The Coroner’s Report - Delve Deep Into The World Of Death, Black & Thrash Metal
By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Monday, May 13, 2002 @ 6:47 PM
If any of you were apprehensive when Swedish power metallers Arch Enemy recruited a woman to take over on vocals after Johan Liiva was fired, you’re not alone. Band founder and guitarist Michael Amott was as well, at least in the beginning.
“There are other females doing extreme metal, but it seems like when they do it there’s a lot of this gothic stuff and we don’t want to get confused with long skirts and singing about frozen lakes,” he said. “We want to stay aggressive, metal, you know.”
Well they got all the METAL they could handle and more in Angela Gossow, whose feral rasp and pitbull tenacity put Liiva to shame on Arch Enemy’s awesome fourth album Wages of Sin, which was just released through Century Media. Sounding a bit like Jeff Walker from Amott’s old band Carcass, the German-born Gossow gives Arch Enemy more intensity and, yes, balls. Sin, as they say, is “heavy as shit.”
“She’s just so metal,” Amott enthuses. “She’s the most metal person in the band (laughs). She’s pushing for us to be more extreme and more metal. Her voice is more intense than our previous singer, it’s more raw.
“And Angela brought an outsider’s point of view and wasn’t afraid to express herself. Our old singer would never say anything, he didn’t have opinions about the music. He’d be like ‘OK, where do I sing.’
“She came in during the final stages of the writing of the music and doing the arrangements. When we were sorting through them she was pretty blunt,” he added. “There’s enough ‘legends’ in this band already, it’s cool to have somebody that nobody knows come out of nowhere and kicks ass. That’s what every band wants.”
Amott had grown weary of Arch Enemy’s “supergroup” tag -- his guitarist brother Chris was in Armageddon, drummer Daniel Erlandsson played with In Flames and bassist Sharlee D’Angelo has worked with Mercyful Fate, Witchery, etc. -- and he wanted the band “go to the next level.”
“I don’t want this to be a ‘musician’s band,’” Amott said. “I wanted something like when Iron Maiden got Bruce Dickinson, he elevated the band not only through his voice, but with the sheer force of his personality.”
The firebrand Gossow certainly offers the total package. She sings like a demon, is blond and gorgeous and has a commanding presence onstage. She made her live debut at a well-received show at L.A.’s The Troubador in March. Arch Enemy will be touring over here in July with Nile and Hate Eternal.
Because there was a long delay in the American release of Wages of Sin, it is available here with a bonus disc of B-sides, covers and live tracks recorded during the Liiva era. Give it a spin to compare and contrast and you’ll see the kick in the ass Gossow gives the band.
Liiva’s new band Nonexist has just issued its debut, Dues Deceptor, on Century Media. The band, at least on the record, is Liiva and guitarist Johan Reinholdz with Dark Funeral/Defleshed drummer Matte Modin providing the pacing. Not surprisingly, Nonexist sounds rather like Arch Enemy, a bit more death metally perhaps, but with the same sort of mammoth hookiness and flashy guitaring.
Reinholdz is dynamo and easily outclasses Liiva, even though his vocals are more assertive this time. Not exactly a great leap forward, more like a decent leap sideways.
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IMMORTAL: Constant turmoil
Funny thing happened not long after I spoke with Immortal bassist Iscariah about the Norwegian trio’s history of roster turmoil and his own projects outside of the band -- he, too, quit to pursue said projects.
“The line up has always been a problem with Immortal,” he said during the interview. “Weird things happen with this band, you just never know what’s coming next.”
No shit. In his departure announcement, Iscariah offered only vague allusions to his future plans. But when we spoke, the bassist noted he was about to complete a college degree in design and would again be playing with death metal supergroup Wurdulak, who may already be working on their second album. He’s also had his own project called Enchanted in the works for years.
Iscariah’s departure after three years ends the longest spell of stability Immortal had had since forming in the coastal city of Bergen more than a decade ago. Founders and kindred creative spirits Abbath and Demonaz went through a half-dozen drummers before Horgh came aboard in 1996.
