Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Belated Memorial Day post

Extreme metal is a celebration of violence. Whether you listen to Angelcorpse or Amon Amarth, you spend your days immersed in music that finds glory in war and beauty in death. The good old U.S. government sets aside a special day to honor the war dead, but for a headbanger this should be the norm, not the exception. So for one day, let's take a step back from the martial spirit and remember that war is total fucking hell. For the most part, it's just another way for the rich to strip the fat off the bones of the poor. For everyday people, it's absolute catastrophe. It's villages obliterated by Predator drones. It's napalm in the forests. But I think Amebix says it better than I ever could...



ARISE!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Lol I'm in a band



Yeah so this is my first show with my brutal death band, Forged in Gore. We play sort of a throwback United Guttural style for people that like bands like Fleshgrind and Incestuous, but with riffs you can actually remember. This was up in Jacksonville just last night, so it's piping hot for all of you. I'm the vocalist, and yes, I was fucked up out of my mind during this.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

True Black Metal, Part 2

Last week I posted some of my favorite Second Wave black metal from Norway and Sweden, and this week I continue the project. For those readers just joining us, I should briefly re-explain what this is all about.

At a time when record nerds are swooning over the pathetic USBM scene and headbangers are turning to the hack Sarcofago clones on labels like Hell's Headbangers, it's important to remember that black metal really doesn't have to sound like this at all. The Scandinavians opened up so much fertile artistic territory, and it has been shamefully neglected by posers and trendies of all stripes. Here are three more bands, the true elite of black metal.


Listen for 1:10. One of the most badass choruses of any black metal song ever. Sacramentum effortlessly write riffs that wouldn't be out of place in Romantic symphonies, but their music isn't just gorgeous. Listen to those bashing 80s style drums under the ornate harmonies. The juxtaposition is savage. And the vocalist is a beast.


Wait for 00:40. Just when you think "Darkside" is going to be an above-average example of Norsecore, they bust out this absurdly evil mid-paced riff. One of the most aggressive and Satanic bands to come out of this scene. You can hear how much Necrophobic inspired Watain.


You've heard Enslaved, but have you heard THIS Enslaved? From an early split with Emperor that is probably the best single black metal recording ever released. Listen to how they've totally reinterpreted punk riff structures. You can actually hear Discharge in there. It never gets boring, and at 11:23 all Hel breaks loose. This is one of the most powerful, most profound black metal tracks (spells?) I have ever heard. The first and last word on grim.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Idolater - Where the fuck did this come from!?



Holy shit! A brand-new USBM band that's actually excellent? I didn't even know it was possible in the horrible over-saturated and generic scene we're afflicted with, but apparently Idolater is here to change things up. Idolater sounds like (to me, anyway) what orthodox black metal would sound like if it was good. Points of reference are easily found in bands like Deathspell Omega and Funeral Mist, but more streamlined, direct, and traditional in orientation. There's a lot of weird dissonance and guitar textures, but instead of seeming arbitrary, they're fascinating and disquieting and romantic- the sheer blackness of the atmosphere here is something I haven't heard in a really long time. It helps out that the drumming (which I'm not sure is real or programmed) is incredibly erratic and spontaneous, the vocals are disgusting and cackling, and even the lyrics are immensely well-written and a great accompanying read.

This is an artist to look out for- there's something definitely going on in Idolater's music that's worth examining and I intend to get to the bottom of it. More on this guy later, probably- this is way, way too strong to ignore.

Review: Lago - Marianas


Cole from Lago, who has followed this blog basically since day one, sent me his band's debut E.P. to review. I'm happy to say this is the first submission to TBO that doesn't suck. In fact, it's really good!

Since these guys are pretty new I suppose I should place more emphasis than usual on describing their sound. Lago is straight up death metal, without a doubt. Their most obvious influence is Morbid Angel, but they aren't the usual clone band--they've absorbed and reinterpreted the sound, doing what M.A. does (or, sadly, did) rather than copying their style. It's a response, not an homage. The influence is evident in their sinuous riffs, their marriage of consonance and dissonance, and their crisp, tastefully technical approach to playing. These songs are a lot simpler and more driving than M.A. songs, though...it's like they really dig Blessed Are The Sick but made sure to avoid creating anything that resembled it superficially. Lago pull off some pretty satisfying chugging (check out the beginning of "Center of a Wounded Nation"), and the songs have that continuous grind that M.A. seemed to deliberately avoid on their most interesting material. Overall, the feel is austere and martial.

There are definitely "outside influences" at play here, but they are organically related to the death metal and work at the service of the songs. In fact, this stuff goes a long way to setting Lago apart from any existing death metal clique. First, there are some straight up blasting/tremolo sections that have much more to do with Mayhem or Axis of Advance than clean, technical death metal. These have the coolest melodies on the album, and they are cunningly deployed. Lago drop them in past the halfway point in songs like "Marianas" and "Youma," once you think you've already heard all the cool riffs, and you're just like "OH SHIT! Here we go!" They really stand out from the other riffs, which are anchored in palm-mutes, and they sound great played on the low end with thick production. Second, Lago incorporate nice chords and arpeggios that remind me more of Neurosis or Isis than anything. They pop up in places like 2:42 of "Arbitrary Conflict" and 1:59 of "Center of a Wounded Nation." It's cool to hear some harmonies hanging over over the bleak landscape of towering riffs.

These outside strains of sound get excluded by default from Real Death Metal, but there really isn't any reason why they don't fit. The whole point is that they are mere stylistic gestures, they don't have any intrinsic musical meaning. It's one thing to confuse them with the essence of a genre or to force them together in a pathetic attempt to "be original," but another thing to use them wisely within appropriate contexts.

The even more abstract point I want to make is that Lago have really nailed the inner logic that guides Blessed Are The Sick--they've digested an influence in the most meaningful way possible. THIS, more than anything else, is why I keep harping on the comparison. Like M.A., Lago makes architectonic music. Its power lies not so much in its kinetic drive (though Lago does have this) as in its awe-imposing structure. It's the difference between the power of a charging cataphract and the power of a Roman temple. It's the difference between the horizontal and the vertical.

Maybe you already know what I mean, but I think this is worth exploring a bit more. Lago's riffs are written and arranged so that each stands forth in its distinctness. They're set off from one another. Even when they are not the most original patterns, they're phrased in a way that makes them compelling and memorable. The best example I can think of is the main riff of "Wounded Nation," which drops at 00:37. You hear it at first and you're like, "oh it's one of those riffs," but it has a structural clarity that makes it stay with you. It's simple, even standard, but it could never be mistaken for any other riff. And then, these riffs--which are in themselves powerful sonic forms--come together in a really cool overall structure that only brings this out. Lago have translated the fiercely abstract language of M.A. into a much more physical music, without losing the feeling that you are listening to a musical edifice.

Aaaanyway, foray into aesthetic philosophy aside, I gotta make some constructive criticism. First, the black metal backing vocals are lame and kind of awkward. There's something a little off. They're either too "depressive black metal" or too deathcore, but I don't know either genre well enough to know which. This is definitely a delivery problem, but the production doesn't help...they jump out and distract from the other shit going on. The patterns could use some work too. Either polish these up or leave 'em out. Second, I think Lago could use a different production. The very clean, polished sound is clearly a nod to their tech-death heroes, but in music that is more about repetitive, colossal riffs, I say go for the guttural. Keep the low end beefy, but boost the buzz and grind. Let it take up more space. Basically, give this a war metal production treatment.

So, Marianas is massive, and you should check it out. It was released by Pale Horse Recordings, who are a dope underground label, and they did a nice job with the packaging. The red text is so dark you have to struggle to make it out against the black. I never thought a reading experience could be "metal as fuck," but there you go. This is a great debut E.P. by a band carving out their own niche. Should appeal to fans of classic death metal disappointed with the "retro" trend, open-minded war metal guys, and even crust punks and sludge guys looking for something riffier. Posers and nerds should look elsewhere.

Check 'em out here
Buy Lago shit here

Thursday, May 26, 2011

No one actually listens to neofolk, right?



Look, I get it. I understand that you all feel the need to flatter your personal sense of open-mindedness; more accurately, that peculiar sense of open-mindedness that says that you have to listen to classical and folk and ambient if you like metal even though all those styles are generally really boring. I mean, you know how you feel about it: you post on metal forums and regularly talk about how closely linked heavy metal is to folk and classical music (which is something you read on ANUS originally but will lie about where you heard it) and how it's only natural that someone who listens to Deeds of Flesh would totally appreciate the above song! I mean, they're basically exactly the same thing.

Can we stop deceiving ourselves for a moment? Neofolk mostly fucking sucks- folk was popular back in the day (and by 'the day' I'm talking about when people had to chase down deer and beat them to death with rocks for food) because Devourment didn't exist yet. Haven't we moved on from that? I'm firmly convinced that 95% of the metalheads who claim to like archaic, mostly dead styles of music like folk or classical are really full of shit and only own their Dead Can Dance CDs because they feel like they have to and because Ihsahn probably lied too and said he liked them. That's not to say there isn't decent folk music out there that's actually listenable- I'm really into the super obscure NS folk group Parthenon from Greece- but for the most part it fucking sucks.

