Thursday, December 29, 2011

Svartsyn - Aandens Melankoli (1996)

Previously known as Incitatus, Norway's Svartsyn recorded only a single E.P. before vanishing back into the fog. Released in May 1996 on Osiris Records, Aandens Melankoli strayed from the trademark Norwegian Black Metal sound. In actuality, this can be considered more of a Black / Doom release, predating Nortt by a few years. While relatively obscure, this effort succeeds in creating a dark atmosphere and should not be ignored.

This 12" contains only three songs, with "Forhekset av Nordlyset" and "Den Monumentale Horde" running together to create one musical piece. The latter is a re-recorded version of a song that appeared on the 1994 Incitatus demo. The material is slow-paced, with eerie keyboards accentuating the mournful guitar melodies. Everything seems to crawl along, with the weight of the world crushing it to the ground. The harsh vocals and the overall presentation seem to be all that connects this to the realm of Black Metal. "Mektighetens Herskere" only increases the Funeral Doom feeling, moving forward at an even slower speed and draining the life out of anyone that is unfortunate enough to hear these miserable sounds. The vocals are more of a clean chanting that is kept somewhat to the background, with limited accompaniment of a harsh voice. The guitar riffs are beyond sorrowful and convey a sense of hopelessness and torment that eliminates any trace of light or positivity. One can detect a bit of influence from Funeral's Tristesse demo, though this is quite unlike anything else that had been released up until this time.

The production is rather primitive and sounds more like demo-quality than that of a 12" E.P. There is a hissing that is ever-present throughout the entire recording, which kind of adds to the character. The drums are far off in the distance, while the guitar tone is rather raw and ugly. The poor sound also contributes to what little Black Metal feeling that exists here, along with the harsh vocals. Had this been done in a proper studio, it is likely that it would have possessed a thicker and heavier sound, which seems appropriate for the material.

Aandens Melankoli is yet another obscure Norwegian release that deserves to be heard by anyone that has an appreciation for dark and miserable music. With three songs clocking in at over twenty minutes, there is plenty of time for the sombre aura to envelope you and to corrupt your spirit. This should appeal to fans of Nortt, though it must be said that this music is actually more coherent and effective. Quite a rare release, so get your hands on this however you must.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rotting Christ - Triarchy of the Lost Lovers (1996)

The third full-length album from Rotting Christ, Triarchy of the Lost Lovers, was released on Century Media Records in August 1996. This effort takes the style that was established on Thy Mighty Contract and Non Serviam to its logical conclusion, with more emphasis on the melodic aspects. Though this is the final L.P. from the band's classic period, it may take a few listens to grow on you, due to some of the changes.

The material on Triarchy of the Lost Lovers is more mid-paced, in general, than on the previous albums. Despite the fact that those records featured a decent amount of slower riffs, Rotting Christ really takes the time to develop this aspect of their sound and to limit the use of faster parts. As a result, much of the music here has more of an epic feeling than before. This is also strengthened by the increased utilization of lead solos, which are all over the place. Rather than speeding through and doing very little, the leads do well to accentuate the atmosphere. The playing is very tight and it is clear that the band has full control over what is going on. The synth is still being employed, though still in a more subtle manner. The vocals feature much less of the higher-pitched, raspier screams than before. That is unfortunate, though the style of the music really leaves less room for this approach. Otherwise, Necromayhem sounds quite the same as on the last couple records. The drumming sounds more realistic, this time around. Though Sauron was credited on the previous albums, the percussion sounded exactly the same as the drum machine used for Thou Art Lord. While the band's other full-length albums were not exactly primitive, there was still room for straightforward tracks like "The Sign of Evil Existence". Here, nearly every song is much more thought-out and rather complicated, with a variety of tempos and riffs. The music features similar doom-inspiring riffs as those found on Non Serviam, just less stripped-down and more melodic. There are still a good number of the band's trademark staccato riffs, though employed at a slower pace. Between the songwriting and the mix, itself, this album has more of a cold feeling as opposed to the warmer feeling of its predecessor. The end result is strong material that holds up, over time, with unforgettable melodies that are difficult to shake. "King of a Stellar War", "Snowing Still" and "One With the Forest" are some of the best examples and serve as highlights of the album.

The production is one of the things that may turn some people off, perhaps as much as the title itself. It is much clearer than on the band's previous material. In truth, it is a little over-produced. However, with the style of music that is presented on Triarchy of the Lost Lovers, it is not as if it would have benefited that much from a necro sound. Given that the music is so much more melodic and epic than on the earlier works by Rotting Christ, the production is rather appropriate. The guitars dominate the soundscape, while not really being pushed too high in the mix. While each instrument can be heard very easily, the riffs are highlighted and the rest is obviously there to support the guitars, instead of distracting from them. The overall sound is more dynamic than the last album, which sounds sort of flat by comparison.

Triarchy of the Lost Lovers is a solid record. It sacrifices speed and intensity for melody and an epic feel, which seems like a natural progression from the last couple of albums. With this release, there is no shift in style; rather, the band's sound has evolved and certain elements have grown in prominence. For the most part, all of the songs are pretty consistent and carry their own weight. This is the last Rotting Christ album worth getting and should appeal to fans of Thy Mighty Contract and Non Serviam, as long as you can get past the slower pace and the more polished sound. There is an absence of any type of dark or evil atmosphere, but this L.P. possesses a character of its own that makes it a unique addition to the band's discography. Give this a chance.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Deicide - Serpents of the Light (1997)

By 1997, it was quite evident that Glen Benton was very serious about serving the will of his evil master. The only thing was that his master was not Satan, but the almighty dollar. Deicide's fourth full-length album, Serpents of the Light, was released in October of that year and was even more accessible than their previous effort. This, combined with the fact that they embraced the Black Metal trend that was hitting American shores that year, and it was very clear that the band was merely a vehicle for the four members to line their pockets, instead of possessing any true desire to spread the message of Hell.

Such an assertion is backed up by the poor songwriting. Now, in many ways, this is more enjoyable than Once Upon the Cross. The overall pace is faster, though the music is not lacking in the memorable groove parts. It still has a rhythmic feel, very much driven by the percussion and vocal patterns that follow closely along. While there are certainly more fast riffs than on the last record, none of them really have a feeling of darkness or evil. Deicide never had much in common with the early Death Metal bands, so it is not as if they lost that type of atmosphere. However, at least on their first album there was an aura of evil. Serpents of the Light is somewhat gloomy, but that is about it. Some of this may be due to the droning riffs and the melodic lead solos that do their best to give some kind of life to the songs. The vocals are even more boring than before, getting deeper and more generic. Furthermore, the vocal patterns are fairly uniform, throughout the whole album. The lyrics are basically interchangeable, in structure and content.

Speaking of the lyrics, it seems that there was some sort of shift this time around. Most of the songs carry a strong anti-Christian sentiment, which is expected. However, there really is nothing Satanic about this. The whole approach is more reality-based and ends up coming across rather tame, especially compared to a song such as "When Satan Rules His World", which was on the last L.P. There is one track that sticks out, which deals with things from a different perspective. "The Truth Above" deals with the topic of mankind coming from aliens, maybe because the band spent a little time listening to Hypocrisy's The Fourth Dimension or Abducted. It does show a little development in lyrical themes, and ends up being on of the most interesting songs, musically, as well.

The production is the main point of different between Serpents of the Light and Once Upon the Cross. While the latter was boring and typical, resulting in a flat and uninspired sound, the former appears to take some influence from Black Metal, which was becoming popular in the states around the time this album was being worked on. The guitar tone is thinner and has a sharp sound instead of the blunt tone from the previous record. Everything is more crisp, though the vocals really sound out of place with this sort of production. It would have made more sense for Benton to return to his earlier style, emphasizing the higher-pitched parts and leaving the deeper stuff for other bands.

Serpents of the Light is the last Deicide album worth bothering with. Really, the first one is the only one that is essential, while the three that follow are merely for those that need a bit more from the band. This was the final release to have any real continuity, before the guys kept trying to reinvent themselves or figure out how to recapture what they lost many years earlier. This is not really recommended as, by this point, the band's act had grown stale and watered-down.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Deicide - Once Upon the Cross (1995)

Once Upon the Cross is the third full-length album from Deicide, and displays a certain amount of regression in musical style. Released in early 1995, this is the sort of record that works well as an introduction to Death Metal, due to its accessible nature. Though not an awful release, this record marks the beginning of Deicide's decline and the point where the band became a caricature of itself.

