Not sure what brought this on, but who am I to look a crushing Finnish death metal horse in the mouth?
Not sure what brought this on, but who am I to look a crushing Finnish death metal horse in the mouth?
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.
Here’s a three of mid-tempo death metal-bordering-on-thrash that exchanges brutality and violence for something a bit more cerebral. There’s something to be said for taking your time.
Imagine 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.
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.
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.
This slipped under the radar! Apparently, back in January, Karl Willets (vocals; Bolt Thrower) and Frank Healy (bass; Benediction, Sacrilege) started a new band with Andy Whale (drums; ex-Bolt Thrower) to “jam out some cover versions of old classic songs that had influenced us in the past along with some cover versions from the bands we had played with over the years, and maybe eventually do a few low key gigs” in the wake of Martin “Kiddie” Kearns’ death and all Bolt Thrower activities being put in indefinite hold. When Benediction’s live guitarist, Scott Fairfax came into the picture, he brought with him a bunch of music and things turned more serious.
“Being a lifetime fan of both Benediction and Bolt Thrower, it is with great pride that I announce that the new band of Frank Healy and Karl Willets has now joined the Nuclear Blast family! Following the first news regarding the band, I have been keeping a close eye on them and was very curious to hear their material. After hearing their first demo songs I was completely sold and knew that I had to get in contact with Frank and Karl to seal the deal. Memoriam will please all the fans of old school death metal and especially the worldwide fan base of Bolt Thrower and Benediction!
This is all very promising stuff and it’s great to see some old dogs back to their old tricks.
Memoriam released a 7″ called The Hellfire Demo with the songs “War Rages On” and “Resistance”. Take a listen to the B-Side of the 7″ below and check out their various sites:
DEATH worshippers GRUESOME are hitting the road to support their new EP, Dimensions of Horror, out now on Relapse Records. Their 10-date European run is preceded by what will no doubt be 3 suitably swampy August shows in the home of gators, sweltering humidity and inexplicable behavior: Florida.
If you can’t make a show, check their new video and maybe pick up of copy of the new shit?
After nearly a decade on hiatus, Sweden’s CENTINEX rebounded with 2014’s more than solid comeback, Redeeming Filth. Two years later and their next full-length slab, Doomsday Rituals is scheduled for release in July 2016 on Agonia Records. It’s available for preorder with 3 promising tracks streaming on Bandcamp.
Decibel Magazine broke the news a couple weeks ago that the mighty ENTOMBED is back in action with 3 original members: Guitarists Alex Hellid & Ulf Cedarlund and drummer/writer/driving force/sometimes secret vocalist Nicke Andersson! Plans on the table at the moment are Close-Up Magazine’s Båten cruise in late October and a performance of Entombed’s 1991 classic Clandestine with the Malmö Symphony Orchestra on November 12. Continue reading
I became familiar with The Crypt label a couple years back when I discovered Chicago’s long-defunct death metal Morgue and went fishing for a physical copy of their sole album, “Coroner’s Report.” As it turned out, The Crypt had just announced their upcoming vinyl reissue of that very same album. It took a while for the reissue to see the light of day but it was very much worth the wait. The amount of care that went into the packaging was clear and it’s one of my favorite LPs.
Looking at the The Crypt’s back catalog and planned future releases shows an immense dedication to the old school. As of today, I’ve picked up The Crypt LP reissue of Mercyless‘ Abject Offerings and Dark Symphonies’ CD reissue of Hexx‘s Morbid Reality and they’re both outstanding.
With that, here’s Ted Tringo, founder of the Dark Symphonies label, which begat The Crypt, which begat a slew of reissues, anthologies and discography compilations for bands and albums that live at the edge of our collective memory.
According to Discogs, Dark Symphonies’ first release was 1996. How does it feel hitting the 20 year mark?
Ted Tringo: Actually, the label started in February of 1995, so we are now in our 21st year and it feels great. A real sense of accomplishment to stay true to what we believe in for all of these years and still doing what we started way back then.
How did Dark Symphonies get started? Did you start it alone or with partners?
It actually began as a mail order which I started myself. I began buying CD and LP wholesale orders from small underground distributors, and kept that going until we had enough revenue to finance our first CD release and turn the mailorder into an actual label. From then on we traded our releases for more titles and grew the mailorder that way.
Your band Autumn Tears was the cornerstone of the label. How did you handle band interests vs. label interests?
Band and label interests ended up being more or less along the same lines, as even though Autumn Tears wasn’t metal, we in the band loved underground metal music. It was an unlikely pairing but it worked great for us.
Can you talk a bit about Dark Symphonies’ roster back in the day? Was there a type of band you looked for?
Well, aside from Autumn Tears, the first band we signed that wasn’t us was Maudlin of the Well back in 1999. That was followed by Rain Fell Within, Long Winters’ Stare and Novembers Doom. Back then we were looking for metal bands that had something unique to offer, whether it be unique and melodic or progressive. As long as we felt the band offered something special, we were interested.
As an ex-Chicagoan, I have to ask about Novembers Doom. You seemed to catch them just as they were breaking. How did you come to work with them?
I actually knew Paul from the early ’90s as we did some trades back then, and they were also friends with Clint from Long Winters’ Stare. We all met at a Milwaukee Metalfest and Paul had discussed his displeasure with the current label situation he was in. Being a fan of the band at the time, we were interested in working with them, so we were essentially able to buy out their contract and worked with them for two albums after that.
