It can be bizarre. It can also be off-putting. But it’s an entirely new realm of the sub-genre that can afford some great new bands and masterpieces to listeners. The power metal scene has really blossomed since the arrival of X Japan in the ’80s, and since then it’s been taken to new heights and limits.
Of backpedaling, black metal and brilliance.
I’m in two minds about The World We Left Behind. Initially pegged as the band’s swansong until Blake Judd’s recent about-face, the cynic in me feels that an ideal opportunity to not just end on a high – but a redemptive high – had been squandered. Having blown the parameters of black metal wide open with a string of ground-breaking albums (Instinct: Decay, and the two Meddle albums), then reverting back to a straight up BM aesthetic with Silencing Machine before falling from grace due to drug and debt problems, the last eight years arguably represented a Dickensian best-of-times/worst-of-times period for Judd. Not to get overly dramatic, but I cannot help but feel it would’ve made poetic sense for the band to bow out with The World We Left Behind. On the other hand, my inner fanboy can breathe a sigh of relief: Nachtmystium lives to fight another day and the prospect of them clawing their way back not just up the metal totem pole, but also into fans’ good graces, remains on the cards. Come what may.
The Century Media PR folks’ description of The World We Left Behind as a “black metal memorial, oozing of desperation, gloom and depravity” is not just ironic, since this is not to be a memorial after all, but also *slightly* misleading. There’s desperation, gloom and depravity aplenty but there’s a clear attempt here to fuse the metal with the meddle, if you catch my drift. Judd’s trademark faraway-yet-insistent rasps and intermittent forays into tremolo picked and double-bass filled sections ensure there is a sufficient amount of ‘blacktivity’ going on here (harr harr!), but the swirling synth melodies and at times downright danceable rhythms definitely anchor the album in the post-punk/post-black waters of the aforementioned Meddle albums.
This is great, as the oppositional tension between Judd’s harsh delivery and the dreamily dreary melodies imbues the songs with an arresting dynamic that makes the album that much more emotive. The familiarity of some of the riffs (“Fireheart” reminds me of “Your True Enemy,” and “Voyager” bears more than a passing similarity to “Every Last Drop”) nevertheless belie some of the deeper complexity at work underneath the surface. Case in point: “Intrusion”. Sporting a main riff that could easily have been the product of classic Mayhem, the icy lick is paced just right and the throbbing beat pulls it into a contrasting yet utterly fitting New Wave direction. “Tear You Down” is another exercise in deceptively liquid compositional depth, segueing effortlessly from Middle Eastern scales into a lurching, sludgy jam that also references the trademark atonality of Deathspell Omega during the faster parts.
No matter what riff patterns they explore the atmosphere is undeniably bleak throughout, almost unbearably so, with a track like “Into the Endless Abyss” plumbing the depths of desolation, seamlessly marrying what could’ve been a Xasthur opening riff with pulsing layers of synth and melodies that are heart-rending in terms of beauty and emotional punch (the same goes for the lyrics). Closing number “Epitaph for a Dying Star” takes this angst-ridden fusion of “dream black” to its logical conclusion: slow, sonorous and with ethereal female backing vocals to top it off. The harmonies and melodies – and the conviction with which they are squeezed from throat and string – really catapults this album into orbit. Whereas there was a sense of deliberate experimentation on the Meddle albums the delivery on The World… feels much more honest and the urgency is palpable. One can only wonder where Judd will take the band next but as the end of an era, even if not the band itself, this album hits all the right spots.
What war is this?
To give this review context, Wovenwar are a band comprised of a good portion of the members from metalcore champions As I Lay Dying. With Tim Lambesis spending some time behind bars for trying to have his wife killed by a hitman, the rest of the band decided to kick it forward with this project. Considering how much I enjoyed the last As I Lay Dying record (and the last few as the band seemingly got better and better with time), I was intrigued by this project and took up the opportunity to review it immediately. The self-titled effort from Wovenwar isn’t exactly what I was expecting.
The direction with the last handful of As I Lay Dying records had the band moving towards a more aggressive, complex, and heavier sound. That trend is somewhat deviated for this debut from Wovenwar. Sure the instrumental portion of the album is still decently layered for metalcore with melodic leads, some chunk riffing, and some decent drumming to keep up the hardcore influenced energy, but it’s definitely a band looking to establish their ‘own’ sound. “All Rise” really utilizes the combination well to kick off the album on a strong note. Hell, even the vocals have some great melodies to add, seemingly more hard rock inspired with 95% of them being melodic and only using screams as backing punctuation in a few tracks like “Profane” and “Archers” while his crooning highlights the ballad leaning tracks like “Father/Son.” On paper, Wovenwar reads like a fantastic melodic metalcore album.
That’s on paper though. The actual execution of Wovenwar comes off as increasingly tepid and formulaic particularly in the writing. To be upfront and perfectly frank, far too often this record lacks balls. Part of the value in metalcore is the ‘core,’ the energetic outpour of headbanging riffs and fist pumping rhythm work. Wovenwar seemingly caters more to the radio friendly fans of As I Lay Dying who thought that screaming and nose breaking riffs were a bit too edgy. So if you’re going to pull away from those, you better have some catchy hooks, right? Well, this album seemingly lacks a lot of those too. The melodies are by-the-book and seemingly forgettable, watered down by the bands hard rock like elements.
Wovenwar is talented and you’ll hear the various parts touch on the proper places that they could reach, but the truth remains that their debut is an utterly forgettable record that rarely touches on the balance of crunch n’ catchy that made metalcore a fun genre for those willing to bite on it. For someone that loved the direction that As I Lay Dying was heading, Wovenwar comes off as a pretty big disappointment in their attempts at moving to more melodic pastures.
