overground scene


An auto-biography of gig attendance #3: The Haunted and Acid Death 1999

The gig by The Haunted and Acid Death in Peristeri, Greece, back in September 1999 is one of the most memorable gigs I’ve ever been. The reason is not because the bands in question were among my favourite bands (they were not), or because the gig itself was particularly amazing (it was good); instead, what makes this gig particularly significant is the circumstances within which it took place.

In September 1999, one of my best friends migrated to Italy to study economics. He also happened to be the only friend who would have joined me to this gig if he hadn’t left – none of my other friends liked The Haunted. I guess the sadness of his departure, combined with being at the concert on my own, marred the occasion. This is not, however, the only reason this gig has stayed with me. On September 7, 1999, a huge earthquake shook Athens. Many people died as the result of collapsed buildings, and for days people were afraid of staying in their homes. Many would camp out in public squares. My family spent several nights at my grandparents’ house, because our flat suffered damages and did not feel safe to be in as aftershocks continued for days. Being at the gig just a few days later (September 18), I was constantly worried that an aftershock might cause the audience to panic, or some lighting rig to unhook and fall on my head. The club (Woodstock, in Peristeri) was not in great shape, and that added to the stress.

Acid Death circa 2000 (source: encomium zine)

Anyway, neither of those things happened, and the vibrations caused by the sound combined with thrashing around would have probably concealed any minor aftershock. The gig was actually great. Sadly, I do not remember the opening band, Deadlights, performing. The main supporting band, Acid Death, was from Athens and played prog-death. By then they had a couple of great releases (an album and an E.P), and they were incredible live. On that night, they played a few songs from their debut album, which I loved back then, and, if I remember correctly, they may have also played “Apathy murders hope”, a little gem from the homonymous 1993 single (later on also appearing on the split E.P. with Avulsed).

By that point The Haunted had only released their debut, which I loved. Marco Aro had already taken the place of Dolving, and during the show they played a new song off their yet unreleased sophomore album. That song was “Leech”, which I thought sounded awful at the time. Two of the highlights were that they covered “Blinded by fear” by At The Gates, and “Raining blood” by Slayer. The tremolo-picked note after the final lyrics of “Raining blood” surreptitiously bled into the beginning of “Shattered“, and that was an awesome moment! According to the notes on the back of my ticket stub (see below), the band also played “World of lies” by At The Gates, which I faintly remember, and Judas Priest‘s “The ripper”, of which I have no recollection. Of course, the highlight of this gig was seeing two of my music heroes, namely the Björler brothers, whose music introduced me to death metal a few years before that gig. 



A brief history of brutal singing

One of the notions with which I have disagreed over the years is the notion of radical innovation. Instead, the idea that culture develops slowly, incrementally, cumulatively, in small steps by many feet going forwards as well as backwards and sideways – rather than in big leaps in one direction – is something to which I have adhered. Not when I was younger, though. When I was young I was very eager to identify radical innovators in the world of music. Statements like, “the first person who played blast beats was…”, or, “x invented death metal”, or, relevant to this post, “the first person who did growling vocals was…”. All of these statements are, what we call in the social sciences, reductionist; they take a complex phenomenon and reduce it to a simple, straightforward statement. Nobody invented blast beats, although it wouldn’t be wrong to argue that after decades of developments in various genres of popular music, audiences and musicians – through complex processes of cultural negotiation and production – eventually distilled styles and isolated certain sounds which eventually became canonical, the norm.

L-R: Tom G. Warrior, Jeff Becerra, Max Cavalera, Kam Lee, Chuck Schuldiner

Similarly, nobody invented growling vocals. Of course, there are people that are readily identified as the inventors of growling vocals, namely Jeff Becerra (Possessed), Tom G. Warrior (Hellhammer, Celtic Frost), Kam Lee (Death, Massacre), Chuck Schuldiner (Death), as well as Max Cavalera (Sepultura). They did not, however, “invent” this form of signing out of nowhere. Just like with other recognisable generic tropes of the world of death metal, I’ve always been interested in how this particular form of vocals came about. As such, when listening to music I have always been alert to those small innovations in the world of singing that could be associated with extreme metal singing.

Short-sharp-shocks

One of the oldest recorded examples I have identified of what can be considered a growl goes back to 1976, and is delivered by the absolute metal god, Rob Halford, in the song “Victim of changes“. The song is one of the oldest Judas Priest songs, with contributions by Al Atkins. It is an epic masterpiece, and near the end (starting at 7:18) Rob bellows a shocking brutal scream that could make John Tardy blush. Another one of these early growls can be found in a song by the Dead Boys, the song “I need lunch“, where at the end Stiv Bators growls ‘feed me!’ (at 3:11) in 1978. Stiv’s vocals are generally really rough and it’s clear that his voice has not been treated kindly, but the awesome growl here resonates with the animalistic sentiment the singer wanted to put across. Wendy O. Williams growls like an animal in songs like “Won’t you” and “Concrete socks” off the debut by The Plasmatics, released in 1980. There is no doubt that Wendy’s vocalisation in the first two Plasmatics albums left its imprint on Chris Reifert, especially his more punk moments starting with Acts of the unspeakable (1992) onwards, and the first couple of Abscess albums. I’ll get back to Wendy later on. Paul D. Hudson, aka H.R., from the Bad Brains, was one of the most unique and versatile vocalists ever, and his growls on “Riot squad” (starting at 0:40), released in 1983, are earth-shattering.

H.R. (left) and Stiv (right) – Punk’s rejection of orthodox singing styles had something to do with the emergence of growling vocals.

Growling as a style of singing

All of the above are, however, isolated examples. In Kiss’s fourth album from 1976 (Destroyer) is one of the oldest examples I have found where growling vocals are consistently used throughout a song. The song I’m talking about is, of course, “God of thunder“. This type of vocal is consistent with Simmons‘s demon persona. Of course, Simmons’s vocals here are much more tame to what we currently understand as growling vocals. Singers who used raspy, almost growling vocals more consistently include of course, Lemmy of Motorhead, and later Cronos of Venom, Tom Araya of Slayer (I would say that Tom’s growl slowly disappeared the more the band got faster and more refined), and Cal Morris of Discharge. In my opinion, however, none was more flesh-rippingly extreme as Wendy O. Williams‘s vocals on the third Plasmatics album, Coup D’Etat, from 1982. The things done in this album vocally, are simply breathtaking. Her screams would make people like Sheepdog (Razor), Chuck and Corpsegrinder blush. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if Wendy’s vocals on this albums have influenced Pushead’s re-recorded vocals on Septic Death’s Now that I have the attention, what do I do with it (1985). The way the album opens, with Wendy’s two inhuman screams followed by the growled phrasing and snarled conclusion of each line of “Put your love in me“, is phenomenal.

