It’s not exactly the stuff of legends: a name derived from a Soviet-era economic pact, two musicians (Rasmus Ekman, Pelle Ström) who handle guitar, bass, a drum machine and other instruments across three full length albums with three different singers on each album. But that’s COMECON.
Most of us can name-check Swedish metal bands like Entombed, Unleashed, Dismember, Hypocrisy, At The Gates, Arch Enemy or Amon Amarth. Comecon isn’t a exactly as well known, having floated just beneath the surface of popularity during the early to mid-1990s. Even though they shared many of the same touchstones as better known bands (recording at Sunlight Studios, produced by Tomas Skogsberg, vocalists from Entombed, Pestilence/Asphyx, and Morgoth, and a certain familiar guitar tone) they were never quite on the same level. Death metal fans never got to see them play live; they were a studio band that didn’t tour. Continue reading Comecon: A Retrospective
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.
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.
Some years ago (1998) in Atlanta, upstairs at the venerable Masquerade, I saw Death on what would prove to be their last show. If I’d known this would be the last time I’d see Chuck Schuldiner live, I would have paid more attention to the show instead of hunting down the slimy dickhead who’d punched me in the kidneys during Hammerfall’s opening set. Continue reading Death, “Leprosy” (1988)
I’m at work far too early this morning because some fart-knocking network engineer (less of an engineer than a hapless offspring of Booji Boy, created in a tube from genetic material scrapped off the wall outside Booji’s crib) made me get up at this unholy hour just to stab a console cable into a firewall server. I’ve spent 15 years in this industry aggressively resisting any learning opportunity but I came dangerously close to “figuring some shit out” this morning. Couple that with a cup of coffee that tastes slightly worse than boiling the liners out of last seasons cleats and I’m in a foul fucking mood.
I could listen to Katy Perry singing “Bicycle Built For Two” to complete the Trifecta of Enduring Misery but I’m not quite ready to suck down a red Solo cup of hemlock so instead I dialed up some Cannibal Corpse: specifically the first album, Eaten Back to Life.
Nostalgia is a wet dog. I still love her, she’s my dog and all that, but she smells like the bottom of a zombie port-a-potty and insists on drying out by rolling on the couch of Corinthian leather. One of the cool things about listening to these old albums is getting that weird feeling that comes from taking a deep, long hit of pure nostalgia. Mmmm, so good! Yes, yes… remember? I was in college studying Medieval English Literature when Entombed’s debut came out! I was skinny! I wore glasses! Everyone else was listening to Jane’s Addiction!
1991; let the sink in for a moment. Fuck that was a long time ago. Like, pre-cell phone era, when people had “mobile phones” with batteries that could fry bacon or produce a cancerous brain tumor that whispered evil shit in the subconscious. It was so long ago, I was a wee grub of a collegiate human, feasting on the excrement of those higher up the academic food chain. The world was consumed with fear and fire as a war started in ancient Mesopotamia which is, beyond all logic and reason, still going on today. The bloated corpse of the Soviet Union continued to explode and spatter the region with a bunch of piss-ant countries. Everyone’s favorite cannibal Jeff Dahmer got caught with his dick in someone’s skull, “going postal” became a thing, people thought Pearl Jam was cool, and Starbucks opened in California. Lots of deliciously stupid shit happened that year!
I feel like the Andy Rooney of death metal at this point and if I start complaining about how today’s kids don’t respect their death metal elders, shoot me full of lethal cocktail and roll the corpse into the river. Wait… is that too soon? No disrespect meant to one of the great curmudgeons the world has ever known.
No fucking clue when this entered my life, it was that fuzzy time in the late 80’s early 90’s when Bush Da First was still in power and all seemed bleak and cold in the world. But maybe that was just the roofies. So this is Mitch Harris on guitar and vox, better known these days as a stalwart member of Napalm Death and Defecation and side projects galore. On Stress Related we’re also treated to Alan Strong on drums, Stephen Chatovich on bass and Joe Caper on vocals. This would be the Pigs second album after Live and Learn. No one I ever knew heard of that one at the time; they still don’t, the bastards.
I admit to completely overlooking Morbid Angel’sGateways to Annihilation when it came out in 2000. I was probably too busy listening to In Flames’Colony or something equally less-than-good. After Dave’s departure, MA rebounded in 1998 with the Steve Tucker-fronted Formulas Fatal to the Flesh. While Formulas… has certainly improved with age, at the time, it appeared to kick off a downward slide into awfulness. Gateways to Annihilation followed in 2000 with an equal thud and the unbelievably erratic and senseless “Heretic” seemed to seal their fate in 2003 (oh, little did we know what was coming next). While Morbid Angel has certainly wound up at the bottom (“Kill a cop”), neither Formulas… nor Gateways… nor even Heretic are what put them there.
I remember thinking at the time that Formulas… and Gateways to Annihilation lacked any kind of catchiness or groove and barely gave them a listen. I actually dug Heretic more than either of those simply because I could hear some songs going on between all the godawful keyboard nonsense. Long story short, I’ve been rectifying my error the past couple years and am slowly becoming more familiar with both Formulas… and Gateways…
My current feeling is that Formulas… is still very hard to sink into but Gateways… has opened up like a vast sucking void and seems to be revealing a lot of very interesting ideas within all that murk. Tucker’s wet-throated roar is more than just an adequate replacement for Vincent’s (who need I remind the court was sporting dyed black hair and vinyl shirts by this point) and the production somehow manages to be both raw and clear at the same time. The riffs aren’t catchy or anthemic at all and the whole thing strikes me as the swampiest, most atmospheric album in Morbid Angel’s catalog, but it’s nearly complete lack of hooks is exactly what gives it a rather ageless, emotionless, yet somehow still darkly spiritual feel. Little things like the loop of insect noise that runs the entire length of opening track, “Summoning Redemption” may be harbingers of the madness to come, but at this point, the voices in Trey’s head were still working for him.
Still not 100% sure how I feel about it, but it’s finally growing on me after 11 years. Maybe I’ll love it in another 4 just in time for the 15th anniversary.