Album Review: Crafteon – “Cosmic Reawakening”

Crafteon

“Cosmic Reawakening”

Independent, 2017

Rating: 87%

Band page: https://www.facebook.com/crafteon/

Crafteon - Cosmic Reawakening cover art

It is not easy to get melodic black metal right. Go too far into the melodic territory, and you risk descending into the quasi-gothic self-parody. Go too far into the black metal aesthetic, and whatever benefits the melodic edge would have provided tend to rob the music of its immediate impact. On Crafteon’s debut release, I am pleased to report that the band gets the balance between the atmospheric nihilism of black metal and its dark melodicism just right, producing a righteous slab of metal bound to satisfy the purists and perhaps even win over a few converts from other styles of extreme music.

On “Cosmic Reawakening”, Crafteon offer up eight tracks that go through an enviable amount of dynamics, interspersing blast beats and aggressive passages with slower yet no less impactful sections to inject just enough order into the chaotic soundscape. While the guitar work is suitably atonal and unsettling, as befitting a true black metal release, the band smartly adds melodies that are, dare I say, almost catchy at times, and which provide a focal point for the dark ambience of the material. I could not help but think back to the evolution of Scandinavian black metal when it acquired a measure of melodic death metal aesthetic without sacrificing any of the blasphemous intensity, with the classic Dissection as the prime reference point.

Indeed, more than a few of Crafteon’s songs harken back to the peak Dissection style without sounding like a clone. “The Outsider” and “Dagon” are the prime examples of this tendency, both well-written, memorable, and rooted in the same nihilistic foundations which spawned the genre greats. The melodies are intelligently crafted to retain the disturbing atmosphere without the saccharine overtones, reminding the listener that “Cosmic Reawakening” is a black metal release, as uncompromising and violent as one would expect from the style. The focus is not on speed but on the feel of the music, which creates a very rewarding listening experience without sacrificing the brutality.

Lyrically, the album is rooted in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, which is a great thematic fit for the music. The vocal approach tends towards the standard (albeit well performed) extreme metal fare, but the harsh screams are occasionally accentuated by debased chanting and subtle yet effective backing vocals. This works particularly well on tracks like “The White Ship”, where the melodies veer towards more hopeful territory somewhat reminiscent of early days of Gothenburg melodic death metal, only to be brought down into the nihilistic despair evoked by the lyrical content. By following a slightly more straightforward structure and a different melodic foundation, it is bound to be either one’s favorite or one’s least favorite track on the record, but it most certainly stands out and provides a good focal point for the album.

Crafteon is at its best when the music hits the listener like the proverbial wall of barely organized chaos, tied together with strong melodies yet never abandoning the intensity. While towards the end of the record, the aggression takes somewhat of a back seat to the atmospherics, the quality remains very consistent. The end result is a highly focused, interesting release bound to appeal to the cold dark hearts of the black metal audience, and with enough potential to interest fans of other genres of extreme metal music due to the intelligent use of melodies, memorable songs, and genuine atmosphere.

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This… is… Spinal Tap! I mean, Midgard.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Spinal Tap! Er… uh… I mean, Midgard!

What a weekend! I think I was given a first-hand feel for what it would have been like to be a member of Spinal Tap, minus an exploding drummer, plus one vanishing bass player. In addition to that, I got my first taste of an audio drama, played a great show with my band, and had quite a bit to consider as to the direction of this blog, and what I am trying to accomplish with it.

As a result, this week I will try a few different things to see what works and what does not. Stay tuned…

Ozzy Osbourne, Narrative Voice, and Vince Neil Fronting Slayer

For the last couple of days, I have been on a Black Sabbath kick – the old Ozzy years in particular. It is interesting to think that the music I am listening to now was written and recorded long before I was born, and yet still manages to sound powerful four decades later.

There is something to be said about Ozzy Osbourne’s singing. Even in the days when he was known for being the Prince of Darkness rather than a confused, incoherent reality TV character, he was never technically the greatest singer to ever grace the planet. If anything, his voice on its own might be an acquired taste, unique and instantly recognizable for sure, but hardly conventional.

But does it ever fit the music!

