Hades – The Dawn of the Dying Sun (1997)

maxresdefaultAs opposed to “House of the Rising Sun”. Hades is apparently from a place where Blood Fire Death was constantly in the cassette decks and/or CD players. In many ways, they sound like a more intense version of ‘Viking’ era Bathory, to the point that this album is occasionally labeled as viking metal despite its lyrics mostly not being related to Viking topics. Either way, plenty of bands had paid homage to Bathory (or copied them more directly if they were less creative) by 1997, so this album’s merit is a question of what it brings to the table.

One thing listeners will notice is that this album is mostly midpaced, which creates some space in the arrangements that otherwise might not be there. That’s partially canceled out by the production, which is driven by pure wall of sound. Furthermore, the album’s mastered extremely loud and is somewhat lacking in dynamics, to the point that it sometimes clips like crazy; that could cause you some ear fatigue in the long run. To be fair, the apparent inspiration wasn’t very dynamic either, but this is still worth mentioning.

It also logically follows that Hades shares the strengths of late ’80s Bathory, in that they display similar skill in creating atmosphere and ambience despite the overall higher intensity level.  The compositions on this album are fairly minimalistic and sometimes extend to significant distance (such as 10 minute midpiece and tribute to Richard Chaucer “Alone Walkyng”). However, the band throws in just enough changes to keep my interest – and if you know of my tastes for variation and complexity in my music, then you know that’s an achievement. Other comparisons arise from this observation – Enslaved, in their earliest days, had a similar taste for atmosphere and minimalism, and actually engaged with Viking themes. Both bands also show an affinity for adding acoustic instruments and keyboards to their recordings. Beyond these surface elements, Hades shows an affinity for obvious melody that neither of the previous bands were particularly tapping into, at least on the albums I’ve linked to. Bathory obviously became more consonant after the Viking frenzy tempered the aggression of Quorthon’s music, but they don’t seem to have reached the same level as Hades shows here.

As a result of all this, The Dawn of the Dying Sun sounds like the crossfire between its more intense black metal contemporaries and quieter, gentler rock/folk influences that admittedly were present in diluted form through its contemporaries. The latter helps this album reach relevance, but extra dynamics would have earned this band many long term fans. Anyways, it appears this was the band’s last salvo in the style – after being forced to affix the word “Almighty” to their name, they briefly explored an experimental path and passed into history…

Highlights: “Awakening of Kings”, “Alone Walkyng”, “The Tale of a Nocturnal Empress”

Sadus – Swallowed In Black (1990)

folderSadus, better known as the band that brought us Steve DiGiorgio (lender of bass guitar to everyone), was yet another one of those to succumb to the lure of technicality as death metal emerged from an independent movement. They do bear some similarities to last week’s subject, albeit dragged through the earthquakes and wildfires of the Californian frontier… don’t look at me like that! I’ve never been further west than Texas in my life. More seriously, since this album was forged in one of the many American metal ‘scenes’, you can and should expect it to differ in some ways from its European brethren, even if both of them probably had a lot of the same records on their shelves.

Sadus is a lot more abrasive and direct than many of the bands I’ve been discussing in the last month or so. Part of this is the production, which is both loudness war’d and equalized to have plenty of treble. The vocalist employed (Darren Travis) is also something of a shrieker; he’s quite loud and intent on screaming his head off. I find the lyrics he performs to be nothing particularly special (although definitely competent), but he seems to have an instinct for vocal rhythms that keep him out of the generic circle pit.

Despite this, Sadus remains relatively intricate on Swallowed In Black, and much of this is comes from DiGiorgio’s basslines. I occasionally like to pull out the comparison to Death’s 1991 album Human, although in its original incarnation that album was poorly mixed to the point that it rendered poor Steve inaudible. He seems to play a lot more chords than your average metal bassist, which obviously allows him to play distinct lines more often than he otherwise could. Even when he isn’t, he often adds variation by transposing his patterns; sometimes by octaves, sometimes by other intervals. Ironically, the monophonic runs that I’d usually associate with show up more in the guitars, which have adopted large gobs of death metal technique like tremelo and an overall atonal/dissonant approach to riffwriting. The drums prove to be the exception, although they’re almost always fast and loud. In a way, they’re the glue that holds this album together simply by being less complicated than their surroundings.

