What thrived and what died from the 1990s (Part I)

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While the new last.fm redesign seems to me another exercise in pointless self-justification by middle management, the ability to see statistics on my listening has entirely changed how I view the music held closest to my heart. Seeing the numbers has shown me how it is one thing to list a band as a favorite or recommendation, and one far different animal to listen to it on a monthly basis. One is assessment alone, as if listening were your sole task, and the other utility, showing that this piece of music has a place in your life of many tasks and goals.

This assessment filters among the upper level of the highest echelon of metal. The assessment itself filters out the nonsense, all of which suffers from a single sin — disorganization — which takes many different forms but reveals a lack of will, purpose and principle in constructing art and always red-flags a directionless listen. But among those bands who have escaped the madness, there is no equality in listening. Some have risen and some have fallen over 20 years of pounding out metal from my speakers as I work or relax at home. In most cases, the reaction was first shock and then realization that the seeds of this knowledge were there all along. Let us look at a few pairs where listening habits elevated one album over a similar one…

Blasphemy Fallen Angel of Doom vs. Blood Impulse to Destroy

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Over the years metal has frequently benefited from punk influences because metal, as befits its partially progressive rock heritage, has a tendency to create layers of abstraction and complex musical discourse where punk cuts to the chase. This is both a strength and weakness for each genre; metal is abstract, which makes imitators very obvious but can get lost in muddle-headed musical wanderings, and punk is concrete, which makes it effective but imitation easy. Blasphemy introduced a punk-based genre, grindcore, into black metal. It adopted the aesthetic approach of Sarcofago but underneath applied the percussive lower-five-frets texture musik of grindcore. The result is very effective, and easy to listen to, but also — if you have many other options — kind of boring. In fact, many of these riff patterns are the same ones, albeit simplified, that speed metal bands tried and failed to use to revitalize that genre. As raw motivational material, the music is fantastic, but over time, it fades a bit as one realizes that its strength as low-complexity high impact music also means that its content is one-dimensional. Over the past 20 years, I have thrown this record on five times and apparently terminated it early each time.

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I chose Impulse to Destroy because Germany’s Blood also occupies the narrow space of grindcore bands who think like black metal or death metal bands. Grindcore generally self-reduces to extreme minimums and must, like junk food, reintroduce sugar and salt at the surface to spice up the otherwise one-dimensional utilitarian approach. Death metal on the other hand is not utilitarian, while it is consequentialist (“only death is real” being the ultimate statement of that belief) and yet also has a highly aesthetically-motivated but not aesthetically-expressed transcendental outlook. At its best, grindcore overcomes its utilitarian tendencies for a ludic or playful view of the collapsing world, and from that some of the best material emerges. Blood for example creates a dark and morbid absurdism which brings to light all that our society suppresses with itself, and like Blasphemy, creates it through patterning cut from the chromatic strips of the lower registers of guitar. In this case, however, the textures take on a life of their own, like a three-dimensional house made from flat punch-out cards. Different riffs interact with one another and dramatic pauses and collisions give rise to interesting song structures. Like Disharmonic Orchestra Expositions Prophylaxe, Impulse to Destroy provides a wealth of riff archetypes applied with enough personality and purpose to create unique compositions which may be enjoyed for decades or longer despite their simplicity.

Napalm Death Scum vs. Carbonized For the Security

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This is one of those albums that most people get for the sake of novelty. “But check these guys out, they’ve got one second songs and stuff, it’s just about noise…” — rock music does not get more ironic than that. And ultimately, that was the power of grindcore. Like punk a decade before, it removed all the pretense of rock and boiled it down to simple songs. It then sometimes added in new flourishes of song structure which made those songs more interesting than radio pop, which had been studied by MBAs and PhDs and reduced to a simple formula distinguished only (barely) by rhythm, production, instrumentation and vocals. But once the money men and white lab coats were able to look at rock as a product like any other, they saw that to please enough people in the audience to make it a hit, they did not have to innovate at all. They only needed a new skin for the same basic patterns and they could produce it over and over again with high margins (well, until digital piracy hit). Like the punk rock and then hardcore punk, grindcore stripped away illusion and replaced it with innovation. The problem here is that these songs are very similar themselves because they rely on dramatic confrontation within each song, which like all things “turned up to 11” becomes expected and thus a sort of background noise. Every time I have listened to this album it has made itself into sonic wallpaper before the halfway point.

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Some of the albums which were considered “also-rans” back in the 1990s had more to them than people initially considered. This one has been a favorite for me, along with the second album from Carbonized but not the third, for two decades. I listen to it regularly, finish the whole thing, and sometimes start it over. Record labels tried to shoehorn Carbonized into the “death metal” model despite some clear warning signs, and consequently bungled — the root of all evils is incompetence at some level, starting with the ability to be honest — the career of this promising band, but for those of us who lumped this in with aggressive grindcore like Terrorizer and Repulsion, the similarities outweighed the differences. For the Security expresses paranoia, existential insecurity, melancholic doubt of the future and a desire to explore all that life offers in depth, all within and as part of the same outlook. This is the music of a brighter-than-average teenager who perceives the world honestly and rejects the foolishness but wants to look deeper into the interesting stuff that, because it does not affirm the dominant lie, is rejected by the herd. Chunky riffs alternate with broader rhythms derived from punk and yet are dominated by a desire to make song structure vary with content inherited through metal from progressive rock. Each song forms a sonic sigil to the topic at hand and the response of the artist, making each bursting with personality and reality portrayed in finely-observed ways at the same time. This is a masterful album which will never bore.

