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.

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