Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Morbid Angel: Illud Divinum Insanus – Is it Really that Bad?

Hello again internet! I know it's been an age since I last graced the international blogosphere with my presence, but you'll be pleased to know I'm not dead.

Instead I have been away in the cruel and lonely world of academia, finishing off my studies. These included a poetry portfolio - some of which I might post here later on - and a 12,000 word dissertation on the changing face of the global Metal culture. These included the role of women, racism, homophobia, etc.

But to recharge my place in the international blogosphere, I thought I'd publish here my thoughts on one of the most hated Death Metal albums of recent history.

Ladies and gentlemen and third gender, I give you my thoughts on Morbid Angel's Illud Divinum Insanus.

June 2016 marks the fifth anniversary of American Death Metal band Morbid Angel’s eighth studio album Illud Divinum Insanus (Divine Crazy). This album received mixed to lukewarm reviews from the press, but I as a fan of the band, can recall the hefty backlash of angry fans who felt their beloved Death Metal veterans had betrayed their musical roots and had delivered what some have gone as far as calling: ‘mandatory suicide.’

Seeing as how it’s been five long years with no new material since, I think it’s time to see if this album has stood the test of time and ask: is it really that bad? 

A Brief History

Before I delve into the album I’ll just give a brief history of the group. 

Formed in Tampa in 1984, Morbid Angel is one of the earliest Death Metal bands who pioneered the genre at the beginning of the 1990s. Along with fellow Florida bands Death, Deicide and Obituary, their use of growled vocals, down tuned guitars, complex rhythm and string structures and focus on blasphemous and occultist lyrical themes; gave birth to what is deemed the most extreme Heavy Metal genre by many.

Illud Divinum Insanus

The first thing you notice about this album is that it’s experimental. You begin by hearing some eeriness that reminds you of cheap b-movie horrors which the band must have used as influences, but soon you hear some odd bass and drum programming that has lashings of Industrial music to it. 

But eventually the tracks begin to drag with first vocal driven track ‘Too Extreme’ annoying the listener with what sounds like a DJ scratching some vinyl over some double bass pedals which you can tell aren’t being played by human feet. Every now and again you hear some guitars reminding you of Morbid Angel in their recent days but the song drags and goes on for too long making you want to turn it off – not the best of starts.

Then you’re subjected to ‘Existo Vulgore’ which sounds a little more like the band you came to listen to. Morbid Angel laid some of the cornerstones of Death Metal so they’re not technical in nature and instead play basic extremes of guitars and drums. This track and next one ‘Blades for Baal’ would make any keen Death Metal listener think of this American classic act. 

David Vincent - Divinely & Utterly Crazy
However, the biggest let down of this entire album is vocalist David Vincent. He’s  known for his death growl vocals which have aided in making classic Morbid Angel albums: Covenant, Altars of Madness and Blessed Are The Sick, bestsellers in the Death Metal canon – but here it feels like he’s trying to ‘speak-growl’ not be as brutal as possible. There are even places where he sounds like he’s rapping, especially on track ‘I Am Morbid’ – something I can only see as an attempt at the band formulating a new battle cry for fans at live shows. Seriously, that track sounds like a football chant by how it opens with clapping and crowd like yells of the word ‘morbid.’

So overall, I can sympathise with anyone who called this album weak or terrible when they heard it. I for one had to turn it off several times and took the best part of two days to listen through it when writing this piece. But am I going to slag off the band and say it’s time to call it quits after 32 years on the road? Well no, I am not. In fact I’m going to talk about what made this album such a bad thing for the band – not the musical failures but the fans being atrociously immature.

Experimenting and Elitism

So what we have here in summary is an experimental album. An experiment that’s gone horribly wrong. From how fans reacted to this album, it does make me ask: have you never heard of a band experimenting before? Has everyone forgotten about Thrash Metal veterans Kreator flirting with Gothic and Industrial music throughout the nineties?

However, it does appear that this is the first experimental album from one of the major Death Metal bands – I cannot recall others like Obituary, Cannibal Corpse or Deicide blending something radical into their output. I think this is one thing that’s led to me distancing myself from the genre in recent years – other such genres like Black Metal seem a bit more open to bands taking a risky step and going on some audible adventure.
Though what angered me most about this album was how some fans even had the nerve to create Facebook groups like ‘RIP Morbid Angel and go as far as saying they’re ‘traitors’ when commenting on the songs on YouTube.

How I feel about Morbid Angel was best summed up by YouTube blogger Ed Veter (InfidelAmsterdam) ‘Compare it with a good friend. They’ve been doing the same thing you do and then make a choice after so many years, which you do not agree with. Are you putting away your entire friendship just because he or she made a decision that doesn’t really affect you?’

Please do remember all you fellow Morbid Angel fans reading this, I despised this album as much as you, but what is most important to a band and the culture of the music is how the fans behave and I do feel metal is changing in attitude. But please, the next time your favourite group makes a terrifying record like this one – just remember the band did what they wanted to do and you can’t control all of that. 

Plus, they’ll still be playing the music you love at the live shows like I’ve seen in recent years. We just need to understand that being so elitist about what our favourite bands do and don’t do, makes all us metalheads look like the immature, vicious, obnoxious people the outside world is so quick to paint us as.

Tipper Gore - Just one of many people trying to silence Metal and paint us all as stupid. Don't give in to the censors.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Top 50 Metal Albums of 2015 – Part 2

Welcome back to this year’s run down of the Top 50 Metal Albums. 

So without further ado, I give you the finalists.

25. Deadspace – The Promise of Oblivion

I’ve never been into Depressive Suicidal Black Metal (DSBM) because the themes and execution have never appealed to me. Most DSBM releases are just sobbing put to music and are the types of bands you’d watch just to see how much the vocalist cuts himself on stage.

But this new Australian group have conjured up something quite fascinating. A DSBM release that doesn’t sound entirely like DSBM but retains its substance. Quite original.

24. Creuenta Lacrymis – Sweetness and Blasphemy 

A Symphonic Death Metal group who are helping break down the gender barriers of the awful ‘female fronted’ term. An Italian band where the girls outnumber the boys and show how women can make incredible death metal growls just like their male counterparts.

This is a group whom I’ll think about for a long time as gender in metal is something I’ll be researching in the new year.

23. Undergang – Doden Laeger Alle Sar

A superb piece of Old School Death Metal. Here we have a Danish band well versed in the early days where Bolt Thrower, Napalm Death and Carcass where breaching the gap between Grindcore and Death Metal. So if you want something that sounds like a demo tape found at the bottom of a store room at Earache Records then this is for you.

22. Midnight Odyssey – Shards of Silver Fade

Now I enjoy having to sit down and listen hard to a band, especially when they compose symphonies lasting over 20 minutes a time. By that I give you the relatively new Australian one-man-band who has released several albums all over 2 hours in length. 

And this latest release is of no difference. The first track will have you thinking you’re on a sleigh ride across the tundra with a myriad of stars to keep you company on a cold winter’s night. If you love winter as a theme of metal, look no further than Midnight Odyssey – best enjoyed in a dark room in front of a roaring fire.

21. Blind Guardian – Beyond the Red Mirror

The German bards have done it again. If you want to know what a journey into another dimension accompanied by a prog-rock ensemble feels like then this album is it. You’ll be tossed and turned across breathtaking horizons of sound and wonderment until you’re brought back to reality with a heroes anthem. One for all the fantasy buffs.

20. Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat

A band who pretty much invented Grindcore. And a band who have never released a bad album. Sixteen albums into their career and the Birmingham grandfathers have given nothing to be disappointed about. 

Nothing has mellowed and it seems the ever growing anger at social injustice on the streets has simply fed the machine of anguish that is Napalm Death well. Something you’ll want to be listening to a lot this year, especially if you just can’t understand why we’ve got another Tory government bleeding us dry.

19. Hate – Crusade:Zero

Poland really is going up in the world. Last year, Behemoth gave us the beautiful The Satanist album, now the unsung heroes of said genre are coming into their own with their ninth studio outing.

