killing the myths...
Sold Their Souls vol.3
Last good album: Breeding Death
Bloodbath’s most memorable trait is that its combined membership became only popular when they abandoned their death metal roots. To say that Bloodbath was formed to bring back old school death metal just intellectually dishonest and reeks of disdain towards the fans who made these people famous in the first place.
Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth; Jonas Renkse of Katatonia; Peter Tägtgren of Hypocrisy and Dan Swanö of, well, every Swedish metal band ever. The line-up reads like an ignorant and pseudo-intellectual fanboy’s wet dream. Never mind pesky little things like facts. Are these the supposed saviours of traditional, old school death metal? That’s a rather insulting concept, as three of these four figureheads have abandoned their roots in rather drastic fashion - and have shown little love for the genre, unless there was money to be made.
Opeth has been writing drudgy, middle-of-the-road "emotional" melodrama for emotionally stunted and sexually anorectic teens for over a decade now. They are a far way from "My Weapons, Your Hearse". Katatonia has been playing goth/depressive rock for roughly the same amount of time and Dan Swanö has only recently began re-exploring his death metal persona with his Rogga Johansson/Ed Warby studio project Demiurg. Only Peter Tägtgren has remained true to his roots with Hypocrisy, although he strayed from the path to lesser extent too. His industrial project Pain is a whole other discussion that won’t come into equation here. For now.
Why is this god-awful band so popular among fans, young and old? Their sound is inspired by the regional icons of Stockholm and Florida, which is well and good. There is nothing here that hasn’t been done earlier and better by more obscure bands. With all the acclaim and accolades bestowed upon this band, you’d imagine that their material is potentially of genre-revolutionizing and revitalizing value?
Well, obviously that isn’t the case.
Hey douche, shut up. We all know you don’t really love death metal. So, stop pretending, Mr. Rockstar Hair. Go swoon over insecure fan-girls with your crap in Opeth. Ya dig?
To be perfectly frank, Bloodbath only capitalized on the nostalgic and historical background of their chosen genre when it became clear that was money to be made. Relatively easy money at that. Given that most metalheads are gullible idiots that continue to pick their nose if not given enough stimuli. Do I need to spell it out that these folks don’t like the genre they play? Because they know and use the required parts doesn’t mean what they do should be of interest. Functionality does not equal formidability. There’s more stuff in the underground that is better than this tripe...
These supposed "saviours" don’t even care enough about their own little band to fully prioritize it. Why do you continue to give them your money? Is there peer-pressure at play or is the need to "fit in" with the "cool kids" to blame for this? Of course, when there’s a quick buck to be made on the back of ignorant fans that know no better (or delude themselves into thinking this band matters), who can blame them?
It is widely established that a good portion of the less-underground minded portion of metalheads are just as herd-like as the sheep in the mainstream, which they so despise. As much as metal fans might vehemently deny it, there’s plenty of bands out there who became popular on the backs of those very same hipsters and stupid kids.
Bloodbath is the very antithesis of what death metal is about.
Last good album: The Stench Of Redemption
Once the most controversial band in all of Tampa, Florida and a good portion of the world. For a good part of their career this band has been laughing stock of the genre. Now they are the remnants of a hopeless path (see what I did there?) - an example of what terrible fate awaits when real life catches up with bands living on borrowed time.
Deicide is thrashy, angry and hyper-blasphemous death metal fronted by Glen Benton. He made a name for himself by branding an inverted cross on his forehead in his younger years, for going into telephone debates with televangelists as Bob Larson, and getting its recording contract, at least according to legend, by Benton’s threatening life and limb of Roadrunner A&R man Monte Conner. Benton’s most publicized stunt was professing to commit suicide at age 33. Unfortunately that didn’t come to pass...
Already this early it is clear this band isn’t made up by the brightest of people.
The band start off high and continue their upward movement with their sole magnum opus "Legion". With remnants of the self-titled sessions and new material written by drummer Steve Asheim Deicide released the notoriously technical and loosely conceptual "Legion". With their definitive statement unleashed upon the world and fans hungry for more, comfort and complacency set in. No longer hungry to push themselves to the edge of their abilities, the band content themselves by releasing "Once Upon the Cross", a mere shadow of the earlier record that somehow manages to conjure up a small media blitz by virtue of its graphic artwork.
