On The Music of Demilich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Megadeth – Dystopia (2016)

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Megadeth has cycled between obvious mainstream rock pandering and careful imitation of their best appreciated works at an ever accelerating rate since their reformation in 2004. If this trend keeps up, they’ll be changing styles with every strum of their guitars in a few years. Dystopia isn’t quite as quick to alter its own sounds as that rather implausible hypothetical peak, but it’s still obviously colored by two colliding trends; Dave Mustaine’s desire to outsell Metallica, and the fact that even relatively extreme metal can sell enormous volumes in 2016. This makes what would be yet another comeback album into a surprisingly disjointed experience at times.

In general, Dystopia provides its potential listeners with several varieties of vintage Megadeth to peruse at their leisure, ranging from the technical wizardry of the ’80s and Rust in Peace (arguably the musical peak of this band) to the streamlined pop metal that immediately followed such, and even hints of recent albums through conceptual and musical continuity. Beyond the vocals of Dave Mustaine and the frequent guitar leads, though, there’s little that distinguishes this from other poppy speed metal of the mid 2010s, especially since this is one of those dime-a-dozen studio perfect recordings with perfectly appropriate production and instrumentation. One definite problem, however is that Dave Mustaine’s vocal and lyrical contributions have decayed in quality in recent years. Megadeth’s always been political at the best of times, but more often than not the lyrics devolve into political sloganeering that might be appropriate if he actually ran for president of the USA. In song format, though, all they do is annoy, irritate, and pander. Mustaine also relies increasingly on digital processing to mask the age-related decay of his voice, most notably on “Fatal Illusion“. This isn’t an innately bad thing, and you could theoretically make a case for the chorusing and harmonies opening new ideas for Megadeth to explore, but it pushes unneeded emphasis on the vocals, so even the average listener that decides that the technique sounds kind of cool might find it grating regardless. Perhaps I shouldn’t be focusing on the vox too much, but when the rest of the album is competent and yet unremarkable, it’s sometimes the only option.

In short, Dystopia is kind of disposable; most metal albums that try to approximate known classics are. It’s still better than Repentless, but the “Big Four” have all since run out of momentum, which makes Dystopia‘s slick technical competence marred by excessive streamlining even more unremarkable than it would otherwise be. The last time Megadeth tried their hands at this, they cranked out Endgame, which was well received at the time of its release and generally similar in approach, but has since faded from the public eye. Do you still have space in your listening rotation for Endgame? If you don’t, you won’t have time for Dystopia either.

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Interview with Sadist (Italy)

Promo pic for "Hyaena"

Perhaps it was to be expected from the quality of their earlier works, but Sadist’s Hyaena was one of the high points of what I listened to in 2016. With that in mind, I took the opportunity this Italian band provided to perform an email interview, with some hope of getting some insight into what makes Sadist themselves.

The band’s vocalist (Trevor Nadir) fielded my questions, discussing the past, present, and future of the band and giving us a better picture of what went into Hyaena in particular.

You formed in 1990, right in the middle of the first major flowering of death metal. What was the metal scene in Italy like back then?

TREVOR: Happy Metal Year!
The 90’s were very important for the Death Metal. Death, Cynic, Cannibal Corpse, Carcass, Deicide, Obituary, Morbid Angel and many others have contributed to birth and consolidation of the genre. In our country there were many Death Metal bands. It was certainly much more difficult, the correspondence with the other bands was only through physical mail. I’m very close to Death Metal of the 90s, for me the music stopped at that time, have a nostalgic and I would go back to those years. Sadist was the first band in Europe to add keyboards to Death Metal, we have always been a band that likes to experiment, keyboards were a strange thing, especially in those years, but we are very proud, this is our trademark, of which we are proud of still!

This is a more obvious question, but who are your influences? Have they changed with time?
TREVOR: Each of us listens to different music, perhaps for this reason, the sound of Sadist is contaminated with various styles. Sadist is absolutely a Techno Death Metal band, although in our sound there are other inspirations too: We all love Italian 70’s prog and ethnic music as well. In the past we experienced may ethnic instruments but the new album Hyaena, although it may be misleading, this is not an album about Africa, but on a concept centered around a ruthless predator, who lives in Africa.

We are professional people, we like to be prepared before to put out a new album and we always need to be satisfied of it, first of all. Sadist is a band devoted to technical, Tommy, Andy and Alessio are very prepared musicians, people who have dedicated their lives to their instruments, and very serious guys with one and only personal goal: to always improve. The technique is certainly important but, above all, we must think about the songwriting, the technique must be functional to the music and not an end in itself.

