Obscura in Tokyo

It’s been a few years since the last time I went to a concert. I never went all that much anyway. Ticket prices are always expensive, and you don’t see much of the bands in the big stadiums. When I saw Yes perform in a theatre in Tokyo back in 2014, at least the venue was cozy, and I could clearly see Steve Howe on my side of the stage and had a pretty good view of the late Chris Squire on the opposite side. I could make out their facial expressions.

Last Sunday, I managed to get down to Tokyo to catch Obscura, a tech death band from Germany whose music I have recently taken an interest in. Their recent release, Diluvium, is their fifth and I believe it’s their second with the current line-up. Opening acts were Mason, a thrash metal band from Australia, and Jinjer, a metalcore band from the Ukraine, neither of which I knew about more than my friend having shown me a couple of short video clips.

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Mason

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Jinjer

The venue was Cyclone, which was situated deep under the backstreets of Shibuya. I was a bit late arriving after having spent some time working out the directions to the venue by the actual streets. By the time I found the place and got in, Mason were already on stage and cranking it out. Though I didn’t know their music, I was immediately hooked by their powerful and to-the-gut, classic thrash metal. When vocalist Jimmy Benson announced the band’s name, I decided that I had to get a CD.

Later at the merch table, I had the fortune of chatting with Benson, as well as lead guitarist Grant Burns and drummer Nonda Tsatsoulis. Missing was bassist Steve Montalto. They were really cool guys to talk to and granted me a photo with them. What a great shot!

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I’m not so much into metalcore, but if Jinjer captured my attention it was via vocalist Tatiana Shmailyuk. It’s something else to see a cute woman smile and wink on stage while covered in tattoos and roaring out in death bellows. I’d listen to their music more just for her! Unfortunately, I didn’t see any of the band around after their set.

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Tatiana Shmailyuk of Jinjer

At last, the headliner act Obscura came on stage. I was eager to see them play because I wondered how they would perform their style of technical death metal live. Of course they played fantastically. With each song shifting from speedy and technicality to slower melody parts, guitarist Rafael Trujillo’s fingers were frequently tapping all over the fretboard. Six-string, fretless bass player Linus Klausenitzer frequently stepped forward to scrutinize the audience and then smiled or stopped to throw some fretless bass break at us. Band leader and vocals/guitar Steffen Kummerer roared and bellowed and took a few shared lead melodies with Trujillo. A mosh circle started by Mason and which had cropped up during some Jinjer songs was encouraged by Kummerer when the song called for it.

I had always been apprehensive about mosh pits, but in the small venue there were only a dedicated few who regularly charged around and slammed shoulders. I stood right at the edge and occasionally had to catch a flying body or slam a shoulder to send a staggering body back into the fray. It was really great fun, and I attribute that partially to the congeniality of the audience, whom I determined to be regulars to metal shows and who were all fairly familiar with one another. After the show, I felt there was a certain camaraderie or inclusion among the attendees.

I was very pleased and thrilled to be able to speak with Klausenitzer and Trujillo after the show, and later on we got to have photos taken with the whole band, including drummer Sebastian Lanser.

I had an awesome time and feel totally inspired to go to more shows. Tickets to Emperor in November are already on my hit list. But one thing I was especially pleased about was the possibility of getting photos of the band on stage and from rather close up. I was constantly attracted by the lighting and colours and pulling my phone out for a shot. These are only iPhone shots but I am really pleased with them! Some of them are cropped and filtered on Instagram under my samyaku account.

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Japan’s Killer Queen

My wife has come down with a fever. Queen fever. With an acute case of affliction for Freddie.

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The movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” opened in Japan on November 2nd, and I expressed interest in seeing it in part because I had finally welcomed the music of Queen into my life only the year prior. The first Queen song I ever heard knowing that it was a Queen song was “Radio Gaga”. This was 1984 and the year of new releases by Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Accept, Metallica, Dio, and many other heavy metal bands. This was music to be excited about. “Radio Gaga”? Nothing more than soft eighties pop fluff to my ears. Over the years I heard plenty of Queen classics like “We Are the Champions”, “Rock You”, “Don’t Stop Me Now”, “Somebody to Love”, “You’re My Best Friend”, “Body Language”, “Killer Queen” and of course “Bohemian Rhapsody”, but except for the occasional rock out guitar moment, Queen were to me nothing more than a stadium rock, pomp rock, pop band.

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My perception began to change when I heard their name mentioned from time to time in prog rock circles, but it was hearing that “Stone Cold Crazy” from 1974’s “Sheer Heart Attack” was a kind of proto-thrash song that I decided it was finally time to bring home Queen. One album purchased in 2017, and then in early 2018 I heard about “It’s Late” mentioned as a hard rock song when I was checking out hard rock from 1977. “News of the World” became the second Queen album to sit on my shelf. By the time the movie was announced, I had “Queen II” in my Amazon shopping cart and I clicked the order button for than one too. Now, five albums sit on my shelf with three more on order, one already a few days overdue.

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My wife has always liked Queen since her college days but recently she can’t get enough. She’s on YouTube every day watching videos; she has ordered a photo book of Freddie Mercury pics and three DVDs; she’s a follower of Brain May and Roger Taylor on Twitter and Instagram; and she talks of almost nothing but Queen and Freddie. As I type, she is watching the movie for the fourth time, this time in IMAX, with her sister. The first three times, we watched the movie together. I really enjoy it as well. Yes, I am aware of all the factual discrepancies, but as a movie telling the story of a rock band, it covers a lot of the clichés in a way that Spinal Tap did. I especially love the actors and their performance, so I am not really concerned about “Rock You” being shown as created in 1980 instead of 1976, or when Freddie actually found out about his condition, or if the band really broke up or not. If anything, I have learned more about the band by learning about what was different in the movie from reality.

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Queen fever has returned to Japan too thanks to the movie. On a TV program this morning, it was explained with a bar graph how movie goers had been flocking to the theatres with ever increasing numbers, ticket sales increasing more than tenfold by the fourth week when compared to the first. Many were repeat viewers but the number of new viewers was almost half of the fourth week figure. Young women especially have been turning out, often after being taken along by their mothers. Several young ladies commented on how “heart-warming” and “easy to catch” the melodies were.

The movie soundtrack has been selling very well, but most surprising is the live DVD of Queen performing in Montreal in 1981 with their Live Aid performance included. The DVD sold a modest 200 copies between September and October, but after the release of the movie, sales increased 277 times! The publisher is currently out of stock and manufacturing more.

The media in Japan is also hot for Queen. “BURRN” magazine has a special feature on Queen as do at least three or four other music magazines published this month or due for publication next month. The national broadcasting network, NHK, interviewed Brain May and Roger Taylor a few days ago and recently reran a 2002 program called “The Bohemian Rhapsody Murder”, and the other day, a program called “Songs” featured four celebrities giving their comments about Queen’s songs.

What makes Queen so popular in Japan? One woman in her sixties offered her remarks. Back in 1974, the big rock bands were Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Guys loved the music and talked endlessly about the gear – guitars, amps, etc. Few women felt inclined to follow the conversation. But Queen brought fashion, presentation, flamboyancy, and an appeal that women could be excited about. As such, Queen’s following in Japan quickly swelled as word spread among female fans. In particular, Roger Taylor was a female favourite pin-up boy. One man on the program even stated that Queen was something you liked in secret. Men had to be manly and like tough guys. Queen appealed to the feminine side and thus was a little embarrassing for some guys. One TV director I know recently posted on Facebook that he was alright with the long-haired, flying fashions of mid-seventies Queen, but was shocked to see the “hard gay” image Freddie sported in 1979.

Another commentator said Queen’s anthemic melodies very catchy and certain lines in the lyrics easily stand out. Perhaps the 1976 song, “Teo Toriatte”, a song with the chorus sung in Japanese, also is a reason why Queen have connected so well with Japan.

I know a couple of men around my age who love Queen’s hits, and a high school student of mine really got into Queen earlier this year, well before the movie was advertised.

Strangely enough, many of Queen’s classics that I did not care for in the past have become recent favourites of mine. I can listen to some songs again and again and not feel the need for a break. “Radio Gaga” is now actually a good song to my ears, though I still find “Body Language” and most of the songs on “Hot Space” a career misstep.

I am surprised, however, to heard just how heavy the band could be in the early seventies, or at least through their first five albums. Though I am still waiting for the debut to show up in my mailbox, “Queen II”, “Sheer Heart Attack”, and “A Night at the Opera” pack some wallopers, while “A Day at the Races” only just dropped into my mailbox yesterday. Some songs that are a joy to my early heavy metal appreciation lobes are “Father to Son”, “Ogre Battle”, and parts of “White Queen (as it began)” and “The March of the Black Queen”, and I think I may add “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke” as well, and that’s just “Queen II”. From “Sheer Heart Attack” there’s Brian May’s guitar work in “Brighton Rock”, “Stone Cold Crazy”, “Flick of the Wrist”, and “Now I’m Here”. “A Night at the Opera” has “The Prophet’s Song” and of course the rock out head banging section in “Bohemian Rhapsody”. But other songs also delight, such as “Bring Back that Leroy Brown” and “39” among others. I am still familiarizing myself with all the music. I am especially looking forward to “Queen” as metal music journalist Martin Popoff holds this album in very high regard.

queen-bandI’m a bit hesitant to order any of the later albums like “It’s a Kind of Magic”. It seems each of the later albums has a rock number but also has a lot of eighties pop which is really a distaste for me. Some songs still have that Queen power to them, but others are very light-weight in that eighties kind of way. Especially Roger Taylor seems worst hit as his drumming is restricted to stale eighties 4/4 beats. At least Brain May still gets a guitar solo.

 

As for Queen fever in Japan, several movie theatres have special large screen screenings with high volume music and the audience is encouraged to stand up for the Live Aid scene. Some people requested this and the theatres responded. The movie is still going strong with some women claiming to have watched it 25 times already.

Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple still have a place here, but Queen might just be the rock band for Japan.

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Five Canadian Metal Albums and One Strange Story

I love finding out about Canadian talent that I have never heard before. It doesn’t matter if it’s metal or prog or sometimes something else, I’m always thrilled to hear home-grown talent, even though I don’t live at “home” anymore.

Recently I heard about three such bands and managed to acquire an album from each. Then there was an old favourite whose classic album I never had, I finally bought. And then there was a band I had never considered, who never actually were a band but a band with an interesting and peculiar story.

First, I was watching a YouTube video, a compilation of old school trash metal bands with many obscure bands or bands that I just hadn’t heard before. The creator of this video had kindly added in what country the bands were from and I was thrilled to see that three of them were Canucks! (I also got to know of Artillery from Denmark, and Exumer and Protector from Germany.) Here’s what I got!

