I don't have enough technical knowledge to debate this, so will have to take your word for it, Daniel. I suppose in another five or ten years somebody will be telling me Ride the Lightning and Show No Mercy aren't metal.
I've just given this album some listening and a review because I felt up to checking out one of the most experimental releases in metal. Here we have an avant-garde metal exploration through noise, funk, thrash, and circus music. I agree that there's barely any pure funk here, and I shall give your Hall entry a YES vote.
For the record, I don't consider any of those band's classic releases to be technical death metal. They're all progressive death metal records in my opinion. The incorrect use of the tech death & tech thrash tags has long been a source of annoyance for me & is one that I'd like to clear up in the Academy database at some point but have had to simply accept until such time as we have an avenue to make the required changes.
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.
Swedish melodic blackened death metallers Necrophobic's tenth full-length "In the Twilight Grey" is due for release on 15th March. They've managed to pull together a couple of more than decent albums since 2013's disappointing "Womb of Lilithu" so I'm expecting more of the same here without ever threatening to produce anything of the quality of their mid-90's peak.
The news that Judas Priest are releasing a brand new album next month has made me realise that I never even got around to checking out their last one in 2018's highly praised "Firepower". The newie is called "Invincible Shield" & will no doubt get a fair bit of attention. I'm a fan of new-ish guitarist Richie Faulkner so there would have to be a good chance of some more quality heavy metal with this one too.
I've generally enjoyed my experiences with US speed metal solo act Midnight over the years with both their 2011 "Satanic Royalty" debut album & 2022's "Let There Be Witchery" fifth full-length being worthy of a few listens. Next month will see Jamie Walters releasing his follow-up to "Let There Be Witchery", a release entitled "Hellish Expectations". Might be worth a look I would expect too.
It seems that, like Swallow the Sun's "Moonflowers", Ihsahn has used a full orchestra as backing on his latest album and, like StS did on the "special edition" of "Moonflowers", included an orchestra-only version along with the full version.
I haven't given much thought to Ihsahn for a while now, but Saxy's review has piqued my interest and I will have to check it out sometime.
US industrial metal legends Ministry have yet another new full-length coming out next month under the suggestive title of "Hopiumforthemasses". I believe this will be their gazillionth album if I'm not mistaken. Admittedly the public has generally discarded everything they've done for decades now so I can't see them pulling out an unexpected classic at this point. I think the last Ministry record I actually checked out was 1996's "Filth Pig" though so what would I know.
My introduction to Dutch death metallers Asphyx would come through their 1991 debut album "The Rack", a release that was highly praised within underground death metal circles at the time. I enjoyed it too, enough to explore their 1989 demo tape "Crush the Cenotaph" which was also quite good but I can't say that I ever found enough premium quality to see me lumping Asphyx in with the more elite artists in the thriving death metal scene of the early 1990's. Their 1992 follow-up "Last One On Earth" left me feeling fairly similarly & to this day I've always felt that Asphyx was more of a third tier death metal player that's largely built its reputation off the back of the pedigree of their illustrious front man Martin van Drunen whose prior exploits with fellow Dutchmen Pestilence & subsequent contributions to bands like Grand Supreme Blood Court & Hail of Bullets have seen him placed up on a grisly pedestal of blasphemy & decay by many. I can't say that I've ever rated his vocals as highly as some but I've never had a problem with them either so I guess I'm in a good position to make an unbiased judgement on a record like "The Rack" where Martin also plays bass guitar.
"The Rack" comes from the rawer side of the death metal spectrum with the performances being noticeably unpolished & the song-writing pushing the musicians to perform at a higher level than they were capable of delivering at the time. The guitar work of Eric Daniels (Grand Supreme Blood Court/Soulburn) is pretty basic & lacking in subtlety while drummer Bob Bagchus (Grand Supreme Blood Court/Soulburn) stays well within himself for the most part. These technical limitations are perhaps the reason why the slower, doomier parts of the record work best & it may not be a stretch to suggest that the success of those elements on their early releases may have contributed to the musical direction that Asphyx have chosen to take with their music over the decades since. You see, Asphyx have built their reputation around their ability to incorporate crushing doom riffs into their grimy European death metal sound & there are some very clear examples to be found here on "The Rack". In fact, it's the doom component that I find most attractive about Asphyx with my album highlights inevitably being the doomier inclusions.
While I don't think "The Rack" offers anything terribly life-changing in terms of genuine classics, it's also a very consistent record with no obviously weak songs. Most tracks suffer from the occasional dud riff or two which sees all of the band's best intentions brought back to the pack but none of their creative missteps are drastic enough to warrant you reaching for the skip button. "Diabolical Existence" (my personal favourite), "Ode to a Nameless Grave" & "Pages in Blood" are my picks for the stronger examples of Asphyx's sound but I'd suggest that others might pick alternative tracks given how compressed the quality band is across most of the album.
If I was to provide some points of reference for the early Asphyx sound I'd probably reach for acts like Obituary, Morgoth & Celtic Frost who are all obviously crushingly heavy bands who utilize(d) elements of doom metal within the context of extreme metal. The technical limitations of a young Asphyx do cap the potential for them to reach to upper echelons of the death metal pile for me personally but there's definitely enough here to keep me interested nonetheless & I'd have to say that "The Rack" appeals to me slightly more than 1992's "Last One on Earth" does, mainly because I think it offers one or two more highlights. If I'm being completely honest though, I'd actually take Asphyx's last record "Necroceros" over either of them but none of the three are records I reach for all that regularly.
