Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review: Darkthrone - The Cult is Alive

Of all the albums I have encountered in the metal scene, I don't think there's one which inspires more hypocritical and irrational defenses than this one: "The Cult is Alive," the album which announced Darkthrone's final, biggest sellout. This is, for all intents and purposes, Darkthrone's "Load" or "Cold Lake." Attempting to justify it on any sort of artistic level is not just myopic but completely laughable. Not only is it one of the most ideologically and artistically bankrupt stylistic shifts in the history of metal, but on its own terms, "The Cult is Alive" is a truly awful, unlistenable album that anyone in their right mind should disown without a second thought. When someone says that they think "Transilvanian Hunger" is a bad album, it's one of the few opinions I hear that make me massively rethink the musical intelligence of the person I'm speaking to. Approval for this album works in much the same way.

I don't find this album so shameful due to thinking that it somehow murdered Darkthrone's career- hardly. Darkthrone had been making basically irrelevant, disposable music for a full decade before "The Cult is Alive" dropped; it's not as though this album (or any of its followers) are taking the place of some sort of mythical "Under A Funeral Moon" part two which would otherwise have been crafted. No- Darkthrone's been pretty much artistically done for a long fucking time, so don't ever think that I'm complaining about a particular loss due to this album's failure. But the crucial element to remember is that even though all those fairly bland, generic black metal albums did very little artistically, they were legitimate pieces; at no point do I think that an album like "Ravishing Grimness," mediocre as it might be, is a cynical play on the metal scene's standards, a cash grab, a resignation to irrelevance, or anything else as shameful. Even at their worst, before "The Cult is Alive," Darkthrone were always TRYING- even on something excruciating and half-assed like "Goatlord," there was a certain zeal to the music. And herein lies the difference: "The Cult is Alive" is the sound of Darkthrone getting old, fat, comfortable, and smug. It's a transparent fuck-you to the metal scene, and even more disappointingly, is an instance of the band willfully vomiting on their own legacy.

The party to blame for all this, though, is Fenriz. Much in the same way that Morbid Angel's latest excretion was dissected in order to assign proper blame, I've taken a look at the (admittedly smaller cast of characters) involved in this macabre dance, and Fenriz is quite clearly the snake's head manufacturing this horror. To be perfectly fair: Fenriz has always, to a greater or lesser degree, been the public voice of Darkthrone. Nocturno Culto, for all his contributions to the band, has really always been content to rest in the background of the band's natural celebrity status, leaving Fenriz out front to soak up much of the glory and attention. Unfortunately, I think "The Cult is Alive" signifies the exact moment where Fenriz began to believe his own hype. Always an abrasive, sarcastic, somewhat tactless character in the past, Fenriz' attitude regarding Darkthrone's musical shift isn't exactly an entirely new phenomenon, but the sheer degree of his pig-headedness, arrogance, and obsessively self-congratulatory posturing most certainly is. All the more remarkable given the band's madogiwa zoku status in the metal scene, but I'll let that aspect slide.

Half a decade after its release, you've likely heard this already, but I feel the need to clarify some of the (in my mind) massively misguided points made about this album by many critics. The most glaring and crucial: this is not crust-infused. This does not have substantial crust influence, it is not a hybrid of crust and metal, and it's certainly not a straightforward crust punk album, as some have somehow managed to express. I'm not entirely sure what sort of music those describing this album as such have been listening to, but "The Cult is Alive" quite simply doesn't sound like crust punk. I don't hear a trace of Amebix anywhere on here- no Discharge, nothing else from the d-beat category, and certainly none of the more brackish crust bands who would go on to influence grindcore. The d-beats, simple, strummed riffs, and somewhat punky vocal delivery that litter this album do not on their own make this crust punk, and even when isolated on their own are not particularly similar to crust. I'm sure my reiteration of this is tedious, but it's equally tedious to see people express with such conviction that this is somehow in the same pantheon as Siege or something. It's not.

Which I suppose begs the question of what this is, if not crust punk. Well, while I wouldn't describe this as crust, punk is a fair enough descriptive term- or "punky," rather. Not a particularly intense or savage variety of punk either- apart from the d-beats and occasionally more aggressive riffing or drumming, this doesn't even substantially sound like old hardcore (which early Darkthrone did much better.) Many moments on this disc remind me more of the Sex Pistols than Black Flag. More overt than the punk, though, and probably the more substantial influence, is plain and simple rock and roll. Cut from the same cloth as Motörhead's more restrained moments and beefed up with the sort of Celtic Frostisms the band cribbed from way back in the "A Blaze in the Northern Sky" days, the bulk of this music has more in common with rock than any sort of metal, much less black metal itself. All the black metal on this release really comes out through aesthetics and not through composition: buzzy guitar tones, rasping vocals, and simplified drumming. Strip away the distortion, though, and what are you left with? Something even remotely comparable to "black metal" proper? Of course not.

But all this idle chatter about how to classify "The Cult is Alive" is ultimately meaningless, as simply "being black metal" is not an indicator of quality or value, nor is rock influence necessarily the death knell for those either. But even when taken on its own, devoid of the influence of the scene, the band's history, or Fenriz' attitude regarding the music, "The Cult is Alive" still manages to be despicably lazy, inarticulate, and bland. The truly amazing thing about this album isn't just that it's an utter sellout, openly capitalizing on hipsters migrating into black metal in droves, but that it manages to suck so badly from a simple craftsman's perspective. None of this music is interesting, stylish, or even merely catchy: in addition to failing as art, it fails miserably as entertainment, which only serves to make the whole package more shameful.

Astute writers have noted that, pound for pound, most of the musical techniques on this album aren't especially new for Darkthrone- really, it's more a matter of what's been removed. Complex melodies with unusual chord shapes- gone. Thrash beats and tremolo riffs- gone. Any sort of variation from track to track: especially gone. "The Cult is Alive" basically relies on a handful of very simple riff paradigms: uptempo, punky strumming, slower open chord chug arrangements (ala "In the Shadow of the Horns,") and the very, very occasional dip into some traditional black metal arrangements, such as on "De Underjordiske (Ælia Capitolina)." Unsurprisingly, when Darkthrone goes in a more substantially black metal direction (like on that track,) the music becomes at least somewhat tolerable. Not great, not interesting, but listenable enough that it doesn't bother you. Unfortunately, this sort of thing is the exception rather than the rule, and for the most part Darkthrone are content to swim around in a fetid pool of rock-based drumming, awful guest vocal spots by Fenriz, and an array of half-assed punk/rock/metal riffs which somehow manage to all sound identical to each other. Nothing conveys anything on this album; the songs just exist to be themselves.

Again, if this album appeared to have effort put into its construction, I wouldn't be as horribly frustrated by it as I am. But the reality is that you can clearly tell through the songwriting that these tracks were rushed out, slapped together, and barely looked over before recording. From a technical perspective, the songs are flawed: riffs transition into each other extremely awkwardly, and rhythms tend to interchange with no real subtlety or flair for organic development. While the obvious, simple alternation of riffs is a pattern that Darkthrone did great things with in the past, in those cases the riffs went together naturally and created a greater sense of the song's structure. On this album, riffs just go into other riffs regardless of how they might flow together because there's no greater sense of interaction between parts. Darkthrone are simply firmly aware that with enough style, attitude, and brand recognition, they can coast through basically anything without criticism- I mean, who's going to bother leveling the barrel at Darkthrone, after all?

And herein lies the truly odious, repugnant part of this album: the adolescent transparency of Darkthrone's goals and the fans who will eagerly lap it up. Even bothering to rebut the points of defense for this album would be dignifying it too much, but those points themselves are enormously indicative of the sort of audience that Darkthrone has decided to attract with this sort of music. Numerous (generally idiotic) people like to say that what Darkthrone is doing here is "authentic black metal," because they're displaying that "they don't give a fuck about anything." Well, I'm sure that's neat when you're thirteen and still gazing slack-jawed at the cover for "Butchered at Birth," but after then, you should have some standards. Yes, that general statement is ideologically in line with black metal- it's supposed to be a genre about independence, a rebellious and romantic perspective on life, and a distaste for "the crowd," whatever that may be. But is Darkthrone's "response" to the perception that black metal has become its own crowd really logical? Becoming a part of another crowd that's just as arbitrary but even more ironic about their appreciation?

