Beats and yelling from: Pharmacist, Am Himmel, Hadiqat

Pharmacist: Flourishing Extremities on Unspoiled Mental Grounds
Out 1st July on Hells Headbangers

As I if trying to remarry the rockist flirtations of Carcass circa ‘Necroticism’ through to ‘Heartwork’ with the brutalist sobriety of early goregrind, Japan’s Pharmacist strike a welcome balance of urgent proselytizing against playful groove driven riffing. Indeed, so strikingly reminiscent of Carcass at the height of their powers is ‘Flourishing Extremities on Unspoiled Mental Grounds’ that it invites accusations of derivation. This would be misguided however. Instead, the most constructive – and by far the most enjoyable – way to read this album is one of recapturing the promise of early Carcass and redirecting it on a course that leads to fruitful creative pastures. The nosedive that Carcass as a viable entity took from the mid-1990s onwards was so dramatic that this seems like a worthy pursuit by any measure.

Stretching to over three quarters of an hour in length, yet made up of only seven tracks, ‘Flourishing Extremities on Unspoiled Mental Grounds’ is an exercise in longform deathgrind supplemented by elements of melodic death metal, grindcore, and true-blue death metal. Death ‘n’ roll riffs sit happily alongside bursts of speed and violence, which are again bookended by solos that borrow as much from the rhythmic playfulness of blues as they do the monstrous fretboard murder of death metal.

Vocals also seek to embody the multifaceted evolution at work behind this music’s ancestry, with mid-range rasps, low end guttural bursts, and maniacal screeches. The animalism that circles this album – constantly threatening to overwhelm the barricades and devolve it into structureless noise – is held at bay by extreme metal’s deeply held sense of musical discipline, which holds true even at the moment of its apparently total submission to the wilderness.

Despite the commercial dog whistles, these tracks remain of a metallic orientation at heart. The music is therefore able to not only contain but also recontextualise these clear nods to death metal at its most radio friendly, thus placing them in a more ambitious and ultimately subversive light. The compositions themselves are as ambitious as they are ground level filthy, as brutal as they are populist and groove laden. But the fact that these tensions are captured within of a form of death metal at the more ambitious end of the spectrum means that the listener does not feel pandered to. This is no smuggling of commercial signifiers beneath a veneer of extremity, rather it is an attempt to make the extreme playful, unpredictable, and subversive again.  

Am Himmel: As Eternal as the Starless Kingdom of Sorrow
Out 30th June on Burning World Records

Following the example of Urfaust, Am Himmel seek to accumulate interest on a modest deposit of fragmented musical materials via waves of surplus texture, beat inertia, and teasing resolutions. The result is a picture that superficially appears fraught with activity, but on closer inspection approaches near total stasis. Tempos exist on the borders of the perceptual present, with each beat falling just in time for us to still be liminally aware of that which preceded it. Painfully simple descending note patterns occupy the majority of the foreground with repetitious predictability, with additional sonic material in the form of harmonic synth tones, strings, and other miscellany riding the glacial waves, accumulating over the course of entire tracks like pollution from a factory.

‘As Eternal as the Starless Kingdom of Sorrow’ is a work that seeks out size, grandeur, reverence and collective despair. Its self-professed theological occupations are designed to work in undertones of human pathos to supplement the broadly galactic and impersonal positioning of the music’s textural remit – the washed out static guitars, the distant wail of distorted vocals, the weighted note transitions of the string tones.

The problem with taking such an approach as far as Am Himmel are concerned is that very little happens throughout this album. The attempted sleight of hand is easily discerned, thus making any additional information that is churned out as excess emissions from the scant musical architecture that is in place seem utterly surplus, an appendage deployed (and failing) to cloak the mirage at the heart of this music.

Minimalism and ambience go hand in hand with black metal, especially the more contemporary drone variants of the genre born in the wake of funeral doom and ambient black metal. But Am Himmel fail to compensate the listener once the musical scaffolding is removed. Each track has much the same textural range to offer. Despite occasional switches in mood these amount to little more than the most banal transitions from major to minor key and back again.

Everything pivots on the most obvious three to four chord clusters, repeated to the point of monotony, leaving any compensatory noise artefacts that might compel us to seek greater meaning from the work to simply circle round the same limited enclosure. This is music where nothing happens. But ultimately its failing is not so much the lack of activity as the lack of any commentary on musical stasis as an artform, its potentials for renewal and subversive play with form.

Hadiqat: Eutropia
Out 1st July on Xenoglossy Productions

Fragments of raw black metal and funeral doom seem barely able to coalesce into a cohesive object on this debut demo from the Spanish entity known as Hadiqat. Despite the persistent grinding static of guitar noise, the compositions embody a strained stop-start narrative, as if the music itself is only partially able to reconcile itself to the burden of existence.

Drums are key to articulating this message. Despite their garden variety aesthetic qualities as far as raw black metal goes, they adopt a slowed, stilted interpretation of minimalism, eschewing for the most part the industry standard of mid-paced blast-beats. Slow beats form out of the murk only to completely dissolve after a few measures, evaporating into a haze of existential ambiguity.

This upsets any balance and momentum that could be garnered in the enveloping wash of guitar layers. Their delivery may be flowing, mournful, ethereal, but their pacing is tortured, laboured, burdened by the gravity of the moment and constantly on the verge of collapse. Vocals offer supplementary static to this already harsh picture, barely recognisable as human as they screech pained dictates to the darkly fraught spaces this music occupies.

Despite the submerged unreality of this demo’s surface level aspects, it is a work more evocative of a realist Sisyphean struggle. As a piece of black metal it bears all the signifiers of the fantastical imaginary that is the genre’s one universal hallmark. But the delivery and structure speak of a blunter reality. The struggle to simply continue being and the trivial, repetitive, petty prerequisites we are constantly obliged to undertake in order to maintain this status quo. Any hoped for developments, any long desired paradigm shifts, all occur in such achingly slow increments as to be almost imperceptible. Black metal usually stands in defiance of such domestic defeatism, on ‘Eutropia’ it seems such things are elevated to front and centre, their mundanely tortuous qualities finally revealed in all their horrific torpor.

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