Aggression – The Full Treatment, 1987

Formed in Montreal in 1984 under the name Asylum, The band changed their name a year later and in 1986, recorded their first album, which would not be released until 2005. After some line-up changes, they recorded a second album, The Full Treatment, which was released in 1987. The album is fast and furious thrash metal with a fair bit of hardcore punk in the mix but also a sharp sense of musicality with quick rhythm and tempo changes. This is a brutal album because the recording job makes them sound like an-overloaded fright train careening down a Rocky Mountain railway and barely staying on track. But beneath the auditory assault, I hear finely-honed skill, at least in so far as a brutal thrash metal band can be concerned.

Disciples of Power – Power Trap, 1989

Disciples of Power were formed in that hotbed of metal music, Medicine Hat, Alberta. ??? Yeah, I know. I am surprised too. But hey, I can’t say I know what the metal scene was like in Medicine Hat so I’m actually thrilled to hear of a band from there. Power Trap was their first full-length album after three demos recorded in 1988. For a debut, Power Trap shows a mature thrash band that displays song-writing capabilities that I compare not by style but by ability to the space between Metallica’s Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. They are listed as thrash/tech death on Encyclopedia Metallum. The band has released four other full-lengths since then, the latest being in 2002.

Obliveon – Carnivore Mothermouth, 1999

Formed in Montreal in 1987 as Oblivion, they changed their name to Obliveon in 1989. Between 1989 and 1999, Obliveon released four full-lengths and a number of demos. Their debut, From This Day Forward, has been given a fair bit of praise on Encyclopedia Metallum and one reviewer interestingly writes of competitive rivalry between Obliveon and Disciples of Power. By Carnivore Mothermouth I feel their futuristic theme and the sound of the music is not far off from Fear Factory, keeping in mind that the only Fear factory album I ever had was Remanufacture.

Razor – Violent Restitution, 1988

Razor’s fifth album and the last with their vocalist Stace “Sheepdog” McLaren. I had their second and third albums, Evil Invaders and Malicious Intent, on cassette in the eighties and finally bought Evil Invaders on CD a couple of years back. I kept Violent Restitution in mind until I started to see it show up on favourite thrash metal album lists. I bought it and I was not disappointed. The sound is better than Evil Invaders and still has the raw Razor rip and shred feel to the music. “Taste the Floor” includes a chainsaw and it fits in just perfectly with razor’s sound.

Piledriver – Stay Ugly, 1986

I remember seeing both Metal Inquisition and Stay Ugly in the eighties Canadian metal mag, Metallion. At the time, I was really getting the feeling that too many bands of lesser talent were getting signed and releasing albums, and based on the cover art and the song titles, I reckoned that Piledriver were a band best left alone. I forgot about the band until a couple of weeks ago when someone in a video or on the Net somewhere mentioned Piledriver and that the band was from Canada. I have been collecting a number of the old eighties metal bands from the Great White North, but did I want to try to get a hold of Piledriver? A quick listen to Metal Inquisition on YouTube made me sure that I was right to avoid the band. Curiosity, however, got the better of me and I went back to listen again. It wasn’t so bad.

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Metal Inquisition is not so easy to get a hold of but Stay Ugly was ready for order for a normal price, and so I placed my order just a few days ago. It hasn’t reached me yet but in the meantime, I found some interesting information behind the Piledriver albums.

Piledriver was never a real band. As the story goes, as told by vocalist Gord Kirchin,  Piledriver was created by a suggestion from Cobra Records. The fellow Gord refers to as “Record Weasel” said that if they made a metal album with a crazy cover and songs to match, they could easily expect to sell 20,000 copies. Gord claims to have received $250 in payment for his services as the vocalist. The album Metal Inquisition was released in 1984.

Two years later, David DeFeis of Virgin Steele was told by his manager that he owed the manager money and if he’d write material for three projects, he’d be forgiven his debt.  DeFeis and Steele guitarist Eddie Pursino worked on material for three albums, one of them becoming the second Piledriver album and another one was Convict. Gord Kirchin sang on both of these. Convict didn’t go far but apparently the Piledriver albums garnered an underground following, all unbeknownst to Gord! He did try to turn Piledriver into a real band but then changed the name to Dogs With Jobs and “de-piled” the material he had prepared for a third album.

Several years later, Gord Kirchin got himself a computer and connected to the Internet to discover that the two Piledriver albums had actually sold quite well. Yet he and others involved never saw a cent after their initial work was paid for. In 2004, Gord tried to put together a new lineup for a new, Exalted Piledriver (the name was modified since there were already other bands out there using the Piledriver name). He currently heads the band and they have at least one new album out. David DeFeis has given his blessing to Gord to use the material he and his guitarist wrote for the Stay Ugly album.

about Piledriver

interview with Gord Kirchin

interview with David DeFeis

This story about Piledriver led me to the YouTube channel of Nasty Metal Productions, where the young gentleman who hosts the channel enlightened me about the so-called “metalploitation” phenomenon of the 1980’s. There were at least two companies, Cobra Records and Metal Enterprises, who released dozens of albums recorded in the same vein as the original Piledriver albums. In some cases, real musicians would be called in to write something to help pay off a debt while in other cases, bands and musicians who were not yet (and not necessarily likely to be) professional were given studio time to knock off an album or two. The band would then, in most cases, cease to exist.

