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It is a stipulation of many belief systems that one's death will come with some form of resurrection or reincarnation. The specific nature of the rebirth varies a bit, but much like a renewed interest in a long forgotten event or object, something brings about a return to a past life. An analogous eventuality within the realm of death metal's primordial past recently came to be courtesy of Vic Records with the re-release of the short demo of an obscure death metal project just north of Florida, carrying an identical name to a very respected death/thrash outfit with an opposite ideological angle to their lyrics. Thus returns the long ago recorded handiwork of Incubus, a death metal institution that, sadly enough, never quite was.
As best as can be explained, this short demo exists in a time of transition, embodying many elements of what would be death metal's eventual future, but also cleaving quite strongly to the past in spite of itself. If stripped of it's chaotic, almost grindcore-like blasting drum lines and growled vocal work, the guitar work on here listens like a faster, sloppier version of Venom meets the earliest NWOBHM oriented thrash work of Slayer's Show No Mercy. There is a clear melodic contour to each riff that, in spite of the frequent employment of tremolo picking, almost wants to sound like Satan or Hell at their most sinister. This is particularly noticeable on the album's opener “God Died On His Knees” during that grooving verse riff, obscured by the chaotic drum work no less.
Taking into account the rest of the elements in play, it becomes pretty clear that Incubus is a bit ahead of the curve for what constituted death metal circa 1987. Even when considering the seminal offerings of Scream Bloody Gore, Seven Churches, Morbid Visions and the like, this veers far more closely to the unfettered anarchy of sound that Repulsion would become know for on their 1989 debut, though the seeds of that were being sowed a couple years prior to this. Consequently, comparisons to early Morbid Angel are all but impossible to miss, which makes sense as former drummer/vocalist of said band Mike Browning is a key player and even bassist/vocalist/front man Von Scarborough had a brief run with the same act in 1986. Granted, the vocal work is a bit lighter and closer to a Chuck Schuldiner sound, but otherwise a lot of these songs could have been b-sides on Altars Of Madness, even and including some wildly technical guitar shredding courtesy of Gino Marino that listens like a slightly less atonal version of Trey Azagthoth.
Despite it's low-fidelity production and somewhat sloppy execution, this is an important piece of death metal history that is about as listenable and substantial as some of the better demos put out by Death prior to 1987. While this band wasn't quite the first to stumble onto this early version of what came to define early 90s death metal, they were definitely well suited for competing with the greats had they ever procured a large enough following to gain larger label support. Much like the resurrection of this band as a point of interest in old school circles, this newly re-released demo will undoubtedly spark some degree of interest in the now since deceased Von Scarborough, who never quite moved beyond being an ancillary character in America's death metal scene, but was there none the less. Call it a keepsake or a testament of sorts, but regardless, it also goes by another title, powerful.
Originally submitted to (The Metal Observer) on July 29, 2014.
Incubus are best known as one of the bands that Mike Browning played in back in the day. Unfortunately, they were overshadowed by other bands of the period (possibly by the other Incubuses in the America). Another bad thing about Incubus is that they only recorded three songs. You’ll want to hear more once the demo is over.
The music itself is very unique. It is a cross between death and thrash metal, but definitely has its own unique atmosphere. Most of the riffs are tremolo picked ones, but there are a few slow ones here and there. The guitar solos are one of the strong points of this demo, though. They are in the vein of Trey Azagthoth, and are played very competently. Mike Browning’s drumming is decent, mostly fast beats involving the cymbals. Sterling von Scarborough’s vocals are unique. They are hard for me to describe, kind of like a mix between shouting and growling. Oh, and the bass is audible (that should be a plus).
If you want to hear some unique death/thrash that kicks some major ass, look no further. Go find this demo now.
The drummer of this band, Mike Browning, has taken part in at least two legendary bands, and is a somewhat respected figure for it. His first outing, Morbid Angel during their earlier, thrashier, days, and early technical death metal band, Nocturnus. This demo falls somewhat short of aforementioned bands, though there is something to be said of it's charm. You know that crowd of people that say Death stopped being good after their demos (Or are you one such person...)? At base, that's the idea behind the appeal of this demo. It's a fast, dirty raw recording of a relatively underground band that didn't revel in the pretensions of being an "Underground band", but were rather some rambunctious, rowdy, and possibly drunk, young men that loved the music they played with a wild passion and cared for nothing apart from that.
I could best describe the overall sound of this music as being "Brutal NWOBHM". Have a listen at the first riff of "God Died On His Knees"; It sounds as though it were pulled from an Angel Witch LP and made more congruent to early death metal. A lot of the rest is essentially very fast tremolo lines a la Morbid Angel, and some thick, fast rhythms that remind me of early Death. The drums on this recording sound like a cacophonous wall of sound, especially the double bass, giving an "infernal" feel to the low end by my ears, but I feel the interpretation is largely one of my own imagination. The bass has a similar effect, with it's presence more noticeable than one might imagine for a demo of any sort in this type of music. And the leads! If you liked Trey Azagthoth's unusual "lava lamp" guitar playing, you will like these leads. I wouldn't say they match the great death metal guitarist's output, but they come pretty close to being something not unfit for a place on "Altars of Madness". Instead of being treated to the impish growls and screams of Mike Browning, it would seem Sterling took on the vocals here. He is serviceable enough, if you've heard Kam Lee on the Death demos, imagine this except a tad less guttural and with the oddest British affectation to his voice. His screams remind me of Schuldiner, but less harsh.
Is this great? Not really. Is it essential? Not by a long shot. For any fans of all things Mike Browning, however, this might be worth looking into.