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Posts Tagged ‘Primordial’

Necros Christos, Doom Of The Occult (2011)

Outstanding artwork. The music, not so much.

My review of the second full-length album from underground German death metal heroes Necros Christos is up now over yonder at Metal Review.  Quick preview: Doom Of The Occult is a total snoozefest.  I know this album has been very highly anticipated by a certain sector of the metal community, and it’s being released by both Ván Records and the Ajna Offensive, which are generally staunchly consistent standard-bearers for high quality (though generally ultra-serious) black and death metal.  Let those facts not blind you to the overwhelming dullness of this album; did you know that Primordial has a new album out this month?

 

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Enslaved’s Below the Lights and Primordial’s The Gathering Wilderness are two of the absolute finest metal albums of this decade we’ve just watched fade into steam as our future-bound train pulls out of the station (shades of Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler…).  Very different albums, of course, but one striking similarity is the way that each album’s opening song sets the perfect tone for the remainder of the album.

Beyond that, the opening couplets of each song actually put me in a similar head-space:

Enslaved:
“I close my eyes / As fire swept clean the earth.”

Primordial:
“One day, I stood / With my back to the wind / And the rain fell down.”

The sole, perhaps somewhat Nietzschean individual witnessing some great naturalistic cataclysm, right?  Anyway, all of this mystic bullshit is beside the point.  All I’m really trying to get at is, these songs are, on their face, almost entirely dissimilar.  Both spring from the loins of bands with black metal roots, but which, by this point in each band’s career, have been largely shaken off in favor of finer genre accoutrements.  So, answer me this question: Which song is the better opening track?  Keep in mind, of course, that this is an entirely separate question from which song is better.

Enslaved, “As Fire Swept Clean The Earth” (2003):

Primordial, “The Golden Spiral” (2005)

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The danger of these songs is that they may just force one to spend a few hours listening to the entire albums for which they serve as midwives.  Still: Which is the better album opener?  What’s your favorite album opener?

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In which are briefly chronicled some of the noises that have been stuck in my ears of late.

Darkest Era, The Last Caress of Light

This brilliant Irish outfit flirts with the best of traditional and folk metal, coming across like the beautiful love-child of Primordial and Atlantean Kodex.  Gorgeously powerful and emotive vocals, stirring rhythms, and twin guitar lullabies to tuck you right in.  If you’re missing out on this, you’re missing out on one of the best metal albums of this still-young year.

Negative Plane, Stained Glass Revelations

Oh my, is this ever an intoxicating sound.  Psychedelic without requiring drug use, with that old sound that might as well be the best new sound you’ve heard, Negative Plane’s shimmeringly melodic black metal is backed with some coarse black/thrash vocals and some seriously detailed compositional chops.  This is an album to get lost inside.

Crowbar, Sever the Wicked Hand

Still sorting out my thoughts on this one.  In most respects, it seems like quintessential Crowbar (though admittedly I’ve been tuned out since Odd Fellows Rest, so maybe the ‘quint-‘ in quintessential has changed in the interim), and while it’s on, and loud, I’m pulled in, but when it’s over, I don’t feel like I’ve got a lot retained in muscle memory.  Probably it just needs more spins, but for something so ostensibly formed around The Crushing Riff, the absence of memorability is a slightly worrying sign.  Plus, that guitar tone is like plexiglass when I want concrete.

Death, The Sound of Perseverance (3 Disc Deluxe Reissue)

Before snapping up this triple-disc reissue, it had probably been five years or so since I’d last spun The Sound of Perseverance.  Opinions seem awfully mixed on this one among Death fans, and while it’s certainly not my favorite of theirs, I also don’t think it’s their worst, and the fact that so many of these songs remained burned into my mind despite a five-year hiatus meant that this felt like the return of a long-wayward friend.  Two discs of bonus material is a bit much to handle, but the alternate takes and demos from 1996 with different vocalists on disc 3 are quite interesting.  Certainly worth a revisiting, particularly in advance of the long-promised sophomore album from Control Denied.

Belphegor, Blood Magick Necromance

Music this intentionally offensive shouldn’t work so well to relax me, but that’s what Belphegor does.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the last album, but so far, I’ve really been digging on Blood Magick Necromance.  Nothing at all is one bit different, so if you’ve never been on board with the melodic sheen slapped over the Behemoth/Arkhon Infaustus black/death hybrid, today will be just like every Belphegor-free day before for you.  All I know is, this shit really hits a very particular kind of spot, and yeah, it’s kind of soothing.

Miles Davis, Bitches Brew Live


Man, this is some deep intense grooving from Miles in his electric prime.  Phil Freeman over at Burning Ambulance wrote a great review of this a few weeks back, so check that out for the real dirt on this fantastic release.  For as much as I love the spooky atmospherics of Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way, the two live gigs documented on this disc are all about the hard, spitfire jam, not the drawn-out meditation.  Turn it up loud and drink in those colors.

