The Best Underground Metal of 2014

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William Burroughs often wrote about the “edge,” or the liminal threshold between states. The last real edge year for underground metal was 2009 when strong contenders and new voices united to defend extreme metal against the onslaught of imitators making Potemkin village metal from hipster flair and lite-jazz fireworks but underneath it, nothing but disorganized songwriting and an absence of something to express. As the underground has come back with a vengeance, it has begun to displace the imitators because their music simply does not measure up. This has created a backlash as the hipsters defend their territory with guilt, ostentation, pretense and surface-level novelty. On the other hand, the underground has produced some strong contenders. And so we move forward through the past to the future, remembering that what is true is eternal, and trends, novelties, fads, hipsters and other transient moments pass quickly away…
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Fallen Temple Records compilation includes Betrayer single

betrayer-neolith-split

This small label sent over a few of their releases in compilation format. Fallen Temple Records releases tapes and vinyls of rather obscure acts with specific audiences and put a range of stuff together for this compilation, which shows how wide the tastes of this label and its audiences are.

Betrayer/Neolith – Split

Long-time readers may be familiar with our obsession with Polish band Betrayer, whose 1990s debut Calamity remains an excellent but mostly overlooked piece of melodic death metal with speed metal influences. Betrayer return with a single track, “Beware,” which shows more of a late Morbid Angel (Covenant era) influence, specifically in vocals and rhythms “The Lion’s Den,” as well of more of a reliance on the more aggressive mid-paced speed metal rhythms to emerge in the 1990s. The musicality that allows melody to unite disparate elements into a single experience remains and so despite initial concern over style, listeners will find this track hard-hitting and rewarding after multiple listens. The noodly solo does little for it and the Pantera-ish influences slow down the power of this song, but the quality songwriting remains as does the ability to leave the listener transported after listening. We will be fortunate if we hear more from this under-noticed but intelligent band.

Neolith on the other hand sounds like Krisiun and Impiety had a spawn but balanced it with the second album from Grave. The result emerges as charging death metal with atmospheric use of keyboards. Unlike many bands, these guys seem to understand at least the rudiments of harmony and so it fits together both rhythmically and tonally but the constant drilling rhythm and high degree of repetition without variation of the structural loop within the song makes this somewhat repetitive. A late-song break to a Slayer-style riff then leads to more keyboards mixing poorly with the guitars by creating a competition between sounds instead of supporting atmosphere, which causes clashing influences in the song and sabotages mood. Then it all repeats. This band has a great deal of talent and if they chill out and apply it without worrying what people will think about them, they’ll do great.

Behelal – Satanic Propaganda

Behelal suffer from being too adept, which leads to them deciding to adopt multiple styles into the same musical persona, with the result of achieving stylistic anonymity. Fundamentally of a blackened death approach with post-metal style chord progressions and mixed in primal black metal, industrial and other influences, this song plus an intro conveys a lot of potential but not really any specific direction. It concludes much as it began, with a sense of darkness and possible beauty never realized. Compares to Pyogenesis.

Blackwhole – Another Starless Night

The world might be happier if bands abandoned pun names, if that is what this is. The listener will first notice that and either be thrilled by it because they are a moron who delights in the trivial, or avoid it because they are disgusted by the flood of mundane morons delighted by the trivial. But assuming that the name is not a pun, consider how you would feel about an album at the pace of early Samael with some of the influences of later. The result requires the kind of mentality that doom metal fans have while listening, but incorporates some electronic influences but basically just drones. Its simple chord progressions are not unpleasant and its riffs somewhat unique, but the main problem most of us have with this is that well-composed or not, it is somewhat boring. The pace allows for little change and the plodding riffs wear us into the ground. Like early Samael, it has a certain charm as mood music since it sounds like demons practicing dirge music in the basement of an ancient house on haunted land.

Devil Lee Rot/Ajatus – Split

Devil Lee Rot is extremely predictable but catchy hard rock dressed up as some kind of Dissection-formatted heavy metal band with occasional death metal vocals. If you really adore middle-period AC/DC, this might stir your cauldron, but generally this has nostalgia appeal and is dripping in cheese without managing to be fun or entertaining. It is hard to write off this band because of their obvious musical skill, but it does not save the end result from being a warm-over of the past. Ajatus aim for the late days of the 1980s with a fast speed metal/death metal combination that uses fast riffs and death metal vocals but the riff patterns of speed metal. These riffs are predictable but use a bit of melody and songs come together well, which marks this as eternal B-level death metal that compares to Fleshcrawl and Dismember but never quite achieves those heights.

Eternal Rot – Grave Grooves

Much as you might expect, this band undertakes a fusion of morbid metal and dark grooves. The result sounds like Fleshcrawl covering Autopsy at the pace of early Sleep material, and this delivers a listening experience that is pleasant. Morbid vocals burble up from the background as bass-intense guitar tracks rumble through the front and songs fit together well. Riffs are a bit too asymmetrical and songs too much cut from the same wallpaper, but this release only has two tracks. A full length album might show more. Eternal Rot struggles against contradictory impulses to set up a groove and to use simple riffs, which creates the unfortunate result of droning power chords ad nauseam. If this band could work in more death metal style riffing it might inject some energy into this otherwise fairly plodding sound. Then again, those who like groove tend to get excited by predictability.

Hin Hale – Beyond

This band attempts early style black metal with distorted vocals but music influenced by the speed metal years, much like early Sodom or some of the many South American bands who have undertaken this style. Hin Hale keeps up the energy and throws in some good riffs but the background of this release somewhat swallows it in similarity. Finding a voice in this style proves very difficult because of so many riff patterns and song patterns known from the past, so revivalists such as this face an uphill battle. They complicate this with a named unrecognized by most and an unfortunate thin guitar production.

Malum in Se – …Of Death…of Lurid Soul

Malum in Se blends three generations of Swedish death metal into a single melodic death metal voice that avoids being as random as the post-metal and “tek-deaf” material tends to be. Unfortunately it also avoids being distinctive and so comes across as a well-articulated style in need of direction. Some excellent riffs in here show not only promise, but an ability to stagger riffs for contrast and achieve mood, but the overall energy charges too far ahead and not enough into depth, and many of these patterns seem too symmetrical to be memorable. The insistence on nearly constant vocal rhythms and frequent high speed pummeling make it hard for listeners to stay tuned in to the inevitable conclusion, which is usually able done and worth the wait. This band have made a good job of analyzing their style, but now need to find a sense of making it more of an aesthetic experience of beauty and with that, a larger purpose than the style itself.

Necromantical Screams – Deadly Frost

This band approach Funeral Doom much like old school doom in the style of Saint Vitus with heavy downstroke repetitive strumming guided by the croaking distorted vocals. On the one original song included here, much of the riff-writing approximates the speed/death metal years and while it incorporates a good amount of melody, ends up being driven by rhythmic expectation in the sense of a cadence ending on an offbeat. Many Autopsy influences color this and they result in a somewhat boring song. The second track is a slightly slowed but mostly faithful cover of the Celtic Frost song from which this band takes its name. They successfully execute it but put more emphasis in varying the vocals with each phrase to give it a new atmosphere, but this loses the austere calm and sense of dread to the original. While there is nothing to dislike here, the simple outlook approach to riffs plus slowdown generally equals a type of funeral doom best reserved for going to sleep after funerals.

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The Best of Underground Metal of 2013

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I used to loathe end-of-year lists. They struck me as a pointless chance to advertise what should have been obvious before. Over the years they have risen in my estimation as a way not only to mark the year, but to bring up the gold that gets lost in the chaos of everyday life. And yes, they’re also shopping lists for the metalhead in your life.

This year our list is surprising even to hardened cynics. At a time when metal is bragging up and down the Williamsburg alleys about how “innovative” and “ground-breaking” it is, that novelty turns out to be the remnants of the 1980s: emo, pop punk, shoegaze and indie. The real innovation is as always underground, because to get out of the hive mind one must first remove oneself from participation in normalcy.

Thus what you will find here is not what you will see in either (a) the big-label-financed slick magazines and web sites or (b) the majority of small zines and websites out there. That is because the genre as a whole has shifted from creation towards an idea to emulation of the past, or reaction to the past by trying to adulterate it with outside influences. Neither approach succeeds.

When a reviewer chooses an album, he should pick one that will last in your collection. Your time is limited, as is your money. Thus we look only for works that you can purchase and enjoy over the years, and can return to with a sense of wonder and discovery as new angles and nuances emerge. This standard seems high, so they call us elitists. What we really are is people who love metal and want it to be strengthened by its best, not weakened by accepting its worst.

The following albums are those that merit such a standard:

argus-beyond_the_martyrsArgus – Beyond The Martyrs

Rejecting the notion of newness in itself, Argus returns to fundamental influences from the 1980s and makes a band that sounds like a fusion between Mercyful Fate, Iron Maiden and Candlemass. Guitar riffery is designed to be inventive and interesting in its own right but is trimmed down to what fits the function of each song. As a result, these songs “sound like” the classics in more ways than one. They are thoughtful and deliberate, purposeful and driven. Classic heavy metal riffs merge with meandering leads that somehow pull it all together, under the mournful voice of a vocalist who clearly enjoys classic Candlemass both in vocal delivery and sense of melody. See full review / interview.

autopsy-the_headless_ritualAutopsy – The Headless Ritual

Autopsy are famous for their contributions to death metal which notably peaked in Mental Funeral where their chaotic tendencies got wrapped up in their sense of atmosphere and produced a dark ambling journey into the subconscious. Of their later works, The Headless Ritual gets close to such a balance although it aims for something more everyday. This is an album that wants to deliver classic death metal thrills, and it does so with moderately paced songs that balance melody and savage chromatic riffing. Chris Reifert’s drumming pirouttes and grapples through vicious tempo changes as riffs unlock a Lament Configuration that is equal parts nostalgia and invention.

birth_a_d-i_blame_youBirth A.D. – I Blame You

What happened to real thrash, like DRI and Cryptic Slaughter? In much the same vein as hardcore punk before it, thrash was so intense that it burned out after only four years of real presence. Birth A.D. wisely choose not to “bring it back” but rather to pick up as if thrash were a party and the next day, the hung over participants awaken among the ruins. They’ve sharpened its message, which merged the anarchy of punk with the search for societal purpose of metal, and given its riffs the S.O.D. speed metal infusion without unduly modernizing them. As a result, these two-minute songs hit hard and retreat into the jungle, leaving behind their sardonic lyrics mocking society for being so stupid. When the record stops playing, there is a sense of both having received too much information to process, and a sadness that there isn’t more. See full review.

black_sabbath-13Black Sabbath – 13

Realizing what Black Sabbath meant to fans not just as a named entity but as a phenomenon, Black Sabbath integrate the sounds of vocalist Ozzy Osbourne’s solo years into their later, more refined music, with citations to Master of Reality as well. The result is a powerful album that is more pop than their original works but, in a time when nu-metal rages on the radio, reclaims heavy metal as having a voice of its own. It also pushes controversy, affirming a presence of God in this world for good or ill at a time when most people want to get polemic one way or the other. A supporting cast of sprawling but hard-hitting songs make this a great immersive lesson and transition from regular rock to metal for new listeners. See full review.

blitzkrieg-back_from_hellBlitzkrieg – Back From Hell

This band shares members with Satan, who also re-entered the fray with an album of strong tunes. Like Satan, Blitzkrieg know how to simultaneously avoid “changing” for change’s sake (inevitably a lateral move to other contemporarily popular genres) and nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake, making instead an album that fits into their catalogue but doesn’t deny the older, wiser status of its members. These are mostly straightforward songs with melodic choruses and driving, riff-centric verses, plus nimble-fingered and harmonically-aggressive soloing. See full review.

burzum-sol_austan_mani_vestanBurzum – Sôl Austan, Mâni Vestan

People said they wanted old Burzum back. The spirit of old Burzum comes back in this ambient album. It’s a bit more hasty and less refined by fanatical attention to detail than his previous works, but it creates the same world, only zoomed forward in time. It is both a practical and imaginative album. In style, it resembles a cross between Tangerine Dream, William Orbit and the Scandinavian folk music of Grieg, Hedningarna or Wardruna. Strongly ritualized, it unfolds like a descent through mythical worlds and finds its own balance. One of the best offerings in this field. See full review / interview.

centurian-contra_rationemCenturian – Contra Rationem

For years many of us have wanted this Dutch band to catch a break. They have written several albums of relentlessly pounding, rhythmically intense riffing that somehow doesn’t add up. First, writing the whole album at high speed means that soon it backgrounds itself; second, there was always a lack of melody or song structure to hold it together. Centurian have improved on the latter two and toned down the former to a great degree, such that this is no longer trying to be Krisiun but more like a more Angelcorpse/Fallen Christ approach to Consuming Impulse. The result showcases this band’s dexterity with riffcraft and creates an intense atmosphere of violence. See full review.

condor-nadiaCóndor – Nadia

This entry album by a new band shows a lot of promise in tackling the power metal format and trying to give it the balls of death metal and funeral doom metal. This contemplative, mostly mid-paced album shows a sense of atmosphere as manipulated by riff, in the death metal sense, given a somewhat upward curve and heroic spin in the best tradition of power metal. Although it’s a new act, and still organizing itself, Cóndor shows that life remains in true metal that can be explored by revisiting its motivations. See full review / interview.

derogatory-above_all_elseDerogatory – Above All Else

In the tradition of Vader, Mortuary and other fast phrasal death metal bands, Derogatory invoke the classic death metal form with an album of nicely interlocking riffs that reveal a basic but distinctive structure beneath each song. This album is not self-consciously “retro” so much as it is using the voice of the older style, and while it doesn’t expand stylistically, it has found a voice of its own. See full review/interview.

empyrium-into_the_pantheon-coverEmpyrium – Into the Pantheon

Combining funeral doom metal with European folk music creates for Empyrium a fertile style that is showcased here in a retrospective of the best of their career presented in a rare live setting. Expect plenty of use of silence and resonance to build up these songs, which start slowly and then become engaging before evaporating into more esoteric conclusions. While most funeral doom aims to be dark, Empyrium creates an emotional contrast like a Gothic band, with beauty arising from chaos only to be strangled by inevitability and fall again. See full review / interview.

graveland-thunderbolts_of_the_godsGraveland – Thunderbolts of the Gods

Following up on 2012’s Lord Wind release, Polish/Italian artist Rob Darken unleashes a new work under his black metal brand Graveland. Like the band’s second career-defining Memory and Destiny, this release features Bathory Hammerheart-style guitars which mix speed metal and black metal to produce rhythmic riffing as a backdrop for keyboards and vocals, now featuring also human female vocals and violin. The result is a collision between heavy metal, neofolk and epic movie soundtracks that evokes the glory of the ancient past.

