Death Metal: A Voyage of (Re-)Discovery

May 03, 2022 10:43 PM

Used to have both the Autopsy & Morbid demos back in my tape trading days. I quite liked the Autopsy one from memory but I don't remember it getting too many revisits. The Morbid one is very solid though & stayed in my Walkman for a fair while afterwards.

Here's my Holocausto review from some time ago:


By the mid-to-late 1980's, the Brazilian city of Belo Horizante had become a small hub of activity for young bands with an appetite for increasingly extreme music; presumably being encouraged by 1985’s split album from local heroes Sepultura & Overdose as well as Sepultura’s 1986 full-length debut “Morbid Visions”. This would see 1987 becoming an important year in the development of the local scene with the next wave of bands graduating to full release status in quick succession. Amongst the pack were several key performers in Sarcofago, Mutilator, Chakal, Exterminator & the subject of today’s review, Holocausto.

So ya know the old phrase that says that you can’t judge a book by its cover? Well it’s fucking lucky that this is generally accepted to be the case because I don’t imagine the cover art for Holocausto’s debut studio album “Campo de exterminio” would instill too much confidence within the context of a modern metal marketplace now, would it? I mean deciding you’ll go with that sort of moniker & then calling your record “Extermination Camp” & putting a picture of a Nazi soldier setting a vicious dog onto a naked & clearly emaciated civilian isn’t exactly something that people would commonly accept these days now, is it? Not to mention the two-minute intro track which samples historical Nazi recordings. But in a way it was a fine representation of just how few fucks Brazil’s extreme metal underground gave back in the 80’s. There didn’t seem to be any rules whatsoever & that is very well illustrated by the music this sleeve contains within too.

Now any Brazilian extreme metal release simply MUST possess a couple of key attributes & the first is a production job that sounds like it was recorded with a handheld Dictaphone & this is certainly true with “Campo de exterminio” but perhaps not to the extent that people seem to make out. Maybe it’s just that I’m revisiting this release through the digitally remastered version that’s available on Spotify (which also includes the bonus track “Massacre” which seems to be a precursor for the war metal subgenre) but I can’t say that I find it terribly easy to match up the online consensus that this is amongst the worst of the worst with the product that’s reached my ears this week. Sure, it’s raw as hell & sounds like a cheap demo tape but it’s not unlistenable by any stretch of the imagination. As is quite often the case with Brazilian death/thrash, the guitars are mixed too low & the drums do their very best to drown out the rest of the instruments but I find that I can make out the riffs most of the time & that’s no mean feat given the messy guitar sound. I mean if there’s one element that gives “Campe de exterminio” its necro feel it’s that ultra-ugly guitar tone which ensures that it’s pretty much impossible for single axeman Valério "Exterminator" to present the results of his toil in anything close to a tidy fashion. If you’ve already conquered the guitar tone on the early Hellhammer & Sodom recordings & are looking for your next challenge then perhaps this might be just the sort of thing you’re looking for i.e. a rhythm guitar tone that would see even the most skilled champions of their instrument struggling to lay down even the slightest hint at complexity.

The second key characteristic of any underground Brazilian death/thrash metal release is a very basic level of musicianship & once again “Campo de exterminio” is often highlighted as being on the more extreme end of the spectrum in this regard. Look I’m not saying that it’s not warranted but perhaps not for the same reasons as most people seem to think. I mean unlike Belo Horizante locals Exterminator, Holocausto do have the physical skills to perform at a reasonable level but this is often obscured by the fact that they appear to have received absolutely no theoretical training. To elaborate a bit on that point, the drum beats employed by Armando "Nuclear Soldier" are reasonably performed & are generally quite powerful however the riffs that they’re accompanying often have no correlation to them whatsoever so you’ll regularly find yourself wondering how the band members ever thought they’d work together. There’s probably not a song on the tracklisting that doesn’t include a riff that makes no sense from a rhythmic point of view & despite coming up with some pretty brutal riffs at times, it's very clear that Valério has never been taught how to count his beats through in his head. It’s actually a miracle that the whole thing doesn’t fall into complete mush a lot more than it does & it’s often up to front man Rodrigo "Führer" to help keep the rhythm of the riffs together through the use of his phrasing. In fact, I’m not even sure how he manages to stay in time himself to be honest so it’s a significant problem that’s been majorly impacted on by the muddy guitar tone which makes it almost impossible to produce a precise performance. Valério’s incompetent use of palm-muting is also a contributing factor though it must be said & it’s left up to Armando to try to hide his deficiencies.

