From the Past Comes the Storms 06
by: T. DePalma
Another year passes, and more and more artists and labels have seized the opportunity to reissue their back catalogs and showcase unreleased material to the public. These attempts serving not only to celebrate but naturally to cash-in on the past, there are bound to be those whose work is either tagged as a post-mortem "classic" or, having secured the proper rights with no further complicity, are designed to milk capital from naivety. The list below aims to showcase those releases offered with some genuine concern for each musical legacy, often lovingly compiled by the artists themselves. The charm then, is to have these lost or forgotten cuts presented in historical context; a chance to learn what the fogies will relive and those born too late might only grasp through sordid text and perfunctory titles of today. 2006's round up from the vault:

Asphyx - _The Rack_ (Century Media, originally released 1991)

As early inheritors of doom/death, Asphyx wrote music as brutal as it was intimidating. Evoking its namesake through every step, _The Rack_'s signature protracted bars snap back into urgent cries of anguish, manipulating as it pleases. With production that is at once tough, contained and inelegant, spongy guitars swell and trap Martin Van Drunen's unstable torture-croaks; speed drains strings with static resonance, squeaks spit out from gnashing metal and unified aggression.

With slightly above the minimum technical requirements on display, Asphyx frequently bully their sound into you, in some instances heading off their own potential in a formalistic rehash of Death's _Leprosy_. However, the more epic refrains on "Ode to a Nameless Grave", "Evocation", "The Rack" and "Pages in Blood" play to their strengths, building slow dirges that branch into complex songs, hued by keyboards and unnerving repetitions that follow until the album's fading close. Flawed, but great for what it is, and now back in proper circulation as part of a slew of reissues by Century Media (including albums by Unleashed, Grave and Bloodbath). _The Rack_ 2006 also includes the generic addition of eleven live tracks recorded in the band's native Holland circa 1991.

Axegrinder - _Rise of the Serpent Men_ (Peaceville, originally released 1988)

Inevitably spawned by a similar environment of corruption and smoggy skies that mutated rock 'n' roll into heavy metal, the crust sound rose up through the animus of Britain's 1980s punk underground; a blend of two mutually abrasive and loud categories, finding friends in eventual grind legends like Carcass, Bolt Thrower and Napalm Death. Like everything else, the aesthetics, "ethic" and noise of its most influential bands have now dispersed around the globe in various and many non-discernable groups.

London's Axegrinder, like Amebix before them, adapted the industrial girth and structure of Motorhead, Celtic Frost and Sabbath with vicious political overtones and blunt pessimism, essentially slowing punk down into uneasy dark churns. Their first and only record _Rise of the Serpent Men_ is a solid imprint of the scene's attitude and aggression -- which is always the simplest to pull off, but here balanced by a distinct aesthetic that throws up a wall of brute voices and harsh appearances with piano and synthesizer introductions helping create an epic and ultimately doomed reflection on war and enslavement.


Baphomet - _The Dead Shall Inherit_ (Peaceville, originally released 1992)

Almost comically simplistic on the surface, New York's Baphomet form a kind of trinity with Suffocation and Morpheus Descends in the realm of previously unfathomed brutality. Their 1992 debut contains all the hallmarks of what soon became a regional cliché. Fundamental grind aesthetics are slowed down into precisely hammered chords -- machine like marches that swell under full-formed hacking growls and steely bass rhythm. There is a definite atmosphere and skill involved that surpasses the relative blandness of the formula. The song "Boiled in Blood" has also become something of a cult-favorite. Shortly after the release of _The Dead Shall Inherit_, the band changed their name to not conflict with another (German) Baphomet, then going on to release the redundant _Deliver Me Unto Pain_ as Banished. Generic digipak; no booklet/lyrics; not even a line-up credit. What's that all about?


