The Coroner’s Report - Delve Deep Into The World Of Death, Black & Thrash Metal
By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Thursday, September 26, 2002 @ 1:27 AM
As part of In Flames’ short fall headlining tour of America, grim-faced Finns Sentenced are making their second trip to the states. Hopefully it will go a bit smoother than their first. Two years ago, the band flew all the way here just to play one gig -- a showcase at the March Metal Meltdown in New Jersey. And for all that travel and effort, all they got to show for it was 20 minutes of stage time -- and a hard lesson in what a clusterfuck American festivals usually are.
“It was pretty interesting,” frontman Ville Laihiala notes sarcastically. “We spent like three days at this motel drinking and waiting for the show and finally got there and played four songs and that was it. The whole thing, it was like a joke, no one seemed to know anything about anything, there was a fire alarm that fucked the schedule up and just when we got rolling we had to stop because of a curfew or some shit like that.” This time, however, instead of 100 bands vying for fleeting performance time, Sentenced will be part of a four-band package playing good sized-clubs and Laihiala is confident things will go a hell of a lot more smoothly. This despite the fact that the last time Sentenced toured with In Flames, two years ago in Europe, it nearly split up the band. “At the end of the tour with In Flames, supporting the last album Crimson, things kind of got ugly,” he said. “We started to fight with each other. We’ve always done album tour, album tour, album tour and it was just getting to be too much, it just didn’t feel good anymore. So we decided to take a break for like seven months not doing anything musically. Just living our lives.
“If we would have continued touring this band wouldn’t exist anymore. It was starting to get bad. But we never really considered the option of ending this all because it still means a lot of us, this band, and album by album we are gaining new fans and more success.”
The band’s seventh album, The Cold White Light (Century Media), was issued in July and already is looking like Sentenced’s most successful work. It debuted at No. 1 on the Finnish album charts and earned a gold record for them at home. It’s done well throughout the rest of Europe where the band has toured extensively as well.
With the band finally backing up an album with a tour here, Sentenced’s underground status is sure to climb in the states after more than a decade of work. Crimson earned the Oulu-based band a good deal of notice, but its unrelentingly sorrowful tone and leaden presentation also cemented their reputation as “The Suicide Kings.”
Laihaila does his best to shrug the tag off, pointing to the brighten tone and more spirited performance on Cold White Light. Yet with the album sporting tracks like ”Cross My Heart And Hope To Die,” “Excuse Me While I Kill Myself” and “Luxury Of A Grave,” his argument’s a tough sell.
“We’re presented often as a suicidal band,” he said with a shrug. “People aren’t that stupid, they will see and hear it’s much more than just blowing your brains out. We’re actually singing more about life than death. But it’s just our weird Finnish way to dress the songs with death and depression, that’s the way Finnish people are. We’re trying to enjoy life like everyone else.
“There’s a weird twist of positivity on some songs like ‘Brief Is The Light,’ so it’s kind of new for us,” he adds. “We’re not taking ourselves too seriously anymore. The last album, I’m not putting it down, but I guess it was a bit too dark even for us.” * * * DARK TRANQUILLITY: Energy Anew
Joining Sentenced on the In Flames tour will be Sweden’s Dark Tranquillity, who are making their first voyage to America after a decade of steady progress -- and some dazzlingly diverse music -- in Europe. If the band is a bit of a mystery to all but the most import-savvy underground fans here, it’s no wonder. Before signing with Century Media in 1999 for the Projector album (which was nominated for a Grammy in Sweden), Dark Tranquillity had deals with Osmose Productions and Spinefarm Records which had little or no American presence.
Now the veteran Gothenburg sextet are making up for the lost time. And they are supporting a superb new album, Damage Done (Century Media), that ties together the many elements that have distinguished their ever-evolving sound.
These guys have been around since the early ‘90s -- In Flames frontman Anders Friden sang on their 1993 debut Skydancer. And the band has dipped its toe into everything from the buzz-sawing grind that typified the “Gothenburg sound” popularized by Entombed and Dismember to intricate technical metal, melodic power metal and electronic/industrial experimentation, especially on 2000’s Haven.
