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.

Five albums by Rogga

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

RibspreaderBolted to the cross (2004)

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

Bone GnawerFeast of flesh (2009)

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

PutrevoreTentacles of horror (2015)

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

EchelonThe brimstone aggrandizement (2016)

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

RevoltingMonolith of madness (2018)

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

Rogga Playlist

A night to dismember

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

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

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

Delicious cassette-tape with Blomqvist’s autograph

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

Listening to Dismember whilst writing this post

Nostalgia for old-school death metal

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

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

1. Entombed – Masters of death

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

2. Tormented – Reversed funeral

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

3. Brutality – Tribute

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

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

A Dio retrospective

Ronnie James Dio‘s self-titled band was one of my first loves in my first few months discovering the metal genre. Initially, I dedicated myself to Iron Maiden, and I distinctly remember refusing to listen to anything else for a good three-four months. One day, my friend Nikos came round my house carrying a CD version of Dio‘s Holy Diver (1983). He asked me to put it on and I refused, explaining that I only listen to Maiden and that he should piss off. He ignored me and put it on anyway. Being confronted with the sonic attack of Vivian Campbell’s high-octane riffing, as encapsulated in the first seconds of “Stand up and shout“, was absolutely shocking. Surely, it could only go down from there, but as Dio’s voice kicked in I felt a form of elation and wonder that I have often reminisced over the years, but, sadly, never experienced again.

I have often felt that the “metal community’s” posthumous praise for Dio was somewhat hypocritical, but this is my impression. In the mid-1990s I distinctly remember nobody giving a shit about Dio, especially his post-Sacred Heart (1985) career. If I remember correctly, Dream Evil (1987) had being voted by Greek Metal Hammer readers as one of the worst metal albums of all time (the list also included Divine Intervention, by Slayer). Myself, always feeling out of step with many of the opinions heard in the Greek metal press, I always loved Dio, and could not believe how someone could not love Dream Evil. In this post, I will attempt the futile task of ranking Dio’s 10 studio albums from my favourite to the least favourite one, and share some of my memories of the albums and meanings they carry for me.

1. Dream evil (1987)

For all the 25 years that I’ve been listening to Dio I have considered Dream Evil his crowning achievement. The way it starts already hints at the magic that is about to follow. The opening song “Night people” and the opening lyric – after Craig Goldy’s masterful tension-containing halting – ‘Do you like the dark, do you like the way it moves, do you come alive when neon kills the sun?’, sends chills down my spine every single time. These first few moments already signify that the brilliance of this album is the result of an amazing chemistry between Goldy and Dio. The verse vocal melody of “Sunset superman” is one of the best melodies in the history of humanity, hands down. “All the fools sailed away” is one of those epic masterpieces that are written once in a band’s career. Goldy’s solos are astounding (one of my favourite instances is near the end of “Naked in the rain“, right after the lyric ‘blow all the dreams away’). I still can’t get used to the beginning of “Overlove“.  And what can be said about the choruses on this album? The only mediocre moment in this absolute masterpiece of an album is the cheesy sentiment of “When a woman cries” (although musically it’s awesome). I feel that Dio’s heart was at the right place when he wrote the song, the intention was to condemn violence against women. But the effect the lyrics of this song have are, at the end of the day, to essentialise women by contributing to the misconception that women and men are essentially different, instead of condemning the logic of aggression as a matter of principle. This album was the object of much attention when we were kids. Looking at the logo upside-down will reveal the word DEVIL. Our high school books and notebooks were full of drawings of this logo. The album cover still gives me the creeps.

2. Strange highways (1993)

Reminiscing about Dio makes me reflect on what music listening used to be like in the 1990s. Surprise, mystery, and discovery were very different back then. In 1995 none of us had internet access, and even if we did, information there would have been very limited. Strange highways was an album that we didn’t know it existed, despite my friend Nikos and I being huge Dio fans. The reason was that none of our friends knew about it, and we hadn’t come across it in any of our local record stores. One day, Nikos invited me around to his place, and instead of buzzing me into the building he came downstairs and let me in. In his hands he was holding this obscure Dio CD I had never seen before with an awesome cover. Turns out his older brother, with whom he was sharing his room, had just bought it. I remember sitting on the stairs, mesmerised, staring at the cover. I remember commenting on how old Dio looked on the band photo. Strange Highways pretty quickly eclipsed other more classic Dio albums that I loved at the time. It wasn’t necessarily the more aggressive sound, courtesy of Tracy G’s noisy and dissonant playing and Dio’s harsher vocals, that appealed to me. The compositions are mind-blowing, and, more than anything, the vocal melodies are mesmerising. The introduction is one of the most memorable in Dio’s career, and the riff borrowed from King Crimson’s “21st century schizoid man” is still devastating. The range of this album’s music is impressive, as it varies from super heavy monoliths like “Strange highways” and “Pain“, to fast ragers like “Here’s to you“, from stomping mid-tempo attacks like “Jesus, Mary and the holy ghost” to a grunge-y ballad like “Give her the gun”.  One of my favourite cuts is the upbeat “Evilution“, a tune attacking the corporate side of popular music, thematically akin to Kreator’s “Love us or hate us”. The album closes with “Bring down the rain”, another heavy tune carrying one of the most beautiful bridges and choruses ever. An absolutely fulfilling masterpiece.

