Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Slayer - Divine Intervention (1994)


Slayer reached their creative peak early on, during the Metal Blade years. Nonetheless, they were still a viable band for a while longer, though never quite the same. The band's classic era came to a close with 1990's Seasons in the Abyss. It is safe to say that Decade of Aggression should have served as an epitaph to their career. Unfortunately, Slayer didn't break up and they lingered long enough to thoroughly tarnish their legacy. The September 1994 release of their sixth studio album, Divine Intervention, ushered in a new era of mediocrity, pandering and alienation. 

Divine Intervention is far from the worst album Slayer would go on to release, but that isn't saying much. While Seasons in the Abyss had already demonstrated that they really had nothing more to offer, without merely rehashing their previous works, this L.P. adds to the list of flaws, suffering from poor songwriting and bad production, among other things. The drums and vocals are too high in the mix, which often distract from the guitars (not that there are a whole lot of noteworthy riffs to begin with). The problem with the former is most noticeable any time Bostaph is adding fills or going overboard with the double bass. As for the latter, Araya's voice are fairly awful on this album and might have benefited from being lowered a bit. It was here, on Divine Intervention, where he began to shout far too much, possibly having already lost the range he once had. Rather than saving the shouting for the more intense parts, he often does it indiscriminately. Then again, if the only alternative is the lifeless droning of songs like "Serenity in Murder", perhaps he made the right choice. In addition to this, mistake is compounded by the use of distortion on the vocals in some places, making it even worse. The album possesses a disjointed feel, overall, sounding like there were multiple recording sessions. 

The songwriting, itself, is very lackluster and features way too many mid-paced riffs. For example, "Killing Fields" is four minutes in length, yet the intro section takes about ninety seconds and then the next minute or so continues to plod along, stricken with this mid-90s groove that is like poison to real Metal. Things only speed up near the very end, which is a shame as the track is over right around the time it starts to become interesting. "SS-3" is similar in that the first half is boring and pointless, though the last couple minutes of half-decent thrash riffs manage to salvage things to a degree. Songs like "Fictional Reality" and the title track are equally as frustrating, though speed itself is not always an improvement as seen by the rather mediocre "Circle of Beliefs" (as much ruined by the mundane riffs as by the distorted vocals). "Serenity in Murder" is a passable track, though it would have been much better without the slowed pace and monotonous vocal delivery during the verses. This song starts out with one of the better riffs found on Divine Intervention, but they just couldn't leave well enough alone. 

As a result of so much sub-par material, the more average tracks look good by comparison. "Sex. Murder. Art", "Dittohead" and "Mind Control" each utilize a faster pace and exhibit fewer flaws, for the most part. While none of these are truly exceptional (and would have served as filler on previous albums), they are among the best that this record has to offer. Then there is "213", which appears to be the band's attempt at making another "Dead Skin Mask". The clean guitar in the intro does help to create a gloomy feeling, and the rest of the song isn't too bad despite some of the lyrics being questionable.

It is a regrettable thing to have to say about a Slayer record, that less than half of the album is even tolerable. These are the same guys that recorded such masterpieces as Show No Mercy, Haunting the Chapel and Hell Awaits. A lot of the blame has to rest on the shoulders of Kerry King. He was very open in the years following Divine Intervention regarding his desire to fit in with the more mainstream bands. As such, he made attempts to incorporate whatever was trendy at the time, when writing each subsequent album. In this endeavour, his defeat was two-fold. He failed to appeal to the larger audience that he sought, unable to properly sell out while also alienating die-hard fans in the process. The rapid decline of Slayer began with Divine Intervention, a below-average album that should be avoided. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Malevolent Creation - The Ten Commandments (1991)


Malevolent Creation's debut L.P. was released by R/C Records, in April 1991. With The Ten Commandments, the band delved deeper into Death Metal, though without completely shedding their Thrash roots. The overall result is a rather average and monotonous album, with fewer highs than lows, and utterly pales in comparison to other releases from this year; e.g. Dismember's Like an Ever Flowing Stream, Butchered at Birth from Cannibal Corpse, of the various debut full-lengths from the likes of Darkthrone, Edge of Sanity, Sentenced, Grave, Asphyx, Unleashed or even the flawed sophomore effort from Morbid Angel, Blessed are the Sick. 

