Death Metal Underground

Godflesh Streetcleaner: triumph of industrial grindcore

July 24, 2014 –

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Sometimes great albums happen. Multiple forces converge — influences, musicians, leaders, ideas, opportunities — and everyone involved becomes more than they are. They rise above their mortal lives and create something profound enough to live in, a musical world we want to inhabit and take up its struggles and make it turn into the full potential we see nascent within its objects.

Streetcleaner falls into this category. After a stylistically-inspiring but somewhat deconstructive first EP that never really created a direction of its own except aesthetically, the three individuals who comprise Godflesh returned with a new energy. They combined influences from their fledgling industrial grindcore, indie rock and death metal, and came up with an album resonant with layers of potential. Instead of aiming to destroy melody, they built it from the smallest elements so that it could only be seen when those overlapped and only then often by implication, creating a haunting album like an ancient mansion full of unexplored pathways and secret rooms.

Slowing down their attack, Godflesh carved time into a space through the selective introduction of sounds which then received an ecosystem of other sonic fragments with which to interact, creating an atmosphere that also had form and narrative. From indie rock they borrowed melancholic but affectionate melodies, from death metal complex song structures, and from industrial the sound that genre had always desired to express, namely a machine crushing human hope like a Charles Dickens novel. Together these influences formed a sound like Killing Joke accelerated into apocalyptic nihilism with the raw sonic experimentation of death metal.

Streetcleaner came together like an impossible dream. It borrowed from many musical traditions but the band kept both its own voice and a style specific to the album. What really distinguishes this album however is the content. Streetcleaner captures a range of human emotions in response to the disaster of human emotions that creates our modern world: individualistic selfishness leading to herd behavior empowering vast evils. In putting this into sound, Godflesh opened a dialogue with the darkest parts of our souls and the reason those souls are dark, which is that we know the possibility of light.

The band never concentrated its energy in such a way again. The following album, Pure, went back to a higher concept version of their first EP, but never managed the emotional intensity that the interwoven melodic streams of Streetcleaner brought out among the crushing noise and abrasive battle robot rhythms. They swung back the other way toward indie rock for a few more albums, but those went too far into face-value emotion and lost both intensity and honesty. Eventually the band faded out into a series of projects pursuing influences as most senior underground efforts do. However Streetcleaner remains as the apex of industrial music and the album every dark topics band wishes they could make, as well as a profound influence on the rising black metal movement and the second wave of death metal.

5 albums that invented underground metal

July 14, 2014 –

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Before there were names for styles like death metal and black metal, and before anyone beyond a handful of people knew of these genres, pioneers created the groundwork for both genres and influences on several others. They had little at their disposal besides primitive recording and photocopied zines, but somehow these founders established the basis of new styles.

The media eventually adopted the term “extreme metal” but originally this music went by the appellation “underground metal” because you could not find it in stores, magazines, on TV or in academia. Eventually the genres within underground metal gained recognition and you could find them in record stores starting in 1997 when the distribution model changed.

But years before that the groundwork was laid by a few dissident artists. Let us look at the albums that set up the groundwork for both styles of underground metal, death metal and black metal:

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1. Discharge – Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing

By the time Discharge emerged, punk and metal both had large followings. Discharge birthed itself from within the movement called “hardcore punk” that assembled itself when punk fans felt like their music had been co-opted by the very radio industry it hoped to alienate. Hardcore punk bands lived in squats, recorded with whatever was handy, and promoted themselves with zines and 45 RPM singles (the origin of today’s 7″ records). They made their music deliberately abrasive and their themes beyond anarchistic into pure nihilism and rejection of all social thinking so that radio could not co-opt them. For the most part, they were successful, but then the genre became inundated with imitators who saw the simplicity of the music and the power of the social scene and entered for their own purposes, like marketers and advertisers would do years later. Discharge struck back with the ultimate anti-rock album. Drums did not coordinate with guitars, instead keeping time while streams of power chords flowed over them and changed at will. Vocals repeated short cryptic koans that entirely rejected the idea of society itself. Taking a cue from Motorhead, Discharge also added organic distortion to the vocals, creating a sound like an unearthly howl from a place collapsing into hell. Released in 1982, Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing launched a wave of others who used these techniques, including all of underground metal.

