overground scene

My 10 favourite death metal albums from the United States revisited

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

1. Massacre – From beyond (1991)

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

2. Death – Symbolic (1995)

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

3. Broken Hope – Grotesque blessings (1999)

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

4. Cannibal Corpse – The bleeding (1994)

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

5. Suffocation – Effigy of the forgotten (1991)

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

6. Deicide – Legion (1992)

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

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

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

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

2. Immolation – Unholy cult (2002)

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

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

1. Nocturnus – The key (1990)

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

2. Atheist – Unquestionable presence (1991)

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

3. Monstrosity – Millennium (1996)

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

4. Nile – Black seeds of vengeance (2000)

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


An auto-biography of gig attendance #2: Cannibal Corpse, 1998

Each time someone poses the question “which one is your all time favourite gig?” my response is usually, “Cannibal Corpse”. I saw Cannibal Corpse in Woodstock Club, Peristeri (Greece) on the 25th of October 1998. The venue was small and claustrophobic, and would serve as the site for many other awesome gigs in the years to come. I was with two of my best friends (and one not that close friend), all of us big Cannibal Corpse fans. Cannibal Corpse shared the bill with Dark Funeral and Infernal Majesty. Although Gallery of suicide had just been released, we had already learned most of the lyrics by heart. My friends also liked Dark Funeral (one of them was obsessed with Vobiscum Satanas) but I didn’t. Infernal Majesty had just released Unholier than thou, a great album, and even though I wasn’t a big fan (I hadn’t even listened to None shall defy) I was somewhat excited to see them.

We arrived at the venue all pumped-up and with our tickets carefully bent near the bottom so that they could be smoothly ripped at the door, rather than being totally destroyed. It turned out that the people at the door did not tear up the tickets, hence the white line on the ticket on top of the date (see ticket above). I have absolutely no recollection of Dark Funeral playing. I remember seeing Masse Broberg in full leather and spikes, towering over me on his way to the stage. I also remember Chris Bailey, Infernal Majesty’s singer, in the crowd before they played, and I approached him, welcomed him and asked whether they would play “Roman song” off their latest album. I cannot remember his reply but I think they did play it after all. Again, although I remember enjoying Infernal Majesty, I don’t have any recollections as I was burning with anticipation for the headliner.

The year 1998 was a time when exposure to death metal videos in Greece was rare, so, speaking for myself, I didn’t know what to expect from a Cannibal Corpse gig. When the band started playing I could not believe my eyes. I was at the front of the stage, at arm’s length from Jack Owen, and I saw all the mind-blowing fret-work in all its splendour. I had never seen something similar in my life, and, suffice it to say, it changed my appreciation of death metal in terms of musicianship. Webster’s face was hidden behind his hair during the entire gig, and his stage presence was imposing. The band visited all the stops in its, already by that point, long and impressive career. At least one song was played by each one of their six albums. The awesome set-list included (not in order played): Skull full of maggots, Covered with sores, Meathook sodomy, I cum blood, Hammer smashed face, Starring through the eyes of the dead, Fucked with a knife, Striped, raped and strangled, Devoured by vermin, Perverse suffering, Puncture wound massacre, I will kill you, Disposal of the body, Gallery of suicide, Dismembered and molested, Headless (and I’m pretty sure they also played “Sentenced to burn”, although I haven’t written on the back of my ticket). The sound was perfect and the performance was immaculate. Every single moment was an amazing experience.

After the end of the concert we went outside to get some fresh air and catch our breaths. Soon after Corpsegrinder came out, and my friends and I surrounded him. He was in a good mood, and really nice to us. I mentioned his pierced tongue – which I had noticed during his performance – and he did some grimaces for us exhibiting his piercing. He signed our tickets. We then asked one of our friends who had a disposable camera to take a group picture of us with Corpsegrinder. We struck a pose and when he tried to take the picture he realised that he had used up all the film during the concert. So, we started swearing at him in Greek, and, of course, Corpsegrinder picked up the word “malaka” (wanker), and started repeating it in his funny, distinctive voice – a performance which brought about laughter from everyone in the vicinity. Owen also came out of the venue but he was quite withdrawn and walked around on his own. We approached him and asked for an autograph, which he gave, but he seemed almost sad. He quietly signed our tickets and walked away humming some kind of bluesy tune. After a while we got into a taxi-cab and headed home. The taxi-driver asked us if we were in a rock concert, and we said that we were. He was a middle-aged man, and had a macho-attitude typical for Greek taxi-drivers. After a brief period of silence, he addressed all of us with the question, “So…do you guys fuck a lot?”. We instantly burst out laughing, but I have no recollection of how we addressed his question. He then went off on a tangent telling us about his various “hot, young” girlfriends. He dropped us off, and we ended the night making fun of him in raspy voices, the result of our tormented vocal cords.

