I don’t know why, but one particular interview conducted with the band always sticks in my mind. In particular, it was the explanation and media attention given to the track, ‘Gilded Cunt,’ which naturally caused people to rally up against his use of a naughty word. The truth is that they were misunderstanding its context, derived from the old English phrase ‘to gild a farthing,’ or the act of adorning an item so as to further improve its beauty and hide its true value. It’s the metaphor used to describe a devious woman whose external beauty defies her devious inner; seducing men for their wealth, using her sexuality so as to manipulate others. The reason I’m mentioning all this is because it describes the artist rather well; taking dark subjects, showing them in a beatific light, uncovering an old forgotten idiom and reviving it, and conveying a twisted, bitter-sweet infatuation with a destructive beauty.
Coincidentally, it also alludes to the fact there’s more intelligence to their work than meets the eye, dumbed down perhaps, but only for easier comprehension. Despite this, they’ve often been one to see animosity and insults thrown at their work – the most common emerging as a result of fans referring to them as black metal. Just in case it needs pointing out, they are not in any way, shape, or form, black metal, taking only the occasional use of tremolo riffs in their composition. Instead, they perform an odd form of gothic metal; twisted snarls and shrieks matching an oft aggressive sound to display their obsession with the macabre, utilizing keys to create an atmosphere conducive to ancient tales of horror revolving around the terrors of the world. Or at least, that was what I remembered them doing the last time I listened to them (way back in ’04 when they emerged with ‘Nymphetamine’), but for their latest offering, taking inspiration from mythical beasts and harbouring a genuine 19th century Lovecraftian influence, they’ve decided to give everything a decisive old-school punk, rock n’ roll twist – “Goth n’ Roll,” if you will – following the Death n’ Roll style of Chrome Division and Entombed. And I can’t for the life of me, figure out why.
Much of it stems from the guitar work, haphazardly playing chunky upbeat chords and simplistic riffs. It feels raw but unpolished; energetic, yes, but more focused on that energy than composing anything with a specific atmosphere. In this regard the drums hold up remarkably well, unrelenting in their assault, and whilst perhaps lacking somewhat in bite, never failing to find themselves pushing to be at the forefront. The vocals, on the other hand, never seem that twisted; displaying an awful monotone only broken by the occasional jarring, hoarse, high pitched scream while enunciating every word to such a ridiculous degree that he almost sounds condescending, as though talking to a child or a foreigner with a limited grasp on the English language. Far from icy or chilling, the lyrics often don’t seem to fit or flow properly, making them sound rough around the edges, unrefined, and coming across as awkward and misplaced. It makes the legends they talk about come across as little more than a joke, and the issue is never more apparent than in the two tracks they released early; “Manticore” and “For Your Vulgar Delectation.”
Now couple all this with the use of keyboards and once again, it feels contradictory. How many atmospheric punk bands can you name? Or even punk bands that utilise synth lines at all? The two are at odds with one another, and whilst the punk element is just a twist to their overarching gothic tone, it’s strong enough that it simply doesn’t work. One element undermines the other, producing a conflict of interests, leaving the tracks nigh on atmosphere free for vast portions of their compositions. It’s only when the punk element dissipates that we might finally find ourselves with a winning combination; the guitars working with the atmospheric keyboards to supply a strong rhythmic atmosphere; various different piano and organ lines emanating and adorning tracks further and lending them a subtle distinction, albeit all too frequently finding themselves pushed too far back to make a notable contribution. Both certainly get their moments; when the guitars dominate with their less repetitive passages, returning to their more comfortable gothic style of performing, or when the synths take hold and lead us through gentler, almost ambient interludes, the music as a whole is elevated.
It’s a shame that so much felt conflicted. Listening to this, I was genuinely surprised at times with the capabilities of the musicians involved; the manner the compositions unfolded, twisting and turning, letting different elements come to the fore only to return into the background once again, but for all their influences, it’s constantly undermined by that punk aesthetic and the lacklustre vocal work. It never gives the sense of awe or wonder at the beauty of the creatures in question. It doesn’t sound fearful of them or respectful; there’s no sense of adoration or dread. There’s no definitive tone to the proceedings at all, swaying between being mildly boisterous and vague gothic neoclassical influences. I can respect their willingness to evolve over time, and it is admittedly a style that feels somewhat unique to them, but I can’t imagine this blend ever working. Let’s just hope this was one experiment they won’t repeat.
Highlights: Illicitus, Frost on Her Pillow, Pallid Reflection
About the Author
Position: Reviewer, Ranter, Reluctant Co-Editor
Location: London, England
Genre Preferences: Progressive, Avant-Garde, Experimental, Technical, Djent, Trad, Black
Favourite Artists: Adagio, Anthem, Baroness, Chthonic, Death Angel, Decadence, Fjoergyn, Gargoyle (Jpn), Haken, Kalevala, Leprous, Lucifugum, Pin-Up Went Down, Plus-Tech Squeeze Box, Project Hate MCMXCIX, Redemption, Sigh, Sikth, Tesseract, Thy Catafalque, Von Hertzen Brothers, Zigoku Quartet
Having held an internet presence using this alias for over a decade now, odds are if you've come across the name in the past it was myself. As for my musical history I suppose it's appropriate to say I arrived on my obsession backwards, for years holding little more than disdain and derision for a genre so seemingly obsessed with pointless brutality over composition; the likes of Deftones, Korn and Slipknot that serves as an introduction for so many flooding my musical palette, deterring my interests and yielding my only interpretation of what the genre involved. Ironically, it was Cannibal Corpse's “Vile” that first corrected me; played at high volume at a youth club by an elder metal fan angrily pushing the bleeding ears of the Green Day fans away from the stereo. I left that day clutching borrowed copies of Children of Bodom's “Hatebreeder,” the aforementioned Cannibal Corpse album, Metallica's “Cunning Stunts” on VHS and a whole new musical interest.
Arriving at a number of forums, I soaked up knowledge like a sponge, progressing through the stages of opinionated idiot to an arrogant elitist on a crusade before finally calming down, chronicling the last four years of my journey of discovery with self-published reviews. In the decade since my initial discovery, my tastes have mellowed and expanded to encompass most of the metal genre and beyond, constantly in search of something new and exciting, always seeking to expand my own musical knowledge. Black Metal with a Didgeridoo? Death Metal Disco? Trance Metal? Sign me up. I also have a strange obsession regarding the music of Asia, but I can't explain that one.
I have long since devoted far too much of my time writing - much to the amusement of my family who note the science-obsessed child now does far more writing than the English Lit. student - and have been self-publishing reviews since 2008; archives of music reviews can be found here and Film can be found here, though since joining Axis both have largely become defunct. I'm a keen globetrotter and, too, document my travels here, on an old blog originally designed to publish a novel that was abandoned due to time constraints.