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2. Hellhammer – Apocalyptic Raids

In sunny, peaceful and socially engineered to perfection Switzerland, discontent arose with this occult and anti-social release. Turning up the intensity on distorted vocals, drawing influence from both Venom and Motorhead, Hellhammer wrote slower riffs than Discharge but added in the sense of dark finality that bands like Black Sabbath successfully captured a decade before. In addition, Hellhammer contributed a style of songwriting that probably derived from progressive rock records, who themselves borrowed it from classical: song structure followed the content of the song and not a standard song format. This caused the band to spend a great deal of energy matching up riffs so that they “talked” to one another with a type of internal dialogue. Heard best on the epic 9-minute “Triumph of Death,” this technique allowed Hellhammer to fuse the alienation of punk with the dramatic theological imagery of Black Sabbath into a mini-Wagnerian opus. These techniques came to live on in radically different forms in both the rising death metal and black metal genres.

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3. Bathory – The Return…

An entirely homebrew project, Bathory took what metal bands were doing to its logical conclusion and starting in 1984 recorded a series of albums using heavy distortion, occult themes, distorted vocals and fast chromatic riffs. While much of this material stuck closer to standard song format, quite a bit deviated with inventive songwriting that suggested a power of theater in the presentation of metal riffs. “The Return Of Darkness and Evil,” the title track from the second Bathory LP, demonstrated this power with its soundtrack-like thematic composition. Although this band derived no influence from Venom, its distorted vocals took a higher path toward a harsh shriek like one might find in a horror movie soundtrack. As a result, not only death metal but all black metal bands derived influence from this founding act.

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4. Slayer – Hell Awaits

Starting the year after the release of the Discharge album, Slayer crafted a new kind of heavy metal using the chaotic rhythms and chromatic composition of hardcore punk but the elegant and theatrical structures of heavy metal. The result shifted from social awareness lyrics to mythology that revealed a dark future for humanity, and stitched together songs of multiple contrasting riffs which shifted to support content instead of content supporting song form as most pop bands did. This created albums in which listeners could lose themselves entirely and made Slayer one of the biggest and most respected metal bands in history. The tremolo-picking used to create fast flowing riffs that kept energy high, unlike the muted-picking used by most speed metal bands of the time, formed the basis of the technique used by all death metal and black metal bands since. If a band falls within the underground umbrella, it undoubtedly takes influence from the first four Slayer records and most likely has at least one die-hard Slayer fan among its members.

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5. Sodom – Obsessed by Cruelty

Inspired by Venom, Sodom combined the energy of hardcore punk and the new techniques of Slayer and speed metal bands to come up with its own primitive version of this new style. These shorter songs resembled the thrash which was rising as a style at the time but instead picked dark and morbid occult topics. Despite the basic instrumentation, Sodom gave its songs serious themes and pulled off epic melodies which fit an archetypal pattern much like those of horror soundtracks do. The resulting concentrated bursts of fury gave rise to much of the viciousness of underground metal as well as its twilight atmosphere and fiery sense of destruction for all that occupied positions of social acceptance. While many of these songs fit standard song format, Sodom interrupted that to present concluding material in a style like that of Black Sabbath. As time went on, this band verged closer to death metal but kept the searing emptiness which lived on in black metal.

Emptiness – Nothing but the Whole

July 9, 2014 –

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Belgian death metallers Emptiness return with Nothing but the Whole which combines death/black metal intensity with the brooding ambiance of dark ambient similar to Desiderii Marginis. The result creates a dark, visceral experience.

The album exudes a deeply haunting and nightmarish feel which the band expands with its knowledge and application of melodic development. Songs unfurl in a rise-and-fall approach to intensity showing us different levels of thought and mood which develop and eventually conclude in melancholic unity.

Like similar experiment Lykathea Aflame Elvenefris, Nothing but the Whole occasionally struggles with direction which can cause a distracted and confused outcome which translates into meandering filler. There are also some unappealing “rock” riffs that do not fit well with the context of the songs.

Emptiness have attempted to add their own creative spark to the death/black metal world and have produced a decent creation albeit one that needs more focus and direction. Like many experimental albums, Nothing but the Whole is best described as a stimulating listen that will inspire others to expand upon its aesthetic ideas.

