Before Death Metal evolved into the niche it has today with fast intro riffs coupled with more measured verses and deep growls, there were bands like ASPHYX who played what can only be described as Doomish Death. Though I find it hard to listen to these Dutch Metaller’s seminal release and not think of it as part of the later period of Death Metal’s first phase, it is impossible not to notice how slow and restrained most of the album is in comparison to even those around it from the likes of MORBID ANGEL, who themselves were even prone to plenty of slower passages.
“The Rack” is a hell of a sludgy, dirty, caustic battering of thick stanzas and a hoarse yet decipherable growl/scratch from Martin van Drunen. Van Drunen had come from the mighty PESTILENCE, and afterward would go on to front BOLT THROWER, but his work on “The Rack” is as good as anything he did with those legends. The first track being a simple though atmospheric intro, it isn’t until the lashing opening bar of “Vermin” that you realize what a terse recording “The Rack” is. This opening song is one of the consistently quick numbers on the album, calling out to its roots in VENOM and early DEATH. Churning with pace at first also, “Diabolical Existence” then turns to a slothful but never meandering instance of early nineties penetrating Death Metal. What may just keep some of this album from being considered Doom is the far more abrasive vocals van Drunen displays than one expects from Doom itself. Sounding like he is a split second away from being dragged down to his death, van Drunen really does push the gripping, visceral factor that has you on the edge of your proverbial seat waiting to hear more.
Even with what was obviously not a million dollar budget, “The Rack” never sounds dated to me, and nor does it reek of anything other than being what it was supposed to be: riveting and rattling Metal to haul your arse to hell with. As a band ASPHYX released numerous good records, including a fantastic re-release and update of an earlier EP, “Crush Of The Cenotaph”. It was with “The Rack” however that the band made their presence known in the Death Metal world of the time, and really managed to produce an amazingly exhilarating synergy of Death and Doom Metal, even if they didn’t see it as such.
(Online May 12, 2007)