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Posts Tagged ‘Katatonia’

The Dead, Ritual Executions (2010)

Claustrophobic avant-sludge doom/death with jaunts into funk? Yes, please.

Australia’s The Dead self-released their sophomore album Ritual Executions last year.  2010, however, sees them freshly signed to India’s newly-launched Diabolical Conquest Records, with Ritual Executions getting a remastering job, updated artwork, and seeing a proper label release.  A murky hybrid and death metal and doom is the order of business for this Australian trio, but we’re not talking the doom/death of early Peaceville mopesters Anathema, Katatonia, Paradise Lost et al; instead, this is more like the dank, doomy, crypt-like death metal of early Incantation, or the quicker moments of legendary gut-wrenchers Disembowelment (though, in all fairness, if Incantation worship is your cup of righteous tea, the new Father Befouled album out on Relapse ought to be destination one).

The album starts off with a slow dirge of a song in “Burn Your Dead,” with a pleasantly thick, skull-rattling bass tone on the arpeggio riffs.  Vocalist Mike Yee demonstrates some abominably deep, guttural death tones, which are mixed in such a way as not to overpower the music, but still somewhat higher in the mix than many similarly-pitched vocalists, in a manner which verges on the comprehensible.  The closing sections of “Burn Your Dead” utilize an effective rhythmic compositional style to drone out with – a measure of 4/4 time followed by a measure of 3/4 time.  It’s a fairly simple tool, but it demonstrates that some deliberate thought has gone into the crafting of these tomes of death.

If you’ve picked up on that, though, later track “Centurian” is a bit of a let-down, since it, too, boasts that same meter (though in a somewhat more straight-forward 7/4 attack) for pretty much its entire duration.  The vocals also become somewhat monotonous as the album wears on, although not so much that they detract terribly from the masterful display of grooving, doom-tinged death metal.

The production isn’t quite gritty or fuzzed-out enough to push this album into sludge territory, but some of the songwriting veers in the direction of booze-drenched misanthropy.  There are a few frustrating quirks to the drum production, though.  The hi-hat has got a weird buzz to it, and the kick drum could stand to be mixed a little higher.  Still, it’s not overly clean, and although it rings somewhat hollow, the drum production still sounds like a real person pounding away on a real kit.

The album works effectively as a whole because of the band’s strong compositional skills, and the smart sequencing of tracks to alternate between trudging epics and more in-your-face, aggressive death metal blasts.  Some of the quicker tunes like “Cannibal Abattoir” show a very sprightly, almost jittery style of drumming (particularly in the snare drum work), which is occasionally reminiscent of a slightly less-busy Brann Dailor from Mastodon’s early work (think Remission or even Lifesblood).  I’m also not sure if it’s just because I’ve been listening to too much Kylesa lately, but I swear that some of these faster moments have a similar psychedelic feeling in the riffing.  At any rate, if the prospect of this type of doomy, well-composed death metal with non-obtrusive psychedelic touches gets your blackened heart all a-flutter, then you would do well to check this album out.

The funk drumming breaks in “Born In a Grave” are a bit jarring, but ultimately provide an interesting contrast to the more standard death metal signifiers used throughout.  The latter sections of this song, however, have some great, cavernous echoing effects to match the atmosphere of patient, plodding doom, and actually turn this track into one of the album’s highlights.  The build-up and eventual release around the five-minute mark (“BOOOOOORRRRRN…IN A GRAAAAVE”) is absolutely fantastic, and leads me into a near-apoplectic fit of wanting to smash furiously anything within reach.  Hide the china.

Other excellent moments include the groovy riff and breakdown around 1:30 into the title track, which is seriously crushing.  Think of the bulldozing momentum of Bolt Thrower or Asphyx, and you’re well on your way to grasping the effect of concrete slabs dropped repeatedly on your head.  The closing track “Death Metal Suicide” is a quite interesting change of pace, offering up another set of pretty funky grooves, especially in the drumming.  Whatever else you may think of it, it’s an extremely bold choice, playing a ten-minute long, funk-influenced instrumental jam to close out one’s album in a genre as frequently myopic and orthodox as death metal.

Some of the more avant-garde moments on this disc recall queasy death metal savants Gorguts (circa Obscura, primarily) and Portal, the latter of which may be more than a coincidence, as Ritual Executions was remastered by Aphotic, one of the guitarists from Portal.  The Dead don’t ever quite reach the same level of otherness (or what-the-fuck-ness) as either of the aforementioned bands, but it’s clear that they are drinking some of the same fetid water.

In general, the mélange of styles offered on this record ends up meshing rather well into a unique death metal whole.  Fans of the already-mentioned unsettled death metal acts Portal and Gorguts may find much to enjoy here, as will fans of the more strictly deathly side of doom/death metal.  One of the primary references which continues lurching into mind is Lasse Pyykkö (of Profound Lore’s Hooded Menace, as well as Phlegethon, Vacant Coffin, Claws, etc.), fans of whose should flock to this Australian cult with morbid glee.  Diabolical Conquest Records have found themselves a real winner of an album here, and I will be eagerly following future releases from this grimly determined band.  If Tom G. Warrior is to be believed, and only death is real, then get yourself a copy of Ritual Executions for a sledgehammer dose of heavy fucking metal reality.

