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Posts Tagged ‘juxtaposition’

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”

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Sarpanitum – Blessed Be My Brothers… (2015)

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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”

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”

Solefald – In Harmonia Universali (2003)

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Solefald’s first three albums were, for better or worse, consistently informed by the sounds of black metal. On first listen, I thought that In Harmonia Universali rejected that, but a closer listen revealed that change was mostly limited to the vocals. Merely not shrieking and screaming your way through a metal album is enough to lighten and soften the end product. Regardless of how you feel about this stylistic change, you can’t deny that In Harmonia Universali is a different permutation on the stereotypical Solefald sound, with greater emphasis on complicated vocal arrangements and a further expansion of the “instrumental experimentation” angle.

Extensive listening has, as promised convinced me that the black metal edges of Solefald’s sound still (un)shine through to some extent, even if the songwriting is brighter and possibly friendlier than before. Some of the more obvious instrumental tropes – tremelo riffing and blastbeats in particular – show up on occasion. However, even when these do appear, they are in utter subservience to the rest of Solefald’s instrumentation – in particular, In Harmonia Universali showcases a lot of piano and saxophone, although often more as accentuation than actual song driving content. I’d say the real winner here is Lazare, who gets to spend the entire album singing multitracked harmonies with himself. These are almost always the high points of the songs in which they appear.

I’m not going to go as far as to say that this album can be benchmarked solely by counting Lazare’s parts, but the thought has crossed my mind at times. One of the much-explored caveats of relentlessly varying your instrumentation is that if you screw up, you can end up with ridiculous bullshit gibberish. This hasn’t really been a problem in my previous experience with Solefald, but In Harmonia Universali has a serious lack of sanity checks that could’ve prevented some of this stuff from going out without being properly baked. On the other hand, I feel like this album also has very high peaks – when everything meshes together, the results are excellent, and they make you me wish Solefald had focused their efforts in that direction. This rollercoaster ride of overall song quality makes me question the foundation of Solefald’s songwriting, especially when other genre-blenders can do everything more cohesively…

So in short, In Harmonia Universali is really good when it’s good, but “Dionysify This Night Of Spring” was a huge mistake.

Highlights: “Mont Blanc Providence Crow”, “Christiania”, “The Liberation of Destiny”

Flash Fiction Month #2, Episode 1: Stage VI

Flash Fiction Month is back! The rules are the same as last time each of this month’s posts will be a self-contained story, most likely of about the usual 400-500 word length. I make no guarantees of subject, style, or anything else. You can read last year’s installments here.


Six years ago, I found a discolored patch of skin on my leg and went to see the doctor. Turned out that I had a malignant melanoma that I’d luckily caught very early on. We excised it, I did my share of chemotherapy, I recovered, and then I went on with my life, seemingly unharmed but for the need to schedule extra maintenance checkups with my doctor to make sure it didn’t come back.

Six months ago, I got a strange envelope in the mail with no return address. It contained a musty, foul-smelling piece of paper stained with brown ink that vaguely resembled words, but was otherwise completely unintelligible. At the time, I thought it was a prank gone wrong, so I tossed the letter out in the garbage. It slipped my mind soon after – I had a lot of important projects going at work that I didn’t want to leave hanging.

Six weeks ago, however, I received a much more disturbing letter. A pair of lawyers (Richard and Simon Dowling, who had colonized late night TV with their advertisements and burnt their phone number into my mind) sent me a letter informing me that one of their clients had demanded restitution from me for “unlawful separation”, and since I had refused to provide it, I was now required to appear at my local courthouse.

“This has to be some sort of joke, right?” I asked them in a call I placed soon after. Read more…

Autechre – Chiastic Slide (1997)

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With a discography as sonically diverse as Autechre’s, you can easily find some forsaken soul to declare each recording an outlier. If you want to apply that to Chiastic Slide, then you should zero in on its ‘dirty’, heavily sample and noise driven soundscapes. Compared to the cleaner sounds of the albums before and after it, Chiastic Slide is a sonic anomaly for sure (even if the accompanying Envane EP shares its auditory patina), but the actual songwriting on here is roughly comparable, hitting a good midpoint between the nominally accessible Tri Repetae and nominally more difficult LP5. In the end, it got socketed into the discography, but not without a lot of spirited fan discussion about what role about what sort of role going full Chiastic Slide had in Autechre’s discography.

