Burzum – “Belus”

Posted in Reviews on March 13, 2010 by J. Swist

Introducing the most anticipated Black Metal release of the millennium. Imprisoned for murdering Mayhem guitarist Euronymous, Varg “Count Grishnackh” Vikernes is now free to take his infamous musical legacy to magnificent new heights. With a back catalogue widely regarded as the best albums in Black Metal, Belus proves that Varg’s talents as a songwriter never faded after all these years.

As for the controversy, it’s best to treat Burzum and Varg’s crimes and writings as separate. He himself assured that the band stands only for music and not the right-wing extremism of his published views. A recent interview states, “if those who are not like me are able to enjoy my music that is all fine by me. Be a Christian-born black gay feminist converted to Judaism for all I care, or worse, a Muslim. Just stay off my lawn.”

Belus is an all-Norwegian concept album centered on its eponymous solar deity, whose familiar manifestations include Baldr and Apollo. The introductory track “Leukes Renkespill” chimes in with the hammer and anvil of the Loki, a.k.a. Hephaistos, stressing the common ancestry of Indo-European mythologies.

The first real song, “Belus’ Død,” is a sinister march into the past, right back to early 90’s Norway. In fact it would fit perfectly on his second album Det Som Engang Var, though with tremolo harmonies that bring Filosofem to mind. On the one hand this is classic Burzum, with simple drumbeats and signature melodies. On the other hand, it’s immediately evident that Varg’s prowess as a guitarist has not only survived prison, but has also taken a quantum leap.

Vocal-wise, Varg’s still got it, though his trademark screams have matured into an echoing shriek that suits the warmer, but still raw-as-hell production—likely due to the use of digital and no longer analog equipment. At parts, he seems in dialogue with himself with clean-sung chants and an incredibly effective use of spoken word verses, which often introduce new themes within songs. For example, “Kaimadalthas’ Nedstigning” oscillates between an angry blast-beat riff and a chanted refrain before launching into perhaps the most majestic moment on the album, where Varg’s guitar work shines brightest.

“Glemselens Elv” may be the most beautiful Burzum song ever written, with a melody guaranteed to make you sway to and fro in a meditative trance. All the while tremolo riffs float above the rhythm in perfect harmony. It clocks in at eleven minutes, one for every year since we’ve gotten a release from this stellar songwriter.

This mastery should be noted in the album’s perfect structure, which with each song increases the tempo, peaks at “Sverddans” (featuring an old school guitar solo), then decreases till by the final song the drums have simply melted away.

A key feature of the early 90’s albums was the presence of ambient tracks, here absent. This is well forgiven by the fact that his prison term gave us two full electronic albums in the form of Dauði Baldrs and Hliðskjálf.

In short, this is not your typical comeback album. This is the product of a decade-and-a-half of refinement and meditation, and we all knew it would come one day. So here it is, a landmark release that should set the standard for extreme metal in the new decade.

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KNOWLEDGETHIRST

Posted in Miscellaneous on January 30, 2010 by J. Swist

We bring you the culmination of over two years of study of Western civilization as provided by the UMaine Honors College. Knowledgethirst is the ultimate expression of the debt we owe to our educators, as well as to the millennia of great minds whose ideas have shaped ourselves and our view of the world. From the ancient Greeks to the Enlightenment philosophes and beyond, the corpus of Western wisdom is synthesized into an energizing beverage fit for media consumption.

For those who dont spend too much time on the Internet, Knowledgethirst is directly inspired by Powerthirst, a supercharged energy drink franchise as presented by two monumental feats of advertisement two years ago. It is mandatory that you watch these two videos lest you be lost to Knowledgethirst’s poetic charm:

Powerthirst 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRuNxH…
Powerthirst 2 – Re-Domination:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-3qnc…

Script and narration by Jeremy Swist. Produced and designed by Zev Eisenberg.

Robocop – “Demo 2009”

Posted in Reviews on January 28, 2010 by J. Swist

What happens when you watch too many nerdy movies? What happens when you spend too many hours in the Collaborative Media Lab? What happens when the majority of bands in the state of Maine produce God-awful music?

For three UMaine students, you form a band called Robocop. Then you pack a plenitude of creative energy into twelve minutes of madness. Powerviolence is the name of the game: abnormally fast, hardcore blasting combined with groovy riffs of the metal variety. Some call it thrashcore. Yet reflecting guitarist Ryan Page’s approach to music, “to add something that makes it better,” Robocop toss in a sinister dosage of doom.

This is the same Ryan Page who made this paper last semester with his solo project, Body Hammer. His dedication to the guitar and devoted study of experimental music composition in new media help Robocop stand out. He skillfully combines his passion for innovation with homage to bands like Napalm Death and Municipal Waste. Luke Abbott, another stand-up New Media major, proves his skill on the bass to add just as much depth of artistry as of sound. The experimental doom influences of his solo band GiantGiant introduce the record with foreboding force. Tom Bennett’s lightning speed as a drummer matches his technical prowess as a jazz percussionist. All three members shout, growl and scream satire of our silly society.