But after he joined, Demonaz developed a carpal tunnel-like condition in his arms and could no longer play guitar. He had to leave the band. Bassist/vocalist Abbath switched to guitar and Iscariah joined on bass following the release of 1999’s epic In The Heart of Winter. Since then, Immortal’s been on quite a roll. The trio’s bludgeoning 2000 release Damned In Black was their biggest seller, and the band finally made it to America for a few shows. I saw them in D.C. and they were amazing, even though they played in a used record store/bar.
Despite Iscariah’s sudden split, Immortal completed their recent European tour with a bassist named Saroth, who played with Horgh in Hypocrisy frontman Peter Tagtgren’s industrial band Pain - it gets confusing. Saroth will accompany Immortal to America, where they will spend most of May opening for Manowar, and has been named the “permanent” bassist.
Immortal’s just-released seventh album, Sons of Northern Darkness, is its first to receive a proper release in America, thanks to a new deal with Nuclear Blast. It captures a nice balance between the epic ice-capades of Winter and the full-frontal brutality of Damned while once again summoning the warrior spirits of the frozen phantasm world Blashyrkh that Abbath and Demonaz created way back when.
From the blast-beat fury and thundering grooves of “One by One” to the ominous pulse of “Beyond The North Waves,” Darkness makes for an impressive introduction to Immortal’s kingdom cold for those who have heard of the band, but have yet to actually heard them.
“There’s atmosphere in Immortal’s music, it has a real sense of place, a sense of character,” Iscariah said -- fittingly, it’s snowing in Bergen as he speaks. “You can’t get the from ‘hail Satan, kill all the Christians.”
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THE CROWN: Low expectations
You can’t accuse Swedish deathsters The Crown of setting the bar too high for their first U.S. headlining tour, which kicked off at the Metal Meltdown Festival in New Jersey in early April.
“You know, it could go really bad,” said Janne Saarenpaa, the band’s Finnish-born drummer. “I don’t know if people are really into there or not. All we can do is go out, play our hardest and hope some people show up so we can come back and play again.”
The 11-year-old band’s only done one other tour here -- they didn’t have an American deal until Metal Blade signed them in 1999. And since they were in an early slot on a bill that included Krisiun, Nile and Cannibal Corpse, it was difficult to gauge interest. But Saarenpaa was encouraged by the response -- at least there was some. The same could not be said for a show the band played in England opening for countrymen The Haunted.
“It was literally total silence after every song,” he said, laughing. “I had never seen anything like that in my life. It was bizarre.”
As it turned out, a date in suburban Washington ended up being canceled because of poor ticket sales, but that was show to be headlined by the reunited Nuclear Assault -- so blame them instead.
The Crown’s third American album, Crowned In Terror, was issued as just after the tour started. It’s too bad people didn’t have had more time to digest the disc before the band came here, because word of mouth probably would have been good and a few more punters might have been at the shows.
This isn’t your run of the mill “Gothenburg-sound” death metal. Crowned In Terror smokes and The Crown’s molotov cocktail of death metal, thrash, black metal and hardcore is all the more explosive with new singer Tomas Lindberg, formerly of the late, great At The Gates. It’ll rip your face right off.
“Johan [Lindstrand, former singer] was a great guy, but he wasn’t what you’d call all that hungry,” Saarenpaa said. “You can already see and hear the difference in us with Tomas, he’s hyperactive, super-driven and a great frontman and we can feed off of his energy.”
Lindberg has been one busy hombre. Along with The Crown, he also fronts the death metal supergroup Lock Up, whose second album was issued a few months ago. And now he’s got a third band cooking, The Great Deceiver, which marks a bit of a departure for Lindberg.
Sounding a bit like Alice In Chains butting heads with Ministry, the quintet’s full-length debut, A Venom Well Designed, (Peaceville) is full of thick, grungy riffs, chunky tempos and lots of extraneous noise. Lindberg still screams his head off, but at least now you can understand what he’s screaming about.
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HYPOCRISY: Here at last
It’s taken more than a decade, but Swedish cult legends Hypocrisy -- led by death metal uber-producer Peter Tagtgren -- finally is doing a full-blown tour of America. The month-long trek begins May 12th in St. Paul, MN, and ends July 8th in Seattle. Soilwork, Killswitch Engage and Scar Culture round out this very cool and eclectic bill.
Hypocrisy is supporting its 10th album Catch-22, issued recently here through Nuclear Blast. It’s the trio’s leanest, meanest, baddest effort yet. There’s none of Tagtgren’s usual alien abduction bullshit and no prog-metally excursions to throw things off track. The band just plug in and let rip with a vicious, pissed-off hybrid of speed metal and hardcore that definitely hits the spot.
We may be seeing much more of Hypocrisy, and Tagtgren’s industrial alter-ego Pain, in the future the road as he keeps claiming to be closing down Abyss Studios, where he and brother Tommy have produced albums for Dimmu Borgir, Destruction, Immortal, Marduk and countless other heavy duty bands. The new second album from Norway’s Susperia [featuring ex-Dimmu drummer Tjodalv] is supposedly the studio’s final project - excepting Tagtgren’s own work. We shall see.
This will also be Soilwork’s first North American tour, and these guys should be worth checking out. Their fourth album, Natural Born Chaos (Nuclear Blast), finds the middle ground between Meshuggah’s math-metal formulations and In Flames’ melodic mastery. There’s lots of technical riffing, gravity-defying time changes and wicked solos, but Soilwork also delivers plenty of mean-ass hooks and clean/growly voice trade-offs for balance.
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SWEDISH METAL: Stronger than ever As you can probably gather from the fact that all but one of the bands featured above is Swedish, there’s a lot happening there these days. The death metal scene that became legend then flamed out just as quickly in the mid-’90s because everyone sounded like Entombed and Dismember is back in business. And the power metal coming out of Sweden now pretty much sets the standard.
Along with the aforementioned acts, there’s a ton of other bands bubbling up from the underground. Foremost is Dimension Zero, a supergroup of sorts featuring In Flames’ guitarist Jesper Stromblad, former In Flames guitarist Glenn Ljungstrom and ex-Marduk singer Jocke Gothberg. The band’s full-length debut Silent Night Fever (Century Media) is full-on death metal, but with the kind of stellar musicality one might expect from a band with this kind of pedigree. Makes for a cool contrast.
If your tastes run more to the extreme, a couple of old stalwarts you might not have heard of certainly deliver the goods. Centinex made their American stage debut last year - and came back last month for the Metal Meltdown - but they’ve been around since the early days of Swedish death metal. And unlike Entombed, they haven’t radically altered their sound over the years - nor have they merely been treading water. Centinex’s latest effort, Diabolical Desolation (Candlelight), is primal and raw, but with some fiendishly riffy flourishes and smart arrangements that go well beyond the usual lurch and grind.
Thy Primordial’s been around almost as long and are even more brutal. The band is reminiscent of Dissection in that they straddle the line between death and black metal. Thy Primordial’s fifth album, The Crowning Carnage (Candlelight), is easily the best that I’ve heard and benefits mightily from recording at Abyss Studio with Tommy Tagtgren producing. The clear sound brings a whole new dimension of power and intensity to the band’s technically proficient, occasionally atmospheric, miscreant grind.
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DECEMBER WOLVES: Sickest video ever?
I got a bunch of e-mails from Earache Records over the last couple weeks about Boston black metallers December Wolves and their video for “Porn Again Christian,” which you are guaranteed never to see on MTV -- the Spice Channel perhaps. Directed by porn auteur and rock-star wannabe Matt Zane, Earache’s been hyping Kerrang Magazine’s description of “Porn” as “the sickest video ever!” But since Kerrang’s never been shy with hyperbole, I checked it out.
It’s definitely dirty -- hardcore porno dirty. The video’s like an orgy meets the Jim Rose Circus Side Show in outer space with fucking, jizz spurting, piercings and bizarre insertions of every manner shown in all their gynocologist’s exam glory. It’s tasteless and purile, to be sure. But the sickest ever? My vote still goes to Nine Inch Nails’ “Happiness In Slavery” and the poor bastard getting chunks of flesh scooped out of him by sadistic lab machinery with a mind of their own - which is certainly tasteless and purile as well.