Way beyond br00tal def metuhl, brah.
It’s perhaps an oddball way to kick off a review of a death metal album, and I’m pretty damn sure this is the first and only time the names Nadine Gordimer and Gorgasm will feature side by side in the same article, but humor me for just a second. For those in the know – literary and politics geeks, I’m looking at you – Nadine Gordimer, famous South African writer and Nobel Laureate for literature, died July 13 at age 90. Her writings helped elucidate to the outside world the harsh realities brought to bear on South Africa, and South Africans, by decades of Apartheid. She was famous for applying Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci’s concept of the interregnum to the SA context (specifically the period of mass uprisings in the 1980s that eventually led to the country’s liberation in 1994). The interregnum, in this context, refers to a limbo of sorts – a period of great upheaval in which the old order was dying but a new epoch had not yet been born. In her words, this period of uncertainty gave rise to “a great diversity of morbid symptoms.”
Looking at the creative and stylistic trajectory of death metal, I cannot help but note the relevance of the late Gordimer’s words. Of course death metal has never evolved along a linear line but it’s hard to argue that the genre doesn’t find itself in an interregnum of sorts. The old order has died. So many different creative avenues have been explored, from the pinpoint precision of Nile and Origin, to the feral black/death fusion of Behemoth, to the jarring explorations of atonality and dissonance by the likes of Pseudogod and Bölzer. With no clear indication of what would constitute a new era/order, the “morbid symptoms” of death metal’s interregnum manifest through the atavistic and oft haphazard reversion to the genre’s nascent days, with the primal rumblings of ancient Demigod, Incantation and Disembowelment providing a veritable oasis from which many of today’s practitioners seem all too happy to drink. The old is the new. Limbo. Stasis. Ossification.
Where does Indiana’s Gorgasm fit into this (morbid) equation? Well, they just keep doing their thing. A “thing” that, on paper at least, carries all the hallmarks of your average brutal death metal band: booming gurgled vocals, a fair bit of East Coast groove and slam, a smattering of pinch harmonies and lots of blasting. Hell, if anything, this particular strand of death metal has been stuck in creative limbo-land ever since the dying strains of Suffocation’s Effigies of the Forgotten but the devil is in the details, as they say, and in the case of Destined to Violate the details add up to something much more than your by-the-numbers death metal release. Granted, this album is in no way a watershed release for either band or genre, but, like fellow veterans Immolation, they have a knack for squeezing enough bite and variety out of their chosen style as possible. The overt slam/groove approach of their cult Stabwound Intercourse EP has given way to a sound that sits pretty comfortably between the technical and brutal ends of the spectrum and, as was the case with 2011’s Orgy of Murder, this thing is peppered with a shitload of melodies (by brutal death metal standards anyway).
Like the recently reformed Skinless, these guys churn out a well-balanced and multifarious brand of brutality that has one eye fixed on the past and the other on the future. To an untrained ear this will undoubtedly sound like every flash-in-the-pan brutal death metal album, but let me reiterate: the devil is the details. The vocals strike a delicious balance between Frank Mullen’s trademark low grunts and the raspier tendencies of Glen Benton back in the day, the production is downright excellent as it highlights both the rumbling low-end and more trebly side of things (with the vocals cutting nicely through both) and there is a playful edge to the songwriting. Instead of incessant blasting many songs go straight for the jugular before chucking in a requisite palm-muted breakdown and then wraps things up with a batch of melodies at the end. “Kuntkiller” (the original title of the album) is a prime example of this approach, darting back and forth between Suffocation-style blasting and soaring lead work (something that also works wonders on “Corpsified” and “Mouthful of Menstruation,” with the former featuring lethal groove-inducing bass runs and the latter slowing things down for some moshpit pain. In between you also have the typical pinch harmonies and percussive grunt approach of “Preserved for Pleasure” and the all-out fretboard mayhem of the title cut.
Cold-hearted elitists will no doubt bemoan the very melodic dynamic of the album, while others might scoff at the polished production job, but as far as I’m concerned this album represents not just the pinnacle of the band’s career (surprising, given that Damian “Tom” Leski is the sole remaining founding member) but also stands as one of the best albums of its kind in years. No, the irony of quoting the esteemed Gordimer in a review of a band that has given the world songs with titles like “Anal Skewer” and “Dirty Cunt Beatdown” is not lost on me, and my inexplicable inclusion of the late Nobel Laureate in this review is no doubt indicative of how difficult it is to contextualize a brutal death metal album in an intriguing way nowadays. But I digress; let me simply end off this long-winded review by saying that musicality trumps br00tality on this album, and for that they deserve kudos.
Hans gets up close and personal with Swedish melodic death metal band Meadows End and the whole band joins in to give some insight.
“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
― Salman Rushdie
The Million Dollar Grunge Album That Never Was
Tons Of Rock Day 3, June 21st 2014
Tons Of Rock Day 2, June 20th 2014
Tons Of Rock Day 1, June 19th 2014
The Suicide Silence guitarist opens up about the death of Mitch Lucker, getting the band back together, and their badass new record You Can’t Stop Me.
The Metal Observer recently had the chance to speak with the legendary founder and driving force behind Falconer, Stefan Weinerhall. Returning with the band’s eighth studio album, Black Moon Rising, which recently dropped on Metal Blade Records, Weinerhall speaks about the intensity of the new album, his approach to songwriting and influences, among other things.
A star-studded line-up this week, for what’s shaping up to be the penultimate entry in the TMO Singles Roundup series, featuring new music from Opeth, In Flames, Sonic Syndicate, Mastodon and ’68.