Nirvana’s Nevermind turned twenty five yesterday but since we at the Death Metal Underground condemn pop-punk Boston worship, we will celebrate a different anniversary today. Morbid Angel‘s Blessed Are the Sick was released twenty-five summers ago. Blessed Are the Sick was the last Morbid Angel record focused on inwardly improving the music rather than compromising it for commercial appeal to a mainstream market. The band had been obsessed with refining and expanding upon their compositions since Trey Azagthoth shelved the release of 1986’s Abominations of Desolation and fired then drummer/vocalist Mike Browning.
Cryptopsy‘s None So Vile turned twenty this month. A more successful turn off your brain death metal work than Cannibal Corpse, simplified and straightforward deathgrind song structures allowed each musician ample opportunity to show off and drop jaws. Unfortunately aggression and technical showmanship can only cover up for so many repetitive mosh, hit people verses, funky slap bass, and taking three steps back towards verse-chorus-verse speed metal songwriting from their inspiration Suffocation. Nevertheless, None So Vile remains worthy of the occasional, once every couple of years listen due to Jon Levasseur’s superb heavy metal leads when not caving skulls in with a rock or something and Flo Mournier’s over the top ferocity that the original Dark Legions Archive review famously compared to a police beating.
Dismember‘s Like an Ever Flowing Stream turned twenty-five this weekend. Like an Ever Flowing Stream upped the intensity from Carnage‘s Dark Recollections in the same way that Legion would do from Deicide‘s debut. Like an Ever Flowing Stream was faster, heavier, and more distorted. Dismember drenched themselves in blood and plugged dimed Boss Heavy Metal 2 pedals into dimed Marshall JCM 900 stacks, generating a ridiculously fat, high-gain rhythm guitar tone to trample and mangle all others.
2016 marks twenty years since the release of Immolation’s sophomore album Here In After. Completely leaving speed metal convention behind, dissonant riffing and jazzy drumming weld into an infernal, polyrythmic Bosch canvas. All songs burn narratively: verses melt into Vigna’s Luciferian leads. These guitar heroics marshaling the hellfire make Here In After a dawn-bringer for the uninitiated in Immolation. Crucify the criminal Christ again!
This is the sort of recording that could very easily displace the already accomplished works of Kvist from your memory. Filosofem, while released 20 years ago this day, was recorded in March 1993; meanwhile, the first track (“Dunkelheit” or “Burzum” depending upon the pressing) was the first track ever written for Burzum. As part of the initial burst of Burzum’s material, Filosofem sticks to a language of black metal that Varg Vikernes helped define, but is arguably closer in spirit to the pure ambient works that followed it. The internet overflows with discussion of the circumstances surrounding this album, as well as its excursions into a sort of streamlined “Odinpop”, but like its illustrious predecessors, Filosofem‘s influence is immense, even if most who try to imitate the ideas on display here kind of miss the point.
Kvist’s For kunsten maa vi evig vike came out on the first day of 1996; a year in which booming consumer technology and gimmicky multimedia projects overshadowed one of the many deaths of the black metal scene. Absurd soliloquies aside, Kvist’s full length debut seems to penetrate someone’s mind every now and then, and is generally praised for its melodic prowess. Our old archives don’t hold it in as high a regard, but those who favor the more conventionally musical aspects of Norwegian black metal may find some value in this recording.
It feels like we’re doing a great deal of anniversary mini-features these days, but Scarlet Evil Witching Black, at the very least, is particularly deserving of notice. Released on November 15th, 1995, Necromantia’s second album continues the band gimmick of dual distorted bass guitar arrangements. More importantly, it favors some melodramatic and perhaps overblown composition styles I am personally fond of, and serves as an admirable blueprint for how to effectively and tastefully incorporate symphonic and other relatively “normal” musical elements into extreme metal. Definitely a high point of the Greek black metal scene, and a markedly different experience from not only the better known Norwegian works, but also the midpaced stomp of a Rotting Christ or a Varathron.
Twenty years ago to the day, At the Gates completed their descent into Fredrik Nordström-produced, commercial pop garbage with Slaughter of the Soul. Since the Death Metal Underground does not celebrate mediocre Eurotrash speed metal (Go listen to Artillery instead), we will be blowing out the candles for a more significant release for the underground featuring many of the same musicians.
Grotesque – Incantation (1989)
Grotesque’s legendary Incantation 12”, 45 rpm EP turns twenty-five this year. The only studio release of the progressive black death madhouse features the twin guitar and songwriting talents of Kristian “Necrolord” Wåhlin (perhaps better known for his contributions to the visual arts) and Alf Svensson. The melodically flowing compositions and shifting time signatures present on At the Gates’ The Red in the Sky is Ours (see former editor and continuing author David Rosales’s excellent article) appear in a more bloodthirsty, thrashier form on the first three songs. Following those are two earlier compositions of simple but very well done speed metal ensure the appreciation of even the most Neanderthal headbangers.
Most probably first heard Grotesque on the Projections of a Stained Mind Swedish death metal compilation or on the remixed and rearranged In the Embrace of Evil career anthology from 1996. In the Embrace of Evil has been quietly reissued this year by Hammerheart in a limited digipack format and Candelight in the standard jewel case with the original mastering intact for the first time. There is no ridiculous overuse of dynamic range compression for the sole benefit of losers with Apple iPhones and earbuds excruciating everyone else. Buy the CD, not the hipster reverse needle drop LP; In the Embrace of Evil was only released on CD back in the mid-nineties and an LP pushing fifty minutes in length can only have poor, distorted sound. Hear Grotesque’s journey from Satanic, Sepultura -worshiping first wave maniacs to black leather trench coat-clad, death metal exceptionalism.
A landmark in underground metal has been allowed to be 30 years old for some time now. We can’t have that, can we? Seven Churches is sometimes labeled the first “death metal” album by members of the press. I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say that, but it’s a cruciallink between earlier speed metal and more advanced recordings that would come out only a year later. Musically, this fits in well with many of its immediate proto-underground contemporaries, like Bathory, Celtic Frost (at least on their faster material), and perhaps Show No Mercy era Slayer, although it benefits from an especially clear and powerful production given its vintage. Later works by the band more closely resemble extreme, souped up speed metal than the more evolved recordings of the late ’80s, but this album came in at just the right time to directly influence many aspiring (or at least aspirating) metalheads.
It might not be as important to the Celtic Frost/Hellhammer legacy as its immediate predecessors, but To Mega Therionis still a fine work of metal 30 years (and four days) after its release. Many early underground metal recordings are noted for stripping their musical content to a bare minimum of function and simultaneously exploring new methods of arrangement and songwriting. To Mega Therion, on the other hand, takes a step towards refining the new standard, with more elaborate instrumentation, production, and songwriting than the EPs that came before it. It’s still more restrained in its aesthetic exploration than anything else Celtic Frost released, but listeners can easily hear how some of the more obvious experiments here (timpani, occasional female vocals, etc.) anticipate elements that would become fixtures in the band’s later works, and furthermore in the plethora of subgenres to follow.