Why you should listen to Profanatica

Logo of Profanatica

Article by Lance Viggiano

Black metal emerged as a reaction to the trend of death metal which had already established a musical vocabulary and through that achieved a higher degree of technicality as well as abstraction.

These bands took inspiration from the proto-black Hellhammer, Venom, Bathory and Sodom. The music of these early hybrid bands was quite unlike what became the second wave of black metal or death metal in that its motifs were simple yet concrete; overlaid onto a structure which juxtaposes seemingly unrelated motifs next to one another in an uncomplicated and often superficially nonsensical form. Yet, the result was surprisingly successful as a visceral and chaotic experience of raw, concrete, sensory imagery.

The black metal to follow refined this approach through retaining much of the simplicity and visceral nature of the earlier music while placing the motifs in a more logical format through phrasal composition, in which each riff has a shape created by its phrase and these form a language within each song. This and the trademark atmospheric riffs driven by waves of reverb and tremolo picking – largely invented by the Norwegian bands of note – came to define the public perception of black metal as a genre. Consequently, the Norwegian sound moved away from the rhythmic lineage of rock to music to something closer to the traditional western sensibility: harmony and melody over static, invariant rhythm as famously codified by the experimental gothic sensibilities of Transilvanian Hunger.

Profanatica, from what can be intuited from rare interviews, had strong reactions towards both the Norwegian sound and death metal itself. As such their music took on a different character which has not garnered the band near as much acclaim. The Norwegian sound is, after all, is the standard against which all black metal music is held. Given the fact that all genres are imposed by observation after the fact, it seems that the difference between Profanatica and the Norwegian giants is not one of quality, but of a band not fitting within the aesthetic boundaries of a genre that the audience expects. That and the mad rush for Norwegian black metal pushed Profanatica to the boundaries of the black metal movement where its influence on artists and hardcore fans tells a different story of its importance.

Much like the Norwegians, Profanatica refined the approach of its influences by emphasizing an incoherent structure and seemingly random construction. The motifs themselves are anything but abstract; often sounding vaguely familiar if not recycled both literally and intuitively. The listener will detect a clear sense of familiarity with the image of a particular motif, yet its contextual placement is such that it reveals a new perspective on something familiar. To draw a metaphor, it is as if one obtains a view of the same landscape from the peak of different mountains. This freedom of association allows a particular feeling, idea or image to be used as appropriate, anywhere in a song without sounding out of place. That particular innovation is unique to this band alone.

Structurally, Profanatica develop the proto-black method by emphasizing its motif contrast and non-rational composition. The infamous “Weeping in Heaven” demonstrates this technique through a collection of riff ideas which bears little relationship to one another, nor are treated in such a way that might cause the music to blend seamlessly. The contrast is emphasized which leaves the listener in a position to experience the music on an intuitive level. The result speaks to the body and it speaks towards the id. Logical progression, causality and abstract musical language are rejected abjectly. Profanatica embraces the rhythmic tradition of non-Western forms; using it to give meaning to chaos and incoherence of raw experience. Where one might perceive conceptual weakness and compositional immaturity in the early black metal music, Profanatica matured their approach to the point of strength.

The greatest contrast between the Norwegian sound and their influences lay at the relationship between the subject and the perceiver. The musical component of the proto-black bands described the emotional reactions to a phenomenon portrayed, resulting in the internal discourse one expects when reacting to the representations given to them by their nervous system. The Norwegian sound attempts to paint the external world through its musical discourse. The valuations of the perceiver are never absent quite absent and serve to describe the relationship of the internal world to the external. It asks the question, “where do we fit in the image of the world as presented?”

In a sense it attempts to categorize a dark forest in nonverbal symbols. Profanatica, resting firmly in the proto-black tradition, presents the terror of a solitary human being in a forest without describing the forest itself through its musical symbols. The dialogue then, becomes a matter of internal sensation which is untamed and instinctual. In terms of artistry, that innovation ultimately expanded the initial range of expression without reasoning categorically about it.

The effectiveness of this particular approach may be observed on the medley from the Grand Masters Sessions release. The track consists of portions of the band’s demo material stitched together to form a single track. A listener familiar with Profanatica’s back catalog will no doubt sense the familiarity of the material yet what is most striking is the functionality of the piece as a whole. Despite being composed from entirely different songs, the song involves juxtaposition of each motif and its partial ordering, and as a result manages a level of unity as a stream of consciousness which reveals new perspectives on the material through context.

Profanatitas de Domonatia (2007) distills the familiar Incantation sound made famous on their debut record Onward to Golgotha – which Paul Ledney had a strong hand in developing – by stripping the material down to its most basic instincts. The result is a fierce and destructive force of will whose aim is deconstruction.  The follow up Disgusting Blasphemies Against God saw the band barbarizing the famous emotional sensitivity of black metal’s melodic heritage and assembling those remains into hideous totems. The record’s defining characteristic is, after all, something of a crescendo implying the process of construction, perhaps out of the remains of that which its predecessor tore down. The latest record, Thy Kingdom Cum, lays siege to its two previous approaches by simplifying its rhythms to the point of idiocy while contorting its melodic forms to the point of mockery. The defining character of its predominant motifs is laughter which can be gleaned easily in the opening moments of the track “False Doctrina.” The aforementioned qualities are not something which need to be abstracted from the music; they are clear and obvious.

Profanatica’s approach is much like an uncivilized warband conducting raids on the civilized. Such groups are as much a tribal patchwork out of violent young men as they are a patchwork of the spoils of their activities: contradictory compositions of the basic human and technological components of a greater civilization whose assemblage is entirely pragmatic and allows for them to serve functions other than intended, but no less effective than their original purpose. Out of elements bound tenuously is something effective, something purposeful, something deadly. The world this music operates in is one which is defined almost entirely by nature rather than one defined by humans.

Where proto-black metal is defined by its visceral nature and deconstructive character, Profanatica embrace the ignorance in a brash display of unconcern for the perfume-soaked intellectuals which decry those outside their borders. Dwelling within the primitive backwater fringe has its advantages by bearing immunity to the abstract and desperate silliness of the rest of the genre. The similarly-goaled war metal attempts to reach back into black metal’s foundations but does so in a way which reduces the motif as an objectified emotion or image into pure texture reducing its communicative efficacy. The work of Ledney and company retains the concrete sensory experiences which drove metal in each of its original incarnations and were later given musical scrutiny before completely fossilizing, allowing their art to pick the last of the low-hanging fruit of metal as a form while others languish in petty revivalism, soulless displays of technical mastery, or vapid experimentation that desperately seeks revitalization by looking to external music genres; copying but not transforming its clichés.

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Black Flames of Blasphemy VI review

bflames 6
Review by “Blackcat”

A swirling miasma of ethanol greeted us upon the last Black Flames of Blasphemy, a festival held this past November in the picture perfect setting of Helsinki. The night before the scheduled Warmup event, I flew into town and made a beeline for Bar PRKL, a space named for the Finnish profanity likely exposed to most readers of this site from the comedy album released by the quirky Impaled Nazarene.

Those of us who live in less utopian societies than Finland often wonder why the idyllic nations in this area are able to produce such incredible music. “Finnish people can’t admit that they have goodness,” chuckled ApeX lead guitarist Arttu, an incredibly young thrash band who were in the process of violating the few revelers in attendance at PRKL that night. Indeed, as such documentaries as Until the Light Takes Us strove to illustrate, perfection has cast a pall on everything in much of the remaining non-disintegrating portions of the globe. It is almost as if the human condition is predisposed to strife, and that ostensibly perfect societies lead the average citizen to turn to perversion to bring balance into life – thus possibly explaining why places like Germany and Japan end up with penchants for coprophilia and bestiality.