Building off the previous question – how has it changed in the last 25 years?
TREVOR: 25 years ago it was different, it was definitely difficult. Today we are doing interviews via email, on a day we can connect several times around the world, work remotely is something normal. Think of how hard could it be that only a few years ago, can reach somebody or something. However there is also something that works worse, in fact I think that today, it’s all too much and take away, music, bands are increasingly less durable and is no longer the time for rock stars. There is a great saturation and the band, especially the younger ones make great effort to stand out, it is increasingly a question of money. This is not a good time, we hope that the trend changes.

What inspired you to make a concept album about hyenas?
TREVOR: I always take care of the lyrics and the concept album of the album too. I’m a convinced naturalist, I always loved and respected very much the wild hyena. It’s a skillful hunter, smart, and very strong, many people believe it is only an animal that feeds on carrion, a thief, a street sweeper, but this is a myth, the hyenas are ruthless hunters, animals with incredible strength and intelligence, adaptable to any situation. Inside text can be found habits of the herd, hunting tactics, ancient legend which tells that the hyena is ride from the devil, the brutal nature of the animal devour their prey alive. Our music is brutal and the combination with the hyena was something natural, we are talking about an extremely brutal animal. We were lucky enough to pose for new photos with a skull of a hyena, who died in 1888, and we have thank for that all the staff of the Museum of Natural History “G. Doria” in Genoa, Italy.
I love Hyaena

Another promotional pic for Hyaena

Hyaena strikes me as, at least in part, inspired by recent developments in metal and progressive music (although I can hear some of this on the previous album as well). Is this your intent? Any particularly recent musical influences of interest?
TREVOR: I would say no, simply Season in Silence was supposed to be a springboard to do better next time and we believe that Hyaena is now the most mature album of the band. Every Sadist’s album has different sounds, We are a band that remains faithful to experience, which is why our albums sound different from one another. Season in Silence is colder, both for the lyrics and the music, with Hyaena instead we resumed ethnic and tribal instruments, close to Mediterranean tradition. It’s hard to make terms of comparison… Although, as mentioned before, We are certain that this is the best chapter of the band up today.
Hyaena is a very Sadist album, containing our Death Metal matrix, but at the same time it was our intention to go back on the tribal and ethnic sounds, already used on albums like Tribe and Sadist. On Hyaena We wanted to get to the bottom and We’ve asked for help from Jean N’Dyaie, a great musician, a talented African percussionist. We simply wanted to bring to African culture, their sounds, their habits, We need all of this. Tommy has played many instruments linked to African tradition, like the oud and the santur, We did a thorough search in the traditional sound. Hyaena is a Death Metal, brutal, tribal, ethnic, Mediterranean and terribly Sadist album!

Since you’ve had a keyboardist from the beginning – how do you go about adding keyboard parts to your music?
TREVOR: As mentioned earlier, Sadist born with keyboards, this is our strong identity. Tommy is now known, as the musician playing two instruments simultaneously. It’s an incredible musician. Needless to say, many songs take ideas from the structure of the keyboards, the initial ideas on which is built the structure of the song. We could not think of Sadist without keyboards. We are then to be honest these keyboards are the instruments that characterize the disturbing and horrific soul of our band.

Many of the tracks on Hyaena avoid merely using simple verse/chorus structures. How formal/planned is your composition process these days?
TREVOR: We are a Techno Death Metal band, surely, it is true, however, that we want to keep in mind that we are talking about the songs and the structure has its own importance. Get Death, a band that was technically prepared, but it certainly can not be said that they did not songs, the whole song is what you have to stay ahead. We must try to give space to each individual instrument, absolutely, but one thing is certain, the song is not to be raped.

As a corollary to that, has the way you approach songwriting changed significantly throughout your career?
TREVOR : Sadist is a band that works as a team. Each of us carries out our task to the best of its ability. We are ambitious people, who do not save. Music and lyrics are walking side by side, while Andy, Tommy and Alessio were busy writing songs, I was far from the chaos of the city, and I took care of the lyrics. Each of us is aware of what it takes to the band, the certain sound, the particular phrase.The initial ideas are dictated by Tommy and Andy, though, with the new album, the contribution of Andy was particularly important; really inspired when writing riffs. Our music is generated accordingly to the issues addressed in this way we can have the right impact.

