Monday, August 24, 2009

Rotting Christ - Non Serviam (1994)

Released in October 1994, Non Serviam is the second full-length album from the Greek Black Metal band, Rotting Christ. It was released by Unisound Records and, apparently, they did little to promote this great record. I've read that the album was somewhat rushed, not getting the proper time for mastering. Maybe that accounts for the low sound on my CD. At any rate, it matters little as this is an incredible release.

My first exposure to Rotting Christ came from hearing the song "Ice Shaped God", on 'The Haunted Mansion'. Idiotically, I recall thinking the guy said it was "I Shape God" at first, so it took a little while before I was even aware of the correct title. Over time, I'd go on to record a couple more songs from the radio, that came off of this album. I was instantly hooked and began searching for the CD. I spent several years, keeping an eye out for this thing, without luck. It wasn't until a few years ago that someone gave it to me, as a gift, thus ending my quest. Prior to this, I'd nearly worn out the tape that had those few songs from Non Serviam, so I was quite eager to hear more. One winter night, with the open window allowing cold air to flow through the room and only a few candles to illuminate the proceedings, I experienced it as a whole. I wasn't disappointed.

Throughout the album, you will find a variety of tempos, ranging from mid-paced and majestic to much faster sections that are filled with intensity. The drums blast away as the staccato riffing sends you into a trance. This is accompanied by utilization of keyboards, which is more than on Thy Mighty Contract but still not too much, by any means. The production seems kind of soft, lacking an edge, being somewhat reminiscent of Tales From the Thousand Lakes, by Amorphis. The heavier doom riffs are a good contrast to the faster ones, giving off an epic feeling that was present in earlier songs, such as "The Fourth Knight of Revelation". The melodies are quite memorable and introspective, at the same time, though not in a depressive way. As well, the vocals are still quite unrestrained and feral. Magus Wampyr Daolith (of Necromantia) adds some back-up to Necromayhem's vocals, in some places. His style is more high-pitched and raspy, giving a nice effect.

Overall, the record has a more melodic sound, being much slower and taking its time to build up, with some assistance from the keyboards as well. The sound is a little thicker and more bottom-heavy than one would expect, though the muddy guitar sound is likely a result of the limited time they had as opposed to any direct desire. The riffs are absolutely haunting, being very memorable and easy to follow, even during the faster parts. The lead solos do well to add depth to the songs, also. The sound is powerful and crushing, yet epic and flowing. There is an intensity and passion that borders on pure madness, found here.

It's nearly impossible to select any particular song as a stand-out track, as there is an incredible cohesiveness throughout. It's not a matter of one or two songs standing above the rest. The whole album is very consistent in its delivery, as there is not one bit of filler. From the vicious speed riffing of "The Fifth Illusion" and "Where Mortals Have No Pride" to the more overtly melodic riffs of "Non Serviam" and "Mephesis of Black Crystal", this L.P. filters a lot of traditional Heavy Metal structures through the Hellenic Black Metal style. Every song is like a mini-epic, containing various shifts in pace and feeling, each melody building upon the previous one. Also worth noting is that, on this release, Rotting Christ doesn't sound nearly as similar to Varathron as on the previous outing. It is also interesting that, excluding "Fethroesforia", this album seems to follow the same pattern set by Thy Mighty Contract. Just compare the two, track by track, to see what I mean.

In the end, despite whatever shortcomings the band were dissatisfied with, Non Serviam is an excellent record that deserves to be explored by anyone interested in the Greek Black Metal scene. For those that think Black Metal was something limited to Scandinavia, around the early-to-mid 90s, seek out the earliest works of Samael, Master's Hammer and, of course, Rotting Christ.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Necrophobic - The Call (1993)

Necrophobic formed in 1989 and soon released a string of demos. In early 1992, they entered Studio Sunlight to record their debut E.P. titled The Call. Though it was completed by February, it was not released until January 1993. By that time, the band had already replaced their vocalist, Stefan Harrvik. I believe this is also the first recording to feature Tobias Sidegård, as well. The sound is a little lower in quality than what is found on the Unholy Prophecies demo, from the previous year, being kind of similar to the first Dissection E.P. The sound is less clear, though the musical approach is much the same.

Side A begins with an instrumental, "Shadows of the Moon". This piece does well to display the eerie, nocturnal feeling produced by David Parland's guitar riffs. It is only a brief intro, but it sets the tone for the songs to come, quite well. This was supposed to be featured on the full-length, but some mistake prevented this.

"The Ancients Gate" is quite similar to the version found on The Nocturnal Silence, even including the chorus of demons at the beginning. The primary difference, of course, is that this sounds more raw and a little less polished. This is probably due to the production. This sounds pretty rough, considering it was handled by Tomas Skosgberg, in Studio Sunlight. However, the same brilliant guitar riffs and solos are still here. As the song slows down, mid-way through, the guitar melody truly epitomizes the spirit of the night.

Side B consists of a song called "Father of Creation". It begins with a slow and ominous sound, being very much in-line with the version that would appear on the L.P. The vocals seem to be buried in the mix, a bit, but increasing the volume proves to be an easy solution for this. Near the middle, there is a nice old school section where the drum beat and guitar riff both sound reminiscent of early Morbid Angel or even Mercyful Fate. The lead solo is very well done, putting most other Death Metal lead guitarists to shame. Too often, around this time, they threw in meangingless solos, as if it was someobligatory thing that had to be done. Many of them subscribed to the awful Reign In Blood method of solos. To contrast this, David Parland puts a lot of effort and feeling into the solo work here, adding greatly to the atmosphere of the song.

The Call is a solid effort, despite the very rough sound. This would be improved upon, tenfold, on The Nocturnal Silence. As the songs are not very different from those version that made it to the full-length, this isn't an essential release. However, it is of interest for die-hard Necrophobic fans.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Dying Bride - As the Flower Withers (1992)

As the Flower Withers is the first full-length album from My Dying Bride. Following the monumental title track from the Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium E.P., the band knew that expectations were high as they entered the studio in late 1991. A short time later, in May 1992, their debut L.P. was released through Peaceville. They maintain the sound heard on their previous release, playing a style similar to early Paradise Lost.

It begins with the keyboard intro, "Silent Dance". Some regard this as filler, but it serves it purpose well, setting the tone for the music to come. It conveys a feeling of sorrow and loss that is drenched in ruin and despair. You are taken from the modern world in which plays host to your feeble existence, back to a darker time.

"Sear Me" begins with sparse drumming, which creates a sense of total desolation and lifelessness. Slowly, the bass joins in, adding to the sense of dread. It is followed by a mournful guitar riff that circles around you like a vulture, waiting to feast upon your remains. Aaron's vocals are very harsh and raw, going well with the unpolished production. The pace is rather slow, for the first few minutes. It then speeds up, which is something that some dislike. In some ways, this is a necessary dynamic as the presence of these sections gives more of a dramatic effect to the slower parts. They serve to get your heart racing, creating an aura of urgency. Then, suddenly, it drops to nothingness. It's almost like running into a brick wall. As the pace slows back to that of a funeral march, your heart becomes heavy. It feels as if it is sinking. Again, the soundscape becomes increasingly desolate, as the guitars fade and leave only the drums and vocals. In the background are eerie whispers that accentuate the dark mood. The lyrics are in Latin, so it is only the manner in which the vocals are delivered that conveys any sort of feeling. The song is good, but never seems to fulfill its potential.

The next song is "The Forever People". This one is a favorite among fans, for some reason. It is more fast-paced, standard Death Metal. There are slower sections where a feeling of doom comes across, yet it is all to brief. The song isn't bad, yet it fails to maintain the atmosphere created by the previous song.

"The Bitterness and the Bereavement" begins with a mournful doom riff, accompanied by the sorrowful sounds of a violin. The pace is deathly slow, as it should be. Here, one is faced with the utter uselessness of existence. Pain is the only constant. No one will hear your cries. There is no salvation. Your feeble prayers will not be answered, for the one that you call upon does not exist. The miserable riffs wash over you like waves of sadness, cleansing you of such feeble hopes and leaving behind an empty shell. The pace picks up, somewhat, building the tension before slowing down again. The vocals are filled with anguish and despair, conveyed in a primal way. As if the agonizing guitar riffs weren't enough to crush your soul, the violin returns to slice you in a most graceful manner, as the blood slowly seepes into the frozen earth.

