Neurosis: The future of death metal?
Murder Therapy - Rehearsals 2010
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The above video, from a rehearsal space in Italy, may be a glimpse into death metal's future.
It is of Murder Therapy, whose first album, 2009's Symmetry of Delirium, was brutal/technical death metal, the kind on labels like Unique Leader and Neurotic. Afterwards, the band had a change of heart (and lineup). As the video shows, the band now leans towards post-metal, aka the "NeurIsis" sound, but isn't afraid to use its death metal chops. Murder Therapy don't play death metal now, at least as we know it - but how we know things changes over time. If you had played Deathspell Omega's Fas - Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum to black metal observers in 1994, would they have called it black metal?
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When I listen to Ulcerate's The Destroyers of All (Willowtip, 2011), one main thought comes to mind: this is Neurosis playing death metal. Ulcerate nail Neurosis' gift for the drone, for finding the truth in one or two notes and blowing it up to seismic proportions. "Seismic" is not a word often used with death metal, whose catchwords - brutal, technical, blackened - haven't changed in a decade. But "seismic" is what Ulcerate attempt, down to the Neurosis-esque lyrics about natural elements.
They don't succeed all the time. Sometimes blastbeats and double bass sound unnecessary amidst the slow riffing (shades of death metal drummer Derek Roddy's overplaying on Today Is the Day's Axis of Eden). But even that's interesting. Not all parts of an ensemble must move at the same speed. Early drum 'n' bass had double-speed drums and half-speed bass; some dubstep now has kinetic bass lines but mere sketches of percussion. Nile and Morbid Angel have passages with slow, doomy riffs but fast double bass. Turn that exception into the rule, and our expectations for time change. Music can be both slow and fast simultaneously.
Atmosphere is Ulcerate's main triumph. It's 90% Neurosis, but 10% is something new that could lead to something good. "Atmosphere" in death metal typically means murk (e.g., Incantation, Portal), but here the atmosphere is minimal, precise, and occasionally cutting. Deathspell Omega's flatted seconds have had a huge influence on the upper registers of metal riffs, including here. Ulcerate more reference that dissonance than construct anything with it. But even that reference is significant in context. Here a death metal band is hauling Neurosis into the 21st century, trimming the fat, and adding angles informed by Deathspell Omega. They are trying something new.
The concept of "multiple independent discoveries" states that unconnected people often discover the same things independently. (Malcolm Gladwell has a good article on this in The New Yorker.) A band in Italy (Murder Therapy) and a band in New Zealand (Ulcerate) have started exploring the same new territory. Given the Internet's easy access to musical knowledge, I bet other bands are doing so, too. We may be at a liminal moment where one thing is becoming something else. (Post-death metal, perhaps?) Maybe people felt that when Kill 'Em All moved NWOBHM into thrash, or when Seven Churches or Scream Bloody Gore tipped thrash into death metal. I doubt that The Destroyers of All will attain similar classic status, but it's opened exciting possibilities.
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