October 15, 2016 § Leave a comment
Impressionistic appraisal: Gorguts’ The Erosion Of Sanity (1993)
A Dan Seagrave drawing depicts H.R. Giger’s varmints in some kind of interdimensional, cubist snapshot, transposed on a familiarly dystopian landscape. Seagrave’s canon is the stuff of death metal legend, forming links to benchmarks of the genre every bit as essential and representative as the music itself. The Erosion Of Sanity is Gorguts‘ magnum opus, moving farther away from their Death (Leprosy) -inspired debut into one of the most natural alliances between technical prowess and old school savagery.
Analysis: Gorguts’ The Erosion Of Sanity (1993)
The Erosion Of Sanity is dreamlike in how its narrative unfolds. Technically intrepid like few death metal albums till that point, or since, it is fascinating to hear the poetic rhythm that these songs hold. Gorguts are masters of the broken riff, where a phrase is interrupted in the middle of its natural progression by angular shards of rapid activity, before being rejoined for its logical conclusion. Achieved through virtuoso, off-beat percussion, and the fast switching between alternate-strummed notes at half-tempo, this technique creates a peculiar, river-like effect, where momentum ebbs and flows but is never fully stanched.
To those who consider death metal an amelodic music, The Erosion Of Sanity gives a fitting riposte, proving how melody in death metal can indeed be made out of unconventional note choices in dissonant arrangements. Gorguts practice incremental progressions in tone between adjacent chromatic passages. These are all but undiscernible in their micro-shifting of textures, until the movement is revealed in its entirety, usually punctuated with a more readily identifiable hook or refrain serving as the song’s identity. The focus, in all cases, is on an unorthodox approach to harmony, where the lack of tonal centers does nothing to deter this music from having a fierce and undeniable musical logic.
Impressionistic appraisal: Atrocity’s Todessehnsucht (1992)
In one word: daunting. Everything about Todessehnsucht poses an intellectual gauntlet to the listener, regardless of his experience, with death metal or with this album, itself. A serious album in every aspect conceivable, much like debut Hallucinations, Todessehnsucht remains a proud pillar of the technical death metal movement. The two signifiers implicit in that epithet are noteworthy: Todessehnsucht is technical and it is death metal.
Analysis: Atrocity’s Todessehnsucht (1992)
Michael Schwarz on drums initially appears to overwhelm proceedings with odd time-signatures, but closer attention reveals how inextricably tied his patterns are with individual notes, and with even Alexander Krull’s Barney Greenway-style shouts, thus forming one of the most interesting three-way musical partnerships in death metal history.
The riffs on Todessehnsucht follow many of the principles found on The Erosion Of Sanity; the differences lie beyond playing technique, and have more to do with matters of composition. Todessehnsucht is a willfully jagged album, not unlike a dressing mirror with a web of cracks running across its surface; that the reflection staring back at you is your own is recognizable, but the odd dislocations and refractions in the image conspire to make for a psychologically disconcerting effect. Such is Todessehnsucht‘s nature. Fearless of spirit, there are sections here reveling in low E string rhythmic acrobatics that portent the emergence of djent, but Atrocity subsume these theatrics without a second thought in a vibe thick with mysticism.
Reader polls indicate Atrocity comfortably trouncing Gorguts. Choosing between these two classics is a hopeless task, equals that they are in every way imaginable. My personal preference leans towards The Erosion Of Sanity, but that readers have opted for the less recognized album and by such a margin surely counts for something, too. Atrocity go through to Round Two.
