Saturday, April 30, 2011

Review: Vreid - V

My friend Ned asked me what I thought of this album, so instead of sending him an email I thought I'd write it up as a review. I got really stoked during the first couple songs, but found myself underwhelmed with the album overall. This is frustrating, because Vreid are doing a lot of things really really well. To mirror my listening experience, I thought I'd start with the good stuff, and then get to the problem.

First, the overall sound is something I dig a lot. Thrashing melodic black metal with a viking vibe? Don't mind if I do! And this sound comes less from cut and pasting a bunch of random shit together than from thoroughly digesting a single influence. I think this whole album is a kind of response to Viking-era Bathory, but it doesn't replicate the "Bathory sound." In terms of stylistic elements V sounds nothing like Blood, Fire, Death, but at its best (the first two tracks) it evokes a similar feeling. It's like Bathory re-imagined in the musical vocabulary of Destruction, later Enslaved, and 70s rock bands I have never heard of.

Second, I love the lyrics. These guys know their viking lore, and a lot of the lyrics focus on the intertwinedness of violence and ecstasy, death and life, bleakness and beauty (I am thinking especially of "Blood Eagle" and "The Sound of the River"). Rather than throwing around kitschy folklore or Victorian romanticizations, they give you the grim pagan shit straight up. There are also references to Nietzsche. So you know I'm down!

That said, this album just isn't as good as everyone seems to think. I feel like Vreid are shooting for "melodic" and "epic," but not quite hitting the mark. Metalheads throw these words around all the time in a way that has kind of stripped them of their meaning, and V exemplifies this misunderstanding.

When most people say a song is "melodic," what they really mean is "consonant"--it's based on traditional major/minor structures rather than dissonant scales, disharmonic chords, or atonal riffage. Perhaps they also mean that the song has lots of lead guitar parts. But really, melody is something more than just sounding pretty and doing it (relatively) high on the fretboard. A melody has to have some kind of definition, to stand out distinctly from what comes before and what comes after. It's this clarity of form, more than the number of notes or their originality, that gives a melody its power, beauty, and memorability. In fact, music can be really dissonant and still highly melodic. It can even be played with power chords. Wanna hear an awesome melodic death metal album, dude? Try Blessed Are The Sick. No, seriously.

Sadly, V is melodic only in the first, erroneous sense of the word. After the first couple songs, Vreid abandons distinct melodies in favor of an endless torrent of consonant leads. They all run together, and the music's power dissipates. This happens partly because the "melodies" lack the structure necessary to stand out from one another, and partly because so many of them depend on the same three-note descending pattern. I usually don't have a problem with repeating musical ideas, but here it just exacerbates the sense of vagueness. "Which song am I listening to again? Oh I know, the one where part of a minor scale gets played with a lot of conviction." Basically, V is pseudo-melodic.

When metal fans hail a song as "epic," they usually just mean that it's really long, has lots of different sections, and has a "big" sound. Well ok, I guess. But if this word is to be more than the verbal equivalent of a fart, I think it should refer to music that really takes you on a journey, where the different parts have a narrative flow that keeps your attention and rewards it. Old Enslaved is epic. Iron Maiden's "Powerslave" is FUCKING EPIC.

Vreid, sadly, is not epic. At least not on this album. The ten-plus minute track "The Others and The Look" has some great lyrics and a few cool moments, but it really just fades into the background. The throwaway melodies don't help. Vreid has the ambition and the spirit, they just haven't brought the songwriting to this battle.

V was kind of a letdown, but I am not at all trying to hate on Vreid. They are one of the few new-school bands who really understand what Norse black metal is about. I really appreciate what Vreid is going for, and I'm looking forward to hearing what they come up with next.

Buy this album on Amazon

Friday, April 29, 2011

Origin posts boring new track from boring new album

Expulsion of Fury

It's great to see Origin really thinking outside the box and pushing the envelope with this new song. The clean vocals really add a surprising new dimension to the mix, and the use of almost shoegazy delay on the guitar (and even bass!) adds a sort of spacial dimension that I think really merges with the band's aesthetic in an interesting way. Not to mention the dubstep passage that forms the bridge!

Nah I'm kidding this is just as fucking dumb as usual.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Review: Puritas Virginum - Décénie De Souffrance

Every long once in a while, after picking through mediocre album after mediocre album, I arrive at a release which reminds me of why I love underground metal so much. Puritas Virginum's solitary full-length is one of those releases, an album so elegant, depraved, and enthusiastically weird that I can't help but love it to pieces. I'm usually not into extreme metal that's as overtly odd as this- it's pretty clear that the musicians behind Puritas Virginum are very aware of what they're doing- but the sheer compositional ability and wielding of aesthetics is just too strong for me to ignore.

Beginning your album with a sparse, nearly ten minute neoclassical synth track is fairly daring on its own, if only in the sheer severity of its length. Significantly more daring is making the following track nothing but a minimal, drugged out breakbeat backed by some shimmering, sluggish synths and babbling goblin shrieks as vocal accompaniment. The thing that really catapults this beyond anything else is following THAT track with a song that's almost like normal black metal- were it not for the fact that the drums are unashamedly dance-inspired and the riffs are more like a trance synthline converted into tremolo picking than actual black metal riffs. Admittedly, the album does settle into itself a little bit more after this initial volley of experimentation, but those first few tracks provide a pretty daunting face for the band. Obviously you're not going to get much 'normal' black metal from this.

The bulk of Puritas Virginum's music is a very odd, jangly, somewhat punk-inspired variety of black metal, almost painfully French in delivery and sounding a bit like if Absurd was composed of a couple coked-up teenagers who'd never so much as heard of folk music or nationalism. Puritas Virginum's music is perpetually wild and imprecise in its delivery- it feels as though they're just pouring every musical idea they've ever had into a single CD rather than trying to create a more coherent, traditional vision. This is usually the downfall of experimentally-minded metal bands, but here, the band is simply so earnest and genuine in their music that it's an asset. Does songwriting take a back seat to weirdness? Absolutely. Songwriting is barely on the table- I don't know if I can even characterize the tracks on this disc as 'songs', really- they're more like weird, furtive expressions of youthful energy and chaos. There's an impish sort of glee at work here- the band clearly knows how bizarre they're being and revels in every moment of it.

The impishness is probably added to by the totally ludicrous vocal presence that dominates the record. They're black metal vocals- after a fashion so big it's its own clothing line. They shriek, snort, grumble, and yowl, sounding like they come from a little two-foot tall goblin, warbling and screeching his way over a bunch of random songs. Hell, the rest of the music sounds like that too, as though every instrument is played by a little imp who basically knows how to play an instrument but is really more interested in fucking with you than anything. The perplexing thing is that the little imps in this band land on memorable, engaging songs with an uncomfortable regularity, and never in the fashion that's expected. What of 'Le Dernier Empire', which sounds more substantially influenced by Jethro Tull than anything in extreme metal, despite the distortion and shrieks that cover it? And of course Puritas Virginum wouldn't be who they are if the most overt craziness was relegated to the opening few tracks- 'Etrange' is a strange, murky ambient track that merges '70s art rock with a black metal sense of darkness, 'Obsession' is a straight-up dance track for goth girls to wave their hands to, and there's even more examples of the band's wandering, fervently creative spirit dotted throughout the disc.

