Meditations on “Math”, Pt.II: Technical Death

Why did I decide, in just my second post on mathematics in rock music, to discuss one of most alienating forms of extreme metal? I really have no idea. Mostly it comes down to the fact that I had made a long list of bands and, as I sorted them, these fellas just ended up here. And by “fellas” I mean it. Females are notably absent from this realm and the reasons for this have weighed on my mind for years now (A friend and former roommate, Mary Iatropolous, attempted a rudimentary study of this phenomenon and her conclusions were both obvious and obscure). It’s a discussion well worth continuing, unfortunately it will have to be in a future post (thoughts in the comments are more than welcome).

Death metal, from its roots in thrash and hardcore, was always predicated on superlatives: Who could play fastest, whose sound was “heaviest”, who wrote with the most complexity? This kind of competition, friendly or not, has always been a generative force in art; here, among the most extreme exemplars of metal, we find a synthesis of high and low art. There is no middle-brow here: anti-bourgeois; this is scum divinity, sacred filth; “untouchable” is a word used for only to describe the richest & poorest.

I need to read Albert Mudrian’s book, Choosing Death.

Hank, in his post, provides Necrophagist and Cynic as examples of prog/tech metal. The former display an almost inhuman technicality in their music, a legacy that goes back at least to J.S. Bach (and likely farther). Personally, I find Cynic to be a terribly cheesy abomination, like walking into a Guitar Center wank-a-thon. Where Necrophagist plays brutal video-game soundtracks, Cynic exhibit the worst indulgences (overwrought melodies, too-sleek production, operatic vocals) of ’70s prog-rock and never get heavy. But that’s just me, for contemporaries I prefer Atheist.

I tend to dislike “genre bands” who follow an established template in their aesthetic. Mix it up, add something of your own. No two people like all the same stuff, so why write like that? The following bands are all ones who’ve taken risks with their sound and, to varying degrees, been successful in their execution…

• Gorguts

Producers of perhaps the most innovative metal of the past 20-odd years, Gorguts combined technical death metal with heavy doses of doom and jazz to make their 1998 opus, Obscura. There is something deeply, deeply medieval about this record; it is incantatory, incendiary, ferociously beautiful and supremely unpleasant. The rest of Gorguts’ catalog is solid and powerful, but it pales in comparison by every thinkable measure. I had heard their name mentioned as I got more into death metal and understood the idiosyncracies of the genre, however, it wasn’t until maybe two years ago that I finally heard something off Obscura. “Earthly Love” is the second track and, for all the complexity of its overlapping rhythms and melodies, hews closely to traditional pop structure: verse1/verse2/chorus/bridge-interlude/repeat verse1/short digression/chorus. Disarmingly simple, the foreboding atmosphere is ultimately created by complexity within each section rather than as a whole. Just when land is descried, the boat begins its terrible rocking anew…

Sole continuous member Luc Lemay recently announced a reformation of the band with a new lineup (feat. Colin Marston, Kevin Hufnagel & John Longstreth) and new material. I was fortunate enough to catch their recent mini-tour (with Krallice, Bloody Panda & Portal) at Knitting Factory BK in May of this past year. This video was taken in Boston the night before I saw them.

• Ion Dissonance

In college Bart & I played in a band with Hamilton Jordan (just as he was forming Genghis Tron, who turned out to be much better). I played drums. While I have rhythm, I was never, nor will I ever truly be a “drummer”. We opened for these guys, Behold…The Arctopus and The Sawtooth Grin down in our sad excuse for a campus bar, and if I recall correctly—not bloody likely—’twas our first non-houseparty show. We played. They all played. I made my way to a corner, sat down and thought very deeply about the atrocity I had just committed.

I’ll admit I haven’t paid Ion Dissonance much mind since their 2005 release, Solace, so I don’t know what they’ve been up to of late. Their first album, Breathing Is Irrelevant, was for me an incredible introduction to the absolute chaos of Quebecois tech-metal: a lineage to which Voivod, Cryptopsy and Gorguts all belong. With Solace they increased the precision and non-linearity of their songwriting, but failed to produce anything so gripping as their previous effort. It’s an album that I’m only now revisiting, though, and I leave open the possibility that something will strike me more deeply. I also need to check out their newer material.

• Soilent Green

Today’s Southern representatives belong to that New Orleans school of absolute grime along with Down, Eyehategod and Crowbar. Most of these notable NOLA bands have shared members at some point and Soilent Green vocalist Ben Falgoust also fronts the more black metal-oriented Goatwhore. After being introduced to them in the early ’00s, it still took me a few years to figure out what the hell was going on in their mix of grindcore and locally-flavored bayou swamp-metal. Most of their material eschews pop song structures for an ever-changing development of themes that only occasionally experience a recapitulation. This lends a particular dynamism to the songs, though the trade-off is difficulty in following the progressions, especially since they tend towards brevity. “Later Days”, from 2001’s A Deleted Symphony for the Beaten Down, was my doorway, so I open for you. I hope you like the room. Enjoy your stay.

Below is “In the Same Breath” from 2008’s Inevitable Collapse In the Presence of Conviction. I appreciate that a band so drenched in muck will go out on a limb with such an intro as they do here. Not only do the take the risk, they tend to be successful in their experiments. Soilent Green tend to require some acclimatization, but their combination of sludge, grind and Southern/Country elements has created a novel body of work worth the attention.

• Cephalic Carnage

In May of 2003 Bart, Hamilton and I trekked to Valentine’s in Albany to catch the Relapse Contamination tour featuring Cephalic Carnage, Uphill Battle (whose drummer, Danny Walker, went on to form Intronaut) and Dysrhythmia (see Hufnagel, Kevin). Mastodon was headlining in support of Remission and was the real reason we went, but I found these Coloradan “hydro grinders” to be particularly entertaining. Towards the end of their set vocalist Lenzig Leal rambled on about masturbating in his basement while covered in Cheetos® dust. I honestly don’t remember anything else about the set.

Cephalic Carnage are another band that I’ve fallen behind on, as I’ve yet to give due time to their 2006 effort, Xenosapien, nor have I gotten a copy of their 2010 release, Misled By Certainty (which just made my “Recent Albums to Get” list). They constantly tread shaky ground, though, with the heavy injections of humor into an otherwise solid mix of technical death metal and grindcore. The execution is always precise and the songwriting remains grounded, such that the listener is not constantly mired in abstraction (my major qualm with I.D.’s Solace).

2 Responses to “Meditations on “Math”, Pt.II: Technical Death”

  1. I remember that show. It was at Vassar right? I play/played guitar for Sawtooth.

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