Behold a band inspired and spirited. The sad thing is, albums like these are the exception rather than the rule.
With mounting animosity within the line-up the band goes into autopilot. Asheim continues to write the lion’s share of the material, with the Hoffman brothers increasingly growing apathic and giving minimal effort. "Serpents Of the Light" is only a shadow of the preceding record - a pattern now has unveiled itself.
Stuck with a bad recording deal signed a full decade before Deicide throw caution to the wind and do everything to make short work of the contract. "Insineratehymn" is, despite its relatively clever title, a call-back to the self-titled debut and a more groovier, mid-paced affair. "In Torment In Hell" is rushed out of the doors in order to finally end the contract with Roadrunner Records, who now have fully embraced the nu-metal craze.
If it looks like they don’t care, there’s a good probability that they actually don’t care. When a band can’t be arsed to include even their own logo in the cover art, you know shit is about hit the fan. In this case, literally...
Earache Records (a label notorious for trend-jumping and ripping its bands off) is the new label and "Scars Of the Crucifix" is tauted as Deicide’s return-to-form. Except that it isn’t. This new record is heavier, sure - but that’s about it. It’s still the same Deicide, samey, lazy and clearly bored with itself and the genre they are in. During the touring cycle for this record interpersonal conflicts lead the "classic" line-up to implode. The two camps, Benton/Asheim in one corner, the Hoffmans in the other, battle each other in the metal media.
For a while, it seemed Deicide’s little saga had ended.
In what seemed like a major coup Deicide managed to acquire the services of Jack Owen (ex-Cannibal Corpse) and Ralph Santolla (Death, Iced Earth, etc) and released the amazing "The Stench Of Redemption". That record gave the band an unexpected second lease of life. This was followed by the loosely conceptual "Till Death To Us Part", a record about the disintegration of Benton’s second marriage.
Once the most dangerous man in death metal, now just an old man who wishes he had a solid retirement plan. Looks like you’re stuck with these mouth-breathing knucklehead fans for a couple more years there, Glen.
In the wake of all that, the band carried on, shifting line-up once again and signed to Century Media Records. Out of nowhere Deicide let "To Hell With God" roll off the assembly lines. From the formulaic album title, the by-the-numbers artwork and the duo of Asheim and Benton once again on autopilot, you wonder why this band once was considered relevant and pivotal to their genre. How the mighty have fallen...
Anybody with a functional brain has noticed it. Glen Benton no longer "feels" the music, or has a passion for it. He’d rather spent time with his family, or drive around Florida on his motorcycle. Honestly, can you blame him for his lack of enthusiasm and apathy? Metal as music is the greatest thing, the people it tends to attract are everything but.
Steve Asheim has enrolled in Order Of Ennead, an extension of the shortlived Council Of the Fallen. At least he’s moving forward, expanding his craft and doing new things.
Passion has been replaced by duty, conviction replaced by necessity. If you still believe Deicide is in it for the music, you’re delusional, or just very naïve and gullible.
Last good album: Tervaskanto
In the 1990’s there were folk metal acts - think of bands as Agalloch, Amorphis, Bathory, Cruachan, Orphaned Land, Primordial and Skyclad - that actually forwarded the genre as an art form. These bands wrote serious works that infused their chosen genre of extreme metal with regional ethnic instrumentation and melodies. At this time folk - and pagan metal were still respectable genres. That glory would be short-lived.
In the early 2000’s Finland became the number one stop for all things folk metal. Patient zero in that respect is Finntroll. "Jaktens Tid", that band’s second album, featured guest vocals by the frontman of Korpiklaani. While it doesn’t have to mean anything by itself, it is a curious note in the existence of the band. A curious coincidence or sign of things to come, perhaps?
Is mr. Antler Man truly a "pioneer" of folk metal - or just a smart business man? Curious that his band was launched at the exact moment the folk sound became a worldwide phenomenon. Now give him your money, he cares about the music. No, really.
Korpiklaani was originally a Sami folk band called Shamaani Duo, having nothing at all to do with metal, in the first place. They only decided in adding metallic instrumentation later, once Finntroll paved the way and kicked open all the doors for similar acts to follow. With the popularity of folk/pagan metal on a meteoritic rise, Shamaani Duo transformed into Shaman. Shaman was the metal equivalent of the folk music written under the Shamaani Duo moniker. The band’s final transition came with the change in name to Korpiklaani and fully embracing the blooming folk metal scene and its rampant popularity on in New and Old World, somewhere in 2003-2004.
