This well-respected album from the early nineties is a lethal injection of pure destruction enough to satisfy anybody’s lust for laying waste to humans and their buildings. Preferably while they are still inside them so the bricks and mortar can rain down on their skulls and shatter all bones, leaving human remains indistinguishable from the rubble. I doubt this experience varies much for each listener as this album has been engineered precisely as a soundtrack of de-construction. Heavily shredded riffs reminiscent of Beneath the Remains-era Sepultura are tightly packed into a Death Metal container more appropriate for the time. This is obviously characterised by the frantic, relentless tempo of the music. More important however, is the interplay of drums and vocals as synchronous rhythmic overlay to the jackhammer guitarwork. The results are precise blows punctuated by piercing, animalistic vocals. Each riff is like something maleable or just fucking ugly for the battering drums to lay waste to like an instinctive response to something undesirable. This mechanistic attack then gives way to climaxes of lead guitar or more prolonged and guttural growls. Ecstatic brutality. It is unashamedly extremely one-dimensional music, but does not lack purpose nor the energy to violently make its point as an update of the Speed/Death sound.
Interestingly, Epidemic of Violence is the second album to use ‘Lovecraft’s Nightmare’ by Michael Whelan as cover art. I’ll use this opportunity to present it, knowing you’ll recognise who were first.
The mystery behind this Australian band as well as their approach to music making has been very appealing ever since they arrived at the scene with their demo back in 1998. The boiling cauldron of Lovecraftian aesthetics, ambient and death metal appears to be potent enough to completely reinvent the genre and this is something we secretly hope for with every Portal release… But it never happens. Well, not quite. There is always something that stands in the way of the pure demonic current: be it compositional flaws, production quality or artwork. The latest release is no exception here.
The servants of Chaos return with their third full-length effort. Following the pattern set by its predecessor, Outre (2007) the songs on Swarth take the muddy path of broken arrangements jumping in and out of focus constantly. The vocals are buried in the mix and thus enhance the overall blurry feel of this sound wall. The jagged, at times almost black metal-sounding guitar backdrop wails and waves over the skittering, jazzy drumming. The band manages to recreate the menacing sonic world of Immolation (an obvious influence here), yet where Immolation weaves their melodies and rhythms into some otherworldly math, Portal attempt at playing “ambient” death metal. These attempts often result in completely vague and non-inspired parts, a gray monotonous sound shimmer. The highlights of the album (“Omenknow”, “Marityme” and “Werships”, the latter being a re-recorded version of the track appeared on 2004’s Sweyy EP) feature some nice half-melodies, “inverted” riffing and conceivable – yet no less chaotic, – rhythm structure. Slowing things down a little definitely helps these Lovecraftian priests to get a better idea of their own conjuring and set up a good involving atmosphere.
An important note: Portal badly needs a good visual artist. With so much of their appeal coming from on-stage imagery, theatrics and general entourage it seems like the obvious Photoshop approach to their album artwork paired with some bad taste comic art doodles is extremely ill-advised. The band pictures are always appropriately evil though. Go see them live at MDF next year!
Britannia was throughout much of the 1980’s, with the exception of the grindcore movement, a musical wilderness ever since the general decline of the NWOBHM movement, which globally had given way to the speed metal movement, and subsequently what were then ‘embryonic’ or otherwise non-foundational forms of death and black metal.
The year here was 1987. Onslaught had already made their mark with their first two full-lengths, and Sabbat were yet to release their debut. Virus’s debut will remind some of Onslaught, as both bands have seem to have inherited a lot of their influence from the music of crossover act, Discharge.
Virus take a more primitive approach to their music, both in execution and production. In the guitar patterns we see a heavy influence from the early music of Sodom, the melodies tend to be fashioned in the same NWOBHM- indebted manner as their ‘In The Sign Of Evil’ E.P. whilst they are executed at a more quick and furious pace that resembles their first full-length Obsessed By Cruelty. The drums are not as chaotic and more or less run more fluidly with the pacing of the guitars, and are of a low volume, giving an almost ‘cautious’ sound that is rather similar to Bathory’s self-titled debut. Vocals are a direct shout, English-accented, and an obvious paean to Discharge or Subhumans. Lyrical content focuses on themes of post-nuclear society, and the consequences of chemical and agent warfare, lyrics and song titles almost laid out as if to honour the broken English vocabularies of early Sepultura and Sarcofago. In short, like a lot of classic speed metal it sums up the way the genre analysed the Cold War world; decades of pacifistic tension and the foreknowledge of ultimate conflict.
