Monday, July 15, 2013
Feels like home to me: Convulse / Sorcery
A lot of my recent recreational listening has focused on two Nordic death-metal albums, Convulse's World Without God (1992) and Sorcery's Arrival at Six (2013). Despite the two-decade gap between them, these records share some key factors in common. Convulse and Sorcery both formed in the mid-to-late-’80s—in Finland and Sweden, respectively—broke up in the mid-to-late ’90s and reunited recently: Convulse in 2012 and Sorcery in 2009. (World is original-era Convulse, while Arrival is post-reunion Sorcery.) More importantly, they both home in on a willfully limited but immensely satisfying aesthetic.
These two bands don't sound much alike—Convulse has a more traditional death-metal sound, with super-low, almost gurgled vocals and endless doomy riffs, while Sorcery takes a punkish, almost rock ’n roll approach, focused on a wildly unhinged vocal delivery and galloping uptempo rhythms. But both bands thrive on a sort of paring down of aesthetic parameters; essentially, they each do one thing extremely well, a thing that "on paper" or on a first listen, can seem slight or rote. But there's an intangible brilliance at work in the output of each, a quality that I've come to think of as "closeness to the source," a feeling of in-the-blood-ness that's often detectable in bands formed just as a given style was coming into being but before it was a codified, cataloged movement. Obituary, another death-metal band with ’80s roots, gives me a similar kind of feeling, as does Asphyx. I don't listen to these bands to be challenged; I listen to them to be sated, in some primal way. I'm not sure what it is, but there's something so exciting, vital and, at base, pleasurable to me about this strain of death metal, these bands who channel all their effort not into progress or freshness but into making a few basic elements feel, for lack of a better word, true.
Convulse - "Godless Truth":
What do you say about a track like this? You do not get anywhere by analyzing its constituent parts; you do not, as a commentator, "make a case" for it. It either entrances you, seduces you with its dark song, or it doesn't. There's a certain artfulness to the composition, but the overall appeal is pure primitive, teeth-gritting shagginess. Think monosyllables: weight, doom, blurt, girth. It's animal music, executed with great intentionality. Two metal-obsessed friends of mine have their own terms for this kind of metal: one refers to it as "knuckle-dragger" music, the other as sound that it's in touch with the "lizard brain." Both terms emphasize a kind of primitiveness, and that's absolutely a factor here, maybe even the overriding factor.
But I don't think Convulse played this way because it's the only way they knew how to play. Their next album, Reflections, went in a more groovy, rock-oriented direction, but in recent interviews, bandleader Rami Jämsä has all but disowned that effort and stated that he's conceiving of the new Convulse material as a sequel to World Without God. In other words, the uniformity of WWG—spoiler alert: the rest of the album sounds very similar to the track above, a fact which will either delight or horrify you, depending on your personal affinity for this brand of death metal—seems to have been very much by design. The band wanted their work to function like a single blunt instrument, and their reunion effort is an attempt to capture that glorious single-mindedness.
Sorcery - "Created from Darkness and Rage":
It's difficult for me to describe how happy the intro to the above Sorcery track makes me. (Consequently, I'd be remiss if I didn't thank That's How Kids Die's Josh Haun for turning me onto this band.) It's as though I can feel my metabolism changing when I hear it, slowing down to the level of the beast. I play it now and I think about a scene from the original Clash of the Titans that fascinated me as a kid, when Zeus punishes Calibos by turning him into a monster. I always found that moment when his shadow morphs to be so grotesquely compelling, and this passage ensnares me in a similar way. It's a sort of musical wallowing, a glorification of filth. Again, it's not about the on-paper content so much as it is the feeling. The unholy crunch-and-stomp here is not a guise, not a matter of received knowledge; it is something native in these players, something they've been driving at since they were young men, since the mark of metal first fell upon them as Zeus's curse falls upon Calibos.
The track speeds up, and the mood becomes less about anguish than seething, venting explosiveness. But there's still this enormous integrity to the presentation. It sounds strange, but I simply feel like I'm in good hands when I hear this brand of death metal: the hands of experts, of lifers, of players who get that in many cases, great metal is first and foremost a matter of passion and sensation, of technique perfected only to a point, of pride in primitiveness, of deliberate myopia. You zoom in your sights so that only the bulls-eye is in frame, and you bombard that target again and again. Like World Without God, Arrival at Six is that kind of record. It is connoisseur's death metal. No argument can be made on its behalf, but if all of the above is speaking your language, no argument need be made. Like that of Convulse, Sorcery's music springs from and aims directly for your lizard brain, that knuckle-dragging part of you, serenading the beast, eliciting that sinister smile, that strange masochistic glee, like a gene that we have that non-metalheads lack. (Think of cilantro.) There's a serenity there, amidst the pummel and the churn, a kernel of contentedness. What I hear on Arrival at Six and World Without God feels like home to me.
I saw, and loved, Convulse at MDF XI. They issued a new EP, Inner Evil, in early 2013 and are prepping a full-length for later this year. Sorcery toured the U.S. in April but didn't make it to NYC; I really hope they remedy that oversight soon.
Here's a Spotify playlist containing both albums in their entirety. Pay special attention to the exemplary production quality of each. The material on these records is impeccable, but the beautifully raw, full way they're rendered makes them all the more durable and enjoyable.