Tetsuo — Malmohrahkign (2004)

17.06.2005  :: АрхивАрхив рецензий Автор: Andrey Kugaevskiy

The year 2004 was a pretty ambiguous one for the metalcore and hardcore scenes. In this case, I am using the term «hardcore» to mean modern -core bands ranging from Bane to Hatebreed; not the brainless three-chord twenty-year old stuff which is still being barfed out by «old-timers» and scenesters whose musical development came to a halt a lo-o-ong time ago. On the one hand, an unprecedented number of releases were issued by bands well-known in the extreme music scene, from Zao to ISIS. On the other hand, most of these releases turned out to be meaningless, and seemingly purposeless.

Some found themselves chasing financial success. They chose to abandon their style in favor of greater «profitability», thus hammering the final nails into its coffin’s lid. This is particularly true of «popmetalcore» bands — i.e., those who play sugary sweet breakdown-ridden Swedish-thrash. Examples abound, with the likes of Caliban, Diecast and Unearth copiously mixing homosinging into their muzak. The end result is a style that is effectively rendered innocuous and pathetically simplified, thus destroying what was left of its phoney legitimacy.

Some, on the contrary, left their musical form untouched — why change something that brings fans joy and puts food on the table? However, one must consider the fact that not everyone wants to listen to stuff that exudes that dusty, «already-been-done-so-many-times-before» motif. Shiny label or not, even those who have unlimited patience may find themselves bored. I must admit that listening to another bunch of «nothing new under the sun» records masked as «kinda new» last year was a task I really loathed! Overall, I was fed up.

Even those not-so-numerous «-core bands» that never seem to stand in one place and seemingly disregard the easier path (when it comes to their musical progression) got their fair share of verbal punches to the jaw and kicks to the bloated ass (thanks to the eulogies of music critics). Don’t believe me? Just try to recall how many negative comments were made about Our Everything Neurosis and Holy -Core Cow the Dillinger Escape Plan since the release of their latest offerings. I saw surprisingly many; especially when you consider the unwavering ingenuity that these bands are usually credited for. Even venerable magazines often seemed to falter when it came to reviewing maestri’s releases, sometimes even descending to the level of «well, if it’s [insert band’s name], then it should be cool, sort of. Right? Right??»

I doubt if those rare bright spots like Pelican, ISIS and Cult Of Luna could have single-handedly changed the status quo. Moreover, I’m sure there’ll be people who even drag those gems through the mud just because of their obsession with trampling everything in crap (squelching sounds and all). It seems that this process of frenzied trampling is pretty enjoyable for the ego of «true fans», because it allows them to pompously re-assert themselves among their (former) comrades. After all, saying things like «I listen to such and such bands, doubt you’ve heard about them, this music is not for everyone» with the usual sense of bombastic contempt won’t work anymore. Why? Because those bands that previously garnered «elite» status have slowly crept into the category of «well-known».

And hey, should we even mention «casual» listeners when modern musical hacks journalists have made it the «cela va sans dire» norm to stamp everything that is known (outside a closed circle of loyal asslickers) into liquid manure? Look no farther than the notorious Andrey Gorokhov of Muzprosvet fame for a clear example of someone who has made his name this way.

So what am leading up to? Well, metalcore has its face against the lid, and I’m not sure whether it’s a coffin lid or a lavatory pan cover. But regardless of the receptacle, one thing’s for certain: metalcore’s has already found its way inside. The line where quality (in small numbers) transforms into quantity (in large numbers) was crossed about three or four years ago. The dissolution of Botch and Drowningman, both of whom were at their creative peak, was a sign of things to come. Before then, the scene consisted of a relatively small number of bands playing music that was a bit similar in some ways, but it was also diverse, individual, varied, and interesting. In short, it was quality music that was hard to label. Nowadays we’re dealing with an enormous number of bands, nearly all of whom are derivative and take a distant second to any of the aformentioned «quality» bands. Before, you needed a separate label for almost every band (with the exception of those toughguy-«veganviolence»-hardline-sXe newschool/metalcore bands). Now the number of labels has declined in inverse proportion to the number of bands. We’ve reached a point where 90% of all hardcore/metalcore-oriented releases can be described with any of the following diagnoses: Vehement Mosh Delirium, Chronic Swedemetalpop, Emofaggus Casualis, Obsessive-Compulsive Tech-Math-Algebra-Calculus Fetishism, Latent Neurosophilia, and finally, Maniacal Rockocrapticosis with Groove Overdose. It’s a sad realization, but quality slowly took a back seat and sold out to quantity, five-minute glory, screaming girls, and clips on MTV. Interestingly, an analysis of the situation would show that such an outcome is typical for almost every genre. Even «post-no-wave/avant-noise-rock», seemingly impregnable by the general public, has slowly given ground (Lightning Bolt’s «Peel Session» was the first robin). Why write reviews then, if one can simply make a big master table with the names of bands, releases, and diagnoses? I don’t know. Okay, I’ve been wading in «offtopic» mode for quite awhile now, so let’s save the rest of my deliberation for some other time.

The debut CD of a band called Tetsuo, previously unknown to me, lies right before me. Actually, that’s not the band’s very first release, but it’s the first one that was issued by a label (rather than independently), so I’m going to call it a debut anyway. The graphic design of «Malmohrahkign» is pretty modest and minimalistic, but stylish. The press-release that came with the CD compares them with Blood Has Been Shed, Candiria and Holy -Core Cow the Dillinger Escape Plan. Of all these bands, the one that is musically closest to Tetsuo is definitely BHBS — on «Malmohrahkign» you can hear the same technical brutality with melodic streaks that appears on, say, «Spirals». But I can’t say that Tetsuo are a plain BHBS clone, even though the influence of that Many-Worded Band That Starts With B definitely shows. Tetsuo’s bag of tricks includes distinguished metallic parts, and you can find openly death/thrash passages, like on the second and a half minute of «Cigarette Put Out In Blood». There is also the regular appearance of lone high notes and flageolets, which shine through the brutality-filled hiccuping and stumbling footsteps of the music (such parts compare closely to Thirty Called Arson and to a lesser degree, Holy -Core Cow the Dillinger Escape Plan). Strange as it may seem, there is an obvious love of Blade of Darkness (just take a look at the drawing of the dude with a huge «shovel» — typical barbarian from BoD!), along with pathos-filled introes a-la Enslaved and Norse mythology. It’s unbelievable, but true.

Also starring in episodic roles, there are breakdowns (where can you go today without them…), strange minimalistic brutally-jazzish parts (?!) that really do resemble Candiria in some way (but they more strongly resemble something else), and an odd «incomplete stereo» sound (guitar and bass comprise one dense aural lump somewhere around the center), diverse vocals (with a range that includes metalcore screams, low «just above the sewers» growling, and the occasional high hysterical trills a-la Circle Of Dead Children and Discordance Axis). Note that these aren’t the best examples, but it’s better than mentioning DarkThrone, for gawd’s sake! In short, the topic of extreme vocals is well covered, so the band gets a cookie big plus for their piggy bank.

Funny, but there are some Swedish-thrashey passages in the beginning of the fourth and sixth songs, played Tetsuo-style — hiccuping on streaks of brutal power chords whilst stumbling around in atypical meters. Frankly speaking, this guest appearance will make you realize that if bands are going to use Swedish-thrashey parts in non-«swedemetalpop» music, it should be like this — namely, fragmentary. And I would advise anyone who wants to play «something melodic a-la At The Gates and Killswitch Engage» to learn this word by heart and never forget it.

Composition-wise «Malmohrahkign» is a mixed bag. For every interesting, logical and impressive transition there is one pretty abrupt, sudden and sometimes confusing jump from one theme (whether rhythmic or tempo-based) to another. It creates the impression of a half-drunk, stuttering bouncer-mathematician stumbling around after his target (a role that played by the listener) in a manner not unlike The Hulk when he takes after a criminal. There is a thick and somewhat distant sound here that suggests the scene of a falling concrete girder. Unfortunately, for all of its brutality the sound lacks clarity, definition and needs a good mixing (although I must confess that its rawness gives the record a certain charm). This can make the process of deciphering all the technical details almost impossible, which is too bad. I say this because for all of its shortcomings (if we don’t count the sound, that would be certain unavoidable lack of originality here and there, and composition problems mentioned above) the band pleasantly surprises with their sincerity, vigor and enthusiasm. These are traits that are not commonly found, even among the «veterans».