3. Holy diver (1983)

This was my introduction to Dio. The day I first listened to it my friend lent me the CD. I was alone at home, both my parents were away, and I felt I needed to share my excitement with someone, so I took the lift to the fourth floor, where a friend of mine lived. He wasn’t there but his dad opened the door, so I told him I wanted him to listen to this guy’s voice. Indeed, he sat down and listened to a couple of songs with me and he found Dio’s voice crystalline, but that wasn’t exactly the reaction I had in mind. As I said in my introduction, listening to Dio’s voice was shocking for me, impossible to describe. I remember that one of the very first metal songs I ever listened to was “Holy diver” maybe a year earlier. It is, unquestionably, a monument in heavy metal culture. Enough said.  “Caught in the middle” quickly became one of the most favourite cuts on the album. On the song “Invisible” there’s the lyric ‘in the palace of the virgin, lies the chalice of the soul’. Back then I did not know what ‘chalice’ meant, and the word was not included in my dictionary, so I asked my English teacher. Not knowing herself what it meant, but not admitting, she had to wing it and told me that it meant ‘beauty’. Anyway, there are so many memories attached onto this album, and every song (apart from one, the song “Gypsy” never felt like it belonged in this album, and I almost never listen to it) is an instant classic. Campbell’s frantic playing is breathtaking, his solos are one better than the other, his riffing and his use of pick-squeals are beautiful, instantly recognisable and definitive of Dio’s most enduring legacy. The final masterpiece of the album, “Shame on the night“, is a little gem in the vein of Black Sabbath.

4. The last in line (1984)

The first time I ever saw the cover of Last in line was at a local record store in my hometown in Piraeus, Greece. Once again, my friend Nikos and I were wandering around town when we came across this tiny record store in which you couldn’t fit more than five people at the same time. We started browsing the records labelled Rock, or something like that, when we suddenly came across the classic Dio logo on the faded and warped jacket of Last in line (I presume it must have been exposed to direct sunlight for quite some time). Immediately, Nikos turned around to the store owner and asked him how much it cost. The record owner looked at us with contempt and said, “it’s not for sale”. I eventually listened to the album for the first time when I got it as a Christmas present in December 1995. My dad took me to a now defunct department store in Piraeus (I think it was Lambropoulos) to choose a Christmas present and I chose Savatage’s Dead winter dead and Dio’s Last in line. Everyone’s playing is stellar on this album. “I speed at night” is probably Dio’s most frantic song ever. “Egypt” and “The last in line” are both classic heavy metal epics, and include some of Campbell’s most impressive guitar work. The same goes for “One night in the city“, probably my favourite song on the album (note the “Straight through the heart” reference near the end). Last in line could easily take the place of Holy diver in my list, as there is not one single mediocre moment in it.

5. Sacred heart (1985)

Listening to Sacred Heart always made me feel melancholic. It kinda feels like the end of something, and indeed it was the end of Campbell’s involvement with Dio. The keyboards are a bit too prominent, the character a bit more hard rock, but there is no question about the quality of the songwriting. The homonymous song is one of Dio’s absolute masterpieces, “Hungry for heaven” has an awesome tempo and breathtaking vocal melodies during the verse and bridge, “Like the beat of a heart” is a groovy hard-rocker (part of what I call the groovy heart trilogy, alongside “Eat your heart out” and “Straight through the heart”), “Rock ‘n’ roll children”, an instant rock hymn, “Just another day” has one of the most brilliant guitar breaks in the band’s career, etc. One of the things I don’t like about this album is the live audience samples heard throughout “King of rock ‘n’ roll“, an otherwise magnificent song. I thought that was a shit way to start an album. At first I thought it was a live version of the song which also pissed me off. How can you have a live version of a song there’s no studio version of? Overall, this is an awesome album that I love, just but slightly less than the above four albums.

