Fanisk – Noontide (2003)

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Normally I refuse to review NSBM because in my view, if your politics must be understood to like the music, the art has failed and we have ventured into propaganda. Nonetheless I attempted to listen to Fanisk because so many people swore by its value, including those I respected.
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The Ouroborean Circle declares its presence

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Metal spills over into other areas of life. Every person has a philosophy, and if they are attracted to metal, it is that personal worldview that drives them toward it and not the other way around, although certainly metal further informs that worldview. As a result, metal finds similarity in other ideals that generally seek truth instead of seeking social approval.

For this reason, society has always feared heavy metal. Society is based on control, which is based on the idea of creating a “truth” which manipulates people. This fake truth is to some degree necessary to keep people doing the things required for us all to survive, but over time it becomes tempting for those in control to skim off the top. To do this, they expand the fake truth to obligate people to do stuff that benefits the people in control.

In the 1960s, metal gave the finger to both the establishment and the hippies who were basically preaching a watered-down version of the fake truth in vogue in that era. In the 1990s, metal gave the finger to the vision of us all happily getting along. And now in the 2010s, metal may be giving the finger to the idea of society itself. This document recently appeared in our unpublished staff-only address:

INDULGE

Satan represents indulgence instead of abstinence!

  • Indulgence is a model of pleasure seeking activity.
  • Empirical pleasure must exist in contrast to self-destruction if it is to be quantified in the context of carnality.
  • Consumption of repetitive experience is a pathology, not indulgence.

This group will not be for the slaves, but the masters. It will draw lines and cause anger.

Membership is open and expressive. ID cards will be available soon.

[illegible] humans do not entry.

I have written back to the email address provided and await a response, although probably I am not elite enough to qualify for membership or even a ten-question interview. Whether this is fallout from the Cobalt debacle or not remains to be seen.

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Destroying Divinity – Hollow Dominion

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Cross Immolation Here in After with a modern brutal technical death band like Deeds of Flesh and you have arrived at the starting point for Destroying Divinity, who specialize in a barely controlled chaos of exuberant ripping and high-speed charging Krisiun-style riffs channeled into violent and athletic songs. Hollow Dominion clocks in at just over 33 minutes but packs in at least two albums of riffs.

Like most percussive metal bands, a great deal of the focus on Hollow Dominion involves use of choppy muted chords to emphasize a riff pattern and then varying that texture to create a kind of parallax shift sensation, allowing a melody to slowly emerge. Where this band excels is in packing together these riffs so that each change relates to the riff before it, and every riff fits in the song, but the song still makes sense with enough variation to avoid trope. If they have a failing, it is that many of the chord progressions used in these riffs are rather linear, which creates a heavy chromatic effect but also some predictability. Generally however the band manages to introduce its songs with the more obvious riffs and work deeper until it has subverted them with more interesting patterns.

Brutal death metal will not find a fan in every listener. It relies on cadence, trope, repetition and basically pounding the listener into her chair with solid slamming percussive riff after riff. In addition, Destroying Divinity pick up a number of techniques from Immolation such as the guitar squeal, recursive rhythms that simultaneously relax, and a tendency to use higher-string chords to offset the guttural vocals and pounding bass-intense riffs. In combination these two forms show metal as more of a series of patterns than a convention sense of riff-chorus, which makes this album a welcome antidote to the highly repetitive and circular songwriting of modern metal. With great intensity Hollow Dominion creates a world of vast internal diversity and then populates it with conflict, delivering death metal satisfaction with brutal death metal rigor.

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“On the right side of history”

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The arrogance of someone proclaiming themselves on the right side of history still takes my breath away. As if after all this time, there are simple solutions to human problems that involve a totalitarian presence, which is control of all that we say and thus what we think. This issue defines #metalgate and explains why it has provoked such panicked reactions from the nu-metal SJWs.

