I’ve been obsessing about music since about the year 2000. Over this time I’ve bought what must now be nearly 1,000 albums, and heard hundreds more through friends, relatives, streaming services and whatever else. I’ve also watched over a decade’s worth of music videos and heard countless individual songs on the radio, free covermounted CDs, websites and whatever else. All that, as well as read years and years worth of music magazines and websites.
I’m a nerd. Basically. Only, instead of Wonder Woman or MMORPGs, its Music that I obsess about. Lots of people are nerds and don’t even realize it. Sometimes its obvious; trainspotting, stamp collecting etc. Sometimes its less obvious due to presentation. Some (make that many) football fans’ depth of knowledge about players and transfer costs and club histories would make many tram-enthusiasts seem normal by comparison. The amount of information that some people know about Reality-TV celebrities and their sex-lives would easily overpower my knowledge of bands, or the most dedicated Warcraft fan’s knowledge of Azeroth.
But I don’t like Football or Reality TV or Trams or Warcraft. I like Heavy Metal music. That’s what this Blog is all about.
Welcome to my First Impressions series of articles too, incidentally. In this series I (or sometimes my friends, or readers) pick an album for each entry that I will listen to for the first time. I then write in depth about what I know about that album or the artist that created it and the genre and subgenre to which they belong, before describing the experience of listening to it in real time, in a sort of semi-stream-of-consciousness way intended for entertainment purposes. I also enjoy writing reviews of albums, but when I write reviews my goal is to be helpful and provide you with information with which to aide your decision about whether to try out an album or not. When I write a First Impressions article however my goal is purely to entertain the reader, explore how much I know about music and be my own psychiatrist in the process.
I may go into some very specific detail and assume you have heard everything I’ve ever heard and perceived everything in the manner I’ve perceived it, and call out very specific sections of music and draw comparisons between things that the casual listener may find completely unrelated. Don’t worry, most of these songs are on Youtube and most of the terminology is on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary anyway, so if there’s anything that goes over your head, you can always get clarification in a second web-browser-tab (or ask about it in the comments).
According to the aim of the series, the albums are considered by the public and music critics knowledgeable about the subject to be Classic albums within Rock and Metal, or at least within their own Subgenres. Classic albums that I’ve somehow missed out on, despite my nerdly need to hear and understand almost every piece of recorded Metal music ever.
If you have an album that you’d like to read a KingcrimsonBlog First Impressions article about, please suggest it in the comments, I’m game, I’ll give anything a try.
So that’s the preamble out of the way, on to the article:
This is the sixty seventh-entry in the series, and getting back to the original goal of the series, I’m going to listen to something that my friend Magnum thought I might like. This time around I’ll be listening to the sixth full-length studio album, Symbolic, by the American Death Metal Pioneers, Death.
So. What’s my history with Death Metal then?
Well, I remember in around 2002-2004 I got into Cannibal Corpse and Deicide to varying degrees. I liked a few songs like ‘Pounded Into Dust,’ ‘Stripped Raped And Strangled’ and ‘Hammer Smashed Face’ from exposure by peers, but I didn’t really consider them to be “my band” initially. I did however pick up Gore Obsessed for myself and later The Wretched Spawn which I still really enjoy, and afterwards Kill. I stopped after that though. I think I spent a long time trying to like them and it took me a while to actually accept that they just weren’t ever going to be my favourite band, and that I’d just like a small amount of their material a large amount. I think they’re cool guys too. I love them in documentaries but I don’t spend too much time listening to them nowadays.
I also bought myself a really nice shiny digipak of Butchered At Birth in about 2005 just sort’ve because it was considered a must-own album (see? I’ve always been like this!). Sometimes I listen to it and think its awful, sometimes I like the production and the occasional Thrash riffs dotted around it here and there. It also has a guest appearance from Deicide’s singer Glen Benton on it by the way, I like that they interlink a bit. I like it when things interlink.
Depending on what day you catch me, I’ll give you a really different answer on how much I like Cannibal Corpse. I have a lot of memories associated with the band, be that from spoofing their track titles or watching documentaries about them, but sometimes listening to a mid-album track from them just leaves me feeling bored. I find it difficult to pay attention to their non-catchy songs, even if I absolutely love tracks like “Decency Defied,” “Nothing Left To Mutilate” and “Time To Kill Is Now.”
