Demos and a Forsaken Future

“Dude, their demos were so much better” is one of the most obnoxious cliches of underground metal.  Usually a sign of virtue signaling used to mask one’s insecurities about their knowledge or taste, many lost souls of a nostalgia-obsessed age will use this one as a pale attempt to one up their brethren.  However in many cases within metal’s sonic sphere, bands that were truly fantastic on their early demos left much to be desired and ultimately left listeners unfulfilled.  Whether it be a record company’s influence, a change in heart or band members, or a touch of genius quickly fumbled away, may bands throughout the history of metal have never quite been able to match the quality of their demo recordings.

With death metal built on an entire sub culture of tape trading, demos were more than a proverbial foot-in-the-door to a potential record deal.  For musicians of the genre’s early days, the demo was the equivalent to having your record in the store- it was being shipped all around the world to fans desperate for something they couldn’t find in shops and to musicians hungry for new ideas.  Furthermore, a band’s demo was untainted by the direction and input of record labels who, in those days, quite often suppressed what was deemed “too weird” or “too extreme” as death metal was often determined by the suits of those days.  Tape trading death metal demos was an underground of its own, and your band’s demo tape wasn’t just a pathway to commercialization or musical success- but a often the start of new friendships in a rapidly globalizing world.  Given all of these unique factors, it’s no surprise death metal was full of bands who could never quite capture the magic of their demos.

To offer a complete list would be a dishonor and disservice to the legions of quality works that fall under this umbrella.  Therefore in today’s editorial, I will briefly offer a handful of my personal favorite death metal demos from bands that could never quite capture the magic.  Though I pay little mind to what happens in our comment sections, this will mark a special occurrence where I’d be delighted to know what DMU’s readers would have on this list.

Therion:  Time Shall Tell

I was absolutely shocked when I found out Therion used to be a death metal band having originally heard the awkward operetic albums Therion is known for.  Then I was even more shocked- but also incredibly impressed- when I discovered just how high quality and full of creativity this phase of the band’s life was.  The songs on the Time Shall Tell demo articulate the epitome of Swedish death metal- frantic yet wisely constructed madness with well paced drums and perfectly varied guitars.  All of the instrumentation is creative and invigorating through each passing moment with each composition taking exactly the right turn into exactly the right place at the exactly the right time.  Because their aural armory is so large and all encompassing with an endless array of guitar and drum techniques to chose from, Therion are able to remain unpredictable at any given moment yet incredibly nuanced throughout.  The production is absolutely perfect, with the tone of each instrument being right on point and the levels of the mix being set in just the right places.  One of my favorite death metal releases.

(Further Reading:  Brett’s take on Time Shall Tell in the Dark Legions Archieves)

Vader:  Morbid Reich

Throughout their career, Vader was a band that had great moments buried in droves of mediocrity.  Every now and then they would lash out with a striking riff or commanding song, but ultimately these moments were fleeting throughout their 13 album career.  Yet with 1990’s Morbid Reich, Vader injects the perfect dose of classic death metal as it’s meant to be prepared: heavily laced with thrash metal riff mazes, thoughtful countermelodies, a great use of the space, and a vile mess of vocal disgust.  The album is plentiful of solos and takes some classic heavy metal turns that are surprisingly effective.  Vader crams a full length’s worth of ideas into this 20 minute cassette that ultimately leaves the listener feeling fulfilled, and-  for the only time in the band’s 30 year career- each moment of this release has purpose and meaning.

At the Gates:  Through Gardens of Grief

One of the most overrated bands in death metal (and essentially all of metal), At the Gates started off on the right foot with a top tier venture into in their first and only demo Through Gardens of Grief.  Championing an invigorating use of dynamics and well balanced duality of melody and dissonance, Through Gardens of Grief is exceptionally strong in composition and instrumentation.  Equipped with an impressive technique wit and vociferous grit, the release never gets too pretty and demonstrates that ugly, uncomfortably throughout.  Nevertheless, there is outstanding understanding of musical complexities displayed in offsetting tempos and time signatures, countermelodies that provide wonderful clashes between the two guitars, and a great use of ambient passages, At the Gates deliver innovative death metal while careful to not wade into the snobbery of progressive metal.  Singer Tomas Lindberg’s vocals demonstrate his vast collection of death metal demo tapes as he manages to belch out the most appropriate vocal pattern throughout an album full of intricate rhythms.  None of At the Gate’s full lengths albums manage to capture a formulaic approach as thoughtful and brilliant as Through Gardens of Grief– perhaps this frustration lead them to becoming the one-trick-pony they found themselves being on Slaughter of the Soul.  All and all, this demo is absolutely worth a listen even if you hate the rest of the band’s discography and these are the best songs At the Gates would ever write.

