The Coroner’s Report - Delve Deep Into The World Of Death, Black & Thrash Metal
Friday, December 7, 2001 @ 1:04 PM
Peter Atkinson Gives KNAC.COM
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It took a while to get another one of these things together - which is why this one is too damn long. But with a scorched, gaping hole in the Pentagon three miles from my house as a constant reminder of Sept. 11 -- I woke to the smell of smoke from the fire there the next morning --and the streets around Capitol Hill in D.C. blocked off because of anthrax or to deter potential truck bombers, it was tough to get in the mood to talk about bands who revel in the apocalypse.
But time heals and things are getting back to normal. And then I saw Slayer a couple weeks ago, which was rather cathartic, “Chemical Warfare” and all.
It’s cool to see bands getting back on the road again. The terrorists fucked things up for a lot of them when air travel went to hell. Six Feet Under’s “Metallennium 2001” tour lost most of its draw when Dimmu Borgir, Napalm Death and Witchery bailed. And Marduk had to push back their fall tour because new immigration scrutiny led to visa problems.
But Marduk will be here in January -- they killed with Deicide last summer -- on their “Jesus Christ...Sodomized” tour with Amon Amarth and Diabolic. It seems likely Dimmu and Napalm will return next year as well. And Witchery - whose new album Symphony For The Devil (Necropolis) is some of the grooviest death metal around - already came over with The Haunted’s tour.
Two other noteworthy tours are either under way or will be shortly. The first is “The Metal Maniacs Metal Christmas Ball,” sponsored by Metal Maniacs magazine. It’s a quick hitter, starting in New York Dec. 7 and ending Dec. 19 in Montreal. It also has an interesting, varied line-up including stoner/doomsters Electric Wizard, hardcore bruisers Scar Culture, death metallers Macabre and Diabolic and Nordic warriors Enslaved.
The other, “Extreme Music For Extreme People” boasts the demonic double-header of Morbid Angel and Deicide. And with Zyklon (featuring Emperor guitarist Samoth and drum phenom Trym) and Exhumed also on the bill, it would be prudent to get there early. The tour is making its way East as we speak and will wrap up December 16 in Philadelphia.
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SOILENT GREEN TAKES A BEATING
One act that will be missing from the “Extreme Music” line-up the rest of the way is Soilent Green. The New Orleans extremists had to bow out after wrecking their van in Washington State Dec. 4. Guitarist Brian Patton and bassist Scott Williams suffered broken bones in the crash, according to Relapse. The rest of the band and crew got out with minor injuries - no small miracle since the van reportedly rolled over four times.
Things just haven’t gone Soilent’s way this year. The band was geared up to support their imposing third album, A Deleted Symphony for the Beaten Down (Relapse), with the most touring they’ve ever done and what do they have to show for it? A handful of gigs and a whole lot of hassle.
Earlier this year, Soilent dropped from the ill-fated “Metallennium 2001” tour before it began after dismissing guitarist Ben Stout. Instead of going out as a four-piece - despite having played several shows as such, including the Beast Feast in Japan - they decided to try out new guitarists. They were still looking for a suitable candidate when I spoke with singer Ben Falgoust in September.
“It’s hard to find somebody that can play a lot of the stuff Soilent Green tries to pull off,” he said. “We’re not the kind of band where you’ve got one guy playing rhythm and one guy playing lead. We’ve got two guys sometimes doing two totally different things or playing off of each other in some weird way, so it’s pretty demanding.”
Ironically, Soilent ended up going out as a four-piece anyway on the “Extreme Music” tour. How’s that for a kick in the ass? Perhaps there’s a little karma at work because the band really had something to prove after blowing a golden opportunity with 1999’s Sewn Mouth Secrets.
Not long after it was released, Soilent was named one of “The 10 Most Important Hard and Heavy Bands” by Rolling Stone magazine - along with such luminaries as Black Sabbath, Korn and Pantera. The other underground bands also honored in the issue - Morbid Angel, Meshuggah and Candiria - all got as much mileage as they could out of the “10 Best” thing. But Soilent played a smattering of shows and faded back into obscurity.