Morgue Eroded Thoughts re-issue pre-orders begin

July 2, 2014 –

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Classic Midwestern death metal band Morgue sees release on Dark Descent and The Crypt in the coming months. This band hovered at the periphery of death metal in the early 1990s, essentially filling in stylistic gaps and creating a unique testament to the power of death metal that inspired more musicians than fans owing to low visibility in the market.

Now the band gets a second chance with this release of their only full-length Eroded Thoughts with the “Random Decay” and “Severe Psychopathology” demos as bonus tracks. A 16-page booklet includes classic photos and a lengthy introduction explaining the band and its place in history.

War Master “Lust for Battle Tour 2014″ launches

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Texas old school grinding death metal band War Master takes its influences from old school death metal and melodic grindcore like Bolt Thrower. Since its launch in 2009, War Master has built up a following for those who like underground metal in the feral and atavistic way that distinguished the old school from the imitators.

Following the success of its EP Blood Dawn last year, itself following the triumphant Pyramid of the Necropolis full-length the year before, War Master unleashes itself on the Southwest with a mini-tour that should bring old school death metal maniacs out of the woodwork.

Tour Dates:

  • Friday, July 4 – Austin (The Mohawk)
  • Saturday, July 5 – San Antonio (Korova)
  • Sunday, July 6 – Laredo (Cold Brew)
  • Monday, July 7 – El Paso (Horizon Bar)
  • Tuesday, July 8 – Tempe (51 West)
  • Wednesday, July 9 – Los Angeles (Redwood Bar)
  • Thursday, July 10 – Bay Area (Burnt Ramen)
  • Friday, July 11 – Oakland (Road House)
  • Saturday, July 12 – Grindcore 2014 Fest

Blaspherian/Imprecation split 7″ art revealed

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Dark Descent records unleashed the cover art for the upcoming Blaspherian/Imprecation split 7″ recording. This will combine the power of the two bands, including Blaspherian vocalist Daniel Shaw who drew the intricate and necrotic cover.

Expect copious apostate blasphemy as both of these bands, coming from the religious yet contrarian abyss of Texas, Houston, have nursed an inculcated dislike of all things holy since an early age. Both bands have a root in the original incarnation of Imprecation who released a Morbid Angel/Revenant-ish compilation of demos in 1995.

Since that time, Blaspherian has emerged as the vehicle of songwriter Wes Weaver to express cavernous thunder of old school death metal austere rage and epic historical-mythological minimization of humanity and emotion, while Imprecation has merged melodic doom metal with old school death metal to create a new form of unholy ritual metal.

As these two new legends prepare to holocaust humanity with their acerbic ire and irreverent heresy, the underground awaits with growing anticipation. The underground death metal revival that began in 2009 with Beherit Engram gains momentum as it overcomes inertial barriers and defines this ancient style for a new age.

Dead Horse releases Loaded Gun EP

July 1, 2014 –

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Following a reunion show last year in which most of the original lineup of Dead Horse took to the stage and the success of the Dead Horse/Dirty Rotten Imbeciles side project Pasadena Napalm Division, the Texas thrash band has released its latest work in an EP entitled Loaded Gun.

Dead Horse made a name for itself in the late 1980s by continuing the DRI/COC/Cryptic Slaughter/Fearless Iranians From Hell tradition of skateboarder punk/metal hybrid music called “thrash” but adding the surly growling vocals of death metal. With their debut album, Horsecore: An Unrelated Story That’s Time Consuming, the band launched itself to fame with short idiosyncratic songs that displayed more internal variation than most thrash of the era.

As the band ventured into the 1990s, it combined thrash with death metal possessing progressive overtones on the 1991 album Peaceful Death and Pretty Flowers, which showed longer songs with bigger themes and more use of harmony. After that, the band released a series of EPs and then fizzled out in the late 1990s after the departure of founding member Mike Haaga.

Those who attended the reunion shows claimed a revitalized Dead Horse took the stage, finally sure of its mission without Haaga and in a new musical world order where the raw extremity of early Dead Horse might get it overlooked, not noticed. We look forward to seeing what this band might render in the future, starting with Loaded Gun.

Rigor Mortis to release Slaves to the Grave on October 7, 2014

June 30, 2014 –

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Acclaimed Texas speed/death metal band Rigor Mortis plan to release their fourth and final album Slaves to the Grave on October 7, 2014. The first 5,000 CDs will include a “making of” DVD. The album will also be available on iTunes, Amazon, and limited edition vinyl LP.

Recorded in Feb 2012 at Ministry’s 13th Planet Studios in El Paso, Texas, Slaves to the Grave returns to the 1988 original first record line-up of Mike Scaccia – Guitars, Bruce Corbitt – Vocals, Harden Harrison – Drums, and Casey Orr – Bass.

The CD will be released at a Slaves to the Grave release show featuring Texas thrash legends Dead Horse at the Curtain Club in Dallas, Texas on September 27, 2014! The surviving members of Rigor Mortis — lacking founding guitarist Mike Scaccia, who passed away on December 23, 2012 at the age of 47 — will perform a set of Rigor Mortis songs under the name Wizards Of Gore.

While Slaves to the Grave is fully recorded, the band are soliciting donations to reach a $20,000 goal to enable them to tour. For more information, see the crowdfunding page for the album.

Wizards of Gore, Dead Horse, Dead Earth Politics
Curtain Club
2800 Main St, Dallas, TX 75226
214.742.6207

Massacra – Sick

June 29, 2014 –

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Our minds quickly forget the vapidity of the 1990s amongst the greatest that some bands managed to achieve. In particular, its hangover from the 1980s was so unmemorable that the mind gratefully forgets it. That hangover was the attempt by industry and musicians to cash in on the notoriety of metal and the accessibility of rock by hybridizing the two.

In particular, this appealed to record execs. Why? They were all Baby Boomers. Their world defined itself through a search for the next Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd. As a result they found death metal to be totally alien, black metal to be unlistenable, and even most punk to be incomprehensible. Why don’t they just throw in a flute solo?

Straight in the middle of this process Massacra release Sick in 1994. Everything about it screams middle-90s when computer technology hit the point where you really could do just about anything from a desktop, but not quite do it well. Thus everything hit the page in bold colors, funky font tricks, and so on. Looking back, it resembles the 1980s teased hair and bright colored clothing: technological convenience. Similarly, the style of speed metal erupting with Pantera represented technological convenience.

Recording studios finally grokked how to record heavy guitar sounds so that the precision of the muted palm technique could be heard, which encouraged bands to divide aggressive rhythms with internal syncopation and expanding recursion, so that one rhythm broke down into several internal rhythms all of which outlined a “bounce” or offbeat rhythm based on slightly delayed expectation. This mixed funk (arguably the roots of rap), rock and metal into an abomination uniquely suited for dumb obedient tools of the system who wanted to blow off some steam before another shift and another six-pack of watery beer.

Sick represents a higher intelligence approach to this tradition and cites freely from the speed metal world, including the album that almost every intelligent metalhead had in the early 1990s, Prong’s Beg to Differ (which along with Exhorder and Vio-Lence influenced the Pantera sound). The band make conscious attempts to be avant-garde, most of which consist piledriver series of riffs ending in non-distorted semi-classical passages. If you wondered, however, where Meshuggah got their sound starting at this time, Sick seems to be the place. The same polyrhythms, the same use of groove between aggressive passages. Sick came out in May, and None (the first EP where Meshuggah demonstrated its modern technique) in November. Even the production has similar coloring, but this tells you all you need to know the sound here: based on expectation, like dogs chasing laser pointers, lots of bounce, basically rock structures subdivided by a proliferation of related riffs using the same concepts.

Most modern metalheads will experience embarrassment upon hearing this record. Like most fads, the bounce-metal fad experienced only very narrow relevance within a certain time period, and now sounds dated and awkward. Worse still is that a band like Massacra, no matter what their record label thinks, possesses too much talent to successfully chase a trend. What you get instead is something split between the music that they are good at making, and the music that industry wishes they would make (rewarmed Hendrix and Zeppelin, themselves rewarmed blues, itself rewarmed country music, that in turn rewarmed European folk music).

The tragedy is that much of the innovation that late 1990s bands relied upon in connecting together musical passages of this nature came from Sick or the prior release. American fans may forget how influential Massacra was (and is) in Europe, and how many American musicians heard it even when fans couldn’t find it in stores or on MTV (then an important method for mainstream fans of finding metal). Among the riffs that our minds skip over because we have heard the archetype so many times, great riffs populate this album at a 1:3 ratio to the rest. Some of the soloing contains concepts we have not yet heard metal elaborate on, and clearly someone thought hard about how to structure these songs. Musicians might keep Sick around as part of their book of tricks.