What’s your favorite part of Hyaena? What’s something you think can been improved?
TREVOR: We are very happy about the new album. Sometimes it happens that at the end of the recordings you think something could be improved, this has not happened this time. We worked in our Nadir Music Studios, by taking the time needed, working with the necessary calm you can afford to do things in the best way. Personally I am very attached to “The Lonely Mountain”, it’s the first videoclip for the album, a song that’s very Death Metal.

What other bands, metal or not, do you guys listen to/think are worth following these days?
TREVOR: There are so many good bands, but as mentioned before, are tied to Death Metal. The 70/80’s and 90’s have spoken and given a lot to the music, it’s hard to think of something new. Despite the young guys, all play very well, maybe what it is not is their originality or at least their attempt at being original. Having everything at once is perhaps killing their genius.

A question lifted from another interview we had on our site: What do you attempt to capture, express or communicate through your music? Or is this even the goal of music? Is music communication or decoration? What is the goal of your art?
TREVOR: Making music is an art form, certainly. The messages may be different. Playing Death Metal means venting their anger inward on the system, but at the same time means telling, through the lyrics, your thinking or your mood, this also peer through the melodies of the instrument. The music is not only heard, it should be read, viewed, stored.

What are your plans for the future like? Any upcoming touring or new material we should know about, or is it too early to say?
TREVOR: As for the promotion, by the time we organized with our label Scarlet Records, we want to make a great team effort, people are professional and prepared, and there is great mutual respect. But a good promotion also involves the live set, which is why we started to try, are not canonical songs, and certainly not easy to play on stage, you need preparation. About upcoming releases, together with our booking agency (Live Nation) are working on the next steps, we received a number of proposals, even for a couple of tours in Europe, we expect to be on stage as soon as possible, we are excited by the idea of play the new songs. We want to do our best, in any event, provide a spectacular show to the public , carry the name Sadist as high as possible, and then who knows, reprint the first album and think of a new album. We’ll play at the next Hellfest, and other festival, and we hope to play in the USA; we have many friends and fans who are waiting for us.

If you have any closing remarks you want to make, now is a good time to write them.
TREVOR: For many years I documented the animal in question. I’m really interested, especially for its hunting techniques, although not underestimate the importance of the pack and hierarchies within the same. Animals are crazy, very strong, resistant, challenging and hunt prey much larger than them, and at the same time you also have to cope with other predators, much larger. In this respect, according to what was said earlier, is the number to make a difference. The hyena is a voracious predator that brutally tears apart its prey, an unwitting and innocent murderess. Not scavengers, nor thieves, and they don’t eat only carrion, absolutely not, indeed, are sometimes other animals, such as lions, hyenas to steal the hunted. For many years I document, through books, movies, stories. Television is a stupid means, however, in the 80’s and onward, it allowed me to deepen this interest, thanks to interesting documentaries.
The hyena is an incredible animal, charming, because it’s my favorite predator. We must dispel the myth, the hyena is not only a scavenger carnivore, it also feeds on carrion, but is a skilled hunter, which has a strong team spirit and where within the song applies a strict hierarchy, where the matriarch has absolute power. He saids that the devil comes in the night riding a hyena, and that that the hyenas dig up the corpses. After their death the eyes turn into stones, and Zambezi sorcerers, devourers of men, took the form of a hyena, they appeared to the dead, that they rose and were torn to pieces. Around the campfire, it consumes the sacrifice of a young goat, putrid flesh of zombies and fresh meat for the last dinner. All of this is “The Devil Riding the Evil Steed”.

All the best to you, staff and readers. Stay Brutal!

Trevor Sadist

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Pureblood Albums – A 2013 Recap

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Article by David Rosales

As another year ends and a new one begins, many “best of” lists pop up here and there, among them our own here at DMU. While others may be eager to know about what is ever new, we are more interested in what stands the test of time. Today we will look at some albums that were highlighted here as the foremost products of the year 2013, which was a year of renewal, great comebacks, startling discoveries and a general wellspring of inspiration. In the opinion of this writer, 2013 has been the best year for metal in the 21st century.


To start off, we shall pay respects to long-lasting acts with a black metal background, namely Graveland, Summoning and Burzum. While the last has left the metal camp for good, its approach and spirit is still very much enriched by the essence of the deepest metal infused with transcendental values. Summoning is still doing their thing, ever evolving, trying a different permutation of their unique style. Fudali’s project has become the warrior at the frontlines of the strongest nationalism grounded in music that uplifts the heart with an authentic battle feeling (as opposed to those other bands playing funny-jumpy rock and acting all “dangerous”).

