Metal is an interesting genre for many diverse reasons, but one of them is that, often, the demo tape is treated like as much a valid objet d’art as a full-length album. To this day, devoted metal fans buy and trade demo tapes, and many rare and sought after works can fetch truly astronomical prices on eBay. Because metal, despite all of the commercialization in the last decade, is still something of a grassroots movement, the only way to find out about the good stuff is through word of mouth: zines, web forums, and the writings of other devotees. And so, here are some reviews of the demos I discovered this year, as well as a bonus review of an older work. The pictures link to sites where these can be purchased (if still available, some of these must be ordered from the band itself), and you can click the band name to go to a MySpace and hear some music (the Disma and Cruciamentum demos can be heard in full on the band’s MySpaces!).
Disma – The Vault of Membros (2009): Formed in 2007 by members of Incantation, Funebrarum, and Methadrone, Disma from New Jersey play old school death metal of the riff salad variety, songs alternating frequently between crawling passages, winding atonal lines, and hurried, rushing sections that get the adrenaline pounding. There is order in all of this chaos however, as each of these three songs seem to enfold from the merging of sophisticated craftsmanship and gutter art that is necrotic death metal, and uncannily resolve in a fashion that instantly marks this the work of experienced musicians who know what they want to achieve. Craig Pillard’s (Incantation, etc.) ranting and guttural vocal complements the long-winded nature of the songs nicely. Thankfully, it won’t be long before they come out with something new.
Mefitic – Signing the Servants of God (2009): I have a soft spot for interesting Italian bands, such as Mefitic, who play black metal somewhere between Funeral Mist and Sarcofago, at times harking to the excellent Demoncy album Joined in Darkness. A lot of this is basically raw fast-paced death metal, interspersed with apocalyptic galloping rhythms atop which a heavily accented vocalist delivers (or really, vomits) sermons that, too all appearances, put this band into the orthodox or “religious black metal” ranks of Deathspell Omega, Funeral Mist, Watain, and so on. There is some occasional dissonance for flavor and overall this is a well put together release, although time will tell if my interest wanes and if they can improve on this material.
Cruciamentum – Convocation of Crawling Chaos (2009): This British band craft twisted, dark death metal with insight into motivic development and a propensity for grand conclusions. The “breakdown” in “Rotten Flesh Crucifix” (what a cool song title) serves as the centerpiece to that song and is a great example of how to create crushing music without lowering your IQ. A dank, organic production job and the occasional mournful doom section make for great listening while we’re stuck indoors from all this rain.
War Master – Chapel of the Apocalypse (2009): Once you hear the first riff on this three-song offering from Houston’s War Master, you will have figured out who the main influence on this band is: the legendary Bolt Thrower. There’s not much else to say about the music other than that. Almost every riff from Bolt Thrower’s lexicon can be found here, and nothing bad can be said about emulating the masters early in one’s career. In the states at least, Texas appears to be leading the way in the new old school metal department… I wish I could say the same about LA’s (seemingly nonextant) underground.
Vacuolatría – Desde el Abismo con Amor (???): This unknown doom metal project was made known to me via a metal forum, the demo uploaded presumably by its creator. The introduction is an interesting ambient piece and strikes me as the right way to do ambient: structure it as if it were actually music. Following are two tracks of interesting doom metal, taking after greats like Thergothon and Skepticism but maintaining individuality through complex interplay between keyboards (organ and piano) and guitar dissonance. The vocals alternate between traditional death / black metal and chanting, or are spoken (in Spanish). Bits of the third track are reminiscent of Necromantia and sound almost random although certainly premeditated. The outro is a beautiful but simple piano / keyboard piece that becomes a metal song, alternating between hope and mourning as doom metal does best.
Bonus review – Dark Abbey – Blasphemy (1990): Serendipity often leads one to interesting finds. I checked out Dark Abbey simply because of the band’s name (and because I love everything Swedish and old school) and found this ripping offering. I find this consistently enjoyable, which is either due to my own idiosyncrasies, or to the fact that this is somehow a special little work. Blasphemy, Dark Abbey’s only release before changing their name to Epitaph, is full of strange death metal riffing up next to threshing speed riffs, and a truly vicious vocalist. Death metal is a strangely organic style of music, and even minor, forgotten works like this are just dripping with a profound and frightening realism – the knowledge that only death is real, or as this band put it: “everything will decay.”
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