Also present at PRKL were two members of Sammath, who descended upon Helsinki specifically for a dose of damage to tympanic membranes and liver. Hundreds of euros worth of alcohol consumed before the festival even started explains the reduced quality of the writing herein. Any complaints may be directed towards those two for rendering me quasi-unable to write let alone think. The fact that the screed was written on a tortured local keyboard and the reviewer is used to a U.S. issued one didn’t help a whit either.

We older, more cynical types were delighted to find youth as enthusiastic about all things metal as ApeX, and though 17 year olds themselves were unusual in their devotion, Helsinki was remarkable for having metal and punk culture literally everywhere one went. Taxis, restaurants, public toilets, airport shuttles and hotels all had a notably worthwhile theme of fine harder music. This trend did display its cellulitic underbelly in billboards featuring nerdwank outfit, Nightwish, hawking air-brushed, wet-dream-inducing Caucasian female thighs and an exorbitantly expensive line of bling suitable for teenagers in wealthy northern countries with too much pocket money for their age.

But I digress. Our focus should be on the festival, and that was one thing that the festival organizers seemed to have done quite well over the years. Black Flames of Blasphemy has been a fairly well attended sub-underground festival, running on and off for the last six years. The early years were vomited forth in a now rededicated cathedral in central Helsinki, and whilst the festival has moved on to less atmospheric surrounds, the organizers’ devotion to only the most rabidly necrotic bands is no small feat. Originally launched by Kold Reso Kult, the festival seems to have taken on a raison d’etre of its own over the years and drawn numerous acts known for playing a very limited number of shows such as Antaeus and Blasphemy. The scarcity of many of the acts led to a non-trite sense of novelty that led to a triangulated feeling somewhere between reverence, arrogance and pride for having been one of the few to have seen such veritable narwhals of the musical world.

This year was allegedly the last, and whilst threats of this sort are often made in the world of underground metal (only 120 copies to be made in hymen blood, and then no more ever again NO CORE, NO TRENDS, . . . until we release it in vinyl again in a few months on an even more ridiculously limited run), there seemed to be little threat that the crowd did not lend it a credence as evidenced by the flagrant hedonism on display at virtually every level of the setting. Nosturi, as the venue was called, must have some connection to vile ‘rhoidrock band HIM, as their logo appears in the lighting-rig and several other locations in the building; but detestable associations aside, the venue was actually quite accommodating.

The "HIM" logo, allegedly tattoo'ed on Steve-O

This tattoo is not completely and utterly unrelated to the HIM logo.

The staff at Nosturi were kind and courteous, putting up with the sort of reprehensible behavior that one would expect from a down syndrome five-year-old on amphetamines. Indeed, this seemed to be true for most Helsinkians, who were never seen to act heavy-handedly despite the questionable behavior of many of our associates. The drinks were of course ridiculously expensive, as are all things in Finland, (3 euro for the coatroom, 1 euro to retrieve said coat!?!?) but that did not stop the cohort from literally drinking the place into oblivion every single bloody evening.

Black Flames of Blasphemy VI should be noted to have featured the most solid lineup in the history of the festival. Indeed, more than a few have been solidly praised on this site amongst others for their solid contributions to the overall gestalt of extreme metal achievement in the prime years of the scene. Still, it was uneven. As has been reiterated time and again on this site, 99% of metal is absolute shit, and bands like Blackwinged embodied the nadir of human endeavor. The silver lining to this is that more time was made for sightseeing / mind abusing opportunities.

On then to the reviews as they were penned by this reviewer in the classic manner: via sweat, ink and beer soaked notebook clutched between pumping fists, and the contributions of the stalwart brood of iniquitous, abusive pundits who wandered in and out of the fuzzy borders of the violence ringing in his ears.

DAY 1: WARMUP – Grunt / Bizarre Uproar / Ride for Revenge / Obscure Burial / Deströyer 666

Grunt

Grunt in concert

Grunt: Said to be a side project of Clandestine Blaze / Northern Heritage sociopath, Mikko Aspa, Grunt kicked off the “Warmup” to the festival by doing quite the opposite. Monotonous, repetitive pulses punctuated by amateur feedback made me wonder why people are still drawn to artrock. Images of highly disturbing matter lent the show a more tolerable air, but pudgy white guys in bondage masks barking at random made me conscious of guarding my asshole too much to enjoy the show. Over all, Grunt in concert were a bit like listening to your fey roommate having an orgy whilst listening to Godflesh on a broken turntable next door. The playing of the belt sander on the thunder machine was an interesting flare, but with all due respect, Mr. Aspa should keep his day job.

Bizarre Uproar

Bizarre Uproar

Bizarre Uproar: Seems like Grunt just changed into their street clothes and got fatter. A Dutchman near me noted that this band gave him earAIDS. This drove us back to the bar as it wasn’t nearly so interesting as twenty well executed shots of salmiakki licorice alcohol. Cirrhosis is always preferable to aural loss. Look not for the successors to the great Throbbing Gristle here.

Ride for Revenge

Ride for Revenge

Ride For Revenge: Repetitive, sludgy, and coming off like Goatlord, but not quite as inspired, RfR still brought the focus of the show more firmly in a metal direction. The band’s stage presence was directionless, and at times reminiscent of one of those hunting dioramas at a second rate sporting goods store.

Obscure Burial: The writing in my notebook point is smeared by unknown fluids for this act. What is legible bleeds through as follows: “A triple barbed fishhook – much more focused than any other band thus far. An Australian nearby wrote this:

“We walked up to the upstairs area and there were cocks everywhere. It was gay as shit! It was like listening to Kreator in 99! Fuck that shit.”

Another picture of Ride for Revenge, if you're into that sort of thing.

Another picture of Ride for Revenge, in case you’re into that sort of thing.

This was followed by multiple images of genitalia with wings.

Deströyer 666

Deströyer 666

Deströyer 666: Maligned in some quadrants for playing in a thrashy, hook-flaying style that may have contributed to the formation of “war metal,” and in others for K.K. Warslut’s obnoxious attitude, Deströyer 666 were a true joy to behold. Filled out by an entirely new band, K.K. and the boys managed to finally shake the torpid audience out of their inertia. Tracks such as the shocking “Raped” gave the listener the same queasy pleasure that one derives from listening to the Fearless Iranians from Hell’s “Blow up the Embassy.” “I am the Wargod,” and “Black City,” were played with more chin-jutted pride and beauty than on the vinyl, whilst the ethereal “Trialed by Fire” raised the hair on necks and the spirits of the dejected. Deströyer even launched a kerosene-soaked rendition of Motörhead’s “Iron Fist,” tipping their chrome-studded hats to Phil “Philthy” Taylor’s passing earlier in the day. All in all, Deströyer 666 certainly made showing up to the festival a night early well worth it, purging our ears of much of the fluff which preceded them.

Day 2: FRIDAY 13th – Blackwinged / Vampire / Hell Militia / Xibalba / Mayhemic Truth / Midnight / Blasphemy

Blackwinged: Guest reviewer – Vlad, Russian virus and vodka enthusiast, and general psychopath: “Blackwinged? FUCK THEM ALL! Suck my fucking wrinkled dick.” It may be said that they weren’t a favorite amongst the crowd.

Vampire

Vampire

Vampire: Concho belted, pretty boy Aerosmith antics of the lead vocalist Command aside, it has to be said that Vampire were one of the big surprises of the show. With an approach akin to Kreator’s “Extreme Aggression,” Vampire managed to transcend the Italian horror-film shtick of their stage set, album art and, yes, band name to actually convey the attraction of mortification. Although I was unfamiliar with the tracks, the music whelmed in a not untasteful rock format that seared themes presumably of the undead into the conscious. Channeling Riccardo Freda in the best ways possible, Vampire delivered an entertaining show that was only slightly marred by the less-cocksure presence of the string section.

Hell Militia: 666 – no report – 666

Xiblaba

Xibalba (Editor’s note: It’s a toss-up as to whether “Sac Ibteelob Cab” or “Sign of Eastern War” is the better song. One of the more trivial debates in this world, though.)

Xibalba: Undeniably shitty drum solos and crude corpse-paint aside, Xibalba stood as one of the zeniths of the festival. These heroes of the second wave of black metal came on with a garage band sincerity that outshone the more highly polished acts throughout the rest of the evening. Thank Satan for this eager aural feast! Tracks like “Sign of Eastern War” and “Sac Ibteeloob Cab” were executed with a grim clarity that were occasionally missed on the original disc. Young new band members injected an off-kilter virility into the music that is essential for such an ambitious project.

Mayhemic Truth: Best known for changing monikers as often as John “Cougar” Mellancamp, and for many of the same shitty dishonest reasons, Morrigan were cut from the same overrated Kraut-tripe, kvlt-as-fvck cheesecloth as their vacuous countrymen Moonblood. In the 90s before MP3s made the obscure-kvlt fad obsolete, I was of the brood vainly attempting to find releases by this act . . . only to be astonished by how over-hyped they were when I finally heard them. Jeffemic Truthship did not fail to disappoint by disappointing with hackneyed black metal cliché after hackneyed black metal cliché. Stay obscure, White Stripes of kvltmetal, so that the rest of us don’t have to hear your sorry excuse for music.

Midnight: This reviewer was looking forward to some sort of decent blackened speed akin to Sodom, and was bouncing off the walls for some old school headbanging. Unfortunately, I wasn’t much impressed, so gave the job of review again to the ruthless peanut gallery around me: “nice thrash. ßit’s not, so fk off! Cheap ass trash. Fucking bollocks!!! Boring. It’s not even midnight assholes. They started at 11:45 – midnight my arse!! Midshite!!”

Blasphemy performs?

Blasphemy performs?

Blasphemy: Blasphemy’s terrifying Cro-Magnon antics delineated why the genre of black metal flourished for one brief, outstanding moment back at the fall of the Soviet Empire. The Canadian masters of knuckle-dragging avant-garde horror imprecisely dissected the audience as a claw hammer muddles and pulverizes the veiny membranes of a victim’s genitals. While the Ross Bay maniacs may never have quite reached the spacey brilliance of their Finnish protégés, Beherit, the “organized chaos” of their technique was matched that night only by the gunfire lighting up stadiums in Paris 2,000 kms away. Tracks such as “Goddess of Perversity” were executed with an intensity reminiscent of some of the more hyperactive Discharge tracks, and intros were faithfully inserted without a hint of humor. Photos attempted at short range during this show mostly consisted of purple blurs and the back of brutarian ham-hock elbows. The show also illustrated again why Blasphemy have only ever put out two real efforts (yes, I know that there are technically three, but come on – they’re basically fifteen minute punk affairs). The band made their contracted dynamo statement of grunted, jack-booted hate in a blood-clot of chains, crudely applied paint and beer-gutted belches. After forty insanely punishing minutes, the Helsinki authorities carted them off to their respective cells in solitary confinement where they belong.

Blasphemy performing, this time with a more competent photo.

Blasphemy performing, this time with a more competent photo.

DAY 3: Satanic Warmaster / Infernal War / Irkallian Oracle / Funeral Winds / Goat Semen / Varathron / Mysticum

Satanic Warmaster: Written by a drunk Finn: HAISTA VITTU VITUN HUORA KUSIPĀĀ, IME MUNAA JA KUOLE! SAATANA LLINEN SOTA HERRA NY LOPPU SAHTI. PRIEKĀ, NO LATVIHAE. LAI TEV LABA DZIVE PRIEKS TEVI SATIKT. Actually, those last couple of phrases might be in Latvian.

Infernal War: 666 – No report – 666

Ikrallian

Ikrallian Oracle. Check out the tambourine.

Irkallian Oracle: I really wanted to hate this band. They are so phenomenally over the top. A bunch of ring-wraiths holding sparkly tambourines and bells. Faces masked by silver sheets. The kind of accouterments and flashy hocus-pocus that one would expect from a second-rate Ed Wood movie. And yet, the band was enigmatic. Themes held together throughout the whole concept of a track, cycling back from start to finish to start again, alpha and omega encompassing a solid core. The mystery behind the act was far more compelling than with more gimmicky acts that have been abused on these pages. This band is what GHOST wishes it was. I will be interested to pick up the album to see whether the whole disc sounds as good as it did live.

Funeral Winds: See: Mayhemic Truth. Or just about any Xerox copy black metal.

Goat Semen: Came off as a kind of second rate bully boy Blasphemy. Sure, they have cleaner riffs from time to time, but do they convey the same core of absolute spinning disgust and pummeling loathing? Perhaps it’s just that Blasphemy are so much more familiar from having been played time and again . . . or that they developed this genre, and that anything else emulating it is just that: a plastic reproduction, no matter how faithfully copied.

More Blasphemy. This time, their crumpled setlist.

More Blasphemy. This time, their crumpled set list.

Varathron: For almost three decades these innovative masters of crawling necrotic horror have forged timeless odes to their Hellenic ancestors. Rivaled in their excellence and originality in Greece perhaps only by the great Necromantia, Varathron have been criminally overlooked by basement-dwelling pseudonymed fanboys more interested in the likes of obscure releases by Moëvöt than incredibly well developed music that perfectly emotes the Dionysian strophe and anti-strophe of ancient cultic form. Varathron took the stage with more presence than could have been imagined from some of the cheesier rock mantras that they fell prey to in the early 2000s, and launched into a barrage of tracks from across their storied career. Recent(ish) drummer Haris is an amazing addition to the band, and one that this reviewer wishes had been present on classics such as “His Majesty at the Swamp,” which suffered from drummachineitis. Guitarist Achilleas decimated the audience much like his warrior-hero namesake, along with twin slayer in savagery Sotiris and recently added bassist, Stratos. Varathron reached their climax with the amazing “Kabalistic Invocation of Solomon,” where band high priest Necroabyssius read from Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, in a huge tome edition, green lights all ablaze, magnificence all ablaze. Incidentally, the entire band are really nice blokes too.

Toxicology report: Mysticum: *Journalist’s disclaimer – order of events may have played out slightly differently than reported – notes were not taken during the actual performance, but recalled from cottony memory* Twin streams of quicksilver lashed the crowd as the techno triumvirate of Cerastes, Prime Evil, and Dr. Best took to the stage. Nineteen years elapsed since this dystopian nightmare last synthesized an audience into freebased crystallized human waste. I had grave doubts about whether this band would be anything interesting live. Idols are often deflating in situ, and although their demos and first album were good, the production levels often made the backtrack sound like bubble paper being stomped on by Japanese girls in platforms. All fears were allayed as the thumping horror of “Black Magic Mushrooms” battered the audience and surreal monochromatic strobewar of lights blistered our retinas. The light show and visuals were truly unique throughout a performance interestingly heavy on tracks from the new “Planet Satan” release, including “Lucifer in the Sky with Demons,” “All Must End,” and my personal favorite, “The Ether.” On the screen, forms morphed from chemical compounds of LSD and other intoxicants, to Nazi soldiers, to skulls and swirling maelstroms of insanity. A paralyzing early intermezzo left the crowd confused and disoriented, after which “Crypt of Fear’s” ominous intro shook them into hysteria. Mysticum left no room for error: they are back to stay, and dominate. 100% pure satanic peyote!

