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I came kinda late to the deathcore subgenre. It wasn’t really a thing during my 1980’s/90’s heyday & would only start to develop as I found myself losing interest in the scene & defecting to electronic music around 1998/99. The first I heard of it wasn’t until my return to metal in 2009 & I have to admit that I was more open to it than most extreme metal fans at the time. Despite the generic elements at play on most releases, I found it hard not to enjoy the high-quality musicianship & clear & precise production jobs &, when you added in the progressive approach of some of the more expansive outfits, I found myself kinda digging it. Not to the same extent as your more traditional death metal mind you, but enjoyment was had nonetheless. Fast forward another twelve or so years & you’ll find that not a lot has changed for me in this regard. I don’t find myself racing out to track down the latest deathcore release but, when the opportunity arises, I’m up for the task & can see the merit when the subgenre is done well (as it is here).
My first experience with Chicago-based six-piece Born Of Osiris wouldn’t come until shortly after the 2011 release of this album “The Discovery” which was the band’s third full-length & is generally regarded as the pinnacle of the band’s career to date as far as I can tell. And it’s not very hard to see why either to tell you the truth because this is one outstandingly well composed & executed piece of deathly metalcore with a penchant for the more spacey & progressive end of extreme art. I wouldn’t say that it ever transcends the subgenre because all of the signature deathcore elements are at play for most of the album but there’s been a strong push for expansion & development of that sound too. For this reason, I find “The Discovery” to stretch the boundaries of my taste palate a little further than I’m entirely comfortable with but to somehow manage to keep from ever bursting out. Let’s start with the positives because there are plenty for your more open-minded metalhead to enjoy.
As is so commonly the case with US deathcore outfits, Born Of Osiris are a shit-hot group of musicians. I mean these guys can all really shred like bastards & their performances here are outstanding. They occasionally hint at crossing over into self-indulgence but I think they actually do a really great job of reining themselves in just before that occurs. Guitarists Lee McKinney & Jason Richardson are particularly skilled & show themselves to not only have the chops to match most high class shredders on the market today but also to have an impressive sense of exotic melody with some of the lead work pushing Born Of Osiris out further into progressive metal territory than they already were. In fact, I’d be very surprised if the boys haven’t been influenced by early Cynic because they’ve taken a similar approach to much of the melodic content & this is a real feather in their cap as I love a more expansive & exploratory style of guitar solo. Drummer Cameron Losch proves himself to be extremely capable with his powerful & high-precision double-kick work keeping the band sounding punchy & tight at all times. The continued use of spacey synthesizers from full-time keyboardist Joe Buras is also worth mentioning as Joe’s contribution sees “The Discovery” sporting somewhat of a sci-fi atmosphere & his short interlude pieces serve to break the album up really well without ever sacrificing on its overall heaviness. In saying that, I do think that the occasional electronic beat could be hard to stomach for some of the more traditional members of the metal audience & in truth I don’t think they add a lot to the album. You won’t be able to fault the production job as “The Discovery” ticks all of the boxes in that regard. If anything, you may be tempted to say that it’s over-produced however I think that would be a harsh assessment as I think the result generally highlights the best elements of Born Of Osiris’ sound.
Now for the album’s challenges & we’ll start with the djent component. As with many of the more progressive deathcore outfits, there’s very little doubt that Born Of Osiris have been influenced by Meshuggah or bands that Meshuggah have influenced. Now that’s not a bad thing in itself because I fucking love Meshuggah as they really are in a league of their own when it comes to the whole djent thing. It’s just that a lot of the band’s they’ve influenced do sound very samey due to the continued use of high-precision & purely rhythmic off-beat single-note riffs & you get a whole shit-tonne of those here. Thankfully they’ve been filed down to the sharpest point imaginable so as to ensure that they hit as hard as possible but they still do sound pretty generic at times. As do the trademark deathcore breakdowns which still permeate “The Discovery”. The band try to disguise them through the use of progressive colouring & they’ve had a reasonable amount of success to be fair but I still think I could generally do without them. And lastly, the most challenging part of the album for me is the dual vocal delivery which is over-used & continuously thrust down the listeners throat. As far as I can tell, front man Ronnie Canizaro employs the deep guttural death growls while keyboardist Joe Buras regularly chimes in with silly metalcore screams in support. These vocal lines have been brought right to the front of the mix & are used so consistently that they can sound fairly monotonous a while. To be fair, I don’t really like that vocal style to begin with but this is more of a comment on the overall genre than it is about Born Of Osiris in general.
