Upcoming tours – Marduk, Immolation, Origin

marduk et al on tour

With the metal scene as it is these days, one out of three DMU-approved bands isn’t too bad. Marduk, Immolation, Origin, and a band named Bio-Cancer will be touring Europe throughout May 2016. While Marduk is headlining, their companions in general seem to have similar levels of notoriety; I wouldn’t dwell too much on the specifics of the headlines. I’m betting European fans of Death Metal Underground’s writing will treat this as a possible opportunity to see Immolation in concert. While that’s an optimistic appraisal, the band allegedly gives their older and stronger some emphasis when live, so if you can grit your teeth through the other material it could very well be worth your while. Otherwise, you’ll have to hope there’s good beer… and that there’s plenty of beer money in your pockets.

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Necropsy – Buried in the Woods (2015)

necropsy

Article by Corey M

Finns Necropsy have been plugging away since 1989 but only recently (2011) released their first full-length album. In 2015 they released their second album, Buried in the Woods, showcasing a disciplined, modest, and even joyous approach to death metal. Every time I hear this album I get the sense that Necropsy’s members do not have any type of heady agenda or driving vision; rather they simply enjoy making plain-old death metal, emphasizing straightforward riffs that rely equally on rhythmic adherence and playful-but-conventional melodic deviations.

The actual sonic texture of the album is smooth and clear, taking full advantage of 2015’s recording technology. Both bass and distorted lead guitars are appropriately crunchy but never so deep and fuzzy as to approach the obscure levels of Infester or Incantation; they chug, ring, soar, and sing without losing a trace of clarity. This lucidity of individual tracks allows each instrument to be heard clearly and effortlessly, which is a major benefit since many of these songs shift back and forth between relatively uniform (all instruments playing the same thing) segments to more harmonically complex bits. Drums sit comfortably behind the melody, encompassing the other instruments and filling in the far left and right stereo space with just the right amount of reverb, never intruding on the melody. Meanwhile, the vocals only appear as low pitched roars that are somewhat hard to decipher, and mainly serve to augment the otherwise simple rhythmic interplay that generally features concomitant guitars and drums. During the last song, synthesized organ and string sounds come in to support the closing chord progression, but aside from this final track, the songs are functionally supported exclusively by the guitars, drums, and vocal patterns.

Judging by the description in the preceding paragraph, we should have all the ingredients necessary for a good death metal album. But, just as we find in actual food recipes, the order of ingredient addition, and time spent baking, are just as crucial to the final product as the ingredients themselves. Buried in the Woods is a smooth listen from front to back, as the creators probably intended. The casual listener may stop their analysis there; the more attentive listener may find that the conservative nature of the songs lend themselves to a relatively shallow range of dynamics. But this criticism is mainly aimed toward the album as a whole; the songs themselves move effortlessly between sections that slowly change in feel until making a satisfying shift back toward the introductory riffs. Nevertheless, by the fifth song you’ll have heard the band’s whole lexicon of riffs, which range from the derivative (mainly Grave-ish Swedeath and Sinister-ish NYDM) to the interesting-but-uninspired.

Finnish bands like Demilich and Demigod generated some bizarre death metal that, while unconventional by even death metal standards, was nevertheless intuitively relatable because the music presented a vision of horror that was spiritual-arising-from-the-biological. The songs expressed such extreme and severe experiences through a human lens that we as listeners were lead to question and explore our own peripheries of personal experience, and push our imaginations toward the impossible; that is the special territory of death metal. With this in mind, the generic horror concepts of Necropsy relate only to the biological and immediate sensations, falling short of that ability to breach into the “imaginal”; that territory in which we can experience events through the potency of imagination alone, affecting our feelings/biological chemistry on a profound scale.

Listen to Buried in the Woods because it illustrates several examples of a decently transparent and reliable template that can be used in constructing songs in a style as unorthodox as death metal. While you listen, you will probably find that such formulaic methods of song structure only work if there is a balance between surprise and rationality in the shifts between riffs. If the focus is too close toward surprise, the result is like metalcore, which lacks melodic structure and relies on rapid and unexpected dynamic shifts in rhythm and overall feel. If the focus is too close toward rationality, then you get something like Buried in the Woods, which is written skillfully enough to not be boring, but too conventionally to be exciting. Personally, I listened through it several times and developed fond feelings toward a few songs, but I won’t be listening to it again any time soon.

