Sunday, December 31, 2017

Darksworn - Rogue



Darksworn's style of metal is firmly rooted in the Gothernburg spirit of bands such as Dark Tranquility with heavy emphasis on melodic riffs using synthesizer and keyboard supporting melodies yet supplanted by the common metal-core elements which inevitably seem to work their way into projects of this style. Rhythmically, riffs are more in this vein and the movement and transitions feel much more similar to the parasitic bastardization of the great Swedish style that prospered stateside in the early - mid 00's. Rogue is the second album under the Darksworn heading by sole force Alan Blaisdell or "Adam Darksworn" as he uses in Darksworn. Perhaps the switch from Alan to Adam for whatever reason made sense to him but for me, I don't see any reasonable excuse to change stage monikers from a regular name to a similarly regular name, especially for this genre.

Regardless, Adam handles all instrumentation on the record. It's very obvious where his strengths lie. He's a fairly competent guitarist but the material lacks the subtle flourishes which different members bring. This is very noticeable in the interplay between the guitars and bass playing on the album . Across the record, the bass never veers into anything beyond following the rhythm guitar. It's not used for any composition or arrangement effect at all. The drums are tough for me listen to and judge. Apparently he plays the drums but he might as well have programmed them. The sound replacement software he's using just doesn't sound natural in any way and if he's snapping to grid in post it just further mechanizes them. Vocally a monotonous low death metal growl grumbles across the entire recording, burping out lyrics about a planet coming to destroy the earth.

"Slow Death By Poison" stands out to me against a lot of the other material, with attempted Necrophagist flourishes and much heavier overall sound compared to the other tracks. The song's X-files-esque keyboard and guitar combo is a highlight on the album for me, but it's a rough transition into the body of the track. "Inferior" shows a capable ear for writing memorable segments. Early on the track leads into a catchy bridge where Cynic styled vocal modifications and effects are layered behind everything at times. Of the two instrumentals, "Lost" and "Through Defeat," the former is much more mature, shifting nicely through a singular vibe while the later is a mishmash of riffs. "Lost" also gives the impression that the electronic and synth elements have a purposeful place. It still sounds cheap, but it's not as bad as what we're given elsewhere for this reason alone.



The keyboards across the album are easily the most conflicting component of this entire effort. The quality of the effects is just not up to par for a professional sounding recording. It's more like the soundtrack to a Nintendo game than an effort at crafting a metal album. Listening to "Through Defeat" represents the entirety of their usage across the album. Instead of say, using the bass to add the melodies which the keys provide - in a way akin to Carcariass on Killing Process - we're giving childish sounding keyboards. But at times, they also add an otherworldly nostalgia which could be associated with 80's and 90's sci-fi and video games. Perhaps this was the goal but it's done in ways in which don't leave me interested in revisiting the material.

I feel that Adam is in his formative stages as a composer and musician and without hearing the other material he put out, it's tough to say where exactly he's heading. I empathize with his usage of electronic programs to round out compositions, as I've used numerous programs myself to write and compose. It's easy to rely on them for completing a project but it truly comes at a cost of an album's perception. I'd like to see more of where Adam takes this project, but he needs to either upgrade to software which provides a more professional result or choose to use guitar effects to mimic some of the elements he uses the keyboards and synthesizers for before having his material taken seriously. I just need to get more emotion and feel from the recording which is tough on such a mechanical recording. Rogue has some ideas that can be expanded on but the execution needs to be a better quality to grab the ears of fans who simply have too many options to listen to.

p.s. Artists, don't prove 18MB image files for your cover art... what a pain in the ass for those of us with shitty old computers.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Mortum - Eheieh Chaos




Mortum were one of those bands that seemingly inaugurated this decade's black metal scene in New Jersey with their widely distributed first demo in 2010 and album in 2011. Both formative efforts were still, for the time, a step above in refinement. Other than Immolith, Mortum somewhat solidified the upper tier of underground black metal at the time with established acts like Krieg and Abazagorath sitting on their thrones. Haethen were fairly popular south in the Philadelphia region but never really seemed to entice further north in the state. I still feel they were on a different level altogether on both a local and national level. I digress. What was noticeable on Beyond Which Darkness Holds Secret and Rites of Depopulation was a gift for melodic movement. Six years later, that penchant is still strong, and a decisive turn away from the common harsh and abrasive sound I associate with the Northeast places them in a smaller and unique niche of bands who have decided to fully embrace the Eastern European sound of bands like Graveland, Arkona, Hate Forest/Drudkh, and Astrofaes.

First listens of the album prioritize my ears directly to the guitar melodies which carry the brunt of the power on the album. The lack of bass in the mix was initially noticeable until my ears acclimated, after which I was able to hone in on them. They could have been more pronounced and defined. The guitars, tonally I consider "politely raw," with a softer hazy element that smooths out an underlying sandiness and rigid texture. The guitars aren't merely the main melodic element but the only melodic element with the bass so under represented in the mix. This stripped down arrangement puts all focus on the emotions in the melodies and performance of the vocals and drums. Drums drive the album forward but do little to stand out, taking a utilitarian role opposed to an artistic role on the album. Ominous' vocals are in the higher black metal range and adequately add the necessary narrative layer to the mix but also don't particularly add much character.

The pacing presents an album with all intentions to be epic and grand with a solemn chanted genesis leading into the remainder of the first track, "Scourge of Suffering". The opening and "As Cold Winds Blow Amidst Winter Dust" proudly escalate through a bevy of standard black metal tremolo strummed riffs. "Occult Redemption" is darker, moodier, and more elemental. After these tracks we get highlights in the powerful and enchanting "An Elegiac Hymn To Death" and the immediacy of "Shadows of a Forgotten Past." They form a perimeter around the throwback "Black Sickle" (see next paragraph). Closing is "Pitch Black Waters," which fades into the common culminating tendency to have the introduction and epitaph mirror each other.