Overall rating: 80%.  “BOOOOOOORRRRN…IN A GRAAAAAVE!!!”  Doesn’t get much better than that, friends.

More information on Diabolical Conquest Records is available at their website, where you can also order a copy of Ritual Executions.

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I’ve been thinking lately about the sheer level of inundation that we followers of music face these days.  In many ways, I think this is a fantastic development, particularly with the healthy state of the underground’s manifold scenes and subcultures.  Maybe, on the other hand, that supposed strength is really just a reflection of the crippling weakness of the traditional music industry.  Important questions, but not exactly what I’m concerned with here.

You see, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that I don’t really know my music all that well.  Sure, I know a whole lot about music, but what I’m thinking is, basically, holy shit, I have got so much different music at my disposal each and every minute of every day that there is no way I can possible distinguish between it all.

To that end, I’m forcing myself to do a blind listening test.  I’ve collected all the metal in my iTunes onto a playlist, and I am going to put it on random, turn off my computer monitor so as to disallow any cheating, and then attempt to identify the first ten songs that come up on the playlist.  Find my running commentary below, with the actual results in brackets below each guess.  See you on the other side.
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1.  So, this is a pretty tasty morsel right here.  When it first played through, I was thinking it was something along the lines of the melodic death metal attack of God Dethroned.  Now that this chorus of ‘Stigma Diabolicum’ kicks in, however, I’m pretty sure that this is Austrian black/death metal horde Belphegor.  Definitely from one of their more recent albums, but I sure as hell couldn’t tell you which one.

I’ll take a stab at it, and say I think it’s from that album whose goddamn name escapes me at the moment, but not the most recent one (Hexenwahn whatever), nor from Bondage Goat Zombie, so their third most recent.

[It was: Belphegor, “Stigma Diabolicum,” but that IS from Bondage Goat ZombiePestapokalypse IV was what I was thinking of, but I was wrong to do so.  Anyway, I’m still counting that one as correct.]

2.  Hmm, I’m at quite a loss on this one.  It starts off with some black noise-ish segments, before kicking into some seriously crypt-kicking production, low echoing death howls, and a generally chaotic riff-and-drum attack.  My best guess is that this is from Weapon’s Drakonian Paradigm album.

[It was: Mitochondrion, “Wraithlike,” from Archaeaeon.  Definitely haven’t spent enough time with that record, but I don’t think that Weapon guess is too far off.]

3.  Son of a bitch this is all going to be embarrassing.  This starts off all jangly and reverb-y, so I’m thinking definitely 90s black metal.  But, shit, those vocals are all death gurgly, plus there’s a total Ihsahn howl in there somewhere.  It’s not Emperor, but it might be one of those classic mid-90s black/death hybrids like Dawn or Sacramentum.  I suppose it’s also possible it’s Naglfar or something like that, but the death influence seems a bit too strong for that.

Fuck, I’ve got tons of wild guesses, but no great ones.  Vocals now sound like Jonas Renske’s on Bloodbath.  Hmm.  Maybe I’m forgetting some old more straight-ahead Katatonia side project?  Anyway, I’m going with my first instinct, which was Dawn, from the Slaughtersun record.

[It was: Aeternus, “Dark Rage,” from Shadows of Old.  So, I was totally on the right track with that ‘classic but underappreciated black/death hybrid from the mid- to late 90s’ jag.  Just turns out that I am no better than all the rest at appreciating Aeternus.  Killer tune, although I prefer their first two records.]

4.  Crazy chamber music intro.  Is this from the new Sigh?  Oh, wow.  Embarrassing.  I’ve just mistaken Serj Tankian’s live, all-orchestral run through of his solo album Elect the Dead for Japan’s finest psychedelic black metal blasters.  Apologies to everyone involved.  Anyway, this, for sure, is Serj Tankian.  Tracks called “Money,” I think.

[It was: Serj Tankian, “Money,” from the Elect the Dead Symphony.  Clearly an unqualified win, there, but I kinda want to shave off some points just for thinking it was Sigh.]

5.  Ah, thankfully an easy one on which I will not embarrass myself.  This is Isis.  Or, at least, this is one of the tracks from the double-disc collection of reinterpretations of songs from Isis’ landmark 2002 (?) album Oceanic.  Couldn’t exactly tell you which track this is, but it’s one of the mellower ones, currently playing around with some nice organ tones, and then throwing Aaron Turner’s hoarse bellows out in the middle of this sparse instrumental expanse.  Very cool to hear this fantastic album broken down into its constituent pieces.

