(In this post TheMadIsraeli brings us a fascinating change of pace, with a review of classical music composed by Nick Vasallo.)
Today we aren’t reviewing a metal album. Today we’re reviewing a classical album. We at NCS are classy men anyhow, so why not?
Though in all seriousness, classical music has been (dare I say it) the foundation of metal (not rock) as we know it. Yes, there is no doubt that Blues was as integral to metal’s development, but I think classical is an even bigger part of the equation. You can take even brutal tech-death like Cryptopsy or Suffocation and find a way to draw parallels with baroque, classical, or even romantic-era music. This shit flows through the veins of the most brutal of music, so in my mind it actually seems entirely relevant that this kind of music should be reviewed here.
Of course, I didn’t just go and pick something out of the blue; this album is even more related to metal than most of its genre. Why? Because the Vasallo in question is Nick Vasallo — one-third of up-and-coming tech-deathers Oblivion (whose three-song demo I reviewed in February — it fucking owned). I was quite surprised to find out that he’s a classical composer and that this is actually his musical forté (maybe even over metal?), although it’s quite obvious in his work that he tries to incorporate his love of metal into this niche, as well as both Western and Asian classical music.
This creates an interesting dynamic. Usually we humans take the old, the established, and try to find ways to keep them fresh, yet grounded in convention. Vasallo does the opposite, taking a tried and true ancient form of music that brought us some of the greatest masterpieces ever written and breathing new life into it by reversing the roles, where the orchestral instrumentation is made a student of the metal. I realize that sentence sounds garbled as fuck, it may not even make much sense, but it’s the best I can do at the moment.
So, in essence, what does metal have to bring to this table? I suppose it should be noted that in my dialogues with Vasallo, death metal seems to really be his thing. So, to rephrase the question, what does death metal offer? What does it capture that’s relevant to these compositions?
Death metal has had the capacity to be melodic, yet what it can capture are terror, pain, fear, and agony. These are the moods that Vasallo channels with his album Monuments Emerg ,when he’s not dabbling in moments of sheer melancholy (which usually occur within the piano-based pieces). Vasallo likes violence, speed, and a sense of dread. While such qualities have been captured in this kind of music before, his incorporation of metal has brought in a heavier, more intense sense of these feelings and cadences. Even when he engages in softer dynamics, there is definitely still a sense of absolute dread that creates tension despite the music’s reserved nature. The moments when he brings in a heavy crash of violence, however, are pretty profound and shriek at the listener like souls of the undead crying as they mourn in the river Styx.
I’m not quite sure how to describe Monuments Emerge beyond that as, truthfully, I’m still trying to analyze it. Because of its particular direction, the album leaves me in a strange mood. I enjoy this mood, however, as Vasallo is one of the few modern composers I’ve heard who really seems to have his own voice and isn’t stuck in the trap of minimalism that so many modern composers have been in lately (don’t get me wrong, I love minimalism, but so few do it well).
I am definitely intrigued about what Oblivion will deliver when they unleash their full-length debut (coming up here in a month or two), as Vasallo’s classical sensibilities will be applied together with Ted O’Niell’s horde gutting brutality. In the meantime, enjoy a little change-up from the typical NCS fare. I’ll post some stuff from this album below, but also a new piece (“Shred”) that he wrote recently.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Monuments Emerge was released in April 2012 by Innova Recordings, and it can be ordered at this site, which contains a lot more information about the album, including a list of the many performers who contributed their talents. Nick Vassalo’s Facebook page is here.
Thanks for pointing to ‘Explosions in the Sky’; these marvellous piano pieces just smashing one’s brain with undeniably brilliant melodies and gifted composition are among my favourite parts of classical music.
Some of this reminds me of Arvo Pärt and Olivier Messiaen.
I really like the visual representation of the piano music in the 3rd video. It’s like a new form of musical notation.
I’m a big fan of contemporary music, and even though I found these pieces to be wacky compositions of modern classical minimalism, I found myself enjoying them. Three different pieces, one bent on destructive percussion, the second built on horns alone, and the third some crazy piano.
Interesting . . .