When music is taken as communication, as a nurture of the soul, or even as a kind of magic then small details such as the name a band chooses for itself can forebode promise or ultimate triviality. The reason for this is that music, when taken as an integral enterprise, exudes the intention and capabilities of those who give birth to it. Hooded Menace’s name does not show much imagination but perhaps a rather superficial or commercial line of thinking. The title of their album, Darkness Drips Forth, isn’t much better. These suggest a lack of definition or the non-existence of a deeper wealth of thought.
In any case, the music comes first; prejudices must be set aside so that the stream of notes can dance unhindered. The structural approach of Hooded Menace’s doom metal is actually fairly convincing, and technically speaking, the composer-like qualities of whoever is writing the songs are sharp. The music is flowing, the passages never overstay or pass by too quickly, the dynamics of adjacent sections make sense together and their discourse feels natural enough. Individually, each section is tasteful though none is particularly original or distinctive. At first it may appear as if Hooded Menace may be the exception to the rule that one is supposedly bound to bump into sooner or later. Or are they?
Listening through this release and keeping in mind what has “happened” minutes before in the song, one starts to see that the content kept changing, but somehow hasn’t really gone anywhere. What is the problem then? Intuitive alarms such as this, when justified, must be grounded in concrete causes. The band had effectively avoided the carnival syndrome, it made use of motifs in linking sections — but only locally. This isn’t bad on its own, magnificent works based on the variations template have graced our ears in the past.
The problem is slightly different from song to song. The songs are not bound together by a common aura. They may go from a lethargic groove to a happy melody, but this is minimal. Some to flounder between a nondescript extreme metal counterpoint between the guitars to a Disturbed-like groove, only to return to something more characteristic of typical of doom metal. Far more detrimental to the aura is the relatively static sense of the harmony, constantly returning to the root and never, even for a second, leaving that tonal space except for overt and obvious effect. This is predictable and even vulgar. When you put these two together — imprecise style and weakly phrased, boring harmony — you have a recipe for subversively monotonous and superficial music.
Pennsylvania deathmongers INCANTATION have just kicked off a run of European dates with Morgoth, Darkrise, Methedras and Omophagia, which will see the band demolishing venues in Europe, the UK, and Russia this April. In celebration of the band’s 25th anniversary, INCANTATION has just announced a second leg of European dates this coming summer – the death metal veterans will be laying waste to Europe for two weeks this coming July alongside Brazil’s Nervochaos. INCANTATION has also been confirmed for a number of festival appearances this summer, including Obscene Extreme Festival in the Czech Republic, MetalDays Fest in Slovenia, and the third annual Hell’s Headbash in Cleveland, OH. A complete listing of dates is included below.
***All dates with Morgoth, Darkrise, Methedras, and Omophagia***
Apr 14 Ostrava, CZ Barrak Club
Apr 15 Erfurt, DE Club From Hell
Apr 16 Rheine, DE Hypothalamus
Apr 17 Drachten, NL Iduna
Apr 18 Rotterdam, NL Baroeg
Apr 19 Chapelle-lez HT, BE Maison Du Peuple
Apr 20 London, UK Nambucca
Apr 21 Glasgow, UK Audio
Apr 22 Southampton, UK Bristol Bierkeller
Apr 23 Oberhausen, DE Helvete
Apr 24 Villa de Barrosales, PT SWR BarroselasMetalfest XIX
Apr 26 Vilnius, LT Propaganda
Apr 28 Minsk, BL Brugge
Apr 29 St. Petersburg, RU Opera Concert Hall
Apr 30 Moscow, RU Monaclub
June US Dates:
Jun 24 Columbus, OH O’Shecky’s*
Jun 25 Crest Hill, IL Bada Brew*
Jun 26 Lansing, MI Mac’s Bar*
***All Dates with Nervochaos***
Jul 14 Obscene Extreme Festival – Trutnov (CZE)