“Campo de exterminio” is generally regarded as sitting somewhere between thrash metal & death metal however I’d argue that this is a legitimate death metal release with Holocausto’s sound being an amalgamation of Sarcofago, early Sepultura & the first couple of Sodom releases. Despite what you may read, there’s not many references to black metal included although the slower sections were almost certainly inspired by Hellhammer & there’s a noticeable hardcore punk streak to a lot of the more brutal tracks included. I think there’s really only one track where I find Holocausto working from a predominantly thrash metal palate (see “Vietna”) with the rest of the tracklisting sporting blast beats, death grunts & frantic tremolo-picked solos. The grim death metal atmosphere is definitely there & that’s the main source of appeal for an old school death metal fanatic like myself. In fact, it makes me really try hard to like this record even when the obstacles are blaringly obvious. Armando’s vocal delivery is a definite positive though & I really enjoy what was a particularly brutal performance for the time with the obvious reference point being the early efforts of Sepultura’s Max Cavalera. Armando’s holocaust-related lyrical themes are not exactly your standard grisly gore-ridden death metal fodder however they’re delivered in Portuguese so I don’t understand them &, given the subject matter, perhaps it’s better that way anyway.

To be honest, I can’t help but be a little disappointed that I haven’t been able to get myself over the line with “Campo de exterminio”. Given my background, I would have thought I was as likely as anyone to be able to get into this ultra-raw & super-primitive South American stuff but the lack of structure & cohesion in the riffs has proven to be too great an obstacle for me so I only end up enjoying about half of the tracklisting. Still… I’d take this record over the Exterminator, Vulcano & Chakal’s releases from the same period so it isn’t the worst example of Brazilian extreme metal I’ve ever heard but my lack of enthusiasm for it has meant that I’ve never considered checking out Holocausto’s other albums & that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

For fans of: Sarcofago, Vulcano & the first couple of Sepultura releases.

3/5

May 09, 2022 07:13 PM

I'm gonna kick off the next phase of my journey with the 1988 Creepshow demo from a band who produced one of my all-time favourite OS death doom albums, Sempiternal Deathreign:

Sempiternal Deathreign - Creepshow EP (1988)

I'm not completely sure, but Sempiternal Deathreign may well have been the first Dutch extreme metal band, but they did release one of my favourite early death doom albums in 1989's The Spooky Gloom. Anyway before that they released this demo in 1988. The sound isn't bad at all, especially seeing as SD favour a fairly raw sound anyway and it is absolutely packed with bottom end that is a trademark of early OSDDM. Half of the runtime is taken up by seven and a half minutes of the first track Devastating Empire Towards Humanity which may well be the first genuine death doom classic and was destined to become the centrepiece of their one and only album. Slow, tortuous and evil-sounding as fuck, the death growls are impressive, particularly as guitarist/vocalist Frank Faase was only fifteen at the time of recording! Although it is raw and needs some polishing, this is a genuinely great track to kick off.

The four tracks of the B-side are much shorter affairs, the longest clocking in at just under two and a half minutes. The shorter runtimes make for more out and out death metal affairs (and these definitely ARE death metal) they pack a hell of a punch, particularly the fifty seconds of Unperceptive Life which is the only other track here to make the full-length. A pretty impressive demo from a young band that should have gone on to bigger and better but sadly disappeared too quickly.

4/5

May 09, 2022 10:25 PM

I can't say I've heard the Sempiternal Deathreign demo Sonny. I might have to check it out at some point as I've always had time for "The Spooky Gloom".

Ben
Ben
The Fallen The Horde The North The Pit
May 10, 2022 04:21 AM


I can't say I've heard the Sempiternal Deathreign demo Sonny. I might have to check it out at some point as I've always had time for "The Spooky Gloom".

Quoted Daniel

What he said. :+1:

May 13, 2022 12:51 PM

As I journey through 1988 I am going to concentrate more on official releases and leave the demos behind as they were now so prolific that it is hard to assess which were actually of any real significance in development of the scene. That said, there weren't a huge amount of death metal full-lengths released in 1988. I am going to start with Incubus' Serpent Temptation which, as will unfold during my review I don't think contains much actual death metal, but I have included as 1) A great album in it's own right and 2) an illustration of where I feel thrash reaches it's limits and death metal then takes over.

Incubus - Serpent Temptation (1988)

I hadn't heard Incubus/Opprobrium before this and was only dimly aware of the name (as Opprobrium). Well that appears to be a great shame because this debut full-length is serious slab of deaththrash. The band was formed in Louisiana in 1986 as Incubus by Brazilian-born brothers Francis (guitar and vocals) and Moyses Howard (drums). The trio is rounded out with bassist/vocalist Scott Latour. The brothers Howard rip through eight face melters in thirty-seven minutes of unrivalled intensity - I mean, these guys really let fucking rip! Truth be told, this is definitely more thrash than death, but it is as intense a thrash metal album as you could ever hope to hear and has gatecrashed into the upper echelons of my personal thrash metal ranking list. This is seriously fast thrash, with lightning fast solos and insane riffs that in all likelihood would leave Slayer lagging behind. Despite the crazy speed, Moyses is more than capable of keeping time behind the kit and turns in as impressive a performance as you could hope for and may well be the fastest thrash drummer I have ever heard. Without his technical ability the songs may well have degenerated into a mess and his contribution is one of the triumphs of the album. Latour's vocals are of the rasping, barking style that sits somewhere between thrash and death metal vocalisation and works very well within the context of all this velocity.

Admittedly the album is slightly front-loaded, the four tracks of side A being absolute killers and Side B struggling a little to maintain the sheer intensity. Don't get me wrong, this is all relative, but the sheer adrenaline rush of side A is difficult for the B-side to replicate, even though it still has it's moments - the title track for example is ridiculously quick. Overall I would say this contains little actual death metal, but does illustrate exactly how near to it thrash metal could get without actually crossing the line. Oh and did I mention that it is christian-themed? No? Well it doesn't matter anyway, other than proving that the devil doesn't have all the best tunes.
4.5/5

May 13, 2022 01:39 PM

Bolt Thrower - In Battle There Is No Law! (1988)

At last us Brits finally get involved in the development of death metal, showing those Yanks that England's Midlands isn't yet a spent force in the world of metal and you don't need Floridian sunshine to play death metal when you've got the rain-drenched, overcast skies of Coventry hanging over you! The Midlands already had an extreme metal scene with Birmingham's legendary grindcore outfit Napalm Death hailing from only a few miles distant from Bolt Thrower's native Coventry. Now Bolt Thrower have always been one of my favourite death metal bands and are one of the few I actually enjoyed at the time, having first encountered them on legenday UK DJ John Peel's evening show performing one of their numerous sessions (probably around the time of the debut's release) so this isn't my first real encounter with In Battle There Is No Law!

The d-beat influences from fellow Midlanders Discharge as well as the grindcore of Napalm Death are plenty evident on Bolt Thrower's debut album. The production is very crust-punk with a lo-fi, echoey and muddy sound that would actually become quite a big part of early death metal (and particularly death doom - see my comments on Sempiternal Deathreign's demo). The black and white pen-drawn cover is another nod to their crust punk roots and influences. They play ridiculously quickly and very loosely, almost verging on sloppily, very much as a result of the Discharge / Napalm Death influence on their early work and their sound is built on a massive bottom end. Their lyrical obsession with war and it's effects are evident even this early on with tracks like the title track, Attack in the Aftermath and Nuclear Annihilation describing the numbing effects of war on the human psyche.

In Battle There Is No Law! is a raw and visceral slab of UK metal history that illustrates the development of a different branch of the death metal tree as a result of influences that are separate from the US experience of early death metal and show that DM did not spring from a singular root, but is rather a product of different influences from a diverse set of locations. Personally I love this kind of shit, but it IS quite different from the likes of Death and Morbid Angel and sounds much more DIY with a demo-ey feel to it that may not appeal to everyone.

