Heavy 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.