Death metal albums of which I will never tire

morbid_angel-live

Early death metal (Bathory, Slayer, Hellhammer, Sodom, Master) emerged as an aggregate of the past, comprised of speed metal (Metallica, Exodus, Nuclear Assault, Testament, Megadeth), late hardcore (Cro-Mags, Amebix, Discharge, The Exploited, GBH), classic heavy metal (Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motorhead) and thrash (DRI, COC, Cryptic Slaughter). As a result, most death metal bands exhibited some tendencies more than others, although the founding early death metal bands tended toward the type of tremolo-powered phrase-based riffing exemplified by Slayer.

For example, Deicide on its second album Legion arguably made the album that …And Justice For All wanted to be, with lots of choppy percussive riffing forming intricate textures from which a melody emerged. Early Master sounded more like a punk band with its simple song structures and emphasis on droning, protest-like vocals. Second-wave death metal like Death and Possessed had a tendency to apply speed metal song structures and riff styles. Even advanced death metal like Pestilence often sounded like a more technical and complex version of early speed metal.

But focusing on death metal requires we look at what was unique to it. Getting past the vocals and the intensity, what distinguishes it musically is its use of that tremolo-strummed phrasal riff. This in turn forced bands to escape from riffs integrated strictly with drums, and to as a result put more riffs into the song to drive changes that previous would have been done by the drums. That in turn forced bands to make those riffs fit together, what Asphyx call “riff-gluing,” so that songs avoided the “riff salad” plague that captured later speed metal.

These bands exploded onto the world from 1983-1985, inspired in part by Discharge’s Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing which hit the ground in 1982. Slayer in particular stitched together classic heavy metal and ambient hardcore like Discharge and GBH and ended up with its particular formulation, taking the tremolo and riffs independent of drums from Discharge and matching them to the complex proggy structures of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden with Motorhead speed and aggression. This was what launched death metal free from the shadow of speed metal, which was the first metal genre to break out of underground status despite being — for the time — fast, aggressive and dark.

If you want to get to the core of death metal, these albums might help. They’re albums I keep returning to year after year because they have enough complexity and that unquantifiable quality of having purpose and being expressive, perhaps even emulating the life around them and converting it into a beast of mythological quality, which makes them interesting each time I pick them up. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, the players….

Slayer – Show No Mercy

While Hell Awaits has more expert composition, South of Heaven better control of mood and melody, and Reign in Blood more pure rhythmic intensity, Show No Mercy captures Slayer flush with the fervor of youth and the belief in big concepts. As a result, it is an intensity mystical album, uniting a narrative about war between good and evil with the actions of people on earth. It is not like Hell Awaits more solidly situated in a single mythology, nor like Reign in Blood and after an attempt to explore the dark side of modern existence in a literal sense. Instead, it is a flight of imagination mated to an apocalyptic vision of a society crumbling from within. As a result it is musically the most imaginative of Slayer albums, creating grand constructions of visions of worlds beyond that stimulate the fantasy dwelling within our otherwise obedient minds.

Massacra – Enjoy the Violence

Another early album in very much the style of Slayer but with intensity cranked to the ceiling, Enjoy the Violence shows a band intent on conveying intense energy through their music. To do this, they rely on not only near-constant breakneck speed but also vivid contrasts between the types of riffs that are used in a song, welding a rich narrative from riffs that initially seem simple like the scattered twisted bits of metal left after a battle. The result is closer to epic poem that punk music and blows conventional heavy metal and speed metal out of the water with the sense of unbridled aggression and lust for life that surges through its passages. In addition, it carries on the mythological tradition of Slayer but adds a Nietzschean spin whereby constant war for supremacy and domination is the only path not only to victory, but to personal integrity.

Morbid Angel – Abominations of Desolation

Most prefer the more refined versions of these songs from Altars of Madness and Blessed Are the Sick, but my ear favors these nuanced and unsystematic detail-heavy songs which feature more of a blending of textures into what sounds like a communication from another world heard underwater or through the croaking voice of a medium. Trey Azagthoth’s solos were best when he used his half-whole step leaps to make solos that sounded like the creation of gnarly sculptures, and these songs powered by Mike Browning’s drums and voice have more of an organic jauntiness to them than the later mechanistic tanks-crushing-the-shopping-mall sound of the full albums. In addition, this combination of songs strays from the later more interruption-based riffing this band would attempt and instead brings out their inner desire to rip all ahead go at all times, creating a suspension of reality like war itself.

