Death Metal Underground

An ennead of Terrifying visions – classic EP’s of Death Metal

February 3, 2010 –

Slayer – Haunting The Chapel
Napalm Death – Mentally Murdered
Rotting Christ – Passage to Arcturo
At the Gates – Gardens of Grief
Wings – Thorns On Thy Oaken Throne
Sacramentum – Finis Malorum
Zyklon-B – Blood Must Be Shed
Vulpecula – Fons Immortalis
Divine Eve – Vengeful and Obstinate

This series of reviews shows the infectious potential of condensing the multidimensional texture of darkness and mythology into a carefully trimmed brief explosion with no room for filler or long, meaningless passages of droning, experimentation or interludes. Those who mastered the art of the metal EP or mini-LP are rare, but deserve all the more credit for their achievements. The fact that you can listen to everything we have here easily within the space of one evening does not mean that the unlocked experiences won’t stay with you forever.

Slayer – Haunting The Chapel

Showing a strong advancement in technique and an evolution towards a darker style that would be the staple of records to come by the band, Slayer throw off the camp shackles of their excellent first album, and give a more progressive approach to songcraft yet give more emphasis on repetition within individual riffs. The violent droning guitar timbre of Discharge makes itself ever more present whilst the musical language of Judas Priest and Angel Witch works itself within those patterns. The dissonant twin soloing of King and Hanneman is more suitable to this new direction also, whilst Lombardo’s aggressive battery finds more cohesion in using less variation and being more of an ambient backdrop than before, with Araya’s unmistakable rasp encoding itself sadistically within the depths. A bleak affair that summed up the apocalyptic meanderings of the speed metal movement and the embryonic beginnings of the death metal that was yet to manifest. -Pearson

Napalm Death – Mentally Murdered

This work is like a convergence of Napalm Death and Carcass, having left From Enslavement to Obliteration and Reek or Putrefaction behind in order to expand on their styles, towards Harmony Corruption and Symphonies of Sickness respectively. By Napalm’s standards, at this point in their discography, these songs are quite lengthy and structured with an attention to detail that recaptures the subtle shifts in mechanical motion of the earliest side to Scum. This technique is re-invigorated by the cleaner production, relegating the extremity of fuzzy bass for the sake of a twin-guitar assault that creates an hypnotic and delusional sensation, and shows the input of Jesse Pintado who would go on to record another highly influential work of Grindcore – Terrorizer’s World Downfall. Composition is practically freed at very the earliest moments of songs onwards, unlike previous Napalm Death albums where these parts were used to establish exactly which single riff will become immersed in a barely discernable anarchic explosion for the rest of the 30 seconds of music. Instead, it’s given a more Death Metal treatment, e.g. in ‘The Missing Link’, the opening riff seems to degrade over time into smaller grinding patterns until the fragments are juggled like sacks of meat by morbid Death Metal riffs. This is where some of the tremelo melodies that would tear through the rotten wall of sound of Carcass finds its place, accompanied by the mocking lead guitars of Bill Steer. The human tornado, Mick Harris is even more precise than his previous effort, but doesn’t lose any of his epithet’s justification. Lee Dorrian’s vocals become more guttural and undecypherable, conceding to the futility of mainstream political discussion. The seeds of an approach closer in line with the burgeoning interest in Death Metal were sown here, simultaneously taking Grindcore one step further away from reaching the dead-end of short and simplistic outbursts of truncated riffs and hollow statements. -ObscuraHessian

