Sunday, May 5, 2013

A small panorama of “old school death metal” in 2013

A small panorama of “old school death metal” in 2013
“Old school death metal,” as ridiculous or inaccurate as that nebulous category might be, seems to refer to death metal in the style of 80s Death and 80s Entombed (“Left Hand Path,” released June 4th, 1990, being an album of songs from the late 80s). That is, uptempo death metal with emphasis on memorable guitar riffs, melodic/catchy guitar solos, relatively straightforward drumming and vocals that underline enunciation, stretching out the syllables, making the growling somewhat intelligible.
Generally, not-blasting-based drumming, and non-“brutal” death metal: Death, Obituary, Entombed, Dismember, but not Morbid Angel, Suffocation, Napalm Death. “Old school death metal” in 2013 contrasts with technical, blasting death metal that dazzles with speed and dexterity, although not necessarily with songwriting. It also contrasts with gore/slam chugga-chugga mosh dumbed-down death metal that specializes in burped-like microphone-cupping and/or low-intelligence lyrics.
Therefore, the bands in this section have some things in common: the emphasis on songwriting, songs that the listener can remember, melodic soloing, heavy riffing, but not particularly superfast. Things like bass guitar or atmosphere are often audible. It is “easy listening” death metal compared to the overwhelming of the senses with speed and noise that is “modern death metal.”
These are the bands reviewed. The last few are actually old “old school death metal” recordings.
Skeletal Remains (U.S.): “Beyond the Flesh”
Morgengrau (U.S.): “Extrinsic Pathway”
Tormented (Sweden): “Death Awaits”
Revel in Flesh (Germany): “Manifested Darkness”
Zombiefication (Mexico): “At the Caves of Eternal”
Megascavenger (Sweden): “Descent of Yuggoth”
Johansson/Speckmann (Swe./U.S./Czech Rep.):Sulphur Skies
Master (U.S.): “Unknown Soldier” (unreleased 1985)
Swazafix (Holland): “Anthems of Apostasy”
Phlebotomized (Holland): “Devoted to God”; “Preach Eternal Gospels”
Skeletal Remains uses a particular template for their death metal found on the album “Beyond the Flesh.” That template is: “Leprosy” (1988) by Death. It’s all here: the simple, uptempo drumming (not blasting speed); guitar that really works out the midpace riffing; the melodic solos; and the classic-Schuldiner-like growling where the syllables are stretched out for effect (as opposed to fast growling, or to low-incomprehensible growling, etc.). Some bits of songs might recall Death’s “Choke on It,” “Leprosy,” “Left to Die,” and so on. For fans of “Consuming Impulse”-era Pestilence, “The Eternal Fall”-era Morgoth, early Gorguts, and death metal descended from Death’s “Leprosy.” They do a Gorguts cover and said cover fits in really nice with this fun album. It will be interesting to see where the band takes their death metal along the way to finding more of their own way towards a more proper identity as Skeletal Remains.
Generally similar to Skeletal Remains, Texas-based Morgengrau features a rawer production, a rougher sound, a bit a faster tempo. If Skeletal Remains sounds more like Death’s “Leprosy,” than perhaps Morgengrau, we could say, is more like Pestilence’s “Consuming Impulse,” in the sense that the energy level has been brought up a bit. However, wait a minute, Morgengrau definitely has an energy of their own. Like already stated, you can’t go wrong with Morgengrau. These riffs are thick, galloping and do everything except literary grab your neck and physically make you headbang. If you like death metal, it’s like Morgengrau is daring you not headbang and you will not be able to resist. It’s that good. The tightness, the immediacy of the riffs, and the memorable songs, are just what’s needed to make the day better. Very impressive and instantly likeable.
Here’s a little fact for you. Bill The Master, who is practically a death metal library, has been playing Tormented quite a bit because he really liked the band’s debut “Rotten Death” (on his show metal show Sweet Nightmares on Well, here’s the band’s second album “Death Awaits” in 2013 and it is 100 percent, true-blue “old school Stockholm-style death metal” with that guitar tone. One listen, just one listen is all the listener needs to install this in the brain. The solos are good, the vibe is great, the vocals are particularly rotten and stand out as Tormented. The songs get to the point quickly. Here’s another little fact for you. There’s a reason why Tormented is so awesome: experience: the vocalist/guitarist is “Dread” and “Dread” is Andreas Axelsson, guitarist in Edge of Sanity (all albums 1991-1997), ex Marduk, ex- Incapacity, ex-Infestdead, etc. Clearly, Tormented is no beginner’s home project.
Revel in Flesh’s debut was called “Deathevokation” and was a Stockholm-style death metal platter. Now then “Manifested Darkness” shows a great love of Dismember. I have read some negative reviews about this band. Revel in Flesh has a peculiar sense of humor. Their name is from Entombed and their debut was from Dismember. Now, they have a song called “Revel in Flesh” and also “Warmaster” and “Torment in Fire,” the type of titles that the metal-obsessed instantly know where they come from: Bolt Thrower, Sacrifice and lots of other sources. These little peculiarities have angered some jaded listeners. I, for one, have tried to find something wrong with Revel in Flesh, and I cannot do it. It’s all good. Yes, it’s not “original” and clearly Revel in Flesh is not claiming that. They’re a just a death metal band that loves their old Stockholm death metal and have a good time as devotees. True, this is a bit more for the total death metal maniac and also for the love-it-all listener, but you know, there’s nothing wrong with that per se. I submit that these songs are pretty good, pretty enjoyable. Revel in Flesh has yet to come up with more distinctive riffing and memorable soloing, but it’s early in the game. Let’s see where they are after a couple more albums.
