Alpha Hydrae is a rather recent metal outfit hailing from Monterrey, northern Mexico. Their only official release to date is their full-length Venomous Devotion – The Hematic Lust from 2013. Despite its misleading title, this is no symphonic metal, but rather old-style melodic black metal with a strong use of keyboards. It could be described as “gothic” as well, not in reference to the terrible metal subgenre of the same name (that swarm of early-Paradise Lost copycats), but according to its ambiance and obsession with tales of vampiric fantasies. (more…)
Veneror create long, flowing, compositions in the style of Sacramentum which carry a melancholic but sinister emotive pallet through melodious arpeggiated twin guitar harmonies. Structurally these songs cycle in between two or three motifs yet eschews a sense of heightened dynamics while coarse vocals ride atop giving a sense of continuity rather than circularity. This is further reinforced by the chromatic development which carries itself into reprieves which close each section with sparsity before jaunting into the next. The resultant unbroken sequence of phrases is not unlike what Revenant would use to great effect on their infamous and only full length album.
Ossarium is a simply a bucket of fun. Lots of simple Grave-style 90s death metal riffs with some occasional wacky but catchy keyboards. Abundant driving mid-tempo grooves and a nice, heavy snare drum keep intensity throughout. I dig how the drummer doesn’t overdo it but keeps things nice and steady. (more…)
Sacriphyx present a bog standard take on Hellenic black metal through the rollicking pulse native to Australia. The strength of the Greek strategy is in its ability to capture a variety of moods leading to a diverse heavy metal experience. The Western Front is a discontinuous concept album based upon World War I wherein its songs do not function as parts of whole; rather, they are self-contained units acting with autonomy in pursuit of the greater conceptual goal that is realized only through individual skirmishes. These compositional deployments reinforce stylistic choices by maximizing an array of emotive impact while minimizing any diminished efficacy of individual motifs as their power is not derived from their position in a greater narrative arc from song to song. Despite proficient execution, Sacriphyx fail to build upon the Mediterranean tactic in any meaningful sense and thus the movements of its elements will be predictable to those familiar.
While a hessian might rightful sneer at the mainstream idea of metal music being the result of unsatisfied teenagers, Ragnar Bragason has created in Málmhaus (Metalhead) an accurate depiction of the sad reality faced by many first-world kids that are emotionally neglected by their parents. It seems that there are two main elements needed to be present for an alienated teenager to turn to metal as a refuge under these conditions. The first is that metal music be available in his range of perception in one way or other. Secondly, and more often than not, the minds that are most receptive to this art of dark tones lean towards a romantic disposition1.
After portraying the death of main protagonist Hera’s older brother, Bragason proceeds to tell us how the girl takes refuge in adopting his image and diving head-first into his metal persona. As she grows into a young adult, Hera becomes increasingly conflictive, to the point that she goes out of her way to create trouble for its own sake. Most of the movie at this point is a big tantrum with a few scenes in which the main character is writing and recording some angsty rock with harsh vocals. Basically, for Bragason extreme underground metal is virtually indistinguishable from emo rock at its core and motivating sentiment.
Aside from these outsider misconceptions, Málmhaus is a pleasant movie to watch with patient pacing that does not drag, convincing acting and a desolate feeling that only Nordic (and perhaps Slavic) settings really produce and which is more than suitable as backdrop for a metal scenery. Furthermore, and unfortunately for the metal movement, this picture of the pseudo-metal emo-poser is not at odds with the reality of many would be musicians in the medium. In this respect, the movie is objectively deserving.
II. Against the Vulgarization of the Metal Ideal
You may be wondering what beef I would have with this idea if the movie is in fact revealing a truthful picture of the scene. The answer is that metal art that most accurately and authentically reflects transcendental metal ideals are those produced by strong minds with a realist mentality. The emo posers in question usually produce music that is a thin veneer of emotionally outspoken yet ultimately safe and empty hogwash. From the outside, the product of the poser mind is similar to that of the authentic metal artist, because the imitator will always try to look like their idols on the exterior, but without becoming a threat to the society it claims to oppose. A true metal artist, however, represents a threat.
