Friday, May 22, 2009

the DVD that comes with Incantation- Onward to Golgotha

"Why didn't they release this DVD separately? Why does it come free with the CD?"

Because it sucks.

This DVD is interesting mainly as an FAQ: Did anyone attend Incantation shows? No. How did they dress? Always the same. Did they move around a lot while playing? No. Do the band members ever even look at each other? No.

Incantation's first two studio albums both suffer from cavernous, obscure recordings, so in theory a live performance would cut through any questions of sound quality, and capture the songs in their intensity and as-executed: there is always something artificial about death metal albums. And these 3 performances do all that, to some degree--but with the qualification that the videos here are essentially unwatchable and also unlistenable. They are all single-source VHS recordings, so the sound is very scrunched together, blown-out, and far from the impact any death metal band aims for in a performance. The best is the "Flashes" show, which is shot from a higher vantage point, and the guitar and drums can be discerned reasonably well (vocals muffled).

But, complain about this as I may, it really isn't about the sound quality or the performance style. At heart, I don't think I like or understand Incantation. I don't "get" it. Are they too cerebral? I hate to admit it, but this might be the case. They don't make it easy for me: lots of changes, atonal solos, few choruses, more "doomy" parts than breakdowns, completely unpleasant but generic vocals. Like Obituary, Incantation seem to have missed out on the original intensity of metal: the quality of up-tempo rock that Metallica have in common with the MC5. Incantation never "rock," no matter how fast they play. 

If you want to see a few really ugly guys standing on a stage making barely audible, complicated, uncatchy music that makes Deicide seem extremely charming-- this is for you.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Darkthrone- Dark Thrones and Black Flags

Here's a band that GETS IT. Killer riffs, memorable and distinct songs, nothing superfluous or "experimental," totally unique, full of personality and humor, steeped in metal history, and just a kick ass rock record. Darkthrone has made a career of making things look easy, even to the point of pretending to be far less talented musicians than they really are. That continues here, as this record is to all appearances a throwaway.

The days of Blaze in the Northern Sky, Under a Funeral Moon, and Transilvanian Hunger are long over-- this was signaled by the deeply retro stylings of Panzerfaust, and its incredible theatrical irony. One may read this back into the more "serious" albums as one likes. Panzerfaust is a triumph, but it is only with Hate Them that Darkthrone got back on its feet (after three decent but irrelevant albums)--and each subsequent record has been more of a murky, ramshackle, half-serious punk album. 

The deadly boring "cult" current black metal fans-- and by the way guys, give it up, it's SO over-- having given way to shitty indie rock fans-- and by the way guys, give it up, you are unquestionably late for anything interesting in black metal-- these demographics will never understand the new direction of Darkthrone, because this album has zero in common with "black metal" and only strives to entertain and throw a bunch of neat parts at you. None of the depressive bedroom emo (Xasthur) which passes for black metal these days. 

What I love most about this record is... the great riffs. But what I love second most is the feeling of "fun" that they must have had, and succeed in communicating through music--the last thing one expects from this genre in 2009. And so it easily ranks with the great albums by Venom or Bathory: thus miraculously reinventing and reinvigorating black metal by avoiding all the calcified trappings of its current sorry state.

Score: 4.5/5 stars (**** 1/2)
Best songs: "The Winds they call the Dungeon Shaker," "Oath Minus," "Hanging out in Haiger"

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Origin- Antithesis

Origin's third album of "brutal technical death metal" is a completely repellant, back-to-the-audience version of death metal. This record makes Deicide seem warm and cuddly. Everything from the sci-fi aesthetics, to the pretentious album title + song titles + lyrics, can be seen as a subtraction from death metal of its most "human" elements: juvenile, offensive Satanism (a "humanistic" philosophy) and/or gore (humanity reduced to gooey anatomy). 

Origin seem like they've never heard of PEOPLE. This extends to you, the record-purchaser. The only conception of a listener to be found here is a weak human set of ears to be demolished by the brutal technical etc. of these musicians.

On the other hand, destroy, pummel, annihilate, barrage, level, obliterate--they do this quite well. I don't know if this is the heaviest, most brutal music I've ever heard, but it certainly is an unrelenting and shockingly aggressive siege on sensitive ears. It is also worth praising the band for their robot-like aesthetic: this certainly spares us many of the aesthetic trends which pervade modern death metal, and is at the same time a "serious" take on the genre which I can get behind.

There is one surprising/weird thing about this album: as "technical" and riff-salad as it can be, a lot of times you find yourself thinking, "Gosh, they've been playing this riff for a *while* now..." Which should not happen in any music, but it shouldn't even be possible in this genre. I mean, do Cryptopsy ever even play the same riff twice?

In summary, this band has a couple other albums. Normally, if I'm crazy about something new, I go out and buy everything else a band has released. But this is still the only Origin album I have. It's gotten a lot of plays chez moi, but music this brain-meltingly aggressive should "add up" to something else. Origin is just good enough to avoid becoming background noise, which puts them ahead of the rest of the pack, but still behind more interesting bands. Worth checking out.

Score: 3 stars/5 (***)
Best songs: "Antithesis," "Aftermath," "The Beyond Within"