Even from this early in the band’s existence it is clear what their true objective is: fame and money. Since forming in 2003 Korpiklaani has been productive, excessively so even. With a record in about every year or two, and consistent touring in both North America and Europe, they are an established name in the scene and loved by many fans.
But is something that is loved by many actually good? Let’s find out.
Nobody’s going to deny that Korpiklaani’s catalogue up to and including 2007 is the best the band has to offer. It’s light-hearted, not too intellectually demanding, yet full of shwung and including enough Finnish polka rhythms to make even the most despondent souls swing their beer mugs and battle swords.
The Renaissance Fair is over, guys. There’s no need to dress up silly to impress underage and high school girls. You have long hair and strum the guitar, their panties are moist already.
A year later, in 2008, the heavy producing and touring schedule (and probably the copious amount of sustained alcoholic beverage consumption) killed the creativity. Where past albums were born of creativity, the following records appear to be written from a clear-cut formula, a template, a conscious design decision.
There’s nothing wrong in being consistent and staying true to one’s original vision. Bands like Monstrosity, Bolt Thrower and Vader are probably the first acts that come to mind in that respect, but there’s a difference. All these bands have shown growth in various aspects, Korpiklaani does not.
They are stuck in an artistic stasis, either by conscious choice or economic necessity.
Korpiklaani never cared about the metal scene when they were still a pure folk music group. It was not until the 2003-2005 period that they suddenly jumped on the bandwagon, exactly the time when the folk/pagan metal craze exploded in the most important markets of Europe and the US. Do I need to spell out more clearly?
Do you want to continue to support a band that is clearly and vocally out for your hard-earned money? With so many talented units struggling to make ends meet in the underground, one has to ask himself/herself, what is more important: instant gratification or support of the undiscovered gems lying hidden beneath the mainstream.
Last good album: Wolfheart
Starting out in 1989 under the Morbid God moniker as a promising black metal oufit Portugese chameleon act Moonspell have a career defined by changing styles with each subsequent album and picking up whatever was the prevailing trend of the times. Yes, these are talented and obviously versatile musicians able to embrace whatever they set their minds to - but integrity doesn’t seem to chart very high on their list of priorities.
Coming into existence in 1992 (after a short stint as Morbid God) Moonspell released a couple of locally distributed demo tapes and EPs, before formulating their first sound: melodic, symphonic black metal with their debut for Century Media, the universally lauded "Wolfheart". This debut combined melodic black metal with emotional leads/solos, continental melodies and Mediterranean influences. Tracks like ‘ Vampiria’, ‘An Erotic Alchemy’ and ‘Alma Mater’ are classics for a reason. Fernando Ribeiro’s vocals had yet to take definite form, although the interplay between harsh and soft sections is already present. With acts as Cradle Of Filth, Dimmu Borgir and Opera IX the melodic black metal scene had another contender for the crown. Unfortunately, "Wolfheart" is the only Moonspell record remotely worth seeking out.
Only one year after their masterful debut, in 1996, "Irreligious" saw these Lusitanian men opt for a 180° change in sound. With a few harsher segments excepted, "Irreligious" is a gothic metal record with easy digestible pop song structures. Unsurprisingly, the unwashed masses ate it up. While the record managed to spawn a few classics (‘Opium’, ‘Ruin & Misery’ and ‘Awake’) - it signalled the first signs of creative decay. No matter how polished the production job by the acclaimed Waldemar Sorychta (who at that time produced the best records of The Gathering, Tiamat and the likes), it cannot hide the lack of ideas present here.
By the time "Sin/Pecado" rolled from the assembly line Moonspell were fully into their "experimental" phase. Like UK former doom icons Paradise Lost this meant embracing The Sisters Of Mercy and Depeche Mode in a desperate attempt to go mainstream. This devolution was further exemplified by "The Butterfly Effect", which combined Moonspell’s newly adopted poppy sound with bouts of industrial music. The results? They were not pretty, although the masses went in droves to pick up the record.