I remember once on a holiday to Dublin, I got a copy of Deicide’s Best Of, which I really, really enjoyed. The only thing is that my favourite track was “Bible Basher” and when I bought Insinerathymn and In Torment In Hell despite really trying hard to like them, I just couldn’t. I listened to them less and less until going years without trying them at all. I think media reports of Glen Benton being a jerk and my peers disliking the band also sort of put me off. Sometimes I’ll stick on “Dead By Dawn” after a huge Deicide-drought and really enjoy it though. I think its probably fair to say that if I had’ve bought their self-titled debut and Legion instead, it would’ve been a longer lasting love-affair with the band.
Napalm Death aren’t strictly a Death Metal band, but their Harmony Corruption and Utopia Banished albums are pretty close. Plus there are guest appearances from Obituary and Deicide’s singers. Sometimes I don’t like some of the tracks on Utopia Banished, but Harmony Corruption is absolutely fantastic. I remember I bought their Greatest Hits album becuase there was a track on it called “Twist The Knife (Slowly)” and at the time, I mistook it for another amusing Cannibal Corpse style OTT-song-titles band. Ahhhh immaturity. I soon learned that wasn’t the case.
Most of what I listen to by Napalm Death nowadays though is just the Enemy Of The Music Business album and then only about two or three of the catchier songs from the rest of their discography. They rank more highly in my esteem overall than they really should if I’m being totally honest. I almost think that I want to like them, more than I am actually capable of. Too many Blast Beats. I love all the bits on their modern albums where they play technical, hardcore influenced parts or big fat groove metal sections though. Its just a shame they are just parts of songs rather than whole songs. [Sidenote: “Incendiary Incoming” is a tune!- Listen to it if you like Pantera]
In terms of the other big names in Death Metal, I’ve heard one mid-period Obituary song (the one with the video about pollution) a few times on MTV2 but never really heard it, if you follow my meaning. I’ve also heard Morbid Angel’s track “Enshrined By Grace.” I have it on its own in my iTunes but haven’t ever gotten around to checking out a full album by them. Its very fun, but modern. I haven’t heard any of the 80s/early 90s stuff that everyone raves about. Ok; I technically have Morbid Angel’s track “Dominate” in my iTunes, but that is a cover version by Zyklon.
I got into Zyklon because of the song “Subtle Manipulation” being on a free cd with Terrorizer magazine, and wining me over – its such a good song, go listen to it now! I really like a lot of their material, and had a real big phase of liking them in high school. Their tracks “Core Solution” and “Disintegrate” are still among my favourite ever songs by anyone. I think that in truth though, nowadays, I may think of the band more highly than I actually think of them (if you catch my drift), and recommend them more strongly than I really like them myself, but they were important to me. Similar to Napalm Death really. The same ratio of bad to good as Cannibal Corpse, except that I allow myself to think of them as “my band.”
When I’m in a Zyklon mood I can really eat them up, but often if I try and stick on anything but their most blast-free material, I just get mentally exhausted. It feels like a lot of hard work getting through that much blasting. Its like trying to listen to Neurosis. Its draining. Its at times like that where I understand the popularity of Poison and Blink 182. Sometimes its nice to hear music and not have to work for it. (Not all the time of course, you’re talking about someone who genuinely likes Tales From Topographic Oceans and A Passion Play here!)
Who else? Let me think. Well; My brother picked up two Decapitated albums around the time Nihility was released. “Spheres Of Madness” is excellent. Everyone agrees. The heavy cover of Slayer’s “Mandatory Suicide” is fun. I never really gave the albums a proper fair chance though, partly because they weren’t mine, and partly because I was close-minded and wasn’t receptive to the dense and challenging music of Decapitated, on top of that I didn’t much care for blast beats anyway and Nihility opens with some, so may as well ignore the 80% of the album with no blasts on it and just cool technical music with chunky riffs, right? Good idea!
I did however bizarrely buy my own copy of their demo compilation (for some unknown reason) The First Damned and did listen to and sort of enjoy it a few times before losing it.
