September Roundup: Amputation, Black Magnet, Flagg, Kryptamok,,& Endless Forms Most Gruesome
Industrial metal, black & death metal and gruesome forms.
Amputation – Slaughtered in the Arms of God
Before there was Immortal, there were Old Funeral and Amputation. As Old Funeral’s discography has already been collected between the same covers several times and Immortal is once more locked in a legal battle over their name, this time between Demonaz and Horgh, and even metal musicians must eat, it is now Amputation’s turn. Combining their two demos and a previously unreleased rehearsal recording, but not the Verftet Thrash fest recording released independently soon after this compilation, it’s the all-you-need to know of a band whose only claim to fame was another, found by two of its members after its own demise.
The 4-song debut demo, Achieve the Mutilation, was made by teenagers in the late ’80s and that’s what it sounds like. There’s more enthusiasm than skill, though it’s not caveman death. It’s raw, no-nonsense, straightforward death metal with noisy, Kerry King style shred for solos and not much in the way of riffs, “Merciless Slaughter’s” thrashier mid-riff being the only more memorable moment. It’s not bad, but it’s hard to imagine anyone seeking it out in 2020 for any non-Immortal related reasons. The rehearsal recording, which does include two songs not available on the demos, is the same, but with lesser quality, but the second demo, bearing the same title as this compilation is at least much better.
Unfortunately it’s only two tracks long, but “Heavenly Grace” and the title track offer a better recording quality that allows the songs to at least passably latch on, the latter even featuring a semi-melodic guitar lead/solo. But even though they’re the band’s best 2/3, they can’t change the fact that Amputation was never a great band and they suffered from dull songwriting and pointless riffs throughout their brief existence. Unlike stated in the promo, there’s no reason for them to rise above a footnote in Norwegian death metal’s history, and the existence of this compilation serves no one but the most obsessive Immortal completionists.
Flagg – Nothing but Death
The debut of a raw and barbarous black metal band, Flagg, largely the work of an instrumentalist going under the same pseudonym, Nothing but Death presents a dismal take on the genre, emphasized by the vocals mixed right into the forefront and the craggy guitar tone. There’s not much depth to the mix, but the clacking bass does its best to add a little, as do the synths, though their appearance does not always seem thought out (especially their appearance out of nowhere during “Burning Sky’s” annoyingly loud tremolo-lead sections which grate on my nerves), but mostly their use, never a constant companion to the songs, and though mixed to the background, always playing lead of their own, add some much needed colour to the record.
A few fumbling riffs have found their way onto the record, and some of the arrangements speak in languages that let slip the fact that the album is the work of one man, even when there are a few more contributors, this wasn’t composed as a band, and likely not demoed much before the release. The homespun flavour can be charming, but at times it works against the album, though no one can say it would be victim to its own simplicity even if its rawness tries to hide its polymorphous face underneath. Especially the slower “Dark Clouds Gathering” shows, with its careful juxtaposition of a simple, swirling synth lead against a straightforward riff that nearly engulfs it, that with a little work to rid it of its teething troubles, Flagg could be a force to reckon with.
Endless Forms Most Gruesome – S/T
Considering that they put out a funeral doom album as part of the Song From the North trilogy, and that When a Shadow is Forced into the Light was preceded by the dark, hopeless drone of Lumina Aurea, one might consider it a fallacy to claim Swallow the Sun has been heading to a less heavy direction, but this has been the direction of their material overall outside these experimental prods into the deepest depths of anguish and sorrow. This, it would seem, has not sat well with drummer Juuso Raatikainen. Shortly after WaSiFitL, he and two StS alumni released the debut of Hedonihil, a furious, and rather single-minded, punishing combination of black and death metal.