The material is very average and boring, at times. None of the riffs possess even the slightest hint of evil or darkness, a far cry from the band's self-titled debut. The songwriting is very simplistic, when compared to Legion, and some have intimated that the change in direction came as a result of the previous album being too much for many listeners to wrap their brains around. That does not seem too likely, since their sophomore effort was not as complex as some believe. Whatever the reason was, Once Upon the Cross would appear to revert back to the band's original path, yet it would be unfair to put this anywhere near the first record. For one, the music rarely ever moves at a decent pace; everything seems to drag a bit. There is no intensity to the playing. So, without any energetic feeling or dark atmosphere, the only thing that prevents this album from being completely ignored is the fact that it is rather catchy. That is not a quality that is really desired within Death Metal, but it is safe to say that is the main reason why people continue to listen to this. It is very rhythmic and the vocal patterns are easy to digest as they follow along with the main riffs, more often than not. Benton's style is even deeper than before and it is at this point where he really begins to lose his identity and to sound like most other generic Death Metal vocalists.

The lyrics are, of course, concerned with Satanic and anti-Christian themes. Naturally, it would not be Deicide without a great deal of disdain shown for Judeo-Christian mythology, which ties in well with the cover art that depicts a bloodstained sheet over a disemboweled Christ. The band's lyrics were never all that intelligent or articulate, yet something about Once Upon the Cross comes off as less serious. The thing is, as long as the song titles are more creative than "Kill the Christian", the actual content would matter a little less. I would be lying if I said this was not all sort of appealing as a fifteen-year old, when this first came out, but it wore thin quite quickly.

As for the production, it sort of matches the lethargic pace of the music. The guitar tone is thicker and goes along well with the beefed up bass and drum sound, along with the deeper vocals, in creating a dense and heavy sound. Everything is a little too polished and this does not help the album out, much. Still, with the simplistic riffs and the catchy choruses, even the most underground production could not have salvaged this record.

Once Upon the Cross is not the worst that Deicide has ever offered up, but it is less interesting than those that preceded it and the one that followed. Most Deicide fans will probably approve of this, and it serves well as the type of album that one would use to ease someone into Death Metal. That said, it really lacks in quality and is quite laughable when compared to the band's first L.P.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mordant - Black Evil Master (2011)

Mordant's sophomore record, Black Evil Master, was released in November 2011 and was the first L.P. to come from this band since 2004's Momento Mori. Despite offering up a very solid album, firmly entrenched in '80s Speed and Black Metal, the band was plagued by line-up troubles and just could not get things off the ground. Following the Back from Hell demo, it seemed as if Mordant would finally pick up from where they left off, yet they soon fell silent again. By 2010, after years of setbacks, the band rose from the grave to begin working on their second album.

From the very beginning of Black Evil Master, it is clear that Mordant sought not only to make up for lost time but also to improve upon what came before. The songwriting shows even more '80s influences, with riffs that are reminiscent of Motörhead, Venom and Bathory, while also injecting dark and nocturnal melodies that remind one fellow Swedes such as Necrophobic, Watain and especially Nifelheim. The latter appears to be an extremely strong inspiration for Mordant, with a lot of the same type of lead melodies and just the overall approach. Musically, this is a very strong record and each song stands on its own, quite well. It is full of memorable riffs and vocal patterns, as well. Just one listen is enough for songs like the title track and "Total Inferno" to become embedded in your brain. An ominous and haunting atmosphere is present, throughout the entire album. This is aided, as well, by the vocals, which are sort of distant and raspy. The style suits the music very well, hearkening back to the First Wave of Black Metal. The same can be said of the songwriting, itself, which is a good combination of Black and Speed Metal, showing a good amount of intensity and passion in the execution. There are no blast beats and the songs rarely get up to such a speed that would necessitate them, anyway. The tempo varies, over the course of the album, with the fastest parts never exceeding that which would be commonly found on early '80s releases.

The production is not as harsh as one might imagine, based on some of the descriptions. Everything is rather clear and the sound enables the pure nocturnal atmosphere to consume the listener. Despite all of the old school influences, this sounds closer to Necrophobic's Death To All, as opposed to the recent output of Power From Hell. That said, the mix is just right and the levels are where they need to be. Being someone that really prefers guitar-driven albums, I might suggest that the drums be lowered a slight bit, but that is more of a personal preference and does not really affect the end result. The guitars are certainly loud enough to dominate the record, which allows all of the excellent riffs to be heard quite clearly. The guitar tone is thinner than on the previous album, which works better within the context of the music. Even the bass is more audible than some would expect, but mostly during the slower parts. The vocals are just loud enough to be heard well, without going over-the-top and distracting from the music.

The lyrics are purely Satanic and seem to be kind of primitive, more in line with the old school bands than their more introspective peers. This is actually a good thing, as it is a lot more suitable than the whole trend of bands that delve so deeply into Judeo-Christian nonsense is very tiring. The more straightforward approach of being possessed by the Dark Lord and raping angels is enough to show disdain for the Great Lie without confusing listeners. Many modern bands seem more into the idea of impressing others by showing off how many countless hours they have wasted by studying Judeo-Christian mythology. Mordant takes an approach that some may think of as less intelligent, but it is actually more fitting to the overall musical style and presentation of the record.

Black Evil Master is a great album of Black / Speed Metal, highly recommended to fans of the old First Wave bands as well as the likes of Nifelheim and Necrophobic. It combines old school riffs and arrangements with brilliant melodies that embody the darkness of the night and create a feeling of primitive evil. If Mordant is able to follow up on this, they just may build enough momentum to become as well-known as many of their Swedish brethren. If you liked Momento Mori, you will enjoy this even more. Get this now.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Shining - Submit to Selfdestruction (1998)

Released in May 1998, Submit to Selfdestruction is the first official offering from Sweden's Shining. This E.P. contain two songs of Depressive Suicidal Black Metal, according to many. It would be difficult to really label this as Black Metal, considering the total absence of any sort of evil or Satanic vibe. This would be better described as Dark Metal or even blackened Doom, before putting it into the same category as such albums as Under the Sign of the Black Mark, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas or Under a Funeral Moon.

Musically, this bears some similarities to the works of actual Black Metal bands. One can easily detect influences from Burzum and Strid, though the most notable inspiration for this had to be Bethlehem. The vocals, in particular, seem to try mimicking the type of tortured screams found on Dictius Te Necare, or even Varg's early releases. This is also, probably, the weakest element of the entire release. Niklas's performance is laughable, failing to convey any real feeling, and coming off as very childish and pathetic. The material features a lot of tremolo riffing with slow-paced drumming underneath. This really has nothing to do with any other Swedish band, taking a good deal of influence from the Norwegians, instead. There are parts that include clean guitar and spoken word passages, which is an obvious nod to the band's German heroes. The two songs of this release are not very good, but they have their moments. "Endless Solitude" boasts a mournful guitar melody, late in the song, that is actually kind of memorable. The title track is less engaging, until things slow down during the latter half. Even then, it fails to truly pull the listener down into a realm of utter misery and sorrow.

Regarding the production, it is really poor and serves as a detriment to the music. The already-weak vocals are buried in the mix, though that may have been to hide just how awful they were. In addition, the percussion is much to high and distracts from the guitar melodies. For something that was attempting to be a part of the Black Metal movement, there is no excuse for the guitar to be taking a secondary role while the bass and drums are featured so prominently. More or less, everything is able to be heard, but the lack of emphasis on the guitar limits the potential that this effort possessed.

Submit to Selfdestruction is an average E.P. that is fairly consistent in its inability to create a really sombre atmosphere. One can clearly see what Shining was going for, but they were way off the mark with this one. The material presented here displays no sense of originality or sincerity; rather, this is merely the product of children that were trying to imitate other bands that they liked with no real understanding of how to create something meaningful. Avoid this band, altogether.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Merciless - The Treasures Within (1992)

The Treasures Within is the sophomore effort from Sweden's Merciless. Though recorded in 1991, its release was delayed until late 1992. At a time when many bands were following up with a new album each year, things like this may have contributed to the fact that Merciless ended up being much less known than many of their inferior peers. However, punctuality was not the only problem that plagued this record.