6. Angry machines (1998)

Angry machines is the first Dio album I got the moment it was released. It feels like a century ago. I had been pestering the owner of a local record store every day to keep an eye out for the new Dio album. Eventually, it was released and when I bought the CD he also gave me a huge Angry machines poster which I had for many years on my bedroom wall. Initially, the album did not impress me, although songs like “Don’t tell the kids“, “Hunter of the heart” and “This is your life” became instant favourites. Eventually, I started appreciating the rest of the songs. Nowadays, I consider “Dying in America” one of my favourite on the album, that could have easily been on Strange highways. A very powerful album, with awesome moments of anger and frustration in a way that only Dio can deliver. It is, also, another experimental album, with even more alternative rock hints here and there. That was the last album, in my opinion, with which Dio re-invented himself.

7. Master of the moon (2004)

Dio’s final album is my seventh favourite by him. I didn’t like it initially. I still think that production-wise it could have been so much better. The orchestrations are also, in my opinion, poor. Certain parts are too lazy, others too crazy (what’s the deal with the keyboards on the otherwise great “The eyes”?). However, in my opinion, this was the first album in many years with really good classic heavy metal songs and no fillers. Every single song is good, and some are amazing. “One more for the road” is a classic Dio song that could have been found on Dream Evil or Lock up the wolves, “Master of the moon” also has a Lock up the wolves quality to it and such a memorable chorus, “Death by love” is an extremely catchy hard rock tune, as is the AC/DC-inspired intro of “The end of the world”, “The man who would be king” is a beautiful epic tale in the classic Dio tradition. I absolutely love “Living the lie” and “I am”, and the closing track, “In dreams“, is another favourite on the album, reminiscent of Dio’s work with Black Sabbath (the main riff could have been written by Iommi), and has a beautiful post-chorus section.

8. Lock up the wolves (1990)

Lock up the wolves was probably the first Dio album which didn’t fully fascinate me. Just looking at the band picture on the lyric sheet made me feel sad, as there was nobody else left from the original band. I also thought that Dio’s voice was strangely produced. For sure, hearing the awesome riff on the opener “Wild one” was great, but the more bluesy songs like “Evil on Queen street”, “Twisted” and even “Between two hearts” took a while to grow on me. Moreover, the nostalgic, self-referential lyrics of “My eyes” made me feel like Dio was grasping at straws. The homonymous song was something quite new for Dio, ultra-heavy, slow, almost eliciting a horrifying atmosphere, and I did like a lot. That song, in conjunction with the scary cover, still gives me the creeps. “Born on the sun“, “Why are they watching me“, and “Hey angel” are among my most loved songs on this album, and despite occupying the eighth position in this list we’re still talking about Dio, so it’s an awesome album. In high school, I used to have a huge patch of the album cover on the back of my denim jacket.

9. Magica (2000)

I was really looking forward to Magica, and Goldy’s return was the main reason. Given how much I loved Dream evil I could not wait to listen to another collaboration between him and Dio. The return to a more traditional heavy metal sound was received positively in the Greek metal press, if I remember correctly. To me it sounded a bit redundant. Similarly to Master of the moon a few years later, I thought that the orchestrations were quite empty. The various filler tracks serving the plot (it’s a concept album) annoyed me even more. I love “Lord of the last day” and “Otherworld“, and I really like “Fever dreams”, “Feed my head” and “Magica – Reprise“, but I don’t care much about the rest of the songs.

10. Killing the dragon (2002)

Killing the dragon is my least favourite Dio album. The cover is cool, and I like a few songs. The guitar-playing is great, often reminiscent of Campbell’s era, and some of the songs are, in my opinion a throwback to those times. “Better in the dark“, a great song, sounds like it could have been on Holy diver, “Push” could have been on Last in line and “Along comes a spider” on Sacred heart. “Rock ‘n’ roll” is a heavy song which makes use of that Zeppelin riff that everyone has copied from “Kashmir”, but I don’t like the chorus (a problem I have with several other songs too, including “Scream” and “Push”, that have catchy bridges but boring choruses). “Cold feet“, the last song on the album, is actually my favourite one (alongside “Better in the dark”); despite being very straightforward, it has a great hard rock groove and beautiful vocal melodies, it almost feels like it could have been on a Rainbow album. Overall, I consider it a more consistent album than Magica, more upbeat and reminiscent of the classic years of the band, but it also feels a little rehashed and without enough stand-out tracks.

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.

