I like the beats and I like the yelling: Macabre Decay, Atrium, Archaeopteris

Macabre Decay: Into Oblivion
Out 18th June on Grind to Death Records

For all the twists and turns of the forever war between old school obsessionists and deluded experimentalists, it has led to a frustratingly paralysed landscape in 21st Century metal. The possibility of new music – I mean really new music – has been called into question more than once. Leading the charge backwards has been death metal, motivated by blind panic as much as nostalgia; if originality is a fool’s errand, why not just perfect the achievements of history? There is at least a degree of honesty in this pursuit. Would be innovators by contrast are often better orators than they are musical shamans. For all their celebratory declarations of their forward thinking disregard for tradition or genre, their output tends to be utterly paralysed by both, choking on its own awareness of context.

Ever the optimist, I believe the ice of the 2010s is melting however, with the number of above average releases crossing my desk each day increasing. But more importantly, this net gain in quality is trackable across the broad extreme metal spectrum. The more metal insists on pushing forward, meshing with other styles and questioning what metal could actually mean, the harder and better the impetus to push backwards becomes. The new raises the stakes for the old.

As a result we get albums like Macabre Decay’s latest offering ‘Into Oblivion’. This wears its Swedish creds on its sleeve, balancing the crushing primitivism of this punk orientated style with its onward expansion into melodicism perfectly, with no cheese at one end or self-limiting tedium at the other. But more importantly, although ‘Into Oblivion’ can easily be segmented away as another above average OSDM offering, Macabre Decay burst out of the gate with a strongly defined character that could almost make one forget about genre politics entirely. We are not force fed OSDM tropes for the sake it, nor are we overtly aware of what we are supposed to be experiencing. These tracks are constructed so tightly, and are so playful in their freedom, that the experience is one of pure enjoyment in riff-based metal at its best.

Although many of the riffs are very much of the Swedish canon, the guitar tone is kept to a rather conventional level of distortion. This makes sense given the shape and progression of many of these riffs, where the buzzsaw sound would either be a needless distraction or else bury the melodic nuances and layered guitar leads that many of these pieces pivot on. Drums are crisp and clear, offering a rock-solid foundation of simple but tight rhythms, with plenty of engaging patterns informed by double bass work to frame the mid-paced riffing. The vocals offer a relatively strained take on the death growl, somewhere between Frank Mullen and Matti Kärki, bringing both aggression and emotion to fray with equal power.

The riffs themselves are a tour de force of classic death metal both in name and construction. This is no mere box ticking affair for the sake genre credentials. Macabre Decay know their onions when it comes to building a death metal track informed by a strong melodic character. One that builds walls of chromatic chaos to frame the traditional elements of cadence and resolve. Atonal thrash barrages act as link riffs – or verses….to the layman – which gives space for the vocal character to breathe, but also serves to directly contrast with the heightened tension of the development sections.

Adorning these meaty riffs are frequent displays of fluid lead guitar work. These stand out for their utilitarian efficiency. They cut across the mix at points of transition or heightened tension, both signalling and invoking the next phase of a track. The solos by contrast often act as a point of rest, adopting an Iron Maiden-esque flavour of euphoria which, whilst welcome, often serves as a place of comfort between the more esoteric death metal moments.

So to answer your question, no, ‘Into Oblivion’ is not particularly original, but yes, it’s a fucking good album and the reason we can say that whilst panning albums like Entrails’ ‘Rise of the Reaper’ is by thinking for a fucking second about the music you’re listening to. Macabre Decay feel familiar because they are, the many touchstones in their style are nothing new, but with these raw materials they create colourful music with an abundance of life and activity that fits like a glove. We don’t listen to this album and high five each other whilst yelling “old school”, we listen to this album and enjoy the adeptness of the riffcraft, arrangement, and composition.

Atrium: Ancient Spells
Out 11th June on Signal Rex

Colombian solo outfit Atrium hail back to the dreamy cosmic womb of early Canadian black metal in Sorcier des Glaces and Sombres Forets on their debut album ‘Ancient Spells’. All is inertia and echo as dreamy synthesisers work through gradual rising harmonies atop elongated tremolo picked chord progressions that trade in texture over characterful riffing. This simplest of foudnations is built upon with layers of guitars and high end refrains, before working in clashes of darkness against light as euphoric and mystical passages collide with sharp transitions into lower end minor keys. But as the mix is so murky and thick the various timbres take a moment to catch up with these shifts in raw musical information.

