Hazael – Thor (Loud Out, 1994)

Despite hosting a substantial early-1990s underground scene, Polish death metal never managed to break through on a wider scale. Beyond high-profile acts like Vader, Behemoth and Decapitated, most Polish acts continue to dwell in obscurity. However, the renewed interest in old school death metal have caused record labels to probe back catalogues in search of potential lost gems, or at least releases that can be marketed as such. One example of recent years is Thor, the 1994 debut full-length album by Polish death metal band Hazael.

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Flames of Hell – Fire and Steel (Draconian, 1987)

As much as we want to think otherwise, our reception, enjoyment and evaluation of music is not strictly dependent on the pure act of listening. A truism perhaps, but still something that is worth reflecting on from time to time. Especially for collectors of cult metal vinyl – the modern-day personification of the emperor’s new clothes syndrome (or should we say old clothes?). If you invest a disproportionate amount of time, effort and money in reading about and eventually acquiring a record – as collectors of obscure metal tend to do – your judgement is likely to get clouded to the point where it’s hard to assess the quality of the work in question. And this includes both positive and negative judgements. Case in point: the hype surrounding the Icelandic proto-black metal band Flames of Hell and their sole full-length album Fire and Steel (1987).

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ASSESOR – Invaze (Globus International, 1990)

Donning their debut album with a medieval-styled, black-and-white cover that looks more like a qualified sketch than a finished statement, Assesor went into music history as the first underground metal band in Czechoslovakia to score a record deal. Spearhead-status notwithstanding, Invaze stays firmly rooted in 1980 death/thrash extremity rather than tapping into the burgeoning death- and black metal movements. What ultimately makes Invaze a rewarding listen is not so much a question of stylistic preferences, but how the band expand upon an established form in order to transform it qualitatively from within.

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Darken – Darken (Defiled, 1998)

Although it might disappoint some readers, it’s probably advisable to begin this review by stating that this is not a lost recording by a well-known Polish musician. However, the music does fall somewhere within the black metal sphere. Darken is a three-track EP released by guitar-virtuoso Toby Knapp, presumably conceived as an attempt at writing and performing music in the language of mid-to-late-1990s melodic black metal. Joining the multi-instrumentalist on vocals and as lyrical contributor is a certain Necrotriton, while drums are obviously computer-generated.

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Polemicist Interview

(review can be found here)

Is it delusional to believe in a revitalization of our much beloved music? Judging by the everflowing stream of nonsense bombarding our ears for the last 20 years or so, it is all too easy to answer the question affirmatively. What ultimately makes it worth hanging around just a little longer are the precious few and often unexpected discoveries that somehow manage to make it to your stereo. Like Zarathustrian Impressions by the debuting epic death/black metal ensemble Polemicist. With a combined assault of evocative melodies, erudite songwriting and conceptual rigeur, these Philadelphians have not only helped restore faith in underground music, but also cleared the path for further exploration in the crossection between black, death and heavy metal.

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The Accüsed

The Accüsed came to life in 1981 as a punk/metal-act from Seattle who indulge in a self-coined musical style interchangeably referred to as “splatter core” or “splatter rock.” Releasing their debut full-length album in 1985, The Accüsed developed tangentially to thrash luminaries such as D.R.I., C.O.C. and Cryptic Slaughter, with whom they share musical characteristics. Like the latter, the Accüsed applies metallic riffing to rudimentary song structures fueled by the raging intensity of hardcore punk.

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Hardcore Punk Discoveries, Part I: Five Non-Album Finds

With the exception of borderline subgenres such as grindcore and thrash, metal bands generally compose songs that exceed the standard pop-template in terms of longevity – a feat largely inherited from progressive rock, where compositions often reach for the conceptual and/or epic. Therefore, the full-length album comes off as an ideal format for metal. In the case of punk music, things tend to work differently. Punk – especially hardcore punk – thrives on raw energy, purity of expression and a to-the-point manner. This code of conduct produces some of the most intense music around, but also places certain restrictions on its modes of expression.

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G.I.S.M. – Detestation (Dogma, 1984)

For us Westerners, many forms Japanese non-traditional music carry an awkward, or even amusing air of exotism. When it comes to metal and punk, this sense of other-ness often stems from the way European-descended musical genres get filtered through a cultural lens largely alien to its original source. Even when it comes to obvious carbon-copy tribute acts, there’s always something strikingly goofy about Japanese metal/punk. Not surprisingly, this makes for a good marketing device because even if the bands suck (and to be frank, many of them do), they still sound “unique”. Relevant cases in point are just too ubiquitous to deserve mentioning. Let’s instead talk about something that does not suck. Like Japan’s premier hardcore punk act and much-overlooked crossover pioneers G.I.S.M. While definitely goofy, G.I.S.M. succeed where most Japanese metal- and punk-acts fail by forging a highly idiosyncratic expression that not only offers something new to the table, but also manage to resonate with the deeper spirit of both punk and metal.

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Polemicist – Zarathustrian Impressions (Fólkvangr, 2019)

In the past, metal journalism used to function mainly as a filtering device; weeding out the bad so that the good stuff would rise to the top. Nowadays, it’s more likely the other way around. We’re now searching for potential in a seemingly endless flow of “interesting” or pleasant-sounding junk. This task often requires time and patience, because those rare and far between releases will often sound similar to their lesser peers on a surface level. One illuminating example would be the Pennsylvanian epic death/black metal act Polemicist and their debut album Zarathustrian Impressions. Their music may not appear spectacular on casual listen, but repeated and concentrated exposure reveal unexpected qualities.

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