What thrived and what died from the 1990s (Part I)

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While the new last.fm redesign seems to me another exercise in pointless self-justification by middle management, the ability to see statistics on my listening has entirely changed how I view the music held closest to my heart. Seeing the numbers has shown me how it is one thing to list a band as a favorite or recommendation, and one far different animal to listen to it on a monthly basis. One is assessment alone, as if listening were your sole task, and the other utility, showing that this piece of music has a place in your life of many tasks and goals.

This assessment filters among the upper level of the highest echelon of metal. The assessment itself filters out the nonsense, all of which suffers from a single sin — disorganization — which takes many different forms but reveals a lack of will, purpose and principle in constructing art and always red-flags a directionless listen. But among those bands who have escaped the madness, there is no equality in listening. Some have risen and some have fallen over 20 years of pounding out metal from my speakers as I work or relax at home. In most cases, the reaction was first shock and then realization that the seeds of this knowledge were there all along. Let us look at a few pairs where listening habits elevated one album over a similar one…

Blasphemy Fallen Angel of Doom vs. Blood Impulse to Destroy

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Over the years metal has frequently benefited from punk influences because metal, as befits its partially progressive rock heritage, has a tendency to create layers of abstraction and complex musical discourse where punk cuts to the chase. This is both a strength and weakness for each genre; metal is abstract, which makes imitators very obvious but can get lost in muddle-headed musical wanderings, and punk is concrete, which makes it effective but imitation easy. Blasphemy introduced a punk-based genre, grindcore, into black metal. It adopted the aesthetic approach of Sarcofago but underneath applied the percussive lower-five-frets texture musik of grindcore. The result is very effective, and easy to listen to, but also — if you have many other options — kind of boring. In fact, many of these riff patterns are the same ones, albeit simplified, that speed metal bands tried and failed to use to revitalize that genre. As raw motivational material, the music is fantastic, but over time, it fades a bit as one realizes that its strength as low-complexity high impact music also means that its content is one-dimensional. Over the past 20 years, I have thrown this record on five times and apparently terminated it early each time.

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I chose Impulse to Destroy because Germany’s Blood also occupies the narrow space of grindcore bands who think like black metal or death metal bands. Grindcore generally self-reduces to extreme minimums and must, like junk food, reintroduce sugar and salt at the surface to spice up the otherwise one-dimensional utilitarian approach. Death metal on the other hand is not utilitarian, while it is consequentialist (“only death is real” being the ultimate statement of that belief) and yet also has a highly aesthetically-motivated but not aesthetically-expressed transcendental outlook. At its best, grindcore overcomes its utilitarian tendencies for a ludic or playful view of the collapsing world, and from that some of the best material emerges. Blood for example creates a dark and morbid absurdism which brings to light all that our society suppresses with itself, and like Blasphemy, creates it through patterning cut from the chromatic strips of the lower registers of guitar. In this case, however, the textures take on a life of their own, like a three-dimensional house made from flat punch-out cards. Different riffs interact with one another and dramatic pauses and collisions give rise to interesting song structures. Like Disharmonic Orchestra Expositions Prophylaxe, Impulse to Destroy provides a wealth of riff archetypes applied with enough personality and purpose to create unique compositions which may be enjoyed for decades or longer despite their simplicity.

Napalm Death Scum vs. Carbonized For the Security

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This is one of those albums that most people get for the sake of novelty. “But check these guys out, they’ve got one second songs and stuff, it’s just about noise…” — rock music does not get more ironic than that. And ultimately, that was the power of grindcore. Like punk a decade before, it removed all the pretense of rock and boiled it down to simple songs. It then sometimes added in new flourishes of song structure which made those songs more interesting than radio pop, which had been studied by MBAs and PhDs and reduced to a simple formula distinguished only (barely) by rhythm, production, instrumentation and vocals. But once the money men and white lab coats were able to look at rock as a product like any other, they saw that to please enough people in the audience to make it a hit, they did not have to innovate at all. They only needed a new skin for the same basic patterns and they could produce it over and over again with high margins (well, until digital piracy hit). Like the punk rock and then hardcore punk, grindcore stripped away illusion and replaced it with innovation. The problem here is that these songs are very similar themselves because they rely on dramatic confrontation within each song, which like all things “turned up to 11” becomes expected and thus a sort of background noise. Every time I have listened to this album it has made itself into sonic wallpaper before the halfway point.

