Welcome to Secret Steel, the new project of The Metal Observer — Chapter III: “Folk Metal 1: Go Folk Yourself”
Death Most Foul
Triumvir Foul, for those who don’t know, is the death metal project featuring members of Ash Borer. But while Ash Borer has met with a high level of critical success, Triumvir Foul largely has not, outside of death metal circles. Spiritual Bloodshed is the band’s second album and it’s another high quality death metal release in a year that has had a dearth of them.
As the name implies, Triumvir Foul’s sound is, well, foul. Spiritual Bloodshed is murky, chaotic, and buried under a deep layer of filth. The basic blueprint is early Autopsy in terms of mixing slow, creeping sections with frantic blasts, but there’s a lot more to Spiritual Bloodshed than just another Autopsy clone. There’s an extra layer of swirling chaos that gives Triumvir Foul a debauched, off-the-rails feel that works very well.
Just how good Spiritual Bloodshed is might not be apparent at first. The production buries the sound somewhat (even for this style of death metal), so Spiritual Bloodshed is the kind of album that requires multiple close listens to fully grasp the interplay, particularly between riffs. There are some deep, dark riffs buried on this album and they are in constant tension with production, struggling to break free. Vocals follow a similar pattern, being buried and unintelligible. Spiritual Bloodshed is definitely a grower, but it packs some powerful riffs; from the lurching mid-section of “Serpentine Seed” and the stomping main riff of the title track, to the mind melting, nightmarish opening of “Vrasubatlatian Rites” there are plenty of fiendishly delightful moments. But the album also has a lot of subtlety, particularly with regards to the solos. They’re almost drowned out by the riffs but contribute to that off-kilter, anxiety inducing feel I mentioned earlier.
With Immolation, Father Befouled, Ascended Dead, Tomb Mold, and Undergang all putting out albums in 2017, it’s a good time to be a fan of dark, grimy death metal. Spiritual Bloodshed is another feather in death metal’s cap, and while I personally don’t feel it’s as good as some of the aforementioned releases, it’s still a very strong album with plenty to offer fans of death metal. It’s a step up from their debut, which was a nasty little album in its own right. If you’ve only heard the band member’s other main project, Ash Borer, check out the band that is many ways its polar opposite-chaotic, unrefined, and downright barbaric.
A Flash In the Dark
In this day and age, it can be difficult for a new band to be truly original. Every sub-genre has been splintered so much that it is hard to know where to even look for an original sound. There are a few fusion genres that have not been fully explored yet that bands could look in to though. Canada’s The Lightbringer explores a fusion genre most would write off immediately as too difficult or close to impossible, melodic power/black metal. Heptanity is their second album and comes a full seven years after their debut.
Amazingly enough, The Lightbringer pull off the seemingly impossible and somehow make the awkward power/black fusion work relatively well. Is this an album of the year candidate? Not a chance. However, the fact that this is actually a quality album with good riffs and interesting leads is a feat in and of itself. There are some solid power metal riffs on here and plenty of solid tremolo picked black metal riffs and these songs never feel disjointed which is a credit to the band’s talent and skills. The leads and solos are often very interesting as they are slow but very melodic and intricate, adding a measure of atmosphere to the sound.
The keyboards on this album are probably the biggest standout as they are very atmospheric and often slightly creepy. They never go full on power metal cheese but that might have ruined the vibe so it is probably a good thing. Some of the symphonics are slightly uplifting too which is cool. “The Sundering Hammers of Earth” features huge symphonics that add a great deal of atmosphere when combined with the female vocals and the speedy drumming. The Lightbringer use this as a recurring theme but only in short spurts, providing plenty of variety for the listener. Midway through “The Crushing Thunderbolt of Skies” is keyboard work reminiscent of early Emperor or Bishop of Hexen’s sophomore album with furious tremolo picked riffs to match. This is followed by a section that just screams 80s USPM and somehow, the transition is perfectly smooth.
The drumming is rather intriguing because power metal drumming and black metal drumming can be total opposites or very similar depending on the style and the band. There are plenty of blast beats on this record as well as great double kick drumming, satisfying the black metal end nicely in “The Sundering Hammers of Earth.” The fills on this album are nothing spectacular but they are good enough to accent the power metal portion of the band’s music. Much like the guitar work, Simon’s drumming is incredibly precise, even when he’s playing at what seems like blinding speed.
Since power metal requires clean vocals and black metal gravitates toward harsh vocals, the only logical solution is to use both approaches. This is something The Lightbringer does extremely well with soprano female vocals and black metal male vocals. Every so often, they also throw in clean falsetto male vocals to keep the power metal side alive and keep the listener on their toes. The really impressive thing is that regardless of which vocal approach the band employs at a given moment, they mostly maintain a sense of lyrical intelligibility, except on Fanny Grenier’s highest notes. She is clearly classically trained (perhaps even operatically trained) so she is mostly used for high soprano notes but her voice has a beautiful quality to it that is not often seen in metal. Olivier’s black metal vocals live in that fast and raw raspy range and they really punch up the black metal side of the band’s sound. Stan’s clean falsetto vocals are clearly inspired by the likes of Daniel Heiman, though not quite as high and somehow, they fit right in with the rest of the band’s unique and original sound. Despite employing three totally different vocal styles, nothing feels odd or out of place on this album.
All in all, The Lightbringer have produced a high quality album here that seamlessly blends two opposing genres to create something entirely new and original. It seems like an odd fusion and it would be easy to be sloppy and let one genre dominate, which would be a grave disservice to fans. Thankfully, The Lightbringer put a lot of thought into this album’s sound and execute their ideas with stunning precision and a striking balance between light and dark that keeps you guessing and leaves you wanting more. Hopefully the world will not have to wait another seven years for a third album but even if we do, it will undoubtedly be worth the wait.
This Ain’t Your
Ok, let’s get one thing clear before we begin: this is not a death metal record. Decapitated have long provided one of the most constantly inspiring benchmarks within the world of technical death metal—in terms of their near-unrivalled technical prowess, subtle yet unrelenting progression and the sheer aggressive brutality shown across each of their six preceding releases.1 Yet, rather than the likes of Nile or Necrophagist, Anticult is far more readily relatable to the pummelling groove-thrash of modern-day Machine Head or classic-era Sepultura. Although it’s not a world away from the kind of thing the Pols were laying down on The Negation or Organic Hallusinosis, those simply seeking a rehash of Nihility or Winds Of Creation will find little reward here. However, as groove-thrash records go, Anticult is easily one of the best and most challenging examples of the style to emerge in years.
Let’s get the criticisms out of the way first, before I go ahead and splurge about how great Anticult is otherwise. Besides its uninspiring cover art, the running order for this album is completely whack. It was a real struggle to get into this record the first few times around, and that perhaps has a lot to do with its opening two numbers being far less impactful, and arguably weaker, than everything that follows. However, the major offender is the album’s final track. Odd-fitting outros are not new territory for Decapitated. “Silence”—from 2011’s masterful, and confrontingly progressive, comeback record Carnival Is Forever—surely stood out as a weird, and potentially superfluous addition to many. Yet, that track also tied into the overall theme of the release from whence it came, and left said release in a decidedly final, fading moment. The bombastic “Amen,” however, forcefully disrupts the similar atmosphere created during the fleeting conclusion of “Never”—plodding along in an uninteresting and undeveloped groove while Rafał “Rasta” Piotrowski repeatedly shouts the album’s name in the background, before building and trailing off to nothing. It’s a really questionable inclusion, and I personally have gone and changed the order of the track listing in my itunes library so that “Amen” is now the first track on the record, which provides a much smother lead-in to “Impulse” and “Deathvaluation,” along with a far more conclusive ending.
