November 25, 2016 § Leave a comment
It seems with time that the one great divide among people is that between the old and the new. Science, perhaps, is the sole human endeavour where linear, unmitigated, and peer-reviewed, progress for the sake of an abstract ideal of truth and nothing else, triumphs over human differences. And even then, the ends to which that scientific progress is employed, remain rife with the divisiveness observed in other, more egoistical human concerns. But step away from pure science, and virtually everything worthy of contention among men falls into either one of these two camps. Civilization and politics, the culture that arises from them, down to our very idea of what it means to be human, a man, or a woman; the fundamental fight of opinion is between That Which Was (The Old), and That Which Can Be (The New).
Nobody with the benefit of an education wants to remain holed up in the past. The past is romanticized to an absurd degree, partly because historical timespans – to say nothing of geological and cosmological timespans – lie far beyond human comprehension. Therefore, we have the tendency of ascribing the higher value to a bygone time, and in the process often view its obvious deficiencies with fawning, prejudiced eyes.
Having said that, the past, by virtue of its always being less densely clustered than the present, appeals to those among us with a simmering sense of discontent and displacement in the current time. Not because we would want to be transported back to a time of disease and internecine strife (though how wonderful the notion of might makes right feels sometimes); that would be thoughtless, for we are ultimately creatures of habit and of this time, however out of place we may think we are. But, rather, the past appeals to us because we we can’t reconcile ourselves with the callous disregard with which it is treated by the present. That the past is less densely clustered or more distended than the present means that it is an epoch fertile with observation and introspection, in the relative absence of constant, invasive, distracting influence; hence, also worthy of study.
Both That Which Was (The Old) and That Which Can Be (The New) have their endgame as That Which Will Be (The Future). If one thinks of these three concepts in pure, Hegelian dialectical terms, then it is obvious that That Which Will Be has as its natural predecessor That Which Was. Hegel’s dialectic postulated three stages of development for any concept: the establishment of a premise, its rejection, and, ultimately, the synthesis of the positive (thesis) and the negative (antithesis). At any given point on the curve of this development, all three stages remain immanent or innate in the overall structure or the eventual truth; meaning, in other terms, that the past is obstinate and will be heard at all costs. Also, the second stage of rejection does not imply a summary dismissal of what has gone before; Hegel was at pains to stress that the first stage, or the premise, has useful parts, even imperative parts, worth preserving for posterity, a caveat that has become increasingly obscured to those on the side of That Which Can Be, come what may.
Those with the sense of dislocation previously alluded to are not hopelessly idealistic; what they long for is a rightful synthesis of the past and the present. They cherish That Which Was, are inspired by it, and are guardedly optimistic about That Which Can Be as long as it is no mere fabrication from thin air, and knows its place in the scheme of causality.
November 23, 2016 § Leave a comment
Empty Space Meditation is an album for the winter months. Each song here is a demonstration of a unique and not-always metal-related style of music. Equally at home among dark ambient, black metal, funeral doom’s homophonic dirge, gothic rock, and neoclassical world music, Urfaust succeed in distilling these disparate elements into the crucible of gravitas from which good, serious, dark metal partakes of, too. The list of influences is long and storied: Lustmord, Blut Aus Nord on the first Memoria Vetusta, old Skepticism, Root‘s penchant for operatic drama, baritonic Sisters Of Mercy, and Dead Can Dance‘s effortless commingling of multi-ethnic strains, all find reference on Empty Space Meditation at one time or another. That Urfaust maintain a unique and authentic atmosphere for the duration of the album amid such colliding predilections is an achievement not to be scoffed at.
Other than the palette of colors that it offers, Empty Space Meditation is also a fine study in the art of accumulation through single-phrase repetition. Urfaust impart an unlikely momentum to their music by terminating these phrases in a perpetually unresolved register, thus creating eddies of motion. A foreseeable criticism against such an approach would be that songs have a tendency to dissolve into the aether or to simply end with no satisfactory conclusion. But it bears to keep in mind that Urfaust are not playing by traditional metal songwriting rules on this album, but instead are more concerned with weaving a coherent vision from incompatible musical techniques that are united, still, at their heart by a greater mood and ideal.
