A thought on Immolation’s Atonement

Immolation have traditionally excelled at creating melody out of dissonance. Individual parts which in isolation have little melodic quotient come together in gestalt formation to realize dark and grand musical themes. In so much, truly this band has strived for the ideal of a symphonic death metal minus the actual symphonic implements that lesser bands feel inclined to use. From the Providence EP onwards, the attempt has been to make those musical themes stand on their own with far greater deliberation where previously they used to be subsumed in a flurry of death metal activity. Experiments with harmonics have achieved centerstage, and what used to be album-ending moody outros have come to frequently usurp the meat of the song proper.

This tendency to streamline the music around the shiniest parts finds its culmination on Atonement. By death metal activity, I mean the willingness to pursue an incessant unfolding of musically vital information and an aversion to filler. Both aspects are frequently compromised on Atonement in favor of finding the melodic sweet spot and drawing it of all its succor. It is not that the band has forgotten how to play death metal, but the desire is obviously leavened with an appeal to wow a newer audience more easily compelled with the band’s unique approach to riff constitution. Bob Vigna’s genius shines through as always with legitimate guitar voodoo, but he is more distraction than inhering outgrowth, still a wizard unrivaled, yes, but one who now is papering over the cracks showing in the illusion rather than effecting actual, substantial change. The Immolation of yesteryear, before it shifted its ire towards trending subjects like social injustices and global elites, had a very real spiritually galvanizing effect on the listener, where he felt he was taking up cudgels for a greater, more eternal cause than petty terrestrial wranglings. That sense of high-stakes theater is nowhere to be found on Atonement.

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Save the cowbell, Don’t Fear The Reaper is a gothic classic

All our times have come
Here but now they’re gone
Seasons don’t fear the reaper
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain
We can be like they are
Don’t fear the reaper

Don’t Fear The Reaper‘ is the most well-known song from Blue Oyster Cult‘s multitude of classics and deep cuts. Which means it has been played to death on radio and entered popular consciousness through Christopher Walken’s obsession with cowbells. To the band’s small but avid audience, other songs are as or more deserving of having the spotlight shone on them for a change. And I tend to agree. For the inquisitive newcomers to the band, here’s an alternate list of great Cult songs to trawl through in chronological order: ‘She’s As Beautiful As A Foot‘, ‘Wings Wetted Down‘, ‘Harvester Of Eyes‘, ‘Morning Final‘, ‘Celestial The Queen‘, ‘The Great Sun Jester‘, ‘The Marshall Plan‘, ‘Vengeance‘, ‘Shooting Shark‘, ‘Madness To The Method‘, and ‘In The Presence Of Another World‘. Then, from the two “modern” albums before the band’s long hiatus, have a stab at ‘Cold Gray Light Of Dawn‘ and ‘Old Gods Return‘. Finally, from The Symbol Remains, the band’s unlikely return to the studio in the age of Covid, why not hear the laugh-riot that is ‘Florida Man‘, the band’s take on the famous meme? Be assured though that the band is laughing with and not at the unfortunates of the memes caught in the media glare, not condescendingly but with humor and humility that embraces our species’ inherent absurdity.

Don’t you laugh, it could be you
The Florida curse always comes true
You can jeer, but you don’t understand
Any fragile soul can be a Florida man

All these are fine songs in their own right and not the only ones from their respective albums either. They showcase many of the band’s hallmarks: songwriting in a variety of genres ranging from surf rock/rock ‘n roll to proto-metal, different vocalists bringing their own influences to bear on the music, Buck Dharma’s ceaselessly creative guitar playing, and above all a rare mystique straddling the line between innocence and gonzo irreverence. But as good as they are, they’ve never had or will have the attention the mainstream has lavished on the trifecta that are ‘Godzilla‘, ‘Burnin For You‘, and ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper‘. The band has become synonymous with the latter in particular, but unlike many an other monolithic staple on classic rock radio, ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper‘ has earned its keep over time and still retains its ability to arrest, mesmerize, and create the most delicate of gothic moods imaginable.

Admittedly, there isn’t much going on here musically other than Dharma’s incendiary guitar solo in harmonic minor punctuating on either side the most renowned arpeggiated minor chord pattern in popular music. But music is the sensory transcription of the ineffable, and from such simple elements does ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper‘ manage to convey our perennial preoccupation with mortality. I sometimes wonder whether this sentiment registers subconsciously with even the non-fan bombarded with this song, if he slips into an introverted pocket of mind as he drives down the wet asphalt at night and thinks back on losses past and losses to come, of the death of each instant even as it gasps into existence, endless deaths streaming endlessly into the vortex of congealed extinct impressions receding in the side-view mirror.

