The sonata is clearly worthy of further study, although in the mean time one of our more classical-oriented writers would probably be able to shed further light on its hidden depths.
My main goal with this article, anyways, was to take a look at what Exmortus themselves did with the material. In their original moments, Exmortus plays a modernized speed metal style that takes some aesthetic cues from contemporary death metal; this recipe has in the past produced things like ATG’s Slaughter of the Soul, although this band’s usually a bit more subtle in their exploration of such tropes. Their adaptation of Appassionata makes very dramatic changes to the organization of the original. Much of these would be expected due to the mere change in instrumentation; perhaps the most notable is a consistent layer of percussion that understandably makes for a different texture. They’ve also condensed their adaptation down a bit; it would take me further listening to say which parts were specifically cut, but this is definitely an important change. Perhaps the greatest weakness of Exmortus’s version is that it also compresses the dynamic range down to nothing, and it does nothing with texture or rhythm to compensate for that. While the aesthetic needs of metal music often allow for reduced dynamic range, one of the more striking parts of the 3rd movement of Appassionata is that a skilled pianist can create strong contrasts despite the lengthy periods of rapid, stamina-draining performance, and that the ‘metal’ adaptation feels somewhat diminished for lacking this crucial element.
This track is still an interesting novelty that might push a few people to explore the original work. The album this single belongs to (Ride Forth) will go on sale January 8th, although I don’t expect it to contain any more neoclassical efforts. For an example of how original work in this vein can open up new possibilities, try Helstar’s “Perseverance and Desperation” off Nosferatu.
As part of their buildup to Winter Thrice, Borknagar is releasing a beard oil, thus pushing the boundaries a little further for band merchandise. Now, I tend to give my own beard very simple care (cheap razors, cheap shave cream, occasional scissor trimming to keep the length manageable), so the idea of applying any sort of beard oil is foreign to me, and I’m not exactly persuaded to start by the existence of this product. Those who are should note that Borknagar’s foray into this genre of lifestyle products is enabled by Rædical, a company that sells several different variants of the stuff. Borknagar’s beard oil is admittedly a rebrand of one of Rædical’s previous products, but it also comes with a wooden box and band logos, which are both clearly essential to the beard oil lifestyle.
Blackdeath is a Russian black metal band that just so happens to perform their lyrics in German. Funny how that works out. I’m not sure what the motivation is, but it’s a mildly interesting bit of trivia that you might get a kick out of. The actual album (which is intended to release on January 1st, 2016, and was provided via promos) was initially released in two parts in 2004, as parts of splits with Mortifera and Leviathan produced in exceedingly small qualities, so while the material is far from new, this may be your first chance to hear what comes off as a competent, but unremarkable and therefore disposable piece of old school black metal. Definitely not “best of 2016” material.
Now, the promo message we were sent claims that Totentanz is “…nothing like you have heard before”, but in my personal experience, there’s not much here that’s particularly novel. Blackdeath’s PR agency was probably listening primarily to the guitar, which showcase a nice mixture of standard melodic black metal phrases with more dissonant, atonal phrases. By not confining themselves to tonal centers, the band has opened up some realms of musical technique that could come in handy. That’s about all I can say in favor of the instrumental end of this album – nothing here is “wrong” or out of place (even the drum machine), but it’s otherwise very standard for its subgenre.
I suppose the specific problem with Totentanz is that it does little to coordinate its individual elements into a coherent whole. Blackdeath seemingly values the “kvlt” side of black metal, and thusly this album is blessed with a stereotypical low fidelity mix. The most prominent issue here is that the percussion is nearly inaudible; this appears to be a constant problem throughout the band’s discography. It’s not really a problem for a more ambient black metal act like Darkthrone or Sorcier des Glaces, but Blackdeath seemingly aspires towards the more violent side of the genre, at least if the rest of their musical elements aren’t misleading me. Totentanz also has the sort of arbitrary songwriting that so many other metal bands fall into. In this case, I find it unusually hard to isolate specific elements for criticism; however, the aesthetic/songwriting mismatch seems to be most responsible for this recording going in one ear and out the other without getting much in the way of proper mental attention.
I guess it’s a dubious honor that the first upcoming release of 2016 I’ve reviewed avoids the Sadistic Metal Reviews pile, but honestly, the best thing I can say about Totentanz is that it’s surrounded by mildly interesting circumstances.
It’s technically been out since November 20th, but whatever. Frank “Blackfire” Gosdzik is best known in the metal world for performing with Sodom and Kreator – both of which managed to exert a major influence on death and black metal despite not technically belonging to those genres. His tenures with each seem to have pushed both bands into periods of improved musical technique and more conventional songwriting (Agent Orange is to In The Sign of Evil as Coma of Souls is to Pleasure to Kill). Since then, we haven’t heard much from him until now. Interestingly enough, the samples provided for Back on Fire suggest a simpler approach more reminiscent of the former than the latter.