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Most New Englanders get their rectums sore when one of their favorite athletes gets traded away to a rival team, but for myself, the hemorrhoids begin to flare up when an idolized metal musician is sent off to another 'franchise'. When that icon is my favorite death metal vocalist of all time, Martin van Drunen, then the situation goes critical, and there is no amount of Preparation H that can balm it. As you can imagine, that means I was not a very fair chap to Asphyx's full-length debut when it first arrived. Oh, I bought it immediately...it was a death metal tape after all and there was a time when I had to have ALL of THOSE, and could actually afford them, since they were scarce. I'm not even sure I was aware that van Drunen was on this until I popped it into my deck, only to gasp in revulsion that his filthy and menacing presence was being paired up with a set of riffs that simply did not deserve it! Comparing Testimony of the Ancients to this album...well...we all know who got the best of that deal. So, shortly after, The Rack got 'racked' with all the other middling material of 1991 that I wasn't feeling, and for a long time I got on fine ignoring it.
Of course, I was being a bit of a cunt, and the Asphyx debut is not all that bad...it's really a decent death metal outing with a large wake of influence we're still hearing today, but not so worthy of its cult status as others in its class. It's neither as gruesome as Autopsy's Severed Survival nor impenetrably subterranean and evil as Incantation's Onward to Golgotha, two records that, along with this one, created a sort of unholy trilogy of sediment upon which much of today's retro cavern core rests. Nor is it quite so impressive as first offerings of other Dutch bands like Gorefest or Sinister, both more brutal and entertaining...certainly The Rack is not within reach of Malleus Maleficarum or Consuming Impulse, two of my favorite albums of all time in any genre. While they were unquestionably inspired by the Florida stuff, Asphyx lacked the capacity for sinister, infectious riffing you'd find on Scream Bloody Gore, Leprosy, Altars of Madness or Cause of Death. Lastly, though Asphyx cultivated a bit of a death/doom reputation here (not nearly so much as on some of their later efforts), there is an almost unanimous lack of effective, brooding atmosphere and sadness beyond a few of the sparse leads and melodies, for it to be placed in the company of Lost Paradise, As the Flower Withers, or the raw and influential Into Darkness by New York's Winter. Not that I myself love all the gloom cookies in that last batch equally, but The Rack is just not as emphatically depressing.
No, best to think of this as a decidedly average set of death metal riffs, benefiting from an ace vokillist, that happened to be released in the right place and time that those future generations on the internet would worship it by chronological proximity to the birth of the genre. It was one of the earlier Century Media offerings, along with Tiamat's sophomore The Astral Sleep (which is also a better record), released in a period when that label had yet to become a household name among the metal crowd, but still managed to get it out in stores here in the States; they might not have been heavily promoted, but Asphyx was 'available' to purchase, or to check out, and I think that generated some momentum other death metal antiquities were unable to partake in. These days, it seems almost as if this was one of those records that you 'automatically' have to fiend for if you're a Legit Death Metal Person of Taste, a sentiment that is rubbish and not even hinging on truth, but one that is unfortunately commonplace for a lot of these 1990-1993 releases that almost no one gave a shit about when they first dropped, including yours truly who bought them all like a kid in a candy store. That's not to say its historically insignificant...for example, it's one of the first cases of a death metal musician finding success with a second band (along with Chris Reifert's transition from Scream Bloody Gore to Autopsy); the logo and H.R. Giger-like artwork by Axel Hermann are undoubtedly iconic.
The Rack is produced with a raw and grating guitar tone against a relatively spiffy drum mix that doesn't confer much power to the experience as a whole, and even van Drunen seems complacent to the crunch of the riffing, where in Pestilence he was helming some of the most brilliant, frightening and creative guitar progressions that either thrash or death metal ever produced (to this day). The pacing on the album ranges from slower, 'doom' chord constructions to rabid triplet chugging, and I found some of the most aggressively flooded passages to remind me quite a lot of Obituary's faster material, or the dense tone of the guitar in general; though John Tardy's ghastly voice seems a better fit for this than Martin. Asphyx also turns out a number of more musically involved grooves at a 'happier' pace, but what all of the rhythm guitars have in common is that they're not terribly memorable... often reduced to just grinding white noise during some of the vocal lines. Think Severed Survival or Mental Funeral if they were a little less catchy and grotesque, with a few of Death's old tremolo picked patterns modified to seem more boring, and you are in the ballpark of how this sounds. The one caveat to the middling of the songwriting is that the atmospheric leads really stand out so much by default...the listener's becomes so accustomed to not hearing anything interesting, just a lot of abusive and crunching riffs that even your cat could play with minimal instruction.
