Some reviews you can write like people in rom-coms from Hollywood. You set up your MacBook on the rear veranda, overlooking the pool and the palm trees of Los Angeles, or maybe the soft lush vegetation of Martha’s Vineyard or the Riviera. Then you pour a glass of wine, and write quite happily in your own little bubble.10 Comments
Article by Lance Viggiano.
Blood Incantation give birth to a star which rapidly dissipates its vibrant material into a pale dwarf by exhausting concise songwriting early in its lifecycle to leave only the raw core of extended jam sessions which cause the dead to be grateful for their passing. Each proper song begins with a clear objective but rapidly loses focus through descents into ill-fitting random pastiches of mosh riffs, doom, beer horn ready chug or atmospheric atonal ambience. By and large, the latter half of these songs are used to adroitly drift in the vacuum of purpose wherein it makes its residence. Unlike Altars of Madness which similarly abuses the listener by stretching the limits of tolerance towards virtuosity, this group lacks the voracious songwriting that is necessary to avoid wandering by achieving focus to force the captive into loving punishing bouts of self-indulgence.14 Comments
Article by David Rosales.
I. A Romantic Art
In the past, we have likened the spirit of metal that culminates in death and black metal to that of the literary, romantic movement in Europe. Romanticism was meant to embody ideals of naturalism and individualism in a return to primeval spirituality connecting us with our origins, our surroundings, and a more conscious future. The romantic character of the 19th century stands in glaring opposition to the heavy industrialist upsurge and man-centered utilitarianism of that time. Epitomized metal contrasts with this idea in one important aspect: while artists two centuries ago strived to bring attention to the importance of human subjectivity, underground metal stressed irrelevance of the human vantage point.
In describing metal as a neo-romantic artform we may well be undermining the aspects that define it in its historical and psychological contexts. Historical as each movement is encased in a flow of events linked by causality and psychological, on the other hand because of the relative independence and unpredictability with which leading individuals affront these inevitable developments. Together, these two factors account for freedom of choice within predestination. Even though romanticism and metal were both reactions to the same decadence at different points in time, the latter rejects the former’s inclination towards universal human rights and other products of higher civilization in exchange for a nihilistic realism arising from the laws of nature. Underground metal is a detached representation of a Dark Age; one where power and violence are the rule in which all forms of humanism are hopelessly deluded or simply hypocritical.
The uncontrolled and contrarian character of metal stands at odds with the more self-aware and progressive bent of romanticism. Metal, at least in its purest incarnations, can never be assimilated – something that cannot be said of the older art movement. Pathetic attempts at dragging metal under the mainstream umbrella that abides by status quo ideals often fail catastrophically. When forcefully drawn out before dawn’s break it will inevitably miserably perish upon contact with the sun’s rays like a creature of catacombs and dark night-forests.
Attempting to define metal is as elusive as trying to pinpoint ‘magic’. Outsiders cannot even begin to recognize its boundaries. The mystical, ungraspable, and intuitive nature it possesses attests to this and sets it apart from romanticism in that not even those belonging to it are able to crystallize a proper description. The very substance of the genre is felt everywhere but the innermost sanctum always dissipates under the gaze of the mind’s eye.
II. Romantic Anti-Modernism
Even though it cannot be said that the one defines or encompasses the other, the connection between romanticism and metal nevertheless exists. Aside from the concrete musical link between them which helps us describe metal as a minimalist and electronic romantic art, the abstract connection is more tenuous and related to cyclic recurrence1. Metal is not a revival of romanticism nor its evolution, but perhaps something more akin to its rebellious disciple: a romantic anti-modernism.
The foundation of this anti-modernism is a Nietzschean nihilism standing in stark contrast with hypocritical modernist dogma; it spits in the face of the semantic stupidity of post-modernism. This is a sensible and ever-searching nihilism2 that does not attach itself to a particular point of view but parts from a point of disbelief in any authority. It is a scientific and mystic nihilism for those who can understand this juxtaposition of terms. It does not specialize in what is known as critical thinking but in the empirical openness to possibilities taken with a grain of salt. The first dismisses anything that does not conform to its rigid schemata; the second one allows relativism as a tool with the intention of having subjective views float around while transcending all of them and moving towards unattainable objectivity.
Such transcendentalism connects metal with Plato and Theodoric the Great rather than with Aristotle and Marcus Aurelius. Metal looks beyond modern illusions of so-called freedom and the pleasure-based seeking of happiness. It recognizes that without struggle there can be no treasure and that today’s perennial slack will only lead to complacent self-annihilation. This is why, instead of representing the blossoming of nature in man through the sentimentalisms of romanticism in its attitude above time, to use the words of a wise woman, metal stands stoutly as a form of art against time.
III. Essential Reading for the Metal Nihilist
As an attempt to communicate our understanding of the essence and spirit of underground metal, below are some books through which to start the abstract journey through metal and the metaphysics that moves it.
Theodore John Kaczynski – Industrial Society and Its Future
Albert Mudrian – Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore
Homer – The Illiad
The Bhagavad Gita
J.R.R. Tolkein – The Children of Húrin
Immanuel Kant – Critique of Pure Reason
IV. Some Music Recommendations for the Metal Nihilist
We have traditionally presented a certain pantheon of underground death and black metal to which most readers can be redirected at any moment. A different set is presented below that is nonetheless consistent with the writer’s interpretation of Death Metal Underground’s vision.
Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir – Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares
Julian Bream – La Guitarra Barroca
Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time
Not being a connoisseur of cinema in general, the following is but a friendly gesture. This is a loose collection for the transmission of a basic underground metal pathos.
Tous les Matins du Monde
The Witch: A New-England Folktale
Until the Light Takes Us
A 2008 documentary film by Aaron Aites
and Audrey Ewellabout the early 90s
black metal scene in Norway.
Andrei Tarkovsky – Stalker
1This is not the re-happening of the exact same universe that Nietzsche is supposed to have been talking about, but a transcendental recurrence of sorts. What I am trying to express here is the cyclic reappearance of abstract and collective concepts among humans, because they are also part of this universe and as such are subject to such underlying pendulum swings in the forces that move it. Perhaps a better descriptor could have been abstract collective concept reincarnation, but that seemed to convoluted, and cyclic recurrence captures the wider phenomenon, irrespective of what definition academia wants to adhere to.
2This somewhat liberal use of the term nihilism deserves to be explained a little further in order to avoid confusion. By this it is not meant that metal’s outlook consists of nihilism in the ultra-pessimistic sense, in the sense of total defeat, which seems to be the expectancy of most people from nihilism. The idea here is that as an art movement born in the post-modern era, in a civilization that has already been ravaged by nihilism, stripped from relevant cults, metal begins from a posture of extreme skepticism that is extended to everything and everyone. This skepticism is nihilistic because no intrinsic value is placed on anything, yet it is scientific because it is curious and will experiment. Metal’s development dances between nihilism and individualistic transcendentalism.67 Comments
Tags: aaron aites, albert mudrian, Andrei Tarkovsky, anti-modernism, anton bruckner, Bathory, Bhagavad Gita, condor, friedrich nietzsche, Godless Arrogance, Homer, iron maiden, j.r.r. tolkien, julian bream, Kant, modern metal, modernism, Nadia, Nihilism, Philosophy, plato, Romanticism, sammath, somewhere in time, Stalker, Ted Kaczynski, The Illiad, timeghoul, tolkein, twilight of the gods, until the light takes us
Article by David Rosales
Chthe’ilist’s debut has been expected by underground death metal fans for some time. To them, it seems like a promising project faithful to the ideals of atmospheric technical bands such as Demilich and Timeghoul, from whom it takes unmistakable cues. Less fortunate are the influences of popular (in the underground) but ultimately less effective acts Rippikoulu and Crematory. The first two lend a constructive helping hand while Crematory’s contribution distracts with purely technical and empty nonsense detached from clear evocation, and the unimpressive Rippikoulu lends its spacious approach that suffers from the blunders of Wagnerian operas: sparsely located treasures in a sea of boredom. Worth mentioning are a couple of very Voivodesque moments that are surprisingly integrated in a way that they do not seem out of place.
