Cryptic Slaughter tour diary from 1988

From the waves of time:

The Axiom was a pretty cool club, kinda dark and run down with a good rock n’ roll vibe, kinda reminded me of a club here in Portland called Satyricon. Cool thing that happened during Angkor Wat’s soundcheck was when Rob got up and sang Black Flag’s “Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie”. I was able to record both bands sets from the soundboard that night. Before the first band went on, I was selling merch for both bands and these two super fans approached me who were heavily into anything death metal/grindcore and kept telling me that Cryptic Slaughter had to to play T.D.M.! (To Death Metal) First song (if you can call it that) on side 2 of Money Talks. At first I thought they were joking, but they were dead serious. At the end of each sentence they would give me a complementary Tom G Warrior death grunt, straight off of Morbid Tales. After giving them a few stickers to hopefully shut em’ up, they gave me a demo by NY’s Baphomet and an original copy of England’s Sore Throat demo. You can hear these guys yelling at the band in-between songs on the live songs that are on the “Convicted” and ” Money Talks” reissues on Relapse Records. Check out the cool live footage from this show on YouTube. I don’t remember anything about the opening band Afterbirth, who I assume were from Houston. Once again Angkor Wat put on an amazing energetic live set. Cryptic Slaughter took the stage and ripped into song after song from Convicted and Money Talks before playing a few new songs from Stream Of Consciousness (which went over great with the crowd, even the Death Metal duo liked em’.) After an encore or two the show was finally over. Never thought I would be so happy for a show to be over and to pack up our gear and leave. All of us were ecstatic that no one from Austin ever showed up. Time to catch up on some sleep before we head off for Memphis tomorrow.

Read the rest here.

Interview: Les Evans (Cryptic Slaughter)

Cryptic Slaughter, the quintessential 1980s thrash band, where thrash means crossover music of a simple and effective nature. their music, of short bursts of song with explosive drumming and ragged punkish speedcore riffs, projected a forerunner archetype of what grindcore would soon be. Albums like “convicted” and “money talks” displayed the formative techniques of death metal. But even independent of its historical role, this music crushes with its efficiency and organic texture. Les Evans, guitarist of Cryptic Slaughter, was kind enough to answer some questions for us via email. working on this interview has been one of the high points of the experience of writing about metal, and it is a privilege to interact with a founding mind of a band such as Cryptic Slaughter.

Do you think a generational difference exists between bands, in terms of how the thinking that inspires them to make their music changes?

Sure, and every generation thinks that theirs is the most relevant! Your immediate surroundings, differing time frames included, will always impact your creative output. But music crosses generational, race, and class divisions. So even bands from different eras maintain a common thread. I’m just happy that there are still “thinking” bands out there.

How was music composed in Cryptic Slaughter?

Generally, we wrote songs individually, after which we would present the rough sketches to the rest of the band. We would then tweak arrangements and embellish. Lyrics usually weren’t written until the music was finished. A rare exception was Lowlife. Scott came up with that opening drum riff out of the blue, and I wrote the accompanying guitar part right on the spot. I can’t remember if the rest of the song had already been written or not.

Do you conceive of songs as rhythms, or riff patterns, or abstract ideas or melodies? What has been for you normally the genesis of songwriting?

This will be difficult to put into words. I can’t say that I really have a conscious formula. Usually it’s the melody first, then the rythym. Sometimes I’ll hear music in my head and then try to translate it into something tangible. Or I’ll just play around loosely with the guitar. If something promising comes up, I immediately record it and then attempt all manner of variations on the pattern or riff to see which sounds the best to me. After I come up with something I’m happy with, I’ll put it aside for a few days and then listen to it again. If I still like it upon the second listen, it’s a keeper. When Jimi Hendrix was asked a question similar to yours, he replied that he was like an antenna, or an open channel through which ideas were allowed to flow. In other words, his songs came from somewhere else. And while I would never, ever, try to compare myself to Hendrix, I do understand what he meant. Occasionally, I’ll write music and suddenly, it’s like it’s not me playing. Almost as if I’m outside of myself as an oserver. There’s a great mystery behind art.

Rap (and the synth music that inspired it) seems to be digital-technology-dependent, where other forms of music are less so. How does this affect the viewpoints of the artists?

I embrace the technological advances, but I do believe that any artist that relies too heavily on technology runs the risk of having his music sound like it was written and performed by a computer. But then again, that’s exactly what some bands are after. They want it to sound as cold and inorganic as possible because it evokes a very sinister feel. Whatever yanks your crank.

Of all the thrash guitarists, your work was seemingly the most unabashedly punk in raw dynamics while having a metallish sense of arrangement. In what ways did each genre influence your songwriting?

When I was a kid, I was metal to the core. I turned on to hardcore right when Cryptic was first coming together. Back then, those styles of music were so underground that I automatically gravitated towards anything new I could get my hands on. And I was influenced by everything that was fast and raw. We wanted to do something different to stand out from the crowd. The ultra-speed stuff kind of just evolved without any direct intent. But as we got faster and faster, it definitely necessitated a change in the way I was playing. So what eventually developed as my style was never pre-meditated.

