Napalm Death “Utilitarian” & Terrorizer “Hordes of Zombies”

Napalm Death – Utilitarian

In rock ‘n’ roll, it’s better to die young. Even that is a cliche, but so is rock itself. Formed when corporate investors found a way to combine blues, country, folk and pop into a single product, rock has no real soul and so it pretends. The result is a parade of cliches and you hope that if you change the order enough, you become the next Jim Morrison or Morrisey. The sad truth is that rock bands come in two types: the ones who have three albums worth of good ideas and then burn out, and the ones who make the same song over and over again when they run out of energy. If a teenage version of yourself ever walked into a record store and spotted the guy with thinning hair, faded tattoos, and a bunch of stories and even more excuses but no accomplishments, you know what the new Napalm Death is. This is the sound of exhaustion pretending it has vitality for long enough to sell the slop to the kids and move on. The songs are built around the same tired chord progressions, which are barely even progressions in any sense except chromatic patterns at convenient places on the fretboard. The rhythms and riff ideas come from past Napalm Death albums, with a few influences borrowed from older death metal scattered throughout. On top of this, the aged suit-wearing corporate rock Napalm Death throws a single “outside” nuance per song. One tries to imitate the noise/avant-jazz of the early 1990s. Another is halfway to being a Rite of Spring tune. Still another apes the blur-core aesthetic of the new style of grindcore. Others try to return to the bouncy glory days of Fear, Emptiness, Despair or Utopia Banished. Underneath the skin however there is a total lack of ideas or even the guts to just go ahead with something that feels right. This is a cynical, manipulative album hiding a plastic soul which just wants your cash. In aging into oblivion instead of dying young as rock heroes, Napalm Death have made a mockery of everything they stood for. By wrapping this in a trendy surface and trying to pull the works of classic death metal over them like a camouflage mantle, Napalm Death have created a gateway into this genre from the soulless and burnt-out. You have made us all hipsters. Avoid this horrible album.

Terrorizer – Hordes of Zombies

Melba toast has a crunchy exterior, yet turns soft in your mouth. Lightly toasted, it is sweet upon contact with saliva, and will never upset your digestion. In fact, it is like baby food, except that it is crunchy. The new Terrorizer is baby food, true, but it’s awesome baby food. The band have focused not on innovation, not on a nifty surface, and definitely not on topic, since they’re beating the dead couch of the zombie album. What they did do was make something that’s easy to digest but unlike almost all metal released at this time, it’s coherent. Riffs fit together and make sense, even if a kind of pidgin. Rhythms mate effortlessly yet have enough variation to give depth to the compositions. Much of this is pure chromatic, but it captures the momentum of a good riot or fistfight. As a result, it’s easy to listen to and yet maintains its intensity throughout. If you can get over expecting something of emotional profundity like World Downfall, and instead look for the Terrorizer equivalent of Napalm Death’s Fear, Emptiness, Despair (or even Aura Noir’s Black Thrash Attack), you will find in this album a guilty pleasure. It throbs with aggression and yet by not attempting anything too complex, always manages to deliver. There is no attempt here other than to make an energetic, fun, musically-competent grindcore album and Hordes of Zombies rages supreme in this area. Oddly the only new influences seem to be a later Swedish death metal melodic tendency, and a study of riffs from the recent post-death metal era in which the punk riff and the recycled speed metal riff have crept back in. Wisely however Terrorizer keep their music extremely basic, along the lines of the first Brutal Truth album, but give it compelling rhythms and an underlying furor that makes us tune in to see how such violence can also be so much fun to listen to.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 11-19-11

Vallenfyre – Desecration

If you can imagine a cross between newer Bolt Thrower, old Paradise Lost and recent Fleshcrawl, you would have a good basis for the rock from which Vallenfyre carve their death metal hybrid. They use the Swedish buzzsaw guitars and the kind of melodic hooks that would make Watain proud in that these riffs are simple and hard to get out of your head, but then use a layered style of riff and response that comes straight from old Paradise Lost, with fewer of the heavy metal touches. If this EP gets its pop influence from anywhere, it would be Brit electro. The riffs are reasonable, and while sparse in the longer song constructions, the band’s habit of treating them as phrases and thus giving them multiple endpoints creates a sombre and contemplative atmosphere. Looking forward to seeing what the full length will bring.

Pestilence – Doctrine

Attempting to keep up with the times, Pestilence make a Meshuggah-style version of a deathcore album and add in their trademark ecclectic tone-twisting jazz leads. As if thinking that fans now must be blockheads to like such music, Pestilence deliberately dumb down the music with lots of chanting verses and repetitive, ultra-simple riffs based on old heavy metal tonal patterns. They vary these up with breakdowns and interludes, using abundant percussive strumming to shake two chords into forty seconds of constant texture variation. This is well-executed and unlike their previous album, does not feel off-the-cuff; attention has been paid to making these songs flow well and stay together. However, like most djent and textural music, it’s almost binary and thus is exhausting from a mental perspective. If you can imagine Celtic Frost Monotheist combined with Meshuggah’s None and Coroner’s Grin, you have a good idea of what Pestilence is doing these days. As an improvement over the past, Doctrine gives me hope, but I still think these guys are best when making complex, twisted, ingenious old school death metal.

Antidote – Thou Shalt Not Kill

NYHC came in on the punk scale halfway to thrash, being very much based in the more extreme school of UK hardcore. This album of short, straight-up, anthemic songs belts out a paean to working class existence in New York by combining the catchy choruses of punk with the fast, nearly technical riffs of later UKHC. Vocals are eerily similar to what Kurt Brecht did in the same year with DRI, a youthful voice shouting itself breathless and yet managing to capture cadence and through it, the hook of the chorus. Guitars are minimal but pick more challenging rhythms in order to underscore the chorus and its lead-up in the fast ranted verse lyrics, giving these songs like early speed metal an insanely infectious quality that borders on frustration with how the message bores into the brain. This is almost like the Circle Jerks sped up 4x with the middle class faux angst translated into rage at the three-block area surrounding the squat.

Atman – Like Pure Unawaited Magic

This CD would stand a chance if it weren’t so goofy. The intrusion of operatic vocals at random times with maximum pretense and minimal musicality pretty much kills its chances of ever having people want to listen to it, but underneath it are good, simple minor key melodic riffs like early Abigor or Emperor simplified. Huge parts of this CD feel pasted together, as if the artist kept creating as many different elements as possible to extend a song, and many of the melodic riffs are too similar in structure for this to really take the top shelf, but it has moments that match the intensity described by the title.

Evil – Pagan Fury 1994-1996

Probably the only band that can compete with Ildjarn for turning the obvious into the profound, Evil are high-speed pneumatic drums with a languid bass following searingly distorted, simple riffs that rise into sublime three-note melodies. While this is well executed, this is all they have to offer; if you like Ildjarn and Blood, you’ll like this because it sounds like a cross between the two. Songs generally feature two grindcore riffs and a melodic black metal riff to unite them, which produces a sense of high energy potential flowing into a melancholic panorama that encompasses the moods previous.

Aosoth – III

The only underground trend to counter metalcore can probably be blamed on Thorns and the emergence of the 7-string guitar. In this style, open chords or oddball movable chords are strummed in quick sweeps to produce a wash of sonic possibility; this can give great power to a quality song, like the “sonic cathedral” approach of some classical composers, but with a directionless series of riffs it falls apart like later Mayhem. Aosoth strides the line, sometimes sounding like Portal or Molested in the harmonic possibilities unveiled, and other times sounding like an avantgarde acoustic band that somehow got the wrong guitar rig. The tempos and riff styles are compelling but songs often do not pick a direction other than restating their theme, which leaves us stranded in the sonic wash between what could be and what is.

Denial Fiend – They Rise

These guys have a unique intepretation of old school death metal. Imagine proto-death like early Master, but instead of faster tremolo riffs, the kind of muted strum chugging that distinguished bands like Exodus predominates during verses. A Misfits influence rides the vocals and the hookish rhythms of the choruses, but otherwise this is 100% straight-ahead metal. Like many of the caveman bands from the past, no silly punches are pulled here and it is refreshingly free of ornamentation and other artifice for the sake of disguising its basic simplicity. Percussion keeps energy high by creating a forward momentum that catches itself in tidy pockets that drive it forward like tempo changes; vocals are a hoarse yell with the riot delivery of Demolition Hammer or Exhorder.

Nunslaughter – Demoslaughter

This primitive, rhythmic metal is hard to justify as anything but five-note modal stripes bent into song through riffcraft, but for the old school primal style this band is at the top of the curve. Vocal rhythms and the ratio of riff rhythms used in transition resemble Deicide; some riff patterns approximate early Death; many of the more sing-song riffs evoke early Mayhem. Nunslaughter on some level understand the “soul” of death metal, in which a riff puzzle constantly expands in context like a winding journey that descends into profundity. Nunslaughter, despite having many holdover elements from early punk and radio-friendly heavy metal, understand this essence of underground metal. The result is primitive, at types awkward, but represents a surge of energy toward expressing an idea of such magnitude that among the 56 tracks offered here, much as on other micro-omnibus albums like Impulse to Destroy, Expositions Prophylaxe and From Enslavement to Obliteration, a complete vision of humanity and where it stands regarding its ultimate purpose is expressed.

Shrinebuilder – Shrinebuilder

To kill a darling, raise the knife above your head; there is no point pretending contrition or doubt. While sludge and stoner doom metal are the darlings of the industry at this point because they appeal to legions of new fans bleeding over from rock, they are not the heir to the throne of metal. In fact, they are taking it in the opposite direction back down the evolutionary ladder, a man devolving to chimpanzee to mouse. Since the inception of metal, industry has sought in vain for a way to adopt the rebellious image of metal and slap it on music basically indistinguishable from other rock; this way, they maximize profit by using interchangeable parts for the music and handling the “genre” through studio fakery. This album could easily be a U2 album. It is three-riff rock music, with one each for verse and chorus and one for the bridge or jam interlude, and as a result it relies heavily on repetition and basic harmony through which a “melody” (fragment of melodic scale + pentatonics) rambles. If you can imagine early Crowbar and later Eyehategod mixed up with some Sonic Youth or Nirvana, that roughly describes what you get here. It probably helps to be stoned so you have a short memory and cannot notice how repetitive this album is.

NYC Mayhem – Discography

It is not difficult to see why metalheads loved this band. Like Agnostic Front and the Cro-Mags, these guys are a hardcore band that shied away from the simplified rock songs of most punk bands and instead went for metal-like riffs, thrash tempos and a brutally post-human view of the world. Riffs are phrasal and have actual shape, unlike hardcore riffs which were boxier; there are plenty of moments that resemble Slayer or Destruction. These alternate with punk-style riffs returning to a single chord for stability instead of remaining open-ended or slammingly conclusive. Vocals fit the hardcore style of a masculine shout without the bassy tone of later voices. Song composition is closest to early COC, with an effort made to distinguish each song by use of varied structure and introductions, interludes and unique changes in tempo. They write great riffs, but never manage to keep momentum in each song, which causes a process of acceleration followed by breakdown that is somewhat exhausting to the listener. The decrepit garage production merges sounds together into an organic whole, showing us a window into history with grit on the edges.

Calciferum – The Beast Inside

Inside of this old school styled album lurks a new school sensibility: a random collection of riffs, vocals taking over from guitars as the primary instrument, bouncy rhythms and a theatrical sensibility imposed on top of the music not emanating from it. It is tempting to like this, but it’s too linear and too random at the same time. Underneath the slamming exterior is a good sense of binary pop, but its vocabulary is limited, which creates the effect of a listener thrown into a washing machine on spin cycle, ratcheted back and forth by a relentless and circular process.

Anu – Opus Funaerum

The intro to this album captures a vision of chaos rising from order that exists only in one other art form, which is structured noise music from Japan. What follows is pleasant black metal that sounds like Kvist and Gorgoroth had a baby. The band tend to make good use of the harmonic minor scale to achieve a lasting atmosphere, and write some pleasant basic riffs. The problem is that atmosphere is all that is offered here, and it is very 1994ish, right before black metal jumped the shark, meaning that there’s no exceptional direction. If you want competent and pleasant music that does not distinguish itself particularly, this will be OK, but this musical elitist requires more.

Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit

Do you remember positive jazz and lite rock from the 1980s? Hopefully not: it was the crossover between Muzak, or elevator music, and the new jazz fusion and adult rock categories. Industry needed music that it could play in communal areas and not offend anyone, so they took the soul-searching out of jazz and rock and came up with two super-consonant, super-upbeat and uplifting formats that they then used to beat the heart out of us. Post-rock is the new positive jazz (Kenny G) and lite rock (Michael Bolton). However, in order to cater to a new generation of self-pity, the lords of industry have made this both minor-key and self-reflexively super-balanced, so it’s like uplifting music that tells you it’s not your fault and watches Napoleon Dynamite with you. It is impossible to distinguish post-rock from the audience who listen to it, who are indie-rockers and hipsters, or those who have found no meaning in life so they focus on themselves, and accessorizing their personalities with beaucoup “ironic,” “unique” and “different” things. Industry encourages them because they are perfect consumers who will quietly work as web designers their whole lives, stay single and keep buying entertainment products, and despite all their grumbling are only too happy to report to work. Agalloch make an interesting meshing of textures and styles in Marrow of the Spirit, and there are no musical grounds for criticism. Artistically, for all its attempts to be different, the underlying songwriting is more like regular indie rock music and so while it’s “unusual” for metal, it’s actually the usual thing when you look at music as a whole. Summary: Agalloch make great rock music and should drop the metal pretense and just get bigger than Dave Matthews, because their current style panders to insincere people and those so clueless they think novelty in style is more important than clarity and meaning in content.

Triptykon – Eparistera Daimones

Tom G. Warrior, although an artist of great talent, gets sidetracked into trying to “stay current.” This happened to Celtic Frost in the late 1980s, and it now happens with Triptykon, which tries hard to be modern metal with touches of Rammstein and Marilyn Manson yet keeping the underground honest morbidity. This impossible task results in Triptykon dumbing down their music through repetition and really obvious, repetitive choruses that rant out memes in raw form and pound them into our heads. Songwriting is good although directionless because all else has been shoved aside to keep those “catchy” ranty choruses, and some interesting melodies come of this, but I don’t want to listen to it. It’s annoying and reduces consciousness to a background hum because it’s so loud and repetitive. What we loved from Celtic Frost was the atmosphere; Triptykon is the anti-atmosphere. It’s too bad because if Tom G. looked honestly in the mirror, he’d see that he is loved for the quality and content of his music and not its style, so he should get more honest with the style even if it seems 20-30 years out of date. Who cares what the trends are? In three years they’ll be gone along with this album, and in 30 years kids will still be learning to play “Triumph of Death.”

Abraxas – Damnation

Nothing wrong with this band — standard late-model death metal, like Vader crossed with Devourment. Not bad but nothing particularly exciting. Overuse of “intensity” makes this monolithic, like reading a page of zeroes. Like the band named Damnation, it hammers too hard to achieve any kind of variation in which a story or drama could play out, and so the result is like Napalm Death’s “Scum” if the songs had been five minutes instead of ten seconds, and rigid instead of sloppy. Nothing is done wrong here but the whole does not add up to much of enduring power.

Decrepit Birth – Polarity

Someone crossed Cynic’s Focus, Death’s Human and modern technical death metal to get a fruity sounding progressive band embedded in the midst of blast and breakdown. Individual parts are great, the whole is hilarious and absurdly unclear on any kind of direction. In fact, it reminds me of modern society: the salesperson goes through the list and ticks off all that is required, and then it gets passed to the factory floor, where they bolt everything together and hope it flies. The result here is really goofy and entirely misses the grandeur and imagination of metal. Flee.

Bahimiron – Rebel Hymns of Left-Handed Terror

Against all odds, this band have reinvented themselves with a new sound. This new styling works because the band have both stripped-down what they do and focused on making every bit count. The songwriting sounds hasty but as if a very deliberate focus were placed behind each piece, so that the band knew what they needed and fought until they found it, even if it went rather quickly. Combining the Demoncy “Joined in Darkness” cum Profanatica “Profanatitas de Domonatia” sound of fuzzy, foreboding, inverse-march riffs with the remnants of the original Gorgoroth-inspired sound that propelled this band into focus, albeit with bits of the Southern style (Down, Eyehategod) and classic death metal mixed in, the new Bahimiron makes fast songs in the style of hardcore punk but gives them a uniquely metal vibe. They aim at being incomplete; the songs themselves are complete, but the emotional concept they express is one of partial completion. Plenty of speed and power in these riffs; no particularly groundbreaking variations occur, and the noisy lead guitar (Watain “Rabid Death’s Curse” style) creates no enduring atmosphere. Even the EP itself tapers off, bringing in a few speed metal riffs and even modern metal influences toward the end (blame Krieg’s latest) but the riffs wrap up in hard-hitting songs that are not scattered random thoughts and as a result, create a memorable listen. Glad to see these guys returning on a high note.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 7-23-10

Being a music reviewer is like playing a neighborhood game of softball. Most people just toss the ball at you in an underhand heave, figuring you’re probably too incompetent to hit it most of the time. Every now and then one comes in at a crazy angle, either because it’s the one kid who can pitch even if he’s tossing you a giant rubber ball with the aerodynamics of a bison turd, or they let the retarded kids play. Either way, that crazy pitch is one in a hundred, and I live for those. Either it’s the rare CD that has some intent behind it, and some feeling to it as a result, or it’s some immaculately oblivious basement dweller here to amuse us with failure. The rest fail just by being ordinary, unexceptional and therefore, completely forgettable.

Kayo Dot – Coyote: This King Crimson tribute project likes to use diminished melodies, atonality, and chaotic combinations of instruments, but at its heart it is pop music with a simple variation on a common theme — instead of using pairs of riffs, the band assemble their phrases in groups of three so that you can shift between them and feel a sense of motion without unnecessarily complexity intervening. Many songs rely on long passages of “building up” harmonic energy through texture, which are like fun jams that then dissolve into structured song again. Songs vary enough to keep interest but are aesthetically unfulfilling as they aim for an aesthetic of randomness and barely remaining organized, which flattens the emotional dynamic possible because every moment is a cliffhanger. In addition, the vocals are like a really bad version of Sigur Ros and will annoy most people who like aesthetically coherent experiences. The most common mistake in making progressive music is to throw everything but the kitchen sink into the pot and hope it sticks, but the best bands always worked from a very simple plan and then spun layers of detail off of that. The horns dominate and guitars are relegated to rhythm and noise. Individual instrumental performances are excellent however so if you are a basement guitarist hit this like a cuffed protester.

Aggression – Forgotten Skeleton: If you crossed Nuclear Assault with Dissection, and gave it punkish choruses borrowed from Cryptic Slaughter, you’d get Aggression. Lots of classic speed metal riffing that will delight anyone who really loves the period after Metallica but before the Dark Angel/Kreator/Destruction/Sodom influenced morphed into death metal, and linear riffing that’s reminiscent of Powermad. On the whole, it’s somewhat random like Destruction and the chanted choruses over the offbeat kickhappy drums sometimes makes me want to make origami out of an IQ test, but this is a credible effort. I just don’t want to hear it again.

Daughters – Daughters: If you crossed Mindless Self Indulgence and Talking Heads with the Beastie Boys, you might get this whacky indie band that uses drums like an industrial band and keeps a theatrical, almost vaudeville level of hysterical intensity with lots of background noise. The vocalist half-talks half-sings and the guitars follow a song structure of extended versions textured in found sounds and different guitar riffs but essentially like all good dub following the same rhythm. Unfortunately, it’s also abrasively annoying because it is essentially simple with many distracting sounds packed into its core. “Daughters” has a spacious sonic profile and weaves some catchy riffs cloaked in noise throughout it, delighting those who thought post-rock should be weirder than slowed-down shoegaze/emo mashups.

Battalion – Winter Campaign: I keep a clay pigeon launcher next to my reviewing station, and when a disc irritates me beyond all reason, I send it flying out over an oblivious world. This is bounce metal, this Battlion stuff, which means it’s like Exhorder crossed with something jaunty and stupidly hard rock like Motley Crue. Although they use a lot of death metal riffs, the majority of playing time goes to riffs which are straight out of the most cliche days of speed metal: chuggachugga chuggachugga chug chuggachugga chuggachugga chug, chug . It is so obvious you have to hold your head up to avoid slumping into a stupor. Not sleep — who can sleep with all of this noise? — but a stupor as if you had someone present to you a 19-hour lecture on how to pick your nose. Mundane is the word. Throw this out as fast as you can find it.

Grave Miasma – Exalted Emanation: There’s a recent spate of these “simplified Incantation/Demoncy” bands. The only one I like so far is Cruciamentum; they vary just enough to be a solid B level death metal band. Teitanblood and Grave Miasma are so obvious it’s just painful to listen. Grave Miasma in particular seems to draw inspiration from Grave, who would use basic chromatic progressions in the most obvious way in rhythmically very basic ways, such that the boldness of it made you want to like it, as with early Napalm Death. But then you’d reflect on it and realize there wasn’t much there unless you really enjoyed the guitar tone. So it is with Grave Miasma: standard song forms, plodding progressions, little harmonic or melodic development, and not particularly compelling rhythm — unlike Demoncy and Incantation, who used minimalism creatively, this is just minimal. I’d like to love this, or I’d love to like it, but I don’t want to listen to it again.

Zs – New Slaves: Tribal drumbeats with metallic noises for harmony, deconstructed sound and effects, and a wailing saxophone make up this experimental band that uses the dub structure of layered sound. The beat established early in a song almost never changes, although it may cease at strategic moments, as in a primal ritual; within the spaces between beats, additional percussion instruments lend their timbre as an electric guitar and/or saxophone make repetitive oddball sounds with minor textural variations, giving the sensation of the album slowly surrounding you like chocolate icing. While most will not have the stomach for the abrasive wall-of-noise technique, the ritual rhythms and ceremonial pacing to each song make it an enigmatic sonic wallpaper for the background, reminiscent of the K.K. Null/Merzbow project “Absolute Null Punkt” if hybridized with The Electric Company.

Diamondsnake – Diamondsnake: This band cracks me up. Well-known ambient dude Moby created it with some of his friends from non-succeeding metal bands. It sounds like middle period Motley Crue done by pop punk brats Blink 182, with lots of extra cheese and sleaze, more with tongue-in-cheek irony than attempting to really provoke a parent or legal guardian. For hard rock listeners, this album is about as clear as anything else in the genre, and has some retro appeal with its very “Quiet Riot 1985 turned up to 11” sensibility. One oddity is that the production is so thin and designed to resemble a pop band, because the reedy hum of guitars cannot compete with today’s louder and thicker sound. However, it captures vocals, which with infectious four-note melodies are what really drive this band, since the riffs are if not generic at least cut from historical archetypes. Like most popular music, it’s children’s songs — really basic 3-4 note patterns repeated as “melodies” — but it’s catchy, fun, and not half as bad as most of the trve kvlt releases we get here.

Catapult the Smoke – Unearthed: Stoner metal is about half Black Sabbath, with the other half being filled by the rock heritage that comes into metal through bands like Cream, Led Zeppelin and Iron Butterfly. This CD contains competent stoner metal with unsteady wailing for vocals, but its essence is rock ‘n’ roll wrapped up in a bunch of metal riffs. In fact, it could well be a case of regression to the mean; this band is not substantially musically different from the Night Ranger clones of the 1980s, but they used lower tuning and have a greater vocabulary of metal riffs, namely Candlemass and Cathedral. Song structures are very much radio rock and these songs suffer greatly because there’s no emotional dynamism in them, where we feel a sudden change in difficult emotions that has the effect of stepping onto a three-story water slide and riding out of control. Instead, these songs claim a space and fill it, but there’s not much internal change or feeling of any emotional conflict, so they end up being more like leaving a fan on at night for comforting white noise.

Vuohivasara – The Sigil: Sounds a lot like Niden Div 187, namely fast melodic violence with lots of chromatic fills and a basic riff/chorus construction. Not bad, not as good as Mythos.

Trauma – Daimonion: Metalcore-influenced modern death metal, reminds me of a cross between Pestilence and Eisenvater, but it does the thing every bad metal band does which is repeat a basic rhythm through everything. Vocals/guitars synch and chant. Riffs are very similar too.

Master – Slaves to Society: Paul Speckmann is a genius of metal who sometimes leaves things half-finished as he does with this album. Riffs are similar, and guitar wankery fills in the gaps. In addition, his chorus-chant heavy metal just makes for repetition. There are some awesome moments but it’s not Master’s best.

Beherit – Unholy Blessings: Compilation of demos. The early demos sound like the first album, the second album demos sound like the second album played hastily, and the live set is chaotic and brilliant but not really something you need recorded. Blasphemy cover is a nice touch. I love this band but don’t see the point to this bootleg.

Skeletonbreath – Eagle’s Nest, Devil’s Cave: I like this because it reminds me of what Carbonized attempted to do on their second and third albums, which is leave rock music and jazz behind by giving songs a pattern of development more like that of a movie soundtrack. Using drums, adroit bass, and a violin, Skeletonbreath create carnival-esque longer songs that resemble soundtracks for the greatest movies you’ve never seen. These songs have clear theme and develop through a series of melodies that comment on one another, creating a real sense of atmosphere and through change, emotion. One of the more interesting CDs I’ve heard recently and musically, head and shoulders above the rest.

Xasthur – Demo 2005: Xasthur is easy to like, at first listen, because it’s actually musical in the formation of its riffs and use of vocals. The problem with Xasthur is that songs don’t go anywhere; this is the same problem every “Burzum-influenced” band has, which is that it’s much harder to string together riffs into an atmosphere than maintain it with one riff and a few breaks. This demo represents the furthest evolution of Xasthur in that songs vary between several moods, like how in your average house, you end up in one of three rooms most of the time. It’s very pretty but doesn’t stand up to repeated listenings.

Wiht – Wiht: First track sounds like a cross between Capricornus and Celtic Folk; it’s very bouncy and very intense on repetition with layers of simple technique on it. Sounds a lot like early Abigor mixed with Samain and early Hades. Not bad, but needs more direction.

The Austerity Program – Backsliders and Apostates Will Burn: Melodic punk music interrupted by extended periods of bass/drums while some dude sings a faux Jim Morrison/David Bowie melodic ramble which is not so much directed as responding to itself. The chaotic result is really abrasive for the most part but has its moments of beauty. I’d like to like this CD but it forgets about the listener and has made a theoretical object instead. Most people will as a result find it annoying.

Antediluvian – Under Wing of Asael: This is like a death metal version of war metal. Take some of those two-chord rhythm riffs that Blasphemy made big, add a musically unrelated fill, and make it a song… then repeat. It’s not bad, it’s not great, it’s on the low side of good but too repetitive to listen to again.

