Monday, September 26, 2016

Six Feet Under - Haunted (1995)

Six Feet Under is a horrible pseudo-Death Metal band that was originally conceived as a side project of members of Cannibal Corpse and Obituary. They even recruited a former member of Death and Massacre. When the idea first came about, supposedly in 1993, this might not have been such a horrible idea, though the sub-genre was either dead or dying by this point already. It took them about two years to finally release their joke of a debut album, Haunted

I remember getting this pile of filth when it came out. Metal Blade promoted the hell out of it, as if it was something special. That was not to be the case. Everything about this is dumbed-down and designed for simple-minded sheep. Chris Barnes seemed to have run out of steam after The Bleeding, as his lyrics were becoming rather redundant by this point. There were a few mildly interesting ideas, but most of this is just really tame and generic. The vocals are also quite dull when compared to the previous year's Cannibal Corpse release. His performance sounds very uninspired and phoned-in for much of the time. Then again, when one examines the boring and often tedious songwriting that he had to work with, it may also be the fault of Allen West. 

Musically, this has to be one of the most stale albums to ever be vomited forth at the feet of unsuspecting listeners. I absolutely despise "groove Metal", and this record is full of it. Haunted features nearly 40 minutes of mid-paced trash that would have been better off in the rubbish bin. Even worse, the album includes a few stolen ideas from West's primary band, Obituary, and not even good ones at that. He lifted some riffs directly from the equally terrible World Demise L.P. Not only are the riffs mundane, but the song structures, combined with the formulaic lyrics and vocals, make this entire endeavour all the more tiring.

While Haunted may be the 'best' thing that Six Feet Under ever released, that is not saying much. Seriously. This simplistic garbage is a mere parody of Death Metal. There is not one shred of darkness or any hint of morbid atmosphere to be found within any of these eleven(!) songs. Something like this may serve as a gateway band for kids that haven't graduated beyond the likes Pantera, but true Death Metal this absolutely is not. Avoid this farce, by all means. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Death - Individual Thought Patterns (1993)

In June 1993, Death returned with their fifth full-length, Individual Thought Patterns. This album just further solidified the fact that Chuck Schuldiner was more interested in honing his technical skills, to the detriment of the actual songwriting. There is absolutely no Death Metal atmosphere to be found here. Between the terrible songwriting and the horrible production, the end result is a pathetic and limp album that serves more as a masturbatory endeavour than anything else. Everything about this is the opposite of the classic albums that made this band so legendary in the first place. 

The inspiration to create something dark and evil had long ago faded from Chuck's being. Listening to what he had to say in interviews around the release of this abomination, he was again going on about how he wasn't "anti-life" and how Death was "just a name". The idea that anyone might associate him with anything dark truly seemed to bother him. That's rather clear from the "Life Metal" lyrics that further destroy any possibility for this collection of weak and non-threatening tracks to have any real Death Metal vibe. As with Human, he said that the lyrics were written with hopes that "people can relate to them". The musical influences that he cited included Queensryche and Watchtower and so on. Listening to this pathetic offering, it's difficult to imagine that these musicians were involved with such albums as Scream Bloody Gore, Darkness Descends and Illusions. Even the faster parts feel so contrived and disingenuous. The riffs are utterly generic and fail to create any kind of feeling at all. Hoglan's drumming is incredibly overactive, but it's not as if his performance takes away from anything since the songwriting is so uninspired. Schuldiner's ability as a guitarist has definitely developed over the years, yet he is still out-classed by King Diamond guitarist Andy LaRocque, whose solos are probably the best parts of the whole album. Even the vocals have deteriorated from the late 80s, sounding more like a girl trying to imitate a Death Metal vocalist than the possessed ghoul from Scream Bloody Gore and the old demos. 

One could lay some of the blame for this atrocity at the feet of Scott Burns, the dimwitted producer that is responsible for the incredibly sterile and plastic sound that afflicts Individual Thought Patterns (and so many other records). Even if Chuck had written a authentic Death Metal classic, the despicable Morrisound production would have rendered it dull and lifeless. The guitar tone on this album is typical of the time period, possessing no edge or heaviness. It's as smooth as can be and, coupled with Schuldiner's weak material, the guitars end up sounding quite fragile at times. The bass is too high in the mix and gives a soft and cartoonish feel to the music. The drumming is just a mess of clicky double-bass that pollutes the whole album, as much the fault of Hoglan's style as anything. 