master-the_witchhuntMaster – The Witchhunt

Paul Speckmann is a metal institution who has stayed with death metal from its genesis in the early 1980s through the presence. His latest, The Witchhunt, showcases the stable lineup he has used for recent releases but tones down the overall intensity to focus on songwriting. Fast riffs blend together with touches of melody and the classic Speckmann vocal patterns which resemble the struggles of daily life turned up to eleven. Where previous Master works of recent vintage tended to blend together, on this one each song is distinct. See full review / interview.

profanatica-thy_kingdom_cumProfanatica – Thy Kingdom Cum

Taking a hint from Necrovore and intensifying it through technical prowess, Profanatica step back from the longer melodic riffs of Profanatitas de Domonatia and instead write short, cyclic phrases within compact rhythms in the style of the ancient Texas death metal cult. The result is like a primitive album with complexity embedded in it as melodies expand within fixed riff forms, uniting savagery and beauty in the service of blasphemy. As with all Profanatica works, this is experimental to the extreme, but Thy Kingdom Cum ranks among their most listenable releases. See full review /interview.

rudra-rtaRudra – RTA

The Singaporean maniacs return with an album that uses more traditional melodic death metal riffing but retains its rhythmic structure based on speed metal and possibly the Hindu rituals described in its lyrics. As with most Rudra releases, RTA does not aim for the pop song idea of hitting a sweet spot and luring in your ears. It is the construction of an experience, in this case a dark descent that forges a resolve to continue through warfare and a martial stilling of the reckless personality through militant silence of the soul.

satan-life_sentenceSatan – Life Sentence

The rougher edge of NWOBHM that was a kissing cousin to speed metal emerges again in this highly musical album from Satan. Like their groundbreaking early 1980s works which presaged the debut of Metallica and birth of speed metal, Life Sentence features inventive riffs in classic song format in which melodic development in the vocals harmonizes riffs to bring songs to a conclusion. Shy of speed metal mostly because it relies on relatively fixed song format which emphasizes verse-chorus riff pairs, this album nonetheless reveals both the greatness of NWOBHM and its continuing relevance in a time of tuneless songs and random song structure. See full review / interview.

summoning-old_mornings_dawnSummoning – Old Mornings Dawn

After black metal fully constituted itself in the early 1990s in Scandinavia, people looked for the next development along these lines. Some went to dark ambient, but others like Summoning and Graveland instead explored longer melodies and more drawn-out, atmospheric songs. Summoning take a medieval and Tolkien-inspired approach in contrast to the more martial outlook of other bands, and produce as a result immersive waves of melody that evoke a more organic society. With Old Mornings Dawn, these Austrian metal maniacs build on the emotion of Oath Bound but exploit it in more compact and separable songs, making one of the more intense metal statements of the year. See full review.

von-dark_gods_seven_billion_slavesVon – Dark Gods, Seven Billion Slaves

Following up on Von’s early career material like Satanic Blood is not easy; in fact, it’s impossible. A band would either have to re-create that minimalist style and risk irrelevance, or embark on a campaign to dress it up as something it is not. Von has opted for something else entirely which is to create a minimalistic core within a rock opera style of black metal, producing one of the more puzzling but satisfying releases in the underground metal world this year. See full review.

wardruna-runaljod-yggdrasilWardruna – Runaljod – Yggdrasil

Combining folk music, world music, droning found noises and the type of ritualistic dark ambient that emerged from the end days of black metal, Wardruna is a black metal side project that offers a different vision of music. While earlier works seemed detached from the end listener, Runaljod – Yggdrasil embeds the listener within a wave of ceremonial sound that aims not to be forebrain listening as Western rock is, but a mentally ambient experience that overwhelms by addressing all of the senses and channeling that experience toward a realization.

warmaster-blood_dawnWar Master – Blood Dawn

Underground death metal continuation act War Master released a four-track EP, Blood Dawn, amidst personnel changes and other upheavals this year. Like the previous Pyramid of the Necropolis, Blood Dawn focuses on futuristic and yet ancient concepts, almost like Voivod taking on Robert E. Howard or Edgar Rice Burroughs. From this vast concept come songs that both grind their way to nihilism and implement the death metal method of matching riffs into an internal dialogue from which a conclusion emerges, creating a pocket of mystery which is filled with wonder and violence.

Album of the year:

imprecation-satane_tenebris_infinitaImprecation – Satanae Tenebris Infinita

There is no completely fair way to pick an album of the year from a list with this many strong contenders, but Imprecation win this one on both substance and situation. For substance, this is a solid album that combines a black metal sense of ritualistic song development with the death metal tendency to make abstract riffs into an organic whole. For situation, Satanae Tenebris Infinita sees a band that started in 1991 and is famous for releasing its discography of demos in 1995 finally reach a stage where it can release a full-length album independent of any past influences. In addition, Satanae Tenebris Infinita hits hard and does not relent. Each element serves a purpose toward creating a transition in moods, like a perpetual parallax as continents shift. If death metal was waiting for a direction forward, Imprecation have opened that gate to a new occult science and art of subversive metal. See full review / interview.

The following were considered, and then not so much considered:

  • Morbosidad – Muerte De Cristo En Golgota. This is like Krisiun or Impiety rendered in the style of Mystifier, or like any of the war metal bands that imitated Blasphemy but with a dose of downtuned Sarcofago. It’s not bad, but aside from high intensity rhythm, it doesn’t have much to offer. Thus think of it as Satanic death techno performed on muddy guitars.
  • Fates Warning – Darkness in a Different Light. Bands: don’t try to roll with the trends. You were good at something else for a reason. This album has strong smary indie rock influences on its vocals and the result is embarrassing to be caught listening to. Riffs are reasonable, but don’t particularly develop, and emphasize space and consistency more than something with a personality.
  • Grave Upheaval – Untitled. Not bad; mostly rumbling noises, very true to form. Unfortunately, also doesn’t go anywhere. It’s an atmosphere piece of one dimension.
  • Warlord – The Holy Empire. Some sort of rock-metal hybrid from back in the day, this form of power metal uses mostly lead riffing anchored by static open chording. The dominant instrument is the voice, more like Rush or Asia than most metal. It’s pleasant but lullabye and too close to rock music.
  • Hell – Curse and Chapter. Do you know how far I would have run to get away from this back in the 1980s? It’s NWOBHM/early power metal without much melodic movement in the riff, so there’s a lot of chugging and shifting but not much actual motion. Nor will you have much actual motion as you listen to this… in fact, you might find yourself immobile and snoring.
  • Battlecross – War of Will. This is traditional metal affected by metalcore aesthetics. The vocals follow the surge pattern of later hardcore, and the melodic riffs use rhythmic “chasing” to accelerate patterns older than Chuck Berry. The result is so distracting the band can’t compose a song, but instead write a riff pair and then leap into a blast beat to transition.
  • Enforcer – Death by Fire. Here we have another band from Scandinavia creating highly musically-literate, catchy and otherwise perfect music. The problems are twofold: (1) it is a clone of 1970s styles that are liked for their innocent pop cheeze (2) while it is emotive, and aesthetically appealing, it is also empty.
  • Queensryche – Queensryche. Since the band went legal on each other, there’s now two Queensryches… this one sounds like Coldplay. The same posi-pop vibe and expansive chorus feel drives this work, and it has a similar outlook on the world, which is a sort of pathological compulsion to make things beautiful instead of finding beauty where it is rare. Unsettling.
  • Leprous – Coal. If this Queen-slash-bad-indie band gets anywhere in metal, it’s time to bury the genre under warm ruminant feces. Power metal mixed with dramatic English pop. The result is bracingly twee with metal riffs batting about in the background.
  • Iggy and the Stooges – Ready to Die. Almost all reviews of this album will waffle, because it is good, but it’s not distinctive. It all kind of flows together, as if the band paid more attention to the aesthetics of sounding like themselves than whatever’s driving them. But how do you “be punk” when you have a paid up retirement plan and health insurance?
  • Abyssal – Novit Enim Dominus Qui Sunt Eius. This was the hip thing for a few weeks, but shows you that you cannot revive a genre by imitating it through outward form. These songs use all the right pieces, but in a random order, and thus create no mood except nostalgia. And I piss on nostalgia’s grave.
  • Tyrant’s Blood – Into the Kingdom of Graves. Great title, has a Blasphemy ex-member, can’t go wrong… right? There’s a lot to like about this, but it doesn’t hold together. It embraces the “hotel buffet” style of offering many different riff types in a single song that ends up distorting any coherence. Storming Perdition Temple-style fast metal explodes into melodic mid-paced riffs and then ends up chugging deathgrind, lost and adrift on the seas of making a point.
  • Cultes des Ghoules – Henbane. It’s ludicrous that so many in the underground were fooled by this comical album. It’s a lot of bad heavy metal riffs interrupted by “avantgarde” noise, samples, etc. — the usual cliches — so that you don’t notice it’s bog-standard. This is hipster incarnate.
  • Acerus – The Unreachable Salvation. Galloping uptempo yet mid-paced heavy metal with a lot of Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate. Not bad, but not particularly expansive to anything more than that aesthetic role.
  • Aosoth – IV: Arrow in Heart. This album, like Immolation, got credit because people expected it should. Its strong point is listenable songs with some technicality; its weakness is that they express nothing strong. It is Participation with an A+ for method and a B- for content.
  • Sodom – Epitome of Torture. This rather sentimental, somewhat modern-metal influenced take on a speed metal album is very catchy and represents Sodom’s most professional work, but also loses the unique perspective this band offered on the world around it. This is more like the heavy metal albums of their youths, heavy on emotion which makes their repetitive, chorus-heavy approach almost too saccharine.
  • Grave Miasma – Odori Sepulcorum. I have wallpaper. It’s named “It’s 1991 again and you can rediscover things you believed in once again.” It sounds like a mishmash of 1990s era death metal and yet, because it’s wallpaper, it never comes to a point. It just creates an atmosphere.
  • Týr – Valkyrja. Power metal of the newer stype seems to me it has a mystery ingredient, and that is devotional music. This sounds like church music, with sweeping choruses and whole-note cadences, and it has an admitted power, but it also loses much of what makes metal powerful: it’s not protest music, nor is it music that tries to cover ugliness with beauty, but music that finds beauty in what is considered ugly.
  • Onslaught – VI. Eager to effect a return to the music business, Onslaught speed up their punk/metal hybrid but adopt the vocal styles and constant driving mechanical rhythm of modern metal. The result is unrelenting but also disconnected and monolithic. The catchy choruses don’t help and seem almost to mock the rest of the music, which sounds like a pilotless threshing machine gone amok in a pumpkin patch…
  • Death Angel – The Dream Calls for Blood. In the 1980s, speed metal bands had a certain annoying rhythm where they tried to be as obnoxiously bouncy as possible while ranting as intensely as possible. With modern metal much of the internal rhythmic interplay has been eliminated, resulting in something that sounds like chanting Stalinist propaganda with guitars strobing in the background.
  • Bölzer – Aura. Like Oranssi Pazuzu, Bölzer experiment in disorganized slowed black/death/heavy metal with mixed-in weirdo alternative rock. Weirdo alternative rock has existed since early rock bands made a name for themselves by being odd. The problem is that it doesn’t connect to form an impression, only a sense of instrumentalism.
  • Coffins – The Fleshland. Doom-death with some quality riffing, Coffins nonetheless manage to inevitably get lost in each of their songs and fill the void with noodly pentatonic leads, distracted tributaries of non-essential riffs, and “atmospheric” repetition.
  • Metal Church – Generation Nothing. This shrill metal band has always struck me as more in the heavy metal camp than speed metal camp, and here it’s borne out. The riffs don’t have form like speed metal riffs do but are mostly static based on rhythmic repetition. Focus is on the voice, which wails. Not bad but annoying and kind of empty. Also, older guys trying to bond with the new generation is awkward when done this way.
  • Malthusian – MMXIII. Like many sonic experiments, this band relies on style to shape content because style is the substance of the experiment. The idea here is to combine the Incantation-clone death metal that is trendy with melodic progressive touches, including some sneakster modern metal influences. The result loses what could have been and fails to transition to what it wants to be.
  • Stratovarius – Nemesis. When did this band get so bad? The first track sounds like a rip of Heart’s “On My Own,” and the rest of the album proceeds in this fashion: combine classic metal riff archetype with classic 1980s vocal melody, add some flourishes and hope it’s good enough. I liked it better when this band was more speed metally and less pop.

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

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Interview: Nelson Varas Díaz

nelson-varas_dias

As part of our ongoing look at metal in academia, we speak with Professor Nelson Varas Díaz, who teaches at the University of Puerto Rico and is one of the sponsors of the upcoming “Heavy Metal Music and the Communal Experience” academic conference.

The upcoming conference will attempt to define “community” in heavy metal and has uncovered some interesting starting points. If nothing else, it shows the broadening of academic interests in metal. For more examples, read Professor Varas Díaz’s description of his research and its practical applications below. Where academia once focused on metal as a narrow field, it is now an inter-disciplinary study used to apply that knowledge back to other specialized fields.

We were fortunate to get a few moments via email with Professor Varas Díaz to discuss the conference, his research, his past and most importantly, his views of and participation in heavy metal as both art form and community.

Are you a metalhead? If so, what got you into metal, and what keeps you into it? What type(s) of metal do you like?

I listen to metal music constantly. I am always looking for something new that helps push boundaries of what I listen to within the genre and that continues to surprise me. I listen to metal music across the spectrum… everything from traditional, thrash, death, and progressive metal.

I think that, like most of the people I have met that enjoy metal music, social alienation was an important part of getting into this style of music. I will be the first to recognize that as a young man I felt very much isolated from traditional institutions. It seemed like one had to give up something of oneself to be part of the group, and metal music did not ask that of me. I know this sounds cliché… but at that young age it was very much my reality. There are many other reasons why people become interested in metal music… but that was mine.

Being part of a metal community in Puerto Rico, in the late 80s and early 90s was exciting, and I felt that I could be myself there. Of course, now I can see that process with some years of experience under my belt and recognize it for what it was with strengths and limitations. I am always very careful not to romanticize these experiences, as metal communities can also expect you to mold to certain standards (i.e. dress codes, behavior codes). It is a matter of learning to live within this apparent contradiction between individuality/collectiveness.

I like to think that I have “returned” to the metal community in Puerto Rico as a product of our study with its local scene. The study has been ongoing for the past two years and the first four publications on the project will come out in 2014 as book chapters and papers in peer-reviewed journals. Metal in general keeps me intellectually and emotionally engaged.

