Beats and yelling from: Imprecation, Dramanduhr, Hagetisse

Imprecation: In Nomine Diaboli
Out 14th October on Dark Descent Records

Listening to Imprecation is akin to having your ears syringed of wax after years of poor hearing. Surveying the contemporary death metal landscape offers scant gems. There are apparently many releases boasting worthy talking points. Or so it would seem until one listens to an artist that truly understands the genre as Imprecation do. And suddenly all the passable but overworked material we have been trawling through for months looks surprisingly small, unambitious, lifeless, and melts away into the caverns of forgetfulness. We can hear clearly again.

‘In Nomine Diaboli’ is a rich concoction of the best elements of early Deicide, Morbid Angel, and Incantation. But these familiar touchstones are manipulated and shaped into a fluid, occultist, imposing and genuinely enthralling work of dark metal. Imprecation pivot on a stop/start attitude to tempo, throwing lumbering faster passages against the sheer weight of short, droning doom segments, throwing riffs as artillery to bridge across this stilted framework.

For all its premeditated malevolence however, there is a joy and playfulness to the Imprecation style rarely seen in death metal. It swaggers forth with a degree of self-confidence and poise that lends the entire album a degree of exhilaration that stands in stark contrast to the overworked conceptual material of newer death metal entities. It not only fashions a world of formless terrors before the listener’s ears, it invites us in, energising us to partake in the chaos.

The guitar tone is truly monolithic, serviceable for both death/doom and barrages of dark, blackened grind that throw themselves across these tracks in rampant blitzkriegs of noise. Despite the cavernously low tuning, we lose no articulation during the choppier, percussive segments of these tracks, with the tone always appearing at the brink of utter disintegration but never entirely losing solidity. Drums, despite their organic qualities, more than meet the moment for sheer power and theatre. The performance may not be the most technical going, but any laboured ancillary flourishes would be superfluous. All that is required is the tight, subtle rhythmic framing, upsetting the narrative with choppy blast-beats and stilted fills serving as threads connecting competing degrees of intensity.

Vocals are guttural but also strangely fraught emotionally, heightening the melodrama in an odd juxtaposition of the human and the monstrous. Minimal keyboards are deployed at key dramatic junctures, adding a degree of nightmarish fanfare by following the guitar lines with their occultist mysticism to the fray.

‘In Nomine Diaboli’ is not an explicit “genre” release. By that I mean that it is neither self-consciously old school in orientation (bearing in mind that Imprecation are veterans of Texan death metal), nor is it preoccupied with the future. It draws on a range of elements from death and black metal but is ultimately a work that is entirely self-justificatory. It is at once a celebration of all that is still great about quality death metal, from individuals with an intimate degree of knowledge and understanding of the genre and what grants it a unique standing amongst metal stylings. And this ultimately means that this album stands entirely distinct from the vast majority of comparable releases coming out at the moment.

The veil has been lifted, and those of us hunting for scraps within the qualitative frugalities of modern death metal have had our prayers answered and our eyes opened by ‘In Nomine Diaboli’, undoubtably a reacquaintance of our love for this genre. An oddly life affirming experience via this intoxicatingly violent form of music.

Dramanduhr: Tramohr
Out 11th October on BloodRock Records/Neo Corvino

Although distorted vocals have been an industry standard in extreme metal since its inception, it is notable that this orthodoxy goes largely unquestioned. Of course there have been plenty of examples of clean vocals deployed across extreme metal albums, usually in the folk or symphonic direction, but the artistic implications of using a vocal style largely incapable of expressing a melodic character, applied almost universally, is an interesting self-limitation placed on a genre that often prides itself on allowing for near limitless musical possibilities.

Perhaps this is because when used in the ”wrong”, poppy way a-la Opeth, you end up with…well, Opeth. But there is a large gulf between falling into the infantile sentimentalisms of everyone’s favourite Swedish bland-rockers and forever shackling extreme metal to an aesthetic limitation. Distorted vocals certainly have an important role to play in imbuing extreme metal with its signature monstrosities, outrageous theatrics, and alienation. But in adhering to this and only this, it does cut off new avenues for melodic, emotional, and aesthetic exploration.

Enter Dramanduhr, a new folk orientated black metal artist from Sicily. Their debut album ‘Tramohr’ is squarely in the black metal oeuvre as far as riff style, guitar tone, and composition goes, but the album is sung entirely clean, in an earthy, crooning style common to Mediterranean folk traditions, but also comparable to work from Temnozor or Negura Bunget for dignified yet passionate delivery. The language is apparently entirely fabricated however.