Regardless of these flaws, I can’t really fault the tracklisting which includes fifteen tracks ranging from good to excellent. Unsurprisingly, it’s the more deathly tracks that float my boat the most along with the synth-driven interludes which are particularly well done. It’s kinda difficult to explain but, even though I struggle with some of the elements I mentioned above, the overall class of Born Of Osiris somehow seems to transcend my misgivings & sees me throwing myself in head first after the first few tracks. I guess I’m just a sucker for well-produced & precisely executed extreme metal so I can’t help but see through the more generic elements so that I can grab on to the more expansive ones & this sees me finding it very hard to be too critical of Born Of Osiris who are unquestionably at the peak of their subgenre. I mean if you like high quality US deathcore then I can’t see that you won’t love “The Discovery” because it ticks all of the boxes while adding in some of its own for good measure & in doing so has created the strongest & most interesting example of the djenty progressive deathcore sound that I’ve ever experienced.
For fans of After The Burial, Veil Of Maya & Within The Ruins.
The Intriguing Precursor
Amidst the deafening evil wails of classic, mid-1990’s Black Metal exists a slightly more peaceful, calming clearing that Ulver initially made its home. While Atmospheric Black Metal was in full swing thanks to Burzum and Blut Aus Nord, the uneasy and bitter coldness those albums relished in is all but gone in Ulver’s take on a more acoustic and folky laced rendition of the 2nd wave Black Metal craze. There’s still plenty of Black Metal blast beats to appease the classic fans, but Bergtatt: Et eeventyr i 5 capitler offers much more in the form of abrupt transitions into extended acoustic and piano sections as well as chanting, choir-like vocals that overtake the amount of raw, Black Metal vocals. Although this album is held in high regard for being so groundbreaking and unique, I personally view it more as a precursor of great things to come rather than a genuine classic.
For as inaccessible as Black Metal attempted to be, Ulver turns that notion on its head with really warm, even welcoming guitar tones and melodies despite the furious Black Metal drumming that’s present in the background. “Capitel I” and “Capitel IV” hardly even resemble the cold and grinding qualities that Black Metal is known for, even though they do eventually up the aggression on the rest of the tracks. The aggression is still numbed a bit thanks to how the tremolo riffing is pushed all the way back in the mix to make room for some slow but sultry bass lines and the occasional folky chord progression. Even though Bergtatt is only 34 minutes long it covers a ton of ground with its jagged song structure and ample variety of different folk versus Black Metal influences. It even manages to fit in a full atmospheric section filled with the crunching of leaves and a distant but concerning piano, making this a very interesting album to try and classify.
What holds Ulver’s debut back for me is the overall lack of transitions and cohesive songwriting, even though the layered melodies they are able to create are undeniably beautiful. The way all of the acoustic and choir elements build on top of the Black Metal background riffing and melodic bass lines reminds me of some of the thing I enjoy most about Metal, but the abrupt shifts throughout the album really put a damper on the whole experience. I just can’t manage to get sucked into the atmosphere that others praise this album for, even though “Capitel V” gets incredibly close thanks to the amazing bass production and prevailing folky melodies.
I think that Bergtatt is a tough listen for me because even though I enjoy so many things about it, it’s so rough around the edges that it just serves as the initial taste of what is to come for this style of Black Metal. Even though it’s not the first recorded Pagan Black Metal album, this style of songwriting with acoustic elements just makes me think that this is the prototype and foundation for all of the other more warm and natural sounding Black Metal bands to come. Even though it’s great in its own right, it’s missing something that I can’t quite place. While some of remaining the old school grime makes this album incredibly unique, it’s just an important stepping stone towards a more cohesive and fleshed out sound for the genre in my opinion.
I've had this record sitting on my review bench for a couple of months now and I'm still perplexed by it and trying to put this review together has been a struggle. Anyone who knows what I appreciate out of a good album will know that I have no time for extended technical, musical wankery that is unjustified within the greater context of its composition. Ad Nauseam really took their time with this new album to test my patience as to how much musical nothingness they can place into a single album before I have to either skip to the next track, or turn off the album entirely.
Imperative Imperceptible Impulse might be an appropriate title for an album like this because it it's impulse is to frenetically whiplash transition between short musical ideas that have no connection to one another, and are never developed throughout this album's excessive runtime. Take a song like "Horror Vacui"; this track begins with arguably the album's best hook, all before aborting that idea about a third of the way through, and transforms itself into a deathly slow doom passage for the next third of the track, and then ending with frenetic tech-death again, but incorporating new ideas and themes that have not been properly developed of referenced previously. It takes the song that I initially liked at the beginning and turns it into something that is painfully forgettable, since none of the ideas are given the appropriate amount of time to breathe. Instead, Ad Nauseam quickly transitions away from that really good opening idea, and then never references it again.
