Blackwater Park

Recently a fellow metal-head shared one of the Blackwater Park songs; it’s been ages since I heard this album. Music has this impressive ability to bring back memories. In my case, decade old vivid images from heavy metal pubs, long distance motorcycling and even longer days dedicated to embedded engineering.

Had once motorcycled six hours straight to see Opeth live, at this college town in a little known part of the world. Crowd simply exploded to the opening riffs of “Bleak”, a ferocity matched only by Åkerfeldt’s own growls.

Blackwater Park is that one album which conveniently illustrates Opeth’s early years. Everything from funk to folk — doom to death — packed into one funereal epic. Wide range of actual genres fit into that melancholic sound, and Opeth weaves those influences into one dirge symphonic print. Album seamlessly illustrates meandering proggy passages resembling Camel, to Tom Warrior like curt grunts. With blankets of blues, prog and folksy lament built straight into that vital progressive death skeleton, Opeth manages to eclipse all genre boundaries.

After all these years, listening to them again made me realize, these Swedes orchestrate all those vibrant influences more elegantly than most genre specialists themselves do.

By deep ghosh [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Hunted

Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and the remaining doom metal bells and whistles are obvious. But, Khemmis goes further, and shapes a melody built on mystical and sorrowful passages. Every aspect, including the distressing vocals is tailored to accentuate these very qualities.

Doom metal is a constrained and a well explored area populated with numerous Scandinavian and North American greats. In the past 30-40 years, they have managed to excavate all the darkest corners in this genre. But, Khemmis, quite confidently introduce sharp magical qualities to these stagnant waters. With an equally engaging Artwork, Hunted makes a compelling case for a brand new variant of old school doom.

By Benjamin Hutcherson (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Majesty and Decay

Study claims extreme music purges depression, in that case, Immolation should be among the most effective antidepressants. Emerging from the most fertile era in death metal, these New Yorkers effortlessly stood their own against Tampa and Stockholm scene’s invasion. A dose of bludgeoning drums, some excessively intricate guitar patterns, followed by sheer death metal growls – simply bulldozes depression and anything else in its path.

Immolation’s brand of dissonance is multifaceted; no other band rips your senses into such divergent paths. In other words, response to this imposing symphony can be – a still veneration, an accepting nod, or just violent moshing – depends solely on the listener’s filter. More crucially, this near deathly experience can be at times overwhelming – crossing those boundaries from being a mere antidepressant, and moving straight into the territory of ecstasy – illegal.

 

By commons: Lilly Mpl.wiki: Lilly Mreal name: Małgorzata Miłaszewska (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Martin Eric Ain (1967 – 2017)

Years ago I had visited this rundown record store, and tucked away into one corner was this used CD – a grotesque cross-over artwork with Morbid Tales stamped on it. Of course, picking that up for the long drive back home was the next obvious step. Definitely not my first encounter with Celtic Frost, but this time they stunningly hit all the right notes. Not every day will someone inadvertently stumble into a Morbid Tales, quite an understated introduction for a viciously influential record.

How that eerie album intro explodes ‘Into the crypt of rays’—making an instant and deep impact. With the dusky coastal highway as an idyllic backdrop – a moment forever engraved in mind.

The whole experience was almost like discovering a trap door, straight into the nether vaults of metal. Suddenly, numerous aspects of late 80s and early 90s black/death wave starts to make sense. Those coarse structural patterns, surreal and nightmarishly poetic lyrics – they afflicted and spawned hordes of imitators. Some elevated those very elements to stratospheric levels. Quite like Venom, Hellhammer and Celtic Frost are vital, to grasping an era which otherwise might sound like sheer white noise.

Martin Ain might have departed this mortal world. But, what he invented with Tom Warrior remains vibrantly ablaze.

Image Attribution:
By Jarkko Iso-Heiko [Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons

Black Seeds of Vengeance

Nile rumbles — “The scourge of Amalek is upon you” – hardly a hyperbole. These South Carolinians construct some of the most sinister patterns known to man. 180 beats per minute blast beats, brutal growls and Middle Eastern influences — all weaved into an intricately vicious arrangement. Drawing from their illustrious Florida death contemporaries, Nile crafts a truly ravishing Egyptian dissonance — a sonic intensity unparalled in metal. Here, the assault patterns are uniquely recognizable and atmospheric, a rarity within this lineage.

Egyptian chants and not so poetic gruesome mythology – “Horus hammereth them. Nepthys hacketh them to bits. The eye of Ra eateth into their faces. Their carcasses will be consumed in the desert”. Guttural growls, sharp temporal variations, and ruthless bass lines – all peacefully coexisting with electrifying guitar melodies. With these rich layered signatures, Karl Sanders effortlessly heaves the listener into an enchanting extreme terrain.