November 11, 2016 § Leave a comment
Few albums in extreme metal/goregrind history can rival the demented and perverted atmosphere evident on Infected With Virulent Seed; in that, at least, this album by the Bangalore, India project is every bit the equal of other landmarks like Acts Of The Unspeakable, To The Depths…In Degradation, and Catasexual Urge Motivation‘s Encylopedia Of Serial Murders. This is goregrind, but only nominally so; Gruesome Malady flout nearly all rules framing that sub-genre, yet qualify somehow to the appellation with rare distinction. At the time of release, Infected With Virulent Seed was met with an unbelieving reception by an Indian scene still making a living off covering Metallica songs; politically incorrect to a fault in matters of deviant libido, covering evergreen topics like rape, incest, and genetic culling of the physically disabled through sodomy, Gruesome Malady got away with pushing all kinds of buttons. One almost wishes that the Global Internet Morality Watch (GIMW) was already in existence back in ’03; it would’ve gathered this album a little more well-deserved notoriety.
Infected With Virulent Seed came out around the time Razorback was going full throttle. Impetigo and C.U.M. had just been rediscovered, and bands like Engorged and Lord Gore were channeling their love for cheap horror cinema into schlocky speed-death. Czech bands like Alienation Mental were introducing industrial sounds into their brand of fruity grindcore. Gruesome Malady, somehow, ratcheted up these factors even further, while keep far away from the wheel of cheese. Their sound is barely held together; drums are sloppy and spasmodic, one instant blasting, the next seemingly giving up out of either boredom or exhaustion. Vocals, in true goregrind tradition, are ridiculously processed, sounding like bubbles emanating from the moldering remains of a corpse underwater.
The guitars, however, are entirely responsible for making this album the strange trip that it is. Riffing alternates between blocky, lo-fi death/grind, and a somewhat more grooving style reminiscent of Morbid Angel on Domination; ejaculating all over the music, however, is a lead guitar tone and lead guitar style that can only be called idiosyncratic. It comes in as and when it chooses, engulfs whatever else is happening at that moment, acts as riff and solo and articulation all at once. I like to think of it as super-abstract, stream of consciousness playing; someone else can say with equal justification that it is plainly self-absorbed and unmusical. The important thing, however, is that it fits the nasty, gutter aspirations of the album without being entirely obscurantist of nature like, say, Portal or Deathspell Omega.
November 11, 2016 § Leave a comment
Like Darkthrone, Marduk started off as a death metal band, before switching styles to the infamous “norsecore” sound of the 90s. Unlike Soulside Journey, however, Dark Endless has never met real acclaim, but I believe the time has arrived to appreciate this album as a proud death metal classic in its own right. Dark Endless carries the unmitigated fury and energy that would come to be seen as the Marduk trademark, but the techniques employed here bear more in common with contemporaneous European death metal, as well as the hyperblasting but always melodic activity of Kataklysm‘s albums with Sylvain Houde.
It has been very long indeed since I last heard Dark Endless, but this album today presents a fascinating instance of two styles brought together with near-perfection. Like Soulside Journey, perhaps like Hypocrisy‘s Osculum Obscenum, the death metal on Dark Endless is of short phrases assembled in a call-response framework, but an intelligent combination of atonal and consonant motifs gives this music the moody and mystical quality so distinctive of the best European death metal of the time. Opener ‘Still Fucking Dead‘ greets the listener with a György Ligeti-like psychologically volatile vibe, an atmosphere which is regularly suggested through the album by the intelligent, sublimated use of synths and harmonics.
Where fast black metal – of the Norwegian and Swedish type, anyway – differs from death metal is in the use of more pronounced whole tones, in the longer length of individual, open-ended phrases, and in the suppression, if not outright eradication, of death metal’s call-response aesthetic, instead replaced with repetition of mentioned phrases. Dark Endless achieves this balance and handover between the two competing genres in a way that doesn’t give short shrift to either form. Nothing about this album feels manufactured; its fury is genuine and revitalizing to hear today, its writing revealing a maturity and skill that has for various reasons become obscured in the genre’s annals.