“Going into this, we knew we wanted to make something and aggressive,” frontman Mikael Stanne said. “We wanted to go back and get some of the energy we had for (1995’s) The Gallery and (1997’s) Mind’s I.”
After all the complexity and technology of their two previous albums, Stanne said the band rediscovered the simple joys of their more straight-forward earlier material. Damage Done captures the best of both worlds. The musicianship is stellar but not showy, the material is inventive but engaging and consistently heavy -- Stanne’s grizzly-bear vocals are especially ferocious -- and the keyboards and programming adds depth without sacrificing power.
“Because we are six people with very different interests, influences and opinions, it can be a struggle to put our albums together,” he said. “But this time we were all on the same page and it’s never been easier for us to write an album than this one.” It’s never sounded better, either. * * * HATE ETERNAL: Out From Under Morbid Angel’s Wing
By now, you’ve no doubt heard that guitarist Erik Rutan has left Morbid Angel after nine years of stalwart service. The move really should have come as no surprise. Rutan was one of the most insanely busy men in death metal, doing production/studio work (he produced Krisiun’s magnificent U.S. debut Conquerors of Armageddon) and playing in three bands -- Morbid Angel, the classically inspired Alas and Hate Eternal. Something had to give.
And with Hate Eternal having just issued their incendiary second album, King of All Kings, through Earache and gotten enough touring lined up to carry it in 2003, Rutan knows where his priorities must lie.
“Right now, Hate Eternal is my focus,” he said during a Virginia stop on the band’s just-concluded tour with Nile and Arch Enemy. “It’s time for this band to have the chance to prove itself, to show what it’s really capable of, and I don’t want anything standing in the way.”
After years as a good soldier in Morbid Angel and, before that, Ripping Corpse, Hate Eternal is Rutan’s baby. He formed the band in 1998 and has been its driving creative force -- and lone remaining original member, save for bassist Jared Anderson. Hate Eternal’s 1999 debut Conquering The Throne was one of that year’s death metal highlights and tours with Cannibal Corpse and Mayhem hinted of great things to come. King of All Kings certainly delivers. With its flesh-peeling intensity, Kings achieves the seemingly impossible by being tighter, leaner and meaner than Conquerors.
“I wanted to create a ferociousness that I had never truly captured with my previous bands” Rutan said. “Our first album was step in the right direction, this album takes it to whole other level.”
“I want Hate Eternal to be known as one of the elite death metal bands out there. It is the beginning for us to reach those goals. I was pleased by the response to the first album, and we were able to do some good tours for it. This time we’ll take it as far as it can go.” Look for Hate Eternal on tour with Cannibal Corpse in November. In a related note, Jared Anderson ended his year-long tenure as Morbid Angel’s frontman after the band’s spring tour with Motorhead. Anderson stepped in when Steve Tucker suddenly left the band last year and filled in admirably on several high-profile tours.
He, too, has several irons in the fire and along with his duties with Hate Eternal, he’s got a band of his own, Internecine, that just released its debut album on Hammerheart Records. Anderson does just about everything on The Book of Lambs, singing, handling bass and guitar duties and writing all the material. But the apple hasn’t fallen that far from the Hate Eternal tree, as Rutan produced the record and contributes a half-dozen guitar solos, and Derek Roddy plays drums on a few tracks. Nile’s Tony Laureano handles the rest of the drum duties.
Lambs is an apocalyptic piece of work that fans of misanthropic metal will bust a nut over. In the liner notes, Anderson declares: “I anxiously await the of cleansing of this disgusting earth, which the masses have created, for I am war!” Musically speaking, he’s true to his word. Duck and cover. * * * NILE: Discovery Channel Death Metal
To go back to Nile for a moment, if there’s a more inspired and intellectually challenging band in death metal these days than these guys, I haven’t found ‘em. The band’s insane, Eastern-influenced, ancient Egypt-themed thrash has always set them apart from the rest of the gore-obsessed numbskulls. But Nile’s latest album, In Their Darkened Shrines (Relapse), is unreal.
Despite losing two original members -- drummer Pete Hammoura and bassist Chief Spires, who was part of the band’s ungodly, three-headed monster vocal combination -- since their last album, 2000’s Black Seeds of Vengeance, Nile returns triumphant on Shrines. Where the band’s death metal ferocity and exotic embellishments made for somewhat awkward partners in the past, they join seamlessly here -- despite the extremely complicated arrangements, epic theme and more involved accents.