4/5


May 13, 2022 01:47 PM

Death - Leprosy (1988)

I think the most interesting thing about Death and Chuck Schuldiner is their/his absolute refusal to sit on his laurels and keep rehashing the same tropes over and over, but rather to continuously drive his band's development forwards. I must confess to being in the minority who prefer Death's earlier, more brutal and straightforward death metal material to their later more progressive leanings, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate Chuck's compulsive need to improve and expand his music and the enormous impact and influence that had on what was still essentially a fledgeling genre.

As was common on all Death albums, there were wholesale lineup changes between Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy. Chris Reifert had vacated the drum stool to form Autopsy and was replaced by Massacre skinsman Bill Andrews whilst fellow Massacre member, guitarist Rick Rozz, who had played with Chuck when Death were called Mantas, also joined up. Lineup changes aren't the only difference between the two albums - gone are any remnants of the thrash riffs that still remained on SBG, Leprosy being most definitely founded on death metal riffs. Lyrically there is a shift in focus from the violence and gore of the debut to an existential and philosophical examination of death - the futility of death in war (Left to Die), the effects of death on the living (Open Casket), the (still) thorny question of assisted dying (Pull the Plug) and, most poignantly considering Chuck's ultimate fate, the debilitating physical and mental effects of disease (Leprosy).

One of the main discussions of Leprosy centre around the drum sound and the technical deficiencies of skinsman Bill Andrews. Now, as far as the former goes, that pronounced, oh-so eighties snare sound is a minor annoyance and is a negative for me, albeit possibly not to the extent it is for some other commentators. I have also seen Andrews lambasted for technical ineptitude, but I for one am definitely in no position to comment in that respect. He seems functional enough to me and although it seems apparent he would probably struggle with any high velocity blastbeats, his actual performance isn't such a huge problem to my non-musician's ears as it seems to be for other, more knowledgeable, reviewers. As far as rhythmic functionality goes, Chuck's basslines do what is required and no more, quite often just following what the guitars are doing. The addition of Rick Rozz as second guitarist is a big plus for Leprosy over Scream Bloody Gore. I think if Rozz was on the UK's quiz show Mastermind his specialist subject would be "the guitar solos of Kerry King" as his soloing style seems very much in the style of the Slayer axeman. I must add the caveat that, although he does mimic Kerry King's style, he seems technically and creatively better as his solos retain the aggressive urgency of King, but are also more expansive and more adeptly executed - the solo in the middle of Open Casket for example begins in classic King style, but then develops well beyond those confines and ends up as a real killer.

Leprosy still contains a huge amount of aggression and sheer adrenaline-rush riffing, but it is also a tighter and occasionaly more melodic album. The songwriting, whilst still being far from progressive in nature as on Death's later work, has a bit more variety and complexity than the debut and does serve as an indicator of Chuck's ambition amd musical trajectory. Despite these differences between Death's first two albums I enjoy them both equally, but probably for different reasons - the sheer exuberance and irreverence of the debut and the more highly polished and greater ambition of the follow-up both deserve high praise. On a historical note, Leprosy was apparently the first death metal album recorded at the legendary Morrisounds studio where so many death metal classics were birthed.

4.5/5

May 13, 2022 02:15 PM

Hey there, Sonny! Glad to see a fellow Death reviewer on the move as well. I'm more focused on their progressive era but that's OK. We each have our own death metal voyages.

May 14, 2022 04:02 AM

"Serpent Temptation" was a big record for me during my early tape trading days. I hadn't thought about it for many years until Ben checked it out randomly a couple of years ago & reminded me about it. I need to give it a proper revisit some time soon.

I got into Bolt Thrower through their 1989 sophomore album "Realm Of Chaos" which I found to be a really solid piece of English death metal. When I ventured back to check out "In Battle There Is No Law" a short time later it sounded a little weak in comparison but over time I came really enjoy it. Perhaps not as much as it's follow-up but it's a very solid record in it's own right, particularly for the time. It's been decades since I heard it now though so it's also overdue for a revisit.

"Leprosy" was my introduction to death metal some time in the first half of 1989, a moment that I regard as a pivotal time in my life. I was a total thrasher at the time & I'm not gonna say that I rated "Leprosy" as highly as the thrash classics like "Reign In Blood", "...And Justice For All", "Bonded By Blood", "Beneath The Remains", etc. but it was certainly a very strong offering which I got a ton of enjoyment out of & it definitely opened me up to the classics that would grace my ears over the next couple of years & redirect my future into more extreme territories forever. 4/5

May 16, 2022 06:01 PM

Now I've reached 1989 on my death metal journey and it is at this point that I realised exactly how many of these earliest death metal albums I not only enjoy, but actually own on CD. Seven Churches, the first two Death Albums, The Spooky Gloom, Into Darkness, Symphonies of Sickness and the first two Autopsy albums all grace my shelves along with Soulside Journey, the Morbid Demo, Entombed's Clandestine and Baphomet's The Dead Shall Inherit which all-in-all constitutes the bulk of my death metal collection. I mention this only to illustrate my realisation that I was perhaps never as divorced from death metal as I believed I was, only from some of it's later iterations. But as I am really enjoying this project I am still going to continue (at least until I get as far as finishing the Horde first era clan challenge anyway!)

Anyway, on with the show:

Autopsy - Severed Survival (1989)

I have made no secret of my love of Autopsy and especially their sophomore album, Mental Funeral. In truth Severed Survival, whilst not quite sitting as high in my estimation as the follow-up, is still a brilliant slab of early death metal and is one of the first to go down the doomier route, alongside previously mentioned Dutch crew Sempiternal Deathreign and New York's Winter. I don't want to overplay the doom elements of Severed Survival as they are nothing like as prevalent as on Mental Funeral, but they are definitely present, especially in the prominence of the deep, rumbling bass sound and the playing of future Testament bassist Steve DiGiorgio who turns in a performance that would make bass legend Geezer Butler jealous and stamps his mark indelibly all over this album. The Sabbath influence doesn't end there either, with a number of tracks such as Disembowel, Impending Dread and Critical Madness containing Sabbath-like riffs, at least in small measure before the inevitable faster-paced sections kick in.

As we are all aware Autopsy founder Chris Reifert was a member of Death and featured on Scream Bloody Gore, but as Chuck Schuldiner started looking to move in a more progressive and technical direction he bailed and I think this debut illustrates exactly why - it is obvious that Chris desired to go in a more extreme direction, emphasising the necrotic filthiness of this new sound and really putting the death into death metal, complete with doubling down on the horror and gore-themed lyrics just as Death started to move away from them. Reifert's drumming is totally in synergy with this direction and his stickwork sometimes sounds like a man beating a rotten carcass with two severed arms! Vocally he has become gruffer and his growls now resemble more fully the deep rumbles that became a mainstay of the early death doom sound and he seems to become more evil-sounding on every release.

The downtuned guitars pull off the trick of sounding loose and even messy, when in fact they are pretty tight and technically adept, but they just make the riffs sound so fucking sick! The riffs aren't just a matter of blasting the balls off everything that moves, as I said there are nods to doom metal riffing, but even at their most frantic they are still recognisable and fairly memorable - Gasping for Air and the title track should still be bouncing around your noggin long after the disc has stopped spinning. With Severed Survival Autopsy signalled an intent to come up with the filthiest, most rotten- and foetid-sounding metal that had ever seen light of day and although that would take another album to accomplish their debut certainly set them well on their way.

May 16, 2022 09:26 PM

My review of "Severed Survival":


Most death metal fans know the story. 18 year-old drummer Chris Reifert joins seminal death metal legends Death in San Francisco in 1986 before taking part in the recording of one of the most important records in the creation of the death metal genre in 1987’s “Scream Bloody Gore”. Death band leader Chuck Schuldiner then decides to move back to Florida & gives Chris the option to relocate. Chris elects to stay in San Francisco & forms another one of the classic old-school death metal bands in Autopsy in August 1987. 1988’s “Critical Madness” demo sees the band signing with UK crust punk label Peaceville Records for the recording of their seminal 1989 debut album “Severed Survival” & the world rejoices. It’s somewhat of a fairytale for a number of reasons really. I mean for every band that goes on to critical & commercial success you’ll find a slew of failed musicians that fell by the wayside never to be heard from again & it’s actually quite rare to see this sort of success story (although there are definite parallels to the Dave Mustaine one with Metallica & Megadeth). And for Peaceville, it would be a change of musical direction that would quickly lead to the creation of a viable full-time business & one that is still going strong a full three decades later. But is “Severed Survival” all that it’s cracked up to be? Let’s find out.

