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Every country is full of its legendary bands and there are always some that will outshine others within their national legend groups. Case in point: the Norwegian extreme metal scene. Norway is known for its black metal (duh), but its death metal history is often overlooked. In the case of the most famous death metallers of Norway, Old Funeral, this is especially trve, I mean true. They have been around since 1988 and their music never really got thrust into the light, although I am assuming that this is what they would have wanted anyways. This is especially odd considering that some members have also been members of Burzum and Immortal. Their compilation, Our Condolences spans the bulk of their releases and is the best testimony to their musical evolution from a thrash and black metal influenced death metal band, to their solid OSDM sound achieved in the 1990's.
The compilation starts off with the "intro," which if I am correct is the more marketable name for "The Lovely Stench of an Egg Fart" from The Fart That Should Not Be. It transitions into seven tracks of death/thrash ferocity that has a punk-like "stop and go" structure, such as on "Aphis." Also cool was the groove like riffs like on the beginning of "Grandma Is a Zombie." For a younger Old Funeral, the song titles, structuring, and skill level of the songs show the band's age at the time for sure, but this is not to say that the music isn't bad. I enjoyed the frantic pace that was almost always being kept by drummer Jan Atle Åserød, and of course Olve Eikemo, better known as Abbath. Guitarist Tore Bratseth kept right in the pocket with both of them with tremolo riffs and early thrash metal-like melodies that added an interesting musical shade to the first half of the compilation. I could also here every players' role in the album when it came to the production department, so this was a plus, especially since I could hear the bass guitar. For a debut songs, and an independently produced ones at that these songs are interesting indeed.
My sentiments for the second half of side one is not much like the above statements for a variety of reasons/issues. Live recordings are what capture a band's energy and musical essence in the form of a recording, and if said recording sounds terrible it will probably lead some people to believe that your band is as lame as their recording sounds. Enter Old Funeral, who from what I'm guessing regarding their live recording on this half of the release, didn't give two sides of a shit when it came to the quality of the recording. It's a shame because the players that were part of the band during 1991 were some of the best and most notable. When listening to tracks 8-14, I grimaced from time to time at how hard the recording equipment was overridden by the sheer loudness of the band, and depending on what kind of venue the songs were recorded in (additional notes say a garage, but who knows) this could be further enhanced. Basically, every time the drums go to the crash cymbals along with hard struck chords and notes from the stringed instruments, one cannot make out the melody being played for a few moments. And this happens on every. Single. Song. I would have loved to have had a good listen to the Nocturnal Hell cover, but because of the bottom-of-the-barrel production I couldn't. What music I could hear was good and reassured me that there were still skilled musicians playing the instruments on the recordings, although they pounded their instruments like them.
By this point I was fearing that the production was going to become worse as Our Condolences rattled along, but thankfully, I was mistaken. When the sinister "Abduction of Limbs" blasted through my stereo I felt a sense of relief wash over me. This was the old Funeral that I came to listen to and experience. The songs from the Abduction of Limbs demo, the Devoured Carcass EP, and "Forced to be Lost," bore strong resemblance to Severed Survival-era Autopsy such as on "Abduction of Limbs" and "Annoying Individual." I feel as if this was especially evident given that the line up at this time in the band's career featured a drummer/vocalist. A more Broken Hope and even early Deicide-like approach on songs such as "Incantation" was taken on Devoured Carcass and the mood was just as evil. Songs were more complex and slightly more technical, but above all, the music of these songs were almost completely death metal with a few little grindcore-like sections such as in "Annoying individual." Old Funeral's take on guitar solos at this point was stellar with some nasty, squealy stuff on "Devoured Carcass." In the production department these releases fit in perfectly as Olve and the gang at this point in their career had a producer behind the controls by the name of "Pytten" to better capture the unrefined fury that Old Funeral could bring forth and make it refined, but just as powerful. Seeing as he has done producing with legends such as Mayhem, Burzum, Immortal, Taake, and Gorgoroth, I knew right away that these were going to be quality songs.
"Alone Walking" through "My Tyrant Grace" show off the ever-present black metal influence that was within the band and wafting around them at all times. Some the riffs used would later be employed by Varg Vikerness in his solo work. These four songs are well-written blackened death metal tunes, although, when it really comes down to it are very much just black metal songs with death metal production. So if you have ever wondered what such a sound would encapsulate, you can find it here. The production is very much like that of "Forced to be Lost," just to give other fellow listeners a perspective, although a few differences in the tone of the drums can be found in these four tracks. After over an hour and a half of hellish noise, comes a live version of "Devoured Carcass" recorded in 1991. It hardly matches the tone of the studio version to a reasonable extent, but still contains the turbulent force of Old Funeral in their live setting, without sounding like garbage on the production end.