As far as a listening experience goes, Sick falls short in the range somewhere between “fru-fru” and “embarrassing.” Most metalheads would not want to be caught dead listening to this album, which sounds like the underground finally adopting how the mainstream saw metal (i.e. angry groovy drunken rock ‘n roll). The irony of course is brutal. By the time 1994 rolled around, Shark Records had fixed its US distribution problems and was able to get a record into just about every store. This meant that American metalheads who had heard tape-traders raving about Massacra for years finally got a chance to buy some and found this turd of an album belching in their faces. This, and the thin production on the first two Massacra albums which bothered American metalheads more than Europeans who liked the mids-centric feel of Bathory’s Blood, Fire, Death, relegated Massacra to a ring outside the inner circle of famous underground metal bands. Hopefully that will change someday, but not through Sick it would seem.

Massacra re-issues arrive

June 27, 2014 –

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Century Media’s re-issues of classic Massacra works Final Holocaust, Enjoy the Violence and Signs of the Decline have landed. Massacra began innovating its high-speed Slayer-influenced style of death metal in the late 1980s and refined it to a frenetic blur of sound and aggression.

Final Holocaust inherits an updated production without excessive compression; it brings more tone and some but not dramatic loudness to the picture, which will be perfect on both vinyl and CD without obliterating the original sound or distorting it. Greater bass presence lets this album compete with other acts from that time whose work was more physically heavy in addition to being musically heavy as Massacra has always excelled at being. In addition, five additional tracks from a 1990 live show somewhere in France and a deluxe booklet with interview, snippets of old zines, and complete song lyrics finish out the package. This live show reveals the most chaotic version of Massacra yet with heavier live guitars and more extreme vocals. The band show their unique ability to play together live with an organic flow that does not necessarily correspond to the types of rhythm one might expect from the more mechanical music to follow.

Enjoy the Violence experiences similar upgraded sound with similar attention given to the need to preserve the classic sound of these now-ancient assaults. Similarly, the lower registers have been brought out with power that complements the otherwise mids-intensive production. A lack of knob-fiddling preserves the period document while a crisper sound gives it a similar intensity to the modern styles without going overboard into compression hell. Five additional tracks follow the album from a rehearsal in 1991, showing songs from the first album at peak proficiency and maximum intensity. These tracks give a feeling for how the band joined past to future without being merely repetitive. Having them on the second album rather than the first creates a powerful contrast as the album ends.

Signs of the Decline shows Massacra adapting to the departure of Fred Death halfway through the album’s creation and simultaneously attempting to evolve in parallel with the death metal it helped create. If someone ever asks for the difference between old school death metal and “regular” death metal, point them to the break between the last album and this one. Gestures at technicality and even crazier more fireworks-laden guitars and more of a speed metal rhythmic sense, using chunky chords in geometric divisions to create an expanding recursion, alongside an impulse toward what would be called “brutality” guide this album. Many parts of it show similarities to Sepultura Arise and Incantation from about the same period. The band is simultaneously racing toward something like Morbid Angel’s Covenant, which seems to have felt some influence from this album, and a percussive polyrythmic speed/death inhabiting the spectrum from Kreator through Deicide. Two additional tracks from a live show in Germany the previous year showcase two tracks from the previous album in grinding loudness and yet fully proficient rhythmic work, but the contrast between the two styles jars the listener. The earlier material integrates more smoothly and demonstrates its own presence. The later material, more hesitant, tries to be in too many places at once without having yet made its conclusions about how each element of style should be used.

Massacra often gets cheated out of the credit it deserves because most people see that the first album was issued in 1990. However, the band had three years of demos before that time which showed an advanced vision of death metal in the old school phrasal style like Morbid Angel, Slayer, Vader, Mortuary and early Incantation. It avoided the bounciness of speed metal and instead created a rhythmic sense that propelled energy through its listeners, rather than stopping with them as it chopped its momentum into ever smaller slices with muted palm strumming. Seeing these classics ride again — especially since German Shark Records who published them the first time had terrible distribution in the USA — shows new generations how to rediscover the ancient but vital past.