When something great passes, people stand around wishing for more of those moments of power and beauty that it brought. And so we get the black metal equivalent of Django Wilson and his Electric Band Play the Hits of the Beatles, except that now it is a black metal version which revisits the greatest moments of early Gorgoroth through a filter of Ancient and Graveland. Nothing here is poorly executed but the whole misses the driving spirit of black metal that gave it its profundity and instead works on recombining known tropes that once gave it great intensity.
All of the classic attributes are here: the minor-key trailing melodies, the bombastic resurgent themes, the shifting between riffs conveying a sense of hope and thus returning to a feral despair, but the animating force that holds them together does not appear. Like a musical version of Frankenstein’s monster, The Divination of Antiquity is the most beautiful black metal album ever made from pieces of its best, but it lacks the soul to see beyond the immediate and material and touch the conceptual ground of actual black metal. Winterfylleth make songs with the basic feel and sensation of black metal, but without the intention behind it, they never develop to any conclusion sufficient for black metal and instead detour into the semi-circular wistful feeling that indie-rock and post-metal — both witnesses to the decline of human society in lugubrious ways, but helpless observers and not soul-participants in the counteraction — create that are the artistic equivalent of euthanasia. Like back, watch it happen, relax and let the waves wash over you. It will all be over soon.
As the album progresses, The Divination of Antiquity starts falling back on more rock and jazz tropes to supplement its diminishing store of black metal landmark moments. The result is pleasant to listen to and evokes many of the old feelings, but like uncompleted thoughts they linger in conversation outside the French coffeehouse and dissipate on the car exhaust and cold air of the morning breeze. It would be wonderful to find in this “what once was,” but that would be the equivalent of concluding the recent Star Wars movies will have the impact of the original out of nostalgia, and ignoring the obvious missing elements which, and not its accessories and techniques, made the original so powerful.
Metalcore band Cognizance hopes to make itself a force among the legions of hybrid-metal bands dressing like hardcore kids, partying like millennials and hungry for riffs. With their newest release, _Inceptum, Cognizance unleash two tracks of technical metalcore with a focus on songwriting. Guitarist Alex Baillie gave us a few moments of his time to describe the past and future of this competitive band…
When did Cognizance form, and did you have a goal in mind at the time? Were you from similar musical backgrounds? What about life-paths and outlooks?
Henry and myself started working on a Death Metal song late 2011, we recorded it like 3 times with the help from some other musicians we were friends with. Eventually, it started to sound pretty cool and early 2012 we started (slowly) piecing 4 songs together which later became our debut Inquisition.
Pryce (Big Mac/Henry) and me have been friends for quite a long time, we’ve played in a couple of bands together. We’ve always shared a mutual love for heavy metal, gear and snacks. So kicking off this project was pretty easy going.
Phil joined the force late 2013, we’ve known him a while and I used to play in his band XisForEyes. You can check this out in detail in our “Origins” video:
You’re more experienced musicians than the average person starting a new band. Was this a challenge and how did you overcome it? Did you face any obstacles in uniting your musical styles?
I wouldn’t say we’re more experienced than people starting a new band, but we’re keen players for sure.
I’d say the only obstacle we initially faced and still sometimes do is Pryce telling me everything needs to be faster haha. We eventually compromise on a tempo, I’m down for the faster speeds but sometimes certain parts can just sound a mess at whacky speeds. Plus I can’t play that fast!
As far as musical styles go, we each contribute our style of playing to compliment the song. If our idea doesn’t work or fit then it gets changed. We usually put things like this down to a vote.
What sort of music is Cognizance? How does it differ from death metal, grindcore and metalcore?
Cognizance is modern Death/Extreme Metal. I don’t think we differ that much from the styles mentioned above. Although I don’t think we have any elements of Grindcore in there, yet.
_Inceptum seems to be a concept EP. What does the leading underscore (_) mean? What is the concept?
We wanted to use the underscore to visualise the technological/digital theme in the song “The Succession of Flesh.” The specific word “Inceptum” was inspired by the other single “Aeon of Creation.” The theme in each song share undertones which form the title _Inceptum.
The lyrical themes of each song are set in completely different time frames. “Aeon of Creation” is about the hellish conditions during the early formation of Earth, the originator of consciousness. A natural creation. “The Succession of Flesh” is set in the present and is themed around technology being considered an extension of human consciousness, a man made creation.