True metal is not an agent of social change. It is a rejection of social norms. True metal is not protest music that seeks to “create conscience”. It is the proud sneering of nihilists who see above and beyond the trappings of human convention. However, metal does not seek to destroy traditions but rather to exalt their realist underpinnings. It is not about destroying what is, because metal is realism, but rather about getting rid of the meta-reality created by humans who need an illusion to feel safe. Safe from uncertainty, safe from evil, safe from death.
Those making deconstructionist garbage music with the excuse of “destroying conventions” miss the point altogether. Yes, metal has evolved through innovation, but in a natural away in which the newly created sound is a construction and a depuration, not a musical negation, which by definition cannot be about anything because it attempts to be about something that is not, a mere abstract and near all-encompassing generalization that can never attain a definite form. This is why metal today needs to stop trying to be new and different. This is why it also needs to stop being a mere superficial rehashing of past formulas.
To reject musical convention or imitate it has never been the point. Black Sabbath gave birth to new music as it painted a stark picture that opposed flower power through its own being, but they were not defined by the latter’s non-being. New musicians need to start creating tradition, instead of attempting to dissolve it or trying to be what something else is not. Moreover, metal today needs to continue classic metal tradition if it is to be metal at all. Rejecting said tradition would essentially imply not being metal.
Death and black metal were jewels of their own time, as movements they were one of a kind and today they are, for all intents and purposes, dead, as the conditions that created and propelled them are not present today2. This does not mean that a new generation metalheads cannot be inspired and learn from it, in fact, they should. But this is the same as being inspired by Mozart or Wagner: it never calls for a copy-paste application of their surface traits.
One could describe the climaxing trilogy of Burzum3 as a concoction of Tolkien-filtered Destruction and Dead Can Dance4. But we may clearly observe that Vikernes never sought to suppress these influences nor did he try to simply make updated versions of them; he created something completely new with ideas produced from his own digestion. Part of the beauty of Burzum is how self-contained it is despite its borrowings in technique and method. Vikernes’ successfully-achieved objective in Burzum was the mystical recreation of the experience of reaching out to the ancestral knowledge ingrained genetically within the unconscious.
Immolation may serve as a different kind of example as they come from a background in early U.S. death metal from the north-east. Some say that Immolation is deconstructionist, but this is based on superficial impressions of the music, which is mistakenly considered atonal by laymen (most metalheads) who have never even heard truly atonal music. Immolation’s music is modal, but heavily emphasizes dissonant intervals as well as diminished and augmented arpeggios. In the long haul, Immolation’s approach is pretty much standard and proper death metal5 with a very unique approach to melody and an exertion of crucial control in the rhythm section.
III. The “Understood” (Assimilated) Metalhead, the Eviscerated Soul
Towards the end of Málmhaus, Hera goes through a period of introspection and redefinition after which she is understood not only by her parents but also by her whole community. She even participates in the rebuilding the church that she burned down earlier in the movie. She is no longer a threat. She even plays an alternative rock version of her “black metal” demo for the people in her little town. The wolf has been turned into the whimpering dog.
One of the main problems faced by metal today is that it no longer boasts of the outsider status enjoyed by its predecessors. A condition that lent them a unique perspective is utterly missing from most of today’s circles. Today’s apparently most rebellious metalheads are best compared to gimmicky Marilyn Manson; those that express genuine anti-establishment ideas are ostracized by their own “fellow metalheads”. There is no extremism in extreme metal today.
Today’s metalheads conflate cowardice and sheepish compliance with maturity, while they indulge in childish vices as expressions of their “freedom”. Somewhere along the road, man-made law and society’s comforts became the reality of these assimilated metalheads, and their “rebellion” is today only an echo of leftist humanism while they support a hypocritical system that fights bigotry with bigotry while denying it. They are completely locked inside the fence–inside the cave, convinced that the shadows on the wall are real, and that Plato is talking nonsense. Only the shadows are objective, they say, the shadows we can see and measure, the “sun” that is “outside” is only an idea.
Those who wisely choose to isolate themselves from the distractions of the modern world, the banal entertainment and the “metal scene”‘s circle jerk are mockingly tagged as “kvlt” or “trve”. This in itself is a terrible sign that metal has been assimilated into a safe space that forces it to be politically correct in the worst cases and representing tongue-in-cheek darkness in the best of cases 6. Monastic devotion is ridiculed as strange fanaticism, while mediocre and inline thinking coupled with a superficial extroversion is expected. Metalheads are “normal” now. They have grown up into their accepted slavery.