Epilogue: Starting at a flat line

The shuttle bus at the airport is rooted to the ground. Won’t move anywhere. The heater is up way too high. I’m roasting in morkkis, a Finnish term for a kind of hideous hangover defined by creeping dread and a sense of, well, mortification. One poor soul we interviewed might best sum up the atmosphere of the entire festival. He was hobbling around on crutches. When asked what transpired, he confided that early on in the show, he and some colleagues had taken a few doses of LSD. Having come down into a troubled, drug addled sleep he was jolted awake by a fellow reveler, who had hallucinated that the police were raiding their dwelling. His immediate reaction was to jump from the upper story window down to a painful and humiliating full stop below. Morkkis. The human condition is low indeed. Yet I am buoyed by the knowledge that even if most of what moved this reporter was music penned two decades ago, it was a zenith of human achievement, and which could have only been commemorated by the bacchanalian Black Flames of Blasphemy.

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Grave Ritual – Morbid Throne (2015)

Grave Ritual - Morbid Throne (2016)

Review by Corey M

Grave Ritual released their debut album, Euphoric Hymns From the Altar of Death, on Razorback Records in 2010. I picked up the album after a cursory listen online and have been steadily listening ever since. It is based on the sort of whirlwind style of composition in which contrasting, visceral riffs are injected in rapid succession into the listener’s stream of consciousness, but the band keeps just enough pressure on the brakes to keep the songs from becoming haphazard and disorienting, and they know when to reign in the multi-directional melodic excursions and wrap up their exploration in a satisfying resolution. Grave Ritual are a well-oiled machine who are foremost concerned with playing death metal just the way death metal is “supposed” to be played. That is the strength and the weakness of this band.

Five years after their first release, Grave Ritual have given us Morbid Throne, which begins with an unnecessarily long intro track (“Baleful Aversion”) that is evidently designed to ease the listener into the aural aesthetic of the album. This is not a bad musical technique necessarily, but I find that being tossed right into the fray of warped chords and unexpected rhythmic shifts of traditional death metal is a much better introduction to the hopeless terror that is death metal’s specialty (aside maybe from an unironic ’80s-sounding synth). Listening to “Baleful Aversion” feels like I just exchanged a ticket for access to a “haunted” fun house and am leisurely strolling down the walkway that leads to the entrance, hearing electronic sound clips of spooky bat squeaks and creaking floors, passing “DANGER!” signs stuck in the nearby ground intended to give the appearance of haphazard placement and long-term neglect, but obviously carefully placed and maintained. Meanwhile the opening track of, say, Effigy of the Forgotten gives me the sense that I’ve been strapped into an unguided rocket and the engines have just ignited. In other words, there is a sense of carefulness on the part of the band to avoid getting “too crazy,” and this is the overall sense of the entire album, usually for the worse.

At the risk of using the “it’s 2015, we should be past this by now,” argument, Grave Ritual seem to be doing themselves a disservice by sticking so closely to established death metal tropes. The album is evidently supposed to sound like it was recorded in 1992, including the guitar, drum, and vocal techniques. We need only reference Immolation or Atheist to see that there isn’t necessarily an established canon of techniques that define that era; rather, it was a time when bands were pushing the limits of metal in terms of what was physically feasible to play on an instrument, and what sounds were psychologically jarring without going to the point of unlistenability. Grave Ritual play riffs with the same intervals and scales and power chords that the death metal bands in 1992 used, but they play them like rock riffs, which at some point need to cycle back to the original chord that began the riff in order to resolve. Grave Ritual, however, instead of truly resolving a section of music and allowing the next section to develop, will just drop a riff after it gets played enough times (before you can get bored with hearing it, to the band’s credit) and a new riff arises out of the same scale but in a different rhythm or at a different tempo, to give the appearance of motion and development. This means that, if you listen closely with attention paid to the beginning and ending chords of each riff, you’ll notice that the guitarists will stay on a single chord pattern for a very long time, occasionally switching up the speed or pattern of notes but only changing how the notes are played, not what notes are played.

Grave Ritual use an effective but dated method of riffcraft: 1. Pick a dissonant interval. 2. Play some scattered, atonal riff to jump between the two notes. 3. Play basically the same thing on a different place on the neck, but slower. This worked very well for Incantation, but Incantation’s music is grounded by an intuitive sense of motion and tension, probably because the guitarists knew that they had to move on to a different riff and aimed toward it, rather than milking each riff for all its worth by cycling through indefinite rhythmic mutations before the riff expires. Meanwhile, the two-chord back-and-forth riffs on “Morbid Throne” do not build tension as they are repeated over and over; their main purpose seems to be providing a rhythmic hook to anchor the rest of the inoffensive-but-generally-unremarkable two-chord riffs that make up the meat of most songs.

And hooky, they are. The best parts on Morbid Throne are very cool sounding; imagine Autopsy riffs played at half-speed while authoritative drum patterns are augmented by a very deep and grisly voice chanting spells of suicidal vengeance. It’s a dependable aesthetic formula because it has held up against the scrutiny of generations and has continued to sell in a rapidly shifting industry for over thirty years. Unfortunately Grave Ritual’s dedication to this aesthetic has made them a slave, rather than master, to it. One prime example is the guitar lead that comes in just before the minute mark in “Lewd Perversities”; we hear string bends and rapidly tapped melodies, but that’s all there is to hear. It’s just an exposition of technique. There is nothing being expressed through the technique; the only expression is of the technique itself, which is a backward way to write and play death metal.
The best death metal albums work by pairing musical sections that are unlike on the surface (being in a different key, or of a different rhythm or tempo) and then eventually tying them together by offering more transitions and comparisons until the listener’s stubborn insistence that unlike sections conflict is broken and he submits to the song as a whole rather than a collection of contrasts. Grave Ritual understand that pairing incongruent riffs haphazardly makes the music an incongruent shuffle. This lets them gracefully avoid the two major pitfalls of modern death metal; one being that overwhelming percussive impact will convince the listener that they are hearing something extremely “brutal” and the other being that “atmosphere” is the goal of any album and bizarrely-voiced dissonant amelodic progressions are the most appropriate take on a death metal “atmosphere”. For this, they are to be commended. Yet in the end, this album has no teeth. There is no sense of danger or tension throughout. The product is a death metal album designed for easy listening, and in this way, it succeeds.

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Rolling your own cigars

Guest post by Brian Parker.

Guest post by Brian Parker.

For those of you that enjoy a cigar now and then, probably never tried to roll your own. It’s fun, inexpensive, and you learn a lot about the craftsmanship that goes into the cigars you buy at your local cigar shop. I was lucky enough to have a friend drop off a bunch of cigar tobacco to me that he had ordered from LeafOnly.com (see also Whole Leaf Tobacco).

I was very eager to roll a cigar, but when I first opened the box to check out the tobacco leaves, I noticed the leaves were very dry. I thought maybe they were too dry to work with, and then I read online that that’s how they are shipped. They must be re-hydrated, stretched out and trimmed. Below is a step-by-step guide to rolling your own cigars.

