Most of us now forget how much of the early death metal experience was shaped by the speed metal story arc: starting in 1983 as a rebellion against the glam explosion of hard rock, it re-metalized NWOBHM with more complex riffs using the muted strum to expand rhythm, and then promptly began selling out. Most fans got queasy when Metallica came out with Master of Puppets, but there are other culprits to just as easily finger. The point is that everything sells out in humanity when it gets exposes to the masses because the masses demand the same old crap in new form, instead of new ideas deviating from the same old crap, and that took down speed metal, which caused death metal bands to try to be more aesthetically extreme.
“How would you ever sell out this?” a friend asked once when I was listening to Incantation. My response to him was that aesthetics does not correspond to composition. I can take a Justin Bieber song, translate it to guitar and transpose it to a lower key, then play it with lots of tremolo picking, guitar squeals and crunchy power chords, doubling the tempo and adding distorted vocals. To most people, that will be “death metal.” To a death metal fan, it is a sheep in the clothing of a wolf. Death metal is not its aesthetic traits alone; those exist to aid the composition, which is (1) phrasal with complex song structures to support (2) collective without individual superstars (3) emphasizes cadence and melodic development over off-beat, quirkiness, ironism, etc. Death metal is musically distinct from rock and blues, themselves only a simplification of European music from the past century with a false label of African-American origin added to sell them as “unique” and “different,” which makes it one of the few genres which is not fake in all of popular music. Accept what you know to be true: popular music is just as fake as Big Macs, Cokes or reality TV. It has always been fake because it has always been a product with a conveniently oddball but totally untrue history. If you have heard the music of the African coast, you realize it is far more complex than the limply distilled methods of rock and blues. Similarly, European folk music had much more going for it than country or rock. Death metal threw all of this back in their faces, and their revenge was to sell it out. This does not involve evil indie rock musicians creeping into death metal band studios late at night to covertly record disguised rock themed as death metal; rather, it involves the transmission of social memes and attitudes about what constitutes death metal, which then lowers the bar so “everyone” can participate. At that point, you get the same old crap dressed up as a revolution.
Festering, on an aesthetic level, is perfect for death metal fans. It sounds like Swedish death metal played with the rhythmic precision of speed metal. It has gnarly vocals, great distortion, and uses the right techniques: it layers each new riff, applies tremolo in the right pattern to introduce secondary ideas as new primaries, and drifts into tempi at about the right pace to have cadence. But it also works in the static-style rock riffs, the cheesy color notes as the basis of riffs from the blues, and the constant off-beat that sounds to me like a labrador running with its tongue out of its mouth. Not to mention the constant verse-chorus song structures that remind me of Bruce Springsteen. In short, this band is a well-executed forgery that conceals rock within death metal, and so while I want to like it for aesthetic reasons, the music itself remains unsatisfying and leaves me with a queasy feeling. Good effort that should be avoided by all death metal fans, but rock fans weekending as death metallers should love it.
Colorful and dynamic, Adversarial’s brand of nu-black metal has many compelling moments and even long stretches of song, but overall falls prey to a combination of high-level meandering in search of an “atmosphere” while loose reign is given to the drums to fill in gaps with flare without any substantiation. In their defense, most of the instruments seem to work in a very directed manner, a direct result of the simplicity of the music, although this integration and interplay is not as clearly done or focused on a full musical-conceptual balance like Kaeck’s Stormkult.
Ultimately, the most compelling aspect of Death, Endless Nothing and the Black Knife of Nihilism is its delicious production. Everything is both pristine in the dirty and powerful way that violent death and black metal are mandated to be heard. Unfortunately, when one pays close attention to the development of whole songs, it is easy to notice that the songwriting does not rise above the level of, say, Peruan black metal band Goat Semen. In fact, given that Adversarial are more prone to that modern atmospheric meandering that is vaguely reminiscent of post-modern chord-hanging, I would rather listen to the forward moving and still related riff progressions of Goat Semen, although these also, in the end, do not amount to a clear picture of anything except the violence they produce outright.
