Buying into one’s own mythology is a common symptom of aging without grace. It seems to be a congenital condition amongst bands that cracked an idiosyncratic formula within a very specific set of parameters early on in their career. From the first note of ‘The Rack’, Asphyx emerged with a dirt simple take on death/doom that carved out an epic and immediately identifiable approach to riffcraft. For the last decade however, they remain stuck in a rut of celebrating their own contributions to metal’s history via the medium of formulaic and half-baked odes to their glory days. Darkthrone – probably the band most synonymous with a traditionalist’s understanding black metal – turned on their followers in the mid-2000s, and began releasing countless albums of one-dimensional crust punk blended with heavy metal in an apparent tribute to the virtues of old school frugality (and their own contributions to these homespun values).
And of course we have dear old Impaled Nazarene. From the outrageous flamboyance of ‘Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz…’, to the soaring heights of ‘Ugra Karma’, the spark was too bright, too intense to last. Rather than calling it a day after the enjoyable but lacklustre ‘Suomi Finland Perkele’, they kept going. Like a chef that only ever uses three ingredients yet insists on presenting them in slightly different positions on the plate with each serving, Impaled Nazarene have essentially been shifting around the same limited niche since the mid-90s.
Eggs, bacon, and toast are all well and good, but eventually the body will crave more diverse nutrition. Just as grindcore, d-beat, black metal, and a good sprinkle of war metal makes for a tasty combination, with each album offering the same flat ideas, fans will eventually smell a rat. Even if the grindcore aspect is pushed more on one release, and d-beat on the next, if the underlying formula remains unchanged, you simply cannot get away with album after album on the same trajectory. Or rather, you can get away with it because Impaled Nazarene are still alive and kicking whilst us shit munchers on the internet scream protests into the aether.
Their latest offering, ‘Eight Headed Serpent’, is another tired, formulaic foray into intense and blasting black metal, replete with lyrics that come across as part self-parody/part ironic tribute, eschewing the notion of saying anything meaningful. Drums veer from blast-beats to d-beats and back again. Riffs are a flat, atonal barrage with one or two catchier melodic lines thrown in to temper the monotony. The central riff to the closing track ‘Foucault Pendulum’ stands out in particular.
Mikka’s vocals are now a tired and weak facsimile of hardcore punk stylings. Once the most intense and uniquely monstrous voice within black metal, his throat, now apparently shot to hell entirely, can only manage the most limited range of staccato barks belting forth self-congratulatory platitudes on the same five topics Impaled Nazarene are known for: war, sex, themselves, war, and sex.
And that’s fundamentally what makes this and the majority of post 1996 releases form this outfit so unacceptable. They are essentially a tribute to themselves. A celebration of the idea of Impaled Nazarene. But this idea, whatever it amounts to, is couched within their first two and half albums. It is of the past. Without a positive act of creative will it does not exist in the present, at least within the remit of present-day Impaled Nazarene. And no amount of one-dimensional, unimaginative serenades they offer to the bacchanalian nihilism that was, can bring it back into existence.
I say all this with no surprise whatsoever. Impaled Nazarene are the last of the old school I would expect to release a ground-breaking magnum opus. But it is still remarkable how the mighty fall. Reduced to writing riffs based on a handful of templates, placing them in slightly different arrangements for each track, putting the emphasis more on black metal for one, and punk on another. This, sadly, is the very definition of phoning it in. It’s enough to make one wish this was irredeemably awful. But, thanks to a few above average riffs scattered throughout ‘Eight Head Serpent’, Impaled Nazarene have saved themselves from the at least interesting levels of terrible that was ‘Illud Divinum Insanus’, and have instead once again opted for the infuriatingly mediocre.
The debut album from the Canadian outfit known as Head of Jeddore indulges the 90s alt metaller in you, and all the genre hopping quirkiness that found an audience in irony hungry Gen Xers back in the day. Featuring Greg Dawson from Olde, ‘How to Slaughter a Lamb’ certainly has undercurrents of stoner and sludge in places, but this is mixed in with an array of riff traditions, from post hardcore, to groove metal, to blues, to straight up thrash.
