overground scene

Take Refuge in old Rage
July 9, 2018, 4:36 pm
Filed under: Heavy metal, people | Tags: , , , , ,

Refuge is the alter-ego of Rage, a band led by one of my all-time favourite songwriters, Peavy Wagner. Alongside Peavy, Refuge consists of Manni Schmidt and Chris Efthimiadis. This configuration of musicians is the same one that offered a series of Rage albums of unparalleled beauty, including Perfect man (1988), Secrets in a weird world (1989), Reflections of a shadow (1990), Trapped (1992), and The missing link (1993). After 1993 Manni left the band and Rage went through many different configurations. By the late 1990s Chris was also out of the band. For many people, the trio of Peavy, Manni, and Chris was the absolute Rage line-up. I first heard the news of Peavy re-uniting with Chris and Manni a few years ago (May 2014) through the comments of a reader of this very blog. The trio performed songs from that bygone era of the band live, first under the Tres Hombres moniker (listen to “Shame on you“). Last month this configuration released a beautiful debut album full of the excellence one would expect from the old Rage. The first day I got the album I listened to it five-six times back to back.

Peavy has written three songs all by himself, and the rest are co-written with Manni. All the lyrics are by Peavy. Overall, the lyrical thematology and musicianship are instantly recognisable as classic Rage. Peavy’s usual questions regarding mortality (“Summer’s winter”, “We owe a life to death”, “From the ashes”), loneliness (“Man in the ivory tower”, “Bleeding from inside”), and heartbreak (“Let me go”) are all here. The album kicks off with a small masterpiece about the end of the world titled “Summer’s winter”. The brilliant “We owe a life to death”, a song clearly crafted after “Who dares” (one of the best anti-fascist songs ever written, from The missing link), deals again with Peavy’s usual obsession with death. “The man in the ivory tower” is another instant classic, flawlessly crafted song, about loneliness and regret. On “Hell freeze over”, one of my favourite songs on the album, Peavy forgets mortality and other sad topics for a bit and celebrates a life of creativity, camaraderie and perseverance. Musically, the album is on par with anything the trio did back in the day. It is an album full of Manni’s frantic guitar-playing, and trademark pick-squeals, Peavy’s infectious melodies and perfect (and catchy) choruses, and Chris’s powerful style of drumming. I cannot get used to the perfection of “Hell freeze over” (Manni’s on fire on this one). “Waterfalls” is the slowest song on the album, and is a craftily put together masterpiece that takes the listener through a beautiful musical and emotional journey. “Let me go” is a perfect example of the inventive ways Peavy incorporates unexpected chord progressions and arpeggiated chords, and their resulting unconventional melodies, in his songs (past examples include “Take me to the water” and “Spider’s web”). Although this is another small masterpiece, the “go, go, go” bit in the chorus is, in my opinion, doing the song a disservice (similar to the “sky, sky, sky” bit in “Higher than the sky” from End of all days (1996)). “Bleeding from inside” is another cool song with interesting structure and a great chorus, and although in the beginning I could not avoid comparing the verse vocal pattern to Savatage‘s “Power of the night”, I got used to it and I don’t even notice it anymore. The mind-blowing “Another kind of madness” that closes the album was originally a bonus track on The missing link, but the version here is a re-working of the demo version of the song (available in the demo collection only recently made available titled Demonizer). The Missing link version was (mostly) acoustic, whilst this version is electric; the verse and bridge melodies are kept almost intact, whilst the pre-chorus and chorus are changed. Chris’s performance on this song deserves special mention. Unfortunately, it is not included in the vinyl version of the album.

In my opinion Solitary men is not reminiscent of any of the Rage albums the trio released in the past, especially not Trapped and The missing link alongside which many rush to classify it. Solitary men is a slower album, much less frantic than the aforementioned. At least to some degree, and on account of songs like “We owe a life to death”, it is also a self-consciously self-referential throwback album, as opposed to any of the older ones. At the same time, it contains Peavy’s artful song-writing and beautiful voice, Manni’s genius guitar-playing, and Chris’s awesome drumming, and the resulting chemistry which has been without a miss the generator of musical miracles. Refuge released an instant classic, in a seemingly effortless manner, just like they used to do year after year between 1988 and 1993. Peavy has been writing music non-stop for 35 years and he still comes up with some of his best songs. I have said it before and I will say it again: someone built this man a friggin’ statue already!


