Sentenced – North from Here

On the 93rd (number of the Thelemic Law) anniversary of the independence of Finland from the Russian Empire, let the northern lights flash their yearning flames beckoning the souls of the fallen warriors of the Civil War. While it may seem to some as a sacrilege to play anything but the Romantic sylvan mystery plays of Sibelius, the true heir of Wagner and one of Finland’s national composers, the early death metal symphonies of Oulu’s Sentenced epitomize a great deal of the same thundering natural melancholy. Following the youthful, reaping, Dismember-esque debut album Shadows of the Past, the musical theory of Jarva, Lopakka and Tenkula turned like the Roman mythical Janus statue two ways at once: towards the pure riffcraft of Iron Maiden and the ethereal, streaming melody of Nordic black metal. Much like At the Gates had captured nearly protestant-religious passion and sadness in Sweden, Sentenced managed to concoct music which was worshipful, raging, realistic (even pessimistic) and imaginative all at once, in defiance of the taciturn apathy characteristic (like alcohol) of the working class of northern Finland. In Sentenced, the pent-up rage of skeptical and prematurely cynical young men was transformed into elaborate poetic reflection.

Power metal riffs in a death metal production would later experience a horrible mangled mutilation death in Children of Bodom’s excessive rock stage theatrics, but the sharp minds of Sentenced treated their source material with such profound affection that heavy metal, thrash, death metal and black metal weave into each other as interminable patterns of tangled paths amidst hypercosmos – a Northern Finnish shaman’s spell. The careful production recalls the most biting moments of Kreator while the technical skills of the guitarists are on par with the hallowed “prog” moments of Atheist and Death. The songs hardly suffer from any useless repetition (the anthemic verse-chorus structure of “Awaiting the Winter Frost” serves a specific purpose in exclaiming the satirical “heavy metal victory” over the forces of light, while it is deliberately obscured whether the narrator is a man, a beast or a spirit). That North from Here was never Sentenced’s most popular or esteemed moment is a total wrongness, as Amok followed on the footsteps of this work adequately, but only that. One of the strongest candidates for the best Death Metal album in the history of Finland, the bewitching maledictions of North from Here, from “Capture of Fire” to “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” (and practically any piece since there is no filler), achieved the aims of “Gothenburg” much more effectively and impudently than the horde’s western neighbours.

-Devamitra-

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Therion – Gothic Kabbalah

 

Being dissatisfied with creating what might be called a pinnacle of death metal in Beyond Sanctorum (an undertaking that for all its immersive grandeur and epic legends never felt entirely comfortable within the genre), Therion mastermind Christofer Johnsson embarked upon a massive crusade in pursuit of an album that successfully integrated a symphonic revelry into a metal foundation. While others, including Mr. Johnsson himself, might disagree, it is the opinion of this reviewer that, having toiled for over fifteen years in this particular effort, Therion finally achieved the full extent of its aim in ‘Gothic Kabbalah’, and album that we not only deem to be the single best record of the past record, but also the most inventive, most ingenious accomplishment to emerge from a band no longer affiliated with the original death metal framework.

Once the listener can eventually penetrate the deeper meanings of Gothic Kabbalah, which can require a great deal of time and concentration due to the sheer immensity of its vision, he is likely to be struck by how purposeful the music seems. Every track sets out an individual lyrical theme (all lyrics written by the studious Thomas Karlsson), and the composition as a whole (not merely the vocals) actually reflects the corresponding theme as it should always do. This is where truly excellent music will unfailingly show its quality: the imaginative vision of the artist, whether the intent be conscious or not, is sublimely displayed in the overall thematic unity of the album, in both conceptual and strictly musical dimensions, as well as in an intricate understanding of precisely what the artist wishes to create, and of course of the tools that he is working with.

In Gothic Kabbalah, we are entranced by a composition that sings and dances fluidly in a notable contrast to the relatively plodding movements that characterize some of the earlier records. A full sense of the album’s strong self-awareness is manifested by an easy alliance between some convincing, eccentric vocals, plenty of nimble solos and delicate melodies, and a deeply visceral performance by a devoted rhythm section; taken as a whole, the instrumentation is perfectly charismatic. This does not altogether give the impression of being a fun, careless endeavour to entertain guests around a campfire; the album does, however, address some perennial subjects with a certain seriousness that graces them with an unmistakable aura of authenticity, all the while doing so with a natural easiness that only reinforces the sense of sincerity.

