As the continent was before Britannic penal colonization, Australian black and death metal scene was and is still mostly an undeveloped desert of unexceptional crossover thrash posturing as “war metal”, blackened cheeseball beer metal, AC/DC clones with unclean vocals, and experimental technical deaf metal/post-hardcore/jazz fusion hybrids. Martire rode forth from obscurity to restore fruit and flower to the wasteland, fertilizing the barren bush wielding fire and sword.
Another album that I briefly wrote about a while back is approaching its official release date. Rituals by Rotting Christ will release on February 12th, 2016, and is still available to preorder from Season of Mist in the meantime. You know how a great deal of established and older bands stick to their stylistic guns, especially now that the crisis of the 1990s is but a dim memory? Rotting Christ is amongst them; they’ve continued their traditional-black-etc fusion ways as hinted at on their earliest albums and established, at the very latest, on Triarchy of the Lost Lovers. If this album fails to be of any value, you’ll at least have Thy Mighty Contract as a fallback.
Doom/death metal band Pale Existence has posted its complete 1995 demo for posterity. This band arose in the second wave of death metal and was part of the wave of bands experimenting with slower and more atmospheric metal after other branches had gone for speed or riff-labyrinth composition.
Over the years several members of Pale Existence migrated to other bands from the area surrounding their San Jose origin, including Exhumed. wound up in that band. Guitarist Lorin Ashton became the popular DJ/electronic artist Bassnectar.
Brian Glover – Drums, obnoxious vocals
Bud Burke- Guitar , vocals
Mark Smith- Brutal low vocals
Lorin Ashton – Guitar and mid range vocals
Steve Cefala- Fretless Bass
Recorded by Bart Thurber on top of Mount Um in 1995.
Early death metal (Bathory, Slayer, Hellhammer, Sodom, Master) emerged as an aggregate of the past, comprised of speed metal (Metallica, Exodus, Nuclear Assault, Testament, Megadeth), late hardcore (Cro-Mags, Amebix, Discharge, The Exploited, GBH), classic heavy metal (Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motorhead) and thrash (DRI, COC, Cryptic Slaughter). As a result, most death metal bands exhibited some tendencies more than others, although the founding early death metal bands tended toward the type of tremolo-powered phrase-based riffing exemplified by Slayer.
For example, Deicide on its second album Legion arguably made the album that …And Justice For All wanted to be, with lots of choppy percussive riffing forming intricate textures from which a melody emerged. Early Master sounded more like a punk band with its simple song structures and emphasis on droning, protest-like vocals. Second-wave death metal like Death and Possessed had a tendency to apply speed metal song structures and riff styles. Even advanced death metal like Pestilence often sounded like a more technical and complex version of early speed metal.
But focusing on death metal requires we look at what was unique to it. Getting past the vocals and the intensity, what distinguishes it musically is its use of that tremolo-strummed phrasal riff. This in turn forced bands to escape from riffs integrated strictly with drums, and to as a result put more riffs into the song to drive changes that previous would have been done by the drums. That in turn forced bands to make those riffs fit together, what Asphyx call “riff-gluing,” so that songs avoided the “riff salad” plague that captured later speed metal.
These bands exploded onto the world from 1983-1985, inspired in part by Discharge’s Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing which hit the ground in 1982. Slayer in particular stitched together classic heavy metal and ambient hardcore like Discharge and GBH and ended up with its particular formulation, taking the tremolo and riffs independent of drums from Discharge and matching them to the complex proggy structures of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden with Motorhead speed and aggression. This was what launched death metal free from the shadow of speed metal, which was the first metal genre to break out of underground status despite being — for the time — fast, aggressive and dark.
If you want to get to the core of death metal, these albums might help. They’re albums I keep returning to year after year because they have enough complexity and that unquantifiable quality of having purpose and being expressive, perhaps even emulating the life around them and converting it into a beast of mythological quality, which makes them interesting each time I pick them up. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, the players….
Slayer – Show No Mercy
While Hell Awaits has more expert composition, South of Heaven better control of mood and melody, and Reign in Blood more pure rhythmic intensity, Show No Mercy captures Slayer flush with the fervor of youth and the belief in big concepts. As a result, it is an intensity mystical album, uniting a narrative about war between good and evil with the actions of people on earth. It is not like Hell Awaits more solidly situated in a single mythology, nor like Reign in Blood and after an attempt to explore the dark side of modern existence in a literal sense. Instead, it is a flight of imagination mated to an apocalyptic vision of a society crumbling from within. As a result it is musically the most imaginative of Slayer albums, creating grand constructions of visions of worlds beyond that stimulate the fantasy dwelling within our otherwise obedient minds.
