Manifestic – Anonymous Souls

Too many thrash metal bands these days preach the “modern” sound, infusing lots of elements from other subgenres of metal into their writing. Oftentimes, the high quality, sterile production value ends up making them sound too “modern” (ironically, ha), leaving me missing the days when thrash metal had that raw aggressive edge to them.

Enter Germany’s Manifestic. While reading the band bio, there are claims that they play thrash metal in the vein of Megadeth – which would have gotten me a little bit wary – my favourite album being Rust in Peace, and their later material being a little bit, erm, modern for my liking. Fortunately this was only after actually listening to their material.

Anonymous Soul is the band’s debut full length album. Right from the opening riff of the title track, one is reminded of the sound popularised by progressive thrash bands such as Vektor and Vexovoid. Not only do the vocals sound similar to those of the aforementioned, but the razor thin guitar tones are also reminiscent especially of Vektor. This comparison doesn’t just end in the production and the tone of the bands, but also in the playing. The most obvious would be in the strings department, in guitarists Rob’s and Samy’s phrasing, and the way the rhythm and the lead complement each other.

Musically, the band also takes influence from the technicality showcased on bands like Death‘s later works (think Symbolic-era), but with a larger dose of melody. For instance, moments like the intro of Code of Silence would have fit comfortably in arena rock of the 80s. At the same time, the easy shift between different tempos and the progressiveness of the writing often harkens back to the works of Vektor on albums like Black Future, although Vektor does take a much speedier approach on their playing. That said, there is sufficient aggression on the album to cater to headbangers, like the Slayer-esque moments on Time will Collapse.

I can see how the Megadeth references may have come into the picture, with the speed and dexterity that each of the band members showcase on their instruments. So if you are suffering from some Vektor, Vexovoid, or even Divine Chaos withdrawal, Manifestic‘s debut would be a good way to hold off the symptoms.

Your Introduction to Black Metal in Singapore

Along with the recent saga came a surge of interest in the black metal genre. Just look at posts on alternative media such as this:

Perhaps it is in good time that we also introduce some local (Singaporean) black metal acts as well. In no order of preference, we present to you… Black metal in Singapore.

1. Impiety

When it comes to black metal in Singapore, who could forget the mighty Impiety? Formed in 1988, Impiety‘s discography spans the entire extreme metal genres. Beginning with the traditional 2nd-wave of black metal sound on Asateerul Awaleen, Impiety‘s style has transformed over the years to incorporate more bestial elements on albums like Formidonis Nex Cultus (which has a thrashy vibe), to the more progressive works on Worshippers of the Seventh Tyranny.

Their material has drawn comparisons to such legends as Blasphemy, Sarcofago, and Angelcorpse. Along with their long-running history, the band can easily be considered one of the black metal legends coming out of Southeast Asia, let alone Singapore.

2. Abhorer

Speaking of legends, how can one not speak of Abhorer? With a string of demos, splits, EPs and just a single full-length album, Zygotical Sabbatory Anabapt, the band’s musical style has remained one of the cornerstones of the black metal sound coming out of Singapore.

3. Rudra

Vedic metal band Rudra burst into the scene in 1992, but it was not until 1998 that the band released their now landmark self-titled album. Unlike Impiety or Abhorer, Rudra adopted a more death metal leaning sound, while incorporating elements of Vedic philosophy and spirituality into their lyrical themes. What made them such a unique band is the ability to also fuse Eastern elements into their musical output, into a sound that they can proudly call their own. The band even got local filmmaker Jacen Tan to direct one of their music videos, which launch remains one of the most memorable events personally.

4. Infernal Execrator

A considerably younger band than the aforementioned, Infernal Execrator takes much of their musical cues from bands such as Impiety, along with other black/death metal legends such as Infernal War, Blasphemy, and the likes. With 2 full lengths under their belts, and their latest offering being last year’s Obsolete Ordinance, Infernal Execrator is definitely a force to be reckoned with.

5. Ilemauzar

Ilemauzar takes a more traditional black metal route compared to their compatriots, incorporating symphonic elements into their musical output. With their debut album The Ascension, the band has managed to capture the blackened hearts and souls of the Southeast Asia region. Fronted by mainman Mike (who also runs regional booking agency Vent Box Productions), the band has already garnered a sizeable fanbase through their tours in such countries as the Philippines and Indonesia.

6. Draconis Infernum

Draconis Infernum remains one of those local bands that has stayed close to my heart, being one of the first Singaporean black metal bands that I really got hooked onto. The band burst into the extreme metal circle in 2008 with their debut full length album, Death in My Veins, and has continued destroying the eardrums of their followers with Rites of Desecration & Demise, and The Sacrilegious Eradication. The band also has the honour of being the first band to perform on German black metal festival, Barther Metal Open Air in 2009.