As I understand it, Dark Symphonies has two imprints: Forest of the Fae and The Crypt, and then The Crypt has its own imprint, Cult Demo Series. Can you explain each one and how they relate to each other? What makes them “sublabels” instead of just separate labels?
Forest of the Fae is currently defunct as it was more of an experiment sublabel for non-metal bands which proved to be less than lucrative, as by the time we started it, interest for that kind of music seemed to have died out.
The Cult Demo Series is a current sublabel of the Crypt which specializes in bands that actually never had an album out before, only demo recordings, so we felt that would be a nice touch to have a separate label to do that.
What was the relationship between DS and Blood Fire Death Records (Krieg’s record label)?
Blood Fire Death Records was a sub label of Dark Symphonies in the later ’90s that specialized in USBM bands. As Dark Symphonies leaned more towards progressive and melodic metal bands at that time, we turned the reigns of Blood Fire Death Records to Neill Jameson from Krieg, as it was Krieg that had inspired the BFD label to begin with.
You’ve licensed several DS releases to other labels for reissuing (Rain Fell Within, Novembers Doom). Can you explain how a deal like that typically works? What makes the licensing more attractive than reissuing it yourself?
We actually only every licensed those two releases. Rain Fell Within’s “Believe” to Hellion Records in Brazil and November’s Doom’s “The Knowing” to Pavement for USA. As we were still growing at the time, we felt it would be a good way to help spread our name and our releases to a wider fan base.
DS releases slowed down in the mid-2000s, ending with the last Autumn Tears album in 2007. The DS website says that you are “no longer signing or distributing material for any new bands.” When did you officially pull the plug and why?
We officially stopped signing bands in 2007 as we had basically had our fill of all the red tape and headache that comes with the whole signing process. It is so much less stress and so much more fun to just license classic releases now and not have to worry about all the drama that comes with band signing.
Two years later, we have first release on The Crypt: 2009’s reissue of Excruciate’s 1993 album, “Passage of Life”. So right off the bat, you’re exercising The Crypt’s MO: Dig up a killer, long out of print, largely unknown album from a largely unknown band and give it new life. Did this just happen or did you set out with a plan, or…?
It had always been interested in reissuing my favorite early 80s and 90s extreme metal releases, especially since many had never been released on vinyl, so in 2009 it just felt like the right time to do it. I dove in head first and it has been successful ever since.
The Crypt had 4 releases in 2009, followed by an explosion of anthologies, discography compilations and album reissues in 2010 that’s only gotten stronger since. Considering the economy in the States at that time, the “no one buys music anymore” problem, etc., how in the world did this succeed so well?
It seems that the “no one buys music anymore” philosophy never applied to metal vinyl collectors as for them, collecting LPs usually displaces rent, food, utilities, etc.
How did you come to work with Morgue? Why was there such a long delay getting that released?
I have always been a fan and now with the power of the internet, I was able to track down Brad and talk to him about about releasing the entire discography on vinyl for the first time. Of course he was thrilled at the idea. The only reason for the delay is because we had so many releases planned prior to Morgue, so they basically had to wait in line 🙂
How do you go about securing the rights to material this old? Are these mostly beer-and-a-handshake deals with the main guy(s), or do things get tricky, legally, like tracking down ex-bandmates, dealing with bad breakups, etc…
Luckily it has not been so difficult but we always make sure it is done correctly and legally with a contract. The process is usually different depending on the band, but most times we have to secure rights from the actual original label and the band members, making the process longer, but in the end, the final release is always worth the effort and expense. Plus the fact that we are only ever looking for licensing rights and not publishing rights, it makes the people involved much less reluctant to work with us.
Do bands approach you or is this strictly an archaeological endeavor?
It has gone both ways depending on the band, but the majority of the time, I am the one who does the scouting for releases.
Do you have a sense of who’s buying The Crypt’s releases?
Mostly vinyl collectors from what I see online, but I can’t really say as a whole for certain.
The DS website also says you’re a “vinyl label only”. Embracing vinyl makes sense, but is it really time to phase out CDs? Did you go that route for purely financial reasons or something else?
Just to specify, The Crypt is a “vinyl label only”. Dark Symphonies is a CD label. Two separate labels but doing the same thing. That disclaimer is more so bands don’t contact us looking for a label to release their album as we don’t do that anymore.
Discogs says you use GZ from the Czech Republic to press vinyl. What’s the benefit to using someone halfway around the world? Are there any challenges working with an overseas press?
The benefit of GZ is that they are a one stop fulfillment house so we don’t have to press the printwork in once place and the vinyl in another. The biggest benefit is that most of our distributors are in Europe, and GZ will drop ship directly to them, making things much easier and cost effective for everyone involved.
What’s your relationship with Dark Descent? If it’s deeper than distribution, how did that come about?
We have been friends since 2009 and they are a great partner label for distributing our releases. One of the biggest supporters of our labels since we began and continues to be.
In 2014, after 7 years of no release, Dark Symphonies starts up again, seemingly reissuing The Crypt releases. Why?
The main reason is that with all of our LP releases, we felt they deserved CD releases as well since we love CDs as much as LPs, have experience manufacturing and distributing them, and most of the original CDs are impossible to find for a reasonable price,. Who better to do it that a label that has had 21 years experience and already currently working with the bands?
Ted and people like him are keeping the old-school alive and play a vital role in preserving music that created in obscurity and lives in perpetual state of being lost completely (magnetic tape doesn’t last forever).
Incantation are set to play some select US dates and a solid European run this summer, kicking off with an appearance at the Obscene Extreme fest in the Czech Republic.