Monday, December 31, 2012

Necrophobic - Unholy Prophecies (1991)

Necrophobic's third demo, Unholy Prophecies, was recorded in Sunlight Studios and released in early 1991. As with the last tape, it includes three news songs, all of them later appearing on the band's first full-length. Though only one year had passed, there are several noticeable changes, this time around. There are new members and a somewhat different approach to the songwriting, making this a bit of an odd recording, so some extent.

Musically, the style seems to possess more similarities to the other bands in the Swedish Death Metal scene. There are less Thrash riffs, with more emphasis on the typical mid-paced riffs that were being used by a lot of bands around this time. "Sacrificial Rites" even begins with a slower section that really works against the rest of the song, thankfully left off when they recorded The Nocturnal Silence. The songs are definitely slower than on the previous demo, though not without some fast moments. David Parland's lead solos are still the highlight of the music, as the nocturnal vibe conveyed by these melodies really adds to the atmosphere and leaves you wanting more. The new vocalist is not so different from the previous one, so the same guttural style is employed here and is nothing particularly special. His voice suits the music, but a raspier approach would have accentuated the darker feeling a bit more. This was proven to be true by is replacement. Also, this appears to be the beginning of the band's use of Satanic and occult themes in the lyrics.

The production is very typical for Sunlight Studio, and this is really the only time that Necrophobic had this kind of guitar tone. In a sense, this works against the band, as it makes them sound like nearly every other band coming out of Sweden at the time. Everything is very thick and the sharp edge from Slow Asphyxiation is completely lost. Only occasionally do guitar melodies cut through this and rise above the fog, so to say. It's not entirely bad, but Necrophobic's style was different enough from many of their peers and this should have been capitalized on. Instead, this recording almost seems to try forcing them into the same mould as the rest.

Unholy Prophecies is a decent offering of old school Swedish Death Metal, and definitely fits in with a lot of the other releases that were coming out of there at the time. However, it fails to really showcase the full potential of Necrophobic as the songwriting and production do little to make the band stand out. In fact, it seems to be working toward the opposite effect. If you want to hear quality Death Metal and have an interest in the band's early period, this is definitely worth checking out. However, these songs are only a shadow compared to how they would sound on The Nocturnal Silence.

Necrophobic - Slow Asphyxiation (1990)

Formed in 1989 by David Parland and Joakim Sterner, Necrophobic was born around the same time as better-known bands such as Entombed, Unleashed and Dismember. However, the similarities between these bands were not that great, with Necrophobic taking a darker approach from the very beginning, even before eventually straying into Black Metal territory. The band's second demo, Slow Asphyxiation, was released in early 1990 and shows a band that has already developed into a force to be reckoned with.

Musically, the three songs on this demo do well to represent a mixture of various '80s influences. At times, this is almost reminiscent of the first Merciless album, with a decent amount of thrash riffs mixed in with the more traditional Death Metal passages. All of the tracks start out a little slower than the end up, building in intensity as they go along. The old Slayer influence is clearly heard throughout this demo, with hints of Mercyful Fate as well. The songwriting is very strong, especially considering that the band was still fairly new. The transitions are very smooth and every flows well. The riffs are very intense yet never getting to the point of being sloppy or out of control. The drumming does well to try to keep up with the speed of the guitar riffs, never falling behind or losing focus. Parland's solo work is amazing, showing the cold and nocturnal style that he would continue to develop, leading to the band's first full-length. The intro to the title track is particularly impressive and does well to create a dark atmosphere. This aspect really sets Necrophobic apart from many of their peers, and one has to wonder why they were not given more attention at the time. The mixture of Death and Thrash is done very well, creating a nasty and dark feeling. The vocals work well, too, being a bit on the deep side but not so much that anything is really lost. Zander's voice suits the music, despite not being on the same level as Anders Stokirk.