The purpose of this was to sell metal albums to eager youth who wanted their next new metal band fix. The quality was often sub-par at best and ludicrous at worst, apparently. Corroseum has taken an interest in the releases from Metal Enterprises. While most of these albums and bands have faded into obscurity, Piledriver seems to have remained an important legend. This actually reminds me of the Crown Records label I wrote about in the post about The Firebirds / The 31 Flavors, a late sixties band who were in a similar situation, recording an album of questionable material for a label that only wanted to sell sub-par music to unsuspecting youth.

The Birth of Death

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Honestly, death metal was one reason why I lost interest in heavy metal. I was there when it was all coming together, as the ingredients were being mixed, the concoction stirred. However, I missed the final crucial years, and by the time the potion had been decanted, I came in to look and wondered what had happened to my beloved heavy metal music. Where were the new Rob Halfords, Bruce Dickenson’s, and Ronnie James Dios? Had singing gone out of fashion?

I came in to the metal scene just after the New Wave of British Heavy Metal had washed ashore and heavy metal became a household word. Then, just as Quiet Riot, Def Leppard, and Motley Crue were making metal the underdog chart champion of the world in 1983, thrash metal suddenly crashed onto the scene. With it came more extreme metal bands like Celtic Frost, Bathory, and Possessed. I was into each of these bands, but by 1987 I became more interested in the roots of heavy metal, and by 1989 when I came back to contemporary releases via Christian heavy metal, I found myself a little nonplussed by the deep guttural vocal styles of bands like Vengeance Rising and Seventh Angel (wish I had never sold off that one now!). Bands I had liked, such as Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer, were changing their sound and it didn’t appeal to me either. I lost touch with the developments in my favourite music genre and what I heard—Fear Factory, Marilyn Manson, One Minute Silence—was good but not what metal was to me. And whenever I heard these bands with incomprehensible, rumbling, roaring, growling vocals, I likened them to demons vomiting after a night of heavy drinking and spicy Mexican food.

It took a long way round for me to return to heavy metal and discover just how many subgenres it had fractionated into. My interest in progressive rock took me to progressive metal which brought me to Devin Townsend and then to Opeth. Finally, early in 2017, I came to appreciate the death metal growl and became curious about other bands. Then the history buff in me took over and I plunged into old school death metal.

Heavy Metal: Progressing to the Extreme

creem metal deadIn the late seventies, heavy metal had lost its identity. The depressed and nihilistic lyrics about war, political corruption, psychopathic mental illnesses, substance abuse, the doom of the earth and the human race, and sometimes just plain old lyrics about Satan winning thanks to our sinful ways, had gone out of fashion for the most part by around 1972, and a more fun type of energetic guitar music about rock and roll, women, relationships, and a few hard times in life became the new hard guitar music. Traces of doom and gloom still surfaced in the odd band or album, but aside from metal kings Black Sabbath, the rest was mostly underground.

When punk rock came to force in the late seventies, heavy metal was said to have lost its relevance and become redundant. What critics hadn’t bet on was that young metal musicians would learn from punk’s aggressive attitude and DIY approach and create a new brand of metal for a new generation. With the help of Judas Priest’s reinvention of the metal sound, some inspiration from progressive rock, and Motorhead’s bombastic raw and speedy style, heavy metal became faster, fuller, and demanded new levels of skill.

The NWoBHM delivered various styles of metal, and it was the faster, punk-influenced concoction that spurred the American thrash scene, while some of the darker-themed bands encouraged new directions in extreme metal in Europe.

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Venom

Venom were the most influential of the lot, playing fast and aggressive music that was a natural extension of Motorhead but also using Satanic lyrical themes and imagery. The music was, for the most part, still rather fun though. Switzerland’s Hellhammer and Sweden’s Bathory would do more to develop the darker and vocally deeper side of metal. Influenced by the punk band Discharge, Hellhammer went in search of a new sound for metal. With the addition of Martin Ain on vocals and a change in sound, the band became Celtic Frost, which would go on to influence a number of future death metal bands. Bathory’s sound would in turn set a template for the later black metal movement.

Back in the U.S.A., thrash was the pimply-faced, beer-swilling rival and challenger to L.A.’s hairspray and spandex glam metal scene. But while many bands sang about violence and war, one band took things more extreme. Slayer burst onto the scene with the Satanic themes but went further with lyrics of horror and homicide. Their album Hell Awaits became an inspiration to many young European bands. The next step came with Possessed’s Seven Churches. This album made metal not only faster, but more frightening with Jeff Becerra’s deep, roaring vocal style. Indeed, Possessed’s song entitled “Death Metal” would lend its name to this budding new extension of extreme metal.

Things Get Brutal

pleasure to killWith one album under their collective belt, Germany’s Kreator were looking to take things to the next level. They approached their new producer, Harris Johns, with copies of Hell Awaits and Seven Churches and said that this was the kind of album they wanted to make. The producer responded with, “Oh, I think we can do better than that”. Kreator’s second album, Pleasure to Kill featured fast, tight, and sometimes complex playing with snarling, teeth-gnashing, gruff vocals. Another German band, Sodom, took to thrash metal with a similar vocal approach. It seemed that while Americans preferred shouted vocals, Europeans were more into menacing and brutal vocals.

SLAUGHTER-Strappado-LP-BLACK-ORIGINAL-MIXMeanwhile over in Canada, Toronto’s Slaughter were joined by a musician from Florida. Chuck Schuldiner of Mantas played with the band for six months before returning south (couldn’t stand the winter?). By the time Slaughter recorded Strappado, their first full-length album in 1986, their sound had become full-on brutal bombast with deep, grumbling guitars and dual vocals that sounded like shouted, angry barks and barbaric growls.

scream bloody goreChuck Schuldiner’s band, Death, released their debut album, Scream Bloody Gore, in 1987, and this is often considered as the birth of the death metal subgenre (was it because of the screams at the start of the album?). Other Floridian bands soon followed. For many fans, death metal was born in Florida, and yet it a way, the Floridian extreme metal scene was like a response to the Californian extreme metal scene. Thrash elements were still largely present and bands typically headed west for performances, mingling with the Californ-I-A bands. But Florida’s scene was to feature two important differences: the music was splitting into either more technical styles as with Atheist and Cynic, or slowing to a bone-crunching grind as with Obituary. But as death metal rapidly caught on and spread northward, brutal and technical music became the favoured approach as with New York’s Immolation and Quebec’s Gorguts.

Don’t Forget the Brits!

necroticismAll the while extreme metal was developing and evolving in the U.S., the British had their own scene going on. Across the Atlantic, hard core punk was branching into metal—the opposite of what had happened in the States—and a new subgenre called grindcore became the British answer to thrash. It didn’t take long though before British bands also took to brutalizing things up a bit. Carcass and Napalm Death fully embraced the deep, guttural vocal style, and after the release of a couple of solid grindcore albums, their styles took on a death metal sound. Close behind were Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, whose vocals went even deeper but whose music was typically slower and more ominous, leading the way for the death/doom offshoot. Perhaps Britain’s first death-from-debut band was Bolt Thrower, who adopted war as its signature theme and released its debut, In Battle There Is No Law, in 1988. It’s important to note that Bolt Thrower’s foundations were built upon Discharge, Crass, and Slayer, once again bringing the British roots of hardcore punk and grindcore and the Slayer influence into the picture.

Mad as a Corpse Cannibalized on an Altar

altars of madnessOne of the most important albums in death metal would come in 1989 from Floridian band, Morbid Angel. Their debut album, Altars of Madness, set the bar for death metal by taking fast, technical, and brutal metal to a new level. If the mantra for death metal bands had been “faster, heavier, more brutal, more technical” then Morbid Angel carved it in bone. In fact, when looking at lists of top old school death metal and even death metal albums in general, Altars of Madness is more often than not at the top of the list. But as the Floridian scene rapidly evolved, New York’s brought forth one of the most famous bands in death metal with Cannibal Corpse, a band who took human corpse mutilation to the extreme of every horror film and novel, and whose album cover art represents some of the most imaginative, macabre, and grotesque ever to sit in a record store. Junior high school boys everywhere were thrilled!

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Cannibal Corpse with Chris Barnes

Oh, Those Ghoulish Swedish

left hand pathEuropeans can’t leave a good metal scene alone, and it was time for Sweden to rise from the grave to the occasion. Emerging also in the late eighties were the bands Carnage, Morbid, and Nihilist, who then fragmented into Entombed, Dismember, and Unleashed. The fourth of the Swedish Big Four was Grave. These bands lowered the tuning of their guitars and made good use of the Boss HM-2 distortion pedal. The Swedish take on death metal proved there was more than one way to explore and develop this new subgenre. In fact, a good point was made in the Banger TV episode about early death metal—that early death metal musicians looked at what they could do to define the death metal sound and the results were fairly diverse.

The brachiating of death metal—sometimes toward fast and technical, sometimes toward slow and massively heavy—continued until around 1992/93 when new avenues were opened up: the so-called melo-death or melodic death metal, death-and-roll, progressive death metal, and even more extremes of technical and brutal death metal. Death/doom had a short-lived period that for some bands led to gothic metal, such as with My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, and Finland’s Amorphis. Perhaps 1993 is a good year to draw a line ending the old school death metal growth period. Production of death metal albums improved as the nineties advanced, and the old guard were often playing new styles or in some cases had disappeared.

I’ve compiled a list of frequently-cited old school death metal albums. I consulted several lists on the Internet: some private lists on RateYourMusic and also lists by LoudWire, MetalStorm, and Metal Music Archives. I’ve also checked lists of top old school death metal albums on YouTube. Here are thirty of the most often-mentioned albums released between 1985 and 1993. They are not in any exact ranking order; however, albums near the bottom of the list were more frequently mentioned than albums near the top. The album most consistently included on old school death metal lists was Altars of Madness.

Napalm Death – Harmony Corruption
Cynic – Focus
Immolation – Dawn of Possession
Incantation – Onward to Golgotha
Demilich – Nespithe
Death – Leprosy
Malevolent Creation – The Ten Commandments
Pestilence – Testimony of the Ancients
Pestilence – Consuming Impulse
Autopsy – Severed Survival
Death – Human
Demigod – The Slumber of Sullen Eyes
Deicide – Deicide
Obituary – Cause of Death
Death – Individual Thought Patterns
Unleashed – Where No Life Dwells
Autopsy – Mental Funeral
Terrorizer – Downfall
Death – Scream Bloody Gore
Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
Obituary – Slowly We Rot
Bolt Thrower – Realm of Chaos
Carcass – Necroticism Descanting the Insalubrious
Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten
Possessed – Seven Churches
Morbid Angel – Covenant
Carcass – Heartwork
Dismember – Like an Ever Flowing Stream
Entombed – Left Hand Path
Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness

Videos about death metal

Banger TV Early Death Metal

A Basterdized History of Death Metal

Death Metal versus Black Metal

Death Metal Doc

Music Is A Journey Video Series a Success!