Incantation – Onward to Golgotha

When the idea comes to mind of death metal at its essence, this album will be mentioned because it creates a sound unlike anything else. Incantation took the Slayer riff and song formula and slowed it down, doubled the complexity, and focused on alternating tempos and riff styles to create a building mood of immersive darkness. The result was not only aggressive, but melancholic and contemplative, like a warrior looking out over an abandoned bullet-pocked city. Detuned riffs collide and deconstruct one another, resulting in a sound like the inexorable flow of black water through underground caverns as civilizations collapse above. This rare group of musicians achieved a triumph here that none have been able to repeat individually, suggesting this album was born of a magic confluence of ideas more than a process (ham sandwiches on a conveyor belt).

Carnage – Dark Recollections

If you want “the Swedish sound” at its most powerful, Dark Recollections offers every component synthesized into a package that has not yet had time to become self-critical and neurotic, and thus is an unfettered expression of the thoughts of precocious adolescents translated into sound. The components of Swedish death metal are the modified d-beat, the use of melody to expand song development, a gritty electric explosion of guitar sound, and a tendency to write songs that are half searing budget riff and half horror movie sound track.

Sepultura – Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation

The first EP in this two-EP package is the more classic death metal version and packs a solid blast of inventive riffcraft staged with theatrical precision into songs that form narratives of the topics denoted in their titles. But the riffs are instant creations of their own, shaped from raw chromaticism and whipped into fury by two levels of rhythm, both in the change of chords and the texturing of the sounding of them. The result owes quite a bit to Slayer, Bathory and Hellhammer, but also to the punk hardcore underlying those acts and a good knowledge of dark metal of the time, and yet is still its own animal. Nothing sounds like this except it, and by giving itself a unique voice, it conjures a power of revelation that endows these songs with lasting enjoyment for the listener.

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Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces, by Albert Mudrian


Precious Metal:
Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces
edited by Albert Mudrian
365 pages, Da Capo Press, $14

The 25 Masterpieces
Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell
Diamond Head – Lightning to the Nations
Celtic Frost – Morbid Tales
Slayer – Reign in Blood
Napalm Death – Scum
Repulsion – Horrified
Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness
Obituary – Cause of Death
Entombed – Left Hand Path
Paradise Lost – Gothic
Carcass – Necroticism — Descanting the Insalubrious
Cannibal Corpse – Tomb of the Mutilated
Darkthrone – Transilvanian Hunger
Kyuss – Welcome to Sky Valley
Meshuggah – Destroy Erase Improve
Monster Magnet – Dopes to Infinity
At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul
Opeth – Orchid
Down – NOLA
Emperor – In the Nightside Eclipse
Sleep – Jerusalem
The Dillinger Escape Plan – Calculating Infinity
Botch – We Are the Romans
Converge – Jane Doe
Eyehategod – Take as Needed for Pain

 

albert_mudrian-precious_metal_decibel_presents_the_stories_behind_25_extreme_metal_masterpiecesRock journalism challenges even the bravest writer. Musicians are not known for being articulate, nor is it easy to pin them down, and lore snowballs in that vacuum. For this reason it’s great to see the series of in-depth explorations that have come about recently regarding many classic events of metal. As musicians age, given that musicians have a shorter life-span than average, this is also a race against time in many cases.

Albert Mudrian’s Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces presents a welcome addition to the genre of historical metal journalism. Combing through archives, the writers of each piece compiled band statements about the album and put them together in linear form, like a conversation. The result is a whole lot of information delivered in a very digestible form, with the extraneous confusion of live interviews edited right out of the picture. It’s a good starting point for anyone looking into these historical nodal points in the evolution of metal.

Mudrian seems aware how easily a book like this could become repetitive. Not just in the answers, where musicians might make roughly similar statements about touring, band formation, the troubles of collaboration and so forth, but in the similarity of bands. If for example he added another three Swedish death metal bands, it might start to get a little bit stuffy in the virtual room he’s created. Instead, he gives us space between acts and a wide variety of acts, but avoids the really awful nu-metal and tek-deth. However, the price of that spaciousness is that he includes bands like Monster Magnet and Kyuss which really aren’t metal at all.

There are some shockers in content, too. Some of these bands, despite their professions of various depraved behaviors, are insanely business-like in how they go about getting recorded and published. Sleep, Cannibal Corpse, Dillinger Escape Plan, Botch and Converge really had their act together. For a few moments, it was more like reading Forbes than Decibel, but it’s really gratifying to see this side of the business portrayed honestly. If you want your music heard, there’s a certain amount of business activity that must precede that event.

