We who still love metal walk a fine line between the sold out nu-hardcore stylings of metalcore, and the tendency to hop on the bandwagon of the old school too much; the previous Cianide, Hell’s Rebirth, walked too far on the old school side — when a band loses direction, they imitate successful techniques and patterns from the past without knowing what those patterns evoked in the listeners.
Despite pretending the contrary is true, Cianide is intensely emotional music. It brings on the spirit of doom and fate from old Celtic Frost, the fire-blooded desire to seize life by the throat and live the hell out of it of Motörhead, and from ancient death metal and doom metal a contemplative inner sense, a wondering where we fit in this big picture.
Hell’s Rebirth skipped the emotion for the equivalent of lots of songs about being in a death metal. Gods of Death, despite the less-than-promising self-referential title, is a quality mature effort from these veterans. It is not a concept album but a collection of songs that somewhat self-consciously attempt greater internal variation than previous albums, evenly mixing the “Metal Never Bends” style of bounding, energetic death metal of the type early Master did well, and the brooding drone of Hellhammer and the doom-death style it influenced. The songs are still simple; the solos still squiggles of graffiti on walls of unyielding tone.
If anything, this album reverts to the hardcore roots of death metal and eschews the “nu-hardcore” post-1980s prog-punk and pop-punk styles that are so popular in metal now. In both style and substance, Gods of Death is an affirmation of the past and a recognition that style alone did not define it; the spirit and the soul of the artist made 1990s death metal what it was, and they not only live on but move forward on this chunk of oxidizing steel.
Though the barrier of moral pretense that’s raised in the minds of those who live in fear of this world can be seen as the work of social or religious conditioning, it isn’t necessarily intrinsic to systems of thought that wish to superimpose theories of order upon nature. Rather, the impulse is an artifice of the ego, in assuring it’s own physical safety and metaphysical sanctity, whether the origin of this is ascribed to a divinity or otherwise and then marketed to the masses. This monochromatic rendering of a world half engulfed by the shadow of such a barrier disregards the interdependent balance of elements, the opposite and equal value of death to that of life, and begins to symbolise a holy war against the unknown, just as the actual structure has represented conflicts throughout human history, from Hadrian’s Wall to the West Bank. Maybe Demoltion Hammer one year later recorded the soundtrack to the destruction of these architectural demarcators but Ripping Corpse pinpointed the mental plane with one of the apex recordings of both these tri-state bands’ style of corpse-shredding Speed/Death Metal.
Dreaming with the Dead doesn’t so much harmoniously reconcile life’s opposite extremes, though, as it reveals their arbitrary placement on the spectrum of phenomenon and deconstructs such division with the characteristic absurdism of Death Metal and Lovecraftian inhuman consciousness. The thematic outline of the album is even marked by a transition from the pulp ‘escapism’ of subconscious terrors on one hand to social commentary on the other, as though returning from the Abyss to expose the hypocrisy of so-called civilised men who indulge in normalised forms of depravity while pouring scorn over uncivilised ‘savagery’. The musical elements that Ripping Corpse fuse on the album illustrates this idea further, overlaying the quasi-neoclassical shredding posibilities opened up by European Speed Metal bands such as the socially conscious Destruction with perverse melodies and sequences of increasingly fractured riffing typical of Death Metal at the time.
Although the adverse effect of retaining such past influences would be that some later songs still structure themselves around anthemic choruses – a burden that most of Ripping Corpse’s contemporaries had already evolved far beyond – the band manages to employ enough compexity in their compositions to keep up with the demands of their vision. The sound of the guitars may be construed as being weak or mixed poorly, but this lighter texture lends itself well to the progression of riffs from measured punctuations of rhythm to insane variations by way of fucked up artificial harmonics and blastbeaten tremolo sequences. Tempo blurs the lines of what is considered primitive, though the act may be embellished with the jewels of modern society or justified in the name of some ideology. As layers of humanity are removed from the conscious mind, lead guitars erratically and uncontrollably rip through passages and bring a microcosmic level of culmination within a song, like the fleeting screams of demons being exorcised from a long tortured soul.
There is some continuity to be heard in the first album of Erik Rutan’s much later Hate Eternal, which is a far more sizeable contribution than his involvement in Morbid Angel, however, Ripping Corpse clearly struck an evolutionary dead-end with Dreaming with the Dead. Yet for all it’s antiquated aspects, the focus and engineering of the music manages to highlight the illusions which obstruct mankind from understanding the world around him because he chose to no longer belong in such a world.