The 10-plus minute centerpiece “Unas Slayer of Gods” and the four-part title track that concludes the album will leave your jaw on the floor. And the lyrical synopses for each song provide a history lesson that’ll have your eyes buggin’ out of their sockets. There’s still plenty of the flesh-eating, throat slashing and decapitation that makes death metal what it is, but there’s a lot more brains behind it here than you usually get. * * * MESHUGGAH: Something for Nothing
Swedish extreme metal mathematicians Meshuggah certainly are getting a lot of mileage from their new album, Nothing, in America -- literally and figuratively. The album was the first Nuclear Blast release to crack the Billboard top 200 -- debuting at 165 -- and is getting written up in mainstream music publications like Rolling Stone (who dubbed them one of the top 10 metal bands a few years back) that typically turn their noses up at this sort of stuff. Meshuggah also were the talk of the just-concluded Ozzfest, providing a breath of fresh air above the stench of nu metal mediocrity.
Now the band’s headed out for a two-month arena tour with Tool, who already took them out once, as have Slayer. So big things can happen for extreme bands -- if people are only given a chance to hear it. And if you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, give Nothing a spin next time you’re in Tower or one of those places that lets you preview discs before you purchase.
Math metal is a pretty apt description for the band’s abstract, stop-start, cut-and-paste grind. Think King Crimson on steroids -- these guys used eight-string guitars on Nothing to make it extra heavy -- and with weirder time signatures and get ready to get your brains scrambled. Nothing is something wild indeed. * * * CRADLE OF FILTH: Black Metal Capitalists
If you haven’t already sprung for Cradle of Filth’s recent live home video, Heavy Left-Handed & Candid, or their even more recent best-of double CD Lovecraft & Witch Hearts, the enterprising English miscreants are offering yet another opportunity for wrest away your last black metal dollar. The new, limited-edition double CD Live Bait For The Dead (AbraCadaver/Snapper Music) takes to concepts of the previous releases and mashes them together into one tidy package.
The “live” half of Live Bait is basically the audio portion of the home video concert, which was recorded in Nottingham, England, on Easter weekend 2001. And since the Cradle of Filth show is such a spectacle -- especially with the cast of acrobats and freaks that joined them on their last tour -- the live album doesn’t have quite the same impact as the home video.
The only visuals you get on Live Bait is the video for Cradle’s fabulously heavy cover of Sisters of Mercy’s “No Time To Cry” on the “bonus” studio disc. Disc two also features a couple raw soundcheck recordings -- “Funeral In Carpathia” and “Nocturnal Supremacy” -- some techno-industrial test drives and a cover of “The Fire Still Burns” that was featured on that godawful Twisted Sister tribute album from a year ago.
On the plus side, none of the “bonus” material -- at least as it is presented here -- is included on Lovecraft, so the band’s only double-dipping on the “live” side. On the other hand, “No Time To Cry” is about the only real highlight among Bait’s extras. From a remix/rarity/cover version perspective, Lovecraft is a much more essential purchase. Live Bait’s pretty much for collectors only.
In the meantime, Cradle of Filth is hard at work conjuring their next studio album -- and major label debut -- despite the recent departure of guitarist Gian Pyres. But since line-up turmoil is nothing new to the band, it’s probably just a minor bump in the road. We shall see. * * * Grind Galore
It ain’t exactly equal to Morbid Angel touring arenas with Pantera, but avant-grind cult faves Cephalic Carnage will get a chance to do their thing before bigger crowds then they’re used to seeing as an opener on Kreator and Destruction’s just-commenced U.S tour. And they’re bound to make quite an impression on all the hardcore, old-school German thrash fans -- for better or worse.
Cephalic’s psychotic cacophony certainly is an acquired taste, but if you’re into that sort of thing -- and are sick of the same old recycled Earache grind -- their new album Lucid Interval (Relapse) is essential. The band’s corrosive, grind-jazz fusion is not unlike Meshuggah, just with more caterwauling vocals and blast-beat powered mayhem. The lucid intervals certainly are few and far between here -- and that’s good thing.