Rotting Christ – Passage to Arcturo

Warm, playful and overflowing with the abundance of inspiration in the rediscovery of ancient shamanic techniques of mystical metal creation, the Greek pioneers of Rotting Christ forsook the aggravated modern noise of grindcore in time to ride the wave of blackness that usurped the European metal underground. Remnants and glimpses of 80’s fast modern metal (Slayer) give way to an astral, luminous intensity of synthesizers and slowly picked melodies that suspend the themes for a moment to enable the mind to stop wandering and relish the unholy moment of concentration, in a yogic gesture of blackness. Few have ever used the crushing sonic world of black and death metal to so fully immerse in ethereal ritual, and such rare examples as Drawing Down the Moon preserve plenty of subtle reminders to this widely heard classic of European black metal. As their chaotic exhortations in countless zines of the period conclude, Rotting Christ’s hybrid of gothic and black metal aimed for an architecture of the infinite, regal sunsets of lost kingdoms whose landscapes are not for the eyes of mortals, except in dreams and in death. As “Forest of N’Gai” aptly proves, black metal was at its height when not contorted to fit the schemes of a political ideology or an orthodox Satanist movement, but like the great works of literature a realm of fantasy of its own whose symbols are rooted in our deepest unconscious fears and desires. This sub-space can then be used by the analytical mind to figure the patterns of generation for a multitude of creative, even lunatic, concepts. -Devamitra

At the Gates – Gardens of Grief

The original Gothenburg gloomy melody cult made one of their strongest statements on this early EP, pressed from demo to vinyl on the first year of the band’s existence. Fresh from life disrespecting bands such as Infestation and Grotesque, these Swedes nail the most desperate guitar harmonies since Candlemass, but infect them with the viral sensibility of a flux of death current. As if plugging the Sunlight Studios into your brains in direct interface, Svensson’s tremolos rip and rend mercilessly apart the soul of the beast that dared expose its true feelings of living in a world of hypocrisy and uncertainty. The band has preserved the most fragile moment of the Swedish death metal underground, the precarious balance between the catatonic psychosis of headbanging under alcoholic influence and the deep, burning, thoughtful soul of an encrypted Romantic in a world of pain and disguised memories. It all takes such tangible form in Tomas Lindberg’s cracking, maddened scream: “I am at the gates – Lord of Chaos – Let me sleep”. The fear and anger of At the Gates’ most revered albums will always remain something that divides audiences according to their response to such emotional cues, but “Gardens of Grief” is the un-terrorized, exuberant sound of youth that realizes the presence of death and dives into it headlong, appropriate to the Per Ohlin dedication in the liner notes. -Devamitra

Wings – Thorns On Thy Oaken Throne

An all too brief EP from Finnish gloomophiliacs Wings, as ephemeral as the tortured existence that is enshrouded in these twisted sounds of darkness-raped melody. Almost like the missing tracks from Cartilage’s cult classic ‘The Fragile Concept of Affection’, this continuation goes further to explore the sombre moods of songs like ‘Why Do I Watch The Dawn?’, in their Replicant-like reflections upon the transience of a human existence placed between the crushing, vice-grip of nothingness. Wings don’t peturb the balance of pace of slower, more expansive lakes of hypnotic melody that made up Cartilage’s contribution to their split with Altar, but there is greater focus on creating a doomier atmosphere, leaving no space for the grinding riffs of the past incarnation – a technique that parrelleled the Swedish Unleashed on their first album. Instead, an older treatment is given to the bouncier riffs, which could be heard as Punkier passages, but as this EP comes together as a whole to reveal, these bridge the narrative that seems to span across both songs with a mid-pace tempo in which the drawn out melodies pass through towards an expressive, quite neoclassical riff of totality – encompassing all the hopes that are weighed down by all the sorrows in the journey towards death. This poem in two parts is a valuable recording of Death Metal history, as a valid direction for these Finnish musicians to have taken following the demise of Cartilage, with all their weird melodic knowledge as baggage. -ObscuraHessian

Sacramentum – Finis Malorum

A true gem, Sacramentum’s first EP showcases a style that is melodic and emotive in a manner not unlike countrymen Dissection and Unanimated. Epic, catchy and well crafted compositions are multi-layered not unlike Emperor minus keyboards, the rush of guitar notes being vibrant and lively, with little emphasis towards a rhythmic expectation, as one would expect with most heavy metal and hard rock music. Simultaneously moody yet without being whiny, this early release by Sacramentum showcases a band who are able to master quality control and bring the best out of all the elements that define their music. Alongside At The Gates, artistically the finest Swedish metal act of the 1990′s. -Pearson