While these will delight metal listeners that lie on the heavy and consistent pleasure-seeking spectrum, those in search of a balanced unification of images and respectable music construction will find nothing here.
Earlier in the Coffins review, it was mentioned how that band was little more than a superficial imitator of bands like Cianide, and that apart from imitating the same types of riffs, achieved little in the way of communication. This has everything to do with how a piece of music is organized. It is is not in the riff itself but the relationship between riffs and in how, in relation to each other, they sketch a landscape. Cianide understands this, Coffins and the multitudes of third-rate imitators do not.
While the tag of “doom” is attached to Cianide, it is only right to call them death metal. Period. A death metal band that sometimes plays in relatively slow tempos using completely diatonic schemes. This is strongly reminiscent of Black Sabbath, which were dubbed “doom” only in hindsight after later acts like Saint Vitus or Witchfinder General. Both of these bands just play simple heavy metal in a style that emphasizes the weight of riffs. Being the talented musicians they are, their song-construction is fluent and their parts inter-related. This goes without saying when it comes to good metal. The term “doom” only makes sense as a genre tags for acts such as Skepticism, Worship or Thergothon which definitely do not follow a death metal or a heavy metal template but operate on entirely different “ideological” (so to speak, but not politically, rather, artistically) premises.
In Death, Doom and Destruction,Cianide bring a more mobile conception of their particular style that emphasizes the dynamics afforded by their mid-paced trudging that allows them to waiver between heavy-trudging riffs ala Celtic Frost and faster tremolo-picked passages. Compared to their early work, this newer album is slightly simplified at the riff-level, although the construction has suffered little deterioration that this listener can perceive. The songwriting skills that allow them channel the rhythmic and harmonic impulse of one section onto the next and to trace a roller-coaster-like curve in the course of these musical pieces is stronger than ever. If anything, I would call this a condensed Cianide.
While acts such as Immolation, Suffocation or Vader are routinely and falsely accused of making the same unchallenging album all over every few years without bringing anything to the table, this judgement is much more accurate when directed at a band like Coffins. While the attack leveled on the former bands is merely a lack of appreciation of the subtlety of the progression (in their early career) and latter downfall (mostly after the year 2000) of bands that were never stagnant but rather extremely consistent in their trajectory, in Coffins we find a band presenting Cianide-like doom-death cliches in a string of riffs that have no head, no tails, no climax, but rather a sequence of pleasing moments for the fan of the style.
These Japanese death metallers started this project right during the start of the worse decade for metal, the decade when all progress was dead and which had, apart from a few respectable echoing the remains of a golden era ten years in the past, a penchant for completely empty and lavishing parading of style cliches. Four full-length albums and a billion demos, EPs, and splits into their career, and Coffins still does not have a sound of its own. In them we can hear Cianide, and echos of other bands (but most Cianide). There is absolutely no trace of something that belongs to them. In fact, when played back to back with the aforementioned underground classic one wonders if Coffins’ release isn’t just an uninspired album by the first band.
Cult classics are usually (but not always) “cult” — that is having a very particular and reduced audience that listens to them almost as a guilty pleasure or with a fanatical eye for a very special reason — because they are not very good to begin with. Their is the underground, and then there are the “cult” bands. We can not apply the same rule to every band, but a good rule of thumb is: they did not make it for a reason, and they also became cult for a reason. In the case of Coffins, it is just a very faithful superficial imitation of cliches of the genre, which pleases all those looking for the exterior fascination but who apparently perceive very little of the progress of a music piece and what it has to communicate. Any serious death metal fan would do well to avoid losing their time with this passing bland piece of junk.
Formed in 1991, Horgkomostropus was a death metal band hailing from the unlikely land of Honduras, in Central America. Unlike virtually every other band coming from that the area, this band actually proposes something of other own. This music is not only several pegs above the vast majority of music in Central America, but it is also, in my view, a strong contender in the death metal world of the 1990s. That is not to say I would place Horgkomostropus besides a Morbid Angel, but perhaps above a Demigod and below the Amorphis of The Karelian Isthmus in terms of its artistic (merit in composition, in part) weight.
