Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Black Metal Tuesday: Fas - Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum

Deathspell Omega - Fas - Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum

First of all, I understand what a poseur move it is to miss Black Metal Tuesday on the week of Xmas. I don't have a decent excuse, and I know how many evil points I just lost. Time got away from me. Forgive me. Anyway, happy new year - bring it in with black metal.

France's Deathspell Omega (DSO) started as a rather straight-forward blackened thrash metal band before embracing abstract melodies and quasi-religious philosophy on their 2004 album, the rather impressive Si Monumentum Circumspice. The follow up, 2007's Fas - Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum, takes the abstraction to a whole new level of prog/math/art rock, presenting a chaotic and mostly atonal slab of miserable noise that stretches the limits of most listeners. I would challenge hardcore fans of tech-death acts like The Faceless or Spawn of Possession to tell me that this album is an easy listen. Between the bouts of cacophony is near-silent ambience that merely lets you catch your breath until the next assault. 

Technically speaking, there is some impressive stuff going on. The drums are madness, turbo-charged blasts and broken time signatures, completely unpredictable and exhausting. The guitars are playing a great number of things, all at once. There are sometimes 4 independent melodies going on simultaneously - giving the feeling of being between two radio stations - hearing two unrelated tracks at the same time. 

If the goal is to make one feel uneasy, then DSO accomplishes the task. The lyrics read like prayers to Satan - the band supposedly wholeheartedly embracing the theistic Satanic religion. Maybe this makes it more legit, or maybe not. At any rate, it certainly sounds evil and is essentially anti-music for the antichrists. If you look at DSO's entire catalog, this certainly is not representative of their sound, so it is essentially a concept album - I can respect that. What I can't do, is enjoy listening to it. It gets a 2 out of 5. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Black Metal Tuesday - Rain Upon the Impure


Another one-man project, this time from Germany, The Ruins of Beverast play an ambient form of black metal similar to the USA's Wolves in the Throneroom or even Xasthur. What Ruins has going for them (or him, more accurately) is an airy, vastness in their production that creates an impossible sense of space. This album sounds massive, keeping all the themes slightly hidden as though to demand repeated listens. And repeat you will, many times. 

This album is dense and darkly compelling with enough melody to draw you in and keep you there. It plays from track 1 to track 7, as one complete idea, lovingly crafted with meticulous attention to detail to eventually sound effortless and organic. Keyboards drift, just beneath the surface, establishing the dark atmosphere and subtle melancholic melodies throughout the album. Vocals are growled from the depths of hell, or sang, Gregorian Chat style, in the distance. Each track takes a journey through various tempo changes and multifaceted themes, complex and involved in composition. Ruins are a band with vision and purpose, an accomplished musician, but focused on atmosphere above technicality. 

Rain Upon the Impure feels weighty and massive from start to finish. Fans of the depressive and atmospheric black metal movements will be drawn to this. I found myself thinking of the aforementioned Wolves in the Throneroom quite a bit as I went through this album again - yet significantly darker than their work, the comparison stands. There are expansive passages that are painstakingly slow and heavy, and occasionally wandering and aimless - it's clearly for the purpose of atmosphere, so I'll cut him some slack. Overall, it's a dynamic album and one that remains entertaining despite its massive length. Highly touted among several black metal bloggers, Rain Upon the Impure deserves the attention and earns 4 out of 5. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Black Metal Tuesday - March to the Black Holocaust

BELKETRE - March to the Black Holocaust (split)

As black metal matured and diversified, many mini movements started in different countries throughout Europe. In France, a group of bands started a movement called the "French Black Legion" - very similar to the "Black Circle" in Norway during the early nineties. The Black Legion can be characterized by extremely lo-fi production (most of the albums sound like 4 track demo recordings from the 80's), and dark and dismal melodies. The muddiness of the whole thing, adds to the atmosphere. 

French Black Legion band, Belketre are one of the more a approachable bands in the Black Legion. At times, they sound like the logical progression of early Bathory, particularly in their vocal approach. March to the Black Holocaust (a split with fellow Legion member, Vlad Tepes) is a grim but varied lo-fi affair, occasionally discordant and ugly, other times, aggressive and downright rocking. This is Belketre's only "official" release. The song(?) "Hate" is 3 minutes of a sloppy clean guitar riff, and down-tuned demon growling, genuinely creepy. "Night of Sadness," is a mid-tempo rocker mixed with atmospheric clean guitar underneath the fuzz. "Those of our Blood" is a more traditional black metal track, erupting into a storm of impossible speed. 

I like to approach albums such as these as if they were recordings found in the basement of a creepy cabin in the woods (ala Evil Dead), made by some unknown entity - could be human, or maybe not. I think Belketre is most effective when viewed in this light (or more appropriately, in this "dark"). It's got a very home-grown feeling to it - if they recorded this in the studio, they got ripped off. There's a primitive charm to March to the Black Holocaust, one that will likely be lost on many. There's also the loose connections of black metal and neo-Nazism to consider: the inclusion of the word Holocaust and the given song titles may raise a brow. I choose not to explore such things, the vocals are unintelligible as it is, and no serious political agenda could be communicated through this medium in my mind. It gets a 3.5 out of 5. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Black Metal Tuesday - Sheol


The Swedes eventually jumped onto the black metal wagon with Norway, but Swedish black metal is distinctly different from Norwegian. Usually more aggressive and with a polished production, Swedish black metal is likely more accessible to your average metal fan. Enter Naglfar, a Swedish band who sound strikingly similar to Dissection, a legendary Swedish black-death hybrid. Sheol is their third full-length release, and their first for current label, Century Media. 

Five years after the fantastic Diabolical, Sheol is very much more of the same: great melody, lots of tempo changes, plenty of ferocity and touches of groove. Naglfar are black METAL, riff heavy and with classic rock song structures, using somewhat sparse traditional black metal elements to remain relevant to the genre. Ryden is a fantastic vocalist, he sounds plenty evil and pissed off which is a very effective combo. "I am Vengeance" starts the album with a definitive "we don't fuck around" attitude, and it never really lets up. 

Naglfar are on the upper tier of the black metal Swedes, mainly due to their sense of melody and groove. "Black God Aftermath" is a good example of this. They have moments that call Norway's Old Man's Child to mind, a similarly riff-driven black beast. No keyboards really prominent here, Naglfar uses guitar overlays to produce that "wall of sound" so necessary in the genre.

If there is a weakness to this effort, it's that it sounds fairly identical to the previous album. This means Naglfar progressed very little in the 5 years they had to finish this album, but maybe that's okay. They really didn't have anything they needed to fix. Sheol is a slab of vicious black metal driven by catchy, well-written riffs. It's nothing strikingly original, but that doesn't always matter. It gets a 4 of 5. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Black Metal Tuesday - Subliminal Genocide

Xasthur - Subliminal Genocide

The term "Atmospheric Depressive Black Metal" is fairly ridiculous, however it is a spot-on description of Xasthur's sound. 2006's Subliminal Genocide is his 2nd full length after numerous EPs and splits.This album is a truly visceral experience. It is deeply moody and tortured sounding, severely discordant, and absolutely exhausting. None of these terms sound complimentary, but Subliminal Genocide is a brilliant album. 

This North American Black-Metal-meets-Shoe-Gaze genre is an interesting movement. It embodies all of the lo-fi and independent ethos of the original second-wave bands, but it also asserts something completely unique and decidedly American. Xasthur is a one-man-band, in the Burzum tradition, but this music is vastly different from Varkines' heavily melody-based approach. Subliminal Genocide is more feeling than music, it's almost anti-music in a sense. Newcomers will laugh this off as mere noodling and aimless noise, but the properly initiated will find Xasthur's unique vision of bleak despair emanating through the desolate overtones of guitar fuzz, muddy keyboards, and distorted howls.  

