Looking back on another fallen year, we might be reminded that the prior chapter of 2009 represented a global uprising of Death and Black Metal bands opposed to the phenomenon of underground Metal as a commodity as perpetuated by an impulsive, media-consumed, mass internet cult who denounce the culture of values which necessitated the very form of the music itself. This served to strengthen already riotous scenes of desecration and barbarity in extreme territories such as Australia and Canada, and forces across the United States and Europe began to mobilise with a renewed sense of dedication, guided by a selection of ancient voices who have not compromised their integrity to capture a new but deluded fanbase like their peers. The golden ages of Death and Black Metal have long since past and any campaigns to revive the spirit of Hessianism in Metal are not only in their infancy but vastly overshadowed by the populist trends that define the landscape of the genre today. As such, with the burden of anticipation on it’s shoulders, 2010 was by and large seized by veteran armies determined to distill the essence of their unholy craft from the impurities of our age, guiding further generations of warriors to victory. And though our imperious choices of 2010 are dominated by the hands of experience, a few young hordes also rose to the yawning of this battlefield to make bold and vigourous statements as the continuing legacy of true Metal’s eternal spirit.
Ares Kingdom – Incendiary
There is a certain door that any contemporary thrash band seeking quality must go through, a certain threshold that requires imagination and the indispensable talents of assimilation to really cross; in metal today, we see countless fragile trends that depend upon a rigid nostalgia and a lifeless worship of what has already happened, fully ignorant of the fact that what has true staying power is never something that was an idle imitation of something that was actually born of genius. In contrast to these bands, specifically the ones which belong to the so-called ‘retro-thrash’ trend, Ares Kingdom is of the opposite mindset; Ares Kingdom does not want to merely copy its primary influences, but to implement and authentically incorporate these influences into a relatively bold and forward-looking composition. The basic idea of Incendiary is quite simple: destroy the phoenix so that she may be reborn, an idea which is not so far from the opening narration of the Destroyer 666 track, Rise of the Predator. The execution, on the other hand, is what brings the band closer to actually demonstrating this vision than any other insignificant band that elects to portray death and apocalypse for aesthetic reasons alone; from the dismal album artwork to the indifference in Alex’s vocals, from the sad, painful melodies to the caustic and fiery riffs and solos that Chuck Keller (Order From Chaos) delivers, the listener can derive a sure sense of impending, even immediate doom. In conclusion, Ares Kingdom is not your average headbangin’, beer-swillin’, hell-worshipping thrash metal; ‘Incendiary’ offers us all the pace and vigour of the classic eighties bands, only it is properly assimilated and raised to a higher level through the cold visage of death metal and the individual imagination of the album’s creators. While sacrificing a bit of the rampant speed of the earlier recordings, ‘Incendiary’ compensates with a thoughtful development that is essential in allowing the band to convey its dark, apocalyptic vision; in other words, through the utility of a confident and dynamic mindset, Ares Kingdom has defiantly revealed a genuine idea independent of its forebears, and in so doing has crossed the threshold that has left so many inferior bands begging at the door.
Autopsy – The Tomb Within
Of the artists who remain from times past, under whose names were unleashed the most disturbing and poignant sounds that defined Death Metal, Autopsy belong to a radical minority in rejecting the expectations of the contemporary audience and find their way back to the essence of their own sound on pure instinct alone. While the last couple of years has seen a rising of undead hordes practicing the ancient forms in a global campaign to transcend the pollutant mainstreamification of Death Metal, very few of these bands have really unlocked the primal secrets which were channelled into every classic of the old school – the dynamics of energy and the implementation within a brutal-violent, hysteric-emotional or transcendental-contemplative narrative, which the veteran likes of Asphyx, Autopsy and Goreaphobia have all recently demonstrated. The simple, largely hysteric level that The Tomb Within operates on makes it a powerful exercise of a seamless compositional style that is completely shaped by a savage state of consciousness, unintelligent yet impulsively aware of it’s own imminent death. Like an onrush of blood pumped through contracting arteries, guitars portray the frantic inner drama of one of Dr. Herbert West’s re-animations, diametrically opposed to his precise formulations regarding post-mortem. Atonal layering in the manner of Slayer’s more pathological works increases tension during these surging passages, punctuated by lead guitars that put to rest any hope of sanity returning. The trademark sludginess of Autopsy’s sound comes from instruments that are seemingly encased in adipocere, retaining within them all the character of their most memorable titles; not aspiring for a modern, clinical definition to their riffs but instead emphasising the rhythmic flow of energy in order to convey the sensations and suffocating experience of mortal dread. The band finds the balance once again of deathly force and doomy realisations as slower riffs offset the hysteria with tollings of morbid heaviness and an inescapable fate. Though Autopsy have stripped Death Metal to an essential skeletal frame, with the added simplicity of a horror movie-like thematic approach, this EP brings a much needed dimension of fear and madness to a world obsessed with ‘zombie horror’ as a populist, retro-hipster, marketing aesthetic.