I'm not sure if this is a full-length album or a compilation- the constantly shifting (but always raw) production makes me think this was cobbled together from a bunch of unreleased tapes. The band never really at any point fully commits to black metal as their genre of choice- honestly, from what I hear, I think the band's collective heart is more firmly located in the '70s than in any modern extreme metal, even if the band is in corpsepaint drag. Puritas Virginum is a lot of things that are usually bad for metal: overtly artsy, intentionally goofy, and oftentimes possessing more reach than grasp, but the work of love this record appears to be (and the sheer memorability of the experience of listening to it) more than makes up for any of these faults. The avant-garde minded would certainly be advised to listen to this one- whatever you think of it, it'll be something that you've never, ever heard before.

Buy this album on Amazon

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

HYPEHAMMER: Krallice - Diotima

In this recurring series of posts, we will be covering
major new releases that totally suck. Today, the mighty Hypehammer descends on Krallice's new album, Diotima. We sat through this shit so that you don't have to. The following is a creative reconstruction of a real conversation that just took place.

P: This was really a pain in the ass to listen to.

N: Yeah man, I confess it was hard to pay attention after the first track and a half.

P: What'd you think was one of the biggest problems?

N: Well, there was just a lot of random shit going on. No sense of structure.

P: Yep, it was just a bunch of tremolo picking happening for what seemed like hours. I find this album personally offensive, in a way, because I love Wagner and I think this is an attempt at aping that sort of streaming, organic melody.

N: But they forgot the melody! And the direction--Wagner's great because he's always going somewhere.

P: Right! I saw those problems in terms of necessity. Compare a Krallice track with a track like Bathory's "Blood, Fire, Death." On that song, Quorthon writes riffs that sound as if they needed to come into existence. And he makes it seem as if each new riff had to follow the one before.

N: I think that's true of all good metal, or even all good music really.

P: And if that's the case, then Krallice is the opposite of good. Each individual riff, and each whole song, could be completely rearranged without really changing the music's effect.

N: Another thing that really pisses me off is how they take black metal tropes and try to pass them off as these self-conscious innovations. That one guy from Orthrelm was going on in an interview about how they let the feedback ring out even when they're not playing, instead of cutting it off. Like they were breaking "the rules of production" or something. Lo-fi black metal bands have been doing that for years. They couldn't afford the compression, and they knew it just sounds cool.

P: Really, everyone who makes loud music has been doing that forever. Sonic Youth? Black Flag?

N: Yeah and you can just tell this ass-backwards thinking extends to the way Krallice writes songs. "We just did all this technical stuff, so now let's hammer on one note for a really long time to be raw and hypnotic ." This shit's been done a thousand times before--Transylvanian Hunger???--but because they're doing it in their really gay way, its suddenly creative and deep!

P: Their whole sound works like that, actually. Its basically ripped off from old Slavic bands. Right after I finished with this piece of shit I threw on some Forest to cleanse my ears, and was struck by how similar the immediate impression was...this buzzing cloud of trem-picking over continuous blasting, where nothing really jumps out at you. You put it on in the background, and go to do something else. The difference is that five minutes into a Forest song you begin to pick up on this beautiful melody.

N: Yeah, that's something I love about Forest, you almost have to struggle to hear the music amid all the fuzz!

P: And once it emerges, it's amazing, and it's so exciting to hear where it goes! With a Krallice song, that moment never arrives, you just turn it off.

N: Something I've really been wondering is why these guys even have a vocalist.

P: Fuck I was thinking that too!

N: The vocals are just SO fucking tertiary to the song. The guy sings like two lines on each track, in a voice that's obviously an indie guy mimicking black metal vocals. Why are they even there? To prove you're a black metal band!?

P: And why should they even be screaming? Is he angry? We have no idea! It's purely a style choice. To me, the best black metal vocals are totally unhinged, like Ihsahn on the first Emperor E.P., or Varg.

N: Yeah, on his old stuff Varg isn't "doing black metal vocals," he's just screeching his fucking ass off.

P: Totally, and he still has that spirit. I love the inchoate screams and gurgles in Burzum's new track "Vanvidd." They go so beyond what is "cool" and "acceptable" that they actually made my friend uncomfortable.

N: Diotima doesn't have any of those scary parts. And those parts are what DEFINE black metal, and extreme metal in general.

P: Yep. There are no uncomfortable places here, just a lot of really unpleasant music.

Buy this album on Amazon

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The evangelistic metalhead

If you're reading this blog, you probably read metal forums- for what reason, I can't possibly explain (and I'm included), but you likely do. And if you do, you've probably run across at least one (and more like a dozen) threads that detail various posters' attempts at 'converting' their friends or acquaintances over to metal. It's unique that this is always expressed as 'converting' someone to metal, as though metal was some sort of mindset, religion, or political system rather than a genre of music. These threads usually come from kids in high school, which makes it a little more understandable, but once you hit about 16 this should probably stop.

Predictably, I don't think I've seen a single story where this actually worked out. On and on posters drone about how desperately they tried to get their friends into metal, constantly showing them CDs, giving history lessons, and otherwise discussing the sheer IMPORTANCE of a genre of music, as though metal is some sort of key that unlocks the mysteries of the universe in one glorious flash of light. The disappointment, confusion, and dismay that comes off these people is palpable; they really can't understand why it is that anyone WOULDN'T be swayed by their passion and endless, nauseating promotion of their own particular cultural trinket.

Now, if you read this blog, you're probably laughing at this idea, which is an appropriate response, but threads like these always seem to draw a disturbing number of posts where people think this is not only logical, but perfectly acceptable and appropriate. I can get it to some degree- when you're some outsider kid in high school, metal can seem like just about the most important thing in the world to you. But that's just that: it's high school, and attempting 'conversions' of this sort will generally just lead to profoundly embarrassing memories down the road.

But let's collect this idea a little bit: why do people do this? There's a few plausible reasons. Metal is indeed a genre that in the more extreme reaches presents itself as a lifestyle rather than a simple genre of music, which does encourage its adherents to promote it a bit more vociferously than usual. The merits of this are mildly debatable, given the cultural parcel that metal presents through its imagery, ideologies, and sonic presence. Then there's the possibility that particularly alienated youth think that getting someone else into metal (when finding another dedicated metalhead is difficult or impossible) will somehow bridge the gap between themselves and the others around him- the shared bond of the music will somehow result in meaningful relationships down the road. Then, of course, there's the more sinister (and stupid) option: that there are people out there so firmly convinced of the philosophical and musical superiority of metal that they, in some sort of Manifest Destiny situation, feel it's their duty to cast metallic pearls among the mainstream swine.