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Sôl austan, Mâni vestan is an ambient affair that uses short loops which revolve around clear themes in each track. The approach is a little formulaic, thereby limiting the experience with a feeling of repetition. However, as with many good works of art, this self-imposed canalization serves to speed the result in a direction. As with a lot of Burzum’s work, this is a concept album that must be listened to as a whole. When this is followed and one stops looking for novelty and instead concentrates on the details that bring variation within the familiar landscape, the somewhat arduous experience brings great rewards once the summit is reached and the journey is taken more than once.

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Something similar can be said of the slightly pop-minded Old Mornings Dawn. This effort by Summoning certainly lacks the density of their masterpiece, Dol Guldur, but is no less effective, although perhaps shallow. But what isn’t shallow when compared to that masterpiece? As with every Summoning album, Old Mornings Dawn has a very separate personality, and in this case, it is one of heroism, light, regeneration and hope. Something that will never leave the band’s trademark sound is the deep feeling of melancholy and longing for ruins.

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Graveland materializes in Thunderbolts of the Gods one of their most warlike efforts to date in a smooth trajectory that has gone from rough-pagan to long-winded and epic to heroic war music. What raises this offering above others in Fudali’s current trend is the awesome bringing forth of destructive energies mustered in the imposing drumwork. Gone are the clumsy rhythms of Cold Winter Blades and the redneckish tone of the (nonetheless great) album Following the Voice of Blood. This is the technically polished and spirit-infused summit of this face of Graveland.

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One of the most deserving releases of 2013 was Black Sabbath’s 13. More expectations could not have been placed on anyone else. Yet the godfathers of metal delivered like the monarchs they are: with original style, enviable grace, magnificent strength and latent power. Along with the last three albums just mentioned, this album shows itself timeless in the present metal landscape. It encompasses all that it is metal, and brings it back to its origin. This is an absolute grower which will age like the finest wine and is, in my opinion, the album of the year of 2013.

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In 2013, Profanatica finally achieved amazing distinction with Thy Kingdom Cum, which can be considered the fully developed potential of what Ledney presented in the thoroughly enjoyable Dethrone the Son of God under the Havohej moniker. To say this is the natural outcome of Profanatica’s past work is as true as it is misleading in its implications. This is not just a continuation of what the band was doing before, but a deliberate step, a clear decision in the clear change in texture quality that means the world in such minimalist music where a simple shift in technique or modal approach defines most of the character of the music.

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Cóndor’s Nadia was probably the hidden pearl of the year. Never mind the metaphor of the “diamond in the rough”, there is nothing rough about this. It is polished, but it is hidden. The shy face of this beautiful lady is covered by a veil that turns away the unworthy, the profane! This is immortal metal artwork which to uninitiated eyes and ears seems but like the simple, perhaps even amateur, collection of Sabbathian cliches and tremolo excuses of an unexperienced band. The knowledgeable and contemplating metal thinker recognizes the Platonic forms under the disfigured shapes.

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Imprecation’s Satanae Tenebris Infinita and Blood Dawn by Warmaster draw our attention to the strong presence of a more humble but profoundly (though not obviously) memorable album and EP. These will stand the chance of time, but will not necessarily remain strong in the mind of a listener in a way that he feels compelled to come back to them often.

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Dark Gods, Seven Billion Slaves by VON seemed more enticing at the time. It’s definitely a solid release, but it is however a very thinly populated album with more airtime than content. Whatever content it has is also not particularly engaging. The enjoyability of this one is a much more subjective affair and like a soundtrack is more dependent on extra-musical input from the listener’s imagination.

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As delightful as the three heavy metal albums Argus Beyond The Martyrs, Blitzkrieg Back From Hell and Satan are, the intrinsic qualities of their selected subgenres makes them a difficult candidate for long-lasting and profound impact. That is not to say they have no lasting value. If anything, these are albums one can come back a thousand times and perhaps they will not grow that much, but they will never truly grow old.

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Autopsy’s Headless Ritual is one of the strongest yet most understated albums of the year. The extremely rough character of the music may contribute to how it carelessly it can be left behind. Fans of brutal music will find it little different from the rest and will quickly forget it. Fans of wider expressions and deeper thoughts will pass it by with little interest. Such is the tragedy of this very respectable album.

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A few stragglers in this group; Master’s The Witchhunt, Centurian’s Contra Rationem, Derogatory’s Above All Else, and Rudra’s RTA proved to be more impact and potential than manifest presence. These will remain fun and quaint for a very occasional listen, perhaps even a sort of throwback feeling, but lacking the long-lasting impact of others in this list.