Avzhia – In My Domains
Another excellent tonal poem by this Mexican symphonic horde sees a sense of orchestration and riff balance that has all the consistency of ‘The Key Of Throne‘ from 2004, though takes a deeper foray into the realm of cinematic, ambient orchestration that recalls what Summoning have been getting at for the last 15 years, mixed with the battle hardened epics of Lord Wind. This new turn in a more heavily instrumental form recalls what fellow countrymen The Chasm brought about in the form of last year’s Farseeing The Paranormal Abysm with a little less emphasis on the central role of vocals. Though rather than the syncretic, melodic death metal of their peers, Avzhia’s black metal assault owes it’s periphery to the best works of Emperor, Graveland, Ancient, Summoning and Xibalba, throwing them into a cohesive and bombastic mould. I would not say that this tops their previous full length, but this follow up is very worthy indeed and consolidates their status as one of the great torch bearers of what black metal stood to express, the embodiment of restoring mystical imagination in the listener.
The unstoppable Rob Darken took again some time from swordfights and armour forging to take a look at the barbaric-modernist thematic system devised by composers such as Richard Wagner and Basil Poledouris, with a metallic energetic pulse rarely witnessed since Following the Voice of Blood; the last of the fast Graveland albums. The lack of Capricornus hardly matters because the authentic or perfectly synthesized drumkit recalls the same Celtic tribal warmarches and the raw, unsymmetric heartbeat of a primal man hunted by wolves, perfectly countered by the dark druid’s usual cold and hardened vocal delivery. A deeply neo-classical realization how to build heaviness through doomy speeds and chordal supplements still elevates the Polish seeker-initiator into a force far beyond today’s puny black and heathen metal “royalty”, looming beyond as a frightening presence of unrealized wisdom; nothing less than the Manowar of black metal, with no hint of irony or self-loathing. There exist two directions of expansion since the ethereal melodic chime of alfar nature in “From the Beginning of Time” is Summoning-esque (“Spear of Wotan” even features a variation of the “Marching Homewards” melody) while the harmonic perception takes a sudden dive into folkloric origins in the proto-rock riffing of “White Winged Hussary”, reminiscent of the most “redneckish” moments of the early albums. No essential component has been changed in a decade of work, but slight improvements of formula keep the mystically oriented listener spinning towards the distantly heard croaking ravens that herald the upcoming axe age, one that shall bless our corrupted world with a merciful blow from Wotan’s spear of un-death.
