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.

Upsilon Acrux – Sun Square Dialect and Some Thoughts on Reviewing Experimental Groups

Upsilon Acrux probably shouldn’t be considered metal, but I haven’t reviewed anything avant-garde or extreme in its deviation from standard genres in a while. They are an experimental rock outfit. They used to be on the Cuneiform label which I frequently found new artists from, because one of my favorite composers (John Hollenbeck) put stuff out through them with The Claudia Quintet.

Despite their name floating around my subconscious, I never made it around to listening to them until now, so I have no context for how this new album compares with their move to New Atlantis Records.

I’ll preface this review with the usual. There seems to be two types of people in the world. Some people praise every experimental band uncritically. If you don’t like something, then you aren’t smart enough, or “didn’t get it,” or numerous other insults. The other type says that experimental bands are nonsense wankery. Music is more than being technically proficient at your instrument.

There seems to be very few people who want to engage in difficult music on its own terms. I plan to write an essay on this very soon, so I’ll stop this rant before I give the whole thing away.

A peculiar thing happened with Sun Square Dialect. After a few listens, I found that sometimes one of the songs would be stuck in my head. Despite the extremely disorienting chaos of complicated time signatures, unfamiliar riffs, distortion, at times atonal harmonies, and just plain experimental nature, there was enough familiar to get stuck in my head.

So I started to listen a lot more carefully to figure out how this could be possible. I mean, I’ve listened to some Xenakis pieces a lot, but I’ve never found myself humming them randomly. The thing I found is that the songs on this album really don’t throw the rules out as much as you’d think from a first listen.

Just like in more mainstream music, the songs are highly structured. They are built out of a few recurring riffs and motifs. These can actually be quite catchy, even if highly unorthodox, and this is what stuck in my head. These riffs are then developed and manipulated in various ways.

There is also clear harmonic structure and development, again, even if unorthodox. So all the pieces of standard composition are there: melodies are introduced, developed, and layered. It is as well-composed as anything I can think of.

A lot of experimental groups basically dare you to call them out. Let’s play loud and fast, whatever crap pops into your head here and then we’ll slow down, but make sure it sounds really bad and has no meaning. That’s one way to do it, but you won’t find that here. If there is improvisation (which I think there is), it serves to enhance the human element in otherwise rigid, cerebral pieces of music.

I know a lot of you are thinking: okay, so it is well-composed technical wankery, but if it isn’t used to serve something else, then it is worthless as art. But here’s the interesting thing. Some of these songs are intense, moving experiences.

“Remnants of the Habitable Epoch” is an example of this even if it isn’t representative of the album. It is probably the least experimental track, but they really showcase how experimentation can create some palpable, raw emotion.

As proof of one of the reasons music is so great, the emotion itself can’t really be described in words. It borders on sadness, nostalgia, and anger all mixed together. I know you can’t win with some critics. On the one hand, they only want experimentation if it serves some purpose. On the other hand, you point to a song like this where it enhances the emotion, and they will say it is overly sentimental post-rock:

Over the past six years, I’ve moved away from blindly praising anything experimental. This album is the real deal. It is without question worth the effort needed to parse the unique musical language Upsilon Acrux has invented.

I’ll give it a 9.5/10. Here’s a more representative sample:

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

I remember back in 2012 reading some excellent reviews of A Forest of Stars previous album A Shadow for Yesterdays. I somehow never got around to listening to it, so I jumped on the opportunity this time around to get their newest release Beware the Sword You Cannot See.

If you’re like me, something jumps out at you before the first listen. That title is in iambic tetrameter, the verse of classical Greek poetry. I had to know if their lyrics would follow suit, so I opened them up first. Sadly, I couldn’t find the meter anywhere else (missed opportunity guys!).

Before we start with the review, it is important to understand the band a bit better. They are part band, part theatrical act. Part of the shtick is that they are a Gentlemen’s club from Victorian England of 120 years ago. The music is an artistic expression of this group. I’ll ignore the fact that the instruments the music is played on didn’t exist back then.

They don’t fit neatly into a genre. There is a lot of black metal influence in guitar and drum technique/sound, but they also rely a lot on frenetic spoken word (this reminds me of Sikth), clean vocals, and fiddle. They also have psychedelic, prog, and drone influences in lesser amounts.

I hate to keep nit-picking before I say anything of substance, but the spoken word parts make up a large part of the vocals and they drive me crazy. I think this type of thing can be done successfully, but this delivery doesn’t work.

In an attempt to emote, the delivery is so melodramatic and over-the-top that it pulls me out of what is happening around it. Also, you can hear the vocalist sucking in air at every breath (in a hugely distracting manner).

It is quite difficult vocal technique, but you can breath in almost silently and still get the intense spoken word delivery. It just takes a lot of practice. As a wind instrument player in bands and orchestras, I spent hours working on this myself throughout my childhood. I’ll get off this side rant for now.

I get that the violin is supposed to introduce folk music elements, but I don’t hear it. I’ve played a lot of English folk music, and this doesn’t have the right characteristic at all. It sounds more like a motif or ornament that gets repeated as texture to the band sound.

While I’m on the topic of things I didn’t like, the levels sound off. First, I don’t like overly present drums, but the drumming is almost inaudible on most of the album. The consistency makes me think this was a choice made for artistic purposes.

My guess is they wanted a pulsing feel from the drums without them interfering with melodic, harmonic, and spoken material. The strange thing is that the band relies a lot on big climaxes, and intense drumming can add a lot to these climaxes, so pushing it to the back hinders their goal.

Overall, this album suffers a bit from patchwork syndrome. They have tons of ideas, many of which are good, but they slam them all together to create a jumbled album in which too much happens and yet at the same time too little exploration of the good ideas happen.