Sorry kids, but you listen to Darkthrone because you like Darkthrone, not because you like Norwegian traditionals.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Get into: Path of Debris



Inspired by Pavel's post on Kvelertak, I've been inspired to talk about what I see as a sort of sister artist to them- albeit one from the mid-'90s rather than the more modern era of metal. I'm talking about Path of Debris, a German melodic death metal band that no one in the world but me gives a shit about. There's no reason to, honestly- their first album is totally obscure, and their second album only has any recognition due to being released on Crash Music (or maybe it was Pavement back then), known purveyor of all shovel-worthy bullshit in the metal scene. I have to say, though, despite its Pavement affiliations, despite its dumb title, despite its intro where the word 'unicorns' is actually uttered, 'The Eyes of the Basilisk' is actually an unbelievably good album.

Path of Debris is basically a late '70s/early '80s heavy metal/hard rock band in melodeath drag. That's all there is to it. The primary influences here, despite the double bass and the growling vocals, are Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, and other bands from the same styles of music. Well, those and the first Amon Amarth album, which sticks out as a significant influence, which in and of itself is practically a rock album in metal drag! You can see it all over this music: the simple chord progressions for riffs, the equally simple leads that perpetually go overhead, the restrained yet propulsive drumming, verse/chorus song structures- it's incredibly simple music when you get down to it.

Simple- but not simplistic. There's a difference. Path of Debris' music is pretty straightforward, but it's also elegant and remarkably well structured- there's no room for bullshit or instrumental vanity. It's refreshingly straightforward because the band hasn't left themselves any time or room for anything but what is essential to the songs themselves. Of course, this being good relies on the core elements of the music being good, and they're fucking great; the riffs are burly and muscular in the traditional metal style, the drums are propulsive and engaging, and the vocals are even remarkably gripping in a manner most death vocals aren't. The whole package is astoundingly balanced and agile. I only wish more melodeath sounded like this.

You can grab the second album (the one I own) for like less than a dollar on Amazon, so you really have no reason not to pick this up immediately. If you like extreme-edged metal that hearkens back to the traditional days of the genre, it's a mandatory purchase. If you want to hear something that's catchy and abrasive without being fucking gay like Dark Tranquillity, it's a mandatory purchase. If you like good music, it's a mandatory purchase. Honestly there's no reason you shouldn't own this album right now if you like any of the good things about metal.

Get ready for summer: crush a brew with Kvelertak



Yeah, I'm a year late on these guys, because when their album came out I saw the John Dyer Baizley artwork and assumed it had to suck. Randomly listened today, and was floored. The idea of splicing some black metal gestures into a hardcore/rock framework is something that doesn't sound appealing to me at all, but somehow it works here.

I think for two reasons. First, Kvelertak clearly aren't attempting to make actual black metal, or--worse--supersede it. They respect the music too much to claim that mantle. Second, they aren't smashing together genres in a compulsive attempt to "do something new." Kvelertak's songs aren't the means to achieving a particular style. They exist purely to fucking rock. But this is an eerie kind of rocking, like the soundtrack to a werewolf rager in the woods...

In "Offernatt," they haven't just seamlessly integrated black metal and rock sections, they've fused the styles at the level of riffing. Listen to the ballsy, strutting verse riff that hits at 00:29. Coming off the greasy leads in the intro, it's easy to hear it and say "blues," but in a different context it could just as easily be the "triumphant" section in some awesome pagan BM song. And then in the chorus, they just fucking lay it down. At 1:26, when one guitar faintly echoes the theme from the verse, the song is flying.

The album is by no means flawless, but it's great fun and contains a few seriously beautiful moments. I'm not saying that Kvelertak are "the future of black metal" or "the future of hardcore," because they aren't, and I'm certainly hoping that nobody tries to rip this off because they'll totally fuck up. Still, someone will probably hate on me for liking this "hipster" band, and to that I say fuck off. Also, I take issue with that label: there's absolutely no indie or art-rock influence in the music. Their sound comes straight from hardcore, metal, and hard-driving rock n roll. It isn't "black n roll," it's heavy punk rock. If you don't like Kvelertak, you don't like headbanging to sick riffs.

Perfect for metalpunks going hiking... or knocking back some beers at a bbq.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Completely informal thoughts on 5 random bands

I think I'm going to do a series of posts where I just talk about bands- not reviews, not essays, just quick summations of whatever I'm feeling about them at the moment. For the first installment, I'm going to open my Itunes where my whole music collection is ripped and talk about the first five that I land on. Let's see what happens.

1. Psychotogen

I don't know why people think really obnoxious tech death is a recent invention, because the album I own by these guys is from '03 and is waaaaay more annoying than anything from Brain Drill. These guys have that perfect cross-section between really annoying, cheesy post-Nocturnus tech death from the '90s and the more wank-driven stuff from the '00s, making it basically unlistenable to anyone with ears. God, what a shitty band. They ended up getting carried by Crash. Kind of surprising because the sort of shitty music Crash carried was usually much more straightforward and boring than Psychotogen.

2. Enecare

Can you really be convincingly DIY when you have a Facebook account and shit? The same issue that plagues Bone Awl and trust fund crusters fucks up Enecare- I'm just not convinced. It's like he's trying to pretend that this sort of ultra-underground, depraved stuff even exists anymore when it really doesn't and it shows in the music. I think he's trying to channel the essence of the LLN bands but in a more modern context, and we all know the pitfalls associated with going retro. The biggest problem with his music is that he's trying to be sick and dark and depraved but I just don't get that vibe from it at all. I'm sure the dude behind this project is a really friendly guy who would be fine to go out for a pint with, or whatever the fuck they do in Ireland.

3. Tumour

You know, these guys are fun in small doses. I have like two albums by them and I don't listen to them very often because they're just too goofy most of the time, but I can appreciate what they're doing. It's pretty funny that they're one of the biggest gorenoise bands out there but no one in the gorenoise scene actually likes them. The pitch is sort of difficult to stomach: garage rock gorenoise? Anyway, I guess it comes off better than they could have planned initially so I'm not going to step on their funk. It's still really dumb. It's a dumb I can respect, though.

4. Octagon

Mortigan should just keep unearthing old material, because Death Fetish is way, way better than Artisans of Cruelty. The biggest problem with this band is just ego; Mortigan is truly, truly convinced that he's hot shit when in reality he's a pretty mediocre songwriter who occasionally stumbles onto something really good. I'm still not 100% sold on Death Fetish since I think it's more carried by its basement swag than anything. Really, I'm just bitter because he shit-talked me a while back. Back in the day, when I wrote for Vampire Magazine, I reviewed Artisans and did an interview with Mortigan. He seemed to be cool with the review even though it wasn't glowing and he was perfectly fine in the interview. Then, for some reason, a couple years later I stumbled across one of the mods on the Metal Archives mentioning in passing in a random thread that he'd contacted them because he was bitching about my review. Sorry Mortigan, you're gonna have to try harder than that. Or grow up, you know, whichever.

5. Dismember

And finally we land on a big one! These guys were really always my favorites of the Stockholm sound. Grave always just kind of sucked and I actually prefer Entombed as a rock band rather than a death metal one, but Dismember just had the balance perfect between melodic stuff and brutal shit. In addition, I'd say that Death Metal is probably the best Gothenburg album that's ever existed because it doesn't really sound like Gothenburg. These guys are also notable for doing Dreaming In Red, which has the best video I've ever seen for a death metal song. Good job dudes!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Beatdown hardcore is cool



I'm about to pass out, but what better time to watch a sick video of the circle pit at a Japanese hardcore show? Would love to see these guys teach some emo kids about real karate kicks...

The music is "Japan Beatdown Anthem" by the strangely named band Straight Savage Style. I haven't been able to find any real info about them, but this mp3 is a one-track demo that is floating around on the internet. It embodies the most extreme end of a really cool, totally obscure subgenre of mosh-friendly metalcore called "beatdown hardcore."

Straight Savage Style are all about monolithic slams, to such an extent that their sound is very abstract, even inadvertently arty. People who are into bands like Winter and Coffins will probably ignore "Japan Beatdown Anthem" because it's so far from the treasured "vintage death metal" aesthetic, but that's a huge mistake... S.S.S. are basically getting at the same thing.

Weird, devastating shit. Highly recommended.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Get into: Spite Extreme Wing



This right here is what I got into metal to listen to. In fact, this is exactly the sort of black metal I like best: ultra-riffy, fast, raw yet melodic, and possessing remarkable scope yet deceptive simplicity in songwriting. Spite Extreme Wing is an Italian black metal band that never received much recognition while they were around and even less after they broke up, but to me, they're the definition of an underground gem. Plugging away at their unique and stirring style of black metal for a decade before the project's end, I can only hope to expose a few more people to this band's unbelievably great music.

