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Posts Tagged ‘comparative’

Re-Review: Monstrosity – Millennium (1996)

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/KZc1qAFCMyA/maxresdefault.jpgTime sure flies, doesn’t it? Millennium had the honor (?) of being the topic of my first non-introductory post on Invisible Blog, therefore predating pretty much all of the traditions I established over the years. My opinions on it have evolved over the years, but I figured it might be good to give this a more informed and more detailed look given just how long it’s been since I first listened to this. After all, my initial rationale for listening was entirely due to this being the spawning point for George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher, who promptly joined Cannibal Corpse after recording this album.

Compared to Cannibal Corpse, at least their contemporary albums, Millennium showcases a more clinical, technical take on death metal, favoring intricate rhythmic interplay and a hint of melody. It’s definitely not the faster, looser style that CC seems to have preferred at the time. In fact, I still think Deicide, especially on Legion is a closer match for this substyle of death metal, at least on a deep structural level. Monstrosity unfortunately has to labor under a deeper, bassier, muddier production that I don’t feel is particularly well matched to this specific style. To be fair, the mixjob is competent and actually shines on the slower parts of this album (in particular, “Fragments of Resolution”), but to push the Legion analogy further, I’d apply that album’s overall sound to this one in a heartbeat if I could.

Despite my initial lunge for Monstrosity’s music, Millennium took more time to gel in my brain than initially expected. Despite out-teching most of its apparent inspiration from the early ’90s, this is still a sparse sounding album that doesn’t have many gimmicks to distract from its death metallic bread and butter (the closest, perhaps, being occasional bass solos). When Monstrosity succeeds here, it’s because of a few things – first, they have a relatively expansive sense of songwriting – not full on prog, but varied enough to help keep the metal interesting. Corpsegrinder helps, too, although his expertise here is more in providing a standard death metal growl and doing it really well than being especially dynamic. This album’s MVP, however, is probably the drummer – one Lee Harrison who has briefly performed with a couple of more famous acts, but has generally spent his musician time here in Monstrosity. He exemplifies the instrumental prowess and varied performances that make Millennium worth a listen more than any of the other band members. I have to preface my praise of drummers with the claim that they usually don’t draw my attention, and this is no exception, but it does not in any way diminish his contributions to the skilled instrumentation that propels this album.

The novelty of Millennium‘s music and lineup have long since worn off, but ultimately, this album is solidly built, and it will hold your attention with (ironically) its attention to detail.

Highlights: “Devious Instinct”, “Manic”, “Mirrors of Reason”

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Triptykon – Eparistera Daimones (2010)

folder.jpgI’ve labeled a couple of the albums I review on Invisible Blog to be ‘exaggerations’ of their predecessors and ancestors, but Eparistera Daimones might be the first I’ve covered where the creator (Tom Warrior of Celtic Frost fame) would definitely agree. I remember that my initiation into metal music came about the time that he started this project. Tom tells us that Triptykon was planned from day one to continue Celtic Frost’s overall approach on Monotheist, but was also intended to make things even heavier, darker, and more aggressive.  Sounds like an easy, crowd pleasing, almost populist plan! You know how those go.

Eparistera Daimones wastes no time stating its intent, leading off with the 11 minute “Goetia”, and following it up primarily with extended songs in a similar vein. This might not be the best idea, since Monotheism‘s monophony places some limits on the band’s songwriting options from the bat. Triptykon, being essentially Celtic Frost, though, at least recognizes this problem and uses the same differentiation techniques that its predecessor employed – massive dynamic shifts, vocal histrionics (male and female), tinges of electronics, and so forth. Despite all my claims of similarity, there are at least a few new ideas here, at least relative to this incarnation of Warrior’s musical efforts – “One Thousand Lies” comes to mind for its velocity in what is otherwise a funeral march of an album. Still, this one’s for the doom metal enthusiasts – if slow and crushing isn’t to your tastes, you face an uphill battle trying to acclimate to this one.

