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Posts Tagged ‘Demoncy’

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There’s something inherently enjoyable about a band lovingly twisting old sounds into new shapes, which is precisely what Alabama’s Ectovoid does on its debut album Fractured in the Timeless Abyss. The album’s production and delivery is cut mostly from death metal’s rancid cloth, but there are frequent enough stylistic digressions – into melancholic tremolo, thin-drawn blasting, and so forth – to point also to a clear black metal heritage. In the interest of shorthand, let’s call it Autopsy and Incantation by way of Demoncy and Inquisition. But more importantly, let’s call it righteous metal and leave it at that.

Genre nitpicking and name-dropping aside, what sets Ectovoid apart as a serious proposition is the band’s twin focus on swirling, punchy riffs and an unbroken atmosphere of subterranean gloom. Michael Stewart’s guitar tone is thick and raw, occasionally pulling some Soulside Journey tricks to lead the whole band pulsing forward in a piledriving mass, which is precisely what is reminiscent of perennially underrated American black metal pioneers Demoncy. See the great album opener “Transcend into the Moonless Night” for a great example of this, as Stewart’s guitar twins with Chuck Bryant’s bass in a nimble pre-verse bridge before barreling forward as one; his twitchy soloing late in the song offers a brief glimpse of lightness, but it remains ephemeral. The earth swallows all its children.

Chuck Bryant’s vocals are typical but extremely impressive gut-scraping death growls, and his dank bass tone is fantastic, as is the way the instrument is used throughout the album. Bryant’s vocals are particularly notable because, given how well their tone fits in with the instrumental production, they easily blend into the background if one chooses to ignore them; however, it one chooses to focus on the vocals, the lyrics are extremely understandable, which is quite a feat for this sort of coarse delivery. Chris McDonald’s drumming manages to be surging and restrained, hungry yet understated. His cymbals gently crest the band’s wave, while the deep, loose toms sound the echoing depths.

Some of the album’s best moments occur when Bryant’s rumbling vocals are backed by a higher-pitched heaving (see “Chewing through the Membranes of Time and Space” and “Murmurs from Beyond”). Because the album’s atmosphere is so uniform, the extremely judicious use of this additional vocal style makes a huge impact the few sparse times it is employed. The midsection of “Chewing through the Membranes of Time and Space” points most clearly to the band’s black metal influence and the sickly doom that opens “Locked in Dismal Gaze” points most fervently to Autopsy, while “Splintered Phantasm” is one of the best examples of Ectovoid’s very attractive blending of black and death metal.

In the spirit of full disclosure, Ectovoid’s drummer Chris McDonald is a colleague of mine at MetalReview.com. That having been said, no amount of collegiality could’ve convinced me to not call Ectovoid dog balls if it was dog balls; Ectovoid is not dog balls. Ectovoid is a grimy, slithering thing, and with Fractured in the Timeless Abyss, the band has crafted a captivating set of songs that are sure to draw your soul to dwell with the wraiths in Christina Casperson’s tremendous artwork. To dwell with the doom that abides.

Overall rating: 80%.  Something something abyss Nietzsche.

Fractured in the Timeless Abyss is out now on Hellthrasher Productions.  Listen to it here.

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Hot off the heels of last week’s inaugural entry into Spinal Tapdance’s ‘Listening Arc’ series, I was challenged to a new listening arc by all-around awesome dude Josh Haun of That’s How Kids Die.  The challenge: Get from Johnny Cash’s ass-walloping live album At San Quentin to Darkthrone’s third album, the ultra-grim Under A Funeral Moon.  As you’ll see in the comments section of that first arc, I was pretty confident I could make easy work of the challenge by way of Metallica’s St. Anger, owing to the fact that the video for the title track was filmed (unless I’m much mistaken) at the very same San Quentin Prison.