As a result, this album suffers in many of the same ways that almost all technical death metal albums do for me. While the technical proficiency is on full display and typically very impressive, because Ad Nauseam are so scatterbrained and cannot have a consistent through line in their music, it all sounds the same. Many tunes have likable portions, but are surrounded by so much fat and bloat that its a chore to find them. The band immediately references Stravinsky (presumably Rite of Spring and beyond), Penderecki and Ligeti in the Bandcamp bio for this album, and it's so obvious.
And it is a damn shame because the production is top notch. Whoever produced this album needs to be recognized for how they are able to make everything sound so brilliant through the hectic song structures. Percussion has always been a swollen thumb for technical music, but here it has no overbearing presence at all! The guitar leads sound full and emphatic, while the bass lines are thorough and independent from the chugging rhythm guitar, adding for a new layer of polyphony that sounds excellent. As for the vocals, when I can hear them, they have so much gravitas in the guttural howls that allows for the themes of suicide and annihilation that much more impeccable. The only problem is that, as I briefly mentioned before, they can be drowned out by the instrumentals on occasion.
Even now I still don't know what to think of Imperative Imperceptible Impulse by Ad Nauseam. Never have I heard a technical death metal record that has sounded so precise and clean, and yet so flailing and rough. This album gives me the same impression as Liturgy's Origin of the Alimonies did late last year; an album that is fully aware of its technical proficiency and uses that as an excuse to create something that is as anti-pop as possible. As a result, this album will not be for everyone. If it is, then you are a much stronger soul than I will ever be.
Being quite a literal-minded person I have historically had a bit of a problem with particularly avant-garde or experimental releases and it is only in the last few years that I have started to come to grips with the more outre black metal exponents, such as Deathspell Omega, and started to appreciate them for their skill and originality.
To my ears Paracletus is a very dense, yet abstract release, the aural equivalent of a fistful of metal shards or splinters of glass. It is musically jagged with the various instruments at times sounding like they are playing in opposition to each other, but then suddenly coalescing into a pummelling, throbbing entity as the various members come together with a unified purpose before darting off again in their own directions. This is one of those albums that if someone asks what your favourite track is, it is impossible to answer because the work really has to be considered as a single whole, the integration of the tracks within it and the album's development throughout it's runtime is key to it's success. This is obviously a more cerebral style of black metal than, say, Immortal or Marduk, but it still taps into some deeply-seated dark instinct within the human psyche and is every bit as primal as any number of lo-fi blast-a-thons or satanistic rituals and is arguably even more seditious than those more obvious attempts at portraying that deeply buried essence of humankind's darkest emotions.
Sure, some of the more avant-garde sounding sections are still a bit of a struggle for me, but the payoff when the band do hit that sweet spot and come together in black metal nirvana are even more effective emerging from the twisted, jagged wreckage of those more abstract passages. I'm sure those of you who do enjoy more challenging and technically adept metal will probably gain even more out of it than I, but it still conveys more than enough emotion and passion to satisfy my demands in this respect. It is obviously an album that appeals to a huge cross-section of BM devotees as at time of writing this it is sitting on RYM with almost a 4/5 average from almost 6000 ratings, testament indeed to DsO's skillful execution and powerful songwriting.
I like Anthrax. I really do. In fact, I feel somewhat bad for them, as they've always seemed like the ginger stepchild of what's known as the Big Four of thrash metal (including Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer), but like so many early thrash bands, their debut album is fairly unremarkable, with a lack of finesse being evident in their naive and unpolished song writing.
And I know, this is thrash metal, right? What am I expecting? But like all their contemporaries, their later material shows a huge maturity and growth which their earliest releases lack. Such is the case with Anthrax's debut, 'Fistful of Metal'. Although the album starts off well, it quickly loses whatever charm is has as repetition and a lack of any real creativity sinks in.
While guitarists Scott Ian and Dan Spitz have an immediate chemistry, and drummer Charlie Benante proves himself as one of metals most underrated stickmen, it's vocalist Neil Turbin who's performance fails the band. I find his vocals grating, mostly resorting to high pitched wailing that shows a good range, but something about it just annoys the hell out of me.
Still, songs like 'Deathrider', 'Metal Thrashing Mad' and a cover of Alice Cooper's 'I'm Eighteen' salvage this record, and makes it my second favourite of the Big Four's debut albums (Metallica's 'Kill 'Em All' being the best of the bunch). But like so many bands from that era, their best material is yet to come, and earlier releases such as this will soon be left in the shadows.