It is often asserted that some of the best works of the death metal genre arose as if by accident. A better assertion is that by the early 1990′s, many artists prominent within this musical form found themselves at a level of impassable momentum; a culmination of instrumental violence, a taste for profound and subversive ideals and a sadistic will to power. The year 1992 found death metal at its most potent, chaotic, destructive and virile, just as speed metal was in ’86, and black metal in ’93. Legion sets itself in a league of its own, giving each musician a distinct elemental voice. Glen Benton’s cthonian barking is at its most virulent and savage, guttural yet dynamic, having a rhythmic cohesion that is comparable to that of David Vincent, but separable in tonality. His bass playing is clearly audible, sandwiched in between the juxtaposition of the trebly guitars, which are thankfully never distant or uninterpretable. The drumming of Steve Asheim is insanely over the top yet disciplined, as if one were battering cakes laced with grenades. The musical influence of Slayer is the clear template for Deicide’s work, and in terms of compact intensity, Legion is to their self titled debut what Reign In Blood was to Hell Awaits. A parallel can also be drawn to Slayer in the musical interplay in the dissonant soloing techniques that see the best ideas of Hanneman and King taken towards a polyphonic atonality. The album radiates just under half an hour of pure blasphemous momentum, and communicates through spiraling, chopping guitar riffs that sit in perfectly with a multi-faceted rhythm section. Structurally Legion emphasizes a highly proficient musical backdrop, which advances what was exhibited on their debut and compresses it into a greater density that is both a pleasure to listen to and gives Deicide a platform on which to construct their most unique and standout work. Virtuosity echoes the best work of Atheist and Voivod if the melodic and progressive rock tendencies were eschewed, whilst the pattern language and aesthetic is in league with the best work of Morbid Angel, Sepultura, Massacra and Suffocation. This is Deicide’s pinnacle, one they would never surpass. A fundamental cornerstone of death metal, one of the all time best.
Blaspherian improve upon their promising debute Allegiance to the Will of Damnation, sharpening their focus by developing riffs as themes, stacking multiple variations of a similar idea and then slaughtering it with counter-themes. (more…)
Some readers may have noticed the recent addition of a side bar promoting “Glorious Times – A Pictorial of the Death Metal scene (1981-1991)” and this inclusion is not without good reason. Laid out like the highly evolved Heavy Metal magazine we all wish we would see at the nearest news-stand, “Glorious Times” in true discriminatory fashion includes amongst its pages bands actually worth discovering and rediscovering, and although the layout is consciously rooted in the DIY mentality of early fanzines, this highly professional document provides a genuine glimpse into the workings of the early and mainly North American Death metal phenomenon.
Providing a visual assault via rare and intriguing photos that both neophyte and seasoned veteran alike will find delightful, “Glorious Times” also includes entertaining and enlightening anecdotes by and about many of the foundational North American death metal acts. Although some of the accounts are funny, juvenile and downright adolescent, they remain above all inspiring, standing as a testament to the devoted individuals who were dedicated to an art form that for them was the last bastion of truthful expression in the time of “The Great Lie”.
Given the “glory” of the documented time era we read thus with a slight sense of melancholy and loss, the release of a text such as this proving that these times have passed. With some misgivings we witness within ourselves a nostalgic longing for the mutual respect that those participatory individuals had for one another by virtue of their commitment to a common goal. We marvel additionally at the perseverance and DIY mentality of these restless and visionary artists, and commend their youthful and innocent intensity. We look fondly upon the early exuberance and the inherent excitement that permeated a movement that was giving birth to new and truthful forms of expression, but above all we witness and thus long for a genuine spirit of brotherhood and camaraderie such that now seems lost, although not dead, on the Hessian community.
However, the potent power of a document such as this, its capacity to inspire, rally and excite may yet prove itself invaluable in infusing the Hessian community with the spirit with which it was once animated. The seeds are laid – Onward!
Know how to kill! Nothing is rarer, and everything depends on that. Know how to kill! That is to say, how to work the human body like a sculptor works his day or piece of ivory, and evoke the entire sum, every prodigy of suffering it conceals in the depths of its shadows and its mysteries. There! Science is required, variety, taste, imagination… genius, after all.