What bands inspired you when you were starting out, pre- and post-Convicted?

Before Cryptic formed, the most important bands to me were Slayer, Metallica, Venom, and Motörhead. Then I started listening to GBH, RKL, Suicidal Tendencies, Discharge, and Minor Threat. I had friends in high school who were into punk, so we would borrow each others records. I think they really wanted to convert me, and I guess it worked. Before Convicted was even recorded, we had taken a definite turn towards hardcore. The earlier songs on that record, Rest in Pain, War to the Knife, & Rage to Kill, were more metal. Whereas M.A.D., State Control, & Nation of Hate reflected our new direction, lyrically as well as musically.

Do you think the metal genre has been obsoleted?

I don’t think any musical genre can be considered obsolete if there is still an active fan base. It’s almost impossible to be original anymore because it seems like everything has been done to death. So hats off to the modern pioneers like Strapping Young Lad, who have brought something new and distinct to the scene.

I could find no reference to Cryptic Slaughter demos anywhere on the web (the net is often useless). Were there any and if so, can you give a brief demography?

There was only one, recorded in May, 1985 entitled “Life in Grave”. Five songs, two of which (R.I.P & War) we re-recorded for Convicted. It was much more metal influenced.

Before us there is certainly left only nothing; but that which struggles against this flowing away into nothing, namely our nature, is indeed just the will-to-live which we ourselves are, just as it is our world. That we abhor nothingness so much is simply another way of saying that we will life so much, and that we are nothing but this will and know nothing but it alone. But we now turn our glance from our own needy and perplexed nature to those who have over-come the world, in whom the will, having reached complete self-knowledge, has found itself again in everything, and then freely denied itself, and who then merely wait to see the last trace of the will vanish with the body that is animated by that trace. Then, instead of the restless pressure and effort; instead of the constant transition from desire to apprehension and from joy to sorrow; instead of the never-satisfied and never-dying hope that constitutes the life-dream of the man who wills, we see that peace that is higher than all reason, that ocean-like calmness of the spirit, that deep tranquility, that unshakable confidence and serenity, whose mere selection in the countenance, as depicted by Raphael and Correggio, is a complete and certain gospel. Only knowledge remains; the will has vanished.

– A. Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation

How have your own musical tastes change through the years?

Mainly they’ve broadened. I still like heavy music, but my CD collection is pretty eclectic. Around 1987, we realized that there was a revolution happening in music that was being led by bands like Jane’s Addiction, Fishbone, Faith No More, the Chili Peppers, Mr. Bungle, Soundgarden, etc. Together with Wehrmacht on tour, we would get everybody from both bands on stage and play “Fight for your right” by Beastie Boys. People tripped on that because it was the last thing they expected.

Do you think the underground exists, still?

I do. It’s just that the underground has much more exposure now than it ever did before the advent of the internet. There is some real irony here. In 1985, it was hard to get any information on new bands outside of the mainstream. Now, there’s so much goddamn information available on every band imaginable, good and bad, that you couldn’t process it all in three lifetimes.

Some would say, as Wagner did, that music is a form of paint one uses to create art (narrative, descriptive or poetic works, normally in structure); others would say that music provides art within itself and has no correspondence to a more generalized “artisticness.”

Both points of view are correct. It all depends on how you define and perceive “art”. And that, of course, is a very personal distinction. Wagner and his contemporaries came from a much more rigid time in music history, which required a very strict adherence to form and theory. Imagine what those guys could have come up with had they been given complete musical freedom.

Do you see Cryptic Slaughter’s lyrics as having more of an aspect of the political, or as being social commentary?

Whenever we addressed a political figure or situation, I think that inherently, it becomes social commentary. For instance, when we bitched about Reagan, it was because he was making decisions that were affecting our lives. Political agendas, no matter how convoluted, eventually have a direct effect on the population. Of course, we were great about complaining, but offered very little in the way of solutions. But what do you expect from four young punks?

You said “Around 1987, we realized that there was a revolution happening in music that was being led by bands like Jane’s Addiction, Fishbone, Faith No More, the Chili Peppers, Mr. Bungle, Soundgarden, etc.” – after some research, I am guessing this means a funk/rap revolution in music. Do you think this revolution is still ongoing?

Actually, I was referring more to the punk ethics employed by those bands. They all have roots in the underground and, against all odds, managed to break into the mainstream with varying degrees of success. Let’s not forget, popular music in the early to mid 80’s was abysmal. It was all about Richard Marx, Kaja Goo Goo, and an endless array of butt rock bands. Jane’s, FNM, etc. were innovators and the driving force behind turning the tide. There was an enormous amount of creativity and risk taking in this respect from 1987-1992. And at the time, it was truly inspiring because it felt like the rest of the world finally got hip, and that meant that anything was possible for the rest of us. I should probably broaden my list by adding some more very influential bands; Ministry, Voi Vod, Primus, Butthole Surfers, Rollins Band, The Pixies, and it goes on and on. It’s also important to note that these bands made their impact on their own terms. They didn’t change for the masses, the masses came to them.

