Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dustbin of Demos: Vol XI

Beware, there's dust in the dustbin, literally and figuratively. Dust, dirt, and mold. I spent a bit too much time sorting through old boxes of audio and video tapes this week and found myself with a nasty cold, yet no nasty, cold black metal. 

Burnt Offering - Demo
Black metal from Germany

Basement demo-quality black metal which seems based on rough approximations and poor interpretations of prominent works. This band has absolutely no idea of the function of each part in the flow of each song - they jump from samples to brooding noodling to blast beats to mid-paced stuff constantly. They borrow the first riff from Mayhem's "Funeral Fog" but change the notes slightly so it doesn't have the eerie tension to it, just sloppy crap. There's a Celtic Frost "UGH!" in the same song out of nowhere, but the song is lost at that point and continues wandering without even getting into a proper homage with an intense moment which would follow Fischer's grunt. The band's drummer was Nargaroth, which simply underlines the point that this is a mediocre imitation of black metal.

Scythian Fall - Demo
Sludge/doom metal from Germany

Lots of lame breakdowns that seem to just be thick tone-basking, because they hardly have a place within the song, nor are they groovy on their own. There are two decent riffs on the demo, yet no concept of placement, building around the riffs in time nor instrumentation. Find a riff, wear it out, and eventually devolve into a breakdown. One hook to catch attention, then drag it out to bask in the aesthetic before going to a breakdown because it isn't headed anywhere. Dragging an aesthetic nowhere, because they have nothing to say. Puzzlingly boring stuff.

Fiendlord - Dust on the Chamber Floor
Symphonic black metal from Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

Black metal predominantly driven by keyboards, though the guitars work in some tension in the chord patterns beneath that. Though the keys and guitars, mostly the latter, manage to find their way to the lead at times, it seems like it takes the first two thirds of each song to get to a bridge section where all of the instrumentation finally resolves and meets before splitting off again. The drums are mostly a timekeeper and the vocals little more than a minor accompaniment, though there are some decent clean vocals on one song. There are some interesting quirks to the instrumentation, but large portions of it are entirely uninteresting, thus this demo is lackluster.

Elegiac - Demo 2014
Black metal from San Diego, California, USA

Comfortably atmospheric, somewhat dark through a relatively clean production, but it also feels uncomfortably clean and tame. The riffs hint at a certain feeling, but they just don't fully materialize anything, and the song structures don't really progress at all to shape the music. There are stretches where long melodies start to shape a story, but they soon dissolve into poor transitions, including several sections of feedback as a song ending or transition. I suppose this demo achieves marginal success by imitation, rather than demonstrating the ability to write a song about something, as the fragmented writing seems to suggest.

Cryptic Rising - Demo II
Post-black metal from Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Lo-fi garage rock meets bedroom black metal. Sloppy three-chord rock with a warm, harsh sound - a contrast to the cold sound of most black metal. There's a lovey-dovey shoegaze sound similar to Lonesummer, a proudly obnoxious moping feeling of mop-top-rock. Sheer existential affirmation with few merits - a kid with a guitar, a high-gain amp, and no idea how to record. Perhaps this aims for a campy lo-fi rock vibe like Pavement mixed with the ethereal howl of black metal, but it fails at both. Terrible bedroom music.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Phobonoid - Orbita

Industrial black metal isn't exactly the most crowded subgenre around. But when you think about the usual bands associated with that label, it’s obvious how competitive the field is. With that in mind, it’s impressive just how tall Phobonoid’s debut EP Orbita stands among its peers. Stylistically similar to a blend of Blut Aus Nord and Thorns, this 20 minute release comes close to matching the very high standards set by these well established acts. Just in case the title, band name, and cover art failed to make it obvious enough - this release also has a strongly spacey vibe to it. This vibe, coupled with cold tones and mechanical percussion, makes the EP nestle right into a niche that begs to be filled.