SJWs raise a number of objections to #metalgate. Their first trick is to claim that #metalgate does not in fact exist because there is not a single touchstone event, as there was with #gamergate, which set it off. Since #metalgate was brought on by years of articles (and boring, soulless politically-correct burnt out hardcore bands writing “metal” albums) there was not a touchstone event, but a gradual rising opposition. Their next trick is to claim that metalheads want the ability to behave like louts without consequence. This is an obvious lie, since all we’re asking is to keep the PC thought police out of metal, since PC thought police ruin everything they touch, much like their bad “metal” bands. Finally they insist that metal is dodging these issues entirely, which is not true. Metal simply refuses to adopt the PC framing of these issues, which is designed so that only one conclusion is correct. Their approach is similar to a Republican asking where we stand on allowing al-Qaeda into schools. The only response you can make is “well, of course I oppose that,” or your response is going to look like you are supporting al-Qaeda.

The point of this approach is literally thought control. As Roger Brown wrote in 1976:

The structure of anyone’s native language strongly influences or fully determines the world-view he will acquire as he learns the language.

Language works both forward and backward. It programs our minds to think in certain ways. If that language is changed, it works backward to change how we think about things. This is why people want to change the way you talk, program you to think in terms of issues, and otherwise force you to put your speech into a narrow range of what is defined as acceptable. They want to control how you think.

#metalgate got some interesting support some time ago from an unlikely source:

myrkur

This artist remains controversial because her band was so heavily promoted as being “female-fronted,” which to a metalhead is suspicious because it obstructs from letting the music speak for itself. Like music which insists you appreciate it on the basis of theory, whether musical or gender studies, the sex-based approach demands fans look at the music first in terms of what precious little category it fits into. This is the same thing as requiring that we like a band simply because it is popular and sold a lot of albums. Krieg’s Imperial weighs in on this one:

This might sound a bit mean-spirited, but I don’t think seventy-five percent of people would give any second thought to Myrkur if there wasn’t the campaign of secrecy behind it pre-release, coupled with the fury over the main musician having ovaries and other things people who still live with their parents are confused and frightened by. It speaks a lot to gender politics in music in general with how this scenario played out, and it wasn’t at all helped by shrouding the whole thing in mystery early on; Velvet Cocoon did that ten years ago and much more successfully. Now, it just comes off like the Sex Pistols or American Idol-styled manufacturing, but that’s easier to ignore than the moist masses who, when faced with a woman, can only yell “TITS!” like she’s unaware that she has them. Yes, black metal is a negative expression which isn’t the most inclusive of genres, but recently people have been acting more like they’re on Xbox Live than in a genre which should be held to a higher intellectual standard than most.

This takes a moderate approach to metal which is that most of us are tired of the bad behavior of people on the internet, which is not limited to tidy categories like “sexism” and “racism” but approaches all-around shittiness because angry teenagers either find an outlet for their anger — plant trees, join the Guardian Angels, work in a soup kitchen — or they become hateful little haters who do nothing but hate on all of us. #metalgate isn’t about these people. It’s about a small group of media darlings and their pointless indie rock and hardcore punk bands pretending to be metal so they can enforce thought control over us and make us their bitches.

The sad fact remains that people who talk about “the right side of history” have a control agenda. We see again why metal is always unpopular, which is that it avoids herd opinion on all fronts. Political correctness is herd opinion. It’s not even related to actual leftist theory, but uses that as its cover story to hide the fact that it’s a naked grab for power. Jim Jones, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Tipper Gore and other cult personalities use this approach to build personal armies and take control. They are no different from the bigots who lynched people and who are currently beheading people and blowing up children in the middle east. Metal is just fighting back on its own terms, despite the apathy and isolation of most metalheads, because we don’t want to be part of their weird political jihad. And what’s more metal than that?

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Digging further into Abscession Grave Offerings

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As the title suggests, Grave Offerings has a lot to give. In a metal world bloated with copycats, have-beens, hipsters, cultural appropriators invading the genre, imitators and true-blue kvlt types, it is rare to hear an album that is not only competent but has its own personality.

While most metal musicians focus exclusively on having memorized the major and minor scale shapes on the guitar neck, knowing the most common chord progressions and understanding the concepts of modulation and time signatures, the art of songwriting requires a different kind of technicality. Abscession rises above the herd in knowing the genre, having technical skills, and being able to write songs, but above that their repertoire is strained.

