Only one can lead: guitars, voice, bass or drums. Whatever takes the lead will compel others to follow because lead means sketching out the structure of the song. The classic metal albums all lead with guitars and vocals catch up while drums provide accents and bass does whatever it feels necessary.
Repentless reverses this formula. It is built around Tom Araya’s mostly fast-spoken or chanted vocals, and guitar keeps up and drums frame the whole thing. The bass doubles the low notes and does little else, but Slayer has always used that technique. The problem is that in a desire to make catchy choruses and compelling verses, Slayer has relegated its most powerful aspect — the lead rhythm guitar — to a supporting role.
Despite a number of good riffs that call to mind material from the Seasons in the Abyss era, on this album Slayer has had to contort itself to fit around the vocals like a rock song, which de-emphasizes guitar and consequently cramps it and, in its reduced role, forces it to show off and simultaneously keep itself restrained. This keeps the worst of metal guitar and throws out the best. In addition, this reduces songs to minimal song structure based more around a lyrical narrative (or topic of a video) than development of melodies or patterns in the riffs.
This is far from a bad album. The problem is that it is the wrong sort of album. Metal escaped from rock by minimizing the human, especially vocals and feelings, to create a gritty realistic confrontation with the nihilism of existence — the knowledge that events do not depend on feelings or mythological beings, but cause and effect. Slayer expanded its audience in the 1990s to the present by being more centered on vocal hooks and foot-tapping rhythms, and does well at this, but at the expense of what made this band great.
What do you get when you form a supergroup from members of Entombed, Unleashed, and Necrophobic, all of whom released excellent formative death metal at the beginnings of their careers? Not much, apparently. Firespawn (formerly Fireborn) plays generic modern Swedeath with slight hints of melody and not much else of interest. If you ever needed a reminder that a promising lineup does not automatically translate into a product that is even promising at best, Shadow Realms is there for you – more accurately, you will be able to purchase it on November 13th from Century Media if its banality fails to undermine your interest. In the mean time, you can listen to one of its upcoming tracks (“Ruination”) for a textbook example of how to put together generic deathpop. Particularly notable are the rudimentary vocal rhythms and the exceedingly basic song structure.
Future coverage is possible, but very likely to be sadistic in nature.
With Earache Records promising us a re-release of this live album on vinyl in October, and an otherwise quiet week of upcoming relevant releases, I thought it might be a good idea to give this a more detailed look. Live albums are fundamentally interesting on a few levels – their attempts to capture something of the experience of a concert, their value as documentation of a period in a band’s career, the chance to possibly hear reinterpretations of favored songs, and so forth. Entangled in Chaos came out at the tail end of Morbid Angel’s commercial golden age and before the band tried to reinvent itself with Formulas Fatal to the Flesh. The product is low on references to the previously banal Domination for whatever reason, although whether that’s due to timing or creative reasons is beyond my knowledge.
These rerecordings end up more polished and standardized than the originals for the second time in MA’s discography, as the long holdovers from 1986 already got the Lemon Pledge treatment when they first entered the studios. Sometimes, the end results are rather stripped down; for obvious reasons studio adornments aren’t available, and Trey Azagthoth’s guitar solos are consistently altered from their original forms. Hearing the band’s earliest material with a production closer to Covenant or Domination is mildly interesting, to say the least, although the concessions to a live environment often cost these tracks some of their power and more musically interesting aspects. The performances are otherwise faithful to a fault, as such strict reproductions leave little room for reinterpretation… with the caveat that this is difficult to do successfully in a metal context and in this case might’ve resulted in an undesirable Domination II or similar.
There are not very many essential live albums in the realm of metal, and you can probably do without Entangled in Chaos in most cases. If you absolutely need to hear Morbid Angel playing relatively faithful but not particularly passionate renditions of their first era or are otherwise a collector, though, this rerelease may be to your tastes.
Malevolent Creation has been in my listening backlog for many, many years on the strength of a few tracks from Retribution. I never got to them, because I was constantly distracted by trendier bands (brands). When I first acquired Dead Man’s Path, I theorized that since the band’s been around for nearly 30 years and retains some of its original members, this was not going to be a major stylistic departure from those past works lest long-time fans abandon them in droves. The flipside of this, as evidenced by my experience with similar types of recent releases such as Repentless, is that I expected that regardless of the final quality, I expected a streamlined version of MC’s past style.