Roundup

As you can see, Dear Reader, these albums are both quite similar on the surface — and quite different underneath. That bands can do so much with a handful of power chords, and have such different outcomes, is endlessly fascinating. Yet not every metal-influenced album is, even among A-listers like these. It may be time for all of us to go back through our listening, search ourselves honestly, and see what has actually stood the test of time.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 01-06-14

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The music fan possesses limited resources to achieve the goal of an enjoyable listening experience: time, money and energy. Reviewers tend to write about how cool everything is, but they should be writing about how mediocre most albums are so they can focus on the few that can be enjoyed for the next few years at least. It is hard to be cruel, but it is kinder than kindness. With that I introduce our latest round of Sadistic Metal Reviews

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Villainy – Villainy I

This enjoyable little romp reminds the death metal listener of later Sentenced crossed with the Venom-worship of Nifelheim and other bands who, in the old school days, were simply referred to as Venom tributes. Heavy metal genre riffing, combining the best tropes of the late 1970s and early 1980s, meets a harsh Cronos-styled vocal and updated technique. Nothing sloppy here; the band are tight and the arrangements show no spurious detail. However, despite the somewhat harsh vocals, like Venom this is NWOBHM and 1970s heavy metal revivalism without any particular relevance beyond that era. It skips speed metal textures for a death/black metal styled fast strum and continuous drumming as if taking notes from Merciless, and injects melody, but mostly stays within verse-chorus with introductory and transitional riffs different. The riff forms will be familiar to fans of heavy metal from that era. Lead guitar strikes a pentatonic blitz that is both enjoyable and very much within form. Unlike Merciless however this album focuses on writing hard rocking tunes and does not develop an evolving mood or atmosphere beneath.

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Tenebrous – Arias Toward the Black Sun

Underground metal needs a new trope for a certain type of composition which appears frequently among our ranks. I dub this “80s situational comedy” after the movies where a character makes a bad decision, then to hide it chooses another bad option, then deceives and conceals in a string of events leading to absurdity and eventual plot collapse. Sitcom metal occurs when a band finds a riff they like and write other riffs to fit that riff without having an awareness of what the riff communicates emotionally to the listener, thus what the song is actually about, and so you end up with a cool riff and reactions to that riff which are designed to put it into context but ultimately have the opposite effect. Tenebrous fits this pattern through its work in a style that combines a whole lot of Graveland with some of the more aggressive strains of black metal. They have mastered the basic flowing riff, but not building a song around it, only building a song commenting on it. This is underscored by the cover of “Unpunished Herd” which ends the album and makes the rest of it look incoherent in contrast.

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Pagan Flames – Symbol de Vie et Lumiere

This atmospheric black metal band combines Burzum-styled lead folk melodies over sweeping guitar riffs. Its strength is its melodic composition; its weaknesses are its vocals, which focus on rhythms that are too obvious and thus trite, and its tendency to try to work slamming full-stop and bounce rhythms into what should be a more continuous architecture. Barring those two disadvantages, Symbol de Vie et Lumiere presents black metal that unlike most recent efforts tries for the ancient, melancholic and epic warlike sound that made this genre popular before idiots invaded with thinly-disguised rock music to keep the mouth-breathers occupied. Many of these songs verge on being folk music itself and like the Darkthrone sidepoject Storm, feature trudging rhythms over which pagan lyrics are chanted to volkisch-reminiscent melodies. The fractured aesthetic presented by the overly busy vocals and tendency toward self-interruption with choppier rhythms narrowly keeps this album from being top tier but it distinguishes itself on its essence — attempting to write actual music through melody — from the formless legions of tryhards, shoegazers and hard rockers trying to use black metal as a vehicle for their own failed prior attempts at other genres.

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Skrømt – Sjelebrann

Not since Disharmonic Orchestra Not to be Undimensional Conscious has a hybrid of this variety yet which retained its ability to express itself been cast among the metal minions. Skrømt combine alternative metal, post-metal, rough punk and older black metal influences (Ancient, Enslaved) into a form which keeps the catchy songwriting of indie rock bands but fleshes it out with a rich backdrop of shifting harmonic texture and, like metal, combines multiple riffs into chains to create a moveable part of a narrative. For the most part, songs stick to verse-chorus as augmented by background material and sometimes with a second instrumental chorus to expand upon the first loop. Like alternative metal, songs guide themselves through the vocals and the presentation of lyrics in a combination of shouted, sung and harsh vocals. Where this goes wrong is that rock and metal do not mix on an aesthetic and thus artistic level, and so the end result is rock gilded with metal riffs which are quickly absorbed, and some of the best work of this album exists in the shadow of the alternative rock tropes that it stands far superior to. This is unfortunate as clearly many good ideas and musical insights went into this album. Most inspiring in this release is the technical work applied to making the various riffs and styles fit together. It is rare for a band to understand how to connect different emotions together without following a blatant formula, but Skrømt stitches together multiple moods and styles into a coherent whole on a musical level, even if making it work on an aesthetic level seems difficult.

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Church of the Dead – Vol. 4 – Meet Me in the Tomb

The term “cultural appropriation” seems trendy these days but few realize what it means. Blatant theft of the cultural methods of another group is too easily detected, so people appropriate those cultural methods by translating them into a form that most will not recognize. In this case, while Church of the Dead clearly uses death metal riffs and death metal vocals, its vocal rhythms are influenced by rap and its riff rhythms are closer to Motown than standard issue death metal. Thus while this disc shows some musical promise, it remains a confused aberration that wants to be in one genre but keeps itself in another, losing the spirit and atmosphere of that genre. Each piece tends to feature both Cannibal Corpse style trope cadence rhythm vocals and sing-song jingle-style vocals, making these hard to listen to without a wincing cringe, but also internalizes groove to the point where riffs take a basis in Morbid Angel and Malevolent Creation and become closer to Pantera. As a result, despite the many positives for this album, the overall negative is that its overall presentation is bouncy, poppy, and very much “rock” and not metal in form.

