Impressionistic appraisal: Master’s On The Seventh Day God Created (1991)
Death metal was always angry music, but Master – founding sinew of the genre – dialed down nearly all pretension to progressive writing and brought a decidedly hardcore approach to the genre. If Motorhead united punks and metalheads, then this band can be held directly responsible for doing the same for hardcore and death metal.
Analysis: Master’s On The Seventh Day God Created (1991)
Note how short each riff cycle is, how recursive, how insistent, internal movement be damned. Master excelled at clutching onto the first aggressive idea that manifested itself and banging it out for all its worth. The simplicity of that premise by its nature compromises aspirations to any sort of surface grandeur; but through crevices in the discrete, power-chord dominant structure escapes light of a sort of contiguous, phrasal beauty. A phrase is a melodic shape endowed with identity – an identity arising out of note choices and the timing with which those notes are struck – so that it stands out in relief but also in harmony with other adjacent phrases. The note choices available at Master‘s disposal were limited; riffs consist entirely of floating power chords, or bass/root notes of those power chords being assaulted with conviction. Arranged in a staggered yet ultimately ascendant configuration, splitting time equally between the punctuating influence of the drum beat and an existence liberated from punk/rock’s self-same percussive chains, and driven on by Paul Speckmann’s disgusted-with-politics bear grunt, On The Seventh Day… feels intimate like a beatdown, and more memorable, and intelligent, than its humble, primitive appearance would suggest.
Impressionistic appraisal: Darkthrone’s Soulside Journey
Initially cold and unwelcoming like the ice-bound stragglers seen on its cover, Soulside Journey represents Darkthrone at their most structurally intellectual, as opposed to the music of the id which they would achieve notoriety with shortly hereafter. A watershed for technical death metal (it bears to remember that this was released before both Gardens Of Grief and The Red In The Sky Is Ours, readers feel free to make the necessary comparisons), Soulside Journey is a rich and immersive experience unfairly dismissed by the casual fan as “Darkthrone’s death metal album“.
Analysis: Darkthrone’s Soulside Journey (1991)
Coincidence has set up this particular match-up to highlight the differences between punk (with all due respect to Master) and death metal. Soulside Journey is the diametric opposite of On The Seventh Day… in every manner imaginable. Here are a few salient differences:
(1) Tremendously greater intra-riff movement. Phrases are dynamic of texture and show very high turnover of notes.
(2) Riffs exist in an uneasy detente with the drums. Gone is the patronizing role of the drums to emphasize the culmination of a phrase; rather drums and strings exist in mutually exclusive worlds that are, however, still locked together in dance and exercise a subtle gravitational pull on each other.
(3) Verse-chorus forms are discarded for good, ushering in the promise of death metal as a viably free-form, independent, and progressive expression of music.
(3) Like At The Gates and Atheist, Darkthrone in their death metal avatar had a surplus of ideas, and the ability to construct motion out of dead spots. Soulside Journey is always on the prowl, and proves adept at throwing curveballs even at listeners acquainted with its wiles.
(4) Ambition. I have seen Soulside Journey described as a competent but ultimately as one among a hundred similar death metal albums from the era. These are extravagant remarks to make about such a mind-bending force of nature, and they demand justification. Soulside Journey is quite literally seamless in concept and execution, and one of the finest examples of developmental variation that death metal has to offer.
Master retains a soft spot and a more than occasional place in my listening habits. Its atavistic nature, however, pales in comparison with the possibilities of a new paradigm revealed by Soulside Journey. I doubt any death metal fan disagrees. Soulside Journey goes through to Round 2.