Hellhammer:  Apocalyptic Raids

Uglier, dirtier, and all around meaner than anything we would hear from Celtic Frost, Tom Warrior and co’s first venture was far superior to its successor in nearly every way.  Laying a strong foundation for the death metal genre by recreating hardcore punk riffs in metal fashion, letting compositions tonally descend into unknown depths, and vomiting out the most sickening vocals heard at the time, Hellhammer pioneered an incredible journey of death and destruction that would be echoed for decades to come.  Compared to Celtic Frost’s discography- which started with it’s best release in Morbid Tales and got progressively worse with each passing album- Apocalyptic Raids had more sinister riffing, heavier breakdowns, infinitely more exciting vocals, and better executed ambient passages.  Track by track and as an overall work, Apocalyptic Raids is the crown jewel of it’s creators.

(Further reading:  Brett’s classic take on Apocalyptic Raids)

Cradle of Filth:  Orgiastic Pleasures Foul

It is most unfortunate that such a hated mess of a band also created some truly great death metal demos.  By merely looking at the 3 words in the band’s name, readers around the world are chimping out right now- shaking their fists in a triggered rage that I would make such an inclusion on this list or this site.  However, one would be foolish to let their limitless hatred for this band blind them to what is an organically repulsing death metal masterpiece.  Orgiastic Pleasures Foul is a curious and well rounded cocktail of early gore grind and Swedish death metal coupled with a measured dose of My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost’s earliest doom-death works.  All of this lay under a sewer of grimy production, tainted with nauseating Necrophagia-esque vocals and downright bizarre keyboards that could easily be mistaken for the soundtrack of a Lucio Fulci movie.  This is part Nespithe, part Reek of Putrification, part Stream from the Heavens, and part Left Hand Path with well ventured experiments in atmosphere and grime.  I wish it wasn’t so good, I wish I could have just discarded the thought of including it on this list the moment it arose and not open myself up to the ridicule of praising some of Cradle of Filth’s music as essential death metal- but this demo really is so exceptional that it would be a disservice if I pussied out and didn’t include it here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

My Dying Bride: Towards the Sinister- Doom-death, therefore not quite death metal

Nihilist: Nihilist (1987-1989)- The collective of demos is better than “Left Hand Path,” but not any individual one.

Demilich: The Echo- Can’t quite figure out if this better than Nespithe

Death:  Reign of Terror- I love Death’s full length albums, however I acknowledge the legions who believe Death were never as good as the Kam Lee incarceration found on their demos.

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55 thoughts on “Demos and a Forsaken Future”

  1. Darkthrone 1+3 & 4, Burzum 3, Demilich says:

    Death demo is lame (so is Mantas). Cradle of Filth just sounds like someone tried to make Harmony Corruption “spooky” like many other UK bands at this time. Poor choice.

  2. Frederick Dinkledick says:

    death metal was often determined by the suits of those days.

    “Suits”? This seems like an offhand, un-researched statement meant to pad the article. The kinds of labels that released death metal back then weren’t megacorporations. And even then it’s questionable how much creative influence they had over the bands in their rosters. You could argue this point perhaps after the Great Cuckening of the mid 90s (starting with an imprint of Warner Music releasing the so-so Covenant and the following turd Domination) but not before then.

    1. Cullen Toner says:

      Roadrunner Records.

      Earache records.

      Et all

      1. NWN Panzerjizz Splatter Vinyl says:

        The globalists at Roadrunner also endorsed trannyism with numetal, ruining the lives of their audience.

      2. Rainer Weikusat says:

        Noise International, insofer Tom Warrior counts as reliable source.