The recording of Autopsy’s debut full-length would be a joint effort with Peaceville bringing in Metal Church guitarist John Marshall to co-produce the record at Starlight Sound Studios in California in January 1989. Marshall had previously produced not only Metal Church’s “Blessing In Disguise” record but also Sadus’ 1988 debut full-length “Illusions” so when Autopsy bassist Ken Sorvari made himself unavailable for the recording of the album for personal reasons, the now legendary Sadus bass virtuoso Steve DiGiorgio was drafted in to complete the recordings as a hired gun. I think it’s probably fair to say that Steve had no idea of just how prominent a role he would play in the way that Autopsy’s album would sound at the time.

The “Severed Survival” album would be released on 24th April 1989 & would sport some grisly cover artwork that depicted an image of some poor soul being torn limb from limb by a number of metallic hooks. Autopsy’s moniker would be displayed in what looked like raw meat which would be a further indication of the depraved sounds you were likely to hear within. It’s a fairly cheap looking effort it has to be said & later re-releases would see it replaced with a much more impressive illustration of some zombified surgeons peering down into the eyes of some unfortunate patient. I greatly prefer the look & feel of the re-release as it looks much more glossy & professional which would see it competing quite well in the extreme metal market environment of the time which saw every band & their dog coming up with increasingly attractive images of pure darkness.

The sound that was captured for the “Severed Survival” album was unlike anything the underground metal scene had heard before & it would go on to become a signature sound for Autopsy throughout their career. It was much sludgier & substantially less precise than most 80’s metal with a huge emphasis being placed on creating a genuinely disturbing atmosphere of death & torture that’s not too dissimilar to the image shown on the original release of the album. In fact, "Severed Survival" legitimately sounds like you’re inside the twisted mind of a serial killer in that it exudes an unsettling feeling of impending doom throughout. In order to achieve this, Marshall & the band have opted for a much sloppier & looser feel than most metal bands of the time were going for & in hindsight it was a stroke of genius. The drums were tuned quite loosely to give the toms & kick drum a deep tub-thumpin’ sound while DiGiorgio’s bass guitar would be elevated right to the front of the mix to provide additional emphasis to Autopsy’s already crushing riffs which were presented with a very distinctive & fuzzy rhythm guitar sound. The guitar solos of Eric Cutler & Danny Coralles seer over the top of the rhythm tracks thanks to a heavily filtered tone that was likely achieved with a stationary wah pedal if I’m not mistaken. Truth be told, it’s a really great sound for death metal & I don’t doubt that it was one of the primary reasons that “Severed Survival” would go on to be so successful for Autopsy.

Musically, Autopsy also offered the death metal community something a little different. The basis of their style was built on the “Scream Bloody Gore” model of old-school death metal that Reifert had played such a strong part in creating only Autopsy were a lot less sophisticated than peers like Morbid Angel, Pestilence or Death. There’s a much punkier vibe going on here than anything we’d hear from those bands & I put a lot of that down to Reifert’s drumming. I probably should have mentioned it earlier but Chris is one of the rare metal drummers that also handles the lead vocal duties & I’d suggest that his signature style is the logical outcome of that arrangement as it’s fairly simple. His best work invariably occurs when he goes for a more tribal feel during Autopsy’s doomier moments but I have to admit that his more up-beat & punk-driven beats are a bit of a let-down for me personally. They’re just not my thing particularly. I much prefer Autopsy’s strong use of slow dirge-like doom metal riffs with bands like Black Sabbath & Trouble clearly having made a substantial impression on the band. In fact, it can easily be argued that “Severed Survival” is the true birthplace of the doom/death subgenre as it’s such a major component of what makes Autopsy so appealing. I absolutely love the crushingly heavy & suffocating darkness in these parts & it’s the uneasiness it leaves the listener feeling that makes it so appropriate for a band whose lyrical themes are so heavily centred around serial killers. When you stick in the occasional off-beat arrangement with clever transitions & some very twisted lead harmonies you’re left with one beast of a death metal sound.