In hindsight this band were quite unique; the hybridisation of styles into a rough and cohesive song format, all bound by a common theme appears to have shown it’s influence on various bands throughout the years. Like countrymen Onslaught they were deeply rooted in the attitude of early 80’s British punk hardcore, and although minor, crafted a minor sub-style within the trappings of their era that was uniquely English. They are still an obscure act today, but given that in said period tape trading was considered a norm, it would be hard to not to imagine prominent bands today. Some of these would easily include Beherit, Conqueror, Bolt Thrower, Impaled Nazerene, Blasphemy, Angelcorpse, Spearhead, among others.
Whilst not a ‘direct influence’ per se, if we consider many black/death hybrids we see today, amongst modern underground crazes such as ‘war metal’ for example, it is easy to establish on listening to this release where some of these acts derived and later advanced their themes and concepts. As well as this it serves as a nice example of music that borrows forms from the metal and punk traditions, and comes across as honest and original without going out of it’s own way to do so. Worth a check.
By the time the doors opened at the Forum at 2pm, individuals were already gathering outside the venue. As the hours passed themselves by, more people congregated in accordance with the more prominent bands that were playing.
Cork duo Ghost Of Medina began proceedings just after the doors opened, and played purely instrumental music that bore strong resemblances to the music of post-hardcore acts such as Isis and Neurosis. At this early stage of the day, the venue was under packed and more or less saturated the impact of their live performance: both guitarist and drummer were highly able, and performed compositions that were well thought out, though like most bands of their ilk, it seemed at times like a disorganized pastiche of ideas. Nothing particularly special, but an otherwise necessary means to begin proceedings.
The next band to play, Belfast’s Overoth, played an excellent short set, and played mid-to high pace death metal that were of a consistent formula: the simplistic song structures of Swedish acts, such as Unleashed and Dismember, combined with the techniques not uncommon on the early works of New York metal acts Suffocation and Immolation. The production on their studio output is the clear, crunchy tone not unlike the sound of classic Entombed, though their live acoustics this day had a rough edge to it, sounding raw yet discernible, like Morbid Angel’s ‘Covenant’ it was well treated yet free of artificial compressions. For a crowd that was not yet numerous enough at that early stage and somewhat less participant than could have been, Overoth had quite a commanding presence in the midst of what could do lesser acts a complete lack of justice.
Just as energetic and fierce were England’s Spearhead, whose appearance at the venue was partially beset and delayed by unknown travel circumstances. A somewhat abrupt end to the band’s brief set came across as a slight disappointment. A well respected act on the underground circuit, their style is a hybrid of the British death metal/grindcore that defined Carcass and Bolt Thrower, with the charging tempos and structures of modern acts, Angelcorpse and Axis Of Advance. Guitar technique was skillful yet not over-extravagant, solos bearing a strong resemblance to the classic Trey Azagthoth/Richard Brunelle trade-off style, with vague similarities to the shredding Gene Palubicki, with clicking, compressed and tight drums an aesthetical paean to the acoustics of a machine gun. Their precise, warlike songs again should have generated a much more enthusiastic reception from a venue that was still under crowded at that phase, though they were still a pleasure to watch, and made their craftsmanship known.
Kildare’s Mourning Beloveth were the first act of the night to generate strong passions from the audience. Their morbid, downtempo heavy metal was met with a good stage humour, and they received the warmest of responses from a crowd that was by this time, healthy in a size and possibly spurred on to enthusiastic involvement by the ingestation of alcohol. More fitting to this good performance was the set time they were allocated, which allowed for their lengthy dirges to weave momentum. Musically, they bring about the gothic overtones of My Dying Bride and mix it with simpler, melodic song structures that resemble influential NWOBHM bands like Witchfinder General or Angel Witch, and sluggish, flowing tempos that echo Skepticism.
Onslaught played a very competent and energising set, their Discharge-esque speed metal came across as provocative and inspired. Even with newer songs that seemed watered down at times, and perhaps lacking the chaotic splendor of their early period, their setlist was full of momentum, and was performed with great prowess, the falsetto wails of the vocalist evoking a general atmosphere of nostalgia of an era that pre-dated the mass commercialization of the metal genre. I would conclude personally that Onslaught may be now past their best days, but their excellence as a live band is fitting to a climate where an improving work ethic and a greater respect for artistic clarity is making itself heard amidst what some have called ‘hard times’.
Primordial got the warmest of receptions by a native crowd, and stylistically began where Mourning Beloveth left off; melancholic in a sense that only Ireland could fathom and know, but more triumphal than the former, and almost Nietzschean in the sense that their music makes one stare into the abyss, only to emerge a better man. They played a lengthy set, consisting of material that ran in fluid cohesion, like a more hookish, streamlined My Dying Bride, and a use of guitar dominated forms that reference Burzum as much as they do Candlemass. Impressive as is known the onstage dynamism of vocalist Alan Averill, whose onstage character is that vibrant it comes across as bring rhetorical without having to make use of words. In terms of showmanship, professionalism, a will to evoke the vision of tragic heroism, Primordial were the most impressive band of the entire festival, with little room for dispute.
