overground scene

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.


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.

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

Suspension of disappointment, and favourite bands

Suspension of disappointment is a term I use to describe my attitude towards new releases by bands that I love. Whilst suspension of disbelief refers to the temporary acceptance as believable of things ordinarily seen as non-credible, suspension of disappointment refers to the temporary willingness to accept that something is not as bad as it initially sounds. Whenever a band I grew up listening to releases a new album, I abstain from forming a judgement about it immediately; instead, even if I find it unexciting initially, I am willing to give it repeated listens before I decide whether it is not a worthy addition to the band’s legacy. On the contrary, I am inclined to trust my first impression of an album by bands I do not love, or I did not grow up listening to. I cannot be sure whether this is a personal attitude or a more widely adopted one.

A recent example of this attitude is when I listened to the new, come-back album by Xentrix, titled Bury the pain. Xentrix is one of the first thrash bands I ever listened to, and their first three albums have always been on steady rotation. The news of a new album excited me a lot, although the absence of Chris Astley, the band’s leader, was a bad omen. The last album the band released in 1996, titled Scourge, was indeed a disappointment, although even with that one I made a big effort to enjoy it (in the end, I only like “The hand that feeds itself” and “Never be“). Astley was missing from Scourge, and in the new album he’s been replaced by Jay Walsh. My first contact with the album happened through “Bleeding out”, the first song the label released on YouTube. My initial impression was that the band is clearly trying to revisit its earlier days. It obviously has a classic thrash sound, but it also seeks inspiration specifically from Metallica, just like back in the day; the main riff is very similar to the main riff off Metallica’s “This was just your life”; new Metallica, for a new Xentrix. The song did not impress me, although Walsh’s very good vocals – that remain loyal to Astley’s legacy – were welcome (if I didn’t know it was someone else singing, I would think it was Astley). Upon the album’s release, the time came to properly evaluate the effort. The first listen left me unsatisfied; I thought the structures were very simple, repetitive, there were no hooks, and the riffs often alluded to the lazy style popularised by Pantera. However, I suspended disappointment, and did not give up on the album, as I could feel a loose connection with it; I could hear Gasser’s distinctive drumming, I could hear some of Xentrix’s classic melodies, and, most importantly, this was a band that I loved since I was 15 years old.

After a couple of listens I eventually noticed one song, “The truth lies buried“, which effectively anchored me to the album. The next time I put the album on, I went straight for that song. Eventually, I fell in love with it, and I still think it is the best song on the album. But the more I listened, the more I started noticing catchy choruses and vocal patterns, interesting harmonies, and some riffs that reminded me of the Xentrix of old. “The red mist descends” quickly became my second favourite song (brilliant opening, vocal patterns, and chorus). I now like this album quite a lot, which is a completely different view from my original one, and the only reason this happened was by suspending disappointment. This is a privilege that other bands, bands that do not mean much to me, do not enjoy.

Is this where I came from? #14 Anti-cimex and Rotting Christ

It has been a long time since the 13th installment of the “Is this where I came from?” series of posts, in which I explored the influence of Horror cinema visuality on death metal album covers. For the 14th installment of this series of posts I will draw attention to what I consider a very obscure case of intertextuality between Rotting Christ, a cult black metal band from Athens, Greece, and Anti-Cimex, a cult crust band from Sweden.

Anti-Cimex – Doing Time (1990)

“Doing time” is a song off Anti-Cimex’s first full length album, Absolut country of Sweden (1990) which came out in 1990, many years and several demos and E.P.s after the band formed in the early 1980s. It could be argued that Anti-Cimex launched the great Swedish tradition of Discharge rip-offs, and, alongside bands like Crucifix, Doom, and Ratos De Porao, they inspired and helped establish the worldwide D-beat genre. “Doing time” is a song that exemplifies Anti-Cimex’s sound. Yet, consistent with the minor stylistic changes present in this album that allude to metal aesthetics, the furious D-beat gives way to a mid-paced, heavy palm-muted chord progression starting at 3:45. This progression is further developed with the addition of a short sharp lick first heard at 4:08, which is the bit that is very reminiscent of the song by Rotting Christ I present below.

Rotting Christ – The fifth illusion (1994)

Rotting Christ is probably the first extreme metal band I ever listened to, through the compilation tape Into the catachthonium (1994) courtesy of Unisound records. The opener “The fifth illusion” comes from the band’s excellent second full length album titled Non serviam (1994). The extremely catchy lick to which I am referring in this post is first heard at 0:41-0:43 in the video below, and is repeated several times throughout the duration of the song. Whether Sakis Tolis (the band’s principal composer) consciously imitated the Anti-Cimex riff or whether it is a coincidence remains a hypothesis. However, it is worth noting that Rotting Christ started off as a grindcore band, so, I guess, listening to a band like Anti-Cimex would not be inconsistent with Sakis’s musical tastes.

My favourite albums from 2018

During 2018 some world-class bands released albums that I found disappointing, and, overall, I had difficulty coming up with a top-ten list initially, in spite of having listened to loads of newly released albums. This year, I tried listening to some albums I wouldn’t normally be interested in, but gave up quickly. One of those was Ihsahn‘s Amr (which probably stands for armchair in Norwegian) and, to be fair, I didn’t make a big effort; there were some elements that I guess could have been found on Emperor’s final album, but overall was not my cup of tea. Pestilence‘s comeback with an album carefully planed to elicit feelings of nostalgia for the early-1990s period of the band disappointed me. The death metal “supergroup” (although the only two people who have ever been in it who can genuinely claim to have released good death metal are Swano and Tagtgren, and they’re long gone) Bloodbath released another album full of what I consider mind-numbingly boring music. Siege of Power is a new band that includes Chris Reifert (Autopsy) and Bob Bagchus (of classic Asphyx fame), so naturally I was excited about it. I could barely listen to the entire thing one time, which does not necessarily say something about the quality of this album, but I don’t feel the desire to listen to it again. Deicide, a band in which I lost interest a long time ago, returned with a new album. Once again, I tried to enjoy it but I couldn’t. In my opinion even an album like Inciniratehymn (2000), which upon its release was deemed extremely disappointing (I actually like it these days), is a masterpiece compared to Overtures of blasphemy. Notable exception is the very melodic “Defying the sacred”, which reminded me of the adventurous spirit and catchiness (not songwriting, obviously) of Serpents of the light (1997) era. Once again I gave Unleashed the benefit of the doubt and listened to their new album and once again I was left with utter disappointment. In the mid-1990s I was in love with this band. I still find it hard to understand how it managed to stay true to its “mission statement” whilst succeeding in reinventing itself and not remaining stagnant, but still ending up sounding uninspired and silly (in my opinion, of course).