Pyramids with Nadja – Pyramids with Nadja: Often when reviewing failed black metal projects, my thought is that the musicians involved are simply in the wrong genre. Our personalities determine our ideologies, and from that what we find good and what we find bad, and if those don’t match up with the genre, we’re out of place. Nadja the shoegaze emo black metal band is insipid crap; here, however, with personnel from Pyramids as well, the Nadja people are in their element and a great album results. This most reminds me of Mick Harris’ Lull fused with post-Godflesh project Final, if supervised by My Bloody Valentine, because it is layers of organic sound like distorted guitar usually not even playing notes so much as skimming strings and using vibrato directly; they use bass as percussion much like Final does, and layer their distorted waves like My Bloody Valentine, but the sense of songs arising out of silence through chaos into pleasing drones is pure lull. Piano serves here as a guiding voice that brings the surging noise back onto something resembling a melody; voices can be heard, like a Greek chorus in distant space represented by reverb, filtering through. The result is pure texture like noise music, but it’s a texture that takes harmonically related notes and builds from them a fullness that is gentle and intricate enough to hold the attention. This is where these musicians belong; burn your Nadja CDs, because they are nothing in comparison to this.

Aosoth – Ashes of Angels: This is very similar to Anael, in that they use a couple of additional power chord shapes to fake a sonic tapestry. Dissonant chord, consonant chord. Always a binary, like a nu-metal band: here is soft and sensitive, and now it collides with rough and tumble. This technique is as old as 1987, which is when I first heard it and these chord voicings used by emo bands. This release doesn’t understand the spirit of old school death metal, or how it’s composed, and the result is a boring, lukewarm, soulless and repetitive listen.

Cleric – Regressions: Metalcore mixes hardcore, emo and metal into music with the compositional style, pacing and chord shapes of hardcore, but often throws in metal riffs, textures and vocals. The result is like a bag of kittens, each one scrambling to be nearer to the top, and the result is pure chaos. Cleric throw in some droning guitar feedback that’s quite pretty, some odd pauses and lots of prolonged open chord strumming, but musically this is no different from 100,000 other bands since 1987.

Apostasy – Sunset of the End: This album inherits the worst of speed metal, which is lots of strumming in the background while drums race to keep up and some dude “white guy raps” over the top. They’re good at their instruments, and know that intersection of riffing between Artillery and Destruction that is so fertile, but it doesn’t hold together. My head hurts.

Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta II Dialogue with the Stars: When an album like this comes out, Mossad should be dispatched to the homes of the perpetrators to find the “Black Metal Paint by Numbers” kit they used to make this. Even the worst band made by 15-year-olds is preferable because in its randomness, it is not predictable. This is entirely linear and pulls every trick to sound black metally. There is no direction; it’s a school assignment, “write a black metal album.” And it takes forever to end.

Angel Eyes – Midwestern: Alternating between droning higher-end sound that resembles a siren Doppler test through a smoky sky, and a very basic hybrid between sludge metal (Eyehategod) and stoner doom (Sleep), Angel Eyes create a post-rock opus that almost escapes its roots in indie, emo and modern hardcore. Songs unfold like a rambling house with rooms of different sizes built onto one another in a gradual process of accretion. There’s a room for spacy electronics and heavily reverbed guitar throbbing across a mostly empty sonic platform, and there’s a room for metalcore riffing with about 50% more indie rock taming it from incoherent raging into sensible sound. There’s even the room — shows up frequently, like a storage room linking two wings — for a lack of distortion while simple sweeps echo radiant through the ears. Much of this material succumbs to the linearity of non-linearity, where it both tries to be out there and because it needs to be listenable, shapes its deviance around a very simple core. However, many songs develop in interesting and poetic ways. The weak spot in this band are the predictable elements it inherited: the metalcore riffs are predictable and don’t add much to the song, and the vocals are really pointless. Dropping those would let these guys do what they’re good at, which is designing sound like a playground, with interesting nooks and slides and tunnels and bridges to explore even though you know you’ll end up back at the sandbox eventually. If you want an example of post-rock you can believe in, this would be it.

Cenotaph – Saga Belica: Bands commit suicide after albums like this. The interesting facet is that it’s a cross between later speed metal, like Destruction, with symphonic metal like Emperor or Therion. That means lots of Testament-style riffing that bounces around a chord while vocals rage all over the place, then the verse/chorus slurry runs straight into a pause and keyboard fill, then accompanying guitar/keyboard melodic run. It’s as ludicrous as it sounds, and this album is as directionless as you might imagine. Sad as this was a once-epic band.

Harvey Milk – A small turn of human kindness: This music is really obvious. It’s really stylized, but really obvious. I don’t think anything else matters. If you fall for this, you like listening to first-turn-off-the-main-road variations on metal riffs from the 1970s which, because they’re in a dramatic format full of lots of high school drama student Pauses, are assumed to constitute songs. But songs don’t happen here. Loops of riffs do, and then there’s a bunch of noise and something that sounds like a Walrus on PCP howling, and then the song “peaks” by being super-chaotic then smooths out into normalcy, which is the usual boredom. If you were fooled by Boris and Opeth, you might like this, but otherwise it’s just a treacle of boredom tugging at your heels.

Cerebral Effusion – Impulsive Psychopathic Acts: This is straight off-the-shelf deathgrind of the Y2K+ variety. Breakdowns, pauses, lots of long battery runs with blastbeats. Not incompetently composed but the style is so painfully blockheaded that it’s hard to want to hear.

Dark Half – Reborn: Standard punk music played with metal flavoring, namely a minor key and some metally riffs. For the sense of tempo alone this band should be shot over an open pit, but the completely shrinkwrapped standard black metal riffs dumb this down even further. For bonus points, it’s half speed metal so you get the same hackneyed fifteenth-rate ripoff riffs that have been around for thirty years. Songs go nowhere, but you guessed that by now. If this band were an individual, it would be on the police blotter for stealing empty safes. People waste their lives trying to make themselves like crap like this.

Desexult – Demo II: For your convenience, we have compiled all of the blockhead riffs from the first month’s practice of every metal band ever created. It’s like Hellhammer, but without the insightful incompetence; it’s just sort of part of the ride. I can’t imagine why anyone would keep this around.

Disaffected – Vast: Painfully predictable technical speed metal/death metal. Obviously, these guys listened to a ton of Testimony of the Ancients, but never got their act together to find a style or direction. Lots of speed metal riffs and “wait for it” off-time paused-based riffing, like Pantera on a Dream Theater kick. Plenty of shredding but little going on. Save yourselves before it’s too late.

Disgorge – Consume the Forsaken: Standard totally incomprehensible deathgrind of the Y2K+ variety. Breakdowns, chug-a-lot, blast beats, gurgling vocals and very similar riffs. In fact, this band seems to specialize in the non-riff, or the linear chord progression played with different rhythmic emphasis. It’s a real brain drill, this CD, as you try to remember what you were thinking before the incessant chug-gurgle-blast invaded your mind. What was I saying?

Eradication – The Great Cleaning: Much as I stand behind the idea of killing off the stupid, this band missed at least one, which is this album. Predictable melodic black metal with dramatic pauses and blasts. The result is insipid because it recycles the past without a direction, so you feel surrounded in make-work interpretations of other, better bands.

Ereshkigal – Ten Years of Blasphemy: God is safe from these blasphemers. Really, really safe. This really lukewarm black metal merges the truding mid-paced sound with the goofy, placeless keyboards that Master’s Hammer could use to effect but Ereshkigal manage to use like some bizarre punctuation that intrudes wherever, somewhere, a retard shits himself. It’s not even interesting enough to be random. How did they not fall asleep when writing, or recording this stuff? Oh well just send it to the pressing plant, someone will like it. Anyone… anyone…?

Execration – Syndicate of Lethargy: Guys, you didn’t forget anything. You didn’t leave anything out. This brutal blasting death metal incorporates melody, Gorguts-style odd timings and melodic fills, and New York style harmonics and stop/start riffing. The problem is that it’s disorganized, so you get a ton of unrelated crap that has to streamline into the linear to complete itself. And then it’s boring.

Exmortem – Nihilistic Contentment: For a metal band, it’s easy to confuse “frenetic” with “has content.” This very busy — “chaotic” — thrashing madness has constant clanging bass, battering drums and whirring guitars. What it doesn’t have is any particularly unique or insightful view of the world, or an aesthetic experience that rewards consciousness with an expanded view of life. Instead, it’s like cramming your head into a tiny box and then beating on the sides with your tiny impotent fists.

Fatalist – The Depths of Inhumanity: Oh fucking awesome, it’s just like the early 1990s when the Swedish death metal gods ruled the world. Except that somewhere along the way, Fatalist lost its soul. They’ve aped the sound of the guitars, and play derivative riffs at the same pace, but the songwriting is a mess. Sure, all these riffs are in the same key, but they don’t relate to each other that well and aren’t that interesting. To compensate the guy doing the vocals rants in a really predictable cadence. The result is mind-numbing and lacks all of the interesting song structures, melodies and atmosphere of the original Swedish death metal, or any music more competent than jingles in commercials for cleaning products. If you wanted to know what it’s like to be a retarded child, listen to this extensively.

An Albatross – The An Albatross Family Album: This CD tries to capture the experience of taking bong hits while you flip through a random selection of cable TV channels, with a metal CD going in the background and something really intense on your mind. They patch their songs together from metal, punk and indie riffs broken up with sound samples, keyboards, and radically sonically different interludes and transitions that resemble the intensely emotional conclusions of nature channel documentaries. Much of this music plays with being on the edge of deliberately super-annoying, and so will fail the “do I want to listen to this again?” test, but as an exploration of pushing the limits of style, it raises some interesting issues that someone else could develop in a more coherent and expressive way.

Faust – From Glory to Infinity: Very linear music, embellished with technical metal frills, but this cannot disguise the basic blockhead approach and lack of aesthetic opening that defines this music. Reminiscent of a faster and harder version of later Rotting Christ, this is melodic metal trapped in the middle of absolutely predictable overractive rhythms. It’s a mishmash of speed metal, Meshuggah, and death metal riffing that ends up just wearing you down with its insistence. This band really needs to just step back and figure out what they’re expressing. This is a highly competent mess.

Faustcoven – The Halo of Burning Wings: This is hiking music, meaning that it keeps building on a single two-step throbbing rhythm and hopes you follow along. I’m sure there are tasty granola bars, and maybe topless female hikers at the next rest stop, but this is boring as hell. Trudge, chant sing-song verse, then chorus and dick around with some riffs before you end the song. I’m trapped in that two-dimensional mirror thing they used to store bad guys in the Superman movies. LET ME OUT

Child Abuse – Cut and Run: The postmodern music of the late 1990s onward has confused cause and effect. When music is unique, the cause is a unique view of life and a burning desire to express it (put it into symbols and sound). When music is not unique, you cannot make it unique by dressing it up in everything “different” without making a mess that’s both chaotic and annoying. Child Abuse sounds like what would happen if a nu-metal band decided to make grindcore with math-metal and metalcore influences. Lots of odd noises, weirdly bent guitar riffs, and then standard grind/punk riffing while vocals shriek and feedback imitates the stall warnings of a 747. This really is not a path to success.

Faustrecht – Demoniak: Now that every metal band has an intro, let’s be sure to include one. Make it especially wandering and pointless. Then speaking of wandering and pointless, let’s put together high-speed Venom-style riffs and Donald Duck quack over the top. Even better, let’s keep it as verse/chorus as possible. Minimalism is like being closer to Satan. Then a really catchy chorus, but don’t make it too distinctive, or it might offend our advertisers (lobotomy wound care products, no doubt). So it ends up insipid, but that’s convenient, because so is the rest of this disaster of an album. I’m sending it to the Large Hadron Collider people because “Demoniak” is so bad it will make time itself slow down. Hope you’re not feeling your mortality while you waste irreplaceable seconds on this turd.

Fear Factory – Mechanize: Staying true to the title, I think they outsourced this album to a Perl script. It does that annoying white boy rap thing for the verses, and then choruses are the dude howling three syllables over and over again. It’s like the worst parts of Godflesh and NIN, but they added VNV Nation style techno touches. But we’ll be DIFFERENT and throw in some singing to make you know hey, it’s not like the other brick-stupid obvious stuff out there; there’s SINGING! Did we mention the SINGING? Still it’s so driving yet invariant and depthless that it’s good for nothing more than driving your parents, if you’re deaf and so immune to this wreck. I think they clearly designed this for people new to music who don’t mind really obvious and prosaic music so long as they get the message. And with this degree of high volume repetition, there’s no way to miss it.

Fractal Gates – Altered States of Consciousness: This sounds a lot like early Nuclear Assault to me, but with death metal vocals and uptempo. Good melodic hooks, riffs are obvious but not out of place, and there are some pleasant melodic diversions. Very Gothic in its use of melody, like a short bus version of Gehenna or later Rotting Christ. I wouldn’t call it profound, and as a result, wouldn’t listen to it again, but it’s far more “together” than most of the shit in this review pile.

Funeral Moth – Funeral Moth: The good thing about a gimmick is that you don’t have to work on the content of what you do. Let the gimmick sell it. You’re a Japanese doom metal band; what else do you need? Never mind that Winter, Thergothon and Skepticism all did the very slow riffs thing better and they did it by developing those riffs. Just get totally linear. No one is going to be listening anyway, because they’re too busy talking about how you’re a JAPANESE DOOM METAL BAND. Exotic, dude. Pass the PBR, and continue half-listening to this insipid hipster nightmare.

Gammacide – Victims of Science: You wanted some chaotic speed metal? Good, because this is pure chaos. Fast riffs flow into faster riffs and then they get into the staple of 1980s speed metal, the trudging riff that’s basically a lot of fast strumming of a recursive but rather slow progression. Chanty vocals with jaunty rhythms are par for the course too. But there’s a reason this band never really took on the world. This stuff has personality, but you wouldn’t say it really nails it, or expresses anything interesting about life. It’s there and it’s metal.

Gorgoroth – Quantos Possunt Ad Satanitatem Trahunt: Droning misery. Constant drumming. Harsh background screams with predictable rhythms. If this is Satan’s music, I’m getting a Bible. Interestingly, other than the fast strumming, this music is identical to the mediocre crap that came out of the late speed metal era, including the riffs that are based on Slayer patterns but, to distinguish them, random notes get tossed in. When you think it can’t get any worse, they do a “dramatic” pause and then start up, or throw in melodic black metal riffs that are about as new as erosion. If you are busy doing something really difficult, you won’t notice this background noise is pointless and boring. But listen to it? It has the soporific effect of a televangelist’s sermon.

Grabnebelfursten – Schwarz Gegen Weiss: It must be that Reader’s Digest is offering a series of helpful articles on handy home repairs and making symphonic black metal. These riffs sound like the guitarist is feeling them out and just trying semi-random stuff as he goes, and the composition modus operandi of this band is to find something they like and pound it into the ground, then toss in something totally different so you don’t get bored. The result is circus music that’s comedic in how little it relates to itself, or anything else. Vocals are also of that ptomaine poisoning hurl that sounds like the vocalist is straining to keep up with the random clatter beneath. I think they should refer to this as “suicidal black metal” because unless you have the option to turn it off, death may be your only deliverance.

Gravferd – Demonized: Hi everyone, I’d like you to meet my Down’s syndrome child, Gravferd. He sits in his room and practices stuff he knows other bands have done, and then vomits it back in a random order so that there’s enough for an album. Any time he gets confused and starts to cry, we just double the tempo and then he starts barfing out incomprehensible lyrics recycled from a giant pile of cliches we keep in the diaper room. You might recognize intense moments from the last twenty years of black metal, stripped of all context and power, rendered incompetently. But he’s my tard, so I’m going to put a gold star on this fucking thing and publish it. File under G for “glazed over.”

Greymachine – Disconnected: People love ambient music because you can turn on the drum machine, start jamming over a simple progression, and by dumping layers of noise, found sounds, keyboards, vocals and guacamole on it you can gradually shape it into a song. Then you turn off the tape machine and mail the thing to your record label, who start talking about it like it’s the esoteric holy grail of lost musical genius. Let’s dial it back to reality: this is very stoned people dicking around in the studio, and it shows none of the genius that occured on Streetcleaner all those years ago.

Holocausto – Campo de Exterminio: You have to get this, it’s a classic! Undiscovered cult metal from the early 1980s… and there’s a reason it was undiscovered. Do you remember those record players they made in the 1970s for playing Disney records? They were all plastic and had cartoon characters molded into them. This album belongs on one, because it’s kiddie music. It’s super-basic, not in a profoundly disturbing way like Discharge or Sarcofago, but more like a cross between old Sepultura and Anthrax. Like Anthrax, it’s simple-minded. Like old Sepultura, it’s fast and blasphemous with incomprehensible vocals that sound like tearing Kleenex. Like much of 1980s speed metal influenced material, it has the uncanny ability to kill time by hanging out on a very linear, obvious series of variations on a rhythm. I really wish this was buried treasure, but it’s not.

I – Between Two Worlds: Predictable hard rock, meet black metal vocals. Yes, it sounds like a toad on meth, and the riffs that came out of the 1970s but now come at you twice as fast just make the ludicrous more painful. Even worse, the increased tempo means that there’s no breathing room, just constant cliche at top volume. Then when you think you’ve heard enough, the shitty guitar solo comes in to make you long for peaceful silence. Unless you’re a moron. Then this must seem like it was made just for you.

Homicide – Dale of Lost Souls: Here come the police — where can we hide this collection of stolen ideas from the FAIL file of bad 1980s speed metal? Oh look, we can stuff them into this blackened death metal band and no one will notice. Mainly because no one is listening because this sucks. It’s all over the place and to hide the fact they have no idea to develop a song, the musicians here rely on repetition to remind you which song you’re listening to. It’s the one with that borrowed, dumbed-down Exodus riff. Oh wait. That didn’t help. It’s the one that’s a microwave TV dinner version of Devastation… that won’t help either. Throw this out.

Ignivomous – Death Transmutation: I wonder how these musicians memorize these songs. Since the riffs fit together in tempo and key only, and make no sense as a metal tune, and the only transitions possible are dramatic pauses, it’s likely they have a mnemonic to this. Probably something like GDHJJKFLX because the whole album is incoherent. Good guitar tone, zero on the content, and like all shitty metal bands they have to shout it at top volume to try to distract you from the suck. The best course of action is to go do something more stimulating, like mow a lawn or punch out gargoyles.

Impurity – Lucifer Vomiting Blasphemies Over Christ’s Head: No, it’s Impurity vomiting inconsequential noise over your head, and over your wallet, if you bought this. This noisy foray into basic death metal sounds like war metal, which is to say that it’s near constant tempo incoherent riffing with a drunk guy gurgling while the drummer does basically whatever he wants because no one is paying attention. You can do better than this, probably with a pair of castanets and a broken fan to howl in the background. This album is the comical disaster that your parents would imagine upon hearing the title. Well, at least it presents itself accurately.

Infected – Crawlspace: Sometimes, when you get infected, you get a bad headache and you lose 20 IQ points. That’s what happened to this band. This is stop-start “wait — I’ve got to crap — look — some open ground” style semi-skeltonic brain-absent chanting over recycled riffs from failed Exhorder clones who perished in prison where they got sent for ripping the warning tags off of mattresses. The total failure of imagination, or connection to what makes music good, gets us this headache which has zero flow and zero appeal.

Inflabatan – Wanderer of Grief: Every melodic black metal album, boiled for 12 hours to ensure no flavor remains, served with peas steamed in dishwater and a tasty glass of fortified wine gone to vinegar. It’s not bad, it’s far from good, it’s just there. Kind of like when you have a late assignment so you write I ATE MY OWN ASS AND LIKED IT on a sheet of paper and hand it in so you at least don’t get a zero. It’s not a zero, but maybe like a 36.

Inquisidor – Inquisidor: You know, disco had its moments. It had melody. The songs often were distinctive, and sometimes, reminded you of a moment in life where you felt clarity and got excited about what was to come. Inquisidor is “generic” in the oldest meaning, which is that it fits into its genre dead in the middle and is exactly what you’d expect. Fast Kreator riffs, in songs structured like those of Sodom, with urgent blasphemous vocals. If it were the first of this type I heard, I might like it but find it a little boring. Now I just flee.

Inquisition – Magnificent Glorification of Lucifer: I can see why people like this — it’s competent. The rhythms fit together, and riffs work together. The problem is that it’s composed in an idiotic style, and is as a result limited. This is the fusion of war metal and Judas Iscariot-style slow ambient black metal, so you get (a) more repetition than you know what to do with (b) simple riffs on a bouncy rhythm and (d) detached, disconnected vocals. It’s about two riffs per song, often variations on the same theme. While they all fit together, and the result is pleasant to listen to because these guys are five times as competent as the average black metal band, it’s still boring. Nothing happens: what is going on when the song starts is what happens when it ends. That result doesn’t feel evil, or challenging, but kind of dance-y like later Napalm Death.

Wreck of the Hesperus – The Sunken Threshold: Imagine an indie-metal/doom metal hybrid. What you’re imagining even with half a brain is what you get with this release. Slow limbs of chord progressions rise and crash while drums keep a busy, jazz-inspired distraction going. Songs move slowly, verse/chorus, then conclude in a trailing out to insignificance. If Winter, Thergothon and Skepticism did it too well for you, here’s a generic version.

Vektor – Black Future: Hipster music. I say that because it’s dressed up (ironically) like Voivod worship on the outside, but it’s pure aesthetics; there is no understanding of the composition or content that made Voivod great. Instead it’s standard war metal, slowed down by 1/4, played with some of the chord voicings Piggy used. Songs are standard format, very busy with lots of chaotic drums and messy riffing, but no concepts that tickle the brain or even amuse the gut. On the surface, it’s Voivody. Beneath, it’s the standard punk/metal/rock that hipsters like, dressed up in a unique way. Watch this band disappear quickly.

The Shadow Order – Untold: This is probably the best Burzum clone I’ve ever heard. If you can imagine Burzum writing songs that transition from state “A” to state “B” directly, you’ve got roughly what’s going on here. It’s simpler, similar in spirit, and slightly more ear candyish (e.g. confines itself to conventional consonant voicings) but on the whole is pleasant to listen to. It’s unlikely to stand up to repeated listens well, but will occupy a position like the first Infernum album of being a reasonable alternative.

Inveracity – Extermination of Millions: This is a good solid release in the Deeds of Flesh/Suffocation percussive death metal style. It’s more linear than Doug Cerrito’s inspired riffing, but has a good sense of putting together a basic song and stacking up parts that contrast each other, so doesn’t fall into the monotonous camp of most material in this genre. While it is good, it falls short of exceptional and thus radically distinctive, so it’s always going to lurk in Suffocation’s shadow until it develops more of its own voice.

Insect Warfare – World Extermination: If you crossed Terrorizer, Assuck and Nasum you’d get something a lot like Insect Warfare. This is grindcore that sounds like some very energetic people dropped whatever they were doing, rushed to their instruments, and bashed out short but furious songs. These songs are well-composed; however, they’re also extremely basic and rely on riffcraft that alludes to much of extant grindcore. As a result, it’s kind of a neat album if someone hands it to you, but hard to want to reach for it when much more personalitied and diverse offerings like the early Terrorizer material exist.

Kaamos – Lucifer Rising: Pure speed, awesome Swedish(tm) production, and intriguingly blasphemous sound titles cannot compensate for having depth to your music. Kaamos is, like almost everything but the original wave of Swedish death metal, screamingly obvious. These riffs are almost entirely linear and capture no melodic or harmony; not only that, they aren’t shaped into interesting phrases rhythmically. The result is a CD that instantly descends to background noise. It’s pleasant-sounding but empty.

Liturgy – Renihilation: Get the hipsters out of metal. If you like emo-style melodies played really fast over chaotic drums, or the former hybridized with riffs from old Metallica clones but played in a kvlt black metal style, you may like this. I find it really obvious, although clearly musically more erudite than the trve kvlt types. The problem is that despite all of these interesting elements, the songs express nothing, and chord/note progressions are very similar from track to track. The frenetic drumming and vocals only accentuate, not conceal, this deficiency.

Malign – Divine-Facing Fireborn: You and I would really love to like this. It has all the promise of older black metal: a cross between Sarcofago and Merciless, interpreted through the filter of later Mayhem (lush chording, odd slow tempo changes, murky sounds) with the viciousness and yet very pop sense of melodic hook that all the Swedish black metal bands wield. Yet, that’s it. The surface traits are all; what’s underneath is unmotivational. So you end up with black metal wallpaper and an empty soul, but also, a bored one.

Maim – From the Womb to the Tomb: These guys have an interesting approach, aesthetically, in that they try to be Autopsy but mix in the speed and pacing of older Entombed. Sonically, it’s a great approach but not much changes in the song between the beginning and the end. It’s less like a big loop than a spin cycle: you start looking at something, then rotate around it and hey, there it is again. In addition, riffs are really basic variants on forms we’ve seen before from Kreator, Destruction, Atrophy and numerous death metal bands. They are very basic, very interchangeable, and lack the feeling of having been designed to fit together into something distinct with a meaning of its own. That depthless nature to these songs makes this album an endurance contest.

Perished – Seid: Strip away the death vocals and fast drumming, and this is plain boring hard rock like you might find on a Motley Crue record. Aesthetically, it sounds like Immortal, but without the greatness of personality that made At the Heart of Winter a great album, or the spark of insight that made earlier Immortal even superior.

Pathology – Incisions of Perverse Debauchery: Cross Deeds of Flesh with Dead Infection, and you get this gurgling deathgrind which is relentless and not bad, but also not exceptional enough to merit a re-listen. In particular, songs are streams of thudding riffs and relatively similar textural shifts, which makes it difficult to distinguish between them, although the radically varying production helps. I respect this more than most bands because it has a simple goal and fulfills it, although it’s hard to want to go through the experience when there are more interesting listens out there.

Pantheist – Amartia: If Paradise Lost and Skepticism had a baby, it would be this ponderous doom metal band. Songs are glacial with melodic underpinnings and a bit on the pop side, although they love their sonic dynamism and intense distortion. It’s competent but not particularly compelling in form or content, and the vermicular pace does not help us get over that.

Overthrow – Within Suffering: It’s a hybrid of Beneath the Remains era Sepultura and early Sadus, and it’s well-executed but not a standout in that these songs follow fairly cookie-cutter speed metal patterns. Riffs: you’ve heard their archetypes before. Vocals: they do that thing where they chant on the beat as the kickhappy drums crazy go nuts next to some chugging guitars — fucking annoying. On the plus side, they change riffs like Dark Angel so that there’s always tempo, harmonic or phrasal motion (or when disordered: commotion) going on. And lots of solos that sound like later Nuclear Assault going hog wild on the pentatonics. Ultimately, I find this really annoying but if you would let Sadus mount you from the rear, you’ll love it.