If you're simply a fan of Schuldiner as a musician, you may not find anything wrong with Individual Thought Patterns. You'll certainly get a fair dose of his typical songwriting. However, judging this as a so-called Death Metal album, it fails miserably. This 'technical / progressive' garbage is a disgrace to the band that once created such classic albums as Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy. If Chuck no longer wanted anything to do with real Death Metal, he should have laid aside the name and continued to make boring Heavy Metal with a new project. Keeping a name that he didn't even like anymore, especially with completely different line-ups and a different musical style, was all about brand recognition and nothing more. Avoid this like the plague. In fact, I need to go listen to the Back from the Dead demo just to cleanse this filth from my ears...

Friday, September 9, 2016

Death - Human (1991)

Released through Relativity Records in October 1991, Human is the fouth L.P. from the legendary Death. Much had happened since the previous album, with Chuck backing out of a planned European tour and putting the remaining members in a tough spot. They went on to tour without him, and some other controversies arose from this that, ultimately, led to him kicking everyone out of the band and starting fresh. Unfortunately, he turned to his progressive/technical friends, Steve DiGiorgio and the two nancy boys from Cynic. The end result is a rather mediocre album that gets more praise than it deserves.  

Chuck had already been distancing himself from his musical past, even as early as the Spiritual Healing tour, playing only one song from the classic Scream Bloody Gore album. He was very vocal in interviews around this time, trying to dispel rumours (many of which turned out to be true). It was said that he wasn't really into Death Metal anymore, which is quite obvious by the changes that one can witness with Human. Musically and lyrically, Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy were just pure Death Metal in its truest form. What followed was a total 'wimp-out', with Chuck choosing to write about "real life issues that people can identify with". Right, because that's what Death Metal is supposed to be about... He even kept pushing the fact that Death was just a name and had no meaning, citing that he was just a young kid when he chose it. This effeminate and weak creature cared way too much regarding what people thought of him, going out of his way to make sure no one thought he was evil because he played in a band with such a name. Gone were the days of zombie rituals, unholy graves and open caskets. With song titles like "Flattening of Emotions" and "Lack of Comprehension", one has to think this is a prime example of what Euronymous was talking about when referring to "life metal". 

Human was a statement against those that claimed that Schuldiner no longer wanted anything to do with Death Metal. The thing is though, if the aggression found here is merely a response to critics, is it still genuine or is this yet another way to corrode the artistic integrity of a band? Doing something just because it is expected or to prove that he could doesn't give the impression that he had a passion for this style, more that he had a reputation to try to clean up. But moving beyond that, what does this record have to offer, musically? 

There are absolutely some great Death Metal riffs, here and there. Whatever his motivation in writing them, the more intense parts are quite good. The songwriting is quite solid, yet this doesn't do enough to combat the many flaws with this outing. Firstly, Human was recorded at Morrisound, meaning that it has that same bland and non-threatening production that was the trademark of scumbag Scott Burns. The guitars have a rather dull tone, too modern and slick for my tastes. Then, of course, a Morrisound production job wouldn't be complete without the annoying, clicky bass drums. The raw and primal vibe of Scream Bloody Gore was long a thing of the past by this point. The primitive feeling is completely gone, exemplified by Reinert's overactive drumming. Chuck described in interviews how he wanted the album to reflect their developing skills, in order to display what they were capable of as musicians. 

No. No, no, no. Making an album is not about everyone having a wank and patting themselves on the back. The purpose is to create, not to show off how technical one can play. Only if it serves the music should one do such a thing. If the atmosphere of the album requires someone to hold back from demonstrating everything that they can possibly do, then that is a sacrifice that must be made for the purity of the music. Just look at Fenriz's performances after Soulside Journey; he could clearly play just as technically sound as the next drummer, but he realized that the style of music he was playing demanded a different approach. Personally, I am not a fan of so-called progressive or technical Death Metal, as I feel that the raw and primitive vibe is an integral part of what makes it Death Metal in the first place, along with the lyrics and the imagery. Human is lacking in all regards. That is not to say that it doesn't have its moments. Again, there are many good riffs and the solos are well done and even Chuck's vocals sound better than the effect-laden performance of Spiritual Healing. It's just too bad that he's whining about personal issues and not exploring darker themes. 

If looked at with less scrutiny, Human isn't a terrible album. In fact, most fans of Death will probably find little or no fault in it. In that respect, it can be enjoyable. The thing is, it's not what it could have been. A gritty production, toned-down drumming and lyrical themes that actually were suited to this kind of music would have made all the difference in the world. Death Metal is not supposed to be so slick and professional and modern, and it certainly should not be polluted with these weak and pathetic lyrics. If "Evil Chuck" was so afraid of being associated with anything dark and had lost the passion for Death Metal, he should have put the band in the grave and gone on to do whatever progressive, melodic garbage he wanted, just under a different name. In my book, Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy are the only essential releases from Death. The rest is negligible. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Grimm - Nordisk Vinter (1993)

Grimm was a Black Metal project that hailed from Norway and released only a single demo before disappearing. I've seen some claim that Grimm was a precursor to Carpathian Forest, though in actuality the latter was already established and had recorded three demos before the former was even formed. It would seem that Nattefrost, Nordavind (credited as Lord Nosferatu and Lord Karnstein, respectively) and others were simply session musicians on the Nordisk Vinter demo, which saw the light of day in September 1993. 