'But it's so heavy, maaaaan.' Yeah, yeah, I get it, but no, when Black Sabbath did these doomier, simplistic riffs it was heavy (and revolutionary). When Autopsy did this it was carnal. When Obituary did it, I kept checking my closet at night, and a close eye on the manhole cover outside. When Asphyx does it, the notes just do not fall into patterns that are in any way remarkable or creative ("Pages in Blood" has what I believe to be the most entertaining chord placement on the disc). Not unlike Cancer's debut To the Gory End: passable, but all around unimpressive. I might dub The Rack an 'idealess' example of old death metal, and I would not be incorrect, but I think the record is saved by its dispassionate ugliness and the few spires of melodic grace which erupt from the growling turmoil of van Drunen and Eric Daniels in tandem, in tunes like "Evocation". I unfortunately cannot say much for the bass playing...it was never the focal point of Pestilence either, but at least it's present enough that it balances out Martin's contributions against the other instruments. A subtle pump easily subdued by the sustained fuzz in the rhythm guitar, but audible. As for the drums, one might say they suffer from the same ills on a lot of other, older death metal recordings...this was not a point at which everyone had jumped onto the Slayer/Dark Angel extreme drumming train, so this is primarily simplistic, rock based grooves that fit the slower moments but don't necessarily pick up much in intensity during faster sections. The kicks, toms and cymbals all sound really dry.
My appreciation for The Rack has admittedly waxed in time, from bland disregard to general acceptance, and I can occasionally break this out and listen through the whole thing without falling asleep. Largely because you grow an appreciation for the simplicity and authenticity of these times. That said, the production is simply not all that interesting, most of the tunes sound better on stage these days. In a pivotal period in which death metal was still being refined, experimented on, and ramped further towards the inevitable brutality and instrumental mastery, the Asphyx debut is simply not comparative or competitive with much else. The lyrics, which deal with optimistic topics like disease, torture and religion (yes, I know they're all the same thing) are very often stronger than the music. The Rack seems to be bookended by its better material: the 80s sci-fi/ambient intro "The Quest of Absurdity" is a fantastic setup for which there is no real payoff when "Vermin" arrives, and the closing duo of "Pages in Blood" and the sprawling, nine minute title track are the most effective in terms of sounding monstrous and brooding. Otherwise, it's just not that compelling a listen...you get some sparks of atmosphere through the leads, but they're too few and far between. Ultimately, it's 'good', but just barely...a cafeteria steak & cheese as opposed to a rib eye at a four star establishment, and I have to try to force myself to 'forget' where van Drunen had previously appeared. But, hey, it's honest early 90s death metal, from a band that would shortly improve, and if that's enough to salve your bum, you probably don't have one, which makes the prospect of assless chaps that much more...awkward.
First time I've ever heard about Asphyx was in 1992, when I found an article about them in Polish Metal Hammer (the same issue presented also such bands as Grave, Comecon, Autopsy... That was a real death metal feast to read for me). I loved band's logo and photo and discovered they just released an album titled "The Rack". Man, I can't believe it was already 20 years ago! Anyway, I got the album soon after and I must say I haven't enjoyed it as much as I liked Pestilence or Death then he, he. I think it seemed too obscure to me at the time. But now it's all different, the album got better with the passing years and nowadays I consider it to be one of the best and immortal death metal classics of the European scene of early 90's.
The intro that opens the album creates the horror atmosphere immediately and here we are. "Vermin" blasts in with enormous power, at the same time surprising me, as this probably is one of the fastest songs the band has ever composed. Of course it's not as fast as say Morbid Angel, but surely faster and different to the slow and epic "Embrace the Death" LP. And from the first second, I enjoy this song totally. And this is not the only faster tune on the album, as there's also "Wasteland of Terror" and the fast ending in "Pages In Blood".
