Beats and yelling from: The Wakedead Gathering, Ceremonial Worship, Rotheads

The Wakedead Gathering: Parallaxiom
Out 15th July on I, Voidhanger Records

‘Parallaxoim’ is a classic example of death metal repositioned as material for fleshing out a high concept narrative, something that tends to provoke more suspicion than delight if we’re being completely honest. Metal has always been steeped in its thematic material, a biproduct of attempting to drag contemporary music beyond immediate social experiences and into a commentary on the deeper currents of human nature and psychology. But this endeavour is just as liable to create regrettable space for amateur novelists to fashion bloated fantastical narratives that saturate the musical experience with lavishly cloying surplus ornamentation.

But The Wakedead Gathering quickly dispel such fears despite the sci-fi novella packaging. This is an album steeped in death metal’s history, but it manipulates the contrasting motives and themes from the genre’s past into a strictly maintained narrative. Household names as diverse as Autopsy and Gorguts lurk in the shadows of ‘Parallaxiom’. But the techniques required to articulate such a diverse array of actors are strictly disciplined into a cohesive musical offering, one intent on carrying the listener forward on waves of motion rather than functioning as mere delivery mechanisms for a series of comfortingly familiar historical reference points.

The undulating percussive dissonance of Immolation meets the occultist groove of mid-90s Morbid Angel, only to wrap back around to a riff that thrives on its own sense of novelty, given greater credence by virtue of growing out of this heavily context driven setting in order to mark the path forward. One could say that ‘Parallaxiom’ therefore has a dual function. One is rooted in artistic intent, a loosely told sci-fi dystopian narrative of genetic determination and authoritarianism.

The other sits in the abstract setting of riff alchemy and its relation to our ability to take the artwork as a fully defined object. This is essentially a celebration of death metal by way of a history of riff and rhythm philosophies. But more importantly, The Wakedead Gathering are able to deploy this in a more interesting way than a series of semi regulated reference points.

‘Parallaxiom’ uses these raw materials as a blueprint, but what quickly emerges from this information rich schematic is the lurking shadow of novelty, of a universe coming into fruition, born of the old but taking us into the new. Pockets of intrigue, tension, of dynamic interaction between pitches, drum pattern, sustained doom chords collided against batteries of atonal hardcore bombast, all mesh together to form an entity able to supervene on such well worn raw materials.  

Ceremonial Worship: Seven Gateways to Eternal Misanthropy
Out 22nd July on Eternal Death

Black metal’s clunky disharmony is brought to the fore on the latest album from Greece’s Ceremonial Worship. This is chiefly expressed through the ontology of the recording itself. A wafer thin guitar tone dominates the mix, articulating solitary melodic throughlines with any contrapuntal or rhythm accompaniment totally absent. A timid bass tone can be discerned just beneath the surface, but aside from that the low and mid ranges of the mix are left utterly sparse.

Drums, as tinny as they are sloppy, are foregrounded in all their glorious amateurism. If a kick drum was ever present on this performance someone definitely neglected to mic it up, whilst the toms – as and when they are struck – sound forth with such gusto as to totally dominate the mix.

Vocals exacerbate the discordant dynamics at the heart of ‘Seven Gateways to Eternal Misanthropy’, with all the usual black metal ejaculations being pitched at every level, from unintelligible to so loud that they threaten to completely topple the shocking fragility of the mix. All is sloppy, everything is either in the wrong place, missing when it should be present, or present to the point of excessive parody when restraint would be called for.

But these abrasive stylistic choices are more faithful to the impetus and appeal of lo-fi, necrotic black metal than the highly curated spaces that make up 90% of the modern raw black metal landscape. It’s the difference between a ‘Transylvanian Funeral’ and an Ildjarn, between a ‘Nattens Madrigal’ and a ‘Rise of the Imperial Hordes’. Contriving an environment of primalism by ruthlessly controlling every aspect of the recording process so as to deliberately present as sloppy and barbaric won’t necessarily yield a dud – many classic albums have been conceived as such – but this approach is certainly responsible for the rampant homogenisation that came to dominate – and continues to define – black metal from the mid-2000s onwards.

Ceremonial Worship take the riskier approach of early Krieg, Ildjarn, or Judas Iscariot. This is raw, sloppy, totally deranged music not by design but by necessity. And whilst some may argue that the quality of black metal produced in such an environment is highly contestable, it is unmistakably itself, and therefore pregnant with the possibility that something might actually happen.

In listening to various musics throughout the day on different platforms and bouncing between other tasks, I am liable to simply grab my Bluetooth headphones and hit play, without referring to my phone. It can therefore be potluck which app the headphones will pick up. Owing to the volume of similar albums I consume in a given week, it’s not uncommon for me to think I’m listening to one artist on Bandcamp when my headphones have actually begun playing an mp3 download of a totally different artist. Such a mistake was not possible with ‘Seven Gateways to Eternal Misanthropy’. In familiarising myself with the format of stick thin, semi-aggressive/semi-mournful black metal rife with imbalance and technical errors, on pausing and later returning to the album it was impossible for me to mistake this with anything else that might be currently open on my phone. I cannot think of higher praise to offer.

Rotheads: Slither in Slime
Out 25th July on Memento Mori

Rotheads present as an obscurantist interpretation of death metal that is nevertheless able to metabolise the framework of early Swedish techniques into a welcomingly fresh reimaging of the genre at its most basic. A soft, cavernous mix allows them to flesh out a riff philosophy that pivots on immersion over coercion. ‘Slither in Slime’ is a calculating, ponderous beast, consisting of protracted chord sequences bent more toward undulatingly extended melodies over the hacked up staccato explosions typical of the genre.

Rotheads seek to update the sound of Carnage or early Grave by apportioning off the drabber aspects of their style and supplementing them with doom philosophies and solos imbued with a mournful melodicism that are nonetheless cognisant of their brutalist setting. The result is death metal that poses as a feast of cliches, but in actuality achieves a haunting, ambient, almost cinematically immersive experience.

The latent dark romanticism of early Swedish death metal is brought to the fore on ‘Slither in Slime’, yet it still finds its articulation via d-beats, droll guitar solos, and tritone driven doom segments. What makes the Rotheads approach novel is their ability to air these elements out into grandiose statements of gothically tinged glum drama whilst retaining a poise and dynamism – and a healthy squelch of filth – that positions it squarely in the death metal camp, and an expertly focused and efficient variant at that.

This makes ‘Slither in Slime’ the archetypal continuity candidate. It delivers on its promises to advance familiar forms without completely shredding any links with past rulebooks. The result is a degree of melodic and thematic innovation that tends to get under the skin, smuggled under the guise of familiar forms. The more traditional early death metal elements serve as link segments, connecting tissue between pockets of idiosyncratic lead melodies, creeping bass riffs, or tension riddled measures desperately eking out a nuanced understanding of atmosphere beyond the overwhelmingly eldritch.

‘Slither in Slime’ can therefore be enjoyed on multiple levels. Either as a work of straight edge death metal with an even sprinkling of quirks for good measure. Or as a work that seeks to pull us out of our current old school navel gazing by using the same vocabulary as the current milieu but directing it toward a more freeform and freedom seeking approach to narrative construction, where possibilities are fertilised exponentially. Or it could be enjoyed as a genuinely forward thinking piece of death metal, one that, despite its dated appearance, is packed with odd tangents and rewarding underlayers of sonic novelty, as rife with creepy artistic import as it is intellectual curiosities.  

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