Behemoth - _Demonica_ (Regain Records)

Behemoth frontman Adam "Nergal" Darski is a tireless entrepreneur, second only perhaps to Tom Fischer as extreme metal's keenest advertiser. While plenty of labels / distributors manage to turn a profit off novelty collections and creative packaging almost on a now weekly basis, none have the ability to wring a new product out of every detail and misadventure like Behemoth. _Demonica_, a two-disc set made up of demo and unreleased tracks, is self-indulgence served up for the diehard fan. To be sure, the layout is superb; the hardcover book format that encases the discs and booklet is both durable and packed (on smudge-free paper) with lyrics, flyers, photos, zine excerpts and full page liner notes by Nergal, Pagan Records' Tomas Krajewski, ex-band members Baal and Desecrator, and lyricist Kryzstof Azarweicz. Each CD is printed with a simple black pentagram over the disc's plain reflective surface, and set atop the book's clear plastic interior with dual ourorboros beaming from underneath, symbolic the of group's explosive character.

Disc one opens with 1992's _Return of the Northern Moon_ demo and a moody introduction courtesy of Rob Darken, spliced with a prayer from the Latin mass. As extremely underdeveloped as these tracks are (and it seems almost impossible that someone who was introduced to Behemoth from _Satanica_ on would get much out of here), they have a certain atmosphere and a firm handle of melody at times comparable to early Graveland ("Bless Thee for Granting Me Pain"), only more synchronized. This first half also includes two _Sventevith_ era session recordings (arguably their most remarkable period) and a new cut of "Transylvanian Forest", death metal style. Disc two contains the _From the Pagan Vastlands_ demo, several tracks off the _Vastlands_ pre- production tape and a new version of "Spellcraft and Heathendom".

It's the story that shines the least in this glossy-gold lettered memoir. Although meant to be humanizing (stage fright, struggle with religious beliefs and poor performances are readily admitted throughout), it's still written, naturally, in a way that presupposes Behemoth's legendary status. I'm not quite sold, but whatever one thinks of the music, it's obvious that few bands take as much care and seriousness in their presentation, and with the kind of freedom and artistic sense that helps ensure the legacy they desire. If only those options were open to other bands.


Cianide - _Ashes to Dust_ (From Beyond Productions)

Cianide are one of the oldest pure-bred death metal groups from the USA still making records, and possibly the earliest from their hometown of Chicago. Under-noticed to say the least and with seven full-lengths already under their belt, this direct brand of death/doom is now compiled as a two disc set that includes all the Cianide demos, unreleased tracks and promos from 1990-99. Their Sabbath plus Celtic Frost formula finds common ground with the likes of Acheron, Cathedral and even Incantation, melting slow horror score into split-stick drum rhythms that almost have to fend for themselves against co-founder Mike Perun's grizzly lungs. For the most part, the sound quality here is actually preferable to the actual records, exploding sludge with purpose unequaled. Highlights include the anthemic "We Are the Doomed" and "Remain in Hell". The later tracks tend to be on the faster side, which is less desirable (see also Scepter, Usurper), but surveying the years there is little "progression", which one can be grateful for. Includes demo scans and band photos. Simple but well packaged.


Clown Alley - _Circus of Chaos_ (Southern Lord, originally releases 1986, Alchemy Records)

Standard crossover featuring Jerryz Kid's Dave Duran and Lori (Lorax) Black who used to record with the Melvins, released for the first time on CD with bonus live bonus tracks. There are a few more biographical notes here, but nothing that would make the music sound more interesting. For fans of D.R.I., C.o.C., Sacrilege B.C., zzzz.

Dead Conspiracy - _Gore Drenched Legacy_ (Hells' Headbangers)

Here's a first: basic and pummeling death metal from Portland, Oregon circa 1986. Dead Conspiracy's complete history finds its way onto CD for the first time ever. The early material here from 1987-88 is exceptionally conceived in the vein of Possessed / Death -- fast and ripping, often humorous gore with rough barks placating the evil vibrations of standouts "Dormancy", "Stygian Darkness" and "Cessations". The later material thins out into speed metal (almost on the edge of prog) but nowhere near as potent. A small but worthy contribution alongside those more well-known greats.