With a scorched, gaping hole in the Pentagon three miles from my house as a constant reminder of Sept. 11, it was tough to get in the mood to talk about bands who revel in the apocalypse.
“I don’t think we utilized it to our advantage as much as we should have,” Falgoust admits. “Maybe we could have toured on it a little more back then, but you learn from your mistakes and we’ve got to say that Soilent Green as a whole faltered at that point.
“We were definitely honored that we were placed in there with the bands we were placed in there with. But it’s three years old and it’s not really something we can offer anymore. We’ve got a new album out and we’ve got to keep pushing and show what we have to offer now.”
Soilent did a tour in late spring with Napalm Death just to prove they were in fact still alive and kicking. And Deleted Symphony proves they can deliver the musical goods. Always a challenging band with their spasmodic rhythms and tangential arrangements, Soilent lays on a bit more groove here yet still cook up a roiling sonic stew that is utterly unique in a death metal field where imitation is rampant.
Hopefully the injuries will heal quickly and Soilent can get back out their to prove they are indeed worthy of “Top 10 Metal Band” consideration.
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DARK FUNERAL DESCENDS
Another band hell-bent on touring are Swedish black metal fiends Dark Funeral. They will be busy in Europe on the X-Mass Fest with Cannibal Corpse, Marduk and Nile, among others, but according to guitarist/band leader Lord Ahriman, it will just be a matter of time before the self-proclaimed “Ineffable Kings of Darkness” descend in the United States.
“What we would like to do a real tour of the U.S.,” he said from Sweden in October. “I guess time will tell what we will be able to do. I’m not afraid of the war that’s going on now, I want to come over right now.”
Though Dark Funeral were one of the first European black metal bands to play in America, doing a shows here as far back as 1996, they’ve yet to actually do a full tour. And the U.S. trips for a few shows here and there were draining and unsatisfactory, as far as Ahriman is concerned.
“We have had shitty luck when we’ve played in the U.S.,” Ahriman said. “We had lots of technical problems and shit and it’s been a nightmare. We have been ripped off totally a couple of times. But we’re working with a booking agent now, and we’re going to get a bus and our own crew, the kind of shit like we have in Europe. That way we can assure everybody we’re going to give you the fucking very best show every night. It’s hard to do a good show when you haven’t slept in 30 hours.”
Dark Funeral just issued a blast-furnace third album, Diabolis Interium (Necropolis), that will have old-school black metal fans tired of all the gothic noodling, string sections and female vocals that have prettified the music blowing loads. The band’s attack mode here is so determined and relentless there’s barely room for cursory hooky, headbangable parts - “Thus I Have Spoken” dispatches with its groove in the intro, then blasts off. If Diabolis doesn’t do the trick for frustrated purists, nothing will.
“We’re comfortable with this style of music and we want to stay within certain parameters,” Ahriman said. “I think we’ve definitely grown musically with every album. Perhaps it’s not as evident as say, for example, Emperor whose music changed quite dramatically over the years, but we’ve gotten better. If you listen to the new record you will hear that whatever happened in the past, even if it was painful, was for the better of the band.”
Ahriman is speaking of Dark Funeral’s continuing line-up turmoil. He is the only remaining original member. And though he’s worked with bassist/vocalist Emperor Magus Caligula for a while, drummer Matte Modin and guitarist Dominion are new since the band’s last album, Vobiscum Satanas.
“There’s never been a lot of disputes or disagreements within the band, like many seem to believe,” Ahriman said. “I guess we have been to naive, thinking ‘yeah, this guy will definitely work’ and three months later you see that all he wants to do is go on tour and meet girls and not try to improve and do the band as a hobby, not professionally.
“That’s what it really comes down to and not ‘That Lord Ahriman, he’s really a fucking pain in the ass.’ (laughs) There’s probably a lot of people, former members, who do not like me at all because they see with my strong will we’ve achieved something.”
