Texas speed metal band Rigor Mortis, famed for their fast strum and melodic but savage riffs, have released Part 1 of the documentary about the band, Welcome to Your Funeral: The Story of Rigor Mortis, which covers the formation of the band up through 1987.
During their time, Rigor Mortis slashed out three albums and an EP, and influenced both death metal and black metal bands with their style and technique. The band describes the release with the following:
A film by Michael Huebner of 12 Pound Productions
Directed by Bruce Corbitt
Narrated by Philip H. Anselmo.
Running time is 110 minutes with 33 minutes of bonus material.
This is the story of North Texas-based Rigor Mortis and the meteoric rise of one of the most original and influential speed metal bands of all time. The stranger-than-fiction rollercoaster ride that has to be seen to be believed. This film takes you back to the earliest beginnings of the band, through their highly controversial signing to Capitol Records in 1987. The infamous Rigor Mortis…
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Of Metal!
Cast in Order Of Appearance
Philip H. Anselmo
Turner Scott Van Blarcum
Plus of course we can’t forget… featuring the music of Rigor ‘Fucking’ Mortis!
The job of a record reviewer embraces nihilism in a way most people will never experience. Much must be removed — nostalgia for the musicians who shaped much of your teen years, sympathy for a musician who died far too young, desire for metal to awaken from its slumber — in order to clearly analyze the music and answer the basic question all reviewers should ask themselves: if I were a casual to moderately involved fan, on a limited budget, would I buy this record?
With Slaves to the Grave, Rigor Mortis returns after a challenging history. The only speed metal band with death metal influences to get signed to a major label, the band unleashed Rigor Mortis after which band politics forced out the vocalist almost all sources agree was their best, Bruce Corbitt. The band surged forward and released its instrumentally most exciting material on the Freaks EP, but completely lost direction with Rigor Mortis vs. The Earth, which reflected the band members pursuing their individual directions and losing a cohesive sound.
Now after band members have spent time in Ministry, Warbeast, and Gwar, Rigor Mortis re-form to re-take the stage and carry on where they might have picked up after that first album. Stunned by the lugubrious death of guitarist Mike Scaccia, the band soldiered on with this crowd-funded album release, still facing its greatest struggle which is that “its strength is its weakness,” and having many strong individual performers means finding direction and balance is a challenge. Slaves to the Grave takes the fast tremolo speed metal approach of Rigor Mortis and slows it down to give it the rhythmic approach of bands like Kreator, Sodom and Destruction which makes it very catchy. Into this, the band members drop varied influences from other music of the period and contemporary metal. This is not really a followup to the first album; more likely, it is an attempt to do what Rigor Mortis vs. The Earth tried to — modernize its sound and find balance between technicality and rhythmic hook choruses — but with the original lineup.
The problem with Rigor Mortis vs. The Earth is that, while it contained some of the greatest songwriting to emerge from this band, it was completely disordered, both as an album and as individual songs. Band members seemed to wander on stage to contribute their specialties, then vanish into the background as the band zeroed to a mean in order to preserve the integration of each song. With Slaves to the Grave, Rigor Mortis assert much more control over their work, but try hard to include all of their strengths. Vocalist Bruce Corbitt writes hook-heavy choruses that are highly motivational, where Mike Scaccia specializes in melodic guitar. Those two are in tension because guitar jams like to expand, where rhythmic hooks require keeping flying speed and then hitting it with dramatic tempo changes. On this new work, the band separate the instrumental bits from the song itself, creating a kind of “oasis” within the song arrangement where the guitar can unleash itself.
Slaves to the Grave takes on a number of influences. From modern metal, it inherits the trope vocals that chant in cadence with the guitars and drums in the style that Pantera (nice guys, but the death of speed metal through norming) picked up on and metalcore really took to the wall, but luckily this does not happen at full intensity very frequently. The band uses its classic technique of overloading verses so that they have two parts, a simple placeholder and a texturally more intense second half that prepares for the chorus. This gives the music more of a theater and lets the hook of the chorus integrate more with the song as a whole. Unfortunately, someone decided that mid-1980s German speed metal drums would be essential here, so most of the percussion emulates this style which not only becomes overbearing but is too simple for this music. A little Dave Lombardo influence here would improve things quite a bit. These songs fit together tightly like ancient walls and there are no random, rambling or irrelevant discursive bits, which shows the professionalism of this band.
If we went searching for a spirit animal for this album, it would probably be mid-1980s Iron Maiden. Many of these chord progressions and the general rhythms used resemble those from the speed metal years of Iron Maiden, but also, the arrangements of these songs mirror the tendencies that the NWOBHM band developed. Songs blast through verse-chorus pairs, work themselves up to a break, reprise their main theme and then launch into instrumental cool-downs. This balance allowed Iron Maiden to stay hookish but also work in the depth they knew would keep their albums from being essentially aggro-pop, and it worked for them for many years, so it is intelligent of Rigor Mortis to pick up this vein. Other influences are Testament and earlier Rigor Mortis itself, which is cited through similar but distinctively altered chord progressions and melodies. “The Infected” for example shadows “Die in Pain,” “Poltergeist” shadows the break return in “Revelations” by Iron Maiden, and other fragments show up repurposed as new riffs. Unlike earlier works, the melody in Slaves to the Grave is built into the chord progressions, giving the songs more harmonic space. Scaccia takes advantage of this with numerous instrumental passages. These show a greater study of tone than earlier works, but lack the frenetic architectures of his lead guitar on Freaks and drifts closer to the rock, metal and jazz influences of Rigor Mortis vs. The Earth. This allows songs to slow down, expand a bit, and become more distinctive because they release less on pure rhythm and more on melody.
This album offers well-composed songs that straddle the line between the raw fury of early Rigor Mortis and the instrumentally-advanced but compositionally disintegrated material of its later works. The most death metal track, “Curse of the Draugr,” and the first half the album deliver the greatest punch. The concluding ten-minute instrumental on the topic of Roman gladiators could perhaps be left off without damaging the album at all, since it is sparse in context and driven by vocals instead of guitar composition. The instrumental track sounds like the instrumentals from the later years of Death, but with less focus on pure theory and more on an emotional side to the music; metal fans will be lucky if future metal-jazz hybrids heed this direction. On the whole, Slaves to the Grave shows Rigor Mortis at its healthiest point in two and a half decades. For those who want the first album done again, it will not satisfy, but this will be more of a hit with melodic speed metal and technical metal fans.
Before the untimely passing of Rigor Mortis guitarist Mike Scaccia, the band recorded what will become its final album. Featuring the same lineup as 1980s Rigor Mortis, Slaves to the Grave emphasizes the unique approach of this groundbreaking speed/death metal band as rendered with contemporary production.
To spur interest in the album, Rigor Mortis released a preview track entitled “Flesh for Flies” which demonstrates the new style. The same frenetic high-speed rhythm guitar makes its presence known, but with more of the melodic depth seen on later Rigor Mortis works like Freaks and Rigor Mortis vs. The Earth. Bruce Corbitt elevates his frantic vocals with death metal technique mixed in with his urgent shouts, and provides the kind of engaging rhythmic chorus that will ensnare any metalhead with a love for 1980s style speed metal. In addition, Scaccia injects a solo that attacks with a blitzkrieg undulation of notes that creates a texture from which a melody slowly arises. Gone are the longer song structures of Freaks, replaced by a verse-chorus approach that hammers home the powerful transition between the more death metal verse riff and the elegant melody of the chorus.
