I can still recall the buzz that Convulse's debut album "World Without God" caused in the underground scene back in the early 1990's but I also remember that I found the reality to be a little... well... underwhelming., especially when compared with the magnitude of the praise being heaped on it. I didn't see the album breaking out into the realms of the more successful death metal bands though which I've always thought of as some sort of justification for my feelings on the record. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy "World Without God" though as it certainly has its moments but they didn't make a big enough impact on me to see me returning to the album until now, more than three decades later, if only to check my own homework given the steady increase in opinion on the album in more recent times.
As a die-hard atheist, the idea of a record entitled "World Without God" is most certainly an attractive one & it's fair to say that Convulse do a good job at sounding as death metal as death metal can be. The album sits very much on the filthier side of the genre where the requirement for technical proficiency is cast aside in favour of that authentic graveyard atmosphere. The ultra-deep vocals of guitarist Rami Jämsä are the clear focal point & give Convulse an additional layer of appeal for those that appreciate that sort of thing with fellow Fins Demilich being a reasonable point of comparison in that regard. Musically though, we get a very similar style of death metal to grisly US gore-masters Autopsy with the use of some pretty similar harmonized doom metal riffs being one of the stronger elements of the album. Despite those comparisons though, "World Without God" still sounds decidedly Finnish & brings to mind artists like Demigod, Abhorrence & Funebre although the more educated listener will also be able to decipher the influence of the Swedish crunch of Entombed, Dismember & co. There's a clear difference in quality between "World Without God" & a record like Demigod's 1992 debut album "Slumber of Sullen Eyes" though & this results in Convulse's debut sounding a little less essential.
Besides the very ordinary dungeon synth introduction piece which was a clear mistake, "World Without God" is still a very consistent album with no real blemishes amongst the proper tracks. It's weakness is its lack of genuine highlights though with the better material (my personal favourite "Incantation of Restoration" & "Godless Truth") still capping out before Convulse manage to reach the upper echilons of the extreme metal spectrum. There's plenty for your average death metal nut to grab onto but there's not anything here that's gonna drag you into the stratosphere, instead seeming comfortable to have your flesh gnawed off your bones at a less transcendent level. There may never be a question about the credentials of "World Without God" to saw your body in half but I wouldn't say that it does it as efficiently as most other supposedly classic death meal bands of the early 1990's did. It would, however, represent Convulse's career high point by a significant margin in my opinion. I would investigate the band's early "Resuscitation of Evilness" demo as well as their next three full-lengths before deciding that only the band's first couple of releases offered me much in the way of consistent appeal.
So just like that we find that a new month is upon us which of course means that we’ll be nominating a brand new monthly feature release for each clan. This essentially means that we’re asking you to rate, review & discuss our chosen features for no other reason than because we enjoy the process & banter. We’re really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on our chosen releases so don’t be shy.
This month’s feature release for The Horde has been nominated by myself. It's 1991's "War Master" third album from classic English death metallers Bolt Thrower, a band that I've had a lifelong love affair with. I've tended to reach for the records either side of "War Master" more regularly over the years but still have a really passionate love for its charms. It's been quite a while between drinks though so I can't wait to get stuck into it again so that I can finally submit an accurate rating at the Academy.
Dutch legends Pestilence first came to my attention back in 1990 through their classic death metal anthem "Out Of The Body" which was played on late-night metal radio & saw me quickly exploring Pestilence's first couple of albums. I found both of them to be very solid examples of the early death metal scene too & have returned to them quite often over the years but it would be their 1991 "Testimony of the Ancients" third full-length that would really set my world on fire after I picked up a cassette copy of the album upon release. It would be by far Pestilence's most ambitious effort to date as it would see them expanding their musical palette significantly with a more progressive approach that sat very well with my taste profile at the time. For some reason though, I've managed to never get a firm rating down on Metal Academy & I'd like to change that today.
1988's excellent death/thrash debut album "Malleus Maleficarum" & 1989's widely praised death metal classic "Consuming Impulse" were both classy affairs that showcased a band that was willing to push themselves as musicians but were still comparitively straight forward in their structure & composition. The loss of influential front man Martin van Drunen would see a reshuffle in the ranks with guitarist Patrick Mameli stepping up to the microphone & the super-talented Tony Choy taking over Mameli's bass duties which were both extremely positive moves in my opinion. While I do enjoy van Drunen's psychotic howls, I've always found Mameli's more controlled & traditionally deathly vocals to be far more to my taste while Choy's undeniable chops & impeccable tone would see Pestilence reaching a new level of technical proficiency that would no doubt play a role in the musical direction they'd take.
