Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mantas - Death By Metal (1984)

1984 was a special time for Metal, in general. Several seminal Thrash bands had not long before released, or were working on, their debut albums. Black Metal was in its infancy with the likes of Venom, Bathory, Sodom and Hellhammer making hellish recordings. Then we have the birth of Death Metal in its proper form, with the Death By Metal demo from Mantas (later known as Death).

To imagine that something this extreme was already being written at a time when Dio and Ozzy were among the standard-bearers for Metal is quite odd, when put into perspective. Bands like WASP and Motley Crue were all over the radio, along with many more even softer acts. Even the Big Four were still relatively unknown at this point. Yet bands existed that were already pushing the envelope even further.

I wish I would have been old enough at the time to have listened to this for the first time with unsuspecting ears. The intense high-speed riffs already blew Metallica's debut out of the water, and Kill 'Em All had only recently outdone Venom's output in terms of speed. The guitar riffs were powerful and dark, such as the intro to "Legion of Doom", and just hellishly evil and violent in the case of "Beyond the Unholy Grave". As if the songwriting was not extreme enough, the vocals were something that were still relatively new. Kam Lee's approach must have been influenced by Cronos, yet here his voice is much more powerful. It is not as demonic or evil as what Quorthon was doing at the time, but it was certainly among the most brutal for the era during which this was recorded. Schuldiner contributes vocals for "Power of Darkness", with some of the most insane screams that he ever let out.

Out of the five songs that are on the official version of this demo, only "Evil Dead" and "Beyond the Unholy Grave" managed to see a proper recording, later on. While it can be somewhat understood that they left behind the Venom-on-speed approach of "Death By Metal", the omission of "Legion of Doom" from Scream Bloody Gore was a questionable decision. Though the production on this demo is fairly decent, the vocals really are buried and the riffs don't have even a fraction of the power that they do on Death's debut full-length. In truth, it would have been nice to hear all of these re-recorded.

This is an essential recording, not just for fans of Death, but of those interested in the beginnings of Death Metal as a sub-genre. The sound is harsh and unprofessional, which is just how this sort of music should be presented. If you are only familiar with the likes of Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy, and disappointed by the weak direction that the band went afterward, this is definitely worth a listen.