Top 25 of 2016 #8: Ghoulgotha – To Starve The Cross

Ghoulgotha – To Starve The Cross
(Dark Descent Records)

a0271546946_16

Maintaining a level of authenticity and integrity can be tricky when a band decides to step outside convention, especially when it comes to death metal. Most bands that decide to think outside the box of death metal do so by way of overzealous musicianship, incorporating sounds from non-metal genres, or abandoning form in favor of creating music that is suffocating and cacophonous. Is there anything wrong with that? Of course not, but it’d be great to see more bands advance the style from within, instead of always reaching out. Fortunately, we have bands like Ghoulgotha.

Ghoulgotha completely flip death metal on its head while remaining completely in the scope of death metal. The band’s sound is firmly rooted in old school death metal and death/doom, with a combination of fast, aggressive guitar work and slow, lugubrious riffs. What separates Ghoulgotha’s sound from their contemporaries is their masterful use of rhythmic variation. The band is quick to change tempo, even if only for one measure, or from one riff to another. Switching from speedy furry to morose brutality only adds to the non-Euclidian structure of these songs. Meter is also at play, with time signatures switching from simple to compound at a moments notice. The band is very comfortable with odd time signatures, and on top of that time signatures are never stable, with phrases ending in a different time signature than it started in. Certain phrases are repeated in odd intervals as well, and sometimes songs that seemingly end with a funeral trudge are tagged with a fast lick at the end, further adding to the unconventional and mind-bending nature of Ghoulgotha’s music. You can’t tap your feet to this music.

Ghoulgotha’s taste for melody is interesting too. Like most death metal bands, Ghoulgotha’s riffs and melodies are often in a “minor” mode, but there are times the music is pushing more on pantonal and downright chromatic. These moments are some of the most chaotic and engaging this album has to offer. But don’t think the band is only writing weirdo riffs. Songs like “Visceral Seas” showcase the band at their most melodic, which showcases their ear for melodies that range from sorrowful to anthemic. Coupling rhythmic eccentricities with unpredictable melodic content, To Starve The Cross proves to be a very exciting and engaging album, leaving listeners on their toes.

The production on the record is stellar. The guitar tone is raw and visceral, adding an extra layer of gross to the vicious nature of these riffs. Another feature I love about this record is how warm and round the bass tone is, keeping the record from sounding too sharp. The record’s dark atmosphere is what cements this as a great death metal record to me. While many other bands try experimenting with death metal in ways similar to what Ghoulgotha do, many bands bastardize the sound by trying to add too many layers of “complexity” to the music and by polishing the sound, taking away from the grime and grit the style is known for. Instead of turning death metal into something it’s not, Ghoulgotha flip it on its head, creating something completely new and exciting but all too familiar in the process.

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Eternal Warfare Fest – Day 1

So, two months into the blog’s life and I’m already taking over a month in between posts. As I’m sure you all know, life gets hectic at times. I’ve been keeping busy though, and in the time that’s past since the last post, I’ve gone to two amazing metal festivals, Migration Fest and Eternal Warfare Fest, and have been keeping up with a lot of great music that I will share with you soon. Oh, and I started my last semester at university. Now that I’m all settled into my schedule, I’ll be posting things more regularly. The first thing I’d like to share with you all now that I’m back is my amazing experience in Portland last weekend at Eternal Warfare.

September 8th marked the first day of Eternal Warfare, a metal festival dedicated mostly to black metal and doom metal. The line-up consists of bands from many of the underground’s best labels, namely Psychic Violence, Black Twilight Circle, and Eternal Warfare, with Vrasubatlat, Dark Descent, and House Of First Light also seeing representation.

eternal_warfare_final_web

Unfortunately I missed the first two bands, No Trial and Crawl, while I was on a quest for dinner. It should also be noted that Aylwin cancelled their performance day of show. I made it to the venue in time to catch Triumvir Foul.

Triumvir Foul was one of the main reasons I was drawn to the festival. Their chaotic and destructive approach to death metal made their self-titled debut one of the most intriguing records I heard last year, and I’ve been wanting to catch the live ever since. They did not disappoint in the slightest. Their live sound is oppressing; their guitar tone is as murky and suffocating as it is on record, and the bass provided a thick low end that punctuated the heaviest moments of the set. There was almost no lighting during their set, only one red light behind the band shining, providing a dim atmosphere. Each song they played is a descent into madness, with fast dissonant riffs and guitar solos that sound like whirlwinds of flame.