Jul 15 Neudegg Alm Abtenau – Salzburg (AUT)
Jul 16 Elyon Club – Milan (ITA)
Jul 17 Le Korigan – Luynes (FRA)
Jul 18 Tba (FRA)
Jul 19 Tba (FRA)
Jul 20 Le Klub – Paris (FRA)
Jul 21 Muziekcafe Elpee – Deinze (BEL)
Jul 22 Little Devil – Tilburg (NLD)
Jul 23 Chaos Decends Festival – Crispendorf (GER) *Incantation Only
Jul 24 Viper Room – Vienna (AUT)
Jul 25 Akc Attack – Zagreb (HRV)
Jul 26 Metal Days Festival – Tolmin (SVN)
More US Shows Announced:
Sept 2 – 4 Cleveland, OH Hell’s Headbash 3
Relapse Records and Incantation both recently announced through their various websites (including Incantation’s official page) that Incantation is rejoining Relapse’s roster. Incantation’s most recent studio albums (including 2014’s Dirges of Elysium) had been released through Listenable Records; this change of record labels coincides with the band’s upcoming album, which is currently being recorded at the band’s own studio. Incantation will also be touring Europe in April alongside Morgoth, Darkrise, and Omophagia, as well as playing the Czech “Obscene Extreme Festival”. Hopefully, the new album will not be afflicted the “tiredness” a DMU contributor saw in the band’s recent studio work.
It’s not the Chris Reifert enhanced Scream Bloody Gore, or the technically proficient (if structurally and aesthetically hollow) Human, but Relapse Records has remastered Leprosy and made it available on YouTube. Whether or not this digital remaster does the album any justice, it’s still a boost in visibility for what’s arguably the strongest era of Death’s career. Leprosy doesn’t bring the structural improvements that would’ve kept “Chuck Schuldiner was a Christian who died of AIDS” from becoming a favorite slogan on the old DLA, but its good production and apparent lack of pretensions towards being high art (compare to Death post-1991) make it difficult to hate. I feel the same way about Spiritual Healing, which is mostly cut from the same cloth and also receives a similar instrumental skill boost from James Murphy.
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.
The late 80s were an extremely volatile time for metal music. The speed metal movement that had started a handful of years prior was simultaneously peaking and sounding its death rattle. The noises coming from Europe and developing in New England were firing warning shots across the bow of metal as it had been known in full-out, transformational revolution. 1988 saw the release of Bathory Blood Fire Death, Bolt Thrower In Battle There Is No Law, Napalm Death From Enslavement To Obliteration, Carcass Reek Of Putrefaction, and demos from Paradise Lost, Samael, Rotting Christ, Rigor Mortis (pre-Immolation) and Exmortis, just to name a few. One can only imagine that this must have placed tremendous pressure on fledgling speed metal bands as the music world they thought they knew crumbled around them.
Very few of them escaped this period intact. Bands that had issued one or two great albums seemed to perceive that they could not continue as they had been. They saw a fork in the road: either trying to emulate one of the “big four” or struggling to “get harder” to keep up with the tectonic shift death and black metal were creating. Either move alienated the fan base they had built and universally failed as a result. This writer cannot think of one band that consciously changed vocalists and/or styles that got better because of said shift at that time.
This is not a lesson in music history or an album review, but it is important to understand the context of a given release. It is easy today to call up a band, a song, an album, and sample it immediately, piece by piece. Consuming historical output in a vacuum, outside of the understanding of the environment in which it was produced and unleashed, is simply folly. The timeline of modern metal, now at over three solid decades, conveys the idea that there were obvious plateaus and curves, slow and deliberate. However, focusing in closer reveals that there were a great many peaks and valleys along the way, some single high points among a lot of noisy low points.
