Motörhead (n.): Consistency, especially over a long period of time
The way I see it, time has not been much of anything at all to Motörhead, positive or negative. Every few years sees another album, with gradually improving production standards and gradually evolving vocals from Lemmy Kilmister. It’s been a very long time since the band experimented with its formula. Essentially, Motörhead’s formula is so basic (blues rock amped up until it becomes metal and sped up or slowed down as necessary) that they’ve been able to keep pumping out consistent work to this point, and Bad Magic keeps this going despite Lemmy’s recent health scares.
The art of Motörhead is very much like that of oat porridge, perhaps with a bit of cinnamon or fruit for flavor. You can’t go into this expecting anything but very basic, especially blues inflected heavy/speed metal. This extends to the songwriting, which I can accept considering that there’s no pretensions of being sophisticated or experimental or Myrkur or whatever the target of the day is. Perhaps the instrumentation is a bit more complicated than on something like Overkill or Ace of Spades, but Bad Magic is separated from such formative works by decades of technological advance and metal marketing. This recording still has much in common with its predecessors, and you could reasonably make the argument that since Motörhead keeps making mostly the same albums, they aren’t adding much by churning these out.
On the other hand, consistency is a virtue of its own, and in many ways, Bad Magic is a safe, sane, and predictable purchase. A slightly more refined and more technical Motörhead album, preparation for whatever concerts they might be able to play in their area, and most likely more enjoyment and value than some of the gimmicky recordings in this genre. It might be better for neophytes to start with earlier work, but as a relatively basic “more of the same” type album, Bad Magic is certainly a success. There really isn’t much to say beyond that, and I trust readers can make an informed decision about whether new Motörhead is something they want in their lives.
Ever get the feeling that some of the material featured on Death Metal Underground was constructed solely to bait us into posting something vitriolic and derisive? Brett-baiting is illegal in 43 countries, most recently Uzbekistan and Finland, but apparently not in America, where Relapse Records recently pushed out Myrkur’s M, a suitably ironic title for bittersweet indie-rock ironism pretending to be metal.
As a fan of analyzing music in its historical context, I’ve decided that digging too deeply into Relapse’s little stunt is to lose to them at the marketing game. You can read about the legends and myths surrounding M by Myrkur on your own time. For our purposes, it suffices to say that M is one of those “post-black metal” albums, and like most of the more commercially notorious content featured here, it’s a standard entry to the subgenre. Myrkur’s real problem isn’t that it’s a fusion, or even that it’s a failed fusion, but that the individual elements it pulls upon are not executed effectively, even in isolation. This is essentially the filler moments from a handful of black metal and indie pop albums spliced together and hastily glued by a the efforts of an ethereal vocalist who has trouble making much of an impression beyond that of vague prettiness.
That such an album as M might be a record of juxtapositions and asides is unsurprising, as this is a common and well-understood way to vary otherwise typically structured songwriting. However, it’s hard to find music with transitions and instrumentation shifts this awkward without delving into the wind-swept lands of the allegedly avant-garde. This generally applies only to the more dynamic tracks that make more effort to sound nominally metallic, but many were the times tracks melted into claustrophobic noise and reverb in order to dodge ending in a coherent fashion. Were these transitions better realized, we could probably pass this off as the mildly depressive shoegazing alternative rock recording it apparently wants to be when it grows up. But the occasional (and unsurprisingly rare) sections of overt black metal without obvious concessions to Myrkur’s shoegazing roots is poorly spent, with little in the way of intelligible riffing to the point that it’s almost a relief when the recording tries to do something different, even though it just ends up rehashing its previous ideas again.
You would have more luck loading up your favorite black metal recordings into a copy of Pro Tools and mixing in the misplaced indie pop promos we frequently receive, perhaps adding your own little twee ornamentation here and there. Perhaps this is why there are so many blackgaze recordings out there; Myrkur’s contributions would probably sink into the morass were it not for the incessant marketing of their label.
Nile’s latest begins topical, with a blastfest themed after the recent years of strife in the Middle East. This is going to date the album some years from now, but from a commercial stance it’s still an excellent idea, certain to create buzz and boost the band’s reputation. They take a pot shot at a common enemy, and continue their legacy of Egyptian mythological themes in standard, professionally produced “brutal” death metal. All in a day’s work for the deathpop industry.
Surprisingly, I am not rehashing my thoughts on Infernus from a few days back like I expected I would when I first began researching this recording. On What Should Not Be Unearthed, Nile contributes to the corpus of accessible mainstream death metal in a broadly similar fashion to their Rutanian brethren, but in a fashion I find far less obnoxiously flat. It seems that Nile’s members have a better grasp of pop songwriting (and importantly, how to incorporate the instrumentation and technique of death metal into such formulas) that could potentially earn them enormous amounts of money if they were to sell their service as songwriters.
Nile’s Egyptologist trappings are one of their big gimmicks and therefore makes necessary discussion whenever they are brought up. The ideas certainly permeate the lyrics, but rarely go beyond that, with the notable exception of the occasional short filmic “Egyptian”/Middle Eastern interludes. There is nothing I can say for or against their authenticity, but few if any of the musical ideas they present in these asides make their way into the metal side of the songwriting. The constant usage of various musical scales and modes, though, might appear to be missing link for listeners not used to the general chromaticism and/or tonal experimentation of your average death metal band. The idea occasionally turns into a Billboard-style pop hook (see the intro to “Evil To Cast Out Evil” for an obvious example), though, and that’s probably good enough for Nuclear Blast.