Now for the good stuff; which is: everything else. Once Anticult sinks in and you’ve accepted its new groove-thrash aesthetic, there’s little about it to fault. Imagine, if you will, Machine Head’s landmark modern thrash metal masterpiece The Blackening (2007),2 stripped of all the superfluity so that all you have left is a collection of utterly demolishing thrash riffs laid end to end (to end to end). Pound for pound, Anticult has the best collection of sheer riffs of any record released this year. “One Eyed Nation” blends the best of early and modern Meshuggah at their thrashiest, while “Anger Line” runs a Rob Flynn-esque battle cry and thrash break into a jilted, atmospheric, Fredrik Thordendal-style solo. “Earth Scar” does much the same, substituting the best Soulfly have to offer in place of the Californians, while adding in a hint of modern-day Psycroptic, and “Never” caps things off with one of the best Kataklysm songs in years. The true standout, however, is undeniably “Kill The Cult.” Along with being the moment where the record truly kicks in, the quick pace and catching Cavaleran chorus cry of “Kill This Cult!! Cult Of Lies!! …” immediately set it aside as Anticult’s stand out moment. The definite Slipknot-style guitar tone and quiet/loud verse/chorus structure of the track will surely have old-school fans crying nu-metal heresy at one point or another,3 but I hear a lot more Machine Head and Psycroptic in there, and the Meshuggah-ian mid break should surely put those accusations to rest.
As you may have gathered from these song-descriptions, the tracks on Anticult are perhaps a touch formulaic. There’s a definite template in place on this record: verse, chorus; verse, chorus; thrash break (where everything stops but the guitar, which plays the new riff a couple of times before the drums and bass kick back in); slow Meshuggah grove with either slow, technically-melodic solo or crazy-fast thrash widdling; into a big, fat, heavy ending—with the drums alternating between a Slipknot/Machine Head-tyle groove, or otherwise going full “Bleed” in the bridge. It can sound a bit repetitive on first listen, and some of the solos continue to come off as mere “shredding for shredding’s sake” several sessions on; but there’s enough subtlety and nuance going on amongst all the riffage to dig into—even if it’s not overly apparent on first spin—and, at the end of the day: it’s a pretty winning formula!
Anticult is sure to be a divisive record within Decapitated’s fanbase—far more so than the transitional Blood Mantra and the estranged Carnival Is Forever before it. However, once you accept this record for what it is, you also have to accept that these once-death-metal-prodigys are now doing the whole groove-thrash thing far better than many of the style’s seasoned veterans have done in some time. For death metal purists, this is sure to be the final nail in the proverbial coffin, but if you check your expectations and go in with an open mind you’re sure to be rewarded. Coming into this review, I’d already declared Harlott’s Extinction to be the best thrash metal album of 2017. I may have spoken too soon.
2 A release, despite its undeniable classic status, I would argue is nevertheless sandwiched in between two far more realized and superior records, but that is a story/debate for another day…
3 Admitedly, the final riff does sound exceedingly similar to the pre-chorus of “The Blister Exists”.
Italian power metal mainstays Kaledon are hot off the release of their tenth album Carnagus: Emperor Of The Darkness. Seeing as how we at The Metal Observer thought so highly of it, now seemed like the best time to catch up with lead guitarist, Alex Mele, to ask a few questions about the new release…
Welcome to Secret Steel, the new project of The Metal Observer — Chapter II: “Death Metal 1: At Death’s Door”
The Metal Observer is proud to present the exclusive premiere of the brand new track “Synapses Spun As Silk” by Australian black metal horde NORSE!
So, it has come to our attention here at The Metal Observer that there should be a need to educate and inform all manner of fans in the metal community. Far too often, it seems as though everything has been written for life-long hardcore fans or at least those who have been around enough to have a general idea of what they’re talking about. That is about to change with this first of our series of band biographyie here on The Metal Observer.’
Welcome to Secret Steel, the new project of The Metal Observer — Chapter I: “Power Metal 1: Genesis”
Welcome to Secret Steel, then new and exciting project of The Metal Observer!