The style displayed on Lúgubre Resurrección (or Ingubre Resurrecciòn?) is akin to that blood-dripped death metal that slurs in a development of motifs thematically related and played through tremolo passages and power chord statements. Perhaps best described as an original and distinct-sounding follower of the styles in which Paul Ledney excels, this album strikes one as something that Gorguts’ Considered Dead could have been if it were not only the tongue-in-cheek musically-compelling banner of death metal it is.
There is something to be said about the place and time in which this work arose and what we can infer from it in terms of the band’s seriousness, commitment and perhaps its correlation with talent. During the 1990s, Central America was practically without the means to professionally produce music in general, let alone publish metal. Any metal band that would remotely hope to publish its music had to reach out for Mexico. To someone from a developed nation, this may seem like no big deal, but considering the Internet-less “Third World” of the time, this is cannot be taken lightly. In such inhospitable climate, how did a Central American death metal band get their demo/album out there? I am guessing this people had to be in the “mailing” circuit of the underground.
The band was able to get their first demo, Lúgubre Resurrección, out through Line America Productions, from Mexico. Needless to say, in these conditions, the commitment of the band against adversity and the complete lack of any possible material compensation reflects a disinterested sacrifice for art with a deeper meaning. Furthermore, given the limited resources and the difficulty of communication and publishing for death metal at the time and specially in the geographical area, the degree of talent needed to catch the attention of one of these very small labels that only supported very specific acts with equally uncommon mentality and faculties was by no means something to be overlooked.
Horgkomostropus’ Lúgubre Resurrección is an esoteric work that in later projects by the band leader and lead guitar player, Fernando Sánchez, would turn to purposefully veiled occult affairs like Aria Sepvlchralia. As has been proposed before, a clear theme or belief that a project holds as its ideal usually lights a candle in the dungeons of the mind that one has to walk in in order to bring together a composition. Most bands we hear out there are zombies who are still wandering there, too deluded and trapped in their own minds to even recognize their condition.
Lúgubre Resurrección shines forth dark light in a mixture of demonic-bent death metal with a black mentality influenced by the local styles of street-dirt heavy metal that prevailed in Latin America at the time, themselves a pure expression of the violent, desperate and decadent situation that was being ignored by Christian wishful-thinkers and hypocritical morals-mongers. Beautifully perverse thematic development occurs in these songs with such a strict adherence to a clear motif that it allows for a greater flexibility in the textures of the riffs, which are always kept in the style of early blasphemous death metal that emphasized a dirty sound, not on the level of production only, but the musical statements themselves: not atonal, but tonal phrases just given the necessary twist for an aura of perversion to be perceived encroaching on everything from above. This is the natural world before us, but there is a supernatural transgression taking place over it.
Finnish death metal band Cartilage has announced that it intends to re-release its classic split with Altar (Sweden), The Fragile Concept of Affection, via Xtreem Music in autumn of 2015. The original 1992 album has proven difficult to locate over the years and this will allow a new generation of fans to assess and appreciate this rare work.
Sharks love death metal. Or so we are told by the title of the video below, part of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, but those who have watched the video have reported that instead, the poor sharks were subjected to metalcore.
This artistic and ethical travesty must be rectified immediately. Metalcore uses rock-styled repetitive song structures layered in random influences from metal and other genres, and can potentially cause these sharks to experience existential fatalism. Death metal, on the other hand, knits together disparate riffs into a nihilistic narrative of denial of human illusion. Sharks do indeed like death metal — many of them participate in the comments on our posts — but are, like all good things in nature, opposed to metalcore, nu-metal and other “modern metal” excremental distractions.
Luckily, Discovery Channel is interested in the ethical side of this equation:
To contact the Ethics Hotline in the U.S. and Canada, please dial (800) 398-6395.
Outside of the U.S. and Canada, please dial +1-800-398-6395 and use the appropriate toll-free access code listed below.
In addition, you can contact Discovery Channel online through their Viewer Relations page.