I suppose all that really separates Sadus from the more typical death metal bands of the time (stuff like Morbid Angel, Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse, etc.) is their more obvious debt to early underground extreme metal. “Morbid Visions” by Sepultura comes to mind, and as befits a second album, there are even a few nods towards extended composition here. Still, Sadus’s strengths come from their aggression and violence more than from their technicality; the individual riffs and flourishes here are not really as impressive as the overall aesthetic they contribute to. That in itself reveals a bit of a dichotomy in songwriting methods for metal musicians – do you emphasize a riff, or do you try to complement it with the riffs around it? The answer may change on a surprisingly frequent basis.

Highlights: “Man Infestation”, “The Wake”, “In Your Face”, “Images”

Pestilence – Malleus Maleficarum (1988)

frontOn their earliest demos, Pestilence occasionally reminds me of Sentence of Death era Destruction. By the time of their debut, though, Pestilence had undergone some degree of complication, much like their German contemporaries. On Malleus Maleficarum, Pestilence occupies not only the grey area between speed/thrash and death metal, but injects substantial technical flourishes into that mixture. Later albums would see them briefly immerse themselves entirely in death metal before learning to love guitar synthesizers, but here, Pestilence’s sound is fairly basic.

While it sounds somewhat traditional, Malleus Maleficarum relies heavily on extended monophonic riffs. It gets me to thinking – a lot of the relatively early ‘underground’ metal recordings abandoned harmonic backing; by 1988, though, not many had pushed the complexity of their riffs to the extent Pestilence displays here. Furthermore, the ones that had often were in less intense genres of metal. Either way, Pestilence uses the trademark ‘Kreator riffs’ as part of their musical substrate (the use of constant harmonic intervals for dissonant effects, especially in scales), further cementing their connection to the German thrash scene. The ties go beyond mere musical elements – for instance, Kalle Trapp served as producer here only a few months after having helped Destruction with Release From Agony.

Other musical elements help to make Pestilence sound like an exaggerated version of these bands I keep comparing them to. For instance, the aforementioned Kalle Trapp gave this album a very nasty production, with tons of low end and heavy reverb on the drums. Not particularly high fidelity, but I’d describe it as complete metalhead bait in context of the times. However, Pestilence also indulges in melodramatic, complicated songwriting that the bands I’ve compared it to rarely, if ever gave much consideration.  For instance, they seem to have quite the taste for lengthy intros; unlike a lot of bands in the intro business, though, these intros are musically related to the songs they introduce. The ideas they play around with are actually developed later in the songs’ lengths. You’d think this wouldn’t be a hard concept, but you’ll find plenty of random asides in other records (read: compositional fat). The emphasis on mood, along with the relatively large amount of riffs and musical ideas per song render Pestilence’s songs very tight and devoid of filler.

Overall, I’d say that theatrics and melodrama (which always comes with the risk of missing its mark and becoming cliched) is employed to great effect on Malleus Maleficarum. Part of this is the vocalist – Martin van Drunen hadn’t quite developed his distinctive tortured scream-growl yet, but he still employed those important variations in timbre that separate the best death metal vocalists from the rest. When he departed the band after Consuming Impulse, his replacement (guitarist Patrick Mameli) was relatively able to match his timbre, but this important element was lost. On the other hand, Pestilence’s ’90s works did see a great push into new realms of instrumentation and arrangement, so they were at least able to adapt…

Highlights: “Antropomorphia”, “Extreme Unction”, “Commandments”, “Bacterial Surgery”

Bad Ideas #17: Good Ideas #4: Art Bounties

This feature is back on the advice of one of my buddies who told me something along the lines of, “I can’t stand that gosh-accursed metal music, but I love it when you put silly captions on pictures!”. Classy fellow.

Through the magic of tangents (thanks, trig!), I eventually found myself thinking about the various bad ideas I’d posted throughout this blog’s lifetime, and thinking that I wanted to see some of these illustrated. With that in mind, here are a couple that some day, in the future, I might PAY to have illustrated.

