A Rebuttal to Gabe Kagan’s Review of Ygg Huur

I’ll start with a caveat, so people don’t get the wrong impression. I think it is perfectly reasonable for someone to give Krallice, and Ygg Huur in particular, a chance, yet come away with nothing of worth. If it doesn’t speak to you, then it doesn’t speak to you. Heck, it doesn’t really speak to me. But it is intellectually dishonest to coach this criticism in factually incorrect statements just to give your criticism weight. Say it like it is: you don’t like it. Don’t give some faux analysis filled with nonsensical hyperbole.

You can go read the full review made by Gabe Kagan here. I’ll pull out the most egregious quotes and give a rebuttal.

“Every second of Ygg Hurr takes on a different meter, rhythm, tempo, tonality, and so forth.”

Let’s ignore the fact that you wouldn’t be able to tell if these things were true, and get to the part where they are patently false. There are certainly bands that take the approach of complicated time and tempo changes, but arguably early death metal classics do this more than Ygg Huur.

Take the first minute of the first track. It consists almost entirely of quarter notes and eighth notes with some half notes near the end of the minute mark. Here’s roughly the sheet music (I couldn’t hear exactly which guitar had which part due to the closeness of the registers and the distortion, and the very end notes might be slightly off). There has been no simplification:

Screenshot (15)

This exact idea repeats many times with slight changes in texture and embellishment. How someone could call this strange rhythm is beyond me. I guess one way to count it would be to alternate 5/4 and 6/4, but this hardly counts as “changing meter” because you could call the whole thing 11/4.

There are no tempo changes. There is one established tonality: a minor. In fact, you’d have an easier time arguing the tonality as too static to be interesting. This track plays like something Ulcerate would do. The only way someone could make the above quote is if they haven’t listened to the album, or they are ignorant about what any of those terms mean.

The meter, rhythm, tempo, and tonality all remain fixed throughout the song. Some of the later songs introduce a little more complication but not much.

“Instead of dwelling on one simplistic idea for an enormous quantity of time, Krallice abandons all their previous concepts like clockwork because it’s already time for the next riff.”

I’ll stick to the first track again since we have a reference for it, although I think many of the tracks follow a similar structure. I’ll give Gabe that some of the motifs presented on the album are not simplistic (though the one I wrote out above is quite simplistic), but Krallice does dwell on these ideas enough for there to be clear development. I actually only hear one riff per song unless there are clear sections, in which case each section only develops one riff.

The first track consists entirely of developing those first two measures I wrote out. When the vocals come in, the parts get elongated, probably to change the focus to the vocals. The sounds that come from those measures are the foundation for the rest of the song. I’m pretty sure nothing in the song is a new idea after those measures. Sure, 3 minutes isn’t an “enormous quantity of time,” but it’s only 2 measures making up that material. They most certainly do not jump around from riff to riff on this album.

“I really need to brush up on my mathematics so I can make a proper reference to deterministic chaos and attractors, but even without such a metaphor it should be apparent that Krallice’s music isn’t very well thought out.”

Again, this criticism is almost the exact opposite of the one that ought to be made. One might be able to make the argument that the music is too well thought-out to have the emotion content of the great classic black metal bands. Look at the sheet music. It is almost perfect traditional counterpoint. You have similar motion balanced with contrary motion. You have anticipations and suspensions. You have an echo between the voices. This doesn’t happen by accident and without planning. It is strange to argue otherwise.

“As a result, Ygg Hurr showcases every idea that Krallice’s members must have thought was even marginally cool, without any cohesive logic or anything in the way of quality filtering.”

I think we’ve sufficiently dealt with this already. Krallice have actually composed quite cohesive songs, and the songs themselves don’t have the smattering of ideas Gabe seems to think. They tend to focus around one or two ideas.

Intronaut – The Direction of Last Things

It is no secret that I love Intronaut. My first time through their latest album was not a pleasant experience. I had my suspicions that this was something I would end up liking. They shifted their sound away from interesting jazz progressions to something more like djenty nu metal. Had they abandoned everything that made them great to cash in on the latest (dying) trend?

Already on the second time through, I started to notice the old Intronaut peek through this more intense and aggressive sound. The first track alone had a huge extended jazzy vamp building up to the climactic ending. The vocals layered in extended chords over the guitar riffs. I had somehow zoned out during all of this in my horror the first time.

The next track brings back their cleverness in playing with time. It is easy to write off the repetitiveness of the pattern as excessive, but it constantly turns around. First, it is a hemiola (the pattern itself has a length that doesn’t sit perfectly in the time signature). Then the time signature itself seems to keep changing if the drums are to be trusted. It is quite the achievement, and I found myself enjoying listening to how the pieces fit together once I realized it wasn’t as simple as mere repetition.

The album as a whole did come off as a bit formulaic. Start with some heavy djent inspired stuff. Transition to a long jazzy or proggy section. Then build up to a climactic ending that returns to the opening idea with some of the middle ideas layered in. I have no problem with this, because it is quite an effective formula. It lets you experience the pieces separately which makes it easier to appreciate them when played together. They deviated from this on “The Pleasant Surprise,” but I actually felt a little cheated that it stayed fast and hard the whole way through.

