Apr 172013

In September 2012 we published what I think was the first review of Called To Rise, the debut album by Bay Area death metal heavyweights Oblivion. It was so early that the album hadn’t yet been released, so early that no release date had even been set. Since then, of course, the album has debuted, and Oblivion have earned themselves quite a following. One of the things the band have had going for them since the beginning was a lot of instrumental talent, plus the significant songwriting contributions of a guy (vocalist/bassist Nick Vasallo) who happens to be an accomplished classical composer.

Vasallo’s classical training and interests shine through in different ways on Called To Rise, but most clearly on the song “Canon 1 in E Minor”. As Vasallo has explained, the song was “a conscious effort to bridge the worlds of Metal and Classical music”:

“A canon is a compositional technique that requires strict repetition in all musical voices. This is also an example of triple counterpoint–a very old contrapuntal device that is rarely (if ever) used in modern popular music, especially anything branching from rock and roll. There are essentially three different lines: the middle guitar (Alto) begins, then the high guitar (Soprano) answers, and finally the low guitar and bass enter (Tenor and Bass). All voices play the same line in 3 different positions so that the melody exists as the top voice, middle voice, and bottom voice. The trick is getting all the voices to work melodically, harmonically, and functionally.”

Today Oblivion released a music video for this song, with the three guitar parts performed by Vasallo, Ted O’Neill, and Victor Dods and the bass part played by Ben Orum. And what’s extra cool is that the performance was staged as you would expect to see if the piece had been performed by a chamber music ensemble. Continue reading »

Aug 302012

(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? Continue reading »