Weekly Worship #5
Noctambulant is the most musically complex metal album ever made. Noctambulant is the most musically complex metal album ever made. Do I need to type that again? Regrettably, a Weekly Worship article does not do the proper service to the potential volumes of analysis that could go into why such a statement is valid, but I will at least attempt. Some preamble; Sweden’s Spawn Of Possession was the brainchild of Jonas Karlsson, Dennis Rondum and Jonas Bryssling. While Bryssling handled a bulk of the structural composition (with Karlsson handling the maniacal solos), Rondum supplied hyper clean rhythm and also supplied his trademark vocals to their first EP’s and eventual 2002 full length Cabinet. Latecomer Nick Dewerud also supplied the bass tracks. Cabinet was a trademark tech death tour de force, with menacing riffs ala Deeds Of Flesh, Cryptopsy and even Disavowed; 2006 welcomed Noctambulant, which was written and produced by Cabinet’s original line up with the addition of full time vocalist Jonas Renvaktar (yeah, “My Name Is Jonas” comes to mind). As for the album in question, first track “Inception” heralds a tracklist that is enveloped by polyphony and counterpoint; the midi orchestral opener could easily be ham-fisted, but Bryssling’s superior intuition and understanding of composition makes this a lost baroque classic, darkly systematic, and self sufficient. The bulk of Noctambulant exists as synchronised riffing, all of which goes deeper than simply being “inspired” by classical method. The guitar arrangement, with healthy anchorage from the bass, does not layer neo classical soloing on top of standard C # meandering. The entire writing focus itself is a product; it is a complete and superfluous brew of death metal channelled through baroque and early 20th century Russian chamber music. The result is a “brutality” that is earned. The attitude of playing and performance is not paramount to it’s aggression (although Rondum’s playing and Bryssling’s picking style have far more groove than you would expect), but it is the painstaking facets of writing that melodically and thematically create the shadows. This is most evident on the hyper technical “Eve Of Contempt”, and mind bendingly intricate “In My Own Greed”. “Sour Flow” proves that Spawn Of Possession have no difficultly creating ambiance, in fact, I do not believe they could sound clinical and Necrophagistically cold if they tried. Rondum’s blast beats and multifarious nuances contain the fastest snare rhythm you are likely to hear. Final track “Scorched” is a combination of rapid riffs, nimble yet awe inspiring blast beats, and above all, a source of ominous mood and meaning. This album is a precious stone, mostly for it’s enthusiasm for arrangement, yet maintaining the exigency that is required to feel it.
One would imagine that if Dr. Frankenstein had dropped some “happy pills” and become a musician that whatever it is he might have churned out on his freak guitar would have sounded quite akin to what it is one would hear on Transmissions from the Satellite Heart. Of course, anyone that’s seen enough interviews with frontman Wayne Coyne and his band-mates would realize that they’re nothing but just genuinely happy and will spirited-people having traveled so far outside of the box in their approach to music that it’s become a distant memory. One of the most interesting moments in a band’s career is in the last moments of their initial rawness, when that initial unrefined quality people first knew them to exhibit is in it’s last moments. The Foo Fighters’ third album There Is Nothing Left to Lose was much like this. Perhaps one could gather that with Dave Grohl’s having quit smoking around the same period this album was made, that his high-tension energies had to be vented somewhere.
This mild dissonance is ever present in this album, but more in a form of organized calamity. The album is very prismatic in it’s approach, aspiring ambitiously to weave an album that acts like an art installation more than anything else. “Moth in the Incubator” is a track of multiple layers, both sonic and lyrical ranging from the simple to the complex. “Pilot Can at the Queer of God” is a song about heartless abandonment. “Slow Nerve Action” sounds like they took Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks”, ate it, and threw it back up again, arranging the various chunklets and colors into what is honestly a beautiful tapestry of song. Tracks also worthy of note are “She Don’t Use Jelly”, “Chewin’ the Apple of Your Eye”, and especially “Superhuman”, a song inspired by the urban myth of a father lifting up a car that’s got his child trapped underneath (or some variation of). When a man like Wayne Coyne and his bandmates are off-kilter enough musicians to be considered good friends to Bck, you know they’ve long since hacked their way out of the safe box that most mainstream music safely sits itself in. The Flaming Lips are just nutty enough a band that at this point in their career, just about anything they produce is bound to be fairly interesting. Transmissions from the Satellite Heart is a perfect example of when their eccentricities and heartfelt lyrical content melded together into something truly impressive.
There have been very few instances in death metal where the members of the band on the album you are listening to feel vulnerable. There are so many bands that try to be ‘brutal’, that most lose any attempted layering they may have been trying to accomplish. Now (really) popular melodic death metal outfit In Flames were once this lucid, and their best work was found on The Jester Race, an album that is death metal, but not. If opening track “Moonshield” isn’t enough proof, I can tell you myself: these guys were serious about being different fourteen years ago. The song is dominated by beautiful acoustic guitar lines and has no blast beats. The band – made up of Anders Fridén, Jesper Strömblad, Glenn Ljungström, Johan Larsson and Björn Gelotte at the time – being young and only on album two (of nine up to this point), were still finding themselves, but managed to create their best work before they even knew it. It is not just the music itself; there is an unmentioned atmosphere captured on this disc while the gritty production only adds to the vibe. The Jester Race is recognized as a staple of the Gothenburg death metal scene not because of the band’s desire to outshred the next guy – which is good because there is very little shredding on the album – but because of their ability to compose songs. The Jester Race will make you feel closer to In Flames than any other album by any other death metal band. Period.
It would be fairly surprising if there was ever a more illusory release than My Bloody Valentine‘s Loveless, as underneath all its seeming complexity is a fairly simple, yet carefully crafted album. Recorded primarily in mono sound, giving it its lo-fi feel, Loveless is very much a beautiful barrage of sound, in that all its components contribute to the overall atmosphere, rather than stand out on their own. However, unlike the majority of bands who use multiple, complex layers to create this effect, MBV frontman and primary songwriter, Kevin Shields, emphasized a minimalistic approach on Loveless. In fact, it is precisely this that makes the album so inspiring, as Shields mainly used one guitar track throughout the album, but the use of feedback, EQ, and a technique in which he slides in and out of tune by adjusting the tremolo while he plays, contributed to the dreamy effect ever-present throughout the album.
Though the band didn’t care much for vocals – as Shields saw their main purpose as a means to direct melody over all the noise – they were very prudent with lyrics, which seems strange, as they’re barely coherent for the most part. To perfect this approach, Shields would often have guitarist/vocalist Bilinda Butcher write lyrics as he sang, so he could focus on the melody, as she followed what he was singing. Despite the somewhat anal preoccupation over process with Shields, the musician’s perfectionism with Loveless is essentially what ensures its uniqueness within the indie rock scene, while also making for effective songwriting overall. If anything, bands nowadays should learn from MBV, as too many strive to be different, and put less effort into effective writing. It may take them forever to write an album, but My Bloody Valentine do it bloody well.