I wrote a bit about the original DOOM (and Hell On Earth)’s music back in my DMU editing days. Things have certainly changed since then, both from the vantage point of 1993 and from the more recent happenings of 2015…
DOOM 2016‘s metalcore/electronica fusion seemingly resembles the original’s music in goal (which was to resemble the popular ‘heavy’ music of the times), but far less has been written about this remake’s development that I can peruse to either confirm or deny that hypothesis. A generation of technological progress and cultural evolution have done wonders for the visibility of extreme metal music. Therefore, the new DOOM‘s OST is a bone-crushingly, skull-rippingly loud and aggressive work that makes even the definitive renditions of the original’s OST sound like anemic. Or so the marketing copy goes… the first sign that the new DOOM‘s music might be a hard sell is that I’m dissecting it on a blog that venerates both the sickest and most depraved and the clean, polished, musically accomplished corners of extreme metal.
I’ve heard many a track in this vein throughout my metal-listening years, and not just in the studio work I’ve written about. Prior to playing through DOOM, I spent about 20 hours with head composer Mick Gordon’s previous effort (Wolfenstein: The New Order), which while more varied in genre also contained several similarly djenty tracks, and featured the efforts of Frederik Thordenhal of Meshuggah fame. Meshuggah’s efforts are simply impossible to ignore in any discussion of this work, by virtue of their sheer genre establishing power, and even without contributions from its alumni, the basic formulas of this album’s metal side are immediately apparent – an emphasis on downtuning, minimalism and polyrhythmic percussion.
Now, merely djenting your way through an album is difficult. It can be awfully limiting, so most of the bands out there merely use this as a foundation on which to construct their songs. Meshuggah adds in jazz harmony and/or inhuman ambience depending on the era; Mick Gordon throws in extremes of dynamics and electronic soundscapes. Constantly varying up the aesthetics above the metal is in itself a double edged sword, though – if you’re not careful, you can trade in coherence for short-lived novelty. I don’t think this is really an issue on DOOM‘s OST, since for all the synth patches on Gordon’s keyboards, he has the restraint to stick to the ones that fit the themes of the game he’s working on.
Most likely, the main problems with this soundtrack stem from the limits of the substructure. DOOM focuses heavily on building ambience when it isn’t attempting to thrash the player’s skull off, but the actual riff structures often fall short. This might be my melody over rhythm bias coming out again, but structural development over time is not really this music’s strength. Even in the presumably somewhat arranged OST version, riffs loop more than necessary given the lack of structural limitations streaming gives you. I suspect this is a case of the composer spreading himself too far – the sheer quantity of sounds on display here is impressive, and it keeps the structural flaws from showing when you’re more focused on hogging the glory kills than honing your listening ears, but there are limits to my patience with each subsection of song once divorced from the gameplay they’re intended to accompany.
Even if the novelty wears off after a while, this is still a victory for anyone who likes heavy metal or heavy electronica in their games. It’s an appropriately amped up soundtrack that fits the gratuitous action, at the very least. Less banal than what happened with Quake II, too.
Highlights: “Rip and Tear”, “At DOOM’s Gate”, “Flesh and Metal”, “BFG Division”
Looking at my personal archives, it seems I first attempted a review of this album in March 2010, back when this blog was in its infancy. I didn’t really get far, but I do agree with my past self that this is part of the wide collection of subgenres that is metalcore. Here, Byzantine combines speed/thrash tropes with some syncopated, proto “djent” style riffing ala Meshuggah, and a hint of progressive rock in their structures to make something that I particularly enjoyed upon listening to and still think holds up today.
One aspect of this album that I’ve come to notice over the years as my ears grew sharper and more attentive is its lyrical content. Much discussion of Byzantine emphasizes the band’s West Virginia roots, and perhaps a few claim exposure to the evangelical/fundamentalist Christian elements in the area shape the band’s choice of themes. Either way, there’s an emphasis on religion and politics, including a jab at Haliburton in “Ancestry of the Antichrist”. Not all of it’s this blatantly topical, but it does seem to reflect a sort of fire and brimstone worldview shaped by education and access to literature. The only album I can think of that does anything similar is “Open Fire” by Alabama Thunderpussy; its religion-inspired lyrics may have sprung from similar sources even though the genre is somewhat different. This album does use a variety of vocal techniques to showcase its lyrics; there seems to be a rough correspondence in which more personal stanzas are delivered in cleaner tones, but I’m not certain of this.