The truth is that this is what lies at the root of modern metal’s sterility – its inability to produce a new tradition because its own values have been supplanted by those of an assimilated portion of the mainstream. That those creating meaningful metal are only a handful of exceptions in a time when there has never before been a larger number of self-identifying metalheads indicates that the movement is at a loss. There was promise in the idea of war metal, but with the exception of black metal – flavoured acts like Kaeck, it is largely a dead medium. Cóndor is virtually sui generis, and the likes of Graveland and Summoning are the sole survivors and curators of a dead tradition way past its heyday.
I hope you’ll excuse me for bringing Vikernes back into the conversation, but it seems to me that his movement away from metal aesthetics during the mid 1990s was only the escape of a clever sailor from a fast-sinking ship. Although we should not mix politics with the judgement of music quality, the observation that deliberate ideologies (or lack thereof, supposedly) directly affect the kind and quality of music that is produced is pretty obvious to anyone watching intently. It is therefore only honorable that Vikernes should wholly embrace the ambient aspect of his music, the side that has remained truly underground to this day.
Once black metal becomes the cash cow of sell-out clowns like Abbath or Ihsahn, it no longer represents, in the eyes of the world-perception, what Burzum was about. There is no boundlessness. There is no escape from the idiocy of modern society in black metal anymore. It is only a show, it is not dangerous because it is not real, actually, it is fun. It is obvious that there is no other option but to move away from the symbol that has become a sign for ridiculousness and poserism. A symbol is only as good as what it transmits, and an artist cannot be excluded from context as the dreamers within the ivory towers of academia think (and contradict by trying to insert politically-correct statements in their garbage modernist compositions which hold no meaning in themselves).
The solution to metal’s plight is that circles of metalheads arise who can truly think outside the constraints and mandates of what is considered “good” or “proper” by the status quo. How they achieve that is less important to metal itself than that they actually accomplish it. This is not rebelliousness for its own sake, though it could be mistaken for it, but the idea that nobody else should in control of your mind and thoughts, and that the only truth lies in our mortality, and in man’s natural multiplicity of mind which makes his reality material and psychic at once without either being more important than the other7.
It is important that metal stands outside any such constraints to be what it is, otherwise it is like a caged predator: it ceases to be one as soon as it is shackled. Furthermore, metal loses its edge if it is not under pressure, because that is its whole purpose, it is a counter culture. Without nothing to counter, it simply loses its essential raison d’être. Therefore, this is not a call to the comformist to accept extremism, to understand those few who actually step outside the bounds of what is permitted. This is an encouragement to those who would attain higher understanding and see metal come alive again to become extremist in thought themselves, because in a sick and decadent world, it is those who are healthy of mind who are willing to act insanely.
1 Anyone who is new to this idea might need some clarification here. By romantic we do not mean someone who is the perfect womanizer, but more of a neo-dark romanticist, a revivalist of 19th century romanticism with a Nietzschean twist. People in our society who are commonly referred to as such are usually not so much romantics as whiny weaklings who cannot face up to reality. Metalheads do not avoid reality, they reject the images created by the delusions of modern man, who conveniently assumes their truthfulness: his own refusal to accept life in its full-fledged manifestation and the place of MAN within it.
2 It is my contention that the capacity for almost complete isolation experienced by young musicians during the late eightees and early nineties is made void today by the effects of the Internet and inescapable (for those living in urban and suburban areas) fast-paced life.
3 Namely Det Som Engang Var, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Filosofem
4 The reader may refer to Destruction’s Infernal Overkill from 1985 and Dead Can Dance’s Within the Realm of a Dying Sun from 1987.
5 Both Immolation’s Close to a World Below and Obscura by Gorguts are outstanding examples of this. Also, seemingly unbeknownst to the masses, well-developed death metal falls into the category of properly progressive music, while so-called “progressive death metal” (a redundant term) outfits are surface-oriented bands that produce disparaged songs as a result of poor musical judgement. A painful example of this would be The Sound of Perseverance, Death’s final album and an awkward affair that would make anyone with ears for proper music cringe in empathic embarrassment.
