Music

Splitsville: What Makes a Truly Great Metal Split?

Artwork by Converge frontman Jacob Bannon.

The domain of the heavy metal full-length is a thunderously powerful realm, but so too is the sphere of its more compendious cousin, the split release. This month's Ragnarök investigates five recent releases, exploring the whys and wherefores of what makes a truly great metal split.

Adversarial/Antediluvian

That powerful collaborative fusion, where the result is greater than the sum of its parts, has made for many a great split release. This year’s Initiated in Impiety as Mysteries LP, from bestial Canadian death metal groups Adversarial and Antediluvian, is one of the best examples of the dark energies of two bands coming together to sculpt a singular work of thematic and musical prowess.

Both bands take a side each of the 12-inch to explore different representations of monstrosity. Side 'Leviathan', features three new tracks from Adversarial. Unlike the band's '10 debut, All Idols Fall before the Hammer, which suffered from a fairly jarring production, here the band delivers the songs with the thickness and solidity they deserve. Dissonant and muddy, but not murky enough to obscure the technicality, this is the band’s strongest set of tunes so far.

Antediluvian tackling the 'Lucifer' side of the LP couldn't be more apt. The band's '11 full length, Through the Cervix of Hawaah, was one of the year’s best--an eerie purge of abhorrent death metal and sacrilegious blackened noise. On Initiated in Impiety as Mysteries Antediluvian's three tracks continue the band's esoteric and arcane examinations. They combine distorting, filthy riffs with guttural spews and discordant dirges--transforming frostier black metal bursts into swampy, suffocating noise.

Adversarial bring the obliteration, Antediluvian bring the corruption, and where they meet the resulting desecrations are oppressively atmospheric and seamlessly dark. Splits such as these are rare, but it says much about both bands that they’re willing to work together for the greater evil. This release is a consummate amalgamation of all that is devilish and remorseless about metal.


Cara Neir/Ramlord

A split release that draws attention to the commonalties of the groups involved, be they thematic or musical, often makes for a magnificent brew. But a split that contrasts bands can be just as successful as one that compares--underscoring the attraction of particular sonic articulations and highlighting each artist's abilities. Case in point: the recent split from experimental black metal duo Cara Neir and crusty stenchcore trio Ramlord. Available on digital download and limited edition cassette from label Broken Limbs Recordings.

Much like Gilead Media, Broken Limbs Recordings has steadfastly maximized the potential of the digital realm via a fantastic Bandcamp page. It has also invested heavily in providing aesthetically and artistically challenging physical releases. Mandatory purchases from the label are Avulse's I Am the Liquor and We Are Code, a stunning self-titled debut EP from Vattnet Viskar, and the recent Cara Neir/Ramlord split, which features two bands with markedly different accents to great effect.

Cara Neir is an experimental black metal band, though post-metal, sludge and punk also play a role in its sound--the prospect of being restricted by genre parameters is clearly abhorrent to this outfit. Stagnant Perceptions, the band's '11 album, was widely acclaimed. Its contributions to the new split, three raw and blazing tremolo onslaughts, are equally as good as anything from their previous full-length. Chaotic and frenzied, yet unafraid to amplify the despair with cleaner, more isolated passages, the injection of mystifying melodies takes nothing away from the vicious lo-fi screeds.

That same raw energy continues with Ramlord's track. The 10-minute "Affliction of Clairvoyance (Part One)" draws in doom, sludge and crust punk, and smears it across the track with no thought for seclusion or shelter. As on Ramlord's '11 crusty full-length, Stench of Fallacy, the band deals in harrowing, unrefined brawls. Feedback-soaked punk, hardcore and crust are melded to a chugging metallic tempo on the epic song they contribute to the split.

Both bands gaze upon the heart in which punk and metal meet, yet each looks from a vastly different perspective; Cara Neir from the tundra where its forbears roamed, Ramlord from the sweltering heat of a million punk bands playing a million squat shows. Each band is distinctive, but as the offspring of such raucous progenitors they show the best attributes of metal and punk: willfulness, and a staunch desire to disobey.


Converge/Napalm Death

Split releases were born from the world of the 7-inch, and today you'll still find an abundance of searing tirades satisfying fans and vinyl aficionados. Top of the pile of recent 7-inches, certainly in terms of anticipated works, is the new Converge/Napalm Death release. At a succinct 7.37 minutes long, you'll not get much briefer, or fierier.

A split from Converge, US metal and hardcore legend, and Napalm Death, British grindcore pioneer, is a match made in heaven. The result is fittingly obstreperous and brutal (with beautifully dour artwork from Converge frontman Jacob Bannon). Converge's personal narratives are explored on "No Light Escapes". A cacophonous and bruising 52-second deluge, the song is set to be included on the band's upcoming new full-length, All We Love We Leave Behind. Also included on the split is a cover of Entombed's classic, "Wolverine Blues", delivered in a "We are the World" fashion with guests Tomas Lindberg (Disfear, At the Gates), Aaron Turner (Isis, Old Man Gloom) and others joining the shout-along blitz.

Side B, or track three if you've gone for the digital download, features Napalm Death doing what they do best with "Will By Mouth" and "No Impediment to Triumph (Bhopal)". The latter directly engages the horrors of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, with vocalist Barney Greenway's vicious expectorations firing though the dissonance, and the former is 86 seconds of perfectly battering grindcore. A fine follow-up to the band’s outstanding '12 album, Utilitarian.

Both bands are famed for thoughtful commentaries and each has released a raft of splits before. What makes this one of '12's very best? It's simply 7.37 minutes of two legendary bands firing off strident broadsides. There's nothing complicated about it at all; it's the extremely brief summation of a metal fan’s dream. And often that's all it takes for a split to work: the concise fulfillment of wishes (no matter how dark, nightmarish or fiendish they may be).


Death and Taxes (and Splits)

The wealth of artistic effort that goes in to creating musically and visually impressive splits ensures they will always have a ready audience--be that from dedicated collectors, or fans lucky enough to uncover a particular treasure. The proliferation of easily downloadable music has reduced the obscurity of many splits, and made sourcing them infinitely easier, at least in digital form. Whether that’s positive or negative is debatable, but it has certainly increased the overall allure of splits.

The split release remains one of metal's most enticing mediums, for good reason. Whether coalescing the similarities of bands, or providing a forum to explore common themes, the benefits of a split are many. From a creative viewpoint, splits represent the compact encapsulation of the very best attributes of metal. Crucially, they serve as a lure--encouraging fans to dig deeper, discover more bands, and indulge in ever more steely hedonism.

New splits arrive in abundance every month, and there's no room to cover them all here, much as I'd love to. Recent splits from the likes of Coffinworm/Fistula, Grave Upheaval/Manticore, and Wheels Within Wheels/Merkaba might all deserve a mention, but they form just a part of an increasingly long list that has added girth to metal's prodigious proportions over the years. And therein lie the real rewards of a great split: the obvious sonic satisfaction, and the pure joy of discovery.

Metalheads are already some of the biggest collectors of vinyl, tapes and merchandise, and digging around in the underground for a damn good split is ceaseless fun. Such pursuits usually prove to be financially ruinous in the end, but hell, you can't take it with you, and you might as well fill the time before your demise with as much furious noise as possible.

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