On the whole, these chapters are extremely well edited including the choice of material. They are in question-answer form, where the questions are usually prompts about historical events or general questions applied to specific moments or activities. When an incidental or minor character is cited, he or she speaks up for a few questions and then fades out. The bulk of the material favors the most articulate band members and major actors, but the writers shoehorn in as many diverse perspectives as they can. This makes reading Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces feel like being in a comfortable pub with these bands, on a rainy day, with a tape recorder next to the ashtray.

Each chapter corresponds to a classic album and comes with an intro paragraph. If anything, here’s where the book could benefit from some uniformity and toning down the “rock journalism” aspects. Perhaps not a just-the-facts-ma’am approach, but more of an assessment of where the band fits into history and why people like them, and leave it at that. Some of these were over the top for the actual function they serve. However, among the bombast is a lot of good information.

At that point the interview(s) compiled into a single form take over. Most of Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces is the bands speaking, and that is the power of Mudrian’s editing and the work of his colleagues. They’ve trimmed out the transient stuff, the window dressing and repetition, and left us with clear statements from the bands that show them in their own voices and approaching the situation at their own angle. This also helps create an epic feel to the epic interviews because it’s a compilation of the best moments of the band commenting on this album, put into one form that flows naturally.

Was the intro, “Human,” something you had conceived of before you went into the studio?
Ain: Yes, we had the idea before we went into the studio — we wanted to loop a scream and make it perpetual. We also wanted to use it as an intro for the live shows. A regular human scream would never last that long, so we wanted to loop it and make it sound like a scream from hell, like how you would scream if the pain was everlasting.
Warrior: We had talked about it, but we were basically still laymen, so we had no idea how we could put it together. So we told Horst what we wanted to do, and he proposed how to do it. But as I said, we only had six days to do everything. If one thing failed, we would’ve gone over budget or had to go home. So, in hindsight, it’s a miracle that tracks like “Human” or “Danse Macabre” came out the way we wanted them to. We couldn’t rehearse some of those parts, you know? I have no idea how we did that in just a few days, especially given our lack of experience. But therein lies one of the strengths of Celtic Frost to this day: Martin and I usually visualize certain pieces of music down to the last detail without even touching an instrument.

This excerpt reveals the power of Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces. In the midst of the mundane description of studio struggles, Tom Warrior articulates part of the essence of his band. Many such moments of insight, casually and offhandedly mentioned in describing some rather ordinary thing, flesh out this book and make it more than a fan’s quest but a resource for musicians and anyone else curious about the origins and process of creating extreme metal.

Not everyone will agree on certain aspects of this book and naturally any choices made along these lines are divisive. However, the book has enough to offer just about anyone who loves metal so that the purchase will not be regretted, even if there are chapters you skipped. In fact, I recommend skipping those chapters and approaching this book as a buffet. No matter what sub-genres you adore, you’re going to have at least five you’re dying to read, another five you’re very excited to read, and another five you’re curious about, and the rest will be uncertain but you might find some interesting information there, as I did.

It is impossible to find just 25 to represent metal. Some of these choices are nods to the music industry and mainstream fanbase, like Dillinger Escape Plan, or to history, like Botch, who were the vanguard of the metalcore movement. Some are near-misses like the apologetic At the Gates treatment of their best-seller, but this interview also confirms a lot that reviewers said about this album, namely that it was retro to the past generation of metal and somewhat hasty. Some others, like Converge and Eyehategod, seem marginal in that these bands spent a lot of time disclaiming metal back in the day.

On the whole however Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces offers a good pan-and-scan perspective of what was going on in metal at the time, and by showing us the fly-over accumulation of variety, Mudrian and Decibel show us not only what these bands were doing, but the forces against which they were struggling to define themselves. The result is a treasure hunt of a book, bristling with secrets and previously undiscovered pathways, for those who enjoy extreme heavy metal.

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Morbid Angel Covenant Tour 2013

morbid_angel-covenantTwenty years ago this year, Morbid Angel released their third album, Covenant, which stepped back from the concept album madness of their second work and seemed to look instead toward the collection of ripping songs and experiments that distinguished their first album.

Working more melody and conventionally-recognizable technicality into the mix, Covenant showed Morbid Angel after most of the initial thrust of ideas from their demos had worn off — leaving them to create anew, from a place where they were at the peak of their musical power. As a result, it is for many people a favorite from this band to this day.

Starting November 7, the re-constituted Morbid Angel of David Vincent, Trey Azagthoth and Pete Sandoval will tour North America playing the songs from Covenant in its entirety. This show be a good chance to introduce your college-aged children, who were conceived to this album, to the magic of Morbid Angel. Tickets go on sale July 19, 2013.