[It was: Isis, “The Other,” as interpreted/remixed by James Plotkin, from the Oceanic: Remixes/Reinterpretations compilation.  Success.]

6.  Whoa, that’s a harsh fucking contrast.  At first I thought this was Ildjarn, such is the hideous level of lo-fi noise emanating from my speakers at the moment.  On further consideration, though, my best guess is that this is very early Emperor, from the self-titled/Wrath of the Tyrant CD reissue.  And yet, and yet…  Damn, I’m second-guessing myself something fierce now.  Nope, sticking with Emperor.  Damned if I know the song, though.  Shameful.

[It was: Belketre, “Demzreyavbtre Belketraya,” from Ambre Zuerkl Vuorhdrevarvtre.  SON OF A BITCH.  Of course there is absolutely no reason for you to believe me now, but up there, when I wrote “I’m second-guessing myself something fierce now,” I absolutely was going to say “This sounds like it could also be some of that LLN stuff, maybe Belketre or Vlad Tepes.”  Fuuuuuuck.  Sorry Ihsahn, sorry Norway, sorry France.]

7.  Man, am I really making a poor showing of this.  At first blush, this track sounds like something tribal-ish and noisecore-y (adjectives are not my strong suit this morning).  Gets a bit more blasting, and then when the vocals kicks in, I’m fairly certain that’s Steve Austin’s coruscating howl, so I think this is Today is the Day.  Now that I think about it, that makes good sense, since I think this is from when TITD had Bill and Brann from Mastodon in the band.  So, again, I’ve got no clue on the track title, but I think this is Today is the Day from In the Eyes of God.  Fingers crossed.

[It was: Converge, “Letterbomb,” from When Forever Comes Crashing.  Wow.  Just, wow.  I totally thought this was Converge at first, but then I gradually convinced myself that those vocals were not, in fact, Jacob Bannon but were, instead, Steve Austin.  Shit.  Still, goes to show that either Converge can pull off some fucking metal sounding production earlier on, or that Today is the Day were never as metal as one thought.]

8.  Extended instrumental intro section makes song identification a bit tricky, folks.  Let’s kick in some fucking metal, eh?  Oh, that was the whole song?  Well, fuck you very much.  I don’t know, man.  I literally have NO CLUE what this is.  I’m also about 100% sure that this is NOT a song by The Ocean, but that’s what I’m going to guess anyway.

[It was: Tombs, “Story of a Room,” from Winter Hours.  Man, that sucks.  I really love that record.  Out of context, I guess it’s a lot trickier to match guitar tone to artist.  Still, I knew it wasn’t The Ocean.  Just had to put any old shit down.]

9.  This is a pretty nimble, black/folk attack.  My first inclination is to go with Borknagar.  Yep, there’s good ol’ Vintersorg.  Pretty unmistakable timbre on that dude.  I suppose this could be Vintersorg (the project) as well as Vintersorg (the man), but I think his solo(ish) stuff never got quite so black as this.  So, I’m going to go with Borknagar.  Let’s see, when did Vintersorg join?  I’m going to hazard a guess that this track is from the Empiricism album.

[It was: Borknagar, “The Genuine Pulse,” from Empiricism.  Awesome.]

10.  This is Mastodon.  For sure.  That vaguely Southern-tinged finger-picked acoustic intro was a pretty fast giveaway.  But, sadness of sadness, I’m wavering as to which album this is from.  At first, I was thinking maybe this was from Crack the Skye, given its quite mellow character.  But, hmm.  Damn, this is shameful.  Still, now I’m maybe 80% confident that this is the closing track from Leviathan, which is called, I believe, “Joseph Merrick.”

C’mon, Mastodon, can’t you help a brother out?  Sure would be nice to close out this cavalcade of fuck-ups and metal failures with an unabashed WIN.

[It was: Mastodon, “Pendulous Skin,” from Blood Mountain.  Sweet fucking houndstooth pajamas.  So, despite being totally dead-on about Mastodon, turns out the two albums I was wheedling back and forth between were both the WRONG FUCKING ALBUM.]

(11.  As I was finishing up typing some of these comments, Mastodon faded out, and in kicks the inimitable vocals of Phil Anselmo from Down’s first album, NOLA.  Thanks, dude, for giving me another confidence booster.  Track’s called “Losing All,” but I can’t claim credit, as Anselmo actually tells you that.)

Okay, now it’s time to turn the monitor back on and see just how shittily I’ve done.
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So, I’m giving myself five out of ten.  I know I had the album wrong on a bunch of those, but I’m pleased enough to have just identified the artist correctly half the time.  And honestly, that’s quite a lot better than I thought I would do at this.

The whole point, though, is not to simply pat myself on the back, or subject myself to an extreme bout of self-castigation.  Instead, I think this is really indicative of something.  Perhaps it’s just me, but I have a feeling that I’m not alone in being in the thrall of the unending pursuit of novelty in music.

I just think, maybe, that it’s time we recognize at what cost this ragged, wide-eyed pursuit must come.

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