2019 has seen massive releases and live acts of metal titans, such gods as Blut Aus Nord and the highly anticipated release of quickly medaled veterans Blood Incantation, but there are acts slipping through the cracks of reverence within a tightly knit web of excellent releases. For one, the truly underrated Mefitis, from Oakland, California, with an absolutely stunning and transcendent debut that demands all of the attention that it is missing.
It is shocking that this release hasn’t received the deserved recognition. This entity of two complete newcomers to the scene exploded into it with all of the brilliance and veracity of seasoned veterans. Even more impressive is that the debut LP Emberdawn was both recorded and mixed by the two members of the band, Pendath, and Vatha, and the end result is nothing short of excellent. Emberdawn also features art by Turkka Rantanen, evocative of his works on early Demilich and Adramelech, fitting for the dark and twisted sound of the album.
From the very start of Emberdawn, Mefitis erupts a pernicious tide of riffs, bursting like shrapnel from the oppressive gates of the underworld with “Widdrim Hymn”. Aggressive and untamed guitar parts are broken up intermittently by contorted chorales of chaos, like hideous chants of worm winged angels. Each following song is an impressive recitation of songwriting, nothing is out of place or patched together, not written, but composed, each riff folding into each other, where the sum of all of the moving parts gestate miraculously into one bigger picture. Expert use of pedals and effects are spotted between each song, displaying Mefitis’ accomplished understanding of variance and juxtaposition, as surprises like pianos and keys creep in every so often sinking you deeper into the ambiance. The vocals keep things shifting and well composed as well, with varying screams of different styles complemented by the previously mentioned twisted choruses.
Raw and blackened aggression meet strangely beautiful yet incredibly haunting in a blend that completely defies genre, some highlights of this are the rhythmic and capering riff at the end of “Grieving the Gestalt” or the space fueled operatic section near the beginning of “Timeward Tribulations”. “Obliterating I” contains excellent use of classic black riffs, eliciting images of a darkened castle that is to be stormed by the wretched masses; “Heretical Heir” continues similar motifs, repeating riffs from the aforementioned track, adding a progressive factor to the album, adding motifs to their sound.
Although it is never directly stated that Mefitis aspired to create a concept album, all of the pieces are there, the entirely grandiose atmosphere envelops the feeling of a journey through the Hellenic underworld, you cannot help but feel as if a story is over arching over the album. “Kollosos I” leads the duo of intermission tracks with an imposing intro, similar to an epic poem of old, being shouted directly into your brain by the rattled voices of undead thralls. The second half “Kollosos II”, displays the full range of Pendath and Vatha’s chops, in a sprawling instrumental that encircles you in all of the madness and chaos of a fiery uprising. It is unfair to even try to pigeon hole the shifting moods and movements of Emberdawn, as listening to the album is adherent to viewing a painting, not a single part can speak to another, it demands to be heard and its grip will strangle your mind long after listening to it.
The CD version of this obscure slab of menacing, chaos are available now on CHAOS RECORDS.
The obsession with obscurity is the metal curse and blessing. On one hand it can lead to fulfillment on an otherworldly level to discover a hidden gem that was lost to the sands of time, and on the other hand it can become a rabid addiction to find the next sound to satisfy the frantic craving. We give in and indulge as much as possible, seeking that next high. Then the next step and major part of the obsession is to then share the coveted find with fellow addicts.
But it’s all subjective. Which is why we have sourced 5 of the most obscure, yet foundational, demos from the backs of our cavernous, filth-covered minds.
The criterion was simple. We chose demos that we believe were either not given adequate praise, represent a key turning point in metal’s history, or were seemingly collectively forgotten by the masses. Of course these are our opinions alone, but if we can shine even the smallest spotlight on these gems then it’s a mission: accomplished. Let the Light shine …
BLOOD SPILL – Demo ’88
When seeking the gestation of chaotic and cruel sounds many metal historians will cite Necrovore’s 1987 demo as the earliest and most extreme example of black/death metal as we know it. While dubbed to death and worth of infinite praise, it isn’t the island that many consider it to be. Fellow Texans Blood Spill would come forth merely a year later with a fear-inducing sound capable of unsettling the hardest headbangers.
Without a title at the time, the 1988 demo would be re-released as Demonic Plague over 30 years later, revealing a world of horror that had been hidden for decades. Lead by the inhuman screeches of Bloody Freddy Rodriguez, these Texan teenagers managed to evoke a sound that gave Sarcofago, Pentagram (Chile), and Morbid Angel a run for their money. The band literally cites that only Possessed, Sodom, Bathory, and Death were known to them at the time, and it shows! Blood Spill wrote absurdly long songs for the medium and the age they were working in, simply providing us now with more time to listen to a bygone age.
