Former lead singer of Warlock and full-time metalhead Jerry Warden seeks 501(c)(3) status for a Metal Hall of Fame to go in his home town of Arlington, TX. He has trademarked the name and plans to showcase the memorabilia he has collected over the years of his involvement in North Texas metal.
“We’re just waiting on the nonprofit status,” Warden said, “and then we’ll have a full tank of gas.” Among other exhibits, he plans a display of the “big three” of DFW area metal: Gammacide, Rigor Mortis and Pantera.
Our only caution here at DMU is that “heavy metal” is a much-abused term. Metal-Archives took a sensible position on allowing only metal bands, but then bent that position to include the post-punk hybrid modern metal bands; MIT’s “Heavy Metal 101” takes a similar line-drawing approach. It’s harder for a public display to do that when people are going to come there to spend money based on the expectation of seeing their favorite “heavy metal” bands, whether those have any relation to metal or not.
What’s an oration of disorder? What most people think of as “order” consists in telling other people what they want to hear and then manipulating them. That’s how you sell them products. But the selling of products is the opposite of what art and listeners need, which is a harsh voice to tell us the truth.
Apostolum – Winds of Disillusion
Like Ras Algethi, this is a black-metal-influenced doom metal album that does not rely on detuned guitars to produce a low-end rumble. Instead, Apostolum shape their songs out of repetitive melodies like we might find in a horror movie soundtrack (shades of Damien Thorne) which cycle through repetition with frequent breaks for rhythmic or dynamic changes. The result is like a comforting background noise segmented into long enough pieces to tell a story, on top of riffs which themselves hint at a type of mood. Vocals add layers of lush intonation that flesh out the relatively sparse pieces, but one of the most important instruments here is silence. Riffs are slower but not uniform pace, so often pauses create gravity; pauses between riffs, and the interruptions in sound, create a sense of melody arising within darkness. The only real problem here is that much of what makes metal enjoyable is less present in this music. Its attempt at emotional depth leads it toward melodies that are periodically happy, so that they may be shattered, and the slowness is for lack of a better term not very exciting. I can appreciate this but I don’t think I’d listen to it.
Human Infection – Curvatures in Time
When we say something is “stale” in music, we generally do not mean that it is old. We mean that it is derived from something obvious, like a first step in examining something. The thought process ended early, we think, because we can easily visualize first-level thought from our armchairs in a casual moment. What interests us is when someone takes something in a distinctive direction, which does not mean weird or unexpected so much as it means a direction expressive of something. At some point, riffs either sound like an event from life itself, an emotional event or resemble an idea, and if the riff does not show similarity to one of those but seems to be introductory thought on its own, we discern that it is purposeless. Human Infection have made a grand effort at the technicality required for a death metal release, although the abysmally hollow and loud drum sound may doom this production, but too much of this is death metal for death metal’s sake without real purpose, and too much of it uses first level thought, a/k/a really obvious and played-out (because they’re obvious, they’re frequently used) riff patterns. I appreciate the big doofus aesthetic of this brand of death metal/deathgrind hybrid, but here it goes too far without going anywhere. As with most situations like this, there is too much reliance on the vocals and drums leading the guitars, which creates a sound like repetitive noise with background texture. Give that guitarist more prominence in songwriting and make the riffs lead the song and this could be a powerful band.
Amputated – Dissect, Molest, Ingest
What I like about this band is that they preserve the lineage of percussive death metal leading back to early Suffocation. It’s not that they clone riffs; it’s that they understand song conventions used by the originals and thus have to rely less on the post-Suffocation notions of breakdown to transition within the song. Other late model NYDM conventions make it in however including lots of pinch harmonics and sag-groove riffs. Luckily Amputated know how to put together a song so that it moves naturally and avoids lapsing into unrelated and thus pointless detours. At the same time, reliance on a style like this makes it very hard to distinguish songs since they are all similar in technique, rhythm and approach. This is going to be the challenge for Amputated, to distinguish “Skullfuck Lobotomy” from “Toolbox Abortionist” without relying on cheesy appearance tweaks. This band are tight, focused and have a good instinct for rhythm and song so this should not be a huge challenge for them.
Esoterica – Aseity
This is the droning wailing type of post-metal. It uses two-note black metal minor key riffs and drones those in a predictable loop while someone rants with an open-throated, slow vocal. It’s like a requiem performed by brain damage victims. The sense of purpose of classic black metal is lost; you could say Ildjarn took the same approach, and it wasn’t that Ildjarn was first, it’s that Ildjarn was good. Good means organized, purposeful, communicates something, and creates an experience the listener can partake in. Esoterica creates drone. If you want a background tone to go with some activity like ironing or fermenting fish guts this might be a good counterpart, but generally as it is without surprises or discernible idea, it fades into the city noises like planes overhead, trains long-hauling, trucks idling, domestic violence and identity theft.
Immoral Hazard – Convulsion
Pantera vocals over Kreator-styled speed metal with worked in touches from American melodic heavy metal bands of the same era. If you can imagine Kreator with metalcore/bro-core vocals except that the chorus riffs were borrowed from a hybrid of Forbidden/Fates Warning, that would be a good approximation of the style here. The vocals are unfortunately impossible to overlook and I wouldn’t want to listen to this in public because listening to bro-core is the equivalent of screaming “Hello, I’m a fucking moron” at the world. These guys know their classic metal and it shows with allusions that are artfully done enough to not be appropriations but subtle tributes. Phil Anselmo, although a great guy to drink with, invented the worst form of metal vocals possible because they channel aggression to the surface and replace depth with an kind of outraged customer slash drunk frat boy outlook. The rage is all one-dimensional however. The riffs have to support these bouncy rap/rock/hXc bro-core vocals and so get dumbed down. If they could hook this vocalist up with some old Rigor Mortis tapes, this band could head to better places and be really good at it.
Dux – Vintras
Working both within the confines of Gallic metal and a mixed bag of influences from the past, Dux create what a metal writer might dub “national tragedy”: music with a strong national sound that nonetheless embraces melancholy on the far edge of despair, and in the almost depression-distracted gaps created fills in space with past influences, exemplifying the chaotic modern approach that is the source of their angst. Very much in the same style of dissonant minor key Solutrean droning, with a sound that resembles the wind flowing past ancient caves if it were given tone, Dux create in the space etched by Celestia and Vlad Tepes. These songs sound like they might come from the distant past and yet, they are new, and exhibit the same exuberant take on the ancient ways offered by bands like Enslaved, albeit with less technicality. When there are gaps, the band fills in with equal parts Slayer-inspired proto-death metal and bits of choppy heavy metal and death metal, but these parts are infrequent and are counterbalanced by more of the delicious flowing melody they do so well. With better study habits, this band could rank in the higher echelons of contemporary black metal, beating out all the people who lack what this band has: a grasp on the emotional and intellectual subject matter, and thus content, of the black metal genre.
Snake Eyes – Welcome to the Snake Pit
Covering the territory once ruled by the first couple Motley Crue albums, Snake Eyes create old fashioned heavy metal with an American tinge of sleaze and darkness. It’s heavy on catchy chorus activity and yet picks up the pace on the riffing more than a Sunset Strip band would have. These songs also try for the “epic” sound of European metal, where at some point the elemental pieces of the song clash and resolve in something with a greater affinity for the sense of the song than the original bits. There’s some bleedover speed metal technique at points, mostly use of muted strum and budget riffs for tempo changes. Clear and strong but higher-pitched vocals guide each song, and are often in that half-sung half-chanted style that rides a good rhythm riff. This style of metal has a lot of rock in it, so will not be for everyone. With bonus cover medley from Judas Priest (“Riding the Sentinel into Hell”).
