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Relapse's Singles Series compilations are an interesting and commendable idea. Re-releasing old, hard to get singles from their vault, as compilations with some thought given to fitting the right bands together, and packaging them in an affordable and even somewhat credible looking covers, is both an excellent cash-grab and a nice favour to fans of the bands, especially the younger ones who never had an opportunity to get the originals. This is the Vol. 4 of the series, and the contents straddle the frontier between death and grind, leaning more towards the death metal side of the deal.
The first band, Exit-13, is represented by their 1991 single/EP Spare the Wrench, Surrender the Earth. The release is a very mixed bag. Two tracks are rather pure death metal, old-schoolish, very guitar-heavy and medium-paced, but the third track, "Societally Provoked Genocidal Comtemplation" first turns to grind, then into a longish jazzy interlude, and the final song, "Only Hypocrisy Prohibits Legality", has a grindish mania to it. The sound and production vary, with the first tracks being so heavy on the crunching guitar that the drums sound like those programmed into an 80s Wal-Mart 50-buck Casio synth. The latter pair has a more clearly defined whole. There are short oddball sections on the tracks, but they do not steal the heaviness, only adding to the character of the songs.
Phobia's All That Remains EP from 1992 is the most grinding piece on the compilation. The enjoyably rabid death-grinding has a few spots with riffs that would fit a today's death-thrash band, and while the whole might be a bit boring if listened to several times, a four-song allotment is a perfect dosage of this. The hardcorish throat growls have a huge elevator-shaft echo to them, but surprisingly, they fit the music very well. Perhaps the weakest offering on the Vol. 4, but not bad by any means.
Goreaphobia's contribution consists of the Omen of Masochism single from 1991, and suddenly we are in the realm of rather pure death metal. Plenty of tempo changes, some very fast parts, technicality on par with the best bands of 1991, and some excellent leads. The production has a muddy quality to it, but this kind of death metal works well in lo-fi format, and since everything, including the nice basswork, is clearly audible with minimal effort on the listener's part, the level of clarity is nearly perfect. Omen of Masochism is the best offering on this compilation, and the most important detail to lament is the bittersweet shortness of the meagre two-tracks single. The original is definitely worth hunting for.
Amorphis' S/T single's two tracks are the last part on the compilation, and the pure Amorphis material is limited to the latter of the two: the first one is an Abhorrence cover, and much angrier than any song ever written under the Amorphis moniker. Tomi Koivusaari's membership in Abhorrence is the connecting piece of the puzzle between the two bands. The second track, "Misery Path", is already recognizable as an Amorphis track, and found its way to both Privilege of Evil and Karelian Isthmus. It has the "Amorphis atmosphere", and progresses more leisurely in its slower tempo. Very good work, overall, but not quite on the level of the Goreaphobia tracks.
This compilation is an interesting and economical way to get to know a few old and rare singles and EPs. What's more, it's very enjoyable despite its contrived nature. The bands fit together, and the track order progresses from metallic grind to Amorphisian mildly progressive death metal in a logical and enjoyable process. Due to the nature of the compilation, the contributions are of perfect length for each band, and, of course, for the single and EP lovers.
It could be claimed that while every band on the comp is enjoyable, and while there are some parts that might turn numbing on repeated listens, the whole is indeed more than a sum of its parts. The historical aspect adds to the charm, of course, but there's also a surprising balance between the parts of the collection. Likable, and definitely worth getting both for the historical value and for simple listening experience. Buy this.