November 9, 2016 § Leave a comment
This split collects unreleased songs from Ophidian Forest, and one-man American project Haeresiarchs Of Dis. A fine contrast of styles makes this one of the better black metal offerings of recent years. Ophidian Forest play nature-themed black metal that avoids the pitfalls of linear and predictable minor-key progressions plaguing much of this niche. Instead, Ophidian Forest channel influences from early Graveland, early Summoning, and something of the droning ambience of Burzum, to present a nuanced take on old styles. Harmonically more intricate than its low-fidelity aesthetic would suggest, Ophidian Forest prove themselves adept at the establishment of a premise, its exposition, and eventual denouement.
Haeresiarchs Of Dis contributes the remainder and the bulk of this split. More recent full-lengths would insinuate legitimate comparisons with a band like Emperor, but the songs on this two-way are of a thrashier nature, not dissimilar to Bathory on Under The Sign Of The Black Mark/Blood Fire Death, and Absu. Either way, that this well-realized, technically aggressive black metal originates from the mind of a single person, is an achievement that should be heralded far more by the underground. Haeresiarchs Of Dis is obviously a project preoccupied with various shades of arcana, but, just like Absu and unlike so many other occult-themed modern bands, this fascination does not come at the expense of actual metal riff-writing chops. These songs may have been culled from the band’s full-lengths, but they are immense of composition and resound with genuine metal emotion.
November 7, 2016 § Leave a comment
A heavyweight affair in every sense. Words ought to be saved for later. This is Here In After versus Nespithe.
Death Metal Battle Royale Round 1: Sentenced’s North From Here vs The Chasm’s Deathcult For Eternity…The Triumph
November 7, 2016 § 1 Comment
Impressionistic appraisal: The Chasm’s Deathcult For Eternity…The Triumph (1998)
The Chasm raised a new style on the death metal firmament. Sorrowful like a cortege, but not wallowing in self-pity like early 90s Euro-doom, The Chasm‘s melancholy is cosmic yet existential, hopelessly idealistic, and therefore, by conjunction, prone to the bouts of impotent fury that plague us all in an illogical world.
Analysis: The Chasm’s Deathcult For Eternity…The Triumph (1998)
For many fans of death metal, Daniel Corchado and the year 1998 are synonymous with the release of Incantation‘s last essential album Diabolical Conquest. Occluded by the sheer weight of that album, however, also lies the sublime Deathcult For Eternity…The Triumph, perhaps the first critical entry in The Chasm‘s unbroken string of artistically, and ideologically, rich contributions to the genre. Whatever one thinks of their sound as a whole, there can be scant doubt that The Chasm have remained the preeminent band for all metalheads to model their genre philosophies on. Their integrity to the music and to themselves is above reproach; in fact, if the fan of this music can be said to have truly found himself, then I believe I’m not amiss in stating that The Chasm are, indeed, us.
What is that Chasm sound, though? Casual listens are sure to draw references to the melodically nuanced Germanic speed metal of early Destruction, along with assorted Slayerisms, but The Chasm‘s style is progressive, developmentally incremental, and composed in the real sense of the word. The Chasm use the arpeggio as a tool of dual purpose: as an introductory motif for any given passage, and also as a way of encompassing successive octaves on the guitar neck. The latter is the foremost reason for the expansive feel unique to this music; by routinely employing minor, suspended, inverted, and broken chord formations for creating tension, often by deliberately lingering on that point of tension, then following through with appropriate response and closure, The Chasm provide a predominantly consonant study of pitches and intervals on a panoramic level not frequently accessed by the genre. That they do this in a non-gratuitous, extension-of-self manner endows this music with a rare and prized sincerity.
Impressionistic appraisal: Sentenced’s North From Here (1993)
Part Atheist, part At The Gates, and the rest icy North. Technically adroit like the former, compositionally aspiring to the heights scaled by the latter, Sentenced on North From Here created an elegant representation of melody in death metal, far removed from the hard rock that they would begin playing hereafter.