By the mid-1980s extreme vocals were already ripe in the underground, and were slowly making their way to the mainstream. Rob Miller and Chris Miller from Amebix were doing two different types of growling vocals, which, in my opinion reached their apex with Arise! (1985), and have no doubt influenced death metal, and shamelessly ripped-off by some of the foundational black metal bands. Ventor‘s deep growls and and Mille‘s snarly growls in the first two Kreator albums should also be mentioned here. By the time Endless pain was released, however, we already had Morbid Tales (1984) and Seven churches (1985) which further fed the fires of brutal singing. As most people would agree, the studio album that sealed the deal in 1987 was Death’s Scream bloody gore. The same year, however, another album that is often ignored is the sophomore album by Holy Moses, Finished with the dogs, with the inimitable Sabina Classen. Sabina’s approach to singing is shocking, and live footage from that era shows that live it was even more visceral than on the recording.

Wendy (left) and Sabina (right) made their male peers sound like kittens

Having identified these early figures in brutal singing does not mean that they were the ones that necessarily led the developments in extreme metal. For one thing, metalheads are not separate from a society which is sexist, so I wouldn’t be surprised if people like Sabina, or Wendy, or later on Lori Bravo (Nuclear Death), who have offered some of the most sickening and brutal vocals ever, were ignored and dismissed by a big part of the metal community. I wouldn’t be surprised if Don Doty‘s growls in the chorus of “Perished in flames” (Dark Angel), a very brief instance in an overall not particularly brutal performance from 1986, had a much larger impact than Sabina or even Troy Dixler (Devastation), the former because she was not from the US and was a woman, the latter because Devastation were not signed. What I’m suggesting here is that all kinds of factors – including sexism, cultural imperialism, record labels, music journalism, audiences, and so on – were responsible for whose vocal innovations had a bigger impact on the crystalisation of the growl as a generic rule in death metal. Finally, it would be short-sighted to look for the origins of the growl simply in music. Given how much of an influence horror cinema has had on death metal (read here for more on this topic), it would be wrong to ignore the impact of growls uttered by various famous monsters throughout the history of horror cinema. Last but not least, lets not forget that growls are an essential part of humanity, a primordial form of communication, as well as animal communication. Brutal Truth couldn’t have hinted on the connection between music (culture) and nature more eloquently than with their album title Sounds of the animal kingdom.



Five albums by Rogga

Fans of underground – and not-so-underground – death metal are familiar with the name Rogga Johansson. He is one of the most prolific death metal musicians in the history of the genre, as he has churned out more than a hundred albums the last 20 or so years. Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that Rogga is solely responsible for the songs on these albums. Each one of them, even albums like the first Bone Gnawer where he wrote all the music, is the result of collaborative effort. By no means I have listened to his entire back catalogue, but I have listened to a good 20-30 albums by bands like Carve, Revolting, Ribspreader, Paganizer, Down Among The Dead Men, The Grotesquery, Echelon, Johansson & Speckmann, Bone Gnawer, Putrevore, and The Skeletal. In many of these bands, he has collaborated with some death metal legends, including Kam Lee (Massacre), Dave Ingram (Benediction), Paul Speckmann (Master) and Dan Swano (Edge of Sanity). In this post I present my five favourite Rogga-related albums. Without further ado, and in order of release:

RibspreaderBolted to the cross (2004)

Throughout the many years I have been listening to Rogga’s output I have often wondered why have three-four bands that over the years have sounded quite the same, like Ribspreader, Carve, (early) Revolting, and (later) Paganizer. It is not surprising, in my opinion, that the sheer amount of songs in this vein is negatively related to their quality. Nevertheless, the debut album by Ribspreader is an album I really like. Musically, it sounds to me like a mix between early Grave, Edge of Sanity and Death. Dan Swano is part of it, playing drums and guitar. Although overall this is what your average Ribspreader album sounds like, for me it stands out, and I suspect it is because of Swano. The latter has been one of my favourite musicians of all time, and there is no doubt that he has contributed some classic EOS-sounding riffs and melodies in this little monster (for example, the first riff off “Beneath the cenotaph” or the harmony before the fast part in “Heavenless” could have easily been on the first two EOS albums). Lyrically, the album is about death, the afterlife, and religion. It is no secret that Rogga tends to be repetitive, and songs like “Dead forever” and “Morbidity awoken” are a case in point, where the same lyrics are featured in the choruses of both songs, on the same album. I love the nightmarish cover. All songs are awesome, but right now my favourite tracks would be “Dead forever”, “Morbidity awoken”, “Hollow beliefs”, “Sole sufferer”.

Bone GnawerFeast of flesh (2009)

With Bone Gnawer, Rogga continues the trend of collaborating with death metal legends. Their debut is a meat-and-potatoes death metal album, super catchy, and its highlight is without a doubt Kam Lee’s excellent performance. The songs are generally mid-paced, with skunk-beat and rare blast-beat explosions. At times it is reminiscent of old Six Feet Under, especially in the repetitive and minimalist chorus of songs like “Hammer to the skull”. At other times it even reminded me of Cannibal Corpse, or Massacre (for example on the fast bits of “Cannibal cook-out”). Lyrically, Lee draws on horror cinema thematology, and cult movies of the genre like The Texas chainsaw massacre 2, Anthropophagus, The hills have eyes, and Cannibal Holocaust. Favourite tracks include “Sliced and diced”, “Cannibal cook-out”, “Lucky ones die first” and “The saw is family”.

PutrevoreTentacles of horror (2015)

Putrevore is one of the most brutal of Rogga’s bands, if not the most brutal. The band’s sound hints to US bands like Incantation and Rottrevore (duh!). In this band Rogga collaborates with another central figure of brutal death metal, namely Dave Rotten, owner of Repulse records and Xtreem music, and frontman of Avulsed, among other bands. Rotten has done some pretty unorthodox things vocally, even by death metal standards (I still piss myself laughing whenever I hear the opening track of Christ Denied‘s Cancer eradication album). Here, his filthy growls perfectly complement the swampy and majestic compositions. This album is the most clean sounding in this band’s discography. Here the lyrics deal with horrors found in Lovecraftian mythology. Preoccupation with this mythology also happens in other of Rogga’s bands, including Revolting, and, in a more subtle way, The Grotesquery, another band in which he collaborates with Kam Lee (and whose first album is another very good one!). It’s hard to say which my favourite songs are, as all of them are awesome, and each one feels like part of a greater whole, but I’d say “The rotten crawls on” is memorably awesome.

EchelonThe brimstone aggrandizement (2016)

This is one of the several among Rogga’s bands that the inimitable Dave Ingram handles the lead vocals. Ingram and Johansson have collaborated in other bands as well, and another album I like is the second by Down Among the Dead Men. Lyrically, Ingram engages with satanic texts as well as the Dr Who universe (Whoniverse?) I think, neither of which interest me. But, his delivery, his vocal patterns, and his ad libs are phenomenal. The song-writing is relatively diverse; there are fast and slow songs, lots of d-beat, some blast-beats lots of fast tremolo picking, and some melodies that would not be out of place in Gothenburg death metal. Songs that I think stand out include the strange and brilliant metalised punk number “Monsters in the gene pool/Sonic vortex” (it could have been written by The Plasmatics), “Vital existence”, as well as the absolutely devastating “The brimstone aggrandizement”. This is an awesome album, but I still think that the best post-Benediction album that Ingram did is Downlord‘s Random dictionary of the damned, a true masterpiece, and one of the most under-appreciated death metal albums of all time.