Musically this does embody many commonalities to the rich traditions of folk infused pagan black metal of Eastern Europe. It pivots on bouncy rhythms that call to mind the pageantry of a jig, only sparingly breaking into a blast-beat. The oddly warm guitar tone is placed front and centre, with any rich symphonics largely held back for the sake of delivering a surprisingly immediate, intimate work of experimental music.

There are plenty of keyboards, acoustic guitars, pianos, choral flourishes, and other instrumentation sitting behind the metallic foreground, filling out the panorama of the mix, but when measured against comparable releases from Dramanduhr’s Eastern European cousins this remains a strikingly austere work. The black metal riffing itself is perhaps the most conventional aspect of the release. As things are kept at a slower, danceable pace, they sometimes adopt a loose swing akin to black ‘n’ roll, although the melodic inflexions are boundlessly more interesting. There are climaxes of pronounced melodic character that sit flush against hints of dirty primitivism. The unbridled joy of musical freedom is smashed against the more traditionalist horror elements of Southern European black metal of the 1990s.

But ultimately the guitars are free to remain relatively straightforward due to the foregrounded vocals, which veer from lyrical pieces that function as recognisable songs, to repetitive chants evocative of a more sober spiritualism, to mournful threnodies that speak of a sense of loss or yearning for something that never quite existed. The fact that Dramanduhr literally creates its own language only enhances this fantastical quality. The past that a lot of metal yearns for is often fabricated to greater of lesser degrees. ‘Tramohr’ is simply the next logical step along this road. It references real folk traditions and a plethora of music histories, but it takes us further into a realm not of fantasy necessarily, but the construction of a new reality as one would wish it to be, presented as a study of history yet to be written. Tradition creating itself in real time. ‘Tramohr’ is a fascinating feedback loop of competing philosophical and emotional drives.

Hagetisse: De Verminkte stilte van het zijn
Out 14th October on Babylon Doom Cult

Maurice de Jong, the mastermind behind this black metal project, is one of those insanely prolific artists with countless projects to their name all of which are solo efforts. Having previously only been familiar with his competent if a little flat melodic doom project The Sombre, suspicion in the face of such a plethora of names associated with one individual is not unwarranted. Even Hagetisse, his down-the-barrel black metal project boasts three albums released in 2017 alone.

But throw enough material at the wall and some of it is bound to stick, and for album number six in just five years, we are greeted with quality flowing black metal that manages to thread the needle between profound mourning, ear candy, aggression, and soaring, cheerless euphoria. Borrowing an ounce of the frenetic melodicism of countrymen Cirith Gorgor, and diluting this with an attention span, we get a linear, fluid, engaging work of rich and theatrical black metal with none of the harsh abrasion sacrificed along the way.

For all the rich guitar work, the opulent symphonics, and frantic drumming, “De Verminkte stilte van het zijn” is a work that pivots on repetition, or rather reaffirmation. A central refrain – usually a catchy yet sophisticated lamentation – functions as the backbone of the track, worked through with subtle variations to extend its shelf life. Supplementary material is then deployed by way of deviation, but rather than develop this into a narrative arc with a final recapitulation, the central refrain is returned to with reliable regularity.

This makes “De Verminkte stilte van het zijn” an oddly mesmerising work. Unlike pieces of pure repetition that – unless born of styles suited to it – can lead the listener to totally detach from the music, this album burrows deeper into the psyche by diluting its pronounced circularity with reliable tangential material that keep the mind liminally engaged.

Further, by keeping the pace relatively fast throughout – the drums rarely deviate from blast-beats – one feels at once nourished by the music as much as downtrodden. The melodic character is undeniable drab, but the delivery, tempo, and playful nature of the music never allows us to fall into needless despair. The result is an odd sense of euphoria, but one supplemented by its opposite impetus, a harsh but necessary sobriety.

Between these two competing emotional drives – and binding them together – is an undeniable sense of purpose that is sustained across the entire album. Whether the music settles on one repeated refrain and stays there, or works through simple yet effective transitions only to circle back to the central thematic material, the drive and momentum of the music never lets up, and manages to carry the listener along throughout the length of the album, keeping us engaged yet never overwhelmed, comforted but never coddled, and delivering downbeat earworms no less lacking in intellectual weight for the fact.

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