More disturbing than this are the large numbers of people (who typically don't listen to metal) discussing this and later Darkthrone albums as being superior to their early work, or even the first Darkthrone material which has appealed to them at all. Now I'm the sort of person who rabidly defends "low culture" as being no less significant than "high culture," but this hipster elevation of beer-swilling, inarticulate, plastic rebellion is nothing short of ludicrous. "Low culture" and its relevance rely on authenticity- and what authenticity is there in summarily disowning the genre you helped create (and the records which brought you all your artistic credibility) in order to grasp at some sort of blue collar aesthetic which is as far removed from your artistic roots as possible? Really? This is what passes for authentic these days- abandoning nearly two decades of incisive, sardonic commentary on life, youthful passion and vigor, and a clear ambition to make something beautiful, compelling, and truly artistic in order to do songs like "Graveyard Slut?" Of course not- it's an embarrassing defense mechanism constructed by people who are afraid their friends will think less of them for listening to an album called "Under a Funeral Moon" without the appropriate level of ironic detachment.

Over the past half decade, "The Cult is Alive," just as much as Velvet Cacoon, Wolves in the Throne Room, or Amesoeurs, has been responsible for bringing a whole sect of people into black metal whose appreciation for the genre begins and ends at how much it can resemble something else. "The Cult is Alive" simply did it in the opposite way as Clair Cassis does today: instead of flattering the sensibilities of a person who wants to listen to black metal without any of the abrasive things that define it, this album constructed a false narrative of blue collar authenticity for those who like to "be metal" on the weekends. "The Cult is Alive" is the musical equivalent of the phone call a trust-fund anarchist makes to his parents to get more rent money: shameless, embarrassing, pathetic, and dishonest beyond belief. Darkthrone not only murdered their legacy with this album, but managed to dig a shiv into the side of black metal itself out of petty resentment for the very community who helped make them who they are. I always knew that albums like "Age of Winters" would always exist- I just never expected the well to be poisoned from within.

Buy this album on Amazon

Monday, August 29, 2011

Touche Amore - And Now It's Happening In Mine

These guys are what screamo was before it became a catchphrase for hairspray emo with "metal" riffs. Saw them last week opening for Converge at a free House of Vans show. I briefly met the singer, Jeremy, while I was waiting in line outside the venue, and he was exactly the kind of super-friendly, earnest dude you'd expect to front a band like this. I'd never heard Touche Amore before, but I got really into their set, fistpumping like an old fan. They gave it their all, to the point that Jeremy's voice was clearly giving out. And the crowd gave back. I have never seen so many people singing along to every word. When he put down the mic and let the kids sing, you could hear the words clearly. Even if emotionally raw, Smiths-referencing post-hardcore is not your thing, you gotta concede it's pretty damn cool when music means that much to people. I, for one, am glad this kind of sound is coming back, and that great bands like Touche Amore are doing the back-bringing. Oh and they came on at the end and did some vocals with Converge. Badass.

Unrelated show highlight: Seeing a dazed, goggle-eyed Hunter Hunt-Hendrix staggering around the edges of the circle pit, obviously high off his ass on weed or some kind of hippie hallucinogen. He was wearing two braided pigtails. Laughed my ass off.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Review: Alastor - Ceremonies of Ancient Wisdom (NEW WRITER!)

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the first post by new TBO contributor TheCount. This dude's been following the blog since day one, and he's one of Noktorn's online metal bros. He "gets it," for real. I'm proud to have him alongside us. For more info on our expanding lineup, see the "Manifesto Part II" post I just wrote, below. - Pavel

This is terrible but it's really hard to hate it. If you have any appreciation for Eastern European NSBM then this is just something you have to hear, as it is pretty much the perfect representation of the style. A very high-pitched, screechy vocalist sears over very poorly recorded, poorly played semi-directionless folk riffs of the building, epic variety. A super obvious drum machine rattles out war beats beneath it and synths seep in and out as intros and interludes.

Don't like NSBM? Then avoid. Every stereotype is examplified here. Super raw, trebly production? Check. High raspy vocals? Check. High end dominance with distinct lack of bass? Check. Very amateur playing and poor timing? Check. Propaganda lyrics? Check. Epic, mystical Zelda interludes? Check. The list goes on and on. It's cheap, unprofessional, cliched, predictable and sometimes quite silly.

Why can't I hate it? Because they're so damned passionate about it. It has the same quality as Absurd's early demos, where passion alone endured where playing, composing and recording did not. It's so cliched that it's fascinating, hearing so many of these tried and true NSBM riffs, some of them actually quite neat and chilling. I'd never put this and the well crafted works of Dub Buk and Fullmoon on the same level, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't find some of these riffs kind of cool, and the ambient interludes especially. And the riffs are just about indistinct enough to keep this sounding like a brand new album every time you play it.

I can't exactly say that this is good (most NSBM, besides a few key artists, is pretty terrible) but if you love black metal as much as I do this is a worthwhile curiosity, especially if you've never heard NSBM before and want a good example of how the average demo sounds.

Manifesto Part II, and New Writers

Trial By Ordeal has come a long way since mid-April, and for that we have to thank our readers. It's been very cool to see a sort of TBO community develop, with a core group of people leaving long and thoughtful comments. We wanted this blog to be a space where like-minded readers could have serious discussions about music, rather than just namedropping or arguing, and so far it's been more successful than we could have hoped for. Cheers, dudes!

We started Trial By Ordeal with rather lofty ambitions, and we haven't abandoned them. Indeed, as we've been doing it we've gotten a better idea of what it is we actually do, and where we want it to go. I see TBO less as a clearinghouse for opinions or a source for "new bands," and more as a kind of curatorial project, an effort by Noktorn and myself to promote a particular set of ideals for extreme music. We do this, of course, by sharing bands we love and pissing on those we despise. But there's a theoretical side to it, too. In our reviews and features, we're not just telling you what we think of a band, we're trying to reveal a little bit about how music works and what it means (or how it should work and what it should mean).

But as you've probably seen, we're not just about music, strictly speaking. Extreme metal and hardcore punk--as well as the goth and the neofolk and the who knows what else--come with their own ways of seeing the world and living in it, and we're interested in trying to articulate our own takes on the ethos that ties us to the music we love. We do our best to live it, and we want y'all to live it too. And to call bullshit on us if you see fit. Ultimately, we want this site to be not just about extreme music, but about extreme living. We want TBO to be a resource and a rallying place for people who really feel this shit. In that spirit, we hope to continue diversifying the kind of stuff we post, and the kinds of art and culture we cover. And sometime this fall I will start putting on TBO showcases in Brooklyn, booking the sort of gnarly underground bands we rep on the site.

As for the near term: Noktorn and I have been giving it our all for the past few months, and it's been pretty fucking tiring. There've been times when work and personal things have made it hard for us to post as much as we'd like, especially since we take this writing seriously and do our best to bring you well-written, thoughtful posts. If this were just about us sharing our thoughts, that might be ok, but as I've said above, this is about championing sick new sounds and, above all, changing the way people think about underground extreme music. We want to take over, and then reign with a fucking iron first. And to do that, we need help.

So, we're bringing on some new writers who are committed to the TBO project. Noktorn has reached out to one of his trusty metal comrades, who's just written his first post as TheCount. And I've already started getting in touch with some regular commenters who seem to be on our wavelength. I can say now that the mysterious commenter known as B is down to write, but I have a few other emails to send. And if you want to get involved, by all means get in touch. You're even welcome to send us one-off contributions, though we can't guarantee we'll accept them. Noktorn and I will keep posting regularly, around 3 times a week each, and we'll retain some sort of loose editorial authority (at least for now).