You’ve come up with a stumper here: how does metal define community? Is there more than one metal community?

That is an important question… I think people who are engaged in metal music throw the word “community” around as if we were all talking about the same thing. That is understandable because the concept is so frequently used that we don’t take the time to explore its implications.

As a researcher, my instinct tells me to take two steps back and explore the idea in all its potential complexities. A conversation with individuals from different settings will immediately show you how metal communities can be very different depending on their context, and still feel part of a larger metal community throughout the world. So yes… I believe we should always refer to metal communities in recognition of the plurality of experiences that are encompassed in the process of being part of a collective group. But that is not enough… and complexity always shows its face in this discussion.

Some example of this complexity include the role of the market in developing communities that are not organic, gender dynamics within communities, LGBTT issues, just to name a few areas that are currently being addressed by metal scholars working with the concept of community. Academically, concepts like tribes, emotional communities, functional communities, geographical communities, border communities, and scenes are used to describe the idea that we are connected. Some of these concepts overlap, while others include very different criteria for what constitutes a community.

I hope that the conference will allow us to continue a discussion on how we are connected, while also recognizing the complexities that we still need to address in order to have a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.

What do you hope to achieve with this conference? Who is coming? Is it open to lay people (non-academics) such as fans, bands, zines, labels and promoters?

I hope that the conference allows attendants to continue a discussion that began in the Heavy Metal and Popular Culture Conference that took place in Ohio in 2013. That was a simply amazing event that pushed the field of Metal Studies to new heights.

We will have visiting scholars from the UK, the US, and Brazil. These include: Keith Kahn-Harris (University of London, UK), Niall William Richard Scott (University of Central Lancashire, UK), Deena Weinstein (DePaul University, USA), Karl Spracklen (Leeds Metropolitan University,UK), Jeremy Wayne Wallach (Bowling Green State University, USA), Amber Clifford-Napoleone (University of Central Missouri, USA), Brian A. Hickam (Benedictine University, USA), Cláudia Souza Nunes de Azevedo (Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, BR), and myself (University of Puerto Rico, PR).

The conference is free of charge and will be streamed over the Internet for those that can’t make it to Puerto Rico (more details soon on our facebook page). I am sure that non-academics will be an important part of the event and that the local metal scene will support this venture. In fact, the Puerto Rico Metal Alliance and Thrash Corner Records will be cosponsoring the event. These are two historically important institutions in Puerto Rico’s metal scene.

We will also have a concert with local artists Organic, Ortiz and Dantesco (more details soon).

What do you think the study of metal has to offer academia at large?

Heavy Metal Studies has a lot to offer academia. The one thing that I think people in academia are surprised to see is that we engage in areas that are truly interdisciplinary. As a social psychologist, I have shared panels with philosophers, musicologists and musicians while we address metal as a subject of interest. I have had to expand my field of inquiry to converse with others. That is something that is severely lacking in academia. Most people are stuck in their fields and have a hard time letting go. I welcome that experience and hope it helps other academic settings see it as a possibility. This year I have a presentation on metal music in a local psychology conference. My presentation is entitled “Letting go of psychology” as a testament to how engaging in metal studies has required me to change how I think about and approach these subjects.

Do you think the study of metal has picked up lately? Why, if so?

I think there are several reasons. First, we must recognize the work of pioneers in the field like Deena Weintein and Robert Walser. Those books set the stage, at least from my perspective, for the growing number of academic endeavors in the field. Second, more recent books published by Keith Kahn Harris on extreme metal and Jeremy Wallach, Harris Berger and Paul Greene on the global aspects of metal have pushed these reflections even further.

Also, the continuing number of conferences that have been organized played a vital role in strengthening metal studies. Take for example the Heavy Fundamentalisms conference organized by Niall Scott and Rob Fisher for Interdisciplinary.net and the Heavy Metal and Popular Culture Conference organized by Jeremy Wallach, Cláudia Souza Nunes de Azevedo, Amber Clifford-Napoleone, Matthew A. Donahue, Brian Hickam, and Esther Clinton at Bowling Green University. Those were excellent conferences that have yielded great discussions (and upcoming publications) that have strengthened the field.

In terms of organization, the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS) has played a vital role in promoting metal studies. Also, the new journal Metal Music Studies edited by Karl Spracklen will help strengthen the field in terms of publications. I am part of the editorial board of the journal and am really excited about where it will lead. These are just some examples of individuals that are collectively working very hard to promote metal music studies through different mechanisms. They are joined by so many others that systematically engage in research with little support and resources.

Can you describe your own studies, both in metal and outside of it, and what you think they have contributed to academic knowledge?

Most of my research outside of metal music is related to social stigmatization and health. It has focused on developing strategies to train health professionals to address the needs of marginalized populations without letting prejudice influence social interactions. Now you will say… what does that have to do with metal music? Well, I frequently use heavy metal lyrics to discuss how social stigmatization influences people’s lives. So metal music found a way into my classroom long before I engaged in metal studies. After attending the Heavy Fundamentalisms Conference in 2010 I decided to engage heavily in metal studies as a central area of study and focus on the Caribbean region where literature on the subject is scarce.

My current project aims to explore the development of Puerto Rico’s metal while focusing on the social, historical and cultural factors that have helped shape it. My team is composed by Eliut Rivera, Sigrid Mendoza, and Osvaldo Gonzalez who are graduate students. The study has a mixed methods approach using ethnographic observation, qualitative interviews, and quantitative questionnaires to documents our subjects of interest. We are using these findings to complete a documentary on the local scene, which should be out in early 2014. You can follow our progress through our facebook page entitled Puerto Rico Heavy Metal Studies. Our first data-gathering trip to the Dominican Republic will be in 2014, to continue expanding our study to other Caribbean scenes.

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A generation passes on, and the world wakes up to metal

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Kids of the 1980s were flatfooted out of luck when it came to heavy metal. The newspapers of the time all condemned it as leading kids to Satan, drug abuse, and promiscuous sex. Politicians mentioned it as a sign of the moral decay of our society, and the general view was that metalheads were dirty, stupid, incompetent and probably sociopathic.

But then, much as the 1960s were 20 years behind that time, 20 years and change passed…. and suddenly the kids of the 1980s were the good workers, family people, responsible adults, etc. of the 2010s. Time warps forward and catches up with itself, and suddenly the past is not so misunderstood. It is in fact a platform on which we stand to look at the light of the future.

Some of this involved sad events. The early death of Jeff Hanneman spurred a lot of soul-searching on the part of metalheads. When the wise elders you’ve always counted on to be there for you, and to figure out the hard stuff, are suddenly gone, you realize you’re the elder now. There’s nothing between you and the cold horizon of the cutting edge. Many people recalculated lives in the blue light of early morning, hiding out in bathrooms and attics where they felt for a few moments the world would not discover them.

Unspeakable things have happened however. For starters, the Wall Street Journal discovers death metal history:

Mixing Black Sabbath’s sludge with the guttural roar of Motorhead and adding the jackhammer speed of thrash kings Slayer, death metal bubbled up the 1980s via the decidedly nonmainstream metal underground tape-trading scene. The style then splintered into so many subgenres—black metal, doom metal, stoner rock, grindcore, post-metal—only a metallectual could keep track of them.

Those of us who have labored for years at describing metal find this gratifying; the world is not only awakening to metal, but taking its origins seriously. This is generally seen as a sign of trying to figure out its significance and place within society, which is far different from the “pushing back” of the past. We’re getting the same treatment The Beatles did, just thirty years later and in a lower-key mode.

Along that vein, a new book called Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal has just been released, and this podcast interviews the writers and metal musicians to peer into metal history. These are nascent efforts, and “definitive” may be premature, but like previous metal books they are a good start toward where we’d like the study of metal to be.

While this is happening, a celebration of the life of Jeff Hanneman, guitarist for Slayer, drew thousands into Hollywood to hear a retrospective of Hanneman’s life and probably, destroy the theater.

But that was always the point. Slayer wanted to point out that society was based on lies, and our falsehood and pretense made us oblivious to the real and important things going on around us every day. This in fact has always been the message of metal, from Black Sabbath waking up the hippies to Motorhead shocking the world with excess. While this sounds like a mission of destruction, it is in fact a mission of belief in life, and enough love for life’s importance to care about telling the truth.

This fits in with our world’s acceptance of Hessianism. Putting our heads in the sand and chanting kumbaya has failed. Putting our heads down and earning money and hoping we can buy our way out of the decay has failed. Reality is still with us, and it’s bigger than society. In fact, if you know the cliche, “Think outside of the box” — society, or the social process itself, is the box and metal is what sets it aflame and casts us out into the cold and terrifying but thrilling night, full of potential and hidden wonders.

Perhaps the most stunning moment of the ceremony:

The only truly quiet moment came when a letten sent by Hanneman’s wife, Kathryn, was read to the crowd. It was both a love letter to her husband, and a lifelong thank-you card to the Slayer devoted, who made Hanneman’s life what it was. “May you continue to reign in heaven,” she wrote.

For all of its darkness, metal is a vision of light. It is clarity, freedom from lies, but even more, an ability to see the possibility of life before we cover it with our fears of being insufficient, inequal, victimized or just coming up short. Metal is bravery, the kind of bravery that comes of worship of life itself. I hope she’s right, and there is a metal heaven, because it won’t be the static place of the storybooks. It will be a land of constant adventure, of ever-greater quests and challenges, and it will be a place where stout hearts reign for eternity.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 04-15-13

toxic_holocaust-from_the_ashesToxic Holocaust – From the Ashes of Nuclear Destruction: This is not bad music, but it’s an imitation of something in the rearview mirror, which is hard enough without a tendency to combine the worst aspects of several genres. The songs are chaotic like American thrash, but then like German speed metal, they’re very chanty with lots of chorus activity and not much deviation from that rhythm and the chord progression that carries it. In fact, this was the kind of music that back in the 1980s, drove people to Metallica and Slayer for more of a musical experience. Most of what you get with Toxic Holocaust is like a suburban rap album, which is to say that you hear the vocals and pick up their rhythm, and then there’s distracting stuff going on in the background. Whatever the chorus is gets hammered in your brain because it repeats again and again (and again, and again). Riffs are very similar, and derive from identifiable archetypes in classic speed metal songs. Like most of those bands in the 1980s, it’s hard to construct an argument against this. It isn’t musically incompetent, and it’s roughly of the same style, and it’s definitely metally as opposed to the alt-indie-nu crowd. However, really the question is what’s missing, and we can’t spot it because neither it nor an analogue is there. This band lacks purpose. Songs are there to be like other songs, not to express something unique. While nostalgia is neat and all, this puts Toxic Holocaust in the same camp as the big pop bands, who are just making songs to sound like other successful songs, be catchy and make people dance.

soen-cognitiveSoen – Cognitive: Somehow, people say they’re doing what they’re afraid they’re not doing. Soen is nu-progressive metal, which means that it’s basically a very vocals-intense, “passionate” form of indie rock — think post-1990s style drama-intense male vocalist nonsense — with occasional metal riffs. If you don’t mind the discount Morrisey style vocals, you will not be immediately set off by this album, but the grim fact is that this style of music is easy to produce and bands are a dime a dozen. These “deep” vocals end up sounding more like someone belting out over-emphatic drama, mainly because once you strip aside the technique, there’s little actual variation. The metal riffs can be surprisingly good but not original. It’s amazing how people have been making this style of music for decades and yet it doesn’t occur to each generation that maybe, just maybe, this stuff isn’t as new and revolutionary as it claims. If you like regular rock music, and want it to have more soul-searching vocals that override the other form factors, as in Coldplay, you’ll really dig this. If you’re looking for metal, you’ll end up fast-forwarding between the metal riffs and have a 2.3 minute album here.

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Arsaidh – Roots: another black metal/post-black metal hybrid. What is it? A mixture of techniques, with no purpose. It’s not bad except that since none of it connects to a greater organization scheme than designing a song based on template, it all has the same intensity and emotional level, which makes it a tedious drone. Again, look at any part: it’s well done. Zoom out, look at the whole: who cares? It’s like a fractal made of one giant circle in that anywhere you look, the end result is pointing back to the start. Nothing is learned between inception and conclusion. It’s oddly evocation of this disassociative time because it approximates the mental state of someone who is watching life go on by and realizes it’s all the same stuff, but has no energy to do better, so joins in emulation and hopes to not be noticed. Did you ever read Vaclav Havel’s “Power of the Powerless”? It’s easy to put up some token sign of assimilation, like a state slogan or an indie-metal album, and to fit in. That way, you expend almost no energy and yet are not subject to standing out and having to face criticism for having gone your own way.

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Buckshot Facelift – Elder’s Rasp: From the newer school of grindcore, which combines the frenetic and ecclectic nature of bands like Brutal Truth with the “grab bag of anything goes riffs” and tendency toward distraction rather than continuity that is a hallmark of tech-deth and other metalcore-influenced styles, Buckshot Facelift create a faithful exploration of this style. Fast and chaotic, it shifts riffs regularly and with intensity, but could use a bit more variation in the tempo shift department. Riff composition uses techniques from the last 40 years of metal, punk and rock, with a tendency toward shifts between rock and punk riffs before drifting into metal to work up tension for a change. Vocals are like a chihuahua on methamphetamine that is reading a letter to the editor from a grandmother abandoned at the bottom of a deep well by her ungrateful children. If this subgenre appeals to you, this band is better than average but middle-of-the-road stylistically.

aeon-aeons_blackAeon – Aeons Black: Sounding like later Deicide with influences from the mid-paced death metal of the last decade, Aeon creates some compelling rhythms and uses a heavy NYDM influence through harmonic guitar squeals and repetitive downstroke rhythms. The result is “heavy,” but melody is used only as an effect, and the album is assembled of many similar pieces that lacking a gestalt, flow together into catchy wall paper. The result is thankfully somewhat death metal, but has a newer metal influence, and through its lack of focus, combines different forms and styles into one giant approximation that has no really distinct point of view. It’s like a xerox of a xerox of a photograph of Silly Putty(tm) imprint of the original. While it isn’t incompetent, and has some moments of inspired musicality, it has no content that it manages to express and so it feels like a disorganized detour into the late 1990s, perhaps death metal being used to make an infomercial. I can see the juice machines, instant waffle makers, hair braders, etc. now, because that’s what this album feels like: the shelves of a death metal store, arranged in no particular order, as you walk past and then go out the door, not having found anything worthy of permanent acquisition.

