Thursday, April 29, 2010

Nergal - The Wizard of Nerath (1995)

In my search for more quality Hellenic Black Metal, from the early-to-mid 90s, I eventually ran across The Wizard of Nerath, by Nergal. I must not have given it my full attention when I first heard a song from this album, as I had no idea what an abomination this really was. I made a critical error in assuming that a Black Metal album, from Greece, released in 1995 would be a safe bet. I was dead wrong.

To begin with, the overall sound isn't bad. But, upon closer inspection, the album is not what it seems to be. It possesses a very similar production to Non Serviam, by Rotting Christ, and Eosforos, by Thou Art Lord. The majority of the riffs are similar, though rather generic by comparison. However, there are a few moments that make you believe that this listening experience is, indeed, worth your time. In all honesty, I would have accepted something that was similar to the aforementioned albums, while being inferior. I wasn't searching for anything so great and majestic; simply another decent slab of Hellenic Black Metal. Unfortunately, the keyboard use on this record is not done in a complimentary manner. As a matter of fact, instead of accentuating the atmosphere, it seems very out of place and even awkward, at times. I'm not one to advocate their use in the first place, but the Hellenic bands always appeared to have a firm grasp on the proper utilization of keyboards. That is not the case with Nergal. Still, even this could be overlooked. But one aspect of the sound cannot be overlooked, nor can it be forgiven: the terrible vocal performance.

It's not uncommon for vocalists to attempt to recreate the amazing vocal style employed by Varg Vikernes, on the early Burzum albums. The problem is that, almost every single time that I have ever heard anyone even remotely trying to emulate this sound, they end up creating something so bloody awful that I can't stand it, at all. Whereas Varg captured a very primal sound that added so much to the music, his imitators always manage to miss something and end up sounding like a little girl screaming at the sight of a spider. The first track, "Timeless Father", is a prime example of this. Usually, this horrible imitation is saved for lame so-called 'depressive Black Metal', so I am spared from such nonsense. It was quite unexpected on this album. There is a little variation in the vocals, but it's all annoying. It's so utterly irritating that I'd rather roll around in razor wire and set myself on fire than to ever even be reminded of this horrendous piece of garbage, ever again.

And while I am airing out my grievances with regard to this ill-conceived joke of an album, I have to wonder what place a track titled "Ljus Mörker" has on an album recorded in Greece by Greek musicians with no ties, whatsoever, to Scandinavia. But, considering the sheer aural terror of this horrific piece of "music", it's a rather small complaint.

In conclusion, The Wizard of Nerath is an album that is severely irritating at best, and beyond atrocious, for the most part. Avoid this cursed abomination like the plague, or like the Hellenic version of Cold Lake.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Death - Spiritual Healing (1990)

If someone put me on the spot and asked me to pick the one album that I feel is the most pure representation of what Death Metal is all about, the first thing I would think of is Scream Bloody Gore. With that album, Death managed to codify everything that Death Metal stood for. A year later, they built on this with their classic sophomore effort, Leprosy. Then, sometime in 1989 or 1990, Chuck Schuldiner began to lose focus and no longer displayed a strong understanding of the very creation that he had played such a crucial role in giving birth to.

