Friday, July 24, 2009

Carnage- Dark Recollections

This album came out when I was 7 years old, so when I came to it much later, it had to compete with every subsequent development in music. The "importance" of a record can of course never be a substitute for a boring listening experience, and while Carnage would be important in terms of many bands that I love (Carcass, Darkthrone, Entombed), their sole album has never caught on with me.

The whole Swedish Death Metal sound has always struck me as monotonous and formulaic. While I appreciate the blending of Discharge-style hardcore with death metal, the bands in this style forego the sense of dynamics and narrative which the American death metal bands (Death and Morbid Angel especially) took over from thrash metal--in comparison with which, Entombed are a bit "same-y."

The slow pace (for death metal), the consistent and boring atmosphere, the ridiculous chainsaw guitar tone, the guitar solos that are all the same... the entire genre is distilled into this one album, but instead of (as might be the case with another record) being able to forgive the faults of an entire genre in their first instantiation, this record does not *benefit* from its unifying tendencies. Instead, I put it on and think, after a few seconds: "Oh... THIS."

One thing that might mislead listeners is that the band never slips up: every song is consistent in quality; the genre conventions are completely adhered to; as an album it might even be "well-paced"... but like a fractal in mathematics, it looks the same no matter how "close" or "far" one's attention is set. As background music, it is background music---a heavy, thundering roar. But when one really puts one's ear up to it and pays attention.... it is still a heavy, thundering, consistent roar. You can wait the entire album's length waiting for "neat parts" or for any of the record to differentiate itself.

Now, that could be a general (naive) criticism of death metal, but what I mean here is that the TEXTURE is not different from the "big picture"... unlike, say, Suffocation, where repeated listens bring out nuances *from* a general chaos, with Carnage the surface close-up is not any more rewarding than the general impression. In fact they are the same.

As a review of this CD, I should add that (like the Nihilist demos) the demo tracks appended here have a certain raw charm that has been leveled-down for the "Sunlight Studios Sound."

Score: 3/5 stars (***)

Best songs: any will do equally well

originally written for

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Suffocation- Blood Oath

I sold my copy of the last Suffocation album (s/t), not because it was horrible, but because the "vibe" was really awful. I'll cite some lyrics:

Stop talking to me...
My father once told me to shut up, shut up

Do I know you?...
Where do I belong?
Shut up, shut up you...

Whereas the better style of death metal lyrics is represented by these *other* Suffocation lyrics:

The structure collapses, spewing forth mutation.
Plague bathes the earth from infected skies.
Chaotic saturation into the pores of existence.
Breeding the spawn.
Effigy awake in its mummified region.

If I can be clever about this: what makes death metal lyrics tolerable is their abstractness, lacking the I & You of rock music--because all of this is being shouted at full volume. When someone is yelling "Shut up!" or "I want to kill you!", the effect is lost, and I am snapped back into the reality that "these are sounds I would avoid having shouted at me in real life."

Since Suffocation's singer has begun to enunciate better, the decline of their lyrics into unpleasant personal rage has become distracting to the listener (i.e. one does not have to consult the lyrics sheet); I also feel that this decline is typical of the not-being-with-it that afflicts older bands.

One assertion of this blog as a whole is that one can tell whether music is good or bad--there isn't some special degree required. You put on old Suffocation--it's amazing. You put on the new Suffocation--but instead of trying to hold it up to their old sound, to look for errors, to make sure that it is "consistent,"--ask, "Is it amazing?"

And the answer is obviously that it's not. Enjoying music shouldn't have to be work.

Given the template established by previous albums, and one's "training" in the art of listening to Suffocation, one obviously will have the appearance of satisfaction... and perhaps for those experiencing the band/style for the first time, this will be a revelation. But the first few times I put this on, I was staring my eyes out of my head asking whether it was good or not. And that just shouldn't be a question; it never was a question with their devastating earlier work.

On this album, Suffocation have bounced back from the woeful uncoolness of their last record, but at best they have achieved a confusion between what *appears* to be a proficient and rewarding album, and the actual *rewards* (neat parts!) of such a record. Only for those with no need of paying attention to metal, who will be satisfied with the trappings. Paradoxically here, paying attention means: knowing what pleasure (hardly the most "attentive" state) is, apart from the "up-close" of the coherent and professional texture one is presented with.

Score: 3 stars/5 (***)
Best songs: "Images of Purgatory," "Dismal Dream"