For those who haven’t heard Blood Has Been Shed (to whom I’m comparing Tetsuo) I’m content to say that describing it is not an easy task. If we are to suggest some non-standard comparisons, then we’re talking about a metalcore version of «Pierced From Within»-era Suffocation with some Meshuggah influence. But everything is spiced with occasional clean singing and melodic guitar parts in the vein of In Flames and At The Gates (which is a good thing this time, mind you). This music is very brutal, compositionally and technically complex, and often moves at a moderate pace. But Tetsuo does possess the inclination to alternately slow things down and speed them up at times, although the speed never goes beyond the level of «guitar tremolo with accompanying blastbeats». There are thematic changes and shifts in meter and tempo, which occur with roughly the same frequency as on «Calculating Infinity» by Holy -Core Cow the Dillinger Escape Plan. But these usually occur at moderate speeds and not in the midst dizzifyingly fast bedlam (as is sometimes the case with the latter act). In this context, one tends to perceive such changes differently — not as the frenetic copulation of a schizophrenic clown family in a pet store, but as the deliberate ponderings of a brooding introvert as he roams through a surrealistic labyrinth while solving another theorem in his mind.

Tetsuo operates with almost everything in the aforementioned arsenal except singing — the only clean vocals you’ll find are a rant in Norwegian in the intro «Grunjir», another rant in the same language at the end of «What About Jon Lovitz?», the exclamation of «Odin!» at the end of «Thick Norwegian Accent», and something sample-like on «Sky» (which ends with the words «’cause he’s a chicken shit fucking pussy asshole». Ahem.) Things come around a bit unexpectedly with the melodic guitar parts — of course there are a couple of the Swedish thrash parts, but they sound more like something from early A Canorous Quintet or Soulburn rather than In Flames. Of course, there are no problems with tempo, rhythm and theme changes— Tetsuo brought enough of them to cover the whole Slayer discography (and there is something left for Hatebreed as well). It’s too bad that these changes sometimes seem to appear from out of nowhere and disapper into roughly the same place. In other words, we have a case of abruptness that balances on the edge of compositional unreasonableness (or to be politically incorrect, «a feature on the edge of a bug»). But if you don’t happen to have a Ph.D in Music Theory and have problems telling symphonism from syphilis to boot, this edge will be pretty arbitrary — some will think that everything’s fine, and some will feel that changes -are- too abrupt. However, I cannot withhold a potential cognitive (…I suddenly realized that I still haven’t used any ten-dollar words in this review!) problem, so if you seriously think that late Cryptopsy have smooth-flowing songs, you shouldn’t worry about the broken tempos and rhythms on «Malmohrahkign». But if your head is spinning after hearing the likes of Drowningman or Botch, you’d better not listen to anymore than one song at at a time from this album.

It’s worth noting that the CD has several jazz-like parts a-la Candiria, i.e., not something free-jazz (like Holy -Core Cow the Dillinger Escape Plan), but something deliberate. It’s not complex or hasty. There are also strange and infrequent brutal-groove-jazz parts in the vein of Exit-13 (for example, somewhere around 1:00-1:32 of the second song). Sometimes you can hear disharmonies that remind me Thirty Called Arson (already mentioned above), the latest Remembering Never album, and (for some strange reason), Shellac. More metallic parts are usually analogous to the ones by BHBS, the main difference being that you can find straight brutal thrash parts and noisy deathgrind (or sometimes just plain grind) ranging from Skinless to Circle Of Dead Children, and sometimes even to Pig Destroyer. Parts that were written and performed under a «We love Meshuggah very much» banner can also be heard from time to time.

The conclusion: despite its seemingly salad-like nature and dangerous potential to change into a inedible vat of interstyles, «Malmohrahkign» sounds pretty organic. This is particularly due to its monolithic mix, which is thankfully devoid of any tricks or jokes on the producer’s part (i.e. differential mixing for stylistically different parts). It seems that the «polystylistic» parts don’t actually stand out much, as they mostly reside at the subconscious level. In other words, Tetsuo’s synthesis of different musical influences is mostly successful, resulting in a 27-minute CD that isn’t boring to listen to (for anyone except for ADD sufferers, that is). The impression of a certain originality and freshness can be felt during casual listening (i.e., when not trying to analyze things), and the listener’s attention is often directed away from the fact that certain parts are foreign for this kind of music by the feeling that a theme or or two could be introduced more carefully. Apparent shortcomings such as compositional roughness, raw sound, and a generally «unpolished» feel aren’t exactly fatal, especially when we’re talking about the debut release of a little-known band. If the musicians continue with what they’re doing, then I’m sure their good playing technique (especially for a debut), will meld with their aspirations for accurate, fragmentary polystylistics and interesting, imaginative lyrics. Add in the occasional viking-related themes (which are rather exotic for metalcore) and you begin to see that this band can achieve some striking results. Recommended to fans of technical, brutal, sufficiently diverse music. Label website’s address is www.whorth.com, band site can be accessed through this link: www.tetsuomusic.com.

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