Sunday, February 21, 2016

Edge of Sanity - Unorthodox (1992)

Edge of Sanity's sophomore effort, Unorthodox, was released in July 1992 and is considered by Dan Swanö to be his masterpiece. While some of the material is quite strong, this album is definitely inferior to its predecessor. Its running time of nearly one hour is far too long for a Death Metal album, as well, making it a bit much to sink one's teeth into. It should not be dismissed, entirely, but do not approach this with high expectations.

First impressions are often very important and is the main reason why most bands want to start out their albums with one of the strongest tracks they have. However, Unorthodox does not put its best foot forward. Rather, Swanö chose to open the record with a criminal act for Death Metal. Not even a minute into the first proper song, "Enigma", everything calms down and there is this hideous segment with clean vocals. This brief part serves to kill the small bit of momentum that was building, as well as the goodwill from the previous album. For me, it was immensely off-putting and left me with less interest in the rest of the tracks. I don't care about the story or concept of the song, there is no excuse for a Death Metal album to feature some melodic voice singing, "God gives you shelter at heaven's shore, abandon your thoughts to the mighty"... Upon first hearing this, I began wondering if Swanö had converted to Christianity in the time since the last album. Though the rest of the song is quite good, it was just difficult to get back into things, following that atrocious detour. 

As for the rest of the material, there is a small amount of decent songwriting on here. Right off, one will notice the 'improvement' in production, though it probably does more of a disservice to than anything. This time around, Tomas Skogberg was brought in to assist, and the music is a bit more powerful and less muddy. It actually borders on being a little too clear and well-produced. Songs like "In the Veins/Through the Black" and "Everlasting" stand out, slightly, but mostly for the melodic additions that were to be further explored on the following record. As well, the dark and barbaric feeling of Nothing but Death Remains is completely absent from such uplifting and optimistic-sounding riffs as can be found in "After Afterlife". Some of the tracks seem like pure filler, for the most part; "Nocturnal", "A Curfew for the Damned" and "Cold Sun", in particular. The latter was on the right path, until being derailed by unnecessary groove sections. Throughout the record, there are pretty good Death Metal riffs, along with some doomier ones, but they're often used to bridge one melodic section with the next, rather than being the prime focus of the compositions.  

However, all is not lost. The more pure tracks are those like "Incipience to the Butchery" (despite the worthless breakdown in the middle), "Beyond the Unknown" and "The Day of Maturity". The latter two mix intense, fast-paced assaults with slower riffs that give rise to an eerie sensation. These, more or less, hearken back to the more primal feeling of the debut L.P. There are traces of synth, adding a kind of horror effect, as in the past. "Dead but Dreaming" is also a pretty good track, at least attempting to create a darker feel as the album reaches the end. In this case, the melodic ending works alright since it leads into the next song. 

"When All Is Said" is the best track on this album, by far. It's slow, melancholic and possesses a similar vibe to some of the Death/Doom that was beginning to emerge concurrently. Had Swanö opted for this sort of style throughout, Unorthodox might have been a much better record. The sorrowful atmosphere created by this song would be very suitable as someone lay bleeding to death in the darkness. There is a sense of finality, appropriately enough. The riffs are oppressively crushing and there are bits of synth that accentuate the mournful vibe. It almost feels like a funeral procession, to an extent. 

On the whole, Unorthodox is a tedious endeavour. The pure and crushing Death Metal of the previous album is here replaced with too many melodic and so-called progressive elements. It ends up turning into a convoluted mess, for the most part. Even the better tracks fail to match up to such songs as "Tales...", "Decepted by the Cross" and "The Dead". Nonetheless, "When All Is Said" is a brilliant track and is worth the trouble of obtaining this album. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Edge of Sanity - Nothing but Death Remains (1991)

Released by Black Mark Productions in July 1991, Nothing but Death Remains is the first L.P. from Sweden's Edge of Sanity. The music on this record is nothing more and nothing less than pure, horror-inspired Swedish Death Metal. It is often ignored in favour of such albums as Left Hand Path, Dark Recollections, Into the Grave and so on, but it definitely has a place amongst such classics and is an essential record. 