Hail brothers! Onward into countless battles!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Your identity is constructed by your body, not your mind

I felt like taking the time to write another one of our patented non-metal metal posts, again about a more philosophical/psychological issue that might resonate with some of you reading this. In this case, I wanted to talk a little bit about identity and how it's formed- definitely the sort of question you see brought up here and there in the metal scene. How many threads on metal forums have you seen like this: "Are you a metalhead?" "What's real black metal?"

Well? Are you a metalhead?

The answer to the question's always seemed pretty clear to me: yes, you are. A metalhead is, at its most base level, a person that listens to heavy metal music. If you listen to heavy metal music, you are a metalhead. You don't get to redefine what a metalhead is, you don't get to rationalize that you're not even if you do listen to heavy metal- you simply are. If you want to change that, you don't change it by repeatedly stating that you aren't, in fact, a metalhead- you do it by not listening to metal.

As western culture has become more and more infatuated with choice, individuality, and simple statements of identity, it has become more and more distant from the idea of identity arising from itself, growing organically from the decisions a person makes and the actions they take in life. Look, for instance, at modern views of gender: all that's required for me to state that I am, in fact, female, is to say that I am. There are no qualifiers, there's no demands or guidelines as to what female is, hell, there's not even a concept of authenticity in the statement itself. It becomes a matter of self-definition: because I state what I am, everyone around me is forced to appreciate it, because the self is the inherent end of all things.

Unfortunately, this does not functionally work in everyday society, and acting as though one can be self-defined through cognition alone points to a massive sort of cognitive dissonance. You can tell the people who act this way from others because they suggest that all sorts of things are outside themselves. For instance, if such a person is caught shoplifting in a store, they will repeatedly state that "Yes, I did that, but I'm really not that sort of person." But you are, aren't you? You shoplifted, thus -> you are a shoplifter. You don't get to make the acceptance of that title a matter of your own decision-making- you do it by no longer shoplifting if you don't want to be considered a shoplifter by the people around you.

The refusal to allow identity to grow from one's own actions points to a few things in a human's personality:

1. Immense dissatisfaction with the self. People who are unable to accept the choices they've made that lead to titles and descriptions that they dislike are those who seek to redefine themselves manually. By describing themselves repeatedly as a certain kind of person, they truly believe that this will make them that ideal- of course, this is an inevitable recipe for self-loathing and intense personal dissatisfaction, which is the road to crippling depression and a deranged, dissociated sense of self. The solution to this: let your actions state by themselves what sort of person you are. If you do that, you'll never have any trouble knowing your own identity.

2. An extreme degree of selfishness and self-centeredness. On top of a need to control one's own identity, these people also firmly believe that they're CAPABLE of determining their own identity. The biggest lie we tell ourselves on a daily basis is that we don't care how others perceive us; this is fine, but it becomes a problem when we refuse to face the reality that others' perceptions have a great impact on our own lives. The narcissistic types who believe they can self-determine identity staunchly refuse to believe this, and are firmly convinced that anyone with a different view of who they are are simply ignorant or misguided. Why this ends up being destructive doesn't need to be elaborated upon.

3. This sort of thinking creates an inability to change. When one's own thought processes usurp one's actions in their relative importance, this sort of person makes their whole life about cognitively identifying and reidentifying themselves rather than taking steps to actually change what they do. As this pattern becomes more and more firmly ingrained in the person, their narcissistic obsession with self-identification slowly takes over their lives, forcing a person into desperately affirming that they're okay when they and those around them know that there's something deeply wrong with them.

Self-identifying is okay when it comes in the pursuit of actual change; after all, to stop being an alcoholic, one has to redefine themselves as the sort of person who doesn't drink anymore. However, after that affirmation must come immediate action, or the affirmation itself spirals out of control and becomes poisonous to one's own goals. I'll paraphrase another writer: "Never tell anyone else what you're doing, or they'll encourage you to death." The only thing I would add to that statement is to never tell yourself, either.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Do I look like I give a FUCK!? - The Extremely Rotten Tour Diaries - Part 2

"We're going to take you on an adventure."
"Really. What kind of adventure."
"...A MAGICAL one..."

Symbolic arrived around 6 in the morning, much to my distaste as I was shaken awake way too early from my furtive sleep on a couch that probably six hundred people had sex on at one point or another. There's no functional shower at the Blue Hole apart from a hose, so opportunities to get clean are slim to none- most of the time we'd just not even bother, or grab showers at the places of friends with proper houses. Sleeping on ratty-ass couches isn't great for your health, nor is a constant supply of fast food and distinct lack of hygiene, but when you're too busy trying to figure out who you're in a band with, none of those seem like a high priority.

But yeah, the guys from Symbolic. They drove down from Maryland in a single 12 hour (give or take) stretch and looked like they were ready to die when they walked in the door. Symbolic (more properly known as Symbolic Tribute, but all their merch just says Symbolic... who knows) are a Death cover band- more importantly, they're a really GOOD Death cover band. I've never heard a group kick out Death tracks in a more note-for-note perfect representation than these guys. Covering at least a single track off every album, the material is varied and exciting, even for someone like me who isn't a great fan of Death. A quick rundown of the members:

Leo aka Lil' Chuck - Guitarist and vocalist. Small, sleepy looking, and with an incredibly thick Bogota accent, he's a quiet and rather unassuming character best known for his completely horrific style of driving. Seriously, never get into a car with him. Nothing good will happen. He can cook eggs like a motherfucker, though.

Tom - Lead guitarist. The oldest member of Symbolic at around 40, Tom is actually a solo prog/shred musician who's also a music professor down in Colombia. His English is pretty dire, but he's one of the most unfailingly cheerful and friendly people I've ever met- and also one of the greatest guitarists I've ever seen. Definitely a remarkable one. The only member who was flown in from Colombia specifically for this tour.

Juan aka Princessa - Drummer. Young, rich, kind of spoiled, but ultimately a good guy. Referred to almost exclusively as "Princessa" because he always acts like a princess; takes forever to get ready to go somewhere, never carries his own stuff, and just generally acts like, well, a spoiled Colombian kid. Still a friendly and cool guy, but definitely aggravating from time to time.

Corey - Bassist. The only gringo in Symbolic, filling in when no one else could. A straightforward, well-rounded, friendly guy who I got tight with pretty quickly. Takes a bit of time to warm up, but after a while, one of the easiest people in the world to get along with.

When you're meeting another band on tour who you've never had any contact with before, it's a weirdly delicate process. It's not like meeting someone at a party; there, you can fuck up and there's no real repercussions- you don't have to see them again and you're not relying on them for anything. When you meet another band, though, you come at it understanding that you're going to have to be around these guys pretty much constantly for two weeks as well as rely on them for support if anything goes horribly wrong. When you meet each other, you sort of circle around each other like wolves sizing each other up in a pack. Without the threat of someone being eaten, of course, and with more idle chat about Deicide too.

Since Juan doesn't have a car, I'm sort of stuck with the position of chauffeuring around Jacksonville. Everyone's hungry, so Juan decides unilaterally (a rather common occurrence, you'll end up finding) that we should head to a Colombian deli-style restaurant on the other side of town. It's pretty quickly that we get on the road and then see that Leo's driving is going to be an issue; the man refuses to even go the speed limit, preferring to operate about 15 MPH under the whole time- doing this in Jacksonville is a questionable thing indeed. However, we somehow manage to get there, eat, and then proceed to the next destination: a friend of Juan's who's going to provide us with showers before the show that night. You have no idea how good it felt after two days of sleeping on a couch and occasionally spraying my hair down with a garden hose.

The Blue Hole typically holds its shows outside in the parking lot area, but this particular day was threatening rain, so the operation was moved inside. An unoccupied practice space across from Extremely Rotten's was used, and it was only when the show started that we realized just how difficult it was to jam something like 40 people into a room that size. Surprisingly enough, it wasn't a matter of space; it was a matter of getting a bunch of drunk people to actually filter in instead of just standing dead center and crowding each other. Spread out, people! Come on! You know how this is done by now!

