Monday, November 17, 2014

Diamonds in the Rough (Patch): Death Metal during that dry spell otherwise known as the mid-late '90's

During the mid to late '90's there were a handful of demo's and ep's  that restored my faith in death metal. While I won't go as far as to say that death metal died in the mid-'90's, I do acknowledge that it was a trying time, for sure. Many bands were either breaking up or changing their sound in an anemic attempt to garner a larger following. Furthermore, metal in general seemed to succumb to the ever-looming specter of obscurity as the notion of major label access was kicked to the curb after the disastrous marriage between Earache and Columbia. Yeah, these were dark times, indeed, yet anyone who tells you that "death metal had died" during this time was obviously not paying attention.

The following are a bunch of releases that really blew my mind at the time. Not only was I surprised to hear death metal of this quality but I was also happy to see that finally there were some bands out there that were upping the ante in regards to suffocating gloom.

In no particular order...

Clean Flesh - Clean Flesh (1997)

I remember seeing this at a distro at some show in CT back in 1997 and passing it up due to the band name, which I thought was rather lame. Boy, did I feel stupid when I finally heard it at a friend's house. First off, the vocals are absolutely disgusting! I'm not quite sure what the vocalist's "technique" is (inhaling, cupping the mic, etc.), nor do I give a shit! When you sound this vile and sick, I take notice! Ever since I listened to Carcass for the first time back in 1989 I was obsessed with death metal bands that showcased more than one style of vocals. After a few years of decent, if not ho-hum styled vocalists in death metal, the scene was about to explode with vomit and pus and Joe Wolfe (vocals) was among the best.

Secondly, the music on this 'ep' pretty much picked up where Carcass and many of Sweden's finest left off during their demo stages. Where a lot of those bands "progressed" musically, bands like Clean Flesh were clearly inspired by mausoleum-type atmosphere provided by the earliest incarnations of their idols. This is more Nihilist/Left Hand Path than it is Clandestine with nary a Hollowman in sight! The guitar riffs here are as heavy as a tombstone being ground into dust.

Descend - Demonstration Cassette 1995

Like Clean Flesh, this demo from Descend also showcases a particularly vile and vomitous vocal assault. Perhaps the fact that both bands are from Ohio has something to do with it.

Aside from the wonderful barfing and belching heard throughout this five song release, the music itself is more than a bit similar to the early '90's Finnish death metal scene, particularly Disgrace (pre-castrated tranny closet jump, of course). Both bands have that sort of whimsical, meandering jam-fest approach to playing. Regardless, this is still a rather skull-smashing affair and one that will have you wondering what the hell is going on in Ohio?

Mortal Decay - Brutalizing Creations (1995)

Perhaps what drew me in more than anything on this release were the string bends on 'Opening the Graves'. Before I heard that, I had this playing in the background on my stereo as I went about some menial tasks around the house. All of a sudden I remember taking notice as MDK threw down some seriously delicious doom and I was sold right then and there. Hook, line and sinker. Of course I took the liberty of rewinding my tape and listening from beginning to hear what I had missed while farting around the house and was astonished by what I heard, to say the least.

How the fuck did I not notice the staggeringly awesome low-tuned guitars bellowing from the speakers?! Not only were these fuckers tuned as low as the tombs but there were some savagely obese doom excursions to be found seemingly 'round every corner! Now before I go on, I must tell you that I am a HUGE death-doom fanatic and have always been on the hunt for artists/albums that fall under this category pretty much since hearing Celtic Frost back in the '80's. Sure, I love fast shit as well but nothing beats a colossal riff slowed down to a snail's pace crushing you like an ant under heel.

As if my newfound revelation concerning the guitars wasn't enough, there were the vocals! Ahhh... the vocals...

Again, like what was happening in the riff department, I could not believe that somehow I did not notice how fucking grisly and insane these vocals were! I must've been pretty fucking busy as I now sat in wonder and astonishment, listening to this barbaric onslaught of vocal ghoulishness take form before me. Think Antti from Demilich teamed up with Glen Benton (sans Salacious Crumb) and an occasional spoken word guest appearance from a robotic Ross Dolan and that would pretty much sum up the cast of characters behind the mic. Even better, I decided to read along and was righteously blown away at how clever and well written the lyrics were.

Unfortunately, MDK would be bitten by the "progressive" bug as they tuned their guitars up to the point of sterility for their next release, '97's 'Sickening Erotic Fanaticism'. While not a bad album by any stretch, and certainly a proper platform for the band's next vocalist, former Deathrune throat-shredder, Kelly Izquierdo, SEF saw the band forever leave behind the mud and gloom of their 1995 incarnation. As it is, Brutalizing Creations is by far a highpoint for death metal in the '90's and unquestionably a legendary East Coast death metal release.

Desolate - The Scourge of Sanity (1995)

Ancient and barbaric death metal with more than a healthy dollop of doom to further cement the band's genocidal intent.

I know that New England has had the misfortune of being labeled a hotbed for not only many a shitty hardcore band but also the horrendously homo metal-core scene. Sadly, as the numbers dictate, this is unfortunately true, but being a born and bred New Englander myself, I find Desolate to be more fitting to the vibe I get when wandering the forests of my native land in the dead of Winter. Desolate play death-doom of the highest order and what could be a better match for the haunted forests of the north-east?

One could be forgiven for assuming that this demo is some long-lost classic from Sweden as it boasts a guitar sound similar to that notorious "chainsaw" buzz.

Vocally, the performance here is a bit higher-pitched than most of the other fare on this list. There are a few low ended growls to be found here and there but most of the lyrics are delivered by way of blood-curdling shrieks, a few of which go straight through the fucking roof!

I'm going to say it (er, type it, rather) here and now... this is without a doubt the BEST and most quality death metal release to come out of New England. Period.

Malignancy - Ignorance is Bliss (1997)

Sure, 'Ignorance is Bliss' isn't exactly the most "brutal" name for a death metal release and anyone out there who is familiar with the band's work post-1997 could be forgiven for assuming that this band plays nothing more than an amorphous brand of death metal designed to cater only to those who suffer from some sort of super-advanced ADHD but the fact is, 'Ignorance is Bliss' is easily one of the greatest death metal releases in the history of the genre. Bar none.

The guitar tone, tuning and heaviness of the slower sections gives even the almighty 'Realm of Chaos' a run for its fish & chips. That's how serious shit is on this 4 song demo. For those of you who are enamored by the band's use of every harmonic in (and out of) the book, never fear as there is absolutely no shortage of that particular exploitation to be found.

Vocally, Danny Nelson is in his best form here, employing a vast cast of characters to brute out the band's genocidal onslaught. Everything he does here is tempered to perfection. The screams. The shouting. Growling, etc... There are even some mid-paced roars that are just plain astonishing to behold.

I always felt that Malignancy, particularly on this release, was the perfect combination of Mortician and Immolation (both of whom are from Malignancy's native Yonkers as well). Mortician for the heaviness of the slower riffs and guitar sound/tuning overall and Immolation for their quirkiness.

All in all, this may be the best release in this list.

Shredded Corpse - Exhumed and Molested (1996)

The shit that interests me doesn't necessarily have to be "original" or cutting edge. It merely has to sound good. To "these" ears, obviously, and Shredded Corpse does just that.

Where most of the other bands on this list sound heavy as shit, Shredded Corpse are a bit more "electric" sounding. The guitars are a wee bit higher in pitch and there is more of an emphasis on precision picking ie Fear Factory.

Vocally this falls under the multi-voice Carcass style category with a weird whispery "electric" vibe (ie Ministry, Meathook Seed)thrown in for good measure.

They might not be doing the most "mindblowing" shit here, but there's always been something about this release that kept me pressing play again as soon as it was over.

Devourment - Impaled (1997)

Sure, they may have become the poster boys for slam-death retardation, but make no mistake... there's a valid reason why everybody went apeshit over this band in the first place and 1997's 'Impaled' demo is it.

What a lot of people don't realize is that this demo is more or less a love letter to Devourment's fellow DFW area legends Magus and their ultra-cult, super swampy 'Ruminations of Debauchery' ep (1992). Of course, you could hardly accuse Magus of being a "slam-death" band and I don't believe that Devourment's intentions at that time were to cater to the slam dizzle crowd. Sure, they may have eventually embraced the term and all of the love/hate that came with it, but in the beginning they were more or less paying homage to one of the greatest death-doom bands to have ever poisoned the well.

Although I prefer later Devo vocalist Ruben Rosas' wretched croak overall, the performance here by the late, great Wayne Knupp were something of a minor revelation to these ears and undoubtedly played a major part in influencing many others to "go guttural".

Unfortunately, the guitars are tuned so low that the riffs are nothing more than a wall of static and noise and you actually have to use the drum patterns as a point of reference. Either that or wait for the slow parts! Legendary, nonetheless.

Embalmer - There Was Blood Everywhere (1995)

Embalmer's 'There Was Blood Everywhere' is the perfect blend of early '90's ghoulishness and the tone set by the next generation of brutal death barbarians that reached its deafening pitch by the late '90's.

Although, in terms of generation, Embalmer fits into the older group of death metal bands whose ranks include Immolation, Incantation, Rottrevore, etc.. the band didn't receive it's notoriety until the release of their 1997 compilation 'There Was Blood Everywhere' which included the 1995 'ep' of the same name and the band's 1993 demo, 'Rotting Remains'. Part of this, I'm sure, has a lot to do with the band's then fairly new vocalist, Rick Fleming, whose absolutely batshit crazy style helped catapult the band into the collective conscious of the death metal underground.

Aside from the fact that Rick employs pretty much every trick in the book, the high point of his approach is without a doubt his higher pitched screams which are just plain fucking bonkers. Seriously! Easily one of death metal's greatest "character actors'. Ever.

Musically, Embalmer are a bit more on the gloomy, "spooky" side of the spectrum with an unmistakable early '90's vibe. Ghoulish to the max.

Scattered Remnants - Procreating Mass Carnage (1994)

Along with Desolate, Scattered Remnants hails from the haunted woods of New England and made quite a dent in the underground with this rather putrid and abysmal 5 song demo.

Like many of bands on this list, SR would offer up some solid doom-death early in their career only to be eventually and erroneously lumped into the 'slam-death' category by a veritable cast of Van Gough's.

Though the band's later material (particularly the Inherent Perversion 'ep') is quite solid, PMC is by far their most ghoulish and oppressive.

Necrophagist - Necrophagist (1995)

Yeah, yeah... all of the "purists" on here will balk in disgust and yammer on about what's "true", yada yada, but the fact is... Necrophagist's '95' demo is without a doubt one of the best and most brutal death metal demos, ever!

Before the band transcended into the halls of clinical sterility, they were delivered the fucking goods with this 4 track excursion into eye-bulging technicality. The thing that  truly makes this great isn't the band's legit technical prowess but the fact that everything comes across as primal despite the precision on display. Think Deicide's debut with Frank Mullen on the mic and voila.

Internecine - Internecine (1997)

Long before he joined the ranks of the Morbid Angel elite, Jared Anderson was toiling the underground and conjuring fourth such blasphemous works to rival that of Incantation and Immolation with Internecine.

Bear in mind that the material on this demo is played by an actual band as opposed to the album Anderson would later release which merely featured him on guitar, bass and vocals and a few session drummers (Derek Roddy and Tony Laureano) along with Anderson's then bandmate in Hate Eternal, Erik Rutan, throwing in some leads for taste.

I really wish that Internecine had kept it together in this form as this is truly some of the best death metal I've heard in quite a while. You can tell that the band knows what they're doing and can actually play yet everything sounds quite raw and unpolished thus lending that elusive "earthiness" to the proceedings, making the evil of this demo that much more dismal.

