Back on Metal Monday with a cult classic: Trouble’s 1990 self-titled lp on Def American, which happens to be my favorite Trouble release.
Trouble is noteworthy for a few reasons, not the least if which is that it was produced by the oft over rated, but occasionally brilliant Rick Rubin, and released through his Def American imprint. Up to this point Trouble’s recognition outside of metal diehards had been pretty limited. They’d issued 3 albums, 2 of which, “Psalm 9″ and “The Skull” are often seen as their best work. Unfortunately for their bank accounts, Trouble specialized in a traditionalist blend of 70’s neo-classical albums like Judas Priest’s “Sin After Sin”, and early doom standards, principally the backbone of the Black Sabbath catalog. If you don’t know, that wasn’t exactly a stock heavily traded in during the 1980’s, so it must have been kind of astounding when this album dropped, 3 years after their previous and backed by the guy who’d produced a whole bunch of stuff that you like, and also a ton of shit. Oh the other thing about Trouble: they were White Metal band, in other words, they were vocally Christian. Obviously that’s not really towing the line in the metal world, but if you haven’t got the message yet, this band never towed the line.
Probably most important to evaluating Rubin’s production on Trouble is knowing that he’d produced 2 Danzig albums right before this one, and seems to be trying to fit Trouble into a similar doomy blues rock mold. One thing that makes that not really work is the shrill and trebley sound of the record (although it’s not nearly as bad as the follow up, Manic Frustration). Another thing that plays against that sensibility is that Trouble are by design elaborate. Vocally Eric Wagner has, shall we say, a well trained voice. He’s from the Halford school of metal, and isn’t afraid of some high notes. Similarly the guitar attack of Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell can be quite busy, although they know how to hang back and keep economy on their side.
Do not be mislead though, this album is GREAT. The recording (despite the shit mastering job) is still clear and heavy, the songs include many of the best of Trouble’s career, and the album as a whole is even and well executed. Psychotic Reaction is an instant standout track with a dirty shit-kicking groove, (oh and I’m pretty sure Metallica ripped it off for Enter Sandman). Misery Shows is a pretty tasteful power ballad, and a reworking of a song from Psalm 9. It kind of has a Pink Floyd via heavy metal feel. The Wolf has an uptempo speed-rock drive like Judas Priest’s Tyrant. All of these are just on the first side of the lp, but the second side is just as memorable and rewarding.
Since Trouble didn’t have much success on Def American this lp went out of print pretty quickly and isn’t too easy to find. To my knowledge there have been no subsequent pressings either. Keep an eye on it.
Metal Monday, thou hast not been forsaken… Mercyful Fate - “Nuns Have No Fun”:
Mercyful Fate, is one of the greatest of all time. It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out. As far as pre-thrash power metal goes, their brief reign, before vocalist King Diamond went solo, is unmatched. They nailed 2 perfect lps in the early 80’s, Mellisa, and Don’t Break The Oath, each full of mom-scaring Satanic sing-alongs, wild guitar duels, and spooky fx. But before either they also had a small indie release, a 4 song MLP called Nuns Have No Fun, and while Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath are 2 of my all time metal favs, I think my number one Fate song is actually the lead off track on the b-side of Nuns: Doomed By A Living Dead.
Nevermind the odd wording in the title, they’re from Denmark after all, but just listen to this song open up. Starting with a powerful galloping riff courtesy of Hank Sherman (one of the greatest metal players ever to walk the earth) a few cymbal crashes later you’ll find your self in a neo classical spin cycle of a solo. When the King’s unmistakable vocals kick in it’s in his soulful mid-range, but only for a few lines, because he’s soon working his creepy ear splitting falsetto. It’s not as refined as he was able to get later on, with some some straining and cracking audible, but I don’t think that takes away from anything, sometimes imperfections can make things better after all.
What really takes this song all the way for me though, is that million dollar chorus.
“No way, to suuuurvive this evil nighh-ight. If the dead won’t leave you aloooo-oone.”
The first time I heard this song the chorus stuck in my head for weeks. It’s perfectly crafted multi-layered, and touched by none, and between this one and the next one you get an unbeatable (except maybe by Tipton/Downing) duel axe workout from the aforementioned Hank Sherman, and the equally talented Micheal Denner.
