Condemner – Burning the Decadent (August 2018)
This is hard hitting old school death metal that leans heavily on traditional speed metal for its cues, think early Slayer put through the blender of Sarcofago and Incantation. Although aesthetically this is death metal, Condemner’s riffcraft is actually heavily informed by primitive black metal such as Profanatica. Yes, there’s plenty of shredding, and riffs that would be perfectly at home on a thrash metal album, but oftentimes one must look to the drums for the clues.
The backbone of this music is made up of simple yet imaginative tremolo riffs underpinned by a mid-paced blast-beat. The guitars will work their way through variations and complementary riffs before returning to the main motif, all the while the drums will have shifted pace or even acknowledged these transitions. This is an innovation lent to extreme metal from hardcore punk such as Discharge, but taken up by black metal as well. The guitars determine structure and mood, so drums are freed up from primary rhythm keeping duties.
A testament to how well Condemner can work this into a more straightforward death metal framework is the closing track ‘Extinguishment’, which is an instrumental stretching to nearly twenty minutes in length, but somehow fails to become tiresome. Indeed I only realised towards the end that I had sat through such a long stretch of high intensity extreme metal almost none stop. So intuitive and well placed were the riffs and their commentary on each other, barely leaning on the crutch of lead guitars. This is chunky well written death metal that exemplifies key traits that make good extreme metal truly unique.
Zlurad – A Blessing or a Curse (For the Good of Evil) (January 2019)
Now this is a hard one to write about. It’s not strictly speaking metal, but then again it’s not strictly speaking even music. Sitting somewhere between freeform grindcore, powerviolence, jazz, and I guess what you could call ritualistic chanting. This is all thrown into a blender, resulting in an abrasive, almost unbearable listening experience. Multiple vocal tracks work their way through agonising moans and refrains that sound more pained than angry. These are kept in check by the drums, which set the intensity and drama of the work more than they do the rhythm. Static noise, what sounds like brass, and bass, all add additional layers of meat to fill the gaps.
Upon repeated listens – as with much experimental music of a similar density – one can discern the beginnings of structure beneath the chaos. This is determined by the drums, which entirely dictate the mood and intensity of the vocal tracks. As a result, when conventional rhythms and tome signatures do manifest out of the chaos it feels all the more rewarding for the listener. After a period of complete disorientation, frustration, even panic, something familiar, however primitive, makes itself known, and the brain issues a reward.
As one cannot discuss anything as civilised as key, melody, harmony, discussion must stick to mood, timbre, impressions. The resulting experience is akin to witnessing the birth of order from chaos; the primordial soup of music. In order to rediscover on an intuitive rather than an intellectual level what the attraction and purpose of music is, we must destructively forget all our preconceived ideas and conventions about what makes a good piece of music. Out of the rubble of this eviscerated music, we relearn the value of narrative structure in composition. The value of basic components like rhythm or melody is not simply intrinsic. Where they are placed within a piece of music and why is every bit as important.
It may be the sonic equivalent of hitting yourself over the head with a hammer repeatedly just for the relief when you stop, but it is a solid reminder of the endurance of narrative structure through the lens of improvised music.