Giving Immolation’s Kingdom of Conspiracy a Second Chance

Let me give some backstory. Back in 2013, I saw lots of excellent reviews for Kingdom of Conspiracy, so I decided I would also review it. Unfortunately, I saw the official lyric video before hearing the whole album:

It isn’t terrible, but seeing those lyrics written out was bad. They don’t sound bad in the context of the song, but reading them is rough. They are simultaneously cliché and pretentious. This gave me my first turnoff. I was familiar with their debut, Dawn of Possession, but it didn’t blow me away or anything. So I went into the album with a bad attitude and never got around to reviewing it.

I recently wrote an article taking a closer look at Close to a World Below. I was shocked that Immolation’s back catalog actually had a lot of really great stuff in it. This has prompted me to return to this album to see if I missed anything here as well.

Unfortunately, my opinion hasn’t changed much. This album still feels overly mechanical and sterile. They rely far more on repetitive, pulsing rhythms to drive the music than interesting melodic or harmonic motion. As a matter of volume, it tends to be all loud all the time without any sense of building or tension/release which was so great in their earlier stuff.

The songs repeat, a lot. The riffs aren’t super interesting, but they aren’t super generic either. This lack of interesting riff makes the excessive repetition of the ideas (with almost no change in layering, texture, etc) too much.

Also, the solos are quite forgettable. Gone is the wild abandon and disturbing ideas that somehow worked as climactic centerpieces on earlier albums. These were the highlight of the old albums for me. On Kingdom of Conspiracy, the solos basically outline a riff up an octave with some minor ornamentation.

To be fair, this is not a terrible album. At least not bad enough to justify not reviewing it (I try to only do this if I’m going to give it less than 5/10). It doesn’t live up to Immolation’s past excellence, but it certainly beats out several things I’ve listened to this year.

Halfway 2015 List

It’s that time of the year again. I’ve listened to 30 albums this year so far (I haven’t reviewed them all). I tried to go back through and listen to candidate “best” ones before making this list, but I didn’t get through all that I wanted to.

Favorites (in alphabetical order):

Cóndor – Duin.

This held up upon listening again. Raw, emotive music drawing on the great romantic composers.

Kjeld – Skym.

I couldn’t really remember much about this one. Listening again was worth it, because it was better than I remembered.

Sickening Horror – Overflow.

I know a lot of you weren’t thrilled by this, but even on listening again, I really like it.

Upsilon Acrux – Sun Square Dialect.

Not really metal, but complicated in all the right ways to create meaningful music.

Has Potential:

Irreversible Mechanism – Infinite Fields.

Mature and interesting technical death metal. I need more time before moving it to favorites.

Exhumation – Opus Death.

I didn’t get around to relistening, but from memory, I can’t say it was a favorite. It could move up there by the end of the year.

Not as good as I initially thought:

Leviathan – Scar Sighted.

There is no doubt that this album has some excellent moments. As a whole, I think I overpraised it initially.

Misþyrming – Söngvar elds og óreiðu.

I honestly expected to be blown away when I listened to this again. I wasn’t.

Biggest disappointments:

A Forest of Stars – Beware the Sword You Cannot See.

After hearing excellent things for years, I wanted to experience it myself. Definitely not worth it.

Enslaved – In Times
Leprous – The Congregation.

These were bands I’ve loved in the past. These albums were duds at best.

The stuff I have queued for review, but never got around to it: Jute Gyte, KEN Mode, Monolord, Sigh, Tempel, and Torche.

Does your list look mine? If so, I’d love to hear what I’ve missed.

Elder’s Lore Review

Elder is a band which borders on sludge, prog, hard rock, psychedelic. This makes it a bit difficult to review, but it has gotten quite a bit of positive attention. It is also a nice break from the types of things I’ve been listening to. So let’s try.

First, the tracks are long. Many are well over 10 minutes long. Take the first track. It is a long journey from the opening riff idea to where you find yourself 7 minutes in, but the composition structure is fairly consistent across the album so we’ll look at how the songs progress.

Elder takes a set of riffs or motifs for the song. They noodle and sequence (move the same note pattern to different parts of the scale) that idea for awhile. This often involves some interesting chromaticism. Then they’ll take a static jam area (maybe sing something that functions as a chorus). These tend to be long and boring, but it creates distance from the first idea so the next unrelated idea flows naturally in the song.