The entire video can now be downloaded at: earache.com or earacherecords.com. You’re supposed to be 18 to view it, but you know how that goes.
All gimmickry aside, December Wolves’ new second album, Blasterpiece Theater, is brilliant. America lags well behind Europe in the black metal sweepstakes, but Blasterpiece is a big step in the right direction. Instead of merely imitating the European standard, as most U.S. bands do, the Wolves give it a major league kick in the ass. Old school blast-furnace fury done with whipsaw time changes and loads of freaky samples and industrial effects, Blasterpiece is not unlike what Mayhem tried to do with Grand Declaration of War. Only December Wolves pull it off -- so to speak.
Blasterpiece is out next month.
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SIX DEGREES OF EMPEROR Emperor may be gone, but the band’s legacy is destined to live on for a long, long time. Thanks to the members’ myriad extracurricular activities, Emperor’s spread a tangled web throughout the Northern European underground.
Having recently issued a new album with his death metal band Blood Red Throne, Emperor’s busy former bassist Tchort joins forces with underground cult faves Carpathian Forest to deliver some old school, grunt-and-grind black metal on Strange Old Brew (WWIII/Mercenary Records). If all the recent talk of a new Celtic Frost album has you salivating, Brew will certainly wet your whistle. It’s sounds like the second coming of Morbid Tales, the band even steal some of Celtic’s chunky riffs and buzz-sawing rhythms here and there, check out “Theme From Nekromantic.”
More adventurous is Blueprints (Candlelight Records), the second album from Norway’s Source of Tide, which features Cosmocrator, who just toured with Emperor guitarist Samoth’s band Zyklon, and Lord Pz, who is part of Emperor frontman Ihsahn’s group Peccatum. With its intricate death metal flavored with surprisingly catchy melodies, lots of samples and electronics and duel vocal sparring, Blueprints is as sophisticated as it is brutal.
And coming soon is a new album from Norwegian black metal tag team Limbonic Art, a duo of guitarists/vocalists Morfeus and Daemon, the latter of whom sang on Zyklon’s debut World Ov Worms. The band records for Samoth’s label Nocturnal Art Productions and Samoth himself already is touting Limbonic’s upcoming The Ultimate Death Worship as just that. Time will tell if they can back his claim up, but it’s a pretty safe bet. Their epic, technical black/death metal is, at times, downright astonishing.
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MY DYING BRIDE: Doomsday double-header
Nobody does doom quite like England’s My Dying Bride. Theirs is the sound of the end of the world. And the band has had plenty of gloom and despair to go around in recent months. After issuing their Meisterwerk compilations last year, My Dying Bride will offer a crushing live album and all-encompassing DVD in the coming weeks. First up is The Voice of the Wretched (Peaceville) -- even their titles make you want to slit your wrists -- a live album recorded in Europe last year. The band’s studio efforts tend to be rather dreary, but they show a lot more energy and life in a concert setting. Anyone who was fortunate enough to have seen one of the band’s rare shows in the U.S. can attest to that. They can actually kick ass, yet with their shuddering heaviness and Aaron’s funereal vocals, that apocalyptic aura is never far away.
The DVD, For Darkest Eyes (Peaceville/Snapper Music), will be available in June. Eyes features a totally different live performance -- a 1996 show in that includes the monumental, atypically uptempo “Forever People” -- and set list than Wretched. It also contains MDB’s promo videos that almost certainly were never broadcast here -- including “The Cry Of Mankind,” which caused a bit of a stir for its crucifixion depictions. All the more reason to check it out, as is the raw footage of gigs from the band’s early days, including most of another show from a dank, dark club in The Netherlands in 1993 and a chunk of their Dynamo Festival performance -- 200 minutes of misery in all.
My Dying Bride’s latest studio album, The Dreadful Hours, was just re-issued here as well, so if you’re looking for some light summer listening, here you go.
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