Death Militia - _You Can't Kill What's Already Dead: Anthology 1985-1988_ (Evil Legend)

Although by no means a forgotten classic, Canada's Death Militia recorded a few serviceable tapes of power / speed metal in the mid- Eighties which have now been unearthed along with some instrumental rehearsal and live cuts, bringing their career total to fifteen tracks. The most memorable songs, like "Killing Time" and "Beneath the Cross", borrow heavily from Fate's _Don't Break the Oath_, but Death Militia never really pursued any kind of steady formula in this short time that would lead to their own sound. Sad to say, but it really could be anybody on these recordings. For diehard connoisseurs only.


Deviated Instinct - _Welcome to the Orgy_ (Peaceville)

Like Axegrinder, influential crust-punks Deviated Instinct began in 1985 and released their first full-length in 1988. _Welcome to the Orgy_ compiles the group's '86 EP of the same name -- Peaceville's first ever vinyl release -- their debut album _Rock 'n' Roll Conformity_ and their follow-up _Guttural Breath_ onto one compact disc.

Unlike the burly intrusions of their London neighbors, DI pulled together their animosity and filth into manic, disorganized and skanky tracks that expressed politics, personal strife and satisfying visions of death in ways not unfamiliar to thrash or even black and death metal. Stylistically, the band was all over the map, spitting venomous spoken word pieces a la Crass on their early demos, mixing flute interludes and television samples into bedroom productions of intimate, youthful aggression. _Welcome to the Orgy_ marked a turn toward a more potent and heavier style, with vocalist Leggo's Attila Csihar-esque air-choked croaks thrown onto negative slag and scrape, leads that go nowhere and just a generally careless performance all around.

It was the energy that mattered and still remains here, together with rambling scenarios of "ice warriors" and mankind's "iron forests" reconquered by a new Earth. Such ruin was further elaborated in stunning ballpoint style drawings of adolescent mania courtesy of guitraist Rob (Mid) Middleton (whom you'll also recognize from many of your Napalm Death albums) which manifested raven heads, skull kingdoms, Celtic knots, evil eyes and ancient Runes across their LP covers and inserts -- all of which are reproduced inside. The digipak is light but exceptional, including lyrics and band photos (note the Voivod and Bathory shirts) with a brief introduction by Middleton about the group's reputation for poor hygiene, which predictably gave rise to the now inseparable flag of "stenchcore".


Dream Death - _Back From the Dead_ (psycheDOOMelic)

Pittsburgh's Dream Death, who credit themselves with introducing "sludge metal" into the lexicon, recorded one minor classic of early death metal in 1987's _Journey Into Mystery (New Renaissance)_ before fading away into history. After breaking up in 1989, the remaining members formed a new group, Penance, while drummer Mike Smail went on to perform on Cathedral's _Forest of Equilibrium_ and today is a member of Pentagram. Already, that should have you curious.

Earlier this year, the group reformed and landed an opening spot on local dates of Celtic Frost's US tour, and now the Dream Death demos are available in this sleek single-disc edition designed by Smail, with artwork by bassist Ted Williams and liner notes by Brian Lawrence Goodbread (vocals/guitar).

Dream Death's focus on slow, rudimentary metal has earned them a spot in the annals of doom metal, but the music moves neither at the slowly devastating pace of what we know today, nor with any growling menace. (Goodbreath is somewhat regretful that the band never achieved the strength of their live sound on record.) The term "sludge metal" has also become a euphemism for Southernized hardcore, and again, one needs to readjust for context. The band is somewhat anomalous then; an incomplete mixture of Sabbath with tints of both Hellhammer and Celtic Frost that shows a morbid fascination with death and fantasy but also a social consciousness underpinning several tracks.

The full-length was also reissued in a small pressing not long ago, and both releases make for an interesting look back through the genre.


Incantation - _Onward to Golgotha_ (Relapse, originally released 1992)

_Onward to Golgotha_ was the first death metal record I ever actually owned. I loaned it to a friend once in high-school and then it "disappeared", later becoming the property of at least two other acquaintances on through the years. First lesson: all kids are dicks. Second: a great album, like all great art, transcends its material aspects. I never did get another copy, but certain riffs never left me.

