Comecon: A Retrospective An under-appreciated Swedish metal band gets some love.

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comecon

One of these guys is Rasmus Ekman, and one is Pelle Ström. One of them is the drum machine.

It’s not exactly the stuff of legends: a name derived from a Soviet-era economic pact, two musicians (Rasmus Ekman, Pelle Ström) who handle guitar, bass, a drum machine and other instruments across three full length albums with three different singers on each album. But that’s COMECON.

Most of us can name-check Swedish metal bands like Entombed, Unleashed, Dismember, Hypocrisy, At The Gates, Arch Enemy or Amon Amarth. Comecon isn’t a exactly as well known, having floated just beneath the surface of popularity during the early to mid-1990s. Even though they shared many of the same touchstones as better known bands (recording at Sunlight Studios, produced by Tomas Skogsberg, vocalists from Entombed, Pestilence/Asphyx, and Morgoth, and a certain familiar guitar tone) they were never quite on the same level. Death metal fans never got to see them play live; they were a studio band that didn’t tour. Continue reading

The Golden Years of British Extreme Metal: The Other Guys Of pubs, pain, and pulverizing power.

Bolt Thrower, Live in the '90s

Bolt Thrower, live in the ’90s. Courtesy of boltthrower.com

Much ink has been spilled about the blossoming of extreme metal around the world. The United States – particularly the Florida scene which spawned so many great bands – has been well represented. Sweden/Norway gets plenty of love, from the chainsaw guitar tone to the unchained hedonism. That’s all fine and good as those were the blood-stained birthing grounds of our beloved genre.

What about England, then? In those glorious pre-Internet days of tape-trading and DIY promotion, metal wasn’t bound by geography: it spread like a sickness over the entire world. Let’s consider that in the last fifty years, those fog-bound island dwellers have had a serious impact on music, especially music that has a bite to it, a little edge, or my favorite: a fucking massive overload of steam-powered jackhammers pounding the earth. Black Sabbath. Black Sabbath! Just, you know, four guys from Birmingham who altered the very foundations of rock and helped create a genre. Led Zeppelin. Deep Purple. Motörhead. Judas Priest. Iron Maiden. Venom. Carcass. Anaal Nathrak. It’s a progression forward from one extreme to the next, the next band in line doubling down on what had come before them.

When extreme metal began to violate the ears of the world, the Brits were ready to step up and prove they could do guttural vox, grinding guitars and blast beats as well as anyone. This was a wonderful time for extreme music, as musicians were constrained only by their imaginations, genres were still being defined, and labels weren’t afraid to take chances on bands that had cobbled together a demo. Venom, Carcass and Napalm Death have earned a spot in the top tier of the golden era, when extreme metal was poised to move from the grave to the living room.

But what about the others guys? The names you might have heard bandied around in conversation standing around the beer keg, and you nodded your head and said, “Oh yeah, they’re awesome,” without having a clue what they sounded like? Then let us pry open the Sickening Vaults and get elbow deep in the guts of British metal.

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Defecation, “Purity Dilution” (1989) In Which Two Chuffed Lads Make a Difference

defecation-purity-dilution-cassette

I’ve tried and tried but can’t remember, not even a little bit, how I got hold of this tape but there are enough clues to give me a general idea. What I’ve got is the cassette reissue (NBA RED 6050 – 4) that came out in 1992 with different cover art and a bonus song on side one. What that means to me is that I almost certainly bought it in Florida, probably at Vinyl Fever, and like much of what I picked up at that time, the only thing to recommend it was the band name. My thinking was probably something like this:

Defecation! Huh-huh, yeah, okay, right on, I bet it sounds like shit. Oh well it’s on Nuclear Blast, how bad can it be?”

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Death, “Leprosy” (1988)

death-leprosy_1

Art by the phenomenal Edward Repka.

Some years ago (1998) in Atlanta, upstairs at the venerable Masquerade, I saw Death on what would prove to be their last show. If I’d known this would be the last time I’d see Chuck Schuldiner live, I would have paid more attention to the show instead of hunting down the slimy dickhead who’d punched me in the kidneys during Hammerfall’s opening set. Continue reading

Cannibal Corpse, “Eaten Back to Life” (1990)

I’m at work far too early this morning because some fart-knocking network engineer (less of an engineer than a hapless offspring of Booji Boy, created in a tube from genetic material scrapped off the wall outside Booji’s crib) made me get up at this unholy hour just to stab a console cable into a firewall server. I’ve spent 15 years in this industry aggressively resisting any learning opportunity but I came dangerously close to “figuring some shit out” this morning. Couple that with a cup of coffee that tastes slightly worse than boiling the liners out of last seasons cleats and I’m in a foul fucking mood.

I could listen to Katy Perry singing “Bicycle Built For Two” to complete the Trifecta of Enduring Misery but I’m not quite ready to suck down a red Solo cup of hemlock so instead I dialed up some Cannibal Corpse: specifically the first album, Eaten Back to Life.

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Entombed, “Left Hand Path” (1989)

Entombed - Left Hand Path

Artwork by the mighty Dan Seagrave!

Nostalgia is a wet dog. I still love her, she’s my dog and all that, but she smells like the bottom of a zombie port-a-potty and insists on drying out by rolling on the couch of Corinthian leather. One of the cool things about listening to these old albums is getting that weird feeling that comes from taking a deep, long hit of pure nostalgia. Mmmm, so good! Yes, yes… remember? I was in college studying Medieval English Literature when Entombed’s debut came out! I was skinny! I wore glasses! Everyone else was listening to Jane’s Addiction!

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Unleashed “Where No Life Dwells” (1991)

1991; let the sink in for a moment. Fuck that was a long time ago. Like, pre-cell phone era, when people had “mobile phones” with batteries that could fry bacon or produce a cancerous brain tumor that whispered evil shit in the subconscious. It was so long ago, I was a wee grub of a collegiate human, feasting on the excrement of those higher up the academic food chain. The world was consumed with fear and fire as a war started in ancient Mesopotamia which is, beyond all logic and reason, still going on today. The bloated corpse of the Soviet Union continued to explode and spatter the region with a bunch of piss-ant countries. Everyone’s favorite cannibal Jeff Dahmer got caught with his dick in someone’s skull, “going postal” became a thing, people thought Pearl Jam was cool, and Starbucks opened in California. Lots of deliciously stupid shit happened that year!

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Pestilence, “Testimony of the Ancients” (1991)

pestilence_testimony of the ancients

I feel like the Andy Rooney of death metal at this point and if I start complaining about how today’s kids don’t respect their death metal elders, shoot me full of lethal cocktail and roll the corpse into the river.  Wait… is that too soon?  No disrespect meant to one of the great curmudgeons the world has ever known.

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Righteous Pigs, “Stress Related” (1987)

Righteous Pigs: Stress Related

No fucking clue when this entered my life, it was that fuzzy time in the late 80’s early 90’s when Bush Da First was still in power and all seemed bleak and cold in the world.  But maybe that was just the roofies.  So this is Mitch Harris on guitar and vox, better known these days as a stalwart member of Napalm Death and Defecation and side projects galore. On Stress Related we’re also treated to Alan Strong on drums, Stephen Chatovich on bass and Joe Caper on vocals.  This would be the Pigs second album after Live and Learn. No one I ever knew heard of that one at the time; they still don’t, the bastards.

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Morbid Angel, “Gateways to Annihilation” (2000)

Morbid Angel - "Gateways to Annihilation"

Morbid Angel – “Gateways to Annihilation”

I admit to completely overlooking Morbid Angel’s Gateways to Annihilation when it came out in 2000. I was probably too busy listening to In Flames’ Colony or something equally less-than-good. After Dave’s departure, MA rebounded in 1998 with the Steve Tucker-fronted Formulas Fatal to the Flesh. While Formulas… has certainly improved with age, at the time, it appeared to kick off a downward slide into awfulness. Gateways to Annihilation followed in 2000 with an equal thud and the unbelievably erratic and senseless “Heretic” seemed to seal their fate in 2003 (oh, little did we know what was coming next). While Morbid Angel has certainly wound up at the bottom (“Kill a cop”), neither Formulas… nor Gateways… nor even Heretic are what put them there.

I remember thinking at the time that Formulas… and Gateways to Annihilation lacked any kind of catchiness or groove and barely gave them a listen. I actually dug Heretic more than either of those simply because I could hear some songs going on between all the godawful keyboard nonsense. Long story short, I’ve been rectifying my error the past couple years and am slowly becoming more familiar with both Formulas… and Gateways…

My current feeling is that Formulas… is still very hard to sink into but Gateways… has opened up like a vast sucking void and seems to be revealing a lot of very interesting ideas within all that murk. Tucker’s wet-throated roar is more than just an adequate replacement for Vincent’s (who need I remind the court was sporting dyed black hair and vinyl shirts by this point) and the production somehow manages to be both raw and clear at the same time. The riffs aren’t catchy or anthemic at all and the whole thing strikes me as the swampiest, most atmospheric album in Morbid Angel’s catalog, but it’s nearly complete lack of hooks is exactly what gives it a rather ageless, emotionless, yet somehow still darkly spiritual feel. Little things like the loop of insect noise that runs the entire length of opening track, “Summoning Redemption” may be harbingers of the madness to come, but at this point, the voices in Trey’s head were still working for him.

Still not 100% sure how I feel about it, but it’s finally growing on me after 11 years. Maybe I’ll love it in another 4 just in time for the 15th anniversary.