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Sophicide – Perdition of the Sublime: The modern style of metal throws a whole bunch of metal styles into a salad shooter and gives it a spin. What tumbles out is properly called metalcore because its songs are in the “variety show” form of late hardcore, but its riffs come from random metal genres. Sophicide does a better job of it than most by using rhythm to arrange riffs in roughly verse-chorus positions, meaning that you can easily follow what’s going on without much mental stress. However, the result is like most later hardcore designed around the concept of having lots of options that are incompatible with one another. They think this makes you avoid boredom, but because there’s no plan, each song devolves to the lowest common denominator. As a result, there’s not much listening to be had here unless you really fanatically love metalcore. This band is more interesting than your average metalcore, but still conveys that basic antipathy to organized expression that comes from confused times, and doesn’t help us resolve that confusion. In fact, the tendency of the listener here is to pay less attention the less organized the music gets, which is why people who hear metalcore frequently are unable to express an opinion about it. “It was there,” is all they can say, and in this style, that’s all we’re left with.

tormented-death_awaitsTormented – Death Awaits: In 1992, the average death metal fan would walk 30 miles through the snow uphill both ways to hear a new Swedish death metal album. Sometime in the 2000s, Daniel Ekeroth made a handy video about how to get the Swedish guitar sound, and at least 4,096 hipster bands suddenly became Entombed-worship acts. The problem is that they don’t understand why Entombed did what Entombed did, so they’re imitating the appearance of Entombed and then injecting their own motivations into the art. Unforunately for them, their motivations are often what hipster bands want, which is ironic acclaim and something to brag about as they make coffees at the day job. Tormented is a perfect case in point. It’s competent, the riffs are gently melodic at times, and songs hold together thanks to a riff-chorus assembly with transitional riffs worked in. The problem is that these riffs express nothing, so they’re based on existing forms in a “pick one from column A, one from column B, one from column C” approach. This misses the point of death metal, which is to stich riffs together so that they tell a story that expands as the song goes on, then revert to a simplest possible reduction. What is revealed at the center of this music is an obsession with repetitive catchy vocals, and hard rock style relatively immobile riffs, instead of the soaring tremolo architectures that made Swedish death metal great. On the surface, this is pure Swede-worship; underneath, it has more in common with Wolfmother than Entombed.

agrimonia-rites_of_separationAgrimonia – Rites of Separation: It’s time we admit that post-metal is not metal, but new age metal. Or rather, it’s new age rock that wants to be metal so it can be “rebellious.” Officially rebellious, that is, so that if anyone claims they’re worshipping Satan or extremists, they can point to their soft juicy fruity core of new age everybody-kumbaya-happy. Post-metal not only takes influences from the new age movement and its desire for gentle ambience with some kind of quasi-spiritualist uplifting feeling that makes us feel like our rotting industrial dystopia encloses a paradise of personal emotional balance, positive thinking, etc. This music is like Sonic Youth throwing in some metal riffs and then droning on a note or two, with “bizarre” song structures that are actually very much in the verse-chorus with transitions style of post-punk bands. Nothing is badly done but the music has no soul. Its essence is in tossing out anything it thinks you might like, with no relationship between those parts. Thus it’s like hearing a conversation on the subway, where you pick up on juicy phrases and the rest is hubbub which fades into the ratcheting clack of the passing tracks.

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Unburied – Murder 101: Despite the prevalence of death metal vocals, these songs song more like old hardcore with a metal influence. They are extremely simple, with often only two riffs per song which repeat while vocals rant and bass pounds out a catchy rhythm. The rhythms behind these riffs are simple but compelling, and the riffs despite being digestible draw in the listener with a sense of an asymmetrical response in formation. Comparisons to a punchier version of old Master, Mortician or even Psychomancer would be appropriate. While the music is compelling in a very primitive sense, it requires a patience for things which do not change over prolonged periods of time, and a love for the gore-grind tendency to mash a rhythm down into its essence and then use its persistence as a source of power.

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Altaar – Altaar: The first track of this album presents bass-driven slow droning doom metal which is carefully put together and, while simple and somewhat predictable in terms of chord progressions, nonetheless establishes and nurtures a dark mood. After that, some kind of late model hardcore/post-metal hybrid emerges, which features predictable ranty vocals and sessile riffs. At that point, most people tune out because they’ve heard this exact same stuff from a million bands, which explains why bands like it: it’s easy to produce, thus makes for high turnover of albums, more happy fans, more sales, etc. Ideally popular music is like this because you can hire a dozen people out of the back of any bar or pool hall, channel them into a studio, and have them pump out as much of it as you can sell. This style of music rewards obedience, because you have to learn music and then memorize what others have been doing and then imitate it. That makes for something that isn’t musically bad, but has nothing to distinguish it, and because it’s not about anything, it conveys no sense of experience other than standing there listening to the random riffs.

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The Best Underground Metal of 2012

The year is done. It brought many things: a new wave of hipster metal that blipped and died, an old school revival that’s been percolating for years, drama and sadness with the recent death of Rigor Mortis’ Mike Scaccia. Above all else, however, it brought us some quality music, some of which is heavy metal and some of which is metal in spirit only. Enjoy this survey of the best of 2012.

The Best Metal (and related) of 2012

  • Abhorrence – Completely Vulgar This legendary band existed before Amorphis and plays a grittier style of the bold, warlike and heavy yet melodic music that graced Amorphis’ first album, The Karelian Isthmus. These Abhorrence tracks show the band that would later write that album as they emerge from early grind/death stylings and gradually work more melody into their work. This is metal’s holy grail: how to be both epic and amoral in the nihilistic sense of worshipping power, darkness and nature, but also use melody and harmony to give the works some staying power. As this collection of re-released demos progresses, the fusion of the two gets more confident and deft, leading us up to the point where the greatness of the first Amorphis album was inevitable.

  • Angel Witch – As Above, So Below After a lengthy absence, this classic NWOBHM band returns with an album that shows integration of more recent influences, specifically American heavy metal and progressive metal, but still keeps up the power. These songs are not as distinctive or as oddball as the heavily personalitied offerings from their self-titled album, but As Above, So Below is important because it takes disparate influences and places them under the control of one voice and style, which gives others room to build on. The oil-on-water aspect of bands switching between influences is gone and replaced by a smooth enwrapping of these styles into the substrate of Angel Witch’s lauded and learned evil heavy metal.

  • Beherit – Celebrate the Dead If death metal was modernism, with its emphasis on structure, black metal was postmodernism, or an attempt to show through atmosphere the many facets of an idea in a clarity which could not be confined to a single statement. This was a quest as old as humanity, which is how to communicate in such a way that people who do not understand it do not simply imitate it from the outside-in and make something that looks about like it, fooling most people. Since the late 1990s Beherit have been at work inventing the next wave or movement of metal, one in which multiple statements co-exist in contradictory opposites that reveal the shadow or silhouette of an underlying truth. Two forms are in tension here: the “loop” form of traditional ambient music, in which layers are poured on top of a basic dub to create a simple sonic tapestry, and the pure narrative form which electro-acoustic music (and even some dubstep) touches on, in which a story is told through the change of riffs. This is closer to the original death metal idea of structure, but it is structure created through atmosphere, like old Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno albums, or even classical music. To this end, Beherit has re-released two demo songs from Engram which are ambitious longer (13- and 15-minute) works which show a deepening and changing of atmosphere, using both looping and narrative constructs at the same time. This is a valiant and clear-headed attempt to resurrect black metal, which has fallen into the hands of those who imitate the “external” aspects of the early classics like simple riffs and fast songs, but understand none of the underlying ideas or songwriting methods. While it seems unconventional at first, Celebrate the Dead is a return to the truest form of black metal by expanding its orthodoxy to include the transcendental narrative of those more experienced in both this world, and the realms beyond. Be not fooled — evil pervades this release, so subtly that you will not know until it has seized your soul.

  • Dead Can Dance – Anastasis For their return after some absence, Dead Can Dance have taken the style on Spiritchaser and refined it even more with the sensibility of modern club music and soundtrack influences. Rhythms and tempo work like you might expect a big label ambient album to work, fitting very much into the slightly picked up chill-out range with gentle backing beats that are still identifiable enough to make it easy to listen to. Consistent with even earlier work, songs use extended structures, but they fit the pattern of an early MTV video or short film more than a musical one. The result is that these are immersive little sonic ventures that are both easy to hear and not surprising, and also, rewarding in their consistency and adept arrangements. Melodies themselves are not as adventurous or period/locale-specific as older Dead Can Dance, and in fact more lifts from earlier influences can be heard (check out the Doors “The end” inspirations on the first track). For a purist, this will not be the best Dead Can Dance album, but for something that has stepped into the Loreena McKennit or Enya range of “accessible,” this is far beyond what most would encounter otherwise and makes for a pleasant listen on its own.

  • Demoncy – Enthroned is the Night Along with Beherit, this shares the top spot as album of the year. In 2012, a wave of bands like Cruciamentum and Heresiarch rediscovered the sound of classic Incantation from the Onward to Golgotha area. Having come from the same school, joined to Incantation by Ixithra’s former band Havohej’s primary composer, Paul Ledney, having been an original member of Incantation, Demoncy launched into the same by creating a faithful followup to 1996’s Joined in Darkness. In this case, Demoncy add a bit of melody and atmosphere, channeling from first album Unleashed and other Swedish death metal classics, thus combining the two most intense areas of death metal into what is really a death metal album with a black metal sense of atmosphere. The result is a descent into a dark and primal place in which occult spiritual warfare transpires through the battling of motifs in this complex album made of simple parts. Like Joined in Darkness, it is otherworldly and foreboding, but a bit less purely alienated; instead, this album creates a sense of symbolic significance emerging like melody from the clouded obscure. Very little black metal of this intensity has been made since the mid-1990s which makes this both faithful to the spirit and pushing the boundaries of the genre, a simultaneous advancement that eludes most musicians and fans alike.

  • Derkéta – In Death We Meet Arising from the ashes of Mythic, the all-female doom-death band from the early 1990s, Derkéta follows in a more purely doom metal path including some of the juicy 1970s heavy metal style doom metal that audiences enjoy with bands like Pentagram and Witchfinder General. 24 years later, this album is the first for this promising band, and holds back nothing. Like Mythic, the music is formed of giant bolsters of tunneling power chords colliding slowly over a changing melodic landscape. Atmosphere emerges from within. The simplicity of it removes the glitz and contentless enhancement of current doom metal bands, and takes the listeners back to the essence of the genre, which is an unsettling sense of pervasive dread. A prominent Candlemass Ancient Dreams influence seems to be present in these compact and droning songs.

  • Desecresy – The Doom Skeptron Desecresy approach Finnish death metal the way others might approach doom metal, using melody and abstract song structures to convey an experience not unlike watching the helmet camera of a pilot flying through a vast and ancient underground cave in which demons seem to lurk behind every stalagtite. Comparable to a hybrid between Amorphis and Skepticism, this album nonetheless keeps up the umptempo riffing and lets its melodies emerge to construct an emanating atmosphere. The result is both aggressive and enjoyable from a purely death metal perspective, but where appropriate, it uses the moods of doom metal to complete that raging insanity to produce an experience that is like a journey. There are doubts, fears, joys, rage and sadness, but pervading all of it is a sonorous melancholy which indicates a change in viewing life from orientation toward what is safe, to prizing what is adventurous and as such being alone on a planet of people concerned with safety labels and microwave cooking.

  • Drawn and Quartered – Feeding Hell’s Furnace Imagine a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Num Skull. These songs are extremely basic, like the melodies of horror movies, but are put together with interlocking rhythms that propel them forward and give them atmosphere. As a result, their themes feel intuitive like paths through a forest remembered from a childhood story. There will not be surprise at the ways these tunes twist and bend, but appreciation for a well-done interpretation on a necessary idea. In the same way you might appreciate an excellent sword or well-executed painting of a familiar subject, these songs will be appreciated for how well they do what they love. Just as most musicians make their best work when they design it to be enjoyed repeatedly by people with their own tastes, this faithful and yet creative interpretation of the old school death metal genre will be shared among those who can appreciate it, for taking the past and making it live on by keeping it current to itself and through inventiveness, an enjoyable listen.

  • Faustcoven – Hellfire and Funeral Bells This release is not particularly metal, or at least underground metal, even though it aspires to the aesthetics of it. Rather, this is like Marilyn Manson interpreting classic heavy metal in a gothic doom metal context as informed by death metal aesthetics but not technique. It’s basically blues rock with short phrase power chord riffs and highly compelling rhythm, underneath leads that are reminiscent of a friendlier version of St. Vitus. Good use of theme allows this release to be a faithful listen and also have some staying power for those who like this style. Like most doom metal, it is designed to build a repetitive atmosphere that is part curl of enjoyment, and part linear path of a melancholic mood. The death metal vocals would normally be out of place here but with the heavy reverb they take a backseat and let the guitars talk, which is the point of this band. It will probably not delight those who like underground metal, but if you’re looking for someplace to go for your next Cathedral or Sleep fix, this furry doom band holds the ticket.

  • Grave – Endless Procession of SoulsGrave return to the Swedish style which they helped make famous. Like later Fleshcrawl, this music is simplified from the original riff-salad which was reverse-assembled to make a journey into darkness emerge from thin air, but although it uses plenty of verse-chorus segments, they are not the entirety of each song. There are enough labyrinthine twists and turns to be fun, a good motivational rhythm, and an atmosphere of darkness and aggressive that is also (oddly) comforting and natural. Although musically this is fairly basic, like early Grave, it shows more use of melody and harmony, which adds an appreciable dimension of compactness and centering without falling into standard rock music. The result is easy to listen to and yet brings out its power in moments of sudden clarity which, as in life, make the listener think there might be more afoot than the obvious.

  • Imprecation – Jehovah Denied This four-song EP shows the resurrected Imprecation: more consistent in its songwriting, slightly less manic, and more inclined to create a pervasive atmosphere of darkness. The occult death metal founders from Houston originally shone in the early 1990s, when their demos and later CD were released, but returned after inaction and the lending of band members to other acts. Their earlier material had more of a Morbid Angel influence and presented itself as clear occultism, where the newer material goes back more toward where Possessed and early old school death metal (Morpheus Descends, Massacre) were headed back in their day. Mood-enhancing use of background keyboards gives an aura of the mysterious to these dark melodies and the organic rhythms which suffuse them. Influences on this music span from pre-death metal, through the walking and stalking rhythms of speed metal, to the later black metal works in song structure and atmosphere. This EP presages a killer full-length but stands on its own as quality music with a voice particular to its worldview.