The first strike against this album is easily detectable before even pressing play, as the liner notes indicate that this was recorded at Morrisound and produced by Scott Burns. As one would expect from this, The Ten Commandments possesses a very flat and lifeless sound. Considering the fact that much of the record is dull and forgettable, this only exacerbates the issue. The songwriting is often uninspired and feels random, with many riffs seemingly interchangeable. The only song to really stand out from the rest is "Premature Burial", which is undoubtedly the strongest offering on this L.P. Following the doom-laden "Memorial Arrangements", the first real song bursts forth with very palpable fury. That track features dynamic songwriting, memorable riffs and enough testosterone to kill a horse. Afterward, it is like the band went on auto-pilot and are just going through the motions for the rest of Side A. Not only are the compositions below-average, to go along with the generic production, but even the performance feels lackluster. Tracks like "Remnants of Withered Decay", "Multiple Stab Wounds" and "Impaled Existence" are tedious to listen to, failing to offer the same kind of intensity and aggression as "Premature Burial". It should also go without saying that there is hardly a trace of dark atmosphere to be found throughout most of the songs. 

As well, the vocals are often pretty annoying. Hoffman's voice sounds strained and keeps going from the harsher Death Metal vocals to more of a Thrash Metal vocal style, as he utilized on the previous demo. Once in a while, this variation works in some way, but it is rather annoying for the most part. It's made worse by the fact that there are too many lyrics and it sounds like he is struggling to squeeze a novel's worth of text into a three or four-minute song. As a result, the vocal patterns are cluttered and ineffective. 

Side B picks up a bit, though slowly. "Thou Shall Kill!" is only mildly interesting, while the thrashier approach of "Sacrificial Annihilation" helps to demonstrate where the band's true calling lies. They were much better off mixing the Slayer and Dark Angel influences with Death Metal, rather than attempting to focus solely on the latter. "Decadence Within" is one of the better ones on here, though the bar was set pretty low with the previous five songs. While the re-recorded version of "Injected Sufferage" (from the 1989 demo) is pretty decent, my personal preference would have been to include "Epileptic Seizure". The closer, "Malevolent Creation", is probably the second-best song on the whole album. It featu res some epic riffs and goes on to remind the listener of the intensity that this band is capable of, when inspired. 

From the very first time that I ever heard The Ten Commandments, til this very day, my overall impression is one of disappointment and wasted potential. Even if the whole record could have at least maintained the consistency of Side B, it would have been an uphill battle. Already, by 1991, the Death Metal scene was flooded with tons of bands that were much better than Malevolent Creation. These guys were average at best and follow-up albums like Retribution and Stillborn, illustrated just why their name did not merit mention alongside the luminaries of the genre. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Pestilence - Testimony of the Ancients (1991)


Released in September 1991, Testimony of the Ancients is the third full-length from Pestilence. In the two years that passed since Consuming Impulse, much had changed within the band. Frontman Martin van Drunen left the group and joined Asphyx, leaving Patrick Mameli to attempt to fill the void as vocalist. His performance on this album would be but one of many elements that reduced this offering to a mediocre and forgettable affair. 

The inability to find a suitable person to handle the vocals was not necessarily something that the band could have helped. Perhaps, they tried and simple failed to recruit the right person. Either way, Mameli's dull voice is not the most damning issue regarding Testimony of the Ancients. The worst blunder of all was their decision to travel from the Netherlands to bloody Florida. Just like Napalm Death and Atrocity, the previous year, a European Death Metal band was so enamoured by the hype surrounding this overrated hellhole in Tampa that they crossed the ocean in order to allow their album to be butchered by the always-inept Scott Burns. 

Any possible potential that Testimony of the Ancients might have had was immediately thrown into the garbage the very moment that Pestilence decided to let Burns have a hand in the recording process. The sound of this record is the epitome of generic. The guitar tone, the mixing, everything reeks of mediocrity and sounds nearly identical to other albums from this same period that Burns ruined; e.g. Devastation's Idolatry, Malevolent Creation's The Ten Commandments, Napalm Death's Harmony Corruption, Demolition Hammer's Tortured Existence, etc. The differences between the sound of each record are quite minimal, and the third Pestilence L.P. falls into this same black hole of banality. The guitars lack any rawness and the clicky double-bass is enough to drive one mad. 

Beyond the extreme detrimental effect of Morrisound butchery, the album possesses other flaws. In general, the basic songwriting is all over the place. There are a few decent pure Death Metal tracks, like "The Secrecies of Horror" and "Lost Souls". But then one is assaulted with filth like "Twisted Truth" and "Prophetic Revelations" that utilize unwarranted groove riffs and really dumb things down. Then there are the more 'progressive' aspects of this wretched album, such as the addition of keyboards and the instrumental interludes between every song, which I find to be very pointless. Songs like "Testimony" and especially "Presence of the Dead" are filled with worthless wankery in the same vein as Death albums like Human and Individual Thought Patterns. Speaking of which, Mameli's voice is yet also very generic and dull, sounding quite similar to Chuck's performance on Spiritual Healing, with a bit of John Tardy mixed in. All in all, he really fails to differentiate himself in any manner, whatsoever.

Testimony of the Ancients is a complete waste of time. There are two passable tracks on this record, both of which are ruined by the production and the lackluster vocals. It's almost difficult to believe that this is the same Pestilence that released the essential Death Metal classic, Consuming Impulse, just two years earlier. This just goes to show that most bands should close up shop after one or two albums, as many just lose their true creative spark and end up releasing sub-standard trash. It also serves as another bit of evidence that Scott Burns was one of the very worst things to ever happen to Death Metal. Avoid this. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Troll - Trollstorm over Nidingjuv (1995)


As my introduction to the band, Troll's debut album left a bad taste in my mouth. Drep de kristne did not make a good impression, at all. Even worse, I knew of Nagash's involvement in horrible bands like Dimmu Borgir and Covenant, so I completely wrote this project off, for quite some time. Years later, I was urged to check out the first demo from this Norwegian Black Metal act, being assured that it was better than what I'd previously heard. So, with some hesitancy, I gave a listen to the 1995 demo, Trollstorm over Nidingjuv

The first minute or so of "Når natten endelig er her" only confirmed my concern that this was to be a waste of time. The synth intro isn't nearly as bad as the goth-like spoken word part that accompanies it. Nonetheless, from the moment that the guitars erupt from the relative silence, the entire complexion of the release changes. The first thing worth noting is the superior quality, compared to the first L.P. This was clearly recorded in a proper studio, instead of in a garage (though how a high school kid could afford this, I cannot say). Rather than the weak and soft sound of Drep de kristne, here the guitar tone is sharp and helps to give a harsher feel to the music. Even the mid-paced section of the title track maintains a respectable level of strength, compared to the utterly limp feeling of the material Troll offered up the following year. 

Overall, the material is much more solid than on the full-length. However, Nagash certainly takes some liberties with the songwriting, heavily influenced by his predecessors in the Norwegian scene. In particular, Satyricon and Darkthrone seem to have been favourites of his. Of course, no one really comes into a Norwegian Black Metal release from the mid-'90s expecting too much originality; the template had pretty much been established by '92/'93. That said, Nagash basically lifted riffs, note-by-note, with no shame whatsoever. While the Satyricon influence is quite obvious from the intro and the second half of the title track, the riff around the middle of "Over daudens kolde mark" is really leaning more toward plagiarism. Elsewhere, the inspirations are a bit more general, with cold tremolo riffs that call to mind classic Mayhem, as well as the vocals that are reminiscent of Ihsahn's early work with Emperor. The compositions are fairly straightforward, possessing rather natural transitions that flow in a natural manner (as opposed to Satyr's back and forth, manic songwriting). The CD version, released a year later, contains the most damning evidence of plagiarism. On "I et hedensk land", this guy just outright lifted Darkthrone riffs (from "Slottet i det fjerne") and passed them off as his own. Sure, it sounds good, but that is because Fenriz was a master of creating dark and dreary Black Metal riffs, back then. 

In the end, Trollstorm over Nidingjuv stands as the best release to ever come from Troll, by far. If one can overlook the riff thievery (and to be fair, the worst offense was only a bonus track on the re-release, not included on the original tape), this isn't a bad recording. It's pretty standard Norwegian Black Metal from this period, which was filled with a lot of kids that wanted to follow in the footsteps of the masters. It's certainly worth fifteen minutes of your time. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Thornium - North Storms of the Bestial Goatsign (1994)


My introduction to Thornium came in the form of a Maxell cassette sent to me by a penpal from Latvia, many years ago. Side A featured Nifelheim from Throne of Ahaz, while on Side B was Thornium's debut album, Dominions of the Eclipse. I remember the latter was so long that it didn't even fit in its entirety, and certainly failed to impress in the same manner as Throne of Ahaz. It was only some years later that my opinion of the band became more favourable, upon hearing the 1994 demo North Storms of the Bestial Goatsign

Musically, this is pure northern darkness. The guitar riffs are cold and dismal, just dripping with the typical mid-90s Black Metal feeling. "In the Depths of Northern Darkness" is equal parts fast tremolo melodies and mid-paced gloom that allows the music to breathe a bit. The title track picks up from where the first one left off, before speeding up and utlizing a riff reminscent of classic Mayhem. All throughout, Typheus' hateful vocals add to the overall atmosphere. His voice is mostly dry and raspy, with bits of near-hysterical shrieking, and really calls to mind Abbath's performance on Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism. The subtle vocal changes help to give life to the songs, as do the variations in tempo. It's all very straightforward and primitive, yet still possessing ambition and feeling. The droning riffs that emerge in the later part of "North Storms of the Bestial Goatsign" are haunting and memorable, with melodies of a similar style to be found on "Min Vandring Till Mörkrets Furste". 