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

Whatever happened to Ron?

This is the first post in a series of posts I plan on the topic of unheard music heroes. I realised over the years that some of the musicians that made a big impression on me when I was young either never got the recognition they deserved or disappeared. The aim of these posts is to pay tribute to these great musicians. I start this series of posts with someone who was a true death metal innovator and for many years I thought had disappeared. I recently found out that he is still active, yet flying under the radar: Ron van de Polder of Sinister.


One of the bands me and my friends have always held in very high regard is the dutch death metal band Sinister. The first album I bought from them was Hate (1995), back in the summer of 1997. Cross the Styx (1992) and Diabolical Summoning (1993) followed shortly after. Every single album they released up to their demise in 2004 (and before their reformation) has been a masterpiece of death metal, taking the genre to new territories. With Cross the Styx, they defined their own style of death metal, which was closer to the American tradition*. However, I always thought that Sinister made use of the different rhythms and techniques as well as the potential of electric guitar, in a more imaginative way than any other band. Sinister’s style of riffing and sense of dissonant melodies are like no other band’s. Even on their first record, Sinister sounded like mature musicians. Their songs had never been a patchwork of riffs, and riffs rarely guided the songs. The latter could be described as dark musical themes orchestrated with impressive fretboard work. After Hate they started experimenting with longer, atmospheric songs often including keyboards, encasing the brutality is a swamp of mysticism and fear. Mike van Mastrigt’s awesome vocals and imaginative and catchy vocal patterns defined Sinister’s trademark sound in the early years. However, even after his departure from the band, his successors, Eric and Rachel, did an awesome job as frontman (on the hyper-brutal Aggressive measures) and frontwoman (on the phenomenal Creative killings and Savage or Grace) respectively.

One of the things that always amazed me about this band is that although they went through numerous line-up changes over the years their identity remained intact, and without compromising freshness and creativity. Another interesting thing about Sinister was that the person responsible for nearly all the music in their debut album, the music that defined their sound, was Ron van de Polder (I think their other guitarist Andre Tolhuizen had a couple of co-writing credits) a member who left the band after the debut. Nevertheless, all the albums that were released in the in-between years were phenomenal despite Ron’s (pictured below in the Entombed t-shirt) absence. Sinister is an exemplary group of musicians that fully embodied their artistic identity and reproduced it in the most natural way throughout the years, in spite of the fact that the person responsible for the original artistic vision was no longer there.

Sinister - Cross The Styx - Back

Until Ron’s informal return on the amazing Savage or Grace (2003), on which he contributed music without being a full-time member, we had no idea what he was up to and we always wondered, especially in the days when internet was still new, what happened to him. Such a brilliant musician, responsible for creating some of the best death metal in the world, should be making music. Although Savage or Grace had the classic Sinister sound that had been constant over the years, Ron’s touch gave it a Cross the Styx feel. A truly brilliant album (check out one of the most amazing songs off this album here). Yet, he did not become a proper member of the band and after that record we lost track of him again. A couple of years ago I discovered that he actually put together the brutal death metal band Infinited Hate.

He released three albums with that band between 2004 and 2007, all three of which with Aad and two with Rachel from Sinister. The style of Infinited Hate could be described as intense technical brutal death metal, much faster and complex than everything Sinister ever recorded. Heaven Termination (2005) specifically is a pretty amazing album. The most recent band in which he plays is called Weapons to Hunt and from the little that I’ve heard its music is full of Ron’s classic riffing, albeit a lot more straight-forward than Infinited Hate. Hopefully, we’ll be listening to more music from Ron in the years to come.

* Sinister were clearly influenced by Deicide‘s approach to music, as well Immolation‘s and Morbid Angel‘s approach to riffing, but my opinion is that they took it to a whole new level. Also, I personally think that the most successful of all US bands, Cannibal Corpse, owes a lot to Sinister. My opinion is that Sinister effected the drastic transformation that Cannibal Corpse went through after Tomb of the Mutilated (1992). I would go as far as to say that Cannibal Corpse totally ripped Sinister off. The entire The Bleeding (1994) album sounds like it’s been influenced by Sinister’s first two albums and particularly Diabolical Summoning (1993). The beginning of “Staring through the eyes of the dead” is classic Sinister, reminiscent of the song “Diabolical summoning”. The beginning of “Stripped, raped and strangled” is also reminiscent of the beginning of “Sadistic intent”. Other songs, such as “Forced fed broken glass”, draw heavily on “Diabolical summoning” and “Desecrated flesh”. And, with all respect due to Scott Burns, the production of The Bleeding also sounds a bit like the production of Diabolical Summoning. More recent work by Cannibal is also reminiscent of Sinister. “To decompose” off Evisceration Plague has a riff directly borrowed from “The cursed mayhem” off Hate.