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Some of the albums which were considered “also-rans” back in the 1990s had more to them than people initially considered. This one has been a favorite for me, along with the second album from Carbonized but not the third, for two decades. I listen to it regularly, finish the whole thing, and sometimes start it over. Record labels tried to shoehorn Carbonized into the “death metal” model despite some clear warning signs, and consequently bungled — the root of all evils is incompetence at some level, starting with the ability to be honest — the career of this promising band, but for those of us who lumped this in with aggressive grindcore like Terrorizer and Repulsion, the similarities outweighed the differences. For the Security expresses paranoia, existential insecurity, melancholic doubt of the future and a desire to explore all that life offers in depth, all within and as part of the same outlook. This is the music of a brighter-than-average teenager who perceives the world honestly and rejects the foolishness but wants to look deeper into the interesting stuff that, because it does not affirm the dominant lie, is rejected by the herd. Chunky riffs alternate with broader rhythms derived from punk and yet are dominated by a desire to make song structure vary with content inherited through metal from progressive rock. Each song forms a sonic sigil to the topic at hand and the response of the artist, making each bursting with personality and reality portrayed in finely-observed ways at the same time. This is a masterful album which will never bore.

Roundup

As you can see, Dear Reader, these albums are both quite similar on the surface — and quite different underneath. That bands can do so much with a handful of power chords, and have such different outcomes, is endlessly fascinating. Yet not every metal-influenced album is, even among A-listers like these. It may be time for all of us to go back through our listening, search ourselves honestly, and see what has actually stood the test of time.

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Black metal band Viranesir censored by Bandcamp

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Black metal band Viranesir from Turkey is no stranger to controversy. As revealed in a recent interview, this band exists to provoke. While artistic license generally covers this, apparently Bandcamp did not feel the tolerance and banned the band from its site, deleting the band profile.

Although that in itself is irritating if not shocking (in 2015 AD, near the end of Western Civilization itself) the broader question is that, as bands become more dependent on the internet to connect with their audience, whether companies like Bandcamp, Reverbnation, SoundCloud and Google/YouTube have too much influence through their policy of censoring “offensive” information. The band released the following statement:

You may or may not noticed that Merdumgiriz Records artist Viranesir have been banned from the online music store Bandcamp last week without any notice or explanation. I inquired about it many times without any answer. Not that I did not guess why, but I needed an explanation at least for them to live up to their word of “Discover amazing music and directly support the artists who make it.” and at least respect all the money they made off from their cut from my Viranesir sales before they suddenly swiped all the music I had up there for which I was counting on them to represent on not only my own but my labels website and all social media accounts, which still I haven’t gotten around to replacing with another alternative online streaming service.

My name is Emir Togrul and I am from southern Turkey. Very conservative place, from which I broke out somehow. Now I live in London England and run a Guerilla Record Company called Merdumgiriz for which I hand-make all the releases and merchandise. I have artists from USA, Canada, Italy, Austria, Iceland to name a few. I refuse to expand the label because I am on a quest to prove that total independence in art is possible and that fine art is a craft… Hence I hand-make every single thing and encourage my artists to do so as well. I make a very modest living but I get through, and the satisfaction I get from this work is just orgasmic. I am a Satanist and a libertine, I live life asking questions and constantly walking the dark. There is a lot of darkness in the world and I walk those paths rather than pretending they are not there. In my 24 years of existence, I have come to many realizations mainly through art, which to me is the highest occult! The biggest realization was the fact that the more you explore the dark, the more you understand it and it ceases to become a problem. I think life can become a very beautiful experience for every living thing when they go on a quest to understand darkness rather than neglecting it into a cancer.