The production does not suit Merciless, at all. Despite the material possessing a more pronounced Death Metal vibe, it was a mistake to opt for such a sound. The guitars lack the raw and overpowering feeling that was present on The Awakening. This is not for a lack of intense riffs, but simply due to the poor mix. Rather than the guitars dominating and possessing the power to reach out and tear you limb from limb, it comes off as rather restrained. The drums are a little too loud and sound less powerful, for some reason. The overall sound is kind of similar to Tiamat's Sumerian Cry, but they did not go for the total Swedish Death Metal production with buzzsaw guitars and so on.

The arrangements are much more complex than on The Awakening. While there are a great number of similarities, The Treasures Within is really a completely different entity. While the album is still built on top of a foundation of Kreator-inspired thrash riffs, the songwriting is less straightforward and includes a lot of mid-paced Death Metal riffs. There are a lot of tempo changes, something that was less prevalent on the first record. The atmosphere is less aggressive, which is quite clear on the re-recorded version of "Dying World". Rogga's vocals are still as venomous as ever, which is one of the best things about this L.P. Between the throat-shredded vocals and the leftover thrash parts, this record is still easily enjoyable, albeit to a lesser degree.

The Treasures Within is a solid record, though it fails to reach the same level as its predecessor, due to the combination of less consistent songwriting (or a shift in style) and the odd production. Had Merciless maintained their thrash-heavy style and avoided the growing Death Metal trend, they may have made more of an impact with this album. Either way, it is worth picking up.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thou Art Lord - Apollyon (1996)

Thou Art Lord should have been one of the elite bands of the entire Hellenic Black Metal scene. Their 1994 debut album, Eosforos, was one of the best record to ever come out of that region. Unfortunately, the band failed to properly follow up on this offering. Released in 1996, Apollyon simply does not capitalize on the momentum of their first album. This was a critical juncture in the band's career and their inability to deliver when it counted may have had something to do with the fact that their sophomore release was followed by six years of inactivity.

Musically, Apollyon is very inconsistent. Whereas the first album flowed well and maintained the same style, throughout, this one is all over the place. Songs like "Hate Is Thicker Than Love" and "Experimental Magic" are fairly straightforward and carry on the Hellenic Black Metal style, quite well. The former is actually a very intense and memorable track. However, some of the material sounds as if it was performed by a different band. "Prelude to the Apocalypse" seems like Thou Art Lord's take on Unleashed-inspired Death Metal. "He Who the Gods Hath Feared" is an esoteric instrumental piece, that really has nothing to do with the overall vibe of the album. "Societas Satanas" is dominated by a Black / Thrash feeling that would have fit in better on a Zemial record, though it is infiltrated by clean vocals and annoying keyboards. The final tracks, "Moonscar" and "In Blood We Trust", demonstrate a Celtic Frost influence that is not heard elsewhere. Of course, there are more typical Hellenic riffs mixed into most of these tracks, but there is nothing consistent about the style or quality of the material. Not only would one have a difficult time in determining whether or not all of these songs belonged on the same album, but it is even harder to tell that it is the same band that recorded the brilliant Eosforos.

The production is a little more harsh, lacking the thicker sound that was found on the previous album. The guitar tone is thinner and more dry, which adds kind of a sterile feeling to the music. In a way, it sounds rather hollow. This is further complicated by the fact that the drum machine is much more obvious than on the previous release. It is still underground and tracks like "Experimental Magic" actually benefit from the sound, but it is too much of a departure from the band's previous work. Not only is the material weaker, but the production comes off as if it is trying to emulate the northern sound, to an extent. The problem is that the songwriting does not really support this type of approach. There is an overall inconsistency that plagues the album, as if the songs were recorded during different sessions.

Apollyon features a few really good songs that are certainly worth hearing, yet the rest of the material is so poor that it is impossible to recommend this album unless you find it for only a couple dollars. It is unclear what Thou Art Lord was attempting to do with this record, but it is safe to say that they failed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Obituary - The End Complete (1992)

In 1991, Obituary returned to the rotten halls of Morrisound, in Tampa, to record their third full-length album. Produced by the inept Scott Burns, The End Complete was released in April 1992 on Roadrunner Records. While this is not a bad album, it was pretty clear that the band had reached the end of their creativity. Commercially speaking, this was a very successful release for Obituary and for Death Metal, in general. However, that does not reflect the quality of the material presented.

Musically, The End Complete offers nothing new and serves only to rehash the material from Slowly We Rot and Cause of Death, while lacking the vicious aggression of the former and the epic nature of the latter. Some of this may have to do with the playing style of the returning Allen West, which is more straightforward than that of James Murphy. His solos still possess character, much moreso than what a lot of other Death Metal bands were doing, but just lacks something when compared to Murphy's work. The riffs and arrangements are exactly what one would expect from Obituary, though slightly more simplistic than before. This may account for the high volume of records sold, as anything that is easier to digest will appeal to more people. Not surprisingly, the Celtic Frost influence seems to have increased, during the songwriting process. There is an abundance of heavy, mid-paced riffs that would make Tom Warrior proud. John Tardy's vocals even seem somewhat streamlined and restrained when compared to those of the last record. While The End Complete is solid, one gets the feeling of having heard all of this before, thus the material is unable to make the same kind of impact. The overall feeling is kind of dry, rather than the gloomy atmosphere that pervaded its predecessor.

The production features the same problems possessed by most Death Metal albums that were recorded at Morrisound, particularly the ones handled by Scott Burns. That guy sure knew how to drain something of any individual character that it may have had, otherwise. While the guitar tone is somewhat different than on the previous album, sounding more in line with the old Celtic Frost releases, it is still rather sterile and generic. Most all of the albums recorded in that studio came out with a very similar sound, which was a disservice to each band that got this horrible treatment. Then again, it may be their fault for going there in the first place. Either way, The End Complete could have been salvaged had the band opted for a different studio and gotten more of a raw and old school sound.

The End Complete is a solid, if average, Death Metal album and should please most Obituary fans. Just realize that everything here had already been done better on the previous albums. With this release, the band ended their time of relevance and soon descended deeper into mediocrity. Nonetheless, this one is worth a few listens.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Deicide - Legion (1992)

Not too long after acquiring Deicide's self-titled debut album, I found myself eager for more of the same and ended up returning to the record store and buying Legion, their sophomore effort. It seems that a lot of people had difficulty adjusting to this offering, as it was far more technical than their first album; however, I seemed to appreciate it with no problem. At the time, I liked the intense and brutal approach, though the primary attraction came from the blasphemous and Satanic sentiment that was present in each track. At the time, I was finishing the process of killing any expectations that certain relatives had, regarding religion, and bands like Deicide and Slayer helped in some odd way. After burning a bible that was given as an insulting Christmas gift, Legion was among the albums that filled the rest of the night as I 'cleansed' myself of even having to touch such filth.

Released in June 1992 on Roadrunner Records, this album represented somewhat of a departure from the style present on their first L.P. The songwriting is much more complex, to a degree, though the truth is that it is still as simplistic as ever, in other ways. The music is much more percussive than on the first record, resulting in the drumming becoming as prominent (if not moreso) than the guitar riffs. While the Hoffman brothers unleash several fast riffs, the drums rarely follow along at top speed; rather, Asheim spends more time playing around with the double bass. In fact, blast beats are found few and far in-between. This can be frustrating for listeners that continue waiting for the band to pick up the tempo. The guitar riffs rarely ever get an opportunity to stand on their own, as there is never a moment where the double bass is not filling up space where it really is not necessary. "In Hell I Burn" may be the most enjoyable song on here, since things actually speed up during the verses. As well, "Revocate the Agitator" maintains a fairly fast pace, though it is not entirely bereft of the more useless passages. The lead solos are very short and seem to be tossed in out of obligation, rather than to add anything to the songs, taking an influence from Reign in Blood. There are evil riffs, here and there, such as in "Repent to Die", but the potential is totally wasted. One can still tell that it is the same band, for whatever that is worth. The vocals represent another problem, as Benton opted to utilize a much lower pitch than before, killing off one of the best elements of Deicide's sound. He still employs the higher-pitched growls for the over-dubbed parts, but it is not quite the same. His voice sounded much more evil in the past, while his sound on Legion is more akin to that of an angry bear. Many of the vocal patterns are too catchy, like "Dead But Dreaming" and "Holy Deception".

