Human

Discerning structural progression with that all-consuming guitar harmony –it’s 1991, but Chuck Schuldiner was already crafting that musical transformation of Death. Sort of chiseled with mathematical precision, these riffs can be overwhelming. Add some layering and complex transformations to the mix, and Death successfully exacts an emotional toll on their listeners. A musical arrangement so aggressive and poignant — baffling how such contradictions can gracefully coexist.

A revisiting of this classic album was purely accidental. I was driving up the Cascade Loop for a quick weekend hike and Death started playing on the radio. A drive through the tunnels with “Lack of Comprehension” on stereo was one of those fine death metal moments. An uneventful afternoon hike with stunning PNW visuals — but in my head, Death’s riffs were still playing in an endless loop.

By A Sniper [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], 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.

Organic Hallucinosis

“I remember when I first heard DECAPITATED’s ‘Organic Hallucinosis’ and it just blew me away!!!!”–Tomas Haake, (MESHUGGAH). This was in the context of Vitek’s unfortunate death, at the age of 23.

Importance of Decapitated cannot be exaggerated. Intensity aside, that layered pattern of rhythm, leads and drumming — synchronized and complex. Whether it’s “Day 69”, “Post(?) Organic” or the intricately progressive “A Poem About an Old Prison Man” – Organic Hallucinosis shifts technical death into demanding musical terrains. And Decapitated accomplishes that by remaining rooted in old school structures.

Extending the scope of an established genre mandates more than just musical skill – a broader grasp of the context is equally crucial. Essentially, the album captures those alien progressive tendencies into the confines of a tried and tested death framework. Needless to say, it’s a surgical balancing act. Sheer progressive melody brewed into old school death — and without significant deviations from the genre playbook. In short, Organic Hallucinosis is a ruthless exhibition — of musical and aesthetic craftsmanship. A masterful swan song too.

Vitek (R.I.P. 2007)

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

Three Decades

Morbid Angel to Archspire is an interesting shift – from morbid dissonance to morbid like precision in about 30 years. There are numerous incremental steps between them, but this systematic dial up in technical intensity is a broader pattern evident across all metal genres. But, whether this is a progression or regression is a matter of perspective. Definitely there is no absolute hierarchy for benchmarks, they are always personal and often idiosyncratic.

These broader genre shifts are eventually propelled by all aspects of the music industry — listeners, artists, labels — everyone plays their own structural role. Within the economic constraints of the real world, music evolves only when all the involved factors reinforce each other. In other words, independent of our personal opinion, aggregate benchmarks are constantly emerging. It’s sort of a dispersed process with its own layered feedback loops. Artistic shifts experiencing positive feedback simply thrive. And in turn also become a factor propelling broader genre trajectories – just like any other interconnected ecosystem.

Image Attribution
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By invisibleoranges (IMG_1643) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Southern Storm

Two seconds of those blast beats and we discern — Southern Storm is no misnomer. From the land of Sepultura emerged another force — Krisiun — but their extraordinary precision and extremity can be a tad overwhelming. These compositions, quite like a complex death metal alloy, elevates that already intricate electric blues to over-the-top intensity. Not to mention that steady hammer of drums, constantly daunting, and recedes only when getting carved up by piercing guitars.

Rooted firmly in Terrorizer, Grave, Immolation and Nile school of old school death – Krisiun’s craft is flawless. In other words, they reflect all the essential deathly qualities — constant and subtle shifts in flow, melodic leads and demanding riff/drum patterns. Quite like Sepultura, this band of brothers consistently push musicianship to disturbing levels of fury. With songs titles like “Slaying Steel”, “Minotaur” and “Massacre Under the Sun” – lyrics become that last cowing piece of this technical death storm.

By S. Bollmann (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

Review: Perihelion Ship – To Paint a Bird of Fire

Perihelion Ship

I find “To Paint a Bird of Fire” to be a very special album. There is a sort of checklist you can go down when preparing to listen to this kind of modern extreme progressive metal, and Perihelion Ship basically hit everything on it… But they go a bit further than that.

What are some of the things on that checklist? You’ve got your combination of growled vocals and lighter ones, which we’ve seen the likes of Opeth and many others successfully employ. There are frantic passages driven by thundering double bass and softer, more atmospheric moments. Slick melodies abound in the guitar work, and there are hugely ambitious and lengthy tracks. It’s all there.