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Deep Wound – Deep Wound EP

At some level all hardcore punk approximates the same thing because the genre solidified certain tropes and combined with the mathematical limitations on complexity, these defined the variety of punk songs. Deep Wound creates songs that sound either like Black Flag without the dissonance, or early Corrosion of Conformity without so many pauses. The vocals strikes a jaunty and sarcastic pause when they are not in full blur mode. As far as thrash goes, this is closer to the punk side like the first DRI LP, and its riffs are less metal than hardcore in minor key, but it beats the recent “crossover thrash” rebranding that verges too much on speed metal territory and becomes either tame or inanely jingle-y as a result. The hardcore spirit lives faithfully in this music but because of the vast similarity of hardcore, it also does not stand out in any particular way — riffs are not radically different, nor song forms, nor even vocals — so qualifies as a fun listen but not as definitive as the albums from DRI, Cryptic Slaughter and COC that defined thrash as a genre. However, this stands head and shoulders above the “party thrash” of recent years and by coming at the genre from the hardcore side, brings in an energetic simplicity that metal riffs make too complex to self-sustain.

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Nidsang – Into the World of Dissolving Flames

  • Basic black metal combined with Angelcorpse-style aggression, but leaning on the latter for songwriting. As a result, not much atmosphere but plentiful aggression. Melodic riffing adds some depth but consistent song form and intensity rob this album of much enduring power.

Aborted – The Necrotic Manifesto

  • Aborted took their high-intensity low-complexity grind and gave it the modern metal (a/k/a deathcore) treatment which made it more chaotic. The more elements you add, the more internal complexity (melody, structure, theme) you must have or you reduce your core complexity to nothing, which is what happens here. Catchy chorus + two grinding riffs + hard rock influences.

Abysmal Dawn – Obsolescence

  • Workable death metal with heavy metal influences in abundant lead soloing, melodic riffing and catchy choruses. Very paint-by-numbers however with not much of an intent to put anything into a song but energy and internal cohesion. Good riffs give it strength but do not make it compelling; modern-metal-style chanted choruses ahead of the riff also increase frustration.

Cemetery Fog – Towards the Gates

  • This attempt at Paradise Lost-styled doom metal is both well-composed and artistically relevant, but highly cheesy from the use of melodies that directly gratify pop instincts to the occasional female vocals which aesthetically create the type of cheese that Motley Crue could only dream of. Songs are well-written and express a unique form and content for each, even though they drone on through a series of heavy metal riffs slowed down and are united by a melodic lead shadowed by vocals. While not bad, this makes the album as a whole somewhat sentimental in the sort of obvious Thomas Kinkade calendar way that drives away people like me, but it would be remiss to not notice the quality of songwriting here.

Abigor – Leytmotif Lucifer

  • Black metal needs to stay black metal. Abigor try to work in late Gorgoroth through early Deathspell Omega influences and it makes their already spotty music more spotty. Some good melodies, no continuity, too much style.

Aevangelist – Writhes in the Murk

  • Imagine Teitanblood with melodic riffing and slowed down to fast mid-paced death metal. The one cool effect here is the use of abrupt transitions to create a theatrical effect, but the lack of underlying riff and song consistency makes even this seem hollow.

Bethlehem – Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia

  • Most will notice the creeping Rammstein influence: clean vocals, more dance-able beats, more pronounced use of German lyrics. However, a good deal of this sounds like recent Absurd as well with more of a folk influence creeping in and while the rhythms are more popular music friendly, they are far from industrial, and what appears instead more resembles NWOBHM with more groove than the quasi-modernist sound of Rammstein. Otherwise, the riff wizardry remains but is muted, with more emphasis on vocals and repetitive choruses, but generally these songs fit together well musically and develop an internal melodic sense that produces a multifacted atmosphere.

Agatus – Dawn of Martyrdom (re-issue)

  • Sort of like a cross between Legion of Doom and old Rotting Christ, Agatus uses the full punk style of even strumming speed creating droning riffs. These are pleasurable in themselves, and fit together well in songs, but they are both too obvious as melodies/phrases and too similar as rhythm riffs to make this work. In addition, many of the melodic choices here are simply rudimentary crossing into bad. This could have been an epic album if a more critical eye had been applied during composition.

Acheron – Kultes des Hasses

  • The challenge to Acheron has always been to overcome their cadenced rhythm that comes to a full stop in perfect symmetry, sounding a bit like a child’s song. On this latest album they work up the usual assortment of great riffs in bad rhythm and occasional disorganized order.

Baphometh – In the Beginning

  • Essentially speed metal with plenty of repetition, catchy choruses and circular song structure, this band nonetheless adopts death metal vocals. However, it is better for fans of B-rated Metallica and Exodus clones than anything newer. While none of this is incompetent, songs have no center around any kind of conflict, so the general mode is repetition and circularity.

Authorize – The Source of Dominion

  • Thudding, predictable, circular and confused, Authorize are Swedish death metal in the style of Suffer but with none of what holds songs together or makes them anything but basic guitar practice. Lead guitars totally incongruous, other elements equally out of place. Should have stayed unreleased.

Aurora Borealis – Worldshaper

  • The melodic death metal band works Absu-style jaunty vocals into the mix, but they take over composition too much. Riffs follow the vocal lead which dominants rhythm and creates a kind of circus atmosphere with the MC describing each act and then the trained bears of the riffs, clowns of the background vocals and highwire dancers of guitars take over. Sounds a lot like Warfather but more melody.

Phlebotomized – Immense Intense Surprise & Skycontact

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People forget that the 90s were among other things a pervasively trivial time, which was one of the things that death metal was rebelling against. We finally got over the terror of the Republican 1980s, and the ex-hippies took over and that meant we were due for some good times. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure satirizes this best with its view of adult society in Southern California as completely oblivious, obsessed with the inconsequential and generally wrapped up in itself without any purpose or direction to life beyond consumer glory.