Zyklon-B – Blood Must Be Shed

Fast, raging black metal with the fury of early Deicide and the sharp harmonizing typical of Mayhem and Immortal’s ‘Pure Holocaust’ come head to head, in the guise of technically precise, abrupt songs. Shouty hardcore vocals, warm synth overlaps, a near constant blastbeat and anti-humanist lyrical concepts indicate a desire by known Norwegian musicians to advance the aggression of the black metal style and shift it’s idealogical focus away from romantic nostalgia. This brief E.P. lacks the spark of Norway’s foundational acts, but remains an influential statement of the subgenre. -Pearson

Vulpecula – Fons Immortalis

Who would have expected Chuck Keller to open the gates to very Orion itself after the folding of the aggressor squad par excellence Order from Chaos? As if a continuation of the promise of the astrological and alchemistic symbolism of the former bands’ lyrics, Vulpecula slows it down and strums soothing, yet vigorous melodies while the vocals multiple into wraith-like dimensions of rhythmic rasps and Keller’s leads occasionally burst into the aggressive, spasmous flight of an eagle amidst a thunderstorm. “Phoenix of the Creation” delves into exercises in authentic space synth, while “The First Point of Aries” harkens to the mid-paced woodland meditations that the Norwegians used to record at Grieghallen. Occasionally slightly hindered by the band’s eagerness to cram all the influences from Schulze to black metal into one short EP, the mere richness of it invites the ears to take their pleasure at will from the Babylonian garden of ponderous and prestigious movements that are achingly attractive and acceptable in their innocent refusal to complicate things with dissonance. Credit also goes for the lead guitar efforts of Keller on their traditional melodious injection which easily avoids the neutrality of more pop oriented bands trying to do the same. Almost like envisioning a “new age” approach to the genre, Vulpecula is an alien saucer amidst the orbit bound technologies of “progressive” death metal. -Devamitra

Divine Eve – Vengeful and Obstinate

The first new release that’s being reviewed for 2010 and it’s already giving distinct impressions of the kind of quality that made 1993′s ‘As the Angels Weep’ a genuinely classic EP. Divine Eve keeps the form of this new material far simpler, stripping away the Death Metal-infected sludginess for a more rudimentary homage to early brutal music like Celtic Frost. ‘Vengeful and Obstinate’ makes its own unique statement by honing in on the nihilistic and warlike spirit of the Swiss legend’s To Mega Therion magnum opus, even invoking the same battle-horns on ‘Ravages of Heathen Men’ that bring focus to the beauty of conflict and strife in a meaningless universe. The varied tempo of grinding riffs set to a dirty bass guitar adds to the atmosphere of struggle as an outlet for this primitive, instinctual response to the world. ‘Whispers of Fire’ being the exception on this EP for the constantly up-tempo pace, it’s a pleasure to hear such slow and sludgy music churning visions of the darker universe beyond our lives of comfort and languish. The final and most devastating touch of ‘Vengeful and Obstinate’ is how Divine Eve makes extensive use of the piercing tone that Xan’s grating guitar setup produces, highlighting the spiral passage of powerchords by revealing their hidden, melodic architecture, ingenuiously managing to explain and enhance this rugged approach of legendary lineage. It’s about time the band produced a full-length and they’ve proved that they possess more than enough knowledge of unholy riffcraft to do so. -ObscuraHessian

A year in Norwegian metal – a purgatory of recombinations

July 20, 2009 –

Mord – Necrosodomic Abyss
Satyricon – The Age of Nero
Throne of Katarsis – Helvete – Det Iskalde Mørket
Aura Noir – Hades Rises
Celestial Bloodshed – Cursed, Scarred and Forever Possessed
Keep of Kalessin – Kolosus
Blood Red Throne – Souls of Damnation
1349 – Revelations of the Black Flame
Mare – Throne of the Thirteenth Witch EP

Mord – Necrosodomic Abyss

The new Osmose recruits Mord seem to have been actually born in Poland, then relocated to near Kristiansand, which is remembered as the location of a violent death metal sect in support of Varg Vikernes back in 1991 and the origin of Tchort (Blood Red Throne, Emperor, Green Carnation). Not quite living up to the bloody and progressive traditions of the area, Mord specializes in a cold, modern, thrashed-out black metal sound that could scientifically have been developed in a norsecore factory to create an endless amount of productive clones. Maybe because they are originally from Poland, they do seem to possess a better grasp of what makes Nordic black metal good than most Scandinavians around exhibit. They keep the album vile and to the point, imitating the blasphemous rhythm guitar of, besides Euronymous, Ivar Bjørnson during the phase of Enslaved when they dropped most of their classical influence and switched to riff rock. Later Ancient springs to mind in tracks such as “Opus II” which is essentially is a meeting of pop and black metal in a graveyard infested with drunked teenagers who wear makeup and like to flash stupid expressions in photos. It may sound bad but in fact, as guitar rock or something, it excels. It is simply lacking in the Romantic nature worship, warrior ideology and mysticism of Burzum, Ildjarn and the other greats. So while musically this has potential for an above average Norwegian black metal album (even though these ideas are 15 years late) it ends up as one more relic that brings black metal closer to mainstream acceptance and youth culture phenomena today, and no-one will remember it in ten years.

Satyricon – The Age of Nero

It should be obvious to anyone with even the slightest exposure to black metal music and ideas that while it’s arguable that he ever was a genius, for the last decade Satyricon has really gone far out of his way to create the most crowd pleasing, catchy, insipid rock’n’roll version of black metal. It sounds quite redundant to say in 2009 that this kind of music is abhorrent to “Euronymous’ ideals” or the Weltanschauung of the scene that existed in 1991-95 but I can’t help it. This is simply so far from anything that was great in old Norwegian black metal, what made me and so many others interested and follow the events and music with awe inspired by mystique. In this music there is no trace of passion, only of pure professional approach to musicianship and studio production, not even oriented to mastery of the style (in jazz sense) but to a desire to make money and gain profit. This sort of capitalist black metal makes for a new genre in itself. Mechanical, vapid and outdated, it mostly sounds like a collection of random groove metal tunes given a superficial black metal treatment (raped by the half beaten corpse of norsecore) for the mainstream listeners who want to get a piece of black metal’s evil but refuse to go all the way to possession. Precise riffs and metronomic drumming approach Rammstein-like monotony as they are arranged into the laziest sequence and development imaginable. Frost’s sometimes interesting drumscapes have been lost to the adult contemporary studio values and his fans are probably better off listening to 1349 or one of the other bands he plays/played in. Satyr is not trying to play Voivod riffs anymore (as he was doing in Rebel Extravaganza) nor can he duplicate the fast thrashy parts of Nemesis Divina – these new riffs by Satyr have a habit of getting old before the song is over.

Throne of Katarsis – Helvete – Det Iskalde Mørket

While the gloomy shroud of 21st century black metal clichés weighs like lead upon Throne of Katarsis, a sense of ambition and greatness, the carefully followed tread of frozen melody including an airy vastness copied from In the Nightside Eclipse or early Taake and some elegant and progressive forms makes this rise above the level of total weakness. Like Isvind and Tsjuder, Throne of Katarsis explore the melodic territory in between Darkthrone and Emperor in an effort to replicate the impression of transcendent evil boiling in the depths. Fast percussion underlies the sonic depression of dubiously plodding, soaring but monotone and unenergetic low production (Grieghallen copy) guitars repeating spherical themes (rotating the minor chords “De Mysteriis” style during the slow parts over and over again to give the melancholic feeling) over to vastness. The best of the musical ideas are hidden by the desire to create a standard black metal album, as they probably succumbed to creating an album too quickly and thinking that it’s enough to put out cold and intensity-devouring two-penny riffs that have been overused for 20 years – bulk Norwegian black metal in good and bad.

