Saturday, May 15, 2010

Council of the Fallen - Deciphering the Soul

Council of the Fallen - Deciphering the Soul
2004, Season of Mist

It's interesting, the forms the music can take when bands decide to try to blend death and black metal. There are the "old school" blackened death acts who basically just play a very rough Sodom-style proto-thrash and call it "blackened", there are the bands who try to meld "black influences" (what does that mean, exactly?) with more straightforward Swedish-style death, and then there are bands who try to take elements from Swedish black metal and American death and somehow blend them together by layering them over each other or splitting up their air time into individual segments which may or may not be linked by successful bridge sections. Council of the Fallen belong to the last category, although they also use more than the odd hint of Swedish death along with the "black influences" (meaning here basically epic/dark fast tremelo picked blast sections) to color their American death framework. No one really tries to use Norwegian necro black metal as an influence, or other styles of death metal, such as NYDM or California brutal death. No, the black/death axis runs through Sweden apparently and American bands who have picked up that style or who are now trying to explore it do not venture too far away from that country's comprehensive stylistic legacy.

One of the nice things about Council of the Fallen (besides the strong sense of progression from their demo days they now show) is that they are fluent in a number of different microstyles and minigenres of death metal. When it comes to their "black influences" it's pretty much straight Swedish blasting and barre chord wandering, ala Dark Funeral, but that's nothing out of the ordinary. I've noticed that most death metal bands who will even admit to "enjoying" black metal only list the Swedish bands as being influences. Strange, as I've always thought the Swedes were the most boring groups in the entire genre. Oh well. What has not happened yet for Council of the Fallen, however, is a coalescence of a truly individual style or a recognizable blueprint for songwriting which they can call their own. They still seem to be experimenting, here with even more styles of death metal (references to both Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse appear on this album, as well as a Slayer riff) than on their debut, as well as with clean vocals. Sometimes all of this writing range works, sometimes it doesn't. More complex material with double guitar parts and catchy string interplay abuts against tracks like the sixth, which are much simpler and more traditional in both effect and scope.

Taken as a whole, this album does not come together and perform as a manageable whole, a strong stylistic statement. It is too scattered to do that, afflicted with a multiple personality disorder that takes as much away from the individual identity of the band as it gives with melodic and rhythmic expressive range. One almost gets the feeling that each song could be by a different band, and I don't know if that was the effect they were going for or not. Perhaps I just need to listen to it more and the disparate facets of their identity will begin to unite in my mind afterwards to form a cohesive whole. If there are not excellent songs, there are very good individual riffs or song segments, and some black-influenced short guitar harmonies that certainly give me a taste of what this band is aiming for: the epic, grandiose, far-looking dark tremelo picking married with percussive return-to-reality crushing death, two prongs that form the devil's fork of their one-two combination impact. It is too obvious in certain places. The eighth song, for example, entitled "Resurgence", merely switches between segments of black metal and death metal without apt transitions or good bridges that would give this band an opportunity to build an individual set of songwriting traits. One gets the feeling that songs like this on the album were just put together out of riffs that were laying around after other more "complex" (in the sense of showing more thought in the songwriting) tracks were finished. Some of the transition riffs that are here are just awkward and strange, for example the one that starts at 1:45 in this eighth song, or the part that begins at 2:00 in the sixth, "Distant Memories", opening up riffs that then ride beneath a solo. The bouncy Iron Maiden riff at 2:05 in "Longing for Clarity" sounds like it belongs on a different album altogether. I would also like to add here that the "orchestra tuning up" intro has already been done. Too late, Council of the Fallen, and, really, a level of arrogance that you can not claim yet. Wasn't this also on their first album? I can't remember now, and I don't have the debut around anymore. The clean vocals that are here do not appear for very long (and do not really fit in the songs they grace), but their appearance could have been made a little smoother by a different production style...perhaps one that layered them and made them a little thicker in presentation.

On a few songs they hit the nail on the head, like in the first few riffs that open and form the essential structure of "Acceptance in Silence", where blasting black metal gives way to a natural derivative of its two riffs in a Swedish death style (one that makes the transition much easier than on other songs), and then a terrible connecting riff at 1:59 that leads into the clean vocal section, a riff that sounds like it was an impromptu addition that was cut into the mixture because they felt the preceding riffs could not lead into the clean vocal melody. Strange. Aside from that one riff, this is a good song, and a workable (I think) demonstration of where Council of the Fallen's aesthetic convictions are leading them.

This is a listenable (if flawed) release from this ambitious band, but I know the next will be even better.

--> I feel I should add here, just for posterity, that there are some really nice riffs on this record. The third song, for example, is well written, and both it and the second feature enough groove to warrant a second listen. The fourth song features a monstrous Morbid Angel-type death march riff (1:12) that moves the entire album forward...again, good, but not excellent... [Added: 26 February 2004]