Following PART I and PART II
In 1989, death metal was by all measures a scarce commodity ‘overground’. What it lacked in quantity, though, it more than made up for in quality, speaking in terms of albums that would contribute remarkably to the evolution of the genre. Few of these albums can readily be described as ‘true’ or pedigree DM – if any at all – for the simple reason that genre mash-ups was evidently a rule of the era, not an exception. So please leave any rigid genre criteria by the doorstep; they do not really apply here!
In addition to the distinguished Top Ten above, here are ten subsidiary full-length albums from 1989 with a death metal twang or twist, either of the innovative-influential or just purely whacky kind. Two key guidelines have determined the selection of bands: (1) rather oddball than orthodox, and (2) rather outlandish than UK or US. Specifically, it means that I have cold-shouldered most death/thrash hybrids in favour of something rather more ‘offbeat’, and that this DM tour of the world for instance includes an exotic destination like Uruguay and not simply paddles around in oft-traversed waters across the US and Europe.
Kick back, and enjoy this geeky jaunt down an obscure side alley to Memory Lane!
Blood, hailing from old-world Speyer, located picturesquely next to the Rhine, kick off their debut with the menacing roar of a low-flying jumbo jet. 45 seconds later, the listener is well into the third track, making the rather silly intro a quite apt one. Everything on Impulse to Destroy is sloppier than a weekly scheduled handjob, crazier than a nursery hit by rabies. To date, the South German veterans have released seven full-length albums, but none of their later offerings can match the scatty-batty lump of rudimentary noisecore, lead-footed death metal and utter cacophony on their debut. A guitar that sounds like a tired triceratops, drums falling down a stairwell, a bass substituted with a motorboat running idle, as well as vocalist Martin Jäger, whose echoing grunts sound like the contented belches of a steroided pit bull with its gaping jaw full of leftovers from a recent stop-off at the kitty shelter. Wild Rags initially offered to release Blood’s first three demo tapes on CD, but the Germans insisted on coughing up some fresh recordings, which likely is a main reason for the patchy, inconsistent nature of the songwriting. With 24 tracks in a mere 35 minutes, Impulse to Destroy reeks grindcore from miles away, but this is death metal ‘caveman level’ just as much, even if song titles like “Skate Is Great”, “A Big Cake” and “Celtic Compost”, not to mention band aliases such as Ventilator and Satanic Taki, suggest entirely other genre affiliations. Do not take this very seriously – you might rupture something.
Fun fact: Just about 60 miles north of Blood’s hometown, namely in Frankfurt, an unknown two-piece w/ guests by the moniker Extreme Napalm Terror* issued their own debut full-length also in 1989 – bearing that very same album title, Impulse to Destroy, and being an even more chaotic, more grindcoring, more fucked-up slab of plastic. Any relations? Google won’t tell.
*nope, it is actually not a jokey get-together between two of the UK’s finest grindcore purveyors!
Genre-tagging the debut oeuvre from Texan cuckoos Dead Horse as death metal would be … uh, dead-wrong. Because, in fact, Horsecore only contains few sections of kosher DM, instead dishing up some well-produced frenzied crossover, with the occasional blastbeat, growl or chromatic riffwork, along some parodying interludes of redneck country music. Vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Michael Haaga writes lyrics as erratically and eclectically as he does music, and thus Horsecore spans across hackneyed themes like religious bigotry, political corruption, spare-time homicide, porn flicks, fascism, and the immense joys of drinking beer. Despite the breakneck genre and style changes, one component remains fairly consistent throughout the album: tempo! Whether it is the spry blend of snarling growling and tremolo riffing on tracks such as “Born Believing” and “Adult Book Store” or an oddity like the hillbilly hymn “Hank”, the next blastbeat, skank beat (or polka beat) is never far off. Macabre for sissies? Yes, a rude description, but not untrue. Rarity junkies, avid collectors or just the plainly curious may very well have to empty their wallets to get a copy of the original release as it continues to be estimated at three-digit prices online. Happy hunting!