Then in a big climactic section a few of the riffs get layered on top of each other. The outro tends to be a restatement of the original motif by itself again. These songs are long enough, that it took a few listens to finally realize this structure.

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean it is predictable. The structure is actually pretty well done. Idea, transition, idea, transition, development, layer original ideas, finish up. It gives you something to grab onto with the length of the songs.

Let’s think about the individual pieces and whether they work. The riffs/motifs are hit or miss. I almost didn’t want to listen to the album when the first song started. Their first idea lacks any substance. When it comes back later, it actually fits quite nicely in conjunction with other stuff. But since it is mostly a texture pattern, it doesn’t work on its own.

Other riffs are much better like the one in the middle of the second track. It is kind of cringe inducing with its blatant imitation of 70’s prog rock (think Kansas). But at least it has some melodic meat to it. This track also has a pretty neat hemiola during its climax.

Each song feels coherent, but a bit lengthy. They try too hard to be cautious about the coherence I think. This is the biggest negative for me: the sheer length and repetitiveness of some of the transitions. They are just transitions. Playing the same chord with almost no variation for minutes on end is a big turnoff.

The hit or miss aspect of the ideas makes it hard to fully love any track, but it also means I don’t really hate any either. The best parts of the album are when two good ideas get put together in an unexpected way. The worst parts are where two banal ideas that obviously go together get set up for 10 minutes as if we didn’t see it coming.

The album is a clear step up from say Periphery’s latest release where the ideas had no transitions and didn’t work together. Still, each listen has steadily decreased how much I’ve liked this. Once you understand what is going to happen, it gets a bit tedious to wait around for it to happen. My best suggestion to drastically improve this album would be to make those transitions shorter and more interesting.

Overall, I’ll give this a 7/10. Here’s a sample:

Double Review: Irreversible Mechanism and Ur Draugr

A few weeks ago I was hunting the internet for interesting new metal I overlooked. I ran across this list. After a quick listen and reading the descriptions, I thought Irreversible Mechanism’s Infinite Fields and Ur Draugr’s The Wretched Ascetic had potential.

The first thing that stands out on Irreversible Mechanism’s debut album is the subtle use of orchestra and other sounds like piano and organ. If you’ve been around awhile, you know I tend to hate “orchestral metal,” not on principle (which sounds pretty great), but because no one does it well. IM does a good job on this front.

These sounds add a nice texture to the album without detracting. They also go off on long melodic, purely instrumental tangents which keeps the pacing of the album bearable. Many tech death bands lose me with being too fast and in-your-face all the time.

The Faceless definitely jump to mind when I listen to this, but I think the drummer is the only crossover member from that group. There is no doubt this group is made of excellent musicians. They get as technical as the most technical, but what makes them stand out to me is how much variety they have. They aren’t just technical all the time.

I’m going to go ahead and say this is the best tech death album I’ve heard in at least a year, maybe two. This isn’t saying much, because I haven’t had tech death make my best of the year list in years. Unfortunately, I’m not sure this will make it either. It suffers from the same problem as most others: it is so forgettable. The riffs sound familiar and soloing is a lot of arpeggiating and scales. There’s not much to grab on to.

Overall, this is an enjoyable listen that attempts to bring some variety back to tech death. I’ll give it an 8.5/10. Here’s a sample:

Now for something that has nothing in common except being on the same list, Ur Draugr’s The Wretched Ascetic. I think what got me here was the combination in the description of “slow, creeping darkness” with “disgustingly heavy like Ulcerate.”

It’s true. This is quite hard to describe. There’s a lot of slow acoustic parts, but it also tends to build into loud distorted climaxes. It works best when you can follow the train of thought continuously from one point to another. Other parts don’t work as well.

I know the purpose is to have stark contrast when the acoustic thing suddenly changes to a blast of fury. It is kind of neat the first time it happens, but on successive listens, it loses its effectiveness. This experiment only clocks in at 20 minutes, so I’d say overall it is an interesting and worthy attempt. Too much of it just didn’t work for me to be of lasting value.

Here’s a sample:

Leprous – The Congregation Review

If you haven’t been around for a long time, you might not know this, but Leprous’ Coal was one of my favorite albums in 2013. They created a unique sound for a progressive album and made interesting music with it.