My listening throws this into question. Malevolent Creation’s early works tended towards the ancestral end of death metal, with obvious speed/thrash metal roots poking out of an otherwise standard monophonic, dissonant approach. Dead Man’s Path recalls something of this, but as predicted, it turned out more conventionally musical, with more consonant melody and a denser production (out with Scott Burns and in with Dan Swanö). Add in a somber march of an intro, and a renewed emphasis on vocal patterns, and you have a release that has definitely streamlined itself. It doesn’t rock the boat much, and it does still pass the aesthetic litmus tests that define death metal, but the production and packaging isn’t particularly interesting to write about beyond its most basic qualities.
Unlike most of the bands that take this approach, however, Malevolent Creation does a good job of applying their musical practice to write better songs. To my understanding, they were never a particularly complex act, and most of these songs rely at least in part on obvious verses and choruses. However, good use of tempo and rhythm shifts in particular keep things from getting too skull-crushingly obvious and predictable. The band members also showcase enough compositional awareness to move integral song elements around between tracks to obfuscate the formulas a bit. I would personally have liked to hear more variation in riff styles, as some of the songs here (“Corporate Weaponry” in particular) suggest that such could be successfully incorporated while retaining the strong points of the band’s approach. That, however, is a small flaw in an otherwise very solid package.
To be fair, I was not expecting the strengths of Dead Man’s Path to be so covert, but they are the sort of elements that take some time to properly dissect and understand. However, this makes it a more valuable and perhaps integral work than most of what passes through the review queue here.
Even Peaceville Records is getting in on the compact cassette revival. While Soulside Journey is far from stereotypical for Darkthrone, and furthermore already saw a cassette re-release in 1996, this is still a fine addition to your collection in its various forms for the strength of its content. Prior to creating several genre-defining works of black metal, Soulside Journey showcases the band performing a musically literate and melodramatic variant of death metal. It’s an admittedly sparse and atmospheric take on the genre that takes some acclimation to fully understand, but one that rewards attentive listeners. Funnily enough, this dodges the convenient upcoming 25th anniversaries of Darkthrone’s upcoming material, but those are likely too obvious for the record labels to ignore in the coming years. In the meantime, Darkthrone will probably see a great deal of reissues – the questionable Black, Death, and Beyond compilation, for instance, was recently reprinted on compact discs.
Vic Records is rereleasing Blood’s 1992 album Christbait on September 28th. This German death metal/grindcore act received some praise in the old archives for successfully adding some conventional musicality to a standard formula. In that regard this is similar to how Carcass and Napalm Death expanded their sounds on Symphonies of Sickness and Harmony Corruption; Christbait is similarly more intelligible and elaborate than Blood’s previous work (although still fairly simplistic) while retaining much of its intensity. Newer bands would do well to learn from these examples if they want to create works of similar quality.
The legacy of Suffocation continues, at least in some form, as the band is currently writing material for a new album, possibly to come out some time in 2016 if all goes well. Suffocation’s recent works have lacked the strong organization of their 1990s peak, and it seems unlikely that this one will be a significant improvement. However, a fiscally successful album release may lead to a new cycle of touring, and possibly a chance for our readers to see the band perform some of their old classics in a live setting. An actual review of the as-of-yet unnamed album will probably show up on this site closer to its release date.
Dismember is dead, Fred Estby was d-beaten to the cross, and not even Dave Blomqvist can sweep away these recent Swedish metal sins.
Black Breath – Heavy Breathing (2010), Sentenced to Life (2012), Slaves Beyond Death (2015) Smegma crust derivative deathcore. There’s sludge in here too as this was released by Southern Lord, the idiots who brought us Kim Kelly Kore like Nails and Wolves in the Throne Room. No Swedes are spared by these gang rapists. Black Breath even spread apart the cheeks and felch the fecal matter from Wolverine Blues’ asshole. Listening to any of their releases is hearing them play metal hot potato by passing around that firm bowel movement mouth to mouth like a mother bird feeding her babies. Black Breath lick that shit up and down to get the turd glisteningly slick before shoving it up Kim Kelly’s meat-hooked Hellraiser cunt. From there it will be squeezed out like soft serve ice cream for Pitchfork and Vice’s hipster cones.
Demonical – Black Flesh Redemption (2015) Demonical wants to play with the big boys. They have Boss HM-2 pedals and riffs Dismember rejected when writing the not-so-classic Death Metal. What they don’t have is any idea of how to write an adequate death metal song; these guys can’t even hammer out an effective two and a half minute verse chorus verse thrash basher. The four tracks each attempt to pander to a different lowest common denominator metal audience with their individual use of breakdowns, doomy interludes, and cheesy keyboards. The rhythm guitars take a backseat to the cheesy Amon Amarth vocalizations. There is about a minute of semi-enjoyable generic material on this record.. Snort the line of borax on the floor failure.
Entrails – Obliteration (2015) Three strikes is life in many states. Singapore will hang anyone who walks off a plane with enough junk. Medieval England executed children caught stealing anything worth more than two loaves of bread; mercy meant limbs lopped off. This is Entrails’ fourth offense. These recidivists need to overdose in a Cambodian shack on a cocktail of liquor, Valium, and chloroquine.
Interment – Into the Crypts of Blasphemy (2010) Yet another fourth rate band from the early nineties finally recorded an album. The songs are again dick beat punk and the metal riffs were pilfered from Entombed and Carnage. Just like Entrails no label gave these fools money to record an album back in 1993 for good reason. Now that they’re adults with jobs, this garage band can afford studio time to bore us. Interment need to quit trying to live out their delusional teenage heavy metal dreams and spend time with their kids on weekends.
Verminous – The Unholy Communion (2013) Verminous return with more punk rock masquerading as death metal. More bouncy hardcore riffs, more lame samples, and more gang chants. Whatever catchy riffs are on this CD are quickly worn out through strict verse chorus verse pop punk structures that make three minute long songs drag. I want to throw it at a homeless person. The lyrical themes are inconsistent too. Pop Satanism? Okay. Bukkake? Barbatos? Verminous are the Blink-182 of Svensk Döds Metall. Repeatedly listening to The Unholy Cumunion is equivalent to fucking your girlfriend wearing a used condom picked up off the sidewalk.
Drowned – Idola Specus (2014) Soulside Journey simplified into pop music. Drowned grokked the underground’s current nostalgia for the early nineties and rehashed a beloved classic into an easily digestible rock format. Pointless introductions and incongruent atmospheric verses are thrown in to appease doom halfwits and bore everyone else. Darkthrone is being bowdlerized for hipsters just as early rock ‘n’ roll whitewashed rhythm and blues for suburban teenagers. Truly Katy Perry death metal.
Tribulation – Children of the Night (2015) Tribulation first moved from Grotesque and Merciless worship to Rust in Peace meets Queensrÿche on The Formulas of Death. Children of the Night abandons metal altogether, becoming Moog synth laden regressive goth rock. Tribulation aren’t horror score Goblin now; Tribulation are strict, just out of the closet Lestat cosplayers. Where are the clean vocal hooks for the Cradle of Filth faggots? How the hell are Tribulation supposed to get into Hot Topic next to Deafheaven? They need to put away the Vampire Diaries, pull the buttplugs out of their rectums, and hire a real singer. Then go to Safeway, buy four gallons of bleach, and chug them like forties in the parking lot. That will clean out Tribulation’s gastrointestinal tracts.
Ghost – Meliora (2015) Repugnant failed miserably at death metal. Now Repugnant fail miserably at Duran Duran. Ghost have no musical influences from Blue Öyster Cult or Mercyful Fate; rather they play vocal pop with occasional speed metal riffs. Pop music centered around singing that makes Dave Mustaine sound like Ronnie James Dio. This has to be trolling: the vocalist sounds like Seth Putnam on Anal Cunt’s indie wuss rock parody Picnic of Love; grown men are playing dress up pseudo-metal like little girls having a Satanic tea party. Tobias Forge should lick lead paint chips off the floor and bash his brains out in the back of a police van.
Cut Up – Forensic Nightmares (2015) Cut Up? What kind of lazy band name is that? What happened to metal bands whose names actually referenced death? Treblinka? Autopsy? Immolation? Cut Up wondered what Dismember meant and looked it up in the dictionary. “What does Dismember mean bro?” “It means to cut people up.” Cut Up cuts up old death metal riff phrases into licks and rearranges them into death ‘n’ roll forensic nightmares. Songs are structured like Cannibal Corpse filtered through the randomness of metalcore. Ample slams and breakdowns disorient into a brain cell holocaust. The target audience is those australopithecines who believe death metal a more extreme version of beatdown hardcore. Go cut up your vegetables. Dismember : Lethal Weapon :: Cut Up : Samurai Cop minus the amusing bits
Floga Records is releasing a box set of Septic Flesh’s first era in cassette format. While this box-set is limited to 300 copies and the format is somewhat obscure, much of the content included is of high quality, as Septic Flesh’s early discography is one of the high points of Greek underground metal, measuring up to such luminaries as Rotting Christ, Varathron, and Necromantia.
Septic Flesh began their career playing rough death metal, but even on their earliest demo (Forgotten Path) showed signs of the melodic, atmospheric sound that would become their signature. The abrasive death metal elements would remain for some years, but the band’s heavy keyboard presence, an emphasis on consonant guitar leads, and elaborate compositions make for a a more contemplative experience than, for instance, the generally more aggressive American metal acts. Septic Flesh’s first full-lengths admittedly suffer from flaws in their production that detract from the possible intensity they could reach (like the use of a weak drum machine), but they still capitalize on the band’s ability to create ethereal soundscapes in the context of metal. Mystic Places of Dawn and Esoptron in particular are masterpieces of this style, effortlessly integrating this into the admittedly declining quantities of death metal that this era showcases.
Later albums in this collection showcase the band reaching simultaneously towards higher heights of orchestration and problematically trying to secure some gothic metal money. This niche became enormously popular in the mid-90s despite being so wide as to encompass similar acreage of musical ground. Septic Flesh never discarded their ability to write melodic hooks, but after 1995, they were quick to simplify their style and write more accessible, less cavernous songs. These changes become strikingly obvious on Revolution DNA, which trades in the mythological and occult themes of previous works for sleek, shining futurism. That the band manages to retain their melodic prowess makes it serve as a functional and adequate work of pop music, but it is truly a low point of the compilation. The band’s previous overtures towards the mainstream (primarily in the form of operatic vocalists) were spun off into their own project (Chaostar), and Septic Flesh was arguably sundered. In recent years, partially represented on this compilation’s finale, Sumerian Daemons, the band has embraced the great simplification of their past, albeit overlaid and decorated with modern metal technique and an orchestral presence, creating music that in its strengths resembles that of mainstream film music filtered through the extreme metal mold. The new Septic Flesh is a much louder and brutish beast, separated from the atmospheric voice it was born with, but hints of the past permeate even the band’s latest releases to give it strength in its darkest hours.
1991-2003 is excellent as a historical archive and a collector’s item, at least for those few who value compact cassettes. It is probably entirely useless outside that niche, although it’s always possible that a similar box set may come out in a more accessible format. In addition, like other comprehensive box sets, it comes with its share of chaff and filler. Individual albums by Septic Flesh should not be too difficult to find, though, and some of them have even been reissued with new artwork and bonus rarities. The early full lengths are certainly worth the listener’s time.
It probably bears mentioning that I consider Hell Awaits to be Slayer’s peak. While it could’ve used a larger recording budget, it showcased some of the band’s most elaborate and well-written compositions. The band didn’t generally follow up on this approach on later albums, but you can hear the lessons applied on the rest of Slayer’s classic ’80s material, and therein lies a lesson. At their peak, Slayer had obvious songwriting formulas, but were able to go build more elaborate and memorable works due to their solid understanding of song structure.
Repentless is Slayer’s 3rd attempt to recapture something else of that era. The production standards are admittedly better (although Slayer generally had good producers working for them in the past as well), but everything else is the stereotypical speed/death assault that the band helped pioneer. Paul Bostaph and Gary Holt serve as adequate substitutes for the departed Dave Lombardo and the deceased Jeff Hanneman (R.I.P), carrying on general stylistic trends without rocking the boat too much. That this is a commercially viable endgame for popular metal bands is something I expect to be one of the major themes of my tenure here at DMU. Even now, though, cracks are showing in the war ensemble – Tom Araya’s vocals are a major stylistic weak point on Repentless. His shouts have become more “extreme” and insistent in recent years, but his ability to vary his vocal techniques has all but collapsed. This album’s prosody is the worst casualty yet, as he delivers these monotonous shouts in unvarying rhythms; the effect is essentially the same as shouting nursery rhymes into a megaphone from your neighborhood rooftops.
Araya’s weaknesses are particularly damning on an album that relies so heavily on vocals to retain the listener’s attention, especially when everyone else on the recording is so competently unremarkable. We live in the age of self-referential Slayer, a long darkness that our learned scholars perhaps debate the duration of in their moments of distraction. Repentless is essentially a more formulaic version of previous Slayer albums that themselves were a simplification of their own predecessors. It’s very likely that the songs here sound marginally more like classic Slayer than those on Christ Illusion or World Painted Blood, but their unwillingness (or inability) to expand on basics renders them ultimately pointless. I can’t fault the band for continuing, though; previous recordings, while underwhelming, more than satiate an omnivorous fanbase who will probably go back to Reign in Blood after a while.