The performance of Steve DiGiorgio isn’t one of his most challenging & experimental but he certainly adds an additional layer to Autopsy’s already disturbing sound. His bass work is truly punishing & I particularly enjoy his use of bass chords at key moments which makes for something a little different. I’d highly recommend that you make sure you have a decent set of speakers before giving “Severed Survival” a spin though as you could be in for a rude shock otherwise. Cutler & Coralles show off some decent chops during their solos however I do think that there’s a little bit of a lack of ambition in their faster solos which tend go for a huge flurry of notes without really saying all that much. Their slower lead work is much more interesting as their note-selection can be quite unnerving at times.

Reifert’s vocals were always going to be a talking point because there’s been very little restraint shown in his approach. I wouldn’t say that he goes for your classic death metal grunt. His performance here sounds more like the crazed bellows & barks of an emotionally tortured & psychologically twisted serial killer. It’s almost like he’s too embarrassed for people to decipher the storylines he’s subjecting us to because I’ll be damned if he isn’t intentionally trying to make his language less intelligible. I have to admit that I don’t love his delivery & I’ve often wondered what Autopsy could have achieved with a full-time front man but it’s definitely worth dwelling on Chris’ sick, gore-soaked lyrical content for a minute because “Severed Survival” would be the record that would kick off a generation of subsequent death metal bands working predominantly with a palate of disgusting & offensive filth…. in a good way of course! Some may say that we’re better off for not being able to understand what Reifert’s saying & one look at the lyrics should tell you very quickly which side of the fence you fall on.

Ultimately I’m always left with mixed feelings about “Severed Survival” & it’s been that way since I first encountered it back in 1989/90. I love Autopsy’s swampy sound & the authentic atmosphere of pure death it pervades. They really did create something very original there & their talent for writing the eeriest doom metal riffs imaginable leaves me wishing that they would have taken that direction in more of a full-time capacity just the once so that I could see what it might have amounted to. Unfortunately, I just don’t find their bouncier up-tempo material even half as appealing & almost every track sees some glorious doom material being tarnished by one or two lethargic & unintimidating punk-driven beats. The overall result is that whilst I enjoy almost every track on “Severed Survival”, I very rarely LOVE any of these tracks. It’s only really “Charred Remains” & “Ridden With Disease” that manage to overcome this issue & for this reason I find this release to be the very epitome of a 3.5/5 release by my rating system. I’m not sure I’d say that “Severed Survival” is overrated. The influence it's so clearly had on a band like Carcass is undeniable so I think it's more just a matter of it not quite fitting in with my comfort zone despite being a generally rewarding listen.

For fans of: Asphyx, Abscess, Pungent Stench.

3.5/5

May 17, 2022 05:08 PM

Sempiternal Deathreign - The Spooky Gloom (1989)

Dutchmen Sempiternal Deathreign's total official output is the six tracks spanning thirty-five minutes of this, their one and only album, The Spooky Gloom, which has got to make them one of death metal's most underground outfits. In truth it sounds little better than a glorified demo, but considering the type of ugly, stinking death metal that SD play this is in no way as much of a hinderance as you would think. The Spooky Gloom is an album of doom-influenced death metal with a couple of fairly long tracks, opener Creep-o-Rama clocking in at nearly nine minutes and the brilliant Devastating Empire Towards Humanity, which should be recognised as an early classic in my opinion, at almost eleven. It is punctuated by a couple of shorter, punchier more straightforward death metal offerings, Resurrection Cemetery and Unperceptive Life, which clock in at around two minutes and inject a shot of adrenaline amongst all the filth-ridden doominess. The two longer tracks constitute the first and larger part of the album with the aforementioned Resurrection Cemetery being lodged between them. Being released just a few months after Autopsy's Severed Survival which dabbled with Sabbath-influenced riffs, I think this may be the first true official death doom release. The big draw for me, with my history of doom-worship is obviously the longer, doomier material, but I think it's fair to say that when SD let rip on the punchier, straight-up death metal stuff then they could hold their own.

