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.