Orbita almost seems to be spilling over with more ideas than the solo project can manage effectively. This is a great problem to have, and even though some of the songs come across more like patches of musical vignettes, the overall mood is never interrupted. Overcoming this issue and establishing stronger senses of individual songs or recurring motifs would go a long way toward propelling Phobonoid well into the top-tier. In part, the issue is that Phobonoid doesn’t have much in terms of a high end melody to direct the songs. If used in moderation, this missing piece would help further the mechanical feel, but the high end’s absence goes a bit too far here. “Deimos,” the closing track, is a great contrast for this, showing exactly what was missing elsewhere. Although the soaring guitar melody only starts at around 1:40, it still congeals the song together in a profoundly compelling way. While the subdued and sparse vocal style can’t really fill the lead melody role, Phobonoid obviously has another tool available. 

Despite the cold and mechanical mood, the sonic quality here is lush enough to deserve many repeat listens. Take for example the swelling intro to “Vuoto,” which is cracked open with a cymbal hit echoing into the infinity of space. What’s also really nice about this is how the guitar tone isn’t taken to the digital extreme because it fleshes-out and enriches the mix. Perhaps as importantly, Orbita strikes a thoughtful balance between the rhythmic pummeling of industrial and the wall-of-sound guitars that form the basis of black metal. In short, it’s an extra layer of heaviness, not an unwelcome injection of dance music. Even in the absence of individual songs or even strong moments to hit you over the head with the EP’s quality, Orbita is a forceful introduction to Phobonoid. For anyone into industrial black metal this is absolutely a band to pay close attention to.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Dustbin of Demos: Vol X

Most of the demos swept into the dustbin this week are highly derivative - their influences are overt, and their success seems to reflect their ability to find their own voice through the loudness of their influences. Some great bands found their own voice through the exploration of styles very similar to their influences - Judas Iscariot, for example, wasn't much of a stylistic departure from predecessors, but Akhenaten's works were unmistakably his, rife in European musical and philosophical influences, yet prounounced through a distinct and disgusted American view of them. Derivative bands can find recognition too, often if they soften up their idols sound enough to strip it of the original meaning. However, one band below certainly finds their own voice while owning a few pronounced influences. 

Tridentsplit - War Metal
Heavy/black/speed metal from Saint Petersburg, Russia

From the new-Darkthrone school of old heavy metal worship. A mix of heavy/black/speed/punk which basically amounts to rough heavy metal with gruff vocals and nods to everything that took a step towards extreme metal while not being all the way there. Despite some cool riffs, it feels like they trudge through half of each song in the shadow of the style, with unadorned, unfinished metal. The band has an idea of the aesthetic they aim to emulate yet lacks the conviction and drive which shapes whole songs. Only the title track lays down their purpose from their outset and builds on it, though it drags a bit at times. Sorry guys, you don't get points for trying, this deserves to be swept into the dustbin.

Trenchgrinder - Demo 2015
Crust/death/thrash metal from Brooklyn, NYC, USA

Dirty, crushingly forceful death/thrash which mixes early Bolt Thrower with more recent crust/thrash like After the Bombs. Heavy death metal riffs rip with the aggression of rough, punkish energy. They find slower, deathy paces whose buildup is as important as the malevolent churn of the faster sections. Crust meets extreme thrash and the only way to offer the onslaught is death metal. Their delivery is reminiscent of how Repulsion turned death/thrash into a more monstrous beast through their dirty, morbid delivery, though this doesn't manage to take it quite that far. A bit less furious than Repulsion, yet much rougher than most others. Though there is no overarching structure to this three-song demo, this style seems built for the 12 minute burst of aggressive brutality here.

Call Forth the Hordes - Moving Onward
Black metal from Westbury, New York, USA

Well, at least it's a bit different from most bedroom black metal. A melancholy melodic movement begins it, but doesn't convincingly set the tone nor build much of a mood before anything it had going is negated by an overly loud, unforgivably mechanical drum machine drowning out the guitar. Even though slower melodic parts sound alright, the weakness and volume of the riffing under any faster drumming is completely lost. The vocals are coherent, but monotonous and nearly expressionless. Instrumental versions of both tracks are added on, as it if the music wasn't bare enough already The weakness of the production outshines the weakness of the music, and this simply isn't worth the time.

