Contributed by Rex Tremendae Majestatis
Listening to Interment’s album Still Not Dead – available for download here – led me to muse on what drives different people to participate in death metal bands. In Interment’s case, it appears that they play death metal in order to pay tribute to the era when several of death metal’s distinguishing devices were just becoming codified. Listening to the album is like perusing a magazine in an archive, observing the photographs of smiling people in antiquated styles of dress and appreciating the novelty of a glimpse at society’s inevitable temporal progress, frozen and preserved.
The great old school death metal records of their time convey energy and conviction due in part to their being on the cutting edge of extreme music. As time progressed, some acts also progressed, combining their influences with the unique inspiration and creativity that they channeled from within themselves. Other acts, however, lacked this critical second element and still continue to. Based on my listening to Still Not Dead, I conclude that Interment is one of these acts. This is why I say it appears that Interment plays death metal to pay tribute to the era of these aforementioned bands. Their object is to create a facsimile of the overall texture and execution of older death metal without attempting to create actual music on par with these acts. Elements of early Carcass are there; elements of Incantation are there. However, Interment creates the rind without the fruit. Most of the riffs are placeholders between more inspired sections. Even the album cover is strictly dictated by precedent. It is a conceptual clone of The Wretched Spawn’s cover. Both feature zombie children emerging gorily from a living woman attended by malicious zombie deliverers.
One of the band’s strengths is an ability to begin songs in a variety of ways. Most of the openings on this album are quite distinct from one another, which is a talent that many bands in this genre lack. Listening to the first 30 seconds of every song gives an impression of a band with a variety of compositional tools at their disposal.
The downside is that they don’t seem to have a damned clue about how to follow their introductions. Riffs are awkwardly smashed together, demonstrating a lack of attention to context. The writers of this music certainly live in the moment. They generally don’t concern themselves about what material preceded the current riff and usually have no concern whatsoever about what comes next. The track “Natas” exemplifies this treatment. Almost every time a riff changes, the entire band stops playing, letting the guitar have the riff for two repetitions before joining in. The result is that any time the song builds momentum, the band kills it to emphasize the arrival of the next riff. I shall discuss this more when I review the album’s motivic construction.
There are times when this treatment works well, however. The first half of the track “Dorment Souls” [sic] is the best example of this. The track begins with the bass playing the first riff by itself one time. The entire band, including the vocalist, joins in on the second repetition. The riff is slow and sustained and very reminiscent of doom metal, giving it a vaguely Incantation vibe albeit with more forward rhythmic motion. After a couple of repetitions, a reverberated solo guitar doubles the riff in a higher register. This introduction indicates attention to progress. This is good stuff. A percussive fast section follows, then is abruptly interrupted by the return of the bass playing the initial riff alone in the manner described in the previous paragraph. In this context, however, it works well. This is because
of the way the initial riff developed and segued into the fast riff. The abruptness of the bass interrupting the fast riff provides needed contrast with the smoothness of the way the initial riff developed. In the case of “Natas”, because almost every transition is abrupt, the result is a disjointed mess in which no single section is allowed to blossom. Unfortunately, the second half of “Dorment Souls” returns to the wandering that plagues much of the album.
I find it ironic that the track entitled “Meaningless Progression” is the track that progresses most meaningfully. The song opens with a 6/8 groove featuring the album’s most melodic riff. The motion stops, setting up a riff in triple meter consisting of descending arpeggiated  trichords that repeat, descending chromatically with every repetition. The motion breaks again then resumes with a mid-paced groove that is first executed with ringing power chords that give way to the same riff with more rhythmic palm muting added. None of the riffs from this section appear again; it is an introduction. The bones of this piece appear next with a slow chunky riff accentuated by the toms. This builds until the beat and vocals drop on that riff at the same time. This sequence is what makes the piece so interesting formally. Complete with the tom-tom buildup, it appears three times: First, following the introduction; second, after a fast riff that punctuates the first iteration of this sequence; lastly, after an interesting riff that follows the second such punctuation. The body of this piece is effectively one riff put in the right places. Good composers can make a lot with a little material by adeptly manipulating form. This piece demonstrates that Interment have that ability, although they don’t employ it as often as they ought to.