"Black Sickle" is likely to obtain it's own admirers as the album's catchiest and most nostalgic sounding track, but I'm not as big a fan of it as I am some of the more simplified tracks on the record. Immediately we are transplanted from Mortum's own grey-scale world of pride, reverence, and solitude into the more frantic escapism of Drudkh's Forgotten Legends. The track is too close in essence to something which Eheieh Chaos draws from instead of the wells and springs of influence which the rest of the album drowns in. "An Elegiac Hymn To Death" does this much better, drawing out seven minutes of smartly progressing chords in a tense melody that is sturdy enough to merit the risk of repetition and still draws comparisons to the Kharkiv scene.

Mortum's faults here are slight, and have to do with the lack of bass and some monotony with the drumming. These aspects might prevent listeners from appreciating the emotion and imagery which the entirety presents. The back of the case states that the album was recorded "in various locations" but I wasn't able to fully discern any major tonal differences so likely the drums and guitars were recorded somewhere separately for logistic reasons. The liner notes in the case present some heady poetic lyrics which I would have cared to see more of in the layout for a more complete experience. This is very traditional black metal for dark solitary nights, even if it is common fare in many respects.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Morgirion - Infinite Retribution Upon Paradise


Morgirion's Infinite Retribution Upon Paradise slowly reveals endless layers of Black Metal influence from numerous scenes. The brunt of the material is chaotic in a distinctively American manner, but there is also an Eastern European sensibility to the pacing as well as a Swedish influence when it comes to the atmospheric elements that have been worked spectacularly into the fabric. Essentially, Morgirion take the style they impressed me with on their self titled EP and progress it maturely into a more captivating whole. It's quite a 'whole' as well. At a full one hour of nearly continuous milk-curdling Black Metal replete with wailing tormented vocals, storming drums, and syrupy atmospheres, Infinite Retribution Upon Paradise is a prime example of the opposite end of what we are seeing black metal morphing into elsewhere.

A key element for me throughout the album is Connor Dooley's keyboards which can often be found gliding behind Gerry Baldini's scathing guitar performance. While opening track "Purification Through Fire" represents the tracks composed of endless feasting and fury, the tracks which truly stand out are those in which Morgirion incorporates this straight-forward approach with that of the keys to enforce dynamic and melodic elements. "An Ode To Fallen Cowards" is a good example of this usage, as the keys break the song in half while allowing the drums to continue blasting into oblivion. Keys play a huge role on the back-half of the album with prominence in "Exiled From The Light" where they bookend the nine-minute opus and in "Pyroclastic Warfare" where they enforce the track's breakdown into more melodic territory. In "Inception Revoked," the longest track here at thirteen minutes, the keys offer the repetition to induce the desired trance-like state that is desired, while Matt Jambard explores his drum set like a seasoned jazz musician and then towards the end smoothing out the album's best moments.



Aside from keys, Connor's vocals are notable for their natural dryness across the album, tearing whatever esophageal lining he has in an extremely violent vocal performance. The dryness is tempered by heavy reverb and echo which draw out his tormented screeches into a riveting and wince-inducing performance. I haven't decided if the vocals are too much; do they harm the mix and stifle the rest of the instruments when they're present or are they just perfect, causing the skin to crawl at all the right moments? Either way, the performance is masterful and enter my textbook on how to deliver. The vocals, and their trailing effects, are spacey and cosmic gelling nicely with the keys which purvey a similar vision while the guitars and drums are upfront and aggressive; leaving a worldly mentality.

I wish there was a little more rhythmic variety but overall this is black metal for black metal's sake and for the developed black metal listener. The harshness on offer requires seasoned ears to navigate through a challenging release both in terms of content and length. The production has clarity but is quite harsh and bristling as well. As a reward for experiencing the full effects of Morigrion's effort, we are gifted with the last three minutes of "Inception Revoked" which highlight everything this album does so well. A transition based on a recorded sampling builds into a driving, melodic, and mid-paced movement with keys providing a psychedelic twinge beneath Connor's lowest-toned vocals. It's the slowest overall portion of Infinite Retribution Upon Paradise, yet it is every bit as intense and mesmerizing as the rest of this large caliber release.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Diablo Swing Orchestra - Pacifisticuffs (...and Further Thoughts)



As much as this is a review of Diablo Swing Orchestra's new album, Pacifisticuffs, it also expresses my thoughts on several other areas from the perspective of a reviewer and critic. It's not every day that I approve a rash of comments on Contaminated Tones in about three hours time which, for lack of a better description, wish death and malice upon my reviewer (odd coming from fans of a band with an album called Pacifisticuffs in which the lyrical content is vaguely passive-aggressive). This did cause my senses to perk up and my intuition to tell me that somewhere in the nether-realms of the web, a storm was stirring and we were getting the flood-waters.

A quick aside to add context: two years ago Apteronotus - who I have always felt to be a more capable writer and reviewer than myself - wrote a review for Diablo Swing Orchestra's Pandora's Piñata. I would not categorize his ultimate judgement as positive. Diablo Swing Orchestra, (DSO - according to their fans; I refuse to use the abbreviation because I'll start confusing myself with Deathspell Omega) in an effort to drum up some Facebook activity had been looking for bad reviews for their new album, the obnoxiously titled Pacifisticuffs, to post. They selected Apteronotus's review, even though it was two years old and on a previous album they weren't attempting to promote. The response was singular:

"Lame review."
"Glad you were in another car accident."
"Asshole OMG."
"You must be fun at parties."

