Archive for slayer

Slayer and Me

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2013 by Magadh

slayer3In the fall of 1985 I had some cash on hand. I had been corresponding with a girl who I’d met over the summer and I had been planning to try to go out and see her again over Christmas break. I had saved up a wad of cash with which to do this by the time she told me around the end of November that I shouldn’t bother. That was a hard knock to take, but I salved my wounded pride by going out on a bit of a spending spree. I only remember two of the things that I bought: a brand new Roskopp skateboard (and a set of OJ II wheels to go with) and a copy of Slayer’s Hell Awaits.

I didn’t really know that much about Slayer at the time. All my information came from an article about speedmetal that I’d read in Maximum Rock n Roll. I was intrigued, but also kind of skeptical. I had been into the punk scene for a few years and in those days the punk/metal division was still taken quite seriously. I was serious about anarchism (or so I thought) and singing about Satan, or your dick, or whatever, seemed unacceptably decadent to me. Still, there was obviously something seriously transgressive about bands like Slayer and Celtic Frost. I lived in a small town with a lot of churches, where Christianity was jammed up my nose all the time. I wasn’t sure I approved of their aesthetic choices, but I sort of felt like we had something in common.

Although I lived the agricultural region of eastern Washington State, there was a pretty decent record store. It was run by a bunch of old ex-hippies and was also kind of a head shop. My mother warned me against going there, so of course that became the place where I spent a lot of my free time. It was a dark little place that shared a building with a beauty salon out in the neighborhoods away from downtown. There were banks of records and cassette cases in just about every inch of available space. They had a lot of interesting stuff, mostly from the 1960s and 70s, but for some reason they also got stocked some punk stuff in the early 1980s. I’d made some pretty awesome scores there already: the Bad Brains I and I Survive/Coptic Times 12”, the This is Boston not L.A. compilation, my first copy of Damaged, you get the idea.

So there I was on a dark day in early December with a pocket full of money, minutely examining every possible purchase. I was going through the “S” section, searching (as I recall) for a copy of the Sex Pistols Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle that a friend of mine claimed to have seen there. The records were separated alphabetically by artist, but within the individual letters there was no organization, so one had to spend a bit of time searching for any particular thing that one wanted to find. It was then that I stumbled upon Hell Awaits. The cover was striking, and the pictures on the back suggested real depravity. I bought it and took it home feeling like I was about to start chanting spells from the Necronomicon.

slayer1slayer2I went straight to my room without talking to my parents. They were pretty mellow people, but I still didn’t want to show them something like that. I opened the plastic, pulled out the vinyl, and set it on the player. Slowly the reverse recorded noise at the beginning came up and the hair rose on the back of my neck. Then the music kicked in and my jaw dropped. One minute and thirty-five seconds in, a new age dawned for me. Dave Lombardo’s thundering drums pushed forward one of the heavy passages of metal ever produced and it was January 1st in my apocalyptic Year Zero. I sat slack-jawed. I had simply never heard anything like this. Then they kicked it up into fourth gear and it seemed like the world dissolved. I was torn between utter astonishment at the music that I was hearing and sheer terror that one of my parents would walk in on the black mass that had suddenly broken out in my bedroom. I remember thinking, “If there really is a god, this kind of thing must really piss him off.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yew9L0Xjm_g

***

In the fall of 1986, I was living in Portland, Oregon when I heard that Slayer had a new record coming out. Once again, I had read about it first in Maximum Rock n Roll, and once again the source of my information came with a bit of skepticism. I was reading an interview with some hardcore band from Europe (I don’t remember who) and their comment on Reign in Blood centered on the fact that the first song dealt with Josef Mengele. For that reason (and I think justifiably) I was dubious. By this time I had heard the rest of Slayer’s back catalog, their first LP Show No Mercy and the Haunting the Chapel 12″.  I thought “Chemical Warfare” was pretty impressive, but in general I didn’t feel like that stuff measured up to Hell Awaits. I’d also spend months living in Nottingham in the U.K., hanging around in the punk scene with a lot of really seriously politically aware types. These were the early days of what would come to be called grindcore, and my of the arguments about the relative merits of punk and metal (and possible combinations of the two) were all around. I had made the acquaintance of bands like Concrete Sox and Heresy, who were at the forefront of such combinations, but who also retained a definite political consciousness that seemed to make singing about Satan seem absurd. [People familiar with this period in the U.K. punk scene may remember degree of loathing inspired by Onslaught, partly for their Satanistic stylings, partly for the their idiotic racist comments. For an illustration of this one has only to listen to opening to the Stupids Peruvian Vacation LP (linked below)]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJIiv1pbiG4

