Withstanding the March of Time
Two decades on and still vintage
by: Aly Hassab El Naby
There comes a day in the early teens of every young man and woman in modern times when we come across a type of music that's completely alien to our ears. Metal music, with all its illustrious variety, is quite baffling to the virgin ear. In most cases, we would have heard about it from classmates that were thought to be the weird kids of our school. The average student dismisses it as the new "in" thing, and for some kids it really is. But in every city on this earth, there roams an eternal weird kid, the one who didn't stop listening to metal. He could be sitting behind you on the train or in the office next to you, and it doesn't look like he's going to stop listening anytime soon. This article is compiled by a small group of these guys, and is dedicated to these guys: the ones who are serious about their metal and care about it; whether old or new.

In this article, Aaron McKay, Jonathan Carbon and I present to you a modern look on ten of the most pivotal metal albums that were released twenty years ago. With 2010 now finished, this year's article focuses on albums released throughout 1990. We take a closer look at the level of musicianship on these albums, lyrical content, production and other parameters. All of us stumble across scores of impressive albums each year, but only a select few can stand the test time. Here's to metal, in all its glory.

Death - _Spiritual Healing_ (by: Aaron McKay)

In 2005, for Chronicles of Chaos' "What We Missed a Decade Ago", I scripted a review for 454 Big Block's 1995 effort _Your Jesus_. In that review, I posed the rhetorical question: "Can you wear out a CD?" The fact of the matter is I have wore out only two albums completely (in cassette tape form) from nearly continuous and repeated playing; one is the 1985 self-titled Nasty Savage full-length, and the other is Death's brilliant _Spiritual Healing_ effort. In all truthfulness, _Spiritual Healing_ simply must be one album that I have purchased and repurchased more than any other in most all of its various forms, multiple cassette tapes, vinyl, more than one compact disc copy, and digitally. Where _Spiritual Healing_ is concerned, too much is not enough.

Put in the simplest of terms, it is impossible to overstate the considerable impact Death had on the metal scene. There are so few bands that have the widespread influential impact that Death represents. Don't believe me? Put on a _Spiritual Healing_ World Tour T-shirt and take a stroll through a Kataklysm or 3 Inches of Blood show -- you'll see what I mean.

_Spiritual Healing_ marks the third release from Death, following the much celebrated and highly regarded _Scream Blood Gore_ and the devastatingly brutal _Leprosy_. With this album, Death founder / guitarist / growler / genius / virtuoso Chuck Schuldiner expanded the band's horizons. Pushing the topical and lyrical envelope beyond the confines of the morbid, decay and morose into realms of social consciousness and intellectually stimulating subject matter, _Spiritual Healing_ is probably the first recognizable step in (re)defining Death's lyrical content for years to come as culturally relevant.

More than well researched subject matters, Death, particularly on _Spiritual Healing_, is musically intense, categorically technical in application, universally accepted on the strength of the material, but also incredibly wicked fucking killer-ass metal. Tempo and pace change-ups, sick trade-off solos (Schuldiner / Murphy) and heavy-as-hell riffs manifest the hallmark of this indispensable release from Death. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but without the direction taken on Death's _Spiritual Healing_ effort, it is insanely difficult to imagine where metal music would be today. Absolutely, fundamentally crucial for any fan of the genre.

Megadeth - _Rust in Peace_ (by: Aly Hassab El Naby)

The history of metal will always remember Dave Mustaine as one of the most controversial characters in the business. He appears in the news for many wrong reasons, but when the news came out that Megadeth's fourth album _Rust in Peace_ was released, the reason was the entire opposite of wrong. For one thing, it was the first album to feature the classic Megadeth line-up: Dave Mustaine on vocals and guitars, Marty Friedman on guitar, David Ellefson on bass and Nick Menza on drums -- but at the time, no one had any idea how long Friedman and Menza would last in the band, because of the tumultuous nature of Mustaine's mood regarding band members.