If they have the ability to generate interesting forms, why don’t they apply that ability to the entire album? I feel that the answer is they just don’t think about it. The guitar riffs generally indicate a similar lack of thought. All of the riffs are extremely idiomatic 1) for guitar and 2) in the death metal genre. It appears that the riffs are the result of an eagerness to generate material that sounds a certain way. This is more apparent in the fast sections than in the slow sections. Whatever the meter may be (most of the fast riffs are 4/4), the fast riffs are invariably tremolo-picked with an unvarying, redundant, beat-level rhythm. Thus, if a fast riff is in 4/4, the notes change every quarter note. This is the mark of someone who thought a fast riff was in order in a song because precedent dictated it, then stuck with the first riff that made it to the fretboard. The result is that nearly every fast riff sounds cliché and is utterly unmemorable. The only fast riffs that escape this are in the song “Meaningless Progression”, especially the short riff that punctuates two iterations of the main slower section. Although it exhibits the same characteristics that defeat the album’s other fast riffs, it is tailored in such a way that it leads back onto itself, making its repetition drive motion forward. Furthermore, since it is a punctuating riff, the band doesn’t dwell on it, allowing them more time to play more mid-paced and slower riffs.
Mid-paced grooves and slower doom-ish riffs are what the band does best. These kinds of riffs allow more rhythmic emphasis. Rhythm is what drives this band, so much so that notes are almost inconsequential (as if they are either an afterthought or a skeleton to make rhythm on) with few exceptions. The fast riffs are weak because they are stripped of the rhythmic power that makes the slower riffs so damned effective. At times, the rhythm in the slower riffs gets downright intricate. The track “Engulfed in Flames” presents the most obvious example of this rhythmic focus. The chunky 6/8 riff that opens the song would sound good on a hand drum as well as a guitar due to its incisive rhythm. The riff that follows has a pretty cool melody, but the way it interacts with the drums and vocals is what really sets it apart. It changes meter and rhythm several times within the course of one repetition in a manner that gives it a frantic, maniacal appeal.
On a side-note: The band is so steeped in tradition that they utilize a Black Sabbath quotation on the track entitled “The Dead”. Interesting title. I wonder if Interment are Jerry Garcia fans. Around 0:13 is a two-part riff, the first half of which sounds almost exactly like “Electric Funeral”. I can’t say if this is intentional or not. If it isn’t, I’d consider it a strike against the song. Either way, it’s funny.
The slow-versus-fast dichotomy has a major impact on the way the band plays. Their performance comes off as more aggressive and more inspired in the slower riffs, particularly in the drums. The drummer plays with a lot more nuance in the slower riffs, which contributes greatly to the rhythmic focus of the riffs themselves. The result is that the entire band plays off one another with greater fury, hitting their stride and creating down-to-earth brutality even when the rhythm gets intricate. They internalize and connect to the slower riffs, whereas they usually merely recite the obligatory fast riffs as one recites mathematical formulas when called on in algebra class.
The track “Fetal Mutilation” makes this painfully apparent. About 30 seconds into the song there is a slow, galloping 6/8 riff that interacts with the vocal rhythms rather interestingly. In addition, the kick drum plays a different rhythm that emphasizes the meter but remains distinct from the guitar riff. Overall, the result is rather powerful. Not only does the faster riff that follows have the compositional attributes that I lambasted earlier, it also is played weakly. The decision to palm mute may be the culprit, since it made slight rhythmic errors more noticeable and reduced the amount of physical power the guitarist could have put into the string. The power of the slow groove immediately precedes the weakness of the fast riff, making the dichotomy clearer than my hatred of breakdowns and stacked fifths.
The track “Killer Elite” has some of the best execution in the album. The fast riffs are delivered much more aggressively, thanks in part to the vocals and drums. Although the vocal rhythms aren’t as interesting as they are on some of the other tracks, the consistent belching helps push the music forward the way the man with the hammers on the slave ship in Ben Hur makes the slaves row faster. One highlight of this song is the bluesy wah-wah laden guitar solo, which serves as an effective climax and helps set up the next riff. I feel like the band enjoyed performing this song more than most, because the recording just has more fire.
Overall this album is rather formulaic in its riffing and adheres more closely to convention than composition. There isn’t anything that makes this band stand out from other bands that pay tribute to the early years of death metal, thus listening to this album is listening to a genre more than it is listening to a band. That being said, it’s in-the-moment construction makes it a good album for listening to while drunk, when one only gives a damn about how brutal the current riff is. Many of the slower grooves on this album are very powerful. I wish the band would focus on them more, because I think the weakness of the fast riff is part of what contributes to the weakness of the overall form. Not only are the slow riff better written and better played, they generally flow into each other more smoothly.
Faithful adherence to oldschool death metal sound with minimal bullshit
Powerful rhythmic drive on slow and mid-paced riffs
Each track has distinct opening, making sitting through the album more enjoyable
Worships precedent to the point of sounding formulaic. Cliché
Generally lacks formal focus. Riffs smashed awkwardly together
Riffs are so idiomatic that they sound improvised
Engulfed in Flames
Rex Tremendae Majestatis is a composer and an eclectic musician. He has has traveled far and wide performing everything from black metal to blues to choral singing. He firmly believes that music’s quality is independent of genre. He approaches listening with an open analytic mind and is quite opinionated about what he concludes.