As an aspiring writer, this is an observation I took to heart. A story tends to require a specific voice that works right for it. It encompasses things like sentence structure, point of view, method of narration, narrative tense, and just about everything else one can think of. Dan Abnett’s “Know No Fear” works well precisely because it is written entirely in present tense, painting a picture of an unfolding disaster. The same narrative style would not have worked in most other books, just like Ozzy’s voice would have sounded a bit out of place fronting Queensryche or Metallica.

One of the hardest tasks in creating a story, at least for me, is to find the right kind of voice to tell it with. I have experimented with first person narration in “Samael”, third person in most of my other works, and a mix of two in “The Keys of Death”, in which one particular character’s pieces are told in first person. But it goes far beyond the mode of narrative, since each character must have a unique voice that makes him or her distinct from the others. Just like the best known singers are instantly recognizable, characters must feel right and different from one another with respect to their manner of speaking, consistency of actions, descriptions, and other defining characteristics.

The hard part is, therefore, deciding on those factors from the beginning, or letting them develop on their own.

Here, I must defer to my experience of singing in bands. I doubt that Tony Iommi and company set out with the knowledge that they had to have a singer sounding exactly like Ozzy Osbourne. Although Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were defined in part by the vocals of respectively Bruce Dickinson and Rob Halford, both bands had written their early material with other singers. While some bands such as Queen or Megadeth had specific vocalists incorporated into their sound from the very beginning, many others did not find the definite voice behind the microphone until later in their careers.

Characters and narrative voices are like singers. Some are decided upon before an author puts a single word to paper. Others just force their way into the story, ignoring all reservations and making the writer pay heed to their demands. In both cases, the challenge is to make them fit the story, to make the characters likeable (or despicable, if that is the goal), and to make the narrative voice flow just right.

After all, as fascinating as it would have been to listen to Vince Neil front Slayer, it just would not sound right.

Jobs and Writing (and Other Things)

Last Friday, my band had its comeback show, and, as these events wont to do, it brought up some material to reflect upon. Twelve years ago, I had started Midgard at the tender age of 19, hoping for a bona fide music career. At 31, I have found myself in a very different place – MBA, reasonably successful career, family. As much as I still love playing and writing music, it had become a side part of my life now, instead of its main focus.

From there, it was easy to make a connection with today’s topic: jobs, writing aspirations, and how the two can coexist.

Now, wait a second, you say. What does writing have to do with musical aspirations of a teenager and the reality of a thirty-something man realizing their folly? To me, the answer is expectations.

Let’s be honest here. Degrees in Business Administration and Finance don’t exactly prepare one for a writing career. And jobs in the investment industry are about as far from the glamorous life of a bohemian author as it gets. And then, there are all other things to keep in mind: bills, rent or mortgage payments, kids’ school and entertainment, you name it. In this day and age, it is almost a necessity for any aspiring author to have if not a true backup plan, then at least some reliable means to get by.

Of course, it is more appropriately “bohemian” to write down one’s observations on human nature while soaking in cheap alcohol in a smoke-filled café (or at least it was the case before such establishments became non-smoking here in Colorado). The literary world is full of stereotypes of brilliant, eccentric, and no doubt troubled authors that fit this bill perfectly. The problem is, what happens a decade or two later, when their lungs and livers begin to give out, the only career options available are questionable at best, and the field remains as crowded as ever with other writers who have the same idea.

Many well-known authors will say that luck plays a big part in who gets a big break and who does not, and it is hard to argue against that. There are big name writers out there with only middling writing skills, and there are many unpublished authors whose abilities and talents far surpass their more esteemed colleagues. Even the very successful authors had to persevere before a publisher took a chance on their works. And while skill and perseverance are largely dependent on the writer’s own efforts, luck is the element of chaos that makes or breaks careers.

This is why Plan B becomes of utmost importance. Unless a writer has reliable sources of financial support (such as scholarships, grants, supportive significant other, family, independent wealth – you name it), a solid career is a must.

There must be several stipulations to that, of course. One of the reasons I have brought up music earlier in this post is that the current level of my involvement with the band can be maintained without sacrificing my professional career, family, and writing endeavors. As music can be a very time- and money-intensive business, it is sensible to select a realistic level of involvement. The same goes to every other endeavor, including both writing and a career outside of it.