Music Is A Journey is posting its seventh episode this week. Each episode so far has featured different music artists and some of the albums on which they have played. Episode One was entirely dedicated to the late Colin Tench, and Episode Four was all about Oliver Rusing’s band, KariBow.

For Episode Seven, the video series turns its spyglass toward five albums – most of them recent releases – that have captured my aural heart, albums by Forever Twelve, Evolve IV, Colouratura, Fabulae Dramatis, and Babal. Clips from five songs from each of the five albums are included in the latest video.

Episode Eight won’t be recorded and prepared until late July or even early August, but that episode will be about the bands 3rDegree and Cell15.

Future episodes will first feature more artists and bands at first and then move on to specific genres and periods in the history of progressive rock and heavy metal.

Comments about the video series’ individual episodes have been very positive!

Episode One: Colin Tench

“Thank you so much for this, Peter! Very well done, natural flair, and a nice overview of the brilliant work of Colin Tench.” – Murky Red

“It’s good – it’s almost too good! You’re very good and not scared of cameras at all! You explain it all so well, and Colin must be smiling now! I’m deeply impressed and touched. Thank you, Peter!” – Pasi Koivu (Corvus Stone, Wolmari)

Episode Two: Petri Lindstrom, Blake Carpenter, Andres Guazzelli, Stef Flaming, Gordo Bennett

“Peter Skov’s videos are of such an added value to the music that I have the feeling that they will become iconic!” – Yolanda Flaming (Murky Red)

Episode Three: Steve Gresswell, Marco Ragni, Peter Matuchniak, Hamlet

“It’s Wonderful! Thanks a lot, Peter. Really appreciate it” – Marco Ragni

“A nice review of my musical past and present by Peter Skov – thank you, sir!” – Peter Matuchniak (Evolve IV, Gekko Projekt, Bomber Goggles, solo)

“Thanks for highlighting so many amazing projects (including mine!). – Hamlet (Transport Aerian, Fabulae Dramatis)

“Thank you for doing this. I love your videos and the way you promote the bands. The perfect pronoun of MRR. Much love and respect.” – Nick Katona of Melodic Revolution Records

“Another awesome job, Peter. Brilliant! You’ve got the knack, eh!” – Gordo Bennett (GorMusik, GorFusion, GorAcoustic)

“I’m truly fascinated at how it isn’t just an appreciation of the music, but how personal it actually is. You get to know the artists and dive into the micro universes of each one that many may never get to know.” – Jason Johannson (Theoretica)

Episode Four: Oliver Rusing and KariBow

“Peter Skov did it again and all I can say is ‘Chapeau’. Please take your time and watch this wonderful video. I highly recommend it to everybody who appreciates ambitious music projects, witty eloquence and charming presenters with a sense of subtle pronunciation issues. Thank you, Peter, for all your effort…” – Oliver Rusing (KariBow)

Episode Five: Phil Naro, Pete Jones, Grandval

“Peter was kind to talk about Grandval and the four fantastic guitarists!” – Henri Vaugrand (Grandval)

Episode Six: Sean Timms, Marek ArnoldChris Gill

“I had a blast watching this last night… even showed it to my wife… she was very proud. It’s a bit surreal when people such as yourself really enjoy what I do. Thanks for the kind words. I’m thankful, humbled, and honoured.” – Sean Timms (Southern Empire, Unitopia)

“Peter made 2 nice and funny videos about my releases with my prog bands… Thanks, Peter Skov – for your support. I really had much fun watching it.” – Marek Arnold (Seven Steps to the Green Door, Toxic Smile, Flaming Row, Damanek, etc.)

“Thank you so much for doing the video… Makes me feel like a rock star…” – Chris Gill (Band of Rain, The Nonexistent)

It’s Already April!

There Goes My Hero…

No, I haven’t been neglecting this blog. But as I tried to find the best way to express the tragic news of December 29th, 2017, so much else seemed to be going on. I mean I usually post about the music I was into in the previous year and a list of top ten or twelve most listened-to songs from CDs I purchased. a1384632565_10Then there was the release of the new Colin Tench Project album. I decided that I had to do that one first. But, yeah, then came the shocking news that my friend, the brilliant and, let’ admit it, lovable Colin Tench suddenly and without warning passed away.

I was standing there in my work room and had just picked up my smartphone to check something when a message came in from Gordo Bennett. He broke the news to me, having just heard from Colin’s sister. I think I would have just fallen through the floor if I could. Only days before, Colin had sent me the entire album in a file so I could listen, enjoy, and write a review for Prog Archives ahead of the album’s official release. We talked about the review and the incredible album. Our final words were some pleasant Christmas greetings to one another. For the next few days I thought more about the album. I had questions to ask, things to point out, and compliments to give. There was so much more to tell Colin about his wonderful work.

