September 23, 2009

Aggression Maximized - A Second Look at Neaera's "Armamentarium"

When I first listened to the album "Armamentarium" by Neaera, I enjoyed it, but I didn't find it particularly impressive. It was fast, harsh German death metal - the kind also played by Heaven Shall Burn, Maroon, and countless other German bands. However, after a lot of listens since then, I have come to realize that this album is one of the best expressions of aggression and ferocity in all of music. This album truly brings out the most extreme emotions that music can create. It excels both musically and lyrically beyond the abilities that most bands have.

The album's musical strength comes from guitarist and primary songwriter Tobias Buck, who may be one of the most solid guitar players in all of Europe. While he may not have great solos, his lead lines and chord progressions are some of the most well-put together compositions a melodic death metal band can have. Sebastian Heldt's drumming also intensifies the musicality of the album immensely, providing solid rhythm lines and great fills for slower sections. These two musical forces together create the immense soundscape that encompasses this album. Slower guitar parts matched with machine-gun drum sections, as well as lightning fast guitar riffs with more rhythmic drum parts, create a dense layering of sound that gives both parts greater strength and depth. The songs "Spearheading the Spawn," "Tools of Greed," "Synergy," "The Orphaning," and "Mutiny of Untamed Minds" are the best examples of this.

Without a doubt, though, the element that brings the music together is Benny Hilleke's ridiculous vocal performance. He has three amazing styles to his vocals: the earth-trembling bass growl, the throat-blackening scream, and the rarely-used harsh spoken voice. The effortless transitions he executes between these voices maximize his ability to create an emotional response within the songs, and the chosen vocal style used in different sections can drastically alter the mood. Surprisingly, the most memorable parts of some songs occur when Hilleke uses his harsh spoken word voice, mostly because it occurs during quiet parts of songs and is either immediately preceded or followed by a very intense breakdown or solo part. The use of contrast in these parts is what makes them so memorable. It's a technique that few vocalists use, and even fewer use correctly.

Lyrically, Hilleke's messages of social justice, rebellion against corrupt authority, and self-actualization reach the base motivations of metalheads everywhere. These may not be new themes, but they are refreshing to hear from a German death metal scene that is entirely oversaturated with either gory scenes of violence or overblown dramatic metaphors of men caught in circumstances where they are forced to kill.

"Armamentarium" is addicting because it has all the elements to draw in metalheads of any kind. Those who appreciate vocal depth will be awed by Hilleke's stylistic diversity. Those looking for strong instrumentation will love the performances by Buck and Heldt. Those looking for intelligent and insightful lyrics will appreciate the messages Hilleke delivers. In short, "Armamentarium" has it all, and it delivers everything to you in a cement-encased fist through the teeth.

September 3, 2009

Celebrities should have a word limit on their public statements

So Dimmu Borgir announced this week that they fired keyboardist Mustis (Øyvind Johan Mustaparta) and bassist ICS Vortex (Simen Hestnæs) from the band. I was very displeased upon hearing this news, as Vortex is one of my favorite metal musicians of all time and Mustis is definitely the best keyboardist Dimmu has ever had.

Mustis soon released an official statement telling fans he was fired by text message and that he was taking legal action against the remaining members of Dimmu for not properly crediting him on compositions he did for several songs during his tenure with the band. Vortex followed with a statement telling fans that he would continue with future music plans, and expressed his support for Mustis in his legal case, calling the keyboardist "the true creative force in Dimmu for the last ten years."

Today, the remaining three fulltime band members - vocalist Shagrath and guitarists Silenoz and Galder - fired back with one of the longest press releases I have ever read. They mocked the statements released by Vortex and Mustis as false, and offered up several incidents involving both band members (although never naming which of the two perpetrated the different events) as evidence that the band was better off without them. The band concluded by saying that their forthcoming album, due out next year, would offer testimony to the fact that the "creative force in the band is highly intact" and that the album would retain the sound Dimmu is known for, even without Vortex and Mustis.

After reading all the statements from all parties, I will offer these thoughts. First of all, I firmly and truly believe that the truth cannot be found in any of the statements given, but somewhere in between all that, and it will remain that way most likely. Therefore, I give no creedence to any of the press releases except discussing current facts (those being that Mustis is filing a lawsuit and Vortex will continue with his other bands).

Second of all, I think the statement by Shagrath, Silenoz, and Galder is the epitome of pettiness and derision. They offer up these incidents of wrongdoing by Vortex and Mustis as evidence that they did not belong in the band, but their wording gives testament to their true intentions. The re-telling of those stories is full of language that lacks any objectivity and exclusively acts to smear their reputations. Contrary to that, Mustis and Vortex issued statements that did not attempt to influence opinion in not-so-subtle ways, but rather offered their view of the story and detailed their plans for the future. I applaud this action, and hope that they do not respond to the statement by the band in any way, so as to maintain their professional attitude.

Third of all, the fact that the band members were also unwilling to point out which incidents occurred with Mustis and which occurred with Vortex in their statement shows that they are truly motivated by petty revenge. I expect no less from Shagrath and Silenoz, who have proven throughout the years that they are elitist and they lord their roles as founding members of the band over every other band member. I am disappointed to see Galder's name on this statement, but if he has chosen to side with the other two in this, I'm sure he has his reasons. The fact that drummer Daray does not appear as part of this statement shows just how elitist Shagrath and Silenoz have become, and how much Galder is letting them get away with it.

In summation, I am seriously disappointed by the fact that this even occurred, and I don't think Dimmu will be nearly as good now that Mustis and Vortex are gone. However, I wish the two of them best of luck and hope that they succeed in their individual endeavours. As far as the band goes, I hope that the new album does retain the Dimmu sound, but if it doesn't, we will see Shagrath and Silenoz revealed as frauds, which I would revel in.

Here's some links if you want to explore this topic further:
Mustis' MySpace
ICS Vortex's MySpace
Dimmu Borgir's MySpace
Mustis' Statement on Blabbermouth
ICS Vortex's Statement on Blabbermouth
Statement from the band's management on Blabbermouth
Statement from Shagrath, Silenoz, and Galder on Blabbermouth