Supplies needed:

  • Fruit pectin (found in the canning/baking section of grocery store, used for glue)
  • Scissors
  • Spray Bottle of distilled water
  • String (optional, I use dental floss)
  • Flat surface (I use a cutting board)
  • Sponge (optional, I just use my hand)
  • Whole leaf tobacco (filler, binder and wrapper leaves)

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Making the cigar glue. In a shot glass, add 1tsp of pectin and then add ¼ tsp of distilled water. Stir with a table knife and keep adding ¼ tsp of water until it’s nearly clear and sticks to the knife.

Step 1: Hydrate

Pick out about three leaves of filler, 1 binder leaf, and 1 wrapper leaf. On the wrapper leaf, be sure to find one with minimal tears and holes. Start with the filler leaves and spray each side lightly with water and set aside. Just one easy spray on each side will due. We just want the filler leaves wet enough that they don’t crumble apart when we bend them. The binder and wrapper leaves you want to get a bit more wet. Once you have both sides of the binder and wrapper leaves wet, put them aside and wait about ten minutes for the leaves to absorb the water.

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Step 2: Stretch and Examine Leaves

After you’ve waited ten minutes, gently grab the binder leaf, and slowly stretch it out. Be sure not to crack it; if it’s too resistant, give it another spray of water. You may have to do this a few times. Slowly fan it out until it starts looking like a full leaf. Do the same with the wrapper leaf. On the wrapper leaf, keep an eye out for holes and tears. If both the right, and left sides of the wrapper leaf have tears, use another wrapper leaf.

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Step 3: De-vein and Trim Leaves

We don’t want that big, single vein that runs down the middle of the leaf. It can cause uneven burning and looks bad. With the filler leaves, fold the leaf in half, then grab the vein near the top, and pull it to the stem. You should be left with two halves of the leaf. With the binder and wrapper leaves, cut from the bottom to the top of the leaves, leaving some of the thick parts of the veins aside.

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Step 4: Rolling the Binder

Gather up your filler and with both hands, roll and squeeze them into a general cigar shape. This does not need to be neat, or tight, just need the general shape. It should be about two fists long. Next, break them in half by simply tearing them with both hands. Next, combine them both into one, and try to make them even, so that they feel like they would make an even gauge cigar. Now lay out a binder half, with the veins facing up. Add a bit of the glue to the end of the binder by dipping your finger in the glue, and wiping it on the leaf.

Be liberal; you can even spread it down the leaf. Grab the bunch of filler and place it over the wrap diagonally so you can roll forward. Gently spread out the wrap, while rolling the wrap around the filler. Do not roll too tight. You still want some give when you squeeze it. A cigar that is too tightly rolled will give you a bad draw. It doesn’t have to look great at this point. Once you are close to the end, add more glue to the binder so it holds together.

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Step 5: Wrap, Cut, and Wrap Again

Since I am new to this hobby, I like to have two wraps on my cigars. I tend to have small tears or holes in my wraps, so to make it look nicer, I use two wraps. This means I am using both halves of a single wrapper leaf. Make sure your wraps are trimmed, and stretched out as much as possible. First use the wrapper half that may have a little more damage than the other, and start with that one. Do the same as you did with the binder. Veins up, add glue to the end, and roll.

While you roll, use one hand to roll, use the other to spread out the leaf. The wrap is made to look nice, so we want it to be as smooth, and wrinkle free as possible. Once you have it wrapped nicely and are ready for the second wrap, trim both ends with a cigar cutter or sharp knife. This is to give it that cigar shape. On your second wrapper leaf, leave some extra hanging off both ends. Add lots of glue to this one as we don’t want any bubbles or it to come apart. Roll it up tightly, careful not to tear the wrapper.

When you get near the bottom, add lots of glue and with the remaining wrapper, twist it and add some glue to the outside. It’s OK if it looks a little messy on the end, that part will be cut off before smoking. If you don’t have enough wrap left to leave the twist, use your string to tie a knot around the cigar to hold it in place. You can attempt to make a true cap, but I am not good enough to attempt that.

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The second wrap will cover up that crack.

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Step 6: Smooth, Dry, Trim

Now you are left with what looks like a cigar. In order to make it better looking, lay the cigar on a flat surface, and gently roll a flat object over it. In the picture below, you can see I used a DVD case. This helps smooth the wrapper and push veins down. You can do this a few times a day. Let the cigar dry. Don’t put it in your humidor or a Ziploc bag. Leave it out for at most 2-5 days, depending on how wet you got your leaves. If they feel damp, let it sit. Finally, trim off any excess tobacco from the foot of the cigar (the part you light).

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Step 7: Cut, Light, Enjoy!

Use a cigar cutter, or a sharp knife, to cut off the end. Just cut off about ⅛ of an inch. I like to light using a torch lighter, but not let the direct flame come in contact with the cigar. Instead, let the heat of the flame slowly heat up the cigar, while slowly spinning the cigar to get an even burn. I also recommend pairing with a nice single malt scotch whisky. I am really fond of Glenmorangie 12 right now and is sweet and mild enough to not override the cigar.

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Brian Parker has been a metalhead for over two decades and has created and nurtured the San Diego Metal Swap Meet since 2009.

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Scale The Summit – V (2015)

Scale The Summit - V (2015)

Everyone has at least one person in their network who is obsessed with “smart” music; your local government will provide you with a complimentary one if you have any doubts. You can tell music is “smart” by the fact it’s either instrumentally complex, aesthetically gimmicky, or even merely composed of band members who agree with some of your socialpolitical opinions. V is not the first to the best of my knowledge, but its ties to the djent and “progressive metal” scenes give Scale the Summit a built in audience full of such people. The relatively clean guitar tones and otherwise frequent moments of gentle strumming make me question the metal label, but I’m not yet the type to judge music solely by its genre. It does mean, however, that I’ve mentally shelved this on the progressive rock shelves along with acts like Camel and Yes, which admittedly are radically different in overall approach, but at least give this album some stern competition which it desperately needs.

V is actually a collection of jazz fusion instrumentals that presumably took some time to practice and learn even for the band’s technically skilled musicians. Much has been written on the idea of jazz-metal fusions, but Scale the Summit seems quite archetypal in that regard, relying on thorough-composed songwriting with distinct sections over improvisation, but favoring lighter, cleaner tones and sounds even at their most intense. One thing that divides me is how rigidly and academically the band approaches song structure – tracks here are full of obvious “We’re going to vary the song by modulating to another key or changing the drum pattern” type moments that probably look well-planned if you consult the corresponding tablature, but don’t work out in practice for being too jarring or too frequently followed by an obvious pause. This might be something to expect from such a rhythm-heavy style, but it still strikes me as a notable weakness, and one that makes some of these songs so self-conscious that it interferes with their overall memorability and impact.

Ultimately, I find Scale the Summit to be aesthetically pleasing, and I can derive some intellectual satisfaction from piecing together the theoretical level of their music, which is more than I can say for a lot of so-called progressive metal. I can’t guarantee that I won’t plunder V for some of these technical ideas. Employing this prowess towards more interesting and less obvious (less formulaic) songwriting is going to be quite a challenge, though. I can’t guarantee you that Scale the Summit will do the same, since they seem pretty content with their current technically proficient but otherwise ephemeral style.

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Necromantic Worship – Spirit of the Entrance Unto Death (2015)

Necromantic Worship

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:

  1. Nergal, The Raging King
  2. Conjuration of the Fire God
  3. The Dark Young of Shub Niggurath
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Ashbringer – Vacant (2015)

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While most modern bands err on the side of so-called experiments and “open-mindedness”, Ashbringer tries to adopt a conservative posture in a manner that kills music with stagnancy. This may be either a product of a skewed appreciation of the classics or simply a good-intentioned but overzealous drive to keep coherence in check that might arise from an ignorance of music-writing procedures. Such procedures can and have been ignored by people with either great experience and understanding, or savants like Varg Vikernes who display an amazing instinctive talent for musical creation. Unfortunately, there is a myth that drives hordes of musicians of average talent (because that is the definition of average) to attempt to emulate the actions of those who are natural geniuses. Such combination of presumption with an unwillingness to educate themselves give us many sincere but ultimately deficient metal records (see early The Chasm).

In Vacant, Ashbringer present us songs which bear the mark of an intention of maintaining coherence by repeating the same idea and only venturing forth to use the same motif played in several different ways, offering carrying a whole song or entire super-sections mostly in this manner. The extent of these variations are limited to texture change and register change. Correctly sensing that this only creates a static picture seen through different-colored lenses, other ideas are introduced, but these do not bear a clear relation between each other beyond the concordance of similar technique, tonality and consistency in style. Akin to a series of unrelated pictures in a row in an album  without a clear history to relate them, variety is forced, taking the songs out of painful and amateur-like stagnation in a forceful manner.

The few exceptions of progressions and and useful transformations are far and in between and should be saved by the band for future reference (the 5th and 6th tracks which should be one song as the first does not have the material to be an interlude but only a first-section to the following one), and Ashbringer could learn something about the use of related but changing and essentially different ideas. These should be related not by style, but by musical structure and patterns. The suggestion is perhaps a little too German-minded, but it is a more concrete beginning that is easier to grasp. Baby-steps before you can actually black metal.

The combination of true humbleness in creating music with a healthy dose of careful ambition is what is necessary here and in metal in general. A cycle of study, practice, introspection and revision in music-writing is what metal most needs as is shown by the limitations of this sincere but incredibly deficient album. These guys obviously have the intention of creating metal that is both elaborate and profound, technically proficient, musically satisfying and spiritually inspiring. They just need to face they aren’t musical geniuses and turn their heads to a more strict study and observation of the greats on the technical side at different levels of music composition.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IdkOmAazxo

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Interview with Mike Browning 05-30-15

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As mentioned in our first article on the topic, the “first album” from Morbid Angel remains a vague category because the band recorded two first albums, each given a name starting with the letter A which fits into the alphabetical sequence to which their albums have conformed to this day. We took a few moments to speak to original drummer/vocalist Mike Browning (Nocturnus, After Death) about Abominations of Desolation versus Altars of Madness as the true first album of this essential band…

You were one of the original players on Morbid Angel’s Abominations of Desolation (referred to as AOD), which was released before most of the publicly acknowledged death metal classics. What was the band lineup for AOD? How does it feel to have participated in such a historic and musically intense recording?

The line-­up on the AOD album was:

  • Mike Browning -­‐ drums and vocals
  • Trey Azagthoth -­‐ guitar
  • Richard Brunelle -­‐ guitar
  • John Ortega -­‐ bass

At the time back in 1986 everything was just still called metal and it didn’t matter if you were more on the death or power metal side, it was still all considered Metal and the Metal crowd was unified and everyone got along for the most part, so to us back then we were just recording another new metal album and we weren’t concerned with being the fastest or the heaviest, we just did our own thing and kept it as original as possible. Back then the main thing was to be real and not fake in what we were doing.

Was it intended to be the first Morbid Angel album? How do you know? Was this fact …inconvenient… for anyone?

It still amazes me that this is even questionable, but here is the thing, we were offered a RECORD CONTRACT to record an ALBUM under the name MORBID ANGEL by Goreque Records, a label owned by  David Vincent and his partner Mark Anderson. We signed the contract and Bill Metoyer of Metal Blade  producer/engineer that recorded and mixed more albums than I can even think of, was hired to  engineer the album.

So Goreque Records rented us a UHaul truck and we packed up our gear and went  to a studio in Charlotte, North Carolina. We were furnished with hotel rooms and I met David Vincent and Mark Anderson for the first time face to face and the next day we started to record the album, after  about 5 or 6 days there we were finished with the recording and David Vincent sent all of us but Trey back to Tampa and kept Trey there by himself for the mixdown, little did the rest of us know that the whole time David Vincent was really brainwashing Trey and telling him how bad the album was and that  he should quit the band and come join his band. When Trey came back from the mixing, he acted like a  completely different person and everything went downhill from there.

What was the reaction to its release at the time (1986) and five years later in 1991?

Well that is the thing, the album never got released because I ended up catching Trey with my girlfriend and I beat him up for it and that was the end of me being in Morbid Angel because Trey and Richard moved from Tampa to Charlotte and did get in a band with David and his drummer Wayne Hartsell. I know that John Ortega had a copy of a rough mix that we had at the point that we all left to go back to Tampa, so when Trey got back he said that David Vincent told him that the bass playing was so bad on the album that we had to fire John Ortega if we wanted the album to still come out on his label and replace him with Sterling Scarborough, we didn’t even know who Sterling was, but again it was David’s idea for us to replace Johnny with Sterling, so Trey did it and the band only lasted a couple months once this happened.

When [AOD] came out in 1991 I think it confused a lot of people as to what it was because there was no information or pictures as to who was actually playing on the album, except for a couple of  lines in the front right corner of the cover that said it was AN ALBUM that was recorded in 1986, but never released, so even on the Earache version it says that it was an unreleased album, not a demo, it just also didn’t give any info on who was on it!

When did Morbid Angel decide to record Altars of Madness (referred to as AOM), and what were the changes between songs on that album and AOD?

I guess about two years later, so they had two years to actually work on most of those same songs and make them tighter and faster, they only changed a few words here and there to most of them and a lot of the drum parts were similar only faster.

When Earache released AOD, did they make any changes to the original recording?

I really don’t think they did, of course it never really got released back in 1986, so there is nothing to compare it to except the rough mix that John Ortega had and released as a bootleg.

Who is Sterling von Scarborough?

John Sterling Scarborough was his real name, but he went by Sterling Von Scarborough. He was a bass player from Atlanta that had a band called Incubus and David Vincent knew him and told Trey that we had to replace John Ortega, so he recommended Sterling and so Sterling came to Tampa and tried out for us and became our bass player. He was never on the AOD recording and he joined the band after we recorded the AOD album. We only did one live show with him at a place called The Volley Club in 1986 and Ammon (now Deicide) opened for us that night. Unfortunately that show was never recorded and it was the last show I ever played with Morbid Angel as well.

Why do you think Earache released AOD in 1991, five years after it was originally recorded? Why do you think they chose to claim AOM as the first album instead of AOD?

From what I heard was that they released AOD in 1991 to stop all the bootleg versions of it that were being made, from that one tape that Ortega had, all the bootlegs of it were made from that, so generation after generation they got sounding worse and worse. Earache and David and Trey made a deal to release the AOD album because David had the master reels, so he sold them to Earache and they gave Trey some money as well and they released it to stop the bootlegging.

Funny thing was I was on Earache Records at the time in Nocturnus and they never even told me that they were putting it out, I didn’t even find out about it until after it was already out and in the stores. That album has, guitar, bass, drums and vocals and I am doing 2 of those 4 things and I was never even told that it was gonna be released!

