And on the seventh day...
I've been going through one of my metal/grind obsessive phases again lately, and it's right on time when struck by something as righteously genre busting as this. I suppose that's the true measure of greatness for any piece of work--in the end, who needs to hear it? Just the nut-cases who obsess over one particular genre with a psychotic intensity or those of us who diversify? The complex tech/jazz metal that is Behold...The Arctopus breaks the barriers. I simply had no idea human beings could play this fast and still keep everything so succinctly in place. There veins must be rotting from the inside out with ice-streaked flesh sores by now. This isn't possible, is it? Arctopocalypse Now, Warmageddon Later (Epicine Sound System) is some sort of masterpiece (2 tracks, 11 mins on 3" CD) for fans of Slayer, early Metallica, Lightning Bolt and King Crimson, but dare I say these lads say more in a tiny space of time, sans vocals, than most of the above ever did in a lifetime.
Speaking of crankin' it up and turnin' it out, grind purists might respond more kindly to Necrophagist, whose Epitaph (Relapse) is an ear rupturing sonic mortar shell featuring drill-hammer riffs punctuated by ornate electric lead after ornate electric lead. Guttural vocals, relentless metal assaults and the endless battery of loop-to-loop rollercoaster solos make this one trick pony a pretty fun ride. Not necessarily better than the solo drum machine backed debut, Onset of Putrefaction (a Carcass reference?), but at least it's a full band now.
No discussion of extreme musical expression would be complete without a mention of the Scandinavian black metal scene. It took me some time to finally warm back up to death and black metal, and it happened at all largely because of this stuff, which leads me directly to spearheads, Mayhem (whose so-strange-it's-gotta-be-true story will be the basis for some hilarious Miramax film one day), Emperor and more importantly these days, Enslaved. Back to Mayhem though--they represent one of the finest examples of rock myth making at its best and most absurd. Violent suicide, cannibalism, homophobic murder, church burnings, jail time, endless lineup changes, ritual sacrifice--it's all there when running down the "behind the music" checklist. Eventually one realizes it doesn't really matter what they sound like when they're up to such nutty parlor tricks outside the studio. As a friend noted recently though, black metal is quite simply a gorgeous aural specter to behold. Where so many death and grind derivatives are wrapped up in prog complexity, hyper speed and pure gore, the Norweigians and their brethren bring something fresh to the table--a primalcy backed by somber, keening emotion that might seem just like more silly genre convention on first listen. But listen again, and keep doing that. Try it with something like De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (Century Media), and you just might come to the realization that Mayhem bares more similarity to the atonal noise assaults of the early Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth than Black Sabbath or Metallica. And you might even come to appreciate Attila Csihar's jaguar vocal screech, which I have, but then I always admired Mercedes McCambridge's amazing voice work in The Exorcist.
Though they have a newer one out, it's Enslaved's previous Monumension (Osmose Productions) that's got ahold of me currently. Epic, experimental production, tasteful vocals (growling and baritone singing), monstro layered riffs, dueling leads and a tendency towards old fashioned Pink Floydian moodiness make this a heck of a lot more than just another black metal opus. There's that whole trad Nordic folk vibe on top of everything too, in which one envisions a round table surrounded by very drunk Vikings singing off key, but golly-gee help-me this does not sound laughable or inane. I've never heard a cleaner, more technically adept album in the genre (traits that usually turn me off bigtime) with such compositional depth. Every track is a fucking knockout! Black metal is too limited a phrase