Neverbaptized and Impurity were up first, and I was pretty significantly pregaming to get the jitters out before my first performance with the guys. The lineup had finally consolidated itself: myself on vocals, Juan on drums, Cliff on bass, and Jim on guitar. This would be our arrangement for the Florida shows, with the rest of the tour up north more up in the air. While the arrangement wasn't ideal, I figured I would just do the Florida shows and see what the plans looked like when it came time to head up north; if there wasn't something more stable in place, I wasn't having it.

Highlights of the night:

-A very odd black gentleman who appeared to be a crackhead animatedly discussing Vital Remains
-Damien, vocalist from Impurity, announcing his band as "Devourment from Texas"
-The barred-out ex-stripper with a black eye who sat on my lap and showed me Iphone video of her kids all night. I'm still not sure how she got the black eye- her story seemed suspect. As well as her name.

Eventually it was time to actually do some work, so we proceeded on stage and managed to crank out a pretty cool set despite the natural roughness of the performance. A bit of a surprise occurred when a dude named Mario was pulled on "stage" to finish up the last couple Extremely Rotten songs as a second vocalist. No one bothered to actually tell me who he was apart from a friend of Juan's- that was actually a pretty amazing revelation that I'd only learn the next day, in Gainesville.

After our set, my night wound down. Too fucked up to really pay Symbolic significant attention, I headed out to Waffle House with the stripper and a couple friends of hers for food before coming back and passing out. Of course, this was just the first and simplest part of what would end up becoming one of the most complicated experiences of my life. But that night, at least, I could sleep without wondering how the next day would go. And, inevitably, things only got weirder from there.

Get Into: Of The Wand and The Moon

When I listen to Sonnenheim, I feel like I'm coming home to a place I've not yet been. It calls to me from the past and future. Two years ago, lonely and self-loathing in the depths of winter, I would play this album as I fell asleep. It drew my shade onward towards warm hearths, high halls, and green circles. These two songs, really a seamless whole, perfectly capture that sense of beckoning, welcoming, embracing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Review: Creem - Demo 2011

I owe you dudes (and dudettes?) a review, but I just worked a 12 hour shift and want to wake up before noon tomorrow. So for now I'm going to give you a short, ripping review of a short, ripping tape demo. Creem are a Brooklyn band. They play hardcore that sounds very old but goes way beyond rote retro-fetishism. Creem has really tough, snarled vocals. Creem has Oi! influences. Creem spits nihilistic rage at traitorous friends. In these respects, they remind me a lot of one of my favorite 80s hardcore bands, Negative Approach. But I'm told by those in the know that Creem is mostly inspired by the Boston scene from the same era. I guess I should check that shit out.

As with most 80s hardcore, these tracks are very short and have a very consistent sound. Each one is a different way of working out the same fundamental set of musical ideas. So it's cool that, despite this homogeneity of form, Creem have written 4 songs that stand out from one another and will instantly have you singing along. My favorite, "Left To Say," comes out swinging with a brutally dissonant verse, the drums loping along at midtempo but working together with the guitars to drive the song hard. The effect reminds me of Japanese d-beaters Gauze, whose agenda was to "play slow but sound fast" or something like that. From there, though, it gets even better. The drums snap from kick-snare to kick-kick snare, laying down a thuggish thump under an elaborate and really catchy powerchord melody. Here the vocalist lends some inflection to his ranting, so that he's following the guitar without exactly doubling it. This produces a couple really cool moments of harmony (or something). "Left To Say" is a thrashing, misanthropic anthem that's also as catchy as any pop song.

But when you listen to a 4 track hardcore demo, you're not just listening to individual songs. You're really listening to the demo. And this demo rules. I could tell you about the other tracks, but I think you get the idea. Suffice to say that every time I finish this tape, I hit rewind and start again.

I believe it's sold out (I got one of the last 3, and you didn't! Ha ha ha!). But you can still buy Creem's equally killer 7-inch for the paltry sum of $4. Get it from the source. If you wanna download digital versions of these tapey sounds (and also of that killer 7-inch), head over to DIY stalwarts icoulddietomorrow.

P.S. The tape artwork is all photos of small children with guns getting ready to smoke pigs.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Get into: Pagan Hammer

Pagan Hammer sounds basically like an Americanized version of Ukrainian melodic black metal, but it also sounds basically nothing like that, so describing what it sounds like is rather challenging. It comes off as droning and modern, but not even remotely attached to the sweatercore post-black metal scene, and it's ambient and archaic without really throwing back to traditional black metal at all. Calling it "black metal" is itself something of a stretch, because it's not as though this music ever references Mayhem or Darkthrone to any great degree. What this really sounds more like is Animus- with a lusher production style and a more overt sense of riffing, but Animus nonetheless. It has a similar quality of black metal stripped of the heavy metal and thrash; the very idea of tremolo riffs and binary programmed drums are given a character of their own through the writing.

The production style of all of Pagan Hammer's music is essentially the same: thick, powerful streams of guitar and bass with drums and vocals so reverb-drenched and pushed in the background they just seem to whisper around the edges of the songs. The effect: music composed of simple yet surprisingly elegant, droning melodies cut from a melodic sense somewhere between Summoning, Burzum, and Amon Amarth. Though in construction this is similar to Animus, the pure sound resemblance goes to Branikald and the Blazebirth Hall scene in general; the Slavic references in Pagan Hammer's music are distinct and undeniable, and yet there's an intrinsically American quality to the songwriting which makes it intensely unique.

As for what makes Pagan Hammer's music so awesome and endlessly fascinating to me- I'm not really sure. It's a core of songwriting that feels so natural and organic that it's easy to fall in love with. Similar to a band like Dub Buk, who also don't have any elements you can define as distinctly DIFFERENT from any other band in black metal, Pagan Hammer uses the rather steady, rounded, straightforward nature of its music to create entrancing and impossibly memorable compositions. There's not much to say, really- you have to hear it for yourself.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Metal litmus test

Because I've been thinking about this track all day, and because it's been awhile since we've posted about something that isn't black metal, death metal, or grind...

Sure, we all know Manowar is campy fun. Their music kicks ass but it's far from serious. Still, there's a little something more to this song. Despite all the pompous instrumental flourishes, despite the hack fantasy tropes, despite the hilariously stupid double entendres, "Hail and Kill" pushes against the boundaries of "not serious." Despite itself, this song is pretty damn grim. Maybe it's just because I'm still a 10 year old boy, but I can't help getting tingles when I hear lyrics like "My father was a wolf, and a kinsman of the slain, SWORN TO RISE AGAAAAIIN!" Nor can I help getting tingles when that grooving but mournful guitar melody leads us into the gang vocals of the chorus. And once we get past the 4:20 mark, shit gets real. By this point, it should be very clear that these guys aren't just singing about goofy fantasy shit, they're singing about gruesome Iron Age warfare. And they fucking love it.

If this song doesn't make you want to pull on your wolfskin, pick up your greatsword, and split some fucking skulls, you don't like metal. Maybe you like some metal bands, but you're not into metal. It's that simple. Hail and kill.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review: Hate Forest - Battlefields

Ukrainian black metal is something that inherently requires a sort of suspension of disbelief; even at its most measured, it's a style that thrives off the sort of musical melodrama that would put many off. But that being said, bands like Forest or Dub Buk are pretty easy to deal with since they have such powerful music to back up the inherent sort of ridiculousness of their style. But then there's other bands, primarily spearheaded in my mind by Roman Saenko, whose musical talents are tertiary to the sort of message-based, imagistic music of bands like Drudkh or Hate Forest. "Battlefields" in particular is an example of the style totally overwhelming the content of an album; when you listen to "Battlefields," you're not listening to an album. You're listening to a STATEMENT, and whether you appreciate it or not is almost entirely based on how much you buy into that Statement, capitalization very necessary. It's like trying to listen to Iskra without being a whiny trust-fund anarchist. It doesn't work.

