Digging Into the Vault: Thanatopsis A View of Death (2008)

In the busy postmodern era, we like to dig through the past to see what could have been, might have been, or has been but might be undiscovered. Unfortunately, we commit a lot of type I errors, namely false positives, in our zeal for finding that unpolished, uncut but valuable gem in the sands.

Back when they were a going thing in the 1990s and these demos were recorded, Thanatopsis was viewed as the next big thing because the band demonstrated technical acumen. Back then, death metal had low self-esteem because rock musicians viewed it as harmonically chromatic and rhythmically primitive.

You would hear them say that death metal musicians barely made it to major scales, and could not attempt anything as far-out and wild as the blues scale or a minor melodic scale. It was all in 4/4, they would say, and did not use key changes or vocal harmony.

With the benefit of years, we can see that death metal is in fact a modal style of music based on through-composed phrasal riffs which have a language of their own, and its atmosphere comes from a vocabulary of patterns instead of, like jazz and rock, fixed patterns with vocal melody and internal harmony.

But back in the day, death metal craved respectability, mainly to keep those upper-half-of-middle class bourgeois parents and teachers from raising their noses too much at it, so there was a niche market for bands that could play their instruments in ways rock and jazz musicians recognized.

Thanatopsis came out of the Bay Area sound with a series of demos that showed, like Tool did years later, how to work metal complexity into rock format riffs and use internal harmony as well as an overactive progressive funk style bass to intensify the experience for normies.

Looking back, this was sort of a giant middle finger to the rock Establishment that was unaware it was in its final days, but the music that Thanatopsis put forth more resembles Bay Area speed metal like Sadus or Hexx, using speed metal structures with jazzy riffs and death metal aesthetics.

This compilation, put out by Cursed Records in 2008, shows the band in both live rehearsal mode and studio recording, capturing the frenetic energy of the band. One can also see how the vocals influenced Grotesque or vice-versa, and the aesthetics bled over into a great many bands from the era.

Will this join the pantheon of the best? Most likely not, since it is not really death metal, nor does it exhibit the mastery of the riff and the thematic dialogue of riffs that make death metal great. But for a thrashing speed metal odyssey, it hits many of the right notes.

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14 thoughts on “Digging Into the Vault: Thanatopsis A View of Death (2008)”

  1. curio says:

    “You would hear them say that death metal musicians barely made it to major scales, and could not attempt anything as far-out and wild as the blues scale or a minor melodic scale. It was all in 4/4, they would say, and did not use key changes or vocal harmony.”

    Were they on crack? 99.5% of rock is simple, formulaic, 4/4 with very few if any tempo and key changes. Early Morbid Angel and beyond drills and dances around rock in complexity. Metal never needed to care what anyone says.

    1. Snorre says:

      We should probably take the author’s “You would hear them say” with a grain/metric ton of salt.

      1. I remember it happening frequently. It may be paraphrased here because thirty years later, no one is going to remember the original dialogue, but that was the gist (and gism) of it.

    2. It is just human projection. They want us to believe that harmonizing pentatonic scales is the peak of humanity. They know it is not, so they have to project before people figure out that most rock is entirely derivative because it is designed for morons, and there are about five licks in the blues that they clone and recombine over and over again.

      1. eternal thrashing says:

        Blues pound for pound might be the most boring music ever. If I’m in the mood for it, I like plenty of the old bluesmen from the 30s and a lot of old rockabilly and hard rock stuff from the 50’s-70’s but like fuck man who has made anything really interesting with the form in the last 40+ years, it bores me to tears, worse than modern metal, pissing my pants is more exciting. thanatopsis is a little chuggy for my taste, its not lit enough to break my weeklong witch house/breakcore streak

        1. T Malm says:

          do you live in a witch house or is it a type of music?

      2. Brown Turds Splatter says:

        I would say skip all blues and just listen to ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres album, has every blues lick (all five of um) with stellar guitar soloing, no song overstays its welcome at about 3 mins a piece, its also pretty heavy and hard driving with some psychedelic touches in unexpected spots.

        1. ZZ Top is a bizarre band, with one foot in 1950s boogie-woogie type music and another in 1960s progressive and psychedelic.

  2. Touring the USA says:

    Why is San Antonio so oddly flat? The buildings, the roads, everything. It looks like a Titan tripped on a normal city and squashed it.

    1. This is a good question. Initial thought: San Antonio never grew up out of being a frontier town, and when the city came, it was at first in the form of the military. Everyone stuck with the small town or military vibe, and then the inhabitants became three-quarters Hispanic and they focused on traditional Yucatan architecture.

      1. Touring the USA says:

        Military presence could explain the wide roads and margins – they should be enough to land a friggin B-52.

        1. Some of that is just Texas. We like wide roads and shoulders because you get a lot of farm traffic and oilpatch trucks. Also a good place for a quick shag of the sheep tied in the back of the pickup.

  3. Allegedly says:

    Thanatopsis was from Indiana

    1. Fixed, thanks. You win one free ass-penis with açai berry flavored lube.

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