Analysis: Sentenced’s North From Here (1993)
Nearly everything Sentenced do can be laid squarely at the feet of Piece Of Time and The Red In The Sky Is Ours. That may seem like an indictment, especially because Sentenced don’t quite achieve the cohesion of either album, but it is also the fairest assessment one can make of North From Here. The extent of this tribute ranges from embracing idiosyncrasies of phrasing to quite blatantly modeling individual melodies and song structures after the nature of the elder albums.
And yet, studied an impersonator though it may be at its core, North From Here still is an original album in its own right. This may be because Sentenced are adept at combining populist, heavy metal tendencies with their loftier ambitions. The outcome is a music big on ideas, but also carrying a surplus of spirit in the tradition of the best heavy metal.
Deathcult For Eternity may be less daunting than its rival on the level of sheer turnover of riffs, but in its defense presents a superior example of theme and narrative development. Sentenced seem frequently overwhelmed with the newly-fangled technomelodic prowess at their disposal; The Chasm‘s very oeuvre, however, is based on slow-burning stoicism and a view of the long term.
The Chasm go through.
October 23, 2016 § Leave a comment
Impressionistic appraisal: Sepultura’s Morbid Visions (1985)
Morbid Visions, and the Bestial Devastation EP preceding it, are the albums that brought death metal one step closer to being regarded as a viable, distinct, and more extreme, offshoot of speed metal.
Analysis: Sepultura’s Morbid Visions (1985)
A diligent student of Hell Awaits, Morbid Visions consolidates the vision of death metal offered by Slayer in the interstices of that classic album. Morbid Visions still displays an atavistic inclination towards speed metal on occasion, a tendency that the band would wholeheartedly embrace, and with great success, on future recordings.
Aside from the frequent predilection for speed metal and punk, however, Morbid Visions, at its best, sets the template that would come to be adopted by nearly all ensuing death metal: flowing narratives that eschewed the fractured, gratuitous aspect of speed metal, and an initial suggestion of developmental variation as the keystone that would unite this genre and bring it out of the shadow of its immediate forebear. Young as these musicians were then, the will and intention is nobler than the execution, but the low-fidelity production and performance inadvertently end up breathing real spirit into these songs.
Impressionistic appraisal: Adramelech’s Psychostasia (1995)
Mysterious, magikal death metal from Finland, a country whose strange linguistic history seems to have unconsciously colored its death metal with a unique, melodic identity, too. Psychostasia follows in the proud tradition of Amorphis, Demilich, Demigod, Rippikoulu, Mordicus, Abhorrence, Purtenance, Funebre, and others, presenting a death metal thick with atmosphere and the promise of revelation.
Analysis: Adramelech’s Psychostasia (1995)
As once alluded to by the Dark Legions Archives, there has to be something akin to a Finnish death metal scale, and then a particular way of playing it. This scale seems to be formed from a collusion between pentatonic and chromatic note choices, which are then employed in specific configurations to achieve an effect of overwhelming doom and portent. As an example, a simple minor pentatonic triplet run, either ascending or descending, and executed at a slower register, can serve as a wonderfully dark harmonic device when used with taste and strategy. Psychostasia, and all of Finnish death metal, is this constant, succulent interplay of delicate contrasts; even the humblest passages here bear testimony to a see-sawing of majors and minors, and an obsessive weighing at the minutest levels of song-building, which, given the intensely musical nature of this sub-genre, makes a fine case for the further study of Finnish Death Metal™ as a legitimate branch of music theory.
In what will be an unpopular verdict, I will go with Psychostasia as the superior album. The Bestial Devastation/Morbid Visions influence on the genre is immense, their energy undeniable, but these albums, Morbid Visions more so, are still heavily indebted to Hell Awaits and the Chemical Warfare EP on a conceptual, structural, and a literal, riff-writing level. Psychostasia, on the other hand, has the advantage of being made in the full creative bloom of the genre; it is less immediately caustic than the Sepultura albums to be sure, but what it gives up in the violence sweepstakes, it adequately compensates for in being a far more layered and original experience.
Adramelech go through to Round Two.
