It’s seems oddly fitting that avant-garde metal has led us to Stravinsky. Taken one way, 30 Immolated ; 16 Returned’s latest EP ‘The Burial of the Dead – Excerpts from Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring’ is a copy of a copy. Taken another, it is an honest attempt to reintroduce extreme metal to its avant-garde roots. A bit of music history might be in order here, because we essentially need to decide if this EP is the beginnings of an important salvage operation for modern metal or a sleight of hand.
Stravinsky’s work was in many ways a last bastion of traditional music before it fell into an atonal death spiral after the 1900s. And we could, if we chose, draw many analogies between that period and now. For instance, in the 1900s many feared that the atonality heralded by the likes of Schoenberg and his chromatic twelve-tone rows was the death of music itself. With Mahler being a last farewell to the Romantic era. Today people fear that the possibility of original music in any form is a distant dream.
By the 1920s, many have lost faith in art’s capacity to communicate anything meaningful in the face of the horrors of genocidal war and totalitarian regimes. Hence the rise of nihilistic movements such as Dadaism. Today the battleground is art’s role in the collapse of the neoliberal order and the fight to seize history’s narrative in the decades to come.
Back then we had Stravinsky, valiantly attempting to salvage the emotional core of music through ironic references to the classicism of the past. And today we have acts like 30 Immolated ; 16 Returned, who are apparently sincere in their reinterpretation of Stravinsky’s all too ironic work ‘The Rite of Spring’.
And here we come to the crux of the point. Because Stravinsky was also sincere in his attempt to rescue music from itself by resurrecting the techniques and styles found in Bach and Mozart and covering them in dissonance, additive rhythms, and unsettling repetitions. And in doing so he effectively created what is now known as neoclassical music.
Cultural theorists such as Theodore Adorno abhorred this project however. To Adorno, Stravinsky was a trickster, unable to create genuine artistic statements, reviving music of the past only to replace its emotional core with ironic in-jokes. Stravinsky’s reaffirmation of traditional musical mores in the face of the endless possibilties found in the chromatic ambiguity of Schoenberg was nothing more than a sleight of hand for Adorno.
As a neo-Marxist responding to the horrors of the 20th Century, he believed that it was essential for art to be a moralising force, with room for both an emotionally resonate core and pronounced ambiguity. The parlour tricks of Stravinsky stripped art of its sincerity, and in denying music’s ambiguity he denied the power of art to embody toleration for the “other”.
So what are 30 Immolated ; 16 Returned saying by providing a mellitic reinterpretation of a highly referential style of neoclassical music? To put it bluntly, this is one of the most obnoxious things I’ve heard in years whilst simultaneously being an honest attempt to recapture the adventurous spirit of metal. But one could argue that by scouring the broader past of music history for a way forward only to land on Stravinsky is the ultimate irony.
For all of Stravinsky’s dissonance, his violent repetitions and pulsing rhythms, his music takes us nowhere. There is no beginning and no end. So it is with this new arrangement. We are given a set of ideas, all rich with musicality and clearly born of minds desperate for the “new” in timbre, tonality, and philosophy. But the end result is a disconnected collage of sonic fragments that takes us nowhere.
This reinterpretation is certainly a more nuanced rendering of ‘The Rite of Spring’ than djent artists; the relentless dissonance, the freeform rhythms, the nods to conventional melody found in 30 Immolated ; 16 Returned’s harsh production, their creative approach to guitar feedback, to dynamics, and distorted vocals. Everything about this EP oozes a respect for and knowledge of the original piece. It’s a work of honesty and true originality of intent. But that does not prevent this from achieving little beyond a lamentable musical in-joke. Much like the original, we are forced to side with Adorno and assert that despite the plethora of activity within this music, there is no development, no elaboration of motive, no journey. We are left with the exact same question going into this EP as our departure from it: whither music?