The gothic, at its core, is this jarring impingement of the inevitable upon the mundane, hence often depicted in the guise of the supernatural. ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper‘ delights in this pain-pleasure aesthetic, probing it like a tongue that flickers expectantly over a tooth extraction site, but its ultimate message, far from being fatalistic, is one of hope. Death, while painful when it comes looking for a loved one, is no adversary; when we say that a person deceased is at rest, we mean that they are free for the rest of time from the many physical and spiritual accidents that are a part of living. Our grief then is not so much for the person that has passed on as it is for our inability to cope with the absence that has suddenly manifested in our lives. This classic song does not ask of us to forgo the process of mourning, but to take heart from the fact that the ones gone are indeed liberated from mortal toil and that in due course we will be too.

 

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Prelude to Apocalypse via Onward to Golgotha

This isn’t so much a contest as a bunch of observations on two obviously related death metal albums. Onward to Golgotha is Incantation‘s magnum opus and rightly resides at the very peak of the genre. The proliferation of the internet over the last twenty years has allowed this classic to slip out of the murk of the underground into mainstream death metal consciousness. Which shouldn’t be taken to mean it has been co-opted ironically by the memester generation – Onward to Golgotha‘s heaviness and downright unwelcoming aesthetic precludes it from any such bastardization – but rather that simply more people today seem aware of its reputation as the standard by which all death metal is to be measured.

Prelude to Apocalypse, Disciples of Mockery‘s sole album, features three-fourths of the line-up that played on Onward to Golgotha, but for the most part, this album has receded into obscurity. John McEntee is on record as saying that the blueprint of the Incantation sound was laid before Onward to Golgotha, back in the demo days, when people like Paul Ledney and Will Rahmer passed through the band before settling down with their more renowned bands (Havohej/Profanatica/Mortician). Knowing the trajectories of all parties involved, one is inclined to agree with McEntee, but by the same token, it has to be said that Onward to Golgotha is the most muscular of Incantation albums, dripping with physical menace, and played with rare ferocity. It can’t be too unreasonable to suggest that Craig Pillard, Jim Roe, and Ronny Deo had something to do with it.

Apart from being the first death metal album along with Dawn of Possession to fully rid itself of all allusions to speed metal, what else makes Onward to Golgotha special? At various times over the years, this album has felt like both a brutal but essentially simple primer for the release of violent energies as well as a musical maelstrom of elder voices clashing and colliding and flaying the hapless listener caught in its midst. Onward to Golgotha is drenched in a ponderous low-end which with the dissonance that almost wholly constitutes it belies the intelligent composition at its heart. Few albums in the genre anticipate developments yet to occur within the song as well as this; what therefore on first listens feels like a patchwork quilt of vaguely related riffs rendered in atonal mode is actually an intricate relay network that takes numerous changes of groove and tempo in its stride, and delegates control with no loss of momentum whatsoever.

One can argue that Incantation, freed from harmonic shackles, can move with greater ease among conflicting voices, that the likelihood of an ill-advised transition thus standing out is greatly reduced; that may be true and is the caveat of the Incantation template as evidenced in the hands of lesser bands, but this, at least on Onward to Golgotha, does not detract from just how memorable and self-assured these songs are. Intuition suggests the use of coloring notes and a subconscious awareness of the possibilities extended and indeed the limitations imposed by the chromatic register help bring this music into the realm of the knowable. This duality – if duality isn’t too much of a cuss word – is elemental to the album: its marriage of opposites, of the simple and the symphonic, the abstract and the comprehensible, of the warring instincts within the human heart that make order from chaos and reduce order back to rubble with unequaled turpitude, make it the very ideal of what death metal should be, both in sound and the conceptualization behind it.

Disciples of Mockery took their name from the first line on Incantation‘s ‘Blasphemous Cremation‘, further grounding expectations of what this project would sound like. Incidentally, Mortal Throne of Nazarene, the successor to Onward to Golgotha, was the last album Pillard and Roe played on; that album saw greater use of doom and industrial-electronic textures, both elements which find continued use in the band’s sound till date. Mortal Throne of Nazarene is also without the exquisitely honed groove that lent Onward to Golgotha its rounded aspect, instead dealing for the most part with jagged shapes and higher octaves that occasionally evolve into the wisp of a fevered neoclassical melody. How much Pillard and Roe had to do with these developments is up for conjecture, especially in light of the former’s participation in similarly themed projects over the years (Evoken‘s Caress of the Void, Methadrone, Womb, Disma), but Prelude to Apocalypse certainly feels like it resides more in a post-Onward to Golgotha space, one where atmosphere has begun to establish precedence over strict riff logic.