Overground Scene: 10 year anniversary

I started this blog 10 years ago, on July 4, 2008, during a challenging period of my life, in pursuit of some meaningful interaction around popular music. This clearly did not happen, but I decided against using this anniversary post to discuss the communicative opportunities and limitations of the internet, or the practice of debating (or the written word for that matter!) as an obsolete mode of social interaction. Instead, I’ll recount some of best moments associated with producing Overground Scene over the last 10 years.

Firstly, the practice of blogging, the translation from the more ephemeral (i.e. passing thoughts) to the more permanent so to speak (i.e. blog-posts), has been a pleasure in itself. I presume this translation must be one of the most attractive aspects of social media generally. Writing a post is much more than simply transferring one’s thoughts to written form on a web-page. Undergoing this translation, for me, means mobilising skills accumulated over many years of writing, reading music magazines, and absorbing various cultures of media production. There is effort involved in creating posts that are intelligible (an epithet that does not really apply to most of the early posts on this blog), both in terms of syntax, and curating (e.g. the inclusion of peripheral aspects of an argument – mainly images). Mobilising all these skills and seeing the end result of this labour has always been very fulfilling.

Some of the texts that inadvertently laid the groundwork for my blog*

The fact that some people enjoyed my blog and registered to receive updates means a lot to me and constitutes an encouraging reminder that I am not simply talking to myself. But through this blog I also got the unexpected opportunity to interact with some of the people I have admired since my childhood. Jeff Walker, the singer/songwriter of Carcass, one of the most excellent bands in the world and a band I respect and love, came across my review of Carcass’s comeback album and, I presume, regarded it a healthy expression of fandom. He then posted the following update on the band’s Facebook profile, by which I am massively honoured and at the same time constitutes an incredible act of legitimation.

Carcass giving Overground Scene the ‘thumbs-up’.

Another highlight was the brief interaction with Andre Tolhuisen and Ron van de Polder from Sinister, two musicians that I have also admired since the mid-1990s. Andre contacted me through the comments section of a post I wrote about Ron and his significant contribution to extreme metal. This initial contact led to an interview with Andre, whose brief contribution through Sinister’s sophomore album is also hugely significant. This interview led to one of my favourite posts celebrating the 20th anniversary of Diabolical Summoning (1993). Ron also came across the post dedicated to him and commented briefly. I understand that most people would not wait until their favourite musicians accidentally came across their blog to interact with them. Most people would simply add those people on Facebook or follow them on Twitter, but myself, being a bit more old-fashioned and quite unable to embrace the social media “revolution”, would never do something of the sort (I would consider it overstepping boundaries). So, the fact that these people contacted me or cited my blog means a lot to me.

Death Metal Masters

By this point, I have established several themes that I enjoy writing and have contributed several installments, including famous break-ups (What happened to us?), obscure references among bands or between bands and other popular culture texts (Is this where I came from?), important musicians that are inactive (Whatever happened to …?), and unfavourably reviewed albums (On reviewing). Some of my posts, for reasons I cannot know, have been much more popular than most. The post about the influence of H. P. Lovecraft on death metal has been one of the most read and commented on (and plagiarised by other blogs/websites). If anything resembled the kind of interaction I hoped to achieve through this blog, that would be the comments section of this post. Another post that still brings in traffic daily is the one on my favourite Swedish death metal albums (everyone likes a list). The post on Carcass’s comeback album (This Carcass feel) is also quite popular, mainly due to people still searching for the meaning of the number appearing during the chorus of “The granulating satanic mills” (I believe that a reader of this blog – Bill’s left pinky – offered the most plausible interpretation in one of the comments on the respective post – October 9, 2013).

On the occasion of this post I would like to articulate anew my commitment to writing about popular music from a critical perspective, and denying to provide a platform to any fascist discourses and their producers. Loving metal (or any other kind of music) does not mean that we should accept our favourite musicians and the fruits of their labour unconditionally. Music fans and musicians who believe in compassion and equality should be vocal about it, especially since ‘being vocal’ seems to be the default position of people who lack compassion and hate the idea of equality. Of course, there are also bands and music fans that are unapologetic enemies of humanity, compassion, and equality. These people are usually threatened by women who speak against rape, by victims of our colonial past who speak against racism, people who question gender and sexuality norms, and so forth. Sometimes, the reason why some feel threatened by such fights for justice is because they feel that they are better off with the status quo, not even considering the possibility that treating people better would also make their own lives better, more worth living. More often, though, these people are simply pawns in the games of much more powerful social actors and institutions, the Trumps, Farages, and Breitbarts of this world. Some of us still operate within political and judicial contexts where the extermination of dissenting voices is not yet common practice, but it is also terrifying to think that some others live in “democracies” where speaking out against orthodoxy equals at best imprisonment, at worst death. As such, speaking out is a precarious privilege and we should be making use of it, fostering it, improving it. I will end this post with a playlist that spans the years that this blog has been active. Enjoy responsibly.