What makes this, Therion’s ninth album, especially remarkable is not that it approaches arcane material in the hope of evoking something real and mystical; previous albums have evidently been produced in this very eagerness. No, what makes Gothic Kabbalah special is that it actually accomplishes the invocation of a strong esoteric presence in a musical fabric that goes far beyond the aesthetical, something which the albums prior could never do. The true moments of greatness on this record are found wherever the shocking light of revelation pierces through the veil of the myth and of the occult; whereas Therion were previously content to simply demonstrate the shapes and the outlines of the old legends, ‘Gothic Kabbalah’ cannot cease until it has transcended them altogether!

Now, it is quite clear that Therion have indeed managed an artistic representation of a wondrous realm in Esoterism, and have made it come alive therein; what is especially remarkable, however, is how the many different mythic strands that the albums touches on are eclipsed by a strong recurrence to the specifically Hellenic idea of the ‘Sophia Perennis’, or of the universal idea of the ‘Eternal Wisdom’. Just as a decidedly bombastic classical music has melded with a more crudely defined death metal background, as well as with other styles besides, so too have the various topics respectful to esoterism conformed to the overriding aim for the beautiful Sophia. So, while the cryptic meaning of the pair of terms Gothic Kabbalah still escapes us, the meaning of this album has not: it is the soulful execution of a vision set squarely upon the sun and the heavens above, and as such it is the perfect transition from a typically death metal perception that stares perpetually into a deep, long, and fiery abyss.

-Xavier-

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Diocletian – Doom Cult

One of the most well known of the close-knit and virile New Zealand death/black scene, Kiwi act Diocletian‘s full length falls and fits clearly within the war metal sound as was pioneered by Blasphemy, and taken to a more nihilist, apocalyptic climax by fellow Canadians, Conqueror and their suceeding act, Revenge.

Structurally, the songs of Diocletian adhere to the musical formulas that define Canadian death/black metal hybrids, but the production whilst still raw, is not as lo-fi and has more streamlined engineering on the guitars and drums, with the bass guitar playing, an unlikely rarity in such high intensity music, thankfully audible. Barked, roaring vocals commonplace within this niche of metal predominate Doom Cult. The tonal quality of the guitars whilst not trebly are less bass-heavy than what you would expect from an Revenge or Sacramentary Abolishment record, is of enough clarity to possess a harmonic distinction that has a similar quality to a less Norse-influenced Demoncy, and even draws a parallel to the first full length by Profanatica. To add to this, a similarity that vaguely resembles the Cut Your Flesh And Worship Satan album by Antaeus is present, in that nuances of distortion and feedback, samples of a warlike nature are used to build and intensity the framework of the album.

Along with a savage execution and great understanding of the pattern language that informs this style of music, Diocletian put forth an excellent full length.

-Pearson-

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Glorious Times: A Pictorial History of the Death Metal Scene 1984-1991

Glorious Times: A Pictorial of the Death Metal Scene (1984-1991) presents a retrospective of the early death metal scene, written by the bands themselves, and edited by Alan Moses (Buttface Zine) and Brian Pattison (Chainsaw Abortions Zine). If you want to see what the early bands were thinking, doing and how they helped invent death metal, this original book gives you a window into the past and future of death metal.

Here’s my original review of the book from August 6, 2010:

When Kontinual lent me his copy of this great book, I had no idea what I was in for. It’s not a retrospective and not so much a nostalgia swipe as an attempt to preserve the past of the death metal genre through the words of the musicians who created it.

Outside of an introduction by Laurent Ramadier, the book is entirely composed of short retrospectives written by the bands themselves. Some are apologetic and wistful, others charging ahead full of verve, and still others factual or like the odd literary piece by Revenant’s Henry Veggian, insights into the mentality of those days.

It doesn’t make sense to group this book in with other death metal books like Choosing Death or Lords of Chaos, which attempt to analyze and formulate a coherent single narrative for the evolution of the genre. Instead, this is primary research material, with each essay providing approximately a short interview’s worth of primary source material for the growth of the death metal underground.

Compiled by Alan Moses (BUTTFACE ‘zine) and Brian Pattison (CHAINSAW ABORTIONS ‘zine), this half-folio tome brings out the best in death metal, including introductions to a veritable treasure trove of early partial evolutions of death metal. If you want a shopping list for the most obscure neo-death out there, get a pad and paper before you read this.

