December 19, 2015

Music and Meaning: Revenge - Behold.Total.Rejection. and Amber Asylum - Sin Eater

By Craig Hayes. To my mind, no matter what genre we favour, we’re all aiming to satisfy the exact same desire when we listen to music. And I think you can distill that desire, and the myriad reasons why we love music, into one simple word
By Craig Hayes.

To my mind, no matter what genre we favour, we’re all aiming to satisfy the exact same desire when we listen to music. And I think you can distill that desire, and the myriad reasons why we love music, into one simple word. All any of us really want from music is to be moved.

There’s no question that music moves us and takes us places. And whatever our resulting emotional or physical states, it’s from those experiences that we find and construct meaning in our lives. For many of us, the desire to discover music that moves us often finds us searching the extremes of musical expression. We want the heaviest, most ethereal, most beautiful or bitterest music. And that quest is perfectly represented by recent albums from American neoclassical ensemble Amber Asylum, and Canadian black and death metal berserkers Revenge.

I’ll understand if you think the elegant music Amber Asylum makes doesn’t warrant comparison to the hateful and primitive noise that Revenge conjures. (Except as an example of how polar opposite styles of music appeal to a wide swath of metalheads.) Yet, no matter the stylistic gulf between the two bands, Amber Asylum and Revenge share a clear link that’s inextricably tied to music and meaning. Let me explain.

Back in the late 90s, Canadian band Conqueror released their one and only full-length LP, War Cult Supremacy, which was a defining moment for fans of bestial black and death metal––or war metal, as it’s more commonly known. James “J” Read was the drummer on that LP, and he’s been the driving force in Revenge since the band’s first bloodthirsty EP, Attack.Blood.Revenge, was released in 2001. And if there’s one thing that Revenge have become known for, it’s their obliterating sound and vision.

Like all bands in the war metal axis, Revenge play pitiless and bludgeoning music. It’s metal born from viscera-strewn battlefields, throughout time and space, and on plains of existence both real and imaged. The focus is always on intensity and overwhelming brute force, and Revenge’s latest album, Behold.Total.Rejection., the band’s first for new label Season of Mist, is a perfect example of how 10-tonne, chaotic metal moves us.

I’m fully aware that suggesting a band like Revenge “moves us” in any way sounds like a highfalutin way to describe the band’s intent or impact. But that’s what’s happening, nonetheless. Sure, that sense of being moved is delivered via a razor-storm of nihilistic noise. Which, incidentally, is something all of us need to experience. I mean, even if you’re not a fan of Revenge per se, you still need to hear Behold.Total.Rejection. Folks love to use terms like brutal and merciless to describe metal albums aplenty, and Behold.Total.Rejection. is the very definition of those terms.

Revenge 2014. Photos by Carmelo Española.

Behold.Total.Rejection. has no hooks, no handholds, and definitely no safety nets. Tracks like “Scum Defection (Outsider Neutralized)”, “Wolf Slave Protocol (Choose Your Side)” and “Mobilization Rites”, as well as every other barbaric track on the album, are maelstroms of twisted vocals, distorted guitars and blastbeat drumming. Basically, it’s the equivalent of standing in front of a mine-sweeping tank in the heat of battle. All flailing chains and reinforced armour and tracks, followed by ceaseless and decimating barrages.

Behold.Total.Rejection. does what war metal does best––it destroys. But inherent in all the destruction is that sense of being moved. Sure, it’s not wistful emotionality you’re feeling, but you are swept up in the turmoil, and there’s obvious catharsis in having the endless annoyances that drag you down demolished.

In essence, Behold.Total.Rejection. kills. But not your spirit. The album moves us to feel at one with annihilation. It moves us to embrace chaos. To accept that life is a war of all against all––all the fucking time. It’s the experience of ruthless negation and pitiless cruelty, never to be forgotten.

Now, whether any there’s truth to the particular worldview that Revenge seeks to share on Behold.Total.Rejection. is obviously up to you to judge. But everything that’s feral, ferocious and inhuman about the album is perfectly counterpointed by the haunting elegance of Amber Asylum’s latest album, Sin Eater.

Sin Eater marks the 20th anniversary of the San-francisco-based chamber doom band founded by multi-instrumentalist and soprano vocalist Kris Force. Yet, two decades down the line, Sin Eater happens to feature some of most moving and soul-stirring music from Amber Asylum yet. Tracks such as “Perfect Calm”, “Beast Star” and “Harvester” weave post-rock, dark ambient, and neoclassical influences around lush string arrangements and poignant vocals. All of which is shrouded in Amber Asylum’s gothic elegance.

Amber Asylum 2011. Photos by Taylor Keahey.

Sin Eater evokes the solemnity and ritual of the ‘sin eating’ process itself. But what the album also does is take the gravity of that process and render it into a heartbreakingly beautiful experience. Even at its darkest and most ominous, such as on the grim post-metal landscape of “Executioner”, Sin Eater still feels alive. Where Behold.Total.Rejection. is a barbaric challenge that negates life with a pitch-black wall of noise, Sin Eater opens its arms wide open. Yes, the music therein is often dark. But Sin Eater welcomes all into its darkness.

Behold.Total.Rejection. and Sin Eater vividly illustrate that polar opposite types of music often move us in entirely comparable ways. The two albums are clearly yin and yang, yet both speak to us deeply. The former by means of an uncompromisingly nihilistic vision; the latter by inviting us in to experience the beauty in haunting sadness and ceremony. Our desires are stated by music’s ability to take us to places. Some are utterly grotesque. Others are wholly gorgeous. But always, and forever, music remains our lifeblood. Taking us on journeys so that we can find meaning in our lives.

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