RevoltingMonolith of madness (2018)

Revolting’s most recent album is an easy choice. The band has had a steady line-up throughout the years, and Rogga, like in many of his bands, handles the lead vocals and guitar. It is one of his most catchy albums, with awesome melodies and hooks and I love it. This is the only one in the list that doesn’t feature a death metal “superstar”. Lyrically, once again you have the Lovecraftian references (to be honest, these days I’m getting sick of them – every other death band has some meaningless tentacle reference) and gory horror references. Definitely the most easy-listening album on this list, and my favourite among all the Revolting albums I have listened to. You can read a more detailed review of it at the end of the post about my favourite albums from 2018.

Rogga Playlist



A night to dismember

The second time I saw Dismember live was in 2007 when they played the Mylos-Xylourgeio club in Thessaloniki. It was a great night which I remember every time I listen to Dismember’s Where ironcrosses grow (2004). Just like so many things, this album has come to mean so much more than what it was intended by the band when it was released. It is the album that marked the short-lived return of Cabeza, and that was awesome for a fan like myself who loved Richard’s contributions in the past. It also marked the return of Dan Seagrave’s art on a Dismember album after 13 years. It is also a piece of memorabilia, invested with the memory of the Dismember gig and the whole experience surrounding it.

I used to live in Piraeus, and Dismember were scheduled to play almost 500 kilometers away, in Thessaloniki. A friend and I decided to do the 6-hour trip by train to the gig. Whilst waiting at the train platform my friend rang me up to say that he could not make it because there was a chance for him to get laid… After bollocking him thoroughly and briefly considering canceling the trip, I decided to go by myself. Among the stuff I listened to during the trip was Dismember’s Indecent and Obscene (1993) and Entombed’s Clandestine (1991), which I had recorded in the same cassette-tape.

Upon arriving, I did what I always used to do in Thessaloniki, that is, visiting all record stores in the vicinity. Alone, a local record store dedicated to metal, was one of my stations on that day, and I ended up buying Where ironcrosses grow on vinyl. I also had it on CD at that point, but the vinyl version looked so beautiful, plus I thought I might be able to get the band to sign it at the gig. David Blomqvist, Dismember’s guitarist, ended up signing both the record and the cassette-tape!

Delicious cassette-tape with Blomqvist’s autograph

The gig took place in front of a small crowd of no more than a hundred people I would say. The band played a set representative of its entire career – with the exception of Hate campaign (1999) – focusing mostly on its formative years, with songs like “Deathevocation”, “Override the overture”, “Soon to be dead”, “Skin her alive”, “Pieces”, “Fleshless”, “Skinfather”, “Dreaming in red”, “On frozen fields”, “Casket garden”, “Of fire”, “Let the napalm rain”, “Tragedy of the faithful”, and only “Autopsy” off the latest album, which at the time was The god that never was (2006). Fred had just quit the band, so Thomas was the drummer. That put a dampener on the experience for me, to some degree. Anyway, after the gig was over the organisers took the band to a local club which, as far as I can remember (I was drunk by that point), did not play metal music, and some of us tagged along. There, it was both awesome, ‘cos I got to talk to David, Tobias and Martin, and a bit uncomfortable at the same time, as I felt extremely self-conscious; these people were my music heroes, and I didn’t know how to behave. I remember asking David who came up with the main riff of “Case # Obscene“, and he told me it was Fred. I don’t remember much more apart from leaving a while after David had left (maybe 15-20 minutes). As I was walking along Tsimiski road I saw David walking the opposite direction towards me and I waved at him. It turned out he got lost looking for his hotel and he didn’t want to take a cab for fear of being ripped-off. I pointed him to the right direction (I hope I did) and thanked him for the awesome gig and he thanked me back for the support. That night I slept at the entrance of a building ‘cos I had spent all my money on drinks and records, and I couldn’t afford to rent a room. 

Listening to Dismember whilst writing this post



Heavy metal in the classroom

Although I never admitted it to my parents, falling in love with heavy metal marked a steep decline in my performance at school. My parents noted this and were concerned, but I denied any link between becoming obsessed with music and increasingly worse grades. It is difficult to adequately describe my instant infatuation with heavy metal, and how totally it colonised my everyday life when I was 14 years old. The first heavy metal band I fell in love with was Iron Maiden, and the fascination spilled out of my bedroom, into the streets, and into the classroom. In my bedroom, I would listen to Maiden day and night, alone or with friends, on my stereo, and in this process foster friendships and build cultural competences; out in the streets, I would wear my Fear of the dark t-shirt and listen to The number of the beast (1982) on my Walkman (and, later on, Discman), and in this process perform the self (read Goffman 1959) and build a sonic bubble to isolate myself from my surroundings (read Bull 1999); in the classroom, I would decorate every piece of learning material (books, notebooks, desks) with Maiden-related texts, including the band’s logo, Eddie, and song-lyrics.

My drawings inside a Physics textbook – School year 1994-95.

I recently came across the drawing pictured above, in a box where my mom has kept the contents of my old desk at home. This is a typical example of poaching (De Certeau 1984) from my high-school days, an instance where I appropriate materials (textbook) and signs (Iron Maiden logo, mascot, etc.) that do not belong to me, and combine them with other signs that belong to the broader heavy metal lexicon (chains, hatchets, etc.), to pursue my desires, namely to entertain myself and keep myself busy in the excruciatingly boring school environment, a structure I found oppressive.

This type of symbolic work (Willis 1990) obviously shows how obsessed I was with Maiden. The songs blew me away, but the visuality of the albums was also unbelievably captivating. I couldn’t get used to the covers of all their albums up until Fear of the dark (1992). This little artistic masterpiece pictured above was inspired by the No prayer for the dying (1990) artwork, which is one of Maiden’s greatest visually, in my opinion. But although Eddie’s hair and the sparks in the eyes are based on the actual artwork, I also added my own touch with the bolts on Eddie’s head originally featured on the cover of Piece of mind (1983). Note how I modified the letter “o” into Derek Riggs’s (Maiden’s illustrator) famous signature. Back then I could not resist changing an “o” when I saw one. You can also see that I used Blanco correction fluid under Janick’s name. The reason is that, at first, I had written down “bass” where it now says “guitar”. I remember not understanding what each band member is supposed to be doing; I was not sure about the difference between bass and guitar, so Janick playing bass (alongside Harris) seemed plausible at the time. Also, including all the publishing/copyright information is quite funny to think about; it seems like every single signifier was meaningless and meaningful at the same time! Meaningless, because I didn’t really know what they signified specifically, but meaningful because they had something – albeit elusive – to do with Maiden, and that was enough.

References

– Bull, M. (1999) “The dialectics of walking: Walkman use and the reconstruction of the site of experience”, in Hearn, J. and Roseneil, S. (Eds) Consuming Cultures: Power and Resistance. Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, pp. 199-220.
– De Certeau, M. (1984) The practice of everyday life. Berkeley: University of California Press.
– Goffman, E. (1959) The presentation of self in everyday life. Middlesex: Pelican.
– Willis, P. E. (1990) Common culture. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.


Of birds and graves

This is a short trip down memory lane from the relatively early days of the internetisation of the death metal genre. It concerns Grave, one of my favourite death metal bands. Their second album, You’ll never see (1992), is one of my all-time favourite death metal albums. Into the grave (1991) and Soulless (1994) are also great albums, but in my opinion, the band hit the perfect balance between sheer brutality and memorable song-writing with You’ll never see. It is also the first album I heard from them, so it holds special significance for me. I bought it sometime in late 1996 from Metal Era, which used to be one of Athens’s most iconic metal record stores, specialising in extreme metal. From time to time I have dreams about visiting the old store in Emanuel Benaki street (across the street from where the shop currently is), a place in which I have spent a significant part of my teenage life, and have discovered amazing music.

The band line-up at the time of You’ll never see

So, I bought You’ll never see, and upon taking it home I realised three things: first, the vinyl was slightly warped, second, the labels where on opposite sides (the side A label was on side B and vice versa), and, third, it was difficult – impossible, actually – to see where one song ends and the other begins. This latter feature diminished the appeal of the album, initially. Music-wise, I instantly fell in love with the opening track, the homonymous one, and the closing song “Christi(ns)anity“. It took many listens to appreciate the rest of the album, but eventually I fell in love with the pure awesomeness of its brutal hooks and Jorgen’s unique delivery and vocal patterns.

Listening to You’ll never see. A timeless masterpiece.

A few years later, Grave had released Back from the grave (2002), and they had their own website. One day they announced a competition: Who can identify what kind of bird is featured in the song “You’ll never see”? You can hear the birdsong in question around the 3:00 mark. To be honest, I hadn’t noticed before that there was a birdsong in it. So, I quickly put the record on, but I had no idea what the bird was, so I took a guess with ‘nightingale’. I cannot remember what the prize was, but I did not win. The band announced the correct answer at some point, but I forgot what that was too. What I do remember is that it was meaningful, that is, it was not a random bird; instead, it was consistent with the topic of the song, maybe it had something to do with the biblical passage that accompanies the birdsong. So, if any bird-connoisseur or death metal fan out there knows the answer, please let me know in the comments.



Cassette-tape culture, and nostalgia for an age that never existed
March 30, 2020, 7:00 pm
Filed under: brutal memoirs, popular music | Tags: , , , ,

When it comes to commercial technologies I am what some people would catachresticaly call a Luddite. I am not against technological change, I am apathetic towards technological change; being against technological change would be like being against culture. Technology cannot remain static; people engage with it and inadvertently change it. Of course, there are good reasons to be opposed to technological change which is underpinned by a system – relations of production, and societal norms and values – which is alienating and exploitative, but this is not the real reason I am apathetic towards it. The real reason is that once I start engaging with a technology, or anything for that matter, I passionately participate in the building of a culture around it which ends up becoming more valuable than the supposed benefits of technological advancement. Despite that, cassette-tapes is a technology I do not miss, although a significant part of my music culture was built around them when I was young.

Some of my old cassette-tapes

Like any technology, cassette-tapes prescribed (for the concept of prescription see Johnson 1988) certain behaviours to their users. You had to learn how to use the cassette player, master the rewind and forward functions (i.e. getting used to the speed), how to save energy, how to remove and replace the write-protect tab, how to fix them when they broke, etc. We also had to learn to distinguish between good brands and bad brands, and the specificity of each brand. Moreover, given that pirated tapes lacked the aesthetics of original LPs and CDs, we would spend hours decorating them with nice band logos and other kinds of drawings. We would make mix-tapes and give them to our friends, girlfriends and boyfriends (and potential ones), or create our own personalised playlists for our own consumption. I cannot stress enough how frustrating it was to deal with all the problems cassette-tapes came with: damaged cassette shells, sticky guide-rollers, distorted sound, film chewed by the tape player, and the solutions we’d invent, like replacing or reinforcing the pressure pad, transplanting the film, and so on. All this symbolic work (Willis 1990) that went into engaging with these raw materials of our consumerist culture meant that using cassette tapes was much more than merely consuming cassette-tapes. It was a whole culture.

I used to listen to cassette-tapes on my Walkman ’till 2009. I didn’t want to buy an MP3 player; I had invested all this time, energy and creativity producing my own music listening culture, that I did not see any point sacrificing it for a new commercial technological trend. To use an economics concept, the sunk costs of switching from cassettes to MP3s were too high. Nevertheless, my then girlfriend got me an MP3 player as an xmas present, and once I started using it I never looked back. Around the time I stopped listening to cassette tapes, they started making a comeback in the context of electronic music culture (something about cassette tapes and Game boy music…). Eventually, the music business saw an opportunity to mobilise discourses of nostalgia and authenticity, to produce and market cassette tapes once again. I am not sure if this is a more generalised trend, but in the metal music business many of the big companies are now releasing new albums on cassette-tape. I don’t know who buys them. I assume it is people who think they will enjoy some kind of authentic experience. To me it is silly. It is like suddenly starting using the electrical telegraph to send messages to people. I have no doubt that people who buy cassette-tapes today will eventually create a culture around them, just like I did. But I think it is also important to be able to see through some of the schemes of the music business, and to avoid chasing the elusive “authentic cultural experience”. Listening to MP3s is as authentic as listening to vinyls and cassette-tapes, and equally legitimate a practice around which an authentic music-listening culture can be built.

References

Johnson, J., 1988. ‘Mixing humans and non-humans together: the sociology of a door-closer’, Social Problems, 35(3), pp. 298-310.

Willis, P., 1990. Common culture. Milton Keynes: OUP.



Nostalgia for old-school death metal

Old school death metal musicians are nostalgic of the times when death metal was born. Why wouldn’t they? It was a time when they felt like they were part of something new and authentic. As most death metal fans know, and as written popular accounts of early death metal culture show (for example Ekeroth’s Swedish death metal and Mudrian’s Choosing death), most of early death metal was music that came from committed fans of metal, who did not listen to music as a pastime activity, but built their entire teenage lives around it by making zines, listening to music with friends, writing cassette-tapes for one another, and engaging in extensive tape-trading with people from all around the globe. It was also the time that defined their lives to a large degree, as many of these foundational death metal groups ended up having a career in the music business, some of which quite lucrative too.

Three instances of this nostalgia materialised in songs come from three bands that were either there when death metal first started, or their leader was: Entombed, Brutality, and Tormented.

1. Entombed – Masters of death

“Masters of death” comes from Serpent Saints (2007), which ended up being the band’s final album before it changed its name to Entombed AD. The song is the ultimate tribute to early death metal, from the thrashy beginning and the Slayerish melodies and drum-beat, which have been so central to the genre, to the inclusion of the late Killjoy from Necrophagia. Of course, the most explicit way that the song pays tribute to old death metal is though its lyrics. It starts with “Mannequin mannequin, they’re all the same”, a phrase that can lead every serious old-school death metaler to instant headbanging. The first time I listened to it was through Speckman Project, an album every single one in my group of friends owned, and eventually via Master and Deathstrike. From then on, the song continues with more death metal references, including Napalm Death, Possessed, Unseen Terror, Repulsion, Morbid Angel, R.A.V.A.G.E., Xecutioner, and Necrophagia. There are also references to foundational death metal albums (e.g. Symphonies of sickness, Season of the dead, Slowly we rot), and numerous songs by death, grind, thrash and metal bands (there’s also a reference to KISS – Knights in Satan’s Service!).

2. Tormented – Reversed funeral

Tormented is the band led by Andreas Axelson, one of the forefathers of Swedish death metal, who offered some of the most astounding death metal via Edge of Sanity. Tormented is much less adventurous than Edge of Sanity, and more in line with the thrashy side of Swedish death metal, whose origins are debatable, but I think that “Bonehouse” off Entombed‘s Hollowman EP is a key station in the genre. The song comes from Tormented’s debut, Rotten death (2009), an absolute gem of an album! It is the closing song, it starts with a sampled scream (probably from a movie), and launches into a furious, fast skunk-beat, before it slows down with a classic sinister melody, followed by a dirty mid-tempo beat, and a tremolo picked chorus. The last verse of the song name-drops the Big-4 of Swedish death metal, namely Dismember, Entombed, Unleashed and Grave, as well as Unanimated and Merciless.

3. Brutality – Tribute

“Tribute” comes from re-animated Brutality’s comeback album from 2016. Initially I opined that this album is their best, but then I decided that Screams of anguish is better. Still, Sea of ignorance is great, but the song in question here is probably my least favourite in the album. As the title suggests, this is a tribute to old metal, predominantly death metal (with mentions to Dismember, Entombed, Unleashed, Possessed, Hypocrisy, Macabre, Carnage, Acheron, Napalm Death, Sinister, Edge of Sanity, Massacre, Morgoth), but there are also thrash, black metal and heavy metal references.

If any of the readers of this blog are familiar with other instances of old-school nostalgia, I’d be really interested to read about it in the comments section!



Favourite music from 2019

This year it was once again hard to decide which my 10 favourite albums are, as there were loads of great releases, some from all-time favourite bands to which I’ve been listening for more than 20 years. Some of the albums that came my way this past year I did not particularly enjoy, and I quickly gave up on them. These include the new offerings by Queensryche (although “Light years” is fabulous), Paganizer, Firespawn, Fulci and Sorcery. Another one is the debut album by Vltimas, a band that received considerable publicity in metal press. One of my close friends also recommended I should listen to this album, titled Something wicked marches in, but I did not particularly like it. I thought it is a standard modern extreme metal album, mixing death metal and post-Rebel extravaganza black metal. Execution-wise, the album is great, song-writing-wise, however, it did not appeal to me. The songs I kind of liked are “Total destroy” and “Truth and consequence”, both of which resembled Morbid Angel songs like “This means war” and “Nevermore”. I will not dwell any more on these albums, instead, I will move on to those to which I listened more carefully and enjoyed.

Exhorder was never a band I loved, although when I first listened to songs like “Exhorder” and “Death in vain” as a teenager I lost my mind. The new album is well produced, and contains well written songs. Consistent with the first two albums, this is a collection of super-heavy tunes. It is also consistent with the angry bro-metal attitude that never appealed to me. Nevertheless, the awesomeness of riffs and overall orchestration, as well as Kyle’s vocals, is undeniable. Also, listening to Exhorder with a super-clean production makes me realise that The Haunted were probably inspired by them. “Ripping flesh“, originally a demo song, is lush. Nile released a new album, the first since Dallas’s departure. No doubt Dallas’s devastating and catchy songwriting style and voice was big part of Nile’s sound, but Karl has always been the undisputed leader and the one who set the musical parameters in Nile. Overall, Vile Nilotic Rites sounds like a new chapter in the band’s career. More complex, with Kolias sounding more modern, and a bit busier with his fills, and, musically with some new sounds that you’d find in contemporary death bands. I definitely miss Dallas’s vocals, the new guy sounds to me quite generic. Nile is not one of my favourite bands (although their first two full-lengths, and more recently At the Gates of Sethu, I consider masterpieces), and the new album will not change my opinion. Yet, one cannot deny that this is absolutely devastating and well-played death metal. Blood Incantation is a band I paid attention to recently. Their new album, Hidden history of the human race, is really cool. It contains some nice compositions that draw on both the most brutal and most progressive traditions of death metal. Execution-wise, the band is proficient. The song structures are complex and it has long instrumental passages. The opening song, “Slave species of the gods”, starts with a riff reminiscent of Gorguts, and the first verse is like it came straight from Septic Flesh’s Temple of the lost race EP (seriously, it sounds so similar!), and then the riff on 2:53 reminds me of mid-1990s Monstrosity (specifically one of the breaks in “Devious instinct”). Early Septic Flesh influences can be heard throughout the album. So, overall good stuff. The vocals are way too monotonous for my taste though, and the vocal patterns resemble more reading from a text than adding to the overall musicality.

I’ve been listening to Sacred Reich since my early teenage years, and The American way (1990) quickly established itself as one of my favourite thrash albums. I was looking forward to their return. I have always respected them, and loved Phil’s vocals. The latter have lost their power, which is understandable, but they have matured and at times handle melodies more expertly than in the past (hear, for example, the post-chorus bit on “Death valley”) and constitute the most appealing, for me, aspect of the album. Awakening feels like a summary of the band’s career; there are fast songs reminiscent of Ignorance (1987) (“Divide and conquer”, “Manifest reality”), slower groovier songs reminiscent of Independent (1993) (i.e. “Something to believe”), and mid tempo and more punkier songs reminiscent of Heal (1996) (i.e. “Death valley”, “Revolution”) and The American way (i.e. “Awakening”, “Killing machine”). In my opinion, the band’s affinity to Black Sabbath becomes evident on this album more than in older albums, such as in the verse vocal melodies on songs like “Death valley” and “Salvation”. As someone who always preferred Heal and The American way to Ignorance, I found this album very appealing. Xentrix released a new album 23 years after the disappointing Scourge (1996). Once again, the band’s original leader, Chris Astley, is missing from the line-up. Because of that my expectations were low. The new singer has a great voice, I would say more powerful and effective than Astley’s, but also uncannily reminiscent of him. On first hearing, the song structures, melodies, choruses, and so on, did not impress me, or even convinced me that I am listening to Xentrix. I just thought it it is a decent album of American/Metallica-sounding thrash. After a couple of listens, however, the album started growing on me. A song like “The truth lies buried” is among the best the band has ever written, and would fit nicely among the little gems of Kin (1992). “The one you fear” is another stand-out song with great melodies, vocal patterns, and riffs. “Let the world burn” is another great up-tempo tune with awesome sections and a catchy chorus (The observant Xentrix fan will notice that the verse singing patterns are reminiscent of “Bad blood” from Shattered existence). “The red mist descends” is another stand-out song, with a classic Xentrix vibe, especially on the vocal delivery of the chorus. Overall, I quite liked Bury the pain, but I felt that it also lacked the dynamism and adventurous spirit of their early releases. Exhumed‘s new album, Horror, is one of the most easy-listening albums the band has released, if not the most easy-listening. Most songs are fast grindcore delights that cut right to the chase, without long instrumental bits and intros. The frequent and more blatant references to Carcass are not there. Overall, I enjoyed it a lot. The band is clearly undergoing a period of creative resurgence, and I don’t know if that has something to do with Ross Sewage’s return or Harvey’s association with Matt Olivo. I need to pay attention to their previous album. A new band I listened to is Grave Altar, and their debut that came out this year is titled Morbid spell. It is a very enjoyable album of 1980s extreme metal, a time when different extreme metal genres hadn’t crystallised yet into thrash, death, and black metal. Morbid spell is a relentless skunk beat attack, and it sounds like a hybrid of early Slayer, Sodom, and Venom (the vocals at times sound like a more shouty Cronos). The lyrics are about Satan and destruction, and if you like this type of lyrics they are quite awesome. The vocal patterns are a bit repetitive, but very catchy and the choruses are great. Strigoi, Gregor Mackintosh’s new band, released its debut album titled Abandon all hope. It sounds a lot like Vallenfyre’s second album, with some new elements, namely the more melodic blackened strokes on songs like “Plague nation” and the symphonic touches on the homonymous song. Overall, it is raw grind-death fury (“Throne of disgrace”, “Nocturnal vermin”, “Parasite”, “Scorn of the father”), crust madness with a touch of melody (“Seven crowns”), and heavy doominess (in the style pretty much invented by Mackintosh in the first Paradise Lost album). This is an album with lots to offer and will definitely grow on me with time. Memoriam‘s third album marks a slight departure from the style of the previous two releases of the band. The production is more polished, but I prefer the sound of the previous albums (Russ Russell is one of my least favourite record producers). “Shell shock” is so far the song that resembles Bolt Thrower the most by Memoriam, and I don’t think its position as the opening track is coincidental; as much I’d prefer thinking that a band like Memoriam would not care about what idiots on the internet say, I wouldn’t be surprised this was done to satisfy said idiots. I consider some of the songwriting amazing (e.g. “Undefeated”, “Refuse to be led”, “Fixed bayonets” and “The veteran”) and in some other cases lack-luster (“Austerity kills” and “Requiem for mankind”). Overall, it is by far my least favourite offering by Memoriam, but I still like it loads. When I put on Zenith, Enforcer‘s new album, I was quite surprised to be confronted with a very tame version of the band. From beyond (2015) is a perfect album from start to finish, maybe their best one. Not that From Beyond did not have more radio friendly songs; the homonymous song was exactly that, but I think with this one they took it a few steps further. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this one a lot, it’s spent many hours in my mp3 player. “Zenith of the black sun”, “The end of a universe”, “Sail on”, “One thousand years of darkness” are all beautifully crafted songs. There are only two songs that I don’t like. One is the ballad, titled “Regrets”, which reminds me of 70s soft porn. The other one is “Ode to death”, which sounds to me like a failed attempt to copy Manowar.

Below are my top 10 picks for 2019. As I said earlier, loads of great albums came out this year (some of which I didn’t have time to listen to properly, like the new Midnight Priest and Angel Witch which sound very impressive), so it was quite hard choosing only ten. The following are all albums that I couldn’t stop listening to. These are also the albums, at least the first five in the list, that I think will eventually occupy a special place in my heart and in the respective discographies of these bands.

1. New Model Army – From here

NMA’s new album is a masterpiece and my favourite album of the year. Initially, I opined that it was the best since Love of hopeless causes (1993), but now I think Winter is better. For more than two decades NMA has been, in my opinion, a bit inconsistent, with great albums like Carnival (2005), Between dog and wolf (2013), and Winter (2016), but also with a few albums I didn’t enjoy much [Strange brotherhood (1998), High (2008), and especially Today is a good day (2011)]. Winter already marked a return to the band’s roots, and that shift persists on From here. There are loads of the more simple and straightforward instrumentation around a bass-line and a mid-tempo beat that could be found in the band’s classic period. Sonically, it is quite sub-tonal, which I suppose accommodates Sullivan’s vocals which have become deeper and harsher. Many of the songs are very minimalistic, structured around a simple chord progression, or a bass-line. Most of the songs are small miracles, like “Never arriving”, “The weather” [a song straight out of the Impurity (1990) era], “Passing through”, “The end of days”, “Where I am”, “From here”. Listening to this album feels like being in the wilderness, around a fire, listening to someone narrating a tale with some really profound, meaningful message. Lyrically, the album is as usual chilling. Sullivan is an amazing human being and songwriter, and I love him. I hadn’t seen NMA live since 2006 in Athens, so seeing them live earlier in December was a very emotional experience (they played seven amazing songs off the new album).

2. Nocturnus A.D. – Paradox

Paradox is my second favourite album of the year, but pretty close to my first choice. The return of Nocturnus was a delicious surprise. The fact that they released an awesome album, however, came as no surprise, as After Death released some unbelievable music over the first decade of the 21st century. It was also great to see that the band did not use any existing material from their After Death period. Using existing material would make sense, since there are some great ideas there which have gone under the radar on account of nobody giving a shit. Nevertheless, Paradox picks up where After Death’s 2006 demo (Secret lords of the chamber below) left off (the song “The antechamber” actually has a section that is a bit reminiscent of “The star chamber of Isis” off this demo). The main difference is that Paradox is even more consciously drawing upon The Key (1990), made apparent through the awesome cover art that directly references Seagrave’s classic painting. Paradox offered me everything that I expected from a good death metal album. The musical narratives are complex yet coherent, the choruses are catchy, the riffs remind people like myself why death metal once became our favourite genre. Looking at the band members it shouldn’t be surprising why this album sounds the way it does; a bunch of old geezers who look like they’re trapped in the late 1980s. I am not particularly interested in the lyrical thematology, but the lyrics are well-written and cool to listen to. If I had to pick my four favourite songs I would say “Bandar sign”, “Apotheosis”, “Aeon of the ancient ones”, “Paleolithic“. And what an epic instrumental closing is “Number 9”!

3. Subhumans – Crisis point

UK’s Subhumans released a new small gem titled Crisis point. It’s been 12 years since the brilliant Internal riot. That was a remarkable comeback, that I like almost as much as I do The day the country died (1983). The new album is a bit less ambitious I would say, more straight to the point, a bit more melodic perhaps, but full of energetic songs in the classic Subhumans style, beautiful lyrics, catchy choruses, and flawless musicianship. The song structures are mostly straightforward, following the verse-chorus-verse pattern. The orchestrations however are very well thought, and the different instruments add their own interesting layer to the composition. The drums come up with interesting patterns that move between classic punk and ska, the bass often takes on a lead role and contributes melodic lines. If I had to choose favourite songs I would say the following: “Strange land“, “Thought is free”, “Poison“, “99%”, and “Terrorist in waiting”. As a side-note, I think it is worth noting that although I understand the sentiment, I don’t agree with the premise of the 99% discourse. The 1% might be extremely wealthy individuals around the globe, but the 99% is a very mixed bag, people who don’t really share the same destiny in any shape or form. This statistic includes homeless people but also university lecturers, hospitality workers but also software engineers working at a bank. So, I don’t think it is is a helpful discourse; I think it obscures the complex ways in which inequality and privilege work.

4. Opprobrium – The fallen entities

The last output by Opprobrium was the misguided Mandatory evac (2008), an album full of great songs, but an abysmal production (basically it sounds like the recording of a rehearsal using an mp3 recorder). The band’s new album is an awesome one, properly produced, but musically, in my opinion, not as awesome as Discerning forces (2000) which is one of my all-time favourite thrash albums. It took me several listens to start appreciating this album. At first listen, the riffs felt uninspired and the compositions overall laboured. However, with subsequent listens I started enjoying more and more the unassuming character of the compositions, the ferocity of Francis’s classic vocals and singing patterns, and the overall feel of the album. It is a known fact that extreme metal flows through the veins of the Howard brothers. If anything, the Howard brothers know how to write great hooks. “Dark days, dark nights” is a catchy heavy and slow opener. “Creations that affect” is probably my favourite on this album, with a super-heavy intro which eventually builds up to a furious explosion, followed by a Sepultur-esque riff, another slow crawling session [that could have been in Death’s Spiritual healing (1990) album] and another awesome trilly riff slightly reminiscent of the fast riff on Black Sabbath’s “Shaking off the chains”. “Wicked mysterious events” is another highlight, with beautiful melodies and an explosive middle-section. Another song that stands out is “Turmoil under the sun”, which showcases the band’s great ability to compose songs with many time signatures. The riffs on this one are rabid. “In danger” is another small masterpiece, a relentless roller-coaster of riffs, accelerations and hooks. A beautiful album.

5. Possessed – Revelations of oblivion

Seven churches (1985) has a song titled “The exorcist”, based on the book/film of the same title, Beyond the gates (1986) has a song titled “The heretic”, which is the title of the sequel of The exorcist (the actual lyrics, however, are based on the film Evil Dead), and Possessed’s comeback album has a song titled “Dominion”, based on the prequel of The exorcist. What a display of awesomeness the new Possessed album is. Let me start with the obvious disclaimer that this album is an awkward album, given that the sole original member is Becerra, who’s musical contribution to the original band was minimal, mainly consisting in the musicality of his vocal performance. This means that musically the new album does not include the original song-writing team, and is co-written by people who have either consciously tried to conform to a compositional formula not created by them, or who, as fans/musicians of old Possessed, have embodied this formula. Having said that, each song is an instant classic, with personal favourites the three last songs on the album, namely the monumental “Ritual”, “Word“, and “Graven”. The beginning of the latter is, in my mind, already a classic. Becerra’s performance is simply stellar; amazing vocal patterns and delivery, which resemble more his Beyond the gates period, in the sense that he does not abstain from singing melodies from time to time. His style is instantly recognisable, and the rhyming of verses like “six-wrist-crucifix-styx-fist” are classic Possessed (and, of course, lets not forget a couple of instances of “hell-bell-fell”). The beginning of “Omen“, another small masterpiece, is a clear throwback to the brilliant “Fallen angel” off Seven churches. The production is clear and powerful, and everyone’s performances are great. At this point it is also worth pointing out the tragedy of music fans who will rally around this admittedly perfect album, but they would ignore the music that these same composers were involved in the past. In other words, do yourselves a favour and listen to Engrave‘s debut album.

6. Bad Religion – The age of unreason

I immediately loved Bad Religion’s new album, and for weeks I kept listening to the first half of the album on repeat. It is fast, it has catchy and inventive melodies, great playing and good lyrics; in other words, it is classic Bad Religion of the early 1990s. The new drummer, Jamie Miller, is doing a great job, is a bit less flashy compared to Wackerman, and overall more fitting to the band’s sound, in my opinion. I love his playing, his fills are very catchy. The first seven songs of the album are amongst the best songs the band has ever written. I cannot single out any songs because they’re all amazing. The second half of the album is, in my opinion, a bit less impressive. Starting from “Candidate”, a slow song reminiscent of the late 90s era of the band, the quality drops. The next song, “Faces of grief”, reminded me of the two short, sharp, non-melodic numbers from New maps of hell (“52 seconds”, “Murder”) which sound filler to me. The rest of the songs are quite awesome though, making up an amazing album overall. The cover is not really my favourite. The band laments the supposed death of reason, however, in my opinion, the Greco-Latin pedestal should not be sacred; challenging it should not be lamented. It actually deserves to be critiqued for many of the developments made in its name, including slavery/racism and capitalism.

7. Blind Guardian Twilight Orchestra – Legacy of the dark lands

Legacy of the dark lands contains songs composed by two of my all-time favourite musicians, Hansi Kursch and Andre Olbrich. The music on this album sounds like a film score, at times, and a musical, at others. For more than 20 years now the band has been incorporating classical orchestrations in their songs. Moreover, Blind Guardian has not been your average metal band, at least since Somewhere far beyond (1992). Compositions are usually complex, and although there are still choruses, the verse structures, vocal patterns and guitar solos do not adhere to the heavy or power metal canon. In Legacy, the songs are fantastic; classic Blind Guardian masterpieces, but the instrumentation is not metal. As such, a big part of what I love about Blind Guardian is missing, namely the awesome rhythm guitars, the riffs, the solos, and the drums. This album is also a reminder that Hansi’s and Andre’s songwriting and the former’s vocals are, in effect, what makes Blind Guardian one of the best bands in the world. I have not paid any attention to the lyrics, and I have literally deleted from the mp3 folder all the interludes with the voice actors between songs. Fantasy literature is not my thing. Without the story and the funny voices to distract me, I enjoy a different type of storytelling which consists in the soundscapes created by the music and the vocals. The song “Harvester of souls” uses the music written for the homonymous song off Beyond the black mirror (2015). Lets see, now that the duo got all the orchestral stuff out of their system, maybe the next proper Blind Guardian album will be full-on power metal masterpiece. Favourite songs: “War feeds war“, “Dark cloud’s rising”, “Point of no return” and “The great ordeal”.

8. Entombed A.D. – Bowels of earth

Entombed A.D. released another awesome album in the style of Dead dawn (2016), that is, groovy death metal with sprinkles of classic era Entombed. Having said that, Bowels of earth is quite more up-tempo than the last two releases by the band, with only two slow songs. Some of the riffs and mid-song instrumental sections are reminiscent of the Left hand path – Clandestine era of the band. Although these atmospheric interludes are great, this approach is used across many songs, ending up being slightly predictable. The album opener is a classic in the vein of Clandestine (1991) and the same goes for “Fit for a king” and “Through the eyes of the gods” (the verse riff on this one, specifically the shift from power-chord strumming to tremolo picking, is also reminiscent of Dismember). “Hell is my home”, a song tapping into the more thrashy side of the band, has a distinct Mourning star (2001) and Inferno (2003) quality, and the verse vocal pattern sounds almost identical to “Young and dead”. The slow, crawling closing song in the form of the magnificent “To eternal night”, is epic and melancholic, and provides a fitting ending to the album, similar to “Night for day” from Inferno. Overall, the album is another worthy addition to the band’s legacy, and as good as the better albums that the band released after Nicke’s departure.

9. Diamond Head – The coffin train

The coffin train spent a lot of hours in my mp3 player. Comparing it to their masterpiece from 2016, I would say that this is a simpler album, a bit darker, and much more built around Rasmus’s voice; Tatler is much less prominent, riff-fests of the style of “Shout at the devil” or “Wizard sleeve” are missing, although the album has its fair share of catchy riffs. “Until we burn” and “Coffin train” are the two obvious masterpieces for me. The former brings to mind the more atmospheric feel of Canterbury (1983), and the latter is an epic song starting slow and hypnotic, slowly building up to an explosion of emotions. Other songs are awesome as well, like “Belly of the beast” and “Death by design”, the two more up-tempo songs on the album reminiscent of the early years of the band. “Shades of black” and “Serrated love” are two other well-crafted tunes, with beautiful orchestrations and choruses. The production is very clinical and everything sounds great. Rasmus’s delivery this time around sounds a bit more popy than before, but still quite impressive. The only song I do not particularly like is “The sleeper”, and, although this is a very enjoyable album, it also shows signs of repetition.

10. Disastrous Murmur – Santo subito

I was so young and naive when I bought Disastrous Murmur’s debut, around 23 years ago, that I actually thought I was buying a Disharmonic Orchestra album. I encountered it in a stack of records and first noticed the sticker on the top right hand corner which said ‘former members of Disharmonic Orchestra’. I didn’t bother reading it properly, nor tried to decipher the band logo, I just got drawn in by the marvelous cover and bought it. I only discovered my error in the train on my way home. When I listened to it I was not disappointed though; it is a masterpiece. Anyway, Disastrous Murmur returned after 13 years with a new album in their familiar style of sick death metal. The new album is a good mix of the more melodic path the band went down starting with …and hungry are the lost (2001) and their earlier more brutal era. It is mainly comprised of fast songs, with simple song structures and thrashy riffs, interspersed with blastbeats. Although I didn’t find the album particularly varied, so consistent with their past output, the songs are very interesting, catchy and with some great ideas (such as keyboards and melodic female vocals). In some cases the vocals – one of the highlights of the album, for sure – are more reminiscent of their classic masterpiece, Rhapsodies in red (1992). “Stop talking – start dying” is one of my favourites on the album. “The evil one” is a dark and perverse electro-death tune reminiscent of Pungent Stench’s cover of “Why can the bodies fly”. “Faith, fist, fire” is a catchy punky tune. Generally, most songs are underpinned by a punk attitude. “666 modified microwave possession” is another one of my favourite songs, one of the most complex songs on the album, melodic, with a heavy, trilly main riff, and a bizarre, haunting ending. “Menschenfresser” is another great tune with a very infectious main riff and beat. All of the songs are catchy. I have not read the lyrics, but I think this might be a good thing.

2019 Playlist



Once unwanted albums

I started buying metal albums in the mid-1990s, and, at first, the shops that I would turn to were local record stores in my home town in Piraeus, Greece. Then I started exploring the centre of Athens, and the first major stations there were the two Rock City stores (one at Sokratous street, one at Akademias road), Metal Era (at Emanuel Benaki street), the two Metropolis stores (both at Panepistimiou road), and Happening (Charilaou Trikoupi street). In all of those stores, but especially in Metropolis, we used to find rows of unwanted albums on sale that today are highly sought after. These albums were not second-hand, they were all new. I bought many of those albums back then, at a time when the cultural value of vinyl records was in decline. However, given the limited disposable income that I had back then (consisting in a meager weekly allowance by my parents), I also missed out on many great albums. This is a post about some of those vinyl records, each available in large quantities and unwanted. Now, in a different era where the discourse about the cultural value of vinyl has changed, they are exchanged in the global vinyl marketplace for considerable amounts of money.

1. MercilessThe treasures within (1992)

The median price of this album on Discogs, at the time of writing this post, is £89. The treasures within was released by Active Records, and Metropolis was literally (not really) giving away copies. Two of the albums in this list are actually from the same record label; for some reason in the mid- to late-nineties these records were sold for next to nothing. It is worth noting that the label went defunct in 1993, so maybe they had huge surpluses which they tried to get rid of. This album cost something between £2-4. I distinctly remember seeing a row of maybe 20 copies of the album every time I would go there, yet I never bought it. I had it on cassette tape back then and I did not particularly like it. Of course, I have regretted not buying it. It is still my least favourite Merciless album, but songs like “Lifeflame“, “The treasures within”, and “Branded by sunlight” are lush.

2. AtheistUnquestionable presence (1991)

Another release of Active Records. The median price of this album on Discogs, at the time of writing this post, is £50. For months on end Metropolis was trying to get rid of this album in the late 1990s. There was a long row of albums at the basement of the shop, and if I remember correctly they were being sold at 2,000 drachmas (around £4). I already owned it by that time, I remember buying it second hand from Monastiraki for around 3,000 drachmas. My impression is that Atheist was kinda forgotten by that point in time, at least in Greece; I don’t remember any mentions in magazines, and even in my network of friends nobody knew them. I was the one who introduced them to our group when, in 1996, I stumbled upon Piece of time at a local record store and bought it because of the sticker which said “Death metal from Florida with a difference. You better believe it”.

3. DeathSymbolic (1995)

The median price of this album on Discogs, at the time of writing this post, is £176. This was released by Roadrunner Records, and, around 1997, it was sold for 2,000 drachmas (around £4) in 7+7, one of the most historic record stores in the Monastiraki area of Athens. I bought my copy of Symbolic on vinyl then and there. There must have been more than 10 copies of that album for a long time. It is worth noting that the review of Symbolic on the Greek Metal Hammer was far from dithyrambic. I think it got 8/10, and although I don’t remember the specifics I remember thinking, based on the review, that it must be a mediocre album. 7+7 was the first record store I went to the first time I visited Athens, and the first thing I bought from there was Seasons in the abyss, by Slayer, on CD. Later on I bought one of my first vinyl albums, Xentrix’s Shattered existence. This shop is still around today, but it has transformed over the years. In the mid-nineties it used to have this tiny space way in the back where all the vinyl records used to be. To get there you had to go through a short corridor where the floorboards felt as if they were about to collapse. Back then it felt really mystical and hidden, a place of initiation and discovery.

4. TankardTwo faced (1994)

I fell in love with Tankard back in high school. The first album I got from them was Chemical invasion (1987) during a school trip in Athens, and on the same day I got Benediction’s Subconscious terror (1990). Nowadays, I mainly listen to their homonymous album from 1995, which shares with Two faced the thematic emphasis on anti-authoritarianism and progressive social critique. I thought Two faced, released by Noise International, had some very impressive moments (for example, the awesome anti-nationalist tune “Nation over nation“), but by the time I found it on vinyl my tastes had shifted to death metal, so I never bought it. In hindsight, I wish I had bought it; now I like it more than back then, and the cover art is simply brilliant. Metropolis had many copies of these, not as cheap as the rest of the albums on this list, but not that expensive either. The median price of this album on Discogs, at the time of writing this post, is £44.

5. MessiahPsychomorphia (1991)

I never got into Messiah, although a friend of mine repeatedly tried to initiate me to them by blasting Choir of horrors (1991) when we were young. The only album I ended up buying by them was the Psychomorphia EP, another one in this list released by Noise International, and that was because it was sold for next to nothing at Metropolis. I cannot remember the exact price but, just like all the albums on this list, there was a big batch of this on vinyl and Metropolis would sell it for around a couple of quid. The median price of this album on Discogs, at the time of writing this post, is £17.67. Listening to the title track now makes me think that maybe I should check them out again.