There were a host of other comments similarly full of good cheer (I'm in the Christmas spirit I guess) on their Facebook post. Importantly, the interesting comments revolved around the concept that the review was not accurate or objective. At least these assessments raise concerns that could be proven or disproved. For instance, a common retort mirrored this comment: "I mean seriously, operatic vocals & Evanescence?? Where the hell did you get that, moron!" Perhaps the impression that Annlouise's vocals were operatic came from the fact that they were in fact influenced by her opera background and that throughout the record, though other styles do appear, there are a large swath of instances that show this influence. In an interview in 2006 with Metal Symphony (one of the few interviews I found that talked about vocal style specifically at any point), her style was confirmed by the Diablo Swing Orchestra member them self: "We think that it's probably mostly due to the fact that the bands you've mentioned (plus many others) combine distorted guitars with female vocals, some in various sorts of opera-style." Annlouise left Diablo Swing Orchestra to continue her opera career. Since there is no significant difference in citing Evanescence versus Lacuna Coil, Nightwish, Etc, and listening to the record, objectively, the assessment is accurate (See "Aurora" for a prime example).



Equally objective would be the description of current vocalist Kristin Evegard's vocals as pop influenced on new album, Pacifisticuffs. They are not far in style from Gwen Stefani's or Pink. There is a power in her voice which places Kristin's vocals leagues above your run-of-the-mill pop singer and is, for me, one of the most pleasing aspects to the record. To my ears, her vocals are stronger than Stefani's but not quite as powerful as Pink's. The breathy and wispy character is notable in tracks like "Lady Clandestine Chainbreaker." Comparing Kristin's vocals to rock vocalists or metal vocalists such as Pat Benetar, Doro Pesch, or Leather Leone, it is discernible that the appropriate grit, grime, and grimace is missing to qualify Evegard as being a metal or hard rock vocalist stylistically. This is extendable to the R&B arena as well. Consider a vocalist such as Tracy Nelson or Aretha Franklin. This extends also to the male vocalists on the album whose vocals sound classically trained and too smooth and friendly to fall into the metal realm themselves. The vocal capabilities of all involved here are impressive from a technical standpoint.

Regardless, I generally can't stand the vocals on this record. They are plastered everywhere, over every section in which I felt the music should be the main focus. In this way, Pacifisticuffs felt more grating to my ears than Pandora's Pinata which at least allowed the musical components to eek out a meager existence in this bleak landscape where bongos and clarinets tower over the guitars and Latin beats are used to landscape this toy-land world. "Knucklehugs (Arm Yourself With Love)" is a perfect example of this failure to allow the music beneath to lead the intensity As the vocals are gang-chanted spurts of borderline hippie drivel lyrical matter, I can't imagine the general metal audience finding any thematic reward considering the predisposition to thematic content involving mostly death, destruction, violence, hate, malice, blood, darkness, and sex.* The fact that I'm not a fan overall of female vocalists in this wispy pop-style - there are few exceptions - adds to the discomfort of listening to this album over and over. The vocals (and bass) are also engineered so much to the front of the mix that when vocals are present it covers up the subtlety of all other instruments. This mix is a decisively non-metal mix in this regard. With the vocals and bass so prevalent we are presented with a sound design which fits music in the pop realm rather than in the rock realm.

When you hear noises from the kitchen and inspect the bottom of your trash bin
On the instrumental side of the album, we get commendable performances across the board. As a bassist, Andy Johansson's playing on this record is particularly laudable for the sheer number of styles he's maneuvering through and his driving presence throughout, but we were prepared for the variety aspect of this record and I found the bass parts at times to be overbearing. "The Age of Vulture Culture" - a song that reminded me of "Lady Marmalade" - highlights the heavily syncopated nature of the backing music across the record. Much of the instrumentation, especially the bass, guitar, and horn sections line up with the percussion. Speaking of the horn section, Daniel Hedin on trombone and Martin Isaksson on trumpet get credit for adding the album's most distinctive instruments. The percussive backing, handled by drummer Johan Nordback, is a key element for me which I enjoyed throughout.With all this in mind, I do feel as though this is not meant to be perceived as a "Metal record."

For me, all these combinations of styles, the western, big band, swing, pop, latin, operatic, jazz, and the few if any actual metal elements, can create a war of presence. In "The Age of Vulture Culture," the horns through the chorus, perhaps a fun and unique component for some, sound like the local duck pond in the midst of mating season; there's way too many ducks. I was fascinated by the way in which all these disparate influences come together to yield what essentially sounds like a heavier ska band. One of the most hideous combinations on the record can be explored in "Jigsaw Hustle," where we get the boppy-ness of a disco beat, definitely incorporated to spur much crowd jumping in a live setting, underpinning one of Pacifisticuff's more metallic tracks. It comes across as summoning contradictory sensations in the track. The multiple instrumental breaks are unnecessary for me. There's no need for a track like "Cul-De-Sac Semantics" when the song before ends with a similar degree of force.

Some of the tracks I did enjoy include the subtle haunting instrumental, "Visions of the Purblind," which is an excellent introduction to following track "Lady Clandestine Chainbreaker," which I also enjoyed much of. I felt Kristin's vocals in the track were evocative and inspiring. The chorus is extremely catchy and shows how the horn section can be incorporated in a way that adds to the depth of the tracks instead of diverting attention from it. It's unfortunate that Diablo Swing Orchestra stretched the track out, which I thought didn't fit the song's upfront faster elements. I really was keen on "Interruption" when it's intro began playing, but the dissolution into lounge-influenced verses didn't serve the intensity of the introduction in the long run. The song would have worked it's way into a favorites playlist somewhere if the intensity was maintained until the 'Come spin me around...' transition, which I felt manifested into an inspired culmination to end the song.