Relapse presents this classic as a two disc collector's set including previously unreleased live photos and (unnecessarily) retouched photos from the original. With Incantation there is little to write off as comical or inappropriate: no cheap monsters on the cover, no movie samples and no extravagant posturing. Instead we have artist Miran Kim's transfixing image of failed salvation and a no bullshit aesthetic creating a penetrating denial of Catholic epistemology. For those subjected to that sort of upbringing, you feel, almost absurdly, that you do harm just by listening to these songs. In that way, _Onward to Golgotha_ epitomizes death metal as a rupturing of walls -- taken more literally in the album's instantly recognizable combination of downtuned guitars, tangled pinched grooves and collapsing drum rhythms that have been replicated on each subsequent album but only once (_Diabolical Conquest_) have come close to this grade of superlative writing. Disc two is a DVD, adding three live shows from 1992, each of varying but generally very good video quality and sound that may be rough at times but is distinct and true to the feeling this music creates.

This is truly one of the blackest records of all time and should be sought after at all costs. Steal your friend's if you have to. They'll understand.


I Shalt Become - _Wandering_ (Moribund, originally released 1996)

This early Burzum-inspired album has become a kind of cult object for several reasons since its release ten years ago. It is the only material released under the moniker I Shalt Become by the sole and still faceless member, S. Holliman from Illinois, USA. (This in itself is pretty remarkable.) The album has also been grouped under what would have been at the time a virtually non-existent NSBM "scene". A later demo under the name Birkenau, which wound up on the infamous _Night and Fog_ compilation, seems to have caused much of the confusion. None of _Wandering_'s brief, fragmented lyrics and non- threatening images of landscapes evokes a political so much as internal, contemplative mood in the vein of _Filosofem_. Beyond the vagueness of that history is an exceptional work of bare misanthropy expelled through the sting and howl of lonely guitar melodies carried through waves of haunting preternatural voices. Fans of Xasthur and Leviathan take note.


Katatonia - _Brave Murder Day_ + _Sounds of Decay_ EP (Peaceville, originally released 1996 and 1997, Avantgarde)

by: Pedro Azevedo

Having bought the rights to the masters of Katatonia's releases on Avantgarde, Peaceville have chosen to pair _Brave Murder Day_ with the subsequent _Sounds of Decay_ EP as the first reissue. While it seems odd they have left out their classic debut _Dance of December Souls_ for the time being, they did make the right option as far as the pairing of _BMD_ and _SoD_. At one point Avantgarde put out a version of _BMD_ with the previous EP _For Funerals to Come_ as a bonus, which made little sense. Clearly the pairing of _Dance of December Souls_ with _For Funerals to Come_ will make much more sense when they reissue that album, as does this _Brave Murder Day_ plus _Sounds of Decay_ reissue -- these two are not only stylistically related, but both also have Opeth's Mikael Akerfeldt performing vocals.

The real news for Katatonia fans however is that the original and admittedly somewhat crippling sound that _Brave Murder Day_ had has been remixed. The result is something far more to the liking of guitarist Anders "Blackheim" Nyström, who is also responsible for the extensive liner notes that accompany the digipak (where he readily admits that if they "ever put out a truly classic album, it might very well end up being _BMD_"). The sound isn't exactly different as much as it is simply better; they haven't turned it into an unfamiliar record for longtime fans by any stretch of the imagination, instead providing them with improved sound quality based on the same foundations.

From start to finish on this classic, Katatonia mix bleakness and dissonance with emotion and melody in a way that ten years later continues to touch a deep chord. There isn't much to say about the importance of _Brave Murder Day_ in the European doom scene that shouldn't already be known by anyone interested in the genre. If you are interested in said genre but only just starting, then buy this without thinking twice. _Brave Murder Day_ was the first of its kind in a number of ways, a unique and innovative album with inspired and uncompromising performances from Blackheim and Akerfeldt. The _Sounds of Decay_ EP, however, seems to have eluded plenty of people thus far; it is a brief but entirely worthy successor, and the last Katatonia would write in this specific mould. An excellent reissue.