*Images used to create this collage taken from:

Blackpig blog

Metal Invader

Iron Maiden collector blog

On reviewing albums #2: caught between the dunderhead and the elitist prick

This is the second installment (read the first installment here) in the series of posts that I write to let off steam and make fun of Encyclopaedia Metallum reviewers. I like to think that all different kinds of music have the potential to give pleasure to people, and that whether one enjoys a certain band/artist or not depends on their personal tastes and their desire and capacity to invest time understanding said band/artist. In this blog, I avoid talking about bands I haven’t invested time listening to or trying to understand, or bands that I haven’t found something nice to say about. Even when I acknowledge that a band or an album disappointed me, I make it very clear that it is a subjective opinion rather than a “fact”. One of the things I hate is when album reviewers talk about albums as if they express an “objective fact” or feel that their opinions are representative of audiences’ opinions.

Before I continue, I would like to explain that the reason why I choose to ridicule reviews written by “common fans”, as opposed to more “professional” critics that write for publications such as Metal Hammer, Metal Sucks, All Music, and so on, is not because I think that the latter do not deserve ridicule. If anything all those publications have set the standard in terrible reviewing. And most certainly I do not want to insinuate that because someone’s review has the seal of approval of an official publication it automatically has value. The reason I focus on the reviews of Encyclopaedia Metallum users is simply because I no longer read, and for a long time have not been reading, the reviews of any of the aforementioned publications.

In this post, as opposed to my previous post on reviewing albums, I will not talk about albums that have an overall terrible rating, but rather infuriatingly ridiculous reviews I accidentally came across about albums I consider brilliant. As I demonstrate in the three reviews that follow, through my brief “research” on Encyclopaedia Metallum‘s reviews section, I identify two types of annoying reviewers: the dunderhead, and the elitist prick. Of course, one could always assume that some reviewers are simply trolls, in which case they do their job pretty well!

1. Kataklysm – Temple of knowledge (72% on Encyclopaedia Metallum)

This album is a masterpiece, and my favourite death metal album to have ever come out of Canada. Listening to it makes my skin crawl. Although strictly in a musical sense this album is by no means revolutionary, the execution, lyrical themes, and vocals make it an extraordinary death metal artifact. The intensity and absurdity of the pace of the music and vocal performance elevates this album to a league of its own. The music, although overall simplistic, is quite impressive, most musical sentences are extremely inventive (e.g. beginning of “Fathers from the suns”), and the way the band keeps pushing itself to new extremes is unprecedented. Now, on Encyclopaedia Metallum one person gave it a 10% and another 42%. These two reviews are very much representative of the kinds of people who tend to give bad reviews: one, the complete dunderhead with surprising self-confidence, and, two, the elitist prick who makes us feel thankful (or, at least, hopeful) that his/her influence is limited to Encyclopaedia Metallum and not in more significant social fields (education, government, mass media). In this case the dunderhead gave it a 10%, but commenting on that would be taking a cheap shot. So, I move on to the elitist prick who gave it a 42%. His review is laden with the usual elitist tantrums about pseudo-individualisation that would make Theodor Adorno blush, and “profound” insights on the thought processes of audiences (who apparently listen to music in the exact same way as he does). It is indeed ironic how this person, who clearly holds himself and his tastes in extremely high regard, at the same time without a shadow of a doubt proves himself completely ignorant by assuming that everyone engages with culture in a uniform way. He should do the world a favour and hurl himself off the top of the temple of knowledge on which he thinks he is sitting. My rating: 97%

2. At The Gates – Slaughter of the soul (71% on Encyclopaedia Metallum)

In the case of ATG’s most popular album we can see the usual suspects spewing diarrhea in written form. Six out of 25 reviews give the album a bad rating. I will not dwell on all of them, instead I will focus on the one reviewer who gave it a 0% and clearly has never experienced joy in his life. I pity the fool. I would go out on a limb and argue that this person is either an arts student or cultural studies student who has done a very basic and uncritical reading of the Frankfurt School’s critiques of mass culture, or some poor soul who has made the phrase “you are what you consume” his modus operandi, and thinks that by consuming culture that is socially legitimated as high he will automatically occupy a much-desired high position in society. Once again we have a review of utter elitist drivel about what is high and what is low art, full of token aphorisms of mass-produced culture, McDonaldisation, and so forth. Maybe by the end of his degree he changed his mind, although if this review is representative of his student work then there’s not much promise for the future. His comment on LaRocque’s astonishing solo on “Cold” is pure blasphemy. If he listened to SOTS, an album that is the result of unbelievable effort and talent, the embodiment of years of experience, and which has had an enduring impact on popular music, and the only thing he had to say is that it is worth nothing, then the only thing I have to say about him is the above. My rating: 100%