6 There was tongue-in-cheekness in the past, even during the golden years, but you can trace a distinction between these clowns and the best bands who used imagery to drive points home in a non-ironic way. Sincere nihilism and non-pretentious occultism stared right out of the classic albums, while today, these concepts are flat images worn on the outside only, as musicians try to cash in on people’s expectations.
7 The young science of psychology approaches these conclusions even as its mainstream-dictated values orders it to not make these findings, to try to make void the importance of the unconscious and subjective perception and will.
The Argentinian (Patagonian) city of Neuquén is an important regional industrial and agricultural center, but it’s still in a relatively remote part of the world and probably analogous in some ways to living in the Great Plains of the United States and Canada. If this compilation by Black Vul Destruktor is to be believed, knowledge of extreme metal has made its way to the region. The material on Beyond Time and Portals of Death seemingly takes more after the proto-underground; its mixture of stereotypical black and death metal technique marks it as a descendant of the Bestial Devastation school of metal, but more often not trading pure chaos and insanity for some level of refinement.
Since Beyond Time and Portals of Death compiles both the band’s Bestial Obscure Metal Kaos demo (from 2012) and an older demo from 2008, there’s a clear split in sound, but not necessarily in composition. The old material is understandably much rougher in production and mixing (although it’s still intelligible), but it shares much of its DNA with the new material. Both recordings showcase Black Vul Destruktor writing loosely structured and performed songs composed of fluent chromatic tremolo riffs over initially sloppy and later more coherent drumming. Everything’s a bit amorphous at the best of times, but this extremely stripped down method leaves enough wiggle room for the band to experiment with structure a bit. The material seems to generally work better on the more primitive demo, although Bestial Obscure Metal Kaos does achieve a higher level of satisfying rhythmic prowess. Everything feels a bit more charismatic on the earlier material, at least in that ineffable early Blasphemy/Beherit/Sarcofago/good “war metal” way; especially in its vocals, which have little regard for meter or prosody. It’s nearly the exact antithesis of how I compose, but the style admittedly has its value.
The end product is far from original, but it showcases some careful study of what made the simpler, more hardcore-inflected black metal work, and it occasionally throws in some threshold-expanding ideas of its own (see the goofy melodic outro of “Slaves”, or the constant variety of tempo and texture on the later material). It is very much of its scene, showcasing a great deal of techniques and stereotypes I’d associate with the South American underground, but what it does, it does well, even seemingly responding to the common criticism of underground metal (that it’s limited to mere worship and aping of the great classics) by pushing for some innovation within its adopted framework.
This album can be streamed and purchased from Bandcamp thanks to the services of Blood Harvest Records.
I’ve been meaning to write a review on Nadia for some time but even though, emotionally, I am deeply touched by this album, it has been impossible to bring myself to do so for this very reason: the overwhelming impression this music makes on me makes it difficult to develop an unbiased and piece-wise discussion. Listening to Nadia each time feels like falling in love once and again; one’s brain so full of endorphins that any effort to produce coherent verbal expression is rendered futile. I readily recognized this latent danger with Cóndor’s second album, Duin, and rather than try and present a crippled analysis, I embraced my impressions and came up with a description using everything that was on my mind at that point in time. The result was a mish-mash of philosophical and historical references, amateur attempts at designing metaphors and contradiction-based descriptions in the manner of mystics that pleased few people apart from myself and those in tune with that expression. More than a review, it was a picture of disjunct images. With Nadia, I have been afraid of not being able to give her everything she deserves. Just as we may shy away from a platonic love, a stalling of a well overdue caress whose occurrence suddenly becomes reality, inducing irreparable shock.
But now, the time has come to take on the undeferrable task of examining this portrait of romantic idealism and longing for a land and people that is not far from illusory. An admittedly Heideggerean notion of respect and admiration for an invisible essence or spirit that is found in all things yet in no single one at all. The related idea of technologies (techniques, approaches) as means to an end as the ungraspable static-immanent essence of things shone through in a sequence of truths that continually come into view and recede into the past permeates this album in its methodology.
First impressions of Cóndor’s debut invariably surround its stylistic menagerie and maudlin character. A basic technical analysis of an album like Nadia should be easy enough for most musicians to carry out successfully. Even without it, we can easily sight its modest means, perceive an almost too-sincere humility that becomes the target of disdain by those who have learned enough musicianship to play an instrument proficiently (and perhaps even developed the basic and undeniably necessary imitation-based creation skills) but not enough about music to grasp its essence, which they confuse with their own emotional reactions alone. One must not only become the receptacle of this essence, but one must also be equipped by experience, insight and meditations with a referential awareness that can connect the music to both its intentionality and context, judging its balance in accordance with its musical premises and contextual relations.