In pursuit of that atmosphere, Disciples of Mockery take a leaf out of the Paul Ledney playbook, using profuse repetition during both tremolo runs and doom segments, the latter in particular giving Jim Roe the room to showcase his tumbling, thunderous, and completely instinctual percussive work, an often undersung aspect of what elevated Onward to Golgotha above the demos. The most salient takeaway from Prelude to Apocalypse, however, is that doom and sludge are only ever a step away for music fashioned from the same atonal family tree as Incantation; in fact, I’d go as far as to say that they are an imperative for music of this kind, that their absence implies promise unfulfilled, but when done with skill and prejudice entails no loss of intent or ugliness. As virulent and nihilistic as this form of death metal can get, there is also an unshakable sense of theater and dark tragedy about it, small details in the interstices that can be realized more vividly only when the music is housed within the suffocating confines of a dirge.

 

 

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Quarantine sci-fi: Iain Banks’ The Player Of Games

 

The Player of Games is the second book in Iain Banks’ Culture series, notable for its mix of hard science fiction, world building, and socio-political commentary. In the distant future, humankind has left its home planet to become an intergalactic species – colloquially referred to as the Culture – living aboard giant spaceships and ring-shaped habitats carved from space debris. Machines have developed sentience and govern all aspects of Culture life in generally benevolent fashion. Gene-fixing has altered biological constitution in myriad ways; intelligence has increased by many orders of magnitude, diseases have been all but eradicated, and lifespans mirror those of erstwhile gods. Sex-swapping has become commonplace, with individuals experimenting numerous times over the course of a lifetime. Glandular implants allow one to consciously secrete mood and performance enhancing hormones, while the human body as a whole has become capable of autonomous structural modifications befitting the space-faring nature of life.

Banks conceived the Culture as a post-capitalist, anarchic-progressive society where all enjoy equal status, nobody goes hungry, and crime is a relative unknown. Money and ownership have probably been abolished, gender hierarchies more clearly so, and knowledge is freely available as a shared heritage to all citizens. The Culture enjoys general primacy among neighboring civilizations on account of its advanced technology, employing a combination of soft power and more overt show of force, and usually in that order. The justification given in Consider Phlebas, the first book of the series, is that without this expansionist approach dressed up as altruism, to bring “culture” to the unwashed masses scattered across the stars, the Culture and its sophisticated utopian ideology would lose its reason to exist. To a self-proclaimed beacon of enlightenment, the perceived primitiveness of others can only appear as an eyesore and a prickly reminder that societies elsewhere can function by drastically different standards; which realization in turn forces the standard-bearer to look inward and inspect whether their convictions are truly as unassailable as once thought. The turmoil resulting from this introspection is usually not sustainable for an advanced civilization, instead making it even more belligerent and convinced of its messianic, manifest destiny.

In such a post-scarcity world, where machines do all the work, people, freed from the tedium of holding down a job, can choose to do the things that make them happy. A popular activity practiced across the Culture is playing games that pit individuals or groups of individuals in a showdown of mental prowess. The more renowned players are held in the highest esteem, invited for competitions across the galaxy which routinely attract audiences in the hundreds of thousands. In The Player Of Games, Jernau Morat Gurgeh is one such celebrity, widely acknowledged as the finest player of the time. Writing dissertations on game-theory, giving lectures at universities, and enjoying flings on the side, his is a life of the intellect and gentle indolence, until he is contacted by Culture higher-ups for a challenge more befitting his talents.

Across the galaxy is the planet Ea, home to the Empire of Azad. An advanced civilization in its own right but still many rungs below The Culture in the interstellar pecking order, its distinguishing characteristic is the exceedingly complex strategy game of Azad. Every aspect of Azadian life is governed by the game; usually played for the highest stakes, the game is a metaphor for life, and a primal contest of wills for survival and dominance. As Gurgeh is to discover, the Empire runs by a philosophy diametrically opposite to the Culture: the elites keep the have-nots on a leash, corruption, destitution, and barbarism are rife, and xenophobia and eugenics work in tandem to preserve the status quo.