Like all of Roman's music, Hate Forest doesn't exactly thrive on an excess of musical activity within the songs. Hell, it almost seems to thrive off the exact opposite: endurance tests supposedly designed to build "atmosphere" but in my mind are more about self-indulgent exercises in the same. "Battlefields" is composed of a few lengthy, minimal black metal tracks broken up by Ukrainian vocal-only traditionals (as I said, this album is a Statement) that no one actually cares to listen to in real life. They're sort of a scam; the sort of thing dropped into a black metal album to make it seem more immediately relevant and important than it actually is, and unsurprisingly, a lot of people think that, despite how naturally incongruous and completely meaningless to a non-Ukrainian audience they are, they most certainly Mean Something Important. Granted, no one listening to this album actually speaks Russian, but they're foreign, so they mean something, right? Right? Of course they do- they're Traditional and Reference The Traditional Cultural Roots Of This Music. A quick note: if you ever read that phrase in a review about a folk/black metal album, run.

Of course, "Battlefields" isn't actually a folk-influenced album (apart from the meaningless traditionals); it's a pretty boring, static ambient black metal album with unusually clanging sound effects and a distinct lack of riffs. Just how similar this is to Drudkh in construction is pretty incredible, actually; both bands feature songs composed of about two actual riffs each, swathed in murky, reverb-drenched production, and mostly require the "atmosphere" to carry them. Unfortunately, I've always believed that atmosphere is something generated by the music itself, not something you dollop on top of otherwise plain music like a condiment, and that's exactly what Hate Forest does here. A black metal track on this album: ten minutes long (this means it's epic,) composed of buzzing tremolo riffs and blast beats/double bass or grimly martial passages of chugging and war toms pounding away, and occasionally some synthesized orchestral instruments overhead. The songs never actually progress anywhere; they're designed to sound traditional, warlike, and dark, but just a static element of each of those rather than a narrative piece that actually proceeds anywhere. Frankly, this music is so empty that the album could probably feature a blank CDr and come across in exactly the same manner. The music isn't what you're buying this for, after all.

There's a lot of good Ukrainian black metal, but there's also a lot of terrible shit from that scene too, and "Battlefields" is a pretty distinct entry into that latter category. Devoid of character, content, artistry, or anything but an empty sense of stylized aesthetics, it's the sort of thing you think defines you as an open-minded and serious black metal listener when you're fifteen years old. After that, I can't think of a reason to listen to this.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sorhin, "Ett Fonnordiskt Rike"

Because I've been fucking around on the internet and thinking about metal all day, here's a demo track by my favorite black metal band of all time. Sorhin hadn't quite pinned down their inimitable sound yet, but the atmosphere is there. The riffing and drumming in this track suggest a very strong Darkthrone influence, something that would become basically indiscernible by the time Sorhin put out the Skogsgriftens Rike EP. Of course, they didn't just drop the Darkthrone, they absorbed it completely into their own way of doing things. Originary influences persist, whether as hidden foundations or flickering shades.

Get Into: Bloodstone

Since I just posted some cerebral postpunk, I thought I'd come back at you with something way the fuck out at the other end of the spectrum. Like The Ancients' Rebirth, Bloodstone come from the more brutal, less overtly melodic wing of Swedish black/death metal. While the other bands in this scene were basically doing black metal with death metal influences, these guys were stylistically much closer to death metal. Bloodstone emphasize dissonance, jam loads of riffs into every song, and revel in technical leads and solos. As if to seal the deal, their only album, Hour of the Gate, was recorded at Sunlight Studios with a pretty heavy low-end.

Nevertheless, despite all the death metal gestures, the overall vibe of Bloodstone is very black metal. The singer uses a badass midrange rasp instead of a death growl, there are some sick blasting sections, and the production is raw in a way that's atypical for Sunlight bands. Over and above this, though, Bloodstone just feels Satanic and occult. Perhaps this comes from their sly use of melody within a dissonant framework? From the way they hammer their instruments with murderous intent? From the sense that the tempo is constantly being pushed? From the fact that the singer wears sick corpsepaint and spikes? Regardless, by making death metal songs do black metal things, Bloodstone prove that there's a lot more to music than mere stylistic formulas.

If you're a black metal fan who wants a break from the razor-thin production on the first Nifelheim album, or a death metal guy who wishes the Swedish bands had a little more to do with Kreator and Possessed, you need to check Bloodstone out. Sure, they weren't a truly great band like Necrophobic, but they were damn good at what they did. Difficult to categorize and way too nasty for their own good, Bloodstone got a bum deal. Time to give them the respect they deserve.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Review: Caligvla - Bukkake Baptism

I'm completely unsure as to what's going on here, which probably means it's simple and I'm overthinking it. This is either an extremely ambitious piece or just a meaningless collection of songs, and it's jut as easy to make a case for either. The tone of this music is deadly serious once you get past the title of this EP, and the strange, seemingly mythological song titles point to something big going on below the surface; why hasn't this gotten more attention?

Now, the music is a combination of brutal death, metallic grindcore, and a surprisingly large amount of oldschool death/thrash. A grind-oriented drum machine is employed, generally blasting and erupting into spontaneous, crazed fills while death/thrash and brutal death riffs fly over in a stream of tremolo picking, battered by the guttural and savage vocal performance. The music is unbelievably brutal and intense: it's always fast as fuck, and when it's not fast it's a brooding, tense break before it pounds back into blasting. The tracks are short and incredibly violent, and the periodic intrusions of thrash actually make the music that much more savage, providing a shifting texture of rhythms for the riffs to react to.

What makes this so strange are the more precise aesthetic touches, all of which seem to come from albums with music very different from what's actually here. Interludes with misanthropic and warlike samples will appear regularly before getting smashed under a barrage of programmed blasting, and the shortness of the songs gives even the silence between tracks an atypical significance, as does the occasional clean guitar or haunting ambient section. The contrast of these moments of stillness and insane rage make for an exciting and admittedly exhausting listen; it's a good thing this CD is as short as it is, because I doubt anyone could take much more of this.

The EP raises a lot of questions which go essentially unanswered. What do the strange, spiritual song titles mean in the context of the music? Is the title EP actually some sort of bizarre statement and not just an attempt to offend? The overall question, though, is this: are we supposed to take this music seriously, or is it a big prank? I'm actually going with the less frequent answer I usually give: I think it's the former. The structuring and completeness of this release indicates a single-minded obsession with the abstract concept at hand, even if it's perpetually unclear what that concept is. This is certainly, though, one of the best and most atmospheric death/grind debuts I've ever heard.

This is Caligvla's only release, and it's unclear as to whether a follow-up will ever emerge. Even if it doesn't, this stands as a rather stark obelisk from one of the strangest and most sinister members of the deep underground metal scene to date. Highly recommended for those into death/grind which goes a step beyond but doesn't feel the need to draw attention to itself. Music like this deserves more attention.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Wire, "A Touching Display"

By the time they put out 154 in 1979, Wire had taken a turn from the dour art-punk of Pink Flag to a kind of sinister postpunk. Too abstract and ambiguous to qualify as goth, Wire were one of the few British or American bands at the time to actually make modernist art music instead of just affecting the image. What I love about this track is its mercurial nature--it evokes shifting emotions but presents them as part of a natural continuum. The affects change, but the atmosphere remains the same. In fact, that's true of the whole album, and is one reason it's such a compelling listen. Wire have a light, delicate touch. But get ready for the extremely heavy moment just after 3:25, where they whip out a riff that puts most doom bands to shame.

