Posts Tagged ‘juxtaposition’

Enslaved – Frost (1994)

folder.jpgEvery band has their difficult albums. By the standards of Enslaved’s early career (pre-2000 or so), I’d say Frost is their point of peak inaccessibility. While it still clearly belongs to the drawn out, ritualistic and vaguely symphonic take on black metal that stereotyped Enslaved in their earlier days, it’s also the beginning of a push towards a more aggressive and direct approach. Without much in the way of Eld‘s obvious progressive rock-isms or Blodhemn’s terse blasts of intensity at all costs, Frost is surprisingly frosty. At least that’s appropriate.

If you ask me, Frost‘s challenges compared to other Enslaved albums boil down primarily to its increased dissonance and emphasis on aggressive, angular sounding riffs. While it takes a few minutes of deceptively calm albeit aesthetically appropriate intro to get to this point, the first actual track (“Loke”) puts all of Frost‘s cards on the table – by retaining the core elements from previous albums but also providing more moments of blasting intensity, we end up with a more dynamic album. It certainly feels like the songs here are more diverse and varied than before,  even if part of that is simply their greater numbers coming to bear. Usually, when a band expands on their formulas like this, I call it an improvement. I imagine most of my readers are expecting that judgement from me about now, but remember how I described Frost as challenging?

When I say Frost is one of Enslaved’s more difficult albums, I’m speaking from personal experience. I did not care for or understand these songs when I first listened to them. Things have certainly changed since then, to the point that I can derive some enjoyment from Enslaved’s approach here and otherwise view this as something other than an eldritch monstrosity in the band’s discography. I still won’t deny that it took me a while to warm up to Frost, and some of the complaints my past self had still hold weight with my present self. These are mostly related to how the songs are written; the main problem is that Frost stumbles and stutters when it comes time to transition between song sections. A lot of bands seem to go through phases where they struggle to unite ideas into a coherent whole. This wasn’t a problem on Vikingligr Veldi and before, but the Enslaved that wrote that was more interested in writing songs focused on ambience and gradual evolution, and as a result it was easier for them to make sound decisions there.

Most of Frost‘s difficulty does seem to result from it being an especially liminal album in a discography that’s not exactly prone to repeating itself. Still, if you want to hear the band’s roots performed with more vigor and grit than before, this is probably the best place to go.

Highlights: “Fenris”, “Yggdrasil”, “Jotunblod”


Tankist – Unhuman (2017)

01 Unhuman Cover Art (by Fengarm).png

Disclaimer: I received a promotional copy of this album in return for an honest review.

So Estonia might play a disproportionate role in your life. It’s the home of Skype, Subspace Continuum, and now the folks from Tankist have upped its metal quotient by releasing their full length debut. To get it out of the way – Tankist plays a form of speed/thrash metal that wouldn’t be out of place in that genre’s mid/late-1980s heyday. They also have the benefits of modern studio technology and distribution, so when it came time to listen to this album, I went in eager to hear what they could do with this tried and true formula.

As far as I’m concerned, this recording is of two minds. On Unhuman, Tankist seems to channel the looser, punkier, more crossover flavored side of thrash – not so much in the proto-death metal way that a band like Carnivore or dead horse did, but still in a way that recalls the contemporaneous hardcore of the time. On the other hand, Tankist also sounds like they draw inspiration from the more technically advanced realms of speed/thrash, at least in the sense that their guitar section throws in some angular, dissonant riffs for good measure. Between that and the frequent abrupt tempo changes, you end up with a product that has a lot more me-candy (your mileage may vary) and musical depth than I initially expected before I actually sat down and listened to the album.

Unhuman‘s strengths and weaknesses, in my opinion, boil down to the fact that it’s unstable and unhinged. On the instrumental/vocal side, this is entirely a plus; it makes for an aesthetic I appreciate. I’ve already mentioned how the guitars contribute to this – the vocals are also a major contribution. The obvious comparison, as far as I’m concerned, is Tom Araya of Slayer fame, although Tankist’s vocalist (Kevin Marks) averages a lower register and puts on a more diverse performance in the process. The main weakness comes in the song structures. I don’t know how much emphasis the band puts on song density, but there are some issues at times with how they string together song sections. It’s not easy when you try to incorporate as many types of material as Tankist does, and they generally succeed, but as far as I’m concerned, this is probably the best area for them to work on for their next album.

