Abigail Williams – The Accuser (2015)

The accuser

I had high hopes for The Accuser… of a sort. I was expecting an ungainly, melodramatic symphonic black metal ala Dimmu Borgir. Unfortunately, Dimmu Borgir hasn’t released an album for Abigail Williams to ape in over five years!  Cue the necessary stylistic shift, and the dashing of my admittedly dubious hopes, founded on information about this band that was similarly out of date. The Accuser is one of those indie-darling post-black metal albums, and while it’s usually not as blatant about its weepy, depressive influences as Deafheaven or Myrkur (whom I always seem to mention in pairs), it’s still a pretty flat and bland experience.

Abigail Williams’ latest actually pulls on a fairly wide mixture of post-black approaches, although they are generally united by a consistent production. The production team decided to portray this band as just fuzzy and indistinct enough to possibly pass as ‘true’ for a moment, but not enough that the intended audience would complain about a garbled aesthetic. There’s also the occasional awkward high pitched scream strewn in the mix, but it’s an otherwise standard sound. Within this, Abigail Williams explores such things as jangling consonant guitar leads, lengthy drone sections, start-stop riffing, and so forth. Now, there is nothing innately anything about musical techniques, and this is especially the case on this album, where the songwriting is haphazard at best. The difficulty that you often run into with this sort of musical language is that it’s difficult to build off these ideas in any way, whether it be the standard theme and development shtick we advocate around here, a more ambient approach, or much of anything, really. In general, Abigail Williams has a serious problem gluing things together and seemingly tries to hide it with minor stylistic shifts within and between tracks; regardless of their intent they don’t manage to pull off such subterfuge.

For whatever small reasons, I don’t find this album quite as annoying as many of its genre contemporaries. It still is, however, a boring listen that does little of interest with the hand of tricks it’s taken.

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Deafheaven – New Bermuda (2015)

Deafheaven - New Bermuda (2015)
On a less rigorous, and slightly looser site, my thoughts on New Bermuda could be expressed as something along the lines of “whatever”. The music here has been performed before by a cavalcade of metal-themed indie acts, each more individual and revolutionary than the last, yet stunningly conformist for their efforts. Deafheaven enjoys rather more media attention at the moment, even sometimes drawing our attention for their little escapades, but they’re pretty much cut from the same fabric – a few hints of loud guitars and blast beats to liven up boring sugary pop stretched far beyond the limits of its songwriting.

The stylistic deception is pretty shallow, to be honest. I found it mildly amusing that the album began with a few minutes of more overtly black metal flavored material, which was then abruptly cast off in favor of the basic rock riffing and reverb textures that Deafheaven seem to so particularly enjoy. It returns every now in then in case you forget you’re supposed to be listening to the future of black metal, but I can confidently say New Bermuda relies more on the band’s rudimentary modality (major-minor ad infinitum) than their rudimentary dynamics to occasionally wake up a sleepy listener when the soothing, inoffensive guitar strumming has lulled them into a dreamless slumber. The drumming in these sections gradually devolves into basic modern rock downbeats and timekeeping, as if to represent your transition towards a drowsy (indie) state of mind. That probably wasn’t the intent, but the idea that it could’ve been is dangerously tempting.

Now, I’m not the kind of person who tries to fall asleep to music, but were I to treat this as a collection of lullabies, it would still be fairly underwhelming. That it has loud sections at all is counterproductive for insomniacs, but even those are rather predictable in how they play out. The straight ahead black metal sections consistently move sluggishly under the blastbeats, with a vocalist who has learned but one type of shriek and a few basic vocal rhythms. Given how Deafheaven is marketed, that these sections sound like an afterthought is problematic. Maybe the album would be better if it was divested of the clearly unwanted black metal, but then you’d be left with just another unwashed (but charmingly patchouli and spice scented) post-rock/emo/indie-pop album essentially indistinguishable from all the others and guaranteed to gather dust after something newer and more exciting comes out.

I slept well last night. What about you?

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Cynic abruptly tears itself apart

Promotional artwork from Cynic's homepage

Rock and metal bands have a terrible habit of destroying themselves in dramatic conflicts. On Thursday, Cynic’s official Facebook page announced a breakup in the middle of a touring cycle. Perhaps not the best way to go about such a split. Recently, though, guitarist and vocalist Paul Masvidal claims (again, through Facebook) that neither he or the band’s bassist (Sean Malone) were involved in the decision to split. Whether or not each side is able to work out their differences is unclear at the moment, but this seems like a poor way to go about the business of ending a musical project, or otherwise changing its status.

Controversial reformation career aside, I personally owe Cynic a great deal for Focus, as its diverse aesthetic palette and jazz inflections gave me a gateway into extreme metal that I otherwise never may have found. Their later recordings, though, have done little to pique my interest and are unlikely to gain many fans around here. Perhaps this breakup is merely recognition that taking jazz, metal and metalcore and mixing them together produces a slurry that no one wants to drink.