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A special mention is deserved by Into the Pantheon, the essential synthesis of Empyrium, being their most revealing, powerful and clear release. While not outwardly metal, this live recording everything that is to be metal at the level of character and spirit. As such it is the perfect closing note for this recapitulation and reevaluation of past selections.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews – Anxious Mediocre Gopher Edition (End of 2015 Series)

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Leftist political science grounded on Marxism does not go well with metal. The first is a bunch of illusions and mental fiction for emotional weaklings to feel empowered. The latter is the art of the realist, the nihilist with an eye in the transcendental. Besides, only a self-styled hipster would pair up Immortal’s picturesque character with Leo’s most iconic work. The reader is encouraged to take any strong endorsement from this fiasco as a warning of superficiality or weak hipster appeal.

 

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1. Wilderun – Sleep at the Edge of the Earth
There is a reason why movie scores are not written by artistically illuminated composers, but by shrewd businessmen who know how to gauge the audience’s momentary craving in a modern society where every vice is promoted as a freedom and discipline is marked as obsession. Wilderun really does play like a popular soundtrack. It cannot stay on topic for more than thirty seconds and each of the sections is not only forgettable but the whole makes absolutely no sense. In an excellent work which draws influences from a wide variety of sources, the differences are mostly superficial and are used as different vocabs, but in here, these ultra-thin music without a true structural backbone merely places meaningless expressions one after another only to keep the most stupid of audience members hooked. Burn this insult to music composition.

 

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2. Trials – This Ruined World

Ah, yes, riff worship in metal. The genre’s curse makes us subject to many a mediocre would-be songwriter who thinks he can embody Pantera 2.0. Of course, because the latter were the embodiment of groove-based glory according to the Homer Simpsons of metal. Trials write the sort of songs that are utterly devoid of distinction and clear train of thought. Any riff would go well in any part of any other song in the album. Not to mention that these riffs are little more than thickly produced fart streams. Go home, Anselmo.

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3. Barren Earth – On Lonely Towers
More darko-depressive, diva rock pretending to be metal. While definitely showing some potential in its paucity, the candy it hands out reveals that the reason for this is not a carefully controlled composition of deep taste, but the superficial sensuality to be found everywhere. However, Barren Earth do succeed in achieving some manner of quality, however distracted their slick transitions are, how whiny and long-drawn operatics are and how annoyingly bluesy their leads are. Listen to this if you derive a moment’s masturbatory pleasure from half-cooked, bland music.

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4. Beaten to Death – Unplugged
If you consider an album good because it makes you look good in front of the hip kids and because it appears to be offensive. Then you are little more than an overgrown teddy bear trying to wear spikes to resolve its puberty. In case Napalm Death was too much, you can have Beaten to Death for a softened but still “edgy” dose of some of the worst deathcore pretending to be grindcore made nicer by some gay rock clean guitar picked passages. Leave these to the IQ-85-or-less crowd of gluttonous dipshits who saw no mental development past the 11-year mark.

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5. Crimson Swan – Unlit

Onto the false subgenre of “doom metal”. Although a very few albums do seem to venture into a style of its own that is more than just slow heavy metal, most bands like Crimson Swan, are just playing a much slower version of detuned and melodic-oriented heavy metal. Crimson Swan fails catastrophically in the same way that most music by Esoteric: it stagnates in its harmony, only deviating a little and quickly returning. Its thinly veiled worship of middle-period Skepticism (the worst of its periods, only superseded in vacuity by their latest installment) is laughable. When anyone the terms “melody and feel” to describe why an album is good and calls it a day, it goes a long way to say how little music as an art is understood.

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6. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase
The fact that Steven Wilson is eerily akin to a Marylin Manson without make up should give the listener a clue of what is coming. The music reflects the character of a harmless and sexless being completely lacking in any kind of self-assertion. Bombast ala Ghost, combined with some Pink Floyd-gone-80s-pop sensibilities and the most cliched 90s indie gayness, Wilson manages to make mindlessly boring music into an inadvertently comical series of forgettable pictures. Fodder for the mentally lazy who have the emotional need to be acknowledged for an intellect they lack.

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7. Gloryhammer – Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards
If there is something that hipsters love more than cuckold rock music by androgynous minds is metal nobody can take seriously. Why? Because it is not only inoffensive, but as it lacks any content of weight, it cannot in any way represent a challenge to the listener. Hipsters avoid challenge. But they love the illusion of challenge. They like to seem smart, but not actually stress their minds beyond the safety limits created by the society they claim to be at odds with. Cool-aid power metal for the mentally retarded.

