Death Metal Underground

Massacra – Sick

June 29, 2014 –

massacra-sick

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 –

massacra-reissues

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.

Century Media releases additional information about Massacra re-issues

May 15, 2014 –

massacra-final_holocaust

The albums have been skillfully remastered by Patrick W. Engel / Temple Of Disharmony (Asphyx, Desaster, Darkthrone etc), were specially mastered for vinyl and feature heavy 180gr vinyl, a 30x30cm 4-page LP booklet whereas the CD and digital format come along with additional bonus tracks and will be offered at mid-price.

“Final Holocaust” offers tracks from a previously unreleased 1990 live show, “Enjoy The Violence” also contains a rehearsal from 1991 and “Signs Of The Decline” extra live tracks, so look forward to some rare rawness as bonus treats.

The LP booklet and 24 pages CD booklet include all lyrics, detailed interviews with guitarist Jean-Marc Tristani, photos, fanzine snippets, flyers and more.

“Researchers Of Tortures” from Final Holocaust

“Enjoy The Violence” from Enjoy the Violence

“Full Frontal Assault” from Signs of the Decline

Here is an overview on the different vinyl editions and limitations:

Final Holocaust:
200 copies – black vinyl
400 copies – transparent blue vinyl
400 copies – clear vinyl

Enjoy The Violence:
200 copies – black vinyl
400 copies – solid white vinyl
400 copies – clear vinyl

Signs Of The Decline:
200 copies – black vinyl
400 copies – red vinyl
400 copies – clear vinyl

You can order them from the Century Media store.

Massacra first three albums — Final Holocaust, Enjoy the Violence and Signs of the Decline — reissued

May 8, 2014 –

massacra-final_holocaust

Classic band Massacra remains legendary for its ripping acerbic metal that maintained a playful spirit of destruction. The band’s second LP, Enjoy the Violence, was recently featured in our list of eternal death metal albums. Now it seems that Century Media Records will be releasing the first three albums — Final Holocaust, Enjoy the Violence and Signs of the Decline — on June 2 in Europe and the following day in North America.

Guitarist Jean-Marc Tristani had this to say: “Massacra are proud to present you the official re-issues of the first three albums, Final Holocaust (1990), Enjoy the Violence (1991) and Signs Of The Decline (1992). Century Media worked hard to add extra value to these releases. The packaging is really nice and you can find lots of extra stuff in there: detailed interviews, tons of rare photos, etc! We also wanted to make as much as possible visible of Formosa’s excellent artworks, so we scanned the original LPs and came up with designs that fit to the spirit of last year’s Day Of The Massacra demo compilation. On the CDs you will find some pretty interesting bonus material, like an unreleased live show from 1990 from my personal archive, some bootleg tracks, plus a rehearsal recording that was previously published with very bad sound and disguised as live tracks with no track-listing. That rehearsal also includes a song (‘Cyclone’) that has never been re-recorded afterwards. A lot of the material we used was provided by real diehard collectors out there, so a special thanks to them for supporting this project!”

Remastered by Patrick W. Engel at Temple of Disharmony (Asphyx, Darkthrone) the re-issues of these classic Massacra works come in 180gr vinyl with a 30x30cm 4-page booklet, or on CD with bonus tracks. This allows a new generation to own professional copies of some of the classics of the death metal genre.

Final Holocaust:
Black LP: 200 copies
Transparent blue LP: 400 copies
Clear LP: 400 copies

Enjoy The Violence:
Black LP: 200 copies
Solid white LP: 400 copies
Clear LP: 400 copies

Signs Of The Decline:
Black LP: 200 copies
Red LP: 400 copies
Clear LP: 400 copies

The CDs will feature extensive 24-page booklets and the following track-listings:

Final Holocaust (re-issue+bonus):
1. Apocalyptic Warriors
2. Researchers Of Tortures
3. Sentenced For Life
4. War Of Attrition
5. Nearer To Death
6. Final Holocaust
7. Eternal Hate
8. The Day Of Massacra
9. Trained To Kill
10. Beyond The Prophecy
11. Researchers Of Tortures (Live in France 1990)
12. War Of Attrition (Live in France 1990)
13. Sentenced For Life (Live in France 1990)
14. Final Holocaust (Live in France 1990)
15. Eternal Hate (Live in France 1990)
16. The Day Of Massacra (Live in France 1990)
Total playing time: 78+ min

