Sepultura‘s Morbid Visions is my favorite thirty year old album. Released in Brazil on November 10th, 1986, Morbid Visions saw Sepultura slither past the primitive Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, and Sodom worship of their initial Bestial Devastation extended play (included as a bonus on almost all CD versions of Morbid Visions) and into ultraviolent, progressive but still primitive, death and black metal.
Death metal had been well established for years by the early 90s. The genre was rapidly becoming an arms race of technicality with many bands attempting to use studio trickery to make records far beyond their musical ability in attempt to compete with their best contemporaries, e.g. Morbid Angel. Many brought in hired shredder studio musicians like James Murphy with drum tracks copy and pasted together onto tape from drum samples and “played” live with triggers activating those same pre-recorded samples at the slightest touch. At the same time, good grindcore bands were turning into second-rate death metal ones or worse, lame “melodic hardcore” which turned hardcore punk aesthetics into slit your wrists whine pop.
Lee Dorrian, vocalist of Napalm Death on the b-side of Scum and From Enslavement to Obliteration, was disgusted by Napalm Death writing material incorporating the worst, bouncy hit people aspects of death metal in an attempt to reach a wider audience and quit the band in 1989. He soon formed Cathedral with Gaz Jennings and Mark Griffiths over a shared love of older heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath, Candlemass, and Witchfinder General. Demos and an album on Dorrian’s old label Earache quickly followed.
Darkthrone‘s second album, A Blaze in the Northern Sky, turns twenty-five today. For much of the mid 90s, Darkthrone constantly referred to A Blaze in the Northern Sky as their first album as it was the first commercially released record to adopt the quick and dirty “necro” production style and to have been part of the Norwegian black metal second wave initiated by Mayhem. However most of the individual musical inspirations were audible on their prior Soulside Journey album recorded at Sunlight Studio; the compositions on A Blaze in the Northern Sky were just much more sparse and droning due to different overall compositional goals reflecting the shift from progressive death metal riff mazes to minimalistic Hellhammerism.
Gorgut‘s debut Considered Dead turned twenty five this year. Gorguts shockingly were once an excellent death metal band. Considered Dead combined a rhythm riffing style reminiscent of Death but arranged those riffs into almost neoclassical compositions which unfolded over the course of each track, surprising with sudden shifts of utmost aggression into cathartic sonic violence.
After Slayer‘s foray into narrative composition on Hell Awaits, Slayer could have taken any number of directions in the then fertile metal landscape: gone in for the throat of aggression, matured their pubescent approach to long-form content, or paired down on riff quality for focused but circular songs. Reign in Blood was something of a compromise bred to appease more Floridian tastes which crave motion before coherence or purpose. The album is brief but bookended by two of the better songs in their discography which daftly elevate the questionable content residing in between. The remaining material siphons off of the paired down and quintessential “Angel of Death” by meandering in whatever assortment of good but disconnected riffs the Hanneman/King dichotomy happened upon in between Heinekens; held together in tacit alliances by a sweltering pace which exhausts itself right as the title track closes the record. The foresight required to write an album such as this is commendable but Reign in Blood is not Slayer’s watershed moment if for nothing more than the sheer amount of disposable songs – not riffs – which constitute the majority of the runtime. This uncomfortable fact goes unrecognized due to the sheer brevity of this work. Yet as I wrote this brief paragraph I must have recited the full album in my head at least a few times and I have not listened to the album is many years. May the resolve of Reign in Blood’s memetic warfare continue to withstand assailants from the ever flowing genre compost bin and grant listeners to the strength to withstand the torrents of nature herself.
Nirvana’s Nevermind turned twenty five yesterday but since we at the Death Metal Underground condemn pop-punk Boston worship, we will celebrate a different anniversary today. Morbid Angel‘s Blessed Are the Sick was released twenty-five summers ago. Blessed Are the Sick was the last Morbid Angel record focused on inwardly improving the music rather than compromising it for commercial appeal to a mainstream market. The band had been obsessed with refining and expanding upon their compositions since Trey Azagthoth shelved the release of 1986’s Abominations of Desolation and fired then drummer/vocalist Mike Browning.
Cryptopsy‘s None So Vile turned twenty this month. A more successful turn off your brain death metal work than Cannibal Corpse, simplified and straightforward deathgrind song structures allowed each musician ample opportunity to show off and drop jaws. Unfortunately aggression and technical showmanship can only cover up for so many repetitive mosh, hit people verses, funky slap bass, and taking three steps back towards verse-chorus-verse speed metal songwriting from their inspiration Suffocation. Nevertheless, None So Vile remains worthy of the occasional, once every couple of years listen due to Jon Levasseur’s superb heavy metal leads when not caving skulls in with a rock or something and Flo Mournier’s over the top ferocity that the original Dark Legions Archive review famously compared to a police beating.
Dismember‘s Like an Ever Flowing Stream turned twenty-five this weekend. Like an Ever Flowing Stream upped the intensity from Carnage‘s Dark Recollections in the same way that Legion would do from Deicide‘s debut. Like an Ever Flowing Stream was faster, heavier, and more distorted. Dismember drenched themselves in blood and plugged dimed Boss Heavy Metal 2 pedals into dimed Marshall JCM 900 stacks, generating a ridiculously fat, high-gain rhythm guitar tone to trample and mangle all others.
2016 marks twenty years since the release of Immolation’s sophomore album Here In After. Completely leaving speed metal convention behind, dissonant riffing and jazzy drumming weld into an infernal, polyrythmic Bosch canvas. All songs burn narratively: verses melt into Vigna’s Luciferian leads. These guitar heroics marshaling the hellfire make Here In After a dawn-bringer for the uninitiated in Immolation. Crucify the criminal Christ again!
This is the sort of recording that could very easily displace the already accomplished works of Kvist from your memory. Filosofem, while released 20 years ago this day, was recorded in March 1993; meanwhile, the first track (“Dunkelheit” or “Burzum” depending upon the pressing) was the first track ever written for Burzum. As part of the initial burst of Burzum’s material, Filosofem sticks to a language of black metal that Varg Vikernes helped define, but is arguably closer in spirit to the pure ambient works that followed it. The internet overflows with discussion of the circumstances surrounding this album, as well as its excursions into a sort of streamlined “Odinpop”, but like its illustrious predecessors, Filosofem‘s influence is immense, even if most who try to imitate the ideas on display here kind of miss the point.