October 21, 2016 § Leave a comment
Impressionistic appraisal: Sinister’s Cross The Styx (1992)
Intro ‘Carnificina Seclesta‘ may as well carry Dante Alighieri’s subtext: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here“, for what follows is one of the most “satanic” death metal albums ever recorded. If death metal be a musical inversion and an ideological rejection of the spiritually humiliating doctrine of “man as creature of immanent sin needing redemption”, then Cross The Styx remains one of the most potent enfilades fired by the genre at orthodox, organized religion.
Analysis: Sinister’s Cross The Styx (1992)
A masterclass in death metal rhythm guitar playing, Cross The Styx is inspired by the Deicide debut, but I will play devil’s advocate, and say that this album was released a couple of months before Legion, the Deicide album it bears closest resemblance to. Make of that what you will.
The Deicide connection is most apparent in the use of short phrases with intricate syncopation and a constant, staggered, quasi-percussive string attack (think “Infernal Majesty, take this dead offering, feeding the demon seed, evil bestowed on me“). Where Sinister part ways with Deicide is in more pronounced, lateral melodic movement, frequently couched in fast, speed metal mannerisms.
Dense with riffs like few other death metal albums, it could be said that each of these riffs are mini-compositions in their own right, such is their detail and movement towards a very real crescendo. At the head of just such a crescendo is frequently found a sort of “tail” leading into the next riff; this tail may be something as simple as a furiously repeating slide-reverse slide maneuver, but the effect is one of cumulative motion. There is no stasis to be found on Cross The Styx, and not because of a lack of dynamics either; yes, this is an album of fast, hyper-aggressive death metal throughout, but it also boasts of immense variation of structure at the lower levels, bringing into play a degree of musicality that its extreme aesthetic belies.
Impressionistic appraisal: Molested’s Blod Draum (1995)
Blod Draum is the music of painted Caledonian warriors charging down the Scottish highlands in full battle lust to face the charge of Roman legions into the British isles. Savage and exotic by equal turns, Blod Draum makes the fan of this music wonder wistfully of the time that must have been to give birth to such creatively adventurous and emotionally stirring high art. Fortunately, music’s specific nature, so different from all other forms of art, allows us to remain firmly entrenched in that past, to learn and relearn the truths that made it what it was.
Analysis: Molested’s Blod Draum (1995)
Molested capture the zephyr-like essence of long-form, consonant melodies practiced by the likes of Dissection and Sacramentum in a heavier and more insistent death metal mold. The aggressive component to Molested‘s songwriting is mostly sublimated as a bridge to that expansive, melodic nature; the only occasion when that twisting dissonance is heard in full stride is on album closer ‘Forlorn As A Mist Of Grief‘, which offers a tantalizing vision of experimentation in harmonically diminished tones.
Use of musical implements like bagpipes, violins, and didgeridoos, is made at opportune moments, as segues and interludes, to give this album a decidedly rustic, unorthodox, and thematically united air, a sum effect which only the most hard-nosed of critics would call gratuitous. The delicacy that the reader may initially suspect of such a description is actually a high idealism; whatever one’s opinion of idealism might be, Molested prove that it can be employed in the achievement of nobler deeds, in the abstract or in the flesh.
I prefer Cross The Styx because of its relentlessly violent nature, as well as its total mastery of the death metal form, at micro, macro, and over-arching levels. While Blod Draum‘s highs are true summits for the paradigm within which it operates, Molested‘s is a fundamentally melodic take on an abrasive stye; that is no reason to discount their prowess, but the fact that that abrasive style fails to be fully realized in any manner other than an avalanche of drums, counts against them in this close match-up. The question that leads to be asked of us all is, what is the true nature of death metal?
Sinister go through.
October 19, 2016 § Leave a comment
Impressionistic appraisal: Obituary’s Cause Of Death (1990)
Cleaner and roomier than the sounds of the sewer that was Slowly We Rot, Cause Of Death, and indeed the music of Obituary, belongs to the dreamtime of the genre, and therefore is a stepping stone to grislier pursuits for death metal fans worldwide, but especially so in the part of the world where I come from. Accessibility to any form of metal was rare, once, immeasurably more so in the case of extreme metal; an Obituary tape was one of the most ubiquitous, and prized, items to be found in the arsenal of the budding death metal warrior. The sound is simple and directly traceable to its hallowed ancestor, but despite that, no band has ever really sounded like Obituary. Turned Inside Out is about the best way of describing it to the lay reader.
