Death Metal Battle Royale Round 2: Demigod’s Slumber of Sullen Eyes vs The Chasm’s Deathcult for Eternity: The Triumph

   

The first match of Round 2 pairs the death metal connoisseur’s ultimate album in Slumber of Sullen Eyes from 1992 against The Chasm‘s Deathcult for Eternity from 1998. The following list of criteria are used to evaluate them:

1. Riff Logic and Cohesion
Slumber of Sullen Eyes: An album containing some of the most sublime yet succulent interplay between note intervals, Slumber of Sullen Eyes lives inside the interstices of the song. The riff here is a fully-realized microcosm, not revealing its hand until the desired level of roundedness and resolution have been achieved. A riff is mistakenly assumed to be any free-floating phrase, but Demigod give lie to this fallacy. A riff in their hands is not only split into a call-answer aesthetic – where the first half poses a question and the second palpably responds – but it also goes on for multiple iterations, frequently with subtle harmonic displacement, till the listener’s musical senses are at first aroused and then well sated. (Points awarded: +1)

Deathcult for Eternity: The Triumph: As often as not, The Chasm don’t write riffs in the conventional sense; they compose passages which may or may not have the instant resolution one expects, but instead are always arranged with an eye towards future developments inside the song. It is an ambitious and fundamentally different approach to songwriting, more discursive and dialectical than call-answer, but it also means that every now and then a premise falls through the cracks without being duly acknowledged, and therefore has to be considered lost potential.
(Points awarded: 0)

2. Melodic Contiguity
Slumber of Sullen Eyes: Death metal’s great achievement was to break free from the tonal shackles of preceding speed metal. Demigod‘s exclusive dependence on the chromatic scale to form the stuff of their riffwork brings the entirety of musical space into play, making the band masters of their own whim and logic. And still, within this atonal architecture lies buried discipline as well as great and pensive melody, realized chiefly through the twin implements of: (1) singly-plucked, minor key excursions, used as both lead break and oblique harmony, and (2) a lingering deliberation on the contrast offered by couplet notes separated by half a step. This expert balancing of clashing musical philosophies ensures that Slumber of Sullen Eyes drips with portent and gravitas, with no jarring inconsistencies in sight.

The relevance of this criterion is to judge what the song’s contour would be like if one were to sever any given fiber from its total tapestry; and the answer in this case should be unequivocal: the songs on Slumber of Sullen Eyes are consummate, living, breathing wholes, chopping which would amount to little less than musical murder.
(Points awarded: +1)

Deathcult for Eternity: The Triumph: At their best, The Chasm make tonally-harmonically unique and consistent death metal. Melodies revolve around the natural minor scale to which foreign notes from the immediate vicinity are added for the purposes of continuity and/or tension. The Chasm center their sound around the arpeggio; arranged in inverted configuration and encompassing multiple octave spans, this device conveys a  melancholy peculiar to this band.

On Deathcult for Eternity, The Chasm write riffs that individually far surpass anything Demigod do; but as poignant and stirring as many of these motifs are – and it must be stressed that the band wrote their most war-like material here – the album still betrays an occasionally disjointed nature when it transitions from its idiosyncratic take on melody to a faster death metal by the numbers. The Chasm are influenced by German speed metal and first wave death metal in equal parts. Speed metal by nature is a music of islands, where the bridge to get from one melodic landmass to another is necessarily nondescript. First wave death metal like Possessed, Master, and Death, may have gone some way towards making the music less discrete and more phrasal, but there still is a sense of gratuitous waste about it. The Chasm on occasion drift without purpose, seemingly lost in the beauty and violence of the sounds they’ve conjured; it is a tendency which they would repair on future albums, albeit at the price of some of the urgency found here, but such is the give-and-take that all artists have to consider.
(Points awarded: 0)

3. Role of percussion
Slumber of Sullen Eyes: European death metal was not renowned for particularly innovative drumming, and Slumber of Sullen Eyes is no exception. Drums do what is needed with competence, but are predominantly restricted to mirroring the tendencies of the riff.
(Points awarded: 0)

Deathcult for Eternity: The Triumph: In some ways, the drummer in metal is bound to the riff and can only be subject to its direction. Original member Antonio Leon is provided with a wide, almost panoramic, musical canvas to embellish; he does so with taste, never overbearing but supplementing this music of emotion with deft work on the rides and controlled double bass, a textbook showcase of virile speed/death drumming.
(Points awarded: +1)