"Release us from atrocities"

The next song originally appeared on the Towards the Sinister demo, in much rougher form. "Vast Choirs" begins with a keyboard intro before erupting at full speed. This track features the most intense riffs of the whole album, complete with an evil-sounding laugh. After a minute or so, the pace slows down as if the floor of the crypt has just fallen out from beneath your feet, sending you tumbling down into the abyss. You are lost in a maze of confusion and anguish, soon to endure unspeakable torments. As the pace picks up, it works to add a sense of chaos to the already hellish feeling. It slows down, once more, near the middle. It is at this point that you behold the darkened gates before you. There is no turning back. You have but a few moments to reflect on the miserable life that you've led. In a moment of clarity, you realize that everything you've done has sent your farther down this path. You have no one to blame but yourself. There is no grand conspiracy. You are a victim of your own failures.

"Burdens of grief that weigh against me"

The highlight of the album is "The Return of the Beautiful". This epic is divided into five parts, at least lyrically. It begins with slow, plodding riffs that convey a tragic feeling, along with the woeful sounds of the violin. Clocking in just under thirteen minutes, this is the magnum opus of the L.P. The dark melodies return to your pitiful mind countless sorrows. You are nearly entombed by your own grief, helpless to change your circumstances. It is far too late for that. There is no turning back. The gates have opened wide and swallowed you whole, cursing you to the eternal depths of the black abyss.

"Souls will mourn
In this unending season of darkness"

The seemingly ceaseless suffering that you have heretofore endured will soon be looked back on with fondness and longing, in the face of the torture that your doomed spirit has been cursed to bear. You close your eyes and try to tell yourself that this isn't real; that this is but a dream. Yet the nightmare has become your reality. Infinite grief takes you in its eternal embrace, cold and deathlike. The bleak melodies wrap you in a shroud of despondency, as this horror becomes ever clearer. All that you loved and cherished is forever gone and none will give any notice to your passing. In a blackened land forlorn, you will suffer for ever. The cries of the damned soon drown out your own screams, as you move deeper and deeper, among the flames and rivers of blood. Malevolent spirits attack you with razor-sharp claws, swooping down like undead ravens to tear pieces of your very being and consume them right in front of you. The blame for this dreadful fate is yours alone.

"Erotic Literature" begins with more typical fast-past Death Metal riffs, seeming quite out of place when compared to what went before it. After a minute or so, the pace slows down and the feeling of doom returns. This continues throughout the middle section of the song, though the tempo increases, once again, as the song concludes. Oddly, this one features one of the best riffs on the album, but being sandwiched between the more generic-sounding riffs takes away from the song, as a whole.

As the Flower Withers is a classic of Death / Doom, though some of the more standard Death Metal riffs could have been shortened or dropped so that the emphasis remained on the Doom riffs. This can be compared to the early work of Paradise Lost, with some differences of course. My Dying Bride wasn't nearly as successful in blending the various tempos into a cohesive whole. On the other hand, at their darkest points, they certainly possessed a sound more dismal than that found on the early Paradise Lost albums.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dissection - Into Infinite Obscurity (1991)

Released in September 1991, on Corpse Grinder Records, Dissection's Into Infinite Obscurity E.P. served as a harbinger of doom to come. Having formed in 1989 and already released a demo titled The Grief Prophecy, Dissection was showing signs of future greatness. Where some bands have to play for several years to become tight enough to create something brilliant, these Swedes wasted little time in doing so. Early on, there was some confusion as to whether this band was to be considered Black or Death Metal. Perhaps, the overall sound of this E.P. added to the mystery, but the style of the melodies and vocals, as well as the lyrical content, are proof enough that this is far blacker than what their Swedish contemporaries were up to, around this time.

It begins with "Shadows Over A Lost Kingdom". The sound is a little thicker and more bottom-heavy than the version that would later apear on The Somberlain. However, the melodies are the same and still freeze your very soul upon listening. The vocals are somewhat gargled, by comparison to the sound that is present on the full-lengths. This is almost similar to what Tompa was doing in Grotesque. The guitar sound is a little fuzzy, which adds to the atmosphere, though the it is not as sharp and frigid as on the album version. The songwriting already displays a level of skill that exceeds many other bands who were already recording full albums, at this point. The playing is tight and it is obvious that this song was well though-out already, as it did not change between the E.P. and L.P.

"Son of the Mourning" is next, featuring more blasphemous lyrics and a slightly more intense approach. Despite the raw sound, this possesses memorable melodies that will haunt your mind. One could say that this song has more in common with the Scandinavian Death Metal sound, though it is still quite distinct. Again, the vocals are deeper than on later releases, yet still raspy. There is more of a contrast between this song and the re-recorded version found on the Where Dead Angels Lie E.P. than between the previous song and its later incarnation.

It all ends with "Into Infinite Obscurity". This is a sorrowful acoustic piece that bears a mournful feeling, though not entirely bleak. There is some sense of sadness present, though joined by an overwhelming feeling of relief as you are soon to descend beneath the surface of the earth, forever to be removed from this hellish world.

Into Infinite Obscurity served as a good starting point for a band that would go on to cement their legacy as one of the most legendary groups in Metal. As good as it is, these songs are but mere hints of the brilliance that was to follow.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tiamat - Clouds (1992)

In 1992, Tiamat returned to Woodhouse Studios, in Dortmund, Germany, to record their third full-length album. On this, their second collaboration with producer Waldemar Sorychta, the band continued their evolution. It is difficult to believe that this is the same group of musicians that recorded such things as The Sign of the Pentagram and Crawling in Vomits, back in their days as Treblinka. It is easy to follow this progression, through the previous two albums, however. By the mid-90s, many Black and Death Metal bands began experimenting with their sounds (often, to the dismay of their fans) and it seems that Tiamat was one of the first to do so. Released in September 1992, Clouds sees the more overt Death Metal tendencies fading, ever more, into the background as they go down the path toward eternal doom.

Long ago, I was introduced to this band (and many others) thanks to a mix tape from a European pen pal. The songs that were to represent Tiamat were taken from this album (as well as a live song, from the E.P. that followed this). As such, this was the first one of their albums that I owned. Honestly, it took a little getting used to. I was expecting something slightly different. However, I gave it a chance and came to appreciate it for what it was.

"In A Dream" begins with strange keyboard effects and an acoustic melody. This straddles the line that separates melodic Death Metal and simple Doom Metal. The guitar riffs are heavy and depressive. The vocals alternate between clean and harsh, with the latter dominating the album, despite not being as extreme as in the past. The song is mid-paced and only speeds up for a brief time, late in the song. There are some traditional Metal lead solos, as well. The production is fairly clear, yet seems a little soft. It's as if the rough edges have been smoothed down.

The title track starts out with a decent old school drum beat accompanying a complimentary riff. The song soon shifts into a higher gear, not really getting fast, but keeping up a decent pace. The lead solo is pretty epic and fits nicely into the song. The song isn't very dark, as the lyrics seem to convey a nearly optimistic message. This track has a relaxed kind of feeling, similar to what Amorphis would do, a couple years later.

"Smell of Incense" opens with a nice solo, though the main riffs aren't any more intense than what you'd find on Metallica's Black Album. As the riffs shift from Doom to Thrash, it is impossible not to notice that there is no edge, whatsoever. I actually like this album, but it certainly is rather light. People say the band went soft on Wildhoney, but I think it happened two years earlier, on this record. The lyrics aren't dark enough for this style of music, which has a lot to do with this, since the vocals are easy to decipher.

The next song features a very doom-inspired riff to start things. "A Caress of Stars" takes the atmosphere to a darker place, despite the keyboards and clean vocals. It all works well together in creating a much more dismal feeling. The haunting guitar melodies manage to take you in their powerful grip and to squeeze the life out of you. The quieter parts are executed quite well, giving off a sense of melancholy. This really drains the energy out of you, making you wish for nothing more than to crawl into a grave and pull the dirt over you, entering the eternal sleep. So far, this is the best song on here.

