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Lots of extreme Dutch metal bands came out by the early-90’s, a movement which already emerged by the late 80’s however, started and led by Pestilence, who were definitely a highly influential respected group in their home country. Generally, it wasn’t until the 90’s arrived when all those acts eventually put out some records and found their own sound: Dissect’s Swallow Swouming Mass, Polluted Inheritance’s Ecocide, Delirium’s Zzooouhh or Nocturn’s Estranged Dimensions, for instance. Asphyx as well was part of that rich scene, one of the most acclaimed and popular icons, which managed to prevail among the many rivals and generic clones of a subgenre that became more popular than ever on a period of uncertainty for mainstream metal. Van Drunen & co. were firmly determined to make a difference from the rest, they inevitably embraced those mandatory elements death metal couldn’t do without, yet they intended to offer something distinctive and innovative by giving their music much more weight and heaviness than most of their compatriots, which is what Last One On Earth is mostly about.
Asphyx materialize their predilection for slow sequences and heavy riffs from the very beginning, on both “The Krusher” and “Ms. Bismarck”, compositions predominantly based on quiet rhythms, though occasionally presenting some fast-paced sections, obeying the usual song-structure variety so characteristic on the subgenre. So they focus on those low-tuned weighty guitar lines generally, intended to provide their music of great presence and cadence, making it sound obscure certainly. However, results ain’t completely satisfactory as most of those riffs reveal no transcendental progression or variation during the titles, it becomes evident these Dutch’s technical level is far from impressive – they seem unable to give their music proper continuity and solidity. Their formulas nearly work out on the title-track and “The Incarnation Of Lust”, for a moment certain efficiency and stability is achieved, the combination of speed and quieter parts reach remarkable versatility and musical heterogeneity – though some handicaps soon reappear: the uniformity and absence of inventiveness of riffs and the unfocused development of structures. It doesn’t get any better when Van Drunen & his team decide to speed up the tempos, check out “Serenade In Lead”, which starts with some total headbanging thrashy riffing, getting clumsy and scruffy shortly afterwards, featuring a truly chaotic configuration that leads nowhere. Fragility of guitar lines is undoubtedly the most critical weak spot of the record, becoming scandalously poor and dumb on some series of “Streams Of Ancient Wisdom”, defined by absurd single-note exhausting riffs that elude any kind of variation in general, persisting annoyingly without sense – those cheesy sound effects definitely are unnerving too. More of those mediocre lines can be found on “Food For The Ignorant”, though that number puts bigger attention on dynamism and loose tempos, so at least there’s some extra energy and vigor avoiding quietness and tediousness. When you less expect it, a moment of clarity is revealed on the final homonym cut, which unexpectedly brings notable consistency and competence, including an incredibly abrasive orgy or riffs and well-constructed diverse structures.
Last One On Earth is rather an uninspired record but it’s admirable the determination these guys show to incorporate something different to the usual death metal formulas, accenting the presence of slow crushing sections, which determine the nature of the music predominantly – fast tempos seem to be an extra to the reigning slowness, not particularly indispensable to design most passages. It worked out for Reifert & co. on their second album but Asphyx didn’t succeed. Yeah, some of these guitar lines are certainly devastating and incendiary, not developed effectively enough to give the music adequate continuity and sense, on other hand. A majority of riffs is stuck on the same notes without evolving into necessary alterations. Structures are lacking direction too often, getting too repetitive and unoriginal even though some sudden tempo shifts are added. So this methodology shows evident signs of exhaustion and absence of ideas, the group’s technical level is limited as well, I insist. Mr. Van Drunen didn’t surround himself with peculiarly unique musicians – yet his concept pushes away complication and difficulty, eluding to experiment or explore alternative patterns unlike his old ex-pals by that time. The material is so scruffy and straight-forward, deprived of sophistication and excellence displayed by other subgenre titans…intentionally! Actually these Dutch prefer to put their attention on the weight of the music and its intensity, offering no musically advanced effort. Simplicity dominates, arrangements are far from elaborated or immaculate, Martin’s voice is so raspy, dirty and occasionally sloppy – though there’s attitude and motivation which sometimes aren’t enough to make good music. And naturally, that terribly noisy production & mix ain’t doing any good to this poorly-constructed stuff either…
Asphyx weren’t the most skilled or talented but they had potential to make something better than this for sure, the final composition speaks for itself, they simply needed to modify their perspective to let ideas come out naturally and stop concentrating on weighty sections that much because it was completely necessary to offer something peculiar and unique that would make a difference to not become obsolete, specially when so many serious rivals were reaching next level with astonishing technique and refinement. This isn’t a total catastrophe; you’ll find some cool riff, harsh vocals or headbanging fast part on these songs, though meaning an exception among predominant mediocrity.