Årabrot, Revenge

Spazzy, noisy, occasionally jazzy and off-kilter rock with hints of sludge from Norway.  Not bad, eh?  Årabrot sounds like a mathier, more metal version of The Jesus Lizard, maybe (or at least the vocals are a dead match for David Yow, or occasionally Mike Patton), with all manner of toxic skronk.  This album is strangely addictive for something so initially abrasive.  Check it, let it wreck you.

At The Soundawn, Shifting

I missed out on this one from last year, but it’s really been satisfying lately.  Sure, it’s a bit soft for the true METAL hearts among you out there, but to my ears, it sounds like At The Soundawn has sketched a great triangle of sonic influences, with Burst (r.i.p., waaaaaaaah), Thrice, and Sigur Ros as the corners.  Toss in some classy trumpet and some of the jazzy/fusion touches in the drumming (a bit like Intronaut’s Valley Of Smoke, I guess) and some tabla drums and hell, you’ve got yourself one right proper mess that nevertheless works.

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That’s what’s been bothering the ears over at Spinal Tapdance HQ lately, friends.  What’s cracking around your cranium?
– dhok

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Alright, friends – things are starting to get a bit heavy around here as we continue counting down the year’s best metal albums.  Spinal Tapdance presents here, for your viewing (dis)pleasure, the second of three installments ticking off the 30 best records from across the vast universe of heavy metal.  Let us know where we’ve nailed it, and where we’ve completely fucked up and made you embarrassed to have ever even considered directing your web browser to this sad, shabby piece of disagreeable trash we call a blog.
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20.  StarGazer, A Great Work Of Ages/A Work Of Great Ages

In my review of StarGazer‘s sophomore album, I called A Great Work Of Ages “a seething, lurching, yet surprisingly sprightly beast of a musical journey that assaults the unsuspecting passer-by with dauntingly technical instrumentation that nevertheless resolves into a measured, artfully-meted out accounting of chaos.”  Thing is, that mouthful of overwrought prose makes this album sound like a chore to listen to, which it most definitely (and defiantly) is not.  There’s plenty of off-kilter structure and inventive musicianship to admire and analyze throughout this progressive/technical death metal head-trip, but first and foremost, this is an album to put on, sit back, and just enjoy.  You won’t be singing any choruses or humming along to a repeated bridge, but you will be amazed at the ability of these Aussies to play the shit out of their instruments without overwhelming the listener in a blitzkrieg of claustrophobic production and impenetrable gestures.

19.  Intronaut, Valley Of Smoke

Something about Intronaut had never quite jived with me until this album, but boy does Valley Of Smoke set me right and kick me in my ass for doubting it.  These songs are fluid compositions with impressive range, and despite the increasing prominence of clean vocals and smoothed-out texture, this ain’t no soft-ball half-metal nonsense.  It’s all about finding the right groove and sucking you down into its beguiling depths, down into that great colorful panorama of the album’s cover – whether you are the skeleton, or the iguana, or the loftily-soaring eagles is your own concern.  Valley Of Smoke injects jazz-fusion into rumbly post-metal’s environs, and comes out the other side smelling of roses and roses and roses.

18.  Kvelertak, Kvelertak

Kvelertak’s self-titled debut album is the 2010 equivalent of last year’s phenomenal Darkness Come Alive by Doomriders.  Meaning, this is a gnarly collision of all sorts of ass-kicking, party-inducing music.  You can quibble all you like about whether it’s punk, hardcore, black metal, garage rock, and anything else, but the undeniable fact is that this is just music for an all-around good time.  I simply cannot fathom the ridiculous backlash against this band, because every time I throw on this album, I just want to drink some beers and jump around in a forest on a pogo stick.  I mean, come ON, doesn’t that sound fucking awesome?  Sure, the dudes have got a jokey take on Scandinavian mythology, but honestly, if you’re sitting in a library poring over your Eddas and Kalevalas and waxing poetic about Yggdrasil while frowning at the hooligans making noise in the corridor…  Well, friend, maybe it’s time to hand in your heavy metal ID card.

17.  Nechochwen, Azimuths To The Otherworld

This Nechochwen album was one of the most pleasant surprises I had all year.  Apparently they’ve got one other album besides this one which leans more toward the neo-folk side of things, but Azimuths to the Otherworld, apart from having one of the coolest album titles of the year, strikes a satisfying balance between folky acoustic bits and rich, driving black metal.  The fact that the band pays tribute to the beliefs and histories of American Indians is a refreshing aesthetic, and makes for some different types musical influence showing themselves throughout the album, much like on Tomahawk’s Anonymous album.  The out-and-out metal sections are still relatively few and far between, but the album is all about mood, and the insistent drumming and beautiful acoustic guitar work throughout sustains a very contemplative atmosphere.  Don’t miss out on this one.

16.  Triptykon, Eparistera Daimones

So intense has been the drama surrounding Celtic Frost’s demise, and rebirth, and subsequent re-burial, that one could be forgiven for worrying that the next project of these metal giants would perish under the weight of self-doubt and ridiculous expectations.  But have no fear, friends, for Eparistera Daimones is more than ample proof that Tom G. Warrior is one of heavy metal’s original, and still greatest, alchemists, transmuting sturdy, solid riffs into tortured tales of harrowing emotional journeys.  Just as was Celtic Frost’s Monotheist, Triptykon’s debut is a dark, exhausting listen, but one from which the listener emerges feeling revitalized, having survived the trial by fire of some of the bleakest, most Gothic moments the Warrior has yet thrown her way.