Immense Intense Surprise reveals this mentality of triviality, which is the concept that you can take something very ordinary and cover it with shiny objects and unique, ironic and different (UID) adornments and somehow it will be transformed into a revolutionary idea. This is not so: the underlying idea remains in control. In the case of Immense Intense Surprise the underlying idea is that same alternative rock that everyone else was pimping back then, but they have dressed it up as bouncy technical death metal of the Afflicted school, meaning that you will not find any epic or amazing melodies or song constructions here, only technical tricks on guitar and keyboard.

To keep us distracted, Phlebotomized constantly change layers of vocals, synths, drums and lead guitar that sounds almost plasticine in its tendency toward “chaotically” repeated similar structures. And underneath? Quite a few hard rock and classic heavy metal riffs reborn, some influences from 70s rock, and a bit of death metal that as with all ill-conceived hybrids, builds itself around the vocals. Notice also the novelty song structures. This release distracts from a missing core with a surface level of weird, much like so many people distract from their absence of soul with “interesting” personalities.

Not all of Immense Intense Surprise & Skycontact — a combination release of two late 1990s albums — is bad. Much of this material shows insight in songwriting and an ability to craft a good tune. Phlebotomized interrupt themselves on the way to a good song by instead of finding a voice for their many influences, trotting them out in serial fashion, creating the kind of “variety plate” music that fails to endure over time. Think, people: there is a reason these albums went out of print in the first place after haunting the sale bins of used record stores across the world. Surface-based music does not endure. They were not alone in their quest for experimentation. Bands like Disharmonic Orchestra, Supuration and Mordred were each trying to re-invent death metal by mixing in influences from previous genres. The problem with such a conflicted approach is that it destroys the voice of the genre which had achieved clarity, and replace it with the usual modern grab-bag of options unrelated to a purpose.

Phlebotomized put out an earlier album, Preach Eternal Gospels, which spent quite a bit of time in my CD player during the 90s because it was good, solid B-level boxy death metal. Bands at that level either accepted second-tier status and moved on, or became consumed with the desire to be the next Dismember or Morbid Angel and so embarked on a path of accessorizing their music to make it stand out. Their only real problem was that the mainstream rock discovered that tactic long before they did, and they were better at it.

5 thrash albums that you must hear

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Image from Thrasher Magazine.

Thrasher music deserves its own category. It spans three genres and gave its name to one. It also plays by entirely distinct rules that place it in both metal and punk camps, but not exclusively in either. Despite the attempts of both genres to claim it, it has weaseled free by refusing to fully adopt the conventions of either. It’s too punk for punk and too metal to be metal, but it lives on to this day through those who want a different path.

Hop on your board and skate back into 1985. Heart of the Reagan years, themselves a recovery period from the turbulent 1960s and somewhat crass and vapid 1970s. The suburbs had finally outpaced the city as everyone who could escape fled, which left millions of teenagers stranded in planned communities that were essentially marooned on anonymous patches of land connected by freeways. Divorce and latch-key kids were at epidemic height and most people barely had anything to call a family. To make things worse, Soviet missiles threatened the homeland and spread a kind of daily paranoia that people both accepted and in their quietest moments, feared to confront. No one knew if tomorrow would even come and if it did, whether it would be worth it.

Kids did what just about anyone would do: get out of the house, escape the conformist collective-consciousness zombie robot schools, avoid the television, and produce culture. Skateboards started as a fad but became a lifestyle because they provided a means of getting around, an activity, and most importantly, a type of place the activity could occur. Even more vitally they gave kids an identity and purpose outside of mainstream culture which as far as anyone could tell was a vapid disaster. Cyndi Lauper? Madonna? Bruce Springsteen? Music connected this culture but it evolved to fit it instead of the other way around. Thrasher music took its attributes from the thrasher lifestyle.

The one sin in thrasher culture was to fall into mainstream thinking. It defined itself in opposition to that entire vein of thought. Thrashers made the assumption that if someone with a position in society validated an idea, the idea was manipulation. This paranoia arose from disciplinarian schools, crafty public image creation by parents during divorces, and distrust of the kind of promises that advertised the suburbs. “Come to Shady Acres,” the sign would say, and you would find a house that was on nothing as big as an acre with no shade because all the trees had been planted during the last week when construction finished. And then your parents who spent too much time at their jobs would make all sorts of great promises about how school would be great, other kids would be great, and then those parents would disappear into jobs, divorces, swingers’ clubs, you name it, and you would be left alone. With nothing but your skateboard. Jump on and roll away… and never trust anything like those promises again.

Thrasher culture shaped the lyrics of its music. They show most of all a critique of a society that does not function. Imagine a broken microwave: you turn it on, and it flickers and makes noise but doesn’t really heat your food, or burns it to a crisp within ten seconds, or roasts the center and leaves the outside cold. This was the impression thrasher kids had of the society around them. It was on, but it was not working in the sense designed. Even worse, parents were oblivious and drugged on religion and money and social prestige and refused to notice at all when society didn’t work. Kids had to re-invent politics, society and philosophy from the ground up, and it had to fit between turns on the half-pipe.