There's a few things that these conversions indicate about those who attempt them. The most obvious and important is a massive sense of self-loathing and shame which somehow attaches itself to metal itself. Considering metal's (supposedly) individualistic, powerful ideologies, this is pretty perplexing, but if you consider a great deal of metal to be an adolescent power fantasy, it makes a little more sense. Impressionable little outcasts are given a world in which one can slay dragons, rape women, and exercise self-expression to a degree wholly impossible in reality. Of course, when the CD comes out of the player and the lights come back on, it just draws into clearer focus the powerlessness and fears of that individual (at least if you're 15 and haven't figured out who you are yet).

Perhaps more profound, though, is that it expresses an equally massive lack of empathy for others. Empathy isn't a word that implies some sort of emotional connection or sympathy, but simply being able to perceive something from another's viewpoint. The simple existence of self-centered people isn't really news, but the way it seems to attach to the metal genre is something I find sort of fascinating. I've never had anyone on the street say they were going to 'convert me to hip-hop', or some hipster in a coffee shop tell me 'you're going to fall in love with post-rock'. However, I've had multiple people from the metal scene, even with full awareness of all the writing I've done on metal, tell me that they wanted to 'teach me some new things' about metal.

The reason why this is so ridiculous should be readily apparent: musical taste is not some apprenticeship. No one in the world has ever fallen in love with a genre of music over the tutelage of another, and especially not in the overly-structured and obsessive manner that metalheads tend to do it in. Instead, like nearly all taste, they develop it naturally, by exploring their own interests and developing their identity as they grow older. Even metalheads themselves go through this process, but it feels like a huge number of them forget it just as quickly as they go through it in a desperate bid to position themselves as 'serious metalheads'.

Do you want your friends to get into metal? Well, here's how you do it: hang out with them. Be normal. Play your own music around them whenever it's appropriate for you to play your music. Answer any questions that they have about it (preferably in a normal, unfaggy manner, without you going into how 'The Red In the Sky is Ours' is a magnificent recreation of classical music or whatever bullshit you've convinced yourself of lately). If they like it, they'll explore it on their own. If they don't, you'll live. Somehow

Waylander's "Born To The Fight"

It's the first really warm day of the year here in New York, so I thought I'd post this savagely exuberant track to celebrate the coming of spring. Not much to say here except that this is one of the only true "folk metal" songs I've ever heard--most songs in this style are just fruity power metal garnished with even fruitier violins and accordions. Here, even the pennywhistle sounds badass! This is as grim as any straight up black metal, and incorporates authentic Celtic melodies and rhythms. If you listen carefully, you'll notice that its not actually in 4/4, even though it has that feel. Waylander is great in general, but this is undoubtedly their calling card. It summons up the "battle-joy" of Cuchulainn. Foes (and pints) beware!

Coming soon: First installment of a regular series called Hypehammer, in which we crush Diotima, the new release by infamous poser brigade Krallice. I've already listened to it, and boy does it suck! Also, at some point in the near future I'll be reviewing a new tape by this Atlanta industrial/noise band Men's Room, who I saw last night and really dug.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy easter, heathen heshers

Review: Armoured Angel - Mysterium

These guys get namedropped a lot but have a pretty small following. That's a shame!
With a name as cool as "Armoured Angel," you'd think they would be more popular. A.A. started out in the mid-80s making totally killer black/speed metal, kind of like early Destruction. I think this is the era for which they are fondly eulogized by the Destroyer 666 crowd. By the early 1990s, however, they had completely shifted gears to something weird and unique.

The Mysterium EP sounds like what I imagined extreme metal sounded like before I'd heard any of it--it's built on a churning undercurrent of midtempo palm-muting, and it grooves like a beast. This has nothing to do with Pantera or deathcore, though. It's vintage black/death metal through and through. A.A. have a really strong sense of rhythm and melody, and they appreciate the power that comes from shifts and transitions. Their elegant riffing sounds superficially like Bolt Thrower, but has much more to do with Killing Joke. It radiates distorted warmth. The vocalist is great, with a deep and primitive death growl. All in all, Armoured Angel take a smart approach to a "dumb" sound, and it just works. It's so much fun to listen to. You'd think that there would be a ton of bands playing this kind of stuff, but there aren't.

If you have a friend who read about Sunn O))) on Pitchfork, and now thinks he is "into metal," play this for him as a litmus test. During the opening seconds of the first track, "Myth of Creation," you will hear a chug riff so archetypal it sounds like the first one ever written. Your friend's eyes should open wide with anticipation at the sonic carnage to come. At 0:20, the beat drops and the vocalist roars something like "diiiiieeeeeeee!" Or maybe just "daaaaaaaahhhh!" Your buddy should start headbanging furiously, and preferably throw the horns. Sadly, he will probably just piss himself and cry.

The most brutal moment, though, comes in the latter part of "Enigmatize." There's a somber melody followed by a single ringing chord. Then, at 2:59, A.A. go balls out with the most rapidly picked chug riff on the album, and the vocalist does his awesome "daaaaaaaahhhh!" thing again. He does that pretty much whenever he feels like it, and the great thing is these parts will make you want to growl random shit too.

The atmosphere of this album is amazing. It's heavy as fuck, but not in a typical death metal way. It's occult, but not in the stereotypical sense of the word with lots of reverb and spooky voices. It's physically gripping, but not just in terms of inducing headbanging: It's sensuous! This could be the soundtrack to some really gnarly sex. Mysterium embraces you and pulls you into a world pulsating with violence.

Anyway, if you're starting a band seriously consider ripping these guys off. I'll probably be doing some more posts on them. Also, I REALLY want to hear their unreleased 1996 full-length, produced by Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke.

Friday, April 22, 2011

What ads mean for Trial By Ordeal

At Trial By Ordeal, we believe in a philosophy of transparency in what we do on the site. There's too many sites (metal-related and otherwise) which keep their inner workings secretive and pseudo-classified, which leads to too many questions, too many opportunities for exploitation, and too much distance between the site and the people it claims to serve. In the interest of total transparency with our readers, I've decided to write a quick post on exactly how ads work for us, what they mean for you, and what they could mean for the future of the site.

Trial By Ordeal is staffed by precisely two people: myself and Pavel. Between the two of us, we are responsible for all content which reaches this page. We established this page and run it out of love for metal and other extreme music. That being said, it is one of our wildest dreams to be able to sustain ourselves on our passions instead of making those part-time pursuits carved around day jobs. Is it a big possibility that we'll one day be able to make a living off writing, music, and the other things that interest us? Probably not; we're very aware that we cater to a niche of a niche with this site and the other sites and projects we're affiliated. However, if there is a chance of us being able to make a living, however meager, off what we actually want to do, we'll pursue that as far as we can go without derailing our lives entirely. We do that well enough on our own.