Two problems presented themselves, however: First, it made for a pretty easy out, generally bypassing the contortions necessary to get from outlaw country to black metal; and second, it would have required me to suggest that all you fine readers spend some 70-odd minutes of your life listening to St. Anger, and that shit just ain’t happening.  Thus, I present to you Spinal Tapdance’s Listening Arc #2: From Cash To Culto (in five moves) which completely disregards and papers over the Metallica Singularity.
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1. Johnny Cash, At San Quentin (1969)


The Man in Black has rarely been as imposing as on this rollicking live document from San Quentin Prison.  I constantly go back and forth as to whether I prefer this or the previous year’s At Folsom Prison, but basically, you can’t go wrong with either one.  Cash covers a wide range of styles on this album (for the record, the disc I’ve got is the so-called “Complete Live At San Quentin,” which cobbles together all 18 tracks, rather than the original 10 of the LP release), from crime and punishment barnburners to country-ish standards to straight-faced spirituals.  What I’m really going to pick up on here, however, to allow me to move forward with the listening arc, is the fact that the prison space itself becomes a crucial element in listening to this album.  That is to say, this is a fantastic album on most all counts – Cash is in fine form, tearing through his ‘hits’ at breakneck speed and letting loose deranged wolf howls when appropriate, his wife June Carter has a pitch-perfect sloppy Appalachian croon, and his backing band is on fire.

But what really makes this record stand out is the atmosphere.  Obviously, Cash revels in playing to the audience of inmates – he provokes a wild chorus of boos anytime he mentions the guards or the warden, and he even penned a tune called “San Quentin,” which he runs through twice to rapturous reception (“San Quentin, may you rot and burn in hell / May your walls fall, and may I live to tell,” etc.).  Listening closely to this album, then, reveals that the space itself is an instrument, and I’m not just talking about the typical aural component of a live album.  This is a live album played to prisoners, and you can literally feel the electricity running through the audience as Cash tears through these outlaw tunes.  The concert was also filmed and broadcast for television, and while I’ve never seen the visuals, I almost don’t need to.  The audience noise swells and falls, and at times, you can tell there’s some commotion going on out in the audience that’s essentially unconnected to what’s going on onstage.  It makes for a crackling, dangerous sound, but more than that, it communicates a sense of the prison as a lived space and a living space, which is precisely how we transition into the rest of the listening arc.

2. Set Fire To Flames, Sings Reign Rebuilder (2001)


Musically, this debut album from this collective composed of members of the Canadian post-rock elite (Godspeed You Black Emperor, A Silver Mt Zion, Hanged Up, etc., etc.) shares very little ground with Johnny Cash.  This is a generally sparse, experimental album, featuring found sound snippets, ambient space, and flashes of chamber-esque classicism.  Here’s the connection, though: This album was recorded in a dilapidated house, and you can literally hear the house itself contributing to the sounds of the album.  Floors creak, strings echo, snatches of conversation are caught through hallways and around corners, police sirens pass in the street.  This house becomes as much another musical instrument as the brushed drum kit or the keening violin.  This is desolate, desperate music for slow urban collapse, with only the faintest shred of hope blossoming.

3. The Gault, Even As All Before Us (2005)


Heartbreakingly, this is the only album The Gault ever produced, and it is probably one of the most criminally underrated albums in all of metal.   I’ve never heard anything that sounds quite like it, and the atmosphere of unpretentious sorrow it evokes is absolutely unparalleled.  So, not a cheerful album, this.  I suppose it’s somewhat generally in the style of drone-soaked doom, but the wailing vocals are entirely their own beast, and the slow trudging pace and increasingly epic scope of the songs throughout the album bespeak a sepia-hued Americana that may just as well be the fog-drenched London of late 19th century industrial blight.  This album takes the last few shreds of hope from Set Fire To Flames and, well, burns them on the pyre of its unrelenting realism.

4. Weakling, Dead As Dreams (2000)


The Gault was a project that eventually grew out of the demise of a previous San Francisco band, Weaking, who also – tragically – only ever produced one album.  But what an album it is. Dead As Dreams is a true landmark recording in American black metal, taking the speed and grim intensity of all them damn Scandinavians at face value, but shooting it through with a touch of avant-garde melodicism and structural experimentalism.  Or, let’s put it a different way, shall we?  Wolves In The Throne Room would straight-up NOT EXIST if it weren’t for this album.  And again, unlike the forest-dancing escapism of their Northern European ‘peers’, this album has a much grittier feel, a grounding in the real lived experience of a major American metropolis.  This album defines epic black metal in a way that most folk-besotted frotteurs can only grasp in their wettest of wet dreams, and it really signified that American black metal need not bow to the aesthetic conventions of the genre’s originators.

