EDITOR’S NOTE: William Smith is the vocalist for a Long Island band named Artificial Brain who we’ve written about repeatedly — and who have been signed by Profound Lore for the release of their debut album Labyrinth Constellation on Feb 18 [details here]. He also writes a very entertaining blog named Vitos Squid Stop and Death Metal Museum. For the third year in a row, as part of our annual LISTMANIA series, he has given us a 2-part list of “anniversary” albums — five albums recorded 10 years and 20 years earlier, respectively. This is the first part, discussing death metal gems that appeared in 1994. Part 2 will appear tomorrow.
The past year and the promises of 2014 have proved very fortuitous for forward-thinking underground Death Metal diehards. I have witnessed a younger generation carry the traditions and soul of the basement underground scene of the 90s into the uncertain future of today with unblinking nerve and progressive attitudes. Beyond that, old school veterans such as Malignancy, Mortal Decay, Gorguts, and Demilich have proven active and relevant in contemporary Death Metal culture and in doing so have acquired a powerfully potent respect and credibility with both newcomers and archgoats alike. All that being said, the departure of the holiday season has inspired a wistful tear for nostalgia in my eye and, as always, I am grateful to share with you my favorite gems that turn 10 and 20 years old this year.
“Immersed in reflection, memories linger and cling like dirt.” – Intronaut, “Nostalgic Echo”
CLASS OF 1994 (20 year anniversary)
Disgorged (NY) – The Unspeakable Revived (Metalhit.com)
This is actually the title of Disgorged’s half of the Disgorged/Withered Earth split CD. The songs that make up The Unspeakable Revived are basically just a compilation of material that was originally released on cassette by Disgorged in 93 – 94. Disgorged was from upstate NY but played with just as much head-nodding crunch as the Long Island boys – they also mixed in a combination of pinch harmonic driven grooves with deep, throaty vocals that some may appreciate as the “cool Uncle” who predates such bands as Deaden, Malignancy, and Mortal Decay.
Disgorged would later go on to mutate in to the somewhat more refined Withered Earth after a few significant lineup changes, but the cryptic vocals, churning guitars, and pre-triggeroni double bass stomping make Disgorged a necessary namesake in the genealogy of NY style Death Metal. Besides maybe the legendary Scattered Remnants, I can’t think of a band that made palm muting into a style of self-expression while retaining a morose, doom-laden edge to better effect in orthodox 90s era American Death Metal. Get your slam on.
Godless Truth (Czech Republic) – Another Disease Demo (self released)
Godless Truth was always a talented group of Czech Death Metal bros, though I prefer their first two albums of classy European Death Metal to the later material that would take on a more street-level Western influence. They started out with a humble demo tape that stands out still as an exceptional example of the Czech Republic’s ability to produce heartfelt, grinding Death Metal. Another Disease encapsulates perfectly the influence of both brutal, violent grindcore with guitar-driven, harmonic Death-inspired songwriting. On this short demonstration we get everything from an acoustic composition complete with sounds from a day at the beach to classy Carcass-style mid-tempo guitar solos and low, slurry vocals.
This is one of those European demos from the 90’s where they take a very simple and classic brutal Death Metal framework but pull it off impeccably and with a signature style that fans would come to recognize throughout several revamped lineups and recordings. God bless Godless Truth.
Insatanity (NJ, USA) – Ad Maiorem Satanae Gloria Demo (self released)
Truly a relic from a bygone era – I believe Insatanity still exists today, but regrettably without the iconic Reverend Mark Rochar on vocals or longtime lead guitarist Jay Lipitz, the 2 members who bravely soldiered on through the late nineties and kept Insatanity guttural, catchy, and evil through many trials and tribulations. Last time I saw them live was probably around 1998. They were selling tie-dye Insatanity shirts and had an IMac as a drummer, but still put on a crushing set with no bass and Evan from Morbid Entrée providing 2nd guitar support.
This thick, yet surprisingly clear-sounding demo shifts gears periodically between concrete NY stomps and dark, regal leads. The (human) drums are tight and keep things rolling fairly seamlessly between all this action, delivering plenty of classic early 90s style syncopated jackhammer blasts. The two key elements that make this, and any of the old Insatanity recordings, stand out are the bottomless-sounding guttural vocal parts and the way they seamlessly blend blackened Death Metal with addictively catchy breaks and headbanging thrashouts. A band with its own identity who touched on ideas that were, at the time, unique to very different regions like Florida, NY, and Finland.
Intestine Baalism – (Japan) The Energumenus demo (self released)
Anyone who has read my previous anniversary reviews already knows I have a soft spot for this old school Japanese band and their beautifully nuanced take on the Swedish Death Metal sound. This demo, again, is incredibly clear and tight for the time period and displays the same stoic, professional musicianship and disciplined songwriting that would be exposed to wider audiences on their first full length Anatomy of the Beast.
A pair of soft, heart-wrenching keyboard pieces serve as intro and outro to sandwich 4 raging Grave/Entombed/Dismember-summoning headbangers with cryptic vocals and monolith, wall of sound atmosphere. The organic, analog sound (even when downloaded on mp3) and ear candy synthesizer pieces are probably the biggest attractions of this demo to me when compared with such formidable later releases. In an era where many are going back to the old Swedish bands for inspiration, it might do some well to see how these Japanese kids reinvented the style to a sound all their own before it even got cold.
Mangled Torsos – (Germany) Drawings of the Dead CD (Morbid Records)
A personal all-time favorite of mine from the Death Metal underground. Only a magical era like the early nineties could produce such an ingeniously macabre and inspired piece of Death Metal. On the surface this album is primitive, dark, and brutal – for fans of old Dead Infection, older Carcass, and General Surgery. But for those who look beyond the unapologetically “cookie monster” vocals and sludgy, clunky production, you will be surprised with unexpectedly atmospheric clean guitar passages (“They get all ‘Guns N Roses’” – Andrew Hock), ritualistic synthesizer accents, and some of the most slobbery, soupy, pitchshifter vocals ever regurgitated.
This album is far from perfect in execution and craft, but is one of those anomalies of underground music that is so priceless for its surreal atmosphere and shameless originality that you deserve to treat yourself and get lost in it just once. Though I’m sure this album was polarizing when it came out, today we can agree – there will never be another Mangled Torsos.
For me, the most important thing about this era of death metal is that there wasn’t as big a gap between bands focused on atmosphere and bands focused on interesting musicianship. A high level of technical playing doesn’t have to come at the expense of feeling and mood. I’m glad that some of the older bands that pulled off a good mix of the two (Immolation, Demilich, Malignancy, etc.) have received a little more attention in the past year or two. Not to mention some newer bands that really keep that spirit alive – Gigan, Ulcerate, and of course Artificial Brain.
these are all awesome bands, i especially love Disgorged and Godless Truth