What happened to us? #4 Timo Tolkki and Stratovarius

In this fourth installment of the ‘What happened to us?’ series of posts I decided to address one of the most dramatic and peculiar break-ups in the history of power metal, that between Timo Tolkki, the once undisputed leader of Stratovarius, and the rest of the band. The drama, publicity, issues surrounding mental health, temporary disbanding and side-taking characterising this case make it an interesting case of band break-ups.

Stratovarius was once a band I loved, and Twilight time (1992), Dreamspace (1994) and Fourth dimension (1995) were three of the most excellent and unique-sounding metal albums of all time. Even Episode (1996), which followed the departure of Ikonen and Lassila, two great musicians whose playing was integral to the band’s sound, is a great album, full of inventive song structures and beautiful yet weirdly melancholic melodies. I still have the utmost respect for all first five albums and I consider them masterpieces of metal music. The band developed into what I thought was a caricature of their former self, starting with the release of Visions (1997), and by the late 1990s I stopped listening to them. Because of that, I followed Tolkki’s break-up with the band from a position of relative disinterest.

In April 2008 Tolkki announced the dissolution of the band, a decision he later on retracted and left the band instead, transferring all rights to his songs and the band name to Kotipelto, Michael and Johansson. It is known that the break-up was the culmination of a period of extended crisis (read here and here), evidenced in Tolkki’s hospitalisation in 2004, Michael’s session-drummer status around 2004-2005, Kotipelto’s “firing” around 2004-2005, and Kainulainen’s departure in 2005. Tolkki’s decision to ultimately abandon the band is certainly a bizarre one. The information we have to make sense of the situation comes from public statements made by the various band members. The latter provide conflicting narratives of the break-up and the wider context within which it occurred. Tolkki cites a number of factors as contributive to the demise of Stratovarius, including the lack of camaraderie and continuing hostility among some band-members, musical differences between him and Kotipelto (i.e. the former disliking the latter’s ideas) and the lack of creative passion (read here). Michael, Johansson and Kotipelto responded that Tolkki was motivated by greed (read here) and that, overall, Tolkki’s subjective interpretation of the crisis the band faced constituted a misrepresentation of the situation. All the parties involved attempted to build convincing narratives in which they come off “right”. Tolkki mobilises affect as part of his strategy, painting a picture whereby lack of passion and friendship are the problems; The rest of the band mobilises a strategy at the centre of which lies a more rational argumentation, painting a picture whereby Tolkki’s behaviour is linked to the band’s declining popularity.

My research led me to Tolkki’s autobiography, a heartbreaking memoir with relatively few references to Stratovarius and his ex-music partners, where Tolkki pours out his heart. In his autobiography he describes his struggle with bipolar disorder. In this context he describes how someone suffering from this condition will find themselves acting on impulse without realising what they do, actions which they might later regret. I don’t know if that was Tolkki’s way of saying that he regrets giving up the rights to the Stratovarius brand, but it kind of sounds like it. Tolkki was for me, and any early Stratovarius fan I presume, the undisputed leader and main creative force in the band. I even preferred his voice to Kotipelto’s; I found Tolkki’s voice powerful, sweet and with a lot of character (all epithets that in my opinion cannot be associated with Kotipelto). His early music and lyrics were beautiful, inspired and at times confessed a subtle but heartbreaking pain and sensitivity. Despite the fact that Episode (1996) is the last album I liked from them, I cannot but scoff at the notion of ‘Stratovarius without Tolkki’ in it. Stratovarius the brand might still be alive, but Stratovarius the band is dead.

Underrated masterpieces: Devastation’s Dispensible bloodshed

Every once in a while I realise that some album I love is not widely held in high regard. Most of the time I attribute this to subjective taste, but there are some albums which are so absolutely mind-blowing that I cannot get used to the idea that they have not achieved cult status. If there is one album in the history of extreme music that did not receive the recognition it deserves, that album is Devastation‘s Dispensible bloodshed (1987); an absolute masterpiece which never received proper release, except as part of collections of all of Devastation’s songs. It is worth noting that nobody has provided reviews for any of the extremely important releases by Devastation on Encyclopaedia Metallum, and on Mudrian’s comprehensive popular account of death metal Choosing death (2004) there’s hardly a mention to the album or Devastation generally (maybe this has been rectified in the more recent re-issue?).

Hand-drawn Devastation logo adorning one of my notebooks.

The Devastation I am talking about in this post is not the more popular Devastation from Texas, but the much, much, much superior Devastation from Chicago. Chicago is often considered one of the birthplaces of death metal, on account of bands like Master and Deathstrike. I have been a passionate fan of death metal music since the mid-1990s and I only got the chance to hear Devastation for the first time around 2008 when I found their MySpace page. Although Devastation never received mainstream recognition, it is a band from the US underground that used to be highly praised in underground death metal in the late 1980s, and has influenced foundational death metal bands around the world. I believe I have read Entombed‘s L. G. Petrov praising Troy Dixler (Devastation’s original singer) in a couple of occasions over the years, and naming him one of his vocal influences. Indeed, Dixler’s brutal performance in Devastation’s first demo, titled A creation of ripping death (1986), is terrifyingly devastating.

Dispensible Bloodshed’s cover

Dispensible bloodshed includes seven songs, clocking in at 26 minutes. Two out of seven songs are instrumental; the first one simply titled “Instrumental” is a brutal journey not unlike Sepultura‘s “Inquisition symphony”, in the sense that it starts with an acoustic intro and develops into a whirlwind of unrestrained brutality. The singer on this album is Duane Rasmussen, and his vocal performance is breathtaking. He might not be Troy Dixler, as Duane’s voice is more high-pitched, but he offers an astonishing aggressive performance that does justice to Dixler’s huge legacy. But no words can do justice to the songwriting on this album, as it is truly of the highest order of extreme metal. Listening to this album is not simply about experiencing a rare piece of extreme metal history; it is also about becoming aware of a significant force in the development of the death metal genre. Is there any doubt that the snare-led beating during the fifth and sixth verses of “Genetic poisoning” (and later on as well) had something to do with Cannibal Corpse‘s now classic sound? What about the intro riff and drumming of “Beyond fear“, as well as the more general riffing madness and tempo changes throughout the album? Did they not have an impact on Suffocation‘s genre-defining sound? And I would not be surprised if the second riff of the opening song “Cranial hemorrage” inspired Deicide‘s “Oblivious to evil”. Each song is a journey of absolute awesomeness, and Erv Brautigam (guitar) and Pat Buckley (drums) give the performance of a lifetime.

Dispensible bloodshed was self-released on cassette-tape. How did this masterpiece, which in my opinion was miles ahead of any other death or thrash metal band at the time, slip through the cracks? The very few accounts about the Chicago extreme metal scene I have come across seem to suggest that when Dixler was part of Sindrome he did not want the band to sign with a small independent company (read here), which might have been his attitude during his time with Devastation as well. However, by the time Dispensible bloodshed was released Dixler was out of the band. Shawn Glass (who co-founded Sindrome with Dixler) attributes the disappearance of Devastation and other extreme metal bands from Chicago to inflated egos (read here). In any case, despite the low production values this album has aged extremely well and is an undisputed cornerstone of the death metal genre that needs to be heard.

*Band photo taken from Devastation’s MySpace page

My 15 all-time favourite drum intros

In my early contact with metal as a teenager drums were of tertiary importance compared to guitar and voice. My first love was Iron Maiden, and although over the years I came to appreciate Clive Burr’s and Nicko McBrain’s skills and contribution to Maiden’s sound, my untrained teenage ear could not appreciate the nuances. My second love was Dio, and just like with Maiden what I fell in love with was the voice and the guitar-playing. I obviously enjoyed listening to Appice’s hard hits, McBrain’s speed on songs like “Deja vu“, I remember falling in love with Ulrich’s fills on “For whom the bell tolls“, or Columbus’s double-bass attack on “Black wind, fire and steel“, but I did not start really noticing the drums until I started listening to thrash, and specifically when I listened to Reign in blood by Slayer. After that, and the more my taste would gravitate towards extreme metal the more attention to the drumming I would pay. Who doesn’t like a great drum break in the middle of a song (*a future post is in order*), or an awesome drum intro?! Through memory work (so, simply by trying to remember) I came up with many awesome drum intros that have stayed with me throughout my life as a metal fan, and after subsequent filtering (as a result of which amazing songs by Hypocrisy, Judas Priest, Death, Xentrix, Ozzy and Kreator, among others, were left out) I present 15 of them here in chronological order.

1. SlayerEpidemic (1986)

Reign in blood blew my mind and continues to blow my mind no matter how many times I’ve listened to it. It’s funny how, as years go by and new trends in metal emerge, many younger people are no longer impressed by this masterpiece (which is something that I once thought impossible). “When was the last time you truly listened to Reign in blood?”, asks Gavin O’Connor. Seriously, Gavin O’Connor? Still, I would imagine for most people, it is a guilty displeasure not liking this absolute masterpiece and they wouldn’t dare admitting it (as opposed to Gavin who owns his opinion, is proud of it, and so I can make fun of him for being a poser who only listens to “Angel of death” and “Raining blood”). “Epidemic” has always been one of my favourite songs off Reign in blood, as it has a different groove to the dominant skank beat throughout the album. The drum intro has a lot to do with how much I like this song. Whenever I think of a drum intro this is honestly the first song that comes to mind. Nowadays, and after three decades of extreme metal drumming, this intro sounds quite “primitive”, but when I first heard it I would just play it over and over again, for several times before I continue with the rest of the song. Nothing compares to Dave Lombardo‘s intense and quite instinctive old school drumming massacre. The simply devastating drum sound captured on tape by Rick Rubin is not bad either.