And then that news. I barely moved for the next hour or so, just standing in one spot trying to fathom how it could be that this lively, active, fun-loving, creative, humorous, talented, friendly, and energetic person could so suddenly take leave of the world of the living. The community reeled. Musicians, friends, fans, family, colleagues, and acquaintances were stunned, crushed, mortified. Photos and memories were shared, tributes paid, proposals for a tribute album were made, and yet during all this a brilliant new album of music was waiting to be heard.

The official CD release date was January 30th, and Colin’s sister and nephew took over and did a stellar job of filling all the pre-orders and new orders.  The Colin Tench Project’s second album, “minor Masterpiece” reached tenth position on Prog Archives’ top 100 albums of 2017, a pretty decent feat as it had only been released in the final week of the year. The album features vocals by Peter Jones and Joey Lugassy, bass by Petri Lindstrom, orchestral arrangement by Gordo Bennett, drums by Joe Vitale, and of course guitars and keyboards by Colin Tench. Sonia Mota created the imaginative cover art.

Music Is A Journey

As recent as last November I had in mind to start a video series about music. The premier episode was to be about the new Colin Tench Project album and Colin’s music career. This is what became the first episode indeed, but with the grievous dual-purpose of being a tribute to a great and unique musician who had passed on. For now, the series continues with episodes featuring people with whom Colin has collaborated or people who have worked with the people who knew Colin. Episode two featured Petri Linstrom, Blake Carpenter, Andres Guazzelli, Stef Flaming,, and Gordo Bennett. Episode three is in the planning stage and will be recorded next week and hopefully up on YouTube by April 14th.

Moonwink

While all of this has been going on, Gordo Bennett and Joe Serwinowski, collectively known as GorFusion, have released their second piece of music entitled “Moonwink”. Last year it was “Waxed Apples“. Gordo is planning on and working on moving ahead with more GorFusion music, including a side project called GorAcoustik, and also two projects under the GorMusik moniker. We’re hoping this will be a big year for Gordo.

As with “Waxed Apples”, I did the cover art. It came together as a conceptual piece we talked about last year and which I began last summer. I had in mind to shoot the entire scene as one shot but found it was easier to shoot the main components and then add the together in smartphone photo manipulating applications. After a lot of small edits and changes, the  final art work was released to the public along with the music.

As for me, I will keep making more videos for now and hopefully still write more music-related blog posts such as another installment or two in my essays on heavy metal series. I hope the next post won’t take so long to come.GorFusion Moon Wink Album Art 2nd edit

 

Progressive Aggressive

Essays on Heavy Metal #3 – The Prog and Punk Connection

Cream, The Yardbirds, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin… No one contests the blues roots of heavy metal. It was the arrival of the blues in rock and roll Britain that inspired many young British musicians to play blues in a rock band format, and as guitarists experimented more with guitar playing techniques and the fuzz box became prevalent, the music got louder and heavier, which in turn meant that drummers and vocalists had to be louder, too. When the American heavy metal scene really took off in 1969, bands like Grand Funk Railroad, Bloodrock and Sir Lord Baltimore were also following a blues format, having been inspired by their British predecessors. Of course, the blues in rock had already been a trend in the States as many garage rock bands of the mid-sixties had caught on to the British scene and began doing covers of British bands’ covers of African American blues.

But even while heavy metal’s roots are deep in the blues, the genre also shares a lot in common with two very different genres of rock: progressive rock and punk rock.

The Aggressive Side

Some would say that one of the earliest blue prints for a heavy metal song would be “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks. Couple that with “All Day and All of the Night” and we can see how these two songs serve as templates for heavy metal. Both feature distorted guitar riffs, hard-hitting percussion, wild lead guitar solos, and vocals that build in intensity as the music rises toward the chorus. It’s no surprise to see “You Really Got Me” was covered in 1972 by Canadian heavy rockers Thundermug and again in 1978 by Van Halen, who gave the song a new shot at the charts.

However, there are those who point out the simplicity and raw aggressive nature of the songs to be more akin to punk rock. Indeed, in writing “You Really Got Me”, The Kinks had taken inspiration from the American garage rock scene, particularly the hit “Louis Louis”. The Wikipedia article on the song says, “Ray Davies has stated that he wrote the group’s first hit ‘You Really Got Me’ while trying to work out the chords of ‘Louis Louis’”. As the American garage rock scene expanded, many bands would go on to inspire future punk rock bands. The Shadows of Knight, MC5, The Music Machine, The Sonics, The Seeds and many other bands employed fuzz tone and pushed many of their songs in a more aggressive and energetic direction, and because of the relative simplicity of the songs, they were easily picked up by future punk rock bands who had a great distaste for the technical complexity of progressive rock or the doom and despair of ponderous heavy metal tunes. That punk and metal share a common origin can been seen in lists of proto-metal albums from 1969/70 which frequently include MC5 and The Stooges, two bands whose take on aggressive guitar rock are closer to punk than metal.

When punk rock arose in New York and London in the mid-seventies, it threatened to make both metal and prog redundant. Heavy metal was supposed on the verge of death in 1978, and even as new artists such as Van Halen brought a new sound and new life to the genre, battles between punk and metal fans ensued as author Steve Waksman describes in his book, “This Ain’t the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk.” Waksman expounds on a reader letter exchange battle in a music magazine where metalheads and punk rockers each denounce the other’s music preference, try to prove, among many other things, whose music style best represents masculinity with one punker decrying Van Halen front man David Lee Roth as no match for Joey Ramone.