This is not a style everyone can appreciate, and truly even I cannot listen to it all the time. But there is artistic brilliance in this truly suffocating and all-encompassing style. It is an art form that very few could effectively pull off, and for that it has my respect. Xasthur's soul-crushing effort deserves a 4 out of 5. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Black Metal Tuesday - Eld


Enslaved are another Norwegian band who were there at the beginning. They're also one of the few that have endured through the years, now playing a much more progressive form of the genre. 

Eld is their 3rd full-length album, and a bit of a transitional one. After the excellent debut, and the even better Frost, Eld takes things in a more progressive direction, starting with excellent 16+ minute epic, "793." The song is a journey from ambient beginning, folkish black metal middle, and thrashy ending. This song really has it all. After that track, Enslaved fall back into more traditional black metal fair with the high-energy "Hordalendingen," still completely in Norwegian. 

Enslaved have a good command of melody and smooth transitions, notable in "For Lenge Siden," a sorrowful melody flowing into a steady metal groove. "Glemt" is another standout - hitting some choice chords as well.

The one drawback in this album is a bizarrely mixed snare drum that sounds apart from the rest of the mix. Much of the music has that "far away" quality, but the snare sounds like it's right next to the mic - it doesn't fit. Also, the album seems to lose steam after it's epic opening track. The following songs have their moments, but they fail to match the quality of the previous two albums. 

Ultimately, Enslaved are another band that employ melody and riffs as the driving force behind their music. The atmosphere of the opening track does not necessarily carry through the rest of the album, but Eld is a strong and worthy effort. It gets a 3.5 out of 5. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Black Metal Tuesday - In the Nightside Eclipse (1994)


For our first black metal review, we'll tackle an easy one. In The Nightside Eclipse, Emperor's full length debut, is often cited as one of the strongest Norwegian black metal albums from the formative years. Amongst the crowd of essential releases from the "black circle," this one is the most instantly accessible, so it's a good place to start. 

Emperor were one of the first black metal bands to really incorporate keyboards as a main instrument, and not just for atmosphere. On their debut, the keyboards sit as a dark melodious backdrop for the fuzzy guitars and screechy vocals. This is a musically dense album with multiple changes in tempo, intricate riffs, and complex song structures. "Beyond the Great Vast Forest" is a good example - expansive ambient passages interspersed with an almost grindcore sounding blastbeat riff. 

The production of ITNE is what really sells it for me. Everything, and I mean everything, sounds like it is off in the distance. But somehow, every instrument is discernible and it doesn't become a muddy wash. This sounds like music performed by demons in the cold Norwegian forest - it's perfect black metal sound. 

ITNE is an easy album to get into, even for black metal noobs, because it is riff-driven and adheres to many metal traditions. The atmosphere is present, but it is not achieved through repetition which is a big complaint from people who struggle to get into the genre. The gothic-themed melodies presented here became the templet for mainstream black metal acts like Dimmu Borgir and England's gothic-themed neo-black metal act, Cradle of Filth. 

"I am the Black Wizards" is the best track on here, and it's also the funniest translation error in the black metal world that I am aware off. The main melodies in this one are fantastic, and quite infectious. It moves through transitions of heavy metal and gothic bliss and never lets up.

Emperor hit the nail on the head with this album - it is near-perfect. When the weather turns cold, it's one of the first albums I hit. It gets a 5 out of 5. 

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Black Metal Primer

The Black Metal Primer

As we prepare to study this fascinating genre, there are a few albums that will help us understand the context, and prepare for the cold winter. The Norwegian black metal bands are also referred to as "second wave" black metal bands. This is to differentiate them from the handful of foundation-setting bands called the "first wave:" Venom, Celtic Frost (aka Hellhammer), Bathory, Mercyful Fate, and Possessed. There are others, but these are the chief ones mentioned in most of the literature. It is also worth mentioning Slayer, as their brand of thrash was markedly different from everyone else in California (except for the aforementioned Possessed). 


Venom's second album was called "Black Metal," so let's start there. Venom are overtly satanic, to almost a comedic degree. Their simplicity and rawness separate them from many of the other metal bands of the day. They probably scared a few people back then, but Venom is decidedly the least scary of the first-wave bands. They have a touch of traditional heavy metal cheese (Ala "Teacher's Pet") at play here, so it's hard to take them too seriously. Still, the basic elements are here, and it's hard to deny their influence, plus - their album covers made great shock-value T-Shirts.


Celtic Frost's "Morbid Tales" is a completely different story. Tom G. Warrior's impact on the entire metal community cannot be overstated. Starting as Hellhammer, Celtic Frost's first full length album after name change is a heavy and raw offering that blends metal with the rawest elements of hardcore punk. Morbid Tales has both groove and speed in abundance. "Crypts of Rays, "Dethroned Emperor," "Circle of the Tyrants," and "Nocturnal Fear" are untouchable metal gems. One can detect similarities to Venom, but Frost has no hints of cheese, these guys are dead serious... Ooh!


Though heavily credited for death metal's origin, Possessed's "Seven Churches" album has detectable influences in the black metal world as well. Not only that, it's just a damn fine album. Did you know Primus' Larry Lalonde plays guitar on this? That's weird right? Florida's Death used this album as a blueprint for their "Scream Bloody Gore" album, and the rest is death metal history. 


The first time anyone hears King Diamond's voice, they are always dumbfounded. "Is this guy for real?" Yes indeed he is. Mercyful Fate's debut, "Melissa" inspired not only Metallica, but also the Norwegian "Black Circle." Though the influence may not be as instantly recognizable, the approach behind the music is key. The occult elements at play here are also undeniable. At times, this album is downright frightening. 

In terms of black metal's sound, no band deserves as much credit as Sweden's one-man-band, Bathory (aka Quorthorn). The eponymous debut is clouded in mystery and is so damn raw and scary, it has still yet to be equalled. Three minutes of wind and bells set the stage for an all-out attack cranked just a pinch faster than he can actually play. Bathory is about as cool as they come, and the first three albums are simply the shit. After that, Quorthorn singlehandedly started another genre - Viking Metal. Any fan of metal needs to check out Bathory, they are as fundamental to the genre as Sabbath, Motörhead, or Priest. 


Though Slayer’s entire body of work holds a certain amount of significance to the metal world, their debut and follow up EP (Haunting the Chapel), have a considerable influence in the early black metal. Slayer’s refinement would lead them to great success, but “Show No Mercy’s” raw aggression and Venom-esque undertones would put it in a class all its own. Though no truly Kvlt Norwegian black metal band would ever give props to an American band, the sound is definitely there, and hard to deny.


In the 80’s, the US had the “Big 4” thrash bands, and Germany had the “Big 3:” Kreator, Sodom, and Destruction. These three bands played a much rougher and unrefined style of thrash, appealing to those who would later play black and death metal. Kreator’s “Endless Pain,” Destruction’s “Sentenced to Death EP,” “Infernal Overkill,” and Sodom’s “Obsessed by Cruelty,” “In the Sign of Evil EP” all deserve further inspection from the aspiring black metal student. 

There are other bands out there that many consider to be legitimate “first-wave,” but it really is a select few. Important second wave band Mayhem’s first EP, “Deathcrush” good very well be considered a first-wave black metal album in 1987. But for the most part, the above list should prepare you for the journey ahead. Enjoy, and happy listening.

Black Metal Tuesday - Intro

As we enter the winter months, it’s time for Death Metal Tuesday to switch over to its more seasonal, and Nordic cousin, Black Metal Tuesday. Okay, for you casual metal fans, “What is the difference between death metal and black metal?” A fair question, and one that the uninitiated ear cannot easily detect. 