Going back to my short review of Licho's Podnoszenie Czarow and my theory of the Katamari Damacy effect in black metal, that effect could also be extended to the avant-garde and progressive realms as well, in which often progressive ideas in structure, phrasing, and meter are often jettisoned in place of surface aesthetics such as genre-mixing, the good-ole "cue the pan flutes" syndrome, or use of other "floating experimentation" measures. Diablo Swing Orchestra is a prime example of this. At any point we are inundated with a range of instrumentation that counterfeits the origin styles and smears the result. In one sense, the experimentation in bands like this are more akin to texture experiments in the noise-realm than music to listen to and digest as traditional songs because the wash of sounds and combinations are impossible to base on previously experienced successful experiments. If we're listening for the "surprise" or the "weirdness" factor of the material overall, much as I expect I'll be doing on something such as the Cum Broth or Shit Huffer tapes sitting next to me, then Diablo Swing Orchestra can be firmly placed in that same category. The textures and overall mixing of elements on Pacifisticuffs, while vapid on a structural level, manage to give off feelings of folly, joviality, and temperance. If that was a goal, then success was achieved.

I think that's why there's a big gap between my experience with Diablo Swing Orchestra's style and a band such as Arcturus. Where the former goes all in with every instrument they can find in the closet, Arcturus, who I think most would objectively classify as avant-garde and experimental, started to slowly incorporate different elements into the material in a way in which listeners were able to grow to understand the usages of the different elements and the aim of their usage in the composition. Aspera Hiems Symfonia had the symphonic elements strongly incorporated over what I think most would call a fairly average black metal foundation. There were some bursts of experimentation in sound but the overall experience was initially manageable and rewarding after multiple listens. La Masquerade Infernale expanded on the concept, incorporating more elements in a darkly frivolous operatic manner including female vocals, more piano, clean male vocals, and a heavy focus on exploiting transitions to push the tension forward. For those that appreciated the experimentation side of Arcturus' first album, their second album was a gift to the ears. Sham Mirrors added electronics and sci-fi flourishes to the carnival atmosphere, taking the terrestrial and launching an extraterrestrial album. The listener grew with the band as they explored the potential each previous progression unlocked. Diablo Swing Orchestra similarly mix a treasure trove of styles and instrumentation however, to my ears, do not do so in a way that is manageable or digestible.

It's often a go-to claim of fans of these avant-garde / Katamari Damacy categorized groups that those that are critical aren't open minded. The claim of not being "open minded" to music is a argument claimed too often against negative feedback. It's easy, however false, to claim that because someone doesn't like a mangled grouping of styles smashed together in a CERN-like centrifuge, that they are closed minded to different styles. These are red herrings. One can not claim that just because someone does not like a band's output that they are close minded to the different inputs. That would be like claiming that because someone doesn't like tomato sauce they aren't open minded to new foods. This is especially true when an audience has gone through the effort of listening, assessing, and reviewing the material and giving reasoning of why they perceive the material to be tortuous. That activity alone defines an open-minded approach. Open-mindedness is defined by the willingness to explore while close-mindedness is defined by the willingness to ignore. These appeals to one's own emotional response on having a band they like receive negative coverage are predictable and fallacious. Diablo Swing Orchestra are a band which experiment in so many different styles, combinations, and aesthetics in which the origin genres are tempered, folded, and beaten into something in which it is nigh impossible to actually determine whether we enjoy the myriad origin genres and influences.

It's extremely easy to confuse the objective and the subjective in regards to art criticism. In one hand, we want reviews to be objective; the honest and unbiased absorption and interpretation of art. In some sense, art criticism is always objective as there is a definitive plate on the table for us to taste. We can objectively explain the ingredients. In music, these ingredients come in the form of influences and common stylistic tendencies. Yet, how we interpret the art is heavily reliant on aesthetic judgement and sense. Immanuel Kant touched upon this in 1783: "When an appearance is given us, we are still quite free as to how we should judge the matter. The appearance depends upon the sense, but the judgement upon the understanding; and the only question is whether in the determination of the object there is truth or not."** Our judgements are based on our sensory understanding and so long as there can be found truths in that understanding, the judgement can be determined to be true and reasonable.

The result of any objective assessment then results in a subjective opinion which qualitatively expresses one's understandings of art, in this instance an album. It's in this way that an objective review process yields a subjective total viewpoint. A purely objective review would be absolutely meaningless to read. It would tell facts and figures which are already known and explicitly expressed. Reviews could be written as a listing:

Diablo Swing Orchestra - Pacifisticuffs (2017)
- Female Pop Vocals.
- Latin rhythmic influences.
- Occasional Bariton Male Vocals
- Avante-Garde
- Heavy bass presence
- Incorporation of horn instruments.

This manner of review has no value as there is no judgement made. Fans read reviews because they want to read the opinion of someone else, not be told what they already know. They seek to know someone's judgement other than their own. Mostly, I think that artists seek out reviews more than fans of the band. For an artist to read a criticism is to seek out what people feel was not executed to their liking. They don't need to be told the facts; they seek the subjective to improve and prosper. A totally objective review is the difference between paragraph three where I describe Kristin's vocals on Pacifisticuffs and paragraph four where I say how I don't necessarily enjoy them. If I left out the subjective thoughts on the album, then no one would know what my actual feelings were on the record. What purpose would that serve?



