"Get with deprogram."

Judas Priest – Firepower

- 08/04/18 Music,Reviews

Remember how people said that Judas Priest is old? Obsolete? Yesterday’s news? Irrelevent? Remember how this was thirty years ago?

Judas Priest is now so cartoonishly old that it’s difficult to know how to relate to them. They formed a year before the first Black Sabbath album, and their story encompasses every single rock cliche in the book. The young, scrappy upstarts (the first album), the creative prodigies (the next few), the complacency and artistic rot (the few after that), the inspirational rally (Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith), the immediate collapse into self-parody (Turbo and Ram it Down), the even more inspirational comeback (Painkiller), the years in the wilderness following the loss of their singer (Jugulator and Demolition), the awkward picking up of pieces (Angel of Retribution), the self-indulgence Spinal Tappery (Nostradamus), and now we have their eighteenth album, Firepower, for which no storyline seems to apply.

The album’s firepower risks being overshadowed by the fireworks happening behind the scenes. Glen Tipton simultaneously revealed that a), he will not be touring with the band, and b), that he has Parkinsons, thus precipitating a). Additional controversy was provided by former guitarist KK Downing, who started rumors that Glen didn’t even play on the album. You know there’s a problem when your gay singer isn’t the most dramatic person in the band any more.

Firepower is hard to draw a bead on. On one hand it embraces nostalgia, mostly for the band’s Killing Machine and Painkiller sound. The title track and “Evil Never Dies” are both quite fast, and feature a downtuned approach to the angular E minor riffing that characterised Painkiller. But “No Surrender” and “Firepower” are quite consonant and radio-friendly, to the point of sounding like something from Rob Halford’s solo albums.

There’s no experimentation, and little blues (which is something I’ve always wanted Priest to revisit).

This contrast is found in the production job, which finds the band’s venerable early producer Tom Allom paired with veteran of the loudness wars Andy Sneap, who brickwalls Judas Priest relentlessly and leaves the listener little room to breathe among the overcompressed guitars. The overall package is entertaining and powerful, and even benefits a little from its fetishistic excess.

I wish it was shorter, but I also can’t pick which songs should be cut. They all have appealing moments, and good performances. Special attention must go to Halford, who sounds ridiculously good. The credits assure me the band still has a bass player, and I will take them at their word. Glen Tipton’s soloing (if it is really him) feels a little compromised. Probably the worst case is “Necromancer”, where he sounds like he’s wearing oven mitts. Ritchie Faulkner is more confident and poised, and strangely now one of the stronger points of the band.

As the final notes of “Sea of Red” fade like a bleached photograph, I’m left with a strange feeling: that this will never end. Judas Priest have always depicted fantasy in their lyrics and album covers. Perhaps the most fantastical was Stained Class, which depicted an android with a projectile embedded in its head. It’s not fantasy because of the android. It’s fantasy because it suggests Judas Priest can die.

Impellitteri – Venom

- 14/08/17 Music,Reviews

The power of Christ Impels you! This album completely surprised me, as I’d always classed Impellitteri as one of the flock of 80s shred metal bands: long on guitar sonatas, short on songwriting ability or actual hooks. Venom proved to be one of the most powerful, focused, and concise albums of its year. The LD50 for this album is very low.

What to expect? Savagely fast and technical riffwork, which runs all up and down the neck while still remaining tight and groove-laden. Guitar solos that throw away any notion of “taste”, “musicality”, or “wearing pants” and just eviscerate the listener with almost unimaginably fast blurs of notes. Soaring vocals that bend and weave around the guitar lines. A bass and drum rhythm backdrop that crushes you hard enough to undergo atomic fusion.

With ten songs that are all around three minutes long, this is a shred metal album LARPing as a punk rock LP. There’s an immediateness and directness to the music that can’t really be compared to other shred metal. This is the anti-Yngwie. It doesn’t get right to the point – it starts at the point, from the moment the needle touches down. The songs fly by with alarming efficiency, verses and choruses and solos appearing and evaporating just at the point where they’ve got you intrigued.

