Monday, December 5, 2011
Review: Blasphemophagher - The III Command of the Absolute Chaos
Blasphemophagher are the flagship band of the Italian bestial black/death metal scene, and one of the big names on the Nuclear War Now! roster. These dudes are part of a new wave of black/death and "war" metal bands embracing audible and well-developed riffage, as opposed to the murky maelstroms of Blasphemy and Bestial Warlust. And their production values are higher than anything else I've heard from this scene. Last year's For Chaos, Obscurity, and Desolation won Blasphemophagher a fair amount of recognition, but didn't interest me very much--I got the sense that it was stylistically scattered and kind of unimaginative. But bands change, and I like this kind of music, and I fucking LOVE this album's cover art, so I was eager to check out The III Command...
"Whoa, what just happened?" was the thought running through my head again and again as I listened. Sometimes, that reaction can be a good one, like when you've just heard a passage so exciting it makes your jaw drop and you have to go back and listen carefully to how the band got there. But in this case, it was the exact opposite--I'd occasionally hear something interesting, and it would remind me, by contrast, that everything leading up to it had slipped through my ears innocuously. Even as I played the album a second and third time, it failed to really draw me in. There are a number of cool riffs here, such as the rhythmically convoluted Morbid Angel-style riff that strikes at 00:29 in "Abominable Nuclear Penetration," but Blasphemophagher haven't set up many compelling transitions between riffs, and seem to have intentionally avoided giving their songs overarching structures of any kind. Even when the riffs are well-crafted, their lack of a coherent musical context makes them not only forgettable, but also much less compelling in the moment.
Sadly, Blasphemophagher's myopic focus on developing a "chaotic" sound has prevented them from making powerful death metal.* And if that's the sound of musical chaos, then count me out, I'll take order any day. But I'm not sure it's as simple as that. It seems to me that Blasphemophagher have mistaken mere randomness and unpredictability for true Chaos, and therefore missed out on a lot of the richness of the concept.
The III Command gives us a bunch of clearly discernible discrete parts in meticulous disorder. It's a sequence without a pattern, something illogical and arbitrary, but also, after its own fashion, structured. Chaos, on the other hand, is fluid and amorphous and obscure. Think of Lovecraft's Ancient Ones and the monstrosities that serve them...these are Chaos par excellence. Their foul, impossible shapes are eternally in flux, becoming and unbecoming before the witness' eyes. Yog-Sothoth looks at one moment like a cloud of glowing suns, at another like a cluster of snakes on wings, at another like a mass of gelatinous tentacles, flowing from one form to the next without ever being reducible to any of them. There's a sense of motion in Chaos that elevates it above mere randomness, and that's completely missing from the static sequencing of albums like this one. It's something you get in older bands like Blasphemy and Sarcofago, but also in newer bands like Witchrist and Teitanblood.
What's more, Blasphemophagher have missed the fundamental insight of bestial/war metal. Explosions of disorder require the gathering and release of power. Limits and boundaries collapse only under concerted blows. Order and Chaos are in constant dialectical tension, and just as there is Chaos within Order there is Order within Chaos. This is the meaning of the twin tendencies towards anarchy and authoritarianism we see in bands like Revenge and the aptly named Order From Chaos. On the one hand, they want to break every law, overturn every paradigm, and violate every sanctuary. On the other hand, they present a front of intense martial discipline. The best fantasy example I can think of is the power of Chaos in Warhammer. The Chaos Space Marines are the armored, tightly-clenched fist of disorder in the universe. Their concentrated might is not, in itself, particularly "chaotic," but it is the impetus behind the destruction of planetary systems and the scattering of empires. And the Chaos Gods themselves, especially Tzeentch and Slaanesh, sew lawlessness throughout the universe thanks to their scheming and trickery--in other words, through careful, rational plans.
The point of all this is to suggest that Blasphemophager, in eschewing song structure in favor of a calculated randomness, aren't nearly as chaotic as they first seem. If anything, the notion of musical chaos serves as their excuse for a careless collage of riffs lifted from death metal, primitive black metal, grind, and thrash, thrown end on end with no attempt at the kind of songwriting that could unify them. Despite the band's talent as riffwriters and musicians, The III Command never develops much atmosphere or any real musical thrust. I still wouldn't say this is an awful album, and if you're particularly wedded to their styles of riffing you might enjoy it, but there's much better stuff out there. The debut full-length by Antediluvian, for instance, which I just purchased today and am stoked to review here soon!
*They're certainly not alone in this...some of the scene's most worshipped bands have the same problem. Blasphemophagher just exemplifies it perfectly, partly because it's so easy to hear the riffs they're actually writing!