Tape Wyrm XI: Seasons Of Metal Tape Wyrm XI: Seasons Of Metal

Seasons Of Metal: Autumn

At one point, I used to listen to heavy metal by seasons. I found this helped me further categorize metal into smaller pockets and labeled drawers. Winter was reserved for shrill and frightening sounds of black metal while the spring landscape came alive with the triumphs of power metal. This of course melted into a long and stifling summer of doom. The seasons of metal allowed me to become enveloped in a style and begin further investigation into each subgenre. In fact, I kept large pieces of butcher’s paper on my living room wall to write notes to myself regarding albums, artists, and connections between them. This made my research into music about elves and wizards seem much more academic and respectable. With this being said, the waning of humidity and magnificent change in the local foliage meant only one thing: the season of death was upon me.

Death metal is perhaps the most recognizable subgenre of heavy metal with its atonal characteristics and inaccessibility to new listeners. Death metal’s signatures include a fast paced tempo, low resonating growls, and lyrical themes involving violence. While early innovators focused on themes of the occult and general acts of butchery, death metal’s palette soon acquired variety in terms of subject matter. Besides the great innovations in terms of death metal’s lyrical breadth, there still exists a certain charm in the style’s early pioneers. One of the reasons for early death metal being connected to the autumn season was the abundance of horror movies being played on TV. For a few years, my living room was a sickening cave of death metal and muted slasher films. For a period in time, these two entities existed side by side accompanied only by my lone laughter.

Besides a shared dedication in the macabre, death metal and horror films both possess a frenzied feeling of terror. This feeling is the cornerstone to both entities and is what drives each art style. Death metal’s speed and guttural delivery of lyrics dehumanizes the music and in turn allows it to become monstrous. The participant both willingly subjects themselves to a world of death which may or may not be accompanied with entertainment and humor. Much like horror movies, death metal can range from the sublime to the downright silly. Irony also plays a pivotal role in both entities as the relationship with horror can be as serious or as tongue in cheek as the participant allows. Death metal allows the participant to be the victim or killer and fulfills a psychological falsification with mortality.

The late 80′s and early 90′s, at least in my opinion, were the golden age of death metal. The style was born in the mid 80′s and became fully realized in lyrical content and visual imagery. There were, of course, wonderful achievements in the late 90′s with albums by Cryptopsy, Nile, and Gorguts as well as countless releases in the following decade. Some readers with a cursory knowledge of death metal may notice the list below to be lacking in standard, “classic” releases. This list is some of my favorite “old school” death metal releases. Quite frankly, if you are reading this far into the article then you are probably aware of Death, Morbid Angel, Suffocation and Carcass. If you are not then you might be a person who is willing to investigate further. I hope for both.

Every autumn I buy pumpkins and other harvest goods. My windowsill is decorated with plump gourds and my kitchen emits a lovely aroma of fresh pumpkin pies. I have debuted my autumn curtain set, made some dazzling centerpieces and prepared my record player for a constant rotation of death metal which, for me, elicits a certain atmosphere of fear and needless suffering. My door wreath will be the talk of the town. It will be a joyous fall — one filled with fun, exciting madness.
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Obituary – Slowly We Rot (1989)

And what a way to start the review section. Death metal’s history is usually attributed to the sunshine state of Florida. Along with rousing games of bocce ball and dinners at 4:30, Florida in the late 80′s was a hotbed of death metal. Four prominent bands came from this time period and are generally considered to be the early pioneers of the now beloved genre. These four bands are Death, Morbid Angel, Deicide, and Obituary. There are three more but we will get to that later. I enjoy Obituary because compared to the others Obituary receives the least amount of attention. Choosing the right Obituary album to fit your busy lifestyle can be a delicate and time consuming process. While the band’s first three albums are undeniable in quality and merit, I tend to gravitate towards their 1989 debut. Slowly We Rot was an introductory album before Obituary embraced their low tuned style which they would make famous on subsequent releases. Their 1989 debut was still steeped in death/thrash beginnings from when the band was known as Xecutioner. Even from the earliest Obituary demos they were a band worthy of attention. If nothing else they have a menacing logo which looks like it is capable of bodily harm.

