Welcome to Secret Steel, the fifth chapter, “Black Metal 1: An Unholy Union”
There are plenty of different variations on death metal. Some death metal bands incorporate lots of melody; others go the technical route, weedly deedling all day long. Some bands incorporate Morbid Angel darkness and Autopsy sickness; some worship Immolation and Incantation. Then there are bands like Torture Rack. Whereas other death metal bands may take a nuanced approach, incorporating intricate song structures or complex riffing, Torture Rack simply bludgeons. Torture Rack is one of the purest distillations of the essence of death metal out there. Is there melody? Is there complexity? Is there nuance? No, none of the above. Yet they’re one of my favorite modern death metal bands, and they have released one of my absolute favorite albums of 2018 in Malefic Humiliation. So what makes Torture Rack so great?
Simplicity. Torture Rack is the ultimate in no-frills, straight-ahead, filthy death metal. The easiest point of comparison for Torture Rack is early Cannibal Corpse; but, like, if early Cannibal Corpse huffed a bunch of paint and liked to keep a bunch of people hanging on hooks in the basement but admits it immediately when the cops show up because they don’t see the problem with it.
Torture Rack’s biggest strength is simply their ability to write crushing, boneheaded riff after riff. Each song is a whirlwind of pummeling tremolo riffs intermixed with punky goodness. There’s nothing special about these riffs other than their quality, which is top shelf. Well, it’s like top shelf moonshine that an uncle brews and might contain chlorine or something, but you drink it anyway because it gets you messed up really fast. The fellas in Torture Rack are interested in one thing and one thing only: making filthy, short (only one song is over 4 minutes, and many don’t even make it past three), punchy death metal that mutilates you upon each listen.. Take for example, the straight-up sledgehammer of a riff on “Found in Feces,” or the freight train riff of “Destined for Dogmeat.” (If you haven’t noticed, song titles are pretty gross, even for death metal standards.) Contrasting with the blunt force of the riffs, the solos are like an out of control chainsaw. When In a Silent Way was being recorded, Miles Davis famously told John McLaughlin to “play like you don’t know how to play guitar.” It sounds like these guys took his advice—to excellent effect. For the most part, every song is very fast and doesn’t shelf the mayhem to take a breath very often. A notable exception is the album’s centerpiece and arguably finest moment, “Corpse Revenge,” which has an absolutely menacing doom intro followed by one of those punky riffs underscored by one of the most sinister d-beats I’ve ever heard. In other d-beat related news, there is also a recurring bastardized d-beat on “Lurking in the Undercroft” that is absolutely lovely. Drumming in general is like a bloody sledgehammer. Drums do not put on airs; they are what they are: a ripping battering ram. There are often times where another drummer might throw in some tricky cymbal fills that it takes a couple listens to catch. None of that here. The drums simply up the concussive force of the riffs. Bass has a tone akin to one playing an electrified rubber band in a sewer, and it provides a wretched low-end for the other instruments. “Jason” (of Witch Vomit infamy) doubles as vocalist as well. His grunts are low and disturbing, those of a maniac or sadistic killer. He sometimes mixes it up and uses a poisonous, gurgling scream, but those moments are few and far between. All of this adds up to both a repulsive display of death metal mastery and an album that is, above all, super fucking fun. Every time I listen to its brief 28 minutes, I find myself enjoying it more and more, to the point that I can barely sit still for enjoyment while listening.
At the end of the day, Torture Rack is not going to appeal to everyone. If you’re afraid of filth, if you want complexity, if you don’t want to be tortured to death, you may not appreciate the human caviar that Torture Rack serves up. But for those of us like me, you may find yourself with a goofy grimace on your face, equal parts pain and pleasure, at the sordid proceedings here.