The production is fairly good for a Black Metal demo from this period. Everything is mixed rather well, with the guitars up front as they should be. The drumming is still audible, just not dominating the sound as often happens. The vocals are high enough to be clearly deciphered, without drowning out the rest. It does seem as if there was some clean guitar being used at the beginning of the tape, but it didn't come through very clearly, which was probably for the best. 

Thornium's first offering is nothing original, just traditional Black Metal in the northern style that was really coming into its own around this time. The only real complaint here is that it's pretty short. Though, sometimes, it is better to get in and get out and not waste time on useless filler or mediocre tracks that bog things down. All three songs are of the same good quality, making North Storms of the Bestial Goatsign very much worth tracking down and listening to. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Fimbul - Vinterland (1995)


Fimbul was a short-lived Black Metal project from Norway. The sole band member, Ramn, released the first demo, Vinterland, in February 1995. Recorded on a four-track, this lo-fi tape bears similarities to other demos of this period, such as Thule's Der vinterstormene raste and Urgehal's Ferd

Vinterland is rather brief, clocking in at under fifteen minutes. Aside from the intro and outro, there are only two real songs on here, of which "I de norske skoger" is the real highlight. The songwriting is rather straightforward and primitive. The tremolo melodies are memorable and somewhat haunting, reminiscent of something from Transilvanian Hunger. The vocals possess a grim feeling and the drums are pretty basic. "Nattevandring" has a little more variation in the pacing, though the riffs aren't as interesting. However, around the halfway mark things slow down as a mournful melody emerges for a few moments. It is unfortunate that this soon transitions to another less-engaging riff. The outro, "Stillhet (...Norge)", reminds one of "Snø Og Granskog", from Panzerfaust

All in all, Vinterland is a decent little demo, but nothing special. Out of the four tracks, only "I de norske skoger" manages to stand out. That said, it is worth a listen for fans of the mid-90s Norwegian Black Metal sound. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Malevolent Creation - Retribution (1992)


Malevolent Creation's sophomore effort, Retribution, was released in April 1992. By this point, Death Metal had exploded in such a manner that far too many bands were overflowing into the scene, most of them just incredibly mediocre. I recall hearing this band's name mentioned along the likes of Death, Obituary, Morbid Angel, Deicide and so on, all those years ago. This album, in particular, received high praise every time. Yet, when I got my hands on the cassette version of this album, it just fell flat. 

The majority of the music here is quite dull and pointless. The Ten Commandments didn't feature much that was worth remembering, outside of the intense "Premature Burial". However, Retribution is an even more tedious listening chore. One of the things that differentiates Metal from simple Rock music has always been the emphasis placed on the riffs, generally with most bands having two guitarists. Nonetheless, neither Rob Barrett nor Phil Fasciania are the stars of this production. Neither is Brett Hoffmann (whose voice is fairly good but still displays no talent for making the vocals properly fit the music). No, the central figure of Malevolent Creation's second L.P. is the drummer, Alex Marquez. 

This entire album is ruined because of the immensely overactive percussion. Death Metal is supposed to create a dark atmosphere; instead, Retribution offers useless groove riffs and breakdowns and criminal overuse of double bass that undermines most of the very few decent riffs that did manage to slip onto this record. Tracks like "The Coldest Survive", "Mindlocked" and "Iced" are a bit more primitive and straightforward than most of the rest, certainly the best parts of this album, yet the drums still do their best to spoil things as much as possible. 

Of course, the list of complaints could not be complete without mentioning the absolutely atrocious Morrisound production job. This possesses the same generic, sterile sound as almost every other album recorded there during this period. To hear a random snippet from Retribution, without vocals, one would be hard-pressed to correctly identify the band. With the likes of Obituary, Death, Pestilence, Napalm Death and others all recording at the same studio and having their works wrecked by incompetent hands of Scott Burns, it all just blends together. Coupled with the fact that their songwriting is sub-par, it's no surprise that Malevolent Creation never managed to reach the same heights as some of their peers. 

Many cite Stillborn as the point when Malevolent Creation proved their ineptitude, but it was already on full display, here. Death Metal is not supposed to be driven forward by the percussion, with the guitars taking on a supporting role. Retribution might be best used as a gateway album to gently lure Pantera fans into harder music, but it is entirely worthless to those seeking pure Death Metal. Avoid this garbage.