Printed in an initial run of 150 copies, the book will be heading back for a reprint soon. In the meantime, here’s the list of bands who contributed material:

  • Autopsy
  • Paineater
  • Deicide
  • Baphomet/Banished
  • Groovy Aardvark
  • Sepultura
  • Prime Evil
  • Brutality
  • Master/Abomination/Death Strike
  • Nuclear Death
  • Hellwitch
  • Malevolent Creation
  • Vomit
  • Death
  • Derketa
  • Cannibal Corpse
  • Deceased
  • Massacre
  • Insanity
  • Disharmonic Orchestra
  • Possessed
  • Incubus/Opprobrium
  • Revenant
  • Massappeal
  • Unseen Terror
  • Lethal Aggression
  • Incantation
  • Tirant Sin
  • Morbid Angel
  • Hideous Mangleus
  • Dream Death
  • Nocturnus
  • Ripping Corpse
  • Soothsayer
  • Acheron
  • Where’s The Pope?
  • Napalm Death

It will be great to see this book hit the racks for the long term, because it’s chock full of raw material for anyone curious as to the birth of death metal, the underground, and the related genres that spawned from the raw ferment of metallic anguish in that era.

For more information, consult the blog about the book, or its myspace.

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Cryptopsy – Blasphemy Made Flesh

Pre-1994 Death Metal’s dystopian discharge of sobering glimpses into the eschewed nature of reality left in its wake veritable visions of death, fire and unprecedented destruction. Given the release date of Blasphemy Made Flesh, we conclude that this album best represents a near last ditch effort on the part of the primordial fire that is death metal to burn with the glory of years past amidst an ominous yet inevitable decline in quality.

A refreshingly explosive album, the intensity of Blasphemy Made Flesh reveals an unrelenting desire to exhume much of the prerequisite spirit necessary to create a genuine death metal record. Exuberant, joyful and multifaceted Blasphemy Made Flesh employs indefatigably demented and blistering motifs and phrases to create omniscient and nihilistic visions of the perennial struggle between victim and victimizer. In so doing the listener is effectively reminded of this one eternal fact- that wolves lie in wait among the unsuspecting. Exploited down stroke technique combined with the resulting texture compounds this experience leaving one with the impression of being violated both physically and mentally with a blunted weapon. Left battered and bruised the listener is urged to synthesize and understand the presented raging struggles and their psychological implications.

However, despite the pummeling and crushing riff-work an acknowledged necessity of contrast is utilized to create ambiguous moods of contemplation from whence the deranged seemingly view the hideous work wrought upon their most recent victim. In addition to this, the rhythmically dynamic nature of this record fosters the development of a structurally complex album as Cryptopsy utilize a tactful rhythmic precision that through its capacity to delicately change the complexion of motifs, somewhat rivals the expert precision of Suffocation. It is in fact here that we discover much of the vaunted complexity of Cryptopsy, where motifs are manipulated via rhythmic dynamics, and while this may come across as tedious and perhaps overused to some, such technique creates an interesting layer of ever shifting context which listeners are challenged to follow and to interpret. These elements combined with an esoteric yet absurd and morbid sense of melody make this album a twisted and cryptic work whose seemingly contradictory elements point to higher level from whence this work must be contemplated. Although some tracks lack a consistently coherent narrative and may seem erratic at times, expert use of technique, brutality and vision combined with a haughty and commendable sense of ambition makes this work enduring and enjoyable.

-TheWaters-

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July 21st 2010 – Inquisition, Vancouver, Canada

Situated at the edge of the notorious East Hastings St., where the filth and grime of Vancouver gravitates, the little dive bar known as Funky Winker Beans was to play host to the Columbian black metal duo, Inquisition. While it usually boasts a motley crowd of hipsters and various scenesters, tonight it would be assaulted by a crew decoratively attired in combat boots, bullet belts, balaclavas, even fur hunting caps (the guys in Blasphemy also made their appearance).  Contrasting the sickness of the outside locale with a barbarity of our own, the environment was quite prepared for the night’s festivities.

Radioactive Vomit

Opening the show, Radioactive Vomit seized the stage with an appropriate aggression, advancing forth into standard blasting war metal procedure. Obviously not set out to transcend the bounds of convention in the immediate future, this band nevertheless play a competent grinding affair in the vein of post-Blasphemy black metal, perhaps being more inclined to the singular darkness of Archgoat. One cannot accuse Radioactive Vomit of progressing beyond the first dimension of musical creation, but that straight-forward imitation proved to be the perfect formula for introducing the forthcoming acts.

Mitochondrion

The second of three B.C. bands playing tonight, Mitochondrion are a three-piece hailing from the province’s capital, Victoria. Instead of simply marching in the solid tradition of their metal forebears in the Ross Bay Cult, Mitochondrion elect to string together an articulate death metal that is actually quite unique in its vision, in its titanic aura that exudes some nefarious mystery. The ‘typical’ Mitochondrion track moves from an incessant vocal and percussive onslaught to a period of reflection and meditation, and then to a relentless storm that finishes in a brilliant rush of deep, throaty riffing and climactic songwriting. At times doomy, at others ferocious, Mitochondrion are a nascent band that has already advanced far in their development, which showed tonight in their surprisingly long performance (I believe that they had the longest set of the night). Mature and uncompromising, Mitochondrion were in full control, giving us a death metal that was as intelligent as it was brutal; despite a slight sound problem with the guitars, there was never a flagging moment throughout their lengthy show.

Gyibaaw

Crawling out from the frigid bitterness of Prince George, Gyibaaw descended upon the city in direct support of Inquisition, headed by lead guitarist J. Pahl who masterminded the entire tour. While not entirely death metal, black metal, nor entirely ‘war metal’ either, Gyibaaw are quite successful in not succumbing to ‘clonedom’, being able to combine elements from the past and make them into something that fits what they are trying to accomplish. A band that could probably be best described as ‘organic’, Gyibaaw summoned their brand of ‘Tsimshian war metal’ with a natural candour, playing with a fervent conviction that spoke to the youth and the spirit of the performers. Although they played a somewhat shorter set, we were not at all disappointed with the talent and the charisma that makes a band like Gyibaaw worth experiencing.

Inquisition

Image DetailMost would think that a bassist is an indispensable component of any metal band; Inquisition disagree. Far from the average live band, these two Columbians consider themselves quite adequate at performing between themselves, minus a bassist, despite their reliance on a strong rhythm section, something which was notably present during their ‘ritual’. The music of Inquisition is fairly straightforward, with a steady, pulsing rhythm occasionally giving space for an eerie melody to shine through the tempest; it is simple, almost formulaic, but the key timing and the pure quality of the melodies are what really gives life to the compositions. Anyway, the most important thing for Inquisition to accomplish in the live setting is to invoke a real sense of the ritual, to make manifest the strong feeling of darkness prevalent throughout their post-thrash metal albums. With an identifiable aura of black villainy (achieved using only the scarcest amount of corpse paint), and with a loud, flawless manipulation of their respective instruments (irrespective of the audience’s cries of ‘get a bassist!’), Dagon and Incubus succeeded in demonstrating the nocturnal power of their music through the medium of stage, conquering any doubts that might have been made along the way. On a more personal note, I was most pleased to hear a favourite of mine played, namely, ‘Empire of Luciferian Race‘, off of the seminal Into the Infernal Regions of the Ancient Cult album. Although it ended up being a bit of a shorter set, Inquisition nevertheless came out strong, and, with at least one new song amidst a number of staples, surely made lasting impressions upon everyone in the audience, bassist or no bassist.

-Xavier-

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Divine Eve – Vengeful and Obstinate

divine_eve-vengeful_and_obstinate

Divine Eve‘s Vengeful and Obstinate is a three-way cross between Entombed, Motorhead and Cathedral. More technically adept than most doom metal, it alternates between two-chord riffs that are pure surging rhythm and longer, plodding, doom riffs that reduce your soul to ash. On top of the thunderous doom melodic guitar leads both echo and play with the melodies of those long riffs, opening up the sonic space of the album to more possibility.