The creeping darkness achieved on this angular tape further enforces the idea that chaotic black/death metal was a global phenomenon, regardless of place and connection. Blood Spill’s demo stands as an 80’s time capsule and reveals another layer to black and death metal’s incubation. The spores were dispersed by the original masters and the putrid results took root.
The days of youthful recklessness working in a near solipsistic bubble – An almost impossibility in our internet age.
DECAPITATED – Cemeteral Gardens
Perhaps because of their continual foray in to a different “scene” of death metal, perhaps because we here at Covenant have no taste and are so wildly off the mark, perhaps because it came out in the deadzone of the mid 90s, or perhaps (and most likely) because simply not enough people have heard it. Decapitated‘s utterly mind-blowing Cemeteral Gardens is one of the most underappreciated releases in death metal.
Featuring a sound that is nothing like the whirlwind madness of Winds Of Creation, and certainly nothing like the modern style of razor-sharp (albeit a dull razor…) tech-death that they graduated to later, this demo is a charnel house of morbid and macabre riffs and ideas that would not be out of place in early Entombed, Dismember, Nihilist, nor Carnage, neither would it they be remotely foreign on the records of similarly boundary-pushing-yet-old-school-minded luminaries of today like Obliteration, Taphos, Excoriate, or Necrot.
Constantly showing hints of the potent and skilled musicians they would become, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that when this demo dropped, the two founding members, Vogg and Vitek, were 16 and 13 respectively. It’s a staggering fact that moves the digestion of the execution of this demo from impressive in to the realms of the otherworldly.
Nothing we can say is going to possibly touch just how phenomenal this release is, as music will always be higher than words, so stop reading, shut the fuck up, press play, and start wondering why this demo does not get the same adoration as Feasting The Beast or Abominations Of Desolation.
SLAUGHTER LORD – Taste of Blood
We’re coming to a consensus that the phenomenon of extreme metal organically grew concurrently across the globe. What was this spark of inspiration that drove teenage maniacs during the 80’s into a hyper rage of chaos? It’s like a collective switch was thrown that drove harder guitars, faster drums, thicker productions, and more vicious sounds.
If you know the history of Australia’s metal scene, then you know it’s one of extremes. Always feral, always uncompromising, and always full fucking speed. It’s a signature madness that fueled the sounds of bands like Bestial Warlust, Vomitor, Destroyer 666, Gospel of the Horns, Abominator, Destruktor, and several others. Somewhere between “blackthrash”, “metal of death”, and “war metal” is the Aussie sound. And it can be argued that this is where it all truly began …
Slaughter Lord‘s Taste for Blood demo came screaming into the Earth in 1986 somewhere on the savage streets of Sidney, Australia. With a dense impenetrability balanced out by a genuinely nasty production, this was a tape that managed to harness the most wretched elements in the metalhead’s arsenal at the time. Where the path was laid by Bathory and the Teutonic thrashers’ first albums, the young Aussie demons pushed the sound harder and faster. Devious guitar tones, blast beats, intricate passages, and hellish vocals. And, while the demo is easily considered a thrash classic, it is clear that the music was deeply wading into the death metal and black metal territory, possibly unknowingly.
The music of Slaughter Lord would come to the popular consciousness through Invictus Production’s first catalog release. The Thrash ‘til Death compilation gathered material recorded between 86’ and 87’, and presented the world with a refined, sharper sound from the virtually unknown band. The label took tracks from the first demo and expanded it to practically a full album release, with a slick mastering job that brought fresh life into the ancient hymns. It stood as further proof that no matter which corner of the globe, there was a band of demonic maniacs scheming pure hell that must have come from a sadistic collective unconsciousness.
CREMATION – Welcome
Anyone familiar with the state of modern black metal is aware of the name Revenge. Canada’s most bestial band has taken a long and complex road from obscure filth mongers and graveyard dwellers to the juggernaut force they are today. The past is ever alive in their sound, but the band itself is infused with the past work from potent acts like Conqueror, Sacramentary Abolishment, and Cremation. Not much is known about J. Read’s first band, nor of its earliest days outside of the most sickening sounds conjured on a spread of technical, malevolent, and vile demos. And even then, we still only know so much.
In 2009, Nuclear War Now! Productions released the Black Death Cult compilation of Cremation’s most hideous demos. This harrowing collection included the gut wrenching trinity of Pire Gah Hoath Raclir Od Ialpor (’93), Hail the Rise of Med Pe Gal (’94), and The Flames of an Elite Age (’95). But namely absent from this set was the very first demo, 1992’s Welcome. While prior to this release most of these songs were relegated to the darkest fringes of file sharing sites and services, though still attainable. However, the tracks off of the inaugural demo were practically thrown into the abyss of time itself. Rarely heard from at all.
If you are lucky enough to have heard Welcome, then you know how tragic it is that this piece of Canadian metal history has been swept aside. What lies on this filthy tape could have stood shoulder to shoulder with the output coming from the swamps of Florida, the gutters of New York, and the gloom of Birmingham at the time. You will discover that it is an old school American death metal and early British grindcore sound that some of the most infamous black metal villains cut their teeth upon.