2. King DiamondWelcome home (1988)

Mikkey Dee, now famous for being the drummer for Motörhead for almost 25 years, used to be in King Diamond. With him the King released some of his best albums (and my two personal favourite, namely Fatal portrait and Conspiracy), and I actually remember seeing or reading an interview with King Diamond where he said that Mikkey has been sorely missed (I personally think that Snowy Shaw did an awesome job as well). Indeed, the impressive drum performances in King Diamond’s early albums compared to the almost mechanical drumming in this last few albums is like comparing night and day. “Welcome home” is a masterful track off Them, and the intro is one of the most memorable and classy drum parts I can think of. Overall, this song represents the pinnacle of King Diamond’s progressive dimension. Agressor did an accurate cover of this song on their Medieval rites (1999) album, although the drum intro is neither entirely accurate nor has the feel of the original.

3. Holy TerrorNo resurrection (1988)

Holy Terror released two albums in the late 1980s, at a time when thrash was still alive and well but slowly losing ground as the first death metal albums, as well as the more extreme thrash bands of Germany, began to surface. The second album by Holy Terror is a minor thrash masterpiece and this song is a testament to that. Their peculiar style of metal that combined traditional heavy metal melodies and singing, with rougher and at times growling vocals, super fast riffs and drums, deserved more recognition in my opinion. Joe Mitchell‘s expertly executed super fast beats perfectly complement the super-fast vocal delivery. The intro to this song is an all-time favourite, and is the perfectly manic start for a perfectly manic song. I have been listening to it since my teenage years and it still does not fail to excite me. They don’t make them like this anymore.

4. Malevolent CreationCoronation of our domain (1992)

Alex Marquez gave his best performance on Malevolent Creation’s Retribution. His contribution on this album cannot be overestimated, and never before or after did Malevolent have such a beautiful drum sound and playing, and orchestrations. This drum intro is probably the best out of all the intros in this list. This is the definition of finesse in drumming. I struggled on whether I should include this song here. Malevolent Creation has been the home to some racist scum throughout its history, so they are not welcome in this blog. At the same time, I thought it would be unfair to erase Marquez’s contribution because he happened to be in a band which later on in its career (when Marquez was not part of it anymore) became openly racist.

5. Dismember – Fleshless (1993)

This is an extremely simple fast single stroke drum roll (I think so) spread across two toms, opening one of the best songs in one of the best albums in the history of music (yes, not only death metal). One of the reasons I love it so much is because to me this intro is like saying “get ready for some non-stop relentless beating”, and indeed this is exactly what follows throughout the album. Remember, this is not a playlist with the “best” drum intros, but rather my favourite drum intros, and this is definitely one. I simply adore the drum sound on this album, and Fred Estby‘s playing is really exciting. Indecent and obscene is probably my all-time favourite death metal album, and Fred’s playing is one of the reasons.

6. GorefestPeace of paper (1993)

It’s no big surprise that all of the songs on this list come from albums characterised by great drum performances. In both False (1992) and Erase (1993) Ed Warby gives lessons in extreme metal drumming. His sound is clear, he hits hard, and his blastbeats are a force of nature. “Peace of paper” is an astonishing song off an amazing album, and it is also the song where Warby goes crazy with his snare-kick gymnastics. The drum intro is not anything special, but I love it. I think that his performance in these two albums opened up doors for him, as I recall seeing his name in many projects over the years. Gorefest did a very impressive comeback in the mid 2000s and then unfortunately folded again, and in those two comeback albums Warby also did an amazing job.

7. SlayerKilling fields (1994)

Divine intervention is a galore of outstanding drum work by Paul Bostaph. Quite honestly, when I bought this album I could not believe how someone can play like this, and to this day I consider Divine intervention a masterpiece with state-of-the-art drumming. This album is chock-full of drum highlights, and apart from this song, “Sex, murder, art” and “Serenity in murder” are personal favourites. There is no doubt that Paul knew that filling Lombardo’s shoes would be hard, mostly in terms of acceptance by the hardcore fans rather than actual performance, and did his absolute best to prove himself with this album. In my opinion, the intro of “Killing fields” is one of the heaviest and attention-grabbing moments in metal history.