Manes - _Svarte Skoger_ (Kyrck Productions)

Manes' first three demos on one disc, featuring the original line-up of Sargatanas (vocals) and Cernunus (Tor-Helge Skei, guitar / synthesizer). Ahead of their time in many respects, Manes' early material is a fascinating assembly of contrasts -- one minute performing carnival-esque symphonies evoking images of cartoon Halloween specials, bad makeup and wax Dracula fangs, the next a screeching assault of black metal circa 1993, evoking bad makeup and... well, anyway it's harder to reconcile than it sounds, and even while Manes rarely succeeds beyond siphoning off minimal film (or Nintendo) scores under the worst possible production, contending with a drum machine that, at best, is like a recording of finger tapping while set in mittens, it does have a certain (un-ironic) charm that hints of better things to come. After all, they did record at least one good album before going the way of Ulver. Sixteen tracks total. Recently made available in a second edition pressing with different artwork and photos.

Massacre - _Tyrants of Death_ (Iron Pegasus)

Tampa, Florida's Massacre began at the same time as the more often mentioned Death, seeing members of nearly all of the bands' incarnations drift back and forth throughout the Eighties. Because of their (late) debut, _From Beyond_ (1991), the band gained wider and much deserved recognition, but it was their early and insane demo tapes that first propelled their legendary status.

Iron Pegasus has gathered these early tracks together with the band's cooperation "to give all you maniacs an idea of what the early years of Massacre were all about, plus to avoid shit-sounding bootlegs at high prices with wrong photos etc." Now, don't be misled -- it still sounds like shit, just that it's affordable. Demos I & II are low- tuned, mangled tape recordings that have somehow survived from 1986 up to now.

Showcasing first the original line-up of Michael Borders, Kam Lee, Billy Andrews, Alan West, who was then replaced by Rick Rozz, Massacre shred through darkest death, dive-bombing off the cuff and sounding every bit of evil that's commonly associated with the likes of Beherit and early Deicide. A recording at Rock City in Tampa (with one notable dedication to then-Gorque Productions manager David Vincent) fills out the rest of the disc. Supplemented with an eleven page booklet plastered with flyers, photos and redacted interviews previously published in Voices From the Darkside webzine.


Morbid Angel - _Altars of Madness_ (Earache, originally released 1989)

On the third(?) try Earache finally gets it right. There is no point trying to explain this album again. If you don't own it or haven't yet heard it, you pretty much don't matter. Includes a DVD of the full 1989 Nottingham Rock (Grindcrusher) show. Essential in every respect.


Pestilence - _Chronicles of the Scourge_ (Metal War Productions)

One of the better death / speed metal bands that formed in the mid to late Eighties, Pestilence's first two records, _Mallaeus Malleficarum_ and _Consuming Impulse_, are still relatively easy to find and absolutely worth obtaining (the former was reissued some years back with their first two demos).

This release comprises two shows by Pestilence at the peak of their career: the Kix Festival in Holland, 1989, and a live concert in Bochum, Germany, 1988, with the line-up of Martin Van Drunen (bass, vocals), Patrick Uterwijk (guitar), Patrick Mameli (guitar) and Marco Foddis (drums) -- however the sound quality is less appreciable than their fast, technical style really deserves. The poor audio creates a distance beyond the years. At times listening to it becomes archival, cold, scientific, though there's nothing particularly historical about either of these sets. It's a slightly disappointing if noble attempt to keep the name alive and offer something final for die-hard fans and collectors (and fully endorsed by the band).

Also includes an unreleased track ("Consuming Impulse") and separate slipcase CD of rehearsal tracks (a bit more discernible). The cover was originally to be used for the second album.