Aside from the collection stellar musicians, _Rust in Peace_ manifested Megadeth's technical advancement as a metal band in all possible aspects. The words from "Holy Wars... The Punishment Due" are still relevant up to this day, as it criticizes religiously-oriented wars. "Hangar 18" and "Tornado of Souls" boast some of the most advanced lead guitar work of their time, and they continue to challenge and inspire young guitarists the world over. Nick Menza masterfully showed his command of the drum kit on this album; none of us could forget his drum intro to "Rust in Peace... Polaris" and his forceful galloping and erupting chops on "Five Magics".

It's true that these aforementioned tracks are more famous than their peers on the same record, but that doesn't make light of the rest of the album one iota. All tracks on _Rust in Peace_ are solid thrash metal numbers lugging forward a brand of metal that had become so competitive at the time, yet this classic quartet proved that there's a lot more to do without effectively rewriting some old riffs and shuffling a few used words. The musical and lyrical developments presented on _Rust in Peace_ prove that it will forever hold its iconic status in the evolution of metal.

Deicide - _Deicide_ (by: Jonathan Carbon)

When I first discovered the world of death metal, I started with four records. These records, through various research and analysis, could be considered the pre-requisite courses to a greater death metal education. It helped all four of these records were released around the same time and all the bands were from Florida. At first, I began to think of these records as the great Greek classics which would serve as forerunner to later works of art. And while I would eventually find more releases to add to the complex birth of death metal, these four were the foundation to my education and shaped my understanding of death metal as seen from an American perspective. These four records were Death's _Scream Bloody Gore_ (1987), Morbid Angel's _Altars of Madness_ (1989), Obituary's _Slowly We Rot_ (1989) and finally Deicide's _Deicide_ (1990).

Decide's self-titled debut was death metal's passing into adolescence. Since the mid-'80s, the style had been undergoing transformations and growing pains. Deicide's debut was crushing -- a proper 13th birthday party complete with cake and blasphemous death metal. _Deicide_ was a proper forecast for the transformation which would befall death metal in the next decade. The vocal presentation possessed some characteristics already heard from Chuck Schuldiner of Death and David Vincent of Morbid Angel. However, Glen Benton's unworldly vocals possessed the right amount of studio enhancement to break the mortal wall. It was chilling and horrifying in a metaphysical sense. _Deicide_ was death metal on a supernatural level.

Deicide would continue with a fairly decent output during the 1990s, followed by a slow decline in the '00s. While there are merits to be noted throughout their history, their self-titled debut never leaves the minds of fans and historians. The power and unbridled energy felt on _Deicide_ explodes in its original ten tracks. It was a special time and place in Florida during the early days of 1990. These four young metalheads probably had no idea what they were doing, nor the impact they were about to create.

Entombed - _Left Hand Path_ (by: Aaron McKay)

The dissolution of Sweden's Nihilist in the late 1980s shaped the form of death metal in perpetuity. Drummer Nicke Andersson striking out in one direction, and bassist Johnny Hedlund, toward a separate horizon altogether that eventually would see the creation of Unleashed, Entombed came into being with the remaining members. Guitarists Alex Hellid and Leif "Leffe" Cuzner, along with vocal duties handled by Goran Petrov, remained with Nicke Andersson to sculpt one of the most important death metal efforts in existence: _Left Hand Path_.

Wildly regarded by critic and fan alike, _Left Hand Path_ forever rewrote any discernible rules that might be attributed to metal altogether. All the laser-like speed, devastating power and dense riffs, but all that folded in on a much more developed outwardly musical character of a band much longer in tooth than any fan would have any right to expect from these relatively newcomers.

Witness the example, the title track "Left Hand Path". Down-tuned guitar, macabre riffs, grippingly fitting vocals, hellaciously killer solos, all with a melodious overlay of the horror film, "Phantasm", molded in for appropriate measure. With such a strong opening, the ingenious approach in which Entombed encases the listener so rapidly and invest him or her so deeply -- all this is simply where Entombed initiates its offensive on this foundational release par excellence.

Many might argue and numerous theories potentially abound, but one thing is constant: Entombed's sound is anomalous and unnatural, an overwhelmingly evasive presence with a singularly marvelous delivery, musically and lyrically, all tightly woven in the obscure form of this Swedish mega outfit. If ever a single work was to completely encapsulate the soul of its artist, _Left Hand Path_ is to Entombed as the Pietà would be to Michelangelo. Mull that one over for a while...