Why did you decide to do an EP instead of a full-length?
There are a few reasons why we decided to do this, mainly; Time, our budget and our ambition to keep churning out songs as quickly and consistently as we can.
Currently not being a live band means that we have to go about things in a slightly different method. At the moment this works for us and our sound is constantly changing so this keeps each release sounding real fresh.
Where did you record, and what did you do to get the crisp and crunchy (“Pringles”) sound you got?
_Inceptum was recorded in various locations:
Drums: Eyal Levi’s studio in Stanford, Florida. Eyal also recorded his solo here.
Rhythm and lead guitars: Henry’s studio up in Leeds; Eyal flew out to record us here in the UK.
Vocals and bass: Phil’s studio up in Newcastle upon Tyne. More Eyal action right here.
Frank Mullen guest spot- Tommy Jones (Videohammer Studios) who filmed the whole recording process flew out to Long Island New York to track Frank at Full Force studios.
Jason Suecof guest spot: Jason recorded his guest solo at his studio in Florida, the mighty Audiohammer studios. They now have a meat smoker over there but that didn’t make its way on to the recording.
About those Pringles you mentioned, the overall sound is down to each of our performances and the final mix Eyal did.
You chose to release the EP to press as a 20-minute film about the making of the EP. How did this “meta-release” come to pass? Was it a greater challenge?
The addition of the documentary fell in place naturally. We wanted to capture the experience of this project as it was a pretty big venture for us having Eyal Levi and Tommy Jones come over from the US to work with us. Plus including a documentary with the release was a nice step up from our last demo, widely know as the “Speed Metal” self-titled.
Tommy did an incredible job of the documentary. Filming in multiple locations/studios can’t be easy to edit into a final product but he’s really nailed it and we’re pumped about how it’s come out.
We will be releasing the documentary for free online alongside the release of _Inceptum on the 22nd December.
What’s next for Cognizance? How should interested fans stay on top of what you’re doing?
We’re already working on a bunch of new material. I’ve pretty much got four songs written at this point. I’m not sure what we’re going to use them for or when you guys will hear them. But we’re starting some pre-production in less than two weeks, should be badass.
Whenever I see a release will be in digipak format, I have mixed emotions. The digipak shows more of the art and does not have the spine of the CD case to break up the panels between front and back. It is more like the envelope in which vinyl records are packaged and arguably more attractive. But it also has a fatal flaw: it degrades rapidly, often randomly, and unlike the rigid CD case does a poor job of protecting the relatively fragile CD.
Records, while also fragile, have an advantage in that they are larger and so are harder to destroy and less likely to be combined with other items and crushed. What all of us love about records is the large format front and back covers which allow more visibility to the album art as if it were a two-panel painting. But this size of art will never exist on a CD because it is a quarter the size of a vinyl record, so it seems a bit silly to package CDs in a fragile format so that we can see the same small-size art. Perhaps by now the CD audience is accustomed to seeing smaller art, and will download a bigger scan if they need one, or buy the vinyl instead.
Among my years with the digipak format, I have seen multiple CDs become loosed by the failure of the CD tray to remain glued to the back wall of the paper foldout. Multiple times the spines have compressed or collapsed, leading to the abrasion of the artwork that is putatively the value in the digipak over a nice, sturdy and reliable plastic CD case. Trying to pack them together on a shelf, owing to the disuniformity of the format because of its multiple options for booklets and pockets, causes total chaos which inevitably results in digipaks slipping like North Sea sardines from among the mess onto the floor.
This blog post is not a persuasive writing. It does not seek to convince you of a point of view; it raises a few questions and then departs. Those questions might be: What is it that we like about digipaks, especially artists and labels but not (generally) fans and collectors? What are the downsides? Do those benefits outweigh the downsides, and what are the risks of the downsides occurring in the life of the average metal fan? Not all questions need answers but many produce answering response in us as we read them, which I hope has happened here.