A bit more crass -- actually make that a lot more crass -- is the latest exercise in noise terrorism by Cephalic’s labelmates, Agoraphobic Nosebleed. Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope -- my vote for album title of the year -- takes the microburst grind of early Napalm Death and gives it a modern twist with some rudimentary technology. With two vocalists, but no drummer, the Massachusetts maniacs nonetheless are as relentless as a band as you will hear. These guys definitely get their money’s worth from drum machines/programs they use.
Spraying songs like a 50-caliber machine gun -- 38 of ‘em in a half hour -- Corpse is short-attention-span theater taken to a ridiculous extreme. It’s also is rude, crude and often hilarious -- do read the lyrics. Some notable highlights are a snippet of the late Hank The Angry Drunken Dwarf telling some Howard Stern Show listener to “go have sex with Jesus Christ” and a furious cover of Nuclear Assault’s classic “Hang The Pope” with ex-Nuclear/Brutal Truth bassist Dan Lilker on vocals. * * * Gore Galore
Like your grind even sicker? Well you’re in luck, because there’s new splatter-metal aplenty.
Best of the batch is San Diego sick fucks Cattle Decapitation. The band’s latest disc, To Serve Man (Metal Blade), has a delightful cover featuring some dude holding his own guts on a serving platter. Sort of a cross between old Carcass (the gargled vocals and medical textbook titles like “Colonic Villus Biopsy Performed on the Gastro-Intestinally Incapable”) and Cannibal Corpse (nearly every song is about cannibalism or homicide) Cattle Decapitation do what they do better than most.
Not sure whether the PETA plugs are a put-on, but the band’s riffy, adept death metal is surprisingly clever and at times downright catchy, which makes them that much more lethal. You can see Cattle Decapitation on tour with Gwar in October. Bring a raincoat. Not to be outdone, Oakland’s Impaled have some poor bastard having an eye extracted and his tongue dissected on the cover of their third album, Mondo Medicale (Necropolis/Deathvomit). These guys recall Necroticism-era Carcass with their dual vocal puking, concussive hooks, shredding guitar trade-offs and brainy lyrics that aren’t so overtly gory. At times Impaled are bit “too Carcass” for comfort -- “Operating Theater” sounds like a cover version. But Mondo Medicale is well-scripted and fiendishly executed by a band that obviously know what they’re doing.
Impaled labelmates, and occasional opening act, Engorged take a more Z-grade approach to gore metal. The Portland, Ore., quintet’s self-titled second album revels in zombie movie fare, old sci-fi camp and Peter Jackson’s pre-Lord of the Rings splat-o-rama. It’s certainly zanier and less heavy-handed than Cattle Decapitation or Impaled, but the music’s also nowhere near as accomplished and provides only a few momentary twisted thrills. * * * Nefarious Norwegians Return
Before teaming up with Emperor guitarist Samoth in his new band Zyklon last year, guitarist Destructhor and vocalist Daemon built solid underground reps of their own recording for Samoth and his Nocturnal Art Productions label. With all things quiet on the Zyklon front at the moment -- especially for Daemon, since he left the group -- the two went back to work with their respective bands in Norway over the past year. The results have just now arrived.
The line-up turmoil that saw Destructhor’s Myrkskog (that’s Tolkien’s Mirkwood in Norwegian) issue but one album, 1999’s savage Death Machine released here last year, since their 1993 inception continues. But with new bassist Demariel on board, and operating as trio with Destructhor handling guitar and vocal duties, Myrkskog’s second album, Superior Massacre picks right up where Death Machine left off. Technical proficiency and crushing, single-minded brutality meet head on here -- picture Morbid Angel without the maudlin mood swings or Sumerian chanting. Destructhor’s roaring vocals are surprisingly strong, and his guitar work is nothing short of spectacular. He has met that challenge and then some. Superior Massacre is superior death metal -- period.