"Darkness and Hope" was built of the same pestilential template as "Irreligious" and the results were expectantly lacklustre. "The Antidote" fared little better, but still wasn’t a lot to write home about. These albums were largely inconsequential and inoffensive, disgusting only in their sheer redundancy and irrelevance. "Memorial" went for a simpler approach, being more keyboard-driven from the outset.
Unsurprisingly, Moonspell followed another trend with "Under Satanae" - a wholly unnecessary re-recording of earlier demo era material. "Night Eternal" is another assembly line product, followed in the footsteps of the band’s earlier gothic tinged metal with basic song structures and little in the way of complexity and ornamental facets. Sure, occasionally the old death metal influences crept through and some cuts are fast - but it is little to redeem an otherwise mundane and terribly bland record.
2012 has seen the release of a new Moonspell album. A double-album, no less. "Alpha Noir/Omega White" once again caters to the appeal of clueless Hot Topic kids and die-hard Moonspell fanatics who even would applaud when given a musical turd in shiny, gold wrapping. There’s a "hard" album and a "soft" one, to cater to the special needs of its obviously mentally arrested audience. Even the Seth Siro Anton artwork is bland...
Moonspell has shed skin so many times, it is hard to truly see when they are being genuine. Which raises the question: was Moonspell ever genuine to begin with? They have coasted the trends and changed accordingly with whatever sound was popular at the time. Are these men artists or glib chameleons out for the obvious and quick buck?
Those who have a functioning brain and the least bit of musical integrity have given up on this band long, long ago!
Logo evolution: Four Steps into Mediocrity
Last good album: World Demise
You know the story. One of the earlier pure US death metal bands. "Slowly We Rot" hardly had any lyrics to speak of. John Tardy spewing auditory horror and disgust. His brother Don hammering away behind the drumkit. Frank Watkins, the only worthy member, on bass while a bald drunk and an unwashed redneck play guitar. First three records are classics. One of them featured guitar hero James Murphy, substituting the drunk guy. A classic tale of a young band reaching the peak of the genre... and falling, hard.
"World Demise", while more ‘90s oriented in its influences, was still a sufficiently grim, dark and frightening record when it came down it, even if it was draped in "Chaos AD" aping, tough-guy hardcore grooves and urban angst. We all know what happened to Watkins in the ‘Don’t Care’ video. Better forget about it, things get far scarier.
Since reforming in 2003 this Florida act has been wildly inconsistent and apparently content to ride on the coattails of whatever goodwill they generated in their original run. Everything about their post-reform albums has been short-changed, cheaply executed or just plain mishandled. Who’s to blame for this, you ask? The band themselves, of course. Yeah, this was a classic genre band once. Now they just are old farts and tired sacks of shit that you shouldn’t continue to support. Here’s why.
Just look at this guy. Allen West has been staring blankly into space since the late ‘80s. No wonder he developed a drinking habit and was eventually incarcerated for such offenses. This one fucker looks more bored than the average streetwalker on a slow night.
"Frozen In Time" was a rushed hack-job that merely passed as a dry-run or proof-of-concept demo, not as a finished product. The cardboard production, the awfully muddy guitar tone, Don’s unassuming and lazy drumming to the haggard and tired sounding vocals of senior John Tardy. They were as vital as the beast depicted on the cover painting. Anything you previously associated with Obituary was present, but lazily executed - produced by a sense of duty rather than desire, love and passion.
When passion dies, art becomes product.
"Xecutioner’s Return" was mildy better, but still pretty stupid when push came to shove. The saving grace was guitar mercenary Ralph Santolla, who’s neo-classical guitar solos and leads only made it more clear how ugly this band was in the first place. Andreas Marschall returned once more to provide artwork, for all intents and purposes this was his last worthwhile canvas for the band. The Xecutioner resembled "The Creature From the Black Lagoon"’s Gilman more than anything else. Was that supposed to be scary?
Dear John, were you out of ideas - or do you just not care anymore? For crying out loud, take a look at the songtitles the reformation has given us. ‘List Of Dead’, ‘Contrast the Dead’, ‘Drop Dead’, ‘Seal Your Fate’ or ‘This Life’, ‘See Me Now’ and ‘Truth Be Told’.