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Bolt Thrower – Realms Of Chaos (1989)

Alright, it is time to talk about Bolt Thrower. Close the door and make sure no girls can hear us. While death metal was developing in Florida, grindcore was already making headway in England. Along with Napalm Death and Carcass, Bolt Thrower was one of the early bands on Earache records. The band’s first major step out of the crust filled glory days was their second album The Realms Of Chaos. The full title for this record is the Realms Of Chaos: Slaves Of Darkness because the entire album is based around the 1988 campaign in Warhammer 40,000; a tabletop role-playing game consisting of painted miniatures. What makes an album based around a dystopian science fantasy game with galactic mercenaries fighting hordes of space demons in robotic war machines more exciting is when it is played through a funnel of chunky deathgrind. There is nothing better than the combination of fantasy and death metal. Trust me. Did you guys really make all the girls leave? Becasue I was just joking.

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Pestilence – Consuming Impulse (1989)

“For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, earthquakes and the Dutch metal band Pestilence.” Many early death metal albums will fly at breakneck speeds. This is due to the style’s history with thrash and also an imaginary contest to see who could play fastest. I’m sure there was a trophy involved. Pestilence began as a thrash metal band whose debut Malleus Maleficarum is incredibly decent. In fact, Malles Maleficarum stands in the threshold between death and thrash with the second release Consuming Impulse, further tilting the scale into death metal. Martin van Drunen’s vocal transition from sneering thrash vocalist to inhuman monster is exquisite and should be used for historical documentation. Adorned by a cover of comic flesh eating ants, Consuming Impulse is a brilliant example of all the seeds of the band’s later technical aspects being sewn.

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Nocturnus – the Key (1990)

Alright, do you you remember when I said there were four prominent death metal bands along with a couple of unnamed shadow entries? Nocturnus is one of them. Founded by Morbid Angel’s first singer Mike Browning, Nocturnus’ debut seemed to be too weird even for the budding death metal scene. With extensive use of keyboards, sound effects and science fiction lyrics, The Key’s lyrical content baffles the shit out of everyone to this day. Told over the course of 9 sections The Key unfolds the tale of a time traveling cyborg who is sent to the year O CE to assassinate the baby Jesus. Sweet Christ this is amazing. This fuck wild insanity runs thick throughout Nocturnus’ debut and makes it the second greatest story ever told. I just jest. Nocturnus added the right amount of atmosphere and imagination to make death metal’s first great science fiction epic; which didn’t include creatures from an alternate timespace. Goddammit people, we need more women at these metal meetings.

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Grave – Into The Grave (1991)

Along with the Florida collective and a handful of New York bands, death metal flourished in European countries most notably Sweden. The Swedish death metal scene is broken down into two movements. The first and earlier movement was more raw in style and located in Stockholm while the later, more melodic variety began in Gothenburg. Of course, breaking down a style between two areas skips many of the areas in between. One of those areas is Visby; a medieval town on an island of Gotland which houses an ancient defensive wall as well as Grave; the band. Amid the splendor of old Europe lies a band devoted to the horror of the undead. While their lyrics are somewhat laughable, Grave triumphs at a low resonating style of death metal which is as brutal as it is eerily catchy. Grave allows me to headbang to metal at a reasonable pace instead of falling into convulsing fits. While Into The Grave is wonderful, the legacy of the band failed to attain the same wonder as their initial offering. Grave still stands as Visby’s most popular metal band when compared to the 3 others who have surfaced since the late 80′s.

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Dismember – Like an Everflowing Stream (1991)

Alright, alright we are going back to the mainland. Returning to those two Swedish camps we now firmly plant our feet into Stockholm territory. Dismember is a legend in the Swedish death metal scene due to a consistent output, technical bravado, and the fact they went to court over one of their songs. A few years before Cannibal Corpse and other rap artists (?) came under fire by American conservatives, Dismember’s song “Skin Her Alive” caused a bit of a stir in England. Compared to some of death metal’s other offenders the lyrics “Screams echoed in the distance / And I cannot ignore / Smiling at the memories / When I slaughtered the whore” seem a bit mild. Dismember’s lyrical content aligns with death metal’s fascination with fantasy gore and latent misogyny. Amid a sleepy controversy regarding an underground death metal band, Dismember would go on to produce some great records even when they embraced a more melodic groove for their sounds.

