Infernäl Mäjesty – Nigrescent Years of Chaos (Vic Records, 25 April 2016)
Deceased – Fearless Undead Machines (Transcending Obscurity Classics, 10 June 2016)
All right, people. Today we’re going to kick it old school.
Please accept my apologies for such a lame introduction, but honestly it’s all I have the energy for right now. After a busy weekend that was capped off with watching the Penguins seal a Stanley Cup victory late last night, I barely managed about three hours of sleep.
So anyway, here’s what I’ve got for you: a pair of newly reissued classics by two bands who — while I definitely wouldn’t call either of them unknown or obscure — have never seemed to achieve the level of recognition that they each seem to deserve …
First up, Vancouver (BC)’s Infernäl Mäjesty, who are celebrating their thirtieth anniversary as a band with a new release (out about a month and a half ago via Dutch label Vic Records), made up of their first three demo recordings. Their 1987 debut album None Shall Defy gained them a moderate amount of success and respect in the intersection of venn circles for speed, thrash, and death metal — as their sound nicely straddles the connections between these styles. But prior to this album’s release, there was a self-titled demo in 1986, which served up the original versions of four of the eight tracks that would later land on None Shall Defy, including the song that made me fall in love with this band years ago — the churny, grindy speed-thrash anthem “Overlord.”
Full of gruff crossover-thrash barked vocals (not quite into death metal territory but perhaps a few steps down that path), chaotic guitar solos, and plenty of headbang-inducing thrash riffs, Infernäl Mäjesty also contained “Night of the Living Death,” “Skeletons in the Closet,” and “S.O.S.”; assimilating speed and crossover influences into an excellent example of west coast thrash (along the lines of early Slayer, in particular).
Featuring the same line-up as the first demo and full-length, the band’s second demo Nigresent Dissolution came out in 1988 — with a pair of songs (“Into the Unknown” and “Hell on Earth”) that never made it onto an official album. Again recalling Slayer, especially in the guitar harmonies of “Into the Unknown,” these also present crossover-style vocals and tempo changes. Each of these songs also takes a bit more of a stab at death-style vocals: the former with a very deep roar in the background vocals in the chorus, and the latter using a demonic-voiced judge offering sentencing during a trial-themed sequence (incorporated into the song a similar way to what Pink Floyd did a decade earlier in “The Trial” and Megadeth would do a couple years later in “Captive Honour”).
A couple of years later, the band had undergone several line-up changes: founding guitarists Kenny Hallman and Steve Terror remained, but they recorded their four-track 1991 demo Creation of Chaos with a new vocalist, bassist, and drummer. This included a new version of “Into the Unknown,” along with “Power Intrusion,” “What’s What,” and “Those About to Die” — each of which, like the songs from Nigresent Dissolution, were never available anywhere else. With 60% of the members replaced, the band’s sound nevertheless didn’t change too drastically, except that the vocals here seem a bit more growly than before.
These final four songs — even on the new remastered re-release — seem a bit more lo-fi than the first six, and the mastering here is noticeably quieter. But nevertheless, this collection (which also includes rare photos and new liner notes by original vocalist Chris Bailey) serves as an excellent glimpse into the history of a band whose contributions to each of the genres they touched should be widely celebrated.
As an interesting post-script, while the band went through several more people on bass, drums, and vocals throughout the years, while continuing to release albums and EPs, the core of Hallman and Terror has always remained intact, and with Bailey back in the fold now as well, there has been talk of working on a new album — with more details on that front expected sometime in the near future.
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At the opposite end of the continent, Virginian death metal pioneers Deceased formed right around the same time as Infernäl Mäjesty. In the early 90s, they, along with bands like Incantation and Mortician were among the first to join the ranks of Relapse Records. And now — this past Friday, to be specific — their third album, Fearless Undead Machines, has been repackaged and reissued via India-based Transcending Obscurity‘s new sub-label Transcending Obscurity Classics.
Featuring all the artwork of the original, but with additional liner notes and pictures, this new edition (officially authorized by founding drummer/vocalist King Fowley) may introduce the band’s 1997 zombie-themed concept album to a whole new generation of metalheads. While horror movies and heavy metal have always gone hand-in-hand, nobody has ever paired the two quite like Deceased, as Fowley‘s semi-clean narrative-style delivery has always been remarkable for spinning yarns and telling spooky stories over the band’s death-thrash grooves.
The eleven tracks of Fearless Undead Machines kick off — quite naturally — with the famous “It has been established …” line sampled from the radio announcer in the original zombie classic Night of the Living Dead. Each subsequent song carries the narrative along, very much in the same way that an old-school horror/suspense film would. Second track “Contamination” which uses soft, dreamy guitars as a backdrop for spoken-word exposition — describing the anachronism of seeing creatures walking around which the narrator knows to have died already (and which ends with the three words of the album title) leads directly into the speed-metal-tinged death-thrash barnstormer of a title track.
The instrumental “From the Ground They Came,” with classic epic metal guitars against a background of air-raid sirens, introduces the mid-section of the album, the part of the movie where the plot would thicken and the troubles would exponentially escalate. “Night of the Deceased” sheds light on how serious the epidemic is becoming: discussing the whole planet turning into a battlefield, leaving behind “empty graves and shattered tombs.” Another classic of the genre, Dawn of the Dead, provides the dialogue sampled in the intro to “Graphic Repulsion”: “These creatures are nothing but pure, motorized instinct.”
With that clinical analysis, it would be no surprise that our story would involve scientists trying to get to the root of the situation and find a solution (these types of movies usually do, after all). “Mysterious Research” looks at the phenomenon from a scientific viewpoint. But then, “Beyond Science” seems to approach the subject more philosophically, proposing that we could be seeing “a message to the world, for all our evil ways.” The next song “Unhuman Drama” builds upon that line of thinking, going on to draw conclusions about the nature of religion in general.
By the time penultimate track “The Psychic” rolls around, it seems our narrator has now accepted the presence of the undead in the world, perhaps even seeing how it could represent a positive change for mankind? And furthermore we hear resignation to his fate as inevitably going to join the ranks of the undead. However, in a final cruel twist, “Destiny” with its heavy, aggressive death riffs, reveals the horrors of having turned into one of the reanimated dead — and in particular, comments on the unseen malevolent forces that are guiding this lifeless army. Fittingly, this concludes with the tagline from Dawn of the Dead, “When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead shall walk the earth.”
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