This brief demo starts out with a horror-inspired intro, featuring demonic voices and weird keyboard effects. It runs a little longer than necessary, but doesn't really hurt anything. As for the two primary tracks, the songwriting is very similar that found on Carpathian Forest's Through Chasm, Caves and Titan Woods. The style is rooted in old school Black Metal, with a definite Hellhammer/Celtic Frost influence heard on "The Embrace of the Cold". "Born in the Hands of Doom" is a slower-paced track that has more of a Norwegian vibe to it, reminiscent of early Emperor and leaving the power chords behind in favour of cold tremolo picking. There is also a small shift in the vocals, utilizing a more tormented sound. Both include small bursts of hellish lead solos, here and there, hearkening back to Hell Awaits. The sound quality is pretty decent for a cassette demo. The guitars possess a raw edge and are definitely the central focus. The drumming is certainly audible though never overpowering the rest of the music. The old school style, lacking blast beats, also accounts for some of this. The vocals are definitely one of the best things about this recording, as Nattefrost's sinister voice is really suited for this sort of material. I've said before that he never realized his full potential as a vocalist with the modern production and experimental songwriting that plagued must of his main band's output. 

Nordisk Vinter is a really good demo, though much of that has to be thanks to the involvement of the Carpathian Forest guys, particularly Nattefrost's vocal contributions. Had Grimm evolved into a real band and released more music, with different members, it likely wouldn't have been as good as this. So often I end up saying that it's a shame that this or that band didn't continue on, but sometimes a little one-off recording is enough. Such is the case with Grimm. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Dissection - The Gods of Darkness (1997)

Originally released as a split VHS with the most unworthy Dimmu Borgir, The Gods of Darkness features one of the final gasps of the true Dissection. Recorded live in Köln, Germany on 31 March 1997, this performance is just as solid and possibly even more complete than the one on Live Legacy. The original release included bits of an interview between each song, as well as a video for "Where Dead Angels Lie", none of which are present here. However, the nearly 50-minute live gig is accompanied by three demo tracks from 1994. 

For early 1997, the setlist is pretty much what one would expect. It leans heavily on the Storm of the Light's Bane and Where Dead Angels Lie material. Considering the time constraints that were likely in place, they did quite a good job and still managed to include a couple lengthy tracks from The Somberlain. "Black Horizons" has always been a personal favourite, though seemingly often ignored for some reason, so it is a very welcome addition to this performance. Unlike Live Legacy, there were no technical issues preventing the mighty "Night's Blood" from appearing and giving the disc a more complete feeling. It's too bad, though, that they weren't able to squeeze in a couple more songs, like "A Land Forlorn" or "Soulreaper". 

As for the quality, this is a professionally-done soundboard recording, so you can hear everything very clearly and there is hardly any noticeable crowd noise (even during the quiet parts). That said, of course live renditions of these songs could never completely match the cold sound of the studio albums. That is actually a good thing, here, as it would be rather pointless if they were to mechanically reproduce everything with no variation. A massive part of the charm regarding The Gods of Darkness is the more raw feeling that it possesses. Slight differences in guitar tone, Jon's vocals and even Kellgren's drumming all come together to give a slightly different perspective on these classic songs. It's all a bit more organic, and you can really sense the energy and passion that the band puts into the songs. It must be said that the drumming does not seem quite as crisp and accurate at times, but it is surely difficult for most to match Öhman's talents. 

The bonus material consists of three unreleased demo tracks from 1994. Though the differences between these and the proper album versions are rather subtle, they are enough to create a somewhat unique atmosphere. The backing choir found near the end of "Retribution - Storm of the Light's Bane" accentuates the gloomy feeling of the song. The primary difference would be the more primal and vicious vocals, sounding less restrained and with a somewhat shrill tone at times. Some of the extended screams of "Night's Blood" just somehow adds so much. 

Much like Mayhem, Dissection existed in its classic form all-too-briefly and its output was rather limited. As such, fans must cling on to any and all recordings of these songs, hanging on every detail and nuance. The sound quality is excellent and beats the hell out of other bootlegs, such as Night's Blood. The Gods of Darkness is a perfect companion piece to Live Legacy and offers a more raw and intimate look at this legendary Black Metal band and is absolutely essential listening. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Thule - Der Vinterstormene Raste (1993)

Taake was never a band that particularly impressed me. In fact, Nattestid... was actually rather irritating, despite the praise heaped upon it by others. The bits and pieces that I heard of the two albums that followed did nothing to change this impression. At some point, I decided to pick up the Helnorsk svartmetall compilation, though it also seemed rather lackluster. That is, with the exception of the last two tracks, which were taken from the first Thule demo. Released in 1993, Der vinterstormene raste is easily the best thing that Hoest has ever had a hand in. 