Death by 1000 Cuts
I’m not going to make a Futurama joke, so if you’re looking for that LOOK ELSEWHERE. “One-man death metal band” is not something one hears very often. One-man black metal bands have been all the rage since the 90’s, and I’ve heard of at least a single one-man heavy/power band (Ironflame). But I’ll be damned if I can recall any one-man death metal bands. That’s not to say they don’t exist, I’m sure they do, but they are certainly fewer and more far between than one-man bands in black metal. All that to say that Ripped to Shreds is a one-man death metal band, and for one dude making all this noise, it is astonishingly good. Scratch that, that makes it sounds as though it is “good for a one-man band.” It’s not. It’s good for any band. Ripped to Shreds consists of one fellow on guitars, vocals, drums, and bass: Andrew Lee. He handles all duties and has given this album a neat aesthetic touch right off the bat: it focuses on Chinese history. Now we’ve got a double gimmick on our hands—a one man death metal band who plays songs themed around Chinese history. However, even if Ripped to Shreds was a full-fledged five member death metal band, even if the lyrical focus was focused on death metal’s well-trodden lyrical grounds of death, gore, and mutilation—without any mention of China—I would have the same opinion of it: it absolutely rips.
The most obvious point of comparison for Ripped to Shreds is the early 90’s swedeath scene, particularly the mighty Entombed. The HM-2 guitar tone is strong with this one and omnipresent throughout. But these riffs, man. Hoooo boy, these riffs! I don’t think there is a sub-par riff on the entire album. Each song strings together an astonishing amount of memorable and just simply crushing riffs one after another. And not only are these riffs influenced by Entombed et al., there is a distinct flavor of the warmasters themselves, Bolt Thrower. If the description “predominantly influenced by Entombed and Bolt Thrower” doesn’t get you drooling, you might as well give up on death metal. Most of the material here is stunningly fast, and though it is influenced from a old favorites, it comes across as bracingly fresh. One of the best examples is about 4:00 into “Open Grave.” The music fades out and we are treated to silence, until—oh shit—all of a sudden the song kicks back in full force with a demented scream and a mutilating riff. Although most of the fare here is fast, some of the most interesting and mind-bending moments come during slower portions as well. Take, for example, the middle section of “Talisman to Seal the Hopping Corpse Before It Steals Your Qi” where Lee uses some eerie, arpeggiated chords that lead into a slow groovier number, which leads into a faster groovier number, which leads back into a thrashy death metal assault. It’s one of the most compelling moments on this album, or any album that’s been released this year for that matter. And this album is full of those moments: the sustained, haunting lead guitars all over “Open Grave”; and the slow-burn intro that kicks into d-beat madness leading into “撿骨 (Bone Ritual)” are two that pop into mind immediately. On top of one of the tastiest riff collections in recent years, the guitar solos are stellar. They are shreddy, but not in Slayer-esque death metal fashion. The solos remind me more of something I might expect to hear on a prog-metal album: they shred, yes, but there is a sense of melody, nuance, and emotion underlying each of them. I mean, holy shit, listen to the solo on “撿骨 (Bone Ritual).” That could have been written by John Petrucci if I didn’t know better.
So that’s the guitars. But everything on this album is fantastic. The vocals are a real treat. All in all, they’re a vicious, mid-range, raspy brand of death growl. Perhaps my favorite part, though, are Lee’s paroxysms of random death metal noises. He regularly sounds like he’s had his throat sliced or is choking on human body parts or maybe just vomiting. Indeed, in a recent Decibel interview, Mr. Lee described his vocal strategy as, “Vocals I just held a Shure SM7 in front of my mouth and vomited on it.” It shows. The vocals are monstrous and take the aggression up a notch. In the same interview, Andrew claims that he is not super consistent with his drumming practice. I can’t tell. The drumming here is magnificent. He varies up his beats nicely and has a knack for changing up the rhythm of a riff in interesting ways with the drums. If this is him not practicing very much, what would he sound like with a more dedicated schedule? Finally, the bass pretty much follows the guitar riffs, but the riffs are so tasty that the bass sounds amazing running around behind them. Also, the bass pretty much never does a slower or more simple version of the guitar riff, which makes for a mighty impressive performance.
All in all, this is a super-duper-fantastic death metal album. It takes influence from some of the best death metal out there and uses that template to create something fresh, immediate, and—most importantly—savage. I think it will be hard for another band to outdo this one in 2018. And what makes that statement shocking is that Ripped to Shreds is just getting started. This is the first release by this death metal titan; and what a debut it is. Put this one on and get ready to be…well, you know. See band name.
With darkness as my guide…
A largely unknown band at the time, Garroted unleashed their debut demo, In the Court of Nyarlathotep in 2016. This young band surprised the hell out of a lot of death metal listeners; even the stodgy “no death metal is good after 1993” types couldn’t help but take notice. That four track demo was packed full of twisted riffs and old school sensibility, but it never lost sight of its riffs in favor of dissonance or janky compositions, as many these days do. Two years later, Garroted returns with another four track release, this one aptly titled as Of Damnation and Abyssal Terrors.
In the two years since we last left Garroted, the members have steadily improved and perfected their craft. Indeed, they’ve improved to the point that this latest offering almost sounds like a new band. While In the Court of Nyarlathotep was largely impressive in its own right, it was probably due to the band’s adherence to riffs as law, with a foot in both the old school sound and the disjointed followers of Demilich that made things so pleasurable to listen to in spite of its youthful belligerence. This new offering doesn’t abandon what they’ve done before, instead they’ve built upon that foundation and have begun striking their own path.
Compositionally, Of Damnation and Abyssal Terrors does not disappoint. No riff or fill or vocal line sounds forced or out of place in the least bit. Everything (yes, everything) flows naturally, be it the off-putting rhythms sandwiched between bursts of prime aggression during “Otherworldly Subversions (Part I: The Crucible)” or the brakes being slammed on during “Pandemonium (Otherworldly Subversions Part II)” that leads to a rolling, percussive break or the blasts that somehow lead into jazzy prog during “Into the Shivering Forest”. That being said, the band’s strongest track here is “Crimson Thirst” which is a nonstop rush of high speed riffing with some really gnarly dual soloing ever put to death metal. This is a multifaceted release that continuously reinvents itself despite not veering far from their original formula of twisted and eldritch death metal. Regardless, in spite of how cool their debut release, the stronger production and more competent instrumentation reveals a much more focused and virulent band.
Two of the most notable improves over the debut lie with the rhythm section. The bass seems to play a much larger role, with many notes and walks shining brightly through the din, adding a slight tech-death feel at times (though it’s fleeting). The drumming is ramped up past ten as well, with a nonstop barrage of double bass runs, blasts, and head spinning rolls that flit by in a second. It’s one of really cool performances that really require concentration to full understand everything that is going on and to focus on that frantic cymbal work that seems to tie the whole performance together nicely.
If you somehow managed to sleep on the hype that came with the debut and still haven’t bothered looking into these guys yet, correct that now. Of Damnation and Abyssal Terrors proves, beyond a doubt, that In the Court of Nyarlathotep was anything but a fluke. Garroted have improved impressively over the past two years, showing that a band can be heavily influenced by the past yet not be hindered by that. This is proof, beyond any realm of doubt, that death metal has not stagnated.
Larry breaks down each album by the German industrial goliaths to decide which one sits on top.
Interview with Mikko Aspa of Clandestine Blaze
Conducted by Colonel Para Bellum of Blackdeath.
Larry rounds up all the decent (and some not-so-decent) thrash releases for the headbang-happy year of 2017.
This was a banner year for death metal by any measure.
Here are some of our favorite death metal releases from 2017.
The diverse spectrum that encompasses metal music’s many sub-genres could be likened to various mythical races united under two opposing banners, staring each other down as they make ready to charge and turn the field red with the other’s blood. From one year to the next, the advantage may tip from one side to the other, but in the grand scheme of their eternal conflict, the forces of light and darkness have tended to be equally matched. 2017 saw the forces of melody and order take the advantage in the eyes of the reclusive bard that tells this end of the year tale, though naturally his is not the final word on such things, and other codices in the grand archives of metallic exploits deserve your consideration. Still, these are the 50 acts of heroism that defined the year, because too much has occurred to settle for a mere 30.
2017 has proven to offer up the tightest race we have seen in a long time in the quest for the gold! So without any further ado, here is the creme de la creme of the year!
December’s still a month, right?