(William Smith is the vocalist for Buckshot Facelift and a Long Island band named Artificial Brain that I wrote about twice early last fall — here and here. He also writes a very entertaining blog called Vitos Squid Stop and Death Metal Museum. I asked him late last year if he would write something for NCS . . . and this is it! Part 1 of this post appeared here yesterday.)
After reading a lot of people’s best of 2011 lists, I realized I have a lot of catching up to do and am in no position to judge what the best albums of 2011 were. On that note, I’ve looked through my collection and dusted off 5 albums each that were recorded or released ten and twenty years ago, respectively. Some under-rated gems that maybe you overlooked or weren’t around for – either way, they deserve a second go around now that they’ve aged a little and can be seen in the context of history. They have all earned a special place in my collection – here I’ll share with you why. In the words of Pyrexia – where were you?
CLASS OF 1992 (20 year anniversary)
1. Viogression – Passage (Progressive International / Tombstone Records)
The few people who may remember this under credited Milwaukee Death Metal band would probably chastise this album for its thin and narrow production and the uneven volume problems that more or less straighten out after the first song. The main problem I found with this cd was that it spanned 13 songs in about an hour and it honestly could have probably been boiled down to 9 songs in 40 minutes. For those who choose to brave the occasional mastering slipups and have the patience to give Viogression an hour of your life, though, you will not go unrewarded.
Camoflauged within Viogression’s warm, fuzzy brand of Obituary-style doom and gloom was a visionary capacity for atmosphere, depth, and technicality. Those who listen to this album in hindsight may find that, at times, it has more in common with what Canadian bands like Cryptopsy, Kataklysm, and Gorguts would be perfecting over the following decade than with the primitive mid-tempo style popular in the Midwest at the time. Beyond that, it also features a guest vocal appearance by Joe Ptacek, himself (R.I.P.). For what it’s worth, this was a “missing link” album that helped churn the evolution of Death Metal forward and is worth a second listen now that it’s almost as old as some of its members were when they recorded it.
2. Afterlife – Surreality (Grind Core / Olympic recordings)
Another long lost gem of the early nineties American Death Metal gold rush. Technical, interesting, and musically adventurous without being proggy, this was obviously influenced by early Death and Pestilence, but to an impressive signature style. The production, again, is very warm and fuzzy but the drums and vocals both come across very clearly in the mix. The drums, in particular, were very tight and dynamic enough to accommodate both the brutal grinding parts and the more technical and melodic passages.
Vocalist Paul Ritchings displayed an impressive range of styles, volumes, and tones in his voice, though never singing clean (bravo). I will always associate this album with Viogression because I got both cds in the used section of a local record store about 15 years ago, and they have both gone on to become all-time favorites. In this age of neo-nineties resurgence, do yourself a favor and look up these two antiques from the first go around.
3. Necrotomy – Indecent Exposure EP (Wild Rags Records)
Back in the day, I remember some of my friends blowing this off as some Impetigo rip-off band when we heard it. I knew better and held onto the cd. Twenty years after its recording, this album provides for an interesting snapshot in the history of American grindcore. I hear far more Reek… era Carcass and General Surgery influence throughout this album, though Impetigo is definitely channeled through the youthful hardcore/punk rock attitude that punctuates certain songs (only fitting, as the band photo looks like the type of teenagers who kill cats for Satan in the woods).
These guys weren’t afraid to go heavy on the pitch-shifted vocals or blastbeats and explored a style of goregrind that wouldn’t really catch on in the U.S. for years to come. Though not as tight and linear as the goregrind bands that would break out all over Europe in the coming decades (Regurgitate, LDOH, Haemorrhage, Dead Infection, etc.), this was certainly an anomaly in its day, which was the pre-internet suburban underground of early nineties Texas.
4. Disharmonic Orchestra – Not to be Undimensional Conscious (Nuclear Blast)
This is one of the most classic of all oddball Death Metal bands. The more you try to describe them, the further off you get. Influenced by jazz, funk, and progressive music, Disharmonic Orchestra were not afraid to try anything. Less like a patchwork quilt of genres, like you get with many bands nowadays, Disharmonic Orchestra’s eccentricities were very organic – they never let you forget they were a Death Metal band, even though they seemed hell-bent on breaking every stereotype and self-imposed limit of the genre.
Typically epic, technical, and often brutal, the songs on this album all fit well together as a single cohesive vision, but each one also takes on its own identity. One song has an awkward, but tight, 8-bar rap sequence while another relies on a repetitive, but addictive melodic passage with a subtle keyboard harmony. One song has exaggerated bass solos while another has trace elements of additional percussion instruments (the bass playing on this album overall is exceptional, and certainly not shy). Those who can look past the few parts that reach too far will find a treasure of heartfelt, forward thinking Death Metal. This one may have got them some weird looks , but it definitely established new borders in Death Metal and paved the way for a lot of future experimenting.
5. Adramelech – Spring of Recovery (7”) (Adipocere Records)
Though not a full album, I felt it was noteworthy that this timeless classic would be turning 20 in 2012. To me this is quite possibly the all-time perfect Death Metal 7”. This was truly a triumph of atmosphere and production, with every single detail making a short, dynamic and mysterious release that leaves you wanting more.
In less than ten minutes, Adramelech deliver an intro plus two songs of perfect old-school Finnish Death Metal that stays true to a low, guttural aesthetic, while allowing the songs to flourish with dark melodic passages and even occasional synth touches. At times the brutal guitar tone and stomping double bass call to mind Squash Bowels’ old, raw recordings – while the dissonant blasting and dry vocals sound like the faster parts of Demilich’s demo. One of the most obscure and intense bands that somehow never seemed to keep a lineup together long…