Spite Extreme Wing play black metal- after a fashion. It has blast beats, tremolo riffs, and high-pitched, screaming vocals. It has all the basic musical elements of black metal, but at the same time it doesn't FEEL like black metal in any way. The atmosphere isn't cold, warlike, or pagan- it's just peculiarly romantic and speaks to the same sort of spirit that I imagine Hirilorn did in their music. At no point does this band ever resemble the Norwegian or Swedish crowds- there's something uniquely Italian about all of it, from the melodic style of the riffs to the creaking, always audible bass tone to the unusually battering drum performance where fills always come out in FLURRIES of something, never something precise and designed.

The band was apparently a part of the B.M.I.A. (Black Metal Invitta Armata), some sort of Italian collective of extreme musicians, but unlike more popular metal circles like Blazebirth Hall, it doesn't seem like Spite Extreme Wing ever took a lot of time to advertise the fact. I'm not sure it was a musical collective so much as an ideological collective- looking through Spite Extreme Wing's lyrics and general aesthetic seems to imply some sort of crypto-fascist ideology, though it's never made especially clear. In any case, I think that Mussolini was something these guys had in mind while making their music- it radiates that sort of oddly flamboyant, excessive reveling in power and strength.

Truthfully, I've never heard another band in the world sound quite like these guys, and it's hard to express exactly why they're so brilliant. Listen to the song above, possibly my favorite song by them. What do you notice? The creaking bass tone is very unique, to start, and the riffs aren't particularly complicated, but they're oddly engrossing despite this, showing a sort of melodic elegance rare to black metal bands in general. Then the screams and blast beats kick in, and I think that's the moment where you realize these guys are amazing: because they actually convey the sort of sheer intensity and emotion we all probably felt the first time we heard a metal song in general. The only difference is that Spite Extreme Wing were able to do it time and time again.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Advertising update: Amazon links

You'll notice that at the bottom of all our reviews (and even our Hypehammer articles- we're nothing if not pragmatic), you'll now see a link to buy the album on Amazon. This link will take you to a search of the album and its title. Understandably enough, a lot of them will lead to a 'result not found' page, but hey, that's how we roll.

The way these links work (as goes with our policy of total advertising transparency) is this: when you click on one, it takes you to Amazon, but with our particular referral ID attached to it. This means that whenever you buy ANYTHING on Amazon (not just the album it links you to), we get a part of the profits from that sale directed to us for the referral. As we've just started with the program, we get 4% of the sale now, which will increase as more sales are generated through our links.

Since the links work by referring you to the site in addition to the specific product, it doesn't matter exactly what you buy when you're on there; just that you came through our link. It goes without saying that if you're planning on purchasing a car, boat, or plasma screen TV via Amazon, you should probably do it through one of our links, because we have to eat our own hair sometimes in lieu of actual food.

As always, we will never allow any sort of intrusive advertising on our site which infringes on your experience here. If you'd like to support, try checking out some of the Google banner ads on the sidebar, or maybe make a purchase off Amazon via one of our referral links. Every little bit helps and we appreciate all the support we've had so far from our readers. Keep grinding.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Get Into: Gates of Slumber



Brooding, the conqueror sat atop his iron throne. As the gates swung back on their hinges, racks of torches flickered in the winter wind. A band of bards entered, wayfarers from the fringes of the realm. "My lord," their leader cried, "we come not as entertainers but as supplicants." They spread fine gifts before him: an intricately carved harp, a chest piled high with gold, and a drinking horn wrested at dear cost from the brow of a wild auroch.

"Your offerings please me," the Emperor smiled, "what is thy plea?"

"Long and hard have we sought the spell that would transmute common riffs into riffs of burnished gold. Always, we have failed. Sire, we seek the secret of your Vintage Sound."

A frown crossed the tyrant's brow. "Come here," he replied.

Timidly, the bards approached the throne.

Leaning in towards them, the Emperor exhaled a fell and ancient wind. The torches guttered out, and the room echoed with a single bottomless chord, as if the gods themselves had plucked a lyre. Shocked and trembling, the supplicants prostrated themselves.

"Fools!" their master roared. "There IS no spell, no formula. The Vintage Sound is MINE to wield, it flows from me as the breath of my lungs, as the blood of my veins. Try as you might, it is beyond you all." Saying this, his hand flew to his blade, and he made to rise. "Now take your gifts, and quick, begone! Return to the fly-bitten market stalls of Williamsburg."

Believe the hype, The Wretch cometh down like the hammer of Thor.

Hypehammer: Liturgy - Aesthethica



On this installment of Hypehammer, we suffered through Liturgy's latest turgid, absurdly pretentious sophomore album 'Aesthethica' so you don't have to. Here's what we thought.

Pavel: Look, I'm just saying, I liked Liturgy's first album. Regardless of all the bullshit around it, I could put it on and hesh out, because I thought they were well-constructed songs with interesting melodies and art-rock textures, even if they weren't really black metal.

Noktorn: Okay, that's a character flaw that I can accept from you. But we're talking about 'Aesthethica' here. It fucking sucks.

P: Yeah, it's really gay and terrible.

N: For me, the biggest problem with Liturgy is that they make all the bullshit philosophy and aesthetic behind this music so inextricably tied to the music itself I can't see it any other way. I literally cannot listen to this music objectively.

P: Well, I'd say there's a big difference between this album and the last one. I mean, Liturgy's always been sort of a response to black metal, but on the first album it just felt like they were trying a lot harder. Here, they just sort of... Kralliced out. They did exactly what everyone was expecting.

N: I personally think that the overall concept of Liturgy is that it's not about the music so much as what the music says about you. Not "I like Liturgy's music," but "Listening to Liturgy means that I'm THIS kind of person." It's a statement with music put on the back burner. Of course this is without even going into Hendrix's bullshit musical philosophy.

P: Well, I think you can make the argument that a lot of music creates that sort of identity and branding around itself. Definitely everything else in the hipster black metal movement Liturgy's a part of, but it extends past that as well.

N: You see, I think there's a couple points that really PROVE the aesthetic thing. Like on 'Veins of God'-

P: I like that riff.

N: Yeah, but it's transparent. 'Veins of God' is basically a stoner rock song because Liturgy's playing to an established audience. They're the kind of people who like stoner rock, so Liturgy will put what amounts to a stoner rock song on their album because their audience appreciates it, regardless of whether it's musically congruent.

P: You're looking at it from a Brooklyn Vegan sort of perspective there, though, where something is 'sludge' because heavy and slow = doom. When I listen to that, it just sounds like a slow hardcore riff, something derived from Converge and shit. You don't really need to put so much emphasis on THAT in particular.

N: Okay, well what about 'Glass Earth'?

P: Well that's just an obvious filler track. It's Liturgy's equivalent to the typical black metal spooky synth interlude. It sounds like it was embarrassing to record.

N: Just getting back to the raw music, though, every track pretty much sounds the same. If you've heard one of the 'black metal' tracks, you've heard them all. Plus, I can't fucking stand that obnoxious burst-rhythm stuff they do where they keep hitting a single high chord in an erratic pattern. It does nothing for me. Sounds like they're aping Rush or something.

P: I think that's to build tension, but it doesn't really work. I guess the IDEA could be cool, but it's horribly applied. There's a lot of little moments on this that make me think of the first album, like the beginning of 'Harmonia', but they never go anywhere or lead to anything. Honestly, I think that what happened is that Liturgy basically saw what the metal scene was saying about them and decided 'You know what, we're just going to do exactly what Liturgy is all about and make a really gay album.' It's another response to the scene.

N: Well, intentionally gay doesn't make it any less gay.

P: You know, these guys have been completely ostracized from the New York metal scene. They basically can't get on shows with any metal bands anymore, so they keep getting put on indie rock shows and stuff. I mean, I understand why they'd do that, but-

N: Nope, they asked for it. They antagonized the whole metal scene and now they're laying in the bed they made. I mean, I might feel kind of bad for them, but come on, what did they expect?

P: Well- yeah. Yeah. They're getting what they asked for.

Buy this album on Amazon

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The oldschool scam

Not a scam that's oldschool, but the scam of the concept of oldschool. Throughout the metal scene, you'll see an obsessive reliance on the oldschool, on canonical works of death, black, or other styles of metal, and even a surprising interchangeability of that term with a supposition of quality. Really, the oldschool scam isn't one thing, but many, and we'll have to look at them all to better prepare you to handle the stupid people around you.

1. Retro = Oldschool

This particular chestnut is perhaps the single concept I would say is the scourge of the metal scene, right now. Yes, modernist genre-fusions and idiotic bids towards mainstream accessibility are all obnoxious, but none of them seem as reductionist and damaging to the integrity of the scene as the retro = oldschool concept. At first, it seems deceptively logical: all these different bands on Razorback are playing oldschool death metal, right? I mean, it seems obvious at first: they're a little bit slower, they're not infused with massive amounts of technicality, and the general execution of the music is designed to mirror the older styles of the genre.

