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Much like its slight less dangerous cousin thrash, death metal's origins are not without some degree of controversy, be it over who discovered the sound first and which pioneering effort best embodied what would become the eventual institution. But what is more interesting than the debate over whether Possessed, Death or the Chicago based Master stumbled upon death metal first, is the fact that three bands that are about as geographically far removed from each other as could be possible in the continental U.S. somehow managed to hop onto the same stylistic train via tape trading all but simultaneously. However it happened, demos were being spread to the four winds throughout the mid-80s, eventually culminating in the seminal debut LP offerings of all three bands, with the mid-western act fronted by bassist and barker Paul Speckman being last to the table due to a series of setbacks with labels.
While it is common knowledge that this eponymous LP was largely composed in 1985 and should be regarded as a contemporary release of Seven Churches and Scream Bloody Gore, this album manages to benefit from a somewhat more brutal aesthetic due to stronger production practices circa 1990. The handiwork of ubiquitous death metal engineer Scott Burns is all over the guitar tone of the remastered version of this baby, not to mention the thunderous battery of the drums. The only thing here that is maybe slightly out of character for a typical album with Burns' mastering talents is the extremely chunky bass work provided by Speckman, which makes for an album that can not only trade blows with the likes of Cancer and Sepultura, but actually manages to be slightly more dank and dreary in character. The bass work itself also proves to be no slouch, as between the fairly prominent place it holds in the arrangement and the technical flair displayed on solo preceding their cover of "Children Of The Grave", Speckman may have all but claimed himself the title of the Cliff Burton of death metal.
Perhaps the greatest asset of this entire album is its take no prisoners, thrash until the entire audience is decapitated approach to pacing, which is heavily reminiscent of the Slayer-infused approach that was common to death metal that was common prior to slower, muddier character of Autopsy and the hyper-blasting of Repulsion and Morbid Angel. It hits the ear with an almost crude simplicity that is definitely reminiscent of Speckman's professed affinity for Motorhead and Venom, yet also anticipates/incorporates (depending on whether the solos were touched up from their mid-80s incarnations here) the wildly exaggerated shredding after the example of Slayer lead approach of Trey Azagthoth, coming off as a bit more frenetic and chaotic than the 80s offerings of Death and Possessed. Some of the time it gets a bit more punk infused and even politically charged when looking at the examples of "Pledge Of Allegiance" and "The Truth", whereas "Mangled Dehumanization" has more of a stereotypical gore fascination, but all of these songs are pure products of rage that tend to pummel the listener rather than haunt him.
Debates will probably be held until the end of time regarding whether it was Speckman's, Schuldiner's or Becerra's team that first pioneered the style, but one thing that is crystal clear is that all three of them were coming from fairly unique places. Whereas Possessed seemed more fascinated with the occult-oriented trappings of earlier metal bands, and Death was initially all about gore and sickness, Master seemed to gravitate ever so slightly closer to the socio-political character of hardcore, even though stylistically they are almost as equally removed from said style as Death was in 1987. Master is an album built exclusively of rage and makes very few occasions for slowing down to catch its breath. It carries more in the way of brutality than most of its mid to late 80s competition, but stops a tad bit short of where Cannibal Corpse and later New York bands would land a couple years later. What it may lack in atmospheric charm compared to Seven Churches or artful execution and memorable hooks next to Scream Bloody Gore, it makes up for in sheer power, and is definitely an essential listen for any fan of death metal.