Pensees Nocturnes – Grotesque: This promising band confuses aesthetics and content. They’re good songwriters, with an apt grasp of the technical side of the music, but because they have never found an aesthetic “voice,” end up piling random types of stuff on top of one another hoping that summing up parts magically makes the whole bigger. This sonic collage features crashing slow metal riffs which give way to fast melodic riffs reminiscent of Enslaved’s Frost, and are periodically interrupted by transition material with piano and string instruments. On top of this, some guy is bellowing like he is getting raped by an elephant. While in general I’m all for overlooking aesthetic dislike to get to the core of a band, in this case the lack of aesthetic ties an arm behind this band’s back as far as songwriting is concerned — too much is lost as they try to conform to this bizarre format. In addition, they’ve picked up some of the chord progressions and bad habits of post-rock bands, with huge parts of this album resembling the lost Maudlin of the Well “Dave’s got the purple shrooms” sessions. When they are able to put together an aesthetically coherent part of a song, it flows well, but then drops back into their bad habits and crutches. My advice to Pensees Nocturnes is simple: standardize your vocals, become a doom band, and use other instrumentation at strategic points in each song instead of as a general technique — look at the first At the Gates album. Less is more, if that less is more organized than the more. But use more oboe.

Prevalent Resistance – Dynamics of Creation: I’d like to like this because it’s easy to listen to, is pleasant and comforting. Patterned after Dimmu Borgir’s Stormblast (the first version, with the video game music) and a smidgen of early Dissection, this album is candy for the ears. But that’s the problem. There is no tension, no moral conflict, no desire even for pointless destruction. It’s trying to make friends. Like a warm puppy nose on the leg. In fact, it resembles the indie rock of the last decade: slick, studied, and very good at writing a melodic hook into the end of a three-step phrase so that it gets that Hallmark(tm) “uplifting” feeling. I think if I wanted smoke up my ass, I’d just listen to indie rock. Musically this is adept, artistically it gives blowjobs for $10 at streetcorners.

Diabolicum – The Grandeur of Hell: I have tried to like this 1999 album for literally 11 years. It has all the right elements, and it starts well, but becomes shapeless in the middle. I don’t think this has anything to do with how industrial it is. I think it ran out of steam in terms of songs and what they are about. Typical of Swedish bands, Diabolicum write great melodic riffs and then have no idea how to develop them, so end up in circular song structures that leave you unsure of why a song ended; it just ended, when it did, semi-arbitrarily. The result is that there’s no reason to keep these songs in your head other than as a pleasant distraction.

Oxbow – Fuckfest: This music is both spectacularly annoying, and good but fairly standard. If you took a Motorhead/Black Sabbath crossover, made it more rock ‘n’ roll early friendly, then chopped it up with fast rhythms and dissonant syncopated riffing, you’d get this. The vocalist howls like he’s in the Bad Brains but with little of the musicality. I think they believe this is revolutionary. Musically, it’s not terrible but aesthetically it’s like a screeching siren in your head, making you wish the world would end.

Die Apokalyptischen Reiter – Licht: Most people are going to identify this band as a heavier version of Rammstein, but that’s only half the story: this ostensibly industrial band is a three way hybrid between pop punk, melodic death metal and very danceable industrial. They write their songs like At the Gates, with several riffs cycling during the verses after the first introduction, and they shift between these like rally racers taking shortcuts through the old neighborhood. Vocals are very pop punk, with a rhythm similar to Bohse Onkelz or other brainier punk, and riffs are often power chords staggered in the death metal style with an emphasis on the stop/start rhythms that industrial, speed metal and rock favor. However, this is in a very literate musical framework where subtleties emerge from what are initially very basic melodies, and songs develop around this melodic core and end up being quite beautiful and infectious. After about ten minutes, you no longer hear the heavy riffs, and you feel like you’re listening to a more touch-and-go version of Wolfsheim on guitars. This isn’t my type of music, but I respect it — which is more than I can say for most versions of most genres.

Droids Attack – Must Destroy: We were chilling on the porch trying to figure out what to call this new style, not yet quite a genre, where they put bands like Red Fang and Droids Attack. It’s like fast, bombastic, hard attack versions of stoner doom songs; this CD, “Must Destroy,” sounds a lot like the first couple Sleep releases: bluesy, hard without being aggressive, bounding party rock. It’s like they took the Detroit underground rock/punk sound from the 1980s (before The White Stripes) and merged it with Motorhead and the MC5, and got out of it this entirely rockin’ style that isn’t metal but borrows a lot from it, and isn’t punk but attacks with the same sheer verve, but then sticks into the heavy bounce of guitar rock like Grand Funk Railroad or Iron Butterfly. It’s easy to listen to but more motivational than techno, even, so makes great music for partying or cleaning the house. On this CD, the style is expertly implemented with lots of space between bounding riffs for introspective parts, like the calming parts of the ritual of a rave, so that you can listen without getting washed out by pure bombast. I see a great future for this style and this band as people get sick of the twee effete hiding-in-basement styles that have been popular for the last decade.

Nun Slaughter – Goat: When most people talk about old school metal, they’re thinking of bands like this that combine the barebones essentials of heavy metal (Venom), death metal (Master) and speed metal (Nuclear Assault) into one high-energy package. What propels this CD is its ability to keep momentum. Riffs follow each other logically and transfer energy like a locomotive hitting a truck full of bowling balls. This energy conservation is harder to do than one might think, because if a band just plays really fast, it doesn’t happen. It takes an awareness of the music and a love for the metal craft of putting riffs together so that they talk to one another and keep kinetic inertia. Clearly this band know their metal, as the riff forms — the basic phrase and arrangement upon which these riffs are based — descend from all generations of metal, but have been adapted to fit the song and NunSlaughter’s trademark crude but adept songwriting. Most songs are verse/chorus riff cycles with discursive bridges that lead back to triumphal restatements of theme, but given the rawness of the music, nothing else would really fit without making this a modern animal. If you like bands like Onslaught, Sodom, and Merciless, this band stays within the same range but is immediately distinctive. Like fellow midwesterners Cianide, they hide their subtlety and distinctiveness underneath a desire to make a riff language out of metal’s heritage and use it to sing of their specific experience, which seems to be a conglomeration of Satan, rape, blasphemy, violence and sodomy. Given this framework, however, it’s clear this band is a thoroughly enjoyable ripping ride through the dark recesses of human visceral emotion, and no matter how much people wail about it being derivative or lowbrow, it’s great stuff.

Morser – Two Hours to Doom: We should christen this band the German version of Human Remains. They play in the modern metal, or proto-metalcore, style innovated by those founders, meaning that they put metal riffs in punk-style songs. The result is an emphasis on individualism through deconstruction shown through the juxtaposition of random images, which if you think about it is the origin of all modern art. Instead of continuity and order, they show you many individual perspectives which don’t agree, further isolating you in yourself. 1980s crossover thrash on the other hand tried to make radically different riffs fit together like a storyline. While this style provides unbalanced listening as a result, it exceeds the competence of its genremates by making these songs fast and to the point, even if that point is a binary song with a fairly random third option introduced in the last third of it. Later on, bands took this style and threw technical death metal done in one dimension into the mix, but for now it’s honest punk borrowing from every style under the sun in a fast and precise but not show-offy fashion. You’ll hear the blues riffs, funk bass, prog trills, and even quotations from soundtracks and ethnic music, all done at high speed in blisteringly distorted guitar. It’s no wonder this release has, for a flavor of the day genre like modern metal, stayed in demand over the years.

Black Funeral – Vampyr: If you put a simplified Emperor/Ancient hybrid to Darkthrone percussion, it might sound like “Vampyr” — an unknown quantity of death metal rhythm, and ambient black metal made with the flourish of symphonic metal, but in the simplified and abraded sound that also qualified early American bands like Havohej and Demoncy. This is a very American thing, both North and Sound hemispheres, to simplify song structures to a standard form like in hardcore, where much of what made early Nordic black metal beautiful was that song structure was defined by content — in the way that early American phrasal death metal like Incantation was. While this album makes for more recognizable listening, and is clearly the musical peak of this band, for artistic reasons a discerning listener may prefer other works.

Chthonic – Seediq Bale: This symphonic metal band from China sounds like Dream Theatre melded with Cradle of Filth, as played by later Therion. More focused than any of those acts, it takes advantage of compiled conventions from the various constituents of this genre, and makes a distinctive version of them. If they more seamlessly integrate this with the indigenous music of China, it could be a powerhouse; for now, it’s a better option for Dimmu Borgir fans.

Blazemth – Fatherland: This short release charms the listener with its beauty, brave pasted-together emulation of black metal heroes and honesty in expressing something of significance even if at times the methods are crude. In essence, this band is a hybrid between early Emperor and Graveland, hoping for sweeping melodies interwoven with keyboards and spoken/acoustic dirges, creating an atmosphere that it then delights in breaking with riffs sounding like they come from the melodic heavy-metal-influenced black metal of Rotting Christ and Hades. This band specializes in contrasting textures of riffs: a mostly open simple riff will abrade when a flowing tremolo melody follows it, and chromatic death metal shredding offsets windswept sweep picking. While the individual parts are less graceful than their archetypes, they are nonetheless beautiful in the same way early punk was: individuals captured in their striving for an ideal that they may not achieve, while enjoying the struggle.

Blazemth – For Centuries Left Behind: Template driven from the early works of black metal, this band achieves an ambient black metal sound by attempting a simplified version of Emperor and other early black metal bands. Riffs are simple, production distorted enough to background guitars into a roughly harmonized blast of noise, and keyboards unite the rest into a smooth flow of sound. Emblematic of this album is the spoken introduction with which it begins; this is a guileless take on black metal that is not afraid to be ridiculous, but because it is earnest, never irks like the commercial cluelessness that followed. Its strength is an immersion in mood, but its weakness is that individual parts ape classics like Emperor and Burzum, just in an interpretation specific to this band. Although this will not blow anyone away with its breaking of ground, it remains more convincing than most post-1996 black metal because it has a clear ideal in mind and pursues it making creative use of what techniques and elements are within reach. Their followup, “Fatherland,” reflects more development; on this short CD are themes you have heard before, done uniquely in the homebrew style by this straightforward and committed band.

Jodis – Secret House: You have to have a high tolerance for slowness with this album. A chord plays, rings out, the distortion crumbling as the sound loses its solidity; then, two notes jangle with the seeming discordination of a snapping clothesline or the slow decay of metal in abandoned factories. Someone bellows. More noises, feedback zoning in and out like lawnmower noise across the street as you try to nap your way through a summer day. More bellowing. The songs are like hailstones, formed of layer after layer deposited upon the last. If you unfold the surface it forms a great linearity, like a giant strip of paper covered in words that blur together. Time goes by unheeded. You get up and change the CD.

Nihill – Grond: Standard uptempo Darkthrone black metal clone with really emphatic, dramatic, emo-style vocals still done in the guttural end of black metal sound, Nihill is technically competent but makes binary songs, meaning that they alternate between two moods until the vocals are done ranting and the song can end. When Darkthrone did this, it was to great effect because their songs centered around a contrast that conveyed a greater sense of mystery or discovery. Nihill is just cyclic and offers no hope, only a sense of inevitability. I could see this appealing to fans of Judas Iscariot.

Eradication – The Great Cleansing: An attempt to merge “Following the Voice of Blood” era Graveland with “Ugra-Karma” era Impaled Nazarene, for the most part this album works. The randomness of its melodies and the drone-strum technique from the Graveland side gently obscure some of the rough edges and more obvious riffs, which feed nicely into the full-speed-ahead woodchipper riffs from the Impaled Nazarene side. It’s a solid B+ for content, maybe a A+ for technique for being both original and nuanced enough to give this band its own voice.

Vile – Depopulate: If the Deeds of Flesh style second-wave percussive death metal bands simplified things a bit to the level of the first Deicide album, and chose very basic bouncy riffs with melodic accents like Brutality, you could well end up with Vile. It is both good and bad; it is good insofar as it develops, but it is bad because that’s often two steps of thinking away from a double-strum on an E5 chord. Chortling vocals battle it out with gurgling rasps over pleated sheets of power chords where the offtime notes are played in a muted strum, giving this a pirate shanty bounce which is then torn apart by drums like a multi-legged battle robot scrabbling through the ruins of a city. There are messy leads, and often ludicrous “my attention shifted suddenly when I noticed the shotgun” song structure deviations. While they do what they do well, this style of death metal limits itself too much for repeated listening.

Gifts from Enola – Gifts from Enola: Someone crossed Kyuss with uptempo indie heavy metal and threw in the developments in the last ten years of stoner doom metal, creating a jazzy and fluidly composed album that moves about at the pace of early Black Sabbath. With very little intervention from vocals, the band jam in this style with droit, jazzy changes and variation in riff types from psychedelic lead-picked atmospheric to droning power chords to harmonizations on par with what Iron Maiden did. These songs are relatively linear, with breaks and resumptions, but form a kind of sonic texture that is easy to absorb, comfortingly varied, and most of all — unlike most post-rock — pleasant to listen to because it contains an internal balance and musicality. If you’re familiar with the jazz fusion of the late 1970s, nothing here will be a surprise musically, but it’s in a new form with more force behind it and the crossing over of the loud and abrasive with the subtle and beautiful gives it an elegance jazz fusion could never hope to have.

Urna – Iter Ad Lucem: Cross Ras Algethi with a post-rock band and you have this mess. The chord progressions are typical of that emo, shoegaze and indie rock fusion that is “post-metal,” which in most cases but not all has nothing to do with metal except that thanks to black metal’s extremity, it’s what the angry activist life-did-me-wrong failures are listening to these days. The worst sin here is that nothing really goes on in these songs. A few notes go up; a few go down. This is repeated with layers of vocals, a la Teitanblood but more artsy, and drums that keep busy outside the main event like those in a doom band, but ultimately songs don’t evolve and only gain structure through linear variation on known themes. In addition, if you step back and listen to this, it’s ludicrous. Like Krallice, it’s soft rock trying to be evil and as with all paradoxical and half-witted goals, has instead made a squirting fecal mess of it.

So there you have it — like a cheap buffet lunch, mostly FAIL with some tasty nuggets stuck in there, only half of which will come out whole in your stool. If I had to design a record-shopping trip from this, I’d pick up the Nunslaughter and Gifts from Enola and call it a day.

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Quick sadism

These are quick reviews of the stuff that didn’t make it to the next update. These reviews did not end up being all that stellar, nor was the material they were about in any way enduring, so they’re here for posterity — and search engines, in canse anyone is trying to do their Christmas shopping in February.

Black Crucifixion – Faustian Dream

This gothic heavy metal has some black metal stylings, but is about 75% Saint Vitus and 25% Gehenna. The rest is pure gothic rock with dramatic vocals, jaunty rhythms offset against doomy choruses, and all of the theatrical aspects you would expect. It is very simple and composed like rock music with a fixed harmonic frame of reference, and almost no phrasal riffs, but it’s not bad in that context although this style drivers your reviewer to hide under toilets. I’d infinitely prefer this total lack of hiding one’s inner goth to the artifice of trying to be as “hard man metal” as possible to disguise one’s inner eurotrash artfag. Still, I’ll never listen to it again.

Demonical – Servants of the Unlight

The first track on this CD struck me as interesting; it seemed to be evading its own conclusions, and so twisted itself into a sigil and then expanded upon it. It had a Middle Eastern-sounding melody and plenty of atmosphere. After that, the album degenerated into sped-up second-album Grave styled material with a few modern twists but mostly really predictable battering repetition that it seems to relish. If your short term memory is destroyed and you’re relearning to walk, this might be a great CD, but otherwise, get me away from here.

Earthless – Rhythms From a Cosmic Sky

The merger of doom metal into stoner doom/70s jam takes this genre back — in a disappointing way. We’re back at stupid rock music here, complete with the reliance on offbeat to make a rhythm even vaguely memorable, and the spongy way in that these bands noodle around repetitive series of similar patterns of notes, sounding “complex” only to those who have no idea what a scale is. Having no real content, they substitute with all sorts of annoying rhythmic flourishes and layering of instruments, as well as more bubbly drooling soloing. This has nothing to do with metal or anything but amusing the slower learners.

Equinox – demo 1994

If you like slightly cruise-y gothic death metal, this demo provided an interesting jumping-off point, perhaps similar to a more proficient Goatlord. Its rhythms are seductive but easy and so never go anywhere; it’s verse chorus with a few digressions, but otherwise falls into song format. Think Sisters of Mercy doing a doom/death take on Obituary. It’s not particularly bad, and has at least one really solid riff per song, but doesn’t add up to much interest for death metal fans.

Eschaton – Causa Fortior

Of all the trvlt — that’s an abbreviation for trve kvlt — releases out there, this one stands out not at all. Not one goddamned bit. Yes, vicious playing and fast rhythms, sort of like Discharge with more practice. And the melodies? Kind of candy, if you ask these ears, and definitely predictable. Song structures? Follow the development of the main riff through two cycles, one barely getting any airtime. End result: why bother?

Basilisk – A Joyless March Through the Cold-Lands

We’d all love to like this because it has all the elements of second-wave black metal: the Abigor/Emperor melodic drilling, the Abyssic/Negura Bunget vamping slow-strummed drift, and finally the Impaled Nazarene/Zyklon-B chaotic blasting. But it adds up to a whole lot of riffs we heard in the late 1970s with hardcore bands, and they don’t congeal into songs, more like an aggregate: when it’s left over, you’re looking for something or anything to really change. This is too predictably “safe” to be black metal.

Disillusion – Back to Times of Splendor

Great name, awful band. When impetus is lost, people revert. In this case, it’s like a cross between Sentenced and a metalcore band: fast, neurotic riffs that change randomly, then guitar trills and melodic rhythm leads, all in song structures as predictable as cereal commercials. Bands like this convert metalheads to religion just for the better music.

Anti-Cimex – Criminal Trap

Punk is so basic you don’t really need much to differentiate bands. This sounds like an uptempo Discharge with more conventional verse/chorus song structures and more rock/blues leads. Other than that, it’s about what you’d expect. I’d rate it among the top 20 punk bands, but you really have to love repetition to listen to this. I don’t care anymore.

Delve – The Dead Amongst

Imagine a cross between Slaughter Lord, early Grave and Grotesque: dynamic neo-war-metal riffs clashing at high speed and ramming into catchy choruses, with lots of fast drum work and messy guitar playing. The problem is that such a monolith approach ends up becoming predictable and boring after just a few listens.

Trimonium – Of warriors and heroism

Easily one of the more professional bands out there, Trimonium take the formula adapted on the first The Abyss album and wrap it around what is at its heart the kind of boisterous, melodic, bounding material that we find on power metal albums. Thoroughly professional in composition and playing, it is nonetheless the work of experienced musicians who are designing self-satisfying melodies like those of jingles, but in a style that bonds folk music with the bouncing exuberance of soundtracks to pirate movies.

Ender – Ender

There are those who make progressive rock by thinking of an idea, and then ad hoc-ing song structures and ideas to make it work. There are others who look at progressive rock and make a variation of it so they have an iron in the fire. This CD is sadly the latter, because it has potential. Crossing the later prog-punk and emo sound with atmospheric progressive rock, Ender make a very pleasantly floating musical tapestry that also means nothing, other than a manipulation of emotions in themselves, which creates a gentle transition between related feelings with no sense of broader significance. As a result, it’s a lot like watching a commercial for AIDS medication.

Epitaph – Seeming Salvation

Bad heavy metal that resembles Candlemass in its squirrely guitar leads, this CD seems to think because it has a bassy whisper of death metal vocals that it should be death metal. It should not be. Every musical element serves the production of songs that use heavy metal rhythms, aesthetics, song forms and content as their inspiration. Like many bands who make this mistake, Epitaph must be nuts to do it, since if they dropped the death vocals and got quality production, they would have met moderate success in any decade from 1974 onward.

Vociferian – Beredsamkeit

Nu-blackmetal can go a few different ways, and one is the candy of pure melodic sound. That’s what we have here. Through a combination of tuning, melodic intervals and sustain-heavy distortion, this band creates a wave of melodic sound — the affinity of notes for large gaps — without deviating from the basic melodic patterns of pop. It’s an engaging listen, but doesn’t last. If they want to gain real power, they’ll create songs about an idea and wrap the melodic riffs around that.

Athos – Crossing the River of Charon

Like most post-1996 black metal, this perfectly capable release is boring because it’s easy to anticipate and it focuses too much on trying to re-create the “black metal mood,” instead of like the great bands capturing the process leading up to it. There’s no way to nitpick; nothing is wrong except the CD taken as a whole.

Vorum – Grim Death Awaits

This appears to be a melodic speed metal album hidden with a black/death hybrid. The songwriting resembles something that would have come out of a Destruction/later Nuclear Assault hybrid, but it’s tricked out in aggressive rhythms and very basic riffs, with the high intensity chaos brought on by people hitting too many strings, drums and vocal chords at once. Thoroughly not bad but also probably not interesting to those who are more interested in an old school death metal/black metal style.

Arsis – We Are the Nightmare

This is a musical nightmare. Glam/hard rock style twee choruses between dramatic, bouncy blockhead speed metal riffs. Above it a voice howling, then a melodic riff and some fast drumming, all overproduced so it hits really hard and then beats you to death with repetition. CDs like this drive people to apocalyptic religions.

Vulture – Easier to Lie

From the Manilla Road meets Exodus school of choppy speed metal, Vulture make an interesting and experimental album with vast holes of idea in which are filled the dreaded Pantera-style catchy bounce riffing that goes nowhere because it has almost no harmonic motion. Some of the experimental stuff is intriguing, as it crosses low-tech rhythm guitar with jazz drumming and interesting lead guitar that drops into rhythm guitar figures when convenient to emphasize a change in backdrop. I like it, but it flags in intensity, so makes for an uneven listening experience in a style I abandoned years ago.

Vomit the Soul – Apostles of Inexpression

Would it be wrong to guess that this style of music is very subtly influenced by rap? The semi-recursive rhythms of the chortling, gurgling, guttural muffled shout vocals suggest a technique similar to rap. The riffing is glorified, via Suffocation, speed metal percussive strum but falls into that use of minimal melodic motion to make a nice bouncy groove into which they can drop build-ups, break-downs and even more, lots of chortling. It’s genre-typical: competent, not bad, but well past the glory years of this genre and probably only about half as interesting as a later Deeds of Flesh album.

Denial – Catacombs of the Grotesque

Another forgettable band, for all their technical skill in integrating the memes and techniques of twenty years of death metal into a single album. These songs lack subtlety because that they want to express is not subtle, and even more, does not expand from the initial appearance. They adopt from Krisiun the power-blasting technique of full speed ahead drums, with pauses to divide riffs, creating an overwhelming sense of motion even when little corresponds between riff and percussion. These are songs about violent destabilization and in the process of expressing that, they destabilize themselves into chaotic collections of riff unified by rhythm and vocals but expressing little other than a self-satisfied chaos.

Vermis – Liturgy of the Annihilated

Imagine early Grave with greater instrumental ability and a propensity to use Entombed-style slower melodic passages between the storming chords of thunderous rage. This is roughly where Vermis stands, with a few updated stylistic elements, and less of the flowing tremolo of older death metal so much as fast chord changes like a metal-stamping machine. If anything, the habit of picking a progression and working it through basic harmony split into three riffs wears old after a few songs, but not in a tragic way, such that if this band were able to pack more variation into their work, they’d have a killer. Probably especially appealing to fans of KAAMOS, NOMINON and REPUGNANT.

Coffins – Buried Death

Resembling a stoner doom band as executed by early Grave, this death metal act offer us no complexity and very little variation between songs, but they make them engaging and easily heard owing to their familiar rhythms that resembling walking, wrestling and other human activities. The chord progressions alternate between chromatic and comfortable hard rock intervals, giving this an over-the-top feel as if somehow Cinderella, Poison or AC/DC wandered through hell and came out chaotic. While none of it is offensive, and everything fits and feels second-nature, this CD also doesn’t do anything exceptional so it fades very quickly into the background. It gets an A++ for stylistic concerns, and a C- for content.

Unexpect – In a Flesh Aquarium

Progressive rock presents difficulties in tying together larger songs in a way that makes sense. If you want to take a shortcut, take a very basic song and trick it out, aesthetically. Add some fast scales to that riff; layer some voices; use a weird instrument; use strange time changes. Write a melody that is awkward or diminished, use relative scales. All of this can dress up a very basic song into something sounding quite complex that, when you sketch it out on a whiteboard or equivalent, is basically a pop song. Fans of Maudlin of the Well — if they played really fast with female and male vocals competing and Renaissance Fair style quasi-medieval melodies twisted into modern, almost grunge form — would like this mess, as will people who like constant distraction carnival music like Mindless Self Indulgence. For this reviewer, it’s an old dog still trying old tricks without having much to say.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 1-31-10

So much of what we do in life is politics. Telling people things they want to hear and making warring parties proffer the olive branch. But metal should not be about politics. Metal should be about pure spirit, both inside of us and in the world at large, meaning that we know ourselves and we know reality. With that kind of background, we don’t need politics. We don’t need drama. We don’t need to be flattered. We want adventure — musical adventure, preferably with tragedy and triumph, violence and vengeance, sodomy and satisfaction! Meet this week’s Sadistic Metal Reviews, where sacred cows get sodomized and we find satisfaction in the diamonds among the cluttering turds.

Fenriz’ Red Planet/Nattefrost – Engangsgrill

We’re going to talk about the first band here, Fenriz’ Red Planet, because Nattefrost is forgettable 1970s punk rock dressed up as early 1980s black metal. This band is a hybrid between doom metal, 1970s heavy guitar jam, and what they call stoner doom now but was recognizable in St. Vitus, Pentagram and Sleep for many years. The production approach and song style is closest to 1970s heavy guitar rock, like Cream or even Led Zeppelin, in that songs are verse/chorus works with a big fat diversion stuck in the middle that may run through a couple of riffs but comes back into key and rhythm so the cycle can spin again. But over half of the riffs are straight out of old school 1980s doom metal, and that would be St. Vitus and Pentagram but also late-blooming NWOBHM with a doom edge like Witchfinder General and Budgie. It’s not exciting; if anything, it sounds like a demo where the band hasn’t yet finalized direction and aesthetic. However, it is good; these songs have character and a spirit to them which you cannot get anywhere else. You can hear a few lifts from Fenriz’ folk/metal project Storm and one or two similar themes to Darkthrone, but this CD doesn’t need to namedrop to stand on its own. They named it “Engangsgrill,” which apparently is a type of disposable barbecue, which fits exactly the kind of sloppy rock/metal hybrid you have here: pickup trucks headed to the country with a keg, a bong and some friends, followed by a weekend of the best neighborhood bands jamming, society gets forgotten until on Monday morning you drive back with a mouth full of ash and the kind of diluted hangover that comes from cheap beer in constant consumption.

Baroness – The Blue Record

Oh neat, an emo/stoner metal hybrid with lots of indie and punk rock touches. If you can imagine Neurosis and Jawbreaker making sweet love with newer Sleep, and throwing in tons of stuff from the heavy metal and indie rock canons, you’ll have a good image of what this cheeseball release has to offer. From the way the labels and the big industry reviewers — who have about five minutes to hear each CD, and put them on in the background while socializing for two weeks, then forget about them — went on about this CD, you’d think it was the second coming of innovation itself. Instead, it’s stale and completely loses what’s good about metal and punk, converging on a mean that’s closer to your run-of-the-mill hipster band. This is awful.