It rings with all the right grotesqueness you’d expect from a band obsessed with death and anything a religious person would scream at. One good crowd pleaser if you’re a keen death festival goer.

18. Human Bodies & Leather Chalice – Split

Black Metal and Punk Rock – two of my all time favourite genres. Mix them together with all the anger, frustration and violence of two youngblooded American bands and you have this split. You’ll be wowed at the rawness and brutality of every track and be left wanting to hear more – so I expect a lot more good to come from both groups in the near future.

17. De Profundis – Kingdom of the Blind

One truly unique band on the London metal circuit. I’ve been mesmerised many times by De Profundis’s blend of Death Metal, Doom and Progressive Metal adventures to make them stand out from most of the other bands I’ve seen mature in recent years. Not only that, they have one incredible line up to make the album sound superb.

Kudos to my friends Paul Nazakardeh (Guitars) and Tom Atherton (Drums) for making this an album worth listening to from start to finish.

16. Cloud Rat – Qliphoth

Now this is a band I named as the number one Feminist MetalBand all the way back in 2013. And since then they’ve given us this studio album. But it seems they’ve almost completely abandoned their feminist rantings and replaced it all with concerns for ecology and the natural world. 

There are the odd rants about social injustices between men and women every now and again, but this is one proper green album for anyone who gives a shit about the soil they tread. A fascinating change delivered with enough anger to start a full scale riot.

15. Istapp – Frostbiten

An album with winter and Scandinavia written all over it. Imagine the love child of Immortal and Gormathon added with the angry melodies of Kataklysm.

I do enjoy my Melodic Death Metal, and I think this duo stood out at the most intriguing find of the year. Excellent work boys – I do love winter.

14. Satanic Assault Division – Kill The Cross

It’s always nice to find a band with a good sense of humour. Particularly one who plays on the impressions religious groups will have if your band writes songs about devil worship and opposition to every church.
Satanic Assault Division are that band who have a good idea of satire as well as making good bog standard black metal. It is delivered with a wonderful speed of thrash making me see them as the Toxic Holocaust of the black metal world.

13. Bell Witch – Four Phantoms

One of my all time favourite new discoveries of this year. Bell Witch taught me how to make superb Funeral Doom with just drums and bass.

A group who like to write essay style songs on horror, demons and ghostly legends to please anyone who’s curious about the other side. And a band made up of some truly nice guys too. See you soon Bell Witch.

12. Downfall of Nur – Umbras De Barbagia

South America stood out as the place where the best metal seemed to come from this year. An Argentine band who personified the nature and ecology of their homeland to a tee. A fine use of strings and acoustics with epic vocals, so if you like your Caladan Brood and Wolves in the Throne Room, give Downfall of Nur a blast. Atmospheric Black Metal diamonds, polished to the Nth degree.

11. Abigail Williams – The Accuser

This was the first metal band I ever saw in concert. They released two good albums in their early days when they experimented with Metalcore, but since then they fell into much obscurity and made some god awful releases.

But, it looks as though Ken Sorceron returned to the studio successfully this year and gave us that incredible bog standard black metal album he’s been meaning to give us since the very beginning. I have much hope for this band now. It’s been through an entire clan of line up changes, so maybe this one will give it that punch it’s needed since 2011.

10. Alastor Sanguinary Embryo - For Satan and the Ruin of the Divine

The band who put Costa Rica on the black metal map for me. A band reflecting the satanic thoughts of its nation’s underworld with a fine taste in classical civilisation and Greek mythology. Some of the finest occult themed black metal with hints of gothic thrown in every now and again making it worth listening to again and again.

9. Immortal Bird – Empress/Abscess

A truly disturbing album cover, meaning a truly disturbing set of tracks from a band who pull no punches on their subject matter.

This band, all the way from Chicago will throw together all the right pieces of the death metal history to take you on a journey that will leave you comfortably numb after beating up your ear drums several times over. Impressive and delivered with good taste.