Last One on Earth immediately trumps its predecessor by effectively face-planting it into war-torn concrete and then stamping on it repeatedly while beating on its own chest. Admittedly, there is still a bleed-through of somewhat uninteresting riffing progressions, and this is not a record which I rank among the most highly prized gems of that 1987-1993 epoch of 'classic death metal', but it says a lot that it remains my favorite Asphyx record to this day, even more so than efforts like Death...the Brutal Way or Deathhammer which have transplanted its aggressive formula into the universe of contemporary production standards that, frankly, make a lot of older, low budgeted records sound like you're hearing them through a sewer grate. Granted, my favorite 'Asphyx' albums are called ...of Frost and War and On Divine Winds, but take that as you will, because without the existence of this sophomore (and Bolt Thrower), we wouldn't have gotten those. This was also the final Asphyx album to team up Martin van Drunen, Eric Daniels, and Bog Bagchus...all would be a part of the lineup in the future, and reunite for the Grand Supreme Blood Court debut, but Last One on Earth really marks the end of that 'classic' tenure and deserves some respect.
Not that it can't cultivate that dignity through its musical value alone, for where The Rack often presented some rather dry, lackluster compositional scenarios, Last One on Earth is simply more exciting and more coherent an experience, on which the instruments and vocals gel together far better. Ron van Pol's bass lines are far more caustic and fuzzy, potent enough to drive home the lyrical themes and stand up to the rhythm guitar tone which once dominated them a bit much on the debut. Speaking of which, Daniels doesn't detract from any of the crunch of the prior effort, but here the chords really club the listener in the gut, and the Death style tremolo riffing sequences in tunes like "M.S. Bismarck" help remind one why they were so cool in the 80s. Drums still retain a lot of that rock stability, with lurching and minimalistic grooves to accompany the death/doom progressions that litter the landscape, but again they seem mixed a little better in balance with the other performances, and in union the three players give off an impression of a rusted tank of veterans just trying to win a battle by any ugly means necessary. Van Drunen's vocals aren't a hell of a lot different than Consuming Impulse or The Rack, unless you count that he seems to strain himself into an even more pained and bloody pulp, but really he's got such a tremendous presence anywhere that he doesn't exactly need to change up what he's doing. Very peculiar when you consider that there was some disconnect among the band members by this time. I'm not sure if he was even with the other guys when recording it, but somehow the record is completely cohesive despite that.
When it comes down to the riffing alone, this isn't the most exemplary or intricate in terms of construction or constitution, and yet it's clearly more passionate in execution than the debut, which felt a little haphazard and lazy in places. There are some brutally barebones death/doom groove patterns here in tunes like "The Krusher" which I find somewhat boring today, and also felt underwhelmed by when I was 18 and this was released. But it's really about perspective. Some people might find ghost stories frightening, or being in the dark spooky, or being jumped by a 90 lbs-when-soaking-wet schizoid crack addict intimidating, but to others among us, that's Thursday. That's lunch. Hell, if Last One on Earth had been one of my first death metal albums, I might have found it fresher and more menacing upon listening, but having already been into the genre when records like Leprosy and Realm of Chaos arrived I can't say it matches up. There's no creepiness in the processions of notes to rival the former, and as an example of a paean to desolate fields of conquest and genocide, the latter HAS no equal. Mental Funeral had really done what this record does better the year before. So, while the Asphyx sophomore is clearly comparable to such company, it just doesn't possess the stickiest riffs or atmosphere to keep me addicted. But it does fucking try, and that's why if you were to approach and ask me to opine on the career of these Dutchmen, I'd pass you this CD and then inquire you to tell me.
I wouldn't want to pigeonhole Last One on Earth entirely into that 'war metal' suburb of the death genre, because not all the lyrics here revolve around that specific subject matter, for instance "Food for the Ignorant" seems to expand upon the Axel Hermann cover artwork; but clearly tunes like "M.S. Bismarck" "Asphyx (Forgotten War") and "Serenade in Lead" deal in the specifics of conflicts and/or gunfire rampages, and this as a whole (along with Bolt Thrower) was an influence further fleshed out in Hail of Bullets, or other lesser known bands like Invasion. So there is some significance to its position in extreme metal history, beyond the fact that it's a pretty good time if you want to throw your mind away for a few minutes and just revel in the roiling riffs, doomed interludes, and ghoulish vocalizations that define pieces like "Streams of Ancient Wisdom" and "The Incarnation of Lust". If I break it down much further, the notes only occasionally move in compelling directions, perhaps too evenly dispersed between the slower and faster content, with no unexpected choices ever happening by even 1992 standards. That said, some albums are not meant to revolutionize the world, merely to catalyze its transformation into inevitable ash. Last One on Earth, if the name doesn't already give it away, belongs to that camp. Not as important to me as its peers of the time (Testimony of the Ancients, Cross the Styx, Shadows, Mindloss, etc), but you could do a lot worse than lounge out in its measured violence.
Just when you thought that Asphyx couldn't get any better - think how great "Embrace the Death" and "The Rack" were - they recorded something like "Last One On Earth" and left me speechless. This could be their best album in entire discography (although the impressive comeback LP, "Death the Brutal Way" dethroned it recently!!)! Impossible, you say? Of course everyone may have his own opinion, but to me this third album is the ultimate asphyxiation! Already the front cover makes me love this LP, definitely it's one of the best graphics in the history of death metal, probably also one of the most blasphemous ones. Decaying zombie priest, with this huge cross on his neck... and jesus weeping in agony... Come on, I can see Deicide envying.
The history says that the album could have been much different as it is, since Martin van Drunen recorded his vocals without knowing that the rest of the band wanted someone else (Ron van Pol) to sing and write the lyrics for the album. It's so weird, as van Drunen entered the studio, recorded all the vocals and left, without even seeing anyone else from the band! Luckily rest of the Asphyx (Daniels and Bagchus) decided to keep all the parts done by Martin... Anyone wonders what this album would be like if Ron van Pol recorded everything? Would it be better? I sincerely doubt that. Van Drunen has impressive voice, as always raw and screaming like maniac, what fits well to the Asphyx music. And I may not like all his lyrics, but I have to admit, I think he was one of the best death metal growlers at the time.
What do I like best about "Last One on Earth"? Well, let's be honest, musically this album doesn't bring anything new into the explored Asphyx style. The band already showed all their capabilities on the previous LPs and so this third album doesn't differ stylistically from them at all (maybe is bit faster, but that's it). But its strength lays in composing some of the best songs in band's career. It's all played in mid paced tempos mostly, but the feeling and aggression in these riffs are incredible. This is the kind of death metal I love; not overly complicated nor too melodic, not too complex or whatever, but music, which brings certain moods in the first place - be it something very dark, obscure, morbid or satanic or something, where you can smell the rotten stench floating around... Anyway, death metal with feelings, not mechanical bullshit. Asphyx is great at playing something like that, they may be the masters of this shit. And "Last One on Earth" stands as one of the best death metal albums in the history of the music, if we speak about the old school style.
To begin the album with such a track as "M.S. Bismarck", the success is guaranteed. I fuckin enjoy this song a lot, with this killer mid paced riff that opens it. This song is one fuckin moshpit killer, with the tempo and aggression uprising more and more; until that doomy part, where you still bang your head, as it also brings so much energy. Not bad as for the song about submarine he, he! Another favourite track of mine from side A of the vinyl is the title song. It is fuckin brilliant. Much slower than the "submarine anthem", it is so massive and heavy that the walls crack. And when at the end I hear this slow riff with mournful keyboards in the background, I get thrills like hardly ever. Pure masterpiece. And finally Eric Daniels plays some of his fantastic guitar leads here; I though he forgot how to do it! "The Krusher" is also all about the slow, brutal riffing, only at the end the song speeds up a bit. Surely this version of "The Krusher" sounds better than the one from "Crush the Cenotaph" EP. Oh, and if you're in need for some faster, more intense playing, "Serenade in Lead" is a pure slaughter, which doesn't slow down even for a second.
Side B brings attention with "Streams of Ancient Wisdom" especially. This is the old song originally from the "Mutilating Process" (1990) and also from "Embrace the Death" album. These archaic sounds still shred to pieces and even though I may prefer the other versions of this song, the one from "Last One On Earth" also kills. Another brilliant song from this side the vinyl is "Asphyx (Forgotten War)". Man, this is just classic Asphyx song, with the obscure riffs, either slow and heavy or mid paced and more violent... But the morbid atmosphere is there. From the other tracks, "Food For the Ignorants" is similar to "Serenade In Lead", just straight forward and relentless riffing, with only one slightly slower part in the middle, which is one god damn crushing headbanging riff.
So, as you see, Asphyx again delivered some great death metal anthems and the quality of their material didn't disappoint. Even though I really love "The Rack", "Last One On Earth" has one thing that makes this album a winner. It's the production; Asphyx went to different studio, Harrows in Holland and definitely got better, more aggressive sound than the one from Woodhouse. I may understand that to some this music may sound too primitive or too slow, but this is death metal I like. Asphyx rules and so does "Last One On Earth".
Through heavy rythms, crushing headbanging melodies, Asphyx brought us here a masterpiece. Truly it stands as on of death metals best, the kind that leaves tthe listener wandering what kind of maniacs conjured this masterpiece. Well the Netherlands does seem like it would be a place to inspire many a metal freak, and a yes the death freaks were inspired. Last One on Earth portrays exactly what the title stands for, this is death metal at its heaviest, pushed beyond the sonic boundaries of sound. Staying true to the ancient death metal sound, this is no avant-garde over the top techinical death metal, no sillyness here folks. Only pure apocalyptic death.
Starting of with MS Bismark, the music rolls into heavy rythms of thrashing and headbanging. All the while the listener waits patiently at whats to come next. You are then invited into Martin Van Drunens lyrical destruction, and can this man horribly sing, and thats a good thing in the world of death metal. It seems obvious he took his lessons from Mr. Becerra, and dare I say surpassing his vocal shrieks. I first came across Martin Van Drunen is Pestilence's Malleus Malleficarum, another gem, a thrashing album of sorts. But it is in this album that Mr Drunen delivered his overall vocal performance. To no let down the other musicians they also contributed to this crushing sound. The guitars are the center to this album, doomy and thrashy, they bulid ambience around the drums and Martins hellish howls. Note the crushing riffs to the Last One on Earth, no need for blasts beats or mid tempo beats, the riffs are what make this song heavy. To say this is one of my death metal favs, the atmosphere is jusy sick, memorable riffs all around, two horns up, also check out Celtic Frosts " Dawn of Meggido".
If you look for total destruction in your death metal you cant go wrong with Asphyx. Here is a gem that needs a bit more attention. Definately wont let down, only in ruin, post apocalyptic death metal!
On ‘Last One On Earth ’ Asphyx corrected two of the three major fuck-ups that had earlier damaged ‘The Rack’. First of all the production was (finally!) mega mighty. Enormously wide and thick layers of guitars but without damaging the other instruments this time. The drums finally sounded good. The band had clearly learned from earlier mistakes.
Same goes for the second improvement: more up tempo songs and sections make this album far less monotone and more dynamic than ‘The Rack’. The band was clearly more focussed on releasing an album not only featuring good individual songs but staying interesting as a whole from start till finish as well. And what a way it did end! ‘Asphyx (Forgotten War)’ is one of the best songs on the album. Hell, it’s one of the best in their career. Heavy, dynamic, it had everything an Asphyx fan could wish for. Also the old EP classic ‘Streams Of Ancient Wisdom’ was re-recorded for this album.
‘The Last One On Earth’ saw the band introducing vocalist/bassist Ron van Pol but Van Drunen’s vocals were kept. Van Drunen however sounds rather different than earlier Asphyx and Pestilence releases. His vocals have a higher pitch than normal yet I find these vocals rather suiting, giving contrast to the ultra heavy guitars. Van Drunen actually sounded more ‘in touch’ with the band and especially the atmosphere of the music instead of just grunting some lyrics over an already recorded album. The weird thing being that the band had already decided to fire him when he was recording. But he does a more than adequate job here, simply shattering what he had done on The Rack.
“Last One on Earth” is a solid album of death-doom metal. On vocals, legendary Martin Van Drunen delivers his trademark low deep growl, with the occasional high-pitched scream. Asphyx music weaves in and out between slow dense rhythms, heavy as anything, and then braking into dense bursts of pure death metal.
Released in 1992, “Last One on Earth” would be the third and last time Martin Van Drunen recorded with Asphyx, the first of course being 1991’s “The Rack” and the 1992 ep "Crush The Cenotaph". Even though both albums sound very similar, this album has a more violent and aggressive sound in most of its songs. Asphyx music is not intricate and fancy, no 100 mile per hour double drum blasts, no elaborate guitar solos or sophisticated bass patterns. Asphyx is the true definition of “old school death metal”. The music is simple, yet the riffs and over all rhythms all come together to form an evil and raw sound.
The first four tracks of the album “M.S. Bismarck”, “The Krusher”, “Serenade in Lead” and “Last One on Earth” follow the formula of starting with a slow melody, introduce Martins growl with a scream and then step up the tempo until it becomes death metal, Van Drunens voice terrifying the listener the whole time.
Track number 6, “Streams of Ancient Wisdom” is a bonus for the true Asphyx fanatic. This song was first released with the mystical Theo Loomans on vocals in 1989 in a single called “Mutilating Process”, this track can also be heard with Theo on vocals in the “Embrace the Death” album. Here we get to hear Van Drunen have a crack at it, and even though the brutality of the original song would be hard to recreate by any vocalist, Martin pulls it off. I am not sure if the exact same lyrics are used in both versions, it is well known that Martin refused to sing many of Theo’s original lyrics, calling them very obscure and mysterious.
The album closes with two brutal death metal tracks, “Food for the Ignorant” and “Asphyx (Forgotten War)” they are the heaviest tracks in the album and really finish the album of brilliantly. This album is a must for every single death metal fan, the bands ability to churn out riff after riff of head banging proportions really amazes me and will make you yearn for the death metal of the early 90’s!