The vocals are somewhat goofy but not in a bad way. There's a big difference between the guy who sang on this demo and Anderson's vocals on the album. This guy was obviously going for a lower, more guttural approach with some Salacious Crumb shrieks ala-Deicide to add to the effect.

I can honestly say that this is one of my favorite pieces of death metal and something I'll be listening to until the end of my days. Quality stuff, for sure.

Gorgasm - Stabwound Intercourse (1998)

I remember there being a lot of hype behind this band during the time of the release of this 'ep' and rightfully so. Stabwound Intercourse was a particularly virulent and barbaric assault on the delicate sensibilities brought on by death metal's supposed "dry spell".

SI is somewhat of an anomaly in the Gorgasm catalog as there is more of an emphasis on quality riff-writing as opposed to the "speed for speed's sake" approach that they're probably more known for.

Apparently there were three vocalists on this release. You could've fooled me. If they all sound so similar, why bother having three? Oh well. Whoever's running their motor behind the mic here is certainly no slouch in the guttural category and manages to transcend the "ree-ree ooh-ooh" tradition of most late-'90's guttural sewage-mongers by actually employing a fair amount of diction into the proceedings. Let's be honest here, folks... nothing in the lyrical department is going to come out crystal clear when using death metal vocals but I always hail the efforts of those who at the very least ATTEMPT to pronounce each word as it tends to lend a more hateful and convincing angle to the music itself.

If you played me a handful of songs off of any given Gorgasm full length that has come out after the release of SI, it would be impossible for me to identify as they all have that tendency of sounding like one another. SI is easily their one and only stand-out release.

Fleshgrind - Sorrow Breeds Hatred... Bleed on Me (1995)

Not sure what the point of the double title of this demo is, but oh well. That's one of the things about death metal... a lot of times you just have to 'pretend' that the artist knows what the fuck they're talking about. Suspend your imagination, if you will.

Nonsensical whimsy aside, SBH was one of those treasures that I had picked up somewhere in the mid-west during my own band's mini-tour and I was blown away by the barbaric heaviness of the guitar sound. There was plenty of emphasis on slower passages as well as a shit ton of putrid and gurgled vocals. For a while there I had assumed that death metal bands had all but forgotten the importance of including a sustained note or two into the riff-writing process. I was relived to see that concept was alive and well here.

While Fleshgrind would more or less stick to their guns throughout the remainder of their existence, they would tweak the speed factor a notch or two with each impending release and more or less lose me in the process as I preferred them when they were toppling pillars with doomier riffs such as those found on 'Cum on my Stump' (awful song title, by the way. Just fucking awful).

Disgorge - Cranial Impalement (1998)

Last but not least we have undoubtedly the most brutal offering on this list. Up until the point where I was introduced to this release I was all but convinced that no one was capable of toppling Suffocation's penultimate 'Effigy of the Forgotten' (though Cryptopsy certainly made a case with 1996's None so Vile), then I heard this. Obviously the first thing I heard was one of the most putrid and disgusting growls in the history of the genre and then the battering assault of everything else crashing through the doors shortly after.

Cranial Impalement is more or less a novelty listen for me. Something to put on when you want to blow someone's mind but certainly not something I want to sit through and listen to for the duration.

For some unknown reason, Disgorge tends to get lumped into the "brutal/slam" category of death metal. Trust me folks, 90% of the shit Disgorge has written (especially on this release) flies by at mach 10. They are hardly concerned with writing "grooves" or whatever other mundane categorization the denizens over at Metal Archives are branding artists with lately.

Unfortunately and as is the usual case with bands such as this, Disgorge would go on to release a gratuitous number of albums which ultimately proved quite pointless as they more or less sound like re-configurations of this very album (compilation, technically). If you absolutely must own something by this band, Cranial Impalement is all that you need. Trust me. It hasn't been exceeded yet by anything the band's released since.

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