Interview with Mike Browning 05-30-15


As mentioned in our first article on the topic, the “first album” from Morbid Angel remains a vague category because the band recorded two first albums, each given a name starting with the letter A which fits into the alphabetical sequence to which their albums have conformed to this day. We took a few moments to speak to original drummer/vocalist Mike Browning (Nocturnus, After Death) about Abominations of Desolation versus Altars of Madness as the true first album of this essential band…

You were one of the original players on Morbid Angel’s Abominations of Desolation (referred to as AOD), which was released before most of the publicly acknowledged death metal classics. What was the band lineup for AOD? How does it feel to have participated in such a historic and musically intense recording?

The line-­up on the AOD album was:

  • Mike Browning -­‐ drums and vocals
  • Trey Azagthoth -­‐ guitar
  • Richard Brunelle -­‐ guitar
  • John Ortega -­‐ bass

At the time back in 1986 everything was just still called metal and it didn’t matter if you were more on the death or power metal side, it was still all considered Metal and the Metal crowd was unified and everyone got along for the most part, so to us back then we were just recording another new metal album and we weren’t concerned with being the fastest or the heaviest, we just did our own thing and kept it as original as possible. Back then the main thing was to be real and not fake in what we were doing.

Was it intended to be the first Morbid Angel album? How do you know? Was this fact …inconvenient… for anyone?

It still amazes me that this is even questionable, but here is the thing, we were offered a RECORD CONTRACT to record an ALBUM under the name MORBID ANGEL by Goreque Records, a label owned by  David Vincent and his partner Mark Anderson. We signed the contract and Bill Metoyer of Metal Blade  producer/engineer that recorded and mixed more albums than I can even think of, was hired to  engineer the album.

So Goreque Records rented us a UHaul truck and we packed up our gear and went  to a studio in Charlotte, North Carolina. We were furnished with hotel rooms and I met David Vincent and Mark Anderson for the first time face to face and the next day we started to record the album, after  about 5 or 6 days there we were finished with the recording and David Vincent sent all of us but Trey back to Tampa and kept Trey there by himself for the mixdown, little did the rest of us know that the whole time David Vincent was really brainwashing Trey and telling him how bad the album was and that  he should quit the band and come join his band. When Trey came back from the mixing, he acted like a  completely different person and everything went downhill from there.

What was the reaction to its release at the time (1986) and five years later in 1991?

Well that is the thing, the album never got released because I ended up catching Trey with my girlfriend and I beat him up for it and that was the end of me being in Morbid Angel because Trey and Richard moved from Tampa to Charlotte and did get in a band with David and his drummer Wayne Hartsell. I know that John Ortega had a copy of a rough mix that we had at the point that we all left to go back to Tampa, so when Trey got back he said that David Vincent told him that the bass playing was so bad on the album that we had to fire John Ortega if we wanted the album to still come out on his label and replace him with Sterling Scarborough, we didn’t even know who Sterling was, but again it was David’s idea for us to replace Johnny with Sterling, so Trey did it and the band only lasted a couple months once this happened.

When [AOD] came out in 1991 I think it confused a lot of people as to what it was because there was no information or pictures as to who was actually playing on the album, except for a couple of  lines in the front right corner of the cover that said it was AN ALBUM that was recorded in 1986, but never released, so even on the Earache version it says that it was an unreleased album, not a demo, it just also didn’t give any info on who was on it!

When did Morbid Angel decide to record Altars of Madness (referred to as AOM), and what were the changes between songs on that album and AOD?

I guess about two years later, so they had two years to actually work on most of those same songs and make them tighter and faster, they only changed a few words here and there to most of them and a lot of the drum parts were similar only faster.

When Earache released AOD, did they make any changes to the original recording?

I really don’t think they did, of course it never really got released back in 1986, so there is nothing to compare it to except the rough mix that John Ortega had and released as a bootleg.

Who is Sterling von Scarborough?

John Sterling Scarborough was his real name, but he went by Sterling Von Scarborough. He was a bass player from Atlanta that had a band called Incubus and David Vincent knew him and told Trey that we had to replace John Ortega, so he recommended Sterling and so Sterling came to Tampa and tried out for us and became our bass player. He was never on the AOD recording and he joined the band after we recorded the AOD album. We only did one live show with him at a place called The Volley Club in 1986 and Ammon (now Deicide) opened for us that night. Unfortunately that show was never recorded and it was the last show I ever played with Morbid Angel as well.

Why do you think Earache released AOD in 1991, five years after it was originally recorded? Why do you think they chose to claim AOM as the first album instead of AOD?

From what I heard was that they released AOD in 1991 to stop all the bootleg versions of it that were being made, from that one tape that Ortega had, all the bootlegs of it were made from that, so generation after generation they got sounding worse and worse. Earache and David and Trey made a deal to release the AOD album because David had the master reels, so he sold them to Earache and they gave Trey some money as well and they released it to stop the bootlegging.