Yeah, "The Rack" really concentrates on the mid paced or even fast riffing slightly more than its predecessor, "Embrace the Death". But of course here also you'll get hit by massively slow and heavy doom / death riffage, "Diabolical Existence" being the most obvious example, but no wonder, as this song appeared on the previous album under the title "Denying the Goat". It's slow, but how brutal and vulgar, with amazing, harsh vocals of Martin van Drunen. Cult. The same I can say about "The Sickening Dwell", another crushing song that also has been recorded on "Embrace the Death" album first.
Then there's the title song, "The Rack", which starts with riff slowly crawling, like something horrid was coming out of the dark... and man, this is one of the best riffs of the millennium to me!! So simple, but so effective and dark! It's so great that it sticks in the head immediately and won't leave it until I die. And what about the cult of "Pages In Blood"(new version of "Embrace the Death" song from previous LP)? The melodic line in the beginning, combined with crushingly slow, monumental riff, also belongs to the masterpieces in the asphyxiated discography. I like also the fact that it fits so well with "Ode to a Nameless Grave", brilliant doom metal instrumental song, heavy, mournful and dark as hell (oh, listen to that great guitar solo by Eric, what a genius). Side B of the vinyl also contains another old anthem, "The Sickening Dwell". Is there anything more I can ask for?
Martin van Drunen... Well, let's be honest; Theo Loomans did amazing job on "Embrace the Death", vomiting his lyrics in furious way, but Martin is much better. He's got very specific voice, no other growler sounds like he does and that's something I find as incredible. His growls are very raspy and savage, he must have spitted out his lungs while recording the album and what can I say... This may be the best vocal performance he's ever done, although the brilliant comeback album "Death the Brutal Way" is not far behind. His voice completes the morbid atmosphere of the music perfectly.
What else can I write about "The Rack"? It probably isn't the best Asphyx album, but still one that I think is killer and absolutely necessary for every old school collection. Not many LPs will have so many memorable tracks, so amazing and catchy riffs like "The Rack" does. There's only one thing that I don't really like here... It's the front cover. Man, I have the original pressing of the vinyl on the gatefold, but it doesn't matter how many times I was looking at it, I just couldn't get what the hell is that on this picture? Is it some kind of alien creature or what? How should I look at it, from which side...? Fuck knows. I don't like it at all, which is weird, as I like the graphics on all other Asphyx albums. Anyway, don't judge the book by its cover. Everything else about "The Rack" is simply great and the album deserves its cult status like not many others.
Best songs: "The Rack", "Pages In Blood", "The Sickening Dwell"
It’s funny, I was never able to get into Asphyx back in their early heyday. They were just too raw, filthy, and unrelenting for my adolescent ears to comprehend. Decades passed without me even thinking about them. And then — wham! — their reunion record (Death… The Brutal Way) knocked me cold! Perhaps there was more to early Asphyx than I had initially envisioned? I decided to gamble on The Rack making sense to me now, and of course it does.
It's funny too that the things which initially alienated me from this recording are now the things which I cherish most about it: the rotten, dismal guitar tone, the deliberate martial pacing, the scathingly harsh vocal patterns. From the opening imitation Blade Runner synths down to the last eerie notes of the title track, The Rack is a downtrodden, unassuming masterpiece of agony. And quite catchy to boot! After just a few listens, I was humming my favorite riffs, pleased that Asphyx could create a record at once repellent and compelling. Consider the dead drop into "Vermin," few songs have ever taken me so off-guard. Then there's the grating, forced march tempo of the title track, with its sick and twisted Sabbath riff made ugly. Or the alternating off-time thrash and churn of "Evocation," a song as distinct from the previous one as the one after it -- a rare feat in death metal.
There is also an atmosphere of reeking, suffocating gloom permeating whole affair, made clear by the hoarse throat despair of Martin Van Drunen, a man whose voice has always sounded like a carrion call. He's never put in a more tortured performance, though at the price of not being quite as articulate as he is on other recordings. The production overfavors the guitars as well, slathering them so thick as to drown out the other instruments. It is a minor nitpick. The 2006 remaster that I own is clearer and punchier than the original release, opening up the sound and deepening it. I highly recommend it.
In retrospect, The Rack is clearly one of the best death metal records of 1991, though also, quite clearly an anomaly. At the time, an emphasis on speed, skill, and precision was highly favored, qualities of which The Rack has little in common with. Emphasizing atmosphere and deliberation, however, has done the album many favors. There is timeless quality to The Rack that has it sounding fresh almost twenty years after my ears initially rejected it. It also sounds unique when held up against both its peers and contemporaries, few of whom sounded like Asphyx then or now. This is a record I will listen to forever.
Holland was a country that for some inexplicable reason had just oodles of great death/doom around the early 90s (Sempiternal Deathreign, Delirium, Mourning and many others), and Asphyx knew how to dish it out as well as anyone. This album has been praised by many for being so sluggish, sludgy, brutal and crushing, but has also fallen under quite a bit of criticism with the usual "overrated" label. I would join in with the people praising it were it not for one off-putting quality, and that is that they just can't seem to stop with the chugging stop-and-go riffs that sound more like they belong in a Pantera song than this type of music. Really, they'll go on for sections of about 30 seconds of that annoyance, and then completely break off into filthy, ugly, sluggish death/doom played just the way I want it to be. Still, I can tolerate those bits of shit to get to that sweet sweet corn that is the majority of their music.
The production on the album is moderately good, not particularly filthy or muddy (which would be a huge plus, but you can look to their pre-album recordings for that). It isn't annoyingly clean and still allows the filth to flourish. The riffs alternate between mid paced to fast all-out death metal and sections of churning slow doomy rung out chords for the most part, but you'll also get a fair amount of thrashy riffs which are for the most part well written, heavy and interesting. The album also has some noisier and muckier parts to it, such as the noise solo in "The Sickening Dwell". Most of the riffs are more low end and heavy, but they do bring in the high end here and there, breaking off into a lead part and then returning to the heavier rhythm. As mentioned the real let down in the riff department is the dumb little chuggy stop-and-go riffs that are more lame half thrash shit than death or doom metal. The bass is mostly inaudible in the low end flurry of distortion. The drums are adequate but don't expect any creative fills or anything. The vocals are of note, with the singer of death/thrash legends Pestilence in the band. He delivers some great sickening screams just as one would expect.
Asphyx were a part of that huge group of death/doom bands to come out of Holland in the early 90s, and they're certainly the most well known and praised of that scene. They play just as well or better than some of their contemporaries, but once again, those dumb little chugging riffs are a piss off mixed in with otherwise quality death/doom. I'm not sure why this album has got so much flack in the form of negative reviews, other than the dreaded "it's overrated, I must give it a shit review to bring down the percentage" phenomenon. Anyhow, this is some quality death/doom, check it out.
Truthfully, I had not heard of Asphyx until about two years ago, which perhaps is a little late for a death metal listener of eight years. However, having said that, I feel like I haven't missed much upon actually listening to the album in question. It simply doesn't offer as much of a rewarding experience as "Last One on Earth". If I may say so, the aforesaid album is truly magnificent, and receives a prolonged period of headbanging on my part, in recognition of its creativity and brilliance. On the other hand, "The Rack" is not able to hold even a candle to "Last One on Earth", for lack of sturdy songwriting, dynamics and memorability. Granted, “The Rack” was Asphyx's debut, and room for growth was still available; room which was later wisely utilized, as can be heard on "Last One on Earth" and all other subsequent albums.
With "The Rack", Asphyx present themselves as a primitive death metal band with doom/thrash influences. On a side note, I'm not much of a fan of death metal with doom influences, however, since the album in question reminds me of Autopsy, I can attest to being considerably affectionate towards the material (despite my seemingly harsh criticisms). Getting back on track, the general atmosphere of the album reeks of morbidity, desolation and of barren wastelands, where only the dead lie awake in perpetual torment. The agony is indeed exacerbated by Martin Van Drunen's horrifying vocals; a testament to his powerful work done in both Asphyx and Pestilence (another mighty contender to the death metal throne). The malevolent fury in his voice is undeniable and quite frankly speaking, is also one of the most original death metal vocal styles that I have ever had the pleasure of hearing.