The problem with this whole idea is a pretty big and abstract one: music can never be entirely divorced from the era and sociopolitical climate in which it was made. Take, for example, D.R.I. or any number of oldschool crossover bands: they wrote songs that were a response to Reagan-era conservatism and the society that formed and reacted to that presence. These bands are unique and sound the way they do because this was a certain era in American culture and underground music. Unfortunately, much as many bands would like to believe, Bush is not a replacement for Reagan, and an Xbox is not a replacement for an Atari. Despite similarities to the current era, no single cultural element can be exactly replicated later: context changes, culture changes, and previous concepts are left in the dust.

This is why all attempts on the part of retro-bands to create oldschool metal are doomed to failure. This inevitability does not necessarily mean that bad music will arise; there's plenty of bands I like that play in the retro style, and while the music they make typically doesn't really end up sounding like that era of music, it can be good in its own right. However, for the most part, these bands fail miserably because the emphasis has been taken off making good music and has been placed on replicating an aesthetic which, due to the passing of time, is functionally impossible to replicate. While they might have the best intentions, the fact is that the 'oldschool death metal era' has passed, and no Razorback band is going to recapture its particular magic authentically.

2. Oldschool = Good

This is a pretty simple matter- hindsight is 20/20, but the passage of time also eradicates lesser artists. Looking back, Florida circa 1990 or Norway circa '92 probably seem like perfectly fertile creative landscapes for extreme metal. I mean, look at the early '90s as a whole- many of the formative albums in death and black metal were made during this era, and as such, many look back on these periods with fond memories. However, they also put these eras on a pedestal of sorts because they fail to acknowledge the legion of bands that never made it to the level of Deicide or Darkthrone.

Even a little digging back into these formative years of extreme metal will reveal artists that are mediocre or even terrible, but were simply ignored and eventually forgotten as time passed. Rarely do awful bands without support from the greater musical community survive for long- as such, there's not a whole lot of completely terrible death or black metal bands that began in the late '80s continuing today. It's easy, looking back, to only see the canonical works that many of us have been raised on, and see the era they come from as being this perfect period of creativity. However, like any time in history, there's just as much bad then as there is now- the ratio has simply skewed because there's so many more artists working today and contact with them is much more immediate.

The concept of a classic record (or a classic piece of art in general) is something only established many years after the fact- when it was released, Deicide's 'Legion' was not immediately regarded as the titanic death metal record it is today. As such, there's classics shooting up around us even now, in 2011, which we won't recognize for a very long time. Metal hasn't imploded and lost all artistic relevance- you just haven't been around long enough to see it continue.

3. Oldschool = Savior

This is perhaps the most poisonous ideal of all the oldschool scams, but not for the reasons you're thinking. Many are convinced that the only way metal can survive is by pulling ideas from the golden age of extreme metal and reinterpreting them for a modern obvious. This is impossible because of the first oldschool scam listed above, but the real reason that it's impossible is because people are looking at aesthetics rather than the content which makes oldschool albums so enduring and relevant today. Mayhem's 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas' wasn't just in the right place at the right time: there's things going on which make that album endure even today, but those are ignored when it's much easier to just look at blast beats + tremolo riffs + grumbling vocals and call it a day.

Let's look at that album in particular for a moment: what parts of it are so essential? The riffs are incredible, but what about them? Well, for one, they're just as much thrash and traditional heavy metal as they are black metal- there's a ton of melodic and rhythmic variation which keeps them constantly exciting and shifting in tone. The drums are somewhat similar; thrashy and oldschool, but at the same time, there's an intensity to the way Hellhammer composes drum lines, shifting rhythms under riffs in a way that changes the tone of the riffs as well as propels the song forward- it's not something particularly common to black metal, but it for a wonderful black metal drum performance. Then there's the vocals- hell, Attila's vocals don't sound like a traditional black metal scream at all, but a gothic grumble and even operatic wail, which is at once unique and perfectly matches the overall tone of the album.

Do you see the common theme here? Of course- none of the defining elements of this album fall neatly within the lines of 'black metal'. Mayhem were operating without a hard and fast concept of what black metal really was: they had an idea of it and attempted to make that idea come to life, but without preconceived notions of what that was supposed to be. This goes for all the other oldschool records which are so heavily revered today: rarely did they operate cleanly within their genre. Autopsy would mix punk, doom, thrash, and death metal. Morbid Angel would draw influence from Jimi Hendrix but reinterpret him in a new context. Emperor would look to classical music for inspiration, but would change and warp them for use in black metal.

For all people say about metal being an independent form of music, the lines of genre, style, and what one can and can't do within them have been firmly established. The answer is not an arbitrary combination of styles- shoegaze/black metal, funeral doom/post-rock, grindcore/ambient- but a reduction of the influence of style overall. Hellhammer started making music which ended up being the metal we still revere today, and many of the greatest bands out there started the same way: with music as the priority before everything else. I have no doubt that there's a lot of kids with guitars out there reading right now, so if there was one thing I'd like to say to you, it's this: don't try to start a band that's 'death metal' or 'black metal' or whatever you think it should be: just start writing music and let your art find its own voice, whatever that may be.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

True Black Metal, Part 1

This morning I was listening to the old Scandinavian bands, and thinking about what a sad place black metal has become. American hipsters have tried to justify their attempted takeover of the genre in terms of saving it from itself: "We need to break free from the narrowminded purist mentality, it's an artistic dead end! We need to help black metal progress!" And yet, the USBM kids have something important in common with the boring "kvlt" bands they criticize: both think of the genre's possibilities almost exclusively in terms of Burzum and Darkthrone, and the waves of imitators spawned by both bands.

Now, Burzum and Darkthrone are both awesome, but there's a lot more to the Second Wave. The black metal sound that represents the genre's pinnacle (and means the most to me) has gone unexplored since it fizzled out in the late 90s. In fact, it has been virtually forgotten. This is because it's really really hard to make, and because it inhabits an emotional territory so wild and vast that it makes people uncomfortable. People still remember Emperor and Enslaved, largely because of their horrible latter-day output, but nobody is actually influenced by the Hordanes Land split or Vikingligr Veldi.

Basically, I think the best black metal WAS made in Scandinavia between 1991 and 1997. I think the best bands were either lost in the mists of time or dismissed offhand by anxious scenesters as "pretentious." Sorry dudes, THIS is what black metal was--and should be--about. I've posted amazing tracks by three of my all-time favorite bands, along with brief comments.



Listen for the sublime moment at 0:52. It's preceded by a bass break--something you'd NEVER hear today--and then the whole band comes sweeping in like a symphony of ghosts. It's so elegant, so aggressive, and so fucking beautiful. Kvist sound totally Nordic, in a Grieg sort of way, but without any of Emperor's dated "spooky" riffs (which I consider part of their charm, but whatever). Listen to how the song unfolds. Kvist is perfect, and their music hasn't aged.



This is how to do "epic." Listen for the brief, achingly gorgeous swell in the music at 3:09. Don't worry, it returns later in the song too. Also listen for 3:45, where O.E. bring in a fucking Zeppelin riff over blastbeats! It works perfectly, conjuring up images of rugged mountains and rushing streams. Finally, the glorious ascent at 4:54. On Centuries of Sorrow, every single riff is good enough to be the crowning achievement of a lesser band.



Probably my favorite black metal song. Of these three bands, Sorhin is the most straightforward and vicious, but also the most unique in terms of melodies and harmonies. You will never hear music like this anywhere else. My comrade Marcus put it well: Sorhin sounds like "some ancient pagan artifact." Listen for the convoluted, pulsing riff that strikes at 0:21. This is warrior music. Fell deeds awake!

Anyway, look out for Part 2 and maybe Part 3 in the next week. And at some point in the future I will definitely do long-form album reviews of the aforementioned bands and others like them. I just worry that I'd have a hard time doing them justice...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Review: Enmity - Illuminations of Vile Engorgement

The fact that this record receives so much hate from the death metal scene at large means a couple things: one, that it's assuredly one of the best death metal records ever released, and two, that the death metal scene's priorities are far out of whack. I mean, logically, if you're listening to death metal for the right reasons (those being its brutality and animosity towards... well, everything), then this album, which entirely eschews things like 'melody' and 'structure' should be basically flawless, right? Actually, maybe the truth is something a little more painful for the scene: Enmity is actually TOO BRUTAL for death metal fans, who would be better off listening to, say, Yanni or Obituary or some other pop music like that. The cool people will be over here listening to this, rewinding over and over again because they thought they might have heard an actual riff on 'Hacksaw Spinal Butchery'.

If you're reading this review, you're certainly clued in to what Enmity sounds like, though I'm not sure the written word properly communicates just how brutal this record manages to be. The closest approximation would be Last Days Of Humanity's seminal 'Putrefaction In Progress', were you to replace the frantic, gnawing nature of that release with a dismal, mechanical delivery ala early Fleshgrind. This is obscenely brutal: rhythmically, the band operates only in blast or bizarre, offtime slam, and melodically, well, there's nothing present. I'm entirely sure that the guitar on this release is composed of actual riffs but I've never heard a production job which is able to more fully strip away the tonal properties of an ostensibly melodic instrument. You listen to the guitars and you can hear the pitch moving up and down, but no actual NOTES come out the other side. Tabbing this album would be quite literally impossible simply because there's no way you could replicate the sound of the instrument accurately enough for your playing to actually sound like it. The vocals are basically a Wormed-style wet slurring noise. If the lyrics are broken up into actual words, I'm not able to tell.