4. Progressive aspiration
Slumber of Sullen Eyes: There is nothing remotely approaching a standard verse-chorus structure on Slumber of Sullen Eyes. As time has gone by, most of the true underground has come to regard this album as the one pinnacle of progressive songwriting in the old death metal mold. Demigod righteously own the phrase “developmental variation” coined by Arnold Schoenberg; and what coincidence that Demigod subscribe to the composer’s ideas on atonality, if not in theory then at least in spirit. Slumber of Sullen Eyes is progressive in the most elegant and understated manner, but without compromising a whit of its death metal ferocity.
(Points awarded: +1)

Deathcult for Eternity: The Triumph: The Chasm approach progression from a slightly different perspective; like Demigod, they enhance a premise, but theirs is a narrative and textural progression. The small field of notes available to Demigod by necessity makes them a structurally conscious band, constantly, painstakingly, tinkering around with note relationships like one would with the beads of an ABACUS scale; but The Chasm don’t shun melody or use it only as contrasting device; they embrace it wholeheartedly and therefore can populate their music with a diverse set of characters in the manner of the best progressive rock.
(Points awarded: +1)

5. Success as an album of songs
Slumber of Sullen Eyes: The real hallmark of a great album is how it hangs together as a suite of songs. It doesn’t have to be  anything as pretentious as a “concept album”. The binding concept if any is to be found inside the music itself, and it is here that Slumber of Sullen Eyes excels as grand musical vision. Admittedly, its tonal ambiguity plays in its favor, but this is by no means a flavorless album; the more blatantly consonant parts help with identity, to be sure, but still it is no mean feat to sustain an album from start to finish with an undisturbed musical language.
(Points awarded: +1)

Deathcult for Eternity: The Triumph: The Chasm‘s unique melodic palette, along with their integrity as musicians, ensures that songs on any album retain a binding character. The inconsistencies in cohesion and transition don’t manage to damage this aspect on Deathcult for Eternity; certain themes reappear through the running length; that it is never entirely evident whether those themes are heard on the same song or at another point on the album is a telltale sign of a deeper thread at work.
(Points awarded: +1)

6. Ideological/Philosophical significance as death metal
Slumber of Sullen Eyes: A celebration of Nietzschean nihilism and the death of God (as we are shadows in this dismal mist/we shall hear the moan of our gods/cloak of darkness, the lord of all/upon this valley of utter nothingness), a paean to the anti-hero of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and a vehement assertion of self in the face of social stigma, Slumber of Sullen Eyes touches on all the themes that have fascinated death metal bands through time. That it renounces life for death should not be taken to imply an act of surrender; renunciation as Demigod see it isn’t accompanied by self-pity, but is rather brought on by a distaste for the status quo. By favoring the next life over this one, Demigod seek to correct the wrongs of the present time whilst serving due recompense to those who have made it such a den of iniquity.
(Points awarded: +1)

Deathcult for Eternity: The Triumph: Daniel Corchado’s lyrical themes have always revolved around true grit: grace and power in the wake of personal and civilizational tragedy, evinced not just through the nature of this somber music but in how the band have conducted themselves over two decades. As death metal musicians and as metalheads, The Chasm prove specimens par excellence and an ideal for the underground to embrace.
(Points awarded: +1)

7. Emotional resonance
Slumber of Sullen Eyes: It is a futile exercise to elaborate on what emotional resonance is, for it means different things to different people, but this much can be said about Slumber of Sullen Eyes: it is hugely admirable for its integrity and its intelligence, but its cold beauty seems incapable of fostering a truly personal connection with the listener.  (Points awarded: 0)

Deathcult for Eternity: The Triumph: The Chasm are far more overt in how they express; explicit melody undoubtedly makes communication easier, but The Chasm‘s use of it is anything but bawdy; though cosmic and ascetic like Slumber of Sullen Eyes, The Chasm‘s style is just a lot more human, privy to all the failings attributed to humanity but in rare moments of insight also capable of taking breathtaking flight.
(Points awarded: +1)

Final score:
Demigod’s Slumber of Sullen Eyes: 5
The Chasm’s Deathcult for Eternity: 5

Verdict: An honorable tied result between two albums that are more alike than initially apparent, using strikingly different techniques to achieve similarly expansive ambitions. I was leaning towards Slumber of Sullen Eyes despite my bias for The Chasm. The poll agrees, Demigod go through.

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One Response to Death Metal Battle Royale Round 2: Demigod’s Slumber of Sullen Eyes vs The Chasm’s Deathcult for Eternity: The Triumph

  1. Vahdias says:

    How can you claim.that Demigod favour the next life over this one whendrath metal rejects the abrahamic concept of heaven and hell

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