There are several reasons why this release is worth taking a close look at independently of how close we consider it to come to a masterpiece. Existing reviews come awfully short of a real musical insight, opting instead to spend a huge chunk of the time in talking about how cool the guys in the band are, or how ‘awesome’ the vibe is. They are utterly useless when they reach their faux attempts at providing any meaningful observations on the technical side of things. At most, they manage a colorful picture of the mental impressions that the music gives them; this at least is inspiring. Chthe’ilist’s album gives us so much more to discuss not only from its plentiful contents but what they relate to as descendants and composers.
In the interest of a well-rounded critique, Le Dernier Crépuscule should be observed from two different vantage points. The first is to place it within its historical context, and keep present whatever musical influences it appears to have. The second is to ignore everything but our intuition (which is dependent on past experience and understanding, in any case), so that we allow it to articulate and speak out for itself as it draws energy from predecessors we take notice only as an afterthought.
I. Technical Overview
Le Dernier Crépuscule can be roughly divided into two sections, the first consisting of the first five tracks and the second of the remaining two. The first track itself should probably be excluded as it is little more than an intro. The structuring of the next four follows a certain pattern while the last two each follow a freer approach than the one preceding them. The first is Crematory-dominated, while the last increasingly shows a predominant Timeghoul presence. Throughout the record one finds Demilich’s riff style in about half of the individual riffs. This emulation ranges from almost outright shoplifting from Nespithe to more respectable yet still recognizable inspiration. The rest of the riffs also contain the less distinct (read as ‘more random’) but technically recognizable influence of Crematory and some war metal filler while the more creative and original single sections probably come from general Timeghoul influence, which allows for more open interpretation.
Tracks two to five follow a rough plan of riff variations1 lined up one after the other until the solo comes to mark a climax, after which there is a reiteration of previous material and the song ends. It is the “easy way out” of death metal structures, albeit expanded by a greater quantity of riffs. Le Dernier Crépuscule takes the most relaxed route when it comes to conceptualization as well, choosing to go for Crematory’s2 brand of strands of riff variations connected in riff salad manner. Now, Crematory’s style is marked by another particular aspect, and that is that it places technical flare and variety at the top of its priority list. Its choice of allowing runs of related riffs is more the following of what was in vogue at the time, since one can observe that songwise, there is very little keeping it all together but the general tag of the genre. Something similar happens to these first songs by Chthe’ilist.
The sixth and seventh tracks are clearly steeped in a more progressive mindset, allowing for creativity to bubble up as the band tries to craft a narrative. This is conducted with far more success on the last track, ‘Tales of the Majora Mythos Part 1″, than on the hybrid ‘Vecoiitn’aphnaat’smaala’. This emphasis on following a far-reaching narrative reaches formidable proportions in this last track where I would venture to call it a storyline. Variety in riff type is actually richer here than anywhere else in the album, yet through this story-telling technique (that is very much reminiscent of the dramatic flair of Timeghoul on Panaramic Twilight) Chthe’ilist achieves something beyond mere coherence — a smooth flow of ideas connected through careful considerations in texture and rhythmic contrast between sections. These considerations must reach further than adjacent riffs or mere riff-strands so that the song itself does not fall apart.
Unfortunately, although this last track shows us the brightest future for Chthe’ilist, Monsieur Tougas has yet to learn how to finish a song, and what could be an incredible opus is watered down by an unsure appendage after the coda following the solo, a four-minute long welling up of unnecessary nothingness. Content-wise, this adds nothing to the song except confusion, since it is mostly noise and blast beats, which we may presume is an ill-achieved attempt at creating ambience3. The rest of the song itself might be as clear-minded as Timeghoul’s best work, but it is still a work in progress.
I. Aural Impressions
Le Dernier Crépuscule is constantly touted as “Lovecraftian death metal”, and while I get the reference, it seems to me that the character of the music is much more cartoonish than even the original stories, which is saying a lot considering that Lovecraft’s work is already minimalist pulp horror. Taking only a chunk from this author’s work and making a concept album out of it becomes a bit redundant after 2 or 3 songs, and in this album I mostly hear At the Mountains of Madness with some more general references to the Cthulhu mythos towards the end. This limitation results in a bloated album with more words than actual things to say.
In fact, I’d say that for a Lovecraftian experience this is too limited. Timeghoul’s sound, for instance, is very appropriate for expanding on the whole range of cloudy feelings and visages that Lovecraft exposes, not only the mouth-tentacles of his famous monster-deity. Proof of this is that while a Demilich sound on a Crematory template can at most show entrails and guts and an in-your-face horror, the last track had me catching glimpses of R’lyeh through the oceanmist. In Lovecraft you find not only the gnarly gore of slimy and ghoulish creatures, but visitations to otherworldly views in a variety of dream states, alienation from reality expressed through either an increasingly horrifying vision of the world or just not knowing at which side of the sleep curtain it lies.
Lovecraft condenses the very essence of the death metal spirit in its several manifestations and a project with the gigantic potential of Chthe’ilist is surprisingly limited in its choice of evocation, while playing around withtoo many riffs than needed in what appears to be that Crematory-like bloating of content for its own sake with little reference to anything beyond it. Chthe’ilist has a potential of ‘epic proportions’, as the common saying goes. It could have us contemplating at Algol, wondering… it could take us on a bizarre journey through perilous Kadath, and it could make us doubt the very truthfulness of our material existence. In short, it could be the long-awaited metal Messiah that crystallizes the whole of Lovecraftian experience from the essence of the most meaningful obscure acts of the past. But it isn’t.
III. Integral Critique
Bringing together the last two discussions allows us to properly discuss the results Chthe’ilist has achieved. Most bands seem to create a division between music making and lyrical topics, which is not necessarily a bad decision if everything is flowing from a same wellspring of inspiration. The pitfall of this approach is that the sources could end up being distinct, even if compatible, so that the impact of either is dulled by even the slightest hint of cognitive dissonance. This dissonance may even occur in music that is supposedly unified with its lyrical content, and in the case of technically-oriented bands like Chthe’ilist it usually comes about in the form of what could be called ‘riff distraction’.
Riff distraction is a phenomenon that consists of the metal artist losing sight of perspective as he lies on the floor, dull-sensed on proverbial soma. This sends riff-writers off in a mythical quest for the perfect riff combination until they end up with a mass of exciting but ultimately meaningless mumbo jumbo. This is the plague that afflicts this release; its most obvious priority seems to be riff-making, and the clearest sign of a climax is the guitar solo. This album’s is very intentional and varied, but with no precise evocative purpose in mind, so that this huge ball of varied rhythms ends up being a uniform mass when seen from afar. The guitar solo, then, becomes the only way of bringing the song to a breaking point so that at least something in the landscape stands out as a signaling agent for the ending to come with at least a semblance of an excuse.
Alas, the limitation that is holding back Chthe’ilist lies in the mindset of Master Tougas: his towering talent and creative juices ooze with latent power, but his imagination appears to be held back by rationalist prejudices of modern thought that reduce a powerful mythos to mere cartoon. This results in tongue-in-cheek funny horror, which may be an overplaying of the purposely awkward feeling of Demilich that is often perceived simply as funny yet interesting. Timeghoul’s immense aural depth could be the answer here, as the flexibility of its approach lies in the dramatic expansion of predefined techniques within a limited (yet more varied, at the same time) vocabulary that makes even its most complex statements convincing and manifestly intelligible4.