3. Atheist – Jupiter (72% on Encyclopaedia Metallum)

Atheist’s Jupiter was my favourite album of 2010, alongside Imperial State Electric’s, Desultory’s and Blind Guardian’s albums of that year. Again here I will focus on the prodigy who gave this album a 0%. The person who wrote the review in question informs his readers from the outset that Atheist is “one of [his] first death metal bands”, in a pathetic attempt to invest his opinion with credibility. I wouldn’t be surprised if he started listening to death metal a month before he typed this review, and, truthful to his claim, at the beginning of that month he listened to Atheist. He goes on and on about how terrible the production is and how this is the major flaw of this album; jeeesus faux-king christ, some albums happen to be badly produced, or one might dislike the production; it happens all the time, get over it and listen to the faux-king album. What about Piece of time (1989) where the kick-drum almost completely drowns out the snare drum in all the fast songs?! After that he gets obsessed with the technicality of the album. I don’t believe I have read “tech” so many times in my life in one piece of writing. Of course, every single word he writes is completely subjective. He simply does not like the album, end of story. Along the way he references a bunch of contemporary bands (The faceless, Suicide silence, Mudvayne) which he implies are shit, but at the same time possesses suspicious reserves of knowledge about them as he compares specific bits of Jupiter to those bands. It’s almost as if he listens to those shitty bands. Almost as if he likes them. Interesting… Anyway, through his review he also plugs a website he is writing for, although this review is hardly an advertisement. This album is brilliant and from the day it came out ’till this very day I worship it (as much as I worship the first and second Atheist albums). If I have one problem with this album is that it is so brilliant that when it ends I’m sad. My rating: 96%

Is this where I came from? #13 Horror cinema and Death metal album covers

The relationship between horror cinema and death metal is a complicated one.The orthodox and not particularly critical way to approach this relationship is to resort to the so-called birth of heavy metal in the late 1960s. If Black Sabbath is the band that captured the imaginations of musicians, music journalists, and fans who co-created the genre we know as heavy metal, then it makes sense to argue that horror cinema is a cornerstone of the genre. Black Sabbath got its name from the Mario Bava classic horror anthology from 1963. Moreover, the band supposedly made the conscious decision to write songs that would constitute the equivalent of horror cinema in the music industry.

In line with this tradition, horror cinema has been an integral part of death metal lyrically, visually, and musically. Some of the seminal musical and lyrical death metal texts reference horror cinema directly. Possessed‘s influential debut Seven churches from 1985 kicks off with the song “The Exorcist“, incorporating both the title and theme tune of the groundbreaking horror film from 1973, albeit slightly altered presumably to avoid copyright issues. Another foundational death metal album, Death‘s debut Scream bloody gore (1987) includes the song “Evil dead“, whose title refers to the cult horror by Sam Raimi, and the intro melody is a cover of the theme tune of Zombi, the cult zombie-gory-horror film by Lucio Fulci. Deicide‘s debut (1990) also references Evil Dead in the song “Dead by dawn“. The homonymous song off Entombed‘s debut, Left hand path (1990), concludes with a version of the theme tune from Phantasm (Entombed has used dialogue samples from horror cinema in many other albums, including on Clandestine (1991), Wolverine blues (1993) and Morning star (2001)). It could be argued that horror cinema references were early on established as canonical for new occupants/creators of the death metal genre.

Many death metal bands have used the imagery of horror films in their album artworks. Cancer‘s awesome debut, To the gory end (1990), a cornerstone of British death metal, references the gory and influential sequel to Night of the living dead (1968), Dawn of the dead (1978), with its cover artwork which depicts the famous zombie with a machete slicing its head, making it one of the most identifiable death metal covers of all time.

Deceased‘s supercharged debut album, Luck of the corpse (1991), portrays on its cover the corpse of the medium from “The drop of water”, one of the tales from Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (1963). The terrifying dead medium is one of the most nightmarish characters in the history of horror films, and in my opinion does not fit the intense death-thrash of the album. I would expect something much darker and claustrophobic from an album with this cover, something more akin to early Asphyx or early Benediction.