8. BenedictionThe grotesque (1994)

Benediction is not a band known for its virtuoso musicianship. It is known, however, for its absolutely awesome and unique-sounding death metal.  “The grotesque” is one of Benediction’s best songs and it comes from the Grotesque/Ashen epitaph EP. This EP marked the departure of Ian Treacy, Benediction’s original drummer, whose improvement from Subconscious terror (1990) to Transcend the Rubicon (1993) was nothing short of stellar, and the short-lived collaboration with Paul Brookes (who has been very ridiculously photoshoped into the photo of the band on this release). I personally prefer Treacy, who has also provided some really cool drum parts, but nevertheless, Brookes offers a very memorable drum intro to this beast of a song.

9. UnleashedIn the name of god (1995)

“In the name of god” starts with a very simple double stroke roll, yet constitutes an extremely effective drum intro which has always stayed with me. The fact that it opens one of the catchiest songs in death metal history, composed by Fredrik, obviously adds to the importance of this drum intro, but there is no doubt that Anders Schultz‘s contribution to Unleashed’s sound is significant (also check out the awesomely placed double bass à la Slayer at the end of the song). Victory is, in my opinion, the last great album by Unleashed, and it is not a coincidence that it is also the last album with Fredrik Lindgren. He is one of the composers that is missed in the death metal genre.

10. Dying FetusJustifiable homicide (2000)

1999 was the year my friends and I found out about the then new wave of North American brutal death metal. A fiend of mine got hold of three awesome cassette-tapes; one with Deeds of flesh‘s Trading pieces (1996) and Inbreeding the anthropophagi (1998), one with Nile‘s Among the catacombs… (1998), and one with Dehumanized‘s Prophecies foretold (1998) and Dying Fetus‘s Purification through violence (1996). When Destroy the opposition came out we didn’t listen to anything else for a month. This is probably the least interesting song on the album, but what a great and memorable intro! Kevin Talley is a great drummer hailing from the American brutal death metal underground who has rightfully been recognised as one. His drumming on albums like Killing on adrenaline and Destroy the opposition are unbelievable. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the separation of Jason and Kevin from Gallagher resulted in inferior subsequent output from both Dying Fetus and Misery Index. Anyway, this whole album is a drummer’s pleasure.

11. The CrownI won’t follow (2000)

The Crown has always been a hit and miss band in my opinion. I never liked any of their albums in their entirety, just individual songs, and if I had to pick a favourite album I would choose Hell is here (1999). This song comes from Deathrace king, an album from which I worship two songs and the rest of them I listen to once every ten years or so. “I won’t follow” is one of the songs I worship, and the other is the inimitable “Back from the grave”. Janne Saarenpää‘s style is very intense and out-of-control and often reminds me of Chris Witchhunter from Sodom (I’m thinking of “Baptism of fire”). This is the definition of in-your-face extreme metal drumming of the type that inspires kids to pick up drumsticks and learn to play.

12. Deeds of FleshMaster of murder (2001)

Mike Hamilton‘s stint with Deeds of Flesh started with an album (i.e. Mark of the legion) which, for me, marked the creative downfall of the band. However, just like the drummers that preceded him, Hamilton’s drumming is amazing, and this song is a case in point. A beautiful, yet cold and lifeless, phrase composed of super fast double strokes and double bass, introduces an awesome riff. The way Hamilton switches from the hi-hat to the ride cymbal during the blastbeats, and the effect this has on the riff is also great. Later on in their career Deeds of Flesh tried to reinvent themselves and switched to super-technical death metal and, in my opinion, lost their distinctiveness that is still present in this song.

13. Pig DestroyerSnuff film at eleven (2001)

Just like Dying Fetus’s Destroy the opposition, Pig Destroyer’s Prowler in the yard was a game changer in the world of extreme metal. Brian Harvey provides super fast blastbeats, grooves, and insane drum fills.  This song is one of the most death-oriented songs on the album, and has such an awesome drum intro, representative of the musical and lyrical insanity that reigns throughout the album. What contributes to the awesomeness of this intro is that it does not lead to a fast beat but a tensely controlled slow beat. Harvey’s performance on the next album (i.e. Terrifyer) is also stellar. Having a drummer like this at one’s disposal is an amazing privilege, because it gives one absolute freedom to write anything they want, no matter how fast and complex.