As a general rule, Byzantine focuses on a few specific aspects of their sound in each song. This isn’t to say there aren’t interjections – for instance, “Temporary Temples” starts speedy, has a break in the middle, and a melodic ending with emphasis on clean vocals and a guitar lead. Fortunately, the band has the songwriting chops to make these occasional shifts of sound fit without being too jarring. In the more aesthetically consistent songs, the focus is often more on the riffs – the guitarists provide a lot of variety in this regard. Since they’re not particularly long or complex, they derive much of their interest from their chord progressions and shapes. In the softer, gentler moments of this album, they occasionally take on a bit of an alt-rock feel.
Either way, this is fairly accessible for a metal album, or a metalcore album; what it’s labeled as is going to depend primarily on the listener. I’m not familiar enough with this album’s contemporaries to say how it compares to, for instance, an Ashes of the Wake or a The End of Heartache, but it does work for what it aspires to, and the mixing of formulas is pulled off effectively.
Highlights: “Taking Up Serpents”, “Jeremiad”, “Redneck War”
And as 2013 turns into 2014, so too does this blog turn into what it will be like in the aforementioned year. It should also be the year of Second Contact Is Worse if everything goes to plan.
I gushed over Phormula in this blog’s youth. Things were different then – I didn’t really have a grasp on what I liked in composition, I had less listening experience to use as comparison, and most gravely, I didn’t put a silly joke in the alt-text of album covers when I reviewed music! Phormula still gets occasional listens from me, but in retrospect it’s more awkward than previously expected. The Painter’s Palette relies more on its gimmick (overt jazz stylings mixed with metal/hardcore punk), and is overall more polished from a compositional stance. The genres don’t really conflict, but the final result isn’t all that ambitious, especially compared to the debut.
I’m not sure I can call this a metal album in good conscience; the traditional “do not judge your music by whether it is heavy metal music or not” adage obviously applies here. Either way, distortion is down, there really isn’t much riffing to speak of (although it can be there during the ‘loud’ sections), and the songwriting generally reminds me more of the sort of half-free, half-modal/consonant method a lot of modern jazz music uses. The clean vocals have improved since Phormula, which makes it an especially good thing that they’re higher up in the mix. The harsh vocals are also more prominent – they’ve arguably become more coherent even if they’re not as technically well performed as they were on the debut. It actually reminds me more of Ihsahn’s vocal development in Emperor.
All of these aesthetic changes add up to something a bit sparser than Phormula/Rephormula. Ephel Duath seems to have lost some of the more intricate counterpoint and complex riffs that attracted me to the debut, but on the plus side the songwriting feels more coherent. Transitions between various sections are better realized here, so despite the greater aesthetic changes songs go through, there are fewer jarring changes. Now, there’s obviously some cases where abrupt transitions work, and the extreme end of hardcore punk is full of those examples, but The Painter’s Palette needs all the coherence it can get. In addition to requiring relatively structured songs, the jazz-metal stylings open up more opportunities for dynamics, and Ephel Duath does use those opportunities. The problem is that they’re not very creative with their dynamics – most of the changes boil down to basic loud-soft techniques; I would have liked to see more in that regard.
Relistening to this does appear to have changed my perspective, at least – had I written this even a month ago I may have claimed this was an energetic, if fractured recording; at some times I can hear why I thought so. There’s a lot of irony in the results of Ephel Duath’s genre shift – despite the big jazz influence, it’s the composition and arrangement that’s improved. One might expect more improvisation, given that it’s prevalent in jazz music, but this is not the case. Obviously, The Painter’s Palette doesn’t go all the way in embracing its jazz elements, but at times it comes rather close. Later albums from this band apparently go further into the avant-garde side of jazz music, but I haven’t given those any listening time. Regardless, metal-jazz fusions have come a long way (at least on the integration front) than the Atheists and Cynics of the world. Ephel Duath was able to manage a rather substantial stylistic change here, even if it did come at expense to their passion. Definitely recommended for punk, mathcore, and/or jazz fans, but be forewarned that your interest may fade quickly.
Highlights: “The Passage”, “Labyrinthine”, “Praha”