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A Playlist: Horror

horror

Article by David Rosales

The eighties, as any other decade, had its own particular flavor, and popular culture had turned to fantasy and horror as a sort of addictive drug. The most grueling slasher films with fake yet more tangible appearances than the digitized reproductions directed at desensitized audiences that we have today. It may be guessed that a lot of this was an outlet for repressed feelings of hopelessness towards the end of the Cold War, in the midst of death squad strikes and political assassinations throughout the world by the very pseudo protectors of liberty.

The menace of a nuclear holocaust made the idea of a post-apocalyptic scenario not so much the stuff of dreams but a possible (and plausible) future not more than a few decades ahead. There was terror in the air, as desperation and fear had already become the habit of a whole generation raised in the shadow of the fairy tales of the great wars and disarmed through the enhancing of shadows on the wall as their very protectors backstabbed them.

The kids born of this former failed generation of proper workmen and citizens grew to distrust all the bullshit thrown at them. Growing up in this era of tension and constant threats outside a bubble of hypocrisy and bigotry made young men of a more realist mentality long for the collapse of the system of lies built by the ‘mature and responsible’. This is the world that gave us death metal as Slayer’s lessons were ran through hardcore punk and then grindcore.

Cromags

1. Cro-Mags – Age of Quarrel (1986)

Expressing the most bare-bones discontent with society with a sincerity that only the punk spirit can deliver, Cro-Mags adopt metal riff phrasing techniques to give further elaboration to paint pictures of collapse and humanity’s demise that are more grim and nihilistic than the lyrics themselves.

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2. Repulsion – Horrified (1989)

While Age of Quarrel is the image of a decadent civilization malfunctioning its way to its own zombification, Repulsion shows us the explosion and its aftermath. The first is fear of impending doom, this latter is terror, desperation and psychotic breakdown in the face of monstrous reality.

carnage

3. Carnage – Dark Recollections (1990)

Beneath the blatant visions of disaster and discomfort, the reveling in what is seen as an unavoidable outcome, or perhaps an already present state, is laughed at with the humor of a cancerous patient that knows no clean escape from his own impossible situation. It takes death metal to come out as the triumphant anti-hero, shotgun in hand, ready to do away with the weakness of modern man.

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Tom Araya (Slayer) interviewed by Loudwire

Tom-Araya

The folks at Loudwire recently conducted an interview with Tom Araya. In it, Araya talks about a great swathe of topics relating to his career with Slayer; what particularly stood out to me was his discussion of what went into Repentless. While we’ve probably reiterated more than enough that Repentless wasn’t very good, it’s still interesting reading about the differences Araya perceives between it and previous albums. There’s also some bits of interesting trivia in there that I personally wasn’t aware of before; such as Araya’s affinity for ’70s rock and the Beach Boys, and the varying work ethics and styles of various bandmembers past and present.

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Magrudergrind – II (2016)

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So famous that you might’ve just heard of them right now for the first time. Magrudergrind is back after a hiatus with an album that makes a potent case for keeping simplicity tightly under wraps so that we don’t risk every band with half a half-hearted interest in songwriting nabbing it from the medicine cabinet and hoarding it all for themselves.

I don’t exactly listen to much straight up ‘grindcore’, which adds to the holes in my listening experience, but II sounds pretty much like what I’d expect any half-proficient band in the genre to put out. It’s understandably a little slicker than most of the formative efforts in the genre (Napalm Death, Carcass, Repulsion, etc.), although from what I’ve heard this album trades in some of the bits of schlock comedy that “distinguished” previous Magrudergrind content from its contemporaries for more standard, basic, banal grindcore. On some scales, this is really a perfect 5/10 album; it’s exactly what I expected aesthetically, it does nothing particularly interesting, and it doesn’t even have the temerity to offend me even slightly lest I end up shaming Magrudergrind on the internet; does this sound like anybody we know? II is basically the equivalent of a blank cassette waiting to be recorded to for the first time, but like most albums of little musical merit, we can at least learn a few lessons from the circumstances surrounding it.

As I hinted at in the intro, Magrudergrind’s latest is a very simplistic album that isn’t far removed from the starkest, most deconstructive efforts in its genre. The problem working in such a limited palette is that most of the time, it’s only a sign of low effort; it takes surprising amounts of skill, ambition, or at least luck, to cut down your music and still retain some shred of coherence and communicative value. Grindcore, as a genre, is especially vulnerable to the dark side of these tendencies; once you reach maximum violence and intensity there isn’t much left to do in the confines of the genre. The various famous bands of the genre all found their coping mechanisms; I’m personally most familiar with Carcass’s rapid pivot towards pop music. Magrudergrind’s, on the other hand, was apparently to go on hiatus for a few years and then return when everyone had forgotten not only them, but also the very knowledge that they had forgotten about Magrudergrind.

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Pipe shop review: Hollywood Food Store, Houston, Texas

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Hollywood Food Store
1660 Westheimer Rd # A, Houston, TX 77006
(713) 528-3234

For those who have known Houston over the past 30 years, the Hollywood Food Store at Westheimer and Dunlavy is an institution. At the heart of the Montrose District, it offers imported cigarettes and alcohol to late-night revelers. Located right next to Shaw’s tattoo studio, it is situated in the epicenter of rebellious cool, at least for 1980s kids in the days before every conformist counter-worker had double sleeves.

Little-known to many is that it is also one of the older pipe stores in this city of millions. For years, this location was where downtown workers and city residents stopped to get Galoises, 555 Specials, John Players, Dunhills and a variety of pipe tobaccos and hand-rolling supplies. Unlike just about anywhere else, you can find not just Drum and Bali Shag on the shelves, but Carter Hall and Prince Albert as well as a dozen glass display containers of house blends (most likely Lane Limited varieties).

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Hollywood also sells pipe supplies and now Chinese pipes for those who want to launch into this experience at low investment. While most of the tobacco action in this sprawl of suburbs takes place in the outer rings, and many of us avoid the pretentious pipe shop in the tourist village, Hollywood has serviced pipe, cigar and cigarette smokers for generations with its wide selection and sobriety-optional service.

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A typical night out in the 1980s involved heading downtown from the outer edges where comfortable suburbs held the daytime stability and nighttime frustrations of the working drudges, hitting Sound Exchange to see if any new metal was in the stacks, stopping at Hollywood for smokes and beers, then sneaking those into Numbers or The Abyss to see a show and maybe score drugs in the feces-festooned restrooms (to this day, there are probably Houstonians who have acid flashbacks any time a sewer pipe explodes). Over the years, and very few upgrades, Hollywood has continued this mission with an unassuming but vital presence for the pipe smoking community in this Southern/Midwestern city.

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On The Music Of Timeghoul

timeghoul

Article by David Rosales

Timeghoul’s short lived existence gave us two excellent demos in 1992 and 1994. These both display very distinct facets of the project, each with their own merits and limitations. Even if we see the second as an evolution of the first, the first stands very firmly on its own ground. You could in fact argue that the second is not so much an evolution, as a different overall direction for the band.

The first release, Tumultuous Travelings, had a much more suffocating feeling to it, but already showcasing Timeghoul’s distinct personality, setting it apart from any contemporary. This distinction, however, is one of language and not one of technique; so that the casual onlooker might consider this first work to be a typical release for its time. In reality, once we acknowledge its allegiance to the traditions of death metal, the particular traits of Timeghoul’s music (even on Tumultuous Travelings) are anything but typical.

In 1994 came Panaramic Twilight (sic), which boasted of more explicitly progressive intentions, giving it automatic recognition in the mind of the same simple metalhead who passed off their first demo as standard. Seldom is it recognized that Timeghoul’s “progressive” qualities were already present on the first release, which is a trend that itself fails to stand out as few recognize these leanings in even the most developed death metal of the early 1990s. Timeghoul’s most significant development onĀ Panaramic Twilight was that they stepped up the drama and Wagnerian soundtrack-like constructions, which required longer silences, longer notes and a wider variety of expression.

Now, when constructing music, composers have to strike a balance between intelligibility and variety (a.k.a. outer complexity). Most metal musicians, however, seem totally unaware of this, and this is why bands who, out of a humble degree of proficiency, produce simpler music have a more enduring impression on the audience in general. Aesthetic variety will not keep your interest if the music that underlies it is incoherent, muddy, and lacking in clarity. However, mere clarity is not enough; the image remains blurry if the overall picture has not been built with enough concrete purpose.