The production is a source of complaint, as well. This sounds far too modern and clean, which matches the cover art, quite well. The percussion is way too high in the mix, though that may be somewhat necessary due to the poor songwriting that makes the drumming such an integral part of the music, instead of focusing on the guitar riffs. The overall tone of Legion is much less serious than the band was striving for, partially due to the bass and drums being so loud, which creates an almost comical effect. The guitars never stand out enough to really make much of an impact, which is as much of a flaw of the production as it is of the songwriting.

Legion is an average album. It is not terrible, but it really is a good example of how Death Metal was transforming, at the time. Already in 1992, bands were moving away from the dark atmosphere and guitar-driven material and opting for a brutal and modern sound, deep vocals and overpowering percussion. If you are into Satanic Death Metal in the vein of the early albums from Hypocrisy and Necrophobic, this should suit you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Obituary - Cause of Death (1990)

Released on Roadrunner Records, in September 1990, Cause of Death is the second full-length album from Obituary. Recorded and mixed at Morrisound Studios, this L.P. featured two new members, with James Murphy (freshly ejected from Death) and Frank Watkins replacing Allen West and Daniel Tucker on guitar and bass, respectively. The horror artwork used for the cover matches the atmosphere fairly well, though label mates Sepultura initially planned to use it for their 1989 release, Beneath the Remains. The band's sophomore effort took the intense and morbid approach of Slowly We Rot and added an epic quality that few others dared to attempt. The end result was a memorable record that stands as a classic of American Death Metal.

My first exposure to Obituary was through the track "Chopped In Half", which was only the tip of the iceberg when one thinks about the incredible songwriting found on Cause of Death. Some months later, I saw a kid at school with an Obituary shirt and started talking music. Since he lacked any real knowledge of Thrash, I ended up trading him a mix tape that featured a lot of Testament songs in exchange for a dubbed copy of Obituary's second album. The cassette hardly left my tape player for the next several months, as it completely killed most of the Death Metal that I possessed at that time, with the exception of the early efforts from Death and Morbid Angel.

From the opening moments of "Infected", the epic atmosphere begins to unfold. Some of it has to do with the intros and outros that are included in many of the tracks. This adds something to the overall vibe, but also connects the songs in such a way that they really seem to be pieces of a greater whole and flow well from one to the next. James Murphy's lead solos also have a lot to do with the atmosphere, coming off as much more ambitious than what his predecessor was capable of. John Tardy's sickening vocals sound possessed and filled with a deathlike hatred. The material is quite dynamic, with a good deal of variation in the tempos. This is done in a natural manner, as the songs develop and draw the listener in. One can easily hear the strong Celtic Frost influence in many of the crushing, mid-paced riffs. These, typically, lead into faster riffs that sound more inspired by the likes of Slayer. Of course, they go so far as to record a cover of "Circle of the Tyrants", from The Emperor's Return. Due to the style of songwriting, this fits into the album quite well and many may not even notice that it is a cover song, since it blends in so well. However obvious the bands heroes may be, there is still a sense of uniqueness to the songwriting that belongs to Obituary, alone. The band absolutely had its own identity by this point. Unlike many of their peers, they often let the music do the talking for longer periods of time than what many would consider normal, with tracks like the updated version of "Find the Arise" and "Dying" almost seeming like instrumentals due to the sparse vocal contributions. The feeling conveyed is like walking some ancient graveyard, with an eerie fog hovering over it and the moon prominent in the night sky. Yet something is not right, as many of the graves and crypts are open and the stench of death is ever-present. The melodic solos sort of give things an otherworldly aura, as if this realm of decay is inhabited by some malevolent force. There is a gloomy feeling and a sense of dread that chills your skin, at times. The material on Cause of Death is haunting and memorable, featuring some of Obituary's best work.

The sound is pretty clear while not being overproduced, at all. Having been recorded at Morrisound, this album possesses a very similar production to nearly every other Death Metal album that was recorded there, around the same time. During the faster parts, one could easily exchange the riffs for a similar piece of a song from Spiritual Healing, Deicide, Harmony Corruption, The Ten Commandments or any number of others and one would be hard-pressed to notice. While the band may have benefited from going to a different studio, the sound does not do much to damage the impact of the music and Obituary's superior songwriting still manages to shine through.

Cause of Death is an essential slab of early Death Metal. While The End Complete may have sold more copies, it was off of the hard work put forth by Slowly We Rot and Cause of Death that it did so. The band would never again reach this level of creativity or overall quality. This material kills what most other Death Metal bands were releasing during that same year and is an absolute classic of the sub-genre. This comes highly recommended and should be a part of any self-respecting Metalhead's record collection.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Mayhem - The Dawn of the Black Hearts (1995)

Just one look at the original cover of Mayhem's The Dawn of the Black Hearts is enough for even a Black Metal novice to realize that something had gone horribly wrong with this band. During the peak of the Norwegian scene, for better or worse, many lines were crossed. Death threats were hurled against someone for the slightest offense. People were murdered, with little or no provocation. Churches were burned down, which was the most positive of these actions. And yet, despite all of this, many felt that a more significant line was crossed following the suicide of Mayhem's vocalist, Dead. Euronymous felt no sense of loss for his fallen comrade, who had succumbed to a severe depression and a morbid desire to leave this world. The band's founder simply saw an opportunity to continue building the cult-like mystique around Mayhem, taking photos of Dead's corpse (after taking the time to position him a certain way and to lay the instruments of his demise nearby, as if they were props). He then claimed that the suicide was, partially, to protest the fact that Black and Death Metal had become too trendy. Even his own bassist, Necrobutcher, was disgusted enough with this behaviour to quit the band that he had helped to form. While Euronymous, himself, was murdered before getting the chance to use the photos for future Mayhem releases, one of the pictures survived long enough to be used for a bootleg, a few years later. The compilation includes two live recordings, one from 1990 and another from 1986.

The first recording was done in Sarpsborg, Norway in February 1990, which was about nine months prior to the material that is on Live in Leipzig. This performance is the main focus of The Dawn of the Black Hearts, as it features the classic Mayhem line-up of Dead, Euronymous, Necrobutcher and Hellhammer. The set list is exactly the same as that of the aforementioned live album, except for the absence of "Pagan Fears". Otherwise, all of the same tracks from Deathcrush and the upcoming full-length, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, are present and in the same order. The sound quality is lower, to an extent, though this actually allows one to get a slightly different perspective on Mayhem's live shows, from this period. Whereas the vocals and drums were the loudest elements on Live in Leipzig, everything is buried at an equal depth, here. The guitars seem thicker and more powerful, rather than the thinner sound of the later recording. As bad as the production may seem, it is still superior to the majority of the offerings from the LLN bands. It may take some time for your ears to become attuned to the necro sounds; however, once you make this adjustment, the dark and morbid atmosphere consumes you and takes you back in time to a special period in the history of Black Metal.

Regarding the actual execution of the material, it does seem a bit more primitive, in some cases. It could be due to the poor quality of the recording, but it sounds as if the drumming is sloppy and inconsistent, as if the songs had not been fully worked out. Thankfully, the guitar playing holds everything together and gives the music a sense of structure. It is odd to think how influential Mayhem was, yet few in Norway cared to utilize the serpentine lead solo style. While the slower tempos utilized on the Deathcrush material helps to create an ominous feeling, the true darkness is found in tracks like "Freezing Moon" and "Buried By Time and Dust". The cold tremolo riffs, mournful arpeggios, doom-ridden bass and possessed vocals work well to create a pitch-black atmosphere. It is common for people to be idealized once they die, leading many to claim that they were far better than they actually were. This is so common that when it is actually true, as in the case of Dead, there are those that come out of the woodwork to try chipping away at his legacy with their cynicism. But those words are entirely worthless, as all it takes is for one listen to hear the maniacal and possessed fervor with which Dead approached his role as vocalist for Mayhem.

