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

De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas

For an album which emerged out of utter chaos, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is flawlessly breathtaking. Just imagine, some of the real world events surrounding its release included suicide, murder conviction, conspiracy and deception. An ancient Greek philosopher once said — “The whole is more than the sum of its parts” – never been this evident. Musically and culturally, seems like Mayhem just defined the pinnacle of Norwegian black metal, which includes all its marvels and malice.

The album derives on that Darkthrone like dissent, the same aesthetic and cultural statement. But then proceeds to elevate black metal to a stunning jazz like refinement. It’s sophisticated and raw, complex and grounded, malevolent and dazzling. A rare infernal blend – beneath the layers of intricate drums, riffs and abominable vocals is a sheer morbid coherence. Halfway into the record Csihar wails – “The past is alive” – followed by a staggering Hellhammer drum passage. Just about then you will realize, the album is unforgiving, and it’s just not going to let off on that technical intensity.

 

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By Cecil [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Immortal and Megadeth

Two brand new releases — one a remastered version of 80s metal, the other a brand new single. Compositions separated by decades, but illustrating raw melody in its most natural habitat — old school black and thrash metal — at threatening velocity. Immortal and Megadeth school of craft is on stunning display. Records developed in different eras, but still sharing a common context; Mustain proving he can play as well, or better, than Metallica — and Immortal going into studios for the first time without Abbath.

Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good is already a classic, its testament is simply its massive influence. Immortal’s new single takes no prisoners, they launch headlong into an aggression totally missing from their last few works. An icy chill descends, rewinding music to the darkest corners of mid-90s. Worth mentioning there are striking 1349 like qualities here, another essential Norwegian talent. If the whole album is even a fraction as good as “Northern Chaos Gods”, we are in for an early winter.

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By Mark Coatsworth [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Decibel Metal & Beer Fest, 2018

An Easter weekend music fest might seem whimsical – but it’s heavy metal – and it is Decibel fest. Except for some metalheads and lost travellers, an otherwise crowded Philadelphia streets were absolutely deserted by Sunday. At the Gates on Easter Eve and those picturesque Old City images on a drizzling Sunday morning – Decibel fest Day 2 had the best of preludes.

Spectral Voice, with an absolutely dim stage lighting and a matching sound is an ideal opener. Dial down those doom metal like qualities and we pretty much get the sound created by New York City death metallers — Incantation. The final three bands seek no introduction or picturesque settings. They would simply make their mark even in the void. The calmness with which Repulsion vented dissonance might have defied all the laws of physics. These grindcore veterans, perfectly composed on stage, wrecked pandemonium below.

Needless to say, Mayhem would simply double down. After that initial intimidating stage presence, an unprecedented frenzy befell. The Fillmore has seen its performances, but here the decibels were off the charts. Only the fittest survived to finally face Carcass. Two days of beer and dissonance ending with an unyielding train — of grindcore and melodic death — riffs which simply explain metal as we know it.

As Fire Swept Clean the Earth

Ivar Bjørnson (from Enslaved) talks to Decibel about his favorite song from Below the Lights.

I feel we reached a new level with the band with that song. It felt like I had broken some kind of code for the band in terms of communicating something emotional, atmosphere. We kept the rawness and aggression, but we managed to sneak in something more tender, a bit more fragile into the body of destruction, aggression and madness that extreme metal is about.

Almost a year ago, an obscure post at Progarchy:

Enslaved blends that melancholic overtones of ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’ with the ferocity of Viking metal….We can safely state; abstraction of the quirky melodic aspects of a ‘Selling England by the Pound’ and placing it within the context of 90s extreme metal has now been accomplished – with captivating surgical precision.”

Excuse the brazen self-promotion, but the mighty Ivar Bjørnson did sort of confirm my modest take. Or maybe it’s just my sleep deprivation and high blood caffeine levels talking — that 35000 ft perception – from a flight to the Atlantic coast for an Easter weekend with the likes of Incantation, Mayhem, At the Gates and Carcass.

Phoenix Rising

Among the best to have emerged from Down Under is this band named Deströyer 666 – safe to say subtlety is not exactly their virtue. These guys only entertain a single goal – stamp out the last remaining understated qualities in metal. And that’s exactly what they accomplish. Synthesized from black and thrash elements, Phoenix Rising takes extreme metal aesthetics to unprecedented loudness.

Rough harping choruses, over-the-top guitar melodies, black metal screams and galloping old school riffs. In short, 80s/90s heavy metal signatures exaggerated to the point of no return. From “Rise of the Predator“ to “I Am the Wargod” to “The Eternal Glory of War” – lyrics pretty much mirror exactly what the music conveys. With this brazen approach to composition, they manage to get through to even the most obtuse of listeners. With no frills old school structures, a style absolutely devoid of all pretenses and adequate in substance – Deströyer 666 becomes that essential cross-over band to darker genres. Needless to say, album is rated 666/666.

 

By Christian Misje (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons