Seventh Subgenre of a Seventh Subgenre

16/06/2006 § Leave a comment

I don’t know anything about music. In my line you don’t have to.
– Elvis Presley

As female-fronted metal becomes increasingly diverse, fanatics are creating more and more genre titles to describe it. I remember a few years ago when I first started getting into Gothic metal, the term ‘Gothic metal’ itself seemed rather a ludicrous proposition. In fact, as much as I love the style, I find the idea that any kind of music can be described as ‘Gothic’ to be rather amusing.

The term ‘Gothic’ itself seems to have derived from an interview in 1978 when the British broadcaster and record label owner Anthony H. Wilson was asked to describe the kind of music made by one of his bands, Joy Division, to which he replied it was more Gothic than poppie. For me, such a tag conjures up all kinds of unusual imagery. Gothic, in its historical sense, refers to a people, an art form and an architectural style, but Wilson bastardised the term to describe the kind of music that his band made. But did he use it inaccurately? Well, not altogether, since what he had tapped into was the essence of Gothic to describe a musical approach. Many people have since tried to elaborate on what the term ‘Gothic’ means with relation to music and the majority of them have not succeeded. This either means that it’s hard to define the style of Gothic music at all or that the word Gothic is a poor choice in the first place.

For me, it’s not a matter of which came first, the chicken or the egg. As soon as Gothic become a popular term for music in the 80s, and subsequently spawned various cliques and fashions, many bands were going out of their way to produce Gothic music specifically rather than adapting the term to describe the music that they were already making. What Wilson had managed to do, irrelevant of whether these bands were using the term correctly or not, was understand that something Gothic was dark, lush and extravagant, and also had the air of being mystical and foreboding. Gothic – in its accepted sense – never had been about evil, but about dark romanticism, and that meaning holds even today, in spite of the other sub-definitions that have sprouted up through its more mainstream popularity.

Even in the 18th and 19th centuries when Gothic literature was becoming popular through the works of Henry Walpole, Anne Radcliff and Matthew Lewis, the term ‘Gothic’ itself described the style of writing perfectly. All these authors wrote about very romantic situations but in an extravagant, dark and grandiose style. Sometimes the novels would have touches of mysticism and even horror. Edgar Allen Poe, for his part, is still considered one of the greatest Gothic writers, though he only started writing after the movement was thought dead in Europe; the last true Gothic work being Charles Maturin’s Melmoth The Wanderer in 1820. Poe took the more sinister and horrific aspects of Gothicism and mixed them with stories told in an extremely flamboyant but sometimes prolix fashion. In fact, his style is generally defined as being part of a new wave of American Gothic, which had a different colour altogether to the movement which ended in Europe not thirty years previously.

Similarly, the kind of Gothic music that was being made in the 1980s is very different to the kind of Gothic music being made in the 21st century. It would be hard for anyone new to the scene to describe some of the material produced by bands such as X-Mal Deutschland, Sisters Of Mercy and Siouxsie And The Banshees as ‘Gothic’ when measured against more recent bands since the musical styles have changed greatly over twenty years. In fact, 80s Gothic and present Gothic share little else but a nominal link. The post-punk wave of rock music at the end of the 70s created a following and a style of music which, though dark, rocky and angsty for the period, is almost incomparable to the neat Gothic music made by bands such as London After Midnight, Bloody Mary, Entwine, Switchblade Symphony and Diva Destruction. Gothic music in the 90s – and Gothic acts – became more pretentious in an attempt to validate and further justify their involvement in the scene, taking the genuineness out of the music and inserting more of a focussed and trend-dependent feel. What was once an observation on a musical evolution had now become an all too self-conscious effort to sustain something alternative and underground.

But it wasn’t until 1995 that metal and Gothic music became properly fused with the release of The Gathering’s Mandylion. Even though the 3rd and The Mortal had released Tears Laid In Earth the year before, which was still unlike many things that had been heard up till that point, it was The Gathering, an already established death metal act, that decided to fuse the warm and sumptuous vocals of Anneke van Giersbergen with their own heavy and rhythmic guitars. It wasn’t by any means an instant hit. Many listeners considered this a betrayal to The Gathering’s earlier sound – a sentiment which is further felt by some fans since How To Measure A Planet? – and many thought that the inclusion of female vocals wasn’t right with the metal rhythms and distortion. The trend was cemented in 1997 when Tristania put out Widows Weeds, a verdant soundscape of Gothic splendour. This was Gothic metal as it truly should have been defined and Tristania gleefully took the reins of something which The Gathering had already opened the stable door to. Unknown to most people, the Polish acts Moonlight, Undish and Artrosis had already done similar things by 1997, releasing albums which also contained heavy guitars with female vocals. This helped the movement of the Gothic metal scene aboard and established Poland, as well as the Netherlands and Norway as the main countries producing the Gothic metal sound.

2002 saw the release of Evanescence’s Fallen and the Gothic metal scene almost became concussed from the battering of the mainstream and major record labels. So many other metal bands were materialising in their wake that the term ‘Gothic metal’ not only become too restrictive to describe the sounds of the new bands but it also became misused as a description of any metal act with female vocals regardless of whether they retained the original tone of the earlier Tristania-era bands. If any digression from the accepted Gothic form crept in, another sub-genre would be created, leading to the terms female-fronted folk metal, doom metal and progressive metal all being used.

The problem was that as soon as too many terms were employed to describe musical form factors, female-fronted metal became bogged down with tags, descriptions and labels, some of which were ludicrously inaccurate. As a result, some bands became dubbed with a particular genre title purely because it was fashionable rather than a true reflection of their sound. In the last couple of years this has become so absurd that a whole new sub-genre can be created just to describe the sound of one particular band, a problem that Orphaned Land found after being labelled Oriental Metal even though their music was death metal with middle-eastern and progressive influences. Just because one band take elements of style from other places does not justify the initiation of an entirely new subgenre. Many bands already use some oriental themes in their music such as Penumbra and Therion but these are clearly either defined as Gothic or Symphonic rather than just creating new genre titles on a whim.

The problem with creating multiple genres is that instead of being more descriptive and useful for listeners, it actually becomes less useful, more disruptive and divisive since it is harder to make comparisons outside the sub-genres. If one band is described as progressive metal and if another is described as folk metal, this might deter fans of either one from fans of the other when really the two bands in question could be very similar in style. I have heard artists such as Distorted described as doom metal by some factions and death metal by others. After a while bands become labelled not merely on the style of music they produce but on how the individual listener wants them to sound or wants them to appear, indicating the interest in such music is not for the music itself, but for the fashion.

Unfortunately the unhelpful ad nauseam labelling of bands is unlikely just to stop there. At the end of the day it is the aficionados who care the least about how the music is labelled and those who are newer to the scene who care the most. Some labelling can be useful since it can point us in the right direction of what we’d like to hear but it can also be a deterrent to those unaware of the differences in a scene which is not that diverse in the first place. Just because one band employs folk or oriental elements does not make their sound new as long as they are under the umbrella of female-fronted metal. We seem to be forgetting that as long as the music is dark, heavy, extravagant and lushly vocalled, we are likely to enjoy it anyway. Only the idiotic would snub good music in favour of music which is more fashionably portrayed.

Distorted – Memorial

16/06/2006 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2006
NMC/Bad Reputation
9 tracks
English Lyrics

In what has been quite a dry year for female-fronted metal, Distorted came very much as a relief to me. Having become a little tired of the sounds of the more mainstream and popular bands, this lot snared me from the first few minutes of their album. It seems that a lot of female-fronted metal, the more I listen to it, sounds increasingly similar. What is needed – and what becomes ever more scarce with the inception of newer femme bands – is some originality and inventiveness. For me, Distorted pretty much filled all the criteria and being from Israel, they manage to communicate their music with a sincere and authentically executed Middle-eastern flair.

The most accurate description of Distorted’s music is progressive death metal since there are multiple time and rhythm changes, male growls and the exquisite vocals of Miri Milman. Miri has a very competent and confident air to her voice, as well as a characteristic tone which is lacking from a lot of females in the femme-metal scene. Her vocals are perfectly complemented by Raffy Mor’s growls, which are sharp and wicked over the thickness of the guitars. This seems to be a band who put a great deal of care into their work and the vocals are just the tip of the iceberg since Memorial is very much a work borne out of assiduousness and devotion. This is not an album which has been slapped together in order to throw something onto plastic. It has been thought through and concentrated on, and this is clearly noticeable.

Distorted cite their main influences as Opeth and Nevermore though the songs have hardly any acoustic sections so the main changes throughout are noted mostly through tempo or register. As well as this, the riffs are played more on the rhythm guitar than as solos, meaning the songs are easier to become acquainted with in spite of their diversity. In this way Distorted recognise the power of simplicity – they don’t try to get too many things happening at the same time, so that when the rhythm sections are pumping away, they don’t shove a whiny solo over the top for good measure and the guitar solos, when present, are not sludged by over-enthusiast rhythm work. The power of the music speaks for itself and, mingled with the solid production, the overall effect is very gratifying and delightfully gritty.

After multiple listens it becomes clear just how good the formula is: In Your Light is a superb album opener as we’re led in by Miri’s smooth vocals before the guitars slam in to a wonderful intro, then there’s the marvel that is the title track, Sometimes and Is It The Wind, all with their quieter sections and leading, heavier rhythm segments. However, by far the best song on the album is Redemption which never drops for a moment and has some absolutely fabulous riffs in it. Sadly, the album in its entirety doesn’t live up to the standards of its more successful moments and though tracks like Children Of Fall and Flesh And Blood start very strongly with good guitarwork and percussion, they kind of trail into nothingness around the mid-section to the end and are overshadowed by the effectiveness of other songs on the album.

As a whole though, Memorial is very much a success – especially as a debut album. Comparisons with Orphaned Land are inevitable and the music that the two bands make shares a similar panache but Distorted are punchier and the music is easier to become familiar with, making Memorial a fantastic starting block for any band. The flawless vocals of Miri mingled with the band’s formidable songwriting and Middle-eastern elegance makes this album a sure-fire winner, and as much as I’m enjoying its refinement I can’t wait to see what they will offer next. Memorial is, as far as I am concerned, the first truly good release of 2006 and I am very excited to see where this band will go in the future. Distorted are unquestionably a diamond in the rough and I hope we’re able to treasure them for a long time to come.

8.5/10

Dylath-Leen – Insecure

16/06/2006 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2002
Label: Self-financed
11 Tracks
Language: English

Contrary to popular opinion, the French must be doing something right. It’s not often that I get to hear bands that come out of France, in fact, I could probably count on one hand that amount of French female-fronted metal acts that I’ve come into contact with. The French seem to do metal in a different way to a lot of other countries – there’s something more refined about it, something smoother and more crafted. I had never heard of Dylath-Leen until the promo came plopping through my door and the reason for this is that they appear to have been a very underpublicised band. Insecure – their only album to date – has been knocking around from one licensing to the next since 2002 and only now are they making a follow-up. However, Insecure is so good for what it is that I’m surprised the band are even trying to create a successor since it’s going to be a tough act to follow.

The band is named after a city in one of HP Lovecraft’s novels, and I don’t know about anyone else but I’ve always found something a bit strange about Lovecraft. For a start he’s called Lovecraft which makes his name sound like a pseudonym chosen by an ageing, over 60 erotic-novelist, and his books all seem to be about weird animals with lots of legs. I also don’t think that Dylath-Leen is a particularly memorable band name. Like Akphaezya, Tystnaden and Amphitryon it’s one of those names which the band has almost deliberately chosen so that no-one will remember who they are, though it will earn you a decent amount of points in Scrabble.

Fortunately, Dylath-Leen don’t seem to have fallen into the trap of countrymates Mordiggan by singing in French because, unlike Mordiggan, they’ve realised that singing growls in French sounds downright silly. You can’t say anything in French and sound menacing or tough, it doesn’t work. It only sounds as if you need a hug because you’re a little pissed off. All of the vocal lines on Insecure are in English, and they don’t come across as being in a heavy French accent either. As well as this, all the vocals on the album are taken care of by singer Kathy Coupez, and she has a remarkable voice. Unlike Cadaveria or Angela Gossow, the register of the growls is actually quite deep and there are parts, even though they are few and far between, when she sings in clean vocals, and she has a very good singing voice which is quite gentle and clear in tone. One couldn’t call this BnB since the clean vocals are very sparse but it’s obvious from the start of the album that we are in the hands of quite a talented death-metal vocalist.