How do you describe the music of Cryptic Slaughter, and do you assign it to any subgenres (thrash, crossover, metalcore)?

I still like the original tag line I came up with in 1985, “Hardcore Thrash”. Pretty good marketing for an eighteen year old. It’s simple, yet it tells the story.

How has this revolution changed our perceptions and expectations of music as a whole?

It effected me greatly, and certainly had an impact on music as a whole, because it was really more than just a fusion of metal/funk/rap/punk and whatever else. A new musical paradigm was created, one in which bands were no longer confined to specific categories. This, in turn, forced a shift in general perception that allowed for much more artistic freedom. The audience came to expect bands to be more multi-faceted and eclectic. It changed music forever.

If you could do it all over again, what would you change about your discography?

Well, I’d like to re-record the first three records. I was never happy with how any of them sounded, especially “Stream of Consciousness.” And there are certain songs that I absolutely can’t listen to, like Hypocrite. I realize that it’s probably sacrilege for me to think these thoughts out loud. We really didn’t know anything about recording or production, so we basically just plugged in and played. Maybe that was part of the charm.

Two rumors: that your albums were to be re-released by a Pennsylvania label, and that the new album will approximate “speedcore” or crustcore – can you tell me anything about these and their degrees of veracity?

The plan at this time is to re-issue the first two individually, both with the original artwork. For bonus tracks, we will include the demo, along with a substantial amount of live and rehearsal material, most of which has never been heard outside of our circle of friends. Regarding the new material, I’m really happy with what we’ve written, but I have no idea which category it will fall into. We were always a band that people could never agree on anyway, in terms of genre, and I don’t expect that to change now. It’s fast, brutal, and angry.

How did the members of Cryptic Slaughter meet and come together?

We all played soccer, and had all been playing for years. That’s the truth. If not for the the American Youth Soccer Association, there would not have been a Cryptic Slaughter. Bill and I went on to both play for the same high school team, although not at the same time. I met Scott and Bill through a guy named Adam Scott who was actually one of the original members of the band. I used to give Adam guitar lessons and he was younger than me by a couple of years. He told me he knew a drummer through soccer. So when we first started jamming in the summer of 84′, I had just turned 17, Adam was 15, and Scott was 14 & 1/2. We stank on ice, but just finding other pepole into the same music back then was so rare that we bonded pretty quickly. Bill, another one of Adam’s soccer buddies, joined up after school started that Fall. We steadily got better, and played a lot of covers. I remeber that we did Ace of Spades, Aggresive Perfector, Welcome to Hell, and City Baby Attacked by Rats fairly well. Adam’s parents, who were both teachers, began to put a lot of pressure on him to quit. They were just looking out for him. but he started to miss rehearsals so we kicked him out and became a three piece. Rob (who was not a soccer player) came into the fold about a year later, two months or so before we recorded Convicted. We didn’t even know him, but it worked out better than any of us could have imagined. Rob’s playing and songwriting had a huge impact on improving our sound.

Do revolutions in music like the one you describe exist until they get mainstreamed, and then somehow get consumed? Or are they ongoing?

Everything gets ruined when too many people find out about it. But you enjoy it while it lasts. Once there’s a “new sound”, every major label tries to jump on the bandwagon. That kind of over-saturation and dumbing down of the music is what kills originality. And what’s worse, you’ve got these copy cat bands that emerge in an attempt to cash in. Remember how many Nirvana wanna-be’s there were? I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having influences, but when you’re gearing your music towards what you think will be the next big thing, you’ve lost sight of what’s important. Take Faith No More’s example. They had a huge hit with The Real Thing, and then proceeded to turn their backs on commercialism in favor of following their instincts.

Was Stream of Consciousness a live or studio live album, or did it acquire its deliciously noisy production another way?

It was recorded in an abandoned beer vat, previously owned by Pabst Blue Ribbon. No shit. It was basically a wherehouse. That record actually sounded a lot better before it was mastered. My buddy Jason, Cryptic’s only real roadie, recently foud a test pressing for Sream that Rob had given him fourteen years ago. As is typical, it had a blank label with a section for comments. And what Rob had written summed it up with two words; “IT SUCKS”. Don’t get me wrong, I think the songs on that record are by far the best we ever wrote as a band, but none of us were happy with the production. And for all intents and purposes, by the time that record was released, we were already broken up. An interesting footnote, also thanks to Jason; we have a rehearsal tape of those songs that sounds better than the record, including a tune that was never released. We want to have it released with the re-issues.

On the metal history page (http://www.anus.com/metal/about/history.html) metal is grouped into several waves, based on what worldview they had because of historical events current to the time of each wave. Do you see a difference in the musical approach between bands of members born in approx. 1968, 1974, 1982 and 1986?

Oh yeah, people from different eras grew up in different worlds. I came up in the laid back 70’s when pot was decriminalized (thank you, Jimmy Carter) and sex couldn’t kill you. Then, just as I was ready to start having some of that fun, along comes the “Just Say No” Reagan years and AIDS. And this was also when the Cold War got really ugly and the threat of nuclear war loomed large. I was confused as fuck. And pissed. Someone born in 74′ would probably tell you about their fear of being drafted into the Persian Gulf War. But I think another reason for the difference in approach is simply the desire to do something unique. the same thing over and over again gets old, so music has to grow and evolve.

Some musical thinkers claim to be able to visualize music as shapes or patterns, and from there conceptualize the song as an aesthetic object. How do you conceptualize sound, or is it a conscious process at all?

I tend to experience music more in terms of colors, but then again, I’ve eaten more acid than most people! For me, writing music is about intuition. There are no rules or perameters or formulas. It’s either good or it’s not, and you have to be objective enough to tell the difference. Because even the greats have written crap, but were smart enough to recognize it as such.

What do you think of the overall prospects for humanity given the state of our current treatment of our environment and selves?

Well, humanity will be going away, possibly within the next couple of hundred years. I believe that we’re too far gone now to change our ways enough to make a signifigant difference. Some of us will probably take off for another planet so we can begin the cycle all over again. But after we leave, the Earth will eventually heal itself. Throughout the millenia, it’s been through a lot worse than humanity.

What was the best part about being in Cryptic Slaughter during the innovative days of 1980s thrash?

The high point was the many many friends we made. I got to know people from all over the world, and I was lucky enough to experience a lot of great music.

What future directions do you see opening for people wanting to create loud, heavy, violent music? Do you think the ideals that make one wish to make such music have changed, or do you see the impetus as emotional?

Music is accessable in way now that we couldn’t have imagined in 1986. Back then, before the internet and MP3’s, kids in Nebraska had a hell of a time even finding Cryptic records. Even in L.A., I couldn’t find our records half the time. With the software available for home recording, there really are no limits. You just have to be motivated and creative in the art of self promotion. I’m sure the reasons vary depending on the person, but at the core it’s always driven by emotion. That goes for all forms of music.

Was it difficult to start a band and make it successful at such a young age? I believe you were 17 when Money Talks came out.

I had actually just turned twenty when Money Talks was released in July, 87′. Scott, if I recall correctly, was seventeen and a half. It wasn’t difficult at all because we had no idea what we were doing. We didn’t have anyone telling us what to do or what not to do, which is both good and bad. At the time, I don’t know that we necessarily considered ourselves successful. We saw bands like Suicidal Tendencies as being successful. we were just happy to have a an outlet to create.

Do young people today face a different world than young people of previous generations? How will this affect their music and the ideas they associate with the sounds they are making?

Young people most assuredly face a different world, and the world at present seems to be changing more rapidly than ever before. As a result, any feeling of stability that existed previously is now deteriorating. I don’t think anyone can accurately predict how this will affect how music is written and played. It wouldn’t surprise me, however, if it turns out to be pretty fuckin’ grim.

How did you learn to play guitar?

I took guitar lessons for years from the same guy, a studio musician. He was mainly concerned with teaching me advanced rythyms and chord structures that are most closely identified with jazz and music theory.I took music theory in high school and college as well. It’s funny how I put so much energy into learning “the rules” of music, just to turn around and break them all.

From who/where did the idea for the cover of Money Talks originate?

It came primarily from the artist, Jeff Harp, who also played guitar for Final Conflict. We gave him a lot of freedom, and he created quite a statement of the time. That cover got us on Tipper Gore’s list, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the F.B.I. opened a file on us around the same time. They’ve always kept a close eye on politically-minded musicians.

Santa Monica has always seemed to me to be a hyper-accelerated version of America in transition. Did it influence the topics of early Cryptic Slaughter songs?

I’m sure it did, although indirectly. Santa Monica was a pretty ideal setting in which to grow up. I spent a lot of my youth on the beach as well as the soccer field. Much of S.M. is very rich, but I come from a middle class background. No place is perfect, but we had it better than many kids. By the time we started doing Cryptic, we had begun to realize that the world around us left a lot to be desired.

Do you work on music full time? Family?

I wish I could do music full time, but alas, I work 40 hours a week like most people. I’m married and have a son who will be four years old soon. So I can’t afford to be an irresponsible slacker musician anymore. But I guarantee you that I rode that train for as long as I possibly could.

Do people ever beg you for re-releases of the Cryptic Slaughter albums?

Not really, but I guess the fact that people were paying between $100-$200 on Ebay for our early CD’s could be constued as a form of begging.

Now that the band has reformed, what do you aim to create in a different musical scene and perhaps style?

What we’re doing now is pretty over the top in terms of speed and heaviness. I don’t know that we’re breaking any new ground, but we are attempting to improve on what we helped to create way back when. And we’re setting the bar very high for all aspects from song writing to production.

Do you watch television?

I do, but not a whole lot. Through the influence of my son. our TV is usually set on the Cartoon Network. I’m absolutely addicted to the Sopranos and I usually still watch Letterman and Conan. One of my all time favs was Mystery Science Theater 3000, which finally ended it’s run after twelve years.