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8. The Gentle Storm – The Diary

More boob-flashing from the opera whore club for naive, high school and college virgin nerds. Not only does this lack the solidity of Mandylion but is an obvious attempt at pushing another plastic product in the vein of bombastic metal pop acts with Victorian bimbos for faces. No amount of alacrity can turn this into good music. Just ignore this release, please.

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9. Nechochwen – Heart of Akamon
(Editor’s note: Haven’t we already given this one the sadistic treatment? Guess it’s really that bad.)
More Alcest than Graveland, this candy-ass folk-themed headache full of terribly clumsy transitions and tired, boorish leads calls the attention of those incapable of paying close attention to worthwhile quality. More like a trailer of commonplace ideas without development, this album plays more like a disparaged sequence of TV ads.

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10. Angra – Secret Garden
No, Angra’s new album is not surprising in any context. Except if you mean, you could not imagine they could disgrace themselves in a more sellout manner, even bringing in mercenary Fabio all the way from Italy. What the common rabble calls “staying power” is merely the hip-moving hooks they get from everyday radio-listening. What pseudo connoisseurs of metal call good songwriting is merely streamlined mediocrity.

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Vic Records announces re-issue of Mythos Pain Amplifier in 2016

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Vic Records plans to re-issue the 1995 debut album from Finnish black metal band Mythos in early 2016. The new issue will include ten bonus tracks taken from the split CD Vociferous & Machiavellian Hate. Mythos fit into the later black metal years with music like Impaled Nazarene but adapted to longer, death-metal style songs.

The Pain Amplifier re-issue will include rare pictures and extensive liner notes, including notes from Evil Omen label boss Ludo Lejeune. This continues the “underground metal bubble” of re-issues and special additions for Generation Xers and millennials who never got a chance to own them the first time around, and this solid B-level black metal release should appeal to many from that group.

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Buried treasures: Adversary – Forsaken (2001)

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Adversary came to us from the heartland of Indiana and released two solid old school death metal albums, the second of which, Forsaken, may deserve more attention. This one is misunderstood because its form is old school death metal, but its heart is in classic heavy metal with melody and groove, as well as some of the more atmospheric 1980s rock.

As a result, listening to it presents a dual experience. It sounds like Num Skull or Nunslaughter doing their version of a Possessed-Venom hybrid, but with more attention to melodic guitar hooks. Vocals take the form of barfed out gruff explosions, guiding the rough-hewn riffs like a second drum track, but the heart of each song is a 1970s heavy metal riff with a broad chord progression through which melodic lead-picked figures wind. Songs mostly follow the speed metal pattern of verse-chorus with interludes and transitions, but each song is wrapped around a presentation of dynamics to bring it to a dramatic close.

While other bands worked with this formula, none have done so with such old-school technique and so this album neatly slipped between its potential audiences. Compounding this fact was the trouble that Adversary’s first album, The Winter’s Harvest, used a drum machine and so was overlooked by many. But for those wanting the feeling of 1985 — that nexus of different influences and unresolved potentials — this album deserves a second look.

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Desecresy – Stoic Death (2015)

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In the world of old school death metal, few manage to revive the past and carry it forward in a unique voice. Desecresy resurrects the greatness and gives it a unique spin with atmospheric lead melodic guitar droning over death metal and doom-death riffs, and on Stoic Death they increase the variety of death metal riffs and the dynamic impact of songs in a style more like that of their first album, Arches of Entropy.

Stoic Death begins at full speed and continues to vary pace throughout in order to build intensity, applying the resonant melodies selectively like layers, enwrapping the surging power chord riffs in sheets of harmonic background that intensifies at crucial moments in each song. The doom-death influence shows its strength most in the careful pacing of each song and introduction of elements like seasons, cycling to a conclusion.

The increased variety of riff types shows a familiarity with death metal of the oldest school, but now they take on a new language, with Asphyx-style percussive riffs sliding into rolling Bolt Thrower style dirges, and then emerging with the powerful Finnish-style death metal riffs anchored in melody that specialize in crucifying beauty with cruelty. The mid-paced approach might seem to kill aggression, but it has replaced that sentiment with a deepening sense of melancholy, dread and suspension of all normalcy as the bizarre becomes sensible.

This album feels like a descent into a tunnel shrouded in darkness, where as the voyager goes deeper both in the ground and behind the layers of twists and turns, the daylight world seems more remote and unreal. The songwriting technique Desecresy has made into their trademark presents challenges in that the overall sound is similar between tracks, but here the band differentiates them with elegance and creates a complexity of texture in which the listener can gratefully lose themselves.