Sammal – No 2
Finland is boiling over with classic rock acts. They are all reallymusically competent and have a great sense of melody and rhythm. They have more trouble knowing how to pull a song together to make it highly distinctive, but that’s not from lack of ability, more a lack of internal drama. Dysfunctional people make the best rock ‘n’ roll for a reason, which is that they are not hampered by logic and that they have internal gestures of vast theatrical exuberance that make for really distinctive, evocative songs. Sammal do not have that kind of drama going inside of them. What they do have is a reverence for the 1960s-1970s rock and a way of writing good solid tunes that make you feel like you did not waste your time listening and want to think about them for a little bit. I am not sure what the lyrics are, as I think they’re in the voodoo-moonman language that is Finnish, but the songs themselves are quite powerful. Now why aren’t these guys making death metal?
Culted – Oblique to All Paths
No one wants to say all post-metal sounds the same but it is true. This is because post-metal limits itself both to non-phrasal riffing and a certain narrow range of power-chord based ambiguous minor key riffs and arpeggios, and simultaneously imposes on itself the demand the sometimes there be distortion and hoarse vocals. One might ask these bands why they bother with post-metal when obviously they want to play mainstream rock, but no matter what answer they verbalize, the truth is that it is easier to be a big fish in the small pond of a recent trend than to compete on the much broader highway of rock itself. And yet that is a form of cowardice. Why not tackle the audience that they naturally belong to? This band would be a lot more fun if they went Dave Matthews or Barenaked Ladies on stopped trying to cram some superficial aspects of “metal” into an unrelated genre. There is more actual metal on a Taylor Swift album than is present here even though Culted clone riffs from doom, black and death metal past. But seriously, why is this band wasting its time? Better to just become the rock band they want to be than to force themselves to be trendy and not make the cut.
Zloslut – Zloslutni Horizont – Donosilac Prokletstva, Ocaja I Smrti
Part of black metal was its national tradition. Bands wanted to sound like they were from their homelands. This was harder to relate to in places that are more regional, like UK or USA (the “acronym nations”). Zloslut never quit with this idea. They sound like they are not only a band with their own voice, but they bring out some characteristics of national sound. This is not hyper-distinctive as Zloslut compose very much in the classic black metal vein, sounding much like a cross between early Gorgoroth and Immortal. Songs are melodic but not as an effect; they are based around underlying melodies with a distinctive old world flair, internally punctuated by the type of upturn that introduced a huge amount of ambiguity when metal bands first did it. Now it is worked into the melodic sense itself, like the melody is a series of questions exploding into a defiant statement, usually delivered in full toward the end of a song when it can expand into a promenade or march-style rhythm. These songs are designed to fit together like wooden puzzles, meaning that there must be some gap at all times, but the shapes can never be incompatible. The result develops underneath the ears and has subtlety like the original black metal bands. While 80-90% of it may be familiar with those who studied the early 1990s Northern black metal explosion, as with all things in life the distinction is in the details, and there’s a lot to listen to here that shows this band have their own voice and one for their homeland.
Imagine you’ve returned to those magic years between 1985 and 1987. Thrash exploded, followed by speed metal and then the nascent proto-death/black bands are emerging. Almost everything is tinged with Metallica since they are looking like the first band of this ilk to make it out of the underground and into mainstream record stores.
Pentagram (CL) comes to us from those formative years but with two different versions of that time. The first is the second disc in the set, which re-records seven classic tracks using modern production and instrumental know-how. The second is the “first” disc in this set, which is thirteen new songs. While both derive from the fertile era of the middle 1980s, they each take different approaches, with the first disc actually showing more of what this band can do.
At their core these songs have not yet transitioned from speed metal to death metal. These are fundamentally based on the rhythmic riff, not the phrasal riff, and are oriented toward using choppy sounds not booming or columnar ones. However, this enables Pentagram (CL) to layer lead guitars over rhythm guitars, vocals over drums, and then to suspend them selectively, creating what is effectively a technique of adding textural depth to regulate intensity. What that requires is a fairly constant rhythm, thus both verse and chorus riffs and their various transitional riffs use very similar patterns. This pattern applies to both discs.
The second disc may be the more anticipated in the underground as these songs never made it out of the demo stages back in the 1980s when they were written. While we like to be production-agnostic as underground metalheads, because the nature of being “underground” is that you cadge production and promotion where you can, not where is optimal, it is often hard to hear what’s going on. These re-produced songs show a gentle hand in keeping their nature intact while playing them as they were always meant to be played, which is with some technical flair amidst the straightforward riffs and aggressive vocals. It is great to hear these songs ride again and to hear them in the context with demos from Possessed, Sepultura, Kreator, Destruction and Rigor Mortis who were at roughly the same time exploring a similar sound.
However, ultimately this reviewer found more to listen to in the first disc. It reminds me of the moments after a party where, the excitement having faded, analysis kicks in — and it’s from that, and not the frenzy of the moment, that emotion really comes. This is a retrospective of the 1980s not in terms of its surface traits but an attempt to get to its root, which is the massive sense of being in transition. These songs deliberately hover on the edge of death metal, and also on the edge of returning to the days of Venom and Motorhead, but also gesture at something else. A sense of suspended belief, the potential for anything to emerge from any moment, and an instability that calls forth primal conflict suffuses these songs. They use styling that may be from the farther side of that 1985-1987 window and apply it in a way that is not “modern” in the sense of metal now, but more fully mature, like the death metal to follow while retaining their speed metal core.
Hearing these two discs together is not the ridiculous time machine sensation of Hollywood movies but more like a re-visitation of the events that made the time so much of what it was. The first disc, showing newer songwriting, has a steadier hand. It would benefit from the tighter assembly which threw out anything too repetitive or tangential shown by the second disc, which has songs stripped down for bear as if played by a rogue guerrilla group wandering in the mountains, pursued by a vastly better equipped army. While these songs use the distorted vocals of underground metal, it is more accurate to see this band in the context of the generation before, when nothing had quite taken form and the bands wanted to make a statement underscoring the wisdom of that principle.
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.
Among those, Warbeast stands out as a unique hybrid between past and future. Comprised of members from classic Texas speed/death metal bands like Rotting Corpse, Gammacide and Rigor Mortis, Warbeast presents a modernized version of the speed metal classics of the 1980s with faster tempo changes, more abrupt riffing and more chaotic transitions.
Frontman Bruce Corbitt is the guy everyone wanted to emulate back in 1989. While other bands were lumping their way through yet another tedious song about social justice and how you shouldn’t take drugs, Bruce tore up the stage casually singing about murder, occultism and terror: With five easy slices, you’re in six lovely pieces / Bodily dismemberment as passion increases.
In his current role with Warbeast, he’s revitalizing a new scene and will do it live in front of you at Emo’s in Austin just before 9pm this Friday night. In the meantime, Bruce gives us the rundown on Warbeast and how they came to play a horror movie and metal music festival.
Warbeast released a new album this year, entitled Destroy, which seems to have turned up the volume. What’s different on Destroy versus the first album?
It started with the writing… Scott Shelby wrote the majority of the music and I wrote the majority of the lyrics. Once he had the music part of the songs down with the rest of the musicians in the band… I would add the lyrics later. For some songs he would have a general idea for what he had in mind for what the lyrics should be about. For the other songs, I would get a feel for what the music reminded me of before I came up with the subject to write about. So we had a good system going when we were preparing these songs to record in the studio. Plus we already knew what it was like to work with Philip Anselmo as our Producer. So the chemistry was even better when we recorded this album.
