Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ten of the best metal albums of all time - Part II: Mayhem - Deathcrush

In an ideal world, no list of best metal records of all time should go without a prominent mention of Mayhem's debut mini-album, because its overwhelming quality is not a subjective impression but an objective fact. A record of this magnitude hadn't happened in its field until the point it was released, and it certainly was never reached in quality and impact, neither by the band itself nor the thousands that followed. Like an alignment of all eight planets in the solar system in one straight line, this record is one of the rarest of occurances where just the right elements were combined by just the right people in just the right way at just the right time. If perfection in black metal had a name, Deathcrush would be it.

There is something uniquely feral about this mini-album, as if the musicians involved had been set out into the wild at early childhood with a set of musical instruments, and this record was the result of their channelling the lifeforce of the rugged Norwegian landscapes and the essence of the hardships endured trying to survive in such an unforgiving environment on next to nothing with only their primal instincts and an iron will to endure as tools at their disposal. This record typifies the strength of character necessary to survive in the Norwegian outback far away from civilisation far more than any release made by a Norwegian band in the 1990s or later, because it is so much more primitive in nature, and much more in tune with just how inhospitable Norway is away from human settlements.

And they really couldn't have picked a better introduction for the savagery they would unleash. "Silvester Anfang", as many of you know, is a piece by experimental/noise music pioneer and former Tangerine Dream member Conrad Schnitzler, who was contacted by the band for an introduction, and submitted this piece as his unique interpretation of the type of music they play on this mini-album. The result not only emphasises the feral nature of the music as a whole, but gives it a character far darker than the imagery I painted in my previous paragraph, as if this is not the work of human children set out in the deep forests for the entirety of their lifetime, but orcs from a fantasy realm such as Tolkien's, or, far more accurately, Morlocks from H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, living in the bowels of the Earth as the most brutal of savages, feasting on the flesh of their fair counterparts that once were their fellow human beings.

The thought of feral Norwegians recording a mini-album with no human contact prior, with the savagery of Morlocks, it gives me the chills, and so does the music found on this release. There is no other drummer in metal who's drumming I can describe as "tribal" as Manheim's, like the pounding in a death ritual of some rainforest tribe on Borneo. There's a certain marginally off-beat quality to it that makes it sound more like a group of individuals playing one part of the kit each rather than one person playing the kit alone. This tribal feeling is amplified by the heavy use of the toms, as well as the quality of the drum recording which has a strong feel of being done in a dense forest in the middle of nowhere. This really sets the tone for the feeling I described in earlier paragraphs, and it perhaps one of the defining characteristics of this record.

It is perhaps most fitting that the bass sounds like a form of war drum itself, having a quality more pounding and percussive than you would expect from a string instrument. Rather than a backing provider of melody as you'd find on any regular metal album around the same time in history, it punches the rhythms through your eardrums as if the instrument of a great orc army aiming to pound fear into the hearts of their enemies on the eve of battle.

The guitars themselves provide all the melody, and they are likely the element of the music most in tune with the analogy of feral children left deep in the forest with only a musical instrument and nothing other but their wits to survive. They grind at you like both the anguish felt by being abandoned and not knowing whether or not you'd survive each new day, and the triumph of having overcome this challenge. They are more than mere metal riffs, they are raw expressions of that raw, feral anger felt by such an abandoned child, and the strength of character it has built through mastering this most hostile of environments. In such a way, they are the most true metal riffs ever written, the most honest, the most brutal, the most unforgiving, and the most triumphant.

Vocally we are treated to shrieks and howls which round off the whole experience. Almost like an afterthought, they integrate smoothly into the inhuman inferno unleashed by the instruments they are backing. Like celebrations of the glory of the ritual performed at the hands of these inhuman creatures. It is the combination of all these elements into one grand performance that really matters. Something that transcends anything civilised, anything with the classic understanding of trained musicians in a disciplined environment. This is how music today may sound if all higher culture had never came to exist, and merely the technology for musical instruments had advanced.  Music that forgets the last thousands of years of musical development and instead celebrates a ritual of the utmost primitive, and thereby utmost primal.

Of the vague top ten in this review series, this is easily a contender for the top spot. One of the brightest (or darkest) beacons of what metal music is capable.

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