Six Feet Under‘s classic now debut from 1995 is full of references to murder and classic horror themes, such as zombies (“Torn to the bone”, “Still alive”) and werewolves (“Lycanthropy”). The cover of the album has been taken from the poster of the 1990 Gothic horror The haunting of Morella, a film loosely based on a story by Edgar Alan Poe. In spite of what I thought were silly performances, awkward sound and editing, and messy direction it is a wildly entertaining movie. The cover is a brilliant painting that fits the style of the album well; I truly feel haunted when I’m listening to it. Obviously, the title of the album, Haunted, also alludes to the film.

Death Breath was a breath of fresh stinking air in the early days of the somewhat mediocre resurgence of old-school Swedish death metal. What better way to celebrate Nicke Andersson’s return to death metal than to reference some old-school horror cinema! Death Breath’s self-titled EP and debut album from 2006 reference the classic Hammer horror The plague of the zombies (1966). The iconic zombie with the empty eyes and the grotesque snarl is to this day one of the most terrifying monsters in film, and stands in sharp contrast to the rest of the film, which is not particularly frightening in my opinion. By the way, if you haven’t seen the video that the band made for the homonymous song do yourselves a favour and watch it; pure Night of the living dead worship!

Revolting is another new “old school death metal” band par excellence. Accordingly in its debut titled Dreadful pleasures (2009) it references an old school horror film titled Monster, also known as Humanoids from the deep (1980). Revolting might not be of the order of old school death metal bands like Death, Deicide, Cancer, and Entombed, but Humanoids from the deep is a great movie that truly stands out. Alongside the usual horror tropes (stalking, people murdered one after the other, gore, nudity) this movie has great cinematography and an interesting plot. The artwork is pretty cool too.

My 10 favourite death metal albums from the United States revisited

A few years ago (2014) I revisited a post I had written in 2008 about my favourite Swedish death metal albums. The time has come to revisit another list I wrote back in 2011, of my favourite death metal albums from the USA. Since 2011 when I wrote that list I have re-evaluated some of the albums I’ve been listening to since the days of my youth. Looking back at this list there are albums that I still consider unique and unprecedentedly fantastic and I still agree that they rightfully belong to my personal “best off” list of US death metal, and some others about which I changed my mind. The ones from that list that I wouldn’t change are the following:

1. Massacre – From beyond (1991)

It could be argued that Massacre’s debut album was a latecomer in the US death metal scene. By 1991 many of the cornerstones of US death metal had already been released, including three albums by Death, two albums by Obituary, and the debut albums by Morbid Angel, Nocturnus, and Atheist. However, Massacre’s debut was not welcomed as a newcomer. Instead, the name Massacre and its members already enjoyed a somewhat cult status by virtue of being associated with Death, Mantas and the first wave of US death metal. In terms of substance, rather than status, the songwriting in this album is astounding and, in my ears, timeless. The logic that underlies these songs is really a lost art; you rarely listen to death metal today that has memorable riffs, vocal patterns and choruses. Kam Lee is, of course, the ultimate death metal vocalist. If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Dawn of eternity”, “Chamber of ages“, “From beyond”, “Symbolic immortality“.

2. Death – Symbolic (1995)

I set my own rule to only include one album per band in these “best of” lists. If I didn’t then I would end up with at least three albums by Death. This band reveals in a way what is wrong with lists such as this one. Death is a band that is so diverse, and wonderful in all its different incarnations, that by focusing on one period one neglects masterpieces from another. But I continue to support my choice of Symbolic, not simply because it is the album that opened my mind to unique forms of composition and musical aesthetics, but because it continues to enchant me every time I listen to it, despite listening to it for 22 years. Every single thing on this album, music-wise, lyric-wise, performance-wise, production-wise, is perfect. I still cannot get over Hoglan’s majestic performance, and Chuck, in my opinion, reached his pinnacle arrangement-wise. What can one say about the genius change of pace during the first minute of “Symbolic”, the brilliant layering on the chorus of “Sacred serenity”, the interlude on “Without judgement”, and so on? If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Symbolic”, “1000 eyes“, “Crystal mountain”, “Zero tolerance“.

3. Broken Hope – Grotesque blessings (1999)

I can imagine many, if not most, death metal fans criticising my decision to include this album in a top 10 death metal albums list. I imagine that most people would not consider Broken Hope a band of the highest order, and even if they did I can imagine that they would value other albums more than Grotesque blessings. The latter has indeed been criticised as an unsuccessful departure from their traditional sound. I disagree, as I can trace the origins of the more groovy and technical aspects present in Grotesque back to songs like “Felching vampires” off The bowels of repugnance (1993). Grotesque is simply the next step in the band’s evolution after Loathing (1997) and the steady, gradual increase of Griffin’s influence on the band’s style. From the very first time I listened to it I was enchanted. I remember really looking forward to the release of this album, since Loathing had demolished me (and I consider that one too as an absolute masterpiece, almost as perfect as Grotesque). Buying it upon its release I became obsessed with it, and I still cannot believe how perfect it is. The juxtaposition of Griffin’s surgically precise complex/technical riffing with Wagner’s more rowdy compositions, all coldly and inhumanly executed, has always astounded me. Add in the mix the brilliant and inventive lyrics, and Ptacek’s awe-inspiring voice and you have a masterpiece. If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Wolf among sheep“, “Necro-fellatio”, “Christ consumed“, “Earth burner”.