As for the other recording, it is from a 1986 performance that featured Messiah and Manheim, on vocals and drums. The sound quality is bloody awful and there are times when only the vocals and bits of percussion can be heard. The set consists of a couple of cover songs from both Venom and Celtic Frost. This is quite difficult to enjoy, even for hardcore fans. It is mostly useful just to satisfy curiosities as to what the band's live sound was, back then. Oddly, Messiah sounds much more in line with the likes of Cronos and Tom Warrior, rather than the harsher vocalists that followed him. It is too bad that this set did not include any original material, though it may have been even harder to discern. At least, with the cover songs, anyone familiar with them can more easily pick up on what is going on.

In the end, The Dawn of the Black Hearts is another significant part of Mayhem's legacy. Nearly all recordings from the band's classic era are worth listening to and showcase a group of musicians that were in their creative prime. So unfortunate that they were unable to record a full-length album with this line-up. The older stuff is interesting as well, but certainly the less important of the two. The only real complaint would be the cover art, which cannot be considered anything less than dishonourable to anyone that had any respect for Dead. This image should not be available for everyone's eyes, definitely not for every poser on the internet to use as decoration for their web pages. Somehow, this photo makes the record seem more like exploitation than a proper tribute. Either way, all Mayhem fans should hear this, one way or another.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Necrodeath - Into the Macabre (1987)

Released in 1987 by Nightmare Productions, Into the Macabre is the debut effort from Necrodeath. This Italian Black Metal band took a bit of the old school horror atmosphere, from the likes of Argento, Fulci and Bava and combined this with musical influences that include Venom, Slayer, Bathory and Kreator. The end result is something far darker and even more intense than what Bulldozer had accomplished with their early output.

The material is varied and dynamic, featuring a variety of tempos and showcasing great skill in songwriting and playing. This possesses a raw and primitive feel, at times, while displaying more technical proficiency than some of their peers, at other points. While the album is dominated by fast-paced riffs and drums that pummel you into oblivion, there are a good number of slower melodies that create an occult and ritualistic atmosphere. "Internal Decay" is the best example of this mixture of intensity and darkness. The vocals are fairly harsh, yet still decipherable, though they take on an added distortion on occasion, injecting the music with an element of demonic infestation. There are a few instances where Ingo unleashed blood-curdling screams, as well. The only thing that would have been better would have been for him to slow things down and to not bother trying to fit in so many lyrics, during points where they did not fit naturally. There is a thick and heavy sound to the guitars, which works well to accentuate the violent and destructive aura of the riffs. The bass work bears similarities with that found on Hell Awaits, often following along with the main riffs at a frenzied pace. The drumming is fairly barbaric and unpolished, taking some cues from that found on Pleasure To Kill. While a lot of the music is straightforward, to a degree, all of the songs feature several tempo changes that keep things interesting and ensure that each track retains its own identity. There is a decent amount of Thrash mixed in here, but to label this as such would not be correct. The lead solos do well to increase the hellish atmosphere. Interesting enough, as it relates to incorporating ideas inspired by their influences, Necrodeath is sometimes able to make better use of these styles than the originators. For example, the hints of Celtic Frost that are found in "Graveyard of the Innocents". The music on this L.P. is energetic and memorable, much moreso than many of their contemporaries. While a lot of bands sacrificed this element for utter brutality, Necrodeath managed to retain the fury of primordial Black Metal while creating haunting melodies and riffs that echo throughout your mind.

The production, definitely, has an underground sound. Though each instrument is heard fairly clearly, it all tends to blend together in a thick wall, sometimes. The mix of this record favours the guitar, quite a bit, as this is the truly dominant aspect of the music. Aggressive and powerful, this mix enables the riffs to really bash your skull in. The vocals are also kind of prominent, which is a good thing since it is so much a part of the band's character. Burying either one of these would have been very detrimental to the overall impact of this album. The production is a lot more professional than that of The Shining Pentagram, yet it still retains a raw and obscure feeling. The general sound seemed to be influential itself, as a similar approach can be heard on The Awakening, by Merciless.

Into the Macabre is a classic of First Wave Black Metal and one of the real highlights of Italian Metal, period. This belongs right up there with The Day of Wrath. The only real complaint about this record is its relative short length, barely clocking in over half an hour. With such high quality material, this could have gone for another ten or fifteen minutes, easily. Then again, it is better to quit while you are ahead and to leave people wanting more, rather than dragging things out and making the experience a tedious one. For an atmosphere dark enough to rob you of sight and hellish enough for you to suffer the eternal flames, Necrodeath's first album is calling your name. Get this at once.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bulldozer - The Day of Wrath (1985)

The Day of Wrath is the first full-length album from Bulldozer, released on Roadrunner Records in March 1985. This Italian band was highly influenced by Venom, among others, and seemed to pick up the torch that the English trio had dropped and forgotten. Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon failed to capitalize on the sound that they had created and by 1985, bands like Bulldozer were no longer waiting for them to come to their senses. They decided to carry on without them, bearing the malevolent flame of Black Metal and injecting it with a renewed intensity. Their debut L.P. did well to build upon the foundation set forth by albums like Welcome To Hell and Black Metal, while showing a willingness to take things even further than what Venom were capable or prepared to do.

It begins with "The Exorcism", which is an intro that sets a dark tone with sounds that hearken back to '70s horror movies, soon exploding into a raging inferno of instruments crashing together and the screams of the damned joining in to overpower your senses.

The first song is "Cut Throat", which wastes no time in thundering ahead at a whiplash-inducing speed. The riffs are very reminiscent of the likes of Venom and Bathory which, of course, owe quite a bit to Motörhead. The vocals are harsher than most anything that Cronos had done, though not to the level of demonic possession displayed by Quorthon. The playing is very tight and the music bears an added level of intensity as a result. The overall sound is powerful and completely killed Possessed, which was released some weeks later.

"Insurrection of the Living Damned" has a more relaxed feel, by comparison, but still boasts the same type of impure riffing as the previous track. The vocals are even more distorted and this serves to increase the hellish feeling. The songwriting is a bit more epic, here, with even the vocal patterns adding to this feeling. The lead solos are more on the melodic side, rather than producing a chaotic vibe. This song features somewhat of a false-finish, as it seems to build up to an end, only to lead into a typical '80s riff that sounds familiar the very first time you hear it.

The next song, "Fallen Angel" is centered around a riff that hearkens back to "Live Like an Angel (Die Like a Devil)", though with a more intense execution. Bursting from the depths of Satan's realm, this volatile music is not without any sense of melody, greatly aided by the killer lead solos. It is here where the NWOBHM influence can be most strongly heard. This rather straightforward tune was my introduction to Bulldozer, and made a great impression.

"The Great Deceiver" starts with a mid-paced riff before unleashing another frenzied assault on the senses. The lead guitar offers some oddly upbeat-sounding melodies, at times. After a few minutes, this song kind of breaks down and possesses more of a jam-session feeling, which still works within the context of the album, especially due to the production. The mix of this record is clear enough but quite raw for a full-length effort and has a primitive vibe.

A bit of an ominous feeling is present at the beginning of "Mad Man", a song that shows the band utilizing a slightly more complex style of songwriting. The riffs are more involved and display the proficiency of the band members. The vocals are a little more harsh than on the previous tracks, sounding more demonic and the frequent lead solos work well to accentuate the sense of dread that is created by the main riffs. Late in the song, the bass lines are much more audible, though this is overshadowed by the brief teaser riff that closes out the song. One gets the feeling that Bulldozer was capable of pulling off much more, in a technical sense, but played their style because that is what they wanted to present. On the other hand, many of their peers struggled even to keep up with this type of playing, due to a lack of skill.

"Whiskey Time" is the sort of song that pleases most stereotypical Metalheads that worship alcohol and that lifestyle. The atmosphere is much less serious than the rest of the album and this comes off as filler, more than anything else.

The darkness and evil return for "Welcome Death", a mid-paced song that is built around slow doom riffs and carries a morbid feeling. This may be the gloomiest track on the whole record. Despite this, there are some more dynamic and memorable riffs interspersed with the others, along with nice touches of old school drumming. The lead solo, late in the song, slithers around you in a menacing way, sounding more calculated and lethal than some of the previous ones. The serious tone of this song makes up for the throw-away garbage that came right before and does well to bring the listener deeper down into the murky shadows.

"Welcome Death, enter in my soul
Now I'm ready, I beg your call"

The epic and morbid atmosphere is carried over into "Endless Funeral", which is an instrumental that closes out this classic album the way it should be, with a dark vibe leaving the final impression. The lead guitar gives this a melancholic vibe, as the main riffs crush any remaining sense of optimism that you may have had. While the album has many ups and downs, the listener is left at a low point and this is as it should be. This should not be taken as a joke, and certainly not relegated to background noise while idiots get drunk and party. Those that fail to take it seriously will only realize their error when it is too late.

The Day of Wrath is a classic slab of Black / Speed Metal, and Bulldozer's most glorious contribution. They would never again reach this level of quality. While that may have played a role in the band not reaching the level of notoriety that many of their peers attained, this record is essential and comes highly recommended. For anyone into old school Black Metal to not own this is a crime. This is for anyone that worships the early releases from Venom, Bathory and Sodom. Buy this, immediately.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Treblinka - The Sign of the Pentagram (1989)

Treblinka's second demo, The Sign of the Pentagram, was released in March 1989. This recording was another important step for the evolution of this band and showed them getting closer to the sound that they would possess on Sumerian Cry, under the name Tiamat. At a time when Black Metal was not so popular, as even Bathory was moving into uncharted territory, this Swedish band was keeping the black flame of burning through the unholy night.

The material on The Sign of the Pentagram demonstrates how much Treblinka had developed since Crawling in Vomits, and the atmosphere is even darker than on that recording. The Black Sabbath influence seems to have been better worked into their own sound, which helps the music sound a little more threatening. Songs like "Nocturnal Funeral" and "Mould in Hell" still retain similar sections, yet the songwriting is such that it is worked in a lot better. While the tracks consist of a variety of tempos, there seems to be more fast-paced riffs than on the previous demo, which is where the band really makes their mark. The fast riffs, hellish guitar solos and Hellslaughter's ghoulish vocal delivery all come together to create an atmosphere suitable for nocturnal rituals. The only complaint here is the weird 'blues-influenced section, in the middle of "Evilized". This was shaping up to be the best song on the demo, yet this absolutely kills the dark vibe and leaves the listener wondering what happened to their tape. This is so bothersome that I actually edited this part out of the song, as it is just completely unacceptable. Somehow, this trash managed to remain on the full-length version as well.

The production really helps with the more obscure sound of the material. The bass does not stand out as the dominant instrument, for one. The guitars are thicker and more distorted, enabling them to become more of the primary focus. Unlike the Black Metal that would be spawned in Scandinavia a few years later, there is nothing cold about this. The mix does well to accentuate the sense of doom and the lead solos are really loud and drowning in reverb, which adds to the hellish feeling. Everything sounds more cohesive, rather than the sort of distant feeling that was present on Crawling in Vomits.

The Sign of the Pentagram is not a flawless release, but it was yet another step in the right direction. Along with recordings from Bathory, Mefisto, Obscurity, Morbid and Merciless, Treblinka was proof that the underground in Sweden was doing quite well, through the 1980s. Fans of the aforementioned bands are encouraged to pick this up and give it a listen.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Merciless - Beyond the Black Door (1987)

Behind the Black Door is the first demo release from the legendary Swedish band known as Merciless. Released in the summer of 1987, this recording possesses a much different sound than what the band would develop on their following works. This is a rather important demo, as it bears more of a primitive Death Meal vibe, predating such bands as Entombed, Dismember, Unleashed, etc. Even Grave (at this point, known as Corpse), had not moved very far from their Thrash Metal roots. This release is not the highest quality among the band's output, but it established Merciless as a force to be reckoned with.

As previously stated, this material is much more Death Metal-oriented than Realm of the Dark or The Awakening, though still possessing hints of Thrash. The song structures are a bit more straightforward, at times, and the overall tone is more ominous. One of the major differences between this and the later efforts is the vocal approach. The original vocalist utilized a deeper sound, though still kind of hoarse and raspy. The riffs do not have as much depth and the songwriting, in general, is more primitive. The Kreator influence that can be heard on the following releases seems to be absent, as well. The only song on here to make it onto the band's debut L.P. is "Bestial Death", which sounded much better than this.

The production is not terrible, for a demo. The bass is easier to hear than on a lot of other recordings of this nature, though the actual bass lines do not stray from the main guitar riffs. The vocals are at an acceptable level, and the drums are just slightly higher than needed. In terms of quality, this is superior to Corpse's Black Dawn demo, but not as good as Into the Abyss, by Poison.

The first Merciless demo is rather uneventful. Behind the Black Door was, probably, more impressive at the time it was released, considering the fact that it would have stood out more back then. Listening to it now, it comes off as sort of bland and uninspired. There were plenty of other bands, in the underground, that were miles ahead of this. It may have been one of the earliest Death Metal releases to come out of Sweden, but Merciless would go on to do much more.

Poison - Bestial Death (1985)

Bestial Death is the second demo from the German Black Metal band Poison. Released in October 1985, this recording actually seems to show some attempt at cleaning up the band's sound, a little bit. Much like the rest of their material, the end result is very rough and primitive. This demo is interesting just to hear the evolution of these songs, despite the fact that the definitive versions would appear on Possessed By Hell, the November 1986 rehearsal tape.

The production is still poor, but not as raw as on Sons of Evil or those that follow. There is a claustrophobic feeling about this, lacking the space, reverb and echoes that characterize some of the other recordings. In particular, the vocals give the impression that Virgin Slaughter has the mic halfway inside his mouth, rather than just somewhere nearby. Even the guitars and percussion bear a sort of restrained quality, as if they are restricted and unable to exercise their full power. It is not too bad, but none of this reaches the same level as the later versions.

The songwriting seems a little more crude and one can tell that these tracks were still works in progress. The vocal patterns, often, are unnatural and not exactly as they would turn out later. The playing is a little sloppy, at times, and the songs just don't flow as well as they do on the recordings that come after this. Some basic structures are already in place, but it all comes off as a lot more crude than one would expect. It sounds as if the songs were still rather new, at this point, and still had some way to go.

Bestial Death is not a bad release, but it is not the greatest starting place for those new to Poison. This may be more due to personal preference than anything else, but this demo is a couple steps behind the likes of Sons of Evil or even Into the Abyss. By all means, give it a listen, but it would not be at the top of my recommendation list.

Poison - Possessed By Hell (1986)

1986 was an important year for underground Metal. Many will immediately think of such albums as Reign in Blood, Pleasure To Kill, Obsessed By Cruelty or Morbid Visions, to name a few. However, none of those releases came close to the pure evil and dark feeling of Poison's November 1986 rehearsal tape, Possessed By Hell. Recordings like this sent most bands packing for the surface, haunted by nightmares and the knowledge that they were incapable of producing something this hellish and black. While many of the First Wave bands were cleaning up their sound and moving on to pure Thrash Metal, Poison was unleashing the type of hideous Black Metal that could have only come from the very depths of Hell. This was at a time when even Mayhem were more concerned with writing songs with lyrics about splatter and gore. This obscure German band was possessed by the will of Satan, himself, and brought to the mortal realm his diabolic message.

