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It's interesting, the forms the music can take when bands decide to try to blend death and black metal. There are the "old school" blackened death acts who basically just play a very rough Sodom-style proto-thrash and call it "blackened", there are the bands who try to meld "black influences" (what does that mean, exactly?) with more straightforward Swedish-style death, and then there are bands who try to take elements from Swedish black metal and American death and somehow blend them together by layering them over each other or splitting up their air time into individual segments which may or may not be linked by successful bridge sections. Council of the Fallen belong to the last category, although they also use more than the odd hint of Swedish death along with the "black influences" (meaning here basically epic/dark fast tremelo picked blast sections) to color their American death framework. No one really tries to use Norwegian necro black metal as an influence, or other styles of death metal, such as NYDM or California brutal death. No, the black/death axis runs through Sweden apparently and American bands who have picked up that style or who are now trying to explore it do not venture too far away from that country's comprehensive stylistic legacy.
One of the nice things about Council of the Fallen (besides the strong sense of progression from their demo days they now show) is that they are fluent in a number of different microstyles and minigenres of death metal. When it comes to their "black influences" it's pretty much straight Swedish blasting and barre chord wandering, ala Dark Funeral, but that's nothing out of the ordinary. I've noticed that most death metal bands who will even admit to "enjoying" black metal only list the Swedish bands as being influences. Strange, as I've always thought the Swedes were the most boring groups in the entire genre. Oh well. What has not happened yet for Council of the Fallen, however, is a coalescence of a truly individual style or a recognizable blueprint for songwriting which they can call their own. They still seem to be experimenting, here with even more styles of death metal (references to both Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse appear on this album, as well as a Slayer riff) than on their debut, as well as with clean vocals. Sometimes all of this writing range works, sometimes it doesn't. More complex material with double guitar parts and catchy string interplay abuts against tracks like the sixth, which are much simpler and more traditional in both effect and scope.
Taken as a whole, this album does not come together and perform as a manageable whole, a strong stylistic statement. It is too scattered to do that, afflicted with a multiple personality disorder that takes as much away from the individual identity of the band as it gives with melodic and rhythmic expressive range. One almost gets the feeling that each song could be by a different band, and I don't know if that was the effect they were going for or not. Perhaps I just need to listen to it more and the disparate facets of their identity will begin to unite in my mind afterwards to form a cohesive whole. If there are not excellent songs, there are very good individual riffs or song segments, and some black-influenced short guitar harmonies that certainly give me a taste of what this band is aiming for: the epic, grandiose, far-looking dark tremolo picking married with percussive return-to-reality crushing death, two prongs that form the devil's fork of their one-two combination impact. It is too obvious in certain places. The eighth song, for example, entitled "Resurgence", merely switches between segments of black metal and death metal without apt transitions or good bridges that would give this band an opportunity to build an individual set of songwriting traits. One gets the feeling that songs like this on the album were just put together out of riffs that were laying around after other more "complex" (in the sense of showing more thought in the songwriting) tracks were finished. Some of the transition riffs that are here are just awkward and strange, for example the one that starts at 1:45 in this eighth song, or the part that begins at 2:00 in the sixth, "Distant Memories", opening up riffs that then ride beneath a solo. The bouncy Iron Maiden riff at 2:05 in "Longing for Clarity" sounds like it belongs on a different album altogether. I would also like to add here that the "orchestra tuning up" intro has already been done. Too late, Council of the Fallen, and, really, a level of arrogance that you can not claim yet. Wasn't this also on their first album? I can't remember now, and I don't have the debut around anymore. The clean vocals that are here do not appear for very long (and do not really fit in the songs they grace), but their appearance could have been made a little smoother by a different production style... perhaps one that layered them and made them a little thicker in presentation.
On a few songs they hit the nail on the head, like in the first few riffs that open and form the essential structure of "Acceptance in Silence", where blasting black metal gives way to a natural derivative of its two riffs in a Swedish death style (one that makes the transition much easier than on other songs), and then a terrible connecting riff at 1:59 that leads into the clean vocal section, a riff that sounds like it was an impromptu addition that was cut into the mixture because they felt the preceding riffs could not lead into the clean vocal melody. Strange. Aside from that one riff, this is a good song, and a workable (I think) demonstration of where Council of the Fallen's aesthetic convictions are leading them.
