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Death Metal FAQ

July 16, 2011 –

1. What is Death Metal?
2. Who invented Death Metal and when?
3. Why do most Death Metal fans wear distinctive t-shirts?
4. How to understand Death Metal lyrics?
5. Why does Death Metal have such a morbid visual style?
6. Are Death Metal bands satanic or occultist?
7. Does Death Metal possess an ideology?
 

What is Death Metal?

Death metal is structuralist heavy metal that borrows heavily from classical and industrial music. Its heritage is equal parts neoclassical heavy metal from the 1970s and hardcore punk from the early 1980s; if you throw Discharge, Judas Priest and King Crimson into a blender and set it on “high,” you might get something like death metal. It took from roughly 1983-1988 for death metal to fully evolve, and at that point, it experienced six golden years of fruitful growth before lapsing as black metal eclipsed it in popularity.

The original underground musical genre, death metal was completely unknown to most people until 1997 when it became fodder for mainstream commentary after several school shootings. During the 1980s and early 1990s, it was impossible to find death metal in normal record stores and chains; most people ordered it from small mailorder companies, or “distros,” that stocked underground metal exclusively. The underground in fact replicated every aspect of the normal music industry, including journalists and radio stations, to avoid being tainted by “commercial” or “mainstream” music.

We say death metal is “structuralist” because, in contrast to rock music, its goal is not a recursive rhythm riff that encourages constant intensity through verse-chorus structure; death metal, like black metal after it and prog rock and classical before it, uses “narrative” song structure, or a string of phrases connected in such a way that they effect musical and artistic change throughout the song. While rock music aims to find a sweet riff and ride it, and much of older heavy metal does the same, death metal is like opera: its goal is to use riffs to introduce more riffs, and through those, to create a treelike structure of motifs which resolve themselves to a final dominant theme. In this, death metal (like the progressive rock and synthpop bands that influenced it) is closer to classical music than rock music.

The history of rock music has been written by commercial promoters who have tried to establish its “authenticity” and uniqueness, and therefore, almost all mainstream publications are hostile to death metal. Death metal reminds us that rock music, blues and jazz did not arise autonomously in America, but were based on centuries of European popular music (the I-IV-V chord structure of the blues is derived from European folk music, and its “blues scale” is a modification of Asian and Celtic scales). Rock music is a scam, and its marketing makes it seem to be something greater than what it is, which is the same old music dressed up as a product. Death metal more than any genre before it broke from the rock tradition, and therefore is a threat to the rock establishment and its profits.

Like most musical genres in the modern time, death metal is constantly under assault not only from external interests, but from within, as self-interested people try to make rock music and dress it up as death metal. These attempts to simplify the genre would benefit those who attempt them, as they would both be able to make a saleable product (being similar to established musical tastes, it sells easily and broadly) and be able to claim the “authenticity” of belonging to an outsider form of art such as death metal. These false death metal bands have polluted the genre with the same mainstream dogma and musicality that death metal sought to escape. Like all human social breakdown, this breakdown occurs through the selfishness of individuals who are unwilling to admit that the health of the genre is more important than their personal profit.

Death metal flourished from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, and then was for most purposes replaced by black metal. Where death metal was structuralist with heavy emphasis on chromatic phrasing and hence rhythmic, black metal used narrative construction based on melody (an innovation of later and progressive death metal bands as well, such as At the Gates, Atheist, Gorguts and Demilich). As such, it is often hard to tell where death metal ended and black metal began, although in their mature form they are distinct genres. In this, and in the aesthetic components of death metal borrowed by mainstream bands as varied as Slipknot and Nirvana, death metal lives on.

References:
The History of Metal

Who invented Death Metal and when?

Death metal arose from the end of hardcore punk colliding with a desire to renew the spirit of metal; launched in 1969, proto-metal like Black Sabbath had become lost among hard rock (Led Zeppelin) and progressive rock (King Crimson) and needed redefining. The aggressive, oversimplified, and disconnected from contemporary music sound of hardcore punk was apt and therefore infused into heavy metal. In the process, because hardcore punk relied on streams of power chords or phrasal instead of rhythmic competition, metal became an entirely new animal.

This change can be heard first in speed metal bands like Metallica, Slayer, DBC, Rigor Mortis and Nuclear Assault. Phrases got longer, songs got more intricate, and the type of riffing that repeated a rhythm using a single chord got rarer; a new form of music was in the forging. However, these bands were still too entrenched in many of the rock-influenced tendencies of metal; death metal made a clean break from these. (It is interesting to note that the ultimate point of breakaway was thrash, or hardcore punk crossover bands who wrote punkish songs with metal riffs; these reduced music so much to its essence that it had to reconstruct itself, and having grand ambitions, reached toward narrative composition instead of the hackneyed rock styles.)

During the years 1983-1985, a style emerged that was between death metal, black metal and thrash, and from this all of the succeeding genres were to derive their musical inspiration. Bathory, Sodom, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost formed the basis of this style, augmented in the Americas by Possessed, Slayer and Sepultura. From these founding acts styles diversified into death and black metal. While many give credit to Venom for the term black metal, musically speaking they were rooted firmly in the heavy metal tradition.

The golden years of death metal were from 1988 to 1994, during which time the classics of the genre and all of its variations formed. Percussive death metal thundered from the industrial east coast of America; Texas produced a harsh and grating otherworldly sound; Florida created the rhythmic and alienated Tampa style of death metal. Progressive bands from the USA and melodic bands from Sweden rounded out the style, as did innumerate hybrids, including doom metal and speed metal crossovers.

However, by 1994, the genre reached a decision point: where to go so as to keep up with black metal, which had expanded into melody as quickly as death metal had expanded into rhythmic structure, and now threatened to become more popular? The death metal genre had become calcified between diehards who insisted on a narrow definition of style, and “innovators” who wanted to make it into rock music, but both groups in their efforts to control external factors forgot internal factors, and the ideology and artistic spirit of death metal as lost. As such, it appeared senile and was forgotten for some years.

At the time of this writing, death metal is practiced by a few holdovers from the late 1980s who continue to put out quality music, but their numbers decline each year. The general health of the metal community is poor because it focuses on uniqueness of external appearance and not composition and artistic integrity. While we hold out hope for a death metal revival, it is more likely that it will simply take its place in history and we will be left with recordings.

References:
The History of Metal

Why do most Death Metal fans where distinctive t-shirts?

In the underground death metal subculture, the shirt you wear — bearing the logo of a favorite band or organization or concept — defines which strata of social accomplishment to which you belong within the death metal community. Your taste identifies your level within an intellectual hierarchy based on what its members are able to comprehend, or withstand, perhaps, musically.

For example, a guy in a Cannibal Corpse t-shirt might be neglected by someone wearing a Beherit t-shirt because Beherit has a more esoteric and theoretically-adventurous audience than the low-brow blockhead churning of Cannibal Corpse; t-shirts determine what bands your brain can accept and thus often, a type of caste identification within the hierarchy of fans. Those who try to forge this identity often find themselves answering difficult questions under unpleasant circumstances.

In the inverse situation, someone in an Atheist t-shirt might laugh off someone wearing a Sarcofago t-shirt as a philistine. This allows multiple communities to exist in a hierarchy within the death metal community and identify each other by sight, as well as differentiate metalheads from the hordes of drone normals who do nothing but buy Creed CDs and singing plastic fish.

How to understand Death Metal lyrics?

Death metal bands tend to use complex, Latinate language to describe the world in terms of its function and technologies, leaving the emotional terminology for rock music and blues. Its goal is not to affirm the emotions of the individual, but to point out the effects of structural change in the surrounding world. Not surprisingly, as a musical movement, death metal is also structuralist.

Unlike rock genres, there is a near total absence of gender words and love songs. Death metal is not about emotional escapism. Death metal is about reality.

Why does Death Metal have such a morbid visual style?

Symbols serve as an important anchor between the way a music sounds and what it represents aesthetically, including the ideas of the musicians as inspirational to their work. In death metal, there are several main categories of symbolism: the “occult,” the morbid, and the technological.

Death metal art — as seen on tshirts, album covers, flyers, patches, pins and stickers — includes all of these. The occult represents an opposition to morality; as a “nihilistic” genre, death metal musicians tend to be realists and recognize that no matter how much we classify something as morally bad or good, reality is unaffected, and whatever object is in question will serve reality at the level of function and not morality. The morbid represents another nihilistic outlook, which is that not only is death more real than our moralizations against it, but it will inevitably happen to us and we must be reminded by that. Where the occult uses pentagrams, ancient script, sigils and demonic imagery, the morbid uses disease, horror, submission and bodily corruption (including the mind/body turned against itself, as in zombie films) as its palette.

Technology makes an odd bedfellow with death metal art, as it is commonly used to modify one of the other two categories. Much as at the end of the Black Sabbath song “War Pigs,” Satan is shown as laughing and spreading his wings at the slaughter of young men for profit, technology is portrayed as amoral and therefore something that can turn on humanity at any minute. Combined with morbid imagery, we have art revealing human beings as both dependent on and captive of technology; combined with the occult, we have either technology in the power of the occult, or the occult as naturalistic and opposing technological humanity.

Art Death Metal bands satanic or occultist?

Death metal bands are occultist in that each of the founding bands and most to follow had an occult focus or research interest evident in their lyrics. However, few practise mysticism and most seem to use it solely as metaphorology for their works. This is convenient because our moral society, even when secular, bases its morality on Judeo-Christian mythology.

Any academic study of occultism in death metal must also take into account the range of occults employed. Judeo-christian, Babylonian, Far East, Nordic and indigenous American symbolism and ideologies appear in the lyrics and conceptual positioning of death metal bands.

References:
Satanism as Metaphor in Metal Music

Does Death Metal possess an ideology?

When heavy metal evolved in response to the hippie culture around it, it took darker themes to a new intensity and warned of apocalypse. Fifteen years later, speed metal bands were wailing about Armageddon. But as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is different from George Orwell’s 1984, death metal had accepted that the apocalypse would be a whimper, and not a bang, and that its progress was inevitable.

This paranoid and soul-wrenching logic created an immediate need to overcome the superstition and self-pity of a complacent age. In consequence, as if approaching Nietzsche’s “abyss” and going under instead of over, these bands have embraced a philosophy of nihilism and a delight in the intellectual, sensual and spiritual extremes of a dying age.

From this, much can be learned about a human future: nihilism frees us from much of our fear by confronting it head-on. Death metal bands have created an epic change in American subculture from one of morality to one of existential self-assertion, but further, the “gore” lyrics of many bands have targeted social denial of collective fear of death.

Ideology serves an important place in the generation of lyrics and concept to each band. for most, the personal is political in choice of music, intellectual aspirations within it, and values as expressed in themes of darkness, death, the occult, war, genocide and suffering. Death metal reflects a lineage to hardcore music, yet its heavy metal side shows in the use of the personal rather than collective as a means of communication.

That death metal has not collapsed on its own inertia, or become morality-driven and thus socially conformist like emocore or “life metal” bands, is a small miracle in a time of overwhelming commercial motivation to human efforts. Its underground remains strong and defiantly independent. As more people in society feel the need to withdraw from decaying mainstream values and behaviors, death metal’s ideology offers a glimpse of a nihilistic but impressively un-neurotic future.

References:
The Philosophical Tradition of Heavy Metal

Written by Vijay Prozak

Of Power Metal and Other Tales

January 8, 2011 –

1. Introduction
2. The Two Faces of the Genre: European and American Power Metal
3. European Power Metal
4. Power Metal of the United States

 

Introduction

There stood he, on his chariot made of gold
He did reveal the trinity of secrets old.
A sceptre of iron could mercy bring.
A shield of gold, the Creator and king,
And the great sword of steel.

- Manowar, Secret of Steel

It has been asserted that the earliest application of the term ‘power metal’ was the 1982 Metallica demo of that same title; then how exactly has it come to label the fantastic, spirited, even ‘fruity’ kind of music that is currently known as ‘power metal’? Well, the fact of the matter is that the term simply did not catch on with what eventually became the thrash and speed metal genres, whereas the melodic speed metal in Germany (Helloween, Blind Guardian, Running Wild, etc.) developed in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s to coalesce into the genre now popularly known as ‘power metal’. The reason why these bands were labeled differently from their more traditional sounding forerunners was their thematic and musical distinction; these bands dispensed with the darker, ‘doom and gloom’ perspectives of archetypal metal in favour of a much more positive, almost ‘happy’ outlook, and this really came through in the refreshing and inquisitive albums produced in the genre’s youth.

Power metal is something of an enigma in the annals of heavy metal: how does a movement deeply immersed in the fantastic folklore of Europe and beyond, and which borrows openly from Queen and the like, relate at all to the more twisted and obscure worlds of death and black metal? The answer is that the whole genre cannot be measured linearly as you would the passing years; it is to be viewed, rather, as a healthy maple tree, with dozens of branches emerging from the trunk, all headed in different directions but with the same fundamental constitution. Heavy metal represents, after all, a perennial expression of the epic, the tragic, and the victorious, and it would surely be unjust to evoke these eternal artistic truths merely through the medium of the Gothic nightmare, the Lovecraftian dreamscape; power metal exists, therefore, as a keen and adventurous opposite, enabling metal to travel to places impossible in other, darker vehicles.

The Two Faces of the Genre: European and American Power Metal

While the power metal of Europe is characteristically bright and optimistic on both the lyrical and instrumental fronts, the bands that derive from the United States take on a bit of a different slant; their work is generally darker, and more focused on building upon the foundation started by the NWOBHM, etc., which admittedly makes ‘USPM’ sometimes difficult to distinguish from good old-fashioned ‘heavy metal’. The distinction, however, is an important one, and to help delineate the differences between the genres, we need to recall the common elements that allow us to classify the Europeanbands into ‘power metal’. Sure, there are the basic similarities that are inherited from the same earlier English and German bands, but the crux pf European power metal is its fundamental underlying aim: to illustrate a mythic world (which could very well be our own reality interpreted in an imaginative light) that is at once real and fanciful, and to do so with a generally enthusiastic persuasion. If we are to throw all the European and American bands of the style under the same ‘power metal’ banner, then this intent, this ‘underlying aim’, must be identical in USPM.

If we consider the early black metal movement from Norway, and how it sought to unearth hidden truths through a dark, mystical aesthetic, we may actually find a parallel to what we mean. While both indubitably desire to ‘illustrate a mythic world at once real and fanciful’, black metal clearly purports to showcase an altogether averse side of that reality when power metal simply means to approach it like a narrative, a folk legend, demonstrating its nature through popular song and poetry. In a kind of microcosm of this, power metal from Europe is the visualization of things of the light, of a dramatic victory of life over death, whereas stateside power metal tends to convey a colder picture of these things: the former focuses on the regal hero, and his conquest over his villains and oppressors, whereas the latter focuses on the villains and the oppressors, and its hero is not so much the Aragorn of Tolkien fame, but Conan the Barbarian rather, a powerful yet lawless ‘antihero’ in the style of Omen’s ‘Axeman’!

When the bands from Europe broach whatever subject it is that they wish to express, it will be in a style that is as precise and accurate as as it is dramatic and theatric; the raw power of the music is dropped in favour of an immaculate finesse: this is simply in their nature. As for the Americans, however, a central goal is outlined from the beginning, and the path towards it is narrow but straight and unyielding, concentrated on the living rhythm of the thing rather than on the fine points of its aesthetic and artistic impressions. There may be yet other differences, to be sure, but none of them are more divergent than this simple preference in method; European and power metal are brothers at heart with similar identities and similar intentions. Now, to deliver the best of power metal post-haste!

European Power Metal

Whenever somebody thinks of power metal, he is likely thinking of the particularly dramatic style growing out of Europe, unless it is the popular barbarians in Manowar; indeed, Helloween’s ‘Keeper of the Seven Keys’ albums, Blind Guardian’s ‘Tales from the Twilight World’, and Rage’s ‘Secrets in a Weird World’ are veritable classics of the type. The music itself is, generally speaking, a sort of joyous hybrid consisting of Iron Maiden, thrash metal, and J.R.R. Tolkien, and is ultimately united by a strong sense of adventure and myth as is evinced by the themes widely explored by virtually every band involved in the scene. So, a taste for speedy rhythms, confessedly goofy, ‘cheesy’ lyrics, and plenty of high-calibre guitar solos is pretty much mandatory for anyone who wants to walk in the footsteps of the following albums…


Blind Guardian “Nightfall in Middle-earth”

In a word: What would Tolkien say?

As far as rankings go, this is the only album that is absolutely set in stone on this entire list. ‘Nightfall in Middle-earth’ is the ascendant apex of power metal; it is the crystallized embodiment of the genre’s ideal. The reason for offering such profound adulation really comes down to the band’s ability to transcend the limits of power metal whilst playing within them; they have nailed the ‘folky’, popular element of music with a peculiar ingenuity that comprehensively impresses upon the basic musical format of the genre; in other words, Blind Guardian has done for power metal what Johannes Brahms had done for Romantic music with his ‘Hungarian Dances’.

In narrating a large portion of Tolkien’s most ‘historical’ epic, The Silmarillion, Blind Guardian succeeds in demonstrating the raw power of a living mythos and a visceral pathos, as well as the simple wonders of storytelling, through a dynamic interplay between a tight rhythm section and an innovative mastery of the axe that Herr Ohlbrich presents for us, the audience; and the vocals of Hansi Kuersch, the real conduit of the myth’s passion, are never better, cutting through the music with a certain feeling that conveys the appropriate emotion, the appropriate strength needed to evoke the right imagery. ‘Nightfall in Middle-earth’ is an independent artistic monument: it is not a mere ‘ode to Tolkien’, or some such tribute, but a fully accomplished string of songs that successfully brings the majesty of Tolkien’s mythic world to the equally wonderful world of metal.


Helloween “The Keeper of the Seven Keys” Pt. I & II

In a word: The epitome of power metal

It is an indisputable fact that Helloween is no less than the very quintessence of power metal; from the triumphant ‘Initiation’ to the epic climax of the title track in Pt. II, there is nothing that escapes the boundaries, nothing that does not inherently belong in what the genre has come to mean. The outstanding evidence for this thesis can be found, as vague as it may sound, in the general spirit of the music: there is an excited, joyous pitch that pervades every aspect of the albums, and it draws the listener into the music, attempting to transport this transcendent gladness unto him. This is musically accomplished through a fast, upbeat rhythm, quick and virile riffs and solos, and of course through rich, charming vocals of Michael Kiske that are at once evocative and powerful.

Beyond the individual components, however, Helloween is a band that brought to metal not only a new and positive way of playing, but also a more or less original perspective on metal: they have come here in good humour, to have fun, and to never take life more seriously than it has to be. The final effect of all this is a pair of albums that are perhaps the most widely imitated in the entire genre, and the real cause of this is obvious: nowhere is the singular idea of power metal more manifest, more alive, and more euphoric than in ‘The Keeper of the Seven Keys’.

 


Gamma Ray “Land of the Free”

In a word: Helloween reborn

With original Helloween visionary Kai Hansen at the helm, Gamma Ray can and should be perceived as the true heir to the ‘Keeper’ albums of the late eighties – building off of a passionate drive forward on all instruments, and with Hansen’s emphatic vocals in firm control, all of the basic ingredients that conspired to make Helloween what it is are fully intact. What makes Gamma Ray so important, however, is that its creation of ‘Land of the Free’ ends nearly a decade of sterility from the Helloween camp; Gamma Ray has effectively resurrected the original spirit that caused the birth of so many clones.

As for the album itself, there is a sincere approach to the songwriting; there is a definite connection between all parts to form a good, coherent song; the riffs are brighter, more focused and vibrant, whereas the percussion lays a strong, fertile foundation for every melody, every chorus; in short, the masters reveal in ‘Land of the Free’ how to really invoke the mad and happy spirits of power metal. Interestingly, in an event that is based more in fact than in coincidence or irony, ‘Land of the Free’, at 1996, was released right before the resurgent waves of power metal took shape at the end of the nineties, just like the ‘Keeper’ albums in the twilight of the eighties…


Lost Horizon “Awakening the World”

In a word: Death metal turned upside down

Assembled from the remains of the death metal band Luciferion, Sweden’s Lost Horizon apply its former Satanic autonomy and egoistic ambitions to a new, far more personal mode of free will and individual freedom and power. Energetic and motivated, ‘Awakening the World’ moves quickly, showcasing a fluent sense of songwriting and technique that gladly transcends the sterile plains and generic conventions of recent power metal. The players have a strong taste for the old-school, and yet their collective synergy, with a special mention to the tireless guitars, which provide a seemingly inexhaustible supply of clever hooks and passionate leads, is wholly innovative in its united vision and dynamic execution; this makes for a convincing display of refreshing songcraft, which in turn injects something original and commanding into the old-school template; in summary, the legendary Helloween undergoes yet further renovations, and is re-invigorated into one of the few leading warriors of modern power metal. Indeed, excluding the few pointless ‘minitracks’ found on the record, ‘Awakening the World’, with all of its vigour and spirited determination, is the perfect testament to the full extent and capability of the independent human will.


Blind Guardian “Tales from the Twilight World”

In a word: Only Blind Guardian could merit such blatant disregard for the rules

Having released two speed metal classics in ‘Battalions of Fear’ and ‘Follow the Blind’ just prior to this record, Blind Guardian were ready to move firmly into the nascent realm of power metal. Rather than dropping all established identity in their process of growth, however, the guys from Krefeld, Germany initiate a deep melodic shift into the existent speed metal basis, allowing a subtle change to make a significant effect on the overall sound. The result is a more focused, more defined direction than what the two previous efforts had known; in addition to a lyrical and mythological construction that builds on what they had already started, albeit primitively, this meant that ‘Tales from the Twilight World’ became the first real power metal album that Blind Guardian would create.


Angra “Temple of Shadows”

In a word: Fresh, unique, articulate

It is certainly not an oversight of ours to include a Brazilian band in a list of allegedly European acts, but it certainly would be an oversight on anyone’s part to exclude Angra for that fact alone; indeed, Angra actually exemplify the strictly European style, often much more so than its intercontinental counterparts. On this particular album, ‘Temple of Shadows’, we believe that Angra hit its creative peak, even without Andre Matos, the legendary songwriter who had such a profound effect on their earlier records.

Angra has always been about fusing the flashy and melodic speed of early power metal with an accurate and concise technical performance arrayed in a way that many have termed ‘progressive’; this is no different on the present album, where speed and ‘progressivisms’ take on appropriately supplementary roles, allowing the melodies to embrace centre stage, and, apart from the occasional yet needless sentimental moment, they excel in the spotlight. With a concentrated, coherent method of songwriting, not to mention the impressive technical prowess of either axe, the melodic leads and solos are certain highlights of every song and, combined with a strong, classic understanding of the chorus and its importance, they are both literally and figuratively instrumental in making ‘Temple of Shadows’ a modern power metal classic.


Running Wild “Black Hand Inn”

In a word: Iron Maiden meets Accept meets Captain Blackbeard meets six bottles of rum

A typical occurrence in the development of any which power metal band is an attachment to some particular image or identity that is somewhat removed from ‘ordinary life’. So, in addition to faeries, elves and dragons of Italian symphonic bands like Rhapsody, we have Blind Guardian paying particular homage to the worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien; Grave Digger unearthing the historical remains of old, forgotten battles; and Running Wild, a band that was evidently dissatisfied with singing about the devil and had moved on to pirates instead.

There is not really a substantive or profound depth that drives the music onwards; this is simply a band that lures the listener in with the promise of a fun, exciting story about pirates (which is of course told by a drunk), and then promptly barrages him with easy, carousing rhythms that are inevitably met by a strong, anthemic chorus. Iron Maiden make their presence known on this record through the occasional galloping riff, as well as the many guitar harmonies, whereas the Running Wild anthem is unmistakably imbued with the infectious talents of their fellow Germans, Accept. Altogether, the band’s vision is not any higher than what many contemporary ‘folk metal’ bands attempt; namely, to create inebriated, party music. The difference is that, with their reliance on the well-tested techniques of bands like Iron Maiden, Accept, and Helloween, and with a perfectly suitable theme that can rouse any prole to drink, these Teutonic pirates actually succeed where the faux-vikings fail dismally.


Pagan’s Mind “Celestial Entrance”

In a word: Symphony X done right

While Pagan’s Mind is often referred to as ‘progressive metal’, we happen to think of its work as being far more along the lines of modern power metal, which is mainly due its focus on drafting songs that emphasize the traditional melody and rhythm combination, as opposed to whatever it is that actually constitutes the average Dream Theater album; when Jorn Lofstad launches into a solo, we can safely wager that it will not be prolonged into the pretentious affair of noodling for half an hour a la John Petrucci.

This is a good album because the band has (1) a firm grounding in the basics of what makes metal what it is; and (2) because they have just enough impetus to advance: where others might founder in the sterile waters of mediocrity, Pagan’s Mind actually manipulate its excellent instrumentation into well-structured compositions that reflect a band that clearly knows what it wants to achieve, and accordingly goes out and achieves it. So, through a strong sense of rhythm and a penchant for the dramatic, Pagan’s Mind combines the intricate work of a clever, flashy guitarist, the reliable rhythm section, with a typically illustrious vocalist to construct Celestial Entrance, an album that sounds precisely what its title implies: the epic adventure into the astral spheres.

Power Metal of the United States

It can be argued that while the charismatic and often operatic vocals lead the advance for the European bands, it is the powerof the simple yet efficient riff that drives the American bands forward. Indeed, the feeling of an honest, ‘blue-collar’ sentiment pervades many of the more emblematic records of this kind, and it does not get any more present than in an old-school technique of guitar playing; nothing fancy, nothing extra, it just gets the job done. This does not in any way blunt the efforts of these bands as they endeavour to create something epic, something that can even be called ‘mythological’ by the standards of our day; on the contrary, the stripped-down sound of many early albums helps produce the effect of being of modest birth, which allows them to be classified as ‘popular’ and even ‘folky’, the proper requirements of any nascent myth. Finally, to cite the execution of these theories, we give to you nine of the best USPM albums extant… (We have given the Americans an extra album due to their superiority in the sheer quantity of good power metal albums released over the years.)


Manowar “Into Glory Ride”

In a word: Comprehensively feudal

When it comes to picking the best Manowar album, any one of the first four would be a respectable choice; every which one is a proud testament to band’s core spirit, to the band’s purely honest will to play the kind of metal that is more barbaric than civilized, more feral than cultivated. ‘Into Glory Ride’ strikes a particularly powerful chord for us, however, and this is as much due to its consistency as its extra concentration on the epic narrative, which is constructed in an almost ‘cartoonish’ tribute to metal and to death.

The music is simple, written to the effect of a moving rhythm and a rousing anthem; the corresponding lyrics are more charming and pompous than they are cheesy, and they are essential in creating a medieval atmosphere of outlaws the ‘anything-goes’ attitude of the Wild West. The best reason for this band to receive the highest rank, however, is not merely for its flawless presentation of an honest yet primitive idea, but for how direct and how iconic this idea has become in its fullest execution: Manowar truly represents the fundamental vision of American power metal.


Iced Earth “Burnt Offerings”

In a word: An honest monument to the memory of Dante’s Inferno

In contrast with virtually every other featured in these lists, ‘Burnt Offerings’ evinces a conscious effort on the part of the songwriters to something darkly malignant, something sinister. Although firmly rooted in the melodic tradition of Iron Maiden, this album is steeped in the Faustian temptation to explore the infernal plains, to pursue the flame of self-discovery. This nefarious vision is revealed not only through the thematically relevant lyrics that cover everything from tragic love to Dante’s Inferno, but more importantly through the music itself: the guitars in particular exude a deep and molten darkness, providing profound and often chilling melodies as well as a layered rhythm that either gallops forth rapidly, or marches on slowly in a mystical calm not far removed from that of many doom metal acts. The dynamic vocals of Matt Barlow are at once dramatic, powerful, and are perfectly eloquent in conveying the appropriate emotion, especially of sadness and of wrath; the percussion, on the other hand, is straight-forward and simplistic, which is all that is needed to contribute to the pulsing, imperial rhythm. All of this is assembled and passed through an abyssal, velvet production that infuses the music with an invaluable sense of enduring darkness.

‘Burnt Offerings’ is really about an inverted heroism, a nocturnal pathos that gasps dryly and thrashes uncontrollably in the unfathomable depths; it is the musical monument to Satan’s legion as summoned by John Milton in the 17th Century. Where other American bands of this style commonly create something revolving around ‘practical reality’, Iced Earth is instead inspired to invoke an album that is crafted in the genuinely artistic sense, which enables ‘Burnt Offerings’ to really draw out its genuinely artistic qualities, which include but are not limited to its potent aesthetical romanticism, its fiery rebellion of a righteous condemnation, and finally its paradoxical delight in striving for the impossible.


Sanctuary “Into the Mirror Black”

In a word: Rhythmic power as opposed to moronic groove

Just before the stifling effect of the grunge scene overwhelmed the Seattle area, there was still a band that truly believed in the basics of heavy metal: Sanctuary. ‘Into the Mirror Black’ is the second of two quality albums made by a band that really epitomizes American power metal: heavy and forward riffs planted in a traditional format of composition, clear and stylized vocals, and lyrics that directly relate to practical reality and human emotion.

In Sanctuary’s case, the lyrics are particularly philosophic and investigative; they deliberately seek out the answers of some of the more obscure questions, and employ the technique of asking their own questions to the desired effect of placing emphasis where emphasis is needed. There is an almost poetic meter to the way that the lyrics are stressed, a rhythmic harmony that is evenly matched with an intelligent creation of riffs that accord with the meter of any which verse. This is important to remark upon not only because one of the key aims of this record is the exposition of several lyrical themes, but mostly because ‘Into the Mirror Black’ is built fundamentally around rhythm, and this particular sense of rhythm is not so much manufactured through the percussion and bass as it is by the guitars and vocals. So, yes, of course there are the lightning solos, the pounding battery and the occasional melody, but far more essential than all of this is the bold, relentless rhythm to which all else is subservient.


Crimson Glory “Crimson Glory”

In a word: Romanticism as Mary Shelley knew it

In the typical metal band, there is likely an emphasis on something, a particular area in which the band excels; we can mention that Slayer, for instance, was exceptional in pacing forward at a speed that few could immediately handle; or we can mention that Bathory was brilliant in evoking simple but dreadful subjects through simple but abrasive songwriting, and somehow being all the more fearsome for it. In this vein, Crimson Glory is excellent at putting together a song that subsists, indeed thrives on its melodic intuition: without that keen, delicate pulling of the strings, without the subtle taste in melancholy, everything would disintegrate.

All aspects of Crimson Glory, from the dramatic introductions to the starry chorus, from each sad rhythm to every slender, passionate solo, all of it depends on this fully pervasive emphasis on melody. The reason for this has already been hinted at: ‘Crimson Glory’ is a tragic album. Melody is seldom more useful than in conveying a deep and immutable sadness; the notes, while sufficient in number to prevent an outright dirge, are usually slower, downcast, hopelessly inflected by that precious melancholy sought by every romantic poet. While this album is obviously not overtly tragic, its subtleties are more than enough to allow us a glimpse of its true pathetic nature; indeed, its character is not really like that of the despondent misanthrope who cannot view life without seeing death as well, but more like that of a patient lover, the lover who is momentarily divorced from his opposite and yet at heart knows and feels that she is destined to return.


Manilla Road “Open the Gates”

In a word: A legendary band in the right circles

Manilla Road released several cult albums that have become essential to the traditional and power metal genres. ‘Open the Gates’, like sister records ‘ Crystal Logic’ and ‘The Deluge’, utilizes a low, throaty production that conveys their unique guitar and vocal sounds in the rough and hardened way that best suits the fundaments of classic Manilla Road. The axework resembles something sanguine and archaic: an image of an army of rusting skeletal soldiers is evoked by the creaking riffs that rumble over the heated rocks of the battlefield, as well as by the elongated solos that twist and turn in no predictable pattern until the tracks’ climax and descent is fulfilled. The music establishes the appropriate imagery for what the collective imagination of the band envisions: wide, perilous landscapes marked by the comings and goings of dread legions and tyrannical dragons; the colour scheme pervading the artistic schema is a vivid and unmistakable red in the likeness of a fast and ageless fire.

Nestled in the gentle plains of Kansas, Manilla Road has established a firm foothold in the annals of heavy metal with the attainment of an identity that is entirely its own; even with the most modest of song structures, ‘Open the Gates’ is successful in its ambition to recreate a fiery, mythic world through a dramatic and persuasive vocalist, destructive and bloody riffing, and that ever persistent struggle to perceive and grasp the Epic, the richest content in every story.


Savatage “Hall of the Mountain King”

In a word: Let the curtains fall

There has always been something purposefully theatrical about Savatage – the sense that the band is putting on some poignant story between the curtains is never absent in any Savatage album. Before Jon Oliva remembered his Italian roots and emphasized the story over the metal, he was deeply involved with an album that is actually more metal than it is melodramatic. The musicianship in ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ is fairly intricate and developed, although Jon’s brother Criss is rarely shy of occasionally firing in a simply, catchy riff; on the whole, however, the music is classy and orchestrated by a general motif revolving around that old art of telling tales the Italian way.

It might well appear that Savatage is not really of the American type of power metal; this is true to an extent, since these New Yorkers definitely focus on a neat and theatrical presentation of an appropriate theme; it is equally true that the music certainly comes across as Classically inspired, even going so far as to include a metal rendition of Grieg’s legendary ‘In der Halle des Bergkoenigs’. Beyond all of this, however, there is a peculiar, indefinable ‘dirtiness’ which is indisputably American by nature that infiltrates all aspects of Savatage; from Jon’s gritty vocals to Criss’s riffs and reckless solos, the bold advance of the Yankee puts its taint on a seemingly neoclassical, a seemingly European band.


Omen “Battle Cry”

In a word: Just look at any track title…

Beyond the justice and the caprice of society, beyond the state of sedentary existence, the law of the lawless rules unchallenged. Omen immediately brings to mind two possible landscapes: the first is of an exiled band of brigands and strongmen, fighting whomever for food, fun, or coin; the second is of a post-apocalyptic world similar to the dystopia of Snake Plisskin fame. In the end, however, the sights, smells, and noises of any age are irrelevant, for the fundamental idea that this album conveys is a timeless one: the barbarian, the ‘law unto oneself’ ideal of savages everywhere; it is unquestionably the focal point of this highly direct and uncompromising album.

The music is equally straightforward; quick yet still mid-paced verse sections are clearly rhythmic, nothing extraneous whatsoever; the chorus is typically anthemic, beckoning the listener to join in this gladiatorial brawl, or at least to sing along. However simple this album comes across as, it does not suffer anything by it, for really its execution of the perennial imagery of fighting outlaws is efficient and apt; after all, one can hardly expect or even imagine any band to arrange a full, technically adept orchestral composition to record the legends of a Conan or a Mad Max.


Hammers of Misfortune “The Bastard”

In a word: Mystical legends as told by a Satyr

While Mike Scalzi may be more renowned for his work in The Lord Weird Slough Feg, a band supposed to be at the forefront of a resurgence in traditional metal, we find that his more interesting project is undoubtedly Hammers of Misfortune. An outstanding reason for this assertion is that hammers is a novel production, a band that provides us with a much needed new perspective on heavy, trad, power, whatever kind of metal that this album actually falls into; ‘The Bastard’ is refreshing for this alliance of multiple concordant elements, for its eclectic understanding of musical creation.

The vocals, consisting of both male and female, both clean and bestial, are at the crux of the record, giving the unique story behind it an appropriately dramatic, even thespian approach: each voice seems to resemble either a character involved in the concept or an aloof narrator. The riffing is similarly diverse: the guitars flow easily, albeit in irregular patterns, curling and bending through each phrase, allowing an almost serpentine atmosphere to materialize; this does not, however, restrict the players from constructing rather inspiring melodic passages, or from submitting a low and swaying rhythm. ‘The Bastard’, for all its eccentricity and deviations from what we might call ‘normal songwriting’, is still an album with a resolute identity; in both lyrical and strictly musical content, Hammers of Misfortune is yet another metal band that invokes the spirit of a folky, medieval tradition to create a folky, medieval album.


Cirith Ungol “King of the Dead”

In a word: Where doom metal and fantasy collide

‘King of the Dead’ is one of those albums that defy any single classification: it is not only doom, it is not only power, and it is certainly not at all NWOBHM. There is, however, a single band that can be distinguished above all others in terms of influence: that band is Black Sabbath. While many of Cirith Ungol’s defining characteristics are fairly different from those of ’Sabbath, the traits in guitar wizardry are more or less identical; the movement of the song is wholly dependent on these slow, rumbling, repetitive riffs that crawl on and on; the song builds up into a zenith a behemoth of strength, powered by these simple, dreadful riffs that never relent. The vocals, on the other hand, are unique and virtuosic; Tim Baker’s voice is a mild shriek, as it were, a high-pitch, high-volume rasp.

The overall sum of the parts is a skeletal aesthetic that complies with the overt motif of Tolkien’s ghostly legion, which is of course ruled by the king of the dead. The black, crumbling riffs partnered with the neat, scratching solos depict a horrible chamber whilst the uncomfortable vocals unleash the eternal anguish of its prisoners. The name of the band and of this album really epitomizes the nature of both: Cirith Ungol is not content to simply look through the Lord of the Rings and be amazed at the immortal elves, or to stand in awe of a defiant, manly heroism; infact, Cirith Ungol will never be content until every proud and noble city is the lair of maggots and goblin filth, until every tall man is made short and swarthy due to some dark hubris; indeed, Cirith Ungol will never be content until every path, every secret passage becomes the private hunting ground of wild and wicked spiders.


 

In the sky a mighty eagle
Doesn’t care about what’s illegal
On its wings the rainbow’s light
It’s flying to eternity

- Helloween, Eagle Fly Free

 

Written by Xavier

Under a Toltec Moon – Memories on Mexican Metal

October 18, 2010 –

1. Introduction
2. A desert walk
3. Nahuatli steel
4. Pactum: M.O.D.L.
5. Mortuary: Blackened Images
6. Transmetal: Amanecer en el Mausuleo
7. Cenotaph: Riding Our Black Oceans
8. Shub Niggurath: The Kinglike Celebration
9.  Sargatanas: The Enlightenment
10. Aztec rites of darkness
11. Xibalba: Ah Dzam Poop Ek
12. Funereal Moon: Beneath the Cursed Light…
13. Avzhia: The Key of Throne
14. Demolish: Remembering the Cabalisticae Laments
15. Argentum: Ad Interitum Funebrarum
16. The Chasm: Conjuration of the Spectral Empire
17. The resurrection of the necrocults
18. Necroccultus: Encircling the Mysterious Necrorevelation
19. Yaotl Mictlan: Guerreros de la Tierra de los Muertos
20. Infinitum Obscure: Sub Atris Caelis
21. Denial: Catacombs of the Grotesque

Written by DevamitraObscuraHessianPearson and Xavier with Eduardo (Shub Niggurath / Necroccultus), Demogorgon (Avzhia), Marco (Xibalba) and Joel (Mortuary)

Introduction

In Mexico the god appears; thy banner is unfolded in all directions, and no one weeps.

- The Hymn of Tlaloc

Goedel’s law tells us that no logical system can anticipate all of the demands of reality, because reality as an inarticulated mass of events and causes is naturally bigger in scope than any description of reality. The fallout from this is that every society loves to have a no man’s land, an anarchy zone and a lawless frontier. It’s hard to talk of Mexico as a singular entity when it is comprises so much more. It’s a former Spanish colony, containing the vestiges of two of the greatest empires to walk the earth — the Aztec and Maya, both of whom were warlike, enjoyed human sacrifice, and compiled more learning that any modern group would voluntarily undertake. In addition, it’s also part very learned place, part chaotic third-world disaster, and part anarchy zone. From this ferment comes some of the best metal to grace the earth. After Scandinavia and the US, Mexico produces the most quality underground music. And even more, the Mexican bands seem to “get it”: they can reconcile a nihilistic morality, technological warfare and even gutter-level fighting sensibilities with the arch, elegant and imposing formality and bravery of the past.

A desert walk

Muerte. That word, in Mexican art, embodies religious and historical streams of life so much more than the anglosphere’s clinically worldly emphasis on death as medical phenomenon. This muerte is a gate to antiquity, a divine storm, a holy mystery – contemplation of its secrets connects the Catholic superstition, still so powerful and affecting to common people, to the cruel and decadent rituals of the Toltecs and Olmecs, when no purpose higher could be envisioned than to bleed for the gods. Glimpses into Mexican tradition most often involve the morbid signature of supernatural belief in a strange form of unearthly life, represented by the skull worship of the Day of the Dead and the various devil masks and bizarre colourful monsters decorating the fiestas, as in embodiment of death metal aphorisms such as “the past is alive”.

It would be fairly easy and obvious to point out social ills, crime rates and poverty as motivating factors for religiously oriented fatalistic thoughts, but for the psychologist and the occultist the pathology of the morbid mind is not only a reaction, it is also a cause itself, deeply ingrained in behavior and culture. To go into this sphere in depth would require another kind of a broader study and it is hardly of interest to most of our readers, so we shall mostly be occupied with the mythical, visionary image of Mexico, closest to us who are far away. It is the land of the eagle and the scorpion, of the peyote cactus and tropical steam, of the sea and the canyon. As we see everywhere in the world, the landscape becomes the structure of the mind, which gives life to stories and archetypes showing the apparent chaotic complexity of nature in symmetrical solutions. And musically, what can offer better representations of the occult-mathematical beauty of life than the hymnals of muerte: Death Metal and Black Metal?

To this day, Mexico has not produced vapid mainstream metal sensations nor hard rock imitations to speak of, at least not ones that would have entered our awareness. It’s as if the inward drawn nacional spirit shuns the idea of establishing false identities and masks of life through exports, but instead entertains the Mexicans with whatever art or entertainment the local masses wish to be produced – but this is a realm mostly obscure to outsiders. Even in order to scratch the surface of Mexican rock and metal, one needs to stress the importance of such luminaries as Luzbel and Transmetal, names mostly unknown even in cult metal collector circles. As a more recent example, the astral and progressive death metal of The Chasm has certainly been gathering well deserved praise and attention in the underground, but as a phenomenon it’s still far from gracing the cover in Terrorizer or Decibel magazine.

Nahuatli steel

As the youth of the world tripped in the pseudo-spiritual chemical bliss of the 60′s, the seeds were sown in Mexico as well with an interest towards Rock music merged with esoteric and mystical themes, but true to its violent century, the nation oppressed its bravest minds, declaring them “communist”. Thus was quenched the initial surge of Heavy Metal, as clubs were closed, magazines censored and subversive content in radios minimized. Everywhere else the initial 70′s where the pivotal time for the realization of all kinds of “satanic” and “occult” music manifestations, so in the case of Mexico it took at least a decade to recover from vandalism espoused by the government.

As the wave of Americanization hit Mexican youth culture in the early 80′s, it was inevitable that some unique voices would rise against manipulation and show their own kind of “metal mass”, inflected with the Catholic superstitions and violent streets they saw all around them with innocent, idealistic eyes. Two names especially can not go unmentioned: the original thrashers Death Warrant from Ciudad Juarez and the more classical but frighteningly psychic Luzbel from Mexico City, one of the greatest metal institutions to rise from the sand of Mexico and a prophet of Doom Metal themes and aspirations.

Huizar, the maniac behind Luzbel, managed to also put forth with his comrades at Escuadron Metalico label a series of compilations which in the mid-80′s showed the sounds of the new metal generation inspired by, mainly, American thrash metal and European speed metal. These “Proyecto” vinyls featured Transmetal, Ramses, Six Beer and practically everyone else who dominated the end of the 80′s when finally Mexican metal was too strong to be quenched by sporadic police raids and random accusations of blasphemy and iniquity. These troubles were akin to an anvil upon which the hammer of the light bringer shaped and pounded the minds that were to break free of the shackles of social upbringing and even “humanness” itself.

Eduardo: Well, to have a live appearance was not easy at all, because many people in Mexico (until this day) are a very difficult audience towards the Mexican bands. But we showed them that we were true about our ideals and that we gave 666% in every show! So we got the support of all the metalheads and they gave us in return a total storm of headbanging and full support. These were unforgettable moments to Shub Niggurath.

Joel: There was a small metal scene hungry to hear more extreme metal, so we always had great support from the beginning. I think there were more people supporting the scene than there is now supporting new metal bands, it’s a weird thing! Authority and “normal” people, as usual here, they didn’t understand our music. Sometimes the police were around looking to bother us, came up to the rehearsals and trying to get us, but never had luck, hahaha! And the people, those normal people, were the ones to send the police. I remember a show in Guadalajara or Leon in which the flyers had a circle in our logo and said: Watch out, Catholic, don’t assist! That was really funny.

Already before the decade was over, the most evil of the bands inspired by Thrash, namely Mortuary, Pactum, the inimitable Toxodeth and Transmetal (who tightened their sound album by album and still continue to do so after more than 20 years of career) had overtaken the gap between the international underground and the Mexican one. Suddenly the Judas Priest and Scorpions influence as the mainstream Mexican sound was replaced by a streetborn brutality and occult gore visions that would have made Slayer shudder. Studio and recording conditions were hardly ideal, but creating an easily digestible sound was hardly the intent of these iconoclasts, who repeated the slightly anterior efforts of the Brazilian scene in unleashing a torrent of noisy darkness easily mistaken for hardcore punk as the antithesis to forgetfulness and ignorance in adult human life.

Joel: Musically, our influences were basically Slayer, Venom, Possessed, Celtic Frost, and some classical masters. Lyrically important were the things inside my mind, my way to see this life, and obviously some great writers like Nietzsche, Poe and Lovecraft influenced us. Before Mortuary, each of us were playing in various bands songs of the bands that influenced us. When I was a child I studied some basic piano as well.

Eduardo: Also I had musical experience before Shub Niggurath: we created the Death Thrash Metal band called Tormentor. This was the origins for the unnameable abhorrence later known as Shub Niggurath.

Pactum – M.O.D.L.

A mob of confusion, alike crawling insects, attacks the strings as early blasphemists Pactum struggle to make sense of violent, anti-religious ideas called forth by their satanic subconscious in Mexico City’s extreme response to Bathory and Sarcofago. While the anally raped vocalist rants meaninglessly on, the guitars manipulate suggestive, dischordant layers of picked notes and speedy runs that often sound chaotic but on a closer listen reveal an affinity with classical construction much like the early methods of Burzum and Ildjarn to call forth elegance from pieces of degeneration. Be it dissidence, incompetence or imagination that made Pactum to mangle the pieces of thrash they built upon nearly inrecognizable, the originality and harsh, spontaneous electric discharge that carries these songs onwards makes for a curious and surprising listen for those who are able to listen to the nearly unlistenable. In “M.O.D.L.” the band has discovered one of the valuable early lessons of black and death metal, that of desecrating the sanctity of rigid social structure by defying musical conventions and bringing the expression closer to the fractal noise of nature.

Mortuary – Blackened Images

The elaborate and malign death metal of Mortuary is one of the most recognized funereal voices of early Mexican scene in cult circles and totally deservedly so, as the melodious and grinding old school sound hasn’t dated one bit but preserves the vital energy field of the times when death metal was not taken for granted, the quest for the ultimate density and sobriety. The rhythmic intensity brings to mind the debuts of Morbid Angel and Vader while the gloomy melody disposed as the interconnector of the more thrashing riffs is without question Central or South American in character (think: “INRI”). Joel Alanis’ voice escapes the trap that caused problems for many a thrasher, holding the rhythm of the syllables in position when reciting the blasphemies in English, and his powerful roar commands the fast, climactic and concise songs effortlessly to their logical conclusions. Even today Mortuary’s short but perfectly articulate album could serve as a protocol for building enjoyable but deep death metal, one that incites both head-banging and heart-scrutiny as the ultra-infectious “Reign of Dead” and “Asphyxiation” attack your brain with sensations from beyond and memories from the depths of the layers of mental programming.

Transmetal – Amanecer en el Mausuleo

As the inaugural saints of muerte spread their leathery wings over Michoacán and the 80′s were drawing to a close, Mexico’s silence was ruptured by these mangled, hellspawned shouts and nearly arbitrary riff structures envisioned by the scene’s godfathers Transmetal as the path leading to the aerie of the future. Simple and pitiless like a less experienced Sepultura or Slayer debut, this early collection sees Transmetal attempting to bludgeon their way through a barrage of speed metal in an endless call-and-response of rhythm riff and hoarse barking. Germans had invented most of these figures and refrains as early as 1984 but the untamed desert frontier of their homeland does bestow Transmetal with a rancor bringing it closer to the most subterranean and spontaenous garage punk bands that had the chance to practice their instruments on brief relapses from fighting social corruption. The sketchy but decisive melodies of “Temor a la Cruz” and “Fuerza Invisible” hardly represent an international or even local pinnacle of art, but they were enjoyed by a legion of punks and metalheads for their absolute breakup with the more mainstream appealing qualities of traditional heavy metal.

If there is a style of metal one thinks of in regards to Mexico, it must be Death Metal, in its brutal but most oblique forms, the sonic heir to Aztecs’ solar blood rites and Toltecs’ shadowy sorceries, an amalgamation of heretical thought inspired by Crowley and Lovecraft with a deep respect for the sacred and universal forces of nature which permeates the continuity of godforms in Catholic religious language in shades of traditional paganism which it overtook in surface but never in spirit. The first of these classics was undoubtedly Mortuary’s famous “Blackened Images” (also one of the earliest important Mexican releases sung in English) but no underground Death Metal maniac would forget the splendid, churning visions of Shub Niggurath (“Evilness and Darkness Prevails”, “The Kinglike Celebration”) or Sargatanas (“The Enlightenment”) either, not to mention the virile luminary Cenotaph (“The Gloomy Reflections of Our Hidden Sorrows”, “Riding Our Black Oceans”) whose lifeblood still runs in the veins of the most prized names of today’s underground (The Chasm, Denial and Hacavitz among others feature former Cenotaph members).

Demogorgon: Our ancient strain of blood has always been important to us, as on it are real human sacrifices and that is something we deeply connect with. We are proud of it and it deserves all of our respect. But anyway, we are mostly influenced by European Black Metal.

Joel: Definitely the legacy of our past has been influential in what we do, also the current situation in which the country has plunged. All the ups and downs of the past of our culture influence us directly or indirectly. The difference is the window from which we look at it, it’s definitely not the same as for the rest.

Eduardo: Mostly these bands’ message is about Death, destruction and occultism. If I’m not wrong, only Xibalba took our cultural roots into his concept – they even wrote “Unique Mayan Black” on their debut album. Cenotaph, Mortuary, Shub Niggurath, Tormentor, Deus Mortis, Deadly Dark, Necrophiliac and Pentagram among others were influenced by the Florida and Scandinavian scenes when they built Death Metal during the late 80′s and the early 90′s. My influences have always been bands like Morbid Angel, Deicide, Bathory (old), Sodom (old), Nihilist, Therion (demos), Thergothon, Winter, Necroschizma, Bolt Thrower, Slayer (old) and H.P. Lovecraft’s masterpieces. In Shub Niggurath, Arturo (who handled vocal invocations) was always in charge of the lyrical concept. Regarding “Evilness and Darkness Prevails” I only did the guitar solos, after that I had to leave the band. I have nothing to do with “The Kinglike Celebration” – for me this is not the real Shub Niggurath. For me, this was just some kind of project, without Arturo there, I am not sure about the result.

Cenotaph – Riding Our Black Oceans

Coming off the back of an excellent debut in the form of ‘The Gloomy Reflections Of Our Hidden Sorrows’ and losing a prominent member in the form of Daniel Corchado, Mexican horde Cenotaph radically altered their sound aesthetically and showed a refinement of production and to a smaller extent, musical technique. Whereas the first full-length resembled a prototypical version of Nile, with an exotic though nonetheless esoteric and original take on New York death metal (think Incantation, Morpheus Descends), ‘Riding Our Black Oceans’ owes its musical framework, when speaking of instrumental technique, to European metal, most notably the first two albums of At The Gates, with a much more classicist approach to melody. With the outgoing of previous throatman Corchado a new vocal makes itself at home, not far from the tortured howls of Anders Friden. The same sense of aggression is also present in this work, but is less of a catharsis than the aforementioned Swedish band or the German act Atrocity, and has a motive towards evoking a nostalgic depth, rather than a psychological-emotional one. The percussion is chaotic and structurally brings to mind a more rigid and maze-like ‘Beneath The Remains’ by Sepultura, with more adventurous battery that evokes their ‘Morbid Visions’ record. Acoustic guitars embellish and interlock with these intricate arrangements, and are an obvious nod to Mediterranean and Southern European music. This stylistic admixture works brilliantly, rather than being a work that is merely imitative of an established style, it works the more obvious traits for its own ends, borrowing rather than copying. Cenotaph make a very distinct and profound work here, one of the finest releases to come out of Latin America.

Shub-Niggurath – The Kinglike Celebration (Final Aeon On Earth)

From the extra-dimensional plane of unspeakable horrors that’s revealed in our nightmares by black, arachnoid creatures, prying open our sub-conscious to witness terrible visions, comes this brutal classic of Lovecraftian Death Metal. As a later album in the old-school tradition, ‘The Kinglike Celebration’ has the strength of dynamic and coherent composition under the unmistakeably nefarious atmospheres that could only come from the first generation to be instructed by the likes of Possessed and Sepultura. Unlike more recent acts such as Portal that also delve into the Non-Euclidean realm of Howard Phillip, this work remains an highly geometric one, as if to frame the malevolent world of the Ancient Ones within the scope of human cognition, enabling the sensations of fear and awe and involuntary submission to the higher, evil will. The symmetrical structure of these songs oversee a central melodic theme being deconstructed with the horror of trembling and ominously churning, Deicidean riff-work that builds to a majestic revelation of cosmic power, usually embellished by eerie synths. From this expanse, the band reintroduces the central riff, re-contextualising it through powerful lead overlays and purposeful percussive and rhythmic enunciation, with the crescendo-inducing prowess of a Classical symphony. Shub-Niggurath advance the pulsating Slayerisms of Deicide’s first album to encompass thoughtful formulae of occult melodicism and awaken the unspeakable entities of the grand, cosmic hierachy.

Sargatanas – The Enlightenment

These blasphemers from Guadalajara were around as early as 1986 according to their biography. Only denizens of the infernal layers know what they must have sounded like back then, but their full length revelation is also nothing less than ancient and horrific, of deeply atmospheric and disturbed vision of extended, simple and dragging death metal torment. Shunning the eloquent melodies of Cenotaph and likewise the rhythmic energy of Mortuary, Sargatanas withdraws into ascetic and morbidly elongated tremolos pillared by blasphemous growls mostly maintaining the emotionless, yet commanding tone of satanic artifice, as a stone statue summoned to unholy life and crushing Christians with no haste or passionate compulsion – determinate, almost peaceful. The meditative quality is carried to the extreme in mid-paced or even slower songs such as “Fear and Suffering” or “The Proclamation” (featuring drum patterns motivated rather by ritual ambient than Dave Lombardo) making it even somewhat plodding. The band barely animates for a gloomy rendition of Possessed’s “Satan Curse” in a version that sounds like bubbling lava or tremors preceding an earthquake and one of the most delightful tracks on offer, the chaotic “Satanist” whose main riff recalls Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” and as many other tracks on here, is seemingly randomly interrupted for a mock satanistic prayer. In any case, this inward bound attraction and solitude of vision will open only to deepest underground death metal cultists and fans of subtle terror based on psychological expectation and illogical mood cues, examples of which are found plenty in Mexican horror movies and early black metal in the vein of Samael and Barathrum, which undoubtedly heavily weigh on Sargatanas’ study list regardless of this band’s origins being placed even further back in the dimension of time.

Aztec rites of darkness

Without prior knowledge it would be easy to assume that the Black Metal biosphere of Mexico would have been overtaken by bulletbelted battalions fueled by alcohol and sexual lust, but instead some of the most purely mystical and meditative classics of the 90′s underground arose from under the wings of Guttural Records, the all time prime supporter of Mexican occult metal who still keeps cranking out occasional re-releases of material whose quality is, occasionally, simply beyond our dreams. To name some, if you have not heard the most moving moments of Xibalba, Avzhia, Funereal Moon and Shub Niggurath, you don’t know how astral and insane Black Metal can simultaneously be while resorting neither to “progressive” nor “raw” clichés, instead being alive with the fervent force of Mexican demons that feast on the souls of succumbed sorcerers, the experience and experiment being total.

Marco: We have been listening to Metal music for a long, long time. We began by listening to a lot of ’70s bands (Purple, Priest, etc), we experienced the radical change and the explosion of the new bands from the ’80s (Venom, Bathory, etc.) and we just grew with the evolution of this music through the end of the ’80s and the beginning of the ’90s. I think all of this music has influenced us a lot. Books that have inspired us throughout all of this has been ancient literature from the pre-Hispanic cultures of our homeland – with special focus on the Mayan topics mainly, though we also like H.P. Lovecraft’s books. In those days, there were not many bands like us around. I remember that on the few gigs we had, some people were just staring at us, and some other were just enjoying the sound. It was really small and we just seem to get more attention from other countries than ours. Sometimes, regular people were inventing silly stories about bad things happening to them simply because we were about to play on that day. I don’t think the media was focused on this kind of extreme music back in those days, as it is now.

Demogorgon: Avzhia was formed with influence from Death, Thrash etc. Metal, absorbing and swallowing the blackest of these styles of Metal to form a dark and melancholic sound. Musically we were influenced by the old school of Black Metal, bands such as Bathory, Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, etc. and ideologically for example Emperor, Dissection, Satyricon, Black Crucifixion, Grand Belial’s Key, The Black, Tormentor, etc. We were never schooled musicians, we started doing it simply like we felt at the time in the earlier 90′s and we’re still doing music the same way. Avzhia was the only Black Metal band playing in the midst of a lot of Death Metal bands, we remember brutal mosh pits and hostility… so when Avzhia took the stage the audience seemed to be taken by a great fucking depression! In the early 90′s it was a big challenge to keep moving forward into the majestic world of Black Metal.

Xibalba – Ah Dzam Poop Ek

Like Cenotaph, but in the context of a Nordic black metal band, Xibalba take obvious cues from mid-period Darkthrone and Burzum’s ‘Det Som En Gang Var’, and use various aesthetic tricks to distinguish the artistic and ethnic context herein, whilst also succeeding in not letting grandeur overwhelm the beauty of their work. Flowing, harmonic riffs, much like an upbeat version of ‘Panzerfaust’ work their way through catchy, waltzing rhythms that would fit nicely into balladic pieces, sounding just as apt as an interpretation of ethnic, triplet based patterns, transferred onto the modern drumkit. Samples to introduce particular songs use ancient Mexican folk music to accentuate the ‘Mayan’ character of this record, this is done sparingly and is non-excessive, charming and ensnaring. This album is strictly traditionalist in its execution, but successfully incorporates unique, exotic elements into its framework, retains its dignity without compromising it’s honesty. This was released in 1994 and was a time where many metal acts were on the verge of signing artistic death warrants by trying too hard to be different. Xibalba continued the legacy of black metal’s orthodoxy and breathed new life into it.

Marco: I think “Ah Dzam Poop Ek” is a great album, we express the essence and the atmosphere of our past in every song. Maybe it could have had a better production, but in the end that is the sound that captures the environment we are related to. And it’s good to stay away from a trite, standard and expected programmed sound. We hope to release our new album soon.

Funereal Moon – Beneath the Cursed Light of a Spectral Moon

Easily one of the most obscure and horrifying symphonies ever composed on the Mexican soil, the drug-addled, hypnotic and twisted black ambient scenarios of Funereal Moon despite the Guttural Records connection bear little resemblance to the warm crusted ground of Xibalba or the quasi-Nordic beauty of Avzhia – or any other formal black metal for that matter. If you have heard some of the unsane abstractions concocted by the French black legionnaires or Texan congregation of Equimanthorn on their mostly private tape mayhem, you might have an inkling of what to expect. Subsonar synths throb, cheap reverbs multiply growling voices to comical intensities, layers merge into a ritual cacoon of violent concentration in a macabre crescendo of not-so-subtly erotic (especially in the hideous “Vrykolkas (White Irish Eyes)” backed by whiplashes and female moans) palpitations begging for release through the dagger of the proponent. When synthetic guitars and mechanically stumbling drumscapes kick in to approximate occult metal architectures, the effect is close to what Black Funeral evoked years later in the industrial black metal revivals of “Az-i-Dahak” and “Ordog” – here achieved without any excess stylistic measures, simply thrown in your face in the name of blasphemy and contempt. Cheesy and immature to the extreme, but at the same time mercilessly compelling like an exploitation movie, these desolate voices of sorcery seem somehow one of the closest to the alienation and horror of the Mexican “Nocturnos dominion”, where immoving cacti stand upon the chaparral as guardians of twilight and coyotes raise their chant to the bloodred moon, all ensorcelled by the forgotten spells of Tulan sorcerers.

Avzhia – The Key of Throne

From out of Mexico City’s chaotic and concrete urban sprawl arose this monumental Black Metal album as a statement of militaristic and natural order, inextricably linked as they would have been to the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan, the former capital of the great Aztec civilisation. Avzhia here develop the ritualistic and prolonged, ‘Pentagram’ by Gorgoroth-like phrasing of ‘Dark Emperors’ into even grander arrangements panning across vast battlefields and landscapes, bringing keyboards to the foreground for a sense of epic melody that resembles Graveland’s ‘Creed of Iron’ being guided by the expansive compositions of Emperor. There is none of the lead guitarwork that’s central to ‘In The Nightside Eclipse’ in forming esoteric musical themes, so the symphonic majesty of ‘The Key of Throne’ is simply and effectively accompanied by the fullness of sweeping powerchords and this approach brings a lot of primitive but intelligent flavours to the sound and the composition as far as bringing the themes to a successful conclusion is concerned. When stripping away the keyboards from the guitars to reveal the simple beauty of an idea, almost Punk-like riffs of the sort Impaled Nazarene are infamous for are unleashed in a warlike clash of thought and action. With the inclusion of the keyboard, there’s a sense that Avzhia might have heard Skepticism’s ‘Stormcrowfleet’ as the same feeling of ethereal beauty and earthy power is evoked. The bass plays an important role as well, during the drawn-out riffing, reminiscent of Primordial’s ‘A Journey’s End’, folkier parts can be heard echoing underneath like a dormant race building its power to strike, and strike it does as the full instrumental ensemble combines to reiterate this idea. Perhaps this is Avzhia’s vision, like the Norwegian Black Metallers once possessed, of Satan’s adversarial power conquering the modern, Christian lands, once again appeasing with the blood of fallen enemies the ancient gods who had long ago died for their race.

Demogorgon: To analize this album, well, it contains too few tracks but each one of them satisfies us and yes, there’s both ideological and musical evolution – but as always, firmly obscure roots that define Avzhia.

As the populist variants of Nordic Black Metal and Gothenburg Death Metal grew in volume and number, so did the attempts at “romantic” or “psychedelic” sound in Mexico, mostly misguided through a lack of coherence and real inspiration beyond the mundane wish to belong in a clandestine good-looking cult of gothic clothes; an unfortunate occurrence of middle class commercial mentality in a society otherwise unnaturally divided and polarized (the shades of civil war never left, nor the even deeper bloody roots of muerte culture). Prominent American label Full Moon Productions signed Argentum for their one interesting album, “Ad Interitum Funebrarum”, while many in the vein of cloak-and-hood-gothic Demolish and the rather interesting Black Vomit toiled in obscurity. The Chasm, a masterful brainchild of Cenotaph alumnus Daniel Corchado, advanced from Mexican beginnings to dominate the forthcoming decade (now in Chicago) with a progressive (structural, non-gimmick) Death Metal tour de force. Another relocator was the grinding, blasphemous and simplistic “bonehead black metal” group Morbosidad, whose several drummers died in accidents.

Demolish – Remembering the Cabalisticae Laments

To be honest, and there is a reason to be because we are not here to create empty hype and false promise, most of Mexican metal of the 1990′s was comprised of worthless copies aping whatever neo-gothic metal trend was looming in the world at large and it’s nowhere more clear than in this compilation of the successive 1995 and 1997 demos of Demolish and the progression from mediocre to bad influence. The bouncy, hyper-emotional and lethargic black groove of the first part “Reinforcement Laments from the Lamb” (That’s just about what I emitted halfway through this concoction!?) is an incriminating example of heavy metal dressed as black metal, enveloped in saccharine keyboards which occasionally would inspire a vomitous reflex from even that top hatted abortion of Dimmu Borgir (old). Suffice to say there’s a lot of Anne Rice-y occult romance and affective screaming and bombast with hardly any musical surprise or moment of interest, as they would probably distract from the singular intent of securing the attention of fat gothic Wiccan bitches. I guess you might be into this if Covenant’s mercifully forgotten “In Times Before the Light” or earlier Cradle of Filth was the best thing that ever happened to you in black metal. The older more creeping old school death metal influenced occult metal in the earlier recorded second part “Artis Cabalisticae” includes violent moments of hope, but not enough to convince any further than, say, that first EP from Portuguese womanizers Moonspell. Hardly any Toltec spirit here, so move along.

Argentum – Ad Interitum Funebrarum

Hooded Wallachians prowl the crenellated wall tops of ancient castles, Mediterranean bards wield their lutes as metallic Paco de Lucias and some thin, wimpy goth called Philix Pherboreon (is this a Harry Potter character?) attacks the cheap Roland determined to reign as nocturnal dominion over every Mexican black metal wannabe circa 1996. With surprising class and flair, Argentum’s hymns to darkness remind one that the atmospheres descended part from “The Principle of Evil Made Flesh” and part from “Goetia”, might not stand the highest in today’s black metal elitists’ repertoire but today, sounds more exciting and unique because of their severe emotional and dimensional indulgement in a nearly forgotten quest – to compose music, not meaningless random noise or robotic riff patterns. The band is undoubtedly at their peak with the sustained moods of “Enter an Encysted Hibernation” and other slower pieces such as “The Serpent’s Lament” which traces the ethereal scents of the black lotus much as My Dying Bride would have if they had obsessed with black metal during the time of their first album. When the bands decides to thrash onwards in speed, and yet retain the “gloomy” keyboards in “Mortuus Infradaemoni”, it’s undoubtedly a bad choice, sounding ridiculous and swamping their intentions of occult credibility observed with “Lections on texts including English, latin, Catalan, Creol, and Ancientdark Language & Spanish”. The question mark imprinted by this upon one’s brain is better than mere satisfaction, though.

The Chasm – Conjuration of the Spectral Empire

The Chasm’s fifth album in a productive and populated discography continues their journey through the astralic realms of the dead, traversing a heterogenous soundscape much like the cultural topography of Mexico itself. Where Corchado’s work with Cenotaph was inspired by the rhythmic power of Swedish Death Metal, this album is more in tune with not only the melodicism of old troops from Gotenborg like At The Gates, Unleashed and Dark Tranquility but the morbid disharmony of Norsk Black Metal classics ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ and ‘Under A Funeral Moon’, which owe much to the Latin American primitivism of Sepultura that also goes into the sound of ‘Conjuration of the Spectral Empire’. The expansive melting pot of sounds and styles is guided by Shamanic visions that peer into the inpenetrable abode of Mictlantehcuhtli, coloured and contrasted by the opposing principles that intersect this psychic plane, giving this album a vast sense of direction proportional to the longing for ancient wisdom in a world torn from the continuum of tradition. From the very outset of ‘Conjuration…’, the winds of the Chihuahuan desert are conjured by guitars and effects, bringing to mind the main theme composed by Ennio Morricone for the nihilistic Western classic, ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’. Each song develops from or towards a single, clear and always beautifully poignant melodic idea, fusing the structural framework of early Dismember with the technique of Technical Death Metal bands like Cynic and Atrocity and their insistence on rhythmic and melodic interaction, although the use of inverted powerchords amidst the South American chaos and Melodeath flourishes, to create a more sombre atmosphere recalls the obscure Black Metal of Mütiilation’s second album. The Chasm avoid the pitfalls of Melodic Death Metal by having this focus, removing themselves from the tendency of bands to resemble a Scandinavian folk riff-salad with no conceptual reasoning behind it. Instead, songs qualify as movements and the phrasal development therein demonstrates an awareness of Classical music that restores the grand aspirations of the Swedes and therefore stands alongside the likes of ‘The Red In The Sky Is Ours’ and ‘Like An Everflowing Stream’ as monuments to the primal, cosmic darkness of our true, inner nature.

Through the international contact and amalgamation of principles brought about by simultaneously World Wide Web access and the extent of educating the young generation in English language (movies, videogames and music being elemental and important here) the new millennium saw Mexico closer than ever to its northern neighbour. Youth factions such as the hated “emo” culture would have been out of place in 1980′s conservative Mexico, but despite clashes between groups they are widely approved today. All in all, it seemed to weaken the unique characteristic of the Mexican underground which was the tough rebelliousness in speed metal and occult/mystical lyrical tendency in Death Metal. In other words, too many corpse painted posers (such as the unending repertoire of Azermedoth Records) and uneventful, funny “goregrinders” (Disgorge, the original of this style, still continues to exist) infected the underground.

Eduardo: Certainly this isn’t an easy way to get money, fame or groupies. If that’s what a band is looking for, it’s just a bunch of shitty losers. You should work because you love what you are doing, and doing this just to be a sell out and gain a living from the people who manage you is a completely Shitty attitude. Underground Death Metal is for true warriors who eat, shit and talk metal, and love it as a son! To know all the underground beasts that still dwell on the catacombs of the worldwide scene and support them as brothers… In Europe it’s awesome how the Metal way of life is still the way for the chosen to die with their boots on. Metal in Europe is bigger than other music styles without the need of being in a popularity contest. Metal is for metalheads and that’s it.

On the other hand, in Mexico, Metal has been taken as a trend. Every single metal subgenre such as death, thrash, black or speed has been invaded by stupid bastards with childish ideas and only commercial purposes. This is not only certain individuals, as even labels have mutated into money makers – signing bands created to give a commercial and false name to metal. They think that they know everything and even take the image of the old gods as costumes. Please! All those denim jackets full of patches from Possessed and Slayer, just to name a few, worn by kids of 18 years and claiming to be “thrash ’til death”! Jajajajajajajaja! Or the new trend of “old school death metal”? Please, when those bands were out, nobody cared about them! But now everybody is looking for those bands, jajajaja! Only the true ones we’ll meet at the end of the road. The other ones will escape to the next trend, because they never really belonged to us!

The resurrection of the necrocults

This is not to say Mexico’s soil doesn’t still bleed black at the desolate fullmoon hours. Old bands all the way to Luzbel are still sporadically active and the promised Avzhia offering “In My Domains” is one of our most awaited forthcoming releases in several years. Infinitum Obscure featuring The Chasm’s Roberto Lizárraga is a throwback to the days when death metallers weren’t afraid to expose religious mysticism, supernatural fervour and psychological “dark” addiction in one package, while Hacavitz and Yaotl Mictlan bring back the Aztec themes but do not retain the climactic level of Xibalba’s “Unique Mayan Black Metal”. Satanists who preach the ontology of Self and the theurgies of netherworlds remain plentiful, Denial and Necroccultus (both featuring scene veterans such as Supplicium’s Isaíah Huerta, Shub Niggurath’s Eduardo and Cenotaph’s Oscar Clorio) being probably the best of the bunch, and also for example Ravager enjoys wide exposure and releases on prominent European metal labels (while Avzhia sadly toils without a record deal).

Demogorgon: Look out for “In My Domains” – this album is strong in itself, riff by riff. It’s raw while plentiful in melodic interludes, grim voices and depressive atmospheres. We do what satisfies us, then other metalheads can satisfy themselves with Avzhia’s music. It’s great to meet true people when we do shows. Avzhia is always going to exist in the dark side of true Black Metal and we will keep doing our work full of darkness of our Lord Sathanas. Grim, cold, melancholic and depressive are characteristics of what Avzhia is! Only the true emperors live, eternal life to Black Metal! See you soon wherever you are… on “In My Domains” tour.

Marco: We just like the sound of a good song, no matter what style it is. As long as it reflects honesty and passion, clearly away from the rules of the mainstream. We have made this music since the ’90s, and still I can have ideas for a song that sounds great, even when there’s hundreds of bands around. You just need to find the right notes and stay focused on the path. This music has been really distorted from the original roots. What makes it worth I don’t know, but maybe just to know the right path is still there and the fact that we’re contributing to it. I think it depends on the integrity and personal convictions everybody has. It’s all part of finding personal freedom or spiritual release.

Joel: We are satisfied with the music that we did. It represents the things we felt at that time, and it’s a real condition that still prevails. Songwriting for us has been a natural change in the evolution of the band, as new songs have the seal of Mortuary but are definitely not the same. We have an evolutionary progress, you’ll see.

Necroccultus – Encircling the Mysterious Necrorevelation

On the footsteps of Irapuato bands such as the Paradise Lost influenced Supplicium and the Chasm-ic A Perpetual Dying Mirror the mad inverters of music decided to go for an irate, warlike sound most akin to Vader’s most brutal incantations. For a fan of Sargatanas and earlier Shub-Niggurath, there are plenty of morbid mental cavities to succumb into in atmospheric death-thrashing of “Mirage of Death” or the more Northern sound of “Descent To Requiem”, actually close to Absu’s early efforts in mingling Swedish death metal and the more ritualistic and sensual sound of ambient black. As regrettably is the case with neo-death metal, there is a great temptation to succumb into a patterned safe manifestation of used riffs, which no longer have the capacity to shock or inspire but the most fresh and innocent listeners. One can only imagine what impact “The Necrosphere Within” would have had in 1987, but the lack of a honest exploration of death metal horizons arouses the question how long can “formulaic death metal” be “death metal” at all, since the genre was incepted to scare the listener into an acceptance of devious un-life. In a hodgepodge of riffs, the social instinct takes over and the music loses the “death-feeling”. A slight rescue is obtained by preserving much of the doom character of the members’ earlier bands, as well as wicked and proficient guitar solos. In total, “Encircling the Mysterious Necrorevelation” is far from bad, but it also lacks the essential magic and forceful intellect characteristic of Mexican metal peaks.

Yaotl Mictlan – Guerreros De La Tierra De Los Muertos

Yaotl Mictlan in a similar respect to Xibalba borrow stylistically from European black metal. Their debut full-length contains a battle-hardened ferocity not unlike Graveland’s ‘Thousand Swords’, and in attitude resembles a less esoteric version of the classic Polish black metal acts. Musically this has the precision and sharp execution of Enslaved’s ‘Frost’ album, but with is overlaid with meandering, arpeggiated guitar forms that bring to mind a more rock-inclined take on Burzum’s first album. True to backdrop, the band bring elements unique to their Mexican heritage to the fore, in the form of wind instruments, percussives and acoustic guitar passages that are distinct within flamenco music. This is no doubt a unique approach, and firmly grasps a sound it can call it’s own, though lacking the cohesion and charge to put them in the same tier as Xibalba or Avzhia. As a result of this, ‘Guerreros De La Tierra De Los Muertos’ comes across as a tiresome listen, but not without the occasional flourish of excellence. Now signed with Candlelight records, it will be interesting to see what results their next release will artistically yield, as there are moments of promise here.

Infinitum Obscure – Sub Atris Caelis

Often referred to as a clone of The Chasm, Infinitum Obscure do indeed share more than a few identifiable traits with their fellow Mexicans, most notably the tremolo picking and those galloping triplets that lend so much power and vigour to the rhythm. There is something that ultimately separates the two bands, however; that being the conceptual direction each band embarks upon: while The Chasm invokes a strong, dark atmosphere that emphasizes the mystical, esoteric passage through some evanescent portal, Infinitum Obscure are far more direct in organizing a forceful rhythm in such a way as to remain concentrated on a single, grounded idea, often reinforcing this focus by frequently returning to familiar themes. So, while their main inspiration might take flight into stranger landscapes, Infinitum Obscure are quite content to portray the lost chasms of this world with an evocative atmosphere of imaginative melodies and, most importantly, direct and uncompromising riffing. On ‘Sub Atris Caelis’, Infinitum Obscure’s sophomore album, these points are emphasized more clearly, making it their definitive accomplishment to date. The need to shake off the burden of being a mere clone band is eminently present; the band tasks itself with creating something altogether their own, resulting in a real sense of the epic emerging from the patterns interwoven throughout the record; each song is striking at something profound, grasping wildly in the search for solidarity. The consequence of these compulsions is an album that sounds like it is still very much in The Chasm camp; while really it has taken several progressive leaps forward, leaving us with a work of art brimming with the self-confidence of autonomy.

Denial – Catacombs of the Grotesque

Some of the most impressive new death metal from anywhere in the world, this churning, impactful and bodily animalistic accomplishment from former Cenotaph and Shub Niggurath madmen is not a joke. What Cannibal Corpse always intended with their chromatic, bass-heavy and relentlessly rhythmic one dimensional stream of riff becomes an amalgamation of melodic motifs and devastatingly experimental squeals in the hands of these  perpetrators, as the background noise boils and envelops much as the classic “Onward to Golgotha” did, while the constant, FX enhanced, ridiculously monstrous voice of Ivan Velazquez intones all the perspiring tension of underworld nexus, the twilight threshold of life and death where sorcerers and demons whisper secrets to the warrior, offering true and false guidance, representing the violent archaic generations that waged war on Mexico’s bloody soil and continue to make many lives into living hell. I have alluded to the monotone nature, which is probably intentional and it hardly detracts from enjoying this cryptic abomination for further and further listenings, as the heights such as “The Pestilent Pits of Disgrace” or “Necrotic Invocations” are deceptively complex mazes of chords and melodies disguised as straightforward infernal metal by the tight manner of production and the guitarists’ sparse use of leads or interludes. Most importantly, the unrelenting hopelessness of these afterworld visions will force the listener to abandon the illusion of safety and immortality that makes the common man succumb to faulty, immoral decisions from day to day, thus achieving one of the highest principles of death metal: mental change (abomination). One would hesitate to lift such a recent work to the hallowed pantheon of Cenotaph and Mortuary after a brief listening span, but if a candidate is chosen from this tournée, this must be it.

It can be said that while Mexico’s metal offerings are not especially plentiful, they are generally interesting and spirited while the best of the country are just about the best these genres have ever seen, on an international scale. Mexicans’ natural groundedness coupled with the mystical tendencies is an excellent standpoint for witnessing the oblique directions of Death and Black Metal from an unpretentious, furious, “Luciferian” angle. It’s almost a surprise there isn’t so much more of it, even though I’m surprised if any reader of this article gets a sense of scarcity regarding items of interest in Mexican metal. So, that being said, it’s about time we leave you to contemplate the mysteries of Toltecs and Satan in the consummation of the extreme, Romantic and evil compositional systems of these modern Mexican warriors and dreamers.

Marco: I think this music is very individual and very personal, and it can take you to a spiritual level, if you listen carefully. Our ancient cultures are based on spirituality, so that’s the point in our just making this weird mix. One song can take you to the top of the pyramids, and reach for the skies, and another one could take you to a scenario of a war against the conquerors. In the end it’s all about finding your own roots, it’s some kind of, another, resource to open your eyes and to step away from the enslavement of social rules and moral unconsciousness (Christian superstition included). In the end the people in power need a dormant society, so they can keep on corrupting, spreading corruption in every corner, and people are just playing the game. Only the connection to your roots will set you free.

Joel: It’s a matter of self confidence in all the things we do, the feeling of greatness inside, the feeling of power, to reach new levels in the extreme brutal metal music we make! I’m not here to convince anyone to do anything, we are selected persons, we the whole scene… the others, the weak, must die!

Highest hails from Deathmetal.Org to Joel of Mortuary, Marco of Xibalba, Demogorgon of Avzhia, Eduardo of Necroccultus and last but not least Noe of Guttural Records for providing in-depth thoughts from the original perpetrators of real Mexican Metal! All of these bands are active so look out for forthcoming events of true massacre of the highest order.

Once you decided to come to Mexico you should have put all your petty fears away. Your decision to come should have vanquished them. You came because you wanted to come. That’s the warrior’s way.

- Don Juan Matus

Pyrrhic Victories: A Brief Study Of Artistic Decline

July 23, 2010 –

1. Introduction
2. Sepultura – Arise
3. Metallica – Master of Puppets
4. Coroner – Mental Vortex
5. Morbid Angel – Covenant

Written by Pearson, Devamitra and ObscuraHessian

Introduction

All historical events at some stage pertain to a barrier, or a Rubicon that when crossed marks a watershed in the life cycle of an organism in which an achievement cannot be matched in terms of it’s overall qualities. In particular instances, these successes are such that what succeeds can only be a steady decline, or an outcome that pales in comparison to the glory that prevailed at a particular stage of time. This feature aims to give insight into some known examples of the ‘Pyrrhic Victory’ in the metal genre and give light to releases that represent strengths of once great acts, and at the same time foreshadowed artistic saturation.

A common thread that seems to run through these turning points in the careers of metal bands is the apparent contradiction between a musician’s personal evolution and the progress of the musical style into more authentic and expressive forms in service of the concept. We all understand that a maturing musician is not going to be satisfied with the same apparently simple techniques he mastered upon his first year of guitar practice for ages. He probably has musical heroes he is looking up to and he always wanted to learn that Eddie Van Halen or Ritchie Blackmore solo.

Vital musical forms rely on creativity, spontaneity and message over matter. It is the curse of the artist that often the best of their work is at the behest of youthful lunacy and drunken madness, the early recordings where they grasp at the straws of vision without quite having formulated the techniques for achieving them – so they improvise and as Nietzsche would say, “give birth to a dancing star“. ‘Human‘, ‘Tales from the Thousand Lakes‘ and ‘Heartwork‘ are all perfect examples of a band with the full arsenal of accumulated weapons, evolved to near its maximum potential in knowing exactly how to compose all the contemporary forms of metal, from death metal and grindcore to pop progressive, even soft rock.

But here comes the paradox. Instead of sounding updated, the recording sounds more dated every passing year, because what has happened is that the band has incorporated a plethora of archaisms to a sound that used to be cutting edge. The bludgeoning dark tremolos of ‘Leprosy‘ that used to climax in nearly atonal solos become melodious post-modernist “cut up” riff salads; the doomy Wagnerian grandeur and slow movements reminiscent of historical battles in ‘The Karelian Isthmus‘ is stealthily exchanged with stoner rock and circular meditations that happen after a couple too many smoked joints; the to-the-point socio-anatomical parody of the hilariously grotesque and twisted ‘Symphonies of Sickness‘ gets discursive and bloated with instrumental worship, as if the band suddenly turned from anarchists into voters. The core question would be: did the band think these are more sensible ways of composition and a better illustration of the topic at hand – or did they forget the composition and the topic altogether in the name of randomly generating “music” with cold technique?

Sepultura – Arise

Coming off the back of the raging, deathly, speed metal of ‘Beneath The Remains‘, Sepultura stay true to the compact musical execution that began making itself clear on the ‘Schizophrenia‘ album onwards. There is more variation in pace, with the lower tempo compositions often resemblant of the riotous and anthemic cycles of of ‘Beneath The Remains’ played out in suspended animation. The introduction of the now ‘tribal’ meme that first makes itself present in Sepultura’s music introduces itself through in various songs, and whilst here it is applied in a more than tasteful enough manner it sometimes gives the idea that whilst this indicates an ‘open-mindedness’ to the average listener, on deeper insight it gives light to the possibility that the band by this time may have been starting to run short of creative ideas. Whilst this is a very good record by Sepultura, prevailing characteristics get the upper hand, and in a year where speed metal had long had it’s glory days, and death metal attaining new peaks of aggression in a period of artistic blossom, it’s no surprise looking back that the dumbed down and singularly ‘angry’ mosh-fodder that was ‘Chaos A.D.’ would suceed this work. -Pearson

Metallica – Master Of Puppets

A controversial pick, Metallica’s excellent third album fulfills the incorporation of progressive themes but seems to crystallize them to such an extent that no more creative spark would emanate from their later works. Cliff Burton’s presence in the unit, and his bridging of neo-classicist influences into their progressive speed metal was a defining feature of what many hessians and metallers saw to be the main component of their excellence. Having let this seep in on ‘Kill Em All‘ and fully realise itself on ‘Ride The Lightning‘, ‘Master Of Puppets’ steps further towards punchier and anthemic songs, with a steeping emphasis on percussive, palm-muted rhythm riffs which are the dominant motif in the album’s musical execution. This is structurally still in the exact same mould as ‘Ride The Lightining’, in that despite a different order of where songs are, we get aggression in ‘Damage Inc.’ and ‘Battery’ where there was once ‘Fight Fire With Fire’ and ‘Trapped Under Ice’. Songs such as ‘Sanitarium’ continue a rock music inclined sense of songwriting that continues what started with ‘Fade To Black’ and inevitably foreshadows the growing commercialism of Metallica on later releases. The excellence of ‘Orion’ also signals a continuity shift that began with ‘Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)’ and fulfilled itself with the ‘Call Of Ktulu’ instrumental. This is a great album that solidifies the importance of Metallica in the genre’s history, though the death of Cliff Burton and the lack of creative steam that ensued signalled the artistic decline that came in 1988 with ‘And Justice For All…’. -Pearson

Coroner – Mental Vortex

While the speed and thrash metal boom was crumbling all around in the wake of Seattle and LA-based clothing styles storming the nation, a few European stalwarts lingered on the fringes and while some of them didn’t dare to take up the arms for intricate, narrative death metal, they were influenced by its vicious aggression and psychedelic subject matter. Coroner from Zürich, around Tom G. Warrior‘s circle of the tyrants, never became a vastly recognized or influential name in extreme metal but superceded most of its peers in technicality and consistency, releasing a discography of five albums ranging from the raging “R.I.P.” to the eclectic “Grin“, where the fourth one “Mental Vortex” is where the playing abilities peak but the ultimate purpose of the band is starting to wane. When the idealism of youth fades and with it the spontaneous power of iconographic assault, the only avenue left for speed metal to challenge the moral preconceptions of hypocritical generations was to turn to psychology and explore lies and paranoia in the internal spheres, cutting up joy and sadness into fusion-esque rhythm riff salads (with the timing of an atomic clock) cut up from brilliant small pieces akin to Burroughs’ or Gysin’s style of literature. Such a hectic style provides an engaging rhythmic tension for this album, arguably one of the last triumphs of the entire genre, but it’s also cold and calculated like a scientific experiment. The vastly more popular but not much better Carcass realized essentially the same things many years later on their hit album “Heartwork” and ended up on the pages of guitar magazines, while Coroner was already entombed to the mausoleums of Noise Records’ speed metal roster. -Devamitra

Morbid Angel – Covenant

Among the most ancient, recognisable and influential cults in Death Metal’s history, Morbid Angel’s tale of decline is a prolonged one, and raised continuous questions about the band’s creative state, as though their instruments were being channelled purely at the whim of the Outer Gods. The Floridan giants finally resisted the unearthly impulses that once guided them to create powerful statements of occult awareness bound up with a Nietzschean sense of overcoming and will-to-power, such that with the releases of ‘Gateways of Annihilation’ and ‘Heretic’, the band fell victim to triviality. Incremental lapses in quality can be traced back to much earlier albums however, with the departure of guitarist Richard Brunelle being the first to impact the legendary line-up responsible for two of the finest Metal albums ever recorded, meaning that ‘Covenant’ would initiate the band’s slow decay. In addition, Morbid Angel’s growing populist tendencies were perhaps never more commercially viable than at this time, with the production left in the hands of Fleming Rasmussen, and not one but two music videos filmed to promote the album. Brunelle’s exit would mean that Trey Azagthoth would be fully responsible for filling the suffocating mix with his trademarked guitarwork, to the surprising detriment of ‘Covenant’s sound wherever the album’s conceptual direction becomes overwhelmed by a one-dimensional bluntness. Characterised by unfocused and uniform phrasing and only held in place by Pete Sandoval’s tightly militaristic drumming, the latter half of the album demonstrates little of the dynamism that could be heard on every one of their preceeding songs. The spiritual inversion of Morbid Angel, a transvaluation of religious language to re-vitalise and Paganise the path of transcendence and condemn the submissive and world-denying, corrupt parasites turns into an unaltering, blind rage that’s summarised by the lyric of ‘God of Emptiness‘, “So, what makes you supreme?”, setting a blueprint for the band to follow on ‘Domination‘ and the hordes of imitators that were given an undeserved license to record by virtue of Death Metal’s growing popularity. ‘Covenant’ in this sense is not dissimilar to Deicide’s Pyrrhic fall from the adept demonology of ‘Legion‘ to the dumbed-down ‘Once Upon the Cross‘, though Azagthoth’s wizardry would earn Morbid Angel some redemption with the primordial dance of cosmic energies to be heard on ‘Formulas Fatal to the Flesh‘ before finally digging their own grave without cursing their own reputation quite as badly as the truly shattered idols from the golden age of Death Metal. -ObscuraHessian

Pages of Pure Fucking Damnation: Zines in the Death Metal Underground

January 1, 2010 –

1. Introduction

2. Individual Thought Patterns: Apostles of Death Metal

3. Infestation of Evil: Chroniclers of Black Metal

4. Droid Sector: Information Networks and the Degeneration
 

Written by Devamitra with Alan (Buttface), Brian (Chainsaw Abortions), Niko (Hammer of Damnation), Timo (Fallen Pages) and Pete (Pure Fucking Hell)

Introduction

The violent, obsessive and obscurant phenomenon of death metal arose in the middle of the 1980’s from the minds of alienated and intelligent artists, writers and musicians while the powers of the world were engaged with the nuclear paranoia of the Cold War, while computer technology broke through to everyday life in Western societies, while preachers were fighting against Satanic messages in party-loving hair metal albums and while musicians in the vein of U2 were participating in massive events that attempted to bring world peace and end famine with decades old clichés of British rock music. NWOBHM and British punk were dying out, replaced by the tough street gang aesthetics of hardcore and the satanic postures of early speed and black metal. The public stances of groundbreaking bands were growing to be more and more incompatible with mainstream rock media, which since the demise of the “counterculture” had abhorred ideological consistency as a threat to the marketing forces for which it owed its livelihood.

Real metal fans tended to be smarter than the average mainstream rock fan and naturally gravitated towards more critical sources, written by fans to other fans. The success of bands such as Metallica and Slayer wasn’t founded on big corporations’ agencies of promotion. Active touring, circulation of demo tapes and word of mouth established the reputation of these non-compromising bands, along with independent heavy metal publications such as Metal Forces Magazine in the UK and Kick Ass Monthly in the USA. While these started out as photocopied zines, they soon became professional but continued championing the authentic observations of the editors, distinguished metal writers such as Dave Reynolds and Bob Muldowney (R.I.P.), for relatively small profit and a benefit to metal fans worldwide in search of ever more lethal developments of the basic ideas of heavy metal music.

Individual Thought Patterns: Apostles of Death Metal

Death metal in the 80’s was as avant-garde and extreme as metal went. In keeping with the independent spirit, death metal fans corresponded with each other and compiled newsletters that were at first minimal and crude, spreading the viral infection of an art form which was long abhorred by fans of classic metal and power metal. Thus, the crown jewels of death metal media originated perhaps from lands separate from the Anglo-American centers of youth subculture dissemination, where enthusiasm for the new style existed alongside speed metal and crossover interest: Metalion’s Slayer Magazine (Norway), Laurent Ramadier’s Decibels of Death (France), Desexult’s Blackthorn (Denmark), Headbanger Zine (Peru), Alan Moses’ Buttface (Australia), Streetcleaner (Germany), Isten (Finland) and lots of others with enormous local influence. Contemporary US zines that didn’t lag behind included, for example, Aggressive Metal/Screams from the Gutter, Ripping Headaches and Chainsaw Abortions.

Alan: I am into different extreme styles, so I did not want to limit my zine to one style – there was way too much good stuff across the board back then, and very little crap. It’s the opposite today. At first I just read zines , all of them from overseas, and the thought never came to mind to do one myself until I realized I had a lot of contacts by tape and video trading. There were no metal oriented zines in Australia in those days – and only few punk/HC zines – which really didn’t get distributed well here, and they just were not good. So I decided to combine my love for all the styles, and I had a partner who helped me get interviews etc. too – we combined our resources and became the biggest traders with the biggest and really only zine from here – Buttface. It worked exceptionally well because none of the bands we ever contacted back then had done anything with an Australian zine – so a lot of the time that worked in our favour. Barely anyone in this country ever saw my zine because nobody was really into the music as much yet, it would be years before the underground bands got a big enough following here.

Brian: For me, I think the idea for Chainsaw Abortions just came because I’ve always loved music, hearing new things and spreading the word about things after I discovered them. In those times doing a zine was the best way to do that. My only contacts when I started were the local bands here in Buffalo, then from letter writing and tape trading my connections quickly grew. Of the zines that I bought back then, I really liked Death Vomit from Virginia and Ripping Headaches from Florida, plus of course Buttface from Australia.

Alan: Haha, I noticed that Brian mentioned Buttface! I only saw Brian’s zine in 1990, which was good because it was a bit like BF, in that it had a bunch of different bands (despite the zine’s name implying more of a death metal zine it had variety). Personally my favourite zines were Blackthorn from Denmark (my friend Esben Slot Sorensen’s zine with his fellow Desexult guitarist Henrik Kjaer), Decibels of Death zine (DOD) by Laurent Ramadier who was also a trader of mine, and Ultimate Speedcore Dislocation zine (USD) which had a couple editors, one of them which was a trader of mine called Evil Ludo Lejeune – both those zines are French. In the USA without a doubt for me, Invincible Force (Bryan Daniel) and Ripping Headaches (Bruce Davis) both from Tampa FL, although there were other much older zines like Total Thrash and Uniforce which I loved getting my hands on when I could. I never purchased any zines pretty much except Blackthorn, it usually worked out that I got copies from the editors in trade or they were included in packages of tapes or shirts or records, as extra goodies you know? We always did shit like that, crammed photos or stickers or flyers into the package to make it cooler for whomever you sent it to. We all did that stuff pretty much – shit, a lot of us couldn’t stand to have blank audio tape in a trade, and we’d put filler music to highlight a band we liked to another person, or we’d send messages to each other on the cassettes to fill the space. That was always fun, to hear your trader’s voice, read their letter, check out all the cool music they sent you, then have a photo as well. You really felt special and connected to people, and you had to pay your dues.

With their down to earth, entertaining but always informative reviews and interviews the zines of the era opened for many ignorant small town kids the landscape of the underground, the indivisible fabric of ideals, images, and hard work by their intricate visual and literal presentation of the latest frontier of metal. Often black and white, cut and pasted by hand and then photocopied, the zines were constructed with care and attention to build an aura of mystery and power, laid out symmetrically with blasphemous figures and gory art, encasing the alien appearance of foreign bands in sheets of terror resembling an ancient tome. The DIY method had an invaluable asset in that it was relatively independent from monetary concerns and possible for basically any fan with the required intelligence, attention span and literary abilities. Actually many zines seemed to even manage without these.

Brian: Chainsaw Abortions was just photocopied, so my part time job paid for issue #1. For issue #2 my dad made the copies at his work for me because they had a copy machine that could handle 11 by 17 copies so it ended up not costing me anything to do, except of course postage.

Alan: I was going to college full time and had no job, but I was getting a student allowance from the government here, so 100% of that money went towards all my underground activities. In 1988 I got a very well paying job in a factory – so I busted my ass working 6 days a week, and many times 16 hour days. My parents were cool and didn’t ask for too much money from me, which left me with a lot to spare – I just boycotted Australian record stores though. They never knew what stock to get in and always overcharged (100′s of % overcharge). I went right to the labels (which were all underground mostly) or got the stuff from the bands if the released records themselves, and had things sent sea mail which took a bit longer but was so cheap, saving more money. Time management was easy, because I was a full time student back then, with no wife, no kids, not much responsibility and was well trained in making my time count that I could get the zine done with not much effort time-wise. I never paid to have my zine printed, it was photo copied, at my father’s job on weekends… but Buttface was thick, massively thick, with the best quality back then you could get by photocopying anyways. There’s no way I could have done a printed zine, you have to have a ton of money for that. Ronny Eide from Morbid Mag in Norway worked, plus later he started to distribute porn to pay for his exceptionally high quality zine. We also glued our stamps – there is a special technique to be able to reuse a postage stamp. It’s a federal crime of course, but we did it anyways saving $1000′s of dollars a year. I think I traded records with one of my many Brazilian contacts for 12 months by airmail and only purchased two sets of stamps – that’s a shit load of money saving, hehe!

Typically, when starting out, the editor of the zine was a young fan without widespread indoctrination to the scene in the sense of agendas, friendships and contacts, while of course being impressionable and receptive to new drifts and ideas. One accustomed to the 21st century neurosis which causes every black metal fan to consider himself an expert on religion and politics may note that the reviews in the old zines were sparse, usually a few sentences describing the style with a brief note on its perceived quality, while interviews tended to concern the mundane activity of the band in recording and rehearsal conditions, including aspects of everyday life. Far from boring and trivial, it was the sort of discussion the target audience could best relate to and helped the spawning of new bands, as fans realized that the masters of death metal mostly weren’t trained musicians or professionals of the business, but other fans and maniacs themselves who passed their time between school and work engaging in art, violation and a healthy distaste for conformity.

Alan: Too funny, I do not consider I was a critic, we had stupid funny questions and hell, it was fun but not a piece of journalistic work, heh!

Niko: I used to do tape trading in the late 80′s and more or less related to that I got my hands on some early issues of some Finnish fanzines, for example Isten and Axe. I found them very inspiring. At the time there was no Internet as we know it today and it was very difficult to find information about bands you were interested in, or bands you didn’t know even existed. So it all pretty much started from a personal obsession to find out information about bands and artists I was interested in myself. I didn’t have any contacts in the beginning, apart from a number of tape traders, but the flyer circulation was a very handy and effective way to learn about various activities as well as spread information about your own. It was all somewhat difficult in the beginning as I was young and obviously didn’t know anything about how to edit a magazine and have it printed, but once I managed to get the first issue of Hammer of Damnation out the ball started rolling.

Timo: Of course back then there was no Internet available, so it could take weeks to communicate the simplest things. There was also huge demand for information about bands from the audience and a need from the emerging bands in the scene to get promotion for themselves. So when in 1990, I was very young – and listening feverously to Morbid Visions by Sepultura – I felt a strong urge to be active in the underground scene. I was already friends with Sodomatic Slaughter from Beherit , so I was aware of the scene and as Black Crucifixion was only in its earliest pre-stage in the autumn of 1990, my way to act was to start a zine. I had already enjoyed reading some good quality early Finnish fanzines, my favourite was called Intestinal, so starting Fallen Pages was a natural step. The first issue was in Finnish and in A5 size under the name Damn Zine. The very first number along with bands like Beherit and Samael also featured thrash, speed, death, doom and punk bands. You have to remember that there practically was no “second wave of black metal” yet: Norwegians with the rare exception of Mayhem were mostly playing death metal with often humoristic lyrics, Swedes were all about copying the Sunlight sound, with the exception of the mighty Tiamat and even Beherit labelled their sound as “brutal death metal”.  After the first issue was received very well among the buying public and the “colleagues” in the scene, I decided to do the next issue in English. Holocausto Vengeance from Beherit suggested that I would change the name from Damn Zine to something more suitable for international market. So we came up with the name Fallen Pages of Damnation, which I then shortened to just Fallen Pages. I also got more ambitious with the layout and went for A4 size and very heavy glossy paper. The substance got heavier along with the outlook, as the second issue included mostly black and death metal bands. It was published in the 1991 and I was surprised by its reception as everybody seemed to like it. Maybe it was a bit ahead of time with its outlook and probably my pretty juvenile style of writing added something to the mix. The English language was still pretty much shambles, but by the standards of the time that didn’t matter, as some of my favourite foreign zines could hardly be recognized as being written in any language.

The limitation of resources and time applied to everyone working on a fanzine; they had no hope of creating profit from their publications without crossing over to mainstream press, as some of the early 80’s zines such as Metal Forces had done. The sheer amount of competing media also meant it was impossible for anyone to claim the status of “a death metal Bible” and retrospectively, this was valuable to the development and outreach of tangential, even opposing points of view. Xeroxed artifacts as an after school hobby guaranteed freedom of speech to an extent alien to major media prone to be manipulated by management and executives.

Alan: Almost all of the experiences in doing a zine that I had were positive. Perhaps the only negative thing was when customs would sometimes steal from me (money, t-shirts, tapes – really anything that took their fancy) or a band would rip you off and not send you whatever it was you paid for. I mean back then you had this nightmare of waiting for shit, and you had to just trust people and the most you could do to protect your ‘well hidden cash’ to wrap it in carbon paper to avoid detection by x-ray. Jesse Pintado did that to me infact, the shit, heh. I sent him $5 for a demo and never got it, imagine his surprise when I showed up in Tampa in 1990 for the whole damn ‘Harmony Corruption’ recording sessions, haha! It was OK though, on the last day there he said he was sorry, I told him it was OK. If I had stayed in Australia and never got to do all this stuff, then I would have been pissed off of course. My zine policy was that we would only review what we liked. I wasn’t going to waste space writing about what I don’t like about this band that I think sucks. So we stated that anything like that we would pay to return, you know, so the band could send it out to someone who could actually do something with it. A lot of people didn’t grasp the concept and would get mad. I mean, would you rather someone blast your band and lose you fans, or would you like them to shut the hell up and mail it back to you? That’s a damn no-brainer. There were one or two people that I met later down the road, even that I used to write to, years before, and we didn’t get along that well. I won’t name names. Most everything about it all was positive, I didn’t do phone interviews because of the expense calling from Australia then was insane. Now international calls from Australia are cheaper than calling someone on the same street I live on! But it was cool just to bullshit with my traders buddies, or Lori Bravo, Trey, David, Mitch Harris… there were a number of people I would call just to talk to and get news from.

Brian: I’m not trying to sugarcoat the past, but I can’t think of a negative experience that I had. Positive experiences were plentiful… I enjoyed doing phone interviews back then, because the bands were still small, it wasn’t a strictly business call. I interviewed Trevor Peres (Obituary) and after the interview we just kept on chatting about the scenes in Florida and Buffalo and just music in general, same when I interviewed Steve Digiorgio (Sadus) and Sharon Bascovksy (Derketa).

Niko: I guess it’s simply that if you’re enthusiastic enough you’ll find the time and money. Money was always a problem, but somehow I more or less managed to fund the printing from the sales of previous issues. As for time, the zine (Hammer of Damnation) and the band (Thergothon) were my main activities outside school, I had no interest in sports and other such hobbies. The most positive aspect was the opportunity to do everything by yourself from start to finish and finally have the printed zine in your hands. The most negative aspect was probably when something went seriously wrong in the printing process. I used to look into all kinds of mainstream, high-profile magazines, art and culture etc. and tried to use that kind of presentation in the fanzine/underground context and subject matters. Of course I still had to do everything by hand, with some help from a primitive computer, word processor and matrix printer. Luckily I knew someone who could screen the photos for me for free.

Pete: Well, the money was needed only for printing and time wasn`t an issue. There was no computers and such, I wrote the interviews for Pure Fucking Hell with typewriter and band logos & photos I got from the bands if they had any. Then I “designed” the pages, like where the text, possible photos and band logo goes and when all the pages were ready the whole thing went to print. If you knew a good printing place and used a bit of your brains doing the pages you could get a surprisingly good end result with that kind of procedure.

Timo: Time was a resource that most of the scene people back then had loads of. Although a lot of things were going on in the scene that kept growing rapidly, the pace of life was slower because there was no Internet or mobile phones. Most of us did not go around boozing and fucking. At least I did not. Not because we did not want to, but for example I lived in a very small town of Rovaniemi, in the middle of Lapland. There was not so much to do if you were a nerdy long-haired boy living away from town. And it was very cold and dark most of the year. So editing a zine and sending out tons of letters seemed like viable option. The first two issues of Damn Zine/Fallen Pages were actually funded in a surprising way: I managed to convince the city of Rovaniemi to pay for on the grounds of the zine being a cultural project. So the good tax payers of Rovaniemi are to thank. The third and final issue I paid for myself, but luckily the printing house sponsored it as well, even though their management consisted of very strict and devoted Christians! The devil works in mysterious ways…

Infestation of Evil: Chroniclers of Black Metal

The beginning of the 90’s was greeted by an explosion of death metal into mass media attention, MTV airplay and new fans. There were probably more death metal zines than ever, the likes of Balance of Terror (Canada), Biopsy (Finland), Fallen Pages (Finland), The Grimoire of Exalted Deeds (USA), Hammer of Damnation (Finland), Hellspawn (Finland), Putrefaction (Sweden) and The Requiem (USA) catering to the hordes yearning for information from the realms beyond Morbid Angel and Obituary who thrived at the peak of their fame.

Pete: There were a lot of great zines but I think Slayer (Nor) was the best. I don`t remember where the idea for making a zine came from, but there were a lot of people involved making the first issue of Grey Apple zine. We started from zero, put out the first issue and sold all the copies (100 I think) and then it was time to make the second issue and nobody else was interested except me, so I thought I`ll do it myself. I changed the crappy name to Pure Fucking Hell magazine and put out the second issue and it went from there. I don`t really recall any negative experiences, some bands didn`t answer to interviews though. All of the interviews for PFH were done by letter, so I didn`t meet the people in person. You got to remember in the early 1990`s it was all underground and the bands weren`t touring like nowadays. I think the only live interview was with Napalm Death in Lepakko on the Napalm Death/Dismember/Obituary tour in 1992, that was in the first issue.

Timo: There were many zines back then and surprisingly many of them were Finnish: Intestinal, Biopsy, The Untouchables, Hammer of Damnation and of course the mightiest: Isten. Slayer magazine from Norway was superb as well. I enjoyed many foreign zines but in 1990-1993 the Finnish ones were prime of the prime, interesting writing and good English skills combined in a fine way.

Niko: There were a number to zines that, similar to mine, attempted to think outside the box so to speak, trying to find new angles to things and featuring new, unknown, different artists. You know, trying to introduce things that the reader wouldn’t yet know he/she will find interesting! As for people, there were many great, intelligent and interesting people such as Marko (Beherit), Morbid (Necromantia), Euronymous (Mayhem), Roberto (Monumentum) etc. and naturally also a few assholes but I must say I don’t really remember any particular examples. Maybe because I pay more attention to works and ideas than persons, in general.

Timo: It was totally positive for me, I can’t truly name anything shitty about those years. I got to know great people from bands, witnessing new art being born and in my own small way helping to create a scene that will be interesting to research for anthropologists of the future. I could feature the bands I wanted and loved: Rotting Christ, Blasphemy, Beherit, Impaled Nazarene, Necromantia, Carcass, Nocturnus etc. and made great friends with some of those people. Fallen Pages was the second publication in the world to interview My Dying Bride, I thought that their demo had potential in it. I have to say that I could not see the careers that Burzum or Cradle of Filth would have judging by their early promo tapes they sent to me – I actually ignored them.

All the while, dark minds were brewing plots in their suburban chambers as the black metal militia was slowly starting to strengthen its grasp on the souls of puny mortals. The electrified web of contact across regions allowed necromantic, spiritual and evil traits of the emergent possession cover ground at vast speed. The influential Mayhem axis, gathering followers around Scandinavia, sought to spread fear amidst the normalized death metal culture, which had accepted a new generation of funny skateboarders who loved brutal music and extreme sounds. They were not alone in their dark aims, as the blasphemies of witchcraft surrounded Canadian, South American, Finnish and Greek death metal and black metal alike, but the obsessive quality and Euronymous’ media manipulation skills wrestled the attention from the faltering death metal community. Coupled with an era of artistic magnitude for Nordic black metal, the zine culture caught the bright burning fires of the churches, heralding the age of the final artistic statement of underground metal before Internet covered everything in ashes and the smoke of deceit. Fans of mid-90’s black metal often grabbed a copy of Cerberus (Finland), Descent (USA), Desecration of Virgin (Germany), Imhotep (Norway), I Return to Darkness (Finland), Kill Yourself (Finland), Nordic Vision (Norway), Petrified (USA), Pure Fucking Hell (Finland), Tales of the Macabre (Germany), Voices from the Darkside (Germany) or Wheresmyskin (USA) to accompany the nocturnal excursion, candlelit mutilation or a visit to the toilet.

Black metal coverage was also picked up by the mainstream press in the wake of the terror of those Norwegians they called the Black Circle. French bands of the Les Legions Noires community (Vlad Tepes, Belketre) and the Polish Slavic heathens around the Temple of Fullmoon sect (Graveland, Veles) added their own violent, occult and occasionally political statements to the chaotic melting pot of obscurity. Rhetoric was at a completely new level now compared to the death metal years. Defying any kind of reason and common sense, bands declared war on each other and society at large, used their anonymity and obscurity to suggest the presence of dangerous cult fanaticism and deliberately alienated every average death metal fan. While there is no denying the fact that black metal was a serious matter for these groups, and rightly so, the intensification of image eventually led to role play and narcissism.

The harsh attitude of black metal created an irreconcilable gap between death metal, now consisting mostly of the “melodic” offspring of the Gothenburg clique and the “brutal” bands who imitated Cannibal Corpse, and the romantics, nihilists and Satanists who sought things that were hardly descendants of American rock music. The traditional image of the headbanger was rapidly becoming obsolete, with black metal bands opting for a gothic or medievalist appearance, brutal death metal and groove metal assimilating items of hardcore or rap and people difficult to tell apart from the crowd invading in flocks.

Zines as the purveyors of in-depth interviews and archaic scene knowledge became more philosophical, influenced by the creativity and intelligence of black metal, ambient, neo-classicism and other weapons of the Nordic uprising against normative death metal. Issues of the kind were occasionally available at black/death metal oriented record stores and mailorders, but for those without access to them the alternatives were either the moronic mainstream press or the resurgent Internet.

Droid Sector: Information Networks and the Degeneration

A few metal obsessed hackers had spread information, news and reviews through phone lines before, but personal computers became a common household item during the 90’s and most of the mainstream users got their first networking and online discussion experiences in this era through the Internet, which grew radically during the decade, from a mostly college and university utilized serious information channel to a worldwide asylum of Babylonic proportions.

Engineers, housewives and Aspies alike accessed organized discographies, commentaries, discussions and news of old and new metal alike on webzines and portals such as American Nihilist Underground Society, BNR Metal Pages, Chronicles of Chaos webzine, Inferno webzine, Lost Souls Domain, Mega’s Metal Pages and USENET newsgroups. Never before had trading, correspondence and contact with underground metal fans all over the world been so easy. Today, in the era of Encyclopedia Metallum and similar databases it’s hard to imagine the work it had taken to find information and discographies of bands no-one at your local record store knew a thing about.

While webzines didn’t directly compete with printed zines because of their more limited readability and different approach in organizing information, the easy access to metal databases undoubtedly contributed to the contraction of zine culture, along with the reasons outlined earlier. Only entertaining, in-depth and unique zines survived in printed form, often published more infrequently than before. Jobs and families occupy the time of the old school and the new generation has many other options at their disposal beside the laborious DIY printed publication.

Niko: I grew tired of the whole metal scene in the early 90′s, partly because it all turned boring due to thousands of emerging bands sounding all very similar to me, and partly because I was discovering electronic and experimental music that seemed more & more interesting to me. I did go on with the zine for some time, featuring less metal and more other stuff that interested me, but after a while I put an end to it. I think what eventually killed it for me was that I was tired of having this “obligation” to review all the stuff I received, and to try to be analytic about music instead of simply exploring and enjoying it, etc. It was becoming an unpaid job, I didn’t find anything creative or enjoyable about it anymore. Actually I still don’t enjoy writing about music or trying to analyze or describe it, something about that process kills part of the excitement.

Pete: The bands got bigger and stopped doing interviews for smaller zines and the newer bands weren`t interesting. I think the whole zine culture somehow faded in the late 1990`s, I don`t really know why. I also had started buying recording equipment etc. so I didn`t have money to print the zine anymore.

Timo: I got very ambitious about the zine, wanted to make every issue more and more professional and at the same time my musical taste got more ambitious as well. Making just another issue of a metal magazine was not an option for me, so after some time passed other things took its place in my life. The three issues are all as good as I could make them during the time they were made. Soon my band Black Crucifixion would also transform into Promethean and I could express myself even more through music. One day I realised that there would not be a fourth issue. I didn’t have much material for it ready, maybe just one interview of Impiety that Holocausto submitted. So there is no “lost” Fallen Pages #4 waiting in my vaults.

Brian: For me it was a combination of things. I got a full time job so my time was much more limited and I didn’t want to do something that I could only put a half assed effort into. The other part of it was that the scene was changing and becoming trendy and it just got old fast, new bands would pop up and get signed when they really weren’t good enough to be signed and it just watered down the scene.

Alan: It took over a year between Buttface 1 and 2 coming out, it just kept getting bigger and bigger and we thought we’d do something odd and make this monster fat ass zine, heh! My co-editor was meant to keep getting material for it while I went to the USA and Canada for 6 months in 1990, but he didn’t gather any material and I ended up getting offered a job with Morbid Angel while I was in Florida. That killed the zine. If I had come back to Australia as planned and never went back to the US, then BF might have stayed around a few more years – but by ‘93 I might say it would have stopped because the music was overpopulated with garbage bands. And it’s got 1000 times worse by 2009.I did try to keep Buttface alive as Buttface Productions in Tampa, by financing the release of my friend Jan’s band Agathocles’ first flexi disc. But my partner in that turned out to be a cokehead and ripped me and the people who ordered the flexi off badly. Some got out, here and there, but the majority I kept with me all this time, and only sent the leftovers to Jan in 2009! Almost 20 years later!

The underground metal zine is not yet an obsolete form of media. Publications such as Baphometal (Argentina), The Convivial Hermit (USA), Cross of Black Steel (Romania), Crypts of Eternity (Peru), Dauthus (Sweden), Fall to Your Knees Pissing (USA), Funeral Maelstrom of Hate (Italy), Grievantee (Finland), Hellpike (Germany), Horrible Eyes (Germany), Kaleidoscope (Finland), Oaken Throne (USA), Psicoterror (Peru), Qvadrivium (Finland), The Serpent Bearer (Finland), The Sinister Flame (Finland), Strength Through War (France) and Womb (Finland) are equals to their legendary forebears in literacy, style and tomblike appearance. They publish in-depth interviews dealing with topics from philosophy and magic to science besides the actual recording process, whose nowadays sophistication is unmatched by the legends of the past. Even the most obscure of bands are frighteningly conscious about their image and aims. Yet, their statements remain inevitably in the shadow of their colleagues from past decades in terms of influence, not because of any fault on behalf of the writers, but in keeping with the cycle of life and death which, as we have sadly noted, death metal and black metal are not exempt from.

Timo: Fallen Pages gave me direction in life, I would not be sitting on this chair now had I not been able to see things in an international perspective from very early age. And having to handle schedules, layout, printing, writing and monetary issues. Back in 1990 Rovaniemi was very, very far even from Helsinki. And even further away from Europe. Now with Internet it is different for kids living in distant places, but looking at it now, it is weird that the small town produced people and bands like Beherit and Lordi. And Fallen Pages and Black Crucifixion.

Alan: I think the zine culture as you put it pal, it’s all about paying your dues, and showing the scene that you mean business, that you care enough about it to get up off your ass and promote the bands as best you are able. It doesn’t exist really anymore I guess, not on the level it did anyways. Instead of doing the work, today more people are concerned with ‘collecting’ Myspace official band page profile photos on their top friends list. You know? That’s gay to me.

 


 

This piece of death metal research was conducted with the help of the following generous individuals: Alan Moses of Buttface zine, Brian Pattison of Chainsaw Abortions zine, Niko Sirkiä of Hammer of Damnation zine, Timo Iivari of Fallen Pages zine and Pete Ilvespakka of Pure Fucking Hell zine. You can admire scans of some of their issues and many more of the period at the Deathmetal.Org Exhibits page. Alan and Brian have joined their forces recently to publish a recapitulation of the most important years of death metal, 1984-1991, through a collection of photographs and stories narrated by the bands and zine editors of the era. Niko pursues the wizardry of ambient and avant-garde soundscapes. Timo and Pete continue performing pure black metal with Black Crucifixion and Diaboli, respectively. Deathmetal.Org loudly hails all the participants!

What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and; anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth and Lies in a Non-moral Sense

Ascension of Sepulchral Echoes: A Finnish Death Metal Revival

1. Introduction: The Northernmost Death Metal
2. Those Once Loyal: The Last Stand of the Underground
3. Lie In Ruins: Swallowed by the Void
4. Devilry: Rites for the Spring of Supremacy
5. Slugathor: Echoes from Beneath
6. Deathspawned Destroyer: WarBloodMassacre
7. Sepulchral Aura: Demonstrational CD MMVII
8. Ascended: The Temple of Dark Offerings EP
9. Hooded Menace: Fulfill the Curse
10. The Lords of the Shadow Realm: The Future of Finnish Death

Written by Devamitra with Tuomas K. (Lie in Ruins), Ilmari Jalas (Slugathor), Lasse Pyykkö (Hooded Menace), Teemu Haavisto (Deathspawned Destroyer), J. Partanen (Sepulchral Aura), Juuso Lautamäki (Ascended) and Sir Holm (Devilry)

Introduction: The Northernmost Death Metal

 

Shattering the stasis of human evolution
Pioneering man of god-like stature
Erase and improve the temple foundation
Annihilate the meek, empty and inferior

– Devilry, Ouroborous Coiling

 

Some of us remember Finland as it was in my early youth; a humble country, tormented by Russia’s eternal presence, influenced by American dreams, taciturn men stubborn in idealism, tainted by alcohol and madness, working to preserve the ambiguous myths of freedom and independence while searching for truths in a society where the rules of piety and devotion did not apply anymore.

Out of the silence and the cold of wintry nights arose wolven howls, bestial growls and the electric screech of demoniac strings. Clandestine groups scattered across the lake-adorned strip of land which was too vast in area for the people to be in constant touch except by phone and letter, took to the newest musical movement to inherit the throne of the kings of headbanging and thrash: grindcore. Xysma from Turku played Carcass inspired devolved bursts of groovy noise with the mechanical straightforward approach upon which Finnish industrial corporations later built their reputation.

Abhorrence, eventually to be mutated into an exploration of battle and folk attitudes in Amorphis, was among the first Death Metal formations in the real Scandinavian style. Morbid demos from around Finland swarmed like an infestation of maggots. The next few years’ worth of offerings continue to mesmerize and awe fans of old school Death Metal worldwide: Funebre, Sentenced, Disgrace, Phlegethon, Purtenance, Adramelech, Mordicus, Necropsy, Demigod, Vomiturition, Convulse, Depravity, Lubricant, Cartilage, Wings, Demilich and others.

Tuomas K.I think it was a sort of tribute to our favorite bands in our case back when we started playing in 1993. We were heavily into the early 90′s Death Metal bands so it was kind of natural for us to give it a go, since we’ve had started trying to play our instruments only a couple of years earlier.  There were only me and Roni S. playing back then and we never really intended to find another member back in the 90′s. But if we should’ve wanted another member to play, I think it would’ve been pretty hard to find one, because I think we knew only a few guys that were into Death Metal from our neighborhood. Then again, when Lie in Ruins started “for real” in the new millennium it was easier to get a lineup together.

JalasI can agree on that this was the strongest period for the music and most of it died in the mid 1990′s when Black Metal music “took over” the underground. For me it is still a bit hard to analyze all this. I have always listened to what I want and when I want. I’m not saying that I didn’t have Black Metal seasons, but bands like Slayer and Morbid Angel were always there, lurking behind (both in my record player and as recording artists).

Death Metal as an item of fashion soon trailed away and the sonic temples formed by groups of school friends split up or moved on to styles better appreciated by their peers. Drinking alcohol in frozen woods and abandoned cellars while scrawling prayers to darkness and exhaling riffs of death was replaced by jobs, families and military service. Most of the cheap labels went out of business since B grade grindcore and Death Metal where not profitable anymore, dooming many of the aforementioned relics of the scene to obscurity until a partial resurrection through reissues and MP3 hubs.

PyykköFinnish bands got tired of playing Death Metal and wanted to be something that they really couldn´t master very well. It was quite embarrassing shit to watch in some cases.

Those Once Loyal: The Last Stand of the Underground

The chromatic, fiery madness of original Death Metal was too much for the glamour-seeking generation who caught glimpses of extreme metal through the media attention of Black Metal and the TV exposure of “Gothenburg” and gothic metal. Other fans disregarded the old groups for their lack of consistency and humorous appearance, complete with interviews that often read like a discussion of retards in a hangover attempting a foreign language. But as always, true spirit is elusive and the self-importance of the new scene was hardly a better choice in life.

Not many of the original Death Metal fans were enthusiastic about Children of Bodom’s sappy power metal infiltration of Gothenburg techniques or Rotten Sound’s mechanical drum clinic grindcore. Nevertheless, the next generation of longhairs were inspired by these bands who had mastered the latest techniques of production perfect for a violently loud catharsis in car stereo or as a video game soundtrack. It was escapist, but not the Yuggothian dreams of a Demigod. In this case, influenced by groove metal and speed metal, commercial Death Metal sought to act as a youth counselor, harnessing hate and psychotic religion into the individualism of I don’t give a fuck and the various related ethical systems of liberalism.

It is appropriate that while studio musicians’ and record label executives’ fake Death Metal from Helsinki was climbing the charts, the real good stuff started happening in the underground. Black Metal, as always, was an anti-social reaction to commercialization and the turn of the decade saw a resurgence of Finnish devil worshippers returning to the blasphemous sounds of Bathory and Darkthrone. The travesties at large left people wondering if Death Metal was truly dead and unable to bestow any more bloody and sacral offerings to the underground. This is where the morbid cults under our scrutiny enter the field.

JalasIn the beginning of Slugathor our line-up was the same as the one we had before we started to play Death Metal. But soon we dropped one guitar player and only had 4 members in the band for a while. Our original vocalist, an esoteric person, Nebiros, was an important member in the beginning and wrote really
non-typical more philosophical lyrics than was heard in typical Death Metal at the time. Also the universe, our seen nature and all experiences influenced us, besides the spoiled “metal scene” that was in the late 90′s, which was also indeed very influential in a way. Definitely I would describe our approach more
brutal than most of the other bands we heard from Finland. This is one of the reasons to start the band like this, besides ultimate passion and love for the genre.

HaavistoIn fact the birth of Deathspawned Destroyer was a mere accident. We had meant to just play any kind of metal, in order to have some additional instrumental practice considering our other bands and so we decided to play Death Metal or a related style with Kai Lehtinen. Death Metal was a rather obvious choice because of a our mutual interest in the genre and the aim was to sound alike to old Cannibal Corpse, Blood, Autopsy etc. without any ambition to create something unique. However we started to churn out a great amount of songs, one each new rehearsal. Then we decided to make up a name for the band and we found a good one from a Cannibal Corpse album title: Bloodthirst. That’s what we were called at the time we did our first demo “Reign of Terror”. The demo sounds exactly like it was supposed to and the overall sound is like we meant it to be. The vocals were supposed to be brutal enough and the sound had to be muddy. To the surprise of both of us someone wanted to release our album. At this point we noticed that there were a few other Bloodthirsts around so we decided to go for a name that no-one else would have for sure, ending up with Deathspawned Destroyer. Originally it was Deathspawn Destroyer but we are told that it’s grammatically bullshit so we added the “-ed”, which still doesn’t sound as good to me as the wrongly spelled one. But anyway the band was born by accident, me and Lehtinen totally agree on the spirit.

PartanenIn 2004-2006 I had been doing a few ambient releases and when those projects hibernated, I had a fresh vision back into the darkness of Death Metal magic. I don’t know exactly what the inspiration for Sepulchral Aura was. There was a vision which commanded itself to manifest through my fleshly vessel and I’m glad it happened.

LautamäkiBefore we got our singer Ascended played some kind of mixture of thrash and Death Metal. Things started to evolve towards traditional Death Metal when we started to discover Finnish gems like Abhorrence, Amorphis, Demigod, Demilich. The sound of those bands was very immense. It was dark, heavy and still maintaining some very mystical quality to it. The only thing left to do was to create and emulate same atmospheres like those records have and introduce our own vision of Death Metal to the world. The hardest part of completing the lineup was to get a decent singer. When Tommi contacted us and joined in it was clear after few rehearsals that the lineup was perfect.

PyykköThe idea to form Hooded Menace happened more less by an accident during our Candlemass jam sessions. Instead of melodic vocals we used Death Metal grunts. It was fun to play and worked pretty well so we thought why not to make our own band that would would combine the elements of Doom and Death Metal. I have been wanting to do something like this for a long time. So that three-piece jam session group became the lineup for the “Fulfill the Curse” album.

HolmOur guitarist Grave’s urge for self-expression and inexhaustible well of riffs is what ultimately inspired the birth of Devilry. Everything else is inconsequential and not of great importance at all.

The new millennium saw a legion of astute musicians interested in unleashing explosive, severe and gripping metal without taking part in the pretense of the new generation of Black Metal. In many ways, the sacred and primal integrity of old school metal had collapsed because widespread attention had created an unstable communal atmosphere of unclear and mismatched intentions. That is why most of what we hear in mainstream media regarding new metal is irony, jokes about “true metal” and meta-metal bullshit filled with endless self-references. Yet, a strong web of personal contacts, by letter, phone or Internet, fueled the fires of Death Metal, along with a fanatically devoted fan base.

Lie in Ruins: Swallowed by the Void

The veteran Death Metallers from Olari practiced and mastered their Scandinavia influenced art for 15 years before their first release on a label, the impressive “Architecture of the Dead” EP featuring older compositions. While this unique band seemed to receive very little promotion, disciples prayed for the day of reckoning when this constellation could bestow their malevolence in full force upon the wretched scene. The long, exhausting spell “Swallowed by the Void” was to be the definitive answer to these inquiries. Sluggish, conjuring and micro-melodic abyss anthems pay unyielding tribute to the likes of Dismember and Grotesque, aiming for an evil glory that betrays the way death metal lost the innocent meddling in dark arts prevalent in the late 80’s and discovered serious ideologies by the force of contamination and crossbreeding with Black Metal. Especially the progressive moods of the deadly closing track “Bringer of Desolation”, reminiscent of the Lovecraftian horror pathos of the longer tracks by Nile deserves an inclusion in the Death Metal canon of the decade. Serious catacomb dwelling fans of Repugnant and Necros Christos will feel completely at home with Lie in Ruins’ atmospheric, sacral method of composition which eschews fast and classical parts, but returns to the Sabbath-ian roots of primal death doom experience.

Devilry: Rites for the Spring of Supremacy

One of the most anti-social and least compromising commando squads from Finland in any musical genre, Devilry’s series of EP’s cumulated during the decade into an impressive demonstration of technical and lyrical ability that converted hordes of Black Metal listeners into old school Death Metal and vicious thrash. Like a less confused “The Laws of Scourge” era Sarcofago, Devilry abstains from long buildups to frame scenes of street violence and political upheaval in robotically symmetric percussion and inhuman, precise, spouting syllables of learned rhetoric. One of the fastest Finnish metal bands, at least in overall impression, Devilry quotes Slayer for a reductionist but holistic approach to songwriting which means that each song is built from a clearly defined set of riffs arranged to unleash the most powerful experience of intensity on the listener, while Sir Holm’s text praises the law and order of a reich that would be built according to the code of the warrior and rule of the naturally supreme. Essays could be written about Devilry’s interest in beauty, as despite the feral character of the music all songs are geometrical complexes with no loose parts hanging and even the cover picture is a serene, celestial scene incorporating Finnish functionalist architecture. Even the condemnation and hate that hangs as an eternal cloud upon the political rants of Devilry, are mostly posed as arguments of: what is not beautiful, does not deserve to be upheld, not even tolerated.

Tuomas K.It has been fairly easy for us to find contacts in the Death Metal underground so far. I think the communications are now way better compared to 90′s. It is easier to get yourself “heard”. The downside is that you also get a lot of these individuals or groups who want to get themselves heard, so you’ll have to dig a little deeper to find something worthwhile. In the end it’s still the music that speaks for itself, so that has to do a lot in order to get support or even fans of your work.

JalasI also think it was not hard to find contacts for people who are really into Death Metal. Just look at Tomasz (Time Before Time). Despite his young age, he has been long time in the underground and he actually was also one of the first constant contacts I found (I think back in 2001 or so).

PyykköNowadays getting contacts is very easy because of the Internet. It´s damn easy to spread your music over the Internet. Myspace is a very good tool for that. There´s an endless amount of crap but also lots of good stuff. The communication has become easier but then again there´re so many bands around that you have to be pretty damn good to stand out. I have found these times very good for metal. There is still a demand for a “real thing” and people around seem very enthusiastic and passionate. The old days won´t come back. The most exciting era of metal lies in the past but man, I´m having a blast today! Things could be much worse. I´m not a huge follower of the scene but it seems to be doing really fine. Metal is still exciting and fresh in a very rotten way though!

HolmDevilry has been such a solitary entity during the past few years that I do not have a clue about what goes on and where. I really do not even care. There is obviously support for our cause, else we would not exist in the public at all, but I am not interested in such trivial matters as finding fans and contacts.

PartanenFor Sepulchral Aura the response has been surprisingly good. I guess there’s support, fans and contacts out there at least for those who deserve, but I’m not that interested about that. But still it’s good to hear that some people have liked the CD and care to promote it and Sepulchral Aura in their own way. In general, people around me are not interested in Death Metal.

LautamäkiThere has been minor Death Metal scene rising in Finland and it has been interesting to see that we are not the youngest band around devoted to this art. We were also just recently interviewed by Finnish metal magazine Miasma so I would say that there is slight interest growing to this style inside Finland. Also gigs like Slugathor, Lie in Ruins and Stench Of Decay in Helsinki are helping the scene a lot. Many people don’t view Death Metal as an ideological and devoted music style such as Black Metal for example, but there has been so many Death Metal bands who have been loyal to their style and ideology for years and should be honored for showing such a devotion to this form of art. Also new genres like this so called Deathcore spawning from United States are distorting the views of what Death Metal is really about.

Slugathor: Echoes from Beneath

Slugathor is already a veteran of “new” Finnish Death Metal, having debuted in 2000 with the “Delicacies of the Cadaver” EP right when everyone else was concentrating in elitist Black Metal fantasies. The morbid, dirty, ugly and non-theatrical submersion to grinding but dimensional grave exhumations was initially scorned upon but eventually they even signed to one of the premier Black Metal labels of the world, Drakkar Records from France. By the time of the third album “Echoes from Beneath” Slugathor knows exactly how to manipulate intensity and the listening experience of both black and Death Metal listeners, opening cavernous vaults and passages through warped holes in time and space using mostly foreboding rhythm guitar chugging of patterns familiar from since the dawn of Death Metal, ethereal melodic background leads by Tommi Grönqvist and evil vocals by Axu Laakso that borrow technique from both Deicide and Demilich without sounding as extreme as them. Like Bolt Thrower, this band is all about heaviness, ambience and symmetry while all “display” type of elements of technical Death Metal are kept to a minimum. A special mention goes to Ilmari Jalas’ drum technique which borrows heavily from Doom Metal in building up groove to a climax where dynamics emphasize the rhythm riff so that the only possibility is to headbang convulsively.

JalasBolt Thrower influenced Slugathor really strongly in the beginning and always. Some people compare Slugathor also to bands like Asphyx or Obituary, but I would say that these influences are only minor and definitely more inspiration has flown, when we listened to bands such as Demigod, old Amorphis, Grave, Incantation and old Mortician. Definitely Morbid Angel also, but this was not heard so well on our music very much, I think. Also some bands, like Kaamos and Necros Christos at least influenced me in a way, because they had such unique concepts and ultimate feeling of death. Some more obscure names pop up to my mind, such as Bloody Gore (Indonesia), Darklord (Australia), all female band Mythic and so on. You know, it was all these 7″EP and demos we listened at the time besides full-length albums. Even demo-material of Dying Fetus, which could be a shock (?) to some because of their nowadays political message. But that band was brutal as hell when we first heard them. Also they were lyrically more into mutilation, etc. back then. Maybe we got into that because of teenage enthusiasm, but for some reason all this stuff still has very special place in our hearts, because they developed us to become what we are now.

The slow new resurgence of Finnish Death Metal was a joy to behold as the pieces of music were sincere, the young fan base was delighted to get rid of the obnoxious attitudes that had contaminated the feeling of Black Metal and many of the bands and their releases were still very much conceptually constructed with great care and attention. Devilry spoke of a militant order against degeneration, Khert-Neter conjured images of ancient Egyptian paths to enlightenment, Sotajumala and Deathspawned Destroyer delved into the sufferings of the Finnish soldiers and Hooded Menace used horror movies as absurd and illustrative symbols for the infinite darkness that surrounds the apparent order in the sequence of human lives.

Deathspawned Destroyer: WarBloodMassacre

Primitive but astoundingly direct, Deathspawned Destroyer from Huittinen (home of Vordven) has with their two full lengths established Finnish parallels to grindcore influenced bands such as Blood and even Blasphemy but remained widely unnoticed because of a lack of pretension and promotion. While “The First Bestial Butchery” album indulged in gore fantasies of Finnish rural winter madness, “WarBloodMassacre” logically continues to explore real world horrors that happened within the same fields and woods we inhabit here. The shades and violent ghosts of Finnish war history 1939-1945 are not haunted, prophetic or wise in the nearly brainless, stomach churning vision of Deathspawned Destroyer. This is music and lyric of the gut, the trenches and the perpetual dirt. It is Bolt Thrower if it was created by boozing Finnish woodsmen instead of punk influenced British soccer fans. The riffs would probably tell their story as well to men who lived 10,000 years ago, provided they were fighters with hate for the scourge of slavery and love for their home woodlands. The slower parts approximate the atmospheres of Amebix brand of ethereal hardcore. The band gets a chance to try its hand at epic length composition with the more than 10 minute “Doom Before Death” and why the simplicity of structure may make progressive listeners cringe, there is hardly a criticism to be made about the way the parts are elaborated by the cruel lyrics that detail the sufferings of a prisoner of war under torture. The relentless forward driving rhythm and ghoulish voice of the band might be borrowed from the old school, but the vicious, nearly cartoonish black-and-white history flashback is something that needs to be heard to be believed.

HaavistoOur lyrics were far from philosophy and deep meanings. The lyrics of “Reign of Terror” were almost completely taken from “The Diary of Jack the Ripper”, but edited enough to not be a clear plagiarism. On “The First Bestial Butchery” we built new lyrics almost by putting one harsh word after another and looking at the result. We did pay enough attention to lyrics to get one more sensible piece written by someone outside the band: “Autopsy Romance”. The cover art of the album was an idea we had in mind for a long time but had no suitable use before. The second full-length “WarBloodMassacre” was something completely different as the lyrics were entirely done by a person not in the band, with greater care and attention and with the war thematic. I think one can clearly see the main influence at the time being Bolt Thrower. I think the cover art was arranged for by someone at Bestial Burst and very fine they were, thanks for them. A special mention must go to the cover artist of the Bloodhammer/Deathspawned Destroyer split, as one couldn’t make a better representation of the old school spirit. The finest cover art ever.

JalasLike I said, Slugathor’s old vocalist Nebiros had quite philosophical lyrical themes. Some lyrics are easy to read, but not that easy to understand right away. They make you think. Well, after he went out of space and started to sing to birds instead of making brutal death noise, we had Axu in the band and he would be the right person to answer about the concept. I’m sure he had his own vision of what is a pure Death Metal lyric.

PyykköThe lyrical and graphic concept of Hooded Menace mostly comes from the 70’s Spanish horror film series “The Blind Dead”. That defines our name, the logo and the basic atmosphere of the band. All that slow motion and creepy, menacing mood of those movies are there in Hooded Menace. If you have seen the movies you know what I mean. “The Blind Dead” is the bottom line but there´s more to Hooded Menace than that. We have songs based on other horror films too and some lyrics come from the writer´s own imagination. That sleazy imagination is always strongly influenced by horror movies though! There´s no deeper philosophy to it. We are all about horror! That´s why I sometimes call us as a horror death/doom band. No horror, no Hooded Menace.

Tuomas K.Lie in Ruins is conceptually 100% dealing with death, darkness and all things related. After all, this is Death Metal, so the lyrics and the imagery definitely should reflect that.

PartanenThe nucleus of Sepulchral Aura could be the juxtapositioning of chaos and cosmos, life and death and their intertwined yet paradoxical counter-natures. If one knows the Gnostic text “Thunder Perfect Mind” it could be easier to grasp the drift here. The rest is basically visions and of course experiences transmuted into sound and words. No particular philosophy, but reflections of the path toward self-knowledge by illuminating the shadowed aspects within, self-discipline through warrior and mystic ideals and becoming a higher being.

HolmFor Devilry, National Socialism as an all-encompassing Weltanschauung is the foundation on which everything is built.

LautamäkiTo keep things simple I just say that we are influenced and inspired by a very universal subject called death. Western world has a very sick and unnatural attitude towards such natural thing as death. It is totally ignored or people pretend that it doesn’t even exist while media has demonized it to the point that there are people who really don’t understand that death is something one has to face sooner or later. Not only concerning individuals and families, but one should understand that every civilization and culture will face death as it is seen through history. Only death is real!

Sepulchral Aura: Demonstrational CD MMVII

Sepulchral Aura is not the first time that mastermind J. Partanen (Second Sun, Aeoga etc.) has picked up the guitar and the drums but it’s the first time he produced a minor classic for the underground to remember from this era of harsh and esoteric Finnish metal. Cryptic, obscurant and violent atonality bursts from Partanen’s figurative composing pen much like Ligeti had developed a passion for speed metal and Death Metal, far from the technical pretensions of the Cynics and Pestilences of the world. Whoever upheld the common misconception that Death Metal is not mysteries and occult metaphor, whoever thought we needed the Black Metal “kvlt” to make us interested in life’s hidden forces and spiritual darkness, had not heard the very dimensional experience Sepulchral Aura engages us in. Lead guitars are non-musical but clear and comprehensible like alien messages sent straight into the brain cortex, vocals are guttural and rasped voices somewhere between animalism and insanity, drums sound like a tribute to old Carcass except for some very idiosyncratic ways to use rhythm and nuance to underline the chaos god that devises the riffs. It is impossible to consider a discussion of this demo that doesn’t mention the legacy of Australian Death Metal and War Metal all the way from Sadistik Exekution to the furthest reaches of Portal and Stargazer. It is very much the resurrection of the sincere belief and primal energy that fueled Bestial Warlust, but in this case consecrated by the wasteland of the North instead of the haunted chasms in Down under.

PartanenIntent and improvisation played a major part in how the music itself turned out to be, so I cannot talk about conscious efforts of tributes to particular bands etc.

New Finnish Death Metal is not characterized by particular attributes in sound or can be fitted into one of the trends at large in popular Death Metal, such as fusion Death Metal, “melodic extreme metal” or hyperspeed brutal metal. Most of the bands perform intricate but non-pretentious variations on the classic Scandinavian styling (with lots of Boss Heavy Metal pedals around!), with an emphasis on accuracy and consistency of imagery and lyrics that has been newly found in the Black Metal wave of total art. Trey Azagthoth’s description of Death Metal as a feeling like serpents crawling in the amplifier is very apt in most cases. However, the Death Metal acts mostly wish to keep away from the personality cults and idol worship prevalent in other extreme metal and just keep the music fresh and intuitive.

HaavistoThat’s it. Death Metal is a feeling and when you find the right feel, your material starts to take form and develop and if it sounds a bit familiar already, who cares? It will be new because of the different sound and the feeling transmitted by the end result. It doesn’t need to be that new and special. “The First Bestial Butchery” had the most intense feeling because exactly the one I had about the resulting album was shared by many who listened to it.

HolmCreating something fresh, Death Metal or not, is utterly unimportant to me. I am more interested in just crafting good songs. Otherwise it should be difficult to relay anything through it successfully.

JalasWithout listening to any modern or happy shit, I think the variation becomes from small things, changing tempos, repeating riffs but adding a lead guitar. To be honest with these methods it is hard to invent something new, but there are still some ways to invoke the Draco.

Tuomas K.Actually that description from Mr. Azagthoth is pretty good one! Haven’t heard that one before. As for creating fresh tunes of death, I think it has to do with inspiration first. Sometimes you could have an inspirational rush and just write a whole song from one go. The second option usually is that you dig into your “database” and pick ingredients from here and there and combine those parts to a new song. One thing that is obligatory to play or write Death Metal is a very low tuning on the stringed instruments, at least in my opinion. As for distortion goes, we opt for the Boss HM pedal too, only we don’t use it exactly to get the legendary Sunlight-sound. Add some doomier parts and twisted melodies, and there you go.

LautamäkiOf those main ingredients listed above we only have the Boss heavy metal pedal which our bassist uses as distortion, so that’s the tiny bit of Swedish sound we have! We always try to deliver crushing and heavy songs which still aim to attach the mystical and ethereal feeling through dissonant melodies and solos inspired by mysteries of death and decay.

Ascended: The Temple of Dark Offerings EP

It seems sometimes like a wonder that so many Death Metal classics have been created by youngsters working on their first demo, EP or album but clearly it is a basis for less calculated and more intense statements of the primal truths these eyes have witnessed on their journey so far on earth. While the least experienced musicians on the list, Ascended from Pori prove not one bit worse in channeling the breath of exhumed grave into the nostrils of the expectant Death Metal fan. Simple but glorious, Ascended likes to keep it slow and groove onwards through melodies that recall old Tiamat, Slayer and even a bit of Black Metal. Much like Mystifier or Necros Christos, vocals intone an animated ritual chant to the dead in an almost numbingly rhythmic and non-varied manner. Sound is sparse and clear, with a surprising gap in the lower register lending the proceedings an airy, ethereal vibe of darkness. The foreboding calm of tracks such as “Wedlock of Lust” or the multi-part “Mesmerizing Stench” should be obligatory lessons for most of this generation’s Black Metal bands in what they have missed in pacing and atmospheres of evil. Technical ability and pages of morbid theology do not substitute for the realm of visions and subdued melodies that remind mortals of that which shall be over all too soon – the summer of life, clouded by the storms of the unknown, while the reaper grins to you in the horizon.

Hooded Menace: Fulfill the Curse

Perhaps no other themes in metal have suffered such an ugly abuse as those of gothic horror and its symbolic exploration of the unconscious, sexual and paranoid impulse within man. As plastic, theatrical and money-hungry hedonists swarmed like a pack of rats to invade Death Metal and Black Metal record labels, they left behind a legacy of fear which caused later audiences to abhor the careful and elegant treatment of the macabre that was the original intention of bands like Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, before the same bands’ later development infused it with a homosexual taint. While Hooded Menace has not yet produced a work to outweigh the elders, it’s done more than its share in reviving hope in a form with plenty of potential. If there is one thing that has been sadly lacking in the last decade of Death Metal, it’s beautiful and clever melodies. Led by veterans from Joensuu’s progressive Death Metal cult Phlegethon, Hooded Menace pounds, thrashes and makes dramatic gestures of sweeping funereal melodies perfect for a Candlemass album while the lyrics are growled by Lasse Pyykkö (“Leper Messiah”) as absurdist anecdotes straight from 50’s B-grade horror movies.

The apparent cheapness of “Grasp of the Beastwoman” or “Theme from Manhattan Baby” is offset by the care and calculation which proves that Hooded Menace has a profound affection for its infantile source material. This trait establishes a profound link with the old school of Death Metal, the musical manifestation of the gore and trash movie obsessions of kids whose awareness of the relevance of death and morbidity to philosophical discourse was only intuitive and spontaneous.

PyykköWe owe a lot to bands like Candlemass, Cathedral and Winter. It´s not about paying tribute, it´s about making as good slow Death Metal as we can. It´s not a tribute for tribute´s sake, you know. This band is very natural thing actually. When I write metal songs I don´t try to be old school. I am “old” and schooled during the golden days of Death Metal so old school is pretty much what comes out whether I wanted or not. One reason why we decided to form this band was because we thought there weren´t enough decent Death/Doom bands around. We use the elements that we think will make the greatest slow Death Metal. This is our vision of how this type of music should sound at its best. Basically what we do is, I´m going really black and white now, recycle all those Candlemass and Cathedral riffs, throw in some creepy Death Metal vocals and spice it up with some horror soundtrack influences. We just know what elements there has to be in our songs… or at least we know what elements we definitely don´t want to include! It´s not hard actually. It all comes out very naturally. I bet you could tell if we sounded forced. The result is something that in some putrid way sounds fresh… at least to our ears it does, and that´s pretty much enough to keep us going.

The Lords of the Shadow Realm: The Future of Finnish Death

While most media continues to highlight the hyped up Heavy, Black and Doom bands from the Land of the Thousand Lakes, we at Deathmetal.Org wish to raise a mighty salute to the legions of blasphemy and resistance who are spreading evil Death Metal amidst the wastelands of the frozen North. Unique, demanding and powerful, these bands are not in the way to become the next big thing in Death Metal, but I have the sincere hope that each reader will find something in this diverse assortment that speaks to him in the voice of transcendental communication which is the reason we have been interested in this art for all these years. These hordes will either dominate the world or rule in shadows.

PyykköWell, you never know about the future. I´d be happy with ruling in shadows, haha! Hooded Menace will never be hugely popular anyway. My ambition has always been to beat myself. To keep on making decent music as long as it´s fun, passionate and exciting. You possibly have noticed there have been some changes to the lineup after the “Fulfill the Curse” album. The other guys left the city of Joensuu because of work and studies so now Hooded Menace is a duo with me on vocals, guitars and bass and Pekka on drums. Pekka was an easy and pretty obvious choice since I already play with him in Vacant Coffin. As long as we don´t want to play live we can work as a duo like forever but sure a bass player would be nice for the rehearsals. It can get a bit boring to rehearse the songs as a twosome. Our next move in “spreading evil” is of course to release our 2nd album. That should be out sometime in the first half of 2010 on Profound Lore!

HaavistoOnce Lehtinen quit playing after the second Deathspawned Destroyer album, it meant an almost complete stop to our activity. We did two promising tracks with our new member Tuomas Murtojärvi, but we didn’t really get it properly going so the band and the Death Metal spirit has drifted away. People tend to have so much other things to do and the most important band related people have moved so far from us that when we have the occasional practice we play something totally different from Deathspawned Destroyer. The modern day Death Metal people seem anyway to be in a different world and there doesn’t seem to be a demand for old school ruckus. At least not among the “metalheads” seen in the streets around here. I haven’t followed either the recent developments in Death Metal, because the new bands don’t interest me one bit and the old ones have been devoured through and through many times. Deathspawned Destroyer rests in the shadows and maybe one day will be back and do something worth listening to… maybe. We need a guitarist who has a regular commitment to the project and who cares more about the attitude than playing right. It’s certain that things won’t work out again with the original Deathspawned Destroyer duo, but there’s no strife related to it. Hails to Lehtinen and everyone else who supported Deathspawned Destroyer and were a part of our activity in one way or another!

Tuomas K.I think our ambition with Lie in Ruins is to create and release Death Metal which we find satisfying for ourselves. If there comes a time that I or we shouldn’t be satisfied with our work, I guess we should call it a day or at least take a timeout. If there should be any ambitions to create other kind of music, I think it should done under a different moniker, which I think that some of those old bands should’ve done as well.

HolmThere is no ambition in ruling in shadows. We already are. Supreme in the league of our own. That is where Devilry will stay too. Anything else would be doomed to fail.

JalasWe never even thought about making some commercial music with Slugathor. I’m now proud to end this band without wimping out or changing style of music. I think we had our share of influence in the younger generation of Death Metal. It is unbelievable to notice that some new bands have started to sound
exactly like Death Metal is supposed to sound (1989-1991 era), even though they were hardly even born when those old bands recorded their classic demos or debut albums. Slugathor’s last offering of darkness will be a mini-album, in totalitarian Slugathor style, no compromise here either. We have played our last concert in Semifinal, Helsinki with Stench of Decay and Lie in Ruins. The band will be put on it’s already open grave, after a decade. Actually now when Slugathor’s time is over, me and Antti have decided to work on some very obscure and dark Death Metal. We just can’t stop this. Also the rest of Slugathor memebers are going to work on with their own musical projects. Which suits me the best “to dominate the world”, or “to rule in shadows”? I would choose the latter option.

LautamäkiAscended’s next big move is going to be a full-length. The process is delayed because of military service, but in Autumn 2010 we should be able to rehearse again with full lineup and maybe record the material by the end of the year. There’s plenty of material already written up, but there is just no time to rehearse it. One thing I can still promise is that the album is going to be nothing else than honest Death Metal. The only negative thing I can think of is that it is very hard to organize rehearsals since we have 5 members in the lineup.

PartanenAlso playing alone creates some practical obstacles, but they can be surpassed. I would prefer a real line-up, but due to certain aspects of the nature of SA, it is better to continue this way, at least for now. It is to become one with the shadows. Next release will be in 7″, 10″, or full-length format, but do not ask me when. The worthy music is visions, dreams, thoughts, discipline, magic, feeling and intent. The rest is a physical act. If you can smell the stench of transcendental death while playing, at least something is right. If you can see death, even better. If you die, best!

Identity Construction and Class Demonstration in Modern Black Metal

November 21, 2009 –

1. Introduction
2. The End of the Millennium: The Collapse of the Integrity of the “Scene”
3. Priests of Black Metal: The Surrealist Medievalist Reformation
4. Warriors of Black Metal: The Militant Romanticist Reformation
5. Evil Pseudo-art and the Rise of the Hipster: Revolution or Death?

Introduction

Art must excite the imagination. This is a condition of aesthetic effect, and therefore a fundamental law of all the fine arts. But it follows from this that not everything can be given directly to the senses through the work of art, but only as much as is required to lead the imagination on to the right path. Something, and indeed the final thing, must always be left over for it to do.

– Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Inner Nature of Art

Black metal music is one of these great arts. There is no religion mixed with Black metal! When religions are mixed to music it result feeble feelings, pseudo-art.

– Wlad Drakkheim (Vlad Tepes)

Histories of early black metal are dime a dozen nowadays and by now you probably know how Mayhem and Burzum came about, if you are interested, and have figured out why the churches were burnt, if you are intelligent. However, what happened after 1995 is rarely put under reasonable scrutiny because as in politics, recent events contain too much unexposed lies and hidden agendas to bear daylight.

This article intends to take the bull by the horns and explain through an eyewitness’s observation the development of the philosophy of black metal from the first divide (the cultist vs. the crowdist) that occurred around 1996 to the second divide (the realist vs. the hipster) that occurred approximately ten years later.

The End of the Millennium: The Collapse of the Integrity of the “Scene”

When the blaze in the northern sky had died out and the geniuses of the previous generation were either rotting in a jail or in a pub, a new generation sought to rediscover the meaning of black metal as a lifestyle and as a Weltanschauung. The masses, representatives of mediocrity, had already found their way into black metal when most of the original acts had betrayed the ancestral trust by developing into a theatre of gothic makeups, glam rock attitudes and weak synth-based pseudo-heroic anthems.

The Internet grew into a unifying, though disputed and hated, medium for the black metal underground to bicker about trivialities, form projects and spread news and gossip. Forums and websites contained information about hundreds of new bands, far from the old realm of tape traders and fanatics who kept meticulous contact with friends abroad through letters and phone calls. Also, the beloved underground zine, responsible for establishing the mystique around the early 90s black metal scene, was relegated to minor status as an upholder of the cursed movement.

Because the crowds present were in no way contributing to the development of black metal, as opposed to practically everyone in the beginning of 90s who was interested, the scene started to show the same fissures that had obliterated punk, hardcore and a whole lot of other once-radical artistic movements to relic status. The scene grew introverted because the outside did not seem to be interested in participating in the original barbaric-Faustian quest for freedom in darkness, even if hoarding information and releases. The scene rotated around people who, despite their intelligence, were reluctant to break genre barriers because their attitude was commitment, not innovation.

Purity of intent became mangled in a scene setting; the desire to bring power and authenticity back, to solidify black metal fans into a commando force for opposing the democratic spinelessness of modern life, was mostly a disguise. The greatest psychological motivation was the worship of one’s own personality and identity and it’s separateness from others by self-aggrandizement, by wallowing in ideas such that one is extreme, unique and important. They were like the proud fallen angels but only in the surface aspects; the core was a youth subculture among many others who share exactly the same kind of attitudes and personality types.

The black metal underground adopted more and more extreme stances to make them impenetrable to the masses that were threatening to turn black metal into a parody and a freakshow. One of these positions was the National Socialist black metal, which had been already perpetrated in the early 90s by Absurd and Lord of Evil but failed to become a widespread movement until the end of the decade when the Allgermanische Heidnische Front and the Pagan Front along with, intentionally or not, Moynihan’s and Søderlund’s book Lords of Chaos promoted the mixture of national traditionalism and romantic black metal, to the disgust of the part of the scene retaining the leftist influence from grindcore.

For another segment of the underground, the message chosen was as corrupted, cryptic and vile as possible. Inspired by the first incarnation of black metal and of everything that was filthy and anti-social in the underground, satanic nihilists waged war on everything, as exemplified by the album titles Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan (Antaeus) and Kill Yourself or Someone You Love (Krieg). The actual message was hidden under the surface, for it utilized spewed vitriol for an introverted self-study, which was concealed as an attack. The Satanists and nihilists considered worldly things as folly, a curse imposed by God or nature upon the Faustian soul – all attachment and love in fleshly things was false figments of illusion, much like the Gnostic Christians believed.

Priests of Black Metal: The Surrealist Medievalist Reformation

The heirs of the nihilist black metal culture became known as the religious black metal scene, because in the original sense of the word religare, the artists sought to strip the world of its importance by detachment, perversion, self-flagellation and insanity to reach the transcendental quietude of the noumenalworld, perceived as a spiritual death. The ideal was modelled on characters like Dead and Euronymous of Mayhem, who were seen as the original martyrs of black metal.

The aesthetic defined by Mayhem on the classic De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, an amalgamation of the theological and the heretical, a re-interpretation of the sacred writings of Christianity, was given a full treatment by bands that musically attempted to find a balance between the creation of “experimental” black metal and “true” black metal (essentially two trends that had been around since new black metal became mostly home recorded and free of quality expectations).

The audience who felt more kinship with pagan ideals, heroism and warfare grew over the years to hate the depressive Satan-worshipping bands, not because they would oppose the best of their music, but because the scene concentrated into seeking whatever seemed most radical and hateful in the limited perspective of a Scandinavian middle class young man from an atheistic family. It was a very limited world and while some occultists were able to discuss their way around this problem, the limitation culminated artistically in satanic black metal bands going by hordes to the modern equivalent of Sunlight studios, the Necromorbus, to create endless similar sounding clones, many of which were pleasing listens but historically nothing more than footnotes.

The prime motivation to create this new style of theistic black metal was that newly found emphasis on production and melody that gave them a chance to try out their hand on professional musicianship combined with literate Satanism, and thus escape the falsely assumed impression of the last decade that you were either a capable musician or an extremist, not both.

The target audience, which was mostly composed of young, sensitive, intelligent and fragmented personalities with an emotional attachment to the mystique of Satan and Christianity, mostly liked it since the music was tried and true melodic black metal not far from that of the eternal crowd favorites Marduk and Dissection, with updated imagery and lyrics. It was also suitable to the retro-purist tendency to reject political developments in black metal on the grounds that such were not originally a part of it, despite the fact that they themselves introduced many aspects such as the Bible quotations and theological analysis which belonged to it even less.

Warriors of Black Metal: The Militant Romanticist Reformation

The pagan warriors fared a little better on the quest for Romantic, neo-classical black metal art. The core bands of nationalist pagan black metal, such as Totenburg, Heldentum and Eisenwinter, realized a synthesis of the street punks’ (through Oi and RAC) music with folk and heavy metal and some of the naturalistic black metal instinct of Ildjarn and Burzum. These bands steered clean from pleasing the public with melodic death metal influences or digital production standards, while many others such as Temnozor, Kroda, later Forest and Graveland, led their epics by vocal and folk instrument melodies, influences from symphonic soundtracks and recurring Hammerheart–era Bathory riffs, mostly in rock format.

Despite the extreme horror incited in some countries and scenes by the open admiration of the principles of Hitler and the SS, part of its power in the mind of the participants was also that it was positive: encouraging respect for ancient tradition, working for society and appreciating love and friendship.

Norway’s black metal had played ruthlessly upon a reputation of morbid obsession and criminal darkness, preying upon the minds of weak-willed individuals who were seeking a chance to submit to the will towards death. NS influences in black metal had been a natural development for many key practitioners from Darkthrone to Impaled Nazarene regardless of whether or not they ever admitted to anything more than a slight inspiration and a shock statement. It gave a chance to balance the darkness of witch-cults with the light of European virtue.

An esoteric nationalism, inspired by traditionalists Evola and Guénon and by philosophers Nietzsche and Bergson, also emerged, and was more sophisticated than the crude hedonism of LaVey or the superstitions of Elizabethan Devil worshippers. But when presented to the working class it meant believing that the sickness of the world is a manifestation of the plots of other races, particularly the Jews, for the subversion of the higher culture of the White Aryan.

In fact, only a small part of the fans of NSBM ever were devotees of pure National Socialism. The movement of nationalist pagan black metal was united by the opposition of globalization, multiculturalism, crime and vice perceived by them to be the import of African and Semitic races to Europe: drugs, rape, apathy and disrespect for the local authority, which a regular Scandinavian tends to trust implicitly. Additionally, communism and anarchism were seen as anti-national and anti-cultural forces that have the power to assume control in the media under various guises.

While many of the aesthetic ideals of NSBM, such as respect, healthiness, personal integrity, constructive activity and diligence in work, were close to being acceptable in mainstream European societies, in general the involved characters were dedicated individuals facing hatred and opposition in all directions and actively treating life as a battle-like challenge. The movement could act as a representation of the tradition and
will of any social class in Europe, so that both those with lower and higher education could find their own ways to see the core ideal: an agreement of a very common sense rooted resistance to multiculturalism, runes and the metaphysics of Wiligut and Heidegger.

The ideology did not encourage escapism through occult and religious experience, or delving deep into the decadent side of modern society. Nor did it deny any of the basic wishes and instincts of man such as having a constructive job, raising a family or having a good time with friends and warriors. But the stigma — and in some countries, criminality — of the symbology forced the adherents to always be careful, prepare for confrontation and face all the consequences of the living the worst possible implications of his ideal.

The youth took this by the face value and were excited about the chance to do something on the streets, be it simply dressing in camo pants and Dr. Martens or actually joining local skinheads or political organizations. Many of them were of the opinion that the virtue of the message and imparted “Aryan” aesthetics, and the right attitude (underground, intolerant, street credible) behind it are what makes black metal worthwhile, not intellectual satisfaction or beauty.

Evil Pseudo-art and the Rise of the Hipster: Revolution or Death?

The emphasis on action and practical message differentiated “Aryan” black metal from what has been the crux of the satanic black metal of the new millennium, which in the spirit of Emperor and particularly Dissection has been creating requiems and sonatas to Him from a more learned and encyclopedic background, quoting the likes of Dali, thus creating hipster-friendly amalgamations of styles that suggest intelligence and taste but only little activity and spirit, or in the words of Vlad Tepes, “pseudo-art”.

In nihilist, depressive and theistic black metal rhetoric, the most vile and offensive threats were brought upon mankind and society in praise of the Devil while concepts such as rape, abuse and suicide were glorified. In some circles it became a game of how low one can sink into the medievalist approach to Satanism, inspired by nothing so much as a Euronymous statement taken out of context: “We are but slaves of the one with horns.” But since the masquerade was obvious, satanic black metallers never seemed like criminals to society except in cases where the adherents actively sought participation in drugs and assaults.

It was one of the most two-faced cults seen in metal – extremely powerful symbolism and literature was abused by people who constantly admitted to failure and self-defeated feelings in the guise of a reborn Gnostic/Jesuit theology that denies the world having anything of value. Artists and philosophers gave long and explanatory answers in interviews that were too difficult for the majority to understand and thus ended up taken out of context. Many, though, considered this the natural way of “evil”: the weak and the stupid deserve to be corrupted, driven into suicide, fear and madness by the power of Lucifer’s light.

What seemed to make Devil worshipping black metal dangerous and potent was its mercurial nature; unlike in the nationalist pagan scene, one’s class and education completely determined the understanding of the given compulsory Bible, Bataille and Sitra Ahra quotations. A son of a religious family with no higher education would see the Devil worshippers’ theology in a totally different perspective from a university student of comparative religion or literature.

Especially through the down-to-earth, joyless Protestantism of Scandinavia, faith and belief in gods and the supernatural are approached with mania, neuroses and fetishism and the resulting phenomenon glorified anyone who committed atrocities in the name of primitive Devil worship. The educated middle and upper classes both loathed and envied the non-educated and thus “untamed” madman because he seemed more capable of spontaneous action and breaking free of the foulest captor of the middle class: the desire for comfort and to avoid suffering.

The will to join the masquerade, to choose for oneself the identity of a “pagan warrior” or “a Devil worshipper” has fed the black metal market for the last decade. Despite some achievements and innovations in philosophical and musical expression, it has contributed to the downfall of black metal in that it has been all too easy for the crowd to gather under the banners, to create redundant projects that copy the originals without understanding the message and to buy everything that conforms exactly to the imagery one wishes to associate oneself with.

If one is allowed to bluntly generalize, one tends to see on message boards nationalists expressing themselves with a crude, uneducated language reminiscent of trailer park fascism, yet having a solid idea worthy of being developed further, a meaning behind the words. On the other hand a Theistic Satanist can easily lecture you on the Blavatskyan concept of Ego as Lucifer, or on the problems of empirical science, but one is left quite unsure why it is important.

The best black metal of the decade has not been revolutionary in any sense, rather interesting explorations on encoding message into either a rediscovered sense of classical melody or the soothing but barbaric minimalism of ambient. A minority still tries to seek out the best amongst the piles of waste created by the attention seekers; many from the original scene have lost interest in practically all black metal created since ‘95.

Master purveyors of black metal have sought to describe a world of fallen souls and unremembered voices, as if they have brought to life the curses of our ancestors who scream in the Abyss their indictment of the world of man, which has failed to uphold ancient, heroic and traditional laws and to pay the proper respect to the spirits of death and of darkness.

If we could catch for an instant a glimpse of the might and terror of the pure universe, unfettered by the shackles of human perception, our paths would be revealed as singular paths of light amidst infinite space, strands weaving patterns of complexity and beauty, constantly changing nature through an evolution borne by the battle waged by opposing principles.

Written by Devamitra

Iconoclasm Sweeps Norvegia: Impressions of Norwegian Death Metal

May 25, 2009 –

1. Introduction
2. Pure Fucking Metal: The 80′s Underground
3. Vomit: Still Rotting CD
4. Mayhem: Deathcrush MLP
5. Cadaver: Hallucinating Anxiety LP
6. Darkthrone: Soulside Journey LP
7. Mortem: Slow Death EP
8. Old Funeral: The Older Ones CD
9. Thou Shalt Suffer: Into The Woods Of Belial CD
10. Arcturus: My Angel EP
11. Thyabhorrent: Death Rides At Dawn EP
12. Generalization: A Statement Of The End

Written by Devamitra with Fenriz (Darkthrone), Anders (Cadaver) and Manheim (Mayhem)

Introduction

 

I have had this Vision
of a voyage in mind and soul
Through silent Somniferous scenes
within the enclosed chambers of my
untouched spiritual experiences
Soaring through damp air
Seeing faces, twisting, plunging through my colour

- Darkthrone, Soulside Journey

 

From the downbeat plays by Henrik Ibsen to the introverted nightmare paintings of Edvard Munch, the Expressionist era of Norwegian art had a hundred years ago remembered the voices of the dead and listened to the weeping of the living.

Art connoisseurs took note of the summoned ancestors and the frozen shades of the Norse era, that had been united into jagged juxtapositions of a modern life and an industrializing society – a world of pain. As Norway rose in material wealth throughout the 20th century and discovered the dubious ideals of social democracy, the nation was forced to hide their deep embedded pride, honour and dignity into the bottomless domains of subconscious and hidden symbolism. Ghosts of the Nazi occupation haunted and shame caused people to understand moral problems. If grandmothers and grandfathers still had remembered the rites of witchcraft, the oaths spoken to the wallowing mist of the fjords, they were now abandoned to a worldview committed to science, humanism and well-being.

Pure Fucking Metal: The 80′s Underground

Young minds were seething with fury, anxiety and barely contained stellar potency of creation. Norway around them was filled with McDonalds, idiotic TV programs and insipid pop by A-Ha. The generation between 16 and 19 years of age had integrated into their worldview the stylistic tenets of punk, thrash and heavy metal, whose nexuses in the beginning were the heavy capitalist societies of the USA and the UK. The resulting chemistry was to inspire the manifestation of the most evil and brutal sounds possible, in retaliation towards the satiated ideal of “peace” that reeked of old, dying people and blasphemed the Viking ideal of death through battle.

Sweden, always ahead in trends of Western Europe and America, had led the path towards the Scandinavian idea of death metal with the original black metal sorcery of Bathory and followed with a string of demo-level bands (Corpse, Hellfire, Obscurity, Morbid and Sorcery to name some) years before death metal mania exploded. Finland lagged behind with Norway until Xysma and Abhorrence opened the gates of Hell there and death metal bands formed by school pals and neighbours surged from even the quietest suburbs that barely knew about heavy metal, as in Sweden.

Fenriz: There was no scene in Norway. For instance the Swedish punk scene wasn’t only 10 times as strong as Norway in early 80′s… try thirty times bigger! Finland was just a bit better with metal, but much better with punk. So we were like a third world country, and it was Mayhem and the Slayer mag that put us on the map originally in ’84-’88 (more intensely ’85-’87). Then a bunch of us others joined the underground with our bands too.

One without the experience of death metal life without public attention can not dive into the extreme and alienated emotion of a morbid artist who is intent on creating noisy demos with batches of cruel artwork, releasing only tapes or meager 7″ EP’s on mostly rip-off labels and this has to be kept in mind when the eternal “rock star” accusations are levelled towards the same people now. The spiritual impact of what these misfits created in the 80′s was as extreme of a phenomenon, if not more, than to commit crimes known to everyone in the vicinity. They were practically admitting to being insane.

Fenriz: There weren’t any fans. Everyone had own bands and were because of this isolation of course total maniacs. We had to make our own fans here, ha ha. But punks liked us, and we played good show at Blitz, famous Oslo punk house in 1990. Norway was not important, it was only underground work with snail mail that was important to me. That was 90% of my work.

Anders: This was before the Internet and to get a hold of an album like “Reek of Putrefaction” by Carcass meant
you had something truly extreme in your hands. The whole idea of being true and anti-normal came mostly from Euronymous and his developing Black metal philosophy. He had a strong impact on all of us and it was hard to get away from his force so to speak.

Manheim: It felt good, I can tell you that much. People didn’t understand it much. A lot of musicians and friends around us told us that we wasted our talent, and it wasn’t music that the average listener liked. But we didn’t make the music for the masses, we did it for our selves and for the few around the world that liked extreme music. We tried to make something new, and I do think we succeeded on that one.

In musical respect, the kickstart of the scene was from the capital Oslo, a violent clash between the anti-social, minimalist riff of hardcore and the agility exercise of speed metal; these sounds can particularly be heard in the demos of Vomit. Mayhem, also from Oslo, initially represented a similar style of music and Vomit members sometimes filled positions in Mayhem and vice versa, but it was soon to be conjoined with the extreme attitudes belonging to black metal, far before any other band in the world adhered to them. Small town (Kolbotn) thrash kids Gylve Fenris, Ivar and Anders created Black Death, which combined the speed metal of Destruction or Dark Angel with humorous lyrics relating to their daily life and later developed into the extreme entity that is Darkthrone.

Fenriz: 80′s metal scene was nothing in Norway, we made it ourselves, and broke away from all (lack of) standard here. Global underground was everything to us. Norway was not important, but became much better in ’89. Impostor was also a cool band, but had nothing to do with death metal.

Vomit: Still Rotting CD

The hyperactive Vomit was never to get a professional release for their material back in the day; this recent compilation hosts demos and rehearsals and the same line-up also reformed as Kvikksolvguttene in the 90′s to play some old and new songs. This CD contains several demo versions of the same tracks but it’s easy to listen all the way to such basic, catchy and hilarious manifests. Surprisingly sensitive, like a much simpler Slayer, this hyper-organic sequence of thrash aims its nuclear warheads towards society because of the realization that it is malfunctioning. It gives memories of early COC and Cryptic Slaughter, even Minor Threat in its high energy fueled rebellion – just check “Demonoid”‘s violence. The assaulting harsh vocals ranting about the legions from Hell remember Venom.

Musical cues from Kreator and Sodom in tracks such as “Rotting Flesh”, while rudimentary, suggest the evil power of proto death metal — confrontational punk metal in the spirit of Sepultura’s first album: non-produced and immature. When slowing down to groovy and grinding, the chaotic leads and chromatic chord progressions sound like a band from the old Earache catalogue. The primal energy in tracks such as “Armies of Hell” is simply infectious, inspiring to action for the sake of feeling, thrill and power, like this was a middle finger against the city, these kids were hanging out, overturning police cars and breaking windows. Overall it’s much better than today’s retro bands in a similar style.

FenrizVomit was the rawest well played band in mid-80′s, death thrash, completely awesome, as good as “Hell Awaits” or Dark Angel’s “Darkness Descends”.

AndersThe first Mayhem EP “Deathcrush” came out in 1987 and this is by far the most interesting release of the time.

Mayhem: Deathcrush MLP

Mayhem overturned the Norwegian underground with their maniacal proto-black metal, with an air reeking of chainsaw murders, snuff movies and glue sniffing. The barbaric simplicity of the songs defies even the logic of Hellhammer. We are witnessing the birth-gasps of the BM underground here as krautrock’s Conrad Schnitzler’s magniloquent, twisted avantgarde intro leads into an infernal journey through vistas of butchered early black metal. The recipe is mixing together the primal elements of speed metal and punk, then mangling them as unrecognizable traces of rock music that used to be “fun” but now torn to sarcastic pieces in the hands of bestial psychopaths. Any kind of elegance or progression was unknown to these guys. They make up for this bluntness by organizing with raw vitality and a clear purpose for doing it this way as the pieces of the image fit together. While Euronymous’ riffing is primitive-inventive and Manheim’s heavy drumming is perfect for the material, one can hear that the songs are still mostly in the level of demo versions for a band of Mayhem’s stature developing slowly towards their full potential. The impudently vicious lyrical side centered on gore and blasphemy would fare better through the mouth of the next vocalist Dead while on these recordings Messiah (not Marcolin!) stands out as the superior of Maniac of the two featured voices, as his Sodom-influenced pacing lends power to the old demo track “Pure Fucking Armageddon”.

ManheimThe band image and style was something that came quite early. But it wasn’t the reason for the formation of the band. We started the band because we shared the same ambition to make something different and extreme. I’ve tried to explain it on my blog post “Am I evil”. I recommend that you watch the documentaries “Pure Fucking Mayhem” and “Once Upon a Time in Norway”. The main musical influences were of course metal related, in combination with extreme musical genres. Lyrics were inspired by many sources, but were specifically designed to fit the musical soundscape and the aggressive image surrounding the Mayhem concept. The interest for avantgarde music was something Euro and I shared. We also formed a project we called L.E.G.O. where we explored ideas and concepts within noise and experimental music.

FenrizMayhem was unique, but not an inspiration for death metal. Euronymous only liked death metal up to “Scream Bloody Gore”. He was sceptical to Autopsy when I played him the demo in ’89. But we loved and still love Autopsy of course.

Cadaver was the next major band to heed the call to arms, from the small coastal town of Råde nearer to Sweden, playing a version of death metal not too far removed from the bass heavy, electric sound that was already becoming huge in Sweden and not surprisingly, Cadaver was to be the first Norwegian death metal band to release a full-length album on a label, racing past Darkthrone who still continued developing through a serious of demos in death, doom and black metal style incorporating a psychedelic tendency that was unique, Norwegian and unforgettable, actually sounding more like the Munch paintings come to life than loud rock rebels. By this time various other death metal bands were spawned by the soil which had absorbed the blood of the sacrifices to Odin. Like mushrooms bands such as Old Funeral from the pagan and occultist infested Bergen, Thou Shalt Suffer from the sports and music obsessed Telemark countryside and Mortem from “global” Oslo sprung up, all being practicing grounds for a legion of musicians destined to fame and glory in future projects.

Cadaver: Hallucinating Anxiety LP

The viral and persistent Cadaver took the death metal art in Norway to a new level: besides violating the listener with speed, the intricate composition aims to rip through artificial examinations of reality through morbid revelations. This controlled and logical death metal experience is not quite the absolute psychic expressionism of Darkthrone’s masterpiece but musically soars high above the previous releases and most of what was to follow. Quoting Celtic Frost and Morbid Angel for listenability, hardcore influenced beats underpin a consistently brutal and bludgeoning riffwork in Carcass’ minimalist vein, bringing to mind images of an industrial age wasteland. Vocals are harsh, grating commands in the rhythm of Brazilian bands, promising continuity of experience all the way into grim death. While hateful, arrogant and mid-paced, centered around gore and loss of hope, some of the most beautiful tendencies of Scandinavian death metal already arise on this release and are made all the better by incorporating the best of the deconstructivist tendencies from grindcore music. Twisted and narrative in arrangement, the barbarous and thundering old school death metal riffs of Cadaver proceed to explain the magic of reality in their series of devastating conclusions, proving the album a long lasting gem.

AndersWe had a variety of favorite bands that inspired us at the time. Apart from the bands mentioned we were all into Napalm Death, Kreator, Sodom, Slayer, Death, Autopsy, Paradise Lost, Mayhem, Equinox and not forget Voivod. We were a part of the scene and into all the stuff that came out on demos etc. too so it is not right to say we were influenced by just a few bands. We were into hardcore stuff like A.O.D., S.O.D., Carnivore etc. as well as black metal bands. It was a wild mix.

FenrizCadaver was absolutely great in ’88 and ’89, we played with them and saw them live many, many times! Cadaver was the first Norwegian death metal release, we came right after with the 2nd.

Darkthrone: Soulside Journey LP

An album released 20 years ahead of its time, it’s one of those timeless classics that defy description and comparison. Even today it’s impossible to find death metal that sounds quite like it. It somewhat escaped people’s attention back in the day and has existed on the verge of rediscovery with the sporadic bootleg and official releases of the Darkthrone demos but is still not very widely known among the Darkthrone fanbase. Resembling Celtic Frost taken by the hand of a witch doctor through a series of cosmogonic explanations while on an LSD trip, what starts as gnarly and crawling doomdeath becomes an experience from the beyond. The album has very little in the way of the overbearing brutality of Florida death metal or the catchy Slayer-punk riffing of the Swedes, but it is full of parts that stick to mind and make you come back to its sequences of mystical, foreboding and inconclusive themes and landscapes. Some of the resolutions of its parts are almost disgusting in their divergence from habitual speed metal, death and thrash and they wrack the mind. The evil and brooding melodies crawl over your neck like alien insectoids. Nocturno Culto’s vocals already show their depth and power and so do Fenriz’ inimitable lyrics. On this release Fenriz’ unique drumming skills are the most apparent; pure cult in the making. The eerie use of synths heard on this album would undoubtedly have spiced up some of the later Darkthrone material too. This is the birth of “death metal for the intellectual”.

FenrizThere’s only one Celtic Frost riff on “Soulside Journey”! We were inspired by Possessed, Autopsy, Death, Nihilist, Sepultura (“Schizophrenia” album only), Nocturnus (2nd demo), Devastation (Chicago) and such, Black Sabbath too… but most importantly we had a mission statement: all the riffs should be able to slow down and play on a synth as horror movie effects. So we played technical horror death metal with doom elements and also our eternal inspiration, visions of the universe: even our first demo in early ’88 had an outer space painting as cover.

AndersThe Darkthrone debut album has some great songs in it and it blew me away at the time. It sounds very Swedish and if it had the grim sound of lets say Autopsy it could have showed a different path for Norwegian death metal along with us for young bands at the time. Who knows?

Mortem: Slow Death EP

Mortem’s seldom heard EP boasted some of the most catchy riffs of Norway’s early death metal and one of drum legend Hellhammer’s earliest performances on record. Mortem joins the company of Vomit in aiming to produce the death metal experience with hardcore-like simplicity. Tracks such as “Milena” and “Slow Death” are pure headbanging mania, not much else, though the latter also has an interesting modal type of guitar solo. Considering the general sound quality, drums are surprisingly clear and powerful and show Hellhammer’s early skill in arranging rhythm. Such elements and the beautiful intro to “Nightmare” leave one wondering a bit how it would have been if this band had recorded an album. The heavily distorted vocal performance is of a dubious benefit, like an overblown imitation of Maniac’s already annoying screams on “Deathcrush”. However, they lend a chaotic, absurd and insane element to the proceedings of what is rather usual demo level death metal from a young band.

Old Funeral: The Older Ones CD

At times nearly reminiscent of “Soulside Journey” in enwrapping the listener with pure twisted melody riffs, its surprising that this compilation of material from some of the most interesting line-ups (future Immortal, Burzum and Hades members) of death metal is not too much celebrated. It’s easy to already hear traces of the epic ambient guitar that would characterize the members’ later bands – the Wagnerian “My Tyrant Grace” could easily be an early Immortal recording. Old Funeral’s recordings do often fall short of brilliance, songs having good parts but being incomplete. Old Funeral had potential to be a magnificent band but sadly never got a stable enough line-up or enough work and attention to make it happen. At worst (“Lyktemenn”) the material is unorganized and thrashy, emotionally anguished in a selfish way and using half written heavy metal influenced melodies in a despicable way, inconclusively jumping from one phrase to the next – obscure but not visionary or evolving, just a collection of moods. “Into Hades” approximates early doomdeath. “Abduction of Limbs” is inspired by technical US death metal and succeeds in building an evil ambience. “Devoured Carcass” is more obviously Scandinavian in manufacture, akin to the barbarous blasphemies of Treblinka or Beherit as microbic riffs intone trances of darkness in a nightmare of lost souls. Slower funereal passages on the compilation echo traces of ancient Cemetary and Therion. The black thrashing of “Skin and Bone” reminds of Bathory or early Voivod while throwing some sparkling, clever leads into the mix, creating a surprisingly war metal-like high energy plutonium explosion. This ripping and rocking track manages to approximate brilliance. The core simplicity of most of Old Funeral’s material will hinder the pleasure of the elitist metal listener, but much of it remains highly listenable as even the live recordings work surprisingly well.

Thou Shalt Suffer: Into The Woods Of Belial CD

Thou Shalt Suffer was the product of an already long development from band formations such as Dark Device, Xerasia and Embryonic, composed of future music-magicians who would form Emperor, Ildjarn and the Akkerhaugen sound studio. Mostly early 90′s Swedish satanic death metal in style, Thou Shalt Suffer assaulted the listener with disorganized yet compelling demo level death metal noise with submerged, intense and evil soundscape. Seriously brutal in nature, interlocking chromatic riffs in the vein of Incantation or early Amorphis race on, sporadically bursting into uncontrolled grind. Vocals are super-dramatic in Ihsahn’s craziest early style, ranging from humorously weird to total evil and synths repeat a few doomy patterns, foreshadowing Ihsahn’s later neo-symphonic obsessions. The songs are expectedly not quite there and everything sounds unplanned and spontaneous but for pure spirit it can be quite exhilarating to listen to it today. The discordant, fractured and genius stream of melody of the main riffing recalls ideas later developed further in beautiful way while the expert rhythm guitar is able to create the texture of an infernal landscape. Fragmented but compelling, it should go without saying that it has already done more than most of today’s death metal releases. A special award should be presented for the long experimental outro track “Obscurity Supreme”, seething with a truly avantgarde ambition beyond the later “art metal” habits, worthy of its title.

Arcturus: My Angel EP

The Mortem line-up returned with this piece of madness before plunging into black metal sounds using this band name. Arcturus started its career reminiscent of Swedish second tier satanic death metal bands in the vein of Tiamat, cutting through the intricacies of the narrative death metal of Cadaver and Darkthrone to hammer out Wagnerian power chord doom, with not much appreciation for subtle nuances. The first track “My Angel” starts out psychedelic and impressive, foreshadowing the deep symbolic exploration of the internal cosmos done later by bands such as Tartaros. However, in Arcturus it remains as just another eclectic act, as the dramatic development proceeds in an expected way. While the impressive parts are there it doesn’t reach the magnanimous stature it’s trying to achieve, with the keyboard melodies from film soundtracks and the evil vocals reminiscent of early Samael. “Morax” is a track with gothic, Cathedral-inspired doomdeath wrapped in a synth layer of Nocturnus. Arcturus attempted to obtain a complex, insane atmosphere of invocation but it was not to be their forte; the careening splendour of “Aspera Hiems Symfonia” would be better music.

Thyabhorrent: Death Rides At Dawn EP

Thyabhorrent, led by Occultus (another figure from the early black metal history around Mayhem and Helvete), specialized in simple death metal which used some speed metal riffs and emotive lead guitar interludes. Occasionally similar to Dissection, it seems to carry an eerie foreshadow of Gothenburg and today’s mainstream death metal style while still proudly enwrapped in the mystique of the Norwegian underground. The catchy metal riffing and try-hard vocals in “Condemnation” are halfway to serious power, falling short of the atmosphere obtained by almost all other works of the era. The good riffs are wasted by the very simplistic construction of songs and the unfortunate tendency to rip a wrong context: heavy metal. “Occultus Brujeria” displays an elegantly romantic tendency which could have been something with more development: doomy clean vocals herald simple black metal of expressive, gothic, über-dramatic character. Some of the interludes suggest ideas that could have turned this into an elaborate progressive black metal band but as it stands, it’s a much weaker and tamer version of the kind of material released by Necromantia, Burzum or Isengard early on.

Generalization: A Statement Of The End

The original death metal underground of Norway was alienated, silent and private and thus gave a chance to develop all these ideas towards their full fruition. When the scene burst into the attention of a million of trendy fans, it dealt a blow to the atmosphere that could not be recovered from it. The sanity of the fragile artistic mindset required that the adherents move away towards new areas of quietude and purity (“away from the noise of the marketplace” in the words of Nietzsche) to continue the serious contemplation of darkness. What follows is the history of the early 90′s black metal phenomenon; Cadaver remains the sole band of the ancient underground that is still around cranking out evil death metal.

Anders: We split up in 2004 – so no, we are not around. To call Death Metal trendy is a sidetracking of the whole thing. I don’t share the idea that we ever played something trendy. To play death metal in 1999 was as un-trendy as it could be. I call what I play death metal still because it is my playing style. Death metal can mean much more that most people think. I am a death metal man by hand and a black metal man by soul.

Fenriz: I can with my hand on my heart say that I only bought like 5-6 death metal releases in 1990, and maybe 2 in 1991… or none. The studios like Morrisound and Sunlight were fresh in the very beginning, but organic sound is the best and I quickly learnt to hate these click click bass drum sounds that started to ruin metal in ’89 and have completely ruined generations of metalheads later on. In ’89 death metal compilation tapes were overflowing the underground, I had already been through hard rock and heavy metal and power and thrash and everything possible, then I saw that thrash metal got boring and too copied and the same thing happened with death metal, it was too many bands, but the sound was good in ’89. But to me, I heard Hungarian Tormentor on one of those tapes, and got back into more “evil” sound again, like Destruction “Infernal Overkill” and such, as I hadn’t listened to them for a while. I saw it as just thrash, but after getting an evil revelation with Tormentor, I saw a lot of the thrash I had from before in a new black light, and I got more and more into Bathory. And in 1990 I mostly listened to the more primitive stuff, but our craft was technical death metal and we needed to complete our album. Even after our album we had lots of material pouring out of us (became “Goatlord” album) but it had to stop with this technical style, we were all agreeing on this except Dag. We took a U-turn unto the primitive lane in 1991.

Even a cursory investigation to the workings of the early Norwegian metal underground should dissolve one of the most persistent illusions about Norwegian black metal bands such as Burzum and Immortal: that they did not know how to handle their instruments, or did not have an extensive background in musical expression. Do you think they simply wanted to pose evil with corpsepaint? They were talented musicians who had years of experience playing technical styles of death metal before the black metal explosion. The simplified sound of black metal was due to the ethics of black metal and the spirit of black metal. The black metal resurgence intended to develop metal music to a new level of intensity and create a purer atmosphere, unpolluted by the social agreements of the new death metal people.

For most metal fans Norwegian death metal means either black metal or the new digitally produced bands in the vein of Zyklon and Blood Red Throne. The intent of this excursion has been to show how pure death metal was the fundamental force in establishing the original Norwegian underground metal scene and how it ultimately grew into the most vital and archaic musical movement of the 90′s, Norwegian black metal.

Anders: The bands such as Darkthrone, Mayhem and Immortal were in fact very inspired by death metal. If you listen to the latest Emperor, Satyricon, Dimmu Borgir albums they all have strong elements of death metal in them. The scene that was to become the Norwegian black metal scene was never a “one-way-street”. The issues with Swedish bands in ’91-’93 was mainly about the fact that death metal became conformed, predictable and non-dangerous. The strong standing of the black metal scene overshadowed any death metal band for many many years and this is still the case.

Manheim: I of course felt and feel proud of being responsible for giving people inspiration. That so many people in Norway and around the globe have taken this further is of the good. Of course there’s a lot of bands that appeared that didn’t do anything else than copying those before them, but the development of genres like Norwegian BM and others shows that there’s a lot of creativity and wonderful musical contribution that has been done after Mayhem released its first demos and “Deathcrush”. My personal favorite releases are Darkthrone’s early works – and if I have to choose, “Under a Funeral Moon”.

Fenriz still works on Darkthrone, promotes his favorite underground bands and speaks against forest industry. Anders has been playing live guitar and bass for major bands such as Celtic Frost and Satyricon. Manheim composes and performs experimental music and writes a good blog on culture and music. Deathmetal.org thanks them all for their kind contribution.

Cosmic Fear arrives, I hold a dead one,
Surrounded by my many candles
(I burn to cleanse the air)
Rotten Unclean Sacrifice Nightmares
Unreal Psychedelic Journey
Ride The Darkside
Search The Soulside

- Darkthrone, Soulside Journey