If you look at the bottom of the right-hand toolbar, you'll see that we have Google ads on our page. As time passes, those will grow more and more relevant to the interests of you guys out there- as it stands, I've seen ads for everything from CD manufacturing companies (pretty relevant) to car insurance (not so much). In time, they should always be contextual and relevant to what you're reading.

We make money off these ads through a combination of page impressions (your browser 'viewing' the ads) and clickthroughs (you actually clicking on the ad in question). Unsurprisingly, clickthroughs are what actually generate income. More precisely, there's an algorithm at work (that we don't have access to) which calculates earnings based on both gross page impressions and clickthroughs as well as the ratio of the latter to the former. Unfortunately, we don't know how exactly these earnings are calculated- if we ever do in the future, we'll let you know.

Any revenue gained from these ads or any others (more on that in a bit) is shared equally between myself and Pavel- no percentages, no ratios, just right down the middle between the two of us. As to my usage of 'any other ads', it is true that we will likely add additional advertising in the future. However, we will be operating on a strictly ethical basis with these ads, and we will not use any form of advertising that interrupts your reading of the page or lessens your experience overall. Here's some examples of forms of advertising we are and are not willing to include:

We are willing to include:

Contextual Google ads
Banner ads
Amazon, Ebay, or other distributor referral links

We are NOT willing to include:

Interstitial ads
Text-embedded ads
Any other ad which might slow down or bar your access to content on the site

We can promise you that the latter forms of advertising will NEVER appear on Trial By Ordeal, no matter how bad our financial situation might get or how much money they might make us. Financial concerns when it comes to this page are a distant second to maintaining our reader's trust and support.

So what do these ads mean for you? Well, it's simple: if you like what you read here, you can do us a massive favor by simply deactivating Adblock when on our page and clicking a couple ads. We don't expect you to buy anything from Google or banner ads, and it does not give us any revenue if you do. However, you will be contributing to the funding of the site. We feel this is a much better alternative than a donation button, as clicking ads doesn't cost the readers any money. If and when we put in Amazon and Ebay referral links, your purchases WILL factor into revenue for the site. If you click on one of our referral links and make any purchase on Amazon, Ebay, or a related site, a percentage of that purchase will be given to us, regardless of whether or not it's the item you originally clicked on. In short, if you're planning on buying a condo, definitely do it through one of our links!

In the future, we'd like to make our ads much more relevant and less scattered by offering advertising opportunities for distros, labels, bands, or other businesses connected to the metal or extreme music scenes. When we start offering those opportunities, we'll give you information on them, but we'd like to wait until the site grows to an appropriate level where it will genuinely help those who purchase advertising space, not now, when the site is still small and relatively unknown.

With any updates to our advertising situation on this page, we'll write a similar post to this one telling you all the details of it. At Trial By Ordeal, and as members of the underground music community, we believe that it's only fair and right to let you know exactly what our ads mean for you. We refuse to lie to you, scam you, or trick you into advertising you don't want to be a part of.

So, with that said: if you like what you're reading, do us a favor and click a couple times. If enough of you do it, it could mean a world of difference to us, and more and better content for you.

Demo-lition: Desiderium - An Image Of Solitude

Desiderium is a two-piece metal band whose second release, the full-length 'An Image Of Solitude', was released on March 30th, 2011. Vocalist/programmer/primary songwriter Michael Rumple was kind enough to offer this album up to the sacrificial altar for the first installment of Demo-lition.

N: Okay, so this guy hit me up on the Metal Archives and said he liked the blog and really dug our writing and wanted to have a review done of this album. Which means to me that he can't possibly like our writing THAT much, otherwise why would he send an album like this of all things? Was he actually expecting us to like it? So, have you actually listened to this thing?

P: ...Yeah.

N: I just managed to get through the whole thing last night for the first time. I think I tried to listen to it like 4 other times and got like 3 tracks in before I just couldn't do it anymore.

P: Yeah, I actually tried listening to it at work to get some ideas for the article, and every time a customer walked in I'd have to turn it off. Not because I was listening to metal, just because I didn't want to be caught listening to really GAY metal like this.

N: Yeah, it is super, super gay. Basically as gay as metal gets. To be honest, it really just sounds like Opeth worship to me.

P: Does it? I've never bothered listening to Opeth because I always get 20 seconds in and just start laughing. For me it was just all the gayest parts of Agalloch strung together into songs.

N: Opeth, Agalloch, yeah, basically every metal band that isn't particularly metal. Like, it's not overtly BAD, it's just nothing that I would ever think about listening to in my free time.

P: I don't know, the piano intro is pretty bad. I don't see why bands keep doing that. It doesn't kick my ass, it's not a set-up to kick my ass, so what's the point of it?

N: I'm pretty sick of intros, outros, interludes, intermezzos, all of those things in general now. They really just seem to be there to flatter the artist, not to really compliment the album.

P: It's also way too busy. Way too much aimless guitar noodling. Way too many solos.

N: Is there a difference between riffs and solos in this style?

P: Well they could be a little less aimless. It's like there's perpetually some sort of guitar theatrics going on. Honestly, the best moments on this album for me are when the band settles down into a riff and a consistent rhythm for a while.

N: Yeah, but I treat shit like this more like prog rock than anything else.

P: Can we just tell them not to make this style of music?

N: Well, I don't really want to do THAT. I mean, in all honesty, this album could easily get on a low to midrange label that specializes in this kind of shit. The compositional ability is good enough I guess, coming from someone who doesn't listen to this kind of music. There are some professional aspects that need to be worked on though. The drum machine's the biggest thing: the samples for the different drums sound like something from a goregrind band. They either need to buckle down and get Drumkit From Hell or find a real drummer. They need more organic tones.

P: Do you have anything else to say about this?

N: Not really. It's just gay.

P: Super, super gay.

Thanks to Michael Rumple for submitting his work to the blog. Desiderium is selling their album as a set-your-own-price download at Bandcamp. You can listen to every track on the album for free at their page. Let us know what you think about these guys in the comment box below.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Arch Angel:" Satanic power ballad?

One normally thinks of Gothenburg melodeath as far removed from black metal, but in Sweden the two styles were really just opposite extremes of the same spectrum. At one end we have the dumb but sometimes fun metal of early In Flames, on the other, the vicious cold riffing of later Dissection. It's just that we've forgotten about the bands in the middle, who were too harsh and Satanic for melodeath but a little too polished or palm-muted to qualify as true black metal.

Non Serviam were such a band. Their albums are kind of underwhelming, but the band's legacy lives on in the song "Arch Angel." This should've been a hit single, or something. The riffing has the consonant harmony and epic inflections of the Gothenburg sound, but it's played in a totally black metal way. In a way, it comes off like Rotting Christ. What this REALLY is, though, is a black metal version of hair metal. It reminds me of the minor-key tracks by Motley Crue or Def Leppard, the ones where they're being "sad" or "angry" but still basically just rocking out in a huge way. It's dumb, kind of gay, and totally fucking awesome.

The ridiculous lyrics help:

"Oh mighty angel, fallen from the sky
Can't you see the tears in my eyes?
The morning star brings me light
And I kneel in reverence and I cry for you"

This is really wussy shit. It could almost be emo, but the emotion is too intense, the Satanic devotion too sincere (the following lyrics are about carving the pentagram in one's skin). Like the best hair metal, it's campy and tough at the same time. The vocalist sounds like he's breathing fucking fire, and he really helps this rise above "sellout attempt."

In short, this is poppy black metal done right. Perfect for quaffing a goblet of blood as you redo your eyeliner.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Review: Nailed - A Pure World Is A Dead World

I feel really bad for this band just because of how they got jacked. Nailed deserved a fuck of a lot better than Crash, and especially when Crash apparently didn't feel like properly printing the layout. Seriously, if you get your hands on a physical copy of this, you'll cringe: the cover art is horribly pixelated, the layout elements are incredibly sloppy- the whole thing is a hack job from top to bottom.

Which is very unfortunate because 'A Pure World Is A Dead World' could be said to 'fucking rule' if I was one of those bro-type metallers who didn't listen to a lot of Burzum. Admittedly, Nailed don't have a whole lot of personality, but their execution of their particular gimmick is so good it hardly matters. Nailed plays Morbid Angel songs in a modern brutal death context and does it just about better than anyone out there (right next to Throne Of Nails or Estuary in this regard). The weirder part is that the biggest influence actually seems to be 'Domination' in the sense of riffcraft and emphasis on slow, epic passages, but instead of shitting out an AIDS-covered turd of an album like 'Domination', Nailed actually makes something incredibly compelling (and absurdly brutal) with their sole full-length.

To be fair, a lot of the sheer coolness of this album is courtesy of the amazing production: just clear enough to hear everything (except the bass, of course), but also super cluttered and chaotic- it's hard to breathe when the band is going full-tilt (which is most of the time). The guitars have a sloppy, malignant tone, actually surprisingly similar to a good version of the tone on Morbid Angel's 'Heretic', and their crazy volume and hard panning lets the drums and vocals sit right in the middle of all the chaos, usually the most coherent parts of the music. Not that they're not insane in their own way- the drum presence is dotted with sudden, immediate stop/starts and weird cymbal switching while the vocals are just so crazed and ranting they're hard not to smile at.

An Azagthoth sense of riffcraft comes out in full force on this record: lots of Morbid Angel's traditional, twisted tremolo riffs are present, chopped up with modern brutal death's inclination towards sudden flurries of obvious technicality, with explosions of pinch harmonics and dissonant chords forming fills before the next ugly, tense tremolo riff starts up. Nailed tend to use similar note patterns to older Morbid Angel, even; a lot of the riffs sound like they could have come directly off of 'Convenant', were it not for the sense of battering rhythm the band takes from brutal death. That seemingly minor addition is what really makes this band more than a typical Morbid Angel clone. The sheer brutality of the band's more modern influences helps overdrive Morbid Angel's classic sound significantly and updates it in a manner that's altogether surprising and pleasing to the ear.

This is in no way an incredibly nuanced album: Nailed is pretty content to simply batter the listener into submission on every track, only occasionally allowing some breathing room for a slower passage to open up. Despite the basic lack of variation on display, though, the compact package the album presents manages to stay gripping all the way through, never getting bogged down in a lack of motion or repetitive songwriting. I know how cliched it is to say 'an exciting combination of oldschool and modern styles', but in Nailed's case, it might be the first time it's accurate.

Buy this album on Amazon

It's over, we've done what we set out to do

Everyone needs to stop reading our shit now.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

If you buy from Razorback Records the terrorists have won

This post is probably a little dated now- I suppose it's been about a year or so now since Razorback Records was seemingly the only label in the world releasing death metal to the bulk of the scene. Really, there was a period of time where you couldn't trip over a metalhead half-passed out drunk in the street without him talking about how sick and oldschool Lord Gore was before vomiting on himself. It seriously got grating, and the fact that Razorback attained such prominence parallel to (and partly because of) the retro-death metal scene's sudden explosion didn't help my attitude much. Retro-thrash was awful enough (though that thankfully seems to be in its last few death throes right now), but retro-death? Is that truly necessary?

Razorback Records is a label with a pretty long history, stretching back to sometime around the paleolithic era (but well after the initial explosions of death metal and goregrind). They have in fits and starts released material that's actually good: Catasexual Urge Motivation, Gigantic Brain, Coffins, and a few others. For the most part, though, the label's fame rose on the backs of a substantial number of terrible Portland retro-death metal bands (which aren't actually retro, but I'll get to that later): Lord Gore, Blood Freak, Ghoul, etc. And now the day has come where the history of Razorback Records as a label that occasionally released neat stuff has been entirely forgotten in favor of more wacky '80s horror movie death/thrash composed and sold to homosexual drug addicts, who find the strains of Acid Witch soothing when they make out at the bathhouse.

There's a lot of bullshit flying around about Billy Nocera these days, which I can't really comment on: some people are claiming that he exercises too much control over his bands, has a bad tendency to manipulate his way into musical endeavors, and just isn't a particularly honest businessman. Then again, I've never actually heard any of this said by the bands themselves and in the very, very occasional contact I've had with Nocera over the years, he's seemed like a pretty genuine and friendly guy all around. That's why I'm not going to personally attack him in this writeup, just his label, which at this point is basically releasing the death metal equivalent of The Killers with half the taste and songwriting ability.

When you say retro-thrash or retro-death metal, you're probably thinking of something that attempts to recreate the oldschool, primordial sounds of early thrash or death metal. This is a legitimate idea but ultimately incorrect, as none of the retro thrash or death metal bands out there actually sound like oldschool thrash or death metal. What they sound like is an imitation of that era, and not just the music. Let's break apart the obvious elements of a Razorback band's image:

1. '80s horror movies: This is immediately regarded as an oldschool element because, well, it's from the '80s, but when's the last time you heard Morbid Angel or Deicide or Dismember or Suffocation or Carcass reference '80s horror movies? Of course not, back in the old days those bands would have laughed at the idea! All Razorback bands are trying to do is manipulate your perception into THINKING they're oldschool because of these inclusions: "Hey, remember this old horror movie? You hear how our blast beats aren't as fast as Brain Drill? Now just try and merge those ideas together in your mind..."

2. Cartoonish artwork and presentation: Is this an oldschool element? Most oldschool death metal records have artwork done in a realistic or wholly abstract/surreal style, and most of the time it was painted (see all the work of Seagrave). Ed Repka did cartoonish art, but he was doing it for goofy crossover bands, not for death metal ones. So while this element might be oldschool, it's not a part of the legacy of the death metal scene.

3. Tongue-in-cheek lyrical elements: I suppose this is wholly a matter of interpretation, but in oldschool death metal songs, despite how ridiculous the content of Autopsy or Cannibal Corpse might have been, it was never an obvious joke. In Razorback releases, there's puns and goofy wordplay in the lyrics. Possessed weren't big on puns.

Then, of course, we get to the music, which without fail sounds nothing like oldschool death metal. Similar to how The Sword combine trad, power, stoner, and doom, mixing them up together so that dumb 16 year olds won't notice the difference between it and actual oldschool metal, Razorback releases aren't so much death/grind as a really weird, dumb variety of death/thrash packed with obnoxious 'spooky' melodies and vague concessions towards the more extreme sides of the scene via gurgled vocals. I'd say Ghoul is really the snake's head at the top of the whole thing, single-handedly inventing the happythrash style that would later be co-opted by Razorback and legions of copycat acts who all wanted to make similarly shitty music.

The defense from Razorback fans (by and large some of the whiniest and most defensive I've ever seen): "Oldschool metal wasn't separated into these discrete genres! Thrash and death and black and grind were all vague approximations which hadn't yet separated into distinct scenes! FUCK YOU, DAD!" Typically before taking another bong rip and falling asleep on the couch while watching Dead Alive for the fourth time that night.

This is a perfectly valid thing to say. However, this still doesn't excuse the fact that Razorback bands STILL DON'T SOUND LIKE OLDSCHOOL METAL. This goofy, tongue-in-cheek polyglot style of death/thrash/grind is a wholly modern invention. Even if there were bands like Righteous Pigs, Terrorizer, Impetigo, Autopsy, and dozens of others who blended and blurred the lines of various genres, they still sound nothing like Lord Gore does today. The 'retro scene' is just a marketing gimmick, a scam that got sold to a scene full of credulous, dumb people who immediately brought out their wallets for it.

This, in short, is why if you buy from Razorback Records the terrorists have won. No matter how much Billy Nocera or his affiliated artists might think they're somehow bringing back oldschool death metal, they're simply not. It takes a copy of 'The Autophagous Orgy', a copy of 'Mental Funeral', and a spare half hour to compare the two to realize this yourself. Seriously: be a grown-up, realize that bands like this aren't bringing the early '90s back, and spend your money on something that's going to be interesting for more than a week.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Body: "We aren't just some metal band, we make ART!"

About a week ago, Brooklyn Vegan got all hot and bothered about an upcoming show by Providence's The Body. They plan to perform their debut album in full, backed by a full choir, for a seated audience, at a self-described "multimedia art cabaret." Does this strike anyone else as the ultimate in prog-rocker bullshit?

Bombastic as it is to work with a live choir/orchestra/whatever, I'm sure some bands could pull it off. Maybe Emperor? The Body, however, is not one of them. Indeed, these guys are pretty much the ultimate emperor-has-no-clothes band. Their songs aren't "monolithic," unless we are talking about a monolith of pure suck. They repeat dumbed-down sludge riffs ad infinitum in hopes that with each new repetition, they gain profundity... They are mistaken. I don't mind listening to the same part for minutes on end, it just better be a cool one. This is the kind of songwriting that impresses people who have never heard a metal riff before. It's sure to amaze NPR commentators.

The Body take that soporific songwriting, throw it over some appropriately ponderous drumming, and slather it in tons of exciting "extras." These include totally innovative original artistic things like: samples of people quoting lines of well-known Romantic poetry, ominous piano, weird scary voices, hissing ambient noises, etc. In short, everything that has ever been used as stupid filler in between tracks on a metal album. Except it's this album's central gimmick.

The choir is just another part of this mess, another part of the busy mix, another empty signifier of "artistic depth" or some bullshit. It's not as if the choral lines add a new dimension of melody, or even do anything particularly interesting as harmonies--they're either simple repeated phrases, as inane as the riffs, or dissonant scary chords just hanging out. The choir is there to be a choir, to remind you that The Body are the kind of band who use choirs.

The people who defend this band like to say "I know it can't hold your attention on headphones, but you have to experience it live! It's soooo loud!" Heavy is not the same thing as loud. Heavy comes from the notes you play and the way you play them. I can put some Iron Maiden on laptop speakers and it's still a whole hell of a lot heavier than this degenerate garbage.

Too often, people cry "pretentious!" to dismiss music for being heartfelt, imaginative, or genuinely ambitious. This is a horrible misuse of the word... Pretension isn't about doing something that makes cool people uncomfortable, it's about pretending, putting on airs, trying to be something that you're not. If The Body aren't pretentious as all get out, the word has no meaning.

They really do have a great guitar tone, I just wish they'd write some metal with it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sepultura slips even further into sheer irrelevancy

Oh boy. I'm starting to think that as any major band metal band reaches a terminal point of suck in their career, they become more and more receptive to the idea of working with an orchestra in live performances. Metallica's infamous misstep is the most obvious, but there are others out there, and Sepultura's is just the last gasp of a band that no one's been listening to for a decade now.

The idea of a metal band working with an orchestra is dumb and pointless but theoretically workable. More importantly than that, though, it's marketable. To the average person, the mere presence of an orchestra suggests sophistication and an artistic aim beyond what you might ordinarily see from a metal band- ignore, for a moment, how Sepultura's been doing some of the dumbest, most meatheaded metalcore in the world for years now and you could almost think they have ambition.

I really hope no one's dumb enough to fall for this stuff these days.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Review: Ravengod - Battle Metal

This is the first of many posts on obscure or underappreciated Scandinavian black metal from the 90s. The well-known bands from the Second Wave are famous for a reason, no doubt about it, but if you dig deeper you'll find that there are a ton of amazing albums by one-off projects, garage bands, and more established outfits who were making music too uncompromising or weird to get the attention they deserved. Very little of it fits what has become the stereotypical "second wave sound," which is really just a combination of the least interesting parts of Darkthrone and Burzum. We would do well to listen and learn.

Many black metal albums fortify the sense of self. Battle Metal annhilates it. Ravengod leads us down a deer-path into the heart of the woods, where the berserker steps from the world of men into the realm of beasts and spirits. The guitars resound like the ram's horn, whipping us into a frenzy where forms and boundaries dissolve. There's a reason these tracks are untitled.

I have no way of knowing this for sure, but Ravengod sounds a lot like a Scandinavian response to Graveland, injecting "Thousand Swords" with extreme speed and some really dissonant riffing. It's totally Second Wave, but doesn't sound like anything else I've ever heard. If anything, it anticipates Hate Forest by several years.

You know they mean business because the album starts with a breakdown. Not a "chugga chugga" breakdown, but a slamming, syncopated power-chord riff over rolling, roiling drums. It opens out into a highly melodic theme over fierce blasting, and this alternates with the first part for a while. Throughout, there's one guitar droning on the root note, and it gives the song a strange harmonic color...every note is pushing and pulling against the drone. This reminds me of old, old folk music, adding to the deeply pagan atmosphere. At 2:55, everything cuts out, and we hear the sick riff they've been saving for the end. It's simultaneously consonant and dissonant, in the style of bands like Immortal and Sorhin. This mastery of harmony sets Ravengod apart from most other bands creating self-consciously raw black metal...the riffs are always compelling and surreal.

That first track pretty much sets you up for the rest of the demo, which is, if anything, faster and more extreme. The vocals are retching raven croaks in the vein of Abbath and Darken that sound like they really hurt to produce. They occasionally break out into weird chanting and spontaneous hardcore-like yells. The production is extremely buzzy and thin, but not excessively trebly. You can hear the bass, and it's important to the music.

You will be missing something if you listen to this with headphones at your computer. The mix is very quiet, so it sounds best when you turn it up loud and let it expand to fill a real physical space. Also, stand up. Bang your head, flail around, raise the mighty Claw to the moon. Ravengod wants you to give yourself over to the soul-slaying power of Odin. Who are you to refuse the call?

Now that I've told you about the actual music, I'll tell you that it's the one-man side project of Taake's Hoest, dating back to 1996. It seems he needed an outlet for some totally gonzo shit that didn't really fit with his main band's melodic and stately vibe. I've never really understood Taake. I think Hoest should've stuck with Ravengod instead.

Buy this album on Amazon

Get into: Fungoid Stream

Funeral doom is essentially a garbage genre. There are numerous extremely talented funeral doom artists but far more hangers-on who heard a Remembrance album and thought "Hey, I can do that too!" It's a necessary evil of the style: funeral doom is hardly technically demanding, and just about anyone with a month of experience on guitar can bust out any funeral doom riff or lead. More egregiously, though, the funeral doom scene itself has almost no quality control. Since funeral doom is stylistically nearly impossible to fuck up, the worst material just tends towards the mediocre, which makes separating the signal from the noise a dicey prospect.

However, there are a few bright lights out there, and Argentina's Fungoid Stream is one of them. It's up in the air whether all the instruments in Fungoid Stream's music are synthesized (including the guitar and bass), but it really doesn't matter when the sheer compositional elegance of this band is such a wonder to behold. Fungoid Stream makes Lovecraft-inspired funeral doom much like Thergothon did, but with a very different, wandering, nearly ambient take on the idea. Their sound is unique, unquantifiable, and always fascinating.

Thergothon used Lovecraft's imagery to evoke a sort of cosmic despair and dread: the knowledge that you're a tiny fragment of dust compared to the size and power of the rest of the universe. They did songs about endless rituals, sparse landscapes, and perpetual, dark mysticism. Fungoid Stream on the other hand seems much less concerned with human emotions. Their songs are simply wandering, ethereal descriptions of places and things beyond mortal comprehension. Calling this funeral doom is almost doing them a disservice: they quite frankly sound so different from anything else in the genre that they stand alone.

Distorted guitars are pushed far into the background and the programmed drums ignore any conventional rhythmic sense, echoing and cracking out into the void of the sparse, digital production while delicate clean guitars and choral synths slowly waltz through the movements of a given track. Every instrument, even the vocals, sounds glassy and fragile, like the slowness of the music is necessary so everything won't simply shatter. Listening to a Fungoid Stream album is like feeling your corpse get carried down a river towards the ocean. There's nothing in the world like it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Peter Steele is dead

I saw Type O Negative once. I think it was 2007. They were headlining with Celtic Frost opening (yeah, I was lucky). Celtic Frost was amazing- 'Monotheist' had just come out and the band was reinterpreting all their old tracks with their new slower, heavier sound. Honestly, after that I wasn't sure that Type O Negative could match up. But then they came out- old as fuck, so many miles collectively on them- and proceeded to decimate the show. Impossibly heavy, instrumentally perfect, and performing with a passion absent from almost any other metal band I've seen, it was absolutely a moment to remember.

It's very strange knowing that the haughty New Yorker I saw on stage then is dead now. Really, when Steele was announced dead, I wasn't particularly saddened or torn up over the future of the band. I was just surprised. Steele, partly due to his self-presentation and partly due to simply being who he was, always seemed like a sort of monolithic figure. He'd been making incredible music long before I was born and long after, and really the very idea that he of all people could die seemed absolutely impossible. It still does- has it really been a year now?

Type O Negative occupied an odd space in the metal scene, both as being one of the only full-fledged goth bands to attain real legitimacy as well as a sort of idle side commentator to the metal scene as a whole. Type O Negative wasn't a band frequently on the metal scene's collective mind- they would come out with a new album now and then which received rave reviews and massive fan support, but then they would recede back into the shadows, content with no real self-promotion or ambition towards celebrity. It also made Steele's death that much more surprising and bizarre. Dio was one thing- he was old and he was such a huge titan that his eventual fall was something natural and logical. But Steele? Steele was like an old, worn stone statue. It weathers from day to day, but you never expect to come to the courtyard and find it absent.

The most impressive thing about Steele above and beyond his prodigious songwriting ability was the sheer intelligence of the man. There are plenty of intelligent metal musicians out there, but most of them still just seem to be intelligent within the system of society and scene. Steele attained an almost zen-like transcendence of all that, appearing to be one of the few major musicians out there (similar to, coincidentally enough, Tom Warrior) who really pierced the veil and saw reality for what it was. Steele chopped through moronic questions in interviews like firewood with a staunch, completely legitimate lack of concern for how he was viewed by others. A lot of musicians can talk a good game, but Steele had an edge to him. He was never one to make grand, sweeping philosophical statements, but his bullshit detector was powerful and that came through in his music.

Type O Negative (as well as the earlier Carnivore) was a supremely honest and mature band. Musically, they reinterpreted rock music within a metal framework, making songs that were catchy but deep and nuanced, possessing equal parts grandeur and attention to detail alongside spectacular variation. They could go from a massive doom dirge like 'White Slavery' to the nearly poppy 'Everyone I Love Is Dead' without even a stylistic hiccup. Lyrically, they were on a completely different plane of reality from almost all other bands. Type O Negative was unique in the metal scene in the sheer reality of what their songs portrayed. Metal is hugely couched in fantasy or reality through metaphor, but Type O Negative simply wrote songs about the small, almost inconsequential fragments of reality that tear men apart every day. Drug addiction, failed relationships, existential crises, all were fair game and at no point did it feel the like the band was passing judgment, condescending, or just going through the motions.

When I saw Type O Negative in concert, probably 70% of the crowd appeared to be made up of dead-eyed goth girls and their gormless boyfriends dragged along for the ride. They wandered around the outdoor area in front of the stage, aimlessly clapping and cheering, until 'Black No. 1' invariably popped up in the set list, to which they showed enthusiastic support. After that? Right back to the aimlessness and checking of cell phones. I can only imagine how depressed Steele must have been, seeing that this was his audience. A band known for deeply personal, heartfelt songs was being carried by a whole group of people who didn't even know they were cheering for a track that was a direct parody of them in particular.