As such, discipline in writing is absolutely necessary. If the amount of time a writer has available is limited by other commitments, that time must be put to best use possible. Thus, an author must work around his or her full-time non-writing career while having sufficient time to write, and developing efficiency in writing.

The other stipulation to external career is that it must allow for sufficient time to pursue literary endeavors. While writing involves much hard work, a disciplined author will have an advantage, because he or she will be able to utilize time more efficiently. A less efficient author may be hampered by a career that requires high commitments of time and concentration, especially if he or she is unable to “switch gears” or get organized quickly enough in time available.

Finally, it is important that the more conventional career provides for the writer’s needs while he or she seeks that elusive big break. In my case, my career had allowed me to not only support my family, but also to release music, and to have most of the conveniences of modern life as needed. There are many blogs out there that provide more detailed financial advice to aspiring authors, but it suffices to say that smart money and resource management, combined with a solid non-writing career, can make a difference in quality of life and in one’s ability to eventually transition to writing full-time, if it ever becomes a realistic option.

Almost any writer dreams big. It would be patently false to claim that all I want is to see my name in print; while it would be a very desirable outcome, I would love to see the level of success enjoyed by some of the more prominent writers (J.K. Rowling and Stephen King, I am looking at you!). Someday, I would love to have an option where my income from writing is large enough to consider it as a full-time career, and the financial prospects from that career are at the very least comparable to my current means to make a living. But until the big break happens and it becomes an option (which I may or may not take at that stage – the inherent lack of stability in freelance work is an argument to keep the conventional career even after it is possible to abandon it), I see many more years in the office. And it is not a bad thing.

Writing Music

Music. We all have our preferences, favorite artists, genres, and what not. One would think it would be out of place on a writing blog, but it is a topic frequently addressed on message boards and in writers’ Q&A sessions. Specifically, what kind of music aids writing?

Before I continue, I should point out that I am an unashamed metalhead. I have been a fan of heavy metal in most of its forms since my teenage years, and have played in a number of bands ranging from quite melodic to fairly extreme. So for me, the answer to this question is pretty clear: I listen to metal when I write.

That said, I have seen many writers state that music containing lyrics is a distraction during the writing process. For that reason, some prefer movie soundtrack music, while others tend to listen to instrumental music in general. Some others may prefer silence as the means to concentrate on the topic at hand. The one impression I got was that many writers tend to focus on music that gets them into an appropriate frame of mind for the type of stories they are writing, and that does not distract them from accomplishing their writing goals.

But can the right kind of music elevate a writer’s proverbial game? Does it generate the creative flow that aids in getting the right feel for the story, for the characters, for the worlds they inhabit?

My personal answer is that it helps, but then, I also do not write for a living (although I would definitely like to write professionally sooner rather than later). While I am happy with the word counts I consistently achieve, I do my writing mainly during leisure time, and as such, the only deadlines I have are those I impose myself. Someone who has a looming deadline may dispense with the music and worry more about getting that chapter finished, completing the draft, or performing changes suggested by his or her editor.

If there was an easy question as to the kind of music that stimulates quality and quantity writing, the writers’ productivity and output would probably be impacted. I can imagine it now, a sudden spike in record sales due to aspiring and even professional writers loading their iPods or equivalents with the dulcet sounds of (insert artist or genre here). All contemplations aside, it does seem that the “writing music” is a tool in a writer’s arsenal more so than anything, indicating that it may not cover the breadth of the writer’s usual taste.

So how much of the “writing music” can make it into the stories? I can only bring up my own experiences, but in my case, there had been definite impact. No, I am not going to write a novel detailing the exploits of Judas Priest’s “Painkiller” character, or have a sudden urge to write an epic Tolkienish fantasy quadrilogy after a Rhapsody song comes up in my playlist. Just because my mood at the moment may lead me to older Carcass albums does not mean that I will strive to write in a particularly gruesome scene (well, Nickelback might have that effect, but for an entirely different reason). That said, the overall feel of stories is often impacted by what I listen to at the time, affecting the pacing, the mood, even some of the character interactions. And occasionally, I may even write in a small nod to my favorite artists, hopefully in a way that does not detract from the story, but provides a welcome “Easter egg” for the readers of similar taste in music.

I would be very interested to see what other writers may think on this topic.