I've been meaning to get around to Germany's Heavens Gate for some time now as they seem to have built up a pretty reasonable following over the years, particularly off the back of their 1991 sophomore album "Livin' In Hysteria" which is widely known as their finest work. I think the links to power metal & the God-awful cover artwork have put me off a bit but given my recent re-exploration of so many of my musical passions from the period I thought it might be as good a time as any to see what Heavens Gate are all about.
I didn't have any expectations going into my first listen as I hadn't done much prior research but my first impressions would tell me everything I needed to know with Heavens Gate sitting on the cheesier & more cliche-ridden end of metal. Heavens Gate's sound sits right at the mid-point between heavy metal & power metal with "Livin' In Hysteria" including a number of tracks from each genre without opting to blend the two all that often. "The Neverending Fire" is probably the only track that represents a hybrid of the two & is also one of the better tracks on the album. The inclusion of the progressive/neoclassical instrumental piece "Fredless" was most welcome while the other highlights strangely coming in the form of a couple of the cheesier & more chiche-filled heavy metal numbers in "Can't Stop Rockin'" & "Best Days Of My Life". I don't think it'll shock too many people to discover that none of the pure German power metal numbers appeal to me much but neither does the one-off speed metal track "Flashes". Front man Thomas Rettke's vocal histrionics can be grating at times but I feel that he's probably one the main drawcards for fans of the band so it really comes down to your musical preferences. I struggle with him a bit to be honest but he's not a deal breaker as such. The power metal material has clearly been influenced by Helloween which was never gonna be a positive thing for someone like me. I greatly prefer the Judas Priest-inspired heavy metal numbers, even when they take the "arena anthem" format that saw so many fans fall off the Priest train during the 1980's.
Overall, I'd suggest that "Livin' In Hysteria" will offer the most appeal to those with a penchant for bands like Scanner, Rage or Artch that play somewhat of an each-way bet between the heavy metal & power metal sounds but I can't say that it does much for me personally. Records like this one often baffle me as to why people would want to rate them so highly when they're so clearly a representation of the band's influences only not executed with the class of their idols. I guess I'll just have to accept that a record like "Livin' In Hysteria" is simply none of my business as I'm clearly not the target audience.
I finally got around the investigating highly regarded Russian heavy metallers Ария over the last twelve months with both their 1987 third album "На службе силы зла" & their 1989 fourth album "Игра с огнем" offering me a fair bit of enjoyment. With that in mind, I felt that I'd better complete the trio of the band's most celebrated albums with 1991's "Кровь за кровь" & it's once again proven to be worthy of my time. The production is quite raw but is effective nonetheless with the excellent vocals of Кипелов front man Valery Kipelov soaring over the top. The obvious Iron Maiden worship of the band's previous work is still as clear as day although there are very few who can claim to do it as well as Ария do so I'd be lying if I said that I didn't experience some warm feelings of nostalgia while listening to the Russian's take on what were some pivotal records for me as a teenager. The musicianship is excellent throughout, particularly the guitar work of Vladimir Kholstinin & Sergey Mavrin who both prove themselves to be quite accomplished musicians but it's Kipelov that is the clear focal point here with his tone reminding me a lot of Klaus Meine from Scorpions as usual.
"Кровь за кровь" is predominantly a heavy metal record & a particularly metal one it is too I have to say. There's just the one track that veers away towards hard rock in the excellent Dio-esque "Всё, что было". My other favourite moments can be found in the one-two punch of "Антихрист" & "Не хочешь, не верь мне", both of which are high on Maiden worship but are emphatic in their creative statements nonetheless. As usual, there are a couple of failures included too though with "Бесы" & particularly "Зомби" falling short of the mark but this doesn't ruin the party for "Кровь за кровь" as there's still more than enough quality on offer to keep my attention. In saying that, I do feel that "Кровь за кровь" is perhaps the weaker of the three classic Ария albums with its 1989 predecessor "Игра с огнем" being my pick of the bunch. There's not all that much between them in terms of quality or style though so if you enjoy one then you'll likely find enjoyment in the other two as well, particularly if you're a fan of the classic Iron Maiden/Judas Priest heavy metal sound or Kipelov's other band Кипелов.
This week's revisit to Mr. Bungle's self-titled debut album has seen me changing my Top Ten Funk Metal Releases of All Time list a little with Ugly Kid Joe's "As Ugly As You Wanna Be" E.P. being the unlucky release to drop out:
01. Faith No More - "The Real Thing" (1989)
02. Primus - "Frizzle Fry" (1990)
03. Mr. Bungle - "Mr. Bungle" (1991)
04. Faith No More - "Introduce Yourself" (1987)
05. Primus - "Sailing The Seas Of Cheese" (1991)
06. Scatterbrain - "Here Comes Trouble" (1990)
07. Living Colour - "Time's Up" (1990)
08. Mordred - "In This Life" (1991)
09. Infectious Grooves - "The Plague That Makes Your Booty Move... It's the Infectious Grooves" (1991)