Around that time I renewed my acquaintance with a friend from high school who had moved to Estacada outside of Portland. He came into town to transact a little business with me. As it turned out, he was a couple of dollars short, but he happened to have a cassette of Reign in Blood, which I accepted in lieu of the full amount. My buddy and I went back to my dorm room (I was in college at the time), performed the appropriate spiritual ablutions, and slipped the cassette into my tape deck. This time things got going a bit more quickly. This time the blow fell more quickly: twenty seconds in Tom Araya unleashed a jet engine shriek, Lombardo’s double kick spun into action, and the whole band galloped off toward the black plains of Gehenna at hypersonic speed. Reign in Blood was a whole new level of brutality. By this time I’d heard everything Metallica had released up through Master of Puppets. I’d snaffled a copy of the demo version of Exodus Bonded by Blood, and even owned a Venom record or two. None of them came close to this. One after another, the cuts on Reign in Blood struck like bomb blasts in rapid succession, sucking the wind from one’s lungs. I think I managed to say something like, “Oh shit” before being pummeled into silence. I made it about through “Jesus Saves” before I had to hit stop. I couldn’t take it anymore. The sky had grown dark, and something cold brushed through the room on blackened wings. I thought I was going to have an attack of vertigo.

I know without having to look it up that the first time that I saw Slayer was 1 November 1986 at Pine Street Theater in Portland. I know this because it was the night after Holloween and I was still addled from an extremely ill-advised chemical cocktail that I had ingested the night before. Shows in Portland in those days could be really hairy. There was a big skinhead scene in town and even the ones who weren’t white power tended to be extremely aggressive. Pine Street was packed. I’d never seen it so full of people and it seemed like every skinhead in town was there, in addition to all the other lunatics in the area. I spent most of the night at the back of the pit trying to stand very still. I remember trying to find my way to the can and being in mortal fear that I was going to brush up against the wrong guy. I was kind of out of my head and I was pretty much convinced (not without justice) that practically everyone in the joint was itching for a fight. I spent a lot of nights in Portland in those days wondering when I was going to get my ass kicked, but that had to be just about the most paranoid I ever was at a show.

Overkill was opening for Slayer on that tour, which really seemed like a bad idea. Overkill weren’t bad, but pretty much every song they did sounded like the intro to a (much better) Anthrax song. The fact of the matter was that the crowd was simply not into what they had to offer. They soldiered on gamely through a torrent of abuse and death threats. When they left the stage we all sort of collectively noticed that there were gigantic banks of Marshall cabs on either side of the stage. The drums were on a riser that seemed to be about ten feet high. The air was electric with tension as we all waited for Slayer to come on. Smoke swirled on the stage. The lights when down. Four spectral figures moved into place in the dark. The kick drums thundered out, the lights came up, and without any further preamble a tidal wave of noise smashed into the audience. Chaos broke out; frantic moshing with no order or direction. Fights broke out, but the beefy and aggressive Pine Street bouncers seemed strangely (or wisely) reticent about wading into the pit to sort it out. I felt as if I had been transported to some different plane. This was, I am certain, the loudest noise that I had heard to that point in my life. I stood transfixed through their set, feeling like an interdimensional portal was about to open and swallow me up. I both wanted it never to end, and hoped that they would stop so I could make my escape. When their set was over, I headed out as quickly as possible, convinced that the darkness and aggression would leak outside and pursue me into the night.