Aura Noir – Hades Rise

I do remember the Apollyon/Aggressor duo Aura Noir as a high-energy, motor powered and tradition respecting black metal cult from the days of the bewitching “Dreams Like Deserts” MCD, never afraid to rock out nor experiment with unusual guitar and drum techniques – even cross-quoting with Ved Buens Ende material. Something really devastating has happened and I don’t know if it has to do with Aggressor’s falling down from a balcony or something, but they sound totally drunk, tired and old on this album. I mean, if you think that Darkthrone nowadays sounds like a lazy beer-swilling band from the pub, try this one! I can hear they are trying to play like Sodom, but I can’t hear any Germanic “raaaaaah!” mania. I can hear Autopsy, but I can’t hear the stinking amputated corpses rising all around to wreak their vengeance upon the societies of the living. I can hear hardcore, but I can’t hear the decisive violent power of wrath against conformity. So, what is there left? It sounds a bit Southern Lord-y – you know, ironic old metal fan hipster who likes to get stoned out of his mind and listen to feel-good old-times metal. By the way, the drum production sounds like MIDI – utter failure. If you want real speed/black metal power, go for the originals, this one is a weak joke.

Celestial Bloodshed – Cursed, Scarred and Forever Possessed

It would be quite interesting to see if someone, somewhere in Norway, has during the year released black metal or death metal which does not a) try to duplicate the old Grieghallen soundscape with in the most generic no-sense-of-style manner, b) fill their album with a load of budget riffs called depressive black metal by the kids (which is actually C, D, E minor again… and again…). Anyway, while Celestial Bloodshed has ripped off these ideas from better bands, they are 50% better in their songcraft than Watain, Funeral Mist and other generic black metal of the era. Also, they have been able to create inner beauty towards the realization of the music in melodic intensity. Additionally, the fullness of the soundscape and the implications of the structure make this release more grim, oppressive and grinding than the mainsteam manipulations of Norwegian metal which can not be but a good thing. After a beautiful intro which sounds somewhat like one of the demos from Equimanthorn (Absu members’ ritual project) the album pounds into a lexicon of guitar techniques borrowed from a range of musicians from Mayhem to Enslaved, with a dynamic range from slow romantic soulseeking to blasphemous speeds, sometimes bridged with jarring changes, while death metal influenced vicious, likeable and personal (down to some insistent mannerisms) vocals pace like hammer upon an anvil the grim predictions of mortal future and the drummer operates battery like Faust and Hellhammer used to in the early 90′s. While all of this is not fully developed yet into pure communication, it speaks with instant, amazed, satanic impressions of life facing the darkness of Infinity – Celestial Bloodshed has replicated the old school with care, honesty and vicious intent.

Keep of Kalessin – Kolosus

Keep of Kalessin arouse my interest during their demo days, as 1997′s “Skygger av Sorg” repeated the style of old Satyricon in a series of simple, emotional song fragments that revealed a sad beauty lying underneath the grim soundscape. I had heard some less interesting newer material but it is truly shocking what they have submerged into now – an arrogant, over-produced tribute to the honor of Greek warriors through quasi-talented commercial death metal. Synth washes and expressive vocals (in the vein of Nergal when he’s really pissed off in the later Behemoth albums) fill this piece of plastic because they want to sound big and they want to play on a stadium. I am convinced that someone with their musicianship should be able to create a listenable and consistent album, but these super fast blastbeats and commercial heavy metal oriented song dynamics from quiet to loud make this just a faux extreme version of something like Spearhead or Deströyer 666, made worse by the angry shouter vocalist. The people interested only in dry technique and production standards will love this for being an emphatic and empty opera of sharp drumwork and the constantly shifting death metal type fast guitars and entertainment value. They are also happy that it lacks the primal natural force of old Norwegian metal, because it might be distrubing. The sense of space created should be one of a studio or a big venue, instead of a woodland crypt, right? This amount of polishing emphasizes the superficiality of the entire composure, down to metalcore action computer game synchronized by MIDI in Kolossus, where accurate but inconsequential fast drum beats follow cheap-ass tremolo melodies from the pits of norsecore Hell and the vocalist sounds angry at people at the nearby mall and emo pop chorus in “Ascendant” which doesn’t even fit the music underneath. Likewise the arabic solos in the middle part of “Kolossus” don’t seem to have anything to do with the metal riffs, nor do the “300″ soundtrack reminiscent bits with synths and tablas. Whoever has produced this must be a commercial minded jerk.

Blood Red Throne – Souls of Damnation

Tchort from Kristiansand was a newcomer to the death metal scene with his band Green Carnation right when the genre went out of fashion because of Euronymous’ hatefulness towards it and while that name was resurrected for Tchort’s progressive metal project he formed the neo-death metal group Blood Red Throne at the end of the millennium. While not having heard the early Green Carnation material, it’s easy to hear from this that some trace of early influence from excellent bands like Grave and Cadaver does exist, but none of their ability to turn basic riff structures into progressive and morbid magic. This type of song construction mostly resembles Cannibal Corpse and Deicide during the latter’s worst days of In Torment In Hell, filling songs with groovy mosh parts, faux-brutal growls and the drummer and bass player (from Deeds of Flesh) insisting wimpily on always playing to the beat of the riff. If this is the king on Norway’s death metal throne since Cadaver disbanded, it is quite sad actually. Most good (death) metal is memorable from its melodies, however convoluted and vicious they may be, but Souls of Damnation is mostly simple rhythmic phrases like guitar exercise patterns for introducing mechanical creation technique for sub-Florida death metal. Like all boring death metal, it severely underestimates its audience. I mean, many listeners do like death metal that sounds like basic no-frills brutal grind, but this worthless chugging goes too far. It seems like the whole album lacks even one interesting melody part or arrangement.

1349 – Revelations of the Black Flame

One of the newer Oslo bands mostly known from relentless and uncompromising fast black metal, 1349 surprise with their latest effort in refusing to conform to the rules of the flock. This time conjuring echoes of Samael’s Ceremony of Opposites and later Mayhem, 1349 composes suffocated, devilish and industrial tinged black metal sounds which despite being somewhat predictable, retain the doomy beauty of an industry of inferno. The loneliness of space as described in Moorcock’s trippy novel “The Black Corridor” and the classic fantasy movie “Alien” fill this Gigerian landscape of planets, threats and biomechanical blasphemies. Bodies twitch into contorted positions in a sea of light. The psychedelic feel is enhanced by a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of Sun” featuring Tom G. Warrior. Several tracks use minutes to unfold submerged ambient and experimental soundscapes, while there is some Red Harvest type digital manipulation featured in many of the metal songs too. The arrangement is dramatic and regal, with Frost’s drumming skills put to good use. Multiple vocal styles herald the theatrical nature. Some interesting lead guitars add desperate wails to the background. Some parts are in their wicked minimalism close to what one could also expect to, say, Beherit to compose if he were in a more commercial high budget recording project, making this one of the more worthwhile efforts from Norway last year in producing new vistas of black metal.

Mare – Throne of the Thirteenth Witch EP

This little EP from Mare, one of the infamous Trondheim cults tends to sound a bit like Live in Leipzig era Mayhem recording in a sewer infested with rats and worms and the decrepit and rotten soundscape makes this one an aesthetically more attractive listen than most of the studio produced turds. Intuitively they grasp the idea of structuring long songs in the old Emperor vein so that while the bits and pieces are redundant, it is a journey through minimalist music themes into the realization and acceptance of the power of darkness. Slow, crawling, anti-logical repetition of simple melody (where the keyboards add a tasteful of old Enslaved) make it a bit of an un-musical experience – the composition seems to be mostly oriented to the fans of droning soundscape whereas the planning and calculation in the overstated reverb, vocal sound (while Kvitrim is good at pacing) and lack of invention in the riffs suggest seem to be aimed for the black metal consumer. But it is deconstructive, degenerate and deceitful music – for pure ideas, about as good as the best of the bunch reviewed here. An ambience and sense of space is reached, the Faustian concept of man as a warrior who travels and explores the universe, only to relinquish his individuality to the higher natural order – in death and rebirth.

Written by Devamitra