Czechia’s Snet bolt from the gate with their debut album ‘Mokvání V Okovech’, a familiar concoction of old school Incantation with latter day Autopsy that somehow manages to come off as refreshing. The newness oozing from these tracks is made all the more bafflingly given how saturated the OSDM scene is at the moment with bands all vying for the same chunk of airtime. This album falls into the same terrain as Undergang, Necrot, and Tomb Mould, but still comes out as a breath of fresh air. Why, one may ask, is that? Fear not though, I’m here to help.
The production is rich and warm, embodying a reassuringly organic sound that is nevertheless suitably crushing. The drums are straightforward, with no heavy-handed bass or reverb, and each section of the kit is given room to breathe and decay. The guitars, as domineering as they are, still leave space in the mix for the bass to be entirely audible, as opposed to a mere presence as bass so often is in death metal. It largely sticks to root notes, but the tone gives a weight and body to the mix that’s particularly pleasing. Vocals are down and dirty, as if emerging from the swamp of the music to deliver the litanies of death.
Riffs are a smooth blend of classic Incantation with a more pronounced melodic core, along with some Autopsy style playfulness thrown in for good measure. Plenty of the character of ‘Mokvání V Okovech’ is entirely of Snet’s own making however. The fact that they are operating on very familiar terrain, with a very familiar aesthetic, makes it all the more impressive that Snet have made this style their own. Most tracks open with a barrage of chromatic madness and blast-beats. But as some mid-paced riffs are introduced to anchor the track some interesting harmonic inflections are introduced, interesting for their textural qualities as much as their contribution to the composition.
These elements really come into their own when Snet indulge their doom side. Unlike many of the Incantaclones* who seem to chuck in a doom passage because that is what is expected of this style of music, without much forethought as to whether it works for a particular track, Snet really earn their slower moments. They often creep up on you by initially cutting across the faster riffs with some droning chords. But these are held on for longer and longer with the addition of tonally centred guitar leads, and this is where the music becomes really immersive. This structure is reversed on the closing number ‘Vesmina Saliva’, which boasts a massive intro made doomy more by the choice of chord progression than the tempo, which is actually pretty fast for doom. It may not quite be up there with ‘The Rack’ in the history of riffs, but it’s pretty close. As the slow chugging chords compound on one another, complimented by some well-placed licks after each phrase, which builds to the final, climatic foray into chaos.
This is a solid album of utterly familiar traits within death metal of both the new and old school. But Snet stick out like a sore thumb in this arena. And this distinction is well earned, stemming from nothing else but the hard graft of decent song writing that eschews empty novelty, choosing instead the ways of substantive riffcraft.
The latest EP from Dublin based extreme metallers Coscradh is a short but enriching demonstration of the dirty end of black metal. It may be a brief presentation, but there is much instruction to be had. Although there is a good mix of black and death metal riffing, there is a linear fluidity to the arrangements which speaks chiefly to the blackened end of the spectrum. Riffs once introduced are fixated on just past the point of comfort, accompanied by blast-beats that embody a shuffling, off kilter quality to them by virtue of being cut with plenty of d-beats in the process.
This offsets the abrasive repetition at the core of both these tracks. The production is of war metal quality, an onslaught of relentless guitars and drums, with ghoulish vocals cutting across the mix, but remaining a background feature next to the determined surge of the guitars. The transition from one riff to the next feels awkward, as if the band is completely falling out of time. The drums seem to lose their place, and a wall of guitar noise is deployed as if to cover the mistake. This technique serves the purpose of completely disorientating the listener before the next riff is introduced and the band returns to a semblance of a beat we are capable of following.
The first track ‘Mesradh Machae’ acts like a conveyor belt of abrasion with each riff overstaying its welcome, bookended by those consciously sloppy rhythmic transitions. The second track ‘Plagues of Knowth’ has a blackened thrash colouring to it. The riffs are more percussive, the drums cut across their momentum by forcing staccato breaks that upset the flow of noise. These disorientating projectiles thrown across the otherwise constant barrage of noise culminate in a dramatic finale of passionate vocalisations, dissonant guitar leads worthy of Profanatica, and a gradual build in static textures.
Coscradh have offered up a dense EP that makes up for its briefness with an array of musical information to decode. Priority listening for any fan of dirty black metal and the borders of death/black/thrash metal at large.