IV. Final Remarks
As pretentious as the thousands of words I’ve already written might make me sound, I would still like to encourage Monsieur Tougas to continue this general line of thinking, while paying closer attention to composition and evocation aspects that lead to a stronger narrative in longer songs. These seem to possess, at least in their present state, the greatest potential of his technical and atmospheric style. His work can bring to reality not only what Timeghoul could have become, but something beyond it, with a long-awaited deftly and graciously applied riffcraft inspired by Demilich. Ditch the Crematory when it comes to structuring decisions, and refactor out any content that isn’t completely indispensable5.
Personally, when it comes to heavily-charged albums such as Le Dernier Crépuscule, I hold a 10-time listening policy: testing how well and in what manner a music album holds up after listening to it completely the first ten times in less than a few days. This has several interesting effects, the first of which is that initial shock effects fade away, technical flare appears more fixed to context, everything gains perspective. Sadly, this album only made it to six listens before losing its luster, and this is mainly because the overall structure of songs and the character they evoke fall into place as an integral whole, revealing the utter simplicity lying behind the tons of riffs and tasty guitar licks.
The reason why the most convincing underground metal has almost always come from the minds that are most “out there” is because their music flows from deeply-ingrained convictions, veritable nightmares that are as real as the sun’s burning sensation, or the excruciating pain of sincere longing for a different reality. While your metal remains “meta”, while it remains only a “fun” way of exploring “spooky” images that are “not real”, your metal will also remain a laughable cartoon.
In earlier ages, as instinctive concepts welled up in the mind of man, his conscious mind could no doubt integrate them into a coherent psychic pattern. But the “civilized” man is no longer able to do this. His “advanced” consciousness has deprived itself of the means by which the auxiliary contributions of the instincts and the unconscious can be assimilated. These organs of assimilation and integration were numinous symbols, held holy by common consent.
In earlier times, these principles were worshiped in all sorts of rituals, which at least showed the psychic significance they held for man. But now they have become mere abstract concepts.
— Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols
1 By riff variation, I mean a grouping of related riffs that arise as variations from a seminal idea.
2 When taking Crematory’s Denial as a point of reference, we can observe how Crematory cannot hold a mood and a line of thought for too long. The music is based on providing variation; for instance, it introduces contrasting ideas in rhythm in extreme fashion so that even very Latin African rhythms pop up right besides more grindy ones with no particular purpose. It may be more difficult to notice, but Demilich already contains such range of variation, but it is much better organized, so that it does not feel haphazard. Furthermore, Demilich is able to stamp their own seal on each section by delimiting certain combinations of rhythm and mode, while Crematory pretty much just throws whatever it can find in your face as it desperately clutches for more content to display a different drum technique.
It’s not that Crematory plays no positive role in the music of Chthe’ilist, but it should be used within its effective scope: the riff variation; and taking note from those who excel at long-range composition when organizing structure.
3 This is a distractor that infects the mentality of modern death metal musicians; it’s almost as if they feel that the music is not enough, that they need to add more “stuff”, whatever it is. This fools the less-focused sort of listeners (apparently, the majority), but not those who would listen to music from multiple angles so as to extract all it contains and more.
4 That is to say, although the difference between the opposite styles within Timeghoul’s vocabulary (from pounding, crowded gnarly riffs to clean-vocal lamentations) may be wider than Crematory’s, the consistency with which they are used imbues them with a more meaningful sense of purpose.
5 A lesson might be learned from Ludwig van Beethoven’s own methods. He is probably the most respectable of classical composers with an inclination for “wild progressive” ideas, since he did not slip into avant-garde stupidity. Beethoven’s music was shocking in its own time for its juxtaposition of apparently contrasting ideas, but he would not leave them there. They were justified, as it were, through their careful development and envelopment throughout the rest of the piece or even in later movements, creating an unprecedented technique in bringing together content in long-range fashion through a process of entanglement.17 Comments
Article by David Rosales
Timeghoul’s short lived existence gave us two excellent demos in 1992 and 1994. These both display very distinct facets of the project, each with their own merits and limitations. Even if we see the second as an evolution of the first, the first stands very firmly on its own ground. You could in fact argue that the second is not so much an evolution, as a different overall direction for the band.
The first release, Tumultuous Travelings, had a much more suffocating feeling to it, but already showcasing Timeghoul’s distinct personality, setting it apart from any contemporary. This distinction, however, is one of language and not one of technique; so that the casual onlooker might consider this first work to be a typical release for its time. In reality, once we acknowledge its allegiance to the traditions of death metal, the particular traits of Timeghoul’s music (even on Tumultuous Travelings) are anything but typical.
In 1994 came Panaramic Twilight (sic), which boasted of more explicitly progressive intentions, giving it automatic recognition in the mind of the same simple metalhead who passed off their first demo as standard. Seldom is it recognized that Timeghoul’s “progressive” qualities were already present on the first release, which is a trend that itself fails to stand out as few recognize these leanings in even the most developed death metal of the early 1990s. Timeghoul’s most significant development on Panaramic Twilight was that they stepped up the drama and Wagnerian soundtrack-like constructions, which required longer silences, longer notes and a wider variety of expression.
Now, when constructing music, composers have to strike a balance between intelligibility and variety (a.k.a. outer complexity). Most metal musicians, however, seem totally unaware of this, and this is why bands who, out of a humble degree of proficiency, produce simpler music have a more enduring impression on the audience in general. Aesthetic variety will not keep your interest if the music that underlies it is incoherent, muddy, and lacking in clarity. However, mere clarity is not enough; the image remains blurry if the overall picture has not been built with enough concrete purpose.
This is where Timeghoul excels; coherent and concrete purpose in songwriting is their most meaningful contribution to metal. They have opened this door to a world of possibilities within their paradigm of dramatic and obscure (rather than gory) death metal that does not require a band to clone their approach to follow in their steps. In comparison, trying to learn from Demilich or Immolation often results in blatant plagiarism, unless your efforts and results arise from a detailed technical analysis and are applied only in an abstract manner. Timeghoul compensates for the silences, rapid-fire changes in rhythms, and the use of texture to enhance different feelings in their music by using a very limited range of techniques. This is comparable to what At the Gates did on their own album. The techniques themselves aren’t numerous; nor are they extremely advanced. The band chooses a lexicon of technique, and relies on it consistently within a harmonic/modal framework that lends each song their own “harmonic feel” (arising from the interplay with the vocal’s timbre as well, I presume).
The wide range of expression is achieved through the types of arrangements and the changes in texture and rhythm, which are not selected at random like we saw in the work of Crematory. Timeghoul is very clearly telling a story and each bit of music, each switch from blast beat to silence, from frenetic power chord torrent to slow, single-note melody lines makes sense as a narrative. Timeghoul’s approach is not one of riff-salad, but rather more akin to that of an opera. In short, the music of Timeghoul provides another healthy avenue for metal musicians to explore. What you can learn from this unfortunately short-lived project on the abstract level is of far more value than what you can imitate by simply trying to emulate their sound. It is their intuitional organization that deserves praise; the powerful narrative element of Timeghoul’s music is a rare gem.18 Comments
Remember those who never had a chance. Like many of us, they grew up in a wasteland of broken families, pointless wage-slave jobs, hippie ideals and grim social collapse mundanities, a utopia of fond visions and a dystopia of nightmarish collisions with the reality those denied. They had nothing to look forward to but a mortgage in the burbs, a family ending in divorce, and a society which systematically disregards the beautiful and zeroes in on the failed, the corrupt and the deceptive. A world coated in advertising and saturated with deceit.
It is my unfortunate duty to relay to you that Adam Gadahn, a metalhead and devout fan of Incantation and Timeghoul, passed away in January by drone strike. As the lapdog media relates:
Officials also announced that a separate strike killed Adam Gadahn, an American who became a prominent propagandist for al Qaeda, was close to Osama bin Laden, and had a $1 million bounty on his head. The deaths bring to seven the number of Americans killed in drone strikes, six of them inadvertently.