What sets this apart from other death metal, apart from the obvious inclusion of the female singer, is that Dylath-Leen don’t pump their music full of blast beats and double kick-pedal drumming. A lot of the time the melodies on the album are quite slow and even groovelike but without ever slipping into the doom category. The music is also so dark in place that it could fit into the black metal class quite snugly. Tracks like Out, The Awakening and Offertory are the highest points of the album with guitars riffs that drive the songs on with groovy momentum and a sprinkling of clean vocals. However, it is Blood Is Thicker Than Water which is the albums’ high point with its rhythmic power chord riffing and a beautiful clean section in the middle. Indeed, in the clean moments, Kathy’s voice almost transports you to a dreamlike state since the contrast between the richness of her voice and the grave measure of the guitars is so stark that it seems as if the band have managed to meld two beautiful extremes into the same musical passage with honorary success. In addition, Dylath-Leen have managed to do something which a lot of death metal bands of the more progressive category don’t manage to do, and this is to keep the song lengths short. In a world where the odd death metal song can go well over ten minutes it’s almost a relief to see that no song on Insecure goes above five minutes, the only real difference being Criminal Art Extravagances, an 8 minute instrumental halfway through the album.

The band have now revealed that they have finished recording their follow-up album and I am very intrigued to see what this will bring. The clean vocals on Insecure are so good, so colourful and emotive that it’s a shame they feature so little and it would be good to see more of them on the next release. For a debut though, Insecure is a fantastic effort which is made more impressive by the punchy and thick sound production. Female-fronted death metal is almost a non-existent genre and Dylath-Leen are by far one of the most dark and skilful bands I have heard fill it. There is something grittily attractive about this album that keeps me coming back time and time again to bask in its devilish, sinister nature. Insecure’s lighter moments might be few, but its overall mixture of sweetness and gloom make for a transfixing and affecting combination.

8/10

Distorted Interview

16/06/2006 § Leave a comment

Distorted Interview
By: Sam Grant

Interview Info
By: Sam Grant
With: Miri Milman of Distorted
June 2006

Miri: Before answering all questions, I would like to introduce myself and Distorted to the readers. Hi everyone my name is Miri Milman – I’m the female vocalist of Distorted.

Raffael Mor – vocals, Guitars
Guy Shalom – bass
Benny Zohar – lead guitars
Matan Shmueli – drums

We are an oriental melodic death/doom metal band from Israel.

Sam: First of all, congratulations on the new album. How are you finding being in the metal scene and what have you seen the general response to the album to be?

Miri: Thank you, it is very exciting for us to finally release the debut album Memorial, a moment that we have been waiting for too long. Still it is very hard to know about all the responses of the album because it had just been released lately in Europe and only three months ago in Israel. So far there are some pretty good responses from people all over the world saying that they really love our music, that it is very unique and they really got into the album’s atmosphere but of course there are some people that saying that it is not their “cup of tea”, so it is all about musical preferences. There will always be some people that will love it or some that won’t. We appreciate all kinds of responses and we just happy that people can finally listen to it. Every day more and more people hear about us so I guess that in a few years or even less we would be able to say that we truly feel a part of the world wide metal scene.

Sam: What other names did the band have before Distorted and what made you settle on this as a final name?

Miri: This question always brings out funny memories. In 1998 we started as “Distorted Minds” and had no reason or ideal behind that name we just felt like distorted minded people but after our first show that year, when this name appeared in Hebrew on the poster we decided that it was too funny so we kicked out the “minds”. After that, we thought to add something more “interesting” to the name so we tried to add 3 dots “Distorted…” It is very unnecessary to say that it didn’t worked out, so since 1999 we are just Distorted with no other decorations. We just feel that this name suits us and our music.

Sam: Seven songs were released on demos between 1998 and 2002, which is quite a long time. Why did it take the band this time to get started, was it not such a serious enterprise at this stage?

Miri: To tell you the truth, we had worked together for many years before Memorial and recorded many songs but we felt truly ready for real recordings just on the last two years. We thought it would be best for us to record this album when the materials are more mature and professional, And to know that we are ready for it with no regrets or doubts about anything we have written so far. Now a year after the recordings, we feel that we have made the right decision about doing things in our own pace and with no pressure.