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Embryonic exhumations – Unearthing classic demos

Ras Algethi – Oblita Divinitas
Helheim – Walpurgisnatt
Alioth – Channeling Unclean Spirits
Graveland – Drunemeton
Tsjuder – Ved Ferdens Ende

Ras Algethi – Oblita Divinitas

If the architecture of the great Gothic cathedral, with its upward arches, towering spires and cosmic domes laden with images of the suffering divinity on this earthly realm, had been constructed as a kind of sacral road sign to the eternal paradise beyond, then the music of Ras Algethi’s demo is a fitting soundtrack of cathartic expression, a release from the pain and misery of the mortal existence. Like the immortal Oneiricon – The White Hypnotic album to follow, ‘Oblita Divinitas’ relies heavily on the sounds of the mighty organ for it’s intensity as an imposing beacon of death, magnifying the mournful, melodic patterns that guide the listener through the distinct passages of these songs. Where the organ picks up on the general idea of a riff that’s introduced first, the guitars go on to elaborate this phrase in an almost improvisational, though highly restrained, story-telling manner. The bigger picture develops more gradually – far more slowly and funereal than the full-length – and the organs and percussion eventually give way to the austere logic of the main riff, with clever variations that manipulate this momentary freedom from time and space, or blissful acoustic passages that prolong and reflect in it (anticipating ‘When Fire is Father’, one of the most memorable songs on ‘Oneiricon’), before the other instruments return in an emphatic transition, taking the music to an even deeper level of suffering. Ras Algethi show a very mature compositional style from the onset, not just giving a vague sensation of sadness, but carefully detailing the journey with a reference point of possibly going beyond the world that causes it, re-addressing this emotion as a painful longing for release. –ObscuraHessian

Helheim – Walpurgisnatt

Ghoulish, ethereal and enwrapped in a magnetic tape production reeking of ancient tombs and broken 4-trackers, Helheim’s vision of industrial black metal is far more elemental than the connotations of that description during the last decade. As with the primitivist throbbing drum machines of Mysticum and the ambient blankets of Sort Vokter, the aim is ritual-hypnotic music which does not try to spice up black metal in order to make it more comforting or exciting; instead, it challenges one’s concentration by looping, returning and rewiring little fragments and pieces of riff in powerful early Norwegian black metal language, conducted by the raging screams of the now-deceased vocalist Jon A. Bjerk. The svastika simulacrum depicted on the cover highlights the natural difference with the smoother approach of the other Helheim of the same era, famed mostly for the vagrant mythological epics of “Jormundgand” – this Helheim rather spits in the face of the observed tradition in order to bring forth the subconscious terror of life and death that has been embedded in the mythos of all ancient cultures and bring across a pertinent message to the civilization (macrocosmically) and the black metal of our time (microcosmically). –Devamitra

Alioth – Channeling Unclean Spirits

Remember how disappointed you were the last time you heard a new Varathron or Rotting Christ album? If the same lack of consistency and effort permeates other areas of Greek society, them having descended from the mythic glory of Athene into debts and poverty needs hardly the prophetic eye of Cassandra to fully explain. As in Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel “American Gods” the lost European deities are found prowling the Wisconsin backwoods, Chicago based Alioth’s mystical and sensual tribute to Hellenic black metal ca. 1993 is admirably not only a continuation of the electric technoid dynamo drumbeat and an application of the palm muted speed and doom riffs in esoteric underground context; it’s also a highly logically strung sequence of moods as if the physical organization of pain and pleasure in a Dionysian ritual theatre, succumbing with the heavy held back moments of “The Channeling” and “Apocryphal Dimensions” and rising through the interludial “Invocation” and “Invocation II” to softly expire orgasmic relaxation. So much could be created out of this basic concept that it’s a pity the full-length album has remained cloaked in the depths of the primal sea, while Wargoat Obscurum iterates far less subtle (and far less interesting) metal with Cult of Daath. –Devamitra

Goreaphobia – Morbidious Pathology

Goreaphobia’s debut album wouldn’t have been quite so eagerly anticipated without a strong back catalogue of minor releases such as the ‘Morbidious Pathology’ demo, which provides an unexpected listening experience if Mortal Repulsion is the only recording you’ve heard from the band. Where the full-length communicates visions from the abyss through the blank eyes of an old mystic locked in a lucid dreaming state, this demo is full of enough youthful energy to express the paranoia of a thousand souls trapped within the claustrophobic confines of their own mortality. Variations in riffs reflect these tightly packed structures, seeming to progress with not so much a linear logic than the re-arranging of parts of the whole, like limbs being removed from a body and sewn on to somewhere else entirely until the true grotesqueness of humanity is revealed. As with Mortal Repulsion, despite the physical connections to Incantation, there is a stronger similarity to the craftsmanship of Immolation and albums that would come in later years, such as the complex and disjointed but melodically evocative Here in After. The lead guitar work, though highly restrained, possesses a sense of neoclassical refinement that bridges some short-burst riffage with eloquent but totally disturbing solos. This demo shows the beginnings of an all too rare experiment in Death Metal where you can observe the maturation of a consistant idea as it goes through the turmoil of a tortured, temporal existence. –ObscuraHessian