I’ll continue with some albums I enjoyed a little bit more. I always keep an eye out for new collaborations that include Nicke Andersson, so this year I listened to Lucifer‘s second album simply titled Lucifer II. I enjoyed a few songs, like “California son”, “Faux Pharaoh” and “Dreamer”. I have not listened to it in a while but I don’t really feel the desire to either. I listened to the new Gruesome album, titled Twisted prayers, a few times, but couldn’t get into it. There are no doubt some great songs in there, “Fatal illusions” is an example of the latter, but for me the Spiritual healing-era worship has overstayed its welcome; there’s a reason why Chuck moved on. Blitzkrieg released a new album titled Judge not!. Although the only remaining original member is Brian Ross one can certainly hear the original Blitzkrieg sentiment and songwriting in this album. In line with their back-catalogue this album sounds a bit amateurish, in all respects. Nevertheless, I like almost all the songs, with favourites being “Reign of fire”, “Angels and demons”, “Forever is a long time”, and the homonymous one. “Wide legged and headless”, a little more up-tempo song, using yet another variation of the classic pre-chorus riff on Tokyo Blade’s “Break the chains”. Eldritch is a band to which I keep coming back from time to time. I unlikely fell in love with them during 1998-1999, in the midst of an American brutal death metal obsession, and El nino (1998) was one of my favourite albums of that year. I have enjoyed some of their subsequent albums, I love Portrait of the abyss within (2004), and I generally have a soft spot for them. Their new album, titled Cracksleep, is unmistakably Eldritch, with its usual furious and technical metal songwriting alongside more melancholic ballad-like compositions. It is not bad but, in my opinion, it is not one of their finest moments either.

The Adolescents released a new album titled Cropduster, which may as well be their last one. Sadly, this album contains the last ever tunes and bass-lines we’ll be hearing by Steve Soto who passed away last June. Soto has always been one of my favourite punk songwriters and bass-players, and since the band’s reformation has written some exceptional songs. I enjoyed the new album as much as I have enjoyed the last couple of albums by the band; most songs I like a lot (e.g. “Queen of denial”, “Paradigm junkies”, “Sunspot screams”) and some I like a bit less. Cauldron‘s new album, titled New gods, is in the usual Cauldron vein. The band can claim to have a somewhat personal sound. I liked some of the songs but overall it felt to me like a watered down version of In ruin (2015). Judas Priest’s shift from British steel to Point of entry inadvertently came to mind when listening to New godsP.L.F.‘s new album, titled Jackhammering deathblow of nightmarish trepidation, offered some much-needed pleasure among a tirade of lame death metal releases. As opposed to the latter, P.L.F offer passionate brutal music that does not lack in sophistication either. Although, grindcore never really manages to capture my attention for more than a few listens (with a few notable exception) this is good stuff.

Swedish thrash-death band Dreadful Fate released its debut Vengeance, an album I was really looking forward to, and although I definitely enjoyed it a lot I do not consider it in any possible sense a “great” album. I will start with things that I liked about this album: Half of the album’s songs are composed by Karlen, the ex-bassist of Merciless, and they are reminiscent of the masterpiece titled The awakening (1990). The other half of the album pretty much conforms to this style, maybe with the slight exception of “Eternal fire” which is pure Bathory worship, and the Celtic Frost nod on the slow bit of “Unholy lust”. The production is really good. The cover artwork is awesome, and generally the way the vinyl record is presented is beautiful. Castervall’s vocals are also great. Now I will continue with why the album did not live up to my expectations. The singer comes from Hypnosia, the band whose Invocator/Kreator-powered debut is one of the greatest thrash albums of all time. As opposed to Merciless and Hypnosia where their drummers would lift the songs to great heights, Vengeance is in my opinion lacking great drumming. One of my least favourite moments in the album is the song “Altar of cruelty” where it feels like the guitarist and the drummer play at different tempos, both of them are too stubborn to either slow down or speed up to synchronise, yet they make some necessary adjustments from time to time to keep the song going without totally falling apart. I really cannot be sure if it is just my impression but it feels quite awkward! Moreover, while the rest of Karlen’s songs are quite awesome (especially “Death sentence” and “Witches hammer”) the rest of the songs did not impress me (with the exception of “The final sacrifice”). Believe me, I was really looking forward to this release, I could not wait to get a new taste of Hypnosia but “Hour of reprisal” did not satisfy the need. The new Gruesome is not the only album released by Gus Rios this year. Together with Alex Marquez, and under the Create A Kill moniker, they released a pretty enjoyable and expertly executed thrash-death album that, I imagine, would please fans of Demolition Hammer, Solstice, Exodus, Slayer, and Blood Feast. The band is enveloped by a number of guest musicians, including Matt Harvey (Exhumed, Gruesome) and Tobias Gustafsson (Vomitory, Torture Division). Some of the heavier and sharp triplet riffs sound more like the brutal appropriation of thrash riffing by bands like Malevolent Creation. This is not surprising given that both Gus and Alex are part of the history of Malevolent Creation (and Alex Solstice too). Hate Eternal released the first album since their debut that I actually enjoyed, titled Upon desolate sands. When their debut came out in 1999 I considered it an instant classic, but their sophomore album and every one since disappointed me. I would not be surprised if recording Morbid Angel’s latest album inspired Rutan to write some good death metal again. It starts in a manner almost identical to Internecine’s The book of lambs (2001), but continues with awesome riffs that could have easily been on Conquering the throne (1999). The main difference is the inclusion of more atmospheric melancholic passages, as can be heard after the second verse of “The violent fury”, the end of the very catchy “All hope destroyed”, and the instrumental “For whom we have lost”. Beyond that, all the heavy, dissonant, triplets and swampy textures that Rutan is known for since his first stint with Morbid Angel (I’m thinking of “Nothing but fear”) can be heard all over the album. Overall, I enjoyed it quite a lot and I think I might discover more things in the future. Special mention to the new Pungent Stench album, titled Smut Kingdom, needs to be made before I move on to the list of my ten favourite albums from the past year. Sometime in 2007 I was following the online forum that El Cochino used to update fans of the band about the recording process of the new Pungent Stench album. I remember my absolute disappointment when it was announced that the band would fold and that the album would be shelved. Here we are 11 years later with the album being finally released, and musically contains some of Pungent Stench’s best material. Pungent Stench is a band that lyrically always dealt with topics that are considered deviant in popular discourse. All kinds of sexual practices have been addressed in Pungent Stench’s lyrics, and in many cases sexual practices that are rarely talked about, including coprophilia (“Klyster boogie”), amputation fetish (“The amp hymn”), and BDSM. Although in some ways the band often comes across as genuinely celebrating sexual freedom, at the same time, those topics have been approached in a humorous way, and Martin has argued that their lyrics should first and foremost make themselves laugh. Unfortunately, in many instances the capacity of their lyrics to incite humorous responses depends on the listener occupying relatively privileged positions in society. In other words, it is unlikely that most women or, lets say, disabled people would find Pungent Stench’s lyrics funny. It is worth noting, in the band’s defense, that the band has rarely directly addressed its audience with the exception of the awesome anti-rape song “Rape – pagar con la misma moneda”, which includes the line ‘all raped women should get their revenge, kill those motherfuckers say pungent stench’. In the new album, however, Alex offers some terrible, nasty homophobic, racist, and misogynistic lyrics. I’m pretty sure that if someone confronted them they would come back with the usual old rhetoric “blah blah, political correctness…blah blah, freedom of speech”, but really Alex comes across as a vile shithead, and made me wonder why someone would be so hateful. Off he should fuck. This is unfortunate, because many songs are some of the best the band has ever recorded, and most of Martin’s songs are awesome, although I found songs like “Planet of the dead”, “Smut kingdom” and “I require death sentence” at best mediocre.

Without further ado here are the ten albums I have enjoyed the most this past year.

1. Satan – Cruel magic

Cruel magic is the undisputed masterpiece of 2018. Satan is a band I did not listen in the days of my youth. Instead, I discovered them after their reunion, a period during which they released two of the all-time best metal albums of all time. So, the news of a new album made me extremely happy. Listening to it made me even happier. This album is tremendously astonishing. On Cruel magic, Satan is offering simply breathtaking music. I don’t know how they do it; I guess the chemistry that exists among these people is magical. The Ramsey-Tippins guitar duo once again offers its beautiful double-lead attack, beautiful harmonies, and fast, driving tremolo-picked rifforchestration like there’s no tomorrow. But Satan is much more than a collection of awesome guitar solos and riffs. The songs are brilliantly structured, and the composers are not afraid to try unorthodox chord progressions. The music, overall, is so profoundly awesome that the whole album could have been exclusively instrumental and it would still be brilliant. In his turn, Brian Ross expertly accommodates the weird chord progressions by coming up with interesting vocal lines. In my opinion, Ross outdid himself on this album, as it contains some of the best vocals I’ve ever heard on a heavy metal album. The riffing and dynamic progression of “Ophidian” sounds like something that Hank Shermann could come up with. The riffing, vocal delivery, musical development, Graeme’s delicious bass-lines, and pre-chorus riffing of “Ghosts of Monongah” leave me speechless. The tempo, riffing, and chorus of “Death knell for a king” make up an instant classic. The non-stop up-beat tempo, rapid riffing, and catchy chorus of “The doomsday clock” make it an instant classic in the vein of “Trial by fire”. And each song has little brilliant touches waiting to be discovered (now I’m thinking about the change from the hi-hat to the ride cymbal during the last verse of “Ophidian”). Songs like these come out once in a lifetime: “Ghosts of Monongah”, “My prophetic soul”, “Ophidian”, “Legions hellbound”, “Death knell for a king”, “Doomsday clock”.

2. Refuge – Solitary men

Every time I see a Rage-related news item on Metal news websites in the last three years my heart starts pounding. The reason is that Peavy is one of my all-time favourite songwriters, and since he got rid of Smolski he went back to writing little masterpieces. The news of re-uniting with Chris Efthimiadis and Manni Schmidt a few years back (news I heard for the first time through the comments of a reader of this very blog!) sent chills down my spine. Refuge is the alter-ego of Rage, and they offered a beautiful debut album full of the excellence one would expect from old Rage. The first day I got it I listened to it five-six times back to back, and it’s remained on steady rotation since. Stylistically Refuge is unavoidably quite similar, albeit less brutal, to the current Rage given that in both ensembles Peavy is the main songwriter. Moreover, the current guitarist of Rage (Marcos) has been influenced by Manni, and Rage’s current drummer (Vasillios) is one of Chris’s students. Guitar-playing-wise Manni is a more seasoned musician than Marcos, his playing is less polished, more frantic, and less reluctant to drift off to unknown territory. The song “Hell freeze over” is a good example of this last point I make, as it is an incredible song where the beauty of Peavy’s melodies can only be surpassed by the mannic (see what I did there?) guitar work. The brilliant “We owe a life to death” is clearly crafted after “Who dares” (from The missing link). For a more detailed review read here. Favourite songs: “Let me go”, “Summer’s winter”, “Mind over matter”, “Hell freeze over”, “Waterfalls”, “From the ashes”.

3. Zeke – Hellbender

Zeke in my opinion generously gave the world some of the best gifts that can be given in the form of Kicked in the teeth (1998), Dirty Sanchez (2000), and Death alley (2001). All of them, but especially Death alley, are among my all time favourite albums. Then they released that absolute borefest called ‘Till the livin’ end (2004). I was extremely happy to see Zeke return with an album that showcases what they do best: fast, energetic, short songs, with hundreds of lead breaks. Hellbender is a wonderful, intense, crazed trip down the highway paved by Death alley and its predecessors. I would go as far as to say that Hellbender has, overall, their best songwriting as almost every single song is extremely catchy. On the other hand, the new album lacks the tight mix that Death alley has whereby one feels each snare and kick-drum hit straight to the centre of one’s brain, and every lead jumps out of the noise into a full-frontal attack to the senses that gives one goosebumps. But it is almost there and that’s good enough for me. Who am I kidding, this album is a masterpiece. Favourite songs include: “County jail”, “Big rig”, “Cougar rock”, “Working man”, “Hellbender”, “On the road”, “AR-15”.

4. Cancer – Shadow Gripped

Cancer released a new album that it pretty awesome. For those who like comparisons, the songwriting is consistent with the band’s first three albums with little bits and pieces of the dissonant and melodic elements that can be found in Walker’s other band, Liquid Graveyard, on songs like “Half man, half beast” and “Down the steps” (a brilliant song based on the film The Exorcist [1973]). The atmosphere is claustrophobic and imposing, the vocals are monstrous, and the compositions appropriately allude to decay. Most of the time the music follows simple forms found in early death metal. Apart from the expected resemblance to Cancer’s first three albums, Death‘s Leprosy (1988), Morgoth‘s Cursed (1991), Necrophagia‘s Season of the dead (1987), and even a bit of Six Feet Under (for example the intro riff of “Infocidal” reminded me of “Victim of the paranoid”), kept coming to mind during the first few listens. The very fast kick-snare beat on “Organ snatcher” and “Infocidal” are particularly reminiscent of Morgoth. Nevertheless, there is variety, catchy vocal patterns, and interesting orchestrations here and there that make this album stand out and a worthy addition next to To the gory end (1990) and The sins of mankind (1993). Shadow gripped is old-school gloomy death metal. OH, PISTACHIO!

5. Memoriam – The silent vigil

Memoriam’s second album did not impress me initially as much as their debut, but grew gradually into one of my favourite albums of the year. The reason might be that the first three songs on the album are not, in my opinion, as impressive as the rest of the album. The style of the band has been crystalised into a super-heavy, mid-tempo, hardcore-leaning brutal death metal. Like their previous album, Memoriam wrote memorable songs that include catchy riffs, choruses and inspired vocal patterns and lyrics. Scott once again wrote some amazing melodies, inspired orchestrations, and well-structured songs. Having read some reviews here and there I have to say that I’m sick of people who insist on comparing this to Bolt Thrower (and finding it inadequate), and who insist on making the same condescending comment regarding Willetts’s vocals (“Karl voice hasn’t aged well” or some shit along these lines); why on earth would Memoriam sound like Bolt Thrower when all the music is written by Scott who was never part of Bolt Thrower?! Also, could people please consider that maybe Willetts wanted to change his vocal style for this different band? (seriously, most old-school death metal vocalists I can think of have changed/softened their vocals over the years – David Ingram, L. G. Petrov, Marc Grewe, David Vincent, and so forth, why is everyone making it such a big deal about Karl?) Some scum on Blabbermouth’s comment section was critical of the fact that Willetts wore an Antifa t-shirt in one of the band’s promotional photos. Apparently we’ve reached the point where being criticised for being anti-fascist is absolutely normal…  This world is going fast down the shithole. Favourite songs include: “The silent vigil”, “Bleed the same”, “As bridges burn”, “No known grave”, and “New dark ages”. A perfect album to bash in some fascist heads to.

6. Terrorizer – Caustic attack

As if I did not have enough respect for Lee Harrison, not only he returns with an awesome Monstrosity album, but he brings Terrorizer back to its old glory. Caustic attack is a fantastic album. Sandoval’s recovery took many years, during which his skills deteriorated to a considerable degree, but Caustic attack is another testament to his amazing determination and passion. His stamina is breathtaking and, overall, his drumming on this album is reminiscent of his old glories; I think it’s time him and Trey get back together. Sam Molina provides awesome vocals and patterns that are, in my opinion, more fitting to the band’s furious sound than Rezhawk’s. The tunes are awesome; most of the songs follow the classic World downfall (1989) recipe of grindcore, but there is also some more distinct death metal riffing, including some Morbid Angel-esque hues (I’m thinking of that riff halfway through “Devastate”), and little Monstrosity touches (for example, the second riff on “Wasteland”). Overall, there is more variety compared to its predecessor, Hordes of zombies (2012). The latter had some great albeit monotonous songwriting, a characterisation which also applies to Sandoval’s drumming on that album. Caustic attack kicks off with the short devastating song titled “Turbulence”, the beginning of which is like the middle part of “Enslaved by propaganda” on steroids, and continues with two more crushing odes to World downfall. “Crisis” is one of the top songs of the year; I haven’t heard such an awesome intro in a long time! “Infiltration” is a monster and that bit at 3:30 is absolutely obliterating (the china cymbal at 3:37 sounds so nice…). Near the end of the album the band offers two of its most merciless attacks in the form of “Caustic attack” and “Poison gas tsunami”. On the former, as well as on “Trench of corruption”, Sandoval is using, probably for the first time, the bomb-blast technique. It’s inspiring seeing a master of the genre expanding his grinding repertoire.

7. At The Gates – To drink from the night itself

My opinion about ATG’s comeback album has not changed over the last three years. I consider it a great album, but in no way on a par with their old albums. I still dislike the production, the drum sound, and I am not crazy about the lyrics. But it also has a few masterpieces, such as “The death and the labyrinth”, the homonymous song, “The head of the Hydra”, “The abomination”, and “Order from chaos”. The news of Anders’s departure destroyed any hope for a better album. Yet, I cannot help but feel that Jonas stepped up his game and wrote a great, more consistent album. The opener is a very beautiful instrumental song leading up to probably the hit of the album, the homonymous song. “A stare bound in stone” is one of the most complex songs on the album, composed of many interesting sections. The opening notes lead to a classic Jonas riff that could be in any of the first three The Haunted albums. This type of riffing is not really my cup of tea, and no doubt Anders could have At-The-Gatesized it by playing at a lower register, alternating between muted and open strings, and tripleting some of the notes. “Daggers of black haze” is another complex song, this time slow and melancholic, a masterpiece of the order of the early ATG albums. The D-beat infused and quite simplistic “The chasm” is a surprise since ATG have not tried something similar in the past. The lackluster beginning and boring chorus of “Palace of lepers” redeems itself with a great riff on the second half and an overall great ending. “In nameless sleep” similarly kicks off as a middle-of-the-road song, but develops into a good song with a very memorable chorus, and melancholic melodies. A “Labyrinth of tombs”, one of  my favourite in the album, is a riff-fest with an awesome chorus and very anthemic melodies building up to a brilliant climax. “In death they shall burn” is another extra-riffy and aggressive song, with a brilliant riff towards the end that could have been in Spiritual Healing or Human; the melody on top of that riff is pure awesomeness. The less clinical production is welcome as well. On a more critical note, some of the chord progressions, melodies, and moods feel repetitive at times, and the album feels kinda predictable overall. Favourite songs include: “Daggers of black haze”, “In death they shall burn”, “Labyrinth of tombs”, “Seas of starvation”, and the homonymous one.

8. Vojd – The outer ocean

The decision of Black Trip, one of the most notable new bands from Sweden, to change their name to Vojd came as a surprise. Listening to their new album made a bit more sense, as the “heavy metal” label no longer applies to this band. The NWOBHM and even Mercyful Fate influences found in their debut, and which had already started to disappear by their second album, are now gone. The heaviest song of the album “Heavy skies”, is more reminiscent of the heavy rock of Motorhead. This doesn’t mean that the band has completely changed its style. Songs like “Walk me under”, which has a breathtaking harmonised guitar melody after the chorus, “Delusions in the sky”, “On the run” and “Vindicated blues” (the most addictive riff and best chorus on the album) could have easily been in the previous album. At times the style of this album feels more akin to the heavy rock of Alice Cooper in the early 1970s and the Scorpions during the 1980s. With “Secular wire” Vojd joins the Scandinavian tradition of shamelessly ripping off the instantly recognisable Ramones riff on “I just wanna have something to do” (see The Hellacopters “Same lame story”, Turbonegro “Get it on”), but with some really good results nevertheless. The performance of the band is flawless, Joseph Tholl’s vocals are once again unbelievable, and Peter Stjarnvind’s leads are beautiful. Another thing that distinguishes this new ensemble from Black Trip is that the new guitarist’s style is very similar to Peter, so the band lost the awesome trade-off between melodic (Peter) and shredding (Sebastian) guitar leads of the past. Finally, I hate “Dream machine, and I wish it was not on the album (it reminds me of the terrible appropriation of blues by the Arctic Monkeys). Favourite songs include: “Walk me under”, “Vindicated blues”, “Heavy skies”, and “Delusions in the sky”.

9. Monstrosity – The passage of existence

It’s been 11 years since Monstrosity’s last album, and to be honest I did not miss them. It is a band that in my opinion reached its creative zenith with Millennium (1996) and my interest in them gradually faded over the subsequent three albums. It’s a shame because Lee is a good songwriter, an even more awesome drummer, and, as history has shown, with the right musicians (I’m thinking Jason Morgan) he can deliver miracles. The new album has been in the making for quite a while. Monstrosity fans have probably come across clips of new songs on YouTube that go back six years. On account of the time it took to make, the album is very rich, full of interesting ideas, so it took me a few listens to appreciate. What on first appearance feels prosaic, is eventually revealed as excellent US death metal. All songs are of a high standard and, overall, I consider it better than everything they did since In dark purity (1999). There are some great performances, great riffs, beautiful melodies and good structures. Some of the more majestic, longer songs like “Maelstrom” and “Slaves to the evermore” and “Dark matter invocation”, have very clever and interesting progressions. Those more complex and challenging songs are flanked by shorter and more explosive, catchier tunes such as “Eternal void”, “Solar vacuum” (an absolute riff-fest) and “Century”, which also happen to be some of my favourite on the album. Harrison’s drumming is excellent, as usual. My only problem with this album is the singer whose performance I dislike.

10. Revolting – Monolith of madness

As many have pointed out, if you have heard one of Rogga Johansson’s bands you’ve heard them all. Being characterised the apotheosis of mediocrity, un-inventiveness, and standardisation in death metal, would not be a hyperbole. Revolting is one of Johansson’s dozens of active bands. Despite not straying too much (if at all) from a predictable death metal recipe, from time to time Johansson just happens to write nicer songs than usually. I find it hard to believe that any death metal fan would listen to songs like “Cadaver patrol”, “March of the revolter”, “Procession to the monolith”, “Faceless deformity” or “Night of the tentacles” and not fall in love with them. Monolith of madness is making  use of a compositional recipe at the centre of which lies a thinly layered verse-chorus-verse structure, with simple, yet effective, catchy melancholic melodies on top of simple heavy rhythm guitar riffs. Overall, the sound is similar to In grisly rapture (2011), although I haven’t listened to the last couple of albums so it might be similar to those too. The song “Adjusting the sun” by Hypocrisy often came to mind when listening to this album. Unsurprisingly, the weakness of the album lies in the similarities among songs and the simple song structures. The album cover is pretty cool, and I am quite sure it portrays the tower from August Derleth‘s and H. P. Lovecraft‘s The lurker at the threshold.

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 racist colonial legacy who speak against racism, people who question oppressive 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

Guilty pleasures #1

What is the definition of a guilty pleasure? I would say that a guilty pleasure has two parameters: firstly, it is when one derives pleasure from something which contradicts or is inconsistent with one’s tastes, and, secondly, it is when this inconsistency causes one to feel both personal (the “I” of the self) or/and social (the “me” of the self) embarrassment. A guilty pleasure implies that we have particular aesthetic standards that exclude the derivation of pleasure from cultural artifacts that fall outside these aesthetic standards. However, if we actually like something that falls outside of these standards doesn’t it mean that they were wider than we thought, to begin with, and that we should re-evaluate them? That would not make it a guilty pleasure though; it would just make it a surprising pleasure, at first, followed by the cognitive stage of being accepted as a new pleasure in line with our newly reconsidered aesthetic standards. That rarely happens though; the pleasure inconsistent with the aesthetic standards with which we want to identify remains a guilty pleasure. The reason behind our unwillingness to admit to different aesthetic standards – where embarrassment lies – can be found in the meanings that are attached to different aesthetics as well as in the degree to which our identity is depended on our cultural tastes.

When I was younger, back in Greece, I was part of a small group of friends whose cultural practices revolved around metal music. Therein, I felt the peer pressure to some degree to conform to what 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 press, older well-respected metalheads from around our town, and each other. So, people whom we admired lent legitimacy to the bands that they listened to. People whom we did not know, however, and we did not know whether they were “true”, were judged on the basis of our already held perceptions of what “serious” is. Our group set some blurry subcultural boundaries early on, that somewhat determined the parameters of negotiation. These boundaries reflected the typical heteronormative hegemonic masculinity that we all performed. An appearance that signified femininity was frowned upon, so hair-metal bands were doomed from the start. Bands with fantasy lyrics were also frowned upon, because they were admired by people whom we considered nerds. High-pitched vocals were accepted on the condition that the music and overall style was serious, usually meaning being devoid of happy melodies and major chord progressions. After a certain point all power metal bands were made fun of.

Sarcofago on the back-cover of the inimitable The laws of scourge

Sarcofago on the back-cover of the inimitable The laws of scourge

Still, bands like Crimson Glory were initially accepted, although we would make our disapproval of their looks known by calling them “Crimson Floroi” (i.e. Crimson sissies). Sarcofago, a band we always admired, was also made fun of due to the BDSM aesthetics they had during the Laws of scourge period. Another classic negotiation would concern bands like Manowar. Manowar was considered a ridiculous band among the people in the group, yet because we could not resist the brilliance of songs like “Black wind, fire and steel”, “Carry on”, “Heart of steel” and “Kingdom come”, we would still listen to them among ourselves but we would never admit to liking Manowar outside our group. A public admittance would position us – or so we thought because we imposed our interpretation of what serious metal is to the gaze of others – to the “poser” category.

This is aimed as the introduction to a series of posts in which I will discuss my guilty musical pleasures. In future posts I will demonstrate, using personal experiences, how guilty pleasures do not exist independently of the social situation in which one finds themselves and the position one occupies in such a social situation.





Awesome music in 2014

The end of the 2014 is closing in compelling me to account for all the awesome albums that were released during this time. Music-wise, 2014 has been one of the best years I can remember. Some excellent albums came from Sweden, but also from the Americas. It seems to me that every single band on earth released an album in 2014, and there are many which I would have liked to listen to properly but didn’t have the time (and were not a priority), such as the new Mayhem, Obituary, The Haunted, Triptykon and Septic Flesh. As usual I will start with the albums that I liked less and continue with the albums that have impressed me the most.

The reunited – and now defunct again – Massacre, featuring only two members of the classic line-up (Rozz and Butler) released an album, Back from beyond, which to my ears is an embarrassing shadow of their former selves. I listened to the new Judas Priest album a couple of times out of curiosity to see if there’s any creative spark left in the band, and I don’t think there is.

Vaitor offer yummy, albeit derivative, Thrash as it was played in the late 1980s.

Vaitor offer yummy, albeit derivative, Thrash as it was played in the late 1980s.

The old-thrash resurgence holds well in 2014 with lots of new bands that pay homage to 80s thrash bands, often with some really good results. My personal favorite release from this new wave of old school thrash is the album Deto-nacion by the Colombian band Vaitor. Vaitor’s style is often reminiscent of RDP (listen for example the chorus of the eponymous song) as well as Invocator. Another band that impressed me was Korzus from Brazil. Their album Legion is a high energy thrash attack in the vein of Sepultura, Demolition Hammer and Epidemic. On songs like “Time has come” and “Die alone”, apart from speed and a super-tight rhythm section one can also find some great melodic choruses. Executer‘s Helliday (an 80s band from Brazil that had disbanded and reunited a few years ago) sounds like a modern version of old Destruction. The vocals especially sound a lot like Schmier’s and riffs like on “No sense” are pure Eternal Devastation.

The Adolescents are primarily driven by Soto (second from right) and Reflex (second from left).

The Adolescents are primarily driven by Soto (second from right) and Reflex (second from left).

Moving on to California, The Adolescents released a cool album, only one year after their previous release. The new album, titled La vendetta, is similar in style to what they have been doing since The fastest kid alive; mid-tempo melodic punk with lyrical themes around government politics, corporate politics, friendship and everyday life. I think that side B is excellent, testifying that the Adolescents are still a punk force to be reckoned with. Listen to the beautiful “Rinse cycle“, “Nothing left to say”, “Sludge”, “Sanctuary…” and “Let it go“. Side A however, in my opinion, is not equally strong, although it has a few songs that I like.

The sophomore album by Vallenfyre is raw and cold.

The sophomore album by Vallenfyre is raw and cold.

Going back to the more extreme end of the metal spectrum, Vallenfyre, the band led by Gregor Mackintosh – one of the most important contemporary musicians in the world – released its second album this year titled Splinters. Although I consider it to be a very good album, with lots of awesome songs, I cannot deny that it is miles away from being the masterpiece the debut was. On this album, Gregor focused on the crust and grindcore elements of the debut and almost completely ignored the death metal elements. The two songs that are more in the traditional sludgy death metal vein – “Bereft” and “Splinters” – are indeed my favorite ones in the album. Note the excellent use of feedback on the more grinding songs. Behemoth also released a new album and although I stopped following them since after Thelema.6 – and everything I heard by them since I considered to be derivative and boring – I quite enjoyed the new album titled The satanist. Some of the songs are typical Behemoth, sounding exactly the same as anything after Satanica (i.e. a mix of Morbid Angel, Vader and Satyricon). Still one cannot deny the distinguishing features of Behemoth, such as Nergal’s infernal voice and their ability to create some chilling and majestic music. The eponymous song, for example, sends chills down my spine.

Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost (in the front) returning to his roots.

Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost (in the front) returning to his roots.

Another extreme metal band in which I lost interest since the early 2000s – after their first album – is Bloodbath. I gave their albums a listen over the years, but I always thought they sounded uninspired and forced. Their new album, Grand Morbid Funeral, however, sounds pretty cool and the addition of Nick Holmes definitely helps – I found his vocals much more genuine and honest than Akerfeldt’s. I thought that songs like “Famine of god’s word”, “Let the stillborn come to me”, “Beyond cremation” and “Total death exhumed” are pretty awesome, but I liked the rest much less. Misery Index released a cool album titled The killing gods which is very straightforwardly death metal compared to their previous releases. There are lots of simple fast-tremolo picked riffs lots of thrashy riffs, blast-beats, and some very powerful arrangements (check out the insane breaks in “Gallows humor”). However, I personally found it quite monotonous, although I’m pretty sure that most fans of extreme music would disagree with me. They also did a tremendous cover of Ministry’s “Thieves”. Sinister, in my opinion, lost part of their identity when Aad resurrected them and started singing and stopped playing the drums. Moreover, in the last couple of albums the line-up changed drastically and the identity of Sinister suffered even more. The post-apocalyptic servant, just like the previous album,  sounds like a common brutal death metal album. Only a couple of songs, like “The end of all that conquers”, sounds like old Sinister. Having said that, there are some great songs here and some mind-blowing riffs that give praise to the great ones of US death metal, such as Monstrosity and Cannibal Corpse (listen for example the beginning of “The macabre god”).

I will now move on to the 10 albums that I liked the most this past year. Four out of these 10 albums come from Sweden, five from the US and one from Brazil.

MorbusChron-Sweven-Cover1. Morbus Chron – Sweven

My favorite album from 2014 is Morbus Chron’s Sweven. I feel blessed to have lived the release of an album like this one. As I have said several times during the last year, Morbus Chron is the pride of contemporary Death metal. Their latest album is musical in the old sense of the word; that is, it has songs that are thought-through, coherent compositions, musical narratives, with an introduction, a story that musically unfolds in the main part of the song and a conclusion. The production of the album was craftily handled by none other than Fred Estby, a veteran of Swedish death metal. The result is a sound that is completely different from all the homogenised contemporary productions where everything sounds fake. Instead, here one can actually hear a band of people playing music, doing mistakes and being passionate, elements that I think are lost with modern productions. For a more detailed review of Sweven read here.

img-1023105-seculo-sinistro2. Ratos De Porao – Seculo sinistro

My second favorite album from 2014 comes fron Brazil. RDP is for hardcore what Napalm Death is for grindcore, what Slayer is for thrash, what Blind Guardian is for heavy metal; that is, a consistently awesome, if not the best, band. Gordo’s throat is one of the best in extreme music; he is a beast and he’s getting better with time. I have been a fan of RDP since the mid-90s and I was initially exposed to their Roadrunner thrash period. Over the years they gradually went back to their hardcore roots, without however ever dismissing their love for thrash. Although, the previous two RDP albums were brilliant and I did not think their perfection could be surpassed, I think that the new album might even be their best yet! This is a collaborative effort by all the band members. Everyone contributes in the writing process and the result is a monster of an album with scorching thrash riffs, D-beat worship and aggressive vocals and rhythm section. The pure energy of “Puta, Viagra e Corrupção”, probably my favorite song off the album (I cannot get used to how perfect the chorus is), the unique mix of hardcore and thrash on “Boiada pra Bandido” and “Viciado Digital”, the dissonant riffing and mosh-inducing mid-tempo of “Grande Bosta” and the head-on thrash attack of “Stress Pós-Traumático” and “Pra fazer Pobre Chorar” are simply mind-blowing! Sick album.

dagger3. The Dagger – The Dagger

My third favorite album from 2014 comes from Sweden. The new band by former Dismember musicians Fred Estby, David Blomqvist and Tobias Christiansson could be perceived as a nostalgia act; as music made by people who did not experience late-70s and early-80s heavy metal when it was born and who have a distorted, fabricated idea of what heavy metal used to be. This, however, would be an unfair judgement given that both Fred and David have always been heavy metal aficionados since the 1980s and even in their death metal days they drew on that tradition. I have to confess that I did not expect to be impressed by The Dagger. Traditional heavy metal took form within a specific historical – cultural, social, political and economic – context. Any effort to replicate this “feel” under different conditions is doomed to failure. However, seasoned metal musicians like Fred and David have embodied the principles of heavy metal. This old heavy metal logic in the present context resulted in an album that is great to listen to over and over again, just like old heavy metal, without however sounding old or like anything that could have been released back in the day. Jani Kataja, the singer, has a beautiful and flexible voice, that at times sounds like Dio and at others like Ian Gillan. There are certain songs where one can easily guess the influences, such as “Skygazer“, which resembles a lot Deep Purple and Rainbow. The beginning of “Ahead of you all” sounds like something Iron Maiden would come up with after the mid-80s. Some of the twin guitar harmonies also remind of Iron Maiden. However, lots of the music on The Dagger is much darker, bringing into mind the more doomy sects of the genre, and bands like Trouble and Candlemass. In any case, each song is better than the other. Some incredible moments include the awesome chorus and guitar harmonies of “Skygazer”, the bridge and chorus of “Ahead of you all“, the last section of “Electric dawn” (starting at 2:51), the driving pace, the melody halfway through and the chorus of “Dogs of warning“, the entire “Inside the monolithic dome” (which sounds ridiculously like Deep Purple’s “Pictures of home“) with its brilliant harmonies, chorus and sing-along melodies and the brilliant closing track “Dark cloud“, in which Jani gives a stunning performance and also has one of the best endings I have ever heard.

AtTheGatesAtWarWithReality4. At The Gates – At war with reality

At the gates’ comeback album is awesome. To be honest, I did not expect ATG to come up with something impressive. In the case of Carcass’s comeback last year, Bill Steer, the main songwriter, had abstained from extreme metal for two decades, and, in that sense, I expected him to be thirsty and full of ideas for some extreme music. In the case of ATG, though, I always thought that the Bjorler twins’ riffing ability reached saturation by the time The Haunted released One kill wonder. And, at the end of the day, I don’t think I was wrong. To my ears, there is not one single riff in the new album that can compete with the perfection of any riff off “Slaughter of the soul”. Furthermore, in terms of pushing the envelope they are not even close to what they achieved with the first two albums either. Nevertheless, even the worst ATG album is much better than the best effort of most bands. ATG are in a league of their own. The fact that I think that the new album cannot compete with the old ones doesn’t mean that I don’t love it. I consider most of the songs monumental. “Death and the labyrinth” is a perfectly crafted song, with a beautiful bridge reminiscent of The red in the sky is ours era. My three favorite songs off the new album are, “The book of sand“, “Order from chaos” and “The head of the Hydra“. The latter has some of the most beautiful riffs on the album (that trill on the main riff gives me goose bumps) and an awesome chorus. “The book of sand” is one of the most breathtaking songs they have ever recorded. In this song they repeat what they did in the past on songs like “The break of autumn” where they replace the electric orchestration of a theme with a clean rendition of the same theme. The final section off “The night eternal” is extremely beautiful and ends the album in a monumental manner. “Eater of gods” and “Upon pillars of dust” – the latter having a main riff that would make Exodus blush – could have been in the sophomore The Haunted album, although they are maybe a bit too dark for The Haunted. I thought that the second riff on “Eater of gods” was cringeworthy, and I’m really glad they only repeat it once throughout the song. Another thing that disappointed me was the production of the album; all the instruments are crammed together and the drums sounds fake.

entom5. Entombed A.D. – Back to the front

The first listen of the new Entombed album – after their official transformation to Entombed A.D. – left me unimpressed. The first thing I noticed was that no songs really stood out. However, I also noticed that Entombed haven’t been so coherent since Wolverine Blues. And although I have loved every single post-wolverine album, maybe with the exception of Uprising, I realised that I had indeed missed the stylistic consistency of the first three albums. With the second listen of the album, however, I started paying attention to the nuances and the beauty that can be found in simple and straight-forward death metal. For sure Entombed A.D. is nowhere close to being as extreme, groundbreaking and brilliant as the first three Entombed albums, but it is still pretty awesome. Slow songs like “Eternal woe” (maybe my favorite on the album) and “Soldier of no fortune” (fittingly ending the album like “Soldier of fortune” closes Deep Purple‘s Stormbringer) have a certain Clandestine vibe to them, which send chills down my spine. The opener “Kill to live” is a powerful song with a wicked main riff, genius tempo changes, melodies and solos, a true gem faithful to Entombed’s early death legacy. Other brilliant moments in the album include the break near the end of “Bait and bleed“, the chorus of “Second to none”, the atmospheric sections of “Bedlam attack” and overall the awesome arrangements on “Digitus medius”. Several songs follow a particular recipe, namely, they have a slow or mid-tempo start which then develops into a fast double-beat or d-beat. “Waiting for death” is a thrasher in the vein of Ritual Carnage or even late Infernal Majesty. The only bad thing about this album is the production/mix. Disappointingly, sometimes the lead guitar and other times the rhythm guitar are way too low in the mix, with the result of either some awesome melodies or some great riffs to be inaudible. Nevertheless, Back to the front remains highly addictive and satisfying, like only very few albums can be these days. Attention hordes!

incantion-dirges_of_elysium-600x6006. Incantation – Dirges of elysium

Incantation has been one of the founding monoliths of brutal death metal. Founding member John McEntee and long time partner in crime Kyle Severn have served the unholiest sects of extreme music without ever straying and following trends. Over the years many members have come and gone, but always, no matter who was in the band, they submitted their compositional style to the swampy, dark and dissonant mission that McEntee set on since the beginning. The last two albums saw the inclusion of Alex Bouks, who revamped Incantation’s style by adding some very memorable melodic passages. Unfortunately Alex left after the recording of this new album. Dirges is typical Incantation; brutal and blasphemous American death metal, shifting from sludgy sonic pessimism to intense grind. It starts majestically with a instrumental called “Dirges of elysium” and continues with a super fast “Debauchery“. “Bastion of a plagued soul” is another full-frontal attack with an excellent slow dissonant break followed by an incredible gloomy section that only Incantation can pull off. The intense and fast “Impalement of divinity” and the massive, swampy and ceremonial “Charnel grounds” can successfully summarise the character of this album. An excellent album by a consistently awesome and committed band.

Mastodon_-_once_more_'round_the_sun7. Mastodon – Once more around the sun

Mastodon is a band that I only started appreciating after I heard their mind-blowing fifth album, The hunter. The new album is just as perfect. It kicks off in a very dramatic way that reminded me of the first Tragedy album. Sanders is wailing through the opening song (“Tread lightly”), a majestic composition with some super heavy riffing towards the end. With certain songs, like “The motherload” and “High road”, Mastodon take an even more laid back approach to song-writing than in The Hunter. To be fair, even in the more melodic and straightforward songs, behind the simple melody the musicians are restless. With songs like the brilliant “Aunt Lisa” (which reminds of something off Faith No More‘s Angel Dust) and “Asleep in the deep” they fully explore progressive and technically proficient routes to composition and performance. In some cases I felt that Mastodon repeat themselves (for example compare the singing on songs like “Chimes at midnight” and “Feast your eyes”). In any case, this remains a brilliant album that invites the listener to explore its nuances for a long time after the first listen.

cannibal-corpse-a-skeletal-domain8. Cannibal Corpse – A skeletal domain

CC have rightfully earned their position as a death metal institution through a series of awesome albums in the early-mid 1990s. Over the years, however, I thought that they stalled and kept repeating themselves. Still, especially in albums like The wretched spawn and Kill, I thought that they kept a high quality of death metal musicianship. I found CC’s new album much more interesting than Torture. While in the latter the band sounded as if they were making a conscious effort to revisit past glories, in the new one they sound more free and in a more experimental mood. The new album has some typical CC “hit songs” with catchy choruses and vocal patterns, like “Kill or become” or “Vector of cruelty”. However, there are some pretty interesting arrangements and, of course, heavy doses of extreme brutality. The opening song is obliterating and the chorus of the eponymous song has one of the most excellent vocal patterns that Cannibal ever wrote. The more I listen to the album the more interesting stuff I discover and the  more I enjoy it! “The murderer’s pact” showcases Webster’s trademark sick melodies and “Vector of cruelty” is easily one of the most awesome mid-tempo songs in the CC roster (up there with “Sentenced to burn”, “Nothing left to mutilate” and “Slain”)! “Icepick lobotomy” is another masterpiece by Barrett with an awesome breakdown half-way through. “Asphyxiate to resuscitate” must be one of the most memorable songs CC ever wrote. All in all an awesome album.

tourni9. Autopsy – Tourniquets, hacksaws and graves

Tourniquets… is pretty awesome in the typical Autopsy way; sometimes swampy and sometimes fast, always creepy death metal with the sickest vocals possible. However, I like it much less than last year’s brilliant The headless ritual. I think that Cutler composed some extremely memorable and chilling songs, like the eponymous one, or “King of flesh ripped”, which are my favorite on the album. Two other songs I really liked, “Deep crimson dreaming” and “Burial” were composed by Reifert. Coralles contributed the crazy “Parasitic eye”, a typical Coralles composition, with a great intro-melody and a fast chorus. All in all, Tourniquets is a good album by musicians who know their craft well and are the undisputed leaders in this specific sub-genre of extreme metal.

rigor-mortis-cover10. Rigor Mortis – Slaves to the grave

The comeback, and I imagine last, Rigor Mortis album is both a reason to celebrate and mourn. The leading member of the band Mike Scaccia, tragically passed on during a Texas show two years ago. His awesome guitar work is present on this album nonetheless. This final offering is an awesome album worthy of their three masterpieces from the late 1980s – early 1990s. The line-up features all original members as appeared on the debut album. Slaves to the grave comes with an awesome cover. The musical recipe includes ridiculously fast tremolo picking, fast songs in the vein of “Contagious contamination” or “Shroud of gloom” (such as “Flesh for flies” and “Poltergeist”) and punk-influenced songs in the vein of “Throwback” (such as “Rain of ruin”) and pissed-off vocals. There is also an instrumental song titled “Sacramentum gladitorum” whose chord progression reminds of “The call of Ktulu”. It is always interesting to confirm what lasting impact Metallica had in the world of extreme music, given that so many bands have written instrumentals that use “The Call of Ktulu” as template. The introductory section of “The infected” reminded me of Iron Maiden. The only song that I don’t really like is the last song on the album. All the rest are delightful thrash anthems. I’d like to see any modern band trying to compose equally memorable and catchy thrash songs.

2014 playlist

Now I sleep, the city weeps, hush: monumental song endings

One of the characteristics of old school death metal is that it is dramatic. It is a captivating type of music that commands the full attention of the listener. Old school death metal was never meant to be background music. It is full of twists and turns and every song has a rich narrative music-wise, independently of the lyrical content. Because most songs are complex musical stories, at any point of the song something new and interesting is bound to happen.

I think that in popular music performers are aiming to capture an audience with the opening notes of a song. In this post I will focus on the very last few seconds of songs. I will present songs that manage to excite me not with their intro, their chorus or an impressive guitar solo, but with their ending. This post will be an open one, meaning that every time I think of another song with a brilliant ending I will add it to the list. In this first version of the post I present four brilliant death metal songs, and I also throw in an awesome thrash song which would be a crime to ignore.

1. Benediction – Jumping at shadows

benedictionBenediction’s unholy trinity, namely The grand leveler (1991) – Transcend the Rubicon(1993) – The dreams you dread (1995), will always be among my all time favourite albums. From the beginning what set Benediction apart from their peers was the swampy, claustrophobic atmosphere, laden with murderous intent. Their obsession with serial killers combined with the murky musicality produced a chilling effect in all these releases. “Jumping at shadows” in paradigmatic of the terrifying atmosphere that only Benediction are capable of producing. The song describes the activities of David Berkowitz, a serial killer in the US who coined for himself the title “Son of Sam”, and the lyrics themselves have been paraphrased from letters sent by Berkowitz. The ending of the song sends chills down my spine: “now I sleep…the city weeps…hush”.

2. Suffocation – Surgery of impalement

Suffocation1Only a few bands can make one want to jump out of their body, and Suffocation is definitely one of them. Suffocation defined heaviness and brutality with their first album, an album that inadvertently paved the way for brutal music, with its razor-sharp triplet riffs, monolithic breakdowns and deep guttural vocals. Suffocation took a break for a few years after 1998 and returned in 2004 with a beast of an album titled Souls to deny. It is an offering that, in my ears, competes with any of their old albums for the title of the best Suffocation album. “Surgery of impalement” comes from this monumental comeback album. Its ending is pure brutality.

3. Carcass – Cadaver pouch conveyor system

Carcass-BandIt takes a unique musical chemistry to manage to offer something awesome after having already contributed some of the most innovative and genre-defining music in the world. Carcass did that with their comeback album Surgical steel (2013). If there’s one thing missing from contemporary brutal death metal is the sense of groove, not only in riffing but also in singing. Contemporary brutal death bands might be able to play a thousand notes per minute but the lack in ability – or are not interested – in composing clever musical phrases and rhythms that can hook the listener. The main riff of this song, the drum beat, Jeff’s performance and the perfectly applied guttural vocals – courtesy of Bill Steer – at the end of this song manage to do exactly that.

4. Kataklysm – Exode of evils

k3Sylvain Houde will always be one of the most creative singers that have ever passed through the infernal gates of death metal. Only a few singers have sung with such passion. Sylvain’s passion denotes an insanity which does not come across as fake, as a gimmick of death metal conventions. His insanity is 100% credible! Temple of knowledge (1996) is a monumental, absolutely unique album. Sylvain’s insane performance grants it uniqueness. In the end of “Exode of evils” the listener that has survived the relentless attack finds themselves faced with an infernal chant that can only mean that the worst is yet to come.

5. Slayer – Beauty through order

slayer-pr2-smallIn their heyday, Slayer have still been capable of producing earth-shattering musical attacks. World painted blood is an excellent album and a sad example of how a bad producer can fuck up awesome music. “Beauty through order”, my favourite song off this album, showcases an amazing chemistry that unfortunately will never be captured again; Jeff’s compositional prowess, Araya’s manic vocal performance and Lombardo’s genius drumming (here placing in the most appropriately genius way a devastating double bass drum attack) create one of the best endings I have heard in my life!


Metallica in Glastonbury: Ethics and popular music

A few hours ago an extraordinary campaign for the world of popular music started taking place, a campaign to ban Metallica from playing in Glastonbury festival. The official reason behind this campaign is Hetfield’s indeed appalling hobby of bear hunting. Although I agree with the basic premise, I disagree with the conclusion.

Practices of musicians, promoters and audiences alike, that have a moral dimension are not a new thing. In fact, they are an everyday phenomenon. Every time that a fan of Malevolent Creation – who likes their music but hates their politics – does not attend one of their gigs, this fan makes a morally informed decision. It could also be said that all those fans who attend the concert also make a moral decision, either with their approval or with their acquiescence. Jello Biafra’s decision to not appear with his band in Israel has a moral dimension, as well as the practices of all those other bands that do appear in Israel.

What it all comes down to is, should we reduce the identities of musicians down to their capacity to create music or should we take into account all other aspects of their identities? Musicians are people whom most of us have decided to judge based on the music they create rather than all their other personal and social practices. However, the advent of the internet and the tendency of even alternative media to treat musicians as celebrities have opened a window to musician’s personal lives. I personally lost respect for many of my music heroes over the years.  I sometimes think that I would prefer not knowing about musicians’ personal lives. On the other hand, I would not like to support fascist bands. It appears that enjoying music regardless of musicians’ politics and staying true to one’s values are two things that are very difficult to be reconciled.

The heavy metal genre had working class origins within which very specific discourses operate. Based on the context within which heavy metal was born, it would be very unlikely for sexism, for example, to not be present. A moral stance that punishes all musicians who are sexist would mean the dismissal of the heavy metal genre in its entirety. Of course, social actors based on their different biographies have differential degrees of agency within any structure. Accordingly, heavy metal musicians can be sexist to different degrees or even be critical of sexism. In any case, the social, cultural and economic contexts in which music happens should be taken into account, without this meaning that we should absolve musicians and forgive their shortcomings.

Now, there are two reasons why I find the reaction to Metallica’s appearance a bit hypocritical. The organisers of the campaign argue that removing Metallica is important because:

"This is a cruel and abhorrent thing to do. 
Killing animals for food is one thing. 
But killing for so called sport is wrong.

They have thus arbitrarily decided that killing animals for sport is wrong, but killing them for food is ok, which I find problematic. The other interesting thing about Metallica‘s headlining appearance in Glastonbury is that when it was first announced, I witnessed some negative reactions in various online forums. The reason seemed to be that the audience associated with Glastonbury has not been a heavy metal audience historically. One of the things that I read was that people who had already bought tickets before the headlining act was revealed would definitely be disappointed.

This is the basic reason I have to question the motives behind the campaign against Metallica. Metallica’s appearance would disappoint lots of people who have bought tickets and would have preferred another headlining act. Additionally, all the douchebags who buy a bunch of tickets in advance and then sell them back in super-inflated prices to people who did not manage to secure a ticket, would also be disappointed. Who says that the campaign was not started, or, if not started, supported, by some of those people?

Would Glastonbury’s audience accept Dave’s Megadeth to appear in the festival? Dave has written the song “Countdown to extinction”, a song explicitly critical to practices such as bear-baiting. Yet, Dave also has some pretty radical right-wing views. I personally think that what it comes down to is probably musical taste and opportunism. Nevertheless, this development raises interesting questions with regard to the changing relationship between artists and their audiences, the role of social media in the democratisation of decision making, or corporate responsibility and the role of the public, among other things.