To be honest, I was expecting to be more critical of Eparistera Daimones in this review. Its failure to solve the systematic problems that plagued its predecessor are admittedly pretty damning. I think what undermined that impression, though, is the fact that it at least stays the course. It doesn’t add further flaws (which could’ve happened – this album was brought to you by some of the people who made Cold Lake), and at some points it even makes small refinements to the new Celtic Frost formula that help a bit with the overall results. In short, there’s nothing overtly and immediately wrong with this album, and I actually do like quite a few of the tracks here. I’m not sure I’d put it even on the level of Monotheist, though. Maybe I’m just being petty and removing imaginary internet points because this album is a redux, but there’s not much I can do about that, short of a concerted effort to be less arbitrary as a reviewer…

Highlights: “Abyss Within My Soul”, “One Thousand Lies”, “Myopic Empire”

Strapping Young Lad – Alien (2005)

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When it comes to Devin Townsend related content, I have to admit that it took me quite a while to warm up to Alien. I wouldn’t have expected that to be the case, honestly – it predates both Ziltoid the Omniscent and Deconstruction by mixing both his extreme metal and progressive rock styles, and is more intense than either, even if it does so by mostly emphasizing the former. You’d think that I (even my past self) would fall on this like a swarm of locusts, so what gives? Unfortunately, I don’t remember what I was complaining about in the past…

As mentioned, Alien leans more towards the Strapping Young Lad aesthetic – listening to it is a good way to get your daily extreme metal dosage, between the incisive guitars, shrieking Devy, and the always appreciated percussion work of Gene Hoglan. If you’re familiar with previous SYL material (City is a good bet), you won’t be too surprised what by what’s on display here. The production is a bit trebly and hissy for my tastes this time around, but it’s still appropriate for this sort of band. What strains it, most likely, is the massively enhanced keyboard/symphonic presence. I’ve hinted at it before, but for whatever reason, a decent chunk of Devy’s other interests leaked into Alien, resulting in the only metal album I’ve listened to that incorporates xylophones into the songwriting.

The instruments aren’t the only part affected, as Alien usually has more complicated and intricate arrangements than its SYL predecessors. When you combine this with the stereotypical SYL sound, you get a potentially overwhelming album that’s definitely draining to listen to listen to all at once (even without the 12 minute info dump at the end). I don’t remember experiencing similar distaste for Deconstruction, though, but I have two hypotheses as to why that was the case. First, my experience with Alien predated the release of that latter album by about a year. Second, Deconstruction does have the benefit of 6 extra years of experience and education on Devin’s end. A meeting of more experienced and ready minds can definitely come in handy, and for whatever reason Alien really does feel more … alien than a lot of SYL content, even once I’ve gotten more accustomed to its approach.

Ultimately, time heals everything, and just as I was able to appreciate a great many albums more once they’d sunk in a bit, so was I able to warm up to Alien‘s charms. It might help that I’m receptive to the works of Devin Townsend in general. I still think the first half of this album is better than the second, though, so I guess we’ll have to deal with that.

Highlights: “Skeksis”, “Shitstorm”, “We Ride”

Mysticum – Planet Satan (2014)

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When we last left Mysticum, they were preparing the release of Planet Satan. In the interrim, I managed to convince myself that this album didn’t come out until 2016, and that therefore it was a reasonable but overlooked choice for my DMU tenure. Instead, it’s been available since 2014, so I’m definitely behind the times here. You can therefore consider this review something of an attempt to fix a hole in my backlog.

Planet Satan is basically what Mysticum’s previous album should’ve been – better produced and mixed. I say this with full awareness of black metal musicians’ affinity for lo-fi recordings. Sometimes, that’s a desirable trait. In Mysticum’s case, though, the “industrial” aesthetic is better served by a cleaner sound. It isn’t entirely pristine, to be fair – Planet Satan‘s production channels much of its predecessor’s trebly hiss, but on equivalent stereo equipment the end result is more balanced and louder. The vocals are the major benefactor here – the screams and thickly accented ranting here are prominent enough in the mix to drive songs, but everything else has been boosted, making for an overall better sounding recording.