"You left me for dead"

This feeling is carried over into "The Sleeping Beauty". The live version of this song was actually the one that got me interested in the band, though it took some time to get used to the studio recording, since I'd heard the other one countless times before this. It starts with a sorrowful acoustic melody, joined by thunderous drums. This is followed by a very haunting doom riff, one that is sure to remain in the dark recesses of your mind until the grim day of your ultimate demise.

"What I need I'll never feel
This world is for me unreal
So I drink to darkness with a candle lit
And through the whole night alone I sit"

The overall pace is a little faster than the live version, which doesn't suit it as well, in my opinion. The vocals aren't as harsh here, either. However, this does not kill the doom-ridden atmosphere. There is a section where the pace increases, though this is brief enough. Later in the song, there is another acoustic melody, adding to the empty feeling.

"The more I drink, the more I see
That suicide could be the key"

"Forever Burning Flames" adds a sense of dread to the album, as the sinister aura is even darker than the previous songs. This one is mid-paced as well, only speeding up right after the chorus. The keyboards are less experimental and serve to create tension. The lead solo, near the end, adds a lot of life to the proceedings. This is one of the only songs to feature any actual Death Metal riffs, as the rest is dominated by the slower Doom Metal sound. This is also found here, for the most part, but it seems to alternate between the two.

The next song wastes no time in kicking into gear. "The Scapegoat" has the most intense opening riff (if one can use that word, here), giving the impression that this song is going to be faster or more forceful. Within only a few moments, it becomes clear that this is not the case. This song consists of slower Doom riffs and melodic riffs that are more in line with traditional Metal. The theme of the song appears to be a personal one, almost some sort of revenge on those who opposed the band in its earliest stages. I've always found such writing a little boring, so there's no need to focus on that.

The album reaches its end with "Undressed". Despite the odd title, it bears some of the best riffs on the record. Of course, it is slow and sorrowful, being filled with doom and gloom. The vocal performance is a bit odd, but the guitar melodies make up for it. Within a couple minutes, there's another acoustic part that is slightly reminiscent of Testament, followed by a woeful lead solo. The real brilliance comes once the verses conclude. The song takes on a far more epic nature and the melodic solo work, joined by the keyboards, conveys a mournful sentiment.

"I opened my veins"

As the song slows down, more and more, it carries you up, only to let you crash. As the instruments fade, nothing else is heard but the sounds of a heart monitor, in a hospital. Slowly, you can hear the person flatline. The sounds that follow are very ethereal, produced by keyboards, giving the impression that someone has died and is now floating off toward another realm.

Overall, this isn't the best Tiamat album, yet it is enjoyable. Looking back on it, it would be more accurate to call this Doom Metal with traditional and Death influences. If you appreciate such albums as Tales From the Thousand Lakes or even The Fourth Dimension, you may want to give this a chance.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Katatonia - Dance of December Souls (1993)

In early 1993, Katatonia entered Dan Swanö's Unisound Studios and began recording their first full-length album. Swanö handled the keyboard duties, as he did on the Jhva Elohim Meth E.P. Blakkheim and Lord J. Renkse were joined by a character who called himself Israphel Wing, on bass. But this mattered little, as the project was always the brainchild of the two main members. Rumour has it that the band had more brutal material that they intended to be a part of the album, but were convinced to stick with the slower stuff, as this was where they truly shined. By mid-December 1993, an appropriate time, Dance of December Souls was released.

I discovered Katatonia during a very dismal period of my existence, so I was immediately drawn to it. My friend had purchased one of their albums and I had ignored it when he attempted to let me check it out, since I wasn't in the right frame of mind for such things. However, a short time later I found myself looking for something to better suit my dark mood. For some reason, the stuff was difficult to obtain. In an ironic twist, I managed to track down October Tide's Rain Without End album, first. It was around this time that I was told that the early Katatonia material was very similar, so I doubled my efforts to acquire this. I was teased, by hearing the song "Gateways of Bereavement", on the 'Haunted Mansion'. I then ran across For Funerals to Come and then Brave Murder Day. Each boasted a bleak atmosphere and decent songs, but it was their debut album that I sought. Finally, two years after being introduced to the band, I found a copy of Dance of December Souls.

The album begins with the intro, "Seven Dreaming Souls". This gives a brief glimpse into the darkened abyss. You stand at the edge, looking down into the murky depths, filled with dread and morbid curiosity. You fear that, one day, you will reside there in the deepest chasm of misery and suffering. Just as you turn to walk away, there is a thunderous sound and you are dragged down into eternal torment.

"Gateways of Bereavement" strips your soul of any and all hope and optimistic foolishness. The riffs are slow and heavy, accompanied by crushing drums and somber acoustic notes. The vocals are the desperate screams of a damned soul that has known this existence of true and utter sorrow. There are some hints of keyboards, as well, though only to add to the overall effect. The guitar melodies completely annihilate your withering spirit.

"Let me die"

Jonas Renkse speaks for us all when he screams this line. Deep down, this is what we all want. It is inescapable. This horror that has been visited upon us all, known as life, is something to reject; a prison of flesh to break free of. This is why we try, in whatever feeble manner we might, to fill our lives with something, anything, to take our minds off of this one truth. The song is drenched in an epic atmosphere of everlasting sorrow and a longing for release from this cursed mortal realm. The pace never speeds up, as this is more like a funeral march. Oddly, some more uplifting melodies work their way into things, only to be stamped out. Musically, one can hear a strong influence from early Paradise Lost, and it is put to good use.

"In Silence Enshrined" takes the atmosphere down to a darker level of misery, as this conveyes a sense of grief and loss that most should be able to relate to. The riffs are even more depressive than the previous song, and the vocals seem to be weighed down with an added sense of despondency. There is a musical contrast, as Blakkheim injects these minuscule bits of positivity into the songs, only for them to be crushed and destroyed, leaving no trace. This is similar to life, as fate will occasionally toss us something good, only for it to be torn from us, leaving us in a state of despair and overwhelming darkness.

"In silence I fall through sorrows"

The pace begins to pick up, later in the song, yet it maintains the bleak atmosphere. It almost gives the impression of one attempting to escape from the depths of the abyss, only to realize that they were never out. They were always here, and forever shall remain. As this realization becomes ever clearer, the pace slows down and the desperation in the vocals echoes our own feeling, regarding this sentence that we all must serve. Yet, as we may all suffer a similar fate, it is in solitude that we must bear this agony. Whether surrounded by others or not, we face this doom alone.

The next song already appeared on the Jhva Elohim Meth E.P. The feeling is still dismal, though the subject matter is not as melancholy as the other songs. This one deals with the opposition of the fictional Judeo-Christian god, or rather the nonexistence of this mythical being. There is also some comment on the disillusionment of those who were tricked by the Great Lie, while the narrator appears quite triumphant in his rejection of this false creator.

"Elohim Meth" is an instrumental that bears a desolate feeling. As you are broken and defeated, suffering at the fathomless depths, you have time to reflect back on the wretched existence that you've led. It has all been for nothing. As you lay there, afflicted by the burning cold and the freezing darkness, you begin to realize that this is no nightmare. This is your fate, and the worst is yet to come.

The dismal journey continues with "Velvet Thorns (of Drynwhyl)", which is the longest track on here, clocking in just under fourteen minutes. There is a certain beauty in the sorrow here presented. The sound is almost eloquent in its misery. As the song progresses, the melodies seem to take you even farther down, beyond those realms of anguish that you had begun to adapt to. Immortal torment is what you have ahead of you. Your pathetic soul will be raped of all sanity, leaving you in a feeble state. After a few minutes, the song speeds up a bit and the vocals become far raspier and more shredded.