4. Cannibal Corpse – The bleeding (1994)

The bleeding also retains its position as one of USA’s favourite death metal albums of all time. A timeless masterpiece, and the zenith of Cannibal Corpse’s career and whoever disagrees they don’t know what they are talking about. The departure of Bob Russay meant that CC lost its unrefined brutality and unique identity. That was further reinforced by the influences introduced by Rob Barrett and the more technical path the band went down during this period. The result is a much more diverse and accessible Cannibal Corpse, with extremely memorable riffs, clever song structures, and catchy vocal patterns; and of course Scott Burns’s astounding production. If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Fucked with a knife“, “Pulverized”, “Staring through the eyes of the dead”, “The pick-axe murders“.

5. Suffocation – Effigy of the forgotten (1991)

In 1991 Suffocation was without a shadow of a doubt the most brutal death metal band. Their unique style of death metal eventually captured the imaginations of many musicians in the years to come, and Frank’s vocals, Mike’s drumming, and Doug’s and Terrance’s guitar playing developed into the blueprint of brutal death metal. In my opinion, all their albums up until the homonymous one from 2006 are fantastic, but the first one is still the best. Every single song is a masterpiece, a non stop riff-fest, with monumental breakdowns and furious grind, and one of the best sounds ever put down on tape. If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Liege of inveracity“, “Infecting the crypts”, “Reincremation“, “Mass obliteration”.

6. Deicide – Legion (1992)

Deicide’s sophomore masterpiece is still one of my favourite albums of all time. Deicide in this album is like a freight train about to go off the rails. The intensity with which everyone performs is unprecedented. Benton’s aggression is unequaled, and his lyrics are some of the best he’s written, mostly reflecting the usual anti-christian element, but also alluding to Lovecraft’s terrifying universe. The Hoffmans offer some of their best performances as well – some of the most memorable riffs and solos ever, and Asheim’s drumming is intense and inspired (check out the genius beat of “Holy deception“). If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Satan spawn, the caco-daemon”, “Repent to die“, “Revocate the agitator”, “Behead the prophet“.

The exclusion of the Immolation and Morbid Angel albums from the original list does not mean that I don’t love those albums anymore. It simply means that in the case of those two bands I decided that I prefer other albums from their discography, and I’d rather have on this “best of” list. So, I would like to replace those two albums with the following two:

1. Morbid Angel – Blessed are the sick (1991)

When I wrote the original list I was unsure about including this or Covenant, but I decided upon the latter probably due to the superior production. I’ve always felt uncomfortable about this choice though. Blessed are the sick has superior songs, and took the genre to new unreachable heights. Blessed… is almost an otherworldly experience, and in terms of intensity, I don’t think that any other Morbid Angel ever came close (maybe Altars of madness). If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Fall from grace“, “Brainstorm”, “Day of suffering“, “Unholy blasphemies”; one of a kind songs of pure inspiration, attitude and creative vision that will never be captured again.

2. Immolation – Unholy cult (2002)

The same thing that happened with Morbid Angel in the original list happened with Immolation. Over the years I have kept changing my mind about which Immolation album is my favourite. All of their albums are awesome, but in my opinion they reached perfection during the Failures for gods (1999) and Shadows in the light (2007) period. Unholy cult was, hands down, my favourite album of the year when it came out. It is an album where the band went for a cleaner production, but without losing the power and terrifying atmosphere of the previous albums. I think that this album has the best drum sound they ever had. Each song is a small miracle, unique, inventive and extremely memorable. I simply love how the different layers gradually come together to form one of the most awesome riffs on “Unholy cult” (the one after the chorus), and “Reluctant messiah” might be my all-time favourite Immolation song. An absolute masterpiece. If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Reluctant messiah“, “Unholy cult”, “A kingdom divided“, “Sinful nature”.