The production is not bad at all, really. It has a somewhat rough sound, but is clear enough for everything to be heard. Considering that it is a Death Metal demo from 1990, the sound is actually good. It isn't too far behind some of the full albums that were being released around the time. What some may notice is that it lacks the typical buzzsaw guitar tone that was developing in Sweden at the time. Naturally, the musical similarities between Necrophobic and others in the scene were not numerous.

Slow Asphyxiation is a solid slab of old school Death Metal and a good example of how this style branched off from Thrash. Rather than getting mixed up in the retro craze that has been going on for the last few years, with so many new bands popping up and trying to play this style, listeners would be well advised to first seek out the original demos and albums that were spawned in the old days. It is too bad that Necrophobic didn't manage to record a full-length sooner than they did, as they might have achieved wider recognition, which they absolutely deserved. The tracks from this demo are available on the Satanic Blasphemies compilation, so if you don't already own this cassette don't bother paying a fortune for it.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Watain - Go Fuck Your Jewish God (1998)

Go Fuck Your Jewish God is the first demo from Watain, released in 1998, not long after the band formed. It is quite evident, from this recording, that the band had not yet found their style. The Mayhem and Dissection influences can be heard, though it seems as if there was also a strong Darkthrone vibe as well. The result is sort of a generic mixture that hardly goes anywhere. Saying that this is a very mediocre release would be a generous compliment.

The production is horrible, even for a Black Metal demo. At times, it is comparable to some of the LLN releases, sounding as if the band was playing in a different room from the recording equipment. There is a distant and muffled quality to much of the demo, and it lacks a lot of clarity. The guitar melodies do manage to cut through and to be a bit more audible, at times, but it is all still somewhat scrambled. Occasionally, it even seems like the drums disappear altogether. That is probably a good thing, as the drumming is a bit overactive at certain points, such as "The Mightiest of Maledictions". The volume goes up and down at various points, which is also annoying and distracting.

As for the material itself, there is really nothing special going on here. The songwriting is not all that solid, as one might expect from a group of teenagers making their first attempt at Black Metal. Though there are some decent riffs, here and there, the overall arrangements are haphazard and lack consistency. "When Stars No More Shine" is a good example, as the main tremolo riff is pretty good but the thrash part in the middle is about as generic and out of place as it gets. "On Horns Impaled" sounds much more inspired by Dissection in this form as opposed to the version on the full-length. In the case of the cover of Darkthrone's "Unholy Black Metal", it is really amazing how badly they ruined this song. It should have been rather simple to pull off, yet it sounds like complete trash. The vocals are boring and nothing compared to what they would be like on Rabid Death's Curse. Erik utilizes some deeper vocals, from time to time, that don't fit in at all.

If Watain had disappeared after this demo, no one would have ever heard of them. This is not the type of recording that would have left people wanting more and being disappointed that the band had vanished into obscurity. As a stand-alone release, Go Fuck Your Jewish God is entirely without value. This is only interesting due to the fact that Watain continued on and actually made some good albums, so people naturally want to go back and see where it all began. If you are seeking something with real merit, skip this. It is not worth the time.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Vlad Tepes - Celtic Poetry (1994)

Celtic Poetry is the second official demo from Vlad Tepes. For those unaware of this band, they were one of the best-known members of the French Black Legions, and for good reason. Along with Mütiilation, they created some of the best music to come out of this scene, and this 1994 demo is no exception. Regardless of the raw and under-produced sound, this is superior to a great majority of Black Metal albums being released for the past decade or more.

All of the songs on this tape were later recorded for the March to the Black Holocaust split album, with Belketre. As one might imagine, the versions featured here are a bit rougher, in every sense. Naturally, the production is more raw and distorted. The guitars possess somewhat more of a grating sound that on the later recordings, or even the next demo, for that matter. The bass adds to the maelstrom of hatred with an ominous rumble. The drumming is quite buried, but still audible. The vocals are lower than they would be on the following demo, for the most part. Overall, the presentation is very grim and obscure.