Sam: What change took place in 2002 which made you want to take playing live more seriously? What was it that made the band become more committed at this point?

Miri: Well, before 2002 we could say that the metal scene in Israel was quite dead. There were no metal events no festivals or nothing that could have indicated that this scene will ever become alive again. After 4 years of partnership we understood that we have to start having more live concerts. It wasn’t so easy because that time no one wanted to take a young band to perform, particularly a young metal band! It is important to say that nowadays People in Israel are just starting to accept the metal scene but not as embracing as it is in other states. Then we came up with this idea to start doing our own concerts – If no one will provide us a stage we will provide it to ourselves! So we started organizing metal events just so we will have a place to perform. Along the way we gave other young bands the chance to perform on stages in big clubs when no one else gave them the opportunity. We gave the name “Metal Till Dawn” to our main production line, and it became pretty famous here… people from all over the country came to see young metal bands. The scene had started to awake from its long sleep and people became more aware to us as a band and as supporters of the Israeli metal scene. Today, After 4 years of hard work on MTD people still really appreciate the change that it has brought to our small scene. I can say that since that point we really started to focus on our music and getting closer to achieve our goals as a band.

Sam: Distorted is, as far as I’m aware, the only female-fronted metal band in Israel. What is it like being in such a position?

Miri: As for today we aren’t the only female fronted anymore. There are several bands with female-fronted and some of them are very nice, but they are still in the same phase that we were a couple of years ago, I mean they are still trying to figure their music style and still has no serious recordings so far. Of course I wish them all the best of luck and I am trying to be supportive as much as I can. When we first started doing live concerts I was the only girl among a bunch of guys and the crowd wasn’t so open minded about a female vocalist banging her head the same as a male vocalist does on stage (but only with sexier clothings). In the beginning, it was very hard for me to become acceptable among metal heads here and I really had to fight for my existence as a female singer (Just like a true metal girl J) but on the last two years the crowd is really supportive and loving and I really appreciate this change!

Sam: I notice that you have sung for Orphaned Land in their live shows. How did get in contact with the band and what is it like to work with them?

Miri: It was very natural for me to sing with OL because we consider them to be good friends of ours. We kind of grew up in the same city and we know them for a long time. OL are great people and we really love them as a family.

Sam: I’ve heard some people describe the music that Distorted play as doom metal [though I have no idea why] whereas others describe it as death metal. Do you think that people overcomplicate matters and are too concerned with labelling things rather than just enjoying music for what it is?

Miri: I think that our music is very hard to describe. It combines a lot of music styles such as: doom, death, dark, gothic, oriental, heavy and more… so I can understand why the responses can be so different sometimes. Sometimes I do think that people are more into labelling bands rather than enjoying their music but it is how human nature works. People need certain definitions so they will be able to know and define what they like or dislike about music or other matters in life. Labelling create distinctions. There is no way to escape from it and I really understand how it works. In my opinion listening to Music is all about judging and exploring yourself and defining the music as you hear it and not based on what other people’s think of it. For me, music is all about moments and moods. We are not trying to categorize our music, We go with our hearts and minds and create the thing we all do best. If you insist, we like to call it “Distorted Metal”.

Sam: What bands and artists do you think have shaped your sound from the inception of Distorted and are there any other Israeli metal acts that you admire and that are particularly dear to you?

Miri: There are lots of good bands in this world! But the ones that had influenced us the most are: Metallica, Nevermore, Opeth, Dark Tranquillity, The Gathering, Tool and more… About Israeli influences, I can say that we really appreciate OL’s and Salem’s work and music, but I think that our oriental sound that everyone is mistaking with comparing it to OL comes from home and not related directly to OL. Israel is known with its mid-eastern culture and it is very hard to ignore it if you are born here, so I can say that the mid-eastern oriental music has a part that always influences our sound and music along with all of our favourite bands.

Sam: I love the artwork for the Memorial CD. Who was responsible for the cover of the album and what does it represent?

