Death Metal Underground

5 albums that invented death metal

July 16, 2014 –

morbid_angel-live

When the new genre of death metal emerged, no one knew what to call it at first. It grew out of a time when metal was just managing to break out of its last assimilation by rock, the late 1970s and early 1980s glam, through speed metal bands like Metallica. As soon as those broke through, others followed with an even more alienated and disturbing sound with what came to be called “death metal.”

Since that time, advertisers and marketers have descended on the phrase. Outsiderness means authenticity and authenticity sells products. Every product that wants to tag itself with rebellious, “fun” and nonconformist would benefit from using the term. But before it became another media tag-line, death metal constituted the most vital genre that existed outside that form of social control.

Its origins remain in murky obscurity, but can be tracked through the bands that innovated the sound. Read on for the five albums that invented this sound.

sepultura-morbid_visions

1. Sepultura – Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation

Way back in 1985, Sepultura released Bestial Devastation as a fully mature death metal album including unorthodox song form that fit to content and Slayer-style introductions with related motifs to new riffs. Fast and furious in the style that Morbid Angel, Massacra and Vader later developed, this tremolo-picked fury joined Morbid Visions on a release to commemorate these early and massively influential works. Notably this band also spun off guitarist Wagner Antichrist to Sarcofago who later kept black metal alive in the intermediate years between Hellhammer/Bathory/Sodom and Mayhem. Although this early release was recorded with borrowed instruments in what sounds like a dungeon with DC power, many of the elements that became central to death metal presented themselves here: complex riff changes fit together by theme, abrupt breaks, layering by repeating at double speed, use of chaotic guitar highlights, and vocal drops over transitional riffs. For its primitive origins, Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation demonstrates death metal entering its maturation process after early years of using loan-techniques from related metal and punk genres.

possessed-seven_churches

2. Possessed – Seven Churches

Like many early albums attempting to forge a death metal path, Seven Churches borrows much of its technique from earlier styles of metal. In particular, much of speed metal persists here in song structure and rhythmic sensibility, but Possessed nailed the infernal voice that would become an easily noticed characteristic of the genre and gave it its name. This album slashes through songs that mostly follow riff-chorus song format but interrupt it with discursive passages such as the famous melodic riff on “The Exorcist.” Riff shifts generally occur at significant points in the song rather than as extensions of the standard format, which gives this release a chaotic and uneven feel fitting its subject matter. Its song titles embraced outright positive feelings about Satan, which in the 1980s was enough to cause a listener social problems. The lyrics no longer warned of the possibility of evil, but the certainty of it and the necessity of embracing it to avoid the rotted and calcified lies of the “good.” Its pacing and riff forms often resemble those of speed metal as well as its tendency toward bouncing rhythms which favor the offbeat, where later death metal bands might have adopted a more downbeat approach. Despite spanning these genres, Seven Churches lent so much to the new death metal genre that it forever seems appropriate to associate it with death metal.

death_strike-fuckin_death

3. Death Strike – Fuckin’ Death

Paul Speckmann contributed much to the rising death metal movement under a bevy of different names: Master, Death Strike, Funeral Bitch, Abomination and Speckmann Project. His basic approach took 1960s protest rock, violent punk, and early dark heavy metal and mixed them into what basically sounded like rudimentary metal with punk rhythms. Death Strike emerged in 1985 with death vocals and grinding riffs but Speckmann’s demos had exemplified these attributes for at least two years at that point. While the result sounds spacious for modern death metal ears and uses variants on standard song format almost exclusively, this early embrace of the aesthetics of violent chaos and radically simplified riffing set many on their path down to the fiery depths of death metal.

morbid_angel-abominations_of_desolation

4. Morbid Angel – Abominations of Desolation

The first Morbid Angel album made it to a limited release only on a small label in Tampa, Florida, and so was lost to time until Earache re-issued it in 1991 as a full release. Featuring the drum and vocal talents of Mike Browning (Nocturnus, After Death) this early powerhouse showed the unique and progressive rock influenced songwriting that would appear on later Morbid Angel but without the similarity of aesthetic. Abundant lead guitar spills out all over, songs vary tempo widely, and riffs span many more forms than the solidified final Altars of Madness — which shares most of its songs with this album after three years of refinement while band members worked at a car wash — would demonstrate. Some of lead guitarist Trey Azagthoth’s most creative and psychedelic playing adorns this release, as well as songs that stray into doom metal and progressive metal territory. While this album followed a battered and twisted path to release, it made itself known to the tape-traders who were the backbone of non-mainstream metal in the 1980s, and from there influenced the entire genre.

necrovore-divus_de_mortuus

5. Necrovore – “Divus de Mortuus” demo

Speaking of demos, some of death metal’s most profound work never made it to vinyl or polycarbonate. Traders passed around demos and most band members were traders or had zines and got copies of demos in for review. “Divus de Mortuus” appeared in 1987 after some years of rehearsal and live tapes circulated among the demo circuit and immediately galvanized many. In particular, its influence can be felt on Morbid Angel, whose David Vincent adopted the more aggressive vocals and warlike posturing of vocalist Jon DePlachett. While the riffs on this demo focus more on abrasiveness and less on phrase, many of the elements inherited through Hellhammer and Slayer shine through here on what might be described as the first atmospheric death metal release. While this demo may never make it into stores, its influence spread outward from Texas to Florida and Europe beyond and it lives on in the death metal that followed it.

Documentary Lone Survivor – Paul Speckmann and the story of Master soliciting funds

April 17, 2014 –

paul_speckmann-lone_survivor

Way back in the early 1980s, a band in the Chicago area began making the transition from speed metal to a proto-death metal style. It transitioned through punk and oddly retained a lot of elements of 1960s rock, but was part of the formative path toward death metal along with Bathory, Slayer, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Sepultura and Sodom before Death or Morbid Angel had ever recorded.

Three decades after that rocky start, two metal journalists are attempting to record the life and times of Paul Speckmann with a documentary entitled Lone Survivor – Paul Speckmann and the story of Master. The filmmakers bill the film as not just a Speckmann history, but “the story of anyone who has chased a dream and endured the victories and defeats that come with the journey.”

Filmmakers Jeff Tandy and Will Wulff are tackling this project from a zero-budget start. Wulff is a UC Irvine film graduate who attracted the attention of Paul Speckmann with a graduate project short film. Tandy is a 20-year music veteran and freelance metal journalist with extensive experience in the death metal field.

Master launches “North American Witchhunt Tour” in April

March 15, 2014 –
Comments Off

master-north_america_witchhunt_tour_2014

A band from before death metal had coalesced into a genre, Master will tour North America during April 2014 as part of their “North American Witchhunt Tour” which will showcase a new touring lineup.

During the three weeks that Master will rage across North American stages in support of their most recent album, The Witchhunt, the band will comprise Paul Speckmann on bass/vocals, Alex Bouks (formerly of Incantation) on guitars, VJS on guitars, and drummer Ruston Groose.

Master continues evolving. From its earliest days as a punk/metal hybrid, to a period of intense technicality, and now in an era of massive aggression, Master has grown with the style it helped invent and now brings the latest iteration to fans across North America.

Tour Dates:

  • 4/17 Philadelphia, PA @Millcreek Tavern Inn
  • 4/18 Brooklyn, NY @ St. Vitus
  • 4/19 Wilmington, DE @ Mojo 13
  • 4/20 The Forvm – Buffalo, NY
  • 4/22 Chicago, IL @ Reggie’s
  • 4/23 St. Louis, MO @ Fubar
  • 4/24 Milwaukee, WI @ The Metal Grill
  • 4/25 Oklahoma City, OK @ Leon’s Metal Lounge
  • 4/26 3 Denver, CO @ 3 King’s Tavern
  • 4/28 Portland, OR @ Slabtown
  • 4/29 Seattle, WA @ 2 Bit Saloon
  • 4/30 Oakland,CA @ The Metro
  • 5/01 Rosemead, CA @ Spike’s
  • 5/02 Pomona, CA Characters
  • 5/03 Tempe, AZ @ Red Owl
  • 5/05 San Antonio, TX @ Korova
  • 5/06 New Orleans, LA @ Siberia
  • 5/07 Tampa, FL @ Brass Mug
  • 5/09 Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter

See also:

Interview with Paul Speckmann as Master releases The Witchhunt

September 11, 2013 –

paul_speckmann-master_abomination_deathstrike_funeral_bitch_speckmann_projectAs the old joke in Hollywood goes, any time you say “This person needs no introduction,” you must immediately follow that with a lengthy introduction. So it is with Paul Speckmann, who both needs no introduction and also needs a more in-depth introduction because he’s done so much for metal that it’s easy to lose sight of it all.

We are fortunate to be able to interview Mr. Speckmann on the eve of his tenth album, The Witchhunt, which will see release later this year and is a faithful and sped-up version of Master’s characteristic style.

In this interview, we ask Mr. Speckmann about his songwriting style, the changes in master over the years, the meaning of his music and where Master fits in the death metal family tree. His answers are as always thoughtful and honest, with a few surprises that we could never have guessed were coming.

Please show your appreciation for Mr. Speckmann by reading and commenting with your favorite “Speckmann stories”: how you discovered Master et al., what influence it had on you, where you think it fits in metal, and how you think his art has changed the outlook of the extreme metal populace.

Here’s the interview. Ladies and gents, Mr. Paul Speckmann, of Master, Abomination, Deathstrike, Funeral Bitch, War Cry, Speckmann Project and many more!

Interview with Paul Speckmann (Master, Deathstrike, Abomination)

paul_speckmann-master_abomination_deathstrike_funeral_bitch_speckmann_projectPaul Speckmann’s contributions to metal are often mentioned but rarely fully assessed. To scan metal history, we see Speckmann leaving War Cry in 1983 to go off and create something else and coming out with a punkish proto-death metal hybrid somewhere between in the early- to mid-1980s.

The criticial mass and terminal velocity was reached with Deathstrike’s Fuckin’ Death in its second and wider release, melding with Seven Churches, Abominations of Desolation, Divus de Mortuus, Bestial Devastation and Morbid Tales as part of the definition of a new genre. While formed of a proto-metal style that still showed the oil-on-water punk and heavy metal in a pre-emulsion state, Fuckin’ Death helped establish many of the songwriting conventions of the new hybrid.

Since that time, Speckmann has continued his work in metal with bands such as Master, Abomination, Funeral Bitch, Speckmann Project and numerous other collaborations. He was worked with musicians from Cynic and Krabathor and managed to keep his sound consistent across a dozen or more albums, many of which successively re-work earlier songs into more “death metal” versions.

We are very fortunate to be able to interview Mr. Speckmann again, having interviewed him before, as he’s one of our favorite metal personalities.

Your new album The Witchhunt builds on a huge legacy of past Master (and related Speckmann projects) work. How is it different, and how is it consistent with what you’ve done before?

Well that’s just it: I have been doing things the same way on every album since Faith is in Season. I write and record riffs on the acoustic guitar along with a micro-cassette recorder and when the time comes for a new album, I sift through the riffs and hopefully find half a dozen to work with. Most of the time I think that there is much junk on the recorder, but strangely enough sometimes I go back years later and find a killer set of riffs that I missed somehow.

So basically what I am trying to say here is that I did nothing different than before. The album was recorded very quickly after about a month of on and off rehearsals. Ervery time we go into the studio with the intention of making a great album, sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t. As for consistency, every Speckmann album has this. If something isn’t broken, then there is no need to fix it!

Have there been any lineup changes since the last album?

Nejezchleba, Pradlovsky and myself have been recording together since the Spirit of the West.

Are your lyrics still as radical, less radical, or more radical than early Master releases?

The lyrics speak for themselves. I suppose you don’t have an actual copy of the CD in your hands. The world around us always dictates dictates the themes on all Master recordings. We as a people are living in turmoil as the power mongers continue to take control of the oil and all the wealth in the world. America the big bully is still at work trying to control all aspects of everyone’s lives across the globe. The world has become a quite more difficult place since the origins of Master so the latter proves true when it comes to the themes I suppose.

Some of us refer to early Master as “proto-death metal” because while it’s a lot like death metal, it has feet in other worlds as well. How do you think of your early music?

You know, when this all began we were merely experimenting with the styles we liked as a formula in our music. Today things really haven’t changed. I still listen to early Rock and Heavy Metal and this keeps my mind clear to write my own crazy musical renditions of what I want to hear. I still listen to GBH, the Exploited, MDC, Minor Threat and Discharge from time to time as they genuinely speak to me in tongues. Good one for sure. I certainly like the old Punk stuff. I have always composed the same way, watching murders on “48 Hours” and playing guitar along the way.

What are the roots of the death metal style? Does it have a core set of influences, or was it an idea?

I never considered Master to be a Death Metal band this tag came several years later. The original fellas and I were just playing Metal, period. After hearing bands like Venom, Slayer and Hellhammer as well as Venom, I left the Doom band as they have tagged it now and wanted to get heavier. Master and Deathstrike were much more aggressive and on the right track so too speak.

I was amazed by, despite lineup changes and some stylistic changes and many years, this album still sounds very much like a Speckmann album. How do you maintain your distinctive style?

The reason the album sounds like Speckmetal is that of course I wrote 10 of the 11 songs but more importantly the band Master always stays true to itself. We play to audiences for example of all sizes from 75-5000 people, and people always understand that we live for the music and you can feel this live as well as on the albums. Many of today’s originators only play for money; this is not the only motivation for Master. We genuinely enjoy touring and sharing the new as well as the old songs with audiences across the globe.

Will you tour the USA with this release, or are you Europe-based for now?

We will tour the USA once again from April 18th until May 9th; I am waiting for information on this very soon. This will once again be an American lineup.

The news says the USA is about to go to war with Syria. Do you have some words about that?

The bully is always ready to go for war; the American economy sucks and people need jobs. This sounds like a great time to bomb Syria. With all the arms, bullets, tanks, etc. the economy will certainly improve. The US likes to fight for sure. Loss of life is of no consequence in the end for the mighty USA. Soon the draft will start up again so you too can fight for your country.

When you started out, I believe, you were working a day job moving furniture and making metal at night, and seemed quite happy doing that.

Actually the day job moving furniture came after my day job selling marihuana was put to a stop by the police. I was forced to borrow money from a truckdriver friend and became a fulltime mover instead of ending up in jail. The band was barely alive in those days so I must have lied in an earlier interview or maybe our first one. Looking back, I do not miss the everyday shit of moving other assholes homesteads.

Now you’ve moved to the Czech Republic and music is your full-time gig. How has the transition been for you?

The transition was a natural thing, for the first few years I travelled the globe with Krabathor summers and then worked moving furniture from September to until March for the first several years. Then in 2004 I was offered a merch job for a German company called Bruchstein Tours and stayed in the Czech Republic permanently. I did this for several years until Master became too busy and this is where I am now, just playing shows.

If a fan listens to The Witchhunt and really likes it, what do you recommend that fan does in terms of exploring more Master material? Should he/she go find a copy of Fuckin’ Death or Speckmann Project or start with more recent material?

I think the entire back catalogue has something to offer and many of the original releases are being re-issued. Fans can contact me directly if need be.

Master – The Witchhunt

September 2, 2013 –

master-the_witchhuntUntil you succeed, you face a threat from competition. Once you succeed, you may face a worse threat, which is competition from yourself.

The history of Master may be divided into roughly two parts, those albums before …And On the Seventh Day God Created and after it. Before, Master was a proto-death metal with a punk and old school rock vibe; after, it was tight and rigid high intensity death metal.

The Witchhunt picks up on that style and adds a bit more melody and riffcraft, but returns to the classic punk-style open percussion that Master used on its earlier albums, but sped up. As a result, there’s less stop-start and more raging fast lead-picked riffs.

Other than that, not much has changed. Speckmann is still the primary songwriter and builds songs around a vocal rhythm and bassline, which his band cohorts fill with guitar riffs and drum patterns. The current lineup seems to have effected positive change in his sense of tempo and change.

Intensely consistent, Master sound like themselves on this album and thanks to some modernization of sound are competitive with the more intense bands out there. What might be great is if they expanded to use more riffing and less verse-chorus construction such that the band fully moved into the death metal era.

Speckmann’s vocals are both strained and emotional and gruff and functional at the same time, creating a type of voice of authority which channels the music between its extremities and coherence. Percussion is reminiscent of early Vader or Sinister.

While some will argue that this album offers nothing more than what Master has done in the past, The Witchhunt may surprise them. Songs are more distinctive in rhythm, riff and aesthetics, and the uptempo change has forced more efficiency in songwriting.

In other words, this is not “just another Master album,” but a steady improvement that is consistent both with the second era of Master and the general direction of the first. This makes it a complement to the near present and distant past.

Johansson & Speckmann – Sulphur Skies

June 10, 2013 –

johansson_speckmann-sulphur_skiesThe promise of this album is exciting at first glance, but upon deeper investigation buried in paradox. Paul Speckmann specializes in a very early form of death metal that has a lot of punk to it and emphasizes compelling rhythm and simple songs. Swedish death metal, at its best in Carnage, Therion and Unleashed, represented almost an opposite type of music which used guitar riffs to carry a cadence-like rhythm and thus create a dark mood.

Sulphur Skies suffers from this confusion. Rogga Johansson (PAGANIZER) provides guitar and bass which are mostly of a hard rock nature, meaning that riffs set up a syncopated rhythm and then by pausing and restarting it create a sense of dynamic drama. The rhythms however are slightly more aggressive versions of stuff that came out in the 1970s, and songs are circular riff merry-go-rounds that feature a verse riff, a chorus riff, and a series of diversions.

Speckmann’s vocals are not only vicious but well-produced, as is the guitar tone. This album sounds great. The only problem is that the underlying composition is mired in paradox, which is that the personnel are making two different types of albums, neither of which fit the classic Swedish death metal mold which is what the audience wants when they hear that Sunlight Studios style guitar tone. Speckmann is a legend but this project accidentally misuses him.