There was a time when I, myself, fell into the same trap and disregarded this record after a few months of listening to it. The first track, "Tales...". was of course a staple of the Swedish Death Metal mix tape that I kept in my car (among many others), but I rarely came back to the album as a whole. Then, upon discovering The Spectral Sorrows, I wrote this one off for some time. It was only later that those more melodic elements wore thin and I found myself yearning for the pure death feeling of the first L.P. Nothing but Death Remains is characterized by a primitive approach and maintains a barbaric feeling throughout. The faster sections are played with intensity and a sense of urgency. These guys were definitely feeling it and not just phoning it in as so many bands have done. Just listen to the fast break near the beginning of "The Dead", for example. Here, one can really feel the forcefulness of the music making your heart feel as if it will burst from your chest. There is a variation in tempo that helps the songs come to life, with every part fitting together very well. Everything is influenced by the old school bands of the late '80s, such as Death, Pestilence and Morbid Angel. Still, there is also the more European tendency to include epic and evil doom riffs that do so well to create a darker atmosphere. As well, there is some tasteful use of synth during some of the slower parts, accentuating the feeling of horror, such as in "Maze of Existence" or the aforementioned monster of a song, "Tales...".

"You can't live forever,
But can you be dead forever?

Some have criticized Swanö's vocals for being generic, but he actually has a good sound on this record. He doesn't just seem like some guy puking on a mic, his growls are roaring and powerful at times, though somehow... undead, in a way. As if there is a level of decomposition that prevents him from always fully emitting the sounds that he is attempting, and it works perfectly with this material. The lyrics are obsessed with death and darkness, as one would expect, but with a very virulent hatred for humanity and Christian nonsense. Several of the tracks depict the hypocrisy of this religion of idiocy and express a good deal of anger toward the Great Lie.

Regarding the production aspect of this aspect, it leaves a bit to be desired. The guitars have a good sound, overall, but do not possess a similar tone to their peers. Only with the following releases would Edge of Sanity go on to adopt something more akin to the typical Sunlight guitar tone. And while there is no real problem with not sounding like the others, the job here was not necessarily so competent. There are times when the volume sort of drops out, something one would expect from a demo rather than a studio album. The bass frequencies are a bit overbearing, as well, which was something that was going on in a lot of Death Metal at the time, but just seems a little overdone. 

Nothing but Death Remains is solid, old school Death Metal in its purest form. It is full of intensity and atmosphere and memorable riffs and vocals. Though there could be minor improvements, there really is no reason to dwell on them. This is the masterpiece of the Edge of Sanity discography, not the progressive and melodic pretentiousness that came later. I vomit upon the nostalgia that clouded my mind some years back, when reviewing The Spectral Sorrows. While it's a good record, this is the one true essential piece of music from this band. It is highly recommended!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Katatonia - Brave Murder Day (1996)

Brave Murder Day is the second full-length from Katatonia, released in November 1996. Recorded in Swanö's Unisound Studio, this album demonstrates a rather significant stylistic change from the previous record. In the time that had passed, the band had apparently broken up for a while, which was the impetus behind the creation of October Tide. By the time the decision was made to resurrect Katatonia, Jonas had destroyed his throat and a new vocalist had to be recruited. Along with the new guitarist and additional musical inspirations, the stage was set for the band to enter a new phase of its existence. 

Upon first listen, it would seem that Brave Murder Day has little in common with Katatonia's earlier material. Particularly if you are one to get a CD and to check out the first few seconds of each song, it's likely that you'd end up writing this one off. The down-picked riffs that dominate much of the album represent quite a change from the monumental Death/Doom of Dance of December Souls. Unfortunately, there are no epic tracks like "Gateways of Bereavement" and "In Silence Enshrined" to be found here. It could be said that the rather powerless strumming of the guitars accentuates the overall atmosphere of the album, as it is done in such a lifeless and miserable way. The monotonous rhythms seep into your mind and begin to wear you down so that, by the time the heavier doom riffs are unleashed, you're simply crushed without resistance. In some instances, the downpicking is combined with haunting melodies that work together in creating a truly miserable and hopeless feeling, such as in "Rainroom".  Furthermore, buried in between these sections are slower riffs and melodies that hearken back to the band's earlier work. Around the 1:50 mark of "Brave", things slow down and the melancholic guitars don't sound too far from the middle part of "Tomb of Insomnia", for example.

New guitarist Fredrik Norrman fit the band like a glove, at the time. One has to wonder if his contributions to the band had anything to do with the more coherent songwriting, as the For Funerals to Come mCD, and even parts of the debut album, suffered from poor arrangements and a sense of inconsistency. One can definitely hear influences here from his collaboration with Renkse on Rain Without End. In fact, perhaps the October Tide full-length should be considered the direct predecessor to this album. The guitar tone, in general, has a lot more in common with that record than with the earlier Katatonia releases.  As for the actual compositions, there are a lot of similarities between Rain Without End and Brave Murder Day. The slower part of "Murder", for example, is somewhat reminiscent of "12 Days of Rain", while "Rainroom" and "Blue Gallery" feature comparable melodies. It would be difficult to deny that the odd interlude "Losing Tomorrow", with its clean gothic vocals and programmed drums, was not the model for the terrible abomination titled "Day". The main difference being that the latter is more clear and far less effective. Another resemblance would be the use of clean guitar bits throughout the album, such as in "Brave" and "Endtime". Indeed, the latter would absolutely have fit on Rain Without End, right alongside "Infinite Submission". Even the vocal style is rather similar. Though Mikael Åkerfeldt handled the vocals on Brave Murder Day, he seems to have modeled his performance on Renkse's deeper vocals from Rain Without End, for the most part. Still, there are times when he also utilizes a few higher-pitched growls that are reminiscent of "Funeral Wedding". 

Though this album does well to create an atmosphere of gloom and depression, it is not without its faults. Sadly, Jonas refused to be left out of vocal aspect of the album, feeling the need to soil a few of the tracks with his new-found clean singing voice. Not only was this record stained by the lackluster and pathetic track, "Day", but he nearly ruined "Endtime" and (to a more severe extent) "Rainroom" with such weak passages of quiet music joined by his whining. Speaking of weak, the original CD was sent off to the pressing plant without being mastered in any way, which apparently accounted for how quiet the CD was and the overall weak feeling of the music. While writing this, I became aware that the 2006 re-release on Peaceville has been mastered, thus giving it a louder and fuller sound. 

Katatonia may have become better at composing their songs by the time of Brave Murder Day, but some of the choices that they made resulted in an inferior outcome. Its flaws as well as the various changes that had occurred since 1993, leave this record simply unable to match the quality of Dance of December Souls. As a matter of fact, all things told, Katatonia's second offering is not even as solid as the first October Tide L.P. Nevertheless, it's not a bad album, and if you are less picky and don't mind the clean vocals (especially if you're a fan of the albums that followed this one), it is worth checking out. With a bleak and oppressive atmosphere of melancholy and despair, this record might serve as good background music while you write out your suicide note.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Entombed - Clandestine (1991)

Released in November 1991, Clandestine is the sophomore effort from the former masters of Swedish Death Metal themselves, Entombed. Unfortunately, they held that title for but a short time, despite the massive influence of Left Hand Path. The reason being that their long-awaited follow-up turned out to be a pile of filth and a major disappointment. 

There are several reasons why Clandestine fails to even hold a candle to its predecessor. First and foremost, the loss of L.G. left the vocal position in the incapable hands of Nicke Andersson. His voice is absolutely horrible and amateurish, ruining even the very best moments of this record. They could have picked out any random guy from a crowd and probably gotten a better voice. This is supposed to be Death Metal, and Nicke's pathetic hardcore shouting has no place here. Beyond this, the production is far too clear when compared to Left Hand Path. The sound is too open and the drums and vocals are both far too high in the mix. At some points, one has to wonder if it was indeed Tomas Skogsberg producing the album, or if Bob Rock took over those duties. The guitar tone is not as rough and powerful as it could have been, either. The constant use of samples within the songs is also annoying and reeks of modern stupidity.

As for the actual songwriting, there are some fairly decent riffs throughout the album, but most of the songs are pure trash. With a more appropriate production job and a more competent vocalist, this still would have been a disappointing record, very much below the standards set by Left Hand Path. Entombed clearly wanted to go against the grain in an effort to separate themselves from the many other bands in the scene that had used their first L.P. as a template for their own albums. The problem is that, instead of simply making better Death Metal, they opted to infuse the album with impure, lame influences. There is far too much groove and annoying breakdowns on here. Songs like "Living Dead", "Chaos Breed", "Severe Burns" and "Through the Collonades" are the only fairly passable songs on here and, again, they still suffer from the poor sound and the atrocious vocals. 

Clandestine is not what one would have expected to come from such an influential band, especially right on the heels of an undisputed classic like Left Hand Path. Entombed is a sad example of a band really dropping the ball. Perhaps they really didn't have it in them to write another masterpiece of Swedish Death Metal, but it appears far more likely that their artistic choices were based on trying to be different rather than fulfilling their potential. As for this record, avoid it. Outside of the Nihilist material and their first album, this band is useless. If you want to hear the true successor to Left Hand Path, simply listen to Like an Ever Flowing Stream from Dismember. It absolutely murders the rubbish found on this pathetic album.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Dismember - Death Metal (1997)

It was in August of 1997 that Dismember's fourth full-length was released, as always via Nuclear Blast. As they made the rounds, doing promotional interviews with various magazines, the main theme appeared to be that there was regret with the previous album's experimentation. The new record, simply titled Death Metal, was meant to be a return to their roots. However, the band proved unable to shake the more melodic elements and to return to their glory days, resulting in an album that fell quite short of its mark. 

Only a few songs manage to return to the more pure Death Metal style that these Swedes were once known for. Tracks like "Trendkiller", "When Hatred Killed the Light" and Ceremonial Comedy" are more straightforward, though not entirely bereft of any melody. The more abrasive production of this record certainly suits these compositions and improves upon the weak and clearer sound of Massive Killing Capacity. The playing is more intense, as the primitive riffs are pushed forward by Estby's thundering percussion and Kärki's hateful vocals. While not quite at the level of the aforementioned songs, "Bred for War" is a solid tune that shows obvious inspiration from early Autopsy. If this were an E.P. that featured only these songs (as opposed to the dull Misanthropic that preceded Death Metal), it might well have proven to be a proper return to form. Unfortunately, two of the three best songs are buried near the end of the album, while much of the rest is still filled with concepts similar to the band's previous outing. 

The most prevalent influence heard on this album doesn't seem to be Repulsion or Autopsy, but rather Slaughter of the Soul from At the Gates. Tracks like "Of Fire", "Live for the Fear of Pain" and "Killing Compassion" are more in this melodic and thrashy Gothenburg style, though oddly done better. Just as out of place are such songs as "Misanthropic" and the overly weak "Silent are the Watchers", the latter sounding like an outtake from Massive Killing Capacity. Then there are the slower and uninspired "Let the Napalm Rain", "Stillborn Ways" and "Mistweaver", the latter being the only one with any decent riffs. Unfortunately, even those were spoiled with the poor vocals.

In the end, the generic title Death Metal may be a bit misleading. Though this record is an improvement when compared to its predecessor, it by no means represents a return to the pure Swedish Death Metal roots of Dismember. Outside of a few tracks, one would be hard-pressed to connect this with such superior releases as Like an Ever Flowing Stream or Pieces. Give it a listen, but don't expect much.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Dismember - Indecent and Obscene (1993)

Indecent and Obscene is the second full-length album from Dismember, released in December 1993. It took about a year and a half for the band to offer a proper follow-up to 1991's Like an Ever Flowing Stream, and the time between albums allowed for their sound to weaken somewhat. While still a good album, this just seems to lack something. 