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Krallice – Ygg Hurr (2015)

Krallice - Ygg Hurr (2015)

In one of the greatest misfiles of the 21st century, Krallice was labeled a sort of black metal band despite not even trying to ape the style on even the most basic level. Maybe there’s a few seconds that perfunctorily resemble the sort of chaotic ‘avant-garde’ black metal of a Deathspell Omega or whatever the kids are listening to these days. Krallice pulls more on the lengthy tradition of post-black – playing anything so long as you’re insistent that you’re beyond the juvenilia of the genre and/or that you’re pushing its musical and ideological boundaries. As a result, Ygg Hurr showcases every idea that Krallice’s members must have thought was even marginally cool, without any cohesive logic or anything in the way of quality filtering. Six Sigma this is not.

Every second of Ygg Hurr takes on a different meter, rhythm, tempo, tonality, and so forth. The band members definitely paid attention in their musical theory classes, and attempting to dissect any of the songs here would certainly yield a plethora of technical terms describing these tracks down to the note. It bears noting that compared to many other albums in similar styles, Krallice does not back up this writhing mess with unconventional instrumentation. That they stick to standard rock instrumentation makes this album less of a headache than it might be otherwise, but it further reveals weak production that probably caused a few executives at Profound Lore to tug at their collars. Outside of the record industry, its lack of intensity or at least atmosphere simply makes it even harder to take seriously as a “black metal” album. Calling it mathcore or “progressive” rock might make for more fruitful marketing, but ultimately, Krallice lacks the compositional range to pass for good examples of either.

Ironically, Krallice approaches flatness from the opposite approach of I usually hear. Instead of dwelling on one simplistic idea for an enormous quantity of time, Krallice abandons all their previous concepts like clockwork because it’s already time for the next riff. Constant change unmediated by anything resembling discipline makes for a particularly pseudorandom take on droning boredom, but it’s boredom none the less. This is stunningly reminiscent of the “horseshoe theory” in political science, which states that extreme political leftness and rightness converge more than expected. I don’t actually know or particularly care about any political goals of Krallice (At this point, it’s safer to assume there aren’t any), but my interest in history and especially its political aspects predisposes me to make such a comparison. The ensuing product is as bland as its musically simpler counterparts.

I really need to brush up on my mathematics so I can make a proper reference to deterministic chaos and attractors, but even without such a metaphor it should be apparent that Krallice’s music isn’t very well thought out. They favor what sounds experimental when their time would be better spent taking some of the ideas on display and developing them.

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Winterfylleth – The Divination of Antiquity

winterfylleth-the_divination_of_antiquity

When something great passes, people stand around wishing for more of those moments of power and beauty that it brought. And so we get the black metal equivalent of Django Wilson and his Electric Band Play the Hits of the Beatles, except that now it is a black metal version which revisits the greatest moments of early Gorgoroth through a filter of Ancient and Graveland. Nothing here is poorly executed but the whole misses the driving spirit of black metal that gave it its profundity and instead works on recombining known tropes that once gave it great intensity.

All of the classic attributes are here: the minor-key trailing melodies, the bombastic resurgent themes, the shifting between riffs conveying a sense of hope and thus returning to a feral despair, but the animating force that holds them together does not appear. Like a musical version of Frankenstein’s monster, The Divination of Antiquity is the most beautiful black metal album ever made from pieces of its best, but it lacks the soul to see beyond the immediate and material and touch the conceptual ground of actual black metal. Winterfylleth make songs with the basic feel and sensation of black metal, but without the intention behind it, they never develop to any conclusion sufficient for black metal and instead detour into the semi-circular wistful feeling that indie-rock and post-metal — both witnesses to the decline of human society in lugubrious ways, but helpless observers and not soul-participants in the counteraction — create that are the artistic equivalent of euthanasia. Like back, watch it happen, relax and let the waves wash over you. It will all be over soon.

As the album progresses, The Divination of Antiquity starts falling back on more rock and jazz tropes to supplement its diminishing store of black metal landmark moments. The result is pleasant to listen to and evokes many of the old feelings, but like uncompleted thoughts they linger in conversation outside the French coffeehouse and dissipate on the car exhaust and cold air of the morning breeze. It would be wonderful to find in this “what once was,” but that would be the equivalent of concluding the recent Star Wars movies will have the impact of the original out of nostalgia, and ignoring the obvious missing elements which, and not its accessories and techniques, made the original so powerful.

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Metal Orthodoxy

You may have noticed a metal orthodoxy forming over the years, but especially 1998 to the present. This orthodoxy emphasizes “trueness” to the concept (as well as the trappings, aesthetic, style, etc) of the original bands, and is paranoid wary of newcomers who do not embrace it.

Now that the official hipster central of the internet, The Onion, has published a metal list, we can demonstrate why metal orthodoxy exists: it’s designed to keep metal from being assimilated, or taken on by the larger genre of popular music as a style without ideas of its own.

Keeping it simple:
Ideas -> music -> genre of its own = metal orthodoxy
Just a style, any ideas = rock ‘n roll

See why there’s a distinct movement to metal orthodoxy? No one in a genre that is unique wants to be assimilated by what’s not unique, and in fact is the average of everything it has so far consumed. Rock music is like a large corporation, eating up small brands and removing what makes them unique, turning them into a label that can be stuck on just about any product in order to sell it.

Here’s The Onion’s list:

  • Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope (2002)
  • Amon Amarth, Twilight Of The Thunder God (2008)
  • Anaal Nathrakh, The Codex Necro (2001)
  • Baroness, Blue Record (2009)
  • Blut Aus Nord, The Work Which Transforms God (2003)
  • Boris, Pink (2005)
  • Converge, Jane Doe (2001)
  • Deftones, White Pony (2000)
  • The Dillinger Escape Plan, Ire Works (2007)
  • Earthless, Rhythms From A Cosmic Sky (2007)
  • Electric Wizard, Dopethrone (2000)
  • Goatwhore, Carving Out The Eyes Of God (2009)
  • Harvey Milk, Life… The Best Game In Town (2008)
  • High On Fire, Blessed Black Wings (2005)
  • Isis, Oceanic (2002)
  • The Mars Volta, Frances The Mute (2005)
  • Mastodon, Leviathan (2004)
  • Melechesh, Djinn (2001)
  • The Melvins, (A) Senile Animal (2006)
  • Meshuggah, Catch Thirtythree (2005)
  • Opeth, Watershed (2008)
  • Orthrelm, OV (2005)
  • Pelican, The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw (2005)
  • Pig Destroyer, Phantom Limb (2007)
  • Queens Of The Stone Age, Songs For The Deaf (2002)
  • Skeletonwitch, Breathing The Fire (2009)
  • Slayer, Christ Illusion (2006)
  • Sleep, Dopesmoker (2003)
  • The Sword, Age Of Winters (2006)
  • System Of A Down, Toxicity (2001)

Why do they like these bands? Well, first and foremost — you, dear reader, are not naieve enough to think that there’s not a financial connection here. These are bands distributed by or signed to the labels that help support The Onion and may at this point be personal friends or just “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” type buddies.

But next, they’re bands that rock listeners can comprehend. Except Melechesh, which is there for a different reason. And that reason is next: each band is different, meaning that it doesn’t fit into a perceived orthodoxy. Each band is “different” by being not the perceived norm, as perceived by outsiders who cannot tell the difference between Incantation and Immolation even though that difference is immediately perceptible to anyone who likes, understands and most of all pays attention to the music.

The “different” plays into the psychology of the individual. You’re just a cog in the machine. You’d like to think differently, but every day you keep doing whatever a cog does. So you find some way to be the cog that’s a cog, but also has a little something else. Interpretive dance. A flute on your death metal album. Or you’re an oddity, the one thing of type X that isn’t like the others.

See this in action, with bonus points for adding a sense of victimization — all cogs are victims, because otherwise they’d be running the machine! — added in:

Long before The Sword, Boris was getting smeared as poseur metal. It’s unlikely that would have happened if the band wasn’t Japanese, and if lead guitarist Wata wasn’t a woman

That must be it.

Not that this band is indie rock dressed up with some metal stylings and has nothing in common with metal as an idea, as a genre, but everything in common with indie rock. After all, irony is a key way to be different.

Here’s another great dickslap in the face for metal:

Metal, more than most genres, rewards consistency; a lot of headbangers would just as soon their favorite bands keep making the same record over and over. As elsewhere, though, there’s always something to be said for progress, and Goatwhore’s most recent record is a great leap forward.

The same album over and over means “the album sounds the same aesthetically.” It doesn’t mean the notes are the same; it means the distortion, tempi, vocals, and concept are similar. So it’s not the same album, is it? But for people who cannot appreciate that album, it’s important to find a good put-down so they can feel better about their own CD rack. Yeah, it’s the same old stuff. Yeah, it’s just consistent. But this other band… they’ve (gush here) progressed, which means they added a flute to their grindcore. Did they progress? No, but all of us can tell that a flute is a change, where only a few of us can tell that composition gained depth, or new emotions, even if the aesthetic remained the same.

Indie rock is what happens when you have a bunch of people making music just as vapid as Madonna or Sting, but they want some way to appear not-a-cog so they trick it out in this superficial progress using irony to be different so we know they’re the unique cogs. But their problem is that every cog thinks it’s a unique cog, so then they’re in an arms race to both trick out their own music with weirdness, causing it be basically ugly trash (this has happened to all modern art), and put down any music which does have artistic content, because it threatens them.

And at the end of the day, that’s what this Onion article is about: the fear of masses of hipsters that they missed something within the music (e.g. not adding a flute) and therefore, that they are just cogs after all. Which as they go back to their hipster “it pays nothing but I feel educated or socially important” jobs, is a bitter consolation indeed.

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