Both the albums we’ll be looking at this week have much to recommend them, both for quite difference reasons. One is an elegantly crafted, graceful take on traditional thrashy death metal. The other is a dirty, muddy variation on percussive DM of the north American variety. They have been selected not by virtue of being yet another worthy addition to your collection (although both are), but because they both exhibit early signs of death metal growing musically within itself. They don’t absorb much in the way of outside influences new to death metal at the time, but rather further the internal maturation of death metal.
Rottrevore were a short-lived Pennsylvanian outfit that managed a few EPs and one full length in their short career: 1993’s ‘Iniquitous’. Musically, this release sits beside much death metal of the east coast at the time, along the lines of Suffocation, Morpheous Descends and Incantation. In many ways ‘Iniquitous’ bridges the gap between Suffocation’s percussive leanings and the more atmospheric, doom-laden approach taken by Incantation.
The production choices acknowledge where Rottrevore’s strengths are, opting to throw all the weight behind the rhythm section. The bass drum here is lent a clicky quality which allows them to cut through the dirge of the guitars. Indeed, the bass guitar is the real star of the show here, and for the many brief passages where we are treated to just drums and bass it almost sounds like industrial music. Vocals are guttural and incomprehensible, for twas the style at the time.
Guitars are a no thrills blend of atonal thrash riffs re-interpreted in that chopped up and (at first glance) random riff salad structure common to death metal at the time. So dirty and primitive is ‘Iniquitous’ at times that it has more in common with grindcore than it does their more elegant death metal contemporaries. The solos are frantic and often come across as random non-structures of wailing noise, until some rudimentary minor key progressions come into play, adding depth and musical progression beyond the first impressions this music engenders.
Although this is not technical on the level of Suffocation, the tempo changes and colliding rhythms are the key to this music. The guitars are so distorted that subtlety is redundant. One relies on the drums to cut through the mush and alert the listener to transitions in tempo, riff, and intensity. It’s a chaotic and fun exploration of what is essentially a balancing act between creating a wall of noise, and how to articulate beat variation within this framework.
Krabathor are pretty much Czechia’s answer to the global death metal call, and have been since the mid-1980s. Central Europe may be experiencing a revival of ritualist black metal with the new found fame of Master’s Hammer and Root, but Czechia is not the first country that comes to mind when one thinks of death metal. Time to rectify that by looking at Krabathor’s classic of 1993: ‘Cool Mortification’.
I don’t know what happened between the release of this and their debut LP ‘Only Our Death is Welcome…’ (1992), but it fucking worked. ‘Cool Mortification’ takes the building blocks of late 80s thrash and works them into an early death metal framework. So far, so boring. But with these simple building blocks they have utilised the ambitious sense of the epic common to heavy metal a decade prior and created something more than the sum of its parts. I am reminded of Megadeth’s ‘Rust in Peace’ as an album that seems to operate in a similar way.
The production is thin, but not underwhelmingly so. Whatever sacrifices had to be made in terms of the power of this record are made up for in precision; as each riff, guitar lead, drum fill and solo are all crystal clear. And this is the true strength of this album. No, it’s not a grand new manifesto for the direction of death metal like Demilich’s ‘Nespithe’ released the same year, it’s more a consolidation of ideas found within thrashy death metal and a reminder of what it can achieve when enough creative attention is paid to the art of riffcraft, structure, tension and release.
Vocals are an animalistic howl, grating and strained. But it somehow works with the urgency of this music, which operates at a fast thrash metal pace. This album is like a lesson plan in how to construct music through architecture of riffs as opposed to picking a key and writing a verse and chorus. Each track will introduce a riff, vary it in some way before working through a few iterations, it will then break said riff down, either through additional layers, or through a tempo change. Krabathor will then use this deconstruction to build anew, creating drama and tension before the ultimate resolution. The opening riff may then be visited again, and is given new meaning in the light of the revelations just passed. There are many variations on this simple technique, not just on this album but in much death metal of the time. But ‘Cool Mortification’, although not the most original or powerful release of 1993, is faultless in its execution and a joy to behold.
Both these releases accentuate certain aspects that death metal was experimenting with at the time. Baring in mind that 1993 was both the peak of the genre, but also the beginning of the end for death metal’s premiership at the top of metal food chain. ‘Iniquitous’ represents the exaggeration of specific facets of atonal American death metal, dirtier, more primal, but ultimately safe by the standards of the form. Some would argue that ‘Cool Mortification’ is also a rehash of well-trodden ground, but I believe ‘perfecting’ would be a more appropriate adjective. It’s a delicate balancing act that utilises tried and tested techniques and points them in a forward-looking direction through intelligent compositions and precise musicianship. For that reason it’s my pick of the week, and should feature in any best-of list for 1993