8. Infera Bruo – In Conjuration

Every genre of metal will have its progressive side. And here is a band from Boston who’ve shown me how you can do that with black metal, the greatest genre of all time.

Take all the ghoulish elements of classic black metal, throw in some low fidelity and a few sound bites to widen the appeal, and then deliver each track at a slow and hefty pace reminiscent of Alcest and Les Discret. You’ll be thinking of some Metalcore later on on this release so imagine Beherit with Killswitch Engage and that’s Infera Bruo for you.

7. Ahamkara –The Embers of the Stars

Now this album was released back in 2014, but since I only heard it this year and it blew me away, I thought it would be worth mentioning for this year.

Take all the atmosphere of Summoning, throw in all the gallops and agility of mid-period Burzum and then locate your band to Newcastle, the home of black metal governors: Venom to complete the mix. This band is giving the Geordies a whole new image of musicianship. Excellent relaxation music containing all the right tales and anger blasts to keep the average black metal fan alive.

6. Barshasketh/Void Ritual – Split

A very limited release; only 100 copies in total – so a truly lost gem of this year’s output. But what a good one it was. A New Zealandband with all the rawness and progressions to reflect their keen taste in their genre and then an American band who will tell you what Skeletonwitch would sound like if they went into the black metal world and ditched all their thrash and NWOBHM riffs. 

Something to please anyone who loves cvlt metal at its most jagged.

5. Bio-Cancer – Tormenting the Innocent

And so we enter the top five with a Thrash Metal group from Greece. As I said earlier, Greek metal is getting more and more out there today for obvious reasons. Here’s a ban so concerned about the social and economic anxieties of their homeland they’re not pulling any punches to reflect the disgust of the common Greek people.

A true anti-austerity and anti-fascist anthem from a country in dire need to a renaissance.

4. Torver & Arcane North – From Moonrise to Moonset

Ever wondered what a night on the moors in Yorkshire feels like in music form? Well look no further.
Two up and coming bands who have helped establish English Black Metal as a subgenre in wake of groups like Winterfylleth will do just that. Composing blissful symphonies with the right classical instruments and sound bites to make you feel like you’re out there sleeping under the stars with only owls to keep you company.

Superb is an understatement.

3. Sivyj Yar – Burial Shrouds

Another unique thing about the world of black metal, is how it gives each band the ability to dig up fantastic things about their nation’s histories and mythology and present them in some of the most mesmerising contemporary works of art.

Here we have a Ukrainian act who has personified the struggles and hardship of an indigenous tribe as they face the problems of a long, hard winter and an impending famine. A story of triumph and toil which will be passed down through generations. 

2. Earth and Pillars – Earth I

Again, an album released right at the end of last year, but I didn’t hear it until January. And there is nothing bad about this release in the slightest. It gave me all the more reason to appreciate black metal for its concern for the natural world. In my time in the black metal scene I’ve met people who do care a lot for animals and nature and want the world to be appreciated more by its inhabitants.

And this Italian band showed me just how far some ecologist metalheads will go to make people realise just how big a matter they’re dealing with. This is an epic composition, each track dealing with different elements of the natural world: earth, water, fire and air. Anyone who has picked up a book on the mysticisms of nature or the pagan concerns for the soil you walk over will want to hear this.
Earth and Pillars, everybody.

And the Number One Metal  Album of 2015 is...

Ashbringer – Vacant

The winter winds of the North USA and the howling whines of the forests accompanied by the tranquillity of the rivers, streams and undergrowth shining through your headphones to make you feel as if you’re on a journey across the Canadian border into Minnesota.

One hefty deal of new raw talent, given to the black metal world by an 18-year-old boy. Yes, you heard me right there – 18 years old.

A true, honest youngblooded band ready to show the world that black metal is far from dead and atmospheric black metal will live on forever.

Just like Earth and Pillars, this is a band obsessed with nature, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this guy grew up learning to live off the land just like his ancestors. Take all the hardship and natural beauty and wonderment of the great outdoors and put them to the most ecologically minded music of recent years.

Ladies and gentlemen and third gender, I give you Vacant, the finest black metal album to come my way in 2015. Happy New Year to you all!

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Top 10 Newly Discovered Bands of 2015

So the year is almost at an end, and that means it’s time for a look back on the new things I’ve come to love and appreciate over the last 12 months.

By that I am referring to the bands I’ve started listening to who have stayed with me all year. These can be fairly new groups and some classics from a bygone era.

So without further ado, ladies and gentlemen and third gender, here are my Top 10 Newly Discovered Bands of 2015.

Over the last few months I’ve rekindled my love of Industrial music. Rammstein and Nine Inch Nails are the two bands who got me into Industrial Metal, and Germany really is the Mecca for this type of music. 

Even though this band is not German at all. They’re from New York and have a weird fascination with the Third Reich – which would understandably cause certain people to make accusations of Nazism. 

But I seriously doubt a Nazi band would write a song called: SS Deathstar Supergalactik! Here’s to one very catchy Industrial act with a very black and morbid sense of humour.

And here we have our first of the classics. Having been on the road making incredible music since 1981, Clan of Xymox are usually credited as pioneers of the Darkwave genre;  a music I’ve managed to properly understand in the past few years.

I first came across them when they were billed to perform at Alt Fest last year – but we all know that festival was too alternative to take place. 

If you want something that is tranquil and ethereal and uses all the right elements of traditional gothic rock and post punk, then the Dutch darkwavers are what you’ve been looking for.

According to Spotify, this was the first band I listened to this year. And I can see why. 

Back last December I reviewed the Swedish Doom Metal outfit when they performed alongside Behemoth and Decapitated at the Forum, Kentish Town. Since then I’ve been appreciating their hearty jives and ever so catchy riffs, reminiscent of the early NWOBHM days.

And to top it all off, they wrote a wonderful ode to my favourite fantasy anti-hero, Elric. Here’s to ‘Steel vs Steel’.

I mentioned this band back in my Nuclear Blast diary, for I began to properly enjoying the Swedish trad. metallers after spending time at my friend’s apartment. And being a diehard fan of the group, it was inevitable she’d play me some of their work.

It is a shame this band are no longer going, but at the same time it’s good because they quit whilst their sound was still good. The test of time isn’t always a good one for the best of bands.

I would describe In Solitude as the closest band to groups like Black Sabbath or Coven of recent metal history. Their catchy riffs will stick in your head like cheap super glue and they’ll have you humming to songs about witchcraft and satanic gimmickry all day long.

Here’s to one very talented band. Wherever you all are now, I sure hope you’re sounding just as good.

Another classic, which incidentally was also on the Alt Fest bill.

Hailing all the way from California, London After Midnight are credited with having revitalised the Goth Rock subculture in the early 90s. I just wonder how long for, as said culture seems a complete shadow of its former self nowadays.

But that aside, this is that band you should hear if you want to know the gothic side of the erotic and the transgressive. Here we have a band fronted by Sean Brennan, a man I can only describe as Goth’s TrentReznor. From him we’ve had plenty of great memorable songs about substance abuse and many a lustful piece about long passionate sex with a darkened twist which will make you feel moist in all the right places.

Another Industrial act, this time from metal Mecca: Sweden. 

I’ve been aware of Deathstars for some time as they were featured as favourites by several alternative models and artists I’ve followed in the past. Plus, they are also signed to NB and I had to spread the word on their recent exploits as part of my internship.

This is a band obsessed with war, social justice and politics in general. You’d have Deathstars if you took the historical content of a band like Eastern Front, added in all the riffs and keys of groups like Rammstein and the flamboyancy of all the boring Nu Metal acts who were popular on MTV in the last decade.

Deathstars might look like another Mallcore act, but they’ve certainly got substance, fusing Industrial and Gothic and reminding me of my childhood playing Command & Conquer – the games which made me aware of Industrial music.

The most influential book I read this year was Hyperion. An epic science fiction frame story telling how life will be like in the 29th century, had the works of John Keats been emulated by the emergence of AI technology and intergalactic politics.