More Godflesh influences permeate this album as do nods to recent changes in metal toward the more atmospheric, but Desecrey channel these into its own voice, translating the insipid into the ambiguous and the comforting into a threatening lack of center. What emerges from that fertile combination is a voice perfect for this time, a great sea of doubt in which glimpses of beauty are hidden behind primal uncertainty. Like the best of metal, it makes greatness from conflict and then shows the wisdom of that atavistic outlook through precisely-architected composition.

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Black Flames of Blasphemy VI review

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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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Pathways

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Article by David Rosales

In ancient times, a transcendental and reverential cosmological vision made of the hardships of reality a way to elevate intellectual life to the status of the divine. The power to speculate, explore and decode reality around us was considered a gift.The time given to pursue such enterprises was considered invaluable.

What we now call history is the constant decaying of civilizations, an ebbing of true understanding, followed by a wave of revolutions, one after the other in relatively rapid succession as a drowning man desperately clutching for air. Scrapping whatever he could, man acquired dominion over the material while all sense of meaning was gradually lost.

“…for the powerful children of natural emotion will be replaced by the miserable creatures of financial expediency.”

The following is a list of four artworks of the greatest refinement, be it formal or otherwise, achieved through experience or birthed by the innerworkings of an innate calling. The first three are metal and of a minimalist stripe. The third is a Baroque religious vocal work. These are the echoes of what once was.

However, if there ever was an art for the elite, this is it. It will challenge each of the shortcomings of the fickle man. The first will call into question the superficial appreciation of aesthetics and will render the disavowal of prejudices compulsory. The second will require self-internment and the ability to perceive higher truths. The third will furthermore force those with a mind for the complex and an aversion to clear, straight lines to look beyond these and settle down in an openness to the expression. Finally, the last and most ancient will bring to bear the capacity of imaginatively layered music to quickly wear down the animal mind. This will be the bane of the simple-minded.

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On Det Frysende Nordariket

Disdained by most metalheads and followed with unthinking loyalty by kvlt fanatics, Ildjarn has achieved an infamous reputation in one way or another. Either of these camps considers the project to be non-music, with polarized opinions divided between “far from filling the requirements of music” and “simply beyond music”. The former point of view assumes a position of authority on technique whence it presumes to judge what music is. The latter is the inexcusable blindness of spineless and undiscerning individuals who place image before content.

While one could easily disarm the first argument on philosophical grounds, an unbiased judgement of the performance itself leaves any knowledgeable instrumentalist with no option but to accept that this is certainly not the weakness of the music. If issue were taken directly with the arrangement — the composition — of the music, there could be a worthwhile side to these attacks. More often than not, though, these critics arise from the new funderground camp, who have a notorious obsession with sheer standard behemoth-sounding production values, and so the argument usually runs along the lines of Ildjarn’s music being buried too deep in noise to have any value to speak of.

However, Ildjarn at its peak is far more than the jumbled improvisations the early recordings let through. The extreme punk channeling raw energy that this music consists of took some time to be harnessed. Det Frysende Nordariket (“The Frozen Northern-Kingdom”) shows us a refinement and redirecting of these ideas. While the self-titled was barely more than a collection of scattered ideas, intuitive impulses and visceral cadences, it is in this release that Ildjarn develops these ideas into mature extensions which make efficient use of the strengths of the original riffs, thereby burying the relevance of their shortcomings.

Coming to an aural absorption or a gnosis, so to speak, of Ildjarn’s rougher side necessitates not only the listener’s amiability towards ultra-minimalist and long-winded ambient music, but also a positive familiarity with low-fi punk and metal production and its use of what are normally considered sound artifacts as tones and colors on the palette of the artist. Once this is understood and the raw texture is successfully digested, one can start to appreciate the unique ideas presented in each track. The genius of Ildjarn lies in the masterful ultra-minimalist manipulation of the original ideas that can be likened to a stretching and contracting, which is occasionally accompanied by a seamless expansion that is so shy it is barely noticeable if the listener is not attentive.

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On Hvis Lyset Tar Oss

1994 marks the turning point in metal history when innovation stops and a gradual degeneration starts to take place. This year is also the highest point in black metal, seeing the release of what we can consider the quintessential genre masterpieces. First among them is Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss.

The meteoric ascent of Vikernes’ previous works from varied yet focused ideas to the purest synthesis of elements in Hvis Lyset Tar Oss could only have one possible outcome. The groundbreaking impact this had on the genre can only be compared to that of albums like Onward to Golgotha or Legion on death metal. While some argue that Vikernes single-handedly “developed” or “defined” black metal, the truth is that he brought it to an end in this album. It is the kind of album that has the words “THIS IS IT” written all over it. There is nothing for us, mortals, beyond the incognizable infinite.

While there is much dark beauty in other works in the genre, works that may serve as veritable portals to hidden corridors of existence, when it comes to the art of composition, there is no other that brings this black romanticism to a more perfect incarnation. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss addresses all facets of black metal and gives them an equally important place in a masterfully balanced music.

The often-used descriptor “ambient black metal” falls criminally short of what this album has to offer. That this “atmospheric” feeling is the only thing blind men can perceive is empiric evidence of its extant layers penetrable to their last consequence only by esoteric means. The least trained will only hear repetition (variation details are lost on them), while those into ambient music will sense the fog around them. He who decries structures and can, to some extent, understand their relations, will be able to delineate muscle fibers and bones — an objective confirmation of content. Further and higher lie realms to be walked but never shared.

Navigating the waters of this ocean, we see indomitable and gargantuan waves slowly rise before us, we experience the placid breeze under a dark-grey sky streaked by clouds mutilated by the rays of a moribund sun, and we face the wrathful tempest. Battered and sucked into a timeless maelstrom, all that remains at the very end is the essence, the ultimate undifferentiated mother of creation.

On The Rack

Asphyx’s debut garners “historical” respect, but is often deemed to be the preparative stage before more refined ones. This argument appears to be supported on two pillars. The first is that a later Asphyx was more technically outspoken, and the second, that the band managed to narrow down their style into a more focused expression. Both of these are true, yet they did not result in higher artistic merit as later works became increasingly sterile. The fact that people get “a feeling” from them is besides the point. Yet, when it comes to art and especially to music, some might confuse these visceral reactions with effective communication through the intuitive.

The Rack presents a style that is both minimalist in its building blocks but displays a progressive tendency in the overall arrangement of parts. Here, Asphyx goes beyond style fetishization and instead uses characteristic phrases and riffs as symbols standing for moods and points in a storyline. This vision places it alongside classic albums that work at a higher level than the merely technical or the grossly emotional. However, it is important to keep in mind that all this intellectual dissection is only a way to uncover this work’s secrets and must not be confused with the end.

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The color palette with which Asphyx plays has a narrow enough range that its extreme opposites are not as contrasting that they incur in an incoherent string of topic changes, yet the individual strokes that riffs represent are distinctive enough that they form clear statements and unambiguously show the way. The triumph of The Rack lies, furthermore, in that it not only signals these inclinations but actually follows them to their last consequence without derailing.

These progressions may seem too clear-cut, leading to them being perceived as ‘blocky’. But when inspected closely, they are shown to be not so much as separate stones in alignment, but as rock-hewn steps in a massive staircase of which each stage is birthed from the underskin of the last. Other ‘brutal’ albums constitute a string of emotions, but here we find an ancient megalithic maze that dwarves petty human creations.
Switching between thematic solos and motific riffs, grindlike attack and doomlike arrest, this first Asphyx takes us through savage plains and forbidden peaks in a barbarian’s world. Now we hear the rage of souls crushed, the karmic cruelty thence resulting, now the ecstatic state following the release of unrestrained fury as we claw our way through this arid wasteland of unmercy.

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On Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi (recording by Roger Norrington and the Schütz Choir)

A baroque religious work might at first seem like an odd addition to a metal compendium, especially one featuring such corrosive albums. A sympathetic relation may nonetheless be found in deeper metaphysical recesses. This hidden concept being the most relevant connection that merits mention does not stop us from discussing other outer traits that surface from that common source, even though their materialized natures lie at antagonizing angles.

The homogeneous, cloudy exterior of Schütz’s offering to the highest being is a continuous exaltation in which each moment is as much a unique apparition as it is an illusory shadow in a sequence of conditioned stages. A flow through condensation, solidification and dispersion let the listener on to the infinite possibilities arising from the two, who are themselves from the one.

Dense, saturated and appreciable only as a mass, Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi will only reflect a clear image if the listener is standing in the right place (at the right time?). This same is true of the Ildjarn, the Burzum and the Asphyx as well. They represent mental spaces within which they are as palpable and engulfing as daylight itself. But places must be traveled to, gates must be unlocked and the decision to step through them is a voluntary one.

Seeds being planted,
guarded by the old ones below.
Against the sky they lay roots,
Once to bloom with signs.

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