You know what I would absolutely love? A band who took the bits of Death Metal that sound like “Spheres Of Madness” and made a whole career out’ve just that catchy, easy-to-swallow stuff. A whole career, the way Hatebreed do. That level of simialrity on a basic template. Imagine how awesome it would be in a world with multiple “Spheres Of Madness”-es! That would suit me down to the ground. Just like… Death Metal minus the blasts and atonality. I guess that’s kind of the idea of Death N Roll, isn’t it? All about five bands of it.
Speaking of Death N Roll; I’ve liked Entombed for almost the whole time that I’ve liked Metal (from whenever Inferno came out, basically. I remember one Christmas where I got it and Led Zeppelin’s then-new How The West Was Won, and I saw half of Love Actually on the TV – Bonus Xmas Memory for you there. Merry Christmas!) but they never feel like a Death Metal band to me, even on the first two albums for some reason. (Y’know, the two Death Metal classics?). Maybe it’s the lack of blast beats. Even at that though, there is still a wee bit too much repetition on those to make them regular listens for me. I love songs like ‘Left Hand Path’ with its slow part, or ‘Evilyn’ with its catchy beat, but there are some tracks that are more or less just a Slayer-beat for three minutes. As good as they are individually, it’s a bit tiring to listen to as a whole.
Throughout the years I’d hear a few songs by bands like Nile on music tv or on Youtube. Never liking them enough to consider Death Metal as something that I liked though.
Recently I’ve been impressed by Fleshgod Apocalypse, who I’ve got sort of an eye on. They combine Death Metal with symphonic elements, and make a sound that is pretty unique to my ears at this point.
After a few years of disliking almost all Death Metal, I got into Amon Amarth when I saw them support Mastodon, Trivium and Slayer live in Wolverhampton one year, and picked up a few of their albums (and a DVD). I can tolerate Melodeath a lot easier than Tampa Death Metal with atonal lines, dissonance and blast beats.
The only other thing I can think of being related is my one Dew Scented album. Its sometimes referred to as Death Metal, but as far as I can tell its just a really pissed off God Hates Us All with Phil Anselmo on vocals. Ok, that’s an oversimplification, and you do hear riffs and beats here and there that sound closer to Decapitated than I suggest, if you listen to it closely enough. Its a very strong album but, once again, tiring due to overuse of the Slayer beat. Hey, I like the Slayer beat. Its good when Lamb Of God, or, say, Slayer, do it. Its just that it can’t carry a whole song. There needs to be something else. It, alongside Blast Beating, are both fine. Someone like Parkway Drive or Slipknot can use either and it serve the song perfectly, I just get bored when people fill over 50% of the entire song with constant hammering.
Either way, my history with Death Metal is pretty long, but pretty limited. I like it when its got groove, hooks, melody or a lack of blast beats. I especially like if they throw in a Thrash riff.
As a generalization though, I feel like Death Metal bands (unless they have a suffix or prefix such as “Progressive” “Melodic” or “N Roll” …or get called sellouts) suffer from being repetitive, and from only writing one or two catchy songs per record, from being too repetitive and having way too much filler. Repetition is their downfall. Also they repeat themselves to much.
That being said, I don’t feel like I’m really informed or experienced enough to actually hold that opinion. I’m sure if I’d heard more Cynic, Goreguts, Immolation, Athiest, Suffocation, Cancer, Obituary and Morbid Angel I’d probably see the little details better. Some people say all Thrash sounds the same, or all Hair Metal, or all Metalcore, and I know that’s a load of nonsense, so I’m sure it’s the same for Death Metal.
Compare Exodus’ “Cajun Hell” with Anthrax’s “Medusa,” with Kreator’s “Fatal Energy,” with Slayer’s “Crionics” with Sacred Reich’s “Independant” with Megadeth’s “The Conjuring,” with Annihilator’s ‘Human Insecticide,” with Vio-lence’s “World Within A World.” There’s such a huge diversity in Thrash. I’m sure its exactly the same with Death Metal.
What I especially don’t like is the Death Metal (or Death Vocal possessing Thrash) of the 80s like Sodom and Sepultura’s debuts and anything I’ve tried by the likes of Possesed or Sarcofago. It just turns me right off instantly and I can’t even force myself to give it a fair try. I know that this is the behavior that some people exhibit towards St Anger or, Bring Me The Horizon, or whatever else, that I find frustrating, so I am keen to rectify it in myself. It is interesting though, how quickly my brain drops Extreme Metal like a hot Blast-Beat-ridden potato. Like when touching a super hot object, my mind automatically flings away to safety. One earful of Blasting and I just sort of zone out.
So what’s my history with the band Death themselves then?
Well, I got a lend of Scream Bloody Gore once in about 2004. I thought it suffered from only having one or two catchy songs, was too repetitive and had way too much filler. I did like the occasional thrash riffs though. [Sidenote: I actually listened to a bit of it on Youtube last week and was pleasantly surprised at how much of what i heard didn’t have the Slayer beat under it. My memory of it was slightly exaggerated, it seems.]
I also heard their cover of Painkiller which I both loved and hated at the same time (I heard it years before I ever heard Judas Priest though. I didn’t even really like Metallica or Maiden when I first heard Scream Bloody Gore, and it was really too much for a Korn/Limp Bizkit fan who was years away from even owning a Black Sabbath album to handle). Priest were a very late find for me anyway. I got a lend of a greatest hits from a friend in about 2006, couldn’t cope with the inconsistency of the production between individual tracks and then ignored them until mid-2010, when I saw the striking cover art to Screaming For Vengeance for only £3. The cover art for Scream Bloody Gore is excellent. I love those sorts of pictures.
Recently, I’ve become really curious about them again though. From seeing them constantly pop up in best-albums lists, seeing all the favourable reviews about them and seeing how everyone online seems to worship Chuck as some sort of absolute visionary (often even managing to do so in a non-sycophantic way – a rarity among fans of dead musicians).
About two years ago I got given Symbolic by my friend Magnum. I think I listened to “Crystal Mountain” on his request, I don’t really remember anything about it, or whether I listened to the rest of the record even, but whether or not I’ve listened to this album, its so damn forgotten that this counts as a first listen to me anyway. That’s how it works, right? Oh just go with it…
The only thing that makes me a bit skeptical is the presence of Gene Hoglan. As bizarre and sacrilegious as it may seem to every Metal fan who ever lived, I don’t particularly enjoy him. I don’t like the SYL album I have, and he replaces Paul Bospath and Raymond Herrera in Testament and Fear Factory to diminished results. Ray Herrera is a comepletly unique soul and cannot be replaced, and regular readers already know I like Paul Bostaph a little too much. Its not that I dislike Gene himself yet though, just that I associate him with non-enjoyment or replacing favoruites.
Regardless of disliking Mechanize and City; I’m feeling very receptive to Death right now. I hope I’m not disappointed.
[Sidenote: I absolutely love the cover art to Spiritual Healing. If I could get it for cheap it would be on my Vinyl Wall.]
Anyway, time to actually get to listening to it:
The album opens up with the six-and-a-half minute Title Track. Instantly I can hear the huge influence that Death have had on Mastodon. It also sounds a bit like a slower moment in a Rob Dukes era Exodus song, like ‘Nanking.’ It reminds me a bit of “Spill The Blood” by Slayer too.
Then it runs off in a burst of speed. The double-kicks fly off and the slayer beat comes in. Afterwards it slows back down and sounds a lot like Kreator. It sounds like most of Kreator’s recent four albums. I always hear people say that Kreator incorporated Gothernburg influences on their post-millennial efforts, but I never heard people link them to Schuldiner before. This sounds so similar its almost uncanny.
When the creepy guitar solo comes in, I am for some reason reminded of the The Adams Family videogame for the SNES. Remember that? – Anyway; then it speeds up. This song is brilliant fun. Its like a mixture of Modern Exodus and Kreator with Seasons/South era Slayer’s slow bits. Hoglan’s drumming is really enjoyable and I’m sorry to have doubted him, he does a fantastic job as he shuffles between hats and bells at lightning speed.
I can definitely see why people call it Progressive. This is a pretty far cry from Scream Bloody Gore’s relentless pounding. Additionally, I’m really enjoying both the vocals and the absence of blasts. Compared to say, Vile, it’s a lot less brutal and a lot closer to Thrash, which is always a plus for me. Interestingly, towards the end, there is a slow part which reminds me of the few good moments on those two slow mid-period Deicide albums, like maybe ‘Halls Of Warship.’