Slayer - _Seasons in the Abyss_ (by: Aly Hassab El Naby)

There is no denying that controversy was an important factor in Slayer's early rise to metallic glory. The peak of their controversy was in the lyrics and cover art for their second and third albums, _Hell Awaits_ and _Reign in Blood_. Afterwards, Slayer's sound was stapled and registered in the minds of every thrash metal aficionado, and they made sure it was carved in even deeper with _South of Heaven_. Now many people will tell you that when a band releases two great albums in a row, they're bound to face difficulties with the third one; but that wasn't the case for Slayer. Just as some skeptics started to think that Slayer should have ran out of steam by _South of Heaven_, they release their fifth effort _Seasons in the Abyss_.

_Seasons in the Abyss_ wasn't just another product of a successful formula; it was a step forward for the band as a whole and as individuals. Each of the four corners of Slayer had at that time reached a musical pinnacle rarely encountered in the metal world altogether. The duplex riffing juggernaut steered by Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman unleashed works of wizardry like the riffs from the title track "Seasons in the Abyss", "Dead Skin Mask" and "Skeletons of Society". Frontman Tom Araya's vocal tone was more commanding and psychotic than it was on previous works; and of course Dave Lombardo produced such awe-inspiring drumming on this record that propelled him well beyond any doubt to a Zeus-like status among drummers the world over.

In the memories of the thousands of metal fans who decided to pick up a guitar or a pair of drum sticks at some point in their lives, there must be at least one Slayer moment that fueled a fire for mastering the trade. _Seasons in the Abyss_ is, and will remain, one of the very few thrash-defining albums. It is an album by a band that was worth a lot more than the sum of its members' skills; and seeing how their names have become synonymous with metal proves how influential they have been throughout their career.

When the history of metal becomes a compulsory course in Musicology studies, _Seasons in the Abyss_ will be one of the mandatory listening assignments on the first day of class.

Bathory - _Hammerheart_ (by: Jonathan Carbon)

Bathory's 1984 _Bathory_ was a pioneering foundation to the first wave of black metal. For the better part of the '80s, Bathory released a flood of amazing records. _The Return of the Darkness and Evil_ (1985), _Under the Sign of the Black Mark_ (1987) and _Blood Fire Death_ (1988) all defined the first wave of black metal. But Bathory was neither done nor ready to turn in for the day. Beginning with _Blood Fire Death_, Bathory began writing songs with a pronounced theme and epic length. Bathory began to turn to Norse traditions and mythologies for inspiration. Their 1990 release _Hammerheart_ would be a paramount release for what would later be known as Viking metal.

Lead singer and founder Quorthon's transition into the Viking metal style was natural, if not destined. The black metal genre was only a transitory stage to the golden archways which would adorn Bathory's music till his death (well... mostly). _Hammerheart_, while innovative, still sounds raw and rudimentary, especially when compared to the execution of the style today. One could think of _Hammerheart_ as the discovery of fire by humankind's earliest ancestors. While the event lacked sophistication and elaboration of uses, it still possessed the initial spark of ingenuity. _Hammerheart_ is the early man holding a flaming log to the heavens filled with a sense of fear and awe at its creation.

Despite its raw presentation, the songs are executed with the type of precision which only comes from a creator with vision. The opening track "Shore in Flames" reveals a new horizon filled with the distant outlines of Asgard. _Hammerheart_ would begin an inconsistent and sometimes unstable relationship to Norse mythology. Bathory would release one more Norse influenced album before embarking on a thrash vacation. Beginning in 2000, however, Quorthon planned a four volume Viking series under the name "Nordland". It would only reach the second installment before the untimely demise of its creator. _Hammerheat_ is only one of the peaks reached by Quorthon in his short but prolific career. If any musician deserves to be admitted to the mythological halls of Valhalla, it would have to be Quorthon. He may have to fight Manowar though.