Viranesir was formed as one of my side projects to fuel my main bands YAYLA and BLLIIGGHHTTED. Over time it became a crazy project with crazy music and crazier subject matter! I have songs called ” Heil Hitler!”, “Armenian Genocide Is Amazing”, “Child Molesting Rapist Murderer”, “I Only Like Jews When They Kill Muslims”, “I Only Like Gays When They Scream Like The Opposite Sex As I Rape Them”. I am not a nazi, nor a homphobe. I am half Turkish half Armenian (not exactly Aryan now is it:), and bisexual (aka I proudly suck cock). Not to say I have never been offensive, I have been very offensive… The most offensive thing I have ever done was to put Hitler’s name on an album on the cover of which I appear in drag (neo-nazis must have got very offended by this, I apologize guys), and saying I Love Torturing Defenseless Creatures And Eating Them referring to what I enjoy everyday as a meat eater, or perhaps say Rats Flock Into The Temple referring to Muslims (need I say more). All I ever did was to pull these taboo subjects out of their untouchable contexts and open them up for discussion, because they are very stupid and personally through a sense of humor, better be opened up for discussion in my opinion. The idiots in bandcamp didn’t get it and banned me, big deal.

What if a band is really a fucking nazi or homophobic band?

I really feel sorry for them because they will be shut up. Oh yes, I feel sorry for Homophobic, Rapist, Supremacist, Seperatist musicians and all those people. How evil I must seem to some for feeling sorry for confused people trying to express themselves through art. And the ones shutting them up will not even give them an explanation as if it was the word of Allah that they be shut up. I was suicide bombed by Jihadists of bandcamp last week, I was there and no longer am without any explanation. All my presence wiped out. Suddenly and effectively I am completely gone. Who am I to break the word of their Allah with my art? who am I to question their divine law of “Political Correctness”.

You have not stopped abuse bandcamp, you just stopped someone expressing abuse. There will be no less racist, sexist, pedophile, abusive people in the world because of what you did, there will just be less people thinking about those subjects. I congratulate you! I will continue making Entartete Kunst, wether pieces of shit like you allow me to be on your website or not! Fascist SCUM!!!

Emir Togrul
2.5.2015

In the meantime, you can route around this censorship by going to the label web site and exploring the material yourself. While Viranesir may not be at the top of your playlist, think to the future when some band you care about might be.

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Infamous Abisso and Of Solitude and Silence on sale at Red Stream

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For those who have enjoyed our reviews of black metal band Infamous, it may be good news that the first two releases — the Of Solitude and Silence full-length and Abisso mCD — are available at great discount here in the USA.

Red Stream has done reliable business with the underground for many years and are clearing out some undiscovered gems including this one. It’s worth prowling around to see what you can find.

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Order from Chaos – Frozen in Steel (2014)

Order from Chaos – Frozen in Steel (2014)

Review written by Daniel Maarat for DMU

The complete career recordings of unsung underground legends Order from Chaos have been definitely reissued by Nuclear War Now! Productions in five CD and nine and 12 LP boxed sets. These afford listeners the chance to experience the clear progression and compositional refinement from the band’s primitive Hellhammer, Sodom, and first wave beginnings. The LP editions have the usual analog distortion of vinyl and the peculiarities of GZ’s direct metal mastering. Fortunately, the CDs are well mastered with identical sound to the original pressings though the vinyl editions have the bonus of a 124-page hardbound book with lyrics, personal photos, and a biography of the band.

Stillbirth Machine opens with an excerpt from Ligeti’s “Requiem”and immediately proceeds into angular riffed, Teutonic deaththrash. Only intros and outros distract from the aural assault. The guitar tone resembles Swedish death metal with the fully dimed Boss Heavy Metal pedals but the production was marred by the inconsistent levels of a drunk seventies rock producer manning the knobs in an aging studio. The follow up Plateau of Invincibility EP is similar in material but self-recorded onto eight-track tape. This more amateur but consistent (e.g. no noise burst solos) production would continue for the rest of Order from Chaos’s career.

Dawn Bringer continued the compositional elaboration. The songs were more experimental and the melody that characterizes guitarist Chuck Keller’s and drummer Mike Miller’s future band, Ares Kingdom, appears on a twisted cover of Voivod’s “War and Pain.” The martial marching beats of the hybrid war metal sub-genre of first wave black metal and the three chord, hardcore punk side of grindcore was birthed too. Ending everything is the start of the intentional raw noise for which that bastard sub-genre is known as Keller pries off his guitar strings and pickups at full volume to end the album on “Webs of Perdition.”

An Ending in Fire shows the perfectionism that differentiated Order from Chaos from most of their contemporaries in the death and black metal scenes to even the most passive listeners. Earlier riffs and songs were rearranged with completely new material into three epic compositions. The songwriting focused on clever compositional coherency and melodic congruity rather than the random masturbation and showmanship of technical death metal. “Conqueror of Fear” twisted many of the band’s similar, Teutonic works into a flowing five-track declaration of bassist Pete Helmkamp’s existential, social Darwinist philosophy later laid out in his controversial Conqueror Manifesto. “There Lies Your Lord! Father of Victories!” was wholly original to the album and among Keller’s best guitar work. “Somnium Helios” updated the punky “Nucleosynthesis” from the Will to Power EP as the beginning of a requiem for the Earth’s future solar immolation. Order from Chaos broke up after An Ending in Fire’s recording, considering the album as fulfilling the band’s musical vision. The session outtakes were released as the And I Saw Eternity EP included in the set. This is true progressive heavy metal. Speaking more of musical specifics and the evolution of individual riffs and songs is best left for future articles as that would spoil listeners’ enjoyment.

Frozen in Steel is a fantastic value for fans. Purchasing just Order from Chaos’s three albums alone would cost well over a hundred dollars on the secondary market. Nuclear War Now! Productions should be commended for offering all the band’s studio material along with the extra rehearsals and live shows starting at just forty. This is the most significant and well put together anthology of an extreme metal band’s collected works since Demilich’s 20th Adversary of Emptiness.

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Kaeck – Stormkult (2015) – Another Perspective

Kaeck - Stormcult (2015); another variant of the cover art

Kaeck has received quite the buzz from other contributors to this site, which was actually how I discovered it. It turns out that this is one of the best black metal releases I’ve heard since Sorcier des Glaces’ The Puressence of Primitive Forests in 2011. It’s not the most accurate comparison since this is a significantly more violent and melodramatic album (Puressence, for all its strengths, is candy-coated), but I digress.

Stormkult belongs to an especially claustrophobic school of black metal, with its bassy production and keyboard soundscapes. Of all the instruments, though, the vocal section was the first to particularly draw my attention. They are all over the place, and the constant variation of vocal technique is effective in distinguishing sections of songs and their corresponding moods. For some, these may take some acclimation; there are some particularly anguished screams and shouts that only avoid coming off as goofy or otherwise inappropriate through their scarcity and correspondence to climaxes in the rest of the songwriting. Since I can’t understand the Dutch these vocalists apparently perform, I have to pay special attention to how they use their voices as instruments, but I am thusly rewarded with the strength of their performances even if I can see some not enjoying the style.

Other parts of the recording are more conventional, although the dense soundscapes and keyboards tend to put me in mind of Emperor’s debut (In The Nightside Eclipse). Despite not being as overtly symphonic, the content here has a similar pacing of riff delivery – slower chord progressions over fast, if relatively unvariegated drumming; percussion is admittedly not the major emphasis here, although the drums are mixed prominently enough for this reality to reach my attention. There’s definitely room for more variety in the drumming without overemphasizing it and thusly creating awkward stylistic conflicts. Some more tempo shifts might’ve been helpful, too, as the album does seem to lean towards a theatrical, narrative style in other parts of its instrumentation, and a few well placed breaks can be very powerful. A more shrewdly degraded production might also help – Stormkult sounds almost crystal clear in spite of its overtures towards low fidelity, which suggests the latter may have been created by something as artificial as slicing out all the sounds above a certain frequency.

