#010: Shrine of Mad Laughter
verything has its opposite. For the righteous, there are the wicked; for the lucky, there are the unlucky, and for those that live, there are those that die. The ancient Hebrews gave us yamin; the ancient Romans, sinister. Inevitably, these words grew into even more divergent connotation—that of the Right Hand Path and that of the Left Hand Path. This monthly column will celebrate all that resides in the shadow of the left, regardless of religious allegiance or format.
Deathspell Omega - Fas – Ite Maledicte In Ignem Aeternum
[Norma Evangelium Diaboli / The Ajna Offensive]
It's albums like these that potentially destroy friendships. The long-awaited third station of Deathspell Omega's vaunted trilogy has so far managed to be even more polarizing than their last and comparatively well-received and accordant disc, Kénôse.
Solidifying its reputation on cogent, demanding releases, Deathspell Omega has larded each effort with dense lyrical content—extrapolations rife with theosophical musings and a muscular and concentrated effort to understand, characterize and illuminate "The Messiah" not as heavenly emancipator, but as dogmatic incarcerator, caning the hand extended; bowing in ecstatic reverence as once stark designations of "good" and "evil" conflate into nothing so much as similar shades of bird-shit gray.
Begun with the thunder words of Si Monumentum Requires Circumspice, and elaborated in the exegeses that typified Kénôse, Deathspell Omega often unified art, word and song in potent triumvirate, coldly mechanized in its analysis, prejudicial in its wrath. With Fas – Ite Maledicte In Ignem Aeternum (Go, [ye] sinners/cursed, into eternal fire...) the ensemble eschews its clinical approach and rambles unwittingly, its lyrics dealt in soft, unfocused ambiguity, delighting in its nihilism, playful in its forthrightness. Gleaned from the Gospel, the title teases in its incompleteness, finding full expression in Matthew 25:41, "Jesus says, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'" Hebrew Bible is pilfered as well, with marginally relevant quotations from Isaiah and Jeremiah reworked as some sort of first-person confessional, an emptying of the mind and body that ultimately reads like a morose MySpacer overdosed on Aquinas. When the text isn't seemingly taken piecemeal from American fire-and-brimstone theologian Jonathan Edwards, paraphrased from Sinners in the Hands of and Angry God, a peculiar creole of Church Latin and Koine Greek works impotently to command credibility.
So much Calvinistic bleakness vacillating with directionless ruminations on the nature of sin makes for a jarringly confused program, which has so far provoked the lot of Internet and print scribes either to silence and deferment, or guffaw inducing hubris with eureka addled reviews that cite passage and intent, poking limp digits into confused orifices that remain taciturn, refusing to give up what they hold so tightly in their wells. Brandon Stosuy did what he could—which is admittedly never enough—and directed interested folks to The Ajna Offensive for explanation. "Imhotep" crafted a "review" out of hyperbole masked as prayer. Others have offered more of the same, content to share the same lens, to shovel their scat through the same filter, and ultimately declare Fas… Deathspell Omega's magnum opus.
—And why not? With Fas… the group offers a work composed with great care so as to appear as less of a product and closer to a more personalized, individual piece of art. Taking things a step further than their far-reaching contemporaries (Watain, Dissection, Celtic Frost and Ruins of Beverast), DsO have continually extended this format not only to the music's broad, undefined character—void of riffs, chorus and verse—but to the album's packaging as well. The cover's strongly Blakean image of an oddly proportioned man falling from an immeasurable height, plummeting behind rays of golden beams is uncluttered by band logo or album title.
Inside, words are laid out with similarly spare illustrations of dejected human creatures blistered before an enemy star; images once more unaccompanied by the standard credits, never to mix with these assorted arcana. All names, dates and equipment are again withheld and the group's anonymity remains thus far well protected. Such precautions, however, (if we entertain that they are like a limb onto a greater body of work) while probably unnecessary to begin with (in as much as it does little harm to those albums the genre is founded on), are here incapable of transforming from prettified mass-commodity to anything other than shallow heresies.