It has been a long and violent road to the end of Our Condolences, but the listen has revamped my historical knowledge of Old Funeral and the Norwegian metal scene in the 1980's and 1990's. If one wants to truly experience a band's evolution take place the must listen to this compilation. From a bunch of crusty heshers to menacing death metal tyrants, Old Funeral carved their names in extreme metal stone with not only their line-ups but with their musical abilities. They demonstrated elements of many extreme metal genres and decidedly showed the world that they were a force to be reckoned with.
The first time I stumbled upon Old Funeral's band page there were certain things that immediately caught my attention. The odd, seemingly uninspired band name is obviously one of them but that can't hold a candle to the fact that famous musicians that made Norwegian black metal famous were at some point part of the band. Abbath Doom Occulta, Demonaz and Varg Vikernes are three such musicians and, needless to say, seeing their names instantaneously sparked my interest. However, there was still one important question that was yet to be answered: will the music actually live up to my expectations?
The answer is, pretty much. "Our Condolences" is a collection that not only contains the two demos and the EP released during the life span of the band but it comes with other bonus tracks, both studio and live as well, and while this might not be the best death metal to have ever been released it represents that which I like to call "essential Norwegian death metal".
The soft guitar intro is very tricky as it keeps you unaware of what you are in for but as soon as the second track pops in it is pretty clear that the unexpectedly raw, unpolished and unwelcoming production might give you a hard time getting into the music. Being a collection of releases instead of a well-thought record, it's normal for the production qualities not to be the same throughout the entirety of the play time but the overall feel is that of a noisy, dirty and muddy record, with the live tracks having the lowest quality of all, as expected.
And yet, after you manage to get used to the rough production a highly enjoyable reward awaits you. There's some amazing, very inspired guitar riffing on this record, with various sounds and tones. While the second disc sounds more like old school death metal as we know it, the first half sounds a lot more experimental and wild, with a blizzard-like guitar playing, especially on the live tracks and I consider its vivid, untamed tone to be very enjoyable. The thrash vibes that also make their presence felt throughout the entire compilation serve as a well-utilized and well-chosen "spice" and hidden gems such as the striking similarity between the main riff of "My Tyrant Grace" and that which later will become Burzum's "Stemmen fra tårnet" were totally unexpected, cool surprises.
Totally staggering were the vicious, demonic, high-pitched death growls, though. They are present mainly on the first disc, the second one displaying more conventional approaches, but the sheer intensity and frenzy that are emanated by them are on a league of their own. Except the Agathocles cover, for which the singer chose a lower, pig squealing approach, the maniacal vocals completely dominate the first disc. They truly reach their insanity climax only on the live tracks, though, due to the harsh sound of the recordings which distorts them even further. However, this is not to say that disc no. 2 has lower quality vocal-wise. Presenting some kind of fusion between the black metal shriek and the death metal growl, the tracks that originally appeared on "Abduction of Limbs" represent a professional (or at least experienced?) and tamed counterpart of the first disc's vocal craziness without falling any short of being awesome.
Speed-wise, the album delves into the mid-paced territory once in a while but it mostly stays in the fast paced area, blitzing lots of blasts and delicious riffs with phenomenal speed. This attribute alone would be capable to keep one interested during the entirety of the 97 minutes play time but when you also add cool and easily audible bass-shining moments and variety in songwriting to the mix you know it's a win. The songwriting falls a bit short when it comes to solos with them not being breathtaking or anything but they grew on me after several listens and now I find them satisfactorily enjoyable. Though it may be just some personal preference that you might find annoying, I think the raw sound of the drumming greatly fits the music as well.
One of the biggest flaws of this compilation must be, however, the lack of atmosphere. This is stuff that sounds aggressive but doesn't feel that way and it doesn't feel "morbid" as a lot of death metal, for that matter, either. The rather short songs might now allow for a lot of atmosphere to build, as they represent nothing more than a disjointed collection and literally kill everything atmospheric-wise but the tracks should have individually had some sort of atmosphere at least. Few macabre vibes may find their way to the listener during the "Abduction of Limbs" chapter and some vivid ones during the live part of the first disc, due the energetic reaction of the crowd at the end of each song that works like some sort of binder. Unfortunately, none of the vibes produces a lasting effect, the music ending up almost completely devoid of any emotion.
Now, in order to get to the summing up part I'm gonna highlight once again the special charm this record has due to its low production quality. Strange as it may sound, I think the raw production makes the music even better once you get used to it and I wouldn't have preferred it any other way. A lot of times inspiration is what makes certain records great and "Our Condolences" has plenty of it but I think that totally unexpected factors such as material restrictions could spark miracles sometimes and this is one of them. I like my Old Funeral dirty, noisy and outright muddy so that I could sink into some captivating death metal whenever I feel like.