The positives here outweigh the negatives by a great margin, though; Kaeck’s approach on this album is fundamentally sound, although there is definitely room for refinement and greater sophistication if they choose to go forwards with future recordings. Those could potentially stand with the god-tier recordings we’ve enshrined here, but that Kaeck comes close to them makes me confident that they could reach that level with practice and effort. I write this knowing I have yet to finish penetrating Stormkult‘s depths, but an album that doesn’t surrender its secrets immediately is better than the alternative.


Author’s note: DMU has had access to this album for some time, but in light of its official physical release, I feel writing about my own experience with it is appropriate. 

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Temple of Baal details new album Mysterium

Temple of Baal - Mysterium (2015) cover art

Active since 1998, Parisian black/death metal band Temple of Baal will release their next album on October 2nd, 2015 in CD and 12” vinyl format. The current lineup has performed and participated in many other French metal bands, perhaps the most notable of which would be Anateus. They released the following statement:

PARIS, France – French black/death metal veteran, Temple of Ball, has announced its next album, Mysterium, to be released on October 2 via Agonia Records. The first single, “Divine Scythe,” featuring guest vocals by Georges Balafas (Drowning, Eibon, Decline of The I), is streaming on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/gi2yqmKvUtw.

As the album’s title suggests, Mysterium dwells on the topics of spirituality and religiosity. “From the opener, ‘Lord of Knowledge and Death,’ to the closing number, ‘All in Your Name,’ every inch of this record drips with it,” the band commented. “Mysterium can be seen as a collection of meditations and prayers over the mysteries of faith, directed towards the gods of the left hand path.”

Musically, Temple of Baal’s black metal roots are back in full force, allowing the atmospheres to develop through songs of epic proportions, mostly clocking around eight or nine minutes each. Mysterium covers a wide musical specter, from slower ritualistic parts, to furious blasts and thrashy riffs or the surprisingly melodic choirs of “Magna Gloria Tua” and “Hosanna,” each song taking the listener into a spiritual journey, evolving through various climates, keeping the listener’s mind awake. “I never got that much into monotonous, uniform albums,” said band leader Amduscias. “I like music to take my mind from one point to another. Even if I have a strict view of what Temple of Baal should be, stagnation is not something I’m very fond of.”

Paying tribute to its old school roots, Temple of Baal covers Bathory for the second time, with the song “The Golden Walls of Heaven” closing the vinyl edition as a bonus track.

The recording of Mysterium took place in Hybreed Studios with long-time sound engineer, Andrew Guillotin (Glorior Belli, Mourning Dawn), who managed to capture the band’s trademark massive sounding, magnifying it through a warm and organic production. Cover artwork and layout have been prepared by David Fitt (Aosoth, Secrets of the Moon, Svart Crown) and Maria Yakhnenko.

Mysterium will be available in: six panel digipack CD with 16-page booklet, regular gatefold double black vinyl, and limited to 150 hand-numbered copies double gatefold vinyl (including one picture disc and one black vinyl). It can be pre-ordered now through the Agonia web-store at: https://www.agoniarecords.com/index.php?pos=shop&lang=en.
1. Lord of Knowledge and Death
2. Magna Gloria Tua
3. Divine Scythe
4. Hosanna
5. Dictum Ignis
6. Black Redeeming Flame
7. Holy Art Thou
8. All in Your Name
9. The Golden Walls of Heaven (Bathory Cover, vinyl bonus track)

In its 15-plus year career, marked by four full-lengths and numerous split releases, the highly respected French coven, Temple of Baal, has evolved from a primitive black/thrash outfit into a monstrous black/death metal entity of epic dimensions. Verses of Fire, the last album (2013), was acclaimed worldwide as a milestone in the band’s career, allowing Temple of Baal to perform at notable festivals such as Hellfest, Motocultor, Summer Breeze, Kings of Black Metal and Speyer Grey Mass. The formation also played selected shows in France, Finland, Germany, Switzerland and Austria, sharing the stage with the likes of Watain, Antaeus etc.

