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By 1998, most of the major Florida death metal acts had released some sort of 'official product' in live recognition, beginning with the involvement of Death on the Ultimate Revenge 2 VHS/CD, and more recently manifesting through Morbid Angel's British import Entangled in Chaos and Obituary's Dead. Even the New York impostors Cannibal Corpse had released their Monolith of Death VHS, so it was about time for Glen Benton and Deicide, notorious after all for their performances, to step into the circle. And thus they did with style: When Satan Lives, recorded at the House of Blues in Chicago, 1998, is quick to silence the naysayers through the precision and technical qualities of the band's constituents.
Probably the only negatives I can attribute to this would be the fairly bland cover setup and the fact that you're not going to be hearing much of Glen's snarling subtext, since he centers in on his blunt vocal hammering, and probably for the best. Like Obituary and Dead, the occult brutes offer the audience a substantial set: 17 songs and 55 minutes, culled from the wealth of their back catalog, and like Obituary, they used Steven Remote to record it on location, sending it off to their good friend Jim Morris at Morrisound for a mixing. The rhythm guitars don't possess a particularly rich tone, a trait that had held back several of their prior studio efforts, but the leads and their effects slice straight through the pummeling, thrashing ministrations to the point that I found myself paying much more attention than I had on the albums. Benton's bludgeoning comes off even more brutal in this environment, and on the whole Deicide make a good accounting of themselves here.
Set choices are pretty evenly distributed through three of the first four albums, though Legion is painfully underrepresented, being that it's their best album. Only "Dead but Dreaming" can be found in the list. On the other hand, they've been cautious in where they place their 'classics' for maximum impact. For example, they close out the disc with a mighty one two punch of "Dead By Dawn" and "Sacrificial" from the s/t 1990 debut, and have also included "Lunatic of God's Creation", "Oblivious to Evil", "Mephistopheles" and their "Deicide" namesake. Selections from Once Upon the Cross are the title track, "Trick or Betrayed", "Behind the Light Thou Shall Rise", "They Are the Children of the Underworld" and "When Satan Rules his World"; and Serpents of the Light rounds out the material with "Bastard of Christ", "Blame It On God", "Slave to the Cross", "Believe the Lie" and "Father Baker's".
As I've never held the band in the highest regard, I can't claim that I felt much anticipation, nor many highs and lows as experienced through this set list. What's most noteworthy is simply the fine level of execution. Both Hoffmans are consistently engaging with a level twin axe attack, and Asheim manages himself with the professionalism of a one take session drummer in the studio. The transition of most of the average quality tunes here to the stage setting does not elevate them in my estimation, and I find that much of this is nearly as indistinct as it was on, say, Serpents of the Light. I'm not suddenly more entertained by writing that wasn't all that special to begin with. But there's no question that this is one tight cadre of Hellish officers that deliver what they promise in the studio as a direct kick to the faces of the audience. It's not among the more impressive live metal offerings I've experienced in the past few decades, but stricter devotees will find When Satan Lives anything but a letdown.
One could say that this point here was the precise moment that Deicide should have released a live album like 'When Satan Lives'. Just one year after the seminal 'Serpents Of The Light' release, Deicide cranked out a fifty-five minute live release with music taken from Chicago's House Of Blues. Composed primarily of songs from the previously mentioned 'Serpents', 'Once Upon The Cross' (where the flaws of that album are invalidated by the power of the performance here), and the 'Deicide' debut, the Floridian legends somehow invert in a small way the quality of the albums' respective songs in the live setting. While 'Once Upon The Cross' compositions are made dramatically more powerful due to the added sonic brutality of this live LP, tracks off the more developed 'Serpents Of The Light' seem to fall slightly flat when the aid of that album's black metal-influenced production is absent.
Beginning with 'When Satan Rules His World', Deicide stuns with a stirring new rendition of a song that was merely average on 'Once Upon The Cross'. Glen Benton's vocals, ordinarily more high-pitched and intelligible, are reduced to an ultra-low, nearly brutal death growl, which combined with the greater bass presence and drum intensity, make this and other tracks many times more effective than they were before. The lyrics and riffs become numerous shades darker at the hand of the band on stage, turning generic songs into masterworks of Satanic assault. This track is a gem of the 17-song release, proving how much more effective Deicide can be when the sheen of professional production is taken off, leaving only the pure, hateful shell of the band to play.
Unfortunately, such a policy doesn't fair quite as well for the tracks of 'Serpents Of The Light'. That album's emphasis on higher-pitched riffing, raw production, and distinct melody are obfuscated by the bass-heavy production and low growling which renders the LP's unusually clever lyrics unintelligible. This results in songs such as the title track which, while still effective in a sense, are not nearly as powerful as they are on record. However, the riffs are certainly still distinct (despite sounding like they are tuned a step lower) and still as effective as they were before; just not quite as sharp as before.
With only an isolated track from 'Legion' and a few from 'Deicide', the vast majority of music here is taken from the third and fourth albums. While this may displease the crowd that believes that only Deicide's first pair of records is relevant, it still functions in good form as a live representation of the band. While not essential, this is a release worth exploring by fans of Deicide as well as those who are looking for a 'Best Of' with which to explore their discography.
I’m going to admit something that, too many a metalhead (especially those that consider themselves purists as I do), is considered taboo. I like Deicide… …a lot. Yeah, yeah, they are simple and cheesy death metal, but you know what? They’ve been doing the same thing for 16 years now and they really haven’t compromised their dedication to metal. Now I think their last two studio albums (Insineratehymn & In Torment In Hell) were crap, but a lot of that had to do with not having the money to properly record. There are some okay songs on those albums.
Fortunately this live album came out right after Serpents of the Light. The song selection on this album is pretty much what you would have expected from Deicide around that time: a solid selection of songs from Serpents (it was the Serpents tour after all) and a selection of songs that spans their discography. Of course they include their standards of Deicide, Once Upon the Cross, Lunatics of Gods Creation, Children of the Underworld and Dead by Dawn. Though I really am somewhat disappointed that “Kill the Christian” isn’t on here (or been played both times I’ve seen them). You’d think that a band called Deicide would always play that song.
The guitar playing is right up to par with their recordings on here, though not too much deviation which can make it a bit boring to some. There are way too many people out there who want to hear exact replicas live of the songs on the albums. As usual with Deicide the drumming is solid, albeit pretty same-ish from song to song, but that’s just Deicide’s style anyway. The vocals on this album are a little sloppy, but still intelligible and have a lot of energy. I’ll say more on that in a moment.
A lot of people I know complain about the production on this album and really I can’t find too many faults. You can hear everything (well, I can as I listen through headphones) and the mix is right where you’d expect it. The vocals are pronounced, but they don’t drown anything out, the guitars sound crisp, the drums aren’t over powering, and you can actually hear the bass if you pay attention. Considering so many of the live albums I’ve heard from extreme metal acts the production on this album is superb.
Now I said I’d comment on energy. This album is just packed with energy. You can hear it in the bands playing, Benton’s between song banter (which is minimal) and the audience is just going nuts (though the audience never drowns out the music). Whenever I listen to this album I wonder what the hell happened? Both times I’ve seen Deicide they were sloppy, tired and Benton basically just stood over the mic breathing hard and drooling. This live album may be from an era when many feel Deicide died, but I see this album as one thing: a straight forward, high energy, kick you in teeth slab of Florida style death metal from underground legends. This is not just an album for fans of Deicide, but a live album for fans of stripped down, no bullshit death metal.