Too bad the band is dead. My condolences.
Old Funeral has the dubious distinction of being the all-but-forgotten band that housed a plethora of famous musicians from Norway’s black metal underground in the early 90’s. Lost in that shuffle is the fact that they were actually a pretty good death metal band with some insane musical inspirations. Were they Swedish caliber? No, not very much. Were they as interesting as some of their Scandinavian brethren? Surely. From the primitive side of things Old Funeral was captivating, to say the least.
What we have here in Our Condolences: 1988 - 1992 is a compilation of the band’s entire history, including demos, EP’s, and live tracks that pretty much showcase the level of the band’s innate prowess with the confines of a primitive art form. If you’re seeking some thick fog of death metal design to loom overhead while you ponder ever sullenly the chunky riffing within, this isn’t the collection for you. However, if you seek a true underground classic along the lines of Fester with a little less structure, then you’ll be happy to entertain Old Funeral.
Yes, Abbath, Varg Vikernes, Demonaz, Jorn Tunsberg, major players in the infamous Norwegian black metal movement, all did stints in this band. You can certainly see the progression as you move through the records. The Fart That Should Not Be demo (Tracks 1-7 on disc one) is a truly exceptional piece of primitive death metal goodness, and it’s honestly much better this time around than when I first heard it many years ago. Maybe the remixing has something to do with it (damn you, multi-gen tape copies!), but all seven tracks are really good, especially “Persecuted By Death”, which is about as insane as anything you might encounter in a dingy, dirty club back in the day. The vocals are muddy, low-fi, screeching issuances that are really a fine fit for the bleak effort within. As I said, you don’t go into an Old Funeral release expecting polished perfection; this is as far from that as I gets, and it’s an accepted imperfection.
Now, the live tracks recorded in Bergen in 1991 are really distorted and rough on the ears for the average listener. I was tape trading for years and heard every single type of horrible recording you can think of, and this bothered even me quite a bit. To the average fan it’s going to be a skipped selection of tracks simply due to it being such a harsh recording. To be honest, while I understand the ardent fan wanting everything available, I’d have left this off as the distortion is just too loud to thoroughly enjoy the music, but it is what it is.
The Abduction of Limbs demo is a welcome exchange as the tempestuousness of the recording is ethereal and hollow-sounding enough to really capture the feel of the era as well as the genre. It’s actually great fun to revisit this recording again after my original cassette wore down to the plastic casing nub. In the grand wasteland of early 90’s underground demos, this one is right up there with the best of them. There are some truly great guitar riffs going on here and some overly decent bass work to boot. The original sound has been “toyed with,” but not to the extent that the recording loses its charm along the way. This is how it should always be handled; more bands need to recognize this so they don’t ruin otherwise classic recordings. Throwing a ton of money at old recordings doesn’t make them better, folks.
Much of the same is evident in the Devoured Carcass EP, which gets the most attention from the minions because Kristian Vikernes played guitars on it. Sadly, such an otherwise irrelevant addition might otherwise go unnoticed if not for his notoriety, but the music is not to be left as secondary circumstance. Admittedly, this EP takes on a more sinister, darker sounding vision within three tracks, which doesn’t necessarily call out the black metal looming just over the horizon as it does the band’s maturity surfacing. The riffs are heavy-as-hell hammers along a cheap fretboard and the drumming keeps a steady backbone throughout. Again, there’s nothing particularly sound in terms of technical brilliance, but simplicity is often the finest form of advancement. I loved this EP when I heard it so many years ago and it sounds as good “cleaned up” as it did on my crusty old phonograph.
“Forced to Be Lost” is a track that was recorded in ’91 and makes its initial appearance here. It’s solid enough, mixed down and unevenly enough to be that much more enjoyable. Also, the version of “Alone Walking” here is as sickening and dark as the black metal roots get during this time period, and you can hear Jorn’s influence all over it, for obvious reasons. As for the last of the live tracks that round out the album, “Devoured Carcass” from Hulen in ’91, it fares much better sonically than its predecessors. The music is clear, the vocals concise, and the bottom end just fluid enough to enjoy it in all of its ancient lunacy.
So, is the Old Funeral collection worth getting? Absolutely. For the fan that loves the long-past era of Norwegian death metal that gets criminally overshadowed by the black metal movement of the period you will undoubtedly enjoy this in all of its shadowy symmetry. While the legendary figures that occupied space in Old Funeral carry more notoriety than the band’s work, a sad instance in itself, this set should introduce the latecomers and fringe fans to something truly special for both posterity and musical enjoyment.
(Originally written for www.metalpsalter.com)