  • Incantation – Vanquish in Vengeance With new personnel and possibly the strongest sense of unity in a long time, Incantation very sensibly took influences deliberately from their own two greatest successes: Onward to Golgotha and Diabolical Conquest. The result is an album that self-consciously borrows from those albums in style but tries to create new songs to wrap in that style, and with the aid of new guitarist Alex Bouks (ex-Goreaphobia) shapes its works around melodic shapes but does not adorn them in melodic riffing, creating a sense of an inner region of hidden energy within the exterior of rugged chromatic shapes. The result is one of Incantation’s most conventional albums but also a festival of the methods that made early Incantation so distinctive and powerful, which combined makes for a good later death metal listen.

  • Legion of Doom – The Summoning of Shadows This oddity of an album begins with some form of sung prayer and launches into songs that are both adorned in the harmonic glaze of melodic playing and also possessed of the manic simplicity of early black metal. Like the primitive era of black metal, these songs are specific structures fitting the content of each song, with droning riffs that interact and build to a culmination before dissipating. On this album, Legion of Doom use more death metal and speed metal technique in with their Burzum-inspired black metal, ending in a result that sounds more like an ornate and elegant version of Gorgoroth’s Destroyer. Like all Legion of Doom releases, The Summoning of Shadows features songs that accelerate thematic intensity in layers and produce an immerse, ambient experience that suspends reality through the sheer dominating power of its riffs. This album is more efficient than the last couple of releases of this band, and by embracing a listenable style, makes the type of outsider album that Marduk or Watain wish they could.

  • Lord Wind – Ales Stenar If you want to immerse yourself in ancient sensation, Graveland axeman Rob Darken’s ambient/neofolk/soundtrack project Lord Wind is a good place to start. Unlike previous Lord Wind efforts, Ales Stenar mixes real vocals and violin with electronic music that is roughly inspired by the Conan and Red Sonja soundtracks. The goal however is less like the rock-ish folk songs of neofolk, or the grand accompaniment for cinema provided by soundtracks; this is music like Burzum or Graveland that is designed for the listener to lose themselves in its repetitive hypnotic surges, like a catechism or mantra. Its soaring melodies and plunging dynamics give it a familiarity like the rush of blood through veins in the ears, and the result feels natural and yet inspired to rise above the mundane at the same time. Like entering a forest, the songs open up to repeated listens and soon each part is distinct, but our natural way is to hear it all at once and derive a sentimental feeling, perhaps warlike, from it. This is the most proficient and perhaps most profound of the Lord Wind albums, proffering a complete escape from reality to a world that is both fantasy and more real than the stuporous dream of modernity.

  • Master – The New Elite Over the past few albums, punk/heavy metal hybrid Master has steadily been migrating toward late-1990s death metal. This new album presents a more technical view than the verse-chorus-exposition songs that Master (and related Speckmann projects) evolved from. Much like On the Seventh Day God Created…Master, riffs are strummed with precision at high speed and tend to lead away from stable grouping by adding riffs to the existing loop. These riffs use longer progressions and more chromatic fills, giving the music a mechanical terror that makes it sound like technocracy taking over. Speckmann’s vocals are tighter than in the past and urge the music along, but somewhere in this musical process of evolution, his overall tone has started sounding less like protest music and more like a cheering of the coming conflagration. Seeing that Master keep improving over time provides a great incentive to follow this band as they evolve further.

  • Profanatica – Sickened by Holy Host / The Grand Masters Sessions Sometimes, in order to reach your next aspiration, it is necessary to part with the past. Profanatica have done this in grand style by accumulating old tracks and re-working them in parallel, with one disc containing newer versions done in the early 1990s style, and the other containing older session takes on the same songs, interspersed with acoustic landscapes by Aragorn Amori, the band’s much-admired deceased former guitarist. Through its long history, the entity known as Profanatica/Havohej (or: Paul Ledney and friends) has consistently released material showcasing a truly artistic brilliance. Usually, between moments of brilliance there are experiments and less intense offerings that make it easy to forget that when they are in full swing, these musicians are unstoppable forces creating a unique type of black metal that is closer to ambient death metal but unlike most black metal at this time, possessed of a full mythos and unique view of the world. Like the best of Profanatica/Havohej, these two discs are ripping sonic terror that transcend daily life and divulge the essence of the feral spirit of pre-civilized humanity. In that vision of evil, Profanatica offer us something both inspiring and instructive, and do so through some of the best music of their career.

  • Terrorizer – Hordes of Zombies People love change if it is constant and hate it if not. Terrorizer misstepped with their first post-World Downfall album, but came back with a strong contender on Hordes of Zombies. It does not attempt to be World Downfall II which is intelligent since outward-in emulation of the past usually produces hollow shells, and a good many classic bands have gone to their graves in disgrace by doing the same thing. Instead, this aims more at the territory scoped by Napalm Death with Fear, Emptiness, Despair: a modern form of grindcore that is musical and listenable without being commercial, and aims less at creating an atmosphere of terror and misery than creating motivational, energetic and yet literalist/realist music. These songs convey a desire to look at a dangerous situation with hopeless odds, then jump in and fight it out. It’s war music, but music of a normalized war, like going out into a declining civilization and fighting for mundane survival. Hordes of Zombies does this through a somewhat overused metal metaphor, that of the zombie takeover of society, but as a movie/musical trope this theme has remained consistent since the 1960s because it so aptly describes egalitarian society. Consumerism, mass trends, fads, panics, elections, Black Friday sales, save-the-children; it’s all in there. Terrorizer may be brilliant satirists for transforming all of that mass neurosis into a simple symbol and then making these engaging songs about it. Each piece uses a combination of rhythmic and slight melodic hook to lure us in, then pits grinding riffs against one another while fitting them into bounding rhythms that unleash an inner fury in their conflict between the fear and the mundane. The result is a stream of ferocious riffs in songs that hold together as songs in the Terrorizer tradition, creating an experience of immersion in conflict that is both justified and everyday. For a genre such as grindcore, this more stable form is preferable to re-living the past or trying to “innovate” by including outside elements. As a result, Hordes of Zombies is not only a great listening experience but an archetype others will follow.

  • Thevetat – Disease to Divide One of the more interesting entries comes from ex-Ceremonium musician Thomas Pioli who has assembled a new team to make music that sounds like early NYDM mixed with the melodic undertones of heavy but intriguing bands like Montrosity, Malevolent Creation and Gorguts. The result hits hard with a rushing wall of chords and then drops into socketed rhythms that invoke a change in riffs, causing a twisted inner torment to emerge in Protean form. This gives old school death metal a new life without giving it a new form, since the form is the result of the content, which is essentially unchanged but slightly updated since 1992. No concessions to “modernization” (a/k/a mixing death metal with rock, jazz, metalcore, disco, punk, etc.) occur here, which allows this music to be in touch with its own spirit and flow freely from the source of its own inspiration. It is thunderous and yet perceptive, bringing with it the spirit of doom metal and its introspective melancholy. Although a three-song EP, this release beats out most albums released this year for pure death metal intensity.

  • Timeghoul – 1992-1994 Metal developed its own sense of “progressive” and “technical” music long before it imported jazz-fusion in order to help it. In fact, part of metal’s birth was from the original progressive rock in the 1970s and the soundtracks of horror movies, which gave it a predilection for this direction. “Progressive” itself is a misnomer since nothing new gets discovered in music, but probably more accurately means “complex”: music with unconventional song structures, extensive use of harmony, melody and key; possibly linked to some kind of story outside the music itself and the usual topics (love, sex, drama) of pop songs. These songs craft winding riffs and intricate structures, using embedded melody to transition between more chromatic riffs, and culminate in odd twists of fate that translate them into seemingly the reverse of their initial outlook. Culminating in the epic 10-minute “Occurrence on Mimas,” this collection of early works by this band showcase the enjoyably weird variety of death metal in its early days.

  • War Master – Pyramid of the Necropolis This modern band attempts to revive the death metal style, starting with the deathgrind of its namesake Bolt Thrower and incorporating influences from many of the bands of the era, and succeeds by staying true to its own enjoyment. As a result, it’s working in a style, and not from a template; the band want to create old school death metal, but aren’t doing it by imitating songs or styles, but by writing in that style based on similar inspirations. As a result, this band has its own voice despite being very familiar in technique, and has chosen its own path for subject matter and thus the arrangement of many of these songs and the types of riffs used. Its aesthetic mixes the grinding mid-tempo riffs and repetitive choruses of grindcore with the circuitous riffing of death metal and its tendency to unveil changes in layers of rhythm, guitar and vocals. While the style shows the influences of later death metal, its sensibility is firmly grounded in the early years, which makes this a great old-school death metal experience. However, its most salient factor is that it’s also interesting music. Songs are formed around their topic, with riffs and structure contorting to resemble the object, and riffcraft shows learning from the past but creation of its own new forms. Guttural vocals which maintain an ascetic detachment from the emotional content of the music help to give Pyramid of the Necropolis the ultimate death metal point of view, which is as a dispassionate observer amongs the ruins detailing the conflict that created this mess, and must endure after its collapse.

Disappointments of 2012

Abigor – Quintessence

Apparently this is new and old material. The shift between the new and old is like jumping out of a sauna into the snow. The newer material shapes itself to an expectation, much like the newer Swedishy bands in the style of Watain, that combines melodic punk with raw and random riffing in catchy rhythms. The result is like a painting made of painted dog turds, in that from a distance it is appealing, but as you get closer its mundane nature is revealed. Abigor have always suffered from being too quick-thinking and inventive for their own good, because they can always throw together a bunch of quality riffs and make most people think a song happened, but here that model breaks down. The songs feel more like slide-shows than organic wholes. The older material is good however.

Absurd – Asgardsrei

This remaster of the 1998 album was in theory supposed to improve sound quality. Had they simply done that, this would have been a shining victory. Instead, it has been standardized. The drums have been pumped up to emphasize rhythm, and the guitars doubled and bass-maximized, with vocals shrouded in reverb. Alone that removes much of the distinctive sound, but attempts have also been made to lower the volume on elements that are not orthodox black metal-cum-oi that Absurd makes now. The result is a loss of detail and an emphasis on the simpler parts of each riff, not the interesting interplay of riffs. They’ve made this album sound more like their remakes of earlier material and by pandering to one audience, lost a lot of what made Absurd interesting.

Acephalix – Deathless Master

A highly-praised release, this album purports to combine Swedish death metal and crustcore. What it ends up with is neither, but a mishmash of riffs around a rollicking beat, changing entirely at random. You hear a little bit of old Entombed, some Dismember, and a lot of filler riffing that really goes nowhere. For about three songs, it’s pleasant listening because you can tap your toes to it and it reminds you of Left Hand Path. Then you realize the songs never went anywhere. They’re like wallpaper. And to the horror of any crust fan, this is built on the bouncy beats and song structures of pop-punk. It’s closer to Blink 182 than Entombed or Amebix.

Aura Noir – Out to Die

Once upon a time, I referred to Aura Noir as a black metal Britney Spears because their music is pop dressed up as black metal. However, it’s normally fun pop with high energy and catchy riffs, even if in verse-chorus structures so repetitive that you have to background it. But with this album, they go into the boring zone. This is almost like a drone with a horse galloping in the background to keep up energy. And yet, like the lady that doth protest too much, the more “energy” you need to inject, the less the music is actually compelling. And on that level, this album is basically the same speed metal/Motorhead style riffs that bands were rehashing back in the 1980s, but now revived in an even more exhausted form.

Coffin Texts – The Tomb of Infinite Ritual

The people behind this band are good, and their intentions are good. The result of their efforts however is bog-standard death metal, not so because it imitates anything else, but because it is unreflective of any purpose outside being death metal. It’s predictable in the sense that nothing is surprising, and yet, it doesn’t really gesture at anything more than being death metal itself. I hope these guys stop trying to be whatever they think they should be, and find whatever they actually enjoy instead. Best yardstick for your music: what you enjoy and would listen to on your own, even if you knew no one in the band.

Graf Spee – Reincarnation

Some things should stay in the 1980s. This is prescient in that it emphasizes the kind of bouncy riffing that fits on the spectrum from Anthrax to Meshuggah and onward to metalcore, but it’s disorganized, inconsistent with the vocals, and feels more like a pile of spare parts than a smoothly running engine.

Hellevetron – Death Scroll of Seven Hells and Its Infernal Majesty

2012 was the year everyone rediscovered Onward to Golgotha. I agree, it’s a killer album. There’s nothing wrong with Hellvetron, who seem like competent musicians, but this album attempts to imitate the outward form of Onward to Golgotha without grasping the underlying tension in the music that makes it work. As a result, Hellvetron impose current song structures (loops) and standards onto the aesthetic of the past, which makes for a decent listen until it becomes apparent that it’s not really about anything except itself.

Impiety – Ravage and Conquer

It’s hard not to enjoy this album, which is like a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Mortem with a squidge more melody. However, it is highly repetitive because it doesn’t go much beyond that concept. Like Krisiun before it, the concept is full speed ahead skull-crushing aesthetic, and this is so powerful it squeezes out most artistic content. This leaves you with some creative riffs, some talented use of tempo, but nothing that holds together long enough to listen to for a decade.

Inverloch – Dusk | Subside

These ex-Disembowelment musicians have a bit of a cult formed around themselves. Part of the reason is that unlike almost every other band before black metal, they knew how to write melodic music, which they do here as well, in something that resembles a cross between death-doom like Asphyx and melodic doom like Candlemass or Paradise Lost. Crashing riffs coexist with gentle melodic fills and overlays that create a dense atmosphere of nocturnal wonder. However, beyond that, the direction seems confused, which is appropriate for a re-entry EP but excludes it from this year’s best of.

Mantas – Death by Metal

Before the first Death album, Chuck Schuldiner tried out his riffcraft in Mantas, named in tribute (by educated guess) to Venom. There’s a reason these sort of re-releases are confined to collectors, and that is that these demos show a young band trying to get the order of riffs in its songs correct and at the same time develop an image, sound and voice. The result is great, if you like listening to parts of the same six songs 18 times each. A true-blue die-hard ultra-kvlt collector will put this on the stereo next to “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Spiritual Healing” and start working out each riff until he’s sure how everything works. Then again, with the hindsight of nearly thirty years, we know exactly how it should turn out, which means that for the rest of us, this will sit on the shelf in perpetuity except as a conversation piece.

Maveth – Coils of the Black Elite

This album reminds me of middle period Immolation, in which creative riffing often fell into very similar rhythms and as such, the songs sort of became a continuum which resembled pulled taffy: cut off a length of Immolation, let’s listen to that. Oh look, sliced Immolation! It’s the same way here. Maveth has very creating riffing with excellent right-hand control, but the songs themselves are a muddle because the riffs are the direction and as such, there’s not really a way to put the riffs together that makes sense, so the band converges on a mean and drops into very similar trudge rhythms to make the songs catchy. At first listen, especially the first three tracks, promise is everywhere; by track five, it’s clear that circularity has occurred.

Purtenance – Sacrifice the King

This EP suffers from a primary flaw, which is disorganization. It’s not random, but it’s what happens when you decide to make death metal and so treat that as a container, and then “write to fill” and twist the riffs into place so they work with each other. It’s not about anything, and thus is “random” in the sense that it could mean anything. As a musical experience, it mostly conveys a sense of disorganization and frustration. The best bands mold that sort of raw emotion into something which rises above the confusion and achieves clarity. If not beauty, truth, goodness, etc. at least something that is desired more than it is hated, and so inspires them, even if that goal is hatred itself.

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Ithaca, NY seizes Alex Perialas’ studio

Contacts: Alex Perialas, Pyramid Sound Andy Adelewitz, PR consultant
Phone: 607.273.3931 Phone: 607.257.0455
Email: alex@pyramidsoundstudios.com Email: andy@adelewitz.com

Pyramid Sound, Where Timbaland, David Gray, Anthrax and Others Recorded, At Risk From City

Bridge Construction Supporters Organize Protests, Petitions To Save Successful Ithaca Recording Studio

ITHACA, N.Y., June 21, 2012 — The future of a world-class recording studio that has hosted recording sessions by David Gray, Anthrax, Ginuwine, Aaliyah, Bad Religion, Missy Elliott, Joe Bonnamassa, producers including Timbaland and Tom Dowd, Pulitzer Prize winning composer Steven Stucky, classical pianist Malcolm Bilson, and many others is under threat due to the City of Ithaca’s poor planning of a bridge rebuilding project directly outside the studio walls.

Pyramid Sound, the studio operated for nearly four decades by producer/engineer Alex Perialas in downtown Ithaca, New York, has been unjustly condemned as of Tuesday, June 19, resulting in the devastating loss of a very successful business, and the potential destruction of its facility as the bridge construction gets underway.
After two years of asking for details of the construction plans and how they would affect his property, and being put off by then-mayor Carolyn Peterson and superintendent of public works Bill Gray, Perialas finally got an answer about when the project would commence when workers posted signs outside his studio warning the public that the street would close in two weeks. And as of yesterday, both the studio the separate storage garage next door, which Perialas also owns, have been posted by the city, after repeated promises from the
building department commissioner that they would not be; and no one, including Perialas, is allowed in.

Additionally, the building department employee who posted the building yesterday informed Perialas that the city had found his building condemnable two years ago, in the early planning stages of the bridge reconstruction. Perialas was unaware that an external inspection of his property had happened, and was never informed of the finding, leading to at least the appearance that he was deliberately kept in the dark until it was too late to mitigate problems with his facility, allowing the city to save money by condemning his property rather than compensating him under eminent domain or amending the unnecessarily aggressive construction
plans.

It marks the latest, and most grievous, in a series of bad-faith dealings with Perialas by the City of Ithaca. The story begins in 2004, when construction of a municipal parking garage across Clinton Street from Pyramid began. Seismic vibrations from that project resulted in cracks in the walls of the garage and studio buildings,
causing some damage. He complained to the city at the time, but was unable to see the fight through because he was simultaneously caring for his ailing father.

In May of this year, after being stonewalled by city officials for two months, Perialas received a report from a third-party structural engineer hired by the construction contractor in May. The report found the storage garage, which was closest to the bridge construction, to be in poor condition, and the external walls of the studio building itself to be in poor-but-stable condition; the method of pile driving that would be used on the bridge project would likely cause the nearest garage wall to collapse, representing a danger to occupants and the public. However, this report came two weeks after the bridge project was started, leaving Perialas with no
time to repair or reinforce his buildings. Yet the City of Ithaca has offered Perialas no meaningful compensation or assistance, and has refused to delay the project or issue a change order instructing the contractor to use an alternate, less aggressive method of pile driving that would not represent so great a threat to this thriving business.

After several meetings with new mayor Svante Myrick, Perialas was finally offered just $20,000 from the city to help cover the cost of reinforcing the garage wall. But that offer came just a day before drilling to prepare holes for the pile driving was scheduled to begin — too little, too late. And it came with the unacceptable
condition that Perialas indemnify the city against any further damages to his property caused by the bridge project.

Now that the buildings have been posted, Perialas is left with a slew of recording and mixing commitments that he’s unable to complete, as well as millions of dollars’ worth of sensitive equipment that he’s unable to check on or maintain. For example, the studio’s mixing board could overheat easily if the facility’s air
conditioning system were to fail, potentially causing a catastrophic fire; but with the building condemned, no one is able to monitor the studio’s climate conditions.

Perialas makes it clear that he’s not opposed to the bridge project in general, merely the way it’s been planned and executed without any timely consultation with him, despite his many inquiries over the last two years.

“There’s no doubt that this work is needed,” Perialas told the local weekly newspaper The Ithaca Times last week. “My concern is how it’s been handled. Normally when you do a project of this nature, you work with the property owner to deal with loss of business or interruption of business. You deal with them to talk about how
you’re going to shore the building if there’s going to be an issue, and none of that’s happened. The only thing that’s happened is that I’ve had to raise my voice, unfortunately, which I don’t really want to do. I’m not anti this project. I’m anti-the planning of this project.”

Perialas and his team have received vocal support from hundreds of local musicians and music fans who are horrified by the prospect of this historic local institution being shuttered, especially under such heartless circumstances. Two Facebook pages organized by supporters in order to protest the city’s disrespect and inaction have attracted more than 1,300 members between them, and led to the organization of a protest last week at the mayor’s parking space outside City Hall.
And an online petition urging Myrick to “do all in his power to ensure Pyramid Studio be fairly compensated for any and all lost business and possible relocation costs due to this bridge construction project” has received more than 600 signatures and counting.

In addition to signing the petition, supporters of Pyramid Studios (and of the rights of responsible business owners in general) are urged to contact City of Ithaca officials including mayor Svante Myrick (607.274.6501, svante@myrickforithaca.com), superintendent of public works Bill Gray (607.274.6527, email his executive assistant Kathy Gehring at kgehring@cityofithaca.org), building department
commissioner Phyllis Radke (607.274.6508, pradke@cityofithaca.org) and city attorney Aaron Lavine (607.274.6504, attorney@cityofithaca.org) to courteously express their support for the survival of Pyramid as both a local institution of international renown, and a successful local business deserving of respectful, good
faith negotiation, and fair compensation for damaged property and lost business.

More information in recent local media coverage:
WENY-TV (ABC affiliate in Elmira, NY)

The Ithaca Times (weekly):
http://www.ithaca.com/news/ithaca/article_00af9f6e-b4e6-11e1-bd5b-0019bb2963f4.html
YNN (local TV news):
http://centralny.ynn.com/content/top_stories/588030/future-uncertain-for-pyramid-sound-studios/

ALEX PERIALAS / PYRAMID SOUND SELECTED DISCOGRAPHY
Pop/Hip Hop/R&B//Rock/Blues
Year Album Artist Role
1984 Live at the Inferno Raven Engineer
1985 Speak English or Die S.O.D. Producer, Engineer, Mixing
1986 Slow Train Savoy Brown Engineer, Mixing
1987 Legacy Testament Producer, Engineer, Mixing
1987 Power Chords, Vol. 1 Various Artists Producer
1988 New Order Testament Producer, Engineer, Mixing
1988 State of Euphoria Anthrax Associate Producer, Engineer
1989 Practice What You Preach Testament Producer, Engineer, Mixing
1990 When The Storm Comes Down Flotsam & Jetsam Producer, Engineer, Mixing
1991 Deeper Into the Vault Various Artists Music Coordinator
1992 Foul Taste of Freedom Pro-Pain Producer, Engineer, Mixing
1992 Live at Budokan S.O.D. Producer, Engineer, Mixing
1993 I Hear Black Overkill Producer, Engineer, Mixing
1993 Substance & Soul Last Tribe Producer, Engineer, Mixing
1995 Belladonna Joey Belladonna Producer, Engineer, Mixing
1995 Concept Sam Rivers Mastering
1995 Under Pressure Such a Surge Producer, Engineer, Mixing
1996 Ginuwine…The Bachelor Ginuwine Engineer, Assembly
1996 Sell, Sell, Sell David Gray recorded at Pyramid
1996 Metal of Honor T.T. Quick Producer, Engineer
1996 Oz Factor Unwritten Law Engineer
1997 Signs of Chaos: Best of Testament Testament Producer, Engineer, Mixing
1998 No Substance Bad Religion Producer, Engineer
1998 Step Beyond Without Warning Producer, Engineer, Mixing
1998 Wrong Side of Memphis Johnny Dowd Re-mastering
1999 Ginuwine The Bachelor (Bonus CD) Ginuwine Engineer, Assembly
1999 Pictures from Life’s Other Side Johnny Dowd Mastering
2000 Bronx Casket Co. The Bronx Casket Co. Mixing
2000 Looking Up Cooter Mastering
2000 New Day Yesterday Joe Bonamassa Producer, Engineer, Mixing
2000 Phubar Phungusamungus Mastering
2000 Positive Friction Donna the Buffalo Mastering
2000 Red Is the Color Sunny Weather Mastering
2000 This Day John Brown’s Body Engineer
2001 Best of 2001 Edition (Master Series) Pro-Pain Producer, Engineer, Mixing
2001 Faust Original Soundtrack Producer
2001 Hillside Airstrip 10 Foot Ganja Plant Mastering
2001 Legends of the Nar Dead Cat Bounce Mastering
2001 Temporary Shelter Johnny Dowd Engineer, Mastering, Mixing
2002 Allophone Addison Groove Project Mastering
2002 EP Sunny Weather Engineer, Mastering, Mixing
2002 Into the Unknown Double Irie Mastering
2002 Live From the American Ballroom Donna the Buffalo Engineer, Mastering, Mixing
2002 Pawnbroker’s Wife Johnny Dowd Mastering
2002 Punk Rock Songs: The Epic Years Bad Religion Producer
2002 Sing Desire Jennie Stearns Engineer, Mastering, Mixing
2003 At First Sight Pete Pidgeon Mastering
2003 Farewell The Dent Producer, Engineer, Mixing
2003 Wait Til Spring Donna the Buffalo/Jim Lauderdale Engineer
2004 Bigga Than It Really Is GFE Engineer, Mixing
2004 Home Speaks To the Wandering Dead Cat Bounce Mastering
2004 Radioman Dwight Ritcher Mastering
2005 Life’s a Ride Donna the Buffalo Producer, Engineer, Mixing
2006 Each New Day Sim Redmond Band Mastering
2006 In Flight Radio In Flight Radio Producer, Engineer, Mixing
2007 W.O.A. Full Metal Juke Box, Vol.2 Various Artists Producer
2007 Conch moe. Engineer
2007 Again We Bleed God Size Hate Mixing, Mastering
2007 Heavy Metal [Box Set] Various Artists Producer
2007 Burning at the Speed of Light Thrasher Mixing, Engineer
2007 Heavy Metal Box [Rhino] Various Artists Producer
2007 Standing the Test of Time Attacker Producer
2008 Drunkard’s Masterpiece Johnny Dowd Mastering
2008 Ginuwine…The Bachelor/100% Ginuwine Engineer, Assembly
2008 Until the Ocean The Horse Flies Engineer
2008 Room in These Skies Sim Redmond Band Mastering
2008 Aneinu! Hasidic Orthodox Music Moshe Berlin Mastering, Re-mastering,
Editing
2009 Machines of Grace Machines of Grace Engineer
2009 Infidel At War Producer, Engineer
2010 Bitten by the Beast David “Rock” Feinstein Mixing
2011 I Put My Tongue On Window Boy with a Fish Overdub Engineer
2012 Performing The Score Malcolm Bilson/Liz Field Engineer, Mixer, Post Production supervisor
2012 No Regrets Johnny Dowd Mixing, Mastering
2012 The Blind Spots The Blind Spots Producer, Engineer, Mixing
2012 Late Last Summer Dick &Judy Hyman Engineer, Mixing, Mastering consultant
Classical
Year Album Artist Role
1976 Like A Duck to Water Mother Mallard’s Portable Digital Mastering
1983 Anatidae David Borden’s Mother Mallard Producer, Engineer
1997-2006 Selected live performances and recording sessions for Cornell Glee Club and
Female Chorus Engineer, Mixing, Mastering
1997 Echos From the Walls Cornell Glee Club Engineer, Editing, Mixing, Mastering
1999 1970-1973 Mother Mallard’s Portable Producer
2001 High Rise Xak Bjerken Engineer, Mixing, Mastering
2002 Liberación Amy Glicklich Recorded, Engineer, Mixing,
Mastering
2004 In Shadow, In Light: Music of Steve Stucky Ensemble X Engineer,
Editing, Mixing, Mastering
2005 Judith Weir: The Consolations of Scholarship Ensemble X
Engineer, Editing, Mixing, Mastering
2007 Midnight Prayer Joel Rubin Digital Editing, Mixing, Digital
Mastering
2007 Under The Bluest Sky David Parks Engineer, Mixing, Mastering
2011 The St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic Engineer, Mastering
2011 Horn Muse CD Gail Williams Engineer
Television Credits
Year Show Channel/Institution Role
1999 Swiftwater Rescue Discovery Pictures Engineer, Mixing
1999 Wildlife Legacy Turner Original Productions/National Wildlife Federation Engineer, Mixing
1999 Wild City Turner Original Productions/National Wildlife Federation Engineer, Mixing
1999 The Legends Series Turner Broadcasting Engineer, Mixing
2000 Detonators: Sheer Force BBC Engineer, Mixing
2001 True Colors Learning Channel Engineer, Mixing
2005 The Cultivated Life: Thomas Jefferson & Wine Madison Film, Inc. Engineer
Film Credits/DVD
Year Film Producer/Company Role
1998 A Stranger In the Kingdom Kingdom County Productions Engineer, Mixing
2002 The Year That Trembled Kingdom County Productions Engineer, Mixing
2012 Performing The Score Malcolm Bilson /Liz Field Engineer, Mixer, Post Production
supervisor
Live Recordings
2000 – present:
Adam Day, Amy Glicklich, Atomic Forces, Aurelio Martinez, Avett Brothers, Bad Dog, Dalfa Toujours, Ballake Sissoko, Bamboleo, Ben Suchy, Big Leg Emma, Black Castle, Blackfire, Bobbie Henrie & the Goners, Boubacar Traore, Boy With A Fish, Bubba George, Buvas, Calico Moon, Campbell Brothers, Cary Fridley, Cherish the Ladies, Christina Ortega, Cletus & the Burners, Crow Greenspun, Cypher:Dissident, Cyro Baptista & Beat the Donkey, D’Gary, December Wind, Donna the Buffalo, John Anderson, John Brown’s Body, John Specker, Johnny Donegan, Johnny Dowd, Jones Benally&American Indian Dance Troupe, Joules Graves, J-San & the Analogue Sons, Kanenhio Singers, Kathy Ziegler, Keith Franks & the Soileau Zydeco Band, Kekele, Kusun Ensemble, Life, Little Egypt, Lonesome Sisters, Los Lobos, Los Pochos, Lunasa, Mamadou Diabate, Mary Lorson & Saint Low, Mecca Bodega, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Miche Fambro, Minnies, Moochers, Moontee Sinquah, Musafir, Nedy Arevalo, Oculus, Old Crow Medicine Show, Squirrels, Paso Fino, Patty Loveless, Perfect Thyroid, Plastic Nebraska, Preston Frank & His Zydeco Family Band, Project Matsana, Ramatou Diakate, Randy Whitt & the Grits, Red Hots,
Red Stick Ramblers, Revision, Rickie Lee Jones, Ritsu Katsumata, Rockridge Brothers, Rodney’s Nigh, Rokia Traore, Ronnie Bowman and the Committee Rusted Roof, Samite, Scotty Campbell & Zydeco Experiment, Shane & Diana, Sillanpaa Family, Sim Redmon Band, Slo-Mo, Snake Oil Medicine Show, Solas, Son de Madero, Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, Sujata Sidhu, Sunny Weather, Susana Baca, The Believers, The Blue Rags, The Burren, The Buvas, The Campbell Brothers, The Del McCoury Band, The Duhks, The Fierce Guys, The Flying Clouds, The Hix, The Horse Flies, The Lonesome Sisters, The
Mahotella Queens, The Meditations, The Overtakers, The Red Hots, The Splendors, The Super Rail Band, The Sutras, The Thins, Thomas Mapfumo, Thousands of One, Ti Ti Chickapea, Tonemah, Trevor MacDonald, Walter Mouton & the Scott Playboys, Wingnut, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty, Zydeco Experiment.

# # #

http://www.pyramidsoundstudios.com/
Contacts:
Alex Perialas, Pyramid Sound
Phone: 607.273.3931
Email: alex@pyramidsoundstudios.com
Andy Adelewitz, PR consultant
Phone: 607.257.0455
Email: andy@adelewitz.com

Original source.

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Beherit renews black metal with “Celebrate the Dead”

After a new genre establishes itself, bands try to stand out by either mixing other genres into their music or to expand upon the original idea, increasing its complexity and depth.

Beherit launches itself into this conflict first with the triumphant Engram, which connected the generations of black metal in a concept album that paid tribute to the past while evolving it into a new form, and now with the fertile landscape of ideas Celebrate the Dead.

This vinyl release contains two songs, a version of “Demon Advance” which is mostly faithful to the version on Engram. Some areas have less distortion, and the overall sound is a bit more raw and offhand, which gives this track a slightly different atmosphere.

“Celebrate the Dead” is another story. This lengthy (16:18) track shows Beherit experimenting with a fusion between ambient music, electro-acoustic, black metal and classical forms. Like most artists of statute, the composers behind Beherit know how to separate aesthetics (surface) from composition (structure and melody). As a result, while this track is a blueprint for an ambient or dubstep song played as if it were a metal one, it reaches for the greater objective of finding a mutual language among these music types.

While popular music (pop, rock, rap, blues, jazz, disco) songs vary wildly on the surface they rely on very similar underlying structures. These structures are based on cycles, or the back-and-forth between a verse and a chorus with a few detours to keep it interesting. The purpose of music in these genres is to equalize song structure so that surface traits, like using a flute or recording underwater, stand out and become interesting.

In narrative music (metal, classical, some ambient, electronica and electro-acoustic acts) the surfaces tend to be similar across songs and albums, but underlying song structure changes to fit the topic of each song. Riffs expand upon the context of previous riffs and force re-interpretation of both, expanding the storyline just as how each new clue in a mystery changes the direction of the book.

These are more like poems than cyclic sonic wallpaper or droning consistency; in fact what makes them great is that they’re inconsistent and based on change, not maintenance of a moment. This fits with the purpose of these genres, which is to show a change in character through the course of a journey or experience, so that the starting point is different from the end, and the people involved have a new strength or vision. They emphasize the difference between the start of a journey and its end, but also the many different types of journeys.

“Celebrate the Dead” shows Beherit deciding how to integrate these two types. It wants the ritual power of black metal and its own vision of occult dubstep or electro-acoustic ceremonial music, but with the ambient version comes a dose of the cyclic and layered that excludes the narrative. Beherit tries to keep the sense of the unique journey which is inherent to black metal, and enwrap it in the layered ambient approach, and as a result produces music that is every bit as much ritual as early black metal.

The song migrates through three major movements, in which pairs of riffs transfer potential energy between each other as layers of drums, vocals, samples and keyboards are applied to build an intense tapestry of hanging sound, complete with sonic breaks and metal-style interludes. The result is a deepening experience but in its non-linearity it loses the epic power of metal’s ability to tell a tale, which is what Beherit changed with their music for the Engram LP. On that album, the narrative wins out and the layering circular style is brought in slowly.

This is rough listening. In part because this is a demo of the laptop-and-guitar type, which means that it’s not so much an organic sound as a pastiche of recorded and generated sounds. However, what will throw most people off are the vocals which are fragile and yet shamanistic, in what music reviewers call “accessible” but is more likely an experiment in the deliberately immature, unformed and intellectually curious sound that diverse musicians such as Roky Erickson and Absurd have made popular. These are the anti-slick, and while hipster pop has ruined “accessible,” their child-like honesty gives them a weight that no polished vocal could achieve.

What is most impressive about this release is that it is a pathway to future development for metal. The best of the genre, like the first Enslaved album or the longer Burzum works, tended toward a type of ambient music that used guitars but did not fall into the loop-pattern of popular music, instead preferring the epic storytelling of metal and classical. Black metal backed down from the challenge offered by albums like Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and instead became a plaything, a hybrid of either indie-rock (“post-black-metal”) or a darker form of punk (“black crust”,”war metal”).

Beherit turned black metal back toward a sensible path with Engram, which cited forms and styles from the past (some in tribute to Venom and Bathory, from the sound of them) but worked those into a concept album that ended in the meditative “Demon Advance.” To include the ambitious “Celebrate the Dead” in the same album might have made it lopsided, but in this sample track we see a possibility of metal guitars and dynamic acoustics existing in a narrative style.

This release will not make it past the enthusiasts and diehards who are curious about what the most fertile minds in black metal are thinking for the future. This is a shame, as all metal musicians should study this work to find a pathway out of the current rock-style slump that grips metal, and also to find a new inspiration for connection to the ancient ways of both metal and music from time immemorial.

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July 16th, 2011 – A Day of Death, Buffalo NY

When the stars are right, when the planets of alien coordinates align in perfect syzygy, when the arcane progress of dark matter warps the cosmos into gravitations of sinister consequence, the Dead Gods may once again rise from their eonian slumber… but only if the proper rites are set in motion by those giftedly prescient of mortals. Chainsaw Abortion-ist Brian Pattison was one such a prophet who had succeeded before in the act: 1990′s Day of Death, an atrocity survived by none but a fanatical few, and the tale obscurely recounted within the scripture known as Glorious Times. Now 21 earth-years after that most notorious of receptions in the death metal saga, a wiser but no less maniacal Pattison determined the time was ripe for another extra-dimensional conjuration, with no less a death-god than Kam Lee in mind as his ultimate summoned entity. Naturally, the Buffalo territory of New York would again provide the setting, with the chosen temple for this installment being the rather profoundly-named Club Infinity.

An unprecedentedly cavernous venue, Club Infinity can house up to 500 or so bacchants before it becomes a legal deathtrap — yet attendance for the day must have been less than half of that numeral. Apparently, the local Buffalonians who would normally haunt the premises for their fix of alcohol and loud noises had absconded to a different corner of the land, lured up and away by the promise of an outdoor barbeque/live music festival of some sort. As it were, only the blackest-hearted diehards heeded the call to this cursed slice of suburbia, where memories from beyond time would once again climax in a lurid celebration of the horrific, the macabre, the rapacious and warfaring facets of existence from which fleeting mortality truly derives its meaning. Our lives — and indeed our deaths — would bear the distinct and indelible imprint of this Day as a scar that never heals, and whose free-flowing ichor blazes a sanguinary trail across ages…

Lethal Aggression: New Jersey’s crossover-thrash godfathers themselves had been the honorary headliners for the pre-Day of Death celebration, which of course had been successfully realized the previous Friday night; but for Saturday’s Day of Death proper, Lethal Aggression actually re-emerged from their dens — bleary-eyed and wracked with raging katzenjammer — at an ungodly brunch hour to be the very-fucking-first band in the proceedings, which was a display of tenacity mostly lost on the scant gathering of earlybirds. What followed was a forthright little blitzkrieg of their trademarked “drugcore” anti-anthems, which was made all the more special for the occasion with the return of classic-era guitarist Dave Gutierrez (though he may have been initially unrecognizable due to his new blue-dyed and bespiked hair), who additionally was commendable for drawing the wicked Lovecraft-inspired design for the Day of Death T-shirts. Towards the end of their timeslot, though, it became clear that vocalist John Saltz had most anticipated getting to the last song on the list — “No Scene” — as he had accidently launched into that whole vocal line during the beginning of penultimate song “Spooge”, causing the band to screech to a stop and start all over. In retrospect, the mixup should not have been too surprising, as the apathy-decrying, poseur-scourging lyric matter (the key verse being, “All you do is come to shows, sit around and stare”) was uncomfortably relevant enough to boil our blood. And this was an absolutely necessary kick-in-the-ass to start everything off on the right track.

Hubris: Being the first of four local bands to open up a 13-band procession is a task about as unpleasant as serving in the infantry during a foray into an uphill battle, and yet the cadre known as Hubris still mobilized for their set like the hungriest of mercenaries — corpse paint, wicked demeanors and all. Though they are a relatively new constellation in our Northern skies (to wit, all of their embryonic recordings thus far feature a drum machine because they could not, until recently, secure a faithful skinsman) Hubris’ style of black metal extrapolates directly from the most abrasive entries in the classical Scandinavian school, falling into a nebulous scape between Marduk’s Opus Nocturne and Immortal during their soulraping halcyon years with Demonaz. But at 4 p.m. in a sun-baked, poorly ventilated enclosure, the band’s blizzarding invocations of carnage-strewn battlefields and holocausted settlements were all but guaranteed to a tepid reception. Frontman Hellskald vehemently refused to let the standers-by off easily, however, and at numerous intervals demanded choruses of quasi-fascistic fistpumping from every slouched, beer-nursing figure in the near and far vicinity. It would be difficult to not be impressed by the young band’s charisma, and Hellskald’s exiting exhortation to “Rape angels! Drink their blood! Castrate God!” would basically set the tone for the remainder of the rituals to follow.

Seplophile: Attribute it to that everflowing stream of youthful vigor if you will, if that would most efficiently explain how Seplophile had the mettle to burn through one of their own setfuls of brutal death, just a few hours before they would entirely re-animate the godlike monolith of morbidity ‘From Beyond’ with living legend Kam Lee. Despite Seplophile’s ostensible “newcomer” status, they are a band that follows “The Old School Spirit” as their unshifting lodestar, and their drive is incited by memories of the vital role that the Buffalo scene had once taken in the death metal genesis (that is, before everyone and their grandparents emigrated to Florida). Their discography to date apparently features none but a single demo ‘…And Death Shall Have His Dominion’, so the boys did not exactly have a hell of a lot of material to choose over, but their formulas exhibit a certain potency of form and execution that echoes the advanced blastations formerly mastered by the early incarnations of Cannibal Corpse and Cryptopsy. If anything, the set was a reassurance that this fledgling local band had talent in abundance for the daunting role of Kam Lee’s backing band, and that would only further whet our bloodlusts for the Massacre to come.

Resist Control: Reportedly one of the all-time favorite newer Buffalonian bands of Brian Pattison himself, Resist Control followed swiftly on Seplophile’s heels with high-octane, classic hardcore-thrash madness that veers more towards the vehicle of purposeful, distinct narrative rather than uncontrolled paroxysms of angered words and misplaced epithets. This is the type of band that would incite violent, all-consuming pits amongst any gathering of punks and skins on a normal night, but of course since Resist Control were haplessly saddled on the first quarter of a 12-hour-long engagement, they were mostly just gawked at by those who weren’t caught up at the bar or the merchandise tables with all the luminous death metal celebrities. Still, the band gave voice to outrage as sonorously as a good “canary in a coalmine” ought, and it would be well-off if they could soon branch forth from their hometown Buffalo circuit and reach more disenchanted ears out in the rest of the Amerikan wasteland.

Sam Biles: Caught in similar circumstances with antihero-of-the-day Kam Lee, Sam Biles is an illustrious frontman who for some reason or other stands separated from his classic backing band — Hideous Mangleus, in this case — and so performed his best-loved songs at Day of Death eponymously, with the aid of youthful and capable hired hands. Somehow, Biles had managed to secure and implausibly import a star-crossed trio of Texan luminaries to stand in as his henchmen: on guitar, Francisco of HRA; on bass, Dave of PLF; and on the drumthrone, Matt of Blaspherian. This ad-hoc convocation had actually never before rehearsed with Biles, and yet their set for the evening came together with such natural beauty that a blind man would no less envision the old gang of Feev and the Brothers Bonde back at their respective spots (except — dare we say it — with tighter musicianship?). Preposterously outfitted with all of cast-iron armbands, leather pants and a fucking Ratt T-shirt, Biles prowled the peripheries of the stage like a caged beast whilst animating every disturbingly hilarious lyric with guttural prowess — and of course, the Tejas Squadron behind him did not once skip a stroke, faithfully re-enacting the catchiest death-throes behind material like “Question Your Motives” and “Burning Children” (“Remember kids, don’t play with matches! Aaaaaargh!“). If the audience gathered for the night had any doubts about Biles’ solo appearance, their apprehensions were completely quashed before the first song even ended; and by way of analogy, it could be correctly assumed that Kam Lee wouldn’t need Rick Rozz, Terry Butler or Bill Andrews to pull off the old Massacre songs with masterful [dis]grace.