Despised Icon – The Ills of Modern Man

Metalcore is rock songwriting with technical death metal technique, and a desire like punk music to string together radically “different” riffs as if it can surprise us, and since it’s random in structure, built around what’s left: vocal phrases that end on the expectation of the offbeat like a sales pitch. Despised Icon is as a result about 80% the fratboy-pleasing, gurgling, blasting, very simple riffs played in difficult time of technical death metal, like Immolation, and the rest is bouncy moronic rock music that I got into metal to escape. Consequently, it has no attention span and cycles like carnival music between different styles and tempos, then crams it all into a barely-disguised verse/chorus structure. What is the point of typing this all out? To point out how to fail at metal. This is the abyss of music and is every bit as stupid as your parents claim your music is. If you want to fail at life, try listening to this random accumulation of parts — each part is in itself OK, not great, but together they add up to a conversation made by borrowing a phrase from 30 works of literature — and as a result project a scatterbrained, neurotic, pointless and non-constructive view of the world. No wonder people hate metalcore; it’s the nadir of underground music.

Cryptopsy – The Unspoken King

This is what’s left of the band that made None So Vile? The neatly structured, compact death metal has been replaced with blasting metalcore. Metalcore, as you may know, is kind of a garbage plate for underground metal and punk. Based around the interpretation of technical metal into punk structures that Human Remains showed us, metalcore loves randomness in circular song structures, so you get ten minimally-related riffs linked by a breakdown and a few slow chants, and then the whole thing repeats, and then the song ends. It’s music for a fragmented mind and as a result, has the IQ of a headless chicken watching daytime TV. Cryptopsy utterly fails to make coherent music out of this style as their countrymen Neuraxis eventually did, and instead defecate this collection of random riffs based around an egodramatic vocal track. It’s total garbage for morons.

These Are They – “Who Linger”

Imagine Iron Maiden doing a simplified version of 1990s Demigod or Amorphis. This CD is unique in that it successfully applies both (a) the old school death metal style and (b) a heavy metal, harmonized-guitar, bouncy riff style — and does it by coming up with a melodic phrase and answer, and using these to make layers of verse and chorus. Play riff; play notes of riff in variation of rhythm; harmonize guitars and repeat, then cycle. The choruses do the same. Nothing sounds out of place, and the deep guttural voice guides it along, but it seems entirely out of place when the heavy metal riffs and trills come into play. In addition, the riff salad of death metal isn’t here; like rock or indie, this rides one pattern for verse and one for chorus, and much variation is not to be found, which probably places this out of the range of old school death metal fans. Still, these are quality riffs and excellent use of basic harmony, which makes this easy listening and because it is not random, a great improvement on the metalcore-heavy stuff we hear daily. For albums like later Bolt Thrower, which tried to make a heavy metal/death metal hybrid, this is probably the best so far.

Vreid – Milorg

Black metal was about writing unique melodies and building song structures to fit them. Vreid is about mimicking the past with more intensity in each riff, but relying on predictable melodic strips and linear song structures in circular repetition, resulting in songs that are binary like nu-metal: a softer part, then a harder part, then a response to that which softens the hardness, then a restatement at full blast, fade out and win. Most of these riffs come from the 1970s and 1980s generations of metal and get a “black metal” treatment, so end up sounding like rock music in its Sunday black metal evil clothes. The music is driving by a chanting vocal which rides the beat like the shouts of the drummer commanding the slaves to row. Every now and then they launch into an extended melody like a pentatonic version of early ancient, and they have the raw rhythmic power of an early Marduk or Zyklon, but it doesn’t add up to more than most rock music, and considerably less than the formative works of Nordic black metal.

Black Funeral – Az-i-Dahak

Throbbing notes rhythm a rhythm that then reverses, examines a portion of itself in detail, and then picks up in a new direction which dovetails with the old; the throb remains, like symbols etched in the air with a torch caught on the slower memory of film. In this way, Black Funeral achieves an odd ambience similar to that of Impetigo, where a higher note is strummed repetitively at an offset rhythm where most bands would hammer a lower note on the beat, but by the nature of the larger melodic structure of the riff, this throb does not bounce jauntily like a rock rhythm; it hangs, like a reminder of mortality. Vocals are chant-ish black metal rasps and the mechanistic pedaling of the drum machine fits this sound like a glove, getting further inhuman as it distances us from musical expectation and clean aesthetics. Like the humming beeps of an alien machine exploring the night, this album rediscovers humanity by removing it from the picture and showing us the empty space in which we must construct as inevitable death closes in. While most experts agree “Vampyr” is the height of this band — and who am I to disagree? — this perhaps less proficient album is more haunting and bizarre, yet fits it into a pattern similar to our reminiscences of isolated nights when the future angled away from us like the shadow of an unknown doorway.

Decrepit Birth – Diminishing Between Worlds

If the recombinant album name and band name didn’t clue you in, here’s the skinny: this band is totally postmodern, meaning that they fit together all sorts of random influences and then link them together with the basics of rhythm and harmony. As a result, it’s like a fast ride at Disneyland: constant changing stimulus of radical difference so much that after a while you lose any idea of where you are, and end up thinking you’ve come very far, when at the very end as the buggy slows you realize you’ve been circling around the same relatively small space. Unlike most bands of this type, which I’m going to call crypto-metalcore because it’s (a) without death metal’s style of organization, preferring instead the hardcore method of having riffs have as little in common as possible and no narrative (b) of mixed riff styles and (c) depends on rhythmic buildup/breakdown for tension because you’re not going to get it in contrast between riffs, Decrepit Birth is good — it’s like an Iron Maiden album hidden in Deeds of Flesh with Blotted Science and Negativa offering critique. However, I can’t listen to this carnival music; it breaks down concentration and replaces it with elaborate versions of territory trod long ago.

Funebrarum – The Sleep of Morbid Dreams

What happened here? Eight years ago — before old-school “revival” was even a blip on the radar — this band had the apparent potential to give proper life to archaic death metal form. Their first album/demo was a brooding, infectious and grimly cohesive piece of work, enough so to make this sound almost brazenly cheap by comparison. Toss in every imaginable death metal riff style coined between 1989 and 1993, lay them out on a rhythmic smorgasbord and put them through enough mood changes to make a pregnant teenager blush and you’ve come damn close to this; add enough embarassing Bloodbath-sounding material (listen to the opener) to something otherwise “authentic” and you’ll never want to hear “old school” again. – kontinual

Star Fucking Hipsters – Never Rest in Peace

There are some of us who believe that rock and roll music, instead of being a thing deliberately created, is an aggregate of what was left over when we tested everything else against a captive audience. Star Fucking Hipsters prove this by carefully absorbing everything they can into the great sponge of melancholy indie pop. These songs usually start off with fast punk or speed metal (Slayer) riffs, and then pass through a few exciting transitions borrowed from anything industrial, black and reggage or between, but then we get to the core: darkish, self-pitying, somewhat helpless indie pop. True, it’s in pop punk format like The Descendents meets Blink 182 with Jane’s Addiction advising on behalf of the emo CIA, but basically, it’s pop. And when we get to that point we see this album is like a confused and lonely person in the city, covering themselves with newspapers or whatever fashions they can yank out of the wind, hoping no one will ever get a glimpse inside. If that’s its goal, this is supreme art, but more likely it is the emoting of such people hoping we’ll justify their existence for them. As pop, it’s not bad, a little toward the “poignant” side of minor key melodies sliding into major key to give you a sense of hope. But it’s really the same old thing, or the latest incarnation of it in whatever styles have stuck over the past twelve years, and so I can’t imagine why you’d listen to this instead of any of the 100,000 other albums this “good” in the rock style.

Ahab – The Divinity of Oceans

Funeral doom of a style similar to Skepticism if merged with Esoteric, with a tiny bit of Paradise Lost or Sleep in the wings, Ahab is a studied take on the slow and depressive atmospheric music that many people seem to enjoy. Stylistically, it is probably the most advanced of its kind; musically, it is perfectly competent; artistically, it is not particularly compelling. Its melodies have less of a sense of mixed emotions than do those of Skepticism, and its songs develop in predictable cycles within cycles, leaving us with atmosphere by default once all else has been blocked out. Like American rock bands, Ahab also has to throw in that sense of “contrast” where any dominant idea gets a contrarian voice thrown up against it, where bands like Skepticism bear down with enhancement and variation inside their major ideas. Few want to be the voice to stand up and say this, but most doom metal is boring, and not just because it’s slow. Ahab, while better than most, falls under this umbrella.

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine – The Audacity of Hype

Purists will kill me for this, but this is Biafra’s best work — it’s musical. Where the Dead Kennedys sounded disorganized and messy without really building on that as an aesthetic, he’s slowed down to a pop-punk combo that uses hardcore riffs (Discharge, Exploited) to balance its melodic lead picking (Circle Jerks, The Plugz). That, plus Southern Fried guitar solos and lead guitar noise, forms the underpinning for a more interesting Biafra performance than has ever been heard before. On this CD, Biafra develops his vocal lines both melodically and in timbre, giving the performance of his life with verve and energy. You’ve heard these riff types before, and many of the note progressions are “pop culture” stalwarts that show up in movie soundtracks and commercials, but here Biafra and his band develop each into a song that’s half-rock and half-hardcore, creating a foundation that will introduce a new generation to the sounds of hardcore punk.

Akitsa – La Grande Infamie

Most of us love the idea of black metal: a few totally socially alienated people, armed only with the truth, pick up guitars one weekend and make a simple mind-virus that helps slay all of the vastly powerful illusions that make our modern world miserable. The problem is that this is far from the truth: most of the people who have made great simple black metal were expert players or at least savants who self-schooled themselves in a unique and powerful style, and their work is very deliberate and designed to make us enjoy life as much as convey some idea. But as in all things, each generation picks up where the previous generation appeared to leave off, so the source of the idea is always lost. Akitsa sounds like a cross between The Exploited and early Dark Funeral, with simple melodic riffs offset against sawing basic power chording; the melodic riffs are too candy-sweet and the power chord riffs are too much of a style we can get anywhere. “Silence” appears to be heavily influenced by “Thy Winter Kingdom” from the first Behemoth CD. The rest of the CD is alternating Burzum influences with later model droning melody. It is both not bad and not really compelling enough to want to hear again.

Orthrelm – OV

I wish this album were a joke, but like most modern and postmodern art, it’s an attempt to “demonstrate” an “idea,” and that idea has no correlation to the reality of an artist both entertaining and informing his listeners. Instead, you get a lot of fast chromatic playing over serial drumming with occasional breaks into jazz-style breakdowns that are either sloppy or misinformed about music theory. The result is a dissonant atmosphere after the band lulls you into contentment with repetition. Over time, the basic pattern increases in a period-doubling format, creating a linear expansion on a basic idea that resembles holy books that write about the universe expanding from a breath, except here the expansion leads to nothing but a reflection of itself. When Burzum did this with Det Som Engang Var, it built a mood that gained resurgent power of time; here it is purely deconstructive and fragments the listener’s attention span by forcing it through a narrow slit of musical awareness. People will like this because it’s unique, and talk about how genius it is because no one else “dared to be different” to such a degree, but as a work of meaningful art and a listening experience, it is worthless.

Blood Mortized – Blood Mortized

This band claims “active” status in the early nineties, with zero material to show for it. It may very well be true; current personnel have some of the more run-of-the-mill Stockholm bands to brag about in their ancestry. Excited yet? This falls somewhere between Amon Amarth and Dismember’s Massive Killing Capacity, smothered in the “soft” mimicry of the Sunlight sound that seems so common for these fence-sitting bands. The plod is painful and simple and the song development as bluntly screwball as the song titles, lending an air of crafted irony to the whole presentation lest somebody seriously stack it up against any of its predecessors. One wonders whence this stuff keeps coming — I’m wont to call this the “Swedish mid-life crisis” and leave it at that. – kontinual

Junius – The Martyrdom of a Catastrophist

What is post-rock? For most, it’s slow atmospheric rock beats with emo, punk, indie and noise riffs slowed down to provide texture. On this CD, Junius blend in a modern taste of the ancient with a Dead Can Dance influence. The result is like a river, winding around obstacles to rejoin itself, but only suggesting a topography. This music is comforting and melancholic, but not really exciting. It is pretty, but will find it hard to escape a lukewarm rock underpinning that reigns in its tendencies to escape for the outer limits. A reasonable comparison might be if Danzig decided to do a space rock album: you can appreciate it aesthetically, but sense how the voice isn’t really there, and how as much as these guys want to be ancient, they’re stuck in a modern paradigm.

Virus – The Black Flux

For the last time: if I wanted indie rock, I would have gone to a different part of the record store. Take your Sisters of Mercy gothic vocals, your bad indie rock open chord guitar riffs, and your basic song structures interrupted by dramatic outbursts, and put them there. I don’t want to fall into the old trap of saying “this isn’t metal,” because what I really want to say is that this is indie rock and should be integrated into that genre for the modicum of black metal stylings and ideas it still possesses. Sure, they’re going to call it a “post-rock” influence, but other than a little flexibility of rhythm, what’s going on here is the same stuff emo, indie and shoegaze bands were pumping out in the early 1990s.

Mefisto – The Truth

This CD resembles death metal in no way other than the vocals, which are the kind of reverbed whisper shout that made the first Sepultura EP so memorable. But the music… well, it’s stranded in the 1980s. Throw a lot of Metallica, Kreator, Slayer and Destruction in a blender — like every other band from that era — and you’ll get this mismash of riffs very similar to both the aforementioned bands and a huge heritage of heavy metal. To their credit, this band string them together well rhythmically but otherwise seem entirely random. Before someone convinces you this is a forgotten classic, ask them if classic means “good” or just that it was around in the early 1990s.

Sarke – Vorunah

We all want to love anything with the enigmatic Nocturno Culto on it. In fact, many of us were hoping he would pull off a Nemesis Divina where his skills converted an unexceptional band into a relative masterpiece. Not so on Sarke — his performance is phoned in, mainly because these songs are sparse, undeveloped, and entirely derivative of their influences in a 1989 way. In fact, the whole CD has the vibe of a collection of songs that have been kicked around since they got written in the 1980s, finally put onto vinyl years after the genre has passed them by. You’re familiar with these chord progressions and general rhythms, since many of them come out of punk rock and hard rock, and you’re probably not unacquainted — unless you’ve been under a rock labeled BLACK METAL GO HOME for the last two decades — with Culto’s interpretation of them. It’s all quite vanilla; nothing to really be appalled at here except how little you care about this flat regurgitation of the past.

Drautran – Throne of the Depths

We live in a time of fools. Given no real truths to chew on, they raise themselves on lies, and make competing lies so they can be heard. Then they tell us what metal bands to listen to, and they cannot tell the difference between good music and derivative shit. They will, for example, convince themselves that Drautran is folk metal, when really it’s indie rock songs dressed up in black metal chord forms with a little extra violence. Unlike metal songs, where riffs fit together and make sense, these are rock songs with some metal riffs dropped in between the sing-song verse chorus. They take their riffing inspiration from Enslaved’s Frost but none of the compositional coherence is here. Listen to this if you want to distract yourself, fragment your concentration and dull your possibilities of ever understanding the difference between good music and crap.

Moëvöt – Abgzvoryathre

Every now and then, people who lack direction in life and so pay attention to surface features more than anything else, hoping to use these to justify their emptiness, will try to tell you how good a band is because it’s unique and nuanced. Usually this includes some kind of infantilism, like extreme minimalism or incoherence. This tedious little recording fits the bill. People like it because it’s obscure, kvlt, whatever… the truth is that it’s melodically simplistic, goes nowhere in song development, and showcases no really unique ability except to waste your time. They try to eat up as much tape as possible with intros, chants, and very basic keyboard melodies, but basically there’s nothing here. Maybe that’s the artistic point — emptiness — but then again a blank tape would have been more effective, and pleasant.

Black Vomit – The Faithful Servant

Interesting approach by this Mexican band: take a more technical version of the full speed burst style semi-melodic black metal that Sarcofago made, and intersperse it with flowing keyboard-enhanced choruses in the style of countrymen Xibalba and Avzhia. The result suffers from the radical shift between two very identifiable poles, but the music although very basic develops gently through this style, and as a result is more credible than most of what we get sent here at the Dark Legions Archive Metal Reviews and CD Recycling Center. This is a band worth keeping an eye on.

Archgoat – The Light-Devouring Darkness

I’m convinced that a lot of contemporary death and black metal is music designed for children, because not only is it painfully simple and repetitive, but it also uses gentle rhythms of chord change — while playing at top speed. It’s like listening to a fan slowly playing an early Mozart piece. This album is similar. Sounds a lot like Blasphemy meets Impaled Nazarene, with the lower register production and slamming tempo changes of Belial. So as a retrospective of Finnish metal technique it’s great, but for anything else, it’s kind of a droning lullaby. What excuses it is that this CD shows purpose in its songwriting, and captures a mood, but for many of us the droning outweighs its significance.

Cruciamentum – Convocation of Crawling Chaos

During the past two years, underground black metal shifted from emulating the early 1990s — fast melody — to emulating the late 1990s, specifically Demoncy’s “Joined in Darkness.” The Convocation EP does its best to revive that sound, with an injection of Finnish death metal and possibly American doom/death like Incantation, Winter and Infester. Although it keeps its goals limited, which is appropriate for a demo, this release shows promise in songwriting in that (a) every piece works together (b) together they create a vision of some idea, experience or emotion we can recognize from life itself and (c) while a good deal of it covers known death metal archetypes, it does so without borrowing straight from one source and so gives us a sense of exploring these ideas from a new angle. Low rasp voices, downtuned rigid guitars, and drumming that sounds like it’s straight out of drone/hardcore punk fusion gives this CD a sense of growing out of the past toward something even more ancient.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 8-16-09

Scientists have found that we learn more from our successes than our failures because of the way individual brain cells respond in real time. Like natural selection, this is a process where the winner takes all: when the idiots have run out of steam or exterminated themselves, the smart take over and breed like mad. Metal is exactly the same way. Across the world, tens of thousands of bands launch their albums at one giant egg which is the mass consciousness of metal fans, and a few make it in and become golden classics that people will talk about for decades. It’s not random; it’s about music quality. In the following reviews, we search for the 0.1% of quality in the metal world and mock the 99.9% of directionless gloop that people will talk about this week and next, and then forget.

Medusa – En Raga Sul

You know, post-metal is horsepuckey just like post-punk was. You’re making the same music with a little more dexterity and some slicker exterior. But you can’t escape the fact that your approach is the same. This circularity of doom by ignorance of abstract afflicts Medusa. These guys — normally from indie bands — can clearly play their instruments, but they understand metal on the same level as my parents. “Oh, I get it, be as loud and interruptive as possible, and random if you can.” No way, dueds. Random is an indie hipster thing. Order rising from chaos in a majestic fountain of context-expanding revelation is a metal thing. Like post-rock, post-punk, etc. this is a disappointed because they threw everything but the kitchen sink into the compositional mix, and came out with one giant average that screeches, howls, whines and cajoles like a methed-out whore. This CD will experience the wrath of Lord Bic, my lighter (and the object into which I have projected the spirit of my dead warrior ancestors).

Zebulon Pike – Intransience

This lengthy EP brings three songs in a fusion between King Crimson of the Red era and the mellower, rolling doom metal of bands like Cathedral. Thankfully, there are no vocals, which makes this quite exciting; sadly, it’s still entrenched in the “prog rock” category and does not make a metal voice out of its influences. However, it one-ups bands like Cynic or Maudlin of the Well by escaping the pop song ghetto and going for the gusto with these lengthy, prog-worshipping songs that are not so much intricately structured as they are intricate structures applied cumulatively in repetitive layers, causing a sensation of ascending a spiral staircase that changes geometric dimension at every floor. All instrumentation is straight out of 1970s King Crimson, with occasional bounding punk or doom-death metal riffs, but by the nature of keeping open harmony so it can write melodies through the chord lines in a complex fashion, there’s a lot of clanging open chords and chords formed around the upper notes of the scale, giving it a clangy old school vibe. Fans of Pelican might appreciate this fusion between indie retro aesthetic and the impetus toward topographic space savant rock epics, but if this band really wants to move forward they should forget their influences long enough to fuse a new language out of the shared heritage of rock, prog and metal that fuels this exploratory band.

Havok – Being and Nothingness

Despite the cool song titles and album concept, this is tedious metalcore: a mix of prog metal, speed metal, avantgarde punk and indie rock that uses death metal technique sometimes. Lots of heavily repetitive strumming, “groove” occurring in the midst of rhythmic chaos, and sudden breaks to “unexpected” acoustic or proggy parts in the same self-considered profundity that Opeth and Meshuggah use. Maybe you’ll like it if you like those. But then it would be an imitation of an imitation.

Woodtemple – Voices of Pagan Mountains

I am told by reliable sources that other CDs from this band are not as good. However, this one stays on my B-list of metal and will eventually be purchased. In the 2000s, buying something you’ve had kicking around on mp3 forever is a sure sign it’s destined for repeated listening. In style, this disc is like Graveland Following the Voice of Blood re-done in the style of Thousand Swords, but as if informed by early Ancient, say, Trolltaar. Longer riff-melodies and repetition interrupted by a kind of prismatic re-use and re-contexting of past riffs makes this an engrossing, labyrinthine listen. There’s some hilarious intrusions from later Bathory (Hammerheart), including experimentation with percussive riffing, but on the whole, this is a great disc and one of my favorites from post-entropy (1994) black metal, even if in style it’s a total tribute to the past.

Amesoeurs – Amesoeurs

Proving again that they’re low self-esteem losers, the vocal black metal community tripped over its own feet rushing to praise this release. I understand why; it’s easily listened to, pleasing to the air, and maintains an atmosphere that is pleasant. However, it’s shoegaze and not black metal, and deviates entirely from the moods which produce the epic experience of black metal. For sure, there are moments of storming guitar riff over blasting drums. But musically, it has little in common with black metal, and does a lot of dressing up My Bloody Valentine-style pop as something more extreme, kind of like a brainier version of Marilyn Manson. The problem with the pop approach is that it’s two-stroke: you get two emotions, mix them, and leave people with that wistful sense that something important happened and they missed it. That will not scratch the black metal itch because it’s very karmic,

Worship – Dooom

I really wanted to like this. But playing a heavy metal band this slowly crushes the ability to make riffs that are distinctive, so you end up with chord progressions you’ve heard before in a rhythm too slow to recognize; when that gets arduous, the band pause like waiting for an audience to clap along, and then resume again. And so it goes, for minutes upon minutes. It isn’t bad but it’s not necessary, and it will always gall me to have CDs sitting around that aren’t as good as the other stuff I have, but are “newer” so must be really important. It’s not. Stoner doom is the latest trend and while we all like a trend because it seems like the hand of the world has reached down to offer us an easy solution, usually this means that people adapt whatever they have to the new trend with predictable results. These songs are generic stoner doom of the heavy variety; seek Skepticism instead!

Havohej – Kembatinan Premaster

Paul Ledney makes brilliant albums every other album. You can tell from his history that he has an active mind and explores new methods of making music. Some are communicative, and so make us understand the dark mental journeys he’s taking, and others convey emptiness in a way that not only is un-informative, but also is not much fun to listen to. After all, good art is half Schopenhauer and half “Harry Potter”: it should have the profundity to twist our minds to see a greater context to our lives, but it should also be entertaining and show us our everyday struggles in a new context where we can more easily grasp what we’d rather be doing in similar situations. This latest from Havohej, like Man and Jinn before it, is an experiment in ritual rhythm music using noise instead of guitars and bass. His technique appears to be using ultrasonic noise and sublimated harmony in the drone to create additional rhythms through separation sounds (as used when tuning an instrument). The result is “interesting” academically, but horrible for listening. The sense of adventure is dead. It’s more like a mathematical proof by an interior decorator. Skip this and pick up the excellent Profanatica Profanatitas de Domonatia instead.

Greenfly – Hidden Pleasures of a Nonexistent Reality

This CD is just bad. The choice of notes is predictable; the choice of rhythms is blockheaded; the instrumentation is so competent it’s thoroughly uncreative. It’s so strikingly obvious in construction it’s hard to imagine it as something other than guitar practice that got accidentally recorded. The metalcore vocals don’t help either, nor do the recycled and completely cut-from-form speed metal riffs. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this was a parody of death metal. It’s like an angry caveman howling while he beats rocks with his club. I think the worst part is that this band seem to think they’re clever, or pure in some ironic way, for having distilled the genre into this blurting, bumbling, pounding disaster.

Hammemit – Spires Over the Burial Womb

Over the last dozen years, I have become more cynical about noise and ambient music. The reason is that there’s so much of it, yet 90% drops into the category of “goes nowhere, does nothing.” Hammemit straddles the line: a good deal of thought went into these compositions which create a ritual atmosphere of contemplation. The problem is that they do so under the conscious level, and do not form any distinct thought, only a vague impression of something sacred happening. I like that, but it’s not going to motivate people to listen to any piece of music (same problem modern and postmodern “classical” has). These collections of moans, natural phenomena noises, occasional piano and guitar, and found sounds are compelling in that they do not whack you over the head like modern material does, but they also shy away from approaching the clarity of ancient works. My suggestion to this artist is to vary the sound palette between tracks, and to aim at making the concrete form out of nothingness, as that way the mind will retain what’s afoot here.

Ihsahn – Angl

I’m going to say what others are afraid to say: this album is shit. Equal parts Cynic and Meshuggah, it shows nothing of the creativity of Ihsahm during his Emperor days; actually, it’s just a collection of well-done cliches. It’s like Nordic metal is the peak of ability in making songs, but if you feed the same crap into it, you just get a better version of that crap. I think instead we need something, like — just to pull a name out of the hat — Emperor where they made something entirely different, and as a result, were inspired to make better quality music. Repeating the past is painful. This recombines and repeats the past. I had to run across the room to hide my Emperor CDs from this dripping turd.

Demigod – Shadow Mechanics

This refreshing album eschews the pure death metal outlook for a hybrid of death metal and later Voivod-style progressive metal, using complex rhythms and multiple offsets place emphasis of protean phrases; there’s also the usual expanded chord voicings and quirky tempo changes, and while song structures are basically complex verse/chorus in the Rush model, there are enough deviations — usually about two per song — to give atmosphere and create anticipation. Smooth vocals and catchy rhythms give a nod to populism, but it’s unlikely the band thought they were authoring a best seller. It’s more likely that, like Obliveon on Nemesis or Voivod on Negatron, they were simply hoping for a more accessible canvas onto which to splash their brighter ideas, in the camouflage of being an entertainment/leisure product.

Grave – Into the Grave

After enjoying this album during the early days of Death Metal, I set it aside for about a dozen years. I don’t know why I set it aside. I know why I picked it up: I was curious to see what degree nostalgia played in my enjoyment of music, and why I seem to pathologically forget to mention this band or even think about it. Now I know: this is an album with passion, rhythmic intensity, and utterly boring selection of chords in very similar riffs and very, very similar song constructions. Musically, it’s like Asphyx played a lot faster with Slayer-esque drumming, and almost no deviation from a half-whole interval progression. They do a good job of thematic presentation, but every riff is astoundingly self-evident and without much tonal contrast. True, it’s heavy as hell, but like a bulldozer pushing rocks: after a while the dynamic is dead and you have background noise.

Corpus Christii – The Fire God

The Fire God should consume this CD. It’s entirely coherent, but aims so low that fitting together verse and chorus riffs with a bevvy of hovering keyboard trills should be easy. And it is, and that’s kind of the problem: there’s nothing here you could not find somewhere else in a more articulate form. In addition to being basically bland black metal, this CD also incorporates a lot of heavy metal elements blah blah you know the story by now. Throw in too many ingredients, and the recipe turns to mush. So does this CD. It needs a fire god to give it real passion, but for that that, it will have to pick a direction and try to find songs that can express conclusions of its own voice. Right now, it sounds like a clever recombination of things known from other sources and since I own those, well, why would I listen to this?

Demigod – Let Chaos Prevail

Most people confuse external form with content, because they assume form mirrors function. It does, but the function must come first; if there’s no clear function, we end up with an aggregate of misplaced ideas. That’s what has happened here. Demigod have tried to update their death metal sound with the “modern death metal” (read: deathcore, which is deathy metalcore) style, complete with sweeps and jazzy chugging rhythms, and the result is that they’ve adulterated their music — even while producing at the top of their musical knowledge and technical ability. In this, they are very similar to Cadaver, who did the same thing with Necrosis. The bouncy, jaunty, distraction-oriented nature of rock music and metalcore does not mix with the subtle building of atmosphere out of seemingly unrelated attributes of a stream of riffs; instead, on this CD, Demigod sound like a riff/chorus band who periodically jam on alternate riffs before going back to the safe and repetitive. Clearly they are talented, a lot like Behemoth and better than Meshuggah, but this is written in such a blockhead way that the dumbing-down traps all hopeful bits and intelligent riffs in the amber of a soon-to-be-obsolete style called metalcore.

Death Courier – Necrorgasm

What happens to innovators when the music they produce is not all that exceptional? Like Venom, this Greek band helped establish the aesthetic of death metal. Their music is not bad; it’s just boring. Moderately technical, it shows a nice grasp of basic harmony, and is probably about 50% rock music and 50% death metal. There are plenty of heavy metal riffs. There’s a clear influence on early Darkthrone, especially Goatlord, in some of the bidirectional chord progressions used in riffs. Some might point out similarities to Varathron His Majesty at the Swamp as well and not be inaccurate. But listening to this for a modern death metal listener is kind of painful.

Criterion – The Dominant

I really wanted to like this, but the riffs are too… obvious. Not much other than straightforward riffing like cutting bread, at least harmonically. Rhythmically, there’s more space, but with two glitches: their voice is derived entirely from Deicide “Once Upon the Cross” meets later Morbid Angel, and the organization of these riffs goes nowhere. Songs cycle, then end. Thud. The spirit and intent seems good behind this CD but the result is battering repetition.

Code – Resplendent Grotesque

This is really bad. It’s dramatic gothic rock pretending to be black metal, sort of a fusion between the Dimmu Borgir softer parts and Mardukish harder parts. But at the end of the day, it’s the same ranting style of vocals without much organization, recycled riffs, and lots of noise to hide where there’s no real idea. This is to be avoided if you have musical knowledge or just like quality music.

Angantyr – Haevn

I keep trying to like this band and getting halfway there. It’s very pretty; it’s very repetitive; somewhere in the middle, its direction ends up getting simplified and to my ears, not really deviating from its starting point. However, if you want to swing your willowy limbs to something pleasant and droningly melodic, this will fit the bill. Fit the bill. Fit the bill. Fit the bill.

Diaboli – Mesmerized by Darkness

Resembling Impaled Nazarene’s Ugra-Karma most in its approach, this is pneumatically-driven high speed quasi-melodic black metal with a relentless attack. Like the most extreme hardcore band you can imagine, Diaboli roar into song with verse/chorus riffing interrupted by some transitional “budget riffs” of rhythmic variations on a couple of chords. As a result, like most hardcore, it wears thin after some time. However, there are some great riffs on here and the intensity stays high. This would probably not make a great go-to album, since it lacks the kind of mystic atmosphere Forest Poetry or the aforementioned Ugra-Karma created, but it’s a good rainy day fallback.

End – III

Someone made the perfect generic black metal album: it’s rugged and rough black metal written as if it were “symphonic” metal and the keyboards got accidentally left off. Heavy metal riffs, black metal drums and vocals, sounding a lot like a cross between Absu and later Immortal if you then crossbred that with something really bouncy like Nifelheim. Even if you’re not an orthodox blackmetaller, you can see how this lack of direction leads to a very confused band who basically jam on some really basic stuff and then try to differentiate it however they can. It’s not badly done but there’s no reason to listen to it. Imagine the best SUV ever made, if you hate SUVs.

Behemoth – Evangelion

No matter what anyone says, this is deathcore or metalcore: it’s not put together like death metal. The idea behind death metal is that a string of riffs makes sense in an expanding context. This is totally cyclic, a bit of verse/chorus dressed up with some transitions, and instead of emphasizing a through-composed outlook, it directs itself toward — just like rock ‘n roll — a rhythmic chorus pattern with open chords behind it. The “carnival music” aspect of pasting together disparate riffs and layering them in keyboards to distract us is gone; these are basic heavy metal riffs done “extreme” with high BPM and lots of distortion. Vocals are masked in some odd way that makes them sound like a crowd of laryngitis sufferers demanding their change at a Burger King. It’s fair to mention that Behemoth know their basic music theory and so this holds together well as music; it’s more harmonically coherent and thus easy to listen to than most death metal. However, it conveys mostly a repetition of battering rhythm, put into the minor-key Gothic theatricism that is a kissing cousin to Marilyn Manson, which makes it more suited to the punk/rock crowd who enjoy metalcore because it’s basically rock music with prog-metal riffs.

Detournement – Screaming Response

For a minute, I was thrown back into 1994 when the fresh-voiced, power-pop-infused posi-pop-punk started hitting the shelves. Like all those bands, these guys try really hard to show both how purist punk they are, and how not punk they are, by cutting a ballad like “No Estan Solos” full of soulful appeal but ultimately pretty repetitive. The rest is surging political punk that tries to keep the outrage high but, as in the 1990s, sounded simply like the children of a post-industrial wasteland howling protests at leaders themselves in the grip of forces they cannot control. Both of these tendencies make the pandering and amateurishness come out, but other than that, there’s nothing wrong with this high-energy modern hardcore EP.

Havohej – Man and Jinn

The difference between the indefinable presence of discernible structure, natural forces and emergent properties, and the world as we experience it of visual appearance and seemingly absolute cause/effect linkages that yet are not universal, afflicts this EP both in its triumph and its failure. Its triumph is that by using sampled sounds of nuclear explosions and other droning material sounds, Paul Ledney creates a recording that sounds like avantgarde black metal without blatantly slipping into avantgarde territory. In doing so, he tweaks our noses for accepting the “air conditioner with a drumbeat” style that black metal has become; unfortunately, the failure of this CD is that it does not provide a better artistic and listening experience, only a demonstration of form. Sometimes, I wish Ledney would devote his considerable talents to writing analysis about metal instead of trying to show us sonic evidence for what only a few can perceive anyway.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews, 2007

P – The Larch Returns (Music Abuse, 2005)

As metal continues, like a snowball rolling over open ground it assimilates all that went before it and thrusts it forward in recombinations hoping to find another powerful aesthetic voice for the eternal metal spirit (which also picks up details, but rarely additions, to its sense of being). P is the side project of Alchemy member P and can be described as a black metal-informed death-doom band, with influences primarily in the Asphyx and Cianide camp with touches from Paradise Lost and Master. Its strengths are its booming, bassy, cinderblock-simple riffs that thunder through repetition in a trancelike resonance. Where many simple riffed bands can be irritating, these are sustaining. Songs move from one perspective to a final response to it without ado because the goal of this music is to carve tunnels of explosive sound through the rock face of silence, enacting mood more than drama. P needs to work on its rhythmic transitions and vocals, the former being stiff and the latter overacted; the local-band style of shout/rasp does nothing for a listener who might prefer to not be reminded of vocals at all should the question arise. Influence might also be gained by pacing riffs, especially introductory ones, differently to radically offset each other and effect a smoother convergence of forces. Three songs are of solid death/doom, and then there’s junk — an Aldo Nova cover that is unconvincing, a duet with a young girl that is amusing, and a comic song about baseball that dilutes the mood — but this is followed by a final instrumental that is beautiful like an unfocused eye, being a careless-sounding collection of sounds so natural that it is both unnoticed and profound in its emotional impact. Should this band ever decide to take a direction and master it, they will be a potent force in the death/doom field.

Alchemy – Alchemy (Alchemy, 2004)

Reminiscent of Abyssic Hate and Xasthur and I Shalt Become, Alchemy creates Burzum-styled ambient drone in a song format that seems inspired by Dark Funeral more than anything else. It is elegant and embraces the listener but beyond getting into said mood, goes nowhere: it is not directionless but each song is monodirectional to the point it might not be said to be a narrative or even statement as much as observant glimpse. If this band wishes to go to the next level, it needs to divide the formative material of each song into two parts, and layer the first one for 2/3 of the song until an apex, at which point it can switch into the conclusion for the last third and be more effective and satisfying to a listener. Far from incompetent, it is best viewed as something in transition.

Lubricant – Nookleptia (1992)

After the initial solidification of the the sound of death metal (1988-1990) a number of up-and-coming bands caused it to, like the dendritic expansion of a leafed branch, to explore every possible combination with past elements and stylistic possibility. Among the products of that tendency was Finland’s Lubricant, who sound like a progressive death metal band hybridized with hardcore punk under the direction of a hard rock conductor. Like countrymen Sentenced produced on Amok, these bouncy songs use a melodic core to create two-part expansions, bouncing between not call and response but hypothesis and counterpoint. Riffing makes extensive use of dissonant chords, some voicings in contexts familiar in both black metal and emo, and strip death metal riffs of much of the downstrum-empowered, recursive rhythm complexity so that they ride on a few notes and the rhythms of their presentation like a hardcore band. Although goofy experimentation like spoken and sung vocals in opposition to death growls are now rarities, in part thanks to the overuse of this technique by dreaded nu-metal bands, they occur here with enough ingenuity to be presumed innocent and not MTV in intent. Yet style is only half of a band; the melodies and rhythms here are simple but unencumbered and often beautiful in their spiralling cycle around a fragment of vision, in a way reminiscent of both Ras Algethi and Discharge. They are not quite decisive enough to encapsulate the sensation of a generation or era as some of the greater bands did, but they achieve a powerful observational facility from the periphery. My guess is that this band was overlooked because of its bouncy hard rock rhythm and its tendency to structure songs around breakdowns that filter through past riffs like computer code comparing arrays and finally reduce to a simple riff measurably more poignant than its counterparts. In other words, this is not only unfamiliar ground for death metal listeners, but is less discretely concise like beaded water sliding down plastic sheeting, and therefore, harder to identify and appreciate.

Bethzaida – Nine Worlds (1996)

In both guitar tone and composition this resembles Eucharist with a death metal sense of percussion and tempo, spindly melodic lead lines arching through a rhythm to enforce it in offset, but borrows from the short-lived “dark metal” genre that was transitional between death and black (its most persistent artifact is the first Darkthrone album): cyclic arpeggiated riffs give way to either racing fire of chromatic progressions or looser, short melodies repeated at different intervals in the scale comprising the foundation of each piece. Like Dissection, there is a tendency to etch out a dramatically even melody architected across levels of harmony, and then to curl it back around a diminishing progression to achieve closure; while this is effective, it must be used sparingly to avoid audience saturation with its effect, and it isn’t here. What kept this band from the big time might indeed be something similar, which is its tendency to set up some form of constant motion and, after descending into it, failing to undergo dynamic change. Much of its phrasing celebrates symmetry between resolution and inception, creating a squeaky clean obviousness that in metal unlike any other genre becomes tedious fast, and there is like Dissection a tendency to break a melodic scale into a counter direction and a counter to that, then regurgitate it in the dominant vector, then its opposite, then in turn its antithesis, producing a flow of notes that like a river bends in order to go straight. Zoom back on the scale function, and view the album as a whole: like most postmodern art, it is replacing lack of internal strength (encouragement toward self-sacrificial or delayed-gratification values, e.g. heroism and adventure) with a surplus of external embellishment, including flutes dressing up elaborate versions of tedious patterns and keyboards. Like Dissection it achieves a sheath of immersive aesthetic, and like Metallica (occasional similarities in chord progression) it maintains an internally resurgent energy, but when one peels back this externality, there is less of a compelling nature here than a flawless but overdone, directionless aesthetic.

Depression – Chronische Depression (1999)

Although aesthetically this band resembles a more dominating version of the early percussive death metal bands like Morpheus (Descends) or Banished, in composition it is most like grindcore: one thematic riff repeated unless interrupted by detouring counterpoints, then a series of breakdowns and transitions working back to the point of harmonic inception and rhythmic wrapper of the original riff. Like countrymen Blood this band specializes in the simple and authoritative in roaring noise, but musical development from repetition is even sparser and the anthemic factor of repeating a motif at different tempos and key-locations wears thin after some time. Undeniably, this band have talent and apply it well, but are limited by their conception of music to make sonic art that while forceful is so repetitive that few outside those who delight in the shock of its pure and total deconstruction of music will listen again to these mostly two-riff songs. Vocals are of the guttural alternation with shrieking whisper type and rather than counteracting this effect, bring it into prominence, but that seems to be the intent — this band desire to become the unrelenting assault of early Napalm Death but with rigid and not “organic” chaotic structure, and thus they take a concept sometimes unknown and sometimes built as a subset of known variants (Dies Irae themes, monster movie music, old hardcore progressions) and hammer it home over a sequence of staggered tempos, interweaves with oppositional riffs, and rhythmic breaks. Underneath it all is the kind of sly iconoclasm and gleeful weirdness that comes naturally in times when one must be careful about which truths one tells unmasked. Probably this grinding death CD is the closest we will have in this era to an updated version of DRI/COC-style thrash, and true to this form, it incorporates a number of figures from hardcore music. This will not be for everyone and will not be heard every week, but for an approach to this ultra-deconstructed style, Depression are one of the better efforts on record.

Phlegethon – Fresco Lungs (1992)

Many of the early contributors to death metal were heavy metal fans who wanted to avoid the sickening glossy vocals, dramatic love songs, and moronically one-dimensional aesthetic of heavy metal, so they incorporated the aesthetic and artistic direction of death metal, but underneath made music that could compete with Van Halen if applied to FM radio. Phlegethon is one such act; like “Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas” from Therion, this is a heavy metal album that uses the riff salad wrapped around a narrative thematic development of death metal, accented with keyboards and unusual song structures, to create epic music that eschews the mainstream cheese. Each song is gyrationally infectious and yet understated, like throwing the grenade of an irresistible rhythm into a room and then skipping down the hall whistling (one track deliciously parodies techno). Keyboards guide the root notes of power chords but vary harmony for conclusion or emphasis. Song structures bend out of introductory material into a sequence of candidates for introduction or transition to verse and chorus, and the result is an architectural feel like that of fellow Finns Amorphis as the listener progresses between riffs of different shape and sonic impact, like a flash of light outlining the features of a vast room — similarly, there are lengthy offtime melodic fretruns highlighting descending power chord riffs as that band also used to great effect. Admirably, drums migrate through layers which silhouette the current riff in contrast and foreshadow adept tempo changes; vocals are low guttural death growls that stretch themselves to the point of fragmentation, spearing the beat in each phrase and decaying after each emphatic syllable to create a reference frame of surreal incomplete rhythm. The rampant creativity and pulsingly infectious rhythms of this CD give it presence which so powerfully hints at a more complete musical language that the intrusions of heavy metal-derived music often seem like dilutions, but it is clear from even this glimpse that the world missed out on the future evolution of this band.

Avathar “Where Light and Shadows Collide” (CD, 2006)

A cross between In Battle and Summoning, this band attempts to make epic music but in the uptempo style of black metal such as Mayhem or Abigor. Like The Abyss, this band wield such a lexicon of technique that tendencies in their music become evident early on and seem repetitive by the end of the album. For background listening it is preferrable to the disorganized noise and posing produced by the black metal underground, but one wonders if this is not like most art in the modern time good with technique/appearance but poor at confronting the inner world of meaning.

Order From Chaos “Dawn Bringer” (Shivadarshana Records, 1994)

At the nexus of several rising conceptual directions in underground music, Order From Chaos fuses them sublimely into a subconscious manipulation by music that remains stranded in the older generations of punk and metal by its refusal to integrate longer melodies; it is pure rhythmic pattern and song structure, a Wagnerian demonstration of a course of thought developed through the sensation represented by riffs that like scenes guide listeners through the acts of the drama. It is this theatrical sense that interrupts the verse-chorus spiralling of riffs layered with accompaniment of increasing intensity from drums and vocals and bass, with songs dropping to moments of presentation and equalization when forward action ceases and a quietude of sorts drops over the action. In this, like early Krieg, the music is an improvisational theatre acting out the raw id of human experience when that experience represents those brainy enough to see how modern society and its assumptions (order, legality, morality) are completely bankrupt, but it is a scream of protest and not, as is needed, a counter-construction. Thus while no piece of this is in error, the whole is discohesive and with a good augmentation could become far better; among Nationalist bands (it is fair to note allusions to nationalism on this record, with “Die Fahne Hoch” making an appearance on track two) Skrewdriver remains pre-eminent because they wrote melodic, expressive — while as cheesy, overblown and dramatic as those from the Ramones or the Sex Pistols — songs that gave people something to live for as much as a knowledge of what is lacking in our world. With luck in future albums, this band will approach structure with as much pure energy as they unleash here. Track fourteen (Golgotha) contains a riff tribute lifted from the nether moments of “Reign in Blood.”

Vordven “Woodland Passage” (CD, 2000)

Hearing this album is like running into Boston and screaming “The British are coming!” in 2006: completely irrelevant. A mixture of old Emperor and Graveland stylings, it is perfectly competent but by emulating the past, both fails to uphold that spirit and precludes itself from finding its own direction. We don’t need new styles; we don’t need “progress”; we do need music that has some idea of what it wants to communicate, and can make that experience meaningful. This sounds like retro or a coverband in that everything is bureaucratically plotted: after the keyboard interlude comes the pre-theme, then the main theme, then break for demonic scream and drum battery to drive it all home. Clearly better musicians than many of the original bands, Vordven are lesser artists and thus have less of interest to give us. It feels less dishonest to listen to Muzak versions of Metallica hits from the 1980s.

Warhorse “Warhorse” (CD, 2000)

Sounding like a hybrid between old Confessor and middle-period Motorhead, Warhorse is a rock band playing doom metal with a sensibility for both slow pumplike riffs over which vocals suddenly slow, causing a relative shift that makes the entire song seem to stand still, and the type of pick-up transitions and breakdowns for which both Motorhead and death metal bands are famous. In the sense of bands like Saint Vitus or Cathedral this band is intensely mated to the rock culture and its dramatic self identity, adding over it high pitched vocals that sound like a whisky-soaked Sigur Ros in an Alabama bar. For this reviewer it is a question of relevance: what does one need express in this style that would take a band beyond the level of background music for a local bar? However, among those who undertake this format, Warhorse keeps a sense of style and intensity, even if by appropriately keeping its horizons forshortened in the ambition department.

Revenge “Victory. Intolerance. Mastery.” (Osmose, 2004)

Although in fundamentally the same style as previous releases, the latest from Revenge improves upon it by simplifying the chaotic stew of impulses diverging into every conceivable direction, therefore achieving a greater coherence and thus listenability. That being said, the same problems that plague previous releases are here: distracting directionless percussion, riff salad, a tendency to deconstruct without a replacement ideal. However, by dropping all but the most necessary elements of their music, Revenge have come closer to making an expressive black metal album.

Ankrehg “Lands of War”

Oh, neat: someone hybridized Impaled Nazarene with Gorgoroth and made a band that balances between sawing punk riffs and trills of melodic scale fretruns. Having mastered that technique, this band was left neurotic and clueless as they attempted to find a direction; barring that, they settled on a generalized path and threw everything but the kitchen sink into it, creating songs that leap at every conceivable point of the compass but seize nothing. Their technique is to distract the listener with this constant stream of chaos and hope it is not noticed as irrelevant; with this reviewer, it was, and thus the listening session ended. Worse than shit, this is confusion masquerading as profundity.

Revenge “Triumph. Genocide. Antichrist.” (Osmose, 2003)

Whenever one is handed a piece of music or writing, it makes sense to ask, “What are the artistic aims of this work?” Art does not exist in a vacuum, much as conversation does not; there has to be some joy in it, something shared between listener and creator. Revenge is blasting drums that chase a pace with successive lapses and then catch-up intensifying speed, harsh harmonized vocals that surge overhead like rainbows of oil in floodwaters, and riffs of often high quality; like the first Krieg album however, it arrays these in an incoherent order which results in the stream of consciousness sensation without imparting greater wisdom of any form. As such, this album is a stepping back from what black metal achieved, which was an arch grace and continuity in expressing a meaning to darkness, and a descent into the disorganized deconstructionism that denotes modern grindcore (as if to underscore this, the drumming here is highly reminiscent of Derek Roddy’s work on Drogheda’s “Pogromist”). To communicate breakdown, one does not portray breakdown in its literal form, necessarily – here we see good raw material – powerful percussion, adroit riffcraft – converted into a melange of confusion by its lack of deliberation and planning. No single part of it has anything wrong with it. The whole is a death of ambition, of heroism, of tragedy and meaning.

Vinterland “Welcome My Last Chapter” (2003)

This band is like The Abyss a template of black metal technique recombined around the most fundamental songwriting techniques, but to that mixture it adds lifts from Gorgoroth and Sacramentum to make it a flowing but gracefully intricate and arcane metal style. Nothing here is bad and it listens well, but it manages less suspension of disbelief than The Abyss (first album; the second one is random riffs and screaming) because although its songs are well-written and flow expertly it is hard to find a statement to any of them; what are they about? They’re about being melodic black metal songs. Undoubtedly Vinterland is far better than almost all of what has been called “melodic black metal” since 1996, but it’s only because our standards have fallen that such a band is construed as good listening. Preferrable would be a simpler more honest band trying to communicate an experience rather than partake of membership; in this Vinterland and Deathspell Omega are similar in that while both are at the top of their genre in formal ability, neither captures the essence of this music because they are trying to be the music, not trying to be something that ultimately will express itself in music. Hoarse whispery Dimmu Borgir vocals dive and glide over sheeting melodic guitar riffs, replete with fast fretruns and descending arpeggiations; the band know when to break from meaty riffs into calming simplicity like a ship exiting rapids. Those familiar with black metal history will hear lifts from Ancient, Dimmu Borgir, Sacramentum, The Abyss, Satyricon and Sacramentum, as well as hints of At the Gates and later Emperor. It is not badly done, but that’s not the point: this CD never takes any direction but tries to use summarizes of past paths as a condensed variety show of black metal; while it is an enjoyable listen the first time, it does not hold up as these other bands have, as there is nothing to center all of this technique and its moments of beauty, creating the impression of a sequence of distractions instead of deliberate craftsmanship helping to reveal a secret beneath the skin.

Regredior “Forgotten Tears” (Shiver Records, 1995)

This band of highly talented musicians have created an album that is half excellence and half disaster by focusing too much on individual instruments, and thus failing to organize songs by composition instead of playing, have been forced to rely on stitching together disconnected pieces of music with two-part attention span grabbers: a repeated pattern to seize attention, and then a pause and an “unconventional” response to fulfil that expectation. If that is a desired compositional style, one wonders why this band did not simply make grunge music and derive actual profit from the endeavor? They mean well and play well — the acoustic instrumentals here are beautiful, many of the riffs top-notch in the slumberlike earthmoving simplicity of older Therion, and concepts for songs are great — but the final product is marred by its own showiness and awkward assimilation of different musical impulses. Squeals, offtime drum hits, dissonant guitar fills and rhythmic jolts do not move compelling music along; they advance by inches and drain away the energies that allow bands to make the world-redefining musical statements required for songs to be distinctive and expressive enough to be great. For those who like later Carcass, this band utilizes many of the same techniques and has similar technicality.

Sombrous “Transcending the Umbra” (CD, 2005)

Imagine Biosphere executed with the sensibilities of Dead Can Dance: the same implications of melody in sonic curve rising to full volume and then pulsing like a wave before disappearing to form a cycle, with songs arising from the piling of successive layers at offset rhythms on top of one another. It is slow, percussionless, delicate, and in part thanks to the heavy reverberations used, as melancholic as the echo of one’s lonely voice in an abandoned cellar. The more style-heavy music gets and the farther it gets from something that can be easily played on one or two acoustic instruments, paradoxically, the easier it gets to create once one has mastered aesthetic, and if this music has a weakness it is the tendency to use four-note melodies as the basis of a song and only occasionally complement them with others. Biosphere helpfully used found melodies and instrumentals of greater detail to do this; Sombrous could actually go further within their own aesthetic and layer keyboards as they have but give them more to play than rising or falling modal lines. It would also help to even further vary the voices/samples used here, as too many echoed stringplucks or keyboard throbs start to sound the same; sometimes, one slips too far into the mood generated and boredom sets in. Yet there is something undeniable here in both aesthetic and composition, in that unlike almost all “ambient” releases from the underground this has grace and a sense of purpose that unites these tracks into a distinct musical entity. It is not unwise to watch this band for future developments.

Emit/Vrolok “Split”

Emit is ambient soundscapes made from guitar noise, sampled instruments and silences; it is good to see this band branch out into a greater range and artistic inspiration, but they would do well to remember the listener should be both learning and enjoying the experience of listening: what differentiates art from philosophy is that art is made to be a sensual tunneling through knowledge, where philosophy is a description of knowledge. Vrolok is of the Krieg/Sacramentary Abolishment school of fast noisy guitars over drums that outrace themselves and then catch up with flying chaotic fills. Nothing is poorly executed, but this recording seems to be an artist’s impression of what his favorite bands would do; there are some nice touches like background drones and bent-string harmonics of a sickening nature, but to what end? If black metal has another generation it’s not going to be in retrofitting the past in form, but in resurrecting the past in content, even if all the aesthetics are (like with the early Norse bands) garbage Bathory/Hellhammer ripoffs.

Nightbringer “Rex Ex Ordine Throni”

This is a competent black metal release with a Darkthrone/Graveland hybrid melodic guitar playing style, kettledrum flying battery in the Sacramentary Abolishment canon, vocals like later Dimmu Borgir and composition that, like that of Satyricon, assembles all of the correct elements but does not understand melody intuitively enough to keep the illusion going. If this band delved more deeply into composition and had something to say, this CD would be one of the best of the year because its aesthetic formula is perfect, but its melodies go nowhere and barely match harmonic expectation between phrases, when they’re not outright symmetrical and blatantly obvious; in short, it falls apart when one goes deeper than skin-level. If an ambitious melodic thinker gets transplanted into this band or its members grow in that direction (a big leap), it will be a major contribution.

Polluted Inheritance “Ecocide” (CD, 1992)

This is one of those CDs that came very close and with a little more focus and depth of thought could have been a classic of the genre. It is death metal in a hybrid style that includes jaunty post-speed metal expectant rhythms, such that incomplete rhythmic patterns provide a continuity through our anticipation of the final beat established through contrast of offbeats as necessary, and sounds as a result somewhere between Exhorder and Malevolent creation, with verse riffs that resemble later work from Death. Songs operate by the application of layers of instrumentation or variation on known riff patterns in linear binary sequence, driven by verse/chorus riffs and generally double bridges that convey us from the song’s introduction to the meat of its dispute to a final state of clarity. Probably too bouncy for the underground, and too abrasive for the Pantera/Exhorder crowd, this CD is very logical and analytic to the point that it makes itself seem symmetrical and obvious. With luck this band will continue writing, and will offer more of the ragged edge of emotion or concept which could make this a first-class release.

The Tarantists “demo 2004” (CD, 2004)

From the far-off land of Iran comes a band with a new take on newer styles of metal. Incorporating influences from Metallica, progressive and jazz-influenced heavy metal, and some of the recent grunge-touched modern metal, the Tarantists render something true both to themselves and to metal as an ongoing musical culture. Prominent jazzy drums lead riffs that are not melodic in the “style” of constant melodic intervals popular with cheesy Sentenced-ripoff bands, but use melodic intervals at structural junctures in riffs that smoothly branch between phrasal death metal styled riffs and bouncy recursive heavy metal riffs. Over this lead guitar winds like a vine and favors the bittersweet sensation of melodies that decline in harmonic spacing until they trail off in melted tendrils of sound; riffing is most clearly influenced by the NWOBHM style hybridized with speed metal’s adept use of muffled and offtime strums to vary up what are otherwise harmonically static riffs. The Tarantists can achieve this melding of motion-oriented and pure rhythm riffing through their tendency to change song structure rapidly after having made their point, such that listening to this resembles going between different parts of a complex city, climbing stairs and finally entering a destination, then jumping back in the car for a manic deviation to another location. Highly listenable, this is impressive work for a demo band and represents a brighter future for metal than the kneejerk tedium of nu-metal or the repetition of past glories offered blankfacedly by the underground. It is unabashedly musical, and takes pride in interlocking melodic bass and lead guitar lines that exchange scale vocabularies as freely as rhythm. The only area that seems unresolved are the gruff Motorhead-style vocals, which might be either updated or discarded for pure singing, as there’s enough sonic distance within this work to support such a thing. The clearest influences here are Iron Maiden and Metallica, but a familiarity with recent metal of almost every genre is also audible. Of the recent demos sent this way, this is the one most likely to gain repeated listening because it focuses on music first and aesthetics second… more

Beyond Agony “The Last of a Dying Breed” (CD, 2005)

Trying to mix the high-speed melodic riffing of black metal with the thunderous bassy trundle of mainstream death metal/nu-metal riffing, this band produce something that sounds like Acid Bath without the variation or singing, and resembles Pantera in its tendency to match riffs with clear poised expectant endphrases to rapped vocals and shuffle drumming. It’s a variation on a pattern seen many times before. It’s impossible to tell what kind of musical ability exists in these musicians because these riffs are rhythmic and aharmonic, since their melodic trills exist only to emphasize the E-chord noodling at the low end. Some Meshuggah fans might appreciate this, as might the hordes of people who think Slipknot and Disturbed are OK, but to an underground death metal fan there’s nothing here. These guys are clearly professional and have studied all of the other offerings in the field, and mixed in enough melody to distinguish themselves, and clearly these songs hold together better than your average nu-metal, but when one picks a dumbshit conception of music — which really, the entire Pantera/nu-metal genre is: music for morons to bounce around to while working off their frustration at having their democratic right to be spoiled and bratty constrained by reality — one limits oneself to making things that no matter how smart they get, have the dominant trait of being aimed at supporting and nurturing stupidity. I might even wax “open-minded” if I didn’t know that devolving metal into pure angry, pointless, rhythmic ranting has been the oldest tendency of the genre, and one that always leads it astray, because bands that do this have no way of distinguishing between each other except aesthetic flourishes and therefore end up establishing a competition on the basis of external factors and not composition. Some riffs approach moments of beauty but tend to come in highly symmetrical pairs which demand bouncy stop-start rhythms to put them into context. It’s all well-executed, but it’s standard nu-metal/late Pantera, with touches of Iron Maiden and Slayer. Should we care? Some of the celebrities who paid tribute to the late guitarist of Pantera/Damageplan noted that he had the ability to play well beyond the style which he’d chosen; it sounds like the same thing is evident here, and that seems to me a tragedy, because this style is so blockhead it absorbs all of the good put into it in its desire to provide a frustration condom for burnt-out suburban youth.

Fireaxe “Food for the Gods” (CD, 2005)

If you’ve ever wished that old-style heavy metal would be just a little less effete and self-obsessed, and take the literal attitude that hardcore punk had toward the world but give it that grand lyricism for which metal is famous, you might find a friend in Fireaxe. It’s low-tech, with basic production without the touches of tasty sound that make big studio albums so richly full, and it is often a shade short of where it needs to be in content – often repetitive or too basic in the logic that connects sections, as if it suffers from a surfeit of symmetry brought about by too much logical analysis – but it is what heavy metal could be if it grew up, somewhere between Mercyful Fate and Queensryche and Led Zeppelin, an epic style with a desire to be more of a kingshearth bard than a stadium ego-star. Brian Voth does the whole thing, using electronics for percussion and his trusty guitar, keyboards and voice to pull it off. His voice is thin like his guitar sound, and his solos are clearly well-plotted but do not let themselves go into chaos enough; his use of keyboards is reminiscent of a sparing take on Emperor. This 3-CD set is an attempted historiography of humanity and its religious symbolism, with a cynical outlook on such things as originally perhaps healthy ideas gone perverse and become manipulators. “On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense”? Perhaps, but this is earthier; in true heavy metal form, “Food for the Gods” delights in the literal manifestations of spacy otherworldly “truths.” Overall musical quality is high, and artistic quality is immaculate, but the CD is often designed less for the listener than to complete its thought cycle, and here it could use an edit; it is so analytical it is almost apoetic, and so literal it is almost a stab against symbolism itself (already in vogue for 90 years with the postmodernists, alas). My advice to Fireaxe would be to stop looking so deeply into causes and to start looking into spiritual solutions, e.g. to “sing” in the oldest sense of praising the beauty of life even in darkness, and lifting us up not into educated obligation but into ignorant but healthy spirits. Think of a bard singing by his cup of mead, looking for a way to console and encourage those who might on the morrow die in battlefields, all through the symbols, song and sense of ancient tales. This album could be cut to a single CD with proper editing gain some denseness and unpredictability it lacks; right now, although its patterns vary its delivery is of such an even mien that it is nearly predictable. The roots of excellent music are here, including Voth’s creative and playful leads, but need discipline into a more advanced and yet less progressive form for Fireaxe to have the full range of voice it requires. It is a welcome diversion from the insincere and manipulative stadium metal, and the guilelessly fatalistic underground music that shadows it (although it will not admit it), and while it waxes liberal in philosophy, does not go toward the eunuch extreme of emo; the heart is behind the music, and the flesh is competent, but somehow, the soul has not yet lifted its wings and flown, yet sits contemplating the right flightpath in radiant detail.

Gnostic “Splinters of Change” (5 song demo, 2005)

Upon hearing of the reemergence of pioneering Atheist drummer Steve Flynn, my curiousity was piqued immediately. I’d always appreciated his slippery brilliance behind the kit, forever giving the impression of struggling not to become caught in the tornado of bizarre rhythmic patterns he himself was creating. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that thirteen years between major recordings and immersion within the materialistic modern-day workplace had not dulled his creativity. In fact, his refreshingly brazen yet occultish approach to rhythmic structuralization is very reminiscent of his previous output, a fact which initially inspired hope. Further, Gnostic is composed of talented players. Former Atheist vocalist Kelly Shaefer produced the album. A concern nags silently: can this band escape the shadow of its predecessor?

As it turns out, no. The band has missed the fundamentally esoteric application of that theory which lends such timelessness to Atheist; say what you will about such a loaded term as “populist” being utilized in musical review, but this is merely music written to “sound good” from a quasi-prog perspective. The musical framework has each component part of the equation stepping all over every other part to prove that the instrumentalists are capable, losing the transcendence which Atheist channeled through their controlled chaoticism. Gnostic is all over the map structurally, with Flynn doing everything he can to hold the ship together at the seams. There is no message here, other than one-dimensional instrumentalism. We’ve already heard these same songs from the same bands for fifteen years now. It seems to this reviewer that this demo chalks yet another victory up to Redundant Mediocrity over Art. Consume, consume, consume. – blaphbee

Therion “A’arab Zaraq Lucid Dreaming” (Nuclear Blast, 1995)

It’s hell on metal bands who want to leave the underground. In trying to popularize their style, they usually kill whatever appeal it had, because those who enjoy their music have found truth somewhere in the alienation and whatever values the band managed to sustain under that assault. Further, the band usually confuse themselves, and end up prostrating themselves as whores, thus losing the respect of their fans. This CD is a collection of outtakes from Theli, a soundtrack and some Therion odds and ends that chronicle this band’s descent into commerciality and simultaneous rise in the esteem of metal fans as a whole. The first two tracks represent everything disgusting about trying to make popular neoclassical music, in that they focus first on making foot-stomping crowd-pleasing music, and adorn it with bits of classical allusion and the like, creating in the end a carnival of confusion. The next track, “Fly to the Rainbow,” is apparently a cover of an old Dio tune, which is amusing considering how similar it is to “The Way” from Therion’s epic second album. This is followed by one of the cheesiest Iron Maiden covers ever, with overdone vocals drowning out the subtlety of the original, and a Running Wild
song that comes across as blockheaded, but is less dramatically re-enacted, and therefore is more welcome. It sounds very much like punk hardcore with a metal chorus. Next is an off-the-cuff cover of “Symphony of the Dead,” from the second album as well, but its mix emphasizes the keyboards to the point where it becomes muzak. Good song, terrible version, and as fully meaningless as the Emperor keyboard-only Inno A Satana. The band have lost their grasp of what made their earlier material great, that it blended the raw and the beautiful, not that it standardized itself for radio airplay as this CD clearly does. All finesse is gone, all artistry, and what replaces it is the populist heavy metal mentality. There’s no class to this, or self-respect, and while any of its elements are quite powerful, the whole is tediously directionless. This syndrome blights the remaining Therion tracks on this CD, which then takes us to the soundtrack portions – these are actually promising. Like a synthesis between Dead Can Dance and Summoning, these are wandering keyboard background musics that maintain a mood and are kept in check by the need to be less disruptively attention-seeking. Although plenty of cliches and obvious figures work their way into this music, it’s clear that (were Swedes to control Hollywood) soundtracks are where the “new” Therion belong.

Aletheian “Dying Vine” (Hope Prevails, 2005)

This album demonstrates how if you mix great ingredients randomly, you end up with something disgusting. About half of the riffs on this album are excellent, and the sense of rhythm the band has is wonderful. But it’s garish, gaudy and overblown. Like a metalcore band, they mix riffs in a merry-go-round of directionless ideas, never actually stating anything. In this case the riffs are of the melodic Swedish death metal meets technical speed metal style, with influences from “modern metal” and showboat heavy metal. Any one part of this could be great, but it says nothing and thus ends up being random elements stitched together in a circus show of diverse and incompatible fragments of ideas. Some goofy modern touches, like synthesized voices, put nails in the coffin. There’s a lot to like here but the whole is not worth loving. My advice to these dudes: meditate and work on your band politics, because the raw material in this album if presented differently would be listenable, but right now it’s a technical mash that has no artistic or aesthetic statement.

Harkonin “Sermons of Anguish” (Harkonin, 2005)

The good news is that Harkonin have good concepts, write good riffs, and understand something of gradual mood shifts. The bad news is that they compress this process, remove the anticipation, and hammer it out in repetitive endurance tests that hide the actual talent of the members of this band. None of the elements are bad; in fact, they’re far above average, and the band has an aesthetic vision – the CD skirts metalcore but incorporates some of the newer urban and rock influences into metal – that outpaces most of their contemporaries. However, they need to find some inner calm, and let it out slowly, and discover the poetry of their own vision, as right now, this album is unrelenting violence that becomes perceived as a single unchanging texture because of its emotional disorganization. Luckily this experienced band has time to take some of their more intense moments of riffing and put them at the end of each song, then re-arrange the other riffs (and maybe develop them by another layer, meaning for each good riff, split out two complementary ones that can resolve into it, Suffocation style) to lead up to that point. If they do that, they will be on the path toward conveying meaning through their music – right now, what it conveys is abrasion, and too much of that will pass in the listener’s mind into a sense of unchanging mood.

Dug Pinnick “Emotional Animal” (
Magna Carta, 2005)

Former King’s X member comes out with new album. Any guesses? It sounds like a heavier, groovier King’s X, which seems to be an attempt to make metal sound more like rock music. It’s jazzy and funky, and has some grunge-meets-prog metal riffing, but on the whole, the composition is the same stuff that gets played on the radio. Pinnick would do better applying his talents to something fully proggy like Gordian Knot.

Aphotic/Dusk “Split” (Cursed Productions, 2005)

Like most releases from Cursed Productions, this CD showcases regular guy songwriting enclosed in an unusual form. Aphotic is a fusion of soundtrack doom metal like My Dying Bride and Katatonia, fused with a progressive edge like that of Gordian Knot, creating a listenable package with plenty of depth to its instrumentation. Many of these riffs sound like something borrowed from a Graveland album, but on top of the basic guitar, flourishes of lead guitar and synthesized instruments accent the dominant theme, as does offbeat guitar playing with an emphasis on the internal rhythms for which metal is famous. Although these songs generate a great deal of atmosphere, and are at heart hook-laden and listenable to an extreme, they may be too sentimental for progressive rock fanatics and too straightforward for early 1990s black metal fans. An underpinning of old-fashioned foot-stomping heavy metal may make these popular in the contemporary metal audience, and if there’s any criticism here, it’s that this band could give their instrumentalism greater reign. Dusk, on the other hand, is a much clearer fusion of doom metal and classic heavy/power metal, with growling voices guiding bouncy riffs to their targets. It is proficient but on the whole not fully developed enough to either have its own voice or rise above metal cliche, but it is inoffensive listening especially for one who wouldn’t mind being locked in a room with Cathedral and Prong re-learning their formative material.

Odious Sanction “Three Song Demo” (2005)

These few cuts from the upcoming album “No Motivation to Live” feature the talents of Steve Shalaty, now drumming for Immolation, but that’s about the whole of their appeal. Much like his work in Deeds of Flesh, Shalaty’s percussion is ripe with a precision interplay between double bass and an ongoing breakdown of fills, but the music over it is numbingly empty of anything but relentless interrupted cadence rhythm. Somewhere between metalcore and deathgrind, it lacks most dimensions of harmony and any of melody, resulting in a whirring and battering mechanistic noise that offers little to the experienced listener.

Emit “A Sword of Death for the Prince” (2005)

The microgenre of blacknoise is what happens when one fuses the abrasive Beherit-style cacophonious assault of minimal black metal and the droning sonic collages of acts like Mz. 412 or Claustrum. Where this CD is excellent are the moments when being shockingly extreme and unlistenable are forgotten, and overlapping patterns of melodic or textural fragments knot the listener into moods of darkness and contemplation. Here, Emit has found an outlet for its style, as the guitar is liberated from rigid hardcore/black metal style riffing and can focus on the mournful and regal use of ambient, repetitive melody, hiding it amongst distorted voices and sampled aural experiences of modern life. The pretenses of black metal should be discarded, as this release has more in common with Tangerine Dream and Godflesh than anything else. If this reviewer has anything to suggest, it is that this band not hold itself back, but plunge forward in the direction it is exploring, and use its dense layers of sonorous noise-guitar and vocals to develop a sense of melody and composition, as that is the strength of both this band and non-instrumental music in general, and — well, nothing’s been “shocking” for some time.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 2-9-09

Legion of Doom – The Horned Made Flesh

LEGION OF DOOM attempt to channel later ROTTING CHRIST by becoming melodic heavy metal with ranting black metal vocals on the faster verses, but preserve their original intent and consistency over the past few albums: they compose in similar ways, but their technique and knowledge of theory has been upgraded to allow more keyboard interaction, slicker riffs, and correct approximations of some of the riff structures they must have admired in the metal that influenced them. Song structures follow patterns established on past LEGION OF DOOM albums; they are still chasing certain poetic ideas, like the complex song that culminates in a simple three-chord riff, or the slow introduction out of which builds a structural study. That being said, LEGION OF DOOM is ahead of every other oldschool Greek band because they know how to vary tempi and riff styles and are concentrating on atmosphere, which they generate in a melange of BURZUM- and EMPEROR-influenced riffs. This is far better than average for black metal of this time, but many of the old schoolers may find the “soft” aesthetic distancing.

Intestine Baalism – Ultimate Instinct

I believe form follows function but that form can have a wide range of things comfortably expressed through it. For this reason, when a band like GENERAL SURGERY or PATHOLOGIST is wholly derivative of another band’s style but also really good, it’s hard to in any way condemn them. In that sense, INTESTINE BAALISM strike me as realists who took the voice of Swedish death metal and tried to give it another life. They did, in that they’ve created a B-level SWDM offering on par with maybe INSISION or UNCANNY, borrowing liberally from UNANIMATED, CARNAGE, ENTOMBED, SACRAMENTUM and DISMEMBER to create a sound for some death metal of relatively average structure with two exceptions: most songs introduce themselves and slowly mutate their introduction riff to become the first verse riff, and many songs have melodic transitional bridges in the same way stadium heavy metal bands used to do, some featuring really brilliant guitar work. Where this CD falls down is that it tries to throw too much of the newer melodic Swedish “death metal” into the mix, and since that stuff is basically a warmed over ACCEPT/MOTLEY CRUE hybrid, you end up in hard rock territory really fast with death and speed metal riffs zinging around the room like petrified sharts.

Botch – We are the Romans

Before Botch, there was music like this, which interpreted metal riffs as a kind of carnival of opposites designed to cycle around a rock song structure. They focus on the groove that you can achieve, as avant garde jazz did, by wrapping bizarre-sounding spidery phrases around a dissonant harmony that serves as entry point to implied and indirectly stated verse and chorus. In this view, however, the metal and punk technique used by this album becomes decoration to this underlying rock music, and so while it doesn’t appear to be rock music, on the level of design/structure it is, and is correspondingly empty once you get past the fast ripped scales and emo chords unraveling into their root notes. The bounding, two-hit drumming that pervades this album underlines this basic normalcy so, like a hipster, it dresses itself up as something unique and weird but at its essence, is the same old thing given a good dose of technique. I really liked the title. Like the Candiria, Mordred, and Kong of old, however, it creates an oil-on-water separation of metal/punk from rock, and so comes apart in your hands like a boiled squishy turd. Clearly the archetype for most albums of this nature to follow, it nonetheless misses what is unique about metal and in its neurotic desperation to hide its inner humdrum normalcy, succeeds in making a mess where one did not need to be.

Father Befouled – Profano Ad Regnum

These gents try very hard to be the reincarnation of Havohej, with generous doses of early Incantation and Obituary, and come very close. Many of these riffs are note-varied or rhythm-varied interpretations of classic Havohej/Profanatica riffs, and song structures use the same simplistic, almost serial circular advance of riffs to produce a similar sense of dread. Vocals are patterned more after Incantation, and dirge material builds itself harmonically and rhythmically like early Obituary. The result is gratifying to those who want the old school sound but needs to define itself; being on the outside looking in to Paul Ledney’s vision means that we are forever getting an interpretation of an interpretation, and reality is inching away from us. After making sure we know they are trademark NYEUM (New York Esoteric Underground Metal) in the INCANTATION, REVENANT and PROFANATICA style, FATHER BEFOULED develop their own voice. On the third track, an At the Gates-ish affinity for single-note lead melodies comes in, and then on track 5 there’s a reinterpretation of Celtic Frost, and the rest of the album battles for a melodic influence that with the HAVOHEJ admixture ends up sounding like SARCOFAGO mixed with HELLHAMMER using the better technique of early INCANTATION played by a black metal band. In this style, however, Father Befouled is the best yet and what they understand that other bands do not is that songs need to be coherent wholes, where changes in riff and rhythm gesture us the listeners along to some conclusion. For that any reviewer will be vastly thankful — this disc is not random riffs — but at some point honesty compels us to tell this band to innovate its own germinal material. Clearly they have the technical and imaginative ability, and understand the “spirit” of the underground, which makes them one of the few candidates who can do this.

Darkestrah – The Great Silk Road

People are familiar with archetypes. Once they understand one of those, they can modify it. Only the best of them are able to craft a language all their own and use it to express a truth to which it is adapted. Darkestrah have mastered two arts: the art of power metal, and the art of all the trappings of a Burzum-Gorgoroth-Drudkh hybrid. They take the former and dress it up in the latter, and do it so well it takes almost halfway through the album before the veneer fades away like melting frost and the simplistic, bouncing melodies stand revealed for what they are. In a way, it reminds me of early In Battle, but more tricked out with black metal guitars and keyboards. Instrumentally very competent; artistically adrift on a sea of sewage, drinking big gulps from a cup labelled PRICELESS CHARDONNAY.

Kreator – Hordes of Chaos

What an original concept — the elites rule the earth, and so the hordes of the people will rise up and destroy them through chaos and violence and confusion — and what an original style of music to use to express it! Kreator match their signature ominous riffs, about one per song, with a vomit spew of mixed power metal, hard rock and speed metal cliches. There’s a lot of dual guitar activity in the Iron Maiden style thrown right up against later Sepultura two-chord march riffs, then some of the flamboyant lead guitar of hard rock thrown in with power metal fretwalk riffs. Does it add up to much? The first song is compelling if you listen when you’re distracted, but after that the album further lapses into genericism. The hilarious mixed metaphors cover art adds to the sense that, when one lacks forward motion, you throw everything you’ve got left into a conglomeration and duct-tape it together. For all its furious activity, this album bespeaks drained souls and energyless but resentful lives. The result for the listener is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Deathevokation – The Chalice of Ages

Every old school death metal fan would give a left testicle to like this. Killer vocals – check. Awesome title – check. Dumb band name? Skip that for now. Good guitar playing – check. Old school style, from Asphyx to Zemial, memorized? Check. What’s wrong? What’s wrong is that you cannot throw a bunch of random stuff, even in tribute to one of the greatest eras of metal, into a lattice of convenience and coincidence and expect something good to come from it. The style is roughly that of early Amorphis hybridized with later Cemetary, in that it uses melodic lead overlays on top of rushing power chord riffs and builds up to a promenade riff that trots out the inner melodicity in explicit form. It’s like later Cemetary in that cheesy hard rock, death metal, speed metal and heavy metal all take turns bleeding out from the mess, like it’s a bagfull of hostages each fighting to be heard, and the result is so random that it sounds monotone.

Amebix – Risen! promo

All the best punk bands seem to want to become metal in their more mature offerings. The most notable feature of these new Amebix tracks is that they sound like Lemmy Kilmister vocalizing over mid-paced speed metal, like Prong fused with Slayer, which aims for the theatrical impact of the bigger NWOBHM bands. Galloping muted riffs, chromatic shifts to end each bar, and short bursts of lyrics achieve this goal, aided by periodic keyboards and slower, ballad-like choruses which evolve into progressive-ish transitions. In this, Amebix are continuing the state they reached with Monolith but fulfilling it more accurately with the kind of aggression found on “Right to Rise” (off Arise!) but they’re adding more precise drumming and Slayer-styled tight control of tremolo strum to encode multiple rhythms in a phrase. Most interesting is that these effects are applied to three older songs, making them eerie as familiar sounds coalesce from a more technical and dominating assault. Look for an interesting conclusion as Amebix retrofits itself in this style for their new tour.

I Shalt Become – In the Falling Snow

When I Shalt Become first hit the scene back in 1996, he/they were almost instant celebrities because no one in the United States had yet figured out how to clone the Burzum sound and achieve that trance of dreamlike suspension of reality. ISB has mastered the technique; on their first work, “Wanderings,” ISB made half-finished sounds that took us into a vision of beauty in darkness, but had nowhere to go after that. On their second effort, nothing has changed, although technique is even more refined. It’s exactly like the first, maybe a little better, but part of what made the first charming was its unevenness into which we could read possible hope. On this CD, it’s more repetitive and that is why response has been so light.

Devastation – A Creation of Ripping Death

This is everything I hated about 1980s metal. The very block-cut basic riffs, the very obvious song direction, the vocals synchronized in rhythm to the chords of the riff, creating a cadenced shout effect like being part of a mob about to start a pogrom against smart people. Basically, it’s a lot of Slayer rhythms and ideas simplified and made catchier and a billion times more repetitive. Against all science, this recording may lower your IQ.

Krisiun – Southern Storm

More children’s music. These very simple, very obvious melodies are used to interrupt what are some pretty cool speeding riffs that go nowhere because the riffs themselves are not epic enough to give a sense of mood, and because they’re assembled in a rhythmically convenient order that gives you no sense of significance in the change between riffs and tempi. Instrumentally, this is brutal death metal not different from a faster Internal Bleeding or Malevolent Creation, with some of the chanting rhythms that made later Sepultura so obvious the band started thinking of grunge as “a breath of fresh air.” The obvious factor to these compositions is crushing, but even worse is that the band cannot confine themselves to making obvious and simple tunes, but have to try to trick it out with extensive guitar soloing and use of Meshuggah-style(tm) interruption rhythms. Kill it with fire.

Svartthron – Bearer of the Crimson Flame

I’m realizing people will claim to like just about anything because they think liking something not everyone else likes makes them cool. Either that, or they’re trying to set up random combinations of CDs so they can claim to be unique. I know intelligent people like this CD and I respect their opinion. Mine is that it is well-executed drivel, like 99% of metal. The instrumentation is great. The CD itself confuses boredom with a somber mood, and uses that as its artistic guide, producing somnolent drone or dirge material that has no animating spark or cause or worldview that makes it in any way viable, much less unique. If you’re tr00 kvlt, go buy this.