The third Death record, Spiritual Healing, marked the beginning of a strange journey. Musically, this album wasn't too far off from the previous one. It's at this point that one can notice that this band progresses in a fairly even manner. Each album sounds like a mixture of the one before and the one after. At any rate, the main changes on Spiritual Healing were the vocals and the lyrics, themselves. There is an annoying vocal effect that is used, throughout the entire album, and it takes away from the atmosphere quite a bit. In the end, it could have been overlooked. But, more importantly, the lyrics took a completely different path from anything related to Death Metal. Instead of lyrics about zombies, gore and horror, we find lyrics that display some sense of social consciousness. The themes include abortion, drug addiction, religious hypocrisy, and even taking shots at those who had been speaking ill of him, personally. All in all, the lyrics have nothing in common with what he'd written for the previous seven years. Gone are the days of "Mutilation" and "Regurgitated Guts". Instead, there's nonsense such as "Defensive Personalities" and "Within the Mind", the latter seeming to be the result of reading too many New Age books. Some would argue that the lyrics and even the packaging are inconsequential and that the music is the only thing that matters. I strongly disagree with this. Ideally, everything should come together to create a certain atmosphere. Lyrics, song titles, album art and even band photos can all do a great deal to add to and accentuate the feeling being conveyed by the music. If one, or more, of these things is not in line with the rest then it detracts from the overall work. It's difficult to come to terms with an album like this one, as the lyrics are much better suited for their Thrash Metal contemporaries. Had Chuck decided to create a new band, around this time, it may have been a better idea in the long run. But to utilize the Death Metal sound and vocal style, yet produce an album bereft of any true Death Metal spirit, it marks a turning point in the career of this legendary band.

Beyond the lyrical concern, there is another matter that must be addressed. The songwriting is still what one would expect from Chuck Schuldiner. There is some progression from the previous album and, as mentioned, this would continue with each subsequent release. However, the music is not as enjoyable as it should have been and the problem has a name: Scott Burns. By this time, Morrisound Studio had become the place to go if you were a Death Metal band. Unfortunately, the employees of this studio were either very lazy or very arrogant. What I mean by that is that once they found a particular sound that they liked, they tried their best to never stray from it. So one could assume that they were too lazy to really put in the hard work to get the very best sound out of every band and to accentuate the individual strengths of each group, or maybe they were so arrogant that they felt they had achieved the 'perfect' sound for this type of music and saw no need to alter it. Compare Spiritual Healing to Blessed Are the Sick, Cause of Death, Deicide, Tortured Existence, etc. Some bands even came from overseas to get this sterile and cookie-cutter sound. Take a listen to Harmony Corruption and Testimony of the Ancients, for example. If you listen to all of these albums, you'll notice that everything seems to run together. In particular, the faster parts are completely interchangeable. The guitar tone and mixing of the drums is practically the same on every album, from around this time. It's not that all of the bands were trying to sound alike; in fact, each one had their own distinct approach to songwriting. The problem was that they all put their fate into the hands of an idiot like Scott Burns, who had no artistic vision, whatsoever. It was all paint-by-numbers for him, and the bands that went to Morrisound did what they felt they needed to, in order to get the sound that people had begun to expect. The typical Morrisound production job smoothed out any and all rough edges and left the end result neutered and 'safe'. Some classic albums were recorded there, but they were all held back by the horrible efforts of Scott Burns. Spritual Healing is no exception to this.

If you can get past the useless lyrics that have absolutely no place in Death Metal, as well as the sterile production, what's left is still quite a competent album with songwriting that is solid and interesting. There are a lot of good, memorable riffs. It can be said that this record is more for fans of Chuck's style of music and fans of Death, itself, rather than people looking for great Death Metal. This was the last album to feature the guys from Massacre. After the tame album that they took part in, they chose to focus on their own project and went on to record From Beyond. Chances are, you're better off picking that one over Spiritual Healing, if it's Death Metal that you are after.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Marduk - Fuck Me Jesus (1991)

Fuck Me Jesus is the first demo release by the Swedish Black Metal band, Marduk. It was recorded in Gorysound Studio and released in June 1991. Not surprisingly, Dan Swanö had a hand in the production of this release. It would be the first of many collaborations between these two. What may be unknown to fans of the band's later output, the sound here is closer to the first Edge of Sanity album than to the rising Black Metal bands in western Scandinavia. At this point, the band had much more in common with the Swedish Death Metal scene, regarding their sound. There is an abundance of thicker, doom-filled riffs that really show no influence from a band such as Bathory. Much like Darkthrone, Marduk didn't alter their sound until their second release.

The demo begins with the intro, "Fuck Me Jesus". Despite being nothing more than a forty-second sample form "The Exorcist", it does well to set the tone, in its own way.