I’ll let you in on a dark secret from music reviewers: sometimes we write about stuff that is fun to write about even if it will quickly slip under the foamy surf of history. Neopera is one of these bands which is proficient in a terrible cheesy style but whose presence evokes so many observations on metal and society that it cannot be passed up. It is not an easy bash like the phenomenally boring Abysmal Lord, nor a making fun of chronic idiots like a Pantera or Meshuggah review would be, but an insight into human thinking about the uses for music and what it says about us. (more…)
When people mention death metal bands, they cite a short canon of Morbid Angel and Deicide. If this album had been of higher quality, Incantation would be the third on that list. Following the immensely powerful Onward to Golgotha, Incantation stood poised to take over American death metal with their unique sound and quality songwriting. On Mortal Throne of Nazarene, the band took a huge dive into a lesser category and were as a result bypassed by many fans.
Many factors may have influenced this decision. Relapse Records was at the time trying to grow large enough to be on par with bigger labels like Earache and Roadrunner. Incantation despite having a stable line-up benefited from the contributions of past members such as Paul Ledney and influences from other East Coast bands. Immense pressure was brought to bear on the band to make another Onward to Golgotha two years after their first album, during a time when rumored internal friction caused lineup changes and the semi-permanent departure of drummer Jim Roe and loss of bassist Ronnie Deo. As a result, those two years may not have represented the length of time the band had to write, incubate and revise this album.
Immediately noticeable is the primal flaw of this album: chord progressions and melodies used in fills are more obvious, or cut more exactly from scale patterns, which gives it an almost sing-song vibe at times. Rhythms are less fully integrated which causes the band to attempt ambitious forms but then fall back on relatively brown-wrapper metal tropes. The band incorporated many of these tracks with rhythm re-written on their followup EP The Forsaken Mourning of Angelic Anguish where changes in pacing and arrangement made them far more effective. This confirms much of what listeners felt, which was that Mortal Throne of Nazarene may have been completely written but it did not undergo the revision, editing and incubation process that mellowed Onward to Golgotha into a finely honed shape where no detail was extraneous and all parts worked together toward the impression conveyed by each song. Relapse promoted this album as more “technical,” back when that buzzword was new, meaning that there are additional chord shapes used and some difficult tempo changes, but it was not as well-integrated nor as purposeful.
Mortal Throne of Nazarene overflows with good ideas but they do not work together toward an end, and parts of it like the last half of Suffocation’s Breeding the Spawn sound like chromatic fills in regular rhythms that the band intended to revise later into full riffs with unique modality and rhythms more carefully enwrapped in the need of each song. Vocals are stunning as usual, production is much clearer, and individual performances show musical maturation and the type of learning that comes from having influences among historically important metal bands. Some songs remain standouts even in their partial form like “The Ibex Moon” and “Abolishment of Immaculate Serenity,” which shows the band perhaps coming together at the end of their song process, or having intended those since the beginning to be the bedrock of this album but having been lacking time to make the rest. But unlike Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, this album is not just unfinished but incomplete, and the result shows in the mixture of random and predictable that obscures otherwise powerful songs.
Classic hybrid of aggressive black metal and tunneling death metal in the Incantation style, DemoncyJoined in Darkness not only set a new high point of intensity for the genre, but also created a feeling of dark ritual foreboding that remains distinct to it. On February 9, 2015, Forever Plagued Records will re-issue this classic album.
The new Joined in Darkness will feature cover art by underground artist Chris Moyen and be remastered so that fans may hear it “as it was always intended.” While the re-issue will be a digipak, a format not beloved of fans or collectors, this will allow more of the artwork and imagery to show through where it would otherwise be obscured by the spine plastic of the compact disc case. As this release is the second re-issue of this classic album, care has been taken to show the original intent.
Demoncy manifested out of the mind of Ixithra, who previously served in Havohej/Profanatica, and shows the influence of the style that Ledney-linked bands Profanatica, Revenant and Incantation developed of long phrasal riffs with internal structural counterpoint, but takes this further with the incorporation of melody and a Celtic Frost styled setting of theatrical transitions in song, creating an atmosphere changing like scenery at a Wagner opera.
When a genre becomes buried under layers of confusion, people identify it by what it lacks more than what it is. A more sensible approach understands such a genre as having a spirit or other indefinable center that holds the rest together. Such is the case in death metal, which is relevant as Execration clearly aspire to an old-school death metal style that incorporates sounds from newer hybrid-metal genres.
For example, Morbid Dimensions makes greater use of the open strum as a harmonic fill between riffs, and prefers that its phrases end in rhythmic suspension, allowing them to use such fills to keep the music from becoming too violent. While they do not incorporate blatant sweeps, Execration enjoy putting riffs with clear influence from punk in with the metal, creating an oil on water effect. The band explores the textures and rhythms of the smarter edge of metalcore, stoner doom metal and the post-metal era, but works them into songs which aesthetically and compositionally hail the old school underground metal approach.