15.  Atlantean Kodex, The Golden Bough

Everything about this album screams ‘epic’.  Perhaps the best thing about Atlantean Kodex’s long-awaited debut album is that one can approach it from a wide range of starting points: from the epic trad metal of Manowar, from the triumphant Viking era of Bathory, from the pagan/black wizardry of Primordial, or from the true doom of Reverend Bizarre.  Take any of these avenues of approach, and you’ll find The Golden Bough waiting for you, patient, resolute, and steadfast.  These are songs in no hurry to get you anywhere other than right in the midst of their stately riffing and clear-voiced hymns to the myths from which we all spring.

14.  Unearthly Trance, V

Unearthly Trance’s fifth album (V, get it?) is another of those that took its time with me.  Far less direct than the band’s previous two (and decidedly more Frost-y) albums, V is an all-encompassing listen that honestly sounds like a planet being slowly torn apart by silent electric storms.  Sounds pretty great, right?  The dual vocal attack of longtime bandleader Ryan Lipynsky and drummer Darren Verni drags bile up from the depths of a city’s fetid sewer system, while riffs lumber in and decay just as soon as they’ve announced themselves.  A much more abstract style of nihilistic doom, which actually gels rather neatly with the occult slant of the lyrics.  Take your time with this album, or it will take its time devouring you.  Or will do so either way.  Whatever; doom on.

13.  Slough Feg, The Animal Spirits

If I had the luxury of titling this album myself, I probably would have called it “So Many Smiles.”  Because, honestly, it’s hard to imagine any fan of classic heavy metal not hearing this album and getting a giant, daffy grin plastered all over her face.  I don’t mean to say that this album is lightweight and unserious, but it knows how to be serious without taking itself seriously, if that makes any sense.  If that doesn’t make sense, well, there’s a whole fistful of songs here to make all the sense that my stupid words can’t: “The 95 Thesis,” “Kon-Tiki,” “Free Market Barbarian,” “Ask the Casket” – these are honestly some of the best, most memorable, and freshest sounding heavy metal songs I’ve come across in ages.  So, seriously, whatchu waiting for?  Get your Slough Feg on, and get your smiles on.  Sooooooo many smiles.

12.  The Meads Of Asphodel, The Murder Of Jesus The Jew

Okay, now here’s a band that probably takes itself too seriously.  Sorry, dudes, but it’s the truth.  Have you read Metatron’s 60,000-word codex?  Have I?  I think we all know the answer to both those questions, friends.  Thing is, no matter how seriously these English blokes take the lyrical subject matter of this concept album which purports to set the historical record straight, mercifully their music is every bit as chaotic and mind-exploding as ever.  Perhaps more so, if it comes down to it.  There’s a little bit of everything thrown in here, though the main strands remain a peculiarly English-smelling bit of crusty punkiness, Hawkwind psych and Floydian prog, plus symphonic black metal with a capital Sigh.  Sounds like a mess, innit?  Well, it works.  At times beautifully.  If you ain’t know the Meads, you ain’t know shit about freak-folk’s distant cousin in medieval black metal played by dudes in chainmail.

11.  Deathspell Omega, Paracletus


Speaking of dudes taking themselves too seriously…  Well, it actually doesn’t bother me with Deathspell Omega.  Completing a supposed trilogy of Lord knows what esoteric and orthodox black metal themes, all that’s ever mattered about this band, to this listener, is the music.  And on that score, I’m chuffed as all shit to report that Paracletus may even best Fas…, if not quite ascending to the madness-provoking heights of DsO’s breakthrough album, Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice.    Paracletus whittles the excesses of previous albums down to a concise 40-ish minutes, over the course of which the listener is plunged into a disorienting maelstorm of churning riffage and refracted shards of black prismatic light.  The guitars are clean and razor-sharp, but what really stood out to me in this album is the great diversity of vocal styles by whoever the fuck in this band does vocals.  There’s the traditional black groan/shriek, but also some clean vocals tossed in, as well as some more gut-level bellowing.  Oof.  Great, powerful, genre-damning stuff.  Stare into their abyss, ye who dare.

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I can hear you all out there, licking your chops for the third and final installment of Spinal Tapdance’s extravagant end of 2010 recitations.  Be patient, gentlefolk, and while you’re at it, how am I doing so far?  Anything egregiously left off the list so far?  Any predictions for the top ten?  Anyone out there find their way to this site, thinking it was some snarky alternative-style tapdancing academy, and now becoming more and more enraged at the incessant talk of things like “riffs” and “metal” and “things and people being taken not enough or too seriously”?  I can hear you too, you shiny, clackety-shoed mouthbreathers.