Goatflesh - ...Of Pure Rape and Blasphemy
Death/black metal from Ukraine

War metal. Members with ritual names inspired by Blasphemy. Blackdeathrash nuclearwarcore - need I cite influences? Goatflesh lean a bit more towards death metal, reaching to their toolbox for angular tremolo riffs and some nice deathy grooves, emphasized by production with a full low-end more like Imprecation's "Satanae..." than most war metal, though perhaps the more orthodox citation would be Angelcorpse, as this simply stands out from the archetypal war metal blasting. There's a Blasphemophagher cover in the middle that doesn't even stand out - the band adapts it slightly, but it blends into the rest very well. This is a case, like most war metal bands, where they wear so many influences on their sleeves that they fill up the whole jacket and leave nothing but a stern expression on their face to identify them by. Give it a listen if you're really into war metal, otherwise you can't tell it apart from the next band

Satanic Prophecy - Nocturnal Murders
Bedroom black metal from USA

The raw sound of a corpsepainted fellow moping through the forest. Grim, harsh, primitive. What's that rattle? It's off-time drumming. Tinny tremolo guitars aplenty. Sharp rasps with microphone distortion soaked in reverb. If you've ever heard a black metal, you know all too well what this is, it's a failed attempt to capture the sound of the grimmest black metal, and it certainly has none of the substance. The guitar work is constant tremolo with some melodies which seem to emulate the tremolo parts of the first two Gorgoroth albums - but only that one sliver of Gorgoroth's style - and the pseudo-triumphant melodies of Satanic Warmaster, themselves an emulation of Moonblood and Judas Iscariot, whose works finally trace the lineage to Darkthrone, Immortal, et al. While listening to this is an exercise in estimating the exact influences, that's the content of the review because it is archetypically terrible bedroom black metal.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Abigor - Leytmotif Luzifer (The VII Temptations of Man)

Abigor’s “Leytmotif Luzifer” is a sprawling and ornate cathedral of riffs, dedicated to worshiping the glory of Lucifer. Energetic and passionate by any standard, this album dispels all notions that these characteristic are only in young bands, especially considering the fact that Abigor’s pedigree stretches over twenty years. The guitars, which have been refined and mastered through those years of experience, are the powerful center point of the album. Solos and quick melodic flourishes are peppered into the songs with such elegance that it’s obvious that guitarists P.K. and T.T. play their instruments as naturally as other musicians breath. As a result, the composition is wonderfully free flowing and natural. Every riff and every solo is filled with momentum rather than serving to aggrandize the musician’s egos. Throughout “Leytmotif Luzifer,” that momentum conveys a mood of genuine and regal adoration. Thankfully the casual expertise of the guitars also introduce a kind of playfulness to the album that keeps it from becoming comically serious.

For those unfamiliar with the band, Abigor’s main riffing style uses expanses of tremolo picked notes building off of shifting chord progressions to create a layered melody. In the most general terms possible, think of Emperor. On “Leytmotif Luzifer,” though this often includes bursts of high note runs, mini-solos that guide the songs from one riff to the next much like a drum fill. Overall, this makes for a more vicious album than Abigor’s “Natchymnen.” While the band’s characteristic guitar counterpoint is still at play, the mix is now so well rounded that the band feels comfortable occasionally leaving the rhythm entirely in the hands of the bass. Structurally, the songs are strongly linear. Although there is less repetition, each track maintains a coherent narrative - balancing the sleazy, casual, and aristocratic hedonism with the fanatic and reverent adoration of Lucifer. This balance is vital because at one extreme the album would be a stuffy sermon (about a minor character from an ancient fantasy novel) and at the other a bacchanalia. With the album’s subtitle “The VII Temptations of Man” and song titles like “Excessus” and “Indulgence” it almost invites a Marquis de Sade comparison.

