Monday, October 17, 2011

Metal Briefs: Death Metal 1994

The Golden Era, Part 5

The golden age of death metal was coming to a close in 1994, with grunge "killing" metal in the eyes of some, black metal coming to prominence for others, and the simple fact that the first creative juices were running out. Because of death's surprising level of success and expectations that sales would continue to climb, record labels were releasing albums by the bucketful. Many of those releases are decidedly nonessential, and the glut may also be partly responsible for death's downfall. But there were still many good ones coming out.

Infester: To the Depths . . . In Degradation

Speaking of grunge, Infester was from Seattle. And speaking of black metal, they incorporate some of the strained vocals, tremolo riffing, and overall symphonic aesthetic of black metal into their ugly death. It doesn't go far enough to be true blackened death, though, and at heart this sounds like a New York death metal band. They bear the strongest resemblance to the doomy death of Incantation, lo-fi recording, guttural death growls, and all. Even with the occasional synths in the background, there is no mistaking this as pure, grotesque death metal. Allegedly, they have a racist agenda incorporated into their sadistic lyrics, but if you can understand them I'll let you decide. And, by the way, it's fantastic. I give their only full-length 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Morpheus Descends: Chronicles of the Shadowed Ones

Actually hailing from New York, it's no surprise that Morpheus Descends also have that from-the-crypt Incantation sound. Chronicles of the Shadowed Ones leans heavily on the slow/fast/slow dynamic. Their production is notably better than Infester's, particularly the "you are in the room" drum sound, and the drums are also more interesting in their sparseness (for death metal). "Autumn Bleed" seems to be a direct influence on today's Vasaeleth. Sadly, the album peters out after only three good songs, and is followed by the paint-by-numbers "Signs of Gehenna" and then nine minutes of ambient wind noises with scary gurgling. Still, it's a convincing 18 minutes to start, so I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Mangled Torsos: Drawings of the Dead

In keeping with my preference for the New York branch of death metal, Germany's Mangled Torsos fits pretty well in that style. The vocals tend toward a deep gurgle (almost Demilich-like) although there are also rasps. The riffs have a healthy respect for memorability if not always originality ("Unsuspecting Sacrifice" has a reworking of Metallica's "Sad but True"). They keep it mid-paced, and occasionally slow and doomy, and always heavy. Synths do pop by for a spell, but what really makes this album stand out are the occasional clean, melodic sections--and this came out prior to Opeth's debut. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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