One of my favorite tracks will probably be most people’s least favorite: “The Unlikely Event of a Water Landing.” It starts very different with some creepy sampled spoken word stuff under weird synthesized sounds. The song stays pretty down tempo the whole time and vamps on a pretty simple idea for a long, long time. This also does some weird time stuff.

I didn’t take the time to figure it out, but I think it is a combo of 3/4 and 4/4 measures and the band isn’t playing them at the same time creating a 3 against 4 effect. The long, mesmerizing effect can pull you into a nice meditative state if you let it do its job. That guitar solo is really good, too. I thought it was cheesy the first time, but I’ve come around to it.

Overall, this is a great effort from Intronaut. I still have my suspicions on the direction their sound has headed, but that well-composed songwriting is still there. I give this an 8.5/10.

Here’s a sample:

Spectral Lore – Gnosis

Spectral Lore has been on my radar ever since they released the epic III. That album stayed with me for quite some time as a great blend of traditional melody and black metal, yet highly experimental in other aspects. Earlier this year Voyager released, and I didn’t review it because I couldn’t get into it at all.

Gnosis provides a return to the melody and experimentation I loved on III, yet there are significant departures from it. Most of the melodies are influenced by Middle Eastern scales and melodies. Thankfully, this doesn’t come off as a gimmick. Unlike the recent Nile release, these ideas are blended so seamlessly into the music, that it doesn’t sound like it could be any other way.

The tracks run 8+ minutes, but the album as a whole is only 5 tracks long. This makes for a nice total length. The long form of the songs don’t feel too long, because there is steady development throughout. The tracks are instrumental and through composed, so there isn’t a bunch of tedious recycling like many modern long form black metal albums.

One of the “experimental” aspects of the album is that there are lyrics despite no vocals. I’m not sure if I’m just missing them somehow. It is more like a jointly released music/poetry project. My guess is that this is somehow a commentary on how you have to read the lyrics for most black metal anyway to understand what they are.

Overall, this album is a slower and more patient album that III. Every song is mid to slow tempo, and you won’t find much fast technical work or blast beats. A lot of the complexity has been stripped to bring greater focus to the melodic work.

The song I’m going to give as a preview isn’t representative of the album’s sound, but I think it gives the best idea of how carefully constructed these are. The rubato, the dynamic contrast, the use and non-use of instruments in meticulously chosen locations, and the melodic development and counterpoint with the bass all show how Spectral Lore think about constructing songs on this album. These elements of songwriting are present on other tracks, but are harder to hear because of the louder metal sound.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to Gnosis and expect it will be one of my top albums of the year. I’ll give it a 9/10. Here’s a sample:

Panopticon – Autumn Eternal

Autumn Eternal is Panopticon’s third album in his bluegrass/black metal trilogy. I’ve reviewed them all so far, and I’m always pretty disappointed while remaining optimistic for the next one. I feel like a broken record, so this will probably be the last time I do one of these reviews unless the next album totally blows me away.

I love the concept. He takes black metal and tries to combine it with American folk. From an instrumental standpoint, this is a great idea. Instruments like banjo have a very harsh, metallic sound, but can also portray a deep sadness. Lots of folk songs are about tragic events like coal miners doing backbreaking work only to die in a cave in. This is the essence of black metal.

Unfortunately, when you pull the two ideas apart and merely shift back and forth between folk instruments and black metal it creates an uneven and partitioned album.

I don’t think the songwriting has evolved as much as some people say. As usual, the folk parts are excellent. The opening track has multiple melodies played in counterpoint, a beautiful blend of instruments, and interesting rhythm section. It is complex yet simple in the right ways.

The black metal sections remain a mystery to me. For example, take the end to “Into the North Woods.” It is an extended and repetitive fully synthesized outro. Nothing about this makes sense in the context of the song. The synthetic sound is cringe inducing and completely changes the aesthetic. It goes against all that the album stands for in its nature themes. The repetition makes me want to hit skip after almost a minute. What is the point of this outro? The album is long enough that there is no need for the filler. This same type of thing happens on future tracks as well like “Sleep to the Sound of Waves Crashing.”

He also introduces a very clean melodic lead guitar on most of the metal tracks. This also feels out of place and is again the wrong aesthetic. It is most noticeable in “Autumn Eternal” and is pretty much the only thing I can think about during that track. The prominence might just be a mixing issue.

In the next track, the melodic clean guitar works a lot better, because it gets integrated into the overall sound. And this basically sums up how I feel about it. The album is a highly inconsistent collection of ideas and aesthetic choices. This is disappointing because of how promising the ideas are.

There are some great moments to be sure. But there are also some Deafheaven-esque post-metal poppy progressions that ruin those moments. Overall, I give this a 6.5/10. Here’s a sample:

Mgła – Exercises in Futility

Mgła is a band people have been telling me to check out for a while. Their latest album has received rave reviews and many are calling it black metal album of the year.