161. Ikaaae, Zeanly, and Pigpog, the three demons of Super Mario Bros corruption
Introduce these three impish fellows to your Game Genie™, and let the fun begin as you glitch your way through over 90% of the game!
162. JPEG Warrior
Bowto th mbster of losiness!(This slogan wuz compresed wit JPEG lg0rithms)
163. Optimus Prime rib
Abbatoirbots, assemble!
164. GNU Image Manipulation Program suit
It has to be durable, especially around the… sleeves. And it also has to be open source.
165. A free hotel with every purchase of $50 or more
“Boss, aren’t you worried this might cause a lot of inflation in the long term?” “Eh, that just means people will spend more of their money here.”
166. Mario and Sonic Are Surrounded By Death at The Olympic Games
“Are you sure the Badnik toss was a good choice for an event?” “Hey, you didn’t complain about the Goomba stomp.”
167. 343 Guilty Spork
“Oh dear. This soup… it’s like a Flood to my senses!”
168. Glenn Quackmire
“Who else but Quackmire? Giggity.”
169. Dive Man’s Day Off
Hey, Cameron. If we played by the rules, Rock wouldn’t be in Wily Stage Two by now.
170. A machine that juxtaposes random concepts to make horrific abominations
Oh… you’ve figured me out! You look nice. How’s the weather where you come from?
Now that I think of it, a lot of older Bad Ideas installments are rife with opportunities for illustration. Maybe I can art-bounty those too.

Sepultura – Schizophrenia (1987)

While hardly the commercial peak of their career, Schizophrenia by Sepultura is almost assuredly the key to appreciating anything they’ve done. Personally, I couldn’t get much out of any of their albums until I listened to this one… if that doesn’t count as an expansion of one’s musical interests, then nothing does. Meanwhile, Schizophrenia also serves as an expansion of Sepultura’s musical horizons; while it has clear roots in the proto-death/black metal of the band’s debut, it’s dramatically more ambitious and somewhat more polished (although still somewhat rough around the edges). There are just enough changes here that it does not obsolete Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation, but it instead serves as an interesting counterpart.

Historians who also enjoy Sepultura will note that this is Andreas Kisser’s first contribution to the band. I remember reading somewhere that his tastes in music played a rather significant role in the band’s musical development during the late ’80s and early ’90s. Schizophrenia sounds closer to famous speed-thrash works like those of Slayer, Kreator, Destruction, etc. Riffs here remain quite simplistic, but the arrangements here are often quite complex, traveling through a variety of musical ideas and often having a tangible sense of narrative even during instrumentals and solos. Perhaps the best example of this is the 7 minute “Inquisition Symphony”, which is an impressive extended work that apparently set a precedent for this band occasionally stretching out their songs.

However, Sepultura generally sticks to 4-5 minutes per song on this release, more likely from a sense that they didn’t need to extend as far all the time. This is fine, because even these shorter songs are effective. Sepultura’s strength on this album is simply that they’ve managed to create this sense of variety entirely through their compositions, while generally not relying on aesthetic changes to differentiate songs (although the aforementioned “Inquisition Symphony” is the largest exception). One possible flaw is that it might take listeners repeated listens in order fully distinguish songs; this is exacerbated by a definite flaw in that Schizophrenia does not make very effective use of dynamics. Instead, the band favors a high but constant level of intensity and aggression, and relies on their riff changes to keep listeners interested. Other common techniques like melodic guitar solos (contrast to the more chaotic and noisy ones of a band like Slayer) show up, but on Schizophrenia, the riffs and the compositions they form stick out far more in my mind.

Looking back, I find that Sepultura was nastier and actually more atmospheric on their debut, and more intricate on this album’s follow up (Beneath the Remains). Schizophrenia, however, forms a happy medium between those two. It also has an interesting trump card in the nastiest, most abrasive production of the band’s discography (to my understanding); imitations might’ve come in handy in the rest of the band’s discography. If I hadn’t listened to this album, I probably wouldn’t have given Sepultura a chance at all…

Highlights: “From the Past Comes the Storms” (sic), “Escape to the Void”, “Inquisition Symphony”

 

Voivod – Dimension Hatröss (1988)

folderRecent posts here make me think I’m focusing in a lot on transitional albums and the evolution of many a recording artist’s sound. I guess the lesson is that bands evolve more than you’d expect. Voivod’s a clear evolver. As mentioned in the recent past, Dimension Hatröss may be more instantly accessible than its predecessor, but this is primarily due to changes in production and vocals. It is not a simplification of Voivod’s formula, though – in fact, it may even have more complex songwriting. It’s also a bump up in thematics, as the songs now more specifically revolve around the exploits of the band’s mascot Körgull the Exterminator. Magnum opus or not, this does fall square into what the internet (or at least Encyclopedia Metallum) perceives as Voivod’s golden age.

