Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Death Metal Tuesday - Ancient God of Evil

Here's a bizarre entry for you - 1995's Ancient God of Evil, created by Stockholm's Unanimated, sports a sound more inline with the Gothenburg sound (In Flames / At The Gates) and at times, even leaning towards a modern black metal approach (much like Stockholm's heroes of the period, Dissection). Making genre distinctions with this album is a difficult task, because it is clearly a "roots" album, helping develop the sound of the growing "melodic death metal" and "Swedish black metal” movements.

"Life Demise" kicks off the album sounding like a lost track off of Dissection's classic, "Storm of the Light's Bane." Purists argue that the two bands sound nothing alike, but I don't know what the hell they're listening to. At The Gates are another clear influence on Unanimated's sound with Micke Broberg's vocals sounding remarkably similar to Lindberg's approach on late-period Gates stuff. "Oceans of Time" hits that mark too - even starting with a pogo-beat and Iron Maiden harmony-laden riff. It is rich with money riffs throughout, making this track one of the true standouts. “The Depths of a Black Sea” is downright triumphant, making me think, yet again, of Dissection (this time, their excellent “Where Dead Angels Lie”). While yes, this stuff is a little derivative, it is from the same time period, so who’s to say who ripped off who? The point is, it’s catchy as hell with so many choice riffs, you’ll want to spin it a few times in a row.

In Flames would make a living off of this melo-death approach, so I'm not sure what happened to Unanimated - it sounds like an extension of the same ideas (“Jester Race” with more edge maybe). Hell, they pretty much started at the same time. But while one band became a ridiculous success the other, has only this obscure little gem for you to seek out - it’s worth your time if you are a fan of melodic death or black. The debut is listenable, but not nearly as approachable as this one. Listenable and accessible death metal simply does not get any better than this one - seek it out at all costs! 5 out of 5.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Death Metal Tuesday - The IVth Crusade


After the two successful albums on Earache (War Master / Realm of Chaos), England's Bolt Thrower released The IVth Crusade in 1994. Evolving from a crust / grind sound, Bolt Thrower were one of the first death metal bands to slow things down and focus on double-bass mid-tempo grooves.

By this fourth album, mid-tempo became the rule and consequently, things begin to sound a little repetitive. All the tracks run in that 4-6 minute range and simply do not vary enough to warrant the duration. Bolt Thrower has generated a devout following with this sound, but it has never really grabbed me for more than a couple songs at a time. That being said - if I listen to a track at random from this album, I usually dig it. Ritual is a standout, as it slows to a crawl several times and that sludgy, down-tuned guitar just sounds beastly. Ditto for Spearhead which offers enough variety to stay interesting. Celestial Sanctuary also has some awesome riffs and a nice doomy pace to it. 

Lead throat, Karl Willetts, has always sounded a bit bored to me. His delivery is very monotonous with little enthusiasm or menace. The result is the vocals become a background piece and the focus falls on the riffs. This means a song is only as good as its riffs and after a few tracks, Bolt Thrower seem to be repeating themselves. They also tend to hit the same few scales in their riffs - a song will end and a new one will begin, sounding like an extension of the last track. 

I can't call myself a Bolt Thrower fan I guess, but in small doses I find them hard not to like. Longtime fans put this and "...For Victory" at the top of the list. I might recommend "...For Victory" over this release as the production is that much better. Not a bad album by any means - 3 out of 5. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Death Metal Tuesday - Clandestine


Entombed started as Nihilist in Sweden in 1987, when most of the members were 15 or 16 years old. Along with Dismember (Carnage), Entombed are considered the founding fathers of Swedish death metal. Their debut album, "Left Hand Path" is the blueprint for the SDM sound - the Sunlight studio sound, including those famous "buzzsaw" guitars, was copied by legions if Swedish followers to come. Entombed were the first SDM band to land a deal through England's Earache records and "Left Hand Path" was hugely successful (by 1990 death metal standards of course).

This makes "Clandestine" one of the most highly anticipated follow up albums of 1991. Most of the guys in the band were 18-19 by this time, and they had become overnight metal gods in the eyes of their Swedish faithful. Nicke Andersson says this stardom led to cockiness which led to him firing Petrov from vocal duties just prior to recording their follow up. Consequently, Andersson fills in on vocals (having it credited to someone else in the liner notes). 

Andersson's voice is really the only downside of Clandestine, as there are a fair amount of kickass SDM tunes on board here - "Chaos Breed" and "Crawl" being my two favorites - well composed and both with stellar middle sections that evolve and keep the listener engaged throughout. "Stranger Aeons" was the single off this one, and it starts with a haunting intro which makes the guitars sound doubly crunchy when they eventually come in. It's a weird choice for a single though, as the intro and outro instrumental sections dominate the duration of the song. "Evilyn" was always the other standout track on this one, because it was mostly slow and mid-tempo with great groove sections. 

The production is a meatier "Left Hand Path" with the guitars sporting even more low end crunch than they did on the debut. The vocals really are such a shame, even Andersson himself admits he was not up for the task. I wish they'd go back and let Pertov sing the tracks for a re-release, these songs are just so good. 

The pressure of being Swedish Death Metal's poster boys would lead to Entombed drastically changing their sound on the follow up to this album, "Wolverine Blues." This would have a Metallica-Black-Album-effect on the Swedish scene, causing most of the key SDM bands to follow suit, slow their tempos, and crank out that horrid Rot & Roll crap. It would take years before most of them realized SDM was what they should be doing again. 4 out of 5.