So, is there anything I did like? Good question … The second half of the album is supposedly one long song/theatrical-poetry broken into 6 parts. I think they do a lot better on consistency and development of ideas on it. The harmonic structure moves from being drone-like to some interesting chromaticism.

I’m actually curious what this review would be if the album instead was an EP which consisted only of this second half. It almost sounds like they spent all the work on this and then threw some songs at the front to make a whole album.

For example, Part 3 does a lot better at the folk influences. Each song also sounds like it is a composed song rather than a random conglomerate of too many ideas.

Let me end with a disclaimer. An album like this is made for a certain type of audience. It is a bit unfair for me to pick it apart like this. You’re supposed to buy into the act, put the album on, and lose yourself for an hour in a different world.

If you think too carefully about it, you’ve missed the point. It isn’t an intellectual exercise. It is a bit like going to a Renaissance Festival and not enjoying any part of the experience because you pick apart every little thing. The point is to go in with the right mentality and play along even when things don’t go perfectly.

So I tried this with the album and got some enjoyment out of it. But I still have to go with a 5/10. Here’s a sample:

Crypt Sermon – Out of the Garden Response

I’ve hit the point where I’ve cleared my list of things I like and only have things I haven’t liked. I’m still searching for it. I hesitate to call this a review. I don’t like giving mostly negative reviews. Instead, I’ll look at some of the things I saw out there that made me pick this up and respond to it.

I’ll take some responsibility. I listened to the first track before deciding I wanted to hear the whole thing. The first track has a pretty great sound. Crypt Sermon is a doom band with some old school power metal flourishes.

The first song is exactly what I’d want a doom album to sound like. It has a full and aggressive sound while staying downtempo. The bass riff uses a lowered second leading tone to the tonic instead of the traditional seventh which gives the feeling of descending lower and lower into some dark pit. They actually use this on many of the songs to great effect.

I tend to not agree with Angry Metal Guy, so it isn’t surprising that a high rated album there wasn’t my favorite. They make a reference to Atlantean Kodex, which I think is apt for many of the songs. Sorry to some of my readers that like that band, but I made a serious attempt and couldn’t get into them either. This was album of the month for February there.

Well, now that I look at the reviews, I see I had no real reason to trust them (Pitchfork, Sputnik, Metal Archives). Most just say how much they sound like some great doom of the past like Candlemass. This might be the problem. It all seems too familiar.

People talk about the riffs being great, but this is where I think the band falters. A lot of the solos are great. I find myself saying, yes, this, more of this. But the general chugging and riffs between the solos don’t go anywhere. I find myself zoning out. There isn’t much interesting going on for large sections of most songs.

I also tend not to pay attention to lyrics, but they are so clear on this album that they cannot be dismissed. A lot of the symbols and terminology are so blatant it makes me cringe. I can’t quite describe what rubs me the wrong way, but it does.

“The Master’s Bouquet” stands out for this. Something about the way “Master” keeps getting used sounds so cliche. It sounds more like a mockery of a doom song than a doom song. The story itself is good, it is just the specifics of the word choice (“sheep” round up souls for the “Master” because they think they will live forever but end up finding they die despite the promise).

I’ll probably end up getting their next album, because this had many truly excellent moments. But overall I didn’t like it. Here’s a sample:

Enslaved – In Times Reviewed

The newest album, In Times, by Enslaved released (their 13th if I’m not mistaken), so I decided to check it out. As far as I can remember, I really liked their last one, but honestly, I remember almost nothing about it. I searched and found some cop-out rapid review saying I liked it but nothing more.

If you haven’t heard Enslaved before, they are a bit hard to describe. They have black metal roots, but they’ve ventured into proggy territory and even have lots of clean vocals and power metal influenced parts. They also have some drone-ish post-metal things going on. Needless to say, hardcore BM traditionalists will probably not like this.

On my first listen, I was pretty excited to listen again, because I thought it had a lot of potential. There were a few stick out moments that I wanted to understand how they got to better. That should have been my first warning. If something “sounds good” on a first listen, it usually doesn’t age well.

I’ve enjoyed my time with this album. That’s basically the positive I can give it. The songs have some catchy hooks. They get into some neat grooves. They have some pretty stellar climaxes.

But honestly, many of these songs go on too long. They have a few chords or notes that get into a 4/4 vamp, and to create interest they add all sorts of things to the mix. Unfortunately, many of the things are purely artificial sugar that don’t add much complexity or interest.

I should be more precise about what I mean by musical sugar. It includes things like adding a keyboard to the mix or turning the reverb up or adding sounds of rain/atmosphere. The substance remains exactly the same, which isn’t good enough to not feel the repetition. It is repetition without a purpose.

Another thing that didn’t sit well with me is that some of the catchy hooks get a bit too sing-songy. It isn’t easily quantifiable, but when the chorus has that much bounce to it, it sort of ruins the mood of the other parts of the song.

I do congratulate them on making something that has that distinctive prog feel to it, yet remains fairly straightforward and simple. I don’t say this sarcastically either. They push their chord progressions, chromaticism, and playing with time signatures while remaining easily digestible and listenable.

This album succeeds best at its climaxes. Enslaved know how to write complex music where many disparate pieces come together to make a unified whole. Yet I feel too much time went into making parts that “felt good.”

This is why I leave this album with such mixed opinions. It is easy to succumb to the parts that feel good and think the album is really enjoyable, because in a casual listening sense, it is. Then one can turn to some of the proggier parts and justify the album as worthwhile in some deeper artistic sense.

Maybe the true test is that by mid next week, I probably won’t remember anything about this album. It was a fun experience while it lasted, but there wasn’t enough depth to make it a lasting part of my album rotation.

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