5. Demoncy, Joined In Darkness (1999)


As we’re just about wrapping up this listening arc, we’re going to keep it in the American family.  Demoncy are a decidedly less experimental outfit than Weakling, but Joined In Darkness is nevertheless another landmark recording in the annals of American black metal.  It’s regressive and atavistic in all those primally satisfying ways, and the thing blasts ahead like a great hulking beast dragging the bones of devoured animals down into the deepest recesses of a lightless cavern.  This is reverb used not to intensify and kick around the shrill howls of a vocalist, but rather to sound a great black lake.  While not quite as primitive as true American black metal instigators like Von or Havohej, Demoncy is, to these ears, infinitely more satisfying.  And, beyond the sound of a phantom bulldozer plowing through a field of ghostly birch trees, the reason this stacks up as the perfect transition into Darkthrone is due to a nice sequencing coincidence: the penultimate track on this Demoncy album, “The Dawn of Eternal Damnation,” follows the same basic model of the final track on Darkthrone’s Under A Funeral Moon, “Crossing the Triangle of Flames”: it starts out brisk and blasting, twists its way around some gnarled-root riffs, and then settles into a stubborn, plodding death march to close out the album in a true dark dirge.

6. Darkthrone, Under A Funeral Moon (1993)


From the brittle, vampiric opening shot of “Natassja In Eternal Sleep,” to the aforementioned infinite-march-toward-a-corroded-horizon of “Crossing the Triangle of Flames,” Under A Funeral Moon is a bona fide classic.  The fact that is maybe my least favorite of Darkthrone’s absolutely untouchable black metal quadrilogy (A Blaze in the Northern Sky through Panzerfaust) says less about the weakness of this album (of which there is none) than about the strength of those albums that surround it.  Nevertheless, this is probably Darkthrone at their most white-knuckled, wide-eyed straight-ahead black metal dogmatism.  Sure, Transilvanian Hunger is arguably more ‘straight-ahead’ in certain ways, but it accomplished that feeling through a far more peculiar, almost avant-garde sense of repetition and minimalist melody than Under A Funeral Moon is a better analogue for such early black metal classics as Bathory’s Under (coincidence?) The Sign Of The Black Mark.  The closing sludge of this album, featuring a tolling bell crumbling and collapsing in quarter-time, should draw your mind back to the closing of Demoncy’s album, and back through other American landmarks, with a quick detour up to the Frozen North, and then back down, screaming through aeons of memory and tradition, to the true American outlaw, the true Black of the sorely-missed Johnny Cash.
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Okay, friends.  The first Reader Challenge has been answered, but it’s up to you to let me know if it’s been answered successfully.  Did I lose the plot at any point throughout this Arc?  Feel like calling me on any bullshit choices?  Pipe up, then; it’s hard to hear you over all this racket.  Thanks to Josh for a very worthy Listening Arc challenge.

So, then, you – yeah, you out there, with the soft voice and big thoughts and eager fingers: What’s next?  What’s your Listening Arc challenge?  Bring it on, the lot of you.

Cheers,
DHOK

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A few months back, I wrote up this post in which I challenged myself to identify metal songs played on a random playlist.  As you may recall, I didn’t do so hot (5 out of 10).  Well, I figured I might as well give it another go here.  The basic motivation for this, of course, is that it’s pretty fun for me to do.  At a slightly (very slightly) deeper level, though, I think that going through this exercise helps me to think about what exactly it is that helps us differentiate and recognize extreme metal.  As you’ll see, in many cases, I would wait around until I heard the vocals to either a) guess what band it was, or b) narrow things down so that I could guess a black metal versus a death metal band.  Production is also a pretty good cue, as is guitar tone, and so forth.

Rules are simple: I put into a music player a playlist of all the metal albums that I own (meaning that I’ve excluded both all other genres and all metal for which I do not own an actual, physical product), put the damn thing on ‘random’, and start it up.  I respond to the first ten songs that play in the stream-of-consciousness fashion you see below.  After the fact, then, I run back through the list and post what the song actually was.  I suppose you have only my word to go on that I didn’t skip embarrassing songs or take a peek every now and again.  If you’re willing to trust a stranger on the internet, though, this is how it went down…
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1. This is some fairly clearly-articulated black/thrash-y stuff.  Vocals are sounding very familiar, but I can’t quite place them right now.  Is it an old Absu track?  Nice clean solo bit here with that classic Slayer-esque bass drum and ride cymbal only break.  I think it might be Absu, maybe from that Mythologickal Occult Metal compilation.

