The End of Dormancy – EP

Often reminding us of 70s prog or jazz rock, and at times of their Motörhead roots, Voivod sound pretty much their usual self. Live recording adds some rough textures, but not enough to eclipse the classical symphony, or those intricate transformations, or even those strange lyrical plots. It’s also easy to notice that interesting contrast — two songs on the EP occupying slightly different ends of their musical spectrum. ‘The End of Dormancy’ reflecting their proggy sophistication, while ‘The Unknown Known’ rooted in their more dissonant past. Giving us all a glimpse into that unique set of influences only Voivod dares to blend.

Roman Horník / CC BY-SA

In Cauda Venenum

Post-Watershed, Martin Lopez and Peter Lindgren were conspicuously missing, but so was that musical coherence! It was complex progressive rock, but reflected very little of Opeth’s signature aesthetics. Even though all those vibrant influences were still present, a certain noticeable imbalance, especially in how they were composed! This is easily audible relative to In Cauda Venenum, here they bring back that all-immersive-experience of Blackwater Park and Still Life.

Their signature is exactly that ability to harmonize divergent strands. Funk to folk, jazz fusion to goth, all peacefully coexisting, a splendid harmony across discordant influences. It’s that harmony in discord when proggy riffs flawlessly transitions to strange ramblings in “Charlatan”, or when that further moves on to gothic blues of “Universal Truth”. That rich consistency in musicianship is also complemented by vocals– Åkerfeldt evokes a spectrum of emotions, almost reminiscent of Damnation.

Seems like Opeth was testing the waters with their first three prog rock records, and In Cauda Venenum is the consequence. Quite like an evolving organism, they are adding layers to their prog skeleton, bringing higher levels of coherence and texture. So, those underlying influences remain the same, but now they are gently cloaked beneath few exquisite layers of artistic splendor.

MrPanyGoff / CC BY-SA

Algorythm

Beyond Creation illustrates the same old genre influences, but in a remarkably novel way. With jazz fusion and layered signature progressions, these Canadians craft an atmosphere often too poignant for tech death. Channeling that proficient lineage running from Mahavishnu Orchestra to Atheist, Algorythm is tech death at its refined best. Demanding bass lines, odd drum patterns, and deathly grows — the band simply marvels in their unquestionable extreme metal territory.

With a structured ease and sophistication, songs bridge jazz rock segments with sheer death. Whether it’s “Surfaces Echoes” or the title track, these transformations are frequent, and happens with an Opeth like finesse. So it’s quite possible, when that atmospheric jazz fusion harmony fades into a passage as brutal as Suffocation’s, the listener might be too captivated to even realize the subtle, vital and stunningly exquisite nature of this symphony.

Image Attribution: https://beyondcreationofficial.com/gallery/

Relentless Mutation

At the frontiers of metal, and probably beyond that, resides Archspire’s dizzying precision. Here compositions proceed in convulsive strides of synchronized riff–drums and robotic vocals, stepping from one atypical rhythm to another. Abruptly switching to varying palates — from “Sound of Perseverance” like scathing guitar harmonies, to math rock signatures. But everything strung together into a seamless train, almost propelling at this dissonant pace and agility.

Drum patterns on the title track — every single beat astonishingly audible and precise, pretty much illustrates this measured approach to compositions. Even though rooted in the ‘Effigy of the Forgotten’ like riffs, those dialed down hardcore-punk influences make the band more symphonic, in a classical music sense. So, quite akin to a brutal-math-metal orchestra, with novel and yet coherent influences, Archspire is well into that inimitable territory.

 

Scourge of the Enthroned

With subtle dynamics, and a uniquely synchronized riff-drum assault, Krisiun forges ahead. Signatures here are inimitable. Not only is it old school as it ever gets, that intricate shredding and precision temporal switches simply elevates the band, altitudes above the numbing turbulence of run-of-the-mill death metal releases.

When a steady synchronized hammer of riffs and double bass runs into that hardly decipherable characteristic growls – “Slay yourself for the glorious day. When the bell tolls for the sins you have made” – it just provides that vocal finesse to this old school technical train. But, as expected, “Devouring Faith“ finally scorches its path into an electric blues like shredding, searing and relentless.