To be fair, there isn’t much on this album that would sound out of place on In The Streams of Inferno if it’d been recorded on the same equipment as that effort. I want to say that the songwriting here is more coherent, but this is a very minor change at best. The songs actually feel more compact despite the album’s greater length, although I’m not sure if that’s just a result of them grabbing my attention more effectively. One thing that is for certain is that there are fewer abrupt asides, and that when new instrumentation is introduced, it’s integrated into the actual songwriting more effectively. These aren’t especially complicated songs, and one thing I’ve noticed is that the overall rhythmic simplicity makes for a strange, inexplicable effect at times (is this, perhaps, the psychedelia that people have been claiming Mysticum channels for the last few years?). On the other hand, I consider it a good thing that a so-called industrial black metal album strikes a balance between a mechanical aesthetic and the other moods I typically associate with black metal – blasphemy, hellfire, derangement, etc. That last bit is probably Mysticum’s true strength, and one that not many bands have been able to capture on their own terms.

In short, Planet Satan pretty much obsoletes everything else Mysticum has created, by virtue of being essentially the same but shinier. Some bands lose crucial elements of their sound when they try to refine it, but not this band.

Highlights: “LSD”, “Far”, “Fist of Satan”

Judas Priest – Stained Class (1978)

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Stained Class is the culmination of an era of Judas Priest. After this, they were never quite the same. To understand this, you have to look into the pyschedelic/progressive rock roots of metal. Not only was there a great deal of crossover, but a lot of early “heavy” moments that future metal musicians were inspired by came from prog bands pushing into more noise and feedback alongside their poppier bretheren. I don’t think anyone would classify Judas Priest as a progressive rock band, but in their longer winded moments, you can imagine the resemblance. Stained Class has some of this, but its big achievement is buffing up the band’s heaviness and aggression to then unprecedented levels.

To be fair, “Exciter” (the first track) might give you an inaccurate impression of just how fast and aggressive Priest is going to be on this album – there is nothing that quite compares to it later on. Still, it would take the band years to match it, so it’s got to be worth a mention. Important, though, is that in spite of upping the velocity and aggression, “Exciter” has a relatively complicated structure, and plenty of internal dynamics that make its own lineage apparent.  This first track also gives us a chance to preview the latest iteration of the Judas Priest sound. While the production is still arguably a work in progress, it’s a good refinement of the strengths of the previous album’s sound. We also get a major boost in the quality of drumming courtesy of Les Binks, whose more intricate style is sorely missed on the band’s most famous works from the 1980s.

Even if most of the album isn’t as balls-out as the lead-in, the rest of Stained Class has plenty going for it. It tends towards a mid-paced, spacious sense of songwriting, with a few nods towards the folk/blues-rock elements that flavored Sin After Sin coexisting with more stereotypically metal work. K.K Downing doesn’t have as many songwriting credits on this album, for better or worse, although I’m still not entirely sure how much he helped Priest push the envelope on these early works. Quibbles about authorship aside, this is generally solid, well planned material; perhaps less ambitious structured than before, but also more coherent and less prone to filler. The improvements to the production don’t hurt, either. “Beyond the Realms of Death” stands out as another one of Priest’s strong ballads; its soft-loud dichotomy makes a nice contrast to “Dreamer Deciever” and its long buildup. Overall, it’s definitely streamlined, but the songwriting on Stained Class isn’t so oversimplified that it really harms the listening experience.

I won’t go as far as to say that Judas Priest does no wrong on this album, but Stained Class gets more than enough right. A word to the the psychedelic/proggy bands of today – if you want to get gradually heavier, you could learn from Priest’s evolution…

Highlights: “Exciter”, “White Heat, Red Hot”, “Invader”, “Beyond the Realms of Death”

Necrophobic – Darkside (1997)

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Necrophobic’s debut (The Nocturnal Silence) has a melodic sense to it often reminiscent of contemporary black metal. Darkside accentuates that, but while much of this album resembles the black metal its lead guitarist David Parland slung on the side (read: early Dark Funeral), it’s still got at least one foot firmly planted in the death metal camp. It’s certainly a hybrid, and it’s also certainly a leaner, faster, more aggressive recording than its predecessor. A good analogy here is Slayer’s evolution from Hell Awaits to Reign in Blood – lifted band name aside, this sort of adjustment in sound is in itself not without precedent.