"I must Die
Through the Sky
And the Forest"

The song gets even slower and the mournful feeling increases. Near the middle of this epic journey through depression and grief, it becomes more unbearable. Left alone on a cold stone, near the raging waters, you find fragments of broken glass and see a way out. You take these jagged shards and open your veins, allowing the blood to flow freely. It appears so black in the pale light, and a sense of relief comes over you as you welcome the end. But the end will not come. You are gripped by panic, as it becomes clear that there is no escape. You can die a thousand deaths, yet here you will remain. In a frenzy of anguish and despair, you shred yourself to pieces, bleeding all over the frozen landscape. Your tears will bring no salvation. Those spirits who are drawn to you will only feed upon this monumental suffering. This is what they wanted, all along. Your whole life has been but a game to them. Whenever you reach a point where you are adjusting to the pain, you see a light at the end of the tunnel. Something good comes into your life and you feel that things will change. But this is not so. You belong to them. Soon, your source of peace and happiness will be taken away, for only through the loss of something dear to you are they able to take you down to a deeper level. The cycle is neverending.

"Tomb of Insomnia" begins with another dejected riff, joined by tortured screams. This song is nearly as long as its predecessor. At this point, you are torn between madness and despair. The utter horror of existence is not something with which the normal human mind can truly come to grips. The slow, funeral march of guitar riffs continues on, and the raspy vocals echo your own internal screams. There is no sleep, no waking, no relief... the nightmare is reality. An added sense of doom is produced from the bass lines, joining the clean guitars, which build the tension. You can feel it in your bones... this isn't the end, or the beginning of the end. It is merely the end of the beginning. All the suffering and torment that you have ever known is but a mere shadow of true pain. This word is misused by so many who would cower before the true face of pain and eternal misery. It is something that resides beyond the comprehension of average mortal intellect. However, once you manage to get a glimpse of this, you will be forever scarred and soon to go mad, as you are slowly drained. This is the fate that awaits each of us.

"Tomb spirits marching in the fields of eternity"

By the middle of the song, there is still some tiny bit of hope remaining, soon to be extinguished and forgotten. With each cycling of the mournful riff and crashing of thunderous drums, you are taken deeper down into the abysmal realm of melancholy. Again, your eyes are filled with a small glimmer of hope, as an almost peaceful melody passes through, joined by clean guitars and keyboards. This is the highest peak that you can expect to see. Just when you think, once again, that you might escape this hell... the gate is closed before you. Around the 11:00 mark, it truly begins. The single most sorrowful melody on the entire album, rips into your chest and annihilates your heart, once and for all. It was all for nothing. Your trust in hope has failed you, and you have failed yourself and all those around you. None will even mourn your passing.

"Purest sorrow, embrace my soul"

The album ends with "Dancing December". This instrumental maintains the hopeless feeling from the last song. Imagine yourself in this abyss of suffering and despair, as viewed by a camera. It is during this song that it pulls back, farther and farther, leaving you to your damnation. Finally, it returns to the surface, showing that the world will, indeed, continue on without you. No one will even so much as notice that you are gone and the few that were unfortunate enough to have known you will be oblivious to your fate and probably wouldn't care either way. Life is pain. Your purpose is to suffer. Nothing more. Embrace the end.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

At the Gates - Terminal Spirit Disease (1994)

The third full-length from At the Gates is sort of a mixed bag. On this album, you can hear hints of the band's previous sound, as well as definite clues to the direction that they were headed toward. The prime reason for the change was the departure of guitarist and songwriter, Alf Svensson, who left the band after With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness. The result was that the overall style became very simplified and the thrash element began to dominate. Released in July 1994, Terminal Spirit Disease was a setp down from the previous output of At the Gates, but it still retained some semblance of the familiar atmosphere that their fans had come to expect.

The cello and violin, found in the intro to "The Swarm", was enough to get one's hopes up. However, the mournful guitar melody that flows from this manages to fade into oblivion, being replaced by less inspired riffs. The music still bears a somber feeling, owing quite a bit to the shredded-throat vocals of Tomas Lindberg.

As the title track gets underway, it gives a false impression. The darkness of this betrayal is soon illuminated, as the song shifts gears, riff-wise, to the dismay of the listener. This is not to say that the song is bad, but that it had the potential to be much better. That seems to be something that plagues the entire recording.

"And the World Returned" is a peaceful, yet sorrowful, instrumental. It's not nearly as bleak as "The Scar"; however, I don't think that was their intention. Either way, it is pleasant enough and serves as a good lead-in to the next song. The nature of the song is introspective enough to get you thinking of something sad, but not so miserable that you slice your throat.

The vibe is carried over into "Forever Blind", which relies too much on the thrash riffs and not enough on fleshing out these ideas and creating something remarkable. The feeling is kind of there, but there's quite a bit of room for improvement. With that said, the vocals still possess a tortured quality that can be appreciated.

Clocking in a little over four minutes, "The Fevered Circle" is the longest song on the album. This one shows a little promise, hearkening back to the previous albums. Ironically, this is the only song featuring any input from Svensson, prior to his departure. Unfortunately, he may have run out of ideas as this isn't even the best song on here.

"The Beautiful Wound" opens with a rather bleak melody, but the dominance of thrash riffs soon obliterates this. As the song progresses, there are more depressive melodies, despite the fact that they're not fully developed.

The three live tracks aren't really worth mention, as it's useless to include live songs on a full-length. This seems more like filler, to me. As for the studio tracks, they were recorded in Studio Fredman but the album does not have the over-produced sound that is present on the following album. In other words, the sound hadn't totally been raped yet.

Terminable Spirit Disease is an album with a lot of potential; unfortunately, it is never realized. There is still a mournful atmosphere, for the most part, but this release displays but a mere shadow of this band's potential. It's a shame that they didn't call it quits with this one. The album isn't a complete loss, but I'd only ever recommend picking it up if you can do so at a serious discount.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Amorphis - Black Winter Day (1995)

In January 1995, Amorphis followed up on the success of Tales From the Thousand Lakes with the Black Winter Day E.P. In a way, it seemed that their musical transition had already been decided upon. This release would serve as an epitaph for the early period of Amorphis. After this, they would continue to 'progress' toward something quite far from their roots.

It begins with the song "Black Winter Day". This is the same version as found on the L.P. For me, this song didn't stick out so much as to deserve its own E.P. All of the songs on Tales From the Thousand Lakes were quite consistent, so any one of them would have sufficed. At any rate, this was the song that they felt best represented that album, apparently.

"Folk of the North" is a somber instrumental that begins with a piano. It is sooned joined by the guitars, bass and drums. Much like the material on the last full-length, this has a peaceful atmosphere and wouldn't have been out of place among those songs, really.

The next song is "Moon and Sun", which is a bit more straight-forward. There is still some utilization of the keyboard, though it is implemented in creating a darker feeling than on other songs. The guitar riffs possess the same epic nature as is found on the two previous albums, causing one to wonder whether or not this was a leftover track. Judging by the lyrics, it would appear so. If it was passed up, my guess is that this decision was based more of time constraints rather than quality, as this is a very good song.

"Moon and Sun Pt. II: North's Son" starts with an eerie keyboard effect, though the song is a bit more uptempo than its predecessor, once it actually begins. As with the last one, the vocals are all done in the Death Metal style, being deep and almost more reminiscent of The Karelian Isthmus than Tales From the Thousand Lakes. The speed has increased a bit, as well. During the latter half of the song, the pace slows down and nothing is left but a piano and the drums. This hearkens back to the intro from the last album. Once the guitars return, the pace picks up, slightly, as the song finishes out.

Black Winter Day is a fitting manner to say goodbye to the first era of Amorphis and to begin the new one with a clean slate; i.e. no leftover songs from the past. The material here is just as good as anything found on the previous full-length, which is easily noticed due to the inclusion of a song from that L.P. For people such as myself, this is also a good point at which to close the book on this band, as they subsequently transformed into something quite different.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hypocrisy - Abducted (1996)

Displeased with the guitar sound that was achieved on The Fourth Dimension, Peter Tägtgren went on to create his own studio. The first album to be recorded there was the Black Metal side-project of Hypocrisy, The Abyss. Also worth noting is that this was both the name of the studio and the name of the first song recorded there (a Hypocrisy tune that was later released as an extra). As the band laboured in the studio, from March to October of 1995, the cleaner and more atmospheric guitar tone from the last album was replaced with something much harsher. It would appear that some of the feeling from The Other Side carried over into Hypocrisy, marking a change in the sound. Whatever the case, Hypocrisy's fourth full-length was released in February 1996. This album took the theme that was established on the previous record and continued with it, though only on two songs. Judging by the cover and title, one would expect a concept album. However, that would have to wait until the next release. The lyrical themes found on Abducted range from death to misery and the same anti-Christian stance that was ever-present, throughout the band's career. Lyrically, it's quite eclectic. The same could be said of the music, as well.