The production on the album is pretty good. Its still got that old charm to it, but is really clear. Sometimes I listen to something like Utopia Banished and wonder how anybody knows what the heck is going on. Sometimes I listen to some modern Death Metal band’s excellently produced new single on Youtube but find it soulless and missing that charming sound. This is the perfect level of production in my opinion, it just sounds great to my ears. Man, I wish Napalm Death’s Fear Emptiness Despair was produced like this, that album has such cool songs but is a headache to listen to.
‘Zero Tolerance’ follows, with a fun odd-time sig drum-only intro, then a Hardcore influenced, noisy intro of rising guitars that reminds me of The More Things Change era Machine Head and the more sinister under-recognized parts of Biohazard’s sound. There are tails to the riffs that you can hear the Mastodon influence practically shoot off. So much of the way Chuck’s fingers work can be heard on Remission.
The weird time sigs helps this one to feel even Proggier than the last one. At two minutes it takes a wild side track with this great buildup that feels like a drum solo, with this fantastic long drawn out guitar solo that throws in even more Mastodon sounding tails here and there, and then heavies-up into this fun, Rust In Peace sounding part. There’s so many cool little bits throughout. It has such interesting drums and the guitar work is really deserving of its reputation.
Another six-and-a-half-minute number follows, by the name of ‘Empty Words.’ It opens up with a nice clean part and some bongos. You can’t tell if its going to go into ‘Planet Caravan’ by Black Sabbath or ‘Reflection’ by Tool at any moment.
…Then it just fucking straight-up bursts into a gnarly metal part that reminds me half of Melechesh and half of ‘A Promise Of Fever’ by Cradle Of Filth. It has this strange biblical quality to it that I can’t accurately explain. There’s a cool part where they just leave chords to hang. Then it goes into this fun speedy Annihilator style part. I love how they justify it with these slow groovy parts. There’s so many little touches that make it special. This tiny melodic Bodom sounding solo here, a groove there, a great little “duhduhduhduh dah” chug-tail on this thrash riff.
The bit at 3.14 is one of the coolest parts I’ve heard all year. I am suddenly so aware of what a massive Death rip off that my favourite Kreator album (Hordes Of Chaos) is.
As the groove/speed juxtaposition parts come back, and then they bring in this great melodic line in as a tail, I just have a gigantic smile on my face. This song feels like an actual masterpiece.
‘Sacred Serenity’ comes next. It has an absolutely excellent intro. I’m won over already. Then a great little guitar solo comes in over a disco-sounding beat. Then that manages to evolve into a satisfyingly menacing Metal part. The bass guitar is incredible too, its got this bouncy Faith No More quality to it at times. This album is really doing it for me.
There’s a frigging brilliant part which reminds me of the good parts of Arch Enemy where he says “Serenity” which I hope is a chorus. There’s a nice shimmering quiet part that sounds like a mixture between Rush and early Annihilator (I think it may be specifically the Never Neverland title track that I’m thinking of). The drums and lead guitar are so good. This song is so fucking creative. Its like the first time I heard ‘Welcome Home’ by Coheed And Cambria. I love the way he leans into one extra tom in the middle of a beat.
‘1,000 Eyes’ follows. I can tell just from the intro that it will be good. More little touches that remind me of Melechesh and then Annihilator. A brilliant funky breakdown with a solo, followed by the archetypal Melodeath midsection, then more of that recent Kreator stuff. Then something that actually sounds like Cannibal Corpse (their slow songs though) with a slow groove and some pinch harmonics. The way it ends is so massively like Kreator’s two newest albums that I’m worried Mille might get sued.
Man; why did I wait so long to hear this album? What a dick! This is fucking fantastic. Do me a favour and if you are skeptical about this record go straight away to Spotify and listen to it right now, before even finishing this article.
‘Without Judgement’ follows up with some damn triumphant sounding leads. Then it kicks into this brilliant groove with a menacing tail. Its all technical and uber-precise, but without killing the fun. At about 1.48 it sounds like… you guessed it, the Kreator stuff I love. At 2.18, this absolutely gigantic sounding guitar solo part comes in and I just view the mountaintop church in November Rain’s video, with Chuck dressed in Slash’s hat.
