Tuesday, 10 August 2010

SS-18 - Technogen Pandemonium (2009) 70/100.

I’m not the biggest fan of raw black metal, but I decided to give SS-18 a go due to their association with ambient black metal band Alienation Cold, a fellow Russian act who share some of the same members, though it is never specified who plays with whom, or even what they contribute to this band in terms of instrumental and vocal work. SS-18, named after the label of Russian strategic nuclear missile, also named as “Satana”, apparently, are an unrelenting band in the vein of the Western idea of raw black metal. On occasions, this industrialised sounding Russian act even remind me of Britain’s much loved Anaal Nathrakh, a band who mix incredible intensity with lots of subtle changes beneath a wall-of-sound depiction. SS-18 do a similar thing, though probably not to the same professional extent of Anaal Nathrakh. Their lyrical themes suggest all you need to know about the portrayal of black metal we have on offer here; misanthropy, hate, anti-human, death and nuclear war.

When ‘Technogen Pandemonium’ initially kicked-off with ‘Three Shots, Three Aims’, I never expected to be as engrossed with this album as I became by the end. It’s very explosive, as one should normally expect from a raw black metal band. The vocals are gut-wrenching screams with a fierce intensity to them and this is something that the instrumentation has no problem getting behind and backing-up, as it should do. The percussion, in particular, is very important. Alienation Cold, an ambient black metal band I vehemently enjoyed, appear to use programmed drums, a ploy that would never have worked on an album like this. I’m pleased that SS-18 have recognised this and employed an authentic drummer to supply authentic, heavy blast beats and a chaotic use of cymbals and snares. The percussion is quite strong, though I would have liked the double bass blasts to have more impact as they can often be sheltered by the intense riffing that occurs on the album and when the vocals are used, as they often are, the double bass blasts often get lost in the mesh of chaos and destruction.

The idea behind most raw black metal bands isn’t to supply experimentation through a regulation of alterations, but SS-18 do, infrequently at least, change their depiction with the unnecessary interlude ‘Chernobyl Radwind’ indicating this prominently. This two minute plus instrumental song is full of ambiance that wouldn’t be out-of-place on an Alienation Cold album, but it doesn’t really seem to have much of a place to call home on this release with its ceaseless stylistic approach of drawing Armageddon on with distorted riff, after distorted riff. The main riffs to each song are usually very powerful, with ‘Irreversibility of Omnicide’ being a good representation of this. The riff to this song is graceful at times, despite the thrashier, distortion laden style of the band. It has a headbang-able quality to and oozes a coolness seen throughout most of the album, but especially on this song, which is the highlight of the album by far. This thrashier, catchy side to SS-18 isn’t seen too often, which is a shame. At times, it reminds me of IXXI’s wonderfully infectious ‘Assorted Armament’, another album intent on displaying the destruction of humankind. That album is far more fluid due to its intoxicating, infectious style.

Occasionally, the band will switch their style, which is where this hidden experimentation they dabble in comes through, with songs like ‘Children of the New Epoch’ sounding more like a Hate Forest, or Blood of Kingu song, especially with the altered vocal approach, which includes deep growls, rather than intense screams. Songs like this have a lot more focus to them than the usual style and given the album a refreshing feel because, after all, raw black metal takes a certain type of mood to be enjoyed and with the slight alterations, SS-18 are more enjoyable than your average band of this type because they aren’t afraid to mix traditions with an unforeseen side of adventure. Although the instrumental song definitely detracts from the album and fails to keep up with the unrelenting pace, the album does resume its usual style shortly afterwards with an explosive, bombastic opening to ‘The Newest Nuclear Scenery’, a song which depicts the destruction of mankind by his own hand.

The vocals allow are enough to conjure up images of decay and dehumanisation, but alongside the mighty layered riffs, distorted qualities and stern percussion, the images become far more realistic in my mind. This album isn’t as straight-forward as it may seem at first, with numerous slight alterations occurring throughout, as on ‘Irreversibility of Omnicide’ with its catchier style of riffing, ‘Children of the Newer Epoch’ with its move from an industrialised, raw black metal band to a Blood of Kingu-meets-Hate Forest deal and finally, ‘Last Winter’ with its variation on drums and guitar. I expected this to be a no-holds-barred affair, which it is, but I didn’t ever imagine it would be as free-flowing with such a tightly packed atmosphere on each of the eight monumentally fierce songs. This is a really solid album from yet another raw black metal band from the harshest, most inhospitable country on the planet -- Russia.

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