Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Malicious Secrets - Demo 2000

Malicious Secrets - Demo 2000
Spikekult Records [SPK 008], 2000 [I'm guessing as to the date here]

Yes, I am guessing the date, as there isn't one on the cassette insert that I was given by Sir Noctu, and I don't really have much information on this band. I am fairly certain that this is their first demo or widespread 'official' release, but I could be as wrong about that as I am about the release date of this work. Going to the band's website, advertised in the insert, does not help at all [], as it seems to still be under construction, so what I know about this group from the material and the brevity of the included information will have to suffice. Malicious Secrets are two men: X Daemon and TnD, represented here by four outstanding tracks of masterful, original black metal. Let me just say here at the beginning of this review that although I can, with my somewhat limited experience, draw a few comparisons or lines of influence to other bands after listening to this a dozen times, I will refrain from doing so, if only because it will serve to highlight, in my own mind if not in yours, the beautiful originality of this ensemble, and gild the hard work that must have gone into the constructions of these songs. As two-pieces usually do (and this is something that you will find time and time again as you range and rove through the recorded lexicon of underground black metal), this duo displays an immense sense of structural integrity in their work, concentrating for the most part on building anthemic black metal segments that stand alone as primal entities, flaunting their own power as independent creations, or which effortlessly link into an indivisible chain of aesthetic display, or emotional/philosophical might. Missing that (seemingly) essential third member, bands like this have to work out far in advance the exact structure of their songs so as to create the similarity of timing and cohesiveness of intent that marks a stable of goal-sharing musicians - and this is especially true when, as Malicious Secrets do, they employ a drum machine. A drum machine program is simply the end of all 'random' elements in rhythm section (unless the bassist takes it upon himself to improvise each time - but how common is that in metal?), and from that defined, locked, standard, set-in-stone set of rhythm figures which is known as the 'song program' (a set of linked drum riffs, fills, and tempo-variable beats), this idea of a solid structure necessarily spreads to the guitars and other instruments used. Consequently, you'll usually find that bands (as I was saying above) who do use drum machines in a manner outside of the simplest 'push a button and grind' techniques usually have firm ideas of song structure, because the rhythm segments, the backbone of the song, have to prepared in advance - or at least worked on separately from everything else.

So instead of criticizing a band for using a drum machine these days (because it is so widespread, and in many cases simply a necessity for the musicians who put it to work), I'd rather examine and critique their effectiveness with it, and investigate thoroughly this relatively new 'musical' skill. Now, any examination of drum machine techniques naturally lends an extremely critical ear to the diversity of the rhythmic figures, the transitions between rhythmic segments (transitions between major riffs - and not just fills - are usually where novice programmers or drummers show their lack of skill), and the sound, natural or otherwise, of the drums themselves. There seem to be two camps within the drum machine community: those who consider it a point of pride that their rhythmic work can not be isolated or identified as a machine (because it mimics or is 'produced' to mock a human drummer), or those who take the machine for granted, and try to use its particular effects and advantages to the utmost. Among the latter, I think we can place bands like Limbonic Art or Nokturnal Mortum at the pinnacle of creativity within the black metal minorities, if only because their constant drum machine innovation has led them to place the apparatus at the forefront of their rhythmic drive, and they have worked ceaselessly to exploit this almost-endless source of beat manipulation. Malicious Secrets sit firmly somewhere in between these two camps, and I can't say (at this point, anyway) exactly how they view their own machine. They, for the most part, are not content to simply let it blast away beneath the guitars and bass, knowing how much rhythmic creativity can add to a song's 'effectiveness' (or at least its powers of diversion), and yet they are not so in love with their box of bytes and bolts that they hoist it above the other instruments. This, I think, is actually the best way to use the damn thing...

For when a group becomes too enamored with their robotic hammer, it can lead to ridiculous rhythmic signatures, and even more cataclysmic gratuitous beats in the name of off-the-scale 'brutality' - at this point it's not music as much as emotional/psychological manipulation, which is fine...but it is best identified as such. I am thinking of bands like Mysticum here...

Anyway, moving with a concerted effort away from this rambling monologue [sorry you had to read that], what I really want to get at here is not the originality of Malicious Secrets' drumwork, but the pleasing novelty of - and creativity at work within - the guitar music. What has become the particular hallmark of French black metal bands for me is the unique way in which they approach the seemingly concrete tradition/paradigms of black metal guitar, and the methods by which they tweak those stale patterns into new idioms, which nevertheless retain enough of the flavor of their archetypes to serve as interesting comments and asides on what has come before. With a genre as conservative as black metal guitar, things like this have to happen sooner or later or the style collapses on itself (as it has just done in Scandinavia) due to sheer boredom and a lack of personal commitment on the part of its dedicated musicians. The idiom - and its ability to enchant its listeners - is simply rendered ineffectual by an overt repetition of aesthetics within the scene. Where Malicious Secrets shine is their ability to take this outmoded idiom, this traditional, time-honored series of tones, responses, references, and melodic paths, and update it just enough to where it sounds pleasingly original, and catchy enough to stay in one's mind after a few enraptured listenings. Furthermore, at two points on this demo, once in the first song, 'Upon The Path of Damnation', and once in the second, 'Divine In Sin', this band reaches a beautiful climax of guitar and drum work that can not really be just has to hear it. Black metal distilled to its purest essence, cold, gleaming, shining forth from a sea of distortion like silver coins seen in the moonlight at the bottom of a mountain stream. The vocals are not traditional at all, but rather a low, groaning, moaning rasp, akin to the spectral emanations of Demoncy's Ixithra, and the guitar tone/sound, while remaining high, warbling, almost 'shaking', like a withered, ancient revenant's laughter, numbing, trembling forth in a sort of palsied overdrive...

I am, and I am guessing most of this magazine's readers share this trait with me, blessed or cursed with a constitution - especially an aural sense - that revels in (or is even soothed by) shadows, cold, and tones that would disturb others who have not admitted to themselves the dread and darkness that surely dwells within them. Because of this, music such as the kind of art that Malicious Secrets emit naturally is extremely conducive to a state of relaxation within me - a lessening of tension - and I eagerly anticipate the chilling, bracing bath of sound that this demo represents as I put it in my tape player, awaiting the acidic guitars, cutting, ripping, and tearing away at the false constructions of this artificial reality...this tape punches a hole in that lie, and opens the domain of shadows within. Melodically talented, structurally serene, masterfully aggressive, pure black metal, showing once again why France is at the forefront of the genre.

Highly Recommended