The opening moments of "Et Skaldekvad I Hellig Blod" seem somewhat upbeat, before the catchy rhythm is replaced by a cold and mournful tremolo melody. This is quite typical Norwegian Black Metal, for this period. The riffs are pretty similar to what one would hear from the early demos of Gorgoroth, Enslaved or Urgehal. The lo-fi recording really helps to lend a grim and gloomy atmosphere to the music. Despite the demo-quality sound, the bass is audible and provides a contrast to the cold guitar tone. The combination of the frigid tremolo riffs and sombre bass lines really serves to create a dismal feeling. Near the end of the first track, as the pace slows, the misery washes over you in overwhelming waves. Hoest's vocals are utterly inhuman shrieks, very high-pitched and adding a primal feeling to the music. Svartulv's backing vocals add a hellish vibe as well. The second track, "Rasekrig", continues to build on this harsh and melancholic feeling, with blistering cold sections that give way to dark and dreary melodies that carve through your flesh and leave you to bleed out in the frozen night. 

Der Vinterstormene Raste is such a great demo, really epitomizing the sound of classic Norwegian Black Metal. The music here is cold, bleak, evil and otherworldy; things that have so often been lost on those that try to emulate this style. It is difficult to fathom why Hoest decided to abandon this approach for the more pretentious sound of Taake, for there is just a sense that this was but a harbinger of things to come. As previously stated, these tracks are available on the Helnorsk svartmetall compilation, so they shouldn't be too difficult to find. This is well worth a close listen.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Urgehal - Ferd (1994)

Urgehal was one of the younger bands, emerging onto the scene after the Norwegian Black Metal sound had been firmly established by such well-known antecedents as Mayhem, Darkthrone and Burzum. As with many others that began around this period, their roots went no deeper than their immediate predecessors, lacking the rich tapestry of influences that helped give birth to the aforementioned acts, as well as the likes of Emperor, Dissection or Immortal. Their first demo, Ferd, may seem rather one-dimensional but it is the best thing the band ever recorded. 

Released in December 1994, this offering is highly derivative of another piece of music that first saw the light of day in this cursed year. Of course, the album in question is Darkthrone's masterpiece, Transilvanian Hunger, which was clearly a very important record for the guys in Urgehal. That this album had a significant influence upon this band is absolutely transparent. One could say that Ferd is little more than four tracks, a total of seventeen minutes, of pure Darkthrone worship. In fact, they managed to jump on this 'bandwagon' very early, even beating to the punch such bands as Judas Iscariot and Russia's Branikald. 

Ferd features very minimalist compositions, owing a great deal to Transilvanian Hunger. Each of the four songs consist of a few really haunting tremolo melodies, similar and yet distinct from one another. The style is very repetitive, with little to no variation in the drumming, as well as the uniform picking technique that is utilized. The entire recording maintains a singular pace. All of these elements combine to create a rather hypnotic effect. The vocals are somewhat buried in the mix, leaving the mournful guitar riffs as the main point of focus. The atmosphere is one of impenetrable gloom and hopelessness, with some moments of "Den som jakter i natten" hearkening to Burzum's "Det som en gang var". The latter melody of "Din ofrelse" is reminiscent of Darkthrone's "Slottet i det fjerne", attempting a very similar sort of build. Like those two bands, Urgehal also chose to go with Norwegian lyrics and song titles, though it hardly matters as the vocals do not figure into things in a significant way. 

Despite maintaining what most would call a fast pace throughout this demo, Urgehal display a total lack of intensity. Of course, a somewhat weak sound could result from the production as, after all, it is just a demo tape; however, Ferd has about the same sound quality as Gorgoroth's A Sorcery Written in Blood, and one would never make the mistake of claiming that as a recording that lacked intensity and conviction. The lifeless feeling may very well result from the actual songwriting, as the guitar melodies seem rather similar to those on Branikald's Varg fjerne a tornet and The Cold Earth Slept Below..., by Judas Iscariot. That said, this is not a criticism of Urgehal, but just an observation. The songwriting, playing style and production all serve to beget an overwhelmingly dreary and morose feeling. The monotony of this demo never becomes tedious or boring, something that cannot be said of the more varied songwriting of the unimpressive full-lengths that followed. While Ferd does lack the bitter cold feeling of those albums that inspired it, Urgehal's debut offering is well worth listening to.