    2. Cullen Toner says:

      Also Combat records putting “This album is (the producer’s) folly” on the back of Death’s 1987 debut “Scream Bloody Gore” completely defeats this argument

  3. Frederick Dinkledick says:

    Ur a fuckboi if you think Therion’s demos are better than Beyond Sanctorum.

    And AtG’s best material is the first half of With Fear. Fight me

    1. Frederick Dinkledick says:

      Gardens of Grief is dope tho. And I am going to give early Therion another chance.

      1. Gabe Kagan says:

        ATG’s debut with the production of the Gardens of Grief demo is the platonic ideal.

  4. Death Metal Gear Solid says:

    Sacramentum – Sedes Impiorum

    1. thewaters says:

      Ya, this is a cool demo indeed! I recently just discovered Tartaros’ – The Heritage from the Past. The rest of Tarataros’ discography blows, but this demo is pretty cool.

  5. magma says:

    Massacra – ‘Nearer From Death’

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlTM1qWbIJE

  6. Rainer Weikusat says:

    Death metal demos represent the bands at their most artistically ambitious point of their careers.
    Also, guys keep coming up to me but never take me home. I was promised cock and I´m
    getting frustrated it’s all tease no action on this site!

    1. Rainer Weikusat says:

      If you manage to fool someone with your rip-off plus “OMG! Dreaming of GAY sex again!” boilerplate (you probably ripped of somewhere as well), he probably deserves it.

      OTOH, impersonation with the intent the spread pejorative lies about other people is no joke. You haven’t yet managed to annoy me to the degree that I’m seriously considering to report this to Google as illegitmate content it shouldn’t be financing and certainly shouldn’t be listing but you’re getting there.

      1. Rainer Weikusat says:

        As postscriptum to other idiots: I’d also seriously advise against ever trying this face to face as people who got to obnoxious wrt “not being able to keep their hands to themselves” have ‘historically’ not fared very well.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaJ7GGad_0g

        JFTR: This track is good. The album itself is ‘mixed’. Some of the tracks are very enjoyable. But as a whole, it is to Goth-influenced, at least for me: Too much haunting melodies and depression, even wandering into the territory of almost outright love songs, too little aggression.

  7. Deathevokation says:

    Demo is short for demonstration. In the musical sense it’s a series of ideas, often inchoate, in need of refining. Few demos are essential, but some bands had quality demos as described in this article.

  8. Harveey says:

    Never thought I would enjoy anything by Therion. Thanks

    1. Flying Kites says:

      Swedish Death Metal has never intrigued me much besides Carnage.

      1. taller more autistic looking man says:

        Come onnnnnn… Nihilist, Early Dismember, At the Gates and Carbonized (though they’re way more grind) are all amazing.

        1. Death Metal Gear Solid says:

          Also Necrophobic – Nocturnal Silence should not be overlooked.

          1. taller more autistic looking man says:

            Yes!

    2. S.C. says:

      The lyricist for much of Therion’s work was apart of a band called Shadowseeds. Their only album was rather good.

      1. Nuclear Whore says:

        Thank you.

        Regarding main topic, some demos I particulary enjoy are the ones from Carnage and Grave. Carnage with Carcass/General Surgery approach and the Grave demos one can find in the very good compilation “Necropsy”

        1. S.C. says:

          Sure thing. I’ll have to check those demos out

    3. taller more autistic looking man says:

      The Way

  9. Flying Kites says:

    Demigod and Adramelech created the thematics for all Finnish metal proceeding from their demos.
    Unholy Domain https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=COwGn05_s7w
    Spring of Recovery https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=x6bV4Gty4l4

    The unity of Finnish metal must be their tribal conscience.

    1. Cullen Toner says:

      Great works. Demigod’s “The Slumber of Sullen Eyes” is probably my favorite death metal album.

      1. Rectums Disdained says:

        What is ur favourite trance album?

        1. Cullen Toner says:

          Infected Mushroom “The Gathering”

          1. normie alarm says:

            Woop woop woop woop!

  10. S.C. says:

    Completely agree on Nihilist vs. Entombed. Probably the two I could say right now are the works of Nihilist and Grotesque

    1. S.C. says:

      Also Blasphemy’s Blood Upon the Altar.

  11. Trashchunk says:

    Brutality – Dimension Demented

    1. desu metal says:

      Aw yeah real niggas know. Brutality is generally underrated, I’ve noticed

  12. Rainer Weikusat says:

    Therions starts to become uninteresting after ca 2 minutes. Too much lamely copied Deicide in there.

    The Vader demo is something I had called deaththrash in 1990 and certainly enjoyed very much. Somewhat like Merciless but less sterile. The interplay between guitar and drums is very nice, bit too loose for metal, though. Some off the riffs come accross a genericisms but the energetic attack hides this well.

    ATG seems to have tendency to get lost in gimmicks but that’s something I’d certainly buy in order to become more familiar with it were it released today.

    Hellhammer, well, this meanders between being badly played (German) hardcore, badly imitated Venom and some pieces of bad Motorhead are also in there. I continue being amazed why so many supposedly intelligent people fall for this shit as that’s all intentional aka “Venom kills music, Hellhammer kills Venom”. That’s an average garage band of that time which somehow managed to get a recording contractinstead of just playing a few concerts for drunk grammar school pupils and than dissolving into nothingness.

    I’m not going to comment on Cradle of Filth.

    Something I would mention here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsQfJCi6Bp4
    [Grave, Anatomia Corporis Humani]

    I borrowed this for a week or two from a then-buddy of mine. By that time, I was extremely fascinated by it because it wholesale discarded all aspects of conventional musical esthetics in favour of creating its own cosmos of sound. Even the Grave debut is already ripe with aural apeasements for the more conventionally minded.

    1. LordKrumb says:

      “Therions starts to become uninteresting after ca 2 minutes. Too much lamely copied Deicide in there.”

      ^ Apart from this being a bizarre superficial comparison, it’s highly unlikely Therion had even heard of Deicide by the time they’d written and recorded the ‘Time Shall Tell’ demo, which followed the style of their earlier demo tapes. Therion’s demos were widely circulated by tape traders and acclaimed by zines. Amon/Deicide didn’t make much of an impression (at least here in Europe) until their first album was released.

      1. Rainer Weikusat says:

        The opening sequences of

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3y51dCsQxs

        and

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0PeBXG6H9w

        are at least very similar and both bands play (down-tuned?) speed metal riffs with a similar sound. IMHO, the chances are good that they both belong to the group of “standardized death metal bands which all sound the same” a certain Euronymous complained about in 1990, regardless of who knew or didn’t know what.

        1. LordKrumb says:

          It seems the opening of one song has given you a skewed impression of the style of Therion’s early material, which is generally more expansive and varied than Deicide.

  13. fARTkNOCKER says:

    Surprised that Asphyx’s demos with Tony Brookhuis on guitar haven’t been mentioned.

  14. Jerry Hauppa says:

    It is pretty interesting to hear how Necrophagist started.
    https://youtu.be/52CztgK6bqU

  15. Kafka Ligula says:

    Deathwish = Sword of Justice
    Morbid Angel = Thy Kingdom Come
    Ved Buens Ende….. = Those Who Caress the Pale (on par with WiW)
    Immolation = 1988 demo
    Massacre = Chamber of Ages
    Miasmal = 2008 demo
    Mutilated = Psychodeath Lunatics*
    Nocturnal = Thrash With the Devil
    Order From Chaos = Crushed Infamy
    Pentagram (Chile) = Demo I / Demo II
    Slaughter = Surrender or Die
    Slaughter Lord = Taste of Blood*
    Timeghoul = demos*
    Vulcano = Devil on My Roof
    *band only had demos

    1. Grinding Opus Of Forensic Medical Comments says:

      Legendary bands that only had demos should be a separate article…Timeghoul, Necrovore, Mutilated…yeah.

      1. Finnish Death Metal was the pinnacle of death metal says:

        That would be a great article, Finland had a ton of bands that never made it past the demo phase. Those bands had great ideas, but sadly we never heard anymore.

    2. Kafka Ligula says:

      Forgot two very important ones. Treblinka > Tiamat, and Wrath of the Tyrant > all other Emperor.

