Hammerheart Records will re-issue Swedish black/heavy/death metal band Grotesque In the Embrace of Evil plus the first release of the band which shortly succeeded it, At the Gates Gardens of Grief. These will be released on vinyl on August 21, 2015.
Grotesque, like Merciless, Morbid, Slaughter Lord, Tormentor (Hungary) and Sarcofago, represented an interstitial state in black metal where bands still in the style of older speed/death like Possessed moved into a sound that approximated black metal without the musical developments of the full genre as came bursting out of Norway shortly afterwards.
When members of Grotesque moved on to form At the Gates, they took their music more in a direction of melodic black metal, starting with their first EP, Gardens of Grief, which showcases their unconventional approach to songwriting and solid melodic development.
With the fiftieth anniversary of metal music around the corner, forthcoming years will witness an increase of publications dealing with the history, legacy and defining characteristics of the genre. This could finally resolve the lack of consensus that still exists regarding the definition and origins of heavy metal.
As many acknowledge, metal is very much the devil’s music. It is obsessed with social rejection, the occult, the power of nature, warfare, death, killing, disease, horror and ancient ways.
When you pick up your average heavy metal record, it is the exact opposite of the message of good, which is that we can make a perfect society where raw power doesn’t rule and where everyone is accepted.
In the world of metal, all the best laid plans of mice and men go awry in the worst possible ways. There is no perfection to society, or humankind. It is warfare and predation, red in tooth and claw, fighting it out to the end.
For this reason, metal has exhibited a fascination with Satan since its earliest days. Where the blues showed a belief in Satan’s power to help individuals, metal went elsewhere and portrayed Satan as an active metaphysical force affecting us all. As time went on, that viewpoint went from fearful (“War Pigs”) to an outright endorsement.
As one writer noted:
He asked me if I worshipped “the Devil,” looking at my iPod’s screen, where the gloriously disgusting cover of Cannibal Corpse’s The Wretched Spawn was displayed…
After shooting him a sideways glance that I hoped would be conveyed as Satanic, I thoughtfully sipped my Jack Daniels. Then I leaned in closely, asked if my black nail polish gave me away, and added that, duh, everyone who listens to metal — especially chicks –practice secret Satanic rituals that work best with the blood of an unsuspecting male. – “Is Heavy Metal Really The Devil’s Music?” by Lauren Wise, Phoenix New Times, July 23, 2012
The article goes on to have a balanced view of the metal equation, in which some newer material that is pro-Jesus gets some airplay. However, the lingering question remains… isn’t the majority of metal evil? Doesn’t the exception prove the rule?
To that end, we present the most blasphemous metal we can assemble so that you, too, might enjoy the blessings of evil:
Slayer – Altar of Sacrifice
Back in the 1980s, when Tipper Gore and her big-hair people ruled the censorship committees, this song seemed designed to fit into their worst fantasies. Its lyrics read like a Satanic ritual and its sound dwarfed anything else on the record store shelf.
Beherit – Lord of Shadows and Goldenwood
This album opens with a recited text from the Church of Satan, and then launches into some of the most primitive and evil-sounding metal ever created. This particular song hails the dark lord in a manner that by being mystical and metaphorical is almost more threatening than direct assaults.
Hellhammer – Satanic Rites
Three proto-black metal bands founded the genre: Bathory, Sodom and Hellhammer. Slayer gets some credit for technique as well, bypassing Venom who were fundamentally a heavy metal band and not really black metal in any distinctive way. Of these, Hellhammer came up with the best tribute to Satan ever invented. Obey the ritual!
Darkthrone – In the Shadow of the Horns
No list would be complete without the band who inscribed “As Wolves Among Sheep We Have Wandered” and “Darkthrone is for all the evil in man” on their early albums and claimed to be the most hated band in the world. One of the best bands in the world, if you ask me, and filled with delicious hatred for goodness.
Demoncy – Impure Blessings
If you are curious as to what it will sound like when Satan takes possession of earth, this song should tell you. Occult lyrics combine with a sound like an ineffable mechanical devourment of earth itself by forces opposed to all goodness and beauty.
Deicide – (Discography)
We could write several articles about which Deicide albums or songs are the most blasphemous, but it really is splitting hairs. From their eponymous debut to their last great album, Once Upon the Cross, this band blasted Jesus with hatred and mocked God, proclaiming Satan’s order on earth. The only reason they might not be qualified as evil is that they probably drove hordes of people to church in horror.
Blasphemy – Ritual
The Satanic Skinheads from Ross Bay brought us this disturbed homage to Satan and evil ritual. You can imagine a cemetery desecration and the broken wings of angels scattered across a dystopian wasteland, while elegant fragments of music from a more orderly time fade out on the toxic wind.
Mayhem – Life Eternal
This song smashes the idea of a pleasant afterlife with its image of eternal death. Although it does not mention God, Jesus, angels, etc. by name, it does refute the theories of these notions with a darker and more unforgiving concept.
Von – Satanic Blood
Apocalyptic evil emerges in this song that sounds like an air raid alarm being played over the chants of those who would destroy this world for Satan. Possibly one of the most minimalistic black metal bands ever, Von influenced others with its droning call to blasphemy.
Hypocrisy – God is a Lie
Threatening to choke the life out of God with their own hands, Sweden’s Hypocrisy launched into a tirade of righteous anger that has few comparisons in the world of music. This is the wrath of anti-god and it affirms that metal truly is the devil’s music.
Samael – Into the Pentagram
Named after a demon whose name is supposedly the key that unlocks the death of God, Swiss evil metal slingers Samael unleashed a torrent of occult and mystical works that refute the Bible and the best wishes of its minions. This particular track seemed custom-cut to delight those who relish apostasy.
Unleashed – For They Shall be Slain
No list of blasphemies in metal would be complete without this Viking explanation of how the Christian invaders must be destroyed and cut down where they stand. This is blasphemous, but more importantly, it’s a call to war that many heeded and still more are appreciating.
Burzum – Lost Wisdom
No assault on God would be complete without a litany of the sins of the Christians and the philosophical crisis brought on by dualistic monotheism. In this short hymn, murderer and fervent anarcho-nationalist Varg Vikernes encourages us to remember how Christianity displaced knowledge into symbols and cut out actual experience of life. It’s less rage and more an unsettling sense of deep opposition.
Havohej – Weeping in Heaven
Sounding like rebel angels who picked up instruments casually scattered around Hell in order to wax lyrical about the joys of evil, Havohej oppose all that religion and good bring with it. I vomit on God’s child!
…and last but not least…
Bathory – The Return of Darkness and Evil
Not many people understand the profundity of this song’s undoing of the Revolution that brought us goodness and light. It posits a world outside the well-intentioned order of the church and its humanist allies in which predation, war and violence rule the day instead of morality. After a millennium of trying for Utopia and creating dystopia, Bathory argues, we should return to the primitive ways before consciousness of morality, as those had better results. Unsettling.
What to take away from this all?
First, metal is the devil’s music. Even if you were Christian, like Slayer’s Tom Araya, you would want to make music that sounded evil and opposed the do-gooder notion of a moral order. Metal is not protest music, but it is discontent music, and discontent of a type that affirms all the fears humans have of life outside our social and moral order.
Next, Satan has some killer tunes.
Finally, it makes sense to look at metal in a historical context. See if the following description makes any sense to you:
Romantic poets cultivated individualism, reverence for the natural world, idealism, physical and emotional passion, and an interest in the mystic and supernatural. Romantics set themselves in opposition to the order and rationality of classical and neoclassical artistic precepts to embrace freedom and revolution in their art and politics. – “A Brief Guide to Romanticism” by the Academy of American Poets
Many of the themes that rock throughout metal would be at home in Coleridge, Blake, Milton, Goethe and Wordsworth. Like Romantic poets, metal struggles with the new world order that came about in the 1700s based on the Enlightenment. In this order, the morality of the herd was at its full power and it used the Church as its shield and justification.
And like metal, they rebelled against it then, much as blasphemy echoes the halls of rock now when metalheads compose their micro-symphonies to Satan and hymns of praise for evil.
Tomas Lindberg’s (At the Gates) awful new band The Lurking Fear released a new music for some awful new track that sucks off their upcoming album you shouldn’t care about as it will surely suck that comes out later this year on Century Media Records.