Sometime in the mid-eighties, a youthful Mick Harris – just like many of his peers – spent innumerable hours on a now essentially defunct hobby, namely tapetrading. For the dedicated practitioner, writer’s cramp and parched tongue from stamp-licking were petty tribulations easily forgotten when the local postman rang one’s doorbell weeks later to deliver parcels stuffed to bursting with demo tapes, T-shirts, flyers, stickers, patches, misc. roadkill, boneyard booty … and, of course, a handwritten letter, often composed in execrable English, always scrawled with passion. During the golden age of tapetrading, Napalm Death’s hyperactive skin basher established contact with a then completely unknown American metal fan by the name of Mitch, who besides an insatiable hunger for extreme fucking music coincidentally also shared his last name. Mick went to visit his pen friend in Las Vegas some days in 1987, which led to the formation of a project band with the lavatorial moniker Defecation, and after just two weeks, the Harris two-piece had already penned material enough for a full-length release. With the recordings financed by Nuclear Blast and a certain Danny Lilker as producer (check out the ending of the track “Recovery”!), the duo recorded the album Purity Dilution in 1989, which in our days comes across as a veritable ‘missing link’ between ND’s prototypical grindcore and their subsequent flirt with US-death on Harmony Corruption, their classic Morrisound offering. As a result of contractual disagreements, Defecation already fell apart in 1992, right in the middle of putting together material for a sophomore long-player. By then, Purity Dilution had long since become hall-of-famed as one of the best-selling releases in the formative years of Nuclear Blast, and as a touchstone of the emergent death metal genre altogether.
The debut album from US ensemble D.V.C. (an abbreviation for Darth Vader’s Church, nothing less) can reasonably be classified as a fusty by-product from an era past when the genre label ‘Florida Death Metal’ still denoted geographical location more than a patented sound or musical approach. Precisely so, Descendant Upheaval comes across as a frontal collision between – in particular – the Teutonic thrash tradition and the older, elementary currents of what would come to typify death metal of the Floridian kind. The album leads off pompously with the instrumental “Cranium Overture”, on which D.V.C. has seemingly been inspired by all march pieces on the Star Wars OST. Afterward, the band plunges into an adrenaline-rich blend of tumultuous riffs, vigorous percussion and guttural vocals, with ample dynamics, tempo changes and peppy songwriting. Despite the band moniker and its puerile references to Anakin Skywalker gone badong, the lyrics on Descendant Upheaval are not about interstellar blitzkrieg, ‘comic relief’ androids and light sabre duelling. Instead … well, the band go full-blown on the puerility with syntactically hopeless lyrics on all kinds of occult, mystical and cabalistic dealings. Besides the previously mentioned intro, Descendant Upheaval contains three other instrumental tracks with the titles “Big Bong Hits”, “South Side Dirthead” and “Devouring Volvulous Corpses”, confirming just how big bong hits the Tallahassee four-piece were undoubtedly huffing on during the creative process. A few months earlier, D.V.C. issued a nine-track demo entitled Constrictus Mortem (later re-released as Primus Omega), while a follow-up to their debut was not unveiled till 1992, granting them a support job for Paradise Lost, Unleashed, Morgoth and Protector on a spring tour across the European mainland. Since then, the Church of Vader has lain dormant, maybe waiting to be offered cameos as wookies in the second or third instalment of the newest Star Wars trilogy – all things considered a likelier scenario than John Williams getting inspired by Descendant Upheaval for a reworking of “The Imperial March”
Before and well into the 90s, scores of fledgling just as well as established bands ricocheted freely between the extreme extremes of thrash and death metal, some with fluctuating ratios from album to album, others with a roughly balanced 50/50 division. Energetic Krusher, with their sole official release, Path to Oblivion, fits snugly into the latter grouping, exhibiting now-stereotyped virtues of both genres. Not counting bass player Danny McCormack’s later jump-to-fame in mainstream pop/rock outfit The Wildhearts, this five-piece off the east coast of England landed a windfall record deal –and, strangely enough, debuted their way straight into obscurity. Albeit neither special nor spectacular, Path to Oblivion easily fulfils the admittedly low-bar criteria for a ‘not-yet-1990 classic’: gruff, long-draaawn vocal work (with a Tom Warrior-esque “Ugh!” every 30 seconds), crude riffs varying mostly between frantic tremolo picking and densely dense E-string strumming, equal amounts of thrash and mosh beats … and, hey, a refreshingly present, vibrant bass! All this interestingly calls to mind Eaten Back to Life almost as much as it does Pleasure to Kill and similar pivotal thrash LPs of the darker slant. And lyrically, Energetic Krusher is just as in-between. While songs like “Brain Damage” and “The Blast” grapple with tried-trite subjects like drug abuse and nuclear devastation respectively, other tracks such as “Lord of Darkness” and “Back from the Dead” dig excitedly into staple-stale DM lore, basically zombies, Satan and unending poetry on dying-dying-dying. Not an essential, far from a classic, but definitely an oddity of the old worth 35 minutes of effective YouTube time.
