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At the Gates – Glorious Swedish Death Metal

September 25, 2011 Leave a comment

At the Gates - "Slaughter of the Soul"

[Editor’s note – I am going to spend the next week or two doing something different here; I plan to plow through my record collection where I have all kinds of metal treasures languishing in un-listened obscurity. Some of them are old and some of them are (relatively) new, but all of them are neglected slabs of vinyl that I need to tackle – to listen to and write about. So I am going to try to crank out one short post every day about some of these albums.

This exercise will not only give me the opportunity to listen to some new stuff, but it will also allow me to explore the origins of today’s wild and wooly contemporary metal scene. In other words, it will help me figure out how we got Maldavian progressive death metal, Greek operatic metal, Israeli Oriental metal, Chilean doom metal, and Bulgarian dark industrial metal.]

At the Gates – “Slaughter of the Soul” (Expanded Edition) (Earache Records, 1996)

First up is At the Gates’ 1996 masterpiece of Swedish melodic death metal “Slaughter of the Soul.” This album confirmed that At the Gates weren’t like other death metal bands. Sure, the disc is chock full of thrash tempos, crunching guitars, and  Maiden-like melodic riffs and solos, but it also featured several developments that set it apart from ye olde generic Swedish death metal.

At the Gates – “Slaughter of the Soul” <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJme5uubkyQ>

The first innovation I notice was Tomas Lindberg’s vocal style. He doesn’t bark, growl or vomit – pick your verb – the usual Cookie Monster style of death metal vocals. Instead he sings at a higher pitch that sounds like Kermit the Frog would sound like if Kermit tried to sing while Miss Piggy wrung his neck. I didn’t say it was better than the Cookie Monster type; I just said it was different. And, honestly, there has to be a happy middle ground between these two Muppet-derived vocal styles.

The second difference between At the Gates and the rest of Swedish death metal is the lyrics of their songs. Let’s face it, the last thing heavy metal needs is more songs about wizards and demons and, thankfully, “Slaughter of the Soul” confounds the death metal stereotypes by not including a single song about swords, trolls, halberds, dragons, dwarves or Satan. The album consists of paens to existential dark nights of the soul instead of songs about their dark overlord. And I, for one, cheer this innovation.

At the Gates’ album “Slaughter of the Soul” is glorious Goteborg death metal at its best.

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Nick’s Condensed Metal Reviews: Liberté, égalité, le mal!

September 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Wolves in the Throne Room - "Celestial Lineage"

Here are some random observations on the HEAVY:

Wolves in The Throne Room – “Celestial Lineage” (Southern Lord Recordings) – Balanced on the knife’s edge of transcendent impulse to one side and embarrassing pretension to the other this somehow works – even the blackened Windham Hill interludes. Not quite genius, but close. I hope that the fact that “Woodland Cathedral” was featured on NPR made some pockmarked basement dwelling kvlt fuckwit’s head explode.

Liturgy – Aesthethica (Thrill Jockey) –  Too much of a good thing. It is funny how I liked this so much more before I heard all of it. It’s not bad at all, it just reminds me of Yngwie Malmsteen – in that 13 year old locked in a bathroom kinda way. I’m glad they are doing what they are doing, particularly that drummer – jerk-off or not. I just can’t listen to the whole thing. Small doses.

Brett Easton EllisImperial Bedrooms – Darker and immeasurably more disturbing than the blackest of black metal. Suffocating. Brilliant.

Asva – “Presences of Absences” (Important Records) – Along with Earth, Sunn ((O)) and Wolves this guy is pushing the boundaries. On my first listen I was non-plussed – the vocals grated – but I keep coming back. Arvo meets metal.

Pitchfork.com interview with Leviathan – Can he really be as stupid as he comes off ? Probably. He was right about:

Deafheaven – “Roads To Judah” (Deathwish Music) – Of all the Metalish bands to discover their older siblings My Bloody Valentine records these guys may be the best. Nothing groundbreaking, but solid workmanlike novel combinatory action.

In a previous installment I praised Deathspell Omega‘s “Paracletus.” After living with the record for a few months it occurs to me that one of the things that sets them apart is funk. Sweaty crotched, syncopated, dynamic, able to perform sexually funk. They are French so this is no huge surprise. These Gallic freaks seem to be a microcosm of their proud culture and make a music that in spite of their silly satanic posturing seems to be, at least in part, about sense gratification. Bless their blackened berets. Liberté, égalité, le mal!

Earth vs. Tinariwen: Soundtracks for a Painful World

Earth - "Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light" (Southern Lord, 2011)

The Great Recession and its continuing aftershocks have claimed another casualty recently: my blog. Who has time to listen to music and write about it when you only have a couple of hours to sleep between shifts at work? Today, Labor Day, is a good time to jump back into Pitch Black Brigade because it is a day without work – at least without the kind of labor that pays.