Putting the dazzling guitars aside for a moment, every other instrument is stunning. It’s also worth noting how a fair share of the album’s palatial grandeur comes from the vivid and dynamic vocals. Since this happens most spectacularly with the clean vocals in the fantastic climax at the end of “Excessus,” it’s possible to gloss over entire album’s vocal variety. Take “Indulgence” for example starting with the clean line “So let me rise” and how the abrasive background howls reinforce the line before savagely entering the foreground. That style itself is a prelude to double tracked gurgles that are then followed by the standard black metal fare. Incredibly, all of that variation is still secondary to the guitar’s narrative. In the same vein, the drumming and bass are top notch and vary in intensity to match album’s flow but the real focal point is in the guitars. P.K. and T.T. apparently shared bass duty, and with T.T. also handling the drums, you end up with the liberated direction and purpose of a solo project while still having the complete sound of a full band.

Returning to the guitar’s casual precision, you can hear this in the deliberately muted lead notes, feedback, free time notes, and numerous pick scrapes. If it weren’t for the rigid precision elsewhere, these things would appear sloppy, but instead it’s like watching a 250kg tiger play with its kill before eating it. Relaxed in the way only a seasoned predator can accomplish. Again, this all well balanced against the noble atmosphere that it helps to complement. Abigor’s movement along this axis is a major source for the album’s impetus, but not the most important. When building off of the chord progressions, the lead melody has a habit of feeling like it was interpolated between the existing notes while simultaneously also paradoxically deciding the following notes. The amount of energy behind this is incredible, placing the album at the same intensity level as you might ask for from bands like 1349 or Marduk but without falling into the constant blasting trap or “norsecore” label.

“Leytmotif Luzifer” is instantly enjoyable and still extremely replayable. At around 42 minutes, the album wastes no time, and even with the linear song structures has no shortage of intriguing ideas. A good benchmark for how well crafted the album’s architecture are its last handful of minutes. “Excessus’” ending is a microcosm for the entire album and perfect (yes perfect) way to end an album. At about halfway through the 11 minute song you start to get a real sense of approaching finality. Keep in mind that even in the context of a few start-stop moments, that the multi-layered explosion of sound at around 5:30 ecstatically begins wrapping things up. Now, while other bands would cheaply milk that moment, Abigor moves on immediately while still ringing out lead notes to carefully remind you of what they just did. At about 8 minutes in the clean vocals again rise in prominence without resolving the melody; that is until the soaring vocals a half minute later “All earth does worship thee!” the album’s climax. Cue the majestic slow down, fake ending, and subtle reprisal. Wow. Beautifully heavy and conclusive without any hint of melodrama.

This is what architecture sounds like, and “Leytmotif Luzifer” is a palace.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dustbin of Demos: Vol IX

This week, the flavor text comes at the end, once again. This isn't a joke about the second coming of Luciferum Penis in the dustbin, but it probably should be. 

Luciferum Penis - Black Metal Satanic-cum
Black metal from Italy

This band is growing on me, no pun intended. The simplicity of the two-piece - active drumming and a single guitar - lets them shape dark, mystical vibes. While the band uses the standards - blast beats and tremolo chords - the two are well-connected and having a real drummer on real drums with a basement sound gives him a decent degree of expression in how he plays along like an occult rock drummer, rather than a typical metal timekeeper. The guitarist plays some ominous lines which brood in the dark simplicity of the sound, which adds a nice dynamic to contrast the feelings of single-note and chord tremolo lines, even some bouncy riffs. I enjoy this because it has the vibe of two guys crafting a dark style and dark sound, technically unimpressive but creatively intriguing. Great black metal demo vibe without the cliches.

Lost Flood - Demo
Punk/black metal from Lancaster, United Kingdom

A tough demo to get into, as it is both indistinct and unfocused. It's rough, it's poorly performed, and the mediocrity extends to the mish-mash of unidentifiable, undirected stylings. The roughness gives it a crusty vibe, the riffiness makes me wonder if it's supposed to be like old crust punk/heavy metal from the UK. It doesn't really sound like that though. The sheer roughness and punk/rock take on black-ish metal is reminiscent of early Absurd, but god damn, there's not an ounce of pride in this. There's plenty of feedback and rawness, like one of those shitty bands that thing the harsh hostility of Eyehategod is their thing too, but only manage to sound as horribly grating as Abruptum. A headache, that's what this is.