Almost every embellishment such as drum fills or guitar solos is fitting and never overbearing despite the obvious proficiency of the performers. This is not altogether uncommon but it is something that is appreciated by fans of proper music, as opposed to what my good friend Dionysus would refer to as “guitar-shop metal” or the kind of guitar tricks you show your friends but that get old really fast on an album. Grave Offerings displays a variety of Svenska Dödsmetal influences which range from the early foundational bands like Nihilist, going through Carnage, stopping by Entombed for an infusion of Death n’ Roll inclinations and all the way to fully-fledged Gothenburg sound while avoiding sounding like any one of them all the time and occasionally bringing out a voice of its own, although not often enough.

Abscession have the artistic sense to make the songs stay within an idea without wandering off topic. At the same time they do this too zealously and the music always remains so close to the germinating idea that it seems to shy away from any great variations lest they be seen as foreign. Since the songs are, on a general level, verse-chorus pop songs, there is a need for subtle ventures outside the strictly familiar to distinguish each song with a purpose unique to that song. It must effectively convey that purpose through its free expression (the previously mentioned ventures) parting from its stable basis (what was referred to as established idea and “known territory”, not foreign) as one needs a vector to have two points and a direction to effectively communicate information.

When a more distinctive idea does surface it often does so with scherzando overtones — playful, bouncy, not grim — which I find unpalatable in the context of the rigid intensity of death metal and especially in the context of Swedish death metal. This aura has traditionally replicated that of old school horror films in the best of cases and at worse has been borderline cartoonish. By indulging in the more humoresque-like passages Abscession ends up crossing the line into explicitly comic territory. This usually happens when the Death n’ Roll facet of Swedeath is explored as exemplified by the fifth track on the album: Blowtorch Blues.

Both while listening to Grave Offerings for the first time and after having listened to it seven times at the time of this writing, I had the strong feeling that the first four tracks were more than enough: there’s virtually nothing else added by the rest of the album. All in all, if we are going to allow ourselves to give safe mainstream metal from Scandinavia praise for some originality and inventiveness within their miserable sellout constraints, I would be much more inclined to extend this courtesy to the latest album by Björler’s At the Gates (as opposed to Svensson’s At the Gates): At War with Reality.

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Demoncy to release Risen From the Ancient Ruins and re-issue Empire of the Fallen Angel

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In addition to unleashing a re-issue of its classic Joined in Darkness, nocturnal subterranean black metal band Demoncy plans to release a new EP entitled Risen From the Ancient Ruins and a re-issue of its full-length Empire of the Fallen Angel a/k/a Eternal Black Dominion.

Forever Plagued Records intends to release both of these “this year,” according to an announcement on its email newsletter, but this language does not clarify which year this is since 2014 is nearly done. Most likely, this announcement was intended for early 2015 and reflects a 2015 street date for these albums.

Here is the full statement:

Forever Plagued Records is also very proud to announce DEMONCY will be releasing a new EP this year entitled “Risen From The Ancient Ruins”, it will include three new tracks and one ambiant. As a follow up, another DEMONCY release FPR has planned for this year, namely, the new rendition of “Empire Of The Fallen Angel aka Eternal Black Dominion”. Both releases will feature IXithra’s voice of unclean spirits.

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Warfather – Orchestrating the Apocalypse

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We can look at objects as their surface traits, or attributes they have in different categories at different times, or look at them as shapes (or even forms) which manifest themselves in those attributes. When this logic is applied to genres, we quickly see how complex the term “death metal” can be.

If you ask your average journalist about death metal, s/he will start listing off descriptors, like heavy distortion, guttural vocals, intense riffs, blasphemic and occult topics. The implication will be made that all of these things together make death metal and yet, four average musicians could bash out an album of Dolly Parton covers using those attributes in an afternoon and it would be no more like death metal than the original.

What holds death metal together is its internal language where riffs correspond to structure. The process of assembly, called “riff-gluing” by Bob Bacchus of Soulburn/Asphyx, means knitting those riffs into a narrative where they both comment on one another and lead to a series of mood or atmosphere changes in the whole which suggest some kind of event, realization, journey or gesture. With this approach, the death metal style of riffing is inevitably invented, as is the need to have vocals take a background role and guitars to lead and dominate over drums, bass and vocals. Even if death metal had zero influences before it, if people set out to reinvent it based on that idea alone they would end up with something a lot like underground death metal.