Legendary grindcore veterans Napalm Death were hotly anticipated though came across as a disappointment due to two factors: the first being the depleted length of their set, and the second being what some perceived as a muddied sound job that permeated the guitars during their time onstage. During the intensity of their set, which given their indisputable live reputation would have made little difference to the highly involved crowd; though due to an unbalanced mix, it was only possible to follow the song forms through memory of having heard them before. Songs were from the mostly from the earlier part of their discography, and in between this were pieces taken from their latest release. Anyone new to the band listening to their performance I am sure would have had trouble trying to appreciate the nature of some of the output, and would have otherwise physically involved themselves in the ensuing crowd actions purely for the sake of doing so. The set did not even exceed forty-five minutes and this was also perceived as an obvious disappointment given the fact that they were given the headlining slot.
In spite of anything that might have at anytime proved to be detrimental, this happened to be an excellent day and evening. It was especially brilliant for an event such as this to actually take place in the south-east of Ireland. By all accounts it was a memorable night.
This summer’s festival season of carnage is nearing its bloody end and while drinking beer from skullcaps we have been reading and writing reports, listening to albums and throwing the sign of the horns to all bands that still really understand what death metal is about. Maryland Deathfest 2009 was a success as were of course countless of smaller events in USA, Germany, wherever, and I myself attended the true-as-fuck Jalometalli 2009 in Oulu, Finland. It was truly a pleasure to see that this country still has a metal festival which is not totally invaded by metalcore people and hipsters. It has been getting worse, because metal is trendy now and even though that means more gigs, it also means that corporate rock bastards see the marketing potential.
While old school speed metal bands regenerated themselves with great force, the likes of Agent Steel, Death Angel and Whiplash riffing and headbanging like it was goddamned 1985, the band that really dominated the Oulu proceedings was the mighty Asphyx, always too underrated, always better than pretty much anything else from Netherlands, whose little brother Hail of Bullets didn’t fare that much worse with their Bolt Thrower impersonation. Despite the open air / big stage setup, the underground feeling of it was something that could have happened in one of those legendary “youth center” gigs of the early 90′s death metal scene in Scandinavia. No glamour, no gimmicks, some death metal possessed kids throwing a moshpit, and pure old school musical values dating even back to demo material (the legendary cut “Rite of Shades”).
So, forget the hippie Atheist, boring Pestilence and greedy Carcass, whomever else has made the comeback for all the wrong reasons. Asphyx is here to stay and crush.
It’s nearly impossible to assess the value of this album without first referencing the classic that preceded it. Despite the almost riskily simplistic style of Cause of Death, it still remains an undisputed and unmatchedly brutal Death Metal monster. Little had changed since then with the release of The End Complete and yet something essential was missing. No, not the haunting, melodic appeal of James Murphy’s lead guitars. Something slightly less tangible, but is terribly apparent when listening to the album. All the components of a quality Obituary album are there, because they are basic enough to reproduce over and over again (how they failed at doing even this with their following albums is a great mystery) but where the magic has gone seems to be due to it’s misplaced sense of rhythm. Obituary were essentially beginning to streamline (read: commodify) their sound, so that none of the parts related to the themes, that of disease, dying and death. Where this was most apparent was in the rhythmic dimension, which just grooved and nothing more. It was catchy but it still sounded like Death Metal to the less discerning of ears, and so it sold more than the average Death Metal album at the time. Although it plays innocent, blame this album for every crime the band has commited since.
diSEMBOWELMENT’s only full-length release is one of those classic Metal albums that takes the most rudimentary elements of the previous generation and arranges them in accordance with a unique and evolved artistic and spiritual vision. Though initially reminiscent of the blasting, grinding chaos of bands like Necrovore and Napalm Death, diSEMBOWELMENT waste no time setting in motion the epic, spiritual journey that they have clearly defined through the course of the album. The resonant tremelo riff that suddenly mystifies the raw and brutal, typically Death Metal soundscape is actually the centerpiece of the entire album. It’s a phrase that will recur throughout, and as it strummed, chanted, plucked and synthesized, it reflects an elevation of consciousness from the realisation of mortality, suffering and the nothingness that envelops it all to a state of serene understanding. The frenetic riffing more often gives way to monumentally heavy and meditatively slow passages, crafting a sense of silence or stillness that is at one with cold and impersonal reality. These are punctuated and layered with primal rhythms and manifestations of that central theme, as the journey unfolds to illustrate the gruelling path of spiritual awakening. Transcendence… is an album that should be approached with the same discipline that the band itself put into it’s creation. It’s one of the most thoughtfully crafted works of Death Metal that deserves a place as more than just an unusual, cult classic.
Few underground bands will achieve a video document of this quality. It consists entirely of MTV-style song videos, professionally filmed and edited, which are either miniature movies in which the band is featured or high quality live recordings. The sound quality is excellent, as is the image quality, but having someone take the time to edit and shape the video experience as one might find in a cinema puts these in a different league. However, this DVD has a weak spot, and it is the choice of material. Where a disc of sloppier and less coherent videos from classic Danzig, namely the first two albums, would be a gigantic hit, there’s only one song from that era on here, and while the material from his later albums is good, it’s also more typical hard rock/heavy metal and thus does not show this band at their most adept and inventive phase. Furthermore, this DVD is literally an archive, and gives us six songs with up to three versions of the video for each, which makes it not only unsuitable for casual viewing but very limited. Couldn’t someone tack on some crappy handheld video of a live set at the end, as, well, that would be more the whole of the Danzig experience than this narrow snapshot? The videos are quite artistic, and feature heavy symbolism and plenty of evil moments. It culminates in “Mother ’93,” which is essentially the album track dubbed over some hammy but expertly edited live video. If you are a Danzig fanatic, this provides you with the videos you saw on MTV and the uncensored versions that you probably wanted desperately at the time. For the more casual fan, this video will probably seem like a hasty and unthinking compilation of material that documents the less triumphant moments of an otherwise influential act.
Covering metal as a setting presents a problem for television because it’s nearly impossible to reveal much about the genre from a mainstream perspective, especially since it’s not the topic of the show. On Bones, the topic is murder and the setting is an underground of black/death/nu-metal bands who use the corpse of a murder victim as a prop. Having followed Temperance Brennan in Dr. Kathy Reichs’ books for some years, I was glad to see the show clarified her character. In addition, this show obliquely tackles the issues at the core of death and black metal. Brennan represents science and rationalism; her counterpart, Seeley Booth, represents monism and aesthetics. The interplay of their characters reminds me of the interaction between Fitzwilliam Darcy (Bones) and Elizabeth Bennet (Booth) in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Much like people in modern society, they assume Rationalism as a basis of reality but find the details overwhelm them. In the course of the show, they explore a desire in parallel between the show and the metal bands represented — how to express the horror of a modern time in a way that makes you like it, and want to use it as a showdown between good and evil, especially evil disguised as good, and how Rationalism — linear, logical, discrete, symbolic thinking — can get in the way of understanding our task of understanding ourselves. Diehards will not be pleased that the genres get lumped together in the bands shown, but will be interested to see the show’s clinical psychologist analyze the difference between the two. However, since the show is not about metal, but murder with metal as the setting, the airtime given to these underground genres is generous and the depiction accurate albeit distant.
Asphyx – Live at Party San 2007
Ibex Moon Records, 60:32, 2009, $11
Asphyx make that which is heavy fun and compelling. This could be one of my favorite recorded metal concerts because it captures not only the professionalism, but also the minimal set-up and adornment, as well as the different frequencies of energy this band emit. They convert dark empty spaces to ones filled with a new kind of like, like twilight or morning, in which the darkness is never pure, having been converted to the inertia of day. All band members are professional and precise, and while Martin van Drunen gets his share of camera time, in my view it is the workmanlike and intensely concentrating Bob “Mister Asphyx” Bagchus who steals the show with his serious and intense facial expressions to accompany his exact drumming. Wannes Gubbels, bassist/vocalist late of Pentacle, injects a ton of exuberance, while guitarist Paul Wayyans shows us death metal the original way — a science and an art that both has to be kept simple and done so that it all makes sense in the end. These 62 minutes of powerful recording span the band’s entire career but focus on the classics from The Rack and Last One on Earth, giving us a set with career diversity but also a powerhouse of the songs that defined this band. Video is professionally shot with multiple camera angles, and while effects like the high contrast black and white flash, the rising fake flames, and occasional slo-mo are used, they are not distracting. van Drunen’s voice is excellent; I don’t know another metal vocalist who can make the guttural sounds of death vocals while keeping a forced scream going at the same time. He is an excellent frontman who both works the crowd, throwing out his ad libs with perfect rhythm to keep motivation high, and a consummate professional who uses his voice as an effective instrument. I think this should be mandatory watching in schools. This review refers to the DVD included with the release of Asphyx Death… The Brutal Way.