To Paint a Bird of Fire

The thing about “To Paint a Bird of Fire” is that it isn’t just all there, it’s all there for a reason. This is songwriting taken to the next level. Every time there needs to be a softer moment it comes, and every time there needs to be a burst of aggression to release a building of tension, it comes too. In addition (and this is important), despite the obvious massive amounts of instrumental talent of the musicians, there is no shying away from using simpler riffs and chord progressions as building blocks to move a song forward.

I try and find some criticism of any album when reviewing. It’s tough for this one. “To Paint a Bird of Fire” is an album I really didn’t find boring at all. Song for song, it’s put together masterfully and is a great example of how it’s often better to create a shorter, focused, and wholly structured album than have 15 songs for the sake of having lots of songs where only 3 or 4 are really good. And importantly, as mentioned above, it’s got all the items on the progressive checklist not just for the sake of being called progressive, but because when you do those things right, you can make some great music.

“To Paint a Bird of Fire” is out now and is available from Bandcamp.

Interview: CIVORTEP

Civortep

Civortep is a progressive death metal project of Stefan Petrovic who gathered a group of guest musicians to help him with the creation and release of his debut EP “The Return.”

In the interview below, Stefan explains the meaning behind the project’s name, his writing process, and more.

What made you go for the name Civortep?

It is my last name backwards, I always thought it sounded neat so for my producer name I chose to have it as that.

How do you usually describe your music?

It has a little bit of everything in it! Not exclusive of any style, but I pretty much just go with what comes to mind and sounds equally as good.

What is your writing process like?

Write, Refine, Refine, Refine. For me I can’t play a lick and have it be a polished piece of gold from the beginning. It takes a lot of refining to get it to the point that I feel it is good enough to go with. And even then I may go back and build off of it even more.

Who or what is your inspiration, if you have any?

My biggest inspiration is independent musicians that can promote themselves and build an organic image without being manipulated both in their music and persona by the industry, which in my opinion produces clones, lacking in originality, like its existence depends on it.

Civortep - The Return

What is your favourite piece on the “The Return” album?

I’m stuck between Shadow Covenant and The Return as my two favorites. The words are definitely the strongest points in my opinion, and I felt that the way I sung them expressed the emotion I was going for very well.

What makes “The Return” different?

It has a lot of elements that are very scarce within the metal community. I don’t like to be gridlocked by a method or any single type of approach, so I went all out including elements with synths, orchestra parts, and tons of sound effects.

What should music lovers expect from “The Return”?

A ton of variety that can pretty much satisfy any taste, from heavy elements, to atmospheric and melodic.

What kind of emotions would you like your audience to feel when they listen to your music?

I approached this album with a vision of including all emotions, so I hope that would translate over to the listener. There’s definitely enough variety within it to satisfy pretty much the whole emotional spectrum.

Pick your three favourite albums that you would take on a desert island with you.

Keep of Kalessin – Epistemology
Immortal Technique – The Martyr
Omar Linx – City Of Ommz

Get “The Return” from Bandcamp here. Follow Civortep on SoundCloudYouTube and Facebook.

Interview: PERIHELION SHIP

Perihelion Ship band

It can be said that a Finnish progressive death metal act Perihelion Ship offer an rollercoaster ride through Prog with their sophomore full-length release “To Paint a Bird of Fire.” Indeed, it feels as an album that has everything specific for the Prog genres since its inception in the late ’60s until today.

Mastermind Andreas Hammer walks us through the creative process for the new album.

Alright, first thing is first. Before we dive into all the music stuff, how’s life?

All is well. Trying to balance work, music and free time.

Speaking of new music, you have an album. What can people expect from “To Paint a Bird of Fire”?

“To Paint a Bird of Fire” is a little more straightforward than the debut, but the instrumentation is pretty much the same: a lot of Mellotron and Hammond Organ over heavy guitar riffs. The idea was to create a single 40-43 minute record to fit into one 12″ vinyl, like classic prog records. It ended up being a kind of a concept album, which is very evident in the lyrics.

There are two longs songs, two semi-long songs and two short songs, each displaying a variety of style in playing and composition, but still flowing nicely together.