That's probably the most important thing to remember about Peter Steele. For all his intelligence, dry wit, and incisive wisdom, he'll probably be remembered for the least important things about him. If you loved the band, dust off your old copy of 'World Coming Down' and put it on. I guarantee you'll find something just as haunting, beautiful, and real as the day it was released. And I guarantee that it's going to mean something to you and only you.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Get into: All Pigs Must Die

I was going to do my first post on some black metal but Noktorn beat me to it, so instead I'm going to geek out at you about one of my new favorite bands. I could start this review like every other thing I've read on the internet--by telling you they're a "supergroup" and then listing all their names and instruments. But fuck that, look it up yourself.

I have to confess, the first thing that struck me about All Pigs Must Die was the image... A hardcore band named after a Death In June song? Album art of a ferocious wolf, Algiz on its forehead, chowing down on the cheap trinkets of Abrahamic religion? This sounded great to me. But then I wondered whether this was just a superficial reference, an attempt to cash in on the recent wave of neofolk namedropping. "Well," I thought, "I'll have to actually listen to this band in order to form an opinion!"

Fortunately, the music owns. The following is based on their self-titled EP and a bruising live show at Union Pool in Brooklyn (4/2/11).

APMD get tagged as metallic d-beat, but I think the label kinda misses the mark, and obscures what is so amazing about these guys (and about Discharge). As the sound of Discharge ossified into its own subgenre, it lost one of the things that made it so great--brute force. There was a real sense of bodily violence in the music, a compression. It came not just from sick riffs, but from the way one riff always set you up to be absolutely crushed by the other. The choruses usually worked like breakdowns, even when the d-beat continued underneath. Successive bands, especially those in the vein of Swedish and Japanese hardcore, kind of lost this--the d-beat became constant throughout every track, and the riffing became an unbroken chain of syncopated chords. The music came to depend entirely on the coolness of the individual riffs.

APMD really understand how Discharge worked, so rather than attempting to imitate the superficial markers of the Discharge style, they set out to do the same thing. They do, indeed, wield the power of the d-beat, but they actually amplify it by setting it off against absolutely neck-snapping breakdowns, fluid thrash riffing, and implacable walls of blastbeating. APMD truly dance, constantly shifting riffs in a way that augments the continuous flow of force.

The effect? Their songs surge forward like a crush of bodies in close combat, pushing to and fro but never ceasing the relentless advance, never ceasing the constant life-wrecking grind of sword on shield on spear on flesh. This is some of the most physical music I have ever heard. In sound and spirit, this has as much in common with Spearhead as with Ringworm. You really want brutal? Fuck your "bestial black metal," fuck your trendy Entombed clone bands, fuck your entire collection of vegan anarcho-grind. Listen to APMD, and GET IN THE PIT.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Review: Throndt - Throndt

Throndt's sole full-length album is a wonderful one for some very odd reasons. It's not as though it's a particularly unique piece of music: the style contained is about as traditional and monochromatic as its art. I mean, it's not as though the members were unaware that a book is often judged by its cover. It's clear that they weren't particularly concerned by the possibility.

Throndt plays a fairly folky, distinctly Germanic variety of black metal. The folk influence is purely in the melodic sense of the music- there's no goofy-ass Korpiklaani bullshit to be found anywhere. Throndt is more in the vein of Bak De Syv Fjell, though decidedly more nondescript in their delivery. Sculpted heavily from early Darkthrone, early Burzum, and other stalwarts of the Norwegian scene, Throndt still never gets quite as grim and misanthropic as those bands since their sound is so heavily tempered by the omnipresent folk influences- just as the music seems to be getting too churning and dissonant for its own good, a folk melody will blast out of the guitars and the motion of the song will be kept.

What makes this such a remarkable release are those folk elements and what they do to the music. Though Throndt has all the trappings of traditional black metal- thin production, an emphasis on blasts and tremolo riffs, and a goblinlike vocal performance- they're executed in a distinctly different way. The folk influences on this record aren't the meandering, pensive passages of other bands, but tremendous bursts of enthusiasm, tempered just enough to make them congruous with the sound as a whole. Some of the riffs on this release are positively joyful- the melodic sense of this album reflects a youthful enthusiasm and energy. Throndt plays around with darker, more brooding riffs before playfully jumping to something more major key and celebratory. Throndt's music has a tendency to flitter: from major to minor key, from mechanical blast to popping, energetic thrash beat, and from the sinister to the enthusiastic with no concern as to whether any individual element sounds 'appropriate' for black metal.

Even the brief acoustic tracks which dot the record are of a similar nature; these interludes can be pensive and introspective (like much folk-influenced black metal), but just as often they're celebratory and, dare I say it, fun. The youthfulness and joy of this album is its most distinct element, and in general it conveys a childlike playfulness. Listening to this album makes me think of the time I spent as a kid in my town's little forests with my friends, making up stories, having swordfights with sticks, and imagining that every day was a huge adventure and the next would be even better. Is it the darkest black metal release I've ever heard? Certainly not, but it's totally genuine and massively in tune with the real nature of the genre in a way that most albums sorely lack.

I think this is what black metal was always meant to be: energetic, celebratory, and full of wonder and fear. Throndt makes zero effort to be true and as a result ends up truer than nearly any band that grasps towards such an idea. Forget Liturgy and whatever other ideologically-motivated crap is circling the metal scene these days: if you want to hear legitimately transcendental black metal, Throndt is one of the few out there who ever made it.

Buy this album on Amazon

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A manifesto

Trial By Ordeal has no desire to cover the new Iced Earth leak. Trial By Ordeal doesn't care about what Dave Mustaine thinks about Satan. Trial By Ordeal thinks your new project sucks and doesn't want to do a split CDr with you.

Trial By Ordeal is an attempt to bring metal back to what it should be from where it is now. In a scene that is becoming increasingly obsessed with meaningless and trite displays of image over content, pseudo-intellectual ruminations on transcendence of genre, and an inevitable deathmarch towards mainstream accessibility and concessions to popular taste, this blog is designed to reclaim the elements that brought us to metal in the first place: brutality, darkness, extremity, creativity, intelligence, and a distinct, all-consuming lack of concern over the perceptions of others.

We're going to be covering a wide range of extreme sounds centering on metal but also diverting into grind, ambient, noise, and other styles of music. Trial By Ordeal will contain reviews, interviews, essays, and any number of other features we feel like at the moment. We have little to no interest in the latest Nuclear Blast or Century Media releases (apart from making fun of them): Trial By Ordeal is for the underground, by the underground. If you desperately want to find out our opinions on the newest retro-thrash act, assume that it sucks every time.

Posts are daily. Enjoy.