Banks portrays these two inimical ideologies as the quintessential clash of civilizations. In his view, the Culture is at the zenith of its prowess, a behemoth capable of withstanding assaults on multiple fronts and shrugging them off like so many mosquito bites; more pertinently, however, with every bite, the enemy imbibes a little more of the Culture’s lifesblood, changing by degrees from within, until the difference between him and his foe doesn’t seem as pronounced as it once did. Banks’ Culture, then, is the perfect virus, intent on assimilation through infection rather than outright annihilation; its docile civilian exterior lulls its opponents into complacency, blind to the cold and incisive technological apparatus girding it behind the scenes, skilled at playing the long game and willing to absorb localized reverses in anticipation of the lasting victory to inevitably come.

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Cóndor – El Valle del Cóndor (2018)

As in language, so in music, the possibility of meaning becoming lost in translation is immense; especially so when the music is more parochial than the norm and the interpreter comes from a milieu altogether different from the creator. Such a foreign interpreter may extrapolate meaning from the music by reading the syntax common to the genre and using his own sensitivity to the form, but to a lesser or greater degree, its creative essence remains hidden from him. The accidents of circumstance that go into the making of a personal and nuanced work of art are many, from the trivial to the pivotal, along the way touching the life of the individual, the history of his people, and the convulsions of their land. The spirit, in the ultimate, universal abstract, may be roused to the same pitch in both native and alien heart, but it is not unfair to suggest that only those looking out from inside this tradition can ever truly approximate the depths from which such feeling emerges.

Cóndor‘s music is of just such an earthy flavor, perennially basing itself on the fringes of heavy metal and unafraid of using textures and tempos that forgo the visceral appeal of the genre. To be fair, El Valle del Cóndor, while retaining these attributes, carries more bite than previous works, but this is analogous more with the portent of gathering storm clouds than the cut-throat pugilism one normally associates with underground metal. This is an album of strong harmonic contrasts, with sometimes as many as three voices participating in the concoction of lush and exotic motifs, and harmonies themselves ranging from the juxtaposition of dark rhythm against a more optimistic note on the lead guitar to the vaguely baroque overtures of Adramelch‘s Irae Melanox, to the parallel melodies of Slough Feg via Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden. At all times, the attitude is one of introspective seeking and a kind of melodic pointillism (i.e. the realization of musical scenery through fine, incremental, and accumulative detail) in so much as can be tolerated within the context of heavy metal without it lapsing into outright mood-obsessed impressionism.

Missteps include the occasional jarring of incompatible tones (‘Santa Rosa de Osos‘), and the lingering use of feedback. This is music that could conceivably use better production, especially in the case of bass guitar, otherwise such an integral part of proceedings but represented here by a somewhat enervated sound. Vocals could adopt more of the stirring sung quality of folk closer ‘El Valle del Cóndor‘, too; but one suspects that such cosmetic changes could just as easily detract from what at present is the quintessential Cóndor vibe: amateur yet adventurous, syncretic in the better sense of the term, and fiercely proud of the many facets that make up a personality.

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Human Agony – Putrescence Of Calvary (2019)

Putrescence of Calvary is unabashed Blasphemy worship channeled through the likes of Pseudogod, but eclipses both by virtue of tighter songs than the first and less knuckle-dragging than the latter. As the video below of the band’s life performance illustrates, this is a severely restricted form of music, utilizing only about one-third of the guitar neck and the lower octaves exclusively at that. Fortunately, the band appear to be under no pretense to the contrary and treat war metal as the more flavored variant of grindcore that it first and foremost is, with songs never outstaying their welcome and played with maximum intensity. Perceptions suitably adjusted in this manner, it then becomes possible to appreciate the skill and conviction with which Human Agony build on top of crude foundations. Rapidly strummed power chords constitute the bulk of song movement here, but the limited musical space over which they operate means that the band has to depend on subtle inflections of rhythm and phrasing for variety. The laudable attempt is to guide this cacophony through a series of bludgeoning textures in every song and not become lost in the kind of stasis that plagues kin like Revenge; ever so often Human Agony seem on the verge of embarking on something a little more expansive, but such is the nature of their genre that even the most tentative threads of morbid a-melody are arrested before they reach their full expression. This is as should be for now, making this album the most visceral in the style, but it also renders any direct sequel surplus to requirement.