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GERMAN THRASH DEJA VU
A stack of new discs sitting in front of me right now makes me think I’ve taken a time machine back to 1984 and the heyday of German thrash metal. Kreator, Destruction, Grave Digger and Sodom helped get the international underground rolling and laid the foundation for Slayer, Megadeth and Metallica to build on and eventually overtake. But despite hiatuses, line-up turmoil and American indifference, the fearsome German foursome are still around and, in some cases, going as strong as ever.
Destruction really is the only one of the four that has dramatically modernized their sound, and a lot of that has to do with producer Peter (Dimmu/Immortal/Marduk) Tagtgren, who took them under his wing when they reformed a couple years ago. The band’s second post-reunion release, The Antichrist (Nuclear Blast), is full-on, neck-snapping. old school thrash with a big, beefy sound that was impossible on the penny-pinching recording budgets of the mid-80s. Vicious stuff that stand’s up to anything out nowadways.
After experimenting with everything to industrial to stoner rock influences over the last decade, Kreator go back to the streamlined, speed metal basics they perfected as a major label act with Extreme Aggression more than a decade ago - they even resurrect their demon man cover mascot. Violent Revolution (SPV) is fast, furious and doesn’t pretend to be anything else than what it is. And there’s no shame in that.
Grave Digger’s 1984 debut Heavy Metal Breakdown is still one my favorite ‘80s thrash albums. Unfortunately, the band endured both a lengthy split and stylistic divergences and don’t have the same dirtbag swagger anymore. Indeed, they seem more like literature students these days. After exploring King Arthur’s Knights of the Roundtable in a recent trilogy - seriously! - they set their bookish sights on Edgar Allen Poe on new The Grave Digger (Nuclear Blast). The music still rocks, but it won’t make you crap your pants like Breakdown did. You may even learn something…
Sodom haven’t changed a whole lot musically over the years, no bullshit thrash-and-roll has been their forte, but they do have a revolving thematic focus centered around war, serial murder or depravity. The theme of the new M-16 (SPV) should be pretty obvious and the album comes across like “Apocalypse Now - The Musical,” right down to the track “Napalm In The Morning,” which of course includes Robert Duvall’s legendary quote the title borrows from. A cover of “Surfin’ Bird,” however, was probably not the best idea.
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NEW EXTREME LABELS
A couple of newish labels have been making an aggressive push into the underground this year, issuing a bunch of new releases that you probably won’t find at Tower, but could certainly hunt down at any metal specialty shop or on the web.
The Philadelphia-based Renegade Records is getting off to a modest, but relatively high-profile start (by underground standards) with a handful of new discs including the long-awaited U.S. release of the aforementioned Peter Tagtgren’s solo project Pain and a live album from black metal legends Mayhem.
Pain’s second album, Rebirth, is industrial metal that mixes the huge guitar sound Tagtgren trademarked with Hypocrisy and his Abyss Studio production work and electronic/techno beats and effects. Tagtgren does the smart thing by relying more on his metal background and not trying to play Trent Reznor, so there’s lots of pure power and not a lot of tedious hi-tech hijinx.
The Mayhem disc, U.S. Legions, features super raw live recordings from the band’s 2000 tour - including the classics “Chainsaw Gutsfuck” and “Pure Fucking Armageddon” - and super raw pre-production versions of a half-dozen tracks from their mystifying “comeback” album Grand Declaration of War. Apparently there’s some turmoil in the Mayhem camp - what else is new - and vocalist Maniac may have left the band or is on his way out. Or not! So this may be the last chance to hear him with Mayhem.
What the Downey, Calif., team of World War III/Mercenary Musik lacks in recognizable names it more than is making up with in sheer quantity. I’ve received more than a dozen CDs - of varying degrees of quality - from the labels during the past few months.
These guys certainly seem willing to span the globe in a search for extreme metal as their roster includes bands from Brazil (Nephasth, Headhunter Death Cult), Poland (Hate, Belfegor), Finland (Enter My Silence), Austria (Belphegor) Sweden (Diabolical, Thy Primordial), Norway and even America (Fog - who will play a couple dates on the Metal Maniacs Christmas Ball, Nokturne). Some of the bands, Hate and Nephasth in particular, are pretty damned formidable.
Perhaps the most noteworthy release, especially given Mayhem’s tumult, is Fire Walk With Us from Norway’s Aborym, which is fronted by one-time Mayhem singer Attila Csihar - who has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Maniac. It’s also a pretty cool album, combining black metal insanity with eerie, dub/techno loops and synth effects. But Fire Walk With Us is a far more natural sounding album than Mayhem’s messy Declaration, showing that these guys know what the hell their doing when it comes to mixing metal and industrial elements and don’t seem to be making it up as they go along.
It’s cool to see bands getting back on the road again. The terrorists fucked things up for a lot of them when air travel went to hell.
For the curious, WWIII and Mercenary have compilation samplers available featuring most, if not all, of their bands. Check out their Web site at http://ww3music.com. You can order online as well.
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CENTURY MEDIA’S DECADE OF AGGRESSION
While these labels were just getting off the ground, L.A.-based Century Media has spent most of 2001 celebrating its 10-year anniversary. The label’s re-issued nearly a dozen old titlees, hosted a sold out birthday show in L.A. and is capping everything with a cool, limited edition box set.
The three-CD set comes with a 90-page booklet that tells “The Story [of Century Media] In Words in Pictures.” The discs are divided into one the features the label’s “Western Hemisphere” bands [Candiria, Shadows Fall, Eyehategod], one for the Eastern Hemisphere [Morgoth, Grave, Unleashed, Samael, Old Man’s Child] and one with rare and unreleased tracks from, among others, Krisiun, Iced Earth, Nevermore, Arch Enemy and Sentenced doing a monstrous cover of Faith No More’s “Diggin’ The Grave.” Only 10,000 copies of the set are being issued, however, so if you want one, order quick.
For a fledgling German speed metal label to open an American office during the height of Nirvana-spawned grunge wave either takes a lot of balls or blind ignorance. But either way, things worked out and the label’s been more than holding its since the mid-’90s. The last year was a big one for Century Media as it took over the American operations of Nuclear Blast - after doing the same with several smaller labels in recent years - and inherited a roster that includes Dimmu Borgir, Immortal and Destruction.
The momentum looks to continue into 2002. The Century Media side of the house will be issuing new albums from Shadows Fall, Nevermore, Blind Guardian and Skinlab and is launching a European speed metal attack soon with Naglfar, In Thy Dreams and Sweden’s vicious Carnal Forge. If you dig old school Swedish thrash - a la Clandestine/Left Hand Path-era Entombed - Carnal Forge’s Please...Die is right on.
Also on tap is fifth album from Norwegian black metal folklorists Borknagar. The band suffered a crippling blow last year when bassist/vocalist ICS Vortex left to work full-time with Dimmu Borgir not long after Quintessence was released, forcing them to cancel a European tour. But Borknagar bounces back in fine style with Empiricism. With new vocalist Vintersorg - who’d issued a few solo albums - and ace bassist Tyr - who’s toured with Emperor and Satyricon - taking Vortex’s place, the band recaptures some of the progressive subtleties and ethereal vibe that were lost amid the brutality of Quintessence, while still ripping it up with the best of them.
Nuclear Blast’s early 2002 schedule is impressive as well. Arriving in January is Instinct Gate, the American debut from Norwegian black/death metallers Tidfall, a band Emperor/Zyklon guitarist Samoth groomed on his Nocturnal Art Productions label - Nuclear also picked up has Portugal’s brilliant Sirius from Nocturnal. Tidfall recall Anthems-era Emperor, yet manage to deliver a surprising amount of melody through all their blast-beat fury.
On the more gothic side of the fence is Germany’s Agathodaimon, whose Chapter III is by far their best effort. Where the band used to sound like a doomy version of Cradle of Filth and get lost in their medieval atmospherics and vampiric twaddle, they strip things down and muscle up here. Chapter III is actually more ominous without all the horror film hokum. And better focused songs and bolder production give it a viciousness gothic black metal often lacks.
