Saturday, May 22, 2010

Zyklon - World of Worms

Zyklon - World of Worms
2001, Candelight Records

Well, it looks like Norway's discovery of all things 'cyber' is going to continue, as this record nods unapologetically in the direction of such trends, and clears up a few questions I had about the way that things would appear in the fallout of Mayhem's last album. But in case you were wondering, this is not going to be a negative review. I don't see the point of 'criticizing' this like everyone else...to tell you the truth, I'm overjoyed that Samoth (here as Zamoth, cute) could finally let himself loose from Ihsahn's aesthetics and get down to writing some grinding death metal - something that he has obviously been pining to do for quite a while. Because of the last Peccatum release it is impossible for me to view Ihsahn in the same way that I had before...and if Samoth can break away from that man's influence, more power to him. He has been talking about his admiration for early death metal in the press over the last few years...however, this isn't typical late-20th century death in any way - it tends to 'look ahead' all the while, never back to what has come before unless it is to deliberately include the past as in influence in shaping the future. This music is synthetic, flexible, eager to include new influences. It will be noticed, I am sure, that when we talk about the past of Norwegian metal, we are also talking about Samoth's own history. They are one and the same. But Norway, Samoth seems to be saying, must embrace an evolution - a forward-looking revolution - and it must do this right now. Instead of climbing onto a soapbox or airing his views in print, he quite naturally picks up his guitar and leads by example. The first song, 'Hammer Revelation', makes this musical philosophy of his abundantly clear, as does the fifth, 'Zycloned', in its combination of overt savagery and elegiac, cold undertones. In these songs, as really through this opus's entire 40 minutes, there has been a concerted attempt on the part of these musicians to create something new for themselves, marrying all the progressive elements of Emperor, for example, with an untarnished-but-always-jaded taste for unmitigated aggressiveness. This is violent, of course, but not in the boring by-the-numbers fashion that most death bands are offering these days. Rote, routine brutality? No...there is real passion behind the music, or, at the very least, a very good simulation of the same. Most of all, in the material's stripped-down 'apocalyptics' there is a break with Emperor's symphonic superfluity...and one can imagine the pressure that Samoth must have felt (from general expectations, from his peers) to compose another Emperor album, but he seems (thankfully) to have completely ignored the stress of his critics. Think about that for a second. 'Hammer Revelation' and its initial WW III fusillade lets you know, right at the beginning, that this isn't Emperor. The opening of this album is beautifully planned.

For the wary: the 'cyber' element here is strictly in the background, and it is used to color the style of these songs rather than pencil in their general outlines. The strictures of electronica don't have much of a say when it comes to the actual aesthetics or structures of the songs...the samples, synths, and overt EBM elements are reserved for intros and interludes. Much like on the last Mayhem album, electronica seems to have been more of tool to be manipulated here (like any other musical tool or series of sounds) instead of a source of direct inspiration.

There is also a surprising world-weariness in these melodies that comes through in a very graceful manner, but whether it comes from Samoth's pen or some other source, I'm not exactly sure. I know that I like it - it seems honest to me, 'realistic' in a way that the last Emperor album was not. Let's just say that Zyklon is not an...optimistic band. Commendations go out to Bard Faust for letting his mind drift free of imprisonment and penning the lyrics, or 'death texts', as he calls them.

After listening to this a few times, you will begin to realize how expertly 'World ov Worms' blends the styles of death and black metal, and how the elements of both are borrowed (or distilled) to form something new, a new sound, a new possibility...but to tell you the truth, I don't think this is a 'new creation' as much as it is just a more open and honest expression of the style Samoth has always had. In his playing, in the past, he has usually seemed to effortlessly slip between the brutality of death and the 'far-looking' melodies of black metal. What is really interesting about this material is that it allows one to hear just how much of the prior Emperor music must have been his alone. Listening to this album, I gained a whole new level of respect for the man. His touch is light, deft, expertly prepared, and his rhythmic intensity is overwhelming. This is state-of-the-art metal guitar playing. And, as I was saying above, Samoth has not let go of his roots - there's a nice Thorns/Mayhem reprise riff in here (at 1:37-1:58 in 'Chaos Deathcult') - only the most obvious one - to steer your heads in the right direction. This record, again, can be seen as a manifesto in that respect: it seems to want to point the way to what must come in the future, while offering the obligatory bows to the past...but the past is alive, after all...

The best thing about these songs is that they do not seem at all 'rushed' or just thrown together...they exhibit a concentration on structural dynamics that is very refreshing...listen, again, to the opener, 'Hammer Revelation', especially the extended middle section with its slow-breathing sense of space and the relaxed way in which it builds a room full of atmosphere - a resting space - in between the all-out war of the end and the first strike of the introduction. What is this...solos? Harmony? Rhythmic variation? In modern death metal? But Samoth has always released 'quality' music...the Scandinavians seem to take the notions of 'form' and 'substance' - the 'work' in 'artwork' - much more seriously than anyone else. If it isn't original, it will at least be put together very well.

So, to sum up, of course a lot of this is going to remind you of Emperor - Samoth is one-half of that band, and his overall guitar sound has not changed that much here - perhaps on purpose, perhaps not. This album was also recorded in the same studio as 'IX Equilibrium'. All of the little trills, flares, tweaked harmonics, etc. from Emperor are here, but this material adds a new level of ultra-violence in the writing that makes those sorts of guitar tricks take on a new meaning...it will be interesting for me to see how this band will progress...will they incorporate a few more electronica influences? Will the black metal resurface? They seem to have a choice of a lot of directions to go in, unlike Emperor - in my eyes that band died a long time ago. Zyklon, with the wealth of talent and musical vision that it has collected (in the form of some of Norway's most talented musicians), seems poised to start the sort of revolution that this country desperately needs if it is going to escape the death throes of black metal. Listen to this album and tell me that Zyklon are not offering, at least, one viable solution...