The production on this album contributes so strongly to achieving the syrupy affect that Atrium are aiming for that it’s a wonder more black metal so frequently miss the mark in this regard (although Boreal achieved something similar on ‘The Battle of VOSAD’). Drums are kept relatively flat. Although each element of the kit cuts across the fog of the other instrumentation well, their sound is clearly orientated toward its function as a metronomic pulse, giving the music momentum rather than a sophisticated rhythmic framing. That being said, Magister L. ekes out plenty of creative space within this limited remit, offering a performance not lacking in character and poise.

The guitar tone is nothing remarkable, offering a stereophonic swell of light distortion, one that’s not too shy on the low end by black metal standards. Although their chief role on ‘Ancient Spells’ is an atmospheric one, there are plenty of simple lead harmonies that jump out midway through many of these tracks, acting as much needed temporal signposts in this spacey mix if nothing else. Strained, ghoulish vocals ground the music with a much needed abrasive edge, calling to mind the likes of Summoning for their ability to insert the rawness of black metal’s punk roots within this fantastical setting.

But the chief guiding force and foundation of ‘Ancient Spells’ is the keyboard. For the most part these work in unison with the guitars, initially following the same chord progressions with ethereal synth tones and subtle strings before breaking away into soaring harmonies that take over the mix as if to drag it through to the next chapter. Such momentum – once built – is then taken away with a jarring key change or shift in pitch. But much currency can be made out of these simple tricks of composition thanks to the sheer weight of the tones used, much like an Elysian Blaze or Midnight Odyssey, the impact of each change and development is made all the greater in the inertia of this reverb laden context.

Atrium walk the line well between atmospheric/ambient black metal whilst dodging the baggage – or lack thereof given these subgenres’ reputation for tedium – of many acts associated with these terms. The musicality, whilst simple, is arranged well to enough to stand on its own two feet regardless of the pronounced aesthetic that has been applied to them. There is a forward motion, purpose, and discernible character to each track that makes it distinct from the last, despite the fact that each is tightly bound by a unifying vision of spacey black metal that seems to emanate from the firmament itself.

Archaeopteris: Visions chaotiques d´un songe halluciné
Released 18th June on Personal Records / Void Wanderer

There’s something about the French approach to black metal that is just very….French. From Blut Aus Nord to Peste Noire to Deathspell Omega, whatever one’s opinion on the quality of the nation’s contemporary output since the heady days of Les Legions Noire, there is an unmistakable aspiration to esotericism in these endeavours. Formed by members of Croc Noir, Archaeopteris is no different in this regard. Whether their debut EP ‘Visions chaotiques d´un songe halluciné’ taps into France’s direct line to subtlety and the arcane ways of artistic nuance or whether it’s offering merely the flavour of such pretensions is hard to glean at first listen.

Although it doesn’t smack the listener around the head in the manner of a Deathspell Omega, this a dense work that checks many styles and influences in the abstract black metal canon along the way. For that reason, repeated listens are recommended for the connoisseurs of the world. Frantic chromaticism is immediately thrown at the listener, allowing Archaeopteris to introduce and resolve dissonance almost instantaneously, but after this they waste no time in establishing a strong melodic core that jumps between death and black metal traditions freely.

The most obvious influence is Blut Aus Nord in their pacing between mournful harmonies rooted in pathos and reflection only to be immediately torn apart by abrasive dissonance and rhythmic machetes that kill any momentum before the listener is allowed to establish any unwarranted sentiments.

Vocals are probably the most conventional aspect of this music, offering an earthy growl set low in the mix and buried in reverb. This grants the music a strong atmospheric heart when compared to the guitars, which sit almost next to the ear in their immediacy. Equally the drums – although clear enough for us to catch the complexities of the jarring and impatient stylistic jumps of the performance – are also set low in the mix for the sake of constructing hidden corridors of sonic artefacts without distraction.

Whether these corridors lead anywhere or whether ‘Visions chaotiques d´un songe halluciné’ is the result of stylistic ADHD is hard to determine. The chasmic ending to the opening track ‘Visions Chaotiques’, constructed from feedback and a distorted bass drone is intercepted by a fragile and almost poppy acoustic interlude that serves as the intro to ‘Songe Hallucine’, which quickly dispenses with such sentimentalities for the sake of dissonance fuelled black metal defined by stop/start rhythms and clashing musical ideas.

Although the logic of this music can be hard to follow, the overall purpose being buried beneath these self-referential quirks and the appearance of oddly familiar faces, this is far less obnoxious than many in the French avant-garde of black metal. The narrative of each track is obscured, lacking a clear middle and end. But if you rearrange your expectations toward a series of builds and falls, a climax leading to an interlude leading to a dense package of riffs as opposed to a flowing and unified arc, then there is much enjoyment to be had from this debut EP.

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