Coming in April is the Nuclear Blast debut from the mighty Immortal, The Sons of Northern Darkness. I just got an advance copy and ho-ly shit! It’s thrashier, heavier and riffier than 2000’s titanic Damned In Black, which is no small feat. And since Darkness will be a hell of a lot easier to find than Immortal’s previous albums - released through France’s Osmose Productions which could give a shit about the American market - it should cement the band’s standing among the black metal elite.
Nuclear is also set to release the first album from Swiss deviants Pungent Stench in eight years. These guys were one of the most perverse underground bands of the mid-’90s, exploring the world of fetishism at its most bizarre. Sadly, Masters of Mortal Servants of Sin seems pretty ordinary by comparison. The pedestrian death/thrash metal musical presentation masks the sick and twisted subtleties of “Dairy of A Nurse” or “Rex Paedophilius” making Sin not nearly as pungent as one might hope.
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SICK AND SICKER
If sick shit is what you’re after Relapse has a few new discs that certainly fill the bill. Just out is the outrageous Cunt from Aussie freaks Blood Duster, who are as close to comedy as extreme metal gets. The brilliant dialog samples that introduce most of the 90-second microbursts that pass as songs on Cunt alone are worth the price. Grindcore and dirty jokes are an unusual combination, but dammit it these guys don’t make it work like a charm.
The first two releases from Relapse’s new partnership with Baphomet/Housecore Records, Phil Anselmo and his Necrophagia/Viking Crown mate Killjoy’s label, have just been issued and are sick in the more traditional splatter movie sense.
Wardulak is a death metal supergroup of sorts, fronted by Killjoy and featuring, among others, Immortal bassist Iscariah and Mayhem singer - at least for now - Maniac. The band’s Ceremony In Flames is loaded with hooky, blasphemous death metal and the album’s grisly, violated nun artwork is just brutal.
Wardulak member Frediablo has a band of his own called Gorelord whose Force Fed On Human Flesh certainly lives up to the band’s name. Force Fed is a veritable celebration of gore movie meister Lucio Fulci, right down the samples from such Fulci films as “House By The Cemetery.” Killjoy, Maniac and others also lend a hand in Gorelord’s festival of depravity.
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ODDS ‘N ENDS
A couple of bits and pieces to wrap things up.
First off, with all of the other Emperor members past and present - Ihsahn, Samoth, Trym, Mortiis (who just issued a new album and book) and Bard Faust, who is writing and playing despite still being in prison - getting so attention lately, former bassist Tchort may have feeling mighty left out. Well he’s re-emerged with his band Blood Red Throne whose ripping debut Monument Of Death is out now via the Martyr Music Group. Though Throne cuts a death metal swath that recalls Carcass or Obituary, the technical arrangements and black metal-style ferocity set it well apart from the run of the mill.
Martyr also just issued an interesting new album from German veterans Sinister. Musically, Creative Killings delivers the kind of thrash-and-burn death metal we’ve come to expect from the band. What makes it so intriguing is new vocalist Rachel, whose husky death rattle is the most fearsome female voice I’ve ever heard. Morgan Lander from Kittie sounds like Celine Dion compared to Rachel. Damn! Chris Barnes, watch your ass.
Old school grind-metal lives on in new outings from a couple granddaddies of the genre. England’s Benediction - from which Napalm Death gained vocalist Barney Greenway - have just issued Organized Chaos on Nuclear Blast and countrymen - and woman, can’t forget bassist Jo Bench - Bolt Thrower will deliver Honor Valour Pride in January on Metal Blade. Both bands have endured line-up turmoil and long delays in making new material available. But each prove as dependable as the proverbial old shoe, delivering a steam-rolling, unrelenting, grind-o-rama that’ll give you a right good pummeling.
And finally, proof that opinions are like assholes, here’s my list of the Top 10 extreme metal albums of 2002 (in alphabetical order).
Dark Funeral - Diabolis Interium
Dimmu Borgir - Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia
Emperor - Prometheus: The Discipline Of Fire & Demise
Marduk - Infernal Eternal
Myrkskog - Death Machine
Opeth - Blackwater Park
Sirius - Spectral Transitions Dimension Sirius
Soilent Green - A Deleted Symphony For The Beaten Down