Clearly the members of this band are masters of their instruments; it's difficult to tell if they're doing what they're doing correctly, but they manage to do it the same way over and over again, so clearly they have their shit together. This sort of goes for the rest of the music as well; it's almost impossible to tell if what's going on is the way it's supposed to be, but it was released on a record label and apparently met the band's approval, so I suppose one has to suspend their disbelief that this was their ultimate vision. There's nothing redeeming about this record: you either appreciate it for what it is, a pure monolith of insane brutality, or you hate it for the same reason. At least what it is isn't in debate; everyone appears to basically acknowledge that this is one of (if not the) most brutal records to date. The question is whether you'll listen to it for that reason alone, to be repeatedly confronted by the sheer unspeakable brutality that this album is composed of.

I've listened to this probably twenty times and I'm still not sure if I'm any closer to understanding it than I was at the beginning, but I do know that I absolutely love it. Then again, I think brutality for brutality's sake is one of the most legitimate goals a death metal record can have. This is essentially the 'Butchered At Birth' of a new generation, and if you can appreciate stuff like this, you owe it to yourself and to the retarded geniuses who somehow composed this monstrosity to hear it.

(As a quick addendum: to anyone who thinks the guys behind this are just cavemen, give 'Severe Lacerations' a quick listen. An experimental acoustic guitar piece influenced by flamenco, jazz, and perhaps the atonal, experimental works of guitarists like Fred Frith? They know what they're doing more than you ever will.)

Buy this album on Amazon

Morbid Angel is dead



Yep, this is just about the worst thing that has ever happened to metal. This is our genre's 9/11. I can't even begin to express how unbelievably disappointing and frustrating and depressing it is to see one of my favorite bands do THIS. Even on 'Heretic', Morbid Angel were most definitely trying to make good music, and more importantly, good DEATH METAL even if it wasn't a great release. This, though... this is completely unconscionable. I don't think I can ever see the band live again because they might play something off this album.

I want to throw up.

Get into: New Lows



If you are one of those idiots who love whining about breakdowns in metal and hardcore, get the fuck off this blog. Breakdowns rule. In fact, I have always fantasized about an album composed almost entirely of breakdowns. New Lows' Harvest of the Carcass is this album.

Don't worry, this is not some shitty deathcore band playing a bunch of one-note grooves. New Lows basically sound like Bolt Thrower if they had been really into the Cro-Mags. Instead of using breakdowns as an excuse not to write riffs, they write breakdowns as riffs, sometimes even as fully developed melodies. They are masters of phrasing: Many of the coolest passages on the album can be broken down into a series of micro-riffs, each answering the one that came before.

New Lows don't have any one way of writing breakdowns. Sometimes they leave space, sometimes they allow you none. Listen carefully from 1:25 to 1:45, where they switch from see-sawing syncopation to a palm-muted massacre. The grotesque lead that finishes off the second riff makes it even heavier. The drop comes exactly where you'd expect, but it's not "predictable." It's inevitable.

These songs would be heavy as hell no matter what, but the album's production really brings it out. Harvest of the Carcass has a thick but biting guitar sound, and a bass kick you can almost feel in your chest. The singer is set back in the mix, so it sounds like he's fighting to be heard over the colossal din. This is really atypical for hardcore, but it fits the music perfectly, since these are clearly songs about struggle and strife. His vocals are totally rabid Dwid Hellion type barks, again not what you'd immediately expect in this context but all the better for it.

Oh, and there are occasional fast parts. In fact, these guys can write some good d-beat riffs. They basically serve as a setup for breakdowns and other slow, stomping parts, but they're never filler.

Anyway, New Lows is a sick band, and Harvest of the Carcass is a fucking neckbreaker. Get on it.


(Thanks to youtuber Crustloaf for the video. He uploaded that whole show, and he's also shot some cool shit about The Rival Mob. I wanted to post the studio track but couldn't find it, so it's a good thing there's a live version with great sound.)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Nostalgia

I'm probably going to write about some music here that you've dismissed with a wave of the hand, but it doesn't really matter to me because I'm an adult and your opinions are irrelevant to my past. This is a post where I talk about my roots in heavy metal with a few audio samples to communicate their significance to you. The coherency of these is suspect because I'm extremely drunk while writing it. However, I just spent the past long while rediscovering my past with a bandmate of mine, and I hope some of the significance of these moments is properly communicated.


Meshuggah - New Millennium Cyanide Christ

When I was around 12, my dad was cool enough to take me to see System of a Down in concert. Yep, it's a nu-metal band (or a band that was lumped into the nu-metal scene). No, I don't give a fuck about it. I remember looking at the ticket when he showed it to me, though (understandably excited), and seeing a pretty weird thing. It said "System of a Down performing with special guests Meshuggah". I had no idea who the fuck the latter band was. Meshuggah? That's clearly not English, or it's just a made up word. I'd never heard of them before. I mostly dismissed it and just got excited for the headliner.

I sat through a couple nu-metal openers and it was almost time for System when Meshuggah took the stage. It was weird. They all got on stage with no real ceremony and I remember being struck by how militant they all looked; Jens Kidman with his shaved head, the other members with their long hair and kind of distant gazes. It was sort of intimidating before the music even started.

And then, the music.

At 12 years old, I'd never heard anything so devastatingly heavy in my life. This was right after 'Nothing' came out, possibly their slowest, most crushing release ever. I was totally floored. I didn't know music could actually SOUND like this; every member headbanging in perfect syncronization, the insanely low and brutal rhythms that felt like they were blowing me apart from inside, every element of it was the sickest thing I'd ever heard. The moment didn't hit me 'til 'New Millennium Cyanide Christ', however, that I really GOT what was going on. This song, posted above, completely changed my life. There was something about it that changed the whole way I thought about music and made me see it in an entirely new light. I still remember the first verse of lyrics by heart. System of a Down was cool, but they didn't really match up to what I had just seen. The next day, I voraciously devoured any information I could find on this new band, which was clearly the heaviest in the universe. It was the start of metal for me.


Morbid Angel - Immortal Rites

I'd listened to a lot of nu-metal and dabbled in extreme metal for a while after Meshuggah, but the main band which really gripped me, for reasons I couldn't rationally explain, was Morbid Angel. In early 2003, when I was still just 12 years old, I acquired my first actual metal album: 'Altars of Madness'. I'd done a lot of research on all the bands I liked, and I knew this was Morbid Angel's first album. I've always been a really structured guy, even at that age, so I wanted to hear their very first official album. I'd never heard anything off that release, but nonetheless, I wanted the first one. It arrived in the mail, and while playing Warcraft III on my computer, I stuck it in the other disc drive and listened.

I really wish I knew at that moment what a significant occasion it would be for me so I could more specifically remember what I felt. I knew that I had never heard anything quite like that before: how twisted the melodies were, the sheer occult darkness of that music, all the elements which make it so loved even today hit me at the same time. What I do know is that I compulsively listened to it every day for MONTHS after that. I ritually listened to it on my shitty CD player while reading the lyric sheet specifically because I wanted to know by heart every word that David Vincent rasped. I was in love, and I think I realized even then that with that album, my life had fundamentally changed and I'd found my true love and passion. Essentially nothing beats this album for me. It defines me in more ways that I could ever express.


Cryptopsy - Crown of Horns

For a while I'd explored the reaches of nu-metal and dabbled in real metal with a friend of mine (a girl, no less!) when I was 12-13. We talked a lot on AIM, and at one point she mentioned a band called Cryptopsy to me, in particular a track called Dead and Dripping. She actually outpaced me substantially in her explorations of extreme metal; while I was still wandering around Linkin Park tracks, she was already checking out Cannibal Corpse. I didn't check them out when I first heard about them from her; it wasn't a conscious decision- just something that fell to the wayside when I was exploring music I was more actively interested in.

Then, one fateful day, when I was around 13, I randomly decided to check out that weird band my friend mentioned on KaZaA (remember that shit?). The first track I listened to was 'Slit Your Guts'. It was definitely brutal and gave me pause, but it wasn't until the second song, 'Crown of Horns', that I found my new musical love. 'Slit Your Guts' was really cool but didn't hit me in that sweet spot where my obsession would take hold, but then I listened to 'Crown of Horns'.

I'd absolutely never heard anything like it. The first thing that hit me was the drumming- I had no idea that human beings could actually play that fast. Listening to Flo Mounier's blasts and double bass smashed all my preconceptions of what a person could do musically. Then there were the vocals; Lord Worm's insane barking, growling, gurgling, shrieking, and any number of other verbs were unlike anything I had heard before. What the fuck, humans can make sounds like those without effects? It was more extreme than anything I'd ever listened to before. It was only after a while that I picked up on the guitars and bass; the sheer memorability of the riffs and the care and craftsmanship of the songwriting was something I picked up in time but moved me in a way I'd never felt before. This is the moment when my passion for extremity was ignited: from this point forward, I desperately wanted to hear the most extreme, brutal, vile music I possibly could in a quest for a peak that would (thankfully) never be attained.