The band were a three-piece from Gouda in The Netherlands and were apparently all cousins, forming in 1986 and disappearing almost as soon as this debut was released. Drummer Mischa Hak and bassist Victor van Drie went on to join Eternal Solstice and guitarist/vocalist Frank Faase (who was sixteen years old when The Spooky Gloom was recorded) joined Sinister for a very short spell before disappearing from the (recorded) music scene. When The Spooky Gloom was released I think it is fair to say that there wasn't another album like it and that it paved the way for a particularly successful sub-genre of death metal and is extremely important in the development of death doom. The lead guitar is a bit thin sounding it's true and a beefier production job may have aided the doom-ridden vibe, but as it stands it sounds decidedly necro and that isn't necessarily a bad thing in my view. It obviously won't appeal to everyone, especially those raised on modern production values, but for those who prefer to dwell in the foetid sewers of the extreme metal underground it is both a historically important and a damn impressive slab of early, no-fucks-to-give death metal and as such I recommend it to the members of the jury!

4.5/5

May 17, 2022 11:12 PM

Cool review, Sonny! Coincidentally, I was already thinking of giving the first 3 official death-doom releases a listen, including that Sempiternal Deathreign album, as part of my own ongoing death metal rediscovery.

May 18, 2022 04:14 AM

As I said earlier, I've always enjoyed "The Spooky Gloom" although I don't think my attention was fully drawn across to the doom/death subgenre until I heard Winter's shortly afterwards. In saying that, it's been many years since Sempiternal Deathreign & I crossed paths so perhaps it's time to remedy that.

May 18, 2022 03:47 PM

Another fortuitous by-product of this exploration of early death metal I have been undergoing is that it is helping to plug some of the gaps in my physical collection and today's subject is one of my most egregious omissions, which I am now pleased to say i have now resolved (thanks to Mr. Bezos and his extremely convenient online shopping experience!)

Said subject is, of course, one of the most important albums in the history of death metal:

Morbid Angel - Altars of Madness (1989)

OK, so I am quite reluctant to comment on Altars of Madness as it is undoubtedly one of the most highly-regarded of all death metal releases and I am not sure I can do it justice, but as it is a seminal release in the death metal canon I will have to try and do my best. I came to it quite late in the day, early on in my reintroduction to metal, around the turn of the millenium via a work colleague who was into Morbid Angel and Deicide and was kind enough to lend me a few of his CDs, Altars of Madness among them. So does it merit all the praise that is heaped upon it? Yes it absolutely does as this sets a whole new level of evilness and intensity for metal at this point in it's evolution and pretty much writes the manual for death metal going into the 1990s.

Firstly the songwriting is phenomenal, each track being immediate and vital and yet each retaining an individuality and identity that is rarely maintained to such a level in extreme metal, making each a memorable classic that doesn't just become part of the overall album's morass of sound but which stand out in their own right. Next, the guitar sound is phenomenal - I swear there are four or five guitars playing sometimes, such a sweeping hurricane of sound are we faced with. The riffs are fantastic and the solos, whilst being rooted in the example set by Slayer's Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, take this tortured style of soloing to a new level. Pete Sandoval's drumming is relentless and is technically brilliant as he employs every weapon in his arsenal to take metal drumming to a new heights with superb fills and proto-blastbeats that more than just keep time. Bassist/vocalist Dave Vincent snarls and growls his way through the unholy and blasphemous lyrics (which are probably the most predictable part of the whole album) with a demonic-sounding relish.

Even with all this amazing songwriting and musicianship, that still isn't the whole story of Altars of Madness. The cover art is fantastic with the leering mass of demons that seem to be forming and reforming from some kind of primordial protoplasm, some looking evil and savage, others looking mischievous and humourous and yet more looking merely demented. It is the sort of album cover you could study for ages and still find something new hidden within - a bit like the album itself. The details are also where it's at with AoM, the backwards-playing riff that introduces the album opener Immortal Rites and the demonic laugh Dave Vincent unleashes at the start of Maze of Torment both add to the immersion of the album and these small details help to elevate Altars of Madness in the minds of it's advocates.

All in all I would definitely agree with those who claim this as one of the greatest and most influential death metal albums of all time and I must concur that it more than deserves it's position on the highest pedestal of extreme metal classics.
5/5

May 18, 2022 07:56 PM


Another fortuitous by-product of this exploration of early death metal I have been undergoing is that it is helping to plug some of the gaps in my physical collection and today's subject is one of my most egregious omissions, which I am now pleased to say i have now resolved (thanks to Mr. Bezos and his extremely convenient online shopping experience!)

Said subject is, of course, one of the most important albums in the history of death metal: