overground scene


The death metal subculture in the mid-90s Greece

In the mid-nineties in Greece internet had not yet proliferated everyday life. There were only a few homes with access to internet and, in any case, the internet was still a baby. Tape trading was still the dominant mechanism for the sharing of music. However, me and my close friends did not really want to be a part of the (death) metal sub-culture. We considered most metalheads stupid and that they were listening to the wrong kind of music. We had built our own counter-culture in which we found th devil-horns sign silly, we did not like some of the more established metal bands, especially the ones that were more established in Greece, and we refused to take part in some of the metal rituals, such as hanging out in metal clubs. Partially that was happening because we prefered to spend our limited allowances on records than coffee or beer. So our small musical network back then was comprised of 4-5 kids from school. Part of this network were the older brother of one of my friends, the older cousin of another friend and 2 kids from another town (Volos) that were friends with one from our group.

This was a particularly small network, even if you account for the fact that the two kids from Volos had more connections that were indirectly connected with us. However, that allowed us to experiment with buying records that were more obscure and more importantly, it allowed us to really appreciate and cherish the few albums that were going around.

Of course, the social construction of what constitutes Death Metal did not take place exclusively within the confines of our small group. One early guide to death metal came from the greek metal hammer magazine. In 1996 the greek metal hammer published a list of what the editors considered the 15 best death metal albums of all time. That list guided me and my friends on our first explorations of the death metal scene. Although we were already listening to some death metal like Benediction, Dismember, Unleashed, At the gates, Sarcofago and Death our knowledge beyond these bands was very limited. That list was therefore particularly helpful, since it shaped to a large extent our ideas about what death metal is and how it should sound like.

The albums on that list included: Altars of Madness (Morbid Angel), Transcend the Rubicon (Benediction), Indecent and Obscene (Dismember), Clandestine (Entombed), Heartwork (Carcass), Maleus Maleficarum (Pestilence), Last one on Earth (Asphyx), For Victory (Bolt Thrower), From Beyond (Massacre), Cause of Death (Obituary), Harmony Corruption (Napalm Death), Across the Open Sea (Unleashed), The Ten Commandments (Malevolent Creation), Leprosy (Death), Deicide (Deicide).  I have this strange feeling that either Onward to Golgotha, Dawn of Possession or the Bleeding were also  included but I cannot be sure since I have unfortunatelly lost this issue. Anyway, this list reflected the subjective tastes of the magazine’s editors, I am guessing Taggalos and Efkarpidis were among them. Although later on I came to hate Metal Hammer and all attempts on evaluating music according to personal criteria that assume are universal, I cannot deny the fact that this list was a beginners’ guide and introduction to a very time-and-place-specific death metal sub-culture.

I remember buying some of these albums on cassette because they were cheap and we did not fully trust metal hammer. Back then Happening, one of Athens’ largest record stores, was still around but the undisputed metal record stores were the two Rock City stores, particularly the underground one on Akadimias street. The symbolic elements that made this store so loved, like the fact that it was in a basement, the dark walls, suffocating atmosphere and the metalic black cd -racks were all lost after the store moved further down the street and was refurbished to look fancy and new. From the underground store, I bought some of the cassettes I saw on that list, such as Maleus Malleficarum and Last one on earth for 950 drachmas (around 2 quid). The cassette series was an invitation to further experimentation with bands like Gorefest, Paradox, Tiamat, Gorguts and others.

Almost 15 years and hundreds of albums have passed since and I still think that this is a pretty damn good list. It contains important representatives from different schools (Swedish death metal, american death metal, british death metal and European death metal). This list also reflects the values of death metal fans in greece at that period. Among the albums there is only one that would fall under the technical death metal categroy, Heartwork by Carcass. Altars of Madness is also technical for sure, but what sticks out is the brutallity. Most other albums on that list are extremely crude, dark and brutal. Furthermore, one can find albums that would never make it in a similar list today! I doubt it that today’s death metal fans would appreciate any albums by bands like Asphyx, Bolt Thrower or, especially, Benediction.  Now I’ll get back to listening to Last one on Earth and be amazed by the heaviness and phenomenal lyrics of Martin Van Drunen.

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[…] the group considered “true” or “serious” metal. As I have described in a previous post, what constituted true metal was the result of interaction and negotiation with the Greek metal […]

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