The Execution Kollective: Mhorgl & Ruled by Reason

The Execution Kollective: I automatically think of Sadistik Exekution when I read that name, and by association, grimy satanic metal in general. Yet one of this young label’s two new releases is epic metalcore, with clean breakdowns and clean-cut Ohioan band members in regular dude costume. The other release is, in fact, chaotic Australian black/death, played by mean lookin’ hessians with Venom shirts and interesting belts.

To collate more points: TEK’s website places a manifesto of “utterly violent-sounding katharsis” and “community replaced by blood” atop an airy white layout, most notable features of which are prominent social networking and online merchandising banners. Their PR is handled by Metal Maniacs’ former in-house advocate for everything borderline, from Dawnbringer to Watchmaker to Fields of the Nephilim. Now, we could dismiss the label’s eclecticism as an example of the same bottom line that shaped scattershot Century Media and Metal Blade rosters during the ’90s. But I’d rather follow the cues and entertain the possibility that there’s something substantive to The Execution Kollective’s community-annulling manifesto. Let’s see how far we can go…

— Matt Altieri

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Mhorgl – Antinomian
Ruled by Reason – The Dawning of Dystopia

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Mhorgl: Interesting belts

Mhorgl play a turbocharged hybrid of black, death, and thrash metal. It’s brainy like StarGazer but more geared towards violence and disharmony. It gets doomedly wretched like Misery’s Omen, and resembles Grenade when galloping. At times, the band veers into fluttery mellow parts that recall Dissection’s “Where Dead Angels Lie” scrambled with a head injury. They cover “Mr. Crowley” and perform a coked-up Darkthrone medley with the riff from “The Claws of Time” in it, causing me to punch the kitchen counter with joy. I am extremely predisposed to like Mhorgl.

On the other hand, the first thing I heard upon visiting Ruled by Reason’s MySpace was a bass drop and a metalcore “whoaaarggh!” I had to laugh at the inappropriateness of a guy with my taste in belts diligently listening to a band like this, but their sophistication quickly caught my ear. On one level, there’s the way their acrobatic riffs impose order-via-melody over big swaths of the fretboard. And on a longer timeframe, there’s the feeling of continuous movement linking the disparate pieces of their songs. Whereas a band like All Shall Perish play ornate melodies but rarely change key or mode, Ruled by Reason will walk a pattern through a series of surprising changes until arriving at the next big riff. Their use of complex harmony and modulation reminds me of The Fucking Champs with more emotional investment, their mosh almost gallantly knuckle-dragging.

Ruled by Reason’s bio describes their songs as “through-composed”, meaning non-repetitive. It is a relative term, and most of the songs on The Dawning of Dystopia feature at least one or two repeating sections. What’s interesting is the band’s pointed use of this vocabulary, with its dry yet vigorously musical connotations. Mhorgl’s bio refers more generally to “unusual song structure”. They use recurring themes, but some of their music could also be discussed in terms of through-composition. Bottom line, both bands derive their creative values from ensemble playing. They conflate chops and songwriting in the group effort to animate metal: collective exekution.

On the downside, this M.O. is only a few degrees removed from the “million riffs glued together” approach. Sometimes it’s like the musicians are having a conversation that doesn’t include the listener, resulting in songs that fail to make melodic/emotional sense. It doesn’t help that both vocalists are skilled but uncommunicative; the only words sung with presence on either album were written by Ozzy 30 years ago.

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Ruled by Reason: Uninteresting belts

Uncommunicativeness is an issue I have with these bands. They’re easy to pigeonhole because they seem comfortable not standing out for any reason other than their instrumental music. Genre-based identity for them is a convenient vehicle, not something to be bucked, embraced, or troubled about. Unfortunately, identity and what’s unheard is at least half the fun in metal, which has always been more about cool imagery and sublime/ridiculous catchphrases than music school terms like “through-composed”. So both bands deliver half-ass band names, forgettable album covers (Mhorgl, Ruled by Reason), and song titles like “Essence of Evil” and “Within These Memories” (OK, “Subterranean Assault Beast” and “Dr. Jekyll Sleeps Alone Tonight” are kinda zesty). It’s ironic that a sincere focus on unconventional-yet-disciplined music can result in a superficial presentation practically designed for immediate dismissal.

However, the fusion of composition and instrumentation into one full-band activity is exciting enough with this much skill and creative energy behind it, and it carries over into Antinomian and The Dawn of Dystopia’s similar production values. These are idealized “band in a room” scenarios, with clearly defined spaces for each instrument, plausible amounts of reverb, and best of all, realistic portrayals of the kick-ass dueling guitars that have kept both albums on my playlist for weeks. Each axeman is assigned a speaker, alternately diverging from and joining his partner on thrashy riffs, high-register Voivodian textures, sustained power chords, and blazing lead melodies. Other than solos, there are barely any overdubs to speak of. Sometimes these guys even take a solo right in the rhythm track. Shades of Live Undead! The distance between the guitars creates air flow, loosening things up while drawing attention to remarkable individual performances. It’s a refreshing contrast to the unreality of many modern productions, where a claustrophobic buildup of layers is the default method for representing dynamic guitar techniques.

Well, I guess there’s some multitracking. A cinematic keyboard intro, too, in Ruled by Reason’s case. And the kick drums on both albums, while highly effective, sound digitally enhanced. But hey, these guys aren’t purists! Purity’s for wimps.

Matt Altieri
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