In that general mission, Execration succeed triumphantly: Morbid Dimensions presents an album of mid-paced doom-death songs which touch on favorite riff archetypes without becoming derivative, although in fairness this band sounds like Dismember playing Desecresy while taking advice from Hypocrisy and Unleashed. Riffs combine to form highly textured and thoughtful songs with a melodic basis, but the target here is clearly the post-metal model of long slow simple melodies unfurling rather than a charging desire to fit riffs together into brain Jenga about the imponderable. To break up the melodic mood domination, Execration vary the pattern with both Black Sabbath-sounding riffs and classic mid-paced death metal riffs. Like modern metal however, emphasis rides on the vocals rather than guitars, which creates more of a recognizable song format to rock listeners.
At their best, Execration manage a better version of the old-school sound than the twin evils of those who make imitations without soul, and those who make hybrids without sense. Despite this being a competent album, the inclusion of too many of the newer influences prevents Execration from using old school songwriting alone, and so sometimes they end up with riff salad. Several of these songs include one or two riffs that have no real relation to the content and suggest either hasty songwriting, or an argument between creators that is resolved by pacifying everyone and including whatever each person wants to throw in. For raw ability, Execration ranks up there with recent doom-death tyrants Desecresy, and if they can keep the randomness and post-nu-metal influences out, they might make a crushing album out of these raw materials.
Morgoth defined its path in the 1990s with two EPs that combined the American and European death metal sounds, then deviated into a more contemporary sound with Cursed and ultimately Odium, at which point the band lay low for 18 years before returning with God is Evil, an EP of two songs which combine their early years with their middle-period work on Cursed, although the band consciously strives to make the aesthetic identification with the EPs stronger than anything else. That makes sense, since death metal and death metal nostalgia are both big business, with the younger audience wanting to hear the glory years come roaring to life again and the greybeards wanting to re-live some of their fond memories of what death metal meant back then.
“God is Evil” begins with the type of chord progression and accompanying constant double-bass drums that would have kicked off a classic Florida album, maybe Death Spiritual Healing, but with more of a European melodic flair. The Florida influences remained hidden to me until this release, where suddenly the influences from several big Florida bands including Deicide show in the riff rhythm and tempo changes as well as the choice of chord progression used. Death in particular specialized in these kind of storming extended riffs, but much like Death, Morgoth suffers from making the riffs too “pat” or too handily concluding on a symmetrical counterpart to their initiating phrase. The result makes this easy to nod along to. The song develops with slightly more melody in the guitar and some very Tampa downstroke triplet riffing, then fleshes out its theme expertly. This song strikes me as not only very well-done but as reflecting the kind of forward thought that a band can have when they stop worrying about how clear their influences are, and work instead on putting the song together like they would construct a building, engine or electronic gadget: each piece relating to one another with a function or design idea at the center.
“Die As Deceiver” fares slightly worse. Starting with a riff that might have come from “Pull the Plug” with a few modifications, in the same way ground effects make a Honda Civic a race car, this song launches into a series of chant-heavy choruses that require lots of downstroke barrages to create emphasize, before a melodic vocal leading the chorus in the best Destruction style. Then the song breaks into a classic-era Death style transition with more of a hard rock modality to it, then layers this with increasing drum and bass accompaniment before breaking to the original loop. This song sounds hastier or at least more hesitant in that the band clearly builds itself around a couple of tropes but is unclear how they relate outside of rhythm, which creates the impression of a play with the scenes shown in the wrong order. The use of heavy expectation in riff delivery here creates more of a pop influence on this song and makes it less likely to sustain repeated listens. The strained vocals of Mark Grewe attempt to emulate the The Haunted or later At the Gates style and do nothing for the music, because like all “modern metal” (read: lapsed metal) that style leads with vocals and relegates guitar to a sidekick role, at which point it quick becomes more like mainstream rock, which seems to have been the goal. More like the average, more audience. Morgoth shows they do not need to stay current or worry about their influences from the first song but almost seem to have lost confidence on the second and fallen back on crowd-pleaser technique which promptly swallowed up their quality songwriting.