Zombiefication admittedly has an unfortunate name that some people will not check out because they imagine a band with gore and zombies generic “brutal” death metal. That’s too bad because this band has worked hard at creating songs that really stand as individual pieces with a framework of “old school death metal,” particularly Stockholm-style death metal. Zombiefication is not about speed at all. Songs have moments of speed, but in selected places. Instead, Zombiefication is all about good riffs, good melodies and vibe. The guitar work is definitely worth your time. I am very surprised with just good the melodies are. Each song has little details that make them easy to remember and fun to think about, and hear again. I do not have information about the drumming, whether it is programmed or not. No drummer is listed on Metal Archives. In this specific case, the drumming (or programming) is considerably creative and has a vibe that keeps the rhythm. It does not sound like some mindless programming to just beat fast. There are nuances in the sound that work well for Zombiefication. Hopefully they find a drummer, if they don’t have one. To repeat: Zombiefication has a real strong effort to inject creativity into their songs, has developed a vibe in each and has delivered an album surprisingly good. It shows that they have busted their behind to stand out, to go beyond being a good tribute band. Zombiefication stands on its own with its songs. Good execution, impressive album, indeed.
Who is the hardest working person in death metal? Who seems to be an endless fountain of death metal music? In other genres, some think of Devin Townsend when it comes to musicians who just keep coming up with music, like some of sort of unstoppable compulsion to create. Well, for death metal Rogga Johansson appears to be such a person, too. Megascavenger is another one of the many bands of Rogga Johansson (just look him up on Metal Archives and you’ll see). This album, “Descent of Yuggoth,” works the basic, super heavy death metal foundation in every song, and on top of that foundation, there are riffs, licks, notes, melodies that run above, making things massive, with a bit of melody. The vocals are gruff and low. The drumming is uptempo, basic, almost rock n roll drumming, for beats that anyone can get into. Bang your head, drink your beer, nod along, it’s all good, because Megascavenger is just fun music, nothing too complex. Hear it one time and understand it. Hear twice and you know it, like AC/DC for death metal. Rogga can write songs like this in his sleep (if he sleeps) or if he is driving, he can just hum the riff onto his phone, get home and listen and do it on the guitar. A few hours later, boom, another song is done. Another day, another 2 or 3 death metal songs done. Is he a genius savant? Here is a link to one (out of about 3.7 million) band Rogga is in:
This same Rogga Johansson has teamed up with the Lemmy of old school death metal Paul Speckmann for something called Johansson & Speckmann. What did I just tell you about Rogga?! In this case, Rogga plays guitar and Paul does vocals, as far as I can tell. I’m not going to lie to you, this sounds a lot like Paul Speckmann’s main band Master and also like Rogga Johansson’s “old school death metal” music that he does so well. If you happen to enjoy this type of death metal, then you know, this is music that is easy to get into. It’s not particularly flashy, it’s just heavy rocking stuff, comfortable as Motorhead or Slayer for death metal. You already have a Rogga Johansson website and I cannot find a website for this project, so here’s Master’s website.
In the early 90s Master was a band that got name-checked by many, many death metal bands that have themselves now become classic and legendary. The information I have says that this is the 1985 unreleased album, so this would be the recording that got tape traded around the world in the 80s. I don’t know about re-mastering and how much the recording has been “fixed” or re-recorded here. Also, some of these songs are also found on the Speckmann’s other brief but respected band Death Strike. To the music. This thing sounds wonderful! Of course, the sound quality is raw. The energy of these songs is contagious. It is old, basic death metal, ugly and good. Investigate if you love old 80s death metal. I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed, if they like Master and Death Strike.
Here’s another old recording from 1991 and 1992, the demos by Asphyx’s Theo Loomans (who died back in 1998). The name of this band is Swazafix. So, this recording is definitely for those that enjoy old demos of death metal. Swazafix does sound a lot like the death metal of Asphyx, in the vocals and guitar tone, but the big difference is that unlike Asphyx, Swazafix does not do much doom: it’s just blunt, heavy, raw death metal. I have been pleasantly surprised to hear this and it’s even cooler that Vic Records is making this available for the Asphyx and death metal fans.
As if releasing the Master album weren’t enough, Vic Records has put out the Swazafix demos, and as if that wasn’t cool enough, they are also releasing two old Phlebotomized recordings: the “Devoted to God” demo (1992) and the EP “Preach Eternal Gospels” (1993). Phlebotomized on these recording plays really heavy duty super guttural growling death metal, but added keyboards for atmosphere. The keyboards are not very prominent because this death metal is not very melodic. Sounds massive. The result is something not strange today, instead it just sounds like creative really heavy death doom. This is the band’s earlier music, before they scared away metal people by becoming an eclectic band. This is just Phlebotomized playing massive doom death with an atmospheric background. Before the band confused some listeners, this is what they were. They were a solid band, with a sound that was not common back in the day, either. Good stuff.

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