It begins with an eerie intro, taken from some sort of UFO program. Under the right circumstances, this has the potential to sound quite creepy. This intro, "The Gathering", leads into one of the most recognizable Hypocrisy songs ever, "Roswell 47". The song starts with a mid-paced melody that is all the more menacing due to the rumbling bass, in the background. This one also has the distinction of being a live favourite, often opening the set. Vocally, this displays even more variation, from Peter, as he now utilizes a thin and raspy voice that had not yet been employed on previous albums. It is more akin to the Black Metal style, though a little too clean for that. The lead solo goes well with the main melodies of the song, in creating an otherworldy effect. That last scream also has a way of freezing your blood.

"Killing Art" is a straight-forward, fast-paced song that returns to more standard lyrical themes. The vocals alternate between a deep and almost gargled sound and the higher-pitched rasp that has been unveiled on this record. There is also brief use of the choir vocals that add a melancholy sense to the proceedings.

"God can't help you now..."

The next song is much slower, conveying a feeling of doom. "The Arrival of the Demons (Part 2)" expands upon the outro from The Fourth Dimension. This song possesses a dismal feeling, accentuated by the soul-piercing lead solo. The vocal approach is quite varied, here, though retaining the woeful choir of clean vocals. Already, by the third song, the band has unleashed three very different songs; mid-paced and creepy, fast and aggressive, as well as slow and depressive.

"Reach for the silence
Reach for an end"

"Buried" starts with the gargled vocal style, soon to turn to the higher-pitched sound established earlier. Musically, it's kind of mid-paced Death Metal that builds as it progresses. A new riff is introduced, after a minute or so, which injects some small epic feeling into the song, as well as some strain of lifelessness that may go undetected.

The title track erupts with fury and vengeance, going straight for your throat. "Abducted" wastes no time in going for the kill, being quite violent and abrasive. The solo is one of the more intense ones, found here, as is the feeling conveyed as Peter screams, "Will they ever leave me alone?"

"Paradox" sees the return of the depressive doom vibe, this time managing to be even more cold and miserable than before. Whereas the previous songs still retained some sinister feeling as well, this one is pure despondency caught on tape. Even the vocals sound sort of half-dead and drained of life.

"Suicide, the only solution
Life is too much of hell and confusion"

Whether or not this is part of the UFO theme is up for debate, as some could stretch it enough to make that connection, though it seems to be another stand-alone track that is far more based in this hellish reality than any sort of science fiction concept. The lyrics may be hard for some to decipher, as they've never been included in Hypocrisy albums, and most online sources are based on haphazard attempts. In some sense, this is interesting as it leaves the listener to interpret on his own and to hear what he wishes, in a way. As the song progresses, the melodies have a way of tearing your chest open and ripping your heart out, destroying its withered remains before your very eyes and leaving you to die in hopelessness.

"Slashing my arms, to let the blood free
Soon to get away from the pain
I have lost all my beliefs
To a world of hypocrisy"

"Point of No Return" picks up the pace, a little bit, though taking a few moments to really get there. Midway through, there's some thrash break that leads into a decent solo. The song then ends with faster tremolo riffs, sounding like something leftover from The Abyss. Hypocrisy always featured elements of Black, Death and Doom, though this seems more overtly in the Black Metal style of guitar playing, as the song fades.

The morose and dismal atmosphere returns on "When the Candle Fades". This is is agonizingly slow, working to suffocate you and send you toward the great oblivion. Again, the vocals are more gargled and raspy. The deeper style would only surface again on the album that followed this one. Again, the concept of the album would appear to be UFOs and alien encounters, though this is only present in a few songs. The true theme of this work seems to be misery, in various forms. The pain may burn in many ways, but it's all the same. In truth, it is in these doom-filled and depressing moments that this band has always truly shined. Peter has a way of conveying feelings of misery and dread, through music.

"When the candle fades
The pain closing in
When the sun turns black
You release your blood and fade away"

"Carved Up" already appeared on the Maximum Abduction E.P., but was re-recorded for the L.P. On the outside, this song would seem more vicious and aggressive than the last one, but there's still some somber sentiment that comes through in the guitar melodies, as well as the passioned screams. As the song slows down, this feeling only increases. Despite the murderous lyrics, there's a miserable quality to the song. The lead solo only accentuates this.

"Reflections" is an instrumental track, resulting from the use of keyboards. The effect is both eerie and sorrowful, as this majestic song builds up and imbues the listener with images of tragedy. While experiencing this, one is prompted to look back on a life of misery and relive every poignant moment of despair and loss... to feel the grief of decades past as it comes alive, once more, and murders your spirit.

This flows into "Slippin' Away", which would seem quite out of place, but somehow fits into the dark mood of this record. This makes use of clean guitars and vocals, having an ethereal effect. The lyrics and delivery are utterly miserable. Life is finally seen for what it really is; a punishment. Something to be escaped. Nothing will ever improve. Death is the only salvation from this burden visited upon us all. Try as we might to fill it with some semblance of meaning, there is nothing. Attempting to understand this anguish will only make it worse. The end is coming. Better to hasten it, with one final act of defiance against this wretched curse.

"Bury the pain, as I bury this knife in my body
Slowly slipping away..."

"Drained" follows suit, being dreary and mournful. The title is very fitting, as the woeful vocals give the impression of someone who has been drained of nearly all signs of life, simply awaiting the end with open arms. The blade has penetrated your flesh and the crimson life is flowing freely. As life ebbs, you reflect on what once was; the sorrow and the loss... You've accomplished nothing and all that you thought you achieved has turned to ashes; incinerated by the black flames of despair. The only peace comes through the knowledge that it is finally over. The end has come. Death is upon you...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Dismember - Massive Killing Capacity (1995)

In 1994, Dismember entered Studio Sunlight, under the guidance of Tomas Skogsberg, to begin recording their third full-length album. Released in August 1995, Massive Killing Capacity soon became the most controversial album from this Swedish Death Metal band; possibly moreso than the "Skin Her Alive" incident. The album, as a whole, is more melodic than their previous efforts. Of course, there was always a melodic strain that ran through the albums before this (and since), but it was here that it took center stage. Dismember also utilized more traditional Metal structures, giving rise to the argument that they were following the footsteps of Entombed, whose stylistic alterations earned their music the title of Death 'n' Roll. However, Massive Killing Capacity is far more entrenched in traditional Metal than Rock, which nullifies the Entombed comparison. It is no surprise that this record is looked upon as the black sheep of the Dismember catalog, easily being the weakest album that they released. The change in the sound was not as drastic as some have made it out to be; there were definite signs of this on Indecent and Obscene, though found in smaller doses. Nonetheless, this L.P. is quite impure and filled with problems.

On its own merits, this is not a terrible album. Had this been a side-project, it would likely have been a little more accepted. The main issue is that these songs were released as the third full-length album from Dismember, a name that meant something in the Death Metal scene. To call this Death Metal, melodic or not, is quite a stretch. The music is rather tame, for the most part. Songs like "I Saw Them Die" and the title track feature rather bland riffs and catchy choruses. The latter does allow for a pretty decent tremolo melody to creep in, albeit briefly. The vocals follow the path that began on the previous album, being less harsh and more shouted and throaty at times. The feeling of the band's sound being 'cleaned up' can also be attributed to the guitars which, still maintaining a familiar tone, seem more clear and immensely weak when compared to Like an Ever Flowing Stream. The simplistic songwriting gives off a rather relaxed feeling on lame songs like "Crime Divine" and "Casket Garden", which become a rather tedious listen. 

One of the better tracks on here, "On Frozen Fields" starts out with a cold tremolo melody, which is one of the most unforgettable of the entire record. From the first moments, one can tell that this is a superior song to the previous two. It's a bit faster paced, while remaining melodic; even moreso than the other tracks. Had this been recorded in a more pure Death Metal style, minus the obvious choruses, it would not have been out of place on the previous album. Though it's here, in contrast to so much weaker material, where it is most allowed to stand out. 

"To the Bone" is not a terrible track, though still far too weak for a Dismember record. It starts out with a simple bass line, joined by a riff that gives a sense of impending doom. The vocals are a little harsher, on this one. Implementing the same style as some of the previous songs, this one manages to be a little more dynamic and memorable.

"Black is all I see
Within these walls of pain
If I can't find myself
I'm better off dead"

As evidenced by the lyrics, this song bears more of a sorrowful feeling, in a sense. The melodies are somber, the vocals convey a sense of misery, without completely wallowing in it, and the overall feeling is one of despair.

"Wardead" sounds like something from a different recording session, for the first few moments. It seems more straight-forward, with harsher vocals than on some of the songs, as well as a faster pace and riffs that would not be out of place on their earlier albums, with the exception of the strange riff that accompanies the chorus. For some reason, they were unable to resist the urge to spoil the track with more experimental nonsense. Again, the solo adds life to the song, serving some purpose instead of being thrown in for the sake of having a solo.

"Hallucigenia" is a fairly decent tune, incorporating more mid-paced riffs that create a gloomy vibe. Some of the riffs sort of hearken back to old Candlemass. The vocals are deeper and more harsh on this one, possessing a sound more vicious than what is found on the rest of the album.

"Collection By Blood" opens with a riff that is very similar to "The Hellion", by Judas Priest. After this intro part, the song speeds up and is dominated by thrash riffs. It has kind of an epic feeling to it, as a result of the guitar melodies. This may be the one song on the whole album, done in this more melodic and traditional style, that actually works in its entirety. It is certainly one of the most memorable songs on here.

"Nenia" is an instrumental, seemingly inspired by Metallica's "Orion", which sets the stage for the end that is soon to come. These riffs are rather miserable and the song probably benefits from the lack of vocals, allowing for the music to create a somewhat dismal and draining effect. It flows well with the intro section of the following track. 

The album ends with "Life - Another Shape of Sorrow", which is a rather varied track. It seems quite promising, beginning with the sounds of a funeral organ and rather doomy riffs, creating an atmosphere of impending death. However, the band soon shifts gears toward something far more dynamic than might have been expected. The next few minutes see them combining pure Death Metal riffs with more melodic ideas, to create one of the strongest tracks on the record. However, that might not be saying much. The speed of the song doesn't quite match the lyrics and the feeling that one would assume is meant to be conveyed. As well, the weaker vocal style is certainly a detriment to the material. On one of their previous albums, this song would have been seen as quite mediocre, and is probably helped by the intro and outro sections, making it seem more 'epic' than it really is. That said, the final moments do serve as a good way to end an album, as the guitars fade and the funeral organ returns. A voice, almost reminiscent of Vincent Price, speaks in a calm voice:

"Come, sweetest death
Come, blessed rest
And take my hand
And gently lead... me... on..."

Massive Killing Capacity is definitely the weakest Dismember album, showing a band that seemed to be quite lost and simply experimenting with anything that came to mind. There are a few decent tracks, though still incredibly tame and weak by Dismember standards, as well as a lot of plodding and uninteresting garbage. This is absolutely undeserving to be spoken of in the same breath as a classic such as Like An Everflowing Stream or even Indecent and Obscene. Don't bother with this.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Amorphis - Tales From the Thousand Lakes (1994)

In September 1993, Amorphis entered Studio Sunlight to record their sophomore album, Tales From the Thousand Lakes. Once again, they worked with Tomas Skogsberg, for this full-length that was based on the Finnish national book "Kalevala". For one reason or another, it would take until September of 1994 before this album was released. Whatever the cause, it was well worth the wait. This record marks one of those times when the cover art, perfectly, suits the music and goes well to help establish the atmosphere.

It took a few years before I discovered Amorphis, but this was the album that introduced me to these Finns. Oddly enough, I first heard this while riding back from a concert, with a friend of mine. I recall not being in the mood to check out anything new, but as soon as it began I got quiet. I was staring through the T-tops of the old Camaro that we were riding in, looking up at the stars and the moon. Unexpectedly, the music that filled my ears fit the mood, quite well.

It begins with the piano/keyboard intro, "Thousand Lakes". The atmosphere created here is peaceful yet cold. There's a mystical and, somehow, somber feeling. I would imagine this as the sensation one might feel as they are passing from life into death.

"Into Hiding" starts with fairly slow, doom riffs. This is quite similar to what was found on their first album, The Karelian Isthmus. The song does speed up, and it's worth noting that the production is heavy, yet cushioned in a sense. It's not as abrasive as on the previous album, being kind of blunt rather than sharp. Again, this works well with the peaceful feeling that permeates this record. This is very melodic and epic in nature. There's a clean vocal passage that I absolutely hated, at first. I thought the guy sounded reminiscent of Axl Rose (and I still do, in a way), but it has grown on me, over time. The main riffs of the song seem to be thrash-oriented, with a lot of power chords in the background. The keyboard is used sparingly, adding the effect of some 70s progressive rock sound, near the end.

The melodies on this album do seem inspired by traditional folk music, almost having a medieval vibe to them. "The Castaway" slowly builds up, getting catchier as it goes along. The riffs are almost hypnotic and trance-like. This is somewhat difficult to describe, though I believe the band was called Progressive Death/Doom, around this time, for whatever that is worth. The rhythm guitars maintain some sort of ominous feeling, as the lead produced the hypnotic melodies. It all slows down, nearer to the end, leaving only the keyboards, drums and a distant lead 'solo'. This leads into a very memorable melody which words fail to do justice to.

"First Doom" has a slightly darker feel, filled with the type of epic riffs that were common in early Swedish Death Metal (as well as the first album from Amorphis). I read that the band had already 'matured' so much by this point that they felt odd to put the harsh vocals on this record. It was as if they were somehow beyond that. I, for one, am quite glad that they waited until the next album to abandon this vocal style, as it would have ruined this classic. The closing riffs seem to be drenched in sorrow, though not in a terribly overt manner.

The next song was popular enough to get its own E.P. a short time later. "Black Winter Day" starts out with a keyboard, and has a slightly up-tempo feel, compared to the previous song. It's still very epic and does well to take the listener beyond the real world, into the realm depicted on the album cover. Again, there's brief use of clean vocals on this song that may take some getting used to. There's a decent keyboard melody that then gives way to a lead solo, which is preferable.

"Drowned Maid" seems to pick the pace up a bit, with an added sense of urgency. It gives the feeling of taking some lengthy journey, which is the same throughout the entire album. The music is very memorable and interesting, never boring for even a moment. The tale is sort of bleak, however. While not bearing an oppressive sound, there are still strains of sorrow present here. It ends with the sound of the waves crashing against the shore, where the maid's blood has been offered.

"In the Beginning" flows directly from this, with one of the more depressing riffs on the album. It also opens with a trade off of clean and harsh vocals. The lead melody is truly epic and sort of miserable, yet peaceful at the same time. The song speeds up, though never getting intense. This song preserves the atmosphere that has been created already and adds to it, greatly.

The down-tempo feeling is ever-present in the opening riffs of "Forgotten Sunrise". It continues building, until exploding with a funereal spirit, accompanied by the sound of an organ (or some effect, created by the keyboard). There are some more uplifting moments,serving as peaks to contrast the deep valleys, but even these are obscured by clouds. Despite all of this, there is still a peaceful feeling that pervades all else. It is like the peace one would find from drowning in freezing cold water. As the song slowly fades, you begin to prepare for the end.

"To Father's Cabin" begins with epic thrash riffs and keyboards that blend together, seamlessly. This one might as well be an instrumental, as there is only a single verse that is spoken in a clean and distant voice. This one seems to be dominated by the melodies, giving more or a build-up for the final piece. It cannot be overstated that the riffs are all very memorable, remaining in your brain long after the record is over.

The final song, "Magic and Mayhem", starts out with a slow riff that is both somber and exquisite. This then flows into something that is heavier and kind of harsh. There is almost a dark quality to this, though the strange keyboard effects prevent it from going too far in this direction. The thrashy riffs are joined by more epic chords, in the background. It all ends in a chaotic eruption of riffs and more strange effects.

Tales From the Thousand Lakes is a classic of Finnish Death/Doom Metal. This is, definitely, something that should be in your collection. There's absolutely no excuse for you to not own this.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cannibal Corpse - The Bleeding (1994)

My best friend and I were in junior high when this was released, in April 1994. A short time later, we got our hands on a Metal blade catalog and proceeded to order the fourth full-length album from Cannibal Corpse, The Bleeding. It is most unfortunate that this has the distinction of being the first Death Metal album that we ever heard. I'd grown up with traditional Metal and Thrash, so the only thing that was really new about this was the vocal style. I've encountered a lot of people that have had difficulty in getting into Death and Black Metal, due to the vocals, but I took to it quite easily. Despite the fact that I moved far beyond this album, in the years that followed, I must give credit where it is due. This acted as the gateway that would lead me into the realm of Death Metal, where I'd soon discover much more relevant albums, such as Altars of Madness, Scream Bloody Gore, Consuming Impulse and many more. This opened up a world beyond NWOBHM and Thrash Metal. Whatever my current opinion is, I cannot deny the importance of this album, on a personal level.

It begins with "Staring Through the Eyes of the Dead", opening with rather odd sounding riffs. The song speeds up a bit, about halfway through, though this does not last long. As it slows down again, there's a nice morbid effect with the vocals and the bass. A couple of Slayer-esque solos follow this, being kind of worthless, in the long run.

"Fucked With A Knife" was the one that got me into a lot of trouble, at home. When this album was discovered in my possession, this created some annoyance for me. Unfortunately for me, I didn't have the censored version. No, I had the uncensored version, complete with lyrics. It's funny to look back on, these days. Musically, the song wasn't too far off from the Thrash Metal that I was already quite familiar with. Only the vocals were new, really. The high-pitched scream, at the end, was always one of my favorite parts. Chris Barnes utilized more variation in his style, on this album, and it probably helped prepare me for the Second Wave Black Metal bands that I would later discover, as well. I always thought the band would have benefited had he chosen to use these raspier screams on earlier albums.

The next song has always sounded like the one that was intended to become a staple of the live shows. "Stripped, Raped and Strangled" has that radio-single quality to it, though there was no way in Hell that this was seeing any airplay, with the exception of college radio. However, it seems really catchy and this always got on my nerves a bit. However, the faster riffs make up for this. Of course, this was my first exposure to such lyrics, and I enjoyed them in a sick way. This was before I was completely desensitized to this stuff, by hearing it a million times.

"Pulverized" starts with a decent tremolo riff and a lot of speed and intensity, compared to the previous song. Lyrically, the approach isn't simply that of random violence; there is a dark and twisted element present. The main character of the song, literally, asks to be stopped. It adds an interesting dimension to the story. While being fairly straight-forward, there are still variations in the tempo and a few riff changes. Again, Barnes employs a raspy, high-pitched vocal style, near the end.

"You tried to stop me
Dead before you started
Put me away
Before I put another in the grave"

"Return to Flesh" begins with a mid-paced riff, accompanied by a razor sharp tremolo riff that nicely accentuates the main theme. This is one of the best of the whole album, though it comes and goes. As the song gets going, it alternates between a mid-paced thrash riff and the aforementioned tremolo melody. This comes together well, creating a morbid feeling. The solo is much more thought-out, adding something to the song rather than being pointless. With this song, Side A really ends on a strong note, as this is one of the best songs on the record.

Side B starts out with "The Pick Axe Murders", which sounds like the name of a novel. Whereas the previous song ended with a slow pace, this one is much faster. Even at this point, the band's thrash roots are still quite evident. Another Slayer-esque solo precedes the vicious vocals, again alternating between high and low. While many Cannibal Corpse fans probably prefer earlier albums, The Bleeding succeeds where the others failed; i.e. each song stands out from the rest, being easily identifiable. The album never gets boring, even by Death Metal standards.

"She Was Asking For It" begins with explosive riffs and tremolo melodies. It has such a fast pace, that the drums almost seem as if they're having difficulty keeping up with the rest. But this is only an introductory section, as the song slows down as the first verse comes in. As before, the lyrics are interesting and are easy to follow along with. This one features more of a complex structure than some of the others, giving it sort of an epic feeling. following another fast part, the song gets even slower and utilizes some whispered vocals to add to the eerie effect.

"Dead to the world, I see only black
There's blood on my hands
Dead to the world, I see only black
The blood of the dead"

The title track opens with a very good riff, building a decent atmosphere of horror. This, easily, solidifies this record as being the most interesting of this band's career. It seems that this is around the time that the band, finally, gave in to creativity and put more effort into making something interesting, as opposed to trying to be the most brutal band out there. "The Bleeding" is filled with awesome riffs, a lot of thrash actually, and good variation in the vocals. The whole album is like this, really.

I am not sure if epic is the right word, but I cannot think of anything better to describe the feeling that builds throughout the latter half of this album. "Force Fed Broken Glass" shows the continuation of something that has slowly grown, over the course of this record. In some way, you can tell that the album is reaching its conclusion. The first minute or so is pretty fast-paced, though not incredibly intense or anything. A couple minutes in, the pace slows, considerably, and there are the sounds of someone gagging and choking (presumably on broken glass). The riffs create a sense of dread, working well with the vocals as well. The song speeds up again, but this is ephemeral. Again, the pace slows to something morbid, as hellish solos are accompanied by sparse acoustic notes. This is a flash of brilliance, by the standards of this band, and something I wish they had explored. There is the feeling that this would have been a good way to end the album, but it isn't over yet.

"An Experiment In Homicide" telegraphs the fact that the end is upon us. It's faster than the last song, though possessing slower parts as well. It is a fairly short song, giving the sens that the life has been fully drained and that there's no point in going on. As the last echoes fade, your fate is clear.

"I set the dead on fire
To decay in flames"

The Bleeding is, by far, the best album Cannibal Corpse ever recorded. It was at this point that they seemed fully comfortable with their instruments and willing to go beyond the strict boundaries established by their earlier albums. Perhaps sentimentality plays a part here, but it would seem that the band was well on their way to achieving something greater than they would actually go on to do. This would mark the end of the Chris Barnes era. After a couple more albums, they decided to make a career of rehashing old material. However, more than a decade since I have cared at all for this band, this album is still quite enjoyable. I recommend this as a good starting point for anyone looking to check them out. It may also serve as a good stopping point, depending on your point of view.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Entombed - Wolverine Blues (1993)

Entombed's third full-length, Wolverine Blues, is often looked at as the beginning of the end for this once-mighty Swedish Death Metal unit. It is on this record that they abandoned the pure Death Metal style, in favor of some Death/Rock sound. Oddly enough, this might have been necessary for them to remain relevant. While I disliked the production and the vocals, Clandestine was decent enough; however, it was a far cry from Left Hand Path. Perhaps, the band didn't have enough creativity to produce more albums that were in-line with their debut. There's another matter to consider: think of the sheer number of bands that had appeared, since the release of the first Entombed record. Several bands were in Stockholm, playing the same style that Entombed made famous and recording at the same studio, in an effort to achieve the same buzzsaw guitar sound. As with many artists who are mimicked to death, Entombed may have sought to distance themselves from the crowd.

I became aware of this album in an odd way, back in early 1994. Without the permission of the band, Earache Records made some deal with Marvel Comics to use the Wolverine character for the cover of the album, as well as advertisements. Being an avid reader of the Wolverine series, I took notice of this band that had his likeness on their album cover. The same was, probably, true of many other teenagers in the states, at least. Unfortunately for me, my first taste of Entombed came from a penpal of mine that included some tracks from this album on a mix tape that she'd made for me. To this day, those are among the few that I can even still listen to, having long since discovered the more vital of Entombed's works.

"Eyemaster" kind of explodes, possessing a lot of energy and speed. There are some decent riffs that wouldn't have been out of place on an earlier Entombed release, alongside some more relaxed riffs. Worth noting is that this album marked the return of L.G. Petrov, whose absence from Clandestine ruined that album for me. All in all, this is one of the more listenable songs on the album.