Enjoy The Violence (re-issue+bonus):
1. Enjoy The Violence
2. Ultimate Antichrist
3. Gods Of Hate
4. Atrocious Crimes
5. Revealing Cruelty
6. Full Of Hatred
7. Seas Of Blood
8. Near Death Experience
9. Sublime Extermination
10. Agonizing World
11. Researchers Of Tortures (Rehearsal 1991)
12. Beyond The Prophecy (Rehearsal 1991)
13. Final Holocaust (Rehearsal 1991)
14. Cyclone (Rehearsal 1991)
15. Trained To Kill (Rehearsal 1991)
Total playing time: 57+ min

Signs Of The Decline (re-issue+bonus):
1. Evidence Of Abominations
2. Defying Man’s Creation
3. Baptized In Decadence
4. Mortify Their Flesh
5. Traumatic Paralyzed Mind
6. Excruciating Commands
7. World Dies Screaming
8. Signs Of The Decline
9. Civilization In Regression
10. Full Frontal Assault
11. Gods Of Hate (Live in Germany 1991)
12. Full Of Hatred (Live in Germany 1991)
Total playing time: 47+ min

Last year’s demo compilation, Day Of The Massacra, can still be purchased as a CD and LP here: http://www.cmdistro.com/Search/massacra

Death metal albums of which I will never tire

May 4, 2014 –

morbid_angel-live

Early death metal (Bathory, Slayer, Hellhammer, Sodom, Master) emerged as an aggregate of the past, comprised of speed metal (Metallica, Exodus, Nuclear Assault, Testament, Megadeth), late hardcore (Cro-Mags, Amebix, Discharge, The Exploited, GBH), classic heavy metal (Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motorhead) and thrash (DRI, COC, Cryptic Slaughter). As a result, most death metal bands exhibited some tendencies more than others, although the founding early death metal bands tended toward the type of tremolo-powered phrase-based riffing exemplified by Slayer.

For example, Deicide on its second album Legion arguably made the album that …And Justice For All wanted to be, with lots of choppy percussive riffing forming intricate textures from which a melody emerged. Early Master sounded more like a punk band with its simple song structures and emphasis on droning, protest-like vocals. Second-wave death metal like Death and Possessed had a tendency to apply speed metal song structures and riff styles. Even advanced death metal like Pestilence often sounded like a more technical and complex version of early speed metal.

But focusing on death metal requires we look at what was unique to it. Getting past the vocals and the intensity, what distinguishes it musically is its use of that tremolo-strummed phrasal riff. This in turn forced bands to escape from riffs integrated strictly with drums, and to as a result put more riffs into the song to drive changes that previous would have been done by the drums. That in turn forced bands to make those riffs fit together, what Asphyx call “riff-gluing,” so that songs avoided the “riff salad” plague that captured later speed metal.

These bands exploded onto the world from 1983-1985, inspired in part by Discharge’s Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing which hit the ground in 1982. Slayer in particular stitched together classic heavy metal and ambient hardcore like Discharge and GBH and ended up with its particular formulation, taking the tremolo and riffs independent of drums from Discharge and matching them to the complex proggy structures of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden with Motorhead speed and aggression. This was what launched death metal free from the shadow of speed metal, which was the first metal genre to break out of underground status despite being — for the time — fast, aggressive and dark.

If you want to get to the core of death metal, these albums might help. They’re albums I keep returning to year after year because they have enough complexity and that unquantifiable quality of having purpose and being expressive, perhaps even emulating the life around them and converting it into a beast of mythological quality, which makes them interesting each time I pick them up. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, the players….

Slayer – Show No Mercy

While Hell Awaits has more expert composition, South of Heaven better control of mood and melody, and Reign in Blood more pure rhythmic intensity, Show No Mercy captures Slayer flush with the fervor of youth and the belief in big concepts. As a result, it is an intensity mystical album, uniting a narrative about war between good and evil with the actions of people on earth. It is not like Hell Awaits more solidly situated in a single mythology, nor like Reign in Blood and after an attempt to explore the dark side of modern existence in a literal sense. Instead, it is a flight of imagination mated to an apocalyptic vision of a society crumbling from within. As a result it is musically the most imaginative of Slayer albums, creating grand constructions of visions of worlds beyond that stimulate the fantasy dwelling within our otherwise obedient minds.

Massacra – Enjoy the Violence

Another early album in very much the style of Slayer but with intensity cranked to the ceiling, Enjoy the Violence shows a band intent on conveying intense energy through their music. To do this, they rely on not only near-constant breakneck speed but also vivid contrasts between the types of riffs that are used in a song, welding a rich narrative from riffs that initially seem simple like the scattered twisted bits of metal left after a battle. The result is closer to epic poem that punk music and blows conventional heavy metal and speed metal out of the water with the sense of unbridled aggression and lust for life that surges through its passages. In addition, it carries on the mythological tradition of Slayer but adds a Nietzschean spin whereby constant war for supremacy and domination is the only path not only to victory, but to personal integrity.

Morbid Angel – Abominations of Desolation

Most prefer the more refined versions of these songs from Altars of Madness and Blessed Are the Sick, but my ear favors these nuanced and unsystematic detail-heavy songs which feature more of a blending of textures into what sounds like a communication from another world heard underwater or through the croaking voice of a medium. Trey Azagthoth’s solos were best when he used his half-whole step leaps to make solos that sounded like the creation of gnarly sculptures, and these songs powered by Mike Browning’s drums and voice have more of an organic jauntiness to them than the later mechanistic tanks-crushing-the-shopping-mall sound of the full albums. In addition, this combination of songs strays from the later more interruption-based riffing this band would attempt and instead brings out their inner desire to rip all ahead go at all times, creating a suspension of reality like war itself.

Incantation – Onward to Golgotha

When the idea comes to mind of death metal at its essence, this album will be mentioned because it creates a sound unlike anything else. Incantation took the Slayer riff and song formula and slowed it down, doubled the complexity, and focused on alternating tempos and riff styles to create a building mood of immersive darkness. The result was not only aggressive, but melancholic and contemplative, like a warrior looking out over an abandoned bullet-pocked city. Detuned riffs collide and deconstruct one another, resulting in a sound like the inexorable flow of black water through underground caverns as civilizations collapse above. This rare group of musicians achieved a triumph here that none have been able to repeat individually, suggesting this album was born of a magic confluence of ideas more than a process (ham sandwiches on a conveyor belt).

Carnage – Dark Recollections

If you want “the Swedish sound” at its most powerful, Dark Recollections offers every component synthesized into a package that has not yet had time to become self-critical and neurotic, and thus is an unfettered expression of the thoughts of precocious adolescents translated into sound. The components of Swedish death metal are the modified d-beat, the use of melody to expand song development, a gritty electric explosion of guitar sound, and a tendency to write songs that are half searing budget riff and half horror movie sound track.

Sepultura – Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation

The first EP in this two-EP package is the more classic death metal version and packs a solid blast of inventive riffcraft staged with theatrical precision into songs that form narratives of the topics denoted in their titles. But the riffs are instant creations of their own, shaped from raw chromaticism and whipped into fury by two levels of rhythm, both in the change of chords and the texturing of the sounding of them. The result owes quite a bit to Slayer, Bathory and Hellhammer, but also to the punk hardcore underlying those acts and a good knowledge of dark metal of the time, and yet is still its own animal. Nothing sounds like this except it, and by giving itself a unique voice, it conjures a power of revelation that endows these songs with lasting enjoyment for the listener.

Massacra – Day of the Massacra

October 31, 2013 –

massacra-day_of_the_massacraMassacra picked up the mantle of Slayer and Morbid Angel and crafted phrasal riffs into complex constructions which breathed pure energy but yet managed to take your breath away with their vast inner contrasts.