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By Alexandre Cardoso (originally posted to Flickr as IMG_8503) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Brave New World

Superficial differences aside, ‘Brave New World’ is quintessentially Iron Maiden. Those cultured references to English literature, sober yet deceptively dark overtones, and compositions almost bordering on progressive metal. Not to mention the galloping bass lines, rich melodic riffs and operatic vocals – basically, all Iron Maiden signatures are exhibited here.

For a song named after the early 70s British horror flick, The Wicker Man might seem deceptively upbeat. But, Brave New World, the title track is a tad disturbing —“Dying swans twisted wings, beauty not needed here.” — seems to mirror Aldous Huxley’s own dystopian vision.

Accessible, and threateningly catchy choruses – “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, you’ve got to kill to stay alive” – illustrates one of those reasons why Iron Maiden is still that dominant heavy metal life form on this planet. How a whimsical – “Is this a new reality. Something makes me feel that I have lost my mind” – effortlessly regresses into more horrific hues – “Lost in a dream of mirrors, lost in a paradox. Lost and time is spinning, lost a nightmare I retrace” – is truly baffling.

Azazel — The fallen angel, sets the tone for a mercilessly melodic Out Of The Silent Planet. Lyrics are not exactly C. S. Lewis’s fiction, but it’s a brutal blend of catchy riffs and vivid imagery – “Withered hands, withered bodies begging for salvation. Deserted by the hand of Gods of their own creation.” — anticipating an eventual apocalyptic end — “Nations cry underneath decaying skies above. You are guilty, the punishment is death for all who live.” Finally, leaving the listener reeling with a devastating chorus – “Out of the silent planet, dreams of desolation. Out of the silent planet, Come the demons of creation”.

A markedly refined take is reserved for the last. Actually, a civilized mind might have already pondered —“When a person turns to wrong, is it a want to be, belong? –– “But what makes a man decide, take the wrong or righteous road” — indeed “There’s a grey place between black and white.” More decisively — “But everyone does have the right to choose the path that he takes”.

The artistic sensibilities that shaped Iron Maiden is being subtly explored here – “We all like to put the blame on society these days. But what kind of good or bad a new generation brings. Sometimes take just more than that to survive be good at heart. There is evil in some of us no matter what will never change.” Essentially, where others adopt contentious and naive stands, Iron Maiden simply enlightens — illustrating that not so thin line separating the rare eminent from the mediocres.

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By Raph_PH (IronMaidenO2_270517-24) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Arktis

Emperor ceased to exist, but Ihsahn continued to pursue that trajectory. While musically more ambitious, his work is still firmly grounded in that very bedrock of symphonic black metal. Arktis, like his other records, explore diverse genres/themes and prods a range of emotions.

Staying clear of progressive metal clichés, Ihsahn crafts splendidly heavy and sublime melodies. Even the fiercely romantic “My heart is of the north” involves thick riffs, and a jarring keyboard reminiscent of 70s Emerson Lake and Palmer. Making that brief mellow moment — “And should my spirit soften like snow in early spring, or waver in the sultry haze, that soothing summers brings“ — quite exceptional.

Fascinating how whispering vocals – “Static, Dogmatic, Death cult, Fanatic” – can be this threatening with electronica. Transition into some grinding industrial metal — “I’d rather live a life in sin. And take the devil’s fall” — cannot be more elegant. With a measure of painfully moving vocals – “What kind of promises could justify the sacrifice you make? “ – Ihsahn paints a vivid landscape. But eventually ends with his signature, absolutely devoid of all sentiments, grating vocals.

Exhibiting those exquisite symphonic prog aesthetics, like 70s Genesis or Gentle Giant, Arktis is poignant, layered, and at times emotionally distressing – “Longing for the hopeless. Losing all to own the end”.

Melancholic solos when accompanied by keyboards — layered over measured strumming and painful clean vocals – “You chose a life at war. Now choose a worthy enemy. You know, it doesn’t always have to be yourself” – blazes a grim road. Musically and lyrically, Ihsahn teleports the listener straight into vaults of emotional desolation.

In spite of prominent extreme metal elements, long time Rush listeners should be immediately taken with that very familiar background keyboards in ‘Until I Too Dissolve’. But we are still skimming the surface, influences are multitude and diverse. Ihsahn traverses a progressive metal territory decked with stunning jazz to bleak black metal. Intense and sublime, Arktis, in Ihsahn’s own lyrical terms is a masterful “conjurer of sorrow”.

By Jonas Rogowski (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons