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

Cannibal Corpse, “Butchered at Birth” (1991)

cannibal corpse butcheredImagine for a minute that you grew up in the musical suburbs, in an unpretentious little subdivision called Death Metal; you know, right down the road from Thrash Town but a long way away from Rock City and on the other side of the freaking country from Country Burg and the glittering excess of Discolopolis.

Just a few houses down from where you live are the guys who like to play a lot of fantasy-based role playing games, who read lots of H. P. Lovecraft and swear the paperback copy of the Necronomicon they bought at the B. Dalton Booksellers (in the same strip mall with the Baskin-Robbins where everyone got a free cone after Little League games) is totally the REAL THING and spend a lot of time attempting to dial up Pazuzu only they always seem to get it’s answering machine.

One street over are the foreign exchange students who all sport Mjölnir tattoos and always have plenty of beers and bottles of some vile liquor from “the homeland” which you could swear is fruit juice they fermented in the unused bathtub upstairs. These guys are like, educated: they’ve actually read Nietzsche and Kierkegaard and don’t mind discussing it with you, at least until the booze kicks in and they get real quiet and start glaring at you through forests of dirty blond hair, which is your cue to get the fuck out of there.

Mother always said not to trust boys who had more hair than she did.

Mother always said not to trust boys who had more hair than she did.

Then there is that house your mom doesn’t want you to visit. “I don’t trust those boys,” she says as she whips up another one of the Devil’s Own Rejected Fruitcakes from Hell. “Where are their parents? I never see them come to Desolation High School Parent Night.” That’s the house you like, though. Those dudes are intense. You’ve smoked meth with them sitting around the living room while some obscure Fulci flick is on the TV, or maybe a documentary about Albert Fish. They’ve got porn mags all over the place that would make a street magazine vendor from New York blanch interspersed with old copies of Fangoria, Gore Magazine, Playgore, and Horror Classics. They’re nice enough but you make it a point not to fall asleep around them. Where are their parents, anyway? And there’s that one room you are strictly forbidden to enter for any reason… and that smell…

“Sure Mom, whatever,” you say, “I’ll stay away from the Cannibal Corpse house.”

This is how I feel when I listen to old Cannibal Corpse; like I’m violating some rule that says I shouldn’t like this and yet I totally do. Butchered at Birth was the second release from the boys from New York and of course this was essential listening during those heady days of the early 1990’s. Even though I was in Florida at the time (a breeding ground for the new deathly sounds), I knew almost no one who was into death metal, so when someone got into my car I would naturally say something like, “Hey have you ever heard Cannibal Corpse?” and hit play on “Meat Hook Sodomy”. Reactions were mixed at best, as I recall. The girls didn’t get it (well one young lady did but that’s another story) and the guys couldn’t understand why I didn’t like Pearl Jam.

The personnel on the second album is the same as the first, and the cover art is another fantastic job by the inimitable Vince Locke. As usual, this was banned and banished in countries severely lacking in a sense of ironic detachment (Germany… really, Germany?) and freaked out a bunch of others who just don’t see the humor in two half-undead vivisectionists extracting a baby from the mostly skeletal remains of a woman.

"Somebody set this thing to evil!"

“Somebody set this thing to evil!”

It’s another Scott Burns production job, recorded at Morrisound Studios (for better or worse… I’ll get to that) and this time the thrash elements that informed Eaten Back to Life have been pushed a bit into the background. Much of this has to do with Chris Barnes’ vocal delivery: someone flipped Chris’s switch to “EVIL” and he hits those fantastic, incomprehensible low end grunts which push the songs into new territory. Once again Alec Webster and Paul Mazurkiewicz (bass and drums) deliver impressive and solid performances. I tend to prefer the songs that don’t over stay their welcome, like “Gutted”, “Covered with Sores” and the title track. That’s just how I like my death metal: hit it hard, hit it fast, and get the hell out of there.

Now the guitar tone… damn, people are picky as shit. It isn’t as weak as some of the trolls under the internet bridge claim, but it’s ridiculously thin, especially if (like I am now for the old school feel) you listen to the tape on a world-weary jam box. I’m sure Jack Owen and what’s his name, Rusay, didn’t intend for it to come out like that. The riffs, the rhythm parts, the solos, there is nothing wrong with any of it. Listen to “Covered with Sores” or the staggering ferocity of “Vomit the Soul” and try to imagine those guitars thick and meaty instead of sounding like they need a fucking sammich. I mean, in comparison, give a quick listen to the Eric Rutan produced Evisceration Plague; now that’s how Cannibal Corpse guitars should sound. Look, for what it was at the time, I had zero complaints; who cares if the guitars sound a tad bit weak when you’re listening to a song called “Rancid Amputation”?

An all around solid release and certainly a harbinger of things to come for the Cannibal Corpse guys. It was hard to imagine they’d get heavier than this but they totally did and would eventually, almost, kinda-sorta, flirt with something other than underground notoriety. But that, like my death metal lovin’ gal, is a story for another time.

Immolation / Jungle Rot / Gigan — Live, October 10, 2011

First, a bit of disclosure. There was a black metal band on first. I only caught maybe one song and frankly cannot recall their name to save my life. This isn’t nearly enough of a sample for me to discuss them fairly so I’m going to decline comment. Sorry guys, I was running late and needed to get dinner.

Gigan followed this and it was the second time I’d seen them in a month as they also opened for Grave. I was going to do a writeup for that show too but I ended up getting drunk which did not help my already faulty recall. First of all when you have a really technical band like Gigan you need very good sound to be able to appreciate them and for a few songs it sounded like the club forgot to turn the guitar on. I’m not all that big on this sort of thing but trying to handle that sort of music with terrible sound and you have no chance. I’ve listened to their records a bit and this isn’t my brand of Scotch. They just seem like yet another band who can write a ton of riffs and not write an actual song.

Jungle Rot followed them up and I was impressed in the wrong way. I was never really a fan and I haven’t even heard anything they’ve done in over a decade. That said I knew every note they were going to play before they even played it. They managed to make AC/DC sound unpredictable, they were that generic. They had good energy on stage and seemed like good enough guys but that was some of the least interesting music I’ve ever heard. If the set had been shorter it might have been fine but it felt like they went on forever.

Finally Immolation took the stage and all of the earlier stuff I couldn’t have cared less about went away. They were to put it mildly, CRUSHING. The sound was pretty good and they clearly wanted to devastate the hometown fans in a good way. The crowd, which was shamefully small, wasn’t ultra-violent but they were definitely into it in a big way. I can’t remember song titles worth a damn so don’t ask me for a set list in the comment section but they did play a little something off the whole discography. I do wish they would have broken out “Higher Coward” to start but I have no complaints about anything from Immolation. I just hope next time they bring along better support.

I totally recommend catching this, but it’s probably a good idea to show up kind of late.

Desultory, “Counting to Infinity” (2010)

Desultory, "Counting Our Scars"

Desultory, “Counting Our Scars”

Given that virtually every metal band from the early ’90s whose members are yet living has decided to reunite, it’s no surprise that death metal cum rollers (but let’s not talk about that) Desultory have also thrown their hat into the ring. Their newest record bears the disconcertingly angsty title Counting Our Scars, but lays all fears of modernization to rest with a raw, popping snare, vintage vocals that fans of Tompa will adore, and a charmingly amateurish logo of old. And though the arrangements may be a bit more straightforward and the refrains a little snappier than in the old days, three out of the four original members ensure that the hooks are as tightly packed as ever. In short, this is what The Haunted ought to have sounded like, back when someone, anyone, still had faith in them. Headbangers unite.

But wait — isn’t Sickening Vaults about unearthing the cold corpses of old instead of pandering to the new? Yes. The reason Desultory’s new record earns any mention in these chambers is simple: their back catalogue, Into Eternity in particular. Long before the name was co-opted by a preening cabal of Canadians, Into Eternity called to mind ravenous, thrashing, Swedish death metal that presaged the above named and, most notably, death-thrash titans The Crown by several years. Indeed, listening to Desultory’s ‘Tears’, one could be forgiven for thinking it was from the Deathrace King sessions – a record that wouldn’t be released for almost 10 years more. And although Counting Our Scars has a distinctly Slaughter of the Soul vibe, it was Desultory playing tight thrashing death metal while At the Gates were still convulsing horrifically on The Red in the Sky is Ours Indeed, Desultory were always their own masters, sometimes even to their detriment, and their name must endure in its own right. This new record may not burnish their name any brighter than it already was, but at the least should shine a greater light upon their legacy.

Desultory

Dawn in the Eternal Forest

In some circles, the not-quite-household name of Dawn is as highly regarded as that other mid-90s Swedish black metal band that starts with a ‘D’ (hint: not Dark Funeral). Dawn’s 1997 LP Slaughtersun (Crown of the Triarchy) is a maelstrom of strophic, almost apocalyptic black metal that falls somewhere between the seminal Storm of the Light’s Bane and rather less feted but comparably icy Far Away From the Sun, by Sacramentum. Aside from a titular preoccupation with celestial weather patterns, the three bands share an atmosphere of transcendent grandeur that has been virtually unequaled in the years since, despite many imitators.

Where Dawn diverges from the others (facial tattoos notwithstanding) is in its origins–rather than bursting onto the scene as a fully-formed black metal revelation, Dawn’s first days were spent in the cavernous depths of death metal. This wasn’t ragged around the edges or seasoned with d-beats like Nihilist and company, but rather the splashy, tremolo-frenzied kind of death metal that other Swedish artists like Unanimated would capitalize upon in a few short years. Dawn’s 1992 demo Apparition highlights this style, and particularly the dynamic vocals of Henke Forss–booming lows or seething shrieks–on the opening cut, ‘In The Depths of My Soul’. The entire demo, at least those on the compilation discussed below, sound surprisingly vital for 1992, but one should expect nothing less when Dan Swanö is at the controls.

If a better opening statement exists in metal than the first minute of that song, I’ve not yet heard it. The Apparition demo would later be repackaged in a split with the Mexican group Pyphomgertum (ostensibly Demilich worship), with Dawn’s half being called The Eternal Forest. Yet another repackaging–the best yet–would come in 2004, a 2CD compilation of nearly all Dawn’s relevant releases, with retrospective liner notes from bassist Philip von Segebaden, full lyrics, and full-page spreads of past record covers, the band, etc. All hail Necropolis Records.

In their transition to black metal, Dawn would actually re-record ‘In The Depths…’ for their 1994 debut LP, Naer Solen Gar Niber For Evogher. The transformation was a dramatic one, and rather sudden. This new version echoes the Dawn that would take full flight on Slaughtersun, but heard back-to-back with the original, it is found wanting.

Aside from their “day jobs” in Dawn, various members would succeed in other side projects: Henke Forss is perhaps most famous for his session work on In Flames’ Subterranean (arguably their best release and not incidentally the least like In Flames); bassist Philip von Segebaden played with cult bizarros Afflicted; and Tomas Asklund, in the good tradition of all Swedish metal drummers, has played with a bevy of black metal giants such as Dissection, Dark Funeral, and more recently Gorgoroth 2.0 (the Infernus package). Rumors of a new Dawn record started swirling a number of years ago, and a new rehearsal track (see: the sensational ‘The Fourfold Furnace’) was even posted to their website along with encouraging, albeit infuriatingly brief, updates. But the resurgence was short-lived; the last update to their site was in 2008, and hopes for a new record are today waning.

Yet, perhaps if we all pray hard enough watch enough YouTube videos and talk about it on obscure blogs, Henke and the boys might hear us and get back in the studio. Here’s hoping.

Disincarnate’s “Soul Erosion” Demo

Disincarnate’s “Dreams of the Carrion Kind” didn’t make much of a splash with me when it was released at the end of winter in 1993. James Murphy was a household name in death metal but for some reason, I (and apparently a lot of other people) didn’t hear what Murphy was trying to tell us with those 9 tortured hymns. I kept going back to the album every year or two and while I held my original opinion for a long time, every time I listened to it, I liked it a little more. A few years ago, it finally clicked for me and I now regard “Dreams of the Carrion Kind” as one of the finer death metal albums. It was reissued in 2007 and now seems to be fairly well-known and widely revered.

What’s less known is that “Dreams…” wasn’t the first thing Disincarnate did. Their “Soul Erosion” demo was recorded in 1992 and that release’s version of “Stench of Paradise Burning” appeared on Roadrunner’s “At Death’s Door II” compilation (which kills and will be posted about sooner than later).

Three songs appear on “Soul Erosion”:

  1. Stench of Paradise Burning
  2. Soul Erosion
  3. Confine of Shadows (Demo) (mp3)

The production is obviously several steps below the incredible treatment the album got, but the demo is still worth listening to for it’s raw performances and bass & vocal heavy mix. I remember being very excited about Disincarnate based on the “Stench…” track on the compilation but disappointed in the album, which felt too sterile and clean. In hindsight, they’re both great and worth listening it. Repeatedly for years, if necessary.