Inquisition – Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm
Recent history has borne witness to developments in Black Metal that sets the music more at war against itself than with it’s traditional enemies and time has accumulated vast quantities of debris resulting from this internal crisis of identity and credibility. The shape of all the rubble is appropriately rocky, resembling the multitude of “fairy land” daydreams based on genres of alternative popular music incorporated to gain the approval of outsiders who possess no more understanding of the wolfish, warlike and mystic poetry of Black Metal’s spiritual essence, but want to claim this ‘niche market’ as their own. Even the cloak of demonic symbology, long-since regarded as a joke to even the casual listener – little more than a generic garb for posturing and associating with the genre’s ancestors – has been accordingly stripped of all occultic luminance, which shined too fiercely over the eyes of the humanist infiltrator, such that the tears of depressive-suicidal ideologies would instantly evaporate. None of these signs of the times, however, have influenced the veteran duo of Dagon and Incubus, who, in an ultimate statement of Satanic zealotry and inhuman purity, tunnel back to the hypnotic primitivism of Black Metal’s first waves, re-formulating and refining the style of early Bathory to produce an album that reveals the inherent mystical wisdom which inspires Black Metal’s sinister imagery, with no recourse to obvious cliches nor over-intellectualisations in order to clutch at some idea of artistic credibility and potency. Based on the technique of Immortal’s ‘Pure Holocaust‘, Inquisition craft expansive yet blasting soundscapes from swirling portals of riffing immediately reminiscent of ‘The Return……‘ by Bathory in it’s Punkish brevity. These are inflected by dissonant open-chords and all manner of string-bending and sliding chaos to create a legitimate sense of increasing cosmic awareness and trans-dimensional ascension, as they circulate around each song’s central melody in a bizzarely motivic fashion. This is a component that bands such as Blut Aus Nord, who aspire to embellish their songs in such an experimental way, simply do not possess. Even the most meandering of arpeggiated open-chords don’t feel derivative as they sound out powerful and song-defining melodies rather than merely filling out time and space. Similarly to fellow Latin Americans Avzhia, Inquisition create a total sense of grandeur by bringing songs to an apex of expression through essentially simple but epic power-chord riffs. The masterful percussive transitions of Incubus guide the album fluidly between the various evolutionary elements of Inquisition’s sound, from the majestically crashing and pounding cadences of Burzum to the rolling avalanche of Immortal. Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm is in many ways the album that the Blashyrkh horde should have recorded instead of ‘All Shall Fall’, as even Dagon’s toneless chanting style is somehow more expressive than past vocalisations in its similarity to Abbath. But all comparisons aside, there is no doubt as to which band reigns the Black Metal underground almost alone these days as Inquisition have created another uncompromising and profound work that no other so-called Satanists have the power to match.
The New York City borough of Brooklyn might be better known to the universal consciousness as “The Hipster Capital of the World”, “A Fantastic Place to Collect STDs”, or “Where Culture Goes to be Sodomized”, amongst other colorful and imaginative epithets. Naturally, any self-touting Metal bands originating from this region ought to be approached with utmost scrutiny, as these are all almost invariably revealed to be alternative rock acts hiding beneath a masquerade of long hair and Dionysian discord. Breaking decisively away from this brand of perfidious whoredom are nouveau death metallers Mutant Supremacy, who occupy a peculiar nexus in between Monstrosity, Dismember, and Infester — thus setting them apart from the archetypal NYDM style as well. Seemingly fueled by an intense hatred for the free-loving cosmopolitanism that surrounds them, this band constructs theatrically explosive war-anthems conceptualized around a post-nuclear-apocalyptic Hell on Earth, rife with Thrasymachan rhetoric, biological abominations, and grisly accounts of human extermination. Songwriting on this debut mostly shows a clean-cut and sharp sense of narration clearly indicative of a studied discipline in the arts of classic Slayer, although there are a few odd weak moments where stylistic confusion vomits forth a spate of old school clichés and uncompelling Flori-death/Swe-death/British Grindcore aggregates. Overall, however, there is certainly something refreshingly violent in development here, and it’s a victory to hear such a proud death knell coming from what is otherwise an utterly syphilis-addled portion of the planet.
Profanatica – Disgusting Blasphemies Against God
True to form, Profanatica release a focused, energetic and iconoclastic opus that shatters and mocks any infantile and moralistic conception of reality. Both compositionally and aesthetically powerful, the production on Disgusting Blasphemies against God is both clear and full, lending itself nicely to an analysis of its subtleties and providing the clarity necessary to gain a chuckle at the expense of nearby spectators privy to the album’s intrusive vitriol. Ledney’s vocals are hilariously clear yet retain a threateningly violent quality that is becoming of this style of Black Metal. As Ledney vomits forth his blasphemic ritual, listeners are treated to a notably ominous musical atmosphere that is uncomfortably somber, deranged and challenging. Utilizing single note tremolo picking, reminiscent of a cross between a more consonant Havohej and the effective and simple melodies of VON, Ledney in is his genius, develops motifs, that while perhaps more obvious and accessible, remain potent and successfully create an intriguing state of anxiety. These motifs both seamlessly emerge from, and return to sinister Incantation style riffs which work together to develop a unity and structural coherence that while primal and simple is undoubtedly effective. The interplay between these musical variable creates an overall experience that portends the celebration of the powerful, living and animated chthonic mysteries and perhaps more pressingly the apotheosis of their necessary destructive capacities.
Slaughter Strike – At Life’s End
Toronto’s death dealers unearth the forgotten formulas of 80s-90s extreme metal in their second offering, a follow-up to the debut cassette “A Litany of Vileness”. This punk-driven death metal statement delivered by veterans of Canadian scene (former members of The Endless Blockade and Rammer) shows no mercy: it is short, volatile and dirty. Yet, at the same time the material is well weighed and balanced, blessed with the genuine feel of old-school art. The production helps conveying old metal nostalgia whereas Spartan songwriting confronts useless acrobatic tendencies of the modern scene. The band’s uncompromising music is perfectly collaborated with artwork by Moscow artist Denis Kostromitin. Standing on the shoulders of giants like Autopsy, Carnage, Pestilence, Repulsion and Discharge these reapers managed to find a voice of their own. We can only hope that this beautifully presented vinyl-only release is a “carnal promise” of Slaughter Strike’s prospects.
The challenge of creating relevant but still traditional Heavy Metal in this current age where even the most commercial face of Metal has been changed by the extremity of the underground seems to be an almost insurmountable task. The most recent efforts of mainstream veterans like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest in continuing the genre provides little in and of themselves to enthrall the masses as they did with their once advanced, Romanticist art. There are also the countless Power and Doom Metal bands that have hijacked the older forms and do so with little to none of the magic that possessed the music of the seventies and eighties. Though the secrets of the grand, old tradition have been apparently condemned to obscurity, they can never be lost and befitting the nature of lost wisdom, have turned up in the least likely of places.
Dantesco hail from the small Latin American island of Puerto Rico and through their music, divulge a rich tradition of Spanish music and highly exoteric and vibrant Catholicism. Although chronicling the triumphant Heathen soul at war with Christendom, ‘Pagano’ conjures the sounds of the immanent culture and possesses it with a bestial inflection, as the vocals of Erico that dominate this album resemble a Latin black mass arranged with the magestic sensibilities of an European opera. Infact, the vocal style is as properly operatic as imagineable in Heavy Metal music, putting the high-pitched aspirations of a Rob Halford or Messiah Marcolin in their places, though still conveying a sense of extreme primality and visceral power rivalled only by the demonic throats of Black Metal vocalists. These sermons are conducted exclusively in the native Spanish tongue, which suits the guitars incredibly well, as the melodicism of the riffs is only supplemented by the Doomy heaviness of Candlemass influence, but really crafted with Spanish classical guitars in mind. This is where the music really comes alive, before there’s any chance of hearing the vocals as just a unique ethnic gimmick to fill space with. The compositions are constantly engaging, commanding narratives the scale of the epic title-track to Iron Maiden’s ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son‘ with attention to mood dynamics often passed over in favour of an intentionally one-dimensional wallowing by other bands who play this melodic, traditional and Doomy kind of Metal. All the techniques on show have been long perfected, and more recently, have even found their way into the mallcore slang of pre-teen alternative/hard rock bands (via. Gothenburg), but fortunately, it’s all found an orderly, emotive and inspiring expression in ‘Pagano’. The tight but hyperbolic interplay of vocals and guitar is a feast for those that love to follow several strands of ancient melody at once, as if transforming the old Hispanic anthems of Mexico’s Luzbel into rousing, harmonised hymns, tempered and then unleashed to invoke the spirits of pre-Christian warriors. True Heavy Metal, fit for contemporary ears, giving the current crop of extreme-influenced Pagan and Black Metal bands a serious run for their money.
By the time the doors opened at the Forum at 2pm, individuals were already gathering outside the venue. As the hours passed themselves by, more people congregated in accordance with the more prominent bands that were playing.
Cork duo Ghost Of Medina began proceedings just after the doors opened, and played purely instrumental music that bore strong resemblances to the music of post-hardcore acts such as Isis and Neurosis. At this early stage of the day, the venue was under packed and more or less saturated the impact of their live performance: both guitarist and drummer were highly able, and performed compositions that were well thought out, though like most bands of their ilk, it seemed at times like a disorganized pastiche of ideas. Nothing particularly special, but an otherwise necessary means to begin proceedings.
The next band to play, Belfast’s Overoth, played an excellent short set, and played mid-to high pace death metal that were of a consistent formula: the simplistic song structures of Swedish acts, such as Unleashed and Dismember, combined with the techniques not uncommon on the early works of New York metal acts Suffocation and Immolation. The production on their studio output is the clear, crunchy tone not unlike the sound of classic Entombed, though their live acoustics this day had a rough edge to it, sounding raw yet discernible, like Morbid Angel’s ‘Covenant’ it was well treated yet free of artificial compressions. For a crowd that was not yet numerous enough at that early stage and somewhat less participant than could have been, Overoth had quite a commanding presence in the midst of what could do lesser acts a complete lack of justice.
Just as energetic and fierce were England’s Spearhead, whose appearance at the venue was partially beset and delayed by unknown travel circumstances. A somewhat abrupt end to the band’s brief set came across as a slight disappointment. A well respected act on the underground circuit, their style is a hybrid of the British death metal/grindcore that defined Carcass and Bolt Thrower, with the charging tempos and structures of modern acts, Angelcorpse and Axis Of Advance. Guitar technique was skillful yet not over-extravagant, solos bearing a strong resemblance to the classic Trey Azagthoth/Richard Brunelle trade-off style, with vague similarities to the shredding Gene Palubicki, with clicking, compressed and tight drums an aesthetical paean to the acoustics of a machine gun. Their precise, warlike songs again should have generated a much more enthusiastic reception from a venue that was still under crowded at that phase, though they were still a pleasure to watch, and made their craftsmanship known.
Kildare’s Mourning Beloveth were the first act of the night to generate strong passions from the audience. Their morbid, downtempo heavy metal was met with a good stage humour, and they received the warmest of responses from a crowd that was by this time, healthy in a size and possibly spurred on to enthusiastic involvement by the ingestation of alcohol. More fitting to this good performance was the set time they were allocated, which allowed for their lengthy dirges to weave momentum. Musically, they bring about the gothic overtones of My Dying Bride and mix it with simpler, melodic song structures that resemble influential NWOBHM bands like Witchfinder General or Angel Witch, and sluggish, flowing tempos that echo Skepticism.
Onslaught played a very competent and energising set, their Discharge-esque speed metal came across as provocative and inspired. Even with newer songs that seemed watered down at times, and perhaps lacking the chaotic splendor of their early period, their setlist was full of momentum, and was performed with great prowess, the falsetto wails of the vocalist evoking a general atmosphere of nostalgia of an era that pre-dated the mass commercialization of the metal genre. I would conclude personally that Onslaught may be now past their best days, but their excellence as a live band is fitting to a climate where an improving work ethic and a greater respect for artistic clarity is making itself heard amidst what some have called ‘hard times’.
Primordial got the warmest of receptions by a native crowd, and stylistically began where Mourning Beloveth left off; melancholic in a sense that only Ireland could fathom and know, but more triumphal than the former, and almost Nietzschean in the sense that their music makes one stare into the abyss, only to emerge a better man. They played a lengthy set, consisting of material that ran in fluid cohesion, like a more hookish, streamlined My Dying Bride, and a use of guitar dominated forms that reference Burzum as much as they do Candlemass. Impressive as is known the onstage dynamism of vocalist Alan Averill, whose onstage character is that vibrant it comes across as bring rhetorical without having to make use of words. In terms of showmanship, professionalism, a will to evoke the vision of tragic heroism, Primordial were the most impressive band of the entire festival, with little room for dispute.
Legendary grindcore veterans Napalm Death were hotly anticipated though came across as a disappointment due to two factors: the first being the depleted length of their set, and the second being what some perceived as a muddied sound job that permeated the guitars during their time onstage. During the intensity of their set, which given their indisputable live reputation would have made little difference to the highly involved crowd; though due to an unbalanced mix, it was only possible to follow the song forms through memory of having heard them before. Songs were from the mostly from the earlier part of their discography, and in between this were pieces taken from their latest release. Anyone new to the band listening to their performance I am sure would have had trouble trying to appreciate the nature of some of the output, and would have otherwise physically involved themselves in the ensuing crowd actions purely for the sake of doing so. The set did not even exceed forty-five minutes and this was also perceived as an obvious disappointment given the fact that they were given the headlining slot.
In spite of anything that might have at anytime proved to be detrimental, this happened to be an excellent day and evening. It was especially brilliant for an event such as this to actually take place in the south-east of Ireland. By all accounts it was a memorable night.