While most likely unknown outside of Western Canadian circles and utter Ross Bay fanaticism, the Welcome demo represents a band in their infancy who are capable of greatness. With the level of mastery on display here, it is little wonder that on their subsequent demos Cremation achieved levels of extremity almost never matched again. Their descent into truly sickening and crepuscular territory made them the thing of legends. Although, their origins still deserve a place out of the shadows of neglect, even if only among the most fanatical black/death metal maniacs.
CYNIC – Demo 1991
Cynic‘s 1991 demo represents an interesting and singular time in the band’s discography. Shedding the thrash metal sound of the their first four demos, this release saw the band move on to a sound- or perhaps through a sound- that was completely its own. Far too harsh to draw distinct connections to 1993’s Focus (despite sharing 2 of the same songs), and far too merciless to be recognizable as the band that released the interesting, but far less mature demos just some years earlier, Demo 1991 genuinely showcases a moment in death metal’s development where the rules were not yet set in stone, and the ethics were still being invented.
At points sounding like a more violent version of Death, and others not unlike the early Montreal death metal scene or the early Deicide releases, the release features a primitive production to juxtapose the wild technicality, that wouldn’t be out of a place on a Portal or modern black/death metal release. While the release has a very well executed remaster available on YouTube that is worth checking out for those already familiar, it is the surprising savagery and shocking bestial sound of the original that lends it a unique and sinister charm.
As the barrage of off-kilter and impossible riffs rain down, it’s the moments of contrast like the tiny hints of vocoder vocals (a sign of things to come), the brief acoustic instrumentation, and disgustingly accurate guitar solos that destroy any semblance of listening to any one cohesive thing. The solos would still be considered of the highest standard on a modern release, and the level of brutality and atmosphere on par with anything being dished out now. It is because of this that this demo remains an obscure classic.
Year over year, the endless stream of incredible releases seems to increase exponentially. This output has grown from a manageable list of records to check out and eventually buy, to an impenetrable living force that no one in their right mind could ever hope to keep up with. Easy to miss something. This is why we present our readers with Obscuritæ. Consider it our “in case you missed it” article series to shine an ascending light upon the dark recesses of forgotten gems. New, old, contemporary, ancient: there are demos, EPs, splits, and albums that seemingly everyone missed out on, under-appreciated, or just didn’t receive the sufficient hype they so greatly deserved. We’re here to fill you in … because you probably are missing out.
Early 2017 saw a relatively unnoticed and objectively obscure black metal demo release on the requisite cassette format, containing tracks I, II, IV, and V, from a relatively unknown origin. With its members concealed and the source of this metaphysical scourge being hinted at solely by its French origins, the only dissemination came through US based and internationally represented underground label, Caligari Records. The dark reverie of Amnutseba was left unrestrained from the context of its creators to besiege the mind with portentous gloom, as one descends into the shadows of their grasp.
Another year and another mysterious demo later, Iron Bonehead Productions put forth a compilation of both “demos” I and II from this French enigma, spanning tracks I-VI. Though, as indicated, one can hardly consider either to be of demo quality, other than perhaps the mix and master, rather than that of a complete and well arranged EP or even album quality composition. Amnutseba – with writing and execution that are generally not as complex or exactly equivalent – allude to some of the disjointed sounds, atmospheres, and foundational tendencies emanating from the smoldering ashes of Aosoth or of Deathspell Omega. Combine that with the influence of the precursor waves of black metal and the psychedelically coloured black metal of bands such as Negative Plane and you have entered a realm that is on the same atmospherically dark and disjointed wavelength. Yet, somehow keenly aware of traditions of waves past, the listener can follow their sound from its Norwegian origins to the abstract outer-reaches of current avant-garde black metal.
In the context of two separate demos, it has one wondering how these ethereal, yet cerebral, compositions were conceived and how they were intended to be released, if there was such an intent to begin with. Each song stands on its own, and each demo has found its own voice. But it’s not until experienced in their final order on this compiled release that they truly take the form of a complete work, rather than a somewhat constrained idea expressed on so-called “demos.”
For those who remain rooted in black metal no further than the grey area following the second wave in the mid 90s and find the current avant-garde black metal that emerged from the French scene in the late 90s to be taken to an indigestible extreme, yet still yearn for some semblance of the off-kilter riffing and atmosphere influenced from bands like Portal and the obvious comparisons to their French counterparts, this isn’t a release to be overlooked. Despite being a rearrangement of six songs over the course of their initial Demos I and II, Amnutseba’s abstractly transmuted shroud of caliginous, in its final compilation form, sits firmly among the best releases of 2018. With its lyrical intent appropriately constrained, this demo compilation is the perfect vessel to send you to the void of your agonizing self-inflicted psychological demise.