Focusing on the US, 1988 saw some fine thrash releases from Nuclear Assault, Rigor Mortis, Vio-Lence, Wehrmächt, Wasted Youth, Wargasm, and the subject of this writing, Num Skull. Num Skull’s release of Ritually Abused, while not a game-changer, was significant. It toed the line of death metal; one can hear some hints of Immolation in some of the riffs on this album. The spitting delivery and effects on the vocals were very unique and helped set them apart. And, perhaps most importantly, it remains one of the very few releases from a midwestern-US band at that time. The midwest had the proto-death stylings of Macabre and Impetigo, the progressive metal of Anacrusis, the punk of Life Sentence, and the thrash of Zoetrope, but for thrash that edged closely to death metal, Num Skull were it. Ritually Abused caught them at their peak, before they decided they needed to be yet another poor-to-mediocre “brutal” death metal band to be discarded as also-rans. They were extremely talented, high-energy, and unique in a musical world filling up with same-ness.
Fast-forward to 2014. The original Ritually Abused is criminally difficult to find, with the lone CD pressing fetching triple-digits on eBay and in trading circles. When Relapse announced that finally, after much pleading, they were going to reissue it, complete with bonus track, it seemed time to rejoice. A limited-run of 300 units, pressed on purple vinyl, was promised, along with a CD and new apparel. This was an opportunity for younger listeners to hear what was a peak during the swan song of the US thrash movement with some proto-death metal tendencies, and for the label to pay respect to one of their deceased children, Medusa Records, with a release that helped put them on the map.
Upon inspection, the colors on the cover appear richer and the back cover has a new layout. Opening it, there is a basic lyrics sheet and plain sleeve. OK, so it’s not a deluxe reissue — this is not ideal but it is forgivable. After all, at least this piece of history was unearthed and given new life. Dropping the needle, fond memories of youth are replaced with jarring incongruity and disjointedness. What was originally a quick, seductive and declarative introduction of “The End” (“The end is near…”) followed by the huge, rhythmic hook of the title track was now the machine gun blast of “Death And Innocence”. Confused, a listener might consult the track listing again. As written, it shows the familiar order with the addition of a bonus track originally written for one of their demos:
Death And Innocence
Off with Your Head
Turn of a Screw
Kiss Me, Kill Me
Murder By The Minister (Bonus Track)
However, the lists of tracks as present on the disc is as follows:
Death And Innocence
Off With Your Head
Turn Of A Screw
Kiss Me, Kill Me
Murder By The Minister (Bonus Track)
The CD is also thus plagued. Such a clear display of “no fucks given” from the label dismantles the flow and intent of the original album and leaves the listener with a much less effective product. The lack of even basic quality control on this, after over a quarter of a century of waiting, demonstrates the fact that Relapse had no respect for this band or this release, a piece of its history. Relapse passed up an opportunity to finally give this release some deserved love and perhaps atone in some small way for the massive ignoring and lack of promotion payed to this upon its original release in favor of a quick cash-grab from their back catalog.
One wonders what little effort it may have taken to reach out to the band and seek their input and involvement on such a reissue. This has been done repeatedly lately to a high degree of success and satisfaction from fans; albums from Sacrifice, Darkthrone, and Bl’ast are prime examples of how to do proper reissues. Alternately, a few sentences from label leaders or peers about what the band meant to them at the time, initial reactions to hearing the album, etc. — anything — would have been a nice inclusion. At absolute minimum, a simple CD-to-vinyl rip using the 2002 disc as source material, while not giving a proper vinyl sound, would have resulted in a correct track listing and required exactly zero effort. It seems Relapse went out of their way to fuck this up, as though they gave the pressing plant some idea that there was a band called Num Skull that once upon a time had an album entitled Ritually Abused and let them figure out how to press it, never once checking any test pressings prior to collecting money and shipping another product about which they are ambivalent.