Humanity follows this pattern: someone breaks away from doing the same stuff everyone else is doing, does something different and it resonates with smart people, so everyone else starts doing it but they use it as a new flavor for doing the same stuff everyone else is doing. They think this will let them be both new and familiar at the same time, and it attracts an audience who thinks like them, and then the different thing is destroyed. (more…)
The title track of Suffocation’s third LP is a very interesting subject of analysis (as much as other excellent songs such as “Depths of Depravity”, “Suspended In Tribulation” or “Brood Of Hatred” from the same album could be) because it is a great example of recurrent motives reused in multiple different forms, of riff (musical ideas) progression and of narrative structure that ends with a climax and a release that brings a satisfying conclusion. The first step before going further is understanding how each idea of this song is crafted around the very simple and overused concept of two intervals a half step away from each other. The song is rather chromatic and has to be looked at with this idea in head.
In this case, as I will (try to) demonstrate, the most important interval is the major third, and then the perfect fifths/fourths. From this basis we can establish five constant elements that will be identified throughout the whole analysis.
Element “a” is the collection of pitches that represent the major third intervals. Suffocation plays a lot with those intervals to create new motives and harmonies. It could also be considered as part of a harmonic minor scale (the last 3 degrees and the tonic).
Same thing applies to element “b” but with the intervals of perfect fifths (and thus fourths), although the relation between the chromatic 5ths/4ths will gain another larger dimension sometimes.
Element “c” is a diminished chord, something we will encounter frequently (Suffocation also uses frequently tritones and augmented fifth chords, especially in the Breeding The Spawn LP).
Element “d” is a precise motive (and not collection) that finds meaning during the development of the song.
Element “e” is just an ascending 3-notes chromatic scale that is used many times to partially conclude motives and phrases. It is of secondary importance.
I am not claiming that Suffocation used those leitmotifs very carefully and consciously like a classical composer would have, but my point is rather to show how, despite the lack of tonal material in the song “Pierced From Within”, unity was achieved between all components and how it creates a great song, structurally.
*From now on all the examples are in the F-clef*
The song starts with a long phrase at a fast tempo (riff 1) that is twice repeated. As shown in the score below, it is a mix of power chords and fast, technical strumming. We can see many manifestations of “a” as well as the repetition of rhythmic cells to create coherence. With its additional time, the last bar helps to generate an effect of oddness and temporal confusion through a more simple and effective way than modern bands trying over-technical rhythms and time signatures. This technique is used a few times in the song as you will see. Some have written the 3/4 as 12/8 but I prefer the former to adequately show rhythmic accents.
Riff 1 is followed by a short bridge made of an arpeggiated diminished chord (element c) and an augmented fifth chord (constructed upon two major thirds, suggesting “element a”).
From this long and complex riff, the music moves on to a generic “br00tal” verse (riff 2) where the vocals enter. However, it still manages to rhythmically catch interest due to the triplets at the end of the phrases.
Suffocation used different basic textures (tremolo, then muted power chords) to make both verses different while keeping the same harmonic outline, but this is not much of a big deal since the difference is not very flagrant:
Between the two verses appears riff 3(a), an intricate “melody” which marks a break for the vocals. This interlude introduces Suffocation’s technique of creating long musical phrases by the juxtaposition of motives that share different conclusions, yet constructed with the same material, as explained below. In addition of this, the different parts of the whole riff shift between “tonalities” or “regions”; where in the first bar the notes revolve around a certain fifth chord, in the next bar this fifth chord will be a semitone lower, hence the “larger” utilisation made of “element b” versus “a”. This is a very common (and cheap) way to make your material sound less repetitive when you are a bad and unoriginal death metal band, but in this song it becomes justified by the fact that the underlying concept of this technique is also used within a single part of a riff (and not only between parts) as the basis to craft multiple different melodic elements (just like the beginning of each bar in riff 3).