Wormphlegm - In an Excruciating Way...

So around a year down the road, I heard of some weird shit people called 'doom metal'. I had a vague idea of what it was like: slow, depressing, and definitely unlike all the death and black metal I had submerged myself into as a young metal listener. I was intrigued, and I decided to explore it, looking up info on classic doom records as well as more modern, extreme takes on the style. I was 14, hadn't even entered high school, and had never heard a doom song before apart from the obvious Black Sabbath. I was ready for insanity in a way I'd never heard before.

The first artist I'd stumbled across while exploring KaZaA (again!) was Candlemass. It was kind of cool- I downloaded 'Solitude' and listened to it a couple times. I liked the general mood- the slowness, the depression, the sheer weirdness of something HEAVY but SLOW- but I wasn't quite sold on how much it resembled traditional heavy metal. Then I moved on to Skepticism, since I'd heard they were a more extreme take on the same style. I think I heard 'The March and the Stream'- now this was more my style! It was heavy and sorrowful, but the emotional aspect of it was more brutal and incisive and the music itself was more extreme, slower, and weirder than I'd ever heard before. Still (at this moment), I was looking for the most extreme and bizarre music I could find. I'd heard about a band called Wormphlegm- supposedly, they only had a demo tape out that had just leaked to file-sharing services, and it was apparently the most extreme, depraved, and inhuman doom the world had ever seen at this point. I think this was the band that inspired me to download Soulseek, a utility that would influence my musical development for a couple years after the fact. These discoveries all happened within the same couple hours, mind you.

I downloaded Wormphlegm's 'In an Excruciating Way...' demo. It was one track, over 30 minutes long? Already this was something I'd never encountered before. I'd never seen any music outside of classical that was thing willing to indulge in long expanses of pure sound, but I was eager to try it out, to see if I could stomach it or I would finally land on the sound that was too extreme even for me. I threw on the headphones and listened. About a minute of quiet, ambient sound passed- just water trickling. Then, there were a couple bass drum hits.

Then, my mind fucking DETONATED.

The shriek that erupted after those bass drum hits fucking scared me- I'd never heard music that actually made me afraid before. But this, this was something entirely different. This band, Wormphlegm, tapped into a part of my brain previously inaccessible by other music. The sheer, devastating quality of their music astounded me. I had no idea that there could be bands as brutal and heavy as Cryptopsy that did the exact opposite- that exacerbated slowness instead of speed in their pursuit of extremity. The lyrics sickened and disquieted me, the vocals freaked me the fuck out, and the bizarre machinations of the guitars and drums made me think about music in a new light: there were no rules, there were no boundaries, there was only sound to do with whatever the fuck you wanted. It was an amazing experience. You have no idea how many random people from my high school now have a buried memory of me showing them some weird band called Wormphlegm back in the day.


Catasexual Urge Motivation - Mutilation, Rape, and Serial Murder as Modern Metaphor

When I was around 12-14, Darklyrics was the primary site where I looked up lyrics for my favorite bands. Still, while finding the bands I wanted sorted by place in the alphabet, I'd always stumble across weird stuff that I hadn't seen or heard of before. I wouldn't necessarily look at their lyrics- I was too objective-minded for that- but certain names would stick out in my head for a long time after I'd seen them. A lot of times, it would be YEARS before I even bothered to investigate them- I guess I was kind of weird in that way. Still, there was a certain band I would always pass in the 'C' section of the site: Catasexual Urge Motivation.

At 14, what the fuck could you possibly think of a band name like that? Catasexual Urge Motivation; it was medical but weirdly sinister. It pointed to weird feelings and ideas that I wasn't entirely comfortable with. Shit, I didn't even know what the name properly MEANT. What the fuck does the 'cata' prefix mean? All I knew is that it was definitely weird and probably unpopular- I couldn't imagine a band with a name like THAT being well-known among even the underground metal scene. I was right! I think I discovered that name around 12, but I left it dormant until a couple years later, well into my first year of high school.

One day, much like I had with Cryptopsy, I randomly decided to look them up on Soulseek. Now this, THIS was something I'd never seen before: the song titles I saw were weird, unsettling, and odd in a way I'd never seen before. They were in English, but a staggered, broken form of it, and the things they suggested, the hidden desires and compulsions, were things I'd read about in essays about serial killers more than in other metal bands. There was something afoot here and I was intent to find out about it. I downloaded the very first track on the full-length I could find: a song called 'Rape, Mutilation, and Serial Murder as Modern Metaphor'. I gave it a listen.

That was the moment in which I discovered my favorite band, favorite album, and what I to this day consider to be the best album that metal has ever turned out.

There was absolutely nothing that prepared me for that song, for that sound, for that IDEA that metal had seemingly ignored. It started simple enough; a programmed drum beat that didn't quite use samples that sounded like a real drum kit, a staggered rhythm that didn't quite match up to anything I'd heard in metal. Then the guitars piled on: sick, distorted beyond belief, reverbed to the point of hallucinatory derangement, letting out a melody that sounded like it was recorded from strips of skin slowly pulled off an unwitting victim's body. This was bad enough, but then the blast beat kicked in. The murmuring, purring vocals, the totally alien melody, the hideous, chaotic rhythms: THIS was it. This was that pinnacle of sickness that I'd always sought out. I realized, at that moment, that I had arrived at the sort of music that I'd been setting out to find for years. Additionally, at that moment, I realized that I wanted to make music. I got a guitar and started practicing and writing. I look back at the primitive, silly, but impassioned songs I wrote back then, aping my favorite band, and I laugh, but I know they were real, genuine, and driven from an all-consuming passion to give tribute to the artist that affected me more than anyone: Catasexual Urge Motivation.

~

All the songs above I played for my bandmate when he was over tonight alongside his favorites and all-consuming passions from when he was a kid too. We shared all those old experiences and described in vivid detail what it was like to discover sounds like these that struck us in such a manner at a young age, making us realize that this, THIS was what we were on this earth to explore, create, and expose to others. Even at this point, when I heard the opening strains of 'Immortal Rites', I want to fucking weep. And that's what I listen to metal for.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Decapitated literally turns into Emmure on new album



This is just splendid. This brings a smile to my face in a way that only burning orphanages typically do. I've never liked Decapitated, and I particularly never liked the crazy revisionist history surrounding them post-Vitek, so it's pretty satisfying to see them turn into a hardcore band. I'd always jokingly called Decapitated a bad death metal band who did a good deathcore song one time ('Spheres of Madness'); I had no idea it would end up becoming this true.

Wait, I forgot. It's exactly like Emmure except I like Emmure. This just brings schadenfreude to a totally new level.

Recent retro-death releases (I am too tired to give this a real title, fuck off)

I was going to write a lengthy and detailed review for you, I really was. I'd been wanting to write something interesting and enthusiastic about a great new album, but I kinda struck out. I think I chose the wrong scene.


First, I'd been impressed by some old Necros Christos I heard on Youtube, and thought I'd check the new album. Oh man, not again...here comes "the Pharoah's Curse!" Unless you are Iron Maiden writing "Powerslave," writing about Egypt seems to automatically condemn your album to suckitude. Maybe the "exotic" imagery is supposed to cover up the lack of an inner motivation to the music? Basically, Doom of the Occult sucks because the riffs are arbitrarily constructed and arbitrarily placed. You might as well just read our Krallice review. I can tell you, though, what makes this central problem more painfully obvious.

1. Sometimes you can save a lackluster riff with an unusual note combination, but not if you surrender death metal's atonal arsenal in favor of predictable "Oriental" scales.

2. Sometimes your vocal performance can make the rest of it worth sitting through, but not if you use sing-song patterns that awkwardly double the riffs, and especially not if every single chorus involves shouting the title of the song. And CERTAINLY not if that song title is "Necromantic Nun." Uh, what?

3. 20 minutes of boring instrumental filler doth not an epic masterpiece make.

Also, I tried to go through Doom of the Occult to pick out a part that exemplifies its problems, but I got too bored. Not a good sign.



Second, I tried Miasmal's new self-titled LP for a more Stockholm vibe. They're playing around here in a couple weeks, and I wanted to get ready. I really enjoy listening to this music, and there are a couple killer tracks. "Toxic Breed," in particular, links an elaborate d-beat riff to an eerie tremolo chorus with the harmonic richness of black metal. Nice one dudes! The handful of weak points are during long streams of palm muting--Miasmal are very good at changing notes, so I like when they stick with that.

Still, I must say this is not very interesting music to write about. Do you like really good d-beat hardcore? Do you like dissonance and very loud low frequencies? Do you wish there was more music like Like An Everflowing Stream? Cool so do I!

If you haven't already gotten the picture, retro-death is just not the most exciting thing going these days.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Electronic music for metalheads

Just a couple for now, but I'm sure you'll like them. I've recently reignited my love of extreme electronic music and figured I'd share a couple artists I love for you types out there who are interested in new sounds.