"Testimony of the Ancients" sees Pestilence offering eight full songs in combination with eight short interludes of various styles for a wonderfully expansive take on the death metal model that wouldn't totally isolate old-school fans but would open Pestilence up to a whole new audience of open-minded metal fans. It's still very much a death metal album at its core but the incorporation of more complex song-structures, the wide use of octaves & dissonance within the chord structures & the integration of jazz fusion concepts within the guitar solos would see Pestilence starting to play in spaces previously only traversed by bands like Atheist & Cynic but maintaining a darkness & intensity that neither of those seminal acts could match. The influence of Teutonic thrash heavy-weights Kreator's classic 1988 "Extreme Aggression" album is obvious throughout without the record ever feeling like thrash while the contribution of death metal godfathers Death to Pestilence's music is still as clear as day, although it's certainly worth noting that "Testimony of the Ancients" actually came out before Death's wonderful 1991 fourth album "Human" with which it shares so many of its traits. Pestilence had traditionally followed Death's lead but here we see them making the running in no uncertain terms. The tendency for people to want to call both bands "technical death metal" is misguided though in my opinion with neither being particularly technical in the true sense of the term. This music is far better served by a "progressive death metal" tag as it's a lot more adventurous than simply making the riffs & rhythms harder to play. In fact, a lot of the material isn't actually all that hard to reproduce, even Choy's bass lines which are still fairly faithful to the riffs for the most part.
Despite the inclusion of the many interludes which are quite varied in their effectiveness, "Testimony of the Ancients" possesses an outstanding tracklisting that's full of genuine classics. "Twisted Truth" is one of my all-time favourite death metal tracks & lead the way nicely while "Land of Tears", "Prophetic Revelations", "Stigmatized" & particularly the incredible "Testimony" & "Presence of the Dead" present an elite artist that's at the very peak of their creativity. This all amounts to a record that I still consider to be the clear highlight of an impressive four album run that would etch Pestilence into the annals of death metal folklore for all time. Sadly, the band's subsequent reformation & continuous efforts to match their early works hasn't amounted to anything of significance but they'll always be afforded a position amongst the greats of the genre nonetheless, such was the impact of those late 80's/early 90's releases on the global extreme metal scene. If you're a diehard Death, Atheist or Cynic fan then you owe it to yourself to get across this record too.
Here's my updated Top Ten Technical Death Metal Releases of All Time list with Death's "Symbolic" dropping out to make way for "Testimony of the Ancients":
01. 7 Horns 7 Eyes - "Throes Of Absolution" (2012)
02. Death - "Human" (1991)
03. Suffocation - "Pierced From Within" (1995)
04. Suffocation - "Despise The Sun" E.P. (1998)
05. Death – “Individual Thought Patterns” (1993)
06. Pestilence - "Testimony of the Ancients" (1991)
07. Gorguts – “Colored Sands” (2013)
08. Cynic - "Focus" (1993)
09. Ulcerate – “Everything Is Fire” (2009)
10. Ad Nauseam - "Imperative Imperceptible Impulse" (2021)
Contaminated are a death metal crew from Melbourne who have been around for more than a decade now, but who have only just got around to releasing their sophomore, following a full seven years after their debut, Final Man. The man behind the band is Lachlan McPherson who, amongst a number of other projects, is also behind grinders Rawhead, with Contaminated (like Rawhead) originally beginning life as one of his solo projects before being expanded into a full band after the release of his Pestilential Decay demo in 2014.
The band's debut was a cavernous-sounding, raw kind of affair and they have certainly taken huge strides production-wise with Celebratory Beheading. The sound is cleaner and clearer and although I would often see that as a downward step, I think it better fits what the band are trying to get across. The focus here is less on creating a foetid atmosphere than dealing out an object lesson in bruatality, less the lumbering menace of a threat unseen than the more immediate threat of a fist in the face. I guess that Lachy has brought across some of the inherent brutality from Rawhead's grinding, on which he had been concentrating in recent years, which has contributed to making Celebratory Beheading a much more aggressive and violent-sounding album than it's predecessor.