Line-up trouble’s not much of an issue with Limbonic Art since it’s been a two-man operation of Daemon and multi-instrumentalist Morfeus from the get-go. Thus while also having formed in 1993, The Ultimate Death Worship is the band’s fifth album, and Limbonic’s epic black metal has never been more fearsome. Creepy interludes like the spoken word “Purgatorial Agony” and “Exorcist”-like intro to the monumental “Towards the Oblivion of Dreams” are genuinely unsettling. And the duo’s vocal dueling, sophisticated arrangements and inventive instrumentation prove black metal can be dramatic without being cheesy. In a somewhat related note, former Emperor drummer and current Zyklon lyricist, Bard “Faust” Eithun, will getting out of prison in December after serving nearly 10 years for stabbing a gay man to death in Lillehammer during the height of the “Lords Of Chaos” madness. As his sentence wound down and he was transferred to facilities with more privileges, Faust has gotten involved in a number of musical projects -- contributing vocal passages, the odd drum track and lyrics to Cadaver Inc., Sirius and Zyklon.
Apparently he will be joining the soon-to-be-regrouped Dissection, which has been on hiatus while band leader Jon Nodtveidt also served jail time for his role in an unrelated killing. That’s gonna be one scary friggin’ band. But it won’t be happening for a while, as Nodtveidt will not be released until late 2004. * * * Spanning The Globe
Sometimes it’s not what it is, but where it’s from that makes things interesting. In the cases below, both elements work in their favor -- intriguing, uncompromising music from out-of-the-way places. * * * Vader put Poland on the death metal map a decade ago. But not much followed in their wake, for whatever reason. Hate however, will make you stand up and take notice with their second album Cain’s Way (World War III). Indeed Vader could learn a thing or two from these guys.
Unabashedly brutal, wickedly efficient and gleefully blasphemous, Hate recall Deicide, only they are able to stay on top of their game for an entire album, not just for a couple killer tracks. Cain’s Way is one of the year’s killer death metal surprises and if these guys could get over here to tour they could make some serious underground waves. * * * Where Sentenced are all dreary and mopey, Finland’s Rotten Sound are explosive and unbridled. The death metal-splashed grindcore of the band’s second album, Murderworks (Necropolis) is, to quote the members themselves, “like a herd of elephants running over you.” They ain’t kidding. Rotten Sound give Napalm Death and old Brutal Truth a run for their money, blasting out 14 tracks in under 30 minutes -- though three bonus live CD-Rom videos help put a bit more meat on Murderworks’ bones for the computer-savvy. * * * About the last place you’d expect to find an epic black metal band is Ireland. Yet the Emerald isle is home to the largely undiscovered treasure Primordial. And there is a faint Irish hue to the band’s latest album, Storm Before Calm (Hammerheart), which recalls the warrior spirit of Immortal and older Enslaved. And you won’t find many -- if any -- bands, black metal or otherwise, quoting poet legend William Butler Yeats. This is a very cool album. * * * Australians certainly have an affinity for extreme metal. And a few bands have emerged from there in recent years, Destroyer 666, Hellspawn, etc. Now comes The Berzerker, a quartet that look like a cross between Slipknot and Gwar and sound like black metal, grindcore and electronic music in a Cuisinart set on pulverize. The band’s U.S. debut, Dissimulate (Earache), is as an unrelenting assault on the senses -- and their cover Carcass’ “Corporal Jigsore Quandary” is brilliant. You can catch The Bezerker on tour here soon with Vader and Immolation. * * * Some of you may have encountered Origin on tour this year with Nile and Arch Enemy, or perhaps previously with Candiria or Vader. They’ve been on the road a lot -- and will also be part of Vader’s upcoming tour. Though they are American, they hail from the heart of the heartland, Topeka, Kansas -- hardly a breeding ground for dextrous death metal. The band’s second album, Informis Infinitas Inhumanitas (Relapse), is a masterpiece of complexity presented with raw, feral power. Intensity and intelligence, a dangerous combination. * * * Fellow Midwesterner’s Incantation emerged from Ohio more than a decade ago and are among the elder statesmen of demonic death metal. With the fittingly titled Blasphemy (Necropolis), the band prove they’ve still got a few satanic tricks up their sleeves -- again, despite near constant line-up turmoil and label changes. Mike Saez’s sulfurous vocals and much better production here give Incantation’s miscreant metal the genuine hellishness it sometimes lacked in the past.
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