Warfather combines the charging high-speed riffs of Angelcorpse, the abrupt transitions and chanted choruses of Hate Eternal, and the love of sweeps and odd melodic twists of post-metal and metalcore. In doing so, it loses sight of what makes death metal a whole, and instead takes the pieces it finds most convenient and makes out of them something else. Because this something else lacks a centrality, it must choose between being so chaotic it becomes boring or so repetitive that it becomes boring. Warfather choose the latter and pound out catchy choruses and verses with strident rage guiding the vocals, but have nothing to unite them while seeking to break them up with flourishes to disguise the lack of development. Songs do not ramble, but charge in different directions and then resume back at the starting point before fading away. While there are some good riffs on here they are lost in a void of context. The end result is organized disorganization where all the pieces fit together and mean nothing.

On paper, Orchestrating the Apocalypse seems like it would offer everything a journalist uses to describe death metal: the riffs, the vocals, the loudness and perhaps even the blasphemy. As a listening experience it misses the intensity of death metal by a mile through focusing on these surface traits and missing the motivation to put them in a meaningful order that made death metal so terrifying, mindblowing and vertiginously exciting. All that remains is to finish this review and move on.

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Empyrium – The Turn of the Tides

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Empyrium started as a metal band, but they have become a band with its own voice that uses many styles including metal where they fit in each song, much like it might use a technique. Elements of traditional European bard styles, Gothic, neofolk, ambient, neoclassical and metal meld in this emotional but dark atmospheric band.

These melancholic and beautiful songs run longer than average because they focus on creating a mood, generally with piano and lush keyboards as the primary instrument complemented by vocals, and then working through it much as one might take a walk through the Black Forest, looking up into the trees as a new thought becomes familiar and finally fleshed out, then fading away like the dying light of day. Guitars and death metal vocals appear when they create the desired effect of aggression and passionate rage for balancing to what is otherwise a yawning abyss of tragic sadness. Like doom metal bands such as My Dying Bride and Skepticism, Empyrium work hard to balance moods that otherwise would become monolithic and all-encompassing, using variations in mood to strengthen the theme of each song much as Dead Can Dance do in their longer epics. The result is a mellow and gentle sound from which the bottom falls out and a void emerges, only to become absorbed by a general sense of narrative and development. This album is both easy to listen to and a hard place to want to go, but provides the perfect background to certain acts like driving in the rain, contemplating old pictures or burying an entire family.

While the metal content shrinks with every Empyrium album, the use of metal as a voice strengthens because it appears only when crashing guitars and guttural distorted vocals give presence to an idea within the song, possibly showing us where metal will be in another decade if it continues abolishing itself. What makes The Turn of the Tides of interest to metalheads is that these songs reflect many of the same emotional journeys you might find on a Summoning or Graveland album but are taken to a more expansive viewpoint through the use of other techniques as well. Fans of atmospheric black metal and doom metal alike will find Empyrium interesting, as will any who find the manipulation of mood in layers of atmosphere to provide a compelling listen.

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Phlebotomized – Immense Intense Surprise & Skycontact

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People forget that the 90s were among other things a pervasively trivial time, which was one of the things that death metal was rebelling against. We finally got over the terror of the Republican 1980s, and the ex-hippies took over and that meant we were due for some good times. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure satirizes this best with its view of adult society in Southern California as completely oblivious, obsessed with the inconsequential and generally wrapped up in itself without any purpose or direction to life beyond consumer glory.

Immense Intense Surprise reveals this mentality of triviality, which is the concept that you can take something very ordinary and cover it with shiny objects and unique, ironic and different (UID) adornments and somehow it will be transformed into a revolutionary idea. This is not so: the underlying idea remains in control. In the case of Immense Intense Surprise the underlying idea is that same alternative rock that everyone else was pimping back then, but they have dressed it up as bouncy technical death metal of the Afflicted school, meaning that you will not find any epic or amazing melodies or song constructions here, only technical tricks on guitar and keyboard.