Contrary to formerly inspired and mission-like focus on devotional concepts mixed with black, spiteful humor, the otherwise immaculate performance delivered on Fas… produces distinctly vulgar effects. The album does not easily inspire poetry or the imagination. Nor does it evoke any complex feelings beyond a dazzled response to the force of its mammoth, flustering arrangements. Techniques sound like no more than what they are. Its rigorous and studied composition is the voice of acquisition, placing a strict emphasis on primal to heady drum work which steers the devious rhythm into infernal chaos or else holds down transparent reprieve by way of pallid jazz joints, passed off with little to no transition between tempos. Netted grooves are dug inside of awkward time changes, phrases which sound almost chopped and screwed, mixed up with a bag of processed beeps and stuttering string effects, providing ornamentation where nuance is badly desired.
Which is to say it's like an Origin record produced by Mike Patton, held together more by the blurring speed of it's quirky, extremely LOUD production than either threads of melody or even an interesting vocal delivery (Mr. X sounds even more caged and disinterested here, plying the same curled-lip, perverted spittle to all and sundry artifices, even as his partners apply dynamism all over the goddamn place). It's more albatross than anchor and by the time the album breaks midway, it might not be that bad to have the Peeping Tom roll out to spice things up.
Drowsy interludes of slight chorals serve more like intermissions from this dense, miscellaneous set, completed by a painfully cheesy outro that reaches symphonic overdose fairly soon. Even while retaining certain motifs over the last three years, such changes in style are experienced like a sudden flash of lightning, a shared epiphany of the new band formed—symbolically or even physically—under this same banner, now placing the continuity within this supposed arc primarily in the text itself.
[Todd DePalma & Stewart Voegtlin]
Chaos Horde - Demo 1986
For the first time since their short lived exposure on 1988's Metal Massacre IX compilation, Baton Rouge's unsung thrash heroes finally have their day on LP. Just how and why these seven songs came to be released twenty years later is a strange matter of circumstance. Not carrying with it the typical "crossover" sound, the original tape unusually became the cult object of some later Louisiana punkers, one of whom now owns the Psycho Wolf label. Readers should take care not to fall into the wild hype surrounding the release, but also know that the untitled demo remains, even today, a solid effort tuned into the best of the then dominant Bay Area sound.
While nothing is kept hidden in this respect—the opening riff of "Needle Damage" is an obvious nod to the one used in Metallica's "Metal Militia"—Chaos Horde maintain a unique charisma brought forth in weltering vocals, mashed up rhythm and convulsive melody punching through the drywall and swamp heat until you nearly have the underside pattern of a high-top tattooed on your face. Some small vindication then, as we're reminded that even while some of their peers were able to at least cut a record before fading to black, none of them ever wrote anything as skillfully savage as "Razor's Edge," "Total Death," and "Mad Monk."
Obituary - Xecutioner's Return
In the days when the names Morbid Angel, Deicide, and Acheron accurately described the feeling and effects of their respective sounds, it was Obituary who first held rule over the Southern marshland of Florida, then the center of American death metal. But after three albums, inevitable fatigue had set in and personal as well creative problems would obtund their reign to a bitter and embarrassing end. After an ill-considered reunion and one desperately rushed album (Frozen in Time) in 2005, the band seems to have now comfortably regressed back to formula. For despite advertising one of the most infantile and poorly matched paintings ever hatched by famed heavy metal artist Andreas Marschall, Xecutioner's Return (a reference to their original moniker, now a glossy cartoon character) appears from all other angles as a small but noticeably improved effort.
Paraphrasing blunt-toned guitar grunts styled after Celtic Frost, Obituary may be unable to measure up to their best-regarded Cause of Death-era, but at least provides the salve critics of Monotheist have since vocally pined for. Aside from briefly crossing over into hardcore punk ("Seal Your Fate") and the addition of session guitarist Ralph Santolla—mercenary of choice for Florida's once untouchable brood—as a likely permanent replacement for the recently incarcerated Allen West, few other surprises are in store. Needless to say, Santolla is by far the most talented and versatile performer on record, is undoubtedly a better fit here than his prior stint in Deicide and is likely due to receive the same unequal share of praise with his lavish and at times clever lead work carrying much of the material. Meanwhile, vocalist John Tardy, no longer fresh off a collaborative payday with death-rapper Necro, keeps such tendencies nil. 10 tracks. 40 minutes.