The other 3 songs are almost every bit as good. The title track has a slow grinding riff and total shock rock lyrics that must have driven more than a few moms to throw the record in the trash and ground their deviant sons. Corpse Without A Soul and Devils Eyes both shred and screech with the best of them. All of these tracks were studied the world over by hundreds of metal maniacs looking to start their own tasteless, but technically proficient Satan worshiping rock bands, not the least of these maniacs was of course the original Metallica (no relation to the one that made the best comedy album of 2008), but there are hundreds more that owe a lot to the King and his men here.
Back cover pictured because this is a family blog:
Fuck. It is Monday again and I can’t pretend I haven’t been slackin’ on ye olde blog entries lately. So I’m gonna dive right into it here on thanksgiving week. Both of the Nihilist singles are on ebay right now and if you don’t have ‘em now, you might as well give it a shot. Both are kind of sketchy origin-wise. I think one is an official bootleg type deal, and the other was pressed in a small run by the actual band but both are culled from their legendary and trendsetting late 80’s demos.
Of course a good number of the songs from those demos ended up on Entombed’s debut lp “Left Hand Path”, which you probably already know is considered by most to be the most notable Swedish Death Metal lp. But before the band could kick out Johnny Hedlund, sign a contract to Earache, and change their name to Entombed, they made some great demo recordings, originally sounding kind of like a de-tuned Kreator, but eventually laying down all the blueprints that hundreds of subsequent bands would follow. The sound of the buzzing HM-1 pedal (now replaced by the well known Metal Zone pedal), the gurgling and guttural growls about gore and death, and a crushing mix of power riffs and unabashedly masturbatory swirls of guitar chaos and dissonance. What it really proves is that kids used to be a lot more creative - Nihilist was a high school band. The influences they fused together, 80’s Deathrash, early grind, and Swedish hardcore, influenced a significant portion of an entire genre…
Both the Drowned and Radiation Sickness singles come from the same session although only the songs on the Drowned single were released on tape at the time, and with the exception of the cover of Repulsion’s Radiation Sickness, which seems thrown in for fun, they both work well to show where these boys would go next.
The most juvenile way to fire someone from a band is to decide to break up the band, and then reform it a few days later with all but the member you wanted to kick out. This is the way it was done when I was in high school, and my friends were hardly the inventors of such a practice, as this was the fate that befell a young and chubby faced Johnny Hedlund (at the time of the band Nihilist, one of Sweden’s formative death metal bands). When they broke up and then reformed as Entombed a week later, it was a bit of a slap in the face to John, but he’s done quite well for himself since then, and at least maintained an image and track record a bit more respectable than his former band mates (other than being accused of the usual facist sympathies that most metal lifers are).
Unleashed became the new moniker under which Hedlund operated and after a couple of demo and 7″ releases, a contract to Century Media was signed, and Where No Life Dwells was subsequently recorded and issued. Hedlund hereby marked himself as one of the most vicious death grunters in the business (that being the business of death metal), kicking off the beginning of the violent Dead Forever with an unearthly growl. The rest of the song lives up to that initial bark, forgoing the technical flim-flam that Entombed was already sinking into, in favor of just cracking your skull open. Unleashed, keep it dark, murky, and brutal, without any of the guitar-center showmanship that many other bands of the day found themselves stinking of. When the mosh part of Dead Forever happens (one of the greatest death metal moments ever I might add), its’ simplicity is stunning. It’s as direct and unhindered as these sort of things can be. All crush on your ears and your spirits. Dense and hopeless, shit-feeling.
The rest of the album essentially follows the template the opener has set forth. C-tuned chugging and rumbling, simple tremolo combinations on the frets, and hoarse, unearthly gurgling vocals. The directness and brutality remain too, with most songs running under 4 minutes, and none breaking 5. While that may not be too weird to an outsider, it’s kind of unusual for a death metal album. The whole thing seems to be designed to be listenable and rewarding, with each song using just the riffs it needs to get to you, and only using them as much as they’re needed. This sort of economical construction is rare in this genre, and as such, more appreciated by me. The sound of the album keeps the guitars free of bumble-bee buzzing excess, and typewriter derived bass drum clicking, which helps to emphasize the songs themselves and bring the listener more of the cold, painful satisfaction that death metal exists for. If you’re slow on the come up, this is one of the best.
I think there’s a valid argument in saying that Obituary were/are the standard bearer for Florida Death Metal in the 90s, and maybe the band that’s stayed truest to their roots of the old guard. They weren’t tech’d out like Morbid Angel (or Death), they weren’t Satanic like Deicide, and they weren’t as “shocking” as Cannibal Corpse, but I kind of will always view Obituary as the death metal band of the people. They were young as hell, and though they had missteps through the years, never really got distracted from their original goal of just ripping off early Celtic Frost and Death, nor did they ever sacrifice power riffs and insane vocals for artistic direction or cred. I think really the only band of the original big death metal groups to have a better trajectory might be Bolt Thrower, who actually aren’t all that different from the classic Obituary sound. Sort of the Death Metal AC/DC in some ways.
What really makes Obituary stand out is the growled and snarled vokills of the legendary John Tardy. Sometimes he’s not even singing actual words on Slowly We Rot, just growling and grinding his throat. Certain people are put on earth to do one thing, and I think there’s not much doubt that this is what John Tardy was meant to do. The riffs are relatively simple for a Death Metal album — there’s minimal tremolo type strumming and simple, brief solos. The band chooses to focus on groove and atmosphere, with tight oppressive, and generally midpaced stuff that kind of works like a more over the top Hellhammer.
Surprising to some is the fact that most of the album was recorded on a reel to reel 8track by Scott Burns. I guess this is what it takes for him to not muck up a band’s songs because for the most part it sounds much better than the majority of the productions he engineered later on, even though his work on this album was a benchmark for the style. Almost as surprising is that the band is actually in standard tuning on this. It still manages to sound incredibly thick and deep. There’s really not many albums that bludgeon on such a primitive level so effectively, but Slowly We Rot has stood the test of time as a genre classic, and is far less dated sounding now, than most of Obituary’s contemporaries debuts.
Noothgrush and Corrupted may not really fit as metal bands in a strict sense, but they also don’t fit as hardcore, and I really like this split. I think it’s good enough for either genre really. Both bands turn in lengthy sludge numbers that ooze misery on this.
Corrupted remind me a lot of Hellhammer, but slowed down, to a Winter kind of pace. Really simple, repetitive, and oppressive. Their first track (Inactive) clocks just shy of 20 minutes and feels sinister and hypnotic. Like the thoughts in someones head plotting something really bad. The second track (Estar En Visper) while only about 5 minutes, seems to go even a little slower, and serves as a little outro. The time between each drum hit feels like an eternity, it gives you time to contemplate the next one. It’s as hopeless as the last. A track of feedback squalls on top of the mechanical grind adding a different texture to compliment all the low end.
On the Noothgrush side, things really aren’t much different. The 6 minute opener (Hatred For The Species) does use some variety in tempo and has a swampy, sub-EHG style riff tossed into the intro. Actually the vocals aren’t a lot different from Mike Williams delivery either. Drazie is the second track, and runs at about 14 minutes. This happens to be (probably) my favorite Noothgrush song. Some people have tried to suggest there’s something wrong with this band because of their name (it rhymes with toothbrush). I’m of the belief that few bands did the sludge/hc crossover better in the 90s, and frankly a lot tried. Draize is just completely tormented, hateful, and crushing. It takes you to a place that’s dark, and I would not recommend listening to it if you’re an emotionally unstable individual. I think Noothgrush were one of the best at two things: crafting extremely severe riffs, and illustrating the detestable nature inherent in mankind. There’s nothing joyful or empowering in either of these band’s offerings. As if to make sure there’s no doubt in that, Noothgrush turns in a cover of Neanderthal’s “Crawl” on the end of their side that sounds quite good. That’s about as close to fun as things get though.
Master s/t lp:
Master will never truly get the respect they deserve from the heavy metal community. I saw them last night in Boston in front of maybe 30 or 40 people. Paul Speckmann, their only constant member (since 1984!) seemed over the fact that Master will never be as popular as most of the bands they influenced, but you can’t help but thinking the guy deserved more. Speckmann constantly juggled his way through bands in the 80’s and along with Master, did great recordings with Deathstrike, Funeral Bitch, and Abomination. Sometimes he would reuse one band’s songs in the other, and they all have sonic similarities, but probably his most legendary recording is the Master unreleased 1985 lp. They obtained a contract with Combat in 1985, who released debuts for other formative American death metal bands like Possessed and Death, but somewhere along the line something went wrong. Master’s crushing debut lp never saw the light of day, and instead lingered in tape trading obscurity for years. It’s a shame because it’s one of the rawest most primitive death metal recordings ever made anywhere.
Around 1990 or so Speckmann secured a contract with Nuclear Blast Records (Germany) and released lps by both Abomination and Master that year. This became Master’s official debut lp. Most of the album was comprised of old cuts from their unreleased lp, plus a couple of new songs, a cover, and a song or two from a Deathstrike demo. While this doesn’t have the bludgeoning rawness of the 1985 version, Master’s s/t lp is still a great piece of crushing, primal metal. Like if Discharge dropped into C, and was fronted by Chuck Schulinder. Even with the 90’s sheen it still is a powerhouse. ”You are the master”.
Mind Eraser meets Speckmann
Lee Dorrian is one of my top favorite cult musicians. Firstly for his stint in Napalm Death (Scum side B - Mentally Murdered), but then for his wonderfully hammed up Cathedral. I mean this music is ridiculous but kind of awesome too. Take some Trouble, some Celtic Frost, some Candlemass… for some reason I feel like it should have been in the scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies that take place in Rohan. Not like totally evil Mordorian black metal (Gorgoroth, Burzum, other Tolkien bands), but like a more sinister man-evil. I believe Scott Carlson of Repulsion was doing time in the band just after this point too which kind of makes it the ultimate grindcore dream band that never was. Instead you get like 40 minutes of Gothic Sludge that got them a contract with Sony or Columbia (???) for a hot minute. Obviously there was no way this could have been turned into commercially viable music, but it was the early 90s, and everyone was doing stupid shit. I’m sure the people at the label thought they were gonna get another Soundgarden or I dunno… maybe Type O Negative, but really they just got pure doomy crunch.
The original vinyl of this comes in a sweet gatefold sleeve, unfortunately it’s got the stock Cathedral artwork which I hate. It looks like some weird stained glass window, but seriously, you’re gonna want the tasty riffs on here.
Happy Metal Columbus Day folks.
Maybe you know of Mortiis? Early bass player in Emperor. Dude who dresses up as an evil Troll/Elf/Thing for his Depeche Mode-ish dark wave rock. Person credited with introducing traditional European folk as well as goth influences into the nascent early 90’s Norwegien black metal scene… and now: EBAY STORE OWNER.
What’s he got? Whatchu need man? Mortiis has got it all. Looking for that ESP Junior bass that got used for the Wrath Of The Tyrant session?
Maybe you need a crumbley Darkthrone/Satyricon ticket stub from ‘96?
Some snapshots of very young looking Emperor members hanging out in the woods?
A D.R.I. record that belongs to Mortiis?
An old sampler?
Exodus is a band that got screwed out of a Legacy they assumed would be theirs. If only. Gary Holt at this point insists he doesn’t care, but let’s be real, if Metallica jacked your lead guitarist, and your label took over a year to release your debut album - that album being EXODUS - BONDED BY BLOOD- you WOULD care. Everyone knows the Bonded By Blood story I guess. Originally was going to be called A Lesson In Violence and have different cover art, but someone opted to change this. As it was to be the first release on the Torrid label, pretty much every mistake that could happen did, and by the time it came out in 1985, just about the whole Bay Area thrash scene had lapped Exodus, who were at one time the biggest band in that scene. Bonded By Blood is still a great album, but it came out in the same year as Ride The Lightning and Hell Awaits among MANY others. It’s the Blake Stone Episode 1 to Metallica’s “Knee Deep In The Dead”.
Vocalist Paul Baloff’s classic faux-singing vocal delivery has endeared itself many times over to metal fans, and the Holt/Hunolt guitar duo deliver with great economy and power big meaty thrash slabs but because of the late appearance and additional distribution problems it wasn’t enough to break them into the big leagues. It didn’t help that Holt (the defacto band leader), wanted to polish the group’s sound more, and after a demo session featuring a much more neutered sounding Baloff, they elected to eject him in favor of the more radio friendly Steve Souza (formerly of Testament/Legacy). Ugh. So many mistakes in one paragraph. Blame the band, blame Torrid, whatever. Bonded By Blood is still a masterpiece of straight up thrashing power, no matter what happened after it. R.I.P. Paul Baloff.