The White House said it was unaware the four were present at the sites, which were hit on Jan. 14 and Jan. 19 near the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. President Barack Obama apologized to the families of the hostages and said he took full responsibility as commander in chief.
This conflict is beyond politics. Yes, we have divided into factions but no, that is not our problem. Our problem rebirths itself time and again because it is within. We have become rotten, whores to our own independence and manipulators so canny we have even fooled ourselves. This civilization has sold itself snake oil for centuries and the result is the continual destruction of those with spirit, sensitivity and the guts to do something about it. Those who conform, lower standards and follow trends always win. This is the source of evil the real thing, as opposed to the supernatural scapegoat that the credulous choose to believe exists.
Evil is real. Its name is error, and all error consists of separating our expectations from reality. That eventually becomes a devotion to lying about the split between mental image and the world beyond, at which point we retreat into a fantasy existence of mental projection, desires and emotions. As a wise poet once said:
Take your instinct by the reins
You’d better best to rearrange
What we want and what we need
Has been confused, been confused
We are confused. Our wars no longer advance anything but the defense of the status quo, and all of us hate that. We all admit the problem is morons and that 90% of everything sucks, but no one is willing to get past the sacred cows lest some opportunist step up and whip up a lynch mob to tear down the heretic. “The nerve of that guy — he said our society is actually failing. What a rube!”
Above you can see a letter written by Gadahn back in the day. It contains some of his opinions on death metal and literature. He had great taste in metal, came from a broken home in a broken time, and did his best. Rest in peace, Adam.42 Comments
The year is done. It brought many things: a new wave of hipster metal that blipped and died, an old school revival that’s been percolating for years, drama and sadness with the recent death of Rigor Mortis’ Mike Scaccia. Above all else, however, it brought us some quality music, some of which is heavy metal and some of which is metal in spirit only. Enjoy this survey of the best of 2012.
The Best Metal (and related) of 2012
- Abhorrence – Completely Vulgar This legendary band existed before Amorphis and plays a grittier style of the bold, warlike and heavy yet melodic music that graced Amorphis’ first album, The Karelian Isthmus. These Abhorrence tracks show the band that would later write that album as they emerge from early grind/death stylings and gradually work more melody into their work. This is metal’s holy grail: how to be both epic and amoral in the nihilistic sense of worshipping power, darkness and nature, but also use melody and harmony to give the works some staying power. As this collection of re-released demos progresses, the fusion of the two gets more confident and deft, leading us up to the point where the greatness of the first Amorphis album was inevitable.
- Angel Witch – As Above, So Below After a lengthy absence, this classic NWOBHM band returns with an album that shows integration of more recent influences, specifically American heavy metal and progressive metal, but still keeps up the power. These songs are not as distinctive or as oddball as the heavily personalitied offerings from their self-titled album, but As Above, So Below is important because it takes disparate influences and places them under the control of one voice and style, which gives others room to build on. The oil-on-water aspect of bands switching between influences is gone and replaced by a smooth enwrapping of these styles into the substrate of Angel Witch’s lauded and learned evil heavy metal.
- Beherit – Celebrate the Dead If death metal was modernism, with its emphasis on structure, black metal was postmodernism, or an attempt to show through atmosphere the many facets of an idea in a clarity which could not be confined to a single statement. This was a quest as old as humanity, which is how to communicate in such a way that people who do not understand it do not simply imitate it from the outside-in and make something that looks about like it, fooling most people. Since the late 1990s Beherit have been at work inventing the next wave or movement of metal, one in which multiple statements co-exist in contradictory opposites that reveal the shadow or silhouette of an underlying truth. Two forms are in tension here: the “loop” form of traditional ambient music, in which layers are poured on top of a basic dub to create a simple sonic tapestry, and the pure narrative form which electro-acoustic music (and even some dubstep) touches on, in which a story is told through the change of riffs. This is closer to the original death metal idea of structure, but it is structure created through atmosphere, like old Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno albums, or even classical music. To this end, Beherit has re-released two demo songs from Engram which are ambitious longer (13- and 15-minute) works which show a deepening and changing of atmosphere, using both looping and narrative constructs at the same time. This is a valiant and clear-headed attempt to resurrect black metal, which has fallen into the hands of those who imitate the “external” aspects of the early classics like simple riffs and fast songs, but understand none of the underlying ideas or songwriting methods. While it seems unconventional at first, Celebrate the Dead is a return to the truest form of black metal by expanding its orthodoxy to include the transcendental narrative of those more experienced in both this world, and the realms beyond. Be not fooled — evil pervades this release, so subtly that you will not know until it has seized your soul.
- Dead Can Dance – Anastasis For their return after some absence, Dead Can Dance have taken the style on Spiritchaser and refined it even more with the sensibility of modern club music and soundtrack influences. Rhythms and tempo work like you might expect a big label ambient album to work, fitting very much into the slightly picked up chill-out range with gentle backing beats that are still identifiable enough to make it easy to listen to. Consistent with even earlier work, songs use extended structures, but they fit the pattern of an early MTV video or short film more than a musical one. The result is that these are immersive little sonic ventures that are both easy to hear and not surprising, and also, rewarding in their consistency and adept arrangements. Melodies themselves are not as adventurous or period/locale-specific as older Dead Can Dance, and in fact more lifts from earlier influences can be heard (check out the Doors “The end” inspirations on the first track). For a purist, this will not be the best Dead Can Dance album, but for something that has stepped into the Loreena McKennit or Enya range of “accessible,” this is far beyond what most would encounter otherwise and makes for a pleasant listen on its own.
- Demoncy – Enthroned is the Night Along with Beherit, this shares the top spot as album of the year. In 2012, a wave of bands like Cruciamentum and Heresiarch rediscovered the sound of classic Incantation from the Onward to Golgotha area. Having come from the same school, joined to Incantation by Ixithra’s former band Havohej’s primary composer, Paul Ledney, having been an original member of Incantation, Demoncy launched into the same by creating a faithful followup to 1996’s Joined in Darkness. In this case, Demoncy add a bit of melody and atmosphere, channeling from first album Unleashed and other Swedish death metal classics, thus combining the two most intense areas of death metal into what is really a death metal album with a black metal sense of atmosphere. The result is a descent into a dark and primal place in which occult spiritual warfare transpires through the battling of motifs in this complex album made of simple parts. Like Joined in Darkness, it is otherworldly and foreboding, but a bit less purely alienated; instead, this album creates a sense of symbolic significance emerging like melody from the clouded obscure. Very little black metal of this intensity has been made since the mid-1990s which makes this both faithful to the spirit and pushing the boundaries of the genre, a simultaneous advancement that eludes most musicians and fans alike.
- Derkéta – In Death We Meet Arising from the ashes of Mythic, the all-female doom-death band from the early 1990s, Derkéta follows in a more purely doom metal path including some of the juicy 1970s heavy metal style doom metal that audiences enjoy with bands like Pentagram and Witchfinder General. 24 years later, this album is the first for this promising band, and holds back nothing. Like Mythic, the music is formed of giant bolsters of tunneling power chords colliding slowly over a changing melodic landscape. Atmosphere emerges from within. The simplicity of it removes the glitz and contentless enhancement of current doom metal bands, and takes the listeners back to the essence of the genre, which is an unsettling sense of pervasive dread. A prominent Candlemass Ancient Dreams influence seems to be present in these compact and droning songs.
- Desecresy – The Doom Skeptron Desecresy approach Finnish death metal the way others might approach doom metal, using melody and abstract song structures to convey an experience not unlike watching the helmet camera of a pilot flying through a vast and ancient underground cave in which demons seem to lurk behind every stalagtite. Comparable to a hybrid between Amorphis and Skepticism, this album nonetheless keeps up the umptempo riffing and lets its melodies emerge to construct an emanating atmosphere. The result is both aggressive and enjoyable from a purely death metal perspective, but where appropriate, it uses the moods of doom metal to complete that raging insanity to produce an experience that is like a journey. There are doubts, fears, joys, rage and sadness, but pervading all of it is a sonorous melancholy which indicates a change in viewing life from orientation toward what is safe, to prizing what is adventurous and as such being alone on a planet of people concerned with safety labels and microwave cooking.
