Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Poison - Into the Abyss (1987)

Every now and then, I run across something that managed to crawl under the radar. The cult German Black/Death/Thrash band, Poison, was not completely unheard of. Yet in my earliest days of exploring the Teutonic scene, this was passed over in favour of better-known acts such as Sodom, Kreator, Destruction and even Exumer. The Poison demos weren't readily available, so they were ignored. On the one hand, this represents a grievous error; however, on the other hand, it provides the opportunity to go back in time. There are few things as good as discovering old music that one missed out on. Just when you think that you have heard them all, the disappointment fades upon realizing that there are hidden treasures still waiting to be found. Recently, someone recommended that I check this band out and it couldn't have come at a more appropriate time.

Poison formed in 1982 and went on to release a handful of demos as they perfected their craft. In 1987, they released the godly Into the Abyss demo, which is a masterpiece of underground Death/Thrash. It all begins with "Sphinx". This epic song starts with a mid-paced thrash riff, building a sense of tension. You can feel that something monumental is about to be unleashed. The song bursts forth with fast riffs and inhuman vocals. The vocal style displays a great deal of variety, as Virgin Slaughter has a range that includes a deeper sound more akin to Death Metal as well as a raspier scream, seeming somewhat reminiscent of Quorthon. Despite the extremity of the music, it is quite complex. There are frequent tempo changes, as Angel of Death's thrash riffs change to slower, doom riffs. Incubus Demon's bass is audible, such as on Slayer's Hell Awaits. And, of course, Witchhammer is proficient on the drums. At a time when the other German bands are streamlining their sound and going for a pure Thrash Metal approach, Poison were busy giving In the Sign of Evil some evil competition.
"Yog-Sothoth" is the shortest song, clocking in just over seven minutes. This one begins with slow doom riffs, creating an ominous atmosphere of dread. After a brief intro, the pace picks up with textbook thrash riffs and fast drumming. The production isn't as clear as one would like, preventing the music from making the true impact that is is capable of. Fortunately, the feeling is conveyed, nonetheless. After a couple minutes, the tempo slows a little as some mid-paced riffs allow for the dark aura to settle into your subconscious. This doesn't last long, as the hellish assault resumes. This song features many memorable melodies. About halfway through, the song slows down and utilizes an acoustic guitar melody as eerie whispers call out from the darkness. This is certainly more evil than what Mayhem was doing around the same time.

The next song is the epic "Slaves (of the Crucifix)". It opens with some interesting melodies, creating an eerie atmosphere while building to something larger. The sound, gradually, gets louder and louder, as the guitars are pushed to the front of the mix. This song features some intense thrash riffs and very fast drumming. Here, the vocals sound close to what Quorthon would accomplish on Blood Fire Death, in some places. After a relentless and punishing assault, the song slows down to wallow at the fathomless depths, doing well to convey a sense of impending doom. This one sounds very much like 80s Black Metal. The track features a few more tempo changes and some incredibly possessed vocals during the closing moments.

"Requiem / Alive (Undead)" concludes this incredible demo. It rises from the murky fog with a somber melody before unleashing its full force. This takes the dark feeling from Sodom's debut E.P. and the vicious assault from Kreator's Endless Pain to the next logical step. Hellhammer influences can be detected, though the musicianship found here is quite superior to that Swiss outfit. A slow, doom-filled pace dominates much of this song, though the tempo does pick up, also featuring killer solos. This song is dripping with a dark and primal atmosphere, tearing at your flesh and devouring your mind. It all ends in a traditional manner, finishing out this brilliant demo.

Into the Abyss is a work of genius. While Kreator and Sodom were getting farther away from their cryptic roots and while the remnants of Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, were moving into poser territory, Poison managed to spawn something truly dark and inspiring. For fans of the early work of the aforementioned bands, along with old Bathory, Mefisto and Morbid, this is highly recommended.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Holocausto - Campo de Exterminio (1987)

Campo de Exterminio is the debut L.P. from Holocausto. Released in February 1987, on Cogumelo Records, this is one of the earliest full-lengths from the Brazilian Black Metal scene. Holocausto was just as known for their controversial imagery as they were for their chaotic sound. To go along with the name of the band and the title of the album, the vocalist was named Rodrigo Führer and the intro featured a speech given by Hitler. Of course, they later claimed that this was all done for effect only. That may be true, as the photos that are included feature not only Hitler, Mussolini and holocaust victims, but a small picture of Stalin as well. Of course, anyone with even a casual interest in WWII should know that Stalin was an enemy of the Third Reich.

Following the introduction by the Führer, himself, the album truly begins with "Campo de Exterminio". As one might be able to ascertain, the title translates to "Extermination Camp". It begins with a mid-paced thrash riff, before speeding up. The production is fairly poor, being quite a bit below Morbid Visions, but slightly better than Vulcano's Bloody Vengeance. The sound is raw and necro. The vocals are typical of the Brazilian Black Metal style. This track is well-structured and features a fairly decent lead solo.

"Forças Terroristas" ("Terrorist Forces") begins with a quick drum roll and displays some variety in the vocals. For this one, Anderson Guerrilheiro lends his throat to the mix and utilizes a raspy, higher-pitched approach that adds to the primal feeling given off by this music. The riffs are made up of some tremolo picking as well as the usual thrash style. The solo is more chaotic and unrestrained than on the previous track, not doing a whole lot to add to the feeling.

"Scória" blasts ahead at full speed, creating a hellish feeling with the searing guitar riffs and the possessed vocals. The title translates to "Scorn" and this feeling is conveyed through the music. Here, the deeper style is mixed with the more sinister type from the last song. Near the middle of the song, the pace slows down and the atmosphere is one of evil and eternal torment. The mid-paced riffs carry the song to its conclusion as anguished screams echo from beyond.

The next song is "Facção Revolucionária Armada" ("Armed Revolutionary Factions"), having a very similar sound to Sarcófago's I.N.R.I., which was released six months later. This intense song is dominated by barked vocals and blast beats, though the tempo does slow down for a few moments. Upon first listen, this entire album has quite a chaotic feeling, but the structure becomes more apparent with repeated listens.

"Regimento da Morte" ("Death Regiment") opens with a slow, doom-laden riff and demonic screams that are reminiscent of "Funeral Rites", from Sepultura's Morbid Visions L.P. The early moments of this song are some of the most memorable of the album. After the intro section, the song bursts forth at a relentless pace. Rodrigo and Guerrilheiro both handle the vocals, here. This is one of the longer and more complex songs on the record, showing a lot of diversity in the riffs. It all flows together well.

"III Reich" ("Third Reich", naturally) follows this, clocking in at just over two minutes. It is fast-paced and energetic but, ultimately, this is filler. The lyrics describe, is grisly detail, the supposed atrocities of the Nazis; speaking of Jews being burned or eaten by dogs, Mengele's experiments and the scenery around the Auschwitz Holiday Camp and Health Spa. The last two lines give a contradictory feeling. They translate to:

"The laws of life
Spat on and maltreated"

Surely, the band must be referring to the pitiful treatment received by the Germans once the zionist forces unjustly invaded the fatherland. But, back to the music...

The next song is "Vietnã" ("Vietnam"), which begins with a brief build-up before unleashing its fury with a mid-paced attack, soon transitioning back to the frantic pace found elsewhere on the album. The lyrics for this one make it clearer that the band is simply fascinated by war, in general, rather than really supporting any particular group. The tempo changes a few times, ending with more of a subdued approach.

"Guerrilheiro Suicida" ("Suicidal Guerilla") is another unexceptional piece of music. By this point of the album, it seems that Holocausto is a little less successful at holding my attention than their Brazilian peers. It isn't bad, it's just mediocre when compared to the first half of the record.

Campo de Exterminio concludes with "Setembro Negro" ("Black September"). This is the longest song on the album and begins with standard thrash riffs that have been recycled dozens of times. The musicianship is a bit sloppy, which is a little more apparent here than on some of the other tracks, due to the more intricate arrangement. However, this song is an improvement over the previous few. The track ends with everything seeming to fall to chaos. It almost sounds as if the band was consumed by flames.

Overall, this album isn't as essential as I.N.R.I., by any means. Nonetheless, there are a few satisfactory tunes to be found here. If the album had been shortened to six tracks (also omitting the intro), this would have been a little better. Sometimes, less is more. At any rate, anyone that is into the early albums from Sepultura, Sarcófago, Vulcano and Mutilator should give this a listen.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Death - Scream Bloody Gore (1987)

Death began in 1983, under the name Mantas, playing music that was heavily inspired by Venom, Slayer and Celtic Frost. However, a short time later, Possessed became the main inspiration for the band. Their name was then changed to Death, which was a good representation of what they were about, at the time. Tons of rehearsals and demos were released, in those early years. In July 1986, the band set out to record their debut L.P. Scream Bloody Gore was actually first recorded in Florida, though as Death was unsatisfied after hearing the initial rhythm tracks, they traveled to Hollywood to record it again with Randy Burns, which are the recordings that made the album. However, the incomplete first sessions were still locally used as a demo tape once they returned to Florida. At any rate, Scream Bloody Gore was released in May 1987, on Combat Records.

I was barely acquainted with this band when my best friend came over one day, during summer vacation. Back then, he was a prime source of music, often bringing things by for me to record. I was impressed when I heard the primitive sounds of Death's debut album. Rarely had I ever encountered a band that was so appropriately named. I found myself neglecting this tape for a while, but as summer faded into autumn, it began getting more attention. Around this time, my friend and I watched a lot of old horror movies, and this suited that atmosphere perfectly. Seven Churches, by Possessed, is often cited as the first Death Metal album, yet anyone with a brain can clearly tell that it was a Black Metal record. There may have been a song titled "Death Metal" on there, but it was dominated by Satanic themes and owed quite a bit to Venom. It is more accurate to say that that album was an influence on the Death Metal scene, with Scream Bloody Gore being one of the first pure albums of that sub-genre.

The L.P. begins with "Infernal Death", opening with a monstrous riff that is slow and filled with an aura of morbid doom. "Evil" Chuck's screams sound similar to Jeff Becerra, if he had died and then crawled out of a coffin, years later. The production is raw, and it suits the music perfectly. After the epic intro, the song bursts into high speed. Tremolo riffs alternate with power chords, joined by Chuck's decomposed vocal approach and decent solo work. All of this combines to create a great opener for this classic album.

"Zombie Ritual" begins with a dark and creepy guitar harmony, with a crushing riff backing it up. This is rather brief, as the tempo picks up for the verse, before slowing down again during the chorus. The bass is quite audible, adding to the sense of doom. The lyrics are filled with gore, perhaps from someone that has overdosed on horror movies. Every bit of it fits together, flawlessly, to create a sound that is the epitome of death. The structure seems more advanced than most will give them credit for, as well. Of course, these songs had been around for some time, being perfected over the years.

The next song is "Denial of Life", which begins with something almost reminiscent of Possessed. Much like what Bathory did with Venom's creation, Death took the influences from Possessed and improved upon the sound to a great extent. Chris Reifert's drum work is just right for this sound, keeping things simple but not boring the listener in any way. The riffs are very memorable, which can be said of the album as a whole. Unlike later so-called Death Metal bands, the focus is on the guitar riffs and the insane vocals. Lyrically, it doesn't get much more death-oriented than this.

"Created by your mind
To overtake your life
Sacrificial suicide
End it with a knife
Much too late
To change your mind
A bloody corpse
Is left behind"

"Sacrificial" begins with more slow, doom riffs. Along with the rotted corpse vocal approach of Chuck, this helps to create an aura of foggy graveyards and open tombs. For the chorus, the pace picks up, yet it returns to the previous theme for the verse. The lyrics are violent and gore-filled, possessing a very misogynistic tone. The structuring of the song displays a maturity that many might miss, as it consists of peaks and valleys, melodies that capitalize on the momentum created by the previous riffs and vocal lines, all flowing together quite well.

This is followed by "Mutilation", a fast-paced journey into a maelstrom of violence and insanity. While some may perceive it as simplistic and straight-forward, this song displays the depth of talent possessed by Chuck and his cohorts. Whereas some bands just, randomly, toss riffs together and call it a song, there is a true sense of cohesiveness when it comes to the songs presented here. The narrative flow of the central theme is accentuated by the powerful delivery of both music and vocals, making this one of the most memorable tracks on the album.

"Massacred, hacked to death, my revenge
Slicing deep, into your flesh, the pain intense
Dreams of hate, misery, fill my mind
Puke in your face in disgust, it's time to die"

While such lyrics may seem clichéd or primitive, keep in mind that this style had not yet been copied and watered-down to the point where it no longer had meaning. Furthermore, the lyrics still hint at a certain level of introspection that is lacking in those that followed suit. They indicate some manner of motivation for such violence, as an expression of inner rage rather than simply random descriptions of killing with no purpose.

Side two starts out with "Regurgitated Guts", which begins with a brief build-up, followed by a mid-paced thrash riff. Coming after such an intense song, it shows true brilliance in the positioning of the songs to place this one where it is. The song alternates between the thrash riffs and more typical Death Metal riffing. More drawn-out chords are used, near the end, underneath the brief solo. This only adds to the epic feeling of the song. The song then returns to the fast picking and blasting drums to reach its conclusion.

The next song begins with a heavy, doom-filled riff and a blood-curdling scream. "Baptized In Blood" is yet another extremely memorable song of pure Death Metal. The speed is pretty intense, slowing down only for the chorus. There are a couple riff changes that serve well to compliment each other and a killer lead solo as well. The lyrics, as on several of the tracks, tell an interesting horror-inspired tale.

"The dead they gather around
Praising the child they found
Possessed, the child shall kill
The future is now revealed"

"Torn To Pieces" slows the pace down a bit, while still maintaining the morbid feeling conveyed by the album. The riffs owe a bit more to Thrash and Speed Metal, during certain sections. The pace picks up, considerably, during the chorus. The best riffs of the song are in the last minute or so, being somewhat reminiscent of early Slayer. The lead solo goes well with this, followed by Chuck screaming, "Torn... to pieces!" a few more times.

The next song is one of the best-known from this album, being based on a classic horror film by the same title and beginning with an incredible melody that makes for one of the most memorable moments of the record. "Evil Dead" is one of the shortest songs on here, yet it makes an incredible impact. Following the brilliant intro, the song bursts from the murky shadows, at full speed. Musically, there are a lot of power chords, alternating with fast picking. The solo is a blistering aural assault, building tension for the climax of the song.

"Covered in blood, all hope is lost
Forever to rot, controlled by the powers of the...

Evil dead! Evil dead!"

The L.P. concludes with "Scream Bloody Gore". This song begins with sort of a build-up, erupting into a full-on assault. Years before so many imitators had become known for writing sick lyrics, "Evil" Chuck had already perfected this approach, leaving little for anyone else to add. The vocal delivery is genius, building in intensity as the chorus approaches and the unleashing screams of complete possessed fury. This is a good dramatic effect, adding to the sense of urgency. As the song nears its end, it slows down a great deal, resembling the opening riff of the album. The song continues, as Chuck unleashes one of the best lead solos of the record.

Scream Bloody Gore is the standard by which all other Death Metal albums are measured, and they all fail miserably to capture the essence of death, decay and morbidity that this L.P. possesses. This undeniable classic is essential for anyone claiming to be a fan of Death Metal. Buy this or end your life.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Venom - Calm Before the Storm (1987)

Following the less-than-exceptional release of Possessed, the unholy trio was torn asunder as Mantas left the group to pursue a solo career. To fill the void left behind, Cronos and Abaddon recruited two new guitar players, Mike "Mykus" Hickey and James Clare. One would never have known much was going on, as the mini-albums, compilations and live records continued to be released, such as Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. By 1987, the time had come to enter New Marquee Studios, in London, to record a new L.P. Of course, with a different studio came a new producer. Keith Nichol, who had been producing their albums from the beginning, was replaced by Nick Tauber. The result was Calm Before the Storm, released in November 1987.

While the previous record was a bit of a step down, compared the the earlier material, Calm Before the Storm represented a complete departure from the Satanic-themed Black Metal that Venom was known for. The music took on more of a melodic thrash approach while the lyrical content shifted to more typical Heavy Metal themes. Coming from the originators of Black Metal, this was quite a shock.

The record begins with "Black Xmas". This one wastes no time in getting right into the thrash riffs. The first thing that one may notice is the fact that the vocals are less harsh and evil. Actually, Cronos seems to have injected a lot of melody in his voice, utilizing a cleaner approach. The production doesn't sound bad, at all, and the guitar solos are pretty enjoyable. The riffs are okay, but nothing exceptional. This sure as Hell isn't "Sons of Satan", "Black Metal" or "At War With Satan", but as an opener it does well to acquaint the listener with the change in sound. Some bands, that experiment with their sound, try to hide this by beginning the album with a song that is more in tune with their previous efforts, and then sneaking the new style in there. As always, Venom is very up-front.