Funny thing was I was on Earache Records at the time in Nocturnus and they never even told me that they were putting it out, I didn’t even find out about it until after it was already out and in the stores. That album has, guitar, bass, drums and vocals and I am doing 2 of those 4 things and I was never even told that it was gonna be released!

Did Morbid Angel take a different  compositional (choice of notes, not production or vocals) direction with AOM versus AOD? Why did they do that? What did the original direction offer that the new one did not?

Well it was a couple years later that they had quite a bit of time to work on those songs and a few more and with everything but the guitar being new, of course it was going to have a new and different sound, especially when you change vocalists. And if you notice, David tries to sing a lot more like me, but he gave that up and went for a completely different style on Blessed Are The Sick. They also had a big budget and recorded the album in Morrisound which is a studio known for Metal, that studio that we recorded AOD in was actually some kind of a country music recording studio, so the guys that ran that place had never even had any type of metal band even in there before, so of course you are gonna have a huge difference in the production because of those things alone.

Rumor has it that you formed a band named “Ice” with Trey Azagthoth, pre-­Morbid Angel. Wow… a moment in death metal history! What did you want to do with that band, and what was inspiring you at that moment?

Trey and I met in high school back in 1981 and I even remember his mom buying him his first guitar, a wood colored Gibson SG and we started jamming together in my mom’s back room of my house, so we put a little high school band together and even played the high school talent show. It was literally the beginning of what would become Morbid Angel.

I find that musical “inspiration” extends beyond other albums, but includes them. Were there any non‐musical experiences, books, ideas, plays, movies, thoughts, etc. that influenced you, and how did they parallel what you found in the music that influenced you?

Both Trey and I were into the occult, so when he moved into my area of Tampa and started going to school at my school and we met and started talking about what we were both into and we both were musicians that liked the occult and most especially we were both into a book called The Necronomicon and we really believed every bit of that book was true and real, so we decide to put a band together that was based on music that would please these Sumerian Gods that were in The Necronomicon. We were totally serious about what we were doing and the whole purpose of the band was to make music that would bring forth these Ancient Ones back to the Earth.

Did you and other members of Morbid Angel meet in high school, as is the rumor? Where was that? What was it like (hell?) and how did that help you bond?

It was only Trey and I as far as that ended up in Morbid Angel that knew each other in high school. Morbid Angel itself started around 1984 with me, Trey and Dallas Ward on bass.

The High School we went to was called HB Plant High school and it still is in South Tampa, there was an area where all the cool cigarette smokers and hippy type people hung out at the high school called The Alley and everyone would hang out there before school and at lunch and we met there and would always talk about music and The Necronomicon.

As “Ice,” what kind of material did you play? What songs did you cover? How did they mold your style? What was your practice schedule like? Did this influence how Morbid Angel did things later?

We really only played cover songs at first, like Judas Priest and Scorpions and Black Sabbath, because there was no Slayer or Celtic Frost or even Hellhammer yet back then. We did start messing around with some original stuff, but when I graduated from high school, Trey moved again at that time to the North end of Tampa, so for probably a good 6 months I didn’t even see him, so I started jamming with some other guys playing metal covers and Trey met Dallas and Charles, a singer and they had a drummer that was older than all of them and he lived in another town north of Tampa and he only came into town on some weekends to jam with them, so when I started talking to Trey again I decided to quit the cover band and start playing with Trey and these new guys Dallas and Charles and they already had a name for the band and it was called Death Watch. The singer got arrested and went to jail, so that is when we became a three-piece and Dallas was singing and we called the band Heretic, but we quickly found out that there was already another Heretic, so that’s when we finally became Morbid Angel.

How do you conceptualize death metal? Was progressive rock an influence? What about classical or  jazz?

I don’t really think most of the music I have done was only considered to be death metal, because it had a lot of different elements to it, especially with Nocturnus. But I would say that death metal is a very heavy, fast and aggressive type of music with lyrics mainly focused on death, gore and a lot of anti-Christian themes. For me progressive rock has always been an influence, I really liked Rush when I was in high school and they were about as progressive as you could get back then. I also liked classical because I had been in the school band, from grades 6-­‐10 playing percussion, so I learned to play all kinds of percussion like tympanis and bells playing classical and marching band music. I never really got into the jazz style of music, although I wish I had now, because jazz has some of the most amazing drummers and really off timing drum parts.

Your musical style is both highly proficient and idiosyncratic. How did you learn to play? What deepened your understanding of music? How important was the rising death metal scene in changing how you understood music?

It started even before that though because my mom had a 70s rock band that she sang for and they used to practice in the same back room that Trey and I ended up practicing in and I was only about 9 or 10, so I used to sit back there and watch them rehearse and I always liked watching the drummer play the most, so when they offered band when I got in 6th grade I wanted to take the drums of course!