Morbid Angel Covenant Tour 2013:

City Date Venue
Atlanta, GA Nov 7 The Masquerade
Charlotte, NC Nov 8 Tremont Music Hall
Baltimore, MD Nov 9 Baltimore Soundstage
Cambridge, MA Nov 10 Middle East Nightclub
New York, NY Nov 12 Irving Plaza
Philadelphia, PA Nov 13 Theatre of the Living Arts
Cleveland, OH Nov 16 Peabody’s Downunder
Chicago, IL Nov 17 House Of Blues
Minneapolis, MN Nov 18 Mill City Nights
Sauget, IL Nov 19 Pops
Lawrence, KS Nov 20 Granada
Denver, CO Nov 22 Bluebird Theater
Seattle, WA Nov 25 Studio Seven
Portland, OR Nov 26 Hawthorne Theater
San Francisco, CA Nov 27 Slim’s
Los Angeles, CA Nov 29 Henry Fonda Theatre
Phoenix, AZ Nov 30 Joe’s Grotto
Albuquerque, NM Dec 1 Sunshine Theater
El Paso, TX Dec 2 Tricky Falls
Austin, TX Dec 3 Red 7
Houston, TX Dec 4 Warehouse Live
Orlando, FL Dec 6 Beacham Theater
Ft. Lauderdale, FL Dec 7 Culture Room
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Interview with Mike Browning (Ex-Morbid Angel, Ex-Nocturnus)

Mike - CropWe previously posted an article about Mike Browning being disgruntled over some happenings with David Vincent and his wife. DeathMetal.org has offered to give Mr. Browning an outlet to shed some light on the happenings of the early days of Morbid Angel, as well as clear up any confusion that may be encircling the metal underground.

Not many people have such an extensive resume when it comes to being involved with innovative bands in Death Metal. Mike Browning helped mold Morbid Angel, then he helped to create Nocturnus. He has also played and recorded with Incubus, Acheron and After Death.

We are fortunate that Mr. Browning has given us his time to answer these questions.

Hi Mike. Thank you for your time. I have often thought of early Morbid Angel as Slayer on steroids. Why did you guys decide to take the music in such an extreme manner?

It was really what was just coming out of us naturally. Back then we weren’t trying to do or be anything other than an evil chaotic band that was real. We literally did Necronomicon rituals before we played invoking the Ancient Ones and then with that energy we would start playing. We even did it for rehearsals as well as live shows.

There have been confusing recounts of the Abominations of Desolation recording session. Was this Morbid Angel’s first official album? If so, why has the band referred to it as a demo?

Abominations of Desolation was the first Morbid Angel album recorded. We signed to David Vincent’s label Goreque Records and we went to North Carolina to record and David even hired the legendary Bill Metoyer to engineer the record. So even though it was not released until later, it really is the first Morbid Angel record and not a demo.

I don’t know why the band says it’s only a demo. You would have to ask them that. They also claim that Sterling Scarborough played bass on the recording, which is not true either. It was John Ortega.

After Abominations of Desolation was recorded you returned to Florida and Trey stayed with David Vincent in North Carolina. Why did he stay there?

Yes the rest of the band went back to Tampa after we recorded while Trey stayed alone with David to do the mixing. It was told to us that it would be cheaper to just keep Trey there for the mixing, but when Trey came back he acted like a completely different person. He said we had to fire John Ortega and that David had found a new bass player for us which was Sterling Scarborough.

What was the actual reason for your departure from Morbid Angel? I heard that there was a physical fight with you and Trey.

Yes that is what happened. I stopped by his house one afternoon on my lunch hour from work and saw my girlfriends car there so I kicked the door in and found them on the couch kissing and I beat up Trey pretty bad. We were all pretty young back then so that is how I handled it by kicking his ass, but by doing that it caused the band to split up and that is when Richard and Trey moved to North Carolina and started playing with David, Wayne Hartsell and Sterling. I got Gino Marino and reformed Sterling’s old band Incubus.

Morbid Angel appear to be twirling into Skrillex influences more than Death Metal. Their last album Illud Divinum Insanus has been mocked by fans from all over the world. Why do you think they recorded such a weird album?

Well from what I heard that most of the music was written by Trey and he let David do all the lyrics. I’m not really sure if that is the truth, but it came from a pretty reliable source.

David Vincent has signed on to be in a film about pornstar Vaness Del Rio. What are your thoughts on this?

I don’t even want to have any thoughts about it!!! Seriously though I think it will only damage his reputation with Morbid Angel, but hey I am sure all he cares about is that he will make money and maybe turn it into a new career for himself.

Gen Vincent (David Vincent’s wife) has gotten you banned from the nightclub ‘The Castle’ in Ybor City. Why has she gone to such measures?