What do you think will be the effect of mp3 files and file sharing in a music industry controlled by a few titans, but with many smaller labels and distros?

I think that Napster and the like was a good thing for music. But it was especially crucial to the relatively unknown bands because it helped to get their music out there. Back in 1985, what held the underground together was a network of hardcore tape traders. They circulated hundreds of live shows and demos and helped bands like Cryptic get on the map. No record stores would carry a demo, even if you could somehow get it distributed. Many fans obtained our tapes by trading through the mail, and of course didn’t pay us for them. But the free publicity was well worth whatever we lost in short term profits. It got a buzz going, and pretty soon we were getting contacted from bands, labels, and fans who otherwise never would have heard of us. As far as major labels go, they’ve been bending over their bands and the fans for decades now so I’ve got no sympathy whatsoever. And besides, when I was a kid, I always bought the records I really liked and borrowed the rest from my friends and taped them. It’s the same principal. If you want it but don’t want to pay for it, you can always get it somehow.

You said, “What we’re doing now is pretty over the top in terms of speed and heaviness” – how can these things be increased in music? If you could describe more of your new music, that would be great.

I didn’t mean to imply that we’re going to come along and redefine fast and heavy music. I just wanted to get the point across that this is not going to be “Speak Your Peace, Part ll”. Don’t get me wrong, I love that record, but it’s not where we’re at now. Our new stuff combines blast beats with good rythymic structure and it’s not too complicated. It’s paced well with a definite emphasis on speed.

Catch-all “did I miss anything?” and “anything you’d like to add?” question – if there is any information in those categories you would like to see published in this interview, please fill in now.

Thanks to everyone for the continued support and interest after so many years. Please contact us if you want to be on our e-mail list. And thanks to SRP for probably the most comprehensive interview I’ve ever done.

[This] goes for writers and thinkers: if they resist the predominant use of time today, they are not only predestined to disappear, but they must also contribute to the making of a ‘sanitary cordon’ isolating themselves. In the shelter of this cordon, their destruction is supposed to be able to be put off for a while. But they ‘buy’ this brief and vain delay by modifying their way of thinking and writing in such a way that their works become more or less communicable, exchangeable; in a word, commercializable. But the exchange, the buying and selling of ideas and words, does not fail to contribute, contradictorily to the ‘final solution’ of the problem: how to write, how to think? I mean that they contribute to making even more hegemonic the great rule of controlled time. It follows that public space, Öffentlichkeit, in these conditions, stops being the space for experiencing, testing and affirming the state of mind open to the event, and in which the mind seeks to elaborate an idea of that state itself, especially under the sign of the ‘new.’ Public space today is transformed into a market of cultural commodities, in which ‘the new’ has become an additional source of surplus-value.

– J.-F. Lyotard, The Inhuman

Cryptic Slaughter at the Dark Legions Archive.
Interview with Scott Peterson.

Personal Device – En Puerto (2015)

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Like the band with whom it shares members, Cóndor, the hardcore/thrash band Personal Device — the name refers to “antipersonnel devices,” not Fleshlights — makes music with a lot of promise that sells itself short by demonstrating theory instead of creating experiences.

Art contains ideas as much as any essay, and those who deny that are morons, but it is encoded through the sensual, emotional and intellectual experience of appreciating something of great beauty and power. This is how metal makes beauty out of ugliness and reveals to us the forgotten ideas of ancient history in a form we can now recognize. It is also why Christian, Nazi and SJW music falls short, because it is preaching and illustrating theory more than it is taking us on a magic ride through the world of its ideas in application.

Personal Device thrives when the band members get in touch with their inner rebellious but sensible youth. They bash out hardcore-based tunes with metal riff framing, sounding like Emperor covering Iggy Pop or G.G. Allin sometimes, and put these in songs with some breathing room a lot like early Suicidal Tendencies. Riff quality is very good. So is their ability to know when to bring on the power and when to let a rhythm ride to its natural conclusion. Moments on this album, like on Cóndor’s works, are so good they burst with potential and make you think you have discovered a new classic.

It is interrupted however by a tendency to demonstrate. Either they show how they can fit in a blues part, use an unnecessary spoken word piece, or expand song structures to include the non-relevant for the point of making a point, but it breaks the flow of the album and adulterates the good stuff. This also blighted Cóndor Duin: theory is only good when put into practice, in a way that converts the cerebral into the existential and experiential. At the risk of ruining this review by doing the same, I will step off that soap box and summarize.

This is a great album within another album. Many good ideas ooze from the fabric of En Puerto. Their first album however had more of a feeling of a garage project designed just to be music that the musicians — enlightened as they are by theory, and their theoretical background is known to me and quite substantial — found themselves liking, not just in “body” (how it feels and sounds) but in “mind” (what it delivers) and possibly in “soul” (how it makes poetic the condition of life). The best albums do all three, and their first was closer because it was less obsessively engineered in the front-brain and more unleashed from within. Moments of En Puerto do the same, and if they cut the rest out, they’d have an album on par with DRI’s Four of a Kind or Cryptic Slaughter Money Talks. Here’s hoping for album three.

Dr. Shrinker – Grotesque Wedlock (2004)

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Death metal was born in 1983 with the unholy quartet of Sodom, Bathory, Hellhammer and Slayer, but it took many years to translate the new style into a full-fledged monster, which happened sometime in 1990-1991. In the interregnum, bands such as Possessed, Kreator, Destruction and Merciless took the speed metal approach, the broken drums of thrash, and the vocals and guitar techniques of death metal and made an intermediate style.

Dr. Shrinker comes to us from that era with this compilation of demos from its period of existence from 1987 to 1990. The tracklist breaks down as follows:

    “Wedding the Grotesque” (1989)

  1. Tools Of The Trade
  2. Mesmerization (Of A Corpse)
  3. Fungus
  4. Rawhead Rex
  5. Cerebral Seizure
  6. Dead By Dawn
  7. Open-Heart Surgery
  8. No Way To Live
  9. Pronounced Dead
  10. Chunk Blower
  11. Bacterial Encroachment
  12. Wedding The Grotesque
  13. “The Eponym” (1990)

  14. Tighten The Tourniquet
  15. Germ Farm
  16. “Recognition” (1988)

  17. The Command
  18. March Of The Undead
  19. Graphic Violence
  20. Inverted Direction
  21. Free At Lasssst!!!

These tracks display the conventions of that period pushing toward something more extreme: verses like the German speed metal bands, choruses like Swedish band Merciless with a bit of melody, and shifts from verse/chorus structure and fills much like later American band Nunslaughter. These songs display the holdover from 1970s metal through Venom which manifests in strong rhythm hooks to the vocal cadence of choruses balanced by driving inertia in the verses, deviating with strange fills that foreshadow future song developments. In this, part of the genesis of death metal can be seen: the transition from conventional song structures to entirely riff-driven evolution of theme as manifested itself on classics of the genre like Onward to Golgotha.

Showing the speed metal heritage, riffs are often single-picked and emphasize an internal rhythm, in contrast to the phrasal riffs to come later. Their simplicity in phrase allows the production of a basic driving rhythm which storms up against the ends of each iteration, creating a sense of a pile-up that conveys urgency to the listener. This ploughs into the chorus and creates a feeling of intensity with repetition, which is very much like the 1980s, a cross between Gordon Gekko and nuclear warfare. An interesting outlier is “March of the Undead,” which could have come off Cryptic Slaughter Convicted (and, at 1:21, has a song length to match).

While Dr. Shrinker does a great job of this style, the problem for me — and others — is that this style seems dated and the bands interchangeable at this point. You could throw on an album by Necronomicon, Merciless, Kreator, Destruction or late-80s Sodom and get the same experience and roughly the same riff archetypes. For this reason, Grotesque Wedlock remains in the purchasing domain of people who love this speed/death hybrid style and metal historians.

The economics of metal evolution

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The DLA/DMU has taken flak over the years for being unwilling to embrace new trends, but this criticism forgets that we also avoided endorsing older bad ideas. Our writers have generally avoided jumping on the bandwagon for the “trve kvlt” just as much as the new, millennial-friendly indie-rock version of metal. The reason we can do this is that we apply a simple quality standard instead of using the consensus of others to determine truth.

Despite having many editors, each of whom had somewhat varied opinions on the process, if viewed on the large scale the site has kept a generally consistent opinion. That is: some of the so-called classics are good, and few of the new school releases are good, but the determination is not made by category, but by analyzing each release on its own merits. This leads to sudden shock for some who expected us to be cheerleaders for anything that seems to “uphold the true spirit of the underground,” and dismay for those who like the newer material as release after release fails our test.

Metal is in a slump and has been since 1994, in quality. Correspondingly, it has been in a boom in terms of quantity of fans. We have more “metalheads” (cough) now than ever before. However, anyone who is not in denial — and most are — can tell you that quality has fallen off dramatically. The music has lost its energy, its nerve and its insight and been buried under a wave of bands that are either obedient and docile system products, or slaves to the underground record-collecting audience that does not care about quality so long as the aesthetics of previous generations are preserved. Both groups unfortunately are useful idiots for industry, which can keep producing low-cost clone bands and reaping the profits.

We discard bands for two reasons: not being metal, and not being good. The bands that are simply not good tend to have the most fans, ironically. Who among us can claim that, for example, Blazebirth Hall bands and Drudkh offered anything musical or artistic to metal? They cloned Graveland in a light and breezy melodic form that is essentially music for children. In the same way we refuse to celebrate underground “favorites” that consist of ranting and disorganized music like Sepulchral Aura, or avantgarde prog fanboy-bait like Fanisk and Deathspell Omega.