Right away, Robocop get their point across and take no prisoners. One close listen will tell you these aren’t just a bunch of angry kids wrecking their instruments for its own sake — they know their stuff. Each song combines engaging riffs with irresistibly head-bangable drumming. Thrash metal fans take note. Bursts of speed and groovy chord progressions are book-ended by two trance-inducing doom tracks, the latter drenched in guitar effects.

The demo on its own is fun in small doses, but for those with longer attention spans, I wouldn’t call it a soundtrack to a rainy afternoon. Robocop is a band meant to play live, as the production aims to advertise. It’s merely a lure to see these guys in real life, and boy do they put on a show. Their recent performance at Jester’s in Brewer filled a small space, and a small crowd, with much enthusiasm. They even smashed a guitar on stage just to make an ambiguous political statement.

This short demo is hopefully a taste of what’s to come and surely worth a listen. Download it free from their Web site (robocop.me) or ask for a copy from a band member in nothing other than a brown paper bag. Got to love the underground. Just be warned that Powerviolence isn’t for everybody; if everyone loved Powerviolence, bands like Robocop would lose their purpose, namely, hating on local bands that are more popular than good.

So what does this band have to do with “Robocop” the movie? Absolutely nothing. The band’s moniker has everything to do with the expectation of what only a gaggle of intelligent musicians can create.

Marduk – “Wormwood”

Posted in Reviews on October 28, 2009 by J. Swist

 

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What’s this, bass solos? In MY Black Metal? Is this the Marduk we know and love? That depends on your relationship with this infamous Swedish syndicate.

The familiar Marduk earned their reputation with 1999’s Panzer Division Marduk, a half hour of constant blast-beat drumming and guitar riffs like a blizzard of daggers. Coupled with this extreme take on the genre, smacked with the pejorative of “Norsecore,” was the band’s lyrical fascination with World War II. The false reputation of Nazi sympathy was likely influential on the visas denied them for US tours.

So what has become of Marduk in the past decade? 2004’s Plague Angel was the perfection of the formula, with superior production and the vocal virtuosity of Mortuus. The result was a relentless storm of hellfire, never again recaptured. Why? They gave into criticism, and 2007’s Romans 5:12 saw a forced attempt at progression: more emotional melodies, clean vocals, and slower tempos. But as Daniel Dennett said, true evolution produces “competence without comprehension.” Change cannot be forced, it must occur naturally.

With Wormwood, Marduk starts over, closer to the merciless fury of Plague Angel, but at the same time more dynamic and mature. Whereas prior experiments separated standard all-blasting songs and slower, groovier songs, tracks on this album have more transitions within the songs. This allows the intensity to be more consistently sustained, producing a more flowing, cohesive narrative.

Mortuus, as his name suggests, is the voice of death, one of the best in the genre. His vitriolic vocals range from throat-ripping shrieks, to guttural growls, to yells of malefic triumph. His variegated performance fits well the band’s departure from being a one-trick-demon-pony. The riffs, cleverly crafted as always, now sport the alliance of engaging drum rhythms just as much as the ruthless blast-beat attacks, in which this band is often accused of overindulging. All these elements combine most perfectly on the track “Into Utter Madness,” a malevolent onslaught both catchy and complex.

As my initial perplexity implies, the bass guitar on this album enjoys much more prominence than on your typical Black Metal opus. Its place in the production offers a fuller, deeper sound absent from the thinner, icier works of the past. On the other hand, this incites more claustrophobia than the cavernous Romans 5:12. The handful of bass solos, such as what ends the opening track, glimpse the more emotional side of Marduk, unveiling the undercurrent of sorrow beneath this aural vortex of violence.

Lyrically, the band has backed away from tanks and concentration camps, to the safer territory of death and blasphemy. The controversy was key to their identity, but if this is the price of letting these guys tour the US, I’ll take it.

So how does Wormwood measure up? On the one hand, it’s a marked improvement over the forced evolution of the previous album. Sadly, the spirit of that Black Metal blitzkrieg called Plague Angel could not be harnessed again. Still, through blood and iron, Marduk have sealed their status among the signature acts of Scandinavian Extreme Metal.

Body Hammer – “Jigoku”

Posted in Reviews on September 30, 2009 by J. Swist

Body Hammer - Jigoku

Imagine yourself slowly transforming, losing your humanity to a cancer of scrap metal consuming your body from within. Imminent terror grips your mechanizing limbs. A fetishistic maniac is turning you against your loved ones, then against yourself, and finally, against mankind.

Now set that nightmare to music and Jigoku is a frighteningly close approximation. UMaine’s own Ryan Page, inspired by the 1989 film Testuo: The Iron Man, interprets this experience beyond the bounds of musical orthodoxy, crafting a truly unique opus of terror.

For those out of the loop, Tetsuo is a cyberpunk horror-fantasy by Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto. Filmed in black-and-white, this disturbing achievement of cinematography soon earned cult status. Body Hammer doesn’t necessarily rewrite the soundtrack to this movie—the late-80’s industrial rock score was appropriate enough. Rather Jigoku translates its themes into a musical journey into an abyss of madness, despair, and nihilistic rage.

Before even opening the package, Jigoku‘s cover art conveys the essence of the Tetsuo concept: the hideous fusion of man and machine envisioned in the art of H. R. Giger. Witness a dark future: the obsolescence of humankind to technology. Think of the mental anguish of being the only remaining biological entity in a matrix of metal.

Musically, this boils down to cybergrind in counterpoint to dark ambient industrial—a mouthful, I know. Body Hammer doesn’t fall into pigeonholes. Rather, we have an amalgam of influences. On the one hand, we get grindcore: extremely short bursts of insanely fast drumming, riffing, and hardcore vocals. “The Bystander Effect” and “Blue Eyed Assassin” strike like lightning from the brooding storm cloud that is this album. Nor is this cookie-cutter grindcore. Metal is a key element in the riffing, especially on tracks like “29 Second Stairway.”

On the other hand, we have a prevailing ambient element, with atmospheres of distorted guitars and distant screams. Occasionally we hear clean guitar chanting a haunting eastern melody. But as suits the theme, the human element is stifled by the impending mechanical world, an industrial morass collapsing upon the listener. This is best achieved at “The Square Root of 964,” the closest the album comes to Black Metal—this track could have easily gone on the latest Black Funeral album.

I cannot stress enough that this is challenging music, a work in and of itself, and not a soundtrack. It is a carefully crafted conception of a purgatorial spiral of the mind. So support local music and pick this up. And if you dare, check out Tetsuo the Iron Man for a visual complement. Jigoku is proof that New Media students do much more than worship Steve Jobs and Adobe Photoshop.

Behemoth – “Evangelion”

Posted in Reviews on August 21, 2009 by J. Swist

Evangelion

“All hail slain and risen god!
All hail Dionysus!”

They have returned, the most blasphemous force out of Poland since the heliocentric model. Evangelion translates to “good news,” in this case for the Behemoth fanboys; but recent critics should pay attention to this remarkable improvement over 2007’s The Apostasy. Fans of Zos Kia Cultus should delight in this return to form, while those who acclaim Demigod shall witness a stunning progression. However, that’s not to say either work has been surpassed. Still, it’s awkward to give such praise to a Metal act so commercially exalted as to appear at Ozzfest and like events so abhorrent to the Underground.

Expectedly, this is the modern Death Metal Behemoth has come to epitomize: professional production, chaotic riffing and solos, and gratuitous amounts of blast-beats. Add in the band’s trademark use of Asiatic melodies, ancient mythology, and overuse of the preposition “Ov.”

Opening hymn “Daimonos” blasts off with all guns blazing, as does “Shemhamforash,” with such passionate violence not achieved since “Slaves Shall Serve.” Arguably the strongest tracks on the album, they envelope the listener in a maelstrom of blast-beats and blood-pumping riffs. Behemoth sacrificed technicality so as to honor the wall-of-sound principle, often borrowing Black Metal elements to achieve depth and flow. Jumping ship to a new producer also helped.

A little known fact is that Behemoth started out as pure Black Metal in the mid 90’s, and such reminisces permeate the album: an arpeggio here, a tremolo there, and even some Mayhem-style melodies. You’ll hear this especially in the closing track, where the band steps out of character for a simplistic, yet utterly sinister postlude.

Of course, this is Death Metal at its heart. “Transmigrating Beyond Realms Ov Amenti” could have come straight off of Demigod, sustaining a high level of brutality throughout the album. Matching this is Nergal’s vitriolic vocals, sounding pissed-off as ever. It’s a shame his Black Metal scream is completely gone. Inferno mixes up the cymbal work and fills on top of his nearly constant blasting, but his other drum patterns are too few and uninteresting. Orion’s bass, while adding firepower, does nothing remarkable (though I still recommend his band Vesania).

This being the band’s ninth studio album, it’s no surprise their dearth of fresh ideas. Few things, not even the guitar solos, are exceptional. Rather the album works on a consistent theme, rather than a mediocre sequence punctuated by sensational singles. However, the band has already premiered a music video for “Ov Fire and Void,” parts of which remind me of the one Rammstein did for “Mein Teil.” The downside of such homogeneity is that the formula gets tedious after a while. Three or four songs into it, you’ve gotten all it has to offer, and the rest is recycled material until the recessional hymn in this unholy mass of ordinary time.

This year has seen a dramatic resurgence of old school Death Metal, with stellar releases by Asphyx, Excoriate and Slugathor (personal chart-toppers). But as always, Behemoth continue to carry the new school’s standard into battle against religion, society and your eardrums.

Summer Vacation

Posted in Miscellaneous on May 20, 2009 by J. Swist

This post is to excuse my lack of posting here in recent times and for the rest of the summer. The Vergil’s Inferno project should still be going strong, but as far as Metal goes, I won’t be too active in that sector aside from my attendance at Maryland Death Fest May 22-24. I may post some pictures from that festival and even a show review. But the entirety of my summer will be absorbed in my reemployment at the Squire Tarbox, boatloads of books, and the aforementioned thesis project. 

Enjoy your summer and keep it trve.