- Drawn and Quartered – Feeding Hell’s Furnace Imagine a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Num Skull. These songs are extremely basic, like the melodies of horror movies, but are put together with interlocking rhythms that propel them forward and give them atmosphere. As a result, their themes feel intuitive like paths through a forest remembered from a childhood story. There will not be surprise at the ways these tunes twist and bend, but appreciation for a well-done interpretation on a necessary idea. In the same way you might appreciate an excellent sword or well-executed painting of a familiar subject, these songs will be appreciated for how well they do what they love. Just as most musicians make their best work when they design it to be enjoyed repeatedly by people with their own tastes, this faithful and yet creative interpretation of the old school death metal genre will be shared among those who can appreciate it, for taking the past and making it live on by keeping it current to itself and through inventiveness, an enjoyable listen.
- Faustcoven – Hellfire and Funeral Bells This release is not particularly metal, or at least underground metal, even though it aspires to the aesthetics of it. Rather, this is like Marilyn Manson interpreting classic heavy metal in a gothic doom metal context as informed by death metal aesthetics but not technique. It’s basically blues rock with short phrase power chord riffs and highly compelling rhythm, underneath leads that are reminiscent of a friendlier version of St. Vitus. Good use of theme allows this release to be a faithful listen and also have some staying power for those who like this style. Like most doom metal, it is designed to build a repetitive atmosphere that is part curl of enjoyment, and part linear path of a melancholic mood. The death metal vocals would normally be out of place here but with the heavy reverb they take a backseat and let the guitars talk, which is the point of this band. It will probably not delight those who like underground metal, but if you’re looking for someplace to go for your next Cathedral or Sleep fix, this furry doom band holds the ticket.
- Grave – Endless Procession of SoulsGrave return to the Swedish style which they helped make famous. Like later Fleshcrawl, this music is simplified from the original riff-salad which was reverse-assembled to make a journey into darkness emerge from thin air, but although it uses plenty of verse-chorus segments, they are not the entirety of each song. There are enough labyrinthine twists and turns to be fun, a good motivational rhythm, and an atmosphere of darkness and aggressive that is also (oddly) comforting and natural. Although musically this is fairly basic, like early Grave, it shows more use of melody and harmony, which adds an appreciable dimension of compactness and centering without falling into standard rock music. The result is easy to listen to and yet brings out its power in moments of sudden clarity which, as in life, make the listener think there might be more afoot than the obvious.
- Imprecation – Jehovah Denied This four-song EP shows the resurrected Imprecation: more consistent in its songwriting, slightly less manic, and more inclined to create a pervasive atmosphere of darkness. The occult death metal founders from Houston originally shone in the early 1990s, when their demos and later CD were released, but returned after inaction and the lending of band members to other acts. Their earlier material had more of a Morbid Angel influence and presented itself as clear occultism, where the newer material goes back more toward where Possessed and early old school death metal (Morpheus Descends, Massacre) were headed back in their day. Mood-enhancing use of background keyboards gives an aura of the mysterious to these dark melodies and the organic rhythms which suffuse them. Influences on this music span from pre-death metal, through the walking and stalking rhythms of speed metal, to the later black metal works in song structure and atmosphere. This EP presages a killer full-length but stands on its own as quality music with a voice particular to its worldview.
- Incantation – Vanquish in Vengeance With new personnel and possibly the strongest sense of unity in a long time, Incantation very sensibly took influences deliberately from their own two greatest successes: Onward to Golgotha and Diabolical Conquest. The result is an album that self-consciously borrows from those albums in style but tries to create new songs to wrap in that style, and with the aid of new guitarist Alex Bouks (ex-Goreaphobia) shapes its works around melodic shapes but does not adorn them in melodic riffing, creating a sense of an inner region of hidden energy within the exterior of rugged chromatic shapes. The result is one of Incantation’s most conventional albums but also a festival of the methods that made early Incantation so distinctive and powerful, which combined makes for a good later death metal listen.
- Legion of Doom – The Summoning of Shadows This oddity of an album begins with some form of sung prayer and launches into songs that are both adorned in the harmonic glaze of melodic playing and also possessed of the manic simplicity of early black metal. Like the primitive era of black metal, these songs are specific structures fitting the content of each song, with droning riffs that interact and build to a culmination before dissipating. On this album, Legion of Doom use more death metal and speed metal technique in with their Burzum-inspired black metal, ending in a result that sounds more like an ornate and elegant version of Gorgoroth’s Destroyer. Like all Legion of Doom releases, The Summoning of Shadows features songs that accelerate thematic intensity in layers and produce an immerse, ambient experience that suspends reality through the sheer dominating power of its riffs. This album is more efficient than the last couple of releases of this band, and by embracing a listenable style, makes the type of outsider album that Marduk or Watain wish they could.
- Lord Wind – Ales Stenar If you want to immerse yourself in ancient sensation, Graveland axeman Rob Darken’s ambient/neofolk/soundtrack project Lord Wind is a good place to start. Unlike previous Lord Wind efforts, Ales Stenar mixes real vocals and violin with electronic music that is roughly inspired by the Conan and Red Sonja soundtracks. The goal however is less like the rock-ish folk songs of neofolk, or the grand accompaniment for cinema provided by soundtracks; this is music like Burzum or Graveland that is designed for the listener to lose themselves in its repetitive hypnotic surges, like a catechism or mantra. Its soaring melodies and plunging dynamics give it a familiarity like the rush of blood through veins in the ears, and the result feels natural and yet inspired to rise above the mundane at the same time. Like entering a forest, the songs open up to repeated listens and soon each part is distinct, but our natural way is to hear it all at once and derive a sentimental feeling, perhaps warlike, from it. This is the most proficient and perhaps most profound of the Lord Wind albums, proffering a complete escape from reality to a world that is both fantasy and more real than the stuporous dream of modernity.
- Master – The New Elite Over the past few albums, punk/heavy metal hybrid Master has steadily been migrating toward late-1990s death metal. This new album presents a more technical view than the verse-chorus-exposition songs that Master (and related Speckmann projects) evolved from. Much like On the Seventh Day God Created…Master, riffs are strummed with precision at high speed and tend to lead away from stable grouping by adding riffs to the existing loop. These riffs use longer progressions and more chromatic fills, giving the music a mechanical terror that makes it sound like technocracy taking over. Speckmann’s vocals are tighter than in the past and urge the music along, but somewhere in this musical process of evolution, his overall tone has started sounding less like protest music and more like a cheering of the coming conflagration. Seeing that Master keep improving over time provides a great incentive to follow this band as they evolve further.
- Profanatica – Sickened by Holy Host / The Grand Masters Sessions Sometimes, in order to reach your next aspiration, it is necessary to part with the past. Profanatica have done this in grand style by accumulating old tracks and re-working them in parallel, with one disc containing newer versions done in the early 1990s style, and the other containing older session takes on the same songs, interspersed with acoustic landscapes by Aragorn Amori, the band’s much-admired deceased former guitarist. Through its long history, the entity known as Profanatica/Havohej (or: Paul Ledney and friends) has consistently released material showcasing a truly artistic brilliance. Usually, between moments of brilliance there are experiments and less intense offerings that make it easy to forget that when they are in full swing, these musicians are unstoppable forces creating a unique type of black metal that is closer to ambient death metal but unlike most black metal at this time, possessed of a full mythos and unique view of the world. Like the best of Profanatica/Havohej, these two discs are ripping sonic terror that transcend daily life and divulge the essence of the feral spirit of pre-civilized humanity. In that vision of evil, Profanatica offer us something both inspiring and instructive, and do so through some of the best music of their career.