To Paint a Bird of Fire

What was it like working on the album?

It was fun at first: I recorded the backing tracks for drum recordings with guitars and virtual instruments after the songs were written last year.

The drum recordings went very smoothly and we had much better environment recording drums than last time and the sound ended up fantastic.

After the final bass and guitar tracks were recorded and re-amped, things started to get slow and frustrating.

Jani (keyboards) had a lot of work in his hands and had to really push to get the keyboards done in his free time.

I recorded the vocals at home during spring and mixed them as well. This was the most frustrating part, as the songs did not end up sounding the way I had envisioned them at first. Even though Kris McCormick (production, engineering) had the skills to put everything together nicely in the end, the negative effect of these events started to show a bit on the practice room during spring. Due to the growing pressure, Jani and Jouko (bass) decided to quit the band during Summer. Thankfully we found replacements: Pirkka Maksimainen (keyboards) and Mikael Aalto (bass) have joined us. Both are very capable players.

Are there any touring plans in support to “To Paint a Bird of Fire”?

No not touring in the traditional sense; we are an independent act and don’t have the resources or time to tour. But we will play as many shows we can through the winter and next spring with the new lineup.

While we are on the subject of touring, what countries would you love to tour?

US definitely, cause that’s where most of our fans reside and I haven’t personally been there yet. I’d like to see the nature and smaller, more inner-cities as well as the west coastline.

In Europe, I personally enjoy Germany and Italy and their neighboring countries. And maybe visit the dear Sweden next door sometime.

Perihelion Ship

Who and what inspires you the most?

Inspiring art, nature and scientific advancements. For me, artworks have to have some kind of personal and emotional touch with them that shines through, and purely technical achievements do not really interest me (usually). This year, the new Pain of Salvation record as well as the new Bell Witch record are great examples of such art.

What other genres of music do you listen to? Have any of the other genres you listen to had any impact on your playing?

I still try to find great prog rock bands, but mostly I listen to underground metal and avant-garde. I do like synth/retrowave (you should check out Nightstop and their album “Streetwalker”) as well as classical piano music.

The fourth track from the new album; ‘River’s Three’, is inspired by classical guitar piece ‘Asturias’ by Isaac Albeniz, as well as the original Diablo -video game “Tristram theme” OST. Jani really nailed the Mellotron orchestrations in this song.

I really appreciate you giving us your time today. Is there anything else you would like to tell us and the fans before we wrap things up?

Thank you for the opportunity of being here. As most of our fans reside outside of Finland, it would be cool to record a live set and/or playthrough videos of our songs. You can find us on Facebook or www.perihelionship.fi

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=935251725/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Dismember

The initial guitar harmony is quite enticing, and well tailored to mislead that unsuspecting casual listener. As you can hear, the musical terrain flips in a couple of minutes. Lyrics, quite aptly scream — “Innocent soul dismembered…Enter the dark regions. And suffer a thousand deaths”. It’s good old Swedish brand of hardcore/punk aggression, but reconciled with guitar melody.

Dismember is an apt introduction to the early 90s Stockholm scene. Borrowing elements from their American and English contemporaries, these Swedes distilled their own characteristic flow and melody. Here, we can clearly discern that multinational lineage of Venom, Celtic Frost, Possessed, and Napalm Death.

For the uninitiated, the elegantly down-tuned melodic leads make Dismember relatively more palatable. The sheer sonic density of Entombed or Grave could be a tad intimidating. In some ways, Dismember also exhibits tendencies mostly associated with Gothenburg death, especially that of ‘At The Gates’. A closer examination reveals even more musical parallels, especially with the legendary English death metallers — ‘Bolt Thrower’.

But not just from the neighboring avenues, fascinating how back in the 80s, influences from places as far as Tampa, Florida or the Bay Area traveled back to Stockholm. Informal networks and underground tape trading channels simply emerged. Even without the World Wide Web, Altars of Madness wrecked a sonic carnage within the European scene. Simply stated, it was artistic entrepreneurship which drove the most extreme sounds on the planet. To channel a wise Scottish philosopher – death metal evolution is yet another illustration “of human action, but not the execution of any human design”.

Image attribution:
By Mattias Hedström (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons