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.