Before you ask, yes, I am looking forwards to future content from Tankist, given how generally good Unhuman turned out. My previous experience with modern thrash metal has often lead me to expect simpler, more direct fare (the occasional Vektor aside), so when you get something more ambitious like this album, it’s always a pleasure.

Highlights: “Miserytomb”, “Suffo6ion”, “Waste of Bones”


Aborym – With No Human Intervention (2002)


It didn’t take very much to get my attention back in 2009. Aborym immediately grabbed it with rumors of an extreme black metal/industrial hybrid, favorable reviews on Metal Archives, and the occasional very strange song title (“Digital Goat Masque”, anyone?). It’s been quite a while since I gave this a serious listen, but that alone means little. After all, I could say the same about many albums I first experienced in 2009 that I still cherish. In short, instead of asking “Do you still listen to this album?”, you should be asking “Would you listen to this album again?”, in the desperate hopes of accounting for listener fatigue. As for my answer to that second question, well…

…Well, the first thing I noticed upon relistening is that the title track’s immediate assault of blastbeats, samples and pyrotechnic guitar solos still come across as candy coated as ever, at least given how long ago it was that I accepted extreme metal as a musical genre. Compared to Kali Yuga Bizarre, which showcased a flavor of “industrial” black metal that usual drew more from standard extreme metal than electronica, With No Human Intervention is more openly electronic. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say that it was particularly cutting edge for 2002 (at least by pure electronica/EDM standards), but there certainly wasn’t as much metal/electronic fusion music out at the time. I know I wasn’t doing that sort of thing – 10 year old me preferred Johann Sebastian Bach. Ultimately, whether or not it was innovative isn’t particularly important. This album has a suitably violent production that’s more intelligible than the previous two recordings by Aborym, and the mechanical atmosphere that creates is at least appropriate. A few tracks lapse into pure electronica for variety’s sake; my early affinity for electronic music got a kick out of it once it recovered from the shock of being anthropomorphized for the sake of a cheap joke.

If my discussion of Aborym’s aesthetics comes off as riddled with pointless asides, have no fear – it’s all in service of an extended metaphor about With No Human Intervention‘s greatest flaw. In short – it lacks songwriting cohesion. You’ll almost certainly note how many discreet sections each song contains, and indeed, you can’t credibly accuse Aborym of not having enough ideas to fill out these songs. If you’re not able to tie together your song sections in a coherent fashion, though, it doesn’t matter how much content you write. For all the effort Aborym put into making interesting sounds, they chose poor places for them in the actual songs, resulting in structures that simply don’t make logical sense if you think about them. That’s a major flaw, and a potential barrier to your enjoyment of this album after the first few spins.

Ultimately, I’ve cooled greatly on With No Human Intervention. On the other hand, if I hadn’t listened to it, I wouldn’t have discovered their better albums. That counts for something, right? Maybe start with the debut instead.

Highlights: “With No Human Intervention”, “Humechanics-Virus”, “Black Hole Spell”

Orphaned Land – Mabool: The Story of the Three Sons of Seven (2004)

folder.jpgOrphaned Land’s 3rd album sees them abandoning their religious themes. Instead, we’ve got a fantasy story about a mad god destroying its own creations in a fit of narcissistic rage because they dared think of anything other than utter submission. Did I say they abandoned the religious themes? I may have (deliberately) lied. Mabool is, to my understanding, Orphaned Land’s first concept album; it continues the Abrahamic religious unity themes, continues to strip out death/doom roots from the band’s sound in favor of orchestration and folky progressive rock, and it feels more consistent than their more obviously liminal second album (El Norra Alila).

The push away from overt metal elements is pretty much Mabool‘s defining characteristic, at least compared to the previous two albums. It’s most obvious if you listen to the guitars, which have been simplified substantially from something that already wasn’t especially complicated. Mabool instead channels its instrumental energy into keyboards, vocals, and a couple of acoustic instruments for good measure. If you’re familiar with some of the big pioneers in symphonic metal, then you’ll probably recognize this as part of their playbook – a shift from horizontal complexity to vertical complexity, because there’s only so many sounds you can stack before your mind gives up and decides it is listening to noise. In this case, I think the vocal side of this album is one of its strongest points – the arrangements are all over the place and used to great effect, and the musicians’ singing technique has advanced quite a bit in the intervening 10 years since the debut.