Analysis: Obituary’s Cause Of Death (1990)
Do Obituary pay royalties in perpetuity to Tom G. Warrior? They should if they don’t, seeing how their sound is as obvious a descendant of Celtic Frost as can be. At least the band acknowledges this debt on Cause Of Death with a fine cover of ‘Circle Of The Tyrants‘; the association with Celtic Frost and Hellhammer tacitly implies a link with even older forebears like Venom and, ultimately, Motorhead, such is the strange, almost teleological evolution of this strain of death metal.
John Tardy’s vocals, albeit done with lyrics and slightly greater enunciation here than on the debut, are still the most singular in death metal, spreading all over the sparse nature of these songs with the feverish potency of a swamp gas. Obituary are master purveyors of “setting the stage”, or creating lead-ups to passages of great and primal energy, using middle-of-the-road tempos and intelligent picking in the way of Black Sabbath on ‘Children Of The Grave‘ to create a sense of heightened expectation in the listener, dousing him in the thick of the action as it were. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Cause Of Death is how concrete it is despite expending all its energy into building towards that proverbial edge of the precipice. This is incremental death metal which uses a mixed approach of suspended animation and suggestion to reunite its various discrete units.
Impressionistic appraisal: Morbid Angel’s Altars Of Madness (1989)
Altars Of Madness is a death metal album but in its essence is all about life, for what is life if not the stirring of the spirit or whatever name that life-giving force goes by? Trey Azagthoth and company made a lasting philosophical statement for death metal-as-art, in the process hoisting a banner for an entire community to rally under. Nothing but nothing compares.
Analysis: Morbid Angel’s Altars Of Madness (1989)
Thunderous, thematic, theatrical are the three Ts to describe Altars Of Madness. Morbid Angel construct a dialectic of death metal, where conflicting musical forces indulge each other in dialogue to decide overall fitness. Though not contrapuntal by the classical definition, such is the nature of the call-response aesthetic heard on this album that I’m tempted to coin a new definition for it: “cintrapuntal” (contra-intra-point), or the tendency of a single voice within the context of a song to assume dual, or even multiple, roles simultaneously or by turns. Enacted at the kind of breakneck speeds that Morbid Angel deliver these pieces, the effect is sublative, deceiving the listener into thinking that he is indeed listening to a veritable Babel of demons revolting against the edicts of a jealous God.
Altars Of Madness eschews the layering of textures that would be heard so prominently on Blessed Are The Sick for the nascent fury existing at the turn of the ’80s, when genres hadn’t completely ossified into their eventual forms. Pete Sandoval’s militant blasting renders portions of this album some of the best grindcore never to be acknowledged as such, but beneath that spiked exterior still lurks the sense of biblical, supernatural drama so specific to this band. Azagthoth’s guitar is the voice of order from chaos, a molten liquid cascade of tapping and trilling, and till date the finest realization of the universe-within and the universe-without dichotomy of Eastern thought applied to death metal.
I have often classified guitarists, and bands in general, by the sheer “impossibility” or “undoability” of their ideative processes; impossibility may be the wrong word to use here, but certain things seem more occluded to normal minds than others. I have never received this impression from, say, Metallica and James Hetfield, as legitimately great as their early work is; I have, however, felt so about Dave Mustaine. In the same light, what people like Trey Azagthoth and Robert Vigna achieved remains an utterly individualistic emanation of intuition and subconscious will, which a band like Obituary, or indeed their formative influence Tom G. Warrior, never appeared capable of.
That this match-up registered so evenly confounds me. Obituary are a sentimental favourite to many, but their sound is fundamentally second-hand. Altars Of Madness, however, is a revolution in death metal, the one album that set the line in the sand for death metal while simultaneously influencing several other related sub-genres. Hear it again to know where we come from and what we’re about.