Did Morbid Angel take a different  compositional (choice of notes, not production or vocals) direction with AOM versus AOD? Why did they do that? What did the original direction offer that the new one did not?

Well it was a couple years later that they had quite a bit of time to work on those songs and a few more and with everything but the guitar being new, of course it was going to have a new and different sound, especially when you change vocalists. And if you notice, David tries to sing a lot more like me, but he gave that up and went for a completely different style on Blessed Are The Sick. They also had a big budget and recorded the album in Morrisound which is a studio known for Metal, that studio that we recorded AOD in was actually some kind of a country music recording studio, so the guys that ran that place had never even had any type of metal band even in there before, so of course you are gonna have a huge difference in the production because of those things alone.

Rumor has it that you formed a band named “Ice” with Trey Azagthoth, pre-­Morbid Angel. Wow… a moment in death metal history! What did you want to do with that band, and what was inspiring you at that moment?

Trey and I met in high school back in 1981 and I even remember his mom buying him his first guitar, a wood colored Gibson SG and we started jamming together in my mom’s back room of my house, so we put a little high school band together and even played the high school talent show. It was literally the beginning of what would become Morbid Angel.

I find that musical “inspiration” extends beyond other albums, but includes them. Were there any non‐musical experiences, books, ideas, plays, movies, thoughts, etc. that influenced you, and how did they parallel what you found in the music that influenced you?

Both Trey and I were into the occult, so when he moved into my area of Tampa and started going to school at my school and we met and started talking about what we were both into and we both were musicians that liked the occult and most especially we were both into a book called The Necronomicon and we really believed every bit of that book was true and real, so we decide to put a band together that was based on music that would please these Sumerian Gods that were in The Necronomicon. We were totally serious about what we were doing and the whole purpose of the band was to make music that would bring forth these Ancient Ones back to the Earth.

Did you and other members of Morbid Angel meet in high school, as is the rumor? Where was that? What was it like (hell?) and how did that help you bond?

It was only Trey and I as far as that ended up in Morbid Angel that knew each other in high school. Morbid Angel itself started around 1984 with me, Trey and Dallas Ward on bass.

The High School we went to was called HB Plant High school and it still is in South Tampa, there was an area where all the cool cigarette smokers and hippy type people hung out at the high school called The Alley and everyone would hang out there before school and at lunch and we met there and would always talk about music and The Necronomicon.

As “Ice,” what kind of material did you play? What songs did you cover? How did they mold your style? What was your practice schedule like? Did this influence how Morbid Angel did things later?

We really only played cover songs at first, like Judas Priest and Scorpions and Black Sabbath, because there was no Slayer or Celtic Frost or even Hellhammer yet back then. We did start messing around with some original stuff, but when I graduated from high school, Trey moved again at that time to the North end of Tampa, so for probably a good 6 months I didn’t even see him, so I started jamming with some other guys playing metal covers and Trey met Dallas and Charles, a singer and they had a drummer that was older than all of them and he lived in another town north of Tampa and he only came into town on some weekends to jam with them, so when I started talking to Trey again I decided to quit the cover band and start playing with Trey and these new guys Dallas and Charles and they already had a name for the band and it was called Death Watch. The singer got arrested and went to jail, so that is when we became a three-piece and Dallas was singing and we called the band Heretic, but we quickly found out that there was already another Heretic, so that’s when we finally became Morbid Angel.

How do you conceptualize death metal? Was progressive rock an influence? What about classical or  jazz?

I don’t really think most of the music I have done was only considered to be death metal, because it had a lot of different elements to it, especially with Nocturnus. But I would say that death metal is a very heavy, fast and aggressive type of music with lyrics mainly focused on death, gore and a lot of anti-Christian themes. For me progressive rock has always been an influence, I really liked Rush when I was in high school and they were about as progressive as you could get back then. I also liked classical because I had been in the school band, from grades 6-­‐10 playing percussion, so I learned to play all kinds of percussion like tympanis and bells playing classical and marching band music. I never really got into the jazz style of music, although I wish I had now, because jazz has some of the most amazing drummers and really off timing drum parts.

Your musical style is both highly proficient and idiosyncratic. How did you learn to play? What deepened your understanding of music? How important was the rising death metal scene in changing how you understood music?

It started even before that though because my mom had a 70s rock band that she sang for and they used to practice in the same back room that Trey and I ended up practicing in and I was only about 9 or 10, so I used to sit back there and watch them rehearse and I always liked watching the drummer play the most, so when they offered band when I got in 6th grade I wanted to take the drums of course!

Playing that style of music like marching band and classical stuff and also seeing my mom play in a band really gave me the early understanding of what it was like to play music and be in a band. I was into bands like Led Zeppelin and Styx when I first started and then I got into heavier stuff like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and then Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and from there I discovered Slayer, Venom Mercyful Fate, Hellhammer and I wanted to be in a band like that, but I also wanted to be different, I have never been into copying anyones style and being like someone else, so I guess why even today I still kind of just do my own thing whether it makes money or not has never been a concern to me, I only play music because I get enjoyment out of it and if other people like what I do, then that is awesome to me!

How was AOD recorded? It sounds rough but preserves the texture of the instruments, instead of trading detail for loudness and polished sound like AOM. What made you choose to record it this way?

Back when we recorded AOD in 1986, we really didn’t know much about recording or what equipment was best for recording, so even though we went into a real professional 24 track studio, we still weren’t that prepared to do a well polished album. I had only been singing a couple months and some of the songs were just put together and we were also under a time constraint because we were in another state recording in an unfamiliar place and we only had so much studio time to get it all done.

If we had better equipment and more knowledge on recording, it probably would have sounded much better, but we were just a bunch of crazy kids with a record contract! I was also never included in the mixdown of the music, so all I got to hear was pretty much the raw unmixed tracks until Trey came back with the album mixed and finished. At least the album has a certain energy to it that was still able to come through, even with all the problems that we did have.

Can you tell us about your current projects, such as (but not limited to!) Afer Death 666? How are these efforts different from typical death metal, AOD and AOM? If people want to find out more about what you’re up to these days, where should they go?

Right now I have 2 bands with the same members in both bands, one is Nocturnus AD, which is a continuation of what I wanted to do with Nocturnus after we recorded The Key in 1990, it is much more technical sci-­fi stuff than what is on AOD and it has keyboards and it is tuned in E-flat which is what Nocturnus was tuned in back in 1987­‐1992 and the other band is just called After Death and as I mentioned it does have the same members, but After Death is a little heavier on the occult side of things and the music is less technical and more atmospheric and tuned in D.

The thing I keep up with most is my Facebook page, which is just under Mike Browning and it has the most up to date info on it, but we also have Facebook pages for Nocturnus AD and After Death and we also have a website www.afterdeath666.com , which has info for both bands on the site.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2EAo90fGzE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mfvSSl9L9M

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How to analyze music

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Recent posting of an interesting article about transcendent realization in metal provoked a number of confused comments, none of which addressed the substance of the article. The objection was to modern metal, which many view as a misbegotten genre, and to secondarily to the bands involved.

As a thought experiment, I thought I might share some thoughts on analysis of metal. You will not find nice easy binaries and “objective” analyses here, more like qualitative assessments in a shifting frame of reference. Mostly these are questions which do not resolve to nice, uniform and balanced answers. They embrace the controversy.

However, you will find that as you look back over the journey — and that is the best metaphor for experiencing music, that of looking into a field of data — you will see that taken as a whole, the details point toward an overall picture. Your job then is to assess that against all other music and place it in context.

