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Having gone through the rereleases of a number of Death's albums in recent times I now find myself looking back through a collection of their early demo recordings (of which there were many) that originally saw the light of day under their original monicker of Mantas at the genesis of American extreme metal in the early 80's. There have been other attempts to bundle together early Chuck Schuldiner work (notably poor attempts by Hammerheart/Karmaggedon Records) but coming from the same Relapse lineage and their respectful and professional foray in the Death catalogue this one is more deserving of our attention.
Any reissue review naturally requires a balancing of the historical importance versus quality of song within to be made and more so in the case of this review rather any other with Death does the former outweigh the latter. On the "Death by Metal" demo versions 1 and 2 and "Rehearsal Early 1984" here, where we only have 6 actual unique songs out of the 14 on offer, we are witnessing the birth of death metal certainly in the US and quite arguably in the whole world - it is youthful, amateur and messy but it's importance in spurring others onto further extremes in the following years cannot be under-estimated. From the heavily distorted and chaotic 'demo version 1' tracks you can hear youthful exuberance awash in the great "Evil Dead" and "Death by Metal". "Legion of Doom" for the most part is more mid-tempo built around the kind of rhythm riff that I still hear bands of minimal ability churn out in extreme metal today, nearly 30 full years later - a full testimony to the ahead-of-their-time thinking that was in the brains of Chuck Schuldiner, Rick Rozz and Kam Lee in these nascent days.
Progressing through the demos on offer here an improvement of performance and recorded ability becomes apparent but throughout we are still looking at a sub-"Scream Bloody Gore" sound devoid of any post-production whatsoever. Naturally fans of modern 'pretty-boy' death metal bands will find more in common with the most recent Linkin Park release that this offering but think of "Death By Metal" as the equivalent of an archaeological dig unearthing primitive caveman tools and you'll be some way to the mindset required for appreciating this release.
Before Death there was no Possessed, Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel or any other death metal luminary and without these first steps there would have been no "Human" or "The Sound of Perseverance" to follow, just to emphasise the importance of these demos to the annals of the genre. They may be for the Death completist only such is the repetition of songs and merciless under-production but for the archeologists among us it is an interesting listen nonetheless.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
The fact that I was born in 1984 means that I have missed out on a lot of metal history. Sure, it has been documented in the form of records and concert footage, but it’s not the same as actually being at a specific event, such as the early genesis of death metal with early acts like Morbid Angel, Possessed,and Repulsion. Thankfully I have my time travelling DeLoreanfueled up and ready to go to 1984 in Florida to experience the rehearsal of the pre-Death band, Mantas. Or if you don’t have the means to travel back into time, Relapse has conveniently capitalized on the recent resurgence of Death’s popularity bycollecting the demos and rehearsals of Chuck Schuldiner’s first band into a variety of audio formats(CD, LP, and digital download!) for your listening pleasure.
Death by Metal collects two demos and a rehearsal of Mantas — consisting of six original songs — most of which are found on the disc twice in widely varying quality. The first set –- labeled as demo version 1 –- has a very primitive, muddy quality about them.
The guitars are drenched in reverb and distortion while flurries of drums overtake that to barely make the riffs distinguishable from the rest of the music. And the vocals, probably the dual duty of Schuldiner and drummer Kam Lee, are mostly incoherent grunting and yelling with the occasional audible “death by metal” shouted on the title track, which of course is completely befitting for death metal. This is definitely a group of teenagers cutting their teeth on thrash to make death metal through a standard tape deck. The aggression, energy, and intensity are there, however it is shrouded in the static void.
The second demo set and rehearsals have more clarity, allowing the guitars to really cut through the mix so you can hear the speed metal riffs of “Mantas” and “Death by Metal”. The less obsessive Death fan would probably not recognize any of the material off of this collection save for “Evil Dead”, which appeared on Death’s first LP, Scream Bloody Gore and has remained a live staple when theywere actively touring.
While the rest of the tracks are good in their own right, there’s a reason that “Evil Dead” managed to live beyond the Mantas days. Its haunting minor tapped intro followed by its ripping main riff has allowed it easily transition into pure death metal.
Listening to Death by Metal is an interesting footnote of metal history and the musical evolution that Schuldiner will eventually embark on with his subsequent and more famous band. The casual metalhead may not have any interest in this collection due to the primitive, muddy recordings, but for anyone fascinated by the history of metal, particularly the beginnings of death metal, would definitely want to check this collection of demos and rehearsals out.
Originally written for Teeth of the Divine