To celebrate the mighty PBB’s return, I plan to do something a little different; I am going to revisit a record I have already reviewed – Earth’s “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light, I” (Southern Lord Recordings, 2011) – and pair it with a new and unusual disc – Tinariwen’s “Imidiwan: Companions” (World Village, 2009). I decided to revisit Earth’s record because they are playing at the Earl in East Atlanta next Sunday, September 13th. The title of today’s post is a little misleading, though. I am not going to pit Earth against Tinariwen in a Texas Cage Match (a reference to 1970s pro wrestling and not the Octagon©). Instead I will compare and contrast the two albums because Earth cited Tinariwen as an influence on “Angels of Darkness.”

Some background first. Earth crawled from the speaker-melting, primordial ooze around Olympia, Washington in 1990. At one time they were members of the immortal and outrageous Sub Pop empire and now they serve as one of the pillars of the mighty Southern Lord Recordings. What type of music do they play? Well, Earth created drone metal twenty some odd years ago. They fused the sludge-like doom style of The Melvins with the minimalism of early Black Sabbath riffs and then slowed the tempos to a standstill. In the years since the band’s founding, the personnel has changed frequently but Earth has always played long songs with slow tempos. As I mentioned in my earlier review (which you can read here), Earth’s tempos are slow, really slow – they are glacial, as in the ice ages came and went at a faster rate. Regardless of which permutation of the band you listen to Earth specializes in contemplative songs shot through with an overwhelming sense of impending doom and disintegration.

Tinariwen - "Imidiwan: Companions" (World Village, 2009)

On the other hand, Tinariwen are a Tuareg band, a band from Saharan African. The Tuaregs are nomads from the Sahara desert in Algeria, Mali, Niger and Libya. Drought and war, however, have forced them to abandon their nomadic ways and settle into urban areas. Tinariwen’s name translates into “empty places” and the music they play is called “Tishoumaren” or the “music of the unemployed.” At various times their music has been outlawed in Algeria and Mali because they champion the rights of nomadic people suffering under oppressive, repressive and distant – in geographic terms – regimes. Western music critics usually peg Tinariwen as “desert blues” because they play cycling and circular guitar-based riffs in which minimal additions and subtractions propel the songs along. I think this label is a disservice to the band and to the musical style, because it makes it sound like they heard John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters or Howling Wolf and decided, “let’s play American blues.” Their music is more organic and homegrown than that. Now, I will concede that Tinariwen are like the blues because they are the soundtrack of a subjected people just like the blues use to be before Cracker beatniks and hippies discovered it in the 1960s.

Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I

There is no easy way to enter an Earth album. You can’t dip your toes in and slowly work you way through it regardless of whether the band was intent on tube blowing feedback and overtones or jazzy Americana sound sculptures. It’s has to be all or nothing – total immersion with full dedication – and “Angels of Light, Demons of Darkness I” is no exception. The first thing that strikes you about Angels is the fact that this not disposable, mass produced music. This album requires commitment, a commitment of time and effort, and like all good art you are rewarded for it as the dense but torpid songs unfurl at a contemplative but disturbing pace.

Earth – “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I

Songs like “Angels of Darkness” – all twenty gut-wrenching minutes of it – have a sense of space built into them. They are songs where slight variations of a theme produce tectonic shifts in the mood and momentum of the song.

Imidiwan: Companions

“Imidiwan” came out the year before Earth’s latest offering and Earth’s Dylan Carlson cited Tinariwen as an influence on “Angels of Darkness.” Tinariwen drone too, but they drone in a less self-conscious way than Earth. Their songs like “Tahiut In” feature languid and loping guitar riffs that inevitably circle back to a chorus. The songs on “Imidiwan” are more rhythmic but less percussive than Earth.

Tinariwen – “Tahiut In

Tinariwen always sounds like a group of friends getting together to play on a Saturday night. Although there are traces of sadness and outrage in the music, there is also an overwhelming feeling of communal healing in the music, a quality of finding strength in and through the music. Earth is saturated with a bleak darkness that Tinariwen lacks. I am convinced the difference comes from the difference in tempos and because there are no vocals on “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I.” The backing vocals on “Imidiwan” and all of Tinariwen’s records lend a hopeful almost joyous quality to the song regardless of the subject matter. The Tinariwen platter also lacks the drama of the Earth disc. Now, honestly, there is very little drama in Earth songs but it always seems to be lurking or at least happening off camera, if you will.

We are living in painful times – times that are painful economically, culturally and psychologically. This pain is evident in music from Saharan Africa and in Washington state even if the bands approaches to it differ.