Already by the time "Rotten Soil" hits, I find myself checking to see when the album will be over. It's not without any merit, but the best riffs are fleeting, seeming to flow through with the swiftness of storm winds. This is the type of non-serious music that might be okay to keep one awake, when driving late at night and fighting exhaustion, but it's probably of more interest to a 13-year old that is just discovering the band, rather than anyone more fully acquainted with Entombed.

"Wolverine Blues" is another one of the songs that were featured on my tape, so it remains on of the more easily digested numbers. It has some sort of groove going on, but it seems to work. The song is intense and brief, which works in its favor. Regardless of the difference between this and the earlier stuff, it retains a strong metal feeling and is a decent headbanging tune.

As the album continues, I feel boredom coming over me. "Demon" is hardly worth mentioning, being over-simplified and not really worthy of much mention. "Contempt" has some nice riffs, in the first few seconds, but then goes into this kind of slow-paced groove nonsense that does nothing for me. The earlier riff returns, keeping me interested enough to try to stomach the rest. As the song progresses, there's some half-decent stuff. The lead solo isn't bad, either. This is the type of song that takes some time (and patience) to grow on you.

"Full of Hell" almost displays some small blues influence in the opening riff. Sadly, the vocals suffer from some sort of terrible approach. This is fairly lethargic and boring. So, we move on to "Blood Song", which starts out with a kind of sloppy execution of what could have been a decent riff. Already it's not as bad as the previous song, though it does feature L.G. doing some more experimenting with the vocals. The lyrics have a vampiric theme, so this would explain and actually justify what he's done here. Again, this is one of those songs that can grow on you, if you're just casually listening. The solo is adequate enough, as well.

Now, back to another song from this historical mix tape, "Hollowman". I think I'd totally hate this, if it weren't for the fact that I first heard it during a time when I was a little more open-minded. It's kind of difficult to describe. It is, definitely, dominated by a rock feeling. Actually, I'd compare it to Motorhead, in a way. It's not that serious; it just attempts to create something that rocks and that can be easily accessible, I'm guessing. There's an ominous riff, near the middle, but this passes. Either way, this is one of the better songs on the album, as far as I'm concerned.

"Heavens Die" sounds quite unfamiliar, as I rarely make it this far in the album before turning it off and moving on to something else. It features more mid-paced thrash riffs, giving some unholy groove to the Swedish Death Metal guitar sound. This isn't a great song, but it's certainly near the top of the list, compared to the others on this album.

The final song is "Out of Hand", which is only consistent in its ability to bore me to tears. Logic dictates that a band wants to begin and end an album with their strongest songs, so as to make a good first and last impression, even if the rest of the record is filled with half-developed ideas. However, Entombed leaves us on a sour note.

Wolverine Blues is half-passable, at best. Some songs can be enjoyable, if you're in the right mood, while some others are awful, no matter what. This is not essential, by any means, but it's not completely bereft of good ideas. I wouldn't recommend that anyone go buy this, unless it's in the $1 bin.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

At the Gates - With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness (1993)

In May 1993, At the Gates released their second full-length, With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness. This album would be the one that planted the seeds of the change in sound that was to come. However, it still retained a great deal of creativity, placing it within the classic era of this band; i.e. the period before they dumbed-down their style in order to appeal to the mainstream metal fans.

"Beyond Good and Evil" is a fast-paced, intense song that works well to get things going. There are no eerie intros, here. There are still some riffs that would have worked within the context of Black Metal, but the song structures prevent that from being the case. Still, At the Gates was quite alone in possessing a unique style, at this point, especially when compared to the other Swedish Death Metal bands of the era.

The next song is the real highlight of the album. "Raped By the Light of Christ" starts out with a somber acoustic piece before the sorrowful main riff comes in, like a fresh razor slicing your throat and wrists. It circles around you, cutting into your feeble heart, leaving little behind. As on the previous album, Tomas gives an agonizing vocal performance, sounding like he's been gargling broken glass. At this point, the thrash riffs are only a small part of the proceedings, taking a back seat to the tremolo riffs. However, already they are a bit more present than on earlier releases.

"I have traveled through suns
And the darkness of the end
Now I surrender to the void
And join with the pulse of the universe"

With "The Break of Autumn", it becomes clear that the thrashier riffs mixing with the tortured tremolo melodies is more the work of Alf Svensson, than anyone else. For, in his absence, they truly went for a more simplified approach. Here, the dark art that they created was still worthy of high praise. During these years, Tomas Lindberg really was Sweden's answer to Varg Vikernes, having the most tormented screams east of Bergen. The solo, near the end, fits perfectly with the dismal mood of this recording.

Already, it seems that the sound is a bit more streamlined than on The Red in the Sky is Ours, also lacking the violin and cello parts. For some, this was a step in the right direction, though I remain in the minority. "Non-Divine" is one of the songs that go, largely, unaffected by this. The song features plenty of tempo changes and a lot of atmosphere. Really, the structure and drumming are the prime components that keep this from drifting into Black Metal territory (as well as lyrics). However, the aura created by the tremolo riffs and the torn throat of Tomas cannot be over-emphasized.

"Primal Breath" slowly fades in from the silence, with separate tremolo riffs coming together to form one cohesive melody. This is the longest song on the album, clocking in over seven minutes. The atmosphere, in the opening moments, is quite dismal and almost serves to drain your energy. Though the pace picks up, this feeling never goes away. Where this song really shines is during the slower sections, where the riffs are able to dig their icy claws into you, ripping all semblance of hope from your withered frame. This song bears an epic quality that places it among the best that this band ever recorded. It may be a little difficult for some to digest, at first (if you're a fan of the later work), but it is highly recommended that you give it repeated listens so that the darkness may consume you, completely. As the song reaches its conclusion, it simply fades out. Ending in the same way that it began, this almost gives the feeling that the song is endless, and that we only arrived to catch a small piece of that. Somewhere in the deeps of infinity, beyond time, these black sounds permeate other worlds and realities, ever-sprawling thoughout the great nothingness.

"The Architects" begins with a simpler approach, being more straight-forward and fast-paced. It is a rather brief song, making its placement on the album a wise move, giving the listener some sort of break after such a lengthy sonic journey.

This is followed by "Stardrowned", which takes a similar path. There's some odd feeling, in the opening moments, with strange timing and so on. Though the tempo is fairly steady and fast, the feeling is still a bit darker than on the previous song. Some of the melodies, here, would have been well served to have been drawn out a bit. The thrashier sections aren't as significant, in my view.

"Blood of the Sunsets" has a strange piece with vocals and drums, very briefly, without any guitars. One may get the sense that this song is the weakest link on here, as it takes a minute to really show any sign of being worthy. There are some really good riffs on this track, but they're thrown alongside others that I don't feel work so well within the context of the album. The brief vocal effect is rather useless, as well, hiding the natural sound that Tomas has achieved. But the tremolo melodies save this, maintaining the dark thread that runs throughout the entire album. This is the lasting impression, as the song fades away.

The next song was an early favorite of mine, for some reason. "The Burning Darkness" is the shortest song on here, kind of reminding me of "The Scar", in the sense that it seems more like a part of the whole, rather than something that could stand on its own. The tortured feeling from the vocals chills your bones, and the riffs work to support this. It, definitely, could have been expanded, but it may be that it worked better this way.

"Ever-Opening Flower" features guest vocals from Matti Kärki, of Dismember. There's a strange contrast between the two vocalists. It is strange enough, as the sound that At the Gates would later adopt owes much more to Dismember than to their own back-catalog. As for this song, there are still those bleak and miserable melodies that reach into your chest to stop your heart from beating. However, those are sparsely mixed in with the thrashier riffs, taking away some of the effect.

The album ends with "Through the Red", which is more of a straight-forward, fast-paced song. Actually, this is the shortest one on the album, as the track consists of this song and a 'hidden' Discharge cover. All in all, this is a rather useless way to close out the record.

With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness is a few steps below the debut L.P. while still being far above the material that followed it. There is a brilliance on display, here, that was lost in later years. I will credit this to Alf Svensson, as this album marks his last one with the band. At any rate, if you don't already possess this album, see to it that you rectify the situation.