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For no particular reason other than a few serendipitous songs popping up when I was playing my music on random the other day, I thought I might do a little bit of a country profile here.  Well, scratch that.  I’m not particularly interested in surveying all of Italy, scouring its lacquered boot from thigh to heel for all the heavy metal fit to print.  Instead, I present for your edification and/or casual annoyance a few of my favorite metal albums from the center of history’s most whined-about empire.

The land of Berlusconi is, if the records I’ve chosen to highlight here are any indication, far more than the libidinous Mediterranean caricature and reckless administrative policy would suggest.  By no purposeful design, just about all of these albums tend toward the black-ish side of heavy metal’s family tree.  Perhaps most notably, then, given the genre similarities, is that for the most part, these acts don’t seem to all be coming from one centralized black metal scene* (the way we imagine things do in France, Finland, Mozambique, or wherever).  Chalk it up to the proximity of Vatican City, perhaps, or a lingering fondness for the somewhat corpulent severity of Il Duce.  Who knows.  Something is rotten in the state of Italy, a confused Hamlet might emote (well, not Hamlet himself, of course, but, just fuck along and let me have my wordplay, you ass).
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Spite Extreme Wing, Vltra (2008)

This black metal band first intrigued me with their previous full-length, Non Dvcor, Dvco, but it’s on this, their most recent and, sadly, last album,  that they really shine.  A great dry production lends excellent clarity to the generally straight-ahead black metal within, which is given just enough touches of the avant-garde to keep the listener on her toes.  The tracks are all untitled, though the band slips in both a Misfits and a Beatles cover, which blend in rather better than one might suppose.  Special credit should also be given to that gorgeously evocative cover art.  No need to be tethered to the ol’ black and gray tones forever, black metal chums.
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Stormlord, Mare Nostrum (2008)

This album kicks so many tremendous servings of ass that it really ought to be illegal.  I suppose the best way to describe Stormlord is ‘blackened power metal’, but lest that dreadful word-mash make one think of Children of Bodom or whatever fucking black metal Dragonforce churned out before they were Dragonforce, have no fear.  This is purely epic, regal metal that deserves a far greater audience.
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Void Of Silence, Human Antithesis (2004)

Void of Silence is a somewhat clean-sounding doom/death act from Italy, through which has rotated a number of excellent vocalists.  2004’s Human Antithesis has the distinction of featuring the unparalleled vocal talents of Alan Averill of Primordial fame.  Just earlier this year, the band released a brand new album which is also quite tasty, featuring the vocals of Brooke from The Axis Of Perdition.  His vocals on that new album are something of a revelation, given the bile-flecked delivery of pure caustic rage typical of TAOP; with Void Of Silence he sounds like someone who has just realized he can belt out true epic doom vocals, and wants to wring every last possible speck of emotion from each phrase.  Human Antithesis is probably still the better record, with sounder songwriting and the more stridently confident vocals of Nemtheanga.  Honestly, it’s worth the price of entry just for the title track along, a gargantuan 20 minute journey to the deep, dark recesses of doom, like the crumbling edifices of history so oft-represented in the band’s artwork.
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Absentia Lunae, In Vmbrarvm Imperii Gloria (2006)

Absentia Lunae is probably my favorite band of the ATMF stable, which also includes Melencolia Estatica, Locus Mortis, Urna, Arcana Coelestia, and others.  To be honest, most of those bands share a similar aesthetic and sound, so if you like one of them, chances are you’ll enjoy most (if not all) of the rest; still, Absentia Lunae’s first album ekes out a triumph in my book, for its rather stately take on this much-abused genre.  It has that rather depressive air, without ever veering anywhere near to the abominable pit of mawkishness and repetition known as ‘depressive’ or ‘suicidal black metal’.  Blech.  Go listen to Dio, you fucking mopes.
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Hiems, Worship Or Die (2009)

Side project of dude from Forgotten Tomb, which project, frankly, I couldn’t give two shits about.  I really dug Hiems’ first record Cold Void Journey, but it was really just a perfection of a particular crisp, blasting version of black metal, whereas its follow-up adds a bit of black and roll spite and a touch more experimentalism, to quite headbangingly catchy effect.
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Beatrik, Requiem Of December (2005)


I know, I know.  I’ve just been yelling at you about this album recently.  Thing is, Beatrik’s swansong of an album is so utterly gripping that I feel like it needs to be shared.  Seriously, why aren’t you listening to this album RIGHT NOW?
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HomSelvareg, HomSelvareg (2005)


This band is also broken up now, which is a shame, really.  Their self-titled album (which, in its re-release – pictured above – also features bonus tracks from an earlier demo) is absolutely nothing new in the realm of black metal blasting, but it just feels so right.  The 1990s had the paradigmatic Grieghallen production, with its lofty reverb and wispy clarity; HomSelvareg’s album – rather like Hiems’ Cold Void Journey – has an entirely different way of doing things, and it just touches me in all the right places.  Gross.
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Thee Maldoror Kollective, A Clockwork Highway (2004)


