I like the beats and I like the yelling: Havohej, Goat Disciple, Atvm

Havohej: Table of Uncreation (2019)

Paul Ledney finally returns with a new Havohej LP ten years after the ground-breaking ‘Kembatinan Premaster’ (2009). And if that album laid the groundwork for how the inevitable marriage of noise and black metal might actually work, then ‘Table of Uncreation’ moves us just a little further along this road. I understand that Ledney has been busy with sister project Profanatica, the more conventional front for his force-of-nature drumming, but ‘Table of Uncreation’ does not feel like an album ten years in the making.

It is but one logical direction that the Havohej project could have taken on the many paths that it opened up for the fringes of extreme metal. ‘Kembatinan Premaster’ was two parts aggression one part unique and oppressive atmosphere. Using a hum of static atop primal and organic drum-work, it built trance-like rhythms which droned into the listener ad-nauseum, and just before utter insanity is reached, he would play a chord on a synth-choir sound, and it would be the most glorious sound in the world. This is the power of contrast, and a pure demonstration of the need to build structure and direction into even the most lawless of musical forms.

On ‘Table of Uncreation’ the bare bones of the album are much the same, although the tempo sinks down in doom metal territory. Most of the album is replete with chasmic static, underpinned by cavernous sounding drums, minimal yet big. Ledney’s voice is deep and rich and distant. The pace does pick up here and there at unexpected intervals, and this brings me round to the album’s greatest strength and its biggest crutch: contrast.

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Large parts of TOU are without percussion or vocals. The music simply devolves into structureless dark ambient, with some distant and indiscernible noises in the distance, only to throw out a barrage of heavy snare and more static (possibly a guitar line). This is great, but unlike KP, it does not seem to lead anywhere, there is no final catharsis and one wonders if it is an album of filler, getting by solely on those unexpected bursts of noise after extended periods of coloured silence.

So how could contrast also be a strength? There are hints of melody here and there. Distant guitar lines and small lights in the dark. They are utterly suppressed by the wall of open noise that dominates. But they are scattered throughout, and offer the listener a hope in music, juxtaposed against the wilderness of featureless noise they are otherwise faced with. Which leads me to believe that the seeming lack of payoff was completely intentional. KP was a crushing album, but it seemed to draw to a conclusion, there was a clear ending to the album even if it was not particularly happy. TOU offers no such solace. Much like life, there is no payoff, no punchline, just scattered moments of unrealised hope before a poorly timed ending.

With all that in mind, ‘Table of Uncreation’ walks a line, one that all music that teeters on the edge of music must walk. On one side lies utter nonsense for the sake of it, propped up as ‘art’ by people unwilling to face their own intellectual shortcomings. The other is a genuine assessment of the purpose, meaning, and methods of music, through destroying it altogether and tentatively offering thoughts on how to rebuild anew. Paul Ledney – through the medium of Havohej – has always been one of extreme metal’s finest champions of this cause. But I fear that TOU may have been the difficult follow up to KP that just doesn’t quite hit the mark. It is, however, a damn interesting album and well worth a spin, especially for those new to the work of this artist and the outer reaches of what underground metal is capable of.

Goat disciple: Wolfcult Domination (2018)

Utah’s Goat Disciple released their debut EP in 2018: ‘Wolfcult Domination’, and it continues in metal’s fine tradition of helping ourselves to compound words. Aesthetically it sits at that extreme of aggressive black metal, underpinned by the spirit of grind and the odd death metal riff scattered throughout. Although many of the riffs have a pronounced melody to them, and are even catchy in places, this definitely follows in the Diocletian school of overwhelmingly busy and achingly fast extreme metal.

The guitars have a very distinctive and heavy sound, and they pretty much keep the same pace throughout, excluding a few breaks here and there. The drums are where the let up occurs, occasionally dropping the blast-beats to engage on their own breakdowns with the guitars maintaining a cacophony above. This grants the music more variation than is at first obvious, particularly when one looks at the contrasts between the biting atonal chaos when contrasted with contemplative melodies.

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Vocals are a sort of mess of guttural growls that – when set to such fast, chaotic music – calls to mind Teitanblood amongst others. Such an uncoordinated approach serves to add to the loose barrage of noise that Goat Disciple create here. Of course, one can tell that they are completely in control of events, but combinations and collisions of competing ideas give the illusion of music that has completely run away with itself in the most satisfying of ways. Another merit found on ‘Wolfcult Domination’ that is completely underused in this particular stripe of extreme metal is repetition. Or rather, resting on an idea for long enough for the listener to become accustomed or uncomfortable with it. It’s an underrated technique that can serve greatly to add tension and release, especially within such restless music.

It may not be anything we have not heard done before, but Goat Disciple utilise plenty of pleasing flourishes and well thought out ideas to make this a worthy addition to the archives of noise. This is a very promising debut EP, and one hopes that in these little crevices of direction and innovation that they sketched out we will see these developed further in the future.

Atvm: Out of Chaotic Waters (2015)

Having attended the awesome ‘Cosmic Terror Fest’ in Leeds last week, Atvm were one of the many bands that caught my eye. Not least because of their ability to get more from less; much, much more. Plug your guitar, tune your bass, set up a bare necessities drumkit, and go. But from this emerges highly complex progressive death metal that is seemingly without pretension. On their debut EP ‘Out of Chaotic Waters’ released in 2015 they exhibit a playful and restless brand of technical metal that is elegant in its simplicity of approach. There is nothing to hide behind on this EP, just music that keeps going forward.

Vocals are a solid mid-range death bark, that are reliably consistent if nothing else. Riffs centre on a thrashier version of ‘The Red in the Sky is Ours’ for the most part, but this is constantly commented on by what is essentially a tour of the more ambitious pillars of old school death. But much as I would like to talk about the refreshing back-to-basics creativity of the riffcraft, the rhythm section is really the star of the show. We’ve all heard this form of fluid jazz drumming in death metal before. Here they take on more of a freeform approach, but are kept in line by the bass which – although playful – submits to the rigid structures laid down by the narrative demands of the guitars.

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Gone is the rigid yet complex mastery of Mike Smith, to be replaced by more emotive drumming that makes use of dynamics as much as it does rhythm. Rather than sticking with the traditions of rock, where the drummer simply lays down a set of variations limited by the functions of ‘keeping time’, the drums edge away from this function on OOCW to follow the guitar lines. In commenting on the riffs, emphasising them here, diminishing them there, they have moved away from this primary rhythm function into the realms of jazz. But as this is metal, where structure is all, the guitars step in to keep everyone in line, shining a new light on the narrative functions of this instrument and the new creative challenges this can present.

This technique is reminiscent of Zemial’s ‘Nykta’, where very back to basics old school thrash was interworked with epic prog metal breakdowns, and the drummer was afforded room to breath away from the riggers of keeping the other musicians in time. A complex and dense release with much to unpack, but undeniably life affirming upon first few listens, this comes highly recommended.

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