The first real song is "Departure From the Mortals". Immediately, the opening riff sounds like something from Nothing But Death Remains. Soon enough, the mid-paced riffs give way to faster and more vicious riffs that are more in line with the Black Metal spirit, regardless of the production job. There's some minimal keyboard use, adding a bit of a horror feeling, late in the song. As was typical in the Swedish Death Metal scene of the time, its utilization is done in a tasteful manner and accentuates the dark mood being created by the riffs.

"The Black" is next, starting out with fuzzy tremolo riffs and somewhat of a fast pace. This, quickly, transitions into a pure Death Metal riff, complete with drumming. After a few moments, it reverts to a more blasting, Black Metal, approach. The vocals are really the only thing here that is consistent with the Black Metal vibe, as the music goes back and forth. That being said, the material on this demo is a hundred times more interesting than the later albums that this band would be known for. Andreas Axelsson does a good job with the vocals, conveying a frenzied feeling and earning his place as my second-favourite of the Marduk vocalists (just behind Joakim "Af Gravf" Göthberg).

The final full song is "Within the Abyss". It opens with another mid-paced and powerful riff, yet takes little time before things speed up. The sound has a little more crunch to it than on the version found on Dark Endless, which can be said of all the songs. Also, like the rest, the pace is dynamic and keeps the listener interested, doing a good job of creating a dark atmosphere. After all, that is the point. Somewhere along the way, they forgot how to write interesting music and became nothing more than a parody of themselves.

The demo ends with a decent little outro, titled "Shut Up and Suffer". The name doesn't exactly reek of intelligence, but track does its job and brings things to an end.

All in all, Fuck Me Jesus isn't an essential release, as the songs here are not far removed from the versions that would appear on their first full-length; however, it's an interesting listen for fans of the band's early work. I'd definitely recommend this to anyone that hasn't heard the potential that this band possessed, in its early years.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

My Dying Bride - The Thrash of Naked Limbs (1993)

The Thrash of Naked Limbs marked somewhat of a turning point for My Dying Bride. It was recorded in September 1992 and released in early 1993, between their first and second full-length albums. The band's sound had been, gradually, improving with each release. However, this E.P. represented the birth of their classic guitar tone. This sound would remain with them for the next four or five years. It wasn't only the guitar tone, but the overall sound seemed to be slightly cleaner and a bit more full. Whereas the previous material still had more of a raw and harsh production, that which is found on here (and subsequent releases) is more refined. That's not to say that it lacks harshness. Aaron's vocals are still powerful and razor sharp, at times.

The E.P. begins with "The Thrash of Naked Limbs", and there is a dismal feeling present from the very first riffs. The violin accentuates this with its own sorrowful wailing. There is a sense of dread that exists in the riffs; Some songs may create an atmosphere of mourning but here you also get to experience the loss as well. The song is mid-paced and crushingly heavy, destroying your feeble spirit with ease. The brief bits of violin are much like icy daggers tearing into your flesh. There are several changes in pace, as the old tendencies to toss in faster Death Metal parts still remains. It's not as out of place as on earlier songs, and works well to create contrast between that and the absolutely lifeless riff that follows.

"Le Cerf Malade" is an ambient/instrumental track that utilizes some eerie effects to help set a dark mood. It's nothing exceptionally noteworthy, and I would not say that it stands on its own in any way, but it's not a bad addition to this E.P. As a part of the greater whole, it works fine.

The third and final song is "Gather Me Up Forever". It starts with a rather generic Death Metal riff before things slow down to a bleak and hopeless Doom riff. They seem to be onto something for a few moments, before the speed picks up again. I can appreciate the desire to add some sense of dynamics to this, but the faster riffs could have been shortened and still had the desired effect. The slow, miserable riffs are the ones that they should have expanded upon.

"The pain never stops"

In the end, The Thrash of Naked Limbs is a solid release, but I would say that only the title track would be deemed worthy of repeated listens. The original slimcase version of this is long out of print, so try to collect these tracks on the Trinity compilation.