The first thing that jumped out on The Congregation was how incredibly similar the sound is. Unfortunately, let’s break down the first part of the first track (the one they released early) to see that the song is kind of a step backwards.

It opens with jamming on some chords. The bass plays a rhythm on one note. Since this note doesn’t change as the chords change, it is known as a pedal tone and is the root of the first chord in the pattern. Then after quite some time, the whole pattern repeats with this lower note down a third.

This creates a “cool” effect by changing the first chord from a major triad to a minor 7th down a third. But since the bass note is meant more as an effect than having actual chordal content, the rest of the chordal pattern is the same.

The first time you hear it, it isn’t so bad. The timing on the chord hits isn’t very interesting. Sure they end the pattern with a triplet pattern to make it sound more complicated than it is (simple 4/4 all the way through). I don’t think they are trying to trick anyone, but it does feel a bit like a cheap trick in order to make something that isn’t very interesting sound more interesting. This is the problem on repeat listens.

This analysis can be transferred across the album to summarize my main thoughts on it. The album is full of effects to make things sound complicated to mask stuff that isn’t very interesting in its own right. Don’t get me wrong. Things don’t have to be complicated to be good. But faux complication is never good.

In the last album, I loved when they surprised you with interesting sounds. A characteristic sound was the fast pulsing quiet rhythm below long synths and high melodic vocals. It was different and exciting at the time. It’s hard to get excited about it on this album, because it isn’t new anymore. They lifted the sound directly from the last album.

This isn’t to say they aren’t doing anything new. There are lots of sections that are different from Coal, but it isn’t exciting like before.

Let’s end with something a little more positive. The melodic content is quite good. I often find the melodies stuck in my head, and some of the only moments I really like on the album are when the vocals stack into large dense chords. The melodies sound natural but have interesting chromatic alterations.

Overall, they seem to have taken many of the aspects of djent I don’t like and infused their music with it. I hate to say it, but I got bored with the album very quickly. It has only been out a few days, and I’m ready to move on.

I’ll give it a 6/10. Here’s a sample:

Exhumation Opus Death Review

Exhumation play death metal right out of the early days. This is old school in a way that many bands don’t dare to do. Guitar tone, production, song structure, riff styles, and so on all bring to mind many of the great pioneers. Opus Death is the second album of this Indonesian band.

Let’s start with the best part: the soloing. Despite the sound and feel of these songs, the solos add something new to let Exhumation stand out. The solos are sometimes well-executed, wild, chromatic riffing around the main ideas that reminds me of Morbid Angel’s Altars of Madness.

Other times, the solos are long and melodic with almost jazzy alterations to the scales (see the second track). The choice of solo placement in the song and solo style is excellent. It takes the album from a good attempt at imitating the classics to something better that can be remembered on its own terms.

Some may say it is not the riff itself, but what the band does with it that makes excellent death metal. If this is the case, Exhumation are excellent. They use their riffs in all sorts of ways to construct interesting, constantly changing songs.

Unfortunately, I think only about half of their riffs are good on their own. Sometimes they think outside the box to create some strange yet memorable ideas (see “Possessed”). Other times, I find the ideas a bit too simplistic to be interesting.

Still, something has to be said about the talents of the songwriting in this band if they can take ideas I don’t find interesting and still make songs I find interesting out of them.

The other thing Exhumation does well is to take a “whole album” approach that is often hard to find these days where people can download individual tracks. They have a few beautiful songs (middle and end) consisting of piano and acoustic guitar. These not only add variety, but round the album out by contributing to the overall sound in diverse ways.

The main aesthetic is an unrelenting and punishing album made out of old school ideas but with a modern twist. The second half of the album is better than the first. This may be intentional, because the songs seem to become more complex as the album progresses.

Overall, I’ll give this an 8.5/10. Here’s a sample:

Quick Update

I won’t do a review today, because the album I thought had potential turned out to be a dud (Human Future’s Spectrum). Instead, I’ll direct your attention to an article I wrote for Death Metal Underground: Can We Judge Experimental Metal? I thought it would be a bit more controversial, but the negative comments focused around certain word choices or whether my views were in alignment with the site’s.