This is a listenable (if flawed) release from this ambitious band, but I know the next will be even better.
After a fairly generic first album, Council of the Fallen improved with this release. On the first album, the production was rough, while the riffs and songwriting weren't that great. All of those improve on this album. Thanks to Eric Rutan, the production is clearer, and the album sounds more like it belongs in the decade it was recorded, rather than the 1990's. On this album, the band isn't incredibly experimental, but it's also not run-of-the-mill death metal.
The guitar riffs on this album are more interesting and memorable than on the previous album. They are melodic, but not in the Swedish melo-death dual guitar sort of way. They throw in a couple acoustic parts for good measure, which are pretty cool, but maybe they could have developed them more.
The main vocalist on this album has a very good, fairly deep, growl. He sounds better than on the first album. However, the back-up singer still chimes in with an sub-par raspy growl sometimes. On a couple songs, both guys attempt to do some clean vocals, and they're definitely not that great at it. It's an interesting attempt but it's probably best they didn't do it more.
The bass does an interesting intro on "Repetition Breeds Insanity" but usually he's somewhere in the background, following the guitar is a typical metal bassist fashion. Tim Yueng is very solid on the drums.
Overall, this album has a couple flaws, mainly in the clean and back-up vocals, but it's certainly worth checking out if you want some original death metal.
(People of Metal Archives I may have sent this twice due to a sign up error. If so I apologize, thanks.)
The main reason I purchased Council of the Fallen’ album Deciphering the Soul is Tim Yeung. While I do not play any instruments I never cease to be amazed by the abilities of certain individuals like Yeung, Pete Sandoval, Gene Hoglan, and Tony Laureano among a short list of truly amazing drummers. My other rationale for this albums purchase was titles to the albums songs like Longing for Clarity, No Vision of Prophecy, and Falling Through Decades. My hope in purchasing the album was to find above average lyrics that got away from tired allusions towards Satan, butchery, and puke. It seems that what I got was far better than originally considered especially for the reason that I would have been content hearing Tim Yeung pound on the drum kit.
The album opens with a quirky little violin intro, then kicks into the first song called Longing for Clarity. Immediately the listener is hit with Tim Yeung’s amazing beats, which are enhanced by Sean Baxter’s deep Death vox. The guitar starts out crisp and brutal and there is a killer melody that can be heard on the left hand speaker or earphone depending on what you are listening to the CD on, starting at 0:54 (Sorry us musical laymen do not know what that type of playing is called). Along with Baxters’s Death vox is Kevin Quirion who adds guitar riffs and Black Metal vox to give the music/lyrics an evil effect. One can only imagine that this concept is based on lyrics that seem to be about becoming an ego-less creative individual that takes on challenges of character development despite living in a world “Among sycophants and egoists.” Then at the 2:06 mark the song turn’s into a thrash jam enhanced by another ass kicking melody at 2:38. Overall this song is a damned good and an exceptional way to begin an album with an average intro.
The third song is Acceptance in Silence. Lyrically in the first verse this song appears to be about the search for meaning in life and how religion is a false form of acceptance. Yet, the speaker seems to give up on his search and decides that his answer will come in death, which seems a bit petty and naive. Despite the lyrics the song has another nice melody at the 0:24 mark that is enhanced by Yeung’s drumming. Then at 1:59 the song breaks into a duel melody followed by double vocals that sound like a sung bellow. This is followed by a return to the original riff at 2:59 mixed with Death and Black Metal vox. Pretty damn nice is all I gotta say… by the way did I mention that Yeung is insane on the double bass.
The fourth song is No Vision of Prophecy. Lyrically this seems to be a tune about turning away from the superstitions that are written in the bible that have become age old teachings despite what the various sciences are discovering. Overall the lyrics are not the best but they seem to get the point across, which is to wake the fuck up and question what they inculcate into the fabric of your cranium. Musically this song opens with a great quick melody that would make the guys in Amon Amarth proud. Again Tim Yeung pounds away at the double bass like a race horse fleeing a torturous trainer. At 0:57 the song becomes death metal due to insane quick drums, spiraling guitar and deep vocals by Baxter. Also, Quirion does a good job of adding a flare to the lyrics by offering some good Black Metal screeches. Overall this is the most melodic song of the first half the record.