14. Lock UpFeeding on the opiate (2002)

Nick Barker is one of those drummers who make extremely fast drumming seem easy. I fell in love with his drumming when Cradle of Filth‘s Dusk and her embrace came out, and I loved him even more in Lock Up, although his repertoire in the latter is much more limited. His performance with Cradle of Filth rightfully opened doors for him as over the years he has played with many prominent bands. This is actually one of the best album intros ever, and I cannot believe that I forgot to mention it in the respective post I wrote a few years ago. Overall, Hate breeds suffering is my favourite Lock Up album too. Bill Hicks’s inspiring statement, “Play from your fucking hearts!”, sampled at the beginning of the song is also genius.

15. Dark FuneralThe eternal eclipse (2016)

The final entry in this list comes from a recent album, namely Dark Funeral’s very impressive Where shadows forever reign. Dark Funeral has a history of great drummers, including the brilliant Matte Modin (who offered devastating drumming for Defleshed back in the day). In this album the drums are provided by Nils Fjellström, another master of inhuman speed in drumming (check out videos of him performing live with the band on YouTube, you won’t be disappointed). “The eternal eclipse” is my favourite song off this album, and the drum intro is perfect.

A minor mystery solved, and life goes on…

Reading the information provided in the booklets or inner sleeves of albums – on vinyl, CD or cassette-tape – has always been an important part of my – and many others’ I presume – experience of engaging with popular music. Thanks lists used to be the source of finding out about affiliated bands, friendships between bands, and bands that I should check out. At the same time reading bands’ thanks lists would often obscure, rather than clarify, things. Responsible for that would often be the use of inside jokes, such as nicknames and references to events with which I, the reader, was unfamiliar. For example, I remember reading the thanks lists of Napalm Death‘s Harmony corruption (1990) being simultaneously entertained, intrigued and confused by the constant use of the word ‘chuffed’.

One of the oldest band-related mysteries that I can remember of originated in the inner sleeve of Entombed‘s Left hand path (1990). In the thanks list the band thanks Carnage and then, in brackets, Fred (presumably Fred Estby) who was the drummer in Carnage and Dismember. The sentence “Milli Vannili-Fred! Thanks for the riff mate!” fascinated me because it provided information regarding the relationship between two of my favourite bands – Entombed and Dismember – and also because it provided ammunition to my imaginary debates with annoying staff of heavy metal magazines, among whom it was commonplace to casually refer to Dismember as a “second-rate Entombed”. Yet, this was a piece of information that begged for additional information. For more than 20 years I have wondered, “which one is the riff on Left hand path that belongs to Fred?”.

Ten years ago I bought and devoured Daniel Ekeroth‘s book Swedish death metal (2008). There were things about it that I loved, and things that I hated. (Among the latter was the author’s irritating flattery towards Nicke Andersson.) One of the things that annoyed me – at the time I thought it was unacceptable – was that he did not provide an answer to this mystery. Even though I understand that it is not really a mystery, in the sense that probably nobody cares, I still think that revealing the identity of the riff would be a great anecdote which would also provide a richer, more accurate representation of the relationship between these two important bands and songwriters of the Swedish death metal scene.

Dismember appearing at the Rockwave festival in Attica, 2005 (left), and Mylos club in Thessaloniki, 2007 (right).

Twice I had the opportunity to find out the answer to this mystery but  missed it. I have seen Dismember live twice. The first time was in the 2005 Rockwave festival in Greece. There I actually met Fred, David, and Matti who were wandering around in the merchandising area, but it was very brief and I completely forgot to ask Fred about the Left had path reference. (During that brief encounter Fred recorded my Dismember tattoo on his camera, and the footage was later on included in their Under blood red skies DVD (2009)!) Next time I saw Dismember live was in Thessaloniki a couple of years later, and it was shortly after Fred’s departure from the band (Thomas was on drums by that point), so, once again, I missed the chance to inquire. What I never considered was that perhaps someone else from the band might know the answer to my question. As it turns out Matti did, and last week this minor mystery was solved while I was browsing Matti’s Facebook page.

I have referred to social media as “intertextual enablers” in the past (read this), and this is another instance where information produced and accessed through social media fills in gaps in my popular music knowledge. Later on in the same Facebook discussion, it is revealed that the riff mentioned above which Nicke gave in return was the brilliant intro riff of “Deranged from blood” from Carnage’s Dark recollections (1990). Of course, the “Milli Vannili-Fred” bit of the reference has not been explained. It obviously refers to the late-1980s Dance duo Milli Vanilli, which consisted of two models posing as singers (without actually singing or composing on the records). Perhaps in the context of Left hand path, the term is meant to refer jokingly to Fred as a ghost writer in Entombed. Now enjoy Fred’s riff starting at 1:32 in the video below.