The individual tracks are quite dense, mainly due to a quite heavily distorted guitar sound and a powerful, pummelling drum performance from skinsman Christoph Winkler who is a member of several grindcore outfits such as Internal Rot and Incinerated, where he deals out blastbeats for fun. Vocals-wise, Lachy's bellowing is exceedingly aggressive and he often sounds like he could strip paint off your walls, if not actually tearing them down completely. It's not all hypercharged velocity, however and the band do like to shift down and hit a slower groove from time to time, to add some telling contrast to the more explicit violence of the hi-speed blasting, giving the listener time to gather themselves in preparation for the next blitzkrieg.
Ultimately, this is an album of no-nonsense, raucous death metal, with deathgrind leanings that makes no pretention to being anything other than that and successfully delivers on it's premise of out and out aural violence. Approach it as such and there is much to get your teeth into here.
Wow! I've gotta say that the third full-length from these Finnish death metallers has well & truly blown me away which was perhaps somewhat inevitable given that it falls so clearly within my musical comfort zone. Gorephilia offer a dark & dank take on the classic 1990's death metal model with very little in the way of invention however they simply go about their craft so efficiently & effectively that I'm left feeling similar feelings to those that I first felt as an early teenager while discovering this great genre to begin with. The main influence is clearly classic Morbid Angel although (unlike Ben) I'd suggest that the era in question sits closer to "Blessed Are The Sick" & "Covenant" than it does to "Domination". Its actually pretty obvious a lot of the time too but the execution is nothing short of splendid which gives Gorephilia a strong sense of class & pedigree. Plus, there are a few more strings to Gorephilia's bow than that as they also possess a darker, murkier & slightly doomy Immolation/Incantation vibe that drags the atmosphere deeper into graveyard territory.
The guitar solos are perhaps the weak point as they lack a little finesse & often cross over into out-of-key territory but not in a way that feels intentional. It's more from a lack of understanding. The battering blast-beats, swampy yet powerful guitar tone & monstrous death growls more than make up for them though with the quality of the song-writing improving noticeably as the tracklisting progresses. "Devotion Upon the Worm", "Not for the Weak" & closer "Ark of the Undecipherable" are all devastating examples of modern death metal but the atmospheric interlude "Death Dream" is perhaps my favourite inclusion with its clean guitar arpeggios & eerie yet quite beautiful lead work providing a lovely change of scene before the final deathly assault. "In The Eye Of Nothing" is everything that a death metal band should aspire to be in my opinion & has been so successful in its undertaking that I'd even go so far as to sit it right alongside its more celebrated influences at the table of death metal's more elite performers.
Here's my updated Top Ten Melodic Death Metal Releases of All Time list after being thoroughly impressed with Stortregn's excellent "Finitude" album which has seen Edge of Sanity's "Crimson being knocked out of my list altogether:
01. At The Gates – “Slaughter Of The Soul” (1995)
02. Stortregn - "Finitude" (2023)
03. Carcass – “Heartwork” (1993)
04. Dark Tranquillity – “The Gallery” (1995)
05. Merciless – “Unbound” (1994)
06. Sentenced – “North From Here” (1993)
07. In Mourning – “The Weight Of Oceans” (2012)
08. The Breathing Process - “Odyssey (un)Dead” (2010)
09. Amorphis - "Tales From The Thousand Lakes" (1994)
The sixth full-length from this Swiss outfit is arguably their best & has had me thoroughly engaged over the last couple of days. Forget the tech death talk that's floating around the internet as that tag is not expansive enough to cover Stortregn's sound which sits right in the middle of the space between melodic death metal & progressive death metal with smatterings of Dissection style melodic black metal also entering the equation to go with the really effective raspy blackened vocals. The level of musicianship is wonderfully proficient, particularly the drumming with the ultra-fast blast-beats being astoundingly tight & powerful. I'm not usually a big melodeath fan but I have to make an exception with "Finitude" as it gets the balance of extremity & ambition just right. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I would place it behind only At The Gates' magnificent "Slaughter of the Soul" record for the melodeath subgenre as a whole which I'm aware is a very big call.
So with the start of a new year it's once again time to have a look at the covers for all the releases for each clan. I personally like to rate a whole stack of covers all at once, rather than doing them one at a time throughout the year, as it allows me to get a better feel for where each cover sits in comparison to others. With that in mind, I've just rated every cover for releases in The Horde for 2023.
Below are the releases that are currently competing for the prestigious 2023 The Horde Cover of the Year Award (i.e. they rate at least 3.7 and have 3 or more ratings). The winner will be announced on the 1st of February, so there's still time to get your ratings in.