On the first album we were still a relatively new band coming up with our first originals. Some of those songs came from material that was written before Warbeast. I guess what I’m saying is that by the time we started writing for Destroy… we were more aware of what we wanted the band to sound like. I’m proud of both albums and love the fact that they’re different… but they both sound like Warbeast.
How do you think Warbeast will develop in the future? Are you working on new material now?
We intend to keep progressing and improving as a band in all areas. If we can continue to top our last effort on each new album… I would be happy with that. Hopefully we can keep a busy tour schedule like we have in recent years. Yes, we’ve recently started the early stages of writing for a third full-length Warbeast album. So we plan to enter the studio and record it sometime in 2014.
You’ll be playing the Housecore Horror Film Festival in Austin on October 24-27. What are you looking forward to with this performance?
I’m really honored and I feel very fortunate to just be part of this. This will hopefully become an annual event that fans of Horror and Metal will look forward to every year. So it’s really cool to play at the inaugural HHFF! This is one of those highlights from all these years in bands that I know I will be proud of for the rest of my life.
Just the fact that there is going to be such a huge gathering or Horror and Metal fans all assembled for one big weekend will make this a special show for Warbeast. So I’m sure we will be fired up and ready to have some fun when we perform on Friday night.
I understand you have a longstanding relationship with horror films. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
It goes back to when I was a little kid. I always loved Halloween, Haunted Houses, monster movies etc. I loved TV shows like The Munsters and The Addams Family. As far as movies… at first it was the classic Universal Monsters (Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Dracula etc) and also the Godzilla movies that I would try to catch on TV. Once I started going to see movies at the theaters… it was always the Horror Movies I wanted to see.
Then when VCRs came around in the 80s.. I was always in the Horror section when I went to rent or buy movies. Of course I started recording and collecting movies and my Horror Movie collection became immense. Then when I joined Rigor Mortis in 1986 and they already had the Horror and Gore image and theme going… I fit right in with that shit. It was cool to sing about some of our favorite Horror movies. Even on the upcoming Rigor Mortis album Slaves To The Grave and also on the Warbeast album Destroy I’m still singing songs about Horror movies or stories.
Finally, for those who are new to Warbeast, what should they expect at a Warbeast show, and why should they make sure to come see Warbeast if they’re at HHFF?
They should be prepared for an old-school dose of Texas Thrash Metal, a non-stop jolt of energy coming from every member of the band and an adrenaline rush that could wake up the dead. We want it to feel like Godzilla has entered the building! We want to get the crowd warmed up for Goblin and Down… so we will be ready, serious and focused to do just that…
What a difference studio recording and mastering can make. Sammath went into the studio with a demo full of their iconic black/death battle metal, but in the studio, something magic happened: it became transformed into a hybrid of early Morbid Angel and early Ancient, being both relentless and hiding melody inside its rigorous riffs.
Godless Arrogance promises to be a relentless war-charge of high speed percussion, fuzzily distorted fast riffing, and demented mocking vocals which sound like a criticism of the mundane world by something beyond it. The band have upgraded their playing to leave fewer spaces in the wall of sound, and have used production to mate their fuzzy guitars and whirlwind drums into a channel of sonic violence.
To be released by Hammerheart Records worldwide, Godless Arrogance shows this Dutch-German band backing off of the technicality of the last album in favor of the relentless riff assault of their most popular middle albums, combined with the sublime sense of melody that made their first album a keeper for so many metalheads.
Almost two weeks ago, Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman died of liver failure in a California hospital. However, like any event involving people who have done important things, his death sent ripples throughout the world.
First, Slayer fans worldwide realized that Slayer is now de facto dead. Formed of the core of Hanneman, Araya, King and Lombardo, Slayer was based on the merging of those talents. It probably cannot survive without any particular one. In addition, although King and Araya made many important contributions, much of the material that gave Slayer character above and beyond its hard and fast style came from Hanneman. Without him, a vital part of the equation will be missing, and it could be one of the parts that made Slayer much more than just their technique.
Second, Slayer is a form of mascot and leader for the underground metal movement. Although this is rarely acknowledge, Slayer was a speed metal (Metallica, Testament, Rigor Mortis) band who used the tremolo strum to make what was musically closer to death metal, evolving from their more “heavy metal” beginnings to an angular and disharmonic nightmare of chromatic riffs and centerless solos. Alongside Bathory and Hellhammer, Slayer invented the modern style of heavy metal, and by their contributed contributions, gave it guidance and a figurehead. When death metal bands got lost in songwriting, they turned to Slayer; even black metal and grindcore bands lift riffs from that vital back catalogue. Slayer is a huge musical force but now is firmly entrenched in the past, not the present.
Finally, Slayer is a symbol of all that is metal, with Hanneman at the front as the innovator of brooding classics such as “South of Heaven” and “At Dawn They Sleep.” His poetic approach to riffs, songs and lyrics made metal rise up from being another genre about personal drama and getting laid, and turned it into a mythological force worthy of J.R.R. Tolkien, William Blake, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker or John Milton. Punk bands wrote about the decay of society, and hard rock bands like Led Zeppelin wrote about Hobbits and Satan, but Slayer put them together in the same way Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” did: a mythology underlying existence that explains the shared perceptual confusion that causes us to cause our own problems.
This is why Slayer is important to metal, and to the larger culture beyond it, and why Jeff Hanneman is more than just an excellent songwriter and guitarist. He is part of what made metal, and what made metal a legend. His passing is the end of an era, and the call to us to begin a new one.
With that in mind, we present a compilation of statements by people involved with music who wanted to speak a few words about the power of Jeff Hanneman, Slayer and the importance of those to metal. Some of the following are cribbed from Faceplant or other websites, but all are authentic:
Growing up in a small, West Texas oilfield town, your options were limited: you became a football hero, a juvenile delinquent, or you turned to some form of escapism. Comics, books and most of all, music were my saviors. They became my bulwark against impending suicide. In my early years, Kiss, Judas Priest and AC/DC were my mainstays. Then around ’79 a couple of older friends introduced me to the “Second Wave of Punk”. The Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Stranglers, DEVO, these became my new gods, but I never lost my love of those heavier bands. Living in rural Texas and years before the internet, you were always a few steps behind. You might stumble across a magazine, someones visiting older brother from college, or just word of mouth. So I slowly became aware of the already in full swing Hardcore scene. I quickly developed an affinity for this new aggression: Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Minor Threat, Misfits and Bad Brains. This, to me, seemed the pinnacle of extreme music.
Even in the middle of nowhere, where few of either existed, I noticed the segregation of Metal vs Punk. Though Metal was a guilty pleasure, being young and stupid I still took pride in ridiculing the Metalheads as often as possible. Around the mid-80’s things took a strange turn. The lines were blurred. I was already a young adult slaving away in an oilfield job, on my first marriage with an infant son. My only connection to underground music came every Saturday night at 10PM courtesy of 2 hour radio show on KOCV, the Odessa college student ran radio station. I don’t remember the name of the show, but I do remember the host, Danny Hardcore, a local skate punk with a penchant for all things heavy. It was then I first heard the insanity of Suicidal Tendencies, SOD, Voïvod and….Slayer. And those lads from Huntington Park, CA basically scared the shit out of me. Faster than anything I’d ever heard, the pentagram logo that shook my Southern Baptist sensibilities, and the insanity surrounding everything you could get your hands regarding their fanatical “Slaytanic” following.
I was hooked.
And one of the major catalyst behind this explosion of sound so completely new and unrelenting was Jeff Hanneman. From everything I could learn about him, he was a kindred spirit. I feel totally confident in saying that Metal, Hardcore, Thrash and about 20 other genres of extreme music would not have existed today without Jeff.
When I look back at all of my favorite Slayer songs, I see his hand. Metalheads, especially those that think of themselves as the Stewards of All That Is True, take a particular perverse satisfaction in proclaim everything after “insert favorite here” in the Slayer catalog as shit, but I believe time will tell a different tale. The man will be sorely missed. Whether completely cheesy or in bad taste, tonight I will lift my glass high, raise a toast and give a mighty HAIL to a fallen Hessian who made a difference, and who carved an indelible mark into the history of a music I hold dear.
I am still at a loss for words over Jeff’s passing. Slayer along with Metallica, Raven, Anvil, Venom, Overkill and others were some of the early bands I fell in love with and really got me started into the underground metal scene. The first time I saw Slayer live was in 1985 on the “Hell Awaits” tour at Lamour’s in Brooklyn, NY. They completely blew me away with the speed and intensity of their music. In 1986 I saw them on their ‘Reign in Blood” tour in Trenton, NJ at City Gardens and I dove off the stage during ‘Chemical Warfare” and almost broke my back as I couldn’t walk for over 3 days!!! Slayer has always been one of my favorite bands and hands down in my opinion they are easily the best underground metal live band that I have ever seen and I have been going to shows since 1984. I never met Jeff, but his bands music have been a big part of my life and will be for years to come. Hell when I need some pick me up music at the gym….it is “Hell Awaits” time. I never got to meet Jeff, but his music will live on with me for the rest of my life and Jeff RIP my man and thanks to you and your music for taking me along this incredible ride of underground metal music which will be planted in brain for as long as I live and your band and music were big part of in the beginning and are still a big part today….”FUCKIN SLAYER”…….
– Chris Forbes, Metal Core Fanzine
Thrash Metal lost one of it s best man! The Hell awaits – tour 1985 (where the pic with drunk me is from) was one of the most important tours in our career – thanx for the great memories Jeff! What a loss for the scene! Rest in Piece brother! – Schmier, Destruction
For a lot of us Metalheads back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Slayer was like benchmark which we set by default and compared (mostly times unjustly) other bands for their intensity,song writing abilities and aggression.The first 5 albums by this legendary band were always placed right on top,any beer table conversation had to veer its way around and come back to Slayer,the reference point always hovered around them and for a lot of kids who were into Hard Rock or Heavy Metal, the threshold moment of crossing over into the heavier,darker and more extreme realms had to be with “Hell Awaits” or “Reign In Blood”. Those who passed the test were branded for life,”Slayer” permanently tattooed on their foreheads,the passing of Jeff Hanneman is the end of an era and unfortunately Slayer never will be the same again,Jeff will forever be immortal in the hearts of the fans, may the riffmeister rest in peace. – Vikram/Dying Embrace, India
Jeff Hanneman shouldered the revolution of heavy music with a unique and original approach on the instrument, influencing a horde of musicians to follow in his tracks at the same time. His riffs, lyrics and songs are some of the band’s best and the genre’s fiercest. His contributions are enormous and should be celebrated and hailed! – Eric Massicotte
What separated Jeff from the rest of the metal pack was his rhythm technique, his songwriting, and that for which he will be most remembered—his riffs. But his frenzied, turbulent solos were also an important part of the package. They weren’t about showing off. They served a greater artistic purpose—to sonically channel the qualities of Slayer’s lyrical content. They were sometimes abrasive, sometimes jarring, and at times disturbing. They had less in common with typical rock-guitar virtuosos than they did with the sonic collages of avant-garde improvisers such as Derek Bailey and John Zorn, the latter of whom is a self-professed Slayer fan who has cited the band as an inspiration. Though Jeff’s wider, more holistic guitar approach didn’t garner the same accolades as some of his more technically proficient contemporaries, Jeff never waivered from his original approach. And the fact that he continued to attack his guitar with relentless abandon—as though he were a linebacker on his beloved Oakland Raiders (whose logo adorned some of his signature ESP guitars)—is without a doubt a big part of why Slayer’s music will always be deemed one of metal’s high watermarks.
If you’ve ever seen Slayer live, you’ve felt exactly what propelled the band’s popularity past those of Venom and other classic-metal influences. In fact, prior to Hanneman and his bandmates’ groundbreaking albums—including 1986’s bar-setting Reign in Blood—many believed metal could never reach such levels of popularity and fan dedication. Before Slayer, metal had never had such razor-sharp articulation, tightness, and balance between sound and stops. This all-out sonic assault was about the shock, the screams, the drums, and—again, most importantly—the riffs. And it was Hanneman who brought so many of the band’s timeless riffs.
– Alex Skolnick, Testament
The only other band that completely changed my life. Without Venom or Slayer there would be no Kult ov Azazel or any of the music I have created since my teenage years as they were the first two bands I discovered and I was a rabid fan. As crazy as it will sound those two bands molded me into who I am today. I can remember walking around my Bartlett neighborhood with a ghetto blaster and blaring this album at top volume. Even listening to this brings back a flood of those memories. – Julian Hollowell, Kult of Azazel, Von
I need to shed some more life on one of the greatest guitar players that has walked this earth and that has truly inspired what i do today.Jeff Hanneman R.I.P. I walked off stage in Paris France on Thursday night to find out that one of my hero,s was no longer with us.He was the heart soul and attitude that was Slayer.Many people would often ask to describe my guitar playing and i would say Hanneman meets Denner.He was the real deal not this rock star poser type unlike Mr King.Slayer dies for good with Jeff and i have not stopped thinking these past few days while in Europe how much his music has meant to me.Last night Johnny from Unleashed made a honorable toast to Jeff Hannaman and i tell you it really chocked me up.Not many greats in the world today and he was one of the rare breed that created his own path in this life.Long live Jeff Hanneman his spirit lives on forever. – Alex Bouks, Incantation, Goreaphobia
Whenever society gets too complacent and considers itself to be a success, Birth AD pops up out of a nearby container and reminds it that civilization is failing, most people are idiots and we’re probably all doomed. The difference is that Birth AD is funny and has good music, while just about anyone else criticizing society is a bore.
Coming to us from Austin, TX, Birth AD is a continuation of the crossover movement called thrash from back in the 1980s; if you remember how everyone and their brother wore a DRI shirt when they went to the skate park, you remember this movement. It was a cross between hardcore songs and metal riffs, and the result was unique and spoke clearly to the fears of the age.
While there have always been retro-bands looking back toward this style, Birth AD took up the style while looking forward, and have carried it into a new dimension of what it always could become. We’re very fortunate to have Jeff AD to speak with today.
What were your influences in formulating your style, and how did you update it without having it be assimilated by newer forms of music?
There aren’t any new entries that motivated me, it was all the classics. SOD, DRI, Dr. Know, Fearless Iranians From Hell, Cro-Mags, Nuclear Assault, and other usual suspects were touchstones. I willfully refused to let my material reflect any late-model sounds. Why would I? I was there when the sound was at its peak (admittedly I wasn’t even a teenager yet, but it still counts).
I felt like a lot of bands from that period had one really crucial album and then fizzled or stumbled. Bands like SOD and the Cro-Mags were effectively lightning in a bottle in that they each made one massively influential album and then fell apart. There was so much potential, so much more to be said, and I wanted to create something that was a direct continuation of those great releases, free from the adulterants of current conventions. Crossover is a very specific hybrid, and a band simply cannot invoke the term without cultivating a handful of necessary elements.
You’re about to launch your first full-length album, I Blame You, on Dark Descent sub-label Unspeakable Axe records. Can you tell us what’s going to be on the album?
We pulled a Dealin’ With It and re-recorded the entire EP, along with several new songs. Alex Perialas helmed the recording at his world-famous (and gold record laden) studio, Pyramid Sound in Ithaca, New York. We recorded in January 2012, so it has sat in stasis for a bit while we figured out where to put it. Part of this was because I wanted to work with Alex without exception, and January was the time he had available. It’s a good thing we did it when we did, as he subsequently got into a property battle with the city and the whole endeavor would have been shot to hell.
What do you think makes a great crossover thrash album or song?
It has to be memorable and catchy while communicating a coherent idea. DRI was my primary model because they were always good at writing clever lyrics that sent clear and pointed messages. It also helps to be succinct. If you make it past the four-minute mark, you’re doing it wrong.
Why do you think there’s so much interest now in older styles of metal?
It’s natural to look back on 40 years of metal and its variants and wanting to explore it all, especially if you were too young to take part the first time around. In a way, this phenomenon benefits Birth AD quite well, because we’re a new band with an old sound that younger fans can claim as their own. Outside of that, pretty much everything good in the genre has effectively been done, so it’s hard to re-invent the wheel. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to stick with the known quantities to ensure their money is well spent.
We’ve played with DRI before, which was a massively good time. As for Fearless and Cryptic, I’ll get back to you on that once I get the time machine operational. Can you imagine what it would be like if hessians harnessed time travel? “We’ve got a Celtic Frost concert in 1986 to see, we’ll kill Hitler later!”
Why do you think “crossover” thrash arose when it did?
I think it was because so many metal band and hardcore bands liked each other’s stuff and it became imperative for a middle ground to be created. SOD was effectively a one-off tribute to bands like Dr. Know and Agnostic Front, but they ended up sparking a whole new phenomenon because their musicianship was so elevated and the production was so good. In any event, it needed to happen, but after that most bands involved went fully into the metal end of things and lost the punk and hardcore elements that made it qualify as crossover. Birth AD was created in the name of preserving that rarefied sound without the inevitable departures made by our forebears.
How influential do you think “crossover” thrash was on genres like death metal and black metal?
That’s a revealing question in that I don’t think it had much impact at all. Death metal bands were more influenced by proper speed metal like Slayer and Dark Angel, while Black Metal was influenced by the European groups like Celtic Frost, Venom, Bathory, et al. Those bands deal in fantasy and the abstract, while thrash is steeped in the rigors of daily life. Crossover is something of a specialized entry, much like a cheetah in that it really gets the job done in one very specific way.
I’m going to be a grandstanding pain in the ass about this album and see where it takes us. I want to tour and spread the word. I think the time is right. In the meantime, I’ll be causing problems and beating up on hipsters as usual. I urge everyone to do the same.
The second album from Warbeast meets metalhead speakers with great expectations because the personnel involved have such a history of metal on the edge of mainstream that still retains the intensity of the underground. Destroy fulfills all of that promise.
Rigor Mortis vocalist Bruce Corbitt joins with four local musicians of renown to create a band that upholds the ideals of the past but modernizes its sound. On 2010’s Krush the Enemy, the band ventured more into a modern metal sound that verged on deathcore at times, but Destroy goes back to the roots and makes speed metal with the added pummeling technique of later death metal.
Destroy sounds more like Exodus crossed with Slayer and a few instances of the classic Rigor Mortis high-speed melodic sound. The choruses are dominated by the chanting aggressive voice of Corbitt, who sounds like the vocalist Philip Anselmo (who produced this album) wanted to be for Pantera. Choruses are less “spoken” and closer to death growls.
If this album has a fault, it’s that it’s too relentless, such that after a half hour songs start to run together because they are all turned up to 11. However, the appropriately vicious and complex guitar work provides enough depth to fill out these songs and keep the listener wanting more. The good things is that unlike post-Pantera experiments, this band doesn’t rely on groove or rock-style bounce, but on pure metal cadences and ripping speed rhythms.
Where many bands have tried to modernize the 1980s speed metal sound that made Metallica, Pantera, Exodus and Prong big names, Warbeast accomplish this through going back to the roots of metal and keeping it intense instead of trying to get bouncier or groovier. The result is an album that ties together past and present into a single extreme package.
The year is done. It brought many things: a new wave of hipster metal that blipped and died, an old school revival that’s been percolating for years, drama and sadness with the recent death of Rigor Mortis’ Mike Scaccia. Above all else, however, it brought us some quality music, some of which is heavy metal and some of which is metal in spirit only. Enjoy this survey of the best of 2012.
The Best Metal (and related) of 2012
Abhorrence – Completely VulgarThis legendary band existed before Amorphis and plays a grittier style of the bold, warlike and heavy yet melodic music that graced Amorphis’ first album, The Karelian Isthmus. These Abhorrence tracks show the band that would later write that album as they emerge from early grind/death stylings and gradually work more melody into their work. This is metal’s holy grail: how to be both epic and amoral in the nihilistic sense of worshipping power, darkness and nature, but also use melody and harmony to give the works some staying power. As this collection of re-released demos progresses, the fusion of the two gets more confident and deft, leading us up to the point where the greatness of the first Amorphis album was inevitable.
Angel Witch – As Above, So BelowAfter a lengthy absence, this classic NWOBHM band returns with an album that shows integration of more recent influences, specifically American heavy metal and progressive metal, but still keeps up the power. These songs are not as distinctive or as oddball as the heavily personalitied offerings from their self-titled album, but As Above, So Below is important because it takes disparate influences and places them under the control of one voice and style, which gives others room to build on. The oil-on-water aspect of bands switching between influences is gone and replaced by a smooth enwrapping of these styles into the substrate of Angel Witch’s lauded and learned evil heavy metal.
Beherit – Celebrate the DeadIf death metal was modernism, with its emphasis on structure, black metal was postmodernism, or an attempt to show through atmosphere the many facets of an idea in a clarity which could not be confined to a single statement. This was a quest as old as humanity, which is how to communicate in such a way that people who do not understand it do not simply imitate it from the outside-in and make something that looks about like it, fooling most people. Since the late 1990s Beherit have been at work inventing the next wave or movement of metal, one in which multiple statements co-exist in contradictory opposites that reveal the shadow or silhouette of an underlying truth. Two forms are in tension here: the “loop” form of traditional ambient music, in which layers are poured on top of a basic dub to create a simple sonic tapestry, and the pure narrative form which electro-acoustic music (and even some dubstep) touches on, in which a story is told through the change of riffs. This is closer to the original death metal idea of structure, but it is structure created through atmosphere, like old Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno albums, or even classical music. To this end, Beherit has re-released two demo songs from Engram which are ambitious longer (13- and 15-minute) works which show a deepening and changing of atmosphere, using both looping and narrative constructs at the same time. This is a valiant and clear-headed attempt to resurrect black metal, which has fallen into the hands of those who imitate the “external” aspects of the early classics like simple riffs and fast songs, but understand none of the underlying ideas or songwriting methods. While it seems unconventional at first, Celebrate the Dead is a return to the truest form of black metal by expanding its orthodoxy to include the transcendental narrative of those more experienced in both this world, and the realms beyond. Be not fooled — evil pervades this release, so subtly that you will not know until it has seized your soul.
Dead Can Dance – AnastasisFor their return after some absence, Dead Can Dance have taken the style on Spiritchaser and refined it even more with the sensibility of modern club music and soundtrack influences. Rhythms and tempo work like you might expect a big label ambient album to work, fitting very much into the slightly picked up chill-out range with gentle backing beats that are still identifiable enough to make it easy to listen to. Consistent with even earlier work, songs use extended structures, but they fit the pattern of an early MTV video or short film more than a musical one. The result is that these are immersive little sonic ventures that are both easy to hear and not surprising, and also, rewarding in their consistency and adept arrangements. Melodies themselves are not as adventurous or period/locale-specific as older Dead Can Dance, and in fact more lifts from earlier influences can be heard (check out the Doors “The end” inspirations on the first track). For a purist, this will not be the best Dead Can Dance album, but for something that has stepped into the Loreena McKennit or Enya range of “accessible,” this is far beyond what most would encounter otherwise and makes for a pleasant listen on its own.
Demoncy – Enthroned is the NightAlong with Beherit, this shares the top spot as album of the year. In 2012, a wave of bands like Cruciamentum and Heresiarch rediscovered the sound of classic Incantation from the Onward to Golgotha area. Having come from the same school, joined to Incantation by Ixithra’s former band Havohej’s primary composer, Paul Ledney, having been an original member of Incantation, Demoncy launched into the same by creating a faithful followup to 1996’s Joined in Darkness. In this case, Demoncy add a bit of melody and atmosphere, channeling from first album Unleashed and other Swedish death metal classics, thus combining the two most intense areas of death metal into what is really a death metal album with a black metal sense of atmosphere. The result is a descent into a dark and primal place in which occult spiritual warfare transpires through the battling of motifs in this complex album made of simple parts. Like Joined in Darkness, it is otherworldly and foreboding, but a bit less purely alienated; instead, this album creates a sense of symbolic significance emerging like melody from the clouded obscure. Very little black metal of this intensity has been made since the mid-1990s which makes this both faithful to the spirit and pushing the boundaries of the genre, a simultaneous advancement that eludes most musicians and fans alike.
Derkéta – In Death We MeetArising from the ashes of Mythic, the all-female doom-death band from the early 1990s, Derkéta follows in a more purely doom metal path including some of the juicy 1970s heavy metal style doom metal that audiences enjoy with bands like Pentagram and Witchfinder General. 24 years later, this album is the first for this promising band, and holds back nothing. Like Mythic, the music is formed of giant bolsters of tunneling power chords colliding slowly over a changing melodic landscape. Atmosphere emerges from within. The simplicity of it removes the glitz and contentless enhancement of current doom metal bands, and takes the listeners back to the essence of the genre, which is an unsettling sense of pervasive dread. A prominent Candlemass Ancient Dreams influence seems to be present in these compact and droning songs.
Desecresy – The Doom SkeptronDesecresy approach Finnish death metal the way others might approach doom metal, using melody and abstract song structures to convey an experience not unlike watching the helmet camera of a pilot flying through a vast and ancient underground cave in which demons seem to lurk behind every stalagtite. Comparable to a hybrid between Amorphis and Skepticism, this album nonetheless keeps up the umptempo riffing and lets its melodies emerge to construct an emanating atmosphere. The result is both aggressive and enjoyable from a purely death metal perspective, but where appropriate, it uses the moods of doom metal to complete that raging insanity to produce an experience that is like a journey. There are doubts, fears, joys, rage and sadness, but pervading all of it is a sonorous melancholy which indicates a change in viewing life from orientation toward what is safe, to prizing what is adventurous and as such being alone on a planet of people concerned with safety labels and microwave cooking.
Drawn and Quartered – Feeding Hell’s FurnaceImagine a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Num Skull. These songs are extremely basic, like the melodies of horror movies, but are put together with interlocking rhythms that propel them forward and give them atmosphere. As a result, their themes feel intuitive like paths through a forest remembered from a childhood story. There will not be surprise at the ways these tunes twist and bend, but appreciation for a well-done interpretation on a necessary idea. In the same way you might appreciate an excellent sword or well-executed painting of a familiar subject, these songs will be appreciated for how well they do what they love. Just as most musicians make their best work when they design it to be enjoyed repeatedly by people with their own tastes, this faithful and yet creative interpretation of the old school death metal genre will be shared among those who can appreciate it, for taking the past and making it live on by keeping it current to itself and through inventiveness, an enjoyable listen.
Faustcoven – Hellfire and Funeral BellsThis release is not particularly metal, or at least underground metal, even though it aspires to the aesthetics of it. Rather, this is like Marilyn Manson interpreting classic heavy metal in a gothic doom metal context as informed by death metal aesthetics but not technique. It’s basically blues rock with short phrase power chord riffs and highly compelling rhythm, underneath leads that are reminiscent of a friendlier version of St. Vitus. Good use of theme allows this release to be a faithful listen and also have some staying power for those who like this style. Like most doom metal, it is designed to build a repetitive atmosphere that is part curl of enjoyment, and part linear path of a melancholic mood. The death metal vocals would normally be out of place here but with the heavy reverb they take a backseat and let the guitars talk, which is the point of this band. It will probably not delight those who like underground metal, but if you’re looking for someplace to go for your next Cathedral or Sleep fix, this furry doom band holds the ticket.
Grave – Endless Procession of SoulsGrave return to the Swedish style which they helped make famous. Like later Fleshcrawl, this music is simplified from the original riff-salad which was reverse-assembled to make a journey into darkness emerge from thin air, but although it uses plenty of verse-chorus segments, they are not the entirety of each song. There are enough labyrinthine twists and turns to be fun, a good motivational rhythm, and an atmosphere of darkness and aggressive that is also (oddly) comforting and natural. Although musically this is fairly basic, like early Grave, it shows more use of melody and harmony, which adds an appreciable dimension of compactness and centering without falling into standard rock music. The result is easy to listen to and yet brings out its power in moments of sudden clarity which, as in life, make the listener think there might be more afoot than the obvious.
Imprecation – Jehovah DeniedThis four-song EP shows the resurrected Imprecation: more consistent in its songwriting, slightly less manic, and more inclined to create a pervasive atmosphere of darkness. The occult death metal founders from Houston originally shone in the early 1990s, when their demos and later CD were released, but returned after inaction and the lending of band members to other acts. Their earlier material had more of a Morbid Angel influence and presented itself as clear occultism, where the newer material goes back more toward where Possessed and early old school death metal (Morpheus Descends, Massacre) were headed back in their day. Mood-enhancing use of background keyboards gives an aura of the mysterious to these dark melodies and the organic rhythms which suffuse them. Influences on this music span from pre-death metal, through the walking and stalking rhythms of speed metal, to the later black metal works in song structure and atmosphere. This EP presages a killer full-length but stands on its own as quality music with a voice particular to its worldview.
Incantation – Vanquish in VengeanceWith new personnel and possibly the strongest sense of unity in a long time, Incantation very sensibly took influences deliberately from their own two greatest successes: Onward to Golgotha and Diabolical Conquest. The result is an album that self-consciously borrows from those albums in style but tries to create new songs to wrap in that style, and with the aid of new guitarist Alex Bouks (ex-Goreaphobia) shapes its works around melodic shapes but does not adorn them in melodic riffing, creating a sense of an inner region of hidden energy within the exterior of rugged chromatic shapes. The result is one of Incantation’s most conventional albums but also a festival of the methods that made early Incantation so distinctive and powerful, which combined makes for a good later death metal listen.
Legion of Doom – The Summoning of ShadowsThis oddity of an album begins with some form of sung prayer and launches into songs that are both adorned in the harmonic glaze of melodic playing and also possessed of the manic simplicity of early black metal. Like the primitive era of black metal, these songs are specific structures fitting the content of each song, with droning riffs that interact and build to a culmination before dissipating. On this album, Legion of Doom use more death metal and speed metal technique in with their Burzum-inspired black metal, ending in a result that sounds more like an ornate and elegant version of Gorgoroth’s Destroyer. Like all Legion of Doom releases, The Summoning of Shadows features songs that accelerate thematic intensity in layers and produce an immerse, ambient experience that suspends reality through the sheer dominating power of its riffs. This album is more efficient than the last couple of releases of this band, and by embracing a listenable style, makes the type of outsider album that Marduk or Watain wish they could.
Lord Wind – Ales StenarIf you want to immerse yourself in ancient sensation, Graveland axeman Rob Darken’s ambient/neofolk/soundtrack project Lord Wind is a good place to start. Unlike previous Lord Wind efforts, Ales Stenar mixes real vocals and violin with electronic music that is roughly inspired by the Conan and Red Sonja soundtracks. The goal however is less like the rock-ish folk songs of neofolk, or the grand accompaniment for cinema provided by soundtracks; this is music like Burzum or Graveland that is designed for the listener to lose themselves in its repetitive hypnotic surges, like a catechism or mantra. Its soaring melodies and plunging dynamics give it a familiarity like the rush of blood through veins in the ears, and the result feels natural and yet inspired to rise above the mundane at the same time. Like entering a forest, the songs open up to repeated listens and soon each part is distinct, but our natural way is to hear it all at once and derive a sentimental feeling, perhaps warlike, from it. This is the most proficient and perhaps most profound of the Lord Wind albums, proffering a complete escape from reality to a world that is both fantasy and more real than the stuporous dream of modernity.
Master – The New EliteOver the past few albums, punk/heavy metal hybrid Master has steadily been migrating toward late-1990s death metal. This new album presents a more technical view than the verse-chorus-exposition songs that Master (and related Speckmann projects) evolved from. Much like On the Seventh Day God Created…Master, riffs are strummed with precision at high speed and tend to lead away from stable grouping by adding riffs to the existing loop. These riffs use longer progressions and more chromatic fills, giving the music a mechanical terror that makes it sound like technocracy taking over. Speckmann’s vocals are tighter than in the past and urge the music along, but somewhere in this musical process of evolution, his overall tone has started sounding less like protest music and more like a cheering of the coming conflagration. Seeing that Master keep improving over time provides a great incentive to follow this band as they evolve further.
Profanatica – Sickened by Holy Host / The Grand Masters SessionsSometimes, in order to reach your next aspiration, it is necessary to part with the past. Profanatica have done this in grand style by accumulating old tracks and re-working them in parallel, with one disc containing newer versions done in the early 1990s style, and the other containing older session takes on the same songs, interspersed with acoustic landscapes by Aragorn Amori, the band’s much-admired deceased former guitarist. Through its long history, the entity known as Profanatica/Havohej (or: Paul Ledney and friends) has consistently released material showcasing a truly artistic brilliance. Usually, between moments of brilliance there are experiments and less intense offerings that make it easy to forget that when they are in full swing, these musicians are unstoppable forces creating a unique type of black metal that is closer to ambient death metal but unlike most black metal at this time, possessed of a full mythos and unique view of the world. Like the best of Profanatica/Havohej, these two discs are ripping sonic terror that transcend daily life and divulge the essence of the feral spirit of pre-civilized humanity. In that vision of evil, Profanatica offer us something both inspiring and instructive, and do so through some of the best music of their career.
Terrorizer – Hordes of ZombiesPeople love change if it is constant and hate it if not. Terrorizer misstepped with their first post-World Downfall album, but came back with a strong contender on Hordes of Zombies. It does not attempt to be World Downfall II which is intelligent since outward-in emulation of the past usually produces hollow shells, and a good many classic bands have gone to their graves in disgrace by doing the same thing. Instead, this aims more at the territory scoped by Napalm Death with Fear, Emptiness, Despair: a modern form of grindcore that is musical and listenable without being commercial, and aims less at creating an atmosphere of terror and misery than creating motivational, energetic and yet literalist/realist music. These songs convey a desire to look at a dangerous situation with hopeless odds, then jump in and fight it out. It’s war music, but music of a normalized war, like going out into a declining civilization and fighting for mundane survival. Hordes of Zombies does this through a somewhat overused metal metaphor, that of the zombie takeover of society, but as a movie/musical trope this theme has remained consistent since the 1960s because it so aptly describes egalitarian society. Consumerism, mass trends, fads, panics, elections, Black Friday sales, save-the-children; it’s all in there. Terrorizer may be brilliant satirists for transforming all of that mass neurosis into a simple symbol and then making these engaging songs about it. Each piece uses a combination of rhythmic and slight melodic hook to lure us in, then pits grinding riffs against one another while fitting them into bounding rhythms that unleash an inner fury in their conflict between the fear and the mundane. The result is a stream of ferocious riffs in songs that hold together as songs in the Terrorizer tradition, creating an experience of immersion in conflict that is both justified and everyday. For a genre such as grindcore, this more stable form is preferable to re-living the past or trying to “innovate” by including outside elements. As a result, Hordes of Zombies is not only a great listening experience but an archetype others will follow.
Thevetat – Disease to DivideOne of the more interesting entries comes from ex-Ceremonium musician Thomas Pioli who has assembled a new team to make music that sounds like early NYDM mixed with the melodic undertones of heavy but intriguing bands like Montrosity, Malevolent Creation and Gorguts. The result hits hard with a rushing wall of chords and then drops into socketed rhythms that invoke a change in riffs, causing a twisted inner torment to emerge in Protean form. This gives old school death metal a new life without giving it a new form, since the form is the result of the content, which is essentially unchanged but slightly updated since 1992. No concessions to “modernization” (a/k/a mixing death metal with rock, jazz, metalcore, disco, punk, etc.) occur here, which allows this music to be in touch with its own spirit and flow freely from the source of its own inspiration. It is thunderous and yet perceptive, bringing with it the spirit of doom metal and its introspective melancholy. Although a three-song EP, this release beats out most albums released this year for pure death metal intensity.
Timeghoul – 1992-1994Metal developed its own sense of “progressive” and “technical” music long before it imported jazz-fusion in order to help it. In fact, part of metal’s birth was from the original progressive rock in the 1970s and the soundtracks of horror movies, which gave it a predilection for this direction. “Progressive” itself is a misnomer since nothing new gets discovered in music, but probably more accurately means “complex”: music with unconventional song structures, extensive use of harmony, melody and key; possibly linked to some kind of story outside the music itself and the usual topics (love, sex, drama) of pop songs. These songs craft winding riffs and intricate structures, using embedded melody to transition between more chromatic riffs, and culminate in odd twists of fate that translate them into seemingly the reverse of their initial outlook. Culminating in the epic 10-minute “Occurrence on Mimas,” this collection of early works by this band showcase the enjoyably weird variety of death metal in its early days.