Playing that style of music like marching band and classical stuff and also seeing my mom play in a band really gave me the early understanding of what it was like to play music and be in a band. I was into bands like Led Zeppelin and Styx when I first started and then I got into heavier stuff like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and then Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and from there I discovered Slayer, Venom Mercyful Fate, Hellhammer and I wanted to be in a band like that, but I also wanted to be different, I have never been into copying anyones style and being like someone else, so I guess why even today I still kind of just do my own thing whether it makes money or not has never been a concern to me, I only play music because I get enjoyment out of it and if other people like what I do, then that is awesome to me!

How was AOD recorded? It sounds rough but preserves the texture of the instruments, instead of trading detail for loudness and polished sound like AOM. What made you choose to record it this way?

Back when we recorded AOD in 1986, we really didn’t know much about recording or what equipment was best for recording, so even though we went into a real professional 24 track studio, we still weren’t that prepared to do a well polished album. I had only been singing a couple months and some of the songs were just put together and we were also under a time constraint because we were in another state recording in an unfamiliar place and we only had so much studio time to get it all done.

If we had better equipment and more knowledge on recording, it probably would have sounded much better, but we were just a bunch of crazy kids with a record contract! I was also never included in the mixdown of the music, so all I got to hear was pretty much the raw unmixed tracks until Trey came back with the album mixed and finished. At least the album has a certain energy to it that was still able to come through, even with all the problems that we did have.

Can you tell us about your current projects, such as (but not limited to!) Afer Death 666? How are these efforts different from typical death metal, AOD and AOM? If people want to find out more about what you’re up to these days, where should they go?

Right now I have 2 bands with the same members in both bands, one is Nocturnus AD, which is a continuation of what I wanted to do with Nocturnus after we recorded The Key in 1990, it is much more technical sci-­fi stuff than what is on AOD and it has keyboards and it is tuned in E-flat which is what Nocturnus was tuned in back in 1987­‐1992 and the other band is just called After Death and as I mentioned it does have the same members, but After Death is a little heavier on the occult side of things and the music is less technical and more atmospheric and tuned in D.

The thing I keep up with most is my Facebook page, which is just under Mike Browning and it has the most up to date info on it, but we also have Facebook pages for Nocturnus AD and After Death and we also have a website , which has info for both bands on the site.

Celebrating Jeff Hanneman


Today, May 2, in 2013 founding Slayer guitarist and composer Jeff Hanneman died.

During his brief tour of planet Earth, Hanneman fused the boundaryless songwriting of hardcore punk with the riff-based narrative ideas of heavy metal, producing what became an important template for all metal to follow. Punk, by reducing music to modal strips which fit within a percussive framework instead of accentuating it, and metal, with its phrasal tendencies that required internal dialogue between the riffs, gave rise to a new language with the first four Slayer albums which were mostly composed by Hanneman.

His music also took on a different form because of its perspective on the modern world as exhibited in both sound and lyrics. In his eyes, modern life became not a struggle for technology and politics to dominate the beast within, but a mythological conflict between what humans desire is true and project upon the world and a hidden layer of realistic truth in denial of which humans — and human civilization — self-destruct.

For these innovations, and the spirit that caused them, many of us feel indebted to Hanneman and honored to celebrate his art:

Having someone like you to lay down a realistic but transcendentally imaginative view of the universe really helped. I will never forget, and I am certain I am not alone. You spent your days reprogramming the cosmos with fiendish guitar riffs and that has made all the difference. Even though we never knew each other, in a way, we were best of friends.

This second of May, celebrate Jeff Hanneman not only with his music, but by carrying forth his legacy of clear-sighted realism matched to transcendental mythology, in all that you do.

Texas Musicians Museum appoints Bruce Corbitt (Rigor Mortis, Warbeast) as “Heavy Metal Consultant”


This may be the coolest job title ever: Heavy Metal Consultant. Vocalist Bruce Corbitt, of Rigor Mortis and Warbeast fame, has been appointed by the Texas Musicians Museum as its expert on all things heavy metal. The Museum, which is awaiting construction of its new facility at 222 E. Irving Blvd in Irving/Dallas metroplex, issued the following statement:

The Texas Musicians Museum is proud to announce that the talented Texas musician Bruce Corbitt will be assisting us as our Heavy Metal consultant.

Since the early/mid eighties, vocalist Bruce Corbitt has been in the midst of creating Texas Metal music that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. From his days in the legendary Rigor Mortis to his current band Warbeast, he has truly given us his all and made his mark on the history of Texas music. The self-titled debut Rigor Mortis album was inducted into the Decibel Magazine “Metal Album Hall Of Fame” in 2013. Both Warbeast full-length albums “Krush The Enemy” and “Destroy” have also received end-of-the-year honors by numerous metal magazines and metal news websites. Bruce also has the distinguished honor of being the only vocalist to win a Dallas Observer Award in the category for “Best Metal Band” with two different bands… twice with Rigor Mortis and once with Warbeast.

Corbitt sent out a request to all metal fans for Texas Metal Memorabilia and contact information as follows:

My first step is assembling my own panel of Texas Metal Legends and Gurus. To help me make sure we do this the way it should be done. I am very familiar with the history of Texas Metal since the beginning. But I obviously don’t know the entire history of every region as good as I do D/FW. So I have already reached out to many Texas Metal historians that I want to be part of this team/panel. Such as Jason McMaster, John Perez, Rick Perry, Rodney Dunsmore, Carcass John Fossum… and I will reach out to more for other areas. Between us all… we will brainstorm and come up with the best gameplan to do this the way it should be done.

The Museum itself will be 8,500 square feet and it will have an outdoor event area that can also have live music. Yes we will have some Texas Metal bands playing on some of these events too.

Ok… so obviously one of our main goals is to start collecting actual donations for the museum itself. So we will be starting a huge Texas Metal Memorabilia hunt for the bands and musicians that we want to include. I’m sure that I will be listing the bands as musicians soon enough that we want to induct into the museum… but it is common sense to many of you who some our legendary Texas Metal Bands are… but just to name a few Pantera, Rigor Mortis, Helstar, WatchTower, Devastation, Absu, Big Iron, Drowning Pool, The Sword, Gammacide, Deadhorse, Angkor Wat, Aska, Warlock, Militia, Solitude Aeturnus, Prophecy, Sedition, Devourment, Rotting Corpse and we are just getting started on the possibilities.

So for now… until we get further along and I make more announcements. If you have anything like historic Texas Metal memorabilia… or any ideas for bands or musicians you think should be included, or any other suggestions you think would be beneficial to our cause…
please contact me at

This now gives Texas two metal archives for the history and theory behind heavy metal and associated genres. The other, to which users of this site have been mailing metal artifacts for over eight years, is at the University of Texas at Austin:

Dr. David Hunter
Music Librarian and Curator, Historical Music Recordings Collection
Fine Arts Library (DFA 3.200)
University of Texas Libraries
1 University Station (S5437)
Austin, TX 78712

Office: (512) 495-4475
Fax: (512) 495-4490
Library: (512) 495-4481

It is great to see metal ignored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and accepted by these independent but reputable authorities who are studying metal through its personalities and source documents like recordings, flyers, zines, letters and posters.

How to get into black metal


An experienced music listener who is new to black metal asked for a doorway into the genre. This raises the question of how to appreciate black metal, which like most things in life is mostly mental preparation. Without context, black metal seems like any other loud genre, and it becomes harder to distinguish the newer tryhard junk from the original.

The best way to gain context is to walk through the history of the genre from oldest to newest. This approach, common in art, literature and philosophy, allows people to see what developed from what and what the reasoning for that was and therefore, what the reasoning is behind what is here now.

The result of this query was a simple list to urge people to explore this genre further. This list originates in the history of black metal music, but also in influences that can be identified among the bands as immediately relevant. Toward the end it extends more into general conjecture based on what shows up later in highly different form among the black metal works of relevance listed above it.

I. Proto- Metal

  1. Bathory – The Return
  2. Slayer – Hell Awaits
  3. Hellhammer – Apocalyptic Raids
  4. Sodom – Persecution Mania

II. Interim

  1. Sarcofago – INRI
  2. Merciless – The Awakening
  3. Blasphemy – Fallen Angel of Doom
  4. Von – Satanic Blood

III. Black metal

  1. Immortal – Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism
  2. Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
  3. Burzum – Burzum/Aske
  4. Emperor/Enslaved – Split
  5. Darkthrone – Under a Funeral Moon
  6. Beherit – Drawing Down the Moon
  7. Varathron – His Majesty in the Swamp
  8. Havohej – Dethrone the Son of God
  9. Impaled Nazarene – Ugra-Karma
  10. Samael – Worship Him

IV. Second Wave

  1. Gorgoroth – Antichrist
  2. Graveland – The Celtic Winter
  3. Ancient – Svartalvheim
  4. Sacramentum – Far Away From the Sun
  5. Ildjarn – Forest Poetry
  6. Summoning – Dol Guldur
  7. Zyklon-B – Blood Must Be Shed
  8. Gehenna – First Spell
  9. Behemoth – From the Pagan Vastlands

V. Extended Contemporary

  1. Demoncy – Joined in Darkness
  2. Sammath – Godless Arrogance
  3. Mutiilation – Remains of a Ruined, Cursed, Dead Soul
  4. Absurd – Asgardsrei

For immediate death metal background to black metal:

  1. At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
  2. Carnage – Dark Recollections
  3. Godflesh – Streetcleaner

For heavy metal background to black metal:

  1. Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath
  2. Venom – Possessed
  3. Angel Witch – Angel Witch
  4. Destruction/Tormentor – Demos

For hardcore punk background to all metal:

  1. Discharge – Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing
  2. Amebix – No Sanctuary
  3. The Exploited – Death Before Dishonour
  4. Cro-Mags – Age of Quarrel

For electronic music background to underground metal:

  1. Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express
  2. Tangerine Dream – Phaedra

For progressive rock background to metal:

  1. King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King
  2. Yes – Tales from Topographic Oceans
  3. Camel – Camel
  4. Greenslade – Greenslade

For classical background to metal:

  1. Anton Bruckner – Symphony No. 4
  2. Richard Wagner – Tannhäuser
  3. Franz Schubert – Unfinished Symphony
  4. Mozart – Symphony 41
  5. Haydn – Symphony 82
  6. Bach – Partita No. 5 in G major

The controversy over Abominations of Desolation


Back in 1986, one lineup of Morbid Angel recorded what that lineup considers the first Morbid Angel album, Abominations of Desolation, which was later re-released on Earache Records in 1991. But three years later, the band re-recorded most of the songs in a streamlined form and released it as Altars of Madness, which the lineup of the band as was at the time through the present considers to be the first Morbid Angel album.