- Terrorizer – Hordes of Zombies People love change if it is constant and hate it if not. Terrorizer misstepped with their first post-World Downfall album, but came back with a strong contender on Hordes of Zombies. It does not attempt to be World Downfall II which is intelligent since outward-in emulation of the past usually produces hollow shells, and a good many classic bands have gone to their graves in disgrace by doing the same thing. Instead, this aims more at the territory scoped by Napalm Death with Fear, Emptiness, Despair: a modern form of grindcore that is musical and listenable without being commercial, and aims less at creating an atmosphere of terror and misery than creating motivational, energetic and yet literalist/realist music. These songs convey a desire to look at a dangerous situation with hopeless odds, then jump in and fight it out. It’s war music, but music of a normalized war, like going out into a declining civilization and fighting for mundane survival. Hordes of Zombies does this through a somewhat overused metal metaphor, that of the zombie takeover of society, but as a movie/musical trope this theme has remained consistent since the 1960s because it so aptly describes egalitarian society. Consumerism, mass trends, fads, panics, elections, Black Friday sales, save-the-children; it’s all in there. Terrorizer may be brilliant satirists for transforming all of that mass neurosis into a simple symbol and then making these engaging songs about it. Each piece uses a combination of rhythmic and slight melodic hook to lure us in, then pits grinding riffs against one another while fitting them into bounding rhythms that unleash an inner fury in their conflict between the fear and the mundane. The result is a stream of ferocious riffs in songs that hold together as songs in the Terrorizer tradition, creating an experience of immersion in conflict that is both justified and everyday. For a genre such as grindcore, this more stable form is preferable to re-living the past or trying to “innovate” by including outside elements. As a result, Hordes of Zombies is not only a great listening experience but an archetype others will follow.
- Thevetat – Disease to Divide One of the more interesting entries comes from ex-Ceremonium musician Thomas Pioli who has assembled a new team to make music that sounds like early NYDM mixed with the melodic undertones of heavy but intriguing bands like Montrosity, Malevolent Creation and Gorguts. The result hits hard with a rushing wall of chords and then drops into socketed rhythms that invoke a change in riffs, causing a twisted inner torment to emerge in Protean form. This gives old school death metal a new life without giving it a new form, since the form is the result of the content, which is essentially unchanged but slightly updated since 1992. No concessions to “modernization” (a/k/a mixing death metal with rock, jazz, metalcore, disco, punk, etc.) occur here, which allows this music to be in touch with its own spirit and flow freely from the source of its own inspiration. It is thunderous and yet perceptive, bringing with it the spirit of doom metal and its introspective melancholy. Although a three-song EP, this release beats out most albums released this year for pure death metal intensity.
- Timeghoul – 1992-1994 Metal developed its own sense of “progressive” and “technical” music long before it imported jazz-fusion in order to help it. In fact, part of metal’s birth was from the original progressive rock in the 1970s and the soundtracks of horror movies, which gave it a predilection for this direction. “Progressive” itself is a misnomer since nothing new gets discovered in music, but probably more accurately means “complex”: music with unconventional song structures, extensive use of harmony, melody and key; possibly linked to some kind of story outside the music itself and the usual topics (love, sex, drama) of pop songs. These songs craft winding riffs and intricate structures, using embedded melody to transition between more chromatic riffs, and culminate in odd twists of fate that translate them into seemingly the reverse of their initial outlook. Culminating in the epic 10-minute “Occurrence on Mimas,” this collection of early works by this band showcase the enjoyably weird variety of death metal in its early days.
- War Master – Pyramid of the Necropolis This modern band attempts to revive the death metal style, starting with the deathgrind of its namesake Bolt Thrower and incorporating influences from many of the bands of the era, and succeeds by staying true to its own enjoyment. As a result, it’s working in a style, and not from a template; the band want to create old school death metal, but aren’t doing it by imitating songs or styles, but by writing in that style based on similar inspirations. As a result, this band has its own voice despite being very familiar in technique, and has chosen its own path for subject matter and thus the arrangement of many of these songs and the types of riffs used. Its aesthetic mixes the grinding mid-tempo riffs and repetitive choruses of grindcore with the circuitous riffing of death metal and its tendency to unveil changes in layers of rhythm, guitar and vocals. While the style shows the influences of later death metal, its sensibility is firmly grounded in the early years, which makes this a great old-school death metal experience. However, its most salient factor is that it’s also interesting music. Songs are formed around their topic, with riffs and structure contorting to resemble the object, and riffcraft shows learning from the past but creation of its own new forms. Guttural vocals which maintain an ascetic detachment from the emotional content of the music help to give Pyramid of the Necropolis the ultimate death metal point of view, which is as a dispassionate observer amongs the ruins detailing the conflict that created this mess, and must endure after its collapse.
Disappointments of 2012
Abigor – Quintessence
Apparently this is new and old material. The shift between the new and old is like jumping out of a sauna into the snow. The newer material shapes itself to an expectation, much like the newer Swedishy bands in the style of Watain, that combines melodic punk with raw and random riffing in catchy rhythms. The result is like a painting made of painted dog turds, in that from a distance it is appealing, but as you get closer its mundane nature is revealed. Abigor have always suffered from being too quick-thinking and inventive for their own good, because they can always throw together a bunch of quality riffs and make most people think a song happened, but here that model breaks down. The songs feel more like slide-shows than organic wholes. The older material is good however.
Absurd – Asgardsrei
This remaster of the 1998 album was in theory supposed to improve sound quality. Had they simply done that, this would have been a shining victory. Instead, it has been standardized. The drums have been pumped up to emphasize rhythm, and the guitars doubled and bass-maximized, with vocals shrouded in reverb. Alone that removes much of the distinctive sound, but attempts have also been made to lower the volume on elements that are not orthodox black metal-cum-oi that Absurd makes now. The result is a loss of detail and an emphasis on the simpler parts of each riff, not the interesting interplay of riffs. They’ve made this album sound more like their remakes of earlier material and by pandering to one audience, lost a lot of what made Absurd interesting.
Acephalix – Deathless Master
A highly-praised release, this album purports to combine Swedish death metal and crustcore. What it ends up with is neither, but a mishmash of riffs around a rollicking beat, changing entirely at random. You hear a little bit of old Entombed, some Dismember, and a lot of filler riffing that really goes nowhere. For about three songs, it’s pleasant listening because you can tap your toes to it and it reminds you of Left Hand Path. Then you realize the songs never went anywhere. They’re like wallpaper. And to the horror of any crust fan, this is built on the bouncy beats and song structures of pop-punk. It’s closer to Blink 182 than Entombed or Amebix.
Aura Noir – Out to Die
Once upon a time, I referred to Aura Noir as a black metal Britney Spears because their music is pop dressed up as black metal. However, it’s normally fun pop with high energy and catchy riffs, even if in verse-chorus structures so repetitive that you have to background it. But with this album, they go into the boring zone. This is almost like a drone with a horse galloping in the background to keep up energy. And yet, like the lady that doth protest too much, the more “energy” you need to inject, the less the music is actually compelling. And on that level, this album is basically the same speed metal/Motorhead style riffs that bands were rehashing back in the 1980s, but now revived in an even more exhausted form.
Coffin Texts – The Tomb of Infinite Ritual
The people behind this band are good, and their intentions are good. The result of their efforts however is bog-standard death metal, not so because it imitates anything else, but because it is unreflective of any purpose outside being death metal. It’s predictable in the sense that nothing is surprising, and yet, it doesn’t really gesture at anything more than being death metal itself. I hope these guys stop trying to be whatever they think they should be, and find whatever they actually enjoy instead. Best yardstick for your music: what you enjoy and would listen to on your own, even if you knew no one in the band.
