The second offering from Funereal Presence swung off the vine onto my desk the other day: ‘Achatius’, released early this year. It is truly one of the more unique releases that I have come across in recent years. It revels in a primitivism of decades gone by, namely the older school of black metal, calling to us from a pre-Darkthrone age. The production as well is so authentically retro that it feels like some long lost treasure of the past that has only recently come to light. The vintage thrash riffs that are worked throughout these lengthy four tracks, the neoclassical flare to the classic heavy metal lead work, and the snarling animalism of the vocal style, all reek of a much played out old school revivalism. But herein lies the paradox at the heart of ‘Achatius’. This is one of the most forward looking extreme metal releases of the year.
I would call it progressive, but – undeniable musicianship aside – there is an accessible playfulness to the riffcraft. A simple, almost catchy riff, will form the bedrock of a track. Which is usually played out through tricks of major key and its interplay with atonality, lending the music an odd feeling of optimism. These off-kilter riffs are then contrasted with some very unorthodox lead work.
Scholars of music theory may wish to correct me, but I believe this is achieved through use of major and minor in unison, to create powerful yet deeply unsettling guitar lines. Heroic disharmony reigns atop bouncy Slayer beats. At times this completely devolves into chromatic scale runs ascending and descending, that jump out at the listener at the most unexpected of junctures. There is plenty of melodrama worked throughout – entirely fitting given the subject matter of the album – but also a degree of maturity and restraint. For instance the harp intro – at which point one would be forgiven for thinking they were listening to an Obsequiea album – foreshadows many interesting influences that crop up throughout the album.
But as with all great music, these novelties – thrilling as they may be – are put in service of a focused, and tight narrative of epic metal. It feels like the promise of heavy metal of decades gone by, which is finally coming true. By using older, more traditional techniques laced with subtle flourishes of atypical and modern influences for metal, we finally have in ‘Achatius’ an example of the true spirit of heavy metal, it’s true potential, one that was always there before 1990, but now at last transcending its blues and rock roots.
I heard you like music? And by that I mean all the different musics…all at once. When faced with an album that names the flavour of the music in the title, I always approach with a degree of suspicion. You’ve set yourself up for failure by positioning your album as the very definition of a genre. But Detieti’s fourth release, ‘Frogressive Punk’ proves to be as frustrating and rewarding as the name suggests. If you don’t like a particular passage, Detieti won’t dwell on it for long before completely moving to a whole other genre.
I’ll take the opening number ‘Cocaintro’ as an example of what I’m getting at. It opens with what promises to be an atmospheric and mellow desert rock groove. We are then treated to a medieval style keyboard line complete with marching drums, which is reminiscent of Summoning more than anything. As things pick we enter prog territory proper. At this point I believed we Detieti had finally settled on what would make up the meat of this album. A dense and technically precise modern incarnation of Yes at their most challenging. But then the Red Heat film samples kick in, and we move through funk, jazz, hardcore punk, disco, and groove over the ten minute course of this track.
This is prog that wants you to know its prog, music for musicians. Not just in their playful treatment of time, key, and timbre, but also the restless attitude they have towards the conventions of style. I’ve heard similar approaches to music many times, and when set against a metal framework I have often been frustrated. But on repeated listens, in a position to piece together the many components of this music together it does become more rewarding. Because the music moves through so many different and contrasting incarnations in quick succession, it becomes a buffet for the music lover. They are able to pluck their choice cuts out of the array before them, and discard the rest.
Whilst earlier releases from Detieti hinted at finishing the work of Painkiller on ‘Buried Secrets’, ‘Frogressive Punk’ focuses their sound somewhat. There’s definitely elements of grindcore, hardcore punk, and the hard, abrasive jazz that Painkiller aimed for. All this is still present on ‘Frogressive Punk’, but they have been dramatically reigned back as a whole host of more mellow influences are brought to the fore.
It’s a challenging and shapeshifting release, even by the standards of progressive music. But there is a pleasing architecture and narrative that’s apparent throughout its runtime. It simply takes a few spins for this to take shape in the mind of the listener. This is aided by some clever framing of the mid-section of the album. The opener and closer are focused, more laboured, and allow ideas to fester for longer. They act almost like an incentive and reward for indulging the band through their genre bending escapades that makes up the albums bulk. For that I would simply say stick with it, for ‘Froggressive Punk’ has many secrets to reveal.
After Caladan Brood, Disannulleth is the second black metal artist I have knowingly come across to emerge from Salt Lake City. A third will be a pattern and I’ll have to re-evaluate my rather English pre-conceptions about the place. Disannulleth released a demo back in 2017 entitled ‘Age of Exalted Intolerance’ (I love aggressively weird titles). Broadly speaking, AOEI sounds like Incantation making black metal. The opener is certainly a death metal track, complete with the malevolent doom of Incantation’s stripe, but as the demo progresses things become unmistakably colder, more harmonic, less atonal, even the vocals switch to two voices, one guttural, one more of a shriek.
Unlike the blending of the black and death metal styles we are familiar with from Sweden, this takes the evil, despairing aspects of black metal and adds a death metal swagger to them. Graceful and soaring it is not. It is instead overbearing, confident, and a trifle groovy in places. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s deathened black metal (that genre title doesn’t roll off the tongue very easily). It’s rather a pasting together of the two styles into one piece of music. The death metal riffs are obvious, the black metal riffs are obvious, and they don’t really gel together in the way we are used to for blackened death metal.
This is partly because Disannulleth are taking their cues from death/doom more than anything, which is not usually married to the rather Ukrainian black stylings they work into this demo. But rather than this being a detriment, it adds an aggressive confidence to the evil misanthrope that would – in the wrong hands – come across as not a little bit cheesy. On the whole this is a surprisingly rich release, pregnant with well executed ideas that builds on the black metal stylings of Hate Forest et al. and hopefully points to some new dimensions to a style that is running low on momentum.