Much like what happened with Reign in Blood is, Darkside is therefore a simpler and exaggerated take on its predecessor’s ideas. To reiterate after years of lessons from black metal in particular – simple music is not innately bad. It can be if you don’t have the skills or motivation to make the most of your minimalism, but many primitive-sounding recordings have stuck in my mind for years, and even managed to reveal their hidden depths over time. Does Darkside do this? The answer is a firm “sort of” – at 37:55, the album has more bytes on its CD than I initially suspected, but there’s a good chunk of filler strewn throughout this relatively short length. This was actually a problem I noticed over time with The Nocturnal Silence, and it took me a while to figure out exactly why parts of both albums weren’t sticking after repeated listening.

With Necrophobic’s debut, I initially decided the main problem was that they weren’t going all out with the candy coated melodies. Amongst other things, Darkside is full of consonant, if stereotypically evil sounding melodic riffs, so it seems likely that the band thought similarly. It turns out that ratcheting up the sugar factor isn’t always the best answer, at least given the simpler song structures. This results in an album that lacks a lot of the nuance and intellectual power that made its predecessor’s high points work. It’d help if the production was similar, but as far as I’m concerned, The Nocturnal Silence dealt with this better as well. Its cleaner and deeper sounds sell it more effectively than this album’s more trebly yet muddled mix. I don’t actually know if Necrophobic was trying to go for a more overtly blackened sound; to be fair, it’s a relatively minor change.

Ultimately, if I want an album that blurs the line between the constellation of extreme metal subgenres, I would probably go with something other than Darkside. It seems like quite a step down from its predecessor.

Highlights: “Black Moon Rising”, “Bloodthirst”, “Nailing The Holy Out”

Bathory – Under the Sign of the Black Mark (1987)

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Under the Sign of the Black Mark precedes Bathory’s turn towards “Viking” lyrical/musical themes, and arguably represents Quorthon’s first experiments with the sort of songwriting that would later define the band. It’s also a filthy mess of early black metal played at then-unprecedented velocities that, as far as I can tell, was created in at least two recording sessions. At the very least, it’s an interesting predecessor to Blood Fire Death. It’s definitely still part of Bathory’s long run of genre-defining albums, and for very good reasons.

If there ever was such a thing as a “1.5th wave” of black metal (and I seem to think there was), Under the Sign of the Black Mark is where it all began. In its faster and more intense moments, you could easily confuse some of these tracks for the works they would inspire, in their general minimalism and feral extremity. If it means anything, the average 21st century lo-fi trve kvlt black metal band seems to prefer a treble heavier mix and shriller vocals than Quorthon’s mere rasp, but that stereotype at least makes sense as an exaggeration of the techniques on display here.

Since fast, aggressive, and raw sounding black metal is a dime a dozen these days (and was already relatively common by 1987, even if the newfangled “death metal” was taking hold more rapidly), Under the Sign of the Black Mark earns most of its points in my book through its other half. Accompanying the blasts of violence are a couple of slower, more drawn out songs with better, cleaner production and the aforementioned first glimmers of the ‘epic’ styles of future Bathory albums. This is, as far as I’m concerned, a style that meshes very well with the black metal side of Bathory. Making these sort of extended songs is admittedly just a matter of adding extra content, but even at this phase of their career, the band already had a grasp of how to extend their songs. You could argue that they got better at it on later albums, but even something like “Call From The Grave” establishes a strong musical narrative throughout its duration. The focus and overall ambience building shows itself in all the tracks, even to some extent in the aggressive half, and that (amongst other things) is a sign of songwriting expertise.

Another talking point to take home from Invisible Blog – the most influential and successful of extreme metal bands went beyond mere skin bashing and frantic fretwork, even if their recordings still sounded raw. Bathory’s increased expertise on Under the Sign of the Black Mark brings them to my attention and renders this a potent recording.

Highlights: “Equimanthorn”, “Enter the Eternal Fire”, “13 Candles”