Through Carnage - Demo
Metalcore/melodic death/thrash metal from Radeberg, Germany

As if melodeathrash-metalcore wasn't already the most mashed potato metal style, in true German fashion this weighs heavily on the heavy/power metal influence in melodeath and even throws in a few folky leads. Perhaps something like a thrashier Trivium, or a softened up version of the neothrash of Casketgarden, without that ATG-like air of desperation. Not quite melodic and poppy enough to be Gothencore, not thrashy enough to be thrash, too core-ish to be heavy metal. As these descriptions tell, the band's style is very indistinct and rather uninteresting. It touches on many styles, has a flair for none, and is so generally inoffensive that it's offensive. Now that's something every metalhead can be bored to death by!

Elforg - Demo 2014
Folk/groove metal from Warsaw, Poland

The grandeur of Polish pagan/black metal is astounding, yet Elforg demonstrate poor judgment of here by playing dinky folk metal backed by simple groove riffs that conjure a feeling of stoner, maybe even southern metal when the violin stops playing. The first song is bad groove/fiddle fodder, the second is more upbeat with chuggy heavy/thrash riffs and some more fiddle which complements a folky guitar lead-in. The problem is, the riffs and arrangements are boring and simple, while the fiddle plays to another tune most of the time - it might as well be a different song. Skyclad is eloquent thrash metal with violins; this is like an amateur playing Machine Head riffs with a violinist.

The Arcbane - Demo II
Melodic groove/thrash metal from Shanghai, China

The second vocal-less demo from this "melodic death metal" band. The band has a vocalist, but so far the demos are only instrumentals, and they're clearly missing the ability of the vocalist to create hooks and lead the music. This is mostly mid-paced, groovy melodic thrash riffs that sound at times like American metalcore minus the hardcore parts, at other points like nu-Gothenburg riffing, groovy melodic stuff stripped of any death metal. There are quite a few guitar leads and solos, again quite melodic. Decent riffs, but no interaction nor flow within the band whatsoever. The production is rough demo-quality, which positively sets it apart from the overproduced, overpolished production this style tends to have. However, the band's timing gets a bit off at times, which feels uncomfortable with the mechanical riffing style. While I like the style the band is going for, the music itself is incomplete and extremely boring.

This exemplifies a common flaw in modern demos: the music present is incomplete, yet there are nine tracks and 40+ minutes of music. The context of a demo is different from the 80s and 90s, when a label might hesitate to pay for studio time if a band didn't have a full album written. Homemade demos were rough, but a studio recording of a decent band pressed to CD or LP could sell enough copies to recoup a couple days of studio time that the label paid for. Some bands made longer demos back then because of this, though most bands still opted to refine and finish fewer songs rather than simply present more. However, this has changed, because labels can't simply sell 1000 copies of an album because it contains decent music, and a band who hasn't established themselves isn't going to find funding for a recording much better than this. The best thing a band can do now is to improve and present complete songs as well as they could, because the quality of music is the sole deciding factor to demo listeners, not the quantity. When the listener has access to a virtually unlimited stream of music, they would be better off completing and improving 20 minutes of music rather than presenting 40 minutes of unfinished music.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Vorde - Vorde

For centuries, sailors have used the strong and steady trade winds to navigate across the Earth’s vast oceans. But these winds have also harbored and driven countless violent storms, wreaking disaster in their paths. If you can ignore a very trite metaphor and imagine the band Vorde as an ominous thunderstorm, then the band’s vocals are the trade winds moving it forward. Menacingly towards you. Black metal’s trademark wall-of-sound can often be thought of as fundamentally cloudy. Reverb saturated tremolo-picking partly hides many individual notes and possibly even the overall structure; leaving you with an atmosphere of mass without form. Vorde is a foreboding black metal band that embraces this overall pattern, but with the unusual addition of having the Atilla-esque vocals directing the band’s destination. Vocalist Aziel drives the band through long-sustained syllables and screeches, which distinctively mold each song with a clear structure. The vocal’s odd tone and varied strata of pitches also deeply enrich the harmony on this self-titled album.

Vocal leadership like this happens more often in traditional metal, but it works wonderfully here to direct the band’s raw energy. Thematically, this also makes the album’s approach to violence rather subdued. Sure, the guitars have a bite to them, but it’s often a creeping and sinuous one. At its most extreme, you can even hear this effect in the aggressive riffing towards the end of “Blood Moon.” Despite the swirling cyclone of notes, the vocals continue to push the song forward and dominate the mix. In this sense, the indigo tinted wall of stabbing knives is a very fitting choice of album art. Vorde’s aggression is an almost abstract consideration, one that is secondary to how the vocals color the mood. This isn’t to say that the vocals are excessive or that they are the only thing of value on the album; quite the contrary.

In particular, the album’s strongly sinister mood relies on the band as an ensemble. While taking cues from traditional black metal, the guitar work also has a heavily diminished-scale influence found in many contemporary bands. However, the guitars never quite delve into the usual dissonant riffing that has become so commonplace, and that keeps the album closer to black metal’s roots. Even with the band’s blatantly idiosyncratic style, Vorde doesn’t quite wander into experimental territories. When you also take into account the band’s occasional vintage science-fiction styled synths (which are actually heavily processed bass and guitar), you get a real understanding of how Vorde has such a classically evil sound. Another large part of the mood is the subdued drumming that shows an understanding of how important the absence of blast beats can be in showcasing riffs. Take for example how the percussion controls the intensity throughout “Crown of Black Flame” ranging from a doomy pace with rattling cymbals to steady double bass with strong backbeat.

Vorde’s overall pacing (but not much else) can be compared to musty-ambient projects like Leviathan, but a more malevolent and conservative version. Any hints of melancholy here are reserved, and almost voyeuristic underneath the ominous atmosphere. You can hear this in the intro to “Blood Moon.” Its unsettling feeling is reminiscent of the first Doom game for SNES, in part from the effects’s retro sound, which is much more enjoyable than the game’s MIDI soundtrack. (The song still successfully recreates the experience of futilely trying to crouch behind a barrel of radioactive waste to hide from a cacodemon.)

Vorde’s self-titled 2014 album is also the band’s first full-length album, and this is an extremely promising start. Sure, there are weaker parts, like how “Transformations of the Vessel” becomes tiresome with the too even 123123 of the main riff, which after a couple of minutes may as well be a Morse code distress signal begging for a change in the rhythm. Overall though, this album strikes a wonderful balance of being fresh and creative, but still conservative enough to avoid being whacky. Even without taking the fantastic vocals into consideration this would be a strong release because Vorde captures a kind of foreshadowing mood that you don’t run across too often. Vorde is obliquely evil black metal, a genuine storm on the horizon.

Malphas - The Conjuring

This sounds like an intermediate guitarist's dream - riffs upon riffs, left and right, supported by clicky drums and carried away by dancing keyboard leads before that great keybird in the sky drops them off at the next section. A bit progressive. a bit melodic, a bit symphonic, a bit epic - it's a little bit of everything. I'm not certain these guys know what they want to do, other than wanting to do everything. Everything in modern metal. At once. (ed. the band lists their genre as "Epic Progressive Blackened Death Metal")

The shortcoming of this extremely busy style is that with all the intersecting traffic of guitars, vocals, and keyboards, they don't trade off a clear melodic or rhythmic lead in the songs. There isn't much interplay between the instruments - for example, a guitar chugging while the vocals deliver a line and adding a fancy tail to the riff as the vocals finish. The guitars are omnipresent but tend to simply repeat riffs with no regard for the keyboards and vocals, which feel like they're jumping into something that's already going on when they come in, rather than having the music make way for them to come in. The compositions lack grace. 

Malphas are like a talkative youngster who aspires to be a great storyteller. The right words may be contained in the story, but their tale is more distracting than alluring. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Winds of Genocide - Usurping the Throne of Disease

Winds of Genocide is a crust punk band playing something roughly like death/black metal. They have a high-distortion aesthetic, throw in a blast beat here and there, and have an incomprehensible roaring vocalist. While there are some thrash/death riffs scattered throughout the album, nearly every song seems unable to find where to go with them - everything simply transitions back to the churning storm of noisy crust. The strongest moment on the album is the title track, which builds an ominous, brooding melody in true Bolt Thrower fashion, building up for their best minute, then awkwardly transitioning through two more different buildups, both faster, and eventually settling into what feels like a completely different song with a hopping beat alternating with a blast. It feels like they put Bolt Thrower songs in a blender and pulled out mismatched parts. Sure, the intros from "Embers" and "This Time It's War" are great, but it sounds weird that they tried to fit both into one song.

Enough about that one track, simply because it is the standout. The rest of the music suffers similarly from poor structuring: charging forward with a powerful riff but falling back on their habits of plodding along in a crusty grind. Not a single song feels like a complete statement from beginning to end, they either trail off or simply shift back into the mundane. Very poor songwriting and structuring are the band's foremost problem. The abrasive production gives everything a feeling like it is grating and grinding along, and perhaps it is intended to wear the listener down through attrition. It feels like the same unsuccessful steps are taken over and over again in every song. Despite having some good riffs mixed throughout, they feel like chrome rims and a shiny muffler on a beater car.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ara - Devourer of Worlds

Ara delivers an avalanche of dissonant riffs and deathcore grooves with all the weight and grace that the natural disaster brings. If heaps of riffs shoveled into the furnace are the type of thing you like, then this is probably made for you. However, I don't consider a pile of boulders and dirt to be an artistic achievement, I'd rather see a single rock sculpted into Michaelangelo's David than a thousand unshaped rocks crashing down. After all, any chump with high explosives can cause an avalanche, an the media tells me that everyone has dangerous explosives these days. No puns intended, with regard to the album title, listening to this album just feels like sifting through a pile of rubble in hopes of finding a gemstone.

Once you find yourself trapped under this rubble, you'll feel some of that dissonant, chaotic churning native to caverncore, but without the reverb that a genuine cavern offers. Riffs of all shapes and sizes are piled together with dust between them - spastic, angular tech riffs, breakdown-like deathcore grooves, and angular death metal riffs which lose their velocity when crashing into the disorganized pile. There's a decent variation in rhythms too, natural when a hundred parts come crashing together and get smashed into random sizes. Big riffs, small riffs, fast beats, slow beats. They could be used to build castles, but they're just a pile of rubble on this album.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Dustbin of Demos: Vol VIII

The flavor text of this week's dustbin comes at the end, because the last demo provoked thought about the nature of the dustbin. 

Legionnaire - Legionnaire
Heavy metal from Finland

Their logo looks like Enchanter's and their medieval name is shared with a Liege Lord song, can I judge this tape by this cover? Yes! Legionnaire invokes the mid-80s, a little past the NWOBHM when imaginative heavy metal bands channeled the grandeur and glory of fantasy into an evocative sound. Reminiscent of the Liege Lord and Brocas Helm's debuts - that triumph and that medieval vibe - mixed with the twin guitar harmonies of NWOBHM and German speed metal. The vocalist is relaxed and narrative yet pleasantly melodic, he reminds me of Kevin Nugent of Legend and Clutch Carruthers of Tysondog, and a bit of Liege Lord's Andy Michaud minus the high shrieks. These guys love their twin guitars and galloping beats as much as I do. I really like what they're doing, but the recording leaves something to be desired- it has a damp practice room sound which lacks the natural shimmer that this music has.

Yeah, I mentioned Liege Lord three times in that paragraph. We love Liege Lord here at CTP, and if you don't, you might be on the wrong page. 