S. Bollmann [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Exercises in Futility

When that punk coarseness is braided with some outside influences, black metal becomes something more. Whether it’s ‘In the Nightside Eclipse’, ‘Nemesis Divina’ or the stunning ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ — it’s crassness with sophistication, that has elevates the genre to unusual heights. Exercises in Futility is not completely rooted in the 90s, but they channel that very sensibility, and same crudeness with atmospheric elegance.

Mgła mellows that black metal fury, almost like they applied some post-metal filters to a Burzum sound. With that constant strumming interleaved with adequate doses of tremolo picking and blast beats, the sound here becomes more streamlined. In short, there are no jarring temporal switches, but more tempting progressions. It’s not an all-out melodic assault like Dissection or Watain, but a more contoured, and structured aggression. But, quite like the black metal greats, Mgła is also moving the genre forward, beyond the confines of its Norwegian creators.

 

 

S. Bollmann [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Pleiades’ Dust

There are bands which reinforce your conception of a symphony, and then there are the ones which broaden them. Gorguts is willfully rooted in that second category. Luc Lemay’s compositions are intimidating, and at the same time curiously captivating too. It might take a while to comprehend this level of discordance. But, quite like Meshuggah, or early Slayer, Gorguts is forging new neural pathways. In other words, they are creating a totally new classification for what we call an elegant symphony. Subtly, but effectively influencing how we perceive music itself.

If Obscura is too intimidating, then Pleiades’ Dust might be that ideal prescription, something that helps us mere mortals comprehend this transformative force.

 

 

Rubén G. Herrera [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Metal Moments, 2018 Edition

“I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters: not the mortgage, not the store, not my team and all their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.” – said that guy from ‘The Fast and the Furious’. But it applies to all sorts of fanatics, whether it’s music or cars. Try living a concert at a time – and for those ten seconds of fast and furious deathly riffs, you are free. For some, a year can be simply about those collective 10 second memories.

Few months ago on my way to a Neurosis concert, I actually ran into their bassist Dave Edwardson. For a second it was difficult to believe. Fifteen feet away from crossing each other, I just stopped and looked at him. He noticed that puzzled look on the guy wearing Vader T-shirt, and simply acknowledged with a nod and a friendly smile. If this was a fortunate accident, running into Thomas Gabriel Fischer at an L.A. Koreatown Denny’s is what some might call a windfall. And this was the morning after we saw him perform a full Celtic Frost setlist. “Circle of the Tyrants” played live – as good a metal moment as it can get.

Entombed was among the most stunning live experiences of 2017, but was sort of quickly eclipsed by this year’s Easter Weekend tryst with Mayhem. Watching De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas playing out live – is as good a life moment as it can get?

But it’s not always just about epic moments, sometimes it can be epic with a touch of weird. After all metal sub-culture resides right at the fringes of civic society. For instance, Krisiun opening for Suffocation was an absolute high, but watching these death metal greats at a Salsa bar was a tad unusual. Outside the venue it was a richter scale 5.5 earthquake — walls vibrating and shutters rumbling with every dissonant note. The venue was simply not built for death metal. Well, if this was just whimsy, Dying Fetus show was positively bizarre. Midway into their setlist, Sean Beasley said — “Everyone’s welcome on stage, let’s f*** this sh*t up”. Of course, after that announcement, stage diving was off-the-charts! It was like watching an extreme metal video, people swarming on to the podium, but only this time it is unscripted. Madness went on till the event organizer came on stage and pleaded.

Unexpected moments can also sometimes leave a deeper mental imprint, and they need not be Dying Fetus level audacious. It can be just about drinking À Tout le Monde beer (Megadeth beer) and crashing a Red Fang show, even though you have tickets for Armored Saint. Or headbanging to Mastodon in an open air arena, while enduring some pacific northwest drizzle. Or all those moments when you are reminded, metalheads are fortunate for affordable tickets, and thoroughly spoiled for getting to experience legends like Paradise Lost and Morbid Angel up-close at small venues.

But there are rare disappointments too, like the new Amorphis record, and how deeply detached it is from their Black Sabbath roots. Or that moment when you read about the next leg of Slayer’s “final” tour once again passing through town – but this time only with a slightly different set of opening bands. But, highs outweigh the lows, thanks to engaging conversations and stunning riffs.

Metal X-mas and a Heavy New Year to all!