Right after our second verse, the song returns to the riff 3, but only for one bar because Suffocation shifts to a complete variation of it. While all the verses and riff 3a were written in 4/4, Suffocation adds another 4/4 bar after this first one (of riff 3b) and with the help of a drum fill switches to 6/8, once again destabilizing the listener. The ideas of riff 3a are then developed under groups of 6 sixteenth notes and constitute an even more intricate melody. Descending and ascending power chords bring us to an atonal cascade of notes which contains, of course, our previously identified elements rearranged in many ways. Mike Smith contributes to this by adding a lot of unexpected snare accents. Once again, Suffocation added a beat to the last bar to create the same effect as riff 1, but this time it is silent. This stop-start technique will be used a few times and is now an overused element of many technical bands. As usual, the whole riff is repeated with changes at the end to form a different and better transition.
Fun fact: the total of eighth notes comprised within the repetition marks of the riff is 47, a prime number, which proves the total irregularity of the “melody”.
Riff 3b, containing less literal repetition, brings us to what I called a “development”, because it is a short section of unique bars. Bar 1 and 4 are similar in concept, and the latter builds tension according to the former that will be released with another break and two violent snare hits. Between this, bar 2 and 3 offer chaotic rhythm where low palm muted chords meet high pitched tremolo notes and artificial harmonics. Notice that bar 1 uses what could be identified as harmonic minor scales, and thus suggesting our “element c” of diminished chords.
After this, riff 4 comes in as the powerful and savage release of the tension with its unmerciful tremolo phrases. You can see once again the technique of using different conclusions to the motive that starts each bar. On second repeat, the riff stays almost the same but emphasis is put on the phrases’ end with the removal of all instruments but one guitar to play the first beats of each bar, and with the addition of power chords on “conclusions”. The interesting element is right at the end of the riff: element d is heard very fast both times with both techniques. Then, again, the song stops and is followed by a slow, apocalyptic moment.
Breakdown and return
This moment is what I called (more or less rightfully) the “breakdown”. Now here is the trick: the first phrase of this section is exactly the same “element d” that concluded riff 4 but played way slower with power chords. Suffocation plays once again with textures and creates different accents with the use of palm mutes. And for another time, the last bar of the riff has an additional beat for your daily dose of rhythmic anarchy (or nihilism, as would say a controversial metal reviewer). This last bar present a rising chromatic phrase that we can interpret as developing “element d” and that presents a new 4-notes collection than in the first two bars. If you take those 2 pitches collections, you can notice that they are a major third away from each other (element a). I am not saying this was intentional or not, but I try to point out (coincidental?) links between all parts of the song.
The slow breakdown leads us to a sudden fast solo. I won’t analyze it here, but you can find a lot of “scales” constructed with “element a”. Listen also how the guitar sometimes melts with the triplets of riff 2.
The song returns to riff 3a, and then instead of continuing with riff 3b moves on to a new variation of the idea, riff 3c. This time, the riff takes a more urgent turn and creates the final tension, while Mullen cries the last lyrics: “I am your savior/Shapeless to your perception/For I am you/Pierced from within”. You can see how some melodic elements are now harmonized with major thirds. As usual, the second phrase (bars 3-4) uses a different conclusion.
After a repetition with a new ending, this rising tension is interrupted by a suspended chord that brings us to riff 1, played once. The song concludes abruptly before the end of the riff while the last words, “Pierced from within”, are repeated on the last four power chords. I did not talk much about vocals’ rhythm but it is cleverly constructed to fit the different parts of the song, and I am personally fond of how the lyrics are arranged in riff 3b.
As I said earlier, this approach might be over-technical and exaggerated, but the important thing for the reader is to at least understand how the song is well-crafted on every aspect and not entirely a sequence of random ideas. An analysis of a less technical song that contains great development would provide a good counterbalance to this article. Something out of Cianide’s The Dying Truth comes to my mind.
It is sad to think that after this album, Suffocation would never come up with anything on par with their previous material, because they certainly had to potential to improve and create new highly artistic pieces of aggressive and intelligent death metal. I still think their recent (post-reunion) albums are getting better each time and Pinnacle Of Bedlam, despite a terrible production, showed promising signs of great songwriting even though they apparently opted for a more tonal and melodic modern metal-like approach.