Fiend Candle - Funeral Dimensions
Bedroom "black metal" from USA/Germany

I'm impressed! This manages to be unbearable in three different ways! Track one, 7+ minutes in which an inept guitarist repeatedly stumbles through the same three notes and trails off before starting over. Track two, ever turned a radio on with the volume up and no reception? That blast of distorted static cuts in and out before over a drum machine and guitar fizz with more reverb than the entire Dark Descent catalogue. The last few minutes are lousy somber synth strings. Track three is the nightmares of Guitar Center employees, a kid who picked up a guitar and starts slowly pecking out scale fragments with the treble and distortion turned all the way up, then keeps attempting "expressive" bends which are horribly out of tune and phraseless. Exemplary of this ambient "depressive" crap, it is nothing more than a solitary personal expression of how worthless the creator is.

The Arcbane - Demo I
Melodic death metal from Shanghai, China

Well, not quite melodic death metal, as this demo doesn't have vocals, but it falls well in line with later melodic death metal. The roots of of hard rock and heavy/power metal are on full display, turned "death metal" by basically downtuning the guitars. The music is like later-90s Swedish melodeath, cleaned up of most of the influence of death metal and instead focusing on a groovy style with prominent power metal-esque riffs and a ton of solos. Unfortunately, this is nearly the most sterile, inoffensive "melodeath" one could find - there's none of the punk influence in Carcass, none of the aggression and force of metalcore, and it really doesn't translate the power metal influence that a band like In Flames did. It's basically easy versions of softened-up Arch Enemy riffs pressed into a hard rock song structure.

Primitive - Raw Primitive Black Metal
Black metal from Brazil

Finally, a shitty demo band that doesn't lie to me! I really appreciate it. This is another one from Cvlminus, who releases 20 CD-Rs of wretched shit like Fiend Candle. However, this band executes the basic components and assembly of black metal. The aesthetic of unwavering ticky drums, two-string tremolo riffs with lots of distortion, and screams with a ton of reverb is pretty hard to not physically accomplish, yet to so shamelessly and directly churn it out is like hanging wallpaper and declaring it to be an artistic expression because you like the pattern. This is merely the latest generation of increasingly mediocre imitations which strives to distinguish itself with unabashedly derivative and appropriated outward aesthetics.

Fundente - Demo 2014
Melodic heavy metal from San Juan, Argentina

Extremely melodic, poppy heavy metal which demonstrates a degree of honesty in a dry and bare, yet engaging recording. The songs are simple, and despite the prominence of big pop melodies, the band doesn't use the recording to add any sheen of polish - a single guitar and single vocalist with occasional backing. The first song has a great riff akin to Queensryche's NM 156 and vocal lines that remind me of... erm... Green Day's "Basket Case" in their upbeat melodic pop style. The third track has a bit of an alternative rock vibe going on, but these guys mostly have their hearts on simple melodic metal. While the music isn't anything special, I appreciate this demo because it has an unusual feeling to it. It is a modern 80s-style band which doesn't use two common tools to enlarge the band's sound - there's almost no reverb in this remarkably dry recording, and there are no vocal harmonies nor layering aside from an occasional backing line, same for guitars other than the solos being overlaid.

The value I find in digging through the dustbin is exemplified by Fundente - not every listen is something special, but the different approaches, different results, and varying degrees of success and sound require me to consider what goes into good music. The appreciation of music isn't simply a sliding scale from good to bad, examining what goes into and comes out of it helps me understand and appreciate the bands who do everything the best. In the case of Fundente, it took me a few listens and a few revisions to examine what made the band's sound unusual to me. The lack of reverb contrasts this vintage style to the reverb-soaked retro of the Witches Steel demo from last week, and the lack of layering and harmonizing contrasts the sugary overproduction of Olathia. While this band's sound is bare, a rarity in this day and age, there's no studio trickery to do them favors, and an honest, undoctored recording of a band is a rare thing that makes me appreciate what bands do, even if they're not all that good.