Extreme Noise Terror, distinguished crustpunk/grindcore old-timers, have always – and rightfully so – been assigned to a bench-warmer position right behind Napalm Death, who already had several demo offerings underneath their studded belts in 1986 when these Ipswich punkgrinders debuted on Radioactive Earslaughter, a split 12" vinyl. Celebrating their 30th anniversary last year, however, and having always been a wonderfully dissident force to reckon with, E.N.T. most certainly deserve their own voluminous entry in the annals of UK extreme music. Three years later, after the well-nigh obligatory Peel session, as well as an EP release entitled Are You That Desperate, E.N.T. finally catapulted their debut full-length onto the masses, having re-recorded the whole shebang with drummer Tony “Stick” Dickens because their collaboration with the ubiquitous Mick Harris came to a deadlock. Aptly enough, the naively drawn cover artwork on A Holocaust in Your Head portrays the five-piece raging away on stage, and the band’s choleric cannonades of Discharge-influenced crusty grind leave little respite for eardrums everywhere. Wrapping things up after 25 minutes, mercifully, E.N.T. sign off with “If Your [sic] Only in It for the Music (S.O.D. Off!)”, a less-than-subtle whack in the face of Billy Milano & crew, also due to half of the song consisting of the iconic “Milk” intro riff. That there is a no-bullshit attitude behind the rabble-rousing lyrics about – for instance – welfare apathy, police brutality, and meat consumption became obvious when E.N.T., during a 1992 live performance at the Brit Awards together with acid house phenomenon KLF, shot blanks into the audience with a machine gun. A Holocaust in Your Head might not be the ideal soundtrack for date no. 2 with the girl next door … unless, of course, her thorny mohawk contains all the egg whites not on her dinner plate.
All the while hell ran rampant in the Brazilian metropolises, especially in Belo Horizonte, where bands like Sarcófago, Holocausto, Mutilator and – of course – Sepultura were transforming their birthplace into a sizzling pandemonium of raw, raucous death/thrash, total silence reigned in verdant, beachy Uruguay to the south. Almost, that is … Named after a German warship scuttled outside the coast of Montevideo on orders from its captain, facing bitter defeat in the early days of WWII, Graf Spee is a curio not merely on account of their geographical location. Initially, the band dabbled in traditional heavy metal, but that had changed drastically on the 5-way split 12" Brigada Metalica from 1989, with Graf Spee’s two cuts being of a rather more brutal, radio-hostile ilk. Reincarnation starts off with a chucklesome intro akin to Sepultura’s “The Curse”, after which the Uruguayans break into a sprightly imitation of their Brazilian peers, juiced up with a certain ethnographic ‘je-ne-sais-quoi’ of their own. In spite of a muddy, lumpy, downright shitty production job, Graf Spee show a definite knack for songwriting, particularly on the sort-of-epic, 7-minute final track, “Patala Loca”. Subsequent to the release of Reincarnation (issued by Uruguay’s only actual record company, by the way), Graf Spee momentarily resurfaced in 1992 with a demo tape entitled, yes, lolz, Mother Fucker, before calling it quits, effectively hurling themselves into Latin American cult metal stardom for time and eternity.
Headquartered in the university city of Villeneuve d’Ascq, a brisk 20-minute drive from the Belgian border, Loudblast took a pioneering step for the French death metal scene with a string of demo tapes in the late eighties. Okay, back then, their style had about a gazillion more similarities to thrash metal, but a split LP from 1987 with compatriots Agressor – ironically – entitled Licensed to Thrash, plus some further demos and rehearsals, evinced a band gradually and steadily venturing into heavier, hastier … uh, louder territories. On their debut full-length, Loudblast go for maximum intensity from start to finish, cramming 100 riffs and 1000 drum fills into a pretty tight songwriting formula, more than just once hitting a note on the darker side of speedy thrash. Yet, it is chiefly the gruff yaps and yelps of vocalist Stéphane Buriez that carry along a positively death metal-like flavour; otherwise, Sensorial Treatment overflows with thrashy features, like superfast tremolo picking, ‘bop-tee-bop-tee’ drum patterns and the occasional gang shout. Highlights of the record include the catchy, interestingly structured opening track “Fatal Attraction” and bassist François Jamin’s lead/fill on the potent “Trepanning” – a song about something as cuddly-cute as boring holes in the skulls of people. Bluntly speaking, Sensorial Treatment does pale a bit in comparison with its follow-up, Disincarnate from 1991, on which Loudblast took a headlong plunge into the death metal category, as well as what can arguably be considered their masterwork, Sublime Dementia from 1993, both decorously recorded at (where else?) Morrisound Studios.
Somewhere on the murky, indeterminable dividing line between old-school death metal and hard-boiled Teutonic thrash lie Protector and their discography from the late eighties/early nineties. Compared to their first long-player, Golem from 1988, and the band’s two succeeding album releases from 1991 and 1993 respectively, Urm the Mad is a draggier, more heavy-footed offering, dressed up in a slightly grainy production with emphasis on heaviness. Except for the sluggish, doomy “Nothing Has Changed”, the record remains moderately fast-paced throughout, culminating with the 47-second blastfest “Molotow Cocktail”, an uncalled-for gimmick on an otherwise rather consistent album. Vocalist Martin Missy, who jumped ship for the second and last time after the release of Urm the Mad, poeticizes on worn-out themes such as antifascism, zombie cuisine, and growing a hunchback because of sexual deprivation (!), while the title track refers to one of the French comics artist Philippe Druillet’s monstrous creatures. Perhaps due to the relatively dull, toned-down and less dynamic songwriting than what Protector fans had become accustomed to, Urm the Mad received a somewhat lukewarm response from listeners and reviewers alike, making it not quite match the approx. 20,000 sold copies of the aforementioned debut full-length. Protector quickly regained their footing, however, with the Leviathan’s Desire EP the following year – and their former frontman immigrated to Sweden, where he promptly established a cover band under the moniker Martin Missy and the Protectors, in 2011 even officially reactivating the band with a garden-fresh line-up of denim-and-leather-clad Swedes.
Before the death/doom genre was popularised and romanticised in Gothic overtones by the UK triumvirate of Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Anathema, three ‘cheesetown’ rookies from Holland issued what was to become their debut album just as well as their swansong. With its funereal melodies, leaden heaviness and moat-deep growls, The Spooky Gloom is considered to be one of the first actual death/doom full-length releases, if not in fact the very first. Add to that doughy stew a gloriously despondent band moniker, and select for the album cover a b/w illustration of some robe-clad geezer consorting, conversing, conspiring with monitor lizards, serpents, alligators and other such cold-blooded critters – and presto, you have the recipe for a cult record! Sempiternal Deathreign’s turbulent, deliberately inconsistent mix of tempo-filled two-minute songs with larger-than-life mastodons such as “Devestating [sic] Empire Towards Humanity” make for a quite jumbled, but nonetheless stimulating experience. Unfortunately, the trio split up almost right after the release of The Spooky Gloom, but has been a – literally and figuratively speaking – heavy influence for loads of bands on the metal scene in Holland (just ask Bob Bagchus from dinosaur deathsters Asphyx!) as well as for the death/doom subgenre altogether. Sempiternal Deathreign’s only demo tape, Creepshow from 1988, along with various live footage available on YouTube, reveals that the band did more than occasionally flirt with grindcore, which just underlines how elastic and bendable the genre tags of extreme metal were a quarter of a century ago.
And so ends this first instalment in a projected three-part death metal feature! Do make sure you grab a copy of the next Zero Tolerance issue from your local magazine dealer as we plan to go full nerd on Death Metal 1990 soon …