At their genesis, one likes to think that most record labels start with the idea of giving voice to deserving artists that would otherwise go unheard and unnoticed by other labels. In the mind of the listener, a label also bears the responsibility of curator of a slice of music history. Dear reader, what is the half life of such a fantasy? At what point does a label simply become a business with no artistic integrity left in their empty souls? At what point does churning out album after album of whatever flavor of the day fits best into the accepted formula that will sell enough product to turn a profit become more attractive than unleashing quality, moving music? Some rhetorical questions without answers, but one would think re-issuing a “lost” gem that requires minimal investment of money or time would be a simple feat if the label had one cell of shit-giving left.
When people mention death metal bands, they cite a short canon of Morbid Angel and Deicide. If this album had been of higher quality, Incantation would be the third on that list. Following the immensely powerful Onward to Golgotha, Incantation stood poised to take over American death metal with their unique sound and quality songwriting. On Mortal Throne of Nazarene, the band took a huge dive into a lesser category and were as a result bypassed by many fans.
Many factors may have influenced this decision. Relapse Records was at the time trying to grow large enough to be on par with bigger labels like Earache and Roadrunner. Incantation despite having a stable line-up benefited from the contributions of past members such as Paul Ledney and influences from other East Coast bands. Immense pressure was brought to bear on the band to make another Onward to Golgotha two years after their first album, during a time when rumored internal friction caused lineup changes and the semi-permanent departure of drummer Jim Roe and loss of bassist Ronnie Deo. As a result, those two years may not have represented the length of time the band had to write, incubate and revise this album.
Immediately noticeable is the primal flaw of this album: chord progressions and melodies used in fills are more obvious, or cut more exactly from scale patterns, which gives it an almost sing-song vibe at times. Rhythms are less fully integrated which causes the band to attempt ambitious forms but then fall back on relatively brown-wrapper metal tropes. The band incorporated many of these tracks with rhythm re-written on their followup EP The Forsaken Mourning of Angelic Anguish where changes in pacing and arrangement made them far more effective. This confirms much of what listeners felt, which was that Mortal Throne of Nazarene may have been completely written but it did not undergo the revision, editing and incubation process that mellowed Onward to Golgotha into a finely honed shape where no detail was extraneous and all parts worked together toward the impression conveyed by each song. Relapse promoted this album as more “technical,” back when that buzzword was new, meaning that there are additional chord shapes used and some difficult tempo changes, but it was not as well-integrated nor as purposeful.
Mortal Throne of Nazarene overflows with good ideas but they do not work together toward an end, and parts of it like the last half of Suffocation’s Breeding the Spawn sound like chromatic fills in regular rhythms that the band intended to revise later into full riffs with unique modality and rhythms more carefully enwrapped in the need of each song. Vocals are stunning as usual, production is much clearer, and individual performances show musical maturation and the type of learning that comes from having influences among historically important metal bands. Some songs remain standouts even in their partial form like “The Ibex Moon” and “Abolishment of Immaculate Serenity,” which shows the band perhaps coming together at the end of their song process, or having intended those since the beginning to be the bedrock of this album but having been lacking time to make the rest. But unlike Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, this album is not just unfinished but incomplete, and the result shows in the mixture of random and predictable that obscures otherwise powerful songs.
Even back in the early 1990s, people referred to Num Skull as “old school death metal” for its plodding, dark cadences and thudding primitive riffs. Now the most famous artifact of this band, Ritually Abused, will terrorize your living room thanks to a re-issue through Relapse Records on September 16, 2014.
Famous for engaging but highly basic music, Num Skull reduced death metal to its simplest elements and tied them to a groove which replaced rhythmic expectation with a pounding certainty like the march of undead armies across a wasteland. Songs followed much of the format of those of early death metal innovators Possessed but did so at a slow dreadnought pace alternating with high-speed violence, mulching listeners into paste with militant power chords.
The Relapse re-issue of Ritually Abused will include a bonus track from the ’86 demo “Num’s the Word” to commemorate the original release of the album 25 years ago. You can pre-order Ritually Abused in LP or CD format with or without a t-shirt bundle at http://www.relapse.com/numskull.