Massacra – Enjoy the Violence
Another early album in very much the style of Slayer but with intensity cranked to the ceiling, Enjoy the Violence shows a band intent on conveying intense energy through their music. To do this, they rely on not only near-constant breakneck speed but also vivid contrasts between the types of riffs that are used in a song, welding a rich narrative from riffs that initially seem simple like the scattered twisted bits of metal left after a battle. The result is closer to epic poem that punk music and blows conventional heavy metal and speed metal out of the water with the sense of unbridled aggression and lust for life that surges through its passages. In addition, it carries on the mythological tradition of Slayer but adds a Nietzschean spin whereby constant war for supremacy and domination is the only path not only to victory, but to personal integrity.
Morbid Angel – Abominations of Desolation
Most prefer the more refined versions of these songs from Altars of Madness and Blessed Are the Sick, but my ear favors these nuanced and unsystematic detail-heavy songs which feature more of a blending of textures into what sounds like a communication from another world heard underwater or through the croaking voice of a medium. Trey Azagthoth’s solos were best when he used his half-whole step leaps to make solos that sounded like the creation of gnarly sculptures, and these songs powered by Mike Browning’s drums and voice have more of an organic jauntiness to them than the later mechanistic tanks-crushing-the-shopping-mall sound of the full albums. In addition, this combination of songs strays from the later more interruption-based riffing this band would attempt and instead brings out their inner desire to rip all ahead go at all times, creating a suspension of reality like war itself.
Incantation – Onward to Golgotha
When the idea comes to mind of death metal at its essence, this album will be mentioned because it creates a sound unlike anything else. Incantation took the Slayer riff and song formula and slowed it down, doubled the complexity, and focused on alternating tempos and riff styles to create a building mood of immersive darkness. The result was not only aggressive, but melancholic and contemplative, like a warrior looking out over an abandoned bullet-pocked city. Detuned riffs collide and deconstruct one another, resulting in a sound like the inexorable flow of black water through underground caverns as civilizations collapse above. This rare group of musicians achieved a triumph here that none have been able to repeat individually, suggesting this album was born of a magic confluence of ideas more than a process (ham sandwiches on a conveyor belt).
Carnage – Dark Recollections
If you want “the Swedish sound” at its most powerful, Dark Recollections offers every component synthesized into a package that has not yet had time to become self-critical and neurotic, and thus is an unfettered expression of the thoughts of precocious adolescents translated into sound. The components of Swedish death metal are the modified d-beat, the use of melody to expand song development, a gritty electric explosion of guitar sound, and a tendency to write songs that are half searing budget riff and half horror movie sound track.
Sepultura – Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation
The first EP in this two-EP package is the more classic death metal version and packs a solid blast of inventive riffcraft staged with theatrical precision into songs that form narratives of the topics denoted in their titles. But the riffs are instant creations of their own, shaped from raw chromaticism and whipped into fury by two levels of rhythm, both in the change of chords and the texturing of the sounding of them. The result owes quite a bit to Slayer, Bathory and Hellhammer, but also to the punk hardcore underlying those acts and a good knowledge of dark metal of the time, and yet is still its own animal. Nothing sounds like this except it, and by giving itself a unique voice, it conjures a power of revelation that endows these songs with lasting enjoyment for the listener.
Swedish black/death metal outfit Dawn returned from the chaos of the 2000s a year ago and have been steadily moving toward releasing new material since. In support of this, the band will be re-issuing its entire discography through Century Media in 2014.
Formed in 1990, Dawn migrated from the death metal of their early demos into a more complex, melodic, epic and atmospheric style of black/death metal that culminated in Slaughtersun – Crown Of The Triarchy in (1998). Along with Dissection, Unanimated, Eucharist and Sacramentum, Dawn created a hybrid of melodic metal styles that expressed Iron Maiden-style harmony and melodic within the more rigorous rhythmic format of underground death metal.
During the first half of 2014, Dawn‘s back catalog will finally be made available again on CD and — for the first time ever — on vinyl. Carefully re-mastered by Dan Swanö, who also mastered Sacramentum and Fleshcrawl classics, these re-issues feature re-developed artwork done with full cooperation with the band.
During most of its active life, this one-man band (with occasional collaborators) was ignored for being primitive, primal, raw and feral. Its few-chord songs and droning incessant beat made it an obvious target for mockery; from a distance, it sounded like a mis-tuned Toyota with a broken fan belt.
However, as the 1990s wore on and it became clear that black metal had expressed itself fully and wasn’t “coming back,” people listened to the advice of our reviews and decided that Ildjarn was, after all, part of the essential black metal collection.
Today sees the release of “The Fool”, which is definitely the first single from Fleshgod Apocalypse’s upcoming King, and apparently the first time they’ve ever released a promotional single. It certainly seems to cast the band’s music in a poppier light than you’d expect from the rest of the marketing material; consonant orchestral sections and generic melodeath progressions alternate in rapid succession with occasional clean choruses making for an especially basic experience. It seems as if Fleshgod Apocalypse’s modus operandi is to shock and awe potential customers with the novelty of their sound and the clear technical and organizational aptitude that it takes to perform it. If you end up converted and purchase the entire album (which you should be able to starting on February 5th, 2016), don’t be surprised if you tire of it after only a few tracks.