I start with these general questions:

  1. What changes between start and finish?
  2. What patterns can be found?
  3. Do these patterns form a language of sorts?
  4. If so, does it lead to the conclusion?

Art is a communication. Art that extends over time, like novels or music, takes the listener from a starting point to a conclusion. It is not very powerful, usually, to have the precepts equal the conclusion, but sometimes — rarely — a full circle can be revealing, like when one recognizes how utterly futile an idea was when applying it to an experience, and ends up abandoning it. Patterns can consist of any data that is discernibly isolated (relevant to all of its parts) and can often change meaning when repeated. Language uses patterns to build meaning by expressing tokens in context and changing that context to apply more attributes to those tokens. Language leads to a conclusion when internal conflict results in a clear answer as to what has become victorious, been destroyed or a merging of ideas.

These lead to other questions, such as regarding technique:

  1. Does this technique fit a need, or is the need made to fit the technique?
  2. Is it evocative of any real-world experience or vivid thoughts?
  3. Are the values of proportion, balance and purpose applied in this use of the technique?
  4. Is there another more relevant technique that was not use?

The biggest question here is whether the technique is used for a purpose or not. A band that merely makes a list of all techniques, assigns them to songs and then barfs out a song using them will not only be boring, but will miss an opportunity to communicate something more than the technique — including composition — itself. The worst problem here is the “wallpaper effect” where the band does not vary the intensity within each song, creating a listening experience like listening to a faucet on full blast.

I also suggest the following for seeing past aesthetic:

  1. If the lyrics were absent, how well would this piece stand up?
  2. If I played this on a kazoo or acoustic guitar, would it still sound as powerful?
  3. Is there depth to this imagery, or is the song a framing for the presentation of an image?

I find it useful to have a smaller CD player or computer in another room with not-so-excellent speakers. You can fire up the music on one of those and listen from a room or two away, which creates a sort of ad hoc filter that removes the value of production. You end up hearing root notes and rhythm the most, but also lose many of the flourishes that hide the actual music.

Then you should ask of its artistic relevance:

  1. What does this piece of music express?
  2. Does this address something relevant to life itself?
  3. What have I learned or experienced through this piece?

These questions explore significance. That exists on both a musical and thematic level, with the best music having the two operating at once toward the same ends. Music that is relevant expresses something we know of in life, and finds a way to make it beautiful and create transcendence from it. Clarity, or truth about reality, can itself have a transcendent effect in that it clears aside confusion and opens up a pathway to future creation. Good art creates a world that you want to step into and help fight it out so that the best, the beautiful, the good and the interesting prevails over Big Macs and Cheetos.

And then, finally, your duty to the reader:

  1. How many times could I listen to this without getting bored?
  2. In what situations would I discuss with others what this conveyed?
  3. How does this expand the metal lexicon of technique and ideas?

If you are writing as a reviewer, your readers do not have infinite time or money. They can purchase a few albums but are going to rely on these for enjoyment and learning over the course of the coming years. Remember your Bell Curve: most albums are in the middle, with some outright turds to the left and a few real standouts to the right. Your job is to pick the standouts because people can love these for years, and/or some of the high middle albums. Do not be afraid to be vicious. This is the money of normal people being spent on this music, and if they end up dissatisfied, it creates more landfill and causes them to despair on quality. Whatever is rewarded in the marketplace predominates, meaning you get more of it, so any sane person will be strict about quality.

With that being said…

Here’s a couple tracks for you to try. The only comments that are worthwhile are analytical ones. If you want to call someone a fag, go to one of the other threads and call me a fag. I got over it long ago and now I just ask for phone numbers or cock pics.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TShpgcNVKU

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Various Artists – Basic Needs

basic_needs-compilation

The Basic Needs compilation of New England metal and hardcore punk bands can be heard online and purchased on cassette for those who wish to own a physical copy. Promoted by the shadowy forces behind Codex Obscurum zine, Basic Needs contains fourteen tracks of varied material from almost as many different bands, so it makes sense to review them by track.

  1. Sagnus – “Gaspipe”
    This track starts off in a death metal vein but rapidly descends into bluesy heavy metal with updated technique like At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul. Nicely compact with no surprises but also no random or pointless bits, it fades out into noise.
  2. Human Bodies – “Stygian Reverie”
    Very much in the tradition of older hardcore but with black metal styled vocals, this Human Bodies track puts a new face on a familiar riff style and adds a Discharge-like chaotic solo, but otherwise sticks to fairly standard song form but keeps energy high.
  3. PanzerBastard – “Workhorse”
    Essentially d-beat hardcore, complete with broken rhythms and surging double-hit riffs, this song showcases high energy with emphasis on vocalizations.
  4. Sexcrement – “Chemical Handcuffs”
    This track starts off as pounding death metal but detours into a hard rock/heavy metal number that shows the band setting up a groove and more internal harmony, which actually makes the chromatic passages seem less intense.
  5. Suffer on Acid – “Ride the Light”
    Raging high-intensity hardcore from the “blurcore” style that emerged when the punk stalwarts confronted the horror of post-hardcore, Suffer on Acid creates music from fast simple riffs with exasperated shouting over the top. This track begins with a Black Sabbath style introduction riff that sets a mood to be destroyed which it is, amiably, by a thrash-style burst of collisive riffing and a classic hardcore punk extended chorus riff.
  6. Living Void – “Auxiliary Conspiracy”
    Writing in the fast style of death metal that bands like Deteriorate and Nokturnel pioneered before Angelcorpse, Living Void charge ahead with a series of quality riffs but then slow things up for a trudge/groove passage. The former strikes more than the latter.
  7. Suffer on Acid – “Terminal”
    Much in the style of the former track, “Terminal” relies more on vocal rhythmic hook and uses a standoffish groove more than burst but fits in lots of vocal rage and fast classic hardcore riffs to match.
  8. Living Void – “Categorizing Woe”
    This track starts with a doom metal promenade, then drops into trope of muted downstroke before bursting into high energy speeding death metal complete with blast beats and ripping choruses, the detouring into a darker and more black metal styled cycle.
  9. Ramlord – “Distant/Detach”
    At its heart, this track is older speed metal updated with death metal stylings to give it energy and more fluid transitions, but falls back into trope rhythm of vocals/drums in which the guitars drop like an interchangeable part. Some interesting black metal styled melodic work later in the track.
  10. Grue – “All Mortal Greatness is Disease”
    Beginning as a sentimental heavy metal/melodic black metal track in the Eucharist or Dawn variety, but then diverges into a chanted delivery of later Bathory-styled vocals over trudging rhythm riffs alternated with fast melodic hardcore riffing.
  11. Word of Unmaking – “In the Crypt of Dead Values”
    A Tangerine Dream style dronescape peppered with acoustic guitars and vocal samples, this track develops from linear into cyclic and recedes, leaving behind a homeostatic hint of atmosphere, then expands into a funeral doom track with articulated riffs like those from early Ceremonium.
  12. Fórn – “Dasein”
    What’s with all the Heidegger worship recently? This sludgy doom metal track follows the Winter model of slong grinding chord progressions with lots of fills from noise and vocals, changing riffs relatively frequently over this nine-minute track.
  13. Morne – “Coming of Winter”
    Sounding like a heavier version of Pelican, this band creates droning indie-influenced doom metal with heavy stoner doom elements and a hoarse plaintive vocal.

Of unusually high quality for a local compilation, Basic Needs shows a wide variety of the more promising bands in New England. Living Void, Word of Unmaking and Suffer on Acid strike me as the standouts which interest me in investigating further but there were no complete dead moments.

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