7. Balberith

Band leader Khaal is also the founder of Ravage Records, a record store that feeds to the desires of local true metal fans. Balberith takes their cue from bestial war metal bands such as Blapshemy, and even regional acts such as Zygoatsis in their musical style.

The list is non-exhaustive as new bands come, and old bands leave their legacy. Know of any bands that we should have mentioned, but failed to make their appearance here? Leave your recommendations in the comments below.

The Irony of the Watain Ban

So… Watain was supposed to perform in Singapore last night for the first time ever (and I conveniently forgot all about it until the night before), and this happens:

And it all started with a petition, courtesy of a certain Rachel Chan, which garnered more than 15,000 signatures overnight. Yet in this whole shitstorm of negative bad press, came along some unexpected benefits to the local scene, and black metal in general.

1. Black metal has never seen more press coverage in Singapore

Seriously, every major English media outlet has at least 1 coverage of the event:

Channel NewsAsia
The Straits Times
The New Paper

So rather than shutting down the band and the scene, this issue has instead raised the status and awareness of Watain and the Singapore metal scene higher than before. And while we’re at it, for the curious, here is what Watain sounds like:

2. It exposes the insecurity and the weak faith of Christians

The vocal minority of Christian extremists claim to have strong faith in their religion, their God. Yet something as minor as a concert that has the potential for a crowd of *gasp* 150 strong is powerful enough to shake your faith. This says more about your beliefs, and your faith in your religion, than black metal and its fans.

3. A private event goes public

Should the event gone ahead undisrupted, what would likely have happened would have been a toned-down version of a Watain show. The multiple conditions that the IMDA originally imposed on the show in order for it to go on, would have likely ensured that there is no blood, and no fire, whatsoever.

In a private, ticketed space, with an M-18 rating. And with limited personal interaction between the band and the attendees.

Instead, with the cancellation, Watain and the event organisers held a meet-and-greet session outside of the venue, bringing what was meant to be a private event into an open space. As an added benefit, fans got to interact with the band personally, and more intimately. So, joke’s on you.

4. The metal scene is more tight-knit than before

For what it’s worth, rather than causing the scene to crumble and disintegrate as intended, the whole saga has brought the scene closer than before. Even people who have been dormant (like yours truly), or people who have been listening to metal but not active in the scene, are coming out to respond to the ridiculousness of the whole saga.

5. The goal of maintaining an intact “social fabric” has resulted in more animosity

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam justified the ban by saying such acts will result in more divide between racial and religious groups, and the intention is to maintain an intact social fabric. 2 days later, Shanmugam then talks about how most of the people in the following photo are Malays, and how it affects sentiments in the Christian community:

Source: Watain

One has to be pretty daft to think that the middle-finger were to the Christian community. Rather, the middle-finger serves as a “fuck you” to the fickle-minded authorities who first approved the license, before changing their minds at the last minute, as well as the small-minded people who caused the ban.

Yet, our dear minister has decided to weaponise the photo to stir racial and religious sentiments, all in the name of scoring political points with the Christian community. And through this ban, rather than helping to bring the different communities closer together, metalheads have been demonised to look like Satan-worshippers, while Christians have become a target-board for despise and hatred.

So, pray tell, who is the one causing harm in the social fabric here?

6. In the midst of it all the negativity, it warms our cold hearts that there are still logical people out there

Coming from a non-metal musician, no less.

The whole hoo-ha reminds me of the case of Nergal being sued for tearing up a bible in his concert. The multiple times the case got thrown out teaches the intolerant a simple lesson: if you can’t deal with it, then don’t watch it. It’s a ticketed event, so if you are there, you chose to be offended.

Metalheads do not force metal down your throat like you force your religion down everyone else’s throats. Not everyone deep throats like you, so learn a bit from your God whom you claim to be so merciful, and grow some humanity and intelligence.

Dream Theater – Distance Over Time

Ever since the departure of Mike Portnoy, my interest in Dream Theater waned over time. The band’s drummer audition web series managed to retain some of my attention, and seeing Mike Mangini’s genius behind the kit initially got me somewhat excited to sound what the band would sound like with the new lineup. Unfortunately, A Dramatic Turn of Events turned out to be a rather boring affair, with Mangini’s drumming sounding uninspired, and the overly-generous usage of the triggers making him sound overly mechanical and machine-like. Apparently this was largely due to the drum portions being pre-programmed, and then re-recorded over by Mangini.

2 years later, with Mangini comfortably integrating with the band, Dream Theater released their self-titled album. With 2 years’ worth of synergy, one would expect an improvement in the band’s output, right? Turns out, the songs remain as sadly boring as their previous output. Which led to me dismissing their next release, The Astonishing, as well. What little that I heard didn’t lead me to listening to the album in its entirety.

This year, the band releases their fourth album with the current lineup, Distance Over Time. Initially I wasn’t keen at all to listen to the album, what with 3 albums worth of material that has caused my disinterest. One day though, Untethered Angel popped up on my discovery playlist on Spotify, and the track sounded surprisingly… Good! And hence this review.

Unlike previous albums where the band sounded like they placed their focus on producing the most technical music, Dream Theater instead attempts a more melodic, emotional approach this time around. Untethered Angel sounds like a throwback to my first (and rather late) introduction to the band with Octavarium, albeit with a more technical edge to the songwriting.

For the first time since Octavarium, it sounds as if Dream Theater has finally found the sweet spot of writing music that sounds effortless enough without sounding as though they were trying to hard. While their sound remains largely rooted in progressive metal, there are moments where the band ventures into hard rock territory, like in the first quarter of Paralyzed. Touted as one of the fastest drummer in the world, Mike Mangini also proves himself to be able to sound human, and not sound overly mechanical on the album, even on faster sections like on the intro of Barstool Warrior.

The attention that the band has put into the record’s detail extends to the album’s production value, where unlike recent works with the over-production, the sound on the album sounds sufficiently organic, making Distance Over Time an easy listen on the ears. To make things more interesting, the band even plays with some slight binaural effects towards the end of At Wit’s End, giving a sort of live atmosphere to the track.

At just short of an hour long, Distance Over Time has been the most enjoyable Dream Theater record with their current lineup. While not the most technical, it feels as though Distance Over Time contains some of the more coherent writing that the band has put out over the last couple of years.

Voices - Frightened

British progressive black/death metal band Akercocke left me in suspension right after I got into them, as they announced their hiatus after their excellent 2007 album, Antichrist. Their avant-garde take on black/death metal, along with their Savile Row image, left a mark on my then-very impressionable mind as I embarked on the arduous journey that is extreme metal.

Fortunately, along with the (seeming) demise of the band in 2012, drummer David Gray decided to carry on his blackened journey with a new project, Voices, bringing along with him compatriot bassist/vocalist Peter Benjamin. The musical style of Voices, while being somewhat reminiscent of the material of Akercocke, brought in a more experimental edge. While I enjoyed that weirdness of Akercocke, Voices lost me with their first two full length releases, From the Human Forest Create a Fugue of Imaginary Rain, and London, which were chock full of chaos.

Last year, Akercocke made a surprising return with their first full length in a decade, Renaissance in Extremis, continuing the darkness that they left with fans on Antichrist, albeit with a more polished production. A year later, Voices follows up with their third full length album, Frightened. It’s said that the third time’s a charm, and with the positive experience with Akercocke’s latest in mind, I decided to give Frightened a chance at hopefully leaving an impression. Would this leave me (ironically) pleasantly surprised or disappointed?

*face palm* – not!

Kicking off the album with Unknown, one may be forgiven for mistaking Frightened as yet another Akercocke release. The single notes picked on the guitars (reminding me of Axiom, my first Akercocke exposure), down to the clean vocals of Peter Benjamin (who also did clean vocals on Antichrist’s closer Epode all reek of Akercocke. But the thing that really did it for me is the drumming style of David Gray, and the tom fills that are so signature of his playing style.

But Voices stand their ground as a separate act stylistically, as they incorporate more progressive, and atmospheric elements in their material. A departure from the abrasive sound of their first two albums, Frightened sees the band experimenting more with the ambient aspect of their songwriting, conjuring the full range of negativity through the atmospherics. The layering of demented shrieks beneath the clean vocals that are so prominently featured, backed by the dissonant riffs and disjointed time signatures certainly helps in sending constant chills down the listener’s spine as well. Even softer moments on the album — with the exception of the almost post-black metal sounding finale Footsteps featuring violins and the whole shebang — such as the first half of IWSYA isn’t particularly soothing or comforting, instead bringing with it a disturbing vibe.

It is also this high emphasis of the softer sections that make the moments of pure aggression so cathartic — as heard on Home Movies, where one feels that indulgent sense of satisfaction the moment Peter Benjamin unleashes his growls after the prolonged suppression of rage and anger.

Atmospherics and theatrics aside, the musicianship on the album is not compromised at all as the band masterfully incorporates different moods and styles into a single track, often accompanied by sudden shifts in time signatures and rhythm to create a jarring effect on the listener. For instance, Evaporated sees the band putting the listener through a completely disconcerting experience for the first half of the track with that almost staccato riffing, before easing it off slightly towards the end of the track with a more melodic segment.

The ingenious of Voices is also observed when tracks are broken down into their individual elements; the playing of each instrument can get rather simple and straightforward, like on Funeral Day and the simple piano featured in its background. Yet put together, the compositions take on lives of their own – proving that simplicity sometimes makes for the most elegant and effective solution.

Right off the bat, Akercocke, and later Voices, have set themselves apart from their competition in writing unique, progressive music. Frightened as a record is no different, and further showcases the versatility of Voices when compared to their past releases. With Frightened, I have been convincingly converted into a fan of Voices.

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