The next song is "The Chanting of the Priests". This one is similar to the first one, being a shocking display of mediocrity, especially the hilarious vocals. Cronos actually does this rather well, but it's just so unexpected that one can't help but laugh. The "woah-oh-oh" part, with the back-up vocals, is the most despicable thing I've heard yet. It's difficult to belive that any of the band members really thought that this was a good idea. There is a section with deeper, more evil-sounding vocals but the lyrics certainly don't warrant such effects being used. The riffs and lead solos aren't bad, really. This just isn't what one wants to hear when tossing a Venom record on.

"Metal Punk" sounds a lot more like the real Venom. This one is fast, filled with energy and showcases the vocal delivery expected of Cronos, though the chorus is annoying. During the last minute of the song, things slow down and the feeling is kind of killed. All in all, this is merely a substandard representation of the band.

This is followed by "Under A Spell". Like the previous track, this one shows that the band could make music more suitable of the Venom name, though uninspired. Of course, the melodic vocals used for the bridge and the chorus are... suddenly, Helloween. This is utterly sickening. Clean, harmonized vocals have no place in Venom! Never! The solos are adequate, but this tune has done too much to offend the band's fans for anything to salvage it. I feel like I've just been aurally raped.

"Calm Before the Storm" has the unenviable task of following this atrocity. It begins with a dark intro, creating a decent atmosphere. The riff isn't half bad, though not worthy of a Venom record. The first time that I heard this song, it was quite late at night and I wondered, "Why does this album get so much Hell?" I must have been bloody delirious. This is absolutely unacceptable. I once read that this album sounded as if Bon-Jovi had recorded an album under the Venom name. Right now, this doesn't seem like a bad description.

Next is "Fire", which possesses a sound much closer to what one would expect. It is the only song with even the slightest mention of Hell. While it sounds passable, by comparison to the last few tracks, this song is mediocre at best. It earns points for lacking clean vocals, but then the unimaginative songwriting leaves a lot to be desired. At least it was fairly short.

"Krackin' Up", as one might infer from the title, is plagued by ridiculous lyrics. The song has a little of the old Venom feeling, but not really in a good way. For anyone that says lyrics don't matter, I defy you to listen to this song and take it seriously. The title sure as Hell is appropriate, as it had me 'cracking up' for the whole two minutes or so that it was playing.

This abomination is succeeded by "Beauty and the Beast". Indeed, it seems that Dio was writing lyrics for Venom, as it is difficult to accept that this was the doing of Cronos. As anticipated, the chorus is contaminated with more melodic absurdity. This is bloody awful. Even a few decent riffs can't possibly save this. Unfortunately, this song is a bit longer than the previous two. It's strange how most think that Cronos left the band after this album, because it was so terrible, when he's the one that made it such an unbearable and distressing experience. Further condemning him is the fact that his solo project continued with this contemptible sound.

"Deadline" continues the punishment. It begins with a mildly tolerable thrash riff, but the song features more utilization of clean vocals for the chorus. It isn't as horrid as on some of the other songs, but it's not very pleasant. The solo is alright, but nothing special. By this point, the album has become extremely tedious.

The next song is "Gypsy", which uses more trademark Venom riffs, along with some double-bass. Of course, the whole sound is ruined with the horrendous vocal delivery. This track certainly doesn't hold a candle to Mercyful Fate's song of the same title. Forget Thrash Metal; this should be classified as the first suicidal Black Metal album. It was written and recorded by a (former) Black Metal band and it makes me want to kill myself, rather than listen to any more.

The final song is titled "Muscle". Indeed, this idiotic title is making a certain sexual reference. Venom lost their Satanic approach, but they kept this kind of nonsense? Utterly appalling. I can't imagine anyone could really be so interested in songs about sex, except for those who have never gotten any. This song is as fucking awful as it gets. This makes Motley Crue sound dangerous. It sure is a Hell of a way to end an atrocious album.

Calm Before the Storm is an abomination. This is an undeniable fact. This terrible piece of excrement gets worse as it progresses. If you ever have the misfortune of hearing this, run for cover. Don't get fooled into believing that it may be passable because the first song isn't so overly wretched. The album is completely worthless, with exception to its ability to provide a load of laughs. Unless you need a dose of humour or simply possess a morbid curiosity that compels you to witness the grim demise of Venom, avoid this at all costs.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Kreator - Flag of Hate (1986)

Not long after releasing Pleasure To Kill, Kreator entered the studio again to record the tracks for an E.P. Released on Noise Records, in August 1986, Flag of Hate capitalized on the impact of the first two albums (which were only separated by six months, themselves) and further established Kreator as a force to be reckoned with.

The E.P. begins with a re-recorded version of "Flag of Hate", which originally appeared on Endless Pain. This is a bit heavier, faster and more lethal in its execution, with a major difference being that it is about a minute shorter than the original. This violent track opens this mini-album with violence and fury, a feeling that is present not just in the energy of the music but also in the lyrics.

"...All what we want is to crucify your 'god'..."

The other two songs are quite a bit longer than most Kreator songs, both clocking in around six or seven minutes. "Take Their Lives" begins with a lone thrash riff, slowly joined by the rest of the instruments. This is more mid-paced, with lyrics that seem to tell the tale of a man that has become fed up with his miserable existence, turning his frustration on his own children. Some brilliant melodies come in, after a couple minutes, possessing a real old school feeling. The drum beat matches this sentiment, underneath the solo that follows. This is followed by an epic riff, around 3:40, that shows the genius of this band. This sense of melody is nothing new for the band, just a bit more obvious here. Also worth noting is that Mille's vocals seem to be even more feral on this E.P. This is certainly an epic song, by Kreator's standards.

Flag of Hate concludes with the monstrous song, "Awakening of the Gods". The epic feeling continues during the opening moments of this song, before all Hell breaks loose. There are several riff changes, using a lot of pure thrash riffs for the slower sections. Near the end, the song returns to the opening theme. This is the most interesting riff of the song and it would have been nice to see it developed a little further. This song isn't quite as good as the previous one, as a few ideas could have been expanded while a couple riffs, maybe, could have been excluded. All in all, this is a very memorable song and a good way to close the E.P.

This E.P. represents the end of the first era of Kreator, as the following album has more of a streamlined, less brutal approach. The vocals would get a little less harsh, as well. It is kind of amazing to think that Endless Pain, Pleasure To Kill and Flag of Hate were all released in a period of ten months. Kreator seemed to be at their peak of energy and creativity, in those early days.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Vulcano - Bloody Vengeance (1986)

Though not at well-known as other Brazilians, like Sepultura and Sarcófago, Vulcano was one of the first Black Metal bands to emerge from the South American scene, having quite an influence on the aforementioned groups. Vulcano evolved from an earlier project, called Astaroth, that was formed in 1981. It was the vision of bassist, guitarist, and chief songwriter Zhema Rodero, along with Paulo Magrão and Carli Cooper. They worked with a variety of musicians, recording the four-track Om Pushne Namah single in 1983. By 1984, new members had joined and the band recorded the eight-track Devil On My Roof demo, featuring Angel on vocals. His arrival allowed the band to switch from Portuguese to English lyrics, making the music slightly more accessible. The release that put them on the map was the Vulcano: Live! L.P. By this point, Brazilian heavy metal was just taking shape and Vulcano seized the throne, with their thrashy Black Metal (primarily inspired by NWOBHM bands like Venom and Motorhead).

Sometime in late 1986, Vulcano entered the studio to record their debut album, Bloody Vengeance. With a limited budget, the band had only 24 hours to record and mix the songs. The result was somewhat sloppy and rough, to say the least. Despite the poor production, the arrangements still shine through the murky fog. Once you get past the shoddy sound (if this is a problem for you), you'll see that the musical ideas were a bit more advanced than most might give them credit for.

The record begins with "Dominios of Death". It begins at full speed and the first thing you notice is the possessed fury of Angel's vocal delivery. The grammar isn't perfect, but the message is clear.

"Rituals begin
Lucifer will be free
Demons are called
To serve the evil"

This track tells the tale of demons rising from below to wage war upon the church and murdering all life. Near the middle of the song, a blood-curdling scream flows, seamlessly, into a piercing lead solo. The song then slows down a bit, going into a mid-paced thrash riff. The song ends with a killer solo that is far better than one might expect.

"Spirits of Evil" begins with tremolo riffs and blasting drums. After a few moments, the pace slows down a bit, with the melody having kind of an epic feeling. This is not explored as the song returns to the fast tremolo riff. The Satanic lyrics are filled with contempt for Christianity. Angel sounds far more serious about this than Cronos ever did. You begin getting the feeling that Vulcano is quite serious.

"The sky burns in fire
It's coming the ritual time
Satan's slaves getting ready
To rise up spirits of evil"

If this had been recorded with the same budget as Reign In Blood, for example, it is entirely possible that this album would be considered legendary by many. The material here is lacking nothing. It's a real shame that the production doesn't do it justice.

"Ready To Explode" is a very short track, blasting through at top speed. This one is pretty straight-forward and chaotic. The lyrics reflect the thoughts of those who were conscious of the fact that the power to destroy the human race lies in the hands of a few, as the rest wait, helplessly. One may not perceive the depth of these lyrics, at first, but to a world that was still in the grips of the Cold War, these thoughts were a reality.

The next song is "Holocaust", which begins with a slow-paced build-up, before exploding at full speed. This track has nothing to do with WWII. This is a different kind of holocaust, as displayed by the lyrics.

"Lucifer will return
Heaven will have an end
Sacrifices and rituals in the night
666, it's the number of the death"

The song features a few riff changes and even slows down a bit for a mid-paced, and memorable, thrash riff.

"Incubus" is next, feeling like a blitzkrieg of the senses. Half-way through, there is a riff that is reminiscent of early Kreator with what sounds like a tremolo melody, buried way down in the mix.

This is followed by "Death Metal". This begins with some of the best riffs of the album. While it isn't a cover of the Possessed song by the same title, the first line is, "I have become possessed!" The vocal delivery of the chorus is almost similar to Venom's "Black Metal", in tone. This song features some evil riffs and bloody wicked solos.

"Voices From Hell" is a brief intro to the final song. This consists of strange noises, like an old, rusty gate opening and then the sounds of various demons chanting. In the background, one can hear agonized moans. The voices get louder and louder until "Blood Vengeance" comes crashing through the blackened gates. This one is mid-paced, being the slowest song on the album. Angel's vocals are bloody possessed on this one. There is almost a tone of anguish in his voice, adding to the dark atmosphere.

"Dark and cold
So horrible, so terrible
My bloody vengeance"

The pace picks up, just a little bit, before introducing the most melodic riffs of the album. This was, probably, the most developed song that Vulcano had, going into the studio. The riffs are heavy and dark, but the vocal performance is the highlight as Angel's voice is filled with evil passion, hatred and a tinge of melancholy. It all ends with the pace picking up, once more, and then another excellent solo to close things out.

This is essential for anyone that appreciates Morbid Visions and I.N.R.I. Don't expect a great sound from the CD re-issue; however, as the master tapes were stolen. This was actually taken straight from the vinyl, which may actually add something to the atmosphere, though it lacks in clarity.

Kreator - Pleasure To Kill (1986)

After the success of Endless Pain, Kreator has made quite a name for themselves in the underground. A short time later, Noise Records sent them back into the studio to record their follow-up. This time, the album was handled by Harris Johns, at Musiclab Studio in Berlin. By April 1986, just six months after the release of their debut L.P., Pleasure To Kill was unleashed upon the world.

The album begins with a calm and serene intro, with the sound of wind blowing and an acoustic guitar playing an uplifting melody. "Choir of the Damned" gives the listener a false sense of security. As the soothing sounds nearly lull you into a trance, they bludgeon you into oblivion.

"Ripping Corpse" explodes into your ears, burning this calm scenery to ashes. Gone are the traces of NWOBHM influence. This is something far more intense and brutal than Endless Pain. The song moves forward at a hyper pace, with fast tremolo-picks riffs and blasting drums accompanied by the rumbling of the bass and Mille's sinister and demonic vocals. Of course, the lyrics match the violence of the music.

"Await the death by the blade
Run before it's too late
Await the axe in your back
As the ripping corpse attack"

This blistering assault of followed by "Death Is Your Saviour". This opens with a tremolo melody, mixed in with more pure thrash riffs. This is one of the few to feature Ventor on vocals, handling less of the songs here than on the previous album. His style isn't quite as evil sounding as Mille's, and seem a little less suitable for the music. Through pounding drums, shredding guitars and solos that tear your face off, this song is absolutely relentless.

"Pleasure To Kill" is next, beginning with a short drums roll that leads into another furious slab of Teutonic Thrash. Mille returns on vocals, having more of a vicious sound than Ventor. The solos are reminiscent of early Slayer, at certain points. Half-way through the song, the pace slows down a bit as the vocals become more possessed and evil.

"...I return to the cemetery
And my bloodlust is filled
My coffin is open for me
I lay down and rest..."

Surely, this lyrical approach had to have been quite influential on the Death Metal bands that were soon to emerge, around this time. As the song ends, there are small hints of the NWOBHM sound, though at this speed it is difficult to really notice. This will surface a bit more on the song that follows.

Up next is "Riot of Violence". This is another one that features Ventor on vocals, making it a little less appealing. The song slowly fades in, with sort of a build-up before going into more of a mid-paced thrash riff. This song utilizes several different riffs and tempos, being a bit more dynamic and melodic than the first few. Despite the increased complexity of the structure, it sounds more simplistic due to the way that it is played. The pace slows down, briefly, in the last minute, only to return to the main riff.

"The Pestilence" begins with an interesting drum sound (one that would be used by Sepultura on Schizophrenia), introducing more mid-paced thrash riffs and a guitar solo. In no time, this song matches the frenzied pace of the earlier tracks, with Mille's evil vocals tearing through your brain.

"Cemetary of hades riting flesh of death
Skulls and bones are decaying
Corpses, limbs and deadly carnage
Massacre and crime is ruling"

This song tells the tale of a world that has become corrupt, being cleansed by the Black Plague. The delivery is rather grim and violent, yet the lyrics show a deeper level of understanding than one might first suspect. This is the longest track on here, containing a few more traces of the NWOBHM sound in the melodies. There are are others, such as the one just before the 5:00 mark, that sound reminiscent of Slayer. This is the closest that they come to approaching an epic atmosphere, with a riff here or there. This is definitely one of the highlights of Pleasure To Kill.

"Carrion" starts out a little slow, seeming to struggle in getting to its feet. This is by design, of course. In no time, the song is raging forth with speed and power. The sound is, somewhat, similar to the first song. This is especially evident as the following verse is delivered:

"Reaching out for you life
The world is prepared to die
Death will fall from the sky
And the reaper will arrive"

However, as it goes along, it shows more of the old influences in the melody and structure. Some of the most interesting guitar riffs of the L.P. are found here, with a very nice solo to go along with them. With the way that the album is arranged, one gets the immediate impression that a great change has occurred, only because that is the effect they wanted the album to have. As Pleasure To Kill progresses, more varied song structures and melodies are found, lurking in the shadows of chaos and brutality.

Ventor's vocals return, one final time, on "Command of the Blade". This one begins with a great riff, very reminiscent of early Slayer, especially with the way the drums are building up. This feeling continues through much of the song, making you think back to Hell Awaits.

This classic album of German Thrash Metal concludes with "Under the Guillotine". This one wouldn't have been out of place on their debut L.P. Mille's vocal delivery is hateful and evil. The tale is a simple one; examining someone's final moments before being put to death. Musically, this is fairly straight-forward, though there are riff changes, particularly around the middle of the song. The solos are great, fitting the song far better than many of the solos on Slayer's Reign In Blood, which would be released six months later. Another thing Kreator managed to do better than Slayer would be recording an album of intense, brutal and violent songs, yet allowing them to breathe and injecting enough melody to keep them interesting. The song continues with more old school riffs, another brilliant solo (reminiscent of early Slayer) and a vicious return to the main riff as it reaches the conclusion.

Pleasure To Kill is more brutal than Endless Pain, yet more melodic at the same time. The band's sound matured, to a degree, but I would rate both albums equally. The debut L.P. gets the nod, more than likely, just because I think I overdosed on Pleasure To Kill some years ago. In the end, this is essential for anyone's collection. There are some records that are overrated and then there are some that are just that bloody good. This one certainly earned its reputation.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sarcófago - I.N.R.I. (1987)

I.N.R.I. is the debut album from Brazil's most legendary Black Metal cult, Sarcófago. The band was formed in Belo Horizonte, in 1985. They were highly influenced by Slayer, Bathory and Celtic Frost, which is obvious by the aesthetics of the album cover as well as the darkened sounds contained on this record. A short time after forming, they invited Antichrist to join as their vocalist, not long after he left Sepultura. After a handful of demos, the band released their first album on Cogumelo Records, in August 1987.

This influential Black Metal release begins with "Satanic Lust", beginning with hellish sounds of mid-paced riffs, demonic vocals and the screaming of guitars. Soon, the song picks up the pace and an evil tale is told with the possessed vocals of Antichrist, carried forth by the relentless blast beats.

"The night is cold
And the sky is without light
Only a darkned moon
Will be the witness in this night"

The vocals range from deep and guttural to high-pitched, raspy screaming. The feeling is chaotic and your flesh begins to burn from the flames of Hell rising out from the dark. This is intense and bloody evil as anything ever released, up until this time.

This Satanic onslaught is followed by "Desecration of Virgin", which is almost a continuation of the theme presented on the first song. This one, however, is far more vile. This fast-paced song is one of the shortest ones on here, featuring more of the demonic vocals in the background, as if Satan is making an appearance on the record. This is pure Hellish chaos, not for the faint of heart.

The next song is one of the best ever to be recorded by Sarcófago. "Nightmare" begins with slow, doom riffs, creating an absolutely morbid atmosphere. Antichrist's tormented screams rise up from the black abyss. With this hellish feeling growing and possessing your heart, you wish to take a razor or a knife and carve your flesh until it is difficult to recognize. The early part of the song utilizes dark and mid-paced riffs with extremely tortured and morbid vocals.

"Behind the gates only death
Burning your mind you hear the bell
The gates are open for your entry
Light of the day turn to the darkness of hell..."

After a minute or so, the pace picks up and the blast beats pummel you into near-unconsciousness. This epic piece of horrifying Black Metal is the longest track on here, and also one of the most memorable. The pace slows back down and the first verse is repeated. Following this, the tempo increases as the song turns into a maelstrom of hellish fury. It all ends with Antichrist screaming:

"You will never return

This track is very draining, leaving you feeling empty and cold. This one track epitomizes the evil sound of Sarcófago, leaving one to wonder if there ever existed anything quite as extreme as this.

"I.N.R.I." is next, beginning with thunder that continues as the tremolo riffs and blast beats rage on. This blasphemous track takes the evil of Slayer, the speed of Bathory and the brutality of Kreator and merges all of this into something that is beyond intense. The last lines of the song are some of the best as Antichrist screams, "Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you Jesus Christ!" It doesn't get more straight-forward and to the point than that.

The next track continues this theme, conveying a true hatred for the Great Lie. "Christ's Death" begins with a somber acoustic piece as you can hear a demonic voice growing louder. The song bursts forth as the voice explodes with fury. It is mostly fast paced, though the riffs change and slow things down, for a brief rest in the middle. Immediately, the pace picks up once more and the tension builds as Antichrist's screams become more tortured and filled with contempt and rage. At one point, he even emulates Tom Araya with a high-pitched scream. This precedes a slow, doom riff that drags you down into the murky depths with the feeling of an eternal funeral. The song reaches a powerful climax as a chorus of the most hellish, demonic and maniacal voices to ever be captured on tape screams with conviction and fury:

"...die! Die, Jesus!
Die, Jesus Christ!
I hate you! I hate you!
Die, Jesus Christ! Die, die die....."

This is bloody intense. Max Possessed did a decent job on Bestial Devastation and Morbid Visions, but one has to wonder what Sepultura really lost when Antichrist left. This performance is utterly brilliant.

"Satanas" is another fast-paced song that spews blasphemy in a most unholy way. This is, somewhat, reminiscent of the first song though it features a surprising guitar solo that is soon drowned out by more demonic screaming.

The next one causes the album to lose a little steam, as I don't see the value of a song titled "Ready To Fuck". Then again, this may have been inspired by some of the less serious Venom tunes, such as "Teacher's Pet". This is straight-forward and heavy, but the subject matter ruins it for me. It is a shame that they wasted such decent riffs on this nonsense.

"Deathtrash" continues this downward trend, as the lyrics are more self-descriptive and out of place. The delivery is no different, but the real power of this album has been in the message it has conveyed and the convincing manner in which it has done so. At only a minute and a half, this is kind of a throwaway song anyway.

The album is salvaged as "The Last Slaughter" returns to the blasphemous theme, with an even more violent and punishing approach than the previous songs. There is a nice tremolo melody that isn't fully realized, not long before the pace slows down. It is during these slower sections of the album that the atmosphere really has room to breathe. It also works as a good contrast to the faster parts, giving them more of an impact. The lead solos aren't particularly special, but they work well enough. The song ends with everything getting slow and dropping out. The album then ends with several seconds of nonsense.

I.N.R.I. is one of the most evil and intense records to rise from the flames of Hell. A couple songs miss the mark, lyrically, but classics such as "Nightmare" and "Christ's Death" make up for this. Sarcófago became totally worthless afterward, but this album remains one of the most important Black Metal albums of the 80s.

Slayer - Reign In Blood (1986)

Reign In Blood is the third full-length album from Slayer. This was their major label debut, for Def Jam Records. With an experienced producer and a large recording budget, the band underwent a sonic makeover resulting in shorter, faster songs with clearer production. Gone were the complex arrangements and lengthy masterpieces featured on Hell Awaits, ditched in favor of stripped down, Thrash Metal song structures. Def Jam's distributor, Columbia Records, refused to release the album due to its graphic cover art and lyrical themes, such as the detailed description of Holocaust concentration camps and the human experiments conducted by Nazi physician Josef Mengele, on the first song. Already, the band became aware that things worked quite differently in the big leagues. The album was distributed by Geffen Records in October 1986.

This is one of those records that people seem to love or hate. My first experience with Reign In Blood was at a young age. I bought the album for my best friend, as a gift. I forget if it was for a birthday or Christmas, but I held on to it for a week or so before giving it to him. During that time, I couldn't resist tearing into it and listening to the record, over and over. This was at a time when I was able to just enjoy a new Slayer album for what it was. There was no internet so I had no idea how overrated this L.P. would become. Years later, when I discovered what a large following it had, it seemed strange that anyone would rank this above any of the Metal Blade releases. So many consider this to be the pinnacle of the band's career, seeming to forget classic records such as Show No Mercy, Haunting the Chapel and Hell Awaits. Understandably, the simplistic Thrash Metal approach is more accessible to the masses than these early Black Metal albums. However, this is not the be all, end all of Slayer's catalogue. Reign In Blood borrows the formula of Haunting the Chapel, and some ideas from Hell Awaits, and then strips them of the dark atmosphere and packs it all into short, lethal bursts of Thrash Metal.

The album begins with "Angel of Death". The opening features a dramatic build up that includes Tom Araya's opening scream turn into a murderous roar. This song hearkens back to the sound of "Chemical Warfare" in its straight-forward approach. The production lacks the dark atmosphere that the aforementioned song possessed, but the execution is flawless. This is one of the most structured and thought-out songs on the album, featuring shifts in tempo that work well to add feeling to the music. The slower section helps to build tension and adds to the impact of the latter half of the track, as the pace picks back up. The lead solos add nicely to the song, with Hanneman's being the more hellish of the two. After a brief drum solo, reminiscent of "At Dawn They Sleep". This wouldn't be the only idea borrowed from the previous album. The song ends with fury as Tom screams with murderous conviction.

"Piece By Piece" begins with an unexpected drum beat, before launching into a full speed attack. The song is very short, yet they seem to cram the same amount of riffs and verses into this ephemeral blast. Of course, to keep up with this raging inferno of a song, the vocals are spewed forth at a rapid rate as well. To convey a sentiment that may be repeated throughout this review, there are some nice ideas expressed in this song that would have benefited from being expanded upon.

The next, and shortest, song is "Necrophobic". This goes right into the first verse, bursting forth at high speeds. It only slows down for a few moments, before blistering lead solos attack you from all sides. Near the end, Tom emits a piercing high note that adds to the song, with the pace slowing down to half for the last few lines. In these brief moments, one gets a glimpse of how the song might have sounded if it was a little slower. That isn't to say that a fast pace is bad, but a minute and a half is hardly enough time to explore these themes.

"Altar of Sacrifice" begins with the briefest possible build up, before launching into another high speed attack of thrash. This song works very well at this speed, and is one of the few to feature the typical Satanic lyrics that Slayer had become known for.

"Altar of sacrifice, curse of the damned
Confronting the evil you dread
Coalesce into one your shadow and soul
Soon you will meet the undead

Enter to the realm of Satan!"

This last line is very reminiscent of the last line of "Captor of Sin", having the same pattern as when he proclaims, "I'll take you down into the fire!" At any rate, that line was one of the most memorable parts of the album, having quite the impact when I first heard it. The solos on this song work well to create a hellish feeling, this being one of the few tracks that really manages to accomplish this. Tom's vocal delivery during the closing moments of this song is truly remarkable as well, adding to the dramatic effect. As it nears its conclusion, everything slows down until it bleeds into the next song.

Without even a moment of silence in between, "Jesus Saves" picks up from the last fading notes of the previous song. It begins with a mid-paced thrash riff that cycles a few times as the drums are utilized to build a dramatic feeling. This one is slightly related to the previous theme, though taking a pronounced anti-Christian stance rather than a Satanic approach. After the intro, the song blasts at full speed, featuring vocal delivery that is a bit too fast to be comprehended but some decent solos that give a chaotic feel to the track. The opening riff is, probably, the most memorable part of this song.

Next up is a faster version of "Criminally Insane" than what was heard on Postmortem. The pacing of the riffs and vocals are pretty much the same, but the drums are vastly different, adopting a faster approach. This also lacks the intro and the early solos that were on the other version. The missing solo really takes something way from the song, but the faster drums, during the verses, works a lot better. With a little more work, mixing and matching different parts of the two different versions, this song could have been even better.

"Reborn" is another extremely short song, yet it manages to fit in just as many lyrics as a track twice as long. The best parts, vocally, are when Tom slows down and stretches a few words out. Short songs are one thing, but racing through lyrics that were meant for a longer song just drains the words of any power that they may have had. King and Hanneman still manage to weave plenty of wicked solos into the song, though they aren't so memorable once it is all said and done. Also worth noting is that the bass is a little more audible, similar to Hell Awaits.

This is followed by "Epidemic", which is a vast improvement over the formula that has been used on so many of these songs. This one is very short as well, clocking in at under two and a half minutes, but it's executed perfectly. The pacing of the vocals is much more natural, rather than trying to fit in way too much. The thrash break at the 1:30 mark is very memorable, leading up to another high-pitched scream from Tom.

"Postmortem" begins with a dramatic build-up, possessing the feeling of a war march. This is followed by a mid-paced thrash riff and some of the darkest vocal work that the album has offered, thus far. The lyrics have a dark and morbid feeling.

"Funeral held for the depression of man
Holds the key to his own death
Entering a tomb of a corpse yet conceived
Tighten the tourniquet around your neck"

However, one of the true highlights is when Tom screams, "Await the final call!" The first half of this song has kind of an epic feeling to it, before it speeds up to a frenetic pace. It continues to build a sense of tension until reaching its climax and then bleeding into the next song.

[Something else that is worth paying attention to, here, is that the older versions of the CD, this song cuts off at the 2:44 mark, just before the fast part. This error wasn't fixed until more recently. It is impossible to count the number of times that I've read reviews of this album, in 'zines and online, where they talk as if the ending of this song is actually the beginning of the last one. For years, I imagined that I was the only one to realize that the song simply continues during the first 50 seconds, or so, of the next track. It seems that most people are not very observant.]

As the previous song fades, the sound of thunder and rain introduces the last song of the record, "Raining Blood". This uses some of the hellish, tortured guitar sounds that were found on the intro for the version of "Criminally Insane" that was on the Postmortem single. Slowly, the drums make a thunderous sound of their own. As the evil guitar riffs join this flurry of malevolence, the epic feeling grows. Suddenly, the riffs change and the song transforms into a monstrous thrash assault. What this lacks in darkness and evil, it makes up for in pure energy. As it progresses, the pace quickens ever more, matching those songs that preceded it, yet the vocal delivery is far more fitting. There are plenty of riff changes. The song then slows down, building a sinister feeling with the darkened guitar riffs and Tom's murderous scream

"Raining blood!
From a lacerated sky
Bleeding its horror
Creating my structure
Now I shall reign in blood!"

This memorable verse is followed by noisy and chaotic guitar solos as the song gets faster and faster, reaching an insane climax, with everything ceasing with the roar of thunder and the albums concludes with the sound of blood raining from the sky.

Reign In Blood is overly praised by many and then torn apart by others. Everyone has an opinion on this. Mine is that it is a good Thrash Metal album yet it fails to deliver the dark feeling that was prevalent on their earlier works. Often, the album seems to go by too quickly, with the first and last tracks being the only ones anyone really remembers. I would add "Altar of Sacrifice", "Epidemic" and "Postmortem" to that list. Five out of ten songs isn't so bad. There was a lot that could have been improved with more complex arrangements and simply more time, but this was not Slayer's goal. In the end, the band succeeded with what they set out to do. They wanted an incredibly fast and brutal album of straight-forward Thrash Metal and that is what they recorded. They may have sacrificed atmosphere for speed, but this is the lasting impression that they wanted to leave with this album. One could say that Reign In Blood is very derivative of their earlier works, but they may have seen what they did as trimming away the extra elements to create a more streamlined representation of the Slayer sound. The overly Satanic approach of the Black Metal albums that they released on Metal Blade probably had to be toned down for a major label, whether they intended to make this change or not. More importantly, they lost the atmospheric features that made their early work so special but, ultimately, this is the direction that they wished to pursue.

Slayer - Postmortem (1986)

Following the success of Hell Awaits, Slayer was offered a recording contract with Def Jam Records, which was a rap label, of all things. Seeing the opportunity to broaden their fanbase and spread their music far and wide, they accepted this deal with the enemy. Prior to releasing Reign In Blood, they put out a few singles. One of these was the Postmortem 12", released in 1986.

Side A featured one of the best songs from the upcoming album, "Postmortem". This song begins with kind of an epic build up, before going into a mid-paced thrash riff. This would see the birth of a drum technique that Dave Lombardo would wear out, over the next few albums; riding the cymbal far too much, but it isn't enough to hinder this song. Tom's vocals retain the dark and evil feeling from the previous albums, if not a little bit restrained. He still manages to throw in a high-pitched scream when needed. After a couple minutes, the song begins to speed up. These riffs don't sound as if they would have been out of place on Hell Awaits. The only difference is that the song structure appears to be more straight-forward and less complex. The last verses see Tom racing at full speed to keep up with the riffs, suddenly stopping and fading into oblivion.

Side B starts with "Criminally Insane". This version fades in, using the same intro that would be heard for "Raining Blood", minus the sound effects. Once the song begins, there is another hellish solo before the first verse. The riffs are very much the same as on the L.P. version, but the drums are very slow, with too much use of the cymbal. For the solos, the drums pick up the pace a bit, actually complimenting the sound better than the album version. Again, these riffs would have fit on Hell Awaits, somewhere in the middle of a longer song. For the last verse, the drums pick up the faster pace that many may remember this song having. This song does more to create a dark atmosphere, but the drumming is annoying during the first two verses.

The final song on here is a re-recorded version of "Aggressive Perfector". This is a bit faster than the original (that appeared on Metal Massacre III). Tom's vocal delivery isn't completely on par with the first recording, but he does still scream at the top of his lungs, when it is called for. The hellish solos, near the end, add a nice effect. This sounds pretty much like the live version from Live Undead, but it lacks a little bit of the atmosphere from the original. This sterile sound would have a huge effect on the upcoming L.P. as well.

This isn't as essential as Haunting the Chapel, but it is an interesting release. It may be difficult to come by, but well worth checking out if you are a die hard Slayer fan.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Candlemass - Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (1986)

Epicus Doomicus Metallicus is the first full-length album from the Swedish Doom Metal band Candlemass. For this release, Leif Edling (bass/lyrics), Mappe Björkman (rhythm guitar) and Matz Ekström (drums) were joined by session musicians Klas Bergwall (lead guitars) and Johan Lanquist (vocals) to create a sorrowful and epic masterpiece of traditional Doom Metal. It was one of the first of its kind. Released in June 1986, this would go on to inspire countless bands, in the decades that followed.

This classic record represents somewhat of a failure, for me. I discovered Doom Metal, roughly, around the same time as Black Metal. Unfortunately, I lacked the resources to really explore this sub-genre and was only exposed to a handful of bands. In actuality, these bands weren't traditional Doom Metal but, rather, Death/Doom such as the early releases from My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost. There was a Trouble song on one of the Metal Massacre compilations that I had, but I never bothered to follow up on that. Of course, all of this goes back to Black Sabbath and that was one of the first bands (of any kind) that I ever got into, as a child. But to return to, and elaborate on, the initial point, I failed to discover this album until early 2006. My ex tossed it in as we were on a road trip to Buffalo, New York and we listened to it a dozen times or so. It had a familiar feeling to it, from the first time, as if I should have known it all along. Epicus Doomicus Metallicus filled a void that had existed for far too long, with regard to my musical knowledge and experience.

It all begins with the miserable acoustic intro, accompanied by an organ and the miserable voices of Lanquist and Edling, woefully singing the following lyrics:

"I'm sitting here alone in darkness
Waiting to be free,
Lonely and forlorn I'm crying
I long for my time to come
Death means just life
Please let me die in solitude"

This verse is followed by crushing and oppressive riffs, very reminiscent of Black Sabbath, that slowly roll over your spirit like a tank. This is heavy, slow and depressive. Johan's vocals are filled with a somber feeling, while remaining incredibly powerful. Everything here works together to create an agonizing atmosphere of despair and suffering. The lead solo pierces you soul, injecting it with a fatal dose of melancholy. "Solitude" represents the rebirth of the classic Black Sabbath style, which would go on to influence every Doom Metal band that followed. This song is epic and mournful, returning to the same acoustic passage that began the song, as it concludes. Johan sounds as if he is drained of all life, his voice lowering, just wishing for the end to come.

"Demons Gate" is the next song, beginning with an eerie intro that features a demonic voice and some synth. This sounds much like a funeral dirge, being slow and filled with a gloomy feeling. Lanquist might not be the best known Candlemass vocalist, but his style suits this perfectly. His mournful voice reaches into the darkest depths of your being, speaking on a level beyond comprehension. Mid-way through the song, the bass and drums are left alone to drag the mood down even deeper. The lead solo that follows is eerie and haunting in a somber way, almost like something from a King Diamond album. As the vocals return, the tone takes on a hint of madness. Some of the high notes have a soul-shattering quality to them. The title of the album could not be more appropriate, as this is very epic.

This lengthy song is followed by the much shorter "Crystal Ball", which displays Johan's range quite well. This one is slow and plodding as well, yet there is sort of an uptempo part leading to, and including, the chorus. The riffs and melodies are quite memorable and the screams won't soon leave your brain. The lead solo has an insane quality to it, preceding the rumbling of the bass. Another lead solo follows this, and it is dripping with an epic feeling. The lyrics aren't depressing, like the first song, but the down-tempo atmosphere is still there.

"Black Stone Wielder" is next, beginning with an even heavier, creeping riff. This crushing sound is mostly due to the bass and the drums, though the guitars do get louder after a few moments, playing some drawn-out and despairing riffs. The duel harmony is a nice touch. The vocals really possess a soulful feeling, adding much depth to the song. After a couple verses, this returns, creating a very desolate atmosphere. The dark melody beginning just before the 4:00 mark really drags you down, deeper still. Into the black abyss, you are pulled, into a land of misery and loss. Hope does not exist here. The lead solo serves to eradicate any sense of hope or optimism. The lyrics are filled with a powerful darkness as well.

"Into the sundown they returned
The moon was rising and heaven burned
Like shadows disappeared the men
and the black stone wielders were never seen again"

This epic track tells the tale of the ancestral passing of misused power that is told, not only through the words, but also through emotive movements of music that lie in the perpetual tread of the pace, the dynamic chorus, and then with the summation of the story, picking up the pace for a compelling finish, beginning as Johan declares, "...the black stone wielder is born...", in one of the most powerful moments of the record.

The L.P. continues with "Under the Oak", which first appeared on the Tales of Creation demo, the previous year. This one begins with an uglier kind of riff, threatening to tear your face off. The lead solo comes in, at just the right moment, to sear the flesh from your bones. Johan's vocals are a bit deeper, here, conveying a deep sense of sorrow and possessing a more aggressive edge at the same time. The lead solo goes beyond description, tearing your soul apart. This is followed by one of the most miserable moments of the album, where an acoustic guitar plays a mournful tune as Johan screams from the depths of his being.

"I cried for the ones I have lost
Midnight in paradise, grief
Away goes my hope"

The drumming on this album perfectly suits the music and would go on to be emulated by countless others. From this point on, the vocals become much higher and a sense of urgency is conveyed by his delivery. The riffs return to the monstrous sounds from the intro, as another lead solo accompanies Johan's sorrowful wailing. A melody of grief carries the song to its pained conclusion.

This epic record comes to an end with "A Sorcerer's Pledge". This is the second longest track on the album, beginning with a truly miserable intro that features acoustic guitar and anguished vocals. Cold winds blow in the background as the lyrics tell a story of despondency.

"Where is the morning
Where is the sun
A thousand years of midnight
The sunrise is gone"

After this is repeated, the crushing guitars fade in with the intent to destroy any hope that still resides in your feeble body. A mid-paced thrash riff picks the pace up, briefly. The feeling of the song is much like being taken on a journey through time. Listening to this, the world around you ceases to exist. Late in the song, the guitars are replaced by synth, with the drums and bass taking you even deeper into the murky underworld. Emaciated hands reach out from the shadows, tearing at your soul. Deeper you descend, moving faster until all becomes a blur. The guitars return, crushing any remnants of your battered spirit. The hands continue to reach out for you, ripping and shredding you. A ghostly female voice then comes from the black forest that surrounds you, as the music fades to nothingness. The eerie voice echoes and you find yourself lying on the ground, on the edge of the cemetery. You look up into the night sky, gazing at the full moon, wondering what just happened. Your time has not yet come, yet you have seen a small glimpse of what awaits you. The end shall soon beckon your frozen soul. Deserved doom shall be unto you...

Celtic Frost - To Mega Therion (1985)

Misfortune befell Celtic Frost as Martin Eric Ain exited the band just as they prepared to record their debut L.P. He was replaced by Dominic Steiner. In the second half of September, 1985, the band entered Casablanca Studio in Berlin to record To Mega Therion. Once again, the album was produced by Horst Müller. This album too the concept that was born in the days of Hellhammer to its conclusion. As indicated by the ridiculous band photos, the path that they would follow after this would be more mainstream and 'experimental' at the same time. It is funny to see that one band member looks like he belongs in The Cure, while the other two appear as something vomited out of Motley Crue. The cover artwork redeems them, aesthetically, as they were allowed to use H.R. Giger's "Satan, I".

The album begins with an intro titled "Innocence and Wrath". This doom-laden piece features the use of a timpani and a French horn. It's not bad, but it could have been more effective without the extra instruments. The sound would have benefited from remaining raw and less polished. Nonetheless, it does a decent job of setting the mood. The problem is that it the song that follows does nothing to build on this.

"The Usurper" features the typical, uptempo thrash riffs that are common with Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost. The vocals really kill the feeling of this, with the moronic "hey!" part thrown in. Gabriel seems to know little about maintaining any sort of dark feeling. The use of female vocals is entirely worthless, as well. This could have been a nice, energetic thrash song, but too many factors play a role in ruining it.

The next song is "Jewel Throne", which begins with kind of a mid-paced thrash riff. Some interesting guitar work adds another dimension to the sound, though it disappears too soon. Gabriel's vocals hinder the song, in terms of darkness, as the feeling is completely different from the music. It's not just that the delivery isn't harsh enough, but the irritating way that he seems to try to sing by raising his voice at certain times. It gives too much of an uptempo, lighthearted feeling where it isn't wanted. Around the middle of the song, the tempo picks up for a bit. This is pretty energetic and, when the vocals are absent, it can be enjoyable. As the song goes, the pace quickens even more, just before a nice lead solo. Mr. Fischer is far more competent as a guitar player than as a vocalist, it would appear.

"Dawn of Meggido" is, possibly, the best song on To Mega Therion. This one is slow and mid-paced, possessing a strong feeling of doom. This features the same added effects that were present in the intro, which aren't necessary at all. The vocals are still out of place or, rather, out of tune with the feeling of the music. The guitar riffs are very familiar, as they sound extremely similar to others that were used on Morbid Tales and Emperor's Return. The tempo picks up a little bit, near the middle, but is crushed back to earth by the main doom riff of the song. It finally struggles free, speeding up a slight bit to accompany the lead solo. This track has a very oppressive atmosphere and is the darkest piece to be found on this record. There is certainly room for improvement, but it's still a fairly decent song. It would have been even better had they dropped the extra instruments and kept the primitive feeling from Hellhammer. By keeping it simple and utilizing the vocal approach from "Triumph of Death", this could have been a classic.

This is followed by the mid-paced opening riffs of "Eternal Summer". This one speeds up but it sounds like something already heard on Morbid Tales. Despite the lame song title and the feeling that this has been heard before, it's a pretty energetic song; one of the best on here, so far.

The re-recorded version of "Circle of the Tyrants" is done very well, especially the vocal effects that help add a little depth and darkness to the aura of the track. Unfortunately, the song is tainted by a completely worthless section that features female vocals. This has never been acceptable for this type of music and it sounds very much out of place. It is brief, but it does a serious amount of damage to the feeling, for me. This is a step down from the original version, which was featured on the Emperor's Return E.P.

"(Beyond the) North Winds" is a mid-paced song that utilizes more familiar-sounding riffs, slightly altered from Side A of this very album. The vocal approach still leaves a little to be desired, but this isn't a bad song. It's actually a good thing that the riffs were recycled as they are better implemented here. This sounds like something that could have, easily, been included on Apocalyptic Raids. The only thing is that this vocal approach wouldn't have fit in very well.