The Lurking Fear, the new band with Tomas Lindberg and Adrian Erlandsson from At the Gates, previewed a new track from their upcoming Out of the Voiceless Grave debut album which comes out August 11th on Century Media.
It took some time, but despite the deluge of content constantly bombarding us and aspiring metal fans worldwide, we’ve been able to reach some level of consensus on 2015’s worthwhile metal music. Not to say that we’re in perfect harmony (If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll note that there’s some room for dissonance in our musical language), but the hope is, like what our recent reinspection of 2013 revealed, that some of this material remains interesting for more than the year it was released.
Album of the Year
A wrathful reminder of what war metal should have been: a melodically-structured, chromatic holocaust to the god of this world. Jan Kruitwagen’s leads awe listeners and are optimally placed to hold attention just as each rhythm riff runs its course. An impenetrable mix rewards repeated listening to an album that may surpass Kruitwagen’s work on Sammath’s Godless Arrogance. March to Kaeck’s martial heartbeat or revel in shit.
Bolt Thrower meets ritualistic black metal. Rather than cathartic bending into climactic oriental leads, Desecresy diffuse tension by methodically varying into bizarre melodies with carefully placed, otherworldly leads to a steady metronome.
Mid-paced riffing in the style of Bolt Thrower builds tension with melody and drifts off into space with variations and well placed leads. Where Bolt Thrower themselves shoot a rifle at the ballon using rhythmic change to introduce another riff or dramatically bending the riff into a climactic, oriental short solo, Desecresy insert ritualistic blackened leads for dramatic contrast with the rhythmic, power chord riffing.
Rob Miller returns from blacksmithing to his previous metallic occupation with an album of catchy post-punk in Motorhead and Metallica song formats. Thankfully free of the Godsmack and other MTV influences present on Amebix’s swansong.
An effective album of mid-paced death and heavy metal riffing. There is no psychedelic rock pretending to be Black Sabbath “doom” here. Highly structured; the opposite of the random tossed riff salads of most modern metal. This band takes an approach more like that of classical guitarists toward melding death metal with progressive rock, blues, folk and other influences: it mixes them in serially and adopts them within the style, rather than hybridizing the two styles.
In other words, most bands that try to sound like progressive death metal try to act like a progressive rock band playing death metal, or a death metal band playing progressive rock. Cóndor takes an approach more like that of musicians in the past, which is to adopt other voices within its style, so that it creates essentially the same material but works in passages that show the influence of other thought.
This vinyl 7” single features two new, well constructed death metal songs from one of from one of the few truly underrated bands in the genre. Those foresighted enough to purchase the identically-titled CD boxed set version received the band’s entire catalog in one of the rare remasters that sounds better than the original releases.
One last Motorhead album of mostly Motorhead songs. Nothing “new” is introduced for those in the non-metal audience who disdain metal and wish to feel intellectually superior to the common headbanger. The final work from a relentless machine of a band.
Crusty death metal of the better than braindead Benediction but worse than Cancer category.
Atom by Atom
I’ve possibly heard too much but Hanger 18. I know too much. Although not as degradingly vulgar as Surgical Steel, Atom by Atom results in a pretty tacky affair. Vocals are as emotional as in the first album, except that in here they seem even more disconnected from the music as the music veers into some sort of progressive speed metal akin to Helstar’s. (Editor’s note: I liked it, but David Rosales was critical)
Blessed Be My Brothers
The band shows promise with their Unique Leader-style rhythmic riffing and soaring heavy metal leads. While being above par for technical deaf metal, aping a different one of your heroes every few verses doesn’t make for particularly enjoyable repeated listening.
House of Atreus
The Spear and the Ichor that Follows
Fredrik Nordstrom’s Arghoslent.
Technical power metal carnival music.
The Book of Souls
Nobody is allowed to edit themselves or turn on their bullshit filters in Steve Harris’s band anymore (Read a full review here).
Kvist meets the randomness of metalcore. Indistinct riffing and songwriting mix with pointless shoutout verses to past greats that makes listeners wonder why they aren’t just playing Sodom and Mayhem in the first place.
Below the Hengiform
Where are the riffs?
Every Teutonic speed metal band gone Voltron.