In the case of Autopsy, although I still love them and especially Mental funeral, right now I feel that I’d rather have any of the albums below.  The same goes for Obituary, who I love, but I prefer other albums much more. So, the two places that have remained unoccupied in my original list could be filled by any of the following four albums, which I present in chronological order. A lot of thinking has gone into the following list, and although I can imagine most people finding my choices strange, these are albums that have stayed with me for many years, and have had a profound impact on my understanding of music, taste, and, of course, lasting enjoyment:

1. Nocturnus – The key (1990)

Nocturnus introduced a new logic of extreme music. It is a band that took me ages to appreciate, although I listened to them back in the mid-late 1990s. Today, and for a few years now, I cannot get used to the sheer perfection of this album. Most songs are complex, orgasmic explosions of creativity, and even a relatively simple song like “BC/AD” is unique, dark and imposing. Also, the impact that this band has on modern death metal often goes unrecognised. If Nocturnus did not shape the sound of Nile, then I don’t know who did (listen to the first minute – and beyond – of “Standing in blood” and tell me that Nile did not shamelessly copy every single aspect of it!). Another one of death metal’s most inspired bands, Sinister, has also clearly been influenced by Nocturnus (compare the main vocal pattern of “Lake of fire” to the chorus of Sinister’s “Sacramental carnage”; the second riff of “Droid sector” is pure Sinister). If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Throne of fire”, “Standing in blood”, “Droid sector“, “Neolithic”.

2. Atheist – Unquestionable presence (1991)

I have thought a lot about which Atheist album should be included in this list. I bought their debut in 1996 without knowing the band, after reading the sticker on the cover that announced “Death metal from Florida with a difference, you better believe it”. I probably got Unquestionable presence a year later, and at first I didn’t think it was amazing. It took me a few years to appreciate its awesomeness. Today I cannot listen to this album without getting chills down my spine from beginning to end. It is not very often that an album not simply does not get old, but also that it reveals new things to the listener every time they listen to it. Not that Piece of time (and even Jupiter) does not have the same effect, but this one is something else. Atheist is pure death metal, more so than most other bands that are widely considered death metal. Atheist, especially on this album, truly broke with all conventions of thrash by mixing up intensity and aggression with unorthodox tempos, dozens of different styles of riffing and melody. This is death metal. If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “An incarnation’s dream”, “And the psychic saw“, “The formative years“, “Your life’s retribution”.

3. Monstrosity – Millennium (1996)

When I bought this album sometime in 1997, it was my first contact with Monstrosity, and by that time I already knew Fisher from Cannibal Corpse’s Vile (1996). The level of musicianship on Millennium was unheard of at that time. Of course there were other technical death metal bands, but bands that played technical music on this high level and maintained an equally high level of brutality were few and far between. Lee Harrison’s drumming on this album remains one of the most inspired I have ever heard. Hear him shine as he artfully orchestrates “Dream messiah” and “Devious instinct”. Jason Morgan instantly established himself as a guitar god in my consciousness (unfortunately, as far as I know he didn’t do anything worthwhile after this album – I own the first Wynjara album and I don’t like it at all). Fisher gives one of his absolutely top performances on this album. What can anyone say about the pure brilliance of this album? The manic riffing and genius musical narratives on “Devious instinct”, “Fatal millennium” and “Dream Messiah”? The creepy atmosphere and ultra-massive break of “Fragments of resolution”? The grinding “Slaves and masters”?  If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Devious instinct“, “Fatal millennium”, “Manic“, “Dream Messiah”.

4. Nile – Black seeds of vengeance (2000)

When I listened to Amongst the catacombs… in 1999 I could not believe my ears. When Black seeds... came out I was a first day buyer. Nile, in my opinion, reached the pinnacle of their development with this album. It’s hard to think of a more majestic death metal album than Black seeds. A truly ambitious album in terms of orchestration and composition. A song like “The black flame” holds a unique position in the death metal genre. Derek Roddy wrote the absolute Nile drums which defined their style since. Kolias might be a machine but apart from precision he did not offer one single thing to the character of this band. Roddy’s drumming on this album is one of the best of its kind and can stand proudly next to the work of Gods of the genre such as Sandoval and Smith. If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “The black flame”, “Masturbating the war god“, “Multitude of foes“, “To dream of Ur”. It’s worth noting that on the dark Lovecraftian masterpiece “To dream of Ur” Nile’s original drummer Pete Hammoura plays the drums.

Is this where I came from? #12 Clive Barker and Dismember

The newest installment in this series of posts is about a band and an author I admire a lot. I have loved Dismember since my early teenage years in the mid 1990s, and Clive Barker is an author who I admired first as the writer/director of the first Hellraiser film, one of the absolute masterpieces of horror cinema, and then as a unique horror writer. The song “Hallucigenia” by Dismember was probably influenced by Barker’s book The great and secret show.