This lot are a bunch of fucking weirdos, that’s for sure.  While the previous album from the Kollective, New Era Viral Order, will probably speak a bit more clearly to one’s blackened inclinations, I prefer A Clockwork Highway, on which the ambient, industrial, soundtrack elements become the actual building blocks of the songs, rather than superficial drapings atop fuzzily elastic-sounding ‘industrial metal’ riffing, as was too much the case on the previous album.  Alongside the strangeness of latter Manes and (maybe) Ulver, this TMK album is a great mood piece, albeit one that will never quite let you fully relegate it to mere background.
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Aborym, Fire Walk With Us! (2001)

Aborym have also just put out a new album – Psychogrotesque, out now on Season Of Mist – but for my money, this remains their best moment.  Fire Walk With Us! is genuinely unsettling music that ripples with a current of untamed electricity.  Yeah, it’s black/industrial, so if that’s not really your thing, I understand the hesitation to fully engage with this.  But, c’mon, it’s got Attila Csihar (of Tormentor, Mayhem, etc., etc.) on vocals, and the album closes out with the great tandem shot of a woozy cover of Burzum’s “Det Som Engang Var” and a seriously disorienting ambient/noise track in “Theta Paranoia.”  This record won’t just raise the hair on your arms; it will turn your arms into robot appendages, which will corrode and rust before your eyes while your gaze is transfixed by album cover’s red moon rising over a technological apocalypse.  Give it a chance – let this album get under your skin.
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This is, of course, ignoring your Bulldozers and your Ephel Duaths and your Abgotts and your, erm, Rhapsodies of Fire.  Exhaustiveness is not the point.  However, finding something new (note that every one of these releases comes from the past decade) from one of Europe’s less prominent extreme metal breeding grounds, well, it’s like picking out a choice figure out of the pandemonium (should that be panangelium?) of the Sistine Chapel.  (This preceding sentence brought to you by the familiar trope in music criticism that Michelangelo’s paintings are an easy analogue to a few dozen angsty young musicians bashing out hymns to the devil.)  Salute!
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*Though such congregations do crop up here and there – see the grouping of artists around the ATMF label/ethos for a prime example of that in action, or, more loosely, the always-intriguing Code666 label.  Always curious to know if a few bands develop, followed by a sympathetic label, or if it goes the other way around.  Case studies abound, assuredly.

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Blood Revolt, Indoctrine (2010)

Ruthlessly intense

Indoctrine will almost certainly go down as one of the most realistically frightening extreme metal releases of the year.  This album isn’t about praising Satan, or hating Christians, or the myriad unwholesome things one can do with a chainsaw; no, this album attempts to bring the listener inside the motivations of those who commit real-world violence in the service of some form of righteousness.  It’s pretty fucking successful, too.

Let’s get the preliminaries out of the way first, though.  Blood Revolt is a three-man unit featuring Alan Averill (also known as Nemtheanga, of Irish epic black metallers Primordial) on vocals, C. Ross (of Revenge and Axis of Advance) on guitars and bass, and J. Read (of Revenge, Axis of Advance, and Conqueror) on drums.  If that lineup isn’t enough to get you salivating, then I’m not sure there’s much I can do for you here.

Musically speaking, Blood Revolt hews rather closely to the variety of bestial black/death/war metal sounds spat forth by Ross and Read’s former projects, and thus has clear historical roots in the purposeful atavism of early North American black metal (from Canada’s own Blasphemy, Conqueror, and Revenge through America’s Von, Demoncy, and all the other usual suspects).  However, the production is magnificently transparent, allowing each and every churning, heaving riff and chaotic drum fill space to flex their malignant muscle.

In fact, if until this point, you’ve found yourself somewhat in the cold with the chaotic attack of Conqueror, Revenge, et al., you may just be a convert after encountering this record.  Where those bands’ recordings feature echoing, cavernous production (in the case of Conqueror and Blasphemy, especially), or extremely muddled, everything-happens-at-once-and-at-11 production (in the case of Revenge), Indoctrine features a very dry, clear production, particularly with Read’s drumming.  His toms sound a bit like someone slapping a collection of aluminum pie tins, but each and every roll and fill comes through clearly articulated.

The guitars, for the most part, have an extremely compressed crunch to them, but there are also sections of cleaner-sounding tremelo picking, as well as a few spots of searingly clean leads.  The mix on the bass is an interesting case, as sometimes you will find it relegated primarily to the background, whereas at other times, you can feel the dense heft of the vibrating strings as though they were your own throbbing intestines.

One of the great pleasures of this album is that the musical attack never quite settles down into the clear conventions of extreme metal’s genres.  The essential building blocks of the album, arguably, are the overall sound and delivery of a death metal band playing black metal songs (this is generally the approach of Conqueror, Revenge, and Axis of Advance, the crucial differences between which I am willfully overlooking at the moment).  Still, the drums kick into a punkish mode frequently enough that portions of the album border on grindcore.  Plus, there are at least two songs I can think of in which the music breaks down into a doomed trudge.  Compositionally speaking, the clearest reference point I could bring to mind – apart from the other bands of all the participants – is Anaal Nathrakh, who similarly combine multiple genres into a melange of relentless extremity.