The production leaves little to the imagination, since all instruments are well represented, with particular attention paid to the electric guitar. The tone is very raw, gritty, rotten and with a buzz-saw quality. At times, the riffing comes across as choppy and muffled, but I believe this only adds to the album's charm. The riffs are never able to discern themselves from the general creeping/droning fashion in which the band presents its music. This is due to them being of generic quality, almost akin to Massacre's material. However, the latter was able to imbue their riffs with more fervor and done so in a speedy manner, which improved their situation and prevented their songs from becoming stale. However, that is not to say that all the riffs/material found on "The Rack" are entirely mediocre.
I found that tracks such as "Evocation", "Pages in Blood", and even "The Rack", have moments of ingenuity that can be later found in abundance on "Last One on Earth". The other tracks have their moments, but at times, they came across as being directionless with a jigsaw-puzzle approach to riff phrasing. Cohesion and natural flow seemed to be stunted during certain parts of some tracks, however, it can still be forgiven, as "The Rack" was and is just a debut album. Their songwriting abilities improved vastly on "Last One on Earth", which I would recommend tenfold over "The Rack". Still, if anyone wishes to hear the unrefined beginnings of a band that would go on to create some splendid albums (everything following "The Rack"), then be my guest. Just don't expect greatness, because you simply won't find it here.
On a final note, I chose not to comment on the bass or drums, since they did not contribute anything of great significance to the recording, or employ any ambitious techniques and the like. I will say, however, that the bass did provide a steady, pulsating rhythm that essentially followed the lead of the electric guitar. As well, the drums came across as average with no other purpose than to keeping time. Overall, nothing special, yet not entirely mediocre.
The Rack is one of those forgotten classics that does not even get mentioned as one in magazines or on the Internet, but it's very important for the death metal in Europe, and remarkable for its unmatched brutality and doomy atmosphere.
Someone is able to say that it’s overrated and I cannot see the point in this affirmation. Undoubtedly, the biggest part of the notoriety of this album is from the ex- Pestilence mastermind presence; that Martin Van Drunen, that decided to leave the previous band to join Asphyx. Despite that, this album is a real massive attack of thrash/death metal in its most powerful form. At the time the combination, the mix of those two genres was perfect and somehow new. So, we start with a dark intro to fall into the hug of “Vermin” that suddenly explodes in all its fury and the massacre starts. The up tempo parts are extremely old school while Martin’s vocals are absolutely unmatchable for sickness and malevolence. They are still the same we could find in older Pestilence works.
The production is not perfect and the guitars sound is truly massive and covers a bit the double kick parts that surely deserved more attention to create a higher impact. Anyway, the snare drum is quite audible but everything here is done to be as morbid as possible. It’s not glam. It’s violence. The tempo changes are always behind the corner and the band alternates perfectly more “in your face” moments” to out of the blue semi mid paced sections that still manage to keep high the intensity of the music. “In Diabolical Existence” the major influences can be found in Obituary for the sludgy riffage and the doomy tempo. Here the vocals reach in the top for putridity. Martin never screamed like this before. The same thing can be said for “Pages In Blood” and the long title track. These are three asphyxiating examples of putrid, slow death metal. The lead lines by the guitars fill the air with a darker atmosphere that in many times is exalted by the grotesque slow march of the rhythmic riffage.
Anyway, even during these songs we can find faster sections. In the first two songs I cited, they are by the end and on the title track there are some tempo changes that bring them to life sporadically in the length. The Obituary’s influences are always truly heavy. Some synth parts add more darkness in this sound. “Evocation” seems that doesn’t want to take off in up tempo because it’s a continue alternation of semi faster tempo to the classic doom ones where the lead lines are truly dramatic and morbid. “Wastelands of Terror” is rightly put in the middle because it is faster and breaks a bit the doom side with faster tempo parts. The fast start of “The Sickening Dwell” fakes us for the up tempo and galloping riffage because it turns to be again sludgy with other more dynamic and fast sections. “Ode to a nameless Grave” is another mid paced, rotten track but this time is instrumental.
At the end I must recommend this album to the lovers of the classic sludgy and morbid death metal. It’s one of the sickest examples of this genre and surely worth more than just a listen, also for the incredible vocal parts by mighty Van Drunen. The only flaws are the production and maybe some too long doom sections that at the end can result a bit boring. But, apart from this I’m sure that by listening to these tracks, you will find a heavy dosage of morbidity.
I understand The Rack has become quite an underground death metal classic over the years. Yet I was so disappointed when it finally came out! I had played their ‘Crush The Cenotaph’ demo and ‘Mutilating Process’ EP over and over and was so looking forward to the debut of these Dutch masters of death.
Although the band had managed to get the famous Martin van Drunen (ex-Pestilence) on vocals, I did prefer Theo Loomans who did a marvellous job on the demos and first single. Van Drunen was good but let’s be honoust, his sound was the ‘Pestilence sound’ and a bit too filthy whereas Loomand sounded angrier which suited Asphyx so much better. I also wondered where second guitarist Tony Brookhuis had gone. He had been responsible for clean guitars and leads in the earlier days on - for example - the mighty ‘Thought Of An Atheist’. Something that gave Asphyx that that bit extra in their sound, something called ‘dynamics’. Now only the low tuned guitarbasics of Eric Daniels were left, without any nuances, decent solos (just some minimalistic ‘leads’) or even clean parts. Why on earth didn’t they get a new second guitarist? I missed those dynamics and found The Rack a big leap backwards, becoming twodimensional doom-death metal.
Next up in my disappointment, was the choice of songs. Classic Asphyx songs like ‘Rite of Shades’ and the already mentioned ‘Thoughts of an Atheist’ were simply missing! Although the presented songs were individually very good, it was the composition of the album as a whole that made it hard to entirely sit through. The album included so little uptempo parts, it came close to being one big monotome experience. Something they didn’t have any problems with on their earlier work and fortunately were able to do right again on ‘Last One On Earth’.
Third important fuck-up has to be the production! On The Rack we can mostly hear guitars, guitars, vocals and guitars again. I doubt if the band had really recorded basslines. (I think not because van Drunen has got to be death metal’s worst bassplayer) The drums sounded so far away, I am sure drummer Bob Bachus can’t be serious about calling this a good recording.
Because of these three major fuck-ups, I still find The Rack to be the worst Asphyx record in their entire discography. Maybe an underground classic to some, but it could (and should!!!) have been a major league classic if Asphyx had given it their best.
Quite primitive, bestial and asphyxiatingly heavy death/doom is what “The Rack” is all about. “Death the fuckin’ brutal way!” was the band’s slogan and this album proves that they can back up their statement. The guitar sound is exceptional: buzzing and heavy, the guitars sound more like flamethrowers than actual guitars, haha.
This album was released at a time death metal was getting more and more technical and losing the darkness of the music. Asphyx however, decided to stick to their roots and do what they do best: simple and heavy-as-hell music. The first song is called “The Quest of Absurdity” and it’s a dark keyboard track, which is rather good with some “space choirs” in the middle of the track. As soon as the aforementioned track has faded out, “Vermin” comes charging in all guns blazing but it’s more like a mid-tempo thrash track, don’t expect any blast beats from Asphyx. Also some other tracks have fast thrash-type parts in them (e.g. “Wasteland of Terror”, “Pages in Blood” and the title track) but in general “The Rack” is pretty doom oriented, so speed freaks should not buy this. Neither should those that demand their death metal played very technically.
“Diabolical Existence”, “Pages in Blood” and the title track show Asphyx at their very best. These three tracks are death/doom masterpieces that manage to combine simplicity and crushing heaviness in a fabulous manner. The title track starts in the same vein as Hellhammer’s “Triumph of Death” and Hellhammer is indeed one of Asphyx’ main influences. There’s also some excellent muted palm riffing on this track that combined with the buzzing guitar sound creates a thick and impenetrable wall. The keyboards make a return at the end of this track, playing nicely along with the main riff until the song fades out.
Vocalist/bassist Martin van Drunen is in great form on “The Rack”. His voice sounds even more hoarse and cancerous than on Pestilence’s “Consuming Impulse”. Combined with the heavy and mostly slow music, it makes for a really extreme experience. I’d say “Vermin”, “Evocation” and “Pages in Blood” are the tracks with the best vocal performance on this album. When you’re in the mood for some extremely heavy music with a suffocating feel to it and some of the most extreme vocals you’ll ever hear, “The Rack” is the album to get.