To understand black metal, we must understand the particular brand of death metal that they were playing in Sweden. You see, Norway and Sweden are like siblings too close in age, always competing with each other, and not-so-subtly criticizing each other. By the time death fever hit Europe in 1990, every musician in Sweden between the ages of 15 and 24 were starting to play an identical style of death metal -even to go so far as to be produced by the same guy and in the same studio. Naturally by 1991, the words Swedish Death Metal referred to scores of bands that sounded nearly identical to each other: buzz-saw guitars, punk beats, and guttural vocals. 

Across the border in Norway, a group of young musicians calling themselves the “black circle,” under the leadership of Euronymous from the Norwegian band Mayhem, developed an “answer” to the Swedish Death Metal saturation. They took the polished recordings, and muddied them up. They took the subtle thematic elements and ambient passages and brought them to the front. The drums became an inarticulate wash, the guitars, darker and more dismal. Instead of brutality and aggression, black metal emphasized evil and darkness.

At the onset of the Norwegian movement, the bands embraced and exploited Satan, like so many bands before them. As their death metal counterparts were taking stage as normal looking dudes in jeans and high-top sneakers, black metal bands were dressed in old school metal garb with black leather, chains, spikes, and make up / corpse paint. (Corpse paint is that white & black face paint popularized by the American band, Kiss, and then taken to an uglier and less clown-like level).

Black metal songs are classical based - not rock based. This means that they are not verse-chorus-verse type songs, they are like stories with a beginning and an end. The other important aspect of the “Black Circle” is they participated in actual crimes including mass church burnings across the Norwegian country side, and in extreme cases, murder.

This makes Black Metal the most extreme subgenre of metal, hands down. As a young child, I remember hearing that Ozzy ripped the heads off bats on stage, or that Alice Cooper stomped on puppies with giant boots. Of course, none of that was true. But with black metal, it was all legit. These were seriously messed up individuals, creating a music that reflected directly on the disturbed and clandestine lives they led.

Black Metal, when done correctly, sounds cold. It is a distinctly different genre of extreme metal that has since been watered down, mainstreamed, and commercialized in many forms. Thankfully, there are still plenty of bands playing legit (called "kvlt") black metal today, and to some extent, it still enjoys an underground status. The genre has evolved, splintered and surprisingly endured. In an age where so much of the metal genre is overproduced and completely sterile, black metal continues to supply raw, organic, and challenging music. Compared to death metal, black metal can be even more inaccessible and difficult, but consequently, it's that much more rewarding. So strap in and prepare for a cold and evil winter. Celebrate the darkness, don't be afraid. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Death Metal Tuesday - Butchered at Birth (1991)


In honor of Halloween, I thought I'd do one of the classics for DMT, but I didn't want to pick a personal favorite. Cannibal Corpse are, of course, American death metal legends. Since 1990, they have not stopped churning out releases that remain loyal to the genre. At this point, you can probably divide their career into 3 phases. The first phase is the Chris Barnes on vocals era - the first four albums. This is classic corpse. 

Cannibal Corpse's 1992 album Tomb of the Mutilated, has always been my favorite of theirs. The previous year's Butchered at Birth is somewhat more difficult for me. The snare drum has always bothered me - it's too loud and doesn't sit well in the mix. It hurts the album as a whole. I realize this seems like nitpicking, but it really distracts me from the rest of the music and becomes all I hear. If I can manage to set that aside, there's actually some great tracks here. Rancid Amputation and Gutted are great. Covered with Sores is even better - probably the best song on here. The riffs make or break it for me, thus Living Dissection and Under the Rotted Flesh feel like uninspired filler. 

Barnes is nice and guttural on this record, though not as ghoulish as he is on the next album, it's a nice throaty bark. Rusay and Owens are no longer with the band, but their interplay is what gave early Corpse their sound. The rhythm section is plenty tight, but god damn that snare is too loud, particularly on those blast-beats. 

Butchered at Birth is an inconsistent album on many points, but it does depart completely from the debut's loose thrash connections, and in that, it feels like a pure death metal album. The song writing would really find its place on the next album, on Butchered, Cannibal is still finding their way. And turn the damn snare down. 2.5 out 5. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Death Metal Tuesday - Deflorate (2009)


Michigan's The Black Dahlia Murder have been a prolific new school death metal act since 2003's awesome Unhallowed album. Deflorate is their fourth full length album in 6 years. TBDM play frantic, Gothomburg-style death metal - very melodic and usually in that harmonic minor mode where it sounds ever so slightly gothic. 

A big part of their sound is Trevor Strnad's dual vocals - one witch-style, and one guttural. I prefer his lower voice, and he thankfully uses it more on this album than he did on the previous one. This style of death metal is very dependent on the guitars so Eschbach and Knight need to deliver, and for the most part, they do. 

What made Unhallowed so successful, was that it was stocked with $1000 riffs. Their next 2 albums came off as rather uninspired and somewhat redundant. Deflorate improves on this by stepping up the quality of the writing. There is still some moments where it feels like the same thing over and over, and the main reason for that is the unrelenting breakneck tempo of everything. It's either blast-beats or assault-grade double-bass on the drums. Granted, it's a death metal staple, but they could stand with a little variation once in awhile. 

TBDM are consistently competent and effective in their strangely European style of death metal. Deflorate does not match the strength of their debut, but it improves on what I felt were two mediocre releases in between. It gets a 3 out of 5.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Death Metal Tuesday - Epitaph (2004)


Germany's Necrophagist started as a one man project for Muhammed Suicmez. Presently, they still have but two albums: 1999's The Onset of Putrefaction and 2004's Epitaph which has a full band behind it. The words "Tech Death" were created for this band. They are ridiculously complex at times and for that reason, they have a fair amount of haters out there. 

The important difference between Epitaph and a good majority of tech death albums is songwriting. These are intricate tunes, but they are stuffed with cool riffs and musical tricks. It doesn't sound like they're just showing off, they're playing cool tunes with a purpose. The guitars are absolutely impressive - disjointed phrases and broken melodies that somehow come together. These guys shred, and I mean, shred. The bass is pretty damn impressive too. 

After two underwhelming tracks, Ignominious and Pale destroys everything. It is an amazing track with a sudden tempo change at the end that just blows me away every time. The title track, Seven, and Symbiotic in Theory are all stellar tracks. This is a fun album for me to dissect - there is so much going on, and most of it is simply kick ass. The only downside is that the vocals are rather boring - very monotonous and lazy. It's as if they wore themselves out writing the music and just said: "Oh yeah, it needs vocals. I'll do something real quick."

Almost 10 years after the release of Epitaph, and still no new Necrophagist album. It's become kind of a running joke with fans that there will be a new one any day now. At any rate, this is an incredible album and fans of technically impressive and well written metal should find something to get stoked on here. It gets a 4.5 out of 5. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Death Metal Tuesday - Annihilation of the Wicked (2006)


Since the late 1990's, South Carolina's Nile have been the first name in brutal, technical, Ancient Egyptian-themed death metal. Their fourth album, Annihilation of the Wicked, finds a band who is very comfortable with their particular niche in the death metal scene. Imagine New York style death metal from the nineties, cranked up a notch, and painted with Egyptian or Heptatonic scale melodies, and you have Nile's basic approach. 

Nile have a very distinct sound, which is part of the reason why they got so popular so quickly, they were something new. Their approach is somewhat limiting however as it more or less commits them to one musical scale. By this fourth album, it's starting to sound a little redundant. The other part of their appeal is the sheer athleticism behind the kit. George Kollias runs a marathon on the double-bassdrum; the dude has some serious endurance. The vocals are fairly standard, there are 3 guys listed for vocals, and whoever does the ultra-lows is clearly the coolest. The guitars are insane. The leads are turbo-charged and acrobatic. These guys do not take it easy on themselves, it's as if they were being paid per-note. 

The end result is that Nile is stimulation overload. They are all out, almost all of the time. Their earlier albums had quite a few ambient instrumental sections which mixed it up a bit, but Annihilation of Wicked feels like an endurance test. This music is easier to respect than enjoy. Again, the marathon metaphor applies: I can respect someone for being able to run one, but I don't necessarily want to watch them do it. Nile's Annihilation of the Wicked gets a 2.5 out of 5. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Death Metal Tuesday - Humanure (2004)

This month I'm going to jump ahead in time and cover some second and third wave stuff. It gets a little complicated, as what is considered legitimate death metal gets debatable and genre definitions as a whole have become ridiculously specific. There is technical death metal, brutal death metal, progressive death metal, melodic death metal, metalcore... I'm not going to over think it. We'll just cover a few more modern releases this month. 


California's Cattle Decapitation started as a gore grind band in the late 90's. By 2002, they had refined their sound to a more traditional New York style death metal. 2004's Humanure shows the band at their most appealing phase - rhythmically and musically complex without sounding overly academic. 

Travis Ryan's dual vocals (one guttural, the other dinosaur-esque) are a key element to the band's sound. Michael Laughlin is damn impressive behind the kit too. The rhythmic elements really drive Cattle Decapitation on this release. Tempo changes, break downs, and plenty of blastbeats keep Humanure engaging and keep it from sounding redundant. There is also a fair amount of chromatic melody to be had from the string section. This is musically speaking, a very complex record which demands repeated listens. Album highlights include the title track and Chummified - two examples of dynamic song structure with "morbid" sounding minor 4th harmonies on the guitars. 

Cattle Decapitation are well known for their animal rights advocacy. They are vegans that use the brutal imagery to make a not-so-subtle point about man's cruelty to animals. In this format, it thankfully doesn't come off as preachy, and the message is somewhat muddy without a lyric sheet anyway. As I mentioned, this sounds like east coast death metal - Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation being the immediately recognizable influences. It has a bit of an old school feeling while still remaining very modern sounding. The production is pretty impressive, though I could handle the guitars being a bit louder. Cattle Decapitation are one of the few modern bands doing death metal right, and Humanure is my favorite album of theirs. It gets a 4 out of 5

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Death Metal Tuesday - The Dead Shall Inherit (1991)


Cannibal Corpse isn't the only death metal band out of Buffalo, New York. Baphomet played some catchy death metal before changing their name to Banished in 1992, and releasing one album. The Dead Shall Inherit is their only album as Baphomet, and it's an infectious, if rather basic, death metal offering. 

The immediate comparison would be Eaten Back to Life - era Cannibal Corpse. The song structures are simple, and the riffs are instantly accessible. Baphomet is perhaps a bit more precise in their attack than Cannibal was on their debut. The production is a bit thin, the guitars have very little bite, and the kick drum is too loud. The vocals are nice and guttural, bringing to mind early Suffocation

The Dead Shall Inherit is a rather obscure release, but it's not because it's bad, it's probably a product of over-saturation in 1991. This was an album that sounded very much like everything else, so it didn't get the attention it probably deserved. The Suffering, Vile Reminiscence, and Boiled in Blood are all well written, hook-driven, and memorable tracks. Valley of the Dead is the album favorite for me - it has an awesome mid-tempo groove and a really cool beginning. 

Baphomet is one of those bands that many will miss, simply because they only had one release, and it got buried with lesser acts that helped saturate the market and eventually kill the original death metal scene. Over twenty years later, The Dead Shall Inherit probably deserves a little love from genre fans. It gets a 3 out of 5. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Death Metal Tuesday - Repulsive Conception (1995)


Let's head back to the states for Chicago's Broken Hope and their 3rd full length, Repulsive Conception. Broken Hope play east-coast style death metal: down-tuned guitars, guttural vocals, and intricate song structure. Starting with an almost gore-grind sound on their debut, they sound almost refined on their 1995 album.

Joe Ptacek is an awesome growler - very deep and ghoulish sounding, such a classic voice. Musically they are reminiscent of Butchered at Birth - era Cannibal Corpse. Low, chromatic, with plenty of blastbeats. The production is deep and meaty without being muddy. There is enough rawness so as not to feel over-produced, but you can still hear everything that is going on, even during the blasts.

Chewed to Stubs, Pit Bull Grin, and Engorged with Impiety are all excellent old school death metal tracks. There are a couple of throwaway instrumentals, and some filler but for the most part, the album is solid. Broken Hope were an uncompromising act - always staying true to their death metal roots and never diluting their sound. The band's previous album, The Bowels of Repugnance probably has the stronger songs on it, but I find myself turning to Repulsive Conception more often, and I think it's because of the vocal performance, it's just awesome. Oh, and the Twisted Sister cover? Brilliant. This gets a 3.5 out of 5.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Death Metal Tuesday - Nespithe (1993)


As a contrast to last week's review, we'll look at another Finnish band, the incredibly weird Demilich. Their one and only legitimate release is the overly progressive Nespithe, a collection of atonal, rhythmically complex death metal tunes guaranteed to clear rooms of people. If you want people to go home at the end of a party, just blast Nespithe for about 10 minutes and it should do the trick.

That's not to say Demilich are bad, they just have a very narrow audience. Broken rhythms and chromatic riffs are the norm. There are also very few chords on the guitars, almost exclusively single note riffs. Also, I have a theory that they don't play the same note twice in succession. I haven't proven this, but it certainly sounds like I'm right.

I've avoided discussing the vocals until now. If there were a contest for the vocalist who sounds the most like he's belching, Antti Boman would be the clear winner. There's no better explanation, he sounds like "burp, burp, burp." This makes it difficult for many a death metal fan to get into Demilich, but with an open mind, it's actually kind of cool - albeit rather limiting.

Demilich are a death metal band without comparison. It may even be a rather liberal move to put them in the genre, because their musical approach is so technical and progressive. It's not your standard death metal by any means, but they were definitely part of the movement. Nespithe can be fun, but in all honesty, I have a hard time making it through the whole album. I gotta give it a 2 out of 5. Burp. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Death Metal Tuesday - Shadows of the Past


By 1995, Finland's Sentenced were playing cheesy goth-metal atrocities - tapping into a new commercially lucrative subgenre of metal. Their first two albums were of a different sort - their second album was a progressive death metal anomaly and their debut, Shadows of the Past (released in the states with 3 bonus demo tracks), is pure Nordic death metal. 

Sentenced may instantly sound inline with their Swedish counterparts, but repeated listens will reveal a more nuanced and melodious approach - incorporating elements of what would soon be called the Gothenburg sound in Sweden, the precursor to modern melodic death metal, ala In Flames and Children of Bodom. Miike Tenkula's vocals are the strongest Swedish connection, but musically they bare some similarities to early Death and England's Paradise Lost. Based on their musical trajectory through the years, Sentenced we're clearly a band trying to find their sound during this time period, but the end product does not come off as aimless or confused. This is possibly one of the best Nordic death metal albums from this time period. It is both brutal and beautiful, melodious and aggressive. It is the perfect blend of several key influences. The guitar breakdown in the middle of In Memoriam (a bonus track) sums it up perfectly - morbid, sorrowful, and soulful. 

Although Sentenced were undoubtedly unaware of the strength of their debut, or the impact it would have years later, it is fitting that they changed course after its release. They could never have topped it. Shadows of the Past bleeds sweet death nostalgia for me, and it is one of my favorites. I'm giving it 5 out of 5

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Death Metal Tuesday - You'll Never See... (1992)


Grave are from the initial batch of Swedish death metal acts, forming in the late 80's and hitting the states in 1990-91. You'll Never See... is their second album, following up the much revered Into the Grave. What we have here is a solid and rather typical-sounding Swedish death album with that notorious "Sunlight Studios" sound, pioneered by Entombed and Dismember. That means buzz-saw guitars, thudding drums, and deep guttural vocals. Anybody who was anybody in Sweden sounded like this from 90-92. Unfortunately, that makes the Swedish sound a bit derivative by nature since it was recorded in the same studio, and engineered by the same guy (Tomas Skogsberg).

Content-wise, You'll Never See... takes very few risks and makes few changes from the debut. It's notably less muddy - the drum mix is clean and clear, (though a bit heavy on the snare for my tastes), the tempo is still nicely cranked up, and the songs are chock full of changes, break-downs, and monster riffs. Sandstrom has a good Cookie-Monster growl, nice and guttural, and a little goofy (but that's usually a good thing).
The title track has an epic hook over a medium pogo beat that just begs for a circle pit - it is fantastic, and probably the best moment of the album. Grief, Obsessed, and Severing Flesh are all like-minded, competent Swedish death metal rockers. This is a solid, enjoyable album that will appeal to fans of the early work from the aforementioned Entombed and Dismember. Grave would continue to release albums, evolving to that disappointing “Rot & Roll” crap along with Entombed. You’ll Never See... Is a straight-forward, rather redundant release, but genre fans should dig it. It’s worth 3 out of 5.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Death Metal Tuesday - From Beyond (1991)


I'm posting this Monday night, so please forgive me. Florida's Massacre are a super-group of sorts, comprised of the discarded members of genre front runner, Death. 1991's From Beyond is really their only proper full length release, and it smacks of "me too." This is a by-the-numbers death metal effort with a polished production and painfully predictable song structure.

While some of these tracks are rockin' and competent enough, it feels somewhat soulless. Kam Lee sounds remarkably similar to Napalm Death's Barney Greenway (particularly on Harmony Corruption) on the vocals. I mean, it's downright eerie how much they sound alike. Rick Rozz reprises his guitar tricks used so heavily on Death's Leprosy album, sounding like a child's laser gun toy on most of his leads. Andrews does a competent job behind the kit, but his drumming is rather vanilla and the drum mix is far too clinical sounding for my tastes. In fact, the production is probably the main issue I have with this album - it simply doesn't fit, it's too clean.

Dawn of Eternity is a classic death metal tune, complete with the keyboard intro. It's probably the strongest track on the album, which is unfortunate, because it's the first track. The title track has some good moments, as does the classic sounding Corpse Grinder - complete with shout-along chorus. If they were to go back and dirty up the mix a little bit, I may like this sucker a bit more. As it stands, the snare is too loud, the guitar is paper-thin, and I'm not sure the bass player showed up to the recording.

I know there are genre fans who swear by this album. I've even seen it on top 10 lists. I'm sure there are a litany of reasons why I should like more than I do, but I remain unconvinced and give it a 2 out of 5.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Death Metal Tuesday - Onward to Golgotha (1992)

 Incantation - Onward to Golgotha (1992)

If Rap had their East Coast versus West Coast battle, then death metal has its East versus Florida battle. Pennsylvania's Incantation sling a style of death metal that falls right in line with their New York and Massachusetts peers (for example, Immolation and Suffocation). Their debut, Onward to Golgotha, is held in very high regard among death metal fans. This is the first band covered here where the vocalist sounds like a bonafide monster. Forget growling, Craig Pillard gets in touch with his inner-demon on this album. He is such a part of this band's sound, that his departure in 1994 would all but kill it for me.

Along with the demon vocals, Incantation play break-neck, blastbeat-driven death metal, tuned-down and muddy as hell. This album is about brutality and atmosphere more than it is about riffs. That's not to say there aren't some good hooks here, it's just not the main objective. There are plenty of slow, sludgy moments as well - tempo changes, broken time signatures, and through-composed tunes. Incantation is not about verse-chorus-verse, each song is a journey through some level of hell. Speaking of hell, Incantation are plenty satanic; Rotting Spiritual Embodiment, Christening the Afterbirth, Unholy Massacre... You get the point (I suppose the name of the album is a pretty big clue too). It's all rather juvenile, but if you take the message too seriously, then there is probably something wrong with you. The compositional style may be off putting to the uninitiated, in that one song is not instantly distinct from another. Every track has multiple tempo changes, key shifts, and multiple themes.

This is a musically dense excursion that may chase off fans of more accessible material. Onward to Golgotha is a challenge, but that is what draws me back to this genre over and over again. Extreme metal needs to be challenging, and hell, it even needs to chase some people away once in awhile. Onward to Golgotha deserves its "classic" status, it is a punishing outing of vicious and brutal American death metal. It earns 4 out of 5 Skullies.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Death Metal Tuesday - Consuming Impulse (1989)

Pestilence - Consuming Impulse (1989)

The Netherlands have a very bizarre and varied sampling of metal bands. Pestilence are a band that played conventional thrash metal up until the death metal revolution hit Europe, and everyone started growling. Consuming Impulse is the Dutch band's second album, coming after 1988's more thrash-oriented Malleus Maleficarum. Though the albums are only a year apart, the difference in sound is remarkable. Consuming Impulse is definitely a death metal album, Martin Van Drunen's vocals are more gravel-laden, the riffs are more-often atonal or chromatic in nature, the topics are more brutal, and the production is incredibly grating. This is an album that is clearly influenced by Death's second album, Leprosy, both in production and song craft. And let's face it, there's no beating that cover - something even myself, with no discernible artistic ability, attempted to draw on several occasions.

Pestilence can write a mean hook. The Process of Suffocation, Suspended Animation, and personal favorite, Out of Body, all have $1000 riffs featured as the songs' main anchor. In fact, Pestilence is a very riff-driven band, staying rather true to their thrash metal roots. There's plenty of speed to be had here - more songs clicking away with pogo-beat drums and intricate guitar lines. Dehydrated is a fierce album opener which immediately announces the intent - destroy your ears. This is a classic, OSDM release and belongs in any discussion involving the early development of the genre. There is an intriguing blend of ugliness with technical know-how and a dash of atmosphere through this album.

The band would eventually evolve into a progressive metal outfit, and these tendencies are detectable even here, on their sophomore effort. Keyboard lines find their way into actual songs rather than the genre-cliche intros, and rhythms get a bit asymmetrical and challenging at points. Pestilence are clearly a musically ambitious act, demonstrated most clearly on out-of-place shred-a-thon, Proliferous Souls.

Pestilence would go on to produce one more death metal album before becoming too progressive and experimental to be considered genre-specific. Purists tend to cite Consuming Impulse as the high watermark in their career, and I tend to agree. There's just too many golden riffs to overlook this sucker, even if the treble-heavy production may make your ears throb a bit. That's okay, isn't that what 80's metal was all about? Consuming Impulse gets 4 out of 5 Skullies.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Death Metal Tuesday - Mental Funeral (1991)


The fans have demanded the return of “Death Metal Tuesday,” and I am happy to oblige. I will attempt to make this a weekly blog where I celebrate the music of my adolescence, young adulthood, and yes... Currently.

Autopsy - Mental Funeral (1991)

Our first entry is an American, old school death metal (OSDM) entry from San Francisco’s Autopsy. The creative engine behind this act is drummer / vocalist, Chris Reifert. Reifert played drums on Death’s debut album, Scream Bloody Gore. That gives Autopsy some street-cred with the death metal crowd right away, because Reifert played on what many consider one of the genre’s first offerings.

Mental Funeral is the follow up to 1989’s debut, Severed Survival. The two albums are similar in that they both boost the same bare-bones production and primitive approach to songwriting. Autopsy can sound like a band jamming in their garage at times, but that truly is their charm. Their raw sound and affectionate mingling of some punk elements would prove influential in the Swedish death metal movement which was going full swing by the time 1991 came around.

Mental Funeral slows things down a bit compared to the band’s debut. There are moments when the music is so slow, you almost have to bang your head in slo-mo along with the music. The first groove of Dead is a good example of this, ditto the closing moments of In the Grip of Winter, perhaps the albums best track. Don't be mistaken though, the band hauls ass too - Hole in the Head and Destined to Fester both have some pretty blazing moments. There are also 3 songs under a minute in length which kind of sound like improvised death metal jams, but they're pretty epic, particularly Bonesaw.

Guitar duo Cutler and Coralles play with harmony a lot, and I mean, a lot. They love that fourth interval harmony - sounds very sinister in their duo leads. Reifert takes the “Cookie Monster” approach to his vocals, but there are times that he screeches and sounds truly tortured. There is also a fair amount of reverb on his vocals that give them that old school sound that is just so lovely to my ears.

This is a sludgy, doom-filled, beast of an album. You truly feel like you’ve been through something after it is all said and done. It definitely has some doom elements in there and was not doubt a key influence in that movement as well. Autopsy are held in deep regard as a vital founding member of the death metal genre. They were never a favorite of mine, but I do appreciate their approach and ethos. Mental Funeral gets 3 out 5 Skullies.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Top 20 Non-Big-Four Thrash Albums

As winter wanes every year, I seem to get into the old thrash metal music. I set about making a list of the 20 best "non big 4" thrash albums. For the uninitiated, that means no Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, or Anthrax. I only picked one album from each band - the one I consider to be their best, but I will make note of other recommended releases in each review. This only concerns the initial 2 waves of thrash metal, roughly 1983 - 1992. I also did not include bands of subgenres - like crossover (DRI, Suicidal Tendencies), pure metal (Iron Maiden, Judas Priest), death metal (Death, Morbid Angel), or first-wave black metal (Mercyful Fate, Bathory).

#20) Forbidden - Forbidden Evil

Bay Area thrashers Forbidden were a band full of potential that was never fully realized. Personnel issues after their second album would send them into obscurity, but this debut has all the energy and song writing ability of a serious contender. Russ Anderson's vocals are an immediate standout - he's a traditional metal singer with an impressive range. He can also sound pretty sinister, case-in-point, "Chalice of Blood" and "Feel No Pain" where he spews venom through the verses with haste and menace - the latter being perhaps the album's strongest track. Forbidden's twin lead guitar led by Founding member, Craig Locicero, is truly what makes this a strong debut. The riffs are plenty rocking with plenty of changes and the occasional groove. There are moments that may remind one of other Bay Area bands, this is certainly not a very original sounding record, however the execution is accomplished enough to make the list here. "March into Fire," "As Good As Dead," and "Follow Me" are all worthy of the pit. Only "Eyes of Glass" is a bit of a miss. This debut was a late arrival because by 1988, thrash had started to reach its peak. 1990's follow up, Twist into Form showed the band watering down the ferocity and trying hard to appeal to a wider audience. Though many will argue for Twist, I find the debut better developed and certainly more aggressive.

#19) Laaz Rockit - Annihilation Principle

San Francisco's Laaz Rockit started as a more traditional metal band with 1984's City's Gonna Burn and 1985's No Stranger to Danger. After that, the Bay Area scene must've been contagious because 87's Know Your Enemy was a abrupt shift to thrash metal, though still a bit clunky. It is their 4th full length, Annihilation Principle, that deserves the nod here. Michael Croons changed his vocal approach from a subpar Rob Halford to a more traditional thrash bark on this album, which makes things much more tolerable. The music and production have also been refined to sound positively Bay Area thrash, but with enough attitude and ingenuity to stand out from the crowd. Their traditional heavy metal roots no doubt contribute to a heavier sense of groove than the other speed mongers in San Fran. "Mob Justice" is a mid-tempo thrash classic with a beautifully chunky breakdown in the middle. Rockit shows they can be effective without relying on speed - also evident in "Chain of Fools" and "Shadow Company." They still thrash with the best of them, showing plenty of fury in "Fire in the Hole," "Mirror to Madness," and "Chasin' Charlie." Even the album closer ballad, "The Omen" is effective. The band is known for their lyrical themes of warfare, but it doesn't feel quite so restrictive here as they open the album up to other concepts as well. The only criticism is the misplaced Dead Kennedys' cover which feels a bit forced and subdued when compared to the original. Additionally, we all know these guys grew up worshiping Priest and Maiden, the punk cover almost feels like pandering to the thrash audience.

#18) Coroner - No More Color

Coroner are the only metal band from Switzerland that I can think of, other than Celtic Frost. And though Coroner's contribution to metal may pale in comparison to their Swiss counterparts, they are still a worthy mention and a huge influence on anyone playing heavy progressive music today. Coroner's first two outings were admirable displays of speed and technical proficiency - similar to Megadeth's early work. 1989's No More Color was a daring departure, slowing things down and experimenting with time signatures and irregular rhythms. This was a ballsy move for a fairly unknown thrash act, but maybe they had nothing to lose. At any rate, No More Color is a badass thrash metal album with great riffs and a forward-thinking approach. Opening track, "Die By My Hand" is full of transitions, stop-start riffs, and complete with a shout-along chorus. "Read My Scars" is just as infectious, and hangs together with a slamming main riff that makes it the album's centerpiece. "Mistress of Deception" and "Tunnel of Pain" continue along these lines, catchy refrains and plenty of guitar flourishes. Though No More Color may seem scaled back on the technical scale, there is still plenty to marvel at. Coroner are fantastic musicians, namely Tommy Baron on guitar, hitting break-neck solo runs and intricate riffs throughout. This is one if those albums that is dense enough to discover something new each listen. Only the production is lacking - treble heavy and thin like so many of its thrash brethren.

#17) Heathen - Victims of Deception

1991 brought this Bay Area band's sophomore effort, 4 full years after the mediocre debut. Though this album is clearly motivated by the success of Metallica, And Justice for All, the production is obviously aimed at sounding just like it. That, and all of the songs are that "epic" length of 6 or 7 minutes or so. Unlike Metallica, Heathen vocalist David White brings a souped-up Joey Belladonna type attack that gives it a more unique sound. The presence of two guitar shredders in Altus and Piercy also gives Victims a bit of an edge over its competition. Hypnotized opens the album with 7+ minutes of tightly executed thrash, blasting the easy target of corrupted evangelical churches. Heathen's Song sounds like an attempt at a power ballad that eventually falls into a standard thrasher. Though their sound is derivative, Heathen sound like a band that could've been much more. Personnel problems caused this album to be so delayed, that it hit during Thrash Metal's rapid decline in late 91. Had it been sooner, perhaps they would've become real contenders. The talent is clearly there. This is well-produced, tightly executed thrash metal. The album favorite for me is Morbid Curiosity, a solid thrash anthem with a plodding punk beat and seriously cool main riff. My only complaint is the length - it's a bit long, and some tracks could've been cut to B-sides (Timeless Cell of Prophecy comes to mind).

#16) Voivod - Dimension Hatross

Evolving from a sound similar to Slayer, Voivod's 4th LP was a dramatic shift to a more progressive and "thinking man's" thrash. Vocalist Snake changed his attack from screaming to singing melodies seemingly unrelated to the music underneath. It takes a bit to get used to, but this would become Voivod's most recognized work. Appropriately titled, Experiment starts off the album with broken rhythms, multiple tempo shifts, and Voivod's trademark sci-fi themed lyrics. As the album progresses, Voivod offer up an unique brand of thrash that is progressive and discordant while, at the same time, strangely catchy and accessible. Both Chaos Mongers and Technocratic Manipulations are upbeat, rocking tracks with choruses worthy of singalong. Brain Scan features the album's best riffs and a vocal cadence reminiscent of nursery rhymes - a strangely appealing track. In the end, Dimension Hatross is a unique thrash album that would heavily influence the budding progressive metal genre. The band would water down their sound with each release after this, eventually sounding miles away from this release and boarding on the dreading "alternative metal" sub-genre. After the band dissolved and then came back, it was not surprising to hear them rocking the "Hatross" sound once again, because it was their finest moment.

#15) Annihilator - Alice in Hell

From north of the border, Canadian Jeff Waters composed and performed all but vocals on this, Annihilator's debut. From opening instrumental, Crystal Ann, it is clear this is an elite musician and composer with a background in classical music. The tight production shines throughout, showcasing Waters' clear guitar proficiency and songwriting skills. The solos are epic and there are numerous head banging riffs throughout. Thematically, the album is almost exclusively bent in a psychological direction, exploring nightmares, sexual obsession, and schizophrenia. Randy Rampage sounds like a pirate on vocals, but its amusing and he does a competent job. The true star is Waters and his guitar-playing, he is a master. His leads are dynamic and even his riffs have that virtuoso quality that is somewhat rare in thrash metal. Standout tracks include, the title track, the Poe-inspired Ligeia, and the blazing fast Human Insecticide. The drums are a bit thin in the mix, and the rhythm guitar has always lacked power in my mind, but these are minor complaints. It is a pity that this is the only album that I can stomach - the remainder of their career was plagued with uninspired, thrown-together, second-rate thrash. I guess Waters only had one album in him, but a worthy album it is.

14) Sodom - Agent Orange

One of the elite German three, Sodom's early work would be a key influence in the development of Norwegian Black Metal, years later. Their first album, "In the Sign of Evil" is pure raw aggression. As they matured and became more competent in their musicianship, they produced some solid thrash metal. Of the three major German thrash exports though, Sodom is the most straightforward - rarely troubling themselves with experimentation or anything particularly progressive. Their 1989 offering is a well-produced slab of German speed, covering thrash metal's comfortable topic of warfare. The title track and opener is a 6 minute epic with killer riffs peppered throughout. Tired and Red is as solid as track one with Witch Hunter's vocals shredding through the mix and a fist-pumping middle section that just kicks ass. Sodom are not particularly flashy, but they're efficient and fast-as-hell, and this album cooks. Incest, Magic Dragon, and Exhibition Bout are all smoking thrashers, so when punk anthem Ausgebombt hits at track 7, it's an unexpected breath of fresh air; combining the best elements of punk and thrash delivered in a thick German accent. Side 2 is a mixed bag, but as a whole, Agent Orange is a solid outing and still a favorite among their core fan-base. The band is still kicking today, but this was clearly their peak.

13) Helloween - Walls of Jericho

These Germans would go on to single-handedly create the sub-genre of Power Metal, but this first full length is pure Thrash. A Trapped Under Ice soundalike riff opens Ride the Sky which combines traditional thrash metal with a German-folk music inspired chorus. In fact, this album sounds very German, if that's a thing - it might be Kai Hansen's thick accent. He would be replaced after this album, by the much more accomplished Michael Kiske, but it's Hansen's slightly off-key wailing that really kicks this album to the top of their catalog for me. Guardians is a crazily catchy tune with a hook primarily delivered by the bass guitar, a true standout. But the album's centerpiece is the closer, How Many Tears, a left wing political tune with a truly inspired chorus. The dual guitars are fantastic throughout this album, occasionally dipping into more classic sounding metal territory, the rhythm section gets things thundering ahead. Check out the double-bass pre chorus of Phantoms of Death, the band sounds downright heavy. After the addition of Kiske at vocals, Helloween would slow things down and really embrace a more approachable and positive sound. As power metal grew in popularity towards the end of the nineties, Helloween would reinvent themselves with completely new personnel and a renewed appreciation for the speed and technical riffing of this debut. 

12) Exodus - Bonded by Blood

I suppose its almost mandatory to put Exodus on the "Non Big Four" thrash list, as many consider them #5. Somehow, they always missed the mark. Their debut makes the list as it has a rawness and aggression that the Souza-era albums seemed to lack, but I'm not sure it was the vocalist's fault. This album is chock-full of $100 riffs the title track, And Then There Were None, Metal Command, and highlight track Strike of the Beast are all bay-area staples. Paul Baloff is an absolute maniac on the mic, and he truly captures the magic of this music. Don't get me wrong, he's not a particularly strong vocalist and no one can blame the band for seeking a replacement, but he is absolutely essential to this debut. The band is in full force here, I'll never understand why they seemed to tame down so much after this one, but it could possibly be the production. Bonded by Blood has a nice rawness to it, with a nice low-heavy kick drum and biting guitars. The next few albums would feel thin in comparison, and Souza's more restrained approach to the vocals is a noticeable contrast to Baloff's madman bellowing on this debut.

11) Destruction - Infernal Overkill

Number two of the famous "German Three," Destruction's full length debut is a fantastically ambitious album. The riffs are so involved, Sifringer was scarcely able to play them up to speed, but its that looseness that gives this album it's true charm. It's almost got a punk feel to it at points, but the guitars are distinctly metal. This has the sound of a band playing just outside their range - making even the early Megadeth sound conservative in comparison. The second riff of Bestial Invasion is a good example of this - all over the guitar neck, sounding more like a solo than rhythm part. Death Trap is possibly the best German thrash song ever, and that's saying quite a bit, but their is no beating that main riff. Schimer's croak-style vocals are instantly unique, and strangely effective for a stripped-down, treble-heavy production. As a threesome though, these guys make an impressive racket and Sifringer is one of the most impressive live guitarists I've ever seen. Shortly after this, they would acquire a second guitarist and clean up things in both writing and performance, but this debut remains the essential piece in their catalog for me. This is European thrash circa 1985, at its finest, revel in its glory. 

10) Death Angel - The Ultra-Violence

The ambition continues at number 10, this Bay Area debut by a band with a 15 year-old drummer. These youngsters were discovered and their debut financed by Kirk Hammet who thankfully used his rising stardom to bolster up-and-comers. These songs are literally stuffed with every cool riff these guys could think of. This is a beautiful debut album, because it smacks of a young band hoping to conquer the world in 40 minutes. The epic Thrashers features musical acrobatics, change-ups, and sheer endurance for 7+ minutes. Mistress of Pain's opening is something else altogether. I listened to the opening 30 seconds of this track over and over as a young, impressionable youth, it is amazing. This debut is probably the only slab of pure thrash metal that these guys put out during their initial run - only quoting the genre in there following 2, tamer and slower albums. Check out that title track, 10 minute plus instrumental, thrash to the purest extent. Death Angel are definitely a top ten band, a group of youngsters incredibly accomplished and ahead of their time - an epic album.

9) Sanctuary - Refuge Denied

1987 brought this bizarre entry from Seattle, Washington - a well-produced debut financially backed by Megadeth's Dave Mustaine, featuring a vocalist that rivals Halford for sheer shrillness. Warrel Dane would find continued success as frontman for the successful Nevermore years later, but in 1987, he is the primary reason "Refuge Denied" rises to number 9 on the "Non Big Four" list. His vocals are truly impressive, not to mention the songwriting, which makes it possible to enjoy such ridiculously high singing. In a more perfect world, Die for My Sins would've been a giant hit on Headbanger's Ball, it is a catchy tune that is truly fun to scream along with. There are plenty of great tracks: Battle Angels, the eponymous Sanctuary, and Soldiers of Steel. But it is the album's closer, Veil of Disguise, where the band truly shines - a mellow intro leads into a surprising explosion with a passionate and impressively evil-sounding chorus. This is a fabulously original sounding album. The band would only produce one more LP, 3 years later, before disbanding, but this debut is an obscure gem that's worth searching for.

8) Pantera - Vulgar Display of Power

Pantera managed to be cool in a climate when metal was particularly uncool. They are possibly responsible for all that "macho metal" bullshit that hit in the mid-90's, but I'm sure that wasn't their intent. Dimebag's masterpiece is Pantera's second(?) proper album which takes Cowboys and adds focus and magnified aggression. Mouth for War became a third-wave thrash anthem with its rambling hook full of chord slides. Phil Anselmo sounds particularly pissed off here, but not as forced and contrived as he would eventually sound later. Where Pantera really shine is their approach to unique rhythmic structures which makes their hooks truly unique. Check out the drum and guitar play on New Level, it's almost like a Rhumba, but somehow it works. Dimebag had something that the aging thrash metal genre sorely needed in the early nineties - a fresh approach and an unique writing style. Pantera is one of those bands that are hard to draw a comparison to (at least, back then they certainly were). This album would propel Pantera to god status and like most bands that achieve that, they didn't handle it well. Far Beyond Driven ain't bad, but then the egos started to get in the way (probably just one ego).

7) Kreator - Coma of Souls

The third, and perhaps most accomplished of the German three, Kreator's early work is again more appropriate for a discussion about early Black Metal. 1990's Coma of Souls sees the band fully embracing the thrash metal genre with a well-polished and executed slab of technical German metal. After a brief intro, When the Sun Burns Red fires into a impossibly catchy and complicated riff, flowing into a steady thrash groove. Mille's voice is incredibly sinister this time out, with that German accent making everything sound a little cooler. People of the Lie, a song that remains the centerpiece of the band's catalog, embodies every standard of early nineties thrash: a mid-tempo groove, a rocking solo, and politically charged lyrics begging for everyone to "just get along." The consistency of Coma of Souls is really what puts it at the top of the list. There are no real duds here. The band was firing on all cylinders and the production is fantastic. After this, Kreator would enter a bizarre experimental phase and try taming down their sound. It took almost a decade before they were back and thrashing properly. 

6) Sadus - Illusions

This 2nd wave band's truly finest hour is their Death to Poseurs demo, but in the interest of sticking to legitimate albums, their debut makes the list. Sadus were a pinch late for the thrash party, so their label erroneously marketed them towards the growing death metal audience, which is a shame because I think it caused Sadus to go in creative directions they would not have otherwise gone. On Illusions Sadus putting forth their most honest effort - intense, brutal, and executed at breakneck speeds. Bass god Steve D'Angelo combines with the ferocious drumming of Jon Allen to back a blisteringly scream-filled good time. Darren Travis literally squeals like a stuck pig, blood-curdling, and insanely horrific. This is a rough and raw thrash band churning out tracks that truly rival Slayer in terms of intensity and full-on speed. Like I said, their timing was unfortunate as they were never able to reach their target audience with this unique, yet refreshingly retro thrash album. All the elements that made Sadus great here, would be incrimentally diluted with each subsequent release. They would eventually sound more progressive metal than thrash, but those who understand hold this debut in very high regard.

5) Testament - The New Order

Testament is one of those bands that narrowly missed the success of the big four. They tried desperately in the late eighties and early nineties, to be the next Metallica, but they never quite made it. It's a shame too, as Alex Scholnick is possibly the best lead guitar player of this genre. It might be due to being stuck in the shadow of the more instantly recognized big four (Chuck Billy's voice immediately brings James Hetfield to mind), but they probably deserved just as many props - they were there at the beginning after all. The recommended album for these guys is a difficult choice as the debut album, The Legacy is likely a more consistent album than this one. That being said, set aside the two instrumentals and the Aerosmith cover, and the seven remaining tunes are absolute classics. Into the Pit, Trial By Fire, the title track, and the untouchable Disciples of the Watch are straight up trash metal gold. A satisfyingly muddy, yet decipherable mix gives the band a hint of mystique. The quality of the guitarists cannot be overstated either, both the riffs and solos are top notch (the drummer being somewhat less impressive, but adequate). This is a product of a special time, when Bay Area bands were churning out great tunes without the pressure or delusion of "making it big." The following years saw them trying to make the next big hit, throwing a power ballad on 3 straight albums after this.

4) Nuclear Assault - Survive

This is the sole east coast entry in this list, New York's Nuclear Assault play a special kind of thrash metal, tinged with a punk ethos, akin to Jersey's Anthrax (original bassist, Danny Lilker actually left the band to start Nuclear Assault). The second full length from this quartet gets the nod for a raw and energetic assault starting with the excellent Rise From the Ashes, followed by mid-tempo raging Brainwashed, and the anthemic F#. Vocalist Jon Connelly is probably the reason this band never broke it big - his scream/sing style is an acquired taste, but once you acquire it, they're a kickass band. Survive is cleaner than the debut, but still raw enough to feel like a band jamming live in the studio. The album plays consistently from start to finish, with only the Zeppelin cover feeling unnecessary. The follow up Handle with Care is worth mentioning as well, it's solid, but perhaps not as consistent as this one is. Head banging riffs aplenty and a cool raw drum mix make Survive a true classic.

3) Sepultura - Beneath the Remains

Evolving from an almost proto-death metal sound, Sepultura would eventually become perhaps the best recognized foreign thrash metal band. Both Chaos A.D. and Arise will likely make more lists than this earlier, somewhat more derivative album, but originality is not what makes Beneath the Remains a great album. It's absolute ferocity and intensity that makes it good, that, and the lack of refinement that came later to really soften the Brazilians' blow. Igor Cavalera's drum attack is truly special, and it fuels the title track with a Slayer-like speed. In fact, Slayer is probably a fair comparison for this album. Drums combined with some stellar riffs makes this album a real slammer from start to finish. There is not really any filler to speak of, but highlight tracks include the title track, Inner Self, Stronger than Hate, Lobotomy, and Primitive Future. Sepultura's third outing is simply a fantastic, pure, thrash album with all the enthusiasm of a band ready to go international. Great riffs, great songs, from a solid band, south of the border.

2) Vio-Lence - Eternal Nightmare

Those that love Vio-lence, credit Sean Killian's voice. Those that hate Vio-Lence, blame Sean Killian's voice. What's lost in this debate is the four other incredible musicians backing up one of thrash metal's truly unique and talented bands. Both this album and the follow up, Oppressing the Masses, are chock-full of superb Bay Area thrash riffs and the controlled fury on a drum seat that is Perry Strickland. He may very well be in the running for best thrash drummer with Charlie Benante and Dave Lombardo. Eternal Nightmare is a true classic in the thrash metal catalogue, and only Killian's voice keeps it from reaching the mass appeal status it deserves. And what about Killian? He screams a unrelated melody over the chaos, focusing on a bizarre cadence that is what gives Vio-Lence their unique feel. Their riffs are decidedly "Bay Area," instantly bringing Testament to mind, but their songwriting is more complex. And while everyone was singing about dark, evil subjects, Vio-Lence took a "true crime" approach that fits the music perfectly. Speed, groove, and constant changes; Eternal Nightmare is well thought out, well written, and supremely executed.

1) Flotsam and Jetsam - Doomsday for the Deceiver

Jason Newsted founded and played bass for this band on this, their 1986 debut, before jumping ship and playing for Metallica where they would mix him completely out of their next 2 albums. Flotsam and Jetsam are an Arizona band that play a fast and heavy thrash with a dynamic vocalist in Eric A. K. He sings contrasting melodies over a well put together arsenal of heavy riffs and guitar shredding. What makes Doomsday for the Deceiver the number one album is its replayability. These songs are fantastic with the right amount of aggression and a punk rawness to carry it through. Hammerhead is an epic album opener - shredding along for over 6 minutes. The title track, Iron Tears, and the coincidental Fade to Black are fantastic tracks of pure Thrash. Doomsday is a flawless debut and an incredible album. The band would come close with their follow up, but they would never top this debut. Flotsam and Jetsam remain a rather obscure thrash band from this period (getting mentioned for their original bass player, but never getting enough attention for what they had to offer). They continued releasing albums throughout the nineties and beyond, but they're miles away from this gem. Funny though, I still see a few songs from this on their recent live albums / videos.