Chris Impelliteri’s guitar sound is like the glass shards from a dirty window. Smooth, glassy, but also throat ripping, full of points seeking out the body’s softness. His tone is so thick and suffocating that he must have quadtracked the rhythm parts, despite the agility and tightness of all these songs.

And the tempo is very fast: the album strings so many uptempo songs together that the thirty-three minute runtime soon seems like a necessity, before the listener taps out. “Venom”, “Empire of Lies”, and “Nightmare” are progress at a gallop. “Face the Enemy” is perhaps the album’s slowest song, a Virgin Steele style uptempo rocker with a big chorus.

“Domino Theory” is a rolling thunderstorm of a track that might be my favourite from Impellitteri’s work here. “Jenovah” and “Rise” have hard-edged choruses with some surprising progressive sensibilities in their construction. The album closes with “Time Machine” and “Holding On”, which are equally ominous but perhaps more melodic. The European edition has a bonus track called “Rock Through the Night”, which is fine on its own, but takes the album to the point where there’s too much of the same and it starts to become a bore.

But Impellitteri astonished me with what they accomplished on this album. A shred metal album that you can listen to in one sitting, and still want more…wasn’t this always the endpoint for the genre?

Helloween – Pink Bubbles Go Ape

- 22/04/17 Music,Reviews

What happened here?

Helloween’s fourth album is stupid and bad, and it’s stupid and bad in a way that bands are normally immune to. Pink Bubbles Go Ape would have made sense coming from a solo artist. All artists have THAT period, where they snort a rail of coke laced with rat droppings and make a concept album about socks disappearing inside the lint dryer. But how the fuck did five members all agree to sign off on this inanity?

To recap, Helloween were on an incredible hot streak through 1985-89. Walls of Jericho and both of the Keeper albums (notice that I make no mention of a third) wrote the book on Teutonic power metal. After touring with Exodus and Anthrax, and getting airplay on Headbanger’s Ball, they finally seemed on the verge of a big break.

Then principle songwriter Kai Hansen left the band. His final composition on a Helloween disc, “I Want Out”, was apparently less a catchy tune than a dire prognostic. Immediately, the band went into a tailspin, with drummer Ingo Swichtenberg’s schizophrenia becoming worse and vocalist Michael Kiske now harboring delusions of reinventing the band as a pop group.

Three years later, we got this, and the band’s chances at becoming a mainstream metal act ended in a fit of pure absurdity. It’s one thing to shoot yourself in the head. Helloween managed to shoot itself with one of those joke store pistols with a spring-loaded *BANG* flag.

The album is either hard rock music that isn’t very good, or comedic lyrics that aren’t very funny, and usually both at the same time. Almost none of it sounds like power metal. “Kids of the Century” makes an effort at rocking hard, before confessing partway through “yeah, I got nothin'”. “Number One” is a Weikath song from the early 80s. It’s no mystery why it never appeared on a past Helloween, but why it’s on this one is mystery aplenty. “Goin’ Home” and “Heavy Metal Hamsters” are like special-needs glam rock, if such a thing existed. I’m imagining huge teased 80s hair, hidden beneath a SPED helmet.

In a final surrealistic touch, the only songs that sound like old Helloween (“Somebody’s Crying” and “The Chance”) were penned by new guitarist Roland Grapow. Both of these songs are great, particularly the second one, which has lots of soaring guitar harmonies and a dog-whistle high note from Kiske. Grapow was a thirty year old car mechanic, drafted to fill the gap left by Hansen’s department, and “The Chance” reflects the optimism at such a stroke of luck. Unfortunately, Helloween was and is a dysfunctional band (even without Kiske), and in ten years he’d probably relate more to “I Want Out.”

“Mankind” wastes a great Queensryche atmosphere with a goofy chorus, and the final ballad “Your Turn” is saccharine gloop. It’s nearly as bad as “A Tale That Wasn’t Right”. Put this in your car’s fuel tank and your ride would never work again.

What’s the French expression? Folie à deux? A bunch of people suddenly going mad (or ape, as the case may be?) It basically put a spoke in the band’s wheel, and set off events that would leave most of Helloween’s lineup getting fired or dead. It’s a tragedy, masked as a comedy.

Rob Zombie – Educated Horses

- 02/04/17 Music,Reviews

“Raw” is a dangerous aspiration to have as a musician. It’s supposed to mean artistic freedom, and the throwing away of artifice and pretension. All I can think of is that raw things give you salmonella.

Rob Zombie’s puzzling third album takes all the electronics and danceable aspects of his past work and replaces them with…nothing much. Bare fragments of grinding riffs and Iggy Pop vocals drive the album. Not a single track sounds like it could have been on Hellbilly Deluxe (although Hellbilly Deluxe has a song called “How To Make a Monster” that sounds like it could have been on this one) and even his vocals sound totally different. It’s was a bold move to throw out every aspect of his previous sound, and a curious one, as his previous sound was mostly working for him.

But there’s an explanation: his film career.

His directorial efforts almost deserve a documentary in their own right. Basically, 2003’s House of a Thousand Corpses had a sweetheart of a deal that he obliterated with a poorly chosen joke on a TV show (or something), and his funding disappeared with the film half shot. Rather than cancel the film, he somehow figured out how to get the rest of the footage just by shooting stuff for free around his house. Sounds like a recipe for a shit sandwich, but when he watched the final cut, he actually liked the zero-dollar shots better, and his films have essentially relied on that approach since.

I imagine he wanted to try the same approach with his music. Just throw together some stuff with a live band and see what happens. Well, something happened. I don’t think he covered himself with glory here, but it has some strong moments, particularly in the deeper cuts.

After an arty piano tribute to the Halloween theme called “Sawdust in the Blood”, “American Witch” kicks off to unimpressive results. With a plodding tempo and a chorus that sounds like it was made up on the spot, it’s just a boring song. A lot of tracks here are like that. “Ride”, “The Devil’s Rejects”, “17 Year Locust”. None of them are complete throwaways, but they just don’t have enough actual content to sustain your interest. It’s like being at a party with twenty people, but the host only bought enough snacks for ten.

Then there’s the songs that provoked revulsion among the Zombie faithful. “Foxy Foxy” is kind of cute. “Death of it All” is an all-acoustic track that I like. “The Scorpion Sleeps” sounds like a fucking beer commercial. The two best songs are “Let It All Bleed Out” and “Lords of Salem”. The former has the energy and the latter has the heavy. Either of those songs would have been a good direction to explore more fully. Rob Zombie’s never been comfortable playing all-out metal, but I wish he’d get comfortable, because the closer he gets the better he sounds.

Well, it’s an experiment, which guards it against criticism in a way. This is just a lab experiment, to be accepted if it works, and flushed if it doesn’t. I think it does a little of both.

Metallica – Hardwired…to Self Destruct

- 06/02/17 Music,Reviews

Metallica_Hardwired..._To_Self-Destruct_2016Kerry Packer was Australia’s richest man, and he didn’t care who knew it. It was dangerous to mention your own wealth in his company. Once, at a baccarat table in Vegas, a Texas oilman bragged that he was worth sixty million. Kerry didn’t miss a beat. “Toss you for it.”

Metallica’s like that. It’s all or nothing. Once they decide on a direction, they take that direction to its full or logical conclusion. Sometimes that conclusion is “Ride the Lightning”. Sometimes it’s “Lulu.” And now we’re here, with an album that’s average, but strangely intense in its averageness, if that makes sense. Imagine pouring a mug of tapwater, that’s utterly uncompromising in its 50C-ness. The definitive mug of lukewarm water, that all mugs of lukewarm water aspire to be.