I'm going to be posting more stuff like this. Goth, deathrock, dark ambient, etc. For those readers who are already into this stuff (Ido comes to mind), some things might already be familiar, but I think for a lot of our readers this will be new and interesting territory.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Review: Dethroned Emperor - War Grind Hell

war grind  hell Cover Art

Dethroned Emperor are fucking sick. Their tape EP, War Grind Hell, basically does what it says on the tin: The main influences here are war metal in the vein of Blasphemy, primitive grind in the vein of Napalm Death, and hell in the vein of, well, Hellhammer. The cool thing is, D.E. have subordinated these three riffing styles to their own songwriting approach and overall sound.

The songs are utterly chaotic, but not in the sense of spazzy tech-grind or amorphously ugly war-metal (those are kinds of chaos I can't stand!). Instead, D.E. throw an impressive array of riffs into each song, repeating each just enough to let you mosh for a second and then throwing another one at you. The new riff is rarely what you expect, but it's never a musical non sequitur. Rather than building power through repetition, D.E. use these wrenching transitions to work up a steadily accumulating quantity of violent gonzo vibes. In that sense, I think these guys have a fair amount in common with the freakout sounds of noisegrind bands like early Lightning Bolt. Imagine if instead of channeling all that energy into perky drug anthems, Lightning Bolt wanted to raze this corrupt world to the ground. Fucking cool right? And still a lot of fun.

The riffs are cool, but not necessarily in the way metalheads expect. For one thing, they're not memorable. Partially this is a matter of timing--you just don't hear them for long enough--but it's also because most of these riffs aren't really ends in themselves. The power comes from the grinding effect that the riffs achieve together. Nevertheless, there are a number of really cool moments that I listen for, and others by which I am always pleasantly surprised.

For another thing, the riffs aren't always audible, strictly speaking. As with Blasphemy, Conqueror, and the boys, the blasting parts usually become pure undifferentiated cacaphony. But D.E.'s sound is so gnarly that this sometimes happens to their other riffs too! They're indistinct in their tonality, impossible to pin down. But while these riffs lack the melodic quality we usually associate with riffs, they do riffy things. The fast riffs grind. The slower riffs thrash or compress. It reminds me of what Enmity are doing on Illuminations of Vile Engorgement--getting the riffy heaviness without the riff. I think it's really cool. I'll definitely be posting about more bands doing this kind of half-noise stuff.

Oh, and it's great fun to follow along in the lyrics, which filter the apocalyptic obsessions of D.E.'s influences through a totally concrete, everyday disgust with the world. These dudes are fucking pissed like 80s hardcore was pissed. My favorite lyrics are undoubtedly the straightforward diatribe of "No Human Left Behind," which reads a bit like a Discharge song if Discharge wanted to do everything they sang about instead of protesting it. It includes this gem of spite: "LOVE supports parasites." Awesome.

Anyway, this is a great start for Dethroned Emperor, and it opens up a lot of possible directions for developing their sound. I think it'd be awesome to hear some tracks with more overtly memorable riffs on the next release, but that's not what they were going for this time and that's more than cool with me. War Grind Hell is the shit and you should try and snag a copy. We will definitely be keeping you posted about these guys. Here's their website. They also have a bandcamp that you can find on google yourself, damnit.

American nationalism and heavy metal

I'm going to apologize in advance for the structure of this post- I am not entirely sober while writing it and it involves combining many disparate political, philosophical, and cultural ideas I hold into one (hopefully) cohesive narrative. Still, I have no doubt that there will be points I need to clarify, and that's what the comment box is for: please, ask questions, criticize, be real: at Trial By Ordeal, we want our community involved in what we're doing. We learn as much from you as you do from us.

Nationalism. It's a hot word, though if you look at the dictionary definition, it probably shouldn't be. Still, it's one that carries a lot of baggage with it, and depending on where you live, it can convey a lot of different things. Nationalism has been a major part of extreme metal from a very early age; the earliest interviews with Mayhem heavily mention Norwegian culture and cultural pride, and it extends through the rest of the metal scene in many different forms. We're all intimately familiar (especially if you read this blog) with different NSBM or nationalist scenes across the planet, especially in eastern Europe and South America- bands ranging from Nokturnal Mortum to Campo De Mayo to Forefather, all with different perspectives on what it means to be nationalist and to hold one's country up to ancient standards of good.

There's a curious lack, however, of a nationalist sentiment in American black metal. NSBM naturally suggests a sort of nationalism, but even American NSBM bands seem less concerned with the country itself and more on outward aggression towards perceiving "invaders"- minorities, communists, the "wrong" religion, what have you. Eastern European bands who are nationalist without an NSBM perspective are not at all unknown, but it appears that within the American metal scene, they are almost inextricably tied. Why is this, exactly? America is a culture with an incredibly rich history filled with pride, honor, warfare, and conflict to draw amazing stories and songs from- but why are there so few doing it?

I'll be self-indulgent for a moment: one of my main bands, A Forest Path, was created with the goal of being a powerfully and unapologetically nationalist band. We play something that sounds like a more Taake-influenced spin on the first Amon Amarth- rather poppy, accessible, but still powerful melodic black/death metal. The lyrics we write are firmly nationalist in nature, but we have no interest in racism or xenophobia: simply an upholding of the original ethos of America (as we imagine them.) To be more self-indulgent, a couple excerpts:

From Plymouth land to Augustine
And westward we shall roam
The trumpets sound the thirteen hymns
Of birthright land, my home
From Atlantic ocean current
And east blown winds of time
I close my eyes and breathe in air
Of glorious nation, mine
And though dark battles may fall upon
Our victorious reign
Still our spirits, unshackled, soar
Broadly in the main
And so from northern snow to southern sun
And vastland forest glade
We prepare to defend our home
By point of valiant blade

Though I have traveled to many lands
Still my heart is a forest stream
That echoes with my pride
These waters run with ancestral blood
My fathers spilled
That I cannot deny

~"My Heart is a Forest Stream"

How many years
I've spent enshrouded by fear
Under shadows of war
In hopes that one day
I may return my honor
To its rightful throne
Though ages have passed
I've remained a tower of strength
A pillar of old
And so I proclaim our glory
A legend of victory, a banner untold

~"The Tattered Banners of Hope"

As you can see, the lyrics are forwardly nationalist, not especially couched in metaphor- but why is there so little of this in the metal scene? Many metalheads I've spoken to, even those unaffiliated with national socialism (though I hate to have to say that at all) have expressed powerfully nationalist views from which I think some passionate, stirring music can most certainly be derived. The Ukrainians do it all the time- why can't we? The fact that nationalism and national socialism are so inextricably tied in the mind of the American public is one part of it, but perhaps there's another, deeper reason.

Many people try to suggest that, because of its origins as an immigrant nation, America has no precise culture of its own; not bound together by blood and national heritage, we are at a loss to describe ourselves in terms of a world where most nations have a huge, ethnically-rooted history to draw inspiration from. But are we, as Americans, not connected enough by our immigrant history alone, and the blood spilled for our independence, to create stirring art? Perhaps the overweening emphasis on ethnic unity is the problem; ethnicity need not be the dominant suggestion of culture in the individual. I, and I'm sure most readers of this blog from America, see those of different ethnic backgrounds not as alien, but as other Americans, bound together by our upbringing, cultural roots, and connection as part of the same nation.

I would love to see more expressly nationalistic music coming from America without the seemingly natural rider of racism and xenophobia which appears to accompany it. Considering that our nation (that is, mine) is currently racked with a possible economic collapse, massive cultural divisions, and the perpetual threat of poverty, sickness, and death, it would be only natural for the people of the nation (and the artists within the metal scene) to become bound together by looking back to the origins of the country and its glories, triumphs, and victories in order to propel forward into a new age. I can feel the tides shifting within the metal scene myself: the more people I talk to about politics, the more pro-American sentiment I'm hearing from American metalheads, who are eager to express these feelings but think there's no outlet for them. Of course there is: we were crucial in establishing metal into what it is today, and it's about time we took some pride in ourselves.