The funny thing about Chiastic Slide is that it actually isn’t all that chiastic – i.e there is not much on this album that is truly symmetrical. The song structures, for instance, tend more towards evolution than repetition. In fact, this album’s songs showcase some of the most striking and abrupt transitions of Autechre’s discography, at least in this relatively early stage. After all, it starts off with “Cipater”, which for all purposes fades in an entirely new song over its initial set of musical ideas. Some of the tracks admittedly develop more organically, but at the very least, beginning with the abrupt mood shifts and thunks is a major departure from before.

Autechre has never been a heavy band, at least by the standards of modern death metal, but the overall more abrasive, nastier sounds on here have in themselves been a major draw for me. As mentioned, “Cipater” has its thunks, and is followed up with straight up static noise (“Rettic Ac”). The more overtly sampled soundscapes here are suited to this; even if Autechre has done much with distorted and chopped up samples in their lifetime, it’s rare that they push the idea so far. This noisy aesthetic even leaks into the calmer and more soothing tracks – “Pule” in particular never reaches any explosive peaks, but its ever growing moans and creaks under the surface make for the sort of vivid synesthetic imagery that Autechre channels at their peak. In general, this sort of contrast makes for interesting tracks; I am definitely a fan.

In the end, I’m not sure if I would put the entirety of Chiastic Slide on a pedestal. The main problem is that some of the tracks in the middle drag on without much payoff. However, when this album excels, it reaches high peaks, and those should more than pay the cost of admission.

Highlights: “Cipater”, “Cichli”, “Pule”, “Nuane”

Massacra – Final Holocaust (1990)

ea3f83c41abbde39c01ddc365a7.jpgA French take on death metal! For whatever reason, Quebec seems to be the metal capital (at least per capita) of the Francophone world, but the actual nation of France has certainly made its contributions to the genre. Final Holocaust is another one of those liminal recordings from when death metal was first breaking into the mainstream – like many of its companions, it’s clearly faster, more technically demanding, and more polished than its immediate predecessors.  This only goes so far, though – Massacra’s debut is defined specifically by the internal tension between older, more overtly speed/thrash style/technique and the musical advances of death metal.

Such formal description belies the obvious brutality of Massacra’s music. The musical emphasis is more on riff development and complexity than rhythmic power, and Final Holocaust is driven by the sort of elongated and heavily ornamented riffs that only really get acknowledged at a site like Death Metal Underground. There’s plenty of them actually crammed into the songs, although I have some concerns about the way they’re ordered. I’m not sure how much of that is due to the tempo shifts – while the drums aren’t especially technical, the songs here are full of tempo changes that don’t divide cleanly into integers. If you’re not careful with those, you can end up with disjointed sounding songs, even if you’re like Massacra and don’t have a lot of other abrupt shifts and dissonances involved. Definitely a point of caution for bands in a similar style – work on the riff glue as well as the actual riffs. The production here is interesting, too. Most notably, Final Holocaust sounds treblier and generally higher pitched than your stereotypically bassy death metal recording. This is a very clean, almost dry and chalky mixjob. I’d say it’s very appropriate for the style of music here, primarily because it sheds a bright light on every nuance of the guitar technique. Given how much strumming and tremelo these guitars have, that’s pretty satisfying. Everything else is suitable, and pretty good for 1990, although otherwise not particularly noteworthy.

Maybe it’s because of the reasonably standard production and overall songwriting methods, but Massacra’s debut ended up being one of those recordings with a very long fuse/clicktime. If you take your time and give these tracks a dedicated listen, you’ll find much to like in Final Holocaust‘s musical language, flaws in song transitions aside. Unless you’re completely in love with this style, though, it might take a while.

Highlights: “Apocalyptic Warriors”, “War of Attrition”, “Eternal Hate”