Slough Feg - Hardworlder
[Cruz Del Sur]
Riffs come to life as the 17 years strong Slough Feg set hands to work building starships of electric blue sky and steel; updating the sea-faring hymns of old Britannia to a sci-fi space epic—where heavy metal dregs sail on through celestial warp and woof for this most vividly crafted, 20th century sampler. Tracks stomp, surf and cut through their own golden age of vintage bass and guitars, lead after lead stealing and steering the album through eras well known, worn and spun repeatedly; refashioned with the skill and sense necessary to stand on its own here and now.
Armed with baritone tales mapped directly off the novels of Alfred Bester, the album’s concept cleverly adapts, carrying over themes from both Blake ("Tiger! Tiger!") and Jack London ("Sea Wolf") while spirited band leader, Michael Scalzi—succeeding Sabbat's Martin Walkyier as the genre’s premiere storyteller- holds it all down with a perfect blend of solid rhymes and thespian delivery shot between the way stations. Though mostly a salute to mid to late-seventies guitar-rock, the pair of "Poisoned Treasures" and "Insomnia" returns aggression and grandeur back from the earlier feast of jams. Later, taking on both influential cult acts Manilla Road and Irish folk band the Horselips, Slough Feg continues to mix Celtic myths into the latest comic-colored odyssey. Hardworlder is the past and the future which fantastically eclipses their contemporaries, as well those reunited forbearers from across the Atlantic, driving them all out further to a galaxy far, far away…
Throneum - The Unholy Ones
While other longhairs spend inordinate amounts of time preening for the gallery crowd or genuflecting to fashion’s cyclical interest with Metal, relatively unknown bands like Poland’s Throneum unleash incredibly entertaining and excellent releases—like The Unholy Ones—with great abandon. Tomasz and Marek play an inspired and ragged brand of Death Metal with occasional hat tips to Black Metal and Grind. This EP is no exception, kicking off with the sort of raggedly disheveled structures reminiscent of mid-period Napalm Death. “On the Wings of Hell” chimes in with some Azagoth damaged guitar pyrotechnics and whips and flails itself to its own demise, vocals snuffed out in rabid cymbal choke. “Oppose the Usurpers” is more of the same, providing ample fodder for ditching work and getting bent on cost-cutter suds. Recommended.
Trelldom - Til mine…
Though last seen as the subject of Peter Beste's disastrously funny attempt at humanizing his all too real persona, Kristian "Gaahl" Espedal proves there is at least something more in art and occupation besides his vague mutterings regarding the Overman and hilarious pretensions of wine sipped after 10 minutes of forced silence. (Had Beste and his shamefully unfit film crew not been such complete pussies they might have registered the obvious humor involved in such a practiced pose.) Gaahl himself seems most unsure how to present himself on camera, revealing both a vulnerable and naïve side to the genre's latest Grendel-type figure.
However, such amateur stagecraft is largely set aside for the music of Til mine…Originally formed in 1992 by Gaahl and several lesser personalities, the music of Trelldom reveals a more holistic view of the Norwegian consciousness, put forward in raven-like squawks that survey a solid though plainly rote display of idle melodies progressing in typical Norse Arsk fashion: of vast, icy landscapes that do eventually and with true exception yield a certain otherness when illustrated by a much agreeable pallet of folksy jangles on electric guitar, joined by Gaahl's monotonously spoken and untranslated word (not unlike the latest heard from Waldteufel). Highlights include all of the album's final third, which does much to loosen the response before a refreshingly celebrant and traditional-sounding folk dance "Eg Reiste I Minnet…") played on violin, craftily disarming in it’s fanciful and vibrant energy, is soon lulled by Espedal's shamanic throat singing toward a more solemn close.
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2007-08-31