Clive Barker – The great and secret show (1989)

The great and secret show is the first part of an unfinished trilogy known as “the art”. In this fantasy/horror Barker weaves a complex story about the battle between two evolved beings (that once were human) over the space (i.e. Quiddity) between our world (i.e. Cosm) and the afterlife (i.e. Metacosm). One of the two beings is the Jaff (or, his human name, Jaffe), who is drunk with power and has evil intent, and the other one is Fletcher, who wants to protect Quiddity from the Jaff. The Jaff has the ability to extract from people their primal fears, materialised as monsters that he calls terata (the Greek word for monsters), and Fletcher has the ability to bring into existence people’s fantasies, what he calls hallucigenia. By raising Hallucigenia he forms his “army from the fantasy lives of the ordinary men and women he met as he pursued Jaffe across the country” (p.64). At some point in the story (after page 367) the fantasies of many of the residents of Palomo Grove, touched by Fletcher’s power, come into existence. Many of those fantasies are of sexual nature, leading many of the people isolating themselves in their homes reveling in sexual debauchery with their hallucigenia.

Dismember – Hallucigenia (1995)

Dismember’s “Hallucigenia” is a song composed by Richard Cabeza, and it is one of the most fantastic songs off Massive killing capacity, and a cornucopia of references. It kicks off with a brilliant, creepy Autopsy-like melody, leading to an up-beat Venom-sounding chord progression (I’m thinking “Countess Bathory”) that is repeated during the chorus, ending in a similar way to Kiss‘s “Black Diamond”. The song title and lyrical content refer back to Clive Barker‘s The great and secret show. After reading Barker’s book and realising the connection, and after listening to this album for 23 years, the lyrics suddenly made sense! The protagonist of the song is someone who apparently fantasised about sexual debaucheries with demons. Hallucigenia refers to these fantasies coming to life.

Lyrics: “On my throne of sin, I watch the demons feed, nails cut deep into my flesh, and release my pulsing blood. Serpents dance before my eyes, and tempt the lust inside, let me taste the pain, devour me, my wicked queen! Whip me with chains of sin, let your jaws open my skin, lips and tongues licking the wounds, in ecstasy I’ll rise. Whores of hell, demons appear to feast on my flesh, bleed with me, souls forever free. Taste the pain and the desire, like a drug it’s my need, bleeding bodies, endless orgies, in carnal blasphemy.”

Is this where I came from? #11 Ozzy Osbourne and Hearse

It has been a long time since the last installment of the “Is this where I came from” series of posts. In this post I will look at a riff created by Randy Rhoads during his brief, but significant, period with Ozzy Osbourne, and how it was interpreted by the Swedish death metal band Hearse. Rhoads’s riffing, and the way it was further developed by his successors, had a big impact on metal guitar playing. Especially his distinct style of fast strumming re-appears in several incarnations of metal guitar-playing, ranging from Rage (Manni’s riffs owe a lot to Rhoads) to Entombed (listen to the recent “The winner has lost“).

1. Ozzy Osbourne – S.A.T.O. (1981)

Ozzy’s second album, Diary of a madman (1981), is my favourite album from him, alongside The ultimate sin (1986). The song that instantly stood out for me when I first listened to it was “S.A.TO.”, still one of the best songs, with some of the most phenomenal and out-of-control guitar work ever recorded. This song is a true Randy Rhoads classic, and I consider him a God simply on the basis of his playing on this song. Now, as Ozzy fans know, it is really hard to find YouTube videos of original Ozzy Osbourne songs, so for the purposes of this post you can listen to the riff that Hearse drew on by a fan-made video. The riff in question starts at 0:34.

2. Hearse – Well of youth (2003)

Hearse is a relatively underground band fronted by Johan Liiva, formerly of Arch Enemy and Furbowl. Max Thornell, Liiva’s bandmate from Furbowl, is also part of Hearse. Their style is commonly referred to as melodic death metal or death-n-roll, but I think both definitions fall short of the range of Hearse, as their music has d-beat elements, traditional death elements, grind, bluesy riffs and guitar solos, psychedelic passages, and classic heavy metal melodies. Dominion reptilian (2003) is my favourite album from them. It is an album full of unique, inspired songs, and a simply phenomenal performance by Liiva. None of the other Hearse albums come close to the awesomeness of this one, although In these veins (2007) and Single ticket to paradise (2009) are also pretty good. The melody that starts at 0:20 and is repeated two more times throughout the song is very similar to the main riff of S.A.T.O.