While arguably the first music adopted by thrashers was punk, including a latent influence from the surf rock that may have inspired punk, and bands like Iron Maiden were perpetual favorites, the fusion of the three burst forth in the early 1980s as a genre called thrash. Avoiding dramatic titles like “5 thrash bands you must hear before you die,” where “die” could be defined as feeling that your job is more important than your soul, here are five thrash bands you must experience simply because they are amazing:

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1. Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (DRI) – Dealing With It

This album despite being the second release by DRI defined the archetypal thrash sound. Short songs used punk tempi and metal riffs, fit their song structures around the words to the song, worked in some oi/surf rock lead guitars, but mostly focused on raging bursts of concise energy. DRI packed a bookshelf worth of ideas into a single album which meant that if you were a kid with a skateboard and ten bucks a week to your name, this was the album you saved up for. In addition, DRI expanded the lyrical oeuvre of thrash to include not just “socially conscious” lyrics but lyrics critical of society itself, including the process of socializing with other people. These lyrics struck out for the lone Nietzschean person isolated from the herd by the complete vapidity and deceitfulness of mainstream tastes. In addition, DRI rebelled — using metal bands such as Iron Maiden as its guide — against the punk tendency to destroy melody. Both vocals and guitars carry an actual tune which combined with the unique rhythms and song structures makes each song stand out but also, makes the whole album work together. Some songs had nothing more to offer than 18 seconds of fury, others stitch a mood, and the whole of Dealing With It thus becomes a map of the emotions of a skater trying to survive the 1980s while observing that society was in a state of advanced collapse and headed for the end.

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2. Cryptic Slaughter – Convicted

Convicted got less attention than it should have because of its rough production and refusal to stick to any one template. Riffs on this album range from raw punk to death metal, which is sort of difficult because that genre was barely in formation itself in 1985 when this was released. Songs follow more of a punk template and vary structure less often which makes this band shy over toward punk, but use of vocal rhythms and inventive riffing distinguishes each. Many of the concepts of the next decade of death metal came from this album as well as most of grindcore. The ragged intensity of its vocal and guitar assault made Cryptic Slaughter the fastest band on the planet, and while it leaned toward punk, its ability to make metal-style riffs that thundered with finality pushed it into the thrash genre.

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3. Corrosion of Conformity (COC) – Eye for an Eye + Six Songs With Mike Singing

Arguably the most popular band in thrash, Corrosion of Conformity combined Black Sabbath and hardcore punk and came up with short attacks of creative songwriting that used traditional pieces from both heavy metal and hardcore punk genres. Every thrasher back in the day owned the tshirt with the COC alien skull on it and combined with DRI, this band essentially defined the genre. Songs are tiny atmosphere pieces that use punk energy and abrupt delivery to sneak in metal riffs and bounding punk choruses. Unlike punks however COC strayed into the minor key and chromatic world of metal where energy is crushed and turned into dark opposition instead of keeping the last aspects of rock ‘n’ roll’s happy-go-lucky “good times” sound. Inside of the anthemic punk with metal riffing on this album lurks a deep inner despair for society and self that made Eye for an Eye the more melancholic and existential side of thrash.

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4. Fearless Iranians From Hell – Die For Allah

Not as many people heard of this band because in the 1980s, when Beirut embassies exploded and the Iranian hostage situation was fresh in many minds, adopting even a satyrical pro-Iranian position struck most people as going too far, like endorsing Hitler or Stalin. Combining this potent imagery with marijuana humor and cynicism about the American war and money machine, Fearless Iranians From Hell bashed out fast punkish songs with metallic riffing that emphasized a constant turbulent, restless energy. In that way, this band put their finger on the utter abyss fermenting beneath the world of laws, dollars, numbers and hard data. This revealed the conflict between a culture of goody two-shoes and the underlying desire to put things right according to some absolute law not based in what suburban parents used to allay their fears. The humorous aspect of this band caused many to neglect the fusion of late hardcore and indie metal that powered this band.

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5. Dead Horse – Horsecore

Another band that at first got little airplay, Dead Horse emerged in the late 1980s and got enmired in the Texas metal scene which tended to reward those who scratched everyone else’s back even if their bands were forgettable. The band finally broke out with their second album Peaceful Death and Pretty Flowers in 1991 which turned more toward a progressive death metal direction alongside other acts of a similar nature like Disharmonic Orchestra and Demilich. The earlier material of this band used the same song structures shaped around the content of each song that DRI did but added more vicious, metal-infused riffs that had the hallmark of soundtrack style epic figurative melodies. Where other bands relied on humor of absurdity, Dead Horse fused its own internal language and riffed off that, pushing together a cynicism toward the adult world with a sense of breakaway culture.

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6. Suicidal Tendencies – Suicidal Tendencies

The title says five albums, not six. Yes: official numbers lie. Suicidal Tendencies perfected a style of thrash that invoked more of the guitar traditions of 1970s metal and overlaid its longer songs with extensive lead guitar, including bluesy and melodic sections. It also adopted the habit of using slower sections to build up to the explosion of faster raging riffing, which gave the album space from which sudden attacks became even more powerful. Outright references to skateboarding and life as a suburban teenager colored the lyrics and outlook of this self-titled release which won over many fans for its essentially punk nature with the interesting instrumentalism of metal. That and its self-mocking and self-distrusting humor which saw the world exclusively from the experience of the individual lost within it made this release a cross-over between skaters, punks and metalheads.

Thrash created a generation of music that turned up the intensity of metal and gave punk new room to grow in. This drew extensive influence from later hardcore of the Discharge, Black Flag, Minor Threat, GBH, the Exploited and Cro-Mags variety and in turn influenced the first generation of grindcore such as Repulsion Horrified, Napalm Death Scum, Carcass Reek of Putrefaction and Blood Impulse to Destroy. Thrashers also took heavy influence from melodic punk bands like Misfits and eccentric acts such as the Minutemen, all the way through pop-punk like Descendents and Dayglo Abortions. With the rise of thrash, punk and metal both felt pressure to turn up the intensity, which drove metal into the cryptic realms of death metal and punk into its progressive years.

Micro-songs: the shortest songs in heavy metal

no_time_for_pop_songsAbout a decade ago, the trend of flash fiction or micro-stories seized the literary world by storm. The reasoning was that as people did more of their reading via phones and portable computers, they would want shorter, harder-hitting fiction.

Of course, metal was there first.

Heavy metal has a long tradition of making short and fast songs that derive intensity by compressing an idea and then unleashing it like a jack-in-the-box with razor blades for teeth. This tradition spans multiple metal genres and decades.

Generally three and a half minutes is considered the ideal length for a pop song, give or take a half-minute. Many bands, especially in more “serious” genres like AOR, progressive rock, jazz and metal, tend to write five minute or longer songs. Micro-songs on the other hand clock in well under two minutes, often under one.

According to many bands, writing a short song is harder than writing a long one. When the song goes by quickly, song structure is more transparent. There aren’t comforting layers of conventions, like guitar solos and ballady choruses, that can be used to disguise an emptiness within.

It’s just the songwriter versus the void.

Here’s a (brief) run through of heavy metal (and hybrids) who made flash-audio or micro-songs.

  1. Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (DRI) – “Money Stinks” (0:46)
  2. Corrosion of Conformity (COC) – “Nothing’s Gonna Change” (1:07)
  3. Disharmonic Orchestra – “Interposition” (1:59)
  4. Napalm Death – “You Suffer” (0:02)
  5. Blood – “Sodomize the Weak” (1:38)
  6. Insect Warfare – “Oxygen Corrosion” (0:54)
  7. Gridlink – “Asuka” (0:35)
  8. Fallen Christ – “World of Darkness” (1:57)
  9. Carcass – “Genital Grinder” (1:32)
  10. Chronical Diarrhoea – “Attack of the Blur Demons” (0:55)
  11. Agathocles – “Well of Happiness” (1:10)

Last copies of death metal book ‘Glorious Times’ for sale

Alan Moses from Glorious Times (A Pictorial of the Death Metal Scene 1984-1991) has announced that less than 40 copies of their book remain for purchase.

A collaboration between zine enthusiasts Alan Moses (Buttface zine) and Brian Pattison (Chainsaw Abortions zine), this relic features rare photographs and stories from the bands themselves. There are no outside influences to censor or alter what is displayed.

Bands featured:

gloriousphoto

Acheron – Autopsy – Baphomet – Brutality – Cannibal Corpse – Cryptic Slaughter – Dark Angel – Deceased – Deicide – Derketa – Disharmonic Orchestra – Exmortis – Groovy Aardvark – Hellwitch – Hideous Mangleus – Immolation – Impetigo – Incantation – Incubus – Insanity – Lethal Aggression – Malevolent Creation – Massacre – Massappeal – Master – Morbid Angel – Napalm Death – Nocturnus – Nuclear Death – Overthrow – Paineater – Possessed – Prime Evil – Revenant – Righteous Pigs – Ripping Corpse – Sacrifice – Sepultura – Slaughter – Soothsayer – Terrorain – Tirant Sin – Unseen Terror – Vomit – Wehrmacht – Where’s The Pope?

The rumor mill has been pirouetting around Glorious Times, and there was a leak that a new book “Glorious Times 2” is in the works.

Information for purchasing the remaining copies is located at their blogspot page.

Glorious Times: A Pictorial of the Death Metal Scene (1984-1991)

Click on the cover picture above to see the flyer featuring Chris Reifert for the new edition of “Glorious Times”.

We reviewed Glorious Times: A Pictorial History of the Death Metal Scene 1984-1991 before, describing how it is a collection of first-hand retrospectives on the formative years of the underground metal scene that is motivating people to restore these older values in newer metal music.

Thanks to the rising interest in the book, what was once a limited edition has returned as what we hope is a regular product. Check it out:

After MUCH tenuous effort, we are extremely proud to announce that our revised and extended edition of ‘Glorious Times’ is currently finished, and now in the hands of our new printer.

Bigger and better than before! 160 pages of massively rare and mostly unseen photographs, tied together with sentiment and reflections from the very people who lived the era – the GLORIOUS TIMES.

Bands featured: Acheron, Autopsy, Baphomet, Brutality, Cannibal Corpse, Cryptic Slaughter, Dark Angel, Death, Deceased, Deicide, Derketa, Disharmonic Orchestra, Exmortis, Groovy Aardvark, Hellwitch, Hideous Mangleus, Immolation, Impetigo, Incantation, Incubus, Insanity, Lethal Aggression, Malevolent Creation, Massacre, Massappeal, Master, Morbid Angel, Napalm Death, Nocturnus, Nokturnel, Nuclear Death, Overthrow, Paineater, Possessed, Prime Evil, Revenant, Righteous Pigs, Ripping Corpse, Sacrifice, Slaughter, Soothsayer, Terrorain, Tirant Sin, Unseen Terror, Vomit, Wehrmacht and Where’s The Pope?

Price per copy is $30 plus $3 shipping and handling.
Payment can be made by PayPal to glorioustimesdeathbook@gmail.com

Full story at the Glorious Times blog and Mobile Metal Examiner’s recent article.

This book is not designed to be perfect or even convenient armchair reading for the detached casual audience. It’s for the diehards. It’s power is in the content; not all of it, because some metal bands cannot even be edited into coherence, and the coverage of the evolution of the first generation of death metal. After this, death metal picked up steam, became a known style and had a different set of challenges. But if you want to watch it emerging from the primordial soup of speed metal, punk, thrash and extra-musical influences (Lovecraft) here’s a good chance.

I find it interesting — and I mean this in a good way — how nerdly and awesome these early founders are. Some are partying/mayhem types, but most of the rest strike me as intelligent, curious, introspective people who got failed by modern society because it’s a dying shroud of a pleasant illusion. These people aren’t hipsters and literati, but they think about life, and find meaning in concepts and art. That puts them ahead of most of this moribund species.

Glorious Times: A Pictorial History of the Death Metal Scene 1984-1991

Glorious Times: A Pictorial of the Death Metal Scene (1984-1991) presents a retrospective of the early death metal scene, written by the bands themselves, and edited by Alan Moses (Buttface Zine) and Brian Pattison (Chainsaw Abortions Zine). If you want to see what the early bands were thinking, doing and how they helped invent death metal, this original book gives you a window into the past and future of death metal.

