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Well, first thing's first. You can't argue with the value for money of this set. EVERYTHING Comecon ever did (Conductor of Ashes appeared on the first album after all, so that is everything) on two discs. I got this for FIVE POUNDS people, FIVE quid. (Play.com owns. Fact.) That's less then $10 dollars to all you yanks. But anyway, I must commend Century Media, instead of churning out another throwaway Arch Enemy release (Wait... they did that as well? Boooooo.) they decided to put together this great compilation.
Comecon were vastly underrated back in their days of existance, lost in the mire of identikit Stockholm DM bands. However, they stuck out from the rest of the bands who traded in death and zombies, with their (verrrrrrrrrry) abstract lyrics on European Politics. "Ants seek sanctuary in my anus and my nose"? What the fuck has this got to do with the Eastern Bloc? Apart from the odd cringingly strange moment, the lyrics on the first two albums are superb and obscure. European Politics is something of great interest to me, as a student, and the lyrics are certainly a refreshing change from reanimated corpse coming to life AGAIN.
However, for all their novel twists and distinguishing features, I am certain this release would have been ignored by most people if it weren't for one thing. The guest vocalists. Come on, you're trying to tell me that a band whose vocalists had played in bands such as Entombed, Pestilence, Bolt Thrower, Asphyx, Hail of Bullets and Morgoth is not going to interest you just to hear the vocals? It's a sign of quality for sure! Hell, even the front has a sticker proclaiming the fact! Each of the three albums had a different vocalist on it, but are the performances any good compared to their illustrious other output?
LG Petrov's performance on "Megatrends In Brutality" is not the best performance LG has ever given, it's a typical Swedish Death Metal performance really. You've heard the voice a thousand times before by various different bands but, to be honest, this sort of stuff can never be bad at all. Like Thrash Metal, even the most half-arsed band sounds better than most other bands in different genres. The emphasis on this album is far more on basically replicating Grave to the letter. Nothing overtly-technical, just simplistic, effective riffage. In short, I would give this a very high rating. Although it is as generic as you can get in terms with Swedish Death Metal (The Stockholm strain, that is), it IS generic Swedish Death Metal, and I love generic Swedish Death Metal so much, that it commands a high rating.
"Converging Conspiracies", however, came as a great surprise to me. Martin Van Drunen's performance is far better, vocally, than LG Petrov but it's let down by the rest of the album, the instrumental side. There is a greater emphasis on complicated structures and challenging riffs. This album is far less content to sit on it's arse and pilfer basic Autopsy riffs. It will take far more time to get your head around this one, and although the riffs feel disjointed and out-of time, you get used to it after a while. Also noticeable, is the need to experiment on this album. A good example would be the Necroticism-esque Community, with it's small acoustic breaks. Strange vocals, didgeredoos, it's all here. It isn't more refined, because they've really decided to chuck a lot more things in, and some of them work, some of them don't but they've certainly taken some care in trying to expand their horizons on this one.
A good way to look at it would be that these really like their Pestilence. Not only did they steal their ex-singer, but also some of the progressive elements from their later elements. This gives a good insight into what Testimony of The Ancients (or even Resurrection Macabre) would've sounded like if Martin had stayed on board. It seems they've taken the Swedish Death Metal base, and added from each different scene. The Pestilence influence is obvious, but there's also the odd moment of Gorefest/Asphyx influence. Not only that, but you can see moments of bands like Carcass, Cannibal Corpse, Deicide and Bolt Thrower.
Not only this, but you can see elements usually reserved for sub-genres of Death Metal not associated with these guys. There's the bassy groove and the gothenburg-esque melodies. Finally, they've added in a HUGE dollop of Voivod worship. The strange sounding riffs, the odd time changes, the odd lyrics. Certainly someone in his band liked their Voivod. In essence, this album is more scattershot. Everything has just been chucked in to a huge melting pot, and mixed together. The results waver between the awesome and the misguided, but the package as a whole is a great album, just not as great as Megatrends.
Then we get to Fable Frolic. And Comecon do exactly what every obscure Death Metal band did by following the same trajectory of albums. First of all, they'd made the traditional classic album made of simple, effective riffs. Then they went all technical and progressive and created an album which is still very fucking good and well revered, causing a rift between the "Old School" and "New School" fans. Then they went and made the completely mental third album which ramped up the experimenting to a preposterous level and wiped out anything good. Fable Frolic is... a unique character, we'll put it that way. The cover (Sheep in a field) is enough to make anyone wary, but the inclusion of Marc Grewe from Morgoth at a time when Morgoth were about to do something similar and go fucking cuckoo-caca writing the mental "Feel Sorry For The Fanatic", is enough to make most death metallers recoil in horror.
Soft, Creamy Lather (which is a terrible name for a death metal song in the first place) intersects brutality with strange acoustic passages, as do quite a few songs on this. The flamenco influences are strange and, if I'm honest, really unneeded. Most of the flamenco riffs would've worked perfectly fine if played normally, with distorted electric guitars, and would probably have sounded far better. The lyrics have just lost all contact with reality, with every song being about animals or having animal imagery in it. "In the flickering of the light/Satan comes to take a bit/of what could've been my soul/but it's all turd of mole" anyone? Perhaps the European's Union emphasis of agricultural reform at the time of writing this album caused the new lyrical direction, but frogs and toads? The Voivod-y sounding shrieking riffs are strange, and have been ramped up considerably since the last time.
The album itself isn't actually that bad, especially compared to some of Death Metal's other blunders during the 90s. It is still identifably Death Metal, and GOOD Death Metal at that. But Grewe's vocals are quite unremarkable, quite like Max Cavalera actually. And it relies quite heavily on chugging riffs which are just plain boring. As with most of Comecon's albums, the sound is a mix of Gothenburg and Stockholm, but too many In Flames riffs seem to have spoilt this broth. The Stockholm rumble has been toned down even more. There is some good songs but it's all a bit mediocre. It's an album which relies too much on chugging and time changes.
Highlights from each album then? Well, from Megatrends, I'd have to pick "The Dog Days", "Armed Solution" and "Conductor of Ashes". From Conspiracies, I'd have to pick "The Whole World" and "God Told Me To" as well as the quite simply epic "The House That Man Built". From Fable Frolic, "How I Won The War" and "Bovine Inspiration" are classics.
In my opinion. Comecon's output went on a sliding scale with Megatrends being the best, followed by Conspiracies then Fable Frolic BUT I prefer Van Drunen's vocals to LG's. One thing not mentioned yet is the fact that Comecon never had an actual drummer, simplying crediting a Drum Machine with different generic names each time. The Drum Machine doesn't really work for me. At times, it sounds exactly like a Drum Machine, but sometimes it sounds more organic. I believe that this band would've been far better with a real drummer, but it still works.
As a package, there is a few flaws though. This is just the bare bones, 3 albums. Comecon never played live, so there's no hope of live tracks. There's no known demos been released, but surely there must be something lying in one of the guys cupboards? What about the 4th album that went unreleased? Was there anything recorded for that? Perhaps they could have even wrote a new track or two, especially for this compilation. What about maybe adding an enhanced DVD section with interviews with Pelle Ström or Rasmus Ekren, or even the guest vocalists, like on the Darkthrone re-releases? They could even have got them to write some liner notes! That said, the layout is nice already, simplistic re-prints of the lyrics with their respective album covers, and the collective credits at the end. It works. There is other little things that are mere annoyances, such as Conspiracies being split down the middle over two discs, meaning that you have to change the disc to hear the whole album and the disc numbers are hard to read, because it's all in black. However, these are little niggles that are hardly point-deducters.
I would give Megatrends an 85%, Conspiracies an 80% and Fable Frolic a 65%, giving it an average of 76%. My grievances about the drum machine and the packaging flaws would drag it down to about 68/70%, however overall, it's still fantastic value for money and me splitting hairs over the lack of unreleased material is simply churlish, so an extra 10% for being so much music for so little money. These releases are great and were certainly deserving of a reprint. Century Media put some effort in, to make sure Comecon's legacy is well-documented. All three albums on 2 discs for such a cheap price is a godsend as these albums are incredibly hard to find and expensive on eBay.
If you're looking for a place to start with Comecon, this is it, undoubtedly. If you already have one or two or even all of Comecon's albums, then buy this anyway, as it's a nice thing to have on your shelf. If you're simply looking for good-ass Swedish Death Metal with a twist, buy this and watch them evolve. Although it is a fair chunk to try and digest in one sitting, it's certainly worth it.
Bravo, Century Media, for taking a punt on such an unknown band.