As a fan of the extended songs on Killing Technology, I still have to admit that the more concise approach on this album just condenses the songs, so that they explore about the same amount of musical territory. With the reduction in fat, some songs (such as “Tribal Convictions”) even venture into hit single territory. It seems that Voivod communicates what they want to say more clearly than they had in the past – riffs are more distinctive and yet more effectively related to each other, but the major improvement here is in Voivod’s dynamic range – compared to the last album, they are more effectively able to create contrast by altering volume, tempo, texture, and it makes the more intense parts of the songs on display more effective.

Other changes in Dimension Hatröss‘s approach can be traced to the ‘transition’. A major development here is that the vocalist (Denis Bélanger, aka “Snake”) uses primarily sung vocals instead of the shouted ones of Voivod’s past. Even the remaining shouts feel a bit more tonal. Snake is not exactly a classically skilled singer, but as befits the improved contrast, he tries a variety of tones. At times, this seems to pull Voivod closer to their punk roots, although pretty much everything else pushes in the opposite direction.  The production hasn’t changed much – at best it’s fairly similar in approach (although more accomplished) than that of Killing Technology. It does have a bit less treble to it, and at times the bass is more audible, but the gap between the production of this and Nothingface is much greater – that album is… shiny.

The fact this increments musical complexity without softening Voivod’s sound to the degree Nothingface did is probably why I’ve come to prefer this one. I did call the last album the band’s “first peak”, but Dimension Hatröss remains higher up. To be fair, it’s not much higher, since Killing Technology still did so much right, but an improvement is an improvement.

Highlights: “Tribal Convictions”, “Chaosmongers”, “Macrosolutions to Megaproblems”

Carcariass – Killing Process (2002)

large folderNot to be confused with Carcass, even during that band’s pivot towards melodeath. For a band named after a shark, Carcariass seems to prefer writing about disasters – plane crashes, earthquakes to writing about marine biology. Killing Process would be rather sedate (if not lacking in technicality) by the standards of a pure death metal album; based on the melodic sense and preference for middling speeds, the band probably shares more DNA with a band like Obliveon. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was also some influence from older shred rock like Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen. Either way, the musical elements here lay between styles.

Despite having only a single guitarist at this point, Carcariass relies heavily on guitar solos to drive much of their content; obviously there was some studio multitracking happening. These are composed primarily of lengthy, fast runs up and down the fretboard. They’re also notably heavily processed; run through all sorts of filters that help separate them from the rhythm guitar at the expense of making them aesthetically odd. The overall sound is clean and not particularly reverb laden, but the bass usually ends up drowned out unless it’s performing a solo. Everything about the production and mixing seems to add up to a production team more interested in traditional/speed metal, but the staff on this album has enough background in extreme metal that it’s more likely the band wanted this.

Compared to the production, the compositions on display here lean closer to what you’d find on a typical extreme metal album. In some ways, Carcariass acts as a French retort to the ‘Gothenburg’ scene… which admittedly was not all that unified in sound or approach. Killing Process often feels more contemplative than the aforementioned scene between its intricate instrumental parts, middling tempo, and (most importantly) approach to song structure. While mostly concise, the average song here contains an extended bridge that gives the musicians time to solo, and a few instrumentals are included to provide more room for this. There’s not a lot of dynamic range, but there is some contrast of rhythmic texture and space in the arrangements to keep things from getting too monotonous.

I suppose the incorporation of older elements into what might’ve otherwise been a death metal album is one of Carcariass’s strengths, which is something you can’t necessarily say about the average band. Then again, metal (like any other genre) builds off the achievements of the past, so metal albums that really push into territory not explored by preceding rock and metal bands are generally quite rare. Perhaps the greatest criticism I could levy against Killing Process is that the vocals often feel peripheral to the band’s main goal, between the frequent instrumentals and fairly generic approach. More instrumentals could’ve helped the band extend their technical prowess further. Alternative styles of vocals could help, too – besides the obvious recommendation of more dynamic vocals, they could’ve went for the Desultor approach and used clean vocals to add more layers to their music. The product we got out of this will still appeal to a wide swath of metalheads, but the style here seems to favor breadth of fanbase over depth of fervor.

Highlights: “Tragical End”, “Mortal Climb”, “Winds of Death”