(For those interested in nationalist but non-NS American extreme metal: apart from my own project, I've only found an isolated other. Pagan Hammer, a one-man project from North Carolina who I'm close friends with and released several times on my old label, makes expressly nationalist, stirring, victorious black metal influenced by bands like Graveland, Satanic Warmaster, and Branikald, releasing music such as the WWII-hailing "Ode to my Fathers" EP and cementing itself as perhaps the greatest single artist in USBM today. Absolutely worth a look, and I will do a post on him in the near future.)

If anyone else can provide instances of nationalist but non-NS US metal, I would be very interested in seeing it. But let's talk about your perspectives: how do you feel about nationalist music coming from America? Is its lack a problem or a pleasant absence? Discuss, challenge, and THINK in the comments below.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review: Thee Kvlt ov (((Ouroboros - Demo 2007 - Rehearsalis Megatherion

There's sort of a perpetual conversation that goes on in music criticism, and especially in the metal scene, where the concept of ensconced "classics" is so constant: is it possible for the meta-aspects of a musical release (its historical importance, its influence on others, its progression of a genre, etc.) to be as or more important than the music itself? Certainly, I can lean towards that in some cases; I personally can't stand Cynic's "Focus" but still see it as an extremely relevant, important, and by all means "great" album. Then again, I'm quick to castigate others who do similar things, so perhaps I shouldn't be so judgmental.

At least that concept is somewhat accepted, though. Now what if I was to tell you that Thee Kvlt of (((Ouroboros' "Demo 2007 - Rehearsalis Megatherion" is a relevant and phenomenal release not because of its music? Though that's a very solid and cool part of it, it's not as important as other features. Considering what it is (a CDr demo by a Florida black/doom band,) it's definitely not a matter of historical importance or anything. But let's draw our eyes to an underappreciated part of the title: "Rehearsalis." Yes, this is a rehearsal- a full-length one- filled with half-improvised tracks, raw production, and a total lack of real, album-minded coherency. There's in-jokes between members as tracks end and begin, random samples dot the disc, and several of the tracks are just impromptu jam sessions. So why is this so awesome?

I've become more and more drawn to the concept of released rehearsals- coming in the space between a true demo and an actual live representation, they seem to show many bands at their most "natural"- not hamming it up for an audience nor trying to be perfect for a recording. These warts-and-all tapes and CDrs are very appealing to me, and Thee Kvlt of (((Ouroboros cooks up a phenomenal one here. Some backstory: this band was, for a while, sort of a weird secret of the Florida metal scene. Hailing from the (then) rather non-metal city of Gainesville, Thee Kvlt ov (((Ouroboros would sort of randomly show up on inappropriate shows in Gainesville, Jacksonville, or Orlando, never really acquiring a "following" as such, but never ceasing to distress and surprise the audience with their odd, off-kilter, jarring sort of music.

Thee Kvlt ov (((Ouroboros (somewhat similar to the later project Hot Graves) owes a lot to old Celtic Frost and Hellhammer. In fact, if you can imagine a stoner/sludge/doom take on Hellhammer's nastiest, slowest tracks, you have a good idea of what this sounds like. Employing two basses in lieu of six-string guitars, the sound of this music is predictably blown-out, noisy, and heavy, with brackish distortion from the strings murderously clipping whatever recording engine was used and distant, chiming, dry drums and vocals bouncing off each other in the background. Obviously, being able to pick out musical movements from the morass of noise can be tricky, especially when tracks like "Black Cancer" offer a Goatsblood sense of songwriting where bridges just lead to more bridges and the band staunchly refuses to settle down into a coherent pattern. Occasionally you'll get a faster, more overtly black metal track, but for the most part this is unceasingly droning and cruel. It's unfriendly music and it's wonderful for it.

As I said though, it's not so much about the music as the atmosphere. Oddly ritualistic as well as light-hearted (goofy jokes get shouted between songs, the instrumental performances are far from precise,) the sense that I get from this disc is that it's music made by people who truly love metal and embrace every part of it. It's easy for these guys to do hideous, mangled black/doom and end it with a random joke about how one of the members has to go to work in an hour, because they understand that these things aren't incongruous with each other. The obvious practice space production, nasty, nonexistent mixing, and incredibly intense vocal and drum performances all come together to make a release that really sounds like fucking around with your bandmates, playing songs you've done a thousand times before- and if you like metal and haven't had that experience, you should resolve that right now.

Buy this album on Amazon

You people are sick assholes

Below we have a selection of actual search terms some of you fuckers have found Trial By Ordeal through. I have NO IDEA what could possibly be wrong with you people, and moreover, how some of these things led back to us:

billy nocera is a fucking asshole

Admittedly, I laughed.

milfy way mom on mom

Apparently this is an actual MILF porn movie, but how exactly did it link here?

1 guy 1 carcass

I'm terrified by the idea of this video falling into the (#people#something) video paradigm.

female wrestler "chyna" anal porn movies

Okay, yes, this does exist, but why the fuck does anyone want to see it?

fuck who did this

I don't know man.

answers.select odd among of these????

I think this was a Korean kid's programming homework translated through Babelfish.

beatdown is a subgenre of hardcore

Yes. It is.

what does vastum mean

I don't know, what does it actually mean? Moreover, who is actually concerned?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Monstrous new track from Lago

I was just sent this video by Cole Jacobsen, ringleader of the TBO-endorsed death metal band Lago. The song is NOT actually a cover of "Bitches Ain't Shit," apparently that's just the stupid working title. In case you haven't read my review of their Marianas EP, Lago is part of a musical lineage spawned by the once-mighty Morbid Angel. Their austere approach to songwriting generates a very bleak, brooding atmosphere. When I hear Lago, I think of ruined cities on other planets. The new track is a big improvement over the already-cool stuff on the EP. According to Cole, "shit's definitely ten times more intense." I'd say that's a fairly accurate way of putting it. It's riffier, with heavier chug and a greater emphasis on eerily melodic leads and arpeggios. There's also a more pronounced black metal influence here, which I think is cool. So if you already dig Lago, get stoked on the new material. If you're new to them, check it out.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Get Into: Kenaz

The other night I bummed a ride back from a hardcore show with a couple of my bros, and we heard a Kenaz track on an excellent NYC college radio show. Says something about the quality of the music that the other guys, who are more into punk than metal, were digging it a lot. I was actually blown away, and it's a pity I can't find that particular song, "La Lance," because it's just this overwhelming blasting assault over riffs so distorted that they come across as a blur of sonic snow. But the guitars are just clear enough that you can get a sense of the harmonies...very cool consonant stuff that gave the song a noble, pagan feel. On this track, Kenaz bring a more strongly defined sense of melody, mix in some powerful slow sections, and do a great job of integrating dissonance and consonance. I can't overstate how cool the harmonic sensibility is--it's so awesome to hear a pagan black metal band that doesn't fall back on one-dimensional major/minor riffing to remind the audience that the music is "epic." Kenaz nails the kind of grim beauty that set apart early Enslaved, early Emperor, Burzum, etc. But they do it with the fuzzed out Quebecois sound. Basically, this shit is amazing, and perfectly represents what I love best in black metal. I'm definitely going to order this (from the excellent Tour de Garde). Get Kenaz, get ferocious.

Drum machine slam roundup

Drum machines. Slam. Two great tastes that grate tastes together. Let's look at some true heroes of budget-priced SLAM!

Jenovavirus - Wring a Deep Brain

Perhaps one of the most known slam bands that only ever released a single demo, Jenovavirus was a Japanese project whose brief, untitled demo took the slam scene by storm. While a full-length was planned, it never materialized, and we're essentially just left with Youtube tracks to sate us. For a low-end drum machine band, Jenovavirus' music was impressively professional from both a songwriting and production standpoint: the sound is full and ultra-heavy, and the songs are a solid blend of US-style brutal death metal, Abominable Putridity-type slams, and wet Japanese vocals. Versatile and surprising, this band's material never disappoints those looking for more SLAMZ.