On the whole, God is Evil shows a revitalized Morgoth making a credible attempt at restoring the power of its early years while incorporating some of the musical lessons learned with its more populist albums. My advice to this band is to trust your gut, not your spreadsheets, and focus on writing the music that comes most naturally. Cursed and Odium were the same mistake in opposite directions: trying to be current with the most underground stuff possible, and trying to catch up with the mainstream stuff (which was actually a regression from what death metal had done). These are clearly talented players who, when they let themselves, make amazing death metal that infuses European melody into the charging Florida style.
Now that our society has fallen apart further, the 1980s like simple and honest like the 1950s did to people exhausted of modern society in the 1980s. A better outlook might be that however our fallen time, it is a more fallen version of the 1980s, with the same pitfalls and failures. Those who lived through it can tell you how much a time of terror it was, with nuclear warfare and social collapse at every turn, and how this propelled some artists to put their most sacred hopes and fears into music. Excel was not one of them.
Excel created this “crossover thrash” back in the 1980s but really, this album belongs in with the Pantera/Biohazard school of bouncy hard rock in punk form with some added metal riffs. The problem with hard rock is that it relies on a simple mentality behind its riffs and that it aims to attract, so it is the equivalent of carnival music or a dinner theater side-show, which is really obvious music that gratifies really basic desires. That keeps the interest less than something articulated and involved like DRI, which offers its own riff style that obviously derives influence from many places, but does not parrot them. The only hidden influence here would be a more pronounced version of the Orange County surf-rock sound that incorporates novelty and party music into basic rock and projects it onto whatever genre can serve as canvas, in this case the basic punk of Excel. The tendency toward riffs based on playing a consistent trope, then interrupting it so the audience can get excited for it to return, while a technique to some degree in most music here becomes a staple in the most basic, drunk football fan throwing feces at the stage way.
The “crossover” part here consists of faster punk riffs that pick up after the chunky bounce-metal riffs and grandstanding hard rock riffs run out. Over this, a vocalist essentially speaks his lines and ends them on a melodic uptake, and although he deserves some note for periodically sounding like Snake from Voivod, these vocals bring out nothing in the music and mostly try to draw attention to themselves with the rest of the music as background atmosphere. Drums sound like a jogger trying to keep up with the vocals and far too often fall into the same syncopated beat that adds nothing but background noise, since the guitar and vocal hooks are nearly in unison and provide all the rhythm we need. While from a distance this album will appear to be no different than DRI, Cryptic Slaughter and Suicidal Tendencies, it lacks the fundamental spirit toward the expression itself as something distinct from and not pandering to the crowd. There is too much pander in Excel, and it dumbs down the music.
Since the dawn of metal the music industry has sought to stretch the definition of “heavy metal” to include anything with heavy guitars because that would enable them a new sales channel for the usual pap. The arguably metal-influenced seemed to excite labels for that reason.
I freely admit to liking this release but not recommending it. This takes some unpacking to make sense, so let me first remind us all of the role of a record reviewer: we need to help you buy the 1% among all the new stuff that is worth listening to multiple times. That elite group consists of records that are not only aesthetically interesting, but musically interesting, and have some form of artistic content, because nothing other than those three will hold the attention of a metalhead for very long. What I do not want to do is hype a record that has an excess of one of the three without the others catching up, like a punk record with really deep political reviews, or a post-metal disc with great production, or even a jam band that remakes jazz but communicates nothing. A record that you will listen to time and again requires all three in roughly matching proportions, and if it lacks those, you will find you bought something in the way pop music listeners do, so that it fascinates you for a week and then languishes in the closet to get dumped at the used record store (where you will find many others of the same record, and get fifty cents for it as a result).
Blackwolfgoat is basically an atmospheric jam. There are spoken interludes on drone-related topics that really offer nothing and are replaying a hackneyed technique; if you delete those tracks (1, 5 and 9) you are left with a record of distorted guitar which uses technique and recursive melody well but aims for ambiance, i.e. not really coming to a point. This is where it fails: this is a jam, not an artistic communication, so while there’s a lot to like here, there is not much to listen to repeatedly here. The intention to create specific moods and expand their depth rather than extend them linearly, which is the core attribute of ambient music, does not rear its head often. Thus while this is enjoyable, it is best passed buy until the time when it hits the used rack for fifty cents, at which time it will make an interesting study in technique and texture for the budding guitarist.