My 10 favorite death metal albums from the united states

Every death metal fan should acknowledge the major effect of american death metal on all other death metal scenes around the world. One might love swedish death metal and the melancholy, bitterness and raw energy that comes with it. The same person might indeed hate american death metal and regard it empty and technocratic. However, it cannot be denied that the roots of every death metal band can be found in the legacy of Sarcofago, Sepultura, Master, Possessed, Atheist, Repulsion, Death, Massacre, Necrophagia, Autopsy, Celtic frost and Bathory. All of them, with the exception of Celtic frost and Bathory, are american.

The enormous continent has given birth to countless death metal bands. The american north is completely different from the south and the west is different from the east. The variations in the styles of death metal are, thus, many. However, it would not be oversimplifying to argue that some common elements can be found in american bands. American bands have tended to be the most brutal and technical.

What strikes me most about these early death metal bands is the diversity of styles. No band sounds like the other one and no singer sounds the  same. Back in the day, people wanted to sound furious and brutal to match the brutality of the music, so they opened their lungs and mouths and growled. What was coming out was one of a kind because every person has a different voice and shouts in different ways. There was no such thing as a death metal recipe, a formula that people followed in order to be “death metal”, which is the case with latter and contemporary death metal bands. Without further ado, here are some of my all time favorite death metal albums from the USA.

1. Massacre – From Beyond (1991)

fbI have not payed much attention to the massacre story, because it is complicated and I learned it a couple of years ago through the internet. When I listened to the album, the only thing I knew about it was that it was released in 1991. I did not care if they existed since 1921 or if they were the former band of Schuldiner or whatever. The album can easily be put in a spaceship and sent to space, as the true definition of death metal. The vocals are the most abominable vocals ever. The production is awesome. The compositions are simple, straightforward, heavy and emotionless. Most songs are uniquely majestic (e.g. Chambers of ages, Dawn of eternity). Indeed death metal has rarely been so majestic! Some of the topics are silly but very nicely written and the Lovecraft references are just awesome. Dawn of Eternity is the definitive hymn of death metal.

2. Death – Symbolic (1995)

616Symbolic is the ultimate musical achievement. After the excellent “Individual…”, Chuck happened to create the perfect combination of technique and emotion. Of course the surrounding musicians helped create this masterpiece, especially Hoglan, who has written the most appropriate, inspired and yet straightforward tempos ever. The drum work indeed requires special reference. All the songs with their awesome choruses, breaks, bridges and so on, are monumental. The interplay of guitar melodies and solos is unique. There are no best tracks here, just ideas and feelings in harmonious co-existence. Everything is perfect.

3. Immolation – Close to a world below (2000)

Immolation, to a large extent, pushed the boundaries of music further with their discography. I have to admit that choosing this particular album is random. All their discography is exquisite. For many years I considered “Here in After” being their best album. For some time I considered “Failures for gods”, and for some time “Unholy cult”. I decided to put this one here for several reasons. First of all, it has an awfully rotten and swampy production that fits Immolation perfectly. Secondly, the compositions are beyond imagination! Parts like the “you failed Mary, you raped Mary, over and over again…” are unbelievable. There are some amazing vocal patterns which render songs unique and memorable and the lyrics are compelling. Musically is one of the most depressing and mournful statements in the world. Immolation, along with Morbid Angel, redefine what music is.

4. Broken Hope – Grotesque Blessing (2000)

Broken hope is a huge and underrated band. Like Immolation and some other bands, they pushed the limits of death metal and music in general further. When you listen to Broken hope for the first time, you think “wait a minute…what did just happen here!”. These guys, not only are technical without becoming boring (because their music is highly emotional), but also are proposing alternative structural patterns to riff-making and lyric writing. All this, inside a context of utter disgust, brutality and anomaly! And their lyrics are not brainless words that make up no meaning. They are awesome! Read the lyrics to “Reunited” from the magnificent “Loathing” album, or “wolf among sheep” on this one! This album is my personal favorite and among the best american death records. I think that they reached the peak of their compositional inspiration, and achieved a perfect executional ability. R.I.P. Joe Ptacek.