Then it takes this awesome moody quiet turn for a few seconds for an extra solo, before kicking back into that uber-precise groove from earlier, that sounds like a pissed-off Robot trying to make ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ sound more evil.
Gene Hoglan is absolutely incredible on this song. I assume this must be where a lot of his reputation for excellence must be coming from.
‘Crystal Mountain’ opens up with a fun galloping part with nice hanging evil chords, and a weird dark arpeggio that sounds like ‘Red Barchetta’ as played by the character’s dead ancestors in the spirit realm in Final Fantasy 10.
There’s also a cruel-sounding build up that sounds like Melechesh and summons up images of slave drivers whipping people in the baking sun. And, for some reason, the bit at about 2.18 reminds me of the bit in Battlestar Gallactica where they’re on Caprica and its all terrorist themed. The Spanish sounding acoustic guitar solo that plays over the Metal makes me almost want to cry. I have no idea why, but it just sounds so important.
‘Misanthrope’ opens sounding much more like stereotype Death Metal than anything else so far. Luckily, it diversifies and all different little bits and bobs emerge. There’s some genuinely catchy little drum hooks. Then there’s this fun, massively Pantera, groove bit for a second before they Death-ize it. It has a very Cowboys From Hell reverb though. I’m reminded of ‘Medicine Man.’
There’s also something of Metallica’s ‘Orion’ about its breakdown that I can’t fully explain. Then this really huge Thrash part kicks in, only to be joined by an incredible, ghostly melodic solo. Then bam. Hordes Of Chaos kicks in.
I’m not sure about any of these song structures for brain-pleasing, but the songs certainly take you on a journey. It feels like a film with a ton of explosive set pieces and bombastic action, but not necessarily a well-considered plot where all the pieces fit perfectly into place. It’s a constant series of quick slaps in the face. Pop pop pop pop pop. I’m sure repeat listens will make it make more sense. I didn’t initially understand Protest The Hero’s song structures either, but we all know how that turned out, don’t we?
The album closes with an eight-and-a-half minute number called ‘Perennial Quest.’ In my opinion this is the correct order of events. Back in the 80s, most Thrash bands would do one of two things, either have the longest track second last, and then throw a shorter, punchy one in afterwards (‘Strike Of The Beast’ following ‘Deliver Us To Evil’ springs to mind) or else have the longest track slap band in the middle of the record (‘Pleasures Of The Flesh’ as track 6 of 10 springs to mind).
I much prefer it when the longest track is the final track, I feel it flows a lot better.
Anyway; there’s a certain sadness to parts of this track. Also there’s cool sections of over-exaggerated slowness, like a Thrash Band’s outro fade-out. Then some absolute smile-demanding Thrash (I did say I enjoy when Death Metal bands play Thrash parts, didn’t I?), and then this absolutely brilliant paradiddle-based stop/start groove that makes me want to just bellow out like a wounded sea-lion, as a means of expressing my satisfaction with it. Aaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuuuuuhh.
This song is kind of listening to the whole of Blood Mountain, Left Hand Path, Pleasures Of The Flesh and The Epigenesis all at the same time, then compressed down to eight minutes. So many great little touches. The solos are incredible. The double-kicks make you want to jump around, there’s a bit at 4.40 that almost sounds like The Police. Bit of a surprise.
There’s a cool guitar-only break that sounds like a Death tribute to Holy Wars. Y’know the bit where the Thrash cuts out to this eastern-scale guitar solo? Its like the Death version of that. This is then followed by a beautiful solos over clean picking part that almost reminds me of Porcupine Tree and Opeth. This fades out and closes the record.
So. That was the record. Wow, and the album managed to make it all the way through without a single blast beat. Did Chuck write it just for me? Ok. First of all; this was absolutely phenomenal. I don’t think I’ve ever been so wrong about an album. I’m completely sold on it. This was a genuine Masterpiece and I can 100% understand why it has such a good reputation.
I don’t really have that much more to say. Just, “Eff me, What a record!” – Thanks Magnum, for giving it to me. Apologies for taking so long to get around to it. You were right. I would like it!
Thanks for reading, people.