War Master – Pyramid of the NecropolisThis modern band attempts to revive the death metal style, starting with the deathgrind of its namesake Bolt Thrower and incorporating influences from many of the bands of the era, and succeeds by staying true to its own enjoyment. As a result, it’s working in a style, and not from a template; the band want to create old school death metal, but aren’t doing it by imitating songs or styles, but by writing in that style based on similar inspirations. As a result, this band has its own voice despite being very familiar in technique, and has chosen its own path for subject matter and thus the arrangement of many of these songs and the types of riffs used. Its aesthetic mixes the grinding mid-tempo riffs and repetitive choruses of grindcore with the circuitous riffing of death metal and its tendency to unveil changes in layers of rhythm, guitar and vocals. While the style shows the influences of later death metal, its sensibility is firmly grounded in the early years, which makes this a great old-school death metal experience. However, its most salient factor is that it’s also interesting music. Songs are formed around their topic, with riffs and structure contorting to resemble the object, and riffcraft shows learning from the past but creation of its own new forms. Guttural vocals which maintain an ascetic detachment from the emotional content of the music help to give Pyramid of the Necropolis the ultimate death metal point of view, which is as a dispassionate observer amongs the ruins detailing the conflict that created this mess, and must endure after its collapse.
Disappointments of 2012
Abigor – Quintessence
Apparently this is new and old material. The shift between the new and old is like jumping out of a sauna into the snow. The newer material shapes itself to an expectation, much like the newer Swedishy bands in the style of Watain, that combines melodic punk with raw and random riffing in catchy rhythms. The result is like a painting made of painted dog turds, in that from a distance it is appealing, but as you get closer its mundane nature is revealed. Abigor have always suffered from being too quick-thinking and inventive for their own good, because they can always throw together a bunch of quality riffs and make most people think a song happened, but here that model breaks down. The songs feel more like slide-shows than organic wholes. The older material is good however.
Absurd – Asgardsrei
This remaster of the 1998 album was in theory supposed to improve sound quality. Had they simply done that, this would have been a shining victory. Instead, it has been standardized. The drums have been pumped up to emphasize rhythm, and the guitars doubled and bass-maximized, with vocals shrouded in reverb. Alone that removes much of the distinctive sound, but attempts have also been made to lower the volume on elements that are not orthodox black metal-cum-oi that Absurd makes now. The result is a loss of detail and an emphasis on the simpler parts of each riff, not the interesting interplay of riffs. They’ve made this album sound more like their remakes of earlier material and by pandering to one audience, lost a lot of what made Absurd interesting.
Acephalix – Deathless Master
A highly-praised release, this album purports to combine Swedish death metal and crustcore. What it ends up with is neither, but a mishmash of riffs around a rollicking beat, changing entirely at random. You hear a little bit of old Entombed, some Dismember, and a lot of filler riffing that really goes nowhere. For about three songs, it’s pleasant listening because you can tap your toes to it and it reminds you of Left Hand Path. Then you realize the songs never went anywhere. They’re like wallpaper. And to the horror of any crust fan, this is built on the bouncy beats and song structures of pop-punk. It’s closer to Blink 182 than Entombed or Amebix.
Aura Noir – Out to Die
Once upon a time, I referred to Aura Noir as a black metal Britney Spears because their music is pop dressed up as black metal. However, it’s normally fun pop with high energy and catchy riffs, even if in verse-chorus structures so repetitive that you have to background it. But with this album, they go into the boring zone. This is almost like a drone with a horse galloping in the background to keep up energy. And yet, like the lady that doth protest too much, the more “energy” you need to inject, the less the music is actually compelling. And on that level, this album is basically the same speed metal/Motorhead style riffs that bands were rehashing back in the 1980s, but now revived in an even more exhausted form.
Coffin Texts – The Tomb of Infinite Ritual
The people behind this band are good, and their intentions are good. The result of their efforts however is bog-standard death metal, not so because it imitates anything else, but because it is unreflective of any purpose outside being death metal. It’s predictable in the sense that nothing is surprising, and yet, it doesn’t really gesture at anything more than being death metal itself. I hope these guys stop trying to be whatever they think they should be, and find whatever they actually enjoy instead. Best yardstick for your music: what you enjoy and would listen to on your own, even if you knew no one in the band.
Graf Spee – Reincarnation
Some things should stay in the 1980s. This is prescient in that it emphasizes the kind of bouncy riffing that fits on the spectrum from Anthrax to Meshuggah and onward to metalcore, but it’s disorganized, inconsistent with the vocals, and feels more like a pile of spare parts than a smoothly running engine.
Hellevetron – Death Scroll of Seven Hells and Its Infernal Majesty
2012 was the year everyone rediscovered Onward to Golgotha. I agree, it’s a killer album. There’s nothing wrong with Hellvetron, who seem like competent musicians, but this album attempts to imitate the outward form of Onward to Golgotha without grasping the underlying tension in the music that makes it work. As a result, Hellvetron impose current song structures (loops) and standards onto the aesthetic of the past, which makes for a decent listen until it becomes apparent that it’s not really about anything except itself.
Impiety – Ravage and Conquer
It’s hard not to enjoy this album, which is like a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Mortem with a squidge more melody. However, it is highly repetitive because it doesn’t go much beyond that concept. Like Krisiun before it, the concept is full speed ahead skull-crushing aesthetic, and this is so powerful it squeezes out most artistic content. This leaves you with some creative riffs, some talented use of tempo, but nothing that holds together long enough to listen to for a decade.
Inverloch – Dusk | Subside
These ex-Disembowelment musicians have a bit of a cult formed around themselves. Part of the reason is that unlike almost every other band before black metal, they knew how to write melodic music, which they do here as well, in something that resembles a cross between death-doom like Asphyx and melodic doom like Candlemass or Paradise Lost. Crashing riffs coexist with gentle melodic fills and overlays that create a dense atmosphere of nocturnal wonder. However, beyond that, the direction seems confused, which is appropriate for a re-entry EP but excludes it from this year’s best of.
Mantas – Death by Metal
Before the first Death album, Chuck Schuldiner tried out his riffcraft in Mantas, named in tribute (by educated guess) to Venom. There’s a reason these sort of re-releases are confined to collectors, and that is that these demos show a young band trying to get the order of riffs in its songs correct and at the same time develop an image, sound and voice. The result is great, if you like listening to parts of the same six songs 18 times each. A true-blue die-hard ultra-kvlt collector will put this on the stereo next to “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Spiritual Healing” and start working out each riff until he’s sure how everything works. Then again, with the hindsight of nearly thirty years, we know exactly how it should turn out, which means that for the rest of us, this will sit on the shelf in perpetuity except as a conversation piece.
Maveth – Coils of the Black Elite
This album reminds me of middle period Immolation, in which creative riffing often fell into very similar rhythms and as such, the songs sort of became a continuum which resembled pulled taffy: cut off a length of Immolation, let’s listen to that. Oh look, sliced Immolation! It’s the same way here. Maveth has very creating riffing with excellent right-hand control, but the songs themselves are a muddle because the riffs are the direction and as such, there’s not really a way to put the riffs together that makes sense, so the band converges on a mean and drops into very similar trudge rhythms to make the songs catchy. At first listen, especially the first three tracks, promise is everywhere; by track five, it’s clear that circularity has occurred.
Purtenance – Sacrifice the King
This EP suffers from a primary flaw, which is disorganization. It’s not random, but it’s what happens when you decide to make death metal and so treat that as a container, and then “write to fill” and twist the riffs into place so they work with each other. It’s not about anything, and thus is “random” in the sense that it could mean anything. As a musical experience, it mostly conveys a sense of disorganization and frustration. The best bands mold that sort of raw emotion into something which rises above the confusion and achieves clarity. If not beauty, truth, goodness, etc. at least something that is desired more than it is hated, and so inspires them, even if that goal is hatred itself.