From a purely technical point of view, this makes the musicianship on display here all the more impressive. The constantly shifting tempos, the switches from tight, choppy riffs to loose grooves, and the many adept lead guitar segments that crop up, all are impressive. Head of Jeddore would not be able to master such a diverse array of genres without first being accomplished at the techniques and underlying theory behind each of them. They are not just a jack of all trades, but are able to play multiple styles convincingly and mash them together into tightly compressed moments within each track.
Alongside Mr Bungle I’m seeing this album compared to System of a Down a lot. The comparison seems entirely fitting in the tonal swaps each track forces us through. If you find one segment obnoxious, or the next too abrasive, the music quickly shifts gear both texturally and emotionally, from comedic vocal inflections to heartrendingly tender melodies, from blind rage to defeatist doom. For a genre that trades frequently on “being quirky”, it is at constant risk of disappearing completely up its own arsehole. With nothing to recommend the music beyond there being a jarring range of musical components slapped together, the listener can be quickly alienated, either struggling too keep up with the effervescent nothing at the heart of the music, or else claiming to understand it in a desperate attempt to be in on the joke.
I kept expecting to have the same reaction when presented with ‘How to Slaughter a Lamb’. The music is obnoxious, in your face, it wears its quirks on its sleave and it insists on making each transition from mood to mood and genre to genre as dramatic as possible. But on the majority of these tracks the near random magazine cuttings that make up the intro and first verse or so are collected together into a bracing midpoint climax that seems to collect all these disparate ideas together into a gut punch of frantic sludgy metal.
For instance the track ‘Kathmandu’, which opens with rhythmically schizophrenic offcuts of sludge metal, before a choppy breakdown, only to breakout into a bouncy stoner riff accompanied by stirring banjo arpeggios. It all sounds ridiculous on paper, but the left-of-centre arrangement works to bring this track together from almost utter collapse, making the solidity it achieves by its close all the more satisfying.
And so the album proceeds, threatening to entirely collapse into meaningless musical in-jokes, only to be pulled back from this ironic abyss into a cohesive and surprisingly emotive musical force. Something that System of a Dawn at their best were also capable of. In placing comedy in such close proximity to aggression and pathos, a powerful musical force is unleashed that not all are capable of harnessing. But Head of Jeddore walk this line with impressive ease over the course of ‘How to Slaughter a Lamb’.
Sticking with Chile’s penchant for blackened thrash that puts the rest of the world to shame, Perversor’s latest EP ‘Psicomoro’ sees a physical release on Hells Headbangers this year. Even on this short outing Perversor demonstrate a broader mastery of late 80s extreme metal than many of their peers. From the Massacra style scale runs of ‘Anzu’, to the odd hints at contemporary Profanatica on ‘Anguis Caecus’, this is far more than a monochrome adrenaline shot of dirty blackened thrash.
The production is modest but not weak. Guitars cut through with a fairly soft distortion which again screams old school. But the tone, whilst not the strongest one going, is certainly sharp enough to articulate the frantic riff patterns present on each track. The drums are tinny but clear. The snare and cymbals are a little too dominant over the kick drums, which seems to be symptomatic of a wider lack of bass in the overall mix. But we’ll let this slide seeing as none of these small blemishes are a detriment to enjoying this tight little EP.
Although there’s nothing cosmically earth shattering about this music, the flow of each piece is undeniable. From the Slayer style atonality of the opener ‘Cocaina’, to the off-kilter Masscara style polyrhythm found in the central riff to ‘Anzu’, or even the chaotic opening riff of ‘Anguis Caecus’ which bears comparison to Antaeus, Perversor are more than willing to mix up riff traditions, constantly pushing at this genre’s stagnant willingness to rest on its laurels and stray no further than Sarcofago’s ‘INRI’.
This music trades on non-stop chromatic riffing. Presenting a dense tapestry of ever shifting rhythms, and unexpected chromatic trills that forever shift the listener’s perception. This is why this style is so suited to conveying chaos, nihilism, a futile quest for meaning in the face of the violence at the heart of existence. It is an amoral barrage of chaos that nevertheless constructs its own logic of rhythm and resolve from its apparent declaration of finality.