In addition, we discard that which does not uphold the artistic, intellectual and philosophical spirit of metal. There is quite a bit of overlap here with “not being good.” We would not endorse Cradle of Filth; nor would we endorse Opeth, back in the day, or Cannibal Corpse, on the basis that they were essentially rock bands trying to assimilate metal and thus produced a moronic mindset. Similarly Pantera and to a lesser degree, Anthrax. Back in the day we thought SOD was inferior to Cryptic Slaughter, DRI, and Corrosion of Conformity. We refused to endorse Wolves in the Throne Room, Animals as Leaders, Gojira, Mastodon and other indie-rock pretending to be metal. We ignore Pelican and all stoner doom bands because they are boring and terrible. This music is distraction from metal, not metal, but its fans make a big show of being “very metal,” which tells you exactly what they are hiding and deflecting your attention from.

This approach wins us zero friends in the short term, but trusted readers in the long term. People — especially those who lead purposeful lives and do not have lots of time, nor enjoy, combing through catalogs and blogs trying to figure out which 1% of the reviews are not lies — like getting the low-down on quality metal. They enjoy that moment of discovery when they find something really good, something they can listen to not just this week and six months or a year from now, but for future decades. That is ultimately the standard by which any music fan operates; they like music, so they veer toward the best, not just at a level of mechanics (technicality) but artistically, or its relevance to the ongoing philosophical and moral maturation of humankind. Most of humanity likes mediocrity or at least convinces itself that it likes those bands. After all, Third Eye Blind has sold more records than most segments of the metal genre. But popularity — whether among credulous hipsters or gormless mass media fans — has never determined quality. Consensus is not reality. Only reality is reality, and we make our best stab at it.

With that in mind, you may ask: why write negative reviews? The answer may surprise you. We seek to give music fans the intellectual tools they need to fight back the onslaught of Opeth, Pantera, Ulver, Cradle of Filth, Meshuggah, Vattnet Viskar, Cannibal Corpse and Deathspell Omega styled bands. We use both positive and negative examples to illustrate, to the best of our ability, what metal is and which approaches to it have produced the quality level necessary for prolonged listening. This puts us at odds with most metal journalists, for whom writing is a day job and as a result, is interpreted as endless enthusiasm for whatever is new and exciting because the consensus likes it. They are essentially advertisers because they are writing ad copy about these bands, not a look into what makes their music function. It is designed to make you buy music, because journalists who can sell music get famous and become editors. You will notice that major publications run almost no negative reviews. Why is that, you might ask? Because their job is to sell music, not review it, even if they call it “review.”

In all human endeavors our social impulses, which because we are selfish beings are actually self-interested impulses translated to altruism to flatter and manipulate others, override any sense of quality or purpose. The task ceases to become the task and becomes the process of creating the appearance of results instead of results; bands stop trying to be good, and focus on replicating what has worked before in new forms. The “best” (by consensus) bands “sound” different on the surface, but musically are extremely similar, because that formula has worked in the past. That is a social impulse: make what people like because it does not challenge them and makes them feel smart, profound or at least “with the crowd” to be listening to it. This social impulse has ruined metal since 1994.

Metal thrives — as it did during the mid-70s, early 80s and early 90s — under two factors: (1) it is ignored by most people, so it is free from the manipulations of those who want to sell rebellion-flavored rock to morons, and (2) it has some truly great artists to kickstart it and establish a standard. The former is self-evident, but the latter can be explained as follows. When early Norse black metal came out, it set a standard of quality and allowed fans, by simply choosing to spend their money on what was more rewarding, to exclude bands that did not meet that standard. Why would you buy Forgotten Wolves when you can get Darkthrone? Why would you pick up another speed metal clone when you can have top-quality death metal? Metal thrived when it was elitist, closed-minded and viciously competitive. Now that it has become a group hug, quality has suffered and no one seems to have noticed. Except us — and we are watching.

Funeral Bitch – The Demos

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The varied Paul Speckmann projects — Master, Abomination, Funeral Bitch, Death Strike and Speckmann Project — reveal attempts to forge a new genre out of the ashes of speed metal. Roughly combined of metal, punk and 60s rock, the Speckmann approach took several forms which reflected his vision of what was occurring in music at the time.

Funeral Bitch comes to us straight from the 1986-1987 era and reflects the influence of thrash on Speckmann. Not thrash as the teeny-bopper magazines us it to describe Metallica-style speed metal bands, but thrash in the sense of Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, Corrosion of Conformity and Cryptic Slaughter. Funeral Bitch sounds like the first COC album hybridized with the early Sodom demos under the advice of The Mentors.

Short songs weighing in at around two and a half minutes or less use the infectious vocals Speckmann borrowed from 60s rock, the buoyant energy from punk, and the shaped phrasal riffs of metal but deliver the punch quickly. Versions of “The Truth” and “Funeral Bitch” from other Speckmann projects reveal how these songs were sped up and the vocals simplified to a single cyclic hook for this rendition. The result is in many ways more compelling, because the extreme speed and thrashing drum aggression of Funeral Bitch requires simplification and removes many of the excesses inherited from rock that made Master and Abomination releases confused at times. Like commando raids in the night, these short songs leap in to the fray, speak their piece, bash down the opposition and then disappear into the jungle.