From the opening moments of "Fleshless", it is clear that Dismember has sort of smoothed many of the rough edges. Though it still possesses the typical Sunlight Studio sound, it seems that the band worked with Skogsberg to polish things up a bit, compared to the first record. Here, the drums are more clear and present in the mix. As well, the guitar tone is not nearly as raw or heavy as before. Matti's vocals are less monstrous and more of a shouting voice is bleeding through, with less of the harshness that he conveyed on Dark Recollections and Like an Ever Flowing Stream

As for the songwriting, the overall feeling is that they band tried to make this album more accessible, to some degree. Though there are still many solid riffs to be found on Indecent and Obscene, there are too many catchy breakdowns that really take away from the intensity of the music. "Skinfather" is very guilty of this and, to a lesser extent, the opening track. One of the other issues with this L.P. is the utilization of more rock-based parts, exemplified by "Sorrowfilled" and "Case # Obscene", as if they were trying to utilize a bit of the 'death n' roll' sound that Entombed had opted for. They do it well, I suppose, but I could really do without such elements. 

The second half of Indecent and Obscene is far superior to the first. The best moments of the album are when they revert to a more pure Swedish Death Metal approach, such as during the faster sections of "Souldevourer" and "Reborn in Blasphemy". The latter includes some rather crushing riffs and melodies that would not have been out of place on the band's debut. It's a shame that the vocals are so much weaker than even on the Pieces E.P. since these tracks, in particular, would have sounded quite good with a more hellish vocal approach. "Eviscerated (Bitch)" is another song with a more pure approach, sounding a bit similar to the opener, but minus the lame parts. "9th Circle" consists of really massive riffs that give off a doom vibe, coupled with lacerating tremolo riffs, serving as one of the best examples of pure Swedish Death Metal on this release. "Dreaming in Red" is the favourite of many, with its sombre bass lines and melancholic guitar melodies, adding somewhat of an epic feeling to the song. The faster riffs are a little too brief for my liking, but overall the song is very memorable and well put-together. 

Indecent and Obscene is a fairly good album, all things considered. It suffers from the placement of all of the weaker tracks right up front but, once you get through those (and many may not even mind the more simplistic elements that they possess), there are some very solid tracks lying in wait. While this record doesn't hold up so well when compared to previous Dismember releases, it manages to hold its own and is certainly worth a listen. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Dismember - Pieces (1992)

By October 1992, many of Death Metal's most renowned acts had completely wimped out and were mere shadows of their former selves. The likes of Entombed, Death, Pestilence and even Autopsy had already dropped the ball. Yet with the Pieces mini-CD, Dismember returned to remind the world what barbaric and cruel Death Metal was supposed to sound like. 

Though this release clocks in at only eleven minutes, it completely destroys a good amount of the albums that were current at the time. Records like An Evil Shade of Grey, Unorthodox and even Shadows in the Deep pale in comparison to this violent and powerful recording from Dismember. From the opening moments of the title track, the listener is bludgeoned over the head with massively intense riffs, crushing drums and utterly vicious vocals. At this point, Matti could still sound quite maniacal and filled with rage, as evidenced by "I Wish You Hell". There is more range to his voice, still utilizing the deeper aspects along with the raspier screams, as opposed to the neutered sound of later albums. The guitar tone is, of course, the standard Swedish "buzzsaw" sound that helped define the movement in the early days. Though similar to many other records of the time, the sound here is still a bit more harsh and raw than releases from Grave, Unleashed or Cemetary. The songs here are brief and lack the more melodic elements that were occasionally found on the debut album, while also avoiding the more simplistic groove-oriented sections that appeared on Indecent and Obscene. Yet, each song is still easily distinguishable from the next, proving that solid songwriting is much more meaningful than useless gimmickry that weaker bands rely on. The reason for the inclusion of "Soon to Be Dead" is not clear, though it fits in with the other songs. The vinyl version also features "Deathevocation", which I'm assuming is the same as the Like an Ever Flowing Stream bonus track.   

Pieces is a ferocious and bloodthirsty assault on the senses. The three new tracks on this E.P. represent a more concise and direct approach, steamrolling over all of the limp-wristed 'progressive Death Metal' that was already beginning to emerge around this time. With this lethal dose of Swedish death, Dismember maintained the hellish and intense vibe that this sort of music is supposed to possess, making this brief recording still very much worth the effort to seek out.