5. Cannibal Corpse – The Bleeding (1994)

What can one say about this album! The vocal interpretations should be carefully studied by anyone interested in singing death metal. Barnes moved away from the extreme guttural vocals he did on Tomb of the mutilated, toward more powerful and articulate vocals, coupled with his (now) trademark shrieks. The combination of hyper-guttural vocals and shrieks became the blueprint for the mid-nineties American brutal death metal scene. The guitar work is among the best ever, along with Suffocation. The guitar riffs, melodies and vocal patterns are extremely memorable. The bass is huge and along with the drums they create a wall of sound that crashes the listener! The fast songs are manic and the mid-paced songs are even better and heavier. The production is the best possible production for this music. Scott Burns is this band’s sixth member in this record! Without him, this album would not be so perfect.

6. Suffocation – Effigy of the forgotten (1991)

Suffocation is one of those bands who do their own thing from day one. And it sounds so natural, so non-pressured that makes you wonder what exactly these people were listening! Why are they so different from their peers? Why do they sound so professional even on their demos? With their first album they set a standard so high in Brutal death metal, that I don’t think anyone since 1991 managed to match. They introduced a novel type of riffing and, hence, guitar playing. They introduced the extremely heavy-swampy passages. They introduced the extreme guttural vocals. Finally they introduced extremely tight playing and, arguably, the blueprint for death metal drumming.

7. Autopsy -Mental Funeral (1991)

Autopsy set the atmosphere for swedish death metal with their demos and their first two albums. It doesn’t take a much experienced ear to realise the similarities between Autopsy and Dismember or Entombed. But Autopsy’s origins can be traced back to the swampy riffs and atmosphere of early Black Sabbath. Nevertheless, the nightmare visions that mental funeral evokes cannot be found anywhere in music. Interestingly enough, the sole reference I can think off, for riffs like Fleshcrawl, is the intro riff of Halloween by Helloween. This music is the spawn of utter disgust, sickness and death. Reiffert’s extremely flexible voice gives the impression of gagging and adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the album.

8. Obituary – Cause of Death (1990)

Obituary amazed everyone in 1989 with their brutal sound and with having a psychopath for singer. Tardy’s voice is, like with most early death metal singers, definitely one of a kind.  Although their first album is intense, brutal and awesome, it is their second album that shows a mature band with a vision. James Murphy’s addition was an excellent decision, since the solos on this album are chilling to the bone and mix perfectly with the terrifying music and production. I consider this album a cornerstone of American death metal, equal to From Beyond to define what American death metal is. It has a lot of everything. Flesh-ripping guitar riffs (Find the Arise), swampy crawling passages (Dying, Infected), aggressive moshing parts (Cause of death circa 1:36), violent mid-tempo passages and breakdowns (Chopped in half). The vocals are completely inhumane. When I was young I would imagine Tardy being confronted by a lion and eventually scaring it off.

9. Morbid Angel -Covenant (1993)

There are no words to describe Morbid Angel. They are a phenomenon of exceptional significance in world music. Although you see where they come from, and the marks of bands like Possessed and Celtic frost are all over them, still they are one of a kind. It would not be an overstatement that Morbid Angel discovered a new sound with this album. The music on God of Emptiness is simply unearthly. The more frantic but surgically executed songs like Pain divine, Rapture, the heaviness of The promised land with its monolithic break, all are just instances of grandeur and inspiration and reflections of the will and zest to be pioneers.

p.s. I listened to a few songs off the new Morbid Angel album and I am blown away!

10. Deicide – Legion (1992)

deicidelegioncoverAlthough their first album is another perfect example of unique death metal, this one is definitely my favorite. Deicide sounded like nobody else. Other bands might have been more brutal or faster, but deicide have always been the most intense and absolutely insane! Everything was insane about this band. The melodies, the breakdowns, the vocal partners, the solos, etc. I dare anyone to point out a chorus crazier than Carnage in the temple of the damned, from their self titled album. On this, their second album, Deicide are more mature but more intense (if that is possible) and faster. Riffs are more complicated and played at exhaustive speed. The slower songs are very catchy and have brilliant innovative tempos and vocal rhythms. In my opinion, every single song is amazing and although I’ve been listening to this album more than 15 years, it never ceases to amaze me with its ingenuity and sheer energy.

p.s. Of course, there are numerous other bands that deserved to be on this list such as Atheist, Monstrosity, Malevolent Creation, and even newer bands such as Dying Fetus, Deeds of Flesh, and so on, but this is a personal list where I tried to pick the albums that I have loved most over the years.