Possessed By Hell is as raw as it gets, while still being clear enough to be discerned. The music is incredibly dynamic, which may surprise some. At times, it races along at a frenetic speed, while other sections slow things down and add an aura of morbidity. The faster parts are enough to give Bathory a run for their money, and yet the quick tempos never become an excuse for sloppiness. The mid-paced riffs cannot escape comparison to Hellhammer / Celtic Frost, and yet this is so much darker and more serious that it makes Tom Warrior's musical projects seem like joke bands. Angel of Death exhibits far more skill with the axe than some might expect, upon first listen. True, from the first moments of "Satan Commands", one may get the notion that this is going to be far more simplistic than it turns out. Virgin Slaughter's vocals are one of the real highlights of this recording, as he sounds absolutely possessed, though more demonic than human, and the utter malevolence can be felt as the venom spews from his mouth. The screams near the end of "Wake the Dead" are enough to send chills up your spine and to freeze your heart. This is so far beyond what anyone else was doing at the time, and the influence can be heard some years later, in the early work of Mütiilation. The bass playing of Incubus Demon plays a fairly prominent role, at times, with various moments where certain lines stand out from the rest or actually take the lead for a bit. Witchhammer's drumming is consistent and never goes beyond what is needed, which is a great thing considering that a lot of people were beginning to get too overactive by that time, showing off what they could do instead of sticking to what the song required. The songwriting demonstrates the ability to create a dark atmosphere by actually putting a lot of thought into the arrangement. Some tracks take their time to build up, moving along at a funereal pace and imbuing the listener with a sense of tension, then unleashing a lethal assault with intense passages that go right for the throat. It is remarkable, in a sense, since some of the material gives off the impression of being improvised, as if this was a mere jam session, yet everything is timed just. This makes the most of every opportunity to forever steal the light from your eyes, dragging you to a deeper level of Satan's dominion. The listener is tormented with feelings of doom, fear, terror and total hopelessness on this epic journey through the Kingdom Below.

The sound quality is not bad, at all, for a mid-'80s Black Metal demo. Being a rehearsal, one might expect a very poor sound, especially if acquainted with a lot of the Moonblood tapes. However, as raw and grim as this is, the production really suits the material and allows for everything to be heard, pretty well. The guitar sound is rough and sharp, though a bit heavier during the slow parts. The drumming is clear and precise and is high enough for everything to be heard quite well, yet it does not really distract from the rest. Occasionally, the cymbals are too noticeable, but this is a minor complaint. The guitar could have been slightly higher in the mix, but it is still loud enough to have the desired impact. The vocals are rather up-front, which really helps to accentuate the maniacal performance and the overall tenebrous and Satanic atmosphere of the recording.

Possessed By Hell is absolutely essential, not just for fans of Poison, but for anyone into the First Wave of Black Metal. This is probably the most evil thing to be spawned in 1986, and kills just about everything that came before. While a lot of bands wore spikes and wrote lyrics about Satan and Hell, this band seemed to be genuinely corrupted by some wicked force from the underworld and sought to spread damnation and hopelessness to the pathetic mortals. All those who so much as claim to be fans of Black Metal are urged to seek this out, at once. It may be too much for some but, then again, those people should hang themselves anyway.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Merciless - Realm of the Dark (1988)

Merciless rose from the Swedish underground at a time when the likes of Bathory, Mefisto, Morbid and Obscurity were among the only dark and heavy bands around. This was before the existence of such groups as Nihilist, Carnage or Grotesque. Released in 1988 and limited to 2000 copies, Realm of the Dark was instrumental in getting the band signed to Euronymous's label, Deathlike Silence Productions.

The material here is difficult to categorize, as this was a time when some underground bands possessed elements of several different sounds. The primary influence seems to be Endless Pain-era Kreator, which itself belongs to the First Wave of Black Metal, as well as Thrash (or, maybe, Death / Thrash). This follows along, quite well, but in an even more evil and violent manner. The riffing is like an iron fist, repeatedly punching you in the face. The drumming pummels you, senseless, and the demonic vocals add a sense of darkness to the whole thing. The music is fast-paced, for the most parts, with some less-intense Thrash riffs mixed in. The three songs that appear on The Awakening are all, pretty much the same, as even the guitar solos were fairly set by this point. The only exception would have to be "Dreadful Fate", which seems to have been sped up, later on. The only song on here that did not make it to the album is "Nuclear Attack", and one can see why. It is not as strong as the other songs and, though not bad, would have been a real weak point had they kept it. Overall, the musicianship is tight, with no signs of sloppiness to be heard. Really, one can say this this is what Kreator might have sounded like, if they had not gone soft.

The production almost suits the material even more than that of the band's debut L.P. This possesses a really good sound, given that it is a demo tape. It bears more of a raw and dirty feeling than the full-length, which works well with this kind of music. The mix is flawless, with all instruments where they need to be. The guitars are thick enough, while still having a sharp edge. The vocals come across really well, allowing the full power and vengeful tone of Rogga's voice to be felt. The sound quality is not quite on the level of December Moon or the Mefisto demos, but it is not too far off.

Realm of the Dark is a great demo release and a must-have for anyone into this sort of music. As good as The Awakening sounds, it is very interesting to hear this material in a somewhat rougher form. If you are looking for a lethal dose of '80s Black, Death and Thrash, it is all right here. While so many other bands were wimping out and going for a more polished sound, Merciless maintained a sense of rawness and ferocity that put them at the forefront of the Swedish underground, in terms of quality.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Parabellum - Sacrilegio (1987)

Parabellum is a band that should rest alongside the other pioneers of the South American Black Metal movement, such as Sepultura, Vulcano, Sarcofago and Holocausto. This cult band formed in the early '80s but only lasted long enough to produce two brief demo tapes, before fading back into obscurity. However, the evil feeling that is present on their 1987 demo, Sacrilegio, was strong enough to reach across the Atlantic and to end up in the hands of Mayhem's own Euronymous. The reason for that went beyond the darkness contained within the band's music and also included their rather unique approach.

Musically, this covers a lot of ground. At times, these songs reach a blistering speed, evoking a chaotic and hellish feeling that is hot enough to feel the raging flames, right around the corner. As well, there are brief moments where things calm down and a clean guitar provides a truly unsettling atmosphere; something that gets under your skin and haunts you in the worst possible way. The songwriting is not straightforward, in the sense that these tracks do not always adhere to the typical formula. Occasionally, they go off on their own, forging a new pathway into the heart of Satan's infernal domain. The final minutes of "Engendro 666" is a good example of this. The dark and sinister vibe of this material is such that the efforts of most of their peers pale in comparison, as it regards creating a feeling of pure evil. This is not the sort of music that engenders a simple response such as throwing up the horns and headbanging, in approval. There is something, genuinely, troubling about the sort of feelings this calls forth. The tremolo break in "Madre Muerte" is enough to send the feeble-minded over the edge, into a state of total insanity. The riffs send chills down your spine and it is clear that Parabellum is possessed by the same dark spirits that so many other bands simply paid lip-service to. Whereas most of those bands were all image and no substance, this is utterly consumed with a pitch-black atmosphere.

The production is rough and definitely befitting a demo cassette from 1987, but it is clear enough for every element to be properly experienced. The guitar tone is the most noticeable feature, as it bears a fuzzy tone that would not be utilized to a great extent until the following decade. The guitars are thin and cold, cutting through you with vile intent. Thankfully, the primary focus is on the guitar, which makes all the difference in the world. The vocals and percussion serve their purpose, but they exist only to accentuate the darkness that is awakened by the unholy riffs. The vocals are bloody possessed, as well, sounding maniacal and murderous. One can hear the level of conviction and hatred that comes across, quite well. As for the drumming, it is just high enough to be heard adequately, but does not interfere with what is going on. So many demos are mixed poorly and the percussion often drowns everything else out, but not in this case.

Sacrilegio is raw, underground Black Metal the way it was meant to be. This drags the listener to depths of darkness that a band like Hellhammer was either incapable, or too afraid, to get near. Even the mighty Mayhem was nowhere near this level of evil, back in 1987. It was recordings like this one that probably helped Euronymous realize the importance of creating a black atmosphere, rather than just trying to sound extreme. It is too bad that Parabellum did not manage to record a full-length album, as the band's potential was never truly realized. As for what they did leave behind, if you haven't heard this, it is recommended that you graduate from the beginner bands and dive into the abyss.

Sodom - Witching Metal (1982)

Witching Metal is the first demo release from Sodom, spawned in 1982. This hellish recording took the aggression of Motörhead and evil approach of Venom to the next step. Though crude, the cover art represents the sound, perfectly. The line-up of Angelripper, Aggressor and Witchhunter were among the first to step into the raging fires of Hell and to make a blood oath to Satan, himself, vowing to visit the curse of Black Metal upon the mortal realm.

The sound quality is really shoddy, with everything coming together in a wall of noise. This is the sort of production obtained when the recorder is under a bed in the next room. However, if you listen very closely and allow your ears to tune out the hissing of the tape and to really focus, it starts to become clearer. Angelripper's vocals, though muffled, still convey a barbaric fury that someone like Tom Warrior failed to ever tap into. The guitar and bass blend together, partially due to the tone, but also because of the poor quality. During the lead solos, Aggressor's work manages to slice through the noise, sounding quite similar to the axemanship of Kerry King, of Slayer. Even Witchhunter's drumming is fairly decipherable, despite everything else.

The material is very primitive and straightforward. There is a raw and hellish feeling to this, with a malevolent wrath that even exceeds that of the mighty Venom. The drumming is fast-paced, helping to carry the songs at a break-neck speed. The riffing is monotonous, at times, mostly due the the piss-poor production concealing so much of what is going on. For much of the recording, the guitar and bass join together to create a sinister rumbling that is accompanied by Angelripper's possessed ravings. Aggressor's chaotic solo work adds to the atmosphere of Hell and damnation, so much that one can almost feel the flames. For whatever reason, "Witching Metal" is the only song on here that made it onto In the Sign of Evil, though all of the material is of the same quality. However, Grave Violator's playing style would not have suited the music as well, in all likelihood.

Sodom's Witching Metal demo is a hideous and menacing slab of old school Black Metal. This is for anyone that worships the early material from Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer, etc. It may be difficult to pick up on, at first, but it is worth the effort. Forget the keyboards, female vocals and photos depicting self-mutilation. This is real Black Metal.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Poison - Sons of Evil (1984)

Released in 1984, Sons of Evil is the first demo recording from the malevolent and sinister German entity known as Poison. The sounds contained on this demo tape are not for the weak, by any means. As primitive and barbaric as a Stone Age gang-rape, this tape is possessed by total darkness and evil. This evokes the kind of hellish feeling that Venom feared to toy with and that Hellhammer simply was not capable of conjuring up.

Musically, this runs the gamut from morbidly mid-paced to intense and somewhat insane. It bears no real similarities to any of their German counterparts, such as Sodom, Destruction or Kreator. The slower parts sound very reminiscent of Hellhammer, with one very important exception: this is darker and more evil than Mr. Warrior and his cohorts ever could have hoped to be. The vocals of Virgin Slaughter are exactly what Tom should have been doing on releases such as Satanic Rites. Possessed and maniacal, at times, his demonic voice actually accentuates the dark mood of the music, rather than detracting from it. As for the rest of the songwriting, this is like a war on the senses. Primitive and violent in nature, the riffs saw through you while the drums pound your skull into oblivion. It is almost difficult to believe something so bestial and grotesque existed back in 1984.

The terrible production is one of the only real setbacks. It is not as though the sound does not fit the music, as it really does. The problem is that the material could have had much more of an impact with a proper studio sound, even if it was still raw and unpolished. The sound is on the same level as the Death By Metal demo, from Mantas, and makes the old Venom and Bathory records seem like they were done in high-dollar facilities. This is still able to be enjoyed, though things get muddled during the faster parts. It is interesting to imagine what Poison would have sounded like, had they recorded in a studio, rather than in their garage.

Sons of Evil is a monstrous offering from a band that had truly tapped into something dark and aggressive. This is what Hellhammer should have been striving for. As rare as this recording is, one must take it however it can be obtained, so do yourself a favour and seek this out now.

Destruction - Sentence of Death (1984)

Released in September 1984, Sentence of Death was the first official release from Destruction. Hailed as one of the earliest Thrash Metal records, and part of the First Wave of Black Metal, this E.P. possesses quite a legendary status. That said, it may not be as easy to digest, at first, as the initial releases from some of the other Teutonic Thrash bands.

It is a shame that I did not discover Destruction until long after I had already immersed myself into the early records from Venom, Bathory, Kreator, Sodom, Possessed, etc. Recordings such as Sentence of Death and Infernal Overkill failed to make the kind of impact that they would have and my initial impression was one of disappointment, mostly because this band just did not sound like I wanted them to and lacked the darkness and evil of many of their peers. However, once getting past these shattered expectations, it turned out that there was a lot to appreciate.

Musically, this release is quite impressive. The level of musicianship is far beyond what many others were capable of, especially as it regards the other German bands. Perhaps, that is one more reason for the more primitive approach taken by Kreator and Sodom, as there was no way to compete with the technical proficiency of Destruction. The riffs are far more intricate and the solos were miles ahead of a good number of their contemporaries. There is still a solid NWOBHM influence heard here, with an epic atmosphere similar to Kill 'Em All or Melissa. Even the most primitive track, "Devil's Soldiers", features a solo that would make an early-'80s Kirk Hammett jealous. Most of the riffs convey a sense of urgency and possess an intensity that is absolutely lethal. The vocals are the one real weak spot; that is, Schmier's voice takes some time to grow on you, sounding less serious than the likes of Angelripper or Mille Petrozza, for example. There is an upbeat kind of vibe to his vocal patterns, accentuated by the rather comical emphasis that he puts on certain syllables. Once you get used to this, however, you are in for some great Black / Thrash from the First Wave.

The production is surprisingly clear, on this E.P. The guitars possess a razor-sharp tone that cuts through you like a cold surgical scalpel and the drums pummel away until your ribs are crushed and broken. The frigid guitar sound suits the precise riffing very well and allows the listener to really appreciate the skill that is on display. The overall sound is kind of weak when compared to some other albums from this time period, but it has become part of the character of Sentence of Death. Besides, one of the great things about the 1980s was the fact that so many different bands had their unique way of doing things and also obtained various different sounds instead of everyone sounding the same.

Sentence of Death is an essential release for fans of early Thrash, as well as those more into the First Wave bands. This does not have as dark and evil of an atmosphere as some others, but it is filled with memorable riffs, haunting solos and a character that is 100% Metal. If you do not like this, you might as well trade in your leather jacket for your grandfather's sweater-vest. In other words, get your hands on this A.S.A.P.

Hellhammer - Triumph of Death (1983)

When people think of Hellhammer, most tend to hear the dark and morbid sounds of Satanic Rites or Apocalyptic Raids resonating within their brains. While those recordings were not without flaws, the 1983 Triumph of Death demo seems to have been crafted by a completely different band. Many of Satanic Slaughter's trademark riffs are present, but the overall feel is really pathetic and it is amazing that the band remained together long enough to develop beyond this poor representation of Black Metal.

There are so many things wrong with this that it becomes difficult to keep it all organized. The poor songwriting and sloppy musicianship are actually among the better qualities that this demo possesses. The vocals are so ridiculously bad that there is no way that the rest of the recording can be taken seriously. For a band so highly-influenced by Venom, there was absolutely no attempt at following in the footsteps of Cronos, voice-wise. Instead of sounding evil or demonic, Tom just sounds drunk. One would expect him to be tossing out cheap pick-up lines, rather than odes to the underworld. This almost suits the overall feel of the music, as much of it has an upbeat, poppy feel. This is most evident in the drumming. These kids really were not sure if they were out to create Black Metal or simple Punk Rock. There are far too many catchy rhythms on this demo and it kills any attempt to get into these songs. Perhaps, they were listening to too many Misfits songs, while writing this material. Even the songs that were later re-recorded for Satanic Rites lack any of the dark atmosphere that they later acquired.

The production would be a severe hindrance, if the material was worth hearing. The bass is too loud in the mix and the drums seem too separate from everything else. The guitar and vocals are buried, though in the case of the latter that may have been a good thing. Everything sounds too clean, which is almost surprising to say about a Hellhammer demo from 1983. Nothing about this sounds Metal, at all.

Fans of Hellhammer (or just early Black Metal, in general), are encouraged to avoid this at all costs. Triumph of Death is a miserable recording that will kill your opinion of this band, quite likely. Despite the classic material that they later released, this demonstrates that their true essence was something far removed from those that they imitated. If you have heard Satanic Rites and Apocalyptic Raids, then you know all you need to, regarding Hellhammer. Stay away from this.