October 14, 2016 § Leave a comment
This is a short story I wrote, based on what the nature of music might mean to the aurally impaired. It can be downloaded here
October 7, 2016 § Leave a comment
I was sifting through Dark Horizon Records’ Summer Solstice sale some time ago, and came across a copy of Czech spazz-grind band Melancholy Pessimism‘s 1999 album Inconsistent World going for $3. I’ve had the CD for a long time, but it has spent most of the last ten years languishing away in a spindle that I rarely reach for anymore. On this occasion, however, I took Inconsistent World out for a spin, from a mixture of curiosity and listlessness more than anything else. I didn’t go past the first song, but not because my tastes have changed that drastically; in some ways, they have, but the reason for me stopping dead in my tracks was the intro to the first song ‘Paradox Life‘. Layered along with the sounds of gunfire are the strains to ‘Wonderful Life‘, a pop hit from 1987 by English singer-songwriter Black, or Colin Vearncombe, a long forgotten song from my childhood that I’ve had no occasion to think about in more than twenty-five years. Come to think of it, I don’t recollect this song jumping out at me when I first heard Inconsistent World either, but such is the way of things.
Intrigued, I pulled up ‘Wonderful Life‘ on youtube, and, sure enough, it was the same song from long ago, a gateway to a veritable treasure-chest of memories. I don’t think the song ever made it big on the American mainland, but it was a staple across Europe, and made its way into the subcontinent through one of those ubiquitous compilation tapes that were such a vogue in the eighties. It’s a simple song; it’s a pop song, what else could one expect from it? It is well-written, for what it is, but I’m not here to expatiate on its musical virtues or lack thereof. What it did to me was invoke lazy, sepia-tinted memories of Sundays in my Bombay home, when metal was still some ways from consciousness and the game of cricket consumed my living hours.
It’s a funny thing, taking stock of the past. When I think of it, what is it that I really remember from that time? Events remain etched in the mind, but the more you scratch beneath their veneer, the more obscure and jumbled-up everything becomes. Sounds, smells, voices; the mind tries to substitute analogues for these things from another, more recent time, and this is the sense of familiarity we have when we talk of them in the abstract and out of nostalgia. But to think of a specific event and to try to extract specific details from it is a slippery, verging-on-impossible task.
In that spirit, I describe Sunday mornings spent in intense play – and what play isn’t intense at that age – and our mothers’ summons for lunch interrupting those games at around noon. I would run upstairs and be greeted by the smell of chicken done up Konkani-style, simmering in coconut gravy, caramelized onions, and Indian spices, flowing through the house. My father would be enjoying a drink – this is from a time when he could still enjoy a drink – and listening to music, reading a book with glasses perched on the bridge of his nose. He had quite the eclectic taste in music, and it wasn’t uncommon to find Ornette Coleman follow right after something like Engelbert Humperdinck on vinyl. ‘Wonderful Life‘, too, was thrown on somewhere in there, I’m sure. I have no real evidence of this, but it is a sort of “pre-natal” memory that has come with me through time. We had to get rid of many of those tapes later on because they had gathered some kind of mold, something I regret today, despite advances in technology making everything so much more accessible.
Fast-forward again to the present, to Melancholy Pessimism and their use of ‘Wonderful Life‘. I googled this song’s history, and discovered that its creator, Colin Vearncombe, died earlier this year on January 16 in a rather grisly car accident. I’ve touched on the topic of synchronicity a couple of times on this blog; it is an old concept, of things colluding outside our immediate purview. We call it happenstance or coincidence, but we’d be lying to ourselves out of sheer stubbornness if we discount the almost-tangible aspect of orchestration that these events contain. In the post just linked, I compared this sort of serendipitous occurrence to a heightened state of intuition, which allows us to make sense of seemingly unrelated events.
When I take store of the “coincidences” involved in the Melancholy Pesismism-‘Wonderful Life‘ connection, they confound me. To hear a band I haven’t heard in ten years through the fleeting glimpse of a webstore’s bargain bin, a band so unremittingly harsh in sound and worldview, through this noise, detect the cloudy tone of a song I haven’t heard in over twenty-five years, then to hear that song and open the door to a host of memories, both pleasant and not so pleasant, and finally to discover that the man singing this optimistic, dulcet music, died not so long ago in a road mishap; I don’t know, it feels more than simple happenstance. Which is not to say I believe it to be anything more than simple happenstance, but from happenstance can also arise important realizations on the individual plane.