Graf Spee – Reincarnation
Some things should stay in the 1980s. This is prescient in that it emphasizes the kind of bouncy riffing that fits on the spectrum from Anthrax to Meshuggah and onward to metalcore, but it’s disorganized, inconsistent with the vocals, and feels more like a pile of spare parts than a smoothly running engine.
Hellevetron – Death Scroll of Seven Hells and Its Infernal Majesty
2012 was the year everyone rediscovered Onward to Golgotha. I agree, it’s a killer album. There’s nothing wrong with Hellvetron, who seem like competent musicians, but this album attempts to imitate the outward form of Onward to Golgotha without grasping the underlying tension in the music that makes it work. As a result, Hellvetron impose current song structures (loops) and standards onto the aesthetic of the past, which makes for a decent listen until it becomes apparent that it’s not really about anything except itself.
Impiety – Ravage and Conquer
It’s hard not to enjoy this album, which is like a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Mortem with a squidge more melody. However, it is highly repetitive because it doesn’t go much beyond that concept. Like Krisiun before it, the concept is full speed ahead skull-crushing aesthetic, and this is so powerful it squeezes out most artistic content. This leaves you with some creative riffs, some talented use of tempo, but nothing that holds together long enough to listen to for a decade.
Inverloch – Dusk | Subside
These ex-Disembowelment musicians have a bit of a cult formed around themselves. Part of the reason is that unlike almost every other band before black metal, they knew how to write melodic music, which they do here as well, in something that resembles a cross between death-doom like Asphyx and melodic doom like Candlemass or Paradise Lost. Crashing riffs coexist with gentle melodic fills and overlays that create a dense atmosphere of nocturnal wonder. However, beyond that, the direction seems confused, which is appropriate for a re-entry EP but excludes it from this year’s best of.
Mantas – Death by Metal
Before the first Death album, Chuck Schuldiner tried out his riffcraft in Mantas, named in tribute (by educated guess) to Venom. There’s a reason these sort of re-releases are confined to collectors, and that is that these demos show a young band trying to get the order of riffs in its songs correct and at the same time develop an image, sound and voice. The result is great, if you like listening to parts of the same six songs 18 times each. A true-blue die-hard ultra-kvlt collector will put this on the stereo next to “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Spiritual Healing” and start working out each riff until he’s sure how everything works. Then again, with the hindsight of nearly thirty years, we know exactly how it should turn out, which means that for the rest of us, this will sit on the shelf in perpetuity except as a conversation piece.
Maveth – Coils of the Black Elite
This album reminds me of middle period Immolation, in which creative riffing often fell into very similar rhythms and as such, the songs sort of became a continuum which resembled pulled taffy: cut off a length of Immolation, let’s listen to that. Oh look, sliced Immolation! It’s the same way here. Maveth has very creating riffing with excellent right-hand control, but the songs themselves are a muddle because the riffs are the direction and as such, there’s not really a way to put the riffs together that makes sense, so the band converges on a mean and drops into very similar trudge rhythms to make the songs catchy. At first listen, especially the first three tracks, promise is everywhere; by track five, it’s clear that circularity has occurred.
Purtenance – Sacrifice the King
This EP suffers from a primary flaw, which is disorganization. It’s not random, but it’s what happens when you decide to make death metal and so treat that as a container, and then “write to fill” and twist the riffs into place so they work with each other. It’s not about anything, and thus is “random” in the sense that it could mean anything. As a musical experience, it mostly conveys a sense of disorganization and frustration. The best bands mold that sort of raw emotion into something which rises above the confusion and achieves clarity. If not beauty, truth, goodness, etc. at least something that is desired more than it is hated, and so inspires them, even if that goal is hatred itself.25 Comments
Tags: abhorrence, Angel Witch, beherit, best of, Black Metal, Dead Can Dance, death metal, demoncy, derkéta, desecresy, Drawn and Quartered, faustcoven, grave, imprecation, incantation, lord wind, master, profanatica, terrorizer, thevetat, timeghoul, war master
DARK DESCENT RECORDS / THE CRYPT PRESENT TIMEGHOUL (USA) CD/LP
For the first time ever on CD and Vinyl, Dark Descent Records and The Crypt have joined forces once again to proudly present the complete discography from the legendary Science Fiction / Fantasy Death Metal legends TIMEGHOUL (USA).
Born in the Midwest United States in 1987, Doom’s Lyre remained relatively quiet, recording no material before changing their name. In 1991, Doom’s Lyre, now renamed Timeghoul, set out by releasing two demos; 1992’s Tumultuous Travelings and 1994’s Panaramic Twilight.
Largely ignored and mostly forgotten, these recordings did not receive the recognition they deserved until years later. Timeghoul’s eclectic and complex style of US death metal started to gain momentum within the underground as overlooked and classic material.
Prepare for one of the most unique and complex death metal offerings the early 90’s had to offer.
CD version by Dark Descent Records and Vinyl version by The Crypt.
More news to come…
TIMEGHOUL are one of those death metal rarities: a band with only demo-level output that often outshines that of their more well known peers. Their brand of American-styled death metal was complex, eclectic and, most importantly, constructed on a foundation of solid songwriting and and intriguing concept. Guitarist Gordon Blodgett was kind enough to speak to us about their obscure legacy.
Taken and adapted from Heidenlarm ‘zine, Issue #8.
I promised no generic questions, but since TIMEGHOUL still ranks among the obscure, a brief history would be helpful here.
The band was originally formed in 1987 by Jeff Hayden and Mike Stevens. It was originaly called Doom’s Lyre, and was changed not too long after. They recruited Chad and Tony around 1990 and cut the demo Tumultuous Travelings in April 1992. Jeff wanted to go to a three-guitar attack so that he could incorporate three-guitar harmonies. At this time Mike had decided to drop out and form a Christian metal band. I grew up on the same street as T.J. and we had been playing and writing music on our guitars in his garage, but we couldn’t find anybody in 1993 that wanted to play technical thrash/death. I saw a flyer posted at the record store about Timeghoul tryouts. I followed up, tried out, made the band, and got T.J. in the band as well. Somewhere in there Chad bowed out but we continued on. We then recorded Panaramic Twilight.
Getting the second generic question out of the way: although TIMEGHOUL can be described as death metal, the eclecticism points to a greater array of musical influences. Can you describe what some of those were? What about non-musical ones?
Jeff was the main visionary here. His favorite was Atrocity’s Longing For Death, Suffocation, Immolation, Gorguts, Morgoth, Nocturnus, Malevolent Creation, stuff like that. That pretty much went for everybody in the band back then. Jeff also liked alot of experimental dark classical music from the 20th century too, as well as medieval music.
Only six tracks were officially released, but I have seen listings for live bootlegs showing more than six tracks being performed, though I have not seen the videos themselves. Is there unreleased material floating around, and is it recorded anywhere if so?
Nothing of good sound quality. There was an instrumental version of a song called “Last Laugh” that was scrapped for parts to other songs. We were also rehearsing “To Sing With Ghosts” and “Joust Of The Souls” before we disbanded, but there are only 4-track versions of the various riffs.
What comprises a “riff” in a TIMEGHOUL song? How are these presented cohesively within a song, i.e. is there a current of an idea defining each track, are the riffs composed randomly but placed in logical sequence, or is it totally random? Something else?
For Timeghoul a riff was more or less a sequence of smaller phrases that added up to a much bigger overall part of the song. Not to lose you with musician talk but Jeff was thinking like a classical composer and the riffs had the longest phrases to them — they just went on and on, and he didn’t like to come back to parts either that much, just like in classical music. As far as the format of the songs goes, I think Jeff just wrote the riffs chronologically (w/ an exception of a riff or two) as they appear in the structure.
“No man is an island.” Much as we may feel and act as Individuals, our race is a single organism, always growing and branching, which must be pruned regularly to be healthy.
This necessity need not be argued; anyone with eyes can see that any organism which grows without limit always dies in its own poisons.
– Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love (1973)
Was TIMEGHOUL tuned to A? Some of the riffs completely bottom out.