Final Holocaust and Enjoy the Violence never seemed to receive the acclaim that other death metal bands did, in part because for years they were tied up in legal struggles or out of print, but the influences of those two albums can be heard in death metal to this day.

Celebrating the influence of this foundational band, Century Media will on November 4 release Day of the Massacra, a compilation of the re-mastered “Nearer From Death”, “Final Holocaust” and “Legion Of Torture” demos. The sound is surprisingly good, considering that the raw material comes from tape and isn’t easy to work with, although “Legion of Torture” sounds raw enough that no amount of modern technology can save it.

Known mostly for their imaginative riffs, Massacra also knew how to make songs that felt like subconscious patterns that most of us have experienced in our day-to-day lives. There is something natural, second nature and familiar about these songs and how their riffs fit together like forest paths on the ascent of a mountain.

“Nearer From Death” of the three demos is the one that sounds most like Massacra in its final death metal form, and resemble the tracks that made it onto Final Holocaust. “Final Holocaust” reveals more of the latent speed metal influences of the 1980s, but also shows Massacra at some of their most experimental, with unorthodox riffing matching up to rhythms borrowed from old Metallica and Slayer songs.

“Legion of Torture” on the other hand shows this band as it came into form in 1987, and is amazingly advanced for that year. The experimental influence reveals itself as well, but here it’s harder to separate from the contortionist riffing that seems designed to be odd enough to invert people’s thinking about the world around them. There is even more of a speed metal influence here, but this compares reasonably with its primary influences, which sound like Slayer, Sepultura, Merciless and Sarcofago.

Having these formative demos on CD or LP will be a delight for any metalhead, and Century Media suggests that it will re-release the early albums as well. Although most people have focused on early the very early stages of death metal, or its maturity, not many have caught on to its fiery adolescence when speed and labyrinthine decoding ruled the day. Day of the Massacra brings back those amazing days and shows us the majesty of death metal in creation.

Massacra demos re-issued on CD/LP as Day of the Massacra

October 9, 2013 –

massacra-day_of_the_massacraIn the early days of death metal, a band from France vitalized the style by taking Slayer’s phrase-riff technique to a new extreme, laying the groundwork for a type of death metal later developed by a diverse cast including Incantation and Vader.

Massacra, the band that launched that stylistic vein, put out two legendary albums — Final Holocaust and Enjoy the Violence — before unfortunately suffering the loss of two of its most vital composers and becoming a different band entirely. However, a series of three demos were never pressed to wax or polycarbonate.

Twenty-five years later Century Media prepares to re-issue three classic demos on one CD. “Nearer From Death,” “Final Holocaust” and “Legion of Torture” demos from 1987-1989 will see realization on Day of the Massacra, a compilation that is now in pre-order in Europe.

Composed of these early works, and assembled with the help of guitarist Jean-Marc Tristani, the compilation was remastered at DMS by Ulf Horbelt (Morbid, Asphyx, Grave, Necropsy) and comes with a 24-page booklet of rare photos, an interview with Tristani, and other historical information.

Further, Century Media has stated its intent to release the first five Massacra albums, including Final Holocaust and Enjoy the Violence.

According to Century Media’s Nikki Law, however, Day of the Massacra will not be released in the USA, but some imports will make their way to these shores for those diehards who want to celebrate this pillar of early death metal.

Tracklist:

“Nearer From Death” demo 1989
1. Apocalyptic Warriors (Chapter Final) (06:04)
2. Sentenced For Life (05:15)
3. Nearer From Death (07:48)

“Final Holocaust” demo 1988
4. Intro (00:43)
5. Apocalyptic Warriors (03:36)
6. Final Holocaust (04:40)
7. Dream Of Violence (03:18)
8. Troop Of Death (04:24)
9. Outro (00:36)

“Legion Of Torture” demo 1987
10. Intro: March Off / Apocalyptic Warriors (05:59)
11. Toxic War (05:45)
12. Legion Of Torture (03:06)
13. The Day Of Massacra (04:15)

To order: