Death Metal Battle Royale Round 1: Sepultura’s Morbid Visions vs Adramelech’s Psychostasia

October 21, 2016 § Leave a comment

morbid_visions   psychostasia

A strange stake-out between one of the genre’s elder statesmen, Sepultura, and one of three contenders from Finland’s magnificent death metal scene, Adramelech.

Updated tournament bracket

Death Metal Battle Royale Round 1: Sinister’s Cross The Styx vs Molested’s Blod Draum

October 21, 2016 § Leave a comment

cross-the-styx  blod-draum

Impressionistic appraisal: Sinister’s Cross The Styx (1992)
Intro ‘Carnificina Seclesta‘ may as well carry Dante Alighieri’s subtext: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here“, for what follows is one of the most “satanic” death metal albums ever recorded. If death metal be a musical inversion and an ideological rejection of the spiritually humiliating doctrine of “man as creature of immanent sin needing redemption”, then Cross The Styx remains one of the most potent enfilades fired by the genre at orthodox, organized religion.

Analysis: Sinister’s Cross The Styx (1992)
A masterclass in death metal rhythm guitar playing, Cross The Styx is inspired by the Deicide debut, but I will play devil’s advocate, and say that this album was released a couple of months before Legion, the Deicide album it bears closest resemblance to. Make of that what you will.

The Deicide connection is most apparent in the use of short phrases with intricate syncopation and a constant, staggered, quasi-percussive string attack (think “Infernal Majesty, take this dead offering, feeding the demon seed, evil bestowed on me“). Where Sinister part ways with Deicide is in more pronounced, lateral melodic movement, frequently couched in fast, speed metal mannerisms.

Dense with riffs like few other death metal albums, it could be said that each of these riffs are mini-compositions in their own right, such is their detail and movement towards a very real crescendo. At the head of just such a crescendo is frequently found a sort of “tail” leading into the next riff; this tail may be something as simple as a furiously repeating slide-reverse slide maneuver, but the effect is one of cumulative motion. There is no stasis to be found on Cross The Styx, and not because of a lack of dynamics either; yes, this is an album of fast, hyper-aggressive death metal throughout, but it also boasts of immense variation of structure at the lower levels, bringing into play a degree of musicality that its extreme aesthetic belies.

Impressionistic appraisal: Molested’s Blod Draum (1995)
Blod Draum is the music of painted Caledonian warriors charging down the Scottish highlands in full battle lust to face the charge of Roman legions into the British isles. Savage and exotic by equal turns, Blod Draum makes the fan of this music wonder wistfully of the time that must have been to give birth to such creatively adventurous and emotionally stirring high art. Fortunately, music’s specific nature, so different from all other forms of art, allows us to remain firmly entrenched in that past, to learn and relearn the truths that made it what it was.

Analysis: Molested’s Blod Draum (1995)
Molested capture the zephyr-like essence of long-form, consonant melodies practiced by the likes of Dissection and Sacramentum in a heavier and more insistent death metal mold. The aggressive component to Molested‘s songwriting is mostly sublimated as a bridge to that expansive, melodic nature; the only occasion when that twisting dissonance is heard in full stride is on album closer ‘Forlorn As A Mist Of Grief‘, which offers a tantalizing vision of experimentation in harmonically diminished tones.

Use of musical implements like bagpipes, violins, and didgeridoos, is made at opportune moments, as segues and interludes, to give this album a decidedly rustic, unorthodox, and thematically united air, a sum effect which only the most hard-nosed of critics would call gratuitous. The delicacy that the reader may initially suspect of such a description is actually a high idealism; whatever one’s opinion of idealism might be, Molested prove that it can be employed in the achievement of nobler deeds, in the abstract or in the flesh.

I prefer Cross The Styx because of its relentlessly violent nature, as well as its total mastery of the death metal form, at micro, macro, and over-arching levels. While Blod Draum‘s highs are true summits for the paradigm within which it operates, Molested‘s is a fundamentally melodic take on an abrasive stye; that is no reason to discount their prowess, but the fact that that abrasive style fails to be fully realized in any manner other than an avalanche of drums, counts against them in this close match-up. The question that leads to be asked of us all is, what is the true nature of death metal?

Sinister go through.

Updated tournament bracket

Death Metal Battle Royale Round 1: Morbid Angel’s Altars Of Madness vs Obituary’s Cause Of Death

October 19, 2016 § Leave a comment

altars-of-madness   cause-of-death

Impressionistic appraisal: Obituary’s Cause Of Death (1990)
Cleaner and roomier than the sounds of the sewer that was Slowly We Rot, Cause Of Death, and indeed the music of Obituary, belongs to the dreamtime of the genre, and therefore is a stepping stone to grislier pursuits for death metal fans worldwide, but especially so in the part of the world where I come from. Accessibility to any form of metal was rare, once, immeasurably more so in the case of extreme metal; an Obituary tape was one of the most ubiquitous, and prized, items to be found in the arsenal of the budding death metal warrior. The sound is simple and directly traceable to its hallowed ancestor, but despite that, no band has ever really sounded like Obituary. Turned Inside Out is about the best way of describing it to the lay reader.

Analysis: Obituary’s Cause Of Death (1990)
Do Obituary pay royalties in perpetuity to Tom G. Warrior? They should if they don’t, seeing how their sound is as obvious a descendant of Celtic Frost as can be. At least the band acknowledges this debt on Cause Of Death with a fine cover of ‘Circle Of The Tyrants‘; the association with Celtic Frost and Hellhammer tacitly implies a link with even older forebears like Venom and, ultimately, Motorhead, such is the strange, almost teleological evolution of this strain of death metal.

John Tardy’s vocals, albeit done with lyrics and slightly greater enunciation here than on the debut, are still the most singular in death metal, spreading all over the sparse nature of these songs with the feverish potency of a swamp gas. Obituary are master purveyors of “setting the stage”, or creating lead-ups to passages of great and primal energy, using middle-of-the-road tempos and intelligent picking in the way of Black Sabbath on ‘Children Of The Grave‘ to create a sense of heightened expectation in the listener, dousing him in the thick of the action as it were. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Cause Of Death is how concrete it is despite expending all its energy into building towards that proverbial edge of the precipice. This is incremental death metal which uses a mixed approach of suspended animation and suggestion to reunite its various discrete units.

Impressionistic appraisal: Morbid Angel’s Altars Of Madness (1989)
Altars Of Madness is a death metal album but in its essence is all about life, for what is life if not the stirring of the spirit or whatever name that life-giving force goes by? Trey Azagthoth and company made a lasting philosophical statement for death metal-as-art, in the process hoisting a banner for an entire community to rally under. Nothing but nothing compares.

Analysis: Morbid Angel’s Altars Of Madness (1989)
Thunderous, thematic, theatrical are the three Ts to describe Altars Of Madness. Morbid Angel construct a dialectic of death metal, where conflicting musical forces indulge each other in dialogue to decide overall fitness. Though not contrapuntal by the classical definition, such is the nature of the call-response aesthetic heard on this album that I’m tempted to coin a new definition for it: “cintrapuntal” (contra-intra-point), or the tendency of a single voice within the context of a song to assume dual, or even multiple, roles simultaneously or by turns. Enacted at the kind of breakneck speeds that Morbid Angel deliver these pieces, the effect is sublative, deceiving the listener into thinking that he is indeed listening to a veritable Babel of demons revolting against the edicts of a jealous God.

Altars Of Madness eschews the layering of textures that would be heard so prominently on Blessed Are The Sick for the nascent fury existing at the turn of the ’80s, when genres hadn’t completely ossified into their eventual forms. Pete Sandoval’s militant blasting renders portions of this album some of the best grindcore never to be acknowledged as such, but beneath that spiked exterior still lurks the sense of biblical, supernatural drama so specific to this band. Azagthoth’s guitar is the voice of order from chaos, a molten liquid cascade of tapping and trilling, and till date the finest realization of the universe-within and the universe-without dichotomy of Eastern thought applied to death metal.

I have often classified guitarists, and bands in general, by the sheer “impossibility” or “undoability” of their ideative processes; impossibility may be the wrong word to use here, but certain things seem more occluded to normal minds than others. I have never received this impression from, say, Metallica and James Hetfield, as legitimately great as their early work is; I have, however, felt so about Dave Mustaine. In the same light, what people like Trey Azagthoth and Robert Vigna achieved remains an utterly individualistic emanation of intuition and subconscious will, which a band like Obituary, or indeed their formative influence Tom G. Warrior, never appeared capable of.

That this match-up registered so evenly confounds me. Obituary are a sentimental favourite to many, but their sound is fundamentally second-hand. Altars Of Madness, however, is a revolution in death metal, the one album that set the line in the sand for death metal while simultaneously influencing several other related sub-genres. Hear it again to know where we come from and what we’re about.

Updated tournament bracket

Death Metal Battle Royale Round 1: Suffocation’s Pierced From Within vs Demigod’s Slumber Of Sullen Eyes

October 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

pierced-from-within   slumber-of-sullen-eyes

Impressionistic appraisal: Suffocation’s Pierced From Within (1995)
From a previous post: “Pierced From Within…is the music of an age where humans have ceased to exist or, at the very least, have been reduced to a pathetically subservient role before a boundless, unfeeling power. This music is callous, but in the way of a superior, calculating intelligence to whom we must seem as little more than ants, a pestilence to be cleared on the path to recolonization. There is no joy to be found here, no ebullient strain of optimism, and no Terminator-style resistance; the sun of the future is a dull and smeared orb that struggles to find its way through ashen skies, while remnants of human kind cower in caves from the acid rain.”

Analysis: Suffocation’s Pierced From Within (1995)
Chopped up into extra-small portions with no head, tail, or middle, the individual phrase on vast portions of Pierced From Within is drained of all melody, conventional or otherwise, assuming an almost exclusively transitional role serving song motion. When one makes allusions to New York death metal borrowing from grindcore and hardcore, it is this severely attenuated nature of the individual phrase that is being hinted at, along with more obvious shared traits like breakdowns. Because of this, chances for developing a traditional melodic narrative, even as death metal goes, are relegated in favour of a jackhammer-like percussive take on the genre.

Which should not be taken to imply a lack of continuity. Far from it; Pierced From Within, and indeed all of Suffocation‘s output before reformation in ’04, presents the finest example of progression in the brutal death metal field. Strange as it may sound when said about the dissonant paradigm in which Suffocation work, theirs still is a very lyrical sort of death metal; this lyricism, however, has nothing to do with expression in melody, but rather evokes a primal, subconscious body-rhythm of sorts. The stellar lead guitar work of Terrence Hobbs and Doug Cerrito tries to coax some vestige of humanity out from the gears of this machine, but Suffocation‘s real contribution to death metal is in delivering a muscular and internally nihilistic variant that has become a fundamental pillar of the genre. Try as one may, it is hard to imagine this band’s best material sounding any other way than how it does. Its cohesiveness remains hermetic and inaccessible to criticism.

Impressionistic appraisal: Demigod’s Slumber Of Sullen Eyes (1992)
A fellow metalhead friend is endearingly titled Le Professeur for his encyclopedic knowledge of the genre. Many have been the occasions when this personage has slipped into meditative trances while hearing this music, states that have always seemed eerily reminiscent of the metalhead yogi found on the cover of Slumber Of Sullen Eyes, levitating with eyes open finally to the mysteries of the universe. An album for the connoisseur of death metal if ever there was one, the music contained inside lives up to the pretensions found in the artwork.

Analysis: Demigod’s Slumber Of Sullen Eyes (1992)
Finnish band Demigod‘s music is the polar opposite of Suffocation; long chains of tremolo-picked, minor scale/tentatively chromatic melodies over simple, in-time drumming form the foundation to this album. Innocuous though that description may sound, Slumber Of Sullen Eyes is one of the most exquisitely crafted collections of songs in death metal, its latent genius becoming evident only, but with near-unrivaled impact, as the album progresses and the various pieces fall into place.

That genius is one of self-composure and conviction in what is being attempted. The effort here is one of a master jeweller who takes a precious stone hewn from the rough, and polishes it to a shine. Demigod extract every last ounce of vitality from the bosom of these riffs – and it must be said that these are some of the finest metal hieroglyphs to have found their way out of frozen Scandinavia – before moving onto the next of succession. The less experienced fan may find this sort of deliberation taxing, but in time will surely come to appreciate the message that is progressively disclosed in an assembly of layers.

I may have once enjoyed Pierced From Within more, but with time, I find myself gravitating more towards the song-writing prowess of a band like Demigod, so unassuming on the exterior yet communicative of a musical meaning that death metal as a genre desperately needs to embrace going forward in time. Demigod win this round.

Updated tournament bracket



Death Metal Battle Royale Round 1: Gorguts’ The Erosion Of Sanity vs Atrocity’s Todessehnsucht

October 15, 2016 § Leave a comment

erosion-of-sanity   todessehnsucht

Impressionistic appraisal: Gorguts’ The Erosion Of Sanity (1993)
A Dan Seagrave drawing depicts H.R. Giger’s varmints in some kind of interdimensional, cubist snapshot, transposed on a familiarly dystopian landscape. Seagrave’s canon is the stuff of death metal legend, forming links to benchmarks of the genre every bit as essential and representative as the music itself. The Erosion Of Sanity is Gorguts‘ magnum opus, moving farther away from their Death (Leprosy) -inspired debut into one of the most natural alliances between technical prowess and old school savagery.

Analysis: Gorguts’ The Erosion Of Sanity (1993)
The Erosion Of Sanity is dreamlike in how its narrative unfolds. Technically intrepid like few death metal albums till that point, or since, it is fascinating to hear the poetic rhythm that these songs hold. Gorguts are masters of the broken riff, where a phrase is interrupted in the middle of its natural progression by angular shards of rapid activity, before being rejoined for its logical conclusion. Achieved through virtuoso, off-beat percussion, and the fast switching between alternate-strummed notes at half-tempo, this technique creates a peculiar, river-like effect, where momentum ebbs and flows but is never fully stanched.

To those who consider death metal an amelodic music, The Erosion Of Sanity gives a fitting riposte, proving how melody in death metal can indeed be made out of unconventional note choices in dissonant arrangements. Gorguts practice incremental progressions in tone between adjacent chromatic passages. These are all but undiscernible in their micro-shifting of textures, until the movement is revealed in its entirety, usually punctuated with a more readily identifiable hook or refrain serving as the song’s identity. The focus, in all cases, is on an unorthodox approach to harmony, where the lack of tonal centers does nothing to deter this music from having a fierce and undeniable musical logic.

Impressionistic appraisal: Atrocity’s Todessehnsucht (1992)
In one word: daunting. Everything about Todessehnsucht poses an intellectual gauntlet to the listener, regardless of his experience, with death metal or with this album, itself. A serious album in every aspect conceivable, much like debut Hallucinations, Todessehnsucht remains a proud pillar of the technical death metal movement. The two signifiers implicit in that epithet are noteworthy: Todessehnsucht is technical and it is death metal.

Analysis: Atrocity’s Todessehnsucht (1992)
Michael Schwarz on drums initially appears to overwhelm proceedings with odd time-signatures, but closer attention reveals how inextricably tied his patterns are with individual notes, and with even Alexander Krull’s Barney Greenway-style shouts, thus forming one of the most interesting three-way musical partnerships in death metal history.

The riffs on Todessehnsucht follow many of the principles found on The Erosion Of Sanity; the differences lie beyond playing technique, and have more to do with matters of composition. Todessehnsucht is a willfully jagged album, not unlike a dressing mirror with a web of cracks running across its surface; that the reflection staring back at you is your own is recognizable, but the odd dislocations and refractions in the image conspire to make for a psychologically disconcerting effect. Such is Todessehnsucht‘s nature. Fearless of spirit, there are sections here reveling in low E string rhythmic acrobatics that portent the emergence of djent, but Atrocity subsume these theatrics without a second thought in a vibe thick with mysticism.

Reader polls indicate Atrocity comfortably trouncing Gorguts. Choosing between these two classics is a hopeless task, equals that they are in every way imaginable. My personal preference leans towards The Erosion Of Sanity, but that readers have opted for the less recognized album and by such a margin surely counts for something, too. Atrocity go through to Round Two.

Updated tournament bracket



Sound of silence, or the nature of music

October 14, 2016 § Leave a comment

ludwig van beethoven

This is a short story I wrote, based on what the nature of music might mean to the aurally impaired. It can be downloaded here

Synchronicity, melancholy pessimism, and a wonderful life

October 7, 2016 § Leave a comment


I was sifting through Dark Horizon Records’ Summer Solstice sale some time ago, and came across a copy of Czech spazz-grind band Melancholy Pessimism‘s 1999 album Inconsistent World going for $3. I’ve had the CD for a long time, but it has spent most of the last ten years languishing away in a spindle that I rarely reach for anymore. On this occasion, however, I took Inconsistent World out for a spin, from a mixture of curiosity and listlessness more than anything else. I didn’t go past the first song, but not because my tastes have changed that drastically; in some ways, they have, but the reason for me stopping dead in my tracks was the intro to the first song ‘Paradox Life‘. Layered along with the sounds of gunfire are the strains to ‘Wonderful Life‘, a pop hit from 1987 by English singer-songwriter Black, or Colin Vearncombe, a long forgotten song from my childhood that I’ve had no occasion to think about in more than twenty-five years. Come to think of it, I don’t recollect this song jumping out at me when I first heard Inconsistent World either, but such is the way of things.

Intrigued, I pulled up ‘Wonderful Life‘ on youtube, and, sure enough, it was the same song from long ago, a gateway to a veritable treasure-chest of memories. I don’t think the song ever made it big on the American mainland, but it was a staple across Europe, and made its way into the subcontinent through one of those ubiquitous compilation tapes that were such a vogue in the eighties. It’s a simple song; it’s a pop song, what else could one expect from it? It is well-written, for what it is, but I’m not here to expatiate on its musical virtues or lack thereof. What it did to me was invoke lazy, sepia-tinted memories of Sundays in my Bombay home, when metal was still some ways from consciousness and the game of cricket consumed my living hours.

It’s a funny thing, taking stock of the past. When I think of it, what is it that I really remember from that time? Events remain etched in the mind, but the more you scratch beneath their veneer, the more obscure and jumbled-up everything becomes. Sounds, smells, voices; the mind tries to substitute analogues for these things from another, more recent time, and this is the sense of familiarity we have when we talk of them in the abstract and out of nostalgia. But to think of a specific event and to try to extract specific details from it is a slippery, verging-on-impossible task.

In that spirit, I describe Sunday mornings spent in intense play – and what play isn’t intense at that age – and our mothers’ summons for lunch interrupting those games at around noon. I would run upstairs and be greeted by the smell of chicken done up Konkani-style, simmering in coconut gravy, caramelized onions, and Indian spices, flowing through the house. My father would be enjoying a drink – this is from a time when he could still enjoy a drink – and listening to music, reading a book with glasses perched on the bridge of his nose. He had quite the eclectic taste in music, and it wasn’t uncommon to find Ornette Coleman follow right after something like Engelbert Humperdinck on vinyl. ‘Wonderful Life‘, too, was thrown on somewhere in there, I’m sure. I have no real evidence of this, but it is a sort of “pre-natal” memory that has come with me through time. We had to get rid of many of those tapes later on because they had gathered some kind of mold, something I regret today, despite advances in technology making everything so much more accessible.

Fast-forward again to the present, to Melancholy Pessimism and their use of ‘Wonderful Life‘. I googled this song’s history, and discovered that its creator, Colin Vearncombe, died earlier this year on January 16 in a rather grisly car accident. I’ve touched on the topic of synchronicity a couple of times on this blog; it is an old concept, of things colluding outside our immediate purview. We call it happenstance or coincidence, but we’d be lying to ourselves out of sheer stubbornness if we discount the almost-tangible aspect of orchestration that these events contain. In the post just linked, I compared this sort of serendipitous occurrence to a heightened state of intuition, which allows us to make sense of seemingly unrelated events.

When I take store of the “coincidences” involved in the Melancholy Pesismism-‘Wonderful Life‘ connection, they confound me. To hear a band I haven’t heard in ten years through the fleeting glimpse of a webstore’s bargain bin, a band so unremittingly harsh in sound and worldview, through this noise, detect the cloudy tone of a song I haven’t heard in over twenty-five years, then to hear that song and open the door to a host of memories, both pleasant and not so pleasant, and finally to discover that the man singing this optimistic, dulcet music, died not so long ago in a road mishap; I don’t know, it feels more than simple happenstance. Which is not to say I believe it to be anything more than simple happenstance, but from happenstance can also arise important realizations on the individual plane.

Death Metal Battle Royale Round 1: Atheist’s Piece Of Time vs Massacra’s Final Holocaust

October 5, 2016 § Leave a comment

piece-of-time   final-holocaust

Impressionistic appraisal: Atheist’s Piece Of Time (1989)
A soft synthesizer forming a dark, compound-chord progression plays as soundtrack to the breaking surf, announcing the beginning of this special album. On the cover stands a grand, cosmic hourglass, pouring time itself into the creation of Stonehenge. Retrospective appropriately allows us to replace that mysterious wonder of the ancient world with Piece Of Time, quite literally a peerless pocket of death metal history.

Analysis: Atheist’s Piece Of Time (1989)
On Piece Of Time, Atheist used speed metal technique to complement an already acute knowledge of rhythm-as-tool for generating tremendous impetus on the fly, even from dead halts. In physics, this would be akin to the production of power, represented by the product of force and velocity; Atheist have the velocity part safely covered, but the vector of force in their arsenal is a store of creativity that mixes conventional, metal rhythm technique with a quasi-jazz, lead guitar style, making for longer and more fluid phrases than had been heard in death metal till then.

Allied with the technical innovation is an intuitive sense for setting up a song’s premise. Owners of a varied palette and conscious of their origins in hook-laden speed metal, Atheist center each song around a core melodic idea, but only reintroduce it at specific junctures during the song for the sake of internal orientation; the predominant attitude here is of an almost free-jazz approach to death metal composition, but the balance between those disparate musical elements is maintained with immaculate tension and awareness. Piece Of Time is a savage album first and foremost, whatever adventurousness it is wont to display always subsumed under the rubric of death metal’s intensity and nihilism.

Impressionistic appraisal: Massacra’s Final Holocaust (1990)
I’m living my life causing, Warfare!
Reigning king of the night,Warfare!
Take it from the streets, Warfare!
Put it in the sheets, Warfare!

Those lyrics are from Jag Panzer‘s classic Ample Destruction, but they apply perfectly to the pugilistic brand of death metal that Massacra play on Final Holocaust. The spirit remains the same, except that Massacra eschew any cheesiness inherent in the heavy metal band’s delivery, and make their music a potent and dangerous symbol for nature red in tooth and claw. Plain and simple, Final Holocaust is Darwinian Death Metal.

Analysis: Massacra’s Final Holocaust (1990)
Final Holocaust is an album of riff-sets and bars. In many ways, all metal is a music of refrains; death metal, beginning from Hell Awaits and Morbid Visions, made it something of an article of faith for riffs to be iterated a certain number of times before moving onto the next pattern. The riffs on Final Holocaust adhere to this philosophy of eddies with some vehemence; they are cleanly demarcated and travel through the prescribed number of cycles at all costs.

Mono-flavored at the level of riff, the thrill in experiencing an album like Final Holocaust lies not in anticipating any kind of overt intra-expressiveness, but rather in following the connections between its many discrete parts, and how the band succeeds in overcoming their limitations with the intelligent use of variations of tempo and the reproduction of certain motifs at slightly different frequencies. This is in many ways the consummate instance of a bottom-up approach to metal songwriting, where one part leads to another, in strict chronology or not; one might question what manner of songwriting does not follow a bottom-up approach, but few writers sit down to write a story without the elementary skeleton of a plot in mind, and few painters begin a canvas without having at least a vague cloud of an idea of what they want to depict, so why should metal songwriting be any different?

The Atheist sound was already firmly in place on Piece Of Time, albeit dressed in a more severe garb. It is a sound dripping with the explosion of young talent and ambition, and all the emotional intensity that entails. Final Holocaust is a fierce consolidation of previous genre virtues, presented in a far more riff-centric and riff-dense format, executed with cohesion, but ultimately its lack of color and predictability render it deficient against an album of greater, purer musical imagination and expression.

Atheist win this round.

Updated tournament bracket


Death Metal Battle Royale Round 1: Cryptopsy (Blasphemy Made Flesh) vs Monstrosity (Imperial Doom)

October 4, 2016 § Leave a comment

blasphemy-made-flesh  imperial-doom

Impressionistic appraisal: Cryptopsy’s Blasphemy Made Flesh
Mutant christ, loving christ
Know me with thine naked eyes
Holy christ, one tenth the size
So unlike the other christs

Feral, rabble-rousing extreme music that tries to create the violence of grindcore in a death metal mold, and whose simplicity in writing is overwhelmed by unheard-of levels of drumming stamina and a madman on vocals.

Impressionistic appraisal: Monstrosity’s Imperial Doom
The cover art of Imperial Doom resembles a final stage from the NES Contra video game of years past, but this album requires no theme or exposition to qualify itself as a form of Absolute Death Metal.

Analysis: Cryptopsy’s Blasphemy Made Flesh:
Blasphemy Made Flesh is music of short phrases, connected in progression to lead to the inevitable hardcore-styled breakdown. In this lie both its strengths and weaknesses. This writing style prevents songs from developing any kind of progressive, wide-angling perspective but, by the same token, this lack of nous allows Cryptopsy to concentrate incredible amounts of physical energy into their music, to date unrivaled in the death metal field.

Cryptopsy main guitarist Jon Levasseur, in addition to the bludgeoning beatdown of fast-moving power chord shapes, occasionally transposes a jagged, neoclassical melodicism on these short phrases, while the bass pings and twangs with regular alacrity, but both are carried along, almost despite themselves, by a tsunami of extreme drumming from Flo Mounier, a regular Neil Peart in fast-forward. Lord Worm’s indecipherable, random grunts and screams preside over the ruins; that the noises he emits represent some of the finest, funniest, dark poetry written in the genre exemplifies the Cryptopsy ethos: barely held together, bursting at the seams, stark raving mad yet possessing still of that sliver of intelligence which was the cause of said madness in the first place.

Analysis: Monstrosity’s Imperial Doom:
How does a Lee Harrison or a Steve Asheim write a death metal song? Being drummers first and foremost (though Harrison is perfectly capable of playing guitars at a high level), does their input end with the setting up of a song’s rhythmic substructure, or do they have vital say in the shape and form of the riffs that are created on top of their drumming? It’s probably the latter, but I would think drummer-songwriters have more than a simple Yes/No mandate in how their songs sound.

Regardless of such musings, Imperial Doom is an album that leaves nothing to the imagination. The influence of Slayer looms large over these songs; the flowing tremolo lines of Hell Awaits, the choppier stylings of Reign In Blood, and the dark, inverted atmosphere of South Of Heaven, all find home on Imperial Doom at one time or another. How Monstrosity take this formative DNA of the genre, and blow it up from the inside out, without sounding as obvious as, say, Vader, makes for an interesting case study by itself, and perhaps focuses even greater attention on the role of a drummer-songwriter like Harrison. Guitars, in this case, are forced to follow the lead of the drummer’s vision which makes for a peculiarly momentum-gathering, turn-on-a-dime, cataract-like listening experience. At the risk of repetition, Imperial Doom is a great example of the will to motion in death metal so often mentioned on this blog.

Cryptopsy invented a novel take on a genre slipping into a premature dotage. Blasphemy Made Flesh is a physical, confrontational album, but also somewhat gratuitous when one takes honest stock of its qualities. Imperial Doom may not be the finest death metal album ever made; its lack of variety in expression disqualifies it from such heady titles, but by redirecting the energy and technique of its ancestors into a death metal of heightened awareness at the interstitial level, it comfortably triumphs over Blasphemy Made Flesh.

Monstrosity go through.

Updated tournament bracket

Death Metal Battle Royale Round 1: Autopsy (Mental Funeral) vs Asphyx (The Rack)

October 2, 2016 § Leave a comment

autopsy-mental-funeral  asphyx-the-rack

Impressionistic appraisal: Autopsy’s Mental Funeral (1991)
Psychologically devastating death metal, like walking in from the winter snow, into an abattoir, floor slick with the unidentifiable entrails of once-living organisms.

Impressionistic appraisal: Asphyx’s The Rack (1991)
An Ode To A Nameless Grave‘, one of the finest song titles in death metal, encapsulates the epic nature of this music, humble in origin, struggling to escape the speed metal that birthed it, a conscious study in the beginnings of ambition in death metal.

Analysis: Autopsy’s Mental Funeral (1991)
Mental Funeral saw Autopsy diverging further from the template they shared with Death on the bands’ debut albums. Chris Reifert had already assembled a crack team of the morbid-minded, which came into their own on this album, creating an unremitting and entirely original strain of death metal that has influenced the gruesome, B-themed underbelly of the genre ever since.

If ever there was an honorific such as Death Metal MVP, surely Chris Reifert would have an overwhelming claim to it. His contribution to the Autopsy legend is threefold: band creator and chief songwriter, owner of ghastly, homicidal vocals, and perhaps most significantly, the most idiosyncratic and organic of all death metal drummers. There’s no understating that last aspect; Reifert’s drumming style makes the Autopsy sound. Slightly sloppy of execution but always on time, ambidexterous at multiple facets: sliding, rolling bass-drum maneuvers, punkish D-beats including a unique, slow variant, outright doom, and a sense of groove that I can only liken to a twisted take on gypsy harvest dances, Reifert’s drumming is utterly musical and provides the skeleton around which the guitars ply their trade.

Danny Coralles and Eric Cutler, the other mainstays in the band, evolve a riffing style which borrows equally from Black Sabbath, grindcore, and musical appropriations from a culture yet to be discovered! There’s nothing like it, not quite pastiche, not sincere homage either; it isn’t without melodic flair, the guitar solos take turns between squirming, atonal rackets, and something moodier and eloquent, and the riffs are of iconic quality. One underrated song in particular, the short ‘Bonesaw‘, hints at more violent, technically intricate developments to follow in death metal. Technicality and progression aren’t charges liable to be thrown at Autopsy; they have made their name on a substrate of foulness, and rightfully so, but to me theirs is an extemporaneous music, an improvised jam, most deserving of the term avant garde, in all the right ways.

Analysis: Asphyx’s The Rack (1991)
Asphyx‘s revolving door of personnel changes are confusing, but Eric Daniels on guitar was the constant throughout their seminal run in the ’90s. A style heavily indebted to speed metal technique, Asphyx injected copious quantities of doom and a European – and by association, distinctly un-American – melodic aesthetic into their music. Retrospective and the internet has made it commonplace for bands across the globe to sound any way they wish, but it is hard to imagine this music originating anywhere but Europe back in the early ’90s, such was the cloistered design of the underground then.

Like countrymen Pestilence‘s earliest efforts, Asphyx, during their faster sections, have the “bounce” one associates with speed metal bands. Frequently used is a speed metal technique where galloping, low-string chugs are used between roving swarms of power chords, drum beats serving to accent those power chords. This is primarily used to speed up tempos, and therefore is a mechanism of great importance, considering doom is the omnipresent hallmark of this band.

Ironic, then, for Asphyx‘s main achievement to be peculiarly life-affirming. Lethargy, torpor, and the general weight of life oppresses us all, but Asphyx, by juxtaposing that negativity with the effervescence of motion in their music, teach us that the way out is to not lie down prostrated, waiting to be crushed out of existence, but to fight through the mire to gain a better view of where we’ve come from.

There are many similarities between Mental Funeral and The Rack, primary among them being the intelligent, alternating use of slow and fast sections. The albums are graced with two of the most distinguished vocalists in death metal. They both carry a refined sense of melody, albeit of a more traditional inclination in the case of Asphyx.

Mental Funeral, however, by way of its unpredictability, its irreverence of nascent genre conventions, its progressiveness, and its outright memorability, is the better death metal album of the two.

Autopsy go through to Round Two.

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