I’ve written before, as I’m sure I will again, about the therapeutic nature, if not outright necessity, of music. The healing properties and medicinal purposes of this art is fairly well-chronicled but we can never be reminded of that enough. In my own experiences, and where I find myself in life, a lot of that healing or mental well-being is cultivated in listening to varieties of post-fill in the blank music. I listen to it at night when I need to calm my brain down, when I need to be able to focus on work, or I feel something that I can’t express. Others will inevitably have their own preferred niche, genre, or style. None of them are invalid options.
Literature has been one of the foremost sources of inspiration for metal lyricism and composition alike, regardless of subgenre. The list of examples is significant—Ernest Hemingway and Cobalt, Georges Bataille and Deathspell Omega, H. P. Lovecraft and seemingly everyone, and so on. Drawing inspiration from a novel is a challenging but relatively structured undertaking; a plot can be interpreted into numerous sonic and lyrical directions but will always follow the same trajectory of its narrative. Poetry contrasts this process by its very nature, as its natural code of symbolic meaning and suggestive prose necessitates musical decoding drawn from a strictly thematic place. Even poems with a decipherable narrative are often told in a verbose, indirect manner that challenges metal lyricists and composers to write with a liberated hand, looking beyond the words on the page to a deeper understanding of the poem’s true meaning and mood. Agalloch’s interpretation of W. B. Yeats is a stellar example of this process being executed beautifully, as is the latest offering from Ehnahre, a Boston-based avant-garde metal collective who count Kay Dot alumni among their ranks. Their incredible four-part song cycle on The Marrow captures the essence of Theodore Roethke’s eponymous poem* through consuming landscapes of avant-garde death-doom that are as ridden with despair as the poet’s initial musing on whether or not life is worthwhile.
It is a well-documented phenomenon that most bands become more accessible and streamlined the longer their careers go on: focus on melody and rewarding song structures overwrite the desire for off-the-wall ridiculousness, and bands become more “mature,” a word we use in a tongue-in-cheek manner here at Heavy Blog to…
Prepped and pumped from day one, armed with the knowledge of where the best food and spots were, we entered Poble Espanyol. The setlist promised to be stacked with some of my favorite acts and my expectations were high. I was worried about being disappointed but it was just a nagging voice in the back of my head; my spirit was frivolous and I allowed myself to imagine crazy scenarios of far fetched and perfect set-lists, incredible and soul lifting shows and what have you. Those rampant expectations were all met and exceed, as the second day proved to be one of the best musical experiences of my life. Venue, company, performance, crowds, bands, all combined in that perfect, harmonious way which is usually resolved for dreams and erupted on to the scene. But let us start in the beginning and chart this journey towards the end, an unbelievable catharsis at night.
To the uninitiated, it may appear that on the surface, the field of cinematic and symphonic metal is thinning. Following Wintersun’s embarrassing crowdfunding flop that was The Forest Seasons, an album through which Jari Maenpaa and Co. mishandled and squandered the good graces of fans of the sound by releasing an admittedly inferior album to the one that was promised for half a decade ago, it might not be immediately obvious who would pick up the mantle of epic prog/power/black/folk/whatever. The sound of Wintersun is highly ambitious, after all, and it could be forgiven if it was assumed by some that the breadth of scope offered (or promised, anyway) by Wintersun was unique to them.
Metal has an abiding relationship with physical and geographical spaces. From the rolling cascades of the Pacific Northwest to the dense, foreboding forests of Norther Europe, metal has long championed music that not only exists in a specific physical place but is often consumed by it. Think the ice cold tremolo knives of Norwegian black metal, or perhaps the gentler wanderings of folk metal from across the globe, or the oppressively heavy and moderately paced trudging of Bayou sludge. To these ears, these are sounds that are intended to transport and project us into a physical space that often adds further distinction to the thematic and lyrical themes of the music. The same could be said of the music of Incantation, but opposed to feeling like the American East Coast from whence the band originates, the death metal legends have composed music for decades that feels as if it is slowly emerging from a deep, hellish cave. It is reverberating, dripping filth bathed in oppressive guitar work, echoing and cavernous vocals, and a seething, roaring rhythm section that feels like an earthquake. It is a sound shrouded in slow, creeping, all-consuming darkness that feels viscerally physical, and Incantation have molded and transformed this beastly noise into something close to perfection.
Doom metal, in its purest form, is Sisyphian, forever attempting to move its great weight over a seemingly unreachable peak. That that mythical figure was, well, doomed to his task for cheating death is an apt metaphor for the bleak artistry of this genre of metal. In attempting to establish where this particular scene lies in the greater schema of music right now we can look to this ancient myth as an apt metaphor. Taking into account the plethora of new releases, new Sisyphuses, pushing their own respective boulder-esque projects it’s easy to see that doom is in a bit of a renaissance, currently, as crucial (relatively) new bands such as Elder, Pallbearer, Dreadnought, and SubRosa have raised the bar for longtime practitioners.
While Akercocke aren’t necessarily what one would call a legendary band, they’re definitely a cult favorite, and very well-revered by those who know of them. As such, their disappearance was a big blow to fans of progressive death metal. Back in the day, Opeth and Akercocke were one of the…
I chose to open this review with a personal question because I am facing a crossroad; Leprous are among my favorite artists. Their sense of aesthetic, their delivery, their approach to emotions have all taken root in my heart over countless of hours of listening, a couple of live shows and four albums. But now, I am faced with Malina, an album that represents, to me, a surrender of their sound, a certain complacency which I never thought to find in their work, ever. Do I cast my judgement on the band’s essence, consigning them to derision, or do I try and appreciate the effort and intention behind the album and attempt to glean the essence beyond the phenomenon? The answer, as befits such complex questions, is a bit of both. On one hand, it’s very easy to find something to hold on to with Malina; we’re still talking about an accomplished and skillful band here, who are able to produce good music. On the other, that music is of dubious direction and style.
The purpose of this post is not to give you a play by play description of the festival; this isn’t a show review first and foremost. The idea instead is to give you a feeling for what attending the festival is like, whether by describing the location, some of the shows, the overall air or even the food on offer. The purpose of this post is to see as many of you as possible at the next year’s festival. This institution is well needed in the metal scene and it’s a pleasure to be able to support it in my own way. There’s only one condition: you have to say hello next year if you do come. I’ll buy you a beer, promise. Let’s get to it, shall we?