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Cenotaph's first official release is the obscure demo from 1990 called "Rise of Excruciation". It seems that most people didn't really know about this tape's existence until Dahmer Productions re-released it on CD. I was certainly among the clueless ones, and only recently ended up purchasing the disc at a local death metal festival. What became obvious once I gave it a listen is why everyone, from tape traders to the band members themselves, neglected to circulate this in the 90's - It's pretty awful! Releasing something this lo-fi on CD probably wasn't the best idea in theory, but on the other hand I'm grateful to finally hear this forgotten recording, no matter how poor it is.
The hollow 4-track "production" here is so bad that it makes you wonder if the tape wasn't recorded live at some rundown, back-alley Mexican titty bar. The crunchy guitars and bass are extremely drowned out by the drums and vocals. During some of the faster sections, all you can make out from the stringed instruments is an ambient buzz in the background. The drum sound is severely lacking in the high-end, focusing too much on the toms and styrofoam-like snare. Daniel's vocals are a far cry from the gruesome flawlessness he would later achieve on "The Gloomy Reflection..." and "Diabolic Conquest", and are very typical-sounding death grunts along the lines of a more cleaner, raspier Frank Mullen.
The CD edition contains a number of bonus tracks, but the demo itself has four songs. The music is stripped down, painfully simple death metal that generally remains at a sloppy mid tempo throughout the tape. "Reek from the Grave" follows this formula the best. Most of the riffs are choppy and uninspired, and whenever the music does speed up it only gets worse by sounding like third-rate Cannibal Corpse worship from south of the border. The aggressive thrash solos midway through the track are cool, but you can't really get a good headbanging out of them. This is because the background drumming is too loud and all over the fucking place, sounding like a bunch of Pinto's getting run over by a monster truck. "Colony of the Undead" is initially a little less corny and features periods of heavy and mournful doom metal riffing, but the charm is quickly lost once the pace picks up and again puts the listener to sleep...
That brings me to the second half of the demo. The production is still the same here, but it's a lot more promising musically. Both the title track and "The Last Infection" are much more interesting in structure, relying heavily on downtuned Scandinavian-style tremolo riffing in the vein of Carnage and Nihilist. Riff after riff, the songs lure you in as you sit in disbelief and wonder why the whole demo couldn't be this good. But as with everything, there is a downside... Track 3 has a string of awfully weak half-blastbeats midway, in addition to a piss-poor groove section towards the end that really starts to drag. "Rise of Excruciation" is better as a whole, but the dark atmosphere created by the catchy guitar leads is again ruined by the cheesy vocal approach.
While there are the occasional cool moments in many of the songs here, "Rise of Excruciation" as a whole is inevitably a below average demo even for debut standards. I honestly don't see how anyone would enjoy this stuff, aside from the value it has to diehard fans as a collector's item. It's hard to believe that only two years after its release, Cenotaph would record the death metal monument that was their debut LP. And for anyone not familiar with their material prior to the album, I would say give the two 7"s a listen... but let this tape rest in piece.