Quick! Throw in the Dragon Creature. We must have the Xecutioner too! The fans care about that sort of thing. Just draw something already. Don’t think too long or hard about it. We didn’t. No, I don’t have a conceptual idea for the cover, Andreas.
How long did it take to think up all that? One drunken night on the town in Gibsonton, Florida with some befriended band and their groupies? Doesn’t seem like a lot more effort when into it. Why should we care, exactly? Because you once were relevant?
It also didn’t exactly help that Obituary at this point had fully cultivated their god-awful redneck image. The beards, Confederate flag and trucker hats - just stop it, already.
Enter "Darkest Day". Yeah, very clever album title. Mortician called, they want their shtick back. That most recent album is a culmination of everything wrong with Obituary’s modus operandi since reforming. Allen West may not have been the most amazing riff creator, but at least he wrote recognizable material. Trevor Peres hasn’t been able to write a West riff no matter how hard he pulls the strings. Sure, his riffs resemble what West wrote, but that just isn’t good enough. You have been doing this for nigh on 25 years now, shouldn’t you have figured it out by now, you smelly fat oaf? Stop phoning in your performance. Show some pride, goddammit.
And what is it with this attitude of cramming so much material on a disc? Just because you wrote thirteen tracks of which only 9 are remotely vital, doesn’t mean you should put anything and everything on a record. Quality control, people - what happened to that? Was Candlelight Records too busy jerking off to Emperor re-issues to care, or to call you out on the obvious filler? Which drunken sapien okayed that dreadful, horrible sub-demo level artwork? Was Andreas Marschall too busy - or did one of his interns just threw a bunch of Obituary-related icons together and cashed the cheque?
Just quit already. You aren’t doing yourselves any favours at this point.
Last good album: Nemesis Divina
By the late ‘90s many of the foundational, second wave black metal acts from Norway were heading into different directions. Emperor went the progressive route, Immortal explored their Teutonic thrash metal side, both Darkthrone and Gorgoroth released compilations of earlier work and Satyricon decided they wanted to be a standard rock band, of all things.
There’s nothing more ‘kvlt’ and ‘necro’ than appeasing the mainstream. Right, guys?
This evolution is especially heinous considering Satyricon were one of the more regal black metal acts at the time. Their first two records ("Dark Medieval Times" and "The Shadowthrone") combined majestic and cold black metal with folk instruments and an ethnic Norse atmosphere. While they weren’t the first to shoot a full-on black metal music video, they certainly perfected the craft. ‘Mother North’, the roll-out single of their third and universally lauded "Nemesis Divina" showcased everything associated with the genre: corpse paint, weaponry, firebreathing, breathtaking Norwegian locales and Monica Braten, who in two types clothing: one filmsy, look-though dress, the other her pale and milky skin.
All of this was abandoned upon the arrival of "Rebel Extravaganza". Instead of carefully constructed hymns of Northern darkness, this record presented a dire change in sound. Now Satyricon was marketing itself towards the American audience and radio. With a more deliberate pace and easily memorable pop structures the only black metal aspect remaining were Satyr’s serpentine rasps.
A regal trio rebelling against the mainstream that stifled creativity and true freedom versus money grubbing corporate rock stars adhering to the business practices they once despised. Don’t you feel played now that you believed the hype?
"Volcano" followed the same basic template: pop song structures with a clear emphasis on the band’s newfound heavy rock appreciation. It is hard to believe that the band that wrote ‘Walk the Path Of Sorrow’, ‘Hvite Krists Dod’ and ‘Forhekset’ was now marketing itself towards the very target demographic they originally rebelled against. "Now, Diabolical" and "Age Of Nero" are two similar records, displaying a once respected band in search of a clue, an easy paycheck and an identity.
These last four albums can’t even be considered black metal. Who are they kidding?
If anything Satyricon’s recent album trajectory proves that dumb kids will buy anything a label shoves at them, as long as it is sufficiently "rebellious" and "different". But how different are these last four records from anything you hear on the radio? Sure, there are some heavier guitars, there are Satyr’s rasps and even the band’s imagery shows some remains of black metal roots - but that’s about it.
Excise all these superficial elements from the band (along with the Satanic iconography of their albums) and what you have left is a thinly veiled pop/rock album with little metallic about it.
We, here at Masterful Magazine, are no genre elitists or smug know-it-alls hiding in ivory towers - but somehow we doubt that this was the objective of the early pioneers of the Norwegian black metal scene. Wasn’t their intention to get away from the mainstream as far as possible, as it was a signifier of artistic death, cold-handed capitalism and smug corporatism that suffocates true, meaningful and honest artistry?
THE SINS OF THY BELOVED
Last good album: Lake Of Sorrow
Of all things the gothic/symfo metal has spawned The Sins Of Thy Beloved was perhaps its oddest beast. This seven-headed Norwegian outfit were cut from the classic mould of early Theater Of Tragedy, The Gathering and Tristania, combining gruff male vocals with soaring, angelic female chants. But their true defining element was that they had duelling keyboardists. No, really. If this wasn’t enough to get any sane metalhead running to the hills, there also was a session violinist to capitalize on My Dying Bride emotional doom sound so popular at the time. Oh yes, this wasn’t so much of a band, it was a more of a product.
The band’s 1998 "Lake Of Sorrow" debut on Napalm Records was part of what some reviewers/critics would later lovingly dub Napalm’s Breast Brigade (check other releases of the year 2000 by Mactätus, Obtained Enslavement, Sirenia, Siebenbürgen, Trail Of Tears, etc for conclusive proof).
The cover featured two females, one holding a knife. The other woman lying down in a flimsy see-through dress is showing a nipple. This marketing ploy would reach its ultimate climax on their second (and so far, last) record "Perpetual Desolation", which featured singer Anita Auglend in a glamorous half naked shot, with a piece of garment barely covering her ample breasts.
The remainder of the booklet features the second female member showing ample amount of cleavage. No expenses were spared and famed photographer Petter Hegre (of Hegre Art) was brought in to realize this photo shoot and the cover picture. It’s a miracle the women were allowed to keep their clothes on at all, considering Hegre’s day-job.
Ticking all the right boxes to collect the money from nitwit 14 year olds. Implied lesbianism? Check. Cleavage and nipple slip? Check. Suggestion of passive aggression? Check. Wank material for those not able to find an actual live female? Check.
The Sins knew how to profile and market themselves... Unsurprisingly, they were the top priority band of Napalm Records at the time, which had yet to contract Belphegor, Enthroned, In Battle, Jungle Rot or any other band of note. No amount of lush cover shoots and smooth production (by Sound Suite and Terje Refsnes) could cover up a number of crucial shortcomings that crippled this voluminous but shortlived band.
Another point of irritation are The Sins godawful English lyrics, which clearly aim at Theatre Of Tragedy’s Old English poetry of love forlorn - but fail horribly in both terms of prose as well grammatical correctness. Why write in a language you barely master? Why not write in Norse and not make incredible fools of yourself on an international scale?
Oh yes, there are boobs to be seen on the cover. Drooling, sexually insecure 14 year-old boys and equally clueless marketing executives/PR departments only care about that.
The strangest thing about "Perpetual Desolation" is its choice of cover song. Which gothic/symfo metal act chooses to cover Metallica’s thrash anthem ‘The Thing That Should Not Be’? Was there thought behind it, either by the band or their label? While it is the most exciting thing about that dreadful record, it has no significance to The Sins or their genre of choice. Are TSOTB closeted thrash metal maniacs? Why then is their original material so tired and lethargic sounding? Are TSTB fans of the literature of H.P. Lovecraft? Why then bother with the vomit-inducing ‘I love you, now go away’ pseudo-"romance" crap reminiscent of Stephanie Meyer and her pestilential, Mormon, abstinence propaganda-like "Twilight" novels?
In the wake of the band’s aversion to extended touring a DVD was shot in Poland, the genially titled "Perpetual Desolation - live" in order for the band and label to buy time to fully prepare for a third album.
Thus far, thankfully, that hasn’t come to pass...
|Read previous installments:|
Vol.1 - bands covered: Arch Enemy, Dimmu Borgir, Lacuna Coil, Machine Head, Pantera, Six Feet Under, Within Temptation.
Vol.2 - bands covered: Children Of Bodom, The Haunted, Iced Earth, In Flames, Kataklysm, Slayer.
added by: Wouter Roemers
Masterful Magazine - http://masterful-magazine.com