Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Judas Iscariot - The Cold Earth Slept Below... (1996)

Judas Iscariot was among one of the better-known American Black Metal bands and, for some reason, has long held a high level of respect within the underground. This is quite difficult to explain, since the band was mediocre at best and struggled even to achieve that rank. The Cold Earth Slept Below..., released in 1996 on Moribund Records, was the first full-length album from the inept hands of Akhenaten and serves as a good representation of everything that was wrong with Black Metal from the other side of the Atlantic.

The first thing that one may notice is that the musicianship is utterly horrible, even by the low standards of raw Black Metal. The guitar playing is competent enough, as even the sloppiness sort of works within the context of the style. The drumming is the most obvious flaw, and it is clear why people would be better off finding bandmates to play with, rather than trying to be the next Varg and do everything alone. The drumming is atrocious and is one of the worst elements of the whole record. At many points, it is clear that he is struggling to keep up with the riffs, but then overcompensates by getting a burst of adrenalin and speeding up too much. To make it worse, one can also hear him losing the energy to pound away at such a furious pace, as the drumming will get weaker and almost fade into the background. In this style of Black Metal, percussion is supposed to be an afterthought, being relegated to the role of keeping time and nothing more; however, it is so sloppy that it distracts from the guitar riffs and kills the momentum of the songs. The whole performance is completely laughable, and it sounds as if Akhenaten had just gotten his first drum kit about a week before the album was recorded.

The vocals are also a low point, showing a total disconnect with the music and appearing to be random, with no real thought put forth in advance. The vocal patterns are haphazard and give off a very amateurish vibe, for the most part. Instead of going along with the music in some fashion, his voice almost exists in some separate dimension, which adds to the overall lack of cohesiveness found on the album. There are some clean vocals utilized on "Reign", which actually add to the melancholic feeling and comes off as a nice touch.

"Damned Below Judas" starts out with a sombre tremolo riff, blasting drums and typical grim vocals. Right away, it sounds like a third-rate Darkthrone wannabe. The riffs are not too bad, and the sloppiness even works within the context of the style, yet the horrid drumming kills the song. The guy is all over the place, and the focus shifts away from the guitar melody (which is ripping off the title track to Transilvanian Hunger) and onto the comedic percussive efforts. All in all, it sounds like a child attempting, poorly, to emulate his heroes. There is a slower section, near the end, reminiscent of Burzum, before struggling to return to the main riff. Sadly, this is one of the better tracks on here.

The next song is about half a minute of grinding, blasting nonsense with some screaming. This is followed by "Babylon", which actually begins with a cold tremolo melody that, again, hearkens back to Akhenaten's favourite Darkthrone record. The guitar tone is slightly different, possessing more of a frozen feeling. Midway through, things slow down as a mid-paced riff is introduced. It is completely out of place and interrupts the flow of the song, but it is soon replaced by something more appropriate. These two ideas alternate for the remainder of the track, with disappointing results. Again, everything fades with random vocals tossed in at the end.

The title track is a pointless instrumental that does nothing to add to the atmosphere of the album, and is rather inconsistent itself. There is one decent riff, but it was stolen from somewhere else. More filler.

"Midnight Frost" is the best song on the record, which is kind of sad considering how flawed it is. It features a freezing tremolo riff and primitive blasting drums, along with hateful vocals that actually suit the music a bit more than usual. There is a slower section, near the middle, that attempts to add a sense of sorrow and morbidity, but Akhenaten is no Varg Vikernes and his efforts pale in comparison. However, at least he manages to keep time with the drums a bit better, during the mid-paced parts. The song returns to the faster riff, ending in a bit of chaos.

The next song follows the same formula. "Ye Blessed Creatures" sounds like a throwaway track from a Darkthrone album. As mediocre as it is, this comes off as one of the more solid tracks on here, just for the fact that it is consistent and the flaws are kept to a minimum. It is rather straightforward and does not bother to include any variation in tempo.

"Reign" starts out with a lot of random chaos, sounding like yet another filler track, until everything slows down and a morbid feeling rises from the fog and the mournful atmosphere begins to wash over you. The woeful clean voice helps add to the sense of despair, with the sorrowful riffs wailing in anguish. This song seems a little underdeveloped, though it may actually be to its benefit that it is kept short and simple. After a couple minutes of misery, the chaotic riffs return and the song ends just as it began.

Next up is "Fidelity", which sounds reminiscent of "Witches Sabbath" from Emperor's Wrath of the Tyrant. It fails to conjure up the same dark feeling, but it is pointless as the riff is abruptly replaced by a different one. After a few moments, Akhenaten decides to rip off Darkthrone's "Slottet I Det Fjerne", with no shame whatsoever. This is not even a case of the riff sounding slightly similar; this is the same riff played by a less skilled musician. The song falls apart, later on, descending deeper into mediocrity.

"Nietzsche" is the longest song on here, at nine and a half minutes. It is quite repetitious, with the same mournful riff repeating for its entirety. There are extremely brief interruptions, but these do not add anything to the atmosphere. Like most of the other tracks, this one could have used a bit more development before being recorded for an L.P. It is not as horrible as some of the others, but it gets boring after a while.

The Cold Earth Slept Below... is not the classic album that some imbeciles would have you believe. It is completely derivative of bands like Darkthrone and Burzum, with very little originality. This still had some potential, but it was ruined by the pathetic musicianship of Akhenaten who, somehow, managed to screw up raw minimalist Black Metal. There are a few decent guitar riffs here, but they all sounded much better the first time around, when heard on Transilvanian Hunger. This amateurish garbage would have been best suited for a demo cassette, as this kid obviously needed time to master his instruments and learn how to write and arrange a song before releasing a full-length. Do not be tricked into believing the hype and thinking this is anything more than pedestrian hero worship.