The clear focal point, of course, is the incredibly diverse vocal performance by Averill.  He careens between spoken word segments, seething whispers, vintage black metal snarling, impassioned wailing akin to his trademark vocals in Primordial, and frequent grunting and repetitious, non-lyrical vocal rhythms.  The man sounds absolutely possessed, which of course works wonders for selling the lyrical content.  At times, you can imagine him pacing around the studio, twitching nervously with the propulsive energy of the music’s focused attack, and the monomaniacal intent of the lyrics.

“Bite the Hand, Purge the Flesh” features one of Averill’s most venomous vocal performances of the entire album, and is also one of the spots where the band slows to a doom crawl.  When they hit this funereal pace, take a listen to the suspended tone of the bass, which just hangs there, stalking the listener like some sort of depraved monolith.  In general, this album doesn’t have any tracks which stand out above the rest, but this is less because of weak songwriting and more because the album absolutely begs to be listened to as a unitary whole.  Still, the lengthiest track on here, “My Name in Blood Across the Sky,” may just be a favorite, especially in its middle section’s regression to doomed waters.  This slow section features some of Averill’s most impassioned wailing, and is in many ways reminiscent of his stint with Italian doomsters Void Of Silence.

Now, generally I don’t pay too much attention to extreme metal lyrics.  In fact, I’ve found a few too many times that the more one studies what’s being said, the more disappointed one will get.  Which is to say, insight and intelligent discourse are something of a rarity in extreme metal.  With this record, though, I feel confident declaring that one won’t really feel the full impact of the music without also following along with the excellently composed lyrics.

This is, in essence, a concept album.  Or, rather, an album which tells a linear narrative that might just inform a greater appreciation of the musical violence at work in the background.  As I’ve already suggested, this isn’t your typical blood ‘n guts ‘n Satan fare.  Indoctrine follows the inner workings of an individual who feels at odds with society, and who turns a sense of inwardly-focused paranoia and impotent rage into outwardly-directed violence.

The album is book-ended with sounds meant to represent the firing of a sniper rifle and the aftermath of an explosion (likely from a suicide bombing, if we follow the lyrics closely).  I’m not particularly interested in commenting on what, if any, political position the band may be reflecting on with this album, nor to draw parallels either to Averill’s native Ireland or the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Needless to say, plenty of extreme metal is violent, but that violence rarely seems as grounded in reality as it does on this album.

The band has claimed in interviews (see the excellent interview by Josh Haun here, for example) that they do not intend to caution the listener against violence, but rather, or perhaps, to praise the single-minded dedication of the subject of the lyrics.  Still, the lyrics are intricate enough as to allow slightly differing interpretations, or at least to make the story somewhat more nuanced.

For example, in the album’s first track, the individual speaks a telling couplet:
“I will not hesitate / I cannot hesitate”
The confidence and certainty of the first line is somewhat undermined by that second line, wherein the individual is telling him- (or her-) self not to hesitate at the appropriate moment.  This seems to reflect an early attempt at convincing oneself of the right path of action.

Tracks two and three both deal with the state of the world in which the individual finds him/herself.  Interestingly, though, whereas the second track seems to display at least some remaining vestiges of compassion for human misery (speaking, as it does, about the ‘desperate, destitute, downtrodden’ and the unemployed), the third track erases any such sympathies and resolves into contempt and paranoia, talking about vomit, human shit, and streets filled with “nothing but scum.”  Moments like this recall the character of Rorschach from Alan Moore’s acclaimed graphic novel Watchmen.

Track four, which closes out the first side of the album, describes a religious dream or vision, the receipt of which fills this individual with a messianic mission to which his paranoiac fantasies attach, latching on to the singular notion of some sort of holy war.  This song fades out with one of the only instances of guitar soloing, closing out the first half of the album in a resolute fashion.

The second half of the album, and the narrative, seems to see the character questioning that righteous fervor somewhat (“When the demons come for you, do you fight them? Or do you become one of them?”), but eventually resolving nonetheless to “write [his] name in blood across the sky.” The title track of the album is, I think, the most crucial point in following the narrative.  After the original dedication was brought into question, “Indoctrine” addresses the issue of doubt head on, and finds the individual submitting to violence as a way to finally prove himself, to respond to the existential fear of the reproach of a vengeful god:
“If I ever doubted his plan for me / Doubted his words, or what I must do / To set them free…”

“Year Zero,” then, reads as the public justification for the impending act of violence as he prepares the physical materials for an attack.  We imagine this individual recording a video message in a crumbling, industrial slum, where the desolate realities of life are offset by the fanatical devotion to that Year Zero itself, the violence which will be the founding act, ushering in some new, great age.  Still, the individual seems somewhat tentative, but steels himself against doubt by discussing faith, at least, even if there is no attendant salvation.

The eighth and final song is tellingly called “The Martyr’s Brigade,” and finally features Averill’s language at its absolutely most stark and biblical, with locusts and lions and brimstone.  Even here, however, the speaker is not entirely convinced of the accuracy of his messianic vision, and thus speaks an absolutely crucial line: “Maybe there is no god but man…” Almost immediately, though, come the fierce howls of “Repent! Repent! Repent!”, and the album closes with the haunting words “I hear the master’s voice / Calling me to war.”