Here’s my original review of the book from August 6, 2010:

When Kontinual lent me his copy of this great book, I had no idea what I was in for. It’s not a retrospective and not so much a nostalgia swipe as an attempt to preserve the past of the death metal genre through the words of the musicians who created it.

Outside of an introduction by Laurent Ramadier, the book is entirely composed of short retrospectives written by the bands themselves. Some are apologetic and wistful, others charging ahead full of verve, and still others factual or like the odd literary piece by Revenant’s Henry Veggian, insights into the mentality of those days.

It doesn’t make sense to group this book in with other death metal books like Choosing Death or Lords of Chaos, which attempt to analyze and formulate a coherent single narrative for the evolution of the genre. Instead, this is primary research material, with each essay providing approximately a short interview’s worth of primary source material for the growth of the death metal underground.

Compiled by Alan Moses (BUTTFACE ‘zine) and Brian Pattison (CHAINSAW ABORTIONS ‘zine), this half-folio tome brings out the best in death metal, including introductions to a veritable treasure trove of early partial evolutions of death metal. If you want a shopping list for the most obscure neo-death out there, get a pad and paper before you read this.

Printed in an initial run of 150 copies, the book will be heading back for a reprint soon. In the meantime, here’s the list of bands who contributed material:

  • Autopsy
  • Paineater
  • Deicide
  • Baphomet/Banished
  • Groovy Aardvark
  • Sepultura
  • Prime Evil
  • Brutality
  • Master/Abomination/Death Strike
  • Nuclear Death
  • Hellwitch
  • Malevolent Creation
  • Vomit
  • Death
  • Derketa
  • Cannibal Corpse
  • Deceased
  • Massacre
  • Insanity
  • Disharmonic Orchestra
  • Possessed
  • Incubus/Opprobrium
  • Revenant
  • Massappeal
  • Unseen Terror
  • Lethal Aggression
  • Incantation
  • Tirant Sin
  • Morbid Angel
  • Hideous Mangleus
  • Dream Death
  • Nocturnus
  • Ripping Corpse
  • Soothsayer
  • Acheron
  • Where’s The Pope?
  • Napalm Death

It will be great to see this book hit the racks for the long term, because it’s chock full of raw material for anyone curious as to the birth of death metal, the underground, and the related genres that spawned from the raw ferment of metallic anguish in that era.

For more information, consult the blog about the book, or its myspace.

Chronological death metal

From “Cambyses” over at Ultimate-Metal, here’s a list of death metal releases by year during the glory days of 1988-1995:

’87:

Sarcófago – INRI
Massacra – Legion Of Torture
Nocturnus – Nocturnus
Death – Scream Bloody Gore
Napalm Death – Scum

’88:
Rigor Mortis (US) – Rigor Mortis
Pestilence – Malleus Maleficarum
Incubus (US) – Serpent Temptation
Death – Leprosy
Nihilist – Premature Autopsy

’89:

Morbid Angel – Altars Of Madness
Dead Horse – Horsecore: An Unrelated Story That’s Time Consuming
Obituary – Slowly We Rot
Rigor Mortis (US) – Freaks
Repulsion – Horrifed
Autopsy – Severed Survival
Carcass – Symphonies Of Sickness
Pestilence – Consuming Impulse
Dr. Shrinker – Wedding The Grotesque
Nihilist – Only Shreds Remain
Terrorizer – World Downfall
Morgoth – Resurrection Absurd

’90:

Incubus (US) – Beyond The Unknown
Carnage – Dark Recollections
Disharmonic Orchestra – Expositionsprophylaxe
Massacra – Final Holocaust
Cadaver – Hallucinating Anxiety
Tiamat – Sumerian Cry
Baphomet – Inheritors Of The Dead
Entombed – Left Hand Path
Deicide – Deicide
Master – Master
Atheist – Piece Of Time
Merciless – The Awakening
Death – Spiritual Healing
Benediction – Subconscious Terror
Nocturnus – The Key
Cancer – To The Gory End
Impetigo – Ultimo Mondo Cannibale

’91:

Blasphereion – Rest In Peace
Megaslaughter – Calls From The Beyond
Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
Death – Human
Demigod – Unholy Domain
Master – On The Seventh Day God Created… Master
Revenant – Prophecies Of A Dying World
Unleashed – Where No Life Dwells
Gorguts – Considered Dead
Entombed – Clandestine
Death Strike – ****in’ Death
Edge Of Sanity – Nothing But Death Remains
Carcass – Necroticism – Descanting The Insalubrious
Therion – Of Darkness…
Suffocation – Effigy Of The Forgotten
Benediction – The Grand Leveller
Pungent Stench – Been Caught Buttering
Morbid Angel – Blessed Are The Sick
Broken Hope – Swamped In Gore
Corpus Rottus – Rituals Of Silence
Dismember – Like An Ever Flowing Stream
Autopsy – Mental Funeral
Asphyx – The Rack
Immolation – Dawn Of Possession
Authorize – The Source Of Dominion
Massacre – From Beyond
Massacra – Enjoy The Violence
Ripping Corpse – Dreaming With The Dead
Grave – Into The Grave
Demilich – The Four Instructive Tales …Of Decomposition
Suffocation – Human Waste
Lemming Project – Extinction
Cancer – Death Shall Rise
Immortalis – Indicium De Mortuis
Gorefest – Mindloss
Cartilage – In Godly Flesh
Pestilence – Testimony Of The Ancients

’92:

