SMR: The Decent, The Bad And The Pathetically Ugly

While metal continues to explode in popularity and becomes an ongoing joke for the mainstream while being adored by countless anime fans who fawn over prepubescent boys dressed as girls, both the underground and the mainstream metal world remain stagnant. Here is a quick glance into what one can expect.



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Codex Obscurum – Issue Nine

Codex Obscurum
Issue Nine
45 pages

As the internet reaches its peak, the inherent deficiencies of the post-“Eternal September” online audience reveal themselves. Drowning in vast amounts of MP3s and data, they have stopped choosing best over better, and simply accept whatever is not offensively horrible on the first listen. As a result music quality has plummeted. Zines like Codex Obscurum are reversing this by shining the spotlight on the quality that stands out and ignoring the rest of the flood.

Issue Nine opens with an Immolation interview. While I love Here in After, I usually skim Immolation interviews because the Ross & Bob show are so focused on being nice sociable guys that very little is said that I could not glean from liner notes. Interviewer Kevin Ord however takes a subtle but aggressive approach in asking Immolation “where’s the meat?” The result is unsatisfying, as one might expect for the band that defecated out Kingdom of Conspiracy, a parody of their former works worthy of SNL. Ord gets to the core of where this band is now and if there is an echo, it is not his fault but an honest reflection of what happens when death metal bands realize that two-note speed metal with death metal vocals is a path to Pantera-oriented glory where Here in After makes fans happy and bands poor.

Interviews follow with Mitochondrion, Horrendous, Evil Power, Ectovoid, Beithioch, Savage Master, Cemetery Filth, Hideous Divinity, Akurion and visual artist Daniel “Sawblade” Shaw. Each of these tries to bring out the purpose of the band, acknowledging subtly that many of these bands are B-level art workers who merely hope to pay tribute to their influences before going back to day jobs. Beithioch may be most interesting with its culture-based, whisky-infused Irish tangent on the idea of death metal and black metal as resurrection of the invisible values that hold humans together and keep us all from committing suicide in gas station restrooms. Each interview is carefully posed and diligently edited, filtering out the noise of grammatical train wrecks and misspellings that blight most zines.

After a centerfold of intense zine branding art, the reviews come forth. These are more descriptive than critical, but in trying to make a narrative out of each band, reveal how successful these artists are in expressing something more than a vague genre identity. Some of these reviews tempt as purpose and aesthetic vision appear in the words, but others make me want to run far away from what sounds like disorganized aping of the near-past. The reviewers are gentlemen who let the music speak for itself in symbolic translation instead of vocalizing their critiques, which makes it both more informative and more fun for the reader.

This issue ended too soon, but not for lack of content, but mainly because I was all set to read all night! Issue Nine ends in an editorial which by focusing on criticism of the underground, issues some potent criticism of its own of the underground, which is gratifying to see in a time when most people are too busy playing “follow the leader” to notice the quality differential over the years. It rounds out a solid issue and gives some placement to the interviews and reviews which preceded it.

Codex Obscurum continues at full strength after quite a few years now of activity, forging ahead where the internet has abandoned metal and the industry has failed it. This zine emphasizes selectivity and so has avoided treading the well-worn ruts that most big magazines do, but has also avoided the underground fanboi mentality which holds that a fifteenthrate Incantation/Demoncy imitation is just as much news as the originals. These writers have kept this zine going strong and show no sign of stopping, which makes it fortunate for us readers who need a breath of fresh air in the fetid stench of the decomposition of the corpse of the underground about now!


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Codex Obscurum Issue Nine pre-order opens


Underground revival zine Codex Obscurum Issue Nine is ready for pre-order at the CO online store. The editors say:

The zine is still only $3 +s/h. The zine should be shipped in 2-3 weeks. Preordering helps us offset the cost of printing the zine. Thanks for the support.

Issue #9 contains:

  • The art of Daniel Shaw
  • Akurion
  • Cemetery Filth
  • Deathhammer
  • Ectovoid
  • Hideous Divinity
  • Horrendous
  • Immolation
  • Mitochondrion
  • Savage Master
  • Beithioch
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Two near hits

The two albums discussed here are very similar in one crucial way: both use riffs that are derived from obvious “inherent” musical structures in such a way to appear modifications of an off-the-shelf technique, which muffles the clarity of organic expression the artist is trying to achieve. Of the two, I’m more positively disposed to the Beithíoch because it is less self-consciously aware of its audience, but is still too self-conscious regarding itself. The end result in both is like seeing someone put up a bone-normal scaffold, and then strategically paint it random colors or alter its shape; you can still discern the underlying shape, so it does not appear to have a genesis of its own, but be a conscious alteration of a normal format for some demonstrative purpose. In the Beithíoch it is acceptable because this band is attempting to stretch itself past its previous tendency to make wallpaper music, which cycled in the background but achieved no direction. Blut Aus Nord should know better.

Beithíoch – Dúchas

A music reviewer can have no friends. He cannot allow any personal motivations or feelings to get in the way. If he likes you, or you just stole his girlfriend and he hates you, he has to separate your album from you and judge it on its artistic merits, with an eye not for casting aside so much as pulling out whatever of value is there. As said above, Beithíoch resembles scaffolding that has been strategically modified to game your brain into thinking you see a different shape. It is boxy. However, when it waxes ambient, it does well, both in the keyboardy/distortiony parts and in the use of King Crimson-esque lead picked chord progressions and high speed noodling. Like earlier Beithíoch, this one has a crisis of knowing what the songs are about. This one-man band has just about nailed his technique, including song development and epic-feeling conclusions, but the parts don’t all connect up and so the boxiness hits us in the face. Much like myself, often he needs to de-cerebralize and just let fly with some feeling and if it comes out as three notes and someone chanting “Watermelon Penis Bouffant Christ,” that’s OK too. There’s a lot of promise here but it’s like a vocabulary in search of a topic.

Blut Aus Nord – 777 – The Desanctification

Thematically this is a near remake of Abyssic Hate’s much-celebrated and immediately forgotten 2000 album “Suicidal Emotions” and will be forgotten for much the same reason: it is a manipulation of surface attributes without any underlying direction, narrative or structure. The result is that you become immersed in a particular mood, and then it stops. Each song is like a fragment of a painting, enough to pick up on one mood that is in common between all of these songs, but not enough to figure out the story or where it fits in. In addition, it’s “boxy” in the sense of using archetypes with slight modifications that are designed to game your perception and make you think something new has been created. This is as much deskwork as crafting a memo or making a sales call. The resulting insincere shit is not particularly interesting musically and has nothing to offer otherwise, although it appears to be intense and so fools the same people who are getting fooled by Opeth and Ulver but want something “heavier.” d00d


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