One thing that’s been consistent, though, is Orphaned Land’s actual songwriting. They still rely primarily on a musical “journey” to shape each track – with emphasis more on exploring a wide variety of musical ideas than exploring a smaller set to their maximum extent. This synergizes well with the extended instrumental palette, but I’d say that the reduced metal/riff complexity doesn’t align well with that approach. If you’re paying any degree of attention and are familiar with the band’s previous material, you’ll hear how much the guitars in particular are relying on simple chugs and grooves in an attempt to convince you that this is still a metal album. As a general rule, I prefer the tracks that emphasize this side of Orphaned Land, but ultimately, it falls to the nonmetal to keep Mabool afloat.

Ultimately, I view this album as something of a peak for Orphaned Land’s non-metal elements, and it’s definitely the slickest and most lasciviously (don’t look at me like that; after all, Babylon was a supposedly den of impiety) produced thing they’d released in their career at this point. Long term listeners might end up favoring Sahara‘s deeper attunement to metal, but even that’s not certain, given just how well Mabool does everything else.

Highlights: “Birth of the Three”, “The Kiss of Babylon”, “A Call to Awake”

Obliveon – From This Day Forward (1990)


From This Day Forward’s mixture of death metal, thrash metal, and progressive rock tropes might take some getting used to if you’re not, for instance, familiar with its successor. Before that midpaced, tightly coiled and rhythmically powerful slab of multigenre rolled off the CD presses, though, Obliveon’s debut focused more on melodic development and ambitious songwriting. Make no mistake of it – it’s still a metal album, but compared to the grooves that follow, it actually sounds more like an ancestor of the “melodic death metal” that devoured the last few years of the previous millennium. Between bands like this, Voivod, and Gorguts, Quebec had an early advantage in metal innovation beyond what its manpower of only a few million could muster.

Ironically, this album leads off with a title track that of all the content on here most resembles Obliveon’s later works. The song “From This Day Forward” contains more dissonance and vocal emphasis in its DNA than what immediately follows, so relying on it as an indicator of the album as a whole is a poor idea. If I were to nominate any one track as From This Day Forward as its exemplar, it’d have to be “Droïdomized” – a mostly breakneck work of deaththrash with a lengthy catalog of riffs and loads of consonant melodies. It fits as both representation and what is likely one of the best songs in Obliveon’s catalog, showcasing not only a strong balance between the band’s apparent influences, but their synthesis into a coherent whole.

Given the limited budgets of death metal past, and Obliveon’s relative obscurity outside metalhead circles, it’s a wonder that the sound of the album manages to fit so well. Nemesis, a few years later, would nail its colder, more methodical approach with a sharp and clear production; while From This Day Forward doesn’t sound as incisive, its somewhat warmer production is more suited to the dynamic and structural variety it enjoys. More importantly, this is a very clear production that gives plenty of space to all of the instruments, including often-neglected basslines. To be fair, the first track has a sharper guitar tone; Encyclopedia Metallum claims this was recorded a few months after the other tracks. The rest of the album potentially could’ve benefited from sounding like this, but such a hypothetical version of the album would have to exist for me to pass a useful judgement.

Ultimately, this album forms another part of Obliveon’s glorious legacy; it also represents one of the early salvos in what would eventually become techdeath. The band would eventually decide they wanted to be Fear Factory, but that’s a story for another day.

Highlights: “Fiction of Veracity”, “Droïdomized”, “It Should Have Stayed Unreal”

Blut Aus Nord – The Work Which Transforms God (2003)

the-work-which-transforms-god-53f308335a34a.jpgQuite a bold claim for an album title to be making, am I right? The Work Which Transforms God is the second of Blut Aus Nord’s “industrial” albums, taking the band’s mastery of otherworldly ambience and contorting it into unholy nightmares. As a general rule, it is dissonant where the band’s earlier works were consonant and melodic, chaotic where the previous ones were orderly, but it otherwise retains most of the musical language of those illustrious works. This juxtaposition of genres and the band’s success in keeping their dreamscapes alive are almost certainly the best reasons to give this one a shot, but is that enough?