The Unburiable Dead
The band has no need to repeat half the song just so the guitarist can get over his refractory period and play another solo. This is also an extremely distracted riff salad in which the individual riffs can be brought in from sources as different as galloping power metal to thrashy death metal to alternative nu and groove “metal”. This is headbang-core for beer metallers and other social metalheads. This recording received tworeviews in 2015.
Aria of Vernal Tombs
A collection of interesting renaissance faire riffs written into songs that quickly wear out their welcome as metal, becoming RPG background music.
A few strong songs on a demo do not warrant a two CD set of Swedish death with limpid keyboards anticipating the steps black metal took towards mainstream goth rock in the late nineties.
Exercises in Futility
This is the type of black metal as repetitive rock music that ignorant hipsters will praise as “ritualistic”. The album’s title sums the quality of its musical content: futile. (Editor’s note: I wanted to give this album a chance. It didn’t age well.)
Gothenburg cheese and Meshuggah licks are less appetizing than a lead-laced Mexican lollipop.
Grave Miasma returns. This time with 1993’s atmosphere.
Out of the Garden
Candlemass meets Soundgarden.
Every Teutonic speed metal band gone Voltron.
Solid underground metal in the spirit of Sarcofago that is perfectly well-written but does not amount to more than the sum of its parts; does not conjure up any long-lasting message.
Twenty years ago to the day, At the Gates completed their descent into Fredrik Nordström-produced, commercial pop garbage with Slaughter of the Soul. Since the Death Metal Underground does not celebrate mediocre Eurotrash speed metal (Go listen to Artillery instead), we will be blowing out the candles for a more significant release for the underground featuring many of the same musicians.
Grotesque – Incantation (1989)
Grotesque’s legendary Incantation 12”, 45 rpm EP turns twenty-five this year. The only studio release of the progressive black death madhouse features the twin guitar and songwriting talents of Kristian “Necrolord” Wåhlin (perhaps better known for his contributions to the visual arts) and Alf Svensson. The melodically flowing compositions and shifting time signatures present on At the Gates’ The Red in the Sky is Ours (see former editor and continuing author David Rosales’s excellent article) appear in a more bloodthirsty, thrashier form on the first three songs. Following those are two earlier compositions of simple but very well done speed metal ensure the appreciation of even the most Neanderthal headbangers.
Most probably first heard Grotesque on the Projections of a Stained Mind Swedish death metal compilation or on the remixed and rearranged In the Embrace of Evil career anthology from 1996. In the Embrace of Evil has been quietly reissued this year by Hammerheart in a limited digipack format and Candelight in the standard jewel case with the original mastering intact for the first time. There is no ridiculous overuse of dynamic range compression for the sole benefit of losers with Apple iPhones and earbuds excruciating everyone else. Buy the CD, not the hipster reverse needle drop LP; In the Embrace of Evil was only released on CD back in the mid-nineties and an LP pushing fifty minutes in length can only have poor, distorted sound. Hear Grotesque’s journey from Satanic, Sepultura -worshiping first wave maniacs to black leather trench coat-clad, death metal exceptionalism.
Throughout literature, film, and any other telling of the Arthurian legend there is usually a hard line stance taken on characters or ideas being indisputably good or evil. The heroes and villains are on conflicting sides of a fundamental and absolute morality despite reality often being much more complicated. The Star Wars franchise followed this school of thought- casting the Empire as the evil and soulless reflection of Western history’s teaching of the axis powers of World War II. It parallels the post-French Revolution narrative that all democracy is good and all imperial reigns are heinous and wrong.
It is because of this that we can remember LucasArts’s 1994 PC flight simulator Tie Fighter as such a refreshingly bold and surprising experiment in a world of video games where the narrative is always fixated on “the good guys.” In Tie fighter, you are- from start to finish- fighting on behalf of a faction that the movies portrayed as dark and merciless dictatorship that is completely void of humanity. No change of heart in your character halfway through (as in this year’s disastrous Battlefront 2), no surprising twist- you’re essentially waging war with all that is good and just in the galaxy. It’s one of the first and possibly few games that take this perspective, and – for one of the first times for a mainstream game of this caliber- Tie Fighter gives the player a unique chance to embrace the understanding that morality is often a form of perspective.