Next was Blue Hummingbird On The Left. They were the first of many bands representing Black Twilight Circle at the festival. The band’s name is a translation of the Aztec sun god, Huitzliopochtli, and their lyrics focus on Aztec war culture and heritage. I’ve recently started exploring my Mesoamerican roots, so this performance couldn’t have come at a better time. The stage was engulfed in fog and red light, leaving the men on stage looking like shadows. The set started with a ritual like drum circle, with members playing drums, indigenous rattles, claves, and the front man playing an aerophone that produced a golden eagle like scream. This lead into a foray raw, militant black metal. Each song is a short burst of relentless riffing and blasting, and I was furiously headbanging throughout the entirety of each one. The band ended the set the same way they started it, but with an aerophone with a much deeper pitch. Blue Hummingbird On The Left put on a mystifying and entrancing ritual. They rarely play outside of southern California, so be sure to catch them if they’re ever in your area. If anyone is interested, I was able to snag a BHL setlist, which I’ll post below.

bhlsetlist

The night continued with Sanguine Eagle. Sanguine Eagle are new black metal from the hotbed that is New York City. This was the band’s third ever performance. Their set started with the front man banging out thick, dissonant chords for a couple of minutes to set the tone for the rest of the performance. Once the rest of the band joined, the rest of the set was mesmerizing. Each song is a cascade of fierce and brooding black metal riffing that only becomes more intense and hypnotic over time.

Closing the night was funeral doomers Merkstave. This was their first performance in three years and the excitement was radiating in the room. After they started, it was obvious why so many were excited. Merkstave played some of the slowest and most entrancing funeral doom I’ve heard. The guitars crept from chord to chord at tectonic speeds, and they had a cool vocal dynamic between the drummer’s low gutturals and the guitarist’s melismatic chants. Merkstave’s meditative doom was the perfect way to close out Day 1.

Ghoulgotha – To Starve The Cross

a0271546946_16

Maintaining a level of authenticity and integrity can be tricky when a band decides to step outside convention, especially when it comes to death metal. Most bands that decide to think outside the death metal box do so by way of overzealous musicianship, incorporating sounds from non-metal genres, or abandoning form in favor of creating music that is suffocating and cacophonous. Is there anything wrong with that? Of course not, but it’d be great to see more bands advance the style from within, instead of reaching out. Fortunately, we have bands like Ghoulgotha.

Ghoulgotha completely flip death metal on its head while remaining completely in the scope of death metal. The band’s sound is firmly rooted in old school death metal and death/doom, with a combination of fast, aggressive guitar work and slow, lugubrious riffs. What separates Ghoulgotha’s sound from their contemporaries is their masterful use of rhythmic variation. The band is quick to change tempo, even if only for one measure, or from one riff to another. Switching from speedy furry to morose brutality only adds to the non-Euclidian structure of these songs. Meter is also at play, with time signatures switching from simple to compound at a moments notice. The band is very comfortable with odd time signatures, and on top of that time signatures are never stable, with phrases ending in a different time signature than it started in. Certain phrases are repeated in odd intervals as well, and sometimes songs that seemingly end with a funeral trudge are tagged with a fast lick at the end, further adding to the unconventional and mind-bending nature of Ghoulgotha’s music. You can’t tap your feet to this music.

Ghoulgotha’s taste for melody is interesting too. Like most death metal bands, Ghoulgotha’s riffs and melodies are often in a minor mode, but there are times the music is pushing more on pantonal and downright chromatic. These moments are some of the most chaotic and engaging this album has to offer. But don’t think the band is only writing weirdo riffs. Songs like “Visceral Seas” showcase the band at their most melodic, which showcases their ear for melodies that range from sorrowful to anthemic. Coupling rhythmic eccentricities with unpredictable melodic content, To Starve The Cross proves to be a very exciting and engaging album, leaving listeners on their toes the way a horror flick might (idk I don’t like scary movies tbh).

The production on the record is stellar. The guitar tone is raw and visceral, adding an extra layer of gross to the vicious nature of these riffs. Another feature I love about this record is how warm and round the bass tone is, keeping the record from sounding too sharp. The record’s dark atmosphere is what cements this as a great death metal record to me. While many other bands try experimenting with death metal in ways similar to what Ghoulgotha do, many bands bastardize the sound by trying to add too many layers of “complexity” to the music and by polishing the sound, taking away from the grime and grit the style is known for. Instead of turning death metal into something it’s not, Ghoulgotha flip it on its head, creating something completely new and exciting but all too familiar in the process.

Stream/Purchase To Starve The Cross, https://darkdescentrecords.bandcamp.com/album/to-starve-the-cross