To keep us distracted, Phlebotomized constantly change layers of vocals, synths, drums and lead guitar that sounds almost plasticine in its tendency toward “chaotically” repeated similar structures. And underneath? Quite a few hard rock and classic heavy metal riffs reborn, some influences from 70s rock, and a bit of death metal that as with all ill-conceived hybrids, builds itself around the vocals. Notice also the novelty song structures. This release distracts from a missing core with a surface level of weird, much like so many people distract from their absence of soul with “interesting” personalities.

Not all of Immense Intense Surprise & Skycontact — a combination release of two late 1990s albums — is bad. Much of this material shows insight in songwriting and an ability to craft a good tune. Phlebotomized interrupt themselves on the way to a good song by instead of finding a voice for their many influences, trotting them out in serial fashion, creating the kind of “variety plate” music that fails to endure over time. Think, people: there is a reason these albums went out of print in the first place after haunting the sale bins of used record stores across the world. Surface-based music does not endure. They were not alone in their quest for experimentation. Bands like Disharmonic Orchestra, Supuration and Mordred were each trying to re-invent death metal by mixing in influences from previous genres. The problem with such a conflicted approach is that it destroys the voice of the genre which had achieved clarity, and replace it with the usual modern grab-bag of options unrelated to a purpose.

Phlebotomized put out an earlier album, Preach Eternal Gospels, which spent quite a bit of time in my CD player during the 90s because it was good, solid B-level boxy death metal. Bands at that level either accepted second-tier status and moved on, or became consumed with the desire to be the next Dismember or Morbid Angel and so embarked on a path of accessorizing their music to make it stand out. Their only real problem was that the mainstream rock discovered that tactic long before they did, and they were better at it.

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Abscession – Grave Offerings

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Abscession appeared on the metal scene with a mission to bring the power of Swedish death metal to a stagnant scene. After a promising demo, “Death Incarnate,” Abscession return with a full-length Grave Offerings that expands upon their earlier strengths to make a solid Swedish death metal album with melodic touches but a few weaknesses that could sabotage its enjoyment by others.

On “Death Incarnate,” Abscession offered a great sense of melody and of place within each song, building up riff iterations like scenes in a horror film leading to a dramatic reveal. With their first full-length Abscession demonstrate the ability to write melodic songs that create a sensation of atmosphere and then bring it to a peak, uniting the song in a moment of clarity based on the journey encoded in its prior riffs. They draw from a template of Bolt Thrower, Dismember, Unleashed, Amorphis and early Therion in this ability but expand upon it with their own voice. Each song on this album possesses a point of focus and some form of internal content that guides its development, which avoids the “songs about being songs” problem that many death metal bands have. This radically cuts down on disorganization which can blight a metal album, and creates a sensation of descent into a dark world which deepens as the album progresses. Hardcore death metal fans may find the second half even more interesting than the first.

Where this album falls down is in the tendency to incorporate hard rock and death ‘n roll elements in some of — key point: some of — the riffs. These tend to focus on bouncy riffs like the Pantera style from the 1990s but without the angry bounce, more like a pop-music style that infects the brain but detract from the overall power of the song. Further, the vocals tend to synchronize too closely with riff and especially with chorus rhythm, and unfortunately are produced in such a way that they expand sonically instead of remaining focused; a bit of reverb and a filter on the microphone might help here. These are minor problems which probably keep this album from being an automatic keeper, but nonetheless it remains a powerful musical force that is immediately recognizable as its own entity and not merely derivative and celebrating that fact to recruit an audience as recent “true old school Swedish death metal” albums have done. Notice also what appears to be a Havohej tribute in the first riff of the second-to-final song.

Death metal fans will find this album relevant because this band actually write songs, have a flair for the kind of theatrical yet meaningful atmospheric changes that Celtic Frost pioneered, and demonstrate overall high levels of musicianship and songwriting. Many will be put off by some of the bounce riffs or Motley Crue-styled hard rock riffs, but these are as mentioned above a minority of what is on the album. Amazing for its ability to invoke the past without rehashing it from an outside view, Grave Offerings shows a powerful future for this band and proves itself one of the most memorable releases of 2014.

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