Actually we were not really downtuned at all. We tuned to E flat because nobody else was doing it. We used active pickups and played 4th chords to beef up the sound. Back then 7-strings were barely around. I think Morbid Angel, Korn, and Dream Theater were the only ones using them. We used alot of heavy EQing. Jeff actually used super-thin strings because he said it helped him speed-pick better. And T.J. and I were on the other end of the spectrum playing are jazz-gauge strings.
I think the approach to death metal taken by TIMEGHOUL can safely be called “American” for the most part. Does this mean anything to you? What makes American music in general specifically American in your opinion?
Well, I know we didn’t sound a black metal band from Sweden. We were in talks w/ Holy Records from France and they wanted to see what we came up with next before they would sign us. When the label heard the recording of the two songs from ’94 they said we sound like an American death metal band similar to Immolation with too much grinding. It wasn’t avant-garde enough for their label. I guess so. It sounded pretty unique to me. As far as an American sound goes, I would say that maybe there’s more of a focus on groove with catchy hooks or something, like Obituary I suppose. But again we weren’t writing catchy hooks or grooving. We were musically in the world created by Jeff’s lyrics.
TIMEGHOUL’s music is quite complex, but clearly not in a contrived sense. Did TIMEGHOUL strive to make complex music, or did complex music better fit the thematic ideas behind the band?
I think Jeff developed his own style of writing melodies in a midieval way, and the rest in a frantic way that begged for strange and technical patterns. He developed the Timeghoul “Vocabulary” as we used to say.
I have seen the TIMEGHOUL lyrics described as “fantasy,” which seems true. Like all good fantasy though, some seem to be truth buried under complex metaphor. They are also very well composed. Was there any kind of meta-concept, or were they written as seperate short stories that happened to play out well as lyrics?
Jeff wrote the lyrics after the song was written. He may have had an idea or working title to the songs before the vocals were done, but that came last. Phenomenal lyric guy. I know “The Siege” has a backdrop of a castle being overtaken by the opposing army-which is metaphorical for someone going insane. I think “Rainwound” is loosely based on Greek/Norse mythology, and “Gutspawn” was based on a creature from D & D called the “Gut.” “Occurance on Mimas” was fascinating in that Mimas is an actual moon of Saturn, but it’s missing a chunk of itself. The theory was that there were evil, warring tribes on that part of the moon and an asteroid came through and knocked that part of Mimas to Earth where it all crashed into what is known today as the Himalayan Mountains. The creatures awaken from underneath and rise to the surface where they destroy the planet, before going back underground. Maybe that was metaphorical for the “underground” scene in music rising up at some point.
The “clean” vocals provide a wonderfully ethereal effect and are included with good taste. I have an old interview where Jeff Hayden mentions medieval polyphonic music as an influence on them. Was their inclusion seen as a bold move for a full-on death metal band at that point in time?
Definitely. I think Fear Factory was about the only band doing that back then. Jeff was a composer first and foremost, and he wanted harmonies everywhere, especially sandwiched between the heaviest of riffs. The songs are really progressive if you think about it. And they’re always shifting in different directions to keep it interesting.
In your experience, what works better for songwriting: democratic participation, or a more singular vision? Is there a compromise between the two? How did TIMEGHOUL typically operate?
In the band I play in now (Gate 7; what a shameless plug), we have found through trial and error that it’s best to compromise. We write everything live in the practice room, and if somebody doesn’t like it we don’t play it. As far as getting the most artistically out of a song you should probably just let an individual write the whole thing based on his/her specific vision, and then maybe the rest of the band can add their thing over the top, or make a suggestion here or there. I know when I solely write for my projects, nine times out of ten I accomplish exactly what I was going for. I can see both sides of the coin on this one.
Band members, when asked about what they were aiming to achieve, often give an answer to the effect of “Nothing — we were just four dudes playing what we loved and having fun.” This is a believable (and understandable) scenario, but not a wholly satisfying one, particularly for bands that showed greater insight. What answer would you give to this question with regard to projects with which you have been involved?
I was 18 when I joined Timeghoul in January ’94 so I was thrilled to be in a band that heavy and that original. I learned a ton from Jeff and Tony. When I write music now the songs end up being long, and I don’t like to repeat parts too many times either. It was a great learning experience to go into the studio as well. My first taste of playing live was during this time too. I think we were proud of the songs we played and envisioned sticking around alot longer than we did.
Is music art? Is modern music art? Is there a continuum?
What is art? I look at it like that about half the time. I listen to King Crimson and stuff like that, and that music makes you think the whole time you listen to it. Then I’ll put on something on from back-in- the-day and just start jamming out and having fun. Ultimately I would say I like an approach of a band like Opeth who can give you the “art” and the “heavy” at all times.
Everything that depends on the action of nature is by nature as good as it can be, and similarly everything that depends on art or any rational cause, and especially if it depends on the best of all causes. To entrust to chance what is greatest and most noble would be a very defective arrangement.
– Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics (c. 325 BC)
What qualities do you seek in music?
Originality and Creativity. It seems that it’s harder and harder to find original bands anymore. Everybody sounds like “this” meets “that” and it’s pretty uninspiring. I watch the new Headbanger’s Ball and for every one video that’s good there are six that either suck, or sound like something that was done ten years ago. I try my best personally to write things that are unique and don’t sound like any one band, especially over the course of an album.
Why are some people more discerning when it comes to music (or any other complex choice) than others? Is there a more-or-less inverse linear relationship between quality/quantity?
It could be a left-brained or right-brained thing. I know people with IQs through the roof, and they seem genuinely entertained by nothing but the simplest pop music of the day. Maybe their enjoyment is that they don’t have to think about it. I get my enjoyment by listening to the structures of songs, and seeing where they go, what effects the band is using, and generally how fresh the material is at the time in which it was written. I guess I do view music as art. Others may view it as entertainment, and some may listen for the message. To each their own.
Why did TIMEGHOUL fail to achieve greater success? Do you think the band was possibly too cerebral? Too different? Or was it the just result of an oversaturated underground?
The problem back then was that nobody had any money, and the technology wasn’t there to record at home on the computer, so without some support we could never record any songs. And the labels weren’t calling us because we just weren’t out there enough for them to know who we were. Plus, we could never keep a full lineup in tact. We virtually had no bass player for the final three years. Eventually Jeff and Tony had kids, T.J. moved to Florida, and I joined another band.
Has anybody shown interest in re-issuing the TIMEGHOUL material?
I will eventually post all six songs on my website (http://www.aegea-synergy.com) on the Timeghoul page (w/ kind permission from Mr. Hayden of course). I still talk to Tony and Jeff here and there. You never know — Tony lives in a home/studio with his band, and Jeff talks about writing something more ferocious and complex than ever. If we can ever find the time I would love to record some more of Jeff’s compositions. “Stay Tuned!”
Have you met with any success with AEGEA and SYNERGY?
I haven’t really marketed the music other than posting a website. It’s mainly just a hobby for me while I play in a band and live the married life. Besides, it’s hard to find a market for heavy-progressive- instrumental music (Aegea), and the other project (Synergy) is like Frank Zappa metal or something.
Was TIMEGHOUL highly revered locally? What was the response like in other parts of the US/world?
Back in the early-to-mid-90s there were hardly any any thrash and death metal bands in St. Louis. The whole grunge thing was going on and everybody thought they were born-again hippies or something. Timeghoul was always playing gigs with the same bands, like Psychopath and Immortal Corpse, but that was about it. We also opened for a show that featured headliners Obituary with Agnostic Front, Cannibal Corpse, and Malevolent Creation.
Enlightened to the point of bewilderment
Deaf to the song of creation
Blind to the light of the afterworld
What has always been shall always be
– Jeff Hayden (TIMEGHOUL), “Infinity Coda,” Tumultu
ous Travelings (demo 1992)