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Iron Maiden at 40

Iron Maiden‘s self-titled debut turned forty this April 14. Forty years is but a decade shy of half a century, a long passage of time by any measure, one that has seen the world change beyond recognition, and yet this seminal heavy metal band soldiers on in the face of personal travails and the ceaseless churn of musical trends, both as commercial behemoth and a creative force not yet fully spent. It is an achievement of some magnitude and one I suspect even the band’s harshest critics don’t begrudge them: if there’s any band in the heavy metal canon that has well and truly earned their keep, it is Iron Maiden, and that on the back of a distinctively old-fashioned work ethic, one that acknowledges that inspiration may not always be a faithful ally, but that lasting contentment lies in turning up day after day and putting your best foot forward.

The first Iron Maiden has a uniquely playful quality about it, found only in the youngest of bands somewhat in awe of the incipient alchemy they suddenly find themselves capable of. Paul DiAnno’s voice is untrained and the band’s playing relatively unpolished, and while many of the attributes that would come to define the Iron Maiden sound – standard chord progressions, the triplet gallop, the bass guitar as conductor, and guitar harmonies – are already in place, the songs themselves are still a long way shy of the high-octane power metal of the coming decade, carefree and with a lilt in their step, the very analogue of riding a Schwinn down the street on a sunny day to find something a little more risqué in the dark alley around the corner. The vibe is celebratory like no other album in the genre, something the band would subsequently exchange for grander themes with the entry of Bruce Dickinson, leaving this snapshot at the intersection of adolescence and adulthood for successive generations to discover.

The songs on Iron Maiden are heavy metal standards by now, burned into fans’ memories as if their own identities. Episodic by nature, the simpler ones rush by, surcharged with the focused energy and attack of the NWOBHM, while the band’s fledgling progressive aspirations are expressed through a variety of textures and tempos. Colorful in imagery, too: ‘Prowler‘ and ‘Charlotte The Harlot’ hearken to a time of emerging male sexuality when ideas about the other half of the species are synonymous with little more than curves and orifices and acts of deviant promiscuity; the thumping ‘Running Free‘ is one of the great odes to reckless living, the possibility of ending up a drug-addled hobo in a pool of your own piss be damned; the softer overtures of ‘Remember Tomorrow‘ and ‘Strange World‘ are two sides to the same coin, gentle dreamtime insinuations of resurgence and fantasy, but the former in its alternating of dynamics set the template for the future classic ‘Revelations‘ and pretty much every worthwhile ballad to follow.

The essence of Iron Maiden, however, lies coded inside the instrumental ‘Transilvania‘ and the epic ‘Phantom of the Opera‘; together, their marriage of speed, narrative technique, folk sensibility, and musical theater thrust heavy metal headlong into a world of new possibilities, one where it didn’t have to remain constrained by the relics of the past, but could instead use its burgeoning syntax to create an identity all its own. All metal hitherto could tentatively be enjoyed by listeners of other music; Iron Maiden, and these two songs in particular, were niche, first and foremost, created by and for a specific mindset, and therefore crucial in the conception itself of the metalhead.

 

 

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Sammath – Across The Rhine Is Only Death (2019)

I read somewhere that metal as opposed to rock n roll is thought over feeling, meaning that the metal musician feels first and then reasons upon that initial feeling to come up with an expression of his intellect. It is hard to refute this in the face of compositions that go beyond the rudimentary to communicate a worldview, but I’m not convinced the separation between the two faculties is all that discrete; more likely that they share a symbiosis at every stage of the creative process – a skewed one perhaps where one dominates the other but a symbiosis all the same – until the result emerges filtered through levels of intuition and apprehension as a distinctly human endeavor.

In Sammath‘s case, that balance has never seemed more tilted in favor of the instinctual than on Across The Rhine Is Only Death. Consisting almost wholly of shapes of aggression spewed out just as soon as they take form, this album takes after the grand riff-stitching tradition of Massacra‘s Final Holocaust, Morbid Angel‘s Altars Of Madness, and Immortal‘s Battles In The North, albums that achieved teeth-jarring forward momentum through perfectly microcosmic riffs tunneled into breathless first-in-first-out formation and self-immolating on exit to contribute to multiple mini-crescendos in any given song. Texturally, Sammath utilize the jagged formulations of grindcore as a segue of white-knuckle intensity between phrases which, despite their frequently ephemeral and explosive nature, showcase surprising melodic nous; not of the operatic-romantic type, perhaps, but more by virtue of knowing the ideal note to begin and end on, when everything that goes in between, right and wrong, stands in abeyance, dissolved into a blanket of fear, and the only imperative left is survival.