These two demos provide different views of the same idea. The earlier one shows more of a punk influence, while the later shows the marks of actual thrash and perhaps influences from the rising grindcore scene. On this re-issue they are at radically different volume levels which makes regular listening difficult, but these historical recordings fit another piece in the puzzle of the evolution of underground metal and provide a punchier, more effective version of the Speckmann vision.

Did Accept invent speed metal with “Fast as a Shark” on Restless and Wild?

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Wolf Hoffmann asserts that Accept wrote the first speed metal song ever with “Fast as a Shark” from Restless and Wild way back in 1982. While the debate rages across the internet, now the equivalent of 1980s daytime television, the question can be answered by looking to what speed metal is.

Speed metal — as distinct from thrash a genre popularized by Thrasher magazine devotees and skaters making hardcore/metal crossover such as Dirty Rotten Imbeciles and Cryptic Slaughter — originated in the use of a single technique: the muted strummed downpicked power chord. This technique combined the repetitive downpicking of punk with palm muting, previously used only to emphasize specific notes. Much of its appeal came from the changes in amplification and production since the previous decade which allowed louder music to exist. Much like the 1980s itself, the muted strum conveyed a sound of clashing absolutes and decreased the amount of harmony heard in each chord, making the music more purely percussive like techno and early industrial. Even more, it gained the volume punks had always aspired to with its explosive and uncompromising sound. In the process, it inspired more use of accidentals leading to more chromatic fills, which in the next generation with death metal became a form of riffs themselves, where speed metal relied more on the NWOBHM song form and harmony.

Generally regarded as starting in 1983 with Metallica Kill ‘Em All, speed metal presented a radically new sound which had precursors in extreme (for the time) bands like Motorhead, Judas Priest, Blitzkrieg, Tank and Satan. However, no bands had fully adopted the new technique as the basis of their composition until the early cluster of Metallica, Exodus, Mercyful Fate, Nuclear Assault, Anthrax and Megadeth. During the 1980s these bands were the most extreme metal that most people could find in their local record stores, which were how most people got music back then, with the exception of Slayer which was a speed/death hybrid and Venom which was a punk-influenced form of NWOBHM. Accept does not measure up to this standard on the basis of technique, since its song fits within older heavy metal format and does not use the muted strum.

This statement does not decrease the importance of Accept in the creation of speed metal. A long line of innovations occurred leading to speed metal, starting with the incredibly rough sound of Motorhead in 1976 but aided by progressive bands like King Crimson and Greenslade as well as a chain of punk acts who pushed the envelope such as Discharge, The Exploited, Amebix and the Cro-Mags. Below you can hear “Fast as a Shark” and see this heritage for yourself, contrasted with the archetypal speed metal song, “Creeping Death” from the second Metallica work Ride the Lightning and Blitzkrieg’s self-titled track from their 1981 EP Buried and Alive.

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.

Excel – Split Image

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Now that our society has fallen apart further, the 1980s like simple and honest like the 1950s did to people exhausted of modern society in the 1980s. A better outlook might be that however our fallen time, it is a more fallen version of the 1980s, with the same pitfalls and failures. Those who lived through it can tell you how much a time of terror it was, with nuclear warfare and social collapse at every turn, and how this propelled some artists to put their most sacred hopes and fears into music. Excel was not one of them.

Excel created this “crossover thrash” back in the 1980s but really, this album belongs in with the Pantera/Biohazard school of bouncy hard rock in punk form with some added metal riffs. The problem with hard rock is that it relies on a simple mentality behind its riffs and that it aims to attract, so it is the equivalent of carnival music or a dinner theater side-show, which is really obvious music that gratifies really basic desires. That keeps the interest less than something articulated and involved like DRI, which offers its own riff style that obviously derives influence from many places, but does not parrot them. The only hidden influence here would be a more pronounced version of the Orange County surf-rock sound that incorporates novelty and party music into basic rock and projects it onto whatever genre can serve as canvas, in this case the basic punk of Excel. The tendency toward riffs based on playing a consistent trope, then interrupting it so the audience can get excited for it to return, while a technique to some degree in most music here becomes a staple in the most basic, drunk football fan throwing feces at the stage way.

The “crossover” part here consists of faster punk riffs that pick up after the chunky bounce-metal riffs and grandstanding hard rock riffs run out. Over this, a vocalist essentially speaks his lines and ends them on a melodic uptake, and although he deserves some note for periodically sounding like Snake from Voivod, these vocals bring out nothing in the music and mostly try to draw attention to themselves with the rest of the music as background atmosphere. Drums sound like a jogger trying to keep up with the vocals and far too often fall into the same syncopated beat that adds nothing but background noise, since the guitar and vocal hooks are nearly in unison and provide all the rhythm we need. While from a distance this album will appear to be no different than DRI, Cryptic Slaughter and Suicidal Tendencies, it lacks the fundamental spirit toward the expression itself as something distinct from and not pandering to the crowd. There is too much pander in Excel, and it dumbs down the music.

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.