Musically, the type of arrangements and variation that Vlad Tepes are well known for are present here, though maybe somewhat more difficult to discern. "Drink the Blood of the Celtic Disciple" is a massive piece, stretching for thirteen minutes, taking the listener deep into the bowels of Hell. At times, there is almost a Viking-era Bathory vibe, or maybe something more akin to Isengard. Later in the song, there is a sombre section that features a cold open-arpeggio riff, before erupting into another freezing tremolo melody. Everything flows very well, and is coherent and well thought-out. There are no unnatural transitions, despite the length and ambitious approach taken with this track. One can still detect a Rock vibe, from time to time, on songs like "Under the Carpathian Yoke", in a style similar to the old Hellhammer demos. "Misery Fear and Storm Hunger" is a little too distorted, at times, for the riffs to really come through and have the intended impact, and it is a good thing that the song was re-recorded, as it is far too good to have been left like this. Either way, it features some of the most memorable riffs of the entire demo, and some of the darkest moments as well.

The Celtic Poetry demo is not exactly essential stuff, since all of these songs appear in a better form on March to the Black Holocaust. The overall quality is below that of War Funeral March, for comparison. This is more recommended for die-hard fans of Vlad Tepes, or just those curious to see how the band progressed from its earliest days. The songs were, more or less, complete and fully developed by this point. The only difference is that the better sound of the split L.P. allowed for them to be better appreciated. In all honesty, the execution was likely a little tighter, also. This is not a bad demo, at all, but not terribly worth the money to seek out in its original format.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Vlad Tepes - War Funeral March (1994)

In 1994, Black Metal was already transforming and many bands were going down the wrong path. Tons of clone bands were beginning to appear, often making horrendous music and others were showing up on the scene and adding ridiculously inappropriate elements in an effort to set themselves apart or to seem more sophisticated than the rest. While many great albums were released that year, from the likes of Mayhem, Darkthrone, Burzum, Gorgoroth and others, things would soon deteriorate.

Yet among these newer bands, there were some that were keeping the black flame alive and doing somethng worth commending. In the French Black Metal scene, the LLN bands were spawning their own form of hellish chaos, with the likes of Mütiilation and Vlad Tepes at the forefront of this movement. The influence from the Norwegians was quite obvious, from the start, and still these bands managed to add their own character and identity to the music that they created. In the case of Vlad Tepes, there was a certain old school feeling that was present in nearly everything that they did. Wlad and Vorlok had a clear background in traditional Metal, which often influenced the structures and melodies that were used. Even from their earliest demos, such as 1994's War Funeral March, one can hear this.

Vlad Tepes rarely gets the credit that they deserve for being top-notch songwriters and very skilled musicians. They were deceptively smooth in their playing, not nearly as sloppy and primitive as Mütiilation was in those early days. The sound of this demo is quite raw and has a really ugly vibe to it. However, this is mostly due to the primitive production. The vocals are rather high and there are times when it seems as if the vocals were done right next to the tape recorder while the music was being played in another room. Regardless, the sound is not bad at all. It never reaches the point of being unlistenable, by any means. The guitars possess a decent amount of fuzz and the drums are audible, though nicely in the background.

As for the music itself, these songs are light-years ahead of what a lot of other Black Metal bands were doing around the same time and Vlad Tepes would be more highly regarded had they been able to record a proper full-length album. As one might imagine, the majority of the demo is dominated by high-tempo drumming and fast-picked tremolo riffs. Still, this is not quite as minimalist as you would likely expect. There is a good amount of variation in the riffs, often with a somewhat epic feeling being conveyed by the way the different guitar melodies are arranged. There is even a dynamic sense to the percussion, keeping things basic and yet not becoming too lazy. There are even lead guitar solos, here and there, which add a lot to the compositions. They not only suit the songs perfectly, but they serve as another reminder of the band's old school roots. At times, there is a detectable Rock vibe, but this is not as present on War Funeral March as on some other recordings. Despite creating a rather gloomy atmosphere at various points, especially some of the riffs in "Returning to My Old Battlegrounds" and "Frozen Dead Kingdom", Vlad Tepes displays a great deal of energy in most of these songs, which is something that a lot of bands completely lack. The riffs are never flat or boring, at any time throughout this demo.

War Funeral March may be one of the easier Vlad Tepes recordings to get into, as it possesses a fairly good overall sound and is bereft of the type of hissing and distortion that may make some of the other demos difficult to listen to. It really is a shame that they kept to making demo tapes and split albums, rather than going into a proper studio and banging out a couple full-lengths, at some point. These guys were easily more talented than a great deal of the bands that were getting much more attention back then, and the same holds true even compared to most of today's Black Metal bands. This demo has the grimness of an old Darkthrone album with the musicianship of early Gorgoroth. The only real difference is the low quality production. Either way, that somewhat adds to the atmosphere and in no way detracts from what is going on. At the time, there was a total rejection of the modern garbage that was being vomited forth by so many bands. Things have only gotten worse since then, but at least these old recordings still exist. There are no samples of church choirs or clips from movies, no weird effects on the vocals or stupid gimmicks in the lyrics or overall presentation. This is how underground Black Metal should sound. If you haven't heard this yet, seek it out.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Antaeus - De Principii Evangelikum (2002)

Antaeus is a French band that seems to have managed quite a following in the Black Metal underground despite the fact that their music is clearly more in tune with so-called 'brutal' Death Metal. It is rather odd that so few appear to recognize this for what it is. Their second album, De Principii Evangelikum, was released in September 2002 and displays that the band learned absolutely nothing from the mistakes of their debut record and were perfectly content to continue down the same path of mediocrity. This album makes absolutely no improvements and also ignores the fact that other bands had already done this style of music much better ten to fifteen years earlier. All Antaeus manages to do is to play their music less skillfully and with less character than their predecessors.

Musically, there is not much to say about this abomination. For whatever odd reason, Antaeus continues the worship of all things percussive, on De Principii Evangelikum. Not only does the drumming drive the album forward much more than any of the riffs, but the drums are awkwardly high in the mix, as well. This shift toward a more percussive style is one of the things that killed off Death Metal, a couple decades ago. For a band that is so desperate to be embraced by the Black Metal scene, one would think that they would have realized that the guitar riffs are supposed to come first and to be the dominant aspect of any real Metal album. Even bands like Blasphemy, that had a lot of chaotic drumming going on, still had decent riffs. Antaeus lacks this quality. Though it seems they tried to get kind of a rough sound with this, it still comes off as entirely too modern and fake. The samples don't help matters, nor does the use of effects on the vocals. The songs are incredibly short, possibly to cover up the absence of creativity or song development. It also does not help that this album often lives up to the stereotype of every track sounding the same. It's just under half an hour of blasting drums, meaningless riffs in the background and generic vocals on top of it all.

The production, as mentioned before, tries to get an underground feeling with modern technology, it would appear. It does sound pretty horrible, just not in the right way. The guitars do not stand out, at all. This may be a good thing since the riffs are just filler so that the drummer can pound away in a militant fashion and the vocalist can try his best to sound evil while in actuality he comes off as generic and uninspired, just like the music. The drumming is far too high in the mix, while most of the rest kind of blends together in a muddy pool of filth. There are certainly albums out there that sound worse, but at least many of those exhibit some kind of depth to their material.

If you want something that is roughly in the vein of what Antaeus is trying to pull off, you are better off sticking with albums from Blasphemy, Beherit, Bestial Warlust and so on. At least those bands managed to sound dark and / or evil. The songwriting here is terribly weak, the execution is lackluster and the overall effect is one of boredom. De Principii Evangelikum is an album that is bereft of any positive qualities. Just to repeat, this is not Black Metal and should not be associated with Black Metal for any reason. Even getting past that for a moment and judging this as the monotonous Death Metal that it is, it still comes up short. It fails to create any sort of atmosphere, other than one of sleepiness. Avoid this album and forget that you even heard of this band.