Corpse Carving - Sickening Splatter

A Tasmanian band who perpetually exists in a strange fog between broken up and still together, these guys play(ed?) a brand of phenomenally brutal, idiotic goregrind/slam death with a surprisingly distinctive riffing style, lyricless, slurring vocals, and a wide array of short, fun tracks for those who seek brutality and nothing else. While their full-length is probably the only essential material they ever released, each of their various splits is also a fun listen if you're looking to turn off your brain and rage out for a while. I have nearly their whole discography and don't really regret acquiring any of it.

Vulvectomy - Postmortal Orifice Lubrication

Perhaps the biggest drum machine slam group out there, Italy's own Vulvectomy are known for their simple, straightforward style of European slam, loaded with 6/8 chug passages, fast, grinding riffs in the Dying Fetus vein, and more than a passing resemblance to a less technical Devourment. Vulvectomy's a pretty pure slam band; their tracks really just move from slam to slam with only mild concessions to blasting here and there, but the slams are devastating: typically a bit faster than usual, with groovier, more bouncy rhythms in contrast to their more oppressive American cousins. An incredibly fun band to listen to- party slam if such a thing even exists.

Malodorous - Eyes of Abomination

Malodorous is the brainchild of Big Chocolate- that guy who kind of does projects but mostly does Youtube videos and seems more popular for being himself than doing stuff? Yeah, this is one of the projects of his that actually went somewhere. It's actually an internet collaboration between several different musicians in a stripped-down slam/deathcore vein, employing an ultra-fast drum machine and lots of one-chord chug breakdowns to convey some level of brutality. The music is stark, minimal, and unbelievably thugged out, but the restrained song lengths and fairly direct sense of composition keeps it fun. Definitely not an everyday listen, but great on the occasion you feel like it.

Heinous Killings - Beating Her to Deformity

These guys are definitely one of my favorite bands in all of brutal death metal. Though sadly departed now, for a while Heinous Killings was the top of the heap in sheer brutality in BDM. Coming from the background of legendary MIDI-deathers Clean Flesh, Heinous Killings played technical yet slamming brutal death with a great mesh of oldschool and modern influences. This track, on the other hand, coming off the final split release the band appeared on before their breakup, shows a different side: oldschool NYDM combining with modern deathcore in a way that doesn't resemble ANY other deathcore band out there. The breakdowns in this music have more of the texture of oldschool Boston or NYHC breakdowns, while still being unimaginably death metal in execution. Also, the vocals. The vocals. They are perhaps the best that brutal death metal has seen or ever will see.


Friday, August 5, 2011

R.I.P. Nomos

Hope I'm not perpetrating a premature burial, but I just saw what is rumored to be this band's last NYC show. Spawned in the warehouses of northeastern Brooklyn, Nomos push(ed?) tight but bilious hardcore with a strong powerviolence influence. Their songs rapidly shift from groove to thrash to breakdown, generating tremendous kinetic force through the transitions. It comes through on the recording, but really has to be experienced live, preferably from the center of the circle pit. I tried to see these guys whenever I could, and I have to say I'll miss them. Hopefully some new projects will rise from the ashes. Thanks for the ringing ears and bruises, dudes!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Review: Dissection - Storm of the Light's Bane

When I first got this album, I didn't pay it nearly enough attention. I think this was due to my background in hardcore punk, a subculture burdened with a lot of musical prejudices and inhibitions. With its polished production and flamboyant fretwork, Storm... struck me as something I couldn't quite take seriously. It didn't fit my notion of what truly grim, aggressive music should sound like. I was also a bit disappointed with the riffing. True to punk form, I virtually ignored the leads in favor of the rhythm parts, which I thought should be the "meat" of any heavy music. Many of these struck me as too standard. The most obvious example of this is the cliche thrash riff that begins "Night's Blood." Perhaps it poisoned my reception of the rest of the album? Over the last couple years Dissection grew on me, but I continued to compare them unfavorably with their fellow-travelers in the Swedish scene (see my True Black Metal, Part 2 post). Now I have seen the light, er, darkness.

Over the last couple weeks, I have played this album over and over and over again. I felt so stupid for neglecting it. In fact, I think Storm... has become one of my "go-to" black metal albums, on par with Gorgoroth's Under The Sign of Hell. I couldn't decide on a favorite song...each time I listened, I would hear new depth and power in every track. One day I'd go back and listen again to my old standard "Soulreaper," the next I'd be drooling over "Unhallowed" or "Retribution." What was I hearing, that I wasn't when I first listened ?

First, Dissection is grim as fuck and aggressive as all hell. Jon Nodtveidt's flair for melody only adds to the absolutely ripping feel of the music. And the fancy production doesn't detract from it. In fact, it's an essential part of the package. Every note is placed so carefully that the music would lose something if it wasn't as clear as a glacial lake. And, uh, the vocals dude. The vocals. There is nothing remotely accessible about this album, because Jon is standing athwart the gates and snarling like a three-headed hound.

Second, Dissection are brilliant riffwriters. The thing is, the rhythm parts aren't the center of the music, and attempting to treat them as such (as I did) will only make you miss the point. At its heart, Storm of the Light's Bane is about harmonized lead melodies, from the repetitive keening of "Where Dead Angels Lie" to the ecstatic frenzy of the chorus in "Soulreaper." As far as rhythm riffs go, Jon does indeed use a lot of standard patterns, but he gives us new versions of these riffs that are full of personality. They're also usually better than the originals. And you can't talk about Dissection's songwriting without talking about their gift for arrangement. In an album this riffy, it's a wonder the songs don't fall apart. Instead, each passage flows into the next one with the inexorability of fate. Through this deft sequencing Dissection multiply their riffpower and build grand narratives. Everything is going somewhere, and it's always exciting to hear what comes next.

Third, Dissection is easily confused with pretentious bands because they have a common ambition. The difference is that Dissection actually pull it off. They're not pretending to be shredmasters with the souls of Romantic composers, that's what they actually are. For Metallica, those florid lead embellishments and quasi-medieval acoustic interludes were moments of unintentional comic relief in the midst of bloated pop-thrash songs. For Dissection, they're part and parcel of a fully realized vision. Sure, Dissection write polished and sophisticated music. Sure, they completely disregard punk (read: modernist) hangups about "good taste." It doesn't make the music any less worth taking seriously.

Re-listening to Dissection reminded me that every album is a singular phenomenon, and you can never go into a listening experience simply hoping for the music to conform to your ideas of what it should be. Great music always confounds expectations and complicates assumptions. When I heard this for the first time, I was so wrapped up in my (newly formed) ideas about what black metal should be that I forgot to hear Dissection telling me what it is.

The return of darkness and evil!

Hey, we're back. Very sorry for the long delay. After Noktorn's absence on tour it was my turn to disappear. I was busy finding an apartment, grinding on a freelance writing job, and then moving into the new apartment. I'm pleased to say I found an ideal location...squarely between a rusting elevated train track and a colossal black building that doubles as a hospital and an insane asylum. It's pretty fucking sick.

Anyway, just as I've taken a break from blogging, I've taken a break from the sort of fractured listening experience that comes from constantly looking up new bands online and pulling up album after album in my iTunes library. When my old roommate removed the table from my last apartment, I lost my computer/speakers setup, and more or less stopped listening to stuff off the computer. Instead, I started using this old boombox I got my parents to send out from Ann Arbor. I got to grips with a couple dope tapes I'd never been able to listen to before. But I also started going back through the small stack of physical CDs I have with me, listening to many of them over and over again in the span of a week or two. Sometimes I even replayed an album as soon as I finished it! I really haven't listened to music like this since high school, and it felt wonderful. Sometimes it helped me to hear new things, and it certainly allowed with me to appreciate and connect with the music on a much deeper level. I was going to do a sort of "roundup" post of brief thoughts about the CDs I've spent the most time with recently, but instead it turned into a full-length review of Dissection's Storm of the Light's Bane. (See the next post!) Anyway, I'll probably be drawing on the last couple weeks of serious repeat listening for my upcoming posts...