Dwelling too much on Nile’s gimmick, though, is like only eating the plastic topper off an extremely sugary wedding cake. What Should Not Be Unearthed hasn’t got much in the way of coherent song structures or direction, and that’s why you’ll probably forget about it after a few spins. Judging from the content here, the band members understand on a basic level that they need to vary their parameters throughout a song in order to not come across as a vague buzzing sound. When they try to go beyond basic pop formulas, though, they collapse into stereotypical alternating blasting sections and breakdowns and occasionally make me giggle by, for instance, pitch bending a guitar harmonic chord at the beginning of the title track. It’s nominally better than no variation, but it’s going to take a lot more thought and organizational work than what’s on display here to write intelligent tracks.
Ambition is nothing without preparation, though, and Nile remains strongest (and commercially strongest) as musicians and songwriters when they stick to their basic deathpop. In that regard, What Should Not Be Unearthed is a partial success, and the rest probably… should not be unearthed.
The most anticipated death metal release of 2010 (along with the upcoming Morbid Angel, of course) Majesty and Decay has everything to please any sophisticated fan of the genre, yet still doesn’t quite meet the impossibly high standards of the group’s past. The 2007’s Shadows in the Light while it seemed to have retained all the ingredients of the New York masters’ brew somehow failed to live up to spoiled listeners’ expectations. The unfortunate flirting with “nu metal” elements as well as almost complete discarding of drumming-based structure poisoned the arrangements and conveyed a bad aftertaste to the whole record. Still head and shoulders above any fellow North American squad Immolation has taken the prolonged break in order to revise their direction and yet again prove themselves the ruling kings of the genre.
The best news Majesty and Decay has to offer is Steve Shalaty’s drumming. The man has been replacing Immolation’s godly Alex Hernandez ever since 2005’s Harnessing Ruin but it is only here that he unlocks his true talent. Steve has surely developed his own musical language since 2007 and the band has finally regained its rhythmic “pillars”. Everything has fallen into place at last: blasting endurance, inventive drum breaks and mid-paced punishment. The “inverted” riffing – although not as all-pervasive as on, say, Close to a World Below, – stresses the drumming very nicely and allows for some smooth gliding down the interwoven landscape of melody. Indeed, what sets the album apart in the vast Immolation discography is the use of melody. While the band is still a riff-fed beast, the heavy metal melody injecting the solos and seeping through the riffs enriches the sound world of the group, introduces “humanity” to the demonic environment of their instrumentation. The songs are shorter compared to the classic 90s era material, more to-the-point composition-wise, and definitely more “human” than we have come to expect from these New Yorkers.
Vigna (wonderfully supported by Bill Taylor as usual) goes right after Shalaty in this album’s list of heroes. The tight, powerful riffing, the wild soloing echoing with sadness and despair – all of it enhanced by the tasteful and balanced production ensures a satisfying listen. Guitars are put to good use in both the “Intro” and the “Interlude”, which indeed set the atmosphere very well. Ross Dolan’s vocals have become completely decipherable on here without loosing the emotion and recklessness, while his bass is so elegantly put into the mix that it acquires percussive quality at times. All of the above perfectly reflects the lyrical themes of the album: the loneliness of modern man lost in the midst of colossal fight for world domination, the evaporation of values and purposes igniting intrinsic hells and leaving no hope for the spirit.
“Our threatened kingdoms The world is divided Trample ourselves While we claw for the prize”
Still, the album comes with its share of flaws too. The band implements the tension buildup/release approach in some of the songwriting here and not only fails to achieve the desired effect, but sometimes looses momentum completely (most notably “The Purge”, “Divine Code”, “Power and Shame” ). The distribution of Immolation’s volatile energy here often reduces the impact instead of boosting it. This new trick is still very raw/unrefined and cannot fully replace the mathematic complexity of their 90s output. The classic (and eagerly awaited) “last song devastation” is also pretty much wasted here: next to all the best, epic songs scattered across the album “The Comfort of Cowards” feels pretty weak (while certainly not entirely filler) for a killing blow. The cover art is a disgrace. This computer game-like visual representation does justice neither to music nor lyrics. Also, the band probably needs to consider revising their logo after all these years of using a stretched font as one.
All in all, this is a mandatory purchase for anyone with at least a slight interest in today’s metal. It is entirely possible that Immolation’s return will be the finest mainstream death metal album by the end of the year (even with all the mentioned flaws taken into account) as this reviewer doubts Morbid Angel or any other competitor for that matter has the guts to top this material.
Thresholds, the second offering from Mike Browning’s (ex-Morbid Angel) sci-fi death metal tour de force, is an uneven, messy, fusion-inspired, lurid and occult death metal album. The best bits on here such as the sparkling, baroque, Mozart-ian lead guitars on “Aquatica” and the super-addictive chug and rhythmic chant on “Climate Controller” will stick to mind but at times the observation leaps through that Browning & co. are nowhere near the composers that for example Azagthoth & Brunelle were. The polyphony of the looming synthesizers is mostly awkward atmosphere building instead of solid thematics incorporated with the guitars. Browning does have an uncanny primitivistic yet accurate touch with the drums, one he obviously is going for, even naming a track “Tribal Vodoun”. All in all, it was probably a disappointment for many who bought it back in the day simply because Trey Azagthoth was always wearing a Nocturnus shirt in promo pictures. Nowadays as a rare and seldom heard item it has both nostalgic cult value and alongside the equally fusionistic, strange but compulsive “Spheres” by Pestilence shows imaginative directions where death metal could have followed if it hadn’t been abandoned to the blind flocks with their “brutal chugging” and “melodic wanking” trends.