Stay tuned for more information on Temple of Baal and Mysterium, out this fall on Agonia Records.

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Sammath re-releasing Strijd in 2016

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Dutch-German black metal band Sammath will re-issue its first album Strijd on Hammerheart Records during the first quarter of 2016. This under-appreciated classic has made fans for its enduring emotional and technical power. As our review at the time opined:

Sammath achieve a vast sonic landscape with this release that merges fast black metal riffing with elegant melodies that rise out of the chaos and return to mesh with its themes and transit to a final state which expands upon the conflict. On Strijd, riffs are heuristics which evolve over time as more texture emerges.

The result feels like a land constantly wracked by war and disaster in which brief moments of intense beauty emerge. The majority of riffing here is consistent with what one might expect from late-1990s black metal, which is a stripped down but highly genre-conventioned vocabulary. Unlike most bands Sammath fits these riffs together into a language that fits each song, and as such there are no random bits floating around for the purpose of being faithful to a template.

The emotional state of black metal is fragile because it is finely delineated and requires a great deal of background experience and understanding to parse. Sammath achieves the violence and yet arch beauty of black metal, a Romantic vision in which the lone thinker takes on the herd and triumphs by denying the human pretense which unites dying societies like our own. Strijd shows Sammath at simultaneously its most emotional and most violent. While not as technical as later releases from this band, Strijd won over fans for its plain-spoken truthfulness and elegant melodies.

A statement released by the band detailed the upcoming re-issue of Strijd:

Sammath to reissue debut LP on Hammerheart Records

In the first quarter of 2016 the long sold-out debut album “Strijd” from Sammath will be re-issued.

“Strijd” delivers black metal in high-powered generous doses but also maintains its introspective side, creating the perfect melancholic warrior album for a dying world.

The LP will be released on gold vinyl and is limited to 300 copies.

Many of us are also hoping for a CD re-issue so that new generations can own this powerhouse in a compact format.

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A Descent into the Occult

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Since ancient times man has looked into both himself and nature around him as a portal into dimensions our species’ abilities are not adequately or readily prepared to perceive let alone understand. This is why and the sciences developed their theory and instruments which became increasingly specialized and compartmentalized, to the point that the ulterior workings of, for instance, chemistry and physics are not even truly understood by any single person but that have been recorded and detailed so that theories can be devised to model them. This is both a weapon for more precise understanding and a blindfold that prevents us from seeing the big picture. The ancient occult sciences attempted something contrary to this, which was to grasp at the phenomenon as a whole, not by measuring bits here and there, isolating them and attempting to harness them for mundane tasks, but rather seeing how everything interacted and describing it through metaphor and accepting that knowledge concerning reality cannot be taught or communicated: the path can only be hinted at but it is for each person to take.
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An Impression on Stormkult

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Like a tapestry woven of coloured threads Kaeck Stormkult is music in which simple individual elements are brought together with a larger vision in mind. The overall expression is an affirmation of violence and chaos tempered by a sense of order and beauty. Individual ideas are violent sawing chromatic fragments which generate new material by subtle variation. This tendency to unify songs through variations on a single idea is contrasted by the occasional introduction of a more expansive melody, these melodic phrases will be familiar to Sammath listeners for their strangely chromatic and yet tonal quality. These elements combine to make Kaeck one of the more interesting recent acts in black metal. There is an understanding here that individual riffs cannot stand alone but require a conceptual framework which transcends them. Each song is unique in its composition and yet there is a sense that this work is a unified statement. Whilst there is still room for improvement in overall consistency Kaeck offers black metal with real vision and some hope for the future of the genre.

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