Miri: Thank you! We are very pleased about it as well. Memorial main theme is pain and personal loss. The best way to express your feelings is through pictures (a picture worth more than a thousand words). We tried to describe an image of pain the best way we could, so we chose to show a real person but a person that had lost his human image because he sank too deep into pain and forgot how to live his life due for the pain and sadness. He is all wrapped around old photos from the past trying to feel some human emotions once more. When we sat down together and talked about the future cover of Memorial everyone agreed immediately on the photos elements. I came up with the main idea but this was a hard work of all the members. Adam (Nishma) from Israel is the talented guy that had designed the cover with my help (I’m a graphics designer myself) and I designed the booklet.

Sam: What is the general feeling towards metal in Israel? How is it perceived among the masses and what kind of music is the most popular there?

Miri: I think that the last year for OL and Betzefer was really a great success and it really promoted the Israel metal scene in a good way. I think that till then people all over the world didn’t know that Israel even had a metal scene or metal listeners, and thanks to OL and Betzefer’s success it is more easy for people to open their mind to other Israeli musicians. There is a greater enthusiasm to know more bands from Israel. As far as I have seen so far people here like mostly death metal but also like other genres such as: thrash, old school, gothic, doom and bands like Distorted that combines all genres.

Sam: Tell us more about you as a person – from what age have you been interested in singing and what made you interested in metal in the first place?

Miri: Ok then, I am almost 24 years old. I’m a musician since I was 5 years old – I started as a pianist. Then 9 years later I started playing the guitar as well. That time I was more and more into singing as well, it goes along pretty good with playing the guitar, so I started to sing more often. In a high school bands, and in different ceremonies until I met the Distorted brothers in High school. Back in 1998, Raffael Mor (vocals, Guitars) had asked me to come to audition as a keyboard player for his band, back then Raffael and Ori Eshel (our former drummer) had established the band. I auditioned as a keyboard player but became a singer because they really liked my voice and they thought that a female vocalist would add something special to the band and to the music… My love for metal is far too deep since I was a child… my father was a guitar player so I grew up listening to rock and started to listen to metal at the age of 11. It is actually a bit weird that in the beginning of all this I didn’t like female-fronted metal bands at all, but later on I got familiar with style and fell in love. I usually listen to all kinds of music but in the last three years I listen mostly to death metal bands, depends on my mood.

Sam: I see you are from the town of Bat-Yam. Not having been to Israel itself, tell us more about your hometown. Is there anything there that inspires you to write music and what other inspirations do you have?

Miri: Bat-yam is located 10 kilometers south to Tel Aviv. It is a small city and not that interesting except for the beautiful beach strip. The Hebrew translation for the name Bat-Yam is actually “daughter of the sea” or a mermaid. We all live 5 minutes from each other (except our new drummer Matan that lives in the north of Israel). I guess that in some way our city did influenced our music, perhaps in a more oriental way or maybe it is responsible for our need to play extreme music, but it ends there. There is nothing inspiring in this city except the beach.

Sam: What else are you doing with your time at the moment apart from being in a band? What other interests do you hold?

Miri: Besides doing the Distorted singer role I have also a day time job as a graphics designer. I love to listen to music, to write new lyrics, to hang out with friends on the weekends, to watch TV and to cook. After work I’m doing a lot of vocal training and I’m also doing all the band’s management for now, besides that I’m trying all the time to answer all the mails we get from fans, because this is the one of the most important things for us – to be in contact with our fans and these things takes lots of time so my weeks are very busy.

Sam: I’ve heard that you are already writing material for your next album. Is this material in the same vein as Memorial and what other developments can we expect to hear?

Miri: Yes, we already started to write some new materials for our next album that will be a concept album again. I can’t talk about the concept yet but I promise to inform you when I can. We will try to do some things that we haven’t tried before like adding more of Raffael’s clean vocals, I will try some new vocals techniques, and start recording with our new drummer so things definitely will sound different. We will just continue writing music that can really express how we truly feel and what is really comes out of us.

Sam: Before you go, what further message do you have for the knowledgeable and fanatical readers of Sonic Cathedral?

Miri: First of all I would like to thank everyone for their patience and for reading this article. I hope that people will be able to feel that they got to know me better and the band after reading this article. I truly hope that people will listen to our music and find the album as exciting as other people have found. Also would like to offer you an invitation to Israel, it’s an amazing place! Sam, thank you for a great interview! And for your support!

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