Akimbo – Jersey Shores

This album takes a covertly aggressive punk hardcore approach to a rock/post-rock hybrid, with more space given to the music where hardcore normally dominates it in washing abrasion of distorted guitar. Instead, it packs away its riffs and brings them out from the obscurity like a punch — or, staying on topic, a shark attack. Its weakness is the howling vocals which seem completely unnecessary in that they’re too constant for an album that this ambitiously hopes to use the dynamic of surge rock.

Banishment – Cleansing the Infirm

Fast brutal death metal, like later Malevolent Creation fused with Deeds of Flesh, and not bad for that. Vocalist makes the unfortunate choice to have his voice too closely follow the root notes the guitar is playing, which makes it sound like the whole band is a guitar effect. Catchy, but not particularly enlightening.

Apotheosis – Farthest From the Sun

We’ll pose a little at being epic black metal, then drop you into a Pantera riff. It’s what happens when metal loses direction; everything gets all mixed together, from Def Leppard through Graveland, and thrown into something that ends up being so generic you can listen without realizing the music is on. Skip.

Zemial – In Monumentum

Opens with one of the dumbest hard rock riffs ever, which pauses right on the bounce expectation as if it were anticipating the ears of a retard. I almost drooled. The CD continues in this direction, tossing Motorhead in with Motley Crue and Morgoth, hoping we don’t notice, but really, why would anyone listen to this when there’s AC/DC? Led Zeppelin? Even “Shout at the Devil”? It tries for evil but manages Marilyn Manson, the garage version that the hip kids like and everyone else is like whatever yo. I get the impression they’re trying to be an updated Death SS but without distinction.

Depravity – Silence of the Centuries

Finnish mid-paced melodic death metal; imagine Demigod periodically zooming into mid-period Therion and you have this interesting fusion between heavy metal and death metal. Unfortunately, a lot like Edge of Sanity, it strays too far onto the rock side of things, not understanding the geometrical language of riffs that made death metal song structures so hard to do right. It’s more like later Dio with death metal technique applied.

Unburied – Slut Decapitator

Blockhead brutal gore with a penchant for blast mania, but no real direction to these songs. Bounce, bounce, breakdown, blast, bounce, bounce, breakdown, stop. I understand the title: If you decapitate yourself with a slut, you no longer can hear this noise.

Storming Darkness – Sin-thesis

This is so much better than most of what crosses my desk I had hope despite the silly album name. It’s good. But not good enough. Repetition of melodic metal themes and a type of subtle breakdown that occurs internally to a pounding bass-snare will not do it. Nor will even the harmonically more advanced, well-played chorus passages and transitions. This really isn’t bad; unfortunately, it’s also non-distinct and directionless.

Damnation – Rebel Souls

Similar to Betrayer and Vader, this Polish death metal band fuses a number of post-1991 death metal styles into a format that is very close to Morbid Angel, but in its more “two-step” riffs, a bit more like Terrorizer. By two-step riffs I mean that there’s a phrase, and a counterphrase, and then the riff repeats until the end of a bar, when a two-chord shift turns it around; the riffing is orthogonal, unlike the geometric offsets of Morbid Angel or the even numbered structures of early Vader. Within this, there’s a lot of speeding riffs in a style eternal from Destruction through Massacra, propelled by furious battery reminiscent of Kataklysm and, at times, Deicide. Edges of Suffocation-styled palm muted blast picked death metal and double-time speed metal like later Hypocrisy intervene, but the standard is straightforward ripping death metal. Songs integrate additional riffs but remain mostly verse-chorus with transposition of early patterns into promenade riffs leading to conclusions. Like most material of this type, the constant battering becomes tiring and not exciting over repeated listens. Although this is most well-known for having members of Behemoth in the band, this album can stand on its own but is not distinctive enough for metal history to notice.

Anal Vomit – Demoniac Flagellations

Love the titles, forgot the music already. Standard grind with frenetic death metal touches, like Angelcorpse recording hurriedly in a lean-to studio outside a jail.

Urizen – Autocratopolis

Being avantgarde is easy. Combine everything that’s not popular, and make it groovy, but always do what you think is unexpected. Problem: you’ve thought two levels deep, assuming that most people think one, in a world of infinite levels. As a result, your music comes across as a childish reaction, and bears this out by being an omelette of rejected metal styles thrown together around the lowest common denominator, which is annoying pop songs given an additional level of complexity by dividing verse/chorus structure so that it recombines in a circular fashion. And we had such high hopes from the name.

Dark Fury – Fortress of Eagles

Black metal ended like WWII: after the Americans left and Central Europeans were defeated, the Eastern Europeans surged in with something that looked sort of like the functional governments that went before. In black metal, it is the same. These musicians are talented, and clearly they know their black metal, but without understanding the transcendent goal that compelled early musicians to render their vision in scratchily distorted power chords, the new bands are always outsiders looking in and then making their version. Yet like an architect who knows only how to copy facades and put them on the same boxy Soviet-era architecture, Dark Fury churn through Burzum riffs, Venomish riffs, Darkthrone trudges, and so forth, but never pull the whole thing together because there is no core to the music. It is pure aesthetics and as a result, directionless in the same way good wallpaper is: you don’t want it distracting from the action in the room.

Diabolic – Chaos in Hell/Possessed by Death

Did the completely unoriginal title clue you in? Yep, it’s a tribute to past bands that were much better by hoarding their themes, tossing them in the washing machine for recombination, and then spitting them out with the subtlety of horse rape. Metal like this causes metalheads to listen to Katy Perry.

Mirrorthrone – Gangrene

Ulver, Borknagar and Therion combine in a Summoning-themed metal band. Unfortunately, between gentle keyboard descents like the windsculpted surfaces of sand dunes, the “carnival style” post-Cradle of Filth black metal rears its ugly head as elements are thrown together in a salad of distractions from which each piece returns to a few exactly repeated themes. As a result, there’s a lot going on, like riding a merry-go-round and seeing the world outside flash by in disorienting random order, but there’s no development of theme; it’s just a more complex version of verse/chorus. I really would like to like this but it is impossible. Production and keyboard composition are excellent.

Autumn Leaves – As Night Conquers Day

Years before it became trendy, this band invented the new wave of Swedish melodic “death metal,” which of course isn’t death metal as much as, following the success of DISSECTION and UNANIMATED, melodic heavy metal with death metal vocals. You get some lovely IRON MAIDEN style dual-guitar harmony leading into a DISSECTION-esque rising melodic riff, and then drop straight into PANTERA or MESHUGGAH for a muted strum, offbeat, bouncy aggressive riff over which someone rasps like AT THE GATES. Over time, the album develops more of its melodic side, but it likes to keep that to a few variations on a theme and a contrasting chorus that uses half of the same notes. Much as the first THE ABYSS album defined a pattern for mimicking black metal, this CD defined the New Wave of Swedish Death Metal — basically melodic heavy metal with speed metal technique and death metal vocals — that aped a hybrid of SENTENCED (specifically, Amok), UNANIMATED, DISSECTION, CEMETARY and SACRAMENTUM but in cheesy, crowd-friendly heavy metal form. Better than those which followed in this style, As Night Conquers Day is both exceedingly well-executed and, because it aims for a hybrid between things popular for their unchallenging nature, a lowest common denominator assault of so many catchy things that they all equalize and you get one big unmemorable stream of noise.

Cult of Luna – Eternal Kingdom

If you apply punk rhythms to two-note power chord riffing, then add indie rock fills and metal vocals, you have Cult of Luna. This band was more inspiring when they did wash of harmonizing noise like Burzum and My Bloody Valentine, but now it’s standard saccharine dramatic indie rock which like a hipster, does a good game of raising inch-deep mystique and then vanishes around the corner, leaving a hint of promise in the air that turns to a stench of disappointment. This is a very average album dressed up as something significant and, while it executes that vision well, it leaves no lasting power or vision of life beneath the obvious, trite and controlled.

Cold Northern Vengeance – Domination and Servitude

If Maudlin of the Well had been fascinated by the black metal aesthetic, and decided to combine the quirkiness of bands like Spear of Longinus with about every metal variation of genres that have influenced metal, you would get this atmospheric and technical take on black metal. Like projects from time immemorial that have tried to throw diverse influences together and get a clear voice, it never quite gels, but that keeps its space open. There’s some nice melodies on here and songs that like most technical music, do not aim to be conclusive so much as they hope to pull together an idea from disparate origins. Like Maudlin of the Well, this is probably not for everyday listening, but will garner the appreciation of musicians. What it achieves that is most impressive is breaking the jazz-omelette barrier and making a metal-like, dark and ancient mood within so much modern musicianship.

Ecnephias – Haereticus

More vamping pseudo-Gothic keyboard-infused bouncy black metal. It has no personality at all, other than a fusion of later Cemetary with Skepticism and Dimmu Borgir, a mixture which sounds ideal but in practice cannot find common ground except on the most basic stylistic similarities. Spirit? Idea? Drive? Musically, it’s great and sometimes reminds me of later Rotting Christ. The beats are very similar and the composition staged harmonically much like the more erudite rock. But as a sum total of art, or a listening experience, it delivers nothing.

War Cry – Trilogy of Terror

Cut from much the same mould as Saint Vitus, the heavy metal musicians in War Cry make surging punk-influenced music like Venom but at a slower pace with the galloping rhythms of early speed metal like Satan and Sabbat. Interestingly, the vocalist sounds a lot like James Hetfield in both timbre and delivery. In the ways these vocals dive across large intervals and then present a sudden bittersweet melody and abrupt rhythm the band resembles Angel Witch. The usual gaggle of influences on older metal music emerge, including Iron Maiden most notably, but here it’s channeled into a style of music that hovers in the mid-paced arena but projects a somber aura like a doom band, when they’re not busy rocking out, that is. History swallows up any knowledge of where they would have taken it, but for a demo of its time, this was a solid B+.

Walpurgisnacht – Die Derwaert Gaen En Keeren Niet

Whenever metal starts a new tributary from its river of heaviness, that rivulet runs for some time and then fragments as it explores. After that, some people realize it’s a great opportunity to make a synopsis of those different directions, an opportune compromise if you will, and then norm the structure of the music back to the verse-chorus pop music of your average radio candy band for teenage brats to enjoy before life harvests them as cubicle slaves (pwnt). Some bands are smart enough to add variations like double riffs for verses, adding transitional riffs and making the bridge into a series of riffs that fit together like a telescoping umbrella before dropping you into the predictable. But it’s only a matter of time before the classic heavy metal riffs come out, along with their rock music bounce and simple-minded distraction, and in this case the transition is from Gorgoroth/Gehenna-style dark riffing to Mayhem-influenced epic pentatonics and then with a shrug straight into archetypes out of 1976 heavy metal. Of the bands out there now, this band most resembles Sammath or Fluisterwoud. Despite those additions, which end up being riff-salady, Walpurgisnacht is about blatantly sentimental melodic hooks and recurrent invocation of riffs from black metal’s history. Unlike most of its contemporaries, Walpurgisnacht has a beautiful misfortune advantage: between melodic hooks, rhythmic hooks, and pure speed/violence thrills, it’s catchy as all hell. This bestows the ultimate curse in that it both isn’t bad and isn’t inspiring at all because it too glibly speaks the language of appearance of form without altering the intelligible structure beneath.

Vomit – Rot in Hell

Jump back to 1985 or so. Stereos are blistering with Ride the Lightning and Hell Awaits. There’s no internet and metal publications are few and far between, so you get your news by dubbing a couple tracks from each of your latest finds onto cassette for your friends across the world. You spend your few bucks on postage but get more music than you could ever find in a record store or the flaky, xerox-distorted catalogs of the primitive mail-order of the time. Sound romantic? Then sign up for this hybrid of speed metal, thrash and the early death metal without death metal vocals that was Slayer. Vocal rhythms are profoundly Slayer; song structures and half the riffs are Metallica; the rest of the riffs are a meshing of the ideas behind Slayer, Sodom, Venom, Sepultura and Destruction. It’s extremely engaging music, with lots of energy and the banging of the drums, but it is like the rationalism it finds reprehensible, very fucking linear. I like it but never want to listen to it again.

Vile – Stench of the Deceased

Some albums innovate on the inside of the genre, while others take its disparate aesthetic influences and standardize them. Vile really nailed the sonic appearance of post-Cannibal Corpse death metal, complete with squeals in the Incantation style, Malevolent Creation creeping thunderous choruses, Suffocation breakdowns and windups, Immolation’s riff salad and leaps between tempi. But… this is good, but the gestalt of it is not great: in fact, as the term gestalt implies, music should give off a spirit that like an MD5 checksum gives us a single representation or shape to its direction. Here that clarity is so muddied that what we remember is a cinematic procession of riffs like a nightmare dream movie, inscrutable to those who do not know the narrative passing through the minds of these musicians. Riffs are quality but never so above the board good that they’re memorable, and their arrangements rapidly lose integrity and become a series of techniques. This is an album you will love the idea of but be unable to return to as a classic for inspiration.

Venom – Hell

I’ll give this band credit: they mixed influences, but then knew how to pick selectively the parts that work together. The first track is a Slayer rhythm with a speed metal style infectious chorus, Prong-inspired industrial noises in the background, and a Pantera-ish jaunty riff with monotone vocal deadpan. At this point in their career, Venom as musicians are slick and know the archetypes of their genre, so they pull off a very believable album to the degree that you never think to question whether this is a big band — obviously, these guys arrived long ago, and have been taking music lessons ever since. While the quality of this music is good, by aiming for the simple-minded and catchy, it sort of takes itself out of the running for contemplative profundity and in doing so, shows why Venom was a first attempt at black metal that never succeeded: it couldn’t leave the heavy metal, rock ‘n roll mentality behind. Even Sarcofago, Hellhammer, and Bathory, who I’d consider the first generation of black metal, developed themselves into art with a sense of the sublime and subtle. Venom is just like Metallica and Exodus, barging in with loud declarations where we’re supposed to assume words equal their meanings, like a reshuffling of the hippie symbolism of rock. I respect it but there’s no way in hell I’d ever reach for this CD given the other great options out there, although it’s a vast improvement on Venom’s classics, musically.

Ved Buens Ende – Coiled in Obscurity

You know what else coils in obscurity? Poop. This CD, of live and instrumental rarities by this band, showcases both what they were trying to achieve and why they were ignored by many of us. First, they’re trying to achieve what the reckless yells and blatantly ambitious singing on this CD seems to gesture at; a soul unconnected from awareness of social consequences (this is what people want when they bloviate about “freedom”). Second, the underlying Mayhem-inspired gritty but monotonous riffing shows how they hoped to achieve it, which is the same method every punk band since the dawn of time has used. Huge parts of this are blatant Burzum ripoffs with the atmosphere replaced by a sense of ashen directionless chaos. Dissonant chords howl against the grain of riffs, drums batter out something ironically confrontational, and then the track redirects itself, like the point of a pen drifting across words on a book in another language. The repetition gets old and the CD goes nowhere.

Portal – Outre

This album sounds to me like airplanes zooming over battleships. Their distortion is intensely melodic and they tend to use diminished melodies and abrupt tempo changes, drones zooming into abrupt, jazz-style recursions. In many ways, it’s a lot like what Molested tried to do, except the songs go nowhere. They thrash between different patterns that are marginally related and create a dark atmosphere, but then it doesn’t change, and so what ends up happening is that songs become monolithic and uninspiring. It’s an interesting concept, the idea of removing dynamics from the music except as a rhythm, and inserting small themes within larger patterns, but when it does not reveal any clarity to its changes, the result is like driving around in a maze with the heater on.

Rotten Sound – Exit

People were telling me this was death metal, but in reality, it’s a punk album with blastbeat drums and modified d-beat. It’s not bad but it’s not distinct enough from later Impaled Nazarene or Disfear to really care. They keep the energy going as if they’re afraid to slow down and make sense of their songs, which are two or three riffs and sometimes a tempo change. This stuff is kind of neat but one dimensional, reminiscent of Driller Killer in the way it uses very similar beats and transitions, and so sounds like one continuous linear riffing party with a variation on Swedish d-beat essentials. It’s unclear to me why anyone with access to Discharge, the Exploited and Dead Infection would choose this lesser variation.

Wolves in the Throne Room – Malevolent Grain

Having been a fan of Two Hunters for some time, this reviewer was excited to download and un-RAR the latest from Wolves in the Throne Room, one of black metal’s more successful acts. Soaring drones lace themselves over bracketing drums, and female vocals and black metal rasps guide these songs through mostly extended verse-chorus patternings, with a few discursive flights of fancy leading away and then returning. This is not an album for people who like black metal; it’s an album for people who want black metal to be what they like. Specifically, it’s a studied combination of indie rock, emo punk, crustcore and doom metal, most notably borrowing from Skepticism and Satyricon. It makes itself obvious in the protest rock style of clearly identifying what it complains about — GM crops (author’s opinion on this issue is irrelevant; this is a music review) — and makes that topic safe by construing it in the same Good and Evil game that Christianity likes to play, where moral absolutes are used to control the masses so no one has to think. There are black metal technique additions, for sure, but the spirit is mournful and poignant in that simple way that rock music makes you see a “I love her, but can’t have her, because she’s no good for me, but the sex is great” dual binary complexity to life. Unlike great art, this album never creates the chiasmus, where the opposite pairs recombine and a truth is distilled. Like Velvet Caccoon, the last great Northwest black metal phenomenon, Wolves in the Throne Room carefully study their quarry and put together a compilation of what has worked for indie rock tinged black metal for the past decade, but in doing so, they somehow lose their soul, which is borne out in the music that wanders yet not only never arrives but never decides where to go — it wallows in its opposition, like a surly priest fulminating in frustration beneath a rotting church.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 12-29-08

Lubricant – Nookleptia (1992)

After the initial solidification of the the sound of death metal (1988-1990) a number of up-and-coming bands caused it to, like the dendritic expansion of a leafed branch, to explore every possible combination with past elements and stylistic possibility. Among the products of that tendency was Finland’s Lubricant, who sound like a progressive death metal band hybridized with hardcore punk under the direction of a hard rock conductor. Like countrymen Sentenced produced on Amok, these bouncy songs use a melodic core to create two-part expansions, bouncing between not call and response but hypothesis and counterpoint. Riffing makes extensive use of dissonant chords, some voicings in contexts familiar in both black metal and emo, and strip death metal riffs of much of the downstrum-empowered, recursive rhythm complexity so that they ride on a few notes and the rhythms of their presentation like a hardcore band. Although goofy experimentation like spoken and sung vocals in opposition to death growls are now rarities, in part thanks to the overuse of this technique by dreaded nu-metal bands, they occur here with enough ingenuity to be presumed innocent and not MTV in intent. Yet style is only half of a band; the melodies and rhythms here are simple but unencumbered and often beautiful in their spiralling cycle around a fragment of vision, in a way reminiscent of both Ras Algethi and Discharge. They are not quite decisive enough to encapsulate the sensation of a generation or era as some of the greater bands did, but they achieve a powerful observational facility from the periphery. My guess is that this band was overlooked because of its bouncy hard rock rhythm and its tendency to structure songs around breakdowns that filter through past riffs like computer code comparing arrays and finally reduce to a simple riff measurably more poignant than its counterparts. In other words, this is not only unfamiliar ground for death metal listeners, but is less discretely concise like beaded water sliding down plastic sheeting, and therefore, harder to identify and appreciate.

Bethzaida – Nine Worlds (1996)

In both guitar tone and composition this resembles Eucharist with a death metal sense of percussion and tempo, spindly melodic lead lines arching through a rhythm to enforce it in offset, but borrows from the short-lived “dark metal” genre that was transitional between death and black (its most persistent artifact is the first Darkthrone album): cyclic arpeggiated riffs give way to either racing fire of chromatic progressions or looser, short melodies repeated at different intervals in the scale comprising the foundation of each piece. Like Dissection, there is a tendency to etch out a dramatically even melody architected across levels of harmony, and then to curl it back around a diminishing progression to achieve closure; while this is effective, it must be used sparingly to avoid audience saturation with its effect, and it isn’t here. What kept this band from the big time might indeed be something similar, which is its tendency to set up some form of constant motion and, after descending into it, failing to undergo dynamic change. Much of its phrasing celebrates symmetry between resolution and inception, creating a squeaky clean obviousness that in metal unlike any other genre becomes tedious fast, and there is like Dissection a tendency to break a melodic scale into a counter direction and a counter to that, then regurgitate it in the dominant vector, then its opposite, then in turn its antithesis, producing a flow of notes that like a river bends in order to go straight. Zoom back on the scale function, and view the album as a whole: like most postmodern art, it is replacing lack of internal strength (encouragement toward self-sacrificial or delayed-gratification values, e.g. heroism and adventure) with a surplus of external embellishment, including flutes dressing up elaborate versions of tedious patterns and keyboards. Like Dissection it achieves a sheath of immersive aesthetic, and like Metallica (occasional similarities in chord progression) it maintains an internally resurgent energy, but when one peels back this externality, there is less of a compelling nature here than a flawless but overdone, directionless aesthetic.

Depression – Chronische Depression (1999)

Although aesthetically this band resembles a more dominating version of the early percussive death metal bands like Morpheus (Descends) or Banished, in composition it is most like grindcore: one thematic riff repeated unless interrupted by detouring counterpoints, then a series of breakdowns and transitions working back to the point of harmonic inception and rhythmic wrapper of the original riff. Like countrymen Blood this band specializes in the simple and authoritative in roaring noise, but musical development from repetition is even sparser and the anthemic factor of repeating a motif at different tempos and key-locations wears thin after some time. Undeniably, this band have talent and apply it well, but are limited by their conception of music to make sonic art that while forceful is so repetitive that few outside those who delight in the shock of its pure and total deconstruction of music will listen again to these mostly two-riff songs. Vocals are of the guttural alternation with shrieking whisper type and rather than counteracting this effect, bring it into prominence, but that seems to be the intent — this band desire to become the unrelenting assault of early Napalm Death but with rigid and not “organic” chaotic structure, and thus they take a concept sometimes unknown and sometimes built as a subset of known variants (Dies Irae themes, monster movie music, old hardcore progressions) and hammer it home over a sequence of staggered tempos, interweaves with oppositional riffs, and rhythmic breaks. Underneath it all is the kind of sly iconoclasm and gleeful weirdness that comes naturally in times when one must be careful about which truths one tells unmasked. Probably this grinding death CD is the closest we will have in this era to an updated version of DRI/COC-style thrash, and true to this form, it incorporates a number of figures from hardcore music. This will not be for everyone and will not be heard every week, but for an approach to this ultra-deconstructed style, Depression are one of the better efforts on record.

Phlegethon – Fresco Lungs (1992)

Many of the early contributors to death metal were heavy metal fans who wanted to avoid the sickening glossy vocals, dramatic love songs, and moronically one-dimensional aesthetic of heavy metal, so they incorporated the aesthetic and artistic direction of death metal, but underneath made music that could compete with Van Halen if applied to FM radio. Phlegethon is one such act; like “Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas” from Therion, this is a heavy metal album that uses the riff salad wrapped around a narrative thematic development of death metal, accented with keyboards and unusual song structures, to create epic music that eschews the mainstream cheese. Each song is gyrationally infectious and yet understated, like throwing the grenade of an irresistible rhythm into a room and then skipping down the hall whistling (one track deliciously parodies techno). Keyboards guide the root notes of power chords but vary harmony for conclusion or emphasis. Song structures bend out of introductory material into a sequence of candidates for introduction or transition to verse and chorus, and the result is an architectural feel like that of fellow Finns Amorphis as the listener progresses between riffs of different shape and sonic impact, like a flash of light outlining the features of a vast room — similarly, there are lengthy offtime melodic fretruns highlighting descending power chord riffs as that band also used to great effect. Admirably, drums migrate through layers which silhouette the current riff in contrast and foreshadow adept tempo changes; vocals are low guttural death growls that stretch themselves to the point of fragmentation, spearing the beat in each phrase and decaying after each emphatic syllable to create a reference frame of surreal incomplete rhythm. The rampant creativity and pulsingly infectious rhythms of this CD give it presence which so powerfully hints at a more complete musical language that the intrusions of heavy metal-derived music often seem like dilutions, but it is clear from even this glimpse that the world missed out on the future evolution of this band.

Avathar “Where Light and Shadows Collide” (CD, 2006)

A cross between In Battle and Summoning, this band attempts to make epic music but in the uptempo style of black metal such as Mayhem or Abigor. Like The Abyss, this band wield such a lexicon of technique that tendencies in their music become evident early on and seem repetitive by the end of the album. For background listening it is preferrable to the disorganized noise and posing produced by the black metal underground, but one wonders if this is not like most art in the modern time good with technique/appearance but poor at confronting the inner world of meaning.

Order From Chaos “Dawn Bringer” (Shivadarshana Records, 1994)

At the nexus of several rising conceptual directions in underground music, Order From Chaos fuses them sublimely into a subconscious manipulation by music that remains stranded in the older generations of punk and metal by its refusal to integrate longer melodies; it is pure rhythmic pattern and song structure, a Wagnerian demonstration of a course of thought developed through the sensation represented by riffs that like scenes guide listeners through the acts of the drama. It is this theatrical sense that interrupts the verse-chorus spiralling of riffs layered with accompaniment of increasing intensity from drums and vocals and bass, with songs dropping to moments of presentation and equalization when forward action ceases and a quietude of sorts drops over the action. In this, like early Krieg, the music is an improvisational theatre acting out the raw id of human experience when that experience represents those brainy enough to see how modern society and its assumptions (order, legality, morality) are completely bankrupt, but it is a scream of protest and not, as is needed, a counter-construction. Thus while no piece of this is in error, the whole is discohesive and with a good augmentation could become far better; among Nationalist bands (it is fair to note allusions to nationalism on this record, with “Die Fahne Hoch” making an appearance on track two) Skrewdriver remains pre-eminent because they wrote melodic, expressive — while as cheesy, overblown and dramatic as those from the Ramones or the Sex Pistols — songs that gave people something to live for as much as a knowledge of what is lacking in our world. With luck in future albums, this band will approach structure with as much pure energy as they unleash here. Track fourteen (Golgotha) contains a riff tribute lifted from the nether moments of “Reign in Blood.”

Vordven “Woodland Passage” (CD, 2000)

Hearing this album is like running into Boston and screaming “The British are coming!” in 2006: completely irrelevant. A mixture of old Emperor and Graveland stylings, it is perfectly competent but by emulating the past, both fails to uphold that spirit and precludes itself from finding its own direction. We don’t need new styles; we don’t need “progress”; we do need music that has some idea of what it wants to communicate, and can make that experience meaningful. This sounds like retro or a coverband in that everything is bureaucratically plotted: after the keyboard interlude comes the pre-theme, then the main theme, then break for demonic scream and drum battery to drive it all home. Clearly better musicians than many of the original bands, Vordven are lesser artists and thus have less of interest to give us. It feels less dishonest to listen to Muzak versions of Metallica hits from the 1980s.