Hardwired tries to merge their 80s thrash metal sound with various hard rock influences, with somewhat good results. I was hoping for more, but it’s listenable and well put together. Greg Fiedelman’s earthy production job stops things from sounding too modern, but the album doesn’t have a sonic “center”. There’s not a single track you can point to as a summary of the album’s thesis. It jumps around in style a lot, and also in quality.

The performances shocked me. James’s voice sounds…good. No more “GIMME FUE GIMME FAI GIMME DABAJABAZA” enunciation. And he’s backing it up live, too. Lars’s drumming is basic but sounds pretty decent now that he’s mixed in a non-asinine fashion. The band probably pulls of its best rhythm tone to date, with the guitars like a scorching streak of red war paint against the dry skin of the bass and drums. Everything works, everything makes sense.

The weak performer on the album is obviously Kirk Hammett. His bad habits are now incredibly pronounced, turning songs like “Confusion” into your one stop shop for bad Jimi Hendrix imitations. Sloppily played pentatonic runs, drenched in masturbatory wah pedal noise, written with no thought, no technique, and no ability to “ride” the feel of the song. On 2008’s Death Magnetic, he didn’t stand out at all. Now, he’s actively making the band worse.

If you agree, take heart from my suspicion that he won’t be in Metallica much longer. Note that he has zero writing credits on the album, and my reading of Blabbermouth reveals a dog-ate-my-homework level excuse about losing the phone that had all his riff ideas (should have lost the phone that had his shitty guitar solos, instead). I don’t buy it. There’s kids on Youtube who can play every riff Metallica ever recorded, but Kirk Hammett needs a phone to remember his own material? His heart is obviously no longer in this band and I predict he will be the next member to leave.

But he keeps his noodling down to a few seconds per song, leaving us with Hetfield’s amazing left hand and surprisingly decent voice to carry the album, and they both do…to an extent. “Hardwired” doesn’t stand out to me as excellent material, but “Atlas, Rise!” and “Moth into Flame” are incredible, capturing everything that was good about the Black album and marrying with a greater sense of musical adventure. If the whole album had sounded like this, a renaissance would be underway.

“Now That We’re Dead” and “Confusion” sound like efforts at arena rock. I can tolerate them, if not love them. Much of the second album is skipworthy, with the big exception being “Spit Out the Bone”, which brings back the riffs and speed and evokes memories of “Damage Inc” and “Dyers Eve”.

The pace of the album is fairly staid: I could have used more speed and energy. And this is one of those single albums turned into a double disc for no reason at all: I suspect you can make a far superior version of Hardwired…to Self Destruct by deleting/rearranging some of the tracks. Nothing like having to perform emergency triage surgery on an album, but there’s enough good material here that it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

Being a Metallica fan is exhausting. Some think they should have retired in 1991. Some think they should have retired in 1988. Some think they should have retired in 1981. No matter where you stand, this might be the closest to a return to form we’ll ever get, and I know not to look a gift Horseman in the mouth. Metallica tossed for it, and I don’t know if they beat the house, but they’re still here doing what they do.

Sabaton – The Last Stand

- 25/08/16 Music,Reviews

sabaton-the-last-standImagine you have a friend who tells you a joke about their prolapsed rectum. You laugh. It was sort of funny, and also they’re your friend. Their eyes light up, and the next day they come back with an entire notebook full of prolapsed rectum jokes, and the expectation that you will listen to and enjoy all of them. At what point do you stop laughing? At one point do you say “look, I’m at saturation point. Enough about your stupid rectum. I liked the first one but I don’t want to hear them for infinity.”

This is how I feel about Sabaton.

It’s a mistake to think this band makes music. That would be like saying Adam Sandler makes movies. This project is just Joakim Broden, pulling a lever over and over and over, until his fucking hand falls off. It’s cynical. It’s formulaic. It’s artless. And it’s all our fault. We rewarded laughed along with the joke once, and now we get to listen to Sabaton forever.

You know what’s coming. The Last Stand is another plastic collection of charmless Nuclear Blast Metal, filled with horrible forced-catchy singalong choruses, and the band buried underneath a mountain of choirs and keyboards. If you’re wearing a Pewdiepie shirt and need a score for your next gaming marathon, go and make your day. If you have a brain in your head, you’ll hate this with every fiber of your being.

