British NWOBHM band Blitzkrieg have returned with a new album, entitled Back From Hell. Melodic while still retaining structure, this album will appeal to fans of 80s era heavy metal, as well as those who prefer death/black metal but can appreciate skillfully constructed metal whatever form it may take.
Back From Hell has the band mostly keeping true to the traditional NWOBHM sound, with a few elements of further-developed speed metal present. Songs are expertly arranged, with each track featuring a clearly developed concept that never loses focus. This allows immersion within the verse-chorus structure and quickly illuminates the theme present within each. Verse and chorus are linked together with skillful transitions that makes the distinction between them organic, rather than artificial. Ornaments such as solos and fills are executed tastefully, with an eye towards shaping them into the song rather than the reverse.
Tracks are a mixture between heavier material and those that have more in common with 90s radio hard-rock and seem placed solely for commercial exposure. On these tracks the band forgoes thematic development in favor of repetition. Fortunately, those are the exception and not the rule; and while they do interrupt the album’s narrative to an extent, are still competently conceived.
Exuberant and honest in a way rarely seen among contemporary metal releases, in its best moments Back From Hell transports the listener back to a time when heavy metal was still exciting, and for that reason will be present on many best-of lists for 2013, even if it is marred by some concessions.
This demo offers a new name to remember for the old school fans. Coming from South America, and having a Sarcófago cover as a hidden track on the Polish version, the inevitable comparison for Death Invoker’s “Demo 2010” will be Sarcófago‘s I.N.R.I..
There’s a lot more than that going on here however. Death Invoker incorporate older speed metal material, including rhythms that develop ideas Metallica used, and death metal from the period after Sarcófago. These songs tend to be short and of relatively circular development that builds off of verse-chorus songs with a few deviations and transitions, but this band really know how to set the stage for a song.
Each song has a clear development and doesn’t get lost in the confusion. If anything, some disappear into similar riff patterns that end up creating ambiguity, and a few more distinctive tempo changes would improve this, but on the whole, each expresses itself as its own entity. If the band refines these songs for an album, the biggest area of improvement could be in making each song have a distinctive structure and approach (“angle”) relative to the rest.
That doesn’t limit the power of this demo release, and it is a demo, so deserves more leeway. With choruses following more of the “speed metal” pattern, and being very catchy, and verses speeding along in more of the “death metal” style, this band unites the two in a potent variant on these styles. It will be interesting to watch these guys develop.
Pestilence avoids controversy poorly. After the legendary Consvming Impvlse, the band went on to produce a series of albums culminating in the synth-sounding jazz-heavy Spheres, which remains one of metal’s most divisive albums: people either love it or hate it, with few in the middle gray areas.
Then after years apart, Pestilence returned in 2009 with Resurrection Macabre followed two years later by Doctrine. These albums showed Pestilence trying more for a contemporary style of modern technical metalcore (sometimes called “tek-deth”) without as much of the crazy instrumental embellishment of past albums. Now, possibly from a better state of balance within the band, Pestilence unleash Obsideo.
Obsideo returns to a long-running controversy in this band which is not metal-versus-jazz as many would think, but among two types of metal. Specifically, the album Malleus Maleficarum showed Pestilence reining back the death metal of their later demos, and trying for a death metal infused with American-style speed metal. Think Kreator covered Megadeth and you have roughly the same style, although in Pestilence’s case this revealing a longstanding tendency with the band: eschewing the phrase-based riffs of death metal for more rhythmic variations on chord progressions in the speed metal style, then filling in the space with leads.
But if we were to extrapolate Malleus Maleficarum into the present, updating its 1980s speed metal on the cusp of death metal with the metalcore-inspired insistence on variety and riffs that ride a vocal rhythm on the nose, we might find the blueprint for Obsideo. It’s more repetitive and confrontational, simpler and less nuanced, and reflects more of the industrial and hardcore influence into metal of the late 1990s. In addition, songs have fewer fireworks in terms of song structure, but more in lead guitar, which is often used as transitional material in song or for kinds of extended fills to denote layering in riff motif.
Fortunately the space-age jazz-fusion guitar of Spheres has returned in the lead guitar department. While not every lead is quite as distant from normalcy as those, these are more confident, both proficient and playful, showing these musicians at a point where they’ve absorbed the changes in their own ability and can put them to better use. Often a song will snowball with power chord riffs but flesh out its mood with leads, and then fade out into the use of similar themes in the lead to take over the direction of the song.
Production sounds like a chunkier, bassier version of Spheres but doesn’t have the compressed and blasted feel of the two comeback albums. This album shows metal at an interesting place as it tries to recap the thirty years of growth since heavy metal transitioned to speed metal, but on the whole, Pestilence have done a good job of it. This is more listenable than their last two, seems more compelling and personal, but also brings musicianship back into the mix in a way that coincides with these musicians’ instrumental focus.
Released on October 30, 1983, the first album from Denmark’s Mercyful Fate proved to be a decisive one for metal. While the band never ventured behind a NWOBHM-speed metal hybrid comparable to Blitzkrieg/Satan, Tank or Diamond Head, the uniquely operatic vocals of King Diamond and the band’s ability to write compelling heavy metal that also had a touch of the otherworldly quickly made Mercyful Fate an important band.
While many have written about their influence on black metal, it’s important to mention that this is not a black metal band, or album. Expect heavy metal, with the type of muted-strum riffs that later made speed metal capture the attention of metalheads worldwide, but with a greater focus on dynamics and pacing. On the surface, it sounds like many other bands from the era, but Mercyful Fate gave the music a unique spin and pushed quality over the top.
As a result, the band, fronted by the legendary King Diamond in his Alice Cooper-inspired face paint, became a staple of the “below-mainstream” metal crowd and quickly won a place on every metal record store’s walls. Through a series of early albums such as Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath, the band gradually shaped metal’s underground away from repetitive intensity and more toward the type of operatic variation in intensity that marked the influences on King Diamond’s vocals.
30 years have passed since this album first detonated car stereos and home units, but its influence is vast and hard to estimate. First, it shaped bands like Metallica toward more imaginative and melodic songwriting; next, it shaped black metal as a melodic, dynamic, motif-driven genre. Finally, the band’s outright flirtation with Satanism as a form of successor philosophy to the genteel benevolence of the society at the time influenced the metal to follow in non-musical as well as musical ways.
Pestilence will be remembered as one of the heroes of death metal, but many have stated reservations about their more recent output, which seems unduly influenced by the modern metal movement, including tek-deth and alt-metal, which always seem to go hand-in-hand.
“Necro Morph” shows the band dialing back from the modern metal fringe and making what’s basically renovated speed metal with modern metal touches, avoiding the true randomness of tek-deth. The counterweight to that is that this makes the music more repetitive, which forces the vocals to overcompensate to give it textural depth.
That approach might make sense if the vocals were sung, but it’s an unfortunate choice here. Pestilence has always excelled at instrumentals, not vocals; when your strongest instrument is the guitar, why make a vocal-heavy style? Second, this puts the emphasis on a style of growled/shouted vocals that don’t have that much variation, which requires comedic emphasis that in turn puts weight on the lyrics to be “interesting,” which in rock-n-roll-speak usually means “ludicrous.”
Further, putting the main thrust of the band’s effort into rhythm guitars that support vocals has dumbed down the riffs themselves, which have gone from interesting phrases that use both partial chords and single-string picking to constant power chords that form uniformly repetitive walls of sound interrupted strategically by rhythm for the Meshuggah-style jazz “offtime” effect.
When the solo does appear, it’s a beautiful thing, because these guys not only play their instruments well (which is cheap, as millions play well) but have a good ear for music that is both sonorous and pushing the edges of what we would consider organized sound. Can we have some more of this, please?
If anything, Pestilence should recognize that their audience is not “the kids,” who will always want something dumber than Pestilence can provide, but the maturing listener who wants something with a bit more meat than the mostly rock-based pop metal that dominates the airwaves. You can’t get successful by imitating what works for others, and Pestilence must find their own path.
Among those, Warbeast stands out as a unique hybrid between past and future. Comprised of members from classic Texas speed/death metal bands like Rotting Corpse, Gammacide and Rigor Mortis, Warbeast presents a modernized version of the speed metal classics of the 1980s with faster tempo changes, more abrupt riffing and more chaotic transitions.
Frontman Bruce Corbitt is the guy everyone wanted to emulate back in 1989. While other bands were lumping their way through yet another tedious song about social justice and how you shouldn’t take drugs, Bruce tore up the stage casually singing about murder, occultism and terror: With five easy slices, you’re in six lovely pieces / Bodily dismemberment as passion increases.
In his current role with Warbeast, he’s revitalizing a new scene and will do it live in front of you at Emo’s in Austin just before 9pm this Friday night. In the meantime, Bruce gives us the rundown on Warbeast and how they came to play a horror movie and metal music festival.
Warbeast released a new album this year, entitled Destroy, which seems to have turned up the volume. What’s different on Destroy versus the first album?
It started with the writing… Scott Shelby wrote the majority of the music and I wrote the majority of the lyrics. Once he had the music part of the songs down with the rest of the musicians in the band… I would add the lyrics later. For some songs he would have a general idea for what he had in mind for what the lyrics should be about. For the other songs, I would get a feel for what the music reminded me of before I came up with the subject to write about. So we had a good system going when we were preparing these songs to record in the studio. Plus we already knew what it was like to work with Philip Anselmo as our Producer. So the chemistry was even better when we recorded this album.
On the first album we were still a relatively new band coming up with our first originals. Some of those songs came from material that was written before Warbeast. I guess what I’m saying is that by the time we started writing for Destroy… we were more aware of what we wanted the band to sound like. I’m proud of both albums and love the fact that they’re different… but they both sound like Warbeast.
How do you think Warbeast will develop in the future? Are you working on new material now?
We intend to keep progressing and improving as a band in all areas. If we can continue to top our last effort on each new album… I would be happy with that. Hopefully we can keep a busy tour schedule like we have in recent years. Yes, we’ve recently started the early stages of writing for a third full-length Warbeast album. So we plan to enter the studio and record it sometime in 2014.
You’ll be playing the Housecore Horror Film Festival in Austin on October 24-27. What are you looking forward to with this performance?
I’m really honored and I feel very fortunate to just be part of this. This will hopefully become an annual event that fans of Horror and Metal will look forward to every year. So it’s really cool to play at the inaugural HHFF! This is one of those highlights from all these years in bands that I know I will be proud of for the rest of my life.
Just the fact that there is going to be such a huge gathering or Horror and Metal fans all assembled for one big weekend will make this a special show for Warbeast. So I’m sure we will be fired up and ready to have some fun when we perform on Friday night.
I understand you have a longstanding relationship with horror films. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
It goes back to when I was a little kid. I always loved Halloween, Haunted Houses, monster movies etc. I loved TV shows like The Munsters and The Addams Family. As far as movies… at first it was the classic Universal Monsters (Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Dracula etc) and also the Godzilla movies that I would try to catch on TV. Once I started going to see movies at the theaters… it was always the Horror Movies I wanted to see.
Then when VCRs came around in the 80s.. I was always in the Horror section when I went to rent or buy movies. Of course I started recording and collecting movies and my Horror Movie collection became immense. Then when I joined Rigor Mortis in 1986 and they already had the Horror and Gore image and theme going… I fit right in with that shit. It was cool to sing about some of our favorite Horror movies. Even on the upcoming Rigor Mortis album Slaves To The Grave and also on the Warbeast album Destroy I’m still singing songs about Horror movies or stories.
Finally, for those who are new to Warbeast, what should they expect at a Warbeast show, and why should they make sure to come see Warbeast if they’re at HHFF?
They should be prepared for an old-school dose of Texas Thrash Metal, a non-stop jolt of energy coming from every member of the band and an adrenaline rush that could wake up the dead. We want it to feel like Godzilla has entered the building! We want to get the crowd warmed up for Goblin and Down… so we will be ready, serious and focused to do just that…
The assault of the form-over-function bands continues. You hear a song, and it lights up all those fat neural pathways in your brain made to appreciate the originals. Nostalgia surges in: you can smell the smoke, taste the beer, hear the laughter of a girl you were with. But like Cinderella’s carriage, at mid-album the illusion goes poof and you are left with an emptiness.
Thus it is with Speedwolf Ride with Death. Here is what — and this i the sum total — you need to know: they named this album to convey what they hope to deliver, which is Motorhead-styled antics plus some indie rock guitar band noodling. What you get instead is alarming close to a later punk band doing a night of Motorhead covers. These songs sound metallish, sure, but they’re built on punk frames. As a result, the album resembles less a collection of songs than a stream of Motorheadness coming from a server in the sky.
What starts as a catchy and promising album fades quickly when you realize that all that’s behind this album is the desire to be a punkier Motorhead with more heavy metal flash. Other than that, it’s riff practice. You will have heard most of these before in the 1975-1985 era, but here they’re flattened out and made rhythmically simpler to keep up the drone. It could be that Speedwolf is trying to artistically emulate the sound of a motorcycle on a highway, and if so, they’ve succeeded. But otherwise, they’re pushing an awful lot of airtime with no payoff except nostalgia.
Long known as the adroit-fingered riffman for punk-black metal band Darkthrone, Nocturno Culto was once seen as a dark, mysterious and threatening figure but has adopted a more open public persona over the last decade.
As part of this, he is launching a re-vamped heavy metal style band named Gift of Gods which will be entirely his music separate from Darkthrone. The music sounds like Celtic Frost’s Cold Lake given a speed metal treatment and with the more complex riff transitions of earlier Celtic Frost.
Many in the metal community view genre names as special keys to secret clubs. The opposite is true: genre names are descriptions that help us explain how bands compose and thus, who will enjoy them.
The Wish is Father to the Thought shows us what is on the surface a death metal band, but which musically is mostly a speed metal band. Further, their choruses tend toward a doom metal pace and mood, which makes the speed/death portions more accessible.
Like other speed/death hybrids Kreator and Destruction, Eternal Solstice use mostly chromatic riffing with lots of muted-strum “chugging” to create a tension and energy. The verses of most of these songs incorporate variants of riffs that Exodus or Anthrax might have used if they were more vicious, like a version of Meshuggah with less technicality and more knowledge of everyday life.
Eternal Solstice creates highly energetic speed metal with occasional death metal riffs, but basically, this band comes to us straight out of the 1980s. Death vocals add a gruff intensity and the lengthy choruses prevent the percussive riffs from being overwhelming, but the real appeal here is in the speed thrills.
The Wish is Father to the Thought was originally released in 1994 and is now re-issued so that a new generation of fans can appreciate this Dutch band at their most intense.