Graveland – Drunemeton

It’s not difficult to understand the distaste that Darken has for the recordings commited to tape during Graveland’s infancy in the light of his recent catalogue of pristine, epic and Atlantaean creations. Some distance away from the expansive scenes of battlefields and expressions of Romantic nationalism, this ancient offering from the living master of Pagan Black Metal is totally shrouded in a necrotic production, like ghostly shadows moving through oaken forests, casting a spell within more cloistered and Druidic surroundings than the output of Graveland from the past 15 years. Alongside the visions that created the force of Scandinavian Black Metal in the early 90′s, this demo represents the reclusive and misanthropic esotericism of that era, especially the primality of the lowest fidelity cults, Beherit and Ildjarn. Sounding like the work of a punk ostracised by that increasingly over-socialised group for being too idealistic and inhuman, Darken conjures a lurid interpretation of hypnotic Bathorean riffing that develops through the echoing of majestic, synthesised voices that open this recording as though a prologue to ‘The Celtic Winter’. The experimentation with primitivism in ‘Drunemeton’ is so deconstructionist that the guitar technique becomes fragmented completely and subordinated to reveal gloomy ambient moods that amplify the silence of a forest at night before the dawn of battle. There’s a similarity to the Beherit song ‘Nuclear Girl’ in how the guitar is used more like a sample, reverberating it’s texture through the keyboards to emphasise a cloistered sensation, accompanied by monastic chants at other times. Culminating in the ambient classic, ‘The Forest of Nemeton’, this demo is the successful beginnings of Graveland’s exploration into unconventional and nihilistic territory beneath the folky phrasing of guitar-led melodic work, which would shape the dynamic of his entire discography to follow. –ObscuraHessian

Tsjuder – Ved Ferdens Ende

Fifteen years ago, we were too proud and lofty to listen to it, our sensory devices soothed and inflamed by Panzerfaust, Battles in the North and Høstmørke, while the new generation of neo-progressive and mainstream black metal bands sought to enrapture even wider audiences with movie soundtrack influenced keyboards and angelic female voice conjured by fat-bottomed gothic tarts. For the atmospheric maniacs only, as it’s hard to argue for its musicality against the likes of Vikingligr Veldi; but the epic wanderlust and distorted pagan death ritual of this demo’s centerpiece, “Fimbulwinter”, unfolding like a flower at dawn or the psychedelic mandala of LSD invading brain receptors, is one of the pure innocent and mesmerizing gems of underground black metal in this sacred and forsaken era. The primal Isvind-esque melody dance like ripples of waves on a forest pond, the hissing tracker production complete with the macabre clack of a drum machine and the dampness of a Nordic bedroom cellar permeate the recording to such a thickness of adolescent black metal fury that it’s hardly palatable to generic audiences then and now. Barely a trace of the fast norsecore of the more familiar debut album Kill For Satan is noticeable here, the only similarity being the guitarist Draugluin’s technique of bricklike tremolo chord architecture where rhythm plays little importance. While primitive, this compositional method bears an intrinsic beauty which is worthy of recapitulation when the pure augustness of early Norwegian black metal has mostly become forgotten in favour of seemingly more rich and elaborate indie stylings. –Devamitra

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Pestilence – Malleus Maleficarum

I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the seven living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on Conquest. – Revelation 6: 1-2

Summoned forth to rage fury upon the unsuspecting but no less innocent, Pestilence, on each of their first three albums ushered in a predestined Apocalypse of the mind and struck at the heart of the dark forces of the Kali Yuga thus completing their microcosmic responsibility as “Kalki”, and providing the foundation upon which a new golden age and conciousness would hopefully arise. On their uncompromising and frenetic debut album, Malleus Maleficarum, Pestilence as corporeal manifestation of death and conqueror, harnessed the power of becoming to destroy the destroyer that is illusion and ignorance, and defiantly placed themselves within the torrential stream of becoming in a quest for truth. We as listeners are thus treated with no less than a passionate and structurally free form album that through its fluid, intelligent and precise use of riff craft probes and attacks on multiple fronts the lyrical themes tactfully explored by Van Drunen and Co.