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Autopsy – Mental Funeral (1991)

Let us jet set from Sweden over to sunny Concord, California, home to the semi-famous Concord Jazz Festival. Along with the charm of a suburban community, Concord is the birthplace to one of the more important figures in American death metal. Autopsy was founded by Chris Reifert — the original drummer for Death on their 1987 debut Scream Bloody Gore. Autopsy’s debut, in contrast, was typical in its performance of thrash inspired death. It wasn’t until their second release Mental Funeral when things became interesting. Along with the dutch band Asphyx, Autopsy was one of the first death metal bands to incorporate doom in their delivery. This combination allowed the sinister downtempo of doom to break death metal’s obsession with speed. Mental Funeral is by far one of my favorite death metal records and comes with some amazing artwork which stands on the border of goofy and inspired. Reifert is an admitted fan of Trouble — an early 80′s traditional doom innovator. Any band who takes inspiration from Trouble should be given 100$ and all the attention they deserve. I fail to see how this is not reasonable.

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Athiest – Unquestionable Presence (1991)

And now time for the sixth Florida death metal band, Athiest. Some of you may be asking why Atheist is not grouped together with the others in early history of death metal. Well, quite frankly, Atheist, like Nocturnus does not fit neatly with the other death metal bands. In fact, this Florida band seems to have been playing in another dimension — a place where odd time signatures seem to be the universal currency. Atheist is one of the early innovators of the progressive style of technical death metal. 1991 was an explosion of technical death metal with releases by Death, Pestilence, and the black metal band Sarcófago. To the delight of future music majors, technical death metal would expand and produce some outstanding records in the late 90′s. Before the legacy could set in though, Atheist was just a weird yet brutal band with a double major in death metal and jazz. It takes less than 5 seconds into Unquestionable Presence to get a feeling for the rest of the album. I could also talk about the last Florida band, Cynic, in the same breathe, but to get to the point, if you ever wanted to hear the struggle between a demon and robot on the plane of infinity, listen to Cynic’s 1993 debut Focus. I know, shut up, it wasn’t me who was suppose to call them.

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Vader – The Ultimate Incantation (1992)

Now here is something that really swings. Vader is Polish and I know little about the country of Poland besides their delicious spring water and a ridiculous metal scene. Seriously, Eastern Europe goes fucking bonkers for metal. I spoke of Vader once before in another Tape Wyrm but I’m sure it was just incoherent praise. I may have extended the first vowel leading to a silly call of affirmation. Vaaaaaaaaaaaader’s death metal is similar to the other bands discussed (maybe not Cynic or Atheist) but with a lovable groove. The Ultimate Incantation could be a great introduction to death metal as they possess the right amount of brutality and accessibly for the timid. Well, maybe not the timid. I always think of rushing orcs whenever I listen to this album. Vader’s fame preceded their debut as their Morbid Reich demo became the highest selling death metal demo of all time. I didn’t know there were that many Vader fans. I’m sure they all live in a large village in the Polish countryside.

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Demilich – Nespithe (1993)

I cannot think of anyway to end this autumn article than with an album which suits the crisp weather. Perfect for the chilling gooseflesh. I mentioned Demilich once before in a Tape Wrym article regarding metal vocals. Antti Bomannon’s low resonating voice has a bubbling character which lies at the far end of accessibility. In fact, it sounds like a goat being drowned in tar. If you are going to experience death metal, it is best to work your way up from the bottom. Fuck the glass and go straight for the bottle. What are you scared? Nespithe is the first and last release by Demilich besides a handful of weird ass demos which are now free and available via the bands website. Listening to Demilich is what I imagine taking a guided tour through hell must be like. Sure it is horrible and filled with torment, but the docent is well informed and articulate.

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The seasons of metal has waned in recent years. Reviewing metal albums on a yearly basis does not afford me the luxury of pacing metal albums by season. The days when one style dominated my interests only exists in skeletal form. 3 years ago, I wrote this same article with very different recommendations and ideological connections. Perhaps, I will rewrite the same article 3 years from now with vastly different conclusions. For now, I am content with the sound of bone crunching riffs and images of maniac serial killers dominating my autumn.

If you have access to Spotify, all of these records (including more and less obvious entries) are in my “classic death metal” playlist.



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