This album has some of the worst choruses I’ve ever heard – we’re talking Dream Evil shitty. Lead-off song “Sparta” has Broden singing (which is obviously a Platonic bad idea) and a stupid “HOO-HA” gang shout that gives me douche chills. Several songs like “Rorke’s Drift” and “Hill 3234” don’t even have chorus melodies, just Broden belting some lines in that staccato manner of his (nice to see Sabaton writing double-bass songs, though). “The Last Battle” is just irritating AOR gloop. Battle Beast does this better. Battle Beast does everything Sabaton does better.

The production is slick and clean. The songs are hobbled around the three minute mark. The album is short, and padded with bonus tracks nobody gives half a fuck about. The military theme is hampered by the fact that they’re running out of good battles to write about: on their next album they’ll be down to writing about the time Gene LeBell choked out Steven Seagal and made him shit his pants.

This review is dogshit, but there’s just so little to talk about. It feels like trying to analyse elevator music. Listening to The Last Stand just makes me feel sad and empty. The music’s a nonevent, but did they have to steal Tommy Johansson? Forget getting a new Reinxeed album any time soon.

The Last Stand will keep Sabaton on the festival circuit a little while longer, and all the critics listen to a few songs then copy+paste their “7/10, gives the fans what they want” review from the last album, and meanwhile, the genre keeps spinning its wheels. Power metal isn’t a magical unicorn. It’s a rotting donkey carcass with a novelty dildo glued to its head, and every day, the stench becomes harder and harder to disguise. There’s going to be a shakeup soon. This is exactly the sort of stagnation that led to the overthrow of metal by grunge rock in the 90s. Until then, enjoy the rectum jokes.

Running Wild – Victory

- 08/08/16 Music,Reviews

Victory_(Running_Wild_album)Running Wild is known as “that band with pirate-themed lyrics”, but that’s the least interesting thing about them. One of the early German power metal bands, they’re a striking case of musical taxidermy. They got their sound figured out in 1986, or dunked it in a tank of preservatives, and thirty years later they’re still playing it. No new ideas allowed!

No other band has hewn to a sound this hard or this long. Helloween went through a Beatles period. Accept went through a hair metal period. Rage has played every single metal genre under the sun. But Running Wild now has a streak of thirteen albums that, on a sonic level, all pretty much sound the same. When Otto the school bus driver complains about bands ripping off Priest, this is the one he’s talking about.

Sadly, the quality level started dropping around 1995 or so. You can only photocopy your ass cheeks so many times before the printouts get all faded and weak, and that seems to be happening to Running Wild. Depending on who you ask, 2000’s Victory is either “the last vaguely good album” or “the first legitimately bad one.”

Myself, I like it. It lacks the epic, exploratory quality of their early 90s work, but it’s has a disciplined, martial aesthetic. The songs are short, punchy, and to the point, like parade drills. Part of it is songwriting. Part of it is the ultra-mechanical production, bolstered by a drum machine (Rolf Kasparek had the chutzpah to claim that the drumming was a friend who didn’t want to be credited).

Obviously there’s enough filler for a Tempurpedic mattress. I don’t know if I needed a Beatles cover. “The Fall of Dorkas”, “Silent Killer”, “Into the Fire”…boring, boring, boring. Running Wild has a unique talent for writing songs that induce narcolepsy without actually coming off as bad, and that side of the band is on full display here.

But I don’t care, because there’s enough highlights to wake you back up again. “When Time Runs Out” has an evocative main lead melody that reminds me of “Rock Hard, Ride Free”. “Return of the Gods” could be titled “Return of the Goods”.

The album’s two greatest cuts are “Hussar”, taking us from the Spanish main to a couple hundred miles inland, and “Victory”, where Rolf Kasparek displays his penchant for snaking, pentatonic alt-picking. Running Wild has an interesting conflict at its heart: they are generic as they come and unapologetic 80s revivalists, but they have a singular sound that’s entirely their own – nobody writes riffs like Running Wild, unless they’re trying to sound like Running Wild (and usually not even then.)

Don’t let a Beatles cover and a nonexistent drummer put you off. This is unequivocally one for the “good RW” table, and it’s not seated at the foot, either.

Primal Fear – Rulebreaker

- 03/04/16 Music,Reviews

rulebreaker-cover-400This album has metal’s most misleading title since “Fast” by Dopethrone, “Plenty of Mids” by Pantera, and “Not Boring” by Opeth. This is very conservative German power metal that can mostly be predicted in advance.

The BPM is stuck between 120bpm in a generic uptempo stomp. There are screechy, trying-too-hard-to-be-Halford vocals, and guitars chugging away on the 8th note.

Plus, there are liberal occurrences of the Generic Primal Fear chorus. What’s the Generic Primal Fear chorus, you ask? SONG TITLE! / JABBER JABBER JABBER! / SONG TITLE! / JABBER JABBER SCREEEAAAAAAAAM! They have literally forty or fifty songs with this exact chorus.

…Are you excited by this? I’m not. How many homages to Judas Priest do we fucking need?. In the transhumanist community they talk about “rogue superintelligences” – basically, superintelligent computers with interests that are not aligned with humanity’s. A commonly given example is a computer that wants to fill the universe with paperclips. Primal Fear is exactly like a rogue AI that wants to fill the universe with “Breaking the Law”.

In the past I’ve stuck it out through Primal Fear’s crappy songs (and they have an ENDLESS SUPPLY of them) to get to the occasional barn-burner like “Give Em Hell” and “Nuclear Fire”. This time, I approached track 7 in a state of near-narcolepsy with a realisation – here was a new beast, a Primal Fear album with no redeeming tracks!

I was half right. The album has a bonus track called “Final Call”, which is fast and thrashy, and has some neat sectional contrasts. Why it isn’t on the album is a mystery. I guess they threw it off for another song where Ralf Scheepers shouts the title like a mongoloid. “Your holy scripture – your bible verse / They cause all conflict and make things worse”. Great lyrics. I just threw up in my stomach.

I don’t get it. Why do you people like Primal Fear? They make album after album of mechanical and boring metal that disappears from my memory roughly 2.1 seconds after listening to it. Iron Savior has great production. Gamma Ray has Kai Hansen’s songwriting. Helloween has some vestiges of nostalgia value. These guys have nothing.

Remember how we always mourn that Judas Priest never made another Painkiller? Be careful what you wish for, I say. Imagine Judas Priest in their current state of decreptitude, still trying to rewrite Painkiller with every album.

They’d be making…Primal Fear albums.

Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys II

- 11/02/16 Music,Reviews

The second of the classic-era Helloween albums, Keeper part Deus is a fifty minute fanfare of melodic power metal that leaves no tooth unrotted. Until Helloween, power metal’s approach was “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Afterwards, it was “a spoonful of sugar helps the sugar go down”.

It’s a little less earnest in its sweetness than Keeper 1, and a little more self-parodic. You can see vague reflections of the internet conflict that would eventually break up the band. Imagine the creepy forced-happy vibe of “Future World” spread over an entire album. At times, Keeper 2 sounds like fiddlers playing as the ship sinks.

It’s not as good as the first one, mostly because Michael Weikath has stepped into the role of primary songwriter here – the album’s absolutely infested with his tracks, and other than the opener “Eagle Fly Free” he doesn’t do anything truly great here. “Dr Stein” and “Rise and Fall” are midpaced, and quickly let the excitement ebb away. The closing epic just doesn’t have enough songwriting-fu to stay interesting for 13 minutes.

Michael Kiske’s contributions are likewise forgettable: he has a spectacular voice, and not much else. It was once joked that Jayne Mansfield’s acting abilities consisted of filling out a sweater. In Kiske’s case, his one redeeming attribute is located a few inches further up on his sternum.