And what has made me enjoy genres like Power Metal are the flamboyant homages bands pay to their favourite writers, heroes, senpais and fantastical creations. It’s because of this I enjoy Blind Guardian for their homages to Elric and Moorcock.

So here we have a band that leads a fascinating mix of Power and Symphonic Metal – hailing all the way from Norway. It’s not just Hyperion they’ve written about but Babylon 5 and Armageddon have found their ways into the band’s repertoire.

This is the ultimate Power Metal band for science fiction nerds. If you’re well versed in the works of Isaac Azimov or Richard Matheson then Keldian are worth checking out.

As mentioned in my recent run down of this year’s best albums, Funeral Doom is slowly becoming my favourite area of Doom Metal, a genre that has never truly stood out for me.

The name alone is enough to make any ghost story lover turn, for the Bell Witch legend is the most famous of all American ghost stories. And from my interview with vocalist/bassist Dylan Desmond,  horror and ghostly themes are among the regular themes for this group.

I can also think of no other band capable of making some of the darkest, slowest and most bone chilling metal with just drums and a precision bass. Gives a whole new meaning to Drum N Bass music, eh?

This isn’t a band to listen to liberally, I must add. With their shortest songs in the realms of 6-8 minutes and their last album having only 4 songs on it, you need to sit down and concentrate to get the full blast of this band.

That is why I’ll post my favourite of their songs, clocking in at just over 13 minutes.

2. Toto

The classics are never too far away for me. This my friends, is the band who have shown the world you can experiment with any kind of music and still retain your place among the gods of Progressive and Arena Rock music.

Toto are that Adult Contemporary band who will appear as another easy listening group but will wow you with their extreme diversity. What more can you expect from a band made up of entirely of session musicians?

To many, this is a one-hit-wonder group because of the ever so present popularity of their highest charting song: Africa. But, not that many people know that Toto are alive and well today, still making excellent rock music. They incidentally released their 14th album: Toto XIV earlier this year, and still they are keeping it real.

I’ve looked far and wide beyond Africa and Rosanna, to see Toto as a group who aren’t shy to experiment, nor have they done anything to embarrass themselves. They also composed the soundtrack to Dune, one of my all time favourite films and another reason to love them forever.

So here’s to the band who certainly deserve the many Grammys they’ve received over the years.
Interestingly, now that Star Wars is in cinemas again, the vocalist for Toto is Joseph Williams, son of John Williams who composed the infamous film score. Here he is delivering his amazing vocal techniques in Straight For The Heart (1988).

And the number one best new discovery of 2015 is...

I’m always on the lookout for a band who have fashioned a unique sound by blending music into something amazing which you cannot compare to others. And this band, probably the most unique band from the vastness of Canada is just that.

A group who took the anger and agility of black metal and the gloominess and sorrow of doom metal and bound them together with roots of folk and indigenous Canadian music.

I encountered Woods of Ypres early on this year when a friend shared their first music video The Northern Cold on a Facebook thread. There was something quite mesmerising which stood out from the juxtaposing clean and growled vocals, espousing contemporary poetry about depression, loneliness, isolation and failure.

Looking through their back catalogue, I found nothing more than a wide array of hits which I’ve replayed again and again. Some fans even deem the band overlord David Gold (pictured second from left) to be a modern day poet, and I am of no difference to that.

I went through several bleak moments this year and David Gold was there to remind me how I was going to be alright. Having a band to turn to when you’re angry or scared about anything at all means you’ve mined a heart of gold.

A true heart of gold you were David – but sadly I’ll never witness your works in person. For David sadly lost his life in a car crash in late 2011. Woods of Ypres never toured Europe either, which has left many a fellow fan broken hearted. But I know your work will live on forever in the hearts and minds of those who turned to you as a way out.

Thanks Woods of Ypres – you didn’t just teach me about career suicide, but you kept me sane in all the moments I could have lost control this year. You’ve given Canadian metal an originality which I hope it takes full advantage of in the near future.

Happy New Year everybody! Hope you all discover many a good new band too.