The next song is "Fainted Eyes". This is another typical sounding Celtic Frost song. There isn't a whole lot to say here. It's fast-paced and just serves as another example of this band's lack of creativity, at times. They were better off making only an E.P. or two, as a full-length seems to be too demanding for them. The lead solo, in the middle, adds nicely to the song. Following this, the pace slows down a bit. You can really hear how influential this was for Obituary, a few years later. Their debut album really showed how this style could sound, when executed properly. All in all, not a bad song, just not very moving either.

"Tears in a Prophet's Dream" is a brief instrumental piece, reminiscent of "Danse Macabre". This works well to conjure up nightmarish images that haunt your mind and tax the limits of your sanity.

The final song on this record is "Necromantical Screams". The pointless female vocals do a lot of damage to this song. Despite this horrid addition to the track, this remains one of the better songs on the album. Of course, this is simply a revamped version of "Buried and Forgotten", from Satanic Rites. They took the original and stripped it of certain elements while adding less suitable ingredients, such as the aforementioned female voice. This song represents the end of Hellhammer, in a sense. This was the last time that Gabriel and his cohorts exhumed musical ideas from that deceased project to exploit them once more.

The experimental aspects of To Mega Therion foreshadow the path that this Swiss band would follow. While the first two mini-albums were not so far removed from Hellhammer, this is where the break became most apparent, while still retaining many similarities. This isn't a terrible album, but it's certainly not one that holds up under close scrutiny. There were many missed opportunities where good songs could have been great ones or where Gabriel's vocal approach distorted the feeling that the music was creating. In the end, it isn't that essential; not when compared to the earlier efforts and certainly not when compared to their peers.

Kreator - Endless Pain (1985)

Kreator was formed in 1982, under the name Tyrant. They soon changed it to Tormentor. In the beginning, the band members - Ventor, Rob and Mille - had no real ambitions. It was simply a way for them to kill time. Outside of a few original tunes that they had, they often played covers songs from Judas Priest and Venom. They were also quite inspired by Mercyful Fate. Being a very active tape trader, Mille sent copies of their early demos out, in exchange for material from Raven and some of the Brazilian Black/Death Metal bands. A friend of the band sent a copy to Noise Records, who then showed interest in hearing more. The band worked hard to compose more original songs, which would be recorded in March 1985 in Berlin, produced by the same Horst Müller that was responsible for Apocalyptic Raids. Thankfully, he had much better musicians to work with, this time. It was at this point that the band chose the name Kreator, as the name Tormentor was already being used by another band. The result of the recording was the Endless Pain L.P.

Released in October 1985, this record has some influence from the early Black Metal bands, but this has to be considered the true birth of Teutonic Thrash. There are some Satanic and anti-Christian messages in the lyrics, but this isn't the dominant theme. The vocals are highly influenced by the early Black Metal bands and, possibly, more vicious. However, I would hesitate to toss Endless Pain into the First Wave of Black Metal, even if it is far more evil than anything recorded by Hellhammer (with the exception of "Triumph of Death"). The songs are more structured than the first releases from Sodom and destruction, and the cover art is most fitting to this sound. There are some influences of NWOBHM melody to be found amid the chaos and brutality, as well. If anything, this can be considered Black/Thrash.

My first exposure to Kreator was Extreme Aggression, which is far more melodic and featuring less extreme vocals. About a year or so later, my best friend came over and tossed Endless Pain into the stereo. This was almost like discovering a new band, altogether. It soon became my favorite Kreator album, even after I got my hands on Pleasure To Kill. The sound was far more raw than what I was expecting and the one feeling that it most conveyed was one of violence.

"Endless Pain" explodes from the speakers, almost unexpectedly. For something so raw and barbaric, there is a lot of melody and structure hiding beneath the rough sound and the demonic vocals. On no other Kreator album do the vocals sound this blasphemous and evil. The guitar solo shreds through your flesh, before a very memorable riff change leads the song to its conclusion.

The next song is one of the most memorable. "Total Death" begins with an interesting intro before blasting forth at full speed. This is pure thrash, with vocals even more demonic and evil than on the previous song. Here, it must be mentioned that both Ventor and Mille handled the vocal duties on this album. They would do the same on the following record as well. I can't say for certain, but I believe Mille is the one with the harsher vocals of the two. About half-way through, there is a nice thrash break, reminiscent of Kill 'Em All. This helps to add to the feeling of the song. Moments later, another hellish guitar solo slices through flesh and bone.

"Storm of the Beast" begins with only the drums and bass before the guitar comes in, playing open, extended chords that help to create an atmosphere of impending doom. The pace of the song increases quite a bit, after this introductory section. Again, the guitar melodies are violent yet they retain a sense of melody. The chorus of this song is very memorable and will likely remain in your mind long after hearing this. This is the longest song on the record, and one of the few that includes the slower, more subdued moments. Of course, it is also filled with violent thrashing and wicked solos. One can hear the influence from Slayer's Show No Mercy, quite clearly on this track.

This classic album continues with "Tormentor". This is a very straight-forward song which is also one of the most memorable ones. This is, probably, my favorite Kreator song. The opening riffs almost sound like something from the first Metallica album, yet faster and more lethal. The vocals are evil and demonic, filled with hatred and utter blackness. The lyrics are some of the best of the record as well.

"Baphomet's calling, death is now real
Helldogs and demons, waiting to kill
Pentagrams shining, Lucifer smiles
Fucking the virgin, rip our her eyes"

This brief song manages to even make Sodom's In the Sign of Evil seem tame, by comparison, and it destroys anything Destruction ever did. The solo is one of the longer and more intricate ones found on Endless Pain, suiting the feeling perfectly.

Side A concludes with "Son of Evil", which begins in a similar fashion to the previous song, while being easily distinguishable. This sounds like Venom, sped up 1000 times. There is a nice change of tempo, a minute into the song, featuring hellish lead solos and a slow build up. There is a brief mid-paced section before the song speeds up once more, with yet another riff. This is one of the more complex songs on the record, showing a good sense of musicianship and songwriting for such a young band. The false ending was a nice touch, as well.

"Flag of Hate" starts out Side B. This is one of Kreator's best-known songs. After a short drum bit, this one blasts forth at full speed. Mille's evil vocals are more fitting to this sound than Ventor's approach, though that may be my personal preference. It is interesting to hear the NWOBHM riffs being played at such a furious pace, nearly incinerating the instruments. They would go on to re-record this song for the Flag of Hate E.P. though there's nothing wrong with the original version.

The next song is "Cry War", which features a slower pace than the previous songs. This adds yet another dynamic to the record and displays the band's versatility. Of course, this doesn't last long. The song alternates between mid-paced and hyper-paced riffs, flowing back and forth, seamlessly. The solo blends in, being utilized at just the right moment.

"Bonebreaker" begins with a riff that sounds very reminiscent of Venom, yet this alternates with a more vicious riff and, of course, Mille's terrifying vocals, which are as bloody evil as it gets. The solos are intense and the overall feeling of the song is filled with tension. It imbues the listener with a violent urge to go out and kill anyone and everyone in sight.

The next song begins with a riff that sounds reminiscent of Metallica's "No Remorse". Before the first verse of "Living In Fear", the riff changes a couple times. The lyrics aren't particularly advanced, but it may just be the grammar use. Either way, the feeling is there.

"Inverted crosses
The reaper will rise
The war of the demons
Will make you die"

This says it all, right here. At this point of the album, one would expect filler. Since there are ten songs, this would be taken for granted as inevitability. However, the album is never lacking in either creativity or energy. A couple songs may stand out as exceptionally good, but there isn't a bad, or even mediocre, song to be found on here.

The album concludes with "Dying Victims", which further explores the theme of fear and death or, more accurately, the sense of dread that precedes the act of dying; the terror that you feel in anticipation of your own demise. This song shows the band attempting to expand their sound even more, incorporating a brief acoustic guitar melody into the intro. The main thrash riff of this song sounds reminiscent of "Tormentor", a feeling that is only amplified as Mille is the vocalist of this track as well. However, this song is a bit more complex, being the second longest one on the album. After a couple of blistering solos, the pace slows down to add a little bit of an epic feeling as the record concludes. That was a nice touch, as it gives a good sense of closure to the album.

Endless Pain did well to launch the career of one of the most influential German bands, ever. This is intense, aggressive, barbaric and evil in a way that Hellhammer could only dream of. For a hellish does of blackened Thrash Metal, be sure to pick up this classic L.P.