I had the bizarre feeling that I had heard these bizarre combinations and parodied superlative re-imaginings of genres. I had: Masato Nakamura's score to Sonic the Hedgehod. Casino Night Zone in particular gives off a very similar vibe. I went back and listened to the entire soundtrack for the game and the comparisons are really interesting. Maybe if Diablo Swing Orchestra composed in 32-bit format, I would have enjoyed the album more. Ultimately, as weird as Diablo Swing Orchestra and their album Pacifisticuffs is, the concept and execution is not unheard of. My feelings are that Pacifisticuffs, and Diablo Swing Orchestra, create music for the purpose of being experimental and weird, catering to an audience that seeks the claim of open-mindedness without having to actually listen to the formative genres they claim to be open-minded to. This is musical acculturation at it's wackiest and wildest. It's trotting into a wild west town on a blue and orange hippopotamus wearing a space-suit and carrying a zucchini and claiming that everyone must take notice at how bad-ass your helmet is. Some people surely enjoy this music, but the reasons for that enjoyment I either don't understand or find difficult to empathize with.

* Meant to play into the stereotypical expectations of what metal fans look for in lyrical content.
** Immanuel Kant "Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics" ex 290.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Black Metal Bass: Part I

I’ve put together eight short clips as a highlight of bass guitar work that I have really enjoyed in black metal. This is also partly a response to a Metal Archives thread a while back asking if bass was even necessary in metal. While many people pointed out how obviously silly the question was, bass is often an unsung hero. This is especially true in black metal, which is so treble heavy.

This is just a quick sampling of a bunch of different songs where I feel that bass was particularly interesting or prominent. Still, no matter what song you are listening to, if you are using $2.00 earbuds you won’t have the best bass response. The selection is about 50/50 traditional/experimental black metal, and I put down some quick thoughts on each clip.

Another nine clips are already picked for Part II, but if people enjoy this and email me some suggestions we could do some more.



1. Darkthrone - Summer of the Diabolical Holocaust

This song is a great example of how bands can use bass to add a ton of character to a straightforward transition, even when the underlying riffs are an exercise in stark minimalism. By having the rest of music temporarily drop out of the mix, Darkthrone uses the bass to introduce a riff that centers around just two notes in a way that is absolutely striking. When the guitars come in afterward and harmonizes with the bass it’s also a clear example of how much space in the mix the bass occupies in the song.

2. Peste Noire - Sale Famine von Valfoutre

In this example, Peste Noire brilliantly uses the bass guitar to introduce a crushingly heavy element to the song’s initial build up. Relying on a simple four part harmony fade-in, the band forces the song to start off with a ridiculous amount of energy by having the bass interpolate notes between the main parts of the melody. This lets the intricate bass work transform what would have been a rather formulaic intro into one of the album’s highlights. Also, you have to love the warm growl on the bass tone here.

3. Lord Belial - Osculum Obscenum

This song has such a classic buildup structure: repeating a melody with a stereo split before having the guitars harmonize (think for example of how Slayer’s “Raining Blood” starts). Lord Belial uses this approach by having a right left split on a single riff before having the guitars harmonize while simultaneously adding in the punchy bass (following the guitars note for note) and the percussion. This song is a great example of how tinyn and thin guitars can sound, even when harmonizing, without support from the bass and drums.

4. Khold - innestengt I Eikekiste

It’s pointless trying to pick just one song from Khold that highlights the bass because it’s so essential to their sound. Khold is unequivocally black metal, and fairly traditional other than taking the bass guitar to the extreme. Aside from sitting high in the mix and having some solo moments, it’s wildly more independent than what most bands have. In our example “innestengt I Eikekiste” we can easily hear Khold’s take on a “walking bass” melody, which diverges from the main riff while sticking to the song’s scale.

5. Leviathan - Crushing the Prolapsed Oviducts of Virtue

While many band’s use the bass guitar only as an accent, this song flips that role by having a layered melody where one guitar provides the harmony and the other guitar plays off of the bass’s melodic line. This song is a great example for how important black metal bass can be because it provides an essential part of the melodic counterpoint. The huge gulf between high and low pitches in the melody makes for an absolutely unforgettable moment on a release that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

6. Stargazer - An Earth Rides Its Endless Carousel

When I first heard this song I felt that Stargazer should be arrested and their bass player tested for performance enhancing drugs. While this example may be only tenuously connected to black metal, Metal Archives lists the band as “Avant-garde Black/Death Metal” and frankly this 2014 release is one of my favorite albums of all time, so it’s getting included. The bass on here is absolutely out of control. For anyone that doubts whether bass guitar can keep up with the technical side of metal, this song should resolve the question permanently.

7. 1349 - Nathacana

1349’s Hellfire took black metal aesthetics and imbued them with death metal’s percussive aggression and intensity. The brief bass introduction to “Nathacana” is a critical part of the album. With Frost on drums, the album’s low end might seem like a crowded field, but this section lets you understand how the bass’s low end connects the razor sharp guitars to the low end of the percussion. While this kind of role is bass 101, this brief moment of separation helps you recognize the bass’s strength on the entire album.

8. Ved Buens Ende - I Sang for the Swans

It might be cheating to use Ved Buens Ende, but “I Sang for the Swans” is the kind of song that makes you question whether it is necessary to have guitar in black metal. While the traditional roles between bass and guitar are flipped, the band uses the moment to focus on the lyrics. Because, hey, it’s not a big deal for VBE to make the bass center stage for the stringed instruments. You could even argue that the vocals also take a second seat and just act as an accent for the bass work on this part of the song. The entire album is a clear example of how powerful a bass player can be in black metal.

9. Ellorsith - Susurration

This may seem like an odd choice to demonstrate bass at first. But, listen to how it takes up a huge amount of the overall sound and nearly overpowers the guitars while also simultaneously enhancing the oppressive atmosphere. With black metal, the wall of sound effect is frequently critical to establishing presence, and Ellorsith allows the bass to take on a lot of the weight of this role while relegating the guitars to relatively subservient, but nonetheless compelling, melodic flavoring. This approach works extremely well with how deep the band’s vocals are.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Blattaria - S/T



Wow, one of my all time favorites! This album is so ridiculously good that I can’t bear to explain the basic details without gushing over it. Blattaria’s self titled release is the solo project’s first full-length. This much compositional talent all in a single musician, Manuel Garcia who is also credited with all of the instruments and vocals, just seems unfair. It’s freakish, especially considering this is the project’s first full-length and it was only preceded by a demo. Summing up the sound, this is the culmination of a variety of interesting developments in black metal that have happened after the second wave sound fully coalesced. The chaos of bands like Gnaw Their Tongues, the musty atmosphere of House of First Light bands like Vorde, the dissonance of Deathspell Omega, and the unrepentantly savage melodicism of Naas Alcameth (of Nightbringer fame) - Blattaria expertly and coherently incorporates the best parts of each of these styles, and often all at the same time.

The name Blattaria, referring to cockroaches, is beyond appropriate for the music’s filthy vibe and dizzying pacing. Reverb and delay effects on the clean guitar melodies make the notes seem to skitter over one another, and the left field high-pitched tremolo-picked notes have an insectoid screeching quality. For example, the quick transition at 2:50 on “Dimension” couldn’t be anything other than a fever induced hallucination of roach swarms writhing their way under a moldy refrigerator. However, unlike so many “chaotic” contemporaries, Blattaria knows when to pull back, and countless creepily slow moody parts are integral to each song and help to highlight the intensity elsewhere. Transitions from one stunning riff to the next have such seamless energy that the thrilling songs, and even the entire album, become a page turning narrative. While you could, in theory, boil the music down to switching between quiet and loud parts, doing so would be like suggesting you don’t need spaces between words.



One counterintuitive part of the music is that despite all of the noise, chaos, and cockroach feces, this release is superbly mixed and mastered (by Mare Cognitum’s Jacob Buczarski.) The strong stereo split on the effects adds a ton to the depth to the music. The mixing’s effect on the melodies is even more striking. Take for example the representative stretch of music starting around 1:30 into “Amongst Filth, Amongst Decay” where the centered bass rumbles along before being joined by a dissonant meandering melody entering from stage right. Next, a bewilderingly high melody joins strongly from the left before the guitars meld back together. Every single part the mix comes through crystal clear and without sacrificing an ounce of the vile and ferocious vibe.

Even the drawn out and distant vocals add an excellent layer to the mix, and they appear as nasally incarnations of Attila Csihar or as extended shouts. The vocals are more of a texture, used like a synth-pad on a keyboard might be. Each gurgling note is so distant in the mix and slow in comparison to the often frantic pacing elsewhere. The unique texture is also a critical part of how the album feels so coherent. You know every last song couldn’t be from any other band, even though the actual repetition or recycling of ideas and riffs is extremely minimal. Compare the earlier example from “Amongst Filth...” to the bit starting around 1:40 into “Dweller of the Night.” This second example is brilliantly drummed with punchy rhythmic choices, and the incredible riffs don’t repeat anything from “Amongst Filth...” Still, you can draw obvious parallels in how the high melody plays against both the rhythm section and an additional guitar riff to create climactic tension. It’s just one clear example of how the album’s structure is absolutely beautiful (in a fluorescently lit roach carapace kind of way.)

It almost makes you wish there was some filler in here, or even a song that was only “just” really good. Some sports have a mercy rule to put a stop to overwhelming dominance, right? Plus, I can only get so amped up; but at the same time the 42-ish minute run-time is just perfect. Once it’s over, everything seems somewhat dull in comparison, like you are going through withdrawals. Only a handful of albums have ever risen to this level or have this kind of effect; and although I had this reaction to the album immediately, an additional month and change of listening has only reinforced my opinion. While Blattaria isn’t the first band to use a lot of the elements on this album, everyone knows that first to market doesn’t necessary translate to quality. This lodestar album has merged a wide variety of black metal’s novel fringe styles and thrust them to the next level.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Monthly Blast November 2017


 Anorectal Ulceration - From Flesh To Liquid Mess (2015)

Blistering Indian grind act, Anorectal Ulceration, slice and dice helpless listeners into the remains of which they depravely grunt about. This type of grind is not normally associated with India but that is by no means a cause to ignore them. The twelve-minute long EP / Demo From Flesh To Liquid Mess is rotten from front to back. "Snuff Film With The Zombies" gives proper salutations with a mix of early slow and later fast grinding rhythms. Ultra-low growls scour the surface of the material in appropriate gurgling manner. What is noticeable is the tightness of the drumming in coordination with the rhythm section, as evident in "Arterial Damage By Injecting Fermented Urine" or "Erectile Dysfunction Caused By Successive Blowjob," which is my choice cut. For a more fun-filled vibe, "Spew Assault And Deep Penetrations on Open Wounds," is sure to instigate some sloppy frolicking. Samples separate some of the tracks to allow some breathing room, but that breathing room is filled more or less with the wafting odor of horror and death. The nine songs speed by, as all of them save the opening track are roughly one minute long. With a classic tonal splurge of low-end brown notes and relentless percussive violence, there's little to condemn. Perhaps just a slight bit more variation in the guitar riffs and melodies and one or two off-paced tracks would have perfected this release. (Orion)

Ascended Dead - Promo 2012 (2014)

The promotional version of Ascended Dead's Arcane Malevolence EP, this demo version was put together to distribute on tour. The EP and the tape are the same. Ascended Dead do the Incantation style well, as they effectively pound through a litany of riffs in the most frantic manner possible. Vocally, uproot Pillard and transplant Van Drunen and you've got a good idea of what to expect. Ascended Dead do try to capture some of their own essence however by breaking into some explicitly memorable melodies, such as that in "Emanation" or the slower, Horrendous-esque culmination to closer "Blood Consecration." While the musicianship here is of an extreme caliber, a special nod goes to guitarists Jon Reider and Ian Lawrence who make themselves known throughout the recording by viciously slicing and dicing through the rhythm section with wild solos and leads. While I acknowledge that "Blood Consecration" is the deepest track, with a multitude of sections and leads and even the beautiful slower melodic segments towards the back end of the track which shows the band's depth, I still like "Emanation" the best. It's enough to make one want to listen multiple times to these four songs. It's also enough to simply buy the full length. Which I did.
(Orion)

BloodElk - Frontier (2017)

In juxtaposition to the norm of "more listens yield more substance," BloodElk's album, (or EP if you take into consideration the lenth) Frontier, which initially seems to give the impression of potential nuances to be revealed after several outings, instead becomes less and less interesting as the nuances disappear to be replaced with a continuous dross of similarity. The unfortunate casualty in all of this: the subject matter and content. With epic stories such as that of John Franklin's search for the North-West Passage, or the tale of Simon Girty or Simon Kenton, the subject matter would be perfectly served by any number of more epic backgrounds including Manilla Road-styled USPM, Bathory-esque Heavy Metal in the Blood Fire Death vein, Epic Death Doom like Disemboweled, or Candlemass / Solitude Aeternus oriented Doom. I could even seen a Norwegian Black Metal band giving a good go of it. But short and stubbly grinding sludge like Napalm Death circa Scum giving EyeHateGod a rimjob? Not really conducive to the story-telling aspect of these yarns. Even the sole longer track, Kenton's Run, just meanders in and out like waves crashing on a rocky shore. Perhaps these bursts of grind and momentary repetitiveness that seems so primitive and cheap are also the best representation of the tribulations and torture explorers faced on the frontier, and for that, perhaps BloodElk and Frontier are spot on in their presentation of these sordid lost stories, but if you're not going to dwell and ponder the philosophical connection between the structure and form of the material to it's lyrical content, you're left with a lot of blasting and bleating but not a lot honoring the brutality of these topics.
(Orion) 

Descenery - Stillborn Monolith (2017)

If you get past the first twenty six seconds of the first full track on Descenery's Stillborn Monolith, "No Way," and do not retract immediately, then the probability is high that you're either deaf or simply in the band. This Russian group follows fairly closely in the late 90's early 00's vein of metal, laden with keyboards and clean vocals interspersed with screamo-inspired (or uninspired) vocals over the lowest common denominator Gothenburg melo-death. We're looking at Dark Tranquility married to Sonata Arctica here. Objectively there is nothing wrong with the musicianship but subjectively there is everything wrong with this recording. I've given the record a full four listens so that others don't have to listen to it. In a nutshell, the limp wristed riffs and bland melodies that are strummed beneath D-grade Killswitch Engage folly are further marred by an emotionally devoid mix in which even the attempts to add color with some drawn out noise, such as at the end of the title track, sounds forced and planted as if an enemy agent were there, telling you "look, I told you that I could have heart!" Occasionally Eastern European and Asiatic countries are several years behind in cultural exchange musically, but there is no excuse for taking the most mundane influences and further stripping them of whatever coating may have protected the material from the prying ears of critics. I'll note that as soon as I heard "A Man, Anew," which features female vocals, I simply said to myself, "Really??" Maybe there are still people out there that would find enjoyment with overlapping Nightwish and Katatonia's most recent banality, but there are also humans that enjoy Desperate Housewives, the three hundredth installment of Harry Potter, and golden showers.
(Orion)

Doomentor - The Second Ceremony (2015)

Solid Death Metal awaits on this two-song single. Doomentor are one of only very few bands that I've come across who have a definite influence from Master's Hammer in their sound. The strummed chord-progressions in the chorus in opening track "Maligne" and compositional arrangement of the tracks hearken back heavily to Ritual. The mixture of clean guitars and other theatrical elements, included appropriately, in the two tracks also are unique and original and present a complete view of what Doomentor can do. The tight rhythmic approach which Doomentor focuses on can be attributed to Celtic Frost-isms. Raspy vocals occasionally drawn out into slithering drawls are not the sole linguistic tool here. "Nocturniae Monumentalis" also has some clean vocals incorporated into the arrangement for good measure and add further to the theatrical exposition. A contemporary comparison would be NY's Throaat so for local readers that have fallen in love with who I think are a top-ten in local bands, Doomentor should be on the radar.
(Orion)
 
Interment - Life Here After (2016)

This compilation from Necroharmonic is the totality of early Finnish death metal band Interment's output. This includes three tracks released in demo and 7" format in 1990 and another four tracks that were available from a previously unreleased rehearsal capture. Low, gutteral vocals and twisting melodies comprise the fundamental structure. There is a Floridian influence in their sound, as evidenced throughout with Johannes and Samppa's guitar solos and rhythms being quite indicative of Trey Azagthoth's style on Altars of Madness. The three demo tracks are all very much in this vein. Once we get to the rehearsal tracks there is a breakdown in consistency. With "Sun I Sense Your Power," we get a different vibe than the rest of the material with an almost punk simplicity for periods. Gone are the twisting weaving riffs and melodies. It's an extreme difference in rhythmic style, even if the solos have similarly wild in nature, and the instrumental track sounds more like Metallica's "Orion" than death metal. While the compilation is a great listen for die-hard death metal fans, particularly those who focus on the Florida or Finnish scenes, the ultimate sentence here is 'interesting but not necessary'. Sure, the demo tracks are cool, and sure the background of the band - as revealed through a comprehensive inner layout with interviews and summary - is worth knowing, but there isn't enough material here to seek out unless you're interested in expanding the collection for archival reasons.
(Orion) 

Licho - Podnoszenie Czarów (2017)

This Polish outfit is yet another obscure group doing their own experimental version of black metal. Szturpak approached me with the material and initially I went back and checked out what I could find of their previous material which surprised me with exactly how experimental it was. Podnoszenie Czarów is evidence of a trend I've seen in black metal over the past few years. I call this trend the Katamari Damacy effect; Black Metal is a genre which absorbs all the other genres and styles that it comes in contact with, and it rolls up into this giant ball of sound that is at once a solid form and yet also full of gaps and crevices which are left unfilled. Licho experiences some of these gaps throughout what is a rather plodding and syncopated album. Licho is bass heavy and structured around the bass drum combination but where Licho falls short is in the depth of the song writing and the extent of the experimentation, causing some songs, such as "Niech Tnie" to feel more like a bizarre alternative rock song, than experimental black metal. The album intro track, "Zachodzi" doesn't set up second song "Zadarte" in any real fashion. Nevertheless, Licho have some moments where they show promise. Vocalists Dominik and Szturpak growl and grimace their way powerfully and grittily throughout the record. Patyr's bass playing combined with Grzegorz' drumming is a prime example of a precision rhythm section. If I had to pick a top track, I would go with the chilly "Sianie". Thin and icy tremolo guitar melodies abound as the combination of textures and rhythms manifests into something with a lot of tension and bleakness.
(Orion) 

Mandatory - Ripped From The Tomb (2012)

Mandatory are a chronological nightmare to listen to. Adrift Beyond was an hour full of tracks culled from throughout their catalog along with some newer material so it's follow up, 2012's Ripped From The Tomb, one would assume, would be full of new material. Hah! Too easy! Ripped From The Tomb is actually Mandatory's first full length, recorded in 2003 and never before released. Once again we are getting tracks which we've heard before but this time in the form they were originally intended to be released. The production here is expectedly rooted in the Swedish Death Metal style with HM2's buzzing and chugging. You know what you're essentially getting but I will point out a few minutia which I noticed. "Exelution" is perfected here in it's initial form and lays to rest any notion that the recorded version on Adrift Beyond is superior. The original version cuts a full twenty seconds from the song and still sounds larger. The Dutch Death Metal scene's coloring which was seen on the 2010 full length is nowhere to be seen here. This is all Swedish and so the band's (specifically Sascha Beselt) influences from Entombed, Grave, Dismember, Nihilist etc are in full force. It is both a blessing and a curse, as there is less depth to be found on Ripped From The Tomb and the songs are less twisting and mentally taxing, but the simplicity and immediacy of the death here is not to be slighted. This energy and power is aided by a thirty five minute run time. Ripped From The Tomb is worth it if the tracks on the Exiled In Pain compilation only wet your appetite as there are a few here not present there.
(Orion)

Putrid Yell / Eaten Alive - Vicious Manifestation of Horror and Death (2014)

This Iron Bonehead 7" is a super quick blast of two death metal bands, Chile's Putrid Yell and Eaten Alive. With a whopping twelve minutes of total content, I'm not entirely determined that the record is worth the potential price to import them from overseas but it's good enough to tack onto a larger order if you're buying from the German distributor or find domestically. Putrid Yell are a dense and murky style of death metal heavy on the low end rumble with a massive amount of down tuned weirdness. Rod Nihilist's vocals are quite demonic and gutteral adding to the general disgusting nature of their sole track, "Wrenching Putrid Yell." Eaten Alive's "Mangled In The Morgue" is also a jumbled and muddy death metal track, which is overall swampy and trodding. The two bands together fit well together on the release. Both incorporate slower, demonic-tinted death metal with extremely low growling death metal vocals. For my money, I felt the Putrid Yell track was more engrossing and interesting, as trounced through several different hideous auditory biomes, while the Eaten Alive track was more straightforward and didn't seem to offer as much variety. Both tracks were well enough written to not give off questionable criticism. I'm not sure, however, that this record, even if it gives a positive introduction to both of these bands from Chile, will be enough to draw in listeners with the quantity and quality of good death metal being released lately.
(Orion)

Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes - This Time It's For Real (1977)

This Time It's For Real was the second Southside Johnny album. Notable are the songwriting credits. Steven Van Zandt is responsible for eight of the ten tracks writing credits, two of which "Love On The Wrong Side of Town" and "When You Dance" have Springsteen co-credited. Zandt also produced the record. Southside Johnny's vocals, while offering a huge presence and emotional dynamic on the record, are complemented by a swath of backing musicians which fill in on horns and backing vocals in the Jersey Sound style which Springsteen and Southside Johnny popularized. Highlights include a stirring Aretha Franklin cover of "Without Love," the slow and sultry "First Night," and the album's most complete original, "Love On The Wrong Side of Town." The latter has an almost Billy Joel-esque piano-vibe yet is driven by Al Berger's pounding walking bass lines and the big brass section that forcefully bridges the chorus and verse. Al Berger's bass playing is a highlight across the record leaping from the record like a tiger roaring from a hidden spot in tall grass; a metaphor which becomes reality on final track "When You Dance." This Time It's For Real is a classic Jersey gem from the glory days of the Jersey Shore sound.
(Orion)