At first, I didn’t like this album at all. It seemed very simplistic, formulaic, and repetitive. Every song is built out of some pretty short motifs in repetition that builds in intensity until they hit the climax, usually right at the end of the song. The album has more of a riff structure from death metal than the melodic focus of black metal.

This rubbed me the wrong way. These motifs aren’t very interesting on their own. There are brief moments of melody, but these are few and far between and de-emphasized. Even Krallice uses full melodic structures. Anyway, I decided to take my own advice and stop worrying about what the band ought to do and figure out if what they actually do works.

I’m glad I did this, because I’ve come around a lot on this one. I like that they named their tracks “Exercises in Futility” I-VI. It makes it sound like these really are six exercises in futility. The effect would be lost if they went down the path that some bands go nowadays with titles like “My Naked Body Became One With the Earth Under the Gaze of the Moon” or something.

I think the first few tracks do suffer quite a bit from the extreme repetition of pretty uninteresting ideas with little-to-no change. Each song gets a bit better, and by the end of the album, they’ve hit upon how to make the formula work. Much how Ulcerate takes almost nothing and builds intensity through layering, texturing, and dissonance, so does Mgła.

I’m actually baffled that the earlier tracks don’t use this. The only explanation I can come up with is that they wanted an album-long descent into intensity and dissonance (not that they really ever get super dissonant). But it isn’t worth this sacrifice.

The drumming is pretty wild on this thing. Sometimes it has a bit too much going on for the simplicity of the rest of the song. For instance, on the fourth track these weird ride symbol flourishes cut through everything, and it is all I can think about. Other times the drumming transitions into a standard rock beat. Most of the time it serves the song well, but a few moments it takes over to ill effect.

Overall, I definitely liked this album, but there are some serious flaws. There is no doubt this is a band to watch. If they can really pin down this formula, they could make a really great album. Also, I love the last two tracks. That’s where they got it right. I’ll give this a 7.5/10.

Here’s a sample:

Nile – What Should Not Be Unearthed

I figured I should weigh in on this album, since Nile is one of those heavyweight bands that profess to be doing something interesting (combining Middle Eastern melodies with brutal death metal).

First, I’m not sure what the production on this thing was supposed to sound like, but there’s a difference between a brutal/punishing sound and something too muddy to hear anything. There are loud segments that are not so much atonal as they are without a tone. The sections consist of chugging on some “chord” in a string of fast sixteenth notes, but it comes across as pure noise.

I’m pretty sure this was not intended. It makes the harmonic minor riffs so much cornier. Loud noise, loud noise, loud noise, sudden “Egyptian” riff which is crystal clear, loud noise. The effect is almost comical. It sounds like a Nile parody band.

To be fair, many of the songs are not quite that bad … but many are. Nile have been around a long time and clearly have excellent technical chops. Occasionally there are some very technical solos and riffs. Too often they fall back on chromatic filler or simply playing a harmonic minor scale.

I’m not sure why they messed with the death metal structure so much. If they took their best riffs and cut the filler, this would probably be a pretty good album. Some bands can get away with developing their riffs into longer, six minute songs because they have the content to do it. Most of the time it feels like Nile wanted longer songs, but couldn’t come up with the material to do it so they chugged on toneless chords.

The lack of development gives the songs a meandering and aimless feel. I think they were going more for chaotic with the sudden tempo and timbre changes. Instead, we’re left with a lack of cohesion.

Overall, there are some good moments but not enough to overcome the lack of interesting content. I won’t bother coming up with a number for this one. Here’s a sample:

By The Patient – Gehenna Reviewed

By The Patient is a band from Denmark, and Gehenna is their fifth release. I have no idea how I found this band. They must have been on some list somewhere. I tend to throw any album I come across that looks vaguely interesting into a big Google music library. This album had been sitting there for a very long time, so I figured the time had come to listen to it. This is also their last album as they’ve recently announced they’ve broken up.

Gehenna is Scandinavian-style melodic death metal. They mix it up between tracks quite a bit. Some songs are down tempo, almost doom sounding, while others are thrashy in their speed.

Nothing really stands out on the album. When playing fast, they are tight and have some interesting moments. When playing slow, they build good harmonies and the songs have good motion towards a climax. Unfortunately, most of the songs fall in the middle, and we don’t get to hear either extreme.

The riffs in general are not interesting enough to stand on their own. This weakens the songs considerably, because the songs must get their material from other sources: changing textures, rhythms, and feel. To be fair, there are a few stand out riffs that do work to bring the song together, but this is the exception.

I’m not a big vocals person. Vocals rarely change my opinion one way or the other. Bad vocals don’t ruin excellent instrumental work, and great vocals don’t improve terrible playing. The vocals on this album rub me the wrong way though. They remind me a lot of Gojira but as if the singer were bored. It is hard to pinpoint exactly why. It has to do with the overly precise rhythmic execution and how monotone they are.

Unfortunately, this album is too generic. It isn’t as bad as I’ve made it sound. I’ve listened to it in the background probably 8 or 9 times. I’ll just not remember it in a few weeks. I hate doing negative reviews, but I wasn’t prepared to do a different album today. I give it a 5/10.

Here’s a sample: