2000, Genocide Music
I found out about this band completely by accident, just by walking around on the internet and following links right and left. Because I hadn't even heard of them before (much less listened to any of their material), I was curious and decided to contact them. I want to thank Septimus, the leader of this band, here at the beginning for getting their music to me so quickly - there have been few response times as fast as this band's from the moment of initial contact to the point where I held a record in my hand, ready to examine it.
The first thing that I noticed about this album was its production: this isn't the clearest sound possible, and I enjoy that. It leaves something to the imagination. All the instruments come through adequately, so there is nothing to complain about on that front. What I like is the murkiness of the whole affair, which may stem from a layer of reverb being applied to this thing after it was finished, or just the way it was recorded. The guitar sound here is excellent - it reminds me of some of the older Swedish black metal bands - it isn't over-distorted to the point of indecipherability, and it allows all the notes to come through clearly without losing any of the 'atmosphere' of obscurity/underground conviction that this band surely wants to display. I appreciate things like this, and if you have read any of my reviews before, you know that I draw as much information from the way a band records or the overlaying tone of the music as from the music itself.
Maskim play a very speedy, stripped-down form of traditional black metal, something akin really to earlier Swedish bands (as I alluded to before), and in a style that strives to mix American influences with the European. This CD starts in good form by blasting directly into the first song, 'Cleansed By Fire', where they aim a maiming riff right at you and then proceed to batter the life out of it. Because their song structures are fairly straightforward, it is not all that difficult to trace what they are trying to say with their music. All of these songs, for the most part, follow a traditional verse-chorus format that begins with a lancing, instructive intro (a riff that will later be reprised) and then differing chorus sections that explore either faster or slower riffs. In the verse sections they open things up a bit and inject melody into the proceedings, drawing forth some highly-listenable melancholy tremelo riffing to counterbalance the heavier rhythmic parts. Mixing something of a thrash metal influence in here as well, they seem to want to quote Celtic Frost's heavy downstrokes and rumbling, lurching power grooves (listen to 'Death Denied', for example) or certain parts of Slayer (listen to the first few seconds of the fifth song, 'Demise' - it's a Slayer riff) with the faster black metal melodicism. This is probably the most structure-obsessed black metal band I've heard yet from the States, they must write their songs with a ruler and compass...
However, I don't mind this fundamental approach to songwriting at all. Sure, it's traditional, and so doesn't allow much room for innovation, but something tells me that if this band is going to continue playing in this style (that is to say: black metal) they will be able to build upon this firm base of songwriting principles, and will be at least able to expand on this to reach new methods of composition - i.e., new sounds and ways of presenting their music. A great number of bands never even bother to learn the basics of songwriting, and it shows in their confused compositions - it takes a great deal of skill to create the illusion of chaos in music and still have the song be an admirable work of art. The easiest thing in the world is to flail around and record the 'process' of chaos - it is another thing altogether to manipulate the forces of chaos into bearing the weight of your musical expression.
A song like the ninth on this record, 'Sacrifice', is a good example of where Maskim might be headed (for all I know it's the oldest on this album): it mixes an aggressive main riff (shades of Swedish death, actually) with more abstract guitar exploration, letting the song breathe a little, and comes off as being their most 'mature' work. I know for certain that I haven't heard anything like this from any other American black metal band, so that's a positive note in this band's favor.
If you are interested in exploring some of the more obscure reaches of the American black metal scene, then I recommend this band to you. I imagine that the music scene in Iowa can not exactly be friendly to groups such as this, and I encourage you to support them...