Incubator – McGillroy The Housefly
Morpheus Descends – Ritual Of Infinity
Mordicus – Three Way Dissection
Incantation – Onward To Golgotha
Seance – Fornever Laid To Rest
Baphomet – The Dead Shall Inherit
Cianide – The Dying Truth
Mortuary – Blackened Images
Atrocity – Todessehnsucht
Demilich – The Echo
Torchure – Beyond The Veil
Rippikoulu – Mutaation Aiheuttama Sisäinen Mätäneminen
Altar/Cartilage – Split
Disharmonic Orchestra – Not To Be Undimensional Conscious
Edge Of Sanity – Unorthodox
Epitaph – Seeming Salvation
Therion – Beyond Sanctorum
Asphyx – Crush The Cenotaph
Adramelech – Grip Of Darkness
Cenotaph (Mex) – The Gloomy Reflections Of Our Hidden Sorrows
Lemming Project – Hate And Despise
Torturer – Oppressed By The Force
Cadaver – …In Pains
Solstice – Solstice
Eisenvater – I
Unleashed – Shadows In The Deep
Grave – You’ll Never See
Necrosanct – Incarnate
Transgressor – Ether For Scapegoat
Monstrosity – Imperial Doom
Impetigo – Horror Of The Zombies
Necrophiliac – Chaopula – Citadel Of Mirrors
Sinister – Cross The Styx
Amorphis – The Karelian Isthmus
Demigod – Slumber Of Sullen Eyes
Vital Remains – Let Us Pray
Deicide – Legion
Disastrous Murmur – Rhapsodies In Red
Miasma – Changes
Depravity – Remasquerade
Malevolent Creation – Retribution
Fleshcrawl – Descend Into The Absurd
Pathologist – Putrefactive And Cadaverous Odes About Necroticism
Brutal Truth – Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses
Merciless – The Treasures Within
Phlebotomized – In Search Of Tranquility
Totten Korps – Our Almighty Lords
Asphyx – Last One On Earth
Infester – Darkness Unveiled
Liers In Wait – Spiritually Uncontrolled Art
Adramelech – Spring Of Recovery

’93:

Brutality – Screams Of Anguish
Mordicus – Dances From Left
Utumno – Across The Horizon
Rottrevore – Iniquitous
Wombbath – Internal Caustic Torments
Disincarnate – Dreams Of The Carrion Kind
Demilich – Nespithe
Depravity – Silence Of The Centuries
Necrophobic – The Nocturnal Silence
Torchure – The Essence
God Macabre – The Winterlong
Depravity – Phantasmagoria
Benediction – Transcend The Rubicon
Broken Hope – The Bowels Of Repugnance
Ceremony – Tyranny From Above
Seance – Saltrubbed Eyes
Supuration – The Cube
Pestilence – Spheres
Misery – A Necessary Evil
Gorguts – The Erosion Of Sanity
Kataklysm – The Mystical Gate Of Reincarnation
Phlebotomized – Preach Eternal Gospels
Cancer – The Sins Of Mankind
Carbonized – Disharmonization
Grave – ..And Here I Die… Satisfied
Amorphis – Privilege Of Evil
Cynic – Focus – Remastered
Electrocution – Inside The Unreal
Unleashed – Across The Open Sea
Death – Individual Thought Patterns
Rippikoulu – Musta Seremonia
Sadist – Above The Light
Resurrection – Embalmed Existence
Suffocation – Breeding The Spawn
Morbid Angel – Covenant
Atheist – Elements

’94:

Morpheus Descends – Chronicals Of The Shadowed Ones
Brutality – When The Sky Turns Black
Cianide – A Descent Into Hell
Phlebotomized – Immense, Intense, Suspense
Banished – Deliver Me Unto Pain
Fleshcrawl – Impurity
Gutted (US) – Bleed For Us To Live
Incantation – Mortal Throne Of Nazarene
Pavor – A Pale Debilitating Autumn
Brutal Truth – Need To Control
The Chasm – Procreation of the Inner Temple
Oppressor – Solstice Of Oppression
Uncanny – Splenium For Nyktophobia
Cenotaph (Mex) – Riding Our Black Oceans
Abramelin – Transgression From Acheron
Hetsheads – We Hail The Possessed
Infester – To The Depths… In Degradation

’95:

The Chasm – From The Lost Years…
Sepsism – Severe Carnal Butchery
Suffocation – Pierced From Within
Agony – Apocalyptic Dawning
Solstice – Pray
Vital Remains – Into Cold Darkness
Adramelech – The Fall
Incantation – Upon The Throne Of Apocalypse

I wouldn’t say all of these are worth getting, but most of them are, and it’s fun to track the development of the genre.

The best concert you probably never went to

a_day_of_death-flier

The two authors of Glorious Times, a book dedicated to the early speed metal/death metal years of the metal underground, were once writers for far underground zines. But they were also fans, and as most fans do, over the year they accumulated experiences and artifacts.

On their blog the old schoolers have written about the A Day of Death festival from 1990, which was an early death metal festival in the style of Michigan Death Fest or Maryland Death Fest, but featuring all the old school bands because back then, they were the new school and scraping by to survive.

Not only do they give us a review of each band playing, but they also offer a CDR of the event — two songs each from Autopsy, Repulsion, Incantation, Cannibal Corpse and Deceased in either lossy MP3 format or lossless FLAC format if you want to burn an exact original. This is quite a treat as live material from the time is quite rare, because next to no one thought this death metal thing would take off.

Check out the lineup:

  • Radiation Sickness
  • Lucifer’s Hammer
  • Deceased
  • Suffocation
  • Goreaphobia
  • Incantation
  • Mortician
  • Disharmonic Orchestra
  • Cannibal Corpse
  • Immolation
  • Baphomet
  • Repulsion
  • Autopsy

The scary thing is that most of these bands have come back and are recording or touring. Amazing how time flies past and yet people remain essentially the same. I would kill to be able to go back in time to this show, however, as it was during the formative days of one of the few modern music genres worth writing about.

Check out the blog post and consider downloading the CD-R. It’s worth it, if for nothing else the glimpse of this time, but the sound quality isn’t bad and the music is vital from the most intense years of these bands.