It’s because I made fun of David and their last album, but of course I didn’t start it all. There were so many people already making fun of it before it even came out that when I finally heard some of it I started making fun of it too. But I guess since I live in the same town and actually just a few blocks away from his house and that I was actually in the band that it was me that started all the jokes about him and the last album. So I guess Gen thought she would try to get back at me by having me banned from the local Gothic club because Gen is very personal friends with the owner of the club. I rarely go there anymore. Just once or twice a year when they have the bigger yearly events there, so it’s no big deal being banned. It was more about the point of it.

Thank you for clearing up some of the confusion that has been encircling the metal community. What are your plans for the near future?

Just staying busy doing both After Death and some live Nocturnus shows. There has been so much interest in people wanting to see the old Nocturnus stuff live that my band After Death has learned the whole The Key album and we are doing these shows and playing the entire album straight through. Then we’re throwing in some old Morbid Angel songs from Abominations of Desolation versions for the encores.

I also want to say THANKS to everyone who has supported all the music I have done over all these years and hopefully I will be able to continue the chaos for many more!

http://youtu.be/zCP-No1DcQI

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Pyrrhic Victories: A Brief Study Of Artistic Decline

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

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Blessed are the Tales of the Sick

Many reissues of underground Metal CDs, especially onto the digipack format of packaging, have removed much of the experience of being immersed in the total artistic presentation that was part and parcel of the infernal sounds it contained on the disc. This is seemingly symptomatic of casual, background, mp3 listening, which feigns a disregard of anything external to the music itself, while at the same time a reduction of whatever’s being heard, to exactly that: ornament. There’s something to be said about the honest ritualism of setting time and space aside in this multi-tasking age of lifestreams and other such convergences of different faced distractions, in order to access deeper and darker worlds. Interesting cover art and a booklet complete with lyrics and liner notes all aid to this end.  Peaceville records reissued a large selection of their early 90′s back catalogue several years ago, with some classic albums missing lyrics or important liner notes. Roadrunner records’ budget ‘Two from the Vault’ series were even less impressive, with their dual-offering reducing the content that once accompanied each album to something of infomercial ‘Best of Country Music’ standards. Peaceville, to their credit, did include some interesting bonus material on their digipacked CDs of the first four Darkthrone albums. This was a series of interviews conducted by the Black Metallers themselves, reflecting on the circumstances surrounding each album.

The reissue we’re concerned with has captured the best of both worlds, heeding the traditional benefit of drawing a listener into the experience of the album with detailed and faithfully imported contents, as well as providing bonus material in the form of a full-length documentary about the Death Metal classic that is Morbid Angel’s ‘Blessed are the Sick’. This commemoration of the great work features a fold-out design that replaces the pages of a booklet with new and old artwork appearing more vibrantly than it would on glossy paper. Delville’s depiction especially, of Satan ensnaring fallen humanity, has not looked more powerful on any previous pressing. Demanding almost childlike interactivity, the digipack is an enjoyable format to get lost in Vincent’s amoral and blasphemous sermons more so than in-sleeve booklets. Full liner notes are included, and like those of the previous album, they intimately reveal more about the intentions and the attitude of these artists, even dedicating the entire work to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

One unavoidable sacrifice to the presentation is the lack of art or logo on the CD itself, because it’s not technically a CD, but a dual-layered CD/DVD. This brings us to ‘Tales of the Sick’, an hour-length documentary about the making of the album, the subsequent touring of the new tracks and its lasting legacy. Conversations with Morbid Angel are limited to insights from David Vincent, whose articulation isn’t quite enough to compensate for the lack of ‘Blessed are the Sick’s lead song-writer and sonic shaman, Trey Azagthoth. And although he doesn’t quite resemble the same blonde-haired Hessian that upheld the Nietzschean spirit of Death Metal since it’s golden age, Vincent provides an interesting commentary on why the album sounds like it does and the obstacles the band faced to achieve this sound. Further to Azagthoth’s tribute in the liner notes, Vincent goes on to describe ‘Blessed are the Sick’ as an attempt to approach Mozart’s compositional style through the lens of Death Metal. Tom Morris of the reknowned Morrissound studios reveals the more technical challenges in engineering one of the most astoundingly crisp and clear sounding Death Metal albums, despite its speed and complexity. Other interviews feature the following generation of Death Metal musicians such as Nile’s Karl Sanders, and a lot of memories from the tours are shared by former managers and sound technicians. As an additional bonus, Earache have included the official music video for ‘Blessed are the Sick/Leading the Rats’, though in it’s original 4:3 aspect ratio. This is a great supplement to an highly influential album, and any real fan of Morbid Angel would do well to add this reissue to their collection.

Written by ObscuraHessian

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