Absolute Key: The Third Level of Decay
Out 21st December on Signal Rex
‘The Third Level of Decay’ is another one of those albums that poses as a parody of music, but here the joke is extended to the point where it looks something like sincerity. It’s as if a mysterious alien race were attempting to mimic music based on a very limited data set. Elements of modern Havohej meld with Elysian Blaze, dissonant raw black metal in the vein of recent output from the Xenoglossy roster in Lustmord and Sacrilegious Crown. But this album boasts even less solidity than these peripheral acts of contemporary black metal. Avant-garde and noise rock meld to loose doom drones, trading on simple rhythmic and timbral interchanges over any significant melodic content.
The album is awash with a thin fog of abrasive guitar noise that simply refuses to settle into a comfortable melodic framework. But sequential riff structures or recognisable cadences are not the order of the day here. Instead this is a work of experimental noise, exploring the emergent properties that grow from the fertile soil of the most jarring tonal and timbral clashes imaginable. What sounds like additional electronic noise supplements the thunderous impact of each new droning guitar chord, but the synth tones are so lo-fi and distorted that all seems to blend together into a swamp of upset.
Vocals are noteworthy precisely because they are the most instantly recognisable in terms of musical lineage, sticking closely to the traditional black metal distorted style. The delivery fits well with the fragmented, gradualist chaos beneath, but it also serves as a humanist anchor in this otherwise entirely alien musical setting. Drums are of garage level quality. They work through slow, funereal marches and basic tom rolls, into slow blast-beats, and thunderous crash cymbals that barrel across the mix in their impetus to violence.
Despite Absolute Key’s obvious desire to alienate the listener, segmenting them off from any semblance of community or human contact, there is a discernible thread of sentiment that runs through these tracks. A wistful, almost tragedian melodic core waiting in the background, a ghostly visage that haunts the raw administration of noise that clusters the front and centre of this work. Sonic sequences defined by their rhythmic, dynamic, and timbral properties make up the central structure of each piece, as soaring ancillary distortion grows out of these basic punches of noise, slowly coalescing into a troubling totality of conflict.
Sitting at the very borders of experimental metal, Absolute Key offer this work of discordant and segmented ideas in an apparent attempt to fashion new forms and standards of communication via sound beyond the established norms of musical understanding. One could hardly call it pleasant, but it continues to draw us in regardless.
Sermon of Rot: Embodiment if Evil
Out 2nd December on Sewer Rot Records
Jagged and ponderous death metal undulates around the ears on this debut EP from Sermon of Rot. Indeed, this outfit have chosen their name well, as lofty, sermonic riff shapes find their articulation through the filth and grime of the guitar tone. Structurally it flows like a gradual descent into the pit, closing with the appropriately titled ‘Unraveling’, which slowly sheds its solidity through decreasing tempos, a slackness of delivery, and spacey guitar leads.
Rhythm guitar and drums work closely alongside each other, aligning to provide a solid foundation that toys with the idea of collapse, but always betrays its total control over the shape and flow of the music. This provides a solid basis for the informality of swirling, murky guitar leads that jet across the mix like distant artillery. A chasmic atmosphere lurks behind the mix, but the prevailing mood across ‘Embodiment of Evil’ is one of articulate, sharp death metal filling out in unpredictable and choppy forms. Guttural vocals complete the timbral package, adding additional filth when it counts.
Atonal and chromatic play meets the explicitly tragic and mournful via minor key harmonic interchanges that speak of the sermonist aesthetic. Sermon of Rot embody many of the best elements from death metal’s two key competing drives. The will to chaos and decay vs. the marshalling of this chaos into formalist musical structures, the behaviour of which is dictated by strict rules and logical schematics.
Vampyric Tyrant: Zorn und Hass
Out 21st September on Purity Through Fire
Suckers for lo-fi raw black metal will find all they need on Vampyric Tyrant’s latest EP ‘Zorn und Hass’. It offers just enough clarity, melody, and catchy hooks to engage the populist black metal crowd, whilst remaining true to the primitivist core of vampiric black metal. We’ve come a long way from the unbearably abrasive days of the Les Légions Noires crowd who basically kicked off this craze for grainy photocopied promo shots of be-corpsepainted figures in the woods, raw static production, and shameless melodrama.
It’s not a craze without value, but boy has it been terminally flogged over the years. Vampyric Tyrant stand out for actually being able to knit some matured riffs together in engaging strings, making good use of monomaniacal repetition complemented by subtle degrees of variety. This plays out not just in the melodic composition and pitch play, but with the addition of organ tones, well-placed shifts in rhythmic emphasis, and a degree of dramatic restraint that lends the music an air of dignity and refinement.
Vampyric Tyrant also take in a broader survey of the black metal terrain across this brief EP. The track ‘Ein Traum’ reaches back to early Burzum with its elegantly simple interweaving guitar lines that speak almost of vulnerability. There is definitely an air of fragility across these tracks that supplements the predictable bombast of both the music itself and the posturing of the song titles and aesthetic of the band. Coupled with that is a tasteful sense of play, the opening riff to ‘Totschlag’ would easily fit on a pop punk song if played in a different key, but such whimsy is never allowed to run amok and ruin any sense of refinement.
All in all, fans of this style (myself included) will find something to appreciate within the folds of ‘Zorn und Hass’. It gives us exactly what we want with a degree of sugar coated fun thrown into the mix without completely destroying the high drama of classicalist black metal.