The impression I get from The Work Which Transforms God nowadays is that it’s scatterbrained compared to its predecessors. This is mostly from a perspective of composition; TWWTG is unyieldingly consistent in its overall production – which tends clean and sterile with hints of dissonant wailing and gnashing of teeth in the distance (more on that later). It’s the songs that wander all over the place, cramming together every stylistic variant you can wring out of a black/industrial metal fusion. On some level, I suspect this makes for a shallower experience, but I’ve long since established that I’m a sucker for this sort of fusion. It’s an easy way for Blut Aus Nord to worm their way inside my head, even if the ‘industrial’ side of this album is more towards the crushing, sludgy, even monotonous sort of music popularized by bands like Godflesh.

In short, this is an album where I can’t really bring myself to accept what could actually be a pretty serious flaw because everything else pushes my buttons. I wonder what that says about me? The other elements really are on point, though. The ambience in particular is delightfully sick and twisted, and not even through especially arcane techniques, although the combination of dissonant riffing and broken beats is presumably harder to get working than more conventional techniques. Blut Aus Nord sometimes manages to recapture the songwriting prowess of their earlier work here, making for a few tracks that retain some value as I penetrate their dissonant depths. However, too much of this album either dissolves into incoherent nonsense, or otherwise stagnates into a death march (read: “Procession of the Dead Clowns”). That definitely wasn’t a problem before.

I guess it could be worse – I’ve heard that this album’s successor (MORT) goes completely off the rails. Is the lesson there that it’s good to have some boundaries in your creative efforts? Probably. The lesson in The Work Which Transforms God is (arguably) that you should be careful when experimenting not to lose sight of how to organize your results.

Highlights: “The Choir of the Damned”, “Axis”, “The Howling of God”

Sarpanitum – Blessed Be My Brothers… (2015)


Some months ago, I described Sarpanitum, at least on this album as a bastard child of Mithras, on account of the two bands sharing some members. At the very least, this incarnation sounds like it was influenced by Mithras; I lack the familiarity with this band’s previous album I’d require in order to extend that hypothesis. Blessed Be My Brothers was something I considered reviewing during my tenure at DMU, but I never got around to it, and in the end it fell on more critical ears than my own. A mere 18 months later, I can now write coherently about my experiences. In Invisible Blog terms, this is not all that much of a delay.

If you’re familiar with what Mithras sounds like, you’ll have reference for about half of what Blessed Be My Brothers does – this album shares the same base of Morbid Angel (Steve Tucker era in particular) flavored death metal with a wall of sound production and some ambient/psychedelic sounds mixed in. Sarpanitum’s major addition to this formula is a focus on consonant melodies… about half the time. They literally swap between the more percussive/atonal riffs and melodic ones on a regular basis. This is both a blessing and a curse – song sections are individually very strong, and when properly sequenced it makes for effective illustration of the album’s lyrical themes (the crusades in the Middle Ages); a clash of armies if you will. When it doesn’t work, though, Blessed Be My Brothers takes a turn for the random and nonsensical.

It looks like Sarpanitum ended up taking a more difficult path than its musical kinsmen. Usually, I would say that not resorting to genre bending is harder than the alternative, but Mithras was already engaged in this sort of thing to some extent; Blessed Be My Brothers just pushes it further. One thing I can say for sure is that this album made a very strong first impression on me – the mix of extreme death metal antics (with better, if admittedly more conventional vocals than the Mithras formula, too!) abruptly giving way to the metaphorical heavens opening at the 1:30 mark in “Glorification Upon the Powdered Bones of the Sundered Dead” is not the sort of technique I can easily resist. Sarpanitum puts in at least one of these in each song, and they were enough to hide the cracks in the compositions for quite a while. Even figuring out where the songwriting needed extra thought and care isn’t going to make these individual sections disappear. Ultimately, they’re enough for me to recommend this album, but who knows how much more shelf life this album has left in it?

Highlights: “By Virtuous Reclamation”, “Glorification…” (I am not copypasting that again), “Malek al-Inkitar”