Words by Ryan McCarthy:
Black/death… war metal… bestial black metal… whatever you want to call it, it has an instantly recognizable sound and, perhaps more importantly, visual aesthetic. From BEHERIT to BLASPHEMY to BESTIAL WARLUST, the sub-subgenre has spread worldwide and gained legions of loyal fans. Today I want to talk about two relatively new acts in the genre that I think are a cut above the rest of the bullet-belted, beer-guzzling, goat-hailing pack.
ABYSMAL LORD - Exaltation of the Infernal Cabal
ABYSMAL LORD is a black/death four piece from New Orleans who offer a vicious, no nonsense take on the genre. One incredibly upset reviewer on Metal Archives gave Exaltation of the Infernal Cabal a 3/100 and bemoaned the fact that ABYSMAL LORD “suffer[s] from a total lack of dynamic,” which tells me two things: 1) this person has evidently never stumbled across war metal before, and 2) ABYSMAL LORD is CLEARLY doing something right. If you’re playing an extreme genre of music and someone on the internet is complaining that your playing is… too extreme… you’ve succeeded.
I had the chance to see these guys live about a year and a half ago in Chicago and let me tell you, they put on one hell of a show. Sonically, ABYSMAL LORD is essentially exactly what you’d expect. It’s very clear that they’re intentionally bearing the black flame that was fanned into life by early acts such as BLASPHEMY and CONQUEROR. There’s no attempt to create an ethereal atmosphere, there are barely any melodic passages, it’s simply music played raw, fast, and loud in an attempt to cause the listener intense discomfort and hopefully induce a state of blind, apoplectic rage. Every once in a while ABYSMAL LORD will break out a slower death metal passage, which is of course nothing new for war metal. But by and large you’re in for atonal, power chord tremolo riffs galore. Trust me, you won’t be humming any of these riffs after the album is over, but that isn’t to say that Exaltation of the Infernal Cabal won’t stay with you. On the contrary, the second that I finished my first listen through I put it on again. It’s that well done.
Some of the tracks are interspersed with interlude sections that consist mostly of low, distorted vocals and airy, ominous synthscapes. Of course, these passages aren’t necessarily meant to engage the listener or allow them to grapple with what they’ve heard thus far; they’re simply there to add another menacing element to the mix. Because like our friend above correctly pointed out, ABYSMAL LORD is not here for dynamics. They’re not showing off their musical prowess, they’re channeling aggression into a sonic format. This is the shit you put on when you need to raise your free testosterone and beat a rival Neanderthal into submission.
At the end of the day, ABYSMAL LORD is making music for the people who know what they want and know where to find it. They haven’t reinvented the wheel, and they aren’t necessarily bringing anything new to the genre like more forward thinking acts such as SECT PIG. But that isn’t a bad thing. War metal is a (sonically) conservative genre, and the formula laid down almost 30 years ago still proves to be viciously effective today. In the eerily applicable words of Fallout, a game that shares a fascination with nuclear destruction with the genre in question: “War… war never changes.”
Favorite Tracks: Exaltation of the Infernal Cabal, Preparing the Throne, Nuclear Absolution
TETRAGRAMMACIDE - Primal Incinerators of Moral Matrix
This album is a perfect example of why I wanted to begin doing this column. It’s a god damn masterpiece, yet I rarely hear it mentioned except in the extreme underground by people who think MARDUK is too mainstream. TETRAGRAMMACIDE is an Indian trio which is especially cool considering India isn’t a country known (to me, at least) for its extreme metal scene. Something I find especially enjoyable about TETRAGRAMMACIDE in general and Primal Incinerators in particular is that they differ a bit from some of the more standard black/death tropes. A quick glance at the track list will immediately alert you to the fact that TETRAGRAMMACIDE is operating on a more cerebral level than the vast majority of their contemporaries. There are Lovecraft references, quantum physics references, and a lot of references that go completely over my head. Even the band’s name is a clever portmanteau.
TETRAGRAMMACIDE certainly uses the standard black/death sound as a framework, but they make sure to add their own unique flavor to the genre. One notable difference is that the vocals sit fairly low in the mix; instead of the bellowed, overpowering vocals of acts like REVENGE, theirs is a more balanced approach. Another element I find particularly endearing about this album is that there are a few instances of discernible melody that allow you to briefly grasp the structure of the composition. It’s like drowning and quickly coming up for air only to be pulled under again. Honestly I think the contrast adds a lot to the listening experience, creating a sort of whirlwind effect that leaves you reeling.
There are a couple of harsh-noise-esque passages opening, closing, and in the middle of Primal Incinerators which all add a bit of context to the record as a whole. There’s even an instance of what sounds like an Islamic call to prayer played backwards through a distortion pedal, and then reversed again. It’s painfully clear that TETRAGRAMMACIDE is comfortable with a high level of noise in their mix, and at some points the riffs don’t really sound like separate notes at all, giving the guitars an almost rhythmic, percussive quality. Comparing the guitar tone to a buzzsaw would be doing a buzzsaw a disservice, but that’s to be expected. This is pure, envelope-pushing audial extremity. If you like black metal because of the pretty melodies, this record probably isn’t going to be for you. And that’s okay! But also you’re wrong.
I want to take a brief opportunity to praise the snare tone on this record. It’s got the perfect amount of *ping* to it, which is a really nice addition to a black metal record as heavy as this one. It also adds a bit of momentum to the heavier parts and the tracks in general. Or at least it would, if the drums weren’t blasting at 220 bpm for most of the record. All said and done, Primal Incinerators of Moral Matrix is an absolutely perfect demonstration of what can be done by slowly but surely adding new elements to the tried and true black/death formula.
Favorite Tracks: The Prognosticators of Trans-Yuggothian Meta-Reasoning, Intra-Dimensional Vessel of Were-Robotics, N-Logics and Assorted Lattice Intelligences
ABYSMAL LORD and TETRAGRAMMACIDE both take their brand of atonal extremity very seriously. Some may not agree, but I for one am glad that the genre has expanded from its primitive beginnings and turned into a genuine art form, albeit one firmly grounded in a DIY, lo-fi ethic. It’s an exciting time to be a fan of the genre, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next couple years will bring in terms of new bands and new releases from genre stalwarts.
As always, thank you for supporting good music and the great people behind it all.