***

Slayer was, for me, the quintessential band of the 1980s. I was fascinated by them. In the winter of 1989 I was in Scotland, up late, and watch whatever was on TV (which in those pre-cable days was not much). The last thing on at night turned out to be a show called Headbanger’s Heaven (or something like that), hosted by Elvira, Mistress of the Night. It featured performance footage of various metal bands, and after showing about half and hour of Ozzy Osbourne, they did a segment on Slayer. In between bits of concert highlights, they played an interview with Tom Araya. The presenter asked him about their new material, noting that it was slower than their older stuff, to which Araya responded, “When you’ve already put out the perfect thrash record which keep trying to recreate that?” It sounded slightly arrogant, but he really had a point. I’ve enjoyed everything that I’ve ever heard by Slayer, but nothing quite packs the punch for me of Hell Awaits and Reign in Blood. To a greater extent than any two other records I ever heard, they changed the way that I looked at music, at heaviness, at drumming, at aggression in art.

I am writing this two days after hearing of the death of Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman from liver failure. I suspect that it had something to do with the collateral effects of the spider bite that he suffered a couple of years ago, but I’m guessing that he didn’t live a particularly healthful lifestyle otherwise. Slayer has had some rocky times over years, and particularly recently. Dave Lombardo, probably the single most influential drummer in extreme metal, had been in and out of the band, but had recently been kicked out (apparently at the insistence of Kerry King) over some sort of contractual issue. And then there are the occasional news items in which Tom Araya claims to actually be a practicing Christian. Who knows what to believe. For me the death of Jeff Hanneman is the end of an era. As the predominant songwriter in the band, he created a sonic onslaught that left me reeling and from which I have yet to fully recover. If it is true that it is better the reign in hell than it is to serve in heavan, I say, long may he reign!

Magadh

Review: Amebix

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on July 30, 2012 by Magadh

Amebix, Sonic Mass Easy Action and Amebix Records

I feel like I spend a lot of time in reviews that I write explaining why I haven’t heard things. Usually it’s because whatever band I’m talking about is from some place that I’d probably know more about if I still read the right magazines. There was a time when I read MRR, Terrorizer, Metal Maniacs, et cetera, with religious fervor. Now I just don’t have the time.

But there is another reason (over and above the fact that I am just slightly dense) that I have missed a lot of things over the years: the wish not to see bands that I love decay. Very often, bands will follow up an excellent record with one that is simply not up to snuff. Sometimes this is unavoidable. Whatever Black Flag released after Damaged was going to be something of a letdown. Likewise, Slayer had no chance of outdoing, or even equaling, the achievement that was Reign in Blood. This is not to say that My War or South of Heaven were bad records, only that there was no way to listen to them (at least from my perspective) without a certain degree of disappointment.

There is, however, another class of records defined by a band’s failure to live up to an achievable standard set by their previous trajectory. The classic example of this can be seen in the reviews and commentary surrounding the release of SS Decontrol’s How We Rock in 1984. This was back in the days when people still took seriously the idea that there could (and should) be a rigorous separation between punk and metal. I remember someone writing in to MRR and saying basically that there ought to be some kind of warning label applied to the record to prevent unsuspecting hardcore fans from accidentally buying a metal record. Sadly, the problem with How We Rock was not simply that it was heavily laden with metallic tinges, but rather that it was just not very good. As became clear in the course of the later 1980s, metal had a lot to add to hardcore in terms of tempo and intensity. How We Rock was plodding and self indulgent, not just metal damaged.

There are plenty of other examples to which one could allude. I suspect that I was not the only fan of the Crumbsuckers Life of Dreams to be sorely disappointed by the extended guitar wank that was Beast on My Back. Raw Power fans might have had a bit of warning from listening to the Wop Hour 7” that changes were afoot, but that hardly served to soften blow dealt by the mediocrity of After Your Brain in comparison to their mindblowing Screams from the Gutter. The list of candidates for most disappointing release could go on and on (Bad Religion Into the Unknown, 7 Seconds New Wind, Hüsker Dü Candy Apple Grey, Sacrilege Within the Prophecy, anything released by Entombed after Left Hand Path, etc., etc.) but my point is simply that I have a very low tolerance for disappointment.

All of which brings us to Amebix’s Sonic Mass. I have to admit that, before a couple of weeks ago, I had never even heard Amebix’s previous record, Monolith, which came out in 1987. Living in the U.K. in the mid-80s, I gobbled up all of Amebix’s early releases, from Who’s the Enemy, to Winter, to No Sanctuary. Arise, released in 1985, was one of my absolute favorite records in those days. Amebix’s stock in trade was dark atmosphere, conveyed partly through churning guitars, partly through keyboards. This was a pretty novel thing in those days, when stylistic purity was still seen as an issue. One of the guys in Disorder once described them to me as living in the same squat that they did, but listening to Killing Joke all the time. From the perspective of the anarcho-hardcore scene in that period, this was kind of uncool. Nonetheless, people could really get with their music. It communicated a bleak, hopelessness redolent of destroyed cities and civilization in collapse.

Arise was one of those records that I loved perhaps too much. As a consequence, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy Monolith when it came out. That may or may not have been an error on my part. Monolith is not quite as good as Arise. It doesn’t transmit the feeling of a gathering storm in quite the same way that its predecessor did, and it’s possible that I wouldn’t have gotten it back then. Now, of course, I really dig it. It features a lot more variation in tempo and texture that their earlier releases did, sacrificing some of their more atmospheric quality for more clearly defined guitar aggression.

With my mind opened somewhat to the idea that Amebix might have something to offer beyond “Axeman” and “Largactyl,” I acquired a copy of their most recent release, Sonic Mass, which came out last year. Even with the preparation mentioned above, I was still prepared to be disappointed. The field of bands that got back together after decades apart is littered with depressing failures. My fears were not much allayed by the opening track, “Days,” which features clean vocals and a bass line that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Bloc Party record. As it continues, “Days” builds in power and intensity, and with repeated spins it really grew on me. It helped, of course, that leads directly into “Shield Wall,” in whose pounding tempos and low register vocals fans of earlier Amebix discs will find comfort. Clearly, this is an updated version of their sound. The recording is much cleaner than that which characterized their releases in the 1980s. The somewhat more prominent role of metal structures evident on Monolith continues here, but they don’t go overboard and allowed heal damping and downtuning to replace creative writing.

As I continued to listen, I felt myself slipping into a sort of comfort zone. Perhaps that had something to do with the fact that the licks that make up these songs reflect a stylistic continuity with the band’s classic era. Sometimes this effect is quite pronounced, as in the case of “God of the Grain,” in which the main lick sounds extremely similar to that from the title cut of the Winter 7”. One major improvement over the previous incarnation of the band is the drumming. Meaning no disrespect to Virus, his drumming style was a lot better suited to Disorder than it was to Amebix, although he certainly did a creditable job on their early recordings. With former Soulfly and Nausea drummer Roy Mayorga now handling the drumming (and keyboard) duties, Amebix are able to add a much greater variety of tempos, and this in turn allows for the Stig to work in more complex elements into the guitar work.

All in all, Sonic Mass is an excellent record. It has enough classic Amebix elements to satisfy the purists, but also enough subtlety and all around quality to hold the interest of those unfamiliar with the band’s old days. Maybe too this is an indication that I might do well to be a bit more open minded in terms of where bands go. Perhaps a little disappointment now and then is a small price to pay for a new found gem.

Magadh

Review: Warbringer

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , on June 16, 2012 by Magadh

Warbringer Worlds Torn Asunder Century Media

I suppose we all like a little nostalgia from time to time. Listening to Infernö and Gehenna in the 1990s gave one a little taste of that moment of the first time you dropped the needle on Hell Awaits, or the day you got the Exodus demo in the mail. There will always be a place in the metal world for bands that recall the halcyon days of thrashmetal in the mid-1980s. It’s a sign of the essential quality of that music. On the other hand, there was a lot of mediocre metal in those days, and I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised that that is getting revived as well.

For your consideration, I offer Warbringer’s most recent release, Worlds Torn Asunder. I must admit that the enjoyed the first couple of Warbringer discs. For me, they were a throwback to bands from the 1980s like Dark Angel: they were enjoyable for a couple of listens but they never quite had the quality of songwriting to lift them into the top level of thrashmetal elite. Warbringer demonstrate mastery of a lot of the fundamental elements of the genre. There is a lot of double bass thumping and damped chugging. The vocals are gruff, but clean enough such that you can understand what is being said. So what’s not to like?

Well, for starters, there’s not a great deal of progression across their catalog. This might strike some as a sort of an odd expectation for a band whose stock in trade is 1980s atavism. However, it’s one thing to like the style, and another to be satisfied hearing the same record over and over again. If you put the first three Warbringer discs on shuffle, you will be hard pressed to figure out for sure which songs come from which record, unless you are one of those brave souls who have conceded enough of your life span to recognize each song individually.

Warbringer’s most recent offering is, it must be said, a bit more varied than previous releases. It is nonetheless the case that they are sort of trapped by the format. Essentially, there are three stylistic choices for a band like this. They go more technical. Alternatively, they can take the At the Gates route and up the level of brutality. (If you’re wondering about that reference, just listen Slaughter of the Soulnext anything else that At the Gates released). Or they can just wallow in the style that they’ve been doing so far. Clearly, it is this third choice that they have gone for. Once again, atavism isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. The thing that differentiates bands like Infernö and Gehenna from Warbringer is that their atavism consisted in an effort to take the format back to it’s roots, thereby to recapture some the rawness and intensity that had been lost by subsequent purveyors. Warbringer was a throwback to a style that is already fully developed and plunging headlong toward decadence. It’s like trying to renovate rock and roll by starting a Genesis cover band.

In spite of all of this, it must be said that Worlds Torn Asunder is not a bad record. Even with the significant lineup changes that Warbringer have gone through in the last couple of years, they have retained their core sound and technical consistency. What it comes down to is a calculation that each listener must make between love of the style itself the actual quantity of one’s lifetime that should be devoted to hearing the same old thing. Given the choice, I’ll probably just listen to Hell Awaits again.

Magadh

Review: Black Breath

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , on May 23, 2012 by Magadh

Black Breath Sentenced to Life Southern Lord

I have moved around a lot since the year 2000, and I have two major regrets. The first is that I left Portland, Oregon several months before From Ashes Rise moved there. As it was, I never managed to see them, which rankles. The other regret that I have is moving out of Seattle, for a lot of reasons really, but most prominently because I managed to leave town right before Black Breath came on the scene. Sure, they’d been around since 2005 (I left town in 2008) but who really pays attention to what’s going on in Bellingham? Well, not me at any rate.

Since their first EP Razor to Oblivion 2008, Black Breath have gone from strength to strength. Their approach has been consistent and pretty straight forward: up tempo deathmetal along lines similar to early Entombed. True, Black Breath never quite gets the really ripping guitar sounds of Left Hand Path era Entombed, but one would be hard pressed to name anyone who does. This is not to say that Black Breath can be numbered among the legions of Entombed imitators. They create a style that is all their own, both musically and lyrically. The riff structure their songs bespeaks the influence of the metal tinged hardcore and crust of the 1980s and 1990s, particularly in its West Coast incarnations. There is a lot to like here from a pure, headbanging perspective. Chugging guitars thrash along over thudding double bass and the vocals have a tortured quality without descending into incomprehensible guttural gurgling.

Sentenced to Life is the band’s third release with Southern Lord. When the Captain and I first discussed it, his comment was “more Slayer, less Entombed.” He definitely has a point here. Listeners will notice this right from the off. The opening grind on “Feast of the Damned” recalls Hell Awaits, although it is more compact and doesn’t quite descend to the same dark depths. The similarities continue when the song kicks into gear. Once again, this is a matter of positively taking up influences rather than slavish imitation. As the disc continues, the familiar crust influences come to the fore again. It doesn’t seem like there is quite as much single string riffing on Sentenced to Life as on previous releases, although it is by no means absent. The heavier reliance on chordal riffing adds weight to the songs. What certainly has not changed from previous efforts is Neil McAdams’s vocal style, which is still desperate, angry, and vicious.

In this correspondent’s humble opinion, the world needs more Slayer loving hair farmers and these guys fill that bill to a tee. For fans of blistering thrash this disc will be meat and drink.

Magadh