Napalm Death - _Harmony Corruption_ (by: Aaron McKay)

It is a wise notion and generally a widely accepted concept to avoid placing bands on any registers of historical significance or influential rankings of any kind. That fact being duly noted, Napalm Death's _Harmony Corruption_ certainly belongs chief among its pioneers of metal brutality on such a list. Unwisely taking this a step further, _Harmony Corruption_ deserves and has earned a rightful mention when citing impressive efforts such as _Scream Blood Gore_, _Altars of Madness_, _Left Hand Path_, _Deicide_, _From Beyond_ and the absolutely without equal classic, _Darkness Descends_.

If other albums move like ghosts through one's realm of musical entertainment, then _Harmony Corruption_ will take up residence in your psyche like the belief structure of Benedict the XVI. Nearly unfair to other some other bands, Napalm Death mixes a formula on _Harmony Corruption_ that is so often cited and imitated, the album has become the gold-plated standard for deathgrind viciousness.

If the poison of labeling this innovative style of metal forged partly by Napalm Death's originality as some form of "same-y whitewashed noise", _Harmony Corruption_ is indeed the antidote. From track to track, this album pulsates with abrupt tempo changes and thrives on speed with skilled synchronization and technical potency. "Vision Conquest" defiantly throws down the challenge uniquely identifying _Harmony Corruption_ as an album forging headlong into gratifyingly uncharted territory. Midway through this masterful work, Barney is joined on vocals by John Tardy and Glenn Benton, of Obituary and Deicide fame respectively, ripping savagely through "Unfit Earth". "Chains That Bind Us" and "Mind Snare" resonate with immense hooks and infectious chops. Punctuating the sum whole of _Harmony Corruption_ is the deservedly well-known and beloved monster track, "Suffer the Children" -- respected for its powerful rhythm, break-neck speed and overpowering force.

Jesse, Barney, Shane, Mick and Mitch infused _Harmony Corruption_ replete with perceptions of a global conscious, an exacting commentary on behavior, applied cultural awareness and human psychology. _Harmony Corruption_ yet stands out as the defiant and proud reminder of Napalm Death's signature representation of deathgrind for decades to come. Some metal is merely a musical means to an end; however _Harmony Corruption_ represents the epitome of the satisfaction stemming from the entirely incredible interim experience.

Kreator - _Coma of Souls_ (by: Aly Hassab El Naby)

Thrash metal in all its might that emanated in the '80s wasn't entirely American. Of course the early works of Slayer, Exodus, Megadeth and many others were seminal in their own right, but there was another powerhouse brewing on the other side of the Atlantic; a German one. It remains important to point out that German thrash bands weren't as numerous as their American counterparts, but that was due to many factors, including, but most definitely not limited to, the huge difference in size and population between the two countries.

German metal will forever hold its three thrash musketeers Kreator, Sodom and Destruction in its hall of fame. But in 1990, Sodom and Destruction didn't enjoy the success that Kreator did with their fifth studio album _Coma of Souls_. One of the major highlights from this record is the development of frontman Mille Petrozza's critique in his lyrics. Reading the lyrics to the opening track "When the Sun Burns Red" and pondering on how much he thought global warming was dangerous at that time shows us all how late Al Gore was with his documentary "An Inconvenient Truth". Another shining example of his social consciousness is "Material World Paranoia", where he bashes blood sucking corporations and the global industrialist approach that brings benefit to the few and damage to the many.

But _Coma of Souls_ wasn't a lyrics-centric album at all. It features some of the finest riffs to be put to a Kreator disc to date. The riff in the middle of "Terror Zone" is a proverbial slap in the face that will have you involuntarily submitting to the moshpit, and let me know if you've seen Kreator live and they didn't play "People of the Lie". _Coma of Souls_ is also laden with bone crunching drumming from Jürgen Reil (a.k.a Ventor), who was becoming better and better with each album. This man is without a doubt one of the finest drummers the metal community has ever seen.

Since its inception, Kreator has been a band that challenged the technicalities of metal and pushed them forward into uncharted territories. This can be heard on their early releases up to _Coma of Souls_, but it was this album that presented the perfect amalgamation of ruthless, bludgeoning thrash technicality and socio-economically critical lyrics. _Coma of Souls_ is a masterpiece for the history books.

Nocturnus - _The Key_ (by: Jonathan Carbon)

It wasn't until recently that I discovered this long earthed gem. Given my fascination with science fiction, it almost seems criminal that _The Key_ eluded me for so many years. Nocturnus was a progressive death act making albums at the same time and place as the growing Florida death metal scene. The act was started by Mike Browning after his vocal and drumming duties in Morbid Angel. Strangely, Browning's contribution to death metal's conception and birth was early and generally unrecorded. His only record (_Abominations of Desolation_) was shelved for five years before receiving an issue as a demo. The album received less than favorable reviews, including a strong demarcation by current Morbid Angel band members. Browning's post Morbid Angel career would be his more memorable contribution, including the formation of Nocturnus. _The Key_ is historic not only for its contribution to progressive death metal, but for its narration centered around a time traveling cyborg leading to the assassination of the newborn Jesus Christ.

Wait! What? _The Key_ came at a time when the majority of death metal was still concentrating on the occult, violence and all things evil. While there is certainly a bounty of violence and the occult in _The Key_, its complete abandonment to narratives involving time travel is significant and truly bizarre. In fact, _The Key_ could be considered the best progressive death metal album involving the death of Jesus by a time traveling cyborg assassin ever created. The album's visionary narration was complemented by nothing short of a wave of chaos. Keyboards, guitar solos, shrieks and cries all swirl in a giant infrastructure made of chrome and lasers.

Heavy metal has always been rooted in fantasy and themes deemed slightly nerdy. The style's largest appeal comes through escapism and rich worlds created by its writers. The second wave of black metal would eventually embrace the mystic of Tolkien's Middle Earth. Iron Maiden and Queensryche bought real estate in future dystopias. The appeal and rebellious nature of heavy metal is strung together by its ability to imagine and escape. The story in the _The Key_ may be slightly ridiculous (okay... very ridiculous) but it possessed the creative vision and fearless execution inherent to great science fiction. _The Key_ stands as a landmark not only in death metal, but at a time when time traveling cyborg assassins were still considered geeky.

Obituary - _Cause of Death_ (by: Aaron McKay)

The music scene in Florida, on a good day, is positively overflowing. The more aggressive side of that landscape in the "Sunshine State" earned it the title of "Death Metal Capital". To get recognized out of the throngs of die-hard metalers there, not only is being at the right time and place important, but talent and ingenuity are imperative.

Formerly known as Xecutioner, Obituary thundered on to the scene with the exceedingly innovative and widely acclaimed _Slowly We Rot_ in 1989. Growl master-in-chief John Tardy, brother / drummer Donald Tardy, Trevor Peres and Allen West on guitars were stylistically so far ahead of their time, their true vision and acuity didn't much ultimately culminate until the follow-up effort the next year with 1990's _Cause of Death_.

These evolutionary pioneers fundamentally reshaped death metal. Few bands have ever had that kind of intrinsically definable impact, and Obituary was undeniably among that anointed few. _Cause of Death_ brought it all together from start to finish, beginning to end and everything in between. This release integrated the considerable guitar proficiency of one Mr. James Murphy, taking lead duties over for Allen West for this release; West rejoined Obituary for 1992's _The End Complete_.

"Infected", "Body Bag", the original demo "Find the Arise" and "Memories Remain" all exhibit Obituary's signature epidemically infectious riffs-a-plenty, but _Cause of Death_ harbors some of the most killer cuts from any death metal release to date. The absolutely incomparable "Chopped in Half", "Dying", "Turned Inside Out" and the title track "Cause of Death" quintessentially define the unparalleled, timeless impact found on _Cause of Death_. What's more is Obituary folds-in a homage to the Swiss metal super colossus, Celtic Frost, with a cover of "Circle of the Tyrants" from 1985's _To Mega Therion_ -- adding that extra "plus" on to an already world-class, stellar release.

Obituary is one of the top selling death metal bands for good reason. They have excelled during their career, and have more than withstood the test of time on those very same grounds. _Cause of Death_ is virtually without fault or flaw, and a prime "classic" in every sense of the word.

(article submitted 13/2/2011)


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