[It was: Saros, “Devouring Conscience,” from Acrid Plains.  Ouch.  I suppose maybe it’s a compliment, thinking Leila Abdul-Rauf’s vocals are a dead ringer for Proscriptor’s?  Not off to a great start, friends.]

2. This tune kicks straight in with some melodic black metal riffage and standard blastbeats.  A bunch of pinch harmonics.  Again, these vocals make me think I should really know who it is.  Is this old Behemoth?  I guess it sounds kinda like Nergal.  I’m going with Behemoth, maybe circa Satanica or Pandemonic Incantations.

[It was: Behemoth, “From the Pagan Vastlands.”  Hidden track on Thelema.6.  Pretty close, though.]

3. Ah, easy enough.  My Dying Bride.  Totally recognizable doom chug, and the unmistakable vocals of Aaron Stainthorpe.  A pretty recent track, for sure.  I’m going to say it’s from one of their last two records.  That’d be, what, A Line Of Deathless Kings and For Lies I Sire.  I’ll play it through a little more to see if I can get the song title.  Hmm, the more this runs on, I think it might actually be from the Songs Of Darkness… album.  Ah, those searing clean guitar sections, laid over their own echo – one of my favorite aspects of this band.  Great clean chorus from Mr. Stainthorpe, but I’ll be damned if I can think of the name.  I’m thinking it’s from that Songs Of Darkness album after all…

[It was: My Dying Bride, “The Blue Lotus.”  From Songs Of Darkness, Words Of Light.  Ba-zing!]

4. Whoa, major treble attack.  The fuck is this?  Obviously some pervertedly raw black metal.  What the hell do I own that sounds this shitty?  The blizzard-esque quality almost suggests Paysage d’Hiver or Darkspace, but the songwriting isn’t as ambient as all that.  Sounds like straight-up classic third wave black metal songwriting.  Is this the Satyricon side of that split with Enslaved?  That’s my best guess.

[It was: Demoncy, “In Winter’s Ancient Slumber,” from Within The Sylvan Realms of Frost.  Wrong side of the Atlantic.  Sorry folks.  Good goddamn if that isn’t some of the most thinly-recorded black metal I’ve heard in a while.  Too bad, because the song, while horribly derivative, has that nice melancholy groove to it.]

5. Great stomping death/doom groove to start off this next song.  No fucking around.  Dodgy recording quality makes me think it’s a bit old.  Could be Coffins, but probably not.  Nope, definitely not, but it’s got that chaotic, churning old school (or new old school) death metal vibe, with Incantation-worship dripping from the corners.  What was that record Profound Lore put out last year…  Impetuous Ritual.  Maybe it’s them.

[It was: Teitanblood, “The Origin of Death,” from Seven Chalices.  Same ballpark, at least.]

6. Hmm, now this sounds like Satyricon again, but I’m second-guessing myself all over the place.  Ah, thanks Satyr, for enunciating a little bit.  This is the title track from Nemesis Divina, which, despite The Shadowthrone’s greatness, is probably still my favorite Satyricon record.  I mean, who can deny “Mother North”?  Plus, the grand piano breakdown in whatever the fuck that song is called (I’ll look it up in a bit, but don’t want to fuck with the supposed purity of this little exercise).  Great stuff.

[It was: Satyricon, “Nemesis Divina.”  [Ed: “Forhekset” was the tune I was thinking about with the piano break.]]

7. Nothing automatic off the bat here.  Thick guitar tone, too-tight snare, plus the classic 6/8-that-doesn’t-quite-feel-like-6/8-if-it’s-quick-enough meter.  Thick bass tone, too, especially for this style.  Vocals aren’t helping me out too much here.  Damn, I’m kinda floundering with this one.  Nary an educated guess in sight.  Sounds like something that would be on Moribund.  Don’t know if that helps much.  Maybe from Finland.  I don’t think it’s Sargeist.  Too thick for Behexen.  Hmm.  I also don’t think it’s Horned Almighty, since it doesn’t quite have enough rock and roll, though the thick, rattling bass might point that way.  Shit, whatever.  I’ll guess Horned Almighty.  From the only album of theirs I have, The Devil’s Music.

[It was: Well, fuck, what do you know?  Horned Almighty, “To Despise the Life,” from The Devil’s Music.  I ought to give myself more credit every now and again.  Don’t think that one’s on Moribund, though.]