… So spake the lyrically impassioned and thoroughly blood-splattered master torturer from Octave Mirbeau’s exploitative allegory ‘Le Jardin des Supplices‘ — a work often regarded as the French parallel to Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ in its mutual objective towards smashing the moral edifices of Western civilization and exposing the corrupted, putrefying soul beneath. Framed in this excerpt is a rational, eloquent and yet sickeningly grotesque declaration of sadism as a fine art — or even a manifestation of divine love — which so happens to mesh very excellently with the more measured methods that Massacra had undertaken for their second opus Enjoy The Violence, an album that has historically competed with its predecessor Final Holocaust for total lordship over the death metal world. While the ivory sceptre is generally awarded to the debut by merit of its raw, inexorable and blindingly brilliant riff-saladry, an equally convincing case can be argued on behalf of Enjoy The Violence — a sophomore effort in the greatest sense of the word. No longer does songwriting resemble frantic tornadoes of jagged phrases, bewildering developments and hazardously unhinged instrumentation: here we find Massacra, having done their thorough “research of tortures”, limiting their machinations of aural infliction down to a choice but variegated selection, with all parts oiled, honed, and sharpened for excruciating efficiency.
Markedly fewer motifs are employed — a few even resurface on multiple songs — and yet it is this very spareness that imparts such character and memorability unto each composition, along with a newfound, almost cinematic command over tempo, texture, voicing and atmosphere. In addition to the familiar Destruction-esque, adrenaline-rushed thrashing fare, songs of pure death-doom are introduced, serving to showcase both the band’s ability to stage ominous and imposing dirges in the grandiosely operatic tradition, as well as the most tasteful musicianship yet to be wrought by the Duval/Tristani guitar duo and even percussionist Chris Palengat. Bassist and co-vocalist Pascal Jörgensen, whose efforts were unfortunately somewhat smothered by the crêpe-flat production on Final Holocaust, now rises to the status of an eminent narrator, complete with audible basslines and a dictatorial roar that bears with it the all the glorious and savage atavisms of the Gallic warrior spirit. A richly imagined, brutal and at times sardonic album, Enjoy The Violence is very much Massacra’s second masterpiece and — like the aforementioned Mirbeau — speaks to the undercurrent of murder and pillage that flows blackly through even the modern, safe, and plastic societies that have pleasantly stultified us in this age of oblivion.
You take pleasure
In using violence
It’s in your nature
You’re under my influence
You can’t repress your instinct
I incite you to violence
We finally got our hands on a review copy of Glorious Times here at the HQ, and the verdict is in: much improved over version 1.0, but still a niche product, so those of you who want Death Metal History for Dummies will need to go elsewhere.
Glorious Times does a supreme job of immersing you in the culture, the music and the feel of the era without having to shape your mind with a narrative. This is both its strength and weakness. Compiled entirely of first-hand statements from musicians and writers from the era, the book lets you make up your mind and read for whatever interests you. This was I think a mature decision, because the writers recognized the niche nature of this material.
My co-editor, Kontinual, and I differ on the importance of this book. I see it as a compilation of primary sources; he, rightly, points out that it’s for a niche and not ready for mainstream consumption. I don’t see these two views as incompatible. Glorious Times is a primary source, and will be in for future academics and journalists, but right now it’s us nostalgia freaks who are checking it out.
And therein lies its strength. While the editors could have conducted interviews and comped statements together into a summary, imposing order and assessing data, that would have produced a linear perspective. Instead here you get the history told by as many people as wrote in for the book, which shows us how people differed in their approaches to this music, and yet also, where they converged. No linear narrative can show the same breadth.
Fans of the music, as opposed to academics and journalists, will find that like other legendary metal docs like Are You Morbid?, Lords of Chaos and Until the Light Takes Us, this book enmeshes us in the atmosphere of the time. You get to hear all about tape-trading, the personal lives of musicians, how people got into the music, and the decisions they made with their bands and lives. You don’t get the kind of clear but oversimplified summary that Sam Dunn peddles in his Global Metal (my personal favorite of his movies); instead you stagger into this strange land where gnarled figures emerge from the mist and tell you their story in riddle and rhyme, then leave you to drift onward along a hazy road. If you want to know what it was “like” back then, this type of book is your best guide.
Detrators will point out the weaknesses that correspond to this strength. They will also say that the layout is amateurish, which was true on 1.0 but is mostly fixed for 2.0, at least to mainstream rock book standards. Detractors will say that the lack of an editorial voice means that the contribution from band members are somewhat random, and that depending on this volunteerist attitude among subjects means that the bands that didn’t make it outnumber the important ones. While these criticisms, as are those of my co-editor Kontinual, are valid, they miss the point: this book is not here to offer an overview, a history or an ideological statement. It’s here to give you the feel for the time, and to provide rich primary source material for those who will research it in the future. I hope someday someone makes the sequel to this, in which they interview all of these bands for two hours each and then assemble the statements, but that would lose much of the atmosphere and require a larger staff and budget than any old-schoolers have at this time.
When we look back on any time, we tend to measure its information by what it would mean to us now. We are looking at single facts at a time, and we interpret them as they would fit into our current lives and technology. When we look at ancient Sparta, we are repulsed by aspects of their warrior culture that in our society, would be cruel and unusual. To them, these “repulsive” aspects were a matter of pride, and what shaped them as much as we are shaped by our pride in not being like Sparta. Understanding early death metal is a similar matter, in that our technology and society was so different back then that we cannot place many of these “facts” into context. We need to see them in their original context, and by seeing that social backdrop, understand the atmosphere before we start trying to pull facts out of it. Glorious Times keeps this atmosphere intact and, while it may be a niche for death metal nostalgia buffs at this point, for the future it is the first serious record of the early years of death metal’s genesis.
What is life? A mechanistic-deterministic reaction cycle of alkaloids, proteins and nucleic acids? A quantum spell of randomness or the whim of a willing god? Certain purposefulness, subtle intentionality and synchronic magic that leaks through the cracks of everyday reality seems to invite both mystical speculation and transcendental philosophy but elude a fully satisfying rational explanation. The brain-melting reaction to existential, eschatological and essential questions such as the existence of sin and afterlife was both more rational and nihilistic (plus masculine and lofty) in the death metal of Protestant countries of Europe (and USA), while the South European and Latin American manifestation was feminine, instinctive, intuitive and categorically destructive of the social place of human in the cosmos.
The sensual Italian attack in Into the Macabre, enveloped by the scents of leather, sweat and blood, is by no accident a bastard brother of the proto-war metal invocations of Morbid Visions and INRI, while the technical details show that the necro-warriors spent years studying the works of Slayer and Destruction. Most of all, Into the Macabre is an opera of rhythm, of intense vocal timings, stampeding blastbeats and onrushing chromatic and speed metal riffs which warp under the extremely analog old tape production into ambient paysages of ghostly frequency, much like the evil and infectious “Equimanthorn” of classic Bathory. Songs like “Necrosadist” seem to have the structure of a grotesque sexual orgy where each consecutive part tops the previous in volume and hysteria, with short breathing spaces in between to capture and organize the listener’s attention. Like the aforementioned Brazilian albums, Into the Macabre is one of the cases where music is about as far from an intellectual exercise as one gets, into the catacombs of a devil/alcohol/glue-possessed teenager’s brain but for the discerning and maniacal old school death metal listener there is no end to the amount of pleasures, revelations and evil moments that make it seem some transcendental guidance indeed dwells at the shrine of the unholy mystic.
As if poisonous arachnoids had woven a sticky web around a hermit of the desolate Pampas, the multitude of savage Angelcorpsean riffs blasts from Desecration Rites’ rehearsal room with hardly any control or structure for the confounded listener to immerse in. The Argentinian blackened death duo did not have the time to execute all matters properly here because of unfortunate circumstances, and it shows in the deprecated, spastic rhythm of machine, the hysterical frequency and bouts of unclean guitar work all over the place. If something is keeping these dogs of sequences under leash, it is the deep, rumbling voice of Wolf intoning Faustian misery from the bottomless depths of darkness, occasionally unwinding power lines of similar effect to Craig Pillard’s majestic demon voice in the eternally classic Onward to Golgotha. For the modern death metal fan expecting a digitized, synthetic robot surgery there is probably no more horrific sight than this deluge of an album, but internally it is far more hypnotic, intricate and deadly than one could hope for. Just listen to the freezing pseudo-Nordic moments of “Death Sentence to an Agonizing World” or the ethereal, solar and jarring interlude of “Carnal Dictum” and you might just get a slight moment of hope in the future generations after all.
Wiht – Wiht
This British debutant lets loose the heathen wolves of war with a triumphant fanfare akin to Vlad Tepes’ famous Wladimir’s March before leading us to a journey of mountainous black metal landscapes, Graveland-esque meditations, ancient English fire-lit caves and Zoroastrian philosophy. The same sort of extended pagan tremolo epics (18 minutes of length at worst) that made countrymen Forefather and Wodensthrone veritable trials to sit through are pretty close at hand here, but the sparkling energy of youth helps a lot; there is a wildness and intrigue that contributes variation in sense even when there is none in content. Much of the logic of the songs seems to be emotionally stringing disparate sequences into a journey or a fictional narrative, which is essentially never a bad choice but some of the material here could be cut off to be brutally honest. Sound quality is the pseudo-spatial vacuum of too much reverb common for demo-level bands, but the instruments are clearly audible and the mid-rangeness is efficaceous. Unmoving and halfhearted chants and throwaway happy riffs are the blight of heathen metal, but Lord Revenant possesses sufficient pathos to allude to traces of occult evil and memories of ancient war at the same time; while this effort is not enough to coin him as a master of British metal, it would be a disappointment to hear these same songs performed by a more professional, disinterested voice in the future, or see him disappear without a trace after such a promising start.
Into Oblivion – Creation of a Monolith
More than one and a half hours of harsh, pummelling death metal is neither a mean feat to compose nor to listen. As if Wagner, Brahms or even Stravinskij decided in the otherworld that these wimpy rock/metal kids have had it too easy and possessed various souls to spend hundreds of nights writing progressive Romantic/Faustian death metal partitures, 20+ minute pieces such as the title track or “On the Throne’s Heavenward” lumber and crush with such interminable weight that it is hard to not feel like attacked by a divine hammer from above as designed by Gustave Doré. You can forget about them mosh parts, since this is material about as brainy as anything by Atheist, with slow-moving adagios and creeping crescendos more familiar from Brian Eno’s ambient music or Esoteric’s hypno-doom than anything in satanic metal realm. Vocals are sparse and it feels like about a half of the album is purely instrumental and this creates a strange calm suspension which might even feel uncomfortable; but compared to The Chasm’s mastery of technique, it still does feel like an essential emotional counterpoint or rhythmic pulse bestowing element is missing, and when the cruel vocals suddenly rip the air, it might even be perceived as a disturbance to the solemn atmosphere. Nevertheless, it is probable that they are going for exactly this synthesis of the intellectual and the primal; the emotional and the physical. So fortress-like, rational, calm and measured that it is hard to connect its spirituality with its death metal origins (even the previous Into Oblivion release), it is certainly an important statement while the cumbersome nature and certain academicism in construction (perhaps “filler” in metal language, the problem of the previous album as well) makes it a bit of an unlikely candidate for casual listening. Anyone interested in the future of Death Metal cannot afford to miss it, though.
Bloodfiend – Revolting Death
Heirs to the bludgeoning power of Escabios and other ancient compatriots, this recent Argentinian sect wastes no time with progressive anthems, intros nor filler in this concise EP of Autopsy influenced memoirs of early 90’s scathing death metal savagery. If the band has capacity for a challenging composition or a range of emotion, it’s all but hidden in this conflict of vulgar and intense demo taped riffs that could originate on any scummy cassette dug up from your older brother’s cardboard box vaults. Even most crustcore bands could hardly resist the temptation to fill the gaps out with something more liberal, but I am glad Bloodfiend do not resort to any loose pauses in their old school attack. The band is not yet quite there in the top ranks of death metal resurgence, but possess more than their share of contagious energy that will make for a good live experience and raise hopes for a more dynamic album.
Exylum – Blood for the Ancients
Brutal death metal cliches abound but also tasteful dashes of improvisational riff integration as California youth Exylum strike from the bottomless depths with a manifest of fragmented ideas like old Cannibal Corpse, Finnish death metal and newer black metal in a blender. Weird effected voices cackle, pinch harmonics abound, chugging is all but industrial metal, drumming provides a solid backbone and the ululation of the lead guitar harmonic reaches a hysterical plane of existence when the band lets go of identity expectations and go ballistic as in the end of “Worshiping the Flesh Eating Flies”. The worst thing on this demo is the tendency to fill space with something simple and stupid like the endless low tuned one note rhythmic hammering towards the end of the title track. When the band is in a more chaotic mode, as in the older recording “Ritual Crucifixion”, the confusion serves to imbue the composition with more blood and action.
Logistic Slaughter – Biophage
As persistence is the key to cosmic victory, it’s gratifying to see that this recent Californian cluster is not giving up in their quest to build a maiming death metal experience which was approached with streamlined Bolt Thrower and Cannibal Corpse tendencies in their last year’s EP. First threatening edges noted by the listener here are their improved musicianship with plenty of rhythmically aware palm-muting and tremolo NY style rhythm guitar riffs interlocking like the paths of ferocious large insects on flight while in the new drummer Kendric DiStefano they have a redeemer from the abhorrent pit of drum machine grind, even though his style tends to approach the robotic at times. The moments where this EP shines is when the brutal backbone operates at the behest of melody conjured by the leads of Mike Flory and Daniel Austi, such as the gripping mid-section of “Exit Wounds” and the Nile-ish mad arab string conjuration in “Litany of Blood”. I’m still reluctant to call this a total winner because there’s a lot of random chugging around as in generic bands from Six Feet Under to Hypocrisy, but there are also subtle technical flourishes such as the lightly arpeggiated bridge in “War Machine” that still keeps me liking this band and following its movements.