The song consciously targets the self-titled Rigor Mortis album that floored the metal community with its gore lyrics but powerful instrumentalism and abundant energy. For those who are looking for a re-creation of that first album, Slaves to the Grave looks to be both in that vein and enhanced with the more immediately impacting approach that band members picked up from subsequent projects. The strength of this track comes from its simplicity and directness which allows its viral payload to intrude directly in the consciousness of the listener, leading wayward brains to a dark and morbid place undergirded with the trademark Rigor Mortis absurdism and musicality.
Mike Scaccia and his mates in Rigor Mortis finished recording a full album before Scaccia passed away on December 22 last year. The day before, Scaccia and engineer Kerry Crafton did some initial work on mixing the album entitled Slaves to the Grave which will be the last from the band.
This record is amazing. Mike, Bruce Corbitt, Harden Harrison and Casey Orr all performed brilliantly in the recording and I believe they all did the best work of their lives. […] The depth and breadth of the material is really awesome.
While it’s difficult for the rest of us to estimate how well Rigor Mortis as a band hold up musically these days (the band’s last full-length was released more than two decades ago), Scaccia’s legacy has more than sentimental value.
Slaves to the Grave will be released sometime during summer 2013.
Mike Scaccia, the brilliant guitarist of Rigor Mortis and later, Ministry, has died. He collapsed onstage December 22, 2012 while performing with Rigor Mortis and could not be revived. He is survived by a wife and children, and much excellent music.
Before you read further, consider this song he created with Rigor Mortis:
What made Scaccia’s playing distinctive was his sense of melody, finely-tuned strumming and tendency to use more than low crunchy notes, as well as an ear for a quality riff and an ability to use precise arrangement to let a song unfold to the greatest impact on the listener.
No one wants to type words like this. This is a tragic loss for metal, for music and for humanity. Scaccia was not only a killer shredder, but widely acclaimed as a decent human being. He inspired many of us with his literate but emotionally intense music.
That music survives him and will serve as not only his legacy but the best insight into his character. What do you hear in this music? Darkness, beauty, equilibrium and violence. Like the man himself, more complex than a few paragraphs can do justice to, but also based of a fundamentally life-affirming but realistic outlook on existence.
It’s events like this that make me hope there is a Valhalla or reasonable equivalent. The body can die, but the greatness of a musical hero lives on long after the dirt obscures the coffin. We’ll be thinking of you, Mike, and the family and bandmates you left behind, with today’s all-Scaccia playlist.
Al Jourgensen (Ministry) tribute:
I JUST LOST MY LIL’ BROTHER AND MY BEST FRIEND – THE 13TH PLANET COMPOUND IS DEVASTATED,COMPLETELY IN SHOCK AND SHATTERED. MIKEY WAS NOT ONLY THE BEST GUITAR PLAYER IN THE HISTORY OF MUSIC, BUT HE WAS A CLOSE, CLOSE, CLOSE PART OF OUR FAMILY – AND I JUST LOST A HUGE CHUNK OF MY HEART TODAY. OUR LIVES ARE FOREVER CHANGED. LIFE WITHOUT MIKEY IS LIKE ORANGE JUICE WITHOUT PULP – KIND OF BLAND. I HAVE NO WORDS TO EXPRESS WHAT THIS GUY MEANT TO ME, MY FAMILY, MY CAREER….EVERYTHING!
GET TO KNOW HIS LEAD PARTS – FOR THEY ARE IN THE PANTHEON OF MUSIC! UNFORTUNATELY, MOST OF YOU DIDN’T GET TO KNOW MIKEY’S SOUL -WHICH IS IN THE PANTHEON OF HUMANITY. HE IS MY HERO, MY FRIEND AND MY IDOL. MIKEY WAS ALWAYS BESIDE ME – MY RIGHT HAND MAN – THROUGH THICK AND THIN, THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY AND THE BEAUTIFUL.
REST IN PEACE MY BROTHER, MY FRIEND, MY HEART. PLEASE PRAY FOR MIKE SCACCIA AND JENNY, HIS WIFE AND THEIR CHILDREN, AND HIS FAMILY…..AL