Although one may be quick to argue that that the addition of socially conscious lyrical subject matter such as genetic manipulation and religious strife defines Malleus Maleficarum as a strict Speed Metal album, it is nonetheless better characterized as a highly refined and progressive speed metal album that straddles the death metal fence. Indeed, indicative of their speed metal roots is the common use of hysterical and staccato driven guitar technique reminiscent of bands such as Exodus, Destruction and Slayer that, coupled with an emerging yet competent sense of dynamics, melody, development and recapitulation of themes, successfully places “Malleus Maleficarum” outside the realm of pure Speed Metal and onto a pedestal of its own thereby providing the impetus for not a few debates regarding the essential nature of this album. Not to be missed of course is the embryonic vocal performance of Van Drunen, who while courageously exploring the memes that have driven modern society into calling forth the forces of plague and death to precipitate the end of this current cycle of humanity, opts for a hoarse rasp like yell in contrast to the later visceral death metal growl he is better known for.

Considering the less than inspiring output Pestilence has recently spawned, it is worth recalling and meditating on the legendary albums birthed by the youthful genius of this legendary band if only to provide inspiration and the soundtrack for a new generation of Hessians who will march forth triumphantly into the dreary haze of an uncertain but exciting future. With that said “Malleus Maleficarum” remains essential listening 20 years after its initial release. Standing out as a thought provoking album of much symbolic depth it also remains an uncompromising and virile album that successfully bridges the gap between speed metal and death metal and reveals the genetic ancestor of the latter genre. Not only a dramatic album in its own right Malleus Maleficarum stands as an interesting historical document that should not be overlooked by any serious Hessian.

-TheWaters-

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Autopsy – Severed Survival

Although Chris Reifert’s work on the now legendary, but perhaps over hyped Scream Bloody Gore was compelling, it is hardly worth mourning the fact that this death metal genius would leave Death and form the mighty Autopsy. On the contrary it remains a blessing, and while Death would continue to churn out a few more solid death metal records, Autopsy would themselves create a few classics whose extreme visions of death would underlie much of the philosophical vision of countless metal bands. Undoubtedly, Autopsy would also influence the worldview of many fans who would learn to eschew the illusion and flight and fantasy of modernity, in favour of a sober glimpse into the workings of reality in all its horrifying and powerful glory.

Autopsy’s barbaric and seminal album Severed Survival offered the listener what would by 1989 arguably represent the nihilistic and amoral apex of the burgeoning death metal genre and thereby cement their place in death metal history. Primitive and raw, the power with which Autopsy frantically bash out these energetic incisions into the human psyche, indicates a desire to transcend and break down the perceived but illusory moral world order and come to terms with the cold harsh realities of existence. On Severed Survival, Autopsy unabashedly presents the listener with a sometimes shocking but nonetheless candid and unmitigated reality, smashing to pieces any presupposition of a cosmic moral world order. As listeners we are forced to come face to face with death, desperation and the unspeakably twisted and cursed elements inherent in the mechanisms of reality and in the collective human consciousness, which Autopsy, like a skilled pathologist expertly dissect and examine. Exhumed are the intense, destructive and “degenerate” elements that are not spoken of in civilized society but which nonetheless drive reality and remain active as motive within the omnipresent but subterranean catacombs of the human mind. Unquestioningly suppressed out fear or an inability to place these depraved realities within the context of our currently constructed, illusory but ubiquitously advocated a priori moral world-view, it is Autopsy who courageously revel in exploring the obscene and who seem bent on destroying illusion in favor of discovering, conforming to and coming to grips with the power of reality.

A bloody pile of discharge flesh

Is what you see as you face death

 On the ground is the lifeless meat

Stillborn child lays at your feet

Musically, Severed Survival is a conceptually flawless album that offers insight, contrast, and dynamic through its expert use of eclectic influences and moreover, succeeds in synthesizing musical and lyrical expression to form a complete experience also made possible through the phrasal composition inherent in the songwriting of all good death metal. Drawing on Celtic Frost and the simple power chord progression that made the latter’s work so completely unified and clear, synthesizing it with heavy metal’s tendency to express impending doom through the use of slower meditative riffs, and drawing on the frantic and schizophrenic lead guitar work of proto-death metal or speed metal giants, such as Slayer, Autopsy on Severed Survival  executed an effectively simple, dynamic and epic work whose elements united  to create a gripping journey that remains to this day, compelling, interesting and perspective altering. Highly recommended!

-TheWaters-

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