But suddenly, the goods get develivered. Kai Hansen’s lonely three songs run back to back to back in the album’s middle, and they’re arguably the best three song run in Helloween’s history.

“Save Us” is fast and savage, upping the ante on “Twilight of the Gods.” “March of Time” is another golden Helloween standard that delivers everything you could want from this band. “I Want Out” is genius that years of overplay only slightly diminishes, featuring a jagged dual-guitar melody and lots of great vocal acrobatics. The lyrics pretty much state Kai’s frame of mind at the time. It’s good that he only wanted out from Helloween, not out from power metal.

Pablo Picasso years trying desperately to do something new, something unique. He moved from style to style, mastering and then rejecting methods…and then he paid a visit to the newly discovered Lascaux cave paintings. As the story goes, seeing these 16,000 year old works of art almost broke him. “We have invented nothing!”

Helloween’s Keeper albums might provoke a similar reaction to fans of modern Nuclear Blast-style metal. Other than the thunderous orchestras (which Helloween couldn’t afford in the era before software symphonies), there’s really nothing around today that wasn’t either invented or perfected here. Bits and pieces of power metal have always existed, from Iommi’s overdubbed guitar tracks to “Highway Star’s” duelling solos to Meat Loaf’s shamelessness. Helloween took those elements and made a style out of it. It’s naive, inconsistent, and sometimes irritating. It’s also the bedrock of a good amount of what’s considered cool today.

Which is ironic, because this album is weapon-grade uncool.

Mayhem – Deathcrush

- 08/02/16 Music,Reviews

Deathcrush-MayhemHeavy metal is a masked ball where everyone pretends to be a lunatic. No matter how excessive KISS, Black Sabbath, and Slayer, they were always willing to unmask themselves at the end of the night and admit that it was an act.

It was only a matter of time before metal attracted a band of actual lunatics who didn’t realise or care that it was supposed to be an act . Mayhem was that band. Marking their career with dead bodies and burned churches instead of gold and platinum records, the sheer spectacle of Mayhem destroyed any serious mainstream interest their music might have had. Maybe that was their goal from the start. Either way, there was no mask or pretense with the music they played and the people they were, the ugliness started at the face and went straight to the bone.

Deathcrush, released in 1987, provides a bridge between the first wave of black metal and what would eventually become its second. It retains the sloppy punk tendencies of Venom and Discharge, but spikes it with antifreeze, creating something colder and more emotionless. The guitars are trebled to a fizz that sounds like hissing bacon. The drumming could be described as “spirited”, and not the good kind of spirits, either. The percussion section thrashes and pounds wildly like a demonically possessed horse trying to gallop on three broken legs. Somewhere in this mess there’s a bass guitar. Songwriting? What is this songwriting of which you speak?

Tracks kind of blur into each other, merging amoeba-like into a continual impression of darkness and coldness. It’s certainly violent and noisy. It’s also calculated and conniving. The EP opens with an avant garde percussion piece by experimental electronica producer Conrad Schnitzler – probably to give the EP art school pretentions. “(Weird) Manheim” is more experimentation, this time on a slightly out of tune piano.

The rest of the EP is a blur of frost-rimed crust punk. The title track is fast and unrelenting, “Chainsaw Gutsfuck” is even more so, and then you almost stop noticing when one track ends and the next begins. There’s a Venom cover stuck somewhere in this anthology of musical hoar frost, pulverised into something as brutal and faceless as all the others.

Despite the EP’s 17 minute length, you’ll eventually start searching for more substance, and you will not find it. The musicianship is basic. The riffs are all interchangeable. Maniac’s yelps and shrieks soon stop being terrifying and start verging on being nearly comical, like a cat trying to yodel.

Is a dark atmosphere enough to anchor an EP as a classic? In the minds of many people, yes. For the rest of us, it’s interesting to know that at Prince Prospero’s ball, the Red Death once walked in earnest – if perhaps only for a brief time.

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