Poison - _Further Down Into the Abyss_ (Iron Pegasus)

Ah, German thrash metal. Or is it death metal? Black metal? Iron Pagasus brings forth another undernoticed but not necessarily undervalued demo tape with selections of other demo and live material to round out the platter. Poison's obscure 1987 offering _Into the Abyss_ has become steadily recognized as a lost gem, and it's hard to argue with the original four-track cut: bloody mouthed, gauntlet strapped metal that's like a mixture of early Destruction and _Hell Awaits_. Poison were not so much ahead of their time as they were on the rim of new extremes. Like Sodom, their best ideas were offset by rudimentary heavy metal flashes or else lost in the wrecked audio quality. It might also be interesting to note that the opening line "Into the Abyss I fall", taken from their song "Sphinx", was likely borrowed from Iron Maiden, but also appears as the first line on Darkthrone's _Soulside Journey_ album. The song itself wound up on a Roadrunner compilation, but nothing more ever came of their association and it's hard to believe a label backed full-length would have made much of an impact beyond the band and their already small but dedicated following (which included members of Mayhem). Think of how many bands did have that opportunity and have been similarly brushed aside. A validation for some: this music was never meant to outlive its era. Includes scans of flyers, zines (in German) and a partial interview with vocalist Uli Hildebrand from Snakepit Magazine.


Skyforger - _Kauja pie Saules_ (Paragon Records, originally released 1998, Mascot Records)

Skyforger's debut album (trans. "The Battle of Saule") opens with what we're told is an ancient Latvian warrior song setting the stage for their powerfully compelling theme:

"The battle horses were neighing, / waiting for the warriors. / Warriors sharpened their swords, / Crossed them for an oath: / 'I would rather lose my head, / Not the land of my father.'"

Ever since their demo _Semigall's Warchant_ up to their breakthrough sophomore release _Latvian Riflemen_, Skyforger has maintained a unique theme in their discography that sets them apart from other folk metal groups of the time. Musically, they blend aspects of black metal with stirring folk chants, bagpipes and lighter flute accompaniments, but also execute their sound with a monstrous power and infatuation with war that, in some respects, has made them the eastern European version of Bolt Thrower. This re-release includes lyrics in both Latvian and English with explanations of specific historical dates and events. Recommended for its exciting balance between the more reverent / spiritual folk intonations and a glorious battle lust.

Trouble - _Psalm 9_ (Escape Music, originally released 1985, Metal Blade)

Since we all have little choice in our upbringing, let's take a deep breath and face a possibly unpleasant fact of life: the Bible has inevitably shaped metal and its various expressions as it has countless lives, cultures and works of art throughout centuries, either being caught in the embrace of its supernatural commandments or by a contrary infatuation with its crude and tormenting justice.

Chicago's Trouble were unique not so much in their devotion to a higher power, but that they truly rocked even while spouting lukewarm evangelicals. In the entire genre few have managed to balance between their craft and message without falling apart at once through flimsy execution on the soul-saving route. And that is what comes off as the message, no matter what vocalist Eric Wagner complains of their stigma contra groups like Slayer and Venom. (There's a good laugh to be had between Wagner's attempt to source William Blake and Jim Morrison as the inspiration for his plain Sunday-schoolisms and Martin Popoff's generous characterization of these as "metaphysical" in the liner notes.)

In succession of Black Sabbath, Angelwitch and the lesser Witchfinder General, Trouble's debut record is an energetic display of sinister grooves and NWOBHM melodies that holds up well today, even if it never moves beyond a borrowed style and for my money is still the most enjoyable part of their entire catalog. Includes a DVD of one early public access TV interview with performances of "Psalm 9", "Assassin" and "Victim of the Insane".


Vital Remains - _Horrors of Hell_ (Century Media)

In the wake of their success following _Dechristianized_, some people might have forgotten how boring this band actually used to be. Although their last three full-lengths are at least worth hearing, much of their career has been hit or miss, as the group seemed unsure where to take their sound next. _Horrors of Hell_ unearths Vital Remains' first two demo releases and a lone EP from 1991; however, much of this is generic death metal only moderately enlivened by then-vocalist Jeff Ruslin's weird vocal chants and other macabre touches used here and there. (The horns resounding on "Nocturnal Blasphemy" are truly creepy.) Includes detailed liner notes by founder Tony Lazaro and a few old photographs.

(article submitted 9/1/2007)

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