  16. Grinding Opus Of Forensic Medical Comments says:

    Cynic’s 1991 demo is interesting in that you can hear how badly butchered the riffs get in Focus.

  17. Big Papa Niggle says:

    u guys…

    forgetting TIMEGHOUL??? cmon.

    1. taller more autistic looking man says:

      Your demo can’t be better than your album if you never put out an album

  18. Paul Grinder says:

    Embalmed Souls’s 1999 demo, Become Vengeance, Become Wrath
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCnoB4FxRIY&t=1052s

  19. LordKrumb says:

    “I will briefly offer a handful of my personal favorite death metal demos from bands that could never quite capture the magic”

    In regard to this suggestion, I would argue that Therion’s ‘Time Shall Tell’ is only marginally better than ‘…Of Darkness’ in two ways:

    #1 – The running order on ‘Time Shall Tell’ has better flow than the debut album, but the album is essential because it includes many other equally good tracks.

    #2 – The demo’s dark, murky production somewhat enhances the atmosphere of the music, but the clearer sound on ‘…Of Darkness’ in no way detracts from the music.

    The strengths of ‘Time Shall Tell’ are trivial because the song-writing and performance are consistently strong across virtually all of Therion’s material from 1989 to 1992. The “magic” was in the formidable song-writing and performance. It was all great music that grew incrementally with each release in the quality of ideas and the power of execution.

    Anyway, it’s good to see Therion’s death metal getting some fresh attention on DMU – plus Vader’s ‘Morbid Reich’ and My Dying Bride’s ‘Towards the Sinister’. The Vader and MDB demos were easily superior to anything those bands released after they got record deals.

    Check out Therion’s ‘Promo 1990’, which features demo versions of ‘Cthulhu’, ‘Future Consciousness’, ‘Symphony of the Dead’ and ‘Beyond Sanctorum’ (all included as bonus tracks on Nuclear Blast’s CD re-issue of the ‘Beyond Sanctorum’). The demo versions of the first two tracks have the edge over their counterparts on the album – the thicker, heavier sound helps to add an extra feeling of suffocating intensity in the fast sections and adds solemnity to the slower sections.

    Also worthy of mention is Demigod’s ‘Unholy Domain’ demo. It isn’t superior to ‘Slumber of Sullen Eyes’ but the demo equals the album musically and the demo’s production is better suited to the band’s style.

    1. Cullen Toner says:

      Solid argument but yeah i prefer therion’s demos to the 1st album mainly because of the sound and overall feel

      There’s a time shall tell compilation that has all the best music from their esrly days

      Demigod’s demos are some of the best in death metal but not better than slumber, of which i believe to have perfect production

      1. LordKrumb says:

        I have that TST compilation CD – I think it was one of the last copies from the band’s old online store. It’s actually not just the best music of their early days – it’s *all* of their first, second and third demos, plus the demo version of Future Consciousness (from the Projections Of A Stained Mind compilation and 1990 promo) plus a forgettable cover of a Venom track, which they should have dropped and instead included the other three 1990 promo tracks, which together would have fitted nicely on one disc.

        It definitely deserves a re-press, but that would require an expensive negotiation with Nuclear Blast who own the publishing rights to all of the band’s demo material.

    2. Finnish Death Metal was the pinnacle of death metal says:

      “De Profundis” was a good record by Vader though as was the debut.

    3. Grinding Opus Of Forensic Medical Comments says:

      By the same token as MDB, ‘Frozen Illusion’ by Paradise Lost is an absolute classic demo and the lack of production values makes it 1) more enchanting than ‘Lost Paradise and 2) one of the few truly unnerving death metal recordings, like dark ambient levels of atmosphere. ‘All Hope Is Lost’ by Anathema is also vastly superior to the faggoty ‘Serenades’.

  20. Finnish Death Metal was the pinnacle of death metal says:

    Sentenced had a great demo right before they released “North from Here”.
    https://youtu.be/XUm78KLRygw
    Nerlich
    https://youtu.be/2629oKjttYk
    Eucharist, which was way better than the debut
    https://youtu.be/CbatKApvBXM
    as did Cenotaph
    https://youtu.be/FLrt0jIWdlM

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