Combining comedy with horror takes a deft touch or the result rapidly veers into the leering variety show that Hollywood has adored since its earliest days but that strikes an audience with deep existential dread rooted in unacknowledged devastating boredom. A film can either be a horror film with a sense of humor, or a comedy wearing the mantle of horror, but few can do both.
Housebound reverses the direction in which even movies like Evil Dead (1981) venture, which is the “self-aware” movie in the postmodern style, or a movie which is ironically funny as part of its ineptitude or uncertainty about its primary mission. It might make more sense to refer to the 2014 movie as “suspense comedy” because it does not evoke horror so much as a sense of something large and important being wrong underneath the veneer of normalcy which we call “normal life” and as a species use to bury our doubts, fears and existential confusion. Housebound is a very funny movie, once the viewer gets accustomed to the method in which it delivers its humor, which is mostly situational and character-based but relies on a strong sense of the absurd and thus requires the viewer, like the protagonist in a horror film, to be a realist among the herd of denialist sheep.
The movie begins with plot-as-setting: a young woman, troubled in her relationship to drugs and crime, runs into a sadistic judge who assigns her not to jail but to a sentence back where the problem began, namely her childhood home. This in turn puts her into confrontation with her mother who exists in mental orbit most of the time, and a stepfather who seems to have no ability to change anything that happens in his life. While they live in uncertainty and loathing for each other, events that appear to be supernatural in origin begin to appear, and all react with skepticism until the pervasive intrusion within their lives can no longer be denied. At this point, the plot ramps up with a delicious lack of concern for human life and “feelings.” Like most good comedies, the characters are situationally accurate but take on a larger than life aspect in order to drive forward a plot that requires people to react like unstable chemical compounds. Sympathetic portrayals of even the pathetic give this movie somewhat of an extra grace, and while it is not always believable, its mockery of the head-in-the-sand of normal human existence makes it an enjoyable watch.
“Suspense comedy” might describe this film better than anything related to horror, since the aspect of horror that lives on is a pejorative realism toward human adaptive behaviors, and although there are moments of fear and terror the real drive of this film is satire of the wretched and absurd nature of human existence. As a result, it makes no sense to endorse this as a horror film, but more to say it is a comedy set in a horror backdrop which may win over its audience from the similar ways to horror films with which it treats humanity and its sacred cows. In addition, once it gains momentum (and the audience adapts to the New Zealand accent), Housebound provides a compelling character drama within an existence as nonsensical as actual reality, only more clearly revealed as such by the humorous events which it contains.
In the many years of reading about metal, I have often wished for something like Compilation of Death: a zine that goes back through other zines, pulls out the best content and annotates it so that a historical record is composed from many sources. Each of the stories in this zine are like a shelf in a great library of metal, usually about a band but equally possibly a scene, a sound or a time.
What you will find among these pages is a carefully curated view of metal, which borrows whole pages from zines from the periods in which these bands were active, combines them with current-day interviews and perspectives, and assembles them into a kind of metal investigative reporting that shows us a well-rounded picture of each band or topic.
Compilation of Death carefully gives credit to each of the source zines and includes information on how to contact them, so in addition to being a feast of metal zine information, this is a promotion for the entire idea of zines, which are experiencing a renaissance as people tire of the information overload — which guarantees a predominance of low-value content — and endless useless people who clog today’s internet. Democratizing content merely means that every bad idea gets repeated thousands of times and good ideas get driven to the periphery, so that established commercial interests with the bucks to advertise on the big sites win out. Zines on the other hand are by their nature curated, meaning that someone plays the role of librarian/editor and picks bands deliberately, asks questions with intent, and reveals something unique to that subject with the resulting reporting. This is different than the assembly line process of web sites and big metal magazines, who process whatever the labels send them in roughly the same way with surface changes so that the “quirky” outlook hides the utter sameness and entropy of it all. What made zines powerful was that they had purpose, which allowed them to reveal a truth non-objectively and for reasons of itself, instead of secondary reasons like popularity and profit. Compilation of Death doubles down on this concept by not only choosing direction and topic, but picking from the vast number of zines out there the best of what is written on that topic.
These two volumes offer reading matter that can be pored over many times because they are bursting with details that become increasingly relevant the more one knows about a topic. In addition, metal historians will find many unknown but important details here confirming the motivations of bands and their art, in addition to a broader perspective on the people behind the music which is never revealed by the more uptight, formal and procedural interviews conducted by big magazines. For those who want a heavy dose of information about the underground in a form that rewards the diligent reader with a deep understanding, Compilation of Death is a treat that can be revisited time and again to bring out the nuance of its topic.