The darker edge:



Sorry to make you suffer through the anime, but it's a necessary evil. Venetian Snares is one of breakcore's legendary artists, and Doll Doll Doll is probably his darkest, most virulent album. Entirely based on the concept of child murder, Aaron Funk weaves intricate, violent, terrifyingly chaotic beats over beds of murky synths and vocal samples. Definitely not the sort of thing to listen to right before you go to bed.

The lighter side:



The Flashbulb could in a lot of ways be seen as the opposite side of breakcore; heavily influenced by some of the more sensitive post-rock out there like Explosions In the Sky, The Flashbulb makes chirpy yet speedy and intense rhythms over slowly shifting walls of grandiose melody. It basically sounds like what I always wanted to hear from electronic music as a kid but was never fortunate enough to stumble onto until much later.

Hope you enjoy.

Demo-lition: Frosthammer - The Cold Wind of Eternity

Frosthammer is a completely pointless and stupid 'black metal' band from Canada whose FOURTH demo was released on March 17th, 2011. Some jackass from the band named Necrodruid unfortunately sent this to me.

Pavel: I'm not going to lie, I didn't listen to the whole thing. I couldn't.

Noktorn: It's cool, I didn't either

P: The really dumb thing about this is that I think it's actually serious in some way. Like, the songs aren't completely aimless. They were clearly laid out and written and composed, and the lyrics don't read like jokes; they just sound like really shitty 8th grade poetry.

N: I think that it's a bunch of people who want to make real music but aren't confident enough in themselves so they couch everything like it's a joke so they have that safety net to fall back on.

P: The clean vocals are literally the worst clean vocals I've ever heard. And the drum programming is hilarious.

N: I think all the instruments are synthesized.

P: Yeah, the guitars do have a fake, tinkly Evanescence quality.

N: The thing that fucks with me is that it looks like a joke, but the most obvious part of a joke band in metal is that it's a coherent parody of something specific, but this isn't.

P: Exactly, it's not coherent and it has no actual target. It's not really making fun of black metal conventions because it has nothing to do with those. It's literally some of the most pointless shit I've ever heard in my life. If it's serious, it's complete shit. If it's a joke, it's not even funny and it doesn't even feel like they're TRYING to be funny.

N: This is a case where I'd say that the kids doing this should really be doing something constructive like doing drugs and getting arrested.

P: Yeah, I mean, if these were just some kids who really liked Darkthrone, went to black metal shows, and failed at burning down a church because the kerosene wouldn't light or something, I could respect that! Even if the music turned out to be completely shitty, at least it could come from a place that I would appreciate way more than whatever this is.

N: Was this actually easier to make than real music? I mean, most joke bands put out one, maybe two demos if they're ambitious. This is their fucking FOURTH demo! The sheer amount of time spent on this shit is totally crazy! It's like the kid in high school who spent three times as much time figuring out how to cheat on a test instead of just studying and passing it normally. Seriously, what the fuck is the point of this?

P: You know, I think this really might be the most evil, suicidal black metal ever made because it simply offers you nothing. After twenty minutes of listening to it, all you are is twenty minutes closer to death. It's incredibly bleak and nihilistic. I actually feel like I've permanently lost something by spending the time even talking about it.

N: I would say it's some sort of postmodern commentary on the futility of art and music, but let's face it: the guys who made this aren't smart enough for that.

P: It's a pathetic cry for attention. Whether it's serious or a joke, that's all it is.

You can listen to Frosthammer (but I wouldn't recommend it) here:

http://frosthammer.bandcamp.com/

Review: Silencer - Death - Pierce Me

It feels to me like everything everyone has written about this album is unbelievably incorrect. It almost feels like everyone's listening to a different album from me- all the wrong (and generally most obvious) aspects of it are emphasized, and not the elements which really make it an enduring piece of art that I still obsessively listen and re-listen to years upon years after hearing it initially. It mystifies me how people can arrive at the same general conclusion about this album- that it's an amazing black metal release which stands tall among the greatest the genre has produced- and yet still so massively understand the aspects which make it incredible. I hope I can evade some of the same pitfalls while writing about it.

I'd like to preface everything by saying all the stories surrounding this album, and Nattramn in particular, are completely irrelevant to its character. Nattramn could be a fucking mailman for all I care and this release would be equally amazing. The thank you list of pharmaceutical drugs, the institutionalization, Nattramn's hospitalization and rebirth as Diagnose: Lebensgefahr (a massively inferior work to this) are all unimportant, and I'm not going to dwell on these aspects after this paragraph. It's a shame that, like so many classic black metal releases, 'Death - Pierce Me' has been reduced to a collection of stories and rumors instead of an artistic piece in and of itself. The only thing that I can hope is that eventually enough years will get between new listeners and its release so that they can listen to it with open minds, not clouded by the celebrity-obsessed metal scene and their love of gossip and drama. Anyway, we're already giving too much time to these elements by even mentioning them.

Have you ever felt depressed? More properly, have you ever 'had' depression? Have you had months-long periods in your life that you can barely remember because they were mostly absorbed by sitting in your bedroom, trying to figure out how to leave and be 'normal' for a moment? I'm not talking about a brief period of intense depression caused by the death of a loved one, of a long-term relationship falling apart, or any other transitory factor: I mean the sort of pathological bleakness that starts in your brainstem and travels down to your soul, to the point where there's brief periods in the day where you know (don't think, know) that suicide is the only answer. Days where the temptation to leave a corpse for others to find and the very act of looking in the mirror is so primally revolting you can barely do it. Days where you sicken yourself just by existing and when sitting in your car you want to start pulling off strips of skin simply because you can't be yourself and exist anymore. It's hard to describe what something like this feels like to someone who's been fortunate enough not to feel it- the very idea that the self no longer makes sense and you spend most of your time in a dream world of total, all-encompassing self-hatred and suffering.

I ask all these questions because Silencer is one of the only bands that I've heard who capture depression as it actually is. Not a romantic sorrow, not something passionate and artistic, but the greyness of living in that mental state, where sadness eventually gets overwhelmed by sheer tiredness, resignation, and regret that you ever existed. There's a potent mixture of insane rage and equally insane self-destruction in this music that I think only really resonates with people who have been there before (and not even all the time, at that). It's a product of a very peculiar mixture of neurological chemicals and environmental suffering, and Silencer captures exactly what it's like to feel it. Not really sad, not crying, not even wishing for another life, but just sitting on the couch, knees pulled to your chest, looking out the window, and not thinking because it hurts too much even to think. It's horribly negative music that I have no doubt has inspired more than a few desperate bids for salvation at the bottom of a pill bottle.

Let's get the most obvious and least important element out of the way quickly: Nattramn's vocals are what they are. He shrieks like a little girl, wheezes, feebly grunts, and sounds weak a lot of the time. He's not a particularly good vocalist by any traditional measure, but he's appropriate for the music and is good, if you listen with an open mind, at putting you in the sort of mental state that this music was likely composed in. He sounds desperate and pathetic and self-pitying and tired- in short, he doesn't sound like a black metal vocalist typically should sound like. He has no breath control, no real understanding of how to deliver lyrics, and no real concern over impressing anyone. He sounds exactly like you feel in the depressive state: just weak and defeated. It's perfect for what it is.

Much more important than any of that, though, are the instrumental compositions which seem to get shrugged off so easily. Silencer's music is at once inspired by Bethlehem (owing to drummer Steve Wolz) and not even remotely similar. While Bethlehem tried for a lurking, almost occult look at mental illness, Silencer's goal is a lot simpler, and the music reflects it. It could be said that Silencer is sort of a rough prototype of what bands like Nyktalgia would later create: long, meandering songs filled with rote blasting, droning, bleak tremolo riffs, and insane, wailing vocals, but there's a certain intimacy and subtlety to the compositions on this record that can't be understated. Nyktalgia is a band created when depressive black metal has already been codified- while they're excellent at it, they have a playbook to follow. Silencer has no such playbook, and because of it is a much stranger beast.

A lot of the standard tropes of depressive black metal are here: fast blast beats become slow because they go on so long, and the bleary, red-eyed tremolo riffs are hazy and not particularly sharp or insistent due to the inherently misty guitar tone. At the same time, there's a lot more rhythmic and melodic play on this record than many give it credit for: careful listening reveals a lot of sinister, quiet counterpoint melodies between the two guitar tracks and even the surprisingly audible bass, which almost acts like a quiet, whispering voice in the background, answering 'yes' to all the questions the guitars ask. The riffs aren't depressive in today's established sense of depressive black metal riffs; they tend to sound more grey, confused, and alien, with 'Taklamakan''s opening riff a particularly unpleasant and clear example of it. Hints pop up of Sterbend, Nocturnal Depression, all the big names the depressive black metal scene would later turn out, but Silencer tends to reside in less obvious and more desolate melodic avenues. They display rainy days in an urban environment, jobs lost because you just stopped showing up for work, and an empty stomach because you can't bother to go grocery shopping. They're not supposed to be catchy or fun, and they don't accidentally run into either.

Beyond that are the surprisingly nuanced drums of Wolz, who despite the relative rhythmic simplicity of the music does all he can to provide a more lush, organic feel to the music. His skills most obviously come out on the numerous piano or clean guitar passages that dot the album, where he's given free reign to play with the boundaries of rhythm, adding subtle, dynamic accents to the stillness of the melodic instruments. Even within the more conventional beats, he always finds time for abrupt, off-kilter fills, sudden cymbal switches, and quick trills here and there which let you know he's still breathing despite the deathlike stamina he displays on the long songs. He provides a welcome bit of variation to what is, at its core, fairly still and static music, and with a lesser drummer, the album wouldn't be as effective.

The structuring of this release is interesting, and I definitely think there's a story being told, as abstract and unconcerned with precision as it clearly is. The first and last of the black metal tracks are clearly more straightforward in their sadness than the middle tracks- they're the catchiest and the most obvious to associate with the album. It's the middle three which really make it what it is, though: the wistful, almost contemplative and sardonic 'Sterile Nails and Thunderbowels', the unspeakably ugly and depraved 'Taklamakan', and the grim, seemingly neverending 'The Slow Kill In the Cold', given even more austere beauty and finality through its bookends of simple, ambient synthwork. These are the songs which really define the album for what it is; it would be easy to shrug off the other two as just unusually unhinged depressive black metal tracks, but these songs give 'Death - Pierce Me' its unique and immediate character. There's no reprieve in these tracks from the all-consuming self-destruction the album practically encourages. Much like all the other tracks on 'Transilvanian Hunger' after the title cut, they're the songs which truly make the album what it is.

There's many small elements apart from the black metal which help set this apart: resigned music-box piano and clean guitar work, droning, haunted synths, and even small stretches of dark ambient and industrial that pop in to provide variation as well as reorganization and context in the long (and intentionally long-feeling) songs. These are some of the only places I've seen these elements used well in black metal- where other bands use clean guitars and piano almost as a necessary evil, or to flatter a pretense of sophistication, Silencer's application of them feels much more natural. Their inclusion is almost arbitrary but also necessary- they're the pieces which keep you anchored to the songs, rather than just drifting in a seemingly endless sea of grey tremolo riffs and blast beats. The focusing nature of these small pieces are powerful, as is the incredibly bleak, death-march closing piano piece 'Feeble Are You - Sons of Sion', where hope is completely and irrevocably lost. This is an album that absolutely must be listened to all at once- it loses almost all meaning when split into individual tracks and is very clearly meant to be consumed as a whole.

Silencer's album really might be one of the most misunderstood pseudo-classics of black metal- while there's an absolute plethora of elements to talk about regarding it, most seem content to just dredge up the same, tired handful of aesthetic aspects that really have little impact on the music in general, or have an impact that's felt in different ways than the listener would typically anticipate. I don't expect anyone new to appreciate this simply because I've written about it in this manner- this album is a love it or hate it affair, and the initial impression almost never changes- but I feel a need to give it some much-deserved context and dissection that it's been missing for a long time. After all, this disc is the story of a lot of days in my life. It only feels fair to give them some justice.

Buy this album on Amazon

Sunday, May 8, 2011

In life and in death

At around 1 AM on May 1st, one of my best friends, a guy named Anthony, committed suicide via shotgun blast to the chest. He did it in his car, outside the apartment building where he roomed with another of my best friends (and bandmate). The angle of the shot shredded the roof of his car and the cops had to pick up pellets of buckshot from around the parking lot. My bandmate found him at about 6 in the morning, entering rigor mortis. The hole in his chest was big enough that the barrel of the shotgun actually fell into his corpse. Even better, it was then my bandmate's job to go around town and wake every one of our little circle of friends up with the news.

There was no funeral- he was cremated and there was no official service. There was a memorial party of sorts thrown by his family a couple days ago, but that's the end of it.

There's a lot of fascinating details to what he did. When we went over to my bandmate's place to look at his room for the last time, we saw that he'd cleaned and packed up nearly all his belongings for ease of removal when the time came. His computer was cleared of everything except two MP3s left on his desktop- one to his friends in general, and one to the friend he was closest to. We listened to the one that was for all of us- funny enough, it was Megadeth's 'A Tout Le Monde', which lyrically made a lot of sense given his ethos. He left very specific gifts to each of us that were clearly designed with each person in mind. In my case, he left a worn copy of 'The Brothers Karamozov', a book we'd discussed when we spoke about classic literature the last time the two of us hung out alone together. He recommended it to me and insisted that it would resonate with me the way it did him. When I saw it on his desk, I sat on his bed and wept.

Anthony was an interesting person. He was definitely one of the most cynical and nihilistic people I've ever met- he firmly believed that life was ultimately purposeless and arbitrary, that good and evil was a false dichotomy, and that reality in general was nothing but a collection of perceptions. He despised the world and everyone in it apart from the small clan of friends he was loyal to. He was basically estranged from his family, and while extremely intelligent, was essentially tortured by what he thought was his personal failure to his family, friends, and himself. His preparation for the suicide was distinct, ritualized, and most importantly, impossible for anyone to track and stop. It was not a cry for help. It was meticulously planned, and he clearly wanted no one to stop him.

-

Reading the description of Anthony, you might see why I'm posting this on a blog about metal and extreme music: almost every detail of his personality neatly describes the average person who is deeply invested in underground art. While he wasn't a metalhead, all the parts of his personality and mind add up. The average metalhead is uncannily similar to him: intelligent but fatalistic, only sporadically able to function in an everyday existence that seems ultimately meaningless, loyal and with high-minded romantic concepts but ill at ease with himself and uncertain about his future and place in the world. He was just one of what sometimes seems like an entire generation of children with no direction, no goal, and no deeper meaning for life beyond what we've managed to cobble together for ourselves.

The point of this is not to talk about suicide or even my friend, really. At the end of this piece, there's not going to be phone numbers to suicide hotlines, trigger warnings, or desperate pleas to not do the same. I refuse to condescend to you in that manner. However, I hope it makes you think about exactly where our impulses towards underground art come from. Anthony was not excessively different from myself or likely you reading this right now; we're simply lucky enough to have found just enough to drive us to push through the days that he couldn't. At Trial By Ordeal, we try to give a voice to his part of the population: angry, depressed, obsessive, romantic, fearful, and frustrated with the world around them. As we've been repeatedly let down by the fake movements and revolutions of our era, all we can do is try to carve out our own foxhole in a world that doesn't care about us.

Krieg ist leben, leben ist krieg.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

1,000 Years of Bloodshed (TBO Mixtape, Vol. 1)

Prepare for bloodshed! 1000 fucking years of it! Punked out black metal, blacked out punk metal, death metal, crust, industrial, noise, and some crushing downtempo powerviolence. Obscure new shit and tastefully selected classics. It's not just a bunch of mp3s in a folder, it's a continuous mix filled with weird samples, cool transitions, and the like. Hopefully it will turn you on to some stuff you haven't heard.

Major thanks to my old Michigan buddy Ian for putting this whole thing together. He even designed the cover, which is INSANE. It's included in the zip file, so make sure to drag it into your itunes or whatever. If you dig Ian's taste, stay tuned--he's going to start writing with us soon.

Without further ado, here is the link, and here is the tracklist:

1. Whore Mass - Teitanblood
2. Baptized in Ashes – Wastelander (Lansing MI)
3. Life Beyond Life – Innumerable Forms
4. Angel of Destruction – Syphilitic Vaginas
5. Phase Shift – Wumpscut
6. War of the Machines – N.I.B.I.R.U.
7. The Possibility of Life's Destruction – Discharge
8. Noise Not Music (No Fucker Cover) – Wolf Eyes (Ann Arbor!!)
9. Ultimatum (Excerpt) – NON
10. Dead Walking Hog – Ork Bastards
11. Dark Ages – Harbinger (Lansing MI)
12. Pain in the Ass – Dishammer
13. Nuclear Annihilation – Bolt Thrower
14. Unconscious – Mind Eraser

Friday, May 6, 2011

Good shit coming up.



Sorry I couldn't post last night, N. and I have each had to deal with some shit this week. Anyway, I will hopefully be doing a real post sometime tonight, and N. should have something coming up, but for now wanted to plug upcoming articles. Listed in no particular order, just things to look out for.

1. Trial By Ordeal Mixtape Vol. 1: 1000 Years of Blood. Continuous mix of death metal, blackened thrash, crust, grind, etc. Compiled, edited, and illustrated by our bro Ian, who will probably start posting occasionally around here soon. I've listened to it already, it fucking owns, get stoked. If all goes well, this will be up tonight.
2. Demo-lition: Frosthammer.
3. Liturgy - Aesthethica. Will bring down the fucking Hypehammer if it sucks as much as we expect. But I actually liked their first album a lot, retarded image and "philosophy" aside, so we'll see.
4. Necros Christos - Doom of the Occult.
5. Miasmal - S/T
6. "Spewings From the Pit." And by that I mean concert reviews! May and June are going to be great months for metal and hardcore, at least here in New York, so I'll be trying to hit up as many shows as I can.

Oh, and Ringworm rules, worship them.