At this point, the musical attack traces a figure, a nimble and repeated tandem run of guitar and drums, which then settles on an open chord.  It sounds like a countdown, but instead of some great explosion of noise, the music fades to static, through which we then hear the faint sounds of sirens, and imagine dust and rubble and quiet.

This is a frightening album, and it is also a tremendous album.  In the end, it’s one of those things that I’m not quite sure if I “like,” at least in the sense that we traditionally “like” music, meaning that we find it enjoyable, or memorable, or intricate, or whatever.  The album is profoundly unsettling, both in the unblinking treatment of its subject matter, and in the musical vision itself.  Throughout the album, Averill’s vocals twist and pull at odd meter against the always forward-moving music.  At times, his vocals are delivered in a completely separate key from the music.  This is not to say he is singing off-key, but rather, that he is intentionally singing an entirely different key, as if to drive home to the listener that you are supposed to be unsettled by this.

Maybe the reason this album is so disturbing is that it recognizes that the difference between a terrorist in Afghanistan, a backwoods militia stockpiling weapons in the American Midwest, and an American soldier properly trained and officially sanctioned, is not so great after all.  This album wants to tell us that whatever difference there is between these individuals is not a reflection of the inner life of the mind, but simply of how society judges their goals to be legitimate or not, righteous and just or misguided and immoral.

This album doesn’t necessarily ask you to praise or condemn the individual whose story it relates.  Instead, it asks of you what it does of its own accord: to watch, to wait.  To witness.
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Overall rating: Generally, the better an album, the more frequently I will listen to it.  I’m not sure that’s the case with this one, though.  This is an album to admire, to study, to focus on intently, but it is also whose too-frequent listening might prove injudicious.  I would not care to give it a number if this were not the structure I had set for myself when reviewing albums, and the number I do choose is just as arbitrary as the cruel, haphazard violence of our world.

Let’s call it 95%, and let’s hope you listen, and think, and learn, and learn when to stop listening.

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If you’ve ever spent much time writing album reviews, chances are you already know how much your appreciation of a record can change across multiple listenings.  I don’t think there’s any great rule to follow about how many times one ought to listen to something before trying to say anything reasonably articulate about it, but it’s also pretty safe to say that if one bashes out a review before the album has even passed the finish line, shit ain’t right.

This isn’t a lecture, though.   Maybe what online music journalism needs, in fact, are interpretive haikus, stream of consciousness fits of creative nonfiction, and album reviews written matter-of-factly about music which either does not exist, or has not been heard by the writer.  That’s your own business.  (Actually, now that I think about it, writing Reviews Of Nonexistent Albums sounds like a possibly worthwhile undertaking…)

I’ve been wondering, though, just why it is that our first impressions often change so much in the fullness of time.  Sadly, I’m sure many times, it’s because our first impressions are later realized to be out of step with the general consensus, and so we either consciously or subconsciously alter our opinion accordingly.  Still, even the most genuinely hermetically walled-off of us have been there.  We find that we are not the stolid rocks of constancy we once thought ourselves to be, and that even We, the cosmically ordained, are not impermeable in the face of the wending shuffle of time.

I’d like to propose a little diagnostic of the various ways in which, it seems to me, our opinion of an album can change from first to later listenings.  I’ve offered a few examples of my own under each category only by way of illustration, but I’m curious to see if there isn’t something systematic about these different types of records which leads them to be first and then later impressed upon us differently.
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Type 1: “The Winner”: Albums that you love when you first hear them, and which you continue to love subsequently.

- This is a pretty straightforward category, and obviously has very little to do with changed opinions.  Still, you know the type.  You spin it once, think, “Shit, that’s awesome!”  Then, you keep spinning it, and it just gets better and better.  I suspect most folks would place most of their favorite albums in this category, although I also suspect there are some closet Type 4s lurking in there…

Examples:
– Tough category to pick examples for, then, since there are so many albums to fit the bill.
– Doomriders, Darkness Come Alive.  This is just an absolute FUCKING MONSTER of an album that just gets better every single time I play it.  Hardcore?  Rock?  Metal?  Who gives a shit: Doomriders are here to tear you apart.
– Primordial, The Gathering Wilderness.  Basically, nothing can fuck with this album.  Ever.  This is one of the most evocative pieces of music I’ve yet to encounter in the wide world of metal.  Pure class.
– Lurker Of Chalice, Lurker Of Chalice.  I dig most of the stuff that Wrest has put out under the Leviathan name, but the Lurker Of Chalice album just has an atmosphere all its own.  Haunting and haunted, and soothing without being safe.

Do not try to fuck with this.

Type 2: “The Piece Of Shit”: Albums that you hate when you first hear them, and which you continue to hate subsequently.

- This is also a pretty straightforward category.  We’ve all been there, where we play something, suggest to our friends and acquaintances that it sounds like an old dog retching violently onto a turntable playing an old Alvin & the Chipmunks record, and leave it at that.  Days or weeks later, we are subjected again to this execrable document to the miserable state of the human condition, and contemplate inflicting bodily harm on the individuals responsible.

