With a plethora of articles being published over the past few weeks, looking back on the year of 2017 in music, I thought I’d better contribute too. An article I wrote in October to review the best in metal since Sounds’ re-launch has made this idea slightly more difficult.
I finally got around to listening to two albums recently by two legendary Death Metal bands, Immolation and Incantation. During my first listen, as the last track ended on Immolation’s album “Atonement”, I had found my angle. Not only did these two bands both release their tenth albums this year but several other albums by some Death Metal godfathers came out in 2017 too. Death Metal is far from dead. There are plenty of newer bands popping up and establishing themselves, Gatecreeper and Necrot being just two of them. But it seems the bands that helped cement the genre in the first place are far from finished.
Death Metal’s roots began in America, in the mid-eighties. It’s safe to say that the main bands that kicked this genre off were, Death from Florida and Possessed from California. Back in the death metal primordial soup of the mid-eighties, bands and fans alike traded demo tapes via mail, wrote fanzines and letters, organised D.I.Y shows to help nurture the scene, all without the internet believe it or not, kids. The demo tapes of Death and Possessed spread like wild fire, gaining fans but more importantly, inspiring others to form their own bands. Other Florida based bands such as Morbid Angel and Obituary soon arrived onto the scene.
Florida has established itself as quite the hub for Death Metal from day one but bands were cropping up elsewhere. In the New York area, Immolation, Incantation, Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation to name but a few. California had Possessed and Autopsy. Then Sweden caught on as the next main breeding ground for Death Metal. Legends of the Swedish scene being the Stockholm based Entombed, Dismember, Unleashed and Grave. At The Gates brought the ‘Gothenburg’ sound to the table, with In Flames and Dark Tranquillity.
So, within a few years, without the internet and without much backing from the major music press either, Death Metal had begun to sprawl its murky tentacles across the globe. Between 1985 and 1992 some legendary debut albums were released. By 1989, Norwegian band, Darkthrone, had already turned their backs on the genre, feeling it was too ‘trendy’ when it hadn’t even properly got going by then in hindsight. This is similar to Howard Devoto leaving The Buzzcocks, thinking punk was already finished, in 1977!
There are so many 2017 Death Metal releases that I’ve enjoyed and probably others I’ve missed too. What I love about this is that the genre is now into its fourth decade. For a genre that had worried, over-reacting mothers in America gunning for it and ridicule from those that didn’t understand it, the endurance is a triumph in itself. Now onto the albums:
Obituary (formed in 1984) have to be one of the most consistent acts in the genre. They provide stability to the genre. They have never strayed too far from their roots and simply deliver the goods, time after time. Their self-titled tenth album was released to much critical acclaim in March.
Suffocation (formed in 1988) released “…Of The Dark Light” in June, their eighth album, with a slightly refreshed line-up. Again, well received and another solid release.
Immolation (formed 1988-ish) released “Atonement” in February. This release gained a lot of praise and has been a regular in ‘metal albums of last year’ articles recently. “Atonement” is a record of great depth and is rock solid from start to finish. Like Obituary and Suffocation, consistently good records seem to be their thing.
Incantation (formed in 1989) are a band I did not get into straight away but I’ve now realised that they are definitely worth sticking with. If any of the bands mentioned in this article are getting the credit for the most likely noise you would hear in Hell as you enter, then it is Incantation. Regardless of who they have had behind the microphone, the vocals follow a theme of being absolute rock bottom, earthy, cavernous and genuinely scary in the most sub-human of ways. It was this, along with a muddy production on their first few albums that maybe caused me to look elsewhere for my fix at first. But this demonic earthiness is something I crave these days. “Profane Nexus” is their tenth full length album and is incredibly dense. An album that pushes, pulls, suffocates and disturbs (all in a good way, of course).
One of the biggest selling Death Metal acts is Cannibal Corpse. The band have been around since 1988 and have experienced both fame and infamy throughout their career. From a starring role in the Jim Carrey film, “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” (Carrey is a huge fan and they were recruited for the film at his request) to being quite literally banned from Germany, Cannibal Corpse are still going strong. Consistent is a term that is unavoidable when describing this band and they’ve proved it again with “Red Before Black”, released last year. Their fourteenth album.
My most recently published review was for Morbid Angel’s ninth album, “Kingdoms Disdained” so there is plenty more you can read about this one. To summarise, I wasn’t that keen on their last two albums and this latest effort feels like the worthy follow up to 2000’s “Gateways to Annihilation”. It has introduced some interesting new angles for the band to explore, whilst maintaining the conventions that you would associate with them; this being, utter brutality and technical brilliance.
Gatecreeper released an E.P titled “Sweltering Madness” that was released in November and this release added yet another batch of tracks to their excellent old school death metal inspired back catalogue. Familiar and fresh at the same time. Necrot are another band on the rise, who were working relentlessly last year to spread their contorted brand of death metal far and wide. “Blood Offerings” is an excellent debut album that fans of the old school would enjoy. These two bands certainly ‘tip their hat’ to the classic era death metal but have established their own refreshing and interesting sound.
Death Metal has established itself as a significant genre in the heavy metal world. It’s even now considered to be almost an ‘umbrella’ in its own right, sparking off more technical versions of the style, progressive, blackened, hardcore crossovers, the list goes on and on.
To conclude, a lot went on in 2017 for music in general but for me at least, the year belonged to a genre that is over thirty years old. Long live Death Metal.