Where Hedonihil was fast, Endless Forms Most Gruesome isn’t. Though its name sounds like a bad Nightwish joke, its musical DNA draws mostly from sludge metal. Raatikainen himself is responsible for the instrumental side of the record, but collaborated with Manne Ikonen of the recently deceased-for-good Ghost Brigade on vocals. EFMG’s sludge comes infused with few elements of death metal, and many riffs might pass for a groove metal band (or Meshuggah, if they ever happen to look for something less rhythmically complicated); they’ve even been compared to Deftones, and on “Viral Bloodlust” I kind of understand it. The opening riff wouldn’t be entirely out of place on Koi No Yokan, if it hadn’t been mangled by a sludge band, and the background electronics only strengthen the association.
You won’t find Eyehategod‘s nihilistic feedback wall here, for despite its permeating loathing EFMG is a very groove-oriented record, and beneath its surface hides a much wider variety of influences in the form of drawn-out arpeggios, electronics/effects, melodies hiding behind the riffs and even a short bout of clean vocals from Mannonen whose deep growl crowns the record despite its monotony.
Songs are often either centered around or borne from a good idea, but quickly fall flat and the band can’t make much of their other influences, often becoming flashes of the cards the band is carrying in their pockets rather than actually fleshed-out songwriting elements—teasers, not features. And the songwriting just isn’t strong or interesting enough to drag through this 44-minute record that feels considerably longer. A collection of good ideas guided by a firm vision, but one that makes nothing out of them.
Black Magnet – Hallucination Scene
A one man industrial metal band that recalls the heyday of Nine Inch Nails, James Hammontree’s Black Magnet devotes itself to pounding rhythms and pulsing synths, but guitar plays a pivotal role in Hallucinations Scene’s songwriting as well. Evoking many of the genre’s greatest, it’s thankfully not without a character of its own; Hammontree’s vocal tone, phrasing and arrangements owe much to Trent Reznor and the underlying melodic flavour recalls much of his work as well, whereas the variety of rhythms, effects, electronics and synths that throb all around the compositions are as much Front Line Assembly as they are NIN. Opener “Divination Equipment” borrows its drum machine from Godflesh and the following “Anubis” quickly revisits Rob Zombie‘s early solo career, but most of these things play over each other at any given time, melding influences together in a way that none of Black Magnet’s predecessors could have, making for a sound that is simultaneously both familiar and strange. Just as the key to Ignsoc’s success in 1984 was the past, having the possibility to study previous totalitarian governments and learn from their mistakes and successes, Black Magnet thrives on its songwriting because it’s had a chance to peck apart the corpses of those that came before them, nurture their strengths and use them to caulk their existing weaknesses.
Kryptamok – Verisaarna
Kryptamok’s debut EP, Profaani, was a quick but satisfying cut of fairly raw black metal infused with synths, not to the point where they could be labeled symphonic, but those synth-horns acted as the central hooks to the otherwise barbarous, straightforward songs and a counterpoint to the violent atmosphere. Verisaarna takes the best of that approach and tries to make more of it.
Not as consistently fast as its predecessor (though the love of the ’90s Norwegian scene is filtered through the eyes of the times’ Finnish bands is clear in the songs), Verisaarna‘s use of tranquility amidst the impetuous riffing and refined sense of melody has become strong enough to carry much of the material on its own. However, some of these melodies are memorable enough to lift the songs to the necessary heights, setting them apart from many modern traditionalists.
The role of the keyboards has been slightly increased as well, even though the band still doesn’t belong to the symphonic vein of the genre, and the keys aren’t being used to create atmosphere with static chords. Their presence is often felt as an additional melodic flourish besides the returning synth horns. The even drier soundscape doesn’t strip Kryptamok of its strength, but it does strip it of some depth and even though Verisaarna doesn’t quite reach 40 minutes, it can sometimes feel like a longer record, not enough to truly detract from it, but still. While it doesn’t excel in any particular front, it makes good enough work on all to stand out from the masses, and the way the synths are integrated into the music helps set them stylistically apart from the larger masses as well. Though it could still use stronger songwriting to really stand on its own legs.