 

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Regarde Les Hommes Tomber discography review

Regarde les Hommes Tomber are the kind of band for which the parking-lot drinking session before going in to watch the headliner was invented: post-hardcore screamo with a djent tone on their self-titled debut, then incorporating more drone on the sequel Exile, and now, on Ascension, mostly ditching hardcore pretensions for a modern take on black metal, i.e. a combination of orthodox dissonance, DSBM, and what is known in some quarters as “Cascadian” black metal, all lush overtures and sweeping melodies. Constant through this strange trajectory has been a kind of mewling self-pity and impotent railing at a world that doesn’t quite give a fuck for private mishaps. Self-pity, however lamentable, can be excused in adolescence, but it is a distinctly unattractive sight to behold in an individual grown in years. Worse, self-pity is self-defeating; nothing good comes of it, it begets no real improvement of one’s circumstance except for cultivating a fatuous dichotomy of “us” against “them” under which aegis assorted malcontents then band together to hone an even more vicious sense of entitlement.

The difference between musician and technician is the same as that between artist and artisan. One partakes in a creative and internalized process speaking to the higher qualities of the human spirit, the other makes a product, of craft and persistence undoubtedly, but a product nevertheless, fit to specifications and missing the seed of inspiration. Often, as it turns out, the subject of these labels fancies himself the one when he’s been the other all along; and in the creative arts, such being the hubris they breed, being thought an artisan without the art is nothing less than a delegitimizing of your life’s work. And so it should be! Nothing kills creativity more than self-doubt, but the proof lies in the pudding, to be judged after it has been eaten, digested, and defecated. Regarde les Hommes Tomber are technicians, not musicians, assembling various disparate influences into what they assume represents a unique vision but which in reality only serves to emphasize the astounding lack of tact and awareness at the center of their sound.

On the eponymous debut, high-accented beats in the manner of hardcore and other “manufactured”  modes of musical aggression are supplemented with amelodic chugging on the low-string like Meshuggah; together, these twin aspects act as dog-whistle, leading the listener by the leash, reducing him to a puppet that should bob its head on command. It is a contemptible maneuver; or, rather, it is an approach to songwriting that reeks of contempt for the listener’s powers of agency, making of him a lowest common denominator pliable to the coarsest emotional manipulation. Far too many bands get a free pass in this regard; most bands and their listeners probably don’t spend enough time thinking on such matters; to them, a breakdown is a breakdown is a breakdown, little more than another letter in the musical alphabet, and a reason for a good time; not the volition-sapping, pride-breaking, intellectually stultifying dead-end it really is.

On Exile, the band dials down the dunderheaded attributes of the debut and focuses on writing actual songs. The lyrics talk of boilerplate like the fall from grace, original sin, and the wiles of organized religion, subject matter that should theoretically set the stage for greater, more epic narrative development than before. Regarde les Hommes Tomber take a stab at it; song movement here is articulated through vaguely distinguished ambient drone and feedback, punctured occasionally by the tremulous single note voicings beloved of “post” bands. However, as opposed to metal with its riff-as-virus philosophy, these are songs of tonal insinuation, carved from large blocks that shamble forth with no head or tail or indeed a viable destination in mind. The tone and the mood they create, here being one of misery without respite, become the album’s sole reason to be, and in so much they can be construed to be successful as much or as little as any other modern post-punk band you care to name. Exile certainly isn’t metal, though, much less black metal, lacking the categorical and metaphorical qualities that exemplify the genre(s).

As icing on the cake of cognitive dissonance that is this band’s career, Ascension arrives almost as if to make penance for erstwhile shortcomings. Gone are the bouncy djent and the unmitigated woebegone demeanor, replaced with a little more impetuosity and techniques more in line with what passes for black metal today. Not exactly a glowing endorsement that, but an improvement by degrees still.  Unfortunately, one hand gives while the other takes away; Ascension suffers from the same existential crisis that has beset the rest of the black metal scene. In general, good black metal straddles the line between musical expression and theater, preferably with the theatrical element at one with the musical. In the variety found on Ascension, however, the two stand separated like oil and water; consonant melodies rest uneasily alongside ruptures in narrative, most often expressed by tribal percussive patterns, groove, and ringing dissonance. This does not make for a unified musical experience and frequently asks the listener to reacquaint himself with the song’s shifting goalposts. More power to those willing to be strung along in such fashion and able to derive something of worth from their troubles, but for others of a more discerning bent, there is precious little recompense to be had for the effort invested.

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Death metal interludes playlist

The classically-tinged interlude is a proud death metal tradition, giving lie to the popular assumption that this is a brute’s music. It is that, without question, and unabashedly so, but as can be sensed from these pieces on an instinctual level, it is so much more too.

Please feel free to add others in the comments.

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