Another round up of the noise of 2019.
Takafumi Matsubara: Strange, Beautiful, and Fast
The history of grindcore is an interesting one. At its inception it became a catalyst genre of sorts. Pure grindcore was made up of the bare bones of music; half songs and incomplete scraps. But the unique levels of energy and aggression found therein inspired many death and black metal artists, and its influence can be heard spattered across extreme metal of the early 1990s. Barring a few Brutal Truth shaped exceptions, it was dismissed as a needlessly limiting genre, whose creative potential had been spent. The originators went on to play death metal, or simply disbanded. The genre has been ceded to swivel eyed goregrind fans, who sit beneath the extreme metal scene like fungi living off our waste.
Today grindcore presents a challenge. Its rehabilitation has centred on artists gravitating towards this infamously narrow genre and daring themselves to make it interesting in some way. Many would argue that if you do too much with it it ceases to be grindcore at all. Or else it’s qualified with unhelpful terms like ‘experimental’. But it’s the term we got for ‘Strange, Beautiful, and Fast’ – the debut solo of LP of Takafumi Matsubara of Gridlink fame – so let’s roll with it.
In many ways this is the true heir to Brutal Truth’s underrated ‘Sounds of the Animal Kingdom’. Structurally it functions as a grindcore album, with rippingly fast micro songs, carrying a myriad of ideas that zip by as the listener strains to keep up. But along with the hardcore punk and stripped back thrash riffs one would expect of grindcore, SBAF borrows from a plethora of melodic extreme metal subgenres. In lesser hands this would have come across as screamo or mathcore, and whilst there are elements of both packed within this album, they work in their rightful context. This, and the various vocal techniques that are utilised – from shouting all the way through to bawling – lend the album a schizophrenic quality.
Like touring a Victorian insane asylum, we feel we are looking into various cells and wards and witnessing an array of pathologies and conditions. But this is no random tour. There is a structure to this album, the intensity ebbs and flows as the album progresses. It’s just a shame that the temptation to add a hip hop interlude towards the end became impossible to resist; isn’t that kooky on a grindcore album. All in all however, a refreshingly varied yet disciplined take on a form that many have long since written off.
Crypt Sermon: The Ruins of Fading Light
Philadelphia’s Crypt Sermon return with their second LP ‘The Ruins of Fading Light’ to much pomp and ceremony from label Dark Descent Records. Along with Atlantean Codex they are held up as the darlings of old school heavy/doom metal of the Candlemass variety. TROFL sees them finding their own voice some more after the competent but slightly derivative ‘Out of the Garden’ (2015). Although epic doom is still the dominant thread running through this music, Crypt Sermon have added a healthy dose of classic heavy metal influences along the lines of Angel Witch, which offers much needed diversity and pacing throughout this album.
Added to that is Brooks Wilson’s vocals which have definitely been juicing in the last few years. Despite a melodic sensibility that is somehow reminiscent of several different vocalists at once, he has added a power and aggression to certain inflections that lends the music yet more tensions and variety. Of course the stars of the show are the riffs. But the danger with epic doom is simply over-labouring the epic tone to the point of pummelling the listener into numbness. Crypt Sermon have overcome this hurdle by essentially hanging up their doom hats for significant portions of the album, and instead opting for galloping heavy metal.
Underpinning the incredibly catchy, melodic heavy metal is a powerful rhythm section that lends it an aggressive foundation. This feeds into another plus over the debut, and that is drama. Whilst ‘Out of the Garden’ was acceptable epic doom metal, Crypt Sermon have beefed up every aspect of their playing. From the operatic flavour to the vocals, to the speed and power of the rhythm section, and the riffs themselves, everything is hellbent on creating tension and release. Like a bow string taught with energy and the and satisfaction we get from feeling its release.
Some find this style hard to swallow. And it can be exhausting, especially if an artist tries to maintain drama and that illusive concept of the epic for the length of an LP, but Crypt Sermon provide ample dynamics and breathers for the listener to catch their breath and re-engage with the music. An all round thoroughly enjoyable release.
Dutch death/black metallers Defacement landed suddenly into our lives this year with debut LP ‘Deviant’. Half an hour of unrelating blast-beats and wall to wall riffs. Approximately, this albums sounds like modern Incantation playing black metal. The guitars are meaty and thick, but the structural approach to riffcraft implies a black metal framework, informed by ample dissonance. Cavernous amounts of reverb are applied to all instruments, including the guttural vocals, with lyrics all but superfluous.
This is an undeniably modern approach to extreme metal. One that has taken a very specific technique found in metal of earlier decades and extended the ideas therein to a full length release (just about full length, we’re talking barely half an hour in length). The atmosphere is bleak and single minded, reminiscent of depressive black metal albeit with some production value. However, beneath the relentless blasting there is a logic and structure to the riffs; and therefore a sense of purpose to the music. Drums are able to switch from what feels like constant blasting, to fills that will accent different riffs, and then slow to more of a d-beat which brings up the intensity levels by bringing the percussive pounding to the fore in the mind of the listener.
The album’s modest length is a plus. Although one can easily pick out the death metal riffs when contrasted with the fluidity of the black metal sections, there is an overpowering atmosphere to the whole work that lends it a sense of unity. Like an all too brief glimpse into the most disturbing of nightmares. This is an imposing and abrasive slab of extreme metal and an interesting way to marry disparate styles. At first glance it’s a cacophonous blast of noise, but on repeated listens the diversity of metal traditions informing the pattern of the riffs becomes apparent, and the order beneath the chaos rewards the patient mind.