Examples:
– Again, there must be shitloads upon shitloads of albums in this category for me.  Maybe I’ll pick a few slightly less obvious examples, then:
– Suffocation, Suffocation.  I actually like a lot of Suffocation’s other stuff, but man, something about this record just rubs me right the goddamn wrong way.
– Aethenor, Betimes Black Cloudmasses.  Son of a BITCH this record is booooooring.  And it’s not like I automatically slag off anything drone-y or ambient; this one just pissed me off.
– Novembers Doom, Into Night’s Requiem Infernal.  I’m beginning to wonder if maybe this category (Type 2) isn’t especially filled with albums that have disappointed us.  I really liked the two Novembers Doom records which preceded this one, but ugh.  Nothing about this was appealing or convincing.

Hey, guys, that title? Completely meaningless nonsense.

Type 3: “The Jumped-The-Gun”: Albums that you love when you first hear them, but which you begin to hate upon subsequent examination.

- In some ways, this is the most interesting of these categories to me.  This type of reaction is for those albums that really blow you away the first time you play them, but then lose whatever vitality they seemed to have upon further listening.  It seems probable that this category is populated with albums that have some cache of novelty to spend, but seem hollow and insubstantial once that novelty has worn off.

Examples:
– Eluveitie, Slania.  I should have known better than to be impressed by this one, I suppose.  Still, the great glossy production and the superficial sheen of folk instrumentation were sufficient to distract me from the utterly subpar Gothenburg tedium that lurked within.
– Solefald, In Harmonia Universali.  I feel kind of badly about including this one.  I still really like Solefald, honest, I do, but geez, this album just wears on my nerves something awful.  It was the first record of theirs that I bought, and I was totally into it at first, what with the lyrics in like twelve different languages, and the quite off-kilter songwriting style.  The vocal style is what first started to grate on me, though, and now, every time this comes on, I just get bored and want to go fly a kite or something.  I’m much more about The Linear Scaffold these days.
– Megadeth, United Abominations.  I suppose I’m not the only one who got dragged into this.  By this point, I’m just sick of Mustaine in general, but I’ll admit it, I gobbled up this album like crazy when it came out.  I, like many of you, had been horribly burned by Megadeth in the past (Youthanasia, Cryptic Writings, and so forth), but had pretty much ignored the previous albums that been hailed as ‘returns to form’.  Don’t know why I believed that about this one, then.  I really dug it at first, because, well, you know, it was slightly fast, and had some solos and what not.  Over time, though, and especially with the release of Endgame (which is, scientifically speaking, five hundred times better than this turgid mess), I just cannot abide Mustaine’s self-righteous mumbling about the United Nations, the Middle East, and God knows what else.  Seriously, man: Rust In Peace or get the fuck out.

Not so much with the universal harmonies; sorry.

Type 4: “The Pleasant Surprise”: Albums that you hate when you first hear them, but which you begin to love upon subsequent examination.

- This is sort of the dark horse category, I think.  Every now and then, though, I’ll hear something for the first time that just sounds like absolute garbage.  I’ll shut it off, and maybe even chuck it out, in a fit of disappointed rage.  But then, some time later, it’ll come on again, and somehow I’ll hear it in a different light, and suddenly it clicks somehow.

Examples:
- Akercocke, Choronzon.  So, this is an example of how this categorization isn’t perfect.  Which is to say, I don’t think I ever straight-up hated this album, but I sure didn’t care much for it the first time through.  Over subsequent listenings, though, I came to appreciate it a lot more.  I still think the albums they’ve put out since then are superior – in particular, the magnificent Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone.
– The Ruins Of Beverast, Rain Upon The Impure.  Okay, in all fairness, this one is still my least favorite of the three Ruins of Beverast albums.  Nevertheless, given my slightly disgusting love for the Unlock the Shrine album, my disappointment the first time through this album was fucking massive.  As near as I’ve been able to figure it out, though, my problem was basically with my expectations for the production.  Rain Upon The Impure has one of quietest, most distant sounding black metal productions I’ve heard in some time, which is extremely offputting, unless (and this is a crucial unless) you crank it REALLY LOUDLY.  Doing so finally allowed me to appreciate this album as still quite excellent.
– At The Gates, Slaughter of the Soul.  This is sort of the reverse case as with Eluveitie above.  First few times I heard this album, I wrote it off as a bit dull and not particularly creative.  Maybe I lacked the necessary historical context at the time, or maybe I just hadn’t listened to this album at a sufficient volume.  I’d like to think I appreciate this album exactly the right amount now, which is that this is a complete shit-kicker of an album that destroys anything else in the style.  Unfortunately, the influence of this album has been far more malign than inspired.  Hardly their fault, though.

Survey says: Better than you think!

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Thoughts?  Which albums have you completely dismissed out of hand, only to find out later that you couldn’t bear to do without them?  Or, alternately, which albums are your great shames; y’know, the ones that you loved and loved to death and couldn’t get enough of, and then, all of a sudden, you figure out, “Hey, this really fucking sucks”?

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