Here, I choose to avoid the incursions behind the the scenes of the music that a good review would normally entail, in fear of causing unnecessary degradation of the illusion that this artwork is in my eyes. This is not to say that there is a lack solid musical substance at the level of structures here. On the contrary, it is a sparse and opaque painting that transmits a story that flows from within the pigments in an ethereal stream of experiences that fade in and out of focus. We could go step by step in each song and show on a score (for a reference to patterns and structural framework) and with the recording (for references to dynamics and other performance-produced factors) how this occurs musically.
Many, many listens and a familiarity from the audience’s (rather than from the analyst’s) perspective with it may still reveal these ‘secrets’, but in a natural way and in due time.It is rather because of the modesty of the individual elements in the music that focusing on them would be an insult to the grand work that is produced from them. Furthermore, a too-detailed acquaintance with every implementation detail also runs the risk of causing the inability in the listener to properly distinguish the living spirit of the music: the unified whole. Deep familiarity with every gesture of the music from the functional point of view becomes an obstacle to perceiving it as ecstatic experience instead of as a collection of contraptions in a device. We must preserve the unified and spiritual dimension of art in mind first before diving further, which is precisely why it is paramount to go about analyzing music in a top-down manner.
In Nadia, Cóndor musically mirrored what the American continent represented for Europeans and other Old World immigrants after South American independence: a new vision, a new path that started at the meeting point of many other paths of distinct origins. This very nature that leaves undeniable traces in the structural dimension of its music, is what lies at the heart of my decision to not dwell in the minuteness of a melody or a riff. It is, nevertheless, worthy of our attention pointing out that the album is full of powerful and memorable such tributaries to its main current. In time the album reveals itself as unified in meaning and style, the erroneous perception of disalignment receding from perspective and displaying the mosaic that makes up the condor’s own featureless figure.
While the special acknowledgement to Felix Mendelssohn in the credits of Nadia may puzzle some and amuse most, the key lies in understanding the album’s relation to the romantic composer’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64. Alas, contrary to what one may expect, Nadia is more dependent on the concerto by Mendelssohn than even Duin is on Smetana’s Die Moldau. But the dependence manifests itself in a different dimension. In Duin we find a band that is differentiating itself, its expression becoming more and more distinct. It is a metal oeuvre utilizing and manipulating Smetana’s melodic themes for its purposes. The first album, on the other hand, took a hint from the Mendelssohn’s concerto as a seed for a physically (structurally) deeper motivation in the music: it learned from it a way to build and structure music, its way of carrying music through. In fact, like a concerto, Nadia is replete with solos that for very long spans of time are actually the music itself while the rest of the instrumentation plays the role of emphasizing and coloring in a sparse and laid-back manner to the point of being strongly reminiscent of the classical way of going about this which reduces accompaniment in many middle sections to almost complete silence.
But Cóndor is careful enough as to not mar its spirit in search of a foreign inspiration and template for structure. Despite all the interludes which are the backbone of the album, the importance of riff sections as tutti sections in a concerto is still prominent and on equal ground as the solos themselves (differentiating itself from both the concerto and from traditional metal methodology). In this and many other ways, Nadia thus remains decidedly a metal album that wisely and inspiredly uses metal and rock techniques with a classical approach to structure within a metal framework and use of texture.
Imposition is a single-man black metal project which can be compared in approach to what Sort Vokter did in their sole release, Folkloric Necrometal. Minimalist composition, backed with synths that outline a melody, Imposition creates a racing and urgent music which combined with the sensation of space that the synt-produced organ-voices, gives the listener the experience of going through a space-time portal into a darker dimension. But rather than another physical dimension, Memento Mori seems to bring into focus the spirit world of energies, the subconscious comes to the fore as the material and our conscious awareness of it recedes. Part of the solidness of this is that there is enough space between synth and guitar, but they are also close enough that there is no sensation of emptiness or vaccum between then, which can appear to be grander to some, but is ultimately a cheap trick to make the music appear larger than it actually is. Imposition plays no such trick on the listener and uses the elements at its disposal to honest use, building what it can without pretending to be more.
This release is probably only meant as an EP, as the duration of the whole thing is very short, as are the songs themselves. The songs being short is not a problem in itself, as when you string these together, the whole album becomes one whole work with minimalist movements. Taken this way, Imposition’s conspicuous music is one of the most promising if this man is able to solidify this into a full album. A word of advice from my point of view would be to try and develop the ideas in the songs a little further, with the same caution with which the music has been written until now. At the end of this Memento Mori, one has the impression that something amazing has been glimpsed, but no complete memory of it remains.
Being a split, it is necessary to judge both bands here separately and the release itself as a whole. Both bands play death metal, but while the former is provisioned with a modern war-doom arsenal, the latter seem at least partially influenced by Scandinavian old-school black/death tremolo riffing. The production itself is much more clear and powerful in Into Oblivion’s songs.
Into Oblivion play death metal in a combination of modern voices including saturated style of war metal and the heavy, doom-oriented riffing of certain sludge bands. The more impetuous of these is reminiscent of Teitanblood or Heresiarch, except it is difficult to distinguish an original personality present in Into Oblivion’s music. Individually, some sections are engaging, even mesmerizing and beautiful (the beginning of By this Marvel Overthrown) but as a whole, the result is far from outstanding. Construction of the songs could be deemed lazy and/or cheap, advancing through alternations of saturated and doom textures by inserting riffs that are played until their momentum runs out and its balancing counterpart is inserted, and not according to a direction or necessity of expression in the music.
Disinterred also play with this alternation of fast and slow sections, except that Disinterred is better able to maintain a train of thought and expand it. The songs in this latter half seem more mature, the converging styles in it being more difficult to disentangle, a more solid product arising from a clear vision making use of its influences. One can also observe the use of saturation, but instead of a modern war metal, we have a disguised and worked Scandinavian spell at work. A strong advice for Disinterred would be to get rid of the triggered drums and do away with the cheap double-bass-drum-saturated drum fills that sound like Godflesh Apocalypse hiding its lack of ideas. This second half of the split brings a visible shape into focus, a haunting shadow reflecting the maddened character of the music. Still, it is only a vague shadow which Disinterred have not finished summoning just yet.
At this point, Oblivion’s Oceans shows us what is mostly a soulless collection of voices. Despite this, there is some promise in the music. Personally, this writer would not place too much hope on the nature of these bands changing or growing much as the nature of proper death metal bands itself seems to be monolithic. Any attempt to change them often results in their destruction and watering down. Few manage achieving the required reincarnation, often coming to life again as a simpler life form.
Boston’s Zealotry made a startling contribution to death metal in 2013 with their debut album The Charnel Expanse. Plodding, grim death metal inspired on the vague harmonic coloration of Immolation, the watery flow of tremolo-picked melodies of Adramelech and the syncopated off-feeling of Demilich. A non-explicit disciple of the abstract concepts underlying the strong and clear structural construction in the death metal of At the Gates’ Gardens of Grief, Zealotry’s offering makes strides in the direction of the ideal and whole technical death metal.
A superficial glance over the record can give the impression that this is a retro band and that this is an “old school death metal” record. The only truth in that remark lies solely on the fact that Zealotry picks up where old school bands left off before death metal hit rock bottom in the mid 1990s only to branch out helplessly in a multitude of retrograde subgenres. Zealotry shows us the way the obsession with technique and extremity in performance of the genre at the time (which became its focus roughly after 1992) could have been channeled into the sculpting of true works of art rather than demonstrations of narcissism and inadequacy.
Condensed into one sentence, the reason why this effort falls short of its mark is related to the how monumental that goal is. Were they to pull off the record they were looking for, it would have single-handedly given the current death metal landscape an example to follow and at the same time it would have marked the end of a chapter in the genre.
But the naivete that cripples The Charnel Expanse gives the metal student a clearer study of death metal construction. The way each riff and section is rounded off and resolved makes the record overbearingly predictable. The thoughtful enchantment of each next riff is what allows the listener to pull through despite the somewhat conclusion-less songs. Here is where the influence of The Chasm is made most clear. It is as full of fervent candor as it is clueless regarding to how to close off ideas or give them more than a transitory character.