8. Well, this is a live track.  That might give it away if there’s any crowd banter.  Goofy carnival synths suggest Cradle Of Filth.  Let’s give it a chance, though, shall we?  Seeing as how I don’t think there are any live Dimmu Borgir albums out there, I’m feeling pretty good that this is Cradle Of Filth.  Let’s see if it kicks into metal mode at all, or if it’s only the taped tune that introduces the band at the outset of a gig.  Come on, assholes, I’m impatient.  Ah, there you are, Dani, you cad.  Lord knows what song this is.  It’s probably called “Charles Baudelaire Takes A Shit And Then Feels Badly About It.”

[It was: Cradle Of Filth, “Dirge Inferno (Live),” from the bonus disc of the deluxe edition of Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder.  Suppose I could’ve waited ‘til the chorus to get the title, but whatev.  I’m a busy man (ha).]

9. All acoustic attack.  Immediately I think Agalloch.  Hmm.  Dual all acoustic attack.  Ulver’s Kveldssanger?  C’mon Haughm or Garm, give it to me straight.  These flamenco runs are gorgeous, but not helping that much.  I suppose if it quits in another minute or so, it’s got to be from that Ulver folk record.  Alright, folks, we have metal touchdown.  This from Pale Folklore?  Will I be voted out of Heavy Metal for asking such daft, potentially heretical questions?  Now that this is wearing on, I’m even doubting whether it’s Agalloch.  That synth is a curiosity.  In The Woods…, maybe?  Come on, vocals, I’m hurting here.  Oh, there you are, hello.  Son of a bitch, why am I not getting this?  I don’t think Haughm’s harsh vocals sound like this.  Ugh, I don’t feel really great about this, but since the sound is a bit spotty, I’m going to guess that it’s In The Woods…, playing one of their early tracks on that live album they put out.  But fuck, if this turns out to be Hate Forest or some shit, I’m going to flip my lid.

[It was: Aeternus, “Warrior Of The Crescent Moon,” from …And So The Night Became.  Goddamnit, Aeternus, I feel like you did this to me last time, too.  So, apparently, Aeternus: Most Owned But Least Listened To At Spinal Tapdance HQ.  Sorry guys.  This really is a killer tune, honest.]

10. Alright, this next track makes ten, right?  I’m not sure how much more embarrassment my flabby, much-abused ego can take.  Okay, this is a bit of a change up.  We’ve got some stuttery, then later crazy shit.  Strapping Young Lad’s my first guess.  Seeming pretty likely.  C’mon, Devin, justify my confidence.  Sounds like Devin Townsend howling there, presumably with the generous drum-bashing of a certain Gene Hoglan.  Yeah, this has got to be Strapping Young Lad.  What album, though?  Pretty sure this is from something later than City.  Haven’t hit any major hook or chorus yet, though, which sure would be nice, friends.  Oh, was that “Rape Song”?  Can’t remember which album that’s from, but I’m going to guess the song was “Rape Song” by Strapping Young Lad, which I think is either from the SYL album or The New Black.

[It was: Strapping Young Lad, “Rape Song,” which is from the Strapping Young Lad album.  Nice to close out on a high note, eh?]

(11. As I was typing out that last paragraph on SYL, the next track came on, and compelled me to try and guess it as well.  It’s some slow, sludgey doom with female vocals.  Can’t recall if Salome’s self-titled album/EP featured any clean vocals.  Maybe not.  Could it be Monarch?  Damn, I’m just going to be embarrassing myself again.  You’d think that since female vocals are a rarer commodity in these styles of metal I’d be tripping over myself with the right answer.  Doesn’t quite sound like Julie Christmas, but I suppose it could be some of her more understated style.  Shit.  Battle Of Mice, maybe?  Well, whatever, I’m leaving it with those question marks, since I’ve already done my official ten.  It was: Jucifer, “She Tides The Deep,” from If Thine Enemy Hunger.  Fuuuuuuuuck.)
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Okay, so how did I do?  Because I’ve had generally piss-poor results with this, I’m going to count as a win any song in which I correctly identified the artist.  I know, maybe it’s a too-large target, but I still don’t think I’ll be impressing anyone.

Result: 6 correct out of 10. Shit, I’m pretty sure that’s better than last time, right?  Anything tipping me past the halfway point is just gravy by me.  Still can’t believe Aeternus fucked me over again, but I guess it serves me right for being an inattentive dipshit.

So, folks: Know your metal as well as you think you do?

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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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