Scourge the Enemy comes next and it kicks off fast and thrashy before hitting a Death Metal stride at the 0:25 mark. This is followed by a nice melody at 0:58. The jam is straight forward until the 2:22 point when the bass kicks in and changes the tune into a classic head bang fest enhanced by some spirited duel vocals from Baxter and Quirion. The song trails off with some nice acoustic guitar that is a fade in to the song Distant Memories. Lyrically this song is about the USA and how they love to oppress other countries with their military might for economic profit.
Distant Memories is a tune about getting old and searching for meaning at the same time, but never finding it. What makes this song killer is the demonic Black Metal vox of Quirion when he gurgles in an almost sarcastic tone “So I sit heat waiting for the end to come. No one knows the answers.” This is followed by Baxter’s deep frustrated Death metal grunt of “Nothing left to dream of, Drowned by the Night.” At 1:38 they do a double bellow of “Memories are distant, memories are black” with Black Metal vocals chanting the same thing in twisted fashion. Musically the song is filled with quick tempos and thick riffs blended with Tim Yeung tremendous playing to compliment the other musicians.
Tempting Angelic Pride is the seventh song. Lyrically it is about casting aside Christianity and finding within yourself God. It walks the path of treading on old with references to followers being sedated and repressed, which is a true, but tired refrain. Still, what makes this song great are the thrash harmonies, Death and Black vox, and of course that guy Yeung. At 1:10 the song gets amazingly quick in a Brutal Death style, that is marked by a melodic tempo change at 1:33 before kicking back into a blend over the remainder of the song between death and melody riffs. Another augmentation to the song is Baxter’s deep spoken vocals. This song like its predecessor seems to close with a nice bit of acoustic guitar playing with the difference being a violin tune at the same time. Then at the 3:06 point it kicks into a slab of Death Metal and melody that will break your fucking head banging neck.
Resurgence comes in next with classic Death Metal technique via deep Death vox, demonic Black vox, intense guitar, bass, and lightening drumming. Then at 1:45 it starts to taper off. At 2:13 it turns into a head bang event with a double kick and various changes in tempo that never cease till the song ends. Overall this is probably my least liked song on this album but it still better than most average tunes by a slew of other bands that will go unnamed.
Falling Through Decades is in the ninth slot, and right from the start the first word that comes to mind is Slayer. It is heavy and fast enough to kill your spine, and any riffing Council of the Fallen may have borrowed from their cover tune practice of Slayer turn’s into their sound at 0:49 with a nice Death Metal melody. As always Yeung’s drumming makes you wonder if he smokes crack and Baxter’s deep Death Metal vox are killer. Lyrically this song falls in line with the theme of the album, which is the search for life’s meaning before succumbing to death.
Repetition Breeds Insanity is a song that is pure Death Metal. It is filled with quick guitar, vocals, bass, and drums. Then in Council’s distinctive style it becomes a melodic thrash festival filled with riff changes starting at 1:51. Then at 2:20 a good guitar solo kicks the song into a thrash riff that thunder’s away at 2:48. What makes this part damned heavy is the whispered vocals done by Baxter. Then at 3:15 it becomes a Death Metal jam.
The outro to this album is a nice soothing acoustic guitar piece. Another thing that makes this album sound exceptional is the production that was done by Eric Rutan, formerly of Morbid Angel. Being a past member of Morbid Angel does not make him a production guru but it does mean that he recognizes how Death Metal albums should sound.
Council of the Fallen is a band who should be heard due to their exceptional musical abilities and creativeness. Just hearing them play makes me wish I had learned how to play an instrument that way I could offer more vivid descriptions and technicality for what they have achieved on their sophomore effort. Council of the Fallen is a band who deserves your money at the local CD store, and they exemplify why CD burning sucks at their level of income versus those bands that have achieved more acclaim with less talent for spinning out what the mainstream market consumes.