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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.