Avulsion: The final of the local marauders to be showcased for the Day, Avulsion are elder guardians (est. ’92) of the Buffalo death metal tradition, though their essence is thoroughly imbued with eclectic dosages of hardcore and grind. Shrewdly tongue-in-cheek yet convicted in their anti-humanist manifestos, this band effectively mimics the torments of alienation through truncated songs patched together from ambiguously buzzing tremolo riffs. But perhaps their most distinctive asset is the uncanny throat-power of their frontman, who is able to switch so rapidly between a strident punk shout and a rattling growl that it was easy to be fooled into believing there was more than one lead vocalist at work. After completing a formidable listing of original compositions in record time, Avulsion thought well enough to conclude their set with a cover of Carcass’ “Empathological Necroticism”, which certainly tweaked the ears of all those yakkers in the vicinity who were only half-listening otherwise.

Goatcraft: The horned and cloven-hooved brainchild of keyboardist Jason “Lonegoat” Kiss, Goatcraft is purest piano metal unbounded from the conventional backdrop of screaming strings and timekeeping clangor, essentially comprising foreshortened sonatas that weave narratives and paint airs with bleak minimalism — obviously, this performance would be the one looked upon as the “oddball” on the bill by a large portion of the audience, if only for their bewilderment over aesthetics! Matters were not made much more agreeable due to the fact that The Lonegoat did not have access to his personal keyboard for the night, and thus had to make do with a rented piece of junk that would hiss and sputter at loathsomely frequent intervals. Though the technical difficulties as well as the piss-drunken interjections of certain audiencemembers shot through any semblance of good ambiance for this listening session, the one-man-band remained steadfastly transfixed at his post, only uttering a few words of exposition when necessary, or still more rarely betraying a glare from beneath a heavily corpsepainted and bloodsoaked brow. It may be a sad inevitability that those few ambitious souls who elect to play solo, ambient Metal in a concert setting will never have the right kind of audience, as people who walk the hessian path between Classical and Metal appreciations are still unmercifully uncommon, especially in regards to the U.S front. But for any matter, Goatcraft is still a promising work in progress; expect to hear more from this satyrid maestro in further compositions both personal and collaborative.

Druid Lord: The newest creative vehicle of former Acheron axemen Tony Blakk and Pete Slate, as well as their skin-hammering Equinox comrade Stephen Spillers, Druid Lord is a death/doom affair that draws its most prominent tributaries from the sludge-tainted fountainheads of Winter’s Into Darkness and Autopsy’s Mental Funeral, with perhaps the faintest hints of vintage Cathedral coursing noxiously through the solution. But whatever feeble combinations of band names one chooses for describing Druid Lord, it remains that this band gathers its purpose in delineating true imageries and sensations of Horror: the same inspiration for all music branching from the germinal genius of Black Sabbath. For their Day of Death appearance, Druid Lord had driven up north nonstop from their vantage point in the opposite pole of the country (Orlando, Florida), which might have added an honest dimension of bodily-excruciation to their already torturous live show. Though their 2010 LP Hymns for the Wicked lists Druid Lord as being a three-piece, they have since added Ben Ross as a rhythm guitarist, allowing The Great Slate to solo to his evil heart’s content whilst dense riffing frequencies are maintained. Bassist/vocalist Tony Blakk, already bedecked with plenty of frontman’s credentials for his years in Equinox, was practically thespian here in his snarled descantations of grisly fates. But for the song “All Hallows Evil”, he stepped aside to allow Kam Lee to take over on vocals — a very honorary guest appearance that would only be shared for the night by Derketa. Speaking of which…

Derketa: As of late, reunions in classic death metal have occurred on such a frequent scale that even the over-sanguine among us are becoming rather desensitized; an entity like Derketa, however, is so improbable a phoenix to rise from the ash that only the ignorant could fail to take notice. Formulated in the foundational ’80s era by Sharon Bascovsky and Terri Heggen, Derketa holds historical leverage alone for being the first female death metal band; of course, they earned their musical leverage by their demo recordings and the ‘Premature Burial’ EP, which featured decelerated-tempo, incredibly growly songs that sounded somewhere deep within the realms of Hellhammer and Nihilist. But the immediate intrigue that the band’s output garnered seemed to cause the very pressure that broke them apart, although Bascovsky put forth several honest attempts to keep Derketa’s name alive over the years, finally succeeding in a full reunion by 2006. Only five years later did the revitalized cult feel strong enough to begin live outings: the first three in their native Pittsburgh, and the forth to be Buffalo’s Day of Death 2011 — significantly, the girls (minus current bassist Robin Mazen, who was busy with Demonomacy back in Florida) had been in the audience for the fest’s 1990 edition. When it was finally time for Derketa to commence with their first out-of-state appearance and the opening sequence for “Premature Burial” was sounded, practically the whole fan-populace in the venue came flying to crush in front of the stage. Guitars sounded appropriately huge and menacing (although in the beginning only Sharon and Robin could be heard, as Mary Bielich’s distortion pedal had shorted out), and it’s apparent that over the years Sharon has trained her vocals to be even more fearsome. It was especially uplifting, though, to see Terri reprise her role as the original female death metal drummer — still the rarissimus avis of the genre — and as she was able to borrow Rottrevore’s massive drum kit, her blows were as sonorous as they could be. A brand new song called “Rest in Peace” (dedicated to Seth Putnam and others in a growing list of “dead metal guys”) was showcased: it could be the most doom-influenced track they’ve composed yet, which probably hints a lot at the overall aesthetic to expect on the imminent debut LP, In Death We Meet. And, as mentioned before, Kam Lee made one more guest appearance for the song ‘Last Rites’, growling along with his brightest female disciple for what must have been a very high point in the band’s lifespan.

Rottrevore: After Derketa and Sam Biles-technically-Hideous Mangleus, Rottrevore were the last in a series of revitalized Pennsylvanian cults to preside over Day of Death with their characteristically Northeastern, bowel-wrenching odes to the evil in man. Known best amongst the underground for their solitary full-length opus Iniquitous — an onerous, eldritch epitaph crafted after the most primeval echoes of the Stockholm and New York schools — the band almost inexplicably vanished from the scene shortly after the release, issuing no signs whatsoever from under their official banner save for the ‘Disembodied’ compilation pressed by Necroharmonic some time ago. This being so, their sudden resurgence back into action this year — signing with Spain’s Xtreem Music, dusting off unreleased songs, logging studio time with Erik Rutan for a new EP — is more than remarkable, and Day of Death would be honored with the first Rottrevore performance in nearly two decades. Frontman Chris Weber did not at all contrive much fanfare and flamboyance about the distinction, however, and preferred to be businesslike in his dispensation of aural punishment. Their set of course included all the choicest bits from Iniquitous (this humble narrator was partial to ‘Unanimous Approval’ and ‘Incompetent Secondary’, but everything honestly sounded true-to-form), and there was also a peppering of the new material which sounded to be very close in spirit to the classics, which is a very good thing indeed. This reunion show turned out to be a success in any respect, and the fact that it was all only a preview of what is to come can only confer the best of prospects.

Deceased: Who could have imagined that our most beloved Virginian bizarro-deathmeisters Deceased would be the only holdovers from the first incarnation of Day of Death? Granted, in the 21 years that have elapsed since then, the band has metamorphosed into an almost entirely different beast: the latest album Surreal Overdose features a tightly-crafted continuation of the ripping speed metal that has become their standard since the mid-’90s; and of course, King Fowley now vocalizes at the helm rather than behind the drumkit, backed by a quartet of mostly drafted-for-the-live-show mercenaries (including, for the very first time, guitarist Danzo of New York City-area hilaritythrashers Vermefüg). With a varied listing of the old savage classics mingled with everything up to the newborn creations, Deceased had a canonical time-travelling drama to offer their audience, although their stage time had to be disconcertedly hurried along due to some fascist schedule-policing on the venue’s part. This constraint was especially bogus for a born raconteur like King, who barely had an adequate moment to address his audience between songs, yet he still strived for those full Deceased theatrics we’ve all come to expect, complete with fucked-up monster masks and all such related tomfoolery. Perhaps, in recognition of the spirit of Day of Death, Deceased should have traded out some of their later-period songs for more selections off the early milestone ‘Luck of the Corpse’ and so on, since the audience was uniformly comprised of old-school hessians hellbent on tradition. But whatever the case, it was gratifying to have one of the original fest participants return for the second incarnation — and how many bands other than Deceased truly demonstrate the longevity of the underground death metal practice?

Insanity: It would not at all be a droll exaggeration to nominate San Francisco’s Insanity as the least fortunate band in all of death metal, following from their absurdly tragical biography as the one-time most promising vanguards of the newly developing extreme style, poised at the very cusp of self-realization yet cruelly denied their seat in the pantheon due to terminal illnesses, crippling accidents, and the ever shifting sands of label-backed patronage. Fate is a bitch, as superhumanly tenacious frontman Dave Gorsuch knows only so well at this point, and Her cantankerous whims sure enough wrought hell on Insanity’s maiden voyage across the Northeast. The very first tour date in Toronto had to be cancelled due to issues with bordercrossing policies, and during that same time bassist Falko Bolte was sniffed out for drug possession and was summarily locked away in a local jail, for as long as it would take for his sentence to be issued. Shaved down to a trio with no low-end support, Insanity nonetheless soldiered onward to Club Infinity intent on following through on the warpath they had carved. Guitarist Ivan Munguia took over Falko’s vocal duties on the spot, and both guitarists turned up the bass on their amplifiers with the hopes of plastering up the frequency gap in their wall of sound. It was evident then that failure was decisively averted once the opening strains of ‘Attack of the Archangels’ sounded out across the hall, electrifying the East Coastal audience who had before only dreamed of bearing witness to California’s most mythical entity. Since Insanity’s complex, many-riffed compositions emphasize guitar theatrics over everything else, the lack of Falko did not distract too much from the live reenactments, and the normally-silent Ivan’s backup growls turned out to be commendably feral, especially for the newer material which draws more than usual from call-and-response vocal forms. But the high point had to be marked by the song “Fire Death Fate”, which might be declared the most well-known of all Insanity songs if mostly for the fact that Napalm Death did a cover of it on their ‘Leaders Not Followers’ tribute album: a rather late piece of evidence concerning the remarkably deep-rooted influence that Insanity exerted on British extreme metal. In all, Insanity’s appearance was laudable in spite of the hindrances that seem to perennially plague them, and your humble narrator would go on to follow the band for two more dates of the tour, which were similarly sublime beyond all belief and yet met with shockingly low turnout. But that, friends, is a story for another odd time and place…

Nokturnel: After Goatcraft and Sam Biles’ One-Off Backing Band, Nokturnel were the last of the fiends who flew up from Texas to play a set — although, most old-schoolers remember the band from when they were still based in their native New Jersey, rattling out an intriguingly odd permutation of Voivodian death-thrash on the oft-overlooked opus Nothing But Hatred (another lamentable victim of the doomstruck vessel that was JL America Records). But sadly, nothing at all from the back catalogue was to be on the menu for the night: Nokturnel were quite literally debuting a new drummer and it was simply not in their longterm interest to teach him anything other than their contemporary songs, which are structured and conceptualized out of a much different mindset than the ’90s fare. It was a let-down for the diehards — come to think of it, *everyone* who was gathered for Day of Death was essentially a diehard in some way (especially that magnificent bastard who adamantly demanded to hear “Nuke Seattle”: may you have Satan’s blessings) — but sets will be sets, and it was still fun to watch Tom Stevens shred like a maniac (until his guitar strap came flying off its peg in the middle of everything). We were, however, treated to some completely new material: “Demonic Supremacy” and “Ancestral Calling”, the latter of which was astonishingly pulled off despite the drummer’s inexperience of ever rehearsing it. But at the end of it all, when Tom and the gang were packing it up, the restless energy in the room very palpably spiked to the critical mass: with Nokturnel down, the strike of the fatal hour was fast approaching with the grand finale…

Kam Lee/Seplophile: Primogenitor, mastermind, chieftain, elder god — in death metal, these honorary titles can only officially be coronated onto one Kam Lee. As vocalist for the overwhelmingly foundational bands Death and Massacre, it was Kam who devised the guttural vocal approach closest associated with the genre; and — as is only natural for a Samhain-born son — it was also Kam’s profound knowledge of literary and cinematic Horror, as well as the darker facets of world history that gave concept and soul to an artistic movement. Though his deathgrowls became the stuff of legend early on in the ’80s tapetrading network, his best known contribution is arguably the full-length Massacre album From Beyond, and the fact that this meisterwerk would be fully re-concerted for Day of Death [or should it have been called “Asscrack-of-Morning of Death” at this point?] imparted a dizzying sense of disbelief on the intimate, rabid crowd clinging in front of the stage. But indeed, it wasn’t a collective delusion: the familiar hearkening of “Dawn of Eternity” resonated true through us all, and surely enough Kam Lee stepped forth from the shadows, with Seplophile’s instrumentalists trailing close behind. Previously, Kam had worn a Bone Gnawer shirt for lounging around with his fans and peers off-stage, but for this set he switched to one bearing a “Herbert West: Reanimator” logo — of course, very appropriately referring to the film based on the Lovecraft novella of the same name, with its central theme of profligate science hideously inverting the laws behind life and death. What followed was a set that went by a true-to-album, track-by-track order of those nine anthems we all know better and love better than family; Kam’s live execution captured the full, terrifying intensity of the recordings of his youth, and his ribald yet quickwitted banter in between is always prime entertainment. All the while, the axemen of Seplophile darted to and fro across the stage like winged nightgaunts, and considering how the band had only three rehearsals with Kam to prepare for the night, their performance was almost too good to be true. When “Corpse Grinder” finally ground everything to a halt, Kam and the boys made a hasty exit… but everyone knew the slaughter couldn’t possibly be over yet! And in no time, of course, the spotlights flickered back on and Kam had indeed returned with a few bonuses in store. There was “Provoked Accurser” from the fabled single of the same name, a cover of Impetigo‘s “Boneyard”, a ridiculously fun cover of “Skulls” by the Misfits (which Kam introduced with a paean to punk’s crucial relation to death metal’s genealogy), and finally the ‘Inhuman Condition’ EP’s cover of Venom’s “Warhead” (similarly introduced with reverent words for the Newcastle trio, and how they were responsible for Kam’s fateful crossover from punkship to metaldom). Kam also took advantage of his stagetime to relate some news concerning future exploits: apparently, he has rekindled his alliance with veteran Massacre/Obituary guitarist Allen West, and the duo are in the midst of a scheme Kam has decided to name “Corpse Rot” — a portmanteau of the Massacre song “Corpse Grinder” and the Obituary song “Slowly We Rot”… naturally! And with that, the stars again shifted into benign coordinates and the glorious spell was broken, yet the harrowing tale would be scribed immortally within the Necronomicon of death metal’s saga. For this Day would surely be the last Day that Kam Lee would perform those classic Massacre songs live in concert, and those who missed it, have missed it for all eternity.  

-Thanatotron-

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