Avoiding a peek into the controversy and the clash of personalities behind it, metal archaeologists today can look at the musical differences between these two albums. Altars of Madness focuses on a tighter and more streamlined style that too often slips into the type of verse-chorus with bridge that was used extensively on speed metal/death metal hybrids like Seven Churches and Rigor Mortis. This may show the influence of Texas band Necrovore, who established a more aggressive aesthetic but kept song structures closer to the NWOBHM model that speed metal used.

At the same time, other bands were taking a hint from Hellhammer/Celtic Frost and writing songs which had some repeated passages which could be used as verse and chorus, but behind those varied the riffs to give the song a unique structure. This opened up new possibilities that all bands entrenched in the rock ‘n roll “verse, chorus, bridge, solo, repeat” pop song format could not reach. In that new frontier, bands saw new musical and artistic possibilities, and the form of modern death metal began.

The first Morbid Angel album contained many of these aspects, particular in some of the odd structures used on the first track. For the most part however it stuck to good old fashioned pop song format with a few modifications, using the Slayer technique of introductory riffs and some hints from Possessed. This showed a dramatically different side of the band than the extended compositions of Abominations of Desolation which, while many used verse/chorus at their center, were more likely to vary riff form and use solos as a kind of second layer to the rhythm guitars.

Controversy continues to this day regarding which is the “true” Morbid Angel. As strange as it seems, the first recording may be the one that opened up more historical space, although its lesser production and expanded song structures made it less hard-hitting at any instance and thus less “heavy” or “brutal” to the audience, which is why the band wants it to be the first album: it is a better product. For many of us however Abominations of Desolation has long surpassed the first two Morbid Angel albums as the one most frequently listened to because of the depths of its complexity and musical imagination.

Compilation of Death – Volume II Issues I & II


In the many years of reading about metal, I have often wished for something like Compilation of Death: a zine that goes back through other zines, pulls out the best content and annotates it so that a historical record is composed from many sources. Each of the stories in this zine are like a shelf in a great library of metal, usually about a band but equally possibly a scene, a sound or a time.

What you will find among these pages is a carefully curated view of metal, which borrows whole pages from zines from the periods in which these bands were active, combines them with current-day interviews and perspectives, and assembles them into a kind of metal investigative reporting that shows us a well-rounded picture of each band or topic.

Compilation of Death carefully gives credit to each of the source zines and includes information on how to contact them, so in addition to being a feast of metal zine information, this is a promotion for the entire idea of zines, which are experiencing a renaissance as people tire of the information overload — which guarantees a predominance of low-value content — and endless useless people who clog today’s internet. Democratizing content merely means that every bad idea gets repeated thousands of times and good ideas get driven to the periphery, so that established commercial interests with the bucks to advertise on the big sites win out. Zines on the other hand are by their nature curated, meaning that someone plays the role of librarian/editor and picks bands deliberately, asks questions with intent, and reveals something unique to that subject with the resulting reporting. This is different than the assembly line process of web sites and big metal magazines, who process whatever the labels send them in roughly the same way with surface changes so that the “quirky” outlook hides the utter sameness and entropy of it all. What made zines powerful was that they had purpose, which allowed them to reveal a truth non-objectively and for reasons of itself, instead of secondary reasons like popularity and profit. Compilation of Death doubles down on this concept by not only choosing direction and topic, but picking from the vast number of zines out there the best of what is written on that topic.

These two volumes offer reading matter that can be pored over many times because they are bursting with details that become increasingly relevant the more one knows about a topic. In addition, metal historians will find many unknown but important details here confirming the motivations of bands and their art, in addition to a broader perspective on the people behind the music which is never revealed by the more uptight, formal and procedural interviews conducted by big magazines. For those who want a heavy dose of information about the underground in a form that rewards the diligent reader with a deep understanding, Compilation of Death is a treat that can be revisited time and again to bring out the nuance of its topic.


The History Of Black Metal


As detailed in The Heavy Metal FAQ, heavy metal developed through parallels found between several musical traditions both inside and outside of the developing genre. Black Sabbath emerged from the intersection between heavy rock, nascent punk and progressive rock; black metal emerged from proto-underground metal and hardcore punk, taking the most intense aspects of each and fusing them together.

The Until the Light Takes Us crew filmed a lengthy interview with Fenriz in which he outlines the roots of black metal in several stages, from its rise in heavy metal with Black Sabbath, Motorhead and Mercyful Fate through the expansion out of speed metal (via hardcore and thrash) through Slayer and finally, the proliferation of bands inspired by NWOBHM band Venom such as Sodom, Hellhammer and Destruction from which much of the modern sound emerged, finalized (in his view) with Bathory Under the Sign of the Black Mark.

As black metal rotates around the same carcass that stopped artistically expanding 22 years ago, understanding its roots becomes even more important as it is necessary to drive away the ghouls, parasites and grave-robbers desperate for some of its legend through imitation and pandering to a new audience. The two videos add up to about fifty minutes of air time and worth watching for the black metal fan, historian or curious bystander.

A brief retrospective of Slayer


Slayer blasted their way into the underground metal scene in 1983. Metal had just shifted; the genre of Black Sabbath got taken over by the Led Zeppelin fans, resulting in glam and arena rock, and was just being taken back by a DIY movement via speed metal. Inspired by that speed metal movement, Slayer took their music in a slightly different direction.

“Heavy metal and British punk, that’s what we are.” The four young men from Southern California shaped their music by instinct, applying the techniques of punk to the most intense moments of heavy metal. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Angel Witch, GBH and Discharge. It all went into the blender and the result emerged more vicious than ever before.

Woodstock – Los Angeles, CA – March 28, 1983

The Keystone – Berkeley, CA – January 27, 1984

The Country Club – Reseda, CA – September 1, 1984

Heavy Sound Festival – Poperinge, Belgium – May 26, 1985

Dynamo Club – Eindhoven, Netherlands – May 28, 1985

The Ritz – New York City – June 12, 1986

Felt Forum – New York City – August 31, 1988

Clash of the Titans – Genk, Belgium September 22, 1990

Show No Mercy reflected more of a heavy metal bias, still hanging on to the grandeur of the 1970s. By Hell Awaits, Slayer forged their own style, inspired in part by the minimalism of the Haunting the Chapel EP. Even more, the band discovered a mythology in Satanic rebellion against a world where the term “good” meant obedient, oblivious and zombie-like in pursuit of individual pleasure at the expense of realism. They hated this world, and branded it with an inverted cross in rage at its existence. This outlook was healthier than the pleading resentment of the protest rock bands and less dead-end apathetic than what punk became. Metal had a new voice.

With the next album, Reign in Blood, Slayer pulled out all stops and most melody to create the ultimate hardcore album. The metal elements infused riff structure and song structure but its energy was pure hardcore punk, the raging album that The Exploited and Black Flag always had wanted to birth. In the 1980s, endorsing Satan and singing about the dark underbelly lurking beneath our happy commercial Utopia was in itself a life sentence of exclusion. Slayer wore it with pride and as people caught on to the new music, the most extreme band in underground metal headed toward the dead center of the genre.

In response, Slayer did what few bands have the guts to do: they backtracked from their nihilistic extreme and made a melodic album, but kept the melody constrained to a sense of dark atmosphere that would not be revisited until black metal exploded four years later. South of Heaven immersed the listener in pure mood and then manipulated it to create an unnerving experience of getting in touch with emotion by leaving behind all that is human. This was the peak of Slayer and represented the end of their emotional involvement with their own music, thus afterwards they pursued ideas that others had made popular and successful, hoping to make their own form of the alien.

Extremity Retained: Notes From the Death Metal Underground by Jason Netherton


Jason Netherton (Dying Fetus, Misery Index) created his history of death metal called Extremity Retained: Notes From the Death Metal Underground by letting members of the community tell their stories. This book compiles interviews with death metal bands, artists, writers and label owners. It organizes these into five topic areas which makes it easier to find specifics in the book, and by grouping like stories together breaks up the repetition that massed interviews normally have. The result provides a good background in the history and experience of the rise of the death metal genre.

Netherton’s use of topic areas allows band statements to be taken as a whole on the theme and to expand upon it without becoming repetition of similar questions and answers that un-edited interviews tend toward. Some may be put off by the lack of narrative tying these together, but the upside of that situation is that there is little extraneous text outside of what the actors in this scene said themselves. The only weak spot may be that since the highlight is clearly the old school bands, the inclusion of newer bands becomes extraneous when compared with the old.

The following and others contributed to the content of hte book: Luc Lemay (Gorguts), Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse), King Fowley (Deceased), Stephan Gebidi (Thanatos, Hail of Bullets), Dan Swanö (Edge of Sanity), Doug Cerrito (Suffocation), John McEntee (Incantation, Funerus), Marc Grewe (Morgoth), Ola Lindgren (Grave), Kam Lee (ex-Massacre, ex-Death), Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates, Lock Up), Robert Vigna and Ross Dolan (Immolation), Esa Linden (Demigod), Dan Seagrave (Artist), Rick Rozz (ex-Death, Massacre), Steve Asheim (Deicide), Jim Morris (Morrisound Studios), Terry Butler (Obituary, Massacre, ex-Death), Mitch Harris (Napalm Death, Righteous Pigs), Robin Mazen (Derketa, Demonomacy), Ed Warby (Gorefest, Hail of Bullets), Andres Padilla (Underground Never Dies! book), Donald Tardy (Obituary), Paul Speckmann (Master, Abomination), Phil Fasciana (Malevolent Creation), Tony Laureno (ex-Nile, ex-Angelcorpse), Alan Averill (Primordial, Twilight of the Gods), Alex Okendo (Masacre), and Lee Harrison (Monstrosity).

The topic division of the book begin with the origins of death metal and then branch out to its diversification, and then areas of experience such as recording and touring. The final section addresses the future of metal. The material of most interest to me personally was at the front of the book where the old school bands talked about what inspired them and how the scene came together. It was like witnessing a revolution secondhand. In these sections, the most compelling accounts come from the people who are longest in the game as they are explaining the literal genesis of the process. Within each section, individual speakers identified by band write lengthy revelations to which the editors have added helpful captions. The result makes it easy to read or skim for information. Many of this book’s most ardent readers will find themselves doing a lot of skimming because the information here works as an excellent concordance to many of the other books on death metal or metal history and can reinforce or amplify what you find there.

We were all very much into underground music. Early on we were into Venom, Angel Witch and Motorhead, and later it evolved into bands like Hellhammer, Celtic Frost and Slayer. We wanted to play like them, and that is pretty much why we picked up the instruments in the first place.

With Massacre we were calling the music death metal pretty much from the beginning. We liked a lot of thrash, but to us a lot of it was just a bit too happy and the rhythms were a bit “too dancey.” Of course there were darker thrash albums like Bonded by Blood from Exodus, but even by the first demos we were calling it death metal. I mean, it’s not death metal as you know it today, but those demos were certainly founding releases in the death metal genre in terms of style. Of course, there are no blast beats or anything, but it was a combination of dark rhythms, the dark lyrics, and rough vocals that separated it from thrash. The term death metal had started getting kicked around with Hellhammer/Celtic Frost. We also knew of the Possessed demos, and it was in that tradition that we were referring to ourselves as death metal.

Some of the statements by later bands or bands that are not really death metal seemed like revisionist history but that is to be expected, since every band has to self-promote and include itself in whatever it can. This book utterly shines in the lengthy statements by founders of the genre that explain how it came to be, the thought process at the time and some of the experiences bands underwent. Be ready for blood, vomit and death in the touring section, and prepare yourself for some gnarly old school history in the other parts. By the rules of information itself, it is impossible to craft a metal history that pleases everyone. Extremity Retained: Notes From the Death Metal Underground takes the approach that Glorious Times did and amplifies it by getting longer statements and not relying on pictures, and it adds its unique and vital voice to the canon of books on the history of death metal.

The danger of obscurity bias


Obscurity bias arises from our desire to discover hidden essential influences in the past. In metal, it is the search not only for concealed gems but for lost ancestors of our favorite music.

This thinking is a variation on our perpetual quest for more alternatives. We look at what’s there and think we want something better. This ignores the basic rule of life that usually what’s wrong is a lack of quality, not need for another alternative.

When we look back for historical alternatives, we are seeking to avoid the obvious historical truth: there are few ancestors because few necessary steps lie between 1969, when Black Sabbath recorded the first proto-metal record, and today.

Metal, punk and prog evolved in the 1968-1969 period in parallel, and since then have been trying to find a hybrid equilibrium that preserves the heavy worldview of metal, the intensity of punk and the complexity of prog without falling into the bluster, one-dimensionality and incomprehensibility that are the downfall of each respectively. With underground metal, arguably the last genres with any intelligence in metal, we ended up with metal riffing, punk strumming speed, and progressive rock song structures with underground metal, and that worked pretty well.

What happened after the initial invention was a hiccup. The music industry invented proto-glam by trying to make Deep Purple/Led Zeppelin bands “heavy” enough for the new Black Sabbath audience. What happened was that they made rock-metal, and while it was popular, it didn’t satisfy the core audience. After the hiccup metal retaliated with NWOBHM, most importantly Motorhead, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. The next generation combined those to make speed metal; the generation after that mixed in the punk that arose after Motorhead, hardcore punk, which was far more extreme and less musically related to rock music than anything which had come before.

In 1982, Discharge released Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing. The following year, all hell broke loose. Metallica unleashed their first album, starting speed metal. Slayer took off on a separate tangent. While both these bands were partially inspired by Venom, it was more in an aesthetic sense than a musical one, because if you remove the rough playing and bad production, Venom is basically Motley Crue. Slayer in particular took more from the punk side of things and made chromatic riffs and elaborate internal song structures where Metallica followed more of the rock format harmonically and used fairly standard song structures, except for their prog-influenced instrumentals.

Thus by 1985 we had Slayer, Hellhammer, Sepultura, Bathory and Sodom making proto-underground metal; by 1986, Morbid Angel had formalized the style. If anything, the Death and Deicide assault of the next two years brought death metal back toward the speed metal — Metallica, Exodus, Prong, Nuclear Assault, Overkill, Testament, Megadeth, Anthrax — of the previous five years. Death metal took on a life of its own when it escaped that with releases like the first Incantation, Massacre, Morpheus Descends, Massacra, Carnage and Pestilence releases with the turn of the decade. These brought metal back to its Slayer-Hellhammer-Bathory nexus, with tremolo strumming and labyrinthine song structures, and away from the more speed metal song structures of Death and Deicide. Black metal grew out of the melodic death metal bands who started structuring their songs using melodies, not riffs alone, and thus needed less of a drum-dominated approach. That brought them closer to the original punk sound, but kept the metal method of making riffs.

So what’s with the search for missing ancestors?

Black Sabbath creating proto-metal in 1969 was no accident. The band sought to find a new sound. They also realized the hippie movement was in the process of grossly selling itself out, having gone from a form of protest to a lifestyle of dissolution through mental obesity. It was time to kick over that false figurehead and do something new. Coming from a prog-tinged background, they invented something that sounded a lot like progressive rock, if it weren’t addicted to a dark and foreboding approach.

The message of Black Sabbath more than anything else was that truth is staring us in the face. People make a lot of noise to cover everything in flowers, sex and brotherhood, but really underneath it all a darker reality threatens. Most people are crazy. Most ideas form mass delusion of the herd. And these people have nuclear weapons, and control of economies, and other methods of taking these screwups to an exponential level. Every teen rock ‘n’ roll band sings about how the world is crazy, in part because it is crazy. Punk bands expanded upon this with an outlook of total nihilism at first, and later a kind of comfortable anarchism combined with genteel progressivism. These outlooks helped drive the evolution of genres to express a sound that was more rootless (punk) and more apocalyptic (metal) as time went on. This made it clear to each generation what the next would sound like.

The scary fact is that we can navigate metal based on a few nodal points. First, Black Sabbath, King Crimson and Iggy and the Stooges; next, after the proto-glam years, the NWOBHM triad of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Motorhead plus the punk music that simultaneously wracked the UK (Discharge, Amebix, The Exploited) and US (Cro-Mags, Black Flag). Death metal would have arisen from these alone, but Venom accelerated the process aesthetically, although took a step back musically toward the bad old days of proto-glam. It was natural that death metal bands would experiment more with melody, and so black metal was an obvious outgrowth of this.

All of that leads me to today’s topic: Terminal Death, whose 1985 demo and other recordings have been released as Terminal Death by Shadow Kingdom Records. Their press release states:

TERMINAL DEATH: One of the first DEATH METAL bands 1985!!!!!

When you talk about the earliest Death Metal bands, we think of SEPULTURA, DEATH, POSSESSED (all stemming from VENOM) right off the top, but there were a few ripping bands that quickly fell into obscurity and TERMINAL DEATH is one of those bands. This is not just an obscure band; they could have been a HUGE Death Metal band if they were signed to the right label back then. They certainly had all of the talent the aforementioned bands did. Their 1985 Demo tape screams with energy and intensity! This is a re-mastered collection of their complete and very short-lived career. The CD booklet is massive with a very in-depth and lengthy interview done by Laurent from Snakepit Magazine. There aren’t that many Death Metal bands can come close to how amazing these songs were. This collection is another snapshot of that amazing early Slayer-esque Death Metal. Co-founder Shaun Glass, whom also co-found SINDROME later joined the more well known classic Death Metal band BROKEN HOPE in the early 1990’s. Shadow Kingdom Records teamed up with Hells Headbangers Records to release this lost gem as a Double LP. If you’re into vinyl, keep your eyes peeled for it will be a glorified presentation.

Let’s look at this historically. By 1985, the big three of death metal — Slayer, Hellhammer and Bathory — had already recorded. Then we listen to Terminal Death. For the most part, this is simplified speed metal at a punk pace, more in common with early Sacrifice than the death metal to follow. Not only that, but Deathstrike had already beat it to the punk/metal hybrid of that era. OK, so what? I don’t consider that important, other than that it somewhat contradicts the marketing. Let’s look at the music. It’s not terrible, but it’s also not very inspired. Lots of chromatic riffs, drums kind of struggle to keep up, and heavy repetition with standard song form. There’s a reason this band took a back seat to the other influences on the rising death metal movement. It’s not bad, but it’s not great.

The DLP doesn’t look bad, but it’s unnecessary. It’s basically the 1985 demo plus three unreleased songs and several other versions of the demo songs. It might make more sense, since the album is appealing to people who want early proto-death metal, to release the 1985 demo with the three unreleased songs for a CD that presents this band at its best. Hopefully SK will do that in the future. But the question for metalheads now is why to buy this. Its historical significance is not really that great, and the music is not exceptional either. With that in mind, I’d say Terminal Death is something we can bypass.