In spite of the fan disputes, heavy metal and punk musicians were to borrow from each other, the first example being the integrated punk sound in many New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands and soon after in both American thrash metal and British grindcore. In the eighties, bands in both genres would crossover and back. As heavy metal continued to splinter into subgenres in the nineties, many such “core” styles (metalcore, deathcore, mathcore, etc.) would emerge, where “core” meant the combining of hardcore punk with a metal approach.

The Progressive Side

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we find progressive rock. Known for extravagant and lengthy compositions inspired by classical and jazz music, progressive rock blossomed in the early seventies around the same time as the first wave of heavy metal. Prog can trace its roots back to the mid-sixties with bands like Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys who were making use of the studio to create music to be enjoyed on record first as opposed to the usual approach of recording songs that the groups already were performing live. By using the studio to create songs, artists had the freedom to experiment with and devise studio techniques for achieving realizing their musical conceptions. Sounds effects, exotic instruments, backwards recordings, modification of instrument sounds, and many other things became possible, thus opening up doors for a new approach to composing popular music.

During the peak psychedelic years of 67/68, longer compositions and the use of fuzz tone became part of the nascent prog scene arsenal. Looking at bands that are considered proto-prog, it’s not surprising to see proto-metal bands on the same list. Iron Butterfly and Vanilla Fudge both played heavy rock with guitar distortion but also wrote songs that expanded the standard rock song format into new dimensions.

It was, however, King Crimson, whose 1969 breakout song “21st Century Schizoid Man” would break the doors open for prog rock. Interestingly, while this song and King Crimson are considered pinnacles of prog rock excellence, the song has also been covered by hard rock and metal bands like April Wine and Voivod, and King Crimson easily hold a place on proto-metal and heavy seventies lists.

James M. Curtis writes this about metal and prog in his book “Rock Eras: Interpretations of Music and Society, 1954-1984”:

“Heavy metal also has significant affinities with art rock. Both styles came from England and peacefully coexisted at first. In 1970, Black Sabbath and Yes were sharing the same bill at venues like Cardiff Arts Centre Project. In the British Context, it seemed perfectly reasonable for Deep Purple to put out a record called Concerto for Group and Orchestra. After all, their lead guitarist Ritchie Blackmore had had classical training; he once said that he used a Bach chord progression on the ‘Highway Star’ solo on Machine Head.”

Deep Purple are an excellent example of the connection between heavy metal and progressive rock. The band’s first three albums followed a Vanilla Fudge approach of combining a loud heavy rock guitar playing style with plenty of stunning leads with a Hammond organ (whose player, Jon Lord, was also classically trained and went on to compose several classical-type albums) and rearranging popular songs into more extravagant pieces. It would also be of extreme importance to note that the famous riff in Black Sabbath’s eponymous song was inspired by a part in “Mars: God of War” (4:25) in Holst’s The Planets (note that the opening seems to have also inspired Andromeda and Diamond Head).

There were other bands influencing metal as well. Brian Harrington and Malcolm Dume, authors of Encyclopedia Metallica, write “The Nice played a major part in the development of the pomp-school of heavy metal and certainly (Keith) Emmerson’s influence was enormous.” His costumes and his attacks on his organ set examples of how to create an exciting stage performance.

Other bands like Yes and Genesis, though exemplary prog rock bands, included heavy metal elements. Listen to “Heart of the Sunrise” by Yes or some of the heavier parts of Genesis songs such as what crops up in “The Musical Box” (3:40 to 4:48) and you will hear the rumblings of heavy metal. In fact, Eddie Van Halen’s famous finger tapping technique was inspired by Steve Hackett’s finger tapping solos on songs like “Supper’s Ready” (8:10 to 8:25) and “The Fountain of Salmacis” (3:23 to 3:45). Hackett says he came up with the technique while trying to figure out how to play certain successions of notes that are easily played on a keyboard.

Furthering the connection between prog and metal, we see other British bands like T.2. and High Tide setting fine examples of early heavy metal while at the same time writing expanded and technically complex compositions, with T.2. leaning more to the jazz side and High Tide, featuring a lead violinist and including pseudo-Baroque passages, being more of the classically inspired. Necromandus were also a band that solidly straddled the line between heavy metal and progressive rock.

As heavy metal’s initial popularity began to wane after 1972/73, groups like Bloodrock and High Tide (after breaking up once) began exploring progressive rock more. Then in 1975, a band that would perfectly marry heavy rock with prog came out of Canada. The power trio Rush began developing their signature seventies style from their second album and by the time their fourth album, the monumental 2112 came out, the band had made prog in heavy rock fashionable. Their next two albums saw them experimenting with longer and complex compositions while maintaining the distorted guitars and technical lead playing. Sometimes considered the fathers of progressive metal, Rush would go on to inspire numerous metal bands of the future, perhaps the most notable of which is Dream Theater.

By the time the New Wave of British Heavy Metal broke loose, several artists delivered heavy metal with prog tendencies. One of the best examples is Iron Maiden’s debut album. Founding member bassist Steve Harris admits that prog rock had been his first love, and some of the songs on the debut album include expanded instrumental parts featuring tempo and time signature changes, rhythm changes, and a sense of melody.

Inspired by Iron Maiden, three new American metal bands would foster in the development of the progressive metal subgenre: Queensryche, Fates Warning, and Crimson Glory. Add to that the technical work of Watchtower and progressive metal had finally achieved a perfect marriage between progressive rock and heavy metal.