Anders Biazzi has two things going for him: He can write death metal riffs that are pure gold, and he’s friends with a bunch of monster vocalists and soloing guitar demons. I don’t mean to suggest that he doesn’t have other good qualities, though for all I know he sacrifices virgins every night at the altar of the death metal gods. Actually, the more I listen to Biazzi’s band Just Before Dawn, the more I think that’s exactly what he does.
Just Before Dawn’s new album is The Aftermath, and it’s unusually good. I use the word “unusually” in an effort to be precise. And this is what I mean:
I’m willing to acknowledge, at least when I’m sober, that some people don’t feel the primal attraction of that distinctive strain of extreme music known as Swedish death metal or the tank battalion attack of Bolt Thrower. I’m also willing (when sober) to respect the opinions of fans who to this day are satisfied continuing to re-play their enshrined collection of death metal albums from the late 80s and early 90s because they don’t see the point in devoting time to anything that’s unlikely to improve the original template. Sometimes I think I’m too respectful.
But since I’m sober at the moment, I’ll just say this: The Aftermath captures and combines all the qualities that make this kind of old school death metal a primal, undying force while at the same time enriching the canon with songs that are vibrant and memorable. I think you’d have to be very jaded and hide-bound not to feel the spark, no matter how wedded you may be to the classics. And therefore I say, it’s unusually good.
The riffs are the cornerstones of all these songs. They have that massive, smoking chainsaw tone that radiates brute power, with a percussive impact that’s physically compulsive. They’re stripped-down and primitive, varying between up-tempo rampages that sound like an unstoppable freight-train and titanic, mid-paced chugging that rolls like the vanguard of a tank brigade. Every now and then, Biazzi will throw in some rapid-fire jabs or needling tremolo riffs or doom crawls, but for the most part the music stays in one of those two lethal gears — and they’re geared to steamroll the listener and leave a flattened smear of organs and bone in their wake.
As excellent as all the cornerstone riffs are, they’re not the whole story. From the song titles to the lyrics to the artwork, the album takes most of its themes from World War II, but the themes also extend into the atmosphere of the music. The melodies are dark and dramatic, with an often bleak and bereft air that instills a saturated sense of devastation and loss over the course of the album as a whole. This sounds more like a memorial to the fallen dead than a celebration of glorious victories. There is death and disease in this death metal, but not the ghoulish, supernatural kind; you can feel that all these horrors come from the hand of man.
In addition to the melodic leads, the guitar solos throughout the album are first-rate — and no wonder, given the line-up of soloists who make guest appearances: Gustav Myrin, Jonas Lindblood, Rick Rozz, Thomas Wouters, Ronnie Björnström, and Dennis Blomberg. Sometimes they’re searing, squalling, shrieking eruptions of shred, and sometimes they’re slow, slithering, eerie, and even beautiful.
The principal drummer on the album is Brynjar Helgetun. (Crypticus, Megascavenger), though Mattias Borgh (Blood Mortized) makes a guest appearance on “Bastogne”. The drumming isn’t flashy — flashiness really isn’t the point of this kind of music — but it capably anchors the music and is a key part of the drive train in this massive sonic machine.
Now we come to the vocals, and they’re a big part of what gives each song its own character — because no two of the vocalists sound alike. Just Before Dawn was originally conceived as a two-person project between Biazzi and vocalist Rogga Johansson, but the line-up of vocalists expanded. On this album the list is as follows:
Across the Battlefield – Nick Jones (Crepitus, Fate Turns Grey)
Lightning War – Dave Ingram (Benediction, Bolt Thrower)
Soulburner – Jonas Stålhammar (God Macabre, Bombs of Hades)
Incoming – Joakim Mikiver (One Hour Hell, Tormention) / Teddy Möller (F.K.Ü.)
Bastard Battalion – Thomas Wouters (Bodyfarm)
Death from Above – Jonas Lindblood (Puteraeon) / Gustav Myrin (Blood Mortized)
Device of Utter Death – Johan Jansson (Demonical, Interment)
Bastogne – David Nilsson (Feral)
Through the Mud – Mark Grewe (Morgoth)/ Mathias Lodmalm (Cemetary)
Blitzkreig Brigade* – Nick Jones
Frontline* – Anders Strokirk (Blackshine, Necrophobic)
Feast of the Firedemon – Dennis and Håkan Johansson
The Aftermath – Ralf Hauber (Revel In Flesh)
All of these people clearly know what they’re doing, and part of the fun in The Aftermath comes from enjoying the differences in the vocals from song to song. But make no mistake: whether they’re deep and guttural or high and shrieking, the vocals are all bestial and ravenous, a veritable cornucopia of death metal putridity.
When I was listing Anders Biazzi’s strong points at the outset of this review, I should have mentioned a third: He has Benny Moberg (Malfeitor) for an ally. Moberg did a beautiful job mixing and mastering The Aftermath at Sufficiently Studios in Stockholm, and he also prepared the artwork and the layout.
In a nutshell, this is back-to-basics death metal: potent, lethally addictive riffs; grim, atmospheric melodies; beautifully executed solos; and horrifying vocal filth. As long as this kind of music is done this well, it’s never going to wear out its welcome. More please!
The Aftermath will be released by Chaos Records on November 10, and you can order it here. It will come in two different editions, each one including a four-panel digi-wallet with a 16-page booklet featuring artwork and lyrics for all the tracks, but with different cover art and a different bonus track for each edition (“Blitzkrieg Brigade” on the edition with art featured at the top of this post and “Frontline” on the edition that comes with the second cover you saw above). Each version is limited to 500 copies worldwide.
The songs will also be available as a digital download via the Chaos Records Bandcamp link below. Three songs are now streaming on that Bandcamp page, and one more is the subject of a YouTube video — listen to all those below.