Warhorse “Warhorse” (CD, 2000)

Sounding like a hybrid between old Confessor and middle-period Motorhead, Warhorse is a rock band playing doom metal with a sensibility for both slow pumplike riffs over which vocals suddenly slow, causing a relative shift that makes the entire song seem to stand still, and the type of pick-up transitions and breakdowns for which both Motorhead and death metal bands are famous. In the sense of bands like Saint Vitus or Cathedral this band is intensely mated to the rock culture and its dramatic self identity, adding over it high pitched vocals that sound like a whisky-soaked Sigur Ros in an Alabama bar. For this reviewer it is a question of relevance: what does one need express in this style that would take a band beyond the level of background music for a local bar? However, among those who undertake this format, Warhorse keeps a sense of style and intensity, even if by appropriately keeping its horizons forshortened in the ambition department.

Revenge “Victory. Intolerance. Mastery.” (Osmose, 2004)

Although in fundamentally the same style as previous releases, the latest from Revenge improves upon it by simplifying the chaotic stew of impulses diverging into every conceivable direction, therefore achieving a greater coherence and thus listenability. That being said, the same problems that plague previous releases are here: distracting directionless percussion, riff salad, a tendency to deconstruct without a replacement ideal. However, by dropping all but the most necessary elements of their music, Revenge have come closer to making an expressive black metal album.

Ankrehg “Lands of War”

Oh, neat: someone hybridized Impaled Nazarene with Gorgoroth and made a band that balances between sawing punk riffs and trills of melodic scale fretruns. Having mastered that technique, this band was left neurotic and clueless as they attempted to find a direction; barring that, they settled on a generalized path and threw everything but the kitchen sink into it, creating songs that leap at every conceivable point of the compass but seize nothing. Their technique is to distract the listener with this constant stream of chaos and hope it is not noticed as irrelevant; with this reviewer, it was, and thus the listening session ended. Worse than shit, this is confusion masquerading as profundity.

Revenge “Triumph. Genocide. Antichrist.” (Osmose, 2003)

Whenever one is handed a piece of music or writing, it makes sense to ask, “What are the artistic aims of this work?” Art does not exist in a vacuum, much as conversation does not; there has to be some joy in it, something shared between listener and creator. Revenge is blasting drums that chase a pace with successive lapses and then catch-up intensifying speed, harsh harmonized vocals that surge overhead like rainbows of oil in floodwaters, and riffs of often high quality; like the first Krieg album however, it arrays these in an incoherent order which results in the stream of consciousness sensation without imparting greater wisdom of any form. As such, this album is a stepping back from what black metal achieved, which was an arch grace and continuity in expressing a meaning to darkness, and a descent into the disorganized deconstructionism that denotes modern grindcore (as if to underscore this, the drumming here is highly reminiscent of Derek Roddy’s work on Drogheda’s “Pogromist”). To communicate breakdown, one does not portray breakdown in its literal form, necessarily – here we see good raw material – powerful percussion, adroit riffcraft – converted into a melange of confusion by its lack of deliberation and planning. No single part of it has anything wrong with it. The whole is a death of ambition, of heroism, of tragedy and meaning.

Vinterland “Welcome My Last Chapter” (2003)

This band is like The Abyss a template of black metal technique recombined around the most fundamental songwriting techniques, but to that mixture it adds lifts from Gorgoroth and Sacramentum to make it a flowing but gracefully intricate and arcane metal style. Nothing here is bad and it listens well, but it manages less suspension of disbelief than The Abyss (first album; the second one is random riffs and screaming) because although its songs are well-written and flow expertly it is hard to find a statement to any of them; what are they about? They’re about being melodic black metal songs. Undoubtedly Vinterland is far better than almost all of what has been called “melodic black metal” since 1996, but it’s only because our standards have fallen that such a band is construed as good listening. Preferrable would be a simpler more honest band trying to communicate an experience rather than partake of membership; in this Vinterland and Deathspell Omega are similar in that while both are at the top of their genre in formal ability, neither captures the essence of this music because they are trying to be the music, not trying to be something that ultimately will express itself in music. Hoarse whispery Dimmu Borgir vocals dive and glide over sheeting melodic guitar riffs, replete with fast fretruns and descending arpeggiations; the band know when to break from meaty riffs into calming simplicity like a ship exiting rapids. Those familiar with black metal history will hear lifts from Ancient, Dimmu Borgir, Sacramentum, The Abyss, Satyricon and Sacramentum, as well as hints of At the Gates and later Emperor. It is not badly done, but that’s not the point: this CD never takes any direction but tries to use summarizes of past paths as a condensed variety show of black metal; while it is an enjoyable listen the first time, it does not hold up as these other bands have, as there is nothing to center all of this technique and its moments of beauty, creating the impression of a sequence of distractions instead of deliberate craftsmanship helping to reveal a secret beneath the skin.

Regredior “Forgotten Tears” (Shiver Records, 1995)

This band of highly talented musicians have created an album that is half excellence and half disaster by focusing too much on individual instruments, and thus failing to organize songs by composition instead of playing, have been forced to rely on stitching together disconnected pieces of music with two-part attention span grabbers: a repeated pattern to seize attention, and then a pause and an “unconventional” response to fulfil that expectation. If that is a desired compositional style, one wonders why this band did not simply make grunge music and derive actual profit from the endeavor? They mean well and play well — the acoustic instrumentals here are beautiful, many of the riffs top-notch in the slumberlike earthmoving simplicity of older Therion, and concepts for songs are great — but the final product is marred by its own showiness and awkward assimilation of different musical impulses. Squeals, offtime drum hits, dissonant guitar fills and rhythmic jolts do not move compelling music along; they advance by inches and drain away the energies that allow bands to make the world-redefining musical statements required for songs to be distinctive and expressive enough to be great. For those who like later Carcass, this band utilizes many of the same techniques and has similar technicality.

Sombrous “Transcending the Umbra” (CD, 2005)

Imagine Biosphere executed with the sensibilities of Dead Can Dance: the same implications of melody in sonic curve rising to full volume and then pulsing like a wave before disappearing to form a cycle, with songs arising from the piling of successive layers at offset rhythms on top of one another. It is slow, percussionless, delicate, and in part thanks to the heavy reverberations used, as melancholic as the echo of one’s lonely voice in an abandoned cellar. The more style-heavy music gets and the farther it gets from something that can be easily played on one or two acoustic instruments, paradoxically, the easier it gets to create once one has mastered aesthetic, and if this music has a weakness it is the tendency to use four-note melodies as the basis of a song and only occasionally complement them with others. Biosphere helpfully used found melodies and instrumentals of greater detail to do this; Sombrous could actually go further within their own aesthetic and layer keyboards as they have but give them more to play than rising or falling modal lines. It would also help to even further vary the voices/samples used here, as too many echoed stringplucks or keyboard throbs start to sound the same; sometimes, one slips too far into the mood generated and boredom sets in. Yet there is something undeniable here in both aesthetic and composition, in that unlike almost all “ambient” releases from the underground this has grace and a sense of purpose that unites these tracks into a distinct musical entity. It is not unwise to watch this band for future developments.

Emit/Vrolok “Split”

Emit is ambient soundscapes made from guitar noise, sampled instruments and silences; it is good to see this band branch out into a greater range and artistic inspiration, but they would do well to remember the listener should be both learning and enjoying the experience of listening: what differentiates art from philosophy is that art is made to be a sensual tunneling through knowledge, where philosophy is a description of knowledge. Vrolok is of the Krieg/Sacramentary Abolishment school of fast noisy guitars over drums that outrace themselves and then catch up with flying chaotic fills. Nothing is poorly executed, but this recording seems to be an artist’s impression of what his favorite bands would do; there are some nice touches like background drones and bent-string harmonics of a sickening nature, but to what end? If black metal has another generation it’s not going to be in retrofitting the past in form, but in resurrecting the past in content, even if all the aesthetics are (like with the early Norse bands) garbage Bathory/Hellhammer ripoffs.

Nightbringer “Rex Ex Ordine Throni”

This is a competent black metal release with a Darkthrone/Graveland hybrid melodic guitar playing style, kettledrum flying battery in the Sacramentary Abolishment canon, vocals like later Dimmu Borgir and composition that, like that of Satyricon, assembles all of the correct elements but does not understand melody intuitively enough to keep the illusion going. If this band delved more deeply into composition and had something to say, this CD would be one of the best of the year because its aesthetic formula is perfect, but its melodies go nowhere and barely match harmonic expectation between phrases, when they’re not outright symmetrical and blatantly obvious; in short, it falls apart when one goes deeper than skin-level. If an ambitious melodic thinker gets transplanted into this band or its members grow in that direction (a big leap), it will be a major contribution.

Polluted Inheritance “Ecocide” (CD, 1992)

This is one of those CDs that came very close and with a little more focus and depth of thought could have been a classic of the genre. It is death metal in a hybrid style that includes jaunty post-speed metal expectant rhythms, such that incomplete rhythmic patterns provide a continuity through our anticipation of the final beat established through contrast of offbeats as necessary, and sounds as a result somewhere between Exhorder and Malevolent creation, with verse riffs that resemble later work from Death. Songs operate by the application of layers of instrumentation or variation on known riff patterns in linear binary sequence, driven by verse/chorus riffs and generally double bridges that convey us from the song’s introduction to the meat of its dispute to a final state of clarity. Probably too bouncy for the underground, and too abrasive for the Pantera/Exhorder crowd, this CD is very logical and analytic to the point that it makes itself seem symmetrical and obvious. With luck this band will continue writing, and will offer more of the ragged edge of emotion or concept which could make this a first-class release.

The Tarantists “demo 2004” (CD, 2004)

From the far-off land of Iran comes a band with a new take on newer styles of metal. Incorporating influences from Metallica, progressive and jazz-influenced heavy metal, and some of the recent grunge-touched modern metal, the Tarantists render something true both to themselves and to metal as an ongoing musical culture. Prominent jazzy drums lead riffs that are not melodic in the “style” of constant melodic intervals popular with cheesy Sentenced-ripoff bands, but use melodic intervals at structural junctures in riffs that smoothly branch between phrasal death metal styled riffs and bouncy recursive heavy metal riffs. Over this lead guitar winds like a vine and favors the bittersweet sensation of melodies that decline in harmonic spacing until they trail off in melted tendrils of sound; riffing is most clearly influenced by the NWOBHM style hybridized with speed metal’s adept use of muffled and offtime strums to vary up what are otherwise harmonically static riffs. The Tarantists can achieve this melding of motion-oriented and pure rhythm riffing through their tendency to change song structure rapidly after having made their point, such that listening to this resembles going between different parts of a complex city, climbing stairs and finally entering a destination, then jumping back in the car for a manic deviation to another location. Highly listenable, this is impressive work for a demo band and represents a brighter future for metal than the kneejerk tedium of nu-metal or the repetition of past glories offered blankfacedly by the underground. It is unabashedly musical, and takes pride in interlocking melodic bass and lead guitar lines that exchange scale vocabularies as freely as rhythm. The only area that seems unresolved are the gruff Motorhead-style vocals, which might be either updated or discarded for pure singing, as there’s enough sonic distance within this work to support such a thing. The clearest influences here are Iron Maiden and Metallica, but a familiarity with recent metal of almost every genre is also audible. Of the recent demos sent this way, this is the one most likely to gain repeated listening because it focuses on music first and aesthetics second.

Beyond Agony “The Last of a Dying Breed” (CD, 2005)

Trying to mix the high-speed melodic riffing of black metal with the thunderous bassy trundle of mainstream death metal/nu-metal riffing, this band produce something that sounds like Acid Bath without the variation or singing, and resembles Pantera in its tendency to match riffs with clear poised expectant endphrases to rapped vocals and shuffle drumming. It’s a variation on a pattern seen many times before. It’s impossible to tell what kind of musical ability exists in these musicians because these riffs are rhythmic and aharmonic, since their melodic trills exist only to emphasize the E-chord noodling at the low end. Some Meshuggah fans might appreciate this, as might the hordes of people who think Slipknot and Disturbed are OK, but to an underground death metal fan there’s nothing here. These guys are clearly professional and have studied all of the other offerings in the field, and mixed in enough melody to distinguish themselves, and clearly these songs hold together better than your average nu-metal, but when one picks a dumbshit conception of music — which really, the entire Pantera/nu-metal genre is: music for morons to bounce around to while working off their frustration at having their democratic right to be spoiled and bratty constrained by reality — one limits oneself to making things that no matter how smart they get, have the dominant trait of being aimed at supporting and nurturing stupidity. I might even wax “open-minded” if I didn’t know that devolving metal into pure angry, pointless, rhythmic ranting has been the oldest tendency of the genre, and one that always leads it astray, because bands that do this have no way of distinguishing between each other except aesthetic flourishes and therefore end up establishing a competition on the basis of external factors and not composition. Some riffs approach moments of beauty but tend to come in highly symmetrical pairs which demand bouncy stop-start rhythms to put them into context. It’s all well-executed, but it’s standard nu-metal/late Pantera, with touches of Iron Maiden and Slayer. Should we care? Some of the celebrities who paid tribute to the late guitarist of Pantera/Damageplan noted that he had the ability to play well beyond the style which he’d chosen; it sounds like the same thing is evident here, and that seems to me a tragedy, because this style is so blockhead it absorbs all of the good put into it in its desire to provide a frustration condom for burnt-out suburban youth.

Fireaxe “Food for the Gods” (CD, 2005)

If you’ve ever wished that old-style heavy metal would be just a little less effete and self-obsessed, and take the literal attitude that hardcore punk had toward the world but give it that grand lyricism for which metal is famous, you might find a friend in Fireaxe. It’s low-tech, with basic production without the touches of tasty sound that make big studio albums so richly full, and it is often a shade short of where it needs to be in content – often repetitive or too basic in the logic that connects sections, as if it suffers from a surfeit of symmetry brought about by too much logical analysis – but it is what heavy metal could be if it grew up, somewhere between Mercyful Fate and Queensryche and Led Zeppelin, an epic style with a desire to be more of a kingshearth bard than a stadium ego-star. Brian Voth does the whole thing, using electronics for percussion and his trusty guitar, keyboards and voice to pull it off. His voice is thin like his guitar sound, and his solos are clearly well-plotted but do not let themselves go into chaos enough; his use of keyboards is reminiscent of a sparing take on Emperor. This 3-CD set is an attempted historiography of humanity and its religious symbolism, with a cynical outlook on such things as originally perhaps healthy ideas gone perverse and become manipulators. “On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense”? Perhaps, but this is earthier; in true heavy metal form, “Food for the Gods” delights in the literal manifestations of spacy otherworldly “truths.” Overall musical quality is high, and artistic quality is immaculate, but the CD is often designed less for the listener than to complete its thought cycle, and here it could use an edit; it is so analytical it is almost apoetic, and so literal it is almost a stab against symbolism itself (already in vogue for 90 years with the postmodernists, alas). My advice to Fireaxe would be to stop looking so deeply into causes and to start looking into spiritual solutions, e.g. to “sing” in the oldest sense of praising the beauty of life even in darkness, and lifting us up not into educated obligation but into ignorant but healthy spirits. Think of a bard singing by his cup of mead, looking for a way to console and encourage those who might on the morrow die in battlefields, all through the symbols, song and sense of ancient tales. This album could be cut to a single CD with proper editing gain some denseness and unpredictability it lacks; right now, although its patterns vary its delivery is of such an even mien that it is nearly predictable. The roots of excellent music are here, including Voth’s creative and playful leads, but need discipline into a more advanced and yet less progressive form for Fireaxe to have the full range of voice it requires. It is a welcome diversion from the insincere and manipulative stadium metal, and the guilelessly fatalistic underground music that shadows it (although it will not admit it), and while it waxes liberal in philosophy, does not go toward the eunuch extreme of emo; the heart is behind the music, and the flesh is competent, but somehow, the soul has not yet lifted its wings and flown, yet sits contemplating the right flightpath in radiant detail.

Gnostic “Splinters of Change” (5 song demo, 2005)

Upon hearing of the reemergence of pioneering Atheist drummer Steve Flynn, my curiousity was piqued immediately. I’d always appreciated his slippery brilliance behind the kit, forever giving the impression of struggling not to become caught in the tornado of bizarre rhythmic patterns he himself was creating. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that thirteen years between major recordings and immersion within the materialistic modern-day workplace had not dulled his creativity. In fact, his refreshingly brazen yet occultish approach to rhythmic structuralization is very reminiscent of his previous output, a fact which initially inspired hope. Further, Gnostic is composed of talented players. Former Atheist vocalist Kelly Shaefer produced the album. A concern nags silently: can this band escape the shadow of its predecessor?

As it turns out, no. The band has missed the fundamentally esoteric application of that theory which lends such timelessness to Atheist; say what you will about such a loaded term as “populist” being utilized in musical review, but this is merely music written to “sound good” from a quasi-prog perspective. The musical framework has each component part of the equation stepping all over every other part to prove that the instrumentalists are capable, losing the transcendence which Atheist channeled through their controlled chaoticism. Gnostic is all over the map structurally, with Flynn doing everything he can to hold the ship together at the seams. There is no message here, other than one-dimensional instrumentalism. We’ve already heard these same songs from the same bands for fifteen years now. It seems to this reviewer that this demo chalks yet another victory up to Redundant Mediocrity over Art. Consume, consume, consume. – blaphbee

Therion “A’arab Zaraq Lucid Dreaming” (Nuclear Blast, 1995)

It’s hell on metal bands who want to leave the underground. In trying to popularize their style, they usually kill whatever appeal it had, because those who enjoy their music have found truth somewhere in the alienation and whatever values the band managed to sustain under that assault. Further, the band usually confuse themselves, and end up prostrating themselves as whores, thus losing the respect of their fans. This CD is a collection of outtakes from Theli, a soundtrack and some Therion odds and ends that chronicle this band’s descent into commerciality and simultaneous rise in the esteem of metal fans as a whole. The first two tracks represent everything disgusting about trying to make popular neoclassical music, in that they focus first on making foot-stomping crowd-pleasing music, and adorn it with bits of classical allusion and the like, creating in the end a carnival of confusion. The next track, “Fly to the Rainbow,” is apparently a cover of an old Dio tune, which is amusing considering how similar it is to “The Way” from Therion’s epic second album. This is followed by one of the cheesiest Iron Maiden covers ever, with overdone vocals drowning out the subtlety of the original, and a Running Wild
song that comes across as blockheaded, but is less dramatically re-enacted, and therefore is more welcome. It sounds very much like punk hardcore with a metal chorus. Next is an off-the-cuff cover of “Symphony of the Dead,” from the second album as well, but its mix emphasizes the keyboards to the point where it becomes muzak. Good song, terrible version, and as fully meaningless as the Emperor keyboard-only Inno A Satana. The band have lost their grasp of what made their earlier material great, that it blended the raw and the beautiful, not that it standardized itself for radio airplay as this CD clearly does. All finesse is gone, all artistry, and what replaces it is the populist heavy metal mentality. There’s no class to this, or self-respect, and while any of its elements are quite powerful, the whole is tediously directionless. This syndrome blights the remaining Therion tracks on this CD, which then takes us to the soundtrack portions – these are actually promising. Like a synthesis between Dead Can Dance and Summoning, these are wandering keyboard background musics that maintain a mood and are kept in check by the need to be less disruptively attention-seeking. Although plenty of cliches and obvious figures work their way into this music, it’s clear that (were Swedes to control Hollywood) soundtracks are where the “new” Therion belong.

Aletheian “Dying Vine” (Hope Prevails, 2005)

This album demonstrates how if you mix great ingredients randomly, you end up with something disgusting. About half of the riffs on this album are excellent, and the sense of rhythm the band has is wonderful. But it’s garish, gaudy and overblown. Like a metalcore band, they mix riffs in a merry-go-round of directionless ideas, never actually stating anything. In this case the riffs are of the melodic Swedish death metal meets technical speed metal style, with influences from “modern metal” and showboat heavy metal. Any one part of this could be great, but it says nothing and thus ends up being random elements stitched together in a circus show of diverse and incompatible fragments of ideas. Some goofy modern touches, like synthesized voices, put nails in the coffin. There’s a lot to like here but the whole is not worth loving. My advice to these dudes: meditate and work on your band politics, because the raw material in this album if presented differently would be listenable, but right now it’s a technical mash that has no artistic or aesthetic statement.

Harkonin “Sermons of Anguish” (Harkonin, 2005)

The good news is that Harkonin have good concepts, write good riffs, and understand something of gradual mood shifts. The bad news is that they compress this process, remove the anticipation, and hammer it out in repetitive endurance tests that hide the actual talent of the members of this band. None of the elements are bad; in fact, they’re far above average, and the band has an aesthetic vision – the CD skirts metalcore but incorporates some of the newer urban and rock influences into metal – that outpaces most of their contemporaries. However, they need to find some inner calm, and let it out slowly, and discover the poetry of their own vision, as right now, this album is unrelenting violence that becomes perceived as a single unchanging texture because of its emotional disorganization. Luckily this experienced band has time to take some of their more intense moments of riffing and put them at the end of each song, then re-arrange the other riffs (and maybe develop them by another layer, meaning for each good riff, split out two complementary ones that can resolve into it, Suffocation style) to lead up to that point. If they do that, they will be on the path toward conveying meaning through their music – right now, what it conveys is abrasion, and too much of that will pass in the listener’s mind into a sense of unchanging mood.

Dug Pinnick “Emotional Animal” (Magna Carta, 2005)

Former King’s X member comes out with new album. Any guesses? It sounds like a heavier, groovier King’s X, which seems to be an attempt to make metal sound more like rock music. It’s jazzy and funky, and has some grunge-meets-prog metal riffing, but on the whole, the composition is the same stuff that gets played on the radio. Pinnick would do better applying his talents to something fully proggy like Gordian Knot.

Aphotic/Dusk “Split” (Cursed Productions, 2005)

Like most releases from Cursed Productions, this CD showcases regular guy songwriting enclosed in an unusual form. Aphotic is a fusion of soundtrack doom metal like My Dying Bride and Katatonia, fused with a progressive edge like that of Gordian Knot, creating a listenable package with plenty of depth to its instrumentation. Many of these riffs sound like something borrowed from a Graveland album, but on top of the basic guitar, flourishes of lead guitar and synthesized instruments accent the dominant theme, as does offbeat guitar playing with an emphasis on the internal rhythms for which metal is famous. Although these songs generate a great deal of atmosphere, and are at heart hook-laden and listenable to an extreme, they may be too sentimental for progressive rock fanatics and too straightforward for early 1990s black metal fans. An underpinning of old-fashioned foot-stomping heavy metal may make these popular in the contemporary metal audience, and if there’s any criticism here, it’s that this band could give their instrumentalism greater reign. Dusk, on the other hand, is a much clearer fusion of doom metal and classic heavy/power metal, with growling voices guiding bouncy riffs to their targets. It is proficient but on the whole not fully developed enough to either have its own voice or rise above metal cliche, but it is inoffensive listening especially for one who wouldn’t mind being locked in a room with Cathedral and Prong re-learning their formative material.

Odious Sanction “Three Song Demo” (2005)

These few cuts from the upcoming album “No Motivation to Live” feature the talents of Steve Shalaty, now drumming for Immolation, but that’s about the whole of their appeal. Much like his work in Deeds of Flesh, Shalaty’s percussion is ripe with a precision interplay between double bass and an ongoing breakdown of fills, but the music over it is numbingly empty of anything but relentless interrupted cadence rhythm. Somewhere between metalcore and deathgrind, it lacks most dimensions of harmony and any of melody, resulting in a whirring and battering mechanistic noise that offers little to the experienced listener.

Emit “A Sword of Death for the Prince” (2005)

The microgenre of blacknoise is what happens when one fuses the abrasive Beherit-style cacophonous assault of minimal black metal and the droning sonic collages of acts like Mz. 412 or Claustrum. Where this CD is excellent are the moments when being shockingly extreme and unlistenable are forgotten, and overlapping patterns of melodic or textural fragments knot the listener into moods of darkness and contemplation. Here, Emit has found an outlet for its style, as the guitar is liberated from rigid hardcore/black metal style riffing and can focus on the mournful and regal use of ambient, repetitive melody, hiding it amongst distorted voices and sampled aural experiences of modern life. The pretenses of black metal should be discarded, as this release has more in common with Tangerine Dream and Godflesh than anything else. If this reviewer has anything to suggest, it is that this band not hold itself back, but plunge forward in the direction it is exploring, and use its dense layers of sonorous noise-guitar and vocals to develop a sense of melody and composition, as that is the strength of both this band and non-instrumental music in general, and — well, nothing’s been “shocking” for some time.

P – The Larch Returns (Music Abuse, 2005)

As metal continues, like a snowball rolling over open ground it assimilates all that went before it and thrusts it forward in recombinations hoping to find another powerful aesthetic voice for the eternal metal spirit (which also picks up details, but rarely additions, to its sense of being). P is the side project of Alchemy member P and can be described as a black metal-informed death-doom band, with influences primarily in the Asphyx and Cianide camp with touches from Paradise Lost and Master. Its strengths are its booming, bassy, cinderblock-simple riffs that thunder through repetition in a trancelike resonance. Where many simple riffed bands can be irritating, these are sustaining. Songs move from one perspective to a final response to it without ado because the goal of this music is to carve tunnels of explosive sound through the rock face of silence, enacting mood more than drama. P needs to work on its rhythmic transitions and vocals, the former being stiff and the latter overacted; the local-band style of shout/rasp does nothing for a listener who might prefer to not be reminded of vocals at all should the question arise. Influence might also be gained by pacing riffs, especially introductory ones, differently to radically offset each other and effect a smoother convergence of forces. Three songs are of solid death/doom, and then there’s junk — an Aldo Nova cover that is unconvincing, a duet with a young girl that is amusing, and a comic song about baseball that dilutes the mood — but this is followed by a final instrumental that is beautiful like an unfocused eye, being a careless-sounding collection of sounds so natural that it is both unnoticed and profound in its emotional impact. Should this band ever decide to take a direction and master it, they will be a potent force in the death/doom field.

Alchemy – Alchemy (Alchemy, 2004)

Reminiscent of Abyssic Hate and Xasthur and I Shalt Become, Alchemy creates Burzum-styled ambient drone in a song format that seems inspired by Dark Funeral more than anything else. It is elegant and embraces the listener but beyond getting into said mood, goes nowhere: it is not directionless but each song is monodirectional to the point it might not be said to be a narrative or even statement as much as observant glimpse. If this band wishes to go to the next level, it needs to divide the formative material of each song into two parts, and layer the first one for 2/3 of the song until an apex, at which point it can switch into the conclusion for the last third and be more effective and satisfying to a listener. Far from incompetent, it is best viewed as something in transition.

One Liners

Toil – Demo I

Slick in ability and appearance but boring as rocks except for the enlightening, faithful, identical cover of Graveland’s “Thurisaz.”

Cannibal Corpse – Kill

A formula continuing the tradition of getting more like rap music and Six Feet Under, so is basically like every other Cannibal Corpse album. That alone is reason to avoid it, unless you like music designed to coordinate the head motions of retarded children being electrocuted.

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