This is where Timeghoul excels; coherent and concrete purpose in songwriting is their most meaningful contribution to metal. They have opened this door to a world of possibilities within their paradigm of dramatic and obscure (rather than gory) death metal that does not require a band to clone their approach to follow in their steps. In comparison, trying to learn from Demilich or Immolation often results in blatant plagiarism, unless your efforts and results arise from a detailed technical analysis and are applied only in an abstract manner. Timeghoul compensates for the silences, rapid-fire changes in rhythms, and the use of texture to enhance different feelings in their music by using a very limited range of techniques. This is comparable to what At the Gates did on their own album. The techniques themselves aren’t numerous; nor are they extremely advanced. The band chooses a lexicon of technique, and relies on it consistently within a harmonic/modal framework that lends each song their own “harmonic feel” (arising from the interplay with the vocal’s timbre as well, I presume).

The wide range of expression is achieved through the types of arrangements and the changes in texture and rhythm, which are not selected at random like we saw in the work of Crematory. Timeghoul is very clearly telling a story and each bit of music, each switch from blast beat to silence, from frenetic power chord torrent to slow, single-note melody lines makes sense as a narrative. Timeghoul’s approach is not one of riff-salad, but rather more akin to that of an opera. In short, the music of Timeghoul provides another healthy avenue for metal musicians to explore. What you can learn from this unfortunately short-lived project on the abstract level is of far more value than what you can imitate by simply trying to emulate their sound. It is their intuitional organization that deserves praise; the powerful narrative element of Timeghoul’s music is a rare gem.

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Khand releases upcoming track off Crimson

If you’ve been following the site for a bit, you’ll note how Khand is a treasure trove for ambient/”cosmic” music lovers that has earned a nice reputation on our site for their previous studio albums. A few months back, this one man act mentioned it was simultaneously working on two albums for future release. Crimson, from which the provided track hails, is a science fiction concept album revolving around a hypothetical manned space mission to Mars. While it’s too early to say for sure whether or not this will live up to previous Khand albums, a teaser track is still an important milestone on the way to an official release.

Some of Khand’s work is available for download here.

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Crematory – Denial (1992)

crematory denial

Article by David Rosales

Crematory’s 1992 EP is the very definition of good, old riff salad death metal, at least from a basic technical stance. Strings of ideas fly by with less-than-optimal riff glue to hold them together, but an intuitive flow is always present. Adjacent riffs may be linked motif-wise, but sharp corner-turns are never too far away. There is a clear emphasis in contrasting rhythms to create interest in the music in the absence of clearer goals. Denial is a good example of why many black metal musicians who were originally playing death metal chose to forgo this style in order to look for more artistically meaningful avenues of expression. Crematory is fun, and there is an obvious emphasis on technical proficiency that although not forgetting entirely about coherence leaves it as a second thought, and any other landscaping is all but forgotten. Concept building is left to the lyrics, while the music is only an engine to carry those words.

Fans of this old school band’s work tag this lazy and faceless approach as ‘Crematory style’, but in truth, it is just run-of-the-mill riff salad without any particular purpose; only remarkable for presenting some technical variation. This can be particularly observed when the band attempts to take rhythm to the edge of what their speed-based approach allows them and creates this ass-shaking syncopation worthy of Brazilian carnivals. This comes out as comical, but perhaps technically ‘interesting’ for drummers. The guitar’s work is completely driven by these frenetic drums that seem more interested in showing off how many different patterns they can cram into half a minute than in contributing to the larger picture. In fact, the whole of the music appears to be an excuse for rhythmic exercises in “fun and gore”. This is an early demonstration of tongue-in-cheek emptiness that lead these musicians to explore technique but reveal nothing to the soul.

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Triguna Releases New EP

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Last year we covered Triguna‘s debut (Embryonic Forms) with some enthusiasm, placing hopes on their amateur form of discernment and enthusiasm in the writing of progressive speed metal. The first album shows a band that is still a little awkward around expression but displays a latent vision for natural development and a holistic consideration of affairs. Their following EP, released officially on February 11, shows work in the same direction with a little more confidence. The evolution